Monday, December 31, 2007

Somehow Sylvester just doesn't cut it

Sylvester. That's what they call New Year's Eve here in Israel. I haven't the faintest idea why, and I'm not sure anyone else does either. I guess "New Year's Eve" was already taken by the Jewish New Year's Eve (Erev Rosh Hashanah) and something other than the distant runner up "the secular New Year's Eve" - blech - needed to be chosen. So Sylvester it is.

Just because they gave it a name though doesn't mean that they made it a holiday. New Year's Day is just another work day here, and having to get up early for school and work the following morning takes more than a bit of the fun out of celebrating. I mean really, who wants to go out carousing until 2am, only to have to be up at 7 to get the kids out on time? We've occasionally marked the evening with a low-key gathering of friends, but just as often we've stayed home and done nothing. In truth, I don't miss going out on New Year's Eve itself all that much. I'm getting a bit too old for all the carousing and raucous parties, and too concerned about drunk drivers (admittedly less of a concern in a country where few drink to excess and even fewer celebrate but still, it only takes one...), not to mention too aware of the utter impossibility of getting a babysitter on New Year's Eve.

What I do miss though is the sleeping in the next morning, then spending the day lounging around the house watching parades (or football, depending on your personal proclivities - I'm a parade girl myself). There's nothing like that relaxed morning after kind of day. The Rose Parade (oh how I'd love to see that someday), the Orange Parade (I actually did see that one in person once), all those wonderful floats... I haven't seen a New Year's parade in nearly 20 years. (My god, when did I get old enough to say something like that???).

I love living here, and I really love the fact that even at the end of December I'm likely to be outside on a sunny afternoon in nothing but a sweatshirt, but still, couldn't we have a proper New Year's too? I've had enough of Sylvester non-occasions. I want a parade.

So there.

Friday, December 28, 2007

What a difference a day makes

This past week has been extremely difficult with my four year old daughter. The situation finally all culminated this morning with a huge meltdown of my own during an adults-only meeting with her therapist this morning. I'm not proud of it, but I had been pushed beyond my limits. I'd been on the verge of (or in all honesty having) a major breakdown for several days, and finally lost it completely this morning. After days of moving from major crisis to major crisis I had been stretched to the breaking point. I felt like I was failing my daughter utterly and completely. I was angry with her for what she had been doing, and hated myself for that anger. I was ready to find out whether boarding schools took four year olds or if not whether Jewish atheists were welcome in convents, preferably those where the nuns take a vow of silence, just to be sure that one more person wouldn't dare say anything that even slightly hinted that this disaster was my fault. (I'm not sure anyone actually intended to, but I was a wee bit more sensitive than usual, you might say...)

We went from the therapist's office straight to pick up the children from their respective schools. When I went in to get Maya, her teacher told me she'd been more distant than usual (big surprise there) and had needed a lot more intervention to get her out of herself and involved with what the others were doing. Sigh. Expected, but up until this point she'd been holding it together reasonable well in preschool, so this was another punch to the gut. I hadn't gotten as far as the doorway when the school director cornered me to ask whether Maya had been having playdates with the other children. Sometimes, I answered. She then proceeded to tell me that that wasn't good enough and that I had to make this a priority. I somehow managed not to tell her to go f* herself and stated coolly that right now we were inundated with various therapy sessions and that playdates would have to remain something that we fit in when we can. Take that lady and be grateful I didn't shove your head through a plate glass window.

By the time we finished up at the greengrocers next door and get everyone bundled into the car I was in a fine state. Jay offered to take the kids to the store while I went home. Excellent. I could really have used a bit of space to collect myself. We pull up to the front door and Maya, who has barely strung two coherent words together in the last week says "I don't want to go to the store with Daddy, I want to go home with Mommy." Ok, if she's finally speaking again we need to encourage her. Home it is. Of course at that point her brother decides to join her but I decide to breathe deeply and accept the fact that I am now on my own again with the kids and hope for the best. (Yes, my week has been that bad.)

After a very long delay where I stood on the sidewalk holding 8 different bags while Maya went to go pick weeds flowers (what could I do, she asked so beautifully and lucidly), we finally made it upstairs - and proceeded to have literally the best day we have ever spent together.

I don't know what happened, what switch was flipped, but suddenly Maya was here again, and stayed right here and in the moment for HOURS. This has NEVER happened before. We played with her animals together and my heart swelled as she started incorporating all sorts of imaginative elements, we played playdough and she started making me pretend food, we read books, we had a snack. All the while stayed right here. We had two very minor and very limited echolalia incidents towards evening, but that was it. No screaming. No grunting. No pacing the room while reciting cartoons. No hysterical tantrums over nothing at all. We talked. I asked questions, and for the most part she answered. We played games that needed a high level of interaction, and she managed it. She stayed right there with me all damn day.

And the incredibly sweet icing on the cake? She got into her pajamas with no fussing, chose two new books for me to read her (incredible in and of itself, since she tends towards ritual repetition), listened me read them in their entirety, even commenting on some of the scenes, and then rolled over and closed her eyes. I kissed her goodnight, told her I loved her and how very very proud I was of her, and said I'd see her in the morning. And she let me go. And then quietly went to sleep, without me. Did you hear that? I didn't have to stay in there and play policeman for the next two hours.

I don't know what miracle/angel/fairy/sprite/fate/dumb luck/sheer chance came over her today, and I don't know if we'll see it again, but I have had this day, and for that I am grateful. So profoundly grateful. It gives me hope that one day we will have another one again, or if I dare to dream, even two.

Be grateful for the little things. They mean a great deal more than you may know.

I know this wasn't a typical Sunday Scribblings offering, but when I read the "now and then" prompt I realized that nothing would fit this prompt better for me than this "then and now" moment of my own.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

TT - Crazy January Holidays

With the end of the year rapidly approaching (and given the really crappy week I've had) I thought it was high time to begin looking forward, and what better to perk up a cold, dark, dreary January day than more holiday celebrations. I bet you didn't know about these:

January 1 First Foot Day and Z Day - Umm, what happened to plain old ordinary New Year's Day? First Foot Day? What if I want to put my second foot forward first? Is that allowed? And Z Day? Did all the other letters have their day already? Shoot, I must have missed them!

January 2 Run Up the Flagpole and See if Anybody Salutes It Day - Umm, would that be flags or bras being run up?

January 3 Festival of Sleep Day - Now that's my kind of festival!

January 4 Trivia Day and Humiliation Day - I manage to humiliate myself on lots of different days, this one seems a bit unnecessary

January 5 Bird Day - Big Bird? Stuffed capons? Wild turkey bourbon? Exactly what are we talking here?

January 6 Bean Day - remind me to stay upwind of that one!

