Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Unexpected Mother and Interactions with Unsolicited Emails

Yesterday, while digging through the bucket of unsolicited emails I get en masse on a daily basis, one caught my eye and I actually replied. I don't know how I ended up on the email list, and I don't know why I responded, but it went something like this:

It's one of those emails that looks like it's personal, straight to the end user, but it's SPAM, we all know it. I knew it, too. But, tired, sick for the past few weeks, coughing since October, overwhelmed by life and bills and everything else, I hit REPLY. I wrote this:

I wrote this, mind you, while sitting in solitude on the toilet. During the day when the kids were in daycare because, let's be honest, when the kids are home, Little T is crawling around my ankles and Asher is bringing dozens of toys into the loo to play with while I attempt to do my business.

The original sender, Kathryn, sent back an email that was pretty generic, empathizing with my comments and fears. I had hoped for something more. I'm not sure what, but something.

Part of me thought that by putting my words out into the universe to some random, unsolicited email that some magic peace or calming reality would hit me.

It didn't.

Now I just want a bowl of ice cream.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Review: Perfect for Pesach Cookbook

The first time I ever really observed Pesach in a remotely legit way was in 2008 when I was living in a shoebox in Buena Park in Chicago. I was going to Anshe Emet and the rabbi talked me into one of my most memorable seders ever (read about the seder here), and I was there until 2 a.m. It was also the first time I ever made fish (no kidding) in my life, and I made this recipe for Sephardic Spicy Fish. I made it with salmon, and it was amazing.

I continue to make this recipe every Pesach, as a reminder of that fateful Pesach, just weeks after I first set foot in an Orthodox shul and committed myself to converting under Orthodox auspices. I can't believe that was nine years ago. It feels like a lifetime ago. It's also amazing that the very next year I was in Florida celebrating Pesach in the most stereotypical way possible in a gated community with a family that I so loved (my ex-husband's). After that, my Pesach experiences were sort of here, there, and quite literally everywhere:
  • 2008: Chicago
  • 2009: Florida
  • 2010: Florida
  • 2011: Monsey, NY
  • 2012: Denver
  • 2013: England
  • 2014: Israel
  • 2015: Denver
  • 2016: Denver
  • 2017: Denver ... just the two of us!
I've spent Pesach on several continents with so many different families. This year? It'll be just the two of us for the seders, with kids fast asleep. It'll be fun, but quiet, but fun, but quiet. I was racking my brain as to what to make, honestly for the entire week, because in my mind, I just think: quinoa and vegetables. Quinoa bake. Spaghetti Squash bake. Bake all the things! But then ... then I got this cookbook for review: Perfect for Pesach: Passover recipes you'll want to make all year by Naomi Nachman. 

I'm not even kidding you ... the moment I got this (its squishy cover and all) and got a few pages in, I went out and bought a crepe pan. Crepes, people. Crepes on Pesach. I've never made a crepe in my life, but I saw Naomi's recipe for Passover egg rolls using said crepes, and I was all like ...

You can bet that there will be an evening of delicious Asian cuisine, including these Mock Sesame Noodles (genius!). 

Do you know why you need this cookbook? Here's a list of some of the recipes that will blow your mind: 
  • Fish 'n' Chips
  • Sweet & Sour Tilapia
  • Quinoa Granola
  • Ricotta Pancakes
  • Vanilla Cupcakes (with pudding!)
  • Fudgy Chocolate Bundt Cake with Coffee Glaze
  • ... and more.
Seriously, folks, I'm using only one cookbook this Pesach. Perfect for Pesach Because it has pictures with every recipe, and that's my kind of cookbook. And I'm a lazy cook when it comes to Pesach. I don't want to stress, and I want to use fresh ingredients and as few ingredients as possible to guarantee quick, tasty food. 

When your kids are at home all week, who has time for elaborate substitutions and a dozen ingredients just to make one dish? Not me. That's who.

