holy mud

I spent a considerable amount of time Friday morning scraping mud off of our Israeli grandsons’ brand-new soccer shoes. They went right from the store into the house and out to their outside plot into the mud. It was made worse, of course, when the littler one suggested to the older one to bring them into the house and wash them off. “Wait, wait–don’t do that!!” I tried to stop them. By the time I got to the sink (2 seconds at the most), it was pretty seriously too late.

They did not say this. They said lots of things at the highest volume that they have, which has grown since I saw them last in July. Oh, Lovely Mud, indeed! So I showed them how to use the plastic garden tools that they have to clean off the shoes. It worked to a point. The tempers calmed down and I was able to convince them that:

  1. this was better than the time that he stepped in dog stuff at our house. (This didn’t make him feel better, though, because he remembered how angry everyone was when he did that.)
  2. they would eventually dry. and
  3. the mud was a good thing, because it meant that it had rained enough to make mud!

The previous day, we went to visit Rachel our mother, but it was hard to know if she was even home. DSC_0157 DSC_0155

The tomb of Rachel has become a huge tourist attraction, rather than a visit of religious devotion. I shouldn’t say that, because most of the women who were there were very busy praying. But OMG, Kever Rachel even has a Facebook page now.

It used to be a place of a more private devotion. I think that was the point–Rachel was buried on the way. Her death was unexpected and her husband had not prepared himself emotionally for that loss. I have a feeling he probably regretted not bringing her to Hevron, but she became the standard bearer for the unredeemed. Even Melville uses her in Moby Dick, at the end of Chapter 128:

She was Rachel, weeping for her children, because they were not.

In Jeremiah 31:15, the prophet speaks of ‘Rachel weeping for her children’. This is interpreted in Judaism as Rachel crying for an end to her descendants’ sufferings and exiles following the destruction by the Babylonians of the First Temple in ancient Jerusalem. According to the Midrash, Rachel spoke before God: “If I, a mere mortal, was prepared not to humiliate my sister and was willing to take a rival into my home, how could You, the eternal, compassionate God, be jealous of idols, which have no true existence, that were brought into Your home (the Temple in Jerusalem)? Will You cause my children to be exiled on this account?” God accepted her plea and promised that, eventually, the exile would end and the Jews would return to their land.

But actually, what brings most women to the Kever is something different; it is G-d listening to Rachel’s prayers during her lifetime. Here is the sign that is posted.


This is the line that is boldened on the right in this prayer that was composed to say at the Tomb of Rachel:

כב  וַיִּזְכֹּר אֱלֹהִים, אֶת-רָחֵל; וַיִּשְׁמַע אֵלֶיהָ אֱלֹהִים, וַיִּפְתַּח אֶת-רַחְמָהּ. 22 And God remembered Rachel, and God hearkened to her, and opened her womb.

So women are there to pray to be heard now; for the children to come, not the children who have passed.

Now why did I bring up Rachel’s Tomb and my grandchildren’s muddy shoes? After all, I could have referenced walking to the Old City my first day in Israel; or walking to the Promenade and noting the changes since I’ve been here; or tasting the sufganiyot that have gone so upscale.

But somehow it comes down to the real needs that matter. Getting mud off of new soccer shoes; getting dog poop off of the baby stroller; getting vomit out of the baby’s clothes; it’s the real that we need.

We can wax poetic later when the smell is a distant memory.


winter approaches slowly slowly

We went back to the museum yesterday, this time with my father and sister. How quickly things change.

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Today, we went for another walk and it felt positively balmy. Yes, gratitude is here, too.

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We just finished eating dinner. The men went off to the synagogue for evening prayer time. Before dinner, I lit two yahrzeit candles on behalf of my father, one for his mother and one for his older cousin, who was like a brother to him. They share the date of their death, convenient for my father not to mourn more than he wants for both of them. While I was making dinner, and on the subject at hand, I gave him a book to read, and opened it up to the chapter that I had written about my mother and my reciting kaddish for her. I figured it was the best time to bring it up. 

