Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Redefining Breakfast

Part of our new early-to-the-bus routine for Ann involves squeezing in enough time for her to eat before she leaves the house at 7:10 or so in the morning. Having a new time goal in mind this year (last year, gan started at 9) prompted me to do something about the nagging breakfast issue in my family.

For a while, we'd been eating almost exclusively cold cereal and milk for breakfast. Cold cereal is great, and it is a big time-saver. But I wanted to give breakfast an overhaul because I felt like we should be eating something more substantial and more filling, and because unfortunately, we were in a sugar cereal rut.

I really had very few food rules growing up, and so, when buying food for my own home, if I found good deals on the cereals I liked and was used to, that's what I bought and served. Cocoa Puffs, Reese's Puffs, and Cinnamon Toast Crunch are some of my favorites.

But I really started to feel uncomfortable with how much sugar the kids were consuming during their first waking hours. I began phasing out the sweet cereals and replacing them with Cheerios, corn flakes (not Frosted Flakes, albeit a delicious option), and Rice Krispies. Pathmark makes a store brand of all of these that bears an O-U, so it depends on whether there are sales and coupons to use, but the store brand is usually the better buy.

RaggedyDad's favorite cereal is Honey Bunches of Oats with Almonds, so we keep a boxes few of those around. It's sort of a semi-junky-semi-healthy option. Keeping it around doesn't pose a problem.

For most mornings, though, I started serving hot cereal, which is usually more nutritious and hopefully more filling than what had been the status quo. We have oatmeal usually, but sometimes farina (I know, I know, it's the Wonder bread of hot cereals . . . ) and I serve a bowl to everyone, alongside a plate of toppings.

We call it the "toppings bar" because we're just that crazy. While the hot cereal is cooking, I'll prepare any combination of almonds, dried cherries, raisins, shelled sunflower seeds, chopped dried apricots, and the like on a plate. I used to offer chocolate chips in the beginning of this transition, but I have mostly phased those out unless someone is very insistent. While the dried fruit is sweet, it is fruit, and it's used much more sparsely in the bowls than sugar is in sugar cereal.

Once a week or so we'll have toast or sandwich-maker-sandwiches, or eggs. My father eats a pretty standard Israeli-type breakfast of toast, cottage cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, etc., and I'll serve that once in a while, too.

I'm just glad that breakfast is planned out and is more of a sound meal than it was before! The one challenge I had was cleaning out the oatmeal pot, but I found a solution for it that I'll blog about in the near future.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Taking it to a New Level

It's interesting how our threshold for things changes with time and circumstances. There are things that I encounter nowadays as a mother that would have made me totally afraid, squeamish, shy, or nervous years ago. When the heat is on, somehow you find the strength.

My threshold for cleanliness has also adjusted over the years. I grew up in a household with an extremely neat and organized mother. I've mentioned before that the entire dusting-windex-declutter-etc. routine are typically finished before 6:30 a.m. for my mother. Vacuuming and mopping are daily routines. Dust is afraid to settle on the furniture; it knows that it doesn't stand a chance.

My cleaning personality is by far more relaxed, and yet, with time, I notice that things I hardly noticed before now demand my attention. A little dust and some clutter typically don't get to me. Real dirtiness does, and I never allowed it to get to that point. Plus, more kids simply means more Cheerios in the carpet, ickiness in the bathroom, etc. But it also means that there are a few extra hands to quickly pick up toys from the rug when the vacuum rolls out (2 or 3 times a week around here, not every day!)

A sink left with dishes overnight has never been something I can tolerate, but now I need to finish off by wiping up around and inside the sink. I'm semi-embarassed to admit that for the first 2 years or so that RaggedyDad and I were married, I never made the beds (!) unless company was coming. Now there are several beds to make, and it's one of those tasks that's always done by 8 a.m.

These things became important to me at some point, and I'm not sure why. I do like a neater home, and it's what I'm used to from my own childhood. But RaggedyDad is wary of attempts to get closer to the "obsessive cleaning" mode I grew up with. Not to worry, RD. Our place still has a VERY lived-in feel. Nobody's thinking they stepped into a museum here, unless they were looking for a children's museum-anthropology of the family museum-hybrid.

I do think that my kids will enjoy growing up in a home where they feel a collective responsibility with regards to cleaning up, and also feel calmer knowing that things are being taken care of and not left to hefker-status. That orderliness comes from a neat, clean home, good meals, a gentle routine, security, and love.

Now, excuse me, I see some stubborn fingerprints on a cabinet door.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Mommy, I Don't Feel Good

When it comes to sick days for the kids, I tend to err on the side of compassion. My mother was much the same way. If we weren't really all that sick, but she could see that we just needed the day, and it wasn't abused more than a small handful of times over the year, she was fine about us kids staying home from school. My father's policy was more along the lines of, 'If you have no fever, you're going to school.' High school was tough enough that even if I was sick enough to stay home, I often tried to insist that I be allowed to go anyway, lest I miss something important.

RaggedyDad actually (successfully!) performed the thermometer-to-the-lightbulb trick as a kid to get out of going to school in Russia (Soviet schools? Who wouldn't?!), and certainly at this age, Ann and Andy are not missing much if they stay home from nursery and Pre-1A (Kindergarten to the uninitiated. More on these silly grade-level name differences another time).

So yesterday, when we discovered that Ann and Andy have ear infections, Andy also has strep, and everyone's got a cold, it became clear that we were going to get another Sunday on Monday. As in, another day to be home. This comes closely on the tails of Little Rag being deemed a possible 'strep carrier'.

[Pediatrician: He's got strep for the third time in a row.

RaggedyMom: What? Why? What does this mean?

P: Well, I'd venture to guess that he never actually had strep to begin with.

RM: Doctor, is this some kind of phantom-strep conspiracy-theory? Have you and I been watching the same prime time tv shows?

P: Here's the number of a good ENT I know.

RM: And you may ask yourself, "How did I get here?"]

Aside from the whole kvetchy-sick part, it is rather nice to be together.

Here's a roster of some of our sick day events:

*"Lunch for breakfast" - macaroni and cheese at 8:30 a.m.? Sure, kids!

*"Wine and cheese tasting" - er, choices of pomegranate juice or Kedem grape juice in 'fancy' plastic shot glass cups, American and 'Gorilla Cheese' (Andy's pronunciation of mozzarella) on party toothpicks

*Camping with blankets - because that is a given on at-home days

* Freestyle project-athon - Cutting up old magazie collages, pom-pom gluing, sticker applying, googly eyes, early-birthday-card-for-RaggedyDad production, etcetera

* 'Helping' Mommy to refold clothes in drawers and resort toys in bins, or ensuring that Mommy will have to do this job all over again

* Play-Doh or fingerpainting, depending on how much of a glutton for punishment I feel like being.

*Sick day cuddles

*PBS hour . . . or two.

*"Breakfast for dinner" - Pancakes, anyone? Yes, The Apple, I know we just had them yesterday -- but we're siiiiiiick . . .

We won't be doing laundry, as our machine is having "issues" and Our Man of Maytag, Jerry (referred to by Andy simply as "Jelly") is not available until tomorrow afternoon. Luckily, we were all caught up before it stopped working.

We also don't need to devote any time to paper decluttering, as I mostly did all that yesterday, nor will we be evaluating and saying goodbye to old school and camp projects, because we successfully purged all but the most special last week.

Whew! The only caveat to today is not making sick days so much fun that they never want to go back to school. Ah, well. They're only this little once. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to go find the mini-marshmallows for some hot chocolate.

Friday, November 14, 2008


The number of people you run into on Main Street is directly proportional to how bad you look on any given day.

Bonus points if you did not manage to match your clothes, or if you happen to see friends of your parents or an old high school teacher. Super bonus points if you see an administrator at your kids' current schools, or if the baby is wearing only one sock and has a crusty nose.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Produce Shopping

Although my food's probably still too salty, one thing I have tried to do over the years is to make as much food as possible from basic ingredients. What this means is, in practical terms, is frequent trips to the fruit and vegetable store. I usually do a large-ish produce shop once a week. Sometimes I have to fill in later that week, and sometimes I can even skip a week if things aren't busy around here.

