Archives for 2008


You know those lights that miners wear on their hats? You probably have seen “head lights”– those flashlights that one can put on one’s head so that one can work without holding a flashlight in one’s hands. Well, having lived in my bedroom and the adjoining master bath for several days with no electricity, I’m beginning to wonder what it will be like being able to use our bathroom without a head light. Even as I speak, I am so attired… take it off, it disappears (as do inanimate objects all too often).

I also wonder what it will be like to be able to look for the sweaters that are upstairs that I really could use just about now.

I wonder what it will be like to know which circuit breaker corresponds to which circuit (I had labeled them all, but since they were like tangled spaghetti in the staircase, the electrician , in providing his electrical “first aid” just connected anything to anything.) The important implication of this is that it would be helpful to know which circuit breaker (if any) corresponds to the water heater whose switch (of course) is upstairs! Normally, our hot water comes from solar heating, but we’ve been blessed with rain the last couple of days…

The electrician returns tomorrow. The tiles (for the floors and walls of the bathrooms on the third floor), the toilets, and the sinks are supposed to arrive tomorrow. We have chosen the colors for the painting of our house and the upstairs apartment. We still have to live through the cutting through the wall of the house to extend our kitchen window downward to the point that we can see out of it into the garden.

I wish we weren’t doing this now. I wish we had the ability to offer a home to a family from the south that is in need of shelter.

Please keep our defense forces and our civilian population, living in range of rockets and artillery, in your prayers.

My corner of the earth

Yes, renovations continue and there’s more to the story, but more important than what’s going on in my home is what is going on in my country. To me it seems obvious that 8 years of rocket and mortar attacks on our civilian population must come to an end. In case no one noticed, we removed the entire Jewish population of Gaza, placing them in trailers (where most of them still are living) and destroying their homes in the hopes that Gaza would then be quiet. In fact, the violence only escalated. What country would tolerate the continuing bombardment of its civilian population???? And now that we respond, there is anyone who dares say it isn’t justified? We are supposed to allow this to continue???

Please read this article here to understand that Israel is acting not just in its own defense (which of course is justified), but also, in the best interests of the civilized world.

And please, pray for our defense forces.

Renovations II

Shabbat was a long, cold day. I hid under the blankets partially because of the cold and mostly because I was feeling really sick.

This morning, the electrician arrived. He thinks he has a solution. First, though, he performed emergency surgery– i.e., he sorted out many of the wires and reconnected some of them. We now have both dishwashers working, our oven, our heat (the most important), the lights in the kitchen, the fridge (although it is currently connected to a cable that is running from the third floor of the building through a window), the TV and VCR (which we almost never turn on anyway). What we are missing is all of the lights in our bedroom, the microwave, the fridge outlet– and who knows what else isn’t working upstairs (remember, we removed the steps so we have no idea of what is going on up there except that the router is working.)

In an effort not to be home during the prolonged power out, we went to the mall. Which is really too bad, because I used to like malls– but the last day of Hanuka with an upset stomach and 14 thousand little children all talking simultaneously–has taken all of the luster out of shopping there– at least for the foreseeable future.

Once home, my sister (visiting from Philadelphia) and I piled into my bed under multiple layers of comforters and waited for the heat to be fixed.

Tomorrow: more adventures, I’m afraid.

The Renovations

I know that i mentioned them before, but now that we are in the thick of it, I thought I would get more specific.

We are renovating two apartments: the one we live in which has two floors, and the one we recently bought which occupies the third floor of our building (directly on top of our second floor.) In Israel, all of our building is done with concrete and cinder block, so destruction of existing structures can be very noisy and very dusty.

For a while we had thought of joining the two apartments, but then we decided that we would just renovate the upstairs one to have for visiting family and friends and for short term rental. That apartment has a couple of major problems from our point of view. There were two “facilities”– one that contained a tub and sink and the other that had a toilet and sink. The second was constructed in such a way that it jutted out into the hallway. We have demolished both bathrooms, are replacing the tub with a shower and having a toilet, tub and shower in that room and using the utility porch for a second powder room. Of course all of this mean buying tiles and trims and toilets and sinks etc. etc. In addition, we have cut an opening between the living room and kitchen where we are going to install a bar that can be used from either side. So far, all that has happened upstairs is the destruction.

