Thursday, October 2, 2008

Make it a good one

Since both my birthday and Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year, fell on the same day this year, I promised myself that by the end of the holiday I would come up with a list of things I've accomplished this past year, things I'd like to accomplish in the coming year, and things I need to improve on, to make better this year than last. That's actually 3 lists. None of which I actually prepared, at least not in writing.

I thought about these lists in the shower, I thought about them while cooking, and even while in synagogue (in between chasing my 4-yr old and picking up spilled cheerios and apple slices). And although I didn't get any of them down in writing (not yet, hold on) I realized I've accomplished a lot over the past year. That said, I have even more to improve on in the year to come.

Last year flew by, lots of challenges at home with the kids, lots of changes at work. Luckily, the changes are mostly for the better, at least from my perspective. Thank G-d. I've heard some pretty nasty work stories from friends in other places.

The home front, now, that's a whole different story. Each day comes with its own new adventures, new approaches, new frustrations and new successes. I have to fight to communicate with my 12 year old son, to get him to do homework, to try to squeeze him into some semblance of a schedule, and I know I yelled at him way too much last year. Another challenge is keeping my other 2 sons on track as well. And making sure everyone is well-fed and healthy. And trying to spend quality time with my husband. And getting my life more organized. And, and, and...Sigh.

So, how do I plan to improve things this year? Here's my list, narrowed down to the top 10 most critical changes I'd like to make this year (and since I'm going all out and posting them here, I expect you to hold me to them):

  1. Don't yell (or, realistically, yell less).

  2. Exercise.

  3. Get more sleep.

  4. Make more family dinners we all sit down to together.

  5. Follow up more closely on children's school & homework.

  6. Look for the positive in everything and reinforce it.

  7. Go out alone with husband (to movie, dinner, coffee, whatever!) at least once a month.

  8. Volunteer.

  9. Demonstrate patience & respect, and try to instill these more strongly in children.

  10. Make the extra effort, even if I really don't feel like it.

Now, you may be thinking that some of these items shouldn't be too hard- but let me assure you that everything on this list has been tried and tested, and will take a genuine effort on my part to achieve consistently. I think they're all pretty quantifiable, and there's a pretty good balance among them.

A new year always brings with it so much promise, so much hope, so much opportunity. With all of the above in mind, I will try to make the most of it.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Breakfast in America

So here I am in Pennsylvania, USA.

Flew over for a work-related internal conference that is turning out to be both an eye-opener, and a warm fuzzy experience. Lots of good people in my company doing really good things, and here we are working towards getting all this goodness together. Good times.

The 12 hour flight over on Continental was surprisingly painless - their new in-flight entertainment system is awesome (gotta give credit where due), with tons of movies, tv shows and music to choose from. The stewardess' must've thought I was a goober for laughing out loud so much, but how could I not watch all 4 episodes of Everybody Hates Chris and listen to Billy Joel's 52nd Street when the opportunity presented itself?

And things are going well so far - nice hotel, good food, successful meetings. I even had a chance to take a walk along some nice nature trails this morning. The absence of noisy kids trailing behind me led me to lots of deep thoughts along the way - accompanied by a gaggle of Canadian Geese (click on photo to see them) and their honking chorus. Thought about family, and how frustrating it is that my kids so rarely see my family because we live so far away. Thought about why we still haven't moved to the US, in spite of the never-ending debate me and the Big Guy have about moving to a better quality of life, how much better the service is everywhere, how much nicer people are here. Thought about 9/11, since that's today, and how that totally changed the America I grew up in, and brought it closer in many senses to Israel.

And still, as much as I enjoy visiting America, I must say that I don't feel 100% American anymore. Nor do I feel 100% Israeli. I'm stuck in a kind of grey area between the two, where my Israeli cynicism has jaded how I see America - and my American naivete and manners prevent me from truly reaching native Israeli status.

So tomorrow, as I sit and eat a blueberry pop-tart (they have very cool breakfast add-ons here at the hotel...) I will enjoy the flavors and friendliness and nostalgia that America offers, but continue looking forward to getting back to Israel, my home.

Friday, August 29, 2008

September Make Haste

Did I say earlier that there was a special summer feeling in the air? Yes, I suppose I did, back in July. That was at the beginning of the summer, the kids had just finished school, they still had arrangements for additional activities, and I was continuing to work as usual. Summertime was a blissful, vacational concept. And then came August.

If July 1st comes as a breath of fresh air, then September 1st comes as a rescue mission, the light at the end of this seemingly infinite summer break that leaves both parents and children exhausted and ready to get back on a schedule. And it seems to be a national consensus. In the last 2 weeks of August, when parents meet, they all greet each other with the same question: "So, how are you surviving the end of the summer?" And it's like this every year - especially difficult with young children, whose day care arrangements (pre-school, extended day camp, etc) usually come to an end after the first week of August. Leaving us with 3-4 weeks of absolutely no schedule, no framework, bored/tired/anxious/antsy kids, and very few vacation days.

So, yeah, when my children told me that they were looking forward to getting back to school, I know that the summer was close to its end. And not a moment too soon.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

You are now leaving the comfort zone

Ever realize that the path to getting somewhere is much more enlightening than the destination itself? That was yesterday.

I suppose I could give an overview of what happened last night at the
Nefesh B’Nefesh International Jewish Bloggers Conference in Jerusalem, but that's been done by numerous Jbloggers more famous and reputable than I here, here and here. Instead, I can't seem to stop thinking about what happened along the way.

I took a bus. That in itself is a stretch for me, since I have a car, and I've been driving for years. The combination of a terrible sense of direction and really bad night vision made me decide not to make the drive to Jerusalem this time. I haven't taken a bus anywhere for ages, and it's not that I mind, or that I'm a public transportation snob - on the contrary, it actually felt good to get out of my comfort zone a little bit. A little bit, though, that would've been enough.

