Like a daughter

She was like a daughter. The first day we met I thought, “This is going to be easy; she’s so likable; we get along.” And we did.

And over the years we shared lots of happy times and some sad times. She would call and we would talk for a long time on the phone. She would ask my opinion or advice and frequently she valued it and mostly we agreed. It seemed she was like a daughter.

But then some months ago, I noticed the change that had been taking place for a long while. There were signs that I had chosen to see as eccentricities. There were angry words directed at others. She became demanding and petulant. There were periods of time when the calls stopped.

And then it happened. A complete withdrawal. A change in personality from soft and kind to hard and bitter. I tried to find a way back to her, but she blocked every road.

Our lives will not follow a parallel course. She has chosen to become a stranger. And I feel sad– not for me, but for her.

Observations

1. Feeling the cool breeze blowing as I look at my sukka, I am struck with what a privilege it is to live in Israel where building a sukka is not only normal; it’s a national pastime!
2. Thinking about my life, I am awed at all of the opportunities I have had and am thankful for every one of them.
3. Having seen 3 of my 5 children today, I feel incredibly blessed.
4. Having seen both Abigail and Kinneret today, I am struck with how incredibly cute little girls can be (especially when they’re my granddaughters).
5. Having seen Abigail’s big sisters and brother today, I can’t help thinking about what terrific kids they are.

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I remember as a little girl watching the movie “White Christmas” and hearing Bing Crosby sing “Count your blessings.” The song made a very strong impression on me. It was almost my theme song, especially the line that said, “I think about a nursery and I picture curly heads; and one by one I count them as they slumber in their beds.” And now when I picture curly heads, there are about two dozen. Every one is precious. I never taken them for granted.

YouNeverCall offers $10k for the first mobile call from the moon

YouNeverCall, the popular online cell phone superstore, today announced a $10,000 prize award for the first cell phone call placed from the moon. This announcement follows on the coattails of Google’s announcement of $20M in prize money for landing a craft on the moon by Dec. 31, 2014. (See the article here.)

A plea for support

Today I am going to write about problems in my life so that all of my many readers (most of whom want to sell drugs and get me interested in foreign currency trade) will be filled with compassion for poor suffering me.

Well, to start out with, yesterday when I got up, I couldn’t find my glasses anywhere. I mean what could be worse? I did have another pair, but they were not nearly as attractive and didn’t match my outfit nearly as well.

Then, I had to drive in terrible traffic. There were hundreds of police on the streets of Jerusalem making sure that Condoleeza Rice would have a safe and expedient journey, but none to clear the streets for me. Imagine that!

Worse yet, when I got home, I needed to heat dinner. I understand that the leftover chicken, roast, and kugel were tasty, but they didn’t volunteer to leave the fridge for the stove on their own…

Life is very difficult and I sincerely need support.

Choices

It occurs to me that during this penitential period, we Jews are asking G-d to make some choices. We implore Him to have mercy on us and our children and we ask Him to remember us and give us health in the coming year. This implies that there is order to the universe- that things are not random or predetermined, but that there are elements of choice.

But how often in our daily lives do we hear people talking as if there is no ability to choose. How many times have you heard people say, “I just had to do it” or “I couldn’t help myself”? Worse yet, how many times have I heard in my office, “I just don’t love him anymore”?

When I tell my clients that love is a choice, they usually look at me with the same level of comprehension as if I were speaking Chinese. “What!” they say. “Love is something that happens to you.” Actually, no. It is not. Infatuation is something that happens to you. It usually happens in concert with a dose of pheromones, a sense of loneliness, a need to be loved, and sometimes a little too much alcohol.

In many cases, infatuation turns to love. But what is the mechanism? Well, I believe that mechanism is a conscious decision to put the other person in the center of one’s mind and heart. It is a commitment to care for that other person, to want to make that other person happy, to want to share one’s life with that person. It is not a magical force field that descends on someone. It is a choice.

Let’s look at some proof of that. If you were raised with a religion or ethnicity that is important to you, even though you might meet/have met wonderful, beautiful, clever, intelligent people of another religion or ethnicity, chances are, you did not let yourself “fall in love” with them. You may even have said to yourself, “He/she is really nice; too bad he/she isn’t [fill in the blank] because otherwise, I might really be interested in him/her”

Yes, there are exceptions, but in general, when one marries “out,” it is because of a choice too.