In our neighborhood, there are a few independent fruit stores, as well as kosher supermarkets and chain supermarkets that carry produce. In general, I try to shop for produce in the independents, because I like the prices and freshness there, and I do sort of like that 'earthy' fruit store feel. That earthiness is precisely the reason that some people choose not to shop in these places. To me, it's not grungy as much as it's close to the source of where all of these things actually grow.

There's one giant fruit superstore a few minutes away. People generally find it disgusting. I don't mind it much, and used to shop there from time to time. The kids like the lobster tank, and the prices and variety there are very good. They carry more interesting, ethnically-diverse produce than anyone in town. The sanitary level does leave a good deal to be desired. I once found a clementine crate full of kittens in the first shopping cart I wheeled out. Yikes. Also, the grocery prices there are not very good, so it definitely necessitates a trip to another store.

The chain supermarkets display clean, shiny produce, but the prices are high, and it doesn't seem like the turnover rate is all that good. The apples look so waxy-perfect - to me, that's not what I expect from fruit and veg.

The kosher supermarkets are also good for veg and fruit in a pinch, like when you're shopping for Shabbos, and only need a couple of produce items. In general, the prices (aside from occasional hit-or-miss store specials) are rather high there, too.

One of the independent stores carries very nice produce. A bonus is that it's one of the many stores on Main Street where I get to practice my Hebrew (and invariably get asked by someone if I'm French). Another bonus is nostalgia - it's named after a town that neighbors the town where I was born. This store is very popular in the neighborhood - I know quite a few people who "only go there." It is on the small side, and I'd say that it's one of those places where people seem to hate me for having a stroller.

Never one to conform, I've lately been loving a Bukharian-owned fruit store a few blocks further south. It gives me a chance to practice my other erstwhile language - Russian (just kidding - I totally don't have the nerve to speak Russian in public yet!)

It seems like their prices are the best around, and groceries there are a decent buy. I'm talking about a bunch of asparagus for 99 cents - where I see the same quantity in other places for 2.99/lb or more! (Although it's not always available) I used to buy the giant 10 lb. bag of onions for 2.99, but I find that there are always a few in there that aren't going to hold on for more than a couple of days. When I know there's a Yom Tov coming up, or that I'm making onion soup, I'll still buy the big onion bag, and sort it out right away.

The staples are always around, and for the rest, I try to go in there with the attitude that I'll see what looks good, and devise the veg portion of my menu around it. Beets and cabbage? Okay, we'll have borscht. Butternut squash looks nice and is 59 cents a pound? Sounds like a good side dish or soup.

Do you prioritize prices or a more pleasant shopping experience in your produce (or any) shopping? I enjoy shopping in pleasant places, so I promise not to judge you if it's the latter. For groceries, I've mostly given up on the places that are a few cents cheaper on some items, but treat customers disrespectfully and are difficult to shop in.

The part about produce shopping that is a big drag (even with a car) is the shlepping. I hate wasting weekend time in overcrowded food stores, so I shop almost exclusively with Little Rag (and sometimes Andy), and just get the stuff home without RaggedyDad. The system I use has been described here before. I love my fruit store - now if only they delivered!

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Hoping I Can

I work as a reading teacher, and these dayts, I tutor for a few hours a week. Ostensibly, I ought to be able to diagnose a child's reading difficulties, come up with a plan for remediation, and carry it out. I've been trained to do these things, and I enjoy my work.

But, like all people, I worry about my effectiveness. I'm sometimes plagued with the thought of, "I hope I can actually make headway with this child." Not because I perceive the student as ineducable (haven't met one of those yet). Not because I don't have confidence in what I need to do (although sometimes I doubt myself, as do we all). But mostly because sometimes, I know that you can do everything you are supposed to do 'by the book' and it still may or may not happen.

Sometimes there are underlying issues that you aren't aware of, be they emotional, neurological, or otherwise, that will stand in the way of the effectiveness of the work. Sometimes the rapport between a student and a teacher doesn't create the most conducive learning environment. Sometimes a student's retention is weak, and the headway you make during one session is lost the next.

I currently work with two great kids. One's father is a marine. The other's father wears a long beard and peyos. The boys are almost the same age. Their issues differ, and their lives differ even more. But in each case, before and after leaving their homes, early on a Sunday morning, late on a Sunday night, after Shabbos, or on weekday evenings when my own mother tells my kids that Mommy will be home shortly to get bathtime and bedtime underway, my silent thought is the same, "I hope I can help this child."

Friday, November 07, 2008

Hold It

I know that I need to eat healthier. These years, it's really about setting a good example for the kids.

For some reason, lots of people have had the (mistaken) impression that I am a supremely healthy eater. I've had people assume that I'm a health nut, or a vegetarian, countless times. I'm really not sure why. Maybe because I'm so pale, they assume that I'm anemic due to a lack of iron from not eating meat. Or maybe that's a real stretch, and I just give off a healthy food vibe.

The truth of the matter is, I'm not the healthiest of eaters. I do love fruit, but vegetables usually require me just convince myself that I like them. I like to bake because I like what it yields: namely, baked goods. My classic response to a supper made by my mother that I didn't like was to go and toast a Lender's bagel with melted cheese. (Sorry, mom! I realize now how insulting and rude that was!)

One of my other vices is SALT. I like things salty. I tend to have a heavy hand when it comes to salting the potato kigel (very healthy, I know), or mac and cheese (classic supper for me when I wasn't cooking for the kids), or eggs. How can you enjoy sunny-side-up eggs without some salt?

On Wednesday evening, RaggedyDad and I went to Ann's Parent Orientation at school and the director of the preschool division was talking about an article that came out in the NY Times last week. It seems that all these higher salt foods have let to a rise in kidney stones in children! Kids, who almost never had something like kidney stones are suddenly developing them with much higher frequency.

I've tried a salt substitute, but I found it rather disgusting. So I'd rather just cut back on the salt. It's not good for any of us, and certainly not for RaggedyDad as we get, er, older. I'll just have to try to eliminate it a bit at a time from the things where it doesn't really matter much. As it is, I serve very few processed foods, so it's really just ME adding the salt myself (not sure if that makes it better or worse!).

It'll be a little less tasty, but hopefully, it'll be well worth it.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Coming Back - Low Key

I'd like to blog more often. Really, I would. I can't even say that I don't have time to blog, because some very busy people I know are active bloggers. I do have chunks of time now and then when I, ahem, must sit still with Little Rag, and that's often my computer time.

So the time is there, but then there's the emotional part to contend with. Nothing major, but just this overall feeling that if I am going to Put Up a Blog Post, it has to be a Grand Event with Something Meaningful to say. So thoughts of what to post about quickly get shooed away:

"People have already posted extensively about that topic."

"That's not important enough to warrant a blog posting."

"What will [insert particular imagined reader] think about THAT?! Forget it."

"It will take way too much time and effort to make that sound as eloquent as I'd like."

And so on. So the quest for perfection/pleasing people/impressing people with some witty observation about life actually becomes a major Blog-Kill.

Clearly, we are all flawed and simple in our own way. With the intent of writing something special, I usually wind up writing (or finishing drafts of), well, nothing.

So I'd like to post on a more frequent basis. And I think I will. But I'll be doing less self-editing, and less self-evaluating. Sometimes it'll be silly, or lame, or my ideas may be deemed insignificant or even wrong by some of you. But I think that at nearly 30, I'm starting to grow up enough to realize that that's really . . . okay.

So hi again!

Monday, September 15, 2008

People Are Alike All Over

Although we've been home for a couple of weeks now from our trip, it's still very much on my mind. I wouldn't call myself the most well-traveled person around, but I've definitely been to a number of places around the globe. There is one common occurrence just about everywhere I go, and that's the subject of this post.

As I've mentioned, on this trip to Belgium, we rented a car which gave us the opportunity to escape go places we wouldn't have the ability to get to otherwise. One place we visited was the caves of Han-sur-Lesse, a huge cave system by the River Lesse in the French-speaking part of the country.

