Ready for a Happy New Year

happy new year apple

It is the start of a new year.2020 has a few months to go, but 5781 has arrived. People like to make resolutions at the start of a new year, so why not at the start of the Jewish new year? The second half of 5780 was hard, for everyone around the world, and just plain terrible for many. While I would love to wish everyone a healthy, sweet and wonderful new year, I fear this is a wish that won’t come true.

I haven’t published a post since May 2018, when my daughter Julia celebrated her 9th birthday. I honestly don’t know why I stopped writing here. It’s something I love to do. Was I busy? Did I forget? Did I always have something else to do? Maybe. I’m not going to make excuses. I made a commitment, when I published my first post in May 2017, that this blog was important to me and that I was excited to start this new journey.

Then I got side tracked. Even during the early lockdown of this pandemic in March and April, I didn’t write. When I was lucky enough to spend much of my summer outside the city, I didn’t write. My kids went back to school, and I didn’t write. So, it’s a new year, and I’m ready to write. Here I am, I’m back.

I have so many ideas for new blog posts. Every day I come across something that makes me think, read about a piece of news that makes me want to know more or have an interesting conversation that makes me want to write, I remind myself that the Kinetic Motions blog is where I need to share my thoughts.

We are living in such a unique and challenging time in our lives. Over 30 million people have been infected and almost 1 million people have died from a dangerous virus. This virus is terrorizing us, hurting us and killing us. It has not only changed every aspect of our daily lives, but so many people have lost the ones they love.

I am not going to use this space to tell people to be smart and berate those who are ignorant or who choose to ignore the invisible enemy. We are all in this together. The world is just a small global village, and everyone, in every community, is responsible for the good and welfare of everyone else.

In the past 16 months since I published my last post, Nessa turned 3, then she turned 4; we celebrated Matthew’s Bar Mitzvah from our dining room and blasted the signal via Zoom around the world; Julia hit double digits in May; my beloved Poppy died in April, at the age of 99; oh and we got a dog…. An adorable Maltese-Bichon mix, who just turned 3. And of course so much more in between, in the midst of a global pandemic.

The world, and life, are never boring. Every day brings something new, and sometimes shocking. A shooting, hurricane, wildfires, murders of people because of their skin colour or ethnicity. I don’t want to be dulled by any of these events, but maybe, we could do with a bit of just plain boring in 5781.

So, the blog is back. Kinetic Motions is, well, back in motion. Whether you celebrate or not, I wish you a happy, healthy, sweet, and maybe a little boring, new year.

*Just a little note… the apple featured here was just picked from my backyard garden. We have a single apple tree in our backyard, that typically produces one apple each year. This year it bloomed with beautiful flowers and produced a few apples for us to enjoy. If the tree can bloom, so can we.

Mother’s Day is Julia’s Day

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I became a new mother for the second time on May 12th, 2010. It was an ordinary Wednesday, early in the morning, when Julia jumped into the world. And I mean jumped. One moment I went into labour and the next moment I had a baby girl. Whoever said labour was long and slow hadn’t met Miss Julia Maxine.

Julia was a special gift to us the day she was born but also to her first cousin, who turned five that very same day. The “May 12 Girls” as we call them are kindred spirits and share a special bond that most cousins only dream about. I remember my sister-in-law said to me, when Julia was just a few days old… “You are going to have to balance birthday fun and Mother’s Day from now on. Good Luck.”

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The May 12 girls as Julia turned one.

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The May 12 girls celebrate in 2014.

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The May 12 girls celebrate together on May 12, 2019.

I shrugged it off as Mother’s Day has never been a big deal to me. Even as a child I saw through this rather commercialized day. I told my mother many years ago that no one had to assign a special day for me to tell my mother I loved her or to do something nice for her. I should do that every day, and if I want to buy my mother a gift then I just buy one. I stuck to that promise throughout my childhood and when I became a mother, now to three children, I stand by that.

I am a mother, and I work hard at it. My one request to my husband and children: be nice to me every day! So it’s no big deal that Julia’s birthday falls near Mother’s Day every year, or once in  while on Mother’s Day, as it does this year.

In 2019, Mother’s Day is Julia’s Day. And she has made the most of it. Maybe it’s because her brother had a sleepover birthday party when he turned 9. Or maybe it’s because she figured out her birthday would be on a Sunday in 2019. Julia knew exactly what she wanted this year: you guessed it… a sleepover party of her own.

People said to me, “But Sunday, May 12this Mother’s Day. How can you do a sleepover party?” Ah, I answered, not only am I giving a gift of a sleepover party to Julia, I’m giving a gift to her friends’ mothers as well – I’m taking their kids! And sure enough the mothers have thanked me.

They thanked me, and they also gave me a mix of bravoand are you crazyfor hosting 10 eight and nine-year-old girls for an overnight at my house. Birthday or Mother’s Day, this is no easy task. Girls at this age are high energy, demanding and a bit anxious. But they are still kind of cute and smiley and relatively easy to please.

