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The Case of the Magically Disappearing Transplant

Brace yourself. This post is a bit of a downer….

Something happens each summer to me, I don’t know if it is because I’m a transplant, or maybe you feel this way in a place you’ve lived all your life. But, each summer, I feel like Harry Potter who has donned his invisibility cloak, though not voluntarily. And it seems as though I have disappeared.

The phone hasn’t rang. Well it rang once.I actually picked up the phone the other day and willingly offered to participate in a marketing research survey about childhood immunization. But, because I do not have an infant between the ages of 2 to 22 months, I didn’t qualify and – a telemarketer actually hung up on me.

It’s hot. I have no pool to invite anyone over to swim. No boat to invite friends to have drinks and tapas at sunset.  I just have – me to offer you.

Do you ever feel like you are just missing out by not having the most fantastic incredible summer ever? The ever permanence of social networking like Facebook and Twitter make it all the more evident. If you are not at your vacation destination in the south of France, or off at a lake house each weekend, it feels you are left in the hot summer dust.

Maybe its the timing of our vacation that sets my summer off kilter. Like the sea turtle or salmon, each year we travel back the beaches and shores of our ancestry and go Island hopping – in the New York metro area.

 Our usual vacation resort destination: Our childhood bedrooms and basements. We spend time with family, try to see some old friends who never transplanted far from their roots, and take in some sites in one of the greatest cities on the planet.

Then, we head “home.”  To quiet Rochester. To seemingly absolute nothingness.  As much as we scramble to see the friends we left behind in New York, it seems like there is no one to get back in touch with back in Rochester. No one seems to be around and all attempts to make plans fall short and are met with “maybe some other time.”

The first years I encountered this lack of social contact and plans in the summer, I felt quite lonely and isolated. Now, I look forward to these low-profile weeks. They give me an opportunity to catch up on:

  • Organizing sock drawers
  • Reading
  • Weeding my garden
  • Going through the clothes in the attic
  • Baking peach pies

But still, it would be nice to find a walking buddy in the early morning or evenings, like I see so many other women pairs. I think – how do they do that? How do they keep standing walking dates – who calls who?

We did get one summer invitation this summer: to a princess birthday party of my new neighbor’s daughter who just turned four. A real princess party with crowns and ballet tutu wearing girls. And neighbors who go months living next to each other but not seeing each other on a social basis that much.

My new neighbors are also transplants. She is American, and her wonderlust sent her on a one year trip around the world that lasted 10 years. She met her husband in India, and now they live here, with their two beautiful children, to settle down. I am very thankful that they reached out to us and invited us to celebrate their daughter’s birthday over chips, salsa, cake and Sangria (the Sangria being drank by the adults, not the four-year-olds.  

Okay. I’ll admit it:  some company in these long summer days would be most welcome.

I must snap out of this involuntary invisibility:  So, next week, after I return from seeing my kids off at sleep away camp. I may pick up the phone and call you to make plans. A walk? Morning Coffee? Shabbat dinner? So, please pick up the phone too.

Did you see any U.S. news coverage on the massacre in Israel?

I know it’s been a busy news week.

In Japan, an earthquake, tsunami and now a possible nuclear meltdown. I know that newsrooms are shrinking and international news bureaus are disappearing. But, still there was time and a news hole big enough to give coverage to March Madness, the unrest in Libya and a story on NPR of a man who returned to Calcutta to take care of his aging mother.

But what about covering the murders of five Israeli family members, including three small children who were murdered in their sleep? Nothing.

There only seems to be a need to cover Israel in the media when Israel faces worldwide condemnation for building an apartment building in Jerusalem.  And the coverage of this apparent terrorist attack? Nothing. And the worldwide reaction? Silence. Why is this?

Here is a photo the surviving members of this family wanted the world to see. It is a brutal photo.

I was listening to the news and not one second of coverage was devoted to this story. Not on CNN. Or NPR. Not that I heard. Correct me if I am wrong, but did any American news outlet pick up this story?

Stuck at the Airport with Kids? Here’s what to do!

As I write this, the curse of the Philadelphia International Airport has struck my family once again.  I last saw my husband through half-asleep eyes as he kissed me goodbye at 4 a.m. last Sunday. A conference out in California was taking him away during our February “vacation.” My vacation home with the three children. He is now stuck in Philadelphia.  I’ve shoveled nine inches of snow off our driveway. I really don’t know when he will be home.