January 7 Old Rock Day - aren't all rocks by definition old?

January 8 National JoyGerm Day and Man Watcher's Day - Huh?

January 9 Play God Day - Now this one sounds like fun!

January 10 Peculiar People Day - Again, not sure you really need a separate day for this one

January 11 National Step in a Puddle and Splash Your Friend Day - my kids do this all winter, I think it would take the fun out of it to have it actively encouraged on a particular day

January 12 Feast of Fabulous Wild Men Day - couldn't we just party with them instead of feasting on them?

January 13 Make Your Dream Come True Day and Blame Someone Else Day - these two do seem to go together well, don't they...

And that's just through January 13th! Who thinks this stuff up, anyway?

And if those unique days weren't enough for you, January is also:

National Careers in Cosmetology Month - seems straightforward enough
National Eye Health Care Month - ok, still reasonable
National Fiber Focus Month - getting a little squidgy here
National Hobby Month - could be fun
National Soup Month - now we're talking!
Hot Tea Month - I could live with that
Oatmeal Month - perfect for a cold winter's month
Prune Breakfast Month - Umm, I suppose this has to go hand in hand with the previous one?

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Gaia's Cry

Can you hear her?

A keening cry
from time out of mind

Wounded, bleeding
Poisins seeping

My children, what have you done?

I sheltered you
nourished you

Built your homes
Filled your bellies

My children, what have you become?


What once was good
and green
and growing

What walked
and swam
and flew

Look around you children

Polluted cities
Toxic rain
Forests destroyed
Waterways poisoned
Animals gone

Never to return

I ask you

Was it worth it?

The Writers Island prompt for this week is Earth. I started out trying to write a light, fluffy piece a la Douglass Adams about two beings from outter space discussing the mess that Earth had made of things, but this came instead.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Response to comments on my previous post

I originally posted this in the comments section of the previous post, but it was really too long for that so I'm making it into a new post. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, read here first.

Thank you all for your comments and your support, it means a lot.

We had an easier morning today, and everything always looks a bit better after a few hours of sleep. I think sleep, or rather lack thereof, is a key issue here. She doesn't sleep enough (not for lack of trying on our part), and then she's constantly overtired and at the outer limits of her coping skills. We're thinking maybe it's time to focus on that above all else for a little while and see if it helps. Not that we have a way to do that, but maybe L (her therapist) will have some ideas.

Maddy - I think (and her ST thinks, not sure about L, we see her tomorrow) that a lot of this is all the recent changes in our normal routine - grandparents here, Jay and I away (even though M had a blast it was still a change), grandparents leaving, Hannukah, etc. We're hoping that as things settle down again that so will she.

Jeques - you're a very kind soul. Thank you.

Margalit - I know you can understand this. Thank you too for the legal information. The specifics don't really apply since I'm not in the US, but if we do need to do some serious advocating I'll definitely pick your brain first.

Susie - I'm going to e-mail you (and thank you for the offer). I'd like to talk with you about whether we could/should incorporate some aspects of picture communication without compromising the progress she's making (and she is) in using her words. Maya CAN communicate very well and in long and complex sentences when she's present in the same plane as the rest of us. It's when she's not that's the trouble, and lately she's been "not" more often again. Sigh.

Anon and the others who talked about special ed programs, etc. - I appreciate your suggestions and it is something we've talked about with the Child Dev people (Hitpatchut HaYeled). None of the professionals seem to think it's warranted (at least for now) because she IS doing well in a regular private preschool setting. She actively participates, answers questions, interacts well and appropriately with staff and children, etc. Her real difficulties are in things like free play, where she prefers to be off in her own world much of the time and discourages interaction. Some of that is just who Maya is, but she still needs encouragement to interact more and at an age-appropriate level. I'm very concerned about the move from a small well-staffed private preschool class to a huge public kindergarten. If we, together with the professionals, feel that it is necessary we will fight to get her into either a communications gan or put her into the Democratic School (child-led learning) if need be. It's all about whatever is best for Maya, and right now we just don't know where she will be emotionally, developmentally, etc. in September. Cognitive tests (and our own observations) show that intellectually she's advanced for her age, and while I'm afraid of throwing her into a social situation that is beyond her, I'm also concerned about holding her back intellectually, that that could make her frustrated and bored in school and thus less engaged.

Her actual Hebrew language skills (English was never a problem) have improved significantly. She is talking a LOT more and using much more advanced sentence structure in Hebrew now, and her ST is really pleased with her progress there. We still have a long way to go with expressive language though - actually using her words - and in bilateral communication, particularly in times of stress.

Again, thank you all for your kind words. They help. A lot.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Feeling pretty down

Today was a very rough day with Maya. She was doing well for a while, seemed to be making real progress with her therapies, but the past few weeks have seen a fair amount of regression.

The echolalia and pacing have increased again, as have the frequency and intensity of the meltdowns, both the predictable ones and the where the f*ck did that come from ones.

I feel worn out. I feel like I'm failing my daughter. I'm trying so hard, but I'm just not able to reach her right now, not able to be the parent that she needs, whatever the f*ck that is. I'm so tired, and so frustrated, and completely out of patience. It's getting harder to see the small steps forward among the bigger ones backwards.

Jay and I have a meeting scheduled with Maya's therapist Wednesday morning. Right now I'm feeling like she's not making the progress I'd expect, or at least that I'm hoping for, but maybe she'll have some insights into all of this.

I just want to be able to ask my daughter a simple question like "are you hungry?" and be sure that I'm not going to get an earful of Dora in return. Or worse, ignored completely. I'm just worn out from all the cajoling I have to do lately to get her to engage in any kind of meaningful communication. How in god's name am I supposed to send her off to public kindergarten next year, in a shark's pool of 35 children, one teacher, and one aide? Her peers are getting more socially sophisticated with each passing month while she gets left behind. How on earth will she find her place?

Her teachers say she's doing really well in school, participating beautifully, that you'd hardly realize there was an issue. I guess she saves up all the shit for when she's at home. Every time I allow myself to even consider having a third child we have a week, or a month, like this and I realize that I must be insane. I'm barely coping as it is. I'd have to be crazy to think that I could add another child to this mix.

She is so intelligent, and can be so charming, and funny, and clever, and just all around wonderful, and then we have days like today, where just getting her to agree to get dressed nearly sparks World War III.

I'm just so damn tired.

I love her with all my heart and soul, but it's just so damn hard sometimes.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Getting my groove back

A few months ago I was keeping off the weight I'd managed to lose and working to lose some more, faithfully getting to the gym three times a week, and starting to make better food choices. I was feeling reasonably good about myself.

