Thursday, September 29, 2005

Looking to buy a little property...

Life in Israel is no picnic (aside from Independence Day, of course, when the whole country turns into one big barbecue party), so occasionally, we imagine going somewhere else. Maybe relocating back to the "old country", or just heading to the Far East for a while. Most of us have considered it at one time or another, and needless to say, it's been an especially attractive fantasy during the past few years, between the intifada, the collapsing economy - generally, a deterioration of our quality of life here. Who among us hasn't wanted to escape the reality, do a bit of exploring, experiencing life in a different environment?

I know I have. Entertaining thoughts of going back to the US for a couple of years, or maybe checking out England (I love England, but that's a subject for another blog entry). Those of you with some extra pocket change to spare might want to consider this option. That's right, folks, how about buying your very own island? Of course, if you're not sure, you can always just rent. A former colleague of mine and I used to check out the different real estate options in this snazzy little niche market, and discovered that, well, it's not as little as you might think. There are islands to suit a variety of budgets (though unfortunately, not mine), climate interests, and location considerations. Like the tropics? How about Fiji or Canada? If you're looking for something inexpensive, how about something like this? Okay, the name Guano leaves something to be desired, but hey, for that price, you can hardly afford to be choosy!

In my mind's eye, I'm already ensconced on my island. It's in the tropics, of course (with all due respect to the lovely islands in Canada, if I'm going to invest in an island, it's certainly not going to be one with snow potential!). We've got beaches and mountains, and an unlimited supply of fresh fruits and vegetables, not to mention infinite amounts of fish. And, as long as it's my fantasy, I am very adept at creating a veritable plethora of fish dishes, including sushi! There's a lovely home, nestled into the mountains (but not too high up) and reflecting the lazy island atmosphere - wrap-around porches, lots of big windows and skylights to capture the natural sunlight. Ceiling fans, perhaps an outdoor shower and jacuzzi (in addition to the indoor facilities, of course - I may be romantic, but I'm no fool! I'll still need a shower when the weather is bad, won't I?). A number of (well-appointed) guest cottages for our friends and we're all set. Imagine, spending your days lazing about, communing with nature, writing that book you've always dreamed of (which is certainly something I dream about, so why not do it on my island?). Internet and phone services are a necessity, obviously, and perhaps some television as well - nothing terribly exciting, just BBC Prime, perhaps an international news channel or two, and maybe Star World.

Down by the beach, we've got some great hammocks stretched between the palm trees, close to the barbecue (as opposed to the hammock and barbecue we've got up by the house, of course). Also at hand is the small hut with a refrigerator for beverages, the blender (for all sorts of fruity drinks), and a bathroom (for those who prefer your standard loo facilities, as opposed to a comfy rock and a few strategically placed bushes). Naturally, there's the dock, so that people can get to the island (or get off the island, though why you'd want to, I sure as hell don't know!), and we can take our boat out for some fishing and diving. And, because you're the only ones on the island, modesty is no longer an issue. No one is going to notice how you look in that bathing suit (or out of it), no one's going to stare at your thunder thighs, or laugh behind your back because you've missed a spot when shaving your bikini line. For that alone, it's worth having your own island, I'd say.

Sounds idyllic, doesn't it? And of course, because we'd be the only ones living on the island, we would frequently invite our friends to partake of our island hospitality (and I promise to wear a bathing suit and take extra care with the bikini line). I bet y'all wish you had been nicer to me before, eh? :-)

Monday, September 26, 2005


Heh heh. By golly, those crazy Likud pranksters are at it again! Last night during the Likud Central Committee meeting, someone (or perhaps several someones) managed to sabotage Prime Minister Sharon's microphone just as he was starting to speak. And this was done not once, but twice. After having sat through Mr Netanyahu's eminently predictable speech (and the man certainly does know how to drone on and on and on...), I had decided that if necessary, I would use my powers of persuasion (limited as they are) to convince Husband that we should examine our other viewing options, as I had no desire to hear whatever it was that Mr Sharon planned to say. Well, it would seem that I wasn't the only one who felt that way.

The Prime Minister began to speak. Nothing! No sound! Suddenly, things were beginning to look interesting. We watched as people began to scamper around, playing with wires and making anxious phone calls. We watched the faces the Prime Minister and other Likud politicos, wishing that we could read lips. Nothing doing. There was no sound to be had. Yakov sent the broadcast back to Mikki at the anchor desk, who treated us to shots of a burnt out car in Gaza - where we had apparently ended the life of an Islamic Jihad leader and his deputy, and a few time-filling commercials. Suddenly, it was back to Yakov, on location at the Likud meeting. The sound system had been repaired, and Mr Sharon had returned to the main podium.

