Thursday, April 16, 2015

"This family tree's got deep roots."

Sometimes I only get the chance to blog once a week. And since I can't always get up the motivation to think of a topic, it's nice to have other friends to blog with so we can take turns. I enjoy being challenged to write about stuff that might not normally come to mind and also reading everyone else's thoughts on the same topic. Blog Project 3.0 has been going on for over a year, even though one of the group members changed after a few months. I love blogging with this group and I hope we can continue to inspire each other.

This week, I chose the topic: Who do you consider family that is not related by blood or marriage?

First, read what everyone else had to share on this topic. I will be only posting links to posts on this same topic from my group. So check back if you were hoping to read their blogs and don't see a link yet.

Darwin Shrugged
Moma Rock

The inspiration for this topic came from a few places:
1. Recipe for Disaster by Stacey Ballis (reviewed here). The main character's family is pretty much non-existent, so she considers her closest friends to be her family instead.
2. Glee, as there was recently an episode where Santana's abuela refused to go to her wedding, since she was marrying a woman. Toward the end of the episode, the New Directions were helping with seating arrangements and said they'd need a lot of seats at the family table so they could all be together. I got teary-eyed from that part.
3. Rent, which is where the header for this post comes from. "Let's make a resolution. Let's always stay friends. Though we may have our disputes, this family tree's got deep roots. Friendship is thicker than blood...that depends. Depends on trust. Depends on true devotion. Depends on love. Depends on not denying emotion." ("Happy New Year" from Act II.)

While I'm happy with the family I was born into and the family I married into, I also have some friends whom I consider to be family. My BFF and I always refer to each other as sisters. We go back 28 years almost, so we practically are! We even adopted this thing from a movie I saw recently and now say "sister code" when we want to keep things confidential between us. And since I never had an actual brother, I consider "Will" to be a brother. Our friendship has a brother/sister quality to it. We can get away with teasing each other about little quirks and we share a lot of inside jokes. I even explained this kind of relationship to my husband when I asked him if "Will" could stand up in our wedding. Even though I haven't seen him in six years, it feels like it's been less time than that. Then there's my big brother who lives in Texas, as my dad "adopted" him years ago and the titles just stuck with us over time. He's a nice guy and I enjoy keeping up with him on Facebook. There's also my blog sister, whom I finally got to meet in person last spring. We connected online after she asked to be a guest reviewer and then she finally started her own blog and I thought it would be fun to work with each other in that way. 

Only "siblings" would try to recreate childhood photos, right?

With "Will" in 2003

With my blog sister, Book Mama! (May, 2014)

Some of my close friends are "aunties" to my kids. My kids think that they have a lot of aunts as a result. Aside from my BFF, who also gets this title, and "Will" who is their honorary uncle (or "Cantrunkle," since he's a cantor), there are only a few friends who get to be called "aunt." It's something that was established when my oldest was born.

Some of my kids' "aunties" with my boys when they were younger (back in 2008):

On the other end of things, I have taken on an aunt-like role for some of my friends' kids. One of these kids, I haven't even met yet. That is my blog sister's daughter. She's so adorable and I love sending her things that I know will make her smile. I feel like I know her just based on all her pictures and everything my friend says about her. I sent her a birthday gift recently and my blog sister took a video of her opening the package. (If you go in a little over two minutes, you'll see her finally getting the box open. I'm obsessive with my package taping!) A past co-worker has the cutest little toddler and I can't get enough of her. I am hoping to see her soon so I can give her some of the stuff I've saved up from my daughter. And there's a current co-worker's daughter who is a year younger than my middle child. I've only met her a couple of times and she's really sweet and polite. I love being able to get stuff for her from time to time. Finally, there's my friend's two year-old son. He's so easygoing and now that he's talking, I can't get enough of him. (Of course, I love giving him stuff from my sons, as well as some new things every now and then.) While I have my own nieces and nephews, they're related by marriage and I only see them every so often. They're great kids and I love my oldest child's friendship with his same-aged cousin. 

Certain friendships have either become stronger or have weakened over the years. Some have been back and forth between the two extremes. I may form other connections over time that could become close enough to be practically family. Who knows what the future holds?