I haven’t slept much in the last 24 hours. I was a mix of a short-order cook, professional baker, cleaning lady, hostess extraordinaire and mother to ten. My list includes cooking and serving two meals, baking a birthday cake from scratch, making up ten beds (setting up sleeping bags across my living room floor), wiping food off every surface in my house and sweeping up anything from popcorn and cake crumbs to Dollar Store play dough and dirt.

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Make a wish and blow our your candles, Julia!

Who said adolescent boys have a ton of energy? Spend the night with a group of 10 adolescent girls and you may think differently. They are like the Energizer Bunny. They just keep going and going. They run around the background. The girls zoom up and down the stairs. Giggling. Laughing. Shrieking. Jumping. Dancing. Do they slow down? No.

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My living room Saturday night

I don’t quite know how I convinced them to go bed. I’m not going to say “go to sleep” as some refused to do that. It was a late night. They were excited. It wasn’t just a sleepover party – it was the evening before Julia’s birthday. The fact that Mother’s Day was upon them seemed irrelevant to this group of young ladies.

But not to their mothers and fathers. The girls’ smiling parents heartily greeted me this morning when they arrived at our house to pick up their sweet little girls. They looked at my tired face and kindly wished me a Happy Mother’s Day. And I graciously said thank you. Today was Julia’s Day, for sure, but I am giving myself a gold star too, for Mother’s Day.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the wonderful women in the world who are the heart of the home, the family, and in my mind, the world.

Around the World in 17 Days

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I love to travel. I got the travel bug when I was a child and can pinpoint the year to 1988 when it hit me. That year I was lucky to go on a ski trip to Colorado and my first trip to Israel. Since then I have traveled around the world, to far off places, from London and Paris to Hong Kong and Auckland. When I had children I hoped to pass on this love of travel to them, and clearly my daughter, Julia, has caught the bug.

World travel is a privilege, one I take seriously. Yes, one could say we live in a “global village” today. With technology, we can travel anywhere with the click of a button. Video messaging brings families and friends together from all over the world. But there is nothing like seeing the place for yourself.

My son traveled to Israel on his first trip at just 17 days old (I will admit, that may be a bit young and don’t recommend it).  Before he was one, Matthew had visited cities such as Jerusalem, Miami, Seattle and Honolulu. Still in single digits, Julia has covered the trifecta of Europe, including London, Paris and Rome. By age two Nessa had crossed into the southern hemisphere, covered Canada’s two coasts in British Columbia and Nova Scotia and had two trips to Israel under her belt. Never in my wildest dreams as a child could I have achieved that. Giving my children the gift of travel is something I hold sacred.

My husband’s family live in and travel to all corners of the world. Every continent (yes, even Antarctica!) has been visited by at least one member of his family. I don’t think that we can tick off every country across the world, but I’d say that David’s extended family has covered a lot of territory. Some members of my family are no slouches either, in particular my father who used to travel to the Orient for work at least three times each year.

But back to Julia. She has the bug. She has dreams to visit places in the world that most children don’t even know exist. One of her friends went on safari in Africa a couple of years ago and Julia wants to do that. China is a country that fascinates her. And New Zealand too. Wait, she’s been there. But why not go again?!

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I had to track her flight over the over Pacific Ocean to NZ.

When I tell people that my eight-year-old daughter just happened to be in New Zealand with her grandmother during her recent school break, the general reaction is, what? Are you crazy? I guess it’s a similar reaction to me telling people that I am a huge Carolina Hurricanes fan! Yes, Julia and her grandmother just returned home from a two-week holiday in New Zealand.

And no, it’s not random.

First of all, as I already stated, Julia has the travel bug. So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the minute she returned home from her first trip to New Zealand, in January 2017, that she wanted to go back. We didn’t close our eyes and randomly select a spot on the globe. David’s brother and family moved there a few years ago. There’s nothing better than combining travel with spending time with family.

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Just swinging around

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Supposedly when it’s not raining there are great views from Mt. Rangitoto.

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Travel isn’t always doing big things. Hanging with her cousins, and yes I didn’t know which one was my daughter.

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They are obsessed with Trixie, the cat.

So, Julia wanted to go back to New Zealand, to see her cousins and enjoy the beauty that is this fabulous country. And her grandmother, who also has the travel bug (my one-week trip to Hong Kong in 2014 with Barbara and my sister-in-law Trudy is one of the best trips I have ever taken), saw to it that Julia would return to New Zealand.

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Shouldn’t every airport have a welcome statue like this?

Hence the title of today’s blog post, Around the World in 17 Days. No, I did not specifically send them hallway around the world for 17 days. It just worked out that way. But the title sounds good, don’t you think?  About 19 hours of flying, plus a layover in San Francisco, and boom it’s just a short trip from Toronto to Auckland!

