Friday, May 30, 2008

Cholent Salad

Abba loves this recipe. Not just because he introduced it to the family, or because it's really tasty. No, it goes much deeper than that.

He loves it because once upon I time he said he wanted to make cholent and I said it was too hot for cholent. So then he said he'd make a cholent salad, and I said:

There is no such thing as cholent salad.

He proved me wrong, and I've never been so happy to be on the losing side of a debate.

This Cuban-inspired meat salad is a lovely alternative to cholent on a hot summer's day. Not only that, much of the preparation can be done after Shabbat has already begun (for those of us who still can't manage to get it together even though Shabbat currently starts at 8:30pm).

1-1 1/2 lbs beef steak
2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
2 lbs red (or other) potatoes
salt and pepper to taste
2-15 oz cans black beans, drained

Vinaigrette dressing:

1/4 cup white vinegar
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/4 cup red wine
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 cup olive oil

Chop potatoes into approximately bite size pieces. Place in flat pan. Add salt and pepper to taste and smear or spray with a tiny bit of oil. Roast in oven at 350 degrees until done--around an hour (flip/turn them periodically to assure even cooking). Combine cumin, salt and pepper and press onto both sides of steak. Grill steak until medium doneness. Flip/turn occasionally. Chop steak into 1/2 to 1 inch pieces. Chop cilantro. Mix steak, potatoes, beans, cilantro and vinaigrette dressing in large bowl. Add more of above spices to taste. Serve.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Did He Just Say That?

Our Shabbos tolerance woes continue...

This Shabbat Abba and I took turns--I went to hashkama and he went to main minyan and we each had a shift davening and watching Chamudi. It worked rather nicely and I was happy as a clam until a prominent member of the hashkama minyan said to me, with a wide smile on his face, "Thanks for not bringing him to tefilot. That was really nice."

What I said was, "Hmm...well I don't think I'm going to say you're welcome."

What I wanted to say was, "Go to hell, freak show. You are everything that is wrong with this synagogue. Scratch that, you are everything that is wrong with humanity."

I really wanted to tell him off. But some compassionate person in the back of my head said, "You know, if that's really how he thinks about things, and if he really thinks this is the appropriate way to share his feelings, then he's got problems that extend far beyond this conversation. Just walk away..." So I did.

Okay, I didn't totally let it go--apparently my quiet complaints to a few mutual acquaintances apparently circulated rather quickly. Whoops...oh well. Maybe one of those kind souls will give him some musar.

Meanwhile, Chamudi is continuing to flourish Jewishly--he loves shul, knows and likes the rabbi, and will stop mid-tantrum to admire a Torah scroll. So I know that--whatever the curmudgeons of the world may say--we are on the right track.

Listen Up Bub…bies

It may not surprise any of you to know that I have very VERY strong opinions about certain things. But in the interest of retaining friends and family I very rarely will discuss them in a public forum. And while I know I am right and everyone else is wrong I do know that everybody is entitled to their own opinions about things from who deserves equal rights in our country to if the word “shvartzah” is EVER permitted to be spoken.

Hey, it’s a free country.

But a certain issue cropped up that I decided I can no longer be silent about. Thinking about the wrong that is going on around us literally makes me dizzy with fury as it is JUST SO WRONG.

Now you are correct, there are tons of things that are JUST SO WRONG. However when certain things affect my child or the children of people I know and care for it bothers me in a way that I hope most Mommies can understand. Especially because righting this wrong doesn’t take an act of congress to change-just a change within yourself.

I’m talking to you Grandmas.

I was fortunate enough to be born with 2 grandmothers and 3 great grandmothers. Now 1 great grandmother wasn’t around too long and 1 lived in Israel but the 2 grandmothers and 1 great grandmother that were around were wonderful. I may not have fully treasured the glory and splendor of the grandmotherly love when I was younger but as I grew up and had my Baubies and my Safta fighting over who could send me the best care package in college I grew to appreciate it.

Yeah sure it was sometimes annoying to have to call them all the instant my plane touched down. And it was a bit troublesome if not comical to watch the little cat fights they would all get into around the Seder table on whether my underage brother should be allowed to drink his four glasses in actual wine. But it was all part of their charm.

Now I have 0 grandmothers and 0 great grandmothers to call and tell I love in the last few minutes before Shabbat and I am telling you I so wish I could. They all loved me unconditionally and no matter what I did I knew that there were 3 ladies with a penchant for polyester slacks and weekly hairdresser appointments that would think I was the best thing in the world.

It is a love that I can not describe to any of you who were not fortunate enough to grow up with Grandmothers (and I do know that there are many), but believe me if you want what is best for your child then you want your child to have that feeling.

So you can see why it upsets me deeply that there are Baubies and Saftas and Grammys and Nanas out there who don’t give a rat’s patooty about what a profound effect they can have on their grandchildren.

I know too many Grandmas who just won’t put forth the effort to seeing the life that their own child created grow up. Who don’t think that a grandchild is any “fun” if they are too small to go to a baseball game. Who would rather play an extra hand at the casino than spend the night with the grandson. Who will go for weeks without seeing, let alone speaking to their granddaughter. Who will bitch and moan if you ask them to just watch the child for one afternoon a month.

I know you think that they aren’t your responsibility. That you have done your job and now you can just take a hands off approach. That carrying a picture around in your wallet qualifies you for Grandma of the Year. Or that hosting one brunch every other month makes you Queen Bee and you can brag about your wonder amongst your friends.

IT. DOES. NOT.

Your financial responsibility to your child may end when they turn 18, but the love responsibility does not. It’s a forever sort of thing, and if you are blessed enough to have a grandchild then loving them falls under you too. No, you don’t have to raise them. No, you don’t have to support them or lavish them with gifts or even call daily. But your grandchild deserves to KNOW their grandmother. Deserves quality one on one time. Deserves to feel all the love that only she can give them.

A scary number of my friends have lost a mother way before her time. Their children have lost out on having any chance of knowing a whole grandmother. And to see these grandmothers that are lucky enough to be around sit there waiting for the grandchild to just feel honored to be in their presence enrages me.

