Sunday, March 30, 2008

Remembering Nana

I remember how my grandmother used to say that food she liked (desserts, generally, Nana had a huge sweet tooth) were "out of this world". At least I think I remember her saying that. It seems like the memory fits, but I can't seem to conjure up a specific instance. It bothers me that I can't. I'm losing my memories, which is ironic considering the circumstances. My grandmother only died a few months ago, but the grandmother I knew and loved had already been gone for many years by then. With each passing year another piece of her personality fell away. With each memory that disappeared, a piece of her essence, of what made her her, disappeared along with it.

I didn't really grieve when she died. The grandmother I knew and loved, my grandmother, my Nana, had been mourned slowly, painfully, with each family connection she lost. First, she forgot my children's names. Then, she forgot I had children. After that it was my husband. Eventually, she had trouble remembering who I was, one of only four grandchildren. Near the end, she didn't even understand that her husband of sixty years had died, which I suppose was both a curse and a blessing. She didn't remember her own mother had died over 35 years before and kept asking to visit her, but she didn't recognize that the woman she was asking was her own daughter. Her only daughter. How do you grieve for your mother when she's sitting right in front of you? I don't envy my mother that, and truth be told I was grateful I lived on the other side of the world and didn't have to witness the decay firsthand.

My grandmother, the Nana I remember, was a gourmet cook who wouldn't let you up from the table until you'd eaten the equivalent of three entire dinners. She and my grandfather took my sister and I to Disneyworld when I was 12, traveling 24 hours on the autotrain because they couldn't get us a flight. She loved to pinch her grandchildren on the bum, saying "who's got a better right?" She never met a girl who wasn't pretty or a boy who wasn't handsome. During a visit to Israel fifteen years ago she conveniently "forgot" that the cakes she so loved to order for dessert would always come slathered in whipped cream and chocolate sauce, and would feign surprise as she delightedly ate every last drop (after having refused most of her dinner, saying she wasn't hungry). Or was she not pretending to have forgotten at all? Was this the earliest stages of dementia making their appearance? A cute eccentricity, or something infinitely more sinister?

I miss the Nana who would always bring back candied almonds from Portugal, which I loved, together with those awful crocheted collars, which I didn't.

I miss talking with her about the boys I dated, and the way she later teamed up with my husband's grandmother when they happened to be spending the winter in the same Portuguese apartment complex. The two of them had the wedding reception planned through dessert years before we ever got engaged - and then denied any scheming whatsoever.

I miss the grandmother who thought every new dessert was "out of this world".

She's been gone for a very long time already.

The Sunday Scribblings prompt for this week was "out of this world".

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Affair

Working late
a quiet hint
a look heavy with promise
the heat in her eyes
matched by the smouldering in his

Soon it is coffee
then lunch
risks taken
promises broken
trust betrayed

A harmless flirtation
turned into a torrid affair

It becomes harder to hide the deception
to keep track of the lies
conscience is ignored
no thought given to those waiting at home
until it is too late

Two marriages ripped apart
four lives left broken and bleeding
(and that's without counting the children)
a few moments of passion
are followed by a lifetime of regret

The Writers Island prompt for this week was torrid. No cause for concern, this piece was strictly fiction.

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Importance of a Supportive Community

There have been a few high publicity cases of severe child abuse in Israel recently. In at least two of them acquaintances and neighbors all said "they had no idea". It makes you wonder how many more are out there undiscovered, with children suffering in silence.

My friend A Mother In Israel has managed to turn these children's tragedy from an item on the evening news into a valuable lesson for all of us - the paramount importance of a supportive and involved community. Read her excellent post about what we can each do personally to strengthen our communities and reach out to families in need. Maybe one act of caring is all it will take to prevent a tragedy later.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

TT - Concerts I Went to in the 80's

Since my girlfriends and I just got back from seeing Joe Jackson tonight (Wednesday) what better topic could there be for this week's list. How many of these do you remember?

1. Yes - my very first "real" concert
2. Rush
3. Grateful Dead - up and down the east coast, too many times to count
4. Tom Petty
5. Bob Dylan - several times
6. Billy Joel
7. America
8. Meat Loaf - 3 times
9. Huey Lewis and the News
10. The Turtles - reunion tour
11. Whitesnake
12. The Monkees - reunion tour
13. Bruce Hornsby and the Range

There were probably more that I've forgotten. It was a lot easier to go to shows when you didn't have to spend your paycheck on things like a mortgage or electricity. Not to mention babysitters LOL.
Visit the Thursday Thirteen hub to see what everyone else is counting this week.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

WFMW - Dryer Balls

A quickie from me this week. I'm having MAJOR computer grief and will probably have to spend most of the day at a wifi hotspot in the lobby of the maternity ward of my local hospital while tech support tries to remotely solve my laptop's sudden inability to connect to the internet. (Why a wifi hotspot you ask? Because my IT guy insists he knows what's wrong, despite overwhelming evidence that it's something else. Don't ask... Why the hospital lobby? Because it's the closest location with iPass, and since it's the maternity ward it isn't likely to be full of people with communicable diseases.)

So. My tip for today.

Dryer balls. You know, those blue knobby "as seen on tv" things. Yup, those. I've been using them for nearly a year now. I have no idea whether they do in fact make fluffier, softer laundry, but I can say with confidence that they do just fine with preventing static cling, and without all the waste of those disposable dryer sheets.

Visit Rocks In My Dryer to see what else is working this week.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Treed, or rather staircased

Now that's an enigmatic title, isn't it? Don't you hate when bloggers do that? Suck you in with some crazy-sounding title so that curiosity overwhelms you and you just HAVE to click on that link to see what on earth it could possibly mean? Staircased? What the heck is that?

