Partially Unplugged

Me, Ari, Marc, Isabelle, and Hallie in the Hub

We drove to Happy Valley to spend the weekend with our cousin, Hallie, who is a senior at Penn State. (Notice how I said “our cousin.” That’s a fib. She’s my husband’s second cousin. However, I’ve adored her since I met her when she waaaaay back in 2005 when she was Isabelle’s age. Therefore, I consider her my cousin too!) We’ve been visiting Hallie a couple of times each school year ever since she started at Penn State. This past weekend was filled with many of the same things we’ve done during our other visits to Penn State.

    We tried new restaurants.
    We visited the Creamery.
    We stayed at a The Nittany Lion Inn (and ate too many apples from the basket in the lobby).
    We walked around campus.
    We got too little sleep (Thanks, dear children!), but left with our hearts full after spending time with Hallie.
  • My only complaint about the weekend — if you don’t count the lack of sleep — was that I didn’t get the chance to attend a sporting event since I stayed back at the Inn while Ari napped.
  • But do you know what truly made it a fabulous weekend?

    1) Marc and I left our laptops at home.

    2) I put a vacation message on both of my email accounts, which meant I didn’t have to respond to anyone’s email until today!

    I know a weekend away from email probably doesn’t sound like luxurious, but for me it was! I rarely stay away from email unless it’s a major Jewish holiday. In fact, I often check my email while my kids are sleeping on vacations.

    Do you know what I did when Ari was napping this past weekend? I read a book (The Alice Network… in case you’re wondering.) and snoozed a bit myself. It. Was. Wonderful. It was the respite I needed from all of the work I’ve been doing the past few months.

    The unplugging made me realize I should get away from email more often. It won’t be an every weekend thing. (After all, I work on most Sundays while my husband does things with our kids.) But, honestly, I don’t think it should take a Jewish holiday or an out-of-town trip for me to take a respite from email.

    family · slice of life

    Exploding Oatmeal

    My parents are among the best ones out there. They have been known to drive 2.5 hours to my house to help me out when I’m in a pinch. Case in point: When I asked them to stay a little longer this week (once I was done with my consulting job) so I could have some support with the kids during the first two days of the SOLSC, they were willing to stay.

    Before my father (aka: Zayde) retired, my mom (aka: Bubbe) often took the train or drove the Bubbe Mobile (aka: her hybrid car) out to Pennsylvania to help me out when Isabelle was sick, I was under the weather, or swamped with work. Now that they’re both retired, they come together.

    My mom was my first teacher in so many ways, but she never taught me how to cook. My dad & the Food Network are to thank for that. The story below — which I’ve written as if I’m talking to my kids — will illustrate why. Let’s just say she’s not from the cooks!


    Remember the story about my Grandma and the flaming dishtowel? Well, I have a story about your Bubbe and the exploding oatmeal.

    One morning, your Zayde and I were sitting at the kitchen table eating breakfast. Bubbe came downstairs — with her own oats — and removed a cereal bowl from the cabinet.

    “You know we have oats here,” I reminded her.

    “I didn’t know what kind of oats you had — or if you had them — so I brought my own,” she replied.

    “She’s a good houseguest,” my dad replied. “She brings her own food.”

    “She doesn’t need to bring her own food,” I reminded. But I didn’t go further than that. After all, what would a visit from Bubbe be without her bringing a gallon of skim milk and half her produce drawer from New Jersey?!!?

    But I digress… In true Bubbe fashion, she prepared her oatmeal, popped it in the microwave (Notthe stovetop… Yuck!), and left the room. Why watch what you’re making when you can get something else done in another room?

    30 – 60 seconds later, I noticed a substance rise from the cereal bowl while I sat at the kitchen table.

    “Look at that!” I said to Zayde, pointing at the microwave. “Mom’s oatmeal is about to explode!”

    He muttered something like ‘of course she’s not here to witness it’ as the oatmeal grew larger… and larger! The brown oatmeal rose above the bowl. First an inch, then two inches. Zayde and I sat there laughing despite the fact it looked like oatmeal was about to explode all over the microwave.

