Showing posts with label Judaism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Judaism. Show all posts

July 1, 2011

5 Infertility Books for Great Summer Reads: Good Eggs

Welcome back to my Infertility Summer Reading review series! Tune in every other Friday this summer for a new review. Check out the schedule of reviews below. You can even grab your own copy of the books reviewed by clicking the book covers under the Infertility Summer Reading List to the right. Feel free to start reading ahead or wait until after the review goes up. Either way, do join along and share your thoughts in the comment section!

Infertility Summer Reading Series Featured Books
  1. Conquering Infertility by Dr. Ali Domar - (Read the review from June 3)
  2. Inconceivable by Carolyn and Sean Savage - (Read the review from June 17)
  3. Good Eggs: A Memoir by Phoebe Potts (Today's Review: July 1)
  4. Silent Sorority by Pamela Mahoney Tsigdinos (July 29)
  5. Navigating the Land of If by Melissa Ford (August 12)

Good Eggs: A Memoir by Phoebe Potts

Recommended to me by: Mayyim Hayyim

The Review: It seems like such an unlikely medium for an infertility story, but Good Eggs weaves the story of Phoebe Potts' life in such a unique fashion it's hard not to resist the urge to pick up a copy. I had heard excellent things about this book and when I was at a class on infertility and ritual in the Jewish tradition at Mayyim Hayyim, a progressive mikveh center in Newton, single page prints of her book were on display in a featured art exhibition. They had out copies to peruse and as I waited for the class to begin, I read the first third of the book. I finally bought my own copy and finished it this week in anticipation of today's review.

It's hard to describe this book: yes, it's an infertility story, but it's much more than that. Potts describes her life growing up, her tumultuous and at times strained relationship wit her mother, and her lifelong struggles with debilitating clinical depression. We see very tender and poignant snippets of her courtship and marriage to her husband Jeff as well as a wandering narrative about her brief year in Mexico. Throughout all of this is their quest to conceive.

Potts illustrates the painful reality of unexplained infertility. By all accounts, she and her husband are perfectly normal. Yet after timed intercourse, several failed IUIs and IVF cycles, they still don't have any luck. The uniqueness of the graphic novel format allows us to literally see her thought bubbles in the very moment of each scene. As readers, we become witness to a continous running inner monologue in a way that traditional autobiographic narrative fails to provide.

Good Eggs is a much a resource for those coping with mental illness as it is for those dealing with infertility. Potts' frank portrayal of The Voice - her monstrous, self-deprecating inner monologue - is perhaps one of the most vivid and honestly accurate depictions of what it's like to live with depression.

Potts also shares the way in which her Jewish faith has been impacted by her infertility, as both a conflict of faith as she sits during High Holiday services and listens to the story of Hannah, and as inspiration as she considers becoming a rabbi. I was left feeling like the word "exploration" was the theme of her story as she seeks to discover herself and what fulfills and sustains her.

While I try not to post spoilers, I will say this: the book does not end with a nice, neat ribbon on it, all tied together in a "another infertile couple success story" bow. Potts's journey remains unresolved. However, she leaves the door open for what the possibilities for parenthood could be. This ending really resonated with me because it's a narrative ending you don't often see - that lingering, unresolved ending that leaves you deeply investing and thinking about Phoebe and Jeff well after you finish the book.

Potts' illustrations are quirky and even whimsical at some points, with much detail crammed into each panel. I found it interesting that I most quickly identified characters by their hair, as Potts draws their hairstyles with such distinct detail. Good Eggs is rife with a rich story and characters but at times the narrative feels wandering and clumsy. While flashbacks in the storyline were generally introduced, we are suddenly snapped back to the present storyline in an abrupt and sometimes very confusing fashion.

I would have also appreciated just a smidgen larger book size. While 9x6 is a pretty standard book size, Potts' illustrations are so detailed that sometimes it's hard to spot the little hidden gems in each panel, such as witty puns (a box of tissues labeled Tish B'av, a Jewish holiday of mourning) or running gags (her cat's appearance in many panels included a running commentary of its thoughts). And with little visual footnotes and descriptions tightly packed into each frame, the size of the book made them difficult to read at times.

Quotable Moment: After multiple failed IUIs, Phoebe begins to confront the possibility that things may not work out. In a full page panel, Phoebe sobs in her husband's arms as he holds her and says, "Oh, sweetie. It's going to be OK. We're going to have a baby." Woven throughout the panel is the following:
"It's in Jeff's job description to say the things I need to hear even if they are not true when the alternative is just too hard to take."

Rating: (out of a possible 5 tasty pomegranates)
Good Eggs presents the infertility experience in a truly unique medium, giving very literal insight and emotion to very intimate moments along their journey. Despite an awkward narrative and panels almost over-drawn in their detail, Good Eggs makes the brave choice to tell an unfinished story and in the process, still leaves the reader feeling hopeful.

Food for Further Thought: Last year, Potts and I were featured together in an article for Tablet Mag, an online Jewish magazine. (Read Breeding Ground here.) We both spoke about how we channeled our infertility struggles into artistic creations: Potts with her graphic novel, me with my What IF video.

Graphic novels have been fighting their way onto the literary scene as early as the 1980s with Alan Moore's Watchmen. In fact, much controversy surrounded Watchmen when it was awarded the Hugo Award in 1988; sci-fi authors critics were up in arms that a "comic book" won perhaps one of the highest honors in the sci-fi genre. Other graphic novels like Art Spiegelman's Maus: A Survivor's Tale, depicting his father's life as a Holocaust survivor, have gone on to win the Pulitizer Prize. Then there is Marjane Satrapi's autobiographical work, Persepolis, which went on to be made into an Oscar-nominated animated film.

Good Eggs has been nominated as Best Book for RESOLVE's Hope Awards this year. Given it's non-traditional medium, do you think it deserves recognition as best "book?" Do you think graphic novels should rank up there with the classics, modern and old? And do you think a graphic novel is an effective way to tell the infertility story?

Have you read Good Eggs? Krissi over at Stress Free Infertility has and just reviewed it this week too. What did you think?

Have you voted for Good Eggs as RESOLVE's Best Book? And have you voted for Best Blog yet?  

Sound off in the comments and have a fantastic holiday weekend for those of you celebrating the 4th in the States. Be safe folks!

June 18, 2011

Blog Tour of Inspired Reading: The Red Tent

Today's post is in conjunction with the Blog-A-Licious Blog Tour: a fantastic blog hop that brings together bloggers of all genres, backgrounds and locations. In today's hop, the blog featured before mine is Karen's But I Digress. The blog featured after me is the captivating Catherine at Idea City. Do stop by and say hello plus some of us are having giveaways and contests. Enjoy!

For this Blog Tour, we were asked to write about the book that inspires us the most. I'm glad I've gotten the  prompt to write about a book that has meant so much to me over the years and has in many ways, shaped the way I view myself as Jewish Woman (yes, with capital J and capital W).

Every woman should read Anita Diamant's The Red Tent. I have often called it Required Reading for Every Woman because it is a remarkable, gorgeous, sensuous work of historical fiction that celebrates both the darkest and most glorious parts of what it means to be Woman.

Seriously? Go read it this weekend.
Very briefly, because I don't want this to feel like a book report - The Red Tent unearths the story of Dinah from the dusts of the Torah, a Biblical figure who receives little more than passing mention in Genesis 34. Jacob is known as one of the great Patriarchs of Judaism with two Matriarchs at his side, Rachel and Leah, and a whole host of a dozen sons who became the Twelve Tribes of Israel. But among his boyish brood exists a lone daughter: Dinah.  Her story is often known as "The Rape of Dinah" as a prince of Shechem "defiles" her, and Dinah's brothers Levi and Simeon avenge her rape by massacring the city of Shechem, leaving no survivors.

