Thursday, February 4, 2016

Just a Random Rant. Move Along.

Adulthood is not what I expected. I guess I should have known this, based on this incredible song, but I didn't want to believe it.

When I was a boy, I watched with envy as my parents started every morning off with a cup of coffee and a slice of Entenmann's cake. I often asked if I could do the same and I was told, you can eat what you want when you are a grown up.

No. No I can't. Forget allergies, I have to watch everything I eat because if it doesn't simply make me fat(ter) and sluggish(er) it makes me feel horrible, or is going to kill me in some insidious way. And now I find that as I age, my taste buds have become dulled -- sure this is great because I can now eat spicy food, but it means that reg'lar ol' food just doesn't have the same impact. Strike one against adulthood.

As a youngster I resisted naps. In college, I ran towards them because they made it possible to stay up all night. Now, I wish I had them, just because they help me make it through the day. Strike 2 against adulthood.

And speaking of sleep, as a boy, I constantly wanted to stay up late. I was convinced that there was some incredible event which took place after 9:30 and I wanted in, dangblastit. Then I had kids. Yay, kids. I guess I hadn't remembered that all 6 month old children DO get to stay up late, and that the only exciting thing that happens at 1AM is that someone has to change a baby's diaper. And for the last 5 or so years, heck, maybe more...I can't tell, I have been going to sleep well before my kids. I remember when my dad started doing this and I'm not saying word one against the practice, or my dad, but I'm finally at the point when no one can tell me my bed time and by 9PM I am thinking, "well, I could just get into bed right now..." Adulthood, that's 1 out.

Driving a car. How glamorous. "I can't wait to be an adult, so I can drive." What a fool I was. Sure, driving represents freedom, if by freedom you mean traffic, insurance, gas, maintenance, the DMV, running errands and chauffeuring children around. I'm not complaining, except that I'm complaining.

R-Rated movies? At around the same age that I started celebrating being able to go to R-Rated movies, I began to realize that most of them are simply not interesting to me, or even very good. The stuff that made the movie rated R was not generally what I wanted to watch or hear.

Going out in general in the evenings was a real goal. I wanted to grow up so I could go anywhere I wanted, whenever. The fantasy of simply driving to the airport, presenting a credit card and saying "1 ticket on the next train out" and having them say "this is an airport...there are no trains here" so I can respond "ok then, a bottle of your finest champagne." We would go back and forth until I finally drove home -- but the idea that I COULD go anywhere whenever I wanted was very enticing. Reality? No. Obligations to the world preclude spur of the moment social life, and those of you who know me understand that, given the choice, I would never leave my home. I'm cheap, boring and usually cold. Hurray adulthood.

I should have been, by now, able to buy whatever car I wanted, but that's a lie. Forget affordability, there is value in the sensible. So being an adult has become an exercise in weighing pros and cons, and considering budget and other implications. I mean, thanks mom and dad of teaching me that stuff, but why didn't you warn me that using it was going to be so incessant, and depressing?

Don't get me wrong: I love being an adult in whatever sense I am an adult (I didn't know adults still sit cross-legged on the floor in front of the television watching dumb reruns, or that adults still laugh at the word "poop") but I was expecting something a lot different. Sure, I knew there would be bills, but I figured that adults just "pay" them and they go away. THEY KEEP COMING BACK! I could do nothing but sit in my house for 30 days, eating delicious, cold (non-existent) low-carb cereal and almond milk, and the bills would still come. And work? What is that all about? Adults on television have jobs but they don't seem to struggle or feel tired all the time. Isn't that what I was supposed to be growing up into? All the television teachers have 6 minute classes and no accountability. That's what I signed up for.

Promises were made.

I wanted to run free and I'm too achy to run. I wanted to vote and there is no one I want to vote for. I wanted to par-tay. But I hate par-tays. I wanted to think Andy Rooney was wrong and that may be the most depressing part. He's not. We aren't old curmudgeons, we are aging realists.

I have said before and I will say it again.