Now let’s move to our own apartment– Here we decided that the very heavy, bulky staircase that we had made the entrance to the house look like a cave. We went out and chose metal and wooden floating stairs to replace them. Our contractor arrived exactly on time on Friday morning and began the destruction of the stairs. Our house looked a bit like the set from “Dexter” with hanging plastic to protect (as much as they could) the rest of the house from the dust. And so the sawing and jack hammering began.

By about 2 o’clock, we had good news and bad news. The good news: the steps were almost completely gone; the bad news: our builder had hidden all of the electrical cables for the entire house in the space that took up the last three steps of the staircase. Instead of the cables making a right angle turn to the circuit breaker box, they were stretched across the hypotenuse rendering any simple solution impossible. We called the electrician and he said that he would come over on Sunday. It was only later we noticed that we had no heat, no lights in our bedroom, and the fridge was not working. Fortunately we discovered the fridge wasn’t working before shabbat or everything would have been ruined. We were doubly fortunate because we had put a surge protector on the fridge and could tell by the fact that none of the lights were lit that the fridge was not getting any juice. Had we not put on the surge protector, we would have had to take apart half of the kitchen to replug the fridge as our kitchen person built the kitchen wrong and it’s impossible to move out the fridge without taking apart two big cabinets! We ran an extension cord from it to the closest functioning outlet.

All of this fun was enhanced by a sudden attack of the galloping crud that I came down with last night and has still not totally left me. What fun!

People say that in Israel, if you want to curse someone, you tell them they should do renovations. Oh do I understand!

Is your therapist helping you?

This is a re-posting of a piece I wrote in 2005. I am re-posting it now because I have had a number of comments from readers about “Oh you poor dear” and I thought this would explain some more of where I stand on the subject of therapy and specifically how people can tell if they are seeing a therapist who is doing them good.


Psychotherapy can be good. Very good. Among other things, it can help people sort out their feelings, heal old hurts, learn how to deal with difficult family members, enable them to make better choices, help them to form a more realistic self-image. As a marriage and family therapist, I feel that psychotherapy often is the key to people living healthy, happy lives. Sometimes we need a sounding board or someone who can look at things from a different perspective. Sometimes we need someone to help us sort things out or to encourage us to try out new behaviors.

Unfortunately, not all psychotherapists provide the help that people need. I include in the term psychotherapist all of the following: psychotherapists, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, family therapists, counselors, life coaches, spiritual advisors, clergypersons and any others who engage in similar activities. There are large numbers of individuals in all of these fields who are capable, competent, ethical, and effective. No field has the monopoly on effectiveness. Yet, in all of these fields, there are individuals who are not capable, not competent, unethical, and even harmful.

Those psychotherapists who do harm to their clients may do so not out of incompetence (although there is plenty of that around) and not because they intend to do harm (because most believe that they are altruistic and helpful), but simply because of economic realities.

In many large cities, the number of psychotherapists per thousand people is greater than the demand. That means that many psychotherapists must work very hard to make a living. Many will have two or three or four different activities that bring in money. Some will teach on a high school to graduate school level, they will give seminars to lay people or professionals, they will supervise other therapists, they will engage in research, they will do therapy groups. In short, they have to hustle to make a living.

Then, into their office walks a client. Clients are not easy to find, and so the therapist, in his or her desire to help the client and to retain the client, becomes very welcoming and spends time getting to know the client and his or her problem. So far, the “good” psychotherapist is indistinguishable from the harmful one. Here are some ways that the lay person can tell the difference between them.

1. Does the therapist tell you that actually your problems are much more complex than you thought?
2. Does the therapist suggest that you see him/her more than once a week?
3. Do you think that the therapist is the most important person in your life?
4. Do you leave the office feeling weaker and more wounded than when you came in?
5. Does your therapist encourage you to believe that no one can understand you the way he/she can?
6. Does your therapist keep you oriented to the past (working out past hurts)?
7. Did your therapist “help” you to recover memories?
8. Does your therapist summarize from time to time the progress you’ve made and where you are in the therapy?
9. Are you working on a specific goal?
10. Overall, are you feeling better than you did when you first entered therapy?
11. Does your therapist encourage you to think of yourself as normal and healthy?
12. Do you have any idea as to when the therapy will end?