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Jet lag.

Julia had the time of her life. She spent every waking moment with her eight-year-old cousin (and their cat, Trixie). I think the only person she missed was her little sister. My daughter was born for travel. She guided her grandmother with great confidence around the Toronto, San Francisco and Auckland airports, stayed basically clean and tidy and enthusiastically participated in most activities during her 17-day trip. And she did it all with her grandmother. How lucky can you be?!

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A day on the water with her cousin.

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Up the Sky Tower they went.

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Strike a pose! Ready for the Passover Seder!

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Ice cream with a view. That’s Mt. Rangitoto in the distance.

Upon landing in Toronto a few days ago, after their almost 24-hour journey home, Julia looked at her grandmother and said, “I want to go back to New Zealand right now.” And I am sure if she could have, she would have jumped on the next plane and returned there. I am sure that wasn’t her last trip to New Zealand. She has the whole world to explore, and I am sure she will check off many places in the coming years.

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If you are that far south, you have to see penguins, even if it’s at an aquarium.

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Falls colours in May? Yes, in the Southern hemisphere!

Julia’s next trip is much closer to home, to the Pacific Northwest, in a few weeks. And this time she will be taking us along too. World travel doesn’t always have to be around the world or to another hemisphere. And the trip isn’t always 17 days. Seven is good too. Or more. Or less. Where will we go next?

Blame Sports for why the Blog has taken a Back Seat

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The Kinetic Motions blog is back. I travel around life and experience so much every day, and I am constantly taking notes so that I can write my next blog. Then I hit a deadline at work, a holiday sneaks up on me or a child suddenly has a runny nose. And the notes for my next blog get pushed to the side. If I grab a few free minutes I indulge in a show on Netflix, or lately, sports. During the month of April there is an abundance of riches of sports, if you are fan. I am a fan. Where do I begin?

If anyone asks me (and they often do!), what’s my favourite sport, it’s an easy answer: baseball. The reaction, if the person is also a sports fan, is usually, really? What? Why? Are you kidding? But the Blue Jays suck right now! I get a few high fives from the diehards, but living in hockey crazy Toronto, most people are not supportive.

April (well, really late March recently) is when baseball season really gets going. The playoffs start to heat up for hockey and basketball. If you are a golf fan (I will admit, I am not), the Masters are in April. You can even watch Major League Soccer this month.

Baseball

Okay, let’s get back to baseball, my first love. I will admit that I don’t remember going to my first game. My parents tell me that they took me to the odd game at the old Exhibition Stadium when I was little, but I have zero memories. My team, the Toronto Blue Jays, launched their first season in 1977, when I was a one-year-old, and I have seen a ton of TV coverage of those early years. I have a few faint memories of a game or two at Exhibition Place.

I think I became a fan at age 9, in 1985, during the Blue Jays’ first playoff run. And when a name of a Blue Jay great from the 1980’s is mentioned, like Dave Stieb or George Bell or Jimmy Key, my face lights up. Don’t even get my son started on my deep devotion to Kelly Gruber back then (yes, he wore #17).

I went to a game at the swanky new Skydomein June 1989, soon after it opened. I have no idea who the Jays played or who won the game but do remember that it started to lightly rain. All 50,000 other people, looked up to the sky to watch the domed roof turn and close. It was fascinating!

I have fond memories of dancing the polka around the cottage in October 1992 when the Jays won their first World Series. Joe Carter’s famous homerun to win it all again in 1993 is etched in my mind. Years later, side by side with my son in 2015, I watched the Jose Bautista bat flip.  It wasn’t hard to convince my sports-loving son to embrace my favourite sport

So what if the Blue Jays won’t make the playoffs this year (or probably next year), I still watch. I still buy tickets (or happily will take any ticket someone wants to give me!) and follow the sport. When we travel to Seattle next month (yep, tons of stuff to write while there!), Matthew and I are excited to go to a Mariners game. We are baseball fans.

Hockey

The most challenging part of my day today is to decide, do I watch the Jays wrap up their series vs Oakland (and try to sweep them) or watch my Carolina Hurricanes play game 2 vs the NY Islanders? For most people, this is a head shaker. It’s another chance to look at me and say, what? Are you kidding? The Hurricanes? Why? That’s random!

It’s not random. First of all, I love hockey. Maybe I am not exactly a super fan. I could go weeks during the regular season and never watch a game. I follow the season and keep up on the news. But I don’t settle into a hockey game like I do with baseball. But when the playoffs come, I’m on top of it.

My passion for the Carolina Hurricanes goes back to 2001, when I started my career as a journalist. I won’t rehash the story, as I wrote about it in a blog back in 2017. Have a READ. I promised my team that I would forever be a fan, no matter how terrible or incredible they played. My loyalty paid off when my Canes won the Stanley Cup in June 2006. And today, April 28th, 2019, they are on playoff run that is making everyone turn their heads.

