Monthly Archives: June 2014

Creating a secret play space for our boys

I’ve been busy the last couple of days with home organizing!

I enjoy decluttering and finding more efficient ways to use the space we have.  Every time we do this our home seems bigger and more enjoyable to live in; it’s like it keeps growing!  I’m also more relaxed when things are in order.

After Pesach I got rid of an armchair that was part of a three piece sofa set and then rearranged all the living room furniture to accommodate that change.  Then the glass insert of our kitchen table cracked just two months after replacing it.  (I thought we were moving or I would have replaced the glass with plexiglass the first time.)  I decided to take the table out rather than replace the insert again; we don’t eat at the kitchen anyway, and the nature of horizontal surfaces is that they become dumping grounds.

Those two changes made a huge difference.  Our main living area feels much more open now, and with two large surfaces no longer available to be cluttered, it’s become that much easier to  keep the main area clean.  There have been times when I felt there was always something to clean but now I usually feel pretty relaxed most of the day that everything is either clean or can be pretty quickly cleaned up.  Decluttering and getting rid of things that really don’t add to our lives is what I credit that to, along with having sane expectations of myself.

Early this week the boys discovered they could make a play area behind the storage boxes in the attic.  They dragged in three mattresses, four sleeping bags, all of their pillows and in the past few days have spent hours in their secret hideout.    Their activities gave me the incentive to reorganize the attic.  I noticed the pieces of a small storage cabinet that we had taken apart last year when we did our massive rearranging of all five bedrooms; I decided to take it out and put it in the playroom to use as a toy cabinet.  Ds6 and ds8 did all the work – I just passed them the screws.  They had a great time and felt productive and proud to have done something real.  Kids need accomplishments like these and it’s not hard to give them opportunities when you realize they may be little but they can be very competent.

I told them I wanted to do more organizing in the attic, and they were very eager to help me after we finished putting together the cabinet but I told them after two hours of working in the playroom, I was ready for a break!  I told them we could work on the attic the next afternoon instead, and that’s what we did today.

We’re very fortunate to have a nice amount of space in our attic for storage; I appreciate this and know it’s a luxury that most apartments don’t have.  Our storage area has unfinished cinderblock walls with a cement floor, and no lighting other than the cracks between the red clay roof shingles that lets in tiny bits of sunlight.  I called an electrician tonight to ask him to come and put a light in since we already have the wiring for it, but it will take another couple of weeks until he’ll be available.  The kids don’t mind, there’s enough light coming through during daylight hours to see once their eyes adjust.

I would love to drywall the walls and ceiling so that dust won’t be able to blow through those little spaces and of course white walls look nicer and create a feeling of spaciousness that dark cement walls don’t, but the area serve its purpose.  Though hanging drywall is something we can do ourselves, here in Israel without a car and without stores that are set up for the do-it-yourselfer, everything becomes a bigger deal.  So unless dh feels inspired to put some time in (time being something he doesn’t have lot of extra of), it’s going to stay as it is because paying someone else to do it isn’t in the plans right now!

We (me, ds6 and ds8) did a super thorough organizing job!  We pulled everything out and reallotted the space completely.  We moved all of the sukka schach under the eaves where it’s only about two feet high, a space that was totally unused beforehand, put the suitcases on top of that, then moved the clothing storage boxes as far back as possible in front of that.   We moved a plastic shelving unit out of our laundry porch and put it on top of a work table that’s in a tucked away corner of the attic.  (We reorganized our laundry room today, too!)  Then we were able to put all the remaining storage items in one compact area by using the newly created vertical storage space.  That made it possible to move everything away from the side of the storage area that’s high enough to walk around without bending ovber.

My boys worked hard today!  Why were the boys so happy to work with me on this?  Because I consulted them in advance and told them I wanted to reorganize the attic to create an official hideout for them!  I asked them for their input and we made our organizing choices based on their feedback.  They worked for a solid two hours, moving big things, pushing around heavy boxes, taking things we didn’t need anymore to the dumpster or to the give away pile, and sweeping up a huge amount of dust.

A view closer up

A close up view

They designated the far side of the attic for their hideout, and when it was finished, they were able to spread out the sukka carpet, which is a durable non-cloth material that’s washable and doesn’t attract dust.



The new hideout from a distance

The new hideout from a distance – the interesting looking seat you see is their invention – they used the base of a fan and inserted an extra bicycle seat to make a place to sit

The area we officially  designated for them is about 9′ x 4.5′, but there’s a good sized area leading to that which has now been almost totally cleared so that gives them much more space to play.  (The open space is about double what you see here.)  The entrance to this area is from the playroom so this works very well for them.





They were excited to invite their friends to come and play!  Before they had a chance to call anyone, there was the sound of a buzzer and two friends at our front door wanted to know if they could play.  They were very happy to come in and inaugurate the play area!

Boys proud of their new hideout

Boys proud of their new hideout

My husband came home and commented how nice it is that we so often have kids at our home, and this is something I also appreciate.  I don’t have a fancy house, I don’t make awesome treats, I’m not a fun mom and I don’t have all the coolest toys.  But my kids friends come pretty much every day and I’m glad they feel comfortable here.