Are you curious yet? Are you really curious? Yes? Well then, you'll just have to keep reading to find out.

Back in the late 80's my boyfriend had finished college and moved to Israel. Not wanting to be separated I made arrangements to spend the year here as well on a junior year abroad program. A year abroad program rather, I was only a sophomore, which is a completely irrelevent detail. Anyway...

Midway through the year my parents came over for a visit. Since they had never been to Israel before we planned a full itinerary. One of the places on our list was the city of Zfat (Safed) in the north of Israel.

To understand this story you have to understand Zfat. Zfat is a small, remote city on a mountaintop in the far north of the country, well-removed from the crush of the big city rat race; its remoteness and elevated location give it a decidedly small town feel. The type of town where if you sneeze in one neighborhood they say bless you in another. Zfat has for hundreds of years been a center for the study of kabbalah, Jewish mysticism, and is home to a number of ancient synagogues. It's a quiet, spiritual sort of place. History literally seeps from the very stones of the Old City, a rabbit's warren of tangled streets and alleys with doorways and staircases to upper story apartments jutting out at wildly improbably angles. Surrounding this small mountaintop city are empty, rocky hills.

Ok, now that we've got that out of the way we can continue with our story. Where were we? Oh yes, Jay and I were showing my parents around Israel.

Our itinerary had us staying overnight in Zfat. My parents decided to soak up some local atmosphere by attending Friday night services at one of the ancient synagogues. I was a bit concerned about their ability to navigate through the Old City, so I decided to walk them over.

I escorted them to the synagogue and then headed back to the hotel. I hadn't gone more than a few blocks when I turned a corner to find myself face to face with a big, giant COW! Right there in the middle of the Old City!

I stopped in my tracks.

I don't know how many of you are country folks, but I most certainly am not. I had never come face to face with a cow before, and let me tell you those things are HUGE. I was terrified, sure that it was going to stampede me. I'd wind up dead in that alley, gored to death by a runaway cow.

I stood there shaking as I evaluated my options. I had to get past the cow to get back to my hotel, but there was absolutely no way I was going to get up close and personal with that beast.

It looked at me and lowered it's head. My inner dialogue went into hyperdrive.

Oh god, it's going to stampede. Isn't that what they do right before they stampede? I'm dead, that's it, I'm dead. It's going to stampede me! Help!

Hold on. Wait! There are stairs behind me! Cows can't climb stairs, can they? I've never seen a cow climb stairs! I'm sure they can't climb stairs! They can't climb stairs, can they?

I quickly decided I had no other options and I dashed up a rickety metal stairway. I stood on that stairway for a good 15 minutes waiting for that cow to decide to move along. It wouldn't budge. Finally, after what felt like an eternity, it turned a little. It still hadn't left, but at least it wasn't still looking at me like I was dinner. I gathered up my courage and what was left of my wits, raced down the stairs and made a mad dash around the corner! Whew! Safe! I'd made it. I wasn't going to be the main course in a cow buffet after all.

I ran all the way back to the hotel and collapsed on the bed, gasping for breath and scaring the daylights out of my boyfriend. I finally recovered enough to tell him of my brilliant escape, only to have him dissolve into utter hysterics! I thought he was going to choke he was laughing so hard. Here I thought I'd get sympathy and understanding, or at the very least a cup of tea and a "there, there dear" only to have him laugh in my face! Not only did he feel it necessary to point out that 1) cows eat grass, and 2) one cow cannot stampede, HE DIDN'T EVEN BELIEVE ME THAT I'D SEEN A COW!!! He had the nerve to insinuate that perhaps it was a dog, or maybe even a large cat, or perhaps just a child's tricycle left in the alley, because of course cows simply do not wander the streets of Zfat, not even in the Old City. To add insult to injury when my parents returned and heard my sorry tale they too collapsed in a fit of uncontrollable laughter, refusing to acknowledge even the mere possibility that a cow grazing on the nearby hillside had wandered into the city and blocked my way.

It's been 19 years since I was treed staircased by that terrifying beast and my family STILL refuses to believe me. Whenever they hear of some farfetched story they liken it to the imaginary cows of Zfat and dissolve into fits of laughter all over again. I married the boyfriend, too, who gets great delight out of telling our children how mommy sees imaginary cows whenever we pass a sign pointing to Zfat. I'm a broken woman I tell you.

You believe me though, don't you?

This story has been submitted to This Eclectic Life's This Post Blows My Dress Up! contest, on the theme "scared silly", because if a freak run-in with a ferocious girl-eating cow wouldn't scare you silly I don't know what would.



Psst... It won! Thank you very much to Damien of Postcards from the Funny Farm for choosing it and of course to Shelly for having such a fun contest.

Be sure to check out the other entries - they were fantastic! I'm really flattered to have mine chosen with such steep competition.

KatelynJane’s Notebook Scared Silly
SusieJ entered Definitely something foul going on over there…from her archives.
Crystal at Song Of My Soul entered from her archives
“Hey, at least I can laugh at myself, right?”
Marcia, at Tumbled Words “The mask, three prompts combined.”
Jessica at Life As I See It It’s Here
Penelope At Cafe at the End of the Universe
“The Bathtub Below.”
Cyn at Rage Against The Cliche “The Tears of the Phoenix.”
Amy Palko at Lives Less Ordinary “Scare Silly By The Fairies.”
Cindee at CiNdEe’s GaRdEn “How I Scared My Daughter Silly.”
The Wandering Author “Wake Up, Little Susie.”

