Wednesday, May 30, 2007

A Simple Explanation Will Do

Could someone please tell me why...

...the no-name soap pad I've just started smells like a barnyard?

Does that mean that brand-name scouring pads smell like a garden of lilies and irises?

Hey, come to think of it, I think steel wool also smells gross. What's up with that?

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

If You Play Your Cards Right...

Late last night I watched this film. The Hebrew title is "Afula Express" but in English, it was renamed to "Pick a Card." Both titles work extremely well for the storyline, but for the English-speaking audiences the latter name is more appropriate.

As I sat and watched, I was bothered because I just KNEW that the lead actress was familiar to me, but I couldn't recall where I'd seen her before -- I don't watch Israeli films all that often and I didn't think she was anything but an Israeli. And then it hit me; I'd seen her in this film that I'd talked about in a previous post.

People tell me I'm pretty fluent in Hebrew, but nonetheless I read the English subtitles. And subtitling is a funny genre in itself. Often what the characters said in Hebrew was translated much harsher in English, throwing in "Hell" and other curse words...for effect, I guess.
The film won several awards and no doubt, rightfully so.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Everyone Has a Story To Tell

I just finished watching this film that I'd taken out from the library. "Almost Peaceful" is in French, with English subtitles. It is not by any means a great film, but it is a sensitive one that deals with Parisians, primarily Jews, after World War II, and how they come to terms with how the war has changed them, changed their personal reality.

It is nice to know that someone came up with a concept like this and with a screenplay such as this one. "The survivor" deserves another look, and gets one in this film.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Life's Funny that Way

My last post was a shout-out to blogland -- to the people whose blogs I read and to the people who read my blog. It was a virtual thank-you for doing what you do, being who you are...and ultimately letting me be who I am.

I was just reviewing my roster of posts to see what kind of posts I was writing around this time in May 2006 and May 2005. And I found this post written nearly to the date that I wrote my post this past Friday, May 18th. And then I found this post written nearly to the date that I wrote my post this past Friday, May 18th.

It certainly has not been a conscious decision to write every mid-May about my fellow bloggers, to thank them and acknowledge their presence (and in some cases -- presents!) in my life.

I wonder what it is about this time of year that has me doing this... (cue "Twilight Zone" theme song). Some people, who have more than one child, give birth to their children around the same time in different years. Is it that sort of phenomenon?

In any case, if I'm still blogging next May, keep an eye open for another shout-out.

And by the way, my shout-out from last year has reference to blogger Ten Li Koach. I just wanted you all to kvell and know that she has other reasons now to request Ten Li Koach (give me strength): she was blessed, giving birth to a beautiful and healthy baby daughter a few weeks ago. Pu, Pu, Pu. Wish her a hearty mazel tov.
Blogging has exposed me to life, death, simchas and sadness. I've ridden an emotional rollercoaster along with many bloggers whose heartfelt emotions come through their words.
To write that way is a gift. To read the words is also a gift.

Friday, May 18, 2007

A Shout-Out to Blogland

I first found myself in the blogosphere in October 2004, when I discovered Seraphic Secret...and boy, am I glad I did. Learning about Robert's family's ordeal and great loss opened my eyes to someone's personal story made public.

I'd scan Robert's list of favorite blogs too and began to read some of them, too. That's how I discovered Treppenwitz, and A Simple Jew. And from those blogs I discovered Jack's Shack, PsychoToddler, Kerckhoff Coffeehouse, NY's Funniest Rabbi, Mirty, Elie's Expositions, Life of Rubin and several others.

And in December 2004, I took the plunge and became a blogger too. And eventually, I had three blogging gigs. Okay, I've let up on the other two quite a bit, but I still have access to them.

I began to write posts, and continued to read others', finding new blogs on other peoples' blogrolls. I came upon some fabulous blogs later in my blogging career -- Jew Eat Yet?, Citizen of the Month, Ezzie, Oriyenta, OldOldLadyoftheHills, Shalom from Jerusalem, to name but a few -- just by reading others' blogrolls.

I don't update my blogroll too often because even if I don't read someone regularly anymore, I take a peek every now and again to see how and what they're doing in their life and in their blogging corner.

So this post is just meant to be a shout-out to bloggers whose paths have crossed mine -- both in real time and virtually. You don't realize how big or small an impact you've made on my life, but you truly have. With your words on your blog, and sometimes in my comments, you've made me laugh, cry, think, understand or question. Sometimes we've even taken our comments offline and into our email InBox.
And you've made me write, and write, and write....
Thank you. Todah rabah. Merci. Gracias. Danke.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Smile of the Day

Perhaps you've heard the one about the new couple in town - the wife wants to go to the sisterhood dinner, but it costs $200 a ticket and they don't have the cash. So she gets herself nicely done up and goes out for the evening.