Another family I have is at my office. I've been at my job for a little over five years. While there has been a lot of turnover during that time, there are also people who have been there way longer than I have and I aspire to be there that long. I wouldn't say I'm close with each and every person at my organization, but I've also had the chance to get to know some people better, either by working on a project with them or through social activities that go on, such as parties, outings, etc. I've even become friends with the wives of two guys I work with. I've invited several co-workers over for Shabbat meals. I hope to invite more soon. I've brought meals to co-workers who live nearby when they had babies. I even brought one of them a challah when they injured themselves. I've spent more time than I probably should chatting with the receptionist, as she's so sweet and always has interesting stories. There is no other group that I would get up in front of once a year to do a D'var Torah, but I feel at home with my colleagues and comfortable enough to do so. I think now that we have an open office, I am more in tune with what is going on with others who work around me and I have gotten to know them better as a result. I even started a weekly "column" for our Friday Round-Up to allow everyone to get to know each other. I've learned new things about people that way and they've learned new things about me. Having my workplace as an extended "home" has made my time there so far really positive and inspiring.

First day in my new office building...a.k.a. my other house

Who is in your "family?"

Monday, April 13, 2015

Book Review: The Light Between Oceans

My book club had been back and forth about The Light Between Oceans for a while, as it's hard for a group of mothers to fathom the idea of someone's baby being stranded. However, I'm glad we finally got around to reading it, as it was incredibly well-written and thought provoking. I can't stop going over it in my head!

After surviving the war on the Western Front, Tom Sherbourne becomes a lighthouse keeper on a remote island off the coast of Australia in the 1920s. On his trip back to the mainland, he meets a young woman named Isabel and falls for her charm and vivaciousness. Tom and Isabel soon get married and have an idyllic life on the island. That is, until they started wanting to have a family. Unfortunately for Isabel, her first two pregnancies result in miscarriages and her third produces a stillborn. A couple months after her devastating loss, a boat washes ashore with a dead man and a baby who is very much alive. Since they don't know if the baby has a mother, Tom and Isabel decide to keep it. Tom is unsure about this decision at first, but Isabel's past misery convinces him to not report where the baby came from or even that there was a father, regardless of him having passed. Isabel becomes instantly attached to the infant and names her Lucy, while Tom has his moments of bonding with her and also feeling guilty over his decision.

When they go back to the mainland for a visit and for Lucy to meet Isabel's parents, who have lost their sons in the war, they continue to keep up the charade. Then they find out that their decision has ruined someone else's life. This throws everything into a tumult, racking both Tom and Isabel with tremendous guilt while they continue to harbor their secret.

I have a lot to say about this book but don't want to spoil the ending for people who haven't read it yet and were drawn in by the synopsis. So I will put in a spoilers section in case you've read the story and want to discuss or wish to read it at your own risk because you just HAVE to know what happens. Keep in mind, people's comments might contain spoilers, as well.

In general, I really liked the story line and was captivated once I got through all the build-up. I could definitely relate to it as a mother, especially since Lucy reminds me of my own daughter. While there was an abundance of detail involved in describing all the visual effects, I was also able to see everything so clearly in my mind. The characters felt so real, especially given how flawed they were in various ways. While this is a heavier story than most of the ones I've read lately, I really have to give M.L. Stedman a lot of credit for tackling this topic in such a creative and interesting way. It speaks volumes about adoption, in how one doesn't have to give birth (or have genetic ties) to a child in order to love them and receive their love in return. The only other author I could see doing well at writing a book of this caliber is Jodi Picoult. The main conflict reminded me of something she'd come up with. This is M.L. Stedman's first book and I hope she'll write another one. I recently found out that it's going to be a movie starring Michael Fassbender as Tom. Most of the casting seems different than I expected, but I kept picturing Saoirse Ronan as Isabel.

Now for spoilers....

It's not too late to turn back...

Can't say I didn't warn you!