And with that, Dinah fades back into the dust of the Torah, never to be mentioned again. This is where Diamant picks up, fleshing out the story of Dinah's youth and relationship to her four mothers: Rachel, Leah, and Jacob's concubines Zilpah and Bilhah, as well has her grandmother, Rebecca. She weaves the tale of Dinah falling in love with the Prince of Shechem and that her brothers' crusade was bent on murderous rage. After the massacre, she flees to Egypt where she gives birth to a son and becomes an devoted and talented midwife.

The Red Tent refers to something we talk about a lot in the infertility community: our menstrual cycles. As happens in many confined living arrangements, the women would often cycle together, in a phenomenon known as menstrual synchrony or the McClintock effect. Ancient tribes of women would gather in a menstrual tent or hut during their blood cycle, often cycling with the moon. Dinah learns of her rich heritage, not just as a third generation of monotheistic Jews, but as a Woman in her place in a Long Line of Women Before Her.

As I've said before, we shouldn't be ashamed or grossed out by our periods, because our menstrual cycles are a vital indicator of women's health. The Red Tent reminds us of this and inspires us to be mindful of the miracle and wonder of our own human forms.

You may have also read posts where I speak of the Red Tent Temple, the women's group I go to every month. The Red Tent Temple movement was born out of Diamant's novel by ALisa Starkweather, a Wise Woman and Women's Empowerment Practitioner. I'm also so pleased to know filmmaker Isadora Leidenfrost who is making a documentary of the Red Tent Temple Movement: Things We Don't Talk About. This one-hour film is slated to be released next year. I have eagerly been awaiting the trailer; hopefully I've made the cut from hundreds of hours of footage that Isadora shot herself at Red Tent Temples all over the country. She's also looking for some more financial support to stay on track with her production and release schedule, so if you know of women-empowered businesses or organizations who'd be willing to help out an empowered woman filmmaker, please head over to her site and drop her a line.

The Red Tent in its modern iteration has become a place of community wisdom and social healing, a sisterhood of empowerment. In reading The Red Tent and participating in the Red Tent Temple in my own community, I've realized that their is indeed power to be had in gathered groups of women. We need more dialogue circles like this, more Red Tents, to share our collective womanhood experiences; there is so much we can learn from one another as women when given the opportunity.

So... have you picked up your copy yet? The Red Tent is an amazingly beautiful, captivating read, and like I said: practically required reader for women everywhere. Now head on over to Catherine's Idea City - she'll tell you about her most inspiring book. Come meet me over there and we can read along together! Want to see what other books are inspiring other bloggers? Follow along on the rest of the Blog Tour this week by stopping by at each of these fabulous blogs for the Blog-a-licious Blog Tour!
  1. Roy: Roy’s Garage Sell and Auction Well
  2. Sulekha: Memoirs
  3. Sora: Peace from Pieces
  4. Shaeeza: My B Words
  5. Mari: Mari Sterling Wilbur Photography
  6. Paula: Hardline Self Help
  7. Karen: ...But I Digress
  8. (You are here) Keiko: Hannah Wept, Sarah Laughed
  9. Catherine: Idea City
  10. Kate and Ashley: Back of the Book Reviews
  11. Desiree: Desiree Holt Tells All
  12. Sonia: Sonia Rumzi.com
  13. DK Levick: Writing in the Woods
  14. Sarcasm Goddess: For the Love of Writing
  15. Tosh: Totsymae.com
  16. Lucy: Life Through Lucylastica's Lense
  17. Leo: Find Peace, Love and God
  18. Dora: Blog-a-licious Blogs

June 10, 2011

Infertile Women of the Torah: Resourceful Hannah

The Infertile Women of the Torah is an occasional series here at Hannah Wept, Sarah Laughed that examines the role of infertility in the Torah (Old Testament).

Engraving by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld (1851).
In my last post, I introduced the idea that infertility is of cultural and religious importance within Judaism. I asked folks to read the story of Hannah, perhaps one of the most prominent stories of infertility in the Torah as Hannah's emotions are depicted with such heartbreak and longing. I asked folks to reflect on her story, as so many parts of it speak to our own infertility journeys thousands of years later.

Like many of us, she is devastated after years and years of trying to produce a child with her husband Elkinah, but to no avail. She is bereft with grief and depression: "...she wept and would not eat (Samuel I 1:7)." Weeping and not eating? Sounds like classic signs of depression to me, don't you think?
 
Reader Gail agrees:
Hannah is depicted as a strong woman who is depressed. She cries and is "bitter in spirit" and she is haunted by her rival, her husband's other wife, who has been able to have children and makes her feel bad. In that way, I can totally relate (expect that my husband does not have 2 wives - only me). I see other women with babies and am jealous and angry and depressed.
Judaism has taught me that there's more than one side to any given story and that we must question all sides. Cue: the Talmud. In a nutshell, the Talmud is a body of complementary interpretation of the Torah. It's kind of like an ancient VH1 Behind the Music but written by ancient scholars and sages. Male scholars and sages, obviously - but this is important, especially when writing and commenting about prominent female figures in the Torah.

In the Torah, the basic story is this: Hannah's super sad she can't have children, she prays like a fiend, BAM! miracle baby - a nice, neat Bible story package with a little bow on it. The Talmud, however, drills down pretty deeply into Hannah's story and I'm amazed that ancient (male) sages spoke so acutely of Hannah's resourcefulness.

So in Samuel I 1:15, Eli the temple priest confronts her in her sorrowful prayer and calls her a drunk, telling her to leave the temple. She pleads with him saying that she is not drunk, but so consumed with prayer for her heart's greatest desire - she never mentions what that desire is. The Talmud explores this much further, and draws on some nifty, lesser known Jewish mysticism in the process. The Talmud asserts that she doesn't just plead with Eli, but lashes out at him and questions the very authority of his priesthood.

The Vilna Gaon, an ancient rabbinic scholar, asserts that Eli didn't properly read his Urim V'Turim, whereas Hannah correctly interpreted it. What's this Urim V'Turim thingie? This is where it gets... mystical. Eli wore a breastplate of 12 jewel stones, each representing a tribe of Israel. To communicate with G-d, Eli would ask his question and G-d would answer by lighting up the stones to form Hebrew characters, spelling out the answer. (Think of the Urim V'Turim like a Divine Lite-Brite.)

Still with me? Good. I know it got weird for a minute there.

When Eli asks G-d, "Hey, Adonai? Who's this crazy lady here praying silently but whose lips are moving?" his breastplate lights up and spells out four characters: shin (ש), resh (ר), kaf (כ), hei (ה). Spelled thusly, they spell out shikorah - meaning drunken woman.

Hannah saw Eli's breastplate light up and recognized the characters for what they truly spelled, when arranged in the following order - כשרה. Read in this order, they spell out k'Sarah: Hebrew for "like Sarah."

Sarah, the original Barren Mother. Chills, right?

Hannah decries Eli's priesthood by saying, "Look putz, I'm prayin' my heart out to G-d over here, and you can't even read the messages G-d is sending you right now! How dare you cast me out of my temple as a drunkard! It is my right to be here and to pray for my heart's deepest desire!"*

*I'm paraphrasing from the Talmud here.