Don’t laugh. I believe in them. This team has heart. They have grit. Okay, so maybe they are a “bunch of jerks,” as Don Cherry so kindly refers to them. But they are a fabulous bunch of jerks.

Basketball

I didn’t care much for basketball until a few years ago. I liked the Raptors, but I never had even a drop of patience to sit through a game. And then my son became a super fan. He is a walking encyclopedia of random basketball statistics and knows who every player is and where they play. He yells at the TV like the players and coaches can hear him and listen to him. Maybe he knows something I don’t.

Toronto is a hockey city first, baseball city second, and I believe, maybe a basketball city third. The Raptors don’t get the attention or respect this incredible team of 2018/19 deserves. The team is talented, focused and determined, and if they keep playing the way they did the last few games, they are unstoppable. Could they go all the way this year?

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Which brings me back to where I began. The blog is back, or at least I’m going to try. Following and watching sports the last few weeks has taken up probably too much of my free time. I love sports. But I also love to write. When I am walking down the street and something makes me chuckle, I want to write about it. For example, what’s with grown men giving the fist-pump and calling each other dude? Do I need to pay almost $100 for cable anymore? How many more drivers will make my blood boil over this week? My next trip is coming up. The Hurricanes are on their incredible playoff run. I want to write. I must write. So follow along and come for the ride. There will be much to read in the near future. I promise.

Happy Year of the Pig

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 I like pigs. That’s right. I don’t eat them. I just like them. I always have, since I was a child. I can’t pinpoint an exact moment or reason when or why I started to have an interest in this fine animal, but the pig and I have always shared a strong bond.

So it seems timely, as a citizen of the world, that I celebrate the Chinese New Year this week, which of course is the Year of the Pig. From what I have read, the Year of the Pig is the twelfth of the 12-year cycle of animals which appear in the Chinese zodiac related to the Chinese calendar. Other great animals are part of this, like the dog, rabbit and tiger, but really, no animal is as interesting or as sophisticated as the pig.

I have to say that this loveable animal really gets a bad rap. It is often associated with being dirty, fat and lazy, and that’s not fair. I have scoured the internet (some very sophisticated research) and found some fascinating information:

Top Ten Things You Didn’t Know about the Pig

  1. They are fast. Can you run a 7-minute mile? Adult pigs can run up to 11 miles per hour. Why don’t you try that?
  2. The expression “sweat like a pig” is not accurate. Pigs don’t really sweat – they like to cool off in the mud. That’s why you think they are dirty. But they’re just hot!
  3. If my daughter’s room looked like a pig sty, I’d be thrilled. They may roll in mud to cool off, but they are naturally very clean and organized. Pigs self-potty train, and new research shows that in an open barnyard pen they will establish a community toilet.
  4. They are chatty creatures and know how to communicate with each other. They use different kinds of vocalizations to speakto each other. Those aren’t just squeals.
  5. They are not picky eaters. They will eat anything. Can you say that about your children?
  6. Maybe they don’t see so well, but wow do they have an excellent sense of smell. Just ask someone who likes to eat truffles (and I mean mushrooms, not chocolate).
  7. It’s not just my daughter who is sociable – so are pigs. They like to be together and snuggle together when they sleep.
  8. You are not that different from a pig, genetically I mean. Their stem cells are helping us humans for research into countless diseases.
  9. This one is interesting, especially as we celebrate the Chinese New Year – pigs are associated with fertility in Chinese culture. So many hidden talents.
  10. This is a smart animal, often ranked just behind apes and dolphins. According to Winston Churchill (and I have a piece of art depicting this in my home), “I am fond of pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals.”

So you can see why I like pigs. I could tell you at least 10 more great things about this animal. I will admit I don’t want one for a pet. They may be domesticated, but I don’t think I’m ready to take that leap. But if anyone wanders around my house, it won’t take long to see hints of the pinky pig all over the place.

Yes, I literally have dozens of the stuffy kind all over my house, led by the big and cutest one, my long-time friend Taloulah (yes that’s her in the photo at the top of this post). This giant stuffed pig joined me when David and I lived around the world early in our marriage. I was so worried about Taloulah flying safely from France to Israel back in 1999 that I made David take my lovable friend as carry-on luggage on the journey. I still giggle at the thought of a grown man wandering through Charles de Gaulle airport with a giant stuffed pig under his arm!

The collectibles never went too far, but the friendly pig paraphernalia definitely permeates throughout my house. There’s the kitchen ice cream scoop or the citrus squeezer. Pillows and picture frames. Socks and t-shirts. It’s just enough to keep me happy but not too much to overwhelm and take over.

So this week, as Chinese communities around the world celebrate the new year and put the pig up on a pedestal, where it’s supposed to be, I will celebrate with them. As will Porky, Miss Piggy, Olivia and of course, Peppa too.