I was totally surprised by the outcome of the story. When Hannah came to Isabel to offer to give back Lucy if she gave evidence against Tom to have him put away, I thought for sure that Isabel would go with that plan and take Tom down for betraying her (and Lucy). The ending was more depressing, as a result. Had it been written entirely in Hannah's perspective to make both Tom AND Isabel look like kidnappers, I would have felt more sympathy towards her. I felt bad for her and all, but it also seemed like she gave up her baby as dead even though she could have had her rich father send out every ship to look for the boat that her husband had escaped [the mob] in with the baby. And I can't even remember why he took the baby in the boat with him to begin with. I think it was because I was so invested in Isabel's relationship with Lucy that I really wanted her to have a happy ending the most. I was so sad for both her and Tom that this didn't happen. And even though Lucy came back, it was too late for her to see Isabel again. I agree with what Lucy said now that she's a she'd kill for her baby. Regardless of whether a baby is yours from birth or from adoption or other means, once you have that bond with them, it gives you a fierceness to do something you'd never do in any other type of situation. So I was actually surprised and disappointed that Isabel gave up on Lucy by protecting Tom. I know she was caught in the middle, but he was giving her an out and a chance to be with Lucy, even though he didn't know about Hannah's deal. It's such a gray area throughout the third part of the book and that's what makes it so incredibly well written. I'm sure there are others who will agree or disagree with my thoughts on the ending, and that's what makes it even more interesting and exciting to discuss.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Regression therapy

Sometimes I only get the chance to blog once a week. And since I can't always get up the motivation to think of a topic, it's nice to have other friends to blog with so we can take turns. I enjoy being challenged to write about stuff that might not normally come to mind and also reading everyone else's thoughts on the same topic. Blog Project 3.0 has been going on for over a year, even though one of the group members changed after a few months. I love blogging with this group and I hope we can continue to inspire each other.

This week, Moma Rock chose the topic: Poop

First, read what everyone else had to share on this topic. I will be only posting links to posts on this same topic from my group. So check back if you were hoping to read their blogs and don't see a link yet.

Darwin Shrugged
Moma Rock

The subject line is not a joke. And you are not imagining things. Moma Rock and I are in the midst of potty training and need some comic relief from the stress of it, so we share random hilarious poop stories. One day, she said that she should have our blog project topic be "poop" and I dared her to go for it. Well, she finally did! So you can have some comic relief too, whether you're having a stressful day, week, month, etc., you've come to the right place. I'm sharing some funny poop stories, videos, etc.

Side note, I choose not to say the "S word" and will always call it "poop." (Like in Billy Madison when the old guy calls it poop and they find that hilarious.)

*Back in 1996, I would go to this midnight theater open mic every Saturday. It was called Theater of Ted. One weekend, I was away for the High Holidays. When I came back, I found out that a girl had pooped in a bucket in front of everyone at "Ted." She was making a statement about this guy licking chocolate sauce off a girl's leg the week before. The following week, everyone decided to tell their craziest poop stories. I was weirdly sad that I missed the performance everyone was talking about. Then I found out who had done it (and, of course, called her "poop girl") and years later she was in my Abnormal Psychology class. Ironic or what?

*There's an author at Chick Lit Central today who has a funny story to share related to poop. Stop by and check it out. (And enter to win her book.)

*On my first cruise in early 1999, a bunch of us 20-somethings were up at the dance club on the last night when someone announced that there was a giant piece of poo in one of the toilets of the men's room. It looked like a sandwich, it was that huge. Naturally, everyone had to go check it out. It was the highlight of the evening.

*We were trying to get our kids to stop using potty language at the dinner table. One time, my younger son took it very literally and said "I have to make potty language."

*Whenever someone would fart, my friend's dad would say "Who pooped?" in a funny accent. My friend and I always found this hilarious.

*When my family would go to Pompano Beach, Florida, every winter, we'd drive by this sewage plant that smelled awful. My friend's dad called it the "doody and pee pee factory." He'd joke about having picnics there. When I was older, he'd ask me if I told my husband about the factory.

*Speaking of the word "doody," did it come to mean poop after Howdy Doody had been created? I mean, why would you name a famous TV puppet after a word that means crap? I also remember in one of the Indiana Jones movies that there was an actress named Alison Doody. Why would she want that for her last name? Apparently, it hasn't kept her from getting acting jobs.

