Honey, I’m Home

I am home.  I know this isn’t the type of announcement that normally requires a blog post.  Most people get home from work every day, usually without fanfare.  Except, of course, when they don’t.  And today is one of those days, one of too many days recently, where people on my route didn’t make it home.  Two stabbings today, on the one day of the week where I venture out of my house, both of which were in places I directly pass by.  What are the chances?  If you’d asked me a few weeks ago, I’d have told you they were slim.  The optimist in me wanted to believe that following this summer’s gruesome kidnapping and murders only a few short miles from my home, lightning wouldn’t strike twice in the same place.  My naïve self was convinced that only a week after a terrorist drove over three soldiers in my area, we were in the clear.  After all…lightning doesn’t strike twice in the same place, does it?  Or is that it doesn’t strike twice, but it does strike three times?  Because today a girl was killed right along my bus route.  An hour before I was scheduled to be there.  The third terrorist attack in our area in recent memory.  And more – a soldier was stabbed in the heart of Tel Aviv, in broad daylight, just because a terrorist had access to a knife…and because he could.

This isn’t a political blog, and I won’t make it into one now.  It’s about providing a glimpse into the life of an ordinary woman who sometimes makes slightly unordinary choices.  Choices that include working at a job located 3 hours away.  Choices that include leaving my family to build a new family, thousands of miles away.  Choices that include giving up the voluntary draft for a mandatory one for my children.  But oddly, in the face of recent threats to our people and to our lives, I don’t feel the need to defend my choices.  I feel the need to live life.  Without fear, (or at least with the façade of bravery).  To remember that life isn’t always about making the easiest choice – it’s about making the one you’ve chosen work out, no matter what.

I couldn’t be happier to come home to six delicious hugs and kisses…and to some of the most delicious fried chicken ever (made by my kids in cooking chug…insert shameless plug for the best after school lessons ever!).  There’s nowhere else I’d rather be – not in Europe, where anti-Semitism is rampant, not in the US, where psychos shoot up movie theaters, malls and elementary schools.

Today, more than other days, I’m both relieved and proud to say that I didn’t just arrive at my house.  I’m HOME.  And this is where I intend to stay…no matter what.

 

Seeing the World

Last week I had the supreme privilege of traveling to the Far East for business. I made the trip last year as well, (which I wrote about here), but this year was different because I had a better idea of what to expect…sort of. I didn’t get lost at all in the mammoth hotel. I was able to find my own way from Hong Kong to Macau without even batting an eyelash, and I felt much more comfortable and confident when speaking to the other participants than I did last year. In fact, some participants even remembered me from last year, which was simultaneously exciting and just a wee bit awkward, since history has proven that I tend to be rather forgettable.

This year, instead of flying direct to Bangkok and then to Macau’s tiny airport, I was ‘drafted’ into taking the ‘scenic route’, flying from Tel Aviv to Kiev to Bangkok to Hong Kong, where I boarded an hour-long ferry to Macau. In fairness, I’ve always dreamed of traveling the world – I’m just not sure that this is exactly what I had in mind! But maybe I should have been more specific in the formulation of these dreams…

This begs the question - which hand do they mean? Right or left? @Bangkok Airport

I’ll spare you the details about the work stuff, and about the 50 hours of travel time. OK, one quick story: on the flight from Kiev to Bangkok, someone lit a cigarette in the bathroom (aka, the lavatory). SERIOUSLY. I was actually sleeping when I heard the fire alarm go off, and it’s a darn good thing that I was, or I’d probably have freaked out a bit more from the sudden, incessant wailing. I was almost relieved when I smelled the cigarette fumes, because I became instantly alert and realized that the plane wasn’t going down or anything – it just had a really, really stupid person aboard. But as long as it wasn’t the pilot, I felt comfortably trying to go back to sleep.

