Sunday, April 28, 2019

Shopping, Something I No Longer Do for Fun

Shopping is typically an excursion enjoyed by most around the world. It’s a time to get out of the house; breathe the air, and search for deals. Even grocery shopping was exciting and full of possibilities… then I moved to Israel.
I’m sure you have heard some of what I’m about to say before, but it bears repeating. Most Israelis are lovely, kind, generous and intelligent people. My gripe isn’t with them! I find the culture, to put it tactfully, fascinating. When you enter most stores in America, they offer some standard level of customer service; sometimes to an aggressive degree. Here in Israel however they leave you alone, literally. I’ve walked into stores to find no staff members around; even the cash register is unmanned.
This was not the case with my last shopping experience. The grocery store was so crowded I didn’t think I would make it out. Which brings me to my four rules for safe grocery shopping in Israel (besides for ordering online). 1. Always go before ten in the morning. 2. Never go three days or less before a holiday. 3. Check to make sure the cart works before pushing it inside. 4. Take another person with you if you must break any of the above rules. Well, I went shopping at ten thirty, three and a half days before Pesach (Passover) with a cart that had seen better years. The only rule I kept was the fourth. I took my husband Michael with me. Together we squeezed through packed aisles picking up all we needed for the upcoming holiday. We grabbed seven packets of chicken, ten cartons of eggs, four ketchup bottles and two tons of oil, it is Pesach after all. Then a woman asked me to help her find an ingredient she was having trouble recognizing in Hebrew. I proudly translated the word for her and led her to the aisle it was on. I don’t normally get a chance to show off my Hebrew knowledge (which is limited), so I kind of strut when I do.
We stood in line for twenty minutes, relatively short considering I’ve waited an hour the time I shopped a day before Rosh Hashana. When our turn came Michael packed the groceries while I unloaded the cart. In Israel, there are generally no baggers, so you either pack the groceries yourself or bring a friend. Michael happens to be a master packer and not before too long our cart was ready for home. We thought the hard part was over, but as we should have known by now surprises always await the shopper who breaks the rules. We waited in line for the elevator because we were parked two parking lots over from the grocery store. As we got into the elevator which held only one grocery cart at a time the back of our cart fell right off. Half our groceries’ fell onto the floor in a devastating crash. We scrambled around for lettuce, wine bottles and cans of olives. Luckily nothing broke during the fall and some miracle saved the eggs. We shoved whatever didn’t fit into our hands with our feet back into the elevator and headed down to the level of our car.
When we exited, the cart broke again. Learning as we went, Michael now held the back of the cart with his knee so nothing could escape a third time. We tugged the cart over to the car like circus clowns and acrobatically unloaded the groceries. When we were finished, we gave each other a high five for surviving another holiday shop. Then Michael shoved the cart off the hill behind Shilat to “Azazel” (a scapegoat bearing the sins of the Jews during Yom Kippur) where it could rest in eternal peace and bring no more grief to fellow humans. It had a good life, we were sure.
We arrived home to discover about five items we had forgotten at the store. Oh well, we can live without soap, milk, and toilet paper, can’t we? We will have to, as I am not going back to the store, any store, until after Pesach. So now you see why I stay out of stores as much as possible. My wallet is very grateful. Now Pesach is over and all the food that we bought for the holiday has been eaten. Which means one thing… I have will to go shopping.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

When Things Crash

Thursday night, my husband and I watched the landing of the Beresheet spacecraft. We looked on as the Prime Minister and his wife joined the heads of the mission in the control room. Crowds had gathered to watch live via satellite, thousands of people around the world waiting to see the Beresheet spacecraft land. Instead, engines failed, and the spacecraft crashed onto the surface of the moon.
There was no crying or finger pointing; instead, the Prime Minister congratulated everyone on their efforts. An award was even given for the picture shot while successfully orbiting the moon. This is the secret of failure; it leaves behind lessons. Lessons that can only be learned from failing.
Yes, I fear failure. This fear has kept me from doing a great many things. But that is because I am simply looking at the end instead of the journey. Many things do not have favorable outcomes, but they have wonderful journeys.
I will never forget one of my biggest failures. I ran a four-hundred-meter sprint when I was fourteen years old. The gun went off, six of us ran, five of the runners finished before I was halfway around the track. I heard a voice from the stand shouting enthusiastically “keep going!” I ran as fast as I could off that track. My father was waiting for me at the finish line beaming. I asked him how he could smile when I came in dead last. He held up his wristwatch, “look at your time, it’s a personal best.” And it was, by almost a half-minute.
Who are we competing against if not ourselves? It’s when we stack ourselves against others that we feel like failures sometimes. We forget about our personal strides and accomplishments. Worst still, we forget about the lessons from the journey.
Yes, Israel may not have succeeded in landing on the moon this time, but they most certainly didn’t fail. And just because the outcome isn’t a success, it doesn’t mean the journey is a waste. Thank you Beresheet for teaching us all to shift our perception of success. One day Israel will have a successful moon landing. There is talk of starting a second mission. Failure is just a step in the journey of success.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Oh, the things I will find

