Monday, March 28

a day in the big orange

I used to live in Tel Aviv. Across the street from my mother-in-law.

I nagged, cajoled and whined until Mr. S agreed to buy an apartment in Raanana. I thought, "That's where all the anglos are; I'll be able to make friends who are like me." (Never did the thought enter my head, "I won't have to feel my mother-in-law's penetrating disapproval from across the street anymore.")

Ten years later, suburbia is a major yawn. I still don't have any friends, and I miss the action of "the big orange" and being so close to the sea. And, strangely enough, I've grown quite fond of my in-laws, and wouldn't mind being closer by.

But the quiet tree-lined streets of the outer limits have a certain sterile charm, I suppose, and Tel Aviv is just a 20-30 minute drive away, after all.

Trouble is, I almost never get to the city except on shabat (Saturday), when it's very quiet and most businesses are closed and it feels almost like a ghost town. So today was a special treat: My boss sent my colleague and me off to do some lame refresher seminar for tech writers, and it was held in a little hotel on a side street in view of the beach. Instead of working, I got to take a trip into the city on a gorgeous sunny day, drive right onto the beach road and take in the glorious expanse of blue Med first thing in the morning. It's a sight that always fills me with oxygen.

The seminar was a snore, a waste of my company's money, frankly, but who cares? I was loving the big TA on a bustling weekday, with all its noisy, fast-moving self-importance.

I'm just a city girl at heart.

purim downer

First of all: didn't get drunk.

Wish I did. But at the end of a long week, I was just too tired to want to.

The company's annual Purim party was Thursday nite, and it took me most of the weekend to get over the disappointment.

Damn it, I wish I wasn't so sensitive. Like a child, I build up expectations that are rarely fulfilled, and then I shlump around until I recover.

Like they say: The journey is more satisfying than arriving at your destination. I got great creative pleasure putting my costume together, and spent more than I should have on accessories to go with my floor-length sleeveless black dress: long black wig (over my short blondish hair), metal-studded belt and choker, leather whip, and tall black boots. And I spent an hour doing dramatic white-face and dark-eye makeup, hoping to look fairly spooky. See picture below.

And I did get a kick out of blowing my work mates away. Those who know me were completely floored by my costume, and I repeatedly had people bursting into amazed and delighted laughter when they found out who I was -- they absolutely didn't recognize me -- but the costume judges (who were not from our company and didn't know any of us) completely overlooked me. They went around putting tags around the necks of people they considered "contenders" and I was pointedly ignored. I guess because they didn't know what I really look like normally, they couldn't appreciate how great my costume was. Instead, they seemed to be looking for the home-made and relatively original ideas. I had heard that they give some valuable prizes for the best costumes, so my efforts had more than one agenda. It was a huge blow to my ego being shut out like that.

On top of which, I had been looking forward to a night of dancing, but in the two hours we were there, no one danced. Instead the whole area of what should have been the dance floor of this downtown club was being used for casino games of all kinds, not the kind of entertainment that interests me in the slightest. I was glad Mr. S got a chance to meet some of the people I work with (he was favorably impressed by their friendliness) and that they got to meet him. Other than that, and the admiring comments I got on my getup, the evening was pretty much a washout for me. We were bored and left after two hours of standing around with my feet killing me.

With those damn boots, even if I had waited till the dancing started (about 11:30), I wouldn't have been able to.

My dark side, usually well hidden, often emerges at Purim.

Monday, March 21

tiyul shnati, kita zion

Annual trip, grade seven.

It's 6am, and I'm up and I'm actually pleased. How is this possible? Well, it started with my 5am alarm, gently awakening me from an uneasy slumber in order to get young ms. squarepeg out the door by 5:55 to get to school to meet the bus taking her class on its annual trip.

And now we have two days of quiet. WOOOHOO!!

Except for the phone calls, of course, which I expect to punctuate each hour, as it has mostly been since we got her a cell phone at the beginning of the school year. All the kids have them by this age; I doubt there's a single kid in her class without a cell. It's just assumed these days, for younger and younger kids.

She's got a phobia about motion sickness, having thrown up on more than one bus trip in the past, and demanded that we get her some gravol or something for it. I was unwilling to give her the drug, as I tried it on her a couple of years ago and it made her very sleepy, but fortunately mr. s. was able to find a homeopathic remedy (from Boiron) at the drugstore, and even if it's a placebo, that's perfect.

