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

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Ice Skating

Took ND ice skating for the first time tonight. She helped create a metaphor that is a good reminder for me. Every time she worked really hard at moving forward, she ended up flailing around and falling down. When she relaxed and trusted me, the skates and the ice to take her, she moved rather well.

I love learning to try less hard and just let good things emerge.

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Friday, January 21, 2011

Life Wish Installment Number 2: Meditating

When I think back on my life, meditation has popped up as a resource since I was a very young child. It became most prominent when I had cancer because I had time then to focus on it and lived just a block away from the very dear friend who was teaching me.

When we moved to Vancouver, I kept it going a little with a woman I met there, but it wasn't the same.

Then I moved to Englewood. The shock of that move and of the unbelievable stressful year I then experienced as my first at my current job drove meditation far away. Becoming a mother also affected the way in which I used to "connect" before.

So now it's been over 6 years since I've had a teacher or guide I could trust, but I'm craving it like crazy. In the interim I tried teaching meditation to kids twice along the way (and have incorporated some techniques into my classroom). I have done my own thing, but I want to go deeper. One of the people with whom I ride shared to the Hazon Conference teaches meditation in New York. She gave me some resources and I am particularly eager one of these years to go on a meditation retreat at the Isabella Freedman Center. I don't think I can do it this year, but maybe next. It's right in the middle of the second half of the school year.

I do do some things on my own... I feel self-conscious about listing them just now. And I use little techniques throughout the day almost more for sanity and stability than depth.

What I ultimately crave is feeling aware and connected.

Could I write a lot about this? I feel like there is a book in me with experiences on this path.

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Life Wish Installment Number 1: Writing

Let's begin with this... one of the things I was not able to touch on much in my piece about the Hazon Conference was how many amazing personal encounters and experiences I had. It was just a weekend! Yet in that time I met people who so invigorated in me a love to incorporate my other loves into my life more.

For example, I shared a room with a writer. I spent much of the weekend hounding her, and then trying not to hound her, with questions about her career. Sometimes I'm just so interested in what a person with a different career's day is like! I asked about how she decides what to write, markets herself, spends her day, etc.

I don't think I could live a full-time writer's life.

-I don't sit still well.

-As shy as I often feel about mingling and casual situations, I do not like being alone for too long. I really thrive from the interactions I have with people in the passionate setting of a school where so many wonderful and caring people are. Put us in a party and my anxiety level goes up a bit, but talk to me about teaching or children or health or anything else about which I tend to be a bit intense, and I'm gloriously comfortable.

-I don't like dealing with money. I prefer just receiving a paycheck and moving on. Negotiating with people freaks me out. Just last night I had to work out something with a woman who is caring for my cat while I'm away on a trip next week. We each suggested different amounts on what I'll pay her. We settled very quickly (me conceding without any discussion) and I worried about it for nearly an hour. I also don't want to have to scramble for jobs.

-I don't write terribly well on demand... at least not when it's about subject matter outside of what I know really well. Everything I write, I write through my own self-reflective lens. I couldn't just tell you about the conference, I had to tell you about my experience at the conference. I'm just too absorbed in my own world to do it any differently. I hope that can make my writing more engaging in the long run, but it does mean I'm sometimes limited. Is that a problem? Not if this isn't my only career, I suppose.

Now, on the other hand, I really do love writing when it comes into my life. And I love doing it well. The piece I wrote on the conference is not perfect, but it felt as though it was commissioned. I had a very specific audience in mind, I had a deadline, and after I gave the drash I had some really positive feedback... more than for any other drash I've given. This makes me wonder if I don't have some potential to be doing this sort of thing in writing a little more often.

In fact, the time from the Food Conference at the beginning of Dec. up until about a week ago was extremely stressful. In addition to my regular work of life and teaching, I had to write and edit anecdotal report cards for my 41 students. (2 classes) These report cards print out to about 3 pages of content, averaging a page of paragraph writing about the kids. Meanwhile, we had a snow storm. Between shoveling and typing at breakneck speeds to get through all that writing, I injured my hand. It was in a lot of pain for about a week and I was really scared it wouldn't get better. Must have just been tendinitis, because it did. But I have to tell you, I kind of liked having a writing-induced injury!

What writing have I been able to accomplish this school year? Well, I was so motivated after my trip this summer to Chautauqua (thank you Saba, Savta and David Baker!!!) that I wanted to focus on poetry more. For awhile I was writing a journal entry night with line breaks. Most of them are just helpful journal entries to help me record snippets of life -- especially with ND. But a few have turned into some poems with real potential. I just haven't had or taken time yet to revise any but one of them. I also don't do it every night now, but I guess I average about 2 per week.

I've been trying to participate in poetry readings too. So far I've only had them at Barnes and Noble, the "Cafe" at the Hazon Conference and the Teaneck General Store. There was an open mic night the night after the drash I gave, but after all that anecdotal and drash writing and finally delivering the drash, I finally had a cold and needed to crash. Besides, I hadn't had time to revise the latest two poems that I really wanted to read. It's probably time to consider moving the stakes up and finding open mics in places with more established writers. I do live close to New York after all!!!