Actually I took a train and a bus. And while waiting at the train station, I looked around me, and saw the Israel that I had somehow "left" many years ago, all the while still living here in the middle of it, traded for my suburban oblivion. There was a young ultra-orthodox family sitting across from me, children running, father mumbling, mother knitting...there was a teenager talking to her friends by cellphone about what kinds of snacks they should bring to the Scout meeting that evening...there were soldiers flirting with the woman behind the sandwich counter...and many others. All representing the different faces of Israel that I had originally fallen in love with, and that brought me to this country 15 years ago. But sitting there now, they all felt so distant, so different, as if they were part of another dimension of Israel that I no longer come into contact with. And that made me sad.

In our struggle for better "quality of life" here, we moved to a small town in the center of Israel - which is both very close to everything, but also very detached from everything (aka suburbia). And that's exactly what my husband and I wanted when we moved here. But over the years, and as the family has grown, I find that my whole world is basically either at home or at work, or in the car on the way to either one. And that being the case, I have almost zero exposure to what's going on in the big cities, in the malls and coffee shops, on the streets, and in the world at large that's so close - and at the same time so far from my day-to-day life.

So, arriving at the central bus station in Jerusalem yesterday was kind of a treat. I haven't been there in years, so it was quite a surprise to get off the bus and head into a sleek, modern shopping mall, filled with the vendors, bakeries, and music stores that used to be what gave the bus station its unique flavor. But bringing them inside this fluorescent-lit, air conditioned, 3-story mall has changed that too - comfortable yes, authentic no. Only seeing a prayer-book vending machine there (like those snack machines at the hospital!) made me laugh out loud and think, only in Jerusalem.

But I digress. After taking a third bus together with the help of
A Mother in Israel, I arrived at the conference. It was pretty packed, with lots of mingling going on, and with a great sandwich spread. (Did I mention that I suck at shmoozing?) Silly me, I had assumed that Jbloggers would be a mix of Jews of all ages and backgrounds from different perspectives, different religious outlooks, and maybe even some "native" Israelis. Boy was I wrong. I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised to see so many orthodox Jews at a Jewish blogger conference (mostly Anglos who had moved to Israel, in this case) - they were most definitely the majority.

So, deep thoughts here. Does identifying yourself as a Jewish blogger mean only that the focus of your blog is on Jewish topics? On religion? or on religious life? Or, are Jewish bloggers people who are Jewish and who blog (about anything, not necessarily related to Judaism)? I am sure that an "Israeli bloggers conference" would have had a completely different turnout - more secular, more business-related, wider span of topics and concerns and people. I suppose I consider myself both a Jewish and an Israeli blogger - but not because those are specific topics I blog about. Rather, they are 2 aspects of my daily life, and therefore show up occasionally in my blog.

Tremendous credit goes to
Nefesh B'Nefesh for putting on this event - I believe that it will be one of the first of many similar events that will hopefully widen the focus and reach of Jbloggers everywhere.

Although there were some good speakers on the panels (btw check out WhatWarZone, it's hilarious!), even some non-religious, and one very long-winded former Prime Minister... I realized I would have been wiser to watch the conference online than to travel all this way (and I still haven't mentioned the 1 1/2 half-hour bus ride home).

The other realization is that as comfortable as it is, I should get out of my bubble more often to renew my love of and exposure to the 'real' Israel. But next time, I'm driving.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

From sorrow to joy in record time

Last week, most of the country was glued to the news as we watched or heard about the return of the Israeli soldiers Regev and Goldvasser by Hizbulla, in exchange for their terrorist prisoners.

Although the facts all pointed to the fact that they were probably not alive, we all still wanted to belive that maybe there was hope, maybe they'd come home alive. When the 2 black coffins were shown on the tv screen, it was clear that there was really no reason for celebration. The whole country lapsed into a state of mourning, and all day I was glued to internet news or tv or radio to hear updates.

Fast forward...later that same day.

That evening, we went to a wedding. One that had obviously been planned and set months and months in advance, with no idea what news that morning would bring. I thought to myself how terrible for the couple that this very sad news happened today, that this will be what they remember of their wedding date, and how can people rejoice after something like that happens.

But the amazing thing about Israelis is how resilient they are. Just as the people of this country know when to unite in their strength and sorrow, they also know that joyous occasions must be celebrated with a whole heart.

It was a Yemenite wedding, with beautiful vocal song before the ceremony, the bride and groom yemenite stepping right up to the huppa, and non stop dancing, yemenite and other. And people were so happy -- happy to have a reason to be happy.

It's the circle of life, I suppose, the events we mark and measure our lives against and hope that joy will come sooner and more often than sorrow.

This cycle is apparent in so many Jewish/Israeli customs. Breaking the glass at weddings, to remember the destruction of the Temple before the real celebration begins. Israeli Memorial Day and Independence Day - a kind of bipolar holiday - when the lowest of lows are followed by the highest of highs. Although the manic-depressive nature of these customs is emotionally draining, the logic is there. Remember your losses in order to appreciate your wins.

I suppose the harsh reality is that people here are used to it, if that's ever possible. Let's just hope that reasons to celebrate outnumber anything else...

Monday, July 14, 2008

That's my family in your peanut butter...

Growing up, peanut butter was always a staple in our house.

Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were the default brown bag solution, and more than a few times I caught my dad spooning it straight out of the jar. I even got a Mr. Peanut home peanut butter maker for my 7th birthday (you remember him, right? the peanut dude with the top hat and white gloves - peanuts go in one ear, crank his arm and the peanut butter comes out the other ear - who could want anything more?)

When my own children were younger, I worked hard to get them used to eating peanut butter, even though it wasn't always easy to come by here in Israel, but to little avail. Their tastes changed, rendering PB&J to them as just one of those "American foods" that Mommy liked to eat sometimes.