The next morning, bleary-eyed, she happily tells her husband that she raised the money herself for the ticket.

"How?" he asks.

She replies, "Well, I'm still a beautiful woman, and..."

"So how much did you earn?" he asks.

"Two hundred and two dollars," she replies.

"What cheapskate gave you the two dollars?" he asks.

"They all did!"

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Phone Call

The following post might bother some people, because they might suddenly have a different impression of me.

What can I say?

I'm me. And I do what I have to do. I did what I felt I had to do. Wanted to do.

And this blog is my confessional box, and this post is serving as my confession.

Last Friday night, we made early Shabbos -- our shul davens early, and my husband came home early. We sang "Shalom Aleichem" and my husband had just finished singing "Aishet Chayil." I told him that although we always made kiddush and bentched while growing up, we didn't do Aishet Chayil and not even Shalom Aleichem. We had a step in Orthodoxy but most of the time I guess we were in Conservative Judaism.

Just after I made this statement, the telephone rang. Nobody of real importance to us calls us on Shabbos because people who know us know we're observant and wouldn't answer, but my husband looked over at the call display and saw my parents' name and phone number and announced it with a questioning tone to his voice.

We'd both spoken to my parents before Shabbos and they would not use the phone, (times have changed in their household) and especially not to call us...unless it was an emergency.

When Pesach rolled around, my husband had decided to forward our home phone calls to his cell phone, so as not be bothered by ringing house lines on Yom Tov or Shabbos. But we'd told my mother if there was ever an issue, to call my cell phone number (I rarely get calls on it anyhow)and I'd leave it on over Shabbos and Yom Tov. I'd hoped that phone would never ring at those times...

But my husband hadn't forwarded the house calls to his cell this Shabbos, and now on the landline was my parents' phone number facing us. And why on the landline and not on my cell phone?

I asked, "What do I do?"

I was told to answer it, and I heard a distressed and panicked voice when I picked up the receiver: "WE'RE GOING TO NY GENERAL. HE'S HAD A STROKE AND A SEIZURE!"

Oh. My. G-d.

You cannot imagine what went through my head at that moment. I didn't know what to do. What to say.

I tried to shut my mind down. And I held myself in check as my husband made kiddush, blessed my youngest son (my other two were staying with friends over Shabbos), washed and made ha-motzei. I allowed myself to eat some fish and soup...and then I said: "I HAVE TO GO THERE!"

I knew it was not right to break Shabbos -- by answering the phone and by going to the hospital -- but this time I thought it was the end. A year ago, March, I was called and told my father had been rushed to emergency, and when I got there, he was in a catatonic-looking state. They'd thought he'd suffered a massive stroke, and there were no reactions, just a waxy look to his face, staring at nothingness. At that time he spent 3 1/2 weeks in hospital. Just two months ago, he came home from spending 3 months in hospital.

I silently asked Hashem to forgive me, and my husband gave me a Tehillim. I panicked and said: "I don't even know what I'd read in it." (sad, but true. My father reads Tehillim daily, and has for years, and his daughter doesn't even know where to find her way in it, ie. what to read when.) But I thought I needed something/anything to hang on to.

I rushed off....

When I got to the hospital emergency area, my father was lying on the gurney he'd been brought in on, oxygen mask on, but he was cognizant. He was talking through the mask, telling my brother -- whose Shabbos had also been "disturbed" -- to go home. And my mother said a few times, "I shouldn't have called you."

Yes, you should have, Mom. Nobody deserves to face these trials on their own. This is my father, you are my mother, and we are a family.

To make a long story short-- my father probably did not suffer a stroke, although even the paramedics had first thought he did, as did the attending emergency room doctor. But he did have a very lengthy seizure, as he sat in his chair at the dining room table, prepared to bentsch. The after-effects of a seizure often mimic strokes: tiredness, general weakness, slurred speech, confusion, etc.

My father was in the hospital, admitted in the early hours of Shabbos morning, and poked, prodded, tested, X-rayed, questioned over the course of the next few days. Thank G-d he didn't suffer any more seizures, nor did that "grand mal" one have truly lingering effects. His medications have been reassessed, and he was given his walking papers. I'd love to be able to add: "and a clean bill of health" but we know that's not the case.

He was released today, Yom Yerushalayim, a celebration for Jews the world over, and a celebratory day for us.

My Shabbos could have turned out so very differently. I have a very vivid imagination, and I can also be very realistic. I thank G-d that my father is still among the living.

