Thursday, July 31, 2008

Look out, world...

Six months and a few days. For the record, Barak sat unassisted for the first time at around 8.5 months; both Barak and Iyyar started crawling at 10.5. Avtalyon isn't quite crawling, in that he hasn't worked out coordinating the movement of arms and legs at the same time. What he does, instead, is get up on all fours in sort of a downward dog yoga pose, push off with his feet, and propel himself a few inches forward on his belly; then he does the Baby Swim a little and starts the whole routine over. He can move quite a ways like this, with surprising speed.

Barak is loving camp, much more than he liked gan, probably because there is much less sitting still and doing of projects involved. And now that Barak is out of the house in the mornings again, I am having more of that one-on-one time with Iyyar that I was enjoying so much. Today, for the first time, he said "please"--not "bee" but actually "please." And he gave me bunches of hugs, when I sat on the floor, pretending to cry, and asked for them. The favorite word of the day, though, is "gawquit." As in, Iyyar spies jar of Nutella on counter and wants some: "Imma? Gawquit?" And then, winningly and irresistibly, "Please?"

Monday, July 28, 2008

Kein yirbu

Well, I did it--I made my first really awful Hebrew flub today.

First off, a little background. (Of course.) As I may have mentioned, this is a shmitta year, which means that Jews may not sow, plant, or otherwise work the land. This also means that Jews may not eat any produce of the land, which, as we understand it, refers to land in Israel that is owned by Jews.

So what does one do, practically speaking, when one wishes to, say, purchase a potato? One can do a few things. One can buy a potato from outside Israel. One can buy a potato from last year's crop. One can buy a potato that was grown on an elevated platform, or hydroponically, off the land. (Are there such things as hydroponic potatoes? I know they do tomatoes...) One can buy fruit that grew on its own, but that comes with its own set of complicated issues. Or one can buy produce grown by a non-Jew--in Hebrew, a nachri.

In Ramat Beit Shemesh, the produce store has two signs under every bin of produce: what kind of produce it is, and what its shmitta status is. So you might see, "Carrots--outside the land," or "Oranges--sixth year." Got that? Good.

Today, I wanted to buy grapes. I saw the sign that said "grapes," but no corresponding sign informing the prospective purchaser of their shmitta status. So I asked the store's owner. What I meant to ask, of course, was, "Were these grapes grown by non-Jews?" I probably should have kept it simple and just asked, "Zeh nachri?" which he would have understood as, "Is this nachri?" But no. I had to get ambitious. I went up to the owner and asked, politely, "Ha'anavim nachriim?" "Are these grapes non-Jews?"

As soon as it was out of my mouth, I realized--but if I hadn't, the owner's reaction (highly amused) would have tipped me right off.

Sunday, July 27, 2008


No, not from the heat.

To expand a little on what's in the sidebar:

I grew up in New York, speaking English. My father was born in Hungary, and although I heard a lot of Hungarian growing up, I never really spoke it as a kid. I learned French starting in seventh grade, in public school, and by the time I started college spoke it well enough that I tested into a Francophone translation course. At the same time, I started speaking more Hungarian, and when I was 21 I went to Hungary for a year, where all the latent Hungarian kind of came out. By the end of the year, I was pretty close to fluent, although I still had trouble understanding specialized spoken Hungarian (for example, political news on TV and that kind of thing). I also took German that year. When I went back to America, age 22, I started taking an intensive Russian course, which I continued for two years; then I spent a summer in Russia, and did another two years of Russian after that, although much less intensive. I also started taking Hebrew, at the local Reform temple. After the summer in Russia, I was in England for a year (studying Russian) and also took a semester of Mandarin Chinese. When I got back to America after that year, I took an intensive Hebrew course for a semester; three years after that, I took a much less intense Hebrew course for close to a year, dropping out at Pesach right before Barak was born. My Hebrew a year ago was not great, but thanks to Asnat it's come a long way since last summer.

Oh, and I've also taken American Sign Language, the full set of ten courses offered by the New York Society for the Deaf. I've done some interpreting, but I don't have a license.

The functional result of all of this is close-to-fluent Hungarian, latently very good but currently quite rusty ASL, Russian and French, no Chinese to speak of, survival German, and, B"H, rapidly improving Hebrew.

When I am in Vienna, I can get around fine with my German. When I'm in Hungary, my Hungarian is totally fine. If I am around French or Russian people, my French or Russian picks up pretty quickly, and right now my Hebrew is as good as it's ever been. What I can't do, unfortunately, is switch from one to the other. And that is a problem, because we are in Israel. Specifically, we are in Ramat Beit Shemesh. So this morning, I spoke English to my husband and kids, Hebrew to Barak's madricha, Hungarian to my granny on the phone, and then had quite a long conversation in French (she thought I was Belgian!!) with the French lady at the pharmacy. Then I walked outside, and someone asked me, in Hebrew, where a particular beit knesset was.

