40 Things I’ve Learned

Happy Birthday to me!

The fetes and presents have already begun, because I have learned that I have to be aggressively in control of my own celebration if I want one. Cell phone cameras make this process easier. CLICK. SEND.

“Please have the kids buy me this book; it is available at any bookstore.”

(Although, in Taxman’s defense, he did come up with some surprises. And there was cake.)

So in celebration of my 40th birthday (which doesn’t feel nearly as old as When Harry Met Sally made it out to be), I am going to share all my wisdom with you.

Except not all of it — I can’t remember half of what I need to. Because ’80s song lyrics.

  • If you have chance to use a bathroom, use it.
  • Jealousy is usually a wasted emotion. If being envious lights a competitive spark in you that drives you to be or do better or achieve more, great. But if it’s going nowhere, just sitting in the pit of your stomach? Leave it. Seriously.
  • Life is too short to finish a book that you don’t like. (Obviously this applies to books that are voluntary, not compulsory.)
  • Life is NOT too short to read a book that you love again (and again and again).
Those books you love? Don't let them go.

Those books you love? Don’t let them go.

  • Having inside jokes is awesome.
  • Being with someone who holds you when you cry and otherwise makes you laugh is fantastic.
  • Soliciting your child’s giggle is one of the “Top 5″ feelings in the universe.
  • Most of the people who are literally saving the world will not have the time or headspace to have their own kids. This makes me really upset.
  • So much hate in the world because people feel compelled to think we are different from one another – and the realization that the divisions are not going away. Yuck.
  • Exercise. Yeah. Even lazy people like me need it.
  • But with enough time and regularity, you’ll be able to meet some, um, physical challenges.
That's me in the green. Running a 10K. The path to this event started in 2001.

That’s me in the green. Running a 10K. The path to this event started in 2002.

  • You will become intimately familiar with your strengths and weaknesses.
  • This means that you will become much, much better at not giving a shit about things that you can’t control or fix.
  • This also means that you will be able to say no and yes much more effectively.
  • (A hugely awesome summary of above three points that I wish I had written is here.)
  • You will learn to appreciate people for their expertise that is wildly different from yours. If you are me, you’ll happily throw money at them to keep being experts as you appreciate it. This can mean anything from contracting a service to clean your house, to hiring someone to teach your kid sewing, to paying someone to do your makeup for a special occasion.
  • Work that is meaningful and world-changing is super, but it’s impossible to achieve for everyone or at every stage of life. Sometimes it’s as simple as work =  money, and money = a roof over your head or food in your fridge or books all over the place. Hopefully all three.
  • I am not exactly saying that money can buy happiness, but it can buy cookie ingredients, which is sometimes all you need. (Oven baking optional.)
  • You will never get over your worst bullying (as the victim). It will pop up at random times.
  • You will never stop feeling guilty about your worst bullying (as the aggressor), because now you, at your worst, are in someone’s head forever.
  • You will never be able to fully understand someone else’s marriage. Or divorce. Or child-rearing. Or life. It’s really hard not to judge, but it’s really better not to.
  • You will try to actively avoid situations that will make you uncomfortable or upset.
  • But you will handle the non-optional uncomfortable situations with more grace at 40 than at 30 and way more than at 20.
  • That single item in your closet that you never wear anymore but can’t part with? It’s not hurting anyone.
  • These kids, man.
  • The greatest part of parenting is not seeing yourself in your children – that’s actually turning out to be the part that makes me want to hide under the bed – but seeing how someone who lives in your house can be so different from you, with totally different interests, talents, and perspectives. You’ll learn a hell of a lot.
  • For example, I now know our solar system contains a dwarf planet called Makemake.
  • You shouldn’t have to do it alone. Whatever “it” is.
  • It is really important to have people who get your situation – work, marriage, parenting, life – and be able to freely contact them just to tell them something that they will understand but others won’t.
  • You’ll learn to avoid people who suck your life-force.
  • You’ll probably be able to rid yourself of one bad habit at a time, but not all of them and certainly not all of them at once.
  • We tend to be our own harshest critics. (I’m hoping, though, that the “reign of not caring so much” will mellow that.)
  • Whatever you do or see in your life that makes you smile? Do it more. Look at it again. You won’t be sorry.
This hide-and-seek chipmunk is my adorableness of the day. Plus it reminds me of a trip to Rocky Mountain National Park.

