Archives for August 2008

A embarrassment of riches

I hope I am not the only one to sometimes look at my life and wonder what I did to deserve all that has been given to me.

We have had a couple of wonderful weeks with children and grandchildren. We have enjoyed immensely the visit of our “bonus” grandson- a kind and clever and bright child who seemed to fit in perfectly with his “cousins.” We are imminently anticipating the birth of two more precious ones…

And today, after about 12 emails of discussion among the family members as to what to do and how and where to do it, we all got together. The problem was not only scheduling, which is always a problem, but also what to do with 23 children in the middle of the day when the sidewalks were hot enough to fry eggs that would meet the needs of little people from 5 months to 12 years (the two 14 year olds were not able to make it). In the end, we showed a movie in our living room with our video projector. It was cool in the house and believe it or not, there were enough seats for all of the children as well as the 12 adults. (Strangely enough, the 4 pregnant women all ended up sitting in the kitchen area…)

Although the pizza delivery took over 1.5 hours from when we ordered it, the pizza was hot (yeah, that was a no-brainer!) and even delicious. And there I was literally surrounded by love in every direction.

Tomorrow our “bonus” grandchild goes home. The other children start school. It was good that we all got to celebrate together the end of the summer vacation.

All alone by the telephone

Let me preface this posting by noting that since we returned from our US adventure, there have been almost no moments without major activity. Between getting together with children, having grandchildren staying with us, trying to plan for our renovations, seeing clients, and now answering Shai Bar Ilan Geographical Tours toll-free US number on my cell phone, I have been very busy. And although our visitors left the home neat and the linens folded, I don’t have the house looking the way I want it to look.

And I didn’t imagine that I would get a chance to do anything before all of the kiddies are back in school and until the baby we are waiting for (the first of 4 due in the next 5 months) is born.

So today, when my husband took our son-in-law and his son (who is visiting from the States) to mini-Israel, I thought he would be back in an hour or so and our frenetic pace would continue. But he didn’t come back. And the time passed. And although I could have called him, I just kept waiting and watched a little TV (Fox News, to catch up on the latest in the presidential campaign) and read some things on the computer… when a couple of minutes ago (3.5 hours after he left) I got a call from my daughter telling me that they had gone out shopping and that he would be home soon.

And I realized that I had just spent 3.5 hours doing essentially nothing. Aside from answering a couple of emails and a couple of phone calls, I have been alone and idle.

It feels good.

And now, a word from our sponsor…………………………………….(just kidding… I do this all for fun!)

There are a lot of reasons why people should come on our trips to China and to Vietnam/Cambodia. Maybe someday I will list them– but the best reason is that they are fun. On these trip our travelers learn about the history and culture of the countries, see amazing things, visit gorgeous places, meet wonderful people and most of all have a lot of fun. We laugh and enjoy ourselves all day, all the time. We eat delicious food and we spend time with people who will remain our friends long after the trip is over. People who live far apart from siblings or parents find our trips great opportunities to spend time together when no one has to worry about cooking or cleaning or others’ work schedules. If you or anyone you know is interested in our trips, let me know.

Let me count the ways

How do I love them?
1. I love their happy little faces
2. I love their smiles and giggles
3. I love their excitement (at milking goats, at chickens in the trees)
4. I love their curiosity
5. I love their energy
6. I love their ways of pronouncing things
7. I love when they use big words
8. I love when they are kind to each other
9. I love the sparkles in their eyes
10. I love to watch them learn
11. I love seeing their first steps
12. I love seeing them learning and studying
13. I love hearing their questions
14. I love watching them eat
15. I love their sense of humor
16. I love the way they run instead of walk
17. I love that they see everything as new
18. I love when they laugh because others are laughing and they have no idea of why
19. I love when they grab me around my knees for a hug
20. I love having special travel partners
21. I love watching them grow
22. I love taking them places and talking to them
23. I love how they make their parents smile
24. I love when they are fresh and clean
25. I love them covered with chocolate and ice cream

And as for the big ones:
26. I love seeing them as parents
27. I love watching them care for and nurture their children
28. I love the gentleness they show their children
29. I love to watch them teach their children
30. I love seeing the pride they take in their children
31. I love seeing them accomplish important things
32. I love seeing them getting satisfaction from their work
33. I love seeing them receive recognition for what they do
34. I love knowing I’m their mom

Since you asked

Ida Mae was a woman who helped me with the cleaning sometime in the period or 1972-1976. She would come once a week and when she left, the house not only looked clean, but it felt clean. Often she would fold laundry too.