Do you want to have a Snow Day?

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Some people would describe a massive snowstorm as terrible and nasty. They shudder at the prospect of cleaning heavy snow off their car, a longer commute to work and slippery sidewalks. It’s just miserable. Then there are people like me who perk up and get excited when they hear the word snow. When I saw the weather forecast a few days ago that a big storm was headed my way, my first thought: snow day.

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Looking out the window during the height of the storm

A rather big snow storm blew through Toronto on Monday. For those of you who live in cities who get big storms all the time, sure laugh at us. But I’m sure that a solid 35 cm of the white stuff fell on my front lawn. And all over Toronto. The city was crazy and hectic. But as I sat at home and looked out my window, I saw the beauty of my neighbourhood covered in a shiny white blanket.

Tuesday morning, 6:40 am. My cell phone rings. I ignore it. Ten minutes later the phone rings again. I turn off the ringer.

My morning radio alarm goes on and they are reading out the list of school closures. I check my phone. Email from the kids’ school. It’s closed. Phone rings again and I finally answer it. The preschool is closed.

Snow day!

Yippee!

I firmly believe that a snow day is one of the greatest highlights of childhood. Every child has to experience at least one snow day. You wake up groggy from the night and your parents tell you, guess what, school is closed – snow day! The look of joy on my children’s faces was something I will remember for a long time. Pure happiness.

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Looking out at my backyard on the morning of a snow day

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Three rounds of shovelling to clear the snow

Stay in your pyjamas. Make a big batch of French toast. Turn on the TV and watch morning cartoons (update for 2019: pull out the ipad and click on the Netflix app). Sit back and relax.

I looked out my front window and quickly came to the conclusion that I wasn’t going anywhere either. Getting dressed meant throwing on a pair of old sweatpants and breakfast was a homemade espresso and leftover french toast.

I flicked on my laptop and did my best to hide in my home office to work. By midday I had actually accomplished quite a bit of work. There were six children in my house, including the kids’ friends and my nephew. We were settling in for a cozy day.

After they downed a few boxes of Annie’s mac and cheese, it was time to throw them outside. What child doesn’t want to run around outside after a huge snowfall? What parent doesn’t want to throw them out there after said children slowly started to trash every corner of the house?

I don’t know what the three boys did outside, but after a couple of hours in front of an ipad or XBOX, these border collies needed their run. Again, thank you tons of snow for providing great entertainment for them. My two-year-old wasn’t quite as happy. She couldn’t move outside in the waist-deep snow (ya that happens when you are a few inches under three feet tall).

As the afternoon wore on, the brood of children grew restless, in particular the boys. So isn’t it logical to throw on a bathing suit and jump in the hot tub? If you are 10 or 11 years old, sure! Minus ten (or something close to that) and a foot of snow is a great appetizer to a 95-degree vat of water.

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Matthew started to leap in with his boots on

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The boots flew off as Matthew flew in

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And he’s in!

Everywhere I looked in my house all day a different activity was going on. My older daughter was hosting a Playmobil pool party in her bedroom. My son took full advantage of his selection of XBOX games in the basement. The baby traveled from room to room, sharing her toys and snacks with the couch, the floor, her clothes and her siblings’ bedrooms. David and I switched off between work and cleaning up after the pack of kids.

On first read it sounds like the local zoo, but it was bliss. Outside it was freezing cold with layers of snow blanketing every corner of the city. And inside everyone was cheerful and drinking in every moment of this special day.

And as the sun began to set on the day, the fun continued. My nephew and son announced their interest to go night snowboarding at a local small but decent little hill – right in the middle of the city. My daughter definitely had a bit of cabin fever and eagerly went to her karate class.

We didn’t waste a minute of the day. Good food, good friends and good fun. Who could ask for more? Maybe another snow day tomorrow? My kids were quite sure of that as they drifted off to sleep. It was a great snow day, indeed, but another one tomorrow? Ah, I don’t think so.

From All Corners of the World

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My husband and I have a large extended family. And that large extended family lives all over the world. It is easy for a family to lose touch, and for relationships to fade away when brothers, sisters and cousins live far away from each other. Sheer distance and time zones bring on tremendous challenges to stick together and be close.

Our extended family is tight. And I mean all of our family – my aunts, uncles and cousins – David’s brothers and sisters, nieces, nephews – and everyone in between. Our three children have three aunts and four uncles (double that if you include spouses, and we do!), fifteen first cousins and countless great-aunts, great-uncles and other cousins too.

These relatives live all over the world, including Great Britain, New Zealand, Canada, the United States and Israel. It is because of this close relationship with our extended family that we are in Israel right now. Traveling to Israel from Canada is long and expensive. But it’s worth it, just to spend time with our extended family.