This hide-and-seek chipmunk is my adorableness of the day. Plus it reminds me of a trip to Rocky Mountain National Park.

  • It’s ok that you’re not like everyone else. Fantastic, really.
  • It’s ok that your kids are not like everyone else’s kids, but damn, it is awkward sometimes.
  • It is very difficult to get rid of a reputation.
  • But you usually have one before you realize what’s happening. (Luckily, I can live with “snarky” and “grammatically punctilious” and “espresso-based lifeform.”)
  • You’ll never stop learning.
  • Humility looks good on everyone.
  • If you think the last bite will make you feel ill? STOP.

And, finally:

  • Write that shit down; you’ll never remember. (Trust me. I wish I had.)

Graffiti and flowers

One of the nicest things about Israel is its size. It’s pretty tiny. Which means that Taxman and I were able to slip away for two days last week while leaving the kids in Savta’s charge. (She came to us so the kids could go to school; we are mean like that).

It was a bit of a working holiday, as we did answer our phones and spent a little time on the computer, but being untethered from the regular grind was really lovely.

angels tel aviv

We had temperate winter weather with light breezes and high clouds, perfect for being outdoors. Our first day, we took a self-guided tour of Neve Tzedek, a neighborhood in Tel Aviv. Although we did it non-competitively, we approximated the route of Israel ScaVentures‘ Neve Tzedek tour. (I had previously done the Jerusalem – Old City Scavenger Hunt, with many other bloggers, and the Gush Etzion ScaVenture with my kids and Lisa – and kids – from Handmade in Israel.) It was, predictably, fun and informative – they do experiential education right!

History footnote: Neve Tzedek was the first neighborhood of Tel Aviv. Previously it was some sand and a few orange trees that bordered both the Mediterranean and the overcrowded, dank, and expensive port city of Jaffa (Yafo). Some pioneers were tempted out of Jaffa with the promise of privies and better infrastructure. They came. Years later, the neighborhood fell into disrepair. Now it’s heavily gentrified and pricey as hell. A story repeated the world over.

What I got the biggest kick out of in Neve Tzedek was the graffiti. Hebrew, English, deep, nonsensical, funny. It was all covered.

artik zizi top

We also hit up the Rokach Museum, which is a ton of Tel Aviv history packed into a few rooms and very charming.

Our second day we hit the highway and headed south, where we got to catch the western Negev in full bloom. The kalanit (crown anemone) was in peak season. It was awesome. Lots of gawkers, even though it was midday on a weekday. Maybe other lucky vacationers like us?

kalanit 1kalanit 2

We also meandered over a hilltop in G’vaot Gad (the Gad hills), east of the city of Kiryat Gat, where we were treated to more flowers, a herd of cattle (who didn’t seem to like being disturbed), and a sighting of three mountain gazelles.

iris baby orchids purple flowers

So, a mini-tour of Israel in just 30 hours – big city, pastoral, history, nature. Topped off by a rainbow.


When can we go again?



Regrets – What’s Next?

This is a post about growing into marriage.

Don’t let the title put you off. The regrets are not about my marriage or my choice of a husband (I really got the brass ring, people), but that it took me so long to figure things out.

What things?

That with the RIGHT person in support of you, you are stronger. It’s more than simply your self-confidence is “doubled.” It’s a calculus that goes beyond plain math, where 1 + 1 adds up to more than 2. It’s a strong 2, a solid 2, an emboldened 2.

It’s TWO.

This took too long to occur to me, and I missed opportunities.

For example:

I didn’t apply to a graduate program in a different city because I couldn’t imagine my fresh marriage surviving with weekend visits for two years. (To be fair, Taxman’s refusal to consider a temporary relocation out of the tri-state area now looks to me like the kind of tantrum 8-year-old AM throws when you tell him he has to fold and put away a load of his laundry before he gets to use the computer. But at the time it was scary to me.)

So we were both adorable idiots.

It’s fine – life has twists and turns that I couldn’t have anticipated – nobody can. But it took a long time for us to have confidence in us. It sounds terrible to say, right? Of course you support your person from the very beginning! But support is more than words or actions. It has to go to the bedrock, it changes you. Marrying or formally committing to someone who you’ve known for only “x” amount of time is not enough – because the commitment sort of restarts the clock. Major changes can reshock the system – moving, kids, all of that.

It took me way too long to figure out that what I spoke about at our wedding was true – two dreams, two paths, are in fact a single one.