Get off my lawn.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Of Uncle Jeff

There are many ways in which we are defined as a people. The choice of how we present ourselves to the outside world is an important factor in our own self conception. Historically, we have suffered -- of this there is no question. In fact, one of the famous jokes about Judaism is that many of our holidays can be reduced to "they tried to kill us, we won, let's eat." We could paint ourselves through the lens of such challenges. We could be the people of exile and extermination. We could say that our identity rests on oppression and sadness. We could see the entire world as a series of tests and struggles. We wouldn't be wrong, but we also wouldn't be bringing anything to our experience. In a similar way, we could see ourselves as simple celebrants. God, in his majesty, has saved us and we, merely his pawns, rejoice at our good fortune. Our holidays are markers of victories and the world exists for us to dominate.

But we don't do that. We don't see our world as resting on our past, for good or for bad. We don't view the entirety of existence, ourselves and all around us as the collective ups and downs which brought us to where we are now. In fact, in the first chapter of Pirkei Avot, the Ethics of The Fathers, two visions are presented for how the world stands:

Shimon the Righteous in statement 2 says that the world depends on
1. Torah
2. The Service of God
3. Kind deeds

In statement 18, Shimon the son of Gamliel lists three things through which the world endures
1. Justice
2. Truth
3. Peace

The world exists not through our collective memories of all we have endured -- not through the virtue of our suffering, or even by dint of our miraculous survival. The world exists because of the positive actions and traits which we aspire to every day.

My Uncle Jeff Cooper passed away recently. He was a Shimon (Shimon ben Moshe) of great wisdom and he gave me a new list of three things through which his world continued to exist:
1. Joy
2. Caring
3. Learning

Dr. Cooper was a man of uncommon joy and happiness. He had had his share of sadness in his life. He endured loss and pain and used it as a catalyst to celebrate existence. He danced with abandon, he celebrated every waking moment. His smile lit up more than a room -- it pierced the hearts of everyone in the room. When he was there, you wanted to be happy and somehow you tapped into the river of pure celebration. Even when he was serious, he made the case that being somber and intense was just one way of ensuring future opportunities for joy. A lecture now will allow you to be more successful and happy later.

Uncle Jeff was a man who belonged to everyone. I married into the family -- but not even really his family. He was my wife's uncle, related to me only by the slimmest of margins and loosest of definitions. But he was my Uncle Jeff anyway and my tears for him are not for someone I knew in passing, but for a great man who worked hard to be a part of my life. After hearing from others, I know that he became more than a doctor, a friend or a resource for everyone. He was a father to the world, shared by his family so that everyone else could benefit. He shared his joy with me, but he also expressed a concern or me and for my world that set him apart. When I had medical questions, I became his priority. When he visited and asked after my kids, my parents, my brother, my sister and their kids -- he did so with a sincerity of interest. He wasn't simply making rote small talk or going through the motions; he truly wanted to know how people were and stay updated and involved in their exploits. An endlessly empathetic listener, he cared about how other people were doing and when he spoke to you, you were the only person in the room because he invested all his boundless energy into understanding you.

And Uncle Jeff loved to learn. He had questions and opinions and he shared them. He investigated and studied (people, places and things). He wanted to grasp not just life, but knowledge, and shake from it all he could. And once he learned, he wanted to give it back to everyone. My lifestyle was not his but he never put up a wall. He saw our time together and our conversations as a chance to broaden his own horizons and understand what was important to me. Holiday dinners and family get togethers were full of Uncle Jeff's curiosity -- everything from the meaning of ritual to the recipes for the evening's dishes. He spoke with my children as if they were his own grandchildren, keeping track of their lives, asking about their schools and hobbies and making them feel like he was hanging on every word as he listened with rapt attention to each detail.