The packing was accompanied by the usual shouting and hysteria ("TWO FULL BOTTLES OF shower gel?!!! Are you nuts???? And put that stuff in a plastic bag before it spills all over your clothes!!") Kids at this age are very stubborn, but ms. squarepeg has always been stubborn, so you'd think I'd be used to it. Well, once or twice I did bite my tongue and walk away rather than continue the argument, so maybe I am learning.

ooops! first phone call received now, right on the hour, as predicted. It's 7am and they still haven't left. But they'll soon be starting out and heading up to Tsfat, and the Golan, and I don't know where else, but I do hope she can appreciate the beauty of the country she's going to see in the next two days. The weather is absolutely perfect for a tiyul shnati.

It should be easy to get to work early today.

Sunday, March 20


Continuing in my quest for satisfactory remuneration for my life of wage slavery, I pursued a childhood dream today and booked all three of us (mr., ms., and 12-yr-old ms. squarepeg) for a private riding lesson.

Riding lessons always sounded to me like something only rich people did -- like skiing -- not something that anyone in my family would ever do. In fact, the only time I've ever been on a horse was once or twice at summer camp as a kid, for like 10 minutes, and the time I went on an organized trip to Petra, Jordan with the company I worked for, and they put us on horses to do a half-hour trip from the bus to the to the ancient city's entrance. But I've always loved them, and wished for the ability to ride. Judging by how hard it was to hoist myself up into the saddle (vastly contrasting experience from the picture in my head), it may be too late for me.

I went straight from work and the sun was setting as I met mr. and li'l ms. there at the local "ranch" at 6pm. It's ridiculously convenient, right on the edge of town, walking distance from the kid's school. We were all told to don riding helmets, and I got to go first.

We each got half an hour. Here's how it went: I approached the horse, picturing myself stepping into the stirrup and gracefully swinging my leg up and over his back and settling lightly into the saddle. Reality: I needed help getting my foot up to the stirrup, then only got myself halfway up before needing all my arm and shoulder strength to make it the rest of the way. Grunting, I pulled a muscle (ligament?) in the area of my back shoulder (trapezius?) and spend the first five minutes of the lesson trying to deeply massage it before the pain set in permanently. It was fine after a while, but I could still use a massage if anyone's in the neighbourhood. The teacher spent the next ten minutes making me do what seemed like trust exercises: feet out of stirrups, hands off the reins, I was told to swing my arms around, then lean over the horse and hug his neck till my hands met underneath, then lean back and touch his tail (do you have any idea how far that is from the saddle? I didn't manage it; it would have involved actually laying down backward on the horse). Then, leading me to believe she thought I'd signed up for circus training, she told me to turn around in the saddle. That is: swing my leg over so I'm sitting side-saddle, keep turning and swing the other leg around to the other side so I'm now sitting backward, then continue like that till I'm sitting right again. This proved to be much easier than touching his tail.

Then she told me to do it while the horse was walking! I got halfway round and refused to continue until the horse was standing still. A half hour later, though, I watched my daughter do it with no problem (she told me later she was scared stiff, but she tends to be very obedient with strangers). The next part was even more difficult: I think it's called posting, but anyone who's reading is welcome to correct me. The horse starts trotting and bouncing your butt (feels more like slamming your butt) on the saddle, and you're supposed to raise yourself gently up and down with his trotting motion. But without using your hands. This means you push yourself up with your knees and hips and muscles you probably haven't used since childhood even if you are a regular gym-goer. Up-down, up-down, up-down, oy-my-knees! Again, my daughter proved to be much more adept with her decades-younger bod.

And how did the mr. do? More or less like me, but didn't complain about any pain. It was good to see him doing something physical for a change. He hasn't hit the gym in months and is getting very out-of-shape.

So the bottom line is, the kid enjoyed it and we'll take her back. True, it's pretty expensive -- 79 shekels (about C$20) for a private lesson, but she only needs about 3 of those and then the hour-long group lessons are 70 sh. each time. It adds up. But, as I said, what use is wage slavery if you can't splurge on actualizing your dreams?

Although, considering the stress to my knees, watching my kid actualize them is good enough for me.