As I begin to clean for Pesach (Passover) I’m coming across some very strange things. Old lunch boxes with rotting bread, a photo from my wedding album that the kids swore they never removed, and the shopping list that I wrote for Rosh Hashanah tucked safely in the drawer I never go into. These are just a few of the things I have uncovered on the search for Chametz (leavened bread and associated crumbs). And there is more, so much more….
When Purim ends, we all have approximately four weeks (now two) until Pesach arrives. In those four weeks we must search every drawer and corner from crumbs. We sweep, dust, scrub, wash until we are relatively sure none of the forbidden food (chametz) is left in our house, car, yard, or on any property we may own.
When searching for chametz, I come across much more than crumbs. I come across things I didn’t know I owned, or more honestly, had forgotten I still owned. I come across skirts and shirts I thought were lost, CDs and DVD’s I may have repurchased. Does anyone want a copy of “Phantom of the Opera,” or Sesame Street’s Numbers Jungle, that I believe came out in 2009?” Then I enter the girl’s bedrooms….
Since this isn’t my first time cleaning their rooms for Pesach, I come prepared. I bring with trash bags, gloves, bleach, goggles, paper towels, face mask, and a special waste bin for dredged material. Wish me luck, I’m going in! I start by pulling back the bed. What do I find? Candy wrappers, a half-eaten banana, stuff animals covered in slime, an opened water bottle that has soaked a few stained Pajama shirts, a school book covered in slime, soaked pictures from my family albums, a few spoons, scissors, crayons, my husband’s work headphones and a bottle of glue to make more of, you guessed it… SLIME!
For the record, I have a ’no-eating’ policy in the room. I also have a no-slime policy in the house. We also have a no-touch policy when it comes to my husband’s work desk and our photo albums. As you can see, our children make it a policy to ignore our policies. Am I the only one who’s kids ignore the house rules? Please say no. I’m alright if you lie.
The first thing I do after I discover our possessions behind the beds is to call my husband. I need a witness to attest to the mess I’m about to clean up as well as someone to scrape the pudding off the wall. We scrub, wash and scrape, then push the bed back against the wall. One side down. I think this calls for a celebration. I take a nap.
When the kids get home from school, I sit them down in a line on the floor of their bedroom. I hold up the slime-covered teddy bear and bag of candy wrappers. Fingers are pointed, the cat is blamed, the ‘slime’, they claim, is in fact dried icing from my birthday cake they helped their Daddy make last June. I hold up my hands and give them each a magic erase sponge to wash their fingerprints and ‘I never draw on the wall’ creations off the wall and point to a trash bag. I tell them I won’t ask questions if the trash bag is full when I return.
I leave the room and go work on some draft edits. I hear bangs, shouts, a crash, more shouts, another bang, some crying, then the door opens… “Mommy, we’re done.” I inspect the room. Besides the broken picture frame and a laundry basket filled with (what I suspect is clean) clothing, everything appears in order. I check their drawers, closets and toy bins; all clean albeit slightly wet from the sponge. My girls have made me proud and have earned the right to continue living in the house.
That night we go over the rules. No food in the rooms, no slime anywhere in the house. My girls nod and agree. The next morning, I dump out the laundry basket of (mostly clean) clothing and find my favorite scarf at the bottom. At least it isn’t food, we are making progress. Then I gather the strength to do the living room. I find Monopoly pieces behind the couch along with a years’ worth of hair ties. I find the twenty shekels note I left for myself last year when I cleaned for Pesach; not really. The only gift I find is an old pudding cup. But I should leave a twenty shekels note! Imagine the joy I would have next year when I found it?!

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Panic, Panic, Panic

Have you ever heard of the phrase, "when in doubt, panic?"  An awful piece of advice that I am ashamed to say I seem to live by. When my kids get up late for school, I panic. When my meat sauce starts to burn, I panic. When I send a question to my publisher and don't get a swift reply, I panic. When I'm forced to speak in Hebrew, I double panic.

I remember the first time I panicked. It was third grade and I had forgotten to have my parents sign a homework slip. The punishment was a visit to the principal's office. I remember how my hands grew sweaty and my back stiffened waiting for the teacher to discover my 'crime'. Luckily for me, there was a fire drill at that exact moment and I got away with turning in the slip the next day.