We all watched as the man put on his glasses, pulled out his speech and began to speak. He managed to get a few words out before being drowned out by a noise that can only be described as a microphone that lay dying, and then, nothing. The Prime Minister again returned to his seat, and once it became clear that he wasn't going to be making his speech any time soon, he and his cronies got up and left. That was it. The meeting was over. Party members variously mingled in groups or left the room, and we watched a few heated exchanges taking place between those party members who remained, most likely trading accusations and blame for what had happened.

I'm no fan of Mr Sharon (though I'm impressed that he managed to pull off the disengagement and get us out of Gaza after 37 years of settlement activity, much of which was instigated by the man himself), though I must admit that even I felt twinges of embarrassment for him last night. This banana republic masquerading as the Likud party is a disgrace, and it would serve them right if Sharon were to leave now, to crumble in a pile of dust. The petty, egotistical, internecine squabbles serve no one but themselves, and the party is rotting from the inside. It is high time that these folks clean out their Knesset offices and turn them over to people who actually care more about this country than they care about themselves - a rare trait indeed in the insular world of Israeli politics, where true statesmanship and quality leadership are sorely lacking.

I'm speechless with anticipation to see how it all unfolds...

Friday, September 16, 2005

Welcome to my job

Well, after more than three months of searching, I've finally done it. I found a new job! I've been with my current company for more than four years; lots of ups and downs, redundancies and general disorganization had completely sapped my energy and will to continue working there, and an interesting reorganizational move following the last round of firings provided me with a boss whose micromanagement style made me want to beat myself repeatedly with a hammer. Motivation to move on had reached dizzying heights. Dusted off and updated the old CV, shot off a few emails and contacted a few old friends, and then sat back to see where the chips fell.

Interviewed at nine different companies in a veritable plethora of locations. Gotta love the interview process. Repeating the same information about yourself so many times that after while, it begins to sound fake. Honestly, if I hear someone ask me one more time to "tell me a little bit about yourself", I think I'm going to gag. One company even sent me for psychometric testing! Filled out a nine-page questionnaire (written in Hebrew, though I persuaded the powers that be to at least let me answer in English) by hand, followed by a series of intense logic-type tests using a computer. Was there for just over five hours, and by the time I was done, I felt like my eyes were going to bleed. Just to put you in the right frame of mind, think SAT exam from hell.

To make a long story short, in the end, I had to choose between two great job offers, each with it's own set of advantages and disadvantages. In the end, the company with the better location won out. Both companies offered some pretty nifty benefits, and I found that with just a bit of negotiation and playing one company off the other, I managed to get a salary and benefits package that was better than I'd hoped.

One standard option in many Israeli hi-tech companies is the option to take a lease a car through the company. Your salary is reduced by a certain (relatively reasonable) figure, and in return, you get a new car with all gas, insurance, etc., covered by that figure. If you happen to require a lot of gas, it can be a really great deal. Or, if your current car is beginning to die a slow, painful death, the leased car is suddenly a most attractive option. Given that we fall into that latter category (and we're not too shabby when it comes to doing a lot of driving, either), we've decided to take a car. Was told by the powers that be in the new company that we can choose between the Ford Focus, the Mazda 3 and the Toyota Corolla.

And so it began. We researched. We asked our friends. We became peeping toms as we wandered around parking lots, peering into windows to check the space (if we were lucky, there was already a baby seat, which would give us a better idea as to how our own baby seat would fit) and using our arms to measure trunk sizes. The husband even hit the dealerships, coming home loaded with brochures and information.

Back and forth it went. Apparently (depending on who you ask, anyway), the Mazda 3 has the best drive and the most comfortable driver's seat, but the smallest back seat area and trunk. The Ford Focus has the biggest trunk and is the most spacious, but doesn't have a lot of storage space for little things, no armrest for the driver, and no pick-up. The Toyota Corolla, might have a bit of a smaller trunk than the Focus, but there's more storage space. Everyone we asked had a different opinion. Back and forth, around and around, until we were dizzy. In the end, we decided on the Corolla, as it seemed to offer most of what we wanted and needed. Of course, I will continue to take the train to work, given that my new office is only ten minutes' walk from the station, and it would take me at least twice as long to get there by car. Besides, train time is the only "me" time that I've got, so why on earth would I want to give up a half-hour twice a day of reading or writing (on my new company laptop - yeah!) time and replace it with more than an hour each way of traffic time. Seems like a no-brainer to me!

Despite the fact that Husband will be the primary keeper of the car (and accordingly, his wishes as to which car we chose carried more weight, though we were in agreement on the Corolla, once presented with all relevant evidence), he says that I can choose the color! Now we're talking! Damn, it doesn't get much better than this!

