Saturday, December 22, 2012

How bout them apples


My eight year old son had his first lesson in economics the other day when he became painfully aware of a little thing called currency exchange rates. He came to me with tears in his eyes and the following conversation ensued:

Him: Mommy, Grandma said that if I give you 300 shekels you will only give me back 80 dollars.
Me: Yes, that's true.
Him: But that's not fair! You should give me 300 dollars if I give you 300 shekels. 300 doesn't equal 80! 300 equals 300!
Me: Yes but each dollar is a little less than four shekels.

At this point the tears are getting bigger but he's trying to keep them back so he's not blinking. Blink son! You must blink! You can see that his brain is starting to throb as he tries to compute that last bit of nonsense.

Him: But you said you would give me 300 dollars if I give you 300 shekels! You promised!
Me: No, I would never say that because I know that one dollar equals four shekels. I'm sorry if you misunderstood.
Him: But how will I buy my iPod?

He is now sobbing. He can't help it. He's been saving for a year to buy an iPod. He gets five shekels a week allowance and he tries to pick up extra doing bigger jobs here and there. He saves his Hanukkah money and his birthday money. It's all in his piggy bank. It's actually all in his red cash box safe because his ceramic piggy bank broke after he took his money out for the hundredth time to count it and his little brother threw it off the bed. This little piggy went to garbage. The magic number for him is 299 (but he knows a little about rounding up) because that's what he saw on the Apple store website. No one told him about currency exchange, poor guy. He still doesn't get it so I try to explain better.

Me: You can either buy your iPod with the $300 you have in your American bank account or you can keep saving your shekels but you will need 1,200 shekels.

I don't bother telling him about import taxes and other factors that make the iPod outrageously overpriced here. Anyway, we order everything on Amazon and have our frequent visitors bring us items of this nature hidden in their luggage.

Him: ONE THOUSAND TWO HUNDRED! I'll NEVER have that much. It's not fair! [sobbing].
Me: Honey, it's like this. Suppose no one had any money and we paid for everything in apple pies.
Him: OK.
Me: How many apples does it take to make an apple pie?
Him: I don't know.
Me: Let's say four. We need four apples to make an apple pie. Now let's say you want to buy a Star Wars action figure and it costs two apple pies. But you don't have any apple pies, you only have the apples. Assuming the person at the store will accept just the apples instead of the pie, how many apples do you need to equal two apple pies?
Him: Eight.
Me: Right. So two apple pies equals eight apples. And how many apples to equal 200 pies?
Him: Eight hundred.
Me: And three hundred pies?
Him: It's too many apples! I'll never have enough apples!
Me: If you keep saving your apples, one day you'll have enough apples to go to the Apple store and buy your iPod. Maybe you can really buy them with apples. Why else would they call it Apple?
Him: That's ridiculous mommy.
Him: Whatever. I'll use my money in America. Can I have desert?
Me: Sure. Apple pie?

That got a grin. Next week I'll teach him about arbitrage.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

I am safe


My mom and I were up North last week for a two day mini-vacation. Our first stop was Zefat, a spiritual haven for kabbalists, artists, Jews (both lost and found) and tourists. It's a special place and we enjoyed looking in the art galleries and chatting with artists. We asked a few people where we should eat and everyone pointed us toward the Yemenite pizza guy where indeed we had delicious Yemenite style pizza (the crust is similar to the spongy injera bread you get at an Ethiopian restaurant). While we were sitting there a family came in and we overheard them speaking in Spanish to each other and Hebrew to the pizza guy. The mother was cute, about my age, with three kids, each a little older than mine. I asked where she was from. Mexico City. I asked if she was here on vacation and she said she had moved here a year ago. Me too! I asked her why she decided to leave Mexico. She said she felt much safer in Israel.

Much safer in Israel. This after an eight day war where 1500 rockets fell in populated areas all over the south and parts of the center of the country. This after constant threats from Iran and other neighbors. It got me thinking about safety. About who is safe. About what it means to feel safe. Did I feel safe here? Safer than in America?

