Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Boy and His Name

Yes, in true English style, our baby showed up to 
his brit in suspenders and a bow tie!

On Thursday, we had the brit milah for our son. Yes, that's circumcision for the squeamish and a covenantal commitment for those of us in the Jewish world.

The wee one didn't cry much (about the same as he cries when we're changing his diaper), but boy oh boy did this mama cry plenty when she heard those cries. The truth is babies cry during their brit out of the sheer fact that they're exposed to cold air, not from pain. Watching the recovery process over the past few days, I can tell you that this little man is in no pain at all. Except, of course, for the chill of the air when it's diaper time.

During the brit milah ceremony, the baby's name is finally announced, and I'm happy to share that our beautiful boy is named Asher Yitzhak, meaning "happy laughter." The latter name was Mr. T's grandfather's name and the first name was a name that both Mr. T and I fell in love with ages ago long before the idea of this baby or one another was planted.

For me, the name Asher, meaning happiness, perfectly describes this baby, as he encompasses true happiness. After a long and winding road of ups and downs and crazy madness, HaShem gave me Mr. T, and I found my happiness. Little Asher is that happiness manifest, as evidenced by how very quickly we got pregnant after getting married. I think HaShem was rewarding the both of us for time well spent doing teshuva and searching for that happy we all deserve.

Of course, this little baby being 10 days old and mostly peaceful natured has been a huge blessing. But it would seem that those first few nights at home of the five-hour stretch of sleep are long gone and a few of the "I'll never do that" rules I set for myself have already been very broken. Constant feedings for a baby in perpetual growth-spurt mode have me exhausted and in a bit of a fog, but content none the less knowing it all goes by so quickly. I'm actually writing this post in our now-dark bedroom because this happens to be where the baby fell asleep (finally) after a feeding. Much like how we must bend to the Torah (the Torah does not bend to our needs and wants), I'm in a position of bending to the baby because gosh knows that mommy wanting a shower is not top priority for an adorably squiggling little lump of baby.

I'm still preparing the labor story, and I'm still preparing to figure out how to approach getting into a rhythm with work, especially on days like today when baby just doesn't want to sleep after a hearty helping of mother's milk. I mean, who wouldn't go into a coma after that? I know, I know. "Take it easy!" everyone says. But it's tough. The baby's food might be free, but mommy and tatty have to eat, too. I'm seriously considering taking Mr. T up on his "stay-at-home tatty" offer.

The sun has set, the baby shivers, and mommy types away. This is motherhood. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

It's a boy!

Say hello to ...

After more than 43 hours of labor resulting in a fairly traumatizing emergency c-section (story forthcoming), we were blessed the the most beautiful little boy weighing 7.5 pounds at nearly 6 am on Thursday, December 19. 

We have been on hospital property since Tuesday the 17th and will be going home officially today or tomorrow. 

Aside from regular baby-having exhaustion, the unexpected labor and pregnancy have done a number on me physically. (I'm learning to not push myself, which for me is next to impossible, but if I don't I'll be back in hospital.)

Stay tuned for the full Megillah. But give me time. I have a beautiful baby on my hands :)

(If all goes well, the Bris will be Thursday! Until then you won't hear the baby's name.)

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Baby Watch: An Update

Well we are indeed fairly snowed in here in Neve Daniel, and I couldn't be happier because I love snow and have been jonesing for it hardcore. The precarious timing is, of course, amusing and the joke is that maybe I'll have a snow baby!

In the event the roads are all closed (as they have been), we will have to get creative and/or hope the local ambulance is snow-chained up! Luckily, this community is full of doulas and doctors and amazing people who will help everything along, so I'm not worried. 

I did anticipate this baby being born with a story, so who knows. 

With the snowfall I've been in crazy nesting mode. Gluten-free oatmeal-chocolate chip cookies, fish chowder, omelets (feta, basil, sundries tomato, and spinach), French toast, homemade hash-browns, and lasagna with homemade marinara all happened today. Tuesday it was challah for the boys and homemade granola bars. 

I think the reality of how much I love cooking and the impending birth have me concerned my workload and baby will mean less cooking/baking and more delivery and cereal. 

So for now that's all that's new. We are past our original due date, so here is hoping baby shows up soon. The world is ready, and by golly so am I. 

Also: Apologies for the hiatus/delay in new posts. I'll be back more consistently soon I hope!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Book Review: Chanukah and Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach

I've been on a bit of a Chanukah (c)hiatus this week while ironing out some new work that I'm really excited to be taking on and trying to have some time with the hubsters before the wee one shows up. The truth is that nothing I've planned has gone according to, which is just proof that planning is for the foolish!

The upside of a bit of downtime has been that I've been sleeping a lot and devouring books at a rate for which I'm quite proud.

For Chanukah my literature of choice has been The Soul of Chanukah: Teachings of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach (published by Mosaica Press) as compiled by Rabbi Shlomo Katz. Now that's two big names in one small chunk of sentence, and I have to say that this is one of the nicest looking books I've gotten for review in a while.

There are countless reasons why this book rocks, chief among them (according to Mr. T) being that it's in English. In Israel it's easy to land a lot of Rav Carlebach's work, but in Hebrew, which is awkward because most (if not all) of his morsels of wisdom were shared with the world in English. On that note, when it comes to morsels of wisdom in the form of divrei Torah or conversations, you want a concise book that is inspirational, powerful, and thought-provoking. This book is a mere 114 pages split into -- you guessed it -- eight chapters for eight nights, meaning that it's the perfect sit-and-learn option for Chanukah (so buy it for next year, why don't you?).

Unfortunately, the book only hit my post box midway through Chanukah, so I haven't completely devoured it yet, but what I've read will have me reading it well into the post-chag. But I want to give you an idea of the brilliance and inspired ideas that make Rav Carlebach such a prolific and unique individual.

Now, I refer to Rav Carlebach as "hippie dippie," which drives Mr. T nuts, but with my background and philosophy on Judaism, I often find it hard to relate to the "deeper" side of Judaism found in Hasidic teachings. Yes, I sit down every Friday night and read from a collection of Hasidic stories and found some of my greatest inspiration and peace in Judaism through Chabad and other Hasidic teachings, but I still don't get into the sit-in-a-circle and sing style of Judaism. It's just not in my fabric.

Lucky for me, I married a lover of Hasidic philosophy and understanding, so we find a lot of the same "aha" moments really powerful, just in different ways.

So after reading through Chapter 1, Shining Eyes, I had to share some of the tidbits with the husband because it screamed "Mr. T." This first chapter was all about how we're meant to perceive the world uniquely on Chanukah, especially because it's one holiday where we don't go out to greet the king, but the king (that's HaShem) comes into our homes to greet us. How much more special and meaningful is it that the king comes to us?! We're all commanded to light the chanukiyah (menorah for Chanukah) -- every man, woman, and child -- and the king is meant to come to our homes to check out our gnarly lights. It's like Justin Bieber showing up to taste your famous homemade waffles, if you need a ridiculous, modern reference to something that can't even begin to compare with what it's like to experience the presence of HaShem.

Also: Did you also realize that Chanukah is the one chag that we celebrate that actually took place in Jerusalem? Passover/Pesach was in Egypt, Purim was in Persia, and so on. Now that's a powerful reason to kindle the lights and experience the miracle.

One thing Mr. T is always kvetching about is how so many Jews (and people in general) are constantly asking "Mah magiah li?" or "What's in it for me?" instead of asking what can I provide, what can I do, where can I go? Rav Carlebach talks about how on Chanukah we're meant to look around and just take it in because we can't use the lights of the chanukiyah for anything, we can only enjoy them.
I can look at something and say, "Can I use it or can I not use it? Is it good for me or not?" Just like the spies said. But the fixing of Chanukah is that I'm not trying to use it for anything. I'm just so glad it's there.  ... The Torah of Chanukah is that I'm learning Torha, and I'm just looking at what I'm learning. No calculations, no expectations; I'm just looking at the light and I'm so glad it's there." (21)
That's some powerful, beautiful Torah right there. Chanukah, for Rav Carlebach, is all about how we look at the world, the people around us, the beautiful things that we are and are not doing. It's all about refocusing ourselves and reconsidering things, "fixing" as he says Chanukah by our perception.

