Monday, March 05, 2007
Photo, um, Monday
Trust me when I tell you that hitting the delete key was the most merciful thing I could have done to today's post. The lack of sleep and multiple time zones have given me a serious case of the dumb... so instead of a post I'll give you some pictures to pass the time:
And Gilad, being the wise a$$ that he is, decided to dress up as 'a good question'... as in; whenever someone would ask him what he was dressed as, he'd answer; 'good question'. That he didn't get beat up this year is proof of G-d's mercy!
The view from my hotel room today is sorta neat... if you're into big golden idols, that is. My room looks down into the courtyard of a Buddhist Temple of some sort, and I've been watching a small army of monks in orange robes come and go.
By way of introduction to this last picture, I should probably apologize in advance to my Buddhist readers for the proximity of some potty humor so close on the heels of the previous picture. Sorry... There's really no good way to segue into this.
I spotted this poster in a mens room this afternoon. Luckily I was alone in there when I saw it because it gave me a really bad case of the giggles... and as everyone knows there is no talking, laughing or giggling in the men's room.
The bad part is that just as I was snapping the picture I heard the door to the bathroom open, and a second later a very grim looking Asian businessman came walking around the corner of the partition.
The look on his face said 'please take your European perversions back to wherever you came from', as clearly as if he had said the words out loud. There simply is no plausible way to explain away flash photography in the men's room.
It's worth noting that both of the people in the poster - the one breaking the 'no talking' rule, as well as the one who has just peed himself - have Caucasian coloring/features. For context, imagine this sort of poster in a public restroom in say, Chicago... and both characters have Asian features. 'Nuff said.
I have to go pack my bag for the last leg of my trip. Seeya.
Saturday, March 03, 2007
No, Zahava didn't toss me out of the house
snarky comments on the last post, and a few days of no new content here at treppenwitz, I didn't want anyone to get the idea that I'd been tossed out of the house.
Yes, I happen to be out of the house, but it had nothing to do with my post... or Zahava. In fact, Zahava gave me a nice big smooch as I dashed out of the house 30 minutes after Shabbat to the waiting taxi.
Here's the deal:
I'm posting this from the travel lounge at the Airport.
I found out just before the weekend that I had to fly Saturday night... yes, that's right, on Purim!... for work. Instead of spending Purim with my family and enjoying a relaxing holiday watching the kids dressed up in costumes and eating my sweetie's scrumptious cooking, I will be reading my Megilla to myself on an ElAl plane and 'celebrating' the holiday (what remains of it after I land, anyway) in Bangkok.
I'll be hopping around Asia all week, but I hope to be able to toss up a few posts... or at least a few pictures.
Thanks in advance for your patience with whatever disjointed crap I may throw up here on my journal this week.
Wednesday, February 28, 2007
Our house is what is known in Israeli parlance as a 'cottage'. In the US it would probably be called a 'townhouse', meaning it is one of several attached multi-story, single family homes that sit beside one another facing the street. The layout inside is not particularly unique:
Main Level - Living-room (what Israelis call a salon), dining-room, kitchen, pantry/laundry room and half bath.
Upper Level - Three bedrooms, two full baths (Ari & Gili's bedrooms plus the guest suite)
Lower Level - Master bedroom suite (including full bath) and two smaller bedrooms (Zahava's office plus Yonah's nursery)
For the purposes of today's post let's confine ourselves to the present and future disposition of the lower level space.
In principal Zahava's office is supposed to be 'our' shared office. But in reality her graphic design business has completely taken over the room to the extent that it has become her studio exclusively. I didn't really make much of a fuss about this since in my mind Yonah's nursery would become my office/workshop as soon as he was old enough to move in with Gilad. Unfortunately, two issues have conspired to keep me office-less for the foreseeable future:
1. Zahava and I aren't quite ready to move our 'baby' up to the big kid's floor. First of all, Yonah still requires a lot of extra 'handling' (a post for another day) before bed as well as first thing in the morning. These are responsibilities that, in my mind, really shouldn't fall on the shoulders of the 'big kids' as they have enough on their plates just keeping their rooms
neat habitable from becoming an environmental disaster zone... not to mention getting their homework done. Also, there is the small detail that I'm not prepared to give up views like this in the 'wee' (pun intended) hours of the morning:
2. Now that Yonah's move upstairs has become imminent rather than some theoretical future event, Zahava has started
demanding dropping hints that the nursery be converted into a walk-in closet for her rather than a study/workshop for me. Right now all of my shop tools and beekeeping equipment are stacked in the back hallway, and my computer lives on a stand next to my bed. Don't I deserve a space of my own??? [~pout~]
So in short, while we may be conflicted over when to finally move Yonah upstairs... the future disposition of his nursery seems set to be the site of a looming conflict all its own.
Not looking for anyone to take sides here or anything, but if you feel like offering an opinion...
Thursday, February 22, 2007
One step at a time
"Diet & Exercise"
Those are the two ugly words that get tossed at me by my lovely wife (she of the regular Pilates and yoga work-outs) whenever I express dissatisfaction with my, er, 'shape'.