It pains me to know that perhaps I was selfish last Shabbos. I needed to answer the phone. I needed to go to the hospital. I needed to know exactly what had landed my father in an ambulance and emergency room, and see him for myself. I made the judgment call that it was okay to break Shabbos at a time like this; I deemed it an offshoot of Pikuach Nefesh. G-d forbid anything should happen to my father in the next several hours, my mother would need me.

As I traveled to and from the hospital, I felt guilty. There are people so much more religious and pious than I am, and I figured that they would not take it upon themselves to do what I had done and was doing. I wondered about a friend whose child was incredibly sick for lengthy periods of time and eventually succumbed to an early, untimely death. Had he ever broken Shabbos because he felt it to be a dire, critical situation at the time?

And you shouldn't know, but just a week earlier, someone I know lost her mother Shabbos morning. Her mother passed away in her house. The daughter was there with her brothers...and apparently did not do anything until after Shabbos was out, ie. calling the authorities and chevra kaddisha. Halachically, was this correct? She is very frum, and I know she was in limbo, not yet formally deemed in avelut, and it was Shabbos. But should she have and could she have broken Shabbos to make the necessary phone calls? (any knowledgeable people out there with the answer?)

But as I traveled, I thought of these people who honored Shabbos above all else. Perhaps in my case, it was the continued honor of Kibbud Av v'Em (Honor Thy Father and Mother) that was foremost. That has sustained me throughout my life and has been at the helm of the house I grew up in...along with Shmirat ha-Lashon. (guarding of the tongue against lashon hara/bad talk/gossip.)

Last Friday night, close to midnight, my father and mother urged me to go home. My father's words to me were: "Have a good Shabbos."

And on Motzei Shabbos, I was able to speak to him on the phone, and my father's words to me were: "Have a happy Mother's Day."

Dad, each week that you're "here," I can have a good Shabbos, and each day that you're "here" is a wonderful Mother's Day for me.

We should wish each other a Good Shabbos each week, and may you be around to wish me many more happy Mother's Days!

Music to My Ears

This is an interior of a music box, the Swiss movement, so to speak.

This is more or less what my music box looks like on the outside.

I often get flashbacks... and sometimes not even by association. Sometimes I get random flashbacks. Just. Like. That.

And I had one before.

I suddenly recalled when I was about 12 years old and being in Switzerland with my mother, traveling for two to three weeks to large cities, to small cities and to mountain towns. And on that visit, I was told that I could buy a music box.

And so began my hunt for the perfect music box. The perfect song. The perfect price range.

I lifted the lids of oh so many boxes that cost a certain number of acceptable Swiss francs. I heard Brahms Lullaby, Love Story, Fur Elise, Edelweiss -- over and over again.

Yes, they were lovely songs to hear a music box emit, but what did I settle on?

"Oh, What a Beautiful Morning" -- the tune from OKLAHOMA.

I guess even my twelve-year-old self recognized even then that Broadway showtunes rang supreme.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Mama Madness

Every day is truly Mother's Day. But tomorrow it is officially Mother's deemed by Hallmark, American Greetings, Mountain Press and the like. So in honor of Mother's Day, here are some notable Mama wisdoms:
1. see photo above.
2. "Mom stands for Mother, not Made of Money!"
3. "I smile because I am your mother. I laugh because you can't do anything about it."
4. Here is a Jewish mother joke:
Q: What did the waiter ask the group of Jewish mothers?
A: "Is anything OK?"
5. "It's not easy being a mother. If it were easy, fathers would do it." ~From the television show The Golden Girls

To all the mothers out there, Happy Mother's Day.
To my very special mom, who's endured so very very much, and continues to do so, Happy Mother's Day.
To a very special NEW mom, who's been blessed with a very beautiful daughter, happy FIRST MOTHER'S DAY. (you know who you are.)
To all of you whose mother may have already left this world, may your mother's memory be for a blessing.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

"Brother, Can You Spare a...Freelance Editing Gig?"

Being unemployed is hard work. No, really, it is. After working for so many years, and nearly twenty of them with one company, I have had to learn what to do with myself, how to fill my days. There is so much to do, I just don't know where to start.

I thought that this was what I wanted. I used to tell people, "I'd perhaps like to work part-time or just freelance from home."

And for a while, I did freelance -- mainly alongside my full-time job, and starting to do my editorial freelance work usually after 10 p.m., when the kids were in bed and the kitchen was cleaned up for the next day. But it kept my mind occupied and my skill set sharp.