Another example of Hannah's resourcefulness and wisdom: the Talmud asserts that she tried to force G-d's hand that in her silent prayers, she told G-d that she would make G-d answer her prayers. She threatened to go into a private room with a man who was not her husband and confess this act to her husband, Elkinah. Now, Hannah didn't plan on actually doing anything with this man, but the implication as she tells her husband is that she's slept with another man. Elkinah would then take her to the temple so she must drink sotah waters as her punishment/confession of her "sin" (remember, she doesn't actually sleep with the dude, but since they were in a private room together, there's no way to Elkinah to know for sure.)

The sotah waters were a heinous concoction of ashes and water (and who knows what else) that suspected adulterous women were forced to drink. The ashes were from a sheet of paper wherein the accused woman writes her confession and is then burned and mixed into the water. If a woman strayed, the sotah waters would make her violently ill or even kill her; thus, her adultery was proven. The deck is not exactly stacked in the woman's favor here. However, if she was virtuous, then the sotah waters would not make her sick...

The woman would conceive instead.

It's almost like a modern anecdote: a woman can't conceive naturally on her own, so she forces G-d's hand by using another of G-d's creations to aid in her conception. What a resourceful woman she was, that Hannah! It's almost like the idea of using modern science to assist our own reproductive efforts. When we can't make a miracle, we turn to science. But if you believe in the ever-present creative power of G-d, then you have to admit that G-d made that science possible too.

Still, we circle back to the key overaching theme of Hannah's story: if you pray hard enough, a baby will come. Some of you took issue with this as well.

Justine writes:
But the story also sort of raises false hope; "the Lord had shut up her womb," and yet she goes on to conceive? What of the women who can't, who don't ever? Do they simply not pray hard enough?

Elana expands on this with this interpretation:
I used to think that my prayers weren't being listened to, even though I was praying with my whole heart. Now I know that G-d was answering me but saying "Not yet" rather than "No."

For me, I found the most powerful comment to again come from Gail:
Last night, we had our organizational planning meeting and I found out that the last night of VBS is centered on the story of Hannah. And, the moral of the story that the kids are supposed to learn is that "God gives you what you ask for." I just don't know how I'm going to teach this to a bunch of kids when I don't believe it myself.
There is no easy answer or explanation for this. We're working with ancient texts and in a simpler time, simpler answers sufficed. No baby? Pray to G-d. Tada! Baby. Another simpler explanation in that simpler time would also have been, "Well, if there's no baby, then you're being punished."

This is a modern myth that many women still struggle with in their own faith. It was the first time I'd ever truly experienced a crisis of faith when I was diagnosed. I asked myself - and G-d - "Why am I being punished? What have I done?" while simultaneously praying: "And what must I do to regain Your Favor?"

So this is what I would say to Gail - teach whatever your curriculum imposes you must teach your VBS kids. But in your heart, it's okay to know that sometimes G-d doesn't answer our prayers. We have been given the free will to decide how we live our lives in the wake of unanswered prayers.

Look, I know it's not that simple of an answer, and I'm trying to boil down vast amounts of theological philosophy into a conveniently bite-sized blog post. It's this thought, however, that pulled me out of my own crisis of faith. If G-d doesn't answer my prayers, that doesn't mean that G-d isn't in my life; I pray for the strength to make the best decisions to live the best life I know how.

These posts always get so heavy! But they give me a chance to really think about the ways in which my spiritual path has been affected by my infertility.

I would love to hear how these two areas meet for you too. How has infertility affected your relationship with G-d? How do you reconcile the two? Remember, looking for all perspectives, not just Judeo-Christian. I'd also love to hear from the areligious too. Sound off in the comments!

May 20, 2011

The Infertile Women of The Torah: Infertility in Biblical Judaism

Marc Chagall (1956):
Hannah prays to the Lord for a son who will be Samuel
My page titled Who Are Hannah and Sarah? consistently gets the second highest number of views on this blog, besides the main page. It makes sense: neither are my name so the page outlines from where the inspiration for my blog title came and in what lens I first approached the news of my own infertility diagnosis. In short, the stories of Hannah and Sarah provide a unique juxtaposition of the issue of barren women in the Torah; for me, these stories serve as a model for infertile women in Judaism.

As I've come to terms with my infertility over the last two years, my faith and my infertility continue to contextualize one another. I'd like to write about some of the key players in my spiritual journey: our ancient infertile mothers - our Jewish Matriarchs and other key women in the Torah. I'd like to start an ongoing series with a few posts a month exploring various aspects of infertility in the Torah.

I hope you'll read along and I'll do my best to explain everything so it's approachable for anyone who reads this blog. I'm not here to push any kind of religious agenda; I'm just trying to explore my faith and see what lessons we can glean from a historical biblical perspective.

Tuesday night I had the privilege to attend a really engaging, deeply meaningful program at Mayyim Hayyim, a progressive mikveh and Jewish education center in Newton. The topic was "Infertility, Matriarchs and Ritual." One of the presenters was a rabbi who offered some truly thought-provoking exploration on the story of Hannah. She noted that three of Judaism's four Matriarchs: Sarah, Rebecca, and Rachel - were each infertile and the prominence of Hannah's story in the Torah as well.

What struck so much with me was what she said next: "And those are just the ones who made it in." Like all holy texts, the Torah was hardly exempt from (patriarchal!) editing through the centuries. In some ways, we are lucky that the story of infertility even made it in the Torah at all. It's a thoughtful inclusion when G-d's first commandment is to Adam and Eve are "be fruitful and multiply."

As long as humankind has been havin' babies, there have always been those who can't. The Torah could have been very unkind to these ancient barren women by casting them in a harsh light or omitting their stories entirely, but their stories have been included to survive thousands of years. To me, that says that infertility is valued as a historical, cultural lesson within Judaism.

Interestingly enough - and this is really important here folks - the Torah never says that their infertility is the result of something they did or G-d's punishment. Think about that for a minute.

There's a really beautiful commentary in the Talmud (a body of ancient rabbinic commentary on the Torah) about how Hannah "spoke in her heart." She prays silently, moving only her lips. The Rabbis in the Talmud give Hannah a strong voice, saying that she "spoke in her heart" the following:
She spoke concerning her heart. She said before Him: Sovereign of the Universe, among all the things that Thou hast created in a woman, Thou hast not created one without a purpose, eyes to see, ears to hear, a nose to smell, a mouth to speak, hands to do work, legs to walk with, breasts to give suck. These breasts that Thou hast put on my heart, are they not to give suck? Give me a son, so that I may suckle with them.
This particular commentary says something very profound about the fundamental nature of infertility: just as G-d created every part of our bodies, G-d too then created infertility. If a part of our bodies does not function in some way, G-d has fashioned that disfunction. Granted, this is a very modern interpretation of this Talmudic tract, as we live in an age where infertility is recognized as a medical issue. I'm not saying that infertility happens for a Divine reason or purpose, but I argue this commentary opens the door to say that infertility is as much of one of G-d's creations as are our limbs, organs, or breath.

I have a lot more to say about Hannah, so I'll leave you with a short homework assignment:

Read about the story of Hannah in the Torah and then come back here and share in the comments what part of her story resonated with you the most. I'll use the discussion and comments to guide the next few posts in my "Infertile Women of the Torah" series. And remember, I'm not just looking for Jewish responses or approaches only - I'm looking for all views, religious or otherwise. Just think of Hannah as an infertility story just like any of ours. What sticks out for you?

