Wednesday, April 30, 2008


What are you scared of?
Everybody is scared of something.
The dark? Spiders? Commitment?

It’s totally normal to have a phobia. My sister had to move out of her apartment for 2 months when she found a mouse in her bathroom. Nobody thought that was odd. Nope. Tons of people are scared of mice.

But me? I am good with mice. They are cute little Mickies and Minnies to me. Spiders are icky but I don’t mind if I see one climbing on the wall. I only can sleep if it’s dark and I have been in a wonderful committed relationship for 11 ½ years- and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

But I am a normal human being and I am afraid of something. Driving. Yeah, the thing that teenagers count the days until their 16th birthday for? That’s what scares the bejesus out of me. Yup yup yup. Leave it to me to have the crazy lady fear.

And no, it’s not because I lack the confidence.
And no, it’s not because I am just manipulating the people around me.
And no, it’s not because I just “need more practice.”

It is a fear. Like alligators or heights or airplane rides. It’s just more unusual and hampering and annoying and easier for other people to make fun of. But that doesn’t make it less scary for me.

And while it is a pain in the patootey I have great friends and a fantabulous husband who understand and help out. But when Princess Perfection came along not driving was not an option. You have to drive when you have a child. To school, to parks, to play dates, to haircuts, the doctor-the list goes on and on.

But I still hate it. I get woozy behind the wheel. I get shaky going over 40. I get pale when cars get too close and I won’t even start on what happens to me when I try and park.

But then there was last week.

Last week I got thwacked with the whole reason I’m a big freak show of fear behind the wheel.

No, I actually got thwacked.

It was at 5 miles an hour. It was not my fault, and the lady who hit me had a nervous breakdown because she felt so bad. And when she found out I was 20 weeks pregnant-well that was the best look of guilt I have ever seen. And even though I had to be pulled free, I’m fine. My poor Honda is not looking so glamorous and will apparently be ready in 2 weeks….of course I don’t know which 2 weeks. And as of tomorrow there are odds I could be driving around in a glamorous rental PT Cruiser.

I was really upset when it happened. And when a certain in-laws who shall remain nameless first heard about the accident, instead of saying “Oh dear! I hope she is ok!” said “Oh dear! I hope she isn’t going to be scared to drive again!” I was bothered.

But they had a point. If you are scared of snakes and go for a hike and fall in a pit of snakes it might be a while before you go on a hike again.

But you know, it was scary. And I am going to get a little extra queasy when I drive by that part of town. But now that I have no car and had to get chauffeured to the grocery for milk I don’t hate driving less… but I do appreciate it more.

I do my darndest to ensure that my Mini Me is as afraid of as few things as possible (except dating) and is able to go on roller coasters and drive on the highway and watch Bubba (her future pet mouse) roll around the house in his mousey ball. And I am not so insane to want the same for me. A happy healthy balance of things I should be afraid of (like wild tigers) and things that I shouldn’t be afraid of (like Tony the Tiger-mmmmmmmfrostedflakes).

The grey area is that there are those things that you probably SHOULD be afraid of, like driving (big boxes of metal moving at lightening speed? SCARY)…but can’t let overtake you. So I will push through. Appreciate that I am ok. Appreciate that I am a careful driver. And appreciate that at some point after some 2 weeks I can stop driving the PT Pimpmobile and be back behind the wheel of my car.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Listen, Israel!

Every night I say the Shema with Chamudi. We've done this nearly every night since he was born, which probably makes it the most sustained instance of formal prayer in my life, ever.

Saying the Shema is the last thing I do before I put Chamudi to bed. He finally begins to relax and give into the quiet of the evening as we cover our eyes and begin...

Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad

Some nights its incredibly rote. I'll get to the end of the prayer and not even remember the middle. But on others I really try to think about the words that I'm saying.

That's when I realize that I'm being educated too. The way I see it the Shema is really kind of a guide to being a Jewish parent. It gives us the ultimate example of unconditional love (with all your heart and with your soul and with all your might). It teaches us to be consistent role models of committed Jewish living, wherever we are and whatever we do (in your home, as you go on the way). To place reminders of our Judaism all around us (on our hands, between our eyes). It reminds us, most importantly, to teach it to our children, lest the chain end with us.

And so, in those last moments of the day as we cuddle on the rocking chair and sing our Shema together, perhaps we are teaching each other.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Home Schooling a Jewish Education?

There is no doubt that this Pesach took a tremendous amount out of me. In addition to the shlepping and shopping and cleaning and cooking, I devoted quite a bit of time and energy to preparing my son for the sederim.

He goes to a wonderful school. But sadly, though it is a Jewish school, he really gets no Jewish content in school. His teachers are wonderful - and they are not Jewish. It is unfair to expect them to educate my child. So that leaves it up to my husband and me.

Initially I thought this would be fine. I am a Jewish educator, and I like being the one in control of the information he gets. Each night at dinner, we would have a model seder, which he loved. We listened to Pesach songs in the car (ad nauseum.) We told the story of Pesach over and over. We even made Matzah covers.

Then the big night arrived. My 4-year old niece showed up with her handmade Hagadah, which she made in school. She knew the four questions. She knew lots of English songs. She was raring to go. Truthfully, I don't think she knew that much (if any) more than my son. Yet, I still felt a sense of emptiness as I watched her so excited to show off her Hagadah and all the songs she had learned.

My niece had learned about Pesach at school - in the context of peers and community. All of her friends had made a Hagadah, too. And it was something she did independently of her parents.

This year's sederim made me realize that just as I don't want to home school my children for their secular studies, I also do not want to home school them for their Judaic studies.

It is not a dynamic I want in our family. I want my children to be able to learn about Judaism with their friends at school - from their teachers there. The parent-child relationship is complex enough without adding this kind of pressure - both to the parent and the children.

Of course the education will be supplemented - and most importantly - lived out in our home. And all of this depends on the very uncertain reality of us actually being able to afford Jewish day school. But I really know now that Jewish day school is really and truly my first choice.

