Archive for the ‘Unsolicited advice’ Category

It’s been a long time since I offered unsolicited advice, but now I have some!

My children, once upon a time. Back in their amateur days.

My children, once upon a time. Back in their amateur days.


(And it does not involve body parts or baby equipment, so that’s different.)

About six months ago Taxman turned 40. Because I suspect that my mom’s love language is gifts, the specter of WHAT TO GET HIM loomed large. I finally suggested that my parents get him the gift of a family photo shoot.

This is something we’ve been intending to do for a long time – the last “professional” photo shoot (and by professional I mean either Sears, Target, or JCPenney) was in 2008 and did not even include the adults in the family (it was our kids and their cousins). To see a studio snap that contains me and Taxman, you have to climb into the time machine and set it for 2005.

NB: In 2005 we had half the number of children we do now.

So my parents sent us a nice little check, and I crowd sourced on Facebook (OF COURSE) for a photographer recommendation. I settled on a woman who lives in the same city, takes pictures in a forest clearing, has a terrific website, and seemed to be able to capture that sort of relaxed vibe we were going for.

Then I planned outfits, planned haircuts, and planned makeup. People probably thought I was going a little overboard. But goodness gracious, this photo shoot was YEARS in the making. The next time I figure we will all be together with a professional behind the camera will be in 2016. For Miss M’s bat mitzvah. When perhaps we will be a bit stressed. So I wanted to PLAN in order to be RELAXED.

And so it was. It was a slightly overcast day. The forest was in bloom. I wore makeup.

The pictures are so, so beautiful. All I have to do is look at them and I am filled with such love and happiness. Even if we have an awful day, there are these photos. They are filled with light. Not actual light but LIGHT. The lightness of this one afternoon when we had nowhere to be and nothing to do but be together. They are a treasure.

So if you have the chance to have family pictures taken, my unsolicited advice is: do it.

My big kids. Gone semi-pro at it.

My big kids. Gone semi-pro at it.


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A cheesy reminder

So there are many of you out there in internet land who are amazing, kind people. And I want to be the person to remind you just keep on keeping on. You don’t have to do anything special; rather, continue to lend an ear, send an email, initiate a 5 minute phone call, make change for a dollar, whatever it is that you do almost without thinking about it.

A mostly online friend who I made EONS ago (comparatively – 2004?ish) reminded me yesterday that I had helped her in the first few frantic postpartum weeks, as her unexpected early delivery and NICU time had apparently rendered her unable to use the Internet to figure out how to pump and then how to transition to regular breastfeeding.

I didn’t remember a thing. I could probably check my email from back then (see? never trash anything!); I probably directed her to LLL and Kellymom and said encouraging things. This was more than 7 years ago, when our second graders (?!) were newborns.

This reminded me that I had my own “knock-down, get up again” experiences where people helped me, and it was “small” for them, but at the time was everything for me. The friend who slept over in my hospital room after I gave birth to Miss M and helped me latch her on every 2 hours. The friend who washed a load of our clothes after we made aliyah and didn’t have our own machine. Do these people remember? Probably not, or only vaguely. I mean, one night — nine and a half years ago! One load of clothes — in 2009! Easy!

But these things were precisely, 100% what I needed at that moment to bring me back from the ledge, to help me over the hurdle, to move me to my next challenge.

We all have the potential to be the helping hand, just by being ourselves, by extending approximately half an inch. Give the ride, loan the pen, make the introduction. Keep being incredible.

Shabbat shalom!

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Earth Hour

So did we participate in Earth Hour last night, where we were supposed to sit in the dark and commune with the environment?

No. Frankly, not using lights or electronic devices between 8 and 9 in the evening would mean that I can’t serve dinner (the adult version), or can’t get my kids to bed properly, or can’t work , or can’t catch up on the housework I’ve been pushing off all day.

So, no, we didn’t do it.

Instead, I thought about all the ways we’ve improved our treatment of the Earth in the past year. Greened up, as it were.

