Tuesday, January 31, 2006
But I'm not bitter...

I am freaking out right now. I have no idea how we are going to afford pesach. As I previously wrote, we do not use our credit cards. So putting pesach on plastic is non-optional. I know there is community assistance available, but I don't want to rely on that. I wish I started planning for pesach months ago.

Here's something that really ticks me off: my daughter's school has a scholarship dinner that costs 150.00 per person to attend, and you HAVE to buy tickets if you receive any tuition assistance. So we have a 300.00 check waiting to get cashed at the end of the month. Plus, you have to pay an additional 300.00 unless you sell 300.00 worth of ads for the scholarship dinner journal. Great, I stay home with 2 kids all day and I'm supposed to sell ads?
I'm not good at that sort of thing anyway. I mean, I guess I could be on the phone drumming up business right now (instead of complaining about it here). It makes no sense to me to charge 300.00 for dinner tickets - for families already receiving financial assistance! - and then charge another 300 for journal ads?!! I feel like this is extortion! Am I being ridiculous?

Plus, my husband's mother and her husband are coming in the day of the scholarship dinner, so we're paying 600.00 for an event that we probably won't attend.

If anyone wants to place a journal ad, email me.

Sunday, January 29, 2006
Friday Night Live!

Shabbos went off without a hitch. I worked tirelessly to make sure that my house wasn't totally insane before candlelighting. Chaya was on mid-winter break from school, so the fact that I didn't have to do carpool added at least another hour to my prep time.

The lady who came spent a lot of time playing with the kids, which freed me up to check vegetables and prepare salads.

When dinner came around, she mentioned her mother. "You have a mother at home? I wish you would have brought her!" I said. "Oh, no, she's mentally ill." With the exception of Yaakov quizzing Chaya on the weekly parsha, her mother was the topic for the entire meal. She went on and on about her mom's anxiety and paranoia, how she always felt people were following her and trying to harm her. How she had written letters to the FBI about it.

I felt totally uncomfortable. A lot of the subject matter I felt was inappropriate for my kids, but I couldn't stop her. I tried to change the topic, but to no avail. At one point I gently said, "I think you're scaring Chaya," but Yaakov answered, "Nah, she's just curious." I wanted to kill him.

I felt this was a tikkun for me in some way. When I was first exploring shabbos, I was a raging liberal. The things that came out of my mouth - in frum homes! - oy va voy. I'm ashamed to think about it. I'm grateful to the families who put up with me, I hope they have a lot of nachas now.

P.S. The mock-crab salad was great.

Friday, January 27, 2006
Der Shviggers.

I have 2 mothers-in-law: One is Yaakov's step-mother, the artist who loves dumb dogs and Elton John. She's semi-regular in our lives. And for all I complain about her, I really love her. She's great with my kids, and always does fun art projects with them when she comes.

The other is Yaakov's real mom, whom we have not seen in years. She has never met Rivky or Srulik. She lives in Vegas, and she's afraid of flying. I get a lot of flak about her from my mom and from step-shvigger. "What kind of woman doesn't come to see her grandchildren?" Um, the kind that's totally plane-phobic? (I sympathize, as I'm terrified of elevators. Only people who have phobias can relate.)

So anyway, last night while baking the cookies I got on the phone with shvigger #1. I started talking about the cookies I baked at 350 (that should have been at 375). This led into a cooking chat, and I told her I bought canola oil to try. I always cook and bake with extra-light olive oil, but it's getting SO expensive! I can't find the big (economical) cans of it anymore, either. So she was telling me how she just had a friend staying with her who insisted on only using canola oil, and how delicious it was. I put her on with Yaakov - so she could describe some computer issues - while Yaakov handed me the cell phone he was talking on.

Who was on his phone? Shvigger #2! She and I talked about her plane-phobia, her job, my life with 3 kids, our shared love of historical fiction ("Oh yeah, "Pillars of the Earth" was great - I think I'm going to re-read that"). She's actually coming in February. She manages to get on a plane every now and again (with the aid of sedatives and her husband). So they are staying here, which I think is nuts. My kids are going to drive them batty. But if they want to, gezunter heit.