*Another word for poop is "scat." I find that funny because "scat" is also a style of music. I wonder if Scatman John would change his name if he knew this. And isn't John another name for toilet? Hmmm... Unfortunately, he passed on a long time ago so it's a bit too late to change his name now.

*I love in Waiting For Guffman how Blaine, Missouri is the stool capital of the US. Go to 1:37 in the video if you want to snicker a bit. Here's the stool song from "Red, White, and Blaine."

*This is a funny MadTV parody of a UPS commercial. Don't mind the poor dubbing quality though. For all you fans of The Mindy Project, you'll definitely recognize someone from there.

*This video is just hilarious. If you're as immature as I am, you'll be watching it over and over...

*Of course, no post about poop is complete without Mr. Hankey!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

"Sisters are doin' it for themselves..."

Sometimes I only get the chance to blog once a week. And since I can't always get up the motivation to think of a topic, it's nice to have other friends to blog with so we can take turns. I enjoy being challenged to write about stuff that might not normally come to mind and also reading everyone else's thoughts on the same topic. Blog Project 3.0 has been going on for over a year, even though one of the group members changed after a few months. I love blogging with this group and I hope we can continue to inspire each other.

This week, Darwin Shrugged chose the topic: You know the phrase, he's a man's man? Are you a woman's woman?

First, read what everyone else had to share on this topic. I will be only posting links to posts on this same topic from my group. So check back if you were hoping to read their blogs and don't see a link yet.

Darwin Shrugged
Moma Rock

The concept of being a "woman's woman" made me think of the song in my subject line.

Anyway, in order to get an idea of where I was going with this, I first looked up a definition of "man's man."

Merriam Webster defines it as "a man who is liked and admired by other men." So would that be the equivalent of a #guycrush? There was a full definition underneath that one: "A man noted or admired for traditionally masculine interests and activities."

The definition seems pretty broad. If that were the case for being a "woman's woman," I'd definitely have this in the bag. I have been praised affectionately by other women. Some of that was apparent today after an author posted an interview I did at her blog. Some of the comments on that post were:

"You’re renowned, m’dear (in a good way)."

"She is funny, warm, smart, and so lovely. And she writes a heck of a story, too! I absolutely love her."

This is mainly in relation to what I do with Chick Lit Central. I'm all about featuring, supporting, and celebrating women writers. I've also connected with women all around the world who love to read as much as I do. Hearing good things from them about me or my blog always brightens my day. Recently, I introduced my mom to one of my reader friends (they're close in age and I think they'd get along well in general) and she went on to tell my mom how well she raised me and that she thinks I'm a gem and admires some qualities about me.

One of the highest forms of praise is when someone tells me they bought a book because of my review or recommendation. It speaks volumes about the impact I've had through this blog. Believe it or not, I'm rather modest and I blush at even the slightest hint of praise. Even at my office, when someone thanks me for just doing what I'm supposed to do or says something kind to me, I get all shy about it. (And then I brag to my husband about it, of course!) Just doing this to illustrate a point about the topic is totally stepping out of my comfort zone!

In terms of having traditionally feminine interests and activities, I don't know if it's something I'm admired for, as I share these interests with so many other women.

*I love watching chick flicks (some of my favorites are listed here) and girly TV shows. I recently did a post about three current favorites. Aside from those, I'm a devoted fan of The Mindy Project (I won an autographed script last winter!!!) and I just started watching Younger and already love it. I also watch Orange is the New Black and Orphan Black, but those are gritty dramas.

MINDY and CHRIS touched this at one point in time!!!

*I wear dresses and skirts almost all the time. Part of that has to do with being Modern Orthodox Jewish. I don't like wearing pants anymore except for jeans to lounge around in on weekends.

*I like baking a lot. I don't cook main dishes as much as I bake desserts. I'm sometimes just happy to whip up a batch of chocolate chip cookies. Other times, I like making indulgent cakes and pies.

*In Judaism, there are three mitzvahs that women are obligated to fulfill. I can proudly say I do all three, which are baking challah, lighting Shabbat (and holiday) candles, and going to the mikvah.