I told her. In French.

If someone comes up to me today and tries to speak Russian with me, I think my brain will melt and drip out my ears.

Saturday, July 26, 2008


Within a week and a half, Avtalyon has gone from Screamiest Baby Ever to... how do I put this? The Kind of Baby I Thought Only Belonged to Other People.

He's amazingly good-natured, although that's kind of been there for a while. But last week, he started to sleep, well, more or less normally. As in, he takes three naps a day, two of them quite long (like 2 hours, sometimes more). I nurse him, plunk him in his crib, and--get this--walk away. He might fuss for a few minutes, mildly, but then goes to sleep. He's been waking up two or three times a night, but going right back to sleep, pretty much.

And babies around here have historically taken what one might term a relaxed approach to that whole developmental calendar thing. Barak and Iyyar both rolled both ways at around 8-9 months, crawled at 10.5 and walked at 14. Avtalyon, the day we got here (which was the day before he turned 5 months) started happily rolling both ways. If you put Barak down on his stomach even at 8 or 9 months, he'd just cry; Avtalyon, who turned 6 months on Friday, now gets up on his hands and knees and is showing every sign of wanting--desperately--to start crawling. You never really know when they'll decide to take off but I would not be surprised at this point if he did it, well, pretty soon.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Up, up, and...

Who among you has not considered that immortal question: if you had to choose between the power of flight and the power of invisibility, which would you choose?

Apparently, Avtalyon's already made up his mind.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Happiness is...

making two potato kugels for Shabbos, so you can eat half of one hot from the oven on Friday afternoon. With help from husband and children, of course.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The boy with the big red hat

You can't really see it in the picture, but the makolet in the background has a massive display of Bamba carefully calculated to drive passing toddlers mad with desire. "Bamba! Amma! Bamba! Amma! Bamba! PEEESE!"


I started ulpan last week. It rocks. It's two mornings a week, for an hour and a half, in the teacher's home; there are currently four students, all religious women, and the focus of the class is the practical Hebrew we all need to know. How to decode your arnona bill; what's in that note home from the teacher; reading supermarket shelves. Yesterday she brought an mp3 of paying her gas bill by phone and we listened to it with a vocabulary list. Awesome.

I have been repeatedly confirming my belief that there is no such thing as a useless word. Some are more useful than others, obviously, but you'll need 'em all eventually. To wit: my current favorite reading matter is The First Thousand Words in Hebrew. On the back cover, there's part of the page that covers "the garden," with some of the words I am less likely to need. Why didn't they put "the kitchen," or "the school"? No, it was "the garden," with words like "rake," "bird's nest," "tire," and "ladder." This is the page I find myself seeing again and again when the book is sitting next to me while I'm doing something else. "Ladder?!" I remember grousing to myself. "When am I going to next need to say that?"

Second day here, that's when--when I rolled my double stroller into the makolet, picked up a bag of pita, turned around (in a 9-point turn at least) and found that in those thirty seconds, a man with, you guessed it, a ladder had appeared behind me, climbed the ladder, disappeared through the canopy, and, basing a guess on my view of his knees, started repairing the top of the awning. I was stuck.

"Excuse me?" I called up through the canvas.


"Excuse me, sir? I cannot go."


"Sir! Your ladder! Your ladder is in my way and I cannot go!"

Instantly, his head popped back into sight.

"Oh! I'm sorry!" And he came down the ladder, folded it, and moved it so I could go.

And yesterday, I found out the word for "pound key," as in, "enter the number of your gas bill and press the pound key." Guess what it is? "Sulamit"--literally, "little ladder." Natch.

I've been trying hard to read and decode as much Hebrew as I can. Today, on the way up our street coming back from the evening park run, I saw a sign affixed to a gate, next to a huge tree loaded with brilliant magenta flowers that spilled over the fence and down to the sidewalk. I stopped and studied it for a minute and realized what it said (Deb, you will like this):

During the year of shmitta all flowers are ownerless.
Help yourself.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


If you have been reading this blog for more than, oh, a week, you will know that Sleep and the Lack of It figures right at the forefront of our daily concerns. Barak, since birth, has been The Worst Sleeper Ever. Iyyar, when he was born, was better, but that didn't last long; by eight weeks or so he was as sleep-resistant as Barak.

