Many thoughts about the world, meditation, parenting, Judaism, pregnancy, teaching, cancer survivorship, moving from West Coast to East and more.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur begins tomorrow night and I'm actually quite excited about it. As a child I never would have thought that possible, but it really is one of the most important days of the whole year, but this year I think it will be extra special.

Here's why...

As you probably know, Yom Kippur is known as the "Day Of Atonement" shortly after the Jewish new year begins. It's a day for self-reflection, asking forgiveness and of massive prayer to G-d.

It's also a day for fasting from sundown until an hour after sundown the next day -- no food, no water. It's meant to help us come out of our physical selves and just relate to G-d on a spiritual level.

My midwife gave me the ok to fast even though I've only 2 months (almost exactly) until my due date. She described to me what it feels like to have a contraction and said that if I experience contractions I should lie down. If they continue, then I should consider breaking the fast either according to Jewish law (an ounce of liquid every 5-9 minutes, I think) or just outright break the fast (pregnant and nursing women of course can if they must). She is also Jewish but said she'll answer the phone if I call in an emergency.

I'd really like to keep the fast, and some people say that if you have the choice between going to shul and fasting, you should fast. I also don't want to be in a position where I'm at shul, need to go rest, and then have to climb the 4 flights to my apartment. (I'm not willing to use the elevator on a holiday except in an emergency, and I don't have the desire to set myself up for the possibility of an emergency.)

So I'm doing Yom Kippur in a completely different way than I ever have before and probably different than I will be able to ever again. I set up a schedule for myself of the regular Yom Kippur prayers alternating with specific meditations that I've chosen for the day. Instead of sitting and standing in shul and being led into the prayers, I'm going to lead myself alone and without conversation with anyone else.

I checked in with my meditation teacher back home to see if she had any suggestions. What I interepreted from what she said is that I should not work too hard and dealing with specific thoughts, but should open myself up to whatever comes from my efforts. I also checked in with my rabbi to see if I was covering all the right ground with the prayers I should and should not say alone. He said he's a little envious of what I'm doing.

Why haven't I done this before? Because it IS a communal holiday, and one of my biggest struggles in life is in being more accepting of my community.

Why is it unlikely I'll do this again? Because even if I'm home again next year, I'll be busy - please G-d - caring for someone else.

One final thought. I plan to come out again for neilah, the final climax of the holiday, essentially because I can go downstairs to go to it and by the time I need to go upstairs again the holiday will be over, I can eat and take the elevator. But also because it's such a powerful part of the day. I'm a little anxious about going from silent time alone into that environment of so many people who surely wouldn't understand what I'm doing with all this meditation, and I won't do it if it feels too strange. But I realize U. will be coming home to rest at some point in the afternoon during the break. We've already agreed that he won't talk to me unless I initiate, but I realize that if I'm going to go from solitude and silence into community again, it would be good to have that one step of transition in between of just speaking to my husband.

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Sunday, September 24, 2006

Rosh Hashanah Preparations II

Rosh Hashanah is supposed to be about Teshuvah, about change, about the glory of G-d and many other lofty concepts. But the excitement of the holidays doesn't always come from such lofty places.

On Thursday I went into Teaneck to try and sell some books at a used bookstore and pick up some challah at a bakery. The place (the latter one) was absolutely bustling. I had to wait for almost half an hour to get helped. And when I left the shop I saw so many people rushing here and there with bags of groceries and arms draped with dry cleaning. It was quite invigorating.

I hadn't realized it before, but there is a farmer's market this time of year in the very parking lot where I parked, so I made my way over there, mentally beginning to write this blog and thinking of how nice it was to get these external reminders of the urgency of the holiday.

The farmer's market was lovely. I bought some buckwheat honey from (I think) an Amish lady. (My guest and husband later turned this down when they said it reminded them too much of the scent of manure, but I liked it. Must be my Corvallis roots again.)

