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Archive for November, 2007

When I first met J, getting to know his family was a bit overwhelming. He has a much larger family than I do, and many of them are loud and assertive. Scary. Fortunately, a lot of them are very nice people. I felt instantly comfortable with his aunt, Edna, his mother’s sister. Edna made me feel like she thought I was the most marvelous person J could have brought through the door. Her house was a warm, chaotic place and she made the best matzah balls ever.

Three years into our relationship, I decided to convert to Judaism. I made J’s parents promise not to tell Edna and didn’t phone her either, as I wanted to see the look on her face myself. I knew she was going to be delighted.

I never did get a chance to tell her. One morning at the school where she taught, Edna went to the office to ask them to call her husband, as she had a bad headache. Then she collapsed of a brain aneurysm. We got the call to drive in, as Edna was in the hospital and “it doesn’t look good.” We drove straight in, not saying much on the two-hour trip. I was still firmly convincing myself she would be fine.

She was on total life support. Her children were there, one from far away, and her sisters and their spouses. We all waited all night for the doctors to do one final test. They would take her off the breathing machine. They didn’t think she’d start breathing in her own, but if she did, there was some hope. She didn’t.

I loved Edna. We all loved Edna. I discovered at the funeral and shiva that it wasn’t just me she made feel so special, it was everyone she met. It wasn’t that she was shallow. She really cared about people and had a gift of showing it. I knew Edna for three years and she’s been dead 13 years and I still miss her, which is a pretty good example of her impact.

When J and I were expecting our first child, we came up with a boy’s name and a girl’s name, both after Edna (Maya isn’t Maya’s real name). A month later, my nephew was born and he too was named for Edna. A few months after that, J’s cousin had her second child and another baby was named for Edna.

The three cousins are very close, despite living in different cities. Not only are they close in age, but they hold pride at being Edna’s namesakes.

The fact that they don’t know Edna is weird to me, give her huge impact on this family. I was thinking about this a couple of days ago, as we reached the 13 anniversary of her death. I was thinking about how, when I grew up, the missing family member was my mother’s father. He died when I was three. I don’t remember him. I remember my mother being gone for a long time, as she spent several weeks in England during his final illness. I remember her returning with my grandmother and a big scary dog (or at least, so it seemed at the time). But nothing about him. I realize now that I don’t even know what I called him – Grandpa? Grandad?

I feel I know a lot about him, though. My mother kept many of his books, and he had a lot. I used to like to poke through them and read quite a few as I got older. My mother told me stories about him and things he used to say (one of my favourite is – and I hope I get this right – “Skinny women are for hanging clothes on and plump women are for taking clothes off.”) I have seen lots of pictures, too. My mother looks like him. He has a face that suggests a great sense of humour. I think he would have been interesting to talk to. I think I might have ended up arguing with him a lot, but I always felt they would have been respectful arguments, intellectual arguments. I think we would have understood each other.

Of course, I don’t know any of this for sure, because he’s dead. That pisses me off. It has pissed me off for a long, long time. When I was younger, going through his books, I’d feel cheated out of not being able to know this man. I had to rely on others memories because I didn’t have a single one of my own, and that really annoyed me. I missed him.

So I was thinking of Edna, and I was thinking that, as painful as it is, I wished that Maya felt the same way about Edna as I feel about my grandfather. I wanted her to have enough of a sense of the person Edna was to miss her. I’m not sure why. What has missing my grandfather gotten me? I guess it is just that my mother managed to communicate to me not only how much he meant to her, but what kind of person he was. Missing my grandfather keeps him real that much longer. I want Edna to be real to the generation of children who never met her.

Ironically, just last night, Maya and I were chatting before bed and she brought Edna up, asking what it was like when she died. Then she asked me what was so special about her, and I tried to describe her, give Maya a greater sense of who she was. At one point I paused and Maya blurted out, “Oh, it just makes me so mad that I didn’t know her! It isn’t fair!”