And not because it guarantees the best Jewish outcome for my kids. There is certainly no guarantee there, and I know so many people who have left observant life because of experiences in Jewish day schools. I want my kids to go to Jewish day school because I want to experience the next 18 or so years of holidays, shabbats, and life in general with them learning about Judaism in the context of a school community.

I want my children to be able to bring their handmade preschool Hagadot to the seder and feel happy and proud. And I want to sit back and appreciate their work - not as their teacher, but as their parent.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

How much of my life do I want to change (again)?

Probably every parent is mildly crazy to sign away 18-21 years (minimum) of her or his life to a strange, wrinkly baby who could turn out to be anything. But why should I stop there? Why not contemplate giving up a tenure-track University teaching position in the USA for a tenure-track position in Israel? Why not discuss long-term relationship plans with someone I met six weeks ago?

My life as a single mother in the USA is fine. I’m damned lucky in my daughter, community and job. Why would I want to change it in the most fundamental ways possible right now, after I’ve already changed it in the most fundamental way possible by giving birth?

Israel makes me feel alive, and it’s breathtakingly child-loving. Though G-d knows why I love it. I know very few people here; I don’t speak the language yet, unless you count fluency in shopping and talking to children in the park. I don’t even have access to a washing machine, and my kitchen is the size of a postage stamp. The country is one dusty, loud construction site, and the next war is always just a matter of time. But I do love it.

My job in the States is wonderful. Of course university professors are better paid in the USA. And can I really trust that I will, indeed, come up for tenure when Israeli University says I will (or even come up for tenure at all?) Tenure would mean job security for the rest of my life.

The relationship is also a puzzle. I’ve got a child: not an issue. Baby’s young, he says. She won’t remember life before him anyway. And, I hate to say it, but he’s already a far better father figure to her (and for me) than…others I could mention. Babydaddy’s 6- week Shabbat visit, for example, always includes his two-hour nap after he eats the lunch I make him. This guy GETS it. He pushes me into another room and plays with my daughter for an hour or two so I can study Hebrew, though he’s got three simultaneous deadlines in the next 36 hours himself and my mastery of the past tense isn’t urgent. (It’s already the past, right?)

My years his senior: not an issue. Yes, he’d like children (in addition to mine). But it just means we’d have to start sooner rather than later.

We know each other fundamentally, but not the little things. I know he is kind, thoughtful, patient and really smart. He thinks I’m gorgeous, brilliant and brave. Our levels of religious observance are the same, and our religious philosophies identical. But I’m leaving in 2 1/2 months no matter what (I owe my US University at least one more year), so we have to decide.

Those of you who are married to sensitive men and good fathers know how amazing it is to have a partner who’ll play with the children and do little things like take out the garbage and give you a foot massage without being asked. The first time he did each these things, it seemed nothing short of miraculous. I had to bite my tongue to stop at two or three thank-you-you're-so-wonderful’s.

I’m outrageously lucky to have these particular choices in a market in which academic jobs are scarcer than hens’ teeth (at least as scarce as single religious men who don’t care about age and who see excessive secular education as a plus, not a threat).

But changing your life in this fundamental way is surreal and terrifying.

I’ve got two more weeks to decide about the job. I’ll probably ask for an extension.

Friday, April 25, 2008


I really would love to give you a challah recipe. Or this really weird yet oddly delicious rice salad recipe. Or a variety of fun fillings to make to go along with yummiest flakiest crust recipe in the universe.

But that would be cruel.

However we are almost done with all this unleavened fun and I think that means 2 things.

Thing 1- You need a recipe with as little matzah byproduct in it as possible.

Thing 2-You deserve something to look forward to.

So I’ve selected a recipe that is yummy in its Pesach form…light and sweet, impressive and easy. Bonus points because it doesn’t taste Pesachy (well compared to say, matzah straight up). Extra bonus points because it does not contain any of that elusive Pesach stick margarine.

Baubie Radine’s Kamish Not Bread

1 cup oil

2 cups sugar

Juice of 1 lemon

3 eggs

½ cup nuts (optional)

2 ¾ cups cake meal

-Cream together oil and sugar

-And lemon juice, mix

-Add eggs, one at a time, keep on mixing

-Add nuts and cake meal, mix and think of how great your muscles will be by the time the cake meal gets incorporated

Pour into a greased 9x9 pan and bake at 325 for 1 hour or until set.

Cut and turn the pieces on their sides and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.

Return to oven until brown.

In its non Pesach form it is also easy, yummy, different from most everyone else’s version and honestly my brother loves it more than anything else (except for his niece) and he is seriously the pickiest human being on earth.

Mahotma Baubie’s Kamish Bread

3 eggs

1 ¼ cup sugar

¾ cup oil

2 teaspoons lemon juice

2 teaspoons vanilla

1 teaspoon almond extract

3 cups flour (oh how I miss thee)

2 teaspoons baking powder

¼ teaspoons baking soda

-Beat eggs

-And sugar, oil, lemon juice, extracts

-Mix dry ingredients in a separate bowl

-Slowly add dry ingredients to oil and sugar mixture

-Thank the Kitchen Aid gods that you have a great mixer around when it’s not Pesach (or just work on those triceps again).

Pour into a greased 9x 13 inch pan (it gets really thick so after you put it in the pan you might need to moisten your hands and smooth the surface) and bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes.

Cool and cut into squares or diamonds and then place pieces side up onto a cookie sheet.

Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.

Bake at 275 for 15 minutes until crunchy.

Mahotma Uncle’s Favorite version: Return the mishes to the oven for just a couple minutes. He likes them soft.

The But I Don’t Wanna Go Back to the Grocery Store version: It is totally just as delicious without the almond extract.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Best. Pesach Game. Ever.

