Archive for July, 2009

Looking forward…

I’m working on filling the kids’ baby books with notes about our life here, and came across these paragraphs from my letters to family and friends in the States:

We are nearing the one-year mark since making aliyah.  Despite being very glad to live here, both rationally and Zionistically, my chief feeling at the end of this year of drastic change is fatigue.  Most days are some combination of novelty, adventure, or frustration.  This may sound like a wonderful thing, but it really is tiring after a year or so.  Life in America for us had the familiarity of a lifetime of prior experience, and that tended to make days comfortable and even dull.  Perhaps Canada would make a nice in-between place to live!  While at the Toyota dealer in Jerusalem, Jonathan and I bumped into a former ulpan classmate of mine.  Mikhail lived in Russia until he was 33, then moved to the U.S. for several decades, and made aliyah two years ago.  He’s now in his early 60’s, I would guess.  He asked how things are going and when I told him I’m tired after a year, he nodded knowingly.  He explained that it takes five years to get used to life in a new country.  He described how much of one’s “nervous energy” goes into mundane things like changing a lightbulb (where to buy them, how to ask for them, etc.), and said that lasts years.  He also said it is useful to look at things one dislikes about one’s new country with an attitude of “I don’t understand this” rather than “I hate this” or “This is wrong.”  I found his observations informative and validating.

Nonetheless, it will be utterly delicious to be back in the States again.  Besides seeing family and friends, our top ten list of things we look forward to includes the following

1) eating Ricardo’s prime kosher meat, the like of which we have yet to see even in this Zionist Paradise;

2) reading signs with no Hebrew or Arabic on them;

3) shopping for things we can’t find here (Tom’s of Maine stuff, Keillor’s Dundee Three Fruits Marmalade, Yasou and Soy Vay salad dressings, plastic wrap that actually clings);

4) knitting stores that sell something other than acrylic or kippah yarn;

5) taking the kids to a merry-go-round;

6) Morningstar Farms fake bacon and sausage, cinnamon Life cereal, Lite Life fake bologna;

7) J.P. Licks ice cream (we get Ben and Jerry’s here, but we miss the experience of going to a real ice cream joint);

8) corn on the cob.

In the end, I couldn’t come up with ten things two years ago.  But I probably could now (add red leaf lettuce, maple cream, and my mom’s homemade ice cream).  The difference now for us is that we’ve found more things here that we’ll miss while we’re in America (fresh pita, creamy smooth hummus, ease of kosher shopping, the comforts of home), and much of the stress of our first year has abated.  Things are no longer new for us, we’re settling into a permanent community in our own house, and we’re delighted with life in Efrat.  Going back to the States for us (Monday, so plan on no new posts for nearly a month starting from then) is a bonus, a nice chance to reconnect with loved ones.  We’re all dreading the flight, but our kids are great fliers, and hey–it’s only 19 hours in airports and on planes.


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Saying “please”

The Cap’n and I are sticklers for the word “please.”  From the time our children learn to talk, we teach them the formulas for requests, such as “May I please have/do…” and “Would you please do/give me…”

We have both had occasion to notice that many parents do not teach this little word.  Many is the time my children have had young guests over who, when I’ve served a snack, just stare in expectation, or bellow the Israeli formula, “I also want!”  We have also had the very great pleasure of having the occasional young guest who, while he or she might not use the word regularly at home, is ready and able to use it in our house.

One thing I learned from working with challenged kids of various types is that they need adults to have expectations of them, and they in turn will live up or down to these expectations.  To decline to teach a child proper table manners (napkins in laps, no elbows on the table, chewing and swallowing before speaking) makes them rude, unsavory company at table.  To believe that a child cannot learn to ask with a “please” is to sentence him or her to years of barbarism, and eventual “please” training fraught with resistance.

I must also distinguish between a polite request (“Would you please pass the potatoes?”) and a barely softened command (“Pass the potatoes, please”).  The former is unassuming, and good manners.  The latter is entitlement.

I love it when my children say “please” and “thank you.”  Not only does it give me some pride in my own children’s manners; it also proves that children are as capable of kindness and consideration as adults.  As a mom who runs her own household, I sometimes feel a bit like an indentured servant.  When my children say “please,” I feel like a human being again.