    He must’ve had enough because he pushed back from the table as the oatmeal began to crest over the side of the cereal bowl. He opened the door to the microwave seconds before an explosion would’ve happened. The oatmeal deflated immediately though parts of it ran over the lip of the bowl.

    We laughed uproariously as my mom returned to the kitchen.

    “You’re oatmeal almost exploded!”

    “Holy cr*p!” she said rushing towards the microwave. “I should’ve put it in a big bowl. That’s why it looks like that.”

    “Yeah, and you should’ve stayed here to watch what you were cooking. Yet again, you walked away and this is what happened.” I said in an irritated voice.

    Your Bubbe could say nothing to defend herself. Instead, she cleaned up the mess and transferred what was left of the oatmeal into a soup bowl. (Why a soup bowl? I do not know.)

    Some banter ensued about how she got my Grandma’s (her mother’s) cooking skills. I don’t think she liked that much and she said as much. Finally, I said, “you better watch out or I’ll make you my slice of life story today.” Afterall, this was sure to be one of those family tales that would be repeated again and again.

    At first I got a don’t-you-dare kind of look. But then she said she’d be okay with it as long as I promised to tell my children about all of her good qualities in years to come. I promised Bubbe I would.

    So, my children, it is my hope that you grow up to take after me and Zayde in the kitchen, not your Bubbe. Because taking after Bubbe when it comes to food preparation isn’t what I want for you in this life.


    Here’s what the end product looked like. I call this photo exploded oatmeal with raspberries. (Gross.)

    I don’t think that’s Instagram-worthy, do you?

    family · siblings · slice of life

    Someone wants his mama…

    We are not a co-sleeping family. Despite the “back to sleep campaign,” it never occurred to me to have my kids sleep with me since I always slept in my own bed as a kid unless I was sick or there was a terrible thunderstorm.

    I hesitated about bringing Ari into our bed when he was up screaming in the wee hours of Monday morning. However, I was tired and wanted to go back to bed (and Ari wanted no part of my husband rocking him back to sleep).

    The same thing happened last night around 1:00 a.m. Ari settled down when I was the one rocking him or sitting close by. When Marc tried to take over Ari screamed. Flattered as I am that my son wants me, I’d rather not be this wanted. I value my sleep!

    After an hour up with Ari, Marc took over for me so I could go back to sleep. However, I couldn’t take the baby screaming from down the hall so I texted Marc.

    Five minutes after Marc thought Ari would lay down, the two of them appeared in our bedroom.

    “This is how bad habits start,” I muttered to him. “But I don’t care. We have to get back to sleep.”

    And sleep we did.

    In fact, I slept until a little before 7 when Marc had to leave for work. But that’s when I encountered a new problem: a big sister who wanted to play with her baby brother. Isabelle tried to stay quiet by laying near him, but eventually the giggles started… and she woke him.

    And so another day begins. Thankfully, coffee exists.

    family · slice of life

    On dying… and death.

    I’ve known, since April, that death would be knocking on our family’s door sometime soon. You see, in April, we learned my uncle’s cancer was worse than we thought it was when he was initially diagnosed. We held out hope that he’d be strong enough to undergo more treatments or even surgery.  But things spiraled out of control in early August, which signaled that he wasn’t going to see his 75th birthday next year.

    My uncle was admitted to hospice last Wednesday evening. From my experience, I know that a trip to Hospice is usually a one-way ticket, so-to-speak. I knew, once my uncle entered hospice, that the end was near.

    On Friday, Isabelle asked me, “What are we doing next weekend?” While I had planned for us to go to the pool and to go apple picking with some kids from her school, I knew we’d be busy with family things. So, instead of lying and saying, “I don’t know,” I sat her beside me and explained that Uncle Leonard was really sick and he was dying. I told her we’d probably be at Bubbe and Zayde’s for part of next weekend since we’d be mourning the loss of her great-uncle.

