Monthly Archives: June 2011

Recharging and birdwatching

At this year’s Torah Home Education conference in May, I spoke about the challenges of burnout, and the importance of taking time to recharge and renew yourself.  I mentioned something I was planning to do just for me: to take an early morning walk with a friend and enjoy some bird watching by a local lake.  This week, I finally did it!

We met at the lake at 7 am to accomodate me, the late riser.  😛  I was bleary eyed from being up repeatedly at night with ds2, who kept waking up, screaming for a while, then falling back asleep.  I stuck him next to me in bed to make it easier for us all.  I couldn’t fall back asleep each time as quickly as he did, and it seemed that every time I had finally fallen into a deep sleep, he’d wake up again.  Be that as it was, he was exhausted enough that at 6:15 am, he didn’t wake when I disengaged myself from his little body, that was wrapped all over me, and was there by 7:02.

What fun this was!  The friend I went with is someone I met at an aliyah meeting – she saw my name written on the sign up sheet and recognized it from Seattle.  We ended up getting into a nice long shmooze, during which I encouraged her to make her move to Israel this summer rather than making it an indefinite goal for the future, and which culminated with her agreeing to join us for Shabbos lunch.  At some point in our email communication I learned that she was an avid bird watcher, and asked her if she’d lead a group for our local homeschoolers. 

Then I realized, I didn’t really want to go bird watching with lots of kids, when I’d be so busy watching my littles that I’d hardly have time to notice what birds were where.  I wanted to do it myself!  So that’s what we did.

When you’re familiar with the birds or plants you come across as you’re taking a walk, it totally changes the experience; you begin to see things that you would otherwise walk by- it’s a much fuller experience.  We started off by seeing a pair of green herons, a first for my friend – she figured it out with her bird guide and it was exciting for her to see something she never had seen there before.  Then she pointed out Canadian geese (one of the only birds I sawthat I already recognized), goldfinches, mockingbirds, red-winged blackbirds, and kingfishers. 

As we walked along, I was able to see these birds frequently enough that I can now identify them on my own.  We saw a red-tailed hawk, and it was especially interesting to watch it being harassed by a mockingbird.  The mockingbird kept swooping in at it and pecking it – I suppose the hawk was too close to her nest – but the hawk just sat there, only occasionally slightly turning its head towards the little bird.  I was kind of waiting for it to get so fed up it would snap at it, but it didn’t seem bothered enough.  Very entertaining.

Then we saw mourning doves (I had recently seen a few of these in my backyard and wondered what they were – they look somewhat like small pigeons), orioles, cardinals, robins, and a northern grosbeak.  I think that I would be able to identify all of these in the future without assistance, except for the kingfisher and green herons, which I could only see through binoculars.

I enjoyed myself so much that I’m thinking of doing this again sometime soon.  The early morning is a beautiful time of day, with a freshness and energy that I really love, and even on hot summer days, it’s still pleasant that time of day.

How do you find ways to make time for yourself, to keep yourself from becoming depleted by the continuous requirements of motherhood and parenting?


Jewish Agency file for ds17 complete

Today we have reached a milestone in our aliyah planning – the file for ds17 with the Jewish Agency has offically been recognized as complete!  I was informed that they will now send the file to Israel to the Ministry of Absorption for him to be recognized as a returning minor.  

It’s amazing to me how long this has taken – well, beauracracy is what it is wherever you go, so I’m not shocked.  Just bemused.  I’m not a person who waits until the last minute to get things done, and I got started on this months ago, thinking to get it out of the way early.  In spite of giving in every piece of required documentation by mid April, I was told a month later that we still hadn’t proved parental (us) proof of living in the US from 2010 – 2011.  I was surprised, since I gave her one paper in her hand for 2000 until 2009, and emailed her the form for 2010 that evening.  But I sent it again.

A month later, we got another email telling us we need to send proof of parental residency in the US for 2010 – 2011.   Hmm.  I checked our sent email files and there were two copies of sent emails to her with the requested file attached, one from two months earlier and one from a month earlier.  We sent this yet again.  Do you think we received a confirmation email regarding this? :)  Nope. 

