Monthly Archives: May 2015

Upcycling our used kitchen cabinets to create more storage

Renovating the kitchen is creating a chain reaction, as we look for ways to use what we already have to create better storage solutions in different areas!

Here are the rooms that are being shifted around:

1) Younger boys bedroom – even though we lost a bedroom when we moved we don’t feel the lack since their room is spacious with plenty of room for the toys.  The kitchen cabinet set that I bought included a large pantry closet, but I didn’t put it in the kitchen because I felt it would overwhelm the space and make it feels small.  Instead, we moved it to the boys’s bedroom and it’s now a great toy closet.



The new closet replaced the cabinet to the left that used to be our toy cabinet, which has now been moved to yet another room that is in the progress of being reorganized – our soon-to-be home office.

Home office – many people here renovate their storage rooms to use as home offices.  Originally when we discussed this option before moving, dh said he preferred to rent office space somewhere else, but he hasn’t found somewhere to rent and doesn’t want so spend more time looking for a space and then furnishing it.  In the meantime he’s been working from the boys’ bedroom, which was obviously a short term solution.

We’ve decided to convert our storage room to a home office and in the past few days have made big strides forward with this.  It should be operational as a separate work space tomorrow when a separate phone line will be installed.

Ds9 wanted to use the wood from the cabinets to build a desk for dh.  


When he said this, I realized that rather than take the cabinet apart and rebuild something new, we could easily repurpose it.  We used this cabinet since it had drawers at the top, shortened it to be a comfortable height for sitting, took off the doors and after we get the piece of marble slab remaining from the old countertop trimmed, will use it as the desktop.  It looks much better than this now.  :)  Voila!  A great workspace.  It even matches the storage cabinet above that sits right next to it.

Laundry room – this is such a small area that it doesn’t really deserve to be called a laundry room.  It’s the laundry space.  But it being so small and also being a walk-through to our yard means it’s even more helpful that it’s well-organized.  

We installed one of the bottom cabinets opposite our washing machine, two top cabinets above that, and the last top cabinet above the washer.



There was a final bottom cabinet that I planned to throw away, then realized if we turned it upside down, it would make a great frame for a rabbit hutch (more about the rabbits another time :)).

As we near the end of our kitchen renovation, we have nothing left that will end up in a landfill.  Someone took the second half of the marble countertop and the final boards will be cut down to make additional shelving for one of our clothing closets.  Recycling at its best!


Kitchen renovation progress

Our kitchen is progressing!

We did things incrementally rather than rip everything out at once to minimize the disruption to our lives.

First we took down the top cabinets and put up the new top cabinets.  SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Then was the biggest part- pulling out the rest of the kitchen, which meant pulling out the sinks.  It’s inconvenient not having a sink in the kitchen and initially this felt like a very huge disruption to my life.  Then I thought about how for generations people had to go to the river to gather water, or at the least pull it up in buckets from the well, and it put the discomfort of having to walk the extra thirty seconds to the bathroom to wash dishes in the bathtub into perspective.

Once they were out, I told ds7 and ds9 they could take down the tiles on the lower part of the wall before we put in the new bottom cabinets.  They very assiduously agreed to that.

Ds7 at work.

Ds7 at work

Lots of fun, too!

Having lots of fun, too!

As I did in my last two kitchen renovations, I’m using pre-loved cabinets!  The first time I did this was in 2008 – I bought a set of cabinets that had cost $20,000 ten years earlier, for just $750 – and that price also included the stainless steel sinks, exhaust hood, and washing machine.  They had been very lightly used by the 90 year old seller and his 80 year old wife, and were wonderful quality.  (More details of that here – how to cheaply renovate your kitchen.)

The second time I did this was two years ago.  At that time, a friend who is a real estate agent and knew I wanted to buy second hand kitchen cabinets was in the middle of a disagreement between the seller and buyer of an apartment that threatened to ruin the entire deal.  The buyer insisted they wanted the kitchen taken out before they completed the sale, the sellers refused.  She gave me a call and asked if I wanted free kitchen cabinets.  Win-win-win!  Everyone was happy when I said yes.