But of course, as I was washing my veggies for salad, I thought maybe I had written something not to complimentary about him in there and maybe I should have reviewed it beforehand. After all, it had been a few months already since I had re-read it. And so much has happened since then.

I needn’t have worried. He was very moved by the chapter. But I still wonder if it was because he was open to the experience or if it was what I had written. A bit of melancholy will stay with me for a while, I think.

So I have to search for the gratitude forcefully.




happy birthday, little one

Our #10 is one-year-old today. We (and by that, I mean I) bought him a tractor. On the steering wheel, there’s a button in the middle that you can push to play a very mild-mannered Old MacDonald, and another one to simulate the start-up noise of a tractor. Our little one enjoyed the music but wasn’t as moved by it as he was when he actually belts out a tune on the piano. Maybe I’m over-thinking here, but maybe it’s because he really prefers action. When he does use the piano that we have at our house, I make sure that I move and shake to show that hey! You can move to music! It’s to the point now when he’ll play and look up at me to make sure that I am.

Boy, are kids smart.

Here’s a good example of that.

I got here via TWKIWDBI, but I’m showing the one on Youtube. You can turn on the English captions on the bottom. They’re not timed particularly well, but I think you’ll get the message, even without the translation.

Kitchen dancing, anyone?

the myth of sisyphus vs. groundhog day while raking leaves once again

There is one spot in our front yard that jams me up with strong emotions while raking leaves every year. I’ve written about it here and here.

Today, again, as I was in that same spot, I was determined to figure out more about this, with a new challenge that our family is now facing.

Was it the absurdity of Camus’ Sisyphus or was it Groundhog Day?

Would I be able to learn anything from it?

Or would it be a third way, just getting through the task at hand. Nothing to learn here, folks.

I’m hoping for the Groundhog option.  Let’s go with my search for meaning.

But I can show a bit of the absurd side.

Here is a tree that was severed from itself. But does it still get called a tree?

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what are we building

I was playing with my grandson earlier this week. Actually, he was playing and allowing me to play alongside. While he was so involved with play, it gave me time to review in my head about old theories and constructs of play. Yes, there’s all the philosophers and educators who wax on about the need and value of play. Then there are those who actually made things for children to play with.

Here’s what Dr. Wiki says about toy blocks’ history (It starts in 1693, but I’m skipping that):

1798Witold Rybczynski has found that the earliest mention of building bricks for children appears in Maria and R.L. Edgeworth’sPractical Education(1798). Called “rational toys,” blocks were intended to teach children about gravity and physics, as well as spatial relationships that allow them to see how many different parts become a whole.[1] …

1837Friedrich Fröbel invent a preschool educational institution Kindergarten. For that he design ten Froebel Gifts based on building blocks principles. (SIC)

And here’s a bit more about Froebel:

“Realising how the gifts were eventually misused by Kindergarten teachers who followed after Froebel, it is important to consider what Froebel expected the Gifts to achieve. He envisaged that the Gifts will teach the child to use his environment as an educational aid; secondly, that they will give the child an indication of the connection between human life and life in nature; and finally that they will create a bond between the adult and the child who play with them” Joachim Liebschner on page 82 in his book, A Child’s Work: Freedom and Guidance in Froebel’s Educational Theory and Practice

This brought up Vygotsky and his concept of “tools of the mind”, as well:

The concept of “tools of the mind” comes from the work of Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky. He believed that just as physical tools extend our physical abilities, mental tools extend our mental abilities, enabling us to solve problems and create solutions in the modern world. When applied to children, this means that to successfully function in school and beyond, children need to learn more than a set of facts and skills. They need to master a set of mental tools—tools of the mind…

At the core of Vygotsky’s theory (also known as Cultural-Historical theory) is the idea that child development is the result of interactions between children and their social environment. These interactions involve people—parents and teachers, playmates and schoolmates, brothers and sisters. They also involve cultural artifacts, such as books or toys, as well as culturally specific practices in which a child engages in the classroom, at home, or on the playground. Children are active partners in all of these interactions, constructing knowledge, skills, and attitudes, not just mirroring the world around them. Essentially, the history and the culture of the society in which a child grows up and the events making up a child’s personal history determine much more than what that child knows or likes—it also determines which mental tools the child will learn and how these tools will shape the child’s mind.