I told her I knew exactly how she felt, and that she was right, it isn’t fair that she didn’t know Edna. But I’m glad she feels that anger, because now I know we successfully passed on who Edna was.

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Like all parents, when my first baby was born, I looked forward to many milestones – first word, first sentence, first steps, no more diapers. As they grew, I even looked forward to ones like outgrowing the annoying car seat, being able to open the fridge by herself. The one I didn’t expect until it was upon us was learning to read.

That was particularly slow of me, given how central reading and writing is to me. Maybe that is why – it seems as natural a breathing. It isn’t, though. It is work.

Boo, my last baby, has just figured out the key. Reading isn’t just a switch – one day you can’t, the next you can. But, at least with my kids, there has always been one day when the kid suddenly gets running those sounds together. For the longest time – desperate to read – Maya would sound out words like ‘cat’ as cuh-ah-tuh and then run it together as ‘cuhatuh.’ Then she’d get frustrated and take a wild stab at it – “Chicken?” It was hard not to laugh, I admit.

She spent a long time in the ‘cuhatuh’ stage, not quite getting it. And then, one day, she did. And I realized that the whole world had just open up to her. I teared up, I admit.

It was somewhat harder for Asher, in that he didn’t care, and somewhat easier, in that he didn’t care. He didn’t kill himself at it the way his sister did. But one day, about a week before he was to enter grade one, I decided it was time to see if he could get phonetics. We sat down with Hop on Pop, and he Got It.

Having never really thought about it before, he was wildly delighted to realize that he could actually read.  I’ll never forget the excitement with which he raced up the stairs to demonstrate to his dad that he could actually read. Unfortunately in his case, it immediately got difficult and figuring it out has been a struggle ever since. It just doesn’t seem to come naturally to him, much as he wants it to.

But with Boo, whether it is because she is a third child, or a lucky one, it has happened with the greatest of ease. She figured out the alphabet by herself. As we went through the grocery store when she was 2 and 3 years old, she’d say, “I see my letter! I see Bubby’s letter!” Only later did the letters get their own names, and she already had a good idea of their sounds.

A couple of weeks ago, while I read to the older two, Boo was looking at one of her own books and suddenly said, “puh-ah-tuh … pat!” I cheered, “Boo, you just sounded that word out!” She was delighted, and has been sounding out everything she sees since then, with varying degrees of success.

So last night, I dug out Hop on Pop. And she read it. She even took little leaps, like sounding out ‘see’ as ‘suh-eh-eh’ and not running it together as ‘seh’ but ‘see.’ The best part is her utter delight. She was so excited I had trouble getting her to stop (it’s a long book) and go to sleep, then she showed up bright and early this morning in my bed insisting on continuing the book.

Later, when I insisted on cutting her fingernails, she said, “Okay! I can read while you do it!” She grabbed a book and picked a word, then said, “Buh-uh-tuh-tuh-on. Button! Button? I always thought it was ‘buttin’! Wow, this reading thing is really cool.”

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Speaking of matters of the colon (Alan, thank you so much for your illuminating contribution to the topic!), I should mention that I appear to have found a sure-fire solution to constipation.

Here we go into the realm of too much information, so brace yourselves – as I’ve whined about before, I have Fibromyalgia (FMS) and take heavy duty drugs for the pain (I’m still slowly weaning, but am still on them). Those drugs can cause constipation as a side effect. And I have IBS, making it worse. Basically, my guts have been on strike for a long time. I tried fiber and more fiber and lots of water. When my doctor told me to walk, I walked half an hour a day, to no effect.

But a couple of months ago, I started really walking, beetling around the dog park with Jasper for an hour to an hour and a half virtually every day. Nothing stops me – rain, snow, my own screaming muscles. And I realized a couple of weeks ago, about a month after I began really walking seriously that, well, the situation had resolved itself.

So, for those of you who suffer from the same concerns, skip the expensive, yucky drinks and go for a walk – a long, fast walk. Then do it tomorrow. Then the next day. Don’t stop and you’ll be amazed.