And then, from a very random Twitter link to a company called P.B. Loco, a light of hope the size of a peanut started to flicker and glow. This company impressed me with their excitement and desire to get people involved in their product through the social media world - from asking for suggestions for new flavors and product names, to holding trivia contests - to get the word out, offering free flavored jars of PB to the winners. So I replied to a few of their contests through Twitter, signed up as a fan on Facebook , and even kind of resorted to begging when I realized that, living outside of the US, I might not really even be eligible to win.

But the fine people of PB Loco came through, and did indeed send me a sample jar of chocolate banana peanut butter. Here's the description on the label (I dare you not to drool as you read it):
"This one was almost too easy. Deep, rich chocolate and untamed bananas from the heart of the jungle fused with our premium peanut butter. Caution: After you taste this, you may need a few minutes to finish the entire jar."

The day we picked up the package from the post office, we were on our way home after a week-long vacation in the South of Israel - hot, tired, and hungry. I actually believed that I'd be able to save the jar of gourmet flavored PB until we got home, maybe even til the next day, to make proper sandwiches. (I hear you laughing out there, but I really thought we'd savour it slowly...HA!)

It started with little fingers in the back seat, scooping bit by bit, delighting in the chocolate swirls. Joy of joys! My boys actually liked peanut butter again! Then the jar was passed on to big Daddy's fingers (still in the car, mind you - about five minutes from home), who, although never a big fan of peanut butter, actually held on for more. The jar stopped in my hands. Fingerfulls led to spoonfulls, then once we were home, led to breadfulls. And within the span of less than one hour we were scraping the very last creamy smudges off the inside of the emptied jar. It was amazing.

And all this, I thought later, started with a few lines in Twitter. What potential the world of social media has to influence us, to invite us in and win us over. It's a relationship that starts with a friendly note, a question, or a bit of advice, and continues with a satisfied and returning customer.

Now that I've got the peanut butter momentum going again in my family, I'm trying to decide which of their new flavors to order by mail, and which flavors to send to my dad for his next birthday. PB with Rasberry White Chocolate, PB with European Cafe Mocha, PB with Raisins and Cinammon - oh, the choices!

Really, it's driving me nuts.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

On the way to eilat

Sand in all directions, an occasional camel, and a car full of snacks - on the 4 hour drive to the southern tip of israel.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Switch into Summer

Ready...28, 29, 30. SWITCH!

Hallelujah. We made it to July 1st, the day after the last day of school. The first official day of summer vacation (for kids). And it is unbelievable how just one day can make such a difference in the atmoshphere of a community (dare I say, whole country?)

It started when I didn't have to nudge the big boys out of bed this morning to get ready for school. It continued as, on my way out of our town to work, I saw the younger kids lining up for day camp at the local community center, shiny camp hats on their heads and water bottles slung over their shoulders. Groups of teenagers cheering them on, proudly wearing their "counselor" t-shirts (scary thought, let's not go there).

It continued as I got to work in record time, less the usual traffic on the freeway, since apparently other parents either got out on the road earlier, or are taking time off themselves. And now, people at work are talking about who's going on what summer trips, and when. It really all of a sudden feels like summertime.

But if you think about it, nothing has really changed - the kids have switched from school to camp (or, for the first time, are just staying home all day, in our case). Work carries on as usual. It's still really, unbearably hot outside. But there is something in the air that is different. Summer vacation. There's something even liberating about those two words.

I suppose the best thing would be not to analyze why it feels different, but just to enjoy. Summer vacation. Aaaaahhhh.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Birthday Bratz

My niece just turned 6 years old. Yesterday, she and a friend had a "Bratz" birthday party with all the kids from her kindergarten class (and their siblings...roughly 40+ kids). They had a very colorful, peppy, and LOUD clown performing, dressing kids up as Bratz, singing and dancing along to all the latest kids' party tunes. There were plenty of refreshments outside for the parents who chose to stay nearby until the end of the party, and plenty of sweets and snacks for the kids inside.

Now, don't get me wrong - I believe that children's birthdays should be celebrated and made a big deal out of, so that the kids really do feel that it's their special day. And I know that kids love all that raucous music and those sparkly arm-tattooes and balloon animals and the clown with the microphone blasting yet another round of hokey pokey - until it comes out their ears.

The part I could do without, though, is the "afterparty" with the rest of the family. This same gathering that happens after weddings and bar mitzvahs, and other big gift-giving occasions. And I've got to wonder what kind of effect it has on the birthday girl herself. This after-party is when all the guests have gone, when the grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins are dying to go home, but must sit through the gift opening ceremony. For "adult" events, it's the envelope opening, counting checks and cash - comparing who gave how much, and whether the amount is considered respectable ("That's nice, Ginny's gift covered the price of her plate, plus the tablepiece"), generous ("Mmm, how very nice of Uncle Moishe to give this gift, he came alone AND lives only on his pension"), or embarassing ("Can you believe that Cousin Yossi only gave such-and-such amount? He came with 3 kids and ate 5 desserts...the nerve!")

I was first exposed to this tradition in my husband's family after our own wedding, and it never ceases to shock and appall me (I heard it happens in other families too, but never actually witnessed it outside our walls). Call me silly, or even naive, I am just happy that people choose to come and celebrate our occasions with us; what they choose to give as a gift is their prerogative - I respect and accept that without a second thought. BUT, I guess not everyone goes with the flow like I do... not in this country, at least.

So there we sat, watching the 6 year old open her presents - with her mother sorting every one. There was the "Bratz"-themed present pile, the other girlie gifts pile, and the exchange or re-give pile. And with every gift there was a comment: "They're good friends, I'm surprised she gave such a skimpy gift" or "Most of the people gave presents worth at least 30 shekels, I saw this water bottle in the store for only 20" or "We gave their son a really nice *brand-name* shirt for his birthday, I would have expected something a little nicer" - and on and get the idea. There were nice, positive comments for some of the gifts that apparently met their standards, but they were the exception.