(By the by, I would be terribly lax if I didn't make a point of mentioning that the title of my post is also the title of one of my favorite George Carlin skits. Just giving credit where credit is due...)

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Let the synagogues go with dignity

I've just read that the government voted 14-2 against demolishing the synagogues in Gaza, and to be quite honest, I cannot understand why. On the one hand, I can of course understand the not wanting to destroy the synagogues; under the best of circumstances it would be very painful to witness, and this is certainly not the best of circumstances.

If we allow the synagogues to remain standing, how long will it take before they are desecrated and destroyed by Palestinians, whose track record with regard to protecting Jewish holy sites is remarkably less than stellar? What would be more unbearable to watch - Israeli soldiers demolishing the synagogues with the dignity and solemnity required of such a task, or to see these buildings gleefully vandalized and desecrated on purpose - a sort of spiritual pigua (terror attack), if you will?

Unfortunately, I do not see a situation where these synagogues will remain standing under the protection of the Palestinians, given the lawlessness that currently reigns in Gaza. The Palestinian Authority, with all due respect, cannot control its citizens, nor does it really seem to want to do so. Under these circumstances, do we really want to entrust them with our holy sites if we have another choice? Two painful choices to choose from. There is no third choice. The synagogues must die. Do we allow them to die with quiet dignity, or do we knowingly subject them to a painful, undignified death?

And, before people start to attack me for wanting to destroy synagogues, well, that just isn't the case. Secular as I am, it is troubling to see any house of worship destroyed. Sometimes, it must be done though. Like now. If we do not, the Palestinians will. It's as simple as that. I expect our government to act responsibly on such an issue. The outcome of this vote serves no one but those Palestinians who are undoubtedly already making plans for desecration parties, and woe be the people who try to stop them.

Update: Well, as predicted, the Palestinians have set fire to four synagogues in Gaza, and are currently knocking them down. Are any of us really surprised? Apparently, some folks in the PMO expected a different result...

The Prime Minister's Office said Monday that the PA must act to prevent the "acts of arson." "Israel expects the Palestinian Authority to maintain the dignity of the structures of the synagogues," said David Baker, an official in the PMO. "Unfortunately, that has not occurred, and the PA is expected to take the necessary steps to prevent these acts of arson."

How pathetic... How sadly predictable...

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Hey, pregnant ladies! Take care of yourselves!

According to my medical chart when I was in the hospital last year for a pregnancy-related procedure, I have what is known in medspeak as "BOH" - Bad Obstetric History". It took about nine years, five natural pregnancies, three failed egg donation attempts (including two that took us to Europe - gotta love fertility tourism), a wide variety of fetal birth defects, nearly every invasive test out there, meetings with an assortment of geneticists (I even have one of my own now), and the loss of one preemie to finally have our son. It's been a wild, emotional roller coaster, and I wouldn't wish what we've been through on anyone. And, when we finally did manage to succeed, the pregnancy was fraught with peril. I won't go into the details, but let's just say that I was ordered to stay home (not in bed, thank god!) from the 16th week, following an emergency surgical procedure. Difficult pregnancy, long labor, difficult birth. High-risk all the way around.

Through all the pregnancies, I did everything right. Gave up caffeine, no heavy lifting, no alcohol, drugs, etc. Didn't over-exert myself. According to my geneticist, I've got defective genes somewhere, but no one has been able to figure out which genes (and samples have been sent all over Europe and the US at this point) are causing the problems. All the geneticists she's spoken to, both in Israel and outside of Israel (she mentions my case at different forums, meetings, etc.) think it sounds terribly interesting, but no one has a clue as to where the problems lie. All we know is that I was born with a few rare birth defects (all fixed, and you'd never have a clue from looking at me), and in three out of the first four pregnancies, there were birth defects - different defects in each pregnancy, all severe (the fourth one ended in spontaneously, so we don't know if there were defects or not, though we assume there must have been).

Needless to say, I'm more than a little sensitive when it comes to issues of taking care of one's self during pregnancy. When you repeatedly do everything you're supposed to and it still doesn't work, you get really frustrated. You look at other pregnant women and wonder why you can't seem to get it right. Other women make it look so easy, yet you just keep failing. It's awful. So, I'm sure you can all imagine how angry I get when I see pregnant women abusing their bodies, not taking care of themselves. My neighbor is pregnant with her second child - still in the first trimester, I believe. And, as she did with her first, she is continuing to smoke. We are quite friendly, and it's not like she doesn't know the risks (or maybe she does, but it's certainly not my place to tell her), but when I see her light up, knowing that she has this little creature growing inside of her, it makes me crazy. I just don't get it! How can a woman knowingly endanger her unborn child? It takes all of my strength not to let her have it, and it's not easy to hold back.