But Avtalyon, right from the start, was different. He slept. He slept happily in his carseat, woke up to eat, and went right back to sleep, for the first month or possibly even two of his life. He did wake up to nurse at night, many times, but mostly you could nurse him and put him back down. Yes, he cried, because all babies cry, but I just never got anywhere close to the levels of sleep deprivation and exhaustion I hit with both Barak and Iyyar. I remember when Barak was four or five weeks old waking my husband up at 4 am in tears, literally sobbing, and saying to him, "You have to take the baby. You have to. If I don't sleep, I'm going to die." And I meant it.

With Iyyar, things didn't get really seriously bad until I went back to work. That was when the nightly screamfests began; from around 4 pm until at least midnight, he would scream and scream and scream and if I did finally get him to go to sleep, five minutes after I put him down he'd be up again.

Now, I do not live on a remote Internet-less island off the coast of Pitcairn, so I have indeed heard of that whole crying-it-out thing. I have read and heard a very great deal. And even though I will admit that I am both morally and emotionally opposed, desperation is a wonderful motivator and I tried it with both Iyyar and Barak. With Barak, I closed his door, went into my room, closed the door, turned on a fan right next to my bed, and went to sleep. I don't remember how old he was when I first did this--at least one, I think. Certainly he was standing, because when I went back into his room at 7 am and saw him, covered with snot to the knees, swaying perilously with exhaustion and misery as he gripped the side of his crib, face unrecognizeably swollen, and failing to scream any more because he had lost his voice--he was old enough to stand.

I've felt pretty bad about my mothing, but just the memory of that picture, and the realization of what that one night's sleep had cost, makes my stomach clench. Barak literally cried all night long. He cried through the dark and right through the dawn and about an hour past it. It's possible he slept somewhat, but I doubt it, because when I picked him up and cuddled him in the rocking chair he went right to sleep and I think slept almost the whole morning. He'd been up screaming for me long enough and hard enough to lose his voice, and it stayed lost for a couple of days.

It was a pretty strong disincentive to try that again.

Iyyar's screamy phase lasted from around 8 weeks or whenever it was to six months, when I tried a combination of swaddling him with a small stuffed dog inside and playing a noise machine that sounded like our dishwasher. (I'd tried everything else already. Can you tell?) Like magic, he suddenly started sleeping, and by about 10 months you could just stick him in his crib, wide awake, and he'd go to sleep on his own. No problem. But prior to that, I had tried crying it out, despite what had happened earlier (cf. "desperation," above) and it was a disaster; he'd cry for hours and hours (with me listening the whole time, crying myself, of course) and once he fell asleep he'd wake right back up again crying even harder ten minutes later. Awful.

Anyway, so when Avtalyon launched his own screamy phase when we got here, I didn't think it would last. It just wasn't his personality. So I thought, maybe it's jet lag. Maybe it's gas. Maybe he's teething. But whatever it was, it wasn't stopping, and I was spending most of my days holding a hysterical screaming baby who was kicking me and flailing at me and grabbing every part of me he could find, hard, and no matter how short you keep those little fingernails, that hurts. Up till then, he would do that, but it was like holding the Whomping Willow--you had to find a way to push in the secret knot that turns off the tree (in this case, pushing the pacifier into the mouth for long enough for him to start sucking it) and all was well. No more; the very notion of the pacifier was a horrible insult and enough to start the screaming going.

Yesterday, when I got frustrated enough to hit a wall with my hand without stopping to consider construction of said wall (steel-reinforced concrete) I decided it was time to try that whole crying-it-out thing. I nursed the baby. I changed him. I cuddled him. And when he was calm and very very tired, I put him in his crib and walked away.

He cried for an hour and twenty minutes, and then he fell asleep, and slept for three hours. Then he woke up to nurse, and I fell asleep nursing him, so we had our usual nighttime routine, but that was my fault really.

I did it again at naptime today. He cried for forty minutes, and slept for two and a half hours.

And I did it tonight. He cried for fifteen minutes. He's still asleep. Not only that, he didn't even object to being put in his crib, and played in there for a while before he even started to cry.

I'm pretty stunned. And while I'm not ready to give up nursing him at night, if this keeps up I'm about to become a much better-rested Imma. Stay tuned.

