Pay that person a compliment.

I feel like I’ve been a bit scarce recently. September is currently a really hectic time, Jewish holidays are literally taking up half almost half my week – every week. It’s a period of the High Holy days. Lots of time in shul, lots of introspection, and well, lots of eating too.

So you may or may not know, that for religious reasons I cover my hair (one day, I really think I’m going to write a blog post about it. It could be a long one though). Anyway. In South African Jewish society, most religious women who do cover their hair, do so with human hair wigs called Sheitels (I’m sure it’s Yiddish for something). Me, I can’t afford one of those, so I cover with beautiful scarves.

It’s not the easiest thing I’ve ever done, but over time I’ve come to really appreciate what I do, and I think I’ve gotten pretty good at it. It’s not easy going from having long, curly, brown locks to seeing a colourful mound on you head, but I think I’m doing my best with the cards I’ve been drawn (or well, that I’ve chosen). Either way, I kind of stick out sometimes, even in shul – because most women either don’t cover their hair, or do so with these sheitels. While 95% of the time, I still think I look beautiful, there are the odd moments when I miss my hair and looking “normal”.

So we’ve been spending a lot of time in shul recently. We’ve been at a different one to our usual, as Greg kind of freelances with his fancy Torah-reading-and-shofar-blowing-skills which are in high demand at this time of year. So because I don’t have any friends (or people my age) at this community, I kinda sat in my assigned seat, doing my own thing, minding my own business.

And then one night after the service, an older lady told me how much she loved how I did my scarves. She loved how I matched them to my outfits, and the colours. I felt a bit proud of myself. And then the next night – another lady commented. She loved the height, the colours, asked me where I got it all from (the answer was Israel, of course). I felt like I didn’t stand out like a sore thumb. I felt like any other girl with a beautiful hairstyle or item of clothing.

This got me thinking about paying people compliments. So many times I see people, friends or even strangers, wearing something beautiful, wearing a great perfume or with a beautiful hairstyle. I might think to myself, or even comment to someone who I’m with how beautiful their clothes/perfume/whatever it is. Once at shul I absolutely loved a girl’s dress. I didn’t know her, but my friend said I should just tell her, she’d appreciate the compliment. I never did, I was far too shy and thought it was far too random and awkward. But I kind of wish I did, and I kind of wish I did this and paid compliments to people out of the blue more often.

It really could just make their day, and everyone deserves to smile.

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Everyone goes through awkward life phases, right?

I find myself strangely in one of those awkward-life-phases. It’s not quite the everyone-is-getting-engaged/married/having babies phase, because it’s a) not new new anymore b) I’m genuinely happy when people reach this phase of their lives and c) I guess I was one of the first few to start hitting these milestones. So what is this strange life-phase I’m finding myself in? It’s that all my close friends are leaving Cape Town. It feels like everyone is moving on – except us (or well, me).

Which i kind of ironic. I’ve graduated from University with a degree. I’ve gotten a boyfriend, dated, gotten engaged and subsequently married (I mean, we’re about to hit the 2 year mark early next year!). We both have good jobs and are in a good place financially. These are things that our friends are going and moving in the hope of achieving. We already have all of these, so why do I feel like I’m getting left behind?

People leaving isn’t new though. As religious Jews, many leave the beautiful Cape Town shores for Johannesburg, either for work, the bigger Jewish community or the potential of finding someone to marry. I’m lucky my friends all studied in Cape Town so for those years I had plenty friends to see and socialise with at all times. It was after graduating that people started leaving. Obviously I’ve been ok with it, and happy for my friends. Who is unhappy for a friend when they’re moving on in their lives to greater and more exciting things? I just feel it’s starting to catch up with me, and it’s starting to feel a little lonely.

I find myself in a very lucky position that I see most of my friends on a weekly basis. I think that’s the nice thing about being “frum” (read: a religious Jew). You see a lot of your friends at shul on Shabbos. People come to our community, we go to other parts of Cape Town so we really get to see people. I must say that the added bonus of no internet technology or smartphones over this time really deepens the quality of those hours you spend together with friends. It forces catching up face-to-face, bonding over meals (Jews and food, naturally), and encourages social activities like walks on the beach and playing board games. I’ve made some really special friends over the years.

