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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

We were slaves...

Today marks a dark day in most Israeli school kids' calendars:  It is the first day of Passover 'vacation'.

I can already hear the readers outside of Israel asking, "Passover vacation?  How can they be off already... Passover isn't until the middle of next week!  And why is it a 'dark day'... the first day of vacation is great, no?  What gives?"

Here's the deal.  As far as most Israeli families are concerned, the only reason the kids are off so far in advance of the holiday is so they can help their mothers... er, I mean parents...clean the house for Passover.  Of course, I can't say what's going on at anyone else's house today, but I promise you that as you read this, my kids are wishing they were still in school.

Everything (and I do mean everything!) is being taken out of their closets and drawers... clothes that no longer fit, or which are no longer wanted, are being put in bags for donation (or to be handed down)... and every square inch of their rooms is being dusted, vacuumed and scrubbed.  Windows are being washed and polished, and screens are being vacuumed.

And that's just the start.  When they finish their rooms, the guest room, bathrooms, and all the other rooms in the house will get the same treatment. 

Even the meals between now and Passover will be a reminder of their servitude.  You see, Zahava has stopped shopping.  That means pretty much all the meals for the next week or so will be prepared using whatever we have in the freezer, refrigerator and pantry.  Take my word for it; this makes for some 'interesting' menu combinations. By next Monday we'll be having pickle & sardine sandwiches served with canned olives and a side order of Basmati rice.  Dessert will be some sort of breakfast bar or fruit salad.

Obviously this business of turning over the entire house is as much about spring cleaning as it is about Passover (maybe more so).  But whatever the reason, Israeli children mark today as the beginning of their enslavement... and they know as sure as the Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years, only the arrival of the holiday commemorating our release from Egyptian bondage will truly set them free to enjoy their vacation.

Posted by David Bogner on March 31, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (18) | TrackBack

Monday, March 30, 2009

A wasted chorus of Kumbaya

I have to say, reading through yesterday's comments I was impressed by the incredible unity of opinion.  I mean seriously... in the history of the Jewish people there has probably never been another instance of so many Jews being of exactly one mind on any subject.

So I get the point... you all think I should switch to WordPress.

I hate to rain on anyone's folk festival, but here's my list of problems with that suggestion:

1.  WordPress doesn't allow advertising.  Now, I'm not supporting my family with this site like some of the mega-bloggers.  But the advertising I get does bring in enough cash that I can make regular donations to a few important causes close to my heart (mostly related to making the lives of IDF soldiers a tiny bit more comfortable) without having to constantly beg you all for money.  This is a a big deal... and a deal breaker as far as WordPress is concerned.

2.  Somebody already grabbed the treppenwitz user name over at WordPress.  They aren't using the name (and haven't been for several years), but WordPress has a policy of not allowing the recycling of user names, even after they have been relinquished.  The best they could suggest is that I contact the person who registered the user name and ask them to transfer it to me.  But since they won't reveal who the person is, and the page holder (www.treppenwitz.wordpress.com) doesn't have a way to leave comments or send emails to the siteowner, that is a non-starter.

3.  While WordPress may be easy to use, it is not designed for extensive customization.  They don't allow the importation of themes and their format options are dramatically limited.  I haven't changed my basic layout in almost six years so I'm not looking for the ability to reinvent the wheel every two weeks.  But I would like the ability to make the look and feel of the WordPress incarnation of treppenwitz aesthetically similar to that of its Typepad incarnation.

4.  If I migrate treppenwitz to a new platform I want live customer service... not this 'submit a help ticket and we might get back to you with an unhelpful, canned response sometime this week' crap.  I want real, live breathing people at the other end of the phone when my site goes down... and I certainly wouldn't attempt to move the whole thing to a new platform without someone on the other side helping me with the transition.  I already know that to try it on my own would result in at least a week of my site being 404. 

So I hate to rain on such a sunny, 'we are the world', kumbaya moment where all the stars aligned and everyone miraculously seemed to finally agree on something.  But that solution just doesn't work for me.

Posted by David Bogner on March 30, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Sorry for the inconvenience

I apologize for the fact that (hopefully) for the short term you will have to fill in one of those 'CAPTCHA' fields with nonsense collections of letters and numbers in order to submit a comment.  This is the only way to make sure I don't have to delete dozens of spam messages a day... something I've started having to do again recently.

I wrote to the folks at Typepad to complain about the small flood of spam comments I've been getting, and this was their unhelpful [canned] response:

Thanks for the note.   As you noticed, we changed the spam filtering
recently.  While this means a bit more spam is getting through right
now, over the long term, this will help to better train our filters to
identify spam from legitimate comments.   We do apologize for the
inconvenience.

Lets parse that, shall we?

"Thanks for the note." 

Translation: This is an automated response.  No actual human being will ever see your request for help. 

"As you noticed, we changed the spam filtering recently." 

Translation:  We lowered the shields on 'Starship Typepad' for reasons that only make sense to us. So now that we are getting flooded with complaints like yours, we've written this handy automatic response so we don't have to talk to you. 

"While this means a bit more spam is getting through right now, over the long term, this will help to better train our filters to identify spam from legitimate comments."  

Translation:  While this means you will be totally exposed to every spambot on the planet for the next few months, it is a lot cheaper to let you train our spam filters with your all-night comment deleting sessions than for us to go out and buy any of the perfectly good anti-spam algorithms currently available on the market. Suck it up and stop your whining.

So again, I apologize for the inconvenience that you will have to take an extra few seconds to fill in the CAPTCHA field in order to leave a comment.  I'm hoping that this is a temporary measure, and that my blog host will eventually get its head out of its nether regions and actually discover the meaning of customer service.

[Needless to say, if you are able to leave a comment without filling in a CAPTCHA field, let me know.  thanks]

Posted by David Bogner on March 29, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (13) | TrackBack

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Sweet Good-Bye

Almost six years ago when I first started commuting from Gush Etzion to Beer Sheva, I also started a sort of volunteer taxi service.  By this I mean that most mornings I ended up filling my empty seats with soldiers and students who needed to make the trip south (or back).

I've never regretted the extra wear & tear on the car these extra passengers have caused because I've been privileged to meet some truly special people over the years.  And besides, I feel good at having been able to make regular deposits into the 'karma bank' for when my kids find themselves in need of a ride.

One of the first people who rode with me on a semi-regular basis all those years ago was a pretty blonde high school student who, at the time, was just about the same age as my daughter is today; 15.  She lived in the Gush but was going to high school in a distant Negev community.

This young woman stuck in my memory among the many other passengers because, a) she was very young to be traveling alone to a distant town every day for school; and b) she often made the trip with a small cage containing a little green parakeet.

Over the months and years I began to find out bits and pieces of this girl's 'story'... sometimes from other passengers who knew her, and sometimes directly from her own, constantly smiling mouth. 

I mention her smile deliberately here because at first I suspected there might be something 'not right' with her.  I mean, nobody smiles all the time... and certainly not early in the morning.  But morning or evening, rain or shine, she was always smiling.  Even a year or so on when she told me her bird had flown away, she had a smile on her face... albeit a sad one.

Another note about her appearance before we move on with our story:  She always dressed in loose-fitting shirts and long, baggy skirts.  Yes, she is religious, but the first impression she gave with her attire was that she was a bit heavy.  But after getting to know her, and a bit about her family, I realized that she was simply the youngest of several girls, and being entirely uninterested in fashion, she just picked up whatever hand-me-down clothes her sisters had discarded. 