All of the stands had apples, but one had such tiny ones, with un-uniform colors and a few bug bites, imperfect-looking, unlike those you see in a store. They were jumbled together in a small basket and I found myself suddenly about to cry. They reminded me of apples we used to pick on the land where I grew up. We had this long pole with a basket on the end attached to a sort of claw. And we would get containers full of apples and run them through a cider press. It was loud and made a wonderful squishy grinding sound while the bees buzzed all around. We stored gallons of the cider in a freezer locker and worked through it during the year. I had to learn to be okay with drinking pulp, but what a wonderful smell!

As an adult I wonder how we found time to do that sort of thing, and I regret that I won't be able to offer anything like that to our child(ren), at least not in that form. But I'm so grateful that the simple act of buying apples brought me to tears this year. If that's all I get from Rosh Hashanah this year, dayenu. (It's enough.)

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Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Yawn!

I had an ultrasound today. I have about 2 months and one week to go. The baby didn't look all that much different than last time. I don't yet see a face that I feel I can recognize, but it certainly does take up a lot more space. It was neat to actually see movement of little arms and legs at the same time I felt them. Then all of a sudden there was this black hole out of nowhere when I didn't know what I was looking at. It closed and I suddenly realized I had just seen the sweetest little yawn ever! There was a second one a bit later. Oh, the ecstasy!

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Monday, September 18, 2006

Rosh Hashanah Preparations

I've been feeling very good this year about how conscious I've been of working on myself since Tisha B'Av in preparation for Rosh Hashanah. Generally speaking, my goal has been to become more open towards people I was shutting out before (and to work through some anger towards one person in particular - I am VERY proud of how much work I've done on that). I feel like I've made a lot of progress which has also helped a bit in the humility department.

But then I woke up this morning feeling panicked suddenly about simply not being ready. That's probably the best way to feel right now. The terror or awe of the coming days is what makes real teshuvah (I'll translate it for my purposes here as change, renewal, growth) take place. I realize too that I'm similarly panicking about motherhood. I keep finding myself again and again looking at the challenges other parents face and then catching myself saying, "But that won't happen to me..." I know that the ONLY way I can learn that is faulty logic is by experiencing it. I don't need reassurance for this. I simply need to experience it. I'm afraid of how little time I have left (just over two months if the baby holds to the projected schedule) and at the same time eager to get on with it.

Anyway, back to the original topic of being more open to others. This morning I read this Rosh Hashanah article over breakfast. I like some aspects but not others. I like the idea of not thinking of R.H. as being about punishment and reward. I sort of agree with the idea instead of investment. But it does feel a bit sterile to think of it that way.

And the more challenging aspect of the article is the notion that there is sort of this tiered system of those who actually are spiritually motivated and those who are not that just tag along for the ride. (Look for the explanation of people making it rich with Microsoft when they haven't worked for it and don't necessarily need it.) Unfortunately, it makes too much sense to me. I tend to exclude others because I have some lofty idea that I'm more sensitive, spiritual or what-have-you than they are. But if what I've been working on is seeing other people with a greater measure of respect, why am I now allowed to imagine them on a different tier?

Throughout all of this, it occurs to me that while I'm preparing intellectually, my dad is not allowed to study Torah right now as he sits shiva. That's a completely different experience for changing oneself.

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Sunday, September 17, 2006

B.C. Buddies

Got to see some old friends today. A.'s husband is taking the picture, hence is absent from the picture. Mine is getting the car.



I'm quite pleased with myself for successfully driving in Manhattan today!

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One more obituary

Here's the final obituary that I plan to share.

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Saturday, September 16, 2006

Opa continued

My father not only agreed to, but was enthusiastic about my printing his eulogy of my grandfather on the blog. Here it is. In keeping with my usually blog policy, I'm changing names to initials:

