Saturday, December 24, 2005

We're off

to the Holy Land, so no new posts for the next two weeks. IY"H I'll post the travelogue when I get back.

In the meantime, please keep the tefilla coming. My friend continues to need it.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Tefilla please

If you'll have a few minutes for tehillim this shabbos, please say them for a refua shleima for Rachmana Sarah Yitzchaki bas Hinda Chaya. If you've got a man in the house (or are one yourself) please make a misheberach. Whatever your gender, please remember her in your shemona esrei.

And if you don't have any idea what I just said, please say a prayer for my friend, who is sick and needs a break.


Sunday, December 18, 2005

We're baaaack.

And really, it wasn't bad. It was at a Jewish summer camp/resort kind of place, off an unmarked dirt road in the middle of nowhere. Inside, it was a cross between a dorm and a hotel (the kids' rooms were much more dormy), but we, and the other teachers, had a nice room with our own bathroom, two more beds than we needed, and a pack and play already set up for Barak.

So that was Shabbos--me, MHH, Barak, five or six other staff families and one hundred and fifty teenage boys.

Barak, of course, had a blast. He was an excellent traveler both ways, with minimal kvetching--the only real hysterical wailing coming when mean old Imma took away the crayon he was trying to draw on the car door with. Considering it was three and a half hours each way, and the way up was in the middle of the day, I think that's pretty good (and devoutly hope that this bodes well for next week's much more major excursion).

But oh, the amount of sugar he consumed while we were there... urgh. There was just nothing I could do to keep him away from it, and I've never seen him so hyped up. The worst was when, Shabbos morning before lunch, he found a full, unopened can of cherry Coke on a table and picked it up. It looked unopened, anyway, and felt full, and I knew he couldn't open an unopened can, so I let him play with it. He picked it up and pretended he was drinking it. Fine. Then I realized he was pretending a little too authentically, walking around with it held tight in both hands, completely upended over his mouth, head tipped all the way back. He looked, frankly, just a little too happy with the whole situation. I grabbed the can, and realized that it was, in fact, just slightly cracked open, so he was getting a perfect little trickle of flat cherry Coke and had drunk a good half the can. (I think what must have happened was that someone put it outside to get it cold, left it too long, it froze, and they brought it in to thaw--at which point the tab had come just slightly open.)

Great. Not only has he drunk half a can of sugary carbonated water, he's drunk half a can of sugary carbonated water WITH CAFFEINE. (Don't tell Zayde!) On top of all the cookies the kids handed him all morning, and the stuff he picked up from the floor in the dining hall, etc. He is a lot closer to the floor than I am, and sometimes I just can't grab things out of his hands fast enough.

Oh, and the Froot Loops. I don't consider myself a health nut, and yes, we do have sugar in the house, and yes, I do let Barak have cookies at kiddush and other reasonably special occasions, and I give him (diluted) orange juice and Yobabies and that kind of thing, but I definitely don't believe in gratuitously adding refined sugar in quantity to the diet of anyone not yet old enough to brush his own teeth. And so when the Froot Loops were put out at breakfast, I drew the line. You are getting Cheerios and cantaloupe, little boy, and you will like it.

And oh my, you would have thought I'd taken his blanket, his pacifier, and all of his toys, and thrown them out the window into the frozen lake beyond. I was the MEANEST IMMA EVER EVER EVER and Barak threw himself down on the floor and screamed himself purple to aid me in realizing this. Imma, however, continued to be mean, did not recognize that he was truly in desperate need of said Froot Loops, and not only wouldn't give them this essential breakfast product but kept pulling them out of his hands ever time he found one more tempting blue morsel stuck to the floor. Yecch.

So, along comes naptime. Now, we all know that Barak has a nap-resistant streak. But usually he registers his protest by, you know, protesting--crying, or complaining, or something, um, negative. Not this time. I put him in his crib, lay down on the bed, and listened while he sang, chatted, danced, and literally bounced himself off the sides of his crib for Two. Solid. Hours. He sang the ABC song ("A, B, B, B, B! A, B, B, B, B! Emanemobeee! Emanemobee!") pointed out things in the ether ("Diss! Diss! Diss!") and imitated animals ("Ruff! Ruff! Da ga! Daga! Baby!") Every so often, I'd look to see what he was doing, and see him standing up looking at me and waving happily.

Needless to say, today he didn't get so much as a Yobaby--there were a lot of vegetables and whole wheat products in his diet. He didn't actually seem to mind.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Houston, we have pronouns

For a couple of months now, if you ask Barak his name, he's answered, "Barak!" I find this a lot of fun--people will ask me his name, I'll tell them to ask him, they do, and he'll tell them.

Today, Barak was playing in his room, and, just because I like hearing him say his name, I said, "What's your name?" He said, "Barak!" On a whim, not because I thought I'd get an answer, I said, "What's my name?"

And he said, "Amma!"


This afternoon was fun. I had to work a little bit late, because--oh, I haven't mentioned this yet. Well, this weekend is my husband's school's annual retreat. It's a Shabbaton at a Jewish conference center a few hours' drive from here. And spouses are enthusiastically invited--nay, encouraged--to attend. So we're all going. I'll report back on this next week, assuming we survive. Did I mention it's going to be all boys? Teenage boys? About a hundred and fifty of them? No?


I was working late today, because I need to take Friday off for traveling, and Barak was missing me--so as I walked up to our building, I saw his head in the living room window, waiting for me to come up the street. I waved madly, he waved madly, and I got some nice hugs when I got in. He was all cuddly this afternoon--kept climbing into my lap with books, which I love. I made macaroni and cheese with spinach, and he was in his high chair eating dinner when... the doorbell rang.

Who could that be?

It was the UPS man, delivering something from Amazon I had totally forgotten I'd ordered. Namely, a toy stroller from Graco, which I got with a gift card I got from our credit card points. Barak loves pushing things around the house, and on the occasions when he's had access to some other child's toy stroller, he's always gone bonkers. So, I got him a stroller. Macaroni and cheese? "All done! Out! Out! Out!" And he pushed the stroller from the kitchen to the living room, back down the long hall to the kitchen, in and out of both bathrooms and bedrooms, up and down the hall again, over and over, for the next hour. He put things in the stroller. He took things out of the stroller. He put things in the stroller basket. And then, just when he was ready to look at something else, he realized... that the stroller had come in a Very Big Box. Which had to be climbed into. And out of. And into. And out of. And then he had to sit in the box, and lie down in the box, and turn the box over, and...

Like I said, it was a very exciting afternoon.

Another update I don't think has made it into the blog is our planned trip to Israel in a little less than two weeks, to visit MHH's sister and some friends of mine. We're leaving on Christmas night--prime Jewish travel time. And we're planning on being there for almost two weeks, so expect a blog hiatus.

Anyone who's ever taken a 20-month-old on fifteen hours of air travel--without a seat for said child--and lived to tell the tale, please share your secrets. As long as they didn't involve tranquilizer darts.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Word of the Day

Barak's new word today: "Poop!" To mark the occasion, he managed three poopy diapers in one day. I'm not complaining that he's decided to start eating vegetables, but it is a little gross to see them in more or less their original form surrounded by brown guck the day after being eaten. Kind of like those anti-smoking campaigns that showed cigarettes ground into all kinds of disgusting things.

Oh, and on the subject of Barak and vegetables--remember all those 80s ads about, "It's better with butter?" Apparently they were right. After many dozens of failed attempts at feeding Barak any vegetable that wasn't a) corn or b) grated up and mixed into macaroni and cheese, I tried melting a very generous pat of butter on top of some green beans and carrots. He snarfed the entire bowl and asked for more. Well then.

Not much new to report. There's a lot of snow out, but until Barak's new boots show up he's not going to be taking much advantage of it. Every room in our house is sparkling clean, thanks to Marika neni's afternoon visit and the cleaning binge I went on on Sunday, so I'm feeling a lovely feeling of contentment along with a slight dizzy sensation from all the PineSol. Dinner is on the stove, and I'm waiting for MHH to get back from a late evening obligation.

Who needs excitement? I'm going to go knit.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

In appreciation of pedestrian-friendly shopping

MHH and I got married when we were both living in New York. It'll be three years at Purim. The summer after we got married, we both moved somewhere we'd never lived before, because we both had found good one-year positions--him teaching, me writing. His job also came with an offer to live in a very tiny, very elderly Jewish community that was perilously close to extinction. There was one shul where there had once been several, and although they had plenty of guys during the week, most of them came in a van from a nursing home--ergo, they had trouble getting a minyan on Shabbos. So the offer was a year of heavily subsidized rent in turn for MHH showing up regularly for minyan--we were allowed to go away one Shabbos a month and on holidays, but otherwise we were expected to be there. Money was tight and rents were high, so we took it.

It was a good decision in many ways. MHH and I both liked the feeling of really contributing to a community, and we made some good friends. But in many ways, it was really hard. There was no eruv, so you couldn't carry on Shabbos, meaning once Barak was born I couldn't leave the house. There was only one place to buy food--the enormous supermarket about a mile away. They had all the things a normal supermarket has, but no kosher meat, no kosher cheese, and very expensive (and not very good) produce. Plus they were a mile away, and we didn't have a car, so all through the winter and all through my pregnancy everything we ate got hauled in a backpack through the ice and snow. Oh, and my feet had swollen so much my boots didn't fit, so I didn't have boots, either. The only other way to get food was to take a train an hour and a half to the nearest kosher grocery, the only source of things like cheese, fish sticks, and pareve chocolate.

At the time it didn't seem that terrible, but it wasn't easy. It meant that serious Shabbos planning had to start on Monday. For most of the year, there were only two families that we could eat by, so unless we had an invitation, everything had to be cooked from scratch--no running out for deli on Friday afternoon. We had to know exactly who was coming by Tuesday, because I had to shop on Wednesday to be able to cook on Thursday, because on Friday I walked in the door literally 20 minutes before candlelighting. All other days of the week, I got home at around 6:30 or later, depending on my commute. It was dark, it was cold, and my kitchen was a bat cave--tiny, with no window, no ventilation, and, for about five months, no light, because it stopped working and the super never got around to fixing it. Oh, and all of the food had to be vegetarian, because our kitchen did not have room for two sets of dishes and we only had dairy ones out. (Vegetarian food requiring, of course, many more fresh ingredients and much more time and care.)