Will you be picking up this Passover cookbook? You should. You really, really must. 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Review: Abeles & Heymann Delicious, All-Natural Hot Dogs

There's an ongoing debate by people on the interwebs about my family's weird dietary habits. Are we vegetarians? Pescatarians? Neither? What are those Gordon-Bennetts doing with food!? Let's bullet point this:

  • Our kitchen is dairy/pescatarian. We like fish, so we eat fish. And vegetables. 
  • We have a Rubbermaid tub full of meat utensils and dishes for Thanksgiving cooking and for the very rare occasion that we decide to make meat. This happens once ever six months at most, usually because we want to make Chicken Soup. 
  • We will eat at the local kosher deli, and we will eat meat there if we feel like it, and by meat I usually mean chicken. 
  • On Shabbat and holidays, we will eat meat out (again, chicken usually) out when invited because it's hard to say "can you make me a gluten-free, vegetarian option please?"
  • I, Chaviva, am gluten free (Celiac) and personally am avoiding soy products like tofu and tempeh, but the rest of the family enjoys them. 
Okay, I think that's everything. Now, that being said, every now and again I do get a serious hankering for meat and the truth is that I'm too lazy to schlep out the meat tub to make something and am too cheap to go to the deli and get something. 

Yumtimes in the USA!
Enter Abeles & Heymann, "makers of award-winning premium kosher hot dogs and deli." I was contacted by their PR department for a free sample, and I jumped at the chance because I can't do veggie dogs (soy, and often wheat) and their offerings are nitrate-free, all beef, and "have no fillers, are gluten-free, Kosher, and Kosher for Passover."

Asher's all like "This one's for me, right?"
Why is this a solution to my cheap/lazy style when I'm craving meat? Because I honestly just bust open a package and eat it straight! Yes, it reminds me of when I was a kid and my family got Hickory Farms and would devour a box in no time at all. If it wasn't Hickory Farms it was Oscar Meyer hot dogs and man alive those things were mystery meat to the max.

But these hot dogs? They're delicious, like nothing else on the market because they taste pure and completely natural, and that's all the reason you need to find A&H and some spicy mustard and get noshing. And with Passover right around the corner, it's nice to have something tasty, healthy, and easy in your corner because all of the processed junk on the market at Passover is the absolute worst.

A&H also just unveiled new branding that is super sleek and classic.
Have you tried A&H meats? What do you think? Do you have a favorite? 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Coping with Weaning at 9 Months Old

I like to think I've been blessed by the fact that both of my children love food. Like, really love food. For both of my kids, four months was sort of the magic point where they both demanded solids.

Little T was pounding a vegetarian calzone last night for dinner, putting back more than my 3 year old, even. Here's the picture to prove it:

Did I mention that she's only 9 months old? Give this girl some cucumbers, yogurt, banana, really anything, and watch it disappear. Quickly.

Now, with Asher, around a year he was pretty over breastfeeding, but he'd still nurse sporadically -- especially at night -- until he was 18 months old. He conveniently quit around the time that Mr. T returned to the U.S. after his 10-month stint abroad.

But Little T? Sigh. Or hurrah! I'm not sure. She's only 9 months old, but her interest in breastfeeding has really gone the way of the Do Do over the past month. She doesn't even love nursing at night, preferring a bottle instead because she can pound that back faster or better than nursing. During the day, I can't get her to nurse to save my life. She's just over it. Totally and utterly over it. She takes a bottle like she's came out of the womb with one in her tiny little paws.

I'm having really mixed feelings about it all. I decided last week, after spending several days at the Redemption Retreat and breaking away to pump pretty much nothing in vain that I'm done pumping because A) it's not producing much for the stress it causes and B) Little T is happy with her bottle o' formula. I haven't pumped in nearly a week, and I'm not suffering much because of it. A few moments of being a bit over full and convincing Little T it's' the right thing to do to help Mommy, but usually only in the middle of the night when she doesn't know any better, and even then she takes a bottle afterward to supplement.


On the one hand, yay I have my body back! On the other hand, being in the position where I'm not entirely keen on having more kids, is this it? Last night, in the middle of the night while I lay in bed with Little T nestled closely nursing to relieve some pain and then going to Tatty for a bottle afterward, I thought to myself, "Is this it? Is this the absolute last time?"

It can take weeks for a mother's milk supply to dry up. There are things you can do to usher the process along, like sage tea and putting cabbage leaves in your bra, but I don't really want to walk around smelling like Holishkas. So I'm toughing it out. Not pumping. Pleading with Little T when I need to, and waiting to be all dried up.

