Friday, April 22, 2016

It's Passover Again, and I've got PTSD

Oh Passover. After last year's miscarriage three days before Passover and breaking my foot walking to the first-night seder (and not realizing it was broken for the first two days, so walking around on it), I think that I've got Passover PTSD.

Yes, for the first time in my Jewish life, I'm responsible for the Passover seder. Since we're in the U.S., that's two nights of seders, folks.

Note: The seder is the festive Passover meal that begins with a lengthy retelling of the Israelite Exodus from Egypt and the miracles therein. Jews use a haggadah (a book of sorts) to retell the Passover story. There are certain foods you're required to eat during the retelling, and by the time the meal actually arrives, many people are all full up on salt water and parsley and lettuce and wine and, of course, matzah

Theoretically we could have gone out the first night, but the reality is that because of that extra month (yes, it's a Jewish leap year), Passover is starting crazy late now and Asher is a creature of habit that I cannot and will not mess with. So the seder starts after bedtime and the Ash man will be fast asleep for mommy's sanity. For the second night, we're having a couple over, and it's what I'm calling the "make up for the first night seder with just the two of us where I fall asleep at the table with a face full of gefilte fish" seder. Yes, the first night it's just the two of us, and my husband has a glowing spirit that is full of stories and singing and ... seder is his jam. I'll let you know how the "just the two of us" seder goes, but I have a feeling it's going to be super disappointing for him. I wish I could pull a couch up to the table.

So the PTSD. There was a giant kitchen fiasco last night that left three dishes I'd made in the "dairy" category because I used real butter, and before you say, "Wait, don't you have a vegetarian house?" the reality is that yes, we're vegetarian, so normally it's not an issue, but we have a guest coming whose custom it is to have meat on seder night, so I acquiesced and ... disaster. Now, the meat seder we're having is slim pickings on food, and that just is what it is and it will be what it will be. Add to that being super preggers and having several jobs and having terribly swollen feet and a toddler running around and a husband who works at the kosher deli (busiest time of year) and who is responsible for fixing the local eruv (thanks, fluke snowstorm last week that tore it down in 17 different places and required 6 hours of fixing today) ... and I broke down last night.

I cried. I was overwhelmed and exhausted and I lost my #@$*. I know, I know. Stress isn't good for the baby. Over exertion isn't good for the baby.

So I think I've finally come to terms with the reality that Passover is just a few hours a way, and it just is what it is. My table isn't set, and as I watch friends post pictures of their beautiful Passover tables with real dishes and real silverware and real glasses I feel kind of lame. I'm 32 years old and don't have Passover stuff. But it's my first time hosting, actually needing those things. In my last marriage and in this marriage, I've always happened to be out or away or just not at home for the seders, let alone the rest of the week.

Someday I'll be a Jewish adult woman with actual stuff for Passover. Someday ...

Anyway, as I come to terms with Passover, I'm also starting to get excited about Shavuot. It's not just because I love cheesecake, but it's because it's my favorite holiday, as it's what I call the "convert's holiday" because Jews read the Book of Ruth. Man I love Shavuot. I loved it even more when I got to stay up all night and teach. Unfortunately, The Blob is showing up on the eve of Shavuot, so who knows how it's going to go down this year. Either way, here's a good read to prep you for Shavuot.

And now? Maybe I should get the toddler-in-a-diaper next to me in the bath and set the seder table, eh? I can't wait for the gefilte fish. And I'm not even kidding.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Ask Chaviva Anything: Parenting, Jewish Books, and Jewish Conversion!

It's been a while since I got my Ask Chaviva Anything on, so it's about time. I can't seem to find an easy theme with the questions I have remaining, so we'll call this a grab bag edition. Ready? Let's do this. 
My husband and I are also thinking of having a baby number two. With the first one I stayed at home for almost three years, now we are thinking that I'd stay home for the first year and my husband for the second. You mentioned that daycare is very expensive in USA, but that you make quite good money while your husband makes less. I'm just curious, would it be possible for your hubby to stay home with the kids and you bring in the dough?
Although it's a great idea, we tried this when we first moved to the U.S. because Mr. T couldn't legally work until he received his work permit/green card. The truth is, neither Mr. T nor I are cut out to be full-time stay-at-home parents. Also, we need to be a two-income family (whether here or in Israel) to make things work, and Asher is ultimately a much happier kid the days that he's at daycare. He sleeps better, he's happier, and he's growing into an immensely empathetic and social little kid. In the end, everyone benefits in their own way from our situation. As for No. 2, we'll see how it impacts the current situation and go from there. Stay tuned!
Can you recommend a nonfiction book or two with Orthodox characters? And I miss Ask Chaviva Anything, please write soon!
Aww, thanks for the kind words! As for a book, you want nonfiction with Orthodox characters? Or fiction with Orthodox characters? I'm a bit confused. There are a ton of nonfiction books about Orthodox topics (a lot of biographies and things like Crossing the Borders of Time), but if you're looking for fiction books with Orthodox characters, anything by Tova Mirvis or Cynthia Ozick, honestly. I've been reading The Boston Girl, but the main character and her family wouldn't really qualify as Orthodox by today's standards, necessarily (some go out for lobster on Shabbat). Have you read The Nightingale? It's also a really great read, based during WWII. Also, check out this list over here that walks through fiction throughout the years. If I missed the mark on your question, just let me know! Also, take a look at the archives for "Book Review" here
Did you grow up religious and if not what brought you to your path?
Not only would I say I didn't grow up religious, I didn't grow up Jewish. In a nutshell: My parents raised me smartly on the Golden Rule, despite the fact that the first half of my life we were in the Bible Belt of Southern Missouri and the second half in Nebraska. All of my friends were immensely religious (in both locations), so I attended Vacation Bible School, church on occasion (especially in high school), and so on, but we were never a religious family. Easter and Christmas weren't about Jesus, they were about the common, American secular traditions. From there ... check out my posts and essays I wrote about how I got to Judaism and ended up Orthodox