And last but not least, I finally actually purchased a Writer's Market. I hope to spend some time today highlighting.

So here are the big questions:

1. What is my ultimate goal?

Is it to write? I can do that right now. If I have time, that is.

Is it to be read? I can do that some when I'm on this blog at least, but not much. I need to find ways to have others be interested in my writing. Speaking of which, if you're reading this, can you leave me a comment please? I have a counter on the blog but have no idea who or how many readers I actually have.

Is it to make money? I wouldn't mind. I don't necessarily need the cash (though it never hurts), but I would like having strangers value my work enough to pay for it.

Is it to have strangers read my work? Sure. Why not?

Is it to be famous? Again, wouldn't hurt. Don't know if I need it.

Is it to make a difference? That'd be cool, but I'm doing that through teaching already. This is more about me and what I want for me.

Is it so I can define myself more as a writer? Yeah, I'd like that too. I spend the majority of my waking hours teaching, yet don't identify with just being labeled a teacher. I suppose I might feel the same about writing if I had more time to do it.

I think more than anything, I just have things I want to say, and that no one can say the same way as me. I would hate to leave the world without those things being said. Again, does anyone else need to read or hear them? Maybe, maybe not.

2. When do I spend time on this? When do I just live?

3. Again, who wants to read me?

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Winter Vacation!

At last!

This has been a wonderful teaching year, but a year too when I've been constantly wanting more time to do things I love and even things I don't always love like cleaning my own house, cooking food a little more (OK, I do like that a lot) and more.

I've been wanting to write in here since September about a number of things: health, meditation, writing.

So here I am. Let's see what I can accomplish right now... but to keep it tidy, I'm going to do it in installments.

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Saturday, January 15, 2011

Hazon Food Conference 2010 - Drash for Beshalach

Below is the text to a drash/show and tell that I have this week at my shul in honor of Tu B'Shvat:

This week’s parsha has an interesting sequence of events. Probably the event that stands out the most is the crossing of the Yam Suf. This is an enormous miracle that is exciting and triumphant. The part we talk about a little less frequently is what comes after this sort of birth out of Egypt and into Hashem’s care. After the singing and dancing and celebration has ended, the people suddenly become frightened and ask, “Now wait a second. What are we going to eat?” So begins a series of food-related events that take place throughout the journey in the dessert. First, they are thirsty and cannot drink the bitter waters of Marah until Moshe is instructed to throw wood into the water to make it sweet. (Very appropriate for Tu B’Shvat) Shortly after, they camp in Elim among 12 springs of water and seventy date-palms. (also appropriate for Tu B’Shvat) Then Hashem explains how food from heaven will rain down on them. Later on, of course, the people will start asking for meat and will become so demanding and hungry for it, that they gorge themselves to excess.

We all know that food is important in Judaism because we interact with it all the time through chagim and Shabbat and other events. But recently I had an experience of looking at food in a new light that I’ve come to share with you today and actually talk about as somewhat of a show and tell. I’m part of a CSA at the Tenafly JCC. CSA stands for Consumer Supported Agriculture and is a partnership developed with a local farm or farmer. Through our CSA we get local organic vegetables during the warmer months of the year.

The reasons I joined were:
1. I was interested in obtaining local produce as a way to cut down on my carbon footprint through “food miles.”
2. I was interested in getting organic veggies.
3. I thought it was cool that I would actually be supporting a farmer and have access to the farm where my food came from.

A lot more has come. At some point I was invited to join the committee and because of that was encouraged to go on a retreat with the national organization our CSA works through, an organization called Hazon.

This conference was amazing. It was held at the Isabella Friedman Center in Connecticut. It’s a sweet little place with just enough room for about 200 participants in a series of cabins and buildings in the woods – all Kosher facilities. They raise goats there and had I come a day earlier I might have had the chance to help milk them and see how the milk is made into cheese.
There were so many interesting people at the conference. To begin, there were a refreshing variety of denominations. For example, Shabbos morning you could choose from any number of services or activities to celebrate, but not all Orthodox. Yet there was a respect between all the groups and, in fact, when signing up for housing situations there was a place to indicate a preference for Shomer Shabbat roommates. I got to room with a writer and a Conservative rabbi. All of the meals were communal and I just met one interesting person after another with tons of really engaging and thought-provoking conversation. The food was incredible and always labeled with what it contained, where it came from etc. But I’ll talk about that more a little later.
There were workshops around the clock, all about food. I learned a ton of new things, and relearned things I already knew. I was reminded how little I know about where our food comes from, what’s in it, who’s preparing it and the affect this has on us and the world we inhabit. This weekend made me really look intensively at how our food choices relate to:
-the way we spend our time (whether we find time to prepare our food or not, for example)
-our health
-economics, jobs and poverty
-the environment in relation to air, water and land usage
-Torah and spirituality

Again and again during the conference the term “Jewish Food Movement” was used, a term I hadn’t heard before. What made this phrase so significant to me was that it made me feel I was taking part in history. The choices we make today as consumers will actually impact what food is like 50 years from now.

