Thursday, November 29, 2012

{36 reasons} I Love Books

I thought about doing "36 things I love" for the days leading up to my birthday. I figured I could write half the posts about books. Clearly, that didn't seem to be such a great idea.

But today I am here to give you a whole bunch of book reviews. Because as much as I love books, I might even love free books more. And one of my favorite parts of blogging is the book review offers. Every so often, they pop up in my email. More often when I'm actually better about doing the reviews. Sometimes...I get a little behind. So here I am today to remedy the situation, and write reviews for a bunch of books that have been hovering on my nightstand and mocking me in their un-reviewed state.

Next Year in Israel by Sarah Bridgeton - This is a young-adult novel about a high school girl who has been bullied for a long time. Following an unsuccessful suicide attempt, she heads off to a year-in-Israel program. She's a relatively uninterested Jew, but is looking forward to a fresh start in a new place where no one knows her. This was a pretty good book. I kept asking myself if it would have been the same if she had gone off to a year-in-France program - did the Jewish aspect matter? I think that the story and the bullying/acceptance issues that Becca faces are quite universal. And at $2.99 on Amazon, this is a good one for that new Kindle you're hoping to get for Chanukah.

Sown in Tears by Beverly Magid - In this story, Leah survives a pogrom with her two young children. As she rebuilds her life as a widow, she finds herself tangled up with the local Russian commander as well as the growing Communist/worker movement. I was very taken with Leah's story and found the book to be an engrossing read, but some of her actions and ideas seemed a little too modern for the day. Would a young woman in her situation have been as bold as Leah? That was the question I kept asking myself...but I concluded that she did what she had to do...and that is not limited by historical situation. I was a teensy bit disappointed by the abrupt ending - maybe there will be a sequel! (This one is actually a great deal on Kindle, too!)

Fire in the Ashes by Jonathan Kozol - I have not read all of Jonathan Kozol's books, but I know that I should. This is actually a continuation of two of his other books, which I have not (yet) read. It is so clear that Kozol is totally committed and connected to these children, and it shows in the way he tells their stories. Much of his writing is just a record of their communication, but it is so plain that he has opened the door for them to open their hearts and minds to him. I can only hope to have such connections with former students as he does! It's so much more than that, though. Books like this should be mandatory reading. The inequality....oy. It's painful to read but also inspiring...

Sipping From the Nile by Jean Naggar - Jean was born in Egypt, into a family and life of privilege and delight...I loved seeing the pictures and reading the descriptions of life in Cairo and other exotic spots, but I did find some of the story to be a little confusing. (The family tree was well-used to keep track!) In so many ways, the location doesn't matter. Stories of immigrants who have to leave everything behind always leave me with a feeling of such gratitude. To pack it all up and just...leave. Wow. (And, another good deal on Kindle, people.)

Road to Valor: True Story of WWII Italy, the Nazis, and the Cyclist Who Inspired a Nation by Aili and Andres McConnor - I did not expect this book to be enjoyable. After all, it's about biking...a sport that I engage in only when the bikes are stationary. Who knew!? I had no idea that this guy even existed. It's a great story about a national hero of Italy, a cyclist, who not only won the Tour de France but saved a family of Jews in the process. It's totally readable and a compelling story. This is a good one for the cyclist in your house, but also for people like me who don't even own a bike helmet. These are the stories that we need to keep telling. There are so many stories that haven't yet been told...

Hot Mamalah: The Ultimate Gude for Every Woman in the Tribe by Lisa Klug - I love irreverence and silliness. And this book has both. I'm not a huge fan of stereotype-based humor, though, but I tried to see through it to the irony and "coolness" of making fun of one's self...which this book has in abundance. I did giggle at "The Best Places to Nail a Husband" because "All of Jerusalem" was on the list and I might have, in fact, met my husband in that favorite city. Much of it made me laugh out loud, a lot of it made me cringe...and it's the perfect book to read out loud with a group of friends hanging around the table at camp late at night. I will make sure to pack it! (oh, and make sure to read Rebecca's review of this one too.)

Blessed are You, O God, who has given me a love of books and reading, and who has created authors and writers to fill the pages with inspiring words that help me to immerse myself in faraway lands and stories, and who has brought me to this day.

Disclosure: I received free review copies of each of these books but was not in any other way compensated.

Leave me a comment telling me which of the last four books sounds most interesting to you and I will send it your way! (The first two were Kindle reads, so I can't exactly drop them at the post office.)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

{36 reasons} Teaching Each Other

I imagined that I might teach each of my children something new during this project.

But yesterday they taught each other.