For heaven’s sake, if Dumbledore can say “please” to Severus Snape in his final moments, a child can certainly say “please” when asking for a second helping of strawberry shortcake.

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Chicken Soup, Boots

When I was a kid back in the 1970s, and kids were asked what they wanted to be when they grew up, the typical answers for boys were a policeman, a fireman, a garbageman, or President; girls were more likely to answer a secretary, a nurse, a teacher or a ballerina.  For a while, my sister hit on a great answer: a teenager.  That was brilliant because it required no advanced education, and (barring disaster) everyone would get a crack at it regardless of sex.

I get depressed when I remember that time.  All my doctors were men.  All my dentists were men.  All the Presidents (and their Men) were men.  Women dominated the teaching field and monopolized steno pools.  The one man I knew who was a nurse was always referred to as a “male nurse” because nurse=woman, right?

Baruch Hashem, my children are growing up in a different era.  Their doctor and dentist are women.  (They’ve made clear that that is the only configuration acceptable to them.)  The lawyers who drew up the papers when we bought our houses (both in America and Israel) were women.  Yes, rabbis are still men in our part of the Jewish universe, but sometimes I like to shake things up a little and tell the kids that there ARE female rabbis; just not Orthodox ones.  (That, of course, may change in our lifetime, who knows?)  They live in a country where there has been a woman prime minister.  Scientists, college professors, business professionals—they can see examples of both men and women in these fields.

But what of those in other professions?  Plumbers, electricians, hair stylists?  Construction workers, postal employees, children’s book authors?  Computer geeks, retail salespeople, poll-takers?  You know—everyone else.

Maira Kalman addresses the careers of the glamorous and the mundane with equal enthusiasm and admiration in her children’s picture book entitled Chicken Soup, Boots.  Kalman, an author and illustrator of numerous children’s books, is also a designer and artist whose work has graced the cover of The New Yorker magazine and the new illustrated Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, and who keeps a monthly blog on the New York Times website entitled “And the pursuit of happiness,” is a master of thinking out of the box.  Her text is lyrical, witty, and full of wonder.  Her vocabulary is that of an adult, but her perspective is that of a child, making her books entertaining for both parents and children.  And her brightly-colored gouache paintings on paper complement her text with modern inexactitude and humor.

In Kalman’s world, adults who ask children what they want to be when they grow up suggest things like  “A lion tamer?  A prune pincher?  An alarm clock salesman?”  And children are as likely to respond, “I don’t know.  I may be a stargazer.  Word twirler.  Nose twister.  Insult lister.  Ladder climber.  Song singer.  Mountain mover.”  In this book she explores careers like traveling salesman, song writer, piano tuner, doorman, avant garde artist, photographer, barber, astronomer, architect.  One of my favorites is Barney March, the short order cook at the diner, who gets orders yelled at him by the waitress such as “Adam and Eve on a raft.  Wreck ’em!”—scrambled eggs on toast—and the title of the book, “Chicken soup, boots!” (chicken soup to go).  Another is Dr. Mel Smellman, “a world-famous Doctor of Smellology,” who will say knowingly to a patient, “[Y]ou ate a gooey Gorgonzola three weeks ago.  With a salted sesame cracker, correct?  No need to respond.  I’m always correct.”  And Doc Johnson, a therapy dog who, while kids can’t necessarily become a therapy dog, could become a therapy dog handler.

Chicken Soup, Boots seems like an acknowledgement that what EVERYONE does has importance and contributes to the maintenance of our society, not just the millionaires and the mucky-mucks who make a lot of money, then appear in the papers as they get led off to jail.  Kalman thinks out of the box to the kinds of people she might have seen as a child in her everyday life, who have jobs that while they are ordinary, are nonetheless captivating in their way.  I like the idea of my children reading this book not just for the rhythmic, thoughtful prose, but also for the idea that where their life’s work is concerned, they can aim high, low, or anywhere in between, depending on what interests them.

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English rant #16: Niggard

It’s been a while since my last English rant.  Thought I’d exorcised all of my English language pet peeves, did you?  Hah!  It’ll never happen.

Many years ago, I used the word niggardly in the classroom in which I worked.  My cooperating teacher blanched, and spluttered something about would I please not use words like that in her classroom.  I blushed, but headed straight for the dictionary.  I KNEW there has never been an association between black-skinned people and stinginess, and I was determined to prove it.

