Monday, February 26, 2007


One of the things I know needs work among my midot (aside from that famous redhead temper, of course) is my ability to really, truly empathize with others.

I will admit that this is a real fault. Some of the things I hear about people grappling with, in the news or in my social sphere, just make me think "I don't get it! Snap out of it!" Despite this, I can usually be (hopefully) a good parent, a good friend, a good listener. Internally, though, I don't always empathize enough with struggles that differ from my own.

There was even a point where I got interested in reading non-fiction works about or by people who struggle with things like mental illness or challenging types of upbringings that differed vastly from anything I'd ever experienced, attempting to gain some insight into subjects that baffle me.

When Ann has a cough, and the line is blurred between the involuntary coughing and the "Mommy, look at me, I'm sick" excessive coughing, I sometimes tell her to try and stop the coughing, to count to ten before the next cough, to get a drink and think about something else. And, of course, to grin and bear it when it comes to that awful cough medicine.

Well, now I'm the one who's coughing. And my suggestions to Ann are seeming pretty lame as I struggle with that back-of-throat tickle or the chest-tingling urge to cough. Let me just say that there's nothing like a spoonful of empathy to make that humble pie go down!

Thursday, February 22, 2007


No, this is not a post about the office supply superstore.

I want to talk about the food inventory situation at the Raggedy home. Namely, one of my friends (please update your blog!) was making a batch of meatballs, and realized, mid-mix, that she has no eggs in the house. No Eggs! I was laughing with her that "no eggs" pretty much never happens here because eggs are one of the panic-inducing staples that I'm terrified of not having in the house.

Sometimes I think that if all the supermarkets blew up, I want to at least have flour, sugar, eggs, milk, bread - the basics - so I can make some pancakes and hide until the supermarket bombers are found.

I get a little hoard-y about some foods. Having less than a full dozen eggs is called running low on eggs over here. And we're not the biggest egg-eaters. But we need to . . . have them.

Optional expansions from the staple foods listed above are the big block of American cheese, oil, basic spices, apple juice (apologies to my pediatrician - I water it down about 80%!), canned tomato sauce, canned beans, a couple of frozen chicken packages, cereal, potatoes, onions. And of course, RaggedyDad's endless and varied teas. But running low on these things doesn't make me as nervous as the top list.

I guess based on family history it doesn't take a genius to figure out the food hoarding, though you'd think the Holocaust mentality would wear off after a generation or two. It was also reinforced by my mother not driving, which meant that she was very careful to be well-stocked foodwise. And winter weather takes the food-stocking panic to a new extreme entirely. As does the idea of small children who are hungry and crying and don't want to eat freezer-burned soup or canned mandarin oranges (no, this didn't really happen - but nightmares of it have!)

So why does someone like me who has a car and lives about 5 minutes (12 minutes on foot!) from every kosher food product known to woman get so crazy about stocking staples? I don't know, but I'll always have an egg for you to borrow!

***Sunday Night Insanity Update! As I type this, we experienced a change in Purim seuda plans here at the Raggedys! My sister-in-law who was to be hosting the Purim seuda this year has informed me that her oven is kaput. And she and my brother are away until Thursday. And the babysitter who's with their kids is not going to be able to deal with the serviceman/repair situation, so . . .

We're hosting (cooking!) the Purim seuda here. And there may be several inches of snow today and tomorrow (please stop rolling your eyes, Ezzie and PT). And the kids seem to have colds, hopefully nothing more. And RaggedyDad has a very busy week ahead at work and in school.

Hectic schedule + sick kids + bad weather + last-minute (to me) big family gathering = RaggedyDad just shlepped out with my list after already having visited most of the stores for a more innocuous grocery fill-in.

Additional Caveat: Parking is tricky around this stretch of apartments, and there are definitely places you do not want your car getting stuck when it snows (hey, we drive a '95 Corolla, remember?). Since we're already 'parked well', moving the car now would be bad.

