Wednesday, July 31, 2013

What? No etrog?? What will we do? – WE DIDN’T HAVE AN ETROG

cover_esrog_shadowHard to think about Sukkos (aka Sukkot), but believe it or not, we have less than 40 days until Rosh Hashanah now and you-know-what can’t be far behind.  I’ve always found this to be a yom tov without a lot of fun stories for the early elementary level… so I created one and called it We Didn’t Have an Etrog!  It’s been out for a while now, but I thought I’d take a few minutes to show it off here because life between now and then is going to be crazy-time for us.  :-o

It's just not Sukkot without a lulav AND etrog! These children have worked hard to grow their etrog... but even hard work isn't enough without a bit of patience and some help from Hashem!

Sample page views from We Didn’t Have an Etrog! (click images for larger version):

image image image image image image

To order now – in time for Sukkos! – click here

I also have a number of other books available through CreateSpace. 

and, of course…

Because you’re not ordering directly from me, your order will NOT get caught in all our aliyah craziness.  Oh, and did I mention that all proceeds will go directly towards helping needy olim settle the holy land.  ;-)

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Journey to Motherhood, with illustrations by Naomi Rivka, age 7

(she’s 8 now, but I found this in an older notebook…)

story 001

One day I became really tired and lazy.  “Please tell me why!” I yelled but I already knew, I was expecting a baby!

Nine months past [she means “nine months passed”], I stayed home from class.  The day had come at last!

I took a year of [off] from work, to hang out with my little baby girl, Veonica!  I named her Veronica Elizabeth.

story 002story 003 

The story actually goes on and the main character becomes a grandmother, and then a great-grandmother.  And nobody in the family wears more than a bikini, because – of course – they’re all mermaids.  There are no males in the story.  Yet I find it oddly (very oddly) touching.

Going through a ton of paperwork because the journey is well and truly underway now.  In twelve days, we will be en route to our new home in the Holy Land!!! 

Please follow our adventures over here at my aliyah blog if I’m not around here at this blog much…

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Never put off…

card1… ‘til 16 years from now what really ought to be mailed today.  Isn’t that how the quote goes?


Seated on the floor Tisha b’Av morning, sifting through 30 years worth of papers (highly recommended for the occasion as both a saddening and deadening kind of occupation), I came across a small stack of thank-you cards from YM’s upsherin… ie, the upsherin we held when he turned three.

Yes, the same YM who is turning 19 in a month and a half.

I still really like the “logo” I designed for his upsherin – a blue scissors, open, with “YM” from top to bottom one way and the Hebrew letters yud and mem the other way.  I mock-airbrushed it with my set of “Blo-Pens” – a truly kitschy-but-cool craft supply if ever there was one.  I used cutting-edge scanning & colour-copying technology to apply the logo to everything from the invitations (in fridge magnet form!) to the program (yes, there was a program) to, well, the thank-you cards I don’t think anybody ever got.

To be very fair, because his birthday comes out right after Sukkos, I didn’t get around to doing the actual upsherin until maybe a month later.  So they’re not REALLY 16 years old, right?

And okay, some of the intended recipients are already dead – not least, the “Zeidy” in this card. 


(card reads “Dear Bubby and Zeidy – Thank you very much for the new kippah and my special Winnie-the-Pooh surprise card (+ the loader!).  Iy”h you should see this much nachas (and more!) from me and all your children and grandchildren in the future.  Love,”)

I never mailed the stack because I was having him initial each one, a tedious task for a 3-year-old, and one which I eventually abandoned in favour of, well, abandonment.

I threw away the obvious cards – people we’re no longer in touch with; people who have died (“Dear Nanny”).  The rest, well, I have the idea of giving them out at the goodbye party my mother’s making for us this coming Sunday.  You know, with a small smile and a “whoopsie.” 

After all, who hasn’t had something slip their mind from time to time… for 16 years???

(p.s. Interested in upsherins in general?  Here are pics and video from GZ’s!)

Thtupid-Word Thursday: It’s a twofer! “Shinny” and “Snuggly”

Two words that make me bananas – and not in a good way.  I’m including these both here to save time, and because these are similarly misused words – due to their inadvertently doubled vowels – that both keep popping up everywhere I turn.

So!  Snuggly vs Snugly.  Anyone???

This nut is something that fits “snugly”:

This teddy bear, on the other hand, is kind of “snuggly”:

Well, okay, it isn’t really very snuggly.  But it’s “Dydee Bear!” the official diaper-service mascot bear that my sister had as a baby.