When almost weeks after that I was told yet again that I was holding things up by not sending them the necessary information and given a fax number to send it to, I asked her to check her recent emails to see if she had the attachment sent.  She didn’t bother responding.  I decided to just fax the paperwork to a different office, where we confirmed receipt by a phone call to that office. 

I was glad to have this finally out of the way – to me, ten weeks to get two pieces of paper officially received is way too long!  But my relief was premature, because a couple of days later we were told that we never submitted any proof of living in the US for any other years.  There was no reason to mention that I gave her the copy of the paperwork in person, clarified (twice) that she had it and that there the only missing piece of documentation was the one above.  Sometimes Hashem makes it obvious that your help isn’t coming from the sources you expect it to come from.  We sent every original document by fax to the other office, and finally today we were told the file is officially finished!

Every time I’ve asked a question regarding the status of dd16 (we’ve been trying to clarify that she can receive benefits as a returning minor while in Israel once she turns 17, since she won’t have been there longer than the allowed amount of time – logically and legally it seems she can, but I don’t like to depend on logic or legality since that doesn’t always seem to matter), I’ve been told that because our file isn’t complete, they can’t answer my questions.  Now that the file was completed I was told that we have to wait until she’s 17 and file an appeals while in Israel. This was so amazingly unhelpful I can’t even say – this has been a huge issue we’ve been trying to get an answer on for four months, even before we made the decision to move. 

Ah, well, I’m getting my share of reminders to let go of thinking that it’s my efforts that are making the difference and to turn it over to Hashem to take care of for me.  This might be one of the best preparations we can make for living in Israel. :)


Summer plans for oldest kids

After enjoying having ds17 home for four days, yesterday I took him catch his bus back to NY.  I had been anticipating him returning home this weekend and staying for the summer, but just a few days before he was scheduled to return, he called to ask if I minded if he accepted a camp job that was offered to him.  He wasn’t actively looking for anything, but one of his rebbeim was very impressed with him and offered him a position. 

Here’s one situation that impressed his rebbe:  ds was invited to his rebbe’s home for a Shabbos meal, and offered a couple of times to hold the crying baby.  The rebbe declined, but as the baby kept screaming and screaming, the wife somewhat strongly asked her husband to please give the baby to ds and let him have a try.  Ds took the baby and in a few minutes put him to sleep.  😛

Anyway, back to the job offer.  He was offered a position as counselor for middle school boys, for four hours a day.  The camp is in the same neighborhood as his yeshiva, and ds is delighted with this plan because now he’ll be able to learn mornings and evenings at his yeshiva while living in his dorm, and is looking forward to the work as well.  Ds is good with kids of all ages – his siblings loved having him home – and I think they’re lucky to have him working there.  Well, of course I’m his mother so I have to say that, right?  😛 

Actually, I think it’s a win-win all around.  He’ll be spending time doing fun stuff with the campers, including joining them on trips, and will be in a positive framework at well.  His work will pay for his dorm bill and give him some extra cash, and he should be back at home for the last three weeks before we move.  Of course I’d really like to have him home for longer, because we really love having him home.  But this seems like a productive and enjoyable option for him.

Dd16 finished her school program last week.  I’ve been contemplating for months writing in detail about this program as a service to others since there’s almost no information available online about it, but for now I’ll just say that she’s happy it’s over and so am I.  She initially planned to spend the month of July with friends, but that was changed to a few days instead, and she had a great time last week traveling around with them. 

Since she wouldn’t be with friends for July, she decided to look for work as a live-in nanny for an English speaking family.  A family in Karmiel offered to let her stay with them for the summer in exchange for help with the kids/house, and another family in Karmiel will be paying her hourly for her help in the morning with their children.  This came about very quickly and with no effort on her part other than mentioning she was planning to look for a live-in nanny position when she was there for Shabbos a week and a half ago.

I know the family she will be staying with, so that makes me much more comfortable than with her staying with strangers; they are good people and I and trust them not to take advantage of her and work her non-stop (a common hazard with live-in help and something I was concerned about since dd is so accomodating and helpful).  I wanted her to be able to be with a family who would treat her as part of the family, which they are – I’ve been informed that their kids have adopted dd as their older sister.  She feels very comfortable there with the kids and both parents, which is important – they set her up so nicely with her own room that I told her only half-jokingly that she’ll have a hard time leaving!