In January sometime, when I was pretty big, it was phenomenally cold, and we had one family coming to us for Shabbos almost every week, I discovered Peapod. It helped, but their webpage didn't have everything I needed (no barley for cholent!) and you had to have ordered everything by noon on Tuesday, AND they didn't guarantee the delivery time, so if you were unlucky you might find yourself beginning your Shabbos preparations at 9 pm Thursday.

Contrast this to where we live now. Yesterday, it was about five degrees when I got home from work at 1:45. We needed food. So I bundled up Barak, loaded him in the stroller, and set off on the two-block walk to our nearest shopping street. I went to the kosher grocery, where not only do they know me and my son, but they address me as Mrs. ----. We asked if they could deliver, and the store owner, who was in the middle of a conversation in Yiddish, looked at his watch, checked that the van was there, and said sure. We parked the stroller, I put Barak in the cart, and we bought everything heavy--tomato sauce, seltzer, all the things I wouldn't want to cart home in the stroller basket. If something wasn't glass, I handed it to Barak in the shopping cart seat and he'd turn around and deposit it carefully in the growing pile in back. When we got to the checkout, we reversed this--I handed him everything from the cart and he set it carefully on the counter. And then we got the stroller back from where we'd left it in the back of the store.

Meanwhile, one of the store employees was looking us up in the local community directory--not the phone book, the Jewish version. "What time should I expect you?" I asked. He looked at the clock. "After I daven, and mincha's around 4:15." He knew that I would know from that what time to expect him, and I did. (This, by the way, is the same kosher grocery where they answered my plea to bring back the Hungarian pickles they'd stopped stocking by ordering not only the pickles, but also Hungarian pickled beets, red cabbage, and cherry peppers. Bliss...)

And if I'd needed groceries late on Thursday night, the kosher grocery is open until midnight. In extremis, I could even call them and tell them what I needed, and they'd bring it to me. And if you buy a certain amount, which is sort of flexible, they don't charge for the trip.

After we finished at the grocery, we did the rest of our rounds. And oh, I love shopping on our street! The checkout ladies in the grocery know us and speak Russian to Barak. The checkout ladies in the produce store know us and speak Serbian and Urdu to Barak. The ladies in the bakery know and love Barak and not only speak to him in Aramaic but give him bagels (they'd give him cookies if I let them) and prompt him to say thank you. The fish man knows us and lets Barak turn his TV on and off. Even the man who cleans the tables and mops the floor in the pizza store knows us and addresses Barak as "my friend," even though Barak undoubtedly adds to his floor-mopping duties. Contrast all this convenience and community to last year, where we made one reluctant trip a week to one stark and sterile grocery store where everything seemed shrink-wrapped and fluorescent, none of the vegetables seemed to ever have come in contact with dirt, and we never saw the same checkout person twice.

I know that a lot of people think that we must lead such difficult lives with no car, but honestly, I wouldn't want it any other way. I love that I have to shop multiple times in a week (although I know that I would probably feel differently with five kids). I love that the man who owns the grocery store davens with my husband. And I love that I can buy my challah warm on Friday afternoon and be wished a good Shabbos five times on the way home.

Have a good Shabbos, everyone.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Apples and almas

Yesterday, Barak was sitting in his high chair playing idly with his breakfast cereal, in which he did not appear terribly interested. I was eating spaghetti, which, um, I really like to have for breakfast. The cereal was obviously not going over well. "Do you want some spaghetti?" I asked, in English. "No," he said. "Apple." A reasonable request at breakfast time. I got up and cut him some pieces of apple. "Is this what you want?" I asked him, in Hungarian this time. "Yeah!" he said. "Alma!"

Right you are.

And this morning, I was telling our babysitter something that happened last week. My aunt was visiting, and Barak impressed her mightily with his Hungarian comprehension. While she was watching, I asked Barak, in Hungarian, if he wanted a pickle (uborka). "Yeah! Abawa!" "Okay, then, go over there and sit on the big chair, and when you're sitting nicely I'll give you a pickle." He went over to the chair, but didn't get up on it. "No, I didn't say go stand next to it, I said climb up on the chair and sit down," I told him, also in Hungarian, being careful not to point or give any nonverbal indication of what I wanted him to do. Up he climbed, and he got his uborka, and we were all tickled. So I was telling this to the babysitter this morning, all in English, and when I got to the word "pickle" Barak gave a big grin and said "Yeah! Abawa!"

Well, there's three words he knows in both languages. Pickle, apple, and no. He's got the essentials down.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

leaps and bounds

For the last month or so, Barak has been repeating, or trying to repeat, just about anything I try to get him to say, in English, Hungarian or Hebrew. If I say, "Can you say 'truck'?" he'll say, "chuck!" If I say, "Azt tudod mondoni hogy 'alma'?" he'll say, "awa!" He'll also say words he knows with a little prompting--for example, if I give him something hot to eat and say, "Be careful, it's hot!" he'll say "Hot!" and blow on it. If I ask him if he wants a banana, he'll say "nana!" And so on.

Today, though, for the first time, he said an appropriate word on his own. We went to get pizza at the pizza shop--something we do maybe every week or two. I put him in his high chair when the pizza was ready, then asked him to wait while I put the (hot) pizza on the table. I handed him his plate, started cutting, and heard him saying, meditatively, "Hot. Hot. Whooo!"

After we had our pizza, we went and ran a few of our usual errands: the fruit and vegetable shop (celery, carrots, potatoes, broccoli and cream cheese); the drugstore (diapers); the bakery (bread and bagels); and the kosher grocery (chicken, fish sticks, rolls, yogurt, pickles, cheese, tomato sauce, carrot juice and whatever else I don't remember). It's cold where we live and he's very bundled in the stroller, and by the last errand he had sort of had it. He wasn't fussing, exactly, but he was looking pretty bored. On our way out the door, I heard him say, hopefully, "Ohm? Ohm?" What, is he meditating? Then it hit me. "Do you want to go home?" "Yeah!"

And home we went.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

There's that pesky question again.

This past Shabbos, we hosted a family consisting of an intermarried couple (Jewish mother, non-Jewish father) and their five kids. They are interested in becoming more observant, and wanted to try the full Shabbos experience. We didn't really know them--she is the daughter of someone I work with and know only casually--but we're into kiruv and so we invited them, all seven of them, to stay with us for Shabbos.

It wasn't a total wash, although the parents summarily piled four of the five into their minivan at 9 am on Saturday because the kids were just too off the wall with no TV. Their daughter, who is eleven and a delight, decided to stay, and we had a nice morning with the two of us and Barak. There was an aufruf at a nearby shul that we decided to go to, and she was shocked and delighted to discover that the bag of candy she was handed upon entry was supposed to be HURLED ACROSS THE SHUL DIRECTLY AT THE GUY READING FROM THE TORAH. ("I'm supposed to throw it?" she asked incredulously. "Not just allowed, but we're supposed to throw candy in temple?" Yep.) We came home, put Barak down for his nap, read Harry Potter companionably on the couch for an hour or so, ate lunch, ate brownies, went to a friend's, ate more brownies, and it was time for Havdala. She wants to come back, and it's fine with us.

Friday night (backing up a little), after the kids had gone to bed, the four adults sat in the kitchen talking. It's always a little odd having non-religious Jews or non-Jews in the house on Shabbos--not in a bad way, but there are so many things that we take for granted that they just didn't know. They got the "don't touch the lights" business, and I taped the switches just to be safe. But I wasn't quite expecting to be asked, innocently, in front of two grown men, "Do you go to the mikva?" Ummm. Can we talk about that later?

She also asked me a question that I haven't heard in a long time, just because most of the people I know these days either have known me for years, are religious Jews, or don't know that I was ever anything but a religious Jew. She asked, "What made you decide to become religious?"

I always find it strange that so many people feel so free to ask me that question. To me, it's so personal--something like asking "What did you find so attractive about your husband that you decided to marry him?" It's not something that I would ever ask a stranger or even a casual acquaintance. Actually, I wouldn't ask it of anybody. But I've been asked it a lot, over the last ten years or so.

The short answer is, "It just happened." For me, there was never any real deciding involved. It was like taking off a pair of too-tight heels and sliding your abused feet into slippers. What made you decide to take off the shoes? Your feet hurt--it didn't take a lot of thought. Or being hungry, and eating. What made you decide to eat? Um, hunger. You didn't sit and think, hmm, I'm hungry, what should I do about this? You saw the thing you needed, and never thought twice.

The years that I spent being an atheist were more of a reaction to what I saw of religion (and the lack thereof) growing up. A lot of hypocrisy, a lot of treating other people badly, a lot of all kinds of things I was told we weren't supposed to do. I hated it. I poked my nose into a few different religions, and never found anything that felt right. This was in my late teens or somewhere around there. By the time I got to college, I had decided that organized religion was not much more than a good means of social control, and ditched the whole idea.

But, well, that never really felt right either. And so, over the course of a number of years, I found myself moving back to Yiddishkeit, from reform to conservative to orthodox shuls, and eventually to where I am now, in a community full of men in black hats and women who wear long sleeves and stockings in August. And it's the happiest and most comfortable I've ever been.

There are lots of perfectly good religions out there--for other people. But I'm a Jew, and being anything other than a Jew who tries just didn't feel right. I've been accused of using religion as a "crutch," which is something that orthodox Jews pretty much roll their eyes at, because of the total lack of understanding it demonstrates. Being a religious Jew makes life so much more of a challenge. It doesn't make your life any easier. It forces you to think. It forces you to work at being a better person. It forces you to keep God front and center in everything you do. For me, that makes life so much more worthwhile.

For me, this was a way of life that just fit. I liked the values. I liked the sense of community. I liked the fact that the guys I met on dates didn't even consider laying a hand on me, and that nobody thought I was freakish for not having or wanting a TV, and that the families I met were, overwhelmingly if not without exception, happy, close, and loving. I got a look inside that world, a world of people who were an awful lot like what I wanted to be, and I thought, "Why do I need to look for anything else? This is me. This is who I am. This is what I'm supposed to be."