April 15, 2011

The Matzo Balls Are Coming.

This post is part of the IF-Free Zone: a commitment to blogging about something other than my infertility journey every now and then. Why blog off-topic? We are more than our infertility. So enjoy another installment in the IF-Free Zone series. Here's another peek into regular 'ol me.

. . .

I'm not sure how it happened this year, but all of a sudden, Passover is this Monday night. Rosh HaShannah felt late, Hanukkah was way late, so I guess it makes sense that Passover is wicked late this year. We have done absolutely zero prep for Passover... we haven't even bought our boxes of matzo yet!

But we need to get on it this weekend, because folks: the matzo balls, they are a-comin'.

If you're curious: they're sinkers THEN floaters.
Last year we were Passover CHAMPS. We held a Seder at our apartment and invited many dear friends. I was a cooking fiend that weekend, churning out matzo balls like they were going out of style. I could give you Larry's Mom's/Nan's recipe... but then I'd have to kill you. Larry made a (delicious) brisket. There was charoset and fresh-made maror and even vegetarian options!

This year... well, we're skipping First Seder on Monday night because Larry has a Masons meeting he can't miss. So we're hosting Second Seder, the first in our new home, on Tuesday night. So far we have six people coming and we haven't even picked the menu yet.

This should be an interesting weekend. I need to get a jump on the matzo balls and the soup, because they taste better if they've had a couple of days to soak in the flavor. But I also need to finalize our menu and do the shopping. We should also probably, yanno, clean the house too. That would be good. Somehow we plan to squeeze all of this in while painting our bedroom.

Now, painting wouldn't be such a challenge if we didn't also have to paint our bed (that Larry made himself right after we moved in) and if we didn't have to paint the very awkard, very high catherdral ceiling walls in our bedroom either. Thank goodness Monday is Patriot's Day here in Massachusetts, a state-wide holiday that just happens to be when the Boston Marathon is run every year.

It's going to be a busy weekend for sure.

I do have a question for the masses, Jewish or otherwise: I have two vegetarians joining us this year. I'm making separate matzo balls without chicken schmaltz and a veggie-based broth for them, but I'm at a loss for a vegetarian entree for  them. Last year I made parmesan-stuffed portobello mushrooms, but I'd like to try something different this year. Any tips or ideas on some delicious vegetarian entrees for Passover?

Alright, I can't wrap this post up without sharing at least one recipe with you; I've been going on and on about food, so it's only fair. A little backstory to this recipe: Larry's uncle's ex-wife apparently made some delicious Passover layer cake with full sheets of matzo and delicious frosting. For the last 14 years, at every Passover Seder at his parents' house, I've been hearing about Dahlia's "amazing Passover cake." The funny thing is, no one had the recipe. So when she left the family, the recipe went with her. And still, this Passover cake gets mentioned at every Seder table with the Zolls. I have been mystified and intrigued by this "amazing Passover cake," and last year I made it my mission to find the recipe.

After getting descriptions from both Larry and his mom, I set about Googling and found this recipe from AllRecipes.com. I made it last year, and as Larry took the first bite, you could see the years of nostalgia flooding back to him. I had found Dahlia's cake.

So here now is a near-diabetic coma-inducing Passover dessert to make this week. I've tweaked the recipe I originally found so that it's basically guaranteed to send your glucose through the roof.

Dahlia (and Miriam's) 7-Layer Passover "Cake"
I realize it looks unassuming. It's basically just sheets of matzo soaked in alcohol layered with buttercream frosting. I know, I know and yes - it is that good.

I am full of sugar and joy.
You will need:
  • 3 1/2 (1 ounce) squares bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1/2 cup butter softened (because margarine is a cop-out)
  • 1 cup superfine sugar (confectioners' sugar can work for this)
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 3 egg whites
  • 8 matzo sheets
  • (750 mL) bottle kahlua, kahlua creme, Bailey's or Godiva liqueur (or... all of these.)
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped nuts (optional)
 To make the frosting:
  1. Melt chocolate in a small bowl in the microwave by heating at 30 second intervals, and stirring between each one. When chocolate is almost melted, just remove from the microwave and stir until smooth. Set aside. You can also melt the chocolate with a double boiler if you have one (my preferred method and I don't have a double boiler; I do a smaller pot resting in a larger pot with about an inch of water in the bigger pot.)
  2. In a stand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg yolks one at a time until well blended.
  3. In a separate bowl, whip egg whites with a pinch of superfine sugar until stiff.
  4. Fold the melted chocolate into the creamed butter/sugar mixture, then fold in the egg whites.
To assemble the cake:
  1. Pour 1/4 of your potent potable into an 8x8 inch baking dish. Soak one of the matzo sheets briefly on both sides, then remove to a serving platter. If you soak too long, it will break apart and become hard to work with.
  2. Spread a thin layer of the chocolate cream over the soaked matzo. Continue soaking and layering the matzos and chocolate cream, leaving enough of the chocolate mixture to frost the sides when finished.
  3. Break up the process by having a sip of your potent potable from a separate glass. Add more alcohol to the dish as necessary for soaking.
  4. Optionally: press chopped nuts onto the sides, or sprinkle them on top for garnish. I'm not a fan of chocolate and nuts, so I skip this step.
  5. Refrigerate overnight to allow everything to soak in and become amazing.
  6. Upon eating, just try not to have your eyes roll back into your head with each bite. I dare you.

January 26, 2011

Three Years Ago Today


I took your hand and spoke with purpose:

Matzati et she'ahava nafshi
(I have found him, whom my soul loves)

Three years ago, I remember my veiled perspective:
surrounded by family and song, my excitement lulled
into comtemplative anticipation as the rabbi lead us in niggun
her wordless, haunting melody reaching deep within me
 
In this sacred silk space around my head and face
I knew I would exit a different woman
someone's wife - your wife
my veil lifted as though my world awakened
the first light of our many tomorrows
 
I remember the corners of the red napkin we each clutched with desperation
as our friends and family lifted us high over their shoulders
the Hora playing loudly, everything whirling around us like a carnival ride
 
The feel of your hands as we exchanged rings
the first I had felt your touch all weekend
as you recited words that have echoed across
five thousand years
I felt holy and connected, my soul
rejoicing, relieved
 
gladdened to have found
the one
in whom I
delight
 
. . .
 
What a remarkable three years it has been, and here's to many, many more adventures together.
 
Happy anniversary, love.

September 21, 2010

Holy OMNOMNOM-ing

Welcome to another ICLW! I've been missing from the blogosphere recently and I thought that ICLW was just what I needed to get back into the virtual swing of things. Past ICLW intros can be found linked here, but to give you the quick rundown:

• I'm 28 with POF. Hoping to pursue domestic infant adoption with my husband Larry in the next 3-5 years.
• Just bought our first house! Also, had our first (hopefully only) fire. Homeownership is full of adventure, I'm quickly learning.
• Recently featured in Tablet Magazine last month for an article about infertility and reconciling Jewish faith.
• Getting awarded next Tuesday night in NYC at RESOLVE's Night of Hope Awards for Best Viral Video.

So there's the quick schpiel.

This has been a very contemplative start to the Jewish New Year for me. While I don't think our fire was any kind of punishment from G-d, it certainly was a wake-up call. The takeaway message I got from all of this: we have a new home. It's time to really start living Jewishly.

It's time to find a shul. It's time to really start observing Shabbos, perhaps rising to the call of the Sabbath Manifesto, as we were called to do at Yom Kippur services this year. It's a neat concept that Larry particularly finds intriguing that I could get behind too.