The family she’s working for in the mornings will be our immediate neighbors very soon (they’ll be two doors away from us).  So again, I think it’s another win-win:  the families will not only be able to enjoy dd’s help while she’s there this summer, but will have a babysitter right in the neighborhood even after she moves out.  And she gets to stay in Israel, make some money, and have a non-pressured summer. 

Karmiel isn’t exactly a happening place for a teenager to be without friends or siblings, but I hope she’ll enjoy her time there.  One of the teen girls there who she met on a past visit is planning to introduce her to other girls her age, which should be really nice for her in the short term, but will also smooth the transition for living there.   


Moving to Israel as ‘returning citizens’

The question below is one that I think almost every single person who heard we’re moving to Israel has asked:

Are you going with Nefesh B’Nefesh?”

For those who don’t know, Nefesh B’Nefesh is an organization that supports people who are moving to Israel as olim.  My husband and I were both studying in Israel when we met; we got married there and then decided it made sense to legally become citizens.  I believe we got a small monthly rental subsidy for the first year as a benefit of having made aliyah (becoming Israeli citizens); we didn’t make a lift because we didn’t have anything to bring from the US or the money to do it even if we had, I was able to attend ulpan for one week in between jobs, and that’s the extent of the benefits we received as olim!

We lived in Israel for eight years before moving back to the US to pursue a rabbinical position offered to my husband, and have been in the US for eleven years.  We no longer have the status of olim and the time we were entitled to claim them has run out, but are now considered ‘returning citizens’.   To be more accurate, we’re officially gorrerei zechuyot – those whose rights as olim were frozen when they left the country (we left after eight years and the final benefits run out at 10 years) – but have been working for several months to legally change our status to that of returning citizens.  We meet the technical requirements, but it’s been hard to find someone who knows how to handle a case like ours without sending us to Israel to first sign waivers before returning here to make the move – we’re in a gray zone that they rarely deal with.  People are usually olim or naturally born Israelis who are returning to live in Israel, but not olim who are returning citizens!  Hopefully this week it will finally be resolved and we can finally buy our tickets! :)) 

Nefesh B’Nefesh (NBN) doesn’t assist returning citizens – not even if you were born and raised in America, have lots of kids born in the US, or didn’t use the immigration benefits the first time around.  When I called NBN, they were pleasant but emphatically told me that I was welcome to browse their website but they wouldn’t be able to answer any questions or offer us assistance of any kind, including information.  And no, my kids born in the US don’t qualify for any benefits, either. (All of our children, those born in Israel and in the US, have the status of dual citizens as well.)   The exception is ds17, who will be considered a returning minor. 

This surprises most people, who assume that we are benefiting from the generous absorbtion benefits available to those making aliyah.  When I tell them we aren’t, almost everyone says, “But your tickets are paid for, right?”   No.  As returning citizens, we have to purchase our tickets but will be able to get a discounted price for one way tickets of $806 per person; we’ll also be allowed an extra piece of luggage per person.  This is a lot of money but it’s less than if we weren’t able to get this discount – if we had to pay $1300 per person (current prices), we simply wouldn’t be able to afford to move back. 

Another benefit to the returning citizen is that the reinstatement fee to participate in the national medical system is….well, here’s what it it is.  Every person above the age of 18 has to be pay something like 9600 shekels (approx $2500) to make up for the years that they haven’t been living there and paying into the system.  They recently passed a law that returning citizens will have 50% of this sum immediately refunded (I don’t know if that means immediate as in five minutes or five weeks), and the other 50% refunded after a year.  This means we need to come up with about $7500 in order to get medical insurance (for dh, me, and ds17 – he’ll be 18 by then) – kids in Israel are all automatically covered once the parents are paid in full.  The option to paying this money is to go without insurance for six months and then our insurance can be reinstated, which I don’t think is a great option even though I rarely avail myself of the traditional medical services.  (After this point we will pay a monthly fee for health insurance – it’s free to olim for the first year, but that’s it.)

