Saturday, December 24, 2011


Whenever a holiday approaches, I feel my luck in living close to so many members of my family. My gratitude is mixed with some sadness, because of course not everyone I love lives so near. My grandmother, my aunt and uncles, many cousins, my brother, his wife and their newborn baby -- they all live in Israel. I also have family scattered around the United States. But my parents and my sister and her family live here, and their presence is a constant source of joy in my life.

Hanukkah is one of my favorite holidays. It lasts eight whole days and is full of lights, fabulous fatty foods, and songs. What could be better? I love to watch my sister’s three kids and my two, their faces lit with a childhood's wonderment and awe, as all of us sing the holiday songs together, bursting into laughter as we mess up, yet again, the canon “Mi yemalel gvurot yisrael,” or as someone forgets the right words to “Maoz tzur,” or as somebody burst into “Sevivon sov sov sov” just as all the rest begin with “Hanukiyya sheli.”

This Hanukkah my parents are in Israel, visiting my brother and my grandmother (who is turning 95!). For the first four days of the holidays my kids were with their dad. Dar and I lit the first candle together on the menorah that my grandfather had built and which my grandmother had used for many years in her home preschool. I taught Dar how to sing the blessings and started him on the complicated “Maoz Tzur.” I didn’t make latkes or the holiday doughnuts, but we watched the candles flickering and took pictures, and I sang the songs.

The second and fourth nights we celebrated with my sister’s family. My sister’s husband has a great voice and his mother was a school teacher, and the three of us sang all the songs, with some help from my sister (who I think was born with a unique sense of hearing that not everyone can appreciate), her kids and her husband’s father. We had latkes and sufganiyot and felt that it was really a holiday.

Tonight Uri and Eden will be with us as well, and then we’ll take our Hanukiyot with us and fly to Roatan Island in Honduras to continue the celebration there. I feel a little sad that our travel plans prevent us from fully celebrating the holiday as my perfect vision would have liked. But I am bringing the menorahs and enough candles with us, and a CD with all the songs to keep us in voice, and we’re going to have a great time.

I am not sure if our hotel on Roatan will have wifi, or if I will have time to blog in the busy schedule of having fun. I wish you all a happy Hanukkah and a happy new year, and I’ll see you again in 2012. Have a wonderful, fabulous, fantastic, great time!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Year in Romantic and Grateful Review

Only a few more days remain till the end of 2011. It had been a heck of a year.

I wrote a lot. Sent out queries. Felt sure I would get my book out this year. Handled rejections (and I’m proud to say that I handled them relatively well). I started three new books, one of which is a romance novel and is flowing like a waterfall from my mind. I also started this blog!

I traveled a lot. Went to Yosemite, Tahoe, Israel, Henry Coe State Park, New York, Asilomar, Big Basin, San Luis Obispo County, Catalina Island, LA, Harbin, and Kauai. Dar and I were going to hike the John Muir Trail for three weeks, and that might still happen in 2012!

I met Dar, broke up with him twice, and finally decided he was my soul mate, never to be separated from again (especially if he continues doing the laundry, cooking, washing the dishes, and planting in the yard).

I had my usual up and down year with the kids, a lot of worrying, obsessing, driving, yelling, reading, playing, hugging.

So let’s see, where was I? I wrote a lot, traveled a lot, loved a lot, yelled a lot. Sounds like a heck of a year, does it not?

I am proud of my year. It had not been easy. I have had some trials. There were nights I couldn’t sleep from stress and days spent crying. Sitting today at my desk in the new office Dar had arranged for us, looking out at the green carpet beginning to grow under the oaks, listening to my crazy dogs bark at who knows what, I feel a bigger, better person than I was on January 1st, 2011. I like this new and improved Sigal. I hope she’ll stick around for us to get acquainted.

There are many things I wish for in 2012: an agent to represent me, to grow closer with Dar, hike the John Muir Trail, the Cross-Catalina Trail, and the Tahoe Rim Trail. I’d like to go to Hawaii’s Big Island and stay at Holualoa Inn again. To have wonderful moments with the children, reading to them, working with them, having fun with them. I’d like to grow as a mother and watch the kids grow ever taller, wiser, lovelier. I’d like to send out shana tova cards this year, read more books, let my ideas flow into writing and become new worlds, enjoy Friday nights with my family, spend time with my parents, with my sister and her kids. So many things!

I wish myself and all of you a happy new year. A year of inner joy and love. A year of self development and growth. Another year to look back upon with pride. May our homes be filled with laughter and our hearts with contentment. May we never lack for new ideas and desires. And may all our wishes happily, joyfully, excitedly come true.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

All Eyes to the Target: Boy Ahead!

I read somewhere that young adult plots tend to concentrate on finding love, while middle grade novels depend on character development. I understand why 9-12 audiences are not interested in romantic endings. I also completely get why young adults would find the process of finding love more fascinating than almost any other subject. Love in YA novels, however, often comes hand in hand with the search for an inner truth and independence, an attempt to understand and find a place in a confusing world.

A friend of mine told me that she decided at eighteen to discover who she is alone before finding out who she was in a relationship. I appreciated what she said. I think it is a good lesson to learn, and I tried to follow it after my divorce. I met my ex husband at nineteen, when I did not have the presence of mine or inner strength yet to insist on what I want in the midst of my desire to please him, my craving for his love, and my fear of being alone. I hope, through my writing, to impart to girls the knowledge that facing these fears and needs and finding the “I” behind is possibly the most important and transforming experience in growing up.

I just finished reading Forgive My Fins by Tera Lynn Childs. Fluid and fabulous, the novel is a great example to YA love trends. The protagonist, Lily, is a mermaid living on land who must bond with a guy (for life) before her eighteenth birthday, or else she will not inherit her father’s throne. Lily has carefully selected a boy for this purpose. But it’s just so hard to tell him who she is and how she feels! Then Lily’s plans fall apart by another boy who she accidentally bonds with, and now she needs to find a way to put everything to rights again.

I had so much fun reading this novel. I loved Lily, her friends, and Quince, the boy next door. I loved the many fish expressions (like “That Blowfish!” and “curl my fins”). Lily had to find out not only who her true love is, but also what she wants from her life, and in Tera Lynn Childs’ novel the two were inexorably tied together. So maybe Lily doesn’t learn any other life lesson in the novel than that love is stronger than anything. But is that really such a bad lesson to learn? Lily learns to welcome the unconditional and rare love she is given not only from where she least expected it, but from her best friend in the sea and best friend in land and from her father -- all of whom are willing to set Lily free so that she can follow her dream.

And what better lesson is there in the world? What more could I want my teenaged child to know than that love conquers all? In my opinion, there is none.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Is Luxuriating a Mortal Sin? (it might as well be...).

During our last vacation, Dar and I visited Sycamore Mineral Hot Springs. We started the morning with massages (I got my first hot stone massage). We luxuriated in a private hot spring bath in the forest and ended with lunch at the spa’s cafe. During the massage, I got into a discussion with the therapist about whether a massage was a luxury or a necessary part of an exercise regime.

I have heard from trainers the opinion that a massage keeps the body healthier and prevents injury. My wonderful pilates instructor, Vera Szepesi (who has her own studio called, appropriately, Esprit de Core) believes in massages and often recommends that I get them more frequently. I know people who get massages as often as once a week!

So are massages a luxury or a necessity? Are they acceptable or an extravagance? Luxury, if not quite a mortal sin in my book, is at least extremely shameful. I prefer the sky over my head at night to a king-sized canopy bed. I would like, one day, to let go of material possessions, take only what fits in my backpack, and head out into nature. This dream certainly does not leave room for a massage!

I know part of my dislike for luxury comes from the values that were imbued in me by my parents and my school. Israel is a somewhat socialist country. When I grew up thirty years ago restaurants were much less prevalent than today. Dizingoff Center and the Kenyon in Ramat Gan were a miracle of creation, amazing shopping Centers where we went on special occasions only and certainly did not buy anything. And nobody I know ever got a massage.

I remember one time my mother’s uncle visited us from Colombia, and we took him to the solitary Chinese Restaurant near Herzliya. In honor of the occasion I got to eat strawberries in whipped cream for dessert. Ah, I will never forget the taste of these strawberries till my last day on this earth! Not one of the intricate concoctions I have had since will ever compare.

So are strawberries in cream a luxury or can we eat them every day? Would it cheapen their uniqueness if we did? I remember when I came to the United States and was introduced to blueberries for the first time. Blueberries in whipped cream! Yum!

Wait, how did this discussion degrade to food, anyways? One moment I was talking about the physical value of a massage, and the next I am salivating over fattening foods. I have no real answer for my question. In the end, it is my decision whether to give myself permission to luxuriate oftener in massage. As to the strawberries in whipped cream, it has been eleven years now that my stomach cannot digest dairy. They have become, and apparently will remain, a dream of mine, to enjoy but never fulfill, and I think that is just fine.,

The Great Exotic Versus Native Debate

Yesterday I walked to the cafe on the bay to get some breakfast for us. While I waited for the food, I started talking to a grandfatherly man who was peacefully sipping coffee outside. I told him how much we loved the town and asked whether everybody there was as nice as the people we had met. Los Osos had all kinds, he said, and told me about the main source of contention in the town:

Across the bay is a grove of eucalyptus trees, and eucalyptus trees, though beautiful, have several points against them: they are messy, nothing can grow under them, and they are not native to California. There are people in Los Osos who fight to have the eucalyptus cut down and native trees planted in their stead.

Eucalyptus trees were brought to California during the Gold Rush by well-meaning Australians who thought the wood could be used for railroad tracks (it can’t). The trees love the weather here, and it turns out they are useful as windbreakers. They are fast growing, and can get as tall as 65 feet in 50 years.

I looked over to the grove and felt sad. I do not like the idea of cutting down trees -- any tree. I happen to be very fond of eucalyptus, their musty smell and the rustling shade they provide remind me of the eucalyptus forest in my childhood town. Also, as a non-native species to California myself, I wonder: when does an exotic species become native?