And it makes it so much worse when they live close by. My mother was here this past weekend and it was wonderful. She lives 3 hours away…by plane. A $400 ticket if she can find a good deal and I will be darned if she does not try to see her beautiful Princess every month. She says she actually is in physical pain when she isn’t able to be with us-and I believe her because so are we.

I can’t speak about Zadies, Grandpas, Papas or Opas but a grandmother is a horrible thing to waste. So get up off your tushies and call your grandchild. Make a date, make a plan. Hear their voices. Understand every word they have to say. Hey, be the cool Nana that gets video chat. Write them a card and draw them a picture. Because I want you all to be around for at least another 120 years, but just in case you aren’t, appreciate how fortunate you are and try to make every moment count.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Grateful to Daddy

This morning I woke up with a stomach bug. My husband is leaving today for a business trip to Israel. The plan originally was for him to come to our son's music class (which I teach) as a special treat before the trip. Feeling unable to teach, I asked my husband if he would sub in. He agreed! The class loved it, and our little boy was beside himself.

On Sunday, he took both kids for most of the day to give me the day off. He took them on a hike and to one of his favorite spots, the marine base Quantico. There my son got an extremely short military haircut, which he describes as "beautiful."

I swam laps at the pool, read, and spent some wonderful time shopping with my grandmother and brother. It was heaven.

Yesterday, we went hiking with the kids and my sister-in-law's family. It was a wonderful and utterly exhausting day. At the end of it, he urged me to swim some laps while he got the kids ready for dinner. It was just what I needed.

I think he is nervous that the kids will be cold to him when he returns from Israel on Sunday. There's no way. He has spent such great time with them over the past few weeks and is such an amazing father in general, that I think they will only be excited to see him.

Now that he left for the week, I am the one who is a little nervous - particularly because I am not feeling well today. But also because he has been so helpful to me, that I am out of shape in terms of being solo with both kids.

And I miss him. I feel deeply grateful for my husband.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Eating Meat

I get swayed easily by trends. I admit here in this public forum that I pegged my jeans, wore fluorescent colors, had a prairie skirt, etc. I have an iphone. I could go on but it sounds extremely materialistic.

So I've been reading some recently and listening to the news a lot, and I have found another trend I want to follow. I think I want to become a vegetarian.

When I was in high school and college, I experimented with vegetarianism. Mostly, I admit, I did it to piss off my mother, who seemed to love nothing more in life than serving huge dried out turkeys and chickens with no skin. But I took it seriously for a while. Then I got engaged, and what fool wouldn't want two sets of brand new, pretty dishes?

Now, I read Agriprocessors this, environment and sustainability that, and be damned, I've almost convinced myself again. I don't drive a hybrid, but I do have CFL bulbs, green power for my electric, I shop at a farmers market, I try to buy American and I try even harder to buy local. I'm even a member of a CSA. What meat does to our world downright sucks, and although it sure is yummy, I can't feel good about eating beef anymore.

I am disgusted and horrified by the idea that any company would put product before the lives of employees. Clearly I'm naive. But apparently Agriprocessors has sold out their employees and has done things in such a profoundly unethical manner (and inhumane!) that it makes me think twice before buying their meat. So I'm not. I have even decided to give up ordering from my new glatt delivery service from Brooklyn because the owner (over the phone) yelled at me and demanded my name and address when I asked about who does their shechita. Aaron's Rubashkins is all over their website yet he lied to me and told me that the beef and chicken is all from Ali's in upstate NY.

So I'm making a promise here to try to live ethically and sustainably and honorably. I won't buy the Agriprocessors' crap. I won't buy beef. I'll only eat it if that's what is served to me (don't want to embarrass anyone). I will continue to buy chicken and turkey (makes a really good meatloaf) and even lamb every once in a while. If something changes and we discover that it's all so good for us and that Agriprocessors isn't really the devil it sounds like it is, maybe I'll change my mind.

After I eat the brisket that's in my freezer. After all, wasting food is worse, right?

For more information about the Hechsher Tzedek, the move on the part of the Conservative movement to certify products produced by companies that adhere to appropriate ethical standards, read here, click here.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

shabbat/lag ba'omer recipe: coconut milk custard

I'm from Texas. Texas means meat meat meat. If they could, my family would eat chocolate-dipped turkey jerky for dessert. If they made meat straws, they'd probably sip their iced tea through them. Israel has nothing on the Kosher meat section of Randal's in Houston.

Maybe that's way I'm so darned happy with my dairy kitchen. It's a sanctuary. My deserts have caused riots. Why do they taste so good? Gee, I don't know...maybe it's the butter, the real cream, the whole milk...

That's why I was so devastated that for about 8 or 9 months, my breastfeeding daughter would puke her guts out if I so much as sniffed a piece of milk chocolate. That was hard. But out of desperation, I made up a desert that actually made those months worth it.

I'm putting it out there now in case any breastfeeding mothers are suffering through the same lactose-intolerance this Sukkot (my favorite holiday, culinarily speaking). And also, it makes a great Lag Ba'Omer dessert, if you're grilling today.

Coconut Milk Mango Custard

2/3 can of coconut milk (I use the full fat kind, because it's creamier)
3 eggs
1/2-3/4 cup brown sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1-2 tsp. vanilla
1-2 champaign mangoes or 3 peaches

Mix everything together and cook on the stove top on medium low for about 15-20 minutes, stirring constantly (after about 5 minutes, when the coconut milk gets hot).
Don't let it come to a boil or the coconut milk will curdle. It's done when it gets thick.

Remove the cinnamon stick, pour into a glass pie pan
peal and slice the mangoes or peaches, and place in a pattern on top
Let cool, refrigerate until ready to serve


Let me just add that I don't like coconut, but I LOVE this custard. It doesn't taste like coconut. It doesn't taste parve.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Ew

I am a “people person.” I aim to please others, others please me. I like hanging out with my friends, family and my lovely husband. When I’m out I need company to pee. I love a great party. And I don’t go to the mall alone because how am I supposed to pick out a scrunchie without getting a second opinion?

