Sunday, June 26

a VERY long day - trippin'

For my colleagues, it was worse. At least I got picked up by the bus at the North Raanana junction, giving me a precious extra half-hour (plus travel time to the office). There were about 90 of us, divided into 2 buses. And while I was dropped back there at 1:30 am the following morning, many of them didn't get home until an hour after that. Yes, it was a great day, but TOO LONG. Many of these people have kids they had to get up for in the morning, after all. Thank god I didn't. When I woke up at 9:30 am, Mr. S. had taken young ms. out for breakfast. Oh yes, people, the joys of one kid who's finally growing up.

I just haven't got time to go into lots of details but here's the RD version: First stop was about 10am, at a lovely country site called "Ein Kamonim" -- somewhere up northward -- where we sat at long, heavily-laden, linen-covered tables under shady vines, and were treated to a feast of goat cheeses, freshly-baked whole wheat rolls, olive oil, zaatar, lots of salad veggies, jam, and more cheese. And then they served the coffee with long-life milk. BLAH! Undrinkable. Small detail, though; the rest was wonderful.

Next, we went on a mild hike for about an hour through a stoney stream (we were told to come prepared with shoes for water), ending up at a swimming hole that looked right out of the pages of Huck Finn. It was a gorgeous walk on a hot day through the forest, relieved by the cold water of the stream and the pools. Many people jumped in with all their clothes. But I knew we were heading to a real swimming pool, so I bided my time.

Our next stop was Kibbutz Goshrim, where we spent a couple of wonderful relaxing hours at their huge pool. The weather was perfect and I could have easily been there till midnite. But we were scheduled for a tour of Sfat, so we headed off in the buses at about 4:30 and arrived there before long. Several interesting stops awaited us there, and it was more than a walking tour. First: another dairy, a famous one, the Meiri dairy which bills itself as "Israel's first dairy." It's been in the family for generations, and they make the best goat cheese I've ever tasted. So of course I had to buy some Brinza to bring home. We also stopped somewhere to make some kind of special pita bread, whose name I've forgotten, but that was just a fun stop while several in our group got their hands dirty with flour and "mud cakes" -- more eating. And then we visited a religious guy who makes his own wine by treading on the grapes in the old-fashioned way -- and nothing else. He adds nothing. He says that the grapes pick up the characteristics of the winemaker, and no two people will be able to make the same-tasting wine, even though he tells them exactly how to do it (implying: not as good as his). He gave us lots to drink, saying that this wine is absolutely pure, no toxins, and would not make us "drunk" but "only high." I thought he was charming, but many thought he was just arrogant. Still, we were tired and glad to sit and drink with him.

We continued our walk in the fabulous Sfat air, feeling the special atmosphere of that historical place, until about 8 pm, when we finally drove off to dinner. More food, this time a serious steak-fest at "Bat Ya'ar". There was also lots of other meat -- like grilled wings, my favorite -- and the beer flowed freely till we were laughing at everything ... like the arm-wrestling matches arranged between some of our co-workers. It was all pretty silly, but we were relaxed and went with it.

Unfortunate that it dragged on a bit long -- we had a 3-hour drive ahead of us and should have been out of there earlier -- but I didn't mind that as much as others did. The trip back was very tough, with everyone exhausted but unable to sleep. Except for our driver. The tour guide noticed he was nodding out over the wheel and made him stop for half an hour to get coffee and a rest. Seems he's usually in bed by 8pm.

But we got home safely and it was a very satisfying day out. I don't whether it was lack of sleep or too much beer, but the next two days were spent recovering. And so the week closes, and another begins.

On the agenda tomorrow: another technical seminar outside of the office.

I took a lot of pics but most were kind of boring, people pics that I wouldn't want to publish, but the views in Sfat really are breathtaking. And we were there during the magic hour, so this is Sfat with that golden glow before sunset.

more view

Wednesday, June 22

tiyul avoda

Summer is officially here. Kids in grade 7 and up are now (as of 2 dys ago) in the malls or planted in front of tv and computer screens. Or visiting savta (granny). Younger kids are still in school for another week, but the older ones are floating in that netherworld between the academic year and the beginning of all summer camps.

Mine is going to "math camp" (euphemism for summer school ....mwa-ah-ah-ah!!) -- three mornings a week for the month of July. She fought it only half-heartedly, as I made it clear this was not negotiable. The kid did even worse in her 2nd semester than she did in the 1st one, but we're not going to talk about that. Many plans are afoot to set things right, and I'm optimistic for grade eight.

