Friday, December 25, 2015

What is it About Christmas?

Christmas is such a weird time for me. At 32 years old, I've still spent more of my life in the world of American, secular Christmas than I have in accepting that everything's closed and the Jews stick to movies and Chinese food.

When I was in Israel, I lamented the fact that there weren't holiday lights or obnoxious Christmas carols played over loudspeakers everywhere I went. I love Chanukah and its lights, but in the U.S. the experience is isolated and not as public as it appears in Israel. In Israel, you see the lights of Chanukah everywhere you go, and it feels festive and celebratory. In the U.S., every night I was out during Chanukah I looked around at houses and apartments hoping to see a chanukiyah, but no dice. Not even in the "Jewish" areas I drove around.

Now, as it's Christmas day, I'm mourning the loss of the season because come January 1, people will start taking down their decorations, the festive seasonal American secular Christmas machine will shut down, and it will simply be winter again. I love winter, but there's a difference during December. A sense of joy. Come January, it's just grumpy people angry that it's snowing and cold.

Part of me wonders if I'll ever get over my love of the season. I think the things that paint our character and personality happen most aggressively in our childhood. If you experience something as a child, it sticks with you for life. The tastes, scents, emotions all stick with you forever. Things that you absorb in your 20s and 30s don't hit you as hard as they do when you're younger. It's the growing years, the time when your brain and emotional maturity are coming of age.

So, I suppose, the fact that I grew up in American, secular Christmas, never going to church on Christmas or Christmas Eve (save in high school when I went once because a friend was in a Christmas pageant and another time I went to "midnight mass" with another friend) with my family, will always paint my December experience. Luckily, I don't long for a Christmas tree stocked full of presents or a big feast of roladin (an old family dish of expensive, thinly sliced beef with onions and pickles wrapped up inside and cooked in a tomato stew sauce). I'm not sure what it is about it. The lights? The scents ...

Anyhow. Back to Shabbat cooking for me. Next year, thankfully, Christmas and Chanukah fall in sync, with Chanukah beginning on December 24, 2016. I appreciate when the holidays are inline. Do you?

Additional reading: From December 25, 2007, a turning-point event that shaped my conversion experience.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Giving Birth: Israel versus the U.S.

Last week, on December 17, Mr. T and I headed to St. Joseph's for a tour of the Center for Women and Infants. Oddly enough, exactly two years earlier, we visited Hadassah Ein Kerem for the first time because my water had broken and I was in labor with Asher. Two days later, he was born at 5:46 a.m. IST, and, if you recall, the entire labor and delivery and recovery experience was one of the most traumatic of my entire life ...

Part 1: The Labor
Part 2: The Recovery

So, imagine my nervousness and anxiety at visiting St. Joe's for the first time. So far, this pregnancy has been really difficult with endless bouts of nausea and exhaustion. Compare this with Asher, who was as chill as could be in the womb giving me no nausea and not killing my level of energy. I keep telling myself that a rough pregnancy will hopefully prove the opposite in the labor/delivery/recovery realm and I'll have a cakewalk experience. VBAC with no trouble, quick recovery, no drama, no trauma.

When we got to the hospital (and, mind you, my only hospital stay was with Asher and every other extended hospital visit I've ever experienced was visiting a family member or friend), I was blown away at how clean, bright, and warm the space was. At St. Joe's there's a completely separate elevator that takes you straight to the Center for Women and Infants ... to guarantee you go exactly where you need to go quickly.

On the fourth floor of the hospital, everything is done: labor, delivery, recovery, c-sections, you name it. They have separate spaces for any procedure or process involved in the birthing process, so you don't have to be shoved on an elevator and shipped somewhere else (*cough* HEK took me from wing to wing and floor to floor *cough*). The space is open, clean, airy, and the rooms are huge with lots of space, gigantic bathtubs ... you name it. But here, watch this video, it will provide a better explanation than I can:

Now before you go all "oh my gosh people gave birth standing in a wooden shanty for thousands of years, why do you need such a fancy space," let me tell you something ... after experiencing what I can only describe as third world care and attention and a commitment to mother/baby/family at HEK in Israel, I want all the bells and whistles the world has to offer because I think I've earned it. Beyond the nice space (not having to share it with another woman and her gigantic Moroccan family) and the fact that visiting hours are 24/7 so my husband doesn't have to be thrown into some cold, cavernous space without a blanket to sleep overnight, their attention to making sure mom and baby are together as much as possible as quickly as possible sings to me.

When I was in Israel, everywhere we were -- from hospital to the baby hotel -- nurses and caretakers treated me like I was insane because I wanted to have my baby in my room with me. They kept trying to take Ash away to put him in the nursery full of screaming babies, and I was flabbergasted. Telling this to our tour guide at St. Joe's, I was met with a response that they encourage and provide rooming in for baby as much as the mother wants. In the laboring suite, they even have the measuring equipment and all the initial testing stuff built into the room so that your baby doesn't have to leave the immediate vicinity. Also, in the laboring suite I was in at HEK, I had to walk down he hall to go to the bathroom ... no toilet in the room. Terrible.

Sigh of relief. And the food? It comes from the local kosher deli (where my husband works, where they know me, where they know how to produce gluten-free food that tastes good).

After being rolled into a general recovery area full of people vomiting and coughing in Israel and not getting to see my baby for the first six hours of his life, color me stoked at the chance to have this baby nearby immediately -- even in the case of a c-section, they do skin-to-skin contact immediately, and so much more.

I know I've only been on a tour, and what happens when I give birth will definitely provide a better compare/contrast situation when it comes to what I experienced in Israel versus what I'll experience in the U.S., but after meeting with the tour guide and seeing the facilities, I have no doubt in my mind which experience will be more mother/baby-centered and where the attention to family and wellness are emphasized.

As someone pointed out to me, in Israel, the process is routine, in America people want "fan fare." I don't want fan fare, I just want to see my baby immediately, be in a clean facility with privacy and the ability to bond with my child with my husband and other child at our side, with the ability to use my own bathroom and take a shower in private. This hospital saw 4,400 births last year. I'd say that they've got routine down pretty well.

I know it sounds like I'm complaining, but I can't begin to describe how anxiety-inducing the memories of being at HEK and giving birth were ... I spent months recovering from the c-section, months where doctors should have done things differently to move the healing process of my c-section scar along more efficiently, but the Israeli healthcare system, as good as it is, doesn't always do routine as well as it does trauma and life-threatening crises care. (In my humble opinion.)

So we'll see what happens. My little trauma-inducing baby is now two years old, and as beautiful as can be. He's lively, has an attitude only a mother can love, and he's creative beyond his years. He's obsessed with dinosaurs, loves cooking in his play kitchen (he frequently makes cake and challah), and he loves drawing and creating art. I love him more than words, and I can't wait for another little person to join the family. I just hope this time around, I feel like I'm a vital part of the experience, too.

Have you given birth in the U.S. + another country? What was the experience like?