It's not that I've been living under a rock and somehow wasn't aware of this important formula... but it's still frustrating to have it thrown in my face since even if you add the prefixes; 'poor...' and 'lack of...' to those two magic words, they still cover a significant portion of my waking existence.
Think about it... to change the way you eat requires not only a drastic departure from well loved routines and menus, but also a change in planning and shopping so that the new, healthier food choices are always readily available when all you really want to shovel into your maw is 'crap'.
As to increasing the amount of physical activity one performs, that's far easier said than done. You see, most of us have little or no 'down time' in a typical day just waiting to be filled by some new exercise regimen. So finding time to exercise means foregoing something that we're already doing (and presumably find important).
Or does it?
I've mentioned on a few occasions that I look to a few online physicians (Book of Joe, Doctor Bean, Pyschotoddler and Dr. Albert Fuchs, to name a few) to help demystify some of the medspeak on the web... and to occasionally offer unsolicited advice on how to keep my aging carcass on the green side of the grass.
Well, a couple of months ago I noticed a little blurb on Dr. Fuch's site about a 'pedometer project' he was setting up for his patients, and I decided to send him an email to ask him what it was all about.
Long story short, he said that he was giving his patients pedometers (a tiny device one wears on their belt) so that they (and he) could monitor how far they walk, and (hopefully) use this new awareness to constantly increase the amount of walking they did.
It seemed like a brilliant idea to me. I mean, we all walk a little bit, don't we? The problem is that we don't really quantify this mundane activity so we don't count it as exercise.. It stands to reason that if you become acutely aware of how much you're walking... y'know, some concrete benchmark (i.e. how many steps you are taking in a given day, week or month), over time you will naturally want to make small improvements and constantly 'beat your record'.
I asked Dr. Fuch's if I could take part in the project, thinking that I would pick up a pedometer for myself at the local sporting goods store. But to my surprise he told me he would be happy to send me one. When I got back from my trip to India it was waiting on the kitchen table for me!
[Important Note: PLEASE don't ask him to send you a free pedometer. They are really cheap and every camping and sporting goods store on the planet carries a nice selection... so be a sport and go buy your own. The only reason he sent me - a non-patient - one is that I once carried him over the border from Tijuana on my back after he had passed out drunk in a little cantina we had been visiting together. Oh yeah, and I arranged to have his Mexican marriage annulled on the grounds that he wasn't technically awake when the wedding vows were exchanged.]
Having this tiny little plastic thingy clipped to my belt has given me a profound new awareness of when and how far I walk. Not only that... I find myself creating new excuses to walk where I might have otherwise put something off or combined it with another outing.
Every 15 days all the participants in the pedometer project email their results to the Doc (obviously it is run on the honor system) and at the end of each month he announces that month's winner.
Even without being enrolled in the project, I can't get over what a motivator it is having this tiny thing on my belt. You can get daily, weekly and even monthly readouts of steps taken or distance walked (in km or miles)... so as long as you somehow make note of your results on a regular basis, the motivation to constantly improve is built in!
Since putting this little device on my belt I have discovered all sorts of reasons to walk. I have also figured out that a stroll around the the perimeter of my company's campus is exactly 1 km... and takes less than 10 minutes to complete. I now do 'a loop' either before or after lunch and don't miss the time at all.
I don't know about any of you but in my experience, buying an expensive Nordic Track, elliptical trainer, Stair Master, treadmill or stationary bike is doomed to failure. Been there, done that, got the tee shirt! Sure, you use the thing like crazy when you first get it home... but our Nordic track served as a very handy coat and hat rack for most of the years we lived in Connecticut (not to mention that it took up valuable space that we couldn't really spare).
This tiny, nearly weightless, pedometer has done more to motivate me to get my fat arse out of my office chair during the day than all the exercise equipment I've ever owned... combined!
So consider this a resounding endorsement of pedometers in general... and of Dr. Fuchs in particular.
Sunday, February 18, 2007
Buttons and Baskets
Two opportunities to do good today:
First up is a project that the 7th grade class at my daughter's school has undertaken with the goal of collecting 1.5 million buttons corresponding to the approximately 1.5 million children who perished in the Holocaust.
- A button is a basic component for clothes; however each button has a unique shape and color. This reminds us of the special uniqueness of every child who perished.
- A button can close a jacket and protect us. This reminds us of the protection which was lacking for those children who perished.
- A button is circular, which reminds us of the life cycle and that these children ending their cycles too soon.
- A button is whole and complete. The Nazis uprooted children from the families and home and made their lives torn and incomplete.
The kids in my daughter's class are about two-thirds of the way to realizing their goal and are broadening their search for buttons to the international community for the final push.
That's where you come in.
Please check to see if there are buttons attached to any of those old shirts and dresses that you've consigned to the rag bin at your house (or which you are about to throw away). Even a few buttons will be welcome!
Please send the buttons to:
Asseh Chayil Elementary School
1 1/2 million buttons project
The Gefen Hill
The next project is perhaps a bit less esoteric... but every bit as important:
You may remember last summer that I was involved in the great Zionist Underwear Drive which delivered much needed underwear and socks to reservists who had been called up to fight in the Lebanon war but who had no way to wash or replace their, um, soiled skivvies.