The French-speaking area of Belgium, or Wallonia, has its own distinct building style and overall look, different from Flanders, or the Flemish part (both photos below are of Wallonia).

Walking through the caves is done with the help of guides, and the lines lead you to guides given in either French or Flemish (Dutch). RaggedyDad knows both, but preferred Flemish. In order for me to understand the tour, though, he tried to find out whether an English tour would be starting anytime soon.

We walked up to the head of the line and stood off to the side to wait, and that's when I heard it. "Eldar! Tered mehagader! Achshav U'Miad!" (Eldar! Get down from the fence! Immediately!) Yes, indeed. We had stumbled upon a large contingent of Israeli visitors to Han-sur-Lesse. On a Hebrew tour, of course. And they were more than glad to have us piggy-back along on their tour. So we got to listen to descriptions of stalagmites and stalagtites in Hebrew, interspersed with some Flemish courtesy of a neighboring group, and exchanged some small talk with Israelis along the way.

I smiled to myself for a while about the Israeli tour. It's probably because I just notice the familiar more, but I seem to find Israelis wherever I go. For this trip, Han-sur-Lesse seemed to be our Israeli interaction locale.

Until we got to the airport back in Cologne, that is. Once quick glance at my passport (place of birth: Tel Aviv) and the security check-in person assigned to our family gave me a once-over. The first words out of her mouth? "Efshar lehamshich itach b'ivrit?"

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Belgium to the Fifth Power

This was my fifth time visiting Belgium. Here's a compendium:

Visit 1 (2001): We were engaged and I hadn't yet met anyone in RaggedyDad's family but his mother.

Complicating factor: Being not-yet-married, we were staying in different places. Cell phones were not as ubiquitous as they are now, so we spent a lot of time looking for each other at corners and checking our watches.

Nice factor: RaggedyDad's family drove us around to see some very interesting, off-the-beaten-path parts of the country. It was very fascinating and very new.

Visit 2(2002): We were married for a little under a year.

Complicating factor
: None!

Nice factor: No kids yet meant lots of freedom and very little luggage. We took a side-trip to Paris for a day.

Visit 3(2004): We went with Ann when she was a year old.

Complicating factor: Longish flight with a baby; more luggage than we were used to; baby Ann nearly fed ham-and-cheese baby food by well-meaning relatives

Nice factor: Ann and her cousin, five months older than she is, getting to know each other

Visit 4(2006): Ann was 3, Andy was nearly 1.

Complicating factor
: Hottest weather in Belgium in all the times I've been there. Nobody has air conditioning. Nobody has screens on their windows. Mosquito bites galore. In the news, Bush has just refused to sign Kyoto accord, so everyone seems to be blaming me for the heat!

Nice factor: RaggedyDad's sister moved into a house between this visit and the previous one, and her yard is enormous by our standards. Kids have a blast outdoors on grass, play equipment, and in kiddie pool.

Visit 5 (2008) Ann is 5, Andy is nearly 3, Little Rag is 1

Complicating factor: Ann is 5, Andy is nearly 3, Little Rag is 1. Complicated enough, no? The five of us share a bedroom for 2 weeks. The airports we are traveling to and from are kind of far.

Nice factor: The look on RaggedyDad's grandparents' faces as they saw the three kids, especially the baby, who looks just like RaggedyDad. Having a car for the first time while there gave us a much greater degree of freedom (as much as we can really achieve) and a sense of family exclusivity.

Next up . . . Tour the caves of Han-sur-Lesse with the Raggedies and a contingent of surprise guests!

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

How to Make Jetlag Work for You!

Belgium is 6 hours ahead of New York. While we were away, we stayed with RaggedyDad's sister and her family in their home. They've got 2 daughters, aged 5 and nearly 2.

Summer schedule in their household means that bedtime is on the late side. Here, I usually get everyone to sleep between 6:30 and 7 p.m., though Little Rag wakes up at least twice over the course of the night. Bedtime in Belgium, between the sun going down late and the kids being busy with extended family, ran more about 9:30 or 10 p.m. The kids woke up later, too.

Rather than make some kind of doomed-to-fail attempt to recreate their home schedule, we only encouraged the kids in their gleeful staying up late and the sometimes inevitable later morning sleeping that followed.

This all meant that when we came home, it was just a couple of days of making the effort for them to stay awake until 5:30 or 6 p.m., since that was just a couple of hours 'later' for them in Belgian time. The gist of it all is that we're back for 3 days and are doing fairly well with their sleep.

The one caveat is that by 5 a.m. or so, everyone's up. But when I consider that from the perspective of the mature adult I pretend to be on some days, I realize that this is actually beneficial. Ann's got a much earlier morning from now on due to the BGST ("Big-Girl-School" Transition), so early mornings will be busy and productive around here. Wish us luck! Yawn!!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Behind Door #1 . . .

To quote Bob Barker,

"It's a NEW CAR!!!"

Or, at least, that's what it looks like every time I see one of these vehicles I've never, ever heard of here on the roads of Belgium. A bizarre, new car. RaggedyDad and I have spent much time discussing the aspects that make a car appealing or not, to consumers in various countries.

Care to drive away in a Nissan Qashqai???

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Maybe We'll Drive to Belgium Next Time?

I'm not a natural-born driver. When I first learned to drive, I was 18 and hyper-nervous. My mother doesn't drive, and somewhere along the way, I received LOTS of messages that denigrated women's driving skills. But I vowed not to grow up to be as limited as she is, not to live only where the buses go, not to put my kids in the position of finding rides for me to parent-teacher conferences.

So drive I did. But it didn't come easy. I had one formal teacher and several informal 'teachers'. My nerves were so tense about and while driving that I couldn't catch my breath. I actually went to see a pulmonary specialist who said that my breathing was fine, and to RELAX.

I'm glad to say that ten years later, I'm doing fine as a driver, and even do a not-so-terrible job parking the van despite admittedly terrible spatial intelligence, and it hasn't stopped me from carpooling, and the like. But driving in a foreign country? That is another story altogether.

This is my fifth time visiting my in-laws overseas. But it's our first time renting a car here. In previous years, we've used the "nothing-if-not-efficient" European train system. But at this point, it would be very difficult to get around without a car here.

We're staying at the home of RaggedyDad's sister, who lives in a bit of a more remote part of town. Think cows, horses, and sheep, a freight train humming nearby, hanging laundry out to dry outside (watch out for that fickle Belgian weather! It may rain at ANY moment! Lots more about that in another post), a chicken that keeps escaping from the neighbor's coop (I have personally grabbed the chicken kaparos-style and escorted her home several times!).

So this time, we have a car. Neither of us being knowledgeable in the ways of the stick shift (Ever notice how people in Europe take a certain pride in doing things the hard way?!), our car choices were limited. Cars here are small, oddly shaped, and have bizarre names (I should start jotting those down - that would be a post by itself!).

We managed to squeeze three carseats and our luggage into a low-level Mercedes. Sounds crazy! But it was oddly an affordable option! A van would have been a fortune to rent, and to drive - gas here is very costly. Also, the car is very basic. I'd say the only luxury touch is the gear-shift which has that turkey-neck-like bagginess to it.

Driving here is different. The signs look like that card game we used to play in Israel with the different road signs - they don't make sense to me, and they look fake. (Updated: I just spoke to my brother in Israel, who remembered that the game is called Taki. He's wrong - it is actually called RACE. He then went on to convince me that he's currently in a Taki league. And then to laugh at me when I believed the story. Some things NEVER change.)

Luckily, RaggedyDad actually knows what (almost) all of the road signs mean. There are usually two lanes, and it is assur to stay in the left lane. You must politely pass that truck (they're never in the left) and then get back into the right lane. It's possible that these are also laws in America, but I learned to drive in New York, where people with manners are our tourist friends who are blond and wear fanny-packs.

One more thing about drivers here is that they like to tail gate! There's nothing I hate worse than a tail gate. Maybe they're just doing it to us because our car's plates are German (still can't get over that whole thing). The coolest car here seems to be the Citroen, if only for the double-dots over the "E".

