Thursday, July 28, 2005


A friend of mine emailed me yesterday about the whole name-changing thing. What happens, she asks, when you change the name of a dying person and the person doesn't die?

What happens is that you jump up and down and cheer and continue calling her by her new name. (The person doesn't have to be actively dying, either--just sick enough to be in danger of it.) Their new name is their new name, and it stays that way.

What does this mean, in practical terms? No, you don't have to go and change your driver's license, but yes, you do change your identity. (Many people, by the way, have both Jewish and secular, or "English" names. MHH, Barak and I all do. It's confusing, but it's easy to see why people do that--if you want to name your baby Shlomo Mordechai after your grandfather, for example, but you'd like the kid to have a chance of getting a job one day, you might write Steven on the birth certificate.)

My husband pointed out to me, after I wrote that post, that there is much more to the idea of name-changing than just fooling the guy with the hood and the scythe. The Friday night before the shinui shem (namechanging), as we were eating dinner, we had a pile of seforim (religious books) out on the table, looking for the origin of the practice. It turned out that it starts with Sarai, way back in Genesis. She's infertile, and God changes her name to Sarah and gives her a child (Itzchak/Isaac). This qualifies as a hard-core miracle, since Sarah is, at this point, not only childless but ninety years old.

We also found in a Gemara (don't remember which one) the idea that there are four things to do when petitioning for a reversal in a divine decree. One changes one's ways, changes one's name, prays and gives charity. So the idea is really more than just telling the Angel of Death that you're a different person--it's becoming a different person. You increase your observance of the commandments, you pray more, you give more to others, you try to be better than you were before--and you take a new name too. Of course, many people who have their names changed are not in any condition to start doing very much, but I guess the idea is that when they're better, they do.

It's not bargaining, though--it isn't saying to God, "Please cure me, and I promise I'll be better." It's, "Please give me a new life instead of this one, and I'll remember that it's not the same one I had before."

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Your turn

Dear readers, I am tired of making decisions.

I am particularly tired of making big scary decisions involving lots of money.

And decisions involving our apartment.

So I am leaving this one up to you all, okay?

The estimate that we got for the painting does not include the trim, because it is all wood and I wanted to keep it so. Now it transpires, on closer inspection, that the trim is really banged up, and it will probably not look so nice once the walls are painted and look, well, nice. I talked to the contractor, who said that to really fix up the trim would take a lot of filler and sanding, not to mention $750.

Yes, we have it. But we are spending so much money that I can't even add it up, because I might just keel over and die. (Okay, that's not true. I did finally add it up, and the addition wasn't actually lethal. But it was painful.) We were kind of hoping to put some money into the mortgage after we move, so we won't be paying it for the rest of our lives. Spending--urgh--$3,500 on the paint job is not quite what I was planning. But maybe it's worth it. Or maybe not. So I would like it if you would decide for me.

Anyway, it's now 4:45, central time. I'll check back here at about 7 tomorrow morning. Please drop your votes in the ballot box below. Thank you for your time and sense of civic responsibility.
So when we bought the apartment, there were certain issues that we knew about, because they came up in the inspection. We knew, for example, that the furnace was on its last legs. It is original to the building, meaning fifty years old, and was converted from oil to gas. The inspector looked at it and said that while the furnace might be okay for a while, possibly even a few more years, it was certainly inefficient and potentially unsafe, although it would take a furnace guy to know for sure. Since Furnace Guys are expensive, and we knew that the furnace had to be replaced at some point anyway, we decided to go ahead and get a new furnace. I talked to Monte, the Fixer of All Things and himself a former Furnace Guy, who told me what questions to ask; I then called the Trane people, one of whom came out and gave us an estimate for a new, high-efficiency furnace, and a water heater too, since the old one was leaking and probably not worth fixing. Monte agreed with the Trane man that a humidifier was a good idea as well, so we also went with that. Total bill: $4,500.

So on Monday, the day we officially took possession, two more Furnace Guys showed up at 8:45 am. I let them into the empty apartment and went to work, while MHH stayed, doing some cleaning and waiting for the locksmith. I stopped by with Barak in the afternoon, on my way home from work. It was hot out, so we had the windows closed to hold in the AC, which was, of course, turned off while the system was being worked on.

And standing in the living room, I started feeling very strange. My chest felt heavy. There was a sense of pressure in the air. I couldn't push back the fear, which was rapidly moving toward panic. Could it be over the decision to buy the house? Was there something wrong with the place I hadn't known about--radon, mold, poltergeists? Whatever it was, I didn't like it. At all. I opened up all the windows, and went outside, and let Barak play in the yard. Almost immediately, I was breathing more easily, and we went back home.