And Little T? She's happy, healthy, and full of all the food, and that's what matters the most.

Devouring an ice cream cone. 

Monday, February 27, 2017

Review: The Shabbos Party Box!

Awhile back, I was contacted about reviewing a new product for families that love Shabbat but might struggle with Shabbat activities and snacks for their children. This product is a "box of the month" called the Shabbos Party Box! And, before I even start my review, let me just say that they're giving away some boxes, so pop over to their website and enter to win one!

Now to the review. I really like the concept of the box, but I don't know that it's something that I'll buy into long term because I wasn't super jazzed with the contents. It definitely has plenty of nosh and activities for the price, but the sugar-coated goodies aren't really something that we go for in our family. We don't do the "Shabbat cereal" or "you can have brownies for breakfast because it's Shabbat" philosophy, so maybe this box isn't for us.

Our box came with

  • Gummies
  • Mentos (the fresh maker!)
  • Sour sticks
  • A flipstick
  • Three cards with activities/fun for Shabbat
  • Rally Up (a game)
  • A magnet
Where was the gift for mom!? 

Okay, now that I think back on this, Little T does love chewing on the Lipstick, and Asher actually uses Rally Up as "peanut butter and jelly" (don't ask) for his babies. I felt bad that I just chucked the three containers of candy, however. Why not something healthy? Or even moderately healthy? Like a bag of veggie chips, natural gummies, or something that doesn't have a million ingredients? That's all I'm saying here. 

Overall, this just isn't for us. I like the idea, and I know it'll work for many people, but I don't think it'll ever be on our Shabbat "to do" list. 

Have you seen this box? Do you think you'd buy it for your family? 

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Ask Chaviva Anything: Of Marriage and Mr. T

It's been awhile since I responded to some of the Ask Chaviva Anything questions, so I thought I'd go through and answer a bunch in one quick (hopefully) post. This round of questions is devoted to marriage and family life, in honor of celebration FOUR YEARS of marriage to Mr. T on February 20th.

Ready? Let's roll.

Did you go through the shidduch process with Mr. T?

For those of you not in the know, the shidduch process is a matchmaking process, wherein you rely on a third party to find a suitable, meaningful marriage match. The answer to this is yes! I actually used a website called Saw You at Sinai, wherein there are matchmakers around the world who look through your profile and answers to questions to find you a match. Then they pair you up with people and both sides get the opportunity to deny/accept the potential opportunity to talk or meet. I'd been on SYAS for months, and I can't even begin to tell you how many men declined the opportunity to even talk to me. As a divorced convert, I wasn't such an attractive match, it seems. I tried to be really open and not picky, so I accepted several potential matches, but the first one that stuck was Mr. T. His profile said he was divorced with a kid and was a smoker, but something about his photos and profile sang to me. Shortly after we met, he quit smoking cold turkey (I have asthma, so this was a deal breaker), and the rest is history. 

What / when will you tell your children about your first marriage?

Honestly, I don't know that I'll tell them anything about it. However, if it comes up, or they ask, or they're getting toward the age of marrying, I'll tell them about it, because I believe it provides a valuable lesson about expectations and when to follow your heart and when to follow your gut. My first marriage and that entire relationship is an example of so many things, primary among them happiness, what that looks like, and what you're willing to do in pursuit of it. 

When are you returning home, permanently?

Home is where the heart is. My heart is currently in Denver. If you're asking when we're going to return to Israel, the answer to that is when we have enough money and stability to get by for 2-3 years without worry. It is taking longer than we anticipated for that to happen. I refuse to put my children in the position of "living in the red" and struggling from paycheck to paycheck. It might be the Israeli way, but it's not the way I want to live my life. 

You seem to be having a rough time of it lately, between 2 kids & your job. Do you feel things would have been easier had you stayed in Israel? Or, despite the difficulties, is it still easier in the US?

No. Life would have been rougher had we stayed in Israel. Period. Also, since this questions was asked, I quit my job, and I'm finding that ONE THING that will make me happy, so I'm moving in the direction of finding my happy/stable/productive place.

Do you ever find yourself upset still at how hard it was for your husband to reimmigrate to the USA?

Absolutely, yes. Especially as Little T gets closer and closer to the age Asher was when Mr. T left, I start to see milestones that he missed, and it breaks my heart that he missed those opportunities with Asher, but it also makes me so happy that he gets to experience those with our daughter. 