There are so many examples like the eucalyptus. It is very popular to hate the yellow oats which cover the hills and choke the wildflowers, but they came here with the Spaniards, almost 250 years ago! At Henry Coe State Park the administration thought for a while to remove the dams the ranchers had built and release the water from the park’s many lakes and ponds. But these dams have been there for years and years, and the animals have learned to depend on the constant source of water. The question arises what is exactly the original or natural condition of the land?

Change. We love to resist it, don’t we? We always think it was better once upon a time, before the change had come. Life was so much better before the oats and the dams, before Chinese food and eucalyptus trees and before all those crazy immigrants. California must have been beautiful before the Dinosaur settlers stomped on all the native plants. Not that we’d know. Back then there were no people around.

Our world changes all the time. It really does. Mind you, I am a firm believer in taking care of our land and helping species survive. But I’m also trying to remind me, you, all of us, that even the most native species were exotic once upon a time.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Dancing Deer Farm

In honor of Dar’s birthday and our first anniversary, Dar and I decided to go on a romantic getaway near San Luis Obispo in the quiet community of Los Osos. Today, after two days spent wandering about the area, looking in galleries, eating fish tacos and canoeing under the shadow of Morro Rock, we went to visit Chris, who is responsible for keeping me honest and organized in life and lives on Dancing Deer Farm. Whenever Chris comes to the Bay Area she tells me I must come and visit the farm. “You’ll love it,” she promised. So we told her we’d be in the area, and she invited us to join the farm’s holiday party today.

The drive up through highway 46 was beautiful, crossing straight over the hills (on the way back we caught the sunset as it painted the sky a glorious crimson red). Though we had meant to be fashionably late, we found ourselves at the farm right on the dot. Chris, surprised at our promptness, asked us to wait twenty minutes. “Make yourself at home, walk around,” she said. And so we did. Wandering through oak forest and meadow, we met a nice man who recommended following the trails, a family of deer, and Dr. Peter Huber, who had started Dancing Deer Farm.

The farm stretches on some 80 acres and is a non profit organization whose goal, according to their website, is to provide “shared growth and support through a balanced and conscious style of life as well as reconnection with nature.” Dr. Peter Huber welcomed us kindly, offering us a place to stay at the farm, but we explained we already had a room in Los Osos. Once Chris arrived, she took us on a tour, showing us the Hacienda, a lovely structure that hosts yoga and other retreats, the organic garden, yoga room, the chicken coop, and the Cakery (we got to sample some cupcakes during the party and they were good!).

Chris told us that Peter has helped many people, providing them with a home on the property in exchange for work till they could get back on their feet. Peter tried to compliment Chris about the help which she had given him, but she clearly felt more comfortable honoring him than the other way around! Why is it so much easier to give compliment than receive them? Chris has done a lot for me this year too -- amazing stuff! I don’t know what I would have done without her, and I’m glad I don’t need to know!

What a wonderful visit! But the best part is yet to come. Chris’ friend Rebecca is a chocolatier at Sweet Earth Chocolates and has brought us a box of truffles as a gift. We savored the four truffles inside the golden box: an aztec truffle, spicy and warm, an orange truffle, tangy in the mouth, a chocolate truffle, creamy and soft, and a hazelnut truffle, perfectly satisfying.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

On Raising Cows

I love to travel, and today I am sitting no more than two hundred feet from the waters of beautiful Morro Bay. Darkness reigns outside, and the sky is sprinkled with hundreds of blinking stars. Of course I am not sitting out there -- it’s too cold for me -- but in a comfortable chair in front of the fireplace (which for some reason refuses to turn on). The window shutters are down, but it doesn’t matter. I know the stars and the sea are there.

The landscape around Morro Bay stretches seemingly forever, pastoral farms, hills and sea. I love the space all around me. I love the farms. I love the cows dotting the hillside. I love how, when the shadows of the trees begin to stretch, the cows all follow each other back to the barn, the food, and the milking. I love the lines of planted fields, the color of newly turned soil. And I love how everything here is framed by the ocean.

Having a cow farm had always been a sort of dream of mine. I’d like to have a huge vegetable garden, overflowing with flowery lettuce and broccoli, waves of cucumbers and pumpkin, climbing pea plants, and sunshiny corn. I’d like to have pecan trees like my Uncle Yigal had when I was a kid, rows of them, an elfin forest where the air is cool and musty, and the leaves collect on the ground, hiding the treasured fallen nuts. I’d like to have peach trees and apple trees. And of course, the cows. And maybe a goat or two. Or sheep. An alpaca, perhaps?

Maybe you would ask what is stopping me from having a farm like that. Nothing but my own mind, I think -- my fears, my beliefs about my limitations. I could have a farm. But how would I know how to take care of the cows? It seems like so much work! And I don’t like working so very much. And I’d need to be responsible, conscientious about  checking on the vegetables in the garden, picking the fruit when it’s ready, trimming trees and taking care of the animals! Yes, I want to be closer to the land and grow my own food, but... well, can’t I hire someone else to actually milk the cows?

Ah, the hypocrisy of it all! I can dream, but I do it best from behind my computer screen. I am better at writing about my cow farm, at imagining it, than I am at growing even the little bit of herb garden at my home. So maybe I won’t have a cow farm in this life. Maybe chickens and dogs are my limit. Or maybe, as I grow a little more to believe in the special powers guiding my life, I’d find a way to have that farm, milk those cows, and grow all the vegetables I could desire. One day. Perhaps.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Romancing the Shoe

Once upon a time, before I met my friend Bridget (who started quite a lot of bad habits in me), I used to have one or two pairs of shoes, cross trainers which I wore for every occasion. Then Bridget came along, and now my shoe closet is full to the brim and overflowing with high heel shoes, boots, flats, and the usual cross-trainers (though now I own more than one). I still wear the same pair of shoes all the time: a well-worn pair of Merrell pace gloves which I love, but having options in case of emergencies or special occasions is fun!

So yes, I think shoes are very important to a woman’s life (and possible to a man, as well). But in Jessica Day George’s Dragon Slippers, shoes are important to everyone: men, women, and dragons. In fact, they are the trigger around which the entire plot revolves!

I finished reading Jessica Day George’s Dragon Slippers a couple days ago and enjoyed it very much. It’s a light and easy read, and I read through it fast. The novel follows the story of Creel, an orphan peasant girl. Creel’s aunt decides to sacrifice her to the village dragon in the hope that somebody might rescue, marry, and altogether take Creel off the aunt’s hands. Instead, Creel makes a bargain with the dragon and gets a pair of shoes (shoes! Notice where this is going!) from him for the road. Creel does not intend to go back home. She wants to go the big town, where the palace is, and make her fortune by weaving and embroidering.

Creel makes friends easily, befriending not only the girls in the shop where she finds work, but a dragon, the youngest prince, and the prince’s bodyguard. She also makes enemies fast -- or at least gets on the wrong side of the foreign princess about to marry the royal heir. Many adventures befall Creel, because even though she refuses to see it, the shoes she received from the dragon are magic. The foreign princess knows and wants them. The dragons know, but prefer to keep Creel ignorant. Only once she loses the shoes does Creel finally understand how important they are, and now her world is turned upside down as she realizes she could lose all her new friends unless she gets those shoes back!

I find it funny that both Jessica Day George books I read so far have a lot to do with shoes. In Midnight Ball (which I wrote about here) the whole hullabaloo starts because the princesses wear out their dance shoes every night. In Dragon Slippers Creel’s shoes possess a strange power over the dragons without which the conflict of the novel would not exist. Jessica Day George wrote several other novels, and I wonder if the theme of significant shoes continues in them. If I find the answer, I’ll be sure to let you know.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Winter Break and the Romance Novel

As a writer, I would like my novels to be more of the high literary kind. I should like to have complex characters, an intricate plot and lots of meaning. I would like my readers to leave the book feeling that they have grown through the reading experience, or at least learned something meaningful and worthwhile about themselves and the world. For example, with my Anna Mara fairy tale, I’d like to let girl readers know that they can be boyfriend-less and still important. Female empowerment, you know?

I’ve been thinking about all these high-brow ideas for so long, and doubting my abilities to convey my messages to humanity so often, that my head has literally began to shrink. I need a break, and I need it to be something fun and enjoyable. Sexy, even. So I was thinking maybe I’d write a romance novel for a while. Maybe romancing a novel would be less pressure than trying to imbue a fairy tale with so much meaning. Light and easy. After all, a romance has pretty much a preset plot line.

Girl meets Boy. Boy has a dog and a truck. For some reason Girl believes she can’t be with Boy. Boy pursues Girl, trying to prove that he is different from all the other boys who have broken her heart in the past. Girl and Boy have sex, which makes Girl even more adamant to stay as far away from Boy as possible. Girl has a change of heart through some experience (this can be paranormal, mysterious, violent, a dream, or something like that). Girl pursues Boy and has sex with him again. But now Boy thinks maybe Girl is right, and she is better off without him.

It can go on and on like that for a while until they both come to their senses and get married, at which point the sex basically ends, and so we have to end the novel.

Just kidding.

You get the idea, though. This could be fun! So for the next few weeks (till we come back from all our various vacations to the four corners of the world), I’m going to try to write anywhere between one and two thousand words a day in a romance novel about an artist and a rock climber. It’s going to be romantic. It’s going to have sex. It’s going to be full of high drama. And I’m definitely going to hide the fact that I wrote it so that no one could ever connect me with it for as long as we shall both live. But don’t worry. I’ll still keep you posted. You know you want me to.

By the way, I did notice the fact that I just finished a sentence and a paragraph with a preposition. I think I’ll leave it like that. I am practicing being less stressed out about perfection.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Misty Days

Misty days make me feel romantic in a nostalgic kind of way. There’s that little bit of rain suspended in the air, the clouds masking the sun and filtering the bright light away, that feeling of expectation of good things about to come.