The time I spend organizing is a good investment.  It creates more time since after the initial investment, it takes less time to clean up and that means more time for other things.  And most importantly, it helps  me to enjoy and feel comfortable in my home, and I’m sure me being comfortable makes it more comfortable for others to spend time here as well.


How second degree burns all over my face helped me prepare for Shavuos

Torah tabletAfter seven weeks of spiritual preparation, Shavuos is almost here!

My physical preparations for the holiday are similar to every year.  We have one fish meal, one meat meal, and have a dairy breakfast kiddush that includes cottage cheese, sliced cheese, flavored yogurts, butter and cheesecake.

I’ll once again be giving a class on Shavuos afternoon for women; this year I’ll be talking about some of the life lessons we can learn from the Book of Ruth (5 pm – 25 Tse’elon St.).  It’s an amazing book repleted with many levels of wisdom.  I’ll also be sharing some thoughts on Shavuos more briefly at a women’s kiddush on Shavuos morning (10 am – 36 Shizaf St.).

In past years I’ve often felt spiritually unprepared for this holiday, which is foundational to the Jewish people as a marker of the giving of the Torah thousands of years ago.  This year, I was sent an incredible growth opportunity that has helped me have my mindset in the right place.

Two months ago, boiling cosmetic wax exploded in my face, coating my entire face and neck.   The only thing I could think was, “I’m burning, I’m burning!”  When inside the ambulance they asked me to rate my pain from 1 – 10 (ten being the worst), I could hardly think through the pain to answer them.  Since I wasn’t screaming in pain I told them a 5.

When I later told my ds15 this, he was incredulous.  He said, “Mommy, 5 on the pain scale is when people are still smiling!”  If I had been able to accurately say how I was feeling, I would have said a 9; 10 was when it exploded all over my face and I have no reference for anything in my life to that pain.  But I couldn’t think through the waves of pain I was in to give an accurate number – I could hardly speak at all.  In the emergency room, I overheard someone ask my attending doctor why I hadn’t been given pain medication, and he told them my pain was only at a 5.  Later in the burn unit the nurse was shocked that I hadn’t had pain meds in the ER and told me I didn’t have to be a martyr.  I told her I wasn’t being a martyr, no one offered me any.

The pain I felt was only a small part of what I was feeling – the terror about what my face was going to look like afterwards was so high that it was even more intense than my physical pain.  I’ve shared my thoughts then to find a perspective that helped me manage that fear; now I’ll share what I did to manage the pain.

After glancing in the mirror above the sink where I was splashing my face with water to keep it cool, I saw my skin peeling away and that was terrifying.  For a moment I couldn’t breathe and my stomach dropped and I had a horrible feeling of doomed desperation.

My face felt like as if it was literally on fire – an intense heat that didn’t abate. When the ambulance crew came, I told them I needed something right away for my face, I was burning.  It took about fifteen minutes until they put wet compresses on my face.  I don’t know how I would have managed this if I hadn’t brought a soaking towel with me; this and mostly my thoughts were all that kept it bearable.

As I lay there in the ambulance, I imagined that the burning feeling was actually a cooling, soothing sensation; I pictured God placing cooling gel packs all over my face.  Along with the gel packs, I searched my mind for peaceful and pleasant images to focus on… it was hard to think …most images were too hard to hold on to through the pain.  What kept coming up were the potted plants on my porch.  I didn’t let myself focus on the pain;  I kept pushing my thoughts back to the gel pack and my plants.  This was my pain medication.

This may sound strange, but when I was burned, I had an overwhelming feeling of God swooping me up and telling me how much He loved me.  Time slowed down and things that had been agitating in my mind quieted and disappeared.  I’ve gone through other difficult things and it took a long time to see something good about them, but this time it was clear to me from the very beginning that this was sent to me for emotional healing and spiritual elevation.

My face is  healing amazingly fast.  Two weeks ago I went back to the burn specialist in Jerusalem and asked her how long it would take for my face to be totally healed.  She said that everyone is different and it’s impossible to know, and then added, “ But you,” she told me, “the change from when you were here last to how you look now is literally a miracle!” And people who saw me two weeks ago and saw me this week can’t believe the difference since then.  It’s amazing.

The burn specialist told me on my first visit that it’s inexplicable that I didn’t sustain third degree burns – she explained that wax usually penetrates an additional layer of skin.  I asked her what she attributed this to – was it because I immediately washed my face and kept it moist until I got medical help?  No, this didn’t make a difference – she said the fact that I sustained only second degree burns was “your mazal (luck)”.  If I had third degree burns, I would have been hospitalized for months and who knows what my face would look like…

And my eyes… I was wearing glasses but the force of the explosion blew wax all over one eyelid and right under both eyes  – literally all that wasn’t burned on my face were my eyes and the bridge of my nose where my glasses were resting.  When I think of life without vision and how easily I could have lost that …I can’t even think about how good God was to me without getting teary.