*As a mother, I like talking about my kids a lot and sharing both serious and humorous articles about parenting with all my mother friends. Of course, this experience makes me act like a mother to my friends, as well. I think I was doing that long before I had kids. Aside from nagging (I'm allowed to admit it, okay?!?), I also make sure my friends are taken care of.

There are also ways I don't live up to this definition....

*My fashion sense was left behind about 10 years ago. I still wear clothes I got when I was in my 20s and even some items from my college days. I shop at the thrift store and am happy if the label is from a well known store or designer because even if it's an older item, I still enjoy the fact that I saved a fortune on it. (For example, a few years ago, I got this Ann Taylor sweater dress for $10.)

*I hate shoe shopping and barely ever buy myself shoes.

*I don't like reality TV so I don't keep up with the Kardashians and could care less what the Real Housewives are up to or who the Bachelor selected in the rose ceremony.

*As nice and fun as they are, I only get manicures and pedicures a few times a year, if that. And usually just manicures since no one sees my feet. I tend to smudge the polish even after I think they're totally dry, so that just annoys me. I recently had a deal from Certifikid to get one with my daughter. Of course, she wanted the polish removed later that day and one of my nails completely got smudged even when it was well past being dry.

Mother and daughter manis

Are YOU a woman's woman?

Friday, March 27, 2015

"The females are strong as H*ll."

I usually like to do tributes to TV shows I really like. Lately, I'm lucky if I can get my blog project post done, let alone anything else. So I've decided to do a condensed post and give shout-outs to some new TV shows I've been enjoying over the past year. All three feature women in the lead roles and have a chick lit feel to them in one way or another. Now that two of them are done for the year, I'm looking forward to Younger, which premieres next week.

Jane the Virgin

The best thing to happen to TV since Ugly Betty. It's told in a telenovela format and is about a 20-something girl, Jane (played by Gina Rodriguez), who is saving herself for marriage and gets accidentally artificially inseminated when she goes for a routine women's exam. The problem is, the father, Rafael Solano (played by the ever-so-gorgeous Justin Baldoni), is the son of the owner of the hotel where she works as a waitress. And his wife was counting on carrying the baby herself in order to keep her marriage from failing. (Are you still with me here?) Meanwhile, Jane's mother, Xiomara a.k.a. "Xo" (played by Andrea Navedo) re-connects with Jane's father, Rogelio de la Vega (played by Jaime Camil and very active on Twitter), after lying to Jane about him her whole life. The other problems are that the OB/GYN is Rafael's sister, Luisa (played by Yara Martinez), who is having an affair with her stepmother (played by Bridget Regan), and Jane is engaged to Michael, a cop who gets involved in the hotel's business when some strange things start happening. Oh, the DRAMA! It's a deliciously fun show and I can't wait to come back from its hiatus in early April.

Love to hate: Michael, Jane's fiancé (played by Brett Dier). He's just boring and manipulative. I don't like how he tries to use his cop status to get in Rafael's face all the time and make unfounded accusations against him.

Hate to love: Petra, Rafael's wife (played by Yael Grobglas). She definitely has an evil side, but after hearing her back story, it's hard not to feel sorry for her. Even so, she finds ways to come out on top whenever things aren't going the way she'd like.

This trailer says it all...


This show immediately attracted me for two reasons...time travel and the 90s. And then it kept me drawn in through pop culture (especially the music), cute guys, and a captivating story line. It's basically about a woman who goes back to good old 1995 after collapsing in an elevator. It happens to be that she arrived on her wedding day and she decides to change the course of her own history, knowing what she knows in the present. (Or is it the future?) Even if there were weeks that Becca (the main character, played by Laura Ramsey) made a crazy decision, I still wanted to stick it out and see what would come of the new change she made to her past. I liked the supporting cast, which includes Donna Murphy (who did the voice of Mother Gothel in Tangled) and Mario Cantone  (I saw him hurriedly walking down the street when I was in NYC), amongst people I've never seen before. It was cool to see how one change Becca made totally affected the rest of the characters. Things that happened in her first reality might not be the same if she gets back to 2015. We won't know if she's there again until next year, but I'm thankful the series was renewed. It's too good not to be! You can watch it for free on, so why not dig in?!?