At the time she worked for us, we had only the four older children and they were all very young. In August of 1972 when we arrived at Fort Campbell, KY, they were 4 months, 20 months, 3 years, and 5 years old. Ida Mae was not responsible for any child care, but sometimes if I needed to run out for milk or something quick, she would look after the children.

Once, when I returned, I asked where the two little boys were. She didn’t know. That worried me. She was sure they hadn’t left the house, but it was very quiet and they were nowhere in sight. By then the older of them was approaching 4 and the younger was 2.5. after looking in every room, I opened the large hall closet. The light was on. Immediately the older one came out holding a pair of school scissors (the kind made for children with the round edges that actually can’t cut anything). And then, the little one came out. Scalped. There was some hair on his head, but it was not near the hairline at the top of his face. He looked as if he had been attacked by a lawnmower. And then I looked at the older one* a little closer. He also had areas of missing hair. Ida Mae looked at me and said, “Well, they was quiet.”

Sometime later, the following summer, I was in the living room and I noticed “the barber” walking into the house on tiptoes holding a paper cup in one hand and the other hand covering it. He went to his room, spent a few seconds there, and left again. He came in once again, still walking in a stealthy, little-kid-like manner, with the cup, and then went back out again. This was repeated many many many times. I was curious, but being that he was occupied and wasn’t bothering anyone else, I didn’t ask him what he was doing nor did I try to investigate. After about the 30th time, I decided to go to his room to see what was going on. The room was clean. Nothing was out of place. I decided to look in his drawers. I opened one after the other and found nothing notable. Until the bottom drawer. I opened it and immediately tens of bees came flying out. Inside the drawer, there must have been a hundred bees. I quickly opened the window to shoo them out. “The barber” came to the room and started shouting, “My bee collection!!!! You ruined it!!!! You ruined it!!!!”

Ida Mae had taken care of the 9 children of a doctor in her town. One of those children was Ralph. At times like these, she would say to me, “Well he done remind me of Ralph.” At times like the hair disaster, at times like the bee fiasco, at other times or disaster when I was ready to turn in my mommy card and go home. I was afraid to ask her what ever became of Ralph. I was pretty sure that Ralph was serving 10-20 for mayhem. It took a couple of years, but finally I got up the courage. I asked her, “What ever happened to Ralph?” She paused. I held my breath. She smiled. She said, “Ralph…. well Ralph, he turned out the best of them all– he got all his foolishness out when he was young!”

Ida Mae. She was the best family therapist I have ever met.

*Heretofore to be termed “the barber”

Good Housekeeping (or, “if you polish us, do we not shine?”)

I was raised in a self-cleaning home. When I woke up in the morning, my room was a mess. All of my things were scattered where I had left them. When I came home from school, my room was clean. My clothes were put away. My bed was made. The fact that my mother had a full time cleaning lady was only coincidental, or so I thought.

When I got married, I made a similar mess each morning, and with the help of my husband, even more. When I came home from school (I was still in college), I was shocked to see the mess still lying where I had left it. I figured out that maybe the cleaning lady did have something to do with the house being clean all the time, but I still didn’t fully get it. Until, one day after we were married about 6 months, my husband said, “Aren’t you going to wash the floor?” And I, in all my innocence answered, “Do you think it needs to be washed already?” I was serious. I had never witnessed a floor being washed. I had no idea of how it was done or how often normal people did it. Our floor in that apartment was tiled and a medium brown color, so I didn’t notice any dirt on it. I did sweep it from time to time.

And thus I entered the wonderful world of domesticity.

Over the years, especially when the children were young, we had a number of cleaning ladies ranging from Ida Mae (the family therapist)* who was with us through the beekeeping/haircutting period to “the white tornado” who helped us out around the time that our youngest was born. Usually they were with us for a short time due to our frequent moves (only one asked us if we could take her with us.)

Since I have lived in Israel, aside from some more and less successful encounters with cleaning help just before Passover, I have been help-less. I have discovered the magic of “Cilit”- that wonderful product that dissolves mineral build-up. I have learned how to do “sponga”- cleaning the floor with a squeegee and a rag without having to cut a hole in the rag (which, I am told, completes my absorption into Israel as an immigrant). I have even learned how to clean my stone counters without leaving watermarks (hint: a small squeegee is involved).

I have not, however, found a cleaner.

When I brought my father-in-law to live with us, the person who cared for him would keep the house very (Kati, the drunk Hungarian) or passably (Carole, the runaway Filipino) clean. A couple of years after my father-in-law passed away, a friend told me about her terrific cleaner. I tell his story and the one of our subsequent adventures at the end of the following post: this one Well, this week, I finally agreed to have my husband arrange for another cleaning person. She comes with the highest recommendations. She was supposed to have gotten here an hour and a half ago. You guessed it! Maybe she got confused? Maybe she’ll be here tomorrow? Stay tuned.