I love people. I really do. But I also truly appreciate alone time. And not because when I’m alone I can get more done. Or focus better. I just like being alone because then I don’t have to be such a lady. I don’t feel the need to cover my nose when I sneeze or stifle a burp. I can trim my toenails or wear socks that don’t match. I can be….well…I can be gross. We all have our gross moments, mine happen when I have no witnesses.

That being said, after my daughter was born I was never alone. I put her in her bouncy so she could be with me when I showered. I loved that Bumbo because then she could sit and watch me eat. I got her first good laugh after I had a good burp. The only way I could convince her to let me trim her toenails is if I showed her on my little piggies first.

She watched, but didn’t judge. She didn’t laugh at Naked Mommy or tell me to close my mouth when I chewed. She didn’t say, “Wow! How could something so big come out of something so little!” Really, she was there but sort of as a nonjudgmental offshoot of me. I felt alone even though I wasn’t.

That would all change though.

I knew the jig was up after I had a “gas issue” while rocking her to bed one night. Every time she got rocked into any….aroma… she started to cry. Yeah. That was embarrassing.

She was becoming more and more aware, just like all children are supposed to do, and it was largely for the better. So not only did she notice what we did around her, she would copy those behaviors in public. And while it would be sort of funny to have a daughter that burps like a man and farts like an elephant for the first few years of her life, it would not win her any dates to the prom. We knew she wouldn’t learn manners unless we displayed them. So we still burped but always said excuse me. We chewed with our mouths closed. And I guess that’s what Mommies and Daddies are supposed to do, but man life wasn’t as fun…or gross.

I guess it has all paid off. Given that she is only 2 ½ she has already turned into quite the little lady. She covers her mouth when she coughs. She blows her nose into a Kleenex. She says excuse me when any part of her body makes a noise (even if she does it with a giggle).

The down side is that we seemed to have created an I Am A Lady Monster. She calls us out for every sound we make, every time we dare chew with our mouth open….yeah, all that with-her-yet-still-alone gross time is gone. Thankfully we aren’t that polite in general or we’d be getting in trouble for not crossing our legs appropriately or having our elbows on the dining room table.

So we’re working on that now. How to kindly point out there is a gigantic piece of spinach in Mommy’s teeth. Or how not to yell out “Daddy’s STINKY!” in the middle of Target. In the mean time I have begun to appreciate the 9 hours a week she is in school, as long as the cat doesn’t “Meeeeeeeeew” instead of “Meow.”

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The New Job

Here we go...

The good news: I found a new job!
The bad news: I found a new job that started last week.

I have no complaints. I am truly blessed to have found a really interesting job that is a fifteen minute walk from my house. I'll be able to flex time and be home many days by 4pm. Best of all, when Chamudi turns 2 he will go to school in the building where I work. And that's not even counting the comped tickets to all kinds of cultural events and the free gym membership.

All great things. But the imminent start date meant that we had to figure out childcare pronto. Though the next few weeks are a bit tough (sorry, Abba), we have found a temporary nanny-share that will take us from mid-June to mid-August. After that...well, we'll get there.

Meanwhile, I've begun leaving Chamudi in the morning to go to work. It's better when he goes to shul with Abba and is out of the apartment before I leave, but even then he looks a bit bereaved. It's tough for both of us. But twenty minutes later he's playing, and I'm immersed in work, and we're both okay.

I just hope that--despite all the changes in our routine-- nothing fundamental is changing about our relationship.

My work life promises to be more exciting than even before--but also much more demanding. It's definitely a new chapter in the life of our family.

Wish us luck!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Seeing Dan Zanes (Or Was It Bono?)

Yesterday we took our son to the Dan Zanes concert in Strathmore Hall. When I bought the tickets three months ago, he was in an obsessive Dan Zanes phase - watching the Dan Zanes and Friends DVD, All Around the Kitchen exclusively. He has since moved on to Uncle Moishy, so I was a little worried that we had jumped the shark.

No need to worry. It was thrilling for everyone - especially my kid. This seriously was the three-year old equivalent of a U2 concert. When the band walked out, the crowd went wild. We danced in the aisles and sang as loudly as we could when he played a song we knew (aka a song from the DVD). My son brought his guitar and strummed along for most of it.

And it was such a manageable concert. Each song lasted no more than 2 minutes. The whole thing was over in an hour. And it just was so much fun. Dan Zanes sings what he calls "family music" - and it truly is just that - music that each person in the family can enjoy and connect to. Dan Zanes himself is a master performer - making each person there feel like his special guest.

The highlight was watching the expression on my little guy's face. He wasn't smiling exactly, but he obviously was enraptured. He did not take his eyes off the stage for an instant.

I was a little surprised when this morning he still requested Uncle Moishy. But maybe he needs a little time after this live experience to go back to watching the video.

I am definitely over-analyzing.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Love

Who doesn’t love love? I’m a hopeless romantic disguised as a cynical little pragmatist. It’s not just because I’ve never married that I idealize love. No, I’ve had excellent examples. After 60 years of marriage, my grandparents threw themselves into one another’s arms and held hands all day like teenagers after their very first night apart. My parents, who celebrate their 40th anniversary in two weeks, still hold hands. All the time. And have a very active love life (my mother can’t refrain herself from discussing the cuter, sweeter aspects at breakfast sometimes), and adore one another with all the adoration in the world.

All my life I’ve basked in the glow of the various kinds of love in the world. And I’ve reveled in the luxury of something my grandmother and mother never had: girlfriends.

It’s not that marriage and good women friends are mutually exclusive. It’s not that one is a substitute for the other. But it’s harder to develop girlfriends when you marry your best friend at 18 and have a basically blissful marriage.

My mother has only recently discovered them, and I swear she giggles sometimes when she talks about them.

Girlfriends are the salt on the tomato, the honey in the tea, the cool breeze on a warm day. Your husband gives you a terrible present? You don’t have a husband? You’re poor as dirt but feel the need for pampering? Call your girlfriends together and throw a clothing swap! It’s way, way better than shopping. Then you can walk around saying things like, yeah, this skirt used to belong to a rock star. Really. And these pants? A novelist/architect….It’s more fun than saying, “I got this at Saks.” (It’s also a great way to MAKE girlfriends if you don’t have many). Do it around brunch and call it kid-friendly.