During our current visit to Israel we are celebrating a niece’s Bat Mitzvah, a nephew’s Bar Mitzvah and even a nephew’s wedding party. They all kindly coordinated their events to occur close to each other to accommodate family who had to travel from all corners of the world (thank you!).

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That’s David in the middle, with his nephew, Ariel, at Ariel’s Bar Mitzvah.

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That’s my mother-in-law at the Kotel’s southern wall with grandchildren from four of five of her children.

I will admit, late December into early January is not my ideal time of year to travel overseas. I am an avid skier, winter storms can halt plans and the costs can be higher. But as I have stated many times, we tend, as a society, to stop everything and travel to the ends of the world when there is a crisis or death. But why don’t we do the same for a celebration – or better said in Hebrew, for a Simcha?

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It’s rare to get all five children together.

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That’s four of eight granddaughters.

For me, missing a family celebration, no matter where it happens in the world, is a missed opportunity. I understand that not everyone has the luxury to travel to see family. But if you can, then do it! But it’s not just about traveling to the other side of the globe – keeping in close touch with family is easier than ever. While some may say that technology is pulling us apart, with the new Screen Generation, it is also bringing us together.

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Cousins hanging out on New Years Eve.

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Three generation New Years Eve selfie

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Always a different group going out. This is dinner at the mall’s food court.

David’s large extended family, whose foundation and soul is their sacred home in St. Donat, Quebec, established a group on WhatsApp called St. Donat Suckers. This ever-growing chat group posts photos, thoughts, recipes and celebratory messages every day. We share our achievements and personal anecdotes.  Because of this wonderful piece of technology, no one feels they are missing anything, anytime.

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Our deck was a good hangout spot in Ein Gedi. Looking at the view or posting to WhatsApp.

Did you hear about that new sushi restaurant in West Seattle? How about the incredible hike in Northern New Zealand? Huge snowstorm in Ottawa. Nephew is engaged. Cousin bought a new house.

Facebook is great. So is Instagram. But the text message is quick and direct. While I travel through Israel I send regular text messages to a text message group I put together with my extended family. I post a photo of my son in a cave and seconds later I see a photo of Matthew’s cousins at the ski hill, ten thousand kilometers away.

We are all over the world, and yet we are together. And right now much of David’s family is together. All five siblings, and their spouses, most of the group of first cousins. His mother, of course. We all just spent a few glorious days together, in honour of our nephew’s Bar Mitzvah, in the desert by the Dead Sea. The desert air and stunning sea views are enough to energize me. Add in quality time with family and you have a winning combination.

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Matthew and David went on a super hike from the Dead Sea and up the mountainside with many cousins.

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Nessa enjoys breakfast and a story about monsters in Ein Gedi with her Uncle Terry.

We are headed home in a few days, back to work and back to school. We may not see many of these relatives for a year or more. But, I am sure we will not lose touch. It may be a twelve hour flight to Israel from Toronto, but it only takes seconds to press send on WhatsApp or text messaging. The world may seem huge at first, but our family keeps it small.

Next Year in Jerusalem

Jerusalem

On December 31st, 1988, I celebrated my first New Year’s Eve outside of Canada. I will admit that I don’t remember my exact location, but I know it was somewhere in Israel. Maybe Jerusalem? Or Tel Aviv? Somewhere in the north? My family came to Israel to celebrate my Bat Mitzvah. It would be my first of many trips to this wonderful place.  

On December 31st, 2018, exactly 30 years later, I was here again, in Israel, celebrating with more family. During our two-week visit we are attending not just a Bat Mitzvah, but also a Bar Mitzvah and a wedding party. Israel has seen tremendous change over the past 30 years, but my joy to be here has not changed.

B’shana ha ba’a b’yerushalayim. – next year in Jerusalem – is something Jewish people say not only at the end of the Passover seder, but throughout the year. There is a deep historical and personal connection we have with this ancient city. Memories of my first visit there, back in December 1988, will stay with me forever.

As I joked on New Year’s Eve a few nights ago, as we counted down the clock to midnight, I. planned to check that off my list first thing in the new year with a visit to Jerusalem on January 1st! Hey, we all make New Year’s resolutions, and I’m taking mine seriously. Check!

And sure enough, on January 1st, I went to Jerusalem, to celebrate a brand new year and to also, gulp, start planning my son, Matthew’s Bar Mitzvah. My son will turn 13 in 2020. That’s next year. And he, like so many children before him, for thousands of years, will read from the Torah in this most sacred of cities.

I have had the opportunity to visit Jerusalem twice during this trip, and I have to say, I both love and hate this city. I love Jerusalem because it is steeped in history. At every turn you come across a spot that plays a significant role for one of the world’s major religions. The city sits across seven hills, and on a clear day there are breathtaking views in every direction.

Within a few hundred meters of each other you can visit Christianity’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Islam’s Al Aqsa Mosque and the outer walls of Judaism’s Temple Mount. I won’t get into the politics and religious differences in terms of the logistics of actually visiting all three sites, but let’s say, in theory, because of sheer proximity, one can do this.