For me? On a more personal way of being Jewish? Sanctifying the ordinary, most basic everyday act: saying the blessings before food. If I won't keep kosher (because I'm sorry, bacon cheeseburgers and lobster are too delicious for a foodie to give up entirely) then I can at least make the act of eating holy.

I'll be honest. This is not easy; there isn't one catch-all blessing I can say. There's a blessing for bread (ha-motzi lechem min ha'aretz) but a different one for pasta and crackers (borey miney mezunot). And you say one blessing for grapes and wine (fruit of the vine), one for apples, pears and the like (fruit of the tree), and another entirely for most veggies and contradictingly enough, bananas (fruit of the earth).

But I do it because it forces me to give pause before I eat, to be thankful for daily sustenance, to sanctify the ordinary and to be mindful and take note of what I'm putting into my body. I've figured out that the more blessings I have to say, the more balanced my meal ^_^

And with that, it's time for lunch. Bon apetit and happy noshing.

September 13, 2010

These Days of Awe

B'rosh hashanah yikatevun,
uv'yom tzom kippur yechatemun...

On Rosh HaShana it is Written, and on Yom Kippur it is Sealed...
This could have been our whole house.
I really wish this wasn't the first picture of my house that I was posting here. But at 3:40pm yesterday, as Larry and his parents and I were sitting outside grilling a late lunch, our smoke detector system started blaring. First one alarm on the second floor. Then another. Then all three on the third floor in rapid succession, the shrill sounds bouncing off of our hardwood floors and echoing through the house.

We had left the front and unit doors open. The grill was smoking heavily. Ah, the smoke must have gone up into the house, we all thought. I went inside and immediately knew something was very wrong. The hallway smelled like burning rubber.
On Rosh HaShana it is Written, and on Yom Kippur it is Sealed:
how many will pass from the earth and how many will be created;
who will live and who will die...
I immediately checked the kitchen: a smell, but less so. The stove was off. Dining room: stronger smell, but no candles were burning. I cut through the hallway and saw the smoke pouring from the light switch in the living room. I screamed down the stairs to Larry: "Something's actually on fire! I think it's the outlet in the living room!" I dialed 911.
...who by water and who by fire...
Mass State Police transferred me to the Salem Fire Department. My voice was calm. "My name is Keiko Zoll. I live at [address] in Salem. There is an electrical fire in the wall of our house. The fire is on the second floor inside the wall, there's a lot of smoke, no visible flames, and no one is injured."

"Ma'am, please stay on the line."

In the background I can hear Larry and his dad shouting over the din of the smoke alarms. "Dad, this is NOT good." "Cut the power in the breaker box!" The thunder of Larry's steps as he ran down the stairs outside and to the cellar, that acrid burnt electrical smell and white smoke wafting into the dining room. I'm staring out the french doors in the dining room, overlooking a century old cemetery just feet away from the back of our house.

"Ok ma'am, we're sending the Fire Department now."

I hear the police sirens first, followed by the deep blasting horn of the fire truck. The fire station is only three-quarters of a mile away.
...who by sword, who by beast, who by famine, who by thirst, who by storm, who by plague, who by strangulation, and who by stoning...
Larry had run back upstairs. I told him the fire department was on their way. He and his dad were doing something with the outlet on the wall. I shouted at them to stop and come outside, but they didn't listen. I couldn't deal with it all and went outside to wait for the fire truck.

Earlier in the day, Larry and his dad were working on moving an outlet into a closet. It's kind of a long story, but in order to wall mount our TV above the fireplace, we'd need to move an outlet to a closet just to the right of the hearth. Larry's parents were in town for the weekend, so it was a good father-son home improvement project and both Larry and his dad know what they're doing, so it was no big deal.

A police car arrived first and directed the fire truck to come the wrong way up our one-way street since it was so narrow. I sent them right upstairs. Firemen in full gear ran up into our house. I ran in after them when Larry didn't come down. Smoke was still filling the rooms, so I ran upstairs to the third floor and saw that there was smoke in all the upstairs bedrooms. I began opening skylights and hollering for Larry to come upstairs. When we saw how much smoke had gone upstairs, we both started to freak out. I started zipping all of our suitcases shut in the bedroom (we still haven't unpacked our clothes) so they wouldn't get anymore smoke damage. The linens on the bed were a lost cause. The smoke and that awful rubber smell started bothering me so much that I had to get out of the house. As I ran down the stairs, that's when I heard the axe.

The firemen began axing into the walls of our house.
...who will rest and who will wander, who will live in harmony and who will be harried, who will enjoy tranquility and who will suffer, who will be impoverished and who will be enriched, who will be degraded and who will be exalted...
Our neighbors lined the street. I got to meet our next door neighbor for the first time. My mother-in-law hugged me as I started to sob, the sounds of the axe growing louder and louder. I felt like the street was turning upside down from underneath my feet. "I have to get my inhaler," I managed to say between sobs. I got into my car and pulled out my little red lifesaver from the glove box. One puff and hold for a count of ten - my ears were buzzing as the kaleidoscope of color and sound around me overwhelmed my senses - I could feel my lungs expanding, normal breath restored.

I didn't know what to do next, so I did the only thing I could think of: I called my mom.

After assuring her that everyone was safe and choking back sobs (feeling almost ashamed that we hadn't even had the house more than 10 days and yet here we were calling the fire department because we'd nearly burned down our completely wooden historical home) my mom started filing in the "I should probably know this now that I'm a grown-up" gap for me: call the insurance company. Who was our home inspector? Did we need a hotel for the night? Should she send money?

I started to calm down. Things started to make a little more sense. I went back inside to check in on Larry.
...but repentance, prayer, and charity remove the severity of the Decree!
I couldn't believe what I was looking at: the ceiling and wall of our living room was axed in, debris all over the floor. The scorch marks were telling on the wall, and it wasn't until I took a flashlight to the ceiling beam that we saw just how bad it could have been: the ceiling beam was scorched black. Larry had called an electrician to come out and as we looked through the debris like CSI investigators, we could piece together that the fire wasn't because Larry or his dad did anything wrong that afternoon.

According to the Fire Chief, it was a matter of time before this would happen based on how the wires were fried. There were no flames (and thankfully, no water was needed to put it out) but a short circuit caused the wires to superheat and start scorching the wood inside the walls. When Larry went to check the breaker box with the electrician, the wire was fried right down to the breaker box. The issue is that the breaker failed to trip when it detected a short circuit. Moving the outlet in that room hadn't caused the issue, but merely brought it to light earlier. From the intensity of the char, it looks like the bulk of the fire was between the ceiling light and the light switch. Inside the outlet box, the wires were still in tact with no heat damage, so it wasn't anything they did to cause it.

In fact, the whole issue started when I noticed that the power wasn't on in the dining room after they had finished working. Larry went to turn the breaker back on since they were finished working on the electrical part and felt a strange hum before it kicked back on. That hum was the short. The breaker should have kicked back over but didn't. Thus: fire caused by faulty breaker. Maybe 3 minutes had passed after Larry switched the breaker back on and when the smoke detectors started going off. My calling 911 and Larry shutting off the breaker as quick as we did saved us from a lot more damage.

We got lucky, the Fire Chief told us. Had this been three in the morning instead of three in the afternoon, we probably would have died in our sleep from carbon monoxide poisoning.

. . .