This “data center knowledge” article is another example.  Aww… it’s snuggly!


As for the other.

Shinny vs Shiny.  Really, unacceptable.

These are shins:

To be fair, these, too, are shins:


And this is shinny:

An informal game of hockey, often played in the streets.

This ring is nice and shiny:

This is nice and shinny:


Liv Creme Hairdressing and Conditioner<- So, clearly, this hair product does not make “hair look so nice and shinny,” as one reviewer mentioned.

Neither does this one.  ->






This hotel is really not “shinny and new”, however alpen-lovely it may be.  But maybe a few tips for keeping your motorcycle looking “shinny and new” couldn’t hurt?

Hilton Garden Inn Davos

“Shinny and clean” silver, anybody?


Hmm… what a bright, shinny belt you are wearing today!


Okay, enough. I am beating a dead horse and we all get the point.

Here’s to a bright, shinny day, with maybe a bit of snuggly tossed in here and there.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Fwd: Old note to myself, which I am throwing away.

Ah, the things that amaze us with Kid #1.

On a packet of Duncan Hines Cookie Mix in the grocery store:
"YM loves the idea that there are brands of things... he's 5 years old, doesn't know very much, so he looks for those names he knows like beacons on the supermarket shelf."

Throwing away their report cards today, now that they've both graduated from high school and we are purging like crazy.  Actually, I am purposely NOT throwing away their report cards:  I have turned them over to their rightful owners.  If they want to throw them away, so be it.

One child agreed, the other said I'm supposed to keep them, presumably cherishing them forever.  The truth is, if we were staying, I probably would.  But we're not staying, and it feels good to pass them on.

Have an easy fast, world.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Devarim, Chazon and Aliyah: My Thoughts

Almost every year, my mother corners me to give a dvar Torah at a ladies’ Shalosh Seudos (Seudat Shlishit) our shul organizes at different homes around the community.  She always hosts the one closest to her birthday, which happens to fall out this week.

Weirdly, even though I have done it a bunch of times, it always seems to happen on a different parsha, so I cannot just reuse another one from a previous year.  (Would I do it if I could?  Um, heck yes?)

So here’s this year’s.  If you are within walking distance, please come to my mother’s place for party sandwiches and more.  But if you’re coming on Shabbos, please don’t read it!  I wouldn’t want to ruin the wondrous moments of shock and surprise (mainly when you realize just how long this thing is going to be and decide to stay away…)

Here’s a list of previous summer divrei Torah, in case you’re vastly curious and/or slightly masochistic:


This week’s parsha opens the last book of the Torah, Devarim. Devarim means “things” or “words.” It’s a pretty vague name – you might as well have called it “stuff.” But! But. It turns out this book hasn’t always been called Devarim.

Each of the books of the Torah has an older name, which may reflect better the essence of each book. Vayikra is Toras Kohanim, the Torah for the Priests (in Latin, Leviticus); Bamidbar is Sefer HaPekudim (in English, Numbers). (Bereishis is Sefer Hayetzira, Shemos is Sefer Hageulah)

So: Devarim. Its fancy “English” name is Deuteronomy, which means “second.” And its ancient Jewish name is “Mishneh Torah”, which means “repetition of the Torah.” (you may be familiar with the Rambam’s book by the same name)

But why do we need a repetition?

Maybe “stuff” isn’t such a bad name for this weird book that – at first glance – doesn’t seem to know what it’s about.

Sefer Devarim isn’t about history – the entire book takes place over the last 39 days of Moshe’s life: all one speech, not much story.

And it’s not so much about mitzvos either – sure, there are lots of them, big ones, too, but not much we couldn’t find elsewhere. This is old news.

Most people say, “well, it’s a new generation, so they need to hear it again.” But why not just read them the original Torah – why write them a whole new one?

Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks points out that scholars of antiquity have discovered recently that when treaties were struck in the ancient near east, they all followed a standard template: He says, “The precise form of ancient covenants… had six parts. [1] They began with a preamble, establishing the identity of the person or power initiating the covenant. This was followed by [2] reviewing the history of the relationship between the two parties. Then came [3] the provisions of the covenant … then followed [4] a provision for the covenant to be deposited in a sacred place, and read on a regular basis. Next came [5] sanctions associated with the covenant, namely blessings that would follow if it was adhered to, and curses… if it is broken. Lastly there is [6] a statement of the witnesses… usually the gods of the nations involved.” 