Misty days remind me of falling in love in seventh grade. It was on one such day that I stretched myself on tiptoes and gave a first kiss on the cheek to a boy and cut my hand on his bike’s hand-breaks.

At eighteen, I fell in love yet again on a misty evening. Somewhere up in the Shomron Mountains, with the sun blinking through the clouds a last dramatic appearance on the desert hills, I got called to the office to “meet” someone. My first day in the unit, it was. And there he waited, this amazing guy -- an officer! -- patting the bench next to him for me to sit down!

Here is a cherished memory I have, with the same officer from the Shomron (whose name is Barak), except this time I was in the Golan Heights after a long day spent traveling up with the unit. Barak had been sick and away for about two weeks, and I knew he was expected to come back sometimes in the next couple of days. It was freezing outside, a wintery evening, the wind blowing wildly across the plateau. All of us girls huddled on top of a single space heater, trying to keep warm.

I knew Barak could not already be there, but I felt restless and alone despite the company of the giggling girls. I left the room and made my way to his office, just to make sure he really was not there. Nobody was outside. Everything appeared deserted and desolate, the low buildings built far apart. I finally found the office I was looking for and pushed the door open, and there, inside, just arrived and happy to see me, was this guy I loved.

A few days after this I left the unit to continue my own officer training, and Barak too left and went to India for a year-long trip. I have not seen him since, though I heard some rumors of a wife and twins.

When I think back on the romantic moments that stand out in my memory, most of them are important not because of another person, but because of the beautiful way those moments made me feel. As I sit here today I finally understand what people mean when they say love comes from within. Deep inside of me, love wells and fill me and overflows to include the kids, Dar, my family and friends, even my pathetic but cute dogs. I truly am in love with love -- love of being alive, enjoying misty days like today, reveling in having so many people to love.

Keep warm and healthy today! Have some chocolate! Lots of love!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Teachable Moments

Sometimes when I write, I am right there with my characters, acting as a scribe to their actions and words. Tonight I found myself in the kitchen at Snow Mansion, watching Anna Mara and Calypso Maximilian having breakfast. Five hundred words later, screams erupted in the bathroom here in the real world, invading my groove. Though reluctant, I left Calypso and Anna Mara mid-sentence and went to see what caused the shouting.

Eden burst out of the bathroom, holding her arm. Tears running down her face, she fell into my arms. Uri stood by the sink brushing his teeth. I hugged Eden for a moment, then asked what happened. They both spoke at once. “He pinched me.” “She kicked me.”

Ah! A teachable moment. One of those moments when total and utter clarity befriends me, when I know exactly what to say and do in order to make all right in the world. Right? Wrong. This is a time when I am beset by total helplessness. “She hit me!” “He bit me!” “She kicked me!” “He said I was stupid!” “She said she’d let the hamsters loose!” “He told me I can’t come in his room!” The accusations flow, and who is to make heads or tails out of it? And who do I talk to first, him or her? Who’s more to blame?

Ah, the joys of motherhood! And me? I’m an elephant in a crystal shop kind of parent (I am translating this expression from the Hebrew, so excuse me if it sounds strange). I want to leave the kids with self confidence, a feeling of accountability and responsibility, and the inner-appreciation that comes from knowing that they did the right thing. Instead, I think I leave them feeling confused (because I talk too much), hurt (because they think I didn’t listen to them or consider their side enough), and mistreated (because of course justice should have been theirs).

I’d like to think that every time such an emergency arises, I am closer to handling it in the way I aspire to, with patience, level-headedness, and the right words. I think today I screamed less than in the past. I tried to explain to them about taking responsibility for their own actions. But I was far from perfect and still screamed too much.

I learn a lot from being Uri’s and Eden’s mother. They give me daily opportunities to grow closer to my better self. They provide me with the chance to be at peace with myself, learn patience, and think before I talk. I think I’m not a terrible student, but I’m definitely not getting many As. If there’s one thing I’d like to take from today, it is to view these moments with more joy and less frustration. They truly are opportunities for growth. And maybe if I concentrated on what I could learn rather than my success in teaching the children, I’d be happier with the end results as well.

Saturday, December 10, 2011


I remember myself, in my first few months in the Israeli army, telling myself I was different from the other girls. My parents lived in California. I didn’t finished high school in Israel. I didn’t like the same music or movies as them. Once I told myself this story, I documented and verified it with every available clue, and finally it became the Truth. Looking back with a wisdom acquired over twenty years of feeling different, I know this was a story I told myself and not a truth. Perhaps back at nineteen it was easier for me to make myself different -- to reject myself before I risked rejection from the other girls.

I therefore tend to identify with characters who feel like they do not belong, such as Bianca, the protagonist in Kody Keplinger’s The DUFF. I enjoyed reading the novel with its romance, sex, conflict and high drama. But I think what most gripped me is that it made me think. I love it when a book does that!

For those of us who are clueless (like I was), DUFF is acronym for “Designated Ugly Fat Friend.” Bianca is told she is the Duff by Wesley, who she herself has pigeonholed as a male slut. Starting with these stereotypes, Keplinger then proceeds to shatter whatever beliefs Bianca holds about herself, her parents, her friends, and of course Wesley, because stereotypes, after all, rarely describe who we really are.

So is Bianca the Duff because she is not blond and has non-existent breasts? or is her friend Casey the Duff because she is as tall as a giraffe? or is her other friend Jessica the Duff because of her airy, flaky personality? And who decides who the Duff is, anyways? Wesley calls Bianca the Duff, but it is Bianca who identifies herself with the word and makes it her own cross to bear. Only toward the end of the novel, when she confesses the word to Jessica and Casey, does she discover that each of them believes it refers better to herself.

Bianca learns compassion in the novel, and most of all, she learns compassion for herself. She understands the common humanity she shares with everyone else: “I should be proud to be the Duff. Proud to have great friends who, in their mind, were my Duffs.”

I have to admit, at the beginning of the novel, before I got to know Jessica and Casey, I resented them. I liked Bianca, and I didn’t want her to be the Duff. I thought she was the Duff because they made her so, that they hang out with her because she made them look better. So I loved this twist! I loved how their friendship truly came from the heart, from the places where they each most felt vulnerable. I agree with Bianca when she accepts Wesley’s assertion that he is not the Duff, telling him flatly: “That’s because you don’t have friends.”

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Falling in love with a Bear

Every so often I read a book with which I fall instantly in love. “Once upon a time, the North Wind said to the Polar Bear King, ‘Steal me a daughter, and when she grows, she will be your bride.” So begins Ice, a novel by Sarah Beth Durst. There is so much I want to know now: who is this girl who will be stolen, and will she have anything to say about being married to a bear?

Ice follows the myth East of the Sun West of the Moon which is a variant of the Psyche myth (and from which Beauty and the Beast is also descended). In the prologue, the grandmother tells her granddaughter the fairy tale whose beginning I quoted above. The North Wind’s daughter falls in love with a man and has a baby. She makes a bargain with the Polar Bear King. He will protect her from the North Wind, and she will give him her daughter for a bride. But the terrible North Wind discovers his truant daughter’s hiding place and blows her away to the castle of the trolls, east of the sun and west of the moon. As the prologue ends, young Cassie asks her grandmother, “And Mommy is still there?”

When next we meet Cassie, she is almost eighteen, an aspiring polar bear researcher at her father’s research station in the Arctic. The Polar Bear King appears in her orderly life, and she makes a deal with him. She will marry him if he brings her mother back from the Troll Castle. The Polar Bear King carries Cassie away, “an aurora streaking across the Arctic.” Durst portrays the conflict between Cassie’s scientific view of the universe and the magical elements which suddenly appear in her life: “There couldn’t be a castle in the Arctic. The whole expanse had been covered by satellite photography. Someone would have seen a castle. It was, she thought, beyond beautiful.”

I devoured the novel in two sittings. I followed Cassie’s progress as she falls in love with Bear and learns to appreciate the magic of life. She is a strong heroine, and I found her determination and ability to reach Bear after he is taken to the Troll Castle a believable if somewhat crazy quest. I loved the beautiful, win-win ending. The novel has lyrical moments, moment of breathtaking nature descriptions, and moments of courage.

Though Ice could be classified as a fairy tale retelling, I do not feel that the novel fits that mold. Durst manages to marry seamlessly the magical fairy tale elements with the raw reality of the Arctic. Perhaps because the novel takes place in a location that is itself mythical it was easier for me to accept the enchantment of the story, or perhaps it is just that I prefer to believe that magic really is everywhere around us. Either way, Ice is one of the most beautiful novels I have read lately.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Food! Food! Food!

Thanksgiving and the parties around my mom’s birthday have given me some five or six extra pounds around the midsection, a not-so-little gift which I would rather like to return. It always amazes me how much easier it is to gain weight than to lose it, and having never been much prone to dieting, I feel very helpless about how to proceed.

I train at the gym three times a week and go to pilates twice. I jog sometimes around my home, walk the dogs and go on hikes. I think of myself as a fairly active person. It seems to me that my weight ought to remain low due to all this exercise, but for some reason this theory simply does not hold.

Taking a look at my eating habits does not make me feel much better. I eat a lot of chocolate, though now that I’m in love with this brand of chocolate called Taza, I eat less. It’s very dark chocolate and gritty, being stone-ground, and somehow one piece of it suffices. I feel like I eat a lot of vegetables throughout the day, but looking closely at yesterday, for example, reveals that I had a bit of salad for breakfast, then a few cooked carrots for lunch, and a couple cucumber and carrot sticks for dinner. Not that much. My mood falls even lower when I consider that I always pour olive oil on my salad, and that the goulash from lunch had been sautéed in canola oil before cooked.

I’m going to make chicken soup today with lots of veggies inside, and this thought makes me feel a lot better. I guess in order to eat healthier I’m going to have to make an effort to eat at home oftener, to cook myself, and to add more vegetables to everything I make.