Oh... one more thing; she always wore sandals.  I can recall picking her up in the snow one time.  Her feet were blue.  Purple, actually. Rather than drop her off at the bus stop nearest to her kibbutz, I brought her all the way to her door that time (even though she insisted through chattering teeth that she could walk!)

Anyway, what emerged over the years that we traveled together was a story of a scary-smart girl who didn't fit the traditional profile of a good student.  She rarely sat still; preferring to fidget and even walk around the classroom during lessons.  Even when she didn't appear to be listening, teachers were rarely able to surprise her or catch her off guard.  She always knew the answers... except on the rare occasions where she was forced to sit still in her chair and face forward.  Then she usually came up empty.

She bounced through a couple of schools before landing in a high school in the Negev Desert that split the curriculum between classroom work and field trips.  The school wasn't as academically challenging as this young woman might have liked, but being able to go out and hike around the desert on a regular basis helped her stay centered.  And besides, she did university level math and physics problems in her spare time just for fun, so strictly speaking, she wasn't really missing out on much.

When she finished high school she enrolled in a Shirut Leumi (national service) program in an agricultural community, giving horseback riding lessons to kids, and tending to the horses.  It was a perfect job for her thanks to the nearly unlimited physical activity.  And in her spare time she took advanced physics courses at the Open University.

As I've mentioned before, nearly every morning, Zahava lets Yonah use her cell phone to call me from the bus stop.  Since I have a hands-free speaker in the car, all of my passengers have gotten to know Yonah by way of these calls, and have been able to follow his progress from inarticulate mumbles and screams to the cheery chatterbox he has so recently become.

On many occasions this young woman asked about Yonah and we spoke often about his 'issues' and how he was progressing.  At one point she suggested enrolling him in an afternoon riding lesson once a week since, 'from her experience', it seemed to do wonders for kids with sensory and learning issues. What I didn't realize at the time was that she was probably talking about her own experience as a kid, rather than as a riding instructor.   Zahava and I both rode horses as kids (she more then I), and there is certainly something very calming about being around these big gentle animals.

Whatever the case, it now looks like we will miss the opportunity to have this young woman teach Yonah to ride.  It turns out she has just finished with her year of national service and will be spending all of her time getting ready for university. 

She told me this about a month ago, and our last trip together was during the week before Purim.  When I dropped her off I wished her luck with her studies (not that she'll need much), and she thanked me for all the years of rides. 

As I let her off she flashed me one of her big smiles, and I felt a little like I was saying goodbye to one of my own kids.  So, I figured that was that... the end of an era.  

But a few days later on Purim, there was a knock at the door and lo and behold, there was this smiling young woman standing in our doorway with a handsome young man (who I assume is her boyfriend), delivering a traditional Purim basket of treats. 

I introduced her to Zahava and the kids... all of whom she had heard on the speaker-phone at one point or another.  But even though she seemed pleased to see all of us, she only had eyes for Yonah.  I think that she really viewed Yonah as a kindred spirit, and I couldn't help feeling she'd made the trip over to our town just to meet him.  I say this because, along with the basket of food, she had included a big illustrated book just for Yonah, filled with neat projects that can be created with Plastolina (modeling clay).  He squealed with delight when he realized she had brought something just for him, but collected himself enough to say a proper thank-you.

As Zahava and I said good-bye to this young womanand her young man at the door, I slipped her a jar of honey and again wished her luck with her studies.  Although... truth be told... in this tiny country, good-bye is never really good-bye.  Who knows... maybe she'll end up studying at Ben Gurion University in Beer Sheva and will need a ride south once in awhile. 

Posted by David Bogner on March 26, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Glimmers of Hope

Any parent who wakes up to find that independent, self-indulgent, head-strong teenagers have replaced their cuddly, malleable little kids will be familiar with that feeling of hopelessness which comes with finding that more than a decade of careful instruction on manners, cultural norms and common sense have seemingly been tossed out the window.

The teenage years (in Israel called 'tipesh-esray'; roughly translated as 'stupid-aged') are a frustrating period during which parents are forced to watch their kids making all the mistakes that years of lectures were meant to prevent.  And even the hope that the teens would learn from their mistakes is far from a given as we are often forced to watch them stumble repeatedly over the same obstacles.

But once in a while there is a glimmer of hope; a small ray of light that gives a parent hope that all those lectures and lessons aren't lost forever.

Zahava and I got such a glimmer a couple of weeks ago from Ariella.

It seems that Ariella's class had scheduled its annual 3-day trip for this week.  However the first day of the trip conflicted with a public performance of Ariella's dance class.  Given a choice of a 3-day class trip and having to miss the last in a long series of performances, I assumed that the trip would win out, hands down.

However, last week Ariella came to me and asked my advice about the decision.  When I recovered enough to be able to speak, I asked her which way she was leaning... again, fully expecting her to indicate that she was looking for my rubber stamp of approval for her to ditch the last dance performance and go on the class trip.

Instead she told me that she was really torn.  On the one hand, she began to explain, the 3-day class trip was the high-point of the school year, and as a first year high school student, it was an important social opportunity to forge a bond with her class and teachers.  But on the other hand, her dance troupe was a relatively small one with no understudies... and it didn't seem fair for her to abandon them, leaving a hole in the routines/formations of the performance.

Was this a glimmer of responsibility I was seeing?  It sure seemed like it.

Anyway, I was still unwilling to make the decision for her, but was pleased and proud to see that she actually recognized that a weighed decision was required. 

After sitting in silence for a few minutes, Ariella finally spoke up and informed me that as much as she wanted to go on her class trip, she couldn't leave her fellow dancers for the last performance.  She decided not to attend the class trip.

As proud as I was that she had made such a difficult, mature (and IMHO correct) decision... I felt sad for her having to miss out on her class trip.  Even though this would prepare her for a life of unfairness and maddening scheduling conflicts that rarely resolved themselves to our satisfaction, it simply sucked that a 15-year-old girl couldn't enjoy her childhood just a little while longer.

As an afterthought, I asked her if she thought her school would allow her to miss the first day of the trip and join them late?  Mind you, driving her to the Golan Heights in the middle of the night and then going to work the next day on little or no sleep, was the last thing I wanted to do.  But I felt like there should be some way to reward Ariella for making such a mature decision.  After all, it isn't every day a parent is allowed a glimmer of hope that one of our moody, self-indulgent, head-strong teenagers might actually turn out alright in the end.

Postscript:  In the end I got a bit of a reward as well, since not only did Ariella's school give permission for her to join her class mid-trip... but the location of the outing was switched from the Golan Heights to the Negev Desert, allowing me to actually grab 3 or 4 hours of sleep last night after dropping her off.

Posted by David Bogner on March 25, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (18) | TrackBack

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Announcing spoilers

An open letter:

Dear Friends & Family,

If you keep a blog or send out any sort of regular email update, please be aware of the fact that many television programs about which you may be tempted to write actually air here in Israel up to a week later than where you live.

This slight misalignment of broadcast schedules raises the specter of my reading your blog/email and accidentally finding out about some critical plot twist or voting outcome in a TV program before I've been able to actually enjoy the show in which said plot twist and/or voting outcome takes place.