Despite all of the insanity, I'm glad we rented a car this time. The train trip alone back and forth for Shabbos (frum people and kosher anything are about an hour away) would have cost quite a bit at this point, a far cry from the days when it was just the two of us and we were young enough to buy a student-rate ticket. Not to mention getting to and from the train station (cars this small mean it's just about impossible for anyone to give us a ride) and the airport, or the center of town, etc.

And the car gave us the freedom to go to some different, cool places this time around - more about those next time . . .

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Raggedies Abroad!

Groetjes van Belgie!!

Since Sunday, we've been overseas visiting RaggedyDad's family.

Here are some early highlights:

Pre-Shabbos, as a means to be social, and also, conveniently avoid cooking and leftovers prior to our trip, we had a great time at the BeyondBT Shabbaton. All of the organizers were so gracious!

Poor RaggedyDad thought I was serious when he asked me what I'd be speaking about, and I said I'd just retell my husband's "story" as a ba'al teshuva. He looked like he was about to faint. Thankfully, I did have other things to talk about. His story is one of the best I've heard though. Maybe he'll tell you some day.

Meeting a bunch of bloggers and various others turned out to be a lot of fun, even for the Mister. Special thanks go to Princess D'Tiara for staying with us, attempting to help me stay sane pre-trip, and coming along for the ride to the airport with us so she could take our van home and do who-knows-what with it!

The flight was long, made all the longer by the inevitable delays in getting the plane off the ground (close to 2 hours). I do hate flying. But we had individual TVs that each had their own on-demand choices of music, movies, television shows, games, etc. Pretty fancy stuff. I assure you, this was economy class.

Being the conscientious daughter-in-law that I am, I used my time wisely to try to learn some more Russian via the Berlitz game they had. I can now order a cab, ask if a store takes credit cards, and name some of the days of the week. Of course, being that we're not in a Russian-speaking country right now, the usefulness of this is rather limited.

Our plane (a 757) had two rows of 3 seats each. Somehow, for the bulk of the flight, I wound up in the middle of a row with Andy to my right, Ann to my left, and Little Rag on my lap. Where was RaggedyDad, you ask? Across the aisle! Alone! With an empty seat next to him!!!! I'm still not sure how that happened, and it is totally not representative of his usual helpfulness level. A momentary lapse of reason.

When the food came, it was super hot, and seemed to be not simply double-wrapped, but wrapped in a dozen or more layers of shrink-wrap, foil, various sticky tape sections, and more plastic wrap. The food was decent, but the amount of garbage outnumbered the actual edible parts about 50:1.

After deliberating, we booked a flight that landed in Germany, for various logistic and economic reasons. I grossly underestimated just how much I would, for lack of a better term, FREAK OUT about being in Germany. I know that people have very mixed opinions about this, and some other members of my family have already been through Germany for work or stopovers, or what have you. In the time it took to go through passport control, luggage pickup, renting the car, and driving out of the country, my kids saw me in way too many emotional-breakdown-type moments.

We barely fit into the car, and I mean barely. If we're back here again, we do have to both learn to drive a stick shift, because it will allow us to rent something bigger and not pay as much of a fortune. Since we had to go automatic and didn't want to break the bank, we had to go with a smaller car. But it is a relief not to have to shlep all of us and our stuff on buses and trains. I've been there, and it ain't pretty.

This is getting long, and it's time for me to go get supper ready, so I'm off and will continue later.

Friday, August 15, 2008

So Big!

Congrats to baby Little Rag on his first birthday this past Tuesday. Not so little anymore, are we? Although, wait, does that make him just . . . Rag? Hmmm, maybe not.

Two days later, Little Rag took his first steps toward my mother! She and I both saw him do it, which was nice.

And being the good sport that he is, he didn't even mind sharing the birthday limelight with Andy, who could not be convinced that it wasn't also his birthday on Tuesday. Despite the fact that his actual birthday is in October. This comes just a couple of weeks after Ann's birthday, which was, um, also Andy's birthday. Yep. Every family has one of these kids.

Next up - - The Raggedys take to the friendly skies for a Big Trip!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Raggedy-ism #2

Lionosaur (lī-no-sɔr)

An undetermined, vicious roaring creature, commonly imitated by nearly-three-year-old boys on a regular basis.

Usage: "I'm getting you! I'm the big lionosaur! RRRRRRooooooaaaaarrrrrrr!!"

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Holding On

I've had people tell me that I'm crazy, but I try to make a habit of saving each of my kids' doodles, drawings, and school 'projects' until I have a chance to ask them if they're ready to part with it. Believe me, space is at a premium in our apartment, so I don't intend to keep their stuff forever.

Every so often, we review everything and determine whether it is still something special to keep or if we are ready to say goodbye to it. In this age of digital photos, we also take some time to photograph some of the ones we want to remember. Thankfully, my kids are yielding enough to be able to handle this ritual rather well.

In general, I tend not to be overly kid-centric about everything. That is, our kids' interests sort of flow out of our own. They are busy going about my day along with me (or maybe just too young to want to differentiate themselves all that much). Although we focus on their needs a great deal, I wouldn't say we're the type of family where the kids run the show. But this is one of the areas where I put their desire to hold on to their stuff ahead of my own desire to toss it.


I think that it goes back to my own childhood. I've written before about how my mother is neat in the extreme. Museum-level-house neat. Nevertheless, she did allow us free reign over our stuff. Piles of papers lay stacked on a chair or dresser until I had a chance to sort them out. I had shelves and cabinets filled with shoe boxes of treasures and scraps of things from school, from friends, from around.

I realize that it is impossible to save every piece of art or every little memory for my kids. But to throw it out behind their backs would feel like a betrayal. I know of people who routinely purge their children's collections or even sell or give away toys that are still being played with in the name of organizing.

To me, home to a child is where they can feel sure of the fact that what is theirs will be there for them when they wake up and when they come home. Those little treasures do mean a lot to them at this age, and if those can disappear with no prior warning, then the sense of control and order they feel is made all that much more precarious.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Morning Person

When I was dating RaggedyDad, there were some mornings when he asked me to call him and wake him up. He was in college at the time, and apparently, he and his roommate had such difficulty in the mornings that they set up a computer program called "Wake Me Up" that would set off an extremely loud alarm. Loud enough for security to come and bang on their door. "Wake Me Up" had woken the rest of the floor, but not RaggedyDad and his roommate.

This was incomprehensible to me. And it worried me. Was this an indication that he'd be unable to wake up for a job? For kids? Be irresponsible in general? Be undisciplined in other areas of his life?

In our home, my parents woke up Very Early. They are morning people to the extreme. I've mentioned before that my mother's extensive daily cleaning routine is usually finished at around 5:30 or 6 a.m. My dad is out of the house very early as well. I really can't remember waking up in the morning and finding my parents groggily ambling about in pajamas (like RaggedyDad and I do).

Thankfully, RaggedyDad's shtick was more or less a college thing. His alarm clock is extremely loud and annoying, and it may go off an extra time or two before he actually responds to it, but we have learned to live with it or even tune it out somewhat. He makes it out of the house early and calmly.

While we don't enjoy early morning life the way my parents do, we've come to terms with it. And I do finally agree with my mother about how much more productive it is to be busy in the early morning (although I guess Ezzie will probably comment that that depends on the individual or something).

Pre-kids, I taught 25 miles from home and had to be there by 8:30. But since Ann was born five years ago, I haven't had a pre-9 a.m. destination besides helping everyone at the breakfast table. I've had part-time jobs and she's been in preschool, but nothing started very early or was all that far away.

Next year, Ann's school day will start at 8:15. The bus will come considerably earlier than that. And of course, I'll need to get the boys ready so that I can bring them along to the bus stop.

A friend suggested I leave the younger kids at home with RaggedyDad while I venture out to the bus stop with Ann. "He's gone by then," I told her. My former late-riser, while not quite a Morning Person himself, sure does a good job of acting like one these days.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Raggedy-ism #1

Garbagnik (gar-BAZH-nik)

One who finishes leftover food that is probably best thrown in the trash. In particular, an adult who finishes the children's leftovers.