Have a question? Just ask:

Friday, December 4, 2015

The Saddest Way to End 2015

The most devastating way to end 2015? It's officially the first year since 2008 that I haven't spent at least 10 days in Israel. I'm just. Torn and sad and really unhappy about it.

2008 = StandWithUs Birthright Trip
2009 = Trip with the ex
2010 = Trip with the ex
2011 = ROI Community
2012 = Aliyah
2013 = Citizen of Israel
2014 = Citizen of Israel (left for U.S. in 04/15)
2015 = *sigh*

Yes, we are planning on moving back (after all, iBoy is there and it's our home). The question is how and when and where, and with the ramped up terror in Israel, especially in our preferred area of residence, it's hard to drop everything, hop back into a financial hole, and run back. 

Recently, the rabbi gave a moving talk on Shabbat about the balance of life in Israel, burying a teenager murdered by Islamic extremists/terrorists and celebrating a wedding (of a woman whose father and brother were also murdered by terrorists). After living through a season of rocket attacks in Israel, I felt I could handle anything. I survived the terror. But this terror? Stabbings and car rammings is a totally different ballgame. It isn't even blowing up buses, so you can say "avoid the buses." It's random, it's everywhere, it's terrifying. 

Having a child has made it even more so. My child needs me, I need him, survival is not an option. 

At the same time, mass shootings in the U.S. have risen this year, with practically one mass shooting for every day of the year. Some random, some motivated by Islamic extremism and terror. I live in a big city, with a proud and potent Jewish population. We haven't directly struggled, but what if we do? What if we could? 

I miss my home, but my heart is confused. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

An Announcement!

I'm pretty sure this stuff isn't kosher, but I can guarantee that what I'm cooking up definitely is. Here's hoping we didn't use all the cute juice on Asher, right?


Monday, November 16, 2015

Review and Giveaway: Pereg Gourmet Goodies

EDIT: In an attempt to take a night off from cooking dinner and cleaning up afterward, I asked the husband to make dinner. He did, making a nice tuna bake, but he took the fusilli pasta out of the giveaway box. Sigh. Husbands. Sorry, it'll be two boxes of the macaroni/elbow-style pasta.

If you've ever heard of KosherFest, you know that it is the biggest event where you can get the most amazing kosher food samples on the planet. But if you've ever tried to go, you probably also know that it's an industry event and you have to be media or a buyer/seller to get there. Well, lucky for you, even though I didn't go this year, I did get some delicious samples from Pereg Gourmet's gluten-free line to try and give away!

The products I received (and that one lucky winner will also receive) are:

  • Quinoa with Lemon & Herbs
  • Quinoa: Southern Style
  • Quinoa Pasta: fusilli
  • Quinoa Pasta: Elbow/Macaroni x 2
  • Pistachio Mix (topping for salads, mashed potatoes, and more)
The quinoa mixes could use a bit more salt and pepper, but that's an easy fix and I tend to be a bit of a salt fiend. The pastas are really impressive and hold up well with cooking and reheating, even. I was really happy with them. The pistachio mix is also really versatile, and it was delicious on top of mashed potatoes (which I've been eating a lot of lately for some reason). I had also requested a box of their new quinoa-based gluten-free cereal, but, unfortunately, they never sent it so I didn't get to enjoy it. I have to assume it's pretty delicious, however. 

All you have to do to enter is COMMENT on this blog post, letting me know what your favorite Pereg Gourmet product is or which product you'd most love to try. 

One lucky winner will receive all the goodies in the picture and list above. Just comment by 11:59 MST on Thursday, November 19, 2015. 


Thursday, November 5, 2015

I Fell Into a Black Hole, And?

Sweet holy Moses where have I been? It's like I'm stuck in a wormhole ... make that a workhole! Yes, the past month has had me travel to California twice (once for a week, boy oh boy did I miss my boys), leading up to the hugely awesome launch of the world's first intelligent tea infusion machine: Teforia!

Now? Well, now I'm just riding the wave and trying not to have my head explode in the process. I've neglected the blog hardcore, which has me feeling both guilty and upset. There's a lot going on that is worthy of talking about, but unfortunately I don't have the koach (strength, energy) for that at the moment.

What I will say is that I'm knee deep in reading The Secret of Chabad by David Eliezrie, and I'm absolutely loving it. It's got some fascinating tidbits about Chabad that I hadn't learned about in the other books I've written, with a really intense look at the Russian efforts of the movement.

I attempted to crochet a cozy for my mason jar tea infuser, and I failed, so I bought one on Etsy instead. I just wasn't cut out for this kind of stuff. I clearly missed the gene, because my mother is an amazing crocheter of all things.

I've got some goodies from Pereg Gourmet to giveaway. It's going to be a Chanukah giveaway, of course, because who wouldn't want some free food for the next Jewish holiday in the lineup, right? The best part, it's all gluten free, too!

What else what else? Asher is becoming quite the little man, Mr. T is finding his place as a Mr. Do It All here in Denver, and ... yeah, that's that.

What's new with you?

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Being Jewish, Being Israeli

Six years ago, my converting rabbi sent me the official Manhattan RCA Beth Din conversion application via email. A month later, I had my first meeting, and 1.5 months after that, I had my Orthodox conversion and became a certified Jew. Now, my Reform conversion years earlier made me just as Jewish in the eyes of most of the (non-Jewish) world. Hitler wouldn't have hesitated in murdering me, and neither would anyone else out to murder, with malicious intent, the Jewish people.

Three years ago, I boarded a plane to New York and then on to Israel. After years of mulling it about in my head, I finally took the dive and became more than just a Jew, I became an Israeli. A proud member of the only nation in the world where Jews are allowed to live Jewishly, religiously, without persecution or fear of death and violence perpetrated by individuals who believe in ages-old myths and legends and religiously fueled ideas that Jews are the surge of the world, responsible for all of the world's ills economically, socially, and religiously.

Oh wait. No, no. That's not true. That was Herzl's ideal, but since its inception in the modern period, Israel has never been a safe haven for Jews. Not really. And I feel like the event of the past week make that more aggressively, depressingly obvious.

I suppose, in truth, there has never been a land in which the Jews, the Israelites, have lived in complete peace without fear of persecution. I think about other minor peoples over time, and I feel like, for the most part, threats are of the natural variety. Disease, the food chain, self-destruction. But the Jewish state, the Israelis and Jews that live there ... we could pray for our only destruction to come from disease and natural causes, but it would never be a reality.

The malicious murders and stabbings that have taken place by random Arabs and Palestinians over the past week in Israel -- not just Jerusalem but Raanana, Tel Aviv, and other "modern" areas of Israel -- have me torn. On the one side, I'm desperate to return to Israel and stand my ground as a proud Jew and Israeli, to show those who would see our -- my -- destruction as a win in the war against the Jewish people that we're not going anywhere. On the other side, I see my toddler, who was born an Israeli and who will someday be conscripted to fight and defend Israel in the IDF and I'm terrified. How I raise my child is vital. He's growing up in a terrifying world and an environment where who he is is the problem. Not what he believes or says or thinks, just who he is. And that terrifies me.