Look, it's not all flowers and hearts in my kids bicker and complain and annoy each other.

But when they get along?
It is so so so sweet.

Sam sat down next to Yael at the piano and offered to teach her to play his lesson - "Old McDonald Had a Song." You'll be surprised to know that it's based on the original. She agreed.

And he taught her. He pointed for her fingers, he instructed her, and he did so in his best "teacher voice."

It was awesome.

A few minutes later they were nipping at each other like puppies.

But aha....I have a permanent memory of that moment. And of each moment when they act like my dream-vision of loving siblings. When they snuggle together, play together, tell stories together, share's not all hearts and flowers in my house.

But when it is? I am so grateful.

Blessed are You, O God, who has given my children siblings with whom to fight and play, and who has given them the desire to spend time together and love each other, and who has brought me to this day.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

{36 reasons} Mitzvah Baking

One of my plans for Tuesdays during this project was to try out new recipes.
Except...yesterday, my kids came home with a flyer about a project that our school and community are doing to honor the local military servicemen and women. They wanted desserts.

And of course, David says, "so, what are we going to make?"

How does a mama say no to that?!
I guided him to choose our tried-and-true brownie recipe*, pointing out that we know how it comes out and how much it will yield.

And so we baked brownies tonight. Two large batches. David did a lot of the work.

At first I wasn't even going to write about this. Does it fit as a "shehecheyanu moment"? I might be thinking a little loosely here, but there were many pieces of it that gave me pause for blessing.

1. David automatically assumed that we would participate in this kind of philanthropic event.
2. We had all the supplies on hand in our well-stocked pantry.
3. David has the skills and ability to put together a brownie recipe.
4. I was able to teach him new skills in the baking process.

Blessed are You, O God, who gives us the ability to give in so many ways, who fills our lives with plenty and allows us to share it, who gives me the joy of sharing my passions with my children, and who has brought me to this day.

*Tried-and-True Favorite Sommer Brownie Recipe is the "On The Fence Brownies" from the King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion. The link takes you to a recipe on their blog that is almost the same - with the addition of espresso powder. I don't use the espresso.

Monday, November 26, 2012

{36 Reasons} Re-Routing

Today I took a new route to work.

It might seem like a simple thing. After all, I've been driving from the same house to the same synagogue for 7 years (that's how long we've lived in this house. I'm actually celebrating my 10th year at the synagogue!). But today I got a little lost.

On purpose.

Part of this project is, in my mind, teaching an old dog new tricks. Not to call myself old (or a dog), but I wanted to shake things up just a teensy bit. Nothing crazy, mind you.

But a new route to work? Just right.

Today I drove down a street I'd never taken, and I kept going. I took a right turn instead of a left turn and I just drove around, headed in the right general direction, until I came to the main road.

I wasn't in the car that much longer than usual. But I paid attention. Usually I drive and don't look around much. After all, I've seen it all many many times before. Sure, I look carefully when the fall foliage is at its brightest, and I adore looking at trees covered in snow (well, for the first 2 minutes of winter)...but basically? It's just my usual drive.

So today....I paid attention. I drove a new way. It was almost like a meditation, looking around and thinking curiously about the homes, the streets, the different path. I didn't just drive to work. I thought about how grateful I am that I have the ability to go to work, work that I love, work that inspires and fulfills me. All that, just from a change of scenery.

Blessed are You, O God, who creates different routes and pathways, and who helps me to see that which is usually the same in a different way, and for bringing me to this day.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

{36reasons} New Shoes

When we began to discuss this project, one of the suggestions was made that I take up a new sport:


Now, let's be clear. I don't mind exercise. But I've never been much for running.
(Unless I'm being chased...)

Still, the thought of being able to lace up my shoes and just...go....does have its appeal.

So I agreed that perhaps running could be a part of my 36 reasons to say shehecheyanu.

And like my daughter, I'm always excited for new accessories.

So shoes it is.

Tricia took me to her favorite running store today and we picked out a cute pair.

Okay, in truth, we picked out the right pair. As she explained to me, it's more about form than function.

But with all these beautiful options....can't a girl dream about pretty colors and shiny laces?!

 I wore pretty socks for the occasion.
And here they are!
You'll have to wait for part 2 of this post (in days to come) to see the actual new kicks.
Cuz I'm hitting the road....

Are you a runner? What's your best advice for me....!?

Blessed are You, O God, Ruler of the World, who has granted me the ability to purchase even when I'm not in need, and who has given me friends to encourage my endeavors, and who has brought me to this day.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

#36Reasons - Sammy and his Jammies

Funny story...have you ever noticed that there were posts in your "drafts" that you just never got around to writing? Um...yep.