A couple hours later, I came back and signed the work order from the Furnace Guys. "That was a big job," one of them said. "But it's a good thing you didn't wait. That was one hazardous furnace. It's been pumping carbon monoxide right into the apartment." He told me that the flue pipe was rusted out, and as the hole grew, the amount of carbon monoxide that did not get exhausted grew as well. And it continued to seep into the basement and get blown upstairs, along with the warm air--every time the heat was on, more and more every day.

Blown upstairs into the apartment that, until last week, was inhabited by a young family with a six-month-old baby--and a carbon monoxide detector with no battery.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Moving right along

Well, the apartment is now ours. The tenants left yesterday, and they have their whole security deposit back, and even though there were things we could have taken out of it, we didn't, because I always hated it when landlords did that to me. And when I went over there late last night to get the keys, I was pleasantly surprised to find the two of them in an almost empty apartment with scrub brushes and Windex, cleaning out the apartment before they left. So that was nice.

We still have plenty to do, but not as much. MHH is over there now, observing the installation of the new water heater and furnace, and waiting for the locksmith, who will be there this afternoon to rekey the front door locks and install a Shabbos (keypad) lock on the back door. Bit by bit. The painters, alas, did not show up, though I am told that the paint has been purchased and they will be there tomorrow at 8 am to start all of the extensive prep work. I am also assured that they will be done before we move on Monday. I am trying not to think too much about what will happen if they're not.

My mother said once, on the subject of home improvements, that the more you do, the more you notice everything that still needs to be done. Once the kitchen walls are painted, the floor is going to look even more awful, and I think that will be the next thing on the list. The kitchen cupboards aren't going anywhere anytime soon, even though the wood is literally peeling apart in laters on some of the doors, though if I get ambitious I might paint them. Of course, then I would want to replace the counters...

It occurred to me last night that I have been so busy with everything else that I haven't even thought about where the furniture is going to go. I had thought I would have sold my loom by now, and I haven't, so that's one thing to work out. Also, I don't think our current dresser will fit in our future bedroom, though I could be wrong about that--I need to go in there with a measuring tape and work all that out.

And we need a loveseat. Okay, "need" is a strong word, but I do want to get one. One of the things I don't like about the apartment is the way the public and private space are split--the living room is all the way in the front, and the kitchen almost all the way in the back, at the end of a long hall. So there is no obvious hang-out spot. I would prefer the hanging out to happen in the kitchen, since that's where I spend most of my time at home, and since there is an empty wall where the tenants once had a breakfront, I think some nice comfy seating is in order. Unfortunately our current couch is too big--I would rather put our not-so-nice one in there and get a nice new one for the living room, but oh well. This is not, in the scale of things, a major problem.

All right, back to packing. Further bulletins, as always, as events warrant.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

on faith

This past Passover, I used a Haggadah seder by Rabbi Twersky, which I picked out of the pile at my sister-in-law's. He writes about the experience of suffering, in the context of the Jews' slavery in, and then our exodus from, Egypt. Part of what he says is this:

We said that we cried out unto Hashem to be merciful and relieve our distress, and that He heard our prayers. Yes, but why all the years of suffering? Why did He not intervene earlier?While this question does not always have a question that satisfies our logic, I did gain some insight on this in the pediatrician's office.

A mother had brought her infant to a doctor for immunization. As soon as the child saw the white-clad doctor, he began crying, remembering only too well what had befallen him at this man's hands just several months earlier. The mother assisted the physician by forcefully restraining the child, who clawed and kicked her. If we could enter the child's mind, we would no doubt discover that he was violently angry at his mother, who had suddenly betrayed him, and who instead of protecting him from harm as she usually did, was now collaborating with this brutal oppressor, who was going to stab him with a sharp instrument. The moment the physician withdrew the needle, and the mother released her restraining hold, the infant embraced her and clung to her for dear life.

But why? Was she not the very person who had just betrayed him and subjected him to such intense pain? Obviously, the infant's trust in the mother was so great that even though he thought she allowed him to be hurt, he nevertheless turned to her for comfort, protection, and relief from the pain. This is precisely how we relate to Hashem. Although we cannot understand why He subjects us to suffering, any more than the infant can understand his mother's behavior, our trust in Him is so great that it is not shaken by our suffering. Even when we angrily protest, we are nevertheless aware that Hashem is a loving and caring father, and that is why we appeal to Him in our distress.