You guys came through in a spectacular way... resulting in several car/truck loads of these essential undergarments being delivered to staging points along the northern border. This program was managed by the very worthwhile organization; Standing Together.
This campaign, known as 'Purim Together', serves as a practical and simple way to demonstrate your solidarity, support and appreciation of Israel's young soldiers. This is a wonderful way to show Israel's young heroes how much you care.
Just as with the Zionist Underwear Drive, I will be volunteering to drive some of the goodies. I'll be dropping off some of the Mishloach Manot baskets to the troops stationed along my drive to work (Gush Etzion, South Hevron Hills and northern Negev).
The goal is to send 50,000 Mishloach Manot packages. About 30,000 have already been committed by the 'Friends of the IDF in Israel', and they are looking for the support of your schools, synagogues and communities for the additional 20,000.
This project provides a terrific opportunity to express your support and commitment to Israel, her people and her defenders. It is operated by Standing Together and the Friends of the IDF in Israel, as a philanthropic project, and is not a business venture [Ed. note: Unlike some of the ads you may see on various websites].
There are a couple of ways you can help:
Click here to download the Purim Together Color Flyer. Click here to download the Purim Together Black and White Flyer. These are ready for you to distribute to your synagogue, organization and all your contacts.
Click here to make your donation for Purim Mishloach Baskets.
OK, that's it for today. Whether you pick buttons or baskets (or both), I applaud you for your generosity.
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
The colossal arrogance of an 'E.R.' junkie
[Any physicians out there can feel free to distribute and/or link to the following cautionary tale]
It likely started the same year I was born with 'Dr. Kildare', and progressed through scores of other shows like 'Marcus Welby, M.D.', 'Quincy', 'St. Elsewhere'... culminating with sophisticated medical dramas such as 'Chicago Hope', 'E.R.' and the diagnostic equivalent of CSI; 'House'.
By 'it' I'm not referring to medical entertainment... but rather to a growing suspicion (and arrogance) among the TV-viewing public that we know a thing or two about medicine.
For the record, we don't.
First the troubling stuff:
I was talking on the phone with my dad a couple of evenings ago and he was recounting some innocuous details about his day. Almost as an afterthought he added:
"Oh, I wanted to tell you about something strange that happened earlier. Mom had to go over to the hair dresser so I went home to check on the dogs and have a rest. After only 15 or 20 minutes at home I realized I had forgotten to go pick up the results of a medical test and the doctor's office was going to be closing soon. So I got up to get ready to go back out. But when I stood up I realized that I was having trouble seeing out of one eye."
Now, I have to stop the story here to explain that my dad is legally blind and has only minimal sight in either eye... and I half-jokingly reminded him of this.
"No", he continued, "I mean it was much worse than usual. It was so bad that as I walked to the doctor's office I couldn't see the dial of my watch, much less the usual landmarks I use to navigate my route. In fact it was so bad that I had to wait for other people to cross the street or I wouldn't have had any idea when it was safe to cross!"
By now the hair on the back of my neck was starting to stand up as my mind started to collect and catalog all the information I've gleaned from my years as an E.R. junkie.
As sat in front of my computer listening to him talk, my fingers began feverishly Googling 'stroke symptoms' and the rest of my hair (what little I have) stood up as I saw the list of classic stroke symptoms which included: "blurring or loss of vision in one or both eyes".
At that point I shared my suspicions and told my dad to put the phone on speaker and lay it on the table so both he and mom could hear me. Then, reading off my computer monitor, I told him to smile and asked my mom if his smile was even on both sides. (It was.)
Next I told him to stick out his tongue and move it from one side of his mouth to the other, asking my mom if it had traveled evenly to both extremes of his mouth. (It had.)
The last test I was going to ask him to perform was to say a simple sentence in order to check for slurred speech, but I had been talking with him for almost ten minutes and his diction was crystal clear.
But my eyes kept going back to that item on my computer screen about 'loss or blurring of vision' and I again shared my fear/amateur diagnosis that he had likely suffered a small stroke and that it was important that he get to a hospital as soon as possible to be evaluated.
Everyone reading this... please take note of this next bit so you are never, ever tempted to do anything this bone-headed. You see, it was at that exact point in time where I ceased helping and began to make and compound mistake after arrogant mistake.
There are patterns of behavior between parents and children that never, ever change no matter how old/mature the individuals and relationships become. Among those patterns is the certainty of all parents that they know better than their children.
My parents immediately began 'pooh-poohing' my suggestion to go to the hospital, insisting that dad's eyesight was almost completely back to normal (at least normal for him, anyway). Furthermore [they argued], it was late and they were already in their pajamas having a late dinner.
I started to waffle [stupid, stupid, stupid!] and instead of insisting that they call an ambulance (as new immigrants they didn't even know that dialing 101 would summon emergency transportation to the hospital of their choice), I began second guessing myself . I asked [idiotically] if they were sure his vision was pretty much back to normal, and they insisted that it was.
I then misread a passage on a web site about strokes and heart attacks and told him I would speak with him again before he went to bed, but in the mean time he should take a few baby aspirin [colossally, DANGEROUSLY, stupid!]. In fact, had I not been so rattled I would have read more carefully and noticed that aspirin was indicated before, and sometimes after strokes... but NEVER DURING!!!