Friday, March 18

taking the reins and letting go

The hard part of my life at this stage is coping with knowing there simply isn't enough time in the day to do everything I want to do. There's certainly time enough to do what I must do, like put in 9-1/2 hours at work plus an hour an a half driving there and back, and sleeping. And eating, of course.

But that long list of things I want to do -- such trivial things, a lot of them, like reading blogs and endless other writings online (not to mention my endless email listserves which, though I keep deleting them hopelessly, now stand at 114), baking, watching movies; and the less trivial, such as spending time with my daughter and husband, working on the copywriting course I've paid for (still haven't finished lesson 1), getting to the gym ... and posting to this blog -- just never goes away, never gets smaller, and keeps rattling my intention to be relaxed and just let life flow.

So I've decided to make a concerted effort to get to work early enough to leave at a decent hour that will allow me to have a proper evening. It means I need to get up earlier (about 6:30) and leave the house by 7:30, just as my daughter is getting up. I tried it yesterday and getting to work before 8:15 felt very good. For the first time, I actually left the office while it was still light out.

This week was intense but great, as I spent three days at a very valuable course to learn FrameMaker, the program techwriters use instead of Word. It turned out to be semi-private, with just one other woman, who didn't ask nearly as many questions as I did. The pacing was excellent, with lots of built-in breaks to let the brain rest, and by the end I felt like I'd "magically" acquired a new skill that simply didn't exist 3 days earlier. I've had a chance to practice with it back in the office yesterday, and it really felt amazing to suddenly feel so familiar with this very sophisticated application. It's very complicated, but brilliant. Like suddenly owning a microwave when you never had one before, and having the power to thaw or cook food quicker than was ever possible ... except not as simple to use as a microwave.

During the work week, I spend almost no time with my daughter, and leave most of the parenting to Mr. Squarepeg, who doesn't have that many hours with her, but it's nice to know that whatever's needed is covered. On the weekends, she needs more mommy time, and she usually still doesn't get much, because mommy needs that time too. So when she asked me if I would do the Raanana Marathon's 3-km fun run with her, I initially refused, and then agreed and got Mr. S to do it with us too. She's really not into the community marathon thing, but she saw it as a cool and sneaky way to get out of going to school today and I went along with it; we all need the exercise. The 3K took us all of half an hour to walk-run (the real marathon is 10K) and she whined or dawdled much of the time, but at least we were doing something together. Afterward, we all went grocery shopping and then had a little adventure trying to drive home through streets blocked off for the marathon.

Later, we went shopping to find a Purim costume for her. Purim is this coming week, and the kids have Thursday and Friday off school, with the Purim party and everyone coming in costumes on Wednesday. She had decided she wanted to be a vampire, but soon dropped that idea and ended up being sold on a furry pink hat and big pink sunglasses instead. She's now satisfied that she looks sufficiently cute for the occasion.

As for me, I never get involved with Purim and costumes, but this time I've gotten into the spirit of the anti-squarepeg because of my company's party, to be held at a Tel Aviv club Thursday night. Today I found a great whip to go with my costume -- technically, I don't think Morticia Addams needed one, but it's a cool dominatrix look.

And then we went to the beach at about 5:30 to see the sun set over the Mediterranean, one of my favorite things, which I really missed during my two years in Toronto, and met mr. s's best friend and his wife and twin 7-year-olds for dinner. We walked around the new marina area till we found a restaurant with a table big enough for 4 adults and 3 kids, and it was a pleasant evening, but much colder once the sun had gone down. My jeans jacket wasn't warm enough.

Strangely, it was the first social occasion I'd had in a very long time. Before I started working, I did make lame efforts to socialize (which never developed into anything), but now that the job takes so much time, it's just magnified my ineptitude. I'm just not motivated to spend time with people. It's true I've always been a bit of an introvert and a loner, but having absolutely no social life at all is kind of bizarre, isn't it? I keep wondering if this will change as I evolve or if this is just my nature and it's always going to be this way for me.

Saturday, March 12

day at a conference

Last week went very quickly because it was broken up with a day (Monday) at the annual technical writers' conference, held this year at the Dan Carmel hotel up in Haifa. I wasn't interested in what I assumed would be a major yawn of a day, which forced me to get up at the crack of dawn in order to make the 1-1/2 hr. trip and arrive by 9am. But my boss is very into spending her budget on us getting every possible enrichment going, and insisted my colleague and I would have a nice day and enjoy the free lunch. What a surprise when it turned into a very pleasant day, some interesting lectures, and great snacks and lunch. I met a few new people and also ran into several people I've met through the years and got reacquainted with. By 6pm I'd certainly had enough, but it wasn't a bad way to spend a work day at all. Also very nice, I managed to get a ride up and back with another writer from Raanana who was a very competent driver, a good thing, since it rained all the way back.

