Friday, September 18, 2015


This post is not my best work, because it consists of pieces of draft posts attached to each other with crappy adhesive that is likely to turn a funny color and then everything falls apart. This entry is made extra-confusing because of comments that were added in later (only this first paragraph and the last are being written now, Sept. 2015), and an introductory paragraph that is now totally out of date. So this is the new introductory paragraph. You might already be lost. That's okay.

If you'd like me to expand on any of these themes, I can do that. Let me know.

The "beginning"

I had some free time today, thanks to the fact that I was supposed to be working at home (due to "Frankenstorm" shutting down Metro and prompting our upper management to tell us not to come in), but I couldn't work, because they'd shut down the power to our building in order to fix some hurricane-induced power problem somewhere else, and I tried to dial in the alternate way, but my computer steadfastly refused to let me do it, and I called the IT people at work, and they were baffled and said they'd call back, but they didn't, and...I did everything I could, didn't I? Anyway, I decided to come here, which I have not done in much too long, and I discovered that I had a lot of drafts. Well, if I took the time to write it, I shouldn't waste it, so here, for you lovely readers, is a hodge-podge, a smorgasbord, an amalgam of random tidbits.

First, in order from most recent on backward, is an untitled post:

[starts here]Blogger keeps improving itself (love ya blogger! please don't ever lose my content!) and it now provides page-view data. Of course I had to know which of my posts had the most views. That honor goes to Soothing the Savage from July 2009, which is about music, of course.

This post would not be tops if I was to list them in order of brilliance. I mean, it's pretty good, but it's not award-winning. So why all the page views? I'm guessing it's the fact that I mentioned a number of band names, such that Soothing the Savage is a result if anyone searches for Spock's Beard, Porcupine Tree, Alphaville, or Grey Eye Glances, to name a few.

See what I did there? I named those bands again. And for the rest of this writing I'll see how many music references I can make. We'll see if this adds to my page view total! (Yes, I know that I [know that I what?? I have no idea what I was going to say here. But going out of my way to name musicians is a good idea.]

I've been thinking about why I go to the synagogue and pray when no one is telling me that I have to. One reason is that my parents used to tell me I had to, and that still sticks to some degree. As I've told you before, my father was the cantor at our synagogue the whole time I was growing up, so that going to shul included the bonus-extra of hearing him lead the service. It was important to him that we go, that we participate, that we learn, and so we did. This might have faded but it will never go away.

I also just plain believe we're supposed to thank G-d for things, and this is a good way to do it. My favorite prayer of late is the Modim Anachnu Lach, which means this (in part) in English :

Thanks from us to You, for You are Adonai our God and the God of our ancestors forever and ever; the Rock of our lives, the Shield of our salvation through every generation. We will give thanks to You and declare Your praise -- for our lives which are committed into Your hand, and for our souls which are in Your charge, and for Your miracles, which are every day with us, and for Your wonders and Your goodnesses, which are with us at all times, evening and morning and noon.
That last part is the part that resonates with me. "Your miracles, which are every day with us, ... at all times, evening and morning and noon." This is true, isn't it? I mean, [And that one ends there.]

Not sure where I was going with that.

The next draft was titled "Gaps in the Gadgetry." Man, that title is really super, isn't it? Too bad I don't know what I meant by it.

[starts here] In the afternoon of September 1, 2011, my mother-in-law took her own life. The evidence strongly suggests that she had been planning to do this for some time.

MIL had made her wishes known: she wanted to be cremated, and she did not want a funeral. So, we couldn't do the usual Jewish stuff that we're used to once we've had family members die: burial occurring as expeditiously as possible, following a short funeral service with a closed casket, then after all that there's a shiva house, where folks come and go, try to offer comfort as best they can, be there for the quorum needed to say kaddish. It was several days before the actual cremation happened, a weird limbo period in which it was hard to move forward.

We decided that we should have family and friends gather for a memorial service at our house. In her right mind, MIL would have considered this a no-brainer, too, and we were told by more than one person that what happens after a person dies is really up to those who remain.

Planning for this was strange for me. I was on two different planes at the same time. On one plane I was planning to have people over and I worried about making sure we'd vacuumed and my kids picked up their socks and we had enough food (I tried not to have more than enough, and as always I failed). On the other I was all "my mother-in-law is dead! my husband lost his mother! my kids lost their Gammy! FIL is alone! she's gone forever!" It was not unlike being under the influence of ... substances, where you act totally affected by those substances, while at the very same time you are completely aware that you are acting foolish, and why it's happening, and what might result from it. There is probably a psychological term for this with many syllables, but I will just call it SplitBrain. SplitBrain is probably a good thing, because if I completely gave over to the underworld, I would have been lost, and my memorial-service planning skills would have been wiped out. (We also could never have accomplished this without the help of a number of friends. Special shout-outs to our next-door neighbors on either side who went above and beyond, and our rabbi.) [ends here]

That one started out pretty good, I think, but I'm not sure where I was going with it. During that time, I thought a lot about how the burial/mourning rituals are really like a to-do list; they literally tell the mourners and their loved ones what to do when someone dies, and when to do it. Way back in school we learned this, and then I experienced it when my grandparents passed away, and especially when my father passed away, because I was a full-fledged adult by then and had to do stuff because my mother was pretty paralyzed. So when you have to deviate from that, you do end up lost. Having said that, I have learned that cremation is a whole lot less expensive, and that's important when caskets and cemetery plots haven't been prearranged. Also, there's the view that it's environmentally better to do cremation, but those brought up experiencing death in the traditionally Jewish way get a little uncomfortable with the notion. I think there are some who wonder how we could have even considered it.