Emboldened together

So my regrets, really, are that I haven’t taken enough risks. I haven’t used my emboldened self to do enough. I need to figure out how I am going to apply my wings to something worthwhile and take it places. Because I have the strength to do it. I have my person.


Here I am, ignoring actual news, to bring you the Funny Things My Kids Do.

So. AM is a fan of pop music. We listen to the radio in the car constantly, and the stations we hear play a combination of the latest hits with songs from every decade I’ve been alive. Not all of them got a ton of radio play in their time, actually, because they were not necessarily top 40 hits. So I get to hear Erasure and Depeche Mode and the Cure and Peter Gabriel and Pink Floyd on the radio (since I no longer have the capacity to play cassette tapes), and proclaim that they are “classics.”

But then yesterday I messed up. I heard “Bulletproof,” by La Roux. It somehow took me back to an 8th grade dance party. “Listen to this,” I told my son. “You’ll like it. It’s a classic.” Except that it was released in 2009.

Today I admitted my mistake. “That’s not a classic!” he said, scornfully.

“I know,” I said. “I thought it was from the ’80s.”

“Can you find a song that’s really from the ’80s?”

So I searched on my phone and played him this. “It’s from 1985,” I told him.

“Are there songs from 1965?”


“What about from 1,000 years ago?”

“I am sure there are, but you can’t find them on YouTube.”

And that was the end of that.

photo credit: cassettes via photopin cc

photo credit: cassettes via photopin cc

Parenting: Am I on Punk’d?

School days! We’ve finally settled into a routine, after the classic start-and-stop of the first two months, the exhausting back-and-forth of the chagim, schedule changes, and extra-curricular dalliances.

Unfortunately, with the predictability of our days comes more predictability: bitching about all the things.

Homework, music practice, chores, grooming requirements.

And the answer from me is always yes. Yes, you have to do these things. Yes, you have to do your homework; yes, you have to practice violin; yes, you have to unload the dishwasher; yes, you have to take a shower.

And I have to ask: Why is there such insane pushback, if I am so incredibly predictable?

(No, you cannot — watch tv, play on the computer, go to a friend’s, ride your bike — before you do your homework.)

I wish I could say that I want to instill excellent, lifelong study habits, or that I think homework is important or something, but it’s simply good sense. As the light outside falters, we all get tired and cranky. I don’t want to supervise homework in the inky dusk any more than they want to do it at that hour.

Not what is being demanded. photo credit: Caramdir via photopin cc

Not what is being demanded.
photo credit: Caramdir via photopin cc

So can’t we manage to do it without the complaining? Can’t I get through an afternoon without 300 repetitions of “homework, violin” in my robot voice? It should go without saying that the homework isn’t terribly onerous – 5 or 10 or 15 minutes most nights, but only when they don’t speed through it in class. A batch of spelling sentences once a week. Big tests always come with review sheets and a week’s worth of review time. An occasional brief research project with a 2-3 paragraph write-up.* But really, you’d think they were being forced to channel their inner Einsteins and then hand-chisel their answers on marble – then haul them to school, natch.

Come on kids, can’t we just do the damn work already? Before Groundhog Day comes around again tomorrow?

* The hardest part about this is not plagiarizing from the internet. I could regale them with tales of research projects in the old days, where you had to GO TO THE LIBRARY and USE CARD CATALOGS and there was no Wikipedia, but rather Britannica.

Faux fall

Welcome to fall!

Except not really, because this is Israel.

We have faux fall. (Remember? No foliage, no weather changes, just birds.)

Nachlieli (White Wagtail). Photo by SuperJew.

Nachlieli (White Wagtail). Photo by SuperJew.

The desire to wear long sleeves and eat hot soup overtakes us, but we immediately regret it because it is still hot. Very hot, actually.

But: It’s getting dark a little earlier. There is a breeze in the evening. So we are lulled fooled.

I admit to falling prey to this myself. The Stockholm Syndrome of it all. On Friday evening, I realized I hadn’t been overly sweaty the entire day. Not once! So, sure, I had been to both the pool (in the morning) and the beach (in the afternoon) and had probably lowered my core body temperature, but still!

Next week, we’ll be eating apples & honey, popping pomegranate seeds like they’re going out of style, and toasting the new year. Maybe the kids will don long sleeves (at night) for the occasion, to feel like something is new, like leaves are being turned over physically as well as psychologically.

If not — there’s always November.

Shana tova!

We are coming up on our 5th anniversary of aliyah. August 5th.

