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

Friday, September 28, 2012


Well, Yom Kippur has ended now. We've all asked for forgiveness from God while examining our relationships with others to see if we need forgiveness from them too.

There was one thing hanging over me still when I went into the holiday. About 6 months ago I was recovering from some debilitating allergies and finally - on a rainy day - went out for a walk, hoping to rejuvenate both physically and emotionally.

As I was walking, a dog suddenly came running at me from someone's house, clearly disoriented, frantic and barking at me. I tried to stare it down, tried to yell at it, but before I knew it, its jaws had closed on my leg and I was yelling towards the house at the top of my lungs,

"Your dog is biting my leg! Your dog is biting my leg!"

The dog finally was frightened enough to let go. I limped away from the property as fast as I could -- I never knew something like that could hurt so much -- and called 911 for the police and U to take me to ER.

The incident really threw me for a loop. I went into a brief but deep depression, feeling very vulnerable for a few days and still feel a hyper-aware whenever I pass that house.

What I learned through the police report was that the owners were away and the person taking care of the dog had left it out. The dog, who is usually said to be quite friendly, was in a panic.

Months later I finally wrote a letter to the owners telling them what happened, including hospital bills for antibiotics, ER visit etc., and the police report and asked for reimbursement. I waited and waited and was wondering with some frustration when I'd have to set aside time to contact them a second time.

Finally yesterday I got a phone call. The woman who called was incredibly apologetic and probably has been worried about this for some time. It probably took a lot of strength for her to call.

I'm proud of how I responded. I told her I liked her dog and sympathized with it. I told her it was clear he was disoriented and in fact I know one of her neighbors who said it is a nice dog. She was surprised I would say all of that and I knew I'd touched a painful part of this for her.

But I was also clear. I said,

"Look, this experience was terrifying and I thank God my five year old daughter wasn't with me when it happened. But it's over now and I just want to put it behind me. Thank you for calling and making contact."

I don't quite feel closure yet, but there is nothing else that has to be done and I don't feel ill will. I do remember and somewhat feel the hurt and fear that took place, but I'm not upset towards anyone.

That was yesterday morning. In the afternoon something else happened.

Many years ago I used to enjoy sitting in a hammock chair that belonged to my sister-in-law. For many years I thought that some day I would want one like that. At least, a year ago when U and I went to Cancun for our 10 year anniversary I got one. I've loved and had pride in that hammock as a symbol of making my home into just what I always wanted it to be.

Well, as we've been working on building the sukkah, ND has been playing with it a lot. Just a few days ago I warned her to be careful not to pull too hard on the individual threads because they could fray. Well, yesterday she was playing again and there was a hole.

I was already not in the best of moods and I was very very upset when I saw the hole. I pointed it out to ND and she talked about how we could get a new one. She was trying to comfort me but I said,

"No, do you remember what I said about wanting this for 10 years and getting it all the way in Mexico? I can't just get another one so easily."

I took the hammock down before it could completely unravel and made the wise choice to remove myself from the situation. I went upstairs to meditate. U. was home which helped considerably so that I didn't have to leave ND alone.

As I meditated I tried to piece apart just what was bothering me. It was the loss of a thing I liked for sure, but also the loss of control, the loss a thing that had represented a special lifestyle. There was also fear about my parenting... was a raising a child to not care about other people's things? Or was I being petty and making her feel unnecessarily guilty?

At dinner we have a regular practice of asking each other what was good, very good, bad, and very bad about the day. When it was my turn I admitted that the the hammock thread breaking was very bad for me, even though I knew it was just a thing and I would just have to work to be ok with it.

ND said,

"So it didn't help?"

U. clarified.

"After you went upstairs ND asked what she could do to help you feel better and we decided to set the table together."

So I thought it though carefully and said,

"I'm sad about the hammock and I don't know if I can fix it or not, but I was also worried that maybe you didn't care. Now that I see you really did care and really wanted to make it better I feel very very happy. Thank you."

ND tries her best to hide from me when she's upset, but she smiles wide in a way that warms the room when she's glad, and she did that then. I'm so glad I could let her have that.

I think when we need to forgive it often isn't about the other doing wrong. I think it's about recognizing our own vulnerability and fear around it, then accepting that vulnerability, but inviting the other party into the process with us so we both can understand and heal. This is for both big and small things, and recognizing when they are big and when they are small too.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Post-Rosh Hashanah

Michael, may his ascension be a good one, had a wry sense of humor. With that I feel if he could, he would laugh with me to know that his timing was perfect. Nothing like losing a treasured Jewish meditation teacher just before the days of awe to help you re-commit and pour out your heart.

For that reason I have to say it was a powerful and meaningful davening this year followed by some good food, fun guests and I'm proud to say a victory in the post-meal game. Thanks to both the Largest Army and Longest Road for putting me over the top...


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Called In Sad Today

I posted back in March that a friend of mine, Rabbi Michael Tayvah, had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  He died yesterday at 3:45 PM.

I found this out about 2 hours before I needed to return to school for back-to-school night. I didn't cry much. I did the crying last week on Wednesday when I first learned he had gone into hospice. Since then I've just been waiting.