No, it hasn't all been easy or without compromises. My own family was, to put it mildly, not happy with the way I moved religiously, and that was (and remains) hard. It isn't easy to not be able to eat in the homes of my non-Jewish friends, especially when I've traveled a long way to see them and the last thing I want is to hurt anyone's feelings. And I know that my boss, who is fabulous in pretty much all respects, thinks that I'm oppressed, and that grates. But it's never even crossed my mind to wonder if I made the right choice. I never even thought to wonder what my life would be like if I'd chosen differently. Because I don't think I ever chose at all.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Let's clarify a few things, shall we?

So, last week sometime, I couldn't sleep. I think Barak woke me up at some point in the very early morning and instead of going back to bed, I just got dressed and went to do some predawn blog reading. I was reading through the archives of a blog I like very much and haven't been reading for that long, and the writer of this blog linked to another blog, and so I started reading that.

Right away, I liked the person who wrote blog #2. She just sounded like someone I would get along with. Same ideas on parenting, same ideas on social justice, same ideas on what's important and what's not, that kind of thing. Similar priorities. I read along for a while, enjoying, and then got to a post that said, "Shana tova! It's Rosh Hashana, so I won't be posting tomorrow." Oh, okay--so, she's Jewish, but not very religious. Traditionally, and according to halacha (Jewish law) Rosh Hashana is two days, but a lot of people only "keep" one. Fine.

I kept reading. And saw another post, about how happy she felt with her kid in shul, knowing that her child would grow up comfortable with those songs, knowing Hebrew, etc. Happy that her kid would grow up knowing that he was a Jew. Nothing amiss here, is there? Nope.

Until I got to the post about how she used to celebrate Christmas. And how her siblings celebrate Christmas. And how her husband, who isn't Jewish, and mother, who isn't Jewish, and her father, who is unaffiliated, celebrate Christmas. And then another post about baking cookies for an oneg at shul. And then about how her own family had just bought a Christmas tree, that she was excited about decorating, and planning for the holidays (meaning, Christmas and New Year's), baking cookies, the rest of it. You know, making the holidays nice for her kids, who are going to grow up identifying as Jews.


Please don't misunderstand. I am not the kind of Jew that feels that Torah Judaism is the only kind that has a right to exist under any circumstances. I don't condemn the existence of other streams of Judaism, even though I don't agree with many of their tenets--my feeling is that living according to halacha is hard, and it's better for people to at least stay Jewish so their kids will have a better chance of making tshuva (coming back) than they would if their parents gave up and started going to church. And while I'm not a big fan of mixed marriages, obviously, I think it makes a lot more sense to not be hostile to non-Jewish partners, because that's just dumb. Especially if there are Jewish kids involved. What do you accomplish? You alienate the other parent from Judaism, you give the kids a bad impression of Judaism, you make it highly unlikely that the non-Jewish parent will even think about converting, and highly unlikely that the kids will continue to identify as Jews. Nobody wins here. So I also understand that there are homes in which both Christian and Jewish holidays are celebrated, and while I don't think it's a good idea, I acknowledge that there are many worse alternatives.

Let's be clear. I value other streams of Judaism inasmuch as they succeed in keeping Jews identified as Jews and close to Torah. I don't agree with anyone who says it isn't necessary to keep kosher, Shabbos, or taharas hamishpacha to be a good Jew. I definitely don't have any time for anyone who tries to legitimize the idea that the Torah is somehow a sideline to Judaism. It's not. Keeping Torah is hard, but it's a fundamental part of being a good Jew. Nobody gets it perfectly right, but the essence of being a Jew is... trying.

And this is why I found this blog so... confusing. This person is not Jewish according to halacha. She has no obligation to keep mitzvos, and in fact she doesn't keep them. So far, pretty not Jewish to me. Moreover, she doesn't believe, even in principle, in keeping kosher or taharas hamishpacha. She doesn't keep Shabbos, although it's marked in her home by Friday night being "game night" (a special meal with challah and grape juice was too much work for every week.) Her husband isn't Jewish. Her kids aren't Jewish. Nobody in her home has any obligation to keep the commandments, and they're not keeping them. Nobody in her home has even gone so far as to reject other gods, which, as you may know, is the single biggie in Judaism--you don't acknowledge, pray to, or celebrate any god other than God. So Jesus, Buddha, and the entire Hindu pantheon are, um, out. Entirely.

So what, exactly, is the point here?

One of the things that drew me to the traditional observance of Judaism to begin with was the observation that here, finally, was a worldview that did not even begin to say, "If you're not one of us, you're going to hell." Far from it. In fact, it's one heck of a lot easier to get everything right if you are not--repeat, not--Jewish. Seven commandments instead of six hundred and thirteen. Wear what you want, go to ballgames on Saturday, put all your dishes in the same dishwasher at the same time, have your birthday party at McDonald's. It's all good. You don't lose your olam ha'ba. There is no impetus for non-Jews to convert to Judaism--quite the opposite. It's considered an admirable, but pretty nutty, thing to do.

Everybody who isn't a Jew is a ben Noach--literally, a child of Noah. THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH BEING A BEN NOACH. If you love Judaism, but don't want to deal with Shabbos every week, it is perfectly fine with everybody, including God. Go learn about the seven laws for b'nai Noach. They're not hard. You can still have game night. You can still have your Christmas tree. You can still make treats for oneg if you want.

Please, my friend, if you love Judaism like you say you do, please just enjoy being a bas Noach. If you don't believe in the Torah, don't think mitzvos matter, and don't think they count in God's eyes, then what exactly are you accomplishing by telling yourself and your children that you and they are Jews? You are not glorifying God. You are not striking a blow for Yiddishkeit. And you're not raising your kids with a healthy Jewish identity either. It is in every way better to live a life without Torah as a bas Noach, for whom this is entirely permissible, than to take on a Jewish identity only to dismiss everything it is to be a Jew.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

The Three Best Decisions I Ever Made (in chronological order)

1. Quitting grad school.
2. Marrying MHH.
3. Setting aside my pride, rewriting our household budget, and handing in my membership in the proletariat to hire someone to come clean our house on Wednesday afternoons.

The difference is unbelievable. It wasn't filthy before, but it was... not really clean. I kept feeling that, geez, I work part-time--I SHOULD be able to keep the house clean. But it never really happened. Even though I get home at two, I'm chasing Barak until a little after seven. MHH doesn't get home until after six, so once Barak's asleep, I start dinner. Then we eat. Then I wash up and fold some laundry. Then I probably have something to do for work. Then I probably want to check my email, or the phone rings, and I still have to make lunches for the next day. Then it's 10:30 pm, and I am not in any mood to start scrubbing bathtubs. So, after a few months of this, there was starting to be a thin but definite layer of grime in too many parts of the apartment. And meanwhile...

I made a couple of Romanian/Hungarian friends on the bus. This was months ago already. One was an older lady who hit it off with Barak, back when he took the bus with me. She didn't speak English, and I only heard her speak Romanian to her friend, so I didn't try Hungarian with her. But she heard me speak Hungarian to Barak, and it turned out that her mother was Hungarian (there is a sizeable Hungarian-speaking minority in Romania, stranded there when they moved the borders after WWI) and she still spoke some Hungarian. Her seatmate on the bus also spoke Hungarian, quite a lot better since both her parents were Hungarian. Both of them were doing the Romanian thing of coming to America on a tourist visa, working as much as humanly possible, sending home as much money as humanly possible, and then going back. Both were... cleaning houses.

So, a few months ago, the older lady went back to Romania, and the younger lady started sitting with me on the bus. And two weeks ago, she asked me if I knew anyone who wanted their house cleaned on Wednesday afternoons. I consulted with MHH. And last week, Barak got to hear two adults speaking Hungarian at length for the first time since he was six months old. I speak it to him sometimes, but he only uses two words of Hungarian spontaneously, and one of them is "pickle." But after only two hours of listening to the two of us, he stopped registering objections with his customary "no!" and started instead saying, "nem!" Oh, and both our bathrooms and our kitchen were shiny and clean, and all the wool floors had been--get this--waxed. I've never waxed a floor in my life.

I guess I'm officially bourgeois now. But at least my bathrooms smell good.

Monday, November 14, 2005

and in the meantime

I never had tremendous confidence in my ability to be a good mother, even long before I thought I would ever be one. My relationship with my own mother was always, shall we say, a bit fraught, and I am always worried that I'm not quite getting it right and Barak will, um, grow up to hate me.

So, on that cheery and clearly very emotionally healthy note, let me say that it gives me a lot of satisfaction when I manage to do something that is, in my book anyway, a tiny little piece of Good Mothering. It makes me happy, for example, to see Barak clean and sweet-smelling out of the bathtub, ready for a cuddle and bed. It made me happy to nurse him for as long as he wanted to nurse. It makes me happy to watch him eat a well-balanced dinner of food that I cooked, accompanied by a cup of organic milk. And it makes me happy to knit for him.

It took me until November, but I finally made him mittens last night. They are orange, fit him perfectly (look ma, no pattern!), and surprise!--he loves them. I thought he would instantly fling them off in a fit of toddler indignation, because he usually hates anything getting between his fingers and the universe that awaits exploration. But he thought they were really cool. I put them on him today, when Abba was home early (no school today) and we all went out for a late lunch. We put on mittens, and then he got his mittens. Hoo boy! He giggled, he admired them, he waved at everybody, he checked them out at length in the stroller. He saw that I was also wearing orange mittens, and I think this pleased him even more. And as a bonus he even kept on his hat, which I also made, out of an odd ball of something very luxurious that I got from Webs a while back. He doesn't usually like hats, but he saw that Abba was wearing one, and I was wearing one (obviously) so he figured it must be okay.

And it took me a year and a half, but I finally finished his blanket today. It's made out of scraps, thirty squares of two colors each, knitted together and bordered. And get this--he likes it! I thought it would be immediately rejected in favor of his beloved yellow fuzzy blanket sent to him by his Savta, but no. He went to bed cuddling his yellow fuzzy, but contentedly tucked in under his new woolly one. All warm and sleepy.

Mmm. Sleepy. I think I'll go to sleep, too.

oh, and by the way...