First Jew, then Israeli, and now? Now I'm just a target. All Jews are, from England to France to Dubai to Israel to New York and beyond. We're all just someone's target.

When I stepped out of the mikvah five and a half years ago, I didn't know that this would be the reality. But like a marriage, I took it all -- the good, the bad, the ugly, the absolutely terrifying.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Yom Kippur at Last

This Yom Kippur, I'm simply happy and blessed that I'm not spending at home, alone, with a crying baby. I have a husband who is here with us, and that is a gift.

I'm reprinting this from 2011 because that year, like this year, was one of epic changes for me. Just a few weeks out from a divorce, I was reflective. This year, I'm feeling quite the same.


On a whim, while failing to fall asleep the other night, I decided to read one of the portions of the Yom Kippur reading: Isaiah 57:15-58:14. I was struck by the following, because I think it makes aware something that we probably don't consider when it comes to fasting.

In this portion, from 58:14, Isaiah is sharing G-d's words.
Call with a full voice, do not spare, like a shofar raise your voice and relate to My people their transgression, and to the house of Jacob their sins. Yet they seek Me daily and they wish to know My ways, like a nation that performed righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of its G-d: they ask Me ordinances of righteousness; they desire nearness to G-d.
And the people ask: "Why have we fasted, and You did not see; we have afflicted our soul and You do not know?" And HaShem answers with a question about how we fast and why we fast.
Behold, for quarrel and strife you fast, and to strike with a fist of wickedness. Do not fast like this day, to make your voice heard on high. Will such be the fast I will choose, a day of man's afflicting his soul? Is it to bend his head like a fishhook and spread out sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast and an acceptable day to the Lord? Is this not the fast I will choose? To undo the fetters of wickedness, to untie the bands of perverseness, and to let out the oppressed free, and all perverseness you shall eliminate. Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and moaning poor you shall bring home; when you see a naked one, you shall clothe him, and from your flesh you shall not hide?
HaShem says not to bow your head and afflict yourself so much as to open your eyes to the true reason we fast, to acknowledge the wickedness and neglect of our people that we pursue day in and day out.
Then your light shall break forth as the dawn, and your healing shall quickly sprout, and your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall gather you in. Then you shall call and the Lord shall answer, you shall cry and He shall say, "Here I am," if you remove perverseness from your midst, putting forth the finger and speaking wickedness. And you draw out your soul to the hungry, and an afflicted soul you sate, then your light shall shine in the darkness, and your darkness shall be like noon. And the Lord shall always lead you, and He shall satisfy your soul in drought, and strengthen your bones; and you shall be like a well-watered garden and like a spring of water whose water does not fail.
And this part I really like, because it says exactly what we need to do; HaShem doesn't mince words. He's not mealymouthed about what is expected of us.

And [those coming] from you shall build ancient ruins, foundations of generations you shall erect, and you shall be called the repairer of the breaches, restorer of the paths, to dwell in. If you restrain your foot because of the Sabbath, from performing your affairs on My holy day, and you call the Sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord honored, and you honor it by not doing your wonted ways, by not pursuing your affairs and speaking words. Then, you shall delight with the Lord, and I will cause you to ride on the high places of the land, and I will give you to eat the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
It's easy as pie. So often we look to fast days as a means of pain and suffering for our own souls, for our own being. But the truth is that Yom Kippur and its fast are a means of taking our inward obsession outward and to acknowledge the indifference we have to those around us, to the hungry and empty souls that need to be sated, to observe the Sabbath and to make for ourselves a path of repair.

I want to wish you all a tzom qal (easy fast), which doesn't mean I hope it's a walk in the park for you, but that I wish that you all have come to a point of inner reflection over these Days of Awe so that when it comes to standing before HaShem and asking to be sealed in the book of life that it means something and that it is more than mere words and wishes, that it is based on introspection and action, so that for HaShem it is easy -- easy to seal you eternally in the Book of Life and to the House of Jacob.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Shanah Tovah: It's Time for a 5776 Calendar Giveaway!

Well, it's a brand new year in the Jewish world, which means it's a brand new start in my world. So far, so good, and it's only been a few days! Did you know? Right now, we're in the midst of the 10 Days of Repentance between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, which is a particularly meaningful and potent time for prayer. (Read more ...)

It being a new year, I figured what a better way to start off 5776 than with a clever calendar giveaway, thanks to the amazingly creative and crafty folks at They sent me a few products to check out, and a few products to give away -- it's a win-win for you and me!

First up is an 11x17" 5776 Jewish holiday calendar printed on white cotton, linen paper. This colorful calendar includes all of the major Jewish holidays in bold on the calendar with the days and dates listed at the bottom of the calendar.

Then there's the 28x28" 100% cotton natural flour sack 5776 calendar tea towel with the calendar printed in an 8.5x11" size. Made in Atlanta, the image was heat pressed onto the towel so it can withstand hundreds of washes (no bleach, please) and is incredibly absorbent.

The design of the calendar is simple, but modern and super colorful, which is sure to brighten any room -- from the kitchen to the den. I can't wait to see who wins these! And if these aren't your style, there's always the ever-popular (and seriously awesome) Nice Jewish Guys Calendar. Come on, who doesn't want that? Also, check out their big Rosh HaShanah Sale for some goodies for next year!

There will be two winners -- one will receive the wall calendar, the other will receive the tea towel, which, honestly, you could easily frame or hang like a regular wall calendar, too! Good luck, everyone. This giveaway is open to the U.S. only (sorry international readers).

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, September 10, 2015

10Q Reflections: Part I

It's that time of year again, the time when the email arrives: Your 10Q are ready!

You log in, look at five years worth of responses to a simple set of 10 questions about the year. Your hopes, your dreams, your failings, your triumphs. It's all typed up and locked away year after year after the High Holidays. Five years. I recently posted about how much my life is not where I expected it to be. But that's looking at the long haul of experiences.

Clicking on each year and reading my life in a vacuum, what I predicted for the coming year, what I'd experienced in the past year, I realize how short-sighted I live my life. In a way, that's good. Living in the moment, experiencing life on life's terms. I never dream too big, I never dream too far away. I've always been a realist.

But this one, this one from last year's 10Q is big.
Here's the thing. When I was filling out my 10Q last year, I didn't know that Mr. T was going to be gone for a shocking nine months. I didn't know how much things would speed up. I didn't know how much I would need that connection in order to thrive and just survive.

I suppose I achieved what I was missing -- sort of. I spent a lot of time this past year praying and talking to G-d. A lot of time crying, pleading, begging, and reflecting. But I still don't completely and utterly feel like the deeply spiritual person I was several years ago after my divorce and moving to Israel. Life's incredibly busy and engaging with that self isn't as easy as I wish it were.