It's over a year that I lost my job...sort of paving my own way out. I did get a severence package that was not great, even though I'd worked for so many years for the same company -- but I'd had a lowly job, nothing managerial.

And for a while after the job ending, I did have freelance gigs from time to time -- they kept my mind alert, and gave me a reason to find excuses not to do the morning dishes, not to do the laundry, etc.

But for some reason, those gigs have dried up. And I truly miss them, along with the cash they brought in.

When I first began to freelance circa 2000, I'd been very resourceful, and found myself a couple of publishers to do work for. Because I had a full-time job, I had to take on editorial jobs with far-off deadlines, which would allow for the work and courier travel time for the manuscript to get to and from the publishers. But my work was good, and the books were rather similar to those of my regular 9-5 job.

My name was also given out by someone with high recommendations, for which I'm thankful. But those high recommendations as well as the most flattering compliments after doing my first job for the person to whom I was referred made my ego swell somewhat. After all, being told that the person had never seen such a professional, excellent job of copy editing, and that "you're the only copy editor for me...we're going to be doing a lot of stuff together" would lead one to bank on it, don't you think?

Apparently, I'm not the "only copy editor" for this person because I've seldom seen a manuscript from them, when it was implied that it would be a regular gig.

I've been looking not only for freelance but for full-time editorial and / or social services work (my volunteer experience over the years has been in that field), and I'm starting to feel pressure. I really don't want to settle for just any kind of job that is meant to bring in a pay check, but that might be the route I have to take.

I have beautiful trees on my property, but a money tree is not one of them!

If anyone has any need for an editor/copy editor/proofreader/speech writer/copywriter/researcher, or knows someone who does, please contact me. I'd like to think that I'm good at what I do -- because I've been told that; not because I think so -- and would like to share my skills and knowledge with others.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Some Members of Congregation Shluf

This is only a small contingent of Congregation Shluf, aka the Chaverim Minyan.
You may have a better understanding of the members when you read this post that I wrote almost two years ago.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Two Roads Diverged...

(I did not take these photos of the goslings or Canada goose. I had my camera phone and no memory in it to take photos at the time of the viewing.)

Sometimes I'm left to wonder why I do what I do, make the decisions I make. Hashgacha Pratis or Divine Intervention is, I guess, what makes it so.

Today was the simplest of those examples.

When I took my youngest to school, I also took Max along so that I could play ball with him and let him run around for a while in the park behind the school. About twenty minutes later I got in the car to drive home, and at an intersection, I decided to drive to another park not that far away and let him run there for a few more minutes and maybe get myself a coffee at a nearby coffee place.

When I reached that park, I saw several dogs running around and their owners milling about. I didn't know that dogs meet there regularly, as they do in some neighborhood nearby parks. A couple of the dogs, although in the distance, looked familiar and as we got closer, I saw that these were indeed two dogs that I met a couple of times last week and earlier this the park behind my kids' school. This time they were with "the father" and I've met the dogs with "the mother."
I thought, "Gee...why did I decide to go to this second park (I never go there without my kids and/or husband in tow, and certainly not in the early morning) today of all days?" I just took it to be a coincidence, but I knew Max was happy with the two pals he'd befriended last week in his more familiar park.

On the drive home, I pass a pond, which is surrounded by a millionaire's row of traditional and ultra-modern homes. Oftentimes, I turn off the main street and take "driving tours" with my kids through these three or four streets to look at the architecture and decide which house we each like best. As I neared the pond, I suddenly decided that instead of going on the main street, I'll turn off and just go down and around the pond to look at the houses on my own. As I was turning onto the side street, I wondered why I'd suddenly had this notion -- was it a good thing I was taking a little detour, even wondering if perhaps I was going to avoid an accident or something by doing so. A few seconds later, I knew WHY exactly I'd turned off the main street. There, just ahead of my car, two Canada geese were ambling across the road -- one leading, the other in the rear of a family of five small, fuzzy goslings, two of which had to take a break for a short time, settling on the dirt road. I stopped the car, exclaimed "Awwww...." and felt like crying, just for the beauty of it all. I wondered if this was the first time they'd left the pond together as a family to explore the world, and I was witness to it, having been there just at the right moment.
I figured Hashem gave me a beautiful bonus this morning in this scene spread out ahead of me. I love nature and it's not every day that I get to see such a natural family scene "in the neighborhood."

I silently thanked Hashem for taking me off the beaten path for a few moments.

I hope you get to witness beauty -- natural beauty -- in your lives, and that you have the chance to appreciate it to its utmost.