So right now I’d like to give a shout-out to the Jerusalem Gfs I spent this Shabbat with. T. is our hotel/babysitter/concierge in Jerusalem, and a great cook, a witty conversationalist, and a shockingly adventurous person (so lots of stories about dog sledding and white water rafting). L. took time off from studying for her Lsat the last two weeks of my pregnancy to walk 6 miles a day with me every day. She went to the farmer’s market with me and the humongous sports stroller every Sunday after the baby was born, and before she was born, defended my right as a pregnant woman to have a cup of coffee to a busy-body cafĂ© staff. A. is the mother of two-year-old twins. She’s writing her dissertation and teaching in at least 4 different programs all over the Israel. Yet she always finds time to sends me poems, to hate the same famous poet I hate, to call me whenever anything is going on in my life, and she tells me my daughter is the cutest thing, though she’s got two cutest thing twins.

In the States there are too many to name, but one example of wonderfulness is LSW, who I knew in Texas. Though she was teaching about 7 classes a week at the local university, had 2 children, was pregnant with the third, was the wife of the president of the shul (who was also the day school’s principal, as well), she always had clean sheets and an 8-course meal for me every Shabbat I stayed with them. Now with three children and a job in the new and cold city of Chicago, she invites me over any time I want, tells me I’m wonderful, and pampers me.

Now that I’m in a very satisfying relationship, I’m faced with a new and delightful dilemma—how to maintain the life support system of girlfriends and still have time for Mr. (almost)Perfect. Luckily, my girlfriends have been tremendous examples. But I think it will be a balancing act for a little while. Ladies, be patient with me, please!

I’m only sad that the center of my social life in DC, is moving away. It’s for a very good reason—she’s marrying the man of her dreams. She probably doesn’t understand that she’s the center of my social world, and without her DC may as well not exist. But, since friends are supportive and love one another, I’ll accept that forced sacrifice with as much grace as I can.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Shabbat Recipe: Easy Spinach Noodle Kugel

It's always a crowd pleaser, and takes almost no time to make: spinach-noodle kugel. Here goes:

INGREDIENTS
1 package egg noodles, cooked and drained
Spinach, about 3/4 of a bag, chopped or shredded by hand
4 eggs (works also with 3, if you want to cut down, or with 2 eggs and 2 whites)
1.5 cups nondairy creamer (or cream or milk)
Onion soup mix, half a bag of the regular or a full bag of the low-sodium variety
Half a stick of melted butter or margarine (or, I generally use less and supplement with olive oil)
Can of sliced mushrooms (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 12'' x 9'' Pyrex or tin. Combine all the ingredients and mix well. Pour into Pyrex or tin. Cook covered for 40 minutes, uncover and cook another 15 minutes or until top is lightly browned.

Enjoy! Shabbat shalom.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Ouch

I spent a lot of today in the peds emergency room. Before you start to hyperventilate, everything is fine (thank you for being so empathetic).

My poor baby got nursemaid's elbow. This is a delightful, antiquated way of saying that he dislocated his elbow. OUCH. OUCH! Amazing Nanny called a minute after it happened, and luckily I was nearly around the corner from the playground where he had been swinging from the monkey bars.

There was no blood, he didn't hit his head, or lose consciousness, or anything "big." But by the time I got to him, minutes after it happened, he was mute with pain and whimpering in A.N.'s arms. We all hopped into a cab and went to the emergency room. Luckily I am familiar with this ER, having been 2x when my poor baby ripped a big hole in his forehead (1) and when the glue they used to patch it up came off and he needed real stitches (2).

To make a long story short, after about 3/4 an episode of Yo Gabba Gabba (ick) we were seen. The peds attending popped it right back in and we spent half an hour hanging out reading If You Give a Pig A Party, etc., waiting for him to regain full mobility. Done. We went out for pizza.

But I have been spooked. This was nothing, really. It is apparently a very common childhood injury and now that it has happened it will likely happen again. But I worry a lot about what is going to happen next time, what it will be that takes us to the ER the next time. I work really hard (even before this) to balance letting him grow up like a normal kid and being a helicopter mommy who won't allow him the space to breathe, let alone develop a sense of physical adventure and confidence. I really worry.

The worry (written about in this great piece where a parent really almost lost a child, an excellent reality check) is something that can eat me up and it is why I check up on him 3x at least after he's fallen asleep, and why I ask incessantly "are you OK" when he falls down. But apparently I was in control and quite calm, so much so that A.N. commented on it a hundred times, as did the Dr., my husband, etc. So at least on the outside, I won that battle. Helicopter fearful Ima has been put back into the closet for at least another few hours, or until my poor baby wakes up in the morning....

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Material Girl….I Mean Grown Woman

I am a materialistic person. I am not ashamed of it. I like nice things. I treat myself to the occasional ridiculously expensive pair of shoes. I always make sure my daughter goes out dressed to the nines. I like to look nice and feel good. I am proud of my home, my family and whatever most recent present my husband gave me.

Wow.

I sound like those girls in high school I didn’t like to hang out with.

But I’m not all that bad. I think I am a good person….in general. I am kind and polite. I am a billion percent grateful for everything I have. I like to think I’m not snooty. But I do think wanting nice things does not make me a bad person.

But yeah, I guess you could say I’m kind of a brat.

Not all the time. For 361 days of the year you would think I am completely normal. It’s the present times-birthdays, anniversaries, Valentine’s Day and now because I’ve birthed a child, Mother’s Day-that the monster emerges.

I reaaaaaaalllllllly like presents. Good ones. Not underwear (unless they are those sassy silky Victoria’s Secret ones). Not nail files (unless they come with a whole day at the spa) and not lamo t-shirts (unless they are maternity shirts that say Hooters-wouldn’t that be AWESOME?).

So yeah, Sunday. BIG DAY. Yes, I did sit back and reflect on how wonderful it was to be a mother. Yes, I did call my Mommy and tell her how much I love and appreciate her. And yes, I sure did love not having to feel guilty about my husband changing diapers. But let’s just be honest, it was a BIG DAY because Mommy’s Day means Mommy’s getting presents!