So Pesach is fun. It is one of my favorite holidays. But…it gets tedious…it gets a little matzahtastic. Thankfully the unborn child is happy as it seems to be using the matzah cement in my tummy to build a pool. Happy happy joy joy. But overall I have to say a fun but long holiday. So in my unending cleverness I have devised a game to make time move a little faster, and perhaps give my colon something to aspire to. It really is a brilliant invention when you think about how much entertaining has to be done on this holiday. How much showmanship there is at the seders. How much time and energy is put in the kitchen. And how much effort goes in to making everything (including your matzah bloated tushie) look good.

Ladies and Gentleman, this is Passover Idol.

It has been a tight race here at Mahotma Arena. We are 3 days and 2 seders into the competition and there is no way to call a winner just yet. An unfortunate but early loss in the competition was Chametz. Apparently he broke some of the Passover Idol guidelines as his leavened goodness was just too much for this competition to bear. His presence will be missed for the remainder of the competition.

The first seder was a toughy. There was an amazing show put on in the kitchen by Mahotma Mama, Mahotma Auntie and Mahotma Baubie. Mahotma Zaide won huge points at the end of the evening with his version of Hallel on Speed and helping finish the show on time. But unfortunately first seder was when we had to say goodbye to Mahotma Uncle as Mahotma Cutest Princess Genius Daughter took over as the Mah Nishta Nah champion in the family with her crystal clear version of the 4 Questions in Falsetto. Well done.

Second seder was also a tight race, beautiful singing and food for all. However Mahotma Zaide won the fewest votes and was eliminated. This former crowd favorite lost support when he openly admitted he chose to not purchase the “Let My People Go” toilet seat cover. Tough break Mahotma Zaide.

In the moed portion of Idol things heated up as Mahotma Baubie blew the rest of the competitors out of the water as she showed us all how to spend the day power shopping for the impossible to find toddler Mary Jane crocs (in purple). Mahotma Daddy and Mahotma Auntie were in the bottom 2 last night as they both had to return to their “real” jobs and clearly could not give the competition their full attention. However, thanks to Mahotma Auntie’s miraculous ability to prepare for her major field exam while making it back in time to join her niece for dinner, it was Mahotma Daddy who is no longer in the running for Passover Idol. We shall miss you Mahotma Daddy.

So who will be eliminated this evening? Will Mahotma Cutest Princess Genius Daughter’s inability to sleep past 7am cause her to lose some of her many supporters? Will Mahotma Unborn Child be able to pull out a silent victory? Will Mahotma Auntie be able to make it in time for dinner? The answers to these questions and more will be answered tonight as we get one step closer to crowning this year’s Passover Idol.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A Nasty Surprise

Well I guess April really is the cruelest month.

Last Wednesday--3 days before Pesach--I was informed by my company that they are "replacing my position with one on a much lower level, and in New York."


There's always been some degree of job insecurity inherent in working from home. I was always out of the loop, always a step behind the company's next move. And frankly, I wasn't always so satisfied with my situation. But it was great Ima-wise, and so my plan was to sit tight...for now.

Plan A out the window.

So now I'm working on my plan B. The company is being kind enough to give me until August to find something new--a real chance to transition gracefully to a new and exciting position that allows me to learn and grow and develop and get out of the house on a regular basis.

Aye, there's the rub. Our childcare situation is going to have to change dramatically--and since I don't know what or where my (God please let me find a) new job will be, I can't even do much yet to prepare.

It's inevitable that any new position will force me to become less of a constant presence in Chamudi's life, and that makes me sad. But I'm thankful for Abba's grad-student flexibility, and hopeful about finding something that will allow me to flex my time or work a day from home.

So, just in time for Passover, my Exodus begins. For now I'm just clearing the sand out of my eyes and trying to make sense of the new world around me. But maybe by August I'll find the promised land.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Haroset in a Hurry

Think of this as the "who the heck is making the haroset?" haroset recipe.

The ingredients are super-simple:

-jarred applesauce
-store-bought crushed walnuts
-sweet red wine

Mix to taste. Instant haroset!

And for midweek dinner boredom, enjoy this Passover Spinach and Cheese Lasagna recipe deveoped by food writer Adeena Sussman.

Where is that little piece of fingernail?

This is the first time, save a year of student life in Israel, that I am making seder. I have wanted this for so long that it almost seems like a dream that it's here, and I welcome the aching fingers and soles of my feet that come from the endless hours of preparation and chopping (still, as I write, taking place). Seder with my parents had become interminable; two creative folks in other places in their lives got stale, so stale that we literally read around the table till we were so bored we went to bed.

I took an hour on Tuesday to get a pedicure and read through our haggadah. I know that sounds like a tremendous amount of sacrilege for one hour, but it was the only way I knew I would sit still long enough to read from Kadesh through Nirtza. And I found myself bawling while I was reading it, from the overwhelming sense of excitement and happiness that I finally have a chance to wrest this set of mitzvot from my parents and fill it with meaning for my son (and for me).

But somewhere inside of me I miss my horrible boring family seder. I miss grating the apple for charoset with my mother until my fingers are numb and I lose a bit of fingernail from careless grating. I do not miss the brimming resentment of having to clean my house and then go and clean hers, of working like a dog because she insists on serving 47 side dishes, or standing next to her while she fakes chicken soup by putting orange juice in the canned stuff with some chopped carrot and celery. I do miss the list that my mother keeps in the boxes of Pesach dishes of what gets made for seder, and what has changed from year to I made my own (on the computer, but I did date it).

Many, many months ago, I posted here about making resolutions for the new year...and I posted about making the commitment to myself to follow through on not going to my parents for Pesach. Here I am, erev erev chag, less than 24 hours till Shabbat, and I am doing it. I'm kind of proud of myself. Actually, I'm really proud of myself, but let's see how the seder turns out!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Mitzvah Z'man Grama - What About Pesach??????

How often do I neglect to daven each morning! It would only take 10 minutes and would most likely be a positive, calming, and centering addition to my day. But I always put it off. And I often justify my own laziness by remembering that technically I am exempt from daily davening. Why? Because supposedly taking care of two young children requires so much energy, that I can't be expected to be counted on for daily tefillah - no matter how little time it takes!