You see, there are two different kinds of strokes; ischemic, which are caused by blockage of blood vessels in or leading to the brain... and hemorrhagic, which are caused by rupturing of blood vessels in, or near the brain. If my father had been suffering a hemorrhagic stroke, my arrogant advice would have probably doomed him right there and then.
I reluctantly let them off the phone and promised to speak to dad before bed time.
As the evening passed I did more 'research' on the web. But for some reason the more I read indicating that my dad should already have been in the hospital being evaluated... the more I tried to rationalize my having given in to their reluctance to get dressed and call an ambulance.
By the time bedtime rolled around and I spoke with my dad again, I had fully convinced myself that since his eyesight was completely back to normal that everything was fine. [idiot!]
I let him off the phone after extracting a promise that he would see a doctor the next day. [complete idiot!!!]
In hindsight, no matter how well-intended my advice may have been, it is only through sheer dumb luck that I didn't kill my father through a deadly combination of arrogance, ignorance and confidence in my diagnostic skills!
Over the next couple of days my father did see a several physicians as promised, and although he still has several tests to be performed, the results so far indicate that he probably did, in fact, suffer a 'mini-stroke'.
Trust me when I tell you that there is absolutely no satisfaction in hearing my arrogant amateur diagnosis confirmed by a professional member of the field. It just makes me sick. You see I have since read most of the stroke related websites with calmer eyes and better retention.... and first and foremost, I was an an imbecile to have relented over the issue of going to the hospital.
I was also criminally negligent (if a layman can be guilty of such a thing) for suggesting he take a couple of aspirin and call the doctor in the morning [how idiotically, criminally cliche!].
In fact, if I had placed a revolver with 5 loaded chambers against my father's head and pulled the trigger, his odds of survival would have been only slightly worse than with the aspirin I 'prescribed' since statistically roughly 20% of strokes are hemorrhagic... and aspirin's blood thinning properties could have sped this type of stroke towards it's terrible conclusion rather than lessening the symptoms.
What I now know from my reading (and which I have related to both of my parents) is that the biggest risk factor for strokes is HAVING ALREADY SUFFERED ONE!
I told my parents in no uncertain terms what an idiot I had been for backing down instead of calling the ambulance myself and sending dad to the hospital the other night. I also told them that now, more than ever, they need to be aware of all possible signs of a stroke.
I have told my mom to ask their doctor what signs to look for (and write them down) since in some cases my dad might not notice subtle things such a slurring of speech, asymmetrical drooping of facial features, etc..
I also told them that in spite of my bumbling, they had dodged a huge bullet the other night. However, when they decided to pooh-pooh that one, isolated symptom (vision loss) instead of dialing 101, the 'coin' they tossed could have very easily come up 'tails'. There could be no more such foolishness [they've both agreed].
Now that I know that my dad has no lingering signs of his brush with tragedy and that Israel's wonderful socialized medical system is running an incredible battery of tests and evaluations on him (prodded along with a little gentle help from our modest 'protexia' in the medical community), I can breath just a tiny bit easier.
But the shame and guilt I feel over the tragedy I almost caused with my arrogant confidence in TV medical knowledge is something that will be with me for a very, very long time to come.
Monday, February 12, 2007
OK, maybe a tiny bit odd
[Warning: This post will almost certainly bore you to tears. However there's a joke at the end so it might possibly be worth the slog]
There are bound to be times in every marriage where one half of the couple will look at the other in frank amazement and silently wonder 'what the hell was I thinking?'
I'm sure my wife has had more than a few of these moments, but if one were to look for one of the themes that has topped the list of 'David's odd fascinations', Stanley Kubrik's masterpiece film '2001 A Space Oddysey' would have to rate high on the wierdness scale. If you haven't seen it you have missed out on one of life's important experiences.
This fascination goes back a looong way.
When I was attending University, the library had a whole bank of cute Macintosh computers (yes, we had computers back then... albeit primitive ones). I found it endlessly entertaining that you could change the sounds for pretty much any event on these Apple computers. Guess what I changed some of them to?
You see, in addition to the standard menu of default sounds with which every Mac person is familiar, I stumbled across a collection of 2001 A Space Odyssey-themed 'event sounds' that someone had loaded onto the machine I usually used. Needless to say, I set up the computer to employ many of these sound clips.
For instance, when the computer would first boot up it would say:
"Good afternoon, gentlemen. I am a HAL 9000 computer. I became operational at the H.A.L. plant in Urbana, Illinois on the 12th of January 1992. My instructor was Mr. Langley, and he taught me to sing a song. If you'd like to hear it I can sing it for you."
Also, instead the default error sound, I set the computer to use the HAL 9000's voice saying "I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that", whenever I inadvertantly tried to perfrom a function that wasn't allowed.
Admittedly, it wierded out some of the other students (remember this was still the dawn of the computer age) to the point that they often avoided this machine... but as more and more demand was placed on these handy little computers for word processing and such, this was definately a plus for me.
Why have I bored you to tears with all this today?
It's because I am shopping for something to replace my cell phone's long-standing ring tone (the current one is still 'La Valse D'Amelie' from the film Amélie) and I really, REALLY want to get my hands on one of those old '2001 A Space Odyssey' clips. The problem is that I haven't been able to find them anywhere.