Somewhere along the way, between the tail end of summer vacation (kids at home), illnesses, parental visits, holidays abroad (Italy is beyond wonderful, but it's not exactly a diet-friendly destination, even with all the walking we did we managed to eat even more), looming work deadlines, more illnesses, and a severe case of general "I can't get up off my lazy ass" malaise things sort of went to hell in a bucket and I am no longer enjoying the ride (bonus points for anyone who gets the song reference here).

I gained back half of the weight I'd lost, stopped going to the gym, and feel utterly disgusted with myself. Not to mention I look like crap.

All that ends now.

In just a few short minutes I am headed back to the gym. I'll ease into it so as not to end up so sore that I'm then back out of commission, but I'm going back. Today. On Wednesday I have a general "recon" meeting set up with one of the senior trainers to take the dreaded measurements, discuss what crap shape I'm in, etc., and on Thursday I meet with my trainer to develop a new exercise program. It's time to get the lead out.

I can't promise I'll faithfully stick to a diet. As a foodie with awful self-discipline I find that incredibly hard, but I will do my damnedest to start making significantly better choices. If not all the time then at least more of the time.

It's time to get serious again. Who's with me?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

TT - Favorite Pizza Toppings

In honor of my husband's never-ending quest for the perfect homemade pizza (culminating in the frying of my still fairly new oven this evening - he was sealing a new pizza stone, don't ask...), here are 13 great pizza toppings:

(Those of you who are kosher should probably look away now.)

1. Mushrooms

2. Onions

3. Pepperoni

4. Ham

5. Sausage (sadly completely unavailable in Israel, but I made up for that in Italy last month)

6. Olives (an Israeli favorite)

7. Corn (my son's favorite, I can take it or leave it)

8. Garlic

9. Ricotta cheese

10. Pesto and ricotta, hold the tomato sauce, a/k/a "green" pizza

11. Rocket (arugula)

12. Slivers of fresh Parmesan cheese

13. Marshmallows (no not really, I was just out of toppings and wanted to see if you were still reading)

What you did NOT find on the list were tomato slices, because I hate them, and pineapples. I grew up in NY after all, and no self-respecting NYer can condone pineapples on pizza. Corn and olives is quite enough of a stretch thankyouverymuch.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Tis the Season...

...for a really miserable cold/virus/something (please oh please don't let this turn into a full-blown flu). My head feels like it's got an iron vise squeezing the life out of it, so much so that it's literally forcing my eyes closed. What's left of the rest of my head is stuffed, my throat hurts, and every muscle in my body aches. Any joy I might have taken in this holiday season (and any cards I'd planned to send to celebrating friends) has gone into the bin with that last empty box of tissues. I've drunk enough tea to float a battleship, taken near-toxic amounts of Vitamin C, and swallowed pills by the handful, all to no avail. My nose looks like Rudolph's and my head... Let's just say that my head feels like it must have overdosed on Santa's special eggnog...

Sorry folks, I got nothing this week. I feel like the proverbial crap on a cracker. Hope you're all feeling and functioning better than I am in this holiday season.

Visit Writers Island to see what healthy people are saying about the season. I'm sure it will be more interesting than the drivel you've just read here.

Monday, December 17, 2007

It's Not Christmas...

The topic for Scribbit's December Write-Away contest is "My Favorite Day". I'm guessing that this time of year will have a lot of people thinking of Christmas as their favorite day. Christmas, or perhaps the day their children were born, that's always another popular choice (and rightfully so, though not mine because I couldn't possibly pick one over the other - and besides, if you know me you'll know that my birth stories are not exactly serene, but that's a story for another day...) Wedding anniversaries are always a hit too.

I've been kicking this subject around in my head for a while now and it just wasn't coming together for me. I thought about choosing Israeli Independence Day (May 18th this year), a favorite holiday of mine, especially joyful coming on the heels of the very somber Memorial Day and marking the unofficial start of the beach and barbecue season, or perhaps the first day of a long-awaited family visit, when everyone is so palpably delighted to be together that the air itself practically sings, or perhaps the spring Jacob's Ladder Festival, a highlight of each year, but none of those really felt like they could live up to the burden of being my very FAVORITE day. The day that overshadows all the others. That's an awfully big burden. If you choose one special day, what happens to all the rest? Wouldn't the following morning have to be an incredible let-down by definition? How do you keep going after The Very Best Day? Where do you find the magic?

I'm going to do something a bit different instead.

In keeping with my belief that it's not the events, it's the moments, I'm going to look for something in each new day to cherish. Something that makes that day different from any other one. It could be the joy I feel watching my children play together, or quiet time on the couch with my husband, or a sleepy "I love you Mommy". It could be a phone call from an old friend, or an e-mail from a new one. Maybe it will be a special dinner out, or a beautiful sunset, or my daughter's face as she flies higher and higher on the swing, ready to touch the sky. Yesterday it was the look of joy and relief on my son's face when he realized that I recognized and understood a struggle he was having and offered a graceful way out. This morning it was watching him dash into school without a care, ready to take the world by storm.

I can't wait to see what it will be this afternoon, or tomorrow, or next week. There are so many favorite days out there, just waiting to happen, and I will be right there to delight in the joy of each and every one.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

You never forget your first one

It's been nearly 30 years, but I still remember my first slow dance. We were at sleepaway camp, very young and very much in puppy love. His name was Freddy. I remember that we were exactly the same height. When we danced no one could easily put their head on the other one's shoulder so we danced cheek to cheek. To say danced is of course a gross overstatement, in actual fact we sort of stood still and gently swayed to the music, all the while sure that something this special had never happened to any other couple throughout the ages. Surely what we felt was more, was deeper, was stronger. How dare they say it was puppy love! We cared deeply about each other, the mere act of dancing together in public was a clear declaration of that, nevermind the magical first kiss we shared later that same night when we snuck down to the beach. It was a pure, innocent love, and we knew it was strong.

So strong in fact that it lasted a whole 2 weeks, and then my session at camp ended and I had to leave my true love behind. Sure we'd be together forever, ready to rush into each other's arms when we were reunited the next summer, I wrote him long, gushing letters the way only a preteen girl can, complete with smileys over the eyes and even S.W.A.K. - Sealed With A Kiss. Mere distance wouldn't stand in the face of true love.

Sadly, while distance may not have stood in the way of true love, teasing did. Freddy's friends had a field day with those letters, and his deep and undying love died an instantaneous and public death. By the following summer we couldn't even look each other in the eye.

I was sure I'd never love again and pined terribly for my lost dreams - for all of 2 days, until I met David. He won me over with his freckles and his funny Boston accent and showed me that kissing a boy with braces could be quite nice in fact. Best of all, when we danced - my head rested squarely on his shoulder. We fit together and all was right with my world. For the next few weeks anyway. Young love is nothing if not fickle...