There are some other benefits – like being able to bring a lift within 9 months and having to pay minimal taxes on it – but the one of most immediate importance to me is the discounted tickets.  I believe there’s some kind of assistance in finding employment but I can’t tell you what that is like until we get there (we called but they told us we have to be there first).  The absorption package that olim receive assists them significantly in getting started: buying furniture, stocking the kitchen, and paying expenses until they find work.  None of this is available to the returning citizen. 

One big expense in moving overseas is passports – though everyone is supposed to have up to date passports at all times, but because it was so expensive and we had no plans to travel anywhere, we didn’t have current passports for anyone.  Of course anyone who is moving overseas has to have passports from their country of origin, and in our case, we also need Israeli passports for every family member.  (I might be wrong but I believe if you’re making aliyah that you don’t immediately need Israeli passports.  Please correct me if this is inaccurate.)   We’ve spent over $2000 on passports for the eleven of us, and I’m really glad to have all of the passports issued and ready to go!

A number of people who I’ve spoken to who are in our situation would love to move back to Israel but feel it’s unrealistic.  It’s in large part because there’s so little assistance and the costs are so intimidating that very, very few olim who leave Israel later move back.  Not to mention the concerns and warnings not to come with children over age 10 or 12 because of the social risks in poor adjustments and all that comes along with that.   Obviously, we’re not the only people in this situation, but since I haven’t met anyone else, I haven’t been able to enjoy sharing the experience of this particular aspect of our aliyah experience with anyone. 

This leaves us in an interesting place – without the financial or social supports offered to olim, but facing similar challenges.  However, one advantage we have over many olim is that my husband and I are conversational in Hebrew and familiar with life in Israel (though undoubtedly life in Karmiel will be very different than life in Beitar). 

From a logical position, perhaps it doesn’t make sense for us to move to Israel, to give up our familiar life here to undertake a very major transition.  But I don’t know if moving to Israel is ever really logical for anyone.  I think the Jewish soul feels complete only when in Israel – certainly for me it was a very palpable feeling when I visited in February, of all parts of me being in one place at one time.  What is propelling this move is my strong soul-level feeling that our family belongs in Israel at this time, and it’s really from the soul level that I’m having to deal with confronting some of the concerns that pop up.  The concept that I hold onto is that Hashem has provided for us until now, and will continue to provide for us – my job is to do the leg work and make my best effort, and to trust that He will take care of us, perhaps particularly when it seems hardest to believe that.  And with His help, the pieces are falling into place!


Figuring out what to pack

I’m delighted to share that our computer situation has been resolved, which will make posting much easier!  I’m so grateful that the public libraries have computer access, which is what I used for the last couple of weeks when my home computer was out of commission.  Amazingly, I only needed to use the library computer three times in two weeks – for someone like me who uses the computer so much, that was pretty amazing!

I initially thought that the problem with the computer was the monitor, but it turns out that the entire computer is dead.  And what’s really nice about that, is now I don’t have to use our precious limited luggage allotment to take our bulky desktop computer with us to Israel, and I don’t have any conflict about buying something else when what we have is usable ! 

We haven’t yet purchased our tickets to Israel (I hope we’ll be able to buy them this week), but assuming we fly with El Al airlines, we’ll be allowed three suitcases per person, with a 50 lb weight limit per suitcase.  Of course we’ll be taking clothing, linens, and pots and pans, but other than that, I’m debating what’s worth bringing and what can easily be purchased at a reasonable price in Israel. 

For example, my dishes are stoneware, so I’m not taking them (way too heavy and breakable); I was thinking of purchasing Corelle to take along, but then thought that maybe I can get something like that (actually, I prefer nice melanine because it’s more child-friendly) there that is comparably priced.  My silverware has been steadily disappearing – of the service for 30 I bought, I now have five forks remaining.  So should I buy more cheapo quality flatware at Walmart now or just get something there?  Ditto with linens – most of our sheets are good quality sets that we’ve had for over 15 years so they’re still usable, but with the upcoming move, it seems a shame to take something that is at the end of its usable life.  But would I be better off buying new linens here or there? 