There are moments where I can definitely see Rav Carlebach with guitar in hand calling something "deep" or talking about the "deepness" of Chanukah, which does make me giggle a bit, but whether you're into his style of Judaism or not, the morsels of Torah and truth in his vision are incredibly powerful.

I absolutely recommend this book, because the truth is this is one of those rare moments where I have nothing negative to say about it. Yes, mark your calendars, folks, because this is one book that will grace my shelves for years to come. It might even make for a Chanukah gift in the coming years.

Note: I received this book for review purposes, but my reviews remain honest, unbiased, and from the heart!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Jewish Motherhood: The Copycat Pregnancies

Today's Jewish Motherhood Project mommy lives in America, was married at 26, and had her first baby at 28. If you want to participate in The Jewish Motherhood Project, the hop over to the Q&A! Also, I'm looking for more words of advice from first-time (and seasoned) fathers.

Did you always want to be a mommy? Why or why not?
Just always assumed I would be.

What was your greatest fear when you found out you were pregnant? What was your greatest anticipation/excited feeling?
Greatest fear: something being terribly wrong with the baby. Greatest anticipation: seeing him for the first time.

How did your husband/partner and family react to you being preggo?
Thrilled. The baby was the first grandchild on both sides.

What was your pregnancy like?
My husband says I "conveniently" forget each time, but I would say relatively easy. I've been blessed with three beautiful children. (However, I had a second-trimester miscarriage with my third pregnancy and an ectopic pregnancy the fifth pregnancy.) One minor complaint was that I had borderline gestational diabetes, and they put me on a very low carb and no sugar diet. I was always hungry.

How did you decide to start telling people you were preggo? Did you wait to reveal the gender?
We waited until the end of the first trimester, but we told our parents as soon as we saw the heartbeat. We found out the gender every pregnancy, definitely my idea and not my husbands. We kept this to ourselves (though I might have "accidentally" dropped a hint or two to my mom and my best friend).

How did the pregnancy affect your work, schooling, or family?
I induced on a Monday for my first pregnancy and was still in work on Friday, just three days before. I was working full-time and did a fellowship.

In the days and weeks leading up to the birth, what do you remember experiencing or feeling?
For the first one, shock and disbelief and it was very much a planned pregnancy! I never held a baby before my son. I didn't think it was real.

How did you infuse your Jewishness into the pregnancy/labor experience?
Other than my own silent prayer when lighting Shabbat candles, I only turned to Judaism when things started to go terribly wrong. (Only infused plenty of drugs into the labor experience and it was wonderful.)

If you’ve had more children since your first, how were the experiences different? Were you more or less prepared? Was it harder or easier?
Each pregnancy was fairly similar. As for prepared, I never took a birthing class, electively induced, and even picked the day well in advance.

My first two even weighed within one ounce of one another (the third was about 5 ounces less). All the deliveries were similar, too. The second was "sunny-side up," but still very quick and easy (I'm almost afraid to say it, but all three were under four hours). I was much more relaxed with the second two deliveries knowing more or less what to expect.

What would be your three top tips for a first-time mother?
  1. Don’t obsessively read pregnancy books or obsessively look symptoms up online. It will make you crazy.
  2. Develop a birth plan that you (and your doctor) are comfortable with. You don’t need to make other people happy.
  3. Don’t share possible names with family members because you will get opinions.
Is there anything else you want to add?
Take a trip together now. Maybe one more before your baby can walk. After that, good luck!

Chavi's commentary: I couldn't agree more about the obsessively reading pregnancy books bit. Although I was hardcore jonesing for "What to Expect When You're Expecting," and although Mr. T searched near and far for it to get it for me, I couldn't help but feel like every page I read was another warning of something horrible that was happening. This is why when it comes to baby/pregnancy books I stick to things like The Pregnancy Instruction Manual and The Baby Owner's Manual, because they're hilarious and practical.  I really wish that we could take a trip together before the baby shows up, but I think we've passed our window of opportunity, unless I can convince the mister to drive north to check out a chocolate factory or something fun like that. Here's hoping!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgivukkah!

The great thing about this cartoon is that it reminds me of the people 
that drive around with the chanukiyah (menorah) on top of their cars!

On this most holy of days, two deliciously gluttonous holidays merge into one. Yes, even in Israel there are those of us who are celebrating Thanksgiving and Chanukah, with the latter being normative and the former being, well, odd considering it's the commemoration of a fake narrative of something that didn't really happen in America. 

But old habits die hard, and my darling English husband is willing to indulge those of us who jones for the classics. However, we are holding off to make our Thanksgivukkah a Shabbat experience, and we're pot-lucking with friends at our place with the turkey and all the fixins (don't worry, our kitchen is still vegetarian, we're getting creative to make this happen). 

On the menu? 

Turkey (a la Rebacks)
Gluten-Free Green Bean Casserole (Me)*
Portobella Mushroom Rice (Rebacks)
Gravy (Rebacks)
Cranberry Sauce (Rebacks)
Latkes (Me, maybe ...)
Sufganiyot (store-bought, of course)

Quite the meal, no? And the awesomeness that is Mel will also be joining us with husband in tow providing our paper goods and all that goodness since our dishes are dairy and the meal is (obviously) meaty. 

I anticipate Shabbat lunch being quite the low-key affair (some kind of salmon dish and lots of salads). I also anticipate being comatose most of Saturday and Sunday as a result of the festivities. Baby hasn't left much room for food these days, unfortunately. What's a soon-to-be mama to do? Eat very slowly ... and scarf the leftovers!

Also: Tonight I'm celebrating Thanksgiving the way it was always meant to be celebrated ... with American football! Yes, Israel has its own American football league, called the IFL, and the coach of the illustrious Judean Rebels is none other than the husband (Coach!) of blogger Ruti. So tonight, it's all about the Chanukah Bowl. 

What's on your menu for Thanksgiving and/or Chanukah? Any special or unique traditions that your family absolutely abides by? 

*Green bean casserole has always been a standard in my family, and Thanksgiving simply isn't Thanksgiving without it. However, the days of canned cream of mushroom soup, French's fried onions, and frozen green beans are over for me, as it's all lacking in "gluten free" and non-dairy categories. So I've made my own homemade mushroom gravy, will be attempting some gluten-free "fried" onions (majorly modifying this one), and mixing it all up in the hopes that it comes out tasting like awesome. Stay tuned! 

Book Review: A Financial Guide to Aliyah and Life in Israel

When I decided to make aliyah (move to Israel) mid-summer 2012, I was happily, dually employed, able to pay my bills and put a bit away at the same time. Life was good. Financially I wasn't perfect, but I was getting there. When the aliyah approval came through, I didn't think I needed to sit down and figure out how much I needed monthly to survive in Israel. If I was getting by in Denver, I could get by in Jerusalem, right?

I tend to read books in moments of "hindsight is 20/20," and that's how things feel after reading Baruch Labinsky's A Financial Guide to Aliyah and Life in Israel. Oh where was this book before I made aliyah? Although, the truth is, you can take a horse to water, but you can't really teach him to drink. Without the motivation to really think about the financial reality of living in Israel, this book will never grace your coffee table, let alone help guide you.