Have a question? You, too, can Ask Chaviva Anything! Just fill out this form

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Review: Sweet Note Bakery Gluten-Free Bagels

Holy (Bagel) Grail! There are a few things that I've slowly been coming to terms with never being able to get gluten free that taste good, let alone edible. The two big ones are baklava (and anything made with phyllo dough) and bagels. Most of the bagels I've had from brands like Udi's taste like eating air -- tasteless, unsubstantial, and just not worth it.

And then? Sweet Note Bakery. I'm trying to remember (with my intensely active baby brain) how I found them, and I think it might have been a Facebook ad, but I'm not entirely sure. I saw a small bakery making gluten-free bagels that happened to be kosher, and I reached out. A quick connection later and I had a box full of gluten-free bagel goodies on my doorstep. Cinnamon Raisin. Everything. Plain.

Then I ate them all over the next few weeks with the enjoyment of someone who unearths a classic family recipe a dozen years after it was lost. These bagels are divine, and unique.

They're smaller than most of the gluten-free bagels on the market, and they're more substantial in weight and flavor, too. They don't taste like a fluff of air; you actually feel like you're eating a bagel.

The trick to these bagels? You have to follow the directions -- no swaying from the path. The ladies behind Sweet Note know what they're doing, and they know that storage and reheating can be the enemy or best friend of gluten-free baked goods. I attempted to warm a bagel up on the plata on Shabbat, and it ended in disaster (I was so bummed that I wasted a bagel).

It's all about freezing the bagels. Putting them in the microwave for 60 seconds to soften them up, and then toasting them ... yes. Perfection. So good. So much flavor, so much substance, so filling.

I can't say enough about these bagels. I'm going to do everything in my power to try to get them into some local shops because, even I can admit, the price is a bit of a sticker shock when it comes to shipping (because they need to stay frozen for integrity, overnight is the only option, which is expensive).

Have you tried Sweet Note? Is there another kosher, gluten-free bagel that I should be eating that I'm missing out on? 

Friday, March 25, 2016

Mommy Shabbat: Man Plans, G-d Laughs

The past few weeks have been a bit insane, and basically until The Blob shows up, things are going to continue to be pretty insane, what with Purim tomorrow and Passover coming up next month. Then it'll be June and I'll be launched into a world of having two kids under three. Good times!

It all began a few weeks ago when I ended up staying alone over Shabbat in a hotel airport in order not to miss an 8 p.m. flight after Shabbat to Austin, TX, in order to attend SXSW Interactive. I've stayed in plenty of hotels over Shabbat, but those hotels were in ... Israel! Where everything just works. You can enter your room with a real key, there's no weird automatic lights or doors, the dining room serves food for Shabbat, there's a synagogue in the hotel, and everything is super easy. For this stay, I had to organize a food delivery from the local deli for dinner and lunch, make sure I got to the hotel well before Shabbat to figure out where the automatic things were and what lights I could leave on and off, and to make sure the staff were prepared for me. Add to this the fact that the hotel had only been open a few months and ... what a time I had.

Aside from the logistics and having to "check out" at 4 p.m. and spend the next 3 hours in the lobby waiting for Shabbat to end, there was a great sense of loneliness of Shabbat. I went into it thinking I'd have a super relaxed "Mommy vacation," a chance to kick back, sleep a bunch, and read trashy magazines and a good book over those 25 hours. But the truth was, it was a lot of empty time where I felt a bit stir crazy. Once I was in the lobby, I got to do some fun people watching, and I got halfway through a book, but eating alone in a fairly sterile hotel room wasn't fun.

Would I do it again? Probably not. Would I do it in Israel again? Yes. A million times. So easy.