I read that, and started to cry.

It isn't true, of course, that suffering doesn't shake our faith. But what is true for babies, and for adults as well, is that even when we don't understand, even when we feel betrayed, that we hold on because we have to. Barak clings to me. He clung to me even after the horrible blood draw that took what seemed like days and has left him permanently terrified by white coats. He clings to me because he has no other mother, and he trusts me because he must.

Eventually, of course, if I betrayed him enough times, he would no longer trust me. And when we feel God has betrayed us, it isn't always easy to keep faith. But just as Barak could not understand, could not possibly understand, that I was hurting him because I loved him, we must remind ourselves that we cannot possibly understand why God sometimes hurts us.

When Barak is big enough, he'll understand. I hope that someday, I will too.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

The inevitable

It had to happen sometime.

For weeks, Barak's favorite word has been "Yeah!" He says it when offered a walk in the stroller, a drink of water, his yellow fuzzy blanket, or a bath. He says it when the question concerns things he definitely doesn't want, like his sun hat or ten minutes in the playpen so I can get dressed or take a shower. If I offer him something he understands and is sure he doesn't want--a clean diaper or a shluffie (nap)--he just looks politely confused (surely you can't be serious!) and heads swiftly away from me.

But in general, his philosophy seems to be, when in doubt, try it. If he does end up saying yeah to something that turns out to be undesirable--green vegetables, for example--he can always toss the offending item overboard from his high chair. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?

Until this morning. When he learned to say no.

Friday, July 15, 2005

So I managed to finish several of the tasks that I failed to do earlier this week. I scheduled a time for the Bookshelf Measuring Man to come, and for the Painting Man to come. After some thoughtful consideration of what it is reasonable to expect MHH to do, and what would be not so reasonable, we (I) decided to hire somebody to paint the living room, hall, and kitchen, and the ceilings throughout; MHH is going to do the bedroom walls, which means no molding to deal with and it's not such a huge deal if it's not totally perfect (don't tell him I said that). One of us will do the bathrooms later on--it's not so vital to do those before moving in. MHH is willing to do the whole apartment in the name of economy, but he hasn't ever painted before and I suspect he doesn't fully get what a huge job that would be. So he gets the brownie points for offering. And this way, if he and the Painting Man are in there are the same time, he can get helpful advice from the pro (yes, I asked the Painting Man if this was okay, and he said it was.)

Tomorrow (Shabbos) MHH and the rebbe of the shtiebel he davens at are going to do something I asked them to do, which is formally change the name of a friend of mine who is sick. So if I called you in the past week and asked you to daven for somebody, the name I gave you is now preceded by Rachmana Sarah, with an i on the end of her original first name. Daven hard, please.

Changing the name of someone who is sick, by the way, is a pretty ancient idea. The thought, more or less, is that perhaps it is a way of faking out the Angel of Death. "I'm sorry, whom did you say you were looking for? Yudel ben who? No, sorry, nobody by that name here. Can't help you, I'm afraid. Oh, no, wait. Actually, I think he moved. You can try looking in... where was it again? Mongolia. Yeah, go look there. Have a nice day."

I hope it works.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

The Week in Review (on Wednesday)

So on Sunday I wrote a post that was not my typical post. I wrote about my life pre-rebbetzinhood, and the events that led me to finding my husband, and why it is that having a family at all is still a complete shock to me, and why becoming a ba'alas teshuva is not always Kedem and roses. I fretted awhile before posting it, and eventually decided to take it down overnight and reconsider in the morning whether I wanted it up or not. And Blogger reconsidered for me, by eating my post.

I've come to the conclusion that the super-introspective, demon-excising approach to bloggerhood is not for me. Enough people that I know read this post that it feels not anonymous, even though I trust all of them not to share my identity to the world and all my former students. Still, the level of soul-baring that is on so many blogs--admittedly the ones I read with the most interest, because the writers feel to me like friends--isn't going to happen on this one, at least not now.

