This last week has been crazy by any Jerusalemite’s standards. Everyone in the city (and in the periphery) has personal stories of what’s being called Jerusalem’s worst snow storm ever. All I can do is share mine.

It began last Wednesday when my husband woke me up amidst torrential downpour to let me know that the power was out. We checked the fuse box, and sure enough the main power switch was down. We flipped it back up, had power for a second, and then it flipped back down. Something was clearly shorting the circuit. Without any indication of what was causing it (since there was nothing out of the ordinary that we had left on overnight), we tested each individual fuse in the box. The problem switch was one that controlled the lights in the main room* and the courtyard, as well as the buzzer/intercom to the outside. [*The apartment consists of 3 rooms: a master bedroom, which actually has its own, separate set of fuses, a guest room, which is now the baby’s room/library, and the main room which serves as our kitchen, dining room and living room.] Ok, it’s annoying, but at least we managed to isolate the problem. We called our landlord (upstairs neighbor), who in turn called the electrician. The electrician said he was not in Jerusalem that day and would come the next day. In the meantime, we decided to let in some natural sunlight by opening the plastic-stacking-blinds. Without the electric switch (which was also connected to that same problematic fuse), we had to raise them with the hand crank. My husband had raised them maybe a few inches when there was suddenly some tension. All of a sudden, the cable snapped and they all fell down, stacking neatly into each other, preventing any sunlight from entering.

Good morning! What a way to start the day.

The day progressed in darkness, and was relatively uneventful. We borrowed emergency lights (which didn’t work, even when fully charged) and outlet lightbulb connectors from our landlord. With these less-than-ideal light sources, we managed to cook dinner and go about our business.

Mind you, this is all before the mother-of-all-storms started.

The snow began falling that night. I didn’t believe it would stick, and sure enough I woke up Thursday morning to a bunch of slush. I called my baby’s daycare who informed me that so long as the Jerusalem school system was still open (which is was, as of 8:00 am, when I called), she would still be running the daycare. So I got my baby ready and headed out. The snow by then was starting to stick, and the stroller kept on sliding. At 8:10, when I was already halfway to daycare, the daycare provider called me back to inform me that the municipality just announced that the schools would be closed. So I turned around and headed back to our lightless home to get ready for the first snow day of the season.

Staying in a house with no natural or electric lights in the main room is no fun. Being stuck with an almost 1 year old baby in said situation is worse. I had already accepted that I wasn’t going to get any work done that day with the baby at home, but what could we do to entertain ourselves? I couldn’t seat us next to the window and watch the snow falling because of the stupid blinds, and what fun could a 1 year old baby have in the snow?! Eventually I gave in and spent 20 minutes bundling us both up for the obligatory 5 minute photo-shoot of baby’s-first-snow-storm (although technically it was her second, seeing as she was born during the last one). Shortly thereafter the electrician came and disconnected the courtyard lights and buzzer/intercom from the main room lights’ fuse, so that at least we could use the lights in the main room. The rest would have to wait until everything outside dried up. Unfortunately, the fix-it-man for the blinds couldn’t make it into Jerusalem due to the state of the roads in and out of the city. [Some background info: Israel is incredibly ill-equipped for snow. I believe the country only owns about 3 snow ploughs (and they live in the north where it snows the most), and no one owns shovels, salt, or the scrapers for cleaning off cars from snow. When the flurries start sticking, the country shuts down.] My husband, smart as he is, came home from work early during a break in the storm, before the roads were shut down.

Thus ended Thursday: exhausted from entertaining a baby all day, unproductive due to taking care of a baby all day, missing the beautiful whiteness because of broken blinds, but with artificial light and a family safe and warm, all together, as the snow continued to fall outside.

Friday… Nothing could have been more perfect than curling up in front of a window with a cup of hot cocoa, watching the thick snow continue to pile up outside.

Friday was far from perfect.

The blinds were still broken, so we had no view, but even if we had, Friday was a Jewish fast day (Asara B’Tevet), so no hot cocoa either. At least we’d be able to be productive and get ready for Shabbat early, right? Wrong. At 10:30 am the power went out… All the power. I had planned my day around cooking and baking enough food for us and guests for Shabbat lunch. Well, with no access to my recipes online and no oven, I had some major rethinking to do. I managed to figure it all out and had almost completed all my cooking (in the dark) when our guests called us up to tell us that they (quite reasonably) decided that it wasn’t a good idea to leave the house in this snow and wouldn’t be joining us after all. Shortly thereafter, friends of ours who live about a 20 minute walk away invited us to spend Shabbat with them since they still had power. But walking 20 minutes with everything you’d need for 2 adults and 1 baby was too much for us, so we politely declined their invitation (an action we’d soon regret). At this point my husband’s phone was dead and mine was dying, so we had minimal contact with the outside world.

Back in our house we took advantage of a couple of sunny hours to take a lukewarm bath. (Ok, realistically, our solar-powered boiler didn’t heat the water up nearly enough for it to be pleasant – only mostly tolerable, but I brought up a big pot of boiling water on the gas stove, which got poured into the bath, just like in the olden days.) Meanwhile, outside, the sun was melting the snow in our courtyard, causing our courtyard to flood. [Some background info: Our apartment – courtyard included – is about 3 feet below ground level. As such, all of our drainage pipes lead to a pump which pumps everything up to the regular sewage lines. Since the power was out, the pump wasn’t working, hence the buildup of melted snow in the courtyard that couldn’t go down the backed-up drain.] The flooding was so bad that it began to seep under our doors and into our apartment. As if it wasn’t bad enough like that, we realized that we couldn’t risk flushing the toilet or we could end up flooding our courtyard and home with sewage! (This was the point where we regretted our decision to take our friends up on their invite to move in with them. Unfortunately, by the time we realized this is was so close to Shabbat that our friends had already turned off their phones.) Our landlord saved us by working tirelessly to empty our courtyard of water with a single bucket, dumping it all outside the property.

And so we brought it Shabbat: cold, in the dark, concerned about flooding, unable to flush the toilet, not sure if the food I prepared for lunch would keep in the fridge, and not sure what the status of the eiruv was. (An eiruv is a thin wire – much like a telephone wire, but thinner – set up around a city or neighborhood, allowing Jews to carry objects outside their private property, but within the boundaries set out, on Shabbat. If the eiruv is down, then you can’t carry anything – babies who can’t yet walk by themselves included – beyond your property.)

