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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A senseless death

Avi Cohen, an Israeli footballer who spent a spell playing for Liverpool, was just pronounced brain dead a few days after suffering serious head injuries in a motorcycle crash in Tel Aviv.

Sadly, it often takes the death of a celebrity / high profile person to get people to talking and thinking.

The details of the crash have yet to be fully released, but the one detail that has gotten the police, transportation officials and the public talking is that he was wearing a half helmet (not sufficient to meet Israel's helmet law), which was unbuckled... and flew off when he was hit by the car.

Naturally, there is no lack of finger pointing going on.

The public is pointing at the police for not enforcing the existing helmet laws which require at least a 3/4 helmet, which must be securely fastened under the chin with a strap while operating a powered two wheeler (PTW).

The police are pointing at the motorcycle and scooter shops for selling half helmets even though they are not street legal for PTW use.

The shops are pointing at the importers for bringing in the half helmets and offering them to the shops even though they should not legally be allowed.

The importers are pointing at the customs officials for turning a blind eye to the half helmets, thereby creating a situation that if the importers don't meet the public demand for the half helmets... someone else will (i.e., people will import them directly/privately).

All in all it's a tragic example of blame-storming triggered by (but simultaneously ignoring) the fact that a man is needlessly dead.

Whether out of respect for Avi Cohen's family, or because people tend to shift blame towards officialdom, nobody seems to be blaming Avi Cohen for making the decision to buy an illegal half helmet, wear it while riding, and fail to strap it properly in place while doing so.

I'm a big believer in people taking personal responsibility. But I also acknowledge that people don't always take responsibility for themselves the way they should... inviting the government to create some minimum standards. Therein lies the start of a tug-o-war over how much or little 'the man' should be able to legislate our individual safety.

An excellent example is seat belts. Many people forget that it wasn't until the late 70s that the first seat belt laws began to turn up... and that there are still places in the civilized world (New Hampshire, for example) which do not require them.

I'm not sure where I'm going with this, but it saddened me that the first thing I saw on the news when I woke up this morning was a senseless death. I am sure, however, that I don't want this to become a discussion of whether there should be helmet laws (those 'discussions' never end well).

Maybe I'm just wondering why, if personally responsibility is what everyone screams when government tries to interfere with our pastimes and pleasures, when a tragedy like Avi Cohen's death hits the news none of the personal responsibility seems to be falling on the unfortunate man whose personal choices ultimately cost him his life?

Posted by David Bogner on December 29, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack

Monday, December 27, 2010

The slippery slope of lens prescriptions

I have a theory: Once a person gets eyeglasses to correct their vision, their eyes essentially stop trying.

Seriously, before you get glasses, your eyes are forced to work extremely hard to keep you from falling into holes, tripping over carpet edges and walking into furniture. They also have to help you read the fine print in medicine bottles... it's a self-preservation thing. If the eyes don't do their job, their host will probably die in a horrible accident or poison him/herself on prescription drugs.

But once a person gets that first pair of glasses, the eyes retire and move to Florida. They buy themselves loose fitting tracksuits and basically give up. "Oh, you want to read those directions on the medicine bottle? That's nice... go buy me a stronger prescription... I'll be kicked back in the Barkalounger eating Mallomars 'til you get back.".

I've only had reading glasses for about three years now, and I'm already on my third prescription change! I'm only 49, but my eyes are wearing white patent leather shoes and eating the early bird special at four in the afternoon.

But being a relative newcomer to glasses, I probably shouldn't be complaining too loudly. Especially around my wife.

Zahava has been wearing glasses since she was a little girl, and has had to bump up her prescription about a gazillion times over the years.

When we met, Zahava had a pair of those big 1980s glasses with lenses that were as thick as the bottoms of Coke bottles. But over the years, advances in lens technology have made it possible for her to get smaller, lighter, thinner lenses to keep up with her ever-deteriorating eyesight.

However, the big problem with deteriorating eyesight is that it deteriorates so slowly as to be nearly imperceptible. It's not like one day you can see perfectly... and then the next you can't. No, it happens gradually... like hair growing. You can ignore it for awhile... then compensate for it for a while longer.

So what if you have to walk a little slower to keep from bumping into stuff, wait for people to speak so you can identify them, or have the kids tell you what dose the Motrin bottle says you should be giving them.

Denial isn't just a river in Egypt, you know.

But finally a day arrives when you realize you can't ignore the problem or compensate for it any longer. You'll know that day has arrived when you wake and go into the kitchen to enjoy a nice warm blueberry muffin for breakfast... and instead find yourself munching on a two-week-old corn muffin that is covered with big blotches of blue mold.

When that happens, you curse your eyes for their lazy and unhelpful ways... and then you make an appointment with the eye doctor to get your prescription updated.

So yes, Zahava and I are both walking around with new lenses these days. Butfor the time being anyway, Zahava is taking a few extra moments in the morning before biting into anything.

Posted by David Bogner on December 27, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Having to rethink the logistcs

So a couple of days ago I mentioned in passing that I had started using a C-PAP machine to help me breath at night. No, I won't rehash the whole sad Alice's Restaurant-esque rendition of the saga in four part harmony... go read about it if you're even remotely curious.

Suffice it to say that I now have a sleek looking little machine (a 'Resmed S8 Auto Spirit II', for those of you who are impressed by such things), about the size of a small clock radio on my bedside table.

On one side of this sleek little machine is a vent where the air is sucked in. On the other side protrudes a flexible hose which snakes behind my pillow and ends with a soft rubber mask that fits comfortably on my nose. The mask is held in place by two soft neoprene straps that go around the back of my head.

When I'm ready to go to bed, I place the mask on my nose, adjust the straps so they are comfortable (but secure), take a couple of breaths, and the machine starts working automatically... sucking in air, and forcing it through the hose and into my nose.

I've been following this routine for a week now and, aside from the dryness I'm experiencing (I've already asked the medical supplier to send over the humidifier attachment for the C-PAP), I think it's been working out quite well.

  1. I sleep better.
  2. Zahava sleeps better.
  3. The kids have something new about which to ridicule their father.

However, last night something happened which caused me to rethink some of the logistics of the whole operation.

We have two dogs. Both of our dogs - in the immortal words of Dave Barry - 'emit aromas'. There seems to be no rhyme or reason as to when or why the dogs emit aromas. Days can go by without a whiff of trouble... and then, without warning, one or both of them will let loose with a bout of flatulence that can (and often does) clear a room.

Last night the older of our dogs - Jordan - went to sleep next to my bed. With her butt pointed right at my bedside table.

Have any of you students of literature figured out yet where I'm going with all this foreshadowing?

Sometime around 1 AM, I came bolt awake as the smell of necrotic dog colon was pumped directly from my dog's @ss... through the C-PAP machine... and across every single one of my unsuspecting olfactory receptors.

Did you ever see that scene from the movie 'Alien' where the embriotic alien creature has just jumped from its egg sac onto the face of the unsuspecting astronaut, triggering a violent (and unsuccessful) struggle to rip the thing off of his face?

That pretty much describes what happened last night as I came fully awake and tried to yank the mask off my nose... forgetting that it was held securely in place by two straps around the back of my head.

Once I was finally able to free myself, it took awhile before I was able to calm down enough to even contemplate going back to sleep. I used that time to banish both dogs to the living room, and to spray some bathroom air freshener around the master bedroom.