So I will not define Jeff's life by either the sadness he endured or the wonderful milestones he celebrated. I will carry his lessons inside myself and try to live up to what he established as the pillars upon which the world exists. I will try to keep that flame of joy as part of who I am every day. I will work to be involved in my world and make every person's experience as important to me as my own. And I will ask in the spirit in which he asked, driven by a fascination with the world and inspired by a need to know more. If I can follow this new Ethic of this Father, this Shimon, then I do more than honor a memory; I bring him back and share him with everyone I encounter, keeping him alive so another generation can benefit from what he taught.

Tehei Nishmato Tzrura Bitzror Hachaim, “May his soul be bound up in the bond of life.”

Friday, January 29, 2016

The view from Here

Some notes about the final day and the trip back to Teaneck. First off, as per my custom, I chose not to sleep the night before the plane ride. By this I mean, try as I might, I could not sleep the night before the plane ride. So After my compulsory 2 hours (12-2 AM) I arose to wander around the apartment, cleaning and shivering. By 5:30 I was ready to get together with the world and just, you know, "be." I know that in the big, bad world, 5:30 is a perfectly unreasonable time to wake up. Many people do it, and many people are equally unreasonable. Many places open at 6AM to accommodate the early crowd and with a world of work starting at 8 or 9AM, 6-7AM is an important time for rising and shining. When I left the apartment at 6AM, walking into a city that is full of motivated and exciting people, I just figured, you know? Well, for a land which struggles for its very existence on a daily basis, the people are late risers. This town, was coming up a ghost town (Yay, The Specials). I wandered from cafe to bakery to store at dawn looking for an angry fix and nothing was open. One store had a sign that said "open," its lights were open and the front door was unlocked. When I got inside and waited, and waited, I began to suspect something was amiss. When the guy came down the stairs holding flats of fresh rolls and chased me out, I picked up on the hint. The store, sign notwithstanding, was closed. I wandered back up to the apartment to hover and be a general nuisance as my family awoke. Eventually, we all did wake up (and I went back out at 7:15 to get a double espresso for $1.25). Our driver took us to the airport (to explain the traffic, he reported that 8AM is rush hour. Crazy.)

We made it to the airport and things were generally quiet there. The security was more in line with what I expected, with questions about our luggage and our destination -- one guy actually made me take y glasses off because he wanted to make sure I looked like y passport. I asked him if he had technology to make me 5 years younger so that I could match more exactly. Passport control people have no sense of humor. An 11:25 flight on a Thursday, not on the national carrier didn't overwhelm the place so the lines were acceptable. After checking in ("we're checking in") and getting our VAT back, we proceeded through passport control. They don't stamp your passport in Israel; they give you a slip of paper which acts as a visa. My guess is that they don't want to make things difficult for anyone who wants to travel to a country which would be offended by a stamp from Israel. This is incredibly understanding and also problematic. Instead of letting individuals see the hatred that exists towards Israel, the state hides itself and lets others hide their affinity for Israel so as to avoid confrontation. Feh. On to the duty free area. There was a wide range of candy there (overpriced, and very little with kosher supervision), alcohol (reasonable selection at OK prices) and books and magazines. Talia wanted to buy 2 magazines. We balked at the price -- eleven dollars per magazine. You read that right. Eleven dollars each.

While waiting we chatted with some Teaneck neighbors and compared visit notes. Steve P. said that he had a credit for in-flight wifi and had a hot spot, so he shared the password. This was convenient as Talia's seat-video didn't work so while she waited or the stewardesses to find her another seat (hey, those episodes of Girl Meets World aren't going to watch themselves!) she was able to send email and do all sorts of important teenager work. By the way, in a world where one can only check 1 suitcase on for free, it behooves people to pack a carry on with things you don't need (keep the essentials for a back pack) and then take the airline people up on the offer to check the carry on at the gate for free. I watched the first episode of Flight of the Conchords (in order to remind myself what absolutely perfect television looks like) then a whole bunch of movies where stuff blows up. We were served 2 meals -- the first had some sort of meat pieces with a vaguely Lebanese flavor and the second was a breakfast (at 3PM New York Time) which was an egg on a roll. We had a bit of turbulence but not much and the entire flight (though long and, well, long) was pretty darned good. A couple of squealing babies, but a really good experience otherwise. The skies, they were friendly.