With nothing to eat for dinner at home, we went out to friends, as we had planned all along. It was rather ridiculous pushing a stroller through un-ploughed roads and sidewalks, but we made it to our friends’ apartment, where we ate a delightful Shabbat dinner in the dark. Just before dessert, lo and behold, the power came back! We returned to a bright and warm apartment (due to some clever advanced planning/wishful thinking that paid off) and tucked in for a restful night…

…That was interrupted at 4:00 am by the thunder-like crack and boom of our pergola, as it collapsed and shattered under the weight of the snow.

The rest of Shabbat played out more or less as planned. We had heat, light and good food – all in all a decent Shabbat day. An hour after Shabbat, however, our internet went down. The internet technician said he’d be unable to fix it before Tuesday. To pile on the bad news, we found out that schools would be closed again on Sunday, and we’d be stuck entertaining our baby all day.

Sunday turned out to be not too terrible. We managed to get a temporary slower internet connection until our problem could be fixed, at the very least enabling my husband to work from home (roads out of the city were still closed) while I entertained the baby.

Monday was more or less the same as Sunday (daycare still closed, roads still closed), except I was beginning to lose my sanity after spending 5 days in a row at home full-time with a baby. And then just as I was putting the baby down for the night, looking forward to some much-needed down-time, the power went out again. Still, I managed to make us a stove-top, candle-lit dinner, followed by a movie on my husband’s laptop, and then curled up in bed to read by candle-light before going to sleep.

The power came back Tuesday morning… sort of. It only came back at about 20% strength. It wasn’t strong enough to run the heater, the internet, or my phone charger, but we had light. I gave up on heating up a plate of pasta for lunch after it spent 25 minutes in the microwave on high and still only felt room temperature. By the end of the day the fridge felt like a cooler, and the freezer felt like a fridge. But I suppose I can’t complain too much… My baby was back in daycare! My husband also made it to work, leaving the house later so that the roads could defrost a bit (everyone was complaining about black ice). Without the internet to distract me, I was able to return our apartment to some semblance of order after all this madness. (It was beginning to look as if a tornado had struck. The collapsed pergola only added to the image.

Wednesday morning picked up where Tuesday had left off. And then at around 10:00 we lost the 20% of power that we still had. With nothing to do, I sat and read. (Oh, and as my phone had all but died and could not be recharged on the minimal power coming into the apartment, I brought it in with my daughter to daycare and left it charging there to be picked up at the end of the day.) About 3 hours later, the power came back on (100%) in a fit of glory, warming our house up, providing food and entertainment, and even some clean clothes. Or what would have been clean clothes had the power not diminished again an hour later. This time, I’m guessing it was down to about 10%. The washing machine stopped mid-load, the computer shut off – in fact, the only thing we had was light, and even that was dim. I decided to check the food in the freezer. The results were unhappy. The bags of pumped breast milk I had so painstakingly created had all thawed (and the rule is once thawed, they cannot be refrozen and have a 24 hour lifespan), and all the meat, chicken, fish, veggies and bread was either thawed or thawing. Rather than see all the food go to waste, I started giving it out to neighbors for dinner. A rather large loss of money, but, you know, first-world problems. At 4:30 pm, the power went out again. After bringing out the candles and making our apartment look like a cathedral, I sat down to read, only to have full power return at 5:10, go off at 5:11, and come back on at 5:13.

Today is Thursday. Over a week since this story began. We have power, internet, some clean clothes and a somewhat emptier fridge. More or less back where we started. And who knows? Maybe today we’ll finally get those blinds fixed!


Pinball Wizard

I mentioned in my last post that I used to do gymnastics as a kid. I did it for a long time, and the main reason nothing became of it (career-wise) was that I only dedicated 1 hour once a week for a bunch of years instead of the minimum 4 hours, 5 days a week for a bunch of years that the pros put in. (And anyone who has watched the show Make It or Break It knows that if you want to be the very best, you put in something like every waking hour of your life for a bunch of years.) I also found that as I grew older, my body became ill-suited for the trials and tribulations of gymnastics.

The uneven bars, a women’s gymnastics apparatus, is where my current story takes place. The uneven bars as we are familiar with today are quite different from the uneven bars in the 1950s. Today, the uneven bars are held together by cables and have an adjustable diagonal distance between the two bars varying between 4.3 – 5.9 feet (as depicted below).

Modern Uneven Bars

This allows for more fluid movements between the bars, and makes it highly difficult to be touching both bars simultaneously. Back in the 1950s, the uneven bars were very different. They more closely resembled the mens’ parallel bars, only at different heights. Practically speaking, the bars were much closer to each other (as depicted below).

1950s Uneven Bars

I grew up on the 1950s styled uneven bars, as that’s what they had in my gym. Many of the skills we’d do specifically involved contact with both bars simultaneously. But because of the ever-changing height of kids, we were always adjusting the height and distance between the bars to suit each gymnast.

At the time of this story, I was in my early teens and had been doing gymnastics for many years. As such, I knew my bars settings by heart. It was the first class of the year, having just come back from a summer break. I set the bars to my desired heights, and proceeded to do my routine from the end of the previous year. Unfortunately for me, I’d had a growth spurt over the summer and the bars should have been slightly farther apart than they were.

What should have happened: I was in a front support on the high bar facing out. I was supposed to swing my legs back, straddle the high bar with the soles of my feet on the bar, swinging around the bar in a circle. (Imagine a side view: the high bar is the point in the center of a circle, and over the course of the skill, my butt creates the outer circumference of the circle, with my arms and legs being the radius throughout.)