Usage: RaggedyDad, stop being such a garbagnik with that soggy bowl of Ann's Cheerios! There can't be more than ten of them in there!

Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Power of Punctuation, or Queens, Represent!

While perusing the news, I came across a story that simultaneously surprised, delighted, and embarrassed me.

I've lived in Queens for 24 years. And I've always known what an undervalued asset Queens is to New York, to America, to all of humanity, even!

Queens and her integral airports! Her majestic Unisphere! Her endearing Archie-Bunker-style houses! Her confusing street names! My lovely borough of Queens! Finally, the recognition we deserve, albeit in the strangest of ways.

Not to mention, if I am able to get in on this bizarre scheme, tuition bills will be a joke!

And then I looked at the link more closely.

Queens Underwear Sells for Thousands

No. Wait. There's an apostrophe there, isn't there?

Queen's Underwear Sells for Thousands

Oh. Right. Not us.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Goodbye, July

The summer always seems to end before it begins. Summertime in my mind lasts for about ten weeks, firmly between the end of the school year and the start of a new one. Go into the stores now, and school supplies already line the shelves! Talk about a drag for kids!

This year's summer Sundays are more constrained than usual, due mostly to the fact that (this year) the period of Jewish mourning known as the Three Weeks both begins and ends on a Sunday.Two of the Sundays are Fast Days, and a third is during the even more serious Nine Days. And our upcoming trip starts on a Sunday and ends two Sundays later (more on that in an upcoming post), so there go another three Sundays.

Oh, and those nice still warm Sundays in September? RaggedyDad will be in school all day for two of them, and one of them is the day before Erev Rosh Hashana.

Now that the kids are out of camp, I'm trying to do some summer things with them on my own, since I know our Sundays with RaggedyDad are so limited. Until I was five, on just about every day that the weather allowed it, my mother and I took the bus from Givatayim to the beach in Tel Aviv. So although I am a Very Pale Person, I also feel very much at home at the beach.

Beach air is great (unless someone's smoking near you - yuck), and the Coppertone smells exactly the same as it did when I was eight years old and on a bus to day camp.

Yesterday, we went to the beach in Far Rockaway. Going alone to the beach with three small children, while fun at times, well, I can't really recommend it to anyone sane.

Thankfully, everyone listened, and stayed close, and the baby barely ate any sand, and we sat within spitting distance of lifeguards. But as anyone who has been to the beach, or especially taken kids, it's not the beach time itself that is the challenge. It's the sandy, messy, disastrous clean-up. Despite it all, we had a great, great time. And -- there is no sleep like the sleep after time spent at the beach.

Although the summer is not quite waning yet, when July ends, it reminds me of the poem that ends Alice and Through the Looking Glass:

. . . Echoes fade and memories die
Autumn frosts have slain July
Still she haunts me, phantomwise,
Alice moving under skies
Never seen by waking eyes
Children yet, the tale to hear
Eager eye and willing ear,

Lovingly shall nestle near.
In a Wonderland they lie,
Dreaming as the days go by
Dreaming as the summers die:
Ever drifting down the stream --
Lingering in the golden gleam --
Life, what is it but a dream?

Friday, July 25, 2008

No Complaints

There is nothing like a routine visit to the children's hospital with one of your kids for a totally no-big-deal, planned follow-up, to bring up feelings of gratitude and a little philosophizing. A visit where thankfully, what you'd been following is fine, and resolved, and all you take home is your child and some films. Baruch ata Hashem elokeinu melech haolam, hatov vehameitiv!

I had a discussion with a friend the other day about the idea that we shouldn't try to minimize the challenges of another person. We do this a lot as moms, sometimes without even realizing it.

My kids are nearly 5, nearly 3, and nearly 1. We're firmly in diaper-tantrum-toileting-sleepless-crumbs-holdme-helpme territory and will probably be there for a while. I know what my challenges are, but I also (hopefully) am able to keep the complaints to a minimum and sense the immense blessings of this stage. Talking to a relative or friend with school-aged kids or teens or kids of an age range that runs the gamut, can sometimes lead to a laundry list of "just-you-waits" and "so-glad-that's-overs".

What does it mean when we compare challenges? When we're vying for the title of Biggest Sufferer? I read recently that the allure of complaining is that if we demonstrate just how difficult our life's challenges are, we come across as all that much more heroic for overcoming them.

I think that there's a great deal of truth to this explanation. Kvetching to one another is not sinful, but there's a hidden motive that can lurk: If I've just described the myriad of difficult scenarios I face, the mere fact that I'm standing upright in front of you makes me some kind of Superwoman, right?

Well, momentarily, maybe. But in the long run, I think that we're drawn to those with buoyant spirits and with a grateful perspective on life. Those who are cheerful and insist not that "it was nothing" but that they were happy to do it.

The gist of it for me (and this is a major work in progress) is to minimize my own complaints while at the same time, hearing and being empathetic towards the complaints of others, without minimizing or judging. It's a tall order. It's our life's work.

What do you think?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

You Mean You Want Supper, Too?

Tonight's theoretical supper is:

Leftover carrot soup
Smoked mackerel from the Russian fruit store/grocery
Corn on the cob
Green salad

And maybe, if I manage to whip the cream, berries and cream.

Wednesday is when the pressure is on to get the Shabbos cooking started. It's hard to believe that, in the middle of that, they want supper on Wednesday and Thursday night, too!

The summer teaching job I took means that I get home with Andy and Little Rag at a little after 1 p.m. and have more limited time to contemplate supper, including buying what's needed (hopefully not, if I've prepared well and/or can get by on what's already in the house), preparing it, making lunch for the next day, etc. I'd say that the time frame is sufficient for getting it done, but that it is definitely an adjustment in terms of the time I previously needed to get the same things done.

Life is about to change around here. In the fall, Ann will be in school from 8:15 to 3:45. The current closest bus stop is a ten-minute walk for me, walking fast. We'll see how Ann handles it, along with me shlepping the little boys along at around 7:30 in the morning or so. In the cold, or the heat, or the rain, or the icy slush puddles that linger. Or we could just drive there, taking around 15 minutes each way. Yikes! She's just turning five on Shabbos! Are we ready for this?!

The days of her going to gan that starts at 9 just a few blocks away are about to be a distant memory. Which means we'll all have to be awake and productive at a far more earlier hour.

Combine that with the fact that we have less than 4 weeks until we go away, and I'm going to get an earful from RaggedyDad's family if he doesn't drop a few pounds before then. The trouble is, he's only got about 10 lbs. to shed, but his face gets round right away. So he looks like he's got more than that to lose. I'm the opposite - even if I'm at the end of a pregnancy, my face pretty much looks the same.

Mothers who work outside the home a full day - I have no idea how you have time to do what you have to do! Mothers with more than 3 kids, and multiple homeworks/school meetings/etc. - ditto! We seem to be on the precipice of some intense Raggedy times.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Counting Sheep

The Raggedy kids are known to be poor sleepers but good eaters. It seems you can't have both.

Ann was a baby who simply did not like to sleep. For a while, it seemed like she never slept at all. There were novels that I started and finished in one long night while I stayed awake nursing her and taking care of her.

For the first two years of her life, I taught on Sundays and also two afternoons a week (big thanks again go to my mother who rearranged her part-time schedule around mine) RaggedyDad's hours back then were better and he wasn't in school. And baby Ann did not sleep.

Before becoming RaggedyMom, I didn't have much experience with babies or children, so I thought this was a cruel joke no one had told me about. We were the first ones in our neighborhood chevrah with a baby. Some of them were expecting soon, and I wondered, "Should I tell them how insane this is?"

During Ann's babyhood, there was a period of time when RaggedyDad would come home at around 8 p.m. and we'd do a 10-minute version of "hi-how-was-your-day?" and then I'd go to sleep. My shift of sleep was 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. and RaggedyDad would sleep from 1 a.m. to 6 a.m. Then it was time to be awake and start a new day all over again. If either of us got the baby to sleep during our 'awake shift', that was a bonus. Life continued this way for a while. As difficult and cranky a newborn Ann was, she turned out to be extremely sweet and good-natured.