Monday, March 24, 2008

I caved

After one of the coldest winters in years (relatively speaking, it's still Israel) and getting socked with an obscenely large electric bill I swore I wasn't going to turn on the air conditioning this week, it's still March for pete's sake. I managed to swelter in silence yesterday but by today I just couldn't hack it. We're having a heat wave and temperatures have soared into the mid-nineties (35 celsius!). With its concrete walls and stone floors and without much direct sun beaming in my home stays fairly cool, but this was ridiculous. So I caved. Yes, I admit it. I put the air conditioning on on March 24. What a relief.

Thankfully the temperatures cooled off again with the setting sun. It's actually lovely out now. Tomorrow will still be terribly dusty, but the worst of the heat is over now and we should be setting our calendars back to spring again.

I have to say though, I much prefer the heat, even the dry dusty heat of a hamsin, to winter's cold. What fun to be able to put on sundresses and sandals again, I even remembered to break out my silver toe ring. Spring is lovely, but summer can't come soon enough for me. Bring it on, I'm ready.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Why do we hate?

I don't understand it. How is it that so many millions, billions, of people in this world honestly feel it is better to hate and to fear than to extend a hand in friendship? How can anyone raise their children to hate, to fear, even to murder those who are different? Are we really so different from each other? What would happen if we all chose to enact a change, to let that change begin right here, right now. To let go of hate and fear and learn to celebrate our differences.

Can't we all unite in condemning cowardly acts of terror, both those aimed at us and those perpetrated in our name as vengeance or some twisted form of justice? How do young children, innocent of the ways of hatred, turn into monsters, into killing machines, if not at the hands of those charged with raising and educating them, those they should be able to trust the most? When did a piece of land, any piece of land, become more important than life itself? They want it, we want it, no one is willing to share, no one is willing to budge or to compromise. In the end, we are only hurting ourselves. Beliefs on each side are equally strong, no one will bend, and thus, we both lose. How much more could we achieve together?
I've been to the homes of people on both sides of the conflict that is destroying our region. Shared their bread. Drank their wine. Laughed together. Cried together. Both are filled with people who love their children, who work hard to provide for them, who want a better future for them. Isn't it time to say "stop" to the extremists on BOTH sides who would throw all that away in their misguided need to win at all costs?

Take a moment to read these lyrics, to really read them, and then to listen, and then tell me we can't do better.

There Were Roses
(Tommy Sands)

My song for you this evening, it's not to make you sad
Nor for adding to the sorrows of this troubled northern land,
But lately I've been thinking and it just won't leave my mind
I'll tell you of two friends one time who were both good friends of mine.

Allan Bell from Banagh, he lived just across the fields,
A great man for the music and the dancing and the reels.
O'Malley came from South Armagh to court young Alice fair,
And we'd often meet on the Ryan Road and the laughter filled the air.

There were roses, roses
There were roses
And the tears of the people
Ran together

Though Allan, he was Protestant, and Sean was Catholic born,
It never made a difference for the friends, it was strong.
And sometimes in the evening when we heard the sound of drums
We said, "It won't divide us. We always will be one."

For the ground our fathers plowed in, the soil, it is the same,
And the places where we say our prayers have just got different names.
We talked about the friends who died, and we hoped there'd be no more.
It's little then we realized the tragedy in store.

It was on a Sunday morning when the awful news came round.
Another killing has been done just outside Newry Town.
We knew that Allan danced up there, we knew he liked the band.
When we heard that he was dead we just could not understand.

We gathered at the graveside on that cold and rainy day,
And the minster he closed his eyes and prayed for no revenge.
All all of us who knew him from along the Ryan Road,
We bowed our heads and said a prayer for the resting of his soul.

Now fear, it filled the countryside.There was fear in every home
When a car of death came prowling round the lonely Ryan Road.
A Catholic would be killed tonight to even up the score.
"Oh, Christ! It's young O'Malley that they've taken from the door.''

"Allan was my friend,'' he cried. He begged them with his fear,
But centuries of hatred have ears that cannot hear.
An eye for an eye was all that filled their minds
And another eye for another eye till everyone is blind.

So my song for you this evening, it's not to make you sad
Nor for adding to the sorrows of our troubled northern land,
But lately I've been thinking and it just won't leave my mind.
I'll tell you of two friends one time who were both good friends of mine.

I don't know where the moral is or where this song should end,
But I wondered just how many wars are fought between good friends.
And those who give the orders are not the ones to die.
It's Bell and O'Malley and the likes of you and I.

There were roses, roses
There were roses

Take a few minutes to listen to Tommy sing this beautiful, haunting song, made all the more terrible for its telling of a true story. There Were Roses was written about Ireland, but its message speaks to all regions in conflict.

It's been thousands of years. An eye for an eye isn't working, we're all going blind.

We can do better. We need to do better. We MUST do better. Start here. Start now. Start today. Preach peace.

The Sunday Scribblings prompt for this week was "I don't get it."

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Dad, Can I Play Soccer On Your Phone?

The eternal optimism and limitless persistence of a child has to be one of the most powerful forces in the universe. Case in point:

My husband's mobile phone came with a FIFA soccer game. My 7 year old lives to play this game, so much so that we had to institute a house rule - when his father comes home from work at night he is not allowed to ask to play until after he's at least said hello. (You can guess how Jay's entrance now sounds each night - "hi dad, can I play soccer on your phone?")

Last night as we were getting the kids into the car to drive home from a Purim party my son asked my husband (all together now) whether he could play soccer on his phone. Jay told him no, and that besides, the phone was buried in the trunk and inaccessible.

Five minutes later he asked again, knowing that a) he'd already been told no, and b) the phone wasn't even there. When I asked him, he told me that his father had already refused, and when asked where the phone was he knew it was in the trunk. So really, other than to nag for the sake of nagging, what was the point in asking? He knew that his request could not possibly be granted, but something compelled him to keep trying anyway.