What actually happened: I was in a front support on the high bar facing out. I swung my legs back, separating my feet to rest my soles on the high bar in a straddle. So far so good. All I had to do was let gravity start me off by pushing my butt in a downward arc. And I did. Except due to my new height, the low bar interfered with my butt. The bars themselves were made out of a somewhat flexible wood, and so upon contact, the low bar thrust me upward, causing me to ram my head into the high bar. And so it continued for about a minute – bouncing between the two bars, hitting my butt on the low bar and my head on the high bar, until I eventually released my hold of the bar for an unceremonious dismount. I collapsed on the mat in a heap of pain. Don’t worry. I was fine. Not even a concussion – just a bit of bruising. Sure, I couldn’t sit for a couple of weeks, but most of the damage was psychological. The bars had won, and I was too scared to bother finding a new setting for my new height. Besides, I still had beam, vault and floor to get better at. Who needs uneven bars anyway? I decided it was not worth the risk of playing human pinball again.

The Baby-Sitters Club

For those of you up to date with Israeli happenings, the country is presently hosting its 19th Maccabiah Games – a sort of mini-Olympics for Israelis and Jews worldwide. While I’d like to consider myself an Olympic nut, the truth is that there’s only one sport I’ve ever really cared about: gymnastics. Having dedicated my entire childhood to doing gymnastics, I was always (and still am) fascinated by watching the pros. Last year’s gymnastics Olympic games were particularly exciting for Jews worldwide, as Aly Raisman – a Jew – won gold medal for her floor routine, bronze for her beam routine, and was part of the gold medal winning Team USA. This year she was honored by being the athlete chosen to light the Maccabiah torch at the opening ceremony last Thursday.

Last Thursday… the first day of the 19th Maccabiah Games. I’d been looking forward to watching the gymnastics events ever since I first saw the Maccabiah advertised on the streets of Jerusalem. According to the Maccabiah website, there would be a week of gymnastics practices before the final competition. Not knowing whether or not I’d be able to go see the competition, I decided to make sure I at least got to see a practice. So that’s how I found myself last Thursday at Tel Aviv’s Hadar Yosef Olympic arena trying to watch the gymnastics practice. It was an almost-worthless trip. Apparently the schedule listed on the Maccabiah website was for competitors, and not spectators. When I arrived at the arena, I was greeted by a sign on the door that read, “Entrance for gymnasts only.” Well, nothing said I couldn’t stand in the doorway and watch. Unfortunately it meant I was blocking the doorway, and I couldn’t see much anyway. In the end, I didn’t stick around very long.

I did, however, stick around long enough for this to happen:

I had to use the ladies’ room. It was quite a nice ladies’ room, complete with toilet stalls, showers for sweaty athletes, and a long mirror with sinks. One thing they did not have though was a handicapped stall. I had my baby in her stroller, but the stroller couldn’t fit into a regular stall (at least, not with me at the same time). My options were limited. Fortunately, there were some other people hanging out in the bathroom – namely the USA women’s gymnastics delegation (I’m pretty sure, after researching names and pictures, that it was the Junior league). They had finished up their practice already, showered, and were getting dressed and ready in their red, white and blue “USA” tagged sweatsuits and baseball caps – the USA delegation’s uniforms for the opening ceremony that would be starting a few hours later. I asked these girls if they were going to be there for another couple of minutes, knowing full well that they would (after all, even elite gymnasts take a while to straighten their hair), and if they wouldn’t mind keeping an eye on my baby while I went about my business. Once they agreed and I turned to find a stall, it suddenly occurred to me that I was leaving my most prized possession with a bunch of strangers. Without missing a beat, I whipped back around and said in my most threatening voice, “My baby had better be here when I come out. If she’s not… I know what country you’re from!”

And that’s the story of how I both threatened the USA gymnastics delegation and got them to babysit my daughter for a few minutes. Who knows… any of these junior gymnasts could go on to be in the 2016 Olympics, and then I can tell my daughter when she’s older that an Olympic gymnast once babysat for her!

[Update, July 25, 2013]

Despite all odds, I made it, daughter in tow, to the gymnastics finals, exactly one week after the above story took place. Seating space was limited, and I was fortunate to be able to sit at all. I was walking around, baby strapped to me, trying to figure out which seats were being saved for late-comers and which seats were actually available, when a kind elderly couple asked if I was looking for a seat and motioned to the seat next to them. I thanked them profusely and took my seat, front and center in the spectators’ box. The elderly couple asked me if I was related to any of the competitors. I told them no, that I was simply a big fan of the sport, having done it myself for many years as a kid, and I was excited to expose my next-generation to it. Well, it turns out that they were the grandparents of a competitor. Not just any competitor, but one of the young ladies from the USA junior delegation who babysat for my daughter in the bathroom! Her parents were seated on the other side of the grandparents, and her teammate’s families were seated in the row behind me. I shared the babysitting story with them. They thought it was cute. And then we talked gymnastics, “ooh”ed and “ahh”ed at the routines, and chatted amicably about little things. They took pictures of me and my baby, picked up her pacifier when she threw it down, and gave her fingers to hold onto and chew. Seems like gymnastic folk are nice folk all around… at least when a baby is involved.

Riding in Cars with Boys

There have been some terrifying stories in the news of late regarding children in cars. I thought I’d lighten the mood with a rather humorous story from my childhood involving a car…

Every now and then, my parents would drop me off with my grandparents for a day or two. Sometimes we’d do fun things together – go to the movies, go swimming – but more often than not we did mundane, every-day activities. Whatever we did, I always had a blast.

This story takes place on a cool autumn day when I must have been around 8 or 9 years old. My grandmother took me to the local supermarket for some light shopping and some bottle returns. Bottle returns were my favorite; popping bottles into the mouth of a gigantic machine, hearing them get crunched down, and watching your nickel count grow bigger and bigger with each bottle you put it. (Not to mention getting a slip of paper at the end that could be exchanged for cash!) On this particular day, my grandmother decided to leave me to do the bottle returns right next to the supermarket entrance while she ran inside and bought a handful of items. The plan was for me to wait for her to drive up with her car and I’d jump in.

I finished returning the bottles, and with my receipt in hand, I waited by the front of the supermarket for my grandmother to drive by. Sure enough, after a few minutes of waiting, my grandmother’s pale gold sedan pulled up right in front of me. I jumped in the back seat, bragging about the $1.30 I had just made from bottles. My grandmother, wearing her green coat and white bucket hat over her short, white hair, turned around to smile at me. Except she wasn’t smiling… and she wasn’t my grandmother either. In fact, she wasn’t a “she” at all. The driver was an elderly man wearing the same color coat and hat as my grandmother, and driving the same color car. I apologized awkwardly and dashed out of the car, convinced that my grandmother had been eaten by the big, bad wolf now impersonating her so that he could eat me as well.