  • Most of the lights in our new house are CFLs or LEDs. The few remaining halogens we hardly use; if we decided that we wanted to use them more we’d buy LED bulbs. In addition to using less energy (yay!), there’s been a positive impact on our electric bill.
  • We installed ceiling fans. This didn’t happen until the summer was over last year, but I expect it is going to cut way down on our A/C use. We all sleep really hot, but the fans make everything comfortable.
  • We separate our trash into wet and dry, the “wet” part going to compost, or…not sure. This is at the behest of the city, but over time this should have a cumulative effect. We don’t see the impact directly, but we’re happy to do it.
  • We bought real dairy dishes for Passover. Still used disposable for meat meals, but on the whole we eat more dairy–but we had far less trash than previous years.
  • We started using an eco-dishwasher, which means that every load is washed with only 6.5 liters of water. We try really hard to only run it full. Full-ish.
  • I bought these adorable re-usable sandwich and snack bags. Which have yet to be lost, poo-poo-poo. So much less plastic and tin foil in the trash.

Overall, I think we’re coming out ahead of switching off the lights for an hour every year, yes?

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My lovely husband, Taxman, has a certain style I’ve come to know over the years.

He will never:

  • Get contact lenses
  • Wear jewelry besides a watch and a wedding ring (the ring was a whole discussion, back in ’99)
  • Like to wear vests (he feels claustrophobic)
  • Give up wearing a black suede kipa, despite the fact that he might be “miscategorized” here in Israel.

Certain stylistic elements have evolved over the years, like glasses frames and preferring solid-color shirts. I’ll admit to having some sway in these areas, but it was all for the good.

When we moved to Israel, he retired 2/3 (i.e., 2-of-3) of his suits. We were operating under the principle that Israel is a far more casual place…at least for the circles that we were going to be running in. His business casual wardrobe (dockers and polos, with Oxford shirts thrown in for variety) would be perfect for work, with white shirts and dressier pants for Shabbat.

Then came the new job. Which we are all happy about, to be sure, but it comes with new responsibilities, more client contact, and different office ethos.

“I have to wear a suit every day,” he explained to me. “Or at least slacks and a blazer. They were really specific about that.”

Of course, we had no idea where to BUY these things. I just figured out where to buy the kids’ clothes, and they grow every four to six months. Very few guys we know have to sport that kind of wardrobe. Furthermore, many of the guys we know travel back to the United States often enough (1-2 times a year) that they buy most of their clothes there. But clearly a trip to Macy’s was not going to come to pass in the three days that he had between his old job and his new job.

The single chain store that was recommended to us was not in the local mall, so we literally stumbled into a place that looked promising. Taxman examined a pair of pants, and wished aloud for pleats. (Because he likes pleats in his pants.) He asked the sales guy for pleated pants, using some sort of pantomime, because–shockingly–these words do not come up in the world of tax (Israeli or otherwise).

The store’s proprietor smiled broadly and said, “!רק באמריקה” (Only in America!) That’s right, not a single pair of pleated pants to be found in the entire store or, potentially, the country or even continent. Apparently the desire for pleats is a quaint American quirk that he doesn’t understand, because it breaks up the line of the pants. Uh, ok. Anyway, here is my desperately important Aliyah ProTip: Bring pleated pants. Especially if you’re going to be in United States infrequently.

Thankfully, it only took Taxman 15 seconds to get over this setback and fall into line with European/Middle Eastern fashion trends. He stocked up on suits, dress pants, dress shirts, and ties. The shirts and ties were a whole other kettle of fish because WOW WERE THEY VERY VERY LOUD. Many of them. We managed to winnow out the terrible ones and find solid color shirts and reasonable ties. We can face any challenge!

And…he’s doing it. Shmancy clothes every day. He likes it–says it makes him feel more professional. Which isn’t to say he doesn’t change into play clothes about 45 seconds after walking in the door. Now on to the next challenge…finding a cheaper dry cleaner. Because the only thing funnier than Taxman ironing shirts is me ironing shirts.

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I am submitting this post to be part of PhD in Parenting’s Carnival of Toddlers.

On the morning of AM’s second birthday, he woke up next to me and asked to nurse. Taxman, Miss M, and I sang “Happy Birthday” and gave him a wrapped gift. “Book,” he said, as he tore off the paper.

“What do you think it’s about?” I asked him.

He inspected the cover slowly. “Dog!” he said excitedly.

“That’s right, a doggie,” I told him.

Except that’s not exactly how it happened. He had a speech delay and, at age two, he could not pronounce any consonants. But we had conversations—he even made funny comments—because he used sign language. Asking to nurse and talking about books and dogs was all in sign language.

We had started signing with Miss M, because we thought it was cool. She accumulated a vocabulary of over 150 words before her speech caught up with her hands. Fears that it would delay her spoken vocabulary were completely and utterly unfounded. But for a full year, from about 10 months to 22 months, it was an amazing window into her universe.