Note to self: Check to make sure the dogs are locked upstairs before putting on the C-PAP equipment and going to sleep.

The best part? An old friend (and regular treppenwitz reader) named Debbie was kind enough to point me towards an online CPAP users forum where I'd be able to get a lot of helpful information.

Since finding out about the site, I've been worried about how to introduce myself to the forum denizens... you know, that first post in any online environment is always so crucial to the way strangers relate to you.

Well, guess what my first forum post is going to be about. ;-)

Posted by David Bogner on December 22, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

An offer you can't shouldn't refuse

If you've ever wanted to improve yourself... broaden your mind... calibrate your worldview... hone your perceptiveness... become a more critical thinker... gain a better understanding of the forces behind the news... well, have I got an offer for you!

My friend and fellow blogger, Ben Chorin is without a doubt one of the smartest people I have ever met (and that's saying something since I know a lot of smart people). When he first started his blog, he mostly offered up scholarly posts on legal and political issues of the day; some esoteric... and others less so.

But after a few years he came to the conclusion (wrongheaded, IMHO) that he was running out of unique observations... that others were saying the same things, albeit in more accessible language.

So, for a few months his site went dormant.

Now, after a short hiatus, Ben is back... and he has decided to change his focus and format.

Starting a few weeks ago, he started offering up a series of essays which address various issues of Religion and State (I know... sounds pretty dry, right?)... but which in reality are turning out to be some of the most eye-opening, erudite examinations of the very fabric of modern society that I have ever seen.

That Ben isn't feeding these essays as chapters to a publisher instead of placing pearls before swine here on the Internet, is beyond me. But we are the beneficiaries, and far be it from me to complain about having access to something I don't really deserve.

I should warn you, at first the language Ben uses may seem a bit scary. But don't be put off... persevere. We're just used to the media and the pundits dumbing things down to bite sized bits for us. We have been conditioned to like our information pre-digested.

Yes, Ben sometimes uses a lot of '50 cent words' where a nickel or dime word would suffice. But he explains himself so clearly, and presents the information in such an organized and logical fashion, that any snarl of vocabulary which isn't immediately clear will be quickly made clear in context.

It would not be too hyperbolic to say that every thinking person should be following this series of essays... even (and probably especially) if at first blush you are not inclined to agree with Mr. Chorin's worldview.

Start here and go through them chronologically. He has published eleven (approximately weekly) installments so far, and shows no sign of slowing. So this is the time to jump in and get caught up.

Here are the links in chronological order (don't thank me... I'm a giver): 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. 10, 11)

Why are you still here? Go start reading!

Posted by David Bogner on December 21, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Monday, December 20, 2010

Some Health Issues

First of all, calm down. Whenever people read the phrase 'health issues' in the title of a blog post they always assume the worst.

No, I'm not dying. Well, actually I am dying... but I'm doing it at about the same rate as everyone else (tfu, tfu tfu).

Many of you may remember last year I finally woke up (pun intended) to the fact that our mattresses were [figuratively] killing us? For the record, 18 years is way too long to hold onto even the best mattresses. People, you spend a huge chunk of your life in bed. Be a sport... if you're waking up tired and sore, blame the bed and buy something better.

Anyhoo... we went from what had been some very high end Sealy 'Posture-Pedic' mattresses to some very high end Visco-Elastic foam (like Tempu-Pedic) mattresses from a company called Comfort Living (which has offices in Israel and in the US).

The quality of my (our) sleep improved dramatically once we had more comfortable beds. However, many of you left comments recommending that I should still consider getting my doctor to prescribe a sleep study in a hospital sleep laboratory (instead of the rather low-tech home experiment I had conducted).

At the time, agreed that having a formal sleep study done would be a good idea. And then did exactly nothing about it.

Over the past year I have noticed that, even though I'm not sore in the shoulders and hips the way I had been in our old bed, the quality of my sleep was going down the toilet again. I was exhausted during the day... was falling into bed nearly as soon as I got home from work... and yet I was waking up tired and fatigued every single morning.

Finally Zahava convinced me to see a doctor.

Well actually, she simply made an appointment for me (she knows what a sloth I am about following up on good advice).

Our family physician cut me off mid-sentence when I started telling him what I just told you. In less than a minute he had written me a referral to see an Ear Nose and Throat specialist.

Before any of you start accusing him of malpractice, calm down. He took my temperature, blood pressure and listened to all the gurgles and thumps my body makes while keeping me alive. But I could tell his heart wasn't in it. In his mind, I was already sitting in the waiting room of the ENT.

The appointment at the ENT was equally perfunctory. He looked at the referral from our family doc, looked in my mouth, nose and ears (Hey, that's his specialty, right? At least I knew I was safe from the dreaded rubber glove!), and asked me how my wife was sleeping.

I was puzzled by the question. "Don't you want to know how I'm sleeping?", I asked him. He responded that most people have no idea how they sleep (unless they are insomniacs), and spouses can give much more reliable information. I thought about it for a second and realized he was right. Zahava was always complaining about me waking her up at night with my snoring... and in fact, her sleep was suffering nearly as much as mine.

He told me that I needed to lose some weight (for that he needed to go to medical school?!), and told me that my uvula was a little on the long side (which could be taken care of with a small surgical procedure if necessary).

But he said said that his immediate worry was that my exhaustion might be caused by sleep apnea... a fairly dangerous cessation of breathing while asleep. The only thing keeping apnea from being fatal is that apparently when the body senses you've stopped breathing, the brain wakes you up so you can do something about it (like take a breath, idiot!).

Except when it doesn't. [yikes]

Within ten minutes I was back on the street with a referral to a Hospital Sleep Laboratory.

I immediately called up the sleep lab and was pleasantly surprised that they had an open spot in less than two weeks on a Saturday night. I grabbed it, and they sent me a faxed confirmation of the appointment telling me when to be there (10PM) and what to bring (pajamas, toothbrush,, etc.). I faxed this document to my health fund and they sent the financial commitment to cover the cost. I love socialized medicine!

[The actual sleep study is a blog post all by itself which I'll leave for another day. It's written... I just need to sit on it a little while longer. I've taken out all of the swear words and almost all the actionable insulting language... but it still needs a tad more fine tuning to be acceptable for a family blog.]

Let's flash forward to the report issued by the Sleep Laboratory.

When it arrived in the mail, I eagerly opened it up, read it cover to cover... and understood exactly nothing. It was page after page of data that had been gathered during the night via the roughly 150 wires and electrodes they had stuck to every exposed part of my body (and some to parts that weren't exposed).

Even if it hadn't been the obvious next step, I knew I would need the ENT to interpret the test results for me. So seeing as my lovely wife was going to be in the doctor's office for one of our children in a few days, I gave the report to her and asked her to drop it off.

Zahava called from the ENT's office. Apparently he'd been waiting for the results and had looked them over on the spot. Houston... we have a problem.

Without going into too much detail (yeah right), I have a serious sleep issue.

Apparently sleep is divided into two categories: REM (Rapid Eye Movement) and non-REM. If you're really interested you can go read this and find out more than any individual really needs to know on the subject. But here's the abbreviated version:

Non-REM sleep has three different levels. The scientists can measure all kinds of brain waves which tell them which level of non-REM sleep you are in. But aside from being able to identify the different levels, they don't really know much except that most people spend about 3/4 of their sleep time moving back and forth between the three non-REM stages of sleep.