With cheesy comics that aren't really funny, Labinsky walks the reader through how to use the book (it isn't one of those cover-to-cover reads, unless that's your style), how to understand taxes (which, let's be honest change constantly in Israel, so it's a moving target), how to plan for retirement, how to look at your assets, whether your savings will last, and so on. It's got all of the basics, complete with charts about just how expensive the basics in Israel can be.

Yes, dairy products in this country cost 44 percent more than other OECD countries. On the other hand, veggies here are happily inexpensive.

Although the book would have been a lot more helpful before I came on aliyah and lost both of my cushy jobs (oh why didn't I plan financially?), there are plenty of helpful anecdotes, like how negotiating at the bank is incredibly important. Find an advocate, Labinsky says, which is key to protekzia, or the ability to protect oneself by utilizing contacts and connections! Also, the bits on working for U.S.-based companies while living in Israel and the potential tax concerns is in my wheelhouse these days.

There's a lot of really powerful, conversational advice in the book that I know will guide plenty of potential olim on their financial journey into Israel. When you've got kids and a family or are a retiree, there's a lot to consider when making the big leap across the pond.

Also? The cover on this book is a huge win!

If you know someone considering aliyah, I highly recommend sending them this book. There are a lot more considerations when it comes to picking up and moving to Israel, even if you're willing to give up certain aspects of "comfortable" living for the fulfillment of a religious or personal ideal. If you're not a planner, take a chance with this book anyway. Believe me, you're going to need it!

Note: I received this book for review purposes, but my reviews remain honest, unbiased, and from the heart!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Mr. T and Me: A Year Later

The man who changed it all. 

One year ago (on the Jewish calendar, that is), I met Mr. T at the top of Ben Yehuda for our very first date. It was the first night of Chanukah, a Saturday night. I lit my chanukiyah, made sure I looked awesome, and set off to meet a complete stranger with whom I'd only had a few email chats.

We schlepped around Ben Yehuda, Agrippas, and through Nachlaot in the chilly Jerusalem air, the both of us sniffling along the way. We talked about our past marriages, in a no-nonsense "this is what I can put up with, and this is what I need" way. We discussed how we got to where we are, our own unique paths that led us to being "religious" Jews. We talked about our travels, our talents, music, and everything else that came up organically, naturally throughout the night. It was a marathon date, the kind that lasts for hours.

It was incredibly late (or early) when we said our goodbyes. He had to work in a few hours, and I had, well, sleep to tackle.

What happened next was a whirlwind. Roughly 10 days later we worked out a chance for me to meet his son, iBoy. It was my requirement -- no "yes" to a proposal until I meet your son, which didn't stop Mr. T from proposing after our first date, our second date, and every date thereafter. He knew I'd say yes, I knew I'd say yes, but when you're bringing a child from the first marriage into the mix, it's a necessary formality.

Just a few days after our first date, I sent a picture of Mr. T to a friend, saying,
... he's perfectly imperfect and I think he's amazing.
I'd spent my whole life being chased by suitors. I was a tough one to wrangle, always independent and career-driven and destined for big things in New York City. I was pretty sure I was going to be single -- or at least unmarried -- for the rest of my life. Kids were not even a conversation. After getting married the first time around because it was time (I was 27 after all) and having one of the most confusing, depressing, and out-of-body experiences of my life, I was convinced the dream of singledom and a carefree baby-less life was back on, but this time in Denver. When I decided to make aliyah, I was open to the option of marriage, children ... happiness ... again. But I wasn't expecting a magical, miracle pill. 

I wasn't expecting this, I was definitely not expecting Mr. T. One date. Proposal. Ten Days later, engaged. Two months later, married. One month later, pregnant. 

After everything that has happened over the past month -- the ups, the downs, the twists and turns -- I can't say I would have wanted any other way. The financial and emotional challenges we've faced since meeting and getting married have, if anything, helped us figure out who we are as a couple, as a zivug. If my zivug sheni was granted from my merits, then boy oh boy I must have done something amazing so far to deserve such a life as this. 

I can't believe it's been a year since we first met. Looking back at everything that has happened baffles me, amazes me, makes me smile. No matter how bad things have gotten, the battle has always been worth fighting with Mr. T. And it all started with the longest date ever surrounded by the lights of the chanukiyah

Next up? Mr. T + C = Little Z

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Niddah and Childbirth

Something I've been thinking about over the expanse of this pregnancy is what happens after the pregnancy. Yes, there will be a baby and chaos and madness and a lack of sleep and insanity, but what happens between husband and wife?

Now, I'm not about to get personal on you here, but this is a topic that a lot of women in the religious Jewish community have to deal with, and I think it would be nice to have a quick, concise understanding of what happens once baby arrives. Also, I never thought I'd like being able to canoodle with my husband 24/7 without those monthly disturbances, but after being married one month and getting pregnant, I've been spoiled on the ability to always get a hug when I need it.

What is niddah

When a woman isn't pregnant or breastfeeding and her menstrual cycle is functioning as normal as one does, she goes through the ebb and flow of being a niddah. Contrary to popular belief, niddah doesn't mean "unclean" or "dirty," but rather "separate" or "moved" according to ritual impurity. Yes, the term impure is a pretty loaded term, but there are plenty of ways for men to become impure as well.

A woman is considered niddah after her menstrual cycle ends and she experiences seven clean days without bleeding and when the total of bleeding + clean days adds up to at least 12 days. Yes, that means most women will spend half the month and year in niddah, unable to do a variety of things like having sex with her spouse. There are differing opinions on the 12 days rule among different groups of Jews, and goes into some of those here.

Once the clean days have finished, a woman goes to mikvah (the ritual bath as its known) and dunks, and is once again back to normal life with her husband.

So what does this have to do with being pregnant and giving birth?

In the final stages of labor, a woman becomes a yoledet, which puts her in the same category as niddah. There are a ton of different aspects of the birthing process that complicate or intensify things like whether it's a natural birth or C-section, whether she's having a boy or a girl, and so on. But basically a woman becomes a yoledet and the rules of niddah take over. For a woman in the midst of birth, I can imagine, this can be a pretty emotionally rotten time for her husband to be completely hands off.

I'm struggling a little bit with this concept, especially because (in my mind) after you give birth or in those final moments you want your partner's hand to squeeze and a kiss after going through the crazy ordeal of bringing a miniature human into the world, but it's all hand's off because of niddah.

There are even many rabbis who have ruled that a husband shouldn't even be in the birthing room at the time of labor because of the laws of yoledet/niddah, which prohibit the husband from seeing his wife naked, let alone any other graphic things that go on in the birthing room. Luckily, Rav Moshe Feinstein has said that it's okay for the husband to be in the birthing room supporting his wife, but there's still a hands-off approach (Igrot Moshe Yoreh Deah 2:75).

This might be one of the reasons that doulas are a popular addition to the Jewish birthing process, me thinks. Giving birth is such an all-sensory experience, I find it hard to imagine not sharing the physical side with Mr. T. No kiss? No hug? No job well done?

And, since you become a yoledet/niddah in labor, you have to go through the normal cycle as you would any other time. Once the bleeding after birth stops, you have to count seven clean days and visit the mikvah. Then you're back to that pre-baby pregnancy bliss of being able to canoodle your spouse whenever you like. Heck, squish that baby between your faces and smooch away!

At least that's how it works for some women. Your period can return anywhere between 11 weeks and 24 months after you give birth, depending on oodles of different factors. Some women start menstruating right away and can get pregnant immediately, others opt for birth control to regulate things and put off a baby a bit further. As all things with a woman's body go, it's a complete crapshoot.

It will be interesting post-birth to see how this all impacts me. I've never been a super touchy-feely person when it comes to significant others, but I've grown to enjoy the comfort of knowing there's a kiss or hug around the corner when I need it. Knowing that birth can do all sorts of wackadoodle things to your hormones has me in a bit of a stomach knot, because observing the laws of taharat ha'mishpacha means that you live within the confines of Torah and it doesn't bend to your will or want -- even when you think you need it.

