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It’s been a rainy winter in Israel. All that water is precious in this desert land, but the storms and mud have put a bit of a kibosh on some of my usual spring adventures.

Thankfully, I was presented with the perfect antidote. I was invited to participate in Israel ScaVentures’ Shuk Dash. It wasn’t my first time on a ScaVenture – I’ve participated as a blogger (in the Old City of Jerusalem and Yemin Moshe), but I’ve also taken my family with me (Old City, for Miss M’s bat mitzvah), Neve Tzedek, Gush Etzion, and Yafo.

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I came prepared to run. Matching socks were a bonus.

Israel ScaVentures has revamped its Shuk Dash to make it digital – you can either download an app or use their pre-loaded tablets. There’s a full slate of missions that are appropriate for a wide range of ages. I was part of a team of five (with Hadassah, who I had been teamed with on the very first Bloggers ScaVenture – back in 2012!).

We got a brief explanation of the Shuk Dash from Israel ScaVentures’ founder and director Tali, who gave a shout-out to tour guide and shuk expert nonpareil Joel Haber (Fun Joel). Joel’s shuk tours, which go deeper into the history of the area and include taste tests at many establishments in the market, would be an excellent companion venture.

The point of the Shuk Dash is to immerse us in the full sensory experience of the Machne Yehuda market, while having us interact with vendors and shoppers alike. We met Israeli natives, olim from various parts of the world, and visitors to Jerusalem.

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My team! (We won, btw.)

How does it compare to the other ScaVentures?

  • It’s self-contained. Though we did a lot of back and forth “dashing” to complete the missions, the Machne Yehuda shuk itself isn’t enormous.
  • It’s fairly weatherproof. Much of the shuk has a roof, so even a hot, cold, or rainy day wouldn’t deter you from the race!
  • It’s very interactive. Dashers constantly have to work as a team, but also request information from others to complete the missions. Extroverts on your team would be a definite bonus!
  • It was reminiscent of scavenger hunts that I loved as during camp field trips as a child – a quick rush of information, interspersed with fun missions and a dose of silliness.

As with any of the ScaVentures, it was thoughtfully crafted and brilliantly fun. The shuk is a great place to be! The Shuk Dash is a terrific way to see a lot of it – make some mental notes about where you’d like to eat your next meal (Lisa and Robin and I, who hadn’t seen each other in ages, hit Crave for lunch afterwards) – and get a sense of who and what is there to experience. I even picked up fruit on the way home like a responsible grownup.

Check out the full range of Israel ScaVentures, both in Jerusalem and around the country!

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Everyone needs a healthy obsession. Right? Not obsession, really, but it’s feels good to be a fan of something worthwhile. For some people it’s movies, or comics, or the Tour de France. Just a way to derive happiness from a good story, someone doing what you couldn’t do in your wildest dreams but seems completely awesome.

For me and about 70,000 other people, it’s watching the 2019 Iditarod. I’m American, and I was born after it started, so I’ve known about it in the vague sense of “this is a super-long race with dogs that happens in Alaska, ALSO DO YOU KNOW HOW COLD IT IS THERE?”

But, in the fall of 2018, I somehow stumbled upon the Twitter feed of Blair Braverman, a woman living in Wisconsin with a pack of adorable sled dogs that she races with. She’s a fantastic storyteller whose Twitter threads – including photos of the dogs – are instant classics that are usually some combination of informative, heartfelt, or hilarious. (She also writes for Outside magazine, among other outlets.)

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Not Blair’s actual team but an approximation of her view for a lot (a lot) of days.

I am a big fan of dog Twitter – it helps to find joy to equalize the wave of upsetting and unsettling things that the rest of Twitter brings. So I had already been following Matt (@dog_rates and @dog_feelings) and Gideon (@IvePetThatDog) when I found Blair.

With Blair comes her fan base. The #uglydogs. (There’s a story behind that.)

They’re artists, writers, teachers. Data nerds. A composer.

Some have a background in sled dog related things, but most don’t.

But Blair has managed to make us all care about what she’s doing, and the team she’s doing it with. The UglyDogs have turned their nervous energy to fundraising for underserved Alaska schools while Blair is out of touch. (No outside help or contact allowed as long as you’re in the race.)

I, in addition to being awed by the idea of days and days in the freezing wet with minimal support, am honestly kind of terrified for her. She of course had to prove her outdoorsy mettle before even being accepted to this race, BUT STILL. I can’t believe how hard this must be.

The winner of the Iditarod has already rolled in to the finish (mile 998) (I watched a live feed – 2019 isn’t all terrible – and tearing up for Pete Kaiser), and she’s been sheltering in a cabin at mile 681 for…a while.