Nearly two months after this, my father-in-law passed away as well from complications after a surgical procedure. Many surmise that he died of a broken heart. It's certainly possible. I also think that G-d might have been saving both of them from much more prolonged, smoking-related deaths that would occur down the road.

This is very depressing. Let's move on.

The digression

This next outtake is titled "Ass-Pocket Embroidery."

[starts here] If you are a girl, you probably wear jeans but have a hard time finding a pair that looks good, is not prohibitively expensive, and doesn't dig into places, or gap in embarrassing ways when you crouch down to get eye level with a child. (By the way that's why they call that jeans store The Gap. Just kidding. Maybe.) If you find a good pair, you will probably purchase multiple pairs if you can afford to. I have a couple types that I like. Levi's 515s (which always makes a song by The Who start going through my head when I speak of them). I have one from Kohl's that is nice. But I have purchased several pairs of Eddie Bauer boot-cut curvy-fit jeans. I'm wearing one of them right now. [Ed. No I'm not. I'm wearing my beat-around jeans with the bleach stain. This post LIES.]

The regular price of these jeans is $60/pair. I have never paid that, however. (I've also never paid more than $50 for a handbag. I just saw a photo of Heidi Klum wearing $1600 Jimmy Choo sandals, and they really weren't all that pretty. What is up with that? [If I cared about this post, which I don't because I'm just glomming it in with all this unfinished material, I would delete this Heidi Klum bit. Who cares?]) I purchased them on sale for $40. Then one day I was at the Eddie Bauer outlet and thought I'd pick up one or two more pairs.

I couldn't help but notice that these jeans weren't exactly the same as those I had bought in the mall. The saleslady explained that the company makes somewhat different stuff specifically for the outlet store. The most important difference for me was that the back pockets were plain. The ones I'd bought from the regular store had a nice stitching pattern on the pocket. I tried to get a photo from to illustrate this, but guess what? All the pockets are plain and that's where it ends.

I must have had some enormously clever analogy that I was going to make, comparing something in life with these jeans that aren't the same when you buy them from the outlet. They don't fit the same either. They are a total ripoff and I will never do that again. There's a life lesson for ya. If the ass-pocket embroidery is missing STAY FAR AWAY. Aren't you glad you read this? You're so much more learned now.

The "middle"

This next bit of flotsam has no title, and it talks about the 2009 high holidays.

[starts here] At Kol Nidre (the service for Yom Kippur eve) one year, the rabbi asked everyone to think of their favorite Jewish artifact, and also their most remembered spiritual moment. We were supposed to talk to someone next to us about the two for a few minutes, but I had come to the service alone and was sitting at the end of a row next to a married couple, so I sort of sat there awkwardly silent until the rabbi resumed his sermon. [YES, you read that right. I am the ONLY ONE in my family that goes to Kol Nidre. This is terrible and you should give them all grief about it. I had to go alone, and had no one to sit with. FEEL SORRY for 2009 ME.] But I enjoyed this exercise.

The artifact was easy. A bat mitzvah celebration is a gift-giving occasion. Like many others I received gifts of cash, checks, bonds, a few books, Shabbat candlesticks from the synagogue (every girl got those; boys got a Kiddush cup), a number of pieces of jewelry and a couple of jewelry boxes to keep them in. Other than the candlesticks, I only remember receiving one piece of Judaica. It was a challah knife, with a blue on white decorated handle, and a long serrated blade with the words (in Hebrew): "L'chvod Shabbat," which means "to honor the Sabbath." My mother said that I could choose whether we should use the knife now, or save it until I got married. I liked the idea of saving it, so I did. Looking at it now reminds me of that time, and that choice. [If this sounds familiar, it's because I grabbed this bit and used it in another post. You are not experiencing déjà vu.]

It was a little harder to pick a single most-spiritual moment, because I can think of a number of such moments from various points in my life. One that came to mind occurred in camp (the good camp, not this crappy camp). One morning a man taught a group of us how to make tzitzit. (I know that's a weird-looking word. The i's have a long "e" sound. In Hebrew there is a letter that sounds like "tz" or "ts" like the end of the word "bits." So, you're almost saying "zeet-zeet" but with more of a hardness to the first consonant. I hope that helps.) Tzitzit are the fringes on the four corners of the tallit, which is that thing guys (and, increasingly, gals) wear when they pray (if you are observant you wear a garment with these fringes hanging from the corners all the time). The fringes are knotted and have one strand wrapped around the others, and this is not for decoration; there's significance to the number of knots and wraps, devised from Jewish numerology, or gematria (this is one of the coolest things about Judaism--the math...another post or twelve in itself). Hence the lesson in the right way to make them. [some link I can't find anymore]calls it "ritual macrame." [How's that for accurate attribution?]