My father wrote a novel which, like most good novels, has chapter following chapter in logical progression, with reasonable transitions from one situation to another, smoothly developing the story. His Heavenly Father, on the other hand, wrote W's life story with chapters that jerk and start. W, who always protested that he was not religious, accepted and embraced each chapter in a way that would be the envy of the greatest Tzaddik, or holy person. He had every reason to be a bitter, resentful person, but instead--as all of us here know--he was loving, caring, and accepting of everyone.
The novel of his life begins with his birth in 1915 to loving parents and two older siblings in the far western part of Germany. That chapter ends abruptly, during the flu pandemic of 1918, with the death of his mother.
The next chapter is confusing to me, and probably was to him, with displacement, a stepmother, the devastating economic depression in Germany, then his living with his uncle in Berlin. He was raised with no religion, and attended gentile schools, learned to physically defend himself while progressing in a promising academic life. He shared with me a dream he had when he was about 4 years old, a pretty convincing recall of the last moments in the trenches of World War I of a gentile German soldier. He always took that as a sign of all people sharing a common humanity, something he never lost.
In 1933, at 18, and with one more year to go for W's basic education, his uncle, a man of remarkable foresight, realized it was time to just walk away from his house and money and flee Germany. This chapter ends with W following the family, a refugee in Paris and then on a train to join his family in Spain. On the train, he meets a Catholic priest who tells him he can no longer flee from his Judaism, that he has to embrace it.
The next chapter could easily have been what he thought it was to be, his settling in Spain and living there happily ever after. Three years after he arrived, the Spanish Civil War changed all that, and he was on the move again, sleeping on couches in France, Switzerland and Italy, teaching himself Italian and applying for immigration to the United States.
And finally he was accepted, arrived, and, as he describes it, felt like the biblical Gershon, "a stranger in a strange land," first working in New York City and then finding a job working for a Jewish stationer in Houston. There he met my mother, and their life together became one of great love and hard work, but even that promising life was interrupted by World War II.
After the war, he and his brother-in-law started a restaurant, and that place took up huge hours of his and my mother's lives. When he was able to escape that business, my mother and he found a small stationery store and dove in, building it to the third largest office supply store in the growing city of Houston.
It feels sometimes that I didn't get to see him much, but he somehow found time to introduce me to fine music, to build a huge train layout with me, to travel long distances for ski trips, and to go with me on Boy Scout outings. To this day, I love music, trains and the outdoors, and his memory will remain with me in all these.
I went off to college, then medical school, and finally, my parents were able to start selling the store and having time for themselves when, in another twist of the plot by the Novelist, my mother died, and my father was a widower at 55, without his business and without his life-partner.
Miraculously, he and S found each other and knew how blessed there were to have done so, and, as he entered a new career as a manufacturer's representative that progressed into retirement, he had a whole new family, forming a close bond with my stepbrother, B, that in turn led to his embracing a series of grandchildren and offering them so much of himself.
Somehow, he still had time and attention left for me, my wife D, and my two children, even though geographic distance made that difficult at times.
A loving man who gave selflessly of himself, a reader, thinker and intellectual who was never full of himself, a man of peace and high ideals, he painted, translated, wrote, taught and, as he shared with me, valued every day of his life. Each of us here is fortunate to have had his life touch ours, and can only hope to take life's surprises with the grace that he did.

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Friday, September 15, 2006

Opa

So Tuesday night I learned that my grandfather died.

I stayed up much later than usual trying to process, but I knew I couldn't fly out to California for the funeral. I didn't want to leave work during the first week, although obviously I could and would have if necessary. But I'm ambivalent about flying this pregnant and also my family all agreed there wasn't much purpose in my coming. Nonetheless, it's been very hard to be away from them.

Wednesday morning I had an oncologist follow-up appointment (during which I learned that I'll have one more CT scan in 2007 and then should be DONE permanently!) It was rainy outside and I felt moody. Didn't realize how much of it had to do with Opa's death until I arrived at school into a team meeting and of course burst into tears.

Still, I chose to stay at work (I don't know if that was the right choice and imagine you blog readers judging it badly, but it actually seemed a safe place to be and I didn't know what I'd do at home). My assistant was ready to take over at a moment's notice if asked.

By the end of the day I was exhausted, nauseous and my head hurt. So I reluctantly cancelled a tutoring session, went home and slept for an hour. I just completely knocked out. That night I slept another 8 or 9, getting up in the middle of the night and tending to a headache for awhile.

Somehow I find it comorting when my body responds that way to something. It's like I don't have to make a decision of what to do for myself. My body just tells me.

Yesterday morning before the funeral my parents and I talked for awhile on the phone. The truth is, I've never been that close to this grandparent and I've always sort of wondered why. I didn't know if it was me or him. My dad learned a lot from this visit of just how well-loved Opa has been in his own world and I am coming to understand why he hasn't interacted that much in my world.