I have one friend who, whenever I’m upset about my weight or comment on looking fat, tells me that our weight fluctuates in winter and summer, that it’s natural to gain or lose as much as seven pounds at these times. She also says to talk about myself in the way I want my daughter to talk about herself. That’s a big statement, because I definitely would not want Eden to have issues with her weight. Ever, if possible.

I feel very ambivalent about these extra pounds. I wish to accept myself the way I am, with a belly or without, but it’s very hard. I think mainly I want to feel healthy, fit and strong, and I guess I don’t right now. Perhaps keeping the balance of eating as healthy as I can and working out is the important aspect, and my weight is not much more important than as a side product. Today I can’t quite reconcile myself to this, but tomorrow, as always, is a new day, the perfect day to start.

Monday, December 5, 2011

My Un-Architectural Calling

I don’t know why, but big projects tend to freak me out. Two years ago, relief flooded me when Uri chose to build a synagogue model for his third grade project with his dad. Similarly, last year, I felt as happy about the two of them working on Uri’s science experiment together. This year, when Eden announced that she decided to build the synagogue model with me, I felt very tentative about it. I didn’t know how to begin or how to go about it, and I felt like if she insisted on working with me, the project might never get done. I think Eden noticed my hesitation, because a few days later she came home and declared that actually her plan is to build the synagogue with her grandpa, my dad. Big sigh of relief. Responsibility off. Now, I thought to myself, there is a chance that she will have a synagogue!

My dad, who has prepared models like that before, immediately imagined Eden and himself working in his wood shop, covered in thin wood dust, building a synagogue out of balsa wood. I suggested that perhaps using foam board would be easier. My dad submitted. He began working on the sanctuary, the most difficult-looking part which is shaped like an ark. Eden seemed to have little interest in the process, instead immersing herself in creating a torah and aron kodesh.

Seeing how uninvolved she was, I thought we could switch to building the synagogue out of lego. Eden sparkled back to life. In an hour, the walls were up. Another hour or two, and we had ceilings. Without so much as a peep for help, she built a bimah and a little rabbi. We put everything together, and voila, a synagogue! I felt a huge surge of pride. Of myself as much as of Eden, I think. We had done it! Perhaps we couldn’t have done it without my dad’s help, who told us where the windows ought to go, and where the door is, and to which side the huge ark-shaped sanctuary must look. But we did a lot! My first project!

When we entered the school this morning, one of the girls in Eden’s class looked at our synagogue and said, “Why is it so small?” Upstairs, mega-projects lined the walls. I think some of these synagogues are the work of parent more than child. Some I know were done by the kids alone. I am proud of Eden for having done more than half the work on her project by herself. Yes, her grandpa helped her with the sanctuary-ark, and I gave her the idea for the ceiling, but most of the execution is her own. And it’s beautiful. It might be small, it might be in many shades of grey, black and blue, because we didn’t have all grey pieces, but to me, it is beautiful.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Fairytale Retellings

My favorite Cinderella retelling is Eleanor Farjeon’s The Glass Slipper which I originally read in Hebrew. I love the image of Shoshi’s father (she is called Ella in the English version), hiding sugared plums for Shoshi in his pocket during the ball, feeling sad about not standing up to his wife. I love the chirping fairy godmother who hides peaches for Shoshi within a pile of kindling, Shoshi’s childlike enthusiasm about dancing and the speeches that the toastmaster gives for every dish.

When I came upon a recommendation for Ash, a Cinderella adaptation by Malinda Lo, I was excited. Here was an opportunity to research the fairy tale market. Ash grows up near the forest, and after her mother and then her father die, she is taken to live at her stepmother’s house, which is adjacent to a different part of the forest. The forest helps maintain the enchantment permeating the book: paths form beneath Ash’s feet as she wanders, leading her in and out of mist-shrouded places to which a fairy friend tells her she ought not to go. In the forest she also meets the King’s Huntress, and in an unexpected twist we find that Ash is to fall in love not with the prince, but with this woman who feels compassion for the deer she hunts.

The novel is beautifully written in lyrical language which brings to life the mystical world Ash lives in. Despite that, I felt confused by Ash’s bizarre relationship with the fairy man. I was further confused by the scene at which Ash enters the ball in her fairy ball gown and is accosted by the prince who falls in love with her. I suppose three is a magical number in fairy tales, but this abundance of lovers simply made me see Ash as rather emotionless. I also wondered whether women kissing in public during the king’s ball was a common occurrence, since no character commented on it.

In contrast, I was entirely entranced by Jessica Day George’s Princess of the Midnight Ball. I do not know if there is another retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses fairytale, but I was smitten by this one. Jessica Day George raises the stakes so high in the story that I was kept wanting to read more and more and in fact felt so eager to know what is coming next that I never once thought to peek ahead (my usual naughty practice). Midnight Ball is readable and colorful, and all the characters felt lovable to me, including the grumpy Reiner Orm, uncle to the soldier who attempts to rescue the princesses from the enchantment placed on them.

I am looking forward to reading some other fairy tale adaptations I downloaded into my ipad, as well as some new releases which I found recommended on blogs. I enjoy discovering new writers, and I already purchased another Jessica Day George novel called Dragon Slippers, which I hope will be as good.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

What is the World Coming to???

Yesterday my cousin asked me if I read Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games. She wanted to know if I think she would enjoy it. I happen to have a strong opinion about the novel, and I told her that opinion in as strong terms.

I read The Hunger Games this past March after the SCBWI Asilomar Conference. Everybody there talked about the book: editors, agents, writers. It seemed I was the only one who had not read it, and so I downloaded the novel on kindle and began to catch up.

I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I have minimal experience with dystopia, being more of a light and airy, romantic fiction reader. I have never been a fan of books like 1984 or Lord of the Flies. So I was shocked, overwhelmed, and horrified. I had nightmares about the novel for weeks. Just looking at the movie trailer (as I had been tempted to do a couple weeks ago) made all those feelings return. My cousin, who had avoided the Harry Potter books because she felt they were too dark, said she might skip reading this one too.

I think partly I felt so traumatized because The Hunger Games is a book for teens 12 and up. In the book, twenty-four teenagers between 12 and 18 are chosen to fight each other to the death in an enclosed game area. The adults intervene only to provide more weaponry or to force the children to fight. The movie, coming out in March, is not yet rated, but it is designated a family film. I assume that means PG13. At least I hope so.

It seem to me that many new books for teenagers have a “bad world” turn to them. Dystopias are everywhere, fallen angels, zombies and vampires. Dead girls are featured on book covers (see Rachel Stark’s blog Themes which I would have expected in adult literature appear repeatedly in teen novels: like Ellen Hopkins’ Tricks, for example, which has some disturbing sex scenes that were difficult for me to read. The gory birth scene in the last Twilight film, rated PG13, surely would have belonged in an R film twenty years ago. Rain Man, as a comparison, which was released in 1988, is rated R, but neither the sex scene nor the screaming tantrums in that film unsettled me as much as the sight of Edward cutting open Bella’s belly, injecting her heart with his venom, and biting her repeatedly in her arms and legs.

So I don’t know what the world is coming to. Of course, this “bad world” trend might not be a bad thing, just another trend in a world which loves trends. But I hope maybe one day soon we can have a joyfulness trend. A happy, wonderful, the world is great trend. I’d enjoy that.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Joys (or is it horrors?) of Wasting Time

I feel irritable tonight, ready to snap at anyone who dares say a wrong word. My grumpiness comes from being angry with myself for having wasted time today. I look at what I accomplished, and I judge myself based on how much of what I expected to do (a lot) had actually been done (very little).

Today had not been productive. I am only now writing the blog which I intended to write earlier this morning. I did not find a way to become unstuck with the synopsis for my novel. And what about other things I wanted to do? Read blogs, look for more agents, send out more queries, write in my new book, spend some time with Dar. Nope, nothing, zilch, none.

Whenever I am aware of being mad at myself, I wonder why I need to judge myself so harshly. I mean, really, how does being critical serve me anyways? Then I realize that I am judging myself for being judgmental, and I laugh. But another day I catch myself doing it again.

After all, wasting time is sinful, right? At least, that is what I’ve been taught. My mother says that the more you do, the more time you have to do what you want to do. That sounds complicated, but think about it this way: On vacation, I lie on the beach, read a book in the sun and eat good food, right? Sunning, bathing, eating, reading equals a full and satisfying day. At home, I somehow manage to write, do homework with the kids, cook, wash dishes, walk the dogs, play with Eden, sit with Uri while he’s playing the violin and the clarinet, read to the kids, do the laundry, and read in bed and take a bath! How can that be? It’s because the more I do the more time I have to do what I want to do!

I get satisfaction from writing, but less from talking on the phone for two hours (which I did this morning), or from waiting for half an hour in front of the kids’ school and then for an hour and a half at the dentist with Uri. And even less from driving half an hour in each direction four times a day.

But as I write this, I wonder. Can’t I find satisfaction in these seemingly time-wasting activities? Can’t I find joy in sitting in traffic, or in spending an afternoon with my son at the dentist’s office?

Maybe it’s possible, but I’m not yet zen enough to remember this wisdom at the right time. I can see the ways I could have been more self-aware, compassionate, and mindful today while “wasting” my time. Smart after the fact, a friend aptly told me today. And yet it seems a transient smartness and goes away fast, before I can use it next time.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Backpacking Bug

Ever since I first began toddling in my socks, I loved being in nature. With my family, we took trips all over Israel, and I learned the names of the wildflowers, the history of the archaeological places, and how to look safely under rocks.

As an adult, after successfully avoiding any form of exercise for the better part of fifteen years, it was clear to me that I could not walk for long, carry a backpack, or under any circumstances sleep in a tent. I limited myself to short, easy hikes and stays at dreary motels.