Servpro is here now, taking pictures and measurements. Our clothing and linens will be sent to dry cleaners. They'll sponge out the scorch marks that came up through the 2nd floor ceiling and onto the walls and floor of the 3rd floor. They cleaned all the debris and sealed off the walls last night with plastic sheeting, and ran fans and deodorizers all night. The insurance adjuster will be here later today and the electrician back tomorrow.

As frightening as this experience was, as costly and time-consuming as replacement of walls and ceilings may be... it's just stuff. It's just things. It's just money.

I'd rather be here to tell you about this myself than be just another fire mortality statistic.

This Friday is Yom Kippur. These days between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur are the holiest days of the year: the Days of Awe. As the Unetaneh Tokef prayer I've woven throughout this post illustrates (and is spoken on Rosh HaShanah), G-d writes down all of our fates for the year in the Book of Life.

"On Rosh HaShanah it is Written and on Yom Kippur it is Sealed."

Despite all the headache and stress that is forthcoming, we were extended a huge blessing yesterday.

These Days of Awe, indeed.

September 8, 2010

L'shana tova, 5771!

Photo by Ron Almog via Flickr.
Apples dipped in honey: the sweetest treat, savored as we welcome the new Jewish year. The calendar turns again. I have lived my whole life by the academic calendar, so as the wind picks up just the slightest chill, as the calendar flips from August into September, I can't help but think of school supplies and apples with honey.

The sweetness of beginnings.

We are moved into our new house- not settled as there are boxes everywhere- but moved in, keys in hand, mezuzah affixed. It was a rough closing day (details in another post), but in the end, it's our house. OUR house! It still feels strange to say. Even though we moved in just this past Friday, it still feels a bit like a foreign place. Bit by bit, we'll start to make it feel like home.

In these few hours as 5770 winds to a close, I am thankful and grateful for the year of abundance we have been granted: Larry's job, my raise, our house, our amazing trip to Japan last October, my niece... when 5769 rained nothing but heartache and pain on us, 5770 showered us with blessings.

As we approach a new year, as we stand here facing 5771, this is the year of responsibility and committment. We owe it to the abundant grace of this past year.

Tonight we celebrate the new year with friends. I've got 2 loaves of challah in my car ready to bring over and from there we head to services. I bought myself a red cardigan for the occasion: red, the color of apples, pomegranates, fertility, joy.

Tomorrow: services with friends, then a trip to IKEA, as we desperately need a kitchen cart to provide more counterspace. We are loving our home. I'm covered in bumps and bruises as I get used to new bannisters, corners, and layouts. I'm a little exhausted from not sleeping that great: I never sleep well in new environments. I'm intrigued to learn more about the original owner of the home from 1846, whose presence is still very much in these walls and halls.

I want to fill this house with things, yes, but I want to fill this house with memories more.

I am truly humbled entering into this new year. We're super excited to own our own home. It is an increasingly rarer priviledge in this day and age, so I am constantly thankful and grateful for this blessing. I'm still getting used to the idea that this house is actually ours.

This home. It's not just a house.

Home sweet home.

And a sweet New Year to you all.

L'shanah tovah tikatev v'taihatem.

As a new chapter begins in our lives, may you each be inscribed and sealed for another year.

September 3, 2010

A September Return

Photo by Andreanna Moya Photography via Flickr.
...And I'm back folks. Did you miss me? Here, follow me past the cut to see what I've been up to the last month.

Our freshmen are moved in. Our returning students come back this weekend. The wheel of the academic year turns again. Every August, I go into hibernation - my online and IRL social lives take a complete backseat to my work. Since August 10th, my days have looked something like this:

7:00am - Wake up, shower.
7:30am - Leave for work. Take a new route nearly every day based on my GPS w/traffic reports.
8:30am - Arrive at work. Briefly check email and inhale breakfast.
9:00am - RD or RA Training Sessions. Squeeze in lunch at noon if I can.
5:00pm - Dinner.
6:00pm - Late night training sessions or staying late to finish more work for hall opening.
7:30pm - Leave for "home."
8:00pm - Get home, change, snack or eat dinner, watch a little TV or nap.
10:30pm - Bed.

Lather, rinse, repeat. I've worked every day since August 22, including weekends. Tomorrow will be my first day off since then. To say I'm exhausted is a bit of an understatement... but you know what? I'm really proud of the work I've put into training this year, and really happy with what I'm doing. For the first time since moving to Massachusetts, I'm in a really good place in my career. It's weird to say career - this isn't a just job anymore.

. . .

Tonight is the last night we are staying with wonderfully generous friends of ours in Peabody. They have been gracious enough to take in our hobo selves since August 15th. It's nearly 1:30am, and despite working a 12 hour day today, I can't sleep. I'm unusually hyper.

I'm reminded of Christmas Eve.

...Tomorrow, we close on our house at 1pm.

After two extensions and literally acres of paperwork emailed, faxed, and hand-delivered... we are a go for tomorrow. I can't believe we're less than 12 hours away from being homeowners! No wonder I can't sleep. I'm just so damn excited.

. . .

I took a very long shower this evening. A between the toes, behind the ears, shampoo AND conditioner kind of shower. I was reminded of just a few years ago, this same kind of shower as I prepared for my conversion mikveh. As strange as it might sound, immersion in the ritual bath requires the person to wash every square inch of skin, every strand of hair - it's part of the act of ritual purification.

I'm not a long shower taker. I've got it down to a routine: shampoo, body wash, face wash. Sometimes brushing my teeth gets thrown in there. But I'm in and out of the shower in about 15 minutes, tops. So when I take these longer showers, it's because I like that time to just relax and have me time. I think - a lot.

Sometimes it's me and G-d time. Like that moment before the mikveh.

I find that before I take a next big step in my life, before I dip my toes into these rushing waters of life - it's just me, the running water on my face and hair, silence, and G-d: humbled, naked, and restored.

. . .

Regular posts next week. Lots more stuff to talk about. Winners of the giveaway announced next week. Hurricane's a-comin' - not sure yet what's in store for Salem. And this time tomorrow, I'll be in our house.

It's good to be back.

July 30, 2010

If

This Saturday's Torah portion is Eikev. It translates roughly to to "if." Moses continues his last sermon? speech? lesson? I'm not really sure how it's defined. But essentially, it's his last schpiel before the Israelites finally cross over into the Promised Land. Their wandering is drawing to an end.

Pictured left to right: Larry's mom, Larry's sister,
Nan, Larry. Taken at Nan's 90th birthday last year.
Eikev takes on a special significance; it's been a complete Jewish lunar year since Larry's Nan passed away. This Sunday is her grave unveiling. This is a Jewish custom that varies by community; a tombstone is prepared and laid, but it remains covered for a year. It marks the "last" phase of formal Jewish mourning: yahrzeit. (I put last in quotes because we never really stop mourning.) The first two phases are shiva, the first seven days, and then shloshim, the next 30 days. Yahrzeit marks the anniversary. While Nan is always remembered in our hearts every day, we remember her especially on her yahrzeit: a special candle is lit in her memory that burns for 24 hours.

I have always been drawn to the marking of time in Judaism, rather, more specifically: the sanctification of time, how every moment in our lives is sacred, blessed. Because you never know when things can change in a moment, how a life can be hinged upon a single word: ...If.

Mel over at Stirrup Queens had an absolutely haunting post on Monday. Quick summary: she and her entire family could have all been killed in a single moment on the highway in Pennsylvania, caught in those crazy storms that swept through the mid-Atlantic region last weekend. All that separated her family and the inevitable were just a few fractions of a second.