So I won't get into the really stressful stuff that's been going on this week, with the painful anniversary we just marked and the reason why my book of tehillim has not been back on the shelf since Shabbos. Instead, I'll give you the list of Move-Related Tasks I have accomplished this week, as sent to my friend C last night, with a few additions of things I forgot.

met with furnace guy for estimate
ordered furnace installation
ordered water heater installation
called friend who was furnace dealer and got advice
called painter to arrange estimate
called painter several more times
called tenants to arrange time for painter to give estimate
called painter back to set time
called appliance people to figure out what appliances we are getting
called rabbi to find out kashrus considerations with dishwashers
called bookshelf people
went to bookshelf shop
drooled over bookshelves (and the gorgeous maple armoire i now must have but who am i kidding, i'll never be able to afford)
tried to arrange time to measure apartment for shelves, but failed, not through any fault of my own
tried to call former furnace-dealer friend back but failed again
got paint samples
got painting equipment
got keys copied at hardware store
went to locksmith to arrange to have new locks installed
got a bunch of miscut keys from locksmith and gave Barak his very own set of keys, hopefully distracting him from mine (now I just need to find a nonfunctional cell phone...)
paid mortgage for the very first time (shehecheyanu, v'kiyemanu...)
called seller to find vital information about move date
paid utilities
tried to transfer utilities to new place (failed--offices were closed)
tried to arrange online bill pay for mortgages (failed--voice recognition stinks)
called box gemach to arrange more boxes
bought packing tape
went to fire station to ask about the best kinds of smoke detectors (and watched Barak charm the firemen into giving him his very own kid-sized fireman's helmet)
mailed ovulation predictors to friend trying to conceive
did dishes and put away meat equipment so we can eat dairy again
bought squash and zucchini at the farmer's market
cooked squash and boiled eggs for lunch for Barak
failed to make lunch for myself
folded and put away laundry
emptied and packed two bookcases full of books
restacked very heavy boxes so that when Barak climbs them he won't be risking concussion
knitted fish #35 of 80 for Barak's knitted fishie afghan

and about a million other things, including, oh yes, going to work and taking care of my husband and kid.

Okay, granted, not all of the above items are move-related. But it's still a lot for two and a half days, no?

So when the tenants move out a week from Monday, hot on their heels will come appliance installation, bookshelf-building, furnace installation, water-heater installation, cleaning, and painting, and we should be able to move right in a couple weeks later.

Except for one small missing detail.

I still haven't found movers.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

1. Barak is walking now. Really walking, as in, it's become his preferred method of locomotion, and when he falls, instead of crawling the rest of his way, he immediately hops back up and keeps walking. He's obviously getting a huge kick out of it, as are we. And today, for the very first time, he walked along holding my hand. Kein yirbu--there should be much more of it.

2. It is probably just as well that I don't subscribe to the extra sitemeter feature that lets you see what searches brought people to your site. Because you can see Google search strings, and today I discovered that someone came to my site via seaching for "plastic pants loincloth." Oh my.

3. I can now make fleishig cholent. I did my very first one yesterday, with my brother-in-law on the phone giving step-by-step instructions. Not hard, and quite tasty.

4. And I had my third knitting-buddy visit in the last three years last week, my first since January. We didn't get to knit much, but had a ball. Ahh. Knitting is the best.

That's it, really. Time to go clean up the cholent overflow.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

mild horror. very mild. but horror nevertheless.

I just packed both my thesis and my dissertation.

My thesis wasn't so scary. I took it off the shelf and looked at it. It was in English. The source materials were all in English. I didn't have to translate anything to write it. I remember what it's about (mostly). I put it in a box.

Then I took my dissertation off the shelf.

The title, in case you are curious, is "Godlessness in Marxist-Leninist Propaganda: Dissonance, Compliance and Coercion." Yes, really. The rebbetzin wrote her dissertation on scientific atheism in the Soviet Union.

And then I looked inside. And it only got worse.

I don't remember writing it. I don't remember what's in it. Forget not remembering it--I can't even understand it. (NB: I filed it exactly five years ago this month.) And I'm looking at the stuff I translated from Russian, hideously dense multi-claused Soviet prose that is impenetrable even in English, and somewhere in the back of my mind a little voice reminds me that I did that on the fly, without a dictionary.

Five years ago.

And now I have a hard time chatting with the Russian checkout lady at the grocery store. I have to run through case charts in my head before I can construct a sentence about cheese.


Monday, July 04, 2005

This Fourth of July is the first time I have ever experienced the holiday in a state where fireworks are not only legal but for sale (and cheap) at any corner drugstore. I'm typing at the kitchen table listening to a steady streams of whooshes, shrieks and pops from outside. More reasons to stay inside...

It's been a while since I've posted a Barak update. So...

He's fourteen months old, and walking a few steps. (Note to readers whose babies were babies prior to the Back to Sleep campaign--babies, on average, walk later now. Sleeping on their backs gives them less tummy time, so although it decreases the risk of SIDS it does mean they often walk later. Fine by me.) He started walking on the Friday of the convention--there's nothing as motivating as a table full of blue Lincoln logs, it seems.