That was on Thursday. And then Friday happened. And a young, disturbed man with his mom's semi-automatic weapons broke into an elementary school in America and mowed down a class of first graders and the adults who dedicated to their care and education. And that school had a security system and a locked gate. Our old elementary school in California just had a gate and it was usually open. The school across from our old house was an open campus.

And so I asked myself again, after I wept for those kids and those families, do I feel safe? Did I feel safe when we lived in America? We lived in a fairly diverse community, heavy on the Hispanic. In fact the school across the street had a highly regarded bilingual immersion program. Lots of day laborers hung out at the 7-11 down the street. Lots of police cars patrolled by. Once someone threw a whole bag of pot into our bushes to avoid incarceration. There was also a murder suicide at the dry cleaners on the corner. The owner shot his ex-wife (the co-owner). Pretty tragic. But in spite of all that we often left the door unlocked. Once we even left our garage open for an entire weekend. I would regularly cross my six year old and let him ride his bike on the school blacktop carrying his walkie talkie and checking in periodically. I didn't tell many friends because I knew they would think I was crazy. But I felt safe. I knew my neighbors. They knew me and my kids. I felt like we looked out for each other and we did.

And I feel even safer here in Israel. I often leave our door unlocked. My kids ride their bikes around our little corner neighborhood and I am not outside watching them. I let my son walk up to our grocery store alone. He walks to piano lessons alone. He did that last year too and he was seven then. We live in a gated/fenced community and there is a guard. So yes, I feel safe.

But there are holes in the fence and Palestinians come in and out everyday. Some of them even come to my house to see if I need help with anything. Mostly I don't so I just make them coffee and we chat for a few minutes. Sometimes I give them a ride home if I'm heading in that direction. I'm absolutely cautious, especially when it comes to my kids, but I don't live in fear.

So I don't get why regular citizens need semi-automatic weapons for personal use. For protection? From what? An enemy invasion? I'm sorry but isn't the civil war over? Even then I'm pretty sure North and South got by fine with just their rifles. Or is it the power that we like? Or is it just for fun? I can think of so many other ways to have fun. Or is it because we really are afraid? Shooting rampages like this one appear to be happening all the time in the United States. And why is that? Is it because there are too many untreated mentally ill individuals there? Or too many guns? Or the kind of media coverage that assures future shooters worldwide noteriety? Or maybe it's the triple combo platter.

I think many of us are desparate to place blame. We can blame the shooter or his parents. We can blame the NRA. We can blame the health care system. We can blame the media. We can blame processed foods. We can blame video games. We can blame ourselves for watching the same scene play out again and again in cities and town across America without demanding policy change. That's the category I fall into.

But I refuse to feel frightened that this could happen at my school. Or the schools where my nieces and nephews learn.  I refuse to let fear control the way I live. This coming from someone with a very active imagination and a penchant for watching Law and Order SUV so it takes a substantial commitment to keep my fears at bay. That's why I turn off Nancy Grace and I allow myself to feel safe because it's the only way I can keep hope alive in these uncertain times.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Batteries not included

It's finally winter in Israel
In queue

Last Thursday a bunch of my girlfriends got together for a serious and revealing discussion about intimacy after having babies led by a professional "sexologist". I ended up not going because my mom had just arrived from California, although in truth she was asleep by 8:00 pm so I definitely could have gone. But I had decided two days before that I would try my hand at a local artisan fair that happens every Friday in the German Colony neighborhood of Jerusalem. I figured I should get in on some of the pre-Hanukkah action. And even though I told myself I wouldn't get crazy the day before making a bunch of things to sell, because that always turns out to be a total waste of time, I did in fact forgo the sex talk so that I could get prepared for the fair.  So while my friends were bonding over porn and mikvahs (Jewish women's ritual bath - we're a diverse lot), I was bonding with my printer.

It turned out to be a gorgeous day. I got a lot of useful and flattering feedback from the Israelis who stopped by my table. My mom pushed through her jetlagged fog and ended up coming with me. Besides helping me lug my stuff and set up, she got a chance to do some shopping and walk around on Emek Refaim, a lovely main street with shops and cafes. There was also great live music. And I made a few sales. I even sold my original possum painting. All in all it was a nice way to spend a Friday.