When this happens (as it invariably will if you continue to refuse to post a 'SPOILER WARNING' at the start of your posts and emails), it ruins the enjoyment for me and, quite honestly, makes me want to spit in your coffee and sneeze on your food.

Adding a spoiler warning is such an easy thing to do, and is a thoughtful gesture - not only for the benefit of those of us who live abroad - but also for your busy friends and neighbors who might be TiVo-ing certain programs in hopes of enjoying them at a more convenient time... like say, when the kids go to college and the dog dies.

I'm not asking for a complete moratorium on discussing current television shows... just an itty-bitty little disclaimer that will give me the choice of whether or not I want to know in advance that one of my favorite American Idol contestants has been voted off the island.

Of course you are free to ignore this request and do as you please. After all, it's your blog and you can do with it what you like.  But then again, you may also want to think twice about accepting invitations to eat any meals I've prepared... or to which I've had unfettered access.  I'm just thinking out loud here, mind you.

Thanks so much for your help with this oh-so-easy-to-solve scheduling problem.

Warm Regards,

Treppenwitz

"Laying the groundwork for an insanity defense since 1961"

Posted by David Bogner on March 22, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (15) | TrackBack

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Man plans and G-d laughs... A multi-generational story

A young man, who had grown up in one of the more insular of Jerusalem's Hassidic communities, had a plan.  He dreamed of running away; away from the stifling sea of black... away from the rigid religious and cultural formalities... away from the country where he was born.

He ran away to America and started a new life.  He might have run away from Judaism entirely, but by chance he met and married a pretty young woman from a traditional family who fancied him.   So they settled down to start a family in a colorful, south Florida community that couldn't possibly have been more different from the black & white Jerusalem world the young man had abandoned.

This young man and his wife worked hard and raised their children to be modern American Jews... strong on Jewish identity if a little vague on ritual and specific knowledge.  When their son finished high school he did what many American Jews do; he decided to spend a year abroad on a program in Israel.

While in Israel, this boy spent the occasional shabbat in the strange world of his Hassidic grandparents.  But while he loved his grandparents, he was at an age where adventure beckoned, so he left his one-year program and joined the IDF as part of Nahal; an acronym in Hebrew meaning 'fighting, pioneering youth'... a unit that splits its service period between working on a kibbutz and regular military training.  His Nahal unit was an experimental one, made up entirely of new immigrants from religious (or at least traditional) backgrounds. 

His parents back in south Florida weren't particularly thrilled with this new development, but figured it was a phase... an adventure of sorts.  So when the Israeli army invaded Lebanon in June of 1982, his parents prayed that the hostilities would be over before their son completed his basic training program.  Having a son fight in a war was certainly not part of their plans.

What they didn't 't know was that their son's unit had just completed its training and was among the first sent into battle.  They found this out in an unpleasant way one evening while watching a television news broadcast about the war.  No journalists had been allowed into Lebanon, so all the networks had camera crews stationed at the border, filming the soldiers and equipment pouring into Lebanon... as well as the evacuation of the dead and wounded into waiting ambulances at the border.

As this couple sat glued to the evening news on a south Florida station, a cameraman happened to pan towards a stretcher bearing a dead Israeli solider... and zoomed in on his face.  Clearly the medics had fought valiantly to save this young soldier, because he was heavily bandaged in many places though the bandages were soaked through with blood. But the soldier's face was relatively clean, and entirely unmistakable.  It was their son.

There is nothing for a parent to do at such a time.  It is a moment of bottomless sorrow and hopelessness when all plans come to an end.  But things had to be done, so slowly they began to make the mental plans for the funeral.

Israel has few hard and fast rules.  Almost anything can be negotiated or finessed given the right level of 'protexia' (preferential treatment based on connectedness).  But one of the rules that is carved in stone here is that when a soldier is killed or wounded, no telegram or phone call will do.   An officer is sent to personally inform the family.  But since this young man's family was in south Florida, it was many hours before the nearest Israeli consulate was informed and could dispatch a Military attache to the family's home to break the news.

When the officer finally arrived on their doorstep, he was surprised to find a family that was already grieving the loss of their son... a confusing scene given that he had been tasked with informing them that their son had 'only' been wounded.  Apparently on television, the subtle difference between dead and unconscious is hard to discern.

The family joined their wounded son in Israel and helped him through his convalescence.  His leg and chest wounds healed so well that, to his mother's horror, he was able to rejoin his unit in Lebanon for many more battles before finally being discharged on schedule.

After completing his service, the young soldier opted to stay in Israel and enrolled at the Hebrew University.  When he arrived at the campus for the first time and began moving his things into his dorm room, he was pleased to find that his roommate - a young man who would one day start an unremarkable Internet journal called 'treppenwitz' - was, like him, a cycling enthusiast, and their two shiny touring bicycles were given a place of honor in their room and used often.

During their time together at Hebrew U, the two roommates took many cycling trips around the country and shared their plans for the future.  But as the time went on, the ex-soldier began spending more and more weekends at his grandparent's home in one of Jerusalem's Hassidic neighborhoods.  He loved his grandparents deeply... and they loved him as every grandparent loves a grandchild; unconditionally.

After a year at Hebrew U, the young ex-soldier from south Florida decided that he wanted to be in a more religious environment and announced his plans to transfer to a well respected technical college where half the day was spent engaged in religious studies.

Fast forward to a wedding in Bnei Brak this week; a sea of long black coats, fur hats and curled side-locks.  Except, that is, for the few former members of a certain IDF Nahal unit, and a former university roommate who stood out in their knitted kippot (yarmulkes).

The Hassidic groom stood swaying rhythmically under the Huppah (marriage canopy) beside his father, waiting nervously for the bride to arrive.  His father, wearing a long graying beard and fancy black Hassidic garb that concealed long-healed battle wounds, looked nervous too... but his nervousness was like that of all parents who have plans and dreams for their children... but know from experience that the future is not theirs to guide or control. 

The groom's grandparents had arrived from south Florida to share in the celebration, and the grandfather, wearing a black hat somewhat self-consciously, joined them under the chupah to recite one of the blessings, while his wife stood off to the side smiling beautifully.

As I stood watching my old roommate and his extended family celebrating this life event, I was struck by many thoughts.  Despite our careful laid plans; for escape, for change, for safety, for a trajectory heading straight off into the future... G-d laughs and does what He wants with our lives. 

We use terms like good and bad to describe momentary events along our live's paths.  But when viewed through the lens of hindsight, I can't help thinking that our plans must be a constant source of amusement to the One who created the world.

Posted by David Bogner on March 19, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (18) | TrackBack

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

You can't buy what isn't for sale

The latest news that the Israeli negotiating team has returned from Cairo without closing a deal for the release of Gilad Shallit is heartbreaking in the extreme... but not particularly surprising.

From the very beginning of this long national ordeal I have maintained that I honestly don't believe this kidnapped soldier (or any other kidnapped soldier) will be returned alive.  Yes, I know there have been tiny 'signs of life' that have been offered through 'interested' third parties... but such signs have been far from iron-clad in either provenance or substance.

But I don't want to appear heartless, so let's assume for the sake of this discussion that Gilad Shallit is still alive.  That doesn't mean that he will be returned in that state.  He is a far more effective weapon as a real or imagined corpse than as a live bargaining commodity... at least within the scope of the bargains Israel is prepared to strike.