I guess I don't know what's right to say here. An obituary was printed in his local newspaper and when it gets online I'll revise this entry and add it in.

I'll leave this though. There's a children's book called The Story of Ferdinand. All the other bulls are rough and tough and fight all day, but Ferdinand likes to sit quietly and smell the flowers. One day when the men are coming to recruit bulls for a bull fight, Ferdinand accidentally sits on a bee, jumps up in fright, and the men take him away thinking they've found the most ferocious bull of all. But when Ferdinand is led into the bullfighting ring and all the Senoras and Senoritas throw their flowers into the ring, he just sits down to smell them.

That's how I picture my grandfather. Always calm and unassuming despite living through horribly turbulent times and conditions.

More later...

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Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Loss

I came home tonight from a successful back to school night feeling pretty good and then got a message on my answering machine that my grandfather died today.

I don't know what to say or do about this yet. I hadn't seen him since my wedding 5 years ago but had recently tried to call more often. I'm not going to the shiva but am upset I can't go and support my father during it.

I don't know what to say or do yet. I think the only thing I can do right now is go to bed.

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Monday, September 11, 2006

Monday evening

Well, I made it through the day, and it was a pretty good day.

However, I wish I could say that all my anxieties were unfounded and that I feel great now, but that's not the case. I'm stressing out right now about a couple of receipts that I can't find, it's much later than I intended to go to bed, and frankly I feel like I'm going to start crying.

I'm not worried about this terribly, I mean I'm not worried about the fact that I'm feeling this way right now, but I do need to pay attention to it and respect it.

I'm going to go to bed, but I am also going to look in just one more place.

Then for real, I'll go to bed.

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Monday morning

Didn't I just mention in my last post how meditation helped me face the day in the mornings?

I have a very very busy week ahead and I'm having a little trouble with the anticipation of it. Doctor's appointments and other events almost every morning as well as a back-to-school night Tuesday night and tutoring on 2 or 3 afternoons (have to check on one of them). I had a nice weekend, but last week seemed so very long and I think it will feel that way this week too.

Not to mention that I'm thinking about how I won't be blogging much in the morning for comfort if it should happen at some point that I have a baby crying at the same time. How will I feel on those days?

No matter what, it's just a feeling.

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Saturday, September 09, 2006

Meditation

Last Wednesday night at my Conscious Community class we got to talking about meditation. The rabbi was talking about the frustrations he has had with meditation and I finally "came out" as a meditator. I'm proud of my daily discipline even if I don't get more than a few minutes most days. (About 5-15 minutes weekdays, plus yoga beforehand. About a half hour on Saturday morning in the early hours before going back to bed.) So I gave some suggestions about what makes it work.

Then, to my great pleasure, my friend who attends the classes asked the benefits of meditation. I told her some of how I had got started. I didn't tell the whole thing there, but I will here:

I have problems with my SI joint, a muscle near the hips, and have had trouble with it for years to the degree that at times I couldn't walk. (This has been getting bad again recently with the pregnancy.) I eventually realized that no doctor was helping me with it effectively and that I would have to fix it myself. To do that, I began taking yoga. The problem was that there was chanting at the beginning and end that just plain wasn't Jewish and I discovered I wanted to study Jewish meditation. I had played around with it a little through the years, especially as a teenager, but didn't do much on my own with it.

So someone who throughout the years has alternated between boss, neighbor, teacher and friend or mine, Abby was teaching a class on just that. When I entered her class I came with the intention of getting rid of the chattering in my head. It has helped tremendously and led to other benefits too. Some of these benefits come directly from the time I spend sitting the morning, some have come from things we discussed in the classes I took with Abby, and some has come in the way I try to look at the world minute to minute, using the meditation as a tool to remind me how to do it.