Shabbat Shalom

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Scenes from a Childhood

If you click on this image, you can see it close up.
My brother made this pencil sketch and gave it to my husband and I as a wedding gift. He got the shading and details just perfect and took several months to produce this fine piece of artwork. My husband and I, knowing my brother's talent, were so naive and just thought it took a few days to create!
I was about four years old in the picture with my brothers, and the photos was taken at a schoolyard down the street from the house where I grew up and where my parents still live.
The schoolyard featured some large and lovely trees -- willows and birch trees. I used to take the branches that had fallen onto the ground and "whittle" -- remove the bark from the branches. I'm holding a branch in that, and both my brothers are holding smaller branches. My brother the artist also drew a pencil into the picture -- held in his hand -- reminding me forever that he was the artist.
Personal gifts are the best kind. Of course, this wedding gift depicts my brothers and I, and has nothing to do with my husband. But then again, seeing the artwork every day on our living room wall must remind my husband that I was once a cute little kid who grew into a warm and loving wife and mother...or so I'd hope!

Upon Hanging Up the Phone

My father: "...Bye-bye. Thanks for calling. It's nice to hear your voice."

Me: "Bye, Dad. I love you."

After hanging up the phone, I say aloud: "It's nicer to hear yours!!"

A Page out of History

I received the following e-mail today:

At the turn of the twentieth century, two of the wealthiest and most famous men in America were a pair of Jewish brothers named Nathan and Isidor Straus. Owners of R.H. Macy's Department Store and founders of the A&S (Abraham & Straus) chain, the brothers were multimillionaires, renowned for their philanthropy and social activism.

In 1912, the brothers and their wives were touring Europe, when Nathan, the more ardent Zionist of the two, impulsively said one day, "Hey, why don't we hop over to Palestine?" Israel wasn't the tourist hotspot then that it is today. Its population was ravaged by disease, famine, and poverty; but the two had a strong sense of solidarity with their less fortunate brethren, and they also wanted to see the health and welfare centers they had endowed with their millions. However, after a week spent touring, Isidor Straus had had enough.

"How many camels, hovels, and yeshivas can you see? It's time to go," Isidor decreed with edgy impatience in his voice. But Nathan refused to heed his brother's imperious command. It wasn't that he was oblivious to the hardships around him; it was precisely because of them that he wanted to stay.

As he absorbed firsthand the vastness of the challenges his fellow Jews were coping with, he felt the burden of responsibility. "We can't leave now," he protested. "Look how much work has to be done here. We have to help. We have the means to help. We can't turn our backs on our people."

"So we'll send more money," his brother snapped back. "I just want to get out of here."

But Nathan felt that money simply wasn't enough. He felt that the Jews who lived under such dire circumstances in Palestine needed the brothers' very presence among them: their initiative,their leadership, and their ideas. Isidor disagreed.

The two argued back and forth, and finally Isidor said, "If you insist, stay here. Ida and I are going back to America where we belong."

The two separated. Isidor and his wife returned to Europe, while Nathan and his spouse stayed in Palestine, traveling the country and contributing huge sums of money to the establishment of education, health, and social welfare programs to benefit the needy. Nathan also financed the creation of a brand-new city on the shores of the Mediterranean. And since his name in Hebrew was Natan, and he was the city's chief donor, the founders named it after him and called it...Natanya.

Meanwhile, back in Europe, Isidor Straus was preparing to sail home to America aboard an ocean liner for which he had also made reservations for his brother, Nathan, and his wife. "You must leave Palestine NOW!" he cabled his brother in an urgent telegram. "I have made reservations for you and if you don't get here soon, you'll miss the boat."

But Nathan delayed. There was so much work to be done that he waited until the last possible moment to make the connection. By the time he reached London, it was April 12 and the liner had already left port in Southampton with Isidor and Ida Straus aboard. Nathan felt disconsolate that he had, as his brother had warned, "missed the boat." For this was no ordinary expedition, no common, everyday cruise that he had forfeited, but the much ballyhooed maiden voyage of the most famous ship of the century. This was the Titanic.

Nathan Straus, grief-stricken and deeply mourning his brother and sister-in-law could not shake off his sense that he had had a rendezvous with history. The knowledge that he had avoided death permeated his consciousness for the rest of his life, and until his death in l931, he pursued his philanthropic activities with an intensity that was unrivaled in his time.

Today, Natanya is a scenic resort city of 200,000 and headquarters to Israel's thriving diamond trade - one of the most important industries in the country. And in almost every part of the city, there is some small reminder of Nathan Straus's largesse, his humanity, and love for his people. His legacy lives on.

I find Jewish tidbits of information like this very interesting. Here is another link to Straus trivia.