Andy was the only baby to take a pacifier. He slept a lot better than Ann did, and all those extra hours of sleep helped him prepare for his current role as the lively, hungry two-and-a-half-year-old creature he has become. Part Curious George, part Animal from the Muppets, Andy adds a lot of, um, fun to our lives.

Little Rag is his own unique brand of Raggedy. But his sleep habits definitely fall along the lines of another Ann. He thinks that the big kids are cute to look in on when they're sleeping and he enjoys having another supper time with RaggedyDad. He's very close to being a year old (!) and sleeps more poorly than some 2 month olds I know of. Sigh.

We still check on the big kids several times a night. Watching them sleeping is one of the few quiet enjoyments out there. Ann's gangly arms and legs inevitably sprout their way out of the covers. Andy's pajamas twist, or he is halfway off of his little toddler bed. As for Little Rag, when he's actually asleep, he is firmly in tush-in-the-air territory.

I do try to tell them how much they'll want to sleep when they get to be teenagers. But for now, they don't quite seem to believe me.

Monday, July 21, 2008

What I Did On My Summer Vacation

I've missed blogging. I really have. There were so many false starts in my mind, so many things I wanted to say, that just sort of fizzled as they were consumed by the great time sucking forces that invaded for good.

For the past three weeks, Ann, who is turning 5 on Shabbos, and Andy, who is turning 3 in October, have been going to day camp. They're going for the first 'half' of the summer, after which they'll be home for three weeks, and then we'll be away for two weeks visiting RaggedyDad's family.

In my fuzzy, early childhood memories, Hachofesh Hagadol was spent taking the bus from Givatayim to the beach in Tel Aviv, or tagging along as my brothers waged war against the ants in the yard of our apartment building, looking at picture books, and yes, being bored sometimes. I'm attempting to recreate that sense of vast downtime for my kids for the remainder of the summer.

In my imaginary universe, I have a little backyard with a little spot for a plastic pool and some grass. In reality, New York summers are oppressively muggy and hot after 10 a.m., the streets reek of garbage juice, and we live in an upstairs apartment with no balcony or yard space. Hence, camp.

I'm glad that they have been enjoying seeing one another at camp. I'm glad that Andy seems to be doing fine for his four daily hours without me. I'm glad that Ann is, as always, unfazed when she recognizes practically no other kids ("Guess what, Mommy?! Even more kids to be friends with!!")

In the meantime, I've dusted off my grad school textbooks (Okay, it wasn't that long ago. Not that much dust) and I have been teaching reading one-on-one for ten hours a week while my mother watches Little Rag. Whew!

Add that to the usual array of laundry, my quest to serve less processed food to the family (we are really into soups lately), a nearly-one-year-old who still sleeps like a newborn, RaggedyDad bogged down with work and school, extended family drama (for a change), and getting ready for The Trip, and you have a rather raggedy mom.

But I am trying to start writing here again to clear my head and reconnect with my blogging friends. I have been reading (and sometimes commenting) over at most of your places. Thanks for coming back.

Monday, April 07, 2008

No Right to Complain

Making Pesach is difficult. I know this, yet I do not speak from experience. You see, RaggedyDad and I are lucky enough to spend Pesach with my parents, and we simply close up our chametz-sold apartment for the week. They live about a ten-minute car ride from here, so it doesn't get much more convenient.

This will be our seventh Pesach since we're married, and it will be the seventh time that we've packed up and moved in with my folks. That's right, I have 3 kids, and I have yet to make Pesach. I'm ready for the jeers, the stones you want to throw at me, and the nasty looks. I know, I know, I'm a big baby and a spoiled brat for getting off so easy.

Around this time of year, I feel like I just want to hide for the few weeks before Pesach as other friends and family members kick it into high gear with their cleaning and Pesach preparations. During Pesach itself, we aren't around, and then there's a week or so after we return and everyone's getting their lives and homes back to normal.

Some of the remarks I hear are stated bluntly, and some are more veiled. But the subtext is clear, and it is a tense time for me and relationships with people whose resentment is palpable. "I'M SORRY!" I almost want to shout. I really am. I wish I could just make the work disappear, and give everyone the chance to focus on Simchat Yom Tov and not just on the labor-intensive, nitty gritty of Pesach preparation.

Granted, the things I will be dealing with greatly pale by comparison. Among them, packing up the five of us for the week, cramming us and our stuff into the 1 1/2 rooms we'll be alotted in a totally un-child-proof environment, wanting to help but being incessantly in the way, keeping everyone quiet and well-behaved in a home that's not ours, the stairs that I am unaccustomed to at this point, repacking, the laundry-thon at home, disrupted daily schedules that may or may not ever get back to normal, and of course, everyone, um, hating me.

I know that those things are really minor in comparison, and believe me, I do not complain to the Pesach-makers. I don't dare. There's not much to talk about during these couple of weeks, when we ask each other what's doing, and the discrepancies between what we're each busy with are so pronounced. I tend to sort of avoid people because I can hear their internal dialogue regarding my combination of luck and chutzpah, and I'm sure of it because of the occasional comments that slip out, intentional or not.

While I haven't yet paid my Pesach dues, my husband certainly has. His family lives overseas and is totally assimilated, so obviously, Yom Tov with the in-laws is not a consideration, nor is having their help in any way at other times, but right now, understandably, what everyone's thinking of is Pesach. Before we were married, he spent several years working hard at Pesach hotels for the week of Yom Tov. He doesn't quite understand the social tension this time of year. But I assure him that it is a real issue, and one that only gets more pronounced as we find ourselves outgrowing the newly-married-young-couple category. Most of our friends have made at least some portion of Pesach themselves.

I did suggest to my mom that we come back to our own apartment after the sedarim this year while I went over the list of what my mother would like me to buy for Yom Tov in my neighborhood where some stores carry certain items at better prices. At this point, Sukkos and Pesach are just about the only times we go to them.

Us never having made Pesach, and not having a Sukkah (or a place to construct one) also precludes my brother and sister-in-law from inviting my parents to their house for these two holidays, and believe me, I hear about it on that end too. We cause trouble in lots of ways. "But where would the Raggedys be for Yom Tov?" More guilt. More cringing. More shame. For this Pesach, my mother assured me that they do really want us to come, so I'm trying to shirk off the extreme discomfort I feel.

I think that it comes down to this. Everyone has their challenges, and their breaks in life. Some people really do seem to have it harder due to different circumstances. The various arenas - physical, emotional, financial, and in terms of the different kinds help people do or don't get from their spouses/parents/in-laws/children, etc. differ for us all in terms of what we have to deal with or where we 'get off easy'. It is impossible to know what another person's "pekaleh" really consists of, because even if you truly knew, you wouldn't know it from their perspective. Making Pesach is one of those challenges that is more public and more obvious. Which is why, since I'm not doing it, I'll be keeping a low profile between now and May.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Two Pesach Recipes

Even though I'm not making Pesach, I still have Pesach-compatible recipes to share.

The first is for what's called Lacy Potato Kugel, and it comes from the original Kosher Palette cookbook, which has since spawned many babies. I credit my good friend Shoshana with turning me on to this recipe that I otherwise probably never would have tried. I make it year-round, and we like it a lot.

Lacy Potato Kugel (Kosher Palette, page 262)

6 large potatoes, peeled
2 onions (1 medium, 1 large)
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
5 Tbsp. oil
2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup potato starch
1 cup boiling water
1/4 cup oil

Preheat oven to 500 degrees F.

Grate potatoes and onions, [I drain the grated potato mixture in a collander] and place together in a large bowl.

Stir in eggs, 5 Tbsp. oil, salt, and pepper. Sprinkle starch on top.

Pour boiling water over starch, and stir thoroughly.

Pour 1/4 cup oil into 9x13 inch baking pan, and place in oven for 1 minute or until hot (Do not burn).

Carefully pour potato mixture into pan.

Bake 20 minutes at 500 degrees, reduce heat to 400 degrees, and bake 40 minutes or until deep golden brown.

The next recipe is one that I've made for the same friend. She can't eat gluten, so this is an easy cake to make when she's at a meal.