If more adults managed to hold on to that persistence and optimism I suspect the world would be a very different place. Not necessarily less annoying, but probably more productive.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Grease Is The Word (a/k/a Shameless Mommy Brag)

Itai's after-school program celebrated Purim by putting on their own very unique version of Grease last night. The songs were in English (probably a good thing, since I think some of the kids, and many of the parents, would have passed out if they understood the words - "look at me I'm Sandra Dee, lousy with virginity" as a prime example) but the (Hebrew) dialogue was all about social inclusion, acceptance and the breaking down of gender stereotypes. Very wholesome and a great message for the kids to take away.

Putting all that aside though, I was there as a mom not a social critic, and was just bursting with pride watching my Kenicky greasin' it up there on the stage. He's the one in the blue t-shirt right in front (thank goodness, because as one of the tallest kids there he spent the rest of the show in the back row, making it impossible to take any decent pictures). Enjoy, and I dare you to try not to sing along ;-).

Here are the proud star and his even prouder mom after the show. Try to ignore the horrible picture quality - my current camera really bites the big one indoors at night but getting a good picture of the two of us together is rare enough that I decided to share it anyway. Thankfully my spiffy digital SLR is arriving in just two more weeks!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

TT - It's Purim!

So what is Purim anyway?

1. Purim (Hebrew: פורים "lots", related to Akkadian pūru) is a Jewish holiday that commemorates the deliverance of the Jewish people of the ancient Persian Empire from Haman's plot to annihilate them, as recorded in the Biblical Book of Esther (Megillat Esther). According to the story, Haman cast lots to determine the day upon which to exterminate the Jews. (Thanks Wikipedia, I couldn't have said it better myself. So I didn't.)

And now for some help from Judaism 101 (no reason to reinvent the wheel here, is there?):

2. Purim is one of the most joyous and fun holidays on the Jewish calendar. It commemorates a time when the Jewish people living in Persia were saved from extermination.

3. The heroes of the story are Esther, a beautiful young Jewish woman living in Persia, and her cousin Mordecai, who raised her as if she were his daughter. Esther was taken to the house of Ahasuerus, King of Persia, to become part of his harem. King Ahasuerus loved Esther more than his other women and made Esther queen, but the king did not know that Esther was a Jew, because Mordecai told her not to reveal her identity. Children learn the Purim story in school each year. Even my 4 year old daughter, who was very busy dressing up for the holiday as Cinderella, can tell you about Esther, Mordecai, Ahaseurus and the rest of the crew.

4. The villain of the story is Haman, an arrogant, egotistical advisor to the king. Haman hated Mordecai because Mordecai refused to bow down to Haman, so Haman plotted to destroy the Jewish people. In a speech that is all too familiar to Jews, Haman told the king, "There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your realm. Their laws are different from those of every other people's, and they do not observe the king's laws; therefore it is not befitting the king to tolerate them." Esther 3:8. The king gave the fate of the Jewish people to Haman, to do as he pleased to them. Haman planned to exterminate all of the Jews.

5. Mordecai persuaded Esther to speak to the king on behalf of the Jewish people. This was a dangerous thing for Esther to do, because anyone who came into the king's presence without being summoned could be put to death, and she had not been summoned. Esther fasted for three days to prepare herself, then went into the king. He welcomed her. Later, she told him of Haman's plot against her people. The Jewish people were saved, and Haman was hanged on the gallows that had been prepared for Mordecai.

Back to me again for the modern secular Israeli take on things:

6. Purim today bears a striking resemblance to an American Halloween. While the holiday is rooted in religious tradition, the costumes look remarkably like Anytown, USA (among secular Israelis that is, the more religious segments of society often prefer traditional biblical costumes or costumes from the story of Purim). This year my 7 year old is dressed as a boxer, complete with satin "Champ" robe while my daughter is Cinderella (oh my aching feminist sensibilities...). Itai's friends are dressed as soccer players, cartoon characters, wizards, you name it. In Maya's class the girls were mainly princesses - Cinderella, Snow White, a damsel in distress, Minnie Mouse and others and among the boys Peter Pan and Bob the Builder were in the lead when I left.

7. It is traditional to bring baskets of sweets to friends and neighbors. These baskets are known as mishloach manot in Hebrew or shalach manos in homes with a Yiddish/Eastern European tradition. For school-age children, this means preparing a basket filled with various chocolates and candy, a small toy (usually a noisemaker) and a few hamantaschen. The baskets are then "raffled" off in the classroom, with each kid bringing home someone else's basket.

8. Hamantaschen ("Haman's Hat"), and called "Haman's Ears" in Hebrew, are the Purim cookie. They are 3-sided, with various types of filling inside. Traditional fillings in North America are jelly or poppyseed. Here in Israel dates are more popular, and of course chocolate-filled is usually the children's filling of choice. You can find a recipe for hamantaschen here. You can find a wheat-free, gluten-free version here, towards the bottom of the page.

9. The primary commandment related to Purim is to hear the reading of the book of Esther. To "blot out the name of Haman" people boo, hiss, stamp their feet and rattle groggers (noisemakers) whenever the name of Haman is mentioned in the reading.

10. Purim is celebrated on the 14th day of the Jewish month of Adar, which is usually in February or March. The 13th of Adar is the day that Haman chose for the extermination of the Jews, and the day that the Jews fought to save their lives. The next day, the 14th, celebrates the survival of the Jewish people.

11. In cities that were walled in the time of Joshua, Purim is celebrated on the 15th of the month, because the book of Esther says that in Shushan (a walled city), deliverance from the massacre was not complete until the next day. The 15th is referred to as Shushan Purim.