I was sure this post was getting much too preachy and not really getting anywhere when I came upon this article about the “Most Extraordinary Lego Creations You’ve Ever Seen” about a book of MOC Legos. Go take a peek. I’ll still be here when you get back.

You see, the reason that I’m particularly interested in this building instinct that we seem to have is not just grandparents’ pride (yes, he is brilliant; that is very very clear, but that goes without saying.

Too often.),

but about timing.

We read about Noah and his ark-building project this week in the Torah portion. And on the flip side, there’s the Babel Tower Project. One lonely man of faith and one mean group of politicians businessmen who just want to build the biggest tower in Creation. Noah is chided for not reaching out to the masses to get them to change their wicked ways, and he falls apart afterwards with the reality of responsibility for building up society.

The groupthink? Yeah, that doesn’t go so well, either. What goes wrong there? The task is more important than the people, in short. How are these minds shaped? To what purpose?

There’s also, from Fast Company, an article called “Can Playing With Legos Make You More Creative?”

I think they miss the point.

Playing is the work that we should be doing all along.

Okay, maybe they do get it subliminally.

Why exactly creativity measures are declining is still anyone’s guess, although evidence and intuition points to the growing emphasis on testing in education as a factor. Kids are taught to learn by understanding “the one right answer” they need to find, and what they need to do to find it. (On tests of how kids do at brainstorming ideas, 98% of three-year-olds register as “creative geniuses.” By the time they are 25? Only 2%).

Here’s how I play:)

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So, the MOTS, once again, is:

כא  הֲשִׁיבֵנוּ ה אֵלֶיךָ ונשוב (וְנָשׁוּבָה), חַדֵּשׁ יָמֵינוּ כְּקֶדֶם. 21 Turn Thou us unto Thee, O LORD, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old.

stand up straight,

my father said.

He really wanted to say “Lose weight,” but he wouldn’t say that in front of my brother.

I answered back, “You, too.”

He said we all should stand up straight and I agreed.

We had taken a walk before he and my brother left for the airport to go back to LA. It was very nice to have them here for the beginning of the holiday, but I know that my father likes being home for the last days of Sukkot.

If you stand up straight and give a good strong handshake, you’ve already made 2 points with my father. He’s pretty much like the Billy Crystal character on Saturday Night Live (2 references in a row?) of Fernando, “You look marvelous!” since “It is better to look good than to feel good.”

So I try to stand up straight around him.

I also see myself tapping on the back on our biggest granddaughter to get her to sit up straight.

Genetics or concern?

But he is not standing up as straight as he did because he is busy looking down at his path. That’s what old people do. But that’s why I could remind him to sweep with his eyes and not continually look down.

Or stop and look around.

He also asked me what I do with all the photos that I take. Yes, I do delete many of them. I did not tell him that I post some here; I’m not going to introduce him to my blog or any other.

But here are some of the photos I took on our walk yesterday with more of the family. I chose the ones that showed nature standing up, but sometimes not so straight.

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other than that…

This is the title of the cookbook D#1 thinks I should write. She thinks I should start out with one recipe and show how I change it to fit from soup to nuts by changing the ingredients one by one. I could do it. But who would need to buy such a thing?

And right now, as she thought, I thought I should write about what happened the other day while making a dessert. I am up for new experiences and experiments, and I thought this here sounded interesting, but I identified it by the shorter title “Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheesecake” because I really really didn’t think that my guests would go for the Vegan-Gluten-free intro, and to be honest, neither would I.