There have been a few downs, but many more ups. We love our house, our community, our children’s school, our friends.

And we love our country. Israel is a place with history, both ancient and modern. It is a country of great natural beauty; nothing too flashy, usually modestly stunning with occasional great panache.

A peek at the sea from deep inside Tel Aviv.

A peek at the sea from deep inside Tel Aviv.

But as much as I have come to love Israel, living here and feeling at home, it was not until this month that I came to view it as an absolute necessity. For many years, people have told me that Israel is vital as a safe haven for Jews. I thought this was post-Holocaust “PTSD” or paranoia talking.

I was wrong.

First of all, my impulse ignored the fate of mizrachi Jews in Israel, whose original communities no longer exist: Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq, and others. Or the Jews who came from the USSR, who faced danger at “home” for their religion.

My attitude was very Western-centric. It was a mistake.

Secondly, the rise of anti-Semitic incidents since the beginning of Operation Protective Edge are very scary to me personally. I have family in Europe and America. I have vacationed in Europe; it is the “civilized” continent next door. America, for all its craziness, is the culture and country that raised me.

The Israel-Gaza protests are couched as “pro-Palestinian,” or “against Israeli violence,” but let’s face it: barricading Jews in synagogues (France), barring them from entrance to a cafe (Belgium), leaving anti-Semitic flyers on cars (Chicago), shouting “Death to the Jews” (Germany), or engaging in horrific hate-speech on social media is not the same as holding a sign outside the Israeli embassy. Flag-burning isn’t flag-waving. There have been riots and violence in London, Paris, Calgary. This isn’t about politics; it seems to be a massive tide of anti-Jewish sentiment, roiling and boiling and threatening the free world.

Perhaps I am exaggerating.

But I feel secure.

I live in Israel. The army and security forces are doing their very best to protect me. There are safe rooms in my house, in the shops, at the pool. The Iron Dome is plucking rockets out of the sky with good success rates. It feels normal, almost, except:

  • every siren, countrywide, is noted in real time
  • fun summer events and camp field trips are cancelled, even where it is “safe”
  • advertising for attractions is rejiggered to publicize bomb shelter proximity
  • every casualty is a blow

Let’s not forget that the enemy isn’t hypothetical – it is Hamas, and they want my head. They stole hundreds of millions of dollars and invested it in terror tunnels, currently IN USE, INFILTRATING INTO ISRAEL INTENDING TO KILL CIVILIANS. Lest you think this was just in the “planning” stages. (Even if it were….but it is NOT.)

My children, my friends, and my friends’ children are also targets. And the Jews outside of Israel. This isn’t alarmist. It is the truth. It’s in the Hamas charter. Israel is the immediate focus, but what then? Just like Hitler, who had grander plans then just to conquer Europe, Hamas would like to see us all dead. They are not fooling around, clearly, because they have threatened international journalists and sacrificed their own constituents.

More than ever, Jews need Israel.

Israel is facing an existential threat.

And Israelis know it; the public support for the IDF is through the roof. A grateful nation is buying clean socks (soldiers have not been back to base or back home for several weeks) and baking cookies; making sandwiches and sending toiletries; drawing thank you cards — which are, in turn, papering tanks and barracks along the Gaza border. Reading the list of injured soldiers out loud at synagogue on Shabbat, dozens and dozens of names, took several minutes – and there was not a whisper of protest.

We are searching for more ways to help. It’s becoming a civic responsibility to take care of people who live in the south of Israel, whose lives are under constant barrage from the rockets – buying whatever we can to support their businesses.

A friend arranged for flowers to be delivered from a small community near the Gaza border. The flower growing business has suffered as events in the south of Israel have been cancelled, but last week over 250 bouquets were sold in Modiin.

A friend arranged for flowers to be delivered from a small community near the Gaza border. The flower growing business has suffered as events in the south of Israel have been cancelled, but last week over 250 bouquets were sold in Modiin.

So all this, the groundswell of emotion and action from inside and outside of Israel, have turned me into a protective Zionist. Israel must be here, as flawed and raw and nation-young as it is, for safety’s sake.

I hope that Protective Edge is resolved soon, before more lives are lost. I hope that Hamas is dismantled. I hope that aid to the Palestinians of Gaza is used to house and feed them, not stolen from them to create terror tunnels. I hope that we can all find a way to live together. Hope, not hate.

But not like this. Not at the expense of Israel’s existence.


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