There’s been bad weather. There been a lot of water on the trail where there should have been ice. She’s returned four dogs from her team, and there is very little intelligence as to why. The press isn’t that interested in people at the back of the pack (although due to her rabid following we probably know more than we would otherwise).

Really, though, whether or not she finishes her race at 681 or in Nome, it’s an incredible achievement. Not just on the course, but that she managed to bring together so many people to “watch” and care about people and places far away from them. It is one the best uses of social media I’ve seen, and I feel so privileged that I’m able to watch it unfold.

Follow Blair @BlairBraverman and her husband, Q, @QuinceMountain for incredible content. You won’t be sorry.

 

Blogging Bar Mitzvah

I’ve been a blogger now for 13 years.

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When I started this blog, this arm was jabbing me from the inside. Now it’s gone and grown up. (The arm. Not the blog.)  I mean, “grown up.” But still.

Even though I don’t keep it up as well as I should – the people about whom I used to blog a lot have their own lives, thoughts, feelings, experiences and can express them in multiple languages, up to and including emojis – having this outlet has been a great gift.

Reading the archives from my first month – January 2006 – I can see that while my life has changed SO MUCH, I don’t know that I have, per se. I’ve graduated to caring less what people think of me and my choices (though I will second guess them from here to next Tuesday); I hear that this is a side effect of turning 40, and I am maximizing it.

My kids continue to grow up. When I started to blog, I was pregnant with AM. Miss M was 18 months, communicating with a weird mashup of signing and speaking. Most things she did were adorable, except for poor sleeping. That’s never fun.

We didn’t have a clue that she was going to be brilliant, hyperlexic, and wind up both on the autism spectrum by age 10 and taller than me by age 14. With her we had the blessing of being able to ignore every piece of parenting advice we ever received – she’s her own person and parenting her has no manual.

Life with AM, the surprise baby, has unfolded in a more ordinary manner, though I keep wondering if he manifests more typical “first child” quirks that Miss M never did. It’s still a challenge to show up and do the right things for him, as there is shockingly no manual for him either. Not even one of those IKEA ones that’s just pictures of screws that all look the same! (Now I’d have to hold it at arms’ length with my glasses off, because did I mention middle age also comes with physical side effects?)

Honestly, I’ve considered shuttering this blog a few times. Nowadays, I spend more time consuming content than creating it – not necessarily a good thing, but it is what it is, for the moment. But then life takes an unexpected turn – aliyah in 2009, kidney donation in 2018 – and I’ve got my digital journal for the emotional spillage.

If you’ve been here for any length of time, thank you for reading. No snark! I really mean it. Virtual company is nice. Pull up a chair and have a hot drink; it’s January, after all.

The granola of my discontent

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Nutritious breakfast or bitter fruits of labor?

I’m going to quote me back to myself, from one of my long-running and excellent parenting groups on Facebook.

Parenting middle grade kids is basically endlessly wheedling them to display their competence even though it would be so much easier to do it (whatever “it” is) yourself.
(Unlike toddlers, where it’s easier to do it yourself because they are NOT competent.) ~ Sept. 15, 2018

(The real post contained profanity. Because it was borne of frustration.)

This tension occupies way too much of my life. I have worked really hard to start my kids on the road to independence. This means they can navigate from home to their grandparents’ house in another city via bus. They can launder their own clothes. They can do dishes, clean bathrooms, sweep floors, take out the trash. They can order at the cheese counter and at the butcher. They can handle themselves at the dentist!

But the gap between checking the box of competence in theory and in reality, every day or every week, is enormous. Let me translate: If you’re wondering how many times my children will pass through the kitchen, where the clean dishes are perched on their racks in the dishwasher-that’s-ajar, and not empty it, the answer is infinity. Which is coincidentally the number of times they will move a pile of clean clothes from the couch to the love seat and back again, rather than a) folding it and/or b) putting it away.

I mean, come on, they already used up their energy fighting over who could use the computer at 6:25am, and I wish I were kidding about that. (The answer is: Nobody – nobody – should be on the computer, playing worm.io or watching Miraculous Ladybug, at this hour or really any hour if you haven’t even cleared your dishes or brushed your teeth or are risking being late for your transportation to school. If you know my super-cool tween internet references, well, here’s a fist-bump – and I am so sorry. *bump*)

It takes a lot of energy to run a house, and I frankly don’t have the right kind, or enough, or whatever. I am not neat, organized, thrifty, motivated, or any other adjective that would indicate that I am enjoying this part of adulthood. The endless cooking, cleaning, straightening, organizing, and harping at other people to just do what I asked, Jesus, it’s not that hard.* Be careful, you might trip over my standards. Thankfully, I am way past thinking that this makes some sort of statement about my parenting. Nobody would accuse children of being poor excuses for kids because they can’t manage to keep their clothes off the floor, or turn the lights off when they leave a room.