Next up: Questions About Conversion! Stay tuned ... 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Once Upon a Time, I Was Going to be Something

Eleven years ago, I was poised to be a Judaic studies scholar. It was my dream, and I was willing to do just about anything to make it happen. After graduating with my bachelor of journalism, I went to The Washington Post for an internship after which I got hired on as a full-time employee. I was miserable in DC, and I started working on chasing my real dream: a master's in Judaic studies followed by a PhD followed by a prolific career as an academic, professor, and writer.

Instead, I ended up moving to Chicago, living with a guy I thought was my forever, working for a Nobel-prize-winning economist, and only a year later heading to graduate school. Just a few years after that I was married, divorced, and quitting a program at NYU where I was attempting a second and third master's degree.

Now? Well, life is different now. I don't have time for books or papers or pursuing all those fascinating topics that were going to keep me happy and sane and on the chase. So what did my dreams look like? This. And, I'll point out, I was going to be the scholar to blow up the Ulysses S. Grant history, not Jonathan Sarna. When I interviewed at Brandeis in 2009/10, I mentioned the fascinating issue to Professor Sarna. Then, in 2012 he released his book.

Coulda been me. Here's a letter I sent with my application to the University of Chicago. Maybe, someday, I'll get back on this track.
Does the world really need another Jewish studies scholar? There are truckloads of academics in pursuit of answers from the Holocaust or the perplexing makeup of American Jewry and the Diaspora. But what about the uncharted grounds of Jewish history and thought? What about, for example, Ulysses S. Grant and his expulsion of the Jews in 1862? A piece of U.S. history you won’t likely find in most history books, this is just one of the complicated, uncultivated avenues on which I plan to tread in pursuit of a career in Jewish studies. 
During my junior year, while pursuing a journalism degree and minor in Judaic studies, I took an ethnopolitical conflict class – nicknamed the “genocide class” – which I was told by those who had taken the course that it would either break me down or change my course of study. The class, taught by Prof. Patrice McMahon, was centered on a single ethnic conflict research paper written in three parts throughout the semester. I knew instantly that I would research Grant’s infamous action, which I had heard about from a rabbi visiting my synagogue as part of the celebration of 350 years of Judaism in America. Unfortunately, the rabbi couldn’t tell me much about the event, thus piquing my interest. 
I spent weeks in the library scouring the school’s collection of Civil War, Grant and Jewish histories. It turned out that few people had heard about the incident and even fewer had written extensively on the topic. It was clear that I had my work cut out for me, which only wrapped me up more in the research. My research focused on what motivated Grant to issue the order, including the effects of war, economics and other generals on his decision. My research turned up a rabbi and professor, both of whom had detailed accounts and assessments of the incident. My shock of the unexplored event turned into excitement. Could I chart a new path or cover new ground on an anti-Jewish and anti-Semitic act sanctioned by the U.S. government? I set out to advance the study of General Order No. 11. 
The result of my semester-long effort was a comprehensive look at what led Grant to issue the antiSemitic order in a paper, “Ulysses S. Grant and the Jews: A Mighty Order and a Blemish on U.S. history.” At the end of the semester, in presenting the research to classmates, the expression of surprise on the faces of the 30 or so students was the most rewarding aspect of the venture. When detailing this seemingly veiled incident with others, friends were hesitant to believe and fellow scholars were shocked to know they were unaware of such a significant instance of antiSemitism in U.S. history. It was then that I staked my claim as a scholar, researcher and educator. Ralph Waldo Emerson said it best: “Passion … is a powerful spring.”