12. Purim calls for celebrants to eat, drink and be merry. According to the Talmud, a person is required to drink until he cannot tell the difference between "cursed be Haman" and "blessed be Mordecai," though opinions differ as to exactly how drunk that is. No one is supposed to become so drunk that he might violate other commandments or get seriously ill, and alcoholics or others who might suffer serious harm from alcohol are exempt from the obligation. (I suspect this commandment is more widely obeyed in the religious sector. Other than a few raucous Purim parties I attended during my misspent youth I've never been to an event where the adults get plastered, or for that matter even really drink. Israelis on the whole are not big drinkers at all.)

13. Purim begins at sunset on Thursday March 20 this year, and ends at sundown on Friday.

A very happy Purim to all who are celebrating.

The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others comments. It’s easy, and fun! Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Purim 2008

Visit Wordless Wednesday to see what everyone else isn't saying.

WFMW - Smoked Chipotle Mayonnaise

Have you tried this stuff? It is awesome for spicing up a boring sandwich like sliced turkey or grilled cheese, or even better, a grilled smoked turkey and swiss open-faced sandwich on homemade bread.

Definitely not health food, but it does make lunchtime more interesting. Works for me. Stop by Rocks in my Dryer to see what works for everyone else.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


Something is awakening deep in the earth, or perhaps it would be more precise to say that the earth itself is awakening from its winter slumber. There are flowers blooming on every corner and new growth on every tree. Playgrounds are filling up again with families enjoying the late afternoon sun, outdoor cafes are beginning to fill. Jackets are being left behind, with long sleeves soon to be banished for another seven months. The city is rediscovering itself as the temperatures rise. The seaside promenade is a hub of happy activity. Energy levels are rising, and with them spirits. I too feel optimism rising within me like the sap rises in the trees. The dark days are ending, the light is shining again.

I am affected so strongly by the waxing and waning of the light, even here in this land where winter is but a shadow of what it could be and beautiful sunny days appear as if by magic even in January. I can't bare to imagine what devastation living through a true northern winter again would wreak on my soul. It could only have been the carelessness of youth that saw me through twenty of them. My older, more fragile self shudders at the thought, and whispers words of gratefulness that I don't have to.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Moving the Goal Posts

When a child is born, his parents begin to dream about his future. What will he be like, what will his interests be, will he be a good student, will he play sports or be in the science club, who will he take to the prom, what college will he go to, will he go to college at all, what career will he choose, who will he marry, what will his children look like... So many questions, but really, so many fantasies. After all, at the end of the day don't we all gaze at our babies in open-mouthed wonder, knowing that they embody unlimited potential, embody everything that is good in the world? We tremble at the privilege of watching and guiding them as they grow towards that potential. We begin to imagine the wonderful life they will lead, the things they will do. The details are fuzzy, like an out of focus photograph, but we can make out the highlights - high school, college, a career, marriage, then later grandchildren...

Having a special needs child turns all that on its head.

Instead of "what dress will she wear to the prom?" you might have "will she understand what the prom is?" Instead of "who will he marry?", you might lie awake at night asking yourself "will he ever be able to develop a significant social relationship?" Instead of "who will walk her down the aisle?" you might ask "will she ever walk?"

There are an infinite number of special needs out there, an infinite number of questions to ask. What they all have in common is the way they move the goal posts. The way they force you to reevaluate everything you took for granted, ever since you were young and playing house with your dolls. Barbie was never in a wheelchair, Ken was never autistic.

I have a special needs daughter. I am one of the lucky ones. Maya's challenges, while not easy for her or for us, are still fairly mild in the grand scheme of things, and most critically, they are thought to be surmountable. Sometimes, during the hardest times, it's difficult to remember that, but it's true. My questions are of the "when will she be able, or even want, to make friends?" variety, not "will she live to graduate high school?" or "will she ever be able to speak?" My heart breaks as I watch my daughter struggle to do the things that come so easily to others, but we have reason to hope. Reason to believe that with the right support she will be able to overcome most of her challenges and live an independent, fulfilling life. What form that life will take we can't know, and I don't really let myself dream about that right now. Twenty years from now Maya will be 24 years old. I don't know whether she will have served in the army like all of her classmates*, then followed along on the ever popular post-army round-the-world backpacking trip before returning to start college. I don't even know whether she'll have classmates who are on that path, or whether she will have remained in the smaller cocoon of special education, unable to return to the mainstream despite all of our efforts and dreams. Right now I'd settle for being able to have a real, two-way conversation with her. One she is able to sustain for more than a minute or two.

I've moved my goal posts. That's what I know how to do right now. I can't ask the questions so many others take for granted. I can only wait, and watch, and support, and love. And hope. Always hope. Hope that she can make it to the other side of the rainbow. Hope that wherever her rainbow leads her she is happy.

* Israel has a universal draft. Boys serve three years in the army, girls serve two.

This post has been submitted to Scribbit's March Write-Away contest, on the theme of "The Next Twenty Years".

Friday, March 14, 2008

Hotel Horror Stories

Sunday Scribblings is offering a smorgasbord prompt this week - a chance to write to any of the 101(!) prompts used to date. There were loads of great ones to choose from, but as soon as I saw "hotel stories" I knew I'd found my winner. I could write a novel on hotel horror stories.

There was the Hotel Gambetta in Dieppe, France, (which I'm sure must translate to "Bates Hotel" in French). We'd just missed, literally, by seconds, the very last room at a perfectly respectable hotel down the block. The woman behind the desk actually apologized profusely when she sent us to the Gambetta. Once we got there, we understood why. We slept with the door locked and dead-bolted all night, and then abandoned the complimentary breakfast to get away as quickly as possible the following morning, prefering to return to the first hotel and pay for breakfast instead.

