Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Highlight of This Week: Our Apartment did NOT Go Up In Flames

That is about the only good thing that happened this week. Let us define "good week" and "bad week" in hypothetical terms.
Good week: Kids aren't sick, everyone is on a schedule and sleeps through the night. I pass my driving test.
Bad week: Kids are sick and home all week. No one sleeps through the night. I (flagrantly) fail my driving test.
Let's just say I had the second kind of week. I was able to complete a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle. However, I worked on the jigsaw puzzle at the expense of caring for my sick children and cleaning my filthy apartment. I'll be accepting nominations for "Parent of the Year" starting now.

This is why I have been absent from the world of blogging lo these many days. My sense of humor took a diving leap off the mirpest sometime yesterday, and is now in a crumpled heap on the side of Sderot Chashmonaim. You can honk at it as you pass by. However, by today, I started to miss the blog. I have very fond feelings for it, as I have for you, my loyal readers. I've become sort of attached to blogging. [Digression: See, in my old life, I was always busy at night. I had to prepare SmartBoard lessons, grade book reports, at least for the students who handed them in, (Actual note from parent: "Please excuse 'Steve' from the book report. He was not able to finish the book in time."), or call parents at home, ("No, Mrs. A, your son coming an hour late every day, complete with a blank expression, but missing both his homework and a functional writing implement, is not really working for him .") Now, my nights are blessedly free (not counting sick children) so I actually have time to fill everyone in on our daily adventures. End of digression.]

Before we go any further, I would like to send a shout-out to Shira "Isenberg" who, in her own words, is "embarrassingly and ridiculously addicted to the blog." Shira, there is no reason to be embarrassed. We all need something to waste our time with; I'm glad that I am here to fill that need. Also, Shira has requested that when I come out with a best-seller (and I'm not sure here if she's referring to my tome on child-rearing or my book on aliyah; either way), she would like to be president of my fan club. I just checked, and it seems that position is available, so Shira is hereby awarded with that dubious honor.

Some random thoughts:

Today I went shopping with the kiddies. At the stores here, you bag your own groceries. Even if the checkout lady is finished scanning your items, and there is no one behind you in line, she still does not get involved in the bagging process. This is fine. I respect their boundaries. And actually, I found that I kind of like bagging my own stuff because I can make sure the bags are not too heavy. I also like to organize my bags into categories so they're easier to unpack. I start off very organized and structured. Yogurts and milk. Cans. Meat and hot dogs. You get the idea. By the end, though, I'm feeling a lot of pressure. She's done scanning and I've paid. There are people in line behind me waiting for me to finish, because they don't start scanning until the bagging area is clear. Everyone is just watching me bag my items and waiting for me to finish. I start to lose my cool and just throw things in bags without any of my previous organizational techniques. So when I get home, there's always a Random Bag or two. For example: peanuts, toilet cleaner, vanilla. Or: butter, cucumbers, a single roll, and an extension cord. I always find it amusing to see what ends up in the "Random Bag."

Last year, when we came for our pilot trip, I remarked to Donny that we should be thankful that time is the same. Every other unit of measurement is different in Israel, but time is the same. Wouldn't it be annoying, if, for example, every hour was really forty three and a half poofahs? And when you asked someone, "How long does it take to get from Modi'in to Haifa?" and they would answer, "Oh, about 43 poofahs and 17 dinkles" and then you're sitting there frantically trying to do the math in your head, until you give up and buy a Poofah Converter which you keep on your person at all times. So this is something I am grateful for.

[Poofahs actually took on a life of their own. I offered them to my students last year as bribes. "25,000 poofahs to the first 10 people to sit on their seats!" And because they're kids and they love to beat each other at things, even if the thing is imaginary and meaningless , they would race each other to be one of the first ten. Some of the more, ahem, "organized" (and here I mean, "obsessive") students actually kept logs as to how many poofahs they had acquired. It has been suggested that I could also offer poofahs to all of my loyal readers as a reward for being so, well, loyal. So I am offering 23,500 poofahs to the first 10 people to post a comment. (Make sure to keep a running tab of how many you've collected.)]

Monday, October 27, 2008

Another Day, Another Diseased Stick

First a shout-out and a clarification:
Thanks to Shana "Silverberg" Mauer for emailing - I love hearing news from other people's lives. Shana and I were in Bais Yaakov together, and she too, can recite nivim at the drop of a hat. ("Tovim hashnayim...") I would also like to clarify our feelings about pharmacists. Shana is a pharmacist, and felt that the profession was getting a bad rap in the blog. Let me explain: We LOVE the intense lady pharmacists. We are amused, and perhaps a little frightened, but they are GOOD at what they do. It's almost magical, seeing them run to the pull-out drawers, finding exactly what you need, making sure you understand every direction VERY CLEARLY, and then sending you off, all in about 35.5 seconds. So we have nothing but respect for pharmacists and pharmacies. In fact, our two favorite pharmacies in the world are MacabiPharm and Neighborcare. Hope this clears things up, especially for the Silverbergs.

This morning we all awoke, after what basically constituted a nap, and not a good one at that. Yaakov decided, at some point during the night, that the bed was waaayy too comfy, he's much more in tune with the monastic life, so he got out of bed and fell to sleep on the floor. However, he then woke up crying at 3:00. Gee, maybe the floor isn't the best place for a good night's sleep. Maybe Mommy and Daddy knew what they were doing when they put you to sleep in the BED? Anyway, Ariella was in our bed all night (and when I say "our" I am just being generous. I mean "my") whacking me in the eye every so often. This morning I dragged her out of bed, got Yaakov dressed, and we took him to gan.

We will pause here for a digression about the weather. So, you see, the season of winter is upon us. You are already aware of the sudden and torrential downpours. A blessing, to be sure. The weather itself is finally cooling down as well. I hear that in the States it is actually chilly on some days. Here, "cooling down" means it's in the seventies. However, that's good enough for people here! As we are driving down the street to gan, everyone is all decked out in their fall finest. Pants, leggings, sweatshirts, even a puffy winter coat! Brrr! When I took Yaakov to gan yesterday, the ganenet told me I should bring long pants and shirt to keep in gan, now that it's winter. Today, I made sure to dress him in pants, because, you know, it may get into the low seventies. (Actually, it is interesting how the weather changes from minute to minute. Today it went from warm, to actually chilly, and then warm again an hour later. Layers, people, layers.)

So Ariella and I did our shopping this morning. As usual, we spent lots of money and there's STILL nothing to eat. After coming home, we did puzzles. So. Many. Puzzles. If I have to look at a "Hello Kitty" puzzle again, I am going to take her (Hello Kitty), mouthless face and all, and shake her hard until she crumbles into 100 pieces (best for ages 5 and up.) At 1:00, my cell phone rang. It was Yaakov's gan - he had fever. AHHHHH!!!!! So we headed over, picked him up, and brought him home to join in our "fun." Let me just say, I have never so badly wanted to be in ulpan. I made an appointment for Yaakov using the "automated system" which actually worked out quite well, in that it worked. But the appointment was not until 7:00 PM. We went to the doctor at 7, got another diseased stick to take to the lab tomorrow, and were sent home with a prescription. Unforunately, Ariella's results were not back yet. The doctor thought both of them probably had something viral and not strep. I concurred, because my children are extremely fond of these viruses which are not able to be treated with drugs. We came home, I convinced Ariella to go to sleep in her bed, and I was able to convince Yaakov that the sofa, at least, is a preferable alternative to the floor.

Now I await Donny's return. He had a late meeting and didn't take a train until 8:00. The upside: If he stays in the office past 6:00, he gets dinner. The downside: The dinner never came. Poor Donny only had breakfast, snack, lunch, and snack today! It must be rough. I, meanwhile, dined on a package of rice cakes, yogurt, and a couple of spoonfuls of Israeli salad. Fine dining indeed!

Some funny Hebrew things:
1. The company that takes care of all of the food needs at Microsoft is called "Corporate Feeding." You can almost see the businessmen lined up at the trough, waiting their turn, then leaning over to take a slurp.
2. When someone is "still at lunch" they are "adayin he ba'ochel" - they are still in food. I guess that's what happens when you lean over too far at the trough.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

A Papa Bear Kind of Day

So here I am, thinking, what am I going to blog about now? The chagim are over, we're nearing the end of our "siddurim" (that's what you call things you have to take care of), and we're all back on a regular, boring schedule. How will I fill my time and the empty spaces of this blog? Ha! Day One of our first "normal" week was anything but normal. Luckily for you, loyal readers, the worse my day is, the better it is for you.

We'll back up to Shabbat. We were very happy to host Savta and the Elusive Uncle Jonathan for Shabbat. Donny went and picked them up from Jerusalem on Friday. Ariella and Yaakov quickly picked a partner, which worked out very well for Donny and me. Savta played games and did puzzles with Yaakov all of Friday, and Jonathan and Ariella engaged in intense literary debates, discussing various themes and motifs found in "ABC: The Alphabet Book","Click Clack Moo: Cows that Type," "Madeline," and "Curious George." Savta and Ariella also played many games throughout Shabbat, including Chutes and Ladders and CandyLand. It was very nice to spend time with the family, and the kids loved their playmates. Saturday night, we bid a fond farewell to Uncle Jonathan as he melted back into his elusive existence.

Saturday night is when the fun started. First, Yaakov fell asleep, snoring loudly, on the floor outside his room. This amused us; we took pictures. After finally going to sleep at midnight (0:00 on my clock - it always freaks me out, like something is about to blow up), we were awoken at 1:30 AM by someone calling on our American line wanting to speak to "Mike." "Mike" has been getting many messages these past few weeks. We finally spoke to one of the people calling for him and told the person, that, no, Mike was not trying to trick them by leaving his message as, "Hi, you've reached Gila and Donny." Mike, in fact, does not reside at this number. In facter, this number does not even reside in the United States of America. They seemed very understanding, apologized, and hung up. Clearly, after they hung up, they shook their heads, laughing, "Oh, that Mike, he is a clever one! Pretending he doesn't have that number! He can't trick us! Oh no, we are too smart for him. We will continue to call this number, at all hours of the day and night! We will find Mike!" So those intrepid people continue to call. After I told them in no uncertain terms that I was not Mike, I hung up, turned off the ringer, and tried to go back to sleep. However, at 4:00, we had a nocturnal visitor in the form of Ariella. It turned out that the "my throat and head hurt" complaint before bed was not a Gan Avoidance Technique, but that she was actually sick. So much for "back to routine."

In the morning, Donny went off to work, and since Savta was spending the day with us, I was able to leave Ariella moaning and groaning on the couch and take Yaakov to gan without her. I dropped him off at gan, then went to Tipat Chalav. See, doctors here check you and prescribe drugs, but that's it. All immunizations are done at tipat chalav, and they of course require numerous visits and paperwork. Since Yaakov was due for his second Hep A shot, I figured I should begin the process now, in the hopes he would be fully immunized by first grade. But I went prepared, having heard in advance that I would need a copy of his immunization record with me. (Ha! Score one for me!) She took the record and my phone number and said she would "call me" to set up the appointment. Hmmmm. I am skeptical.