Our workshop was held at picnic tables outside. At some level I think I knew how fortunate I was to be there, in this mountain setting, learning all about the right way to follow and perpetuate an ancient religious practice. When I was little, I used to sit on my father's lap in synagogue (when he wasn't "on duty" as the cantor) and played with the tzitzit (they are almost as hard to resist as a Slinky; you sort of have to play with them). The fringe I made in camp was tied on to a hole in a piece of cardboard. I don't know what happened to it, but I can picture it clearly. [Was I going to say more about the tzitzit? The spiritual moment? Probably, but then I abruptly move to...]

One year at Chanukah time, my coworker told me she made latkes for the classmates of ALL THREE of her sons. She works part time, and I envied her ability (and shlep-willingness) to do this. This year, Pumpkin's preschool class had an entire week of Chanukah-based lesson plans, even though Pumpkin might be the only Jew (there might be one other, in another room, maybe). One of the teachers asked me to make latkes for the class, after all that learning about the holiday, and I got myself together and did. Yes, the teachers are playing up Chanukah to the exclusion of all other holidays. And yes, they did lose a point or three for having the kids make Magen David ornaments for the school's Christmas tree. But the effort was roundly appreciated, and they certainly deserved some crispy fried yumminess. [it ends here]

I made latkes for day care? I barely remember doing that. That was cool of me though, right? To make latkes for one class, one time? Yeah! Mmmmm, latkes...

The "end"

The next not-post is titled "Pesach--Part 2 (aftermath)" It seems I never get to the aftermath of Pesach part. Instead I post three videos, one of which I ended up using in Switchback. So I'll just delete that part.

.... deleting ...

Okay, we're back to September 2015 and I've crumpled up this post and thrown it at you. Gently.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

World's Worst Mother Needs a Time Delay

The mechanic told us it would cost approximately a bazillion dollars to fix our car, and so we purchased a car that may not need not fixing just yet. It came with a trial of XM/Sirius Satellite Radio.

On the way back from a friend's Chanukah party, Einstein (8) asked if we could put on one of the Dance/Electronica stations. There are three. I chose at random. The song was interesting, but after a while there was singing of sorts, repetitive singing containing a lot of f-words. I hoped the cursing would be "fleeting" (see below for the U.S. Supreme Court connection here).

Whenever I heard the word, I dutifully exclaimed "BLEEP!"

Einstein said, "Mom, I already heard it. You don't have to say "bleep."

He is only a third-grader, you see, and although he is very smart, some things must still be explained. "I must say BLEEP because I am a RESPONSIBLE PARENT!"

Fast-forward a couple of weeks, and we're in a restaurant. Einstein is sitting next to his dad across from me and my 6-year-old, Pumpkin. Dad is talking about something emphatically and with expression and somewhere in there, an f-word is spoken. I hope the kids don't notice.

Pumpkin says something I don't catch, so I lean down and ask him to repeat it.

"It's okay," he said. "I bleeped."

My job is done.

[Totally Relevant Aside: The U.S. Supreme Court today heard oral argument in the FCC v. Fox case, which involves the issue of "fleeting expletives" and "fleeting nudity," both of which used to get a pass from the FCC. The Commission changed its tune somewhere along the line (probably after getting lots of complaints after things like the brief sighting of Janet Jackson's boob during the Super Bowl) and the high court must determine the (brace for seven-syllable word) constitutionality of the current FCC policy. Stay tuned, so to speak.]

Friday, June 17, 2011

But We Are

Last year I lamented the lack of attention most Jews pay to the holiday of Shavuot. I reported in that post that "my kids didn't really celebrate Shavuot. Also, as I had predicted, there were very few people at services. No one thinks Shavuot is important enough to take their kids out of school ... ." Commenter Shtuey pointed out that "[t]here is no ritual practice associated with the festival. There is no seder, no building of a temporary structure, no lighting of multi-branched cand[elabra], etc. The best it gets is that we eat dairy."

So far, I have not figured out how to get people excited about Shavuot. But I wanted to go a step further this year and take the kids to the service. At the very least it would give them a clue that a holiday happens in late spring/early summer, even if most people, even Jews, haven't heard of it; the fact that people show up in the middle of the week for a service at the synagogue is "proof."

The problem was that Einstein (8) was supposed to have Field Day (which they call "Spring Swing") on the day I was to take him out of school for the holiday. It felt wrong to deprive him of Spring Swing. I was going to take his little brother only. But then the forecast said that the temperature would reach about a million degrees, with crappy air quality, and they cancelled Spring Swing. I wasn't sure what I was going to do.