Moving on... mommy's going on a tiyul avoda tomorrow -- work outing, to the Hebraically challenged -- and I'm very much looking forward to my first real tiyul in years. I used to get out in the country a lot in the "old" days ... participating in one group or another. First one was in ulpan (Hebrew school) the very first winter, 1983. I'll never forget the thrill of leaving the icy cold Jerusalem winter (tons of snow that year and, though Canadian, I was unprepared) and barely two hours later, peeling off layers as we hiked through hot desert sun, ending up by some waterfall where we all jumped in the pool and got ourselves joyfully soaked. Israeli Geography 101: this tiny country has a LOT of climate zones!

Since then, I've seen quite a bit of the country, but no real sightseeing/hiking kinds of trips for longer than I can remember. It's just not mr. Squarepeg's sort of thing, and one needs a bit of cooperation for this activity.

Tomorrow, we're meeting at work at 7:30 am and expect to return home not much before midnite. We'll be bussing north to the Galil and to Sfat (Tsfat) and having some great entertaining dinner somewhere well-known. More details after the fact. Maybe I'll even have a pic or two for y'all.

Tuesday, June 21

busybody factor

Usually we think of Israel in a constant state of being more and more Americanized. But apparently it goes the other way too.

In Salon today, Lynn Harris asks, "Is it me, or are people -- and not just the self-righteous religious -- feeling more and more entitled to offer their "input," or at least make irritating inquiries, into others' private lives? [...] Invasive questions and unsolicited "advice" are rampant among civilians, now more than ever, I think. And especially when it comes to women and marriage and childbearing -- future, present, or God forbid, lack thereof -- it seems everyone's got something to say."

Welcome to our world, Lynn!

In fact, we can't even imagine a world where strangers mind their own business. (In fact, to borrow from an old joke, "Strangers? What's that?")

She even quotes an academic who sounds like he's talking about the normal status of the Jewish state: "There definitely has been what we call a loss of civility, and part of that is that we now feel that we are more a part of the private lives of others," says Bernardo J. Carducci, a professor of psychology at Indiana University Southeast. "Especially when you have people carrying on cellphone conversations right next to you."

Although I've seen signs that Israelis are learning to jealously guard their privacy from intrusive passers-by, I doubt we're ever going to see a decline in the busybody factor in this nation of Jewish muthahs.

Sunday, June 19

breakdown weeekend

Crazy weekend.
Started out yesterday by going out for breakfast with Mr. S., and then returned home to attempt the never-ending tidying operation of the piles and piles of crap everywhere. My daughter is missing a few items that I became determined to find, giving me an excuse to overhaul her room, which is always the most horrendous mess. Long story short: after thoroughly tidying her whole room and searching the rest of the apt., I never found any of the missing items; and I almost always find things. Lately, though ... she insists that the cleaning lady is taking stuff home, but I can't believe that yet.

Since I was already in there, I changed her sheets, and then mine too, and started a load of laundry. By this time I was sweaty and exhausted, so took a break to listen to my very relaxing meditation disc. Ten minutes into it, the disc player (plugged into the electricity) stopped cold. I opened my eyes and looked around and discovered we had no electricity. First thing to check: Is it the whole building or just us? The hallway lights were working, so it was just us. Went to the circuit board and found that the main switch was down, so I flipped it up. Electricity was back. For about one minute, and then went off again. Again, I'll cut to the chase: After much fussing, phoning and checking plus a house call from our electrician, it was clear that the washing machine was tripping the circuit. And this after weeks of problems with our dryer (which still makes a grinding noise for the first five minutes of each load) and many visits from the dryer technician. We put in another call to him but will have to wait till after the weekend for his visit.

It is not fun dealing with a washing machine full of clothes and dirty water, so I left that for the next day.

Meanwhile, electrical outages are not very good for computers either. Due to technical reasons I won't bore you with, we next found ourselves with no internet connection and no solution forthcoming. So we had to call our computer techie for that, and found him to be incapacitated with shock over an collision he'd just had between his car and a motorcycle. There was no way he was coming over to fix our computer, so we were a family of internet addicts looking at a weekend offline. Not inspiring.

Oh, did I mention that my PMS was kicking in big time, with a migraine just beginning to claw the right side of my neck?

The weekend was looking very grim.

In the end, following many more phone calls, our ISP was able to talk us through reconfiguring our router, for a small fee (much less than the techie would have charged us), and we were connected again. Whew.