That wouldn't have been the case if, say, Israel had hermetically sealed Gaza from the moment of the kidnapping and literally starved the people of the Gaza strip until our soldier was returned.  No humanitarian aid... no medicine... no electricity... no water.  Nothing.  Or if not a complete embargo, at least give my patented diplomatic plan for gaining the attention of Palestinian leaders a try.  It would have taken less than two weeks for Hamas to fold under such measures.

Of course that would be considered collective punishment; a war crime... but so what.  Isn't the open warfare Hamas has been waging against Israel civilians also collective punishment for the so-called 'occupation'?  And aren't the kidnapping of soldiers and refusing to allow Red Cross access and other basic rights accorded to Prisoners of War, flagrant war crimes? 

I'm just saying... if a civilized country gets drawn into a street fight with an entity that refuses to conform to any conventions of civility, I say 'live by the sword, die by the sword'.

But we didn't have the resolve to do that.  Instead we continued to behave as though this were the first time this sort of thing has ever happened to us.  Seriously, it isn't as though we have no experience in such scenarios.  The horrible coda to the second Lebanon war saw Israel releasing hundreds of well fed terrorists who had been accorded regular Red Cross visits, full medical treatment and clean living conditions that would make Israel's poorer sectors wonder what they had done wrong to have to shiver through the winters in unheated hovels while their tax shekels paid to allow terrorists to sleep in warm comfortable beds. 

In return for the release of these battle-ready terrorists, we received coffins containing the decomposed remains of our kidnapped soldiers that - right up until the moment the coffins came into view - we foolishly allowed ourselves to believe might still be alive.  I say 'foolishly' because common sense would seem to dictate that one should assume the worst of a bargain when the guy on the other side of the counter refuses to show you what it is he is selling. 

It was the worst kind of 'bait & switch' imaginable; a humiliating gut punch in front of the whole world when those black coffins were dropped at our doorstep on live television.  But we got what we deserved, because when you get right down to it, we were like tourists walking into the Arab shuk with money sticking out of every pocket, and no idea of how to negotiate.

Sadly, falling victim to this sort of gut-wrenching swindle is far from an isolated event in Israel's many forays into the Arab marketplace:  Debacles like Oslo come to mind.  At such public drubbings, peace came to be treated as a commodity that could be purchased by anyone (meaning us) willing to pay a high enough price.  And what we might now call swindles or even muggings are rightfully seen by the other side as 'windfalls'.  Who could reasonably be expected to refuse to allow a fool to parted from his money.  The proof of this is the gleeful anticipation with which Syria's Assad has announced to anyone who will listen his readiness to sit down and 'talk with Israel'.

Yet again and again we have been shown the difficult truth that many still refuse to internalize; that peace (or whatever is being offered by our enemies), is just a marketing slogan - a hook with which to draw us into the shop - and isn't necessarily for sale.  Once we are alone in the shop with all our money on the counter - or worse, in the vendor's pocket - the real negotiations begin... but somehow never seem to end. 

And each and every time we find ourselves standing helpless amongst the oily rug salesmen, we begin pulling ever larger handfuls of cash from our pockets in hopes of finally closing a deal for that elusive commodity; peace, kidnapped soldiers, security, recognition, a temporary cessation of rocket fire... whatever. 

Yet each time we think we've finally closed the deal, the vendors walk away with our money and assure us that they will consider our offer carefully... while even the rug on which we stand is unceremoniously pulled from beneath our feet.

I'm also the father of a boy named Gilad... and in my heart of hearts I also foolishly cling to the hope that the Shallit family will one day have their son back, alive and well.  But let's be honest with ourselves for a moment... the chances are heavily against that happening. [I pray I'm proved wrong] 

The problem is, we ruined the market for live Israelis when demonstrated our willingness- eagerness, even - to pay top price for dead Israelis.  Worse, our free press and idiotically undisciplined and loose-lipped leaders have broadcasted our pain so clearly to the terrorists holding GIlad Shallit that they know beyond any doubt that their interests are far better served by continuing to twist the knife of uncertainty in our national heart than by making a deal that would - at best - repatriate a few hundred terrorists that were sent out to die in the first place.

After so many humiliating visits to the Arab marketplace one would hope we might finally have learned enough to hold our own... or at least have gained the wisdom not to go back.  But the daggers in our national heart called Zecharya Baumel, Zvi Feldman, Yehuda Katz, Guy Hever, Majdy Halabi and Ran Arad have grown dull with age and their jeweled hilts no longer draw suckers to the shuk they way they once did. 

So a new, shinier bauble has been placed before us in order to coax the rest of the money from our bulging pockets... even as we walk willingly into the blade.  But what we fail again and again to grasp is that armed robbery and legitimate commerce are only distinguishable from one another by observing what each side leaves with at the end of the transaction.

So while I'm heartbroken that this latest glimmer of hope turned out to be a desert mirage, I'm not surprised that the rug vendors have once again walked away with a king's ransom - our pain - in their pockets... while promising to carefully study our offer.  And we don't even have the wit to realize that the surest sign that the latest 'transaction' has been concluded is that we've once again been left sprawled in the empty marketplace with our pockets empty and a knife in our heart.

[Disclaimer:  The concept of the 'peace process' as a fruitless foray by neophytes into the Arab Bazaar is not my own.  It was expressed far more eloquently here by Steve Kramer]

Posted by David Bogner on March 17, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (16) | TrackBack

Sunday, March 15, 2009

'Mail Goggles' for your kids

Yes, you read that title correctly.  You were probably thinking I meant 'Beer Goggles'; the drunken lenses ground by hours of beer consumption that magically makes the last beast left standing in the bar at closing time look like someone you'd really, really like to take home and, well, 'get to know better'.

While completely different animals, there is a tangential relationship between 'Beer Goggles' and 'Mail Goggles' in that they both refer to making foolish choices while drunk.  I know... that still doesn't sound very kid-friendly... let me explain.

A case of Beer Goggles is a self-inflicted condition that can cause severe lapses in judgment ranging from the serious (e.g. 'hooking up' with someone you wouldn't want to wake up with in your worst nightmare), to the benign (e.g. placing wistful phone calls to old flames in the middle of the night). 

It's this latter, relatively benign, phenomenon that the folks at Google had in mind when they named their gmail add-on; 'Mail Goggles'.  This nifty add-on is designed for people who are in the habit of coming home from bars or parties and sending off drunken emails that might be regretted in the light - and sobriety - of the morning.  Such missives might come under one of two general headings: Sappy 'what happened to us' emails to old girlfriends, or angry rants to past (or present) coworkers... or even bosses. 

What 'Mail Goggles' is supposed to do (once installed and activated) is require the gmail user to correctly complete a serious of basic math problems before it will allow any mail to be sent.  I say 'basic' because, let's face it... some of us would have to take off our shoes and count toes to arrive at the correct answer even when sober...  while others could easily tackle such math problems while three sheets to the wind and still in bed, wrestling with the beast from the bar.

Now while I'm pretty sure that my kids don't have a history of sending out drunken emails, I do find that they spend way to much time corresponding with their friends when they should really be doing their chores, cleaning their rooms... and maybe even [gasp] doing homework! 