Then it was back to the apartment, hold Ariella while she moaned and groaned, and then I actually had to go off to the doctor for myself. I scheduled this appointment last week, thinking I would do it in the morning while the kids were in gan. Luckily, Savta to the rescue again - she stayed with Ariella while I went. (Oh, and I learned that unless you have a deadly illness, you don't use the word "choleh," just, "lo margish tov." So when your kid is bawling their eyes out, spewing all kinds of nasty stuff from various orifices, you don't say, "He's sick," you say, "Yeah, he's not feelin' so hot today.") While waiting for the doctor in the waiting room, I got a phone call. I answered. "Hello?" Unfortunately, the speaker responded in Hebrew. Which meant I had to have one of those conversations over the phone with a fast-talking Israeli lady, and me only understanding every fourth word. Plus only being able to answer "Ken" and "Bseder." I was able to understand three words: "car" "Microsoft" and "test." Using my keen deductive skills, I figured out that they needed to take out car to do some kind of test. I mumbled something about being home in twenty minutes, hoping desperately that my answer matched their question. (A minute later, Donny texted me, saying, "Oh, someone's going to be calling you because they need to take the car in for a test." Thanks man.) After my doctor's appointment, I made an appointment for Ariella at 10:50, and then went back home. I would just like to note here that Ilana, the secretary at the Dimri medical offices, is exceptionally nice and sweet and always has a smile on her face and I love her. We had a short visit with Lisa, who was in Modi'in and stopped by, and then the Car Man called. Car Lady was just the person who sets up the appointment. Car Man is the person who actually takes the car, and he is a REAL Israeli. The kind that not only never heard of "English," but can't understand Hebrew with an American accent. Not only that - here's where it gets really amusing - he wanted directions! From me! I can barely give you directions to the other side of the room! It took me 7 years to be able to (sort of) direct people to our home in Riverdale, and even that I could only do via the Henry Hudson. Coming from the Deegan? Thruway? Fuggedaboutit. Now, not only did this Real Israeli want directions, from me, who has barely been here 2 months, but I had to give them in Hebrew. With an Israeli accent. After trying to squeak by with "ken" and "bseder" he called my bluff. "I'm not sure you know Hebrew," he said, in a not so kind voice. Gee, what gave it away? Anyway, at that point I had to leave with Ariella for the doctor, so I called Donny, told him to deal with Car Man, and left. (I know that Donny treasures those hysterical phone calls from me. I think it brings us closer.)

So we went back to the doctor (this is the third time there in 3 days.) Luckily we had the English-speaking doctor. He looked in her throat, and said it definitely looks infected. I was thinking, "Oh God, he's going to tell me she needs a strep test, but that they don't do that here, and he'll give me a million sheets of paper and I'll have to go to the pharmacy to pick up the test, then make an appointment with nurses to do the test, and then get something stamped at the bank. For a two shekel fee." Well, it wasn't that bad. Good news: He swabbed her throat. Better news: Since the throat looked infected, he gave me a prescription for antibiotics. A mother's dream! Bad news: He could not actually test the swab in the office. So he took the diseased stick, wrapped it up in a piece of paper, stapled it, and told me to take it to the lab to be tested. Even though it was only 11:00, he said he was pretty sure it wouldn't go out until Monday, which meant the results wouldn't be in until Tuesday. No wonder he gave me the prescription right away!

No problem. After the appointment, I met Car Man outside the building. He made sure to speak Very Slowly. Using small words. Gesturing often. I gave him the keys, hoped he wasn't a terrorist, and set off for home. Now, I needed to go to the Macabi building with my diseased stick and the prescription. I was also carless, which wasn't such a huge deal with the Macabi building is very close, and Savta was around so I didn't have to drag Ariella with me. The path to Macabi is a similar walk to Death by Brambles, just a little to the left. I headed off across the dirt path. First, I tried to get rid of the diseased stick. I went to where the doctor told me, but then got yelled at and was told, yes, we'll take your diseased stick, but next time, you need to bring it upstairs, not here. Fine, at least it was out of my hands. Literally. Then I went to MacabiPharm, where it seemed that every person in Modi'in needed some medication urgently, and all of them needed to spend a really long time discussing everything about their disease with the pharmacist. Plus, their handy-dandy computerized system was down, so at least two pharmacists were on the phone with tech support trying to explain that it said "130" when really we were up to "264." Really, I think their time could have been better spent. So I waited in line for 30 minutes, very grateful that Ariella, who "wasn't feelin' so hot," was at home. During the wait, it started to POUR. I mean, I did say "mashiv haruach" in the morning, so I wasn't totally surprised. However, this did not make so happy, seeing as I was totally unprepared, coverage-wise. I hoped it would stop by the time I was ready to leave, which at this rate would be about the same time the strep test came back.

When it was my turn, I got one of the Intense Ladies (see: earlier posts) who was even more intense because of all the hustle and bustle. She only wanted to fill part of my prescription - give me one bottle of amoxicillin, enough for 4 days, and then, if the test was positive, I would come back and she would give me the rest. Ha! I said. "You may be an intense Israeli lady pharmacist, but I am a mother hell-bent on getting medicine and not having to come back here. So give me all the bottles." "But then you might have to throw some out!" It was a consequence I was willing to live with.

I left with my meds in hand. This is when things turned Papa Bearish. I started walking home in the downpour, but as I was walking, the road quickly became mud. My sneakers were starting to sink in the mud. I tried to clamber up the nearest hill, to higher ground, but I started slipping and losing my footing. Then, I realized I couldn't even cross the street because there was a six inch (= some amount of centimers) puddle. So I had to backtrack, through the gloppy mud, cross the street, and then go the long way home. Of course, the brilliant minds running Dimri Towers thought that today would be a good time to implement the security measures, and when I got back, the door was locked. I called Donny hysterically (do you see a pattern?) to get the code. When I punched it in, it said, "Enter," but the door did not budge. Ha ha! They have some kind of sense of humor, those Dimri people. Luckily, someone was coming out and opened the door for me.

The rest of the afternoon was quieter. I changed into dry clothes. Our car got returned, the FedEx man came with my credit card, Ariella and I did puzzles, I picked up Yaakov, etc etc.

We bid Savta a tearful farewell - the kids really enjoyed having her around, playing games together, discussing life, and we hope the next time she comes we'll get to see her more. Then they went to sleep. Or not, but you get the idea. Tomorrow I'm hoping for a more Sister Bear kind of day. She always has things together, that Sister Bear.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Choref Zman

First of all, I would like to wish a huge mazel tov to Arica "Factor" Salzman, a loyal reader and fellow aliyah blogger, on the birth of her son!

So now the real work begins. You can feel it in the air here - choref zman. No more chagim, and none of those "Veteran's Day" or "Columbus Day" or "Thanksgiving" holidays that we have in America to break up that long stretch. Just work, school, Shabbat, work, school, Shabbat. We said goodbye to Donny until Pesach, which is the next time we'll spend any actual time with him. The kids see him for a few minutes in the morning, and Yaakov sees him at night during his (Yaakov's) nighttime wanderings. (Digression: Yaakov is in a bed; hence the wanderings. For some reason he needs very little sleep to function/wreak havoc in the world, so he stays up till all hours of the night and then is up bright and early the next day. For example, as I am typing this, during my half hour of solutitude between 6:00 and 6:30 AM, Yaakov has graciously decided to keep me company. I should really thank him. Anyway, at night, he slips out of bed, and creeps over to whichever area of the apartment I am not in. Why, you ask? To wreak havoc, of course, haven't you been paying attention? Two nights ago, I was in my room, exercising (I know, crazy thought - who knew that eating bread and rugelach 3 meals a day for a month was NOT a great diet tip?) Anyway, when I finished, I found him quietly playing in the back corner of the living room. Last night, when I was in kitchen - which doubles as our dining room, very efficient - I went into my room after a while to find him playing in my makeup bag, with a phone charger draped around his neck. At that point, Donny was home, and he (Donny) decided enough is enough, so into the crib he (Yaakov) went. However, he still caught me getting up this morning and decided to cry until I picked him up, lest he miss some morning excitement. End of digression.)

So on Wednesday, Yaakov and Daddy were off, and Ariella and I were home for the day together. We went shopping, did some baking in preparation for our Shabbos guests (Savta and The Elusive Jonathan), went to sign Ariella up for an Ivrit chug and then blessedly did not have to pick up Yaakov until four. This left us just enough time to play Zingo, CandyLand, and Chutes and Ladders (that cursed game.) On Thursday, everyone was off - gan, work, ulpan. The morahs had to pry my crying children off me, but they were successful. I had bribed Ariella with ice cream, so when I picked her up, we went over to a really awesome ice cream place (thanks, Lisa!) and got two bullets in a goblet. It was quite delicious and we decided it was worth going to school to get this ice cream.

Random thought:
Israelis sometimes have no perception of how we view them. I base this sweeping generalization on a single conversation I had with Donny's cousin over Shabbat. However, I enjoy making sweeping generalizations, especially if they are LONG and RAMBLING. So Donny's cousin remarked how the kids were adjusting to the Israeli food, because Ariella put a heaping spoonful of chummus on her plate. I said, "Yeah, she loves chummus and Yaakov loves chocolate spread." The cousin was astounded that chocolate spread was considered an "Israeli" food. "You mean you don't have that in America?!!!" No, I said, melting chocolate, putting it on pita, and calling that "breakfast" is strictly an Israeli contrivance. (Not to say we don't have our own junk food masquerading as breakfast in America... which is "healthy" because it has "fruit.")

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Simchat Torah - for real

**Read below for the brief version. This is the full-blown, every-excruciating-detail version.**

So unfortunately, the brief version of Simchat Torah was probably better, since our actual chag was kind of lame. We davened at the shul we call Death by Brambles, because in order to get there to you have to hike over the steep, rock-strewn, VERY HOT, and of course, bramble-filled pathway. On Simchat Torah night, we went to shul with Donny, which was a mistake because after minchah they do an auction so hakafot weren't for a while. Luckily, there is a little playground right outside the shul, so the kids amused themselves for an hour. They were all ready for the festivities to begin. On Sukkot, Thea had given them little bags to hold all of their candy in. They were all set - they had been waiting for the Chag HaCandy for a week now. Hakafot started - "Torat Hashem Temimah" - and all that. No candy. We waited and waited. Yaakov was totally overwhelmed by the crowds and noise and reacted like his father - he fell asleep. Literally. I panicked because I did not want to carry a little sleeping boy back home through the brambles. I kept waking him up and promising him candy. Unfortunately, it was not to be. At some point they brought out Krembos - people, this is not candy!!! - but my children were not satisfied. I was appalled. Where were the bars of chocolate, gum, lollipops, those awesome chewy candies, and other things to make my children happy and hyper? What kind of shul was this, where children are apparently able to achieve happiness without the aid of candy? We left mid-hakafot because our beloved darlings were starting to fall apart.