Then there was the hotel in a certain northern Israeli city many years ago where the staff was lovely, really friendly and helpful, albeit a bit surprised to have actual guests as opposed to the long-stay Romanian construction workers that were filling up the rest of the rooms, when they weren't busy filling up the lounge drinking bottle after bottle of cheap booze. Oh, and the bathrooms were down the hall, too.

There was the Hotel Metropol in Ankara, Turkey, where the heat only worked a few hours a day, in January, with temperatures well below freezing. I was there for weeks months years decades during my first project in Turkey and got to know the staff reasonably well, or as well as I could considering that they didn't speak any English and I didn't speak Turkish. I'd spend most of the evening drinking tea in the hotel restaurant to heat myself up from the inside, then go upstairs and draw the hottest bath I could stand and would then literally parboil myself until I was nearly falling asleep in the tub. At that point I was usually warm and groggy enough to stumble into bed and fall straight asleep. If I decided to read for a while or got a phone call though, my body temperature would plummet again and I'd be too cold to fall asleep without another bath. Oh, and the place stunk so badly of cigarette smoke that even clothes I'd never worn came home smelling like they'd been barbecued!

The hotel that stands out the most for sheer incompetence though has to have been a little inn I used to stay in when I went to Surrey (England) on business. My company's regional headquarters are for some obscure historical reason located outside of a fairly small village several miles past the middle of nowhere. The only lodging option was the rather grandly named Inn on the Lake, known locally as the Pub on the Pond. The Inn was everything you'd want in a quaint country inn - fairly quiet, period (facsimile) furniture, an attached pub that served halfway decent food... What it was not, however, was a business hotel. I once received a critically important fax printed on pink paper. Ok, pink, fine, whatever, but that paper was from their pile of SCRAP paper! The one side was my Very Important Document, and the other contained random pages from their employee handbook - things like the importance of smiling at the guests and cleaning the toilets on the proper schedule! Another time I stopped by the desk to check for messages and was told I had none. I happened to notice a message for a "Mr. Robbins" (my name is Robin, remember) in Room 11 from a Mr. B_ H_. I told the clerk that I believed the message was in fact for me. "Oh no ma'am, that is for Mr. Robbins." I then had to explain that unless my room had a ghost, I was in fact the only occupant of Room 11, and furthermore I was fairly confident that I was the only person Mr. B_ H_ knew within 600 miles of that hotel. Perhaps the message was meant for me, ROBIN, rather than some fictional Mr. Robbins? (They never did concede that one, but I went ahead and called him back anyway - from the pay phone in the hall, because in those pre-cellphone days my British room phone would not accept my British Telecom phone card!). Then of course there were my wakeup calls, which would only occasionally come during the same hour I'd requested them. The Inn was a nightmare for a traveler in need of a basic level of business services, but it was worth its weight in gold as future blog fodder.

I can't even tell you how glad I am that we stayed here for two nights this week instead.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Back again

So, didja miss me?...

Jay and I are back after two utterly divine nights here - we destressed, relaxed, drank buckets of tea (the open "tea bar" is a big thing there), had treatments, did a ridiculously large number of exercise classes, spent hours in the jacuzzi, spent just a few minutes in the ridiculously hot Turkish hamam (any longer and I'd have permanently scalded my oh so delicate derriere), ate ourselves silly (god the food is good there, and even pseudo-healthy too, or at least close enough to pretend), went walking through the gorgeous green and flowered hills surrounding the hotel (we even saw wild tulips!), and generally enjoyed ourselves.

Alas, all good things must come to an end and we arrived home to a phone call from Maya's school to warn me that after a number of good days in a row she'd had a horrifically bad afternoon today. Lovely. Nice way to feel your blood pressure instantly shoot up again. That said, she was ecstatic to see us when we arrived (both of us) to pick her up from school and was utterly delightful all afternoon and evening and went to bed like a dream, so I'd think this afternoon's (not so) little drama was more of an "I've had enough of the sitter and want my parents back" moment than any major backsliding.

She's "eema shabbat" (the "Sabbath mother") in school tomorrow (which means she's got a major role in the end of the week festivities and gets to bring in treats for the class) so that should keep her on the straight and narrow.

Overall, except for that hour or so in school this afternoon both kids did really well while we were gone, and we're very proud of them both, and very very grateful. Mommy and Daddy love them more than life itself, but boy oh boy did we need some grownup time away.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Things are looking brighter this week

Life with a special needs child is often a series of ups and downs. The past few weeks were one of the downs. This week we seem to be back on the upswing again. It's often like that - sometimes it's two steps forward and one step back, other times it's one step forward and 374 steps back. At least that's how it feels when you're down deep in the trenches.

The meeting at Maya's preschool was difficult, but better than expected. The smartest thing we did was to bring Maya's psychologist with us to the meeting. As we prepared for a confrontation, Jay realized that perhaps we hadn't shared enough about Maya's issues with the school, that perhaps their seeming utter contempt for her difficulties was born in part out of ignorance rather than general asshattedness (yes, that's a word. I just made it up. Funny, my spellcheck doesn't like it.) L (the psychologist who's been working with Maya every week for a year now) was able to present Maya's issues to the director and the teacher in a much more objective, dispassionate manner, which gave her the credibility that we as parents lack. She couldn't be seen as just making excuses for poor behavior the way we could.