Back in June when I wrote about Israelis and their cell phones I mentioned in passing in the comments that I had a 'jones' for a 2001-themed ringtone, one of my faithful readers sent me a link to an online program that would adapt pretty much any sound file to pretty much any polyphonic phone. However - surprise, surprise - Mr. organiziation over here misplaced it.
So I'm asking: Can anyone help me out?
Anyhoo... you've been very patient with me so here's your reward (a joke a recieved from my friend Heshy):
Why men make better friends:
Friendship Between Women:
A woman didn't come home one night.
The next day she told her husband that she had slept over at a friend's house.
The man called his wife's 10 best friends. None of them knew about it.
Friendship Between Men:
A man didn't come home one night.
The next day he told his wife that he had slept over at a friend's house.
The woman called her husband's 10 best friends.
Eight of them confirmed that he had slept over, and two claimed that he was still there.
Tuesday, February 06, 2007
With warm hands... not cold (lessons in giving)
I've learned many lessons from my parents over the years, but none so important as how to give generously without the recipient(s) feeling as though they are taking.
The 'small gestures' of support that my sibs and I have received from my parents over the years (a 'little' help with a down-payment on a house... a hand-me-down car just when the family vehicle unexpectedly dies), have been offered as casually as one might offer a back-rub to a tired spouse or a drink of water to someone who has just come in from doing yard work in the hot sun. This is to say, the gestures are deeply appreciated, but at the moment they are given - and received - it seems so natural as to require only the most perfunctory 'thank you' and a smile.
I should begin by pointing out for the record that my parents are two of the most positive, life-affirming people I know. They live almost entirely in the present and completely savor the important things in life such as family, fine dining and travel, in a manner I hope to be able to emulate.
However, this isn't to say that their generosity has never gone off into morbid territory. Heh heh... in fact, I haven't fully gotten over the last time it did so... mostly because it was so out of character for them. It was at one of our frequent family get-togethers (who remembers which... Hanukkah, Thanksgiving...?), when my mom sprang the ultimate buzz-kill on her unsuspecting brood:
"Dad and I were talking about this, and we've decided that we don't want any of you kids arguing over 'things' after we're gone. So we want you all to take these 'sticky-note' pads and go around the house putting your name on the stuff you want to inherit. That way we'll know what to put in the will."
This announcement was met with a few seconds of incredulous silence.
First of all... I don't think there are too many people out there who relish hearing the words "after we're gone" in any conversation with their parents. But that aside... who the hell are they to decide whether we'll fight with each other after their gone? I mean, think about it... if they couldn't stop us from bickering while they were - ARE! (tfu, tfu, tfu) alive, they sure as heck aren' t gonna have much luck trying to play 'UN' after they've shuffled off this mortal coil at (IY"H) 120!
I don't recall exactly what anyone said said after my mom dropped her little bombshell... but I do recall that all of us rejected out of hand the idea of selecting our inheritance with sticky notes. I also seem to recollect telling them that I didn't want to inherit anything from them, and would prefer that they spend their last dollar in the world on something they'd truly enjoy... on say, their 120th birthday!
But seriously, I don't know how many others out there have gone through similar lapses in judgment with their kids ... but if any parents are reading this, please spare your progeny some emotional trauma and avoid making a big production out of your hypothetical-yet-inevitable departure. Rest assured... your absence will be unbearable no matter what you do or say now, so don't even go there.
However, this isn't to suggest that you not deal with how to distribute your stuff. Just don't ask your kids to tell you what they'll want after you're gone... it's probably best to just rely on your own observations and intimate knowledge of your family... and like my parents (apart from that momentary insanity with the sticky notes) give as much and as often as you can with warm hands rather than cold.
For instance, if you know that one child admires art... find an opportunity to 'notice' an empty spot on a wall at their house and let them go 'shopping' for a picture or painting at yours with which to fill it. If another child appreciates good furniture, you can always leave him/her the choice pieces in the will... but also be aware of a cheap or aging piece in their home that might be replaced by one of yours right now.
Does one of the kids have a special love of cooking? Take stock of your overstuffed cupboards full of pots and pans and casually ask them if they can 'help you' unclutter your kitchen. You might be surprised to hear how they have always had incredibly strong emotional associations with a particular roasting pan, cupcake tin or serving piece that you thought of only as a 'tool'.
On the other hand, jewelry can be a potential stumbling block since it is not only intrinsically valuable, but it can also have different sentimental value to different people. Again, the best advice I can offer is to give, wherever and whenever possible with warm hands rather than cold... using intuition and intimate knowledge as your guide.
For example, a relatively inexpensive piece of jewelry that is worn frequently may be a treasured heirloom in the eyes of a child or grandchild who associates it with the essential 'you'... while a gaudy jewel-encrusted bauble or heavy gold piece that you were always too worried or self-conscious to wear out of the house may have no sentimental value whatsoever to those you will one day leave behind.
If you know a particular watch, pair of earrings or necklace has always caught a family member's eye, casually hand it to them over lunch... not as their inheritance, but as a spontaneous gift of love. I so enjoy seeing Ariella turn up with a 'new' pair of earrings that Zahava has given her in a private moment of love. I know that she will always cherish not only the physical item, but also the memory of when, and how it was given.