Yield: 9 Servings

Source: Torah Prep High School for Girls Pesach booklet.

3 Eggs

1 c Sugar

1/2 c Oil

2 tb Cocoa

1/2 c Potato starch

1 c Nuts, chopped

Beat eggs and sugar until light and fluffy. Gradually add oil. Then add rest of ingredients. Bake at 350 degrees F. for half an hour in a 9-inch square pan.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Babula's Russian Borscht (Meatless Version)


1 small cabbage
2 medium-sized beets
3 carrots
1 can white beans
1 can tomato paste (small cans)
1 onion, diced
1 potato, peeled and diced
2 beef flavor soup cubes
Sour cream if desired


Well in advance, and wearing clothes you hate, scrub and boil beets (skin on) until soft, approx 2-3 hours (!). Peel and shred beets, shred carrots, and shred cabbage (use a food processor if you have one for all of this shredding)

Heat a small amount of oil in a heavy soup pot. Sautee together the carrots, diced onion, and diced potato, until soft.

Add approximately 3 liters of water, bring to a boil. Add soup cubes and can of beans, allow to boil again.

Add 1/2 can of tomato paste, mix well, bring back to a boil

Add cabbage, boil until cabbage feels soft

Add paprika, black pepper, and salt to taste.

Add beets, allow to boil about 5 more minutes.

Taste borscht and adjust seasonings as desired.

Serve hot, top with sour cream.

Tastes even better after a couple of days.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Globbing for Tzedakah

Making friends as an adult can be really difficult. About a year ago, I met someone who it seems like I've been friends with since I was a kid. She's dangerously funny, and our birthdays are 4 days apart. And we share snacks. Those sound like all of the guidelines I used for friendship circa third grade.

She's running a tzedakah project that she describes very clearly on her own glob, so if you haven't yet read about it, you ought to read it in her own words.

For my part, I wanted to get a little poetic and write two successive haiku that incorporate the letters G-L-O-B. I had to take my liberties a bit because haiku is traditionally done in 3 lines, with a 5-7-5 syllable sequence.
My apologies to my poetic friend E, and also to Princess D.


Goal of one hundred
Little fragments form the whole
Offered Bountifully

Giving it away
Lets us hold on to ourselves
Only a Bit more

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Music and Lyrics

My parents were born three days shy of five years apart from one another. They both celebrated birthdays this past week. That's right - I was raised by two Aquariuses, and somehow survived.

Now five years is not an unheard of gap , but because of my parents' upbringings, they are essentially from two different generations. The primary musical influences on my father in Israel were Elvis and doo-wop artists, whereas my mother's vast record collection spanned the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Jefferson Airplane, and mournful Laura Nyro. It was my father's music that we rolled our eyes to, and my mother's that we idolized.

As the youngest of three kids, I listened almost exclusively to the music everyone else at home was listening to. The first cassette I ever saved up for and bought (I bet you remember yours too) was The Zombies Greatest Hits, because I wanted to have my own copy of Time of the Season. I was eleven, and it was 1990. Needless to say, most of my friends at school didn't relate to this side of me AT ALL.

My oldest brother is seven years older than I am, and was able to drive me to the uncool places I liked to go (like the library on Friday afternoon) while my non-driving mother could not. But there was a caveat. I had to sing the opening lyrics to Led Zeppelin's Immigrant Song, or some equally embarrassing selection of his, before he would turn on the ignition. I was probably around 9, but I could "Aaaaaaahhhhh ahh!" with the best of them.

Those music-linked memories are now becoming those of my own kids. My mother singing Joni Mitchell while she dusted. My now-Breslov brother practicing the same Pink Floyd riff until I burst in yelling, "I THINK you GOT it!" Trying hard, as the youngest, to learn to sing along correctly and keep up on car trips.

When I vacuum, the lyrics to Dylan's Like a Rolling Stone tend to come to mind - "He's not selling any alibis . . As you stare into the vacuum of his eyes" - How many songs can you think of that have the word "vacuum" in them?

[I remember how strange it was back then was when other kids my age, as late teens, 'discovered' classic rock and got into it. All of a sudden, what I'd been pumped with my entire life was considered cool, and all the years of wondering what exactly they loved so much about Debbie Gibson seemed to dissolve into memory.]

I preface with all of this background because what I'm thinking about lately is what my kids are listening to. As the bigger ones get, well, bigger, they become undoubtedly more aware of everything. Conversations I have with RaggedyDad are interjected with Ann's (and sometimes even Andy's!) opinions. And I realize that the music I listen to has to be considered too. I still remember being six years old, hearing about a Madonna song called Like a Virgin and asking my mother, "What does THAT mean?" I think she somehow managed to change the subject.

To be clear, I'm not listening to music with awful, overly suggestive, or violent lyrics, and I don't ascribe to the school of thought that a "rock" sound has something inherently wrong or unholy about it. But there are moments where it's quiet in the car besides the song, and Ann will ask me, "What does THAT mean?" and I second-guess myself.

I struggle with this partly because kiddie music (and we have plenty of it) can get really annoying, and also because I grew up in a household with a continual non-kiddie soundtrack and I don't feel it had a negative influence on me aside from a lot of brain space devoted to a lot of lyrics. For now, I'll continue to listen to the same music I've been into by default since I was a kid, but I can see that as my children get older, things will continue to evolve in this department.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Zen and the Art of Mother-in-Law Maintenance

I've been away for a while. And by away, I don't mean on a sunny island. I mean away in the recesses of my mind, and in the depths of my apartment. I'm briefly coming up for air, but it may be some time before I'm around again on a regular basis.

RaggedyDad's mother is staying with us. For three weeks. She hasn't seen me or the kids in a year and a half. Last summer, I wasn't able to travel, so RaggedyDad went to visit his family alone for a week. She hadn't met baby Little Rag yet, and remembered big buster Andy as not much older than Little Rag is now.

What's been interesting is that people's reaction when I tell them about this visit are very much colored by where they are coming from. It ranges from "I can't believe that you are dealing with that!" to "Of course, where else would she stay? That's what families do."

I sense that my parents, in their own way, feel sorry for what they perceive as a significant imposition on us. While not tycoons themselves, they have the means not to have to stay in my brother's apartment in Jerusalem when visiting him, his wife, and their now 6 kids under 8 years old (Mazel tov!)

But all families differ. In MIL's case, we are the ones who undertake a great deal of help, though it doesn't really come easy to us. Admittedly, it was a bit of an adjustment for me, as I'm not accustomed this approach from growing up, and had the fortune of having parents who, if needed, could help their children. But I'd have been a fool to have let modest means stand in the way of marrying RaggedyDad.

The language and culture barrier are an issue with MIL, and without them, we'd likely get along even better than we already do. She's an intelligent, fun-loving, adventurous person. And helpful, and nice, and well-intentioned.

In that typical European way, though, she tends to be very direct and straightforward about a lot of things. Like asking me how many children I plan to have, and when exactly I plan on having the next one. Or letting me know that the sweater I'm wearing looks very nice, but would cease to, if I were to gain any weight. Or stating that people in the town where she lives are very adamant about order and cleanliness, and if they saw our place, it would not fit their standards.

Whew, I'm realizing that venting is GOOD!

The odd part is, those above statements sound a lot worse than they are intended. They are liberally sprinkled with self-deprecation and, though it doesn't always take the sting out, stated utterly non-judgmentally, but merely as facts. If you know any Europeans, that's just how they are. (Israelis do this too, though in somewhat of a different manner). They'll tell you that one of your kids is not as cute another one. They'll tell you that they don't care for the coffee you just served them. They tell it like it is, and then come back and say that we Americans are not known for our manners!

I'm coming to some understandings in the midst of all of this. No, this is not my favorite time, but it is very infrequent. Yes, sharing one small bathroom is a challenge, and someone will always be in it. Yes, I'm buying enough bread to feed the Russian army and then finding that amazingly, it is all gone 3 days later. I am talking loaves and loaves here. And meat. And cheese. And herring, which the kids have now learned to like to eat at breakfast time, but there are worse things.