A few minutes later my real grandmother drove up. Still scarred from my last experience, I waited for her to roll down the window so I could see her face before climbing into the back seat.

The Island, Part 4: The Perfect Storm

The summer has arrived, and with it the longing for My Island, which I am once again unable to visit this year.

In the last post I wrote from the “My Island” series, I wrote about the ever-changing weather that visits the island. Everything from fog and light showers to both cloudy and cloudless days. Oh, and the storms. What storms…

Storms on an island are quite different from storms inland, especially when your cottage is just above the water line. During storms, the wind blows so fiercely and the waves reach such heights that when the waves finally crash down, you can feel it in the ground. One storm, the winds were so strong that they tore the cable connecting some poor fisherman’s buoy to its lobster trap deep in the ocean, and once the storm passed, I found the buoy washed up on the rocks by our cottage. (I even took it back with me to New York, as there was no way of knowing how far away it came from, and therefore who it belonged to.) But the wind doesn’t only work wonders by sea (or ocean, as the case may be). You can see seagulls fighting against the wind, either struggling just to hover in one place, or even be pushed backward. And on land, the wind will blow away anything not tied down. In our little cottage, the glass window panes rattle so loudly during storms that it’s a wonder none of them ever broke during our time there.

It usually stinks being cooped up inside on a rainy day, but storms on My Island are an adventure I can go on without leaving the couch. They always start with dark clouds rolling in from afar. I’d try to guess how soon it would be until the storm was upon us, but I never seemed to have a knack for it. The winds would start picking up and before I knew it, the clouds were above us. And then I’d snap out of it and suddenly realize that there were things to do! I’d run out to the deck, fold up the reclining lawn chairs and rush them inside, so as to protect the fabric from getting wet (there’s little in the world as annoying as sitting down on a lawn chair just to hear a squish and know that your bottom is soaked). Then I’d rush back out and quickly turn over the plastic table and chairs against the wind so they wouldn’t be blown off the deck. By that time a light drizzle would begin to fall and I’d quickly rush back inside, missing the sudden downpour by mere seconds. Then I’d settle in for the show.

The show actually starts long before the storm clouds are above us. It begins when the storm is still a ways off and it is unclear whether or not the winds will blow it in our direction or if we’ll be spared its wrath. At that point the beautiful phenomenon of rain clouds appearing to cry into the ocean would usually be visible. (If you don’t have any clue what I’m talking about, take a look at the “Rainy Day” pictures from my last post in this series.) The rain clouds, which are so thick and heavy on top, seem to turn into nothing more than wisps of cloud dancing across the horizon. And then, if the winds do favor us with a storm, there’s the sensation of impending doom as these dark, heavy clouds come rolling in from afar at varying speeds, nothing obstructing our view, what with endless ocean for miles and miles. (Pictures of this can also be seen in the last post.)

Once the storm is upon us, the real fun begins. Lightning, the likes of which this city girl hasn’t seen anywhere else. Forks of brilliant light sizzling down from above, lighting up the heavens and the earth as if it were the middle of the day (which sometimes it was, but you wouldn’t know that with such thick clouds blocking out the sun). Sometimes nature would freeze during a flash of lightning, as if waiting for some lucky photographer to snap a picture of it. (Regretfully, I couldn’t tear my eyes away long enough to release the shutter, so I have no photo evidence of this.) And sometimes there would be simultaneous flashes of lighting viewable from different directions. I often do two things when the lightning flashes: I hold my breath for the duration of the flash (which sometimes seemed endless), and I count the seconds before the thunder rumbles. Much like in a horror movie, the suspense builds as the time between lightning and thunder lessens, knowing full well that one of these times the storm will be directly above us. To make matters more frightening, as the storm gets closer, the thunder often goes from a low, distant rumbling to a deafening crack loud enough to leave my ears ringing for minutes. But just as quickly as the storm comes on, it leaves, the only hint of it ever having happened being the light pitter-patter of rain slowly passing onward as well. Ah, such beauty.

And now for an entertaining story – the one time I was caught outside during a storm (ok, ok, maybe not the only time, but those stories will have to wait for another post), and just my luck! It was 3 storms colliding together right above My Island!

One summer when I was still a little girl, I went up to My Island to join my grandparents for a week before my parents joined. During that time, a notice was posted on the old rope shed on “Main Street,” where all sorts of island news were posted (much like a Facebook wall nowadays), that there was to be a concert in the one-room school-house one night that week. My grandmother and I decided to go. As we left the cottage, it looked as if it might start raining, so taking our umbrellas, we trekked the entire length of “Main Street” from the end with our cottage to the other end with the one-room school-house. I don’t remember much about the concert. There was a guy with a guitar. Maybe it was a girl. Maybe there were other instruments, maybe not. I found the storm brewing outside to be much more entertaining. And over the next couple of hours, the storm itself was fabulous. But the evening passed and the concert ended, leaving everyone to find their way home on the dark, lampless dirt roads.

We stepped outside, umbrellas at the ready, waiting to be battered in the face with stinging pellets of rain, but nothing happened. No rain was falling. In fact, surrounding us was an eerie calm. We were in the eye of the storm. With the lightning lighting up the clouds and the thunder rumbling deeply, we took advantage of the break from rain and tried to make our way home as quickly as possible. It was difficult making our way by flashlight on a muddy dirt-road riddled with gigantic puddles. It would have been fun for me, jumping in all those puddles, had it not been so eerily calm. No one else walked the roads, no dogs were barking. My overactive imagination was going to some very scary places when all of a sudden we heard some laughter further on up the road. The road curved a few feet ahead of us, so we couldn’t see what was going on, but just as we knew that there were people up ahead, they soon knew we were approaching as well.

“I see flashlights! Quick, hide!” one person yelled.