*More about Ida Mae upon request

Renovations- Chapter 2


We engaged an engineer who looked at the plans of our apartment and said that there was no problem in doing what we wanted to do. (My genetically programmed paranoia prevents me from being specific.) He has drawn up some plans that begin to address our needs. Since part of what we want to do involves stairs, we went to look at stairs yesterday with the intention of perhaps replacing our heavy, thick staircase with a lighter wood and metal one. We found some very nice options.

Since we are still struggling with the use of space, we are beginning to interview interior designers and the first came over this morning. She offered an option we hadn’t even thought of that makes a lot of sense. Of course she also thought that we should rid ourselves of those useless upper cabinets in the kitchen and open the wall up to windows across the entire side of the kitchen. When we explained that we liked to put our dishes and glassware away, she suggested we cut a hole in our dining room wall… which I had thought of, but because of the open plan of the living room/dining room/kitchen area and the window and sliding doors at the back of the room, there is almost no wall space as is…

I think that so far, aside from trying to reconcile two people’s priorities for what we need (my husband’s and mine) the hardest thing is the uncertainty. I haven’t even started and I’m already thinking:

Wake me when it’s over

About renovations

When I first moved into my house, I wrote the following article. I am posting it now because we are soon going to be starting on renovations and I am recalling the first time.

Note, I skip the part where I had hired people who *said* they were expert electricians, plumbers, and floor tile layers who ended up not only being disasters in all three areas (I had experts in each field come into the house and all of them pointed out the same problems with the work in their area of expertise) but actually did damage to the house that I ended up paying to repair. Later they threatened to sue me for the remainder of the money, but armed with pictures of the destruction they wrought, we were able to convince them that they were getting off easy if we didn’t sue them.

but I digress…

Here is what I wrote then. I hope that this time I will come out of it as well as I did then.


“My blood pressure is HOW high!! my cholesterol is up; my ankles are swollen. This can’t be happening to me. After all, I’m only 26. Well, OK, my oldest child is 31, but I only feel like 26. How can this be?”

That’s what I said to myself when I made my last visit to my doctor in Jerusalem last May, about a week before I was scheduled to move to Modi’in. It was hard to believe that I had let myself get to this point. The doctor was not worried. But all I could think about was that I was slowly killing myself with the weight I had gained and the troubles it was causing in my body. I thought it would be really ironic to have come this far and done this much just to throw my life away over croutons and salad dressing, the high calorie stuff I poured over my tomatoes and cucumbers in an effort to diet.

But the move to Modi’in turned out to be my salvation because the inept shiputznikim [renovators] I had hired enabled me to go on the “no-kitchen diet.” Here’s how it works: You bring over a lift [shipment] from America that arrives exactly one day after you move into your apartment which is just fine except for the kitchen. So by the time your lift arrives and you place huge boxes containing all of your major appliances completely filling the living room and dining area, you have demolished two walls of the kitchen and realize that to open any of the boxes is dangerous because there will be days or weeks of flying debris to say nothing of the deadly quantity of dust and plaster that can invade anything that would make life pleasant (like a TV, for example.) But finally, after two or three days, you open the box with the refrigerator which now stands somewhere in the middle of what will be the dining room (probably in the next millenium, you think) and is separated from you by only a hallway, several piles of broken cement, cinderblock, concrete, plastic sheeting, electrical tubing, and a sand covered surface that will be under the floor tiles once they are replaced. Of course to protect the refrigerator from the debris, it remains in the box with only three seams cut to create a makeshift door in the box and a small area for air circulation behind it.

Now comes the fun part. You want to eat, but you can’t cook anything and the idea of even getting to the fridge is daunting. Fruit seems like a lot of effort. Cokes have to be poured and there’s no place to store a plastic cup or even to put one down should you want to pour, so the solution seems to be cottage cheese which can be eaten out of its container with a plastic spoon. To avoid excess fat, of course, you choose the .5% cottage cheese that, with a little nutrasweet, tastes almost like a treat.

Fast forward now to the chanukat habayit [house warming]. Yes, we made it. After a switch in shiputznikim [jokers] and a million missteps, the house was ready. The family came from far and wide, and here is the very best part: when we took the family picture, I fit. Yes, the “no-kitchen diet” did its magic.

I told you so

We in Israel were lucky enough to be able to see the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics in real time starting at 3:00 p.m. on Friday local time.