Visit Sunday Scribblings to read more about The Dance.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Off for a night (and a day!)

At my darling wonderful generous fantastic amazing husband's prompting, I am leaving my family behind to go here for the night. Excited would not begin to cover it - I'm going to see all the performances I want without having to spend most of my time in the playroom (children under 6 must (and of course need) to be accompanied by an adult at all times), or on a tractor ride, or chasing M through the lobby, or cutting up anyone's food, or stuck in a hotel room for hours with my not sleeping kids missing all the music and wondering why we paid so much money for this when we're only seeing the inside of a hotel room... Yup, just me, a bunch of good friends, great music, and no guilt whatsoever. I'll be back by dinnertime tomorrow and a night and day to spend some serious time with their dad will be great for all three of them.

For those of you who have read this and know that the spring Jacob's Ladder Festival is one of my very favorite family activities and who are now confused, let me clarify and explain that a few storytelling sessions and screened movies aside, the winter festival is really not a great event for kids. It's quite pricey since there's no camping, so consequently there will be far fewer children there. Since it's wintertime there is no pool or lake to swim in, outdoor activities are limited, and indoor venues are not nearly as forgiving of normal kid noise as large outdoor stages. We'd decided to skip the winter festival this year altogether for all of these reasons, but then Jay heard that Colum Sands, one of my very favorite performers, was headlining and suggested I go on my own. I was quite sad at the thought of missing Colum, so believe me he didn't have to ask me twice! Come springtime we will happily return together to pitch our tent in the grass and enjoy this event that to me represents the best of what Israel has to offer.

I'm off to go pack. Catch you on the flip side.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Well that was unnecessarily stressful

Scroll down if you're looking for Thursday Thirteen. I just had a domestic crisis that I have to get out of my system right now.

I'm writing this at 1:30 in the morning. Why am I still up you ask? I'll tell you...

About 45 minutes ago I was about to head up to bed when I realized the laundry I had in the dryer should be done. I do occasionally leave it sitting in there, but this had a bunch of Jay's stuff in it and I knew he'd get cranky if I did (I suppose I have to thank him now) so off I went.

To my surprise, the dryer was still going. In fact, it was still early in the cycle. I opened the door and found that a few things were really hot while others were wet. After poking around a bit and opening and shutting the door a few times (as if that could possibly do something, yes, I am an idiot) I realized that it wasn't spinning. I closed the door again and turned the dryer back on. Still no spinning. Well crap, the dryer seems to be broken.

I started pulling out the clothes when I realized that my yellow tank top was now two-tone - black and yellow! Damned if the thing hadn't burned in there! It was boiling hot and had pretty serious scorch marks, some even going just about all the way through. Another few minutes and I'm sure the whole thing would have gone up in flames.

And let me tell you, I would have been seriously pissed off if I'd set fire to all of my underwear! (The go*glebots are going to have a field day with that one, aren't they?)

So I just spent the last half an hour hanging each individual item on the drying rack, remembering just why I don't do that for loads with 4 billion small items in them, and that's why I'm still awake at 1:39am (because of course I couldn't just go to bed, I had to race here and tell all of you first. Nevermind that I have to get up and get both kids out at the crack of dawn tomorrow.). And to top it all off the flippin' dryer is obviously kaput and I'll need to track down a repairman tomorrow. On the whole though, I think I dodged a pretty good bullet there. I shudder to think at what could have happened. Yikes...

TT - 13 things about cookies

Since there are millions of cookies baking around the world this time of year, here are 13 well and lesser known facts about cookies:

1. C is for Cookie debuted in 1971.

2. Chocolate chip cookies = love. Don't take my word for it, read the lyrics to the song.

3. They're always better raw.

4. Cookie-cutter cookies are like playdough for grownups

5. The Cookies were an all-girl R&B group in the 50's and 60's.

6. Who Took The Cookie From The Cookie Jar? has probably led more camp bus drivers to drink than any other song.

7. There seem to be a lot of lesson plans posted online that utilize cookies.

8. There are no calories in broken cookies - they've all leaked out.

9. Cookies given out as free samples have no calories either.

10. Cookies glommed at holiday parties because they're the easiest thing to eat while standing up definitely do have calories.

11. 7 Layer Cookies are the world's richest cookies, hands down.

12. A search for "cookie cookbooks" on Amazon turned up 473 different ones.

13. Even with all that, the very best ones are still chocolate chip cookies, fresh out of the oven.

* Image courtesy of Stock Food.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Even Better Onion Chopping Tip

I have had a breakthrough in my neverending quest for a way to cut onions without ending up in major pain with tears streaming down my face! I got an onion chopper for Hannukah, and you know what? It really DOES work!

You just quickly peel and half (or quarter if they're big) the onions (even I can manage that), stick them on the cutting grid, press down and voila - chopped onions. Because the chopped onion remains in the storage part of the chopper there is almost no odor either, and thus NO TEARS. It's even got measurement lines up to two cups so you know how much you've got without taking it out and fiddling with it.

The night we first tried it my husband and I were both cooking. I chopped up the onions then took what I needed. The rest stayed in the chopper until dh was ready. They were right out on the counter for nearly an hour and never bothered me at all. The chopper is a built bulky and you need a fair amount of force to close it, but those minor disadvantages pale in the face of tear-free onions.

I suppose those silly looking onion glasses (or even just swim goggles) would work too, but when you're done cutting you'd have to remove them and you'd have all the onion odor in the air, which seems like it would just postpone the crying.

(This is not a paid post, I just love this thing and wanted to share my find with everyone who posted on the last thread looking for solutions.)

Drop by Rocks In My Dryer for lots more great tips.

Onion image courtesy of StockFood. Onion chopper image from Amazon.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Is it the events, or is it the moments?

What makes up a life? Some view a life through its banner moments, those red letter days - birthdays, graduations, weddings, deaths. Through its achievements - degrees, career, promotions - or through its material trappings, its houses, cars, or clothes.

To me, those are just the things that make life itself possible, just the backdrop for the main stage. Nice to have, yes, but they aren't a measure of a life well-lived.

Life itself is lived in the moments between the events. It is the smell of a baby's head, or that milk-drunk look they get after you've gently nursed them to sleep. It is the way your young child carefully holds your hand when you're crossing the street, or perhaps the way they don't, making you run frantically after them. The pride on an older child's face when they bring home a successful spelling test, or learn how to tie their shoes.

It isn't the grand vacation you took or the museums you saw. It's remembering the dinner you went out for while you were there, the one where you sat next to a table of very tipsy older women from Kansas City who kept asking where you'd bought your shirt (just a few blocks away) and when you thought your luggage might arrive (I haven't a clue, if I did, I probably wouldn't have gone out to buy a clean shirt).