So RaggedyDad's busing this one. Yep. The bus. Potatoes. Onions. Eggs (I'm down to my last 30 and I have to bake 15 more mini-cakes for Shalach Manos). Chickens. And More. We'll see how many of those 2 dozen eggs I asked for actually make it here whole!

I'm off to start cooking for the freezer.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Rude Patrons

After reading the recent great post at Orthonomics about tipping for religious services, I'm going to post about an arena where tipping is more traditionally expected. Restaurants.

Now, it has been quite some time since we've been to a restaurant, and even longer than that since we've been to one with our kids. RaggedyDad and I probably eat out an average of about 3 to 4 times a year, though there's no shortage of kosher places in the NY metro area.

I'm also not a big fan of taking small children (ours are 3.5 and almost 1.5 years old) out to restaurants. It's usually not fun for the parents, the kids themselves, and the kidless patrons, who usually don't need any more fuel for the kid-hating fire that burns within :)

But, yesterday we were urged to join in on a last-minute family celebration. My brother and sister-in-law (with 3 young-ish kids of their own) wanted very much to take my parents out to celebrate their birthdays. My parents' birthdays fell out last week, and are within three days of one another. How I managed to survive being brought up with two Aquariuses as parents really baffles the mind, but I digress.

My parents are also going away for about 2 weeks in a couple of days, and this was an opportunity for us all to see them. The restaurant was very nearby. And the reservation was not particularly late. So off we went.

Overall, it was a lot of fun. We had a great time, and it was more or less a family-oriented place (hey, this is Queens, not Manhattan!) so there were no issues as far as having the kids there. Six adults and five relatively calm kids. It was fine.

But one thing really irked me, and still does. At a table next to us sat a middle-aged couple who just had this angry, farbissiner (bitter) look on their faces the whole time. If a comment about our (quiet) kids had been made, it would have come from them, and I sort of braced myself for the possibility.

Instead, the husband of this couple chose to trounce on the waitress. You see, the owners and staff of this restaurant are Israeli. The couple in question were not. The husband apparently asked for black coffee with (for?) dessert, and the waitress misunderstood. She came back saying it was not something they serve, and suggested espresso, capuccino, or whatever instead. It seems like in her mind, she translated to 'cafe shachor' which might be something else in Israel.

Whatever the mixup was, the man obviously thought it was ridiculous that he couldn't just get a cup of black coffee, and made a fuss about it. He explained what he wanted in a haughty way, and the waitress apologetically said, "I'm sorry, I don't think I understood what you were asking for."

At that point, the man coolly replied, "Well, understand this. You're in this country now."

The waitress took it like a pro, and left to get the man his coffee. But I was so appalled by what he said, having heard the whole exchange directly to my right (crowded place).

This type of rudeness to a service person is so low and base because he knew full well that he could get away with it. She was not about to risk her job and answer back over something so trivial. But it was so condescending, so nasty, and so upsetting to me. I knew that if I didn't say something to the waitress it would bother me later on. I've worked in food service, and gotten my fair share of nasty remarks. But a kind word from someone who sees it your way can help.

Soon afterward, as we were leaving, I discreetly approached the waitress to tell her, derech agav (by the way), that I thought it was totally rude and wrong the way that the man had spoken to her. She kind of shrugged it off, and made light of the incident (I realized she was thicker-skinned than I am!), but still gave me an appreciative smile.

Let's hope I don't come across Mr. and Mrs. Rude again around here anytime soon. Ugh!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

All Better

When the kids had the vomiting stomach virus last week, and I was covered in grime, puke, and more laundry than I had ever seen, I thought it couldn't get much worse.

Actually, it can. What's worse than the kids being that sick is Mommy being that sick. Yep, I got it. Tuesday night and all day Wednesday was the craziest, all-out sick-fest ever. I felt so weak and awful that I needed a mental pep-talk to muster up the strength for every single aspect of every menial task. But the kids still needed a mommy!