So here’s the recipe:

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheesecake


Chill Time: 2 hours
Makes: 12 cupcakes

  • 1 1/2 cups raw cashews, soaked in water overnight, drained
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 3/4 cup coconut oil, melted
  • 3/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup smooth, natural peanut almond butter
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 tbsp  vanilla
  • 1 to 2 tbsp apple cider rice vinegar
  • 1 tsp salt

Blend cashews and water first and then add everything else in. Blend until smooth. Pour into ramekins or cupcake liners a container and put in the fridge for at least 2 hours (or overnight). If you freeze it, just give it 20 35 min. to defrost. ENJOY!!!

The marked-through words are the things that I changed and the italicized words are what I added. I didn’t have peanut butter nor peanuts, so I went with the almond butter. ISHI doesn’t eat apples, so I used rice vinegar.

Other than that…


D#1 thought that we should do our own version of Coffee Talk: “It’s a cheesecake that’s neither cheese nor cake. Discuss.”

But here’s where it got interesting.

D#1 took over for me putting it together. I had done the soaking and draining of the cashews, and the melting of the coconut oil. I thought I’d finish it with the boys, since they love making desserts/pushing the buttons on appliances that make a lot of noise. But they were already in the bath, so she volunteered to take it on.

I set up the blender and she got it done in no time at all.

And then, all of a sudden, I heard her SCREAM!!!!! I turn around from what I was doing and saw this enormous blob of chocolate (I thought of something else, but I won’t mention what the first thing was that came to mind) oooooozing down the side of the blender!

OH! I forgot to tell her that this blender that I inherited from D#2 does not work like you would expect it to work. I had learned this the hard way at D#2’s house while making a smoothie with it. I had loosened the glass top from the bottom, expecting that the whole thing would lift off so I could pour it into a glass.


It has no base of its own.

(Clean-up went fairly quickly and painlessly.)

This is what D#2 found out, too, but this time with a gloriously thick exudation of what could no longer be described as free of anything.

Of course, when I saw what was going on, I also screamed and then quickly ran to her to figure out how to stop the explosion. This required a lot of licking of the fingers, of course, and very healthy doses of laughter.

SIL#1 was asked to come in and take a photo.


Do you see the pan that I had set out to be the recipient of the dessert? My idea of what would serve as a ramekin? Little heart-shaped? Perfect size?

That’s why we dumped transferred it into one container. And that’s why it required a longer time to defrost.

And maybe that’s why D#2 was so eager to give up the blender!

Other than that, it was still delicious! And yes, it really tastes like cheesecake!

And yes, enjoy!

renewing ourselves, once again

I’m spending this week with grandchild #10. His parents have moved into town and left. (Just for the week.) I have custody during the days, and the other grandparents have him at night. I think this is a very fair deal. He’s napping now, so I get to write. Also a fair deal.

At the playground earlier, it came to me that this is a very good way to renew myself at this time of year, at this time of life. I wrote about this not so long ago here, of the ability of some to be ever amazed at the world, like a child. I was reminded of this while pushing our little one on the baby swing. He was so happy to go back and forth and back and forth…I tried to take him out after about 5 minutes, but he was visibly not ready to leave this. So I girded myself to push him for another 5 minutes or more. And he was agreeable when I tried the next time to take him out.

I realized at that moment that we make ourselves so complicated. And I thought about my still-full refrigerators with food prepared for the 2 days of Rosh Hashanah, followed by Shabbat. Of course, I try to re-purpose food, so that one food gets used in 3 different presentations.

The soup I made, for example, for Shabbat, was from the cold sweet potato-carrot-cauliflower soup from last week (un-frozen), mixed with the leftover tzimmis (carrots, sweet potatoes, potatoes, and onions, but no meat for you!) from the first night, with red lentils cooked in. So that was a good way to repurpose things.