Then I get to Pesach. Even if we weren't hosting seder...the planning, the shopping, the cleaning, the shlepping - all with little ones pattering about - surely takes so much more mental, physical, and emotional energy than an abbreviated, but heartfelt shaharit each day. So why then aren't we exempt from preparing to such a degree for pesach? I get that the halachot of Pesach are so stringent and have no flexibility. But it simply makes no sense to argue that exempting women from time-bound mitzvot is somehow considerate of a person's time and energy - when Pesach puts so many more demands on parents.

When it comes down to it, I have found that trying to prepare properly for Pesach while also taking care of my children is just really, really hard. And I realize that there is a spiritual component to the suffering. It is difficult to appreciate freedom without first experiencing some aspect of Mitzrayim. But I also think there is a spiritual message to mothers davening every day. No matter how much time and energy my kids need, I will be a better parent if I take time away each day and focus on my relationship with God.

And yet, somehow I have managed to spend most of the day getting ready for Pesach - and none of the day davening...

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Going Coo Coo Looking For Cocoa Puffs

It is a good thing I wasn’t born a man. I don’t get how suits, shirts and ties can all have different patterns yet still “match.” I definitely don’t have the aim that is required to pee standing up. And I would remain single forever as I would never ever be able to find another woman in the world who I love as much as my Mommy.

I actually look in the mirror every morning HOPING to be turning into her. I know I’ll never have her pretty blue eyes, or her perfect little ankles but she’s got that good person glow about her that I would love to have. She is giving and kind and generous. She is funny and sassy and has the best clothes ever. And seriously, the best Mahotma Baubie in the universe.

What always makes me revel in her glory this time of year is how she cleans her house for Pesach so I don’t have to.

I will say that part again so you see where my mind is going.

She cleans her house for Pesach, so I don’t have to.

Every year we go there for the entire holiday and every year she works for weeks staying up nights to clean every nook and cranny of her house. She doesn’t sleep, she runs herself ragged and ends up getting some sort of weird disease because she‘s been a nursery school teacher for over 25 years and is immune to all the normal ones. She is exhausted, beaten down, tired out and is always thrilled to see us when we waltz in an hour before yontif.

It’s one of those good but potentially bad things. The most important part of Pesach is the actual chametz cleaning upping. The fridge, the oven, the sink…but if you are like a lot of people I know you use it as a motivation to go through your house and get rid of your dreck. So it means I have a lot of stuff in my house that I should have gone through years ago.

My drawers are crammed full of unfortunate clothing choices (orange and green and purple all in one shirt! For $1.99!?! I’ll buy 2!). My cabinets are full of impulse purchases (who wouldn’t want to try caramel apple flavored….cereal). And my office is full of things that really need to go in the circular filing cabinet (though that persuasive piece I wrote on why white shoes should be worn after Labor Day my freshman year is pretty awesome).

It really is brilliant because if you don’t have a good excuse to do it, it’s so not going to get done. So since I lack the motivation…it is so not getting done.

But last night a wave of inspiration…hormones…insanity struck me and I thought-you know, I SHOULD clean some of the dreck. I should clean out drawers and cabinets and wouldn’t it be so great if I could remember what the color of the small bedroom carpet was?

So I thought I would give it a go and began by working on cleaning out the pantry in the kitchen. Four small shelves loaded with a variety of cans and pastas and rice. But I got to the can shelf and had a breakdown. I was good on the soup layer but then I didn’t know what to do with the beans-should they go with canned vegetables? Well no, they are the “musical fruit,” there is a whole song about it. So they went by the mandarin oranges and cranberries. Then I didn’t know how to store the open candy. Should I put it on a high shelf so my daughter couldn’t reach it or a low shelf so I wouldn’t bother trying to?

You can begin to understand why it took me 2 hours. Two hours to do one small pantry.

I emerged sweaty and beaten. My eyes brimming with tears from the stray kernels of rice that wedged themselves under my nails. But the pantry was clean, neat and organized. It was oddly cathartic. I could almost understand why my mom doesn’t mind going nuts looking for crumbs in her shoe organizer. But did I go upstairs and start working on my crammed full of cheap lingerie nightstand? Hell to the no.

I am blessed for so many reasons. I have a wonderful husband, a beautiful daughter, a lovely house and a Mommy that I think the sun rises and sets on. I realize that she takes on the insanity of Pesach so I don’t have to. And I know she would be oh so hurt if I chose to ignore her generous gift to promote my own insanity. So Mommy, I love you. I will gladly accept this gift of Pesach NonCrazy which you have bestowed upon me. Because heaven knows if Pesach preparations were left up to me we would so just move into the backyard for the week.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Silly Sweet Shabbat

Abba and I are big on trying to instill an intense love of Judaism in Chamudi from an early age.

The most important part of this, I think, is a love of Shabbat.

Shabbat in our household is a day of sweetness. On Shabbat Chamudi gets juice, cookies, and cake. He gets to go to shul and see all his friends and sing silly songs and do fun dances. He gets to play with Ima and Abba a whole afternoon without interruption. It's a special day.

And he's starting to get it. Last week he started repeating the expression "on Shabbat" back to us and so we shifted into high gear. We'd eat the challah, we told him, "on Shabbat." We were buying new shirts to wear "on Shabbat." And on and on, clear through Shabbat day.

So imagine how happy I was at shul when he started wishing people "Hi Shabbat!" So cute. And on Monday, when he brought me the silk challah cover I had failed to put away and declared "on Shabbat," I knew that he was really beginning to understand.

I think our little love campaign is working. At cookie minyan this week, our just-barely-verbal little boy was asked what he was thankful for this week. He pointed to the big crate of stuffed Torah's and proudly proclaimed: Torah! Our jaws dropped. We were so proud!