I just wanted to add that #2 below was not designed to brag about somebody liking something I wrote. It was designed to demonstrate how a truly nice and gracious person behaves when they like something someone else wrote for them. I am particularly appreciative of this kind of thing, having worked for a number of serious nut cases and a number of people who are Far Too Important to Ever Say Thank You (except in thank you notes, written by me, to people who gave their institutions millions of dollars). In the job I had before this one, I got ONE nice comment from ONE of the three people I wrote for. I tacked it up on my cube wall. For the rest, if you never got things sent back with changes, you knew you were in the clear. But a thank you--no, that really isn't considered necessary. That's why I was so floored.

Well, anyway.

I do have something to blog about today, but I need to mull it over a little more first. Stay tuned.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

news and updates

A few things that bear posting about...

1. Barak stopped nursing last week. He's well into his nineteenth month, and has been tapering off for a while. He's only been nursing in the morning since midsummer, and for less and less time. Last week, when he got up, I asked him if he wanted to nurse, and he said "No," and walked away to check out a toy. "You're sure? You really don't want to nurse?" I asked, and I picked him up and put him in my lap, just to check. He said no, slid off, and started playing with his toys. I asked again the next day, and the next, and he just wasn't interested.

So I guess he's done. I thought I'd be sad about this, and I am, a little, but not really. I enjoyed nursing, and the closeness, but really I'm just happy that he nursed this long and stopped of his own will. Especially since he had such a hard time getting started (with a stint in the NICU and a pacifier shoved in his mouth before he got a chance to try out what was supposed to go in there). When he was four days old, the nurse practitioner, a pox upon her, told me FOUR TIMES that my baby was "flunking Nursing 101." Well, he's now graduated with a doctorate in nursing, thank you very much. I pumped for him until he was one, and he nursed all he wanted besides that, and stopped when he was ready, so really I'm just pleased by the way it all turned out--maybe it's silly, but I feel like I got one part of mothering, at least, the way I wanted to.

2. Like I said a few months ago, I'm the speechwriter for, mostly, the president of a large NGO. We have a new president, so we've been getting used to each other, but it's been going well, I think. Anyway, here is the story of a Very Nice Man:

A month or so ago, I was asked to do a talk for him to give at a Very Important Place--not the White House, but along those lines. So I wrote it, and his secretary faxed it to him, and a day or two later she reported that he had no changes, which is usually the best news you can get--it means whoever you're writing for likes it. I shaded it in as done on my work log and forgot about it. A few days later, he called me on his cell from wherever he was to make some changes to another speech. I pulled it up on my computer, made the changes, and read them back to him before sending them off to the people in charge of getting the right things on the teleprompter.I checked that he had everything he needed, which he did, and then he told me that he'd really liked the Very Important Place speech I'd sent, thought it sounded just like him but better, and was just right for the occasion, etc. I was tickled, of course, because for speechwriters, usually no news is the best news--we don't generally get this kind of feedback. Anyway, nice, no?

But he wasn't done. This past week, I had a regular meeting with him--every six weeks or so, when he's in town, we sit down with his speaking schedule and figure out exactly what he needs for which events, and I make up the list of what to send him when, what needs to be translated and into which languages, what needs to go on a teleprompter, etc. This time, my manager decided to crash the meeting for a few minutes, since she had a quick question for him and he's hard to schedule time with. So we both walked into his office. He knows, of course, that she is my boss. What does he do? When we both sat down, he turned to me and told me, as though he had never said anything about it before, how much he'd liked the speech, how well it had gone over, how he'd been asked for copies, etc. Why? He isn't forgetful. I'm sure he knew he'd already told me all of this. It had to just be because he wanted to tell me while my boss was sitting there.

If you want a way to inspire undying devotion in the people who work for you, well, that's one good one.

3. Another piece of Barak news. He can now tell you the noises that various animals make. A sheep says baa, a cow says moo, a dog says ruff ruff, etc. However, any actual animal he sees, as well as any small living thing, is identified as "baby." And he hasn't quite managed that a cat says "meow." So when our cat strolled into the kitchen yesterday to check out any offerings that Barak might have from his high chair (as though he has ever once had anything she's been remotely interested in--hope springs eternal, I guess), he pointed at her and said, "Baby! Ruff ruff!" Because she is not, it appears, a cat, but rather a baby who says ruff. Ten years I've had her, and I never noticed.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005


Those of you who know me will probably snigger behind your hands when I say, mildly, that I like to knit. The truth is that I am, well, very fond of knitting. However, these days, pretty much the only time I have to knit is 25 minutes in the morning and 25 minutes in the afternoon, on the bus to and from work. So when I made a deal to make a sweater for my friend Sarah if she'd make me one, I knew it would take a while. I didn't think it would take till November, though, and I started feeling exceptionally guilty about it when my (incredibly stunning) sweater was handed to me in August.

Meanwhile, Sarah's mostly-done sweater vanished in the move, refusing to reappear except in pieces, each of which turned invisible when another materialized, and then part of it reappeared with a mysteriously too-large neck that had to be ripped, and then when I finally found all the pieces (in the VERY LAST BOX I UNPACKED) and put them together, I caught part of the pattern in the seam and had to rip THAT, and, well... it took a while. But Sarah was very patient.

And here's the sweater, which I not only didn't photograph before mailing it, I didn't block it either... the iron has still not resurfaced post-move.

Monday, November 07, 2005

after the chagim

Well, the yomim tovim are over, and we all survived. Over the course of the holidays, a number of things I wanted to blog about entered my mind, swirled there briefly, and exited, chased away by thoughts of setting tables, lighting candles, and changing diapers. I know I wanted to blog about Barak and his cousins; my SIL and her mysterious similarities to, um, me; why the freezer is the best thing that has ever happened to Jewish womankind; and, probably, a bunch of other things that have since vanished in the fog of eating, sleeping, not sleeping, and chasing small children that enveloped the last two weeks. Alas, at this point, thoughtful and entertaining blogging on any of the above topics is probably not going to happen. The holidays are over for another year, and as much as I enjoyed them, I'm relieved that they're over.

Well, but that brings me to at least one item on my list. Because soon after I post this, my SIL will read this entry. The SIL who, with her husband and 3 children under the age of 5, were with us for two weeks, for all of Succos and the following Shabbos. She'll read the entry. And she'll see one word. She'll see "relieved." And she'll think, "Relieved! She's relieved! She's glad we left! It's because she doesn't like us! And because my kids are badly behaved! And we ate all their food! And they don't ever want us to come back!" She'll worry about this. She'll harp. And sooner or later, she'll call me. She'll talk about something else first, but I'll know where it's heading. It's inevitable. Within sixty seconds, she'll burst out, "I read your blog. Are you relieved that we're gone?" and I'll heave a deep sigh, and say, "No, we like you, we miss you, we don't hate you or your kids, we loved having you and want you to come back next year." There will be a short pause. And then she'll say, "Really?"

I know that men are supposed to marry their mothers, but my husband, it appears, has married his sister. Which is why, at least a few times a week, he gets poked in the ribs in the middle of the night.

"Do you love me?"
"Are you sure?"
"Mph. Yes. Do I have to wake up?"
"No, no. I'm sorry. Go back to sleep."
"Are you glad you married me?"
"Yes. I thought you said I didn't have to wake up."
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry. Go back to sleep."
"Do you think I'm fat?"
Howl of frustration from husband, who sits up, whacks me with his pillow, rolls over and goes back to sleep.

(I would like make a point of noting, in the interests of full disclosure and for the information of my legions of dedicated readers, that my SIL's kids areboth cute and well behaved. They did not eat all our food; in fact, they brought most of it. And we do like them, and we do want them to come back. And no matter what MHH says, I still think I'm fat. But I admit that he does love me. Probably. Most of the time. I think.)

Friday, November 04, 2005

Mr. Fixit

There were, when we moved in to our new apartment, many, many things that needed to be fixed. The furnace and hot water heater were both leaking (carbon monoxide and water, respectively); the walls and ceiling were cracked and/or crumbling, the locks could be opened with a credit card, and so on. We did the big things before we moved in, and have been doing more little things since, gradually, as we get to them. But as of last week, we were still left with a number of small but annoying things that needed to be fixed that I just couldn't do without tools, or that I couldn't do because I didn't know how, or that I knew I wouldn't be able to do a good job on. We needed a Fixit Man.

So, when I got a flyer in the mail during Yom Tov advertising the services of a local Fixit Man, I put it aside. And on Monday, I called him, and he came over later that afternoon. I showed him the dangerous-to-toddlers laundry chute, the two smoke detectors that needed to be installed, the doorknob to Barak's room that could be locked from the inside (bad bad), and the dripping bathtub tap. I also pointed out the wet spot in the basement ceiling drywall--not the soaking wet spot that was there when we moved in, but another, much smaller drip that MHH had noticed while doing laundry (because he does the laundry, because he's great). And I pointed out the incredibly annoying sliding door to the bathtub, which is not only impossible to clean but makes it unnecessarily difficult to bathe a small child. He nodded, grunted a few times, and went out to his car to get his tools.

His tools. Now, I don't think I've said anything about Barak's recent fascination with tools. He has two toy hammers, a screwdriver, a coping saw, a drill, and a workbench with some nails that he can bang in and pull out (this last representing the best two bucks I ever spent at a yard sale.) He loves all of them, and spends a lot of time fixing things in his room with his hammers and screwdriver, and then showing me his handiwork very proudly. He is definitely a fan of tools. So...

When Mr. Fixit came back into the house with an enormous honest-to-goodness power drill, Barak went totally silent. I asked him to hold my hand, just to keep him out of trouble, and he held my hand with no objections (not his usual response). We followed Mr. Fixit around the house, a traveling audience, as he removed and replaced Barak's doorknob, bolted shut the laundry chute, and put in two more smoke detectors (bringing the total in our five-room home to, um, seven, not counting the four in the basement. "I think you're pretty well protected," Mr. Fixit commented dryly.) He looked at the bathtub, and went down to the basement, and came back up to run the water, and went back down again, and came back up to say he needed to bring another guy the next day, because it was a two-person job. And yes, he could take off the shower door and put in a rod, no problem.