The others all listened, but not before we turned the curve. In the beam of our flashlight we saw a small group of teenagers jumping behind trees and into bushes. But there was something strange about these teenagers. They were all wrapped in bed sheets. It would seem as though they went out for a little daredevilish fun, skinny dipping in the ocean during the storm, grabbing the sheets off their motel beds as their only covers.

As if it wasn’t embarrassing enough, my grandmother looked out at all these young’uns wearing sheets and said with complete delight, “Oh! A toga party!”

Birthday Girl

Another birthday, another year to reflect on everything I haven’t yet achieved.

When did birthdays become so depressing? As a kid, I loved birthdays: cake, presents, themed parties. Now? I somehow don’t think I could get away with a Peter Pan themed party, complete with throwing fairy dust (glitter) on the party attendees, crafting little Tinkerbells to hang above our beds, and eating cake shaped like Captain Hook’s hook. As a kid, I was so sure that I would never grow up. Unfortunately Never-Never Land never opened its doors to me.

So, how do you make the best of birthdays as an adult? Sure, you could have a party with some friends in a bar… if you like bars (or alcohol for that matter). Sometimes it’s just easier to do something small with your loved ones and be done with it. And sometimes your loved ones do something for you that actually makes your birthday worthwhile…

It started a couple of years ago when my husband awoke to a barrage of birthday wishes posted to his Facebook wall in honor of his birthday. Only they weren’t the usual wishes a person our age might expect to receive… “Happy birthday! I wish you a pink pony with sparkles,” “I hope you get a race car and a T-rex for your birthday,” etc. etc. This year for my birthday, he decided to involve our friends in a little pick-me-up challenge.

Early in the morning I received the following text message from a friend (random initials will be used):

FH: Did I ever tell you how strategically right your spot is in [synagogue]? Thought of it this morning. Well done Anna, you rock!

I thought it was a bit of a strange compliment to be receiving, but sure, why not? I responded:

Me: You should use it in good health!

My day continued normally until an hour later when I received another text message from a different friend:

FN: I’ve never told you this before, but you seem to walk very accurately and well. How do you do that? I’ve always meant to ask you.

I was a bit taken aback by yet another strange compliment, and my response echoed that:

Me: Um… weird compliment, but thank you. I have no idea.

Then I checked my email and saw a number of emails from friends entitled things along the lines of, “Random Thought” or “Why Anna is Great.” I knew something was up, and decided to have more fun with my responses…

NX: Just wanted to say you have a great smile and you made an amazing pregnant hobbit!

Me: You should see the smile on the little Hobbit I gave birth to! What a smush!

HJ: You’re very good at not falling off cliffs. You’re also very good at taking photos. You’re very good at taking photos while not falling off cliffs.

Me: I put it down to 10 years of gymnastics. Nothing like 10 years of gymnastics to establish good balance… and good photography skills…?

TD: I have never eaten a potato kugel as delicious as yours! You are quite a talented woman.

Me: Thank you, but it’s actually my mother-in-law’s recipe, and she ran a catering business for some time. Nevertheless, I am quite a talented woman!

More emails and text messages trickled in throughout the morning. Around noon, however, things picked up. For a solid 15 minutes or so, my phone was beeping every 10 seconds with another compliment. Some were serious, some were silly, and some were downright ridiculous. All in all it did wonders to cheer me up, and I want to thank everyone who responded to my husband’s secret request to send me compliments for my birthday. Those of you who wrote serious ones, you’ve done wonders to boost my self-esteem. And to those of you who wrote craziness, well, I had fun thinking of things to write back. You kept me on my toes. Thank you!

And now to reward your kindness, here are some of the compliments I received that deserve special mention:

TX: I’ve always been impressed with how well you tap dance during the amida (the silent prayer that is meant to be said standing with your feet together)!

Me: Are you implying that I don’t stand with my feet together? #complementfail

FT: …I’m grateful to have such a long-lasting friend like you who makes me seem so cool (Nerd Day will always be yesterday).

Me: Behind every cool person is an awesome nerd.

JN: Anna, every time you transform into a dinosaur, literally nothing can get in your way. I’m glad you’re on our side.

Me: Thank you, but I ate a friend last time I got hungry.

JN: Well, you do turn into a tyr-Anna-saurus. Sometimes that happens.

BC: Hi Anna, I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoy your writing. That is all.

Me: Thanks! I enjoy writing! In fact, you just inspired me to write a blog post about this.

DI: If I was chieftain of a clan of bookish warriors, I would grant you a land charter and make you the laird.

Me: NICE! I always wanted to be laird over bookish warriors!

FS: It suddenly struck me how lovely your feet are. Good morning.

Me: Thank you! It means a lot to me. I have a hard time concealing my hooves.

MD: You are a great writer, and know all the lyrics to Hatikva! You also have a rhyming email address which makes you awesome! (Even if I don’t like banananas)

Me: Did you ever stop to think that maybe “banananas” don’t like you?

CA: Anna, I love how quirky you get when you start talking about Ewoks. 😀

Me: They’re living Teddy bears!!!

ES: Hi Anna! I just wanted to thank you for your smile! It is spectacular! And your nose. I like that too 🙂

Me: Thanks! My nose likes you too. In fact, it’s so big that it encompasses enough love for the whole world!

ES: Haha! You don’t have a big nose. Just a big heart.

Me: ::barf::

ES: Hey Anna, I was just thinking how nice and encouraging you are, especially getting your baby girl to like me and telling me I’m good with kids. You’re a good mom and a good friend.

Me: Aw! Thanks! So sweet! (But really it’s all you. She likes shiny things.)

ES: I am shiny! New pickup line!

BT: Dear Anna, I like how when I’m feeling like a kooky person, you just play along. I also like that, when I’m not feeling like a kooky person, you still act like a kooky person. Just to keep me on my toes. Happy Birfday!

Me: Thanks! But when are you ever not in a kooky mood?

SA: I really like your grumpy voice (sometimes accompanied by foot stomping). It always makes me laugh.

Me: I think you have me confused with one of your kids.

SA: Their grumpy faces make me laugh too.

NL (male)Hi Anna. Just wanted to let you know that you have amazing eyebrows. Slim, long, well colored… I wish we could all be as lucky as you! O, and happy birthday!!