Now I don’t know if it’s because he loves me or because he fears me, but my husband outdid himself as per usual. There was fancy this and sweet that. We all had a fantastic day. So why when I think about my 3rd mother’s day do I not think about the fancy shmancy gifts?

Every year I’ve gotten great wonderful things. A #1 Mommy robe, beautiful jewelry, a day at the spa-just amazing things that I am so happy with and grateful for. But this year, among my fancy massage and my luxurious dinner lies the most memorable present I have ever gotten.

Dirt.

Apparently while I was off getting my fancy massage my husband and daughter went to the store and picked out flowers and bushes and plants they thought I would like. Then they dug up and mulched the lawn by the walk way and planted them. They basically relandscaped the front walk just to make me happy.

My husband and my daughter working together to do something to make me smile. It’s a lot more of a challenge than picking out the right necklace, exotic trip or Hooters labeled tshirt. And the fact that they both contributed (though the pain in my husband’s back that night might have showed that he contributed a bit more) and they both did it for me- wow. I am all touched and amazed and mushy on the inside.


But no Honey, this does not mean you and Princess Peanut can just finger paint me a portrait for my birthday. As we have discussed several times, I want a pony.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Yartzheit, Birthday and Mother's Day

Tonight is my mother's second yartzheit and my son's third birthday on the Hebrew calendar. She only new him for one way too short year. In that year she loved him so much and our relationship transformed. Nothing in life helped me understand my mother the way becoming a mother did. Yet our time after that awakening was so pitifully short.

I'm far from a poet and have little experience with it. I'm not even sure if what I wrote below technically qualifies as a poem. But, on this day that marks two of the most life changing events in my life, I felt the need to share a little.

Now
Now when her namesake cries as we try to teach him to go to sleep on his own, I can not call his grandmother to commiserate over how hard it is to hear him cry.

Now when my toddler says something funny and I can't wait to share it there is no one to call who cares as much as she would have.

Now when a new and baffling part of being a mother arises I can't call my mommy to discuss and get advice.

Now the weekend comes and no one calls me to share every detail of her busy plans.

Now when the weekend ends no one calls me to let me know about "the best ever (show, restaurant, book, movie, etc)" I just can't miss.

Now I go to the library and guess at what book to read because no one calls me to tell me about the great book they will loan me next time we see each other.

Now no one glows with joy and pride when they look at my children the way she did.

Now no one stops strangers on the street to tell about my child's, my husband's or my wonderful achievement.

Now there is no one in the world who loves me the way I love my children.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Most Loving Moment

Lately, I have been reading Aryeh Ben David's book, The Godfile: 10 Approaches to Personal Prayer. I highly recommend it. The book gives 10 ways to relate to God, based on philosophies of major Jewish thinkers. Examples prayer as an opportunity to judge, love, suffer, listen, talk, etc.

I am up to the love chapter, which discusses how to approach God with nothing but love.

At the end of each chapter is a spiritual check-up - a few self-reflection questions based on the theme of that chapter.

One question asks, "What is the most loving moment you have witnessed?"

I realized that the purest moments of love I have yet to experience come from my son. (My daughter is of course very loving as well, but too young yet to verbalize her feelings.) Every once in a while my son, out of nowhere, will curl up in my lap, look up at me and say, "I love you Mommy."

I am blessed to be loved by lots of people. But nothing like the utter simplicity of that sweet look in his eye and those words, "I love you Mommy."

Yes, that is definitely the most loving moment I have ever witnessed.

Did none of us mention Mothers' Day?

A shout-out to all the mothers, imas, mamas, moms and mommies who read this blog, and a belated happy mothers' day.

I ran into a frum older neighbor of mine last night on my way home with my (thank you for making me an ima) son asleep in the stroller. I wished her happy mothers' day, and she looked at me. "Every day is mothers' day. I don't celebrate it." Of course. Kibud em v'av doesn't only happen on a May Sunday or a June Sunday.

I did like very much Tom Friedman's column about his mother, and hope you'll all read it.

Regardless of how many cards and gifts you received, the real tribute is the unique and beautiful ways in which your children love you.

Small-space fun

In the 1970s, my 25- and 23-year-old parents could afford to buy a 3-bedroom house on a single salary for their (then) three children. Today, my daughter and I share a single bedroom, rented apartment. I’m not poor. I’m gainfully employed. But it's all I can afford. In my hometown I could afford a big house with several bedrooms. But I don’t live there now.

It’s sad to think that the highest standard of living I might have attained was when I was a graduate student in Texas and rented half of a turn-of-the-century house with columns on the porch, a porch swing, 14-foot ceilings, and a yard half the length of a city block. The kitchen had floor-to-ceiling cabinets and a heavy wooden table filled at all times with people.

I’m not sure how much longer baby and I will be able to maintain the single bedroom arrangement. But for now, we have a couple of tricks up our sleeves--and they do not involve videos, television (even Australian dancing men) or batteris.

Baby has her own space. Due to size limitations, it is a big cabinet in the kitchen where she also keeps her toys. Although it’s a risk that one day she’ll be in therapy because her mother stuck her in a cabinet to play, I’ll gamble. Baby teeters over to it every morning, first thing, and opens it up. Then she sits down on the edge and closes the door so that only her toes and fingers still out.


After a few minutes, she opens the door with a huge smile, as if she were inviting me into her house. She’s got her buba and her bunny and other (small) toys we bought in the crafts fairs or in the shuk in there.

As you can imagine, between travels, one bedroom apartments, and bad birthday/travel timing(we moved to Israel two weeks after the first birthday), we don’t have excessive amounts of toys. We’ve got somewhere between twenty and a zillion books, but honest-to-goodness toys, not so many.

So baby’s cabinet includes mostly homemade toys. Her favorite is s a shiny gold paper bag with handles in which she carries around lids, hair elastics, my old cell phone, sea shells—just whatever she collects during the day. And she’s quite the collector. This bag keeps her entertained for up to 30 minutes at a time, and she hasn’t tired of it yet. The ever-changing contents keep her amused from day to day.