At Newark, we collected our stuff, went through a variety of lines (we declared that we had but one life to give for our country, and that we had bought some chocolates and souvenirs) had our bags counted and our passports perused, and then went towards the taxi line. Julie had set up an Uber account because the car from the airport was to cost 15-20 dollars less than a taxi. The trade off for such a fare savings is that the car and driver never actually show up. After an hour of tracking the Uber and speaking with him on the phone (he was ignorant of the layout of Newark airport, and the letters of the alphabet) we cancelled and got into a cab. The rest was relative silence.

So here I sit -- a table's full of papers to be resolved, stuff to be put away, work that still has to be done (I checked, and apparently, flying with 65 10th grade essays does not magically make them be graded -- who knew?) no food in the fridge and family realities that will have us drive to Philly in 2 hours and spend Shabbos there. I miss Maddie something awful already and still have the air-equivalent-of-sea legs, but I slept from 9P to 7AM with only 3 short breaks so there's that. I now return me to my regularly scheduled life. Carry on.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Children and Waffles

Another rainy, gray morning. Maddie had promised Talia that they would go buy stuff on Ben Yehudah so I tagged along while Julie slept in. The wind kicked up and the rain was on and off. Bottom line, it was cold. We stopped in to a bunch of small stores and tried to buy something in each one, and be very thankful to the proprietors. All that niceness was very draining so we had to get something to eat. Had to. We went to Moshikos. Because Moshikos. I actually tried some charif on my felafel and it was delicious. Of course, washing my hands in cold water and drying them by blowing cold air on them, then walking around holding the felafel in my cold hands probably made the spicy sauce more reasonable. But it was delicious. We wandered back to unload all that we bought.

I guess all this seems rather superficial and in a way, it is. The essence of the trip was to visit with Maddie and eat anything I could. To a lesser degree we got to spend time with family and friends and support the economy by taking taxis and buying some stuff. Even as we sat in the apartment, not having seen the "important" things, I really feel like this has been a successful trip. We did get to catch up with wonderful old friends. We did connect with family and we did eat everything that wasn't tied down (and some that was). We met new people and saw things we hadn't seen before. We haven't killed each other or broken major laws. Mostly, we just soaked in the whole experience of being in Israel and it felt good.

After we came back, Julie started out on her junket to Talpiyot -- the Emanuel something or other. I really don't understand it but apparently they sell stuff and she buys stuff so everyone is happy. And I napped, so really, everyone is happy. I can't tell if the napping is a vestige of jet lag, is a sign of my advanced age, is a perk of having nothing to do and no pressures, or is because I was wrapped in a blanket, staving off the cold so my body decided to conserve energy by sleeping. The end result matters. I slept. Yum.

Upon her return, we prepped for our final evening out. A last dinner in Jerusalem requires something heavy duty. Tonight, industrial strength waffles that you can only get at a factory. Not a bar. That would be ridiculous. So we cabbed to the Waffle Factory (not the Waffle Bar, God forbid) in Cinema City. In Israel, many places have English names. In Hebrew, the name is more complex -- it is "Sinema Siti" so you can see how that would be confusing. There were no tables available so we wandered around a bit until one opened up. At one vendor, I bought a smarmy shirt. The t-shirts were full of puns more than smarm but I found a way. Like finds like.

I had a pizza and beer and, sitting amongst the birthday parties and barber poles (this is a theme restaurant and barbers are the theme?) I really felt like I was at a non-kosher family, junky restaurant. Except for the beer (Stella). And the sweet potato soup. And Julie's fancy crispy gnocchi salad. Mostly, though, it was low brow and delicious. Then we began the traditional argument over dessert. When one has the option of six toppings and two children one would think that each child would get to choose 3 toppings. This is not true. It took a Solomonic insight but I adjudicated and we agreed that each party would get to choose 2 toppings and then 2 would be agreed upon as a demilitarized zone of toppings-in-common administered by an impartial parental body. And peace reigned in the Waffle Kingdom.

