A squash and a squeeze

A Squash and a Squeeze is a beautiful children’s story that is a real favorite with my girls, and unlike many of the other books I read to them, where I am wondering guiltily if they will really notice if I skip a page or five, this is a book I have no problem reading… again and again. The book comes with an audiotape, so I mimic the wise old man and little old lady’s accent with the best Welsh accent I can muster. 

The story centers on a little old lady who is dissatisfied with the size of her house, calling it a squash and a squeeze, (da-dum), but, with the advice of a wise old man (who looks like a venerable rabbi one might find in the kollels of Lakewood), who suggests that she bring in farmyard animals into her home, she soon discovers that it’s not as small as she thought.  Not understanding, at first, why bringing animals into her already-small home would help her predicament, she questions the wisdom of the wise old man’s advice, but nonetheless welcomes in animals, one by one, who wreak havoc on her home. The wise old man’s final piece of advice is to take out each animal, one by one, and by the time her home is an animal-free zone, nafal ha’asimon, the penny has dropped, and she realizes that her home, after all, is not quite the “squash and the squeeze” she originally felt it to be. 

To me, this sweet story captures the essence of life, and I have had many a “squash and a squeeze” moment. Living in an apartment in a neighborhood which predominantly boasts large and beautiful homes, I, too, have experienced on occasion a “squash and a squeeze” feeling, where I just feel that what I have just isn’t enough. And while I am not at the point of wanting to welcome in farmyard animals into our home in order to make me appreciate what I have – not being the greatest animal lover in the world – I do see that perspective is everything. It is OK and natural to want more – we are not nazirites that seek a lifestyle where abstinence is virtuous – but remember that you have a choice how to perceive your reality, and that everything is relative. You can want more, without sinking into depression about it – and the important thing is that in your desire to achieve more, earn more, possess more, don’t lose sight of all the good things you have in your life – whether it be your husband, your children, your friends…

For many years, I have fought (admittedly not very hard, given my shopaholic tendencies) against my materialistic inclinations. I felt that being materialistic ran counter to Jewish thought. Wanting a big house, lots of clothes, nice vacations just wasn’t holy, in my book. I didn’t know how to reconcile those two aspects of my being – the desire to “have more” and my desire to be a good Jew. 

I used to feel very guilty for comparing what I have to what others have – but then I realized that if I weren’t to do that, I probably wouldn’t be human. The desire for “more,” “bigger,” and “better” is what makes human beings grow, work harder, and thrive to improve, in the interest of bettering their lives. Yes, it is true, most people, upon leaving the Diaspora, and making Aliyah, breathe a sigh of relief at escaping the materialistic mindset, whereby the size of your house determines the size of your happiness – but not always.

In my mind, as long as your desire to be extremely wealthy includes a desire to give tzedakah (charity), and doesn’t turn you into a snob, then there is not necessarily a dichotomy. It’s just a hard balance to strike – but I guess that’s what Judaism is all about. The struggle to achieve balance.

Learning to recognize the signs…

Since July, I have basically stopped blogging. I didn’t feel that I had anything to say, and I figured that a very telling sign that it was time to give it up was the fact that I had to think hard about what to write about, and if you have to dig deep and think about the subject of your blog posts, then the fun kind of goes right out of the window, and the whole venture becomes kinda pointless. My “decision,” if you can call it that (“deciding” not to blog didn’t require very much thought), was made easier by the fact that I knew I wasn’t going to be disappointing hundreds of daily readers who make reading my blog part of their daily schedule, so I slipped away quietly, and my absence by and large went relatively unnoticed – unless there are some lurkers on the site who have laid low.