We’ve got plastic yogurt container towers—they can stack up beautifully. You can take them to the beach for sand castle construction, and use them in the tub for making splashes. We’ve got metal lid” hockey pucks,” musical instruments made from old baby bottles filled with peas. We’re lucky we live within a five-minute walk of four different parks, and a fifteen-twenty minute walk from the beach. Oh, the beach.

There are also fashion shows,

laundry, coloring, and rough housing on the bed, planting window gardens and watching the birds and cats out the window.
I don’t really feel guilty when we visit other children and my daughter lunges at the battery-operated blinking, chiming toys, the endless piles of entertainment. I can tell from how she treats her (not-homemade) piano that if she had the toys at our home, she’d be tired of them in 4 days.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Delicious Indian Chick Peas

I love chick peas, in all different forms. This delicious recipe is easy and perfect as a side dish or, with rice or couscous, as a main course. In fact, I'm bringing it to a Shabbat potluck dinner tonight! It requires some Indian spices that you might not have in the house (garam masala, cumin seeds) but you can find them at an Indian grocer and some specialty stores. Now that I have them, I've expanded my Indian cooking and actually use them a lot.

Ingredients:

2 cans of chickpeas
1/4 C vegetable or olive oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 medium onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1/4 heaped C chopped canned tomatoes (or 1/2 C raw)
2 tsp grated ginger
1 1/4 C prepared black tea (you can also use water, doesn't affect taste, just color)
1 to 2 hot green chilies, sliced into thin rings (I often omit the chiles because my husband is a wimp when it comes to spiciness)
1 tsp salt
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp garam masala
3 to 4 Tbs coarsely fresh cilantro or mint.
(If using dried herbs, use half as much)
1 Tbs lemon juice

Drain the chickpeas, rinse with water and set aside to drain.
Heat oil over medium high heat. Add cumin seeds and let sizzle for 15 seconds.
Add onion. Stir and fry until onion edges turn brown.
Add garlic. Stir and fry until it turns golden.
Add tomatoes. Stir and cook until they turn dark and thick.
Add ginger and stir.
Add chickpeas and remaining ingredients. Bring to simmer.
Lower heat and simmer uncovered for 10 minutes, stirring now and then.

Good hot, warm, or cold.

Enjoy, and Shabbat shalom!

Thursday, May 08, 2008

When You Know You're Old

So last night I went to celebrate Yom HaAtzmaut at Radio City Music Hall with my husband and like 5000 of my closest friends. Sometime in the early part of the concert I discovered I am officially old.

After the stupid, unending greetings from morons in suits (mayors, ambassadors, governors, various organizational presidents, etc.) Natalie Portman came out to be the evenings' MC. Love her. Rami Kleinstein performed. Love him, have his albums. But wait, he's 46! I thought he was so cool (younger). Oh well.

Matisyahu performed. All I could think of was ICK. The rapping, the reggae, and all I could think about was how he was mouthing the mike and how all that slobber would need to be wiped off. How unsanitary. I am not a fan.

The Idan Raichel Project performed. Wow. I love them, have the album, seen them in concert, etc. Really love them, as in, my husband's ring on my cell phone is the opening part of one of his songs (Mimamakim). But then Matisyahu came out and ruined one of my favorite Idan Raichel songs. I love the IRP but am a bit wary of my love for them because they are "World Music" and people who listen to world music are OLD.

Later on there was Yael Naim, who is a major pop star these days because her music was in a Mac commercial. Oy, she's awesome. But come on, New Soul is just not her best (check out Levater or even her cover of Brittney Spears' Toxic. That is GOOD), it's just her poppy fun one.

But by 10pm I was cranky and ready to go home. Then there were tech glitches, things stopped moving along quickly, and I got super annoyed. Kvetchy. Of course, I only paid $36 for my ticket and was out on the town with my darling husband who was being quite patient, so I should have been ready for fun. Not. Then there was a STRING QUARTET. No offense but it was totally out of place. I love classical music, especially contemporary music of that genre (I sound totally uneducated here, but I do like it). But not that AT ALL. And then Paul Shaffer and Richard Belzer came out and did a stupid stand up comedy routine that was totally borscht belt and imho, not funny, and Paul Shaffer ended with the theme song from the movie Exodus on the piano. OLD FOGY. I felt ancient and even more kvetchy.

Luckily then they trotted out a gray and balding David Broza, who used to be hot when I would go to any concert anywhere and everywhere to see him thump his guitar. He's still got it but then I was horrified to find out that he wrote Yihiye Tov 30 years ago. I really am old.

When we got home at 1230 I felt quite bitchy because the babysitter wanted to chat instead of leave promptly and I was tired and needed to check my email. And then my son woke up and was asking for chocolate milk and didn't fall asleep soundly for a full hour. And when I woke up in the morning I was totally cranky and slept through a full hour of 2 episodes of Miss Spider's Sunny Patch or whatever that show is called.

I feel a bit shocked. Not totally but just a bit. Apparently I am an annoying middle aged mom, cranky and exhausted. Tough night out. I should stop complaining so much and embrace what's left of my youth! Now it's the next night and I need to go to bed.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Top 10 Reasons To Get Punched In The Face

I like to think the majority of America is not made up of ignorant jackasses. I like to think that the majority of America is not made up of insensitive morons. It took me 23 weeks of pregnancy out in America to realize that is definitely not the case.

When I was pregnant with my daughter I worked full time at a big fancy shmancy company. As most fancy shmancy companies go it had a high level of politeness. Everybody is going to need everybody for something sooner or later so politeness is the way to go. And while I know people get talked about behind their backs, all that business school education teaches one how to put up a great layer of phony. I worked in Public Relations…so you know that those had to be the phoniest of the bunch.

But still, it was nice. They all told me how great I looked everyday. They gushed about my cute little maternity outfits. People told me that I most certainly was carrying a boy because apparently there is an old wives’ tale that girls take away from your beauty and boys add to it…or something. Nobody once put their hand on my tummy without asking permission first. And when one of Oprah’s personal assistants told me how “fantastic” I looked without even having met me, I knew I was in the right line of work to be pregnant in.

