Sunday, November 23, 2008

Every Little Bit...

Hold on a second while I climb up on my soapbox…

Last night my neighbor dropped by, and I told her I was leaving for the States in a couple of days. She offered to water my plants for me (I have about 100 plants in containers in the courtyard and terraces around my apartment, all connected to a drip irrigation system).

When I told her that I stopped watering the plants on Nov 1, when a new law prohibiting garden watering went into effect, she looked at me with confusion and asked, “You mean you’re really not giving them water? “

I explained that I strongly believed in the need for water conservation, especially as the country is facing such a serious water shortage that there is talk of rationing in the spring.

“Oh that,” she said. “It’s nonsense. There’s plenty of water, it’s just that the government has mismanaged it. We can use whatever water we want, it doesn’t mean anything.”

This from a well-to-do, highly educated thirty-something.

She’s not the only Israeli who has expressed similar thoughts. When I mentioned the new law to my upstairs neighbor, she said, “Oh, that’s just during the day. You can water at night.”

All around my neighborhood, people continue to regularly hose down their cars and terraces- even on mornings when rainfall is predicted.

Every afternoon, I can hear my upstairs neighbor’s irrigation system turn on.

I told my neighbor that I remember how every few years in New Jersey, we suffered a drought and had to adhere to water restrictions and rationing. She looked at me like I was from another planet.

I looked at her in wonder, thinking that she grew up in Israel, with the desert only a short drive away, and yet she had neither a clue nor desire to learn about the need to conserve water.

We’ve got a serious problem here.

(Stepping down from the soapbox..)

I don’t want to call the water police on my neighbors, even when they openly flaunt the water law, but with each passing day I’m getting more and more frustrated with their lack of concern. My neighbor even laughed that her children come home every day, trying to teach her what they learned in school about the water crisis, but she didn’t pay any attention.

So, I’m asking your advice- any ideas of what I can/should do? I found the name of an organization that will come to your home and install water saving faucets, and give suggestions for other measures you can take around the home to save water. I’ll be contacting them as soon as I return from the States.

I think I’ll ask our building committee if they’d like that organization to check our building.

My husband and I are in somewhat of an awkward situation. We moved to Israel 9 years ago, but we’re still considered new immigrants, and Israelis aren’t too open to what ‘newbies’ suggest. But, I’m determined not to let that stop me. This is too important, and some of the measures are easy to take.

Wish me luck, and please send in your thoughts and advice.

[The illustrations I’ve used are from the website, ]

Friday, November 21, 2008

Only the Lonely

It wasn’t until a month into my husband’s trip to the States that loneliness hit me. More than just hit- it slammed into me, incapacitating me for a day. I wasn’t surprised, but I was annoyed, and while I was confident it would pass, I tried everything I could to chase it away quickly.

That’s when I realized that I had been working on keeping the loneliness blues at bay for weeks. I’d kept myself busy making all sorts of to-do lists, traveling into the city for no reason, painting and writing, and catching up on all the things I’d been meaning to take care of around the house, always with a stream of music to keep me company.

Sometimes the inevitable catches up to you, no matter how hard you try to keep it away.

I’m only a few days away from my trip to the States, where I’ll join my husband for a couple of weeks and we’ll enjoy time with our grandchildren. As I start gathering all the presents I need to pack, the loneliness that overwhelmed me only a few days ago is tucked far away, but every now and then its memory surfaces for a moment or two of reflection.

Whenever I travel into Jerusalem, I always seem to pick out lone faces in the crowd. Amidst groups of happy teenagers, couples engaged in conversation, people briskly walking down the street while chattering on cell phones, I focus on the single stroller. They might have the same content look I imagine I have on my face, but at times my eyes find someone who looks lost in sad thoughts, and I’m often tempted to stop and give them a few words of cheer. Usually, though, I don’t want to intrude, so I just flash them a sweet smile, and continue on my way.

It’s the elderly I wonder about. Lonely in a crowd, do they return home to lone lives? Can you get used to living alone, day after day? I enjoy being alone, but I hate those times when feelings of loneliness intrude on my stability, a persistent invader who can’t be fought off.

Shortly after my Mother passed away, I was contacted by the day care center she had attended, asking if I’d give thought to some volunteering. At the time it was the last thing I could imagine doing- while I understood that helping the elderly was surely one of the great ‘mitzvot’, I felt that after the years of caring for my Mom, I needed some distance from any sort of care giving. But a few weeks ago, my husband and I paid a condolence call in a nursing home, and I felt myself warmly reaching out to the residents.

It’s been almost a year and a half since my Mom passed away, and I’m pretty sure I’m ready to start returning the good will that had been so lovingly bestowed by numerous volunteers. I think working with Alzheimer’s patients would still be much too difficult for me, but I’d like to work with senior citizens, in a nursing home, day care program, or on an individual basis. I remember how special it was for us when we could bring a smile to my Mom’s face. I’d like to be able to put smiles on other faces, too.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

We're Only Human

A friend I haven’t spoken to in a long while called today. She’s giving serious thought to having bariatric surgery.