Beautiful Strangers

The most interesting part of the trip was the few hours that I took to visit Hong Kong city before heading to Hong Kong airport. I researched a bit and found out that the “Ladies Market” would be an interesting place to go in the short time that I had. Needless to say, I was nervous about finding my way there, which required a ferry and two subways. The ferry was no problem. But I hadn’t received great subway directions from the concierge (who’d never even heard of the Ladies Market). Luckily, when we arrived at the ferry terminal in Hong Kong, there was a lovely couple who I heard speaking English, and I decided to ask if they happened to know the way. As if the stars were fully aligned, they were heading in my direction, and offered to show me to the Mong Kok station where the market was, and to teach me about changing trains. They even explained to me how to get to the airport from the market, and listened to my idle chatter as I shared my excitement about this new experience. I only had an hour or so there, but I was able to get a feel for Hong Kong (the city looks pretty similar to New York – I even found a 7-eleven where I got some Haagen Dasz), and to explore the market, where you can get almost anything from authentic Asian slippers and Chinese robes to knockoff designer handbags (again, quite like New York City, but in much larger volume).

Another perk of meeting people? You don't only have to take selfies! Hong Kong Good Luck Tree

Funny that in a region where people tend to be on the short side, the booths are SO high (@ Hong Kong Ladies Market)

And then, the unthinkable happened. Left alone to navigate my way back to the airport via subway and train, I braced myself for the adventure ahead. I managed to purchase the train ticket and fought the rush hour crowds into the depths of the Mong Kok subway station (which once again reminded me of New York, except so much cleaner). And there, standing on the subway platform, was the kind stranger who had shown me the way only a short time ago, heading back towards Macau on the very same subway line! I wrote last year that traveling alone isn’t so much fun, because you don’t have anyone to share weird observations with, but in those moments, I was able to share my reflections with this lovely Hungarian stranger (who just so happened to move to Macau, learn his way around Hong Kong, and be nice enough to share his knowledge with a total stranger). And so, Lori and Rebecca, if you’re reading this blog (which I hope you are), just wanted to let you know how much your kindness and spontaneous friendship improved my trip – thank you!

I made several purchases over the course of my trip, souvenirs for the family I left behind. But this time I didn’t buy anything for myself (unless you count an overpriced bag of potato chips or an ice cream bar?). I didn’t need to. Because I came home with wonderful memories, one more reminder about the fantastic people in this world and a greater confidence in my ability to talk to new people and to navigate unfamiliar territories. Lastly, I came home with 500+ unanswered emails (which almost a week later I’m still going through)? And when you have all those things, who needs (or has time for) physical stuff?

 

 

Ode to a Blizzard

In a quaint little town

On top of a hill,

The residents planned

For winter’s deep chill.

They relished the thought

Of a cozy ‘snow day’,

A respite from work,

A chance just to play.

It seemed so ideal,

So calm and serene –

Who knew that the storm,

Would turn terribly mean?

3 days without power,

6 days without school,

And suddenly nature

Seems horribly cruel.

Businesses halted,

The laundry in piles,

Thousands are stranded,

For miles and miles.

Our ‘startup nation’,

So thoughtful and so bold,

Has been brought to its knees,

By the snow and the cold.

Roads remain closed

During morning rush hours,

For some- no hot water,

For critical showers.

Kids are in heaven,

But parents are not,

We’re somehow ungrateful

For what we just got.

The people of Israel,

Praying daily for rain,

Are now nearly flooded,

And going insane.

It’s time for some snow plows,

And more 4 wheel drive,

So that when the snow hits,

We can still thrive.

It won’t be as fun,

Nor nearly as ‘cool’,

We won’t have a snow week-

But at least we’ll have school.

Snow in Israel

It started off beautifully!

Day 6, school buses got stuck in the snow and ice. Kids were all sent back home.

Sunset over Snow
Day 6, night – so calm, you can almost forget the hectic day

photo credits: Mordecai Holtz

 

 

Flying Solo

When Mordecai and I got married, 10 years ago this month, we dreamed of honeymooning in Thailand, where we’d heard that thoughKosher ice cream in Macau the airfare is expensive, the hotels are cheap, and everything is breathtakingly beautiful. The trip never materialized, unfortunately, since we found ourselves saving money for aliyah, for a house, and for the expenses that come with having kids. We tentatively rescheduled the trip as a post-graduate school celebration, until I found myself pregnant with #3 just days after finishing my final semester. Plus, by then we were house-poor, after buying the house we wanted to fit all the kids. And so, we thought, maybe for our 10th anniversary…until real life once again got in the way.