As we spoke, it became clear that the teacher himself knew almost nothing of this (I can't believe they didn't fill him in better). The director knew some, but she had reached a number of her own very erroneous conclusions which were really coloring her response to Maya, and had probably infected the rest of the staff as well. By seeing her as manipulative rather than overwhelmed and overstimulated, she was responding in ways that are not at all appropriate to Maya. This is the same woman who flat out told me that I would be doing Maya a tremendous disservice by putting her into a special needs kindergarten (where she would have a maximum class size of 12 instead of 36, where she'd get all the support services she needs, and where EVERY SINGLE PROFESSIONAL involved in evaluating or treating her agreed that she needed to be) and tried to make me feel like an incompetent parent for choosing that path. (No, not going there, I'll just get aggravated all over again.) Because Maya has a tremendous range of function - from extremely high to much lower - appearances are often deceiving. If you see her at a high functioning moment, as she often is for things like circle time, you would be hard pressed to see her as a child needing any kind of support or accommodations, whereas if you looked at longer periods of time her challenges would be obvious. The director was basically looking at a very small slice of "Maya" and basing all of her interactions on that. Unfortunately for Maya, that sample is not representative.

Once faced with the reality of Maya's special needs, which include severe anxiety issues and difficulties with change (hello, new teacher! The director had been claiming that "it's been a month, she should have adjusted by now, therefore this behavior is simply bad behavior. Mama bear claws coming out now...), sensory processing difficulties, and major challenges with expressive language (the ability to have a normal two-sided conversation, as opposed to the ability to physically make the sounds) she was forced to admit that perhaps she'd been taking the wrong approach with Maya, judging her unfairly and holding her to a standard that she is not capable of right now.

We spent about 90 minutes there, talking both about where Maya is now and about practical means of helping her. I also had a light bulb moment when the director told me (for the first time) that the worst of her tantrums were coming at about 3pm, and that during those episodes there was no reaching her. The director tried to force me into letting them have her nap again. My response? Over my dead body. She's nearly 4.5, she does NOT need a nap and hasn't been napping at home for over a year and a half. Without the nap she's going to bed at 9:30 or 10, with the nap it was often after midnight! No way no how am I agreeing to a nap. The director tried to insist that her behavior was the result of "cumulative fatigue" (my ass it was!). Of course her behavior was ratty, she was more than likely starving by 3, which would just about guarantee a severe breakdown. With all of Maya's food issues, she often ends up eating nothing but carbohydrates for lunch. All that rice or pasta is fine for giving her a quick energy boost, but then sets her up for a major crash a few hours later. I asked them to give her a piece of fruit or other healthy snack while the rest of the class is napping.

Knock on wood and positive thoughts to any deities you may or may not believe in, there's been a huge improvement in her behavior so far this week. I don't know whether it's the snack or whether it's an improved attitude on the part of the staff now that they have a better understanding of why Maya behaves the way she sometimes does, or even whether she's just finally adjusting to the new teacher, but things this week are on a very much needed upswing.

We're still in the middle of evaluations, but the official diagnosis is now looking like a psychological, as opposed to neurological, one. After countless rounds of testing they have finally ruled out PDD (the autism spectrum). Maya has a number of traits in common with PDD, but hers they now believe stem from anxiety and SPD. They did refer her for an EEG and bloodwork, but that is mainly to rule things out. None of this really means anything in terms of what therapies she needs or how to treat her, but it does mean that they're more optimistic about the long-term. They were particularly encouraged to see that she is using more meaningful, symbolic play than she was 6 months ago.

Oh, and she aced her speech evaluation today. As always, there's still a long way to go, but she's moving in the right direction again, and with that I feel as if a 4-ton weight has been lifted off of my chest, at least until the next low when it will come crashing back down again.
For now though, things are good and my sweet loving girl is back.

And another one for the "life is good" file - after a three week illness plagued delay, Jay and I are finally going away tomorrow. We'll be gone for two nights and will not be bringing a computer. Catch you all on Thursday.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

The Ever-Shifting Canvas

Where: The beach
When: Just after dawn
The players: a crab, a bird, the sand, the water, the sun, a shell

The beach is silent. The pale light of the early morning sun casts everything in soft, muted tones, not yet stripping them bare with the harsh light of day. The only sound heard is the mournful cry of a gull. A crab skitters haphazardly over the sand, busy with an errand only he knows. A gull pecks hopefully at the shells washed up by the tide, checking whether the sea has returned more than empty promises. The crab's trail, the bird and his tracks, the shells, the light, all come together in an early morning tableau. Unseen. Unspoiled. The water lapping quietly at its edge.

As the sun begins to climb higher, so too does the water. In the blink of an eye it will all be gone, erased by the rising tide, to be recreated again with the dawn. Each day a new painting on fresh canvas. The same, and yet vastly different.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Surf City Pizza

Oh man, I am SO bummed. I can't believe I'm stuck in this 110 degree hole working when there are all those killer waves out there. What's wrong with all these people, why are they coming in here to order a stupid pizza when they could be OUT THERE riding all those waves! This is so bogus. This working gig is really not for me, who says I need to be taught responsibility. Responsibility is lookin' at those waves and choosin' which one to ride, the one that'll show all those beach bums who knows their way around a board. The one that'll win me that crown and all that sweet, sweet prize money. Who needs a stupid job anyway when they could be surfin'. Like learning how to make a pizza is really gonna take me far in life. Jeez.

Hey wait a second.

I bet that if I started making really bad pizzas people would stop buying them. Then the owner would have to let me go and there'd be nothing my old man could say about it. No business, no need for an employee. Oh yeah. I can practically taste the freedom and the salt air!

But how? How can I make pizzas so bad that the customers will flee? This is going to take some experimenting... It's got to be really, really vile. Oh man, this is gonna work, I can feel it in my bones. By this time next week I will be ridin' the waves, a free man again. I'm practically outta here already.

But what to put on the pizza...

Hey, wait! I've got it! Check it out man! I'm gonna do something so vile they're even gonna write petitions against it!

My secret weapon. This is definitely gonna work! No one in their right mind would ever want PINEAPPLE on a pizza! One bite and it's over. I am SO outta here...