A flashpoint in this whole schematic is, and I am not being dramatic, granola.

Years ago, I came down with an edict that We Don’t Eat Cereal Every Day. It’s expensive (here) and a fair bit of sugar for the beginning of the day (Cheerios have given way to a combination of Cheerios + sugary Cheerios +  Honey Bunches of Oats). Alternative days involved yogurts and cottage cheese or leftover pancakes or fruit or “no, it’s not a cereal day so have something else.” A while ago I started making granola as an alternative. It’s expensive to put together (nuts, peanut butter, maple syrup), but makes a lot of servings. It’s sweet and carby but also protein and whole grains, so please let me have my fantasy  of Good Mothering, ok?

It also creates a lot of sticky dishes, and I have panic attacks when the kids leave soggy leftovers because WASTEFUL and also the dishwasher will never clean that properly unless you RINSE?

I have taught my children how to make this granola; they know where the recipe is. It’s not hard. But somehow they’re never motivated to make it, just to ask me to make it, and to ask me at 6:15 in the morning (currently, this time is before sunrise) why I didn’t make it last night after they went to bed?

NB: Children ages 12 and 14 never go to bed. Actually, that’s not quite true; the 12-year-old will go to bed an hour Before Never, but he is not happy about it, you know?

Yes, they have long school days. Yes, they have to travel to school. But they also have enough hours to sit and be served before I beg them to lend me a hand for 30 seconds or five minutes. I am almost sure this is normal, but wow, is this going to drive me over the edge.

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Put on your seatbelt and stop touching your sibling.

Then my husband eats bowls of this granola for snack. After dinner. And cannot understand my fury. I feel petty and small, yet unmoved. It is the granola of my discontent.

With apologies to David Lebovitz, who is innocent in all of this. You too, can bring this contentious recipe into your life! Here.

* True story: Just today, I asked my daughter to do about six minutes worth of dishes while I was at the pool. “Sure,” she said, staring intently at her phone.
“Are you going to manage to do them before I get back from the pool?”
“I don’t know.” **
Which, I mean, points for honesty.

** She did not. But did them when I asked her to, again, upon my return from the pool. “Did you make granola?” she inquired, inspecting the many bowls in the sink.
“Yes, I did.”
“Oh, good.”
“It is for breakfast.”

Two bits later

Two bits is a quarter, get it? A quarter of a year? Three months?

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Anyway!

The kidney formerly known as my left kidney has been in its current location now for three months. It feels like a long time ago, to be honest.

Despite feeling that my recovery was too slow, it really wasn’t; in the grand scheme of things, six to eight weeks is…not that much.

The only place I don’t feel normal is in Pilates class, which is two (or three) hours out of 168 per week. So…not bad. I’ve definitely been knocked down a peg there, which is a little bit of an emotional struggle for me – to have to “lose” some of what I had earned over 3 1/2 years. I know it’s only three months, but I feel so “regular” elsewhere in my life. Even there, compared to six weeks ago – when I started back with a couple of private lessons – it’s incredible that I can do any of these things again just from showing up and doing the work and pushing a little further each time. But certain exercises make me feel like my incisions are lighting up – not in a bad way, just sort of like a car warning light. Just direct your attention to your abs and don’t do anything dumb.

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What I can’t get over are the “you’re a hero” conversations, which thankfully are decreasing as I’ve been out and about in the world. These are kind of no-win, because:

a) I am not, in my estimation
b) this often leads to other awkward revelations, like when people say they could never do that…what do I say here? Either you have a legit reason (you’re not healthy enough, you can’t afford the time off of work/life) or you don’t (I am really not one to judge though; it is a lot for most people to wrap their heads around)
c) this leads questions about the recipient, who is doing just ok – it’s not a miracle for him, but one part of a very complex treatment puzzle that is still being worked out

My kidney clinic follow-up in is two weeks. I did labs for it today, and I am kind of afraid to check them. I feel fine; I don’t have incision problems or extreme fatigue or pain, so part of me would like to remain ignorant of my blood panel and kidney function. But that’s not how it goes now.

I don’t have any words of wisdom, other than I still think more people should do this. The waiting lists are too long; people are suffering and dying while waiting; donors don’t have to be exceptional or in perfect condition to do it.

I was recently tipped off to a podcast about a kidney donation, and I identified so much with the donor. Unlike her, it wasn’t on a “bucket list” for me (I don’t have one), but just the idea that you have the capability to help and you do it with temporary mild-moderate inconvenience and think more people should. Listen here (it’s three parts, plus a follow-up). Someone in my Facebook group for living kidney donors said she signed up after hearing this podcast, so if anyone has been inspired by my blathering, I would really love to know – you’d make my quarter.