The next day, shul started at 7:30. I arrived with the kids at 9:00, lollipops in hand - I am not a total fool. Today, for sure, I thought, there will be oodles of candy. Sadly, it was not to be. The kids danced, went on Donny's shoulders, and ran around outside a little, but it was kind of lame. For a true Simchat Torah experience, you need a chevra to shmooze with during the endless hakafot and layning, and you need candy. Unfortunately, we had neither. After Kol HaNearim (which was way too long - they started the layning at "V'Zot Habracha"), I left with the kids. As we walked out of shul we saw - candy? Not quite, but bags of goodies for all the kids. After hiking home, the kids had a very pleasant pre-lunch of Bissli (actually the knock-off brand), gum, taffies, a chocolate-covered wafer, and some "fruit drink."

We will pause here for a child-rearing tip. I know I've mentioned my soon-to-be published book on raising children, "Leave Me Alone So I Can Read The Paper." You may be wondering how I've managed to raise such wonderful, well-mannered, and delightful children. If you are, you clearly haven't met my children. Nevertheless, I have some excellent advice: Don't do the "save some for later" technique. As we were leaving, I overheard a mother say to her child, "You can pick one thing from the bag now, and save the rest for later." I used to be like that. But then I realized it just caused more fights than it was worth - negotiating, bargaining, when can the next snack be, can I have two of these now and three later. Now, when my kids get goodie bags and the like, I let them finish it in one sitting. Then, it's gone, and I don't have to engage in any negotiations later on. The point is that you may think I'm a bad mother for letting my children eat a large amount of junk (and I mean that in the purest sense of the word) food at once. And you would be right. But now, it's motzei chag and the treats are long gone and forgotten by my children.

Back to Simchat Torah. Donny eventually returned from shul and we ate. Then everyone crashed, literally. I fell asleep on the sofa. Ariella fell asleep on the floor wedged between the mirpeset door and the couch, mid-game. Yaakov fell asleep on the floor next to Donny's bed. And of course, Donny fell asleep in bed. After we woke up, we had ice cream, which combined with Bissli basically became the kids' dinner. Then, chag was over! No more chag sameach until Pesach! Now the real work begins.

Right after chag, I got a very exciting call. A former student of mine, Aviva Michaeli, was in Modi'in with her family and wanted to stop by! It was very cute because they had to do some serious investigative work to track me down, but Aviva really wanted to come and give me a hug. So they came by for a few minutes. It was so nice to see her and we took a picture together, so I now have solid proof that some people at SAR still remember me.

Random thought:

At shul, I overheard a conversation between two Americans, one of whom said something about his kid weighing 19 kilos. How long does it take, I wonder, to erase almost 30 years of thinking in pounds, miles, cups, and ounces, and to start thinking in kilos, kilometers, grams, and liters? Donny thinks it happens around the same time that you can count backwards from 10 to 1 in Hebrew without having to think about it. Will keep you posted.

Simchat Torah

This post is for Donny, who said that my entries were "too long and rambling."

Simchat Torah: Too much davening. Not enough candy. Havdalah.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Dead Sea - Still Dead

First of all, a shout-out to Gidon Ariel, the Maale Adumim English-language spokesman and candidate for city council. This is not a political endorsement, but I would like to thank Mr. Ariel for his comment and to note that he is the very first candidate/official-type person to have posted a comment on my blog.

A first and last foray into electrical things: Last night, I needed to charge something. The appliance in need of charging was an American appliance. No problem, thought I, I will simply plug it into a converter and then into the wall, and voila, I will have power. It is pretty simple, unless you mistake an adapter for a converter. So instead of converting the electricity from 110 to 220, I basically plugged in a 110 charger into a 220 outlet, blowing up my charger in the process. Like I said, first and last foray into electrical things.

On to the Dead Sea. We left the house at half past nine, in two straight lines. We brought our snacks, water, suntan lotion, hats, and sunglasses. We were READY, man! We drove down to the Dead Sea. We saw camels, desert, mountains, desert mountains, Bedouins, and more camels. The kids enjoyed seeing the camels, and the drive down Route 90 was beautiful. There are a few different places to stop along the route. The first place we stopped was at the "braychot,"before the Dead Sea. As we pulled in to pay, they made sure we understood that there was no entrance to the Dead Sea itself. However, this place had been recommended by Uncle David as a nice place for the kids to run around and throw rocks. So we forged ahead. After paying 60 NIS and parking, we got out to begin the hike. It was HOT down there! But we are real men, so that did not stop us. We walked around a path until we came to the first of the braychot, which are pools. We then realized that the point of the braychot was to braycha - swim. And I had not brought any of our swim gear. The kids of course were begging to go in, although when I got closer I saw a lot of sweaty men and naked children, so I was kind of glad I had forgotten the swim stuff. We walked around for a while, but as I said, it was very hot, and Yaakov's rock-throwing was half-hearted. We stopped for a snack of dried fruits and nuts and then headed back to the car. It seemed that the area which David had recommended was closed off and we couldn't walk there. But we are Adventurers, so we set off looking for the next adventure.

We then drove into the Dead Sea proper. Well not into the sea exactly, although Ariella would have enjoyed experimenting to see if our car would float. Yaakov had fallen asleep in the car and was very cranky upon awakening, so Donny carried him down to the sea. This was my second time at the Dead Sea, and I have to say, it's kind of boring and a little bit gross. I mean, I was glad we went, and it was cool to show the kids the lowest point on earth, and all that. Donny, Ariella, and I put our hands in a little and Donny was in pain because his hand had gotten a little cut from opening all the pistachio nuts. Yaakov has eczema all over his hands, so I was happy he didn't even want to attempt to touch the water. Ariella touched it but didn't like the slimy/grimy feel it left on her hands. We had fun and at the same time were slightly grossed out by the people diving into the sea and slathering their bodies with mud. Ariella couldn't believe there were people who chose to put mud all over themselves. So we didn't stay very long. We hiked back up, got ice cream, swatted flies, and then back to the car for the next adventure.

We drove further down to Ein Gedi. This was the highlight of our trip. We had to pay an entrance fee, but it was worth it. First of all, it was really funny because a good 50% of the people there were English-speakers. We started the hike around 2:30, so the sun was already going down and it wasn't too hot. We stopped at the lower falls first, because the kids wanted to see some water, darn it. We had a true OI (Only in Israel; pronounced "oy") moment. As we descended, we saw an Israeli family had parked themselves next to the falls. They had their picnic lunch and a guitar, and they were staging an impromptu singalong. It was so nice! They were singing all these Sukkot songs, and people were humming and clapping along. The kids had a chance to play with rocks and get their hands wet, although Ariella told me in no uncertain terms that next time we'd better bring bathing suits. They amused themselves for a while, and then we went back up to the path. At this point, Yaakov decided he'd had enough hiking, so he and Donny headed back to the car. Ariella and I carried on, because Ariella loves to hike. She was a trooper - there was a fair amount of climbing involved, but she loved it! We made it all the way to the upper falls. At one point, I thought we needed to cross this stream, and the only way to do it was to have a nice random English-speaker help Ariella jump across, and I had no choice but to submerge my sneaker-clad foot in the stream. In turns out we didn't actually need to cross the stream, but I realized that too late, and I had to walk back to the car with that "squish
squish" thing going on. But Ariella was raving about Ein Gedi and can't wait to go back. Plus, we saw some cool animals. One was something that I identified as a "not squirrel." The other was an ayala - I think an ibex. There was actually a whole family of ibexes (ibexi? ibexen?) on the ledge
above us. They were really close to us and just stood calmly above the trail and stared at us. ("Look, Mom, humans! Cool! Do you see the little one with the mommy? It's so cute!"
"Just stay very still, you don't want to scare them.")
After returning to the car, we began the long drive back to Modi'in, passing the camels, desert, Bedouins, mountains, camels, etc. When we arrived back home, everyone showered or bathed and then we headed out in search of a restaurant with a sukkah. (There is a definite advantage to this whole "not having a sukkah" thing.) We found this amazing restaurant in the middle of nowhere. See, Modi'in is full of little shopping centers, or "senters" in Hebrew. One thing we were actually very impressed with in Maale Adumim is that their mall has all of the things you would need conveniently located in one mall. In Modi'in, they're dispersed throughout the city. So we've become pretty familiar with Merlaz, Malibu, Yishpru, and so on, but this restaurant was located in "Ligad Center" which we had never heard of before. It turns out that you basically leave Modi'in, drive down a spooky, dark road, and you end up at this center. The restaurant was called "Alberto's" (or "Albatraoss" if you're reading it in Hebrew really fast.) The sukkah was beautiful and pretty empty. Before we even ordered, they brought us a pitcher of fresh lemonade and these unbelievable, warm lafahs with about 10 different salads. We ordered steaks, hamburgers, and hot dogs, and the food came with rice, Israeli salad, and french fries. The food was amazing and we had a great time. We highly recommend this restaurant to anyone who can find it.

So ends our Chol HaMoed Adventures. The next excitement: Simchat Torah! Stay tuned...

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Sweating in Maale Adumim; Freezing in Jerusalem