That's when we decided to go to a movie. We paid a visit to Mr. & Mrs. Smith, which just opened here (only a week after opening in North America, unlike the old days when we had to wait six months to see new movies). It's an okay flick, kind of fun in places, but longer than necessary; by the end you really don't even care about the outcome anymore. But ms. Angelina is so luscious to watch, how could anyone really mind? Yeah, alright, Brad's ok, too. Too much gunplay for young ms. squarepeg, though.

And that was just the first half of an exhausting weekend.

Part 2 tomorrow. It's nearly 3 am and I have to get up to go to work in 4 hours???!!!!

Sunday, June 12

OC marathon

"I don't hate DE-BU-TANTES!!"

- Steve Gold (Tom Hanks) in "Punchline"

bloody blockbuster have become drug pushers.

Mr. and young ms. squarepeg visit the BB several times a week, neither of them being especially avid readers, and last week came home with BB's free taste of the OC -- the first 4 episodes of season one, free with any movie rental. Seems Israel just wasn't that aware of it, so they needed to prime the pump a little.

Having for the past two years studiously avoided entrapment by that particular soap opera -- in more or less the same way I try to avoid McD's fries -- I was determined not to even get caught in the same room with it. Sadly, I do recognize that I am an addictive personality, having over the years become tragically entwined with such tripe as Beverly Hills 90210, Melrose Place, and, lord help me, Dawson's Creek -- every time, I hasten to add, only because Mr. Squarepeg the tv drone watched those shows in our very small apartment, where I could not help noticing what they all have in common: luscious-looking people in lusciously photographed scenery -- irresistible eye candy.

I knew from reading about it that The OC was of the same ilk, and I was damned if I was going to get sucked in. When ms. Squarepeg slipped it into the livingroom dvd player while I was puttering in the kitchen (open plan apt, i.e. essentially the same room), I practically screeched at her to turn it off and never to watch it while I was around.

She of course ignored me, as usual, being almost 13. By the third time I told her to turn it off, it was with glazed eyes and drool falling from my open mouth as I sunk into the couch beside her.

A few days later, she came home with the whole first season -- another 22 episodes. I was no longer fighting the need for the fix, and convinced myself that this was the best quality mother-daughter time we'd enjoyed in months. At 45 minutes per episode, I have been in an OC-induced stupor for much of whatever time I wasn't at work for the past several days. Sometimes we mocked the silly screen people ("How 'bout some more pills with that vodka, Marissa?") and laughed until the kid wheezed and needed her ventolin puffer, and sometimes she just laughed at me crying over somebody leaving town, but we had fun.

We came to the sobfest ending of season one at about 7 this evening, just before setting out to the in-laws for Shavuot-eve dinner. I was wrung out emotionally, and truly in awe of how I had been so masterfully played.

I just love those characters. Not all of them, of course, but certainly all the Cohens. Especially Peter Gallagher; he's my favorite. We haven't really come so far since the 50s and Father Knows Best, have we? Least favorite is Marissa -- early on I was annoyed with her stupidity. Whereas her evil mother is actually one of the most fun villains I've ever seen.

Well, I suppose I should join some kind of forum for OC addicts, but who's got time? In any case, I'm a season behind anyone else who's been following it. But maybe I have a reader or two who will share the pain with me?

literary shame society

This one's for you, Noorster. And for me, and anyone else who's living with Classic Jewish Guilt over never having read many of the Classics.

Salon is starting a feature today that will run through August, which they're calling Books Summer School.

War and Peace, anyone?

Saturday, June 11

Israeli WMD: weapon of mass dispersion

Check this out: Israel once again turns science fiction into technological reality, developing -- and this week, USING -- "a device that emits penetrating bursts of sound that leaves targets reeling with dizziness and nausea".

In seeking effective ways to disperse violent demonstrations, or as they say, "overcoming resistance without resorting to force," the Israeli military has come up with a device that targets the inner ear and makes remaining in the vicinity a very unpleasant option.

According the Associated Press, "The army employed the new device, which it dubbed 'The Scream,' at a recent violent demonstration by Palestinians and Jewish sympathizers against Israel's West Bank separation barrier.

"Protesters covered their ears and grabbed their heads, overcome by dizziness and nausea, after the vehicle-mounted device began sending out bursts of audible, but not loud, sound at intervals of about 10 seconds."

Anyone else got goosebumps?

Wednesday, June 8

too tired even for cheesecake

I'm tired. Very very tired. I simply do not manage to get enough sleep. This is not about insomnia. I fall asleep okay. But I either go to bed too late or I wake up too early.