It’s hard to make these evaluations since I don’t know how much things cost in Israel.  And the question isn’t just about price – I’m guessing that most items are available less expensively in the US – but is also taking into consideration the luggage space it will take up (so taking one thing means not taking something else), and the convenience of having what we need right away vs. the run around factor of having to find and buy something when we get there.  Where we’re moving to in the north isn’t exactly the center of commerce, so I doubt bargain shopping is easily accomplished for items like these.  Obviously, it would be easiest to take everything that we’ll need, but since we won’t be taking a lift (too expensive), we’re going to manage with what we can fit into our suitcases (so obviously big items will be purchased when we get there.)  That means that there are a lot of decisions about what has priority in packing that we need to make.

As much as I’d like to take my canner, canning jars, and dehydrator, they won’t be coming along (though I think I’ll bring along a jar lifter).  My grain grinder will, and I’m thinking that I’ll use the 40 lb capacity square buckets that I store bulk foods in to pack smaller items into, then place them within the larger box.  They’re super convenient and it took me ages to aquire them here, and I’d think they’d be even harder to find in Israel. 

I’d like to take our Pesach dishes – we’ve had them since we were first married and they’ve made the move across the ocean twice,  across the US once, and within the cities we’ve lived in five times – and even though they’re heavy, I’m going to try to take them – they could easily be replaced, but it’s about the consistency of memories for our family; when those dishes come out every year, it feels like Pesach for everyone. 

Only a small number of books, games, and homeschooling supplies will come along – we’ll have to find libraries there with English sections, and eventually the kids will be able to read well enough in Hebrew that we can access the Hebrew language literature there.  I’d really like to take a few bottles of extra virgin olive oil, since it’s so expensive there, I still have a number of bottles left, and it’s something I use all the time – but weight-wise I’ll have to see if we can manage it.  I plan to take along whatever xylitol we have left – dd16 took some to Israel and had some regularly throughout the year, and she was one of the only girls in her program that didn’t get lice, even though she was checking other girls for lice and then cleaning their hair out.  (Thanks, Malkie, for sharing your experience with this when I wrote about xylitol!)

If you have an idea of what the most valuable things to take along would be (either because you live in Israel, have made a move like this, or are otherwise familiar with the issue at hand), please share your recommendations of what you found most valuable to take along! 


Growing in acceptance

When my husband told his coworkers last week that we had been married 19 years, people were taken aback.  Maybe because it doesn’t seem people in the secular world stay married that long?  Dh said that people seemed to almost look at it as a negative – as if we must have a stale and dull relationship after being together so long.

Movies and contemporary music glorify the very exciting but short stage of the initial stage of a relationship as the ideal – when everything is exciting and new, when a person is ‘walking on air’.  Hearts are aflutter, a person feels like the luckiest person in the world, and a rosy glow seems to permeates everything.  That’s a special time – but it’s also a very short lasting period that reality soon encroaches upon.  And what happens next?  Music and movies don’t really give any clues – at least not any positive ones!

Several years ago I was at the gym, and was chatting with the young lady on the treadmill next to me – she told me she had been married 2 months, and when I made a comment regarding the challenge of that stage, she began to confide in me me how hard it was.  She was one of the first of her friends to get married, and her friends looked at her as the lucky one, she had it made!  So she didn’t have anyone to talk about the reality of learning to live with a very different person, and was so relieved to hear that she was normal.  It’s tough learning to live with someone else, someone who isn’t nearly as perfect and wonderful as we initially thought, and who does things that frustrate and irritate us.

As time goes on, every couple is faced with bigger challenges that go beyond learning to manage basic personality conflicts.  These provide opportunities to grow as a couple, but these opportunities just as easily can pull a couple apart.  My husband and I have faced our share of difficulties – no one is promised a free ride in this world – but I feel that going through all the good and tough times together,  sticking it out and committing to making it work (even when it really hasn’t been fun), has strengthened our marital glue.  Though most years I look back and think how good the year was (with a couple of notably difficult years, that I was just happy to be finished with), this year feels like a big jump forward.  My husband and I have always tried to be respectful of one another, even when we disagree, but that’s not the same as being truly accepting of a person.  Don’t we often wish our spouses would just be the way we want them to be?!  And this year, we both feel we’ve moved to a new level of deeper acceptance and therefore appreciation of one another.  And far from being dull and hum drum, it’s a deep and satisfying feeling to have a relationship based on really knowing and valuing one another.