...If.

Those same storms roared through College Park, Maryland. Right over the neighborhood we lived in for three years. Less than a mile from our first apartment, a former colleague of mine from the University of Maryland was killed in those storms. A massive tree fell on her car, killing her instantly. She is being laid to rest tomorrow.

Michelle Humanick was 44, wife and mother of two. I had always respected and admired her graphic design work in the department; I respected her even more when she left the University to spend more time with her family. I only learned through news reports they had adopted their two daughters, their youngest less than a year ago. For some reason, maybe because we hope to be adoptive parents ourselves one day, this just made me so much sadder to hear.

...If.

This weekend is not all death and endings. Tonight we head to my sister's so that I can see Willow for the first time since she was born. It's amazing how much she's grown in a month. More astonishing is the general idea of how much a human body will grow and develop in that time- the body is a wonder, indeed. I am digging this whole Auntie thing.

Close friends of ours have officially announced to the world that they are expecting their second child. We've known for a few weeks now and we are still just as overjoyed for them. She's due in March and we are already excited to get to meet the newest addition to their family.

We're 99% of the way there on the house. The purchase and sale agreement has been completed. We've been approved for the FHA loan. The bank intends to underwrite said loan. Now we're just waiting on some complicated paperwork from the sellers. It's the last hurdle between us and closing on August 12. I am really hoping we make it to closing, otherwise we're going to have to put everything in storage and sleep on some couches. This mortgage/loan thing is driving me nuts. As Larry puts it, it's like the Tuesday before the wedding on Saturday: all you can do is wait.

And so we wait.

. . .

Life, death, and these moments of holiness and santification where we can find them. Each moment hinged upon branches of possibility, pinned only in place by one single little word: if. And these ifs, ticking away like sacred seconds.

If. If. If.

June 21, 2010

June ICLW: Elementally Speaking

Howdy! Thanks for stopping by for June's ICLW. (Learn more about the ICLW here and see how you can sign up for next month.) I've got a few previous ICLW intro posts to get you up to speed: ABC's of Me (November 2009), April 2010, and May 2010. For this month's intro, I think I'll try something a little different: looking at my life right now through the Four Elements. Intrigued?

The Four Elements of Me

Earth: What Grounds Me ~ Roots and Foundation
+ My husband, Larry: totally my rock, my love, my soulmate. We've been married for 2 and a half years. We were high school sweethearts from 1997... do the math. We've been together a long time and are still madly in love with one another.
+ My family: My mom, my papa, my sister Jasmine and her husband Neal - these are my core. Then Larry's mom, dad, and sister - just as much family as my own blood. And soon, probably sometime this week: Willow! My niece-to-be, the first grandchild, the little darling we've been waiting 9 months to meet. You can count on a post about her later this week since my sister will be induced on Friday :)
+ My faith: I'm Jewish. But I put an equal amount of faith in the goodness of humanity, the beauty that surrounds us daily we often take for granted, and in the sovereignty and power of the collective creativity of women. I ground myself by redefining the world around me, and walking forward with faithful steps in the world I've created.

Water: What Moves Me ~ Transition and Flow
+ My health: it's been in a varying state of flux. I have premature ovarian failure, diagnosed in April of 2009. I have Hashimoto's thyroiditis. I recently learned I've got degenerative arthritis in my lower spine. Oh yeah, I'm 28. Thankfully though, my thyroid appears to finally be stabilized after a year of ups and down, my my POF is being treated with HRT.
+ My job: Recently promoted.
+ My home: We are house-hunting, and hope to have a formal offer in to the seller by COB today.

Air: What Lifts Me ~ Joy and Celebration
+ Food, music, the arts, photography, flowers, Hell's Kitchen, Weeds, LOST, Radiohead, indie music, Vampire Weekend, MUSE, art house cinema, Bach Cello Suites, cooking, our trip Japan last year, camping, fishing, reading, writing, writing my book, RadioLab, The Moth, This American Life, taking the time to literally stop and smell the roses.

Fire: What Consumes Me ~ Passion and Perseverance
+ Having a family: The timeline has been pushed back significantly since we're buying a house, but we plan on adopting an infant domestically. We're skipping fertility treatments altogether.
+ My advocacy: I've recently decided that I am an health advocate, fighting for infertility treatment coverage and research. It all started with this video. The content of my blog has shifted slightly from mostly about me to more about the greater ALI blogosphere and what we can all do to be everyday advocates. I am also RESOLVE of New England's newest Board member on their Board of Directors!
+ My writing: I do it all the time. I've been keeping a journal in print or electronic form since I was in 7th grade. This blog is a continuation of that, but I'm starting to branch out to other places like Examiner.com and hopefully more paying opportunities. I'm also writing a book about my experience of converting to Judaism three years ago.

Looking forward to meeting new folks. Happy ICLW and happy commenting!

Image used with generous permission by the artist, Alida Saxon, copyright 2010.

June 11, 2010

Have you been Lost and Found?

I'd like to take this time to pimp out something I feel is rather important in the ALI blogsphere: Mel's Lost and Found Connections Abound (LFCA). Think of it as a semi-daily digest of all the happenings in the ALI blogosphere: quick announcements of our joys like birthdays, and anniversaries, to our lows like loss announcements and remembrances. New blogs get their shout outs and folks who just need a little extra support for whatever reason get their love too. New projects or questions to the community are also announced. It is a phenomenal resource out there, exposing us to new blogs and journeys, allowing us to reconnect with others, and generally feeds into a greater sense of good karma.

You may notice the brown LFCA icon a little ways down on my right sidebar, "Please submit my news to the LFCA." That's because the LFCA only happens because we make it happen (and because Mel is awesome in compiling it all together). It requires the active engagement of the ALI blogosphere to not only bring the news of our peers to our peers, but to share that news and comment appropriately. Like I said, it's some seriously good karma to be a part of the LFCA.

"But why participate?" you might be asking. I'll explain why I do it with a little diversion into Judaism. In Judaism there is the concept of tzedaka (charity). I use the term charity loosely as it's not a choice, but an obligation. When I converted to Judaism, I remember scratching my head at the required donation to the synagogue as part of my formal conversion ceremony. My rabbi explained it thus: "Instead of dollars, think of it as good things. You put good things out in the Universe, you get good things back."

So why participate? Well, you have a chance to put good things out in the Universe. The LFCA only publishes about 3-4 times a week, so what I do is when I get on my Google Reader binge, if I find something appropriate that I think should be shared, I submit it. In fact, I usually open two tabs: my Reader in one and the LFCA in another so I can quickly copy and paste the info over.

I'm not posting this fishing for mentions on the LFCA, because trust me, if I want to, I'll submit my own news (and I have in the past). You can submit your own news too: don't be shy, and don't count on other folks to necessarily do it for you. If you need the support, submit your news. Worst that happens is that you and someone else submit the same news, and Mel will pick which specific blurb will go in that particular edition.

The reason I want to highlight this is because this is actually a very simple act of advocacy you can do right as you're catching up on your blogs. By supporting others, you're helping out the whole community. And if you're not "out" about your IF status, this is a great way to be able to advocate for others while still remaining anonymous (all LFCA submissions are anonymous).

Catch up on the latest edition of the LFCA here. Click here to submit your news. Not sure what to submit? News breaks down into the following categories: Miscellaneous news (questions, non-IF announcements, community projects, invite only, etc); Birthdays, anniversaries, or blogoversaries; Loss remembrances; Loss announcements; Miscellaneous support or celebrations (directing support where it is needed); Bedrest babes; Pregnancy announcements and news; Birth and adoption announcements.