But was it worth missing out on a fearless exchange of personal experiences and the opportunity to purchase 800 shekel imported sex toys? At this point I don't really need the toys especially now that as of last week I am the proud owner of a little battery-powered somethin somethin that satisfies me in a way no iRabbit or other "hand-held" device ever could. The way it pulses when I just turn the thing on is enough to send me over the edge. It's compact so I can take it for a "pick me up" wherever I go - supermarket, restaurant, or even while waiting in the car before preschool pickup. I tell you this thing is magic. I don't know why I waited so long to get one. I mean I had heard from friends how it would completely change my life but I never imagined. I ordered it from Amazon and my mom brought it with her on the plane. Thankfully no one in security questioned her, which surprised me since this is the model with three blades. I'm not into all that kinky stuff but it's really the whisper thin blades that make it work sooooo gooood, am I right ladies?

Indeed my mom brought me a Remington Fabric Shaver to safely remove pills and fuzz from all of my wool sweaters. I've already de-pilled two of my winter woolies and I mean I just go into a trance while that thing is sucking up all those fuzz balls. My sweaters need a cigarette by the time I'm finished with them. 

As for me, I would have enjoyed an open discussion about post-partum passion or lack there of. We don't talk about it enough and it's a whopper of an issue for most moms and most marriages. But I can tell you one thing, I'm feeling pretty sexy now that my sweaters are shaved. Bring it.

Sunday, December 2, 2012


Artwork by Lori Portka
I love airports. Some more than others. I especially love when I'm going somewhere, although after traveling half way around the world and back again this summer with my three kids (and without Mr. Rosen), I was perfectly happy just to be picking up on my trip to the Tel Aviv airport last Thursday. Especially because Grandma is here! For three whole weeks! So we'll be doing a lot of exploring and coffee drinking and shopping while the kiddos are in school.

But back to those airports. I was standing just outside of customs in the arrivals terminal waiting for her to pass through and watching while people from all over the world arrived, greeted by loved ones and friends. It was pretty moving, I must say. I saw a man about forty-five or fifty greeted by his eighty year old father and oh how they kissed and hugged on each other. I imagined that he's been living in the United States for the last thirty years and how life just happens that way but it's a little bit heartbreaking when it does. Because now his father is older and the travel is harder. And the kids are in college. And money's tight...

I saw three kids run to greet their dad, the oldest son jumping into his arms with such affection that his kippah flew off. It was like watching a dog, no longer a puppy, jump into his person's lap and bowling him straight out of his chair. I imagined that this aba had been in Rome or Moscow on business for the last two weeks. He was obviously missed.

I saw tourists arrive. Bleary eyed from the long flight but excited to see a place they had until now only read about. Maybe dreamed about. Israel is that kind of place. Many of them are shocked by how modern it all looks. They were expecting white robes and camels maybe.

And then I saw Grandma. With that look like, I am too old for this, but actually appearing her stylish and put together self, twenty hours of travel and all things considered.

So much joy and love and anticipation at the airport. I was reminded of this incredible painting I was gifted earlier this year from an artist friend who inspires me so. Maybe you know her. Almost two years ago Lori Portka embarked on A Hundred Thank Yous project and created a hundred paintings for a hundred people in her life for whom she is grateful. And by some miracle I am one of them. This is my painting. She painted it before we left for Israel, wishing me ease, sweetness, beauty, joy, love and abundance on our journey. I couldn't have conjured a better or more appropriate blessing for this wandering Jew. Now it hangs happily in my studio across the world.

You need something of Lori's to brighten your house too. Visit her shop where she has a new 2013 calendar that is HUGE and gorgeous and features more than a dozen of her wonderfully uplifting works of art. She also has an amazing Month of Thank Yous Gratitude Pack which includes 30 frame-able postcards and stamps she designed to send them off to the people you love (who can then frame them).  She also has prayer flags and posters and prints and cards and it's all just so overwhelmingly beautiful.

Just like at arrivals.