I think it’s come to the point where I’m on my last handful of close friends, and they’ll be moving at the end of this year too. I’m so lucky I have Greg, it’s true, I’ll be in good company for the rest of my life, sure I know that. But it doesn’t replace girl time, or having a nice big social group to hang out with. Greg and I can’t just be “the two of us” all the time.

Every year the Jewish Agency and other organisations send Israeli’s down for the year, in different capacities. In the last couple of years they’ve sent a set of girls down to work for our youth movement. Greg and I live a stone-throw away from their house, and have become incredibly close with them each year. One of this year’s girls left a few months ago, and the other is leaving on Monday. It’s terribly heartbreaking this whole making-friends-for-a-year-and-then-saying goodbye. It’s almost starting to get old, and emotionally exhausting. These friendships are very different because they’re not based on school, university or work. They really reach so deep. The girls for this year (Israeli’s work on a northern hemisphere “year” ie September – June) have just arrived. They are incredibly sweet, and I know we’ll become great friends. It’s just hard. Greg and I already feel guilty, like we’re “replacing” the girls from years before. Is that weird? Probably. I guess I know I’ll have 2 new friends, at least for another year (until the age-gap grows so big and I’m practically a “mom” in their eyes. Oy. Too soon)

I don’t know where this will leave us in a few years time. Will people move to Cape Town? Will we suddenly make a large new group of friends? Will we suddenly make a whole new crowd of “parent” friends when we one day have kids? Are we just getting old? What on earth is happening here (I’m not even 25?! Is this a quarter life crisis?!). I really don’t know. For now, I’m just so unready to leave Cape Town. I honestly love it here.

Oh life, you funny bugger, you.

How to host a Murder Mystery Party

I don’t remember when I last hosted a birthday party (and my 22nd/surprise/engagement one doesn’t count) so to celebrate turning an extra year older, I figured why not. And whlie we’re at it – let’s do something entirely different. So we went and hosted a Murder Mystery party filled with gossip, goals, objectives, friends, dress-up, awards, and well – murder. I think it went down really well(if I say so myself). It was so much fun, and everyone really came to the party (excuse the awful pun) when it came to playing their parts and acting in character.

If you’d like to find out how we went about it, I suggest you continue reading.

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1. Decide on the number of guests

Murder mysteries can accommodate a number of people, ranging from small parties of 8 – 10 people to larger ones of 25. You need to know how many people you’ll be having so that you can pick an appropriate mystery, and this really is one of the ways that actually helped me narrow down my options. If need be, having a limit will also help you get a bit ruthless in cutting down when your numbers seem to get a bit bigger than you can actually handle/afford.

2. Buy an awesome kit

You need to give up on finding a good quality Murder Mystery online for free (well, I tried and came out empty handed). The ones I found were mostly in a similar price range, which I was happy to pay – it just came down to choosing the best and most professionally put together piece. I found Playing with Murder on one of my many google searches and am so impressed with what I found. They have so many different mysteries to choose from that you can really lose track of time going through each sample pack (I spent a lot of time debating between a zombie and Manhattan theme).

The file comes with a 160+ page document which includes how to run the mystery, all the character sheets (which gives a character description and goals and objectives for each half of the game), name tags, clues and even certificates for you to print out. Also – you get audio files to use. Ours came with babbling cocktails party sounds (background chatter) and of course, the piercing shriek of the murder itself.

I must mention how incredibly helpful they were as well via email. I literally sent one saying “I can’t decide on a Murder Mystery, please help be choose from the following” (not quite in those words) and they responded shortly after with an explanation of the different games and how each could be suited to what you’re looking for. Any time I had a question I sent it through and was answered very quickly. You wouldn’t quite think of this as a service, but that’s exactly what it was, and they really excelled.

As an added extra, they have a really awesome pinterest account which can help you with ideas for decor, food etc according to your chosen Murder Mystery. And as an extra extra, if you like their Facebook page you can also get a 10% discount (which with our poor currency, means a lot!)

