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.