So I thought to myself, why not add Mail Goggles to their gmail accounts?  That way, before they can send an email to someone, they will at least have to do a couple of short math exercises.  What could be bad?  Right?

[BTW, if you want to see what other neat stuff you can do to trick out your gmail account, click on that tiny green beaker symbol at the top of your gmail page (the one right next to your email address).  The most helpful one I've found so far is the one that moves your signature up to where you actually write your replies in the message format.]

Posted by David Bogner on March 15, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Wow! Feels Like I Got to Hit My Own Refresh Button!

A guest post by Zahava [and no... Trep didn't put me up to this!]

A few days ago David posted A Worthy Experiment, Part II, and discussed our recent purchase of two new Comfort Living mattresses. In fact, he went so far as to say that “we've been talking up the new mattresses with all of our friends like a couple of new converts.”

Well, folks…. let me just say that his description of how comfortable these mattresses are simply did not do them justice!

While I did agree that our old mattresses were, well, old, I really didn't have any complaints about them.  I didn’t feel that I was sleeping poorly, nor did I find them particularly uncomfortable.  In fact, if David hadn’t been so miserable I don’t think it would have even occurred to me that the mattresses had outlived their usefulness.

Therefore, while I was looking forward to getting new matresses (who doesn't enjoy getting new things?), I really had no expectations beyond regaining a happy husband.

So… imagine my delight over the past few days to find that I actually feel luxuriously rested every morning!  Like I said, I hadn’t felt as though I had been sleeping poorly, and I wasn't stiff upon awakening in the morning the way David described.  But my new reality is so different from my pre-Comfort Living reality that I simply cannot quite believe it!

After our previous experiment with Visco-Elastic mattresses (the pregnant me being too sick to even give them a real chance), I must admit to a certain amount of trepidation before the new mattresses arrived.

I needn’t have worried.

The best description I can come up with for sleeping on these mattresses is “cradled support.”  The mattresses “give” to accommodate the curves of your body, but still provide exceptional support. It is absolutely incredible.

Any one who knows me (even a little bit) knows that I am most emphatically not a morning person.  I now think that a big part of my problem with mornings can be attributed to sleeping on the wrong kind of mattress! 

With the clarity of hindsight, I now realize that I was never able to simply lie down and go to sleep. It took a lot of tossing and pillow-punching to find just the right position to attract some shut-eye. Since the arrival of the new mattresses I have simply crawled into bed, immediately found just the right place (every position seems to be just right), and have drifted off into comfortable slumber in a matter of seconds.

And while I will never ever be that bright-eyed cheery sort in the morning (don't you hate people like that?), I must say that I mind mornings far less than I used to!  

Wow!  Who knew that a comfortable mattress could change so much about your day?!

Posted by David Bogner on March 12, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Purim Recap

1.  I kept to my Purim tradition of wearing pajamas and bathrobe throughout the holiday (a la Vincent "The Chin" Gigante of Greenwich Village fame).  This has provided much-needed streamlining of transitions from standing to sleeping, and from sleeping to standing.  I have to say there is something liberating about being able to wake up and go to shul on Purim morning in the same comfortable togs worn to the previous night's bacchanalia 'Tish'.

2.  Family costumes were as follows:

  • Zahava wore a 'Punjabi Suit' (Salwar kameez) I brought back for her from one of my business trips to India.  Yes, she too was essentially wearing pajamas throughout the day.
  • Ariella was a WWII-era WAC.  My mother (who, according to my calculations, was but an infant during that conflict) pronounced her both adorabe and historically accurate.
  • Gilad was a ventriloquist dummy (you know he took some ribbing about this), but refused to sit on my lap in shul.
  • Yonah was a lion (and roared fiercely at anyone who came within range of his terrible claws and teeth!)
  • Jordan was a faithful black dog, reminiscent of the classic Martha's Vineyard franchise mascot.
  • Lulu copied Jordan's costume idea, but kept breaking character to bark at real and imaginary visitors, and to chase her tail.

Pictures to be posted later (hopefully... check back in the afternoon), but don't bother looking for Zahava or Gilad.  Zahava is notoriously camera-shy, and Gilad seems to have had some sort of an allergic reaction to the face make-up his sister put on him and didn't stay in costume long enough to be photographed.

Roar-o-wac

3.  My parents joined us for the traditional Purim Seudah (meal), and for desert we seem to have eaten the contents of all 167 Mishloach Manot (food gift baskets) we received over the holiday.  I feel like one of those AA members who has to walk into a meeting, place his 5 year pin on the table and admit "I've been sober since, um, [looks at watch] 9 o'clock this morning". [~hangs head~]

4.  While my downtrodden Palestinian friend Jameel was nice enough to call and wish us a happy Purim, sadly he seems to have had some trouble negotiating the countless humiliating checkpoints between his family's hovel and my community, because the much-anticipated waffles never arrived.  Thankfully I was able to subsist on the roughly 7000 calories located in each of the above-mentioned gift baskets.

Posted by David Bogner on March 11, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (13) | TrackBack

Monday, March 09, 2009

A Worthy Experiment (Part II)

So as most of you know from Part I of this series, there was a problem (actually several problems that are likely related)... a tool for measuring the extent, or at least the symptoms, of the problem... and a possible solution to the problem.

First the problems: Chronic back pain and poor sleep quality.  Not a pretty combination, but I assume that most people who have one, probably experience the other.  It's like a 'buy one get one free' kinda deal.  Sometimes life is generous like that. 

While back pain can ruin the quality of your life, poor sleep can ruin the quality of life for just about everyone else around you.  In short, it turns even the nicest people into raging @ssholes.  But don't take my word for it... I'm sure there are plenty of people I know who can provide testimonials if you don't believe me.

They say you can't fix a problem until you identify the causes... which, if you think about it, isn't really true.  You can fix just about any problem under the sun.  But if you don't know the cause of the problem, you are probably going to end up having to fix it over and over again.  

So with that in mind, identifying the causes of my problems was sort of important in the grand scheme of things.  I believe that the causes of my back and sleep problems are most likely a combination of lack of exercise, being overweight and having an old, uncomfortable bed.

Next the tool for measuring the extent (or at least the symptoms) of the problem

I know how to measure my weight and the amount of exercise I was getting.  And contrary to what my wife may believe, I actually know how to adjust both of those parameters.  But other than counting bruised ribs from where Zahava pokes me to stop the snoring, I had no idea what was going on between bedtime and when the alarm went off in the morning.

While perusing one of my daily reads, I was fascinated by a discussion of a computer program that could task a laptop to actually watch and record you while you sleep, and which could provide empirical data on things like how many times you turn over during the night, and how much noise you make.  Not only that, but it uses this data to make educated guesses about the length and duration of your visits to the various levels/cycles of sleep; a pretty good yardstick of sleep quality. 

For anyone who has a Mac (it isn't available for PC) and would like to try it free for 15 days, you can check it out here.

Anyway, as I mentioned previously, after I'd recorded a few nights on our old mattresses, I was shocked to watch the time-lapse video (the program takes a photo of you every couple of minutes as you sleep and turns it into a Quicktime movie), of myself spinning like a top throughout the night.  Not only that, but almost every time I moved, it seems to have disturbed Zahava, because she would also turn over.