So when people say to me “I just don’t love him anymore”, I say, “You have chosen not to love him anymore.” In the recent film, “The Painted Veil,” the wife disdains her husband until she sees him through others’ eyes. Only then does she realize that all along he was a good and kind man. She at first had chosen not to love him and later on, chose to love him. When she made that choice, she began to see how kind and caring he was. She was able to appreciate him. Before the choice, he was the same man, but her feelings for him were very different.

It is like that in marriage. The person we are married to is not perfect. If we choose to see the negatives, he/she will supply us with many opportunities. If we choose to see the kindness and the caring and the love they feel for us, that is what we will see.

Similarly, with children, we often make decisions early in their lives as to which ones are the winners and which ones are the losers. Sometimes all I do when people come to me with “problem” children is help them to see their children as winners. When parents believe in a child, he/she can grow and develop into a winner. When parents give up on a child, the child gives up on him/herself.

People have choices. Will they value the other people in their lives or will they not? Will they interpret the other’s shortcomings as human and normal or will they blame and punish? Will they choose to be kind and loving or will they choose to be judgmental and rigid?

People hold the keys to their own happiness and to the happiness of those around them. The choice is theirs.

As we pray for G-d to make the right choices, may we too make the right ones.

Thoughts on cooking…

As I was contemplating my potato kugels (making them, not eating them), I realized that by now I have made that recipe so many times that I don’t need to open the cookbook. Now this is no major accomplishment as far as I can tell since there are not a lot of ingredients and it’s not a complicated recipe, but for me, it is unusual. You see, over the years I have cluttered my brain with lots of facts that I simply have no practical use for. What good does it do me to remember that our phone number in 1970 was 531 0485 (in Pittsburgh)?? Why do I need to know the name of the staff chaplain at Fort Knox, Kentucky in 1967 (Bermel)?? Why am I remembering useless information???

Well, knowing that I have been craming my poor little brain with useless information, I chose not to learn any of my recipes, satisfied that the cookbook would remember and all I had to do was remember which cookbook had which recipe. And that worked. Over the years, one could trace which were my favorite recipes by seeing which pages the books opened to and how dirty they were. The dirtier, the more loved the recipe. None of that plexiglass cookbook holder stuff for me. I’m hardcore. If its going to get dirty, well, then, so be it. I am expressing my love for the recipe in this way.

And I started to think… we have all sorts of measures of personality from the 16 PF to the Myers-Briggs to the MMPI. All of them have their uses. But I was thinking that maybe we could learn a lot about a woman (yes, I do think that men and women are different, but that’s another entry) by looking at her cookbooks. Maybe even we could ferret out the nurturer in her by seeing what she chooses to make. We certainly could see if she is daring or conservative. We can see if she’s a “health food” person or an “eat, drink and be merry” person. We can, of course tell her age by the yellowing of the pages. Of course, in my case, you would have to take into account that some of my cookbooks were my mother’s and in that case, some of the paperbacks have begun disintegrating.

Well, I began my foray into this type of personality testing by looking at my own books and by and large, we’re talking comfort foods- carbs of all sorts. After all, meat and fish kind of speak for themselves. Most of the time, in my experience, anything you do to meat detracts from its taste. Fish can be sweetened, but then is it really fish? (Of course I exclude gefilte because after all, that is a very special hybrid kind of fish that grows complete with bread crumbs, egg, onion, salt, and sugar already in it.) Same thing with vegetables. To me, they are all pretty delicious with very little intervention. Desserts? Yes, well, desserts. In the days when I weighed in at a hefty 125 when I was 5ft 6inches, my favorite recipe was for chocolate cheesecake. At this point, typing the words just added 3 pounds to my weight. Need I say more? Lemon meringue pie? I did that a few times when we lived in Oklahoma. It was so much fun and very delicious, but on went 2 more pounds just typing about it. I don’t know if I can continue …

And I began to think about my mother. There were a lot of things about my mother that were hard for me. But when I think about her recipes, it makes me appreciate that fact that she did care. She did want to give us good things to eat. She did want to nurture us that way. Her cabbage borsht was not just delicious; it was love. Her spaghetti sauce was caring. Her Passover apple kugel provided sweetness that lives on after her.