This is how it goes: Average day, I get up somewhere around 7am. Yada-yada-yada, it's about an hour an a quarter till I leave the house for my lovely commute to work. (Which I hate, by the way, even though it's usually only about 40 minutes. But it's a bumper-to-bumper, stop-and-go-and-stop-and-go 40 minutes, almost the whole way. There's only maybe 5-7 minutes of highway in the whole thing. It is not fun.) Usually that yada-yada includes doing a few dishes from the night before (too tired at night), making coffee, making lunch for schoolchild, making-up & fixing bloody awful sleep-hair, and a few odds and ends.

The past 10 days or so, I've also been helping young broken-arm-girl get dressed and brush her hair. Then I started dressing her in school shirt for sleep and letting her use her teeth more (in lieu of functioning arm) and now it's just the hair.

So after all that, I typically get into work about 9am. Which means I am supposed to be there until 6:30pm (9.5 hrs.). On a standard day, that would put me back home by 7:15-ish. At which time, I either force myself to go to the gym for an hour or I collapse at home and forage for easy food, all the while trying to avoid any demands being made by anyone to feed THEM.

The rest of the evening is a boring blur. If I've gone to the gym, I'm home by 9-ish. In any case, I arrive with no energy for focussing on anything, but must deal with attention demands of "people" I live with. Yes, yes, I know working mothers all over the planet deal with the same thing, but this does not make it any easier to handle when you just want to scream at everyone to leave you the hell alone in PEACE already. Just to be quietly alone with my thoughts. To pick up a book and read a whole paragraph without hearing them bickering, or the tv at full blast, or walking into the room without knocking to demand that I do something NOW.

And it's a small apartment, so I hear every voice from the tv, and I hear her complaining when she doesn't get what she wants, and I hear him yelling at her to "go read" or "go tidy your room" and I can predict the moment she'll burst indignantly into my space and demand her god-given right to some attention. She'll eventually go to sleep only at 11pm, and then he wants to watch a movie with me, on the bedroom tv, and I know that 5 minutes into it he'll be asleep but I'll have trouble turning it off, and before I know it, it's midnite or 12:30.

And because the weather's changing, we're too hot so we turn on the ceiling fan, but then we're too cold so we wake up and put the blanket on, and then too hot-cold-hot. It's hard to sleep well in this changing weather, but it'll get even harder when it's just plain nonstop HOT and humid.

So I'm tired. All week long I've been dragging into work and wishing it was the weekend. I take my picnic blanket to the nice park across the street at lunch-time and just lay down and close my eyes for 10 minutes. It helps a bit. But then I drag back for the rest of the tedious day. I haven't been busy lately, so it's even more of a bore, but if I were busy I'd be having trouble concentrating.

Thank god there's another long weekend just ahead. Shavuot is the last for a few months -- it'll be a very long stretch now through to the new year in September. Let's make it a sweet one...

Enjoy the "dairy" holiday, my friends.

Wednesday, June 1

happy almost birthday

Surprise! I arranged and carried out a modest almost-birthday party for young ms. squarepeg a couple of days ago. She won't be 13 until August, but because of circumstances, she didn't have a party for her 12th at all, and August is a bad time for parties anyway, as people are away, and it's terribly hot. I'd been planning it for a week or two, and it WAS going to be a riding party for five of her friends until she went and broke her arm last Friday. How ironic is that.

But then the party became all about cheering her up, as she's been pretty sad at her plight. I got mr. s to agree to having the party at our house (apt.) which he's never agreed to before, being all obsessed about the place being "destroyed" by all the (5) kids running around. Don't get me started on that. He's really got his "jookim" (also, "shig'onot": i.e., stuff that makes him -- or makes him look -- crazy). But the sweetest thing was that he also agreed to get her the new cell phone she wanted, which she's been nagging about for months already. I knew this was a one-two combo that would knock her socks off, and combined with her crew showing up to surprise her, would HAVE to put a smile on her face.

It went off perfectly, with dad keeping her out of the house till all the girls had arrived, and I left work 3 hours early (making up the time now) to get home before 5. The in-laws also came, and I found out that my father-in-law's 75th birthday was the same day. (I've learned, over the years, that they don't like to make any fuss over birthdays, and no one mentioned it beforehand, but it's a shame I didn't realize.)

The phone -- which has a camera -- was a big hit. She cared about nothing else and spent the whole party figuring out how it worked, taking pictures and playing with it. When she went to bed that night, she said it was the most perfect day, and much better than a riding party, since she wanted her friends to come to her house. She kept calling out to me, "Mommy, I can't stop smiling."

And it just doesn't get any better than that.