Round three and I’m once again doing the same thing.  But this time my  decision to install used kitchen cabinets has attracted much more attention than ever before (this is what happens when your neighbors can see onto your porch and want to know what you’re doing :)).

Why would I buy used cabinets instead of new?  Very simply, because I like quality items that are strong and made to last, and by buying used I can get the quality I want at a price I can afford.  (The carpenter who installed the top cabinets for us told us he couldn’t understand why anyone would want to sell something of this quality and in this condition.)  If I were buying cabinets new, I’d have to spend a bundle of money to get even the most basic cabinets in the quantities that I wanted and with the heavy use of our family, it’s likely they would begin to show signs of wear soon.

How did I find used kitchen cabinets?  I know it sounds like an obscure thing to buy used, but people advertise these for sale online when they’re renovating their kitchens.  I’ve seen kitchens ranging from never used to twenty years old, with price tags averaging from 2500 to 25,000 shekels.

I bought a large kitchen set that included cabinets, two sinks and a large pantry.  The price included the marble countertops but I didn’t take them even though they were top quality granite and I loved the color, since I spoke with professionals who work with marble and realized it would be impossible to refabricate it to match the dimensions of our kitchen.

When I went to take a look at this kitchen I was pleased to see the cabinets were extremely well-made (the owner purchased the home from a very wealthy family who installed the kitchen).  My hesitation initially was that in the pictures I saw, it looked like there weren’t many drawers at the bottom and I strongly prefer drawers.  Imagine my delight when the owner opened the cabinets and I saw that  every single bottom cabinet except one had pull out shelves/drawers!

It’s definitely more work to install used cabinets.  These cabinets were much more complicated to use than any cabinets I’ve worked with before.  Very few of them were standard sized, they varied in depth and height, a number of them had features that meant they could only be use in a particular position and of course, they were customized to the measurements of someone else’s very different kitchen layout.  The trick with used cabinets is to figure out how to fit them smoothly into your kitchen and I really squeezed my head over this!  It took hours and it’s been a relief to see it all coming together.

The other thing about buying used cabinets is that you become the general contractor.  You need to think about what needs to be done, how it should be done, in what order, and bring in people who can do what you can’t/don’t want to do. There are a lot of details involved but I enjoy this kind of thing so I don’t think of it as difficult.

Here are some pictures of the progress.

Right side of kitchen before

Right side of kitchen before

Right side of kitchen in progress

Right side of kitchen in progress

Left side of kitchen before

Left side of kitchen before


Left side of kitchen in progress

Left side of kitchen in progress

On Wednesday, measurements were taken for the countertops.   I hope they’ll be installed together with the sinks on Monday or Tuesday.

Front view of kitchen in progress

Front view of kitchen in progress

I still have some cosmetic things left to do – retile the backsplash, buy laminate to cover the outer sides of the cabinets and cover the toekicks.  Once the sinks are in, I need to have some plumbing work done and hopefully it won’t be long before we have a fully functioning kitchen!


Beginning kitchen renovation – the before pictures

I’m once again renovating my kitchen!  Yes, it’s been less than two years since I last renovated my kitchen but that was in a different home.

I love, love, love my new apartment!  But the kitchen really needs a major face lift.  Not just for asthetics, but for functionality.  The kitchen itself is a nice size though it currently gives a small impression and the cabinet space is very inadequate for our needs.  These are the basic cabinets installed by the contractor in all the apartments when the building was built fifteen years ago.

IMG_20150520_031944Wall number one.  The cabinets are very photogenic and look much better in pictures than in real life.  You can’t see the bottom of the doors flaking, smell the strong scent of mold when opening the cabinet under the sink, or see the toekick area that is missing the covering and as a result attracts lots of small cluttery items.  But even without all of that, this is still the entire working area of the kitchen.

I appreciate having two sinks even if they’re small.  Fortunately the faucet pulls out or I wouldn’t have a way to wash my large pots since they don’t fit inside!  Since I haven’t unpacked my dairy dishes for lack of cabinet space, having two sinks (one for dairy dishes and one for meat dishes) hasn’t been as helpful as it could have been.