Life isn't the college degree that hangs on your wall (or lies stuffed in your drawer), it's the course you took on American Folk Song and Ballad, the one that stayed with you years after political philosophy or statistics ever did.

Life shouldn't be about the wedding ceremony, those 5 hours that took months to plan but flew by in mere moments. It should be about the marriage that came next. All the little idiosyncrasies you grow to learn, and then to love. Or not. And yes, the moment that turned you into a parent was a seminal one, but is that really a more defining moment than all the years of day to day parenting that came next?

Life is in the little things. It sounds so simple, and yet not. Somehow we still become too busy to notice that life is speeding by while we hurry to forward to the next red square on a calendar.

Life is not the events, it's the moments in between.

I'm going to try harder to remember that.

The Writers Island prompt for this week was The Moment.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Blog Bling

I'm stealing a few minutes away from work for a very long overdue passing on of some very lovely blog bling that's been sent my way. Thank you everyone, I'm really touched that you're all reading and enjoying my little blog.

From both Memarie and Grace over at Sandier Pastures - the Totally Fabulous award. I think both of you are totally fabulous too (and not just because you picked me either).

This one I'm passing along to Fairly Odd Mother and to Storeimy over at Mountain Mama, who are both the kind of mothers I aspire to be, and pretty damn fabulous themselves.

And the very sweet Nice Matters from Fourier Analyst. She had the loveliest things to say about me, too. I'm not sure they're true, but I'm glad that I at least look nice and together from the outside.

This one I'm giving to Josie over at Josie Two-Shoes. She's getting hit with everything life can throw at her, and is somehow managing to handle it with grace of spirit. I don't know how she does it, I'd be curled up on the floor in the fetal position by now. If there's anyone who epitimizes nice, it's Josie. She truly has a beautiful spirit.

From Grace again (either she really really loves me or else I'm really really slow at responding to these things. I'm thinking it's the latter.) - Colors of Friendship This is an award celebrating blogging friendship that knows no boundaries, color or distance.

I really like the idea behind this one because one of the things I treasure most about blogging is the way it brings people from disparate lives together. In that spirit I'm going to pass it along to three people who I very much like and admire and who I would never have gotten to know if it weren't for this wonderful cybercommunity that brings together people from every corner of the globe:

Kathy from A Girl Grows Up - how cool is it for a New Yorker living in Israel to have a friend from Australia. I should be all jaded and cynical by now but no, I still think that sort of thing is very very cool. She's a fantastic writer too - go check out her stuff.

Lis (can I still call you Melissa?) from Lis Garrett - A Writer's Woolgatherings. Not only is she a great friend and a real inspiration to me as we face some similar parenting challenges, she's also pursuing her dream of becoming a writer. How inspirational is that!

Shelley from This Eclectic Life. My own life is richer for being able to call her friend, even if she has cost me a fortune in cleaning bills as I keep spitting coffee all over myself from bursting out laughing while reading her posts. Besides being a helluva woman, and doing something really amazing with her Share-A-Square Project (Go read this link. Yes, right now, I'll wait.), this Texas storyteller spins one heck of a yarn, dadgummit (did I use that right? I'm too much of a city kid myself to be able to even say dadgummit with a straight face.).

I'm going to pass this one right back to Grace too. My friendship with her epitomizes what this award is all about.

and now Kelley's new creation with the awesome name - the Less Than 3 award (hint: if you look at it sideways, the less than sign followed by the number 3 (which it won't let me type here without insisting it's some kind of html error) looks like a heart). Please link to Magneto Bold when you pass this one along so that Kelley can track the movement of her new creation.

This one goes to Jen over at Never a Dull Moment, for always being there with a listening ear when I need it. I less than 3 you Jen.

And last but definitely not least:

Simonne at All Tips And Tricks is having a group writing project asking…’What is Your Best Blogging Achievement?’ You can see the entries here. Shelly and her Share-A-Square Project get my votes! She needs that $100 win to help cover the postage costs for more afghan kits for the kids with cancer from Camp Sanguinity. Your vote can help her reach her goal to get a beautiful handmade afghan (made with squares donated with love from all over the world!) to each and every one of those kids. What are you waiting for? Go vote!

Saturday, December 8, 2007

The Competition

I stand ready, waiting. Toe on the starting line. My heart is pounding, adrenalin courses through my body. I slide my glance sideways and quietly eye up my competition. Yes, that one. She is the one to beat. I breathe deeply to center myself. My body is coiled like a spring, ready to fly forward at the sound of the starting gun. Why is it taking so long, what are they waiting for? I feel the sweat starting to slide down my forehead towards my eye, but I am afraid to break my concentration. To risk even a millisecond's delay when the gun finally sounds. It feels like an eternity. So much hangs on this one race. Fortunes will be decided, reputations made or broken. The pressure is intense and still growing with every passing moment.


The shot rings out and the racers burst forth.

The potato sack race has begun.

The Sunday Scribblings prompt for this week was competition.

Friday, December 7, 2007

All about me me me

I enjoyed Meredith's interview over at Poppy Fields a few weeks ago so much that I asked her to send me some questions too. And now weeks later here they are (sorry Meredith, it's been nuts around here lately).

So now without further ado...

1) You may have already posted this story once, but how did you meet your husband?

Jay and I met in college when I was a freshman and he was a junior. We were both invited to a planning meeting of the campus' Zionist student organization. We met, dated all through college, got married and actually moved to Israel. In other words, we were their perfect poster children LOL. Actually, we both ended up very involved in the organization's activities and my college years wouldn't have been the same without them. It's amazing how idealistic you can be at 20...

2) If money wasn't an issue, where would you like to live and what would you be doing there?

I fantasize about a life of the idly wealthy. I'd have a gorgeous penthouse on the beach in Tel Aviv, another in Manhattan with a view of the park, a villa on some tropical island (Greece? Thailand? the BVI? the possibilities fantasies are endless), a gorgeous big light Parisian apartment, and (yes AND) a small estate somewhere in Tuscany. Oh, and the yacht. Can't forget the superyacht. Such lovely daydreams, so very far from reality...

I copied this off another interview I read, but I like the question so...
3) What was your favorite board game as a child and why?

I was never a huge fan of board games, but I loved playing
Mille Bornes. Hmm, maybe I'll buy a set and teach my son to play.

Because I think I'm a foodie...
4) What is your favorite holiday food and can you share the recipe please?