Love to hate: Melanie, Becca's 2015 fiancé's girlfriend in 1995 (played by Jessy Hodges, who looks somewhat like Alyson Hannigan...enough to be noticeable). She was just so smug and I hated the way she talked. I felt like she basically existed to torment Becca.

Hate to love: Jamie, Becca's brother (played by John Patrick Amedori). He was a typical 90s slacker, but I just found him attractive, even when he was making bad decisions. He reminded me of Travis from Clueless.

If this trailer doesn't convince you to watch it, let me know what else I can say...

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

I was never a fan of 30 Rock, and I know this is from the same writers and creators (including Tina Fey). However, the concept drew me in and the story line and level of humor kept me going with it. Not to mention, the catchy theme song. It reminds me of a cross between Blast from the Past, 13 Going on 30, and Arrested Development (I'm not the only one who noticed this TV show comparison either). The premise is that some women who were kidnapped and tricked into living in an underground bunker for 15 years have now been freed and they're adapting to life and all the changes that have gone on. The main focus is on Kimmy (played by Ellie Kemper), a 30 year-old with a middle school education who decides to live in NYC and ends up being roommates with a stereotypically flamboyant gay man, who is now Felix from Orphan Black's competition for my TV gay bestie (played by Tituss Burgess), and takes a job as a nanny for a stuck-up rich woman (played by Jane Krakowski). This lends itself to really funny lines and quirky comedy all across the board. Carol "I'm not a witch, I'm your wife" Kane also has a big role as Kimmy and Titus' landlord, Lillian. She and Titus play off each other so well. My husband and I have all sorts of inside jokes from the show, even just from doing a grand arm gesture and saying "it's a MIRACLE!" Or we'll just randomly sing "Pinot Noir." Kimmy is an adorable character (#girlcrush worthy) on a charming show. I definitely recommend it if you need a good laugh or even a break from reality. For those of you who already love this series, you will enjoy this post.

Love to hate: Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne (played by Jon Hamm). He's just more and more awful every time he talks. (Runner up is Randy, Kimmy's non-father, because he's so annoying. He's played by Tim Blake Nelson.)

Hate to love: Jacqueline (Jane Krakowski's character). She's so shallow and full of herself, but I know she has this vulnerable side and I love that about her. I want to see her change for the better somehow.

Check out the trailer:

Thursday, March 26, 2015

My own "Modern" family

Sometimes I only get the chance to blog once a week. And since I can't always get up the motivation to think of a topic, it's nice to have other friends to blog with so we can take turns. I enjoy being challenged to write about stuff that might not normally come to mind and also reading everyone else's thoughts on the same topic. Blog Project 3.0 has been going on for over a year, even though one of the group members changed after a few months. I love blogging with this group and I hope we can continue to inspire each other.

This week, it's each blogger's choice for what to post, so expect some randomness!

First, read what everyone else had to share on this topic. I will be only posting links to posts on this same topic from my group. So check back if you were hoping to read their blogs and don't see a link yet.

Darwin Shrugged
Moma Rock

Since it's been about eight years from when my family and I first became Shomer Shabbos, I've decided to talk about some of the pros and cons to having an observant Jewish lifestyle. We're Modern Orthodox, which borders on secular in some ways. And this is only my opinion. Other people might agree or disagree and as long as they keep it friendly, I am fine with that. 

I first want to point out that if I were in charge, anyone who wanted to convert to Orthodox Judaism would be allowed to without any questions. I think the only criteria would be to spend a year being Shomer Shabbos/Yom Tov and keeping Kosher. If they can do that and still want to do it for years to come, that should be enough. 


*Shabbos: It's the one time a week we truly get to unplug and just focus on being with family and friends. There's something so relaxing about lighting the candles and then sitting down to a meal. It says that the work of the week is done and it's time to turn off the computers, phones, etc. Don't worry about anything other than completely taking in the warmth and joy of the Sabbath.

*Making challah: I made challah even before becoming observant, but that was in a bread machine and didn't involve the effort of kneading the dough and braiding many loaves, as well as taking a piece for the Kohanim. I now use the challah making time to keep in mind people who need prayers for some reason or another. I also love when I can share the challah braiding experience with friends or with my children. And the end result is so delicious!