I love my sister-in-law, she is an amazing and generous person with a really big heart and lots of other more challenging issues to deal with in her life. Maybe that's why it still surprises me to hear her say things like that. Because it's got to have an effect on the girl. She is being raised to judge people on what kinds of gifts they give instead of genuine appreciation for the people themselves. She is learning to compare and compete in an area of life that should be reserved for just being thankful. Once I was even so bold as to say this out loud - everyone agreed, and then continued commenting...

I would probably be a fool to think that this is an isolated occurrence. It is apparently what people are doing everywhere, but especially in the community my sister-in-law and her family live in. The translated name of the town is "Mother of all Towns", and although far from rich or exclusive, this town also seems to be the Mother of all Snobs. I won't go into detail here (maybe save this for another post) about the jeweled flip-flops the mothers were wearing, or the way they wrinkled their noses at the goodie bags handed out at the end of the party - but it's part of a larger, and much more distressing change in values that parents are passing on (or NOT) to their children. Even the fact that my niece wanted a Bratz-themed birthday party is related to this set of priorities, somehow... I think.

Obviously I cannot change these people, but I can do my best to make sure that I transmit more positive messages and values to my own children. There's a lot more to it than just teaching them to say "Thank you".

Saturday, June 14, 2008

To geek or not to geek

Going to MashBash Tel Aviv this past week was great. I finally met in person a bunch of really nice people that I have only tweeted with so far, which was in itself justification to attend. But even more significant was that it exposed me to a slice of the population that I haven't had much contact with at all. The hi-tech crowd. The start-uppers. The web 2.0 following. The geeks.

Full disclosure here - I am a geek! but have apparently kept it somewhat subdued since moving to Israel, since there are so many other personal issues to deal with (no, says husband, it's always been there).

I've slowly been getting into the world of social media, credit going to my big sister, the guru, and realizing there's a whole constellation of sites and concepts and startups and people who are absolutely dedicated to this ever-developing realm. And I've been losing countless hours of sleep trying to learn more about it, since I think the years and years of working in the pharmaceutical industry (in human resources, no less) has distanced me from both the technological and the theoretical aspects of web 2.0.

But then, on the one hand, I'm thinking, how very contradictory it is that all this social media is being built by the stereotypically most un-social kinds of people - those who sit behind a computer all day and communicate mostly with the computer and occasionally with each other (online - no matter how far they actually sit from whoever they're communicating with). I guess that's changed too. Or not, you tell me.

On the other hand, the great thing about web 2.0 is that you can pretty much have a fully satisfying social life with real people online from behind that same computer - choose to socialize when and where it suits you, only with people you choose to meet, yet never have to actually talk to real life people face to face. Phew. Because who likes to deal with people in real life.

Now, I've revealed some of my deeply-embedded anti-social tendencies (we come by it honestly in my family, I refer you to my sister's excellent post about marketing to introverts. We are out there, baby), but I have spent a good portion of my adult years trying to get over them, and get out there. And MashBash made me realize that getting out there is not so bad. Because we're all geeks in some way (except maybe some of those blonde women in skinny dresses that were shmoozing around), meaning that its probably equally uncomfortable for all involved. If I just accept it, I can reap a lot more out of the whole experience.

So I've decided to openly embrace my geekiness and dive into this new world with open arms - attend more events, get to know more people in the business, see what the future holds.

Geek on, dudes!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

June weddings

It's June, and wedding season is in high gear. Most of our friends are already married, we're past the "brit" years and are moving into the bar/bat mitzva rounds. But the few remaining bachelor friends or family members still invite us now and again to watch them ceremoniously tie the knot, have a good dinner, then dance the night away.

Last night I went to my previous manager's daughter's wedding. She was my manager for many years right after I moved to Israel, and treated me like her own daughter (not to mention that both she and my husband are of Jewish Iraqi heritage - and once you're in with that tribe, you're in good hands). So as I joined her and about 200 other guests last night at the wedding, it was like being at a family "simcha".

I don't know who had a bigger smile on her face, the beautiful bride or her mother. People were blowing soap bubbles, breaking out spontaneously in song, all around enjoying themselves. The positive vibes floating through the air there were thick enough to slice, and it was great catching up with colleagues that I don't see much anymore.

But, as weddings do, it got me to thinking (yeah, and a little teary-eyed sniffling too). Looking back, I think I didn't enjoy my wedding as much as I should have. We were so nervous, I was so new to Israel, there were so many people... didn't eat, didn't sit, barely remember what happened under the chuppah aside from bright lights and "harav hamezamer" (the rabbi that wouldn't stop singing!) Good thing there's a video of the event, but you couldn't pay the big guy enough to sit down and watch the whole thing again!

You've got to envy the newlyweds, though - they've got the world at their feet, they're madly in love, they're starting a whole new chapter of life together, they have no clue about the struggles that lie ahead (oblivion is bliss) - what could be better?

I'll tell you what's better. Keeping it going for years and years, getting to know each other in even greater detail (for better or worse), raising children together, the wins, the losses, the really bad dinners, the glances that make words unnecessary, and all the little and big things that bond you far closer than a slice of wedding cake ever could.

And so, 15 years, 3 boys, a dog, a house and a minivan later... things are pretty darn good. And with that in mind, I enjoy other people's weddings even more.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Neither prince nor pal

Today I gave the principal a piece of my mind.

Me, quiet little Rachel who never once set foot in the principal's office in all my 12 years of primary schooling. Me, who has total (even if sometimes unjustified) respect for authority figures. Me, who prefers to write and rewrite and edit every piece of correspondence with the school rather than speak to the staff face to face because I know each "event" will eventually be tucked away in my son's personal file. Me, who has showed incredible restraint at every parent-teacher-principal meeting for the past 5 years at my son's elementary school. Today I pulled out all the stops.