Yesterday, that's what he did. And Barak stood in the hall, holding my hand and watching him in total, complete awe, his mouth literally hanging open, as Mr. Fixit used his drill to take off the shower door frame, remove the two glass doors, and take the base off the top of the tub. He stood there in fascinated silence for a full twenty-five minutes, observing. Until he saw Mr. Fixit get a screwdriver out of his box. Then he pulled his hand out of mine, ran to his room, and screamed in the direction of his screwdriver (which was, for some reason, on the top of his bookshelf.) I got it for him, he ran back to the hall, offered me his screwdriverless hand, and stood there staring and clutching his screwdriver for the next I don't know how long.

So, now we have a shower curtain instead of a door, and the tap doesn't drip, and the bathroom window closes and latches, and you get all the water out of the shower when you shower instead of having half of it pour out the bottom tap. All very good things. And last night, Barak got a bath in his bathtub, with Abba able to supervise much more easily. And then he went to bed, where he slept very well, dreaming, probably, of power tools.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Another list

Ten Things That Barak Can Do That He Couldn't Do Last Month

1. Eat chicken soup, with a spoon. Yes, he fishes out his knaidlach pieces with his fingers first, but he eats the rest, very carefully, just like a grownup. And most of it even goes into his mouth. An excellent skill with lifelong applications, especially for Jews.

2. Insist that cereal come in a bowl, with milk and a spoon, just like his cousins'.

3. Say "please," and "thank you" when prompted (sort of).

4. Point to his head, eyes, nose, and mouth when asked, usually getting them right; say "Eye!" when pointing to his eye.

5. Answer the question "What's your name?" intelligibly and accurately.

6. Say a reasonable version of his babysitter's name (which is not easy to pronounce).

7. Play in leaf piles (okay, he could have done it last month if there had been leaf piles last month, but it is still a first that belongs in the list).

8. Say, "all done!" when he's all done, if you ask him whether or not he is, in fact, all done. However, proclamations of this kind are not necessarily reliable.

9. Put the nails in his workbench and pull them out. Repeat.

10. When asked to say "bye bye," say "bye!" with the accompaniment of a hail of theatrically blown kisses. This is a particular favorite with Abba, who has yet to receive a single cheek kiss from Barak, on account of the Dreaded Prickly Beard Factor.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

for your chol ha'moed amusement

Well, speaking of Shanna, she's now asked me to participate in the seven meme. I'm not tapping anybody, Shanna, but I'll answer them. With links! I'll add to it when I have time--right now I can only do as much as I can get finished before MHH and MHBIL finish fixing the schach that blew off the succah last night.

Seven Things I Can Do

1. Knit just about anything, as long as it isn't lace
2. Make Shabbos from scratch in two hours flat. (Not that I've ever had to do this, of course.)
3. Smile upside down. Meaning, I can make a face exactly like Beaker's, of the Muppets. I've only ever met one other person who can do this.
4. Spin really, really fast on a handspindle. (I have a purple ribbon to prove it, too.)
5. Find my husband's wallet, keys, glasses, and kippah, through my amazing powers of omniscience.
6. Navigate the Budapest public transit system without fear.
7. Make killer latkes, the old-fashioned way--with the blood of my knuckles.

Seven Things I Can't Do

1. Debate important issues calmly with anyone hostile.
2. Fit into my pre-Barak wardrobe.
3. Cook kasha varnishkas for my husband without dry heaves. The smell, oh, the smell is so awful... (You didn't really want a link for that, did you? )
4. Stop trying to second-guess G-d.
5. Drive.
6. Cut up raw chicken, or even be in the same room as someone who is cutting raw chicken. (Oh, the crunching of bones.... yecch!
7. Read Hebrew aloud in front of anyone. It's this block I have. I can read Hebrew to myself, and I can even speak it to some reasonable degree. But I can't even read from a Haggada in front of my husband without stumbling.

7 Celebrity Crushes

1. Ummm... get back to me on that. It's hard without a TV.

7 Things I Would Like to Do Before I Die

1. Raise happy, healthy children who love Torah and still like me when they're grown up.
2. Fit into at least some of my pre-Barak wardrobe. Like those nice size 8 wool skirts...
3. Take MHH to meet MHG (my holy granny, in Hungary).
4. Make aliyah.
5. Visit New Zealand.
6. Speak fluent Hebrew.
7. Teach Barak Hungarian, at least enough to talk to my grandmother.

7 Things I Say Often

1. Chas v'chalila
2. Oh, my goodness me.
3. Barak, come here, please. Barak, Imma said come here. When Imma says come here, you come. (Followed by the sound of Imma's feet as she goes chasing Barak.)
4. In other news...
5. You think I'm oppressed, don't you. (To my boss, every time I explain some aspect of Jewish observance to her and she gets That Look.)
6. Please go to bed or you'll be miserable tomorrow. (To MHH)
7. Could you take the garbage out, please?

Friday, October 14, 2005

Smurfs and war

Shanna, you can tell me how to turn this into a link, but until then, look at this:

(look, Shanna told me how to turn it into a link! and, er, it wasn't actually hard.)

Monday, October 10, 2005

The Barak files

So, a few things that bear posting about.

Barak said his first three-syllable word today. I was giving him strawberries, and talking to him about strawberries, how I was going to cut the strawberries and put the strawberries in a bowl, etc. And I said, "Do you like strawberries?" And he said, "Yeah! Tawbawa! Yeah!"

He said "strawberries!" Wow.

On Sunday, my SIL and her family are coming for Succos, all five of them. We're really looking forward to this. (Hi, guys! We're really looking forward to it. Really! See, it's in my blog and everything, so don't start calling and saying, do you really want us to come, really, because I know it's a lot of work and a long time, and are you sure it's okay, because IT IS AND WE WANT YOU TO COME AND NOW THE WHOLE WORLD KNOWS IT, AT LEAST THE INFINITESIMAL PERCENTAGE OF THE WORLD WHO READS THIS BLOG.)

But since we don't have enough beds to accommodate everbody, I've been doing a little organizing. On Saturday night, a friend came by with an old toddler bed that we set up for Niece #2. Niece #3 is getting the pack and play. And today I went to the mattress store and bought a nice mattress for Nephew #2, who is getting the most luxurious mattress of all because I got his for half price because the mattress man ripped it taking it off the truck. It's nice and thick and springy, and the sheet will hide the hole very nicely.

Anyway, what is all this doing in the Barak files, you ask? Ahh. It's in the Barak files because there are now two extra beds that are low enough for Barak to get on. And he has discovered, oh so fulsomely, the wonderful pleasures of jumping on the bed. I see no reason to put a stop to this, and indeed ringed the toddler bed with pillows to prevent unnecessary trauma from unexpected contact with the floor.

Oh, and a public service announcement. Wavy Gravy is back. As in, the most mind-blowingly delicious concoction Ben and Jerry's ever came up with, which for some unthinkable reason they retired some years ago. Only in scoop shops, only for the month. So don't miss your chance--it might not come again.

Mmm. Wavy Gravy.

coming up for air

It's Monday night, so we're in the ten days of teshuva, which are the days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. For me, frankly, there has not been a lot of spiritual introspection happening. I've just been too busy. The cooking, the cleaning, the preparation for guests and taking care of guests, Barak being under the weather on Rosh Hashana, and a busy time at work have all kept my plate full, and some other things I've needed to take care of have consumed the rest. I don't feel great about it, but there we are.

A few friends of mine have been having a really rough time lately, with health and family issues that are in the category of Things Nobody Should Have To Deal With, Ever. Because I've had plenty of those myself, the raging desire in me is to fix it. Which of course, I can't do. I can make meals. I can call. I can send boxes of fun things in the mail. I can be supportive. I can be there. I know all of these things help. But I can't fix anything, not really.

Part of why my life--my actual, current life, the one I wake up every morning and live--is still so unreal to me is not just that I never anticipated being a frum Jew. I mean, I didn't, but that isn't what really has me in a state of perpetual suspicion that this isn't really real. It's that for so many years, the standard for my life was that, well, it wasn't so much fun. No need to get into details, but you'll probably notice that I don't talk much about my family (as in my own parents, siblings, etc.) or health as of more than, say, five years ago. There's a reason, and that is that I find it necessary to just hide the entire 28-odd years of yuck under a loose floorboard in a disused lavatory in the haunted house of my psyche. (Nice metaphor, isn't it? Why, thank you.) I can't think about it. I don't blog about it. I don't want to talk about it. I don't want it to be there. It is there, of course, and it pops up now and again. There will be a date on the calendar, or I'll find an old postcard, or something else will make my mind go places it shouldn't. And I call my husband at work and say, you're not staying late today, are you? Or, can Barak and I come by and visit? And I hold tightly to Barak, and I look at my husband and the ring on my hand and the walls of my home, and I tell myself that it is real, it is mine, that I deserve this and--perhaps--will get to keep it.

Most of my friends--my real friends, the ones I can talk to, whom I understand and who understand me--are people to whom bad things have happened. They've lost parents and children. They've had cancer, mental illnesses, desperate childhoods, abusive families. They know that there is no invisible line separating the people to whom unthinkable things happen from the people to whom they do not. They know how fragile everything is. They understand what is important and what is not.

So when I meet someone new, someone in the midst of something terrible, my instinct is to say, I am one of you. I know. I understand. Let me help you. And I look around and I see my healthy loving husband, my beautiful little boy, my nice home and comfortable kitchen and good friends and real family. And I look like someone for whom everything is okay and everything has always been okay. And most of the time, I pretend that that's true. But it isn't.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Yom tov hiatus

It's not as though I'm a really regular blogger, but I thought I'd let my legions of readers (all twenty of you) know that with the high holidays (yomim tovim) approaching, I am not likely to blog for at least the coming week. My FIL is coming, and I'm working the other three days this week, so it's going to be busy.

One of the things I really like about living in a religious neighborhood is the way you can just feel that Shabbos, or Yom Tov, is approaching. People are in a hurry. About two hours before sunset, the Jews just vanish from the streets. The stores are closing up, and everyone is wishing everyone else a good Shabbos or a good holiday. This morning, I did some last-minute shopping and there was no chicken in either of the two kosher groceries, the fish store was mobbed, and where usually on a Sunday you'll see mothers out with their kids, today it was fathers--the mothers were home cooking. The fathers were navigating strollers through the aisles, studying their shopping lists and showing them to older offspring. "What does mommy mean when she says rice?" "This kind, daddy, the brown box." "Oh, okay. Put it in the cart." The rituals of the holidays.