Now start spreading the news and pump out good things into the Universe!

May 28, 2010

A Woman of Valor

Maxfield Parrish: Ecstasy.

I wanted to close this ICLW with something that has been an inspiration to me, something I always keep in the back of my mind: the Jewish concept of a Woman of Valor. I'm not here to preach religion, but I hold this ideal in my heart and let it guide me. A Woman of Valor- Eshet Chayil - is a psalm traditionally sung by husbands to their wives on Shabbos (Proverbs 31 to be precise). I found this beautiful re-imagining by Eric S. Kingston on Chabad.org, and I hope it will inspire you too.

A Woman of Valor
By Eric S. Kingston
Dedicated to all the women who showed me what true strength is.

A woman of valor makes the world change
Her strength is the content that guides through the days
Defined by her actions that bring light to all dreams
Valor is something that's defined by her deeds.

Her valor is golden, sparkled and gray
She stands up to the challenge no matter the way
It can't be held back or defined by her age
Yes, a woman of valor makes the world change.

For valor's not held by the young or the old
But by the deeds of the heart that give and unfold
It's merit and honor that hold no disguise
Like the creation of being in the blessed Holy One's eyes.

For valor is the color of the song of her soul
As she changes, creates and turns light into gold
Divine is Her Presence, be it joyous or sad
-- A Woman of Valor --
May offer little, but it will be all that she has.

For only her heart will know the depths of her soul
That nurtures and blossom and forever unfolds
And holds in its essence new life and new gain
Yes,
A woman of valor makes the world change
A woman of valor makes the world change
A woman of valor makes the world change.

Be the change, readers, be the change. Make waves in this world, and to my female readers: you are all  Women of Valor.

Shabbat shalom and to my readers here in the States: a safe and wonderful Memorial Day Weekend.

May 12, 2010

Eggs-istentially Speaking

"Do you find your Judaism is influenced by existentialism?"

My mind was racing to remember the definition of existentialism. I had a vague idea, so I blurted out: "Probably. I've always had grand ideas about life, death, God, and human existence."

. . .

This is an excerpt of just one of many interesting conversations I've had in the last two weeks since my video went live. I was speaking with Dr. Lawrence Nelson, Principle Investigator on premature ovarian insufficiency with the National Institutes of Health. For a brief update on where this is going: he'd like to bring me on board with his POI Recovery Team, a group of endocrinologists, pyschologists, nutritionists, and spirtual advisors for women who are coping with POI. My video intrigued him, and we got into a very deep conversation about how I've managed to not only cope so well with my diagnosis, but in such a short time compared to other women with the diagnosis. He brought up this idea of existentialism, so I decided to refresh my memory on the subject.

The simplest definition I found was on a Jack London glossary page. Existentialism is "the belief that one shapes one's basic nature through the direction of life one chooses to live." Our suffering is a result of not being able to create meaning in our lives. The wikipedia article on existentialism provides a good summary as well, going into concepts such as Despair, Angst, Freedom, and Authenticity, all results of our struggle to define and create meaning.

You know, I've never thought of it this way so concretely, but I suppose I am an existentialist Jew. And in a lot of ways, the two complement each other. Judaism is so focused on the marking of time, of creating significance through life cycle events and daily ritual. As Jews, we are taught to craft meaning and our relationship to G-d through these ritual acts. How is that not existential?

. . .

But back to my witty post title.

I've been thinking about existentialism in the context of my infertility. I'm redefining myself, mother, family, etc. I'm crafting new meaning in my life. I'm carving out a path for myself, and while I'm not entirely sure where it's going, I'm confident in the value and fulfillment it will bring.

There are lots of times that I step back and look at my life from a distance, seeing from where I've come and at where I am now. I'm only 2 years away from turning 30, but there are moments when I feel like I've blinked and suddenly I'm about to turn 28, and other moments, like all of 2009, that felt like an eternity. This weekend was both my sister's baby shower and Mother's Day- talk about timing! (Also- both were amazing. The closeness I feel for my mom, my sister, my mom-in-law... it's overwhelming, as is their love and support for Larry and me.) And it was another one of those moments of reflection, of crafting meaning. And today, when I read about the heartbreaking passing of a member of the ALI community- Vee's husband Alex (link goes to a beautiful tribute by Gil, a good friend of their's)- and thinking of my own paranoid terror surrounding death... well, it makes you think. It makes you think that life is effing short, and you've got to make the most of it, right? Carpe diem and all that?

I realized it's about crafting that meaning and fulfillment. I've been saying that the Universe has been talking to me, and it's time I listen. I've decided I'm fully in a job search now for something in the health advocacy sector, and that it's time to leave higher ed. With virtually no direct experience but highly transferrable skills, this is not going to be easy. I've realized this is what I'm meant to do, and I'm only meant to do it because I made that meaning. Not the Universe or G-d. Just me. I think those Outside Influences helped guide me to my conclusion rather than handing me the answer.

I am reminded of another part of my conversation with Dr. Nelson last week. We were talking about Rachel, who in the Bible, was Jacob's most beloved wife and yet she could bear no children. She wept and prayed and fought with her sister and handmaids vying for favor in Jacobs eyes as they each bore him many children. Finally, her prayers were answered and she conceived and bore Joseph and then later Benjamin, Jacob's youngest son. But her prayer came at a price, and she died in childbirth with Benjamin. Infertility and maternal mortality, the two ends, two extremes of the spectrum, bookends, as Dr. Nelson put it, on the experience of human reproduction. The reminder that for beginnings there are endings. In life: death.

And all the rest in between is what we make of it.

A heavy post indeed this week, but I wanted to wrap my brain around some of these bigger thoughts brewing in my head for the last week.

April 21, 2010

Welcome to April's ICLW!

Hi there! If you're stopping by from ICLW, welcome and thanks for visiting. I think most of my pages and tags should be good places to get started to know a little bit more about this blog, but here's the quick and dirty reader's digest version with links to relevant blog posts to get you up to speed:
  • Hi! I'm Miriam Keiko. The hubs is Ari Larry. We are so totally in love it's kind of ridiculous; we're high school sweethearts of 10+ years, only married for the last 2.5. We're Jewish, we love food, we love to travel. Oh, and we really want to be parents.
  • I've got one ovary, and it's way busted (premature ovarian failure). My thyroid is also pretty busted (Hashimoto's thyroiditis). Our options, as I was told a year ago, is IVF with DE or adoption.
  • Current treatments: birth control pills as hormone replacement therapy. I'm currently having my first "period" in over a year. I use the term loosely since it's really just withdrawal bleeding from skipping a couple of days of the pill. Also, I'm on Levoxyl for my thyroid. I've got a regular thyroid monitoring appointment on Thursday.
  • After much ruminating, we've decided to pursue adoption! Like, literally finalized this decision a couple of weeks ago. We're still in the info gathering stages and have lots of questions. I'm definitely on the hunt for other adoption bloggers to follow.
  • Next week is National Infertility Awareness Week. It's a cause near and dear to my heart.
I look forward to discovering new blogs and meeting new bloggers this week. I'm also going for Iron Commenter status, and working on What IF: Part Two, so I'm hoping to get in at least 2 posts this week, but it might be rough. Want to know more? Leave me a comment or shoot me at email (miriamshope AT gmail).

Happy commenting this week!

EDIT: In light of posting my What IF? video, I've put our real names up here and changed my "About Me" page.