I used to think panic was an important survival instinct; a signal that danger was looming nearby when really all I was feeling was anxiety, plain and simple. I've discovered that anxiety is fear dressed up as logic in my mind. It tells me I'm being, safe, responsible, and cautious by panicking. The problem is, I'm not using logic, but fear to make some of my decisions.

Let's take fire for example. We were all taught as children to never play with fire. The dangers of fire are real and extremely harmful.  Logic tells us to stay away from extreme heat and gases. As a mother, I tell my girls to be careful with matches and the stove. However, anxiety takes that and runs with it, telling me to stay away from anything that could cause a fire, like cooking, lighting the grill, using the drier, plugging in wires, lighting candles, and curious children who are drawn to the dangerous side of life. Anxiety says if we want to be safe, we need to get rid of or stop using these things. I will start with my children; just kidding, don't panic. I overcome the anxiety and will manage to keep my kids, along with the oven, drier, computer, etc.

This past week, however, my panic was in overdrive. There was unrest in Israel, the country I live in, as rockets were fired into the central and southern region. Sirens were going off, and bomb shelters were opened in various cities. My anxiety warned me to stay inside, forget about the shopping and taking the kids to their after-school activities. A siren could go off, and then what would I do?  I knew what I would do, I would panic. Not a very useful reaction to have in such a moment.

Safety is important and negligence can cause serious harm. But panic is not a guide for living through difficult moments. It doesn't have my best interests at heart. Panic doesn't make any situation better, in fact, it pretty much makes everything worse.  So here's to letting go of panic, or more realistically, hoping it lets go of me.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

What Do Birds Have To Do With Bees?

I came across an article recently that discourages talking about sexuality with children and teens, especially girls. It claimed it was “immodest” and “inappropriate.” As a social worker and mother to three daughters, I must take a stand.  I understand the topic of sexuality makes people a little squeamish. So, if this is a topic that makes you uncomfortable, you might want to stop reading. Still with me? Let's press on.

What do birds have to do with bees? Just some of the questions I often wondered but never felt comfortable asking growing up. Conversations about sexuality were discouraged or even punishable offenses in my youth. In sixth grade, my school brought in a woman to speak with us about puberty. The woman spoke about life changes, sanitary napkins and the importance of wearing deodorant. We all were squirming in our seats, wishing for the speech to end, but it only got worse. "Girls," she said, "I'm sure you have sleepovers where you talk about boys. This is dangerous. If you speak about boys, it’s not okay, it can lead you to do inappropriate things with them. For the sake of your future, forget boys exist.” I heard one message that day, sexuality is shameful.

This is not what we should be teaching our girls or boys. Instead, a different message should be given -sexuality is normal, healthy, even beautiful, just don't act on it... yet.
I can already hear the gasps. We can't teach our children that. Surely you don't mean what you're saying. Oh, but I do! Delayed gratification is a wonderful concept we teach our children all the time. My favorite example of this is baking a cake. Let's say I've just put a cake in the oven and my daughter walks into the room. She sniffs the air and says aloud, "yummy, I want cake." I respond, "cake, who told you about cake? You can't have cake, you're not ready for cake!  Don't ask again until you’re eighteen. Then we can talk about you eating cake."

Now let's try this exchange instead.

My daughter walks into the room and she sniffs the air saying "yummy, I want cake." And I say.  “Sit down, and we will talk about cake." We sit down at the table and I ask my daughter, "tell me why you want cake?" My daughter says, "because I'm hungry, and it smells good."

"You’re right, it will be good, but the cake isn’t ready for eating yet. Let’s think of things we can do in the meantime while we wait for the cake to finish baking and cool off, so it does not burn us.”

Positive discussions about sexuality will help our children know there is something worth waiting for. Refusing to bring up the topic based on concerns of modesty leads to fear of the subject. People often confuse the concept of modesty and decency. What's the difference? Modesty refers to what should be kept hidden or refrained from. Decency is what is proper. For instance, one wears clothing in public to be both modest and decent. But while it might be immodest to go without clothing in the shower it is most certainly decent. Discussions of sexuality is not a modesty issue.  Modesty is wonderful and it has an important place in our lives, but the connotation of modesty is to cover, hide and refrain from. Framing the reason for delaying sexuality as a modesty issue will stay with our children well into marriage. Do we really want our children to feel ashamed, uncomfortable, or immodest for sharing and revealing themselves to their spouse when there it is a perfectly decent setting to do so? The distinction is important.

Sadly, I’ve read many books on the topic of marriage that don't even cover intimacy. Worse still, I’ve attended a class that was supposed to cover the topic of intimacy, but the speaker began by saying, "I won't be going into any inappropriate material due to the sensitivity of the audience."  I learned one thing from her class; that sexuality is immodest, but I already knew that since sixth grade.