Well, part of the house is clean, and some, though by no means most, of the cooking is done. My own husband and offspring are off on a mission to acquire and tovel a new rice cooker. What happened to ours on Friday is too hideous to describe in detail--suffice it to say it involved a batch of rice cooked in 1948 and the kind of wildlife gone amok you usually read about it Michael Crichton novels. I should be taking advantage of their absence to start the soup, but here I am blogging and casting longing glances at my spinning wheel. It's going to be a while before I get to touch that again.

All right, off I go. G'mar chasima tova, everybody. May you be inscribed for a happy, healthy, and peaceful new year.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

today's cuteness

Barak knows that he is not supposed to fling things out of his stroller or off his high chair tray. I have always been very unforgiving about this with the stroller, because we took the bus every day and if a toy or sippy cup rolled under a seat six rows away, it wasn't easy to get back. I don't like him chucking things off his high chair tray either, because a) it's a waste of food, b) it's not polite and c) it means I have to clean it up. So he knows, full well, that things that get dropped do not come back, unless the object in question clearly fell by mistake.

So yesterday, when he dropped his banana on the floor in the midst of trying to peel it himself (he insisted on making the attempt--why not?) he looked up at me in great consternation and said, very slowly and clearly, "Uh-oh! Uh-oh! Oh no!" Meaning, "It was a mistake, Imma! I didn't mean to! I get my banana back, right?"

Which, of course, he did.

Monday, September 26, 2005

The Squirrels from Gehennom

All right. I know they're squirrels. I understand this. I understand that they are (sort of) wild animals who are foraging for food in an urban landscape. And so while I was, to put it mildly, put out by the challah-roll-in-stroller-canopy incident, I understood. Kind of.

But this was totally gratuitous.

Yesterday, I came down to the stroller to find what looked weirdly like blue confetti sprinkled all over the seat. Closer inspection revealed that the seatbelt buckle was actually chewed off. Completely. No possible way to use stroller seatbelt.

Now, what was the point of that? There was no food on the seatbelt buckle. There was not, to the best of my knowledge, any food inside the seatbelt buckle, unless Graco has taken to hiding challah inside their molded plastic.

There's no other explanation for it. It was sheer squirrelly malice.

Friday, September 23, 2005

The contents of my freezer

So, as many of you know, the yomim tovim (holidays) are fast approaching. Being fortunate enough to have both a kid and a job, my time is not exactly plentiful, and since I am going to have guests to feed at no less than sixteen (count 'em) festive meals, there is no way to leave this to the last minute. What's an uberimma to do? She cooks ahead and freezes, of course, in a time-honored tradition dating back through the generations as least as far back as the founding of the Frigidaire company.

The freezer, I am happy to say, is filling up. It now contains two roasts, two chickens, six quarts of chicken soup, a hundred and something meatballs (I made a hundred and fifty, but we ate some), six dozen chocolate chip cookies, two pans of three-layer kugel, a pan of potato kugel, and probably some other stuff I forgot. Last night, I made nine pans of kugel (three different recipes), two chickens, challah, chicken soup, four dozen cookies, and, um, I think that's it. But a lot of that is getting eaten over the course of the next day, since we are having guests tonight and tomorrow.

So, what is my current dead-of-night fear?

A power outage.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

hum dee dum

We got the new stroller in the mail yesterday, but it is still in its box, since Barak is so utterly fascinated with said box that I feel bad depriving him of it in its current exciting state (i.e., full of stroller pieces and therefore very solid for climbing purposes.) I haven't gotten the bike lock yet, so wouldn't be using it until then anyway. And there's no snow yet, obviously, so it isn't all that pressing. His babysitter said today that both he and the other little boy who comes here during the day were so enthralled that when she proposed a trip to the park--a suggestion that usually has the two of them waiting by the back door in seconds--they both looked at her, said "no," in chorus, and went on playing. She just spent the whole day sitting in the living room watching them climbing on and off the box. It made her job easy, anyway.

Oh, and I saw an interesting sign on the way home. Remember Fraidl? Well, she's showing an open house two blocks from me on Sunday. I think we'll stop by and check it out. Further bulletins, as always, as events warrant.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

This week, chez Uberimma

It has not been a good week for strollers.

We used to have two. The first was a Graco stroller that I bought a month or two after Barak was born, when I had no idea what I would really need--it's the kind that comes with a car seat that you can snap in. It's unmaneuverable in snow, as I discovered with the first flake, so last December I bought a second one--a big, expensive (in my book--you can easily spend four or five hundred bucks on these things if you are so inclined) jogging stroller that I got from LL Bean, with a weather canopy inside the sunshade that you can zip out and clip on for when it rains or is really cold and windy. We don't have a car, so my stroller really is the car--I shop with it, take Barak everywhere in it, etc. We kept both strollers in the bottom of the inside stairwell in our old apartment, and have been keeping them at the bottom of the outdoor back stairs here. I didn't lock them--who's going to steal my stroller out of my yard?


Last Saturday, I was about to take Barak to an aufruf (the event marking the last Shabbos before a bridegroom's wedding) and as I carried him (carefully) down the back stairs, it took me several seconds to realize that the jogging stroller was gone. I looked around the yard, and then the alley, and it was pretty clear what had happened--it had gotten stolen during the night. You often see trucks driving through the alleys where I live, salvaging things from the garbage bins, and I guess someone got a little overeager. So, goodbye less-than-a-year-old jogger, goodbye $185. I have to buy a new one--it isn't at all negotiable, since the remaining stroller becomes useless the moment it snows.

But at least I still had one stroller.

Until Friday. When I went to the bakery with Barak to buy challah for shabbos, gave him half a roll, and tucked the other half into the canopy for later. And forgot about it. But the evil killer mutant squirrels who live in our yard reminded me, by chewing all the way through the back of the stroller to get to it. The stroller is still usable, in a pinch, but it looks so awful I'm embarassed to be out with it, and my standards for such things are not particularly high. Besides, it doesn't exactly offer much in the way of sun protection.


B"H I can afford to buy another stroller, though this time I got the least expensive jogger I could find. It should come in the mail later this week. The mangled stroller will go in the basement, for shopping--the jogger doesn't have much of a basket. And tomorrow, I'm taking Barak to Target to buy a bike lock.

Favorite word this week, by the way, is "up." It means both "up" and "down," or maybe both "I want to go up" and "I'm tired of being up," as the situation warrants. Other relatively new words include "hot," "bubble," and "uh-oh," and the sign for "more" has resurfaced after an absence of a month or so. New phrase: "no way!" I guess I say that one a lot. "No way," and "oh boy," are both big these days. Fun activity today was sitting in the glider rocker, looking cute, and playing with Abba's juggling equipment in the living room. He's started stacking the rings on his stacking-rings-on-a-stick toy (you know what I'm talking about, you probably had one) though not yet in the right order. He is starting to get the nesting cups right, though, and occasionally stacks blocks. And he will climb on anything. I'm very glad we got the bookshelves bolted to the walls.

Thursday, September 15, 2005


Okay, so, this was weird.

But first, a little background.

When I was looking for an apartment, one of the places I looked at was an awful, awful 60s apartment building that was being rehabbed into "luxury" condos. I use those quotation marks for extremely heavy emphasis. It was the usual quick conversion--mirrored closet doors, granite countertops and maple cabinets, thin doors and walls. It was shown to me by a realtor named... well, let's just call her Fraidl, okay? She looked, for all the world, frum. Long skirt, hair tucked under a baseball cap. She knew the lingo and told me all about the frum families who were moving in, how it was close to the shuls, etc. I was so not interested I didn't even go inside--it was clear from the sidewalk it wasn't for us, and since she had been late I was late to see another place (the one I'm sitting inside now, in fact.) End of Fraidl, Act I.

On Sunday, on a walk with Barak, I passed an open house in another new conversion a few blocks away. Because I wasn't in a hurry and I'm always interested in these things now, I went in. And saw... Fraidl. Except it wasn't Fraidl. It was Fraidl in a very short skirt with no hose, high heels, a very tight green tank top that left the top inch of her bra exposed in back, a lot of makeup and even more hairspray.

Fraidl? Or her frei twin?

I sneaked a look at the cards on the table. Nope, Fraidl all right. Fraidl who appears not even to be married, from what she said to me about where she lives, which makes the fact that she had her hair covered the first time I saw her even more bizarre. She wasn't just wearing a hat--she was wearing a hat with all her hair tucked inside.

Is it possible? Her name is sure convincing. Could she have just dressed the part to show the apartments in a religious neighborhood? Was it actually a costume? Or does she just dress like an, er, not religious person when showing an apartment in a different neighborhood?

Weird. Weird, weird, weird...

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Huh. How about that.

It's now been almost exactly two and a half years since I got married, meaning it's been about two and a half years since my hair saw the light of day (outdoors, anyway). I have long hair, and have had since I was six or so. It was too much a part of my identity to cut, so I never did, even when I was really too old to wear it so long. There's no religious need to cut one's hair when getting married, but most married women (who are Orthodox, anyway) do keep theirs short for convenience. I don't, which makes tying headscarves easier (more to anchor them to) and wearing wigs harder (too much to stuff underneath.) Since nobody ever sees my hair, I have to admit that I haven't been taking such good care of it. I don't wash it nearly as often as I used to, I don't really brush it (since it's braided and covered, it doesn't really get that dirty or that knotted) and it spends a lot of time damp, since it isn't really dry in the morning if I wash it at bedtime (and once covered doesn't really dry fully).

I'm quite attached to my hair, but frankly, it was never particularly lovely. It's not that thick and I always had a lot of split ends and frizzies and that kind of thing. Strangely, the other day, while brushing it (which I do about once a month) I realized that this is no longer the case. I have hardly any split ends at all. And it's much thicker than it used to be, and almost as thick at my waist as at my shoulders, which it never, ever was.