I'm a foodie too, but in truth the holidays are not my favorite food-wise. I'm all about traditional food on the holidays but very far from that the rest of the year. My own cooking style tends to be a lot more ethnic, spicier, and just plain more fun. I'll cheat here and say that my favorite holiday dessert at the moment is this flourless chocolate cake. It's from the Gluten-Free Goddess, and if this particular recipe is any indication she is truly a goddess - it's divine. Good enough in fact that I made it again for Rosh Hashana (Jewish New Year) despite the fact that I could have used all the flour I wanted for that one. I'm also incredibly proud of myself for finally figuring out that the gluten-free websites would be a great source of flour-free Passover desserts. I was desperate for a change from fruit compote and Aunt Sadie's peach cobbler... If I really had to pick a traditional dish it would be my chicken soup with matza balls. They're damn good, if I do say so myself:

(Everyone knows how to make chicken broth, so I'll leave that bit out and just give the recipe for the matza balls.)

Robin's Matza Balls
Makes about 12, can be easily doubled (or even tripled if you're expecting a crowd)

4 large eggs
1/2 cup water
6 Tbl (85g) melted margarine
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 C matza meal (basically matza flour, it's easily available in Jewish areas around Passover)

In a medium-sized bowl beat the eggs, water, margarine, salt and pepper with a fork until blended. Stir in matza meal. Cover and refrigerate at least one hour so the matza meal can absorb the liquid (and to make it easier to work with).

2. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Reduce heat so it's boiling gently.

3. REMOVE ALL OF YOUR RINGS (you'll thank me for this one later)

4. Wet your hands with cold water. Roll matza mixture into 2" (or so) balls

5. Carefully drop into water with a slotted spoon. Wait for all matza balls to rise to the surface (if any are stubborn give them a nudge with a spoon). Cook for about 10 or 15 minutes more, until they look lighter in color and a bit "fluffy". Drain and cool.

6. Replace your rings before they get lost. (you're welcome)

7. Add to soup. Heat and serve.

That was fun. Anyone else want to play along? Let me know if you do and I'll send you some questions.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

TT - 13 Random Thoughts

A list of random thoughts percolating through my brain this week, completely without point or theme (somewhat like me)...

1. Every time my son starts playing with his YuGiOh (is that how you spell that?) he starts talking in this very strange voice. He sounds just like the cartoon.

2. I think my friend is really going to like her birthday gift. It's not at all my taste, but it should be exactly hers.

3. If it's storming tomorrow Itai's hockey practice will be cancelled (gee whiz, that would be just awful *wink*)

4. Where in the name of all that's holy is the stupid Dora Goes to the Dentist book we took from the library. It has vanished into thin air. I've been searching for days, I'm even dreaming about that stupid book. I don't want to go back to the library until I've found it.

5. We're invited to my neighbor's for Hannukah candlelighting and latkes this evening.

6. I'm bringing cheese straws (they're in the oven now and smell AMAZING). I'll put them in a glass cookie jar that I'm giving her as a gift.

7. From there I have to dash to Tel Aviv for my friend's birthday shindig (leaving husband and kids at home).

8. Maya's got the day off tomorrow, we're meeting friends at a local playspace.

9. Mmmm... coffee

10. Just tasted a cheese straw. Yup, they're good. Deadly in fact. I hope there will be enough left to take over.

11. Work is kicking my butt this week.

12. While I'm baking cheese straws, Jay is preparing 2 sweet yeast braids - one stuffed with dates and the other with chocolate and peanut butter. Reese's has nothing on this guy.

13. It's probably long past time to take down Maya's Sukkot decoration and replace it with something for Hannukah.

No wonder I'm not a very deep thinker - I have too much nonsense cluttering up my brain!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Aack! What's for dinner???

Shannon over at Rocks in my Dryer is doing a themed Works for Me Wednesday this week - what to make for dinner when there's nothing to make (actually, she said "fix" for dinner, but this girl grew up too far north of the Mason-Dixon line to say that without sounding ridiculous).

My real go-to standard when there is Absolutely Nothing At All In The House is stir-fry, usually Chinese or Thai style. It's deliciously, healthy and super-easy. We eat this way often. I just put up some rice or noodles, chop up a bunch of whatever is in the house, and wok it up with a bunch of Asian seasonings or sauces. Here's an example (with ingredients and instructions). It looks complicated if you're not used to cooking this way, but once you are it's a cinch. It also works well for me because I keep all the Asian stuff stocked at all times and then just need to throw in whatever veggies are around, and some chicken/beef/tofu (or not) as a protein. Plus, if you do throw in both vegetables and a protein, it's a great all-in-one dinner, no sides to fix. (See, there's that fix again. It's creeping into my NY born and bred vocabulary!)

For more American-style cooking, my easy there's nothing for dinner standard is sloppy joes.

Dice and fry up one onion
Brown a package of ground beef
Add a combination of:

Crushed tomatoes (I use the ones that come with garlic)
BBQ sauce
A bit of tomato paste to thicken
Tabasco sauce (or cayenne pepper, depending on my mood)
Perhaps some liquid smoke
And a bunch of spices (cumin, hot paprika, coriander, chili pepper, garlic, etc., or, if if I'm feeling particularly lazy just a whole bunch of McCormick's Mexican seasoning mix).

There are no real quantities, it's all to your own particular taste.

Simmer for about 20 minutes

Serve over warmed bread. Or, if you have no bread in the house (who me?) it works equally well over rice. Not that I would know...

Now, as we say in Israel, b'teavon, which is Hebrew for bon appetit.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Happy Hannukah

It's 4:10 in the afternoon. The light is beginning to fade. In just a few moments two very excited children are going to come running through the door, and a little while after that it will be time to kindle the first of the Hannukah lights.

Happy Hannukah to all who are celebrating tonight. May all of your weeks be happy and bright (and may all your sufganiyot be light!)

PS In retrospect, the effects of giving her a magic wand at the same time that he received a ball should have been predictable. Isn't the 11th commandment "thou shall not play baseball in the living room"? Luckily, we ended it before anything got broken LOL.

Monday, December 3, 2007

I Promise...

... too many things to too many different people.

Sure, I can handle that project.

Sure, I could use the extra hours.

By tomorrow morning? Sure, no problem.

Sure, I can bake something for the bake sale.

Sure, I can make it to that appointment.

Sure, you can invite friends over. Just do it after I've finished chauffeuring your sister/brother around town.

Sure, I'll type out and send you that very long and complicated recipe you asked for.

More work on the project? No problem.

Sure, I can finish up the gift buying. What do you mean Hannukah starts this evening? How can that be? Sure, no problem, I can manage.

Sure, I can sit with Maya every evening to help her fall asleep. So what if it's been taking over an hour of active intervention. I've got all the time in the world, right?

Sure, I know it's my turn to do the dishes.