Chamudi is only 1 1/2, and the adventure has really only just begun. No sooner did he learn the concept of "on Shabbat" than I found myself noting offhandedly things that we'd have to miss because they are "on Shabbat." So perhaps our biggest challenge will be teaching Chamudi to love the negative commandments as well as the positive ones.

But for now I am happy with the simplicity of our Shabbat sweetness, and the happiness that we find together "on Shabbat."

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Afternoon Challenge

My son attends full-day preschool at the JCC. It is a 5-minute walk from our house and I work there. I am have a flexible part-time Jewish educator job and am also the preschool (and my son's) music teacher. Needless to say, it is a great deal.

When I first decided to send him there, my primary reservation was that it was full-day. It just seemed like an unneccessarily long day for him, especially considering that I only work part-time. So I decided to pick him up each day around 4:30 - after naptime. This would give us a couple of hours to spend together before dinner.

Sometimes the 4:30-6:30 time is wonderful and I am deeply grateful that I have such a flexible schedule. But truthfully more often than not, it is difficult. Playgrounds are particularly difficult, which is hard when the weather is so nice. Playgrounds have always been hard for us. The combination of his low muscle tone, fearful temperment, and transition challenges (it's always hard to figure out how each influence the other), it's hard for him to just relax and have fun there.

And my presence always seems to make things worse! Lately, he likes to bring a favorite book to the playground, have me sit "criss cross applesauce" and listen to him "read." This is great for a little while, but sooner or later, my one-year old daughter wants to crawl all over the place and I want him to get a little exercise! He gets very frustrated when I chase after my daughter or stand up or encourage him to play.

We just started going to occupational therapy, which I am hoping will help him feel more confident on the play equipment.

Meanwhile, I am often left wondering why I pick him up early (and earlier than almost everyone in his class) when a lot of times, neither of us seems to be having any fun! I don't mean to paint it entirely in negative terms. We do a lot of other fun activities together and lots of times we just go home and chill out. But no matter how much I plan or how thoughtful I try to be about that time, it often, quite frankly, just sucks.

I still think the full-day in school is too long. And I still plan on picking him up early. I have to hope that some good will eventually come out of the Afternoon Challenge. And despite how difficult he can be, he always drops everything and runs into my arms when I come pick him up. Maybe after a long day, he just needs to act out, and I need to help him work it out.

The Hair Cut (mine, not hers)

I like to think that two of my dear friends got married this year because Fernando at the Rack Room in Austin made me buy a pair of pink boots. I’d worn the boots for Simchat Torah in another city. The future bride’s friend had noticed the girl in the boots and had asked to future bride to accompany him to talk to me, and when I saw future bride in synagogue in DC, I remembered her, invited her to my house for dinner, where she met future groom.

Sometimes shoes (and hair) are important.

That’s what I told myself as I attempted my second haircut accompanied by the baby. Why the hell not? It has been a bad two weeks. My only two credit cards have both reported several hundred dollars of charges that I did not make. The apartment building overcharged me rent by a third. The University here is two and a half months late in paying me. Babydaddy is angry with me because I insist on claiming my daughter as a dependent for income tax purposes. I decided to get a haircut.

I chose the salon because they let me breastfeed in their garden once on a hot, crowded day. They said the expensive fee will get you a cut, wash, styling, and “good vibes.” Baby was pretty good in my lap, in a high chair from a cafe across the street, sticking her hands in the fish aquarium, and eating a chunk of bread from the restaurant next door. The stylist blew soap bubbles for her, too.

It was much better than the first haircut. Then I had to tip everyone in the building because my screaming child would not be distracted or comforted. Apparently she was terrified of the blow dryer. (Huh, I thought, I guess I don’t blow dry my hair anymore). I fled with half my head wet and half styled, that time.

This time the stylist worked calmly for an hour; baby would just have to understand that here was an artist at work. The cut was astounding. It’s totally impractical for motherhood—I have to lift my wispy, in-my-eyes bangs to find baby’s pacifier or socks because I can't see what's on the floor. But I’ll wear it in all its glory for at least 12 hours before I pull it back in a ponytail. It's going be a waste not to go out tonight and show it off.

Though I’ve not worked out in, oh, about two years, and I was wearing no make up and a black t-shirt covered in babygoo, I strode down the street after the haircut, feeling like the queen of Sheba, turning heads right and left. Though my girl was tucked neatly in the ergo, for the first time since she was born, no one noticed her at all.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Shabbat Recipe: Foul with Yogurt (dairy or pareve)

"Remember the fish which we freely did eat, and the cucumbers, melons,the onions and leeks in Egypt."

If you ever get a yen for Egyptian food, what better time than before Pesach, I say. Here in Tel Aviv, the delicious and beautiful foul (Egyptian fava bean) is in season. Last year I saw them in farmers’ markets in DC, but they may not be readily available fresh until June. They grow in broad, thick, long green pods, and the seeds are beautiful pale gray-ish green. Fresh are fantastic.

You can also use canned fava beans, or dried Foul, which you can find in Middle Eastern or Greek stores.

I don’t know how many servings this recipe actually makes because I “taste” it in all its various stages, and pass spoons around to anyone who happens to be visiting when I cook it. But it probably serves about 6 people, depending on what else you’re serving.
I serve it as a main dish. It’s SOOO good.

3-4 cups of foul (fresh, dried that have been cooked, or canned)
4 or5 tomatoes, chopped
1 large, finely chopped onion. I use yellow onion.
2-3 cloves crushed garlic
2-3 Tbs olive oil or butter, for cooking the onion
black pepper
cayenne pepper
a squeeze of lemon juice
1 cup plain yogurt (I use the full fat or kefir because pectin makes the yogurt curdle)

FOR PAREVE: use olive oil and soy yogurt

Method: if you are using fresh foul, you’ll need to cook them for about 10 minutes, or until soft. Let them set in hot water for another 15 minutes (I found they are very forgiving with various cooking times). Run cold water over them, then remove the skins. It’s time consuming, but really worth it.