I am sure that the curse of delayed or canceled flights due to the weather is not reserved just for those in the Philadelphia airport. No, with this winter, and this winter vacation coming to a close at the same time another snowstorm rattles our air traffic patterns, our story is not unique.

So this blog post is dedicated to all of you out there who have been stuck at an airport with children.

I really think that going away to get a few days of sunshine over February break is just not worth it in our age of “Welcome to the Hellish Skies.”  Indeed, we did a few years ago make an attempt at a Florida getaway.  But due to storms, we instead had a 13-hour destination vacation to the Philadelphia International Airport!

My son, an avid New York Mets fan, was dressed head to toe in Orange and Blue Mets paraphernalia. He cowered the whole time in his jacket, hood pulled up all the way. He actually believed that because he loved the Mets and hated the Phillies, someone in the airport of the City of Brotherly Love was going to kill him.  

Our efforts to escape the cold of Rochester for just one week had failed. We missed our connecting flight from Philadelphia to West Palm Beach.  Every flight to southern Florida was booked and overbooked for the next three days.

As we looked at the flight board, we slowly came to the harsh realization that the palm trees of our vacation dreams had been yanked out by the roots. We could stay in the airport as standby refugees, or head back to cold icy Rochester. We were not going anywhere.

But then I had an epiphany. I realized, Hey! We are still on vacation!  Vacation can be a state of mind, even if you did not make it to the Sunshine State.

So here are my hard-earned tips of what to do you if you are on a 13-hour standby hoping in vain to get your flight to paradise:

  • Immediately go to the “customer service” line and demand you get a pillow. Take two or three and don’t feel guilty. The airline has ruined your original vacation destination and they owe it to you to make you as comfortable as possible.
  • Forget the food court. You are on vacation and deserve the best of airport dining. In our case, it was Applebees. Any frugalities of ordering from a restaurant menu with children- like sharing – should be lifted. We were on vacation. Kids, if you want a beverage other than water, go for it! That naturally blue-colored smoothie? Go for it!
  • As far as the adults in your party, order an alcoholic beverage. You are going to need it.
  • After your meal, order dessert. Those desserts that stare at you all throughout your meal from those triangular placards placed strategically on the table. Remember, this may be your only vacation meal!
  • After your meal, don’t bother checking on your flight status. You know you are not boarding any time soon, if you board at all.
  • Find out if the airport you are stranded in has a Sharper Image or a Brookstones. Loiter there for an hour or so. Spend most of this time on one of their massage chairs. Ignore looks from salesperson.
  • Is the hot stuffy airport getting to your children? Do what my kids did and let them pretend that the bathroom is their own personal water park. Cool off by dunking your child’s head in the sink. Just like dunking into the pool at grandma and grandpa’s condo. How refreshing!
  • Around 10:00 p.m., entire sections of the airport should be clear enough to let your kids run completely wild. Make sure you pack a jumprope and maybe some in-line skates in addition to some healthy and sugary snacks.
  • At 11 p.m or later, if you are still waiting on standby in a nearly empty airport, abandon the rule about indoor voices. And the no running rule.  And the no climbing and jumping on furniture rule.  Moms, that glass of wine at Applebees must have worn off by now. Use the extra space to do a little yoga stretching to relieve the stress.

Airport authorities, if you cannot tolerate the wildness of unruly children, who have spent over 10 hours cooped up in your airport, you should have done more to get good, hardworking parents to their original vacation destinations. Airlines, you should have done the decent thing and not have overbooked your flights. So go ahead kids and parents, make all the outdoor voices, and screams, and wild laughter you can conjure up.  This is family time!


Winter Blahging

At the beginning of January, Mother Nature gave us Western New Yorkers quite the tease.

Every flake of snow melted away. Temperatures soared — SOARED – into the 50s. People were out everywhere that first week in January. We thought – so this is what the outside feels like again. So this is what it is like to go outside minus the hat, the fleece gloves, the silk thermals. This is what it is like to walk outside without guarding every step from a trecherous icy patch.

But we knew it couldn’t last. And the cold, along with the winter blahs, is hitting many of us as hard and unrelenting as this winter.