On Friday we went to visit the Sassoons in Maale Adumim. We had a grand old time. First, we stopped at the famous Kinyon in Maale Adumim, which is famous for being in Maale Adumim. We went to a bakery to get treats, of course, we can't stay away from these bakeries, and then to a separate bakery which specialized in bread. We picked up some ruglach and pitas and headed over to dine with the Sassoons in their sukkah overlooking the Judean Desert. As we've mentioned before, the Sassoons are REAL Israelis. They take busses, live in a desert, and think large bugs are cool. We had a delicious meal of pita and chummus and rugelach - by the time the chagim are over, we'll probably have eaten a bakery's worth of pita and rugelach. It's just so good! The Sassoons then took us to an authentic Maale Adumim park and the kids ran around for about 45 minutes. It was great to see them and we were glad Ariella had a chance to reconnect with Noam and Tehila.
Then, at 2:30, it was nearly Shabbat, so we said our tearful goodbyes and headed into Yaakov's favorite city, Shuh-shoo-shalayim. (Sadly for Yaakov, we did not blow the "fofar" while we were there.) We were staying at Donny's aunt and uncle, David and Adi Samson for Shabbat. Speaking of real Israelis, the Samsons are it. Even though David is a native English speaker, Adi is not, so their children grew up speaking exclusively Hebrew. They live in an apartment in Kiryat Moshe, which is very close to the Kotel and even closer to the Park Plaza Hotel, which I know because we stayed there (at the hotel) once and walked to the Samsons. So there's a little bit of Jerusalem geography for you. We were staying in an apartment about a block away, although in Jerusalem it's more accurate to say it was a few staircases away. The Samsons do not have a mirpeset, so their sukkah is downstairs. I went with the kids to shul Friday night, because I naively thought that since they each had a lollipop, I might actually get to daven in a shul, something I haven't done since 2003. Ha! Silly woman! Or, as Gandalf would say, "Fool!" The end of the lollipops coincided with the end of minchah. For those of you who have been out of shul for even longer, I'll explain: Too soon. There was a speech, so I took them out to run around. I figured once it was maariv, they would be tired enough to sit for a few minutes. Wrong again! I had to leave in the middle of shemona esrei because Yaakov kept repeating, in a very loud, American voice, "Is shul over? Is shul over? I want anana lollipop. Is shul over?" So I took him out. After shul, we walked home to the most amazing sukkah ever. It immediately reminded me of the Weasleys' tent at the Quidditch World Cup. It's in the back of their (the Samsons', not the Weasleys') building, and when you look at it, all you see are 3 sukkah boards next to each other. You're wondering, "How are we ALL going to fit in here?" The Samsons have a big family, some of whom are married with their own families and were there for Shabbat. Then, you get closer, and you realize the 3 boards are only doors to the actual sukkah. You open the door and walk down the steps to the hugest sukkah you've ever seen. There are 3 actual rooms, with doors and everything. There's a bedroom, a dining room, and a kitchen. In the kitchen, they set up a hot plate, so we were able to transfer food directly from the hot plate upstairs to the one in the sukkah. The kitchen also has all of your needs so you don't need to keep schlepping them for every meal - paper goods, drinks, napkins, etc. The coolest part was how they rigged a water line from their apartment and set up a sink so we could wash in the sukkah. The sukkah was big enough for all of us (and Friday night, we were 18, I believe), with extra room for the kids to play. Their favorite game was "Walk Up the Stairs. Then Walk Down the Stairs." It was a little hard to be a part of the general conversation, though, which was all in Fast Hebrew. Real Israelis.
Shabbat morning, Ariella and Yaakov entertained themselves with toys they found in the apartment we were sleeping at. Our children were born with homing devices in their noses which lead them directly to toys, no matter how old, dusty, or broken. (And these toys were all three.) As we were getting ready to leave for the Samsons, Ariella accidentally knocked a glass cup off the table. These Israeli floors show no mercy to glass, so it shattered into a million little pieces, which I tried my best to clean up. We then headed over to the Samsons for breakfast. The kids had cereal, and then Adi insisted that I try this cheesecake made by her daughter-in-law. So I did, of course, and it was quite excellent. Meiri, husband of the baker, walked in and sat down to have some cake as well. We had an enjoyable breakfast together, which consisted of eating our cake in silence and looking anywhere but at each other so as to avoid having to make conversation. Not that he's not a very sweet kind of guy, but his English is not so great, and we all know the status of my Hebrew at the moment. ("Shalom! Mah Shlomech? Hakol B'seder!") Donny came home and had kiddush in the sukkah, and then we hung around and played games with the kids until lunch. The lunch crowd was a little smaller, since Meiri and his family were eating at his in-laws, and we were able to talk more with the rest of the Samsons. They were impressed that Ariella knew her alef-bet, and that Yaakov knows his "chuf" (the only Hebrew letter he knows, since it stands for "kenisah" and is on our elevator.) In the afternoon, we hung out at the Samsons, with Ariella and Yaakov trying (unsuccessfully) to kill, or at least maim, each other, and Donny and I trying (unsuccessfully) to nap. Then, time for shul again! I tried sending Ariella to shul with Donny, but Yaakov insisted on tagging along, so I was left to my own devices. Meiri came back with his kids, and we had another delightful conversation of smiles and nods. His kids are really cute, though, so it was fun to just watch them play. Then - back from shul! More eating! And Ariella had the knack for needing to use the bathroom just as we sat down in the sukkah. After seudah shlishit, maariv, and havdalah, we headed back to the apartment. We left our hosts 20 NIS and a note explaining about the broken glass; hopefully it was somewhat understandable. I think it was more like, "Shalom! Thanks to you for your hosting! We are sorry but we broke your cup of glasses! Please accept this money of repayment!" Anyway, we headed back, even though Donny's mother and Yael were on their way to the Samsons to visit. We wanted to stay, but the kiddies needed (read: Gila needed the kiddies) to be bathed and sent to bed. Donny did some food shopping tonight because - this may come as a shock - we are actually going to be HOME for Simchat Torah. (In case you are wondering, Israelis don't know from "Shemini Atzeret." They call the last day of Sukkot "Simchat Torah," which is interesting because if you are going to pick one of the 2 names, you'd think you'd go with the one that's in the Torah to begin with.) Tomorrow we plan to do an actual Israeli tiyul - the Dead Sea, so I wanted to get our food shopping out of the way.

PS Some new Hebrew words we learned at Thursday's trip to the ice cream shop:
kadur - this can mean ball, bullet, or scoop of ice cream
gevia - this can mean silver goblet or cone.
So, if you want 2 scoops of ice cream, OR if you want 2 bullets in a silver goblet, you only need to know one phrase! What a fantastic language!

PPS The title of this post is pretty meaningless, just meant to highlight the radical difference in temperatures once the sun goes down. It was weird to be baking in the sun at 2:00 and then freezing our patootsies off at 7:00. Also, I liked the way it sounded.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Chol HaMoed #2 - Failing to recapture the magic

We were excited to recapture the magic of Day #1. Ariella and Yaakov were begging us to go to a park where they could collect rocks, so we took out the map again, looked for green, and drove off. The first park we found was called "Monkey Park." It was one of those places where you pay for the fun. It was not so crowded when we arrived, but it was 48 NIS per person, which seemed like a lot of money for fun. In retrospect, we should have paid the darn money and gotten some fun out of it, but we said, "No thank you, Pricey Fun, we will turn you down and instead drive around for an hour, find nothing, and wind up with cranky, angry kids." Which is exactly what we did. We continued driving, and found a park nearby, called Ya'ar (forest) Ben Shemen. We got out and started Exploring, and what we Found during our Exploration was that the park should have been called Ya'ar Old Dirty Water Bottles. We decided that playing with garbage was not going to be on today's agenda. Back in the car we go. We ended up driving around for about an hour, chasing Green. (By the way, if you've ever wondered, "Hey, what happens if you keep driving north, passed Kiryat Sefer?" The answer is: "Nothingness and Arab villages.") Result: We end up at a playground about 2 minutes away from our apartment. Even that didn't work, because the playground consisted of huge scary slides which the kids didn't want to go on. So Donny and Ariella discussed life for a while, playing Daddy's favorite game of Choices. (Daddy: "Yerushalayim or Modi'in?" Ariella: "Eating or not eating?" She's still getting the hang of it.) We decided to call it quits and come back home. We made lunch and ate in a sukkah downstairs (someone Donny met at shul offered the use of his sukkah during the week.) Then we came back, the kids fought with each other and Donny fought with the internet. Around 4, we were just heading out again, when got a phone call from one of our two favorite Leezys! It was very exciting to speak with her, since she is in Australia and we're never sure what time or even what day it is there. So we shmoozed for a while, although because Donny "fixed" our Vonage, she sounded something like, "Hi [crackle, static] Israel? [Crackle, static] work? Do you [crackle crackle static]?" So we hoped our answers matched what she was saying, but if not, we apologize, Leeze.
Then we headed out to Modi'in Center to find flowers. Donny and I were going to our first Microsoft get-together. His manager had invited his reportees (?) for dinner, and we wanted to bring flowers. We did not find any flowers at Modi'in Center, but we did find an awesome ice cream stand. So of course we got some. We eventually found flowers at a different shopping center and then came home. The kids were bathed, the floor was bathed, and Donny and I made ourselves all purdy. I figured since no one napped today, they (the kids) would be asleep by the time Melanie, the babysitter, came at 7:45. However, it was not to be. They both came running out of the room, totally hyper and began climbing on each other and scooting around on the floor using the top of the Chutes & Ladder box. Donny and I left her with two crazed kiddies., but Melanie did say later that they eventually tired themselves out and put themselves to bed.
Our dinner party was very nice. The hosts were not dati, but they knew all about kashrut and made everything kosher for us. Our hostess had soup, salads, cheeses, and wines, - lots of shehakol and such - so Donny didn't have to worry about a sukkah. There were not so many people, because only 3 couples were invited, and 1.5 of those people weren't there. Luckily, they all spoke excellent English so we had a lovely time. Donny commented afterwards that their English is so good it's hard for him to learn Hebrew at work. Donny drank a LOT of wine, because Yaron, his manager, is a wine person and continued to pour Donny more, which Donny continued to drink. So I did the driving home. For dessert, they served cake, this really good pudding thing, and they have a fancy cappuccino/espresso machine. (Basically, Israelis think our American coffee - large Dunkin' Donuts-style coffee, extra cream, no sugar - is, to put it nicely, crap. When they offer you "coffee" they either mean espresso or cappuccino. Everyone likes to tell the story of how Starbucks failed in Israel because everyone was like, "What IS this stuff?") We drove home, luckily found Melanie on the couch reading, and not, as I had feared, tied up in the laundry room while the kids ran wild, passing the conch.

So to sum up Day #2:
1. Looking for random spots of green doesn't always work. Bored kids = bad times.
2. Ice cream is good.
3. Parties are good.
4. Melanie is good.