    Have you ever explained death to a young child? If you haven’t, then consider yourself lucky. The death conversation is the one talk I’ve dreaded. (That’s right. I feel much more confident with the impending “birds & bees talk” than I felt with talking to my child about what happens when someone dies.) And for good reason. Despite my simple explanation, Isabelle had tons of questions. She wanted to know:

    • What happens to your body when you die?
    • Where is Uncle Leonard right now?
    • Where would Uncle Leonard ‘sleep’ after his heart stopped beating?
    • How would Uncle Leonard get from Florida to New York?
    • What happens at a funeral?
    • Why do adults cry at a funeral?
    • How does Uncle Leonard get up to heaven? (I explained, which led to the follow-up question of “How does the Kaddish prayer help the soul go higher and higher?”)
    • How does the body get under the grass?
    • And more and more and more.

    Eventually, I cried in front of Isabelle. The questions were too much for me to bear with a stiff upper lip. (Of course, that led to “Why are you crying if he isn’t dead yet?” And that led to me imploring her to say passed away instead of saying dead.) I’m trying to deal with my own grief of having my uncle pass away since I believe he should’ve had many more years of life. I’m trying to support my dad and cousins. And while I’m doing all of this, I’m attempting to manage the everyday things I need to do as a mom of two, a wife, and in my own personal and work life.  It’s a lot.

    The questions have continued since my uncle passed away on Saturday morning. And I’m sure they’ll continue all week as we get ready for the funeral (which she will not attend) and the shiva period. While it’ll be nice to have the family gathered together for a few days, the circumstances are not ideal.

    This is how I want to remember my Uncle Leonard… smiling with a camera around his neck taking pictures of the family.

    Click here if you’d like to read my uncle’s obituary.

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    family · friends · slice of life

    Blessing Bracelets

    Last month, I celebrated a milestone birthday. One of the loveliest gifts I received were blessing bracelets from Lynne. Inside of the jewelry box, there was a tag that said:

    This is a Blessing Bravelet. Whenever you wear it acknowledge one blessing in your life for each pearl on the bracelet. Each time you are drawn to the bracelet, silently find four people or things you can be grateful for.

    Be grateful for: Your children, a flower, your dog, a perfect cup of coffee, a roof over your head – just find something. The more you wear the bravelet and the more blessings you find, the more you will be blessed.

    In one year, if followed, you will be aware of a profound change in your life.

    My birthday went off without a hitch. I’ve embraced this new decade of my life with open arms.

    IMG_2436However, there have been some stressors that have popped up recently that are making these blessing bracelets more important than ever. (I don’t like to be vague when I write, but I’m choosing not to write about what’s been happening in detail out of respect to those close to me whose challenges are weighing on me — heavily.) I donned both bracelets this morning and touched each pearl, counting my blessings aloud.

    1. Isabelle
    2. Ari
    3. Marc
    4. My mom
    5. My dad
    6. Driving a car that works.
    7. Residing in a safe and comfortable home.
    8. My long-time friend, Alexa, who is giving me incredible guidance right now.

    It’s important to count your blessings even when you’re feeling overwhelmed. As a result, I will be wearing these bracelets a lot as I navigate the next month of my life. Thank you, Lynne, for this incredible gift. These items are so much more than pieces of jewelry!


    Parental Visit

    I was awakened at 2:00 a.m. by Ari’s cries. My husband rocked him back to sleep. At 5:00 a.m., I heard Ari crying again. I trudged down the hall, scooped him up, and rocked him back to sleep. But he woke up as soon as I put him back in his crib so I l fed him. By the time I was finished, it was time for Isabelle to get up for school.

    Needless to say, I was exhausted as a result of going to bed late and then being woken up twice last night. Luckily, my parents were in town this week. This afforded me with the chance to snooze until it was time to do Isabelle’s hair for school. And then I did something heavenly… thanks to my parents being here: I went back to sleep. 
    I got out of bed again at 10:25 a.m.! I can’t remember the last time I saw that time on my night table’s clock! I worked for almost three hours and then left the house for an appointment. While I was out, my parents cared for Ari and Isabelle (once she returned home from school). I returned home to find two kids doing their thing under the watchful eye of my parents. Despite my fatigue, I remembered that I am lucky.