Children can tell the difference between a park and a cemetery, even though both have green grass. Children know that they are supposed to wear a bathing suit at a pool even though they go without clothing in the bathtub. And they can also learn that what is decent between spouses might not be decent between sixteen-year-olds.

We should work to reframe the discussion with our youth around sexuality. We can and should stop the cycle of shame and ignorance. Too many dysfunctional marriages are the result of this approach. I'm starting with my girls. I hope you will join me.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Are You My Character?

Many people have asked me how I form the characters in my books. The answer is somewhat simple, everyday life is my inspiration. I pull from my family, friends, neighbors, teachers, store clerks, flight attendants, telemarketers, waiters,  movie stars, fictional characters, pets; essentially everyone I've ever encountered.

When characters pop into my mind they start out as someone I know, but they quickly morph into their own being. For example, the character may have the same hair color as my friend, my cousin's accent, the flight attendant's smile, and the telemarketer's tenacity. I never let my characters mimic too much of just one person. They usually are a glorious hodgepodge, shoved into a personality blender to create a unique person that only exists in fiction.

I also draw from experiences and memorable situations. If my character receives bad news, I think of a time when my heart was broken. When my character is embarrassed, I think of the occasions where my cheeks reddened.  I recall the time I first held my daughter when I think of love. I envision Thanksgiving dinner when I think of food. Every memory becomes material for a scene.
Something I have learned about my characters through real-life interactions is that people just don't fit 'the molds' we often have in mind. Men can be sensitive and woman can be strong. This isn't simply about breaking stereotypes, it's about being human. Humans have many emotions and reactions. A person may laugh at a funeral or cry at a football game. Both are possible. Someone might receive bad news during the game, causing tears. Someone may make a joke during a eulogy that can bring about laughter. Having characters react in surprising ways is part of the fun in writing and reading.

So are you a character in my story? Most certainly! Or at least part of you is. Here's looking at you, store clerk, calling me an idiot for writing down my new phone number incorrectly.  And the person who told me I look better pregnant. To the girl who surprised me on my sixteenth birthday with balloons when I thought everyone had forgotten. And the man who called two synagogues to locate me and return my purse. You are all in my stories in some form or another.

The good, the bad and the funny, that is what books are made of. If you match one of my characters, remember it's probably a coincidence, as they are usually three or more people combined. You are an inspiration though, each and every one of you; an inspiration that I draw on every time my fingers touch the keys.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Candy Crush

Purim is my favorite holiday. Who doesn't love the costumes, festive meal and all the candy? Bring on the joy and....the calories. I have celebrated Purim in many different ways: Eat every treat presented, eat none of the treats presented, eat a few treats, refrain for a while and proceed to eat a few more because who really can stop at just one yummy treat? Not me. 

I'm sure you have heard the old saying it's not what you eat, but how much. Having a square of chocolate is fine. Having a dozen squares of chocolate is not so fine. Why oh why can't we stop at one square of chocolate? The answer is...dopamine. The pleasure neurotransmitter.

Dopamine is released into our body whenever we engage in a pleasurable activity (ie., eating treats.) What is worse, high levels of sugar in the bloodstream can lead your body to crave more sweets and sugar. So the cycle continues; crave sweets, eat sweets, crave more, etc.

How do we exit the sugar wheel? Purchase a one-way ticket. I take one Purim treat for eating, then place the rest of the candy on a hard to reach shelf.  I can't have three candy bars if I can't reach them. (A perk of being short.)

The second trick is to fill a plate up with treats. That's right, fill 'er up. There is a catch, you knew it was coming, the treats have to be different types. Make one section chocolate, the other fresh fruit, the third popcorn, and the fourth veggies and dip. Yes, veggies can be a treat, especially dipped in yummy hummus or ranch dressing.

There is one last option, it's the best... and worst. Don't get on the sugar wheel to begin with. Your body will thank you, your willpower will increase, and while everyone is complaining of the Purim sugar overhang, you will be blissfully maintaining that healthy stride.

Some  healthy treats include:
  • Nuts:  Almonds, cashews, walnuts, unsalted peanuts, and pistachios.
  • Fruit: Strawberries, apples, oranges, kiwi, persimmon.
  • Popcorn
  • Cut veggies with dip: tomatoes, carrots, cucumber, pepper and baby corn. (Buy the dip, no need to go crazy)
  • Yogurt with muesli, (oats, two tablespoons of raisins, cinnamon) 

These are the ways I found to stay healthy on Purim. One piece of cake, one hamantaschen, have some veggies, eat some fruit. Binge on joy, get high on laughter. Hide the candy from the children (and myself). Start thinking about Pesach. Freak out. Shove some popcorn into my mouth, take a deep breath. Isn't Purim wonderful?