The house looked kind of like those awful news stories where the kids have had to fend for themselves for days. The remains of the ideas that a three-and-a-half year old and a 15-month old have about what they need to find to eat, play with, and wear were scattered all over the house. Disastrous.

I was too scared that RaggedyDad would get it too to have him spend the day at home with me. The moment he left for work, I tried to paste on a reassuring smile, but I think the best I did was look wan and panicked.

I'm blessed with helpful parents nearby-ish and great neighbors who took Ann to and from preschool during the miserable weather. And when I woke up this morning, RaggedyDad (who left the house at 7:30 a.m. and got home at 10 p.m.) had not only shoveled out the car, he also cleared the path of the tornado in the apartment and it really, truly looked like a livable space again.

There is nothing like feeling better after a bout like that of being sick. This morning, after drinking a lot (more) Powerade and water, I disinfected the bathroom like a madwoman, as well as some other surfaces for good measure, and ran a load of wash on hot. Mommy's back, kids!

Monday, February 12, 2007

Label Me (Sell-Out!)

In my adolescence, I thought that any reliance on labels was a conformist plot of the masses. Questions that started with "What kind of . . . " often led me to launch into a rant about how labels belong on cans, not people.

And then I grew up. A little. To some degree, I still feel like labeling has a real dark side when it becomes a means to classify and limit the total of a person. But I think that many mature people are able to make some use of labels in order to better understand and organize the world and the extreme amount of information with which we are perpetually assaulted.

Recently, I started noticing that some of my regular blog reads started using those little optional label tags at the end of each post. For a while, I felt like these things were kind of silly, and didn't see the real point in reading someone's post and then seeing a bunch of Cliff-Notesy catch phrases hanging off at the end. Disjointed and odd. It seemed like a great way to take blogging too seriously - does this stuff really need to be archived like something at a university library?

But as I thought about it, and after a couple of times trying to find a post about a particular something, I realized that the little labels are not that foolish after all. If someone's been blogging for a while, and I'm interested in other posts of hers about . . . a holiday . . . finances . . . childrearing . . . driving . . . anything, the labels are actually quite useful.

Arranging posts by topic can help my own writing in showing me whether there are topics I haven't looked back on in a while . . . topics I write about so often it's probably a drag . . . or some interesting subject I started exploring and abandoned.

So I went back the other day and played around with the template a bit, and then went back and labeled all of my posts. Now, since there were only 54 of them, and they are somewhat unified in subject matter, it was not that difficult. The blogger cult has also made it pretty easy by automatically suggesting existing labels while you're typing based on the first letter or two. Lazy labels.

We'll see how the labeling thing turns out, and whether it continues to spread. And I guess I'm not that cool, edgy, and different after all!

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Kol Imma (Voice of a Mother)

With all the talk about Kol Isha out there, I thought I'd post a personal take on (my own)singing.
Before we listened to lots of lame kiddie music, RaggedyMom had lots and lots of my own albums that I loved, and still do. There is no better way to make kugel night more fun than pulling out some old music and belting out those lyrics that are deep-frozen into your brain.

After finding that there was nothing (surprise!) on the radio, I pulled out some old cassettes. My choice for the potato kugel (potato kIgel, according to RaggedyDad) was The Zombies Greatest Hits. This was actually the first tape I ever bought, at 11 years old. I listened to it every day, repeatedly for years, and to my credit, I know exactly how many seconds to pause at the end of one song before I take a breath to start the next song right on cue.

The Zombies were a popular yet somewhat obscure group, and are probably best known for the song "Time of the Season." (Also, "She's Not There", "Tell Her No") I had heard "Time of the Season" on a record of my mother's and wanted something I could listen to on my walkman. Singing along to it all these years later, I would say that the lyrics on some of the tape, and that song in particular, are waaay too sexy for an eleven-year-old!

I wonder if anyone is familiar with the Zombies' sound and has also heard the California band Smash Mouth ("Walkin' on the Sun"). Ever since I heard them, I thought they sounded like a reincarnation of the Zombies (maybe it's the sound of their keyboard).