So Shabbat ended around 7 p.m. and my flight was at 8 p.m. I zipped off to my gate and made it in time for the flight to Austin, where I arrived around 11 p.m. ... the night before the Daylight Savings change. Once I arrived at the group house I was staying at, I schmoozed for a bit and then crashed hardcore like a very pregnant mother would.

About as wild and crazy as I got at SXSW.
Wearing a lei at a Tiki Bar party. 
And then? SXSW Interactive. I attended in 20102011, and a very memorable 2012, but hadn't been back in four years. Showing up at one of the most booze-filled, energy-draining festivals ever at nearly 7 months pregnant with a husband and toddler back at home was a pretty big culture shock. I remember SXSWi from years gone by, and I spent a lot of time waiting in lines for the big parties, drinking, and staying up all hours of the day.

This time around, I was home most nights and in bed by 9 p.m., exhausted with swollen feet, a headache, and no desire to party until the cows came home. I felt completely lame, considering my housemates were up until around 4 a.m. most nights, but hey, I'm a mom. An overworked mom. Sleep is a commodity. I was also a bit turned off by the entire thing this year because it's become incredibly and predominately corporate in the past four years, and not just tech corporate. McDonalds had a house. Why does McDonalds need a huge presence at SXSW? I don't know. They had a virtual reality Happy Meal experience for the love of Pete. I don't mind a Mashable House, but McDonald's? No thank you. The whole thing just made me feel ... dirty. SXSWi was big when I used to go, but now it's turned into some type of unstoppable corporate monster.

Overall, I totally thought that Shabbat and SXSWi were going to be a huge "vacation" for me, but they ended up being harder work than juggling work at home with a toddler. It's definitely a truth that man plans and Gd laughs. Despite it all, however, it was a ton of fun. I just probably wouldn't do it the same way again.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Start Spreading the News: We're Moving!

So we've been living in an epicly rotten apartment complex for the past year and a half, and we found out recently that our lease would not be renewed (because, well, our desire to have a dishwasher that was actually mounted and electric outlets that actually worked and fixtures that weren't falling off the walls -- all in a "newly renovated space," meant complaints, and they didn't like those complaints and having to fix the problems). We assessed our options, and the reality was that the only other apartments within the Orthodox community were too far down the road to be a part of the kehilla (community), especially with the isolation of a new baby coming for me. 

So. What to do? We turned a potentially terrible situation into something awesomely positive!

Well, Mr. T sold his flat in the UK late last year, which left us with a bit of a down payment that was originally meant as our Israel house fund. But let's just say that the amount was not even a drop in the world's largest bucket of Israeli housing costs, so we made the executive decision to pursue the purchase of a home. We technically began looking in the fall, but because of Mr. T's recent re-arrival in the U.S. and lack of work history and my own unique financial background, we were not in any position to even ask the most giving of banks for a mortgage. 

So we waited until quite literally the last possible minute, were blessed with the world's most amazing loan officer at a local bank (whose owners support Israel wholeheartedly) who crafted a completely custom mortgage for us, as well as an amazing realtor, and we closed on a home yesterday, Monday, March 7, 2016. It was ... well, a bit of a process where I felt in over my head about 99 percent of the time, but Mr. T had been through it before and our realtor was outstanding and dealt with my neurosis and countless questions and concerns. 

The house? It's a little single-family, three-bedroom home in the community with a re-finished basement and quite a few nice renovations. It has a huge back yard with a shed and it's just a few blocks from Asher's daycare and our synagogue and most of our friends. It's small, but it gets the job done, and as soon as we can figure out how to make a dining room and living room out of one small space, I'll be able to rest easy. 

So what does this mean for Israel? Well, the reality is that the Denver housing market is on the up and up constantly, which means (b'ezrat HaShem -- with the help of Gd) we'll be able to sell nicely or when we are prepared to move back to Israel we'll have a steady monthly income from renting the home out. But neither of us are up for making it back to Israel without a financially sound plan to support our growing family. 

Truth be told, I'm still in a bit of shock. We're moving on Thursday, and then I'm spending Friday through Wednesday on the road for work at SXSW Interactive in Austin, TX, leaving the boys with a house full of boxes to be emptied. Moving, after all, is one of my least favorite things in the world and gives me immense anxiety. Large volumes of things being packed and shifted just ... I don't know. It messes with my nerves. And being super preggers, no thank you. (My husband is a saint for taking on this task, seriously.)

I honestly never thought I'd be a homeowner. I grew up with parents who rented, and I've rented my entire life. In my last marriage, my ex had two properties in his name, but nothing was in my name, so I didn't know what it felt like to say "I'm a homeowner." 

Does this make me an adult? Am I grownup now? Here's to a new home for a new baby and plenty of celebrations of good, happy, positive things!