So why is she back now, I hear you ask. Well, the answer is FACEBOOK. I have become addicted to something I swore from the outset that I would never let myself get suckered into. Facebook, as a social networking tool, is fine and dandy, and reconnecting with old pals is definitely a nice thing, although the point could be argued that there is a reason why people lose touch with each other, and if someone is important to you, you pick up the phone. Well, that’s an argument for another day. In fact, I talked about this very subject a while back… 

Anyway, Facebook has a feature that enables you to update your status, so your friends can view your status. “Sorelle is weighing up the benefits of eating dairy over meat for lunch today.” “Sorelle is reminiscing about days gone by…” The feature presents a grammatical challenge since the beginning of the sentence always begins with “is…” Lately, I have found my statuses getting longer and longer. Just today, for example, I wrote: “Sorelle is wishing she could boycott all kids’ clothes made in Israel, that in truth should be marketed as disposable clothing. Grrr.” The big telltale sign that it was time for me to resume blogging was when the status update feature restricted the amount of words that I used for the updates, and then it became clear that what I really wanted to do was…. WRITE.

So here I am. Have a good one, wherever you are. 

Put your money where your mouth is…

First things first, Shana Tova to one and all. This blog has been inactive for the last few months for a host of reasons, but I thought I would rear my head, and come out of my hibernation, in order to direct people to Treppenwitz’s blog, where he writes about the robbery of Pina Chama on Yom Kippur. Throughout the year, volunteers serve free refreshments to IDF soldiers, and I can think of no greater mitzva than to help this organization get back on its feet, and resume the holy work of giving a little back to our soldiers who give their lives up for our country on a daily basis.

Feeling down about living in Israel?

If you wake up one morning, and you are feeling less than chipper about living in this country of ours, after opening up your mail to discover that you are being screwed by Bituach Leumi, and owe them a million shekel, or go to the mechanic, and find out that they are charging you four times the amount they should be paying you for repairing your car, here’s a video I recommend watching for a pick-me-up. It gets me EVERY time.

When I think what Nefesh B’Nefesh has done for the Jewish people, I am rendered speechless. This year, in the summer of 2007, 3,500 people from North America are supposed to be making Aliyah through Nefesh B’Nefesh. These figures blow my mind. In past years, when faced with annoying bureaucratical procedures related to Aliyah, I would feel a twinge of jealousy. Where were NBN in 1998 when I needed them most? Making Aliyah from England was a somewhat lonely experience – I was the only one on my flight who was making Aliyah, and actually was one of 17 to make Aliyah that entire year from England. Thank G-d, things have changed, and this year is a record-breaking year for Nefesh B’Nefesh.

They are returning Jews to their homeland, but there is more to it than that. Due to the psychological trauma that we endure on a day-to-day basis, as a result of watching our country go from one crisis to another, we are, to put it mildly, low on morale. We don’t have Scharansky anymore in the forefront of politics to give us inspiration; we don’t have ANY leader or prime minister appearing on our TV screens giving us any hope or pride in our country. So what are we left with? What keeps us going from day to day? What is stopping us packing our bags and heading out on the next plane to.. wherever…?

For me, it is watching videos like the one above, where hundreds of Jews are crying their eyes out as they kiss Israeli ground, at the privilege of making Aliyah, returning to their homeland. That to me is a lifeline. It not only reminds me of why I am here, but it reinforces the essence of who we are as a people, and what we can achieve through shared goals and ideals. The fragmentation amongst our people that threatens to tear us into shreds is momentarily forgotten, and we remember what it is to smile at the sight of an Israeli flag, or the sight of an Israeli soldier in Ben Gurion welcoming new olim to their home; people who just moments before were strangers to each other, separated by continents and different existences, are united by the very fact that they are Jews and they are… family. For that feeling, I owe Nefesh B’Nefesh everything.

Are you a noisy eater?

It doesn’t matter where – sitting on the couch in front of the TV, in an elevator, at the dinner table, or standing in line at the post office – if a person within my field of vision is eating noisily, I find myself going insane. Literally. We’re not talking a mild irritation here – an internal silent wish that the person would stop; I have to physically restrain myself from running out of the room, or, in the case of an elevator or bus, where a quick exit is less realistic, from screaming out loud in frustration. I can’t think of a habit that annoys me more in a person.