(End of Wall 1 where it meets Wall 2.)  Here is the corner of the last cabinet that you could see just half of in the first picture.  Doesn’t make it seem any bigger, does it?  :)

The space that was allotted for the stove was intended for ovens that are the standard 60 cm wide.  Mine is 90 cm wide, which is why it’s parked at this awkward angle.  To the left of the oven is my temporary solution for where to store root vegetables that don’t need refrigeration.  Next to that is the edge of two large bins of kitchen items that can’t be unpacked due to lack of space.


This is Wall 3.  We put a freestanding cabinet here to create some much needed storage space. It didn’t look especially good there but was extremely helpful until we sold it last week to make space to get started on renovations.

There you have it, the before pictures of my kitchen.

Stay tuned for more details about what we’re going to be replacing this with!


The joy of being known for who you are

You know what I think one of the hardest things about being a new immigrant is?

That you become a one dimensional person without a past.  Every time you meet someone, they have no frame of reference for who you are or what you’ve accomplished.  Every conversation is about you presenting yourself and being evaluated, which is humbling and exhausting. This is true of when you move to anywhere new, but particularly to a new country and culture.

Last night I went to a bar mitzva in Beitar.  I lived in Beitar for six years in the earlier years of my marriage and moved from there to the US fifteen years ago.  I visited for a Shabbos over four years ago but almost all of the people I was friendly with I haven’t seen in a very, very long time.

It was a beautiful bar mitzva.  And it was personally very enjoyable for me.  You know why?  Because I met person after person who I had a history with.  Right after I walked in, someone looked at me and said, “I know you… you’re the shadchan (matchmaker)!”  She didn’t remember my name but remembered I was the one who introduced the couple (over fifteen years ago!) who was making the bar mitzva.

I met someone else whose first birth I attended, three women who attended my childbirth classes, a friend who babysat my daughter when I was still a working mom, a friend who hosted the first parenting class I attended, someone who attended the weekly tehillim gathering in my house.  Last week I was at a wedding in Jerusalem and someone across the table looked straight at me and said, “Avivah, don’t you remember me?”  Of course I did.  Not only did I remember her, but I attended births of her sister and sister-in-law.

It’s really different having conversations with people who you have a history with.  Here’s an example.  When I tell someone I have a history with that I’m homeschooling, the attitude is that homeschooling is unusual but must be okay if I’m doing it.  When I tell someone who I don’t have a history with that I’m homeschooling, I sense people trying to size up if I’m a normal person who is doing something unusual, or a weird person doing something weird.

Our identities are built on years of relationships and activities, and when I moved to Israel I didn’t think about how hard it was going to be start over without the years of accumulated social collateral.  It was hard not to be known for who I was when I moved here, and it’s shifting very quickly now that I moved.

Another reason to be grateful for my move here!


Living in RBS and loving it!

I’ve been so busy since moving to RBS – much more than I expected – and it’s really making it difficult to find time to write!

I love living here.  It’s like I was living in the shadows for three and a half years when I was in Karmiel, and now I can step into the light.  I can be myself without concern that some aspect of my beliefs or behaviors doesn’t conform enough to the Israeli charedi community expectation and having it affect the abilities of those around me to see the person I am.   Karmiel is a great place to live for young families who want to raise their children with Israeli charedi norms,  and I really appreciate having families around with older children who have similar values as us.

When we talked about moving, I asked the older kids their opinions and they all basically said it doesn’t matter to them where we are because they’re not living at home.  But actually it’s affected them all positively.

Ds21 comes home much more frequently now that we’re so much closer.  He came home about every three months.  Now he comes for Shabbos about every three weeks!  Dd20 moved home a few weeks ago and no longer has to rent a room in the home of a stranger, and dd18 is home for Shabbos more often.  She can come home when she has a day off from her studies whereas before it wouldn’t have been worth it since she would have spent most of her free time traveling.  Now it’s very easy for them to invite friends so we’ve already had a number of their friends for Shabbos.  Dd18 is in a dorm now but when seminary finishes in another month, she won’t have to worry about finding a living situation, which caused a lot of pressure for her last year when she was in an Israeli seminary with no dorm.