In a word— WOW!!!!!

Having seen another production by Zhang Yimou, I have been telling everyone I know not to miss the opening (and closing!!!) ceremony. I told them it would “knock their socks off.” I was not disappointed.

The Chinese people are clever and creative and intelligent. I am happy that the world is getting to know them better.

And I am hoping that people will want to travel with me to China. I can promise it will be spectacular.

Of siblings and favorites

I loved receiving the comments from Sandy and Toby on my last posting. Yes, indeed. Siblings need to get along because when they do they truly are each others’ most steadfast companions through life. They share memories of events and attitudes and tastes and impressions and lots of funny stories.

My sister told me that she forgave me for the mean things I did to her because she didn’t want us to become like our parents’ siblings who didn’t get along and were not able to enjoy the warmth and intimacy they could have had with each other.

The truth is, as I look back at my childhood, I was set up to have a poor relationship with her. My mother overtly told me that it was “the brown eyes against the blue eyes.” She and my sister had brown eyes; my father and I had blue eyes. My mother stopped taking me to dancing lessons because “the baby” was sick. My dancing lessons were always the best hours of the week. So the fact that both my sister and I chose to be close and remain close was fortuitous and not what would naturally have occurred.

One of the best moments of my life (really) was the moment at my oldest son’s wedding when he and my middle son were dancing together (which is done at traditional Jewish weddings where the dancing is gender-separated) and as they swung each other around I could see big smiles on both of their faces. These were the two who squabbled the most and it was wonderful to see them rejoicing together.

As a parent, seeing ones children being kind to each other and helping each other is the ultimate high. What could be better than knowing that you have enabled your children to have warm relationships with each other that support and affirm through the years, and to know that when you are gone, they will be there for each other.

As to Toby’s response: In the course of development, children learn a number of skills. When they reach adolescence, the most important aspect of their development is individuation. The child needs to define him/herself as separate from his/her father and mother. At this time the child begins to notice which ways he/she is like and which ways he/she is unlike his/her parents. In a healthy home, the child takes much of what the parents have had to offer in the way of an example– values, attitudes, manners of behaving, religious beliefs, etc. and makes them his own- really incorporates them into his being, not as a given, but as a choice. Similarly, he/she defines him/herself as different from parents with some attitudes, values, behaviors, etc. that are different from the parents.

Now let’s look at a dysfunctional family where there are clear winners and losers as children. If the child is a loser in the parents’ eyes, he/she is really free to define him/herself as an individual. He/she knows that pleasing the parent(s) is impossible, so he/she can become his/her own person. He/she can take responsibility for evaluating his/her courses of action and take pride in making decisions. But woe unto the winners in the dysfunctional family. The winners are the children with whom the parents have so over-identified that any action or behavior contrary to the parents’ will is treason. All deviations are punished and all conformity is overwhelmingly rewarded. “Oh, look at her! She’s just like me!” For these children individuation becomes an impossible task– because all deviation from the parent(s)’ wishes is seen as betrayal. For some, individuation doesn’t happen until after the parent(s) has/have died. For some, it never happens. They never get to live their own lives. And that is why I said that it is easier to be the child who is out of favor than the one who is favored.

Sure, why not

So you want to hear about the family…

Well, there is my generation. We are a total of three people: my husband, my sister, and I. My husband was a chaplain in the US Army and a civilian rabbi until he came to Israel on aliya in 1999. My sister has been working in the Philadelphia Prisons for a very long time (around 30 years). She’s a social worker. See. That was easy.

I’ll tell you a little more about each of them.

My husband and I first met the summer he turned 21 and I was approaching 16. He had already graduated from college and was starting rabbinical school and I was returning that fall to start my junior year in high school. We were just friends. I had a kind of a crush on him, but girls that age are always having crushes and it’s probably only a coincidence that we ended up getting married. We simply stayed in touch long enough until both of us were in a position to think of marriage seriously. I’m not sure I knew what I was doing when I married him, but so far it’s worked out well (and it’s 42 years.) One of the big things he has going for him is that he is able to put up with me.

My sister has been with me for all but the first 4.5 years of my life. She has always been my friend. Even when I didn’t treat her very well, she was my friend. We supported each other through difficult, but very different childhoods. She was the favored child and I the child who was the recipient of most of our mother’s anger. I think she had the harder job. I knew I could never please my mother. She thought she could. Through the years, through ups and downs, we have remained close and although we live far apart, we never really *are* far apart.

So that’s this generation… next, some musings about some of my kids (hopefully in a way that won’t embarrass them too much.)