When I’ve been asked about what I attribute the strength of my marriage to (particularly since my parents were divorced and there was a lot of conflict, so I didn’t grow up with an in-house model) , I always say that I picked a great guy.  And I really, really did.  But I was reflecting on this, and thinking that I really do a disservice to leave it at this – it could leave someone concluding that marital happiness is almost like the luck of the draw. 

Marrying a good person definitely the most important first step.  I made a very conscious decision at the age of 17 that I would have a good marriage and my children would grow up with the stability of a loving home, and when I began dating, my criteria for a spouse was based on this – not just on what looked appealing.  Many people in the short term look good, but as husbands and fathers they are lousy.

But once you marry the wonderful person you’ve met, it doesn’t end there – a lot of conscious effort goes into overcoming your unproductive tendencies, into learning to see things from someone else’s viewpoint, into looking for the strengths of someone else and being willing to forgive mistakes and frustrations.   It’s not like you’ve got it made once you choose wisely.  Dr. Laura Schlessinger in one of her books wrote her formula for a successful marriage that was brilliant in it’s simplicity and accuracy: Choose wisely, treat kindly.   Once you’re married, you have to treat your spouse nicely.  This is one of those things that is so obvious before you get married that you can’t imagine what kind of people would need that advice, and then after marriage becomes something you have to work to remember and internalize.

My husband and I have worked a lot on ourselves as individuals, as well as on our marriage – every way that we’ve grown as individuals has been positive for our marriage (though it’s sometimes required adjusting).   Though it might seem that personal growth is always positive,  good changes can also be hard on a marriage, when it means one spouse is seeking a different level of interaction than the other is comfortable with, and both people have to be willing to grow in the same direction to accomodate that.

My husband and I have had to expand our comfort zones a number of times in the last 19 years.  And it’s been worth it.  It’s in large part thanks to our relationship that we feel we can tackle a huge move to Israel at this stage of our life, doing something that very few people do.  (I don’t just mean moving to Israel with a large family that includes older teen children, but with constraints and lack of support that new olim aren’t faced with.  As time allows I hope to share more about our plans and my feelings about the process.)  We’ve both felt our share of fear regarding this move, giving up our familiar life to start over in another country.  It requires a lot of trust, not just in Hashem (G-d), but in each other, and with Hashem’s help, I very much hope that this will be another stepping stone to growth in our relationship.


Celebrating 19 years!

Yesterday was my nineteen wedding anniversary!  You know, when I say a number that big, it makes me feel like I should be older than I am.   But being that my oldest will be 18 in a couple of weeks, I’m definitely old enough to have been married that long.  :)

My husband and I went out together for a while in the evening.  I didn’t really want to do anything ‘special’.  As we got home, I told him that spending time just being together is what I love most, even if it doesn’t sound celebratory.  Then we opened the door, and were greeted by a very unexpected sight.  I had gotten a call just a few minutes before from dd14 telling me that no one was going to bed or listening to her, and I told her we were just a few minutes away.  It was obvious as soon as we stepped in the door that it was a ploy.

The entire house was spotlessly clean and dark, with the exception of the dining room table.  On it was a sign of silver oaktag with large black lettering, “Happy 19th Anniversary!”  Then on the side it said, ‘You are the best parents EVER!’ and was signed by all of the kids.  On each side was a candlelabra with long white tapered candles in it, in the center was a beautiful centerpiece with three wide white candles of staggered heights, then a couple of other candles around.  In the front were two tea cups on saucers, with a matching ceramic tea pot filled with steaming water in the center.  On the front right and left was an assortment of herbal teas, and in the background was beautiful instrumental music.

My husband and I stood there for a minute, taking it all in – it was just beautiful!  We were kind of waiting for the kids to jump out and yell ‘suprise!’, but that didn’t happen.  After a few very peaceful moments, I went upstairs to find the kids and thank them – dd12 and dd17 (who got home just a few hours before that) told me I wasn’t supposed to be talking to them, I was supposed to be downstairs relaxing with my husband!  Then I peeked in on dd14, who was very unsuccessfully trying to look as if she was asleep in bed – though she had run upstairs just thirty seconds before we walked in.