This experience has taught me things I needed to learn, things that I’m trying to keep in the forefront of my mind even in the day to day busy living.  It’s helped me to let go and trust God more, knowing that things that are meant to happen will happen no matter what.  That I don’t have to be afraid of the unknown because He’ll help me get through whatever is coming.  It’s helped me to fully embrace the stage of life where I am, living where I do, being who I am.  It’s helped me to nurture myself more and love myself more.  And it’s helped me to recognize what is most important in life – becoming the person that God wants me to be, through the lens of Torah.

This has been my preparation for Shavuos this year.  As I finish writing this, It’s 9 am on erev Shavuos and I haven’t yet started my cooking, my husband hasn’t yet left to do the shopping, and I haven’t yet worked out the specifics of what I’ll be giving a class on.  But inside me I feel ready for Shavuos.

Wishing you all an uplifting and meaningful Shavuos!


How to use a simple card game to teach kids important life principles

Skip-Bo-Cards[1]Did you know that not only are games a wonderful way to naturally integrate various learning concepts, they are also a great platform for teaching life principles?

I was recently playing Skipbo  with ds6 – it’s great for teaching number recognition and order.  It’s simple enough for me to play even with distractions and has enough strategy involved to keep it interesting.  Ds was having a great time – until over the course of several turns I  repeatedly got what he considered the good cards while for those same turns he drew cards he couldn’t use.

As he expressed his frustration a couple of times, I thought about what a fantastic opportunity it was to sneak in some principles of healthy life management!  Being able to emotionally deal with frustrations and disappointments in a positive way makes a huge difference in the quality of your life, in the short and long term.

Today a neighbor was screaming at me for over a half hour (some of ds8’s friends came to pick him up today and their eyes were wide as they told me they heard her screaming from the sidewalk in front of the building where they were waiting for him, and wanted to know if it was me she was yelling at.  Yep, she was.)  Why?  What she says is that she is bothered by neighbors (not me!) who have destroyed her life and her relationships with everyone because they make too much noise.

The real reason is that she’s unhappy and she feels unheard in her life and she doesn’t have the ability to recognize or handle her own uncomfortable emotions so she displaces them.  Recognizing that she was expressing herself in an extreme way that was reflective of her inner pain was why I decided to listen to her – I felt she needed the emotional air of being heard.  Hostile and angry words boil out of her because she feels so powerless to do anything about the things that bother her, and feeling helpless and out of control is so painful that people will resist it by putting on the show of angry strength.

That’s what life is like when you can’t handle not having things the way you want it all the time.  There’s no emotional margin, no ability to see things through the eyes of someone else, and you insist on a selfish focus on yourself.  You become bitter, petty, vindictive, stressed out, anxious and miserable.

Isn’t it nice that we can help our kids avoid this fate just by using our game time together consciously? :)

Here are some things I commented on to ds during the thirty minutes we were playing – I think the parallel between the game of cards and game of life is pretty obvious:

Sometimes you get the cards you want and everything goes the way you want it to go.  None of us complain about that!   And sometimes you get dealt a hand that looks impossible, and you think there’s  no way you can win with cards like these.  If you wait long enough, you’ll be able to use the cards you have and they’ll help you move forward.  Just because you can’t see how they’re going to help you when you first pick them doesn’t mean that you won’t need them or even appreciate them later on.  Being patient and trusting that you’ve been given what you need to play the best game you can – when it looks like you’re losing – will give you a winning perspective.

You aren’t stuck with the cards you have forever.  You get to choose what cards to play, what cards to hold onto and what cards to throw down.  You’re not a victim and you’re not stuck.  Recognize and take responsibility for the choices you make.

It doesn’t matter how good the cards the person you’re playing with gets.  Another person’s good fortune takes nothing away from us; it’s only our jealousy and negativity about their lucky cards that hurts us.  Appreciate that things are going well for them and rejoice in their success.  Your turn will come.

How can you share these ideas without lecturing or being heavy handed?

Demonstrate the attitudes you want your child to pick up.  You’re a living model to your child!  When ds got good cards and things didn’t look good for me, I told him how happy I was to see him doing so well.  When I got ‘bad’ cards I commented that it was going to work out well for me even though we couldn’t yet see how.  You get the idea.

Be aware of how you speak.  Our kids are picking up so much about how to approach life by listening to us.  Realize that every day you’re programming their minds. Yes, I know how intimidating that is!  Don’t feel overwhelmed or inadequate.  Who you are right now is enough and every day you get better!  Think about what messages you want to encourage, and try to consciously make that part of how you speak- changing your speech will change your thoughts, just as changing your thoughts will change your speech.

Whatever you do, DON’T lecture!  Lecturing is the worst possible way to teach your kids anything we want them to learn.  Make sharing your thoughts and value system something integrated and a natural part of your conversations.  Sometimes you may feel like you’re being obvious or coming on too strong and that’s okay.  It’s all part of the process.