But that's the ultimate battle with being a Torah-observant Jew. It's so easy to go through the motions day in and day out. Say a blessing, eat an apple. Go to the bathroom, say a blessing. Get up, cover your hair, observe the laws of modesty. Go to the mikvah, speak Hebrew with your child. Write an article on the origins and meaning of the siddur (Jewish prayer book).

What's often missing is the feels. Yes, that's a popular bit of internet lingo at the moment, but the feels are what I've always battled with when it comes to taking my Judaism personally. I'm a cerebral person. I first came to Judaism through the textbook in college. I dove in to a master's degree in Judaic studies with the mind of an academic. I'm no Orthprax, because G-d, whether I spend hours in hitbodedut or not, is very central to my existence and understanding of the world.

And the funny thing is, the whole of modern Judaism is based on the deeply academic pursuits of the great rabbis, battling and arguing over meaning, substance, observance. But, for some reason, when I think of the rabbis of the Talmud and the great sages of the Medieval period and the great thinkers of modern Judaism, all I can think is, "Here are some super spiritual people, right?"

Who knows. My husband is a Hasid through and through. He's got the feels oozing out his ears and dances around the synagogue on Shabbat and has a joy in his soul that is something I envy. I wouldn't say I'm a mitnaged, the classic thought-based opponents of the Hasidim, as I don't oppose Hasidic thought and I find a lot of it incredibly inspiring and personally valuable, but my natural state is more that of the classic mitnaged than Hasid.

I suppose, then, Mr. T and I are creating a balance in a way. I learn from him, he learns from me, and hopefully, maybe, I can find the balance of spiritual seeker and passionate thinker and not feel so far, so rote in my Judaism.

Sign up for your 10Q.

Bonus: I really need to get back to 2013 and take my own advice.
Don't sweat the small stuff -- and it's all small stuff. You have an amazing husband, wonderful friends, and this life is a gift.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Help Fund Coworking in Israel

Once upon a time, I dreamed of starting a coworking space in Jerusalem. After living in Denver and watching the coworking space boom, I dreamed of finding a space in Israel where I could work my remote jobs in a comfortable, forward-thinking space.

But when I moved to Israel in 2012, I couldn't seem to find anyone willing to help fund a coworking space -- it wasn't the time, there wasn't the need, they said. I even put together a Facebook page (that still exists, in private mode, of course) for my venture. I won't even share the name because, well, I have dreams that someday I'll get to start the space up again.

In the meantime, some amazing friends and neighbors of mine in Neve Daniel started up a coworking space in the Gush called Hub Etzion, and they're making what I once dreamed a reality. I'm so proud of them, and super excited with their venture. But they need help with funding, because it's no small task.

Will you help fund Hub Etzion? The amount of people in the Gush who work remotely for their own or for U.S.-based companies would blow your mind. Help provide them with a space to work, to thrive, and to build an amazing community of workers in Eretz Yisrael! Also? Please spread the word!


Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Book Review: The Blind Angel: New Old Chassidic Tales

I've got a lot of books in the hopper, and I feel terrible that I haven't been more speedy in reading and reviewing them, but for some reason, my Shabbat reading schedule has been replaced by toddler placating and napping. 
But this Shabbat, I managed to nap, dig into The Blind Angel: New Old Chassidic Tales, and even read a bit of Nightingale after putting Asher to bed. The Blind Angel is a great Shabbat read because it's a series of stories, which means you can easily put it down and pick it up without fear of losing the story line. 

The blurb:
"For twenty-five years, Rabbi Tovia Halberstam, a scion of leading Chassidic dynasties, told riveting Chassidic tales to an audience of thousands on the Yiddish radio in New York. These legends, as precious and rich as family heirlooms, were known to millions of Jews before the Holocaust. Preserved today in their original Yiddish by the Chassidic community, the tales capture a vibrant culture with animated characters, humor, wisdom, human struggle, and moral lessons. In The Blind Angel, Rabbi Halberstam's son, Joshua, renders these tales for a contemporary audience while maintaining the full charm, rhythm, and authenticity of the original tales."
Beyond the fact that I'm a sucker for Chassidic stories, Joshua Halberstam does an excellent job with his translations and providing notes at the back of the book that provide insight into why the story is unique, how it related to the larger Chassidic way of life, and more. Likewise, the introduction provides great insight to Rabbi Tovia Halmberstam and how he managed to become a scion of Chassidic storytelling. 

I had to read the book's namesake, "The Blind Angel," of course, and I found it to quite poignant. The gist of the story, which will hopefully prompt you to pick up a copy of the book yourself, is that when you perform a mitzvah, an angel is created. But that angel is directly affected by the intention of that mitzvah. In the classic tale, a wealthy man helps fund a poor man's daughter's wedding, but only with the agreement that the poor man give him his most prized possession -- a chanukiyah that was made out of the coins that he had collected from his rebbe over the years. As a result, the angel that the rich man created with his mitzvah was blind, because the act was not pure in intention. Thus, when the rich man died, his blind angel led him ... blindly ... unable to find the door to the heavens. The great rebbe who retells the story in this Chassidic tale rectifies the situation by returning the chanukiyah to its rightful place, allowing the rich man's blind angel to see and find the door. 

There's a lot more to the story (a sick woman as the prompt for the retelling), but the message is very powerful. Intention, in Judaism, is so incredibly important. You can do the nicest, most amazing things in the world, but if you're only doing it to serve your own interests, you're going to have a crowd of blind angels unable to lead you into shamayim when you die. The thought of that is horrifying, isn't it?

I read another story, called ... well, honestly I don't have the book in front of me, so I can't tell you, but it was about the role of dancing in Chassidic life. Now, my husband is a Chasid, through and through. I wouldn't categorize myself as such, but that doesn't mean I don't appreciate the belief, the thought, the joy that comes with Chassidic living. A way of life that is filled with a focus on joy and happiness, I find it a bit of a struggle to live every day with utter joy. My husband is pretty amazing at this, and, of course, it's something I strive for, but I don't get down with the dancing aspect of it all like Mr. T does. I'm not the singing/dancing type when it comes to my Judaism.

That being said, this story really hit home for me (especially in relation to yesterday's post). The story is about a Chasid who becomes incredibly successful and at the gatherings that his rebbe hosts he ceases to dance. Everyone dances around him, but his feet are glued to the floor. The rebbe calls to him and asks him what's up and he says that he has a lot on his mind, a lot to focus his energies on. Then the rebbe tells him a story: Once upon a time there was a great king, with many riches. He had to go away and needed someone to watch his riches of him, but he was hesitant because he didn't want anyone to steal from him. At the end of the guard duty, the individual would be rewarded handsomely, but he didn't want the individual to steal from him while working. So his advisor suggested a plan. They'd call upon all the men of the town to come and walk through a dark corridor filled with gold and silver coins. After all the men had gone through the corridor, the king asked them to get up and dance. Only one man was brave enough to do so. Why? The rest of the men feared the coins jingling in their pockets. 