Preparing for Rosh HaShana

It doesn’t happen often, but this year, we in Israel get to experience what we used to have in the US- a “three day yom tov.” One of the many benefits of living in Israel is that we have them only rarely because except for Rosh HaShana, all of the two day holidays outside of Israel are one day holidays in Israel.

How well I remember being on Army bases in the US with four and then five children, the only religiously observant family, celebrating two days of holiday plus shabbat. Oh my. Aside from the occasional Army couple or lonely single soldiers, we had few guests since everyone else was working and the children’s friends were at school. It was a long three days.

But now everything is different because those three days will zip by with family and friends joining us and with us joining them for meals and conversation and walks in the park. Holidays are such happy, joyful times here. But the three-day yom tov does bring its own sources of anxiety:

1. Where am I going to put all of the food I need to store to serve for the next three days???
2. Will there really be enough fresh vegetables to make a good salad for shabbat?
3. Will 4 potato kugels be enough?
4. Is it possible to stay on anything like a decent diet in the midst of this food orgy?

Tune in for the answers to these and other questions in our next exciting episode:
“Why can’t Yom Kippur be three days long?”

I Remember Grandma

Yesterday we were in Ashdod. We had been invited to a wedding and decided that rather than drive back home in the middle of the night, we would stay over at a hotel in Ashdod. We drove there early in the day so that we would have a chance to enjoy the beach. We found the beach almost empty of people and exceedingly clean. We left our belongings and went into the water. The water was cool at first, but after a while, it seemed almost too warm, but we enjoyed riding the waves and bouncing and getting jostled and tasting the sea water as it dripped into our mouths…

But just as memories are jogged by a song that one associates with a person or event or a scent, like the perfume someone used to wear, so were my memories activated by the undulating waves and the sound of their peaking and breaking. And suddenly, there was my grandmother.

She appeared in my memory as she had been that summer when I was turning 7. My parents had rented a huge house in Atlantic City along with my grandparents and my aunt and uncle. We all were in Atlantic City for the summer. The men (my father, grandfather, and uncle) remained in Philadelphia working, visiting us on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and driving back in the mornings and spending from Saturday night to Monday mornings with us. The three women (my mother, my grandmother, and my aunt) had two workers who kept the house clean and helped watch the three children (me, my 2 year old sister and my 2 year old cousin). Their lives were pretty much perfect.

They would be free to do whatever they wanted and we, the children, would appear only upon request. So each afternoon, we were taken to the beach to romp and play and when we got tired or the women got tired of us, we were taken back to the house, fed a snack, bathed, and dressed for dinner. In those days, Atlantic City was quite an elegant place and people literally had dresses made to wear on the boardwalk in the evening. I remember two dresses that had been made for me. One was a lavendar organdy dress trimmed with lace and it had hand-embroidered flowers on it. The other was a blue organdy dress that had a blue plaid overskirt, also of organdy. The dresses had matching taffeta slips and had to be starched and ironed for each wearing.

That summer, I was unlucky enough to develop a fungus on my feet. I remember my mother taking me to a foot doctor (then they were chiropodists) who would have me hold my feet in a whirlpool for 15 minutes or so and then coat my feet with a thick yellow creamy substance. Then he would wind gauze around my feet and tell me to be sure not to get them wet. This went on for a number of weeks.

Well, my grandmother couldn’t stand the fact that I would not be able to go into the ocean for several weeks, so she would be sure each day to pick me up in her arms and stand in the water with me suspended between her arms with my feet out of the water. She would jump with waves and I would get wet everywhere except on my feet. She would stay there with me for a long time and finally she would carry me back to the shore.

Ever since, jumping the waves has always reminded me of my grandmother and of how much she loved me.

And it set me to thinking…

A week ago I returned from 9 days in Beijing with my oldest granddaughter. We had a wonderful time. She laughed and smiled and enjoyed seeing all of the beautiful structures and gardens and she enjoyed walking through the colorful markets and bargaining and buying wonderful things and interacting with the Chinese people. I wonder, though, what it may be that someday will trigger her memory of me and will she realize how much I love her?