In the morning, Einstein asked, "why can't I go to the service?" I said, "well, you can if you want to." He said that he wanted to, and while I realized that he might have been at least partially motivated by a desire to get out of going to school, I was sure that telling him he could had to go to school instead would send the wrong message. Even if, every year, he looks at the Jewish calendar and happily exclaims "oh look! I can get out of school on this day!", I would prefer that to "oh, look, another boring Jewish thing this month ::groan::"

We were getting ready to leave for the synagogue and in the entryway I gave the kids a bit of a warning that there probably would not be very many other children; that, in fact, they might be the only ones. Seeing their confused looks, I said, "well, this is an important holiday, but for some reason many people don't treat it that way."

Without missing a beat, Einstein said, "but we are."

Indeed. You've earned your day off, kid.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Wind-up Rocket Ship

Okay, so I was working on a blog post titled "Wind-up Rocket Ship."

It was going to be called that for two reasons. One: I talked about the significance of a little space shuttle that you wind up and it rolls about on the floor and a little spaceperson pops out. I gave it to my son Einstein as a Chanukah gift. You'll see that story in a bit.

Two: In my post involving Pluto, I inadvertently attracted some astronomy people, with passionate comments. I love passionate comments, even if they have little to do with the point I was making (really, I think the whole Pluto thing is very interesting, and I don't mind tangents at all! Tangents lead to things you didn't know you thought or wanted to say and that's where the magic happens! Wait--what were we talking about?). So yeah, you can leave me passionate comments about almost anything. Nothing nasty about me, though. I'd have to come over there and ... you wouldn't want that.

Anyway, I thought I'd mention the Rocket Ship and more space people would show up here. You are all welcome! (Except Borg. I love the Borg but they are kind of mean, and I don't think they blog OR go to movies, let alone do anything Jewish, and if I got assimilated I couldn't do that stuff either. Borg don't seem to do birthdays, either, 'cause they are a hive mind and no one's an individual with a unique birthday. My birthday is soon, so if I'm going to be assimilated, it has to be after that.)

The post to which I obliquely refer was taking forever! I do try to make my posts read fairly cohesively, and be clear about their purpose, and kind of make the reader feel good at the end. It wasn't working. It might eventually work, but I do want to post things, sometimes. So I thought I should find some other way to make this into a publishable piece.

Originally, I was going to list a whole bunch of things that we earthlings living in society do wrong on a regular basis. For example, we don't stand or sit up straight. I find that I'm much better off if I sit the correct, ergonomic way. It prevents the backs of my shoulders from feeling like they are made of cement. Also, if I'm walking around and remember to stand up straight with my head up and my shoulders back, I feel instantly better. I think it opens up your airways and makes you look taller and smarter! Or at least taller. BUT, most of the time, I forget to sit and stand properly, and this is just one of many things I (we) do WRONG.

Then I was going to talk about things that are right, or at least that feel right. For example, as I may have mentioned, I don't keep a kosher home. But I always feel better buying kosher products. Sort of how you feel when you're a kid and you do something your parents would approve of.

The whole "keeping kosher" thing runs the gamut. Some people keep kosher in their house, but if they are at someone else's house, or at a restaurant, all bets are off and they eat whatever they want. Others have more flexibility outside the house, but would draw the line at consuming pork products or shellfish, or, in some cases, mixing meat and dairy together. To illustrate, for such a person it might be okay to have a hamburger in a restaurant that was not made with kosher meat (rules about what makes meat kosher omitted) (see, I avoided that tangent!), but not to have cheese on said burger.

Following kashrut rules in the home can vary quite a bit too. Growing up, we had two separate sets of dishes, silverware, and pots, one for dairy meals and one for meat meals. However, we used the dishwasher for both (not at the same time). If we were more observant we would not have done that (you either have two dishwashers, or you wash one set by hand).

My husband, who was not brought up keeping kosher, and has no desire to do so, can't get his mind around keeping kosher only in the house. He thinks it is hypocritical. As I said, I don't keep kosher, but if I'm looking at two products in the grocery store, and one has a hechsher and one doesn't, I'm going to choose the one that does. Example: I pick Little Debbie Swiss Rolls over Hostess Ho Hos (I also sort of like the fact that the Little Debbies call a "serving size" TWO cakes. They are in twin packaging. Really, does anyone just eat one?)

I was trying to make the point that even doing little things that feel "right" in themselves--even if they are technically hypocritical, or incomplete in that they don't constitute really following Jewish teachings, and even if they don't comport with what others do, and might even make someone ask "why do you care?"--can help to neutralize all of these things we do wrong all the time. I know, that's kind of lame. I was hoping to have a dream, or for some insight to fall from the sky that would return this concept to the cleverness it sported when I first thought of it. Surprise! That didn't happen either.

Also, I wanted to include a funny kid story because those seem to go over well. But all I can come up with right now is that Pumpkin (5) referred to his nose as a Really Big Booger Place recently, and although that was sort of funny I couldn't flesh it out into a story.

During my despair over my inability to make this into a post with any kind of value at all, I was linked to a really really really really really funny blog. I am not going to link to it right now, because if I do, you will go read that instead. I could never be even a tenth as funny as this blogger. Maybe a fifteenth. If what I'm writing right now is a fifteenth, you may tell me so and make me happy. I realize you can't compare this to the superhilarious blog because I didn't tell you which one it was, but I know you love me, and that you will go comment "ATG is a fifteenth" or "1/15!!" after you read this post. And I'll see the comments and smile and skip around happily. It will be your good deed for the day. Then when you find the Really Funny Blog, you may revise your comparison percentage, but just do it in your mind so that I can obliviously continue to feel all .0666666667.