3. Decide on a host

I’m sure if it’s your birthday you’ll be the host of the party, but if you’re me and not the greatest in terms of hosting (beyond setting up and making food) you might want to grab a wonderful +1 (such as my own Greg) who is wonderfully funny and warm to run the game. We also decided he would be the host so that I could actually take part in the game. While I did know who the murderer was (it’s preferable that only the host knows) because I did a lot of the other grunt work, I didn’t know where he had hidden the clues, so I got to partake in that as well. I must be honest I found it quite difficult to play the game and actually be literal hostess for the night. While I tried to scramble to read my character sheet and interact, I was also constantly worried that everyone was eating and the food was out and ready.

4. Read through the 160+ page document. Seriously.

You really need to know how the game works, especially if you’re going to be running it. The game is split into 2 halves: the first, where everyone mingled in character, fulfilling certain goals and objectives and trying to find out certain information from other characters. During this half you can also serve food (I recommend finger food as I mention below). Then the lights go out, and the murder happens. Then there’s a short break where everyone is handed out their character sheets for Act Two, with another sheet of goals and objectives. During this half characters are also sent on a sort of scavenger hunt to search for the clues.

We stuck each envelope on the wall when each clue was found, and then we all sat around waiting for the evidence to be revealed. One by one the envelopes were opened and someone presented the different evidence before putting it up on the wall for review. There was some time for questions, theories and accusations, which was really fun, especially because each character had gleaned a different piece of information regarding the murder. Then there was a vote – voting sheets were passed out and the results were tallied before we handing out awards!

The document really explains things so well and simply. So read it.

5. Assign characters

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One of the suggested options for this party is to let guests choose their character on a first-come-first-serve basis when you initially email them. You could also go about this the random way, but I felt I wanted to try take into account people’s personality types. You should email people first to see if they will be available on your selected date, and only once everyone has verified their attendance sit down and assign characters.

I wouldn’t put a painfully shy person as a very prominent character. I started by assigning randomly as a guideline, and then went ahead to make sure people’s characters were relatively suitable. I have friends that struggle with reading lots of text, so made sure to give them characters with fewer goals and objectives. I tried to give prominent characters to bigger personalities where I didn’t want quieter friends to be overwhelmed with big roles (especially as there was dressing up involved).

I must be honest – people sure can surprise you! Some quieter people really took the whole experience very seriously and really took their character to heart. Some came dressed up, did their thing and hung out “out of character” for some parts, which was perfectly ok too. Others didn’t as much where I thought they would, so you can’t get the character profiling 100%, but as long as guests have fun, that’s really whats important.

6. Party food

Because there was going to be a lot of interacting and conversation going on, especially in the first half where people would be referring to their character sheets, I wanted to try finger food. We settled on soup out of little mini cups, mini mac & cheese and pizza. Also mini salads skewered onto toothpicks. I think they all went well. The soup was a huge hit. The mini pastas – word of advice – don’t use spaghetti, it won’t hold as well and will fall apart. I used screw noodles and they held quite well I guess. Thanks pinterest. The pizza was delicious, (wholewheat of course, and so was the pasta) and Greg as the “Head Caterer” character went around bringing it to people. It became a bit complicated logistically as obviously you want the pizza to come out hot from the oven and then to serve, but the oven can only take 2 pizzas at a time… so I think you can understand why I was pretty focused on making sure the food was ok. Truth be told, everyone was so busy in character it seemed like the food was somewhat of an afterthought to the evening. But hey, what is a Jewish host without trying to overfeed her guests.

7. Any extra prep

Print out all the character sheets and put them in envelopes for each half (85 pages and 20+ envelopes later). Set up your playing area (for us it meant moving some things around to widen the playing area/s). Make sure your food is ready to go. Our game also involved clues and a bit of a scavenger hunt, so that meant cutting up the clues, putting them in envelopes and hiding them sneakily away. I also strongly suggest you read your character sheet. I was so caught up in preparing for the party, I kinda ran out of time to really prepare for my character.

Let the good times roll!

The night was so much fun. I think it was everyone’s first Murder Mystery party. We’d all heard of them, but never been to one. I am so glad that everyone had such a good time and really took their character to heart – and oh, the dressing up! I’m really glad to have such great sports for friends.