And it's been back to very cool or even rainy weather ever since. The joke's on me, cause I was sure it would be smooth spring-summer by now. But that's fine with me -- the cool weather means I can still wear the winter clothes I just bought on sale! [smirk]

In fact, it would be great if the cool weather would last another couple of weeks until Purim, otherwise I'll be roasting in my costume. On the 24th the company's throwing its annual Purim party, and I've been putting together a costume for the first time I can remember. Apparently, they have some very good prizes for best costume, so I'm making an effort. I already bought a long black wig and some other accessories to go with my long black dress -- anybody want to guess who I'm going to be? I had lunch with a male colleague one day this week and went to look at costumes with him at a local toy store. He became very intrigued when he saw the whip I bought and started being very helpful with eager suggestions of handcuffs and metal-studded chokers and belts. A dwarflike father of three, he was the last person I would have expected to be into that stuff, and now we have a laugh together over "our little secret" when we meet in the halls. Never underestimate your office mates!

This week will be another very nice one: I'll be there only Sun and Thurs, as I'm spending Mon through Wed at a course on FrameMaker, the program we like to use instead of the very buggy Word. This is such a sweet deal: instead of expecting me to have this skill under my belt when she hired me, my boss just says, "No problem, we'll send you to a course." These things cost thousands of shekels, so it's quite a nice gift. And at the end of the month, my colleague and I are going to yet another one-day seminar being offered as a tech. writing refresher. Life could be worse.

Friday, March 11

key to the health universe?

Amazing, isn't it? How the sun keeps rising and setting even when I can't find time to breathe or blog? Believe me, I've tried to find the time, even attempting to steal it from my employer, but events have conspired against my blogging for over a week.

It's not all bad. I've been to the gym twice, devoted more time to calming a slightly neglected 12-year-old, arrived at work before 9am three times, left early once, and gotten more sleep. In other words, yes, I have temporaraily blown off the blog to knit the ravelled sleeves of my life. Not without cost, of course; despite the compensation in terms of my hectic life, the lack of writing has weighed heavily. But it's Friday morning and I am back. Not for long, unfortunately, because I have a computer technician on the way to check out our machines, which have some problems. That, sad to say, will take some precious hours, but it must be done.

------six hours later -----
See what I mean? Events. Conspiring. Against blogging. Aaaargh. I am now 400 shekels poorer but at least one computer has had a major brainlift. I'm still trying to install the Sims and all its expansion packs into the other computer for my daughter. If we finally succeed this time, the money will really have been worth it. Stay tuned. Part 3 of 4 (4 being the longest and worst) is being installed as I write this.

Meanwhile, I finally managed to get to a meeting this week of the ADHD support group whose email list I've been on for several months. How could I not? -- it was at the house of someone just 5 minutes' drive from me. Even better, it was an absolutely riveting lecture given by a senior scientist from the Weizmann Institute, on the subject of Omega 3 fatty acids in our diet.

Warning: I'm about to get very boring if you're not interested in health issues and solutions.

I hardly know where to begin on this, but why not where he began: Syndrome X. You may have heard of it, but I never had. Five years ago, a book called "Syndrome X, the Silent Killer" was published. Nearly a year ago, this article was published on CBS online. Still never heard of it. Here's a small excerpt:

Syndrome X is a combination of conditions that all result from the primary disorder of insulin resistance. All the metabolic problems associated with Syndrome X such as obesity, high blood pressure, and high triglycerides can lead to other diseases, but when several are combined, the chances of life-threatening illnesses are multiplied.