(We used the Signing Time series of videos. I used to think that using real ASL was important, but in retrospect it’s such as short time of their lives that “baby signs” or something invented serves just as well. On the other hand, ASL will save any embarrassment–made up signs have been known to indicate something vulgar or unintended.)

I loved signing with my kids because I felt like I was doing something totally right.

When I had so many other first-time-parenting doubts, signing was the knot at the end of my rope. I knew exactly what my child wanted! Even if I couldn’t, or didn’t, give it to her, I didn’t have to guess as much. I could offer her choices, as limited as they were: eat an apple or banana; take a bath now or read a book now; put on shoes first or coat first. What toddler doesn’t want a modicum of control over her life? What person doesn’t?

Of course there was a lot of disagreement. She was a toddler. But it’s easier to play the game when you know the rules, so to speak.

Besides giving her choices and giving voice to her opinions, signing offered us the chance to talk about what she wanted to talk about, what made her excited and what she saw. Flowers and birds at the botanical gardens; monkeys at the zoo. The moon in the sky—during the day!

AM took longer to sign back to us. For a while he did a lot of pointing with his index finger—I called it The Index Finger of Doom, because woe unto you if you guessed incorrectly about where it was aimed. Thankfully he picked up signing too. It was our lifeline. It may have contributed to his disqualification from Early Intervention, but I wasn’t sorry we had a way to talk to each other. (We found our own way to speech therapy. He had his opinions about that too.)

Over 200 signs later, he began to really use words. Now we have conversations about the difference between nocturnal and crepuscular* animals, and I kind of miss him looking out the window of our building lobby and telling me if he was seeing buses or cars.

I wish there were a magic bullet to help me overcome my children’s slights toward each other, their hot tempers and eye-rollingly self-aggrandizing statements. But I’ll keep them as they are. Having a toddler was hard! I just miss that parenting confidence that came with nursing and signing, when, at the end of the day, I was so sure that I was doing something right. Though it was unconventional among my neighborhood peers–more common, I discovered, among Ask Moxie moms–signing was something kick-ass, really good for my kids, and a true help.

*Ha! Not my fault! E.B. White, The Trumpet of the Swan

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Depends on where you are…Happy Thanksgiving! Happy Thursday-End-of-Work-Week! or…both!

I’ve missed those posts that get a lot of comments because I miss your words and your wit. So I’ve decided to solicit it. Not in a bad way.

I would love for people to share something that they’ve learned during their time on Earth. It can be funny or sad or wise, about relationships, parenting, baking, whatever.

[Ed. note: If anyone has a recipe for peanut butter cookies that are more like puffy, traditional cookies and less like big crumbly messes, you get extra bonus points.]

I’ll start.

I had a “flashbulb” moment about parenting recently, when I realized that dealing with older kids is just a more complex parsing of “needs” versus “wants.” In La Leche, we talked a lot about babies’ needs versus wants–when they are little, their needs and wants are the same: to be held, fed, dry, warm, secure. Easy. (“Easy.”)

As they grow, their needs and wants diverge. Needs have to be attended to pretty immediately for babies and toddlers, less so for older kids. Their wants sometimes get fulfilled, sometimes don’t, and often have to take a backseat to someone else’s needs.

Example: “Ema! I need a cup of water!”

Chances are, unless this child has been fasting on Yom Kippur, this is a want masquerading as a need. It’s a relatively important want, so it will be attended to…soonish. Because if I need to go to the bathroom, that’s happening first. Eventually, you will be able to delegate the want-fulfillment to someone else, even perhaps that child. Stepstools by the sink are great for this.

Once your child starts spending big chunks of time away from you, it gets increasingly difficult to determine where the need/want bifurcation happens. You have to be a good sleuth. Or, you know, make a complete fool out of yourself in front of your child’s teacher.

For example:

“Ema, I need a white shirt for the tekes (school assembly) on Sunday!”

True. This is an actual requirement.

“Ema, I need a white skirt for the tekes on Sunday!”


“Ema, I want a white skirt for the tekes on Sunday!”

After talking to the teacher, the truth emerges. Sadly, my need to not die a thousand deaths thinking of her in a white skirt trumps her wanting one. Not enough Shout! in the world.

I’m not sure where I am going with this, just that it exists and is something I should keep in my back pocket as I am dealing with the usual crazies around here.