Today we are headed to Jersualem to Donny's aunt and uncle for Shabbat, but before that we are going to Maale Adumim to see the SASSOONS! Moadim L'simcha and Shabbat Shalom!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Chol HaMoed #1 - Family and Rocks

On Wednesday morning, we eagerly awaited the arrival of Donny's mother, who is here for Sukkot, staying with Yael, Yossie, and Hanani. They all came over in the morning which was very exciting since we had not seen them since our arrival in the Holy Land. We cleaned up in preparation, and now we are 99% through with the unpacking and organizing. We also prepared a delicious meal of shehakol foods since we don't have a sukkah. Eggs, rice cakes, chocolate spread, salad, chummus, coffee and ice cream - nothing like some good achilas aray. We all hung out for a while, and then decided to "go somewhere." Donny took out his map and looked for "green." We used to do this in New York all the time - take out our awesome 75-mile radius map, find green, drive to it, and hang out. In Israel, it's a little more risky to just drive to a random patch of green; in New York, there wasn't really a fear of losing your life. But this park, called Park Ayalon, seemed like a safe bet. It was between Modi'in and Bet Shemesh. We drove into the park, and kept driving down the park road. The Blochs eventually just turned around and went back, because Hanani was not so happy with all the driving around in the car. So we were left by ourselves. However, the park we found was awesome! There were all kinds of fruit trees - figs, olives, almond, carob aka "buxor" (and in case you're wondering, the buxor you get in those Tu B'Shvat packages that's all dried out and chewy - it's not their fault - it actually grows on the tree all dried out and chewy.) It was really cool - we ate some fresh figs, Donny showed the kids how to get olive oil out of an olive, and how almonds can turn to cyanide (don't worry, we didn't eat those.) We also found a huge aravah tree. We had a great time climbing around, exploring, and the kids were in heaven. We finally stopped at a path with a ton of rocks, and Ariella and Yaakov spent close to an hour playing with rocks - throwing them (mostly not at each other), piling them, pushing them down a hole, putting them in Crocs (that was Yaakov), and then shaking them out a la the Man in Black. Ariella picked up a rock and uncovered an ant colony (or ant comedy, as she called it. "So this ant, termite, and mosquito walk into a bar..."). They actually didn't want to leave, but by 4:00 it was starting to get dark and chilly so we headed back. We also lucked out because it had been rainy in the morning, and so even when the sun came out in the afternoon, it wasn't too hot. We drove back into Modi'in and went out looking for a restaurant with a sukkah. We ended up at Big Apple Pizza, which had an excellent sukkah and even more excellent pizza. "Pizza" here does does automatically mean "french fries" - I think "fries" generally come along with meat restaurants - which means that the kids didn't fill up on fries and actually ate a lot of pizza. Then we went looking for an ice cream store, were unsuccessful, and instead went to a supermarket and found ice pops, because the kids had been promised ice cream and darn it if they weren't going to get some! So all in all a very successful first day of chol hamoed.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Chillin' in the Gush

We had a very cousin-filled 36 hours. On erev Sukkot, we stopped by Donny's cousin Racheli, who lives with her family in Modi'in. Of course, we do not live within walking distance of them, no, no, but it was nice to see them anyway. They have 2 little boys who only speak Hebrew, (well, one's only 2 months, so he speaks the universal language of "Wahh"). The older one was, I think, a little frightened of these large, blond, English-speaking children who marched in and took over his toys. But we all had a nice time and hopefully we will see them again.

For the first day (how I love to write that! Day!) we went to Alon Shvut, where my cousins live. (We have had the Month of Endless Packing. First Bet Shemesh, then Bet Shemesh, then Gush, and coming up: Jerusalem for this Shabbos. There are definite advantages over the Month of Endless Cooking, but our poor overnight bags are like, "Not again! They're packing! Hide! Oh boy - here it comes: the deoderant, diapers, toys, underwear, ponytails, outfits, and "just in case" outfits. Why can't these people just stay put?!") Anyway, when I was in Israel for the year, I spent a significant amount of time with the Gush Leibtags. I haven't really spent time with them since then, which was about 10 years ago. So this was my first time spending more than five minutes with everyone. I found out something very interesting - while I was busy getting older and married and having kids and stuff, my cousins were getting bigger, too! Who knew? My little cousin, Avigayil, who I used to play with and entertain on Shabbos, is now in high school and spent the day entertaining my kids. And Sheve is no longer a scrawny little eight year old. He is quite big. He is probably about 10 little Sheves stacked on top of each other. Then there's Leah, who I left around bat mitzvah age and now she has a kid of her own. I'm not sure why I found it so weird that they all got big and grew up in my absence. But I did. Unfortunately, for me at least, the rest of the Leibtag children were not home for Sukkot. They were off in various exotic locales, such as Chile, Singapore, and Chashmonaim.
So the chag was really nice (I can't call it "yom tov" because "Yom tov" is what people say to you at stores or in the elevator during the week.) After lighting candles, we took a little walk around the yishuv. The kids were having a blast running in the streets, which are closed off on Shabbat and chag. Thea said, "They can't do that in America!" They can't do that in Modi'in, either, unless they are they are thrill-seekers with a death wish. But that's besides the point. We stopped by more cousins, the Rothners, on the way to shul. Another thing that happened in Alon Shvut while I was gone is that they built a huge, beautiful shul. It's actually 2 shuls - one Ashkenaz and one Sfard, and they are right next to each other with this little playground next to it. The kids enjoyed playing in the park in the dark, until it was time to go home. After dinner, the kids went to bed and we hung out for a while, watching Menachem entertain groups of kids who came by to the sukkah. In Israel, they do Sukkah hops as well, but they do it at night. As Sheve said, "You think the reason they change the clocks when they do is because of Yom Kippur - but it's actually so there's more time for sukkah hopping." Luckily, Yaakov is still at a stage we call Mostly Clueless, and even Ariella only had a vague recollection of what sukkah hopping is, and anyway decided that she is not so good at hopping yet, so we didn't have to schlep them around in the pitch black, stuffing them with sugar. But we saw as other people fulfilled the time-honored tradition of the Sukkah Hop.
In the morning, we went to meet the men at shul (a different shul, but also with a playground. The kind of playground where you might want to come equipped with a tetanus shot and tweezers, but fun nonetheless) and the kids played for around 45 minutes while davening was finishing. It was very pleasant - unlike Modi'in, Alon Shvut understands the dual concepts of "trees" and "shade" so I was able to sit on a shady bench while the kids ran around. I actually did a little praying of my own - I had broken one of my cardinal rules, which is Never Leave the House Without Sustenance and Drink, so every time one of them came running to me, I prayed, "Please don't be thirsty, please don't be thirsty, please don't be thirsty." Luckily, they played really nicely the whole time. We had lunch, and a friend of Donny's from yeshiva, Dov Karoll, was there. After lunch, Ariella attached herself to Avigayil. They did puzzles, played games, read books and all sorts of fun stuff. Yaakov played quietly in his room until he fell asleep, in a kneeling position, with his knees on the floor and his head on the mattress. You can just imagine him playing with his cars, la la la, zoom zoom zoom, and then - CRASH! Then, I let Donny have the unpleasant task of waking him up and dealing with the PNM (post-nap misery). Ariella and I played endless rounds of Mastermind (the "junior" way - when you tell the person which colors are right. Takes a lot of the work out of it!) After minchah, we walked over to Leah's apartment to see her sukkah. When the chag was over, it was time to pack up ("Oh boy - the stuff's coming back in - but you know, this time they don't even bother to fold anything - it just gets shoved in.") Ariella was actually really cute, because as we pulled out of Menachem and Thea's driveway, she started to cry, "I like these cousins! I don't want to leave!" It was nice that they got a chance to bond and we will definitely go back. Also, we really liked Alon Shvut. Even though I had spent a lot of time there in the past, I saw it in a very different way this time. It's a really nice community, the way that shuls are the center of the community, everyone hangs out there, people going to visit each other all day, very warm and open and friendly. Too bad it is very far away from Haifa. Anyway, on the way back from Alon Shvut we went to see more cousins, Rena and Paul and their kids, in Efrat. We ate some excellent cake (I mean, you have to say a layshayv, right?) and talked for a while, until Ariella and Yaakov decided to go wandering and got lost. Finally, Cousin Time was over, for now. Time to go home.

Other chag news: An Israeli Food Update
The children were introduced to Krembo on Sukkot. For those of you who don't know, it's this chocolate shell filled will marshmallow cream and has a little cookie at the bottom. This is worshipped by Israeli children. Ariella decided to eat hers in a bowl with a spoon, because it was so messy. Avigayil's jaw dropped - "I've never seen anyone do that before." - and then halfway through, she decided it was too sweet. Yaakov, similarly, only ate a few bites. For those of you keeping track:
Chocolate spread: Yaakov loves it, Ariella hates it
Chummus: Ariella loves it, Yaakov hates it
Falafel: Ariella loves it, Yaakov is indifferent because he just eats the cheeeps
Bamba: No for both
Bissli: Yes for both

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Nearly vaccinated, among other news

First, a shout-out to some people: Sharon, for emailing me frequently and keeping me in the loop, especially about SAR gossip, Rachel for her weekly phone calls, and Laurie for calling me today. People - I am lonely! Email, call, keep me updated on what's happening, since my life now involves a single loop going from Dimri - Gan - Ulpan - food shopping - Gan - Dimri. I need news and especially gossip! Please call or email!

Anyway, back to our regularly scheduled blog.

This morning, the kids had gan, no one was sick, and I did not have ulpan. Let's say it together...ahhhhh. Deep cleansing breath. Of course, what I did with my free morning was get a shot, go food shopping, and chop up chickens. Not so much the relaxing, hang around with a cup of coffee kind of day. But it was nice to go shopping by myself, and anyway, my coffee partner has ditched me for America. (You know who you are.) This morning, I got my festive vial of Hep A vaccine from the fridge. You know, the fridge that is not at the optimal temperature and may be turning my vaccine moldy and green. Well, it seemed fine, so I packed it up with the ice and took it with me to Maccabi. I did not have an appointment, but I got there a little before 8:00. At exactly 8:00, the secretary showed up and I asked for an appointment to inject myself with this questionable vial of medicine. She gave me an appointment for 8:10. I figured it was worth waiting for. At precisely 8:10, I was called in to the nurse's station. She shot me up and then told me....I need to come back in 6 months to get the second dose! AHHHHH!!!! I thought I was done. Oh well. In the meantime, there is only a little soreness in my arm, and I haven't grown a second head or anything, so I guess the vaccine is ok. Although, if the second head spoke fluent Hebrew, I might opt to keep it.

After my excitement at Maccabi, I came back home to do some laundry, then headed out to Supersol, my home away from home. Apparently, lots of other people had the same idea, and the store was pretty crowded considering it had just opened. There was great sadness awaiting me, however, in the dairy section. ("Sadness in the Dairy Section" is the title of my new Israeli/Country single.) Here it is folks: They did not have the 1% milk in bags. This was gravely disappointing. We love our milk in bags! I was forced to buy...don't say - cart - cartons! Oh no! Oh yes indeed! I also went into panic mode because the kids are home all week and we have to do "fun stuff" with them. So to combat the inevitable whining and hunger which always tags along with "fun stuff" I bought every snack, cracker, cookie, and wafer imaginable. This is my answer when the kids are bored, hungry, kvetchy, tired, thirsty, perplexed, or in any condition that is less than ideal: Feed them! Have a cookie! A cracker! A rice cake! Have five! So I bought lots of treats to take with us this week when we do "fun stuff." I also bought more bottled water because we go through that stuff like it's...well, you know. Then I came home and began to deal with my chickens. No, that is not a euphamism. We have discussed that the chickens are greatly cheap, but only if you buy them whole. So I've been busy cutting up and separating chicken pieces. Not only that, now I separate the white meat from the bone so we can have shnitzel. This takes me the better (or worse) part of an hour. I had just enough time to do more laundry, collapse on the couch for a few minutes, and then pick up Ariella and Aiden (her buddy) from school. Aiden and Ariella came over and played all afternoon. Basically, the way it works is, Ariella bosses Aiden around and then talks him into a stupor. But he seems to enjoy it and they have a great time together. We even had to extend the playdate because when it was time to pick up Yaakov, Ariella did not want to stop playing, so she went to Aiden's house for a while. Eventually, we had to break up the dynamic duo. (On Shabbos, when they came over for dinner Friday night, Ariella wanted Aiden to sleep in her bed. Don't worry - we told her, "As long as you're living in our house...")