I hope that as my kids get older and have families of their own, they will be as effortlessly generous with their children as mine were - ARE! (tfu tfu tfu) - with me.
I know that Zahava's mother would have preferred to also do things this way with all of her little (and big) treasures, but the rapid progress of her ovarian cancer barely gave her time before she passed to write up a coherent list of what each of her children and grandchildren (some not yet imagined, much less conceived) should receive.
Just remember... the one thing you have that can never be equitably divided is the real and essential you. This is one of those odd mathematical miracles that will (with luck) bequeath to each of those you will eventually leave behind the feeling that they were the sole beneficiary.
Sunday, January 28, 2007
Home Sweet Home
Thank you to everyone for your patience with my spotty posting while I was away these past couple of weeks. A more loyal and supportive group of readers a writer couldn't hope for!
I can't tell you how nice it is to be home. My flight landed a few minutes before 4:00AM on Friday morning and after only a modest wait for my bags and the short line to clear customs, a waiting car took me on the hour drive to my house in Efrat.
Stuck to the front door was a handmade 'Welcome Home Abba' sign which Ari and Gili had prepared.
On the door was also a formidable lock.
Note to self: In the future, make a note of where you put the house key so that you won't have to dump out the contents of your suitcase, laptop case and carry-on bag in the front yard at 5:45AM in order to gain access to your sleeping house.
Once inside (6:05AM), I got a proper welcome from the only member of the family who was awake at that hour; Jordan the wonder dog! I stowed my bags out of the way and went around the house looking at my sleeping family.
Ariella and Gilad were snuggled deep under their comforters and each got a soft kiss on the forehead. Yonah was in his bed doing his impression of a sleeping sky-diver with all his covers having been long-since kicked onto the floor. I re-covered him and went to snuggle in next to Zahava.
The last thing I remember before drifting off to sleep was Jordan jumping up onto the foot of my bed and curling up behind my knees... and resting her head on my foot.
In a few hours there would be time for kisses and hugs and lots of gifts to give. But for now I was back where I belong... safe among those that I love.
Friday, January 12, 2007
Photo Friday (vol. LXXXVI) [Snowstorm edition]
I feel guilty that I haven't been able to pull together a Photo Friday in several weeks. It's not that I haven't had pictures... it's just that I haven't had time to post them.
A couple of weeks ago we had a nice snowstorm here and I have been sitting on the pictures ever since. So without further ado:
Our poor Lemon tree was buried... but seems to have survived the storm:
Of course, as soon as the snow began to fall heavily the roads were blocked with Israeli drivers who had no idea what to make of the white slippery stuff. But that didn't stop some of us from putting on the X-Country skis and enjoying the lack of traffic!
Tuesday, January 09, 2007
The annals of family humor are chock full of anecdotes about brothers-in-law. These stereotypical ne'er-do-well are traditionally a source of embarrassment for the long-suffering sister... and consternation (or worse) for her husband.
In our family I'm the brother-in-law. :-)
You see, my younger sister married well. Very well.
Her husband seems to have succeeded at pretty much everything that has ever caught his interest... and his interests seem to know no bounds.
Food - He's a gourmet chef with a cutting edge kitchen and several complete walls full of cookbooks.
Wine - His 'EuroCave' is stocked with vintages I can't even pronounce, much less describe.
Sports - He's an avid cyclist who seems to hardly break a sweat riding a 'century' up to Bear Mountain and back.
Clothing - Jesse used to wear bespoke blazers and perfectly creased slacks to Sunday brunch at our place when we lived in Connecticut!
Erudition - Well, here's where I really start to fade fast in the rear-view mirror. You see, my brother-in-law is a world-renowned lexicographer... not to mention one of the smartest people I know.
I fancy myself rather adept with words. For years I've been reading the NY Times - not because I like their editorial line - but for the high level of writing. One day I opened up the Times to find a two-page center spread advertisement for the IBM Thinkpad featuring - you guessed it - my brother-in-law! Nice! Self-esteem takes a nice hit.
Speaking of 'The Times', I followed William Safire's 'On Language' column religiously for years... just to keep abreast of the latest buzz in the word dodge (it's always fun to get all snobby about some mistake in usage you were making until last week). Then one day I found out that when William Safire needs an authoritative citation for some obscure slang word, he often quotes my brother-in-law.
See what I mean? How do you compete with that?! :-)
The good news is that Jesse is pretty much impossible to dislike... and so far he has been nice enough to politely overlook any disparity in our respective book-learnin'. And as a cherry on the cake... how can you not like a guy who wrote the authoritative reference book on the word 'F*CK'?
Anyway, I just wanted to alert you all to Jesse's latest interview on NPR. He seems to get more press attention than Paris Hilton on a windy day. But unlike Paris, Jesse's media exposure tends to excite the cerebral cortex rather than sending the viewer into 'libido overdrivus' (yes, all my Latin is borrowed from the sub-titles in Road Runner cartoons).
I don't know what you call it when someone is unreasonably proud of a family member's accomplishments (for a parent, I think the technical term is 'Kvelling'), but if there is such a word, I'd bet money that my brother-in-law Jesse knows it.