Two hours on the breastfeeding hotline? Tomorrow? (Oh crap.) Sure, I can do that.

Stop working early to bring Maya to speech? No problem.

Attend your office holiday party? (Dear god not that. Please let it not be as awful as last year.) Sure, no problem. I'll get a sitter.

Still more documents to write for the project? Sure. Absolutely. I'm on it.

And then I wonder why I just want to collapse when the weekend rolls around... Don't worry, I'm fine, just exhausted. I'm just feeling very overextended this month, that's all.

Look here to see others' hopefully more optimistic promises.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

8 things about me

No, it's not filler, this is quality entertainment here! What? You mean I'm NOT endlessly fascinating? I don't believe that, I'm quite certain that the entire world revolves around me.

Ok fine, I'll fess up. I'm incredibly busy at work right now and don't have time to keep up with my normal level of drivel witty repartee. Many many moons ago the lovely Helena from Thrice-Blessed Momma (who seems to be on a blogging break right now, hopefully she'll return soon) tagged me for the 8 things meme so here goes...

1. I am deathly allergic, as in if I have it I will keel over and die, to both penicillin and sulfa, the two most popular groups of antibiotics. Makes it fun when I need one, which is luckily pretty rarely.

2. Once in a while as a grocery shopping day treat I still eat my favorite breakfast from high school - a bagel with cream cheese and bbq potato chips (yes, inside the bagel). Don't knock if till you've tried it, it's delicious. Something about the combination of creamy rich and spicy...

3. My middle back started spasming this evening. I can barely move, and picking up my daughter is completely impossible. I tried it and screamed. Then I dropped her. Luckily she was standing and it was just a few inches to the floor.

4. I have absolutely no self-discipline. I lost a bunch of weight last year but have gained half of it back because I can't keep my damn mouth shut. I hate that about me, and I hate that I look this way again. It's really sucking the life out of me.

5. I did that "what reading level is your blog" thingie and it came back as post-graduate. I'm secretly proud of that but it sounds conceited to say that so I won't.

6. I'm freezing right now, but my sweatshirt is in the other room. I'd go get it but I'm sitting with Maya trying to get her to fall asleep and she's finally quieting down a bit. I don't want to chance it. (No flaming, this sitting with her is the suggestion of her therapist and is supposed to help her switch off at the end of the day and move more easily from awake to asleep. She backslid terribly in the sleep department while we were away and we're both very frustrated right now.)

(This is harder than it looks...)

7. I loathe brussel sprouts.

8. I used to speak completely fluent French, I would often even dream in French, but nearly 20 years of speaking Hebrew have driven it out of my head. It's as if my brain goes into "foreign language mode" and whichever language is closest to the surface is the one that pops out. Sadly, that's not French and while I can still read a bit and can manage a very rudimentary conversation, anything beyond "I'd like milk in my coffee" or "Do you have a double room for the weekend of July 12th?" is a real challenge. Hard to believe that I was writing papers on medieval French literature in college... (Gargantua et Pantagruel anyone?)

Oh, and while I'm at it I'll respond to Kelley's desktop meme from ages ago: I have a work-issue computer that often gets serviced remotely and as a result it has the bog standard blue screen. I used to have a photograph of my kids, but the IT guy gave me some kind of ridiculous crap about it sucking memory (I think that was easier for him than trying to actually figure out why the damn thing kept crashing all the time) and made me switch to the blue. There, I've answered. Sorry Kelley, nothing racy here, not even the meagrest pair of beach sandals...

Friday, November 30, 2007

The Old Man Of The Mountain

The Old Man Of The Mountain

The wonder of the journey is often in the unexpected, that serendipitous find waiting around the next bend that makes the whole trip worthwhile.

While we were in Florence Jay and I took a day to hike from the village of Fiesole to the tiny hamlet of Maiano, where we had reservations at a traditional trattoria for lunch. (You're not sick of these Florence anecdotes yet, are you? I hope not, but even if you are you're stuck with this one since I've been waiting for a chance to share it and this week's Sunday Scribblings prompt of walk gave me the perfect opportunity.) You knew food was going to enter into it somehow too, didn't you? I suppose that was a bit of a foregone conclusion, what with me and Italy and all. Nevermind, it's a minor part of this tale. Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah...

While walking we came across an old quarry, one hundreds of years old. Rock from this site and others like it built much of Renaissance Florence. I stood at the base of the quarried rock imagining the backbreaking work it must have taken to first quarry it and then transport it to the city miles below. When I looked up, I was surprised to see a face looking back at me out of the rock, just as he must have looked out at so many others over the years. He seemed almost a living part of the stone, a sentinel keeping watch. What emotions hide behind that stony visage? What does he think of this work of man? Was it in fact for the glory of Florence, or the glory of the Church, or did he feel that his world had been ripped away, leaving him raw and exposed? How many stories have those stone eyes seen? What was the reason for the sadness they seem to hold? I could barely look at Michelangelo's Prisoners* in the Galleria dell'Accademia, so painful did I find their imprisonment in the stone, but my old man of the mountain seemed somehow more melancholy than trapped. Perhaps it is because he appears more organic - a living part of the stone, almost its essence, rather than something being freed from its clutches.

I can't help but wonder how he came to become my old man of the mountain. Was he an accident of a workman's chisel, or did the quarry master have a sense of whimsy? However he came to be, I am richer for having found him.

He had some lovely neighbors too. These are a few of the things we stumbled across as we walked through the woods that day.

A warning to watch out for falling signs?

* Michelangelo's Prisoners are a series of unfinished sculptures where the subjects seem to be struggling to break out of solid blocks of marble. Michelangelo believed his figures were divinely created within the rock, that as he attacked the stone with his chisel he was simply chipping away the excess to make them visible.

Ribollita - the ultimate winter soup

A specialty of Tuscany, this hearty bean and vegetable soup is served all over Florence in the winter. To call it a soup though is actually a bit of a misnomer. While it starts out as a soup, it gets thickened with bread before serving and by the time it's brought to the table it's actually more like a stew. A delicious, stick to your ribs, warm you right up from the inside stew.

I gorged myself on sampled ribollita in many different restaurants during our recent trip to Florence (and in fact ran out to buy a Tuscan cookbook to be sure I could recreate my new favorite winter food once I returned home). Out of all the ones I tasted the hands-down winner had to be the one served at Trattoria Mario. That particular one is so well known that it's recipe is posted on the website of an Italian cooking school. Their recipe is the one I used to make the dish you see above (with the substitution of swiss chard for the unavailable in Israel black cabbage).

I couldn't wait to try it out, and now that the weather is cooling off a bit and making it possible to think about soups again I did. I'm happy to say that it was every bit as good as the one I got in the restaurant, though I must admit that the atomosphere was somewhat lacking... I should have brought in a few strangers to share my table and added some house wine and a huge amount of noise to get the full effect.