The desire to be in nature, however, burned in me, and finally, thanks to my friend Genevieve, I took the backpacking plunge. We purchases sleeping bags, a tent, backpacks, a cooking set and freeze-dried food, and we were ready for our first try. We chose our favorite place to hike: Henry Coe State Park. Genevieve picked a trail which she felt would be appropriate (eight miles the first day and five the next), set the length of the trip for two days, and off we went.

I remember us trudging on Springs Trail that April afternoon. I followed Genevieve, wondering at finding myself carrying a backpack. We arrived at China Hole which had risen with the rains and covered our trail. We took off our shoes and waded through, shivering at the chilly water. The path meandered uphill for several miles till it reached Mahoney Meadows and our last stretch into Lost Spring. Lost Spring, a lost cause indeed, was nothing but drippy muddy water. We felt lucky that we had brought enough water till we discovered that my water had entirely oozed out of my hydration bag.

We learned a lot that trip and continued to make mistakes in trips to come. There was the day we hiked fifteen miles in 110 degrees and run completely out of water because of a rattlesnake. There was the time we forgot to bring the pot and had to cook in one of our titanium bowls. There was the hike in which both of us ended quite ill after not bringing enough food.

Now I have a backpacking partner in my boyfriend Dar. We still make mistakes and try to learn from them if we can. We plan on hiking the John Muir Trail from Yosemite to Mount Whitney. We want to venture into the wild Kalalau Trail. Today, indoors, I look at the fog hanging over the world outside, and I close my eyes and imagine what it will be like to sleep under the stars again, to fight the mosquitos, miss fresh food, and dare to swim in a cold lake. How lucky I am to be healthy and strong! How lucky that I have the hiking bug! How lucky that I had been brave enough to challenge my beliefs about myself and discover that I can do so much more than I thought I can.

Monday, November 28, 2011


It occurred to me today that I am a writaholic, addicted to writing. Most people who are privy to my sporadic writing habits might raise their eyebrows at this idea. In fact, my own eyebrows rise at the very thought. But nonetheless I think it might be true.

My writaholic-ness is definitely not a workaholic-type obsession. I don’t write for long hours, neglecting both children and house work. Nor do I ever write into the wee hours of the night, leaning over my computer under the forlorn light of a solitary lamp. I rarely rush to my notebook in the middle of the night with a burning desire to write down an idea, though that did happen to me once fifteen years ago when I thought up a limerick dedication to my honor thesis advisor.

And yet I insist that I am a writaholic. The reason is this: when I write I am happy, content and relaxed. I feel confident and hopeful about the future. In contrast, when I don’t write I slowly become depressed, unhappy, and stressed.

Usually I feel that I need to be in the groove in order to write. If I feel depressed or my mind is busy then I can’t write. And yet, lately it has become clear to me that I need to write.

Take this weekend, for example. On Friday we celebrated my mother’s 70th birthday, and many members of my family came to spend the weekend with us. I appointed myself master of ceremonies. My sister and I cooked thanksgiving dinner for 20 people. My boyfriend organized a bus, and we took the whole group plus five to Point Lobos for a hike, then to Carmel for dinner. On Saturday we watched a movie about my mother that I had prepared with a friend’s talented son. We had brunch and ended the day with dinner and an opera. On Sunday we closed the ceremonies with a family zumba class and more food.

This full weekend left little time for writing. On Sunday, however, when we returned home the kids went to watch some television, and my boyfriend fell asleep on the sofa. More than anything else I wanted to write, but I felt too tired and not in the groove. Instead I idled by the ipad, played word games and filled out crossword puzzles in Hebrew. I slowly grew more tired and restless.

I think I would have been better able to relax and enjoy the festivities this weekend if I had used what free time I had for writing. This morning I woke up still tired, but now, with the keyboard under my fingers, my words springing on the screen and bringing my thoughts to life, I feel whole again. I hope that in the future, instead of waiting for the right mood to come, I will remember that I can rest in the writing. I will allow myself to "write" myself into the groove and become happy by doing what I love and do best. Which is exactly this.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Let's Have Some Fun, Kids!

I like to watch my friends and their parenting techniques, and I noticed there are different parenting schools with regard to one of my favorite subjects: are the kids or the adults in charge of fun?

Some of my friends are the kind of parents who believe that children should fit themselves to the schedule of the adults. They expect from the children a certain level of behavior. While the expectation sometimes results in crying and complaints, the outcome is usually that these friends sleep better at night, are able to finish a conversation without being interrupted, and are not slaves to their children.

There is another type of parents I recognize. This type is so excited to have kids, that they make the children, their schedule, needs and wishes a priority. They walk with babies all night singing to them, they nurse on demand, they let the kids sleep with them in bed, and they go to the playground even if they absolutely abhor it.

Guess to which group I belong?

Going to the playground might appear an innocent, charming activity which parents and children can engage in together, but I dread it. I have a hard time running around trying to get my children not to kill themselves or be killed by other kids on the play structure. I don’t know how to protect my clueless and far-too-innocent two (who must have inherited their helplessness from me) from playground thugs who take away toys from them or push them around in the sand box. Taking my kids to the playground is in my book an ordeal.

My favorite activity with the kids and what I have always loved loved loved doing with them is read together. No surprise there, I guess. I spent my childhood reading books to myself, and now I want to spend my kids’ childhood reading books to them.

Of course, there are many types of parents in between the two I mentioned, in all directions of the spectrum. And I hope that I don’t always belong to the door-mat kind. I rather hope that by thinking about all this, as I certainly did and do, there may have been slight changes in my behavior, possibly undetected by the naked eye, but which have made a difference in the quality of my life.

There is much to learn, and the kids are not waiting for me to learn it. They are growing up, developing, learning themselves. My daughter is now a pro in playground etiquette and is an expert on the monkey bars. My son controls the football field, even if he would prefer that less than forty kids would want to join his game. And me? Well, I’m still here, reading books, writing books, thinking about books, and eating while pondering books. That’s who I am. And I guess that’s all right.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Once a Witch -- Fun Read from Carolyn MacCullough

Last night I went to sleep at 10:30 because I wanted to finish reading Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough. I read the book on the kindle iPad app, and discovered, once again, how difficult it is for me to read a book when I can’t skip ahead to see what happens.

I suppose it is possible to do that on the app, but I haven’t quite mastered all the options, and anyways, it wouldn’t be the same. I like to skim through the book to find conversations, names and locations and learn more about the plot. On the app, turning the pages is very different from flipping through paper and letting luck lead me to an interesting page. Often I read the ending. Knowing the end does not interfere with my enjoyment of the book. I love seeing how an author works toward the resolution, and I love being surprised by the author’s choices in getting there.

Once a Witch is fun to read. Tamsin, the main character, is the only one in her family who does not have a magical talent. Her father controls weather patterns. Her mother winks in and out of rooms. Her grandmother reads minds, and her sister can talk you into doing anything she wants. The other members of her family all have talents as well, but Tamsin, who was prophesied to be a “beacon” to the family, has no talent at all.

I tend to identify with characters who feel alienated from everyone around them. Tamsin is different twice: she is different from all the other teens (represented by her friend Agatha) because she belongs to a witchy family. But she also does not belong with her family, because she is the only one who is not really a witch. I thought that a great concept.

Tamsin is asked by a mysterious (and good looking) man who mistakes her for her sister to find a clock for him that has been lost a hundred years ago. She is enthusiastically assisted by her witchy friend Gabriel whose talent is for finding lost items and for traveling through time -- how convenient.

Finding the clock leads to a lot of trouble. Traveling through time has consequences, and Tamsin must leap to the rescue of her sweet-talking sister and her friend, Agatha, both of whom are bewitched by the mysterious villainous man.

The book flows, is easy to read, and already has a sequel out titled Always a Witch. I like that it shows that sometimes feeling different is more in our heads than in reality. Tamsin doesn’t even begin to know what being different means until she discovers the secret her entire family has been hiding from her, and the story build to an exciting end.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

I Am Watching You!

Sometimes I feel like there’s a cartoon giant standing above me, tall, big and ugly, his head bent down to within six inches of my ears. This giant has only one interest in life, to harass me with reminders about my chores. All day long, and sometimes all night (depending, I suppose, on whether he gets a nap), he shouts in my ears what I need to do.

My room slowly fills up with his speech bubbles, each of which starts with the words "you need." “You need to call the dentist! You need to write a synopsis! You need to wash the dishes! You need to walk the dogs! You need to take out the trash! You need to teach the dogs to use the doggie door! You need to paint again! You need to work on your novel! You need to organize your desk! You need to listen to what I say!”

This giant is my monitor, keeping me not just honest but also stressed and overwhelmed. I try to shut him up by writing to-do lists. I try to silence him by calling the dentist. But he continually finds new things for me to need to do. No matter how fast or how hard I work, the giant keeps ahead of me by hundreds of items of to-do.

The giant monitor hardly ever demands that I do something fun. He will shout at me to floss, but never to take a bath. He will command me to get up, but never to take a nap. He won’t say, “you need to watch a movie.” Never! His words would be: “What the heck do you think you’re doing watching a movie? You need to wash the car!”

The giant is different from my inner perfectionist. He doesn’t care whether the job gets done well. In fact, I’m pretty sure he doesn’t care whether the job gets done at all. He blindly yells at me, coming up with more and more ideas all the time.

I wish I had his creativity. I wish I could harness his energy into my writing and have new words flowing onto the page with the speed at which his “you needs” fill up the space above my head. I wish that instead of getting buried under his demands I could float up above them to where the air is clear, the sun shines, and it’s freedom all around.

Perhaps I could remind the giant that sometimes it’s important to have fun, forget to pay a bill, or leave the dishes lying for the ants. I’m pretty sure I didn’t come into this world to chase a list of chores, though I suppose the to-do list must be attended to once in a while. So maybe if I changed perspective and considered the dentist and the dishes fun, the giant and his bubbles will fade away or pop to reveal the clear, blue sky of my uncluttered mind.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Whenever I had a bad day as a child, my mother would promise me that a good day would follow the bad one. She’d use the Arabic expression “yom assal, yom bassal,” meaning “honey day, onion day,” which to me, at least, always sounded as though it is predicting a bad day after a good one rather than the other way around. I won’t argue the point, however.