Four groups of illnesses are very much on the rise in our modern world: heart diseases, cancers, autoimmune diseases (e.g., AIDS, arthritis, psoriasis), and mental/psychological illnesses, including AD(H)D. It never occurred to me that there was a connecting puzzle piece to all of these, and my order-loving mind is thrilled to discover it all comes back to something hard, yet simple: the crap we eat. (Yet ANOTHER reason to put down the bag of chips/crisps, cookie, Big Mac, etc. and eat vegetables.) It's two-pronged, really: 1) We eat too much food that sends too much glucose into our bloodstream, causing insulin-producing function to go haywire and lead to endless other problems; and 2) We need much more hard-to-get Omega 3 in our diets to counteract all the damage. Yes, it comes from the kind of fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines) that eat plankton-eating smaller fish -- oh, and there's omega-3 in flax --but we can't possibly get enough so we have to take those big fat capsules -- 300mg./10kg body weight per day, in fact, while cutting down on the amount of Omega 6 we've been shovelling in all these years.

This article, focussing on breast cancer, explains what's going on:

Insulin resistance, or hyperinsulinemia (also called syndrome X), is caused by eating too many carbohydrates that digest rapidly, like bread, potatoes, rice, corn, baked goods, pop and other sugary drinks, cakes, cookies, most desserts, and some sweet fruits. These foods have high glycemic index (GI). People with insulin resistance have high levels of insulin in their blood because the cells in their body are resisting insulin and so the body produces lots of it to counteract the resistance. Multitudes of apparently healthy Americans also have this condition without knowing it, because their pancreas is compensating for the resistance by putting out lots and lots of insulin.

Okay, end of lecture. There was a lot more, about stress and serotonin and inflammation, etc. but it's too heavy for blogging. I don't know about you, but all this gives me the illusion (fragile, to be sure) of control over a few more factors. Perhaps cancer doesn't just fall from the sky randomly.

Will I use the knowledge? I hope so, but probably the stress'll kill me anyway.

-->update: have just spent THE ENTIRE DAY trying to fix the computer. Sims do NOT work, and now I don't have internet on that machine either. don't know what i've done; can't figure it out and will need to call regular technician to come and fix the mess. damn. needed serotonin fix badly and found a forgotten chocolate bar in the kitchen cupboard, then had a glass of wine and some taco chips before coming to my senses and thawing a hunk of salmon that had been languishing in the freezer. eating well has become the new guilt-inducer. note to self: do I really need this stress? the cortisone surely counteracts whatever good the salmon did me.

Wednesday, March 2

welcome to march

Well it's 30 celsius in Tel Aviv today, another hamsin (commonly used Arabic) or sharav (for the hebraically inclined) -- very dry, and hotter than usual. I checked Toronto's weather: high of MINUS 4 -- and snowing!!! Oh, you poor babies. When I was in Toronto on March 1st of 2003 I remember feeling very proud of myself for having "survived" the winter not too badly dented in spirit. Little did I know that the perma-snow and bitter winds would not abate until sometime in April or May. Those last two months were what killed me.

Fine, I may be loving the sudden change from winter to summer now, but I'm already starting to worry about how I'm going to dress for the office throughout the coming long, long horribly humid summer months, when I'd rather quit my job than have to put clothes on. At least from July to September, anyone forced to leave the house trudges oppressively from one air-conditioned oasis to another. The summer hamsin offers none of the delight of the winter version -- it's like living and breathing in an oven. You simply do not leave the house unless it's an emergency (like going to work to pay the bills).

So it's March. I've started getting to work earlier -- managed 8:30 today, and amazingly beat my boss for the first time. (How the hell does she always manage to get here so early when she's got a 3-year-old at home? Duh --must be the full-time nanny!) Salary number two has been dutifully transferred to my account, and Mr. Squarepeg is calm again. I have not been a slouch at taking advantage of the new cash flow; as far as I'm concerned, everything I earn is disposable income. But I must now work on the Grinch to free up some cash for the young miss. She feels very deprived by the lack of respect (i.e. party and/or expensive gift) forthcoming on her bat mitzvah (when girls turn 12). She's now 12-and-a-half and has worked up quite a head of steam over the issue, having had 6 months to take in a few lavish parties thrown by classmates, and now facing a year of same for the boys as they all start turning 13 (the bar mitzvah, for boys, is a year later, reflecting the usual difference in maturity). Her demands: an mp3 player and a paint job for her room (which really needs it). Very modest, really, and much cheaper than a party would be, in every way, yet scroogey mr. squarepeg has been a complete tightwad about it. Yesterday I got fed up and stopped talking to him. Yes, I bring out the big guns when nothing else can shift the enemy.

As usual, this worked like a charm, and by the time I left for work this morning, he was reconsidering his position.