I was surprised, as I usually am, when someone I know tells me they are considering having surgery for weight loss. I know a few people who have either had surgery, or have been ‘banded’. Most of them are still struggling with their weight.

I’ve had an on and off relationship with weight loss for most of my life, and my closet, as one of my friends likes to joke, used to have several different size clothes, to accommodate my weight surges and losses. Nowadays, there’s only one size of clothes in my closet and drawers. Not because I’ve mastered the battle of the bulge, but because I’ve adjusted my attitude and don’t fret anymore about my weight. As one of my cousins says, “This year I’m thin, maybe next year I’ll be heavy. But I’ll always be happy with myself.”

Some might say that’s not the healthiest attitude, but I think it’s great. I’m not a proponent of overweight (I’m appalled every time I’m in the States at the level and acceptance of obesity), but I’m very troubled when I hear my friends saying, as my friend did today, that once they lose weight they will be happy.

I talked with her awhile, questioning why she felt that losing weight was the key to being happy. She hemmed and hawed, and said she just knew, and that she hadn’t been sleeping well because of it. I’ve known her for a few years, and she’s always seemed to be one of those people who are perpetually depressed. I asked her if she had considered taking an antidepressant; that I have some friends whose lives have been improved by taking them. She said no, she was convinced that losing weight was what she needed.

She said that she admired my happiness, but that it was something she could not achieve. I referred her to my first blog entry, where I discuss why I titled my blog ‘A Gleeful Life’. I told her that ever since the epiphanal moment that I describe in that entry, my friends have commented how I seem much more relaxed, less frantic, and happy.

After we hung up, I reflected on our conversation for quite a while. I kept wanting to feel badly that she felt her path to happiness lay under a surgeon’s knife, but I realized that while I felt a tinge of sadness, it was mingled with well wishes that she find happiness and health by any means that she felt necessary.

Maybe one day I’ll find a need to consider similar surgery, but until then I’ll be wondering if we should be concerned when people turn to surgery – be it bariatric or plastic- as a path to happiness. I wish life were as simple as getting up in the morning, stretching and exercising, and instinctively reaching for a bowl of granola. But I know that it’s not that simple for everyone, and I’m fine with that. We’re only human, after all, and we each have our own paths, burdens, and roads to travel. As long as we accept each other, and strive to help each other however we can, I’m content.

My husband has two favorite quotes which I love:

“If we spent less time trying to make this world a better place to live in,
and more time trying to make ourselves better persons to live with,
the world would be a better place to live in.”

“Life is like a mirror, we get the best results when we smile at it.”

Hear, hear.

Applause. Smile.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Facebook Demons

I edited my Facebook profile a couple of days ago, and I’m surprised at how much better I feel. I’ve written about Facebook in a previous post- I mentioned how reaching out to former classmates had little appeal to me, mainly because I didn’t have fond memories of my school days.

When I signed up for Facebook, I listed my high school, and, as I wrote previously, did so with trepidation, concerned that I might be contacted by former classmates. A few did ask to add me as friends (one erroneously, it turns out!), and now one of them occasionally posts comments on my Facebook wall.

-Disclaimer/warning to that friend- Please do not take what I’m about to write personally. Well, I guess there’s no way you couldn’t take it personally, so let me rephrase that: Please understand that I’m writing about me, not you, and about my neurosis. I mean you no ill will.

What precipitated my revising my profile was a comment this friend wrote to an update I posted about how I had managed in a meeting I attended. Her comment was along the lines of that as she had known me since I was four years old, she had no doubt that I had managed quite well, and could do so under any similar circumstances.

You may be thinking, ‘What’s the big deal? So an old friend chuckled that you don’t seem to have changed much over the years.’

It turns out that it was a bit of an issue for me. Not that I’ve actively tried to change my personality, or to escape my past, but I found it irritating that someone I’ve had little contact with in over 40 years was making assumptions about me based on childhood interactions.

I mean- FORTY years! Are our adult personalities reflections of our personalities at the age of 4 or 14? Is there no room or hope for change and growth?

Why the heck was this bothering me so much?

I turned to my husband for advice and reflection.

“It’s simple,” he said. “It’s like why I always order vanilla ice cream- it brings back fond memories. Good memories make you want to seek out the past.”

“Aha!” (Yes, I actually said, ‘aha’!). “That’s a great way of explaining that I don’t seek out old classmates because I don’t have good school memories. But why am I having issues with her comment?”

“Because it is a bit ridiculous to think that you are the same person you were when you were a kid. And it’s presumptuous for someone to assume you are.”