Sunday, July 13, 2008


Sorry not to have been posting much. It's been busy, but in a good way. Some random items of possible interest:

1. Avtalyon has gone from My Easy Baby to The Screamiest Baby Ever. At first I thought it was jet lag, and now I think it is teething. Either way, this working at night thing has become... challenging. Barak and Iyyar have been going to bed much later than usual, because--well, because of a few things. One is that their bedroom has a skylight, and it is full of blazing sunshine until about 7:45 PM. I have realized that trying to put them to bed before then is totally hopeless. So now they go to bed a full hour later than they are used to, and often aren't asleep until close to 9, which is waaaay too late for children aged 2 and 4. Barak does okay with it, but Iyyar does not, and ends up taking three- or even four-hour naps to compensate--which puts him in good shape to jump up and down in his crib screaming till 9 pm. Vicious cycle, etc. In the meantime, Avtalyon is usually screaming his head off for hours on end, and I'm trying to calm him down while fielding the children and that whole speechwriting thing... well. It's been happening at some very odd hours indeed.

The official plan is that MHH is supposed to be the Parent On Call after 7 pm, at which time I'm supposed to be at work, but the trouble with that is his stubborn refusal to lactate and consequent inability to soothe the savage baby. We talked about that this evening and have some plans in mind for how we will deal with it in future. Stay tuned for how that one will work out.

2. The tichel-shopping expedition of last Thursday continued Friday morning. In belated answer to your question, israelmom, we're in Ramat Beit Shemesh (wanna come visit?) We were going to visit friends in Modiin over Shabbos, and I had to pick up MHH's Shabbos pants from the dry cleaner Friday morning, so I stopped by Helen's Hats in the shopping center to check out the tichel offerings there. And fortune smiled upon me. Allow a bit of backtracking, if you will; on Thursday, on the way in to Jerusalem, a South African woman was sitting in front of me on the bus with one of the nicest tichels I've ever seen. It was one of the long rectangular ones, and it was in shades of pink, brown, and sage green, which managed to be pretty and feminine and totally not pastel all at the same time. I will admit to a bit of covetousness, and to tapping her on the shoulder to ask where she got it. Alas, she didn't know where it had come from; it was a gift. And I didn't see it in any of the places I looked in Jerusalem. But on Friday, when I poked through the pile of 2-for-NIS-30 tichlach, there were two of them! I got one, and another one that was a nice loose black-and-white weave. Why oh why did it never occur to me to weave myself a tichel when I owned a loom?! It would have been the perfect thing. Of course, it would have required warping at 20 epi...

3. The jury is officially in. I want to live here. In fact, I never want to leave. Neither does Barak. MHH says that I have been actively brainwashing him into this conclusion but I think a lot of it is his own observation. He doesn't get monitored nearly as closely here as he does in the States. There are playgrounds every fifty meters, or so it seems. There is a playground literally downstairs from our building--with a falafel store, equipped with a slushy machine, right next to it. This is the Land of Bamba. There are children EVERYWHERE. They stay out late playing. He also gets to stay out late playing. It never snows. We have an elevator, and he gets to press the buttons. He has cousins here, and when we visit them he gets to play in the dirt out in the shchuna without any adults watching.

And did I mention that this is the Land of Bamba?

Anyway, Barak has informed me a few times that he likes Israel, he does not like the city where we usually live, and he just wants to "live in Israel the whole day." He has no plans to leave. I told him that we did have to go back to our usual place of residence, and he said no, he didn't want to. I explained that I hoped that we would come back here to live, and I hoped it would be soon, but in the meantime we did have to go back because we have an apartment there, and we don't have one here; all of his books and toys and all of my books and yarn and all of Abba's books and, um, books are there. So we at least had to go back and get them. He was okay with that--but I don't think my idea of a return timetable (probably two years, at the end of MHH's contract) and his (as soon as we can get everything boxed up) match up very well.

4. As I mentioned there is a park downstairs from us, known as "the falafel park," as well as a park right across the street, known as "the park with the ball thing," and another park on the way to gan, in front of the makolet, known (funnily enough) as "the makolet park." Barak likes the makolet park, probably because after 4 PM it is packed with children, and it also has some old-time playground equipment like a metal child-powered merry-go-round, a seesaw, and a slide. Iyyar also likes this playground, and whenever we pass it, usually on the way back from dropping Barak off at gan, he campaigns for a play stop. "Pay! Pay!" Unfortunately, even with the shtarkest sun hats ever and a lot of sunblock, midmorning visits to totally unshaded playgrounds with very young children are not a good plan.

5. We don't have AC here and it is actually fine. It would be very very very un-fine where we live in the States. But here, we open all the windows at night and turn on all the fans; in the morning we close the shades, and it stays reasonably cool all day.