The rebbe told the Chasid that life is like one long corridor filled with shiny appealing objects. But if you fill your pockets with it all, you forget to dance and experience the joy life has to offer. 

Both of these stories have so much value to offer, small messages that manifest themselves in huge, meaningful ways. That's one of the reasons I love Chassidic stories. You're not always sure where they're going, but once they get there, the lightbulb clicks on and you feel enlightened and uplifted. 

What do you think? Will you try and pick up this book for your own collection? 

Monday, August 31, 2015

Elul: Accepting That I'm Where I'm Supposed to Be

Asher conquers a Colorado peach at the Farmers Market
while mommy is busy working in California. 
[Thanks to Tatty for the picture, of course.] 

Lately, and maybe because it's the Hebrew month of Elul and the High Holidays of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur are right around the corner, I've been thinking about where I am in life. In a few short weeks, the books of life and death will be written and sealed, so it's a heavy time.

After spending three days out in California with my (amazingly awesome, there are no words for them) coworkers in Mountain View, walking past the offices of Apple and LinkedIn and being a few doors down from Google ... man, I was fan girling in a serious way. I'm finally in the industry of my dreams. I mean, I've been working in social media for the better part of my adult life and consider myself an expert in many things (content, audience cultivation, Facebook ads, social campaigns, social virality). But for the first time in my life, I'm able to travel to the hub of the startup world, launch a brand digitally from scratch, and watch it grow, soar, succeed.

This is the career changer, the life changer. And being in California with my head down and hanging out with my coworkers as they troubleshoot and I troubleshoot and we all make amazing things happen, I was in the thick of it and it felt right.

On the other hand, my husband and son were back in Colorado, so I was able to wake up at 7 a.m., start working right away and pull a full day, not finishing up until 5:30 or 6 p.m. and feel completely and utterly accomplished. It was amazing. I could do it every day of my life and feel fulfilled. I think.

Once upon a time, I envisioned my life differently. I was going to live in NYC and work at The New York Times, and when I graduated college and ended up at The Washington Post, I was well on my way to realizing that dream -- maybe. But I was depressed and unhappy. The hours were terrible, my neshama wasn't at peace, there were many things missing. So the course of my life changed forever when I left Washington DC in early 2007. Since then, every year has been a patchwork.

Five years ago, I was playing the happy housewife. Newly married, newly moved to Teaneck, I was attempting to keep up with the Schwartzes, buying new dishes and servers and attempting to fit into the Shabbat hosting world. Things weren't good, but they were manageable.

Four years ago, I was on the verge of divorcing my first husband. I was severely depressed, medicated, and desperate for a change. On the outside, I put on the ultimate show. On the inside, I was dying.

Three years ago, I was on the verge of making aliyah (moving to Israel), where I anticipated big life changes, finding a new mate, having children finally, fulfilling the dream of Eretz Yisrael.

Two years ago, I was a newlywed and several months pregnant. I was baffled at how I'd gotten to where I was, but elated at the challenge, despite being broke, mostly jobless, and unsure of what was in store for me and my new family.

One year ago, life was unhappy again. The adjustment back to the U.S. had been incredibly hard on everyone and things weren't going well. Asher was a happy, bouncy baby, but there was a lot going on and, little did I know, I was about to lose my job and my husband -- all on my birthday.

And today? Well, today my husband is back. He's working full time at two different jobs (construction/house flipping + the kosher pizza place while the owner receives treatment for cancer), so we see him on Shabbat and for a few hours in the middle of the day. I'm working, making sure the house runs smoothly, the laundry gets done, food gets on the table, and making sure Asher gets to daycare so all of those things can happen smoothly.

It's not perfect, but it's where we are, and despite the freedom I have when I'm knee-deep in the startup world in Mountain View, it's nice to come home to toys all over the floor and a tiny person who says, "Mommy, Mommy!"

I recently asked my Facebook friends if they were where they thought they'd be in life, and without an official count, I'd say 95% of the respondents said "no." I wasn't surprised.

Am I where I thought I'd be? Definitely not. Is it where I want to be? I'm still figuring that one out. But the truth is, for all of us, we're exactly where we're supposed to be. Ultimately, it's all about acceptance, and if we can accept and appreciate where we are, then it will always be where we want to be.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Off to See the Wizard (or to California)

I had what can only be described as the worst start to a day ever. Okay. That's an exaggeration and I acknowledge that. But on two hours of sleep ... Everything seems miserably terrible, right?

Anyhow I went to bed around midnight after packing and prepping the house so Mr T could easily manage three days at home alone with Asher while I'm in California for business. Making Mac and Cheese for lunches, doing laundry, doing dishes, cleaning up, making a list of things to know ...

So my alarm went off at 2:50 am for a 3:20 Super Shuttle pickup. I fell asleep at some point before one. I think.

Got to the airport swiftly, got through security quickly, and then? The wrong airport train (to get to the terminal as) opened, a bunch of us got on, and then it turned out the doors had opened in error and we were all stuck. The only option? Get off the train, go up the escalator and back through security. Okay. Annoying, but not the end of the world. The lines were suddenly long and they decided this time around to confiscate all my kosher food. Then they insisted on me going back through security. Again.

So. Tired. Frustrated. Suddenly without my kosher goods. I cried. Everyone ignored me, too. So I complained to the TSA desk and the guy was apologetic and noted I should have had my food confiscated the first time through. Awesome.

Anyhow. There are worse things. Luckily there's instacart so I can't get groceries delivered to my hotel. And the company is getting a kosher caterer to provide me food at an event today. So. Positives. Also, Mr T sent me a pretty awesome Bob Seger song "Get Out of Denver."

I'd just like a trip through the airport with a bit of ease.

Also, there are some serious jerks on this flight. I get that it's early but the disrespect is ... Wow.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

A Giveaway: The Tea Book

As you may or may not know, my most recent work adventures have taken me into the impressively fascinating world of loose leaf tea. Now, I'm not talking Doctor Who blends or Cotton Candy blends, but pure, authentic loose leaf tea from the world's most natural sources in historic growing regions like Taiwan. The great thing about tea, too, is that all unflavored teas are naturally kosher!

Thanks to my (amazing, wonderful, I seriously can't tell you how happy I am here) job, I've had the chance to taste a lot of tea I never would have before and my tea porn collection continues to grow, especially in the form of books. As a self-proclaimed bibliophile (I have a huge list of every book I've ever had to sell or get rid of in moves so I can repurchase them all someday), when I can rationalize a purchase because it makes sense for work, I'm a happy clam.

But the book I'm talking about today -- The Tea Book by Linda Gaylard -- is one that my awesome boss sent me. But I am so in love with it that I bought another copy to actually give away here. Why?