Apparently my oldest son, who is in the final stretch of his sixth grade education with only a month to go before that elementary school becomes part of a past he wants to forget, got in a tiff this morning. By "tiff" I mean that he apparently teased one of his closest friends about his new braces, and the friend punched him in the face (no blood, no injury, just your standard 12-year old scruffle). Should I be more phased by this event? Maybe, but I'm not. Know why? Because exactly the same thing happened last week (for the first time), with a different kid.

But last week I didn't speak my mind to the principal - she called, told me what happened, and like a good girl I came to pick him up. Mind you, we have been under the wrath of this principal for the past 4 years, and she's had countless opportunities to get to know my son, his character, his imperfections and tendency to skew the truth (putting it mildly). And yet, without even bothering to sit down with the two young roosters, who are actually usually pretty good friends, to try and discuss what happened and how they could prevent such a thing from happening again, she felt she had done her job with a mere "nu nu nu" and basically "go home and let your parents deal with this."

I understand that they cannot accept violent behavior in school, and by sending the boys home she was trying to send a message to them and to others. What she doesn't seem to understand is that, at least for my son, going home is a prize, not a punishment. In the end it is me (and my salary) who suffers because I have to leave work to go home and play policewoman. We had a long discussion with him at home about the whole incident, and he did get "restrictions" to his regular schedule. But not another word was spoken about it at school the next day. There are so many other effective and much more creative ways the principal could have chosen to deal with it, but that would require some effort and flexibility on her part, heaven forbid.

So this morning, just when I had pulled into the parking lot at work, I got the call. By the number on the screen, I shouldn't have answered. I know better. "Hello, this is the grumpy old troll...uh, principal. You need to come pick up your son, he was in a fight." Not again, I thought. I muted the Brad Paisley disc I had been enjoying until that moment, closed the car windows, and fired up the air con. And then it started. Maybe it was PMS, maybe it was a lack of sleep, maybe it was the rising summer temperatures this morning that got me all heated up, or maybe I've just had enough.

I basically told her what I thought of her all these years (I won't go into detail here, but it was ugly), and how we are counting the days until my son is out of that school. I politely explained to her that I had no intention of coming to pick him up today, and that I believed she was capable of mediating between them to reach apologies and understanding of what they had done (what is a principal for, anyways?). She responded (quite loudly), and suggested that she and I schedule a meeting over a cup of coffee to talk, because she felt that I had a lot of "baggage" about our experiences with the school that she would be interested in hearing. Yeah, right lady.

Funny thing is, when I got home today and sat down to talk to my son, the first thing he said was "Thank you for fighting for me." I almost cried (again, probably PMS), and realized that I should have told the principal where to stick it long ago.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Burn baby burn

I'm plotzing. It's Lag Ba'omer, the Jewish holiday that is celebrated in Israel mainly by lighting huge bonfires, singing, and food (is there a Jewish holiday without food? No). So I'm here, running between one son's 4th grade class bonfire and another son's 6th grade class bonfire, both within 20 meters of each other, among about 20 more fires all in an area the size of a baseball field.

Although the holiday itself has lost most of its religious significance for these kids, it is a pyromaniac's dream come true and I can't for the life of me understand how parents stand and sit around so calmly eating hot dogs in pita while hundreds of children play with fire. Maybe they're used to it because they grew up with this holiday, maybe they just don't see it as dangerous as I do (hellooo???)

So while other parents have gone home, leaving their little firestarters to frollick around the smoldering wooden planks, I am waiting until 11:00pm, the magical hour the children were promised they could stay awake 'til (don't know which fool parent decided that, but the kids all immediately claimed it), because I am worried. Yes, I am an overprotective mother and no, I don't think 10 year-olds should be left to their own devices when it comes to fire. Wish I wasn't the minority in this case.

Update: Thank G-d we're all home safe (and eau d'hickory-smoke has been mostly washed out of my hair). It's a nice holiday and all, but I could do without the bonfire part. Let's just eat.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Comfortably bummed

It would be so nice just to have enough income to be comfortable. A little extra padding, you know? Not to have to decide whether dentist visits are more important than new glasses. Or whether paying the cleaning lady has priority over going to a restaurant. Not to have to decide whether paying next year's junior high school tuition has priority over a plane ticket to visit my family abroad.

Comfortable would be nice. However, it's not my reality. My reality is having to make those decisions all the time, and usually ending up with the less "fun" but more "economically sensible" options. Obviously, some of the major decisions we've made in the past, such as buying a nice house with a garden, or buying the minivan that was just a little bit roomier, have a direct impact on how much we have (or rather, don't have) to spend on the everyday things. It's the reality we've chosen, and I don't regret it.

And so, although constantly teetering on the edge of my overdraft limit, every now and then a light of hope appears, where all of a sudden a little bit extra jingle drops into our pockets to buy that piece of furniture we've been saving for, or to take that trip I've been promising my son. And just when I find a really great deal on airline tickets from TLV to LAX, the dark cloud of reality rolls over my sunny skies and reminds me that we're going to need that money for a rainy day. Sucks, huh? Yes it does. It sucks being economically sensible.

How will I ever seize the day like this? When will I be able to live for the moment, or buy things on a whim? When will we spontaneously reserve a weekend in a cabin up north instead of checking prices online for weeks and ultimately deciding they're too expensive? I'm starting to depress myself.

In all honesty, and lucky for my husband, I'm a pretty cheap date. I prefer camping in a tent than going to a fancy hotel. I prefer going out for ice cream than eating a 3-course meal in some hoity toity restaurant. But I'd like to feel like I could do those things if I wanted to. Comfortably.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


Sometimes I feel like there are so many other things I should be doing.

Today I randomly started clicking through a popular job board for communication professionals, just to see what's out there. There's a lot. And there's a lot that I could really shine at, if I ever got the courage to leave my current (cushy) job.