Mid-session cleanup and carrot kigel time was devoted to another favorite, The Jayhawks (now defunct). Coming out of Minnesota, they are the quintessential folk rock/alt-country band. Their early albums are particularly heartfelt, and the harmonies are golden.

Years back, I went to a record store in Manhattan where the Jayhawks were performing to promote an album. I found myself pretty close to the front, and after the show, when Gary Louris was signing my CD, he said, "I saw you in the audience. Wow, you were singing along to every word!" Well, friends, that moment has been relived so many times in my mind it's embarassing. To say it has been one of the highlights of my otherwise "singing while cooking" career is an understatement.

I grew up hearing my mother singing Laura Nyro and Joni Mitchell around the house as she dusted and cooked. The grocer we frequented when I was in my stroller days used to call me Maria Callas for my tendency to break into song. Ann and Andy hear a lot of spontaneous singing, and I hear them break into song a lot too, particularly Ann, who loves to belt out original lyrics about her thoughts and her day.

One of the more difficult things for me when we have long-term male non-related company (RaggedyDad's stepfather, for example) is being unable to sing around the house. But most of the time, my kids enjoy Kol Imma quite often. Singing to and with my children is one of our most cherished pastimes, whether or not anyone ever hears it.

Monday, February 05, 2007


Until I became a mother about three-and-a-half years ago, my experience with children was rather limited. I'm the youngest of three children. I saw my younger cousins somewhat infrequently. My babysitting days were erratic and short-lived. One summer, I was a day-camp counselor for three-year-olds. The toileting, the in-and-out-of-bathing-suits, the feed-me . . . It was enough to convince me that I'd rather be an arts and crafts counselor, which I did for the next three summers at sleepaway camp.

Let's just say that when Ann was born, RaggedyDad (also the youngest growing up) and I were, for the most part, baffled by her. She cried. All night long. I was so delirious with exhaustion, and so worried about keeping my parents up all night (we were there for two weeks following the birth). I started and finished novels night after night, holding and feeding Ann intermittently, wondering what this new, bizarre life of mine as a mom would ultimately turn out to be.

Thankfully, babies have no clue at the outset just how terrifying and confusing those beginning weeks can be for their parents. Ann stuck around, as did her parents, and we figured a lot of things out. About nursing, about sleeping, about crying (both of us!), and just about being together. In the midst of her colicky phase, my pediatrician turned to me and said, "Ann's getting through this. But how are YOU doing?" That was all it took to get me to start crying right in his office! RaggedyDad had just made a quick visit to Belgium for his sister's wedding, and it was all Mommy, all the time. I'll never forget Ann's one-year checkup, when, with no condescension whatsoever, the same doctor said, "She's come a long way, and so have you - great job, Mom." I was totally vindicated from my previously blubbering self, and brimming with pride.

Lots of other sleep-related adjustments followed, and Ann was not much of a sleeper through them all. Weaning. Giving up naps. Becoming a big sister to Andy. Moving out of the crib and into a bed. Toilet training. Nighttime training. I think that kids really teach us a great deal. Ann taught me not to be afraid of my kids, and once Andy came along, I think I had mostly internalized it. Of course, Andy teaches me every day that each child is different! But our basic principles for how things operate in our household stay mostly the same, and I no longer worry if I have the "right" to maintain decorum.

Now that bedtime involves the two of them, and not a toddler and a newborn, it's a flurry of cleanup, supper, bathtime, pajamas, stories, goodnight phone calls to RaggedyDad and my mother, toothbrushing (I'll have to post a picture of Andy brushing his teeth one of these days - it's his big thrill of the day!), Shema/HaMalach HaGoel, "I love you and I like you"s, and then . . . quiet. By 6-6:30 p.m., I'm over on the other side of the apartment, catching up on the mail, IMing with a friend, and just resting. I listen for Ann's whispers to quiet, and for the soft snoring in stereo to start, before the rest of my night begins. We've come a long way, babies!