And yet, in what can only be considered a divine twist of fate, I did step foot in Thailand this week, on my way to Macau, an island off the coast of China, which has been dubbed the Vegas of the Far East. Sound exotic? It is, sort of. I must admit that I dreamed of this trip for weeks, envisioning myself relaxing in my sprawling hotel bed and catching a glimpse of the beauty that is the Far East in between business meetings. But it didn’t quite work out that way.

Throughout my brief stay in Asia, I found myself surprisingly lonely (though I did enjoy the relaxation, I must admit). As the only one from my company that came, I didn’t have the companionship of others that I knew – and since I would consider myself slightly socially awkward, I didn’t quite ‘make friends’ until the second day; by then the conference was just about over. I didn’t have anyone to sit next to me on the hour ferry ride required just so I could say I was ‘in Hong Kong’, nor did I have anyone to bounce ideas off of when doing my souvenir shopping (and if you know me at all, you know I simply don’t shop well alone). And I certainly didn’t love taking self-portraits, or bothering others to photograph me.

I know you’re thinking…boo hoo, poor baby, stuck in an opulent, gilded, 70 sqm hotel room with a bathroom bigger than a bedroom in our home (seriously!). But it should be said on record, for those who don’t often have this experience – ‘exciting’ business trips aren’t always the non-stop party that those left behind are imagining (at least they’re not if you’re a conservative, over-tired and antisocial mother of five who keeps kosher and can’t make easy small talk over the shrimp cocktail or the open bar).

Which is not to say that I didn’t enjoy the experience – of course I did. Was it a once in a lifetime opportunity? Maybe. But I’m hoping that I’ll have the chance to visit the Far East, and that maybe next time, or some other time in the future, I’ll be able to share the experience with the people I love.

Lastly, a few things of note/interest that didn’t seem to make it into the text of the post:

– The ticket agent in Macau asked me if Tel Aviv is part of Thailand. That was certainly a new experience.

– I got my spicy mayo confiscated at security in Macau, but not in Tel Aviv or Bangkok. They spent about 7 minutes looking for the ‘other’ liquid in my bag. What they didn’t realize is that I got Azi liquid soap in a car-shaped container…so they kept finding it, but not realizing. And no, I didn’t tell them.

– The ‘Far East’ doesn’t seem so ‘far’ when it’s 10 hours from Tel Aviv to Thailand, and 12 hours to New York.

– People in Macau and Hong Kong seem to drink a ton, but there are no souvenir shot glasses to be found. Perhaps more interesting is that apparently in Asia, ‘shotglass’ sounds like ‘chocolate’. Every time I asked for a shot glass, they sent me to the chocolate section…until Mordecai emailed me a picture of a shot glass to show the store workers. When I finally found one in Bangkok, I had to cough up $12 USD. For a glass shot glass. Definitely the most expensive one I’ve ever bought.

– It’s REALLY weird (and I mean intensely, ridiculously bizarre) to be on an El Al flight that is not filled with families, charedim and hat boxes flying everywhere.

– Haagen Dazs, like Coke, seems to be kosher worldwide. The server in the Haagen Dasz store in my hotel even knew what I was asking for when I asked to see the box of the ice cream crate. She asked if I was kosher, and pointed to the OU. Then she proceeded to serve me ice cream in a round bowl…with a square fork. (Needless to say, scooping was not as easy as it should have been).

– Apparently people find it weird that mothers with children travel for work (or even work). I can’t help but wonder why that would be OK for men, but not women? (Note: at least 75% of the 1,200 conference attendees were men. Is it the business, or the fact that women should be pregnant and barefoot in the kitchen?)

– It’s very common to see Asian people walking around randomly with medical face masks. And it’s also oddly frightening. Do they have SARS? Or are they afraid of catching it from those of us dumb enough not to wear face masks? One of life’s as of yet unsolved mysteries. I guess we’ll find out if I start coughing tomorrow.