[Um- wait. I think those were my words. I think what he said was that he could understand that I would be irritated that someone would assume that I hadn’t changed. He never actually said that I hadn’t changed, though ……]

After mulling it over for a couple more days, I finally decided that the only way I was going to get any peace over this was to delete the reference of my high school from my profile. Now I wouldn’t have to fret over old classmates finding me in a Facebook search.

Of course, it hasn’t put to rest the issue of why I took umbrage at her comment. But that’s OK. Reflection leads to growth and change. And that’s something I embrace.

Seeing Stars

It’s always been a dream of mine to see a night sky filled with stars. Urban living always denied me my dream, and even now, living in a hilltop town on the outskirts of Jerusalem, city lights prevent me from seeing more than a handful of stars every night.

My husband surprised me with a two night ‘cruise to nowhere’ for my fortieth birthday, and I raced up to the deck that first night at sea, only to find a full moon lighting up the sky and eliminating any traces of stars. While the path of moonlight on the ocean blackness was breathtaking, I stood at the ship’s rail promising myself that one night I would look up and see the starry sky that has filled my dreams.

I’m going to spend the next few months chasing that dream. I’m leaving for the States in a couple of weeks, and after spending time with my family in LA, I’ll head to Arizona for a few nights where I’m planning to get out into the desert at night and catch sight of some stars. Next spring I’ll be on a week-long cruise to Mexico, and I’ll be on the lookout for marine life by day and stars by night. In between those two trips, I’m hoping to have a chance or two to travel into the desert around Jerusalem and beyond, and if I don’t succeed on those nights, I’ll seek out other star gazing opportunities.

In the meantime, I’ll have star gazing opportunities of another sort while in the States. While it’s never been an interest of mine, there’s no denying a certain thrill at seeing a familiar face walking toward you. When people hear that my son lives in Beverly Hills, they almost always ask me if I’ve bumped into any movie stars. As I smile and answer, my mind flashes to an image of the Griffith Observatory and the stars that I’m longing to see.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Grandma is Only 7576 Miles Away

That’s approximately the distance from our home on the outskirts of Jerusalem to our son’s home in Los Angeles. We tend to think of the distance in terms of flight time- 20 hours (including a 90 minute layover in Newark). Add on another four hours, give or take, for commuting and waiting times at airports on both ends, and we’re ‘only a day away’.

We’ve been long distance grandparents for almost 5 years. Before our son moved to Los Angeles, he and his family were living across a courtyard from us- we could see into each others’ apartments, and our granddaughters came over almost every evening for dinner and play. We felt blue if a day passed and we hadn’t seen the girls.

Back then, I couldn’t imagine not having my son and his family as a part of my daily life.

Now, five years later, I can say with only a slight twinge that you can have a close, loving relationship with your grandchildren even if they are thousands of miles away.

While we may not actually see them every day, they are part of our daily lives. Our home is plastered with photos of them- one entire wall and a door are completely covered with pictures of our grandchildren- and my husband and I can always make each other smile just by mentioning one of the girls’ names.

Is it easy being so far apart? Of course not. But phone calls, web cams, IM (instant messaging) all help bridge the distance. While we don’t take advantage of it as much as we should, we can also communicate via email with our oldest grandchildren.

And when it gets really, really tough to be apart from them, there’s always that 20 hour plane trip. It’s been a godsend at least twice when my husband was in a funk, and I knew that it was because he missed the girls (I keep saying ‘the girls’ because we have one son, and he has five daughters). I booked him a flight, and as soon as I told him, his shoulders lifted and a huge smile covered his face.

There will never be a substitute that comes close to the sheer joy of waking up to a bed filled with giggling grandchildren. But knowing (and seeing) that my son and his family are happy, and have successful and fulfilling lives, fills me with a sense of happiness, gratitude, and serenity that surpasses my dreams.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m fooling myself by saying that I’m OK with them living so far away. I know my son is struggling with thoughts of returning to live in Israel, both to live in Israel itself, but also to be near to both us and to his in-laws, who live about 20 minutes from our town.

Maybe my feelings and attitude toward our long distance relationship will change over the next year or two.

For several years my life was consumed by being my Mom’s caregiver, and I could only make the trip to our son once or twice a year. During those years my husband travelled to the States every couple of months, spending the weekends of those trips at our son, and I learned to live vicariously through his visits. I was always pleasantly amazed by how much satisfaction and joy I got from sharing those visits with him- hearing via phone calls his interactions with the girls, getting pictures via email showing the things they were doing together. But now my Mom has passed away, and I’m starting to get hold of my life again. At the same time, it looks like my husband won’t be traveling to the States as often anymore. I might find myself falling into the funk that I’ve seen consume my husband….. but I’m hoping that my parental joy in my son’s life will help me overcome any difficult days. And , there’s always a plane ticket if things get really tough!