That leaves approximately 1/4 ( maybe even a little more) of the typical human's sleep time which is spent in REM sleep.

REM is so called because one of the signs you are in it is that your eyes move around rapidly (duh!). REM sleep is when we do almost all of our dreaming. It is also the sleep stage where our muscles experience a sort of paralysis (maybe to keep us from acting out what we're dreaming about and possibly hurting ourselves). Some anecdotal evidence has shown that people who don't experience REM sleep (for whatever reason) can experience serious mental health issues, or even die. Cool, huh?

The funny thing is that the medical community doesn't really understand much about sleep. Like I said, they can identify all the stages and have a clear idea of what healthy sleep habits look like in a normal human. But amazingly, they still don't fully understand why we sleep or what it does for us. All they know is that sleep deprivation is fatal, and poor sleep can cause a host of health issues.

They also know that, while a person can experience a 'sleep debt' from continuously not getting enough of the various kinds of sleep... sleep is not something you can save up and bank like money for future use. The best you can do is slowly pay back the debt.

Even sleeping the correct number of hours isn't enough to stay healthy. You see, we humans (like most organisms) have something called a Circadian clock which tells our body what it should be doing during the 24 hour period of each day. So if you try to sleep when your body isn't ready for it, you will not get the full benefit from the rest.

Getting back to me, though... the ENT explained that I was waking up about 22 times per hour during the night due to my brain sensing that I was not breathing. Some of the longest cessation of breathing I'd experienced during the night at the sleep lab had been just under 90 seconds.

Let's take a moment while you absorb that information. Better yet, lets do a little experiment: Try to hold your breath. Take a big lung-full of air, look at your watch... and hold it (your breath, not the watch!) as long as you can. Go ahead, I'll wait.

How'd we do?

You can tell me your time in the comments, but let me add something at this point. Those long periods when I stopped breathing weren't preceded by taking a big lungful of air the way you just did. I exhaled normally... and simply didn't inhale for well over a minute (on many occasions)... until my brain panicked over the lack of oxygen in my bloodstream and applied the jumper cables to my muscles to wake me up.

More fun facts:

A healthy adult generally has more than 95% 'pulse ox' (oxygen saturation in his/her hemoglobin) as measured by a little instrument that clips onto a fingertip. Anything less than 90% is a condition called Hypoxemia (look it up... I can't link to everything!). When you drop below 90% on that particular stat, your body isn't getting enough oxygen, and you are in danger of a host of things, including... well, let's not talk about that right now.

My sleep study report indicated that my average pulse ox while I slept was 85%.

What does all this mean?

Because I wasn't getting enough oxygen, I was waking up. A lot. Because I was waking up so often to start breathing again, my body wasn't going through the various non-REM sleep stages in an orderly manner... and my REM sleep was almost non-existent (less than an hour, all told).

Like I said, people who don't get the proper amounts of each kind of sleep - and especially those who don't get enough REM sleep - are susceptible to a host of physical and mental health problems.

So yeah. There it is.

Again the ENT reminded me that I need to take off some weight. I'm working on that, but that isn't going to happen overnight. He also said that at some point we can talk about snipping off part of my uvula (an outpatient procedure with few risks but which nausiates me to even contemplate), to try reduce a potential cause of my apnea.

The good news is that apparently one of the side effects of my sleep issues is that the body gets so run down that it doesn't burn food efficiently... leading to weight gain (or at least making it very hard to loose weight). He said that once I start sleeping properly it will be much, much easier to lose weight.

But the immediate remedy to keep me from having a nervous or physical breakdown (or, G-d forbid, dying) is that I have to start using a C-PAP machine.

Glad you asked.

A C-PAP machine is basically a little electronic device about the size of a small clock radio that uses positive air pressure to force air into your (well, actually my) lungs during sleep.

I was worried about being able to sleep with a hose attached to my face... but it is actually fairly unobtrusive. A tiny soft plastic piece fits under my nose and is held in place by some straps. A hose runs from the nose piece to the bedside machine. The uber-quiet machine turns on automatically when you put it on... and turns off when you take it off.

So far I can report that in the week I have been using the C-PAP machine I have been waking up feeling incredibly well rested and refreshed. I still wake up occasionally during the night because of the odd feeling of the thing on my face. But it is far less frequently than before... and I am actually getting real sleep for a change.

The only real challenge is that to use the C-PAP, I need to sleep with my mouth closed all night. If not, all that air being pushed into my nose goes right out my mouth instead. Not to worry though... this has only happened a couple of times, and the sensation is so bizarre (like having a stranger exhaling air from my mouth) that it wakes me up immediately.

Well that's about it. I'm spending time on the treadmill and being more careful about what I'm eating. But most important; I am finally getting some quality sleep.

I'll keep you up to date as things (hopefully) continue to improve.

Posted by David Bogner on December 20, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (21) | TrackBack

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Facts on the ground

Every so often I get an email from a reader asking me to weigh in on some topic or other from the news. Usually it is something political, but sometimes it is a religious issue.

Usually when I get such requests, I politely decline because, let's face it, someone else has probably already done a better job of rehashing the issue than I ever could.

Over the weekend I received such a request from a reader I'll call 'John (because that's his real name):

"Trep, I'm always interested in your views on things mundane and sublime and in between. What's your take on the Rabbis' Letter out of Tzfat forbidding rentals/sales to non-Jews? I know this is a potential bomb, but might you opine? Inquiring minds want to know your opinions."

At first blush this is exactly the type of topic that I shouldn't touch with a ten foot pole. Not only am I ignorant of most of the particulars... but living in an area where land rights are in dispute, I am what some might call 'an interested party'.

Never-the-less... here I go:

To begin with, yes, I have an opinion. But it is not so much about who is wrong or right... as it is about correctly identifying what is actually going on.

First some background for those who are unfamiliar with the topic:

It seems that a Rabbi in Tzfat (Safed) in northern Israel recently became alarmed enough about Arabs renting and buying up properties in areas which are predominantly Jewish, that he issued a decree forbidding Jews to rent or sell to Arabs.

The Rabbi's concern stems from his suspicion (IMHO probably correct) that the trend is not a purely natural one of individual Arabs happening to want to move into areas that happen to be Jewish. Almost certainly, many of these real estate transactions are being carried out at the behest of (and with the financial backing of) nationalist Arab/Palestinian groups.

This is what is known in the region as 'creating facts on the ground'.

But let's take a deep breath for a moment and define that oft-used/abused phrase.

'Creating facts on the ground' is what the the French (and those who like to use French expressions) call a fait accompli; literally an accomplished fact or 'done deal'. In other words something that has already happened and is therefore unlikely to be reversed.

Historically, the phrase has mostly been used to accuse the Israeli settler movement of placing so many Israeli Jews in disputed areas that it will be difficult or impossible to uproot them. To some extent this is true. Whether it is legal, moral or any of a half dozen other things, is a discussion for another day.

But what is largely ignored is that the Arabs are equally adept at 'creating facts on the ground', and the development of much of Judea and Samaria's (the west bank) real estate since it fell into Israeli hands after the 1967 Six Day War has been like a fast moving game of 'Risk' with both sides working feverishly to bring the most territory under their control so as to be declared the winner.