We had left our overhead fan on in the kitchen, even though, thankfully, it turned cool for the holidays, delightful, really. And when I set up the hot plate over my flame to keep it protected over Shabbat, I thought I was being smart in using my larger tray to protect the flame.

I was, but I was also outsmarting myself.

The soup turned.

The flame was not strong enough with the fan on. It didn’t keep the soup hot enough. I was worried about it and tested it before serving it to our guests.

What a waste of repurposing.

And the bigger thing that I knew?

No one missed the soup. They would have been miserable tasting it, but they didn’t miss it. I had too many other things going on, even in my no-meat house. Really, no one went hungry.

So something is wrong.

We’re too complicated for our own good.

Or maybe we’re too affluent? Insisting on having so many different things, or not wanting to take a chance of people not being happy?

I’m reading Daniel Akst’s book We Have Met the Enemy about the problem of “moderation in the face of freedom and affluence”. I got it out from the library, since I figured the book screams DON’T BUY SOMETHING YOU CAN BORROW! (although he may not have really considered that when writing the book).

He demonstrates how the one who shows us how to navigate through the world of wants is actually Odysseus, who had his sailors chain himself up to his mast to keep him from being lost to the sirens. He calls this precommitment. This, and many other useful facts and strategies, can be found in the book. I’m looking forward to trying them in my own life.

Am I ready to put this onto my guests, though?

What do you think?

open eyes

On the last evening of our little getaway last week, we went to visit an old friend in North Adams. Before we went to her loft, where she does her art, we went to Williamstown to walk around a bit. Here’s a photo in front of the art museum connected to the university; we had just missed seeing the inside, but seeing this would actually be more meaningful, after the fact.


When I opened my eyes.

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When we met up with my old friend, who I haven’t seen in 37 years (!), I was listening to her, but thinking very loudly in my head about our choices that we’ve made. She had never wanted to have children; she thought that bringing children into this broken world was cruel and unjust. She never married, either, although she has had significant partners over the years. She was born Jewish, but embraced the study of yoga and has followed teachers around. She has done well in terms of being an artist/artisan, enough to have bought properties in different cities with the flexibility of travelling a lot to see friends all over and study in different locales.

Me? It’s pretty much all about the family, the community, the heritage. Pretty tame, pretty boring. At least I was thinking it was to her.

Maybe it came down to the Town Mouse and the Country Mouse.

I do really really hope she is happy and content.

But for me? I was feeling very very grateful.

And so

I’m re-posting from last year a bit about counting blessings, where I translate the prayer supplication following the lighting of the Shabbat candles:

May it be Your will, Lord my God and God of my fathers, to be gracious to me (and to ISHImy sons, my daughters, my father, and my mother) and to all my family; grant us and all Israel good and long life; remember us for good and blessing; consider us for salvation and compassion; bless us with great blessings; make our household complete, and may You cause Your Divine Presence to dwell among us. Make me worthy to raise learned children and grandchildren, who are wise and understanding, who love and fear God, people of truth, holy and attached to God, enlightening the world with Torah and goodness and service of our Creator. Please hear our prayers, in the merit of our matriarchs Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, and ensure that the glow of our lives will never be dimmed. Shine Your face upon us and we will be redeemed. Amen.

So this past Friday night, as I was lighting the candles once again, I once again was startled by the phrase

ותברכנו ברכות גדולות 

You can see that I highlighted the phrase inside.

What in the world are great blessings?

In Hebrew, I think it should read  רבות, many blessings.

So again, what are we asking?

And even more, when we wish each other a good new year, and we add all kinds of phrases, what are we asking and what are we doing?

We’re going off now to help our son and DIL move into their new apartment.

And after that, we’re going to the last wedding of the season.

That is enough of  blessing for now.

I’ll continue with this soon and tell you the punch line.