I have been afflicted with this intolerance for as long as I can remember. I am the youngest of four, and I recall as a bratty and spoilt five-year-old, I would threaten to leave the room (and actually acted on it) if my brother didn’t stop biting down on the spoon as if his life depended on it every time he ate soup. If I wasn’t only five years old at the time, and had greater powers of articulation and persuasion, as well as access to the then-non-existent Internet, I would have told him to take a leaf out of the Chinese book, and breathe in while sipping from his soup. According to the Chinese, this method prevents slurping.

Definitely the worst offences are eating cereal, munching on chips, slurping on soup, and chewing gum. I really thought that my violent reaction against noisy eating would have been something I would have grown out of by now, but no. If anything, I am even MORE intolerant now than I was when I was a child. I have more words at my disposal to lash out against the offender.

I am vaguely aware that this intolerance is not something to be proud of, and it is even quite trivial in the whole scheme of things, yet I wonder what it is that makes people eat as unabashedly loudly as they do. There are times when I even have to tell certain people in my life that I can’t watch TV with them if they plan on eating, and that kinda wreaks havoc on your recreational activities.

I’m interesting in hearing from either those who share a similar distaste for noisy eating (if so, do you know of a cure?) or better yet those who are noisy eaters themselves, who can help me understand what lies at the root of noisy eating. Is it your background? Your nationality? (I’m British, after all.) Your religion? (Just kidding.) Is it an emotional attitude towards eating that manifests itself once the food is in your mouth? (I know, I’m a freak.)

Before I sign off, I have to say that an interesting element of all this is that the only two people in the world who don’t disturb me when they are slurping or munching are my two little girls. But that’s probably because I am just so grateful that they are eating at all – they eat like birds – that I block out the noise. Hmm. 

Are you a noisy eater? (Part Two)

FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO ARE TOTALLY BORED BY MY OBSESSION AND INTOLERANCE OF NOISY EATING, COME BACK TOMORROW WHEN THE SUBJECT WILL HOPEFULLY BE OUT OF MY SYSTEM.

As a continuation of yesterday’s post, in which I remarked on the steady stream of comments I am receiving (I now have 10 comments! Woohoo!) about noisy eaters, I am reigniting the topic once again here today, and opening it up again for discussion. One reader, Matt, whom I quoted yesterday, told me that he found my blog by googling “Noisy Eater.” He actually thought my blog was solely dedicated to the topic of noisy eating and noisy eaters. Lo and behold, when I googled “Are you a noisy eater?” to see for my own eyes where I appeared, I was amazed to find that I was at the top of the page!

Busy, busy, busy

Every so often, I will think a thought or observe something truly insane, and will make a mental note to myself that when I actually have a second, I will return to the land of bloggers. Well, in the meantime, here is a short bite-sized recap of what has been going on chez Sorelle.

1. Two weeks ago, my daughter turned four, and all I can say is that if this is her fourth birthday, I can’t begin to imagine what her wedding is going to be like. She has been preparing for her birthday for months, and took dessert cookbooks to bed with her in case she had a last-minute change of heart.

The festivities were a week-long affair, resembling Sheva Berachot in length (and almost expense!), beginning with a party in gan on the actual day of her birthday with a Cinderella and Eliana masterpiece for a cake. Thanks to the wonders of technology, and the ability to print out images onto sugar paper, Eliana did end up going to the ball! Eliana dressed up as a princess for Purim, so Josh, the Internet genius, put the image of Eliana and put it next to Cinderella, and voila, we had it printed out on top of sugar paper, and placed it on top of the frosting. Ladies and gentlemen, for your viewing pleasure, I present Cake # 1.

Yes, we did win the Cool Parents popularity award amongst 26 very sugar-happy four-year-olds.

For Shabbat, we had over my husband’s cousin, who Eliana is in love with, and for lunch two of Eliana’s close friends and their families, and we gobbled up the remains of the Cinderella cake. A good time was had by all. We bought Eliana for her birthday a trampoline; the idea being that she will be able to channel her considerable amount of energy in a positive way. The jury is still out. At the moment, her energy seems to be more directed at fighting with Tzofi over it.