Once we had decided that at least part of the problem was our old beds, Zahava and I started talking about alternatives.  I've had my eye on the uber-expensive Tempur-Pedic mattresses for years and almost convinced Zahava to buy a pair before we made aliyah.  It was so close that I even had a pair delivered to our house in Connecticut when I heard they were offering an unconditional money-back trial period.

Unfortunately, as much as I loved the experience of sleeping on the Visco-Elastic mattresses, Zahava was at the stage in her pregnancy with Yonah where everything (and I do mean everything!) made her feel nauseous... and an unfamiliar, oddly resilient sleep surface was unbearable for her.  So the mattresses went back, and we made aliyah with with a lift full of shiny new appliances... and our tired old mattresses.

And finally, a possible solution.  With my weight on the decline and my having made a concerted effort to get up out of my office chair and actually move around more during the day, the final piece in the puzzle remained the beds.

Zahava admitted that whatever we did going forward, our old beds were just not serviceable anymore.  Like most people, we allowed inertia to blind us to the sorry state of our beds long after they had started interfering with our comfort.  Considering how much time we (and most people) spend in bed, this is just inexcusable stupidity.

I'd gone shopping in some of the pricey bed shops and had come away with serious sticker-shock after seeing the prices on the name brand Visco-Elastic mattresses.  But I really didn't want to buy another inner-spring mattress.

Then I noticed one of the companies advertising over there in the sidebar, called 'Comfort Living'.  At first I assumed they were only selling pillows and down comforters.  But it turns out they also do a brisk business in imported European Visco-Elastic mattresses.  On a whim I checked out their price list and was pleasantly surprised to see that they are extremely reasonable!  And the fact that they offered a two week trial period to let you test out the mattresses sealed the deal.  I ordered a pair.

I'll admit that the sensation of being on a Visco-Elastic mattress takes a little getting used to... especially if you've spent almost half a century on conventional mattresses.  But that adjustment period can be measured in minutes. 

The first night after the mattresses arrived, I got into bed, set the computer program to 'record' and fell almost instantly asleep.  When I woke up in the morning, the first sensation I was aware of was of being refreshed.  Instead of clawing my way out of sleep after hitting the snooze bar several times, I found my eyes actually opened a few minutes before the alarm was set to go off.

I lay there for a few minutes taking stock of the situation and decided to use the extra time before the alarm to review the night's recording results.  Amazingly, instead of turning over dozens of times per night, I was delighted to see that I'd only changed positions six times in eight hours.  And looking over at Zahava's side of the bed in the movie, she almost didn't move at all! 

The snoring was still there, but was significantly softer and there were fewer episodes of it.  But I'm less inclined to give the mattresses full credit for that since my snoring usually starts to decrease along with my weight.

Since then, my sleep has continued to improve, with less movement, and a consistently good feeling of being refreshed in the morning.  Also, I don't know why I didn't make note of it before, but I realize now that my shoulders and hips were always mildly sore in the morning on the old mattresses... but with the new ones; nothing!. 

Needless to say, we've been talking up the new mattresses with all of our friends like a couple of new converts.  I guess when you find something good (and there isn't a limited supply), your first instinct is to share the good news.  But even this had a funny result.  When Zahava turned to me the other day and told me that one of her friends wanted to try out our bed, I proved that my self-editing device isn't working so well, because what came out of my mouth was, "Um honey... are we talking about a 'Big Chill' situation here?"  To her credit she just looked at me and said, "In your dreams, big guy!"

But then, isn't that what this is all about... pleasant dreams?

Note:  Comfort Livingis a US company that has expended internationally to include Israel.  If you want information and a really nice personal touch, I had an excellent experience dealing with their Israeli office:

I'm not sure, but I assume that since they are part of an American company, they can also arrange delivery to customers to the U.S. as well.  Here's everything you need to get in touch:

Phone: 09-794-1262. (Outside of Israel +972-9-794-1262)
Fax: 09-794-1538 or outside of Israel +972-9-794-1538
Hours: Monday-Thursday: 9:00AM - 5:00PM, Friday: 8:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.
Email: info@comfortliving.co.il
They accept Master Card, Visa, American Express, Pay Pal or Check.

Mention you read about them on treppenwitz and I'm sure the owner, Steve Braun, will give you an excellent deal.

Posted by David Bogner on March 9, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Darn you to heck, American Idol!

So yeah... the new mattresses arrived.  Incredible!  Better than incredible!!!  Really.  But more about that later.

Right now I can't see straight because:

a)  last night was family movie night, and we stayed up relatively late watching the original 'Planet of the Apes' with the kids.  Best moment of the night was at the end when Gilad and Yonah both sat up and suddenly 'got' the odd reference from 'Madagascar' where the Lion throws himself down on the beach and screams, "Darn you... darn you all to heck!".

b)  when movie night was over and the kids were finally in bed, I started heading for the bedroom... only to be stopped by zahava looking up from her knitting and sweetly asking, "Aren't you going to keep me company while I watch American Idol?" 

Now, I swore to myself that I wouldn't let her suck me in again this year.  I swore!!!  I'd made up my mind that this year I wouldn't let myself get personally/emotionally invested in this vapid love child of 'Survivor' and 'The Gong Show'.  Uh-uh... nope... not me!

So naturally, as soon as the theme music started playing and they started showing rapid fire shots of Paula's leathery, overly-tanned skin and Simon's disturbingly belt-sanded buzz-cut, I was powerless to resist.  Before I could fight my way out of the warm blue tractor- beam, I found myself critiquing outfits and song selections... not to mention commenting on the relative 'pitchiness' of each musical offering and the chances of each performer advancing to the next round.

Here in Israel the network has been combining two 'American Idol' shows in a row so you get to see each segment of the competition followed by the following night's results, back-to-back.  Well last night they tossed in the wild-card results for the final 12 as well... resulting in a triple-header that only started at 10:45PM!

It was well after 1:00AM when I finally looked at Jordan and Lulu slumbering peacefully at my feet and said, "Yo dawgs, listen up... that looks like a crazy hot idea... I'm going to bed too!"

And now I'm so tired I can't see straight!

[Update:  Given last night's movie selection, this news story couldn't have been more aptly timed]

Posted by David Bogner on March 8, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (17) | TrackBack

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Go Eldan!

To put the final footnote on the Eldan Saga (Part 1 and Part 2), here is the before picture of their ad (the one where they left off the Golan Heights):

Eldan

And here is the ad they just started running on several web sites (including the Jerusalem Post site where I fist noticed the error):

Eldan A 

There... isn't that better?  Lots of room to stretch out... and no nosy neighbors breathing down your neck while you sail around the Kinneret.

Once again, Kol HaKavod to Eldan for being responsive to a customer complaint.

          Hat Tip to Joe Settler who sent me the screen cap of the updated ad..

Posted by David Bogner on March 5, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Through Kefiyah colored glasses.

In the third such attack in less than a year, a terrorist driving a bulldozer flipped a police car and tried to ram a bus full of school girls in Jerusalem.  Before he could complete his attack he was shot dead by a bystander and police.

The BBC Headline:

"Digger Driver Shot Dead In Jerusalem"

Memo to UK Jews:  What the hell are you waiting for?  Get out while you still can!

Posted by David Bogner on March 5, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

No thanks, just bandage me up as best you can and point me towards the airport...