 

 

The Wild Ride Home

If you read yesterday’s post, you already know that I’m so busy these days, I barely have time to breathe. And since I work at home most of the time, I don’t even have the reprieve of travel time to clear my head (or to read a book or take a quick nap). Except, of course, on Wednesdays. For the past 3 Wednesdays I’ve been commuting from my home to Binyamina, a pastoral town in Northern Israel where my company moved while I was out on maternity leave. In the morning, it’s a 30 minute drive to Bet Shemesh and then another 1 hour and 50 minute train ride to Binyamina. On the way home, fortunately, there’s a more direct train, which takes only 1 hour and 20 minutes to Bet Shemesh. But since I don’t have a set ride home as I do in the morning, I’ve had to hitchhike home from Bet Shemesh. Last week it took 3 hitchhikes and 1.5 hours to get home after the train ride. But today was a whole other story.

As it happened, someone fell (or jumped) onto the track on the Bet Shemesh line, so everyone on my train was told to get off at Lod, a stop in between Tel Aviv and Bet Shemesh. At first, we were told that we’d have to wait an hour for the next train. After outrage by the 100+ passengers waiting to get home after a long day, the railway workers informed us that there would be buses waiting for us outside, to continue along the route that the train would have taken.

Now would be a good time to mention that while I normally travel alone, today I was approached by a lovely elderly woman who didn’t speak Hebrew and needed help navigating the system. She was carrying several heavy suitcases, so like any well-raised person I of course offered to help her find her way and to carry her bags. When she lost her ticket en route, I waited patiently for her to find it, all the while trying to figure out how we’d get where we needed to be.

After waiting nearly a half hour for the bus which never came, the woman asked me to find her a cab to Jerusalem, and said that if I wanted, I could join for free. I figured, why not – it can’t be harder to get home from Jerusalem, and at least I wouldn’t have to stand around for the next train.

Two blocks into the ride, the cabbie was kind enough to let us know that he needed to stop for gas (a phenomenon that I don’t think would fly very well in the US). As he’s filling up, the woman starts to chat. “I’m from Jerusalem,” she says, “but now I live in Tribeca.”

“So nice,” I reply. “If you’re from Jerusalem, why don’t you speak Hebrew?”

“That’s because I’m a Palestinian.”

Well, that’s a bit of a conversation stopper.

We drive along, while the cabbie continually texts and checks his phone. Suddenly, it rings, and he answers it on speaker, chatting amiably in Arabic as he drives along Highway 1. And suddenly I realize I’ve been the heavily-accented American immigrant serving as a translator between 2 Arabs, one of whom doesn’t speak English, the other whom doesn’t speak Hebrew, while they both speak fluent Arabic.

Does anyone else find that ironic?!

The story ends with the woman saying that since he’s an Arab, he might as well take her directly to Ramallah, so they dropped me off and continued on their merry way. I continued on mine, so that by the time I got home 3.5 hours after I left the office, I’d taken 2 trains, a cab, a bus and a hitchhike, while walking the remaining few blocks by foot.

For those of you going stir-crazy locked in the house after Hurricane Sandy, I hope you can live vicariously through my misadventures.

 

 

The Un-Kosher Kosher Kitchen

You don’t have to be Jewish to appreciate the hard work that goes into preparing for Passover. In fact, I have a hunch that the entire concept of spring cleaning is rooted in the Jewish custom of cleaning your house for Pesach. But perhaps almost as difficult as theImage courtesy of Crushable cleaning is the shopping for food that has been certified as kosher for Passover and cooking for seven or eight days of meals with unfamiliar dishes that you only use for a week each year. Every counter has to be covered, every sink has to be lined or cleansed with boiling water and no specks of Chametz (leavened bread) can come in contact with the Passover food or utensils. And, of course, Pesach is a holiday for family and friends, which means that when cooking is always multiplied dramatically from the standard family food preparation.

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The Eye Test

Eye Test Candidate

Does this look like someone who knows what scales of justice are?

The purpose of this blog is for me to monitor my de-stressing, and also to record some of the zanier things that I come across. Which, incidentally doesn’t happen too often, since I don’t get out much. However, I feel it necessary to relate a small story that happened recently when I took Odelia for a routine vision test which was offered at the well-child clinic in our area.

 

Unlike the eye tests of my youth, where we had to show with our hands which direction the E was pointing in, this exam was surprisingly different. The nurse pulled out a chart with different pictures, and then asked Odelia to identify the pictures on the larger row first, and then those on the smaller rows. Sounds good… in theory.

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