Okay, venting is REALLY good.

The truth is that I have a whole lot to be extremely grateful to MIL for. Because not only did she raise the most kind, unassuming, helpful, and friendly husband I could have hoped for, she also made tremendous sacrifices for him and his sister.

She left the Soviet Union as a widow with two children under dangerous circumstances, and thereby left behind her extended family/entire support system, relative financial security, and the hopes of ever feeling comfortable anywhere else to a native-like degree. She endured tremendous hardship that could fill a book, and took it very much in stride. Although far-removed from religion, she was supportive and encouraging when my husband became interested in exploring his faith at age 15, and eventually moved to America, only to meet . . . me.

I'm taking things one day at a time, and having a few deep-breath moments. And all in all, I'm trying to see things from a perspective of appreciation, and inject a little bit of . . zen.

Saturday, January 05, 2008


Fudge tried explaining where the bus depot was located. In typical Queens baffle-osity, there were two sets of numbers that were nowhere near each other in sequence.

"Does this sound right?" Fudge inquired. "It's in the 120's and the 20's in College Point."

I called upon my mental map skills "Hmmmm, yep. I used to teach in that school district, and the district office is around there. I'd probably exit the Van Wyck at Linden Place."

"Linden Place! That's right! That's what Google Maps (or was it YouTube?) told me to do! My grandmother said it's not such a great area."

"That depends on what you mean by 'not such a great area'. Is it dangerous? No. Is it industrial, deserted at times, and a little creepy? Maybe. Especially compared to the 170's. Let's DO IT!"

Poor Fudge was more mortified than anything at this point. No doubt she'd not been expecting this setback. The loss of her belongings. The perilous notion that her stuff may be gone forever. Hope that it was all out there, somewhere. Helplessness to retrieve her things independently.

Now back to me. Growing up, my mother didn't drive, and my father worked long hours six days a week. Going somewhere by car was almost always impossible unless it was a ride with a friend, or occasionally, a cab. Parent-teacher conferences didn't leave me panicked about what my mother would hear about my performance at school. They left me panicked about finding a classmate's parents to give my mother a ride. Synchronizing those time slots can be tricky!

In other words, I tend to be sensitive to the plight of the car-less, or temporarily car-less.

There are many things that can be done so simply and quickly with a car. Nowadays, my parents live a ten-minute car ride away from me. They live near shopping and major bus routes. Walking distance is simply not a convenience for my mother, it is a must. And yet, when I try to give her rides or pick her up, she often doesn't want to "inconvenience me" or "take me out of my way". She doesn't always realize that in a car, nothing is that big a deal.

Back to the Infiltration. The distances in question were quite small. Fudge is great company. I was curious to see how this would all play out. City agencies can be mindnumbingly inefficient and annoying. Plus, it was time for a minor diaper restocking, which would be practically around the corner from the bus depot. In short, it couldn't have been simpler or more logical for us to help set this thing in motion.

RaggedyDad was driving, which meant I would have to ride shotgun in order to quickly translate all of the street signs from Russian to English. We loaded up the kids in the RaggedyMobile, and hit the road. I started singing "On the Road Again" as I am wont to do when we set out somewhere.

Fudge was waiting on the micro-porch (I love the houses in Queens!) with a handicapped red suitcase. We loaded it into the trunk, and Fugde hopped into the back of the van. Regrettably, Everyone's Favorite Grandma was unavailable for comment at this point. Embarassingly, I came thisclose to trying to buckle Fudge in. Car seat-fastening habits die hard.

RaggedyDad had a quick detour in mind. "This is not far from Dunkin Donuts."

RaggedyMom: "Nyet!"

RaggedyDad: "Da!"

RaggedyMom: "Nyet!"

RaggedyDad: "Da!"

RaggedyMom: "Chorosho . . . Hey Fudge, do you want caw-fee?"

Fudge: "What?"

RaggedyMom: "Sorry, let me translate. Do you want cah-fee?"

Fudge: "Oh! No, thanks."

We made a brief stop for RaggedyDad to infiltrate the drive-through Dunkin' Donuts and get himself some coffee, and turned that car around. We were ready. I clapped a few times to help charge the atmosphere . . . also just because I like to clap.

Before you could say "Great Gatsby Skyline of Manhattan view from the Long Island Expressway" we were there! Straight through the Valley of Ashes itself. There were even signs pointing out where the depot was located!

After a brief interrogation by a rookie security officer, Fudge and I were given hi-tech paper clip-on identification badges. (If only we hadn't had to return those at the end!)Spelling our odd names for the security officer was almost comical. But I had no intention of Fudge dealing with what could be simple or Not, so we spelled away. I've been to these kinds of offices before, and I wanted Fudge to have a combination of New Yorker, Israeli, and redhead by her side. Let's just say that if someone tells me "No" all I hear is "Try harder!" In the spirit of my grandfather, of blessed memory, I was ready to turn over some tables if necessary, to be, well, understood.

We made it into the building and a kindly bus-driver type directed us to the lost and found: "Yeah, yous guys go straight up there, I ain't sure if anyone's at the desk, but somebody oughtta know."

After leaving the elevator, were treated to a view of no less than 500 million New York City buses lined up in a vast parking lot. Within a couple of "what now" moments, a sweet woman walked towards us, and Fudge and I looked at one another. We were both thinking the same thing: Is something jangling in that woman's hand?

And then, "My phone! My keys! My ID! Thank you!" (You've got to love those out-of-town manners!) For my part, I wanted to hug the cheery, plump bus depot lady. In that moment, Fudge's New York years were stamped with a permanent silver lining.

In the brief blur of exuberance that followed, we got back in the van, and Fudge was no doubt buoyant, relieved.

Afterward, we made a quick run into a Van Wyck Service Road Toys R Us for diapers, which Fudge realized she had been to way back when. Her distract-the-kids-from-toys-we're-not-buying skills proved invaluable, clearly sharpened by years of this kind of guerrila training.

Too quickly, it was time to laugh, reminisce, and shed a few happy tears. Fudge was ready for the subway. We had made it into the core of the New York City Waco Bus Compound, and had made it out alive! The last adventure of 2007 was a glorious success!

Fudge can wrap this up, and maybe we'll get some input from the midwestern contingent . . .

Thursday, January 03, 2008

The War at Home

See Part One

And Part Two

Most of the time, the daily routines of young motherhood are fairly repetitive. There are sippy cups to fill, diapers to change, meals to cook and clean up after, squabbles to dissolve. Now and again, things happen to shake it up. The family's Papa has finals at night school. The Mommy takes a side job tutoring. Something major breaks, or gets lost. Things are worried over, and after deliberation and action, things get back to normal.

I tend to get excited by things related to Queens. When RaggedyDad refers to The Midtown Tunnel, I automatically jump in, "That's the QUEENS-Midtown Tunnel!" When you grow up in one of the outer boroughs, so much of the action is in Manhattan, and so much time and effort expended to get to "where it's at". Rarely is Queens "where it's at" unless what you're interested in is the Mets, the Unisphere, or confusing sequencing of avenues and roads.

So when I heard that there was a local situation (finally, Facebook is useful for more than finding out what my old camp friends do for a living, or having virtual pancakes thrown at my head), I felt energized, hyped even. A friend. A lost phone and set of keys. A beaurocratic situation. Isolation. Transportation issues. Espionage. Treason. And it was all IN QUEENS!


Never mind that if I lost my cell phone (I actually did recently, and it was kind of liberating) my first instinct would be to feel relieved that nobody could bother me for a little while, and to go take a nap. Not everyone shares my misanthropic bent. Young Fudge was distraught. She was marooned. She was staying about 10 minutes from here. Plus, in some convoluted way, we are marginally possibly related.

Fudge was concerned that potential helpers would be deterred by their desire to for a "New Year's sleep-in" but, in fact, the young Raggedy children pay no mind to things like weekends and vacation days, and, like most small children, are very much awake at a very early hour. Particularly Little Rag, who doesn't really bother to do that much sleeping during the night altogether.

Phone calls were made, plans were discussed, and all parties went to bed with a tentative hope for a quick resolution.