Looking at photographs of my town and its surrounding areas from around the period when it was founded (circa 1980) is an excellent example. Efrat was planned as a long, narrow community that would sprawl progressively across the ridgeline of several prominent hills in the heart of Gush Etzion. What is striking about those early photos is the nearly complete lack of anything here. A few tiny nearby Arab villages were extant, but nothing whatsoever on or near the proposed site of Efrat can be seen in any period photos or survey maps.

Yet as soon as the municipal boundaries of Efrat were defined and approved, suddenly a lot of Arab agriculture began springing up on all sides of us... quite literally hemming us in and making future natural growth (what the rest of the world would call urban sprawl) all but impossible.

That little of the land now under Palestinian cultivation was actually legally owned by the farmers when they began the cultivation is neither here nor there. Once they are growing grapes and olives (crops that require only occasional tending and once-per-year harvesting), it becomes difficult for the legal owner, or even the sovereign, to re-exert meaningful control over the land.

My point is that yes, both Jews and Arabs are extremely adept at creating facts on the ground. The end result of which is the ever-shifting 'Israeli and international consensus' over what can and can't be considered negotiable in a future peace settlement.

So getting back to the issue of the Rabbinical decree up in Tzfat... we need to look at a few things:

1. Is what the Arabs are doing a legitimate cause for concern? In my opinion, yes. The city has a long history of 'friction' along the fault lines where the Jewish and Arab populations bump up against one another. If either side were to significantly try to alter the status quo in the other's neighborhoods, violence is almost certain to follow.

2. Is the Jewish Community doing anything similar to what the Arabs are being accused of? To a smaller extent, yes. However, as with similar efforts in Jerusalem's old city, the purchasing of properties by Jews in predominantly Muslim areas is nearly always designed to either a) bring formerly Jewish properties back under Jewish ownership; or b) to create contiguity between isolated Jewish properties that have been legally purchased.

3. Is there anything overtly illegal about what either side is doing? From a real estate standpoint, no.

4. Is there anything overtly illegal about the decree issued by the Rabbi. IMHO (and I'm not a lawyer), yes. In a democracy it is problematic (to say the least) to place religious or ethnic limitations upon who can do what in any particular place. Think about it for a moment: It actually makes it nearly impossible to protest racist exclusion of Jews from certain areas if we try to do the same to Arabs.

5. Is there anything religiously/ethically problematic about the Rabbi's decree? I'll leave that to a far more knowledgeable blogger. But suffice it to say that any religious decree which is not likely to be widely accepted, and which will actually result in bringing scorn upon the Torah and its institutions by Jews and non-Jews alike, is a very, very bad thing indeed.

I'll stop here and let you talk amongst yourselves.

Posted by David Bogner on December 19, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

"I told you, never ask me about my business... "

OK, since you didn't actually ask, maybe I'll tell a little. Not about my business, mind you... but maybe a little bit about my after-work plans.

Tonight I'm getting together with a few friends at a small winery whose owner we happen to know ('Ayyo, not for nuthin', but I know guy...'). It's a rustic little place on the side of a mountain. We're taking over the joint for the evening.

The tasting room is a rustic space just outside the cellar where the barrels and bottles are stored. There's a little wood-burning stove near the door to keep things cozy, and some rough-hewn wooden tables and chairs with overstuffed cushions.

There is also a surround sound home theater system and a large screen TV... not to mention an open grill right outside the door and a case of thick-cut steaks being hand rubbed with salt and pepper as we speak.

We'll be going through an array of wines, starting with some crisp whites, moving on to some dry reds to go with dinner, and finishing off with a nice port that isn't commercially available... just for friends.

We'll be enjoying beautifully marbled steaks seared over hardwood coals, smoking Cubans (well not me... I've never even been tempted), and watching Coppola's masterful treatment of Mario Puzo's classic underworld tale.

That's right... 'The Godfather' DVD is already there and cued up for our arrival.

Now where is my overcoat and gray fedora... ?

Posted by David Bogner on December 15, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Sharing a short part of a long journey

In many ways, the IDF is a great blending and processing plant for Israeli society. It throws people from different social (rich, poor, middle class) and religious (religious, secular, Jewish, Muslim, Druse, Christian, etc.) backgrounds together and lets them mingle and work together in a setting that might not be possible at another time and place.

In addition to providing intensive Hebrew courses for new immigrants, the IDF also allows soldiers who might have missed the boat (so to speak) in high school to take remedial courses and study for their matriculation exams. In this sense, the army offers a much needed second chance to those who want/need it.

But in my opinion, one of the most promising and important opportunities that the Israeli Army affords its members is a program called 'Netiv' (translation: Trail/Path).

Because the Law of Return allows anyone with Jewish ancestry as well as the spouses of those with Jewish ancestry (but who might not necessarily be Halachically Jewish) to claim Israeli citizenship, there exists a strange situation where we have in our midst, citizens who have been raised in our schools, received a culturally Jewish education, speak perfect Hebrew, and who in 100 other ways are completely Israeli. But because they are not Jewish according to the Rabbinic establishment's reading of Jewish Law, they are not free to marry a Jew (at least in Israel), or in other more subtle ways, to truly integrate into the society in which they live.

The Netiv program is a voluntary course for IDF soldiers who are not Jewish according to Halachah (Jewish Law), but who are interested in a course of study in preparation for possibly going through a conversion. While most of the members of the program seem to be from families that immigrated from the former Soviet Union, there are certainly others from elsewhere who have reason to want to take the course.

In addition to intensive study of Jewish texts, laws, history and rituals, the soldiers are required to spend at least a few Shabbatot and/or holidays with observant Jewish families so they can see the things they've been learning applied in the real world. We found ourselves on the list of families that the IDF calls to host these soldiers because a couple of our friends' daughters have been commanders and teachers in the Netiv course.

Over the past few years our family has hosted many soldiers for shabbat from this program. Typically we'll get a call early in the week from the officer running the course asking us if we can host a few soldiers for shabbat. They ask if we prefer men or women, and how many we can host. Generally we take two or three on a typical shabbat.

On Friday afternoon, an IDF bus full of soldiers pulls up to the local synagogue, and the host families wait for them there. They get off the bus and introductions are made between the host families and soldiers. Each family then takes 'their' soldiers home.

It is important to point out that many (perhaps most) of the Netiv candidates do not follow through with a conversion. Some are in the course out of curiosity. Others sign up because it is a preferable alternative to less pleasant work. But others find themselves in Netiv because they genuinely want, at long last, to return to the people from whom one or more of their ancestors departed.

We have genuinely enjoyed the company of all the soldiers who have come to us via this program, and have made lasting connections with a few of them. But aside from writing an occasional letter of recommendation, we have not been privy to their long-term plans or whether they have, in-fact, gone through with the conversion.

Until recently.

One of the soldiers who has been coming to us for the past few months is a young woman who I'll call Marina (not her real name). When she first came to us for shabbat we found her to be very pleasant... but somewhat reserved. She was pretty and extremely bright, but not quite as outgoing and gregarious as some of the others we'd met. But once she warmed up to us (and we to her), we realized that she wasn't shy... just extremely modest.