I hope to expand my undergraduate research on Grant to explore aspects of the incident beyond the motive. Few have focused on the lasting effects of the order or how Grant managed to carry the Jewish vote in both of his bids for president. Additionally, I would like to explore how such a significant event has managed to go unmentioned in textbooks and whether similar orders were issued during the Civil War or during other U.S.-inclusive wars. In a way, Grant has helped me find my raison d’etre.
But my interests reach much further than Grant and U.S. Jewry. My passion for Jewish studies spans American-Jewish fiction and authors such as Tova Mirvis, Jonathan Safran Foer and Cynthia Ozick; biblical Judaism; Jewish printing of the Middle Ages; and Jewish, Christian and Muslim relations. I hope to explore Rashi, his daughters, and whether his encouragement of their Talmud study was widely explored or purely rejected. I’m also fascinated with Emma Lazarus, whose outward effort to connect to the Jewish people seems hypocritical and insincere; I’m drawn to her understanding of Jewishness. Perhaps the most interesting avenue of research I’ve pursued and hope to look at further involves Jewish television and the rise of the sitcom, which spanned “Brooklyn Bridge” and “Bonanza.” 
My passion for Jewish languages has made me desperate to learn Ladino in order to study the Jews of Salonika, which I know so little about and yet am constantly reading about. My knowledge of Hebrew is limited, having taken only one semester of biblical Hebrew with Prof. Stephen Burnett late in my undergrad. Although my undergraduate university lacked regular Hebrew courses, my liturgical Hebrew is strong, and I am constantly working toward a fluent understanding of Modern Hebrew, in addition to biblical Hebrew.

I have to stress that this field of study is as much an academic endeavor as it is personal. The pursuit of a master’s degree will serve as another spring on a path to teaching, writing and researching, whether through a PhD and professoring or, as my rabbi has suggested, through rabbinical school. My work with Grant and the Jews proved to me that there are a bounty of uncultivated avenues in Jewish studies begging to be examined and shared by curious, burgeoning scholars such as myself.

The University of Chicago has a history and reputation of excellence, brought forth by the presence of passionate scholars – both students and professors – who are searching for answers to some of history’s and society’s most significant puzzles. While researching the scholars of the Committee on Jewish Studies, I found professors who I know will be beneficial to work and study with. I only hope that my passion for Judaic studies is apparent and that I can continue my studies and work toward a career in teaching Jewish history, religion and philosophy with the help of the Jewish Studies department at the University of Chicago.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

I Quit My Job, and I Feel Great

Those of you who have been following this blog for the past 11 years of its existence know that I've gone through a bajillion life changes, and they often happen in quick spurts of anxiety and chaos all at once.

Well, welcome to another installment of "What did Chaviva do now?" I keep wavering between "This is going to be awesome" and "This is going to make me vomit." It's an epic place to be.

I'm happy to say that every job I've ever left, with the exception of two, I've left on my own free will and at my own time. The two jobs that this didn't happen with were soft "letting go" situations and both happened after I moved to Israel and the two Denver companies I was working for decided they needed people closer to home to make things work (thanks Marissa Meyer). Every other job I've ever had I left. I quit. I walked away Most of the time, I leave a job because I grow impatient or bored.

This time? I left a job because I was stressed, depressed, and felt terribly devalued. No job is worth those feelings.

So what now? Well, I've got three part-time gigs I'm juggling, and thanks to a close friend who lit a fire under me, I'm going to start developing my own company. And this time, for one in my life, I'm going to start charging what I'm worth. I have this problem where I just want to make brands amazing, so I'll take whatever they pay me to get the chance to make them awesome. No more, folks. I'm a pro, I've been doing this for a very long time, and I'm really, really good at what I do. If I continue to devalue myself, my clients will, too. If I say it's $100 or $150/hour, you better bet I'm going to work my tuches off during that hour and you're going to shine because of it.

Onward. Upward. It's time for me to take the reins of my destiny instead of someone else's. I'm ready to get back to where I was all those years ago where Chaviva was the brand, where my expertise was sought after, where I was the pro on panels. That's the person I am.

Stay tuned for a website geared toward my marketing prowess, a new logo and name, and more. Exciting times ahead, folks!

Monday, January 23, 2017

Doing All the Things and More

Asher's upsherin was a success! He's a super handsome kid with short hair.

Ah where to begin. Here are some random things that I'm dealing with/coping with/going through.