One of Really Funny Blogger's posts (which, by the way, also include comic art) was one in which she expressed concern that she had already written and posted such great stuff that she'd reached a peak, and that maybe she should write some shlop in order to lower her readers' expectations. So she got drunk and wrote some stuff that didn't make sense and made pictures that were maybe not as great as they usually are, and told her readers as she went along that she was going to post this even though it kind of sucked, and so she did, and her attempt to pretend not to be funny was, of course, funny.

I figured I should absorb this genius, and come over here and use it to polish the mirrors. I figured I would write all about how I can't seem to write anything, and say woe is me a few times, and magic will happen and it will morph itself into a worthwhile post.

And the best thing is this: if it isn't good, and you tell me so in your comments, then I can do what RFB did, and UPDATE the post by responding to your comment in a way that makes YOU look like a jerk for saying negative things about me and my writing. Everybody wins!

Just a few more things to meet my arbitrary standards of sufficiency. Or to make this post entirely too long. Maybe you should take a break now? Go pop some popcorn. I'll wait.

THE ORIGINAL LEAD-IN TO THE ROCKET SHIP STORY: At Kol Nidre (the service for Yom Kippur eve) one year, the rabbi asked everyone to think of their favorite Jewish artifact, and also their most remembered spiritual moment. We were supposed to talk to someone next to us about the two for a few minutes, but I had come to the service alone and was sitting at the end of a row next to a married couple, so I sort of sat there awkwardly silent until the rabbi resumed his sermon. But I enjoyed this exercise.

The artifact was easy. A bat mitzvah celebration is a gift-giving occasion. Like many others I received gifts of cash, checks, bonds, a few books, Shabbat candlesticks from the synagogue (every girl got those; boys got a Kiddush cup), a number of pieces of jewelry and a couple of jewelry boxes to keep them in. Other than the candlesticks, I only remember receiving one piece of Judaica. It was a challah knife, with a blue on white decorated handle, and a long serrated blade with the words (in Hebrew): "L'chvod Shabbat," which means "to honor the Sabbath." My mother said that I could choose whether we should use the knife now, or save it until I got married. I liked the idea of saving it, so I did. Looking at it now reminds me of that time, and that choice.

(this isn't my knife, but you get the idea. Taking a picture of my knife and uploading it myself would have delayed this even further!)

AND NOW HERE IS THE STORY: The kids are old enough to understand that they do not celebrate Christmas, but can still enjoy the season (such as by taking in the Winter Lights show, more on that later). There is still some tweaking to do (Pumpkin asked me the other day if I "hated" Santa Claus) but they get very excited about the Jewish holidays. They are still a bit too into the gifts, but it seems that kids this age like to get things, regardless of what they are. The other day Einstein said "this is my favorite Chanukah gift that I ever got."

He was holding one of those tiny plastic wind-up toys; a space shuttle that sort of scuttles across the floor and opens up so the tiny astronaut can go on his/her little space walk. It cost three or four dollars. It may not be a piece of Judaica, but that link to Chanukah in his memory is enough to charge it up with spiritualism. His mind will file it in the "My Religion" cabinet, in the "Chanukah" drawer, under "Things That Make Me Smile." At least, I hope so.

AND NOW I MUST CELEBRATE MY SUCCESS AT FINALLY PUBLISHING THIS...WITH A HAPPY SONG: Clicking on this will probably make you go "I remember this song!" You can't NOT like this song. Even my mother likes this song, and she does not generally let rock guitar pass her eardrums. It will go through your head for the rest of the day, but the cool thing is, you can change the lyrics and just sing about whatever you happen to be doing. Enjoy!

And remember your significant numbers: a fifteenth, and the sixteenth, which is my birthday. Yes, this weekend we celebrate 12tequilas's birthday weekend [with all due love and respect to MLK --ed.].

Friday, September 17, 2010

Err Like a Human

In preparation for Yom Kippur, we search our souls and see where we have sinned against G-d and against other people. Then we apologize for these sins, and resolve to do better in the future. You have to own up and then do something about it.

On these last few days before the big ol' Day of Atonement, we try to seek forgiveness from our friends and family that we have wronged. I thought about this a lot this year, but did not actually get a chance to do it. I thought it would be a copout to go online, say, to Facebook, and post a general "please forgive me" shoutout. That would certainly not cover it, and would be too easy. (This ain't supposed to be easy.)

But, as I said, I didn't get to it, at least not yet. Then yesterday morning I got a mailing-list e-mail from writer Naomi Ragen, whom I greatly admire. Ragen wrote:


A day before Yom Kippur is a day of deep soul-searching. I have searched my soul, and would like to publicly ask forgiveness for mistakes I have made, and actions I regret:

1) I ask forgiveness from all my readers for not having the time to answer all their many comments to me. If you wrote me, and I didn't answer, please forgive me. In the year to come, I will try harder, although I ask forgiveness in advance if I don't get back to you. But please know I read every, single e-mail sent to me.