Challahs I made for Rosh Hashanah

*Cholent: I love a good cholent. I never would have thought to eat it before becoming observant. My husband makes amazing cholent and he's even entering a cook-off soon. Let's hope everyone else agrees!

*Going to the mikvah: Even though family purity means less hand-holding and kissing between husband and wife, there's something to be said for the anticipation of mikvah night and what comes after. I also feel like that non-physical time opens up the lines of verbal communication even more. In any case, mikvah night itself is special because women are made to feel like a bride each time they go. The prep rooms are beautiful and relaxing and the experience of dipping afterward is so physically and spiritually invigorating. I feel closest to Hashem when I'm in the mikvah and have that time to communicate with him.

*Rituals and traditions: Celebrating a simcha becomes a community event. Even when someone you don't know just had a baby or is celebrating another milestone in their lives, everyone wishes each other "mazel tov." It's all so joyous and everyone is happy being together to share in something good. I also love that we waited three years before cutting our sons' hair. It was so special to have upsherins for them. 

Stocking up on kugels at Costco
*Community: Since the goal is to live within walking distance of a Shul, it's important to find the right community with whom to attend services in the first place. The two go hand in hand. Even in a large community, such as mine, there's still a small world feel. I always see people I know at restaurants, stores, the library, etc. And on Shabbos, it doesn't matter if someone knows you or not, everyone greets each other on the way to and from Shul. I am thankful to have such a great community and I encourage anyone who decides to become observant later on to find that for themselves, as well. I also love that there was enough community support to get a Kosher bakery at the local Costco. (And the fact that they cater to the community with their meat selection and wide variety of Pesach items.)

*Purim: When else do you get an abundance of little food-filled packages? And dressing in costume in March is a nice change of pace.

Our mishloach manot "collection"

*My community is more lenient on "dress codes": I can just say for a fact that I'm not the only woman who wears short sleeves in the summer and doesn't always cover her hair. It's nice to not have those expectations where I live.


*Timing of significant events: If people aren't Jewish or aren't observant, it's not a big deal to host an event, party, concert, etc. on a Friday night (or before sundown on Saturday) or even on Yom Tov. I've missed out on a lot of things as a result. While I don't mind missing out on my 20 year high school reunion and having Shabbat to use as an excuse, it would have also been nice for people to consider having it on a Sunday or a Saturday night in the winter. Then I could have just said no for other reasons. Jamie Cullum was doing a concert on erev Shavuot last year. Billy Joel was performing well before Shabbat ended on a Saturday night in August. Independence Day was on a Friday last year and will be on a Saturday this year. There are even simchas for family and close friends that I've also had to miss due to the timing with Shabbat or holidays. I think the worst timing of all was when Tisha B'Av and my birthday were on the same day. Most other times, my birthday still falls within the three weeks or nine days. Another time, the Fast of Tammuz was on my birthday. When I didn't know better, this wouldn't have bothered me.  My older son will have Yom Kippur on his birthday every so often. (At least my younger two get to have Purim birthdays every now and then.)

Two or three day holidays: While Israel is exempt from having a two-day Yom Tov, that doesn't seem to be the case on our side of the ocean. Sometimes, it goes into three days, if Shabbos runs up against a holiday. This year, Shabbos and Pesach are combined. For the first days, this eats up the entire weekend (so I'm glad I'm off for Chol Hamoed). Shavuot this year falls on Memorial Day weekend. It starts with Shabbat on Friday night and then launches into a two day holiday that starts Saturday night and ends Monday night. So that whole weekend is also consumed by the holiday. I'm hoping my husband is able to transfer a flame to the grill so we can have a barbecue on Memorial Day anyway. The hardest is when the fall holidays are three days each to include Shabbos, with the exception of Yom Kippur, of course. I still don't get the meaning behind why we do this and Israel doesn't. It means two Pesach seders, which is essentially two nights of the same exact routine. More time to catch up on reading over those weekends, I suppose.