When I discovered this post, I giggled. Clearly, I wanted to write about Sam wearing his jammies everywhere. I remember how funny it was that he would get up in the morning, change into "daytime pajamas" and then switch back again at night into "bedtime pajamas."

As part of my 36 day project, I am planning to write about various memories on Shabbat. So here's today's memory-walk. Check out my little guy...I think these pics are mostly from the ages of 3-4...and now he's a grown-up seven.

And he still likes to wear his pajamas.

Friday, November 23, 2012

#36reasons - It's Ok to Divide

It's hard for me to get out of my own visions sometimes. I have four kids and I always imagine them together.

It's really not always realistic. With the oldest at 11 and the youngest at almost 2, it's hard to find things in which all of them can participate.

Today was one such day. The big kids begged me to take them to one of those huge trampoline places. Solly just isn't old enough, you have to be three years old.

So instead of staying home...I called a babysitter for him.

Was it right? I don't know.
Did the big kids have a great time? Yes!!!
Did he mostly nap while the sitter was here anyway? Yes!!

When I was thinking about these 36 posts about doing "new" things, I wasn't totally sure what I would do each day. When I swallowed hard and called the sitter, I knew that even that little bit of letting go "qualified" as a personal victory worthy of blessing.

Blessed are You, O God, who has created me with the ability to grow and change and has brought me to this day.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

#36Reasons - Thanksgiving

Today is 36 days until my 36th birthday.
For the next thirty-six days, I will be seeking out a daily reason to say the Shehecheyanu blessing, a blessing said for new or unique experiences. 

Today is Thanksgiving.
Each year, we say this blessing to thank God for enabling us to be together, to celebrate, to be thankful on the day of giving thanks.

There are many people who would object to this custom. "Thanksgiving isn't a Jewish holiday!" I've been told.

It might not be a strictly Jewish holiday, of course, but what could be better...a holiday celebrating gratitude and giving. A holiday that asks us to count our blessings and feel contentment with what we have. And of course, there's a big family meal involved. As an American Jew, I'm so pleased to be able to be a part of this American AND Jewish custom.

And so each year we say shehecheyanu.

This year I have so much to be thankful for. I can't even begin to enumerate all the things that fill my life with such blessing. I can only say, simply, "thank You."

Blessed are You, our God, Ruler of the World, who has created us with hearts open to gratitude, formed us with the ability to be aware of our blessings, and brought us to a day in which we can celebrate those blessings.

This year, we embarked on what we hope will be a new family tradition. Read about it here.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

36 Reasons to Say Shehecheyanu

It just so happens that 36 days from Thursday is my 36th birthday.

Thirty-six is a really important Jewish number. You've probably heard of the way that the number 18 is special for Jews, right? The Hebrew letters that are used to illustrate the number 18 spell "chai," which means "life." Thirty-six? Double-life. It doesn't get any better than that. (Until you're 72...)

I've been musing for a while about the proper bloggy way to celebrate my 36th birthday. I've run through many different ideas, and finally, with the help of my dear friend, Anne, came up with this.

36 Reasons to Say Shehecheyanu.

Shehecheyanu is the blessing that is said for a joyous occasion, for the first time you do something (ever, or just in a season - the first time you EVER ski is a shehecheyanu moment. If you're a regular skier, you might say shehecheyanu for returning to the slopes at the beginning of the season. I have no idea why I chose skiing as my example, since I don't!)

Can I do it? Can I find 36 different, legitimate reasons to say shehecheyanu over the next 36 days?

I'm going to try. I started making a list of "firsts" - some are easy, like trying new recipes. Some are harder, like trying new experiences, or teaching or learning something new.

Since I don't blog on Shabbat, I'm going to set up something different for those days. I'm going to write about personal memories for the Saturday posts (they will go up after Shabbat is over!), so as not to have to look for something new to do on Shabbat!

It starts please join me on my 36 day journey. Leave me your suggestions (totally clean and appropriate, of course) of experiences and "new" things that I can do in the next 36 days! I'd love to hear your ideas.

(P.S. I thought of doing a tzedakah push for my birthday. I have decided not to this year. There have been so many gifts made in honor of Sam and our family over the last six months...I am sure that I will come to you all with a big, beautiful project in the future. I am so blessed in so many ways, and there are so many opportunities that I will be blessed to share with you in the future.)

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A Place of Her Own

I've mentioned before how wonderfully unique my daughter is.