In other news:

Kids: The kids made sukkah decorations that we're hanging on our Not Quite Ready for A Sukkah mirpeset. I figured we should hang them somewhere, so they are decorating the mirpeset quite nicely.

Elevator: The Shabbat elevator is working!! Whoo-hoo! Except that since it stops on every floor both on the way up and the way down, it takes approximately 20 hijillion years to get anywhere. However, on Shabbos, the kids insisted on taking it. What fun! While the Shabbos part of the elevator is less than exciting, it is nice to have 2 working elevators during the week. I was starting to lose years of my life waiting on meenoos shalosh for the elevator to mosey on down.

Car: We are now part of the Microsoft car leasing program, in which you give Microsoft money and they give you a car, complete with insurance, gas, maintenance, and two car washes a month. Not a bad deal. We are now the proud leasers of a Ford Focus, one of the finest vehicles ever...well, it drives. That is the important thing.

Unpacking: We made serious effort to clean up the remaining rooms. Donny's mother is coming on Wednesday to see our new digs, and is coming for Shabbat Breishit with the elusive Jonathan. So we had serious motivation to actually clean up. Although Jonathan probably would be ok sleeping on boxes and a printer, we figured it was a good excuse to get everything in order. Donny just came back from yet another machsan run. I believe we now have more items in the machsan than in our apartment. We are proud of that. I'm not sure why.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Social Roses

We had a very social Shabbat - company on Friday night and we went out to lunch. Phew! We better hibernate the next few days to make up for all of this socializing and friendliness. While walking to our company for lunch, we had to walk through the Path of Death. It is the shortest route to the neighborhood our hosts lived in, but it involved climbing up rocks and pushing our way through weeds. Plus, it is hot as you-know-where, because there's no shade or breeze. As Ariella so succinctly puts it, "Israel is hot." I was looking at the New York Times website and saw that it was in the upper sixties in New York. I've almost forgotten what that feels like. It is still mightily hot here. The truth is, it is starting to cool down a bit, and in the shade and at night it is really pleasant. But the sun is so strong, it feels like a different climate when you walk from the shade into the sun. That's another thing about Israel - I have never lived in a place where the weather is the same. All. The. Time. I used to be obsessed with the weather, figuring out what to wear and how to dress my kids. Here, no worry. Forecast today: Sunny and hot. Tomorrow: Hot, and also sunny. The next day: Sun, with much heat. The day after that: Oooh - variation - sunny, hot, with a few clouds! A couple Fridays ago, when we went into Jerusalem, it rained for a total of ten, maybe twelve minutes. In New York, we would have said, "Huh." Here, it made the papers. Everyone was talking about "the rain on Friday." Obviously, this is a country which does not have an abundance of water so every drop counts. I'm just not used to a ten-minute shower being the topic of conversation.
Anyway, upon our return from lunch, it was still early, so we tried our tactic of locking the front door, giving the kids Bisli and water and going to sleep. When I woke up, Ariella was fast asleep in her bed, and Yaakov was fast asleep on the living room floor, wedged between a pillow and the couch. Unfortunately, due to his little siesta, he was not tired at bedtime and ran around biting Ariella. So he earned himself another night of detention in his crib. He didn't seem particularly upset about that, though. We may have to rethink our strategy. My fear is that the strategy is going to involve me not sleeping on Shabbat afternoon. This makes me sad.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Yom Kippur: Trying not to Puke

Wednesday was Erev YK, as I'm sure you remember. Or not. Yaakov had been up during the night with his cough, which was not much fun for the rest of us. Donny's driving instructor came by with his temporary license (the instructor actually took care of all of the paper work for it), and then Donny went to the post office for the next step in the license process, which is getting them to send you your permanent license. We went to the mall to get challah and stuff from the bakery there. We cooked and cleaned in the morning, and then headed over to Bet Shemesh at around 1:00, since minchah was at 2:00 and the fast started at 4:30. The men went to shul, and Leezy and I hung around watching the kids play and reading Disney books for the 5 millionth time. Of course, since we had eaten "dinner" at 3:30, the kids were all hungry later and needed second dinner. Yaakov might have had third dinner; the details are a blur. They went to bed around 7:30, the men came home at 8, and us grownups sat around talking (not lashon hara, of course. Hehe). When the AC in the living room went off at 9:00, Donny took that as a sign that it was time to go to sleep. I was nervous that Yaakov was going to be up again with his cough, and since we were downstairs and the kids were upstairs, I didn't want him waking up everyone else. When I got up around 5:00 to go to the bathroom (because that is what happens on YK - you drink so much the day before, that you just end up in the bathroom all night, and come on, does all the drinking REALLY help you at 4:00 the next afternoon? I think not.) Anyway, I was happy that all seemed quiet upstairs and that Yaakov had slept. Of course, 5 minutes later, I heard him wailing. While the wails were still penetrating Donny's fog of sleep and slowly making their way to his ears and consciousness, I was already up the stairs and in Yaakov's room. I lay down with him on his air mattress for a few minutes, and when I thought he was asleep, I tried to creep out. Caught! He started wailing again, so I took him downstairs and plopped him on Donny's bed. I felt that being up two hours early was an inauspicious way to begin the fast. I told Donny to deal with him until 7:30, when shul started. For Donny, that meant letting Yaakov play in the living room with toys and then crawling back into bed. Of course, Yaakov found every loud, "musical" (and I use that term loosely) toy he could find and played it over and over and over again. By this time, Ariella had joined in the action. I think they might have been taking down pots and pans and clanging them together. At least that's what it sounded like. So we gave up and went out to the living room with them to supervise the action. Eventually it was time for Donny and Elie to leave us and the kids ("being left with the kids while husband is at shul" is the hallmark of a Jewish woman.) All things considered, the kids did pretty well all day. The one bright spot to Yaakov's waking up at 5:00 is that he took a nap in the morning. Leezy and I found that breaking up the dynamic of the threesome every so often was healthy. So Yaakov was playing in bed/sleeping from about 10:30 - 12, and Ariella entertained Netanel. In the afternoon, Netanel, Leezy, Ariella and I all fell asleep on the couch and Yaakov had his way with things. We're not sure exactly what he was doing, but it definitely involved banging. Ariella was really the hero of our fast. The whole day, we were saying, "Can you get Netanel's blanket? Can you find Yaakov's sippy cup? Can you close that door? Can you get those toys down? Now, can you clean up the toys? Will you entertain the boys? Make lunch? Change a diaper? Do you do windows?" She was really very helpful. Somehow the day passed - play with toys, clean up toys, prepare a meal, rest on couch, read books, look at picture albums, repeat. The last 2 hours were painful, and I was very grateful that at 3:30 there was only two hour and twenty minutes left, unlike on Tisha B'Av, where at that point you basically have two days left. I had a pounding migraine so bad that talking was making me nauseous. Yaakov was holding a toy and asked me if I bought it. (He's in the "who bought this?" stage of questioning.) To minimize the amount of talking, I just said, "Uh huh." However, he caught me in my lie. "You did not buy dis! Aunt Leezy and Uncle Elie bought dis toy!" Can't win. Leezy looked at the picture albums again with the kids, although she did have to put an end to Ariella's incessant questioning. ("Where were you? Why were you there? What did you do there? Who is there with you? Why did they come? Is that shirt Netanel's wearing really from Yaakov?" And so on.)
Finally, the fast ended, the men came home, we ate, packed up, and left. Yaakov woke up AGAIN this morning around 5 - I figured I should just let him cry for a few minutes and then go back to sleep. Donny went in - a good thing, because Yaakov had fallen out of bed. Hence the crying. Whoops! Today, we bought our arba minim from the mall (try doing THAT at Towson Town), went back to the bakery for the fiftieth time in two weeks, and now we are getting ready for Shabbat, which is going to be rather soon, what with the time change and all. Yaakov's eating his fifth pita and chocolate sandwich of the day. Shabbat Shalom!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Intense pharmacists, mazgan dudes, and change is good

Monday morning, Yaakov was still sick so he stayed home. He and I went back to MaccabiPharm, because I really love that place. We got our number and picked up a couple of things while waiting our turn. When our number was summoned, chick-chock, the pharmacist lady got us the shampoo for Yaakov, and we were able to put the shampoo PLUS the other sundry items on our hora'at keva! Yay! Of course, Monday night, when I was checking our Bank Discount online, I saw that 354 NIS had been withdrawn. For what, you may wonder? Ahhh...hora'at keva comes due. Oh well, it still feels free. Now let us discuss Israeli lady pharmacists. They are INTENSE. To give you an example: I went to get my Hep A vaccine (update: still sitting in the fridge, hanging out with the melon). The pharmacist was a man. I gave him the prescription, he told me that I wouldn't be able to get the shot that day because the needle people were closed, but gave me the medicine with a little tube of ice and told me to keep it (the medicine) in the fridge. Shalom, l'hitraot. When Donny and I went last Friday, in attempt #2 to vaccinate ourselves, we had a lady pharmacist. Donny wanted to pick up his little vial of fun. Donny gave her the prescription. She said, "Well, you're not going to be able to get the shot today, [surprise surprise] so I don't really want to give you the medicine. I mean, you can keep in the fridge, but how do I know your fridge is the proper temperature? Here, we keep it at the perfect temperature. I cannot trust your refrigerator to do the same. Better to come back and get it on the day you get the shot." Whoa. Part of me is thinking, you're intense and maybe a little crazy, and another is starting to secretly doubt the wisdom of letting my vaccine ferment in the fridge. Hmm... Another time, when we went asking about lice treatment, (at a different pharmacy with a different lady,) she did not simply wave me in the general direction of lice products and continue tapping on the counter with her nails and cracking gum. She came out from behind the counter and gave me an in-depth analysis of each treatment, its effectiveness, its ingredients, and how to use it. Today, when I gave the pharmacist the shampoo prescription, she looked at me in a critical sort of manner and said, "Are you sure he told you to use it once a day for 5 days? Are you sure he didn't say once every 2 weeks?" (The directions were written on the prescription, so I'm not sure what she thought I was playing at.) I assured her that the doctor said to first do it for 5 days, and then only do it once every 2 weeks. She seemed satisfied and let me have the shampoo. Phew!

After that Yaakov and I went to Supersol to do our shopping. Donny emailed to say the mazgan guys were coming between 2-4 to fix the AC in our bedroom. At around 11:30, Yaakov was napping and I had my hands full of chicken (see, the chicken in Supersol is Supercheap, but only if you buy the whole chickens, meaning I spend a good part of the day cutting them up and trying not to think about it. Ahhh, those butcher genes coming in handy.) There was a buzz at the door - the mazgan dudes had arrived! Clearly, "between 2 and 4" really meant "whenever the heck we feel like showing up." It was hashgachah pratis (Leezy - put that in your book) that I was home with Yaakov, because otherwise I would have been in ulpan and missed our chance with the dudes. Anyway, mazgan dude claimed he fixed the problem. I'll let you know tomorrow.
There is a lot of change in Israel - as in coins. There are agurot, and 1, 2, 5, and 10 shekel coins. Right now, I currently have in my wallet enough change to bail out the US economy. Maybe that's the problem - no one has any money because it's all in my zippered change purse. Every night, Donny deposits all of his coins into my wallet because he doesn't feel like carrying them around. The problem is compounded because whenever I pay cash, I'm too lazy to sift through the coins; it's easier to just give them bills and get...more change! The collection grows steadily.