Over the time I've been doing meditation which started arond 2002, meditation has helped me:

Reduce anxiety
Face the morning when I used to become very emotional about having to do so
Relax
Have greater faith
Love more
Accept more
Reduce anger
Be more patient in spousal interactions
Be more forgiving (sometimes... this is a tough one for me, but I'm having some success with it right now)
Like myself more
Find solutions to problems
Feel safe

The hardest thing about meditation for me is, I think, the voice in my head that says other people don't have time for this so I have some nerve doing it when there is WORK TO BE DONE! Sometimes I work through this by saying that the time I take to meditate makes me more efficient in dealing with my life. (Kind of like sleeping, but even more so. If I can waste less energy on negativity, all the better.) At other times I simply thank myself for taking care of myself.

Obviously the preoccupation now is wondering how I'll find time for that and yoga once there's a baby here. However, as meditation has helped me accept more in the world and surrender more to G-d and what G-d sends, I also think I'll deal with that when the time comes. I hope I can learn to make the time I spend with my child into a meditation of its own. I already do a certain kind of meditation in the chaos of a school environment by being ON with kids. (It gives me a high. The better I know them, the greater the high.) But I would like to have a quiet meditation too. We'll see what happens when I get there.

In the meantime, I would like to help more people become accepting and open to real meditation. What do I mean by "real"? I guess I'm not sure yet. But I can think about it and write more if I still want to later.

That's a lot for you to read now. I still have a list of things I want to write about, but that's enough for now.

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28 weeks and kicking (but not screaming)

It's actually 29 weeks on Tuesday, but I just needed a catchy title. Besides, this blog is one way I've been keeping track of my weeks, believe it or not. Today a few people asked me what week I was up to. It's the first time that I really wasn't sure.

Anyway, the kicks or wiggles or hiccups or shifts or whatever is happening inside me have increased. At least, my feeling them has increased. There's almost no time now that I'm still (lying or sitting down) that I don't feel something. I don't generally feel much when I'm moving around. U. asked what that means. I said I wasn't sure other than that this baby likes movement in order to sleep.

I'm also feeling a bit more emotional although I think this is partly a product of the school year starting too and my being so exhausted today as a result. In general, things are going quite well (better than last year for those of you who know the baggage I didn't write about). I just hope the workload eases up soon. I definitely won't be able to maintain this once I'm a mom.

I've wanted to write on here all day and, conveniently, Saturday night is always the night I set aside for art and writing, so here we are. However, I want to start a separate entry to keep my thoughts separate.

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Thursday, September 07, 2006

Part time?

This morning I had some very deep and profound things I wanted to write about based on my class the night before. But as I predicted, I'm too zonked tonight to even touch on it all. Maybe I'll try in the morning. (I made a list of 4 different things I want to write about regarding meditation and similar issues.)

In any case, today was that first day of school. I slept in until 7 since I didn't officially start until 10:45 with my part-time schedule. (10:45-3:45) But I was a little frantic being home while I knew that school was starting, and I left a little early anyway so I could do some extra things that I needed to before being with the kids. Even so, I put in a LONG day. I stayed until 5 doing stuff, then made a bunch of necessary phone calls for school that all took longer than they should have, and I still have a few things to print out. I'm wiped out.

I wanted to go grocery shopping tonight for Shabbat, particularly since there are a few things I wanted to browse or a few things that I wanted EXACTLY the right product. But I'm going to allow (and I'm grateful for this) U. to go in my place.

It's not easy for me to go easy on myself, but I really need to do it.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The night before the first day

So here we are then. Tomorrow's the first day of school and I think we're pretty ready. I left the building today probably much earlier than a lot of people and with activity buzzing everywhere. This is because we've had more than the usual share of teachers working on the classroom. I will be part-time in the afternoons this year, and the teacher who does the morning class is on maternity leave. (Her son was born TODAY!) But this means that she came in and took care of a ton before I really even started on the room, and the assistant that we share, and the other teacher's substitute, have all been working together with me.

So with all this buzz and anxiety, it's funny to think that I actually can sleep in a little to have my first actual part-time day. (I've been going in all day for all of these prep. days.) It's hard for me to slow down about that. I almost want to go in and help in the morning. But this is what I agreed to, this is all I'm being paid for, and I'll be extremely grateful in 3 months.

Oh yes, have I mentioned that I'm now enterring that famous third trimester? September, October and November are all that's left...

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