The first workshop I attended was about wheat. She had an ancient quote – unfortunately I’m not sure where it was from whether Talmud or what other ancient text, but it said, “Some day people will not be able to tell the difference between rye and wheat.” I, of course, haven’t the foggiest idea and seeing that really made me think about people’s relationship with wheat in the past and how we never even see wheat today until after it’s been processed. The presenter was a farmer and scientist who has been studying what wheat was most like in the time of our foreparents. She compared it to industrial wheat most of us eat most of the time today. Wheat changed dramatically over the years from a healthier more robust wheat to one that contains more gluten (hence gluten allergies) and can be harvested with enormous machines. The desire to have this seemingly more efficient way of harvesting wheat came about from the idea of wanting to feed more people, but the result is a less healthy product, much of which is fed to cattle instead of people anyway (when they’re not even supposed to eat it). In addition, this wheat prouduction often require pesticides that pollute the land and our bodies. The presenter gave us some seeds of wheat more like what our ancestors planted and asked us to try to grow our own and make bread with it.

At another time I heard a different farmer talk about permaculture which has to do with farming practices. I was one of the lay people there and didn’t understand all of it, but was really interested to learn how small farms are actually more efficient than industrial ones for a number of complex reasons. Briefly I’ll mention the simple fact that they use space differently. When you plant greater variety you can fit more into a smaller space and it’s easier to deal with pests when you have biodiversity. For example, there is something called Three Sisters Crop in which corn, squash and beans protect each other from pests and help each other grow. The presenter also talked about the importance of home gardens. I’ve been tempted to start a home garden for a long time and was even more inspired to do so after hearing this talk and later also hearing a talk (not at the Hazon conference but at another CSA event) from the founder of which connects home gardens to food pantries which otherwise very rarely have access to fresh produce.

There were quite a few cooking demonstrations. The only one I made it to was by a woman named Linda Lantos. She has studied all kinds of cuisine and works with people to help them create food routines and diets that work for them even with allergies and other problems. She gave an incredible workshop on cooking with children. I went to it with a little bit of skepticism because I figured I already cook with Naomi. But as both a parent and teacher I was stunned by how much more there is to say in this area about what kids are actually capable of doing in the kitchen, helping them be interested in healthy foods, dealing with power issues around food, and on developing vocabulary to help them talk about food.

There was Torah learning including shiurim and before meals, moments of reflection, of how to eat meat ethically, on eating with intention and spirituality.

Some other people at the conference included:

Naf and Anna Hanau of Grow and Behold which is a local group that sells Kosher grass-fed and very happy chickens.

Negev Nectars which sold me some really yummy apricot preserves. It’s kind of a long-distance CSA. In this case, you accept food mileage if you buy into a share and get organic olive oil and preserves sent to you from a kibbutz in Israel several times a year.

I unfortunately missed the presentation from Rabbi Ari Hart who has created a sort of social justice heksher that monitors food organizations for fair practices for workers. He is really looking for support of people like you that can tell local restaurants that you would want to support them for getting this hekshers.

There is so much more I could tell you but it's getting close to kiddush time, so let me just share one last story. The most important moment of the weekend came for me during an actual eating experience. On Shabbos we were served a cholent and, before we ate it, someone stood up to explain that the meat in the cholent came from one of the goats raised at the Isabella Friedman center. They talked about raising it there and where it was taken to be schechted. The man who actually raised the goat stood up to speak. It was a difficult moment. He was an awkward speaker and looked like he was struggling to speak. He said, “This goat was raised in love and it left this world in love. Please… receive it with love.” After hearing that I had to think for a moment about whether I wanted to eat it, but I almost had to, knowing the sacrifice that had been made for me. It was challenging, and it was very good. It was a holy eating experience during which I really thought about what it meant to have Hashem and this man and this goat making this sacrifice for my benefit. After that I felt like I could never eat the same way again and have made some personal changes in my eating habits as a result.

I’m going to end by sharing several invitations to you.

The first is an invitation from the Green Committee and from co-sponsors (leaving this blank on my blog for confidentiality). Thanks to all of these people we are having a special Kiddush in honor Tu B’Shvat. The food is primarily prepared by Hummus Elite. We've chosen a vegetarian menu because the less meat we eat means the more land being used more efficiently for food production for people. The food contains several fruits that come from trees in honor of the trees and the environment and as many of the seven species for Tu B'Shvat that we could fine. You'll probably be especially interested to know that wheat and barley are represented by beer.

The second invitation is from the Tenafly CSA. We will be holding will be a seder at the Tenafly CSA. on Wednesday the 19th. The seder itself is at 6 but there is a children's craft project at 5:45. The cost is $10 per person or $18 per family. (Please RSVP!) In addition, I would ask you to really consider joining our CSA before the spring.

The third is from me personally. As you can tell, I would love to keep talking about this experience. If you are interested in knowing anything more, please talk to me or visit my blog where I've posted this entire drash and included links. I can send you the address if you email me. [If you are reading this now, thank you for visiting the blog!]

With that I'll just remind you that when you have eat today, please be sure to really think about how blessed we are to have the food that we do as you hear kiddush, wash and bentsch. Shabbat Shalom and Bteavon!

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