Sauté the onion in oil or butter until it is translucent, add the tomatoes and cook until they are soft. Add garlic, beans and spices, mix well. Add about 1/2 C boiling water. This softens the foul until some of them break apart and thicken the mixture. Cook for about 15 minutes.

I mixed the yogurt in at the end, but you can also drizzle it on individual servings.

I just have to add that one of the things I like best about being a mother is that I can say with authority, "eat, eat, you're too thin!"

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Zichrona L'Vracha

Today, my son pulled Harry the Dirty Dog off of his shelf to read. And I burst into tears.

For four happy years, I shared a 7x15 office with Barbara Katz. Happy years, because in spite of our overcrowding, and the fact that we both had faculties of nursery school and religious school teachers coming and going from this minuscule space, we developed a deep friendship. Our relationship was born out of a tiny impersonal space and grew out of a love for children and a love for books, a mutual annoyance with office and synagogue politics, exasperation with our disorganized colleagues, the death of two inlaws and a grandfather, a pregnancy and birth of a child, and a million other tiny routine things that brought us close. I used to say that if things didn't work out between me and my husband, I would marry Barbara. I hope her husband Michael, her college sweetheart, found that funny...

We fought with our husbands in the same space, whispering into the phone. She checked up on her 3 children by phone and email while I chatted with my parents and friends, and although we maintained our privacy, we grew to know intimate details of each others' lives. She was allergic to curry, I knew, because we used to order in soup together from a local takeout place that often had curried corn chowder. She regaled me with funny stories about her students, who loved her and called her by both her first and last names, stories so vivid and told with such vigor and joy that they could be nothing but the truth. She never minded that I pretended to be my own secretary (I didn't have one) and anonymously answered my own calls--in fact, she found it funny.

We were then separated, she to a lovely new office and me, still in our cubby hole, alone with my books and stuff. I longed for her and would find myself hanging out in her space, just to hear what she had to say about a ridiculous parent of a student, or help her figure out Microsoft Word. And a year went by, one where I needed lots of advice and help as I figured out how to make it as a new mother, and one where I craved her comfort and her ready laugh. Not 50 feet away, but she was still too far. I actually had to call her on the phone sometimes from my office!

Then, as summer was waning and we were wrapping up our August preparations for the new year, she went on vacation. And in the cab on the way to the airport, she had a seizure and was rushed to the hospital, where she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. I don't think anyone imagined that she would recover. But she did, slowly, getting her confidence and movement back, after extensive surgery, wearing a cap or beautiful flowy scarf, and eventually returning to the work she loved so much. She managed the entire thing with the grace and courage that she managed everything else, and I know that she left an indelible impression on everyone with the way that she handled her own illness. And then, this past fall, she got sick again.

Barbara died on Sunday, leaving three beautiful children in their 20's who are suffering tremendously. Three children who will miss their mother every day forever, who feel cheated because she won't be there for them and celebrate their birthdays, dance at their weddings, and hold her grandchildren. And she left her husband, a man whose humor, wisdom and grace matches hers perfectly, a true partner, alone, with a broken heart. His eulogy was a love note to her, and I wish that she had heard it. But I am sure he told it to her every day, in other ways.

This tremendous woman, filled with a natural sense of humor that never offended and was always truly funny, who loved books and gave them as perfectly matched gifts to their recipients, who believed that children deserve to be nurtured and supported over learning their ABC's, who gave hugs to everyone, was my friend. She was genuine and not pretentious, loved wearing her art smock, kept a suit in a closet at work just in case she needed to look dressier, and loved bicycling (but not too much). A light in this world has gone out, and the entire world is darker and sadder for it.

I was not a good friend to her in the last months of her life. I didn't visit as I should have and didn't take my son over to visit so that she could have some joy in watching him read Harry the Dirty Dog or Amos and Boris, or any of her other favorites that she had given to him. I had my own crap going on. It is no excuse, but it is the truth. I was afraid. I was also losing my aunt, about whom I wrote often in this blog. It is something I will forever regret and I will not make the mistake of allowing it to happen again. I am angry with myself and ashamed of my own shortcomings. I didn't care for her the way that she would have for me.

When my grandfather died, Barbara made me soup. In fact, she would often bring me recipes she'd tried, and sometimes a sample. My two favorite soup recipes come from her, in fact. But more than soup, she taught me by example the comfort of a meal made for you at a time when you are just too stuck, to sad, too hurt (or even too filled with joy) to cook. I was proud to help organize a few months of meals for her family after she got sick the first time, and was glad to be able to help again when she got sick this fall. I am proud to have learned this from her, because it was such a deeply ingrained part of who she was, to support others in this way. Now, I make meals for others whenever I can, but I obviously prefer babies to death. Now, when I do it, I will make the conscious choice to do it in Barbara's memory.

But the most important thing that I learned from Barbara is how to be a good mother. She loved her children more than one could ever imagine having room in one's body and heart to love. She literally brimmed with love for them. But what she did the best as a mother was let her children be who they were, who they were born to be, who they wanted to be. Not to change them into someone else or force them to conform to some ideal. She did this for her many, many students as well, for the hundreds of children who were either her kids (in her class) or her kids (in her school), as they were all her children. Barbara believed that children were entitled to a childhood, not one filled with structured classes and playdates and learning to read and count by age 3, but one filled with the busyness of a toddler exploring on his own or a child lazily flipping through books, or a group of kids hanging out and exploring life on their own. She mothered us all, and was our favorite teacher.

I will miss her for the rest of my life, mostly every day, or whenever I watch parents and children or children and teachers interact. May her memory be a blessing to all who knew her.

Ode To My Maternity Jeans

Your slimming flare,
Your shaded knees,
With 95% spandex,
I can slide in with ease.

To find your perfection,
Decisions I had to make.
From wash to fit to cost-
You’re jeans for goodness sake!

Then there’s the panel,
The strip of sacred drape.
Full, demi or… magic?
Do I need a hat and cape?

And my petite length,
Such a challenge to find.
But you were worth the effort
Just look at my behind!