This week, temperatures refused to budge above the 20’s and the sun made a few cameo appearances, starring as a pale egg yolk in a grey sky.  As tempting as it is to fly away and visit my parents in Florida over February break, the $600 plane tickets say we are in the cold for the long haul.

Turning on the TV doesn’t seem to help matters. The grim news from Arizona, plus the loss of the contemporary Jewish song composer Debbie Friedman made the week even tougher to bear. 

Did I say that the days were getting longer in a recent post? Well, the darkness still seems to come very early these days.  And though I do try to get outside, I’m tired of fighting Old Man Winter, and he is starting to win.

I posted just how blah I felt on my Facebook status and was thankful for all the friends who wrote in their suggestions: exercise, a drink, getting out with other people, or staying inside with one special person  : ).

But there, in the seasonal aisle of Wegmans, I saw it. My cure for the winter blues.

A Jiffy Greenhouse Seed Starter!

With that, and a purchase of some organic Parseley and Arugula seeds, the smile returned to my face. Let the 2011 gardening season begin.

Feeling out of my League in the Company of Great Jewish Women

I’m going to start by saying this, bluntly:  If I was making money — real money — it would be good for the Jews. 

What I do now – educate the next generation of the Jewish community – is still good for the Jews. But, to be honest, it is still not as appreciated as a donation of the green stuff. I couldn’t help feel it this week when I attended a community fundraiser.

Now, I don’t play the lottery, I don’t gamble and I don’t believe in any get-rich-quick schemes. But, oh, if I were a rich girl, I would be so good at it. I would give a good part of it away.

But I’m not, and I can safely bet that with my liberal arts degree and my inability to get a career in public relations back on track after a decade raising our three children, I never will be. 

I am happily, yet vastly, underemployed. I work three jobs: two in Jewish education, one in my originally intended field of journalism. And, waking up to the news this morning on National Public Radio, that companies are no longer hiring the long-term unemployed or underemployed, it looks like this will be my status for some time to come, if maybe for good. 

I guess that, being a graduate of Rutgers University’s Douglas College, I was supposed to be a liberated, financially independent woman by now. I still feel I must make my own money. 

My dear husband constantly reminds me that what I do – teaching the Aleph Bet and all the holidays and traditions to Jewish children – is an invaluable service to my community. He also reminds me that without me to raise our children full-time, his career could never have ascended to what it is now.

Even so, I can’t help but look at my own net worth. If not for my husband’s income, my three jobs wouldn’t even put me at the poverty line.

This post may seem controversial to some and may get me in a bit of trouble. And I do so appreciate the power of women’s philanthropy and the generosity of the many women in my community who are of means, who are generous and who can wear the pins to show it.

But, I am sure I can speak for my fellow Jewish educators, and especially Jewish early childhood educators, our contributions, if you had to value them in the form of a monetary gift to the Jewish community,  are vastly overlooked.

According to the Jewish Early Childhood Early Education Initiative, today’s Jewish preschools are more than places that care for young children during the day – they are becoming centers to engage and re-engage children and their families in Jewish communal life.  Attracting and retaining educators to the field is critical. But, it is highly unlikely to attract and retain the best and the brightest with the current compensation packages. Early care and education has not been acknowledged as a part of the larger educational system in the United States. As such, early childhood teachers and caregivers are among the lowest-paying of all occupations (Barnett 2003).

But, meanwhile, back at the fundraiser… there I was, in the company of almost 300 women at my community’s major fundraiser for Jewish Women’s Philanthropy.   I have greatly benefitted from being actively involved in my Jewish community.  I have co-chaired committees. learned about event planning and the power of women’s philanthropy. 

In 2006 I received my community’s young leadership award from the Jewish Federation. I have attended the General Assembly of United Jewish Communities, thanks to my federation.  And for my work teaching older children in afternoon religious school, I was sent on a Jewish educator’s trip to Israel thanks to the Jewish Federation. The Jewish community, on a macro level, does its best to make Jewish educators feel valued.

And yet, I felt I could barely keep up in the chit-chat at the table. I had not been to Amalfi Coast, had not sent my kids on a leadership program to Austrailia. I couldn’t seem to make myself say, “wow, that must be expensive,” or “that is out of our budget, I’m afraid.”

Okay, I get it. It was a fundraiser and the point was to raise funds.  But, as I looked around the room, at the diamonds and all the bling-bling, I couldn’t help but ask myself, “What am I doing here?”