One of the reasons I started this blog was as a way to communicate and express my thoughts and feelings to my family. Phone time in a busy world can be limiting; it can be easier to find the time to read. So Uri and Aliza, I’m trying to send you a message in this post:

It’s absolutely OK that you are in LA. I don’t ever want you to feel that you have to move to be closer to us. Even from so far away you fill us with pride and love and parental and grandparental glee. Yes, we miss the girls (and you ;-)). But that makes every moment we spend with you all that more precious, every minute of every phone call that much more meaningful. The best thing you can do for us is to do the best for your family, no matter where that leads you or brings you to live.

I’m pretty sure I’ll have more to write about being a long distance grandparent. This post has been simmering inside me since I started this blog, and I know I haven’t gotten down all that I wanted to say. In the meantime, I got this out as I’m waiting for the phone call that sends me on my way to meet a new baby, and it’s given me an excuse (as if I needed one!) to post some pics of the girls :-)

As to the ‘only a day away’ reference, it really does help!:

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

When Brown is Green

On November 1, a new law went into effect in Israel: it is forbidden to water plants or lawns, even via the water conserving method of drip irrigation.

In mid-October, I paid my first visit to our local nursery in over a year. Previously, I had been such a regular customer that all the employees knew my name, knew my family, and two of them even took to losing (and gaining) weight with me. But last year was a shmitta year in Israel, the first that I was experiencing as a garden-owner, and I observed it carefully. No new plants, no fertilizing, and we pruned not for esthetics, but only when absolutely necessary for the survival of the plant.

As the end of the year approached, I began to look forward to my trip to the nursery. Then I heard about the new law.

While I knew how desperately necessary the law was- the level of the Kinneret, the main supplier of water for our country, has been shrinking at a frightening level in recent years- I felt more than a twinge of disappointment as I realized that I was facing a winter without the colorful flowers that bring brightness to a gloomy day. There would be no cute pansies greeting me with a morning smile, the snapdragons would be sparse, and the geraniums would only produce a few flowers instead of their usual abundance of blooms.

I circled the nursery, determined to purchase only those plants that could flourish with a minimum of water. Into my wagon went cacti and succulents. I pictured plants I already had growing in my garden, and calculated how many times I could divide them to fill containers that would otherwise be left empty.

Toward the back of the nursery is an area that is always set aside for flowering annuals. I approached it with a nostalgic smile on my face- I started gardening several years ago when my mother came to live with us and she fondly mentioned the pansies she remembered from her childhood. The pansies I planted that year became an important aide in my Mom’s care, as the promise of seeing them was often the only way we could coax her outside.

I walked around that back area wistfully, picking up a plant or two, marveling at new color combinations that had been developed since my last visit. In the end, the pull of the pansies was too strong for me to resist, and although I knew any plants I purchased would be doomed to a short life, I placed several in my wagon and headed for the cashier.

The first few days after I planted were rainy, and the the pansies took root. Bright patches of blue, yellow, and orange began to sprout in the garden. Multi-colored faces winked at me when I opened my door.

The rain was short-lived, however. We’re several days into a dry spell, and the pansies are beginning to wilt.

I’m tempted to go out and water them. What harm could there be in a little water? But I know I’m kidding myself, know that the guilt I would feel from watering the pansies would diminish any pleasure their happy faces would bring me.

So I leave them to muster on as best they can, hoping they survive until we are blessed with more rain. I’ll take my pleasure from the cacti I’ve planted and divided, and gain satisfaction from knowing that as my pansies turn brown, I’m being environmentally responsible.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Anger Eve

Over the past few days, I’ve spoken to several friends in the States, read many blogs, and looked at postings on Facebook and Twitter. The overall message I’m getting is not the hyped message of hope, but rather one of anger.

While I can understand why there is so much anger, having it as an overriding emotion leading into a presidential election is causing me a great deal of distress and concern.

Americans are an emotional people, and I think that’s great. But should a president be elected on emotions?

Has the anger and frustration that people feel towards the Bush administration diminished objectivity toward the presidential candidates? Had that anger influenced the results of the primaries?

How objective do voters need to be? How important is a candidate’s experience? Is voting for a particular party of overriding importance? Do voters ever truly believe that a candidate will keep their campaign promises once they are in office? Do they cast their vote according to those promises?

I’m seeing deeper and more openly discussed emotions surrounding this election than any I can remember in a long time. But that’s almost all I’m hearing- expressions of frustration and of disgust. I rarely hear any suggestions for change.

Where are the wishes and dreams of hope? I hear demands for change, but they are not accompanied by a sense of hope that things will get better.

Somehow, hope, the most American of all things, has gone into hiding.

On this election day, when Americans proudly stand up as Americans, both to themselves and to the world, they are doing so in a sadly un-American atmosphere. An America without hope is an America without pride.