The tea industry in the U.S. is growing at an insane rate: $1.8 billion in 1990, $10.84 billion in 2014, and predicted to more than quadruple by 2020. But most of the tea consumed in the U.S. is black tea and it's iced. The funny thing about this is that traditionally, Americans were heavy green tea drinkers up until World War II. Then things changed and as the iced tea industry grew, American tea tastes continued to fall in that category.

Luckily, with books like The Tea Book, pure, unflavored teas are getting the attention they deserve. With five categories of leaves from the camellia sinuses plant -- black, white, oolong, yellow, green, and pu-erh -- there is an abundance of opportunities to experience tea (without sprinkles, fruit, and herbs if you don't mind me).

The great thing about this book, though, is that it takes you from the past to the present, around the world, into the teahouses, tea cultures, and tea farms so you, the reader, can really start to understand what tea is, why it's the second-most consumed beverage in the world after only water, and how it has evolved into an industry of blends, herbal teas (tisanes), and more.

Now, if you know me well enough, you know that I am, and have always been, first and foremost, a coffee drinker. The truth is that my love of coffee is still potent, but my love of tea is taking over (it's all thanks to a 2007 Aged Oolong, believe it or not). So both as an individual and as a representative of what I foresee being the most revolutionary tea company this side of the industrial revolution, I'm stoked to give away The Tea Book. 

Whether you drink tea or not, this book will blow you away. The visuals are stunning (it's a DK Book, which you might know from their amazing educational books and children's books), the history is quirky and fascinating, and it's just a beautiful conversation piece.

Ready? Enter to win by 08/20!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Thread and Flourish Box Review!

Love scarves? Love handmade goodies? Check out the Thread and Flourish Box (and a quick look at doing a head wrap with an infinity wrap).

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Mr. T's Return: The Co-Parenting Adjustment

Father and son checking out the furniture at the DAT Academy Yard Sale.

Life is funny. Everything is funny. Joyous funny and "did that just really happen?" funny and "I can't believe this is happening" funny.

This morning, while on the way to drop Asher off to school, he managed to puke everything he had for breakfast up, while sitting casually in his carseat watching Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood in the car.   He was completely unfazed, I was in all-out panic mode (this being the fourth time he's done this in the past nine months), and Mr. T, well, he was cool, calm, and collected.

We drove back to the apartment and he took Asher, carseat and all, and strolled him up to the apartment, got him cleaned up, bathed, changed, and hydrated.

It's about 3.5 hours later and I'm still anxious. Every time Asher puked everywhere while Mr. T was gone, I had an absolute breakdown. Not only because I simply cannot handle puke (I can count the amount of times I've regurgitated in the past 20 years on one hand), but because when it was just me and the kid I felt helpless and alone. I immediately fell back into that feeling of anxiety, helplessness, and desperation that I felt all those other times he did the same while Mr. T was gone.

Tatty and Asher teamwork with the yard sale kitchen.
Despite Mr. T's reassurances that it really was okay, the two minute ride back home I was just frazzled. And, well, I still feel frazzled.

At the same time, I think back to lost work days and anxiety attacks when Mr. T wasn't around. Today, on the other hand, I was able to run to the kelim mikvah (I picked up stuff from three other peoples' homes and took a bunch of Pyrex I got on the cheap from Wal-Mart to be toveled), get the car cleaned, and now I'm sitting, working.

I even FaceTimed with Mr. T and Ash, it being the first time I've ever video chatted with my son, which was a super weird, but fun experience.

I'm trying to laugh about this morning. My body still feeling like static is running through it. The panic, the anxiety, the "what do I do now?" all the while having a partner and co-parent there ready to man the puke and do a massive, sickening load of laundry.

It's going to be okay. I just have to convince myself that I can and should accept the help. That I'm no longer single parenting a precocious toddler who has the most adorable temper tantrums you've ever seen.

Because I'm not alone anymore. My husband, the father of my beautiful boy, is home. And all of the adjustment and growing together pains are worth it. I'll get there. I promise. It's just going to take some time.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Update: This time it's good, I promise

As if my last post was sent into the upper reaches of the heavens almost immediately ...

He's coming. 

He picked up his visa this morning (even though the website still says its processing). He's at Ben Gurion right now. He'll be flying through Newark in the early hours of Friday. He'll be here in Denver at 9:05 a.m. please G-d tomorrow.

My husband, Asher's tatty, is coming back to us. (Home for now, I suppose, because it's where the heart is.)

I'm making challah. Trying to focus on working. Being amazed at the outpouring of support from friends to help us pay for his ticket home (I really wish Israel-USA flights were cheaper, but Israel doesn't like letting people go) and for being there for us over the past nine months.

Just in time for the 4th of July. Appropriate (or paradoxical), no?

Stay tuned ...

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Updates: There Are None!

For the first time since Mr. T hopped the pond, I actually managed to complete my agreed-upon gamut of articles for the month. I should celebrate! Crack open some ice cream or something, right? Alas.

I have been writing a lot about food as of late. And there's the problem.

It only makes sense that the only real update I have for you — as the consulate lied greatly when they told me that they would print Mr. T's visa as soon as they were back online (that was Friday, and, oh wait, it's Tuesday, and still no visa) — is that I've rejoined Weight Watchers and managed two days straight at the gym.

Go me! Go me! It's the Year of Chavi, don't you know?

I've managed to gain all the weight that Mr. T has lost while away, which has put me back at a truly unfortunate and uncomfortable weight, self image, and blah, blah, blah. I simply long to not have my toddler poking and prodding at my tummy and thighs ... although Mr. T has informed me that it's less that I'm fat and squishy than it is that Ash is seeing a part of mommy he doesn't normally see. It's cute curiosity, not an attempt to make me self conscious.

And, of course, I know. He's a toddler. He's not Cosmo checking for my beach-ready body.

But who wouldn't love more energy? A better self image? A more active life to keep up with a toddler giddy to run anywhere for anything at any time?

Either way, I had success on Weight Watchers back in 2008 when I was able to eat a very non-kosher diet that consisted of Trader Joe's chicken fingers and potato wedges and Subway sandwiches. Since then, every attempt I've made with Weight Watchers has consisted of me trying to completely overhaul my entire diet to fit the plan. This time, I'm sticking to my current diet and focusing on portions and self control. Will power!

One day in and I find myself obsessively thinking about food and how hungry I am. Maybe even when I'm not.

Anyhow, speaking of ice cream ... the best part of my day? A frozen banana blended with some chocolate chips shared with my little monkey. Make your own with The Kitchn's One-Ingredient Ice Cream! It's better than real ice cream. I promise.

Let's do this.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Same-Sex Marriage Announcement

My feelings on today's announcement by SCOTUS on same-sex marriage:

As a proud Orthodox Jew, confident in my choices and beliefs, I have to say that I'm happy to live in a country where two human beings, no matter their gender or preference in human partner, are finally allowed to sign a legal document that allows them to share insurance and other benefits, visit each other when sick in the hospital, immigrate, receive parenting rights, tax rights ... and so much more. 