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Celebrating his cousin Ariel’s Bar Mitzvah, Matthew with his grandmother and cousin, Elia, at the Temple’s Southern Wall.

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Selfie with a slightly sleepy Nessa.

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Selfie with a slightly more awake Matthew.

One of my favourite bakeries in the whole world, Marzipan, sits in the centre of Jerusalem. No one can load chocolate into a small pastry like they can. And behind this bakery sits a world famous market, where you can find a mix of fresh fruit and vegetables, spices, baked goods and nick knacks, and vendors hollering at shoppers and each other!

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Doing some shopping at the Marzipan bakery

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My kids enjoying their visit to Mahane Yehuda Market

So you ask, what’s not to love about this glorious city? A lot, I say. Try driving through Jerusalem. It’s awful. Try parking. Even worse. It’s crowded, loud and kind of dirty. No road or path goes straight and we always get lost. Construction. Masses of people always descending upon the city.

And yet, there is no other place where I would want to plan my child’s Bar Mitzvah, just like I insisted for my own 30 years ago. Jerusalem is hectic, crowded and loud. But it’s also mystical and magical. This year in Jerusalem. Check. Next year in Jerusalem – see you there in April 2020.

I am not made for a Tournament

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I would consider myself to be a decent mother. I indulge my children when they need indulging, push them when they need pushing and discipline them when they clearly need disciplining. My kids are intelligent and feisty, and all three of them have unique traits that make them loveable in their own way. When any one of them is eager to try something new I am happy to encourage them. This was the case when my middle child, Julia, decided she wanted to participate in a karate tournament.

I am proud of Julia’s drive to pursue karate. Like her brother, we enrolled Julia in karate lessons at age 4 as we felt that learning some self defense skills and confidence in herself would be invaluable. She took to the sport well and has excelled. At age 8 and many inches under four feet tall, Julia has achieved an advanced purple belt.

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As a black belt, Matthew had the honour last week of giving Julia her advanced purple belt

If you look at her face when she is practicing a kata or puts her fists up ready to spar, you wouldn’t want to meet her in a dark alley! My daughter knows what she’s doing!

While Matthew, with a black belt in karate and tremendous strength and poise, shies away from competition, Julia loves it. Matthew would prefer to focus on learning and teaching younger kids. Julia can feel the adrenaline of stepping outside her comfort zone and trying something new, like a tournament.

I am much more like Matthew and typically shy away from anything competitive. It’s not that I am scared to lose, I just don’t like the feeling in the air at competitive events. I will admit that they make me uncomfortable. As the saying goes, “those who can’t…. write.” I never played sports well, so that’s why I became a sports journalist!

But I digress. A couple of months ago Julia announced that she wanted to try a karate tournament. The school where she takes lessons hosts and participates in various tournaments throughout the year, and her sensei encouraged her to train and try one. Sure, I thought, why not.

Wow, I really knew nothing. Julia has been training and getting extra support after her regular karate class, to boost her confidence in her katas and sparring. She decided that she would only participate in one session – sparring – for her first tournament as she wanted to ease into this new world.

I signed her up for her first tournament which we knew would take place in the west-end of Toronto on December 1st. And that’s all I knew. You see, while I am not organized in every aspect of my life, I am a bit of a planner. When I travel, I organize the car rental, hotels and schedule. If I plan a family outing, I take care of the logistics. When I rely on someone else to plan, I get heart palpatations and anxiety.  Walking into anything unknown really bothers me.

That was the case at the karate tournament. I had a date, an address and a time. That’s it. I kept thinking to myself, I’m sure this event would be organized and well-run. It’s karate after all, a sport based on discipline. Boy was I wrong.

We arrived to a place that could best be described as slightly organized chaos. The line-up to register was long and messy. The check-in person kept repeating to me to check the email that was sent to me about Julia’s division. No email was sent to me. She was in division 13, the person told me. That means what, I said? Where does she compete? When does compete? How many other children will be in her competition? No answers.

We finally tracked down one of the tournament organizers from our karate school who kindly walked us over to a room on a lower level where children of all ages were getting ready. More chaos. Most of them were warming up like soldiers before a battle but they were four-feet tall and had no shoes or socks on. One kid was running around with what looked like a plastic sword screaming some version of Japanese gibberish, I think.

While Julia’s assigned zone was clearly a competitive area for children, I felt no warmth from the other parents. For the most part, it was kids aged 6-12 participating, and wow, those parents took it seriously. Some were hollering at their children to warm up, others were drilling their kids on the right moves. Others sat there on their phones and held seats for people who never showed up. Not a friendly face around me. I had clearly stepped out of my usual comfortable space and into another realm.