Ds16 has a much shorter commute to high school (he used to spend five hours in each direction when he came home for the weekend) and he told me that school is easier for him now that he’s not so tired from traveling and having to miss classes.  Within a week of being here he already socially felt much more comfortable here than in Karmiel (and this is a son who is fluent in Hebrew, has gone to school with Israelis since we moved here and knew a lot of people in Karmiel).

Since the younger kids left behind very good friends, I was concerned about how the transition would be.  But they’re doing great.  We have one bedroom less but more outdoor space than in our Karmiel home, and having the space for them to run around without having to go to a local park is really nice.  We’re all much more relaxed without the pressure of keeping our neighbors from getting upset about noise.

It will take time to make good friends but the boys (12, 9, 7, 6 and 34 months) are getting to know people.  For ds12 it was really hard socially where we lived since he didn’t go to the cheder and the boys there stuck together in and out of school, so there was no way for him to be involved with them.  There were no extracurricular activities for religious kids and there was no one his age in our neighborhood, which was limiting in terms of being able to meet people and make friends, .  Here he’s part of a boys’ youth group and even before joining that met several nice boys.  On his own initiative he began going to shul (synagogue) three times a day (usually by himself) once we moved here whereas in Karmiel he didn’t feel comfortable and would only go on Shabbos. It really, really makes a difference to be in a place where you don’t feel you’re being judged all the time.

Dd14 is meeting a number of girls her age.  I don’t think it makes up yet for leaving her best friend, but they speak on the phone and the girls she’s met are all very nice.  And that there are girls to meet outside of the school framework is amazing, because this didn’t exist before.  She knew girls and had friends, but again, all of the social stuff for kids in Karmiel was through school and we no longer have that limitation.  We hosted a teen girls shalosh seudos last week that went really well and are considering doing this on a regular basis, maybe every three weeks (depends on our girls since I don’t actively run it).

There are so many lectures and activities that you could be busy all the time!  I’ve gone to several lectures since being here on a variety of topics, in English and Hebrew.  Last night I attended a shiur and was afterwards asked to volunteer at a womens’ event tomorrow night which I hope to do.  I was asked to give a shiur for Shavuos and initially agreed but now have some hesitation about that.  If I end up speaking, I’ll let you know.

Something I didn’t think about at all was how being closer to the center of the country would reconnect me to old friends.  I’m now able to share in celebrations that before I would have just sent my good wishes and apologies that I couldn’t make it.  Since being here six weeks ago, I’ve been invited to three bar mitzvas and one wedding, all of which I can attend now that I’m not so far away.

I’ve bumped into women who recognized me – twice they were girls who were two grades below me in high school!  I met a seminary friend I last saw twenty years ago and then a classmate from sixth grade.  Someone told my husband that when you move to RBS, you reconnect to your past and it’s true!

Last night at a lecture a blog reader approached me and asked me if people are recognizing me all the time now that I’m here.  Not all the time but it happens, but what was a first for my husband was when someone recognized him from my blog!

My husband is also enjoying having so many like-minded people here.  He’s getting to know local rabbis and making time to connect with them.  We are hopeful of finding a rav for our family here; it will take time but it’s important to us and with so many wonderful community rabbis, we’re optimistic that we’ll find someone we respect who will also be able to understand and respect us.

Ramat Beit Shemesh is a different world than Karmiel and as nice as Karmiel was – and it really was nice – I love it here.

But I don’t regret for a second moving to Karmiel.  We had challenges that olim here would think are grossly exaggerated because it’s so different making aliyah to a place with very few supports for new immigrants.  RBS isn’t perfect – nowhere is – but having lived in Karmiel helps me appreciate RBS in a way I couldn’t have appreciated it if I had moved directly here from the US.


My kids didn’t do anything special for me on Mother’s Day

mothers dayYesterday was Mother’s Day and if I hadn’t popped onto Facebook, I would have been oblivious to the date.  I mentioned it to my husband, and my younger boys heard me and asked what that meant.