    But now, they’re heading home. Unlike many of our neighbors and friends, we don’t have family nearby. I can’t call up my parents on a random afternoon and say, “Can you come over to help me?” Nope. We slog it out on our own (most of the time).

    One day, I hope to live closer to my parents. For now, I’m thankful when they come to visit. At least tomorrow is a Saturday so my husband is around!

    family · slice of life

    Two Kids Living in My Heart

    baby-feet-1527456_640I’m seven-and-a-half months pregnant, which means there’s a LOT of talk about babies in our house these days. Isabelle has learned where babies come from thanks to The Baby Tree by Sophie Blackall and several conversations with us. Isabelle knows that before she was in my belly, she lived in my heart. (See this post from last year for my explanation of where she resided before conception. I must say, my response to her question about “where was I before I was born?” stuck.)

    Recently, Isabelle wanted to know how Marc and I met. He told her, “on the computer.” Since that sounded shady to me, I explained JDate to her. Yesterday morning, Isabelle had more questions while we were getting ready for a marathon coloring session.

    “Where was me when you and Daddy met on the computer?”

    “We met on JDate, Isabelle. That’s a site on the internet where Jews go to meet other Jews who want to have a Jewish family.”

    “Oh. Well, where was me?” she asked.

    I looked at her and didn’t answer. She smiled. “I was in your heart?!!?”

    “Yes, you were in my heart.”

    “Was I in Daddy’s heart?”

    “Yes, you were in Daddy’s heart too.”

    “Where was my brother?”

    “What do you mean?” I asked.

    “Was my brother in your heart too?” (Keep in mind, even though her brother is still in my belly, she talks about him as if he’s already here.)

    “Yes, of course, he was in my heart,” I replied.

    Isabelle got quiet for a minute. I could tell a big idea was brewing.

    “We were in your heart together, Mommy. We were playing.”

    “Aw, that’s so sweet,” I replied. “I like thinking of the two of you playing together in my heart. That makes me happy.”

    “Yeah, but it was dark,” she said. I started to worry where she was going to go with this, but she turned it around. “We couldn’t see each other well, but we were playing in your heart together.”

    “I love that,” I said drawing her in for a hug.

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    college · family · slice of life

    You’ve never too young to do a campus tour!

    Our cousin, Hallie, is a freshman at Penn State this year. (Well, she’s really Marc’s cousin, but I adore her so I claim her as my own!) Our fall got away from us so we didn’t make it up to Happy Valley until this weekend to visit. This was fun for us, but HUGE for Isabelle who’s been wondering about college. (READ: She’s had college on her mind ever since I made the mistake of telling her she’d go away for college when she turns 18. I said this six months ago. She was NOT happy about leaving home and brings it up often. About a month ago, Isabelle told me she’d only go on one condition. I had to go with her. Apparently, she thinks I’m going to commute to Penn State’s University Park Campus with her to get my doctorate while she gets her B.A. Somehow I think she’ll change her mind about this arrangement about ten years from now!)

    It was fun to look at the college experience through Isabelle’s eyes while we were up at State College. Here are some things I observed by watching her.

    1) Basketball places are fun places to dance! Isabelle embodied this quote from William W. Purkey at yesterday’s basketball game.

    You’ve gotta dance like there’s nobody watching, Love like you’ll never be hurt, Sing like there’s nobody listening, And live like it’s heaven on earth.

    This kid LOVED the music from the band way more than she loved the actual game. She jumped around and danced every chance she had. She danced in her seat, in front of her seat, even on the stairway (which freaked me out since I was convinced she was going to fall down the stairs).

    Isabelle is seated between Hallie and Marc at a rare moment that she wasn’t out of her seat dancing.

    2) You can snack any time of day when you live in a dorm. Hallie showed us her dorm room, which she shares with a roommate who happened to be home when we stopped by. Isabelle was a little confused about why they were living together, without their parents. Once she realized they were both away for school and could go home on vacations, she turned her attention to their stash of snacks. She was amazed they kept pretzels, Goldfish, applesauce, chocolate, etc. in their room. Heck, she even managed to con her way into getting some pretzels from Hallie’s roommate. There’s a part of me that wonders — after visiting the dorm — if we’re going to find snacks stashed in her bedroom sometime soon.