Today (Tuesday? I think?) Yaakov was STILL sick, so another fun day home with Mommy! Fun for whom, I wonder? In the morning, after dropping off Ariella at gan - she had some sort of pre-Yom Kippur party today - we came back home and stared at each other because nothing is open yet. Then, a little before 9, we headed out to do Our Errands. We went back to Yishpru, where the Supersol is, to go to "Home Center." There, I purchased a food processor with a blender and a hand vac. Let me rephrase, lest you think Israel is the home of whopping miracle appliances. I bought a food processor with a blender. I also purchased a hand vac. Yippeee! We then went across the street to Supersol to find out why our Supersol card hasn't arrived yet. It turns out, the reason is, that it hasn't arrived yet. Not to worry. We went to the mikvah with our new appliances and then home. Yaakov eventually napped, and I started cooking. We are having our first company on Friday night - the family from our building whose son is in gan with Ariella. She is VERY excited. Yaakov woke up cranky, but fever-free. In the afternoon, once he had perked up, he realized how very boring it was to be in the house for three days, and he was itching for some action. So he proceeded to torture Ariella all afternoon. Let me tell you, I'm in some kind of good mood now! Whoo-whee!

Finally, after 3 or 4 years, the kids were finally in bed (Yaakov in his crib so he couldn't bother Ariella anymore - he was stealing Bunny and hiding it - a serious offense, punishable by one night in the crib.) Donny came home with his new cell phone from work, and he arranged for the Orange (that's the cell phone company) guy to come to our house so I could get my cell phone as well. That's right, cell phone companies make house calls here. How awesome! Ori, our dude, was shocked that this didn't happen in America as well. He did not speak English much, so we (read: Donny) had to battle our way through in Hebrew. We (Donny) did a very good job communicating our needs to Ori. By which I mean I now have a cell phone, so what could have been bad? Also, cell phones go along with "cucumbers" and "tomatoes" on the list of Things That Are Cheaper in Israel. Anyway, not only do I have a cell phone, but MY cell phone is cooler than Donny's! Take that! Now if only I could eat it for lunch...

So another day has gone by and our 2 Rooms of Stuff remain untended to. I think the Stuff in there is starting to reproduce and have baby Stuff. There are going to be entire villages of Stuff, awaiting us by the time we get to it. They'll have appointed a mayor and written a constitution and everything. I'm scared.

Tomorrow we head back to the Kleins for YK. We have to eat the seuda at some ridiculously early hour, so I will not have time to write and therefore we will meet back here after YK. Gmar chatima tova and an easy fast to whomever (Momz) may be reading this.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Some things never change

So Yaakov was home sick on Sunday, because, as the title indicates, some things never change. Also I have a migraine. (See: above.) I waited around in the morning before taking him to gan to try and get a doctor's appointment in the morning. They have this automated system you can call to make an appointment, but when I called it, it said, "The next available. Appointment. Is. Wednesday. October. Eighth. At. Eight-Forty AM. If you would like to take this appointment, press. One. Now." Hmmm. I didn't think. That waiting three days. Would be prudent. Luckily, once you are "in the know" there's a direct number you can call to speak to the receptionist and make an appointment. So I called at 8:30 and made an appointment for 5:30. ("At least it's not Wednesday" is my new motto.) In the meantime, Yaakov perked up, so I took him to gan. I forgot to mention that because of the time change, the children were up clomping around in their high heels at an unforgivably early hour this morning. I told the ganenet that Yaakov might be tired, but he was acting fine and went straight for his chocolate sandwich. However, an hour later, they called me during ulpan and said that he fell asleep and woke up crying inconsolably. So I rescued the boy from himself and brought him home. We read his favorite book of nursery rhymes, including the old standby, "Blah blah black sheep," (as rendered by Ariella.)

Then we went to a little Judaica store (surprisingly, or maybe not so, there are very few Judaica stores in Modi'in) because Ariella decided that her happiness was dependent upon having a siddur like a lot of the other kids have in gan. And I am desperate to make her as happy as possible in order to alleviate the crushing guilt I carry around with me every day. You know, the guilt that you get when you drop your child off at school, knowing that she can't communicate with either the teachers or kids, doesn't understand what's going on, and says the girls are mean and the boys are wild. That guilt. So if Ariella wants a siddur, she gets a siddur. If she thought bringing in a pink elephant in a tutu would help, I would get her that also. (As a digression, in true Israeli-style, we never received any kind of notices or parent handbook type of thing when we brought her to school. At SAR, the parents would have gotten a directory, maybe not until November, but still, a directory, as well as a handbook, and all kinds of goodies. So I am learning through my many mistakes what she needs and does not. For example, I sent her with rice cakes instead of bread for a few days. Whoops - they're supposed to bring a sandwich. Then, I sent a baggie of noodles along with her sandwich and fruit. Double whoops - can't bring anything but the sandwich and fruit. The first Friday, they sent home stuff in a blue denim bag. Cool, I thought, a bag! Next Friday, the teacher asked, "Why didn't you bring back that bag? You're supposed to bring it back every Monday!" Oy. Now the siddur. I would have bought it for her earlier if I had known she was supposed to have it. Oh well. She is now the proud owner of "Siddur Sheli" and was very excited to bring it to gan today. End of digression.) After the trip to the store, we stopped at a bakery of course - chocolate rugelach for Yaakov, cinnamon one for Ariella, coffee for me. Then we went to pick up Ariella. In the afternoon, the kids played and fought and put on heels. We had an early dinner, then we walked over to the pediatrician in Dimri at 5:30. Here's something weird, in a good way: The few times we've been to the doctors in Israel, we've never had to wait. In Riverdale, much as I loved my pediatricians, seasons would change as we waited for the doctor. Not sure what they are doing different here, but we approve. So it was quickly our turn. We went in, and I immediately saw that this doctor was not English-speaking. I believe there are 3 pediatricians in Dimri, and 2 of them are Anglos. I, of course, end up with the native son. I could tell he was really Israeli because even when began in my broken (more like shattered) Hebrew, he didn't switch to English or anything. He just let me muddle through. (Shalom. Hashaym sheli Gila. Mah shlomcha? Bseder.) Luckily, I had looked up the Hebrew word for cough in the morning, so when he asked me if Yaakov was coughing, I was like, "Yiippee! I know that word! Yes, in fact, he IS coughing! Would you like me to say that again? Cough, cough, cough." He examined Yaakov and said everything was clear and looked great, except for the tiny fact of his fever. So he has a random, untreatable virus, something my children specialize in. Determined to get a prescription for something, I asked the doctor about his (Yaakov's, not the doctor's) itchy scalp. So he gave me a prescription for a shampoo to help with that. Plus, when I asked about getting Yaakov's second Hep A vaccine, he told me (although I should corroborate this with someone to make sure I understood) that all I need to do is go to tipat chalav, tell them he needs a Hep A shot, and that' s it. Anyway, I was feeling pretty good about myself, getting through a doctor's appointment in Hebrew, albeit with a lot of gesturing and pointing.

Well, that self-confidence took a long, slow climb up a high dive ladder, them jumped off, arcing beautifully before shattering into a million pieces. This is because I had decided to call Ariella's teacher in the evening. Donny came home after getting a haircut - it's quite short now - we had dinner, and then I decided to call. I asked her last week if I could call her sometime, because even though it is apparently accepted practice here to just call teachers at home, having been a teacher in my former life, I just could not be that parent who called the teacher at home without warning. I had carefully rehearsed the speech in my head, looking up a few difficult words. I had been practicing what I was going to say for about a week now. Basically, I wanted the teacher's perspective on Ariella's day - did she play with anyone, besides Aiden? Was she understanding a little more? Was she happy? I picked up the phone and dialed. After all my preparation, what came out basically sounded like, "Hummmana, hummana, hummana. Ariella, ummmm, ummmm, ummmm, Ariella. Ptooey." Morah Maya even said to me, not unkindly, "I see you are having trouble with the language, too." Oh, was it noticeable? Anyway, the gist of what she told me (which, lest you think I am a total doofus, I did pretty much understand. Provided she was saying something about Ariella riding a donkey and smiling pink shoes. Just kidding.) was that Ariella doesn't really play with anyone besides Aiden, who she confirmed was the only other English-speaker in class. She said the language barrier is very tough right now, even though there are a few kids who reach out to her. The morot try to help her out, teaching her Hebrew words for things. They realize that Ariella is bright, but at this point everything is still difficult for her. However, Maya did say that Ariella is involved, happy, likes doing the activities, etc. So that was good to hear. After Sukkot there is going to be a chug for kids in gan chova to help them out with their Hebrew, so I'll sign Ariella up for that.

In other news: I've been blogging about inanities like hot water and rice cakes for a week, but I neglected to report something truly exciting: Donny has an actual job with Microsoft! Yay Donny! The Haifa team gave him an official offer last Sunday. We are all feeling excited and relieved and happy and all manner of good things.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Shabbat: A Day to Crash

First of all, Go Israel! for changing the clocks tonight, making our Yom Kippur fast one hour shorter. I found out that every year they change the clocks on Shabbat Shuva, so that YK is always shorter. (You'd think I would have known that already, since I did spend a year and a half in Israel, including 2 YKs. Never mind that. The important thing is I know now.) I like how Israel uses the whole Daylight Savings thing and subverts it for its own purposes. Heh heh.

Breakfast update: On Friday, Yaakov had gan, so Donny and I continued making the breakfast rounds to the little cafes in Modi'in. We went to one that came highly recommended by a fellow Dimri-ite. It's in this creepy little shopping center nearby. I cannot tell you why it's creepy. It just is. It gives me the willies every time I go in there. We sat outside, where the willies were a trifle better, but the restaurant did not impress us, overall. We will have to put our breakfasts on hold for October, because Yaakov does not have gan on Friday again till the last week in October. And going out for breakfast with Yaakov is kind of like eating at Kosher Bite - sounds like fun, but you end up regretting it.

Shabbat In Heels: Shabbat has become a time for serious resting. I am so wiped by the time Friday night comes, I can barely make it through the meal. On Friday night the kids played with dress-up clothes while Donny was at shul. Ariella looked fetching in her yellow princess strapless top, pink princess skirt, rings that could rival P. Diddy's (yes, you can borrow them, Dadz), a blue high-heeled shoe, and a green high-heeled shoe. And lest he be left out, Yaakov, too, was a vision in his green and blue high-heeled shoes. He was very happy to be clomping around in them. Later, he got yelled at and taken for a time out. I have to say that there is little funnier than a 2-year old boy being bodily removed from the room by his father, kicking and screaming, with heels dangling from his feet.