I would pay good money to get shvigger #1 and shvigger #2 on a plane together. Flying to an Elton John concert, where else? Dumb dog Teddy would be tucked under shvigger #1's seat, and shvigger #2 would be stoned on tranquilizers. Hell, I'd take the window seat.

Thursday, January 26, 2006
Hindsight is 20/20

Today, Yaakov and I were talking about putting money away for pesach. It ended up getting a little heated. Whenever we try to talk about money, or budgeting, or bills, our tempers flare a little. I know this is normal. I heard money is the #1 thing couples argue about. There was a lot of finger-pointing.

We don't use our credit cards at all, so planning for big expenditures is key. And L-rd knows, pesach is expensive. With shmura matzo averaging up to 15.00 per pound, plus wine, grape juice, meat, chicken, and every peelable fruit and vegetable under the sun, it ends up being a very costly chag. I think pesach may cost more than all of tishrei.

We have a couple of new monthly expenses that add up to quite a lot. So, we're spending more money. And saving money has never been our strong point. Sigh.

Plus, I've had some weird experiences with tzedoka collectors lately. We try to give at least 18 or 36 to whomever comes to the door, but twice the following has happened: We write the check, and then the collector says, "Oh, maybe you can give to my other organization." The first time it happened, well, okay. The second time it happened, I couldn't help but wondering if it was some kind of trick. I felt cheated. I don't know why it made me feel like that, but it did. The last guy asked me to write the check to cash.

So tonight I was sitting on the porch, talking to G-d and recovering from a very stressful bedtime with the kids. Up to my door walks a collector. I sent him away. I told him we had given all our maisser gelt, I was sorry, yada yada. The truth is, we are a little tight. Plus, I've been a little leery of them lately. And to top it all off, I was in a very bad mood. I was still brooding over bedtime. And pesach. Yaakov was off to do a tahara - our mitzvos were covered for the night, I rationalized.

How could I turn a tzedoka collector away? I'm sorry, G-d.

Shabbos at Chez Maven.

So I met this single Jewish lady and her 5 year old at a playground. Chaya asked if they were Jewish, and gave them a candlelighting brochure. I invited them for shabbos dinner. I told her to come before candlelighting, so she could light with us.

This is all fine and good, except for the fact that we rarely have Friday night guests. Since she's not frum, I feel I should make my house seem calm and normal erev shabbos. She needs to see religious people as having their act together (as opposed to hearing my husband yell frantically through our bedroom door, "2 MINUTES!!!," while I'm rinsing the Denorex out of my hair).

I'm trying to figure out how to make my erev shabbos smoother. I wanted to make cookies this afternoon, but I'm out of parchment. I need to make them today, so I'm not baking challah and dessert tomorrow. I can't go for the parchment, Srulik is asleep and I'm too tired. The idea of shopping with children right now sounds downright hellish, anyway.

I want to make a new salad that a friend raved about. It's imitation crab meat cut into strips, with julienned carrots and cucumbers, served with a sauce of tabasco and mayonaise. She had this at a sushi place, and loved it so much she serves it on shabbos. So I had Yaakov purchase the fake crab. It sounds good, but at the same time it sounds a little weird. So not-frum-lady will also be present for a salad debut. Whenever I have guests I fret over the food.

She told me on the phone that her ex-husband had reservations about her going to a total stranger's house for dinner. I can understand that. I laughed and said, "Don't worry, we're pretty normal."

As soon as the words came out, I wondered if we really are.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006
Chof-Dalet Teves

I have a cleaning lady who usually comes to me on Tuesdays. I work along with her, putting things away, folding laundry, yada yada.

Today, I took a little break. She was vacuuming, and I sat down to learn. I felt guilty sitting there while she cleaned. This is ridiculous, I thought. I'm paying her to clean, I can sit around and drink a margarita if I want.