Yesterday I had a bad day. I woke up feeling irritable. I forgot Uri’s violin at home and had to add an extra trip to Portola Valley to retrieve it. I got too preoccupied ordering tickets to Israel and was almost late for my pilates class (I really don’t like driving stressed). I felt overwhelmed and over-excited, and though I kept appreciating little things that happened (like how well Eden read Hebrew or the beauty of the deer I saw on Arastradero Road), the general tenor of my day remained the same: off.

So I really hoped that I would get up feeling better this morning, more grateful, more appreciative, happier. I was quite disappointed when I woke up still feeling like I wanted to run away. The desire to flee only intensified when I checked my email and discovered another rejection letter. Reading it, I found my doubts returning: is my book good enough? Perhaps the agents know something I refuse to acknowledge: that kids are less interested in fairy tales nowadays. The weight of doom hang over my shoulders, and I knew if I ever wanted to fly again, I need to move, far and fast.

This is where having a personal trainer can really come in handy. Janie took one look at me and said, “let’s run!”

Instead of running away we run to the Baylands. The sky stretched blue overhead, worry-free and open. A single egret stood with its back to us, resting within the tall grasses. Ducks floated in the quiet water of the bay. I let my mind rest on the line of the horizon, allowing the movements of my legs to become all of me, step, step, step, step. Deep inside I felt faith return. I am a novelist. This is who I am. There are many stories growing inside of me, complex, worthy of being told. Their boundaries are far beyond the limits of my body, my computer, my typing hands. These characters already exist, waiting not to be released but to be given a voice, a page to explore.

I am a novelist.

I have a long to-do list for today. First on it was this blog, but after it come other chores, less pleasant: make doctor appointments, answer emails, prep some stuff, cook food. But today, because I’m inspired by the beauty within and without, I am going to start by writing. Not just this blog, but my long-term stuff. I am a novelist. I have to write.

Monday, November 14, 2011


I don’t like to think of myself as a perfectionist. Being a perfectionist implies a need for striving, as though I’m not quite there yet.  And I definitely want to be there.

I woke up feeling off balance this morning, and I find it entirely impossible to rest in the awareness of feeling this way. I want to fix it, solve it, resolve it, change it, eradicate it. My thoughts revolve round and round the question: why am I feeling off today? And the answer: I’m afraid of not being enough.

Not being enough is, for me, the essence of perfectionism. I remember reading many years ago a parenting book promoting the concept of the “good enough mother,” the idea being that good enough is good enough. We don’t need to be perfect. But if I’m not good enough no matter how hard I try, reaching the “good enough mother” benchmark is impossible. My own perfectionist standard of what good enough is for me defeats any attempt to get there.

My son asked me this morning why I did not write a blog post yesterday. I answered that I had spent the entire day with them and had no time. I worked more than an hour with Eden on her Hebrew, read them more than fifty pages in Uri’s book from school, cooked goat stew for dinner, played rummikub with Eden, set up a new system of charting our responsibilities during the day, helped Uri with his violin practice and in setting up the clarinet, and more. Yet it was not enough. I did not write a blog, did not write a synopsis for the two agents I still want to query, and did not even look at my book.

I know perfectionism is more of an obstacle than an aid to almost everything I do, whether it is my parenting, writing, cooking or housekeeping. I aspire to grow as a human being, but sitting here today, it seems to me that despite my worthy goals, really what I’ve been pursuing is perfection. I have been struggling like mad with the need to be more and more and more.

Frightening thought, but sobering too. So I think today I’m going to try a new direction. After all, being off balance should make it easier to take a fork in my road. I’m not quite sure what that fork will be like, but it looks quite springy from here, with flowers growing by the side of the path and white clouds hanging like a herd of sheep in the clear blue sky. I think, strangely enough for how I felt this morning, that today is going to be a good day. An imperfectly sunny day. Partly because it’s such a busy day there’s no way I can make it perfect, and partly because, for a change, I will not!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Wrong Saturday?

I don’t like watching television. Of course, I’ve watched my share of programs when I was a child. I loved the Friday afternoon British series that used to play on public TV in Israel, back when we had only one channel. I loved watching James Bond movies, the A Team, and the series about that guy who stole the fancy army helicopter. But nowadays TV holds very little attraction for me. I’d even go so far as to say that when I watch it, I get up off the sofa irritable and headachy.

This morning, therefore, when my daughter Eden asked me to watch a movie with her, I really wanted to say no. The thought passed through my mind, however, that I say “no” a lot. “No, you can’t watch a movie on a school night.” “No, you can’t have candy before dinner.” “No, we can’t go bowling right now.” I thought to myself, how many times is she going to want to watch a movie with me? Soon enough she will be grown up and have time only for her friends. So I said yes, and we watched a movie.

As expected, I ended up grumpy. Eden and I worked on her Hebrew for a while, and I struggled to remain patient. We then went out for some shopping, which I hoped would cheer me up. I tried to forget that I promised Eden I would also take her to see Puss in Boots with a friend at 5. But time, as we know, waits for no one, and at 3:30 my poor frayed nerves were getting more and more harassed, and I was thinking about the expected second movie of the day with anger and frustration. I was looking for a reason to cancel, any reason at all.

Two minutes of reading In Kristin Neff’s Self Compassion, however, and I am a new woman. As though she knows exactly how I feel, she reminds me: the past is but a memory, the future is a fantasy, but the present is a gift.

Funny what it does, remembering that there is nothing but the here and now. In the long run, in the grand scheme of things, how important is it that I “messed up” my day and watched more movies than I’m used to? How important is it that I missed writing the blog or didn’t send that query I wanted to send? Spending time with my daughter, quality or otherwise, is more important to me now, and I suspect will be more important to me in all the nows to come, than any other project. Being here with her now, on her terms, without having preconceived notions, expectations or agendas, is truly a gift for both of us. Just being here, together, now.

Friday, November 11, 2011

How I Missed Having Tea With Jerome K. Jerome

I read a quote by Jerome K. Jerome this morning which said: “It is in our faults and failings, not in our virtues, that we touch each other and find sympathy. It is in our follies that we are one.” The quote appeared in Kristin Neff’s Self Compassion, in a section on interbeing, the idea that we are all interconnected, one with each other and the world

Today, after I read his compassion quote, I googled Jerome, wondering if he was still alive. Turns out he had died back in 1927, long before I was born. So I guess I missed my chance for having tea with him. I’m a little sad about that. I think he would have made an amazingly funny tea-mate.

My mother gave me Jerome K. Jerome’s wonderful Three Men in A Boat (to Say Nothing of the Dog) when I was still in elementary school. I loved it! I loved how immensely innocent Jerome pretends to be when he tells about his long-term liver disease which he diagnosed himself by his also long-term laziness (one knock on the head, he says, is a better cure for it than many pills). I loved his stories about Harris and George, how they got stuck in the maze (I will never forget them going in circles right by  the half-eaten roll again and again), how Harris was attacked by the swans, how all three were almost run over by a boat in the river, and how even an undertaker with a dead body did not want to sit in the same train car Jerome rode with a package of specially stinky cheeses.

One of my fondest memories is going with my mother to the library. My mother had somehow arranged so that we were able to borrow twice as many books as were generally allowed. We would move from shelf to shelf, looking at the books, and my mother would suggest ones she thought I might enjoy. A huge pile went home with us, and during the week I would quickly devour one book after another. Soon enough, I had run out of books in the children’s library, and my mother and I began the same ritual in the adult section. I read Ivanhoe, Quentin Durward, The Red and the Black, The Winds of War, King Rat, and many, many others.

Growing up, these books were more real to me than many people. When it was difficult for me to feel interconnectedness with the world, whenever I felt too weird, I could identify with a character in a book and feel a little less sad. As I followed Jerome’s blundering passage up and down the Thames, laughing at himself, his friends, and anyone who dared brave the river with them, the world became a lighter, more humorous place also for me, and for that, Jerome K. Jerome, I am grateful.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Searching for the Elusive Writing Flow Valve

My dream is that one day I will sit in front of the computer and the novels in my head will flow effortlessly onto the page. I know they are all ready to go in there. I’ve been cooking them, planning them, writing them in my head for years now. But for some reason their way out is convoluted, partial, snapped.

I wonder where it is that I get stuck. Is the block in my head? In my arms? Is it the critic sitting on my shoulder who has opinions about every word I write? Do I think too much about my ideas? Am I a perfectionist and think no word is good enough?

I really try not to be a perfectionist. I keep telling myself just to write, even if I don’t feel like writing. I tell myself the quality doesn’t matter because I can revise, delete, erase, reboot, even completely ignore what I wrote afterward. That is the wonder in writing on the computer. Anything can be done. But here I am, my usual me, with ideas overflowing to the stars, sitting before a blank page, or worse, a beginning which I then never continue for years at a time.

On my way to take the car to the garage for service this morning, I suddenly felt overwhelmed with a feeling that I’m trapped in my own life. I’m going to be forty in March. Half my life already has passed me by. And these novels, these wonderful creations which really ought to be shared with the rest of mankind, remain firmly locked up inside my head, and I cannot seem to find a way to let them out.

This is one reason why I am so excited about this blog. I’m not sure if it’s the instant gratification thing in seeing how many people have read each post, or if it’s that I’m limiting myself to no more than 500 words. I find myself glorying in the writing of each and every one. Yes, sometimes I get stuck. I may never post my first attempt yesterday at writing a blog about weirdness. Altogether, though, my enjoyment in writing it overrides all my blocks, and my thoughts flow onto the paper in a wish come true dream fulfillment fantasy that brings me even more joy.