2) I regret harsh answers and columns that were written in a moment of anger and frustration. I will try harder to be more tolerant.

3) I regret mistaken information I forwarded. I will research more diligently before posting.

4) I regret the 2003 article I wrote in which I said very harsh things about Richard Joel, who had just been appointed president of Yeshiva University. It was a time when the Intifada was very strong in Israel and certain branches of Hillel on college campuses were courting the anti-Israel "peace" junkies. YU was reportedly going to hold a dialogue with such a group. I saw red (always a sign I shouldn't be writing a column.) and since Richard Joel had just come on board, mistakenly targeted him. In 2007, YU established the Center for Israel Studies. Richard Joel said the following:
"The Land of Israel and the State of Israel are central to the future vision of the Jewish people and have always been central to the reality of Yeshiva University."
My deepest regrets, President Joel, and a public apology for ever thinking otherwise.

I thought that what Ragen did there was pretty classy, and then I thought, hey! I got me a public forum right here.

My biggest sin, I think, is not anticipating others' needs and trying to help them out. For example, I have a friend whose husband has been in the hospital off and on all year. I sent her notes wishing them both well, and I told her that I would be happy to help in any way that I could. However, I failed to actually do anything. When we say we are willing to help, we always mean it, but the person needing the help should not have to ask. I'm sorry for not getting in there and figuring out how I might be able to make things better.

I'm also sorry for not trying harder to make things better for my mother. She has some physical issues due to horrible arthritis and to a neurological condition that affects her balance. This is my mother, my oldest friend (she knew me before I was born) and someone who has done innumerable things to help me out and to get me through life, and I don't know how to help her.

I apologize for not keeping in touch with my friends the way I should. I think they understand, fortunately. (Call me! We'll get together and do something even if it's just coffee and conversation!)

Now I have to ask for forgiveness for a wrong against my 4-year-old son, Pumpkin. He has already forgiven me for this. I mean, he likes me a whole lot, no matter how many desserts I deprive him of. In fact, he gave me the Biggest Hug in the Whole World recently, which was a multi-part hug that took several days to complete. And I make really yummy chocolate milk, so why should he have a reason to be angry with me? Well, I'll tell you.

I took Pumpkin to a "Holiday Boutique" sponsored by our congregation's Sisterhood, back in November. I'd wanted to stop by there and look at what they were selling. They were also going to have tables where kids could do Chanukah-themed crafts, and Pumpkin's a big craft person so I knew he'd like that.

After a while of doing crafts I got impatient with Pumpkin. We didn't have much more time, because we needed to be at a party later, so I expressed annoyance over not having had a chance to look around. I don't remember my words, but they were needlessly accusatory. I started to feel bad immediately. The lady running the crafts offered to watch him while I checked out the wares. It turned out there was nothing I wanted to get. The gift I was thinking about getting was Not Important. But Pumpkin making crafts was Important, and always will be.

As I was winding up my browsing, Pumpkin came running up to me, saying "look what I made for you!" (see, he had already forgiven me). It was a snowflake stuck with some dreidels, some stars of David, and a couple of other things. I had raised my voice to him, and he still made this, with me in mind. I felt worse, and worse still as the day progressed, even though he wasn't upset with me at all. I keep the snowflake on my bulletin board at work, so I can look at it all the time and remember what really is Important. I'm sorry, Pumpkin, and I will try never to do anything like this again.

G'mar chatima tova (may you be sealed in the book of life), and an easy fast. G-d willing there will be a next year to try to improve our repentance skills. May this be a year of Important Things, like Really Big Hugs. And ice cream with chocolate sauce. Why not?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

... And A Bunch of Other Stuff

You may have wondered why I posted the seemingly random video of The Band. I was actually trying to achieve a bit of musical balance, after having put up the celldweller thing. Unfortunately, having celldweller, The Band, and the link to The Connells video in the comments in such close proximity caused a dangerous digital reaction. If you look closely, the edges of the blog are a bit charred. I promised the people at Blogger that I would be more careful in the future, but I had my fingers crossed. You know I'm prone to risky behavior.

And speaking of music.

Composers of music for children who grew up in the 60s or 70s are struggling with how to deal with the recharacterization of Pluto as a "dwarf planet" instead of the last of nine planets in our solar system. On Barenaked Ladies' extraordinary kids' album Snack Time, there is a song called "7 8 9," with this: "Seven ate nine! Once upon a time in our solar system/We couldn't make do without 9/But Pluto's not a planet now, so eight'll do fine."

The Nields' superlative Rock All Day/Rock All Night contains "Percy on Pluto," in which they explain: “Pluto’s not a planet anymore, you see it came up short/It’s really pretty tiny and its orbit’s way off course/You can’t really call it a planet anymore, but you can call it Planet Dwarf. ... It doesn’t really matter what you call it it’s the same/A rose is still a rose, after all, by any other name/And those of us who are little, we matter equally/In fact that’s why they passed the laws of mass and density.”