Today is the Alter Rebbe's yahrzeit. Usually I make a little farbrengen with my kids on chassidisher yomim tovim. Today, I told them we are going to have pizza. A special treat for the Alter Rebbe's yahrzeit!
This makes NO SENSE - to go for pizza in honor of a man who said, "What is forbidden is forbidden, and what is permissible does not have to be done." So I guess we're going out for permissible pizza, which we really don't have to have. And we'll probably share an icee too.


Sunday, January 22, 2006
Space Cadets.

Late last night, Yaakov and I were talking about an old sci-fi book called "Ring World." I don't remember the author, but the premise was that people were living in a vertical ring that orbited the sun. Yaakov loved the book, I quit mid-way through. It's been years since we've even thought about it.

Then we started talking about the Pluto probe that just launched, and the Cassini probe that went to Saturn, and the Mars landers that are still sending back data. I told him I read that the Pluto project cost 700 million dollars. Yaakov said, "That's all? That's cheap! Not enough tax payer money is alloted to NASA." I can't believe the Pluto probe is going to take 10 years to get there. "How does it know how to reach its destination?" "Orbital mechanics," Yaakov replied. Oh, yeah. Orbital mechanics. Duh.

This segued into a conversation about the origins of the Universe, space and time, and "What is the center of the universe?" Yaakov said one theory is it's a big black hole. "One day we'll all get sucked in," he said. "How can that be, if Moshiach is coming? There's no mention of any black hole apocalypses in the Torah. Maybe we're in the black hole now, and when Moshiach comes we'll get barfed out." Or the idea of other beings living somewhere else in the universe, we were trying to figure that out too. Are there any allusions to that in midrash? One time someone working for NASA told the Rebbe he was assigned to look for life outside planet Earth. Was this fanciful, he asked the Rebbe? The Rebbe said to do the project - why limit The Creator?

Yaakov said he felt there was room in Bereishis to contemplate a "Big Bang" kind of theory, which I vehemently disagreed with. I told him that some people theorize that a Torah "day" might not be how we see a day now (as a 24 hour cycle). So people leave room that "one day" in G-d's time might be millions of years, or whatever. I said that we have to take the creation story as a literal one, because we observe shabbos in commemoration of that. Since shabbos happens every seventh day, we must understand that to be the natural order of creation. Otherwise we'd celebrate shabbos every few million years, and the world isn't that old anyway! Yaakov agreed with me (which was shocking, as whenever we get into techie-nerdy conversations I'm always on the stupid end).

I wish Yaakov had a job with Lockheed Martin.

Friday, January 20, 2006
Can't Win for Trying.

I baked cookies this morning, and had nowhere to keep them from grabby little hands (Baruch Hashem). So I put them on my bed to cool. I came back for them a few hours later, but the ants had beat me to it.

And, to top it off, my whole house smells like cat pish.


National Geographic!

We have not one, not two, not three, but FOUR cats hanging around our backyard. Interestingly enough, two black ones and two orange tabbies.

It all started last night, when Yaakov and I were putting the kids to bed. We heard the unmistakable sound of cat frenzy (and we smelled it, too).

This morning, when I took my kids into the backyard, there they were. At first I saw two blacks and a tabby, and then another tabby emerged onto the scene. I hear them now, wailing and yowling.

They are big and fat, they look well-fed for strays. We have a little opening under our house (that my landlady keeps saying she'll take care of) and I think they are using that as their love nest. I'm not sure how many of them are involved, one tabby is for sure a male. He seems pretty friendly with one of the blacks (presumably a female). I saw the male tabby fighting off the other black one, I guess that means the other black cat is a male too. The second tabby I'm not sure about. So we have a real soap opera happening.

I wonder if we'll see some kittens out of it?

Thursday, January 19, 2006
My Pet Peeve:

I hate when people - who are in nominal positions of authority - exercise their power unfairly.