  • At present, I'm working one FT job and three PT jobs/projects. How do I have time for all the things? I don't. Will there be a breaking point? Probably. Do I need all the jobs? Yes. Life is expensive. Kids are expensive. My health insurance can't be beat. Am I tired? Very. Do I need a break? Yes. Do I need a vacation? Yes. And it needs to involve me not having my phone with me. 
  • I discovered the only thing wrong with Colorado when I was in California for a few days for work. That thing is elevation's effect on my mommy responsibilities. You see, I manage to pump a lot more milk at lower elevations than here. We're talking triple the amount. I'm deeply annoyed by this fact and don't know how much more liquid I can possibly consume. 
  • Both of my kids are uniquely spirited. I'm baffled and amazed and blown away every day at how loving, kind, and nurturing they are. Was I like that at a child? I don't know. I don't think so. But if my son says, "Mommy, you's a beautiful lady" one more time my heart will explode with Asher-shaped confetti. 
  • I like working in an office with people, especially super intelligent and passionate people. But I also find it incredibly exhausting to be surrounded by people all day, which is funny, because I prefer to work from coffee shops. 
  • The smell of bacon has been really, really appealing to me lately. I don't know why. I always hated bacon as a child. Thus, tonight we're making (tofu) BLTs for dinner. 
  • My greatest struggle these days as a Jew is keeping kosher. Not the actual act of it, but the attraction of fast food and the food of my childhood. I think it has to do with stress, because I'm a serious stress eater. When I'm stressed, I want to eat, a lot, and the more comforting the better. So I drive past places like Chick-Fil-A and McDonalds and Taco Bell and think about all the food I used to gorge on back in the day. Most of it I couldn't eat now anyway on account of me being gluten free, but the stuff I could eat, I could. Driving past those places every day gives my heart an ache and my "what if" brain a serious think. I think it's also really hard living in a place where you really aren't jazzed with the kosher options (all two of them, unless you're counting ice cream, in which case there's like five). 
  • I've been binge watching the show Justified. It's changed my language back to the language of my people (my people hailing from France and then Virginia and then Tennessee and then Missouri). 
Oh life. What's new with you? 

Friday, January 13, 2017

Happy Third Birthday, My Asher.

This week's parshah (Torah portion) is Vayechi, and it involves Yaakov (Jacob) blessing his sons, the 12 tribes of Israel, of which Asher is one. As Yaakov prepares to die, he provides a unique blessing for each of the tribes, assigning the tribe of Asher the role of olive growers. The olive branch symbolizes peace, and, if anything, my beautiful boy is a peace maker. He goes out of his way to make sure everyone is happy and okay, and he'll bend over backwards to help his little sister or his friends, just to put a smile on their face.

What is the significance here? Well, Sunday is Asher Yitzhak's Hebrew birthday, marking his third birthday and his entrance into Jewish responsibility. I can't believe he's already three, but I'm so excited to see the little man he'll grow into.  He's a stubborn monkey, still refusing to even think about starting to use the potty, but his imagination astounds me with froggies stuck in trees and bunnies needing help and fires popping up everywhere that need to be put out. This morning he used my sleep mask and a bag of monster bowling pins as a wrecking ball to knock down the infestation of ... pineapples. Yes, there were pineapples. Everywhere!

Last night, after the baby was in bed and Mr. T and his parents had headed out for haircuts and errands, I popped in to check on him to see if he was asleep yet. He was awake, so I went in to give him kisses and say the shema. I squished him and told him I was flattening him like a pancake because I was hungry! He giggled and squirmed and smiled and said, "Mommy, can you stay here forever?"

For all of the moments that he makes me want to pull my hair out, moments like that make me both happy and sad. Happy that my boy is so beautiful and happy and healthy and mine, but sad that I don't have more time or energy to devote to him. 

"Mommy has work to do, my love, but I'll see you in the morning," I responded. As I went to close the door, he said, "I love you Mommy" and blew me a kiss. 

These are the days. 

Before we left the house this morning, Asher gave me a light stick turned necklace and asked me to put it on. "You're a beautiful lady!" he said. 

Oh my boy, I'll eat you up, I love you so. 

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Happy New Year!

Ah, another year has come and gone, and here we meet again. I started this blog almost 11 years ago, and for the past few years, things have been quiet and slow. I'm expecting some interesting changes in the near future, which hopefully will allow me a bit more time to devote to this beloved blog (beloved by me), because it has always been a happy place for me. 

I started the year out right by making a wholesome breakfast for the family, then I made some gluten-free banana nut muffins, did the dishes, started some laundry, and then I was basically exhausted. Whew! Here's to tiny children getting older and me getting some energy back? That's a thing, right? 

What are you hoping for in 2017?