Maternity clothes are a joke
All flowers and random bows
Does fashion not matter
If you can’t see your toes?

Shirts that billow, dresses that tent,
From the side I could be a globe.
Yet you are what is normal
In my weeble’s wardrobe.

I dress my little daughter
Jealous of her tiny rear.
I long for the array,
Of what I used to wear.

It is a stressful time,
When everything is tight.
My socks, my rings, my lungs,
Yet you fit me just right.

I feel no glow upon my face,
Feeling pretty is just a bash,
With my body out of control
And quite the mysterious rash.

So I love you jeans,
In you I feel sexy and fit.
Feelings hard to come by
When hormones make me feel like…spit.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

My Mama Told Me

Yesterday the New York Times Well blog began a small contest, soliciting comments on the question:

What is the best advice your parents gave you? If you were diagnosed with a terminal illness, what wisdom would you want to leave with your kids?

It's a fantastic (if morbid) question, and the comments that are pouring in to Well are really worth reading.

The best advice I got from my parents: Never settle for bad treatment--seek out people who love and value you.

The wisdom I'd like to make sure I impart to Chamudi: Don't waste time regretting the things you cannot change. Learn from the past and do better next time.

How about you?

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Great Jewish Children's Books

I wish to recommend a wonderful set of Jewish children's books. Published by EKS Publishing, each of the books in the series is an adaptation of a story from Chumash, including the Creation Story, Lech Lecha, Noah's Ark, Rebecca, and Joseph. Alison Greengard does a wonderful job abridging the Hebrew and adapting the English translations. No Hebrew text is changed or added.

The books are illustrated by Carol Racklin-Siegel's beautiful silk screenings.

At the back of the books are the complete Hebrew and English texts, as well as an easy-to-read glossary.

I came across these books through working with EKS Publishing, who also published my first children's book, The Bedtime Sh'ma.

My 3-year old son loves "In the Beginning" (the Creation Story) and already can recite most of the English and some of the Hebrew by heart.

The series is a great way to introduce your children to the study of Chumash!


In Israel, people are constantly stopping me to tell me how beautiful my child is--his huge blue eyes, his glowing smile--and I’m so happy. Not that they think my daughter is beautiful, but that they disregard the yards and yards of pink she is always wearing and assume she’s a boy because she has fuzz instead of hair.

I did not buy my daughter a single one of her zillion pink outfits—they simply poured in after her birth and for her birthday. I don't want to seem ungrateful--it was really thoughtful of everyone, and generous. But I was also freaked out by all that pink.

There’s nothing wrong with pink. All colors are wonderful in their own way. But why does a little girl have to have all pink? (My daughter looks best in peachy-orange or blue). It’s not that I don’t want any gender encoding at all…I mean, the girl does wear dresses on Shabbat. But that doesn’t mean we have to buy into the entire girly-girl of girlness stereotype.

It was fun to discover that until the twentieth century, pink was considered a boy’s color, and blue a girl’s. I’m so glad that in Israel pink does not carry with it the immense weight and pressure to be cutesy and princess-y that it does in the States. That baby boys wear it (apparently) if they (or their parents) feel like it.

It’s wonderful to be in Israel and to have all colors liberated from the social and cultural associations they carry for me. Apparently red is the Israeli pink. But I don’t care. If I dress my girl in a red shirt and denim overalls, and Israelis judge that to be feminine, well, good for us all. Denim holds up pretty well when my dainty but intensively active and curious child climbs on rocks, chairs, tables, stairs, digs in sand, bolts out of buildings on her hands and knees, and can’t keep her hands off of things with wheels—particularly if they’re covered in oily dirt.

Although I would prefer strangers to comment on my daughter’s engagement with the world rather than her looks, I’m glad that both sexes get the same amount of beauty compliments in Israel, at least as babies.

I get so frightened about it in the States, because the power of beautiful seems so much more important (and gendered) there. Of course children really absorb social messages. I’ve written already about the time my 3-year old niece informed her mother and me that people were so nice to her in the supermarket because she was so pretty. “It’s lucky you’re pretty, but it’s important to be kind and smart, too,” I told her, a little surprised at her intuition. “You’re just saying that because I’m a lot prettier than you were when you were my age,” my niece told me. “They may be true, but I was a lot smarter,” I said in desperation.

But I wasn’t smarter than she was at her age. I never grasped the power of cute, of pretty, of meeting social expectations for gender.

The next year I gave my niece a few disposable cameras and a photo album for her birthday, to get her to focus on others. She merely asked lots of different people to take pictures of her. This year I got her a camcorder. We’ll see.

For these six months in Israel, it’s nice not to worry about what messages I’m sending my daughter through the colors she wears. It’s enough to worry about the messages the length of each of my skirts sends out.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Shabbat Recipe: 'Fancy Chicken'

Yes, it's been months since I've posted here, and I hope to get back in the habit. For starters, I wanted to share one of my favorite Shabbat recipes (I do nearly all the cooking around here, though I'm doing a lot less since Didi came onto the scene). It's a chicken dish Didi's Mommy and I have dubbed simply "Fancy Chicken" because guests assume it took hours to prepare--when it's really quite simple and straightforward.

Some of the amounts listed below are approximate, because I made up the recipe and never seem to cook it the same way twice. More to the point, it's completely adaptable--use more or less of any ingredient you want based on your tastes, or eliminate or add at will.

Two chickens, cut into eighths 
1 can artichoke hearts, chopped (or peeled apart by hand, my preferred method)
Black olives, sliced (I used 1 small can of pre-sliced) 
1 sliced onion
Fresh garlic, sliced or minced (a bunch of cloves)
Fresh mushrooms, sliced
Spinach, chopped or shredded, about half a bag
Fresh rosemary, a few small sprigs
White wine, 1-2 cups
Olive Oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Put a thin layer of olive oil at the bottom of a tin or pan, and lay the chicken in it. Put the artichokes, olives, onion, garlic, mushrooms, and spinach evenly on top of the pieces. Sprinkle with rosemary, salt, and pepper. Pour wine evenly over it all. 