My favorite treatment of the Pluto Issue is on Here Comes Science by the incomparable They Might Be Giants. They run through the eight planets but also mention other bodies that often go unmentioned. This way, they can talk about Pluto and not have to go on about how it was once considered a planet but now it's not, yadda yadda, who cares, and just to make sure they've covered everything, they tack on "and a bunch of other stuff." Brilliant.

(I highly recommend all three albums, by the way. Unlike many kids' albums, these are chock full of genius and get better the more they are played.)

Okay, so, remember Passover? Right, you don't want to. Too bad. So I hosted a seder, and my family came, saw, and was suitably impressed. We used a haggadah that my mother found, which was supposed to help you do a shorter but more complete seder. We were test-driving it, and we only had one copy, so I read from it while others tried to follow along in another Haggadah. (I know, one isn't supposed to do it this way, but stay with me.)

As Mom had warned me, the language was a bit advanced for the young ones, so I sort of modified it as I went along. My mother-in-law exclaimed "wow! I've never heard this before!" which meant that, even though she had hosted and attended many a seder, she had never heard the story told quite this way. I believe I made it ... entertaining while simultaneously educational! The only grumble was from my oldest nephew, but he's 15 and that's sort of his job.

(Oh, and the food was good. When I have lots of money I will buy this seder plate. And kiddush cups for the kids. And a havdallah set. And a bunch of other stuff.)

The big people were also impressed with my children's chanting of the Four Questions in Hebrew (and Einstein's reading of them in English), which we had practiced at night before going to bed. Pumpkin is especially eager to learn things like this and then show everyone. When he hits religious school he will be far ahead. Meanwhile, Einstein's religious school report card was outstanding, and received a "Woo hoo!" comment from the director. Apparently, some genius absorption has been detected.

And speaking of holidays.

There was an event for little ones on Shavuot, but I did not take them, because I realized that it was really intended for the preschoolers from our shul's "Early Childhood Center," or ECC, who would not have school that day. I've been to ECC-sponsored things and found them to be cliquish; i.e., I felt loserlike because my child wasn't in the ECC. (It's also hard sometimes for a Mom with a job outside of the home, such as myself, to relate to those without, and since ECC is not a full-day program, many of those mothers are in that category. Wow, that sentence tried really hard to be "correct," didn't it? This is a complicated issue. We won't get into this now.) The bottom line is that my kids didn't really celebrate Shavuot. Also, as I had predicted, there were very few people at services. No one thinks Shavuot is important enough to take their kids out of school (my mother even told me not to, which is interesting, because during our public school years that's exactly what my parents did...).

A lady read my mind, suggesting after the service that we start talking up Shavuot early on, and planning for it so it is in everyone's mind. This is the celebration of G-d giving us the Torah. What could be more important? So next year...

And speaking of synagogue attendance.

I have to give our shul points for deciding to allow people to officially pay their membership dues and religious school tuition on a monthly basis. It used to be that you had to call up and speak to the administrators and discuss the fact that you could not afford to shell out all that cash at once. I've received mailings about just going ahead and paying monthly installments without making any special arrangements. I think more people will join if they don't have to grovel.

I could do an entire post on how expensive it is to raise Jewish children, but I don't much want to. This part depresses me. When I was the age my children are now I was going to camp at the Jewish Community Center, but I can't afford to send my kids there. (It is even more expensive now than it normally would be, because, as I understand it, someone Madoff with much of the JCC's endowment.) There is a Chabad camp that operates nearby, so I may be able to swing a session there next summer. But I'll go cross-eyed if I try to focus on the funds required for a decent bar mitzvah, a high school Israel program, not to mention TWO kids in religious school next year. Then I'll start bumping into walls, which might cause me to break my house, or a fingernail. Can't have that.

In order to continue the attempt to establish, and eventually cement, my family's religious involvement, without getting depressed or anxious or having to iron my hands or whack my head I have to maintain a level of contentment with an unknowable future....

Okay, stop the presses. The end part of this blog post has been conveniently written for me by my son. I was bringing Einstein to camp on the morning of Tisha B'Av (The Ninth of Av, the 11th month in the Jewish calendar). On the car ride over, I reminded him about the Wall in Jerusalem, and explained that on this day far back in history, enemies of the Jews destroyed our Temple, and all that is left is that wall. (I wanted to keep it simple for him, but Tisha B'Av actually commemorates several tragedies that occurred--probably not so coincidentally--on this day.) This launched into a discussion of Jewish beliefs and holidays.

Among other questions, he asked why his cousins "switched to Christian" and whether they could switch back (he seemed to be thinking: why would anyone want to do that?). He asked me when it was going to be Passover so we could read from "the Play-Doh book" (referring to a children's haggadah we use that has claymation-type illustrations). We spoke a bit about the seder and what he liked about it (helping to set the table was one thing). I told him that Rosh Hashanah was coming up next, and he got very excited because he remembered the apples-dipped-in-honey tradition, probably his favorite holiday food thing. He said he liked Shabbat. He asked which holiday is the one where you look for three stars? That's actually havdallah, the end of Shabbat, I explained. (We haven't started doing havdallah, though I really want to. For some reason, we didn't do this growing up, but it's a nice ritual involving a cool-looking candle and b'samim--aromatic spices such as cloves. I think it is time to take Einstein to the Jewish Stuff Store and get us a havdallah set.) He said he likes being Jewish.