I'm starting to think that 14 years with the same company is an awfully long time to be in one place. Not one job, mind you, I made a significant switch about halfway through - but still, that's quite a stretch. Maybe for our parents' generation, when I think job stability and tenure were considered attractive aspects of a successful career, working somewhere for a few decades was all that.
But I'm Generation X. I've got the itch.

Don't get me wrong -I really enjoy my job. I work at one of the most successful global companies in Israel, and I've stayed there this long because it is stable, it is convenient, the benefits are great, the people are nice, I'm well-respected. So why would I consider a change? (aside from the fact that the salary sucks) For a change, I say.

Is there a certain stage at which my creativity begins to stagnate? I felt it in my first job - regulatory paper pushing - the hours were very convenient for a young mother, but my brain literally turned into oatmeal. When the opportunity for change arose, I jumped at the chance, and helped create a platform for internal communications and intranet where there was none. But for how long? How far can it take me here?

The world is changing so rapidly, with so many amazing opportunities and tools, and a whole new way of communicating with each other. Web 2.0 is a mindset that I'm adopting, but one that is almost nonexistent in our organization. If I don't get out now, will I miss the boat? Should I be learning new skills to prepare me for the moment I do decide to jump?

Eventually, I will choose to scratch.

(Right after the next company-subsidized family vacation. And holiday gift. And after I get my shiny pen for 15 years of service.)

Really, I will.


Blooming like crazy
in our front yard. Wish i could post the smell too - it's heavenly.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

A Day to Remember

Tonight brings to a close Holocaust Memorial Day, a day in which I can't help but think about how far we've come, and how far we still have to go.

Last night I took the kids to the local memorial ceremony held in our small town, very nicely put together by the youth movement. At the end of the ceremony, when everyone stood to sing Hatikva, I lost it. Looking around at everyone present, and knowing that thousands more cities and communities just like ours were doing the same thing all around the country, I started crying. Crying from sadness about what it took to create this country and the sacrifices that were made; crying from happiness that we are all here, having realized the dream of being a free people in our own country; crying because even though we are in our own country, there are those will do whatever it takes to try and push us out of here; crying because I'm here in the middle of it all, an active participant in a history that stretches far beyond my little bubble - and that is quite hard to comprehend sometimes.

The entire memorial day (including yesterday evening) was accompanied by sad, Holocaust-related songs on the radio, and Holocaust-related programming and movies on TV (hard to believe there are so many, but there are). Many shops and businesses closed. Remembrance ceremonies were held across the country for survivors and their families. At 10 am this morning, the whole country stopped whatever they were doing and stood for 2 minutes in silent remembrance of the 6 million who perished. It is such an ingrained part of this country, of the Jewish history, and of so many people here, that you can't help being personally affected by it.

With all the crap that goes along with living in Israel, the frustration, the heartbreak and my occasional doubts, it is days like this that I am sure that this is the right place to be. I just wish it didn't take a day like this to remind me of that.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Depression Mentality, or just Depressing?

Peculiar clues keep popping up in my life that keep bringing me back to this thought, so I figured it's about time to post.

I've always attributed some of my otherwise unexplainable actions to a distantly recalled "depression mentality", that was somehow referred to here and there during my childhood. A need to stock up on things when you see them, or to take something very basic and make something more substantial out of it.

Obviously, as a child of the 70's, my life was not influenced by any major economic depression, though I caught a glimpse at occasional reminders from my parents and grandparents along the way - at restaurants, at the bank, at social events, etc. At iHop, Grandma would always sneak a few jelly samplers or sweet'n'low packets into her purse ; my dad would always wrap a few extra brownies in a napkin for later, after Shabbat services; we would never throw away shopping bags (long before the days of recycling - we just accumulated them, I don't remember ever actually reusing them!)

I never invested much thought in it. I suppose I may have been a bit embarassed by these actions, but never saw reason to question them. Until now. When I find myself doing them too.

I recently made a huge batch of candied citrus peels (mmm), and didn't have anything at home to store them in. So, I "took" a few extra empty plastic containers from the supermarket (you know, the ones you're supposed to fill with olives, or trail mix, or other bulk foods in the open bins). I began to wonder how I did this with no qualms, no embarassment, and no looking over my shoulder. I even felt that I was justified in taking them since I spend enough money at that store anyways.

But when I showed my husband the containers, he proclaimed I had become just like his mother (which I have no problem with, she's a wonderful woman, but also a major packrat). Thinking about it some more, I realized that his parents, who had come to Israel in the early 50's, had a very similar mentality, as do most people of their generation here, from many different backgrounds. The 'hoarding' (and I mean that in a good way) of food and supplies is inherent in everything they do - not just because of some good 2+1 sales, but because they want to be sure there will always be enough, as opposed to just a few decades earlier, in times of war, rations, and uncertainty.

Is it a cultural norm or a depression mentality? are we entitled to these things nowadays if they're there for the taking? I'm guessing that Denny's figures in their losses on jelly samplers from the "Golden Girls" crowd. And the supermarkets charge extra on the bulk foods to balance out the cost of the little containers. But does that mean it's okay to take them? Am I passing these unintentional clues on to my children too? And most frightening of all - does it get worse as we get older?

Monday, March 31, 2008

Friday, March 21, 2008


Heres a sample of the mishlochay manot production line...resulting in some serious sleep deprivation

Monday, March 17, 2008

A cookie monster by any other name

The Jewish holiday of Purim is quickly approaching, and with it a flurry of baking, wrapping and delivering "mishlochay manot" to neighbors and friends. Each night this week I'm whipping up a different batch of cookies (and immediately freezing them to keep fresh) - then on Friday, the actual holiday, me and my costumed gang will deliver about 20 festively wrapped plates filled with a variety of yummy cookies to the great delight of everyone who's on the list.

(Don't tell anyone, but I have this fantasy that everyone on our street compares with each other, and secretly all hope to be added to my "baking list". I don't think I need to worry about any of them reading my blog, so we're safe) (oh, and don't tell my husband that these are my fantasies...)