We thanked them all for the beautiful surprise – it was so special, really tasteful and so thoughtful – and dd14 told us that they had left the camera running on the video setting; it was on top of a cabinet where we didn’t notice it.  We then sat down and enjoyed some tea together while we looked at the video.  Since dh had to go out to maariv and then prepare for the shiur (Torah lecture) he’s giving on Shabbos, I invited the kids to sit down with me.  (It was after 11 pm by this time, and dd11, ds9, ds12 had all joined us to see how we liked the surprise – ds17 went with dh.)  They told me that they weren’t supposed to be there, that we were supposed to be alone, but when I told them dh was going out, they very happily sat down and enjoyed tea with candlelight with me.

A lovely way to commemorate 19 wonderful years!


Lambs quarter – free for your foraging

Something I’ve felt especially aware of lately is how being frugal and innovative truly requires a certain amount of headspace.

Last year I took the kids on a private tour of a eco-farming community that is in the works, and at one point the person I was speaking to pointed out a wild edible, lambs quarter.  I was so glad to learn what this looked like since I had been specifically wanting to identify this particular weed for a while.  It turns out it’s something I frequently see growing, even in my own yard! However, it was the end of the growing season at that point so I had to wait until spring in order to be able to pick some for myself.

Soon after spring began, I noticed lambs quarter springing up.  Do you think I picked any?  No, I didn’t.  I just didn’t have the extra head space to pick it and prepare it – even though you could legitimately ask, how much energy did it actually take?  I wasn’t willing to spend even that tiny bit of energy on something extra.  So it wasn’t until this past week that I finally prepared some for my family for dinner.

Lambs quarter is nice because it can be used raw or cooked – I chopped it up into a salad with some cucumbers and tomatoes, dressed with olive oil, lemon juice, and Real salt.  It was tasty – not one of the kids made any negative comments.  Lambs quarter can be used in place of spinach – one nice thing is that when you cook it, it doesn’t cook down as much because the water content is so much lower than spinach – so you end up with more food to eat. To use raw, I prefer the leaves and not the stems, but if you’re going to cook it, you can go ahead and use the stems as well – steam it until it’s soft.  It has a whitish coating on the underside of the leaf, which is pollen, and I prefer to wash it off – there’s nothing wrong with it, but it lends a grainy texture when eating it.

If I were staying here, I’d allow some to take root in my garden beds, as I have with plantain, in order to have it conveniently located along with my other vegetables that are growing.  Though I’m not doing this, I’ll still continue to keep an eye out for it so I can enjoy it while we’re still living in the US.  And maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised to discover it growing in Israel!

It’s fun to learn to recognize the free food that is all around us!  Sometimes I look at a big area of weeds and wonder how much food is there that I just don’t yet know how to recognize as such!  If you’re interested in learning about wild edibles that you can enjoy for free – and are organic to boot! – you can take a look at youtube to see videos that will make it easier to identify the particular plant you’re wondering about.


Benefits of no computer

This past week has been a really nice one – after a very long while of being super busy, things are finally shifting into just regular busy, and I remembered what it was like to be the person I like to be – basically, to be very present in the moment.  And that has been fantastic.

Ironically, just when I finally had both the time and desire to post about a number of issues – I’m unable to!  Though many of you may have been assuming that things are so hectic I don’t have time to write, it’s actually my current computer situation that has been the cause.
One night we turned the computer off, and all was working normally.  The next morning, the screen didn’t go on.  And not being able to see anything on your computer screen definitely puts a crimp in computer usage.  😛

While technically it’s not the best time to be unable to access the things I need on the computer since there are so many things I need to do, on the other hand, it’s created a feeling of freedom – I can’t check my emails, research facts related to our move, read things of interest – there’s no online competition for my time and no feeling of guilt or ‘I should get to that’ because I can’t.   This is wonderful!! I’ve been going to sleep earlier, spending more time with my husband and children just being there, started a new read aloud with the kids, got lots of interesting non-fictions books from the library to tie into our read aloud  – and am enjoying feeling balanced without having to work at being balanced.