What, you're still here? Go listen!
Wednesday, January 03, 2007
The significance of routines
I'm sometimes surprised at the extent to which my children notice my little routines and semi-secret rituals. For instance, one of the big kids is certain to comment if I fail to shake the packets of Splenda and flick them with my finger-tip before tearing them open for my coffee... or if I open a can of soda without tapping the top first.
But the other night I realized that there was another set of eyes in the house taking note of my every move and gesture.
I've mentioned in the past that one of my evening rituals is to make a tour of the house to check that the doors are locked, the lights are out and that everyone is completely covered with blankets.
This last bit is particularly important since all of our kids are pretty active sleepers. Rare is the visit to one of the kid's bedrooms that doesn't require at least a small tug on the corner of a blanket. Yonah takes the cake when it comes to being an active sleeper. Even before he is fully asleep he has usually kicked off his blankets and knocked his toy cars and stuffed animals to the floor. As a result, if I happen to get up for a drink while Zahava is doing her pre-bedtime NY Times crossword puzzle I will usually make an extra side-trip to Yonah's room to redistribute his toys and cover him up.
This little ritual - whether coving up Yonah or one of the big kids - always ends with me giving the sleeping child a kiss on the cheek. It never occurred to me that any of them might be aware of this... after all, the kiss was more for my enjoyment than for theirs. And besides,they would always be fast asleep when I made my 'rounds'.
Well, the other night I went upstairs to the kitchen to get a drink for Zahava... and after giving it to her, I decided to duck into the nursery to re-cover Yonah. Sure enough, his blankets were on the floor and I could just barely make out his sleeping form on the mattress. I covered him up quickly and stood there for a few seconds letting my eyes adjust to the darkness so I could see where his toys and stuffed animals had fallen.
Just then, I noticed two dark little eyes staring up at me from the pillow. I wasn't sure if he was really awake so I stood silently in the dark waiting for him to return fully to sleep. After a few more seconds had passed and he still hadn't closed his eyes I turned to tiptoe out of the room so I wouldn't further disturb him.
Suddenly a groggy little voice from behind me said, "Abba... my kiss."
I guess one of my secret rituals wasn't so secret after all.
Monday, January 01, 2007
A year of wine... not just bubbles.
Here are a few odds and ends for the first morning of the [secular] new year:
1. I feel like I totally caved by feeling compelled to insert the word 'secular' in brackets (above). However, I know from experience that if I didn't do it, some zealot would bend my ear about "this isn't our new year, it is 'hukat hagoyim', yadayadayada...". Note to zealots: Please get over yourselves. Unless you write '5767' on your mortgage checks you have absolutely no reason to get your panties in a twist over a total stranger (me) mentioning the start of 2007.
2. I woke up feeling a bit nostalgic this morning... not so much for those innocent days when I had to beg my parents to let me stay up to watch the ball drop on TV and have a sip of 'Cold Duck'. OK, maybe there was a little bit of that too... but mostly I got nostalgic for those moon-bats who created a whole cottage industries around Y2K back in 1999. Remember them? Not the computer geeks who actually had something constructive to do to make sure all our software kept working when the big odometer turned over... but rather the self-appointed prophets who came out of the woodwork to run $eminar$ on how to survive in the howling wilderness that would be left after civilization as we knew it came to an end. These clowns were literally omnipresent, telling us to build shelters and stock them with food and weapons... convert our savings to precious metals... buy electrical generators and enormous fuel tanks to run them. One pundit even predicted that in the wake of Y2K Duct Tape would become the new currency! Where are these idiots now? What turned out to be the next big batch of snake oil they went on to sell?
3. Zahava and I didn't manage to stay up 'til midnight last night (old fuddy-duddies' that we are), but before I drifted off I was surfing my regular reads and noted a little tidbit on 'Book of Joe' about how to make your Champagne more bubbly. Helloooo, is this really a problem? Is there really a chronic lack of bubbles in the typical glass of sparkling wine? Now don't get me wrong, I'm a HUGE Joe-head and usually can't get enough of the stuff he posts, but this one just didn't speak to me. For those too lazy to click over, the solution is to wipe down the inside of the glass with a cloth or paper towel before pouring the Champagne. The microscopic hollow bits of cellulose left on the glass apparently "act as 'nucleation' (bubble formation) sites". My personal take on this is that anyone who feels the need to coax excessive bubbles from their 'bubbly' probably considers it more of a prop than a beverage. Missing the point, people... missing the point. [shakes head]
To everyone out there who is reading this on the groggy morning of 01/01/07, Happy [secular] New Year! Look outside and marvel at the fact that civilizations continues to purr along quite nicely, thankyouverymuch... and if there is anything effervescent left in the fridge after last night's bacchanalia, pour yourself a bit and raise your glass to a year filled with wine... not just bubbles.
Thursday, December 21, 2006
I don't recall if I have written about this or not... but about a year ago Zahava and I came to a decision (with the help of our pediatrician) to have Gilad try Ritalin in hopes it would help him concentrate in school. We HATED the idea of medicating him more than words can describe... but we were at our wit's end trying to figure out how to keep him from duplicating his father's abysmal academic performance.