Anyway - this year as I bake and wonder if I will continue this massive cookie tradition next year (last year I swore I wouldn't do it again) - I was thinking, if I only put this much effort into coming up with positive ways of helping my sons with homework, with housework, or with anything I ask them to do that immediately elicits an instinctive "NO". It seems that maybe I am directing my energies into things that are "nice to have" (like COOKIES) instead of really focusing on the issues that need attention. Cookies are always a success, relatively easy to prepare - there's a recipe, I follow it, cookies come out good, neighbors smile and thank me - it's a very positive experience.

On the other hand, when I remind my sons to do their homework, I am immediately met with resistance and crumblings of unfulfilled promises ("I'll do it later..."), which leads me to become a terrible nudge - reminding and demanding over and over again that they stop whatever it is they're doing and DO HOMEWORK. Which brings even more opposition, yelling and resentment - ultimately and almost daily a very negative experience.

Why can't my children be more like cookies? No, the question is, why can't the way I deal with my children be more like making cookies? I need to find the right recipe - a neutral, floury base (the initial approach), sweetened as necessary (maybe with a snack or some good quality time), and just the right amount of "baking powder" (or the equivalent amount of creativity) added to get things to rise...then once it's baking (the actual sit-down and do homework process), it's only a matter of time until we can all enjoy, and gain from, the tasty results. (Although I suppose I should expect to burn a few batches in the process)

And, as my youngest son's favorite song goes: "C is for Cookie, it's good enough for me" - but now that I think about it, I need to strive for much more than "good enough", I need to go for the whole bakery....

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Rainbow Connection

As I was driving home from work today, I saw 2 different rainbows. The first one initially seemed to "end" in a local cemetery, then moved on behind a "garbage hill" that's turned grassy and green (I've got very uplifting views on the way to work each day), and finally left its pot of gold somewhere under a minivan in the parking lot of a huge shopping center. The second one held its position off in the distance, over the next town, all the way home.

And aside from the breathtaking beauty of these refracted spectrums of light, it got me to thinking about the more traditional meaning of rainbows. The rainbow is a sign of the covenant between Noah and G-d after the flood, right? basically promising that it wouldn't happen again. (I"m not trying to get religious here...just rolling things around).

On the one hand, what an easy way to just start everything over from scratch (the Big Finger hits the delete button). On the other hand, by promising not to wash us out again, we the People have to get our act together and clean things up ourselves. What a huge responsibility, and yet, how very wise of the Big Dude upstairs to leave it in our hands.

How can I use this approach as a parent? as a citizen of the world? Empower the people around me, and under me (read: kids), hand over the reins (occasionally...let's not be too hasty here) to let them know I believe they're capable of doing whatever it is they need to do to make their own microcosm better.

And make sure they take their baths every evening to wash away those pesky little habits that get stuck behind the ears. No ark required.

I must have Kermit on my mind these I'll give him and Jim Henson the credit they deserve with the closing lyrics:
"Someday we'll find it, the rainbow connection, the lovers, the dreamers and me.
(HAVE to include this too): La da da dee dee da dum..."

Photo credit: Andy Dean

Thursday, February 14, 2008

It's not easy being green

Kermit was right. It's not easy being green, and the more I try, the more I meet resistance when trying to make healthier and environmentally friendly changes in my lifestyle that I find more and more important lately.

It started with the plastic bags. Although I am a super re-user of plastic bags for a million different purposes at home, I understand that if each person makes even a small effort to reduce the number of plastic bags they consume monthly, we can make a little dent in the piles of nondegradable waste in the world. So I decided to buy reusable grocery bags. And I searched, and I searched...and found some really expensive "designer" ones, which didn't even look all that sturdy, and wouldn't really even hold many groceries, and couldn't justify buying 10 of them for my weekly shopping needs. So I passed those up.

Then I heard that Supersol came up with a great big green reusable cloth bag, reasonably priced (3 shekels a bag) and I was very excited and determined - so I went to one store...all out. went to another store...all out. And not only were all the stores I tried all out, they were so NOT helpful when I asked about the bags. They didn't understand why it was so important to me to buy them, nor did they know (or care, it seems) when they might be getting more.
Okay, so I'm on hold with the bags...reusing old plastic ones in the meantime for each grocery store visit (though they don't last more than about 2 rounds).

Then, I saw on a news feature somewhere that Israeli companies were going to be required to put a little rabbit logo on all kinds of products to show that they don't do unnecessary testing on animals (shampoos, detergents, etc). So everytime I try to be a responsible consumer and go looking for that darn little bunny, he is nowhere to be found. Not on the local products, not on the imports...where is that wascaly wabbit ?

From another perspective, I've been reading more and more about the effects of various food additives on children's behavior, and decided to try and eliminate as many artificial colors, flavors, stabilizers, sweeteners, etc etc, as I can, not just for the behavior effects but really because it seems like the healthier way to go. But guess what...most products (on israeli supermarket shelves) don't even come close to giving enough details about their ingredients to enable me to make any kind of informed decision on what to buy or not. I suppose I could go to one of those health food stores where everything is overpriced and overlabeled - but in all honestly I don't have enough green in my wallet to make such green purchases on a regular basis.

There are a few things I'm working on, or have managed to do already:
1. We've stopped using plastic (disposable) cups.
2. I microwave only in glass or ceramic dishes, no more plastic
3. We bring all our big plastic bottles to the recycle bins, and all our glass bottles back for deposit
4. I started a vegetable garden - all organic, at least I know that its pesticide-free

Bit by bit, we're getting greener around the gills, and I'm trying to make sure the kids also understand the reasons behind everything. And I like using the word crunchy, although I wouldn't say I'm there yet.

So, just as I began, I will end with the immortal words of Kermit the Frog:
"It's not easy being green. But... green can be cool and friendly-like."