What I really hope is that this fascination with blogging will influence the rest of my writing as well. Of course, if it’s really instant gratification which makes me enjoy my blog, then I will need to grow up a bit and learn patience with the rest of my writing. Or, alternatively, I could time-travel to nineteenth-century England and publish my novel one chapter at a time like Charles Dickens. Now there’s a thought that sounds grand! Or maybe another idea for a novel. Either way, I’m glad I’m writing, whether it’s a short post for the blog, or the next world best seller that will change everyone’s lives.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A Solo In Comparison

My niece played with the Terman Band at Gunn High School tonight. She is eleven years old and started playing the saxophone this year. The concert began with the sixth graders, continued with the higher Terman grades and ended with Gunn’s upper-grades band.

I thought: I wish Uri had come. In the front, several kids played the clarinet, one of the two instruments he plays. Off to one side, two girls played the bass clarinet, the instrument he wished to study (his hands are still too small to reach the bottom notes). There were trumpets and trombones, a percussionist, flutists and even a few tuba players.

I thought: I wish Uri would want to join the Hausner band. I wish for him the experience of feeling his notes merging in with the music, melting in to create one harmony. Sitting in the audience this evening, I felt moved by the power this group of musicians generated as each freely gave his or her part for the whole.

I personally am not a good group player. As a singer, I have never been able to let my voice join in with other people’s. I feel off tune when I sing with anyone else. I feel that I cannot merge in, that everybody can hear me. I like to say that I’m a soloist at heart, but I think underneath is a double fear: the fear of not fitting in and the fear that if I tried to sing with other people, I would discover I was not as good as I thought.

Not trying allows me to stay with the dream of being best without having to prove myself either right or wrong. I refrain from putting myself in a position that might bring me into comparison with others, not just because I know it is bad to compare, but because I’m afraid I would still do it and come out missing. It’s a cycle I don’t quite know how to avoid. After all, even a soloist needs to work with an orchestra.

Perhaps it is not necessary to be as afraid of comparison as I am, as long as the knowledge that "I am who I am and that’s okay" balances out the wish to achieve perfection. Perhaps comparison is the path to improvement. If I do not see someone better than me, how would I get better? If no one is more creative, why be creative?

I think maybe it is a balanced comparison which ultimately inspires us. I may be found lacking if by chance you decide to size me up next to Ursula K. LeGuin or Orson Scott Card, but if of all the writers in the world, those two are the ones similar enough to be used as my measuring stick, I think I'll be feeling just fine.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Can’t Handle the Truth!

I got another rejection for the query I sent to the “Yes, I can handle the truth” contest. And, as promised, I got an explanation why:

“If this is middle grade, your main character should be between the ages of 11 and 13. I personally am over fairytale esque stories or fairytale retellings. I've just read too many of them and they're all starting to sound the same. What makes this one different?”

I claimed I can handle the truth, but I actually feel pretty bummed. This is my baby, my creation we are talking about. It is not a retelling of a fairy tale! I worked very hard on that query! I even got my wonderful cousin Iris (who is a writing genius) to help.


Okay, I’m done whining, but I’m not handling anything yet!

Handling the truth is overrated. Just imagine if Dr. Seuss handled the truth and stopped writing after eight rejections! No Green Eggs and Ham! No Cat in the Hat! What would our lives be like???

Another argument I could make (I’m warming to my subject here), is that truth for agent one is not necessarily truth for agent two (or fifty two), and even better, might not be true for my audience!

By the way, last time I presented my novel as a young adult (YA) story and received an answer from an agent, she said my novel was too sweet and happy for YA. She said I need to bring in some more teenaged angst, sex, and anger. So I have a great idea how to revise my novel.

A fifteen year old girl lives in a dystopia where the government spies on everyone using a technological gadget too sophisticated for me to understand. She gets kidnapped by a super-engineer (and I’m too innocent to imagine what he does to her).

By now, the girl is having a really bad day. She is rescued by a not-so-nice guy (I’m thinking Marquis de Sade here), and only barely manages to escape from him only to fall into the hands of rebels. The rebels wish to cut her open so they can gain possession of their fifteenth super-techie gadget, after which they could topple the government and have their own dystopia. At this point, the sun goes dark in frustration over the evilness of mankind, and the girl needs to fight everyone all at once by herself in the darkness.

The story will end with the girl returning home only to discover that the government has decided she aided and abetted the evil people. She is put away forever in an empty windowless room where she spends the rest of her days spinning straw into gold.

That made me feel a little better. As long as I have my creativity, I can never be sad.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Being Present Tense

All around me, there’s talk about being in the present. Ram Dass says: “be here now!” Eckhart Tolle revolutionizes the way we think with the Power of Now. My friend Rebecca, in her blog, recommends pausing in our pursuits to be happy now. Being in the present is a quality I seek, long for, and attempt to exercise on a daily basis. But there is one present that challenges me most. The present tense.

I don’t like novels written in the present tense. I have hard time feeling a connection to them. There are, of course, exceptions: novels in which the use of the present reinforces immediacy and tension. Mostly, however, I find myself wondering what the use of the present really added to the story line.

For example, Eden and I recently finished My Best Frenemy. While reading the book, I continually got the impression that the first person narrator there knew exactly what was going to happen and had a hard time pretending otherwise. She had peeked at the ending of her own told-while-it-was-happening book!

On the flight to Kauai I started The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson. At first, I found the narrative tedious. The story did not grip me, but it was the only novel I had with me, so I kept reading, hoping for improvement.

Luckily, I soon dove into the story. The main character, Elisa, is a reluctant heroine who does not fear to say what’s on her mind and rarely forgives herself for not standing up for what she believes is right. She learns to accept herself, but is human enough to wish for the good will and liking of the people around her.

In Elisa’s case, the present is a powerful tool. As she tells her story, I clearly see the black wall of ignorance which blocks her (and the reader’s) view of the future. She, like the reader, does not know where the story leads, and because she doesn’t know, it matters to me more what will happen to her. I root for her success and the success of her friends. I care about her budding romance, and I wish her a good life after she triumphs over whichever challenge next lies on her path.

This is a well crafted, intelligent novel, with strong character and plot, both of which pull me along for a ride through their rich landscape. Halfway through the book, I forgot that it is in the present tense, and I hang on to the edge of my seat as I watched the adventures of Elisa unfold. It is, perhaps, yet another reminder not to make generalizations about what I like or don’t. For a change, I’m letting myself enjoy the tension of the present, and I’m not peeking to see what will happen in the end.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

In Support of Selfishness

On one of my visits to Israel, I had an important insight. The children and I have the most fun when we do what I enjoy rather than what I think they might enjoy. This insight came paired with another wise saying, this one from my mother: don’t give the children too many options about what you’re going to do.

These wonderful revelations, giving me selfish free reign to do whatever I want while in Israel (and elsewhere), came after many visits touched by dissatisfaction. There is nothing I find more irritating than taking the kids to the zoo, museum, playground, etc. and hearing from them nothing but complaints. I mean, really! What ingratitude!

Surprisingly, or maybe not, all three of us have much more fun when I am not harboring resentment. Our last two visits we went hiking in creeks, checked out the tank museum in Latrun, and got lost in the Arab Quarter in Jerusalem. We went on a tour of the tunnels under the Kotel and through the City of David. We had a blast.

In The Happiness Project, one of the resolutions Gretchen Rubin adopts is “do it for myself.” I was raised to be considerate and to think of others more than of myself (after all, selflessness is a virtue in a nation which believes that it is good to die for one’s country). “Do it for myself” sounds to me more like: “selfishness alert! Beware!”

Nonetheless, “do it for myself” is an important lesson for me to learn. Far too often I find myself exhausted by thinking about others more than of myself. In her section on friendships, Ms. Rubin says: “one of the most delightful of pleasures is to please another person.” For me, at least, the emphasis is on the word “please.” My happiness is sadly decreased if the beneficiary of my kindness does not appreciate it.

The ability to enjoy a kindness independent of the receiver’s reaction seems near sainthood to me. There might be a way to “do it for myself” while trying to please another. For now, however, I guess I’ll have to settle for being imperfect with good intentions. In Israel, selfishness gave happiness to me and the kids. Perhaps, exercised moderately, it can bring happiness also at home. Maybe on my next birthday they can surprise me. Who knows.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Spirit and Hawaiian Sky

I went jogging this morning, around the pool in the complex where we are staying, then up the street to the community center and back. Maybe one and a half miles round trip. Long grassy lawns stretched up to healthy-looking trees that touched the stormy skies. Somewhere, I am sure, a rainbow arched, though I did not see it from where I ran. The sun shone through gray-black clouds, making dew drops sparkle all over the grass.

No doubt about it, the view here makes the soul expand.

Yesterday, I jogged down to the ocean. Chickens crossed my path, clucking. I ran down the hill slowly, careful not to slip on the half-rotting leaves covering the muddy trail. Below, the trees nearly covered all view of the ocean, making me bend to see the blue meeting blue of the horizon. I felt shy but went swimming in the ocean in my underwear and sports bra.

The rain started almost immediately, small drops at first, then big fat ones. My clothes, which I had left safely where the soft waves could not reach them on the shore, were soaked, as were my shoes and socks. I put all on and ran up the steep hill slowly. The chickens were nowhere in view.

I felt exhilarated. The rain washed over me warm and effortless, making me feel as though I could run forever. This is not a feeling I normally get when I run. Usually my legs weigh me down, my tight achilles tendons scream with unhappiness and dislike, but worst of all my thoughts harass me, telling me, “you can’t do this, you’re too tired, running is not for you, you can’t run that much more.”

Somehow, each time I visit the Hawaiian islands, I feel my better self. Happiness overflows me. I am energetic, sunny, adventurous, willing to try new things. Each time I try to take this wondrous me home. Perhaps, each time, I succeed a little more. I’d like to think so, at least. Of course, I know it is easier to be my better self on vacation than it is at home with bills, chores, puppies, and kids. Here, after all, no one expects me to do otherwise than have fun. But I’d like to take with me this feeling of happiness, of taking care of myself, working out, eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh fish just out of the ocean, and drinking water that came down at least one waterfall on its way to the faucet.