The one smiling face came from the mother of Julia’s friend, who has been taking her 7-year-old daughter to tournaments for the last year. She saw the stress on my face and tears in my daughter’s eyes as we both stood there overwhelmed and terrified. And her sweet, chatty daughter (like mine) put the cheer back into Julia’s face. Thank goodness for that.

We waited and kept hoping Julia’s turn would come soon. Patience is not one of my daughter’s virtues, especially when she was feeling anxious about her first tournament. Competition like this is new to her, she had limited training and she is tiny! I looked around and noticed that, as usual, the children in her age and category were a bit older, had more training and were much bigger. Julia has worked hard and is a very confident little girl, but this was a bit much, even for her (and me!).

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She got her fighting face on and focused.

Julia sparred against a girl who was definitely older, had a brown belt and was over a head taller. She didn’t have a chance. But, like the shining light that she always is, Julia rose to the occasion and tried her best. She got a few kicks in and threw a fair number of punches. Julia lost her match but she won the day. She walked away with a shiny bronze medal (yes there were only 3 kids in her group but so what) and her head held high. She even said she wants to compete again, and this time with a kata. And her father will take her to the next one.

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Julia listened carefully to the rules before she sparred with the other girl.

Competition and tournaments are not for the faint of heart. They are chaotic, rough and people can be downright mean. I think the most aggressive people in the room were the parents of the 7-year-olds. How can anyone push a child that way? That is not for me. Or for my daughter. If you want to win, great, go for it. But can’t an 8-year-old have fun too? I still have in my mind the crushed look on the faces of some of those kids who scored too low to get a medal. And the look on the parents’ faces weren’t any better. My message: get over it. Relax. Have fun. The junior division of a karate tournament is not worth getting so stressed out.

So I survived and so did Julia. And yes, she even get her own souvenir medal.. Maybe she will try it again. Maybe she won’t. But no matter what she chooses, I will always be proud, as I am a decent mother.

My Home is My Sanctuary

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Recently, as I was preparing dinner for my family, at about 6:30 pm, my doorbell rang. I wasn’t expecting anyone but checked to see who it could be anyway. I looked through the glass of my front door and saw a young man, and through the closed door asked him what he wanted. A donation to his charity, he said. I responded, no thank you, and I walked away. 5 minutes later my doorbell rang again. Once again I looked through the glass of my front door, and this time it was someone campaigning for the municipal election. Both of these people infuriated me. They dared invade the sanctuary of my home. This really upset me.

I have not written a blog post in many weeks. It’s not for a lack of ideas, and so many of them are swirling through my head every day. I am desperate to write, as writing relieves all stress in my daily life and really calms me. I have been extremely busy with a new, very full-time job, three children in school, a husband with a new consulting business and an attempt to balance my work demands with my family’s needs. Every time I steal away a few minutes on my own I have had no strength to write.

But this weekend I had to write. After the heinous attack on the Jewish community in Pittsburgh, one of the first words that came to my mind was sanctuary. It has many meanings, and two in particular are on my mind right now.

As I wrote above, my home is my sanctuary. It is the one and only place in this vast, sometimes scary world, that is mine, where I should feel safe and where I can simply escape. My home is where my family eats, sleeps, screams, laughs, cuddles and cries. Our home belongs to us, and we do not have to allow anyone in when we don’t want to.

So when someone rings my doorbell in the evening, when I am in the sanctuary of my home, with my family, they have violated my private space. It irks me. I don’t like it.  

Until this weekend I never really thought more deeply about another way I think of the word sanctuary. It is often the term people use to describe the main, usually largest, space in which Jews pray in a synagogue. For example, I got married in the “main sanctuary” of my family’s synagogue. It never occurred to me the deeper meaning of what that represents to the Jewish community until this Saturday, this past Shabbat, as congregants gathered in the sanctuary of their synagogue to do no more than pray.

The synagogue’s, church’s or mosque’s sanctuary, or the central space in which any religious group prays, is sacred, and it is the extension of the home. We pray in the house of worship’s sanctuary together, as a community, and we feel safe. When we are in that sanctuary – in our own home or our synagogue, we don’t expect anyone to disrupt that peace and sense of calm.

Someone ringing my doorbell, asking for a donation, to sell me something or convince me to vote for them, is terribly annoying. It bothers me. It threatens my sanctuary.

Someone who bursts through the doors of a synagogue, who tears through the sanctuary, while people are praying, shouting “Death to the Jews” then murders them, is repulsive. I am actually having trouble thinking of the right words to use to describe my feelings about how an individual violated the sanctuary of a group of worshippers on the Sabbath and killed them in cold blood.

For eleven people, one man took away their lives.

For a whole community, he took away our sanctuary. He took away our right to have a sacred place to come together – not only to pray, but to feel safe. Everyone deserves to have a sanctuary, in their own home or in their place of worship. My home will always be my main sanctuary. And I hope that the hateful act of one man will not take away the other one.