So, we picked up a prescription for 'Vitamin R' (a low trail dosage that would only last a couple of hours) and sat Gilad down for a talk.
He certainly wasn't happy wandering around in a fog in school and having his parents and teachers tag-teaming him at regular intervals over his failure to perform, so he was willing to give just about anything a try. But at the same time, he wanted to know how the pills would make him feel.
I'm embarrassed to admit that this questions caught me completely off guard.
Zahava and I had been so focused on the potential results of the drug that we had completely glossed over its direct effects on our child; a feeling, thinking human being. As a parent, I can't tell you how sh*tty this made me feel. I promised Gilad we would look into it.
I did some research on the web (I know all you physicians out there are slapping your forehead right about now), and Zahava asked our pediatrician for his opinion. As expected, our pediatrician (an excellent diagnostician and physician) hedged a little bit and said that kids described a wide range of 'observed feelings' after taking Ritalin and that we would simply have to wait until Gilad took it to know how it would make him feel.
However, my research on the web gave me pause. It seems that not only were most of the success stories for Ritalin reported with ADHD kids (Gilad definitely did not have the 'H' (hyperactive) in whatever group of letters might be holding him back)... but in studies, Ritalin has been linked to abnormal liver function, cerebral arteritis, leukopenia, and death* (there have been at least 19 cases of sudden death in children taking methylphenidate [Ritalin's chemical name], leading to calls by the Drug Safety and Risk Management Advisory Committee to the FDA to require the most serious type of health warning on the label, but this advice was rejected**)!
Sure Gilad has serious attention issues... but he is one of the mellowest kids on the planet (just like his dad was). Parent-teacher night with him traditionally starts with "You should know that your son is such a nice boy and a pleasure to have in class, but... " which is traditionally followed by a report of non-performance (sound familiar mom & dad?).
Anyway, with heavy hearts we decided to go ahead with the little white wonder pills and Gilad gave his consent.
Long story short, almost immediately Gilad reported feeling more alert and 'there' when he was in class. But at the same time he said he didn't enjoy the 'hyper' feeling that the Ritalin was giving him. This went on for a few weeks, but we finally decided that the improvement wasn't significant enough to justify having Gilad feel out of sorts all the time.
Enter a treppenwitz reader who recently stayed with us for a few days on a trip to Israel. During one of our late evening chats she mentioned that she had decided not to go the Ritalin route with her kids and instead just let them have coffee.
Well, if you think about it, it makes a certain amount of sense. Ritalin is essentially a stimulant (amphetamine), and most, if not all or the effects mirror what people report after drinking a cup of coffee; alertness, better ability to focus... even enhanced ability to reason and make mental connections.
Coffee, on the other hand, contains the single most widely used drug on the planet; caffeine. As I pointed out before, it provides many, if not all, of the same effects of Ritalin without potentially serious health risks. In fact, new research has uncovered a host of health benefits to drinking coffee in moderation.
So, if coffee might potentially fill in for Ritalin, why not avoid something that has serious potential health risks?
We have now officially invited Ariella and Gilad into our little morning coffee ritual... Ariella because she's now old enough to make an informed decision, and Gilad because, while it might help him focus, it certainly can't hurt.
Oh, and for all you parents out there who are itching to admonish me about how coffee will stunt their growth... not only are both of the big kids (11 and 12 respectively) already, well, big (Ariella is already her mother's height and Gilad is on track to surpass his 6'2" dad)... but it turns out that the whole 'stunting your growth' scare-story our parents handed us was nothing but a myth with no scientific evidence whatsoever to support it.
Also, unlike Ritalin, there is no negative stigma attached to drinking coffee to further damage Gilad's self-esteem. If anything, our inviting him join us for a cuppa is bound to make him feel a little more grown up (and who knows... responsible?)
Look, I figure it's worth a try. Worst comes to worst, Gilad will continue plodding down the path of academic mediocrity that was blazed before him by his dad. But we will at least enjoy a few extra minutes together with the kids in the morning over a delicious cup of coffee.
I'll let you know how things work out.
Friday, December 15, 2006
My bilingual boy
Our three year old Yonah was what you might call a 'late bloomer' when it came to talking. There are lots of things behind this whole late blooming thing... but he seems to be making up for lost time now.
Having been born to American parents in Israel, Yonah has had the added challenge of learning to communicate in two languages... not to mention figuring out when and where each language is appropriate.
A heartwarming story from the supermarket that was related to me by my lovely wife:
Zahava and a friend were conversing when they noticed Yonah trying to force his way past another shopper. After a few tentative shoves against the offending leg blocking his progress, he finally looked up at the
obstacle shopper and yelled "ZOOZ!!!" (literally 'MOVE' in Hebrew).
Without missing a beat, the woman with whom my wife had been talking said, "Oh how cute... he's already learned to say 'excuse me' in Hebrew.
Our little Israeli is growing up so fast. We're so proud.
OK folks, the polls close today so this is your last chance to cast your vote for treppenwitz in the finals of the Weblog Awards. You guys have been great so far... but this is for all the marbles. Go Vote!
Note to Doctor Bean: We're having brunch with my folks so Photo Friday may be up a bit late (if at all).