Everything about Marina, from her dress to her choice of words was under-stated. She would often ask questions about traditions and ritual which revealed a deep pool of knowledge waiting to be catelogued and organized. She noticed everything and wanted to know obscure things such as why people stood a certain way at different times in the synagogue, or why our youngest son seemed to be saying an abbreviated form of grace after meals and the bedtime 'shema' prayer.

After Marina had been to our home 4 or 5 times, she called us to tell us that she'd received a date to sit with the Beit Din (Rabbinic court). She wanted to know if one of us would consider coming to testify on her behalf. We weren't really sure what that entailed, but we agreed that at least one of us would be there on the appointed date.

Yesterday was the day.

We arrived at the Jerusalem offices of the Beit Din and found Marina nervously waiting, dressed in one of her typically modest outfits. She seemed enormously relieved to see us both, and Zahava gave her a reassuring hug.

After a few minutes of chatting in the waiting room, a clerk came out and asked me if we were here for 'Marina'. I nodded, and he motioned for us to come in. When Marina rose, the clerk explained that they would call her shortly.

We were ushered into a medium sized conference room and seated across a big table from three Rabbis (who had name plates set up in front of them). I'm not sure what I had been expecting, but the three smiled warmly and asked if we wanted tea or coffee.

After a little chit chat and Jewish geography, they began asking us gentle questions about our relationship with Marina. How long had we known her?... how many times had she come to our house?... what were our impressions of her? I wouldn't really call it a direct line of questioning, because they really left us tell them anything and everything we wanted. We shared anecdotes about our interactions with Marina, as well as things we'd heard from our children.

One of the more poignant things we shared was that Marina had told our daughter that she knew she wanted to be Jewish since she'd been six years old.

After about 15 minutes the three Rabbis asked us if there was anything else we wanted to add. When we said no, I assumed we'd be dismissed. But instead, the head of the Beit Din asked us to move apart and place a chair between us so that Marina could join us. By the time we'd complied, Marina had been invited into the room by the clerk, and had taken her seat between us.

Again, I'm not sure I had thought about what the process might be like, but I must have thought it would be much more formal and courtroom-like (or at least like a deposition).

Instead the Rabbis were as warm and gentle with Marina as they'd been with us. They asked her about herself... her background... her experiences with us... her experiences with religious observance during the Netiv course. They also asked her practical questions about Jewish law... about the definition of common (and not so common) terminology... and they even asked her about Jewish history as described in the Torah.

Marina answered in her typically modest way. She answered the questions softly and somewhat hesitantly... but seemed to be drawing the answered from deep inside rather than from a rote cram session. Even the couple of things she answered incorrectly were so detailed and correct in their context that a soft word or suggestion from one of the Rabbis helped her make the connection and get back on the right track.

At one point they asked her about the weekly Torah portion that had been read in synagogue the previous Shabbat. She couldn't remember the name, but was able to paraphrase the story quite well. Then they asked her about the Haftara reading that had followed. Again, she knew the basic story line.

But when the Rabbis asked her if she had noticed a connection between the Torah portion and Haftara reading I was sure she would be stumped. But after thinking out loud for a few moments, Marina quietly offered a possible connection and was rewarded with three beaming smiles such as a daughter or granddaughter might receive.

Throughout the process, the Rabbis were warm and supportive, and spoke to Marina as if she were a favored student. The intent was clearly not to trip her up or catch her unprepared. It was more like they were discussing a favorite book or film with a friend who had just read/seen it for the first time. The words 'Enthusiastic', 'Warm', and 'Loving' come effortlessly to mind.

Throughout the interview, Zahava and I sat on either side of Marina... barely breathing and terribly proud of her quiet confidence in the face of such a daunting task.

The last question they asked wasn't really a question. One of the Rabbis asked her to tell a bit about 'Tzniut' (roughly translates as 'modesty', but is so much more than that).

Marina seemed nonplussed.

For the first time in the interview she didn't seem to have the answer. After a pause she said, "I'm not sure what you are asking me. I know the word but I'm not sure what to tell you about it. When another Rabbi started asking her if Jews were supposed to dress in a certain way or conduct themselves in a particular manner, Marina seemed to see where they were going. She said, "Of course, we're not supposed to wear revealing clothing, but I was brought up this way so I never really thought much about it".

I wanted to jump in and tell them that everything about Marina was already so 'Tzenua' - modest - and that was why she didn't seem to understand that this was a potential cause for worry in the Rabbi's minds. But I could see in their eyes that they understood this.

Finally, the Rabbis asked Marina if she had anything else to tell them about why she wanted to be Jewish.

She thought for a moment and said, "Since I was a little girl I have always thought of myself as Jewish.... or at least I've always felt like I was on the road towards being Jewish. I attended Jewish schools.... my friends are Jewish... my whole life is Jewish. Now that I've learned so much about Judaism I'm sure it is right for me".

The head of the Beit Din then said, "But will you continue with what you've learned? Do you see yourself living as a Jew? It's not easy, you know."

Marina didn't hesitate. She quietly said, "The only thing that is difficult is when I begin something. Once I've started doing something, it becomes a part of my routine. I used to think it would be hard sitting in synagogue and praying for so long. Now I look forward to it and don't even notice the passage of time."

The Rabbis nodded and thanked us all for coming.

The clerk showed us out, and as we found ourselves once again in the waiting room, I assumed that this was the conclusion of a preliminary interview, or that they would notify Marina at some future date of their decision. However, within a minute the door opened and the clerk invited the three of us back in. We took our seats across from the Rabbis and waited. But not for long.

The head of the Beit Din smiled and told Marina that they were pleased to welcome her into the Jewish people, and asked her to stand. Her real name is actually a Hebrew word for a particular flower, so the Rabbi asked if this was the name she intended to use. She nodded. She was asked to repeat a short oath, and finally was asked to recite the 'Shema'. Zahava and I were both surprised to find tears running down our cheeks.

When we were all back in the waiting room, Zahava gave Marina a big hug and kiss and we both congratulated her. After a few minutes the clerk handed out some paperwork and Marina was told to make an appointment at a Mikveh (ritual bath) for the final step of her conversion; a ritual immersion.

Since it was early in the day, we invited Marina to a local restaurant for lunch, and throughout the meal she alternated between calling relatives and friends to give them the news, and apologizing to us for being on the phone. We couldn't stop smiling... it was such a privilege to have been part of this special transition for this brand new Jew.

We dropped Marina off at the bus station and told her we expected to see a lot of her. She told us to give warm regards to our kids, promised to call, and we said our good-byes.

For the rest of the day I couldn't stop playing the entire episode over and over in my mind. How strange and wonderful to have been able to play so intimate a role in this woman's quest to join a club whose memebrship I take mostly for granted. I'm Jewish by birth... but she is now Jewish by choice.

Posted by David Bogner on December 14, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (23) | TrackBack

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Not exactly scooter weather, but...

When I got up this morning at 5AM, the outside temperature read 3 degrees Celsius, and the trees in the yard were whipping back and forth frantically in the frigid wind. On top of that, the visibility was so bad that I couldn't make out Elazar or Neve Daniel; the two communities on the other side of the road from us.

While I was puttering around getting the coffee going and setting the table for breakfast, I briefly entertained the idea of stealing the car from Zahava for the day. After all, the hour drive to and from Beer Sheva would be nice and toasty in our trusty Peugeot Station Wagon.