Every time something happens to the computer, after the first feelings of annoyance or frustration, I begin to enjoy the extra space in my life that has opened up.  As useful as the computer is, it so easily becomes a time and energy drain.  Though I consciously limit the time that I spend online, and have extensively cut back this year on the online reading and research I used to do, it’s still so easy for the time to expand.  Even if it doesn’t, computer usage is a block of time that can be otherwise very constructively used with my family.

It reminds me of the feeling I had on several occasions when my watch broke.  I’m a very time conscious person – that means that being on time and reliable is an important value to me – and I’m constantly checking my watch to be sure I’m where I need to be at a given time.  After a few days of having no watch, I realized how much more relaxing it was not to constantly be able to check the time.   In spite of this, each time I’ve replaced my broken watch after several weeks, when the inconvenience of not having a watch overcame the benefits.  However, it’s now been almost two months that I haven’t had a watch, and perhaps especially because it was such an incredibly busy time, I found it has helped me stay centered on what needed to be done rather than the minutes on the clock.  I’ve learned to create bigger blocks of time and more margin to get things done, which allows me to do what I need to do in the necessary time frame, as well as to stay more calm while doing it.  It’s fascinating to see how easily our tools become our masters, isn’t it?!

As much as part of me dreams of not ever fixing the computer and going back to a simpler and quieter time in life, the computer is too important a tool for me to voluntarily give up. When I do go back to my regular computer usage (I’m currently using the library computer to take care of business – it’s the first time in a week and the time constraints force me to be very focused), I hope it will be with a stronger sense of honoring what is really important in my life and keeping the computer very much in the background, rather than allowing it to move into the foreground.


Protecting our children

This past Shabbos we had friends over for lunch, and talked about a number of topics. At one point we segued into her advocacy for sexually abused children, and since this is something I feel strongly about, we ended up discussing it for a while. She asked me if we talk to our kids about healthy boundaries, and I told her the guidelines I give my kids. I asked her if she had any additional suggestions, and she said, no, that was just right.

The challenge in discussing a topic that is so sensitive is that we tend to avoid it, because it makes us uncomfortable or afraid. I handle it pretty matter of factly – we shouldn’t get emotional and scare our kids.

For my kids, I stress respecting the personal boundaries of others and expecting others to respect those same boundaries. No one should touch them on private parts of their bodies, and no one should tell them to keep something a secret from us. Here’s an article that author Bracha Goetz shared with me after our discussion on Shabbos; it’s very important reading and she gives good guidelines for how to handle this.

I also strongly believe that we all need to learn to hear and respect our gut feelings about people – often, someone makes us uncomfortable but we rationalize it away.  I’ve mentioned this before in the past here, but it’s worth repeating.   I tell my kids to listen to their gut feelings and act on them, even if they feel like it looks foolish.  There are always yellow lights before red lights; the challenge is being willing to pay attention to and recognize the yellow lights.

Though the Orthodox Jewish community has many, many wonderful strengths, protecting our children from molestation isn’t one of them.  Actually, I think our community out of misplaced sympathy protects predators and thereby puts children at increased risk.  It has been very disturbing to me that pedophiles aren’t paying the price for their crimes in our community – we’re taught to give people the benefit of the doubt, and this works against us when dealing with perpetrators of evil who know how to makes themselves look good and position the victim as the one responsible.

This makes it even more critical that we as parents are paying attention and equipping our children with the tools they need to deal with this.  For those who live in Baltimore, Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz of Project YES will be addressing exactly this topic this Saturday night, June 11, at 10:15 pm at Bnei Jacob Shaarei Zion (6602 Park Heights Ave. 21215).  There is no charge to attend.   He’ll also be speaking on this same topic in Monsey, Brooklyn, and Queens (for details of times and locations, check here.)

I plan to attend the talk on Saturday night, and whether you can be there or not, encourage all parents to be sure you have the tools to discuss this important topic with your children.  There are unfortunately evil and sick people in the world, and we must not pull the wool over our own eyes and increase the risk for our children.