The blue dates are for Shabbat, holidays, and Chol Hamoed

*Lack of Kosher restaurant options in my area: Compared to NY and NJ, where I live now is sparse when it comes to availability of Kosher restaurants. There are a few good ones, but the nice steakhouse we went to for significant events closed down a few years ago. And we just found out that a really good Asian restaurant by where my brother-in-law lives is closing down soon. The Chinese restaurant closest to us is nothing to write home about and we usually just go up by my brother-in-law to go to the good Chinese restaurant (which is, thankfully, not closing down). Otherwise, it's just a couple of pizza places and a few BBQ places. I don't get into the city to try the very few options they have. What goes along with this is that, unlike Israel, we don't have Kosher versions of fast food restaurants. I'd love a Kosher Wendy's. I still miss their burgers. I'd deal with pareve Frosty if it were made correctly. The burgers at the BBQ places are good though, so that's a plus. 

*Private school vs. public school: Aside from our kids going to a nearby Jewish preschool/daycare program, we never even considered sending them to private school after that time. Part of this is due to two of our kids having hearing loss and needing a different kind of program for their early education. The other part is that we just don't see the need for the financial investment. We both went to public school and decided to become observant on our own. We're raising our kids in a positive environment for being observant and making sure they get supplemental education. While we worry about the social differentiation for our kids, we also stay connected with our friends in the community and most of them have kids close in age to ours. This past Shabbos, one of the boys in private school invited our older son over to play after lunch. They also went to a youth program at Shul later and were talking and giggling the whole time on the way there. I went to different schools than my closest friends when I was growing up and that obviously hasn't messed up our ability to stay close. We have to consider Bar Mitzvah preparation soon. There's so much our son will need to learn in a short amount of time in order to be ready. My husband is already practicing his parasha with him all the time. In any case, I just need to get over my paranoia that people are asking me about my schooling choices for my kids in an effort to be judgmental vs. just asking out of curiosity. 

*Preparing for Pesach: Back in the day, I was proud of myself if I went a whole week without eating bread or pasta. I didn't care if the rest of the food I ate was Kosher for Passover or not. Now, just shopping for Pesach gives me anxiety. And the cereal is so disgusting. (Given that I have to stop eating my favorite cereal for a week, it's not a fair trade-off.) There's also the matter of changing over the house and then not being able to buy chametz (i.e. chocolate) from my favorite stores (i.e. Target) for six weeks after Pesach ends because they didn't sell the chametz beforehand and are owned by Jews. Again, stuff I wouldn't have thought of even when I first became observant. However, once all the prep is done and it's time for the first Seder, I feel a weight lift off my shoulders and I can finally enjoy the holiday for what it is worth. I also look forward to spending it with my in-laws and some close friends every year. And I like how excited the kids get to sing the songs and talk about some of the details from the story. My husband also makes Passover food taste as good as chametz!

Kosher for Passover crepe

There are more pros and cons than the ones I listed today, but I hope that gives you some insight to what it's like becoming observant after growing up Reform. With the cons, I'm not trying to be negative as much as realistic. And they're coming from a different place than they would from someone who grew up observant and only knows one way of life.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Spring Cleaning Book Giveaway

Spring is here (or so one might hope), so it's time to give away some books from my shelf. They don't call me The Book Fairy for nothing! Thanks to I am a Reader, Not a Writer for hosting this blog hop once again.

This week, I'm featuring the following books (I know they're chick lit, but that's what I mostly own):

Chasing Harry Winston by Lauren Weisberger: I read this years ago, but it is a light and fun story. Not a high intensity career story like her others.

The Story of Us by Dani Atkins-reviewed here.

In Her Shoes by Jennifer Weiner--My favorite of all her books.

Walking on Trampolines by Frances Whiting: I haven't read this one yet, but received an extra copy.

Sleeping Over by Stacey Ballis: I also read this a long time ago, but it's an enjoyable chick lit read and I love anything Stacey Ballis writes, so you definitely will have a winner in your hands!

A Little Something Different by Sandy Hall--reviewed here.

Simply from Scratch by Alicia Bessette--reviewed here.

How to win: Enter through Rafflecopter. If it doesn't work on this post, go here. Giveaway is US only and ends March 25th at midnight EST.

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See what books these other blogs have in store!