If you answered more than two of the first seven questions with a “yes,” and/or any of numbers 8-12 “no” it might be a good idea to talk with someone you respect about whether this therapist is doing you good or whether perhaps, you are helping the therapist to solve some of his/her problems.

Remember, the money that you spend on a therapist is the least expensive part of the investment. As you spend time with an ineffective or unethical therapist, you are wasting time in your life that could be spent healing and living

Oh, you poor dear

I’ve been thinking recently about the type of training we give people who are becoming therapists. We tell them to take a good history, to assess the health of their client, and to walk with the client through their world in a non-judgmental way.

Recently, it struck me that if therapists are not taught to think systemically, they might end up not only not effective in helping their clients, but they may even harm them.

Let’s take, for example, Mrs. Q. (not a real person). She was married to Mr. Q. for a period of 15 years. They had several children and then after a period of worsening conditions between them, divorced.

Mrs. Q. shows up in Susie the therapist’s office. Susie (I am calling her Susie because she is representing the naive way in which many non-systemic, poorly trained therapists respond) listens to Mrs. Q.’s story. It seems that Mr. Q. was a disaster from the first day of the marriage. He neglected to take out the trash at least a couple of times a week. He didn’t give Mrs. Q. nearly enough assistance with the children and with household tasks as she wanted. He didn’t spend as much time and money on her as she wanted.

Susie, in an effort to understand more of what was so awful about the marriage asks about physical abuse. Mrs. Q. says there was no physical abuse. Susie asks about emotional abuse. Aha! Yes, there was emotional abuse. What did it consist of?

Sometimes Mrs. Q. had an idea that Mr. Q. didn’t like.
Sometimes Mr. Q. wanted to go somewhere or do something that wouldn’t be Mrs. Q.’s choice.

Susie being a good therapist would follow the complaints with some version of “oh, you poor dear.” which is fine if you are trying to assist Mrs. Q. to feel justified and righteous, but which is not helpful if you are trying to help Mrs. Q. understand what happened and perhaps experience less pain in any future relationships.

In order for Mrs. Q. to grow from her experience, she has to take the time to examine what her part was in initiating, sustaining, or encouraging interactions that left her feeling frustrated and/or angry. That is not the same thing as blaming her, because fault is not something that can be determined even were we to have videotapes of the entire marriage and both partners’ running commentaries. What is important is whether Mrs. Q. can see what her part was, to take responsibility for what was truly her part, and to see that she may have different options in the future.

Things I’ve Done

I stole this from the very famous and very amazing Rachel

Since I am wordpress-challenged, I will just put a star at the end of all of the things I have done on this list. Anything embarrassing must be kept in confidence. I would hate for my kids to find out…