With this framework in mind, it suddenly becomes clear: sefer Devarim is a treaty between Hashem and the Jewish people.

First, this week, we read the preamble, then, the history, conditions; Moshe describes how to preserve the Torah and pass it on to the generations; we hear about the blessings and curses, and finally, he calls on heaven and earth as witnesses, right near the end.

And why now? We’ve come a long way with Hashem over 40 years in the desert; big things are ahead with Yehoshua and his conquest of Israel. And now, between the two, just as surely as a ketubah comes between courtship and honeymoon… Devarim comes between our history and our future.

But why read it at this time of year?

It’s summertime. Many of us – okay, I’ll just speak for me – are at a spiritual low point in our yearly cycle. The material world pulls very strongly in the summertime. Summertime is fun and easy.

But along comes the 17th of Tammuz, the three weeks, and finally, the Nine Days leading up to Tisha b’Av. All of a sudden, we’re told to be like mourners: no music, no simchas, no dancing, no haircuts, no meat, no wine. What was that? No meat? No wine?? But actual mourners are allowed to eat meat and drink wine!

So why no meat or wine?

Because meat and wine are us. In the Bais HaMikdash, meat was everywhere as korbanos: substituting one life for another. Wine, too, was splashed all over the place, like blood. We are meat – fragile human lives. We are wine – easily spilled, bringing out the worst in each other.

So for nine days, we leave behind the physicality of summer, our meaty, bloody bodies, and act like the spiritual people we aspire to be.

And right in the middle of it, always, we begin sefer Devarim, this “treaty book” that sets in stone our relationship with hakadosh baruch hu.

Now, in the ancient world, who were the parties to a treaty? Usually, mighty kings with armies, weapons, fields, animals, resources. Peers, certainly – otherwise, one could just overrun the other. But not here.

Here, it is Hashem, the omnipotent Creator of the world, and us: meat and wine, with all our messy fragilities. And Hashem comes and says, “Dear bnei Yisrael: You’re a mess… and I love you. I need a partner in creating something eternal.”

So we, for our part, abstain from meat and wine, and weep for the days when our love was out in the open; when the whole world could see the sweetness of that connection.

This week is also called Shabbos Chazon (“Vision Shabbos”) after the haftarah read the Shabbos before Tisha b’Av, from the book of Yeshayahu (Isaiah). It’s gloomy stuff indeed. Yeshayahu’s whole hideous vision parallels the horrors of megillas Eichah, Lamentations, read on Tisha b’Av.

But the haftarah ends on a hopeful note: “I will restore your judges as at the first… you shall be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city.”

Megillas Eichah also ends with hope:

כא הֲשִׁיבֵנוּ ה אֵלֶיךָ ונשוב (וְנָשׁוּבָה), חַדֵּשׁ יָמֵינוּ כְּקֶדֶם.

Return us unto you, O Lrd, and we will return; renew our days as of old.

Yeshayahu, gloomy though his visions may be, is clearsighted when it comes to our destiny:

ו הַבָּאִים יַשְׁרֵשׁ יַעֲקֹב, יָצִיץ וּפָרַח יִשְׂרָאֵל; וּמָלְאוּ פְנֵי-תֵבֵל, תְּנוּבָה.  {פ}

ה בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא, יִהְיֶה ה צְבָאוֹת, לַעֲטֶרֶת צְבִי, וְלִצְפִירַת תִּפְאָרָה--לִשְׁאָר, עַמּוֹ.

6 In days to come shall Jacob take root, Israel shall blossom and bud…

5 In that day shall the Lrd of hosts be for a crown of glory,

Hashem is “crowned with glory” only when Yaakov “takes root.” His destiny is bound with ours by that sacred treaty, carved in stone, treasured forever. Welcome to sefer Devarim.

For many Jews, this prophetic vision of blossoming, of crowning Hashem as king of the whole world, is happening today in the modern State of Israel. The official Prayer for the State of Israel expresses this as terms of “reishit tzmichat ge’ulateinu,” the dawn, or “first growth” of our redemption.

I know, I know. I’ve been to Israel and it’s hard to see that vision on the ground, with screaming bus drivers, fistfighting cabbies, mystifying grocery stores. I know our new lives in Israel will be a struggle. These are regular glasses, not rose-coloured ones.

Yeshayahu, too, saw clearly. He saw sin; he saw so much badness in Israel… and still, he saw the beauty in our future, and the permanence of that treaty, struck so long ago, between the one God and His beloved nation.