I'm supposed to say something here about how this one little boy has provided me a huge boatload of hope that is, by itself, a great force to secure us against future attempts at the destruction of our people. If any of you Very Smart and Talented Writers have the words to express that, have at it in the comments. Instead I'll just say that if I sometimes feel like Pluto, he is my dwarf planet Eris, and even way out here, we've got apples and honey, and a bunch of other stuff.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Seven Years and Counting

Craig C. DeWolfe, MD, MEd
Children's National Medical Center
Sheikh Zayed Campus for Advanced Children's Medicine
111 Michigan Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20010

May 7, 2010

Dear Dr. DeWolfe,

My name is 12tequilas. We met on May 7, 2003, and ever since then, I've been wanting to express my gratitude for what you did for me and my family. You may not remember us from 7 years ago, so let me give you some background.

My son Einstein was born on February 22, 2003, full term and healthy. Everything was fine until around his seventh week of life, when he got some sort of gastrointestinal malady that has never been definitively diagnosed. My little one was having severe diarrhea, and because of some misleading advice from the late-night nurse hotline, by the time we got him to the emergency room, he was in hypovolemic shock [that's a dangerous level of dehydration]. He was stabilized in the ER by the superb pediatric emergency medical team at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital, who had to administer fluids through intraosseous infusion [an IV line goes into a vein, an IO line infuses fluids directly into a bone. Yep.]

Einstein was not nearly out of the woods. He had some organ damage and his itty bitty guts were a mess. He was admitted, connected to various monitors, and tested; everything from lumbar puncture to brain scans. He needed red blood cells and platelets. He couldn't eat because it all went right through him. After a week it was decided that he should be transferred to Children's National Medical Center in D.C.

At Children's, Einstein was visited by medical staff from various departments. The Infectious Disease folks tested him for rotovirus three times. Genetics experts compared all of our ears. And, of course, there was the Gastroenterology "team," headed up by a mad scientist who shall remain nameless but whose initials are "Ali Bader." I don't want to crack on your colleagues, Dr. DeWolfe, but it is important to this story to note my perception that Bader and his team treated Einstein like a case study and seemed to want him to have some sort of heinous disorder. "Cystic fibrosis" was everyone's favorite pick, and it was sometimes talked about as if he was already diagnosed with it, even though he was too little then to undergo the definitive CF test. This bothered me, not only because people DIE from cystic fibrosis, but also because he had only one symptom--diarrhea. He exhibited NO OTHER indicators for CF whatsoever.

The doctors figured out that Einstein needed to be taken off all food by mouth. He'd had total gut rest at Shady Grove, but it hadn't been for long enough. After he was on TPN [that's Total Parenteral Nutrition, which is complete sustenance, rather than just fluids, through an IV] for a solid period, he was gradually put back on formula, and things improved as far as weight gain. When all this began, he'd gone all the way back to his birth weight.

Lots of other stuff happened during our stay and I have many stories, but I will fast forward to the morning of May 7. The GI team visited me early that morning; I believe I requested their presence because I wanted to know what was going to happen next. The woman who acted as the team's spokesperson (I never knew who she was really supposed to be), rattled off a list of tests they wanted to perform, or to repeat. When they left, I called my husband at work and said, tearfully, "we are never going home."

A bit later you walked into our room. It was the first day of your rotation as attending on our floor? wing? area? (Not sure. It didn't matter. You were our doctor.) You entered, introduced yourself, and looked over at your tiny patient, whose face lit up. He broke into an ear-to-ear grin and his eyes sparkled. It was as if he knew that you were his guardian angel. You smiled back, of course, because how could you not. Then you did a quick exam.

I don't remember whether it was you who gave me the news, or if it was an intern or resident that you sent, but after checking out Einstein and his chart, you determined that Einstein should be discharged immediately. He was not sick, you said. He was no longer hooked up to anything. He was being fed by mouth; it was super-special formula (which, judging from its price, must have been made of edible gold), but we could leave with a prescription. We could follow up with Dr. Bader at the outpatient clinic. There was no reason for Einstein to be in the hospital anymore.

Over the weeks that followed, our pediatrician eventually let us go back to nursing, and recommended another pediatric gastroenterologist, the esteemed Dr. Lynn Duffy. Einstein was six months old by the time we could get in to see her, but it was worth the wait. She told us we could start him on baby cereal, waved a magic wand, and Einstein was a normal healthy baby again.

I have been wanting to send you our gratitude formally, and it seemed appropriate to finally do so on this, the seventh anniversary of May seventh.

In short, Dr. DeWolfe, you rock.

With love and respect,

12tequilas, husband, Einstein, and Pumpkin

encl.: photo of happy, healthy, gap-toothed and mohawked 7-year-old Einstein, and maybe some cookies or something, what do you think?