So, the secret to beautiful hair? Total, complete neglect.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005


So, we are in our second week of having Barak at home with a babysitter and another little boy. I have to say it is going really well, and while he may have had more fun per minute while at day care, his sum amount of fun had per day is probably higher, because, you know, he's not screaming hysterically for 25 minutes each way on the bus, morning and afternoon. I really like his sitter, who was his teacher at daycare (and is now about to start classes for a nursing degree), and we are saving a little money over what we paid at daycare, and I am not facing another winter of pushing the jogging stroller through snowdrifts on my commute. All good, although of course the down side is another hour a day apart.

And although Imma does, admittedly, have a much easier time on the bus without him, it's a lot harder to leave the house with a little boy perched on a box looking out the living room window watching me sadly all the way down the street as I wave bye-bye while walking backwards. I know he likes his babysitter--he gives her a big grin when she comes, even if he would rather I didn't leave. He gets to draw and paint and blow bubbles and do all those fun things, and his buddy comes and hangs out and the two of them converse seriously and trade their snacks (which are, unlike the ones in daycare, all kosher). It's definitely a better arrangement, and I'm starting to feel better about it, even though, well, I miss him.

One of the nicer things about it, while I'm on the subject, is that since Barak doesn't already spend two hours a day trapped in the stroller before we even run an errand, I can take him out for walks and not feel mean about it. So today we went to the post office, where we mailed a thirteen-pound box containing four bottles of anti-itch Neutrogena, two huge bottles of heavy-duty moisturizer, two tubs of really heavy-duty moisturizer, three bags of cookies, four tins of sardines, a bottle of baby shampoo, a small stack of pictures, two packages of tuna and a recent example of Barak's artwork to my grandmother in Hungary. It will take four weeks to get there and cost twenty-seven dollars, which I think is a bargain of the highest order. My grandmother, as you may have guessed, has a nasty itchy skin problem and only daily head-to-toe slathering with moisturizer and hydrocortisone keeps her sanity. So we send a big box of it every four or five months, being sure to keep well ahead of the supplies so as to take advantage of the cheap surface mail rates. It's a good system.

And in the poetic justice category, the two rude Russians who cut ahead of me on the very long post office line got what they deserved. They were too scary-looking to take to task for their line-cutting, or to talk to generally, so I did not say a word to them about the yellow-and-brown package slips they were holding, and let them wait all the way to the front of the line until the postal clerk informed them that UPS and USPS are not the same thing. So there.

In other news, the house is nearly unpacked, with the only room still in a state of moderate chaos being the guest room. Since we are, naturally, about to have guests, this is going to have to change pretty soon. Probably just as well.

All right, time to go make some rice.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

This is not supposed to happen here.

We don't have a television, something for which I am frequently grateful. Right now, if we had one, it would have been on since the beginning of last weekend, when we started hearing about a big hurricane coming, somewhere down south. Every day, there has been something worse on the news, all of which you probably all know about, so what is there left to say?

There's something I'd like to know, though, that hasn't been discussed very much. By every account New Orleans had a narrow escape that nobody was expecting. The storm weakened and turned. They were expecting to be hit head-on with a category 5. That, clearly, would have drowned the entire city. So what were they--"they" in this case being FEMA--expecting? What is the good of a "mandatory evacuation" when 35% of a city's poorest (read: black) residents don't have access to cars, and--in a move that boggles the mind--Greyhound shut down on Saturday? There were something like 100,000 people left in the city when the storm hit, and they almost all would have been dead if not for a last-minute shift in the weather. Plenty of them, of course, already are.

Why was the National Guard not there with trucks, moving everyone who wanted to go out--before the storm? Why were there not schoolbuses and helicopters before the storm? And why, please tell me, were the 700 [white] guests and staff of a hotel moved to the front of the evacuation line at the end of the week, ahead of the thousands of [poor and black] people who had been there since Saturday? Why were so many of those who got out white, and almost all of those left behind--except for the stranded tourists--black?

Race relations in this country will never be the same. And whatever is on the news, I know at least part of what will happen. White people will look at the pictures on their TVs, of the gangs and the thugs and the rapes and the lawlessness. They'll say, see, that's what black people are like, really. And the black people will look around them and see that whatever social contract we imagine in this country, that our wealth and our democracy protects us, is a mirage. It might take some white people a little longer to figure that out, but the truth is the same for everybody.
We think our government will protect us. It won't. It won't protect us at all, in the end, whatever the color of your skin.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Home again, home again, jiggity-jig

We were away for four days visiting MHH's parents, who are lovely people who inhabit a slightly different earthly realm from the rest of us. Barak got the full grandchild treatment (impressive, considering he is very far from being the first grandchild) replete with a trip to what is possibly the best playground ever, a ride on an actual steam train (yes, E, we thought of M the whole time--I'm sure he would have kicked the engineer out of the driver's seat and driven the thing himself like he did in England), a visit to the pizza shop, fascinating new toys and lots of love and attention.

Oh, and did I mention we went to the pizza shop?

First, some back story, for those of you who like such things...

In general, according to Jewish law, when you eat pizza as a meal (not a snack), it counts, blessing-wise, as bread. This matters a lot. When eating a French fry, a piece of chocolate or a hunk of cheese, the blessing you say after you're done takes about fifteen seconds. The blessing you say after a cookie or a piece of cake takes maybe forty-five seconds. The blessing you say after bread, however, takes three minutes if you're fast and five or six if you're not, and is so long that many people prefer to read it out of a little book of blessings commonly known as a bencher. Kids learn it to a song, either at home or at camp, which makes it much easier to learn. I sing it to Barak after we eat and sometimes at bedtime, which occasionally makes me wonder if I am dooming him to a life of falling involuntarily asleep in a Pavlovian reaction after every meal containing bread. But I digress.

All right, back to the story at hand. We're at the pizza shop. My father-in-law has finished eating his burrito (because there is no kosher pizza shop in the world that serves only pizza) and has his bencher and is saying his blessing. Barak starts writhing around yelling Ma! Ma! Ma! which means, I want something! In this case, a bencher. Since the benchers belonged to the restaurant and they probably wouldn't appreciate having them shredded by a toddler covered in pizza and other unnameable substances, I went and found a stack of flyers for tae kwon do lessons, folded one in half, and handed one to the ever easy-to-please Barak. He took it with a happy ha!, hunched over it just like Zayde, puckered his lips out, stared down intently, and started moving his lips with great concentration, also just like Zayde.

Anyone else notice a pattern here?

Monday, August 22, 2005

The best sweater ever

And it's mine, mine, mine, all mine. I'm almost looking forward to cold weather.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Things Barak Did Today

1. Made interesting scrunchy faces

2. Said "oh no!" in a way that even someone who isn't his mother would understand

3. Walked down the street holding both my hand and MHH's

4. Stacked blue and yellow plastic cups, unstacked them and restacked them. Repeat.

5. Discovered that Lego are good for things besides banging and sucking

That last was the most fun. He'd hand me a piece, I'd attach it to another piece and hand it back. He'd cackle, head off to investigate his treasure, and it would promptly fall apart under the force of his interest. Much brow-furrowing would ensue, and Barak would give me the look that means, "you can fix it, Imma, right?" I'd ask for another piece, he'd hand me another piece, I'd put together a new little structure and he'd cackle with more glee. This went on for most of the morning. This afternoon, he decided to nap from 3 until well past 5, meaning that bedtime was postponed till after 8, and I took him with me to shul when it was time for MHH to daven mincha. Of course, he found a sink plunger in the shul kitchen (at least I fervently hope it was a sink plunger, being as it was in the kitchen and all) and wandered around the social hall with it, getting headed off by mean old Imma every time he tried to get into the sanctuary (even though I didn't think it was a toilet plunger, I still didn't really want him dragging it into the middle of krias ha'Torah, just, you know, in case.) He made it as far as seudat shlishit, then showed his first signs of meltdown (an hour past his normal bedtime, which wasn't bad) so we went home and he went to sleep really nicely (kein ayin hara).

Anyway, so, that was our Shabbos. Tomorrow is my first solo outing since Barak was born--going to a fiber show with a friend. I'm leaving at 6 am and coming home at 11 pm, and the boys are on their own. I fully expect to return to find them both asleep on the living room floor surrounded by empty tubs of ice cream and sticky spoons. But don't tell them I said that.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Oh, my goodness me

Okay, so, I know already that Barak is an observant little person. He seems to figure out something new every day, or pick up something that we hadn't realized we'd taught him. A couple weeks ago, for example, I brought him to shul, for the ten minutes of mussaf that he can sit through with reasonable degrees of decorum. I got there during the chazzan's repetition, in time to answer amen to the brachos. Barak was cool with this, peeking around the mechitza to the men's side with interest. The chazzan got to kaddish. Again, everybody answered amen. Including the little person in my arms. "Ah-mennnn..."

Okay, very sweet. Very cute. I kvelled.

And yesterday...

Barak, in his blue hippopatomus pajamas, made an escape from his room at bedtime and toodled into the living room, pacifier in mouth, blankie in tow. He found one of MHH's seforim in the living room (Kinos, noch--it was just past Tisha b'Av). He set it on an unopened box, as through it was a shtender. He opened it up.

And he started to shuckel.


(Okay, this is for Jacque. This is what happened, in English. My son went into the living room and found one of my husband's Hebrew books--a very serious, depressing book used in connection with a day of fasting and mourning. He put it on a box in imitation of the way my husband reads such books, opened it up, and started pretending to read it as my husband would read from such a book--i.e., rocking back and forth in classic Orthodox Guy fashion. He does not miss a trick.)

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

no words

This morning, I woke up early, having gone to bed early the night before. I was up before Barak, and then heard him in his crib, awake but happy, having a conversation with his toes, his sippy cup, his blankie, and the walls. I got dressed. Got my things together. Picked up Barak, who greeted me with upstretched arms and a very contented, "Mama!" Nursed. Changed his diaper. Got him dressed.

We were ready to leave, and I called him to the door. We went outside, and I had Barak's hand in one of my hands and my keys in the other. We were on the back stoop, which is eight steep wooden steps up from the concrete patio in back. I locked the door, and Barak, spying the stairs, pulled his hand out of mine. I reached out to grab him, which should have been easy. He was close, the stairs were a few feet away. But my skirt caught on the door. I couldn't reach him in time. I screamed no, no, no! as he smiled, grabbed the banister, stepped confidently down the first step, missed, and fell, head over heels, in terrible slow motion, all the way down, all the way down to the concrete below.