But then I started feeling guilty, because my comfort would come at the cost of Zahava having to walk to the other end of town to pick up Yonah from his after-school activity this afternoon... and then the two of them would have to wak back. By then it would likely be raining... maybe even snowing!


So I decided to suck it up and take the scooter.

My attire and accessories for the commute will be as follows:

  • Wool Sweater
  • Wool Scarf
  • Thermal hoodie
  • Rain Pants
  • Ski Parka
  • Scooter Skirt*
  • Scooter Muffs**
  • Two Hot Water Bottles (for under the scooter skirt)
  • Thermal Boots
  • Ski Gloves

* A Scooter Skirt is a big, contoured, insulated lap blanket that attaches around your waist and protects your legs from wind and rain all the way down to your feet.



** Scooter Muffs are big insulated wind blockers that attach to the scooter handlebars to keep your fingers from freezing, breaking off and littering the roadway.


Hopefully by the time I have to leave to come home from work today, I won't need something like this:

Snow scoot1

Posted by David Bogner on December 12, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (13) | TrackBack

Thursday, December 09, 2010

The things that cross my mind in the middle of the night...

... never cease to amaze me.

For instance, last night I woke up in the wee hours of the morning and ended up reading a New York Times article about Antarctica's geologic secrets, and the tiny scientific community working to get to the bottom of them (pun intended).

Yes, I have some odd and random interests. But it gets worse.

After I'd finished reading the article, I started wondering about the people who are stationed at this remote, frozen scientific outpost... which led to speculation about how many Jews there might be down there.

I didn't have to wonder for long, because it seems there truly is a wikipedia page for just about everything [the relevant portions only]:

Religion in Antarctica

Although Antarctica has only a tiny population, its inhabitants come from around the world, and include followers of numerous religious faiths.

According to The Association of Religion Data Archives, 72.00% of personnel in Antarctica adhere to Christianity, 23.60% are non-religious, 2.71% are Muslim, 1.00% are Hindu, and 0.70% are Buddhist. With a small human population of roughly 5,000 in summer months and 1,000 in winter, religious affiliation surveys may not represent a static reflection of current trends among the personnel on the continent.

Weird, no? With all the Jews involved in the scientific community, not one Jew in all of Antarctica. Go know! I guess they're all busy controlling the media and the banks.

I'm not sure what's stranger; that there are no members of the tribe on ice near the south pole... or that I found myself intensely interested in this at three in the morning.

Posted by David Bogner on December 9, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Where were you...?

On the afternoon of December 8th 1980 I clearly remember sitting in the shadow of the 5"/54 cal. gun mount on the focs'le (forward main deck) of a US Navy frigate in Pearl Harbor.

We had been off work for a little while, and a shipmate of mine was showing off his new 12 string guitar... playing some Dan Fogelberg, Bread and Jim Croce selections.

Another shipmate came on deck and, on hearing the music, wandered around the ASROC launcher to where we were sitting. Without waiting for the song to end he burst out with "Hey, I just heard on the radio that someone shot John Lennon!"

This was long before the days of the Internet or 24 hour news, but another sailor who had been sitting nearby listening to a transistor radio started fiddling with the tuner to see if he could find a news report. After a few minutes he pulled the earphone out of the jack and we all heard the announcement that John had been shot next to his Manhattan home... and was dead.

We were all struck silent. Nobody spoke. We had spent the previous day busy with the official commemoration of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor; an event that none of us were alive for, and to which we could barely relate.

Even though the Arizona memorial - which sits atop the actual battleship containing over a thousand dead sailors - was directly across from where our ship was tied up, the death and destruction of that long-ago date was somehow less real than this sudden shock.

John Lennon was someone we'd all grown up with. We felt like we knew him. He couldn't be dead.

My friend with the guitar started playing the intro to 'In My Life', but none of us felt like singing. We hummed through a verse of that song, and then he went into 'Across the Universe'.

I remember walking around that evening in a daze. I didn't necessarily agree with John's politics, but I'd grown up with the Beatles' music. They were the backbone of the soundtrack of my life. It was hard to fathom that the Beatles - at least in their solo incarnations - wouldn't always be around.

Heck, we all assumed that at some point John would leave Yoko and the band would reunite.

December 8th, 1980 was the day many of my assumptions died.

Posted by David Bogner on December 8, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

It comes in threes...

A friend of ours recently informed us that bad luck tends to come in threes. Having recently weathered the bathroom pipe burst and arachnophobia storms, we realized there had to be one more adventure in the pipeline.

And fate didn't disappoint:

Yesterday I got a frantic call at work from Zahava. Apparently something in our attic (presumably the tank for the hot water heater or one of the pipes leading in or out of it), had burst... and there was water pouring out of every fixture, electrical outlet and light switch on the third floor.

Not only that, but the sheet rock ceiling was starting to look vaguely pregnant and would soon require a C-Section if we were to avoid a complete collapse.

It goes without saying that the power was out, having tripped the moment water decided to play among the wiring. Did I mention that our home phones are all wireless handsets which require the base unit to be supplied with electricity to work?

Thank G-d for cell phones.

While I spoke with Zahava on the phone, our plumber (how sad is it that there is a plumber who we consider to be 'ours'?), arrived and started sorting things out. He shut off the water source and performed the emergency C-Section to release the build up of water on the ceiling. He isolated the hot water from the cold so that we would have at least some potable water source in the house until things were properly sorted out.

But since this was obviously going to have to be handled through our insurance company, our plumber stopped working once he'd stabilized the situation. He could have kept right on working, but he knows the system and didn't want to soak us (yes, pun intended) for work that the insurance company would want their own plumber to perform.

That's one of the many reasons this is 'our' plumber. We trust him not to screw us. He could have played dumb and made a lot of money, but he didn't.

One of our neighbors (a contractor by profession, who had noticed a cascade of water coming out from around the window frames on the back wall of our house) came over and assured Zahava that the plumber was doing the right thing and set about helping her sort out who to call.

The situation was complicated by the fact that two insurance policies will have to be tapped; One which covers the structure of the house... and another which covers the contents. Being typical clueless homeowners, we didn't really know which was which, and we certainly didn't have any of their contact information handy in case of emergency (taking notes yet?!).

Our neighbor walked through some of our old insurance bills with Zahava and found the relevant phone numbers.

The policy which covers the contents of the house was issued by an insurance agent who is a friend and neighbor. I spoke with him, but he told me that it was premature to send out an adjuster to look at content damage. He suggested we call the company that had issued the policy on the structure since they were the ones who would have to do the first aid and assess the damage to the plumbing, electrical system, fixtures and walls.

When I called that insurance company, a sleepy-sounding woman casually informed me that it would be 24 hours ("at least") before they'd be able to have anyone out to the house. I told her we had no water (a half truth) or electricity (the whole truth), and that we had kids at home for whom we would need both. She snapped her gum, took a long drag on her cigarette and exhaled loudly in my ear and said, "Sorry, that's the soonest we can have someone there".

Zahava called our friend the insurance agent, and even though it wasn't his problem, he called the other insurance company and pulled some strings (yay for protexia!!!) and arranged to have someone come out first thing in the morning. I love that 'no' means 'maybe' in this country!