Then, her birthday celebrations culminated with a private party at home. I was in two minds about whether or not to have a party at home – it seemed like it was encouraging cliquey behavior by asking her to select 10 of her best friends. But since many of her friends had had parties at home, I could hardly NOT give her a party. When in Rome, do as the Romans do, and all that. Anyway, the exclusivity element didn’t turn out to be an issue in the end. Eliana decided that in addition to the invites I had already handed out, she would randomly invite some other friends in addition, so our initial plan of having a nice SMALL party morphed into something quite different altogether. It was hectic. Very hectic. But we pulled it off. We had a pitta pizza party, where the kids made their own personal pizzas. We put out pittot and various different toppings, and it was a big hit. Josh was also phenomenal. I was standing wide-mouthed and passive in horror at the sight of 16 four year olds in my living room, but Josh just held it together, and took the reins. So for the second birthday cake, Eliana requested… a rubber duck. Every night in the bath, she asked for a rubber duck, so a rubber duck it was. Not bad, eh?

Thankfully, the celebrations are behind us now. I now see why birthdays only come once a year, thank goodness. You need the other 364 days to recover.

2. What else? Well, there is less than a month to the end of the gan year, and I am working on four projects simultaneously. Busy is an understatement. And because we are going away to the States for a month in September for the holidays, we are trying to work extra hard now so that we can take some time off while we are away. That is the PLAN. Let’s see what happens.

3. About three months ago, I posted a message about my zero tolerance for noisy eaters, and it seems that I am far from being alone in this affliction, as evidenced by the ongoing comments (OK, there are only 9 comments [and yes, 2 of those 9 are my responses], but that’s record-breaking on Double Take) I still receive about the problem. Here it is again. The people who commented seem to suffer even worse than I do, and I thought I had it bad. One reader, Matt, summed it up perfectly (sorry Matt, I fixed your typos. I can’t help myself. It’s another disease I suffer from).

As for a cure I think we are all well aware that this is a psychological issue but feel like we need or have to live with it. I mean, we can all appreciate how it seems like a non issue to non sufferers and that such an incidental, intangible noise should stir such violent, hateful emotions.

The annoying thing (apart from the condition itself lol) is that AFAIK there is no current classification for the ‘condition’ so where do you start to look for help? It’s not a phobia as it instills a feeling of rage rather than fear. I would love to be free of it but what do you do? Go to the doctor? Where do you even start to explain it without him having you sectioned under the mental health act? The other issue is that the usual treatment for phobics is ‘de-sensitivity’ therapy and that scares the shit out of me as I couldn’t be held responsible for murdering whoever tried to de-sensitise me!

A few months ago I emailed a few hypnotherapy clinics detailing the issues and feelings I go through in the hope that was the way forward and received a couple of emails that were quite vague and mentioned being able to help in the inner rage side of things but not enough to make me take any further action down that route although I’m still of the mind that it would probably be the way to go.

Well, from what I can gauge, I am not the only one who starts entertaining violent thoughts when in the company of munchers and slurpers and biters, and I also would like to consider myself a fairly nice person in most situations. I agree with Matt, though – desensitization and hypnotheraphy to help you get in touch with your “inner rage” definitely scares the living daylights out of me.

Well, on THAT note, I bid you a fond farewell. Until the next time.

Beauty in the ordinary

Any parent will be able to testify that parenting and child-rearing is a difficult and often thankless job. From the moment you find out you are pregnant, you have to come to terms with a new reality; your time is not your own, and you will need to subordinate your own needs to those of your children. That’s not to say that the moment you become a parent, you get it right every time. Far from it. We snap, we lose our temper and patience, and we constantly are engaged in a struggle against shouting out: “Can’t you just amuse yourselves for just five minutes?!? Is that really asking for too much?”