Me: Aw, shucks, I’m blushing! (And don’t let my husband hear you talking like that!)

DM: You draw eyes really well.

Me: Dude, I suck at drawing. It’s like you don’t even know me

DM: Wait, this is Anna, right?

Me: Yep. 4 years of art school and I can’t draw.

DM: Che che che. Good one. Maybe you don’t think you can. But you can.

Me: Have you ever seen me draw eyes?

DM: Yes. I’ve been watching you… Drawing eyes… While you sleep…

Me: Creepy… but cool! I have a sleep talent!

ET (male)Hi Anna, I just had a totally random thought that I figured to share with you – I have to say that you make some really lovely jewelry. I still remember that amazingly gorgeous necklace you wore to [event]. Wow. seriously. someone around here has some serious skill, aaaaaaand I’m pretty sure it is you.

Me: Thanks! I know you’d love to have some pretty jewelry yourself so you can be a pretty pretty princess. Come here and maybe I’ll make you something!

ZT: Dearest Anna, I just thought you should know that you make mac n’ cheese / a.k.a. orgasmic fettuccine alfredo like a fiend. Oh and you make beautiful babies too.

Me: Thanks! Just imagine how delicious my baby would be covered in fettuccine alfredo!

NT: Your toes are like Hungarian dumplings and you love life!

Me: That sounds yummy! I’ll go stick my foot in my mouth. Thanks!

SQ: It is really nice to know someone who is a fantastically talented graphic designer and who can drink with her foot!

Me: Thanks! I am really talented!

SB: Your shirts always look very good on you. Pre, post and during pregnancy, you always look very put together.

Me: Honestly, that’s the first time anyone’s complimented my wardrobe.

Best in Show

It’s been a few months since I last posted. Shame on me.

I know, I know, I should be easy on myself. After all, I’m a new mother taking care of a 5 month old baby. If only that were my excuse for not writing. Well, to be entirely truthful, it is in a way. You see, I still have plenty of stories happening to me all the time that I’d love to share and write about. Unfortunately 100% of those stories are baby related, and I don’t want to turn this blog into a parenting blog. Oh, but you want to hear stories about her? Unfortunately 80% of those stories have to do with bodily functions, and I promised my husband I would refrain from sharing those stories with the world.

Yep, I’m not getting out much, and when I do get out, it’s usually for playdates and mommy-baby groups. Although every now and then we will hire a babysitter and get out sans baby, but none of those times are particularly story-worthy. They are, however, able to be tied in to other stories from long times past.

Let’s give it a shot…

A few weeks ago, BIAS (Bar Ilan Acting Society) went out of business. Although neither my husband nor myself attended Bar Ilan University, we both participated in this student-run acting group. My husband had a small role in one of their productions a number of years ago, before we met (long story, but it’s actually the first time I remember seeing him), and then last year we had the privilege of acting opposite each other as a married couple in another one of their productions. Just before they closed their doors, they hosted a gala event, something like their own Academy Award ceremony. It was nice hearing about the acts of kindness, heroism, and sheer madness that people did in order to make BIAS prosper, and that reminded me of a personal story… (Like how I did that?)

A few years before we played opposite each other as a burnt out married couple for BIAS, my husband and I played the roles of newlyweds, Paul and Corie Bratter, in a Jerusalem community theater’s production of Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park. Our present story takes place on the 4th night of performances (out of 7 nights). The entire play consists of 3 acts spanning about 2.5 hours. Of those 2.5 hours, there are only about 3-5 minutes in the 3rd act where Corie (played by me) is not on stage. In case you are new to the theater world, that’s a lot of on-stage time. Anyway, on the 4th night, I got off on the wrong foot (quite literally) at the start of act 2, scene 2. My character runs on stage, barefoot, quite drunk, and collapses in a fit of drunken giggles. Only when I ran on stage that night, I managed to run into the prop table, bending my little toe farther back than G-d ever intended it to go. When I fell to the floor giggling, it was more to mask the significant pain I was in than to play my character. To my credit, the only person to notice something was off in my performance was the director. I pushed my way through the rest of that scene like a real trooper.

Between acts 2 and 3 we had a very short intermission, during which time I allowed myself to look at my toe for the first time since I broke it (oh yes, it was broken). By that point, it had swollen to the size of a small knockwurst, was roughly the same color as a knockwurst, and was very, very painful. The stage manager gave me a frozen bottle of Coke to put on it for the remainder of the intermission, and then what could I do but go back on stage? As they say, “The show must go on.” So there I was, acting through extreme pain, trying to put as little weight on it as possible, trying to walk (limp?) as little as possible, and yet not break character. And I did it, because there truly are no people like show people.

Over the next few weeks my toe had to be wrapped and splinted, making walking incredibly awkward. I had to take the splint off for the remaining performances, however (you try walking normally with your two smallest toes taped to a popsicle stick!), and as a result, the ugly bruise that covered half my foot was visible from the audience (and as can be inferred from the play’s title, my character spends most of her time barefoot). The solution? The makeup artist made up my foot. I’d pop a couple of painkillers and really get into character, and that way the pain was barely noticeable.

All in all, I think I’m stronger for the experience. There is, however, one thing that I never want to hear again when I get on stage…

“Break a leg!”

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

It’s happened! My little Hobbit has joined the world! And by Hobbit I mean baby, human, child (with normal, hairless feet).

She actually joined the world about a month and a half ago, and as such I’ve had zero time to write about it. One one hand, the birth was an incredible experience, and like everything else in my life, there’s a story behind it, and as such I feel a compulsion to share it. On the other hand, it’s a bit personal, and maybe shouldn’t be out there leaving its digital mark forever on the pages of the vast interwebs. And on yet another hand (no, I’m not Vishnu, just a woman with the newly discovered superpowers that come with being a mother), some people may find discussion of the topic of birth off-putting, distasteful, or even disgusting. But still… it’s a story, and stories must be told, just be forewarned – I don’t think there’s anything gruesome (I left those bits out), but if you’d rather not risk it, don’t read it.