In the mean time, our next door neighbor (the contractor), ran a couple of uber-long electrical extensions cords and a few power strips over to our house so that we could plug in the refrigerator and other essentail things (remind me to run over a couple of big jars of honey to that guy).

By the time I got home from work, it was getting dark out, so Gilad, Ariella and I set up some candles and our propane camping lanterns. The gas was still on in the kitchen, so while the kids set up the Hanukkah candles in the window, I set about putting together a big pot of beef stew (the kind with lots of meat, potatoes, carrots and thick gravy!). I figured that on a cold, rainy day full of so much drama, some comfort food was in order.

While the stew was cooking, our electrician (see above regarding the use of the term 'our') came over and checked out the damage. He was somehow able to remove some of the light fixtures and turn off enough of the top floor switches so that the rest of the house could be re-electrified.

He went around measuring and testing for about 20 minutes and told us that there seemed to be some water 'troubling' the system somewhere... but that it would probably stay online. He gave us instructions on what to do if the power tripped again, and, like our plumber, left after doing only what was essential to rescue us from the early 19th century.

After dinner, Ariella went to sleep at a friends house (since the bulk of the damage seems to have been in her room), and the boys roughed it in their room among strategically situated garbage cans and buckets catching the last of the run-off from the attic.

The insurance company's plumber and electrician are due today, so we'll see how things go.

All I can say is, I hope our friend was right about this stuff coming in threes. I'm not sure I can do this again.

On the bright side; we've met our insurance deductible! :-)

Posted by David Bogner on December 7, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (14) | TrackBack

Monday, December 06, 2010

You gotta die from something, right?

Some of my friends were appalled to learn that I'd whipped up (literally) a big batch of butter the other day. I guess they haven't heard that Margarine and similar 'butter substitutes' are far more unhealthy than good old fashioned butter (in moderation, of course).

Well, it's that time of year again, and moderation isn't really on the agenda. I don't have any scientific studies to hide behind with what I'll be enjoying this evening, but I console myself with the excuse that I only do this to myself once a year. That's right... it's time to make up a batch of eggnog.


A timely email last night from my friend and fellow blogger, David, pointed me to an essay with enough historical information about this yummy holiday tipple to satisfy the trivia buff in me... and reminded me that there are only a few more days left in the official eggnog season.

So if you happen to live in the US, go pick up a carton of rich, spicy eggnog and mix in a few jiggers of rum or whiskey to make even the dullest holiday party guest seem downright scintillating.

But if, like me, you live in the wilderness, away from commercially available eggnog, here are a couple of tried and true recipes that will help you through these shortest days of the year:

Egg Nog Version One (source here):

  • 1 whole egg
  • 1 tablespoon superfine sugar
  • Pinch salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup milk [I use light/cooking cream]
  • Nutmeg
PREPARATION: Beat the egg with the sugar and salt and pour into a 10-ounce highball glass. Add vanilla and milk and stir to mix. toss in a shot or two of whiskey, rum or brandy. Grate a little nutmeg on top.

Serves One

Egg Nog Version Two (source here):

  • 6 eggs
  • 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 3/4 cup brandy
  • 1/3 cup dark rum (Captain Morgan for best flavor, but Myers is OK)
  • 2 cups whipping cream
  • 2 cups milk
PREPARATION: All liquids should be very cold. Refrigerate in advance. Beat the eggs for 2 or 3 minutes with an electric mixer at medium speed until very frothy. Gradually beat in the sugar, vanilla and nutmeg. Turn the mixer off and stir in the cold brandy, rum, whipping cream and milk Chill before serving. Sprinkle individual servings with more nutmeg. Makes about 2-1/2 quarts.

Egg Nog Version Three (source same as version 2):

  • 12 eggs, separated
  • 1-1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 quart (4 cups) whole milk
  • 1-1/2 quarts (6 cups heavy cream)
  • 3 cups bourbon
  • 1/2 cup dark rum
  • 2 cups cognac
  • 1 quart vanilla ice cream, softened

In a very large bowl, beat the egg yolks until thick and pale yellow. Gradually add the sugar and nutmeg, and beat until well mixed. Using a wire whisk, beat in the milk, 4 cups of the heavy cream, bourbon, rum and cognac. Chill for at least 4 hours or overnight.
Before serving, beat the egg whites with 1/4 cup sugar until stiff, and fold into the egg mixture. Whip the remaining 2 cups of heavy cream, and fold into the egg mixture. Fold in the ice cream, gently stirring to combine all ingredients. Sprinkle individual servings with additional nutmeg.
Eggnog can be refrigerated; however, the cream will rise to the top. Stir the mixture gently to recombine before serving. The amount of liquor can be adjusted to taste.
This recipe will make a punch bowl full of eggnog.

Note: If there is a big problem with salmonella in your region, you may not want to prepare these recipes. However, please note that you can slowly heat the egg mixture portion of the recipe in a sauce pan over a low flame until a reliable thermometer shows it has reached a uniform temperature of at least 165° F... then chill overnight. I can't promise the resulting eggnog will taste or feel exactly the same... but at least you won't have to worry about killing your guests.

Don't thank me... I'm a giver!

Posted by David Bogner on December 6, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Sunday, December 05, 2010

A disturbance in the force

The following took place at exactly 7:18 PM on Thursday, 02 December 2010:

When I asked our 15-year-old son Gilad - the teenager who routinely eats groceries right out of the shopping bags before they can be put in the refrigerator or pantry - if he'd like me to grill another steak for him, he responded (and this is an exact quote), "No thanks Abba... I've had enough".

If any of you felt a disturbance in the force at that moment, you now know why.

That is all.

Posted by David Bogner on December 5, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Thursday, December 02, 2010

It's the ones you don't see...

Aaaand the hits just keep on coming. I'm not sure how Zahava's nerves will hold up under the strain... but at least this stuff makes for good blog fodder.

Here's a recap of the latest adventure at chez treppenwitz:

Last night I was feeling sleepy around the time we'd finally managed to wrestle Yonah into his bed, so I said good night to Zahava and left her in the living room watching TV.

My bedtime routine goes something like this:

  1. Brush teeth (yes, topless... Zahava is my style guru!)
  2. Wash face
  3. Clear accumulated clothes, books and dogs from bed
  4. stretch out in newly cleared bed and check email on iPad
  5. Set my iTunes onto the 'bedtime' playlist which has all the relaxing stuff
  6. Surf the news sites (I know... sort of undoes the relaxing music, but I must...)
  7. Set Alarm
  8. Roll over and go instantly to sleep

Last night went exactly according to plan... except with the addition of an additional step between #5 and # 6. We'll call this step 5.5

Step 5.5 consisted of Zahava coming downstairs to our bedroom, glancing at her side of the bed (yes, she had her glasses on at this point) and letting out a blood curdling scream.

My initial reaction wasn't what you might expect. I simply glanced over at her and said "What? What now?"

She shrieked that there was a huge hairy Tarantula on her pillow... but I wasn't convinced. You see, Zahava's eyesight is not what one might call 'good'. She sometimes mistakes common household items for snakes, lizards... spiders.

In short, it's often easier to ask her to take a closer look than to actually investigate for myself. In this case, it would have meant rolling over from my comfortable position and lifting myself up on one elbow in order to see what all the fuss was about. I love my wife... but that's a lot of exertion for something that was almost certainly a false alarm (admit it ladies... you've never wanted me more!).