On the other hand, it might be nice to get back into the mikvah-going mindset. Once-a-month getaways with some silence and relaxation to reconnect to myself, my body, and HaShem? Sounds divine. It really is a toss-up, and I only wish I could see the future.

What has been your experience with giving birth and being a yoledet? Was it difficult? How did you cope with being physically "alone" during such an intense time? 

Monday, November 25, 2013

What's the Deal with Chesed?

One of the things I've never understood about the Jewish concept of chesed or "loving kindness" as it's often translated is that in modern Judaism we treat the act of doing chesed as notches on a belt or ticks on our wall of proper, ethical living. 

Bar and bat mitzvah kids usually have to do a chesed project leading up to their big day, and many do great things like fundraising for wildfire victims or those suffering from the damages caused by hurricanes and flooding the world over. The concept of chesed is great, it's beautiful, and we learn from Pirkei Avot -- the Ethics of the Fathers -- that it is one of the three things that the world stands on.
Shimon the Righteous was among the last surviving members of the Great assembly. He would say: The world stands on three things: Torah, the service of G-d, and deeds of kindness. (Pirkei Avot 1:2)
What we learn from this is that beyond the obvious necessity of living a Torah life, there are two things we need: service of G-d and chesed, which relates to our fellow man. This is what separated Judaism from other Near Eastern Religions. Judaism was the first "religion to focus on ethical monotheism -- the monotheistic part related to G-d and the ethical part related to man. 

So what's my beef? My gripe is that the way we connect with HaShem matters, but it only matters between us and HaShem. The way we connect with fellow man works the same way. We shouldn't do things publicly or keep lists so everyone knows how awesomely kind and giving we are. Yes, we live in a world where billionaires throw money around at causes and get lots of mad props for it, but is it right? Is that what chesed looks like?

I've been reading, weekly, a little book that Mr. T nabbed for me at Pomeranz booksellers called A Portion of Kindness by Rosally Saltsman, which has weekly mini-assessments of verses from the parshah (portion) and how we can connect it to chesed. I really like her quick and witty take on the weekly portion, and she offers a lot of great tips on how to do chesed. This past week, for Va'yeshev, Saltsman commented on how there were so many good intentions in the parsha, but that most of the time the good intentions didn't really come to fruition (like the brothers who wanted to come back, rescue Yosef and return him to his father). She discussed how there's a concept in Judaism where if the intention is there and the follow-through falls through, the intention is what counts. So often we do something with the proper intention, and it doesn't always go according to plan (at least not our plan), and that's fine. HaShem knows where our intention is. 

Although I like her approach to taking away a lesson on chesed from the weekly portion, I have to gripe that Saltsman lays out a plan to keep a chesed chart, so you can keep tabs on all of the awesomely wonderful things you've done for your fellow man. It goes back to my issue with anonymity and doing something for the sake of it being good and kind rather than for the attention and spotlight on what a great person you are. There's no weekly or monthly or yearly accounting in synagogue of all of the various chesed you've done, is there? So why keep track of it? Feel good about doing it, and move on with your life. It isn't a competition. (For a conversation about the difference between tzedakah or charity and chesed, see this article, which discusses how chesed is "higher" than tzedakah.)

What do you think about chesed? If you're not Jewish, I'm curious if there is a similar ethical responsibility that is encouraged in Christianity or Islam or Buddhism and whether keeping tabs is encouraged or if it's about doing good, feeling good, and being good. 

Note: The book reviews I'm doing for Pomeranz are honest, as all of my product and book reviews are, but the books are being given to me at no cost for review.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Understanding Parshat Ha'Man

EDIT: Okay, so after more days of digging through this portion I noticed something else that sort of throws a wrench in my "food specific" issue. At the beginning of the portion HaShem says he'll provide basar in the evening and lechem in the morning. It's only when the people actually receive the food that we read that the basar was specifically quail (shlav). This raises two questions for me:
  1. Quail is considered fowl, but here it is specifically called basar or meat. So why is there such a gripe with chicken and other fowl being considered meat when it comes to the separation of meat and milk? 
  2. Is it possible that the Israelites were valid in their request to understand what lechem exactly they were getting, since HaShem went from broad to specific with their evening course (i.e., basar to shlav and lechem to ....?)

I've been reading with astonishing regularity Parshat Ha'man -- the portion of the Torah in Exodus in which HaShem hears the people kvetching and gives them manna to keep them fed during the 40 years in the desert. The idea behind reading the portion every day is that it's a segula for parnassah. 

Okay, that's a lot of words you might be unfamiliar with. In Judaism there are many different types of segulas or things that Jews do to try and change the course or the way things are. It can be a procedure of activities or simply a prayer, but the idea is that it will create a change or provide some type of new "luck."

In this case, the segula for parnassah (or livelihood) is to say Parshat Ha'man every day for forty days (except on Shabbat). It's not magic, but some people find it kind of hokey. Other people have different segulas for getting pregnant (go to the mikvah after a woman who has several children) or for meeting a spouse.

So I've been reading the portion about manna, and with every day I read new questions arise. It's not an incredibly long portion, so the small things slowly start to create questions without answers.

The basic summary of the portion is that the people are kvetching about their situation in the wilderness, so HaShem says he'll provide them with quail in the evening and bread (lechem) in the morning to eat. As it goes, there are specific instructions about when to go out and collect the bread, and every person is to gather only according to their needs and the needs of their house. The people went out to collect it, and marveled at the miracle said, "man hu?" meaning "what is it?" and henceforth called it man instead of lechem. On the sixth day, the people are told to take a double portion for the Sabbath. Some people disobeyed and HaShem lamented the people disobeying the command. For the next 40 years the people ate the man and then entered the land.

My biggest beef with the portion so far has been in understanding the food -- there's quail, there's lechem (bread), and there's the man. In reality, the man and lechem are the same thing, with the main difference being that HaShem, Aharon, and Moshe insist on calling it lechem and the people seem to be averse to the term, marveling and calling it man.

Moshe even seems irritated at the people, reiterating that it's lechem. It seems to me that he's saying "Seriously, people, it's bread, that's what it is, and you know what bread is!"

So here's my question: Why do the people insist on not knowing what it is? Why do they insist on calling it man instead of lechem? Is it emblematic of the rest of the portion, of the people being resistant and stubborn, blind to what is before their eyes? 

Jewish Motherhood: Building Her Own "Brady Bunch"

In this installment of The Jewish Motherhood Project, we hear from veteran mom Elisheva. At 43 years old, she is mother to eight (kein ayin hara)! Her first child arrived when she was 26 and living in Jerusalem.

If you want to participate in The Jewish Motherhood Project, the Q&A are at your fingertips! Also, I'm looking for more words of advice from first-time (and seasoned) fathers.

Did you always want to be a mommy? Why or why not? 
Yes. Growing up I was obsessed with "The Brady Bunch," and I always admired families with a lot of kids. I love babies!

What was your greatest fear when you found out you were pregnant? What was your greatest anticipation/excited feeling?
Greatest fear: miscarriage. Greatest anticipation: holding the baby.

How did your husband/partner and family react to you being preggo?
Happily, Baruch HaShem.

What was your pregnancy like? 
The first time around, I only suffered sciatica during the pregnancy, but the birth was via cesarean because he was breech. I did have an ectopic pregnancy between babies #3 and #4 and two miscarriages before #8.

How did you decide to start telling people you were preggo? Did you wait to reveal the gender?
We waited until the first trimester was over before we told people. For the first four, we didn't find out the gender, but after that we did and we didn't tell :) The children's names were decided on together by me and my husband.

How did the pregnancy affect your work, schooling, or family?
They didn't, B"H.