I went to the school. I gave my brief presentations. (I'm on support staff this year so there wasn't too much I needed to say.)

I told the relevant people that I wouldn't be coming in today.

As of this morning I learned that the funeral is not until tomorrow and it's over a 6 hour drive away. I can't  do that. Shiva that night is in Princeton and then moves Thursday to Great Neck. So I won't actually attend anything until Thursday night.

I've gone to work when I should have been home recuperating emotionally far too many times... when my grandfather died, the day after being attacked by a dog, just to name the biggest ones that come to mind. I need today to process.

I haven't eaten anything yet and will spend some time doing restorative yoga. Then I'll eat mindfully. Then I'll write. There are plenty of other things for me to do while I am at home, but I'm going to try to stay focused on this instead as a tool for my healing and as a gift for Michael's neshama and a tribute to living life mindfully while I can.

Monday, September 03, 2012

End Of The Summer, Beginning Of The New Year

Wow wow wow and wow! What a great summer it has been and what a great year I hope it's going to be. I've too much to tell and will have to condense.

I've already written about my trip to Las Vegas/Grand Canyon West/Hoover Dam. This year ND and I also made it to Portland. We saw few friends this year, only carving time really for family. We were there for a week and almost a half.

 We arrived on a Sunday and jumped right into the first week in which ND went to Portland Zoo Day Camp. It wasn't the easiest transition, coming off a plane one day and the very next day dropping her off in a new place, but she really enjoyed it ultimately and still talks about everything she learned. One highlight was petting a walking stick (insect). This gave Mom and me a few hours each morning to have adult-time only. Then in the afternoon the three of us could enjoy time together or gave the two of them time together while I took care of my Portland checklist -- seeing a few people, visiting Powell's, walking an old favorite forest trail etc.
On the second week, just a few days, we crammed in LOTS (too much) of special stuff. We did the Bridge Pedal, with ND on a trail-a-bike with me, my Dad riding with us and my Mom doing the Bridge Stride with a friend. We visited Seaside all together which was frigid and cold in a way that only the Oregon Beach can be when the rest of the valley is suffering a 95-100 degree heat wave. We made a pilgrimage to the Enchanted Forest which I'm struggling to finish writing about -- a task I've been trying to get just right for nearly 10 years, but that's a story for another time.

It was hard to say goodbye.

Not long after that trip we did our annual camping trip with Emarcy, this time with her almost one year old baby, at Wells State Park in MA. It was a decent campground, better than I expected in some ways. They didn't have boat rentals but we could swim and it was a very quiet area. Most new places we've visited (as opposed to our favorite place in Haines Falls where we visit on alternate years) have disappointed us by being just a big clearing with way too many people and too much noise. Here the woods were thick and people were respectful. In fact, one of the things I always look forward to in a camping trip is during that necessary middle-of-the-night bathroom trip, the chance to look up and see the stars. In this case the canopy was too thick to allow for that. So I didn't get to look for constellations, but I could at least enjoy where we were.

Once again, it was hard to say goodbye.

On the way home we would have loved to stop at Old Sturbridge Village. I had really been looking forward to that, but it's clear you need to allow at least half a day for it, and we had a three hour drive ahead after leaving our campground at 12:30. Instead we stopped at Dinosaur State Park. It's another place where you could spend a very big portion of the day, but just to go into the museum and see the dinosaur footprints you could do in about 20 minutes and WOW was I glad we did. I've never cared much about dinosaurs, but seeing those tracks... those many many tracks that actually show paths these creatures walked was mind-blowing. ND was interested for sure, but I was stunned by the experience. History is cool, but prehistory... unfathomable.
The footprints at Dinosaur State Park
It was a long drive home afterwards still, though, and we had to keep moving. Didn't get home until 6:30 PM and we were both tired and very sad to have had to say so many goodbyes throughout the summer. I'm looking forward to us getting back into a routine with our local friends so the distance from all these other friends and family doesn't hurt so much.

I wrote previously about trying a new limited meat eating experiment. That's going pretty well although I've eaten it more times than I'd planned so far... I'm up to about 8 times which means I only get meat 17 more times this year and I have to make sure I leave enough times for Pesach. I've had a few disappointments... like when I ate it just to be polite or because I thought I really wanted it and then discovered it wasn't so good. Other times have been special like the barbecued free range hamburger I had last week at a sheva brachot for a friend of a friend. I'm trying to learn from each experience and am wondering whether I want to become an herbivore again ultimately. I don't like when people say, "but it's ok to eat meat because the Torah says so" and then gorge on too much in an unconscious way. What I'd like to say is, "I feel I'm too disconnected from the experience of taking away this animal's life so I can eat meat to really appreciate the experience the way I should." But I think that the Torah allows it makes for a space of allowing conscious moderation. In some ways I think that limiting consumption of something has a greater impact than eliminating the consumption. As another example, I do my best to purchase free range eggs. If I were to choose not to purchase eggs at all, I couldn't have the consumer power of voting with my money on what kinds of eggs are best to get. As I DO continue to eat meat currently, but in limited quantities, I reflect on the process.