You’ve read the posts I’ve written about the pregnancy. It wasn’t an easy one, and the way I saw it, labor couldn’t come soon enough. At my 32nd week visit to the doctor, I was told that I may have to be induced at 38 weeks due to some circumstances beyond my control. I spent the next few weeks bracing myself for the fact that at 38 weeks I may have a little baby in my arms. Then, at my 37 week appointment, the doctor told me that all was fine and no induction was necessary. Week 38 came and went and I didn’t have my baby in my arms. Psychologically I was prepared for it. Practically too. (I promise, you’ve never met a more together pregnant woman than me. I was completely done with any nesting thing I could think of by week 38.) My actual due date no longer felt like my due date, and each day past 38 weeks felt like another overdue day. Since I couldn’t fathom the baby coming still after my official due date, I was on the verge of mental instability when my actual due date came and went and the baby was still in me.

A few days after my due date, my doctor had me submit to fetal monitoring to make sure that everything was still alright. Thankfully all was fine, but the doctor highly recommended that I be induced anyway given the earlier concerns from week 32. So there I was on a Sunday afternoon, heading in to the hospital for a labor induction. Of course, since it wasn’t an emergency induction, they told me I’d have to wait my turn, possibly for another few days, and that in the meantime I’d have to stay in the hospital. By the time they decided all of this it was late in the evening, so I went to the room I’d be staying in overnight during my wait. And by “room” I mean “hallway.” Yes, you heard me… hallway. The rooms were all full, so I got a bed in the hall of a recovery ward. Between the lights being on, the lack of privacy, the people walking around and the cries of newborn babies, I didn’t sleep one wink. Sometime around 4:30 in the morning, another woman went into labor, thus opening up bed in one of the rooms. Unfortunately, by the time I was moved in and got comfortable, the hospital was already coming to life for the day, so I continued to get no sleep.

That first night I spent in the hospital probably sounds quite uneventful to you. In truth, it was quite the opposite. You see, while not getting any sleep and while waiting for my turn to be induced, I went into labor naturally. It was still a very early stage of labor, and had I not been in the hospital already, I probably would have stayed at home a while longer. But I was there, so I made the most of it over the course of the day. (Well, the second half of the day at least. The first half of the day was spent trying to figure out if this was real labor or just more Braxton-Hicks.) “Making the most of it” was pretty much restricted to walking up and down many flights of stairs (because hospitals have lots of stairs).

The contractions got progressively more intense with each passing hour and by nighttime I was sure it was time to go to the delivery room. But after roughly 21.5 hours of regular contractions, I had nothing to show for it. That’s right… 0 centimeters. Naturally I began despairing, and apparently despairing was the key. Two hours later I was 3 cm dilated and fully effaced. Go figure. At 11:45 pm I was finally moved to the delivery room.

I don’t really remember what happened next. It was another sleepless night, and frankly 2 sleepless nights in a row left me quite delirious. It was a 32 hour labor, start to finish, with no pain medication. I’m no hero. Like I said, I was delirious. I remember spending some time in the bathroom, some time standing up, some time on my knees, but frankly I was in a half-asleep state the entire time except during the actual contractions. For part of the time I listened to my relaxing music playlist, made up mostly of movie soundtracks from movies such as Braveheart and Lord of the Rings. One of the few things I do remember clearly was listening to a specific track from the Braveheart soundtrack, and then in perfect timing with the background music yelling out, “FREEDOOOOOOOM!” just like in the movie. Of course no one else in the room (husband, doula, midwife) was listening to the music and they probably found my behavior quite odd, especially as I wasn’t free of anything – the baby was still inside me. Oh well.

Anyway, from what I gathered, it would seem that once I began dilating, things moved at a decent pace. Before I knew it, they told me I was 9.5 cm dilated. Unfortunately, I felt a very strong need to begin pushing at that point, but they wouldn’t let me as one is not supposed to push before a complete 10 cm dilation has been reached. After a few minutes, however, I couldn’t help it and had to push anyway. I’m not sure how much time passed exactly – maybe half an hour – but as far as I knew I was still only 9.5 cm dilated and pushing futilely, when out of nowhere the midwife asked me if I wanted to feel the tip of my child’s head that was already partly out. Wait… what?! When did that happen?!

At that point things pretty much moved right along. (Actually, things moved quite slowly. My contractions all but stopped and baby was stuck in that partially-out position for about 15 minutes, causing her to be born with a funny looking ring around her head – Don’t worry, it’s since vanished.) Before I knew it, I had a wriggling little baby girl in my arms.

The next few days passed in a blur. Before I knew it, it was getting-released-from-the-hospital day. I woke up that morning and went to the cafeteria to get breakfast, only to freeze in my tracks (almost quite literally) at the sight of feet of snow accumulated outside the windows. Apparently Israel was in the midst of a storm, the likes of which it hadn’t seen in 25 years. And I was stuck inside, unable to play in the vast accumulations of snow (they’re probably laughing at me back in New York for calling this “vast”). Anyway, it became clear right away that no one was going to be going anywhere. In case you don’t know, Israel is very poorly equipped to deal with snow, with only a handful of snow-plows. Just the prospect of a few flurries is usually enough to shut down schools for the day. Sure enough, after questioning a nurse I found out that the only vehicles on the roads were emergency vehicles. I was not excited about spending more time in the hospital, especially after being there a couple of days early waiting for an induction that never came. It would seem the hospital wasn’t happy for me to stay there either. They were over-stuffed with patients needing recovery rooms. By late-morning they told me they were going to send me home in an ambulance, just to free up another bed. It would have been quite awesome, but unfortunately they were unable to get the ambulance until late afternoon, by which time the sun had melted most of the snow and my husband was able to brave the roads to bring us home.

And now to come full-circle with the baby-having experience… I wrote a post about pregnancy hormones (here), and let me tell you – post-pregnancy hormones are just as strange. On our way out of the hospital we stopped in the pharmacy in the hospital’s mall to pick up a birth-gift we were told they give new mothers. They asked me for my child’s mispar zehut (I.D. number) in order to receive the gift. Now you have to understand, I had to leave my home, my family and friends and move to a far away country and deal with tons of bureaucratic nonsense in order to receive my mispar zehut, a sign of Israeli citizenship. And yet there it was – my daughter’s I.D. number written on her birth certificate. All she had to do was be born and she’s already an Israeli citizen. Naturally, I burst into tears at the cashier when I realized this.