And I want to remember the expansive sky, the ocean on all four sides, the feeling that I may perhaps be limited by land, but all around the world is open for me to fly as far and wide as I can.

And I can.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Mother Power

The last few days I've been reflecting on my role in my family. Sometimes I feel like I am the engine which sparks most of what we do, pushing the kids along with me. Being sick allowed me to watch the kids and see the difference in how they function when I am less able to keep our usual schedule and activities.

I think partly the children feel overwhelmed and unhappy when I am sick. I suppose that could be a reason for the low rate of homework preparation and music practice and the high rate of junk food consumption that has been going on. But what if my high energy is indeed the driving force behind a lot of what they do, and because I’m so pushy, they never learn to find that motivation within themselves?

My mother always tells me that the love, effort and thought I put into raising the kids will bear fruit many times over. When I told her about my fears, she seemed to think that the high energy I invest in the children will in time bring about the result that I am hoping for -- that they will learn to practice and do homework by themselves, growing on the path to methodical, conscientious and responsible adulthood.

Her faith in my way turns my question back onto myself. What if my fears that the children run on my “Mother Power” originate not in fears for them but in fears for me, that they will deplete my energy? Is “Mother Power” a renewable energy source?

The answer that immediately comes to my mind is that of course, yes, “Mother Power” is renewable, though perhaps it needs to be manually renewed and is easier renewed before it is depleted. I have many activities during the day which have the potential to fill me with the love, faith, enthusiasm and patience that I need in order to raise the children. I go to exercise classes and on hikes in nature. My writing is certainly a source of satisfaction and pleasure. The support of my parents and my friends. Eating well and healthy and sleeping enough are a big part of my “Mother Power.”

Sometimes, however, it seems not enough. Sometimes I wish I had an external power outlet, that I could plug into and which would fill me up with energy and love. I haven’t found an outlet like that which could give 100% refilling. Instead, I think renewing the “Mother Power” comes in small increments which need to be noticed to be used: a surprise hug from my daughter, my son’s way of leaning on me and putting his head on my shoulder, my boyfriend thinking about me in many wonderful ways, mother’s day gifts which the kids bring from school, the kids sharing a story. All of these are sources for renewing that important energy so I can give it back again.

Was it Einstein who said that energy is inexhaustible, simply converted from one form to another? In parenting I think it is true. There is an abundance of love shared between us, and all I need to do to become replete is to tap in.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Making an Uneasy Peace with Dystopia

I am not a fan of dystopian novels. This February, at the Golden Gate SCBWI conference, everybody was talking about The Hunger Games. As a curious human being, I rushed to buy the first book in the trilogy and read it. It took me two weeks to be able to sleep without nightmares.

It seems like every other novel recommended to me lately is a dystopia. On my list right now, I just finished reading Divergent by Veronica Roth and am starting Obsession by Elana Johnson. Divergent is the story of a girl living in a society where people are categorized into distinct character traits. Yet she is divergent, able to fit in more than one category, which makes her resistant to mind control and thus dangerous.

I could identify with some of the concepts raised in the novel. I like the idea that classifying us misses some important aspect of who we are. I love how we are all made up of different facets, of good and bad, of kindness, bravery, inquisitiveness, love. But I still find it difficult to wrap my mind around why people would want to read about horrible, terrible, awful, violent stuff....

Dystopia is defined in the online dictionary as “a society characterized by human misery.” Wikipedia has an entry for dystopia, explaining that it is a “utopia with at least one fatal flaw.” Apparently, we humans have been interested in dystopia for over 150 years. There are dystopian novels and movies, comics and even computer games.

If a Dystopia is the opposite of Utopia, then our imperfect world surely is one as well. But what about the world of my novel, where every being is grouped as either good or evil, and where distinct rules exist as to a person’s level of importance? That sounds pretty dystopian to me.... Of course, considering my distaste for anything violent, those rules also make sure everyone stays safe even in the midst of a fiery dragon battle. Cooking anyone in boiling water is strictly not allowed!

So, a dystopian fairy tale? Ha! I’m unlikely to present Anna Mara as such in my next query letter. However, perhaps because a grain of dystopianism is in all of us, I can come to an uneasy peace with it. But I still think I’d be dead body number one if I ever had to participate in the hunger games.

Friday, October 28, 2011


When I was a little girl, every Friday night my family would drive to Tel Aviv for Shabbat dinner at my grandmother’s tiny apartment. My parents, who absolutely loved working in the garden, came home early on Fridays, and would be immersed in their work outside till the very last moment. Then, the rush to the showers began.

I remember one Friday when my mother jumped in fully clothed in her attempt to beat my father to the shower first.

Once we were all clean and dressed in our Shabbat clothes, we would get in the car and drive to Safta’s house. The streets in Israel smell differently on Friday night, of chicken soup, meat stew, potatoes baking, carrots in honey. Chocolate babkas and challas waft their fabulous scent everywhere.The streets are quiet, the darkness of the skies strikingly contrasted by the light shining out windows in holiday joy.

Now I’m a mother myself. I live far away from my grandmother, but luckily close to my parents. I don’t work in the garden as much as my parents still do, and I am not as diligent as my parents were about all of us showering and dressing nicely in honor of Shabbat. But every Friday my mother, my sister and I cook delicious meals, and our three families, eleven people at least, share Shabbat dinner together at my mother’s house.

Yet in my memory, perhaps the way memories always are, there is something extra-special in those Shabbat dinners we had at my grandmother’s house. A particular taste, a unique smell, perhaps a whiff of the moth balls which my Safta used to put in her clothes and which hang about even under the smell of egg salad and stew.

I remember one evening like that at my Safta’s tiny apartment in Tel Aviv. The voices of the adults filtered through the wall into my grandmother’s bedroom where I lay on the bed, half on, half off, my legs dangling to the floor. My heart beat peacefully. I felt full and happy, wonderfully relaxed and completely loved. Sleep stole over me as though an angel weaved a somnolent web all around. Later, on the way home, I watched through sleepy eyes the hazy glow of traffic and street lights approaching, then disappearing behind.

Tonight I will have the children shower and dress up before we go. I love knowing that I am creating memories for them, and I know they will always remember these evenings at my mother’s house. Different, perhaps, than mine, but still wonderful memories, of family gathering, good food, and a lot of love.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

In Sickness and In Health

I recently bought myself a copy of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, a Penguin edition with a beautifully-designed cover by Ruben Toledo. I read Pride and Prejudice three or four times every year. Like chicken soup, chocolate, my grandmother’s hug, or taking a bath, Jane Austen's novel is one of my greatest sources of comfort when I’m sick or sad.

Partly the book comforts me because the story stays the same. Elizabeth and Darcy, Jane and Bingley dance the same intricate game of courtship and love over and over again. But partly, with every reading of the novel, I discover something new: new words, new connections, surprises that I have not noticed before.

I have not read any of the novels continuing the story of Elizabeth and Darcy. I don’t want to know what happened to them after they got married. What I love is the beautiful cotillon they go through as they grow into love.

Elizabeth must accept that she has been too quick to judge. Darcy must learn humility and openness. Bingley has to stand up for himself. Jane, well, Jane is too perfect, and though it must please her to think she can bend all men and women into goodness, she needs to understand that some people make bad choices and no one, not even Jane, can take the consequences of those choices away.

Pride and Prejudice, to me, is a miniature representation of life, the essence of what we have come here, to this world, to do: to grow and to love. That entails accepting not only what is marvelous in the people we love, but sometimes what is ridiculous, difficult, annoying or just plain bad.

Jane Austen pokes loving fun at those characters who live with a veil of prejudice and vanity over their eyes: Mrs. Bennett, Mr. Collins, even Mr. Wickham, the wicked character in the novel. She gently raises those characters who are willing to accept each other as they are, leading them to see their mistakes, and follow the wonderful path that appears to the open heart.

I woke up yesterday with a sore throat, and so I rushed as fast as my sick little legs could carry me to my book cabinet and pulled out this new edition of my favorite book. "It is a truth universally acknowledged," Jane Austen begins, already poking fun at us, "that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."

I already feel better, just reading that.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

On Giving Respect and Affection to Those We Love

In last night’s post I wrote about my love to my son, and this morning, at the gym, a friend approached me. “Have you shown the post to your son?” she asked. In fact, I did. I read it to him this morning, after he opened his presents and ate the cheddar cheese bread sticks which I made in honor of his birthday. “People write such amazing things about their kids on Facebook,” my friend said, “and I just want to make sure they tell their kids too.”

I pondered what she said. I wondered: is it easier for me to compliment the important people in my life behind their backs than to their faces? Do I tell my son, my daughter, my boyfriend, and my parents enough how much I love them and why?

During the second month of her Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin concentrated on finding more happiness in her marriage. She writes: “Studies show that married people treat each other with less civility than they show to other people -- and I do this with my husband, I know.” As part of the project, Ms. Rubin chose as a resolution to “kiss more, hug more, touch more.” She says the resolution is one of her favorites to keep.

My cousin, Iris Wilnai, has commented on a similar phenomenon. In her blog titled “Smile,” she asks: “why don't I smile as much for my husband as I do for everyone else?”

I hope I remember this long after this post is buried beneath others. I hope I always remember to give attention, respect and affection to the wonderful people in my life, and to all my family and friends. I hope I remember to smile at them as often as I do at strangers and to kiss more, hug more, and touch more. I hope to tell the important people in my life that I love them every day, twice a day, as often as I like.

And that includes you too, my favorite wonderful Safta Miri, even if you think it’s funny that people say “I love you” all the time. Because, I LOVE YOU!

I hope your day shines today, my friends, my readers. It’s Uri’s birthday. Go do something fun!