This week's Sunday Scribbling's prompt was "the experiment". It's been a while since I wrote any fiction so I decided to have some fun with it.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

TT - 13 Page-turners on my shelf

While my book club tends towards fairly serious literature, when I'm reading for myself I love a good whodunnit or spy novel, a page-turner. Here are 13 books or series from my bookshelf:
1. (Almost all of) Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan series. The earlier ones were definitely better though. The last one I read (
The Bear and the Dragon - I read them slightly out of order) the editing was horrific, I spent the entire book aggravated at characters who were acting completely OUT of character, so to speak. Completely distracting. A shame too, because the earlier books were so strong.

2. Several of Clancy's Op-Center books. These never really did it for me. I was reading Tom Clancy for the characters and the plot, not all the military mumbo-jumbo.

3. Robert Ludlum's Bourne Trilogy - so so so much better than the movies, albeit with less eye candy.

4. Other Robert Ludlum books - The Aquitaine Progression, The Prometheus Deception, The Holcroft Covenant and the Chancellor Manuscript - oldies but goodies

5. Robert Kellerman - a bunch of the Alex Delaware series

6. Faye Kellerman - Prayers for the Dead - I like the Rina/Decker novels, it's not often that you see an Orthodox Jewish woman as a main character, especially one that is trying to walk in two worlds

7. Batya Gur - Murder on a Kibbutz, A Communal Case - not great, but not terrible either

8. Dan Brown - The Da Vinci Code - ok fine, a bit over the top, but a definite stay up to late reading page turner

9. Sue Henry - Murder at Five Finger Light - again, not fabulous, but interesting for its peak into Alaskan life

10. Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose - love this book.

11. G.M. Ford's Who in Hell is Wanda Fuca. I admit I haven't read this one yet, but I loved the title. I found it in a used book store shortly after returning from the Pacific Northwest and, yes, the Juan de Fuca Straight

12. Tony Hillerman's The Fallen Man - murder, native American style

13. And saving the best fun for last,
The Story of Elijah, written by TT's very own Nicholas Temple-Smith. Chock full of colorful characters with a plot twist that you will definitely not figure out on your own, this one keeps you reeled in until the very last page. Good stuff indeed.

Sorry for the lack of links - it's late and my husband is waiting for me to start watching season 2 of Gray's Anatomy. You'll have to google if you're curious.

Happy Thursday everyone.

Visit the
Thursday Thirteen hub to see what everyone else is up to this week.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Cleaning foam bath toys?

It's backwards week again at Rocks In My Dryer's WFMW, which means that I get a chance to ask for tips instead of giving them, and I've definitely could use some good ideas for this one.

How do you clean foam bath toys?

We've got a ton of them - a set of sea creatures, a pair of faces with assorted features (think two-dimensional Mr. Potato Head), and a new set of foam "paper dolls". The problem is that after a while these foam toys start getting very grungy looking. I'm no germaphobe, but even to me it seems like bathing with something covered in mystery mold is probably not a good idea.

I've tried running them through the washing machine with a bunch of bleach and that helps a bit, but it still doesn't get them really clean, especially the older ones. Other than the grunge they're in great shape and played with often, I'd hate to throw them out but if I can't get them cleaner I'm not going to have a choice.

So, any bright ideas out there?

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Sorry Kelley...

And the truth is, I am. I'd definitely rather be barefoot, or at most in (my funky beaded) flip flops than in closed shoes at all, and if it has to be closed shoes then crocs. Unless I'm really getting dressed up for a night out comfort definitely trumps style. Sorry Kelley. Will you still love me anyway?

You Are Bare Feet

You are a true free spirit, and you can't be tied down.

Even wearing shoes can be a little too constraining for you at times!

You are very comfortable in your own skin.

You are one of the most real people around. You don't have anything to hide.

Open and accepting, you are willing to discuss or entertain almost any topic.

You are a very tolerant person. You are accepting and not judgmental.

You should live: Somewhere warm

You should work: At your own business, where you can set the rules

Hat tip to Phyllis, I stole this off of her blog

Monday, March 3, 2008

Don't feel much like writing today

This week is not shaping up to be a great one so far. We're going through a bit of a backslide with Maya right now, and unfortunately it's come smack dab in the middle of all sorts of periodic evaluations, themselves a source of major stress and frustration - for Maya especially, but for us as well. Things could be better. Just for a bit of added fun I just got a call from her preschool, the director wants a meeting to discuss her behavior, which could be better to say the least. The one constant in all of this used to be that Maya's behavior in school, while symptomatic of the social and emotional difficulties she's having, was never problematic for others. Now that too has changed and I find myself cringing as I enter the door each afternoon, waiting for that day's bad news. Her beloved teacher left to have a baby a month ago and since then Maya's been acting out , aggressively. We're seeing more of it at home too, leaving me feeling frustrated and incompetent. When you combine my own feelings of inadequacy and my guilt and sadness that I can't seem to make things better for my daughter with the already horribly patronizing attitude of the school's director you get a fairly high probability that this meeting is going to be a difficult one. It's on Thursday evening, and I am really not looking forward to it.

How can this beautiful golden child, the one who danced around the house for hours at the sheer joy of having received her heart's desire - a Cinderella costume for Purim - be the same one who shrieks and snarls like a wild animal, to the point of being actually physically unable to speak, when you tell her it's time to get out of bed in the morning?

I know these downswings happen and that an upswing will eventually follow, perhaps even soon, and I know that we are moving closer to a more optimistic diagnosis, but knowing that doesn't really make coping with the bad days any easier.
Oh, and Itai is home sick with a fever too. The fun just never stops around here.

The Writers Island prompt for this week was "empower". I wanted to write about how the lactation consulting and support work I do empowers both mothers and babies, but right now I feel so utterly unempowered myself that I just don't have it in me. I'll be sitting this one out.