In the days and weeks leading up to the birth, what do you remember experiencing or feeling?
EXCITEMENT! I love giving birth.

How did you infuse your Jewishness into the pregnancy/labor experience?
Reb Neustadt has two very inspiring shiurim (courses/lessons) on childbirth that I listen to every time I am pregnant. (Link #1, Link #2, or Link #3, and this mom suggests "Growth Through Childbirth" and "Balancing Bitachon & Hishtadlus in Pregnancy")

If you’ve had more children since your first, how were the experiences different? Were you more or less prepared? Was it harder or easier?
I have had seven successful V-backs B"H. I also accidentally gave birth at home once, which was surprisingly (for me) an amazing experience. As I get older, pregnancy is definitely harder.

What would be your three top tips for a first-time mother?
  1. Trust your instincts.
  2. Birth imagery is very important for an easy birth.
  3. Colicky newborns do stop crying. 
Is there anything else you want to add?
The actual act of giving birth is the most amazing experience in the world. The best thing a woman can do for herself is to make sure she is accurately educated and has a support team that she trusts to help insure a smooth delivery.

Chavi's commentary: I'm a big believer in trusting your instincts, too, and I think it's one thing that new moms are the most scared of. Also? I have to wonder about being excited about giving birth. The physical act, that is. All I can think is "Oh my gosh it's going to hurt and be horrible and miserable and traumatic and painful and ouch ouch ouch." I pray that it won't feel that way, that it will be an amazing and emotional experience, but everything I've ever seen on TV tells me otherwise. TV, by the way, has largely ruined my view of everything having to do with giving birth. Argh!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Jewish Motherhood: What Have We Done?

After an ever-so-brief hiatus, The Jewish Motherhood Project continues with a 27-year-old expectant mother who finished her degree before getting married and, after 3.5 years of marriage and aliyah (moving to Israel), decided to try for a baby. Here's wishing her a b'sha'ah tovah (it's what you say to a pregnant Jewish woman)!

If you want to participate, just hop over to the Q&A and get started. If you have a husband who has advice, please let me know, too. We need more fatherly takes on the first-time around!

Did you always want to be a mommy? Why or why not? 
Yes and no. I definitely did not want to be a young mum. I'm the oldest child of five, and my parents are divorced. I felt a lot of responsibility to my siblings growing up and wanted my own freedom for a bit. I only wanted to have a child when I was ready.

What was your greatest fear when you found out you were pregnant? What was your greatest anticipation/excited feeling?
Greatest fear: What have we done?? Are we ready? Can we afford a baby? We just made aliya, is this the right time? Will I be a good mother? Will I have enough patience?

How did your husband/partner and family react to you being preggo?
Everyone was very excited! As the first grandchild on both sides, the baby was very much anticipated.

What was your pregnancy like? 
So far, thank G-d, going well. Pretty textbook. I felt sick in the first trimester, but nothing unusual.

Our biggest "test" was that my husband has/had commitment phobia and didn't want to try for a baby for a long long time. It is only recently that he felt ready, which was very stressful for me as I was probably ready 1.5 years ago and was waiting for him. I used to get very upset when our friends were pregnant and had babies. Looking back, everything happens in the right time. However, it did place a strain on our relationship.

How did you decide to start telling people you were preggo? Did you wait to reveal the gender?
We told our parents at six weeks and everyone else at 12 weeks. We have found out the gender, but we're not announcing it. We're also still deciding on a name ... a difficult process!

How did the pregnancy affect your work, schooling, or family?
Pregnancy has definitely affected my work. I'm so tired so its hard to keep up. I work as a freelancer so obviously worried about taking off too much time for maternity leave and worried about juggling new baby and work as I will have to go back as we need the money...

In the days and weeks leading up to the birth, what do you remember experiencing or feeling?
Not quite there yet; I'm only 24 weeks. However I am feeling anxious about the birth. I feel torn between wanting to shop like crazy for the baby versus not buying anything because its ayin hara.

How did you infuse your Jewishness into the pregnancy/labor experience?
I've been reading blogs and books. I am not so spiritual in general, but I feel very blessed to have the miracle of a baby growing inside of me.

Any advice from dad to other dads?
Can other dads please give advice to new dads? I feel like my husband has NO idea what is going to hit him when the baby is born even though I have been trying to get him to read books, talk about it, etc.

Chavi's commentary: I'm really glad this expectant mum decided to participate! I think that she and I are in the same boat as far as work, major fears, and energy levels, although having to cope with a partner who isn't necessarily ready to conceive must have been quite difficult. In my first marriage children weren't even a conversation (B"H), and in this marriage we were pregnant before we could even think about it. It is a hard balance trying to work amid the exhaustion, especially knowing that after the baby comes you'll have to hit the bricks and get back to work quickly to help support the family. Israel is definitely not a single-family-income kind of place to live by any means.

Also: I haven't had many people respond with advice from dad to other dads, so I might have to sit Mr. T down and get his tips, as he has a 10 year old and is seriously amazing with children. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Book Review: Getting Kvetchy at Hanukkah

I am what you might call a bibliophile. I love books, I love collecting them, I lament having to part with them (which I did with so many during my divorce and aliyah to Israel), and when I look at our bookshelves at home there are a lot of seforim, but those belong to my dear husband Mr. T. I'm not about to start hoarding books again just to have a fine balance between his and hers, but it is nice getting new books, reviewing books, and finding new authors to kvell over.

Recently Mr. T was in Jerusalem with a friend of his looking for benschers (the little books that Jews use before and after meals and on Shabbat that have songs and the prayers over food and drink) at M. Pomeranz Bookseller, a staple store owned by a couple that made aliyah to Israel more than 20 years ago. 

While there, Mr. T spotted a book: The KvetchiT: A Hanukkah Tale by Larry Butchins. He absolutely had to have it for me because I am, after all, the Kvetching Editor. Surprise surprise he brought it home and I sat reading it last night.

The KvetchiT: A Hanukkah Tale

The premise is cute, and it makes me wonder who comes up with these things (but in a good, not judgey way, of course). The story is narrated by a grandfather figure named Samuel who starts with the historic dilemma of the people at the rededication of the temple. The people are kvetching and kvetching that they don't have any oil, and although the common miracle we hear of is the oil lasting for eight nights, the miracle we don't hear of is the creation of the the KvetchiT -- a fuzzy, little three-eyed creature who feeds on kvetches. But once the kvetching over the oil stops, the KvetchiT is at a loss because he needs the kvetches to survive. He hides away in a cave and falls fast asleep.

The story zips ahead hundreds of years when a boy named Samuel finds him (does the name ring a bell?) and hears the story and agrees to help record the 20 greatest kvetches for the KvetchiT to live on. The story brings us back to the present where one of Samuel's grandchildren receives a unique gift of family tradition (and kvetching).

It definitely takes kvetching to a unique, new level of cuteness, and the illustrations are very traditional in the style of "religious" Jewish books, but not aggressively so (don't worry, you won't find the mom in a full-body coverup). I'm just bummed that the 20 greatest kvetches collected in the story are only available on cassette. Who has a cassette player?! Not this chick. I eagerly await their release in MP3 or CD format.

You can buy the book from Pomeranz for pennies, folks, and this would make a very cute gift for a child or a particularly kvetchy adult.

Do you have a favorite children's Chanukah book? A particularly excellent kvetch that you think the kvetch could live FOREVER on? With a wee one on the way, I'm eager to start collecting gobs of children's books!

Note: The book reviews I'm doing for Pomeranz are honest, as all of my product and book reviews are, but the books are being given to me at no cost for review. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Baby Update!

Well, we've entered week 35, which means I'm only a few weeks away from this baby deciding to show up whenever he/she wants. Yes, we know what we're having, but it's going to be a gigantic surprise for all of you out there in TV land! (Er ... internet land?)