Like one time, in the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, my friend and I were heading out. This security guard came up to us and started yelling, "Didn't you know the park was closing? It's time to leave!" I said, "Relax lady, we're on our way out." Not good enough. More haranguing. Finally, I just started yelling at her. It was stupid of me.

Or yesterday, for example. I went to pay a shiva call to a family in a condo, so I pulled into a spot and proceeded to exit the car. A security guard comes up to me and says "You can't park there." I mean, what the hell? "Why not?" I asked, "There's no sign." He smirked. "I know there's no sign. You CAN'T park here, come to the window and I'll register you and assign you a spot." He wasn't so friendly, this greasy little man who has no life and can't do anything else but be a security guard at a condo. I didn't argue with him, but I was ticked off.

Why do people like this bother me so much? Because I can be just like that! I can be authoritarian and unfair when in a position of power. How many times have I looked back on a parenting situation and said to myself, "I didn't have to be so stubborn." Or when I worked in a particular store, and wouldn't bend on certain things (and ended up giving customers a tough time).

I'm so glad Hashem shows me these people, to remind me of what an obstinate mule I can be.

P.S. Last night in a chassidus shiur, we were talking about the wicked person who does much good. Rav Plony said, "Okay, so it's a fancy rasha." That's me - Fancy Schmancy Rasha Maven (Beinoni Maven coming soon).

Monday, January 16, 2006

Today, Yaakov went to a firing range with a gun-aficionado friend. It was the first time he ever fired a gun. He couldn't stop telling me how freaked out he was, how weird it made him feel.

We talked about it over dinner (tacos). We both used to be rabidly anti-gun. Back in the hairy hippie days, guns were bad. Period.

Now, we're ambivalent. I can see why people would want one. It's a scary world, scary people. There have been robberies in my neighborhood, what if someone was home at the time? I stay home with 2 little kids all day, what if...? G-d forbid, but I guess the question is out there.

I also feel that it puts out a very violent vibration. It almost seems to invite a very negative, sinister energy into the home. I could be reading more into it, but I don't know. There are energies to things. I'm not being hippie-dippie here, I'm being chassidish. Plus, I can't imagine my Rebbe owning a gun. He had nothing to steal, Yaakov laughed. But that's not the point. The Rebbe would never own one anyway. We talked about the previous Rebbe saying; "A Jew should not have the hands of Eisav."

I get weirded out sometimes by cops and guns. I mean, what if they just freaked out and fired? In Israel, soldiers walk around with sub-machine guns strapped to their backs, and it didn't bother me at all.

I know people who own guns. One person likes to brag about it, and that turns me off. I told Yaakov if we ever decided to buy a gun, that wouldn't be something to advertise (he agrees).

I don't know. It's just creepy.

Friday, January 13, 2006
I want to love you, P.Y.T.

This morning, in the mall playground with Mrs. Stein, I was watching all the kids. Right across from the playground is an electronics store, which always blares loud music. This morning they had this old school Michael Jackson re-mix going on, classics like "Billie Jean" and "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough." They were re-dubbed with a funky disco groove, which I enjoyed immensely.

I was reminded of when I was younger at the roller rink, skating like a mad fiend. The roller referees were the coolest, they could skate backwards and do all kinds of tricks (plus blow their whistles). The wind would blow in my hair and I would be rolling along to MJ, when he was still a black man (and not a white woman). Ah, those were the days - when disappointment was when you got a battered pair of rental skates.

When Michael was still awesome.

Thursday, January 12, 2006
The book store.

I've been challishing to re-read a particular book for some time now - "Pillars of the Earth" by Ken Follett. I have no idea what happened to my tattered high school copy.

I know what you're thinking - haven't I been so good at avoiding shtuss? It's true, I've been working on it. But I haven't gone so far as to stop reading secular books - not there yet. Sometimes at the end of the day, when my Chitas is finished and my kids are in bed, all I want to do is zone out and read.