I watched him fall and heard myself screaming and pulled my skirt free all at the same time, trying to catch him, always a step behind. I only caught up with him at the bottom. A moment of horrible silence. And then he started to cry.

He only cried for a few minutes, while I comforted him and felt him wildly for blood, broken bones. There weren't any. He stopped crying, looked around, held onto me for a minute.

And then wanted to get down to play in the grass.

He was fine. He ate his bagel in the stroller, waved at the bus driver, flirted with another passenger, smiled and played the whole way to daycare. Still shaking, I stayed with him to watch him for half an hour for signs of lethargy, anything not right. Nothing. I went to work, called the doctor, made an appointment for the middle of the morning. Brought Barak in to get him checked out. He's fine, says the doctor. Fine. Toddlers are resilient. They're tougher than they look. And falls down stairs are not as bad as they seem--they're just a lot of little falls, and only the first step is a hard fall. He's fine.

And thank God, he does seem fine. But as I watched him fall, heard the thump of his little body hitting stair after awful stair, I thought I heard another sound as well. The sound I am always listening for, every moment of every day, though I try not to strain my ears, try to fill my mind with other music and other voices. I thought I heard the sound of the other shoe dropping--on this, my life, this strange and wonderful gift I don't know why I have.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Ten Things about which I am Moved to Blog, but do not wish to Blog about Fulsomely

1. I took Barak out of his daycare today, effective the end of the month. I have mixed feelings about this, but am pretty sure it is the right decision. There are some weird staffing issues going on there, so I’m not sure who his teachers will be, and I know that they’ve had some really bad ones in the toddler class in the past. It’s getting harder and harder to take Barak to daycare/work on the bus, and once it’s winter and he’s bundled to the teeth and livid about it in the stroller, it’s going to get, well, really not fun. And the kashrus issue is not going to get any easier. And—the kicker, really—one of his current teachers is leaving her job to go back to school to get a nursing degree, so she’s going to come babysit for Barak and another little boy in the neighborhood in the mornings. No more commute with Barak, no more kashrus problems, much less expensive. The flip side, of course, is more than an hour a day added to my time away from Barak. Logically, this is really okay—the hour we spend on the bus now is hardly quality time. Still, it means almost thirty hours a week away from him, which is more than I ever planned on. I know how lucky I am to have an interesting part-time job with good benefits; still, I wish I didn’t have to work.

2. Yesterday, late in the afternoon, when it was still hot but most of our yard was in shade, I taught Barak a valuable life lesson. To wit: what you can do with a sprinkler by crimping the hose. Ooh, ahh. Big spray! Little spray! Big spray again! Oh, and is that a newly formed mud puddle? Bellyflop! It’s good to be a little boy.

3. I will never learn to compose in word and paste text into a blogger window. Never, never, never. I wrote this list yesterday and had ten fascinating and entertaining items . Really, I did. Then blogger ate them. Sigh.

4. Earlier this week I was having a conversation with MHH about the colors on the walls of our apartment. Namely, the intensely magenta living room, hellishly red hall, violet master bedroom, glowing yellow baby’s room, carrot-colored kitchen, and neon celery (really, that’s what the can said) loom room. MHH, as you may recall, is somewhat colorblind. I asked him how he felt about the colors. He said, “I may not know just what the walls look like, but I am definitely aware that our apartment doesn’t look like anyone else’s.”

5. It has been over a year since we lived in an apartment with anybody upstairs. It’s been years since I lived anywhere with an upstairs apartment without carpet. I forgot what it was like. Now I am being reminded.

6. The cheaper fresh corn is, the better it tastes. When it’s ten ears for a dollar, like it was today, it’s pretty much guaranteed to taste like candy.

7. Barak is now tall enough to reach the knobs on the oven, and today discovered them for the first time. He got half a knob-twiddle in before I whisked him away. This weekend’s Target run: oven knob covers.

8. There are certain jobs that you can still do even if you are really unfit for them. If you are a bad stocker of shelves, a bad mower of lawns, a bad filler of potholes, even a bad typist, you can still get away with doing these jobs for a living. However, there are occupations that, if you stink at them, you really should just accept your unfitness for and move on to other things. For example, phlebotomists. If you are a bad phlebotomist, please go to culinary school. And if you are a bad manager of payrolls, please get another job, anywhere but in my husband’s school, where his paycheck has just been disastrously miscalculated in the third major way this year.

9. I liked our movers. So, remember the Muppets? The real Muppets, with Jim Henson and Frank Oz doing almost all the voices. Remember the band—Electric Mayhem? Remember the band’s van? Well, that’s what the movers pulled up to our old apartment in. Except I don’t think the Electric Mayhem van had a stuffed rabbit tied to the antenna. I could be wrong, though.

10. What is it with Barak and cleaning equipment? I have already documented his intense fascination with brooms, extending to dustpans and dustbrushes. He’s a tremendous fan of the toy vacuum cleaner at daycare. Today, he discovered a damp sponge on the kitchen floor, found a clean shelf right near it, and began to industriously wipe down the shelf with the grubby sponge. And he doesn’t even get an allowance yet.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

We now return to our regularly scheduled blogging

Well, we've got internet again, and phone again. And I have so much I could blog about, and so much on my mind right now, that I think I will leave you with this--answers to the questions my friend Deb tagged me to post, written yesterday.

Where were you ten years ago?

10 years ago I was 23, writing for a Hungarian newspaper, living alone in a highly fortified Budapest apartment and fending off a completely insane landlady who used to enter without warning to leave stealth offerings of limp pickles on plates in my kitchen. I had started knitting in earnest a few months earlier, and was having my first knitting all-nighters, drinking diet coke, listening to Hungarian radio and watching the sun come up. I was about to return to college with one more semester to go to finish my undergraduate degree. I was about to learn to spin, I wore Birkenstocks with wool socks and my hair in a braid. God had just started knocking on my door. I had the stereo cranked up so I could pretend I didn't hear.

Where were you five years ago?

5 years ago I had finished my second master’s degree, and had just finished teaching my first solo college class (magazine writing). I was one year into my PhD program. I honestly can't remember much about that month--I think I was already starting to sense that it was the beginning of the end of the whole academic thing. I was at that point religiously observant and had been to Israel, was keeping kosher and shabbos. I had just turned 27, was still single, had just had a very unpleasant dating experience, and was beginning to realize that isolated college towns were bad places to make shidduchim. It was not a good time, and about to get much worse.

One year ago?

1 year ago we had just moved to the city where we live now. MHH had gotten exactly one viable job offer (I’m not counting the one in Hong Kong) and we moved 1000 miles to take it. Barak was three and a half months old and in a very high-maintenance phase--too big to want to lie on the floor, too little to sit up by himself, too cool for the bouncy seat (puh-leeze!) I was wrestling with decisions about whether or not to go back to work, which I really, really did not want to do but was coming to realize was not really optional financially. I was unpacking boxes and taking long walks with Barak snoozing in the Snugli, enjoying the time I had with him all to myself. I was happy.


Yesterday I chased Barak around our grassy new backyard and watched him bravely investigate the sprinkler, then took him inside to scrape off the resultant mud. Set up my loom and spinning wheel in the guest/wool room. Went to Target for garbage can and litterbox and new broom, which Barak gleefully appropriated on sight. (He's got something of a broom fetish. Why not?) Covered kitchen counters with plastic and scoured stove, unpacked all remaining kitchen boxes, arranged tchotchkes on kitchen shelves. Did a little spinning of some wool my friend in Sydney sent for my birthday. A good day.


Today I got up before Barak, which is always nice. Rescued him from crib as soon as he woke up, which put him in a very good mood, and we cuddled a little before getting on with the day. There is something especially wonderful about the way clean babies smell in the morning. Watched him toodle around the apartment with broom in hand in his green alligator pajamas. Went to bakery for his morning bagel, got help with stroller on the bus, dropped him at daycare with no tears. Went to the office, wrote a powerpoint presentation, got Barak back at 1:30 and came home after some errands to make macaroni with cheese and spinach for dinner—a baby favorite. Played with Barak, heard some very alarming intestinal noises and realized he was standing in a spreading wet puddle of blueberry-induced diarrhea, totally unperturbed. Screamed for MHH and transferred poopy child to bathtub, gave him an impromptu shower and induced fits of giggles in Barak, who felt just fine, thanks, and found all of this very entertaining. Put Barak to sleep with very little resistance and did some more unpacking. Bed by 10… ahh.

5 snacks I like

Damp cheerios fed to me by Barak
Diet coke (alas)
Poppyseed rolls from the bakery (alas, alas)
Tomato sandwiches with miracle whip (alas and then some, says my husband)

5 bands whose songs I know most of the lyrics to

The Beatles, probably. I don’t think any other bands, except maybe the Grateful Dead, but it’s been a while…

5 things I'd do with a million dollars

pay off the mortgage
pay off my in-laws' mortgage
pay off my SIL's mortgage
buy my other SIL a place in Chicago
(a million dollars doesn't go as far as it used to--it would have run out by now)

5 places I would run away to (as Deb said, all temporarily, before running back home)

Birmingham (yes, I am the only person in the world harboring warm fuzzy feelings about Birmingham)
Meg Swanson's knitting camp
New Zealand, where I've always wanted to go...

5 things I would never wear

a tongue stud or any other body piercing, including earrings
high heels
a bathing suit in public
anything that fit me before I got pregnant (sigh)

5 things I like doing

nursing, playing with, feeding, chasing, and cuddling Barak
being silly with my husband
knitting, in company or alone
emailing distant friends

5 biggest joys

wet slobbery kisses from Barak
my family
our new home
visits from friends

5 famous people I'd like to meet

Elizabeth Zimmerman
Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik
Winston Churchill
Lenin (from a safe distance)
John Steinbeck

5 movies I like

The Princess Bride
The Great Muppet Caper
The Incredibles
Roman Holiday
A Tanu (The Witness, a Hungarian classic)

5 favorite toys

my spinning wheel
my loom
my dishwasher
my washing machine
my dryer (I know, I know... but you appreciate it much more after not having one)