Shabbos morning we actually got to sleep late - 7:45! Now that Yaakov (aka The Boy) is in a bed, the two of them get up in the morning and entertain themselves in the living room. Donny continued shul-hopping, and we did not attempt to go out and find him today. He was home by 11:00. We ate lunch, and Donny and I again locked the doors (so they couldn't escape the apartment), and then decided to take a nap and let the kids have their way with things. When I woke up later, I peeked in their room and saw they had both fallen asleep in their beds! After Shabbos party, we walked to friends in Kaiser, who had also made aliyah this summer, and had seudah shlishit. It was nice to spend time with other people, and all the kids (they have an almost 5 year old girl and an almost 2 year old boy) really got along well. They carefully followed the prescription for meeting new kids: Stare at new child. Refuse to speak directly to child. Ignore child for 2/3 of the visit. Suddenly become best friends and cry when it's time to leave.

Other items up for discussion:

The Last of Our Lift Food: We (illegally, I believe) brought in a box of food from America on our lift. When we packed up our kitchen in June, we figured we were going to Long Island, so it made sense to take our spices, ketchup, soy milk, noodles, beans, (and some muffin cups - ha!) etc. And it has come in handy. But we are quickly using up our supplies. This Thursday night, when I made the cholent I finished up the packages of Stop & Shop beans and barley. There was something sort of sad about it, not because I love my American food so much and now I'll have to buy Israeli food, boo hoo, but because there was something comforting about the familiar labels and ingredients. I had a very long-standing relationship with Stop & Shop food and it is now coming to an end. I love Supersol (aka "Shufersal"), but we're just not as close yet. However I know that it is now time to let go of Stop & Shop and move on, time to forge new bonds with new supermarkets. It is the Year of Supersol, where the carts always list to the side and they let you taste as much cheese as you want from the counter.

Vonage: Our entire internet set up is tenuously tethered to reality. I'm not sure that makes sense, but what I'm saying is that it's kind of like Humpty Dumpty - at any second the entire thing can come crashing down and we are left without phone or internet and it is very difficult to piece it back together. For some reason (well, I know the reason, but I don't want to embarrass Donny), our internet/Vonage went kaput on Friday. Donny spent most of Erev Shabbos trying to resurrect it. By Shabbos, we had internet, but our Vonage was very floopy. It is now motzash and Donny has been on the phone with the Helpful Vonage Lady for a while now. The last time it was floopy they were able to change some settings and fix it. For some reason our Helpful Vonage Lady is being less than Helpful and asking random questions like, "Well, are there lights on in your apartment now? Maybe that's why it's not working now." Of course, it sounds like "Well, **%*&*%%$&UHJUG^R now? Maybe that's &%#%$^%%#EYTGF&^^(*U*IH&." I am hopeful that Donny and HVL will be able to fix it before tomorrow, since Sunday is when people from America actually have time to speak with us.

And the result it...

Donny passed his driving test! Yay!!!!!!!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Donny's driving test, lotsa rice cakes, more fees, and fighting with my hot water

Donny had his driving test this morning, at 7:00, and as of now, we are still awaiting the results. They can't tell you right away if you passed, because it would violate Law 1777.234, which declares that if you have the opportunity to make someone sweat and suffer, you should prolong such a state as much as possible. I mean, come on, it's not like the guy didn't know then and there if Donny passed or not. It's not like he has to calculate points or something. It seems pretty simple to me - no dead pedestrains, pass. But apparently it is not so simple. So we are very anxious because we really need to buy a car and we can't do so until we have Israeli licenses. I am still waiting to hear from the driving instructor about my second lesson and test.

Homework assignment: In an essay of no less than 5 pages, discuss the pros and cons of consuming an entire container of rice cakes for lunch. Please include footnotes where applicable.


Fees: When I went to pick up Ariella, I brought my 3 post-dated checks for the "va'ad horim." The note said to leave it with the ganenet and the head of the va'ad horim will pick it up from school. I am starting to doubt the veracity of the note. I mean, is this fee thing for real? Or did the High Commissioner of the Va'ad Horim just put that item in about the fees for fun, wanting to see which suckers would actually pay random amounts of money to someone they've never met? I'll bet the va'ad horim gets together at night and laughs at us poor olim, paying fees all over the place because we don't know any better, and then they come up with new and better ideas for fees to extract even more money out of us. A Coloring Fee! A Dress-Up Corner Fee! A Chair Fee! The ironic thing is I would feel better about letting go of 950 NIS if I knew it was for coloring, dress-up, or for the use of chairs. But the note didn't even say that! It just said, "This fee was decided by the va'ad horim. Please pay it." It would not surprise me if one of the members of the va'ad worked for a bank.

Shopping: Ariella and I did a little more shopping after gan, because this is a month of Thursday nights - every time you turn around, it's time to shop, cook, and clean again. We're getting into more of a routine with our shopping, plus I'm getting better at knowing which things to buy and where to find them. For instance, rice cakes are not in the snack and cracker aisle - they are near the bread. And pasta sauce is not in the aisle with tomato sauce - it is hiding in the back, on the bottom shelf. We did, however, solve the Bread Crisis. See, Ariella has to bring a sandwich and a fruit (and NOTHING ELSE) for snack/lunch every day. So I was buying a loaf of bread every week. The problem was that the bread gets stale after 2 or 3 days, plus she only went through half the loaf in a week. But on Monday we bought some awesome pita from a bakery. I froze it, and then last night defrosted a piece and gave it to her for lunch. She approved! So now I have frozen pita waiting to be defrosted every night and turned into a delectable, mouth-watering peanut butter sandwich. Thank God she's allowed to bring peanut butter to school - she's eaten it every day for the last 3 weeks.

Hot water: In our apartment, we do not have the famous "dude shemesh" that you hear so much about in Israel. We have "instant hot." The problem with "instant hot" is that it is not so instant, although it is quite hot. I think the idea is that as the water comes through the pipes, it is heated instantly. So there's no water boiler or anything like that. And all of the sinks are the kind with just one faucet, that you have to adjust to be colder or hotter. I prefer the two-faucet system, one for cold and one for hot. Anyway, giving the kids a bath every night has become a showdown between me and the water. I waste liters and liters (see how I have converted to the metric system so seamlessly?) of water every night getting the water to the correct temperature. It's either too hot, and the kids come out looking like lobsters (cute lobsters, but still...), or the water is freezing. Just when I think I have inched the faucet to the exact right location so the water will be warm but not scalding, it turns on me. I sit there adjusting the temperature for at least 20 minutes. A little to the right, a little to the left...whoops! Too much, too much! Back to the right, quickly! And so on. Not much else to say about that, but there you go.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Rosh Hashanah

We had a very nice RH with Leezy and Elie, and of course Netanel, despite the fact that Leezy and I spent most of the chag cleaning up the pretend food toys. It was really nice to see them again, especially since we haven't seen each other since the flight. Leezy and Elie have a cute 2-floor apartment on Gad Street in Bet Shemesh. Their guest room is quite comfortable and they have great beds and blankets. Stop by for a visit! Just knock on their door with your overnight bag! Bring friends! Ha ha! The community they live in is very friendly, things we are not used to - "community" and "friendly." Davening on RH, however, took approximately 7 billion hours. On the first night we ate with the Kleins Jr., Kleins Sr. and Eisens at the Kleins Sr.'s house. There was a LOT of REALLY GOOD food. Ariella and Yaakov quickly became friends with the Eisen boys, and Ariella confided in me that, "Me and the 4 1/2 year old are really best friends." Only a 5 year old can have a best friend whose name she doesn't even know. We found out about a minyan the next day which started at 5:45, and the next morning Donny happened to wake up at 5:20, so he was off to the early minyan. He was home by 10:15. Elie, poor guy, went to the regular minyan. We're still waiting for him to come home. No, seriously, it's not that bad, but it was 6 hours long - 7:00 - 1:00. One of the reasons we made aliyah, besides chocolate milk in bags and shwarma (don't worry, not at the same time), is that davening is so much shorter in Israel. None of this wasting time business that American shuls specialize in! Apparently this particular shul didn't get the message. Anyway, on the first day Donny ran Rosh Hashanah camp for the kiddies for about an hour, and Leezy and I went to shul and caught 30 kolot. Whoo-hoo! Check that off the to-do list, baby. When Elie FINALLY returned home, we ate lunch at L&E's and chilled out for the afternoon. We went to the "kiddie shofar blowing" at 5:00 (the shul also doesn't care much for children, so they were cordially uninvited to attend shofar blowing during davening), and then to tashlich. In between I'm sure we cleaned up the living room a couple of times. After tashlich it was time to come back, whine (kiddies) and get ready to eat again! (us) Rosh Hashanah is basically 2 days of waiting a really long time to eat, stuffing your face because you're so hungry, then swearing you can't eat for days, until about 2 hours later when the process begins again. Since the children did not nap in the afternoon (sad), we were able to put them to sleep after the challah and eat by ourselves (happy)! We had a quiet dinner at L&E's and then went to sleep.
On Day 2 (thank God the last "Day 2" until next RH!), Donny basically didn't sleep all night, because he was trying to make sure he'd be up in time for the 5:45 minyan and not get caught at the, how shall we say, less desirable minyan. Elie found out about a 6:00 minyan in the neighborhood, so he went there, and both men were home by 10:00. I took Ariella at 10 to hear shofar blowing in the shul. We dressed her up in a wig and flowered housedress so no one would think God forbid I was bringing a child into shul. She actually sat nicely for 1/2 hour, so we heard shofar and I davened. It was probably now time for cleaning up the toys again. We hung out at home for a while, then headed out to the Eisens for lunch. It was nice to mess up somebody else's toys for a while. Also, there was an outside, so the kiddies ran around for a while. There was a LOT of REALLY GOOD food. Donny was entertaining everyone with his theories on aliyah and various other subjects, and I stuffed myself because, after all, it had been a really long time since we had eaten.
On the way back, Yaakov and Netanel fell asleep in their strollers, and everyone napped for a while. The men went to minchah, and a friend of mine and Leezy's, Jenny Katz, stopped over to schmooze for a while. What a concept! People, knocking on your door, wanting to come in and say hi! Here, they only knock on your door when they want 300 NIS to "receive the Shabbat elevator." Speaking of which, a lot of good that money did - as of tonight, motzei RH, the Shabbat elevator is still stuck on meenoos shalosh. The people who were collecting the money are probably out spending it on drink and rugelach. Anyway, the second RH ended, I bathed the kids (after 2 days of lollipops, Ariella's hair was starting to resemble one of those big rubber band balls), packed, and we headed home. Gotta be up early tomorrow for gan!