I've had a hard week. Lots going on, lots of anxiety and crying. I had to have this book. I need to escape.

So I go to the library to find it, and of course they don't have it. I went to Barnes and Noble. I found the book, plus a People magazine! With all these weight loss success stories in it! I don't know why I find weight loss and make-overs so interesting, but I do. So of course I picked it up. You'll be proud of me, I did NOT read anything other than the weight loss stuff. I did not read any celebrity shenanigans, no no no. I did not buy it, either.

But what started me crying all over again (I cried on my way there) was a book called "Dignity Beyond Death; The Jewish Preparation for Burial" by Rochel U. Berman. The cover picture was very stark, it took me a moment to figure it out. It looked like a flower. Then I realized it was a shin-knot, a knot that is tied on the burial garments in the shape of that hebrew letter. I was transfixed. It was so simple, yet so compelling. It was hard for me to learn that knot, I always felt a little embarrassed. Maybe the chevra ladies would find me slow. The one thing about taharas, there's no room for ego. Ok, so maybe it takes me a little longer to figure out a special knot. But who cares? It's not about me. Anyway, I opened the book right to the part where she was talking about doing a tahara on a baby. That started me blubbering. Oh man, crying and crying - in Barnes and Noble. Oy va voy.

What a day! Time to escape to my new (old) book.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006
If you think YOUR family is weird...

Tonight we went to my step-mother-in-law's house so Yaakov could fix her computer.

She had a friend from California staying with her, a biochemist. She sat right next to me and started telling me all about her bi-polar son who had psychotic tendencies. I can totally relate to bi-polar family members, I can't relate to psychosis and I really can't relate to being told the first second I meet someone. I smiled and nodded and prayed she would go away.

Step-mom-in-law has all these gross dogs she's madly in love with, including a little poodle named Teddy (whom she schlepped on a trip to New York, hello, that's not normal). Her email address involves Teddy and so does her password - WEIRD!

She's an artist and she has all this art she made all over the place, most of it immodest in some way or another. I sat in a chair and caught up on my daily learning, and tried to ignore the naked ladies on the walls. They called to me, those ladies. "Don't learn chumash, look at us!"

She has a CD collection filled with her favorite artist, Elton John, whom she actually mailed a painting to once. She has a needlepoint of him on her wall.

Needless to say, I couldn't wait to get out of there.

Anyway, here's something funny: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-5870638169656145723

Monday, January 09, 2006
Beinoni Behavior:

I have written before about "the intermediate man;" the beinoni. The person described in Tanya as never sinning, although the evil inclination rages within.

The Alter Rebbe says this is a state that each Jew CAN be in, something to aspire to. Chassidim have sighed, "Halevi, a beinoni," - "If only to be a beinoni." Obviously, not an easy level to achieve.

I have started incorporating what I call "beinoni behavior" into my life. I may never become a beinoni (sorry, Alter Rebbe), but I can behave in a way that the beinoni might.

One thing I have stopped doing is reading "The Scoop," MSNBC'S little celebrity gossip column (sorry Paris Hilton). This includes not picking up the magazines I see at the checkout counter (sorry Angelina and Brad). I have also stopped listening to secular music in the car when I'm alone (sorry, Jerry Garcia). I have stopped reading news stories that will be bad for my emotional health (sorry, Andrea Yates). I even stopped reading a blog I frequent, as that was getting too racy (sorry, Stephanie K).

So I am controlling some negative behavior in the "garment of action." Now I have to work on thought and speech (the former being most daunting).

Nobody said it was gonna be easy.

Sunday, January 08, 2006
Gas Station Trepidation:

So I went to visit Mom today and I stopped to get gas. I stood at the pump and thought of the Alter Rebbe.

One idea expressed in Tanya is that even when things are permissible, if they aren't done for the sake of G-d they fall into the realm of unholiness.