And somewhere, between our history and our future, is this dry, dusty, sweet piece of land we call Israel.

It’s the greatest story ever told – and I want to be part of it. We are each one small brick in the rebuilding, but every brick counts. May we all merit to be together in Yerushalayim in the restored Bais HaMikdash this Tuesday… and if not, together for a Shabbos meal in the Holy Land someday very soon.

# # #

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

On sale now: Poems for all occasions!

whypoemBecause I don’t have enough to do…

I’m selling poems on fiverr!  Click here to see my gigs.  You’ve read ‘em here for years… you’ve bought ‘em on… and now you can OWN one of these fabulous masterpieces!

For $5, you can buy a short (4-6 stanza) poem for anyone, on any topic.  (If you’ve never used fiverr before, it’s tons of fun to explore anyway).

Because we’re moving in just a few weeks, this is just a “trial balloon.”  If it works out, obviously I’ll start it up again once we’re within wifi distance of a computer with a keyboard.

Just figured this is something I’m good at that’s easy and fun to do.  Some people knit or sew masterpieces and sell them on etsy… but I don’t.  So if you’ve got a birthday or special occasion coming up, consider giving the Gift of Heartfelt Poetry… :-)

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Two NU books –?

If you’re a longtime reader of this blog, they’re not EXACTLY new… but they are “nu?” in the sense of “Nu???  We knew these were great poems and we are thrilled that you had art done and are releasing these as books!!!”


Although these poems exist on the hard drive and were originally written for this blog, they are far from ready for prime time.  Every time I open something up with the intention of putting it together in book form, I shudder and wonder how I could have put it out there in the first place, even just on a blog.  Believe me, there’s a significant amount of re-writing involved in putting any of these together.  Rewriting and frustration and head-scratching and making everything absolutely perfect.

Here are some page previews.

First, We Didn’t Have An Etrog!, a long, awkward title for a book about two kids waiting for their esrog to ripen.  I know, I know… I CALL it an esrog in real life, but after flipping and flopping I went with Sephardic pronunciations.  By the way, for everyone who will ultimately criticize the book for its halachic inaccuracy, I do know that a green esrog is permissible.  But not one that is completely unripe.  I have made the esrog a lurid green colour so it’s clear that it’s very unready.  :-)  Here’s the description of the book:  “What?  No etrog??  What will we do?  It's just not Sukkot without a lulav AND etrog!  These children have worked hard to grow their etrog... but even hard work isn't enough without a bit of patience and some help from Hashem!"  A lot of exclamation marks, and I know what great proofers you all are.  Oh, well.



Then, there’s Seven Special Crops Gifts (way better title!):  “Come meet the Seven Species!  These five special fruits and two grains, the Shivat Haminim, are listed in the Torah in the book of Devarim (Deuteronomy):  "It is a land of wheat and barley, grapevine and fig and pomegranate, a land of olive oil and date honey."  Now, these seven special crops come to life, with rhyme and full-colour illustrations, revealing the true plan behind Israel's delicious bounty!”



Update:  actual previews from the hard-copy proof that arrived today – what a thrill!!!  (Excuse my awful fingernails… I put on nail polish for YM’s graduation, then realized that the main reason I don’t use nail polish is probably that I can’t stand the smell of nail polish remover.  I’d rather have ratty nails for a month than toxify my world that way…)

bookpreviews (1) bookpreviews (2)

I have tried to make both these books as visually rich and interesting as possible, and I’m just waiting for proof copies to make sure that they look as cheerful in real life as they do on the digital proof copies.  Once I approve the proofs, we’re open for business!

(Here’s why I link to the CreateSpace store even though it’s not as good an interface as Amazon:  CreateSpace – which is owned by Amazon – messes up its authors by paying them a much smaller royalty if readers buy their books on Amazon.  Amazon has the Look Inside feature and the author’s name is clickable and it’s a fun buying experience and they sometimes offer a few pennies off the price of the book… but the royalty to the author is WAY less.  So if I post links, it will usually be to the CreateSpace store, and that’s why, and I hope you will understand and maybe buy from the CreateSpace store anyway. :-)  )

By the way, if it seems like I am doing more with getting these books out there than I have, that’s because I resolved at my birthday that this would be the year of “getting on with things.”  By which I mean, getting my writing up and out and not letting it languish on the hard drive any longer.

Which is what I’m doing… and it actually feels kind of good – thank you very much!