Yes, love is important, but it isn't all there is when it comes to "marriage" in the U.S. 

So let's not go crazy talking about religion or what love is or who experiences it or what's right and wrong, mmk? Mmk.

Also, I really need to make this rainbow challah.

Note: This doesn't change anything for religious marriage, and I'm okay with that. If there are two Jews out there who want to get married and buy a house and adopt some kids or have kids or buy a burial plot together or whatever, I am happy and excited that they have that option. If they want to get married in an Orthodox shut under a 
chuppah, well, that's a completely different ball of wax that isn't going to melt any time soon or ever. Why? I'm a believer in the Torah, 613 mitzvot and all, as best as we can observe them. I fully support and respect everyone's right to who they marry, love, and choose to be with. That doesn't conflict with my belief in the Torah as truth, and the Torah as truth in a religious context isn't going to make religious marriage possible for a same-sex couple unless HaShem sends us a prophet after all these years to say otherwise. Mmk? Yeah. Mmk. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Time Flies When You're Eating, Right?

Is it just me or is 2015 flying by? I mean, I have reasons for not paying attention to the days or weeks or hours, but the truth is last week I completely lost half my week. I spent all of Thursday morning thinking it was Tuesday and debating whether to get a babysitter so I could go out and see a movie or just have a "me" night on Wednesday or Thursday. Talk about a shocker when I saw a news article referring to "Wednesday" and then suddenly realized it was Thursday. 

This week, I'm equally shocked that it's already Wednesday. How does it happen? Is it having kids that makes time fly? Is it being on a pretty strict and standard daily schedule that makes time fly? 

I never thought I'd be one of those people with a schedule that, when strayed from, feels like the end of the world. For me. For Asher. For everyone involved. 

Anyhow, with all of the busy that's involved, I'm cooking, baking, and enjoying raw goods. Here's what I've been working on:

Oh She Glows Chia Seed Donuts -- Except I do them muffin style!

Chia Seed Muffins

These Quinoa Pizza Bites are amazing, and next time I'm going to actually do them in a mini muffin pan because the large muffin pan didn't allow them to stay together well. 

Quinoa Pizza Bites

I'm stocking Raw Macaroons, which are basically 1 cup shredded coconut, 2/3 cup almond flour, 2 Tbls coconut oil, 2 Tbls maple syrup, and 1 tsp vanilla blended in a food chopper with chocolate chips mixed in and then rolled into balls, rolled in more coconut, then refrigerated to keep 'em solid. Yum!

Another yummy raw dish I'm making is a Raw Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Balls, which are a mix of a 14.5/15-ounce can of chickpeas, 1/2 cup peanut butter, 2 tsp vanilla, and 2 Tbls honey. 

And, lastly, the piece de resistance ... Pigs in a Blanket, gluten-free style! It's a genius take on one of my favorites from when I was a kid. It's just vegan hot dogs + some cheese on a corn tortilla, wrapped up and baked at 375 Fahrenheit for about 20-25 minutes. Enjoy!

What are you baking, cooking, or mixing up right now? I'm up for new recipes! In fact, I've got some Arnold Palmer Ice Pops in the works, not to mention these Chocolate Chip Mint Greek Yogurt Pops

Monday, June 15, 2015

Farmers' Market Sundays in Denver

I'm doing my best to not think about the craptitude that is the situation with Mr. T's immigration, so I'm drowning myself in food, Farmers' Markets, work, cooking, food. Are you catching the theme here?

(In short, Mr. T's UK visa was approved last month, and they asked him to bring his passport in, so he did, and then they said they didn't have it, and then they said "oops, we sent that in error" and now it's weeks later and we still don't have his UK passport or visa. Even though the giant, ridiculous technical outage with the U.S. Department of State supposedly only applies to those who interviewed or applied on or after June 9, 2015 and we applied last year and Mr. T's interview was on May 15, 2015 and ... well ... just another brick in this big, oppressive, miserable wall.)

So we started Sunday out at the Farmers' Market down on Old South Pearl Street, where I always pick up a $10 bag of vegetables from Miller Farms and Asher hangs out and listens to the local tunes while rearranging the chairs.

Today's vegetable take-away:
  • Red peppers
  • Green beans
  • Mushrooms
  • White and purple potatoes
  • Onions
  • Broccoli 
  • Spaghetti Squash
Then we ran a few errands (fish and fruit at the grocery store) and went to a birthday party, and by the time we got home around 5 p.m., Ash was pooped and I was poised to prep for the week. 

I steamed the broccoli and green beans, made a Corn and Peach salad, baked some salmon, sautéed mushrooms, and ... what else? Sundays are powerful in my house. It's a make or break for the rest of the week. I also spent motzei Shabbat (that's Saturday night) meal planning for the week. We've got fish dishes, pad thai peanut noodles, tofu sandwiches, buffalo tempeh, Chia Power Donuts from Oh She Glows, you name it. It's going to be a good, healthy, foodful week (I hope). 

How do you stay on track for the week to not fall utterly and desperately behind? Here's a bonus video review of two box-of-the-month club subscriptions (Bluum Baby and Citrus Lane): 

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Ask Chaviva Anything: That Question I Hate

Probably the most common question I got asked by guys on Frumster just came in to Ask Chaviva (Almost) Anything.

"Did you ever go to seminary?"

Short answer: no. 

Long answer: No, because I went through the conversion process, spent seven weeks at a Hebrew-only ulpan at Middleburg College, and received a master's in Judaic studies (focus on midrashic literature) resulting in a depth of information greater than many likely obtain in seminary. 

That leaves me with a question, however, which is: Aside from the social experiment of seminary, what else did I miss out on?

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Ask Chaviva Anything: What's Your Skin Regimen?

This question is very flattering, which makes me feel a bit awkward, but ...
Whenever you post a picture or a video of yourself, I'm always in awe of your skin. You don't seem to wear a lot of makeup, so I assume it's just really beautiful. Therefore - and I know it's completely OOT - would you mind sharing how you keep it that pretty?
The funny thing is, the past few weeks I've had terrible woes with my skin. My whole life, I've had pretty clear skin. When I was in high school I had one friend who struggled with acne who used to comment to how much she hated how clear and pimple-free my skin was. Luckily, I managed puberty without any acne problems. 

That being said, I struggle greatly with skin woes when I'm stressed, and the past few weeks I've been particularly stressed. I'll get two to three terribly obnoxious and irritating skin woes that last for weeks because I suck at handling acne since I never had to deal with it before. I also have a few spots on my face where I have "pock marks" leftover from painful chicken pox when I was a child. You probably don't see them in my pictures, and I think I probably notice them more than anyone does.

So how do I keep my skin clear? I really ... honestly I don't do anything. I drink a lot of water, eat a largely plant-based and gluten-free diet with very little dairy intake. I don't have any creams or moisturizers I use, mostly because I'm lazy. I buy them and then never use them. I don't spend a ton of time in the sun, either.