We all think about this stuff while we're pumping gas, right?
I'm standing there wondering how to save my gas experience from the clutches of the other side. "Well," I thought, "I am putting gas into the car so I can go see my mother, kivud em. And it will help me do carpool for school, mitzvah chinuch. It will help me drive to the store and buy kosher food." I knew G-d was listening to the conversation in my head, because He has access to that sorta stuff. (Which probably means He knew what I was thinking on the way home, too. Sigh.)

I hope I elevated my gas station experience into kedusha. I hope I released some of the sparks (with Techron!) that were waiting for me at Exxon.
I hope what I was thinking on the way home didn't cancel the whole thing out.

At least I wasn't busy thinking how much I paid for gas. Ouch.

Friday, January 06, 2006
Divine Retribution?

Pat Robertson suggested that the problems ailing Ariel Sharon are due to forcing the settlers to leave their land, and giving it to the Palestinians.

"He was dividing God's land, and I would say, 'Woe unto any prime minister of Israel who takes a similar course to appease the [European Union], the United Nations or the United States of America,'" Robertson told viewers of his long-running television show, "The 700 Club."

"God says, 'This land belongs to me, and you'd better leave it alone,'" he said.

That's what Pat said, alright. If I wasn't shomer negiah, I'd give that man a high five.

I'm not hoping Sharon dies. I'm not glad for the situation. But I can't help but wonder if Hashem is giving him a swift kick in the tuchas. Stopping him, perhaps, from making any more insane "political" decisions.

I'm happy Pat Robertson can make such a strong claim that eretz yisroel is G-d's land, and I wish other Jews would stand with him (like Sharon, for instance).

All that being said, may G-d bless Ariel Sharon. I don't wish pain or suffering on anyone, especially another Jew.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006
Light Defeats Darkness.

Whilst in the thoes of depression on Sunday morning, I got a phone call to go to the old age home with my kids. Could we help with a Chanuka party?

We passed out grape juice and bananas, Chanuka gelt, bread, and dreidlach. We sang songs and looked at the old people. We listened to the rabbi tell a story. We were very, very careful around the menorah.

I couldn't help but be reminded of what I learn in Chassidus. Chase out darkness with light, defeat the yetzer hora by doing mitzvos.

Yesterday I took my kids to a park that has a petting zoo, with goats. Goats! Srulik loved them, walking up to each one and saying, "Hi, goatie." He would pat them and laugh. Rivky was a little freaked out, but she managed. One goat kept trying to eat my shirt. Chaya missed all the fun since she's in school, and next year Rivky will be too. Sigh.

I have 2 little kids at home all day. The sadness lingers, a hovering shadow. It's there, but I'm busy. I'll work it out.

One mitzvah at a time.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

There's a poetess I like named Ruth Lewis. She wrote a book called "Songs of Jewish Living." One poem she wrote touched me, she wrote it after the death of her father. I don't remember the poem exactly, but the gist of it was;

How come if a lady loses an earring it's okay for her to call out, "Help me, I've lost an earring," but it's not okay for me to cry out, "Help me, I've lost my father."

We all have to keep it together on a certain level, to maintain some semblance of sanity and be accepted socially. Maybe people whom we consider "mentally ill" are people who can't keep up the facade of normalcy.

I want to cry out, "You may think I'm so nice and cheerful," I want to say, "but the truth is not so rosy. I've got some serious issues. I feel terribly sad right now."

And then I think, "I have some very close friends. I can talk to them and share the things that grieve me." But then I think, "Is that healthy? Is that what friends are, people that you can share misery with?" And then I think, "My friends are really awesome, and they love me very much. How bad can I be if such great ladies love me?"

Sometimes I feel like I'm just a jumble of my mistakes, my pain, and my sorrow. I only relate to the negative things.

Maybe I shouldn't be thinking so much about myself in the first place.

My Photo Name: Fancy Schmancy Anxiety Maven
Location: Chutz l'aretz - Outside of Brooklyn

fancymaven at gmail dot com