I told them it’s a day that people try to be nicer to their mother than usual.

How did our family celebrate?

We didn’t.

None of my children made me cards or special meals, bought me flowers, took me out or shared any special wishes for the day.  No one posted pictures on social media with comments to the world at large about how they have the best mother in the world.

I guess I could feel like I was missing out.  That my children don’t really value my efforts.  That they don’t care about me.

But I didn’t feel that way.

What I value more than once a year celebrations or declarations of love are the ongoing interactions I have with my children.  Sometimes I get the bonus of mature children sharing their appreciation for how they were raised.

Ds21 recently told me that because I always believed in him growing up, it helped him to believe in himself.  Do you know how I agonized over this child?  As my oldest and first to be homeschooled, I used to lay awake at nights wondering if I was harming him irreparably by choosing an non-mainstream educational option.  I didn’t harm him – far from it.  He’s a thoughtful, intelligent, caring young man who I feel proud and grateful to have as my son.  But he didn’t call me for Mother’s Day.

My younger kids make me pictures and create things for me on a regular basis.  They make me smile and laugh, they ask me to play with them, they hold my hand when we take walks, and they thank me for little things – like letting them play an educational computer game, making them a meal they like or taking them on an outing.

My older kids end every phone conversation by telling me they love me.

They all do things just because they want to make me happy, even when it means more work and less fun for them.  They’ve cleaned, painted, renovated, babysat, cooked – without asking for payment or allowances.  They voluntarily bring food and drinks to me in my room when I’m tired or sick.  Daily they do tasks they don’t want to do because I ask them to do it.

Every day.

Not one of them mentioned Mother’s Day.

And I didn’t miss it a bit.


The absurdity of the high functioning label

Recently a guest, after observing Yirmiyahu (2 3/4 yr) for a while, asked, “So, is he high functioning?”

Should I proudly say, ‘yes’, as if he’s better than someone who doesn’t get this lucky label?

People are not machines or vegetables that are sorted according to quality and priced accordingly.  Inanimate objects can be rated with cold, measurable terms like ‘high functioning’ for the retail market but this is totally inappropriate for human beings.

I understand why people ask and it’s intended as a compliment.  They see Yirmiyahu doing well and use this term as confirmation of his abilities.  But Yirmiyahu is not high functioning.  He is not low functioning.

He’s a living, breathing person with his own unique strengths and abilities, as well as his own challenges.  Like every one of us.

Did you ever stop to think what in the world does it mean to be ‘high functioning’?  Who gets to determine what the standards are, to check off the abilities of a fellow human being on a paper grid?

Is childhood a competition between the haves and have-nots, between those who can and those who can’t?  Are we so arrogant as to think that because we or our children are blessed with certain abilities that it makes us better than those who have different abilities?

Defining success in life is individual.  Different people want different things and will need different strengths in order to have lives that are meaningful to them.  We have each been created with the abilities we need to fulfill our unique purpose in life.  We aren’t meant to be the same and we shouldn’t be rated as if we are.

The reality is that people with disabilities are being rated from the time they’re born.  They’re constantly being graded on a scale of performance that may or (more likely) may not be relevant to their individual lives.  That same scale will ignore any strengths that haven’t been determined by some official somewhere who doesn’t know the child or his life, and the child is then rated according to his functioning.

Fair?  No.  Accurate?  No.  Is someone better than someone else with a similar condition because he’s been labeled ‘high functioning’?  No.

So why do we use these ridiculous terms?

Are you wondering about how Yirmiyahu is doing?  He’s awesome.  He’s smart and communicative and he’s living life on his own timeline.  Sometimes that looks impressive and sometimes it looks like there’s a delay, but none of it means that he’s ‘functioning’ better or worse.

If you never thought about these terms until now, join the crowd!  I’ve thought a lot over the years about the importance of giving a child space to develop at his own pace and this has informed my approach to homeschooling and parenting.  But I didn’t question the usage of terms like ‘low functioning’ or ‘high functioning’ until I had a child with a different developmental curve; it was then that it became alarmingly clear to me that we limit and damage our children when we label them in this way.