    3) You can eat ice cream whenever you want when you’re in college. Hallie took us to the infamous Berkey Creamery for a mid-afternoon treat. The Creamery serves gigantic ice cream servings! I have a feeling Isabelle overheard Hallie tell me that the dining halls also serve ice cream because Isabelle later asked Hallie if she eats ice cream every day. Hallie, who gets kids, quickly told Isabelle her teeth would fall out if she ate ice cream daily. Whew!

    Isabelle enjoyed a very large ice cream with blue and white (Of course!) sprinkles at the Creamery.

    4) Lecture halls have fun desks. Hallie took us into one of her lecture halls that will accommodate over 400 students. Isabelle was fascinated by all of the desks and tried a few out. I don’t think she realized you have to listen to long, sometimes boring, lectures when you’re a student. Some things are better left unsaid.

    5) The Hub is a fun place to meet people! We toured the student union, which is spacious and gorgeous. Isabelle took in the first floor. By the time we arrived on the second floor, she took it upon herself to meet and greet students who were working or chatting with friends. She must’ve walked over to 40 people and said, “Hi.” All of the students — even the ones who looked like they were deep in thought — were kind to her and said hello back.  (And, yes, I tried to stop her from bothering people!) Some even asked Isabelle her name and struck up a conversation with her. She left excited about all of the new people she met.

    There are some newly-constructed steps in the Hub that are meant for sitting. However, Isabelle saw a student laying down with his iPhone on one of the steps so she had to copy him.

    6) Libraries are quiet places. We didn’t spend as much time as I would’ve liked in the library because Isabelle was way too excited to lower her volume. We left within four minutes of arriving.

    Isabelle and Marc exiting the library.

    7) Campus museums are only fun if you get to go inside. There are two lion’s paws outside of the Palmer Museum of Art. Isabelle dutifully posed in front of them, but once she found out there was a museum inside of the building, she raced to the door so she could enter. Unfortunately, we arrived there five minutes before closing so my child was utterly disappointed she missed out on a museum.

    Posing in front of one of the paws outside of the Palmer Museum of Art.

    8) Sometimes you have to do things other people want you to do when you’re at college. We didn’t make it to The Nittany Lion Shrine with Hallie since we wanted to check into our hotel before we took her out to dinner. We went on Sunday morning since it was located about a minute’s walk from our hotel. Isabelle didn’t want to go since it was cold. Once we got there she wasn’t keen on waiting for the other families who were before us to pose for a photo. Finally, once it was our turn, she put on a happy face for the picture.

    The three of us at the Lion Shrine. (I’m the blue blob behind the lion. Not exactly the best image of me. But that’s what happens when you convert photos with Waterlogue!)

    9) You eat brunch when you’re in college. We used to be big fans of brunch before we had Isabelle. Nowadays, we eat breakfast before 9 a.m. on weekends since we’re up with Isabelle by 7 a.m. Even though she was up early on Sunday, we didn’t check out of our hotel until 10:30, which meant introduced her to the concept of brunch. Considering her brunch consisted of chocolate, I’d say she was sold on the concept.

    We went to a creperie that served gluten-free crepes, which was a real treat for me. We ordered Isabelle chocolate crepes and chocolate milk. Hey, you only live once!

    10) College towns are fun to walk around. Isabelle loved walking around State College. She especially loved going into the gear stores to shop for something. She walked away with a 50-cent magnet, which was a great deal for us even though she has nowhere to hang it! She wanted to keep shopping because (as she declared), “I like this town!” However, it was time for us to head home.

    * * * * *

    It’s hard to believe we were in State College for a little over 24 hours. We packed so much into our time there! We got to see our cousin AND Isabelle got her first taste of college life. While I have no idea where she will go to school, she left with a positive impression of Penn State. Perhaps one day she’ll think about going to college by herself without her old mom in town. Until then, I’ll plan on going back for my doctorate about 13 1/2 years from now.

    family · growing up · Jewish · slice of life

    My Grandma is gone.