Bonus share for the ladies:

The expensive bras are worth it. Trust me on this. The $100 bra from France, potentially handcrafted by little elves, will fit and flatter you in ways that the $15 Target bra and the $32 Maidenform won’t.

Even if you can’t necessarily afford to stock your wardrobe with a full range of expensive lingerie, you deserve one professionally fitted, knockout bra. Because there will always be a first date, a night on the town, a job interview, a special occasion–something!–where you will want to feel and look your absolute best. It inspires confidence. Really.

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Yom Kippur can be a tough day.

The prayers are especially intense. There is a lot of standing. There is a lot of repetition. There is little singing. It can be hard to get in the mood.

It is physically uncomfortable and mentally exhausting.

Fasting without water or food.

It can be rough to be in that state and also be pregnant, nursing, or looking after little kids, who–depending on their ages–either are not fasting or can’t even grip the concept of it because they are, let’s face it, inwardly focused.

It can be rough even without being pregnant, nursing, or looking after little kids.

It’s hard.

Not everything in the Torah is easy. Some of it is physically hard. Some of it doesn’t make sense. Some of it is open to interpretation.

But Yom Kippur is so…plainly stated. But the physical toughness of it is just kind of a happenstance, because the Hebrew is “you shall afflict your souls.” Via physical means, but it is people’s souls that are getting a second chance.

Imagine: The year has just begun, ten days previous, and you are already getting a second chance.

A synagogue we attended for several years is led by a great man. He is everything a rabbi should be: brilliant, thoughtful, kind, well-spoken and well-respected as a teacher and thinker. On Yom Kippur, as he prayed on behalf of the congregation, he would always struggle to keep his composure. Unsuccessfully. He cried. I have to imagine because not only was he thinking of himself, and his loved ones, but also his congregants and his students. He kept people’s secrets and shared their burdens. He knew who was sick, who was dying, who was struggling to have children, who was financially drowning, who was grieving. His soul was afflicted.

So, when I see an article about how it’s too hard to fast with little kids and I get cranky and I don’t want to be that way (and my husband doesn’t like it when I’m a raging bitch either) and oh, whatever, I’ll just eat instead, I get livid.

Because: fasting on Yom Kippur is kind of a privilege.

It means you are well. Even if it makes you a little ill by the end of the day, if it makes you queasy, cranky, gives you a migraine, or gives you the shakes, even if it means you should take to your bed in the air conditioning and let your spouse take care of the children (link in Hebrew to our rabbi’s opinion about this) instead of going to synagogue, it means you are, overall, a healthy human being.

If you should be eating and drinking on Yom Kippur, however, perhaps you have a chronic, serious illness, like insulin-dependent diabetes. Perhaps you are on medications that cannot be skipped because it will put you in grave danger. Perhaps you are so weak that you can’t possibly skip a whole day’s worth of calories. Perhaps your pregnancy is so tenuous or dangerous that you can’t afford to risk even the slightest amount of dehydration.

As an observant Jew, being told by a doctor or a rabbi that I had to eat or drink normally on Yom Kippur would make me a) really frightened or b) really sad or c) both.

If you are healthy but in danger of being incapacitated, you can drink or eat in very tiny amounts at intervals of 9 minutes, and it is not considered “breaking” your fast. I did it in 2003, when I was like two seconds pregnant. (Same rabbi mentioned above, who guided us through fertility treatments, advised me to do so. He was literally the first non-medical person to know we were pregnant.) It is a project to keep up with this kind of leniency. Which isn’t to say that you shouldn’t if you need to, but it’s not like a good time with pretzels and beer or anything.

Yom Kippur is partially about mental toughness too. I always say that I only wake up thirsty on fast days. (Not entirely true, but true enough.) I usually spend a lot of the evening in the bathroom…getting rid of the liquid I took in all day and worry about what I am going to feel like 18 hours later. But, you know, I do it, the fasting. I did it even before I was “Orthodox.” It’s something a lot of Jews do.

The good news is that Yom Kippur’s arrival not a surprise. Everyone knows exactly when it is. So plan for it. Rather than wring your hands in advance and say, oh, I just don’t think I can, wean yourself off caffeine, load yourself up with complex carbs and Powerade, plan your kids’ meals in advance, pump bottles, or leave snacks in their reach so they’re not pestering you all day. Hire a babysitter. Feel thankful. It is ok if you’re not a perfect parent for just one day.

Of course, being two days before Yom Kippur, I should probably be less judgmental. But, you know, just airing the brain here.

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