Maybe I should make up some harmless powder and sell it in a big jar with instructions to take every day with lots of water, then stipulate that it won’t work unless the person taking it walks briskly for an hour a day. Do that and it’ll kick right in and cure your constipation problems! I could be rich, rich!

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I’ve been getting some strange search strings lately, or just some plain dumb ones. I wish I could answer them in retrospect. Like to the person who googled, “pain in tooth that was just filled.” Honey, it is going to hurt for a little while. It just got drilled. It needs a chance to settle down. Don’t worry about it. Take Advil. That stuff is great for dental pain.

Someone else googled ‘smartest dog ever.’ Fortunately, this time coming to my site gave them the answer they are looking for right away: my dog.

Some wants ‘real life people who converted religions.’ I don’t quite get this. Real life people? As opposed to fictional? Because, frankly, it is way easier to come up with actual human beings than fictional ones. Maybe they meant us average joes rather than famous people like, uh, Sammy Davis Jr.

Some guy (I’ll assume it was a guy) wants ‘mom’s breasts.’ I can only guess he wants his own mom’s breasts, although how the internet is supposed to know who his mom is, I am not sure. But if he wanted someone else’s mom’s breasts, why didn’t he just search for ‘breasts’ alone?

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Even weirder than people who google their way to me is the stuff I manage to follow out, like the link to one FMS web page that talked about ‘colonix.’ Curious as to what this is, I googled it myself. Well! Apparently there really is no shame in the land of the internet.

I’ll save you the links, for the faint of heart. For those less faint, it shouldn’t be hard to find. Turns out that a lot of people are very worried about being constipated and so some guy (now lots of them) came up with a ‘cleansing system’ that requires lots of fiber, laxatives and herbal teas. You can juice and fast too, if you’d like. Of course, people have been doing this for centuries, but the twist one guy came up with is the idea that, thanks to our sluggish systems, bogged down by our unhealthy Western diet, our colons are becoming lined with a thick layer of something one of them coined ‘mucoid plaque’ – basically shit that just sticks around forever, releasing harmful toxins into our systems and making us sick.

That concept has a certain appeal. If you feel crappy, take this stuff and shit out all your illness. I might have even considered it had I not had that lovely barium enema last year to try to figure out what was up with me. Already chronically constipated, I had to drink this hideous, horrible laxative which basically has one on the can until you are shitting water. I was a bit concerned I wasn’t empty enough, as my body was more resistant to the laxative than it was supposed to be, so the techie kindly took some pictures to check and pronounce my guts pink and squeaky clean.

Here’s the thing about the colonix people – after they give themselves the runs for a while, they start to shit out weird stuff, ropey gross stuff. They are convinced this is the ‘mucoid plaque.’ But if anyone was likely to have such a thing in them it’d be me, and nothing of the sort showed up when I scrubbed my insides clean. Of course, I wasn’t using those expensive colonix things, which contain lots of fiber and clay and stuff that might possibly bond together in one’s guts and come out in a big lumpy pile and convince the gullible and vulnerable that they are ridding themselves of long-held toxic poop.

Here’s the weirdest part: there are many, many people out there – a whole sub-culture – who decided to ‘cleanse’ themselves and then blog about it. Every single day, they write down how many times they pooped, when and what the poop was like. And, best of all, they take pictures! Some of them have entire picture galleries devoted to the products of their butts! I have come across a lot of weird stuff on the internet, but this really ranks right up at the top.

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I found my camera, but still don’t have any pictures of snow-puppy. I do have pictures from Boo’s birthday party, now a couple months old. But here are a couple anyway:

boomonkey.jpg

She wanted a gymnastics party, because as far as she is concerned, if you can’t climb it, jump on it or jump off it, it is no fun. For those people who are deluded into thinking that at least girls are calmer than boys and don’t treat the house like a jungle gym, I invite you over to my house to witness Boo do things like leap from the top of the bunk bed like a spider monkey to the floor. Or worse, to the rocking chair.

booboyfriend.jpg

Here are several of the kids waiting for their turns. The tall boy in the white shirt is Boo’s boyfriend. Isn’t he cute? Well, actually, turns out he’s one of her boyfriends. The little guy behind him is the other one. Too bad you can’t see him better, because he’s cute too.