She is incredibly busy. There's always a story running in her mind, in her world. She's always pretending, she's always doing something. Recently, she has started spending time in the closet in her room. Yep, the closet. She refers to it as her "office."

The other day, I needed to find something in the closet, and I realized that it was a bit of a mess. Since it wasn't actually intended as an office (obviously), she was squished in amongst bags of old clothes and a few other unused things. I realized that she was in need of a Room Makeover!

Since I didn't see any cameramen from TLC around anywhere, I knew I had to do it myself.

I deliberately didn't take a "before" picture. I couldn't bring myself to do it - it was too embarrassing to show how messy the closet was! But here's the "after" shots....

All the wall hangings were already hiding in the closet, but on a shelf. How perfect?!

With four kids in shared bedrooms in a small house, I know how important it is for each of my children to have their own place. Now that I've set up hers, I'm on the lookout for a few other nooks and crannies for the rest of them...

How do you make special spaces for each of your children?

Friday, November 16, 2012

Backwards Birthday

Last week, when we were eating breakfast donuts for Sam's birthday, I asked David what we were going to have for breakfast on his birthday, one week later.

He grinned at me with an impish glint in his eye and said, "I think we should have backwards day - pizza for breakfast!"

Challenge accepted.

Breakfast, er, Dinner was pizza, made fresh from our friend Adam's City Pizza that he delivered to our house on Wednesday. (You can't exactly order pizza at 7am and the thought of making crust and all that in time for school...oy.) The kids even got to drink soda! It was a special birthday day, after all. And then we had dessert, one Oreo each.

And then for dinner breakfast, we went to our favorite pancake house. I brought along the morning paper so that David could, as is his daily custom, read the comics. Over breakfast, of course.

Why yes, he is eating french toast AND hashbrowns. He ate it all, plus one of Solly's pancakes. Oy.
How do you make birthdays special in your house? This one was pretty simple but everyone will remember it!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

My Son, the Tween

I am realizing that the dramatic changes that took place in my children from age 1 to age 2...age 4 to age 5...are growing less...definable.

I re-read my post about David's birthday from last year.
It pretty much all holds true still today.

Things are a little different. Each day, he has new questions, new ideas, new stories to tell. He's definitely gaining his own sense of self, of what kind of person he wants to be. There is a little bit lot more attitude than before. But that's to be expected, right?

I look at this tall, gangly's so hard to believe that 11 years ago, he made me a mom.

 Happy birthday, David!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Lucky Number Seven

Once upon a time he looked like this...

...but he's grown up so much.

Of course, this year's birthday is especially poignant.
Every birthday matters. Every year is worth celebrating.

But after the last five months, we are especially filled with gratitude on Sam's birthday this year.
We've already started discussing how we can honor his birthday in some incredible way in the future.
And I love planning ahead with him.

Birthdays matter.
Each and every day is a precious one.
Happy birthday, Sam!


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

What's in Your Bag?

The other day, Yael asked me to find something.

She has always been something of a magpie.
There are a number of small handbags, some sparkly and pink, others hand-me-down grown-up purses, that are strewn around the house, filled to the brim with Yael's stuff.

When Yael decides that she wants to find something specific, however, she usually can't remember where it is. What I have learned recently, though, is that she has a clear idea of what she has and what she wishes she could find. She just doesn't remember where she stashed it. I'm sure a full house cleanup is in order, not only to help her find things but to help me get rid of things! That is, however, another blog post.

I digress.

Yael asked me to help her find a pair of sunglasses. So I suggested that we look in her purse(s).

She brought me her current favorite.

I was so giggly at what was in the bag that I had to photograph her, a la US Weekly.

Note the other purse over her shoulder.
My favorite item is the single blue Duplo Lego. And then there's the stack of haphazardly folded papers with scribbling all over them. "My notes," she called them. If you, ahem, seek out the bottom of her mother's purse, you might very well find the same stack of folded papers... (Also note that she has not one but two pretend Blackberry phones and that we did not find the desired sunglasses.)

I am so often struck by this girl-child. She is so uniquely herself, creating a rich and full fantasy world in which she is the star, and in which she embroiders stories where she plays all the characters. I love to watch her at play, and I always wonder if her differences from her older brothers is purely a product of her gender. All of my children differ from each other, but as the only girl in the bunch, I will never know how much is nature and how much nurture. She is different, no question. Is it a combination of her genetic material that has created her personality or is there an actual difference between boys and girls?

I don't know. I will never know, certainly.

For now, though, I will continue to relish her imagination, her storytelling, her quirks and her creativity.

And I will keep looking for the sunglasses.