Color me surprised.  According to the World Health Organization, the following countries (listed in order) all have better healthcare systems than Israel:

  1. France

  2. Italy

  3. San Marino

  4. Andorra

  5. Malta

  6. Singapore

  7. Spain

  8. Oman

  9. Austria

  10. Japan

  11. Norway

  12. Portugal

  13. Monaco

  14. Greece

  15. Iceland

  16. Luxembourg

  17. Netherlands

  18. United Kingdom

  19. Ireland

  20. Switzerland

  21. Belgium

  22. Colombia

  23. Sweden

  24. Cyprus

  25. Germany

  26. Saudi Arabia

  27. United Arab Emirates

I'll be honest here (for a change) and admit that I haven't the faintest idea what criteria were used to arrive at this ranking... and frankly I don't care.  Healthcare to me means one thing:  What is the likelihood that they can make you better (and not worse) if you are sick or injured? 

Now,I don't know about you, but if I found myself in need of an operation in more than half of those countries listed above, I'd swipe a mega-dose of painkillers and antibiotics from the medicine closet and pray I survived the flight home.

Oh, and for those of you in the U.S. who might be feeling smug or thinking I'm bigoted for not wanting to accept treatment in more than half of these countries... here are the next bunch of countries on the WHO list... before they got to you:

  28.  Israel

  29.  Morocco

  30.  Canada

  31.  Finland

  32.  Australia

  33.  Chile

  34.  Denmark

  35.  Dominica

  36.  Costa Rica

  37.  United States of America

So how about it?  How about a Colostomy in Costa Rica?  Or perhaps a Mastectomy in Morocco?  Not so much?  I guess we're all a little bigoted when it comes to our own healthcare.  Here's the rest of the list of countries that the WHO thinks are among the 50 best systems in the world:

  38.  Slovenia

  39.  Cuba

  40.  Brunei

  41.  New Zealand

  42.  Bahrain

  43.  Croatia

  44.  Qatar

  45.  Kuwait

  46.  Barbados

  47.  Thailand

  48.  Czech Republic

  49.  Malaysia

  50.  Poland

I think a better ranking system would be to see what countries attract the most medical tourism and illegal aliens seeking treatment.  Supply and demand aren't color-blind... but they sure seem to be spot-on indicators of where the good stuff is. 

But then, what do I know?

Posted by David Bogner on March 5, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (18) | TrackBack

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Ramblings of a dog owner (non-pet people might want to come back another time)

[I'm not a cat or dog blogger, so I hope you'll cut me some slack this once to ramble on about some furry friends]

I firmly believe that anyone who makes fun of people for anthropomorphizing their pets has most likely never had one. 

It's inevitable that we talk to our furry friends as if they can really understand every word... and we assume that our animals possess a wide range of emotions, wisdom and even bravery that - let's be honest for a moment - probably are more correctly attributable to instincts and evolutionary memory.

But none of that matters to those of us who have chosen to share our homes and our lives with beloved pets.  We spoil them like children and revel in the seemingly limitless affection and devotion they show us in return.  Okay, with cats maybe some of the affection and devotion is wishful thinking on the part of the owner... but a purring cat on one's lap on a rainy evening is strong medicine for whatever ails you.

What set me down this train of thought is the fact that we have two wonderful dogs; Jordan and Lulu.  

Strangely, even though both dogs are of similar genetic composition (with the predominant ingredients in both being Labrador Retriever and German Shepherd), they could not be more different.  And in keeping with what I've written above, the way I am going to describe the differences between Jordan and Lulu will sound loony to anyone who has never shared their life with an animal.

At 12 years old (tfu tfu tfu), Jordan is the matriarch of the household.  A former companion dog to an elderly woman, we adopted her when she was already two years old.  In keeping with her former 'profession', she is calm, attentive, obedient and [seemingly] intensely aware of even the smallest ailment and complaint in her family.  She has the soft mouth of a Lab, but her spirit and keen intelligence is all shepherd.

Jordan's bedtime routine is to wait until the last person has left the living-room and then slowly make the rounds of all the bedrooms.  She will sometimes linger in the children's rooms until they have drifted off to sleep, but will eventually end up in our room, where she will only go to bed for the night once Zahava and I have gone to sleep.  The only exception to this routine is if someone is sick... in which case she will invariably stay by that person's side throughout the night.

Lulu, on the other hand, has the classic Labrador personality; happy-go-lucky, excited, enthusiastic, interested in everything and everyone and willing to eat anything and everything.  Our vet put it best when he said that Labradors are wonderful dogs, but they are the ADHD kids of the canine world.

Naturally, a lot of Lulu's excitability can be attributable to the fact that she is still essentially an adolescent.  Even though her body has pretty much reached full size, she is a very immature dog and will likely (hopefully) calm down and grow some common sense over the coming years.  But in keeping with my previous remarks, I look at her lovable enthusiasm alongside Jordan's calm wisdom, and can't help but compare and contrast the two.

And yes... I do play favorites.

Unlike with children, most dog training books advise owners to show preference for one animal over another.  In any household with more than one dog, one is always going to assume the Alfa role, and that one must be fed first and shown preferential treatment over the other(s) to avoid confusing (or even undermining) them. 

Since Jordan was an older adult when we brought Lulu home as a pup, Jordan has always assumed the Alfa role.  Lulu has almost always respected this difference in their status and shows the typical affectionate deference to Jordan when they are together.  Occasionally when they are play-fighting Lulu will over-step her bounds, but Jordan will always put her back in her place.  So following their lead, we feed Jordan first and give her a slightly bigger portion of any treats we divide between them.

But before you get the idea that Lulu is neglected, let me assure you that she is lavished with plenty of affection and attention.  It's just hard to take her too seriously, though, when she dances around excitedly and barks and dashes expectantly to the door even when someone sets a drink down on the wooden snack table too hard.  

And perhaps most comical is that we have trained her to sit patiently while we fill her dog bowl with food, and she will only eat when we tell her 'Good Girl' and motion to her bowl.  During these moments of suspense, she sits with long tendrils of drool coming from both sides of her mouth.  We joke that this is an effective way to check to make sure the floor is level.

I haven't posted any pictures of the dogs for ages, so in answer to the many requests, here are they are... along with the stars they most remind me of:

Jordan (along with Lassie and Rin-Tin-Tin):

Jordan   Lassie  Rin_Tin_Tin 

... and Lulu (along with her Doppelgänger):

Lulu  Jar_jar

Posted by David Bogner on March 4, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (16) | TrackBack

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

"What are you trying to say?"

Thanks to everyone who offered excellent feedback and advice on yesterday's post via comments and email.  The most often repeated bit of advice seems to be that I get a sleep study done to see if I am suffering from some sort of apnea.  I'll be sure to look into this.  Thanks.

One helpful friend emailed to ask if I'd ever considered having my dentist make me an 'appliance' that I could sleep with that would advance my lower jaw enough to prevent snoring.  I have to admit I got a giggle out of that because all I could picture in my mind's eye was sleeping with a refrigerator or stove in my mouth.  But yeah, I will certainly look into that too.

Another helpful friend emailed me to ask if I'd checked to see if maybe I had a deviated septum since that might cause one to snore.  This perfectly innocent question reminded me of a funny incident that I've been meaning to share:

So to begin with, yes... I have considered the possibility that a deviated septum might be making me snore.  In fact, I had an exam by an Ear, Nose and Throat doc many years ago, and he informed me that I did indeed have a deviated septum... and that if I wanted to have it repaired it might improve the snoring (meaning reduce the occurrence of snoring... not make it more pleasant or entertaining) that my new bride was starting to complain about.