    Yahrzeit candles are lit in memory of every year at sundown on the eve of the anniversary of the death. They're also lit on sundown before the start of of Yom Kippur, as well as the last day of the holidays of Passover,  Shavuot, and Sukkot.
    Yahrzeit candles are lit in memory of every year at sundown on the eve of the anniversary of the death. They’re also lit on sundown before the start of of Yom Kippur, as well as the last day of the holidays of Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot.

    Isabelle noticed an unlit Yahrzeit candle on the island in our kitchen before she went upstairs last night. (My mom is at our house through tomorrow.  Today marks the lunar calendar anniversary of my grandmother’s passing.  My mom is staying with us through tomorrow so she brought the candle to our house to light it.)

    “What’s dat for?” Isabelle asked.

    I said something like it’s to help us remember my grandmother who is gone.

    “Who’s your grandma?” she asked.

    I reached for a photograph of my grandparents that I keep atop my desk.  I pointed to my grandmother and said, “That was my Grandma.  That’s Bubbe’s mommy. You’re named after her.”

    “Who’s dat?” she pointed at the little girl in the center of the photo.

    “That was me. I was nine years-old in that photo.”

    She was perplexed by the fact that I was ever young.  So our conversation turned to how I could have ever been a girl.


    With my grandparents at my uncle's wedding in 1986. (A Waterlogue version of the frame on my desk.)
    With my grandparents at my uncle’s wedding in 1986. (A Waterlogue version of the frame on my desk.)

    This afternoon, my mother pulled me aside once Isabelle returned from school.

    “What do you want me to say if she asks about the candle?”

    “Has she asked about it yet?”

    “Yes, she did this morning when we were eating breakfast.”

    “What did you say?”

    My mom told me her approximated answer and then followed up with, “What do you want me to say to her?”

    I pondered. “A children’s author named Patricia Polacco talks about death as letting go of the grass. You could say Grandma let go of the grass.”

    “That doesn’t make any sense,” my mom scoffed.

    In hindsight, I realize this was ridiculous to say to my mom. I was teaching fifth grade in Manhattan when my grandmother passed away in March 2007.  We had done a Patricia Polacco Author Study and my students knew that letting go of the grass equated death.  Therefore, we talked about my grandmother’s death as her letting go of the grass after her passing.  (My gosh, that was such a great class of kids.  We had our own little language.) 

    “Well, I guess it’d make more sense if you were familiar with Patricia Polacco’s books,” I responded.

    “So, what do you want me to tell her?” my mom asked again.

    I thought. “You could say something about Grandma being old.  Or you could say she was tired and went back to live with her parents in heaven.”

    I looked at my mom and she looked back at me. We were both clueless whether heaven was a concept we should be introducing.

    “You could tell her heaven us up there,” I said.

    “Do you want me to say that?” she asked. “I want to say what you want me to say.”

    “I don’t know what the answer is. All I can tell you is that I remember going to Uncle Irving’s funeral when I was four-years-old.  And look at me.  I’m not permanently damaged as a result of attending the funeral. Whatever you say will be the right thing.”

    Fortunately, Isabelle went to sleep tonight without another question about the Yahrzeit candle.  It will burn out later and will be thrown away tomorrow.  Most likely, she won’t remember it was ever shining.

    But I know there will be questions about where my grandmother is again.  And I don’t have an answer ready.  It is so hard to talk about death without scaring a young child.  I want to say the right thing, but I’m not sure there is a right answer.

    We talk about my grandmother all of the time in front of Isabelle.  Talking about her keeps her memory alive.  I’m not planning to stop.  But one day, not long from now, I know the question about where she is will surface again.  And when that happens, I hope I have some kind of answer ready for Isabelle.

    Right now, I have nothing.

    family · poetry · slice of life

    The Birthday Girl Sleeps


    Warm Snuggly

    Resting Breathing Sleeping

    Sweet First Birthday Girl