We discovered this the other day when Boo announced, “I have a boyfriend and D has a girlfriend!” Odd way to put it, but we’ll play along. “Who are they?” Maya asked. “Well, I’m D’s girlfriend and C is my boyfriend.” We pointed out that it sounded like she has two boyfriends and she was just delighted with that notion. I’m going to have to watch that one closely.

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Someone just found my site by googling “what judaism means to me.” I find this odd. It doesn’t seem to be the sort of thing the internet is going to tell you. Speaking of, we took the whole family to synagogue this Saturday and plan to continue. We fell out of the habit at our old shul because there was nothing to keep the kids engaged, making the whole experience increasingly unpleasant. We are back on the wagon, though.

Asher threw a huge fit because services bore him silly. In truth, I sympathize completely. Just sitting and not being allowed to doodle, or knit or read something else at the same time is difficult for me as well. He solved his problem by refusing to enter the sanctuary, wandering around the rest of the building until he found a friend. I solved the problem by reading the Torah (and commentary) in great detail. It was actually quite nice. I think we all enjoyed the experience more than we expected to, which is good, because we are determined to make this a regular activity.

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Jasper has started intermediate training at Petsmart, where he did the beginner class. Same instructor too. She is great. He’s learning to stay longer, wait (which is different than stay), and heel. Heel is the one I just couldn’t quite figure out on my own. I did have a go at it now and then, and something must have sunk in, because he got it the moment I tried and while other dogs are making it 4 or 5 steps down the aisle before bolting, Jasper makes it up one aisle and down the other. Of course, it helps that he is brilliant.

Our latest move is teaching the dog to ‘touch.’ “Touch ball” is this week’s command. Every time Jasper pokes the ball with his nose or paws at it, he gets a treat. At first, he found me waving the ball in his face very annoying and tried to bite it. But he soon clued to. The instructor has great plans for ‘touch,’ like teaching the dog to turn off lights or pick up their own toys and put them away (I asked if I could bring my kids to the next class, so she could teach them that trick too).

This class is smaller than the beginner, not surprisingly. There are only 4 other dogs. One is a tiny little poodle, which I find odd. Most dogs in training classes are large, I guess because most people aren’t concerned about being able to control something that weighs only 7 lbs.

Last class, we went out into the store to work on something – the instructor likes the distractions – and as we exited the training room we passed a girl about 20 years old. When she spotted Jasper, she yelled, “Wow!” Then she followed us. She watched the training session, commenting repeatedly on how beautiful my dog was and how much she loved him. As we headed back to the room, she told me in a voice of complete sincerity, “I just love your dog so much that if I could, I’d steal him.”

I was glad to be going into the training room and away from the crazy dog stalker, but she followed us in! She sat beside Jasper and kept trying to pat him, but he was having none of it. I don’t know if he independently decided she was nuts, or if he was picking up vibes from me. When the class ended, I confess bolted ahead of the others, leaving the stalker trapped behind the other dogs going out the door, and then quickly left the store, double-checking that no one had followed me from the parking lot when I left.

There’s the down side to having the most marvelous dog in the world.

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More snow! Yesterday, I fell asleep instead of taking Jasper for his walk, which resulted in him barking at gremlins he insisted were out in our backyard at midnight. In a few minutes, I will tackle all the fresh snow and take him out. He’s adorable leaping about in the snow (I’ll see if I can find my camera to demonstrate), but trying to dry him off is a nightmare. And yet, I cannot bear to cut his fur down more and reduce his teddy-bearness.