While I was sitting in his exam chair getting the news about my deviated septum and the possible health /quality of life benefits I might derive from having it repaired, he looked me in the eye and said:

"Look, if we're going to schedule the surgery to repair your septum anyway, and your insurance company is already footing the bill for anesthesia and the operating room, why not let me fix your nose while I'm in there?  For an extra two or three grand I can set you up with a nose like a movie star!"

First of all, I am well aware that with my schnoz few people are going to mistake me for an Episcopalian. 

Some of the proportions and contours of my nose are a direct result of poor blocking technique in some of the schoolyard skirmishes I joined as a kid.  But even if I hadn't been a crappy fighter, there was already a pretty impressive genetic pre-disposition for a Streisand-esque snout due to countless generations of selective Eastern European Jewish breeding.

So no, I wasn't particularly surprised by someone taking note of the size of my nose.  I was, however, more than a bit put off by the bluntness of the doctor's offer of corrective cosmetic surgery... as if I was horribly disfigured and it was a given that I would jump at the opportunity to make myself presentable at any cost!

So I decided to have some fun.

I looked him in the eye, and with a combination of hurt and anger in my voice and my eyes open to their widest indication of indignation, I said, "What are you trying to say?  What's wrong with my nose?!"

You've never seen anyone back-pedal as fast as this doc did. "Er, um, I didn't mean to imply... of course your nose is perfectly fine... a matter of personal preference... some people have different aesthetic sense..." and on an on he rambled.

I let him blabber for a good two minutes before holding up my hand and cracking a smile.  I said, "Look, I know I have a big nose.  Anyone can see that.  And I'll even ask my wife if she wants me to have a nose job while I'm under the knife.  But while it is tempting to change something that has been the brunt of so much teasing throughout my life, I'm wondering where one draws the line.  Is the next step getting hair implants and maybe having my 'love handles' liposuctioned?"

We agreed to revisit the topic when I came back for my pre-surgery visit and I left the office.  But not before I noticed him pass the sleeve of his white lab coat across a sweaty brow. 

I did bring up the option of a nose job to Zahava, and to this day I'm not really sure whether she was humoring me or giving me her honest opinion.  But her response was something along the lines of, "Is your nose on the large side?  Yes.  Would it look better smaller?  I honestly don't know.  Would I love you more if we spent several thousand dollars making it smaller?  Absolutely not!"

And with that the issue was settled. 

I had the surgery to have my deviated septum repaired... and it didn't have the slightest impact on my snoring.  To this day I don't know exactly what benefit the surgery may have provided other than to segregate the air going in and out of my nose.

But since then, whenever I have to see a doctor and the nurse gets to the point in taking the medical history regarding any previous surgeries I may have had, I just smile widely below my impressive Jewish nose and explain that I once had nasal surgery... the only benefit of which was to make the surgeon who performed the operation just a tad more humble.

[Thanks to Karl Newman for reminding me of this story with his emailed advice]

Posted by David Bogner on March 3, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (19) | TrackBack

Monday, March 02, 2009

A worthy experiment (Part 1)

Over the last few years I've been having recurring and increasingly painful problems with my back.  Some of this can obviously be blamed on not getting enough exercise and being a bit [~cough~] overweight.  However, over the past five or six years I have become convinced that a good chunk of the blame can be laid directly at the feet (foot?) of my bed. 

About a week ago, I downloaded a nifty computer program (sorry PC people, only available for Mac) called Dream Recorder.  The program is designed to use your laptop and web-cam to monitor your sleep cycles in order to know when you are in the various stages of sleep and when is the optimal time to wake you.  But honestly, if I had an electron microscope I wouldn't be able to locate my interest in those things.  What drew me to this program is that it monitors how often you change position during the night.  For me, this is the single biggest indicator of how comfortable the mattresses are and how good a night's sleep one is getting.

So I downloaded the free trail version of the program, forced myself to go to bed at a reasonable time, and let it record me throughout several nights of (apparently) fitful sleep.  Not only do I toss and turn dozens of times per night, but the built in noise detector revealed something I had never known about myself; I snore!  Who knew?!  I sound like a freaking Harley being ridden through a drainage pipe!!!!

So, armed with this new (and irrefutable) data, I decided that the time had finally come to look into new mattresses

Most people spend about a third of their lives asleep... and even more of that time in bed when one factors in TV watching, reading and other, ahem, popular indoor activities.  Yet for most people, the bed itself is almost an afterthought when it comes to the budget we allow ourselves when furnishing our homes. 

Obviously I'm not talking so much about university students and young adults starting out in their first apartments.  With that crowd, beds, like most of the other furniture, are generally hand-me-downs from family or friends... or sometimes even from the previous occupants (ewwww).

But when we get married or buy our first real home, we generally give more thought to the decorative aesthetics of the bed-frame and linens than to the mattresses... and we tend to forget that, unlike other furniture, mattresses don't become 'classic' with age.

When Zahava and I got married almost 18 years ago, we got a lot of help from our parents in purchasing and furnishing our first home.  Although some of the stuff in our first place was hand-me-down (albeit really good hand-me-down... Danish modern couch, antique secretary and cedar chests, etc.), when it came to our bedroom furniture, we were told, "buy better than you can really afford... we'll help you out". 

And we did: Solid maple Thomasville dressers, armoire and headboard... and two top-of-the-line, extra long twin, Sealy mattresses and box springs *.

But somewhere along the line we did what most people do... we forgot that the mattresses are not really furniture and that they require periodic replacing.  Exactly what that periodicity is depends on the quality of your mattress... and your tolerance for poor sleep and back pain. 

By all rights we really should have trashed our old mattresses when we made aliyah almost six years ago.  But like most new olim, we were fixated on all the shiny new appliances we were going to 'need', and well, mattresses sort of fell off our radar... and our priority list.

Until recently when I realized that my mattress was literally killing me!  

So Zahava and I decided we needed new mattresses.  But what kind?  I grew up with the 'firmer is better' lie, and you can see where that got me.  I'd also had several occasions in my life to sleep on water-beds... and hated the sensation. Which left the middle ground occupied by the uber-expensive visco-foam mattresses.

Yesterday I picked up the phone and called an Israeli company called Comfort Living (full disclosure: one of the nice folks who advertises on this site) and ordered two new mattresses made of the same 'Visco-Elastic Memory Foam' as the super-duper high end US and European beds I've been lusting after for years.  And the price? Surprisingly reasonable!  Really!!

The new beds haven't arrived yet, but when they do, I plan on continuing with my semi-scientific home sleep-experiment to measure...

... If I toss and turn less.

... If my back starts feeling better.

... If I feel more rested in the morning.

Sadly, I doubt there is much even a fancy new mattress can do about my snoring.  But since Zahava has never mentioned it to me, I'm not sure she's even aware of that particular problem. 

[ducks and runs from the room]



* If you are familiar with Jewish laws concerning 'family purity', you already know why we have two twin mattresses.  If not, an equally good reason is that we're both very restless sleepers, and side-by-side twins are much less disruptive to one's bed partner when you keep very different waking hours and schedules.

Posted by David Bogner on March 2, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (22) | TrackBack