His favorite word right now is "yeah!" Probably because I say it a lot. "Do you want the book? Yeah? Should I read the book? Okay..." So now whenever I ask him a question, he says yeah. "Do you want some cheese?" "Yeah!" "Can I have that?" "Yeah!" "Should we change your diaper?" Dead silence and a diapered bottom making haste toward the horizon. He gives me his foot when I ask him for it, so that I can put on his sock, although sometimes he'll offer me the foot that already has a sock on it. He likes to wave bye-bye with both hands (twice as much fun.) He eats whole bananas without help and fairly minimal mess, and likes to drink water from my water bottle with the (choke-proof) pop-top. If I ask him to sit down in the tub, he will. (Although he might be up again two seconds later.)

Right now, since we're packing, the house is full of packed and taped boxes, which he likes to climb up and over. At first this made me nervous, but now I think he's really fine. He doesn't try to come off head first, but backs off and reaches his feet down cautiously. Favorite foods are now strawberries and macaroni and cheese; yogurt is still good but not what it once was. He likes to eat his bagel for breakfast in the stroller on the way to daycare--this is preferable, apparently, to cheerios. And sadly, nursing seems to be on its way out. He still wants to nurse first thing in the morning, and usually asks to nurse when I pick him up from school, but he starts and stops and looks around and usually slides off after a couple of minutes in search of adventure. Until a week or so ago, saying, "Barak, do you want to nurse?" brought him zipping speedily across the room and in about two seconds he'd be standing in front of me, holding my knees, beside himself with excitement and anticipation. No more. Well, it had to happen sometime. I'm happy to keep nursing as long as he is interested (within reason) but I don't think I'll find myself in the position of talking him out of it when he's two.

And the best thing that happened today was what he did to help my burned thumb feel better. I showed him my blister and said, "Ow! Will you kiss it?" and he obliged with one of signature open-mouthed smacks that on the cheek is delightfully slobbery, but in this case meant that my whole thumb disappeared into his gaping mouth.

He's asleep right now, and MHH is preparing a class for tonight, so all is quiet here at the house behind door number three.

Time to go pack more boxes. And feel very, very grateful.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

MHH is out learning, Barak is (finally) asleep, and I am (supposedly) packing. As you might have guessed, however, right now I'm taking a break to blog and, er, eat tomatoes with miracle whip. (No white bread this time.)

I really have little or nothing to report. Today we walked to Target, a distance of about two miles each way, and purchased contact paper in anticipation of kitchens to come. (As an aside, why is contact paper so boring? A few apartments ago I bought some contact paper that was really cute, and remember picking it from a plethora of fun patterns. Even searching Target and Kmart online, there was nothing at all, and at the B&M Target all I got was white paper with cherries. Bo-ring.)

It is starting to sink in that this could be the last move. Not ever--we're still, officially, hoping to make aliyah one of these days--but for a long long time. To fully understand what a big deal this is, you have to first understand how many times I've moved since starting college. Or, better, how many mailing addresses I've had.

Guess. Go on, guess. How many?


No, higher.

Nineteen. This will be number twenty. And that's only counting places I lived long enough to get mail, and not counting moves between rooms in the same dorm or co-op. Nineteen. The longest I lived in any one place was 22 months; the shortest was 2 months.

So the idea that this might be a home for more than a year or two--that it might be a place that becomes Barak's childhood home, a place where IY"H our family will grow further, where we will paint the walls colors we (okay, I--MHH is colorblind and couldn't care less) like, and not have to worry about painting them back when we move out--well, it's kind of a big deal.

By the way, my knitting buddy C. says that there are certain markers that let you know that you are officially an adult. (Doctorates, spouses and children are not on the list.) They are the following:

1. You live in more than one room. (Check.)
2. You have your address printed on your checks. (Check.)
3. You own furniture you neither inherited nor assembled yourself. (Check--not much, but check.)
4. You do your laundry without quarters. (Ahhh... so soon.)

The stupid thing I did tonight while making mac and cheese

I picked up a pot lid off the stove. Firmly, with my whole hand.

And yes, you guessed it. It was hot. Very very very hot. Which is why I'm now typing with my fingernails.

Ow. Ow ow ow ow owowoowowowoowowowow.

It hurts less than it did, after a lot of cold water and some vitamin E. But it still hurts. A lot.

Thus ends the post.