1. Started your own blog* (yeah, like you couldn’t have guessed)
2. Slept under the stars (my husband says that we do that every night, but no, not without a roof)
3. Played in a band (it would not have been pretty)
4. Visited Hawaii
5. Watched a meteor shower* (unfortunately, most of the meteors slated to fall that night were on strike– this was in Israel, if you hadn’t guessed)
6. Given more than you can afford to charity
7. Been to Disneyland/world* (yes, both… to Disneyland with 9,000 mental health professionals- one of whom tried to use the belt of my raincoat to fasten himself to a sofa and another who barked on the roller coaster… but I digress)
8. Climbed a mountain* (Ham Rong Mountain in northern Vietnam, most recently, which has an orchid garden and the most magnificent views)
9. Held a praying mantis
10. Sang/played a solo* (again, not pretty)
11. Bungee jumped
12. Visited Paris*
13. Watched a lightning storm at sea
14. Taught yourself an art from scratch* (I was into learning every different art or craft there was so yes, weaving, photography, crocheting, drawing with pastels, crewel embroidery, fine embroidery… unfortunately, I have the patience and will to follow through, but no talent at any of it)
15. Adopted a child (almost adopted two!)
16. Had food poisoning
17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty* (on our honeymoon)
18. Grown your own vegetables* (not so successfully– paid more for the six beefsteak tomato plants than I could have gotten for selling the few cherry tomatoes they produced)
19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France* (both before and after she was encased in glass… she looked better before)
20. Slept on an overnight train* (most recently from Lao Cai to Hanoi)
21. Had a pillow fight
22. Hitch hiked
23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill* (only once– the day after my irrational boss had a huge meltdown on me and then I came home to find that my daughter from Israel had mysteriously appeared at my house in NY and was only going to be with us for 3 more days before she had to fly back)
24. Built a snow fort
25. Held a lamb
26. Gone skinny dipping* (’nuff said. OK, well, there’s a story about that too, but I’m not telling it now)
27. Run a Marathon (only vicariously when my son ran one last January (Hooray for Ben!!!!)
28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice* (music and all!)
29. Seen a total eclipse*
30. Watched a sunrise or sunset* (most recently at Angkor Wat and then at Pre Rup)
31. Hit a home run
32. Been on a cruise (not a long one, but a dinner cruise)* (long ones)
33. Seen Niagara Falls in person*
34. Visited the birthplace of your ancestors (I’m in the homeland… just depends on how far back you mean)
35. Seen an Amish community*
36. Taught yourself a new language
37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied*
38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person* (Laughed for the first 10 minutes!)
39. Gone rock climbing
40. Seen Michelangelo’s David*
41. Sung karaoke (the world is a better place for my not having done that)
42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt
43. Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant
44. Visited Africa
45. Walked on a beach by moonlight*
46. Been transported in an ambulance
47. Had your portrait painted* (not painted… it’s a sketch in pastels and it never really looked like me, but it hangs on the wall opposite my bed because my husband likes it)
48. Gone deep sea fishing (not really but did go and watch them catch fresh fish on Halong Bay that we cooked and used for lunch an hour or so later)
49. Seen the Sistine Chapel in person*
50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris (took lots of pictures from afar, but no, didn”t spring for it)
51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling
52. Kissed in the rain
53. Played in the mud
54. Gone to a drive-in theater* (ask me sometime about the “Family Drive-In at Fort Campbell, Kentucky)
55. Been in a movie* (in “Tank” with James Garner… you can actually see me)
56. Visited the Great Wall of China* (a few times– each time more exciting!)
57. Started a business* (“Stop & Shrink”… my family therapy practice- and no, that isn’t what I called it)
58. Taken a martial arts class
59. Visited Russia* (Moscow and St. Petersburg)
60. Served at a soup kitchen
61. Sold Girl Scout Cookies
62. Gone whale watching
63. Gotten flowers for no reason* (Got them for myself. My husband apparently is waiting for me to have another baby since that is when he buys them for me.)
64. Donated blood, platelets or plasma* (It kind of gives me a high)
65. Gone sky diving
66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp*
67. Bounced a check
68. Flown in a helicopter
69. Saved a favorite childhood toy (toy? did they have toys back then?)
70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial*
71. Eaten Caviar* (didn’t like it)
72. Pieced a quilt
73. Stood in Times Square*
74. Toured the Everglades
75. Been fired from a job
76. Seen the Changing of the Guards in London* (yes, to the music of Rodgers and Hammerstein!)
77. Broken a bone
78. Been on a speeding motorcycle
79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person
80. Published a book* (my dissertation- and a chapter in another book)
81. Visited the Vatican*
82. Bought a brand new car* (twice, but the love of my life was my ’66 Mustang)
83. Walked in Jerusalem* (many times, but never get over the thrill)
84. Had your picture in the newspaper* (once mislabeled as someone else which led to some gossip and once “cooking” for Passover with a bunch of empty pots on the stove… a few more times, but not ever for something really noteworthy. It’s easy to be famous when you live some of the places we’ve lived)
85. Read the entire Bible
86. Visited the White House* (Spoke with Ladybird Johnson– what a classy lady!)
87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating
88. Had chickenpox*
89. Saved someone’s life
90. Sat on a jury
91. Met someone famous*
92. Joined a book club*
93. Lost a loved one*
94. Made a baby* (actually, made 5 adults)
95. Seen the Alamo in person*
96. Swam in the Great Salt Lake (swam in the Dead Sea which SO outclasses the Great Salt Lake)
97. Been involved in a law suit*
98. Owned a cell phone*
99. Been stung by a bee* (I once stepped on a hornet’s nest)

Comments are welcome. Also, feel free to copy this!