But currently I am in the best line of work to be a mommy in, I am president of Stay At Home With Princess Peanut Incorporated. It’s fantastic and it is what works best for me.
But yeah..so the best line of work to be a mommy in-not the best line of work to be pregnant in.

I am no longer surrounded by Shmancies, I am surrounded by people who will never have to see me again. The check out lady at the grocery. A mommy at the park. The man who came to give us a price on finishing our basement.

They just speak their mind. Their mind to mouth filters aren’t as fine tuned, perhaps. And I am tiny in general so even an extra 5lbs would stand out…let alone another 15 or so that is localized in the stomach region. And although I'm no longer "tiny" I really don’t think I am gigantic. But apparently I am.

I have heard more hurtful things in the past 3 weeks than I have ever heard in the entire time I was pregnant last time. Heck, I’ve heard more hurtful things in the past 3 weeks than I have in my ENTIRE LIFE.

Now I know not everyone is meaning to be rude. But what do they think? That the baby in my belly just fills me with so much joy that they can say whatever they want and it would bounce off? And since when is it ever proper to comment on a woman’s weight…to her face?

So here you go America. In my unending love and generosity I am going to help you out and help you not be a bunch of cruel, unintentional idiots. And help you stop making me and probably a million other mommies-to-be cry in the produce aisle.


Top 10 Things NEVER To Say To A Pregnant Woman:

10- “I see you have reached the waddling stage.”

9- “When my wife was pregnant she gained half her body weight too.”

8-“Wow, that’s a lot of baby you have in there. You expecting twins?”

7-“Oh God! I can’t believe the doctor is still letting you walk around at this point!”

6-“When are you due? Around next week or so?”

5-“So was this a planned pregnancy?”

4-“ Wow, given the size of your breasts I hope you’re planning on breast-feeding.”

3- “72 inches?” At the “Guess The Waist Circumference” game at a baby shower.

2- “You’re having ANOTHER baby!?! ALREADY!?!”

1- “I bet you’re having a girl because of all that extra weight you’re carrying in your hips.”


So America- are we clear on this? DO NOT think that you are a pregnancy expert because you have ever been pregnant, knew someone who was pregnant, or watch a lot of ER. DO NOT think that pregnant women LIKE having their bellies fondled at gas stations. DO NOT think that just because a woman is pregnant she is not as beautiful and wonderful and sensitive as a woman who is not. And DO NOT say any of these things to me because I swear-I’m pregnant, I’m hormonal, I’m tough and I will kick your nonpregnant ass.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Vanquishing the Enemy

Chamudi doesn't have any siblings, but he does have a rival for my attention: the laptop.

Working for an internet company from home (as well as having an aggressive email habit) means that Chamudi often finds me sitting somewhere with a computer on my lap. A computer that's he's not allowed to touch, and that necessarily takes my attention away from him.

As he's gotten older, Chamudi's learned how to put the laptop in its place. If he doesn't want me to use it, he just comes up and closes it again and again until I get the message. Or brings me book after book until I voluntarily close it and switch gears.

But sometimes I have a real deadline, and it's non-negotiable. So then I have to take the laptop to higher ground, or another room, and BAM Chamudi has lost...and the laptop has won. Tears (and maternal guilt) inevitably follow.

I know he won't be sorry to see the laptop go when I transition to a traditional office job. I don't think I will either--I'm really looking forward to clearly delineating between playtime, work time, and me time.

And frankly, I'm glad that I won't be able to read Dear Abby or troll Facebook when I should be playing blocks. Like all these new tech devices, my laptop enriches my life, but it sometimes keeps me from actually living it.

So Chamudi, you win. The laptop is out and you're the only apple of my eye.

Long live playtime!

Monday, May 05, 2008

Imas

With Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, almost upon us, and with my electronic mailbox filled with loving and not-so-subtle reminders that Mother’s Day is also approaching, I’d like to share a few images from a little trip I made recently to the north.

The tomb of the matriarchs—or one of them—is located in Tiberius.


Some traditions believe it houses the remains of Yocheved, the mother of Moses, as well as Moses’s wife Zipporah; Bilah and Zilpah (who bore Jacob’s children), Aaron’s wife, Elisheva, and Avigail, one of King David’s wives.

Here is the view of the Kinneret from the tomb


Regardless of where their bodies actually lie, obviously, Israel would not exist without its Imas and the sacrifices they made to give birth and make sure their children lived.

We are always aware of the doubts and questions that the Abbas experienced—Moses’s reticence and insecurity in dealing with Pharoh, David’s impulses and regrets, Jacob’s struggles. But we are only left to speculate how Yocheved felt when she placed Moses in his basket, how Zipporah felt to leave her native land and follow her husband.

I’ve been thinking of it a lot recently—how we, as mothers, often suppress our fears and insecurities in order to allow our children experience the world as a place of wonder and delight, where G-d’s presence is felt everywhere, even in the midst of pain and uncertainty. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, I think. The history of Israel has shown us that, with the help of G-d, a powerful belief in our abilities can allow us to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles. For all of its imperfections, Israel is that reminder.

So in keeping with the spirit of joy and wonder, my daughter and I splashed around in the Kinneret, at the feet of the matriarchs. It was wonderful.




On another note, whoever would like to help bring a little joy to less fortunate mothers who bravely struggling to leave abusive situations so that they can give their children a future, consider donating to the Mother’s Day Flower Project. It’s a small gesture in the face of a big problem, but it’s still important.

personality change?

My one-year old was a dream baby. So calm. So cheerful. So even-tempered. What a relief this was to me given how challenging my first child was. I really needed it.

For the past few months (and I say this with some guilt as she is currently happily playing by herself while I type this post!) she has been so much moodier!

The doctor says that these little ones change all the time and that even the calmest babies can become difficult 1 year olds.

But it definitely bums me out.

I find that my tolerance for her whining and crying and screaming is lower than normal for me - perhaps because my expectations are so high.

I know this isn't fair.

She has just as much right as anyone to be frustrated at not being able to communicate, walk, and do most things that people do. And I know that she will work through it and that we will help her work through it.

I find that at this stage in parenting, so much of it is about how easy or difficult the child is. I'm not sure how to get past that.