The first snow of the season is always a logistical nightmare, no matter how organized I think I am. I brought up dozens – no exaggeration here – of mittens, and yet yesterday morning none of them could find any. I have no idea where they all are, and I am pissed off. Asher insisted his snowpants fit, but they don’t, but he won’t upgrade. Asher and Maya need new boots, as do I.

I didn’t think it was urgent until I picked them up from school and Asher presented me with soaking-wet boots. Really, they could not have been wetter if he’d thrown them in a swimming pool. I guess waterproofness wears off?

So we were off to the big show store near here, along with maybe half the city. Three children and a huge shoe store after school is my idea of hell, and every year I manage to get trapped in it. Thankfully, we found boots for the boy very quickly, because he was the urgent one. None for the girl, though. Poor Maya – the problem with being tall is that the clothes appropriate to your age don’t fit your body. She wanted cool, colourful kids’ boots, but she wears women’s size 7 (or 8, depending on the fit). In the women’s section, we were faced with rows and rows of stylish black boots. We finally found some she liked and they had a rough seam running right over her ankle bone. How stupid is that? So she still needs them. I didn’t even try to look for me. I’m not a total masochist.

The snow makes me want to knit. I just want to sit in front of a nice fire and knit. Instead, I get a row or two done while singing lullabies or waiting in the car for the school bell to ring.

Currently, I am knitting:

hats and scarves for the AG dolls (2 hats done so far)

a sweater for Asher that I started last winter, really big, but if I don’t get my butt in gear on it, he’ll still manage to outgrow it before I’m done.

socks for Maya – one finished.

socks for Boo – one finished.

a baby sweater for the friends whose baby arrived 4 months ago.

a scarf, probably for Asher.

I just got lovely wool and a pattern for a winter hat for me, but have resisted starting it. Don’t know how long I’ll last, though.

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Snow! Snow! Woo hoo, snow!!

Okay, I don’t actually feel that way, but the children – both human and canine – sure do. In the backyard before school, Asher tried to make a snowman out of the perfect, sticky snow, but every time he got the snowball to a decent size, Jasper lunged at it, ripping it to pieces. Asher couldn’t even be angry with him, it was so funny.

Snow that actually sticks to the ground caught me by surprise. I’ve been meaning to go get a decent pair of walking boots for my treks through the woods with Jasper, which I have no intention of stopping just because it is winter, but haven’t yet. Now I have to go out today. And remember to load blankets in the car to protect it from wet dog.

At least I’m pretty much organized for Hanukkah, which in itself is a Hanukkah miracle. I still have to finish knitting the cute little hats I am making for the girl’s AG dolls. I got one hat finished in the time it took to attend a Judy and David concert, even though I had to pause to stand up and spin like a dreidel, and eat Boo up like a yummy latke, etc.

Judy and David, for those not in the know, are a Canadian singing duo for kids, based in Toronto. They do concerts all over North American, but aren’t exactly the level of the Wiggles in popularity. They are, however, marvelous. My kids have been into them for a long time and, even though the older two passed on being seen at one of their concerts this time, they are happy to play their CDs at home.

They have lots of clever stuff, like spoofs on fairy tales and fun music that teaches math concepts. But the reason I really love them is for the looks on my kids’ faces upon discovering that Judy and David have a CD called “Matzah Ball Rock” and a Hanukkah show. Not do Judy and David, who are, like, way famous (because they are on TV!), turn out to be Jewish, but they have a whole concert aimed at Jews! Whoa. Blows them away.

The show really was great. David came out dressed as King Antiochus (the big baddie) and ordered the audience to bow to him, then started to cry as the children yelled out, “No way! We aren’t listening to you!” Then Judy came out as Judy the Maccabee and called him King Anti-tuchus (tuchus being the Yiddish word for your bum).  I thought Boo was going to choke, she laughed so hard.

My favourite part of the show was getting to watch Boo’s face as she watched the show. That’s always what I like best when I take the kids to any live show. They are so engaged, dancing and singing and their faces are pure joy.

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