I feel like that makes me sound like a jerk. Ooo look at me and my mostly clear skin and I don't do anything for it! But I really do believe that diet has a lot to do with skin health. So take it as you will! 

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Ask Chaviva Anything: That's a Lot of Ice Cream, Isn't It?

I'm going nuts with the blogging this week. I've always been a big believer in the idea that if you have something to say, say it, but if you don't, then don't. This blog is a testament to that.

Ask Chaviva Almost Anything

Anyway, another video here, this time in response to a submission to the long-forgotten Ask Chaviva (Almost) Anything feature!

Ask your own:

I've Been Doing it Wrong: How to Pray

I receive a lot of books for review in the mail, most Jewish-themed, from a bevy of book publishers. Some of them I get to, some of them I start and set aside because they're trying too hard, and others I fall into with a heavy mixture of exhaustion and relief.

One of these books I'm only a few pages into, but it's a "lesson a day" kind of book, so that only makes sense. Normally I wouldn't even write about a book or review it until I'm practically finished, but I feel compelled to write something.

I've had a rough couple of years, and an even rougher past eight months. My experience is that my whole life has been one gigantic challenge, with very little coming easy and very little feeling like it makes sense or that I can take a few days to just relish in what I have. It's a thankless perspective to have on life, but when I'm low, it's how I feel. I have a beautiful child who is my reasoning for waking up every day, and that is what drives me even as I struggle in every other aspect of my existence.

And then I hear stories or read book introductions, and I feel like my pity party is disgusting, selfish, and unwarranted. Chin up, buck up, it could be worse. It could always be worse.

Turn Around: 180 Degrees in 180 Days was written by Orit Esther Riter, a woman who was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis three months after the birth of her first child. Through relapses and other pitfalls, she's stayed forward-thinking, always looking at how good things are. I can only dream of having that perspective, the perspective that Mr. T so confidently holds, too.

The first day, "What Lies Deep Within Us?" has a very simple lesson about prayer, tefillah: "We should ask for our needs to be fulfilled because we want to use them to serve Him better."

Aha! Lightbulb.

When I was little I'd pray with a bargaining chip. "If you do this, G-d, I'll do or be that." If you make such and such happen, I'll be good, I'll pray every night, I'll help more. When I was a kid, I was doing it right.

At some point, the more I prayed, the more I learned, the less I held to this. In the past eight months, I've spent a lot of time talking to G-d. I've asked for my husband back, because I cannot, should not be alone. Because a son needs a father. But I've been doing it wrong. Because I've had such a hard time already, enough is enough.
"We ask for wisdom to understand the Torah. Give us health, so we can perform the mitzvos (commandments)." 
Aha! That's it. That's. It. Thank you, Orit.

When I read this I realized that my formula has been wrong. I'm should pray for my husband to return so that I can observe the mitzvah (commandment) of taharat ha'mishpacha (family purity, loosely going to mikvah). For my husband to return so that I can have the time, energy, and capacity to study and understand the Torah. I should pray for my husband to return so we can fulfill the commandment to be fruitful and multiply.

You get the drift. It's about recognizing that everything comes from HaShem (G-d). All roads lead there. It's about having emunah -- a term that is difficult to translate into English. It's typically translated as "faith" or "belief" and first appears in the Torah with Abraham. After leaving the land of his father, Abraham and Sarah go through a lot, after which he challenges G-d. Then, G-d promises that Abraham and his seed will be as numerous as the stars in the sky, and at last he says,
“And he believed (vehe’emin) in the Lord; and He counted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15: 1‑6).
But it isn't belief as we understand it today. No, as Dr. Menachem Kellner explains, Abraham finally truly trusted HaShem. Emunah is ultimate trust. 

The truth is, being a cerebral person, this is the most difficult aspect of my Orthodox Jewish life to put into words or feelings. It's something so internal, so deeply embedded in me, that it's difficult to vocalize. I've always trusted. At the same time, it's so entrenched within me that it also gets covered up and forgotten about when things get hard. I forget how to trust because I take for granted that it's there.

B'ezrat HaShem (with the help of G-d), this book will help me, day by day, to rebuild my relationship with G-d, to pray with conviction and understanding of why I'm praying and how it connects me to HaShem. 

Heaven knows I need it. 

Monday, June 1, 2015

Hop Into My Kitchen: Cooking with Chavi

It's only appropriate that I follow a post about body image and being overweight by writing about ... food! You see, I spend my Sundays when Ash is napping cooking for the week, or at least for the next few days. So here's what I was up to.

First thing I did was put the laundry in the wash throw together some Baked Salmon Cups. Basically, they're salmon cakes but made the lazy easy way in a muffin pan. The recipe I use is sort of "choose your own adventure," but I know they're done when they're crisp around the edges.

3 cans salmon (~18 oz)
1 cup gluten-free breadcrumbs
3 Tbls mayo
1 Tbls lemon juice
1/2 cup egg white replacer (you can use regular eggs)
dried parsley, salt, pepper, garlic powder + whatever else you want

Directions: Mix it all up. Make sure the mixture isn't too dry, and place in a 12-cup muffin tin. Flatten the tops a bit and throw on some more gluten-free breadcrumbs. I baked these for about 12 minutes at 350 Fahrenheit and wasn't happy with the progress, so I bumped it up to 425 Fahrenheit for another 7 minutes or so and they got crispy. As I said, I take a very "choose your own adventure" approach to cooking.

They make great finger food for toddlers. If you want, mix some mayo with sriracha or with dijon for a nice sauce to have with them.

Then I threw together some Corn Salad (corn, mayo sour pickles, dill, salt, and pepper) and Dijon Hearts of Palm and Tomato Salad (red wine vinegar, dijon, olive oil).

And then? Then the easy stuff. I trimmed and steamed some green beans I picked up at the Farmers' Market this morning. Love the farm-to-table life.

Then, my life was made a bit easier thanks to an awesome package from the kind folks at CookSimple with oodles of goodies to try and coupons to share and buy more, too. The great thing? All I did was write about how easy they'd made my life and how I would have been better off had I discovered them eight months ago (no, seriously). It's healthy, few-ingredient meal aids and meals in a box that are gluten free and kosher. A girl grown up on Hamburger Helper, I'm elated to find something that tastes better that fits my diet.

On the menu for this round of cooking was the Chipotle Sorghum Pilaf. It smelled like Autumn and tasted even better. Ash enjoyed it, despite my worries that the chipotle would have too much kick for a 17 month old, but he is his father's son. It was so tasty and easy. Check out this video for a bit more on it (and the bit in the video about the box + confusion has to do with using the bag as a measuring cup):

And lastly, I made two things at the end of last week that are particularly delicious that I'm quite proud of, although the recipes are completely not my own. The first is Breakfast Yogurt Pops, which Asher absolutely LOVES and the second is Peanut Butter & Jelly Muffins, which I love.

What are you making/baking/cooking these days? Share your favorite go-to recipe with me, please!