Infinite Chavivas in the mirror! 

I've hit hard times in the physical department, with the Braxton-Hicks contractions doing a serious number on me. I'm sleeping worse than I was before because my body is constantly in some kind of bizarre stiff pain. Theoretically I'm due on December 11, which means I could have one long month of pain, discomfort, and frustrating gastrointestinal pain. But it's all worth it, right? It means my body is doing what it needs to and that my body is in preparation mode.

At this point, the nice thing to know is: The end is nigh! There is an end in sight.

I've hit a point where I'm starting to really love these baby movements and the waves of my belly. I love shoving the baby's bum out of the way when it's making me uncomfortable or how the baby gets really active in the early evening hours. (As I write this, baby is moving about. Is it because of the tapping on the keys? Criminal Minds playing in the background? Or maybe it's the construction going on next door.) I'm starting to wonder how I'm going to cope with missing this cutie in utero once baby arrives. Do women who love the kicks and nudges and movements easily get over missing those movements?
Pre-Shabbat, it's Redefining Rebbetzin's Melissa and I
sporting our baby bumps! These kids'll be friends for life. 

As the due date sits just a month away, I've started wondering if we have everything we need for a new baby. Yes, we've got the carseat and a changing pad and a mini pack-and-play style bed for the bedroom. We've got some outfits to get us started and a swaddler/sleeper for baby to sleep in. I'm still on the fence about whether to start out with cloth diapers or start out with disposables until we get to the U.S. in February (parents have to meet the baby sometime), so we're diaperless. Do I need babywipes for when the baby comes home? What about bottles? I don't have a breast pump for those "just in case" moments when maybe dad wants to feed baby, either.

I know they say babies don't need much, and we don't have any money sitting around to prepare for baby, so how is a girl supposed to nest!? The bedroom is a mess, serving as storage, and although the baby won't be sleeping there right away, it kind of kills me that there isn't a space for baby setup and waiting. I always dreamed of having a baby room complete with crib and dresser/changing table set, walls properly painted, clothing nicely folded and put away, a glider chair in the corner for nursing and reading baby books. I know I shouldn't feel like I'm a neglectful mother, but I can't help feeling that this isn't how I planned it.

But what can you do? As long as the baby is healthy, the baby will be happy. Now, on to happier, brighter, better topics.

There have been many of you who've asked for a baby shower or something similar, a virtual celebration of baby, but it's not exactly what Orthodox Jews do (and boy do Orthodox Jews have opinions about this). That being said, my family isn't Jewish, I have a lot of non-Orthodox friends, and creating baby registries is just ... fun. So I've created a few registries in case you're really jonesing to get me something (more will be added after the baby is born and I can get gender-specific).

The shipping address is my mom in Nebraska, but if you want to buy something and send it straight to Israel, that's cool, too (and saves my mom on shipping).


(Note:If you're sending to Israel, find the baby at Baby Gordon-Bennett | Box 323 | Neve Daniel 90909 ISRAEL. But be sure to label the box, or else I might not know who it's coming from! But whatever you do, make sure the package is marked under $50 and "used" or "gift" or else they'll confiscate it and I'll have to battle with the tax authority.)

And now? It's back to giving the baby all the attention in the world and nursing my Braxton-Hicks pain ... should we start a poll on when the baby will show up? 

Also: Did you spot the theme? Monkeys. Don't make gender assumptions. We're just expecting this baby to be a cheeky monkey!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Jewish Motherhood: Starting Earlier Than Expected

It’s Magic No. 3 for The Jewish Motherhood Project, and we’re ringing it in with 32-year-old Yochana, who was 18 years old when she had her first and “barely out of high school.” Sometimes, the scariest revelation can become the greatest gift.

If you're looking for other posts in the project, check the archives. If you want to give your thoughts in the Q&A, click here.

How old were you/what was your situation when you had your first child? 
I was 18 and barely out of high school. It definitely was not what I had intended. I was living with my boyfriend (now husband) and his mom and grandparents at the time. They had previously taken me in from a bad home situation.

Did you always want to be a mommy? Why or why not?
I wasn't really sure. I knew that someday I probably would, but at that time, I was actually considering joining the military.

What was your greatest fear when you found out you were pregnant? What was your greatest anticipation/excited feeling? 
I was terrified because I was so young. I had no support system of anyone my age who understood what I was going through. I had a fantastic support system in my husband's family and our friends in general, but no one my age who "got it."

How did your husband/partner and family react to you being preggo? 
My husband freaked out at first, understandably. He didn't handle it well. His family, whatever thoughts they had about it, shared only understanding. We were so anxious, and they were so supportive. I'm very grateful. My mom was supportive, but she was having a lot of her own struggles at the time.

What was your pregnancy like? 
Other than the ridiculous amount of weight I had gained (I threw caution to the wind with my eating; 13 years later I'm still paying for it), it was pretty uneventful.

How did you decide to start telling people you were preggo? Did you wait to reveal the gender? 
We told our immediate family and friends as soon as we found out. Neither of us were religiously observant at the time, so with every milestone, we shared the information. We chose a name I had wanted since childhood. Thankfully, the hubby also really liked the name.

How did the pregnancy affect your work, schooling, or family? 
I worked part time, so it had little effect. It definitely created a strain on the families because of our ages at the time.

In the days and weeks leading up to the birth, what do you remember experiencing or feeling? 
Anxiety. I was worried about screwing up, royally.

How did you infuse your Jewishness into the pregnancy/labor experience? 
At that time, I was unobservant, so I didn't. It was a very clinical delivery.

If you’ve had more children since your first, how were the experiences different? Were you more or less prepared? Was it harder or easier? 
My other two children came much later, nine and 10 years after, respectively. So while my husband and I were just as surprised (didn't think I could get pregnant, then thought baby number two was a fluke), we were much more prepared mentally and emotionally. By that time, we had become observant, so there was more to it spiritually.

What would be your three top tips for a first-time mother? 
  1. You're going to get flooded with advice from everyone. Take it, don't take it, but listen, and consider its value. 
  2. It's okay to ask for help. Don't think you have to do everything yourself. Asking for help could ease the anxiety a bit. 
  3. Take it one day at a time. Don't stress too much about what happens later. 
Any advice from dad to other dads? 
Don't have any expectations, and make sure to remain patient — with everyone.

Is there anything else you want to add? 
I would not have planned my life as a mom this way, but I wouldn't trade it for anything. My husband and kids are amazing.

Chavi's commentary: I can't even imagine how different the experiences of pregnancy and birth must have been between your first and second/third. It was probably very similar for iBoy's mom who had him in 2003 and his sister in 2012. And what little miracles they must have been. I have to give you mad props for entering mommydom so early on in life. I don't know how I would have handled a similar situation.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Long Awaited: How to Tie Your Tichel

I've had many requests, so I finally sat down last week and did this. Of course, then I neglected to take the time to edit the video and upload it, but I finally got to it and here we are!

In these two videos you'll see just what "the bump" really is and several different types of scarves I use with the bump and how I tie them.

If there's one thing you should walk away from these videos with, it's that it's not a perfect science and learning to roll and tuck those pesky pieces of scarf away will become a piece of cake.

The Bump: A How-To Guide (Please forgive my misspelling ... I'm under the weather!)

How to Tie Your Tichel 

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Jewish Motherhood: Inform Thyself!

Shavua tov and chodesh tov! I got a bit backlogged last week, but we’re starting this week fresh with the second installment of the Jewish Motherhood Project. Our featured mom is 27-year-old Chloe. Check out her answers below and be sure to check out other installments on the blog. If you want to participate, find the Q&A here.