I became an aunty when I was eleven years old, and doted on my nieces and nephews so much that I knew from an early age that I wanted to be a mother. During periods of my teenage life, I would often have the kind of dreams that are so beautiful that you wish you never woke up from – dreams about giving birth and having a baby. Granted the dreams were romanticized, and the labor didn’t involve excruciating agony, but rather were Hollywood-inspired, where my face was glowing with joy and ecstasy, and I was enveloped in this deep sense of serenity. It was picture perfect, and I couldn’t wait to turn the dream into reality.

At the age of twenty-five, I became a mother, and while the pregnancy left much to be desired, and there were times during Eliana’s first year when I was itching to be back at work, and found myself bored at times, I never in my wildest dreams – not even those that occupied my teenage years – could have imagined the elation that accompanies parenthood. When you get married, you learn to look at yourself in the mirror. For the first time, you are not the only person who has to live with your behavior, and your actions are held up to the mirror, and you see yourself as someone else sees you. Parenting is an extension of that. You learn that you have endless capacities for love, and you learn that even though you are a shameless shopaholic, nothing brings you more pleasure than buying something for your children, and seeing the look of joy on their face. And you learn that nothing makes you happier than knowing that they are well, happy, and feel safe.

I am sure I am not alone in feeling that as a parent, you grapple with the urge to wrap your children up in cotton wool, and do your upmost to protect them from anything unpleasant in the world, but of course, not only would it be impossible, you would be stunting their development. They have to fall in order to learn how to stand up on their own two feet. 

When Eliana was about eight months old, she was sick with a high fever, and she was miserable for days. She was lethargic, she wouldn’t eat, barely drank, and her sleeping was erratic. It was as if a dark and heavy cloud had descended upon our house, and I was racked with fears, most of them irrational. It was Friday night, and Josh and I had just finished eating Friday night dinner, and after four days of Eliana being lethargic and totally disinterested in toys, we saw her crawl over to a toy car, and start playing with it and giggling. Without saying a word, Josh and I looked at each other with such relief and happiness. Later, we discussed how at that moment we really understood what it was to be a parent, to feel such immense love for your child that your happiness is contingent upon their happiness and wellbeing. We were so relieved to see her come out of her misery that we were ready to do jigs and dance round the room.

Now, four years later, we are often sleep-deprived, and my conversations with Josh when the kids are around are inevitably always cut off. I can’t remember the last time I was able to finish a sentence when the kids are around; there are always interjections and requests and fights between the girls to mediate, but even with all of that, your child can say just one sentence, or give you a smile, and it will make all the exhaustion and frustration pale into insignificance.

Yesterday, I picked up Eliana from gan, and I told her that I missed her all day. My (not-so-little) girl looked me in the eye indulgently, and said, “But Mummy, I can’t stay home all day. I have to go to gan and see my ganenet and see my friends.” It was such a beautiful and poignant moment, and it made me think how important it is to hold onto these moments in your heart, because they are the ones that will carry you through the sleepless nights and the endless demands on your time and energy. 

After Josh and I got married, Josh was telling a good friend of his how our wedding day passed by in a blur, it all happened so quickly that it was hard to remember what happened. His friend replied that life is like that, it goes by so fast that you have to consciously remind yourself to live in the moment, and when you are experiencing something that is amazing, you need to stop yourself from moving on to the next experience, and be at one with it. It is all about finding beauty in the ordinary day-to-day routine of our lives. 

Stranger than Fiction

will ferrel in stranger than fiction

I don’t have time to write much, but if you haven’t yet seen the movie Stranger than Fiction with Will Ferrell, Dustin Hoffman, Queen Latifah, and Emma Thompson, go watch it now!

Lately, the barometer of a good evening in front of a movie is that a) I will stay awake; b) I will be mildly entertained by the end. Stranger than Fiction not only exceeded my expectations, it blew my mind. Incredible acting, brilliant storyline, extremely thought-provoking, hysterically funny at times… I was more than a little misty-eyed by the end. Definitely gonna buy this DVD.

Ciao for now.