 

Danger Zone

I am doing a lot better than I was three weeks ago.

But I’m still not 100%.

Exhaustion creeps in from time to time. In particular when I forget that I recently had surgery. Sometimes, I’ll get a quick flash of pain along one my scars. It’s all very Harry Potter except I can’t speak to snakes (sad about that) and don’t have a blond kid trying to take me out on a broomstick (not sad about that).

What I am is in, as I put it, the danger zone.

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There have been my own little baby milestones to feeling better. Being able to sleep on my usual side in bed – this was a huge one for me, since at around three weeks after the surgery I lost the ability to sleep on my back. (Also: Being able to roll over in bed without feeling like my insides were rearranging.) Being able to put together an entire Shabbat meal without feeling like I needed to take a nap in the middle. Being able to host people again. Going swimming without negative consequences. Having a personalized Pilates lesson to assess what I could do.

I feel well enough to behave absolutely normally, but if I do that I am probably going to be sorry.

I feel well enough, in theory, to lift that 5 liter bottle of laundry detergent at the grocery store, until I actually do it and realize that it was a mistake. For the record, my children were with me at the store, but they were in line while I had gone to chase down another item.

I feel well enough to swim, but then after 500m I realize I’m on my pre-surgery pace and have dull pains for hours afterwards. Oops. (I started out really slowly, at only 25% of my normal distance. But then I went swimming almost every day for a week, and then this happened.)

So the difference between 90%/95% and 100% is more than I might have thought. Clearly I need more supervision. Or just maybe more couch time and potentially a return to the concept of naps. Luckily, school is starting and at the very least I will spend less time and energy shouting. (That returned much sooner than anything else. One does what one has to!)

7 weeks and 2 days. Still creeping back. I’ve got this.

 

 

Humble Pie

Recovering from surgery has been more difficult than I anticipated.

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You can’t always get what you want

Mostly because of unrealistic expectations and mismatched comparisons. The biggest rabbit hole I fell down was that kidney donation recovery would be similar to a normal (low transverse) C-section recovery. I mean, yes, in that you have abdominal surgery and the attendant issues with things like getting out of bed and pain in similar places, but no – the residual gas pains, bloating, full-torso discomfort and extraordinary fatigue have been only with this surgery. So for maybe 7-10 days, while I was on the good meds, the aftermath felt similar, but then things wildly diverged.

A baby to tend to, while exhausting, is also a great distraction. While at home, now, the days have been long and relatively quiet – although getting my kids off screens and doing chores always causes some noise – so 2 weeks felt longer than 2 weeks, and 3 weeks felt longer than 3 weeks.

“Why am I not better?” I would demand of my husband every other night.

“Why are you not understanding this?” he would counter.

But apparently, the standard 6 to 8 week recovery is really A Thing – because the first couple of them seem to be dealing with just the leftover surgical process (helium inside you! fluids! manhandling of your insides!). Then your organs resettle, your skin knits back together. It’s a little gross unless you’re a medical professional, to be honest.

I was, I don’t know, arrogant? Unrealistic? I thought that being in good shape – I try to exercise five times a week – would somehow help me bounce back faster. But it turns out that surgical trauma doesn’t really take stock of how you were BEFORE, just whoa those are some holes in your body (inside and out), so let’s rearrange everything and see how it goes.

Now, I also feel like I am getting conflicting instructions – namely REST REST REST constantly and also WALK AROUND TO GET BETTER. These two things can’t really be achieved at the same time.

I can drive again, which means that I can errand. The mall is air-conditioned, so I will try to maybe come up with an errand per day in order to tool around for 15 minutes in a cool space. Then come back and sit in my rocking chair. Balance. Or something.

A friend who has said she wants to donate a kidney in the future has already told me not to talk about the pain, thinking I will scare people off. But I don’t want to blow smoke.

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This doesn’t help anyone

I don’t want people to think they’ll feel better in three weeks when it takes double or triple that. People should readily accept meals and chores and help and favors for at least a month, instead of thinking that two weeks will be enough. (I thought I wouldn’t need a third shabbat catered by friends and acquaintences. I didn’t, exactly, but not because I cooked – rather I spent Friday night in the ER, making sure I didn’t have a pulmonary embolism, while my kids unexpectedly were fed and housed by friends. But now we have uneaten Shabbat food for days!)

The important thing is, my regrets are along the lines of “I should have been more realistic in my plans” or “I am sorry my kids are having a boring summer with a mom who can’t really do things.” But I don’t regret donating. Not for one second.