Buon appetito!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Thursday Thirteen - Hannukah

In honor of the Jewish holiday of Hannukah, the Festival of Lights, which begins Tuesday night (most of the explanations are taken from Judaism 101 to save me writing everything out all over again - yup, I'm informative but inherently lazy). Follow the links for more information.):

1. This year, Hannukah begins at sundown on December 4th. It ends at sundown on December 12th.
2. The word Hannukah is transliterated from Hebrew, so you may see (or hear*) it spelled many different ways: Hannukah, Hanukkah, Chanukah, Hanukah...

3. The Hannukah Story
The story of Chanukkah begins in the reign of Alexander the Great. Alexander conquered Syria, Egypt and Palestine, but allowed the lands under his control to continue observing their own religions and retain a certain degree of autonomy. Under this relatively benevolent rule, many Jews assimilated much of Hellenistic culture, adopting the language, the customs and the dress of the Greeks, in much the same way that Jews in America today blend into the secular American society.

4. More than a century later, a successor of Alexander, Antiochus IV was in control of the region. He began to oppress the Jews severely, placing a Hellenistic priest in the
Temple, massacring Jews, prohibiting the practice of the Jewish religion, and desecrating the Temple by requiring the sacrifice of pigs (a non-kosher animal) on the altar. Two groups opposed Antiochus: a nationalist group known as the Maccabees led by Mattathias the Hasmonean and his son Judah Maccabee, and a religious traditionalist group known as the Chasidim, the forerunners of the Pharisees (no direct connection to the modern movement known as Chasidism). They joined forces in a revolt against both the assimilation of the Hellenistic Jews and oppression by the Seleucid Greek government. The revolution succeeded and the Temple was rededicated.

5. According to tradition as recorded in the
Talmud, at the time of the rededication, there was very little oil left that had not been defiled by the Greeks. Oil was needed for the menorah (candelabrum) in the Temple, which was supposed to burn throughout the night every night. There was only enough oil to burn for one day, yet miraculously, it burned for eight days, the time needed to prepare a fresh supply of oil for the menorah. An eight day festival was declared to commemorate this miracle. Note that the holiday commemorates the miracle of the oil, not the military victory: Jews do not glorify war.

6. The Maccabees came from the Modiin area, just about 20 minutes from where I live. Today, Modiin is a bustling city and home to a number of my good friends.

7. The Hannukah Menorah: The only religious observance related to the holiday is the lighting of candles. The candles are arranged in a candelabrum called a menorah (or hanukkiah in Hebrew) that holds nine candles: one for each night, plus a shammash (servant) at a different height. On the first night, one candle is placed at the far right. The shammash candle is lit and three brachot (blessings) are recited: l'hadlik neir (a general prayer over candles), she-asah nisim (a prayer thanking G-d for performing miracles for our ancestors at this time), and she-hekhianu (a general prayer thanking G-d for allowing us to reach this time of year). After reciting the blessings, the first candle is then lit using the shammash candle, and the shammash candle is placed in its holder. The candles are allowed to burn out on their own after a minimum of half an hour. In many families each child has their own menorah. Here are the ones we used last year - my kids each made their own (and then the school sent home more, we were inundated). The ceramic one belongs to Jay and I. It comes from a pottery collective in Old Jaffa and was a gift from my late mother-in-law the last time she visited Israel. (The weeds flowers in the plastic orange mug were picked by my daughter Maya from the bush downstairs. She LOVES bringing home flowers from that bush. They have no connection whatsoever to the holiday, other than the fact that they bloom in the winter. I just threw that in for extra color.)

8. Each night, another candle is added from right to left (like the Hebrew language). Candles are lit from left to right (because you pay honor to the newer thing first). On the eighth night, all nine candles (the 8 Hanukkah candles and the shammus) are lit. On nights after the first, only the first two blessings are recited; the third blessing is only recited on the first night of holidays.

9. Why the shammash candle? The Hanukkah candles are for pleasure only; we are not allowed to use them for any productive purpose. We keep an extra one around (the shammash), so that if we need to do something useful with a candle, we don't accidentally use the Chanukkah candles. The shammash candle is at a different height so that it is easily identified as the shammash.

10. Hannukah is actually a fairly minor Jewish holiday. It's only become so well known in the West due to its proximity to Christmas. Here in Israel, the gift giving often doesn't go beyond some Hannukah gelt (chocolate coins) or perhaps a few real coins. More serious gift giving is usually kept for Passover.

11. My kids still get a fair amount of loot for the holiday because their relatives send it to them, and because their mom (that would be me) can't get her head around the idea of gifts at Passover instead. We do try to keep things pretty low-key even so. I grew up with the idea of a gift each night (especially for younger children) and really enjoy doing that for my own kids, but the gift is often something quite small, a book, or perhaps a craft to do together. A larger gift is only given the first night and perhaps once after that if the grandparents have gotten involved.

12. It is traditional to play dreidel, a gambling game played with a square top, on the holiday. Most people play for things like pennies, M&Ms or gelt (Las Vegas this is not). The traditional explanation of this game is that during the time of Antiochus' oppression, those who wanted to study Torah (an illegal activity) would conceal their activity by playing gambling games with a top (a common and legal activity) whenever an official or inspector was within sight.

A dreidel is marked with four Hebrew letters: Nun, Gimel, Hei and Shin. These letters stand for the Hebrew phrase "Nes Gadol Hayah Sham", a great miracle happened there, referring to the miracle of the oil.

The letters also stand for the Yiddish words nit (nothing), gantz (all), halb (half) and shtell (put), which are the rules of the game! There are some variations in the way people play the game, but the way I learned it, everyone puts in one coin. A person spins the dreidel. If it lands on Nun, nothing happens; on Gimel (or, as we called it as kids, "gimme!"), you get the whole pot; on Hei, you get half of the pot; and on Shin, you put one in. When the pot is empty, everybody puts one in. Keep playing until your parent is bored stiff one person has everything. You can play a virtual dreidel game here.

13. It's traditional to eat foods fried in oil for Hannukah, since oil is such a significant part of the holiday. Among Ashkenazi (Jews of Eastern European origin), a favorite holiday food is latkes, or potato pancakes. In Israel, the most popular holiday treat is sufganiyot - jelly doughnuts (5 minutes in your mouth, 12 hours in your stomach...).

* I snagged the video from Ima Bimah. Thanks Phyllis *smooch*. If you're looking for some more Hannukah fun check out the Chanukah Countdown party she's got running on her blog this week.(Of course she spells Hannukah wrong differently, but we won't hold that against her, right?)