As I continued to read my iPad I realized that the shrieking wasn't going away as it normally would if Zahava had mistaken, say, a belt for a cobra. So I rolled over, lifted myself up on one elbow and damned if there wasn't a tarantula on her pillow! It wasn't huge, as tarantulas go... maybe as big around as the bottom of a large water glass. But I had to admit I wouldn't want to sleep with it on my pillow.

I don't know how it is in other families, but the division of labor in our household goes something like this: I grill meat, unscrew balky jars, assist the children with vomiting (and the clean-up of same)... and kill bugs. Zahava does pretty much everything else.

Since this clearly fell into my area of responsibility, I sent Zahava back upstairs so I could contemplate my options. I suppose I could have let her stay in the room, but this sort of operation requires a certain zen that is impossible to achieve when someone is shrieking every time the spider - or the person trying to capture it - makes the slightest move.

After a few moments I decided I needed some tools, so I yelled up for Zahava to bring down a couple of paper cups, bowls and plates. I still didn't have a clear plan, but I knew that picking the thing up with my bare hands was not in the cards.

A moment later Zahava came tip-toeing down the stairs with the paper goods. When she glanced over at her pillow she gave out another involuntary shriek and began begging me to tell her what I planned to do. I still wasn't sure... except for the part where I needed to get her the hell out of the room to keep from catching her jumpiness.

Zahava's parting request as she scampered back upstairs was "Promise me you won't get tarantula guts on my pillow". I told her I'd try not to, but stopped short of a promise.

The truth is, nothing could have been easier. I put a paper plate down next to the spider... gave it a good smack with waterlogged issue of National Geographic (left over from Zahava's water pipe adventure)... and the thing accommodatingly rolled belly up onto the plate. I put a paper bowl over it, carried it into the bathroom... and in one swift movement, gave it a Tidybowl burial at sea.

I made a check to make sure there were no other furry arachnids on the bed, climbed back in to rejoin my bedtime routine where I'd left off, and gave the 'all clear' to Zahava.

I have no idea what time Zahava actually came to bed, but I'm guessing she was pretty rattled. I say this because when I woke up this morning, most of the upstairs lights were still on, and the front door was unlocked. Both of these are 'no-nos' in Zahava's book... up there with running with scissors and going outside without sunscreen. For Zahava, forgetting to turn off the lights and lock up would be enough to substantiate a temporary insanity defense... which, in a way, is probably an accurate description of her state of mind last night.

It was only while I was riding to work this morning that a creepy thought occurred to me; Are tarantulas solitary creatures... or do they run in packs?


Posted by David Bogner on December 2, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (26) | TrackBack

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Proud morning accomplishments...plus a bonus Public Service Announcement

[A guest post by Zahava]

So.... I think I'll start with the PSA:

Make sure that all your toilets and your water main have working shut off valves. Trust me. You will want to check this before you laugh at the rest of this post.

Now on to my morning accomplishments:

I'm not sure if Trep has mentioned it recently, but I am not a morning person. Really not!

However, in anticipation of my in-laws' return to Israel, I got up a bit early in order to prepare two lasagnas for the 'welcome home' dinner we were going to enjoy after fetching them from the airport.

While the lasagnas were baking, I managed to do a load of laundry, do all the dishes in the sink, and sweep the main level and the stairs going to our room downstairs.

All this by 9:00 am!!!

All you 'morning people' can just bite me -- the most I can usually accomplish by 9:00 am is 2 cups of coffee, getting the kids off to school and maybe a half hour of exercise.


It wasn't even 9:00 and I had a 9:15 meeting scheduled, so even though I was cutting it a bit close, I was feeling pretty darn proud of all I'd accomplished to that point. The only thing left to do was to get myself washed up and dressed, jump in the car and head out to my meeting.

So picture me standing in my underwear (ok, on second thought, please don't!) in the bathroom, brushing my teeth (no glasses). As I was rinsing the toothpaste from my mouth, I became aware of a low moaning sound coming from behind me.

Before I proceed, have I mentioned that sans glasses, my eyesight is fairly poor? As in really can't see a freakin' thing, poor? As in my eye doctor constantly jokes that I have extremely healthy eyes for a 97-year old, poor?

As I began to turn in the direction of the moaning sound, the moaning was replaced by a startling bang, followed by a loud hissing noise. As I instinctively began using my hands to scout around for my eyeglasses, I was doused by a geyser of icy cold water.

It seems that the gasket where the water line connects to the toilet tank in our master bathroom had let go.

Understanding that in the face of violently spraying water my eyeglasses would be rather useless, I started feeling my way towards toilet tank to close the shut off valve.

*sh*t* No handle on the shut off valve, just the stem.....

Gr8! Just f*ing gr8!

In light of my inability to close the shut-off valve, my brain thankfully piped in the message that NOW would be a great time to find my glasses since I'd need them to look up a phone number to call a neighbor to bring me a wrench (I have no idea where David keeps his tools).

Oh! AND CLOTHES! Yes! My brain also piped in the helpful message that getting dressed would be a helpful thing.... so as not to scare said-wrench-wielding neighbor if/when he ever arrived.

By this point, I was standing in a combination geyser and raging river of water, simultaneously feeling around for my glasses, my bra, a phone, and the phone book, and since I was still standing in the bathroom you may not be shocked to learn that I was completely unsuccessful in finding any of these items.

I managed to grab a towel and dashed upstairs where I grabbed the local phone directory, the phone handset and a magnifying glass… all while trying to hazard a guess as to who might possibly be home at 9:07 a.m.?!

The answer, apparently, was no one.

As the third number I dialed rang incessantly, I decided that if no one was home on our street that I could safely venture outside in just a towel to shut off the water main in the garden.

Remember, still not wearing glasses. Or clothes. Or shoes.....

Okey-dokey, then.... deep breath, and race out to the garden to the water main....

Hey! Shouldn't the shut-off valve handle be obvious?! Groping my way through the pine underbrush I try to Helen-Keller my way around to the shut off valve.

Oh sh*t! No handle… again, just the valve stem..... (hmmmmm... see a trend here?).

Really in full-fledged panic mode at this point, I raced back inside and went downstairs desperate to locate eyeglasses and something – anything - to sufficiently cover myself so that I could run up to the main street and flag someone, -ANYONE - down to help shut off my water.

Mercifully, we have the most wonderful neighbors in the world.... Just as my hands made contact with my eyeglasses, the neighbor who I'd called first called me back. By this point I was sputtering almost as badly as the busted pipe.... "Zvi!" I blubbered, "wrench.... pipe exploded... water EVERYWHERE, NEED HELP!"

Thankfully, by the time my neighbor arrived I'd managed to wriggle into some clothes.

By 11:00 a.m., in addition to all that ambitious stuff I'd completed by 9:00 a.m. I also managed to:

  • miss my meeting
  • mop up 3 bath-towels plus two packages of rags worth of water,
  • call the plumber and have a shut-off valve installed by the toilet and water main
  • wash said 3-bath-towels and assorted rags
  • wrote up this little ditty for your entertainment

Am I still feeling all proud of my early morning accomplishments?

Well, let's just say that I think the moral of this little story is "pride goeth before a [water] fall.


Posted by David Bogner on December 1, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (15) | TrackBack