How old were you/what was your situation when you had your first child? 
I was 21 when I got pregnant and 22 when my first child was born. I had been married a few months when I got a positive pregnancy test, and he was born just after our first anniversary! I was in the middle of my second year of a BA in English Literature at Bar Ilan University and conveniently gave birth during the winter break, so I just went back to school a month later. I hired babysitters to take care of him on campus while I was in classes, and I left for the five or so minutes it took to nurse him every once in a while. It was actually pretty easy.

Did you always want to be a mommy? Why or why not?
Always? I think I never really considered not having kids, it was just something I assumed I would do one day.

How did your husband/partner and family react to you being preggo?
Excitedly — all smiles. Thank God.

What was your pregnancy like?
My pregnancies were both mostly textbook, as were my labors. I've been quite lucky in that regard.

How did you decide to start telling people you were preggo? Did you wait to reveal the gender?
I always tell close friends and family early on, because my theory is that if I were to miscarry, those would be the people I'd need for support … so why not tell them? Plus we get to share the excitement. Same with gender. We spoke about names a few times during pregnancy but didn't decide definitively until right before the brit.

How did the pregnancy affect your work, schooling, or family?
It makes things harder because it's exhausting, you're always the wrong temperature (i.e., sweating mid-winter and no one will open a window) and always have to pee at inopportune times. In terms of school/work, the only annoying part is having to take off so often for doctors appointments. I missed basically one class a month in one course because I could only get appointments at that time.

In the days and weeks leading up to the birth, what do you remember experiencing or feeling?
Anticipation, excitement, anxiety.

How did you infuse your Jewishness into the pregnancy/labor experience?
Not really. I find the Jewish spiritual take on most things too "fluffy" for my tastes; it feels more real to connect to the life inside of me and then thank God for it.

If you’ve had more children since your first, how were the experiences different? Were you more or less prepared? Was it harder or easier?
Similar pregnancies, but I was prepared the second time, so that was easier. The nausea was harder because I had a 2-year-old to take care of while lying pathetically on the couch, but other than that, not bad. Labor was much shorter and easier in that I knew what to do.

What would be your three top tips for a first-time mother?

  1. Read. As much as you possibly can. Inform Thyself. You are your own best teacher and advocate.
  2. Hire a doula who will be there for you no matter what choices you make in labor.
  3. When the baby is born, remember: everyone else can bathe, change, and diaper the baby, wash the dishes, make the food, sweep the floor, do the laundry. Only YOU can nurse the baby. Do so however often and for as long as you damn well please, no one else needs to feed the baby to bond with him/her. They can hold the baby while you shower, if you want. But it is YOUR baby! Remember that.

Any advice from dad to other dads?
Husband likes to say "Remember: Everything is normal." How's that for a foreshadowing of doom? :)

Chavi's commentary: This Jewish mom's experience was so different than the first, I can only imagine how many different shades of motherhood I'm going to see during the span of this project. I have to give a nod to the doula comment, just because I initially thought "no doula, no nothing" because that's my personality (I can do it all!). But living in Israel and realizing how much the language barrier would probably make for a very intense birthing experience, I found a doula and I couldn't be happier. Also? I'm going to have a serious challenge with the helping out with the baby. I have this sinking feeling I'm going to be one of those possessive first-time moms. Why? Not sure. Probably that same A-personality rearing its domineering head. But like all things, you never know until you get there!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Jewish Motherhood: Moving Past Miscarriage

Welcome to the first installment of The Jewish Motherhood Project! This project/series is geared toward helping all Jewish moms, mums, mommies, imas, emas, and the bajillion of other flavors of mommyhood to discuss the shared experience of pregnancy and birth anonymously or semi-anonymously.

To participate, just head on over to the Q&A, and be sure to tune in every week for another installment. For my comments on this Jewish motherhood story, read on through to the bottom.

For our first installment, we welcome a 28-year-old mother of one who, at the time of her daughter's birth, had been married for almost two years and was living in Jerusalem. She was not in school at the time, and both her and her husband were working very hard to make ends meet. The entire pregnancy process was quite the ordeal, so please keep reading.

Did you always want to be a mommy? Why or why not?
I always wanted to be a mom. I did not want to wait as long as we did, however, because of some medical circumstances and a miscarriage, we had our daughter around our second wedding anniversary. Ever since I saw my cousins being born and babies everywhere I couldn't wait to be a mom. I also wanted to do things very differently than how my own mother did so I could not wait.

What was your greatest fear when you found out you were pregnant? What was your greatest anticipation/excited feeling?
I was very excited when I found out I was pregnant. However, after suffering a miscarriage two months beforehand, I was nervous: I was scared to talk about the pregnancy, scared to be with my husband, and barely left my house until I passed the 12-week mark and was well into the second trimester. It was exciting to know that I was able to conceive again shortly after my miscarriage, and I was excited to know that a human was growing inside of me.

How did your husband and family react to you being preggo?
My husband was so excited. He loved every second of the pregnancy. My family also was very excited, especially the ones who did not and do not know the measures we went to in order to get pregnant safely the second time around.

What was your pregnancy like?
I had a miscarriage two months prior to conceiving my daughter. It was an early miscarriage, but it was the scariest thing in the world. At the time I was attached to the baby because I happened to have had an ultrasound already, but at the same time it was so small and almost microscopic still that it wasn't as bad to move on as I thought it would be.

When I got pregnant again, I was scared to do anything that could potentially hurt my baby. Each ultrasound and blood test was a huge relief and made me happier and more excited than before.

Something abnormal about this pregnancy? I was pregnant with triplets! The twins were in one sac and the third baby — my daughter — was in her own sac. The twins sharing a placenta and a sac were in severe danger, and I lost them at 14 weeks. On top of that, I had severe hyperemesis so I had to stay in the hospital for an IV at 11 weeks. On top of the emotions of dealing with possible triplets, the nausea was bad and every time I had an ultrasound everyone would come running to check out the babies.

In the end, true emunah saved both my and my daughter's life because those twins may have endangered her safety and health inside the womb. After I lost the twins I had to be very careful. I was on partial bed rest, and we told only our parents the situation. It was hard because on the outside everyone saw me as this cute pregnant girl but we were dealing with so much on the inside that it was very hard. It also took me a while to feel connected to the baby because I felt like I was walking on eggshells for so long. It wasn't until I entered into the third trimester that I started to relax.

How did you decide to start telling people you were preggo? Did you wait to reveal the gender?
We only told our family and very close friends about the pregnancy because of everything we have been through. I did not want to post any pictures of my belly on Facebook, so I emailed anything I had to share privately. When we actually gave birth and announced it, people were shocked because they had no idea I was pregnant. I liked it that way. I didn't want to shove my pregnancy in people's faces, giving them room to assume how easy it was, or typical, after everything we have been through.

How did the pregnancy affect your work, schooling, or family?
I had to take off a lot of days of work for my illnesses throughout the pregnancy, without revealing why. That was a bit difficult, but at the end of the day, it was worth it. I know some people in my work from outside the office, and I didn't want them knowing my business.

In the days and weeks leading up to the birth, what do you remember experiencing or feeling?
I remember sitting with my husband talking about how in a few weeks everything is going to change, and that here would be a baby around us 24/7. It was a weird feeling laying on the couch hanging out knowing that any day a person was going to change our life and things would be different. I was excited and nervous: I was going to meet my baby. I was anxious more about how and when I was going to go into labor than the actual labor itself. I was scared my water was going to break while I was in the store. In the end, the doctor broke it for me, so I am thankful for that.

How did you infuse your Jewishness into the pregnancy/labor experience?
I davened and talked to Gd a lot during the pregnancy, I did not read any specific book, and my labor was very painful. My epidurals did not work so I kind of "forgot" to do some davening while in the process. I did say some tehillim before I went in to deliver, and my husband and I said a special prayer from Tefilas Chanah upon being admitted to the hospital. There are also some special prayers for the husband to say in there, which mine did as we were waiting for admittance.