Funny how throughout my childhood, I saw the "Desiderata" regularly as just another framed picture on my grandparents living room wall - but never actually took the time to read it. I've seen it in a few other places here and there, but a recent post on the Happiness Project reminded me of it, and I felt a need to post it here too.

It was written in 1927 by Max Ehrmann, and a quick trip to wikipedia tells of his inspiration in writing Desiderata: "I should like, if I could, to leave a humble gift -- a bit of chaste prose that had caught up some noble moods." Hmmm...Isn't that actually what the blogosphere is all about ? (although not necessarily as eloquent...) - individuals leaving their mark and sharing their gifts of knowledge and talent with the rest of the world? Words are moving faster and farther across the globe than ever before, I only hope that they will be as inspirational and true as these.

Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

Max Ehrmann, Desiderata, Copyright 1952.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

People of the Void...speak up!

It took me a while, it did. And I like to think of myself as a web 2.0 savvy kinda gal, usually I pick up on things like this pretty quickly - but Twitter was slow in coming. For a long time, even after hearing about this cool new way to express my every mundane (or worse, incoherent) move and thought, I couldn't imagine why anyone would really want to know.

But finally I broke down, gave in, and signed up. On my first visit, I was basically hollering into a big black Void - not much to say, no one specific to say it to. Kind of desperate, actually. Tried it again the next day - and realized that most of what other people write is incoherent (strangely reassuring) - but they all seemed like they knew they had an audience of real people out there, people who would actually care what they were saying and respond, personally. Although for the life of me, I still don't really know how SO MANY people have SO MUCH time to stop what they're doing and shout it out to the People of the Void.

And tonight I saw the light. It's about having someone else listen (even if it's just an anonymous Void or people we don't really even know) to what we have to say. The days go by so quickly, so many thoughts rush through our heads at any given moment - some are lost as fast as they came, and others we'd really like to share. It doesn't really matter who we share them with - as long as we know they haven't gone unrecognized. Our tidbits of wisdom, insight, and wonder make us a kind of immortal (even if only for a few minutes) among a legion of followers. Some trivial, some really significant. Does it matter as long as someone is listening? And better yet, the People of the Void are responding....what a teeny tiny place the world becomes.

So who knew that the People of the Void around the world would be so eager to share those thoughts and experiences? (although some we would truly be better off not knowing!) The popularity of Twitter is proof that all we really want is to be heard and to share what we know. Most of the time, apparently, it doesn't really matter what we're saying. But we're there.

Got to go tweet now...

Hmmm...a song to go with this post? "Message in a Bottle" by the Police seems strangely appropriate:
Walked out this morning, dont believe what I saw
A hundred billion bottles washed up on the shore
Seems I'm not alone at being alone
A hundred billion castaways, looking for a home
Ill send an s.o.s. to the world - I hope that someone gets my- Message in a bottle, yeah

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

How do you To Do?

This will be short and sweet. I debated whether to post this, but figured if it's already out there, what the hay.

There is a blog called ToDoList which I recently found, which shows hand-written lists from all kinds of people on wildly varying topics. It's a great site for inspiration and insight...especially since I just recently realized that in order to get my life at least somewhat organized, I need to write things down to make them more concrete (and so I won't forget...). So I've got running lists going on groceries, errands, work projects, kids homework, doctors appointments, and much more. And I pity the poor fool who mistakes one of my little crumpled lists for a piece of trash to throw away...

Anyway, since the ToDoList blog invites people to send in their own lists, I decided that one of mine in particular was indeed worth sharing (here's the link to my list, but wait until after you've finished reading this post to go there...)

The list I sent includes my aspirations for improving my parenting skills (written way before I discovered the list blog). I am constantly trying to remind myself that I need to listen more, dictate less...and everything that goes along with that. It's funny that so many of the things on the list should come naturally, but they don't. In fact, I don't even manage some of them most of the time. I wrote this list (after thinking about it for a long time) while sitting in my car waiting for my oldest son as he did his 2 hour gifted evaluation (mentioned in an earlier post).

I try to read the list at least once a day, to really internalize it. I've even considered making each item into a little sign and posting them around my house...haven't done that yet.

Now you can go ahead and click on the link...see what you think, and add your own suggestions!

Ahh yes, and as Fats Waller so soothingly tells us, "I"m gonna sit right down and write myself a letter...."

Friday, January 11, 2008

How does my garden grow?

Sprouting sweet peas, carrots and lettuce. At least THEY listen to me!
And as one of the songs on a children's folk music CD that I never really liked (but is immensely appropriate here) goes: "Inch by inch, row by row, gonna make this garden grow. All it takes is a rake and a hoe and a piece of fertile ground"

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Whose reality is this anyway?

Reality is a relative term. I have come to realize that each one of us creates their own reality, according to needs and wants...some aspects are connected to the world around us, others are not.

I live in a bubble, I openly admit that. I prefer not to watch, read or listen to the news (depressing), I selectively forget things that I don't particularly like or want to remember (frustrating). And I'm okay with it...most of the time, because I'm pretty sure that I know when I have to let the real reality in, and deal with it.

But my children don't. I've noticed lately that at least 2 out of 3 of them also have their own reality. The oldest one is almost totally detached - denying (consciously or not) the relationship between his actions and their consequences on the people and world around him. And the youngest one just goes around singing all the time, barely discerning that characters from sesame street and parpar nechmad are not his real friends (I don't actually see a problem with this in a 3-year old, but his ganenet seems to think it's affecting his social skills).

How do I make sure they will know when to let reality in? And face it? and deal with it? Did they learn to create these alternative realities because that's what I do? Is that something they would pick up on?

I don't know if there is some kind of test for these things (I suppose life itself provides enough opportunities), but it's definitely time for a reality check.

And, as one of my favorite Billy Joel songs, Summer Highland Falls, goes:
"And though we choose between reality and madness, it's either sadness or euphoria"