I remember when I was in the hospital after giving birth. Another woman who had just been wheeled into my room after giving birth asked the nurse if she could get up - she wanted to go outside for a cigarette. She had literally just come from the delivery room! I heard her confide to the nurse that she hadn't given up smoking during the pregnancy, then later on in the day, I heard her talking on the phone to a friend, wondering why the baby was smaller than she'd expected. Gee, do you think maybe there could have been a connection? Ok, not definitely, but maybe, just maybe, the smoking could have been a contributing factor, hmmm? I just wanted to shake her.

For women who have never had problems getting and staying pregnant and then having healthy children, they most likely haven't got a clue what it's like for those of us who agonized over each period, whose lives were lived according to the color of a pee stick, the tests, the failures, the out of control hormones, etc. They just assume that everything's going to work, and it usually does.

For many of us, it doesn't. Many women (couples) are still waiting for their "happily ever after", for the chance to be parents, to experience the wonderful world of parenting (I almost cried with joy the first time we walked outside, the three of us holding hands - it was a dream come true). It is painful, more than you can possibly imagine if you haven't been there. What makes it even worse though, is to see other women taking their condition for granted and not taking care of themselves as they should, knowing that they will still probably have a successful pregnancy, when no matter what you do to take care of yourself, you probably won't succeed. It hurts like hell.

Not sure how to close this, other than to say please, ladies, if you're pregnant, take care of yourselves! Take care of that precious little life growing inside of you! It's a privilege to be pregnant and have children, and should be treated as such. Not everyone has this privilege, and to abuse it is simply criminal.

Just want to add that I am actually very strongly pro-choice. A woman's body is her own and nobody else's. However, if you choose to continue your pregnancy and have your baby, for god's sake, take care of it!

Friday, September 02, 2005

Memories of New Orleans

When I booked the airline tickets, I hadn't realized that my plans to visit one of my college friends in New Orleans coincided with the NCAA's Final Four basketball tournament, also taking place in - where else - New Orleans. I don't remember my flight to Newark, so I'm guessing that it passed rather smoothly. That all changed with the connecting flight to New Orleans, though. The flight was overbooked. Seriously overbooked. There were also other problems. I can't recall what they are (hey, this goes back more than ten years!), but I do remember that they were serious enough that they considered canceling the flight. I'm sure you can imagine how well that news went over with a large number of sports fans (a number of whom were bookies - one of whom, I had the distinct "pleasure" to sit next to on the plane. He was involved in a variety of card games for the duration of the flight). In the end, we took off, and I made it to New Orleans, several hours late, but I got there.

I remember it being a beautiful, exciting city, with lots to see and do. I can remember having coffee and beignets at the Cafe Du Monde, right by the French Quarter. I tried my very first (and last) crayfish in the colorful marketplace. One end of it is really spicy - wish I'd known that before eating it, though was pleased to be able to provide entertainment for the locals. The food in New Orleans was spectacular, and needless to say, I ate quite well.

I was only there for the weekend, but I can still remember what a vibrant city New Orleans was, and what a wonderful time I had there. This makes it all the more difficult to see the horrible images being shown on television, following the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina across the Gulf of Mexico. It is truly frightening to watch, and absolutely heartbreaking to hear the stories of loss. Who could have imagined such utter destruction, where so many Americans are suddenly turned into refugees? The scale of the damage is simply incomprehensible.

I've got lots of family on both coasts in Florida, and while everyone has been really fortunately so far, they are certainly no strangers to these monster storms. Aside from intermittent power outages and broken tree branches, my family in Florida got away scott-free this time around - a nice change from last year's battering, but nevertheless, having family in the hurricane-prone areas has turned me into an avid storm watcher, and I have seen with my own eyes what these storms can do. Last Winter, we drove from family on the West Coast of the state to family on the East Coast. It was already several months after the end of the hurricane season - several months since the last deadly storm. Yet, during this drive down the highway, we saw electricity poles that had been snapped in two, towns where all buildings still had blue tarp covering them, as the roofs had still not been repaired. We saw highway road signs that had been destroyed, whole towns that had been destroyed. It was an arresting sight, to say the least. And now, this all pales in comparison to the destruction wrought by Katrina.

I heard on the news this morning that the mayor of New Orleans is saying that people may not be able to return to the city for six months or so, and it is difficult to fathom. And of course, we shouldn't forget that it's not only New Orleans, but also big parts of the rest of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, parts of the Florida Panhandle, etc. It is difficult to make a connection between the beautiful, lively city I once visited and what remains of that city today. May the waters recede as soon as possible, may the destroyed cities and towns repair and recover, and may the South rise up and return to its former glory.