Many women attending the event, by way of their husband’s occupation or their own professions, were significant donors. If the message of the evening was being powerful through donating one’s own money or a woman making a gift in their own name, presumably with their own money, the message of the evening left me feeling, well, powerless.

I enjoy going to these events because you get to hear from powerful Jewish women – news commentators, columnists, brilliant comedians, prominent Rebbetzins, (rabbi’s wives.) In past years they taught me how we need to teach Israeli culture to our children to make them feel connected to Israel. That if you shed a tear while you are praying you are doing it the right way. That, although children may show resistance to Hebrew school, parents must stand firm and make sure their child receives a Jewish education.

Each year, I left inspired, given tools to further my Jewish involvement.

And this year? There was no mention of parenting Jewish kids.  Israel — not even the singing of the Hatikva — was hardly mentioned – except a five day trip to the Jewish State this spring at a cost that is most likely out of my league as well.

The take away I got, and which I think other women felt of the speaker’s underlying message – is that if one marries a rich investment banker — you too can give millions away to the causes you care about.

As a Jewish educator who is not married to an investment banker, I’m sorry, ma’am, there was not much I could take away from your lesson. So, I will keep doing what I have been doing, for now, which is to make big gifts through every Hebrew word I teach, and every Jewish song I sing in the classroom.

For whatever it’s worth.

Carrying In, Not Carrying Out – The Trashing of our Parks

can people not pick up after themselves? Even on a nature trail?

I was glad to see that there exists a blog category such as a rant. This blog should have been a rave, but I will woefully have to rant instead. 

I spent a beautiful day last weekend with my husband and our youngest child at Stony Brook State Park in New York, just north of Corning. If you have been to this park, you know what a treasure it is.  If you have ever been to Watkins Glen State Park, near Ithaca, you have had a similar experience. But, at Watkins Glen, there is absolutely no going in the water, as inviting as the water looks. It’s too rough. The current there would pound anyone to a pulp. 

But Stony Brook State Park features a gently sloped, rambling stream that invites you in to make your way through its swirls, try out its natural water slides,  stand under its gently cascading falls. All around you this brook over the centuries has carved out a ravine which is now lush with forest and ferns. And, there is also a parallel trail to the brook for those who want to stay dry. 

One would think that any visitor would hold a place like this, or any park, state or national, in high regard, to keep it clean and pristine. 

Not so. 

The first disgusting thing I found in Stony Brook was an empty pack of cigarettes floating in the water. Gross as it sounds, I snatched it up and put it in the pocket of my cargo shorts. Those pockets were meant to hold stuff, and if I could put them to use by carrying out some litter, all the better. 

Then, I passed a few water bottles, sitting empty on a slab of stone, abandoned by their consumers. I shoved them in my son’s backpack. I got a complaint from my husband when I added to my litter collection a crushed empty can of Coors Lite. 

After picking up this my next piece of trash out of the brook, that public service announcement came to mind, the one from the 1970’s when I was a kid, that Native American crying that one tear. He has to be long dead and gone, but he is most likely still crying in his grave by the looks of things. 

This item of litter did not please my husband. 

“Don’t do that, then our backpack will smell like beer! They have people to pick up….” 

“Really????” I snapped, annoyed that he was annoyed with me picking up litter rather than annoyed that someone broke the hiker’s rule of littering! 

The truth is, there are no people to pick up after us along the trail. You bring a water bottle on the trail, YOU bring it out of the park with you when you are finished! You need a cold one as you watch the waters bubble over the smooth stones, YOU don’t smash it and leave it there for someone to pick it up. 

The thing that bugged me also was the NUMBER of bottles and cans I saw in this beautiful place and the NUMBER of people I saw just walking past it. 

But the most disgusting bit of abandoned refuse, I must say, was the dirty diaper. Crammed into the crevice of a rock, a rock I almost used as a place to hold on to on a slippery stretch of brook. 

Well, I had to draw the line there. 

People, pick up after yourselves when you go hiking! Do you need a reminder of the hiker credo: Take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints! 

And, if you are hiking, and you see something fouling up the surrounding natural beauty, PICK IT UP!! Imagine how much cleaner our nation’s parks would be if we picked up one or two pieces of trash along the way. 

Happy trails.

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