What would be your three top tips for a first-time mother?
  1. A lot of people are going to tell you different things about raising the baby. Always go with your gut instinct. Refer to books, but know there are so many opinions and ways to do things.
  2. Remember and treasure every moment. When I was cleaning out my bedroom a few years ago I found a calendar my mom made of all my milestones when I was a baby. I thought it was ridiculous, no one had looked at it in more than 20 years. But now, being a mom, I want to write everything my baby does down and remember it forever.
  3. Nap whenever you can. And make your husband help :)
Is there anything else you want to add?
If your mother-in-law is constantly telling you what to do or not do, just smile and nod, and in her presence do what will make her happy. At the end of the day it's worth it — not making her mad — and when she leaves, you can go right back to doing things your way.

Chavi's commentary: This is one seriously triumphant story. You're a strong woman for going through so much, and I can't imagine what a gift your little girl must be to you and your husband. May you both be blessed with as many children as HaShem has in store for you, may they all be healthy, happy, and full of the strength that you hold within! And I'm with you on the baby book thing. My mom kept one for my older brother and me, and that book is like a treasure trove of fascinating milestones like my first words, a piece of hair from my first cut, gifts I got when I was born, and more. Those are things that might not have been meaningful to 10-year-old or 15-year-old me, but at 30, I can tell you I love perusing those goodies.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

You Asked, I Answered: The New Apartment

Yes, we moved -- again -- back in September to a new apartment and finally, at last, we rented out our old place after two months of double-paying on rent. The new place accommodates at-home workspace for me and space for the new baby while also giving iBoy his own space, too. The best thing, however, is that it gives us space to have people for Shabbat and to feed them properly, too.

Check it out:

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

It Begins: The Jewish Motherhood Project

You might remember The Tzniut Project from way back when, which was so incredibly fascinating, enlightening, and fun, so I thought it was time for a new project: The Jewish Motherhood Project.

You can respond to the questions anonymously or with your name, or if you want a pseudonym (always wanted to be a Tzippi?), feel free to include that, too. I'm looking for honest, candid responses from first-time moms and those with a brood of a dozen! Pass along the URL -- the more responses, the more interesting/revealing it will be about the world of Jewish motherhood.

Stay tuned for the posts right here on the blog, too!

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Coffee Break: Pumpkin Spice Latte at Home

Living in the U.S., I was never a super huge fan of Starbucks, mostly because my formative coffee drinking years took place in Nebraska where I frequented a local haunt called The Coffee House (aka Panache), where I'd spend up to eight hours a day studying and doing homework.

When Starbucks showed up, we shunned them.

But after I left Nebraska, Starbucks was an easy find. I discovered what I liked and didn't, and it was usually easy to find a place to sit for hours on end and soak up the free wireless access.

When I moved to Colorado I largely reverted to my local coffee shop hopping, but sometimes the local joints didn't have great wifi, so I was sent packing back to ole reliable where I'd get a Grande Starbucks Doubleshot on Ice (which, at 99 percent of stores, they'll tell you is not an available drink and that there is no button for it, but I know the recipe).

All of that being said, I was never a huge fan of their seasonal drinks, mostly because I'm not a huge fan of sweet and milky drinks.

At The Coffee House I started my adventures off with the sweetest treats they had like the Crunchy Cricket (a blended ice drink with creme de menthe and coffee beans) and their Irish Mocha (which was very milky and very sweet).

But as I progressed through my undergrad and money became more sparse, I realized I couldn't afford those drinks, so I'd buy the cheapest cup of freshly brewed coffee and take advantage of the super cheap refills. I learned to drink my coffee black, and I loved it.

These days, I usually take my iced coffee (קפה קר for those of you in Israel) black and my hot coffee with a bit of sugar and milk, but I'm going to attempt to take myself back to my origins with hot, black coffee.

But with the weather turning a bit and chatter on the web surrounding all things fall and pumpkins, I've been jonesing for a classic Starbucks treat known as the Pumpkin Spice Latte. I've probably had a handful of them in my life, but for some reason, the canned pumpkin in my cabinet was begging me to turn it into a coffee drink.

So I brewed up a strong cup of coffee and got to the pumpkin part.

I took 2 Tbls canned pumpkin, 1 cup milk, and 1 Tbls agave and put them in a pan over medium-high heat and brought to a boil. I mixed in a generous dose of nutmeg, coriander, and cinnamon (in the place of pumpkin pie spice), as well as a teaspoon of vanilla. Once it was well mixed with a whisk, I gave it a very hefty hand whisking to bring in some air bubbles (no frother over here).

I poured the coffee into my mug and poured the pumpkin/milk mixture in over top and mixed.

Then? I devoured. It was hot, spiced, and just the taste of autumn I needed but can't really get here in Israel, unfortunately. It's not exactly a latte, because I don't have a fancy espresso machine with a fancy wand or anything, but it got the job done, and when you're a world away from anything remotely resembling "home" as you once knew it, a fudgin' in a recipe is the best thing to do. (Also, this is much cheaper than the $4.50 I would have paid at an actual Starbucks location.)

What at-home coffee concoctions have you come up with to get that fix? 

Friday, October 11, 2013

Lech Lecha and Then?

The view from here. 

This week's Torah portion (aka parshah) is the classic trope for converts the world over: Lech Lecha.

At the ripe age of 75 years old, Avram (that's his name before he becomes Avraham) is commanded by G-d to leave home, to go forth from your land and your father's house, from everything you've ever known, to a land that will be revealed. Avram puts the ultimate trust in HaShem to guide him, but not without plenty of bumps and "hold on a second" moments along the way.

The promise, HaShem says, is that he will multiply Avram and bless him and his progeny and curse those who curse Avram and his kin.

The reason this parshah is so outstanding and emotional for converts is because Avram is, for all intents and purposes, the first willing convert. He hears G-d's calling and says, "Sure, let's do this" willingly and wholeheartedly while holding fast to his nature to battle with G-d over the things that he doesn't understand or agree with (just think about Sodom and Gemorah in Bereshit 18).

For me, this portion has always held a near and dear place, because coming from a place where I didn't know or grow up with any Jews, the "calling" (if you can even call it that) came as much from within as from without and the moment I felt it, life changed indescribably forever.

At this point in my life, where I think of myself so much less as a convert and more as just another Jew trying to find the right path and living how HaShem wants and needs me to, how do I relate to Lech Lecha?

Well, I'm mere days away from my one-year anniversary of aliyah (moving to Israel). Officially, the anniversary is October 16, I can't think of a more appropriate parshah.

Like Avram, I felt a calling (for years, folks, since at least 2008) to make Israel my home. I was being called to this land that was a mystery to me, even after frequent visits. The promise of finding a mate and starting a proper family stood waiting for me. So I packed up, left the land of my father, and arrived to the place that HaShem seemed to need me.

What happened? I was mated and started "multiplying" almost instantly. The amount of people I know who moved to Israel and got pregnant after some time of trying is equally astounding. There is something to be said to HaShem's promise to Avraham Avinu (our father), which continues to benefit the Jewish people thousands of years later.

Avram might have been the first to leave his comfort, his family, and start anew at the will of G-d, but modern aliyah is a true nod in the direction of the trope of Avram. It's hard, it's complicated, and we all end up screaming and crying in HaShem's general direction because of the roller coaster of emotions, finances, and reality that Israel really does do everything in her power to chew us up and spit us out. But we also learn to appreciate and experience the sense of community and family, the angels in our midst who would bend over backwards to make us feel at home, loved, cared for, and wanted.

Aliyah is not for everyone, but then again, not everyone can be an Avram, either.

So how do you bring Lech Lecha into your every day life? How do you go forth into the great unknown -- be it personally, emotionally, at work or at home? 

Shabbat Shalom everyone!