6. I am now taking a conversational Hebrew ulpan, two mornings a week. It's great. Five women, all religious, and one teacher, also religious. I'm learning a lot. And B"H my Hebrew is really improving. Last Wednesday I managed to successfully return an item (a defective water bottle) to the store and get my money back--a feat which, if you are familiar with Israeli-style customer service, is not exactly easy. Before I went I practiced my intended arguments on my teacher, and she pronounced them all acceptable but warned that returning things in Israel was not easy even if you did speak the language. So I'm quite looking forward to reporting on my success in the morning. :)

7. The vegetables here are amazing. Everyone seems to be complaining about how you can't get as much, or the prices are much higher, during shmitta--but for me, the prices are about the same, the variety is all I need (except for the total lack of bananas that aren't otzer bais din), and oh, my gosh, the flavor is out of this world. Real tomatoes! Real onions! Real grapes! Tomato sandwiches on warm fresh pita!

8. And on the subject of pita, I have discovered that the bread here grows mold faster than any bread anywhere. Leave it on the counter for a day and there are white spots; leave it for four and you will have half-inch mounds of black festering mold that is hot enough to leave condensation inside the plastic. Yecch. All pita now goes directly into the freezer--it thaws fast enough.

9. Iyyar has always liked cottage cheese. Here, it is noticeably tastier (as is everything else) and it has become something of an obsession with him. Whenever he sees it go into the fridge, he reacts as Barak once did to the sight of Yobabies--with frenzied, passionate desire. "Hotchee! Hotchee! AWAAAANNNNAAAAA!"

10. And is it the climate or the food? I don't know, but whatever the cause, Iyyar's eczema is gone. Vanished. Disappeared completely. When we left, three weeks ago, it was getting bad enough to worry me: despite twice-daily applications of vaseline, he had it on at least half his face, with spots coming out on his arms and a few on his legs too, and it was steadily getting worse. All gone now. We are still putting vaseline on his face at night but I think it would be okay to stop--for the first time in almost a year, the chapped cheeks are totally gone.

I think that's the roundup--more as I think of it, bli neder.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

... and first pigua.

Last Thursday, when I went to pick Barak up from gan, I was silently handed a slip of paper.


We are deeply saddened to inform you that

Hodaya's aunt, her mother's sister, was murdered

in yesterday's terror attack. Hodaya's mother is

sitting shiva in Yerushalayim.

The mothers and fathers--gan pickup is much more equitable here than it is in the States, it seems--were coming and going with their kids, and I was standing there with Barak's tik in one hand and this slip of paper in the other. I hadn't even heard about the terror attack.

"What terror attack?" I asked the ganenet. She seemed shocked I hadn't heard.

"It was near the bus station. A tractor tipped over a bus, and ran over some cars." I explained that we were only here for the summer and didn't have a TV or radio--and I hadn't checked the news online since the day before. She told me, gently, that I should really get a radio. The children filtered out, one by one, and we were still there. I suddenly realized we were the last ones, and took Barak's hand and we left.
We walked home, Barak and I, and I bought him a slushy at the falafel store on the way, which he found a pleasant surprise--I don't usually do that. When we got back I checked the news and found out the details. And Hodaya's aunt was my age, with a baby my baby's age, and I could not help but look at my baby and think about her baby, and what it would be like for a six-month-old baby to suddenly go from having Imma all the time to having no Imma, ever again. No more nursing, no more cuddles, no more Imma. I picked up my baby, and held him tight, and tried not to think too much.
It is the most incredible disconnect, somehow, being here. Where we live here is incomparably safer than where we live most of the time. Where we live in America, I would never allow any of my kids to be out of my sight when outside, even for a moment. There have been muggings and attempted abductions and even a fatal shooting within a couple of blocks of our house, in the last few years. Here, I have no problem with letting Barak run down the steps to the entryway on one side of our building while I walk around the other side with the stroller. To go from our house to his gan, we cross one street--everything else is paths. I don't make him hold the stroller unless we are crossing the street, and I let him run ahead, which I also don't do in the States.
It's so much safer--and at the same time, you can be coming back from your well-baby checkup with your six-month-old and someone might murder you. Not kill you by accident. Murder you. Because they hate you and want to kill you, and they want to kill everyone like you. That's what jihad is.
Of course, having once worked at 50 Broadway across the street from a large smoking hole, I know very well that it is not really any more dangerous here than anywhere else. You can wake up one morning and go to your accounting job and be murdered sitting at your desk. Nowhere is safe, so better to be where we are supposed to be, better to be where we can defend ourselves. Because where we are is the first line of defense, and it is our line of defense.
So last Thursday, I met a friend for lunch and tichel-shopping at the central bus station, on Jaffa Street, right near the pigua the week before. I took my baby with me. And we took the bus.