So here it is, a toast! To many more crazy adventures (and to the stories that come with them) – adventures as a new mother, adventures of a little baby discovering the world around her, and the adventures that accompany many a sleepless night!

Two (Wo)men and a Baby?

Due date is here. Baby is not. I’ve done EVERYTHING that friends and internet have advised I do before baby comes. I am waiting, and I am bored.

I’ve already regaled you with stories of my pregnancy – the good, the bad, and the good that can be found in the bad. So now what?

I’ve decided to take you back to a pre-pregnancy time a number of years ago. My husband and I were married for 3-4 months by then, and we decided to visit family and friends in America for a few weeks. As all my married friends know, the minute you get married, everyone thinks you’re pregnant. For instance, a month after I got married, I was sick for two weeks. The first week, everyone kept suggesting maybe I was pregnant. The second week, everyone was convinced I had contracted Swine Flu (this was around the time it became a big thing). Ladies and gentlemen, I was neither pregnant nor sick with the Swine Flu. I simply had a virus, an ordinary head cold. But anyway, the point is, people jump at any excuse to ask you if you’re pregnant from the moment you get married. (Single friends, just picture how annoying it is when people bombard you with questions about your dating life.) So anyway, there we were, in America, not pregnant, but knowing that everyone was dying to ask us, or make some comment that might force us to admit to something.

As every non-pregnant couple should do while visiting America, we decided one day to go to Six Flags amusement park. Nothing quite like the adrenaline rush of a good roller-coaster. Now most people who are going to feel sick after a ride will feel sick right away, as soon as they get off the ride. Thankfully, both my husband and I felt fine the entire day and thoroughly enjoyed the park. The next morning, however, my husband woke up feeling nauseous. After a number of hours, he finally vomited, and subsequently felt better. The next morning, however, the nausea returned. Thankfully, he didn’t have to vomit again, and after a few hours it went away on its own, but every morning for the rest of our vacation, my husband would wake up feeling sick. Finally, he went to a doctor. The doctor diagnosed him with morning sickness.

Now remember, through this whole ordeal I was feeling completely fine. But the minute people found out my husband was having morning sickness, they all reared their nasty little nosy heads in my direction and asked with sly grins, “Sympathy morning sickness?”

Ugh, people.

A Real Nail Biter

Everybody has some bad habit that they’ve been trying to break forever and just can’t manage to kick. For me, it’s been nail-biting.

I’ve been doing it ever since I was a kid, and I’ve actually tried everything to get myself to stop. Some things I even tried twice or more times throughout the years, but nothing stuck. Half the time I wasn’t even aware that I was biting my nails – it was just something I did subconsciously. Here’s a pretty comprehensive list of things I tried to get myself to stop:

  • Getting a manicure. Someone thought that if my nails looked so pretty, I wouldn’t bite them. Problem was that my nails didn’t look pretty. They were still ugly and short, only colored now.
  • Applying fake nails. Someone thought that if my fingers looked pretty, I wouldn’t bite them. Also, fake nails are made of plastic. Didn’t matter though. Half the time I wouldn’t look at my nails when I bit them. As for the plastic… well, that didn’t stop me either.
  • Keeping an emery board on hand always. It didn’t matter. Biting off a bit of nail was still more efficient that fishing around in my pocket for the file.
  • Wearing gloves 24/7. I actually bit a hole in the tip of one of my glove’s fingers trying to gain access to my fingernail.
  • Applying bitter-tasting nail polish to my nails. All it succeeded in doing was giving me a permanently nasty taste in my mouth.
  • Getting therapy on the grounds that maybe it was a nervous habit, and that if I solved all my problems, I’d have nothing to be nervous about. After two pointless sessions, I concluded that it wasn’t a nervous habit and no therapist was going to cure me of my nail-biting ways.
  • Asking my friends to point out when I’m biting my nails. It just got annoying to hear, and I’d bite my nails anyway.
  • Self-hypnosis. My teacher recommended that I talk to myself for five minutes every morning right after I wake up and for five minutes every night right before I go to sleep, repeating over and over again that I am in control, I am a strong woman, and that I will not bite my nails. I did this for about a week. Then I realized that I was talking to myself on a daily basis. Feeling like a crazy person, I stopped the hypnosis.
  • Chewing gum, the theory being if I had gum in my mouth, my fingers couldn’t be in there as well. Naturally, though, I couldn’t chew gum 24/7, so my fingers just waited until there was a vacancy in my mouth.
  • Flicking my wrists with rubber bands any time I caught myself biting my nails or thinking about biting my nails. This method actually worked for two weeks, at which point my wrists were so swollen, I just couldn’t bear continuing with the method.
  • Putting five cents in a jar every time I caught myself biting my nails or thinking about biting my nails – the money accumulated to later be donated to a cause which I oppose. Unfortunately, the only organization I could think of that would be enough of a deterrent for me to stop biting my nails was the PLO, and I wasn’t about to put the fate of the Jewish people in my nails.
  • Summoning enough will power to just stop. Needless to say I tried this method many a time. The closest it came to working was right before my wedding. I was determined to have beautiful nails for the close-up picture of my husband placing the ring on my finger. It actually worked for the most part – my nails grew more than they ever had. Of course I then had to go and bite just one fingernail, and of course it was the finger receiving the ring. I’ve got a nice blown up picture of that fiasco in my wedding album.

Bottom line: I tried it all. By this time last year I decided I needed a break from trying to stop – the whole thing was stressing me out too much.

Well, it’s amazing what a terrible first trimester of pregnancy can do for a woman. For three whole months I couldn’t put anything in my mouth. Usually this is just limited to food, drink and prenatal pills, but in my case it meant my nails too. By the time my second trimester started, my nails were stronger and more beautiful than they’d ever been in my life. Concerned that I might revert to my old ways once I could eat food again, I began applying the bitter nail polish that didn’t work for me many times before. Well, it’s been eight full months since I last bit my nails. I’ve never clipped or filed my nails so many times. I even got my first decent-looking professional manicure a couple of weeks ago for my sister-in-law’s wedding!

Who knew? Morning sickness was good for something after all!