I was right, of course.  According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a niggard is “a mean, stingy, or parsimonious person; a miser; one who grudgingly parts with or expends nothing.”  The OED says the origins of this word are obscure, but suspects French.  (When in doubt about an English word, French is usually safe.)  The Merriam Webster New International (Second Edition) is a little more decisive about this word’s origins.  It points to Middle English, in which nig is probably of Scandinavian origin, as in the Norwegian dialect where gnikka or gnigga mean “to be stingy.”

A lesson: Just because a word has an offensive sound does not mean it should be shunned as offensive.  Postpone panic-stricken looks and self-censorship until you’ve looked it up in a dictionary.  It’s what they’re for.

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And yet another bonus in honor of the recent scandal in New Jersey politics.

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A summer treat


Okay, after yesterday’s incredibly silly and pointless barcode post (I’m not even giving you a link, it was so dumb), I’ve gotta come back from that.  Even if it IS Friday.

I made lasagna for dinner tonight, and we normally don’t have dessert on Friday nights.  (The kids eat enough junk on Shabbat to last the week.)  But I was remembering a job I had once working with kids in residential treatment, where the cook was particularly innovative when it came to devising nutritious treats.  One such treat was the following:

Frozen Banana Pops (serves 6)

6 bananas

Fruit-flavored yogurt (strawberry or raspberry are nice)

popsicle sticks

Chopped nuts or grated coconut, optional

Peel bananas and place them on a foil-covered cookie sheet.  Insert a popsicle stick in the bottom end of each banana, embedding half the stick.  Pour yogurt into a wide bowl and hold banana carefully over it, spooning yogurt over the banana to cover it completely.  (If topping with nuts, sprinkle nuts over both sides of yogurt-covered banana now.)  Lay bananas parallel (“spoonwise”) on cookie sheet and place in the freezer for a few hours, until completely frozen.  Serve, or cover tightly once frozen to serve within the next few days.

Here are a couple of trouble-shooting tips, too.

1. If yogurt is very thin (i.e. watery), stretch a dishtowel over a glass bowl and secure it with a rubber band.  Pour the yogurt over the surface of the towel (making a well as needed to accommodate quantity of yogurt) and refrigerate.  The fluid should drain over the next few hours, making the yogurt a thicker consistency.

2. If bananas are extremely long, cut in half and insert popsicle stick into the cut end.

3.  Google “frozen bananas” and check out the images that come up.  It seems there are lots of other ways to serve frozen banana desserts (parve ones too).  An excellent summer Shabbat dessert.

These are a delicious, refreshing summer treat, and should keep the kids out of the lollipops and “pope-ices” (Israeli for push-pops) for a while.

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Boycotting the boycott

My mother forwarded me the following email (edited for grammar, hyperbole, and unnecessary capitalization):

Want to buy US made products?  Buy USA by watching for ‘0’ at the beginning of the number.  We need every boost we can get!  If this concerns you, this may be useful to know when grocery shopping.


Can you differentiate which one is made in Taiwan or China?

If the first three digits of the barcode are 690, 691, or 692, the product is made in China.

471 is made in Taiwan.

We have a right to know, but the government and related departments never educate the public; therefore we have to educate ourselves.

Nowadays, Chinese businessmen know that some consumers avoid products made in China, so they don’t show in which country it is made.

However, you may now refer to the barcode.  If the first 3 digits are

690-692…then it is made in China

00-09…USA & Canada






Buy USA by watching for ‘0’ at the beginning of the number.

I am not interested in getting into a discussion on the geopolitical ethics of purchasing, but I am aware that there is a boycott of Israeli products in Europe (and perhaps in the US).  There are videos on YouTube showing these nutcases filling shopping carts with Israeli products and leaving them in the aisles to protest the “inhumanity, brutality, and violent occupation of Palestinian lands.”  I’m not sure what effect these staged “demonstrations” have on anyone, except to provide their organizers with an opportunity to exercise their lungs and their Jew-hatred on camera and by extension, on the Internet.  But thanks to these fruit loops, I was able to discover the barcode indicating products made in Israel for those who wish to boycott the boycott.

Israeli products begin with 729 in the barcode.  Thanks, Mom, and anyone else, for buying Israeli.

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