I wish I could figure out a way to lower my expectations and just deal with each incident in the moment.

More importantly, I know I need to see her fully as an individual - and not as my easy second child.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Add some flash to your Shabbat: Recipes

My friends at Hebrew University my junior year abroad anointed me "the one who can cook." I mastered the art of making Shabbat dinner on the stovetop and can still manage to come up with something to serve on short notice. So here are my recommendations for a nice and easy meal this Shabbat.

Zoooh!chini

Cut the zucchini any way you like it. Chop a LOT of fresh garlic (I am partial to the Christoper Farms pre-peeled garlics from Costco. You can never have too much garlic). Stirfry the garlic in a little bit of olive oil. Add the zucchini. Sprinkle on some chicken soup mix/consomme. When it is all done (translucent) add a small handful of chopped spearmint. Surprise!!

Pure-ree

If you think that mashed potatoes are the be-all end all, but have too many calories/carbs, etc., do this. Boil up a head of cauliflower and 2 small potatoes. Or some parsnips and turnips. Or sweet potatoes, yams and carrots. Or even (G-d forfend) rutabaga. All till very very soft. If you want to be gutsy and more nutritiously sound, leave the skins on some of the vegetables. Boil up some garlic (see above) with it. Put it in the food processor (or hand mash) with some (you guessed it) chicken soup mix/consomme. Serve it and don't tell anyone what it is, they'll be pleasantly surprised.

Moroccan Tomato Chicken

Cut up some chicken breasts into biggish chunks. Put into a shallow baking dish (best for lazies like me would be one to put directly from the oven onto the table). Cover with a can of whole peeled tomatoes and juice (if you are making lots of breasts, use 2 cans of tomatoes). Pop the tomatoes with your hands and tear them into 2-3 pieces. Stir in a bunch of honey and some cumin (at least half a teaspoon, preferrably ground). Bake in the oven at a temperature that won't make your kitchen feel like a steam bath but will get it cooked in due time (let's say 375 for 45 minutes?). If you are in a HUGE hurry, do this on the stovetop and boil the whole mixture in a saucepan, but be careful not to overcook the chicken.

Savta Jeni's Schnitzel

Pound the heck out of some breasts of chicken, or buy them presliced. Coat them in a mixture of breadcrumbs (I'm still using the kosher for passover variety) with some cinnamon and cumin sprinkled in. Bathe them in egg and coat them again in breadcrumbs. Fry or cook in a non-stick frying pan with Pam. Meanwhile, Savta Jeni is not even my relative.

Not Your Typical Green Side Salad

Chop cucumbers (I like the persian kind or the hothouse kind, thin skinned). Chop scallions. Chop granny smith apples. Dice up some avocado. Squeeze a lime over the top and add some salt.

Dessert

Buy some grapes, strawberries and watermelon. And parve cookies or a Mrs. Greene's Babka. Sorry, I don't bake.

Shabbat Shalom!

Remembering

At 4:05 am, my alarm went off. I climbed out of bed (I was already mostly fully dressed) and left my building to go hop in a cab. In case you are wondering this is why I live in Manhattan, where it took me less than one minute to get a cab in front of my building at 4:20 am.

My synagogue's slot to participate in the annual reading of the names of victims of the Holocaust was 4:30-5:00 am. I have been doing this for 7 years now, getting up in the wee hours, when New York is at its most mysterious and most sleepy, to share in this vigil, to give up a bit of sleep in memory of the six million, and to remember those people whose lives are reduced to a name in a list because of the atrocities of the Nazis. One year, I read my own name. It was horrible, there it was, on the page, and I read it. This year I heard the reading of 8 Max Schwartzes. It is horrifying to think that there were 8 of them (there were probably way more, this was just one of the German record books), 8 different human beings with different likes, dislikes, tastes and oddities, reduced to being a list of the same name in some huge book. They at once lose their individual identity and take on a whole new meaning as part of the collective memory of loss....just in their name alone.

And then at 10:30 am, I went to a bris. I spent a good chunk of the short ritual crying, not out of joy, although the baby, a second son, is obviously a very happy addition to his family, being that he is healthy, happy and very wanted. I started crying when we sang Eliyahu HaNavi to calm the baby, and when the mohel, explained that Eliyahu is with us in moments of risk, an idea that has given me some comfort in my own moments of risk. I cried when the baby cried, and I cried when the father made the bracha, and when we all welcomed him in to the covenant and wishing him a life of Torah, chuppah and maasim tovim.

Mostly I was crying because it is Yom HaShoah, and I could see this ritual in my mind taking place, in the ghettoes, during the war, and in the camps. I was imagining how mothers gave birth to sons they could not welcome into the Jewish people for fear that they would be discovered as Jews if someone saw their circumcision. I was imagining sons who could not have a brit on the 8th day because they would cry so loudly that they would give away their existence. I was imagining the boys born who were given britot at all costs in order to fulfill this mitzvah, for those parents who still believed in God even when God's face was hidden. And then the britot that took place to maybe appease God, even when the parents themselves had ceased to believe in God and lived in a world in which order and sanity had ceased to exist.

I know that some leave a part of a room unpainted to remember the destruction of the Temple, and most break a glass at a wedding in order to remember that joy is always tempered with sorrow, and that life is fragile and can be broken. I know of all those rituals that help to remind us that the world itself is broken and that we must work together and always be reminded to help to heal and repair the world. It seems to me that a bris on Yom HaShoah is just that, an act of memory, not just of the covenant between God and Avraham, but the covenant that we still have with God, the deal that we made not to allow ourselves to be wiped out and to build the world anew with the birth of every child. A memory of the sorrow of the world and a moment of joy, all combined, with the joy far outweighing the sorrow, but with a tiny unpainted corner of sadness still there.

I could not help but think back. Farther back than the day of my son's bris, one of the most amazing days of my life and a day on which I was so proud to accept upon myself the mitzvah of raising him as a Jew in spite of the tears and potential pain. All the way back to those parents and baby boys of years ago, who made the choice to be Jews, even when someone/everyone wanted to take that right and responsibility away from them. I wish a mazal tov to these parents today, and right next to it, a reminder lizkor, to remember always.