Safety nets

If you’ve ever been to the circus, you know that you, the audience member, feel much better if the trapeze artists and the tightrope walkers have safety nets beneath them. For although some of the lure of the circus is the danger element, none of us really want to watch someone get hurt or worse.

In fact, many years ago I took my children to an air show in Mainz, Germany. We watched all sorts of aeronautic maneuvers. It was fun– until we looked over to the right, out of the performance area and saw a plane spiraling downward and then fire and smoke. The pilot was killed. A couple of weeks later, I took those same, traumatized children to a rodeo. It was all going fine until a bull stomped on the stomach of one of the riders. He waved as they carried him out. “He’s going to be fine,” I reassured my children. He wasn’t. He died.

So for me, safety nets are a very important part of a performance that has any danger.

Like life

…an inherently dangerous performance.

I thought about my early life and how I didn’t live in a very emotionally safe environment and how in my own childish way, I constructed a safety net for myself. It consisted of my grandmothers, one or two aunts, a random teacher or two… OK, it wasn’t very strong, but it was enough to sustain me.

I think about how now my children and grandchildren have wide safety nets- strong ones because of all of the positive family connections– of people who may be too busy to talk to on a daily basis, but people who can absolutely be relied upon in times of need. I remember how the family pulled together to assist me in bringing my father-in-law to live in Israel. Everyone played a part in making that transition possible. I remember when my children were going through difficult times, they really were there emotionally and physically for each other. I think of my grandchildren who are embraced on all sides by siblings and by cousins from both sides of their families, and I realize that they must feel safe and secure.

And maybe that is what is really tough about life in some places where people move far away from family… Unless they are able to form close attachments in their community, they are walking this tightrope of life without a safety net.


Things to be grateful for:
1. A wonderful group of people to travel with
2. A fabulous colleague (guide for the French speakers) who became like a sister to me
3. Leaving the Bangkok airport 2 hours before it was taken over and closed!
4. Beautiful sunny skies and clear weather every single day
5. Great local guides (except for the one who had a hang-up that had us all giggling)
6. The most fantabulous family to return home to!

Pictures from the trip are available at

These are just a few…

Still in Saigon

We had a wonderful shabbat in Saigon. Our food was supplied by Chabad. We ate Friday night dinner in a stunning private room in the Rex Hotel where we are staying. This morning, we joined Chabad for services. In the afternoon, some of our people took walks through the city. Others of us got some much-needed rest after days of early mornings and full activity schedules. We returned to Chabad for our third meal later in the afternoon.

This city is super-alive One can’t help but be awed by the sheer number of motorbikes and by the astounding way in which they flow and blend with each other. Crossing the street is always an adventure. One cannot wait for the traffic to stop because it never does. You step into the street when there is a break in traffic and keep walking at a slow, steady pace. The drivers calculate your walking speed and cut either in front of you or behind you. Of course, sometimes they miss, but for the most part they are very accurate.

We are really entertained by the fact that Saigon is decked out for Xmas! Not only is it in the 80s (Fahrenheit; high 20s to 30s Celsius), but this a country that is about 60% Buddhist. There are also Taoists, and Cao Daists with Christians a small minority… but, when asked, our guide explained that Vietnamese love all of the excitement and color that comes with Xmas. Stores all over the city are selling Santa outfits for adults and for little boys and girls. The mall nearby has a sleigh set up and people are taking pictures of their small children dressed in Xmas costumes and sitting in the sleigh. Our hotel must have about 10 Xmas trees. In the new lobby in the just-renovated part of the hotel, there is a whole display complete with sleigh and reindeer.

We have enjoyed interacting with the local Vietnamese people. They are friendly and accommodating. Even the salespeople are friendly and and grateful for our business without being pushy.

And best of all… tonight I found exactly what I was looking for as a gift for my husband. Shhh. It’s a secret.

Tomorrow, off to Cambodia.