Cook, covered, at 375 degrees (or thereabouts) for... um... until it's not raw, usually about an hour. Reheats well and can be frozen.

Enjoy. Let me know if you make it with any additional vegetables, and how it turns out.

Shabbat shalom!

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Once Upon a Mommy's Brain

“Once upon a time there was a beautiful princess who lived in a gigantic castle atop an enormous mountain….”

No, no. Too typical.

“Once upon a time there was a purple monster with 700 pointy teeth and 14 eyes -2 blue eyes,4 brown eyes, 7 green eyes and one gigantic yellow eye that glowed in the dark….”

No, no. Too scary.

“Once upon a time there was a green ogre who lived in a swamp with a talking donkey…”

No, no. Too already done.

I used to be so creative. I used to have all my mojo flowing and I could whip up a story that would make you laugh and cry and be on the edge of your seat until the “The End.” I used to think about majoring in Creative Writing in college but there was that nasty poetry requirement that got in the way. I used to have this free mind that could pull all this crazy random stuff together and make it into magic.

But then I had a child and now I can’t come up with even one good night night story for the poor girl.

She is soooooo creative. She is amazing. She has started playing these pretend games with all of her various stuffed animals and dollies. She goes on rescue missions down the stairs with her flying dragon Beanie Baby. She has a Mommy Panda and a Baby Panda that snuggle in close together. She handed me and her Daddy dish towels to use as capes and made us all put on our sunglasses so we could be super heroes and run around the house. She makes up songs, she tells these fantastic stories. She is me, approximately 30 months and 15 days ago.

One of the times I was privileged enough to be apart of her magical mystery pretend world I had to be responsible for the Baby Frog. Mommy Frog and Daddy Frog were very concerned that the Baby Frog would not wear a coat. It was my job to put the coat onto Baby Frog so he wouldn’t get sick. I sat there paralyzed. How am I going to find a coat in the house small enough to fit this teeny tiny frog? I thought about fashioning a robe of sorts using a washcloth. Or maybe if I cut one of the toes off my toe snuggle socks….but then I remembered this was an imagination game. An imaginary coat would work just fine.

I blame the realness of the child. The concerns of her and maintaining her wonderfulness weighing down on my brain. I want to think of fun summer games to play outside, but I’m preoccupied thinking if I should go spray or cream sunblock (or the ever exciting spray cream-wooo) to ward off the sun’s harmful rays. I want to dance outside in the puddles, but then I worry about her catching a cold. I want tell her a great story at bed but I am so busy worrying if I am making it funny enough, clever enough, adding enough educational elements that I get lost in my own brain.

You’d think as I got more parental I would get more creative. She would be so inspirational to me…or something. I didn’t expect to start making up my own music and lyrics or speaking in a British accent but hey something grand should happen. Well, I am a Mommy-that’s cool. I am fun to hang out with. I have learned how to make her laugh so fantastically that it makes random people on the street laugh. I am not UNcreative – I still have a little of those creative juices in me, I still think about things in different fun ways. And most importantly I am still able to come up with great voices to use for the characters in those stories that are prewritten for my convenience.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Go Crazy!

Pesach is coming, Pesach is coming!

Thanks to Chamudi, we have chametz everywhere this year. Worst... Pesach cleaning... ever.

To help you get your own little ones in the mood for Passover, here's an excerpt from the positively adorable Uncle Eli's Special-for-Kids Most Fun Ever Under-the-Table Passover Haggadah (No Starch Press) by Eliezer Segal.

In the midst of all the cleaning and cooking and stressing, let's remember to sit down with our kids and have a little fun!

The Four Questions

By Eliezer Segal

Why is it only
on Passover night
we never know how
to do anything right?

We don't eat our meals
in the regular ways,
the ways that we do
on all other days.

'Cause on all other nights
we may eat
all kinds of wonderful
good bready treats,
like big purple pizza
that tastes like a pickle,
crumbly crackers
and pink pumpernickel,
sassafras sandwich
and tiger on rye,
fifty felafels in pita,
with peanut-butter
and tangerine sauce
spread onto each side
up-and-down, then across,
and toasted whole-wheat bread
with liver and ducks,
and crumpets and dumplings,
and bagels and lox,
and doughnuts with one hole
and doughnuts with four,
and cake with six layers
and windows and doors.

on all other nights
we eat all kinds of bread,
but tonight of all nights
we munch matzah instead.

And on all other nights
we devour
vegetables, green things,
and bushes and flowers,
lettuce that's leafy
and candy-striped spinach,
fresh silly celery
(Have more when you're finished!)
cabbage that's flown
from the jungles of Glome
by a polka-dot bird
who can't find his way home,
daisies and roses
and inside-out grass
and artichoke hearts
that are simply first class!

Sixty asparagus tips
served in glasses
with anchovy sauce
and some sticky molasses--
But on Passover night
you would never consider
eating an herb
that wasn't all bitter.

And on all other nights
you would probably flip
if anyone asked you
how often you dip.

On some days I only dip
one Bup-Bup egg
in a teaspoon of vinegar
mixed with nutmeg,
but sometimes we take
more than ten thousand tails
of the Yakkity-birds
that are hunted in Wales,
and dip them in vats
full of Mumbegum juice.
Then we feed them to Harold,
our six-legged moose.

Or we don't dip at all!
We don't ask your advice.

So why on this night
do we have to dip twice?

And on all other nights
we can sit as we please,
on our heads, on our elbows,
our backs or our knees,
or hang by our toes
from the tail of a Glump,
or on top of a camel
with one or two humps,
with our foot on the table,
our nose on the floor,
with one ear in the window
and one out the door,
doing somersaults
over the greasy k'nishes
or dancing a jig
without breaking the dishes.

on all other nights
you sit nicely when dining--
So why on this night
must it all be reclining?