Shortly after I wrote that post about the experiment, I decided to read Crazy Sexy Diet. It was an intense and difficult read for me as I didn't like her writing style but learned a lot about food about our bodies. I had to sift through a little to determine when she was writing about health, when she was writing about her personal lifestyle choices, and when she was proposing things I already had covered in my life in other ways. For example, she spoke often about the importance of meditation, but I already have the meditation/yoga/prayer area of my life covered in my own way without having to follow her practice. Also, she's an adamant ethical vegetarian (along with being vegan), but I'm already doing the above-mentioned experiment and working with Torah to determine the ethics of what I'm doing. I had to sift through to see what I wanted to try and what not.

In the end, I bought a juicer which I try to use almost daily, and I tried her 3-week cleanse with a few modifications. It was too hard to do total vegan AND gluten-free, so during those weeks I did eliminate sugar, alcohol, meat, dairy and gluten, but I allowed fish and eggs into my diet. I chose to do this during the Three Weeks leading up to Tisha B'Av which contained religious fasts, but I didn't do the juice fasts she recommended. I kind of hoped I'd feel completely healthy every single day of the cleanse. I didn't. I had days with headaches, days where I was tired, even a minor cold, much like I do during most of my life already. I also suffered somewhat for not getting my usually yogurt acidophilous and had to remember to take supplements. But I liked how conscious I felt about how and what I was eating. I do think I had a little more energy. I felt I had an invisible fence that prevented me from just stuffing things in my mouth and when I started eating all my favorite cheese, bread and sugar again after the three weeks, I felt a little yucky. So rather than change my lifestyle permanently, I want to use this cleanse idea as a reset button now and then. I've already scheduled it into my calendar to do after times when I tend to over-indulge or eat poorly -- after Sukkot, after Channukah, after Pesach, and then again next year during the 3 weeks. I might modify how I do the cleanse each time such as by eliminating fewer things but for longer. Already that equals 12 weeks or more of the year, a nice way to inspire conscious healthy eating. Oh, and did I mention I lost weight? I didn't mean to. I wasn't worried about weight. But it was within a healthy zone and I was happy about it.

I had hoped this summer to spend 40 hours with writing (drafting, editing, revising and marketing). The thinking is that if I were a full-time writer, this would equal just one week of work. I've tried this goal before, maybe only last summer, but still I didn't make it. 20.5 was what I got. But when I think about how I spent both my writing and non-writing time (I cleaned house a LOT in places that needed it), I think I did the very best I could. Better yet, I felt I had a writer's mindset, making notes, thinking about my reading in active ways and so on. I've sent out a lot of work for publication and had a poem accepted that I sent out last winter, so I'm in good shape. Incidentally, the time I spend on all that has taken away from this blog...

Didn't read quite as much as I might have liked, but it's ok. The main thing about reading is that I brought home a rather large pile of books from Powell's and New Renaissance and now have a second experiment in the works of seeing if I can actually read more of the books I have in my house before purchasing or even borrowing more stuff. The main things I did read were 1. A Spot Of Bother -- I'm a little surprised by some of the reviews I see at this site. In short, I found the book touching, funny, but a bit too silly and sudden of an ending. I thought that if ever I take on writing a novel (which I'm thinking about for the first time in my life) I might want to use some of the conventions he did. 2. I also finished reading something I've been working through since last Sukkot when U. asked me if I have a very quote from literature and I started sentimentalizing about a section from Virginia Woolf's The Waves. This is my second read-through and it is certainly not an easy book to read, but it is one of the most beautiful I've read in my life. The poetry inspires me and I feel trance-like when reading it. Now one of the many books I'm working through is Woolf's Writer's Diary as edited by Leonard Woolf. I don't think I would have liked hanging out with Virginia Woolf in person during her life, but I'm thoroughly captivated by her anyway.

These past few weeks I've felt calm, patient, surrendering to whatever comes without too much worry about if it's all going exactly the way I want. Wouldn't it be great if I could maintain that?

What's Coming
Much of WHY I have a good mindset right now has to do with my expectations for this year. I haven't announced it here yet, but I've had a change in position at my school. As you remember, I taught 2nd grade for 6 solid years. My last year there was strong and successful but I wanted a change. I switched to 1st grade. Without going into any detail about that, it was a hard year. What I really wanted was something that would allow me to focus more intensely on a few important aspects of teaching and relating to kids instead of spreading myself so thin between the million factors that we have to think of all at once as classroom teachers.

So this year I'm a "support" teacher which is sort of like being a "resource room" teacher as some people call it. I'll be assisting the teachers, modifying for students, meeting with small groups of kids and so on. I know I'll have some very busy hours later on, but right now I don't have to set up a major room, I can be the calm presence helping the teachers who are scrambling. When school starts I can respond to problems as they arise among the kids rather than planning and then figuring out how to change my plans on a dime when those problems arise. Best of all, I already know over half the kids because I was in their grade last year either teaching them directly or knowing them in the other room.

So I'm in a really good place right now and am open to what comes.