Behold the power of beer.

While Julie nursed her decaf cappuccino (ha!) with 1% milk [no skim here] the girls ate their diabetes platter. Waffles topped with chocolate sauce vanilla ice cream and 5 different candy bars and cookies topped with more chocolate syrup. I got a contact carb coma and nutritionists in the vicinity of Alderaan felt a disturbance in the force. They stumbled through their collective stupor until we found a cab. A side note -- I can't eat the desserts here because this country was founded on blood, sweat, and tree nuts. So with all the bakeries, ice cream places, and factories which churn out waffles topped with yummy stuff, I eat none of it. I found one place (Coney Island bakery on Yafo, I think) at which I ate a parve donut. And please speak not of such exigencies as "candy" which lacks chocolate. What's even the point of that?

Our taxi took us to the Kotel. We hadn't visited it yet and it is important to go if only for a brief visit. The driver wanted to charge us a flat rate of 70 Shekalim (17 dollars). We opted for the metered rate and he was less than enthused. I was afraid that he would intentionally take back roads in order to inflate the overall charge but we arrived and the meter still only read 50 Shekalim (12.5 dollars). So there you go.

Being at the Kotel, no matter how often I go, and what time I arrive, is unnerving, and exhilarating. It makes everything that I believe and which defines me very real. It isn't about stories or myths, but about a very real place. Seeing the people there who, regardless of their personal beliefs and practices all are united at that wall is humbling. We are part of a very special chain and sometimes it takes touching a wall to remind us of how both important and small we really are. We have to pack now, and get ourselves ready for an early wake up and a cab to the airport. I will take notes and write up a summary at some point after our return. I think you for your patronage and attention thus far and hope I have represented my trip and all that I ate while on my trip, faithfully.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Our quest to eat everything in Israel hit a small snag as both Julie and Talia cried "hold, enough" this afternoon. The jet lag caught up with Julie as she fell asleep even as I was talking to her. The nerve. Talia has had an uneven gustatory experience and has even been known to say such sacrilege as "I'm not even hungry." We still love her but keep one eye open when around her.

Maddie and I trekked late (Maddie had gone to her Hebrew lesson where she learned that the subjunctive is impenetrable in every language) out to Emek Refaim and Pompadu. We took the 18A bus eventually, as Maddie had us running to a variety of stops until we found one that suited our needs. At the restaurant, they sat us in the back with limited lighting but B.B. King playing overhead so everything balanced out. We tried some different raviolii (that's the plural, you know) and I had an eggplant appetizer. I even let myself have some Finlandia vodka. Apparently, after you have drink, they ask you if you want a "chaser." Unlike in America where a chaser is often a softer drink (beer or something else) which helps wash away the drink, a "chaser" here is a half-shot of an alcoholic drink, on the house. So I chased my vodka with some vodka. It seemed to work. Isn't technology grand?

Desserts were as decadent as you can imagine (or more so if you suffer from a severely limited imagination), and the bus ride back was uneventful.

Mall tuckered out

Before I discuss what we have done so far, I want to mention something about this city -- it confuses me. Maybe, if I were to live here for any length of time, I could get the hang of it, but so far, nope. We took a cab this morning and afternoon and I feel like we never went on the same road twice. Also, because Jerusalem (a "city of neighborhoods") is a series of hills, I can't get a sense of how far anything is from anything else. We wound around hill after hill, making rights and lefts, and I saw some miserable driving out there. But everything ultimately seemed close. We paid about 10 bucks for each cab ride no matter where we went. In general, the cabbies have asked us if we want a flat rate quoted, or want to rely on the meter. We have been told that if they quote a rate, it will be slightly more than is necessary but if one is going out near rush hour, the meter might end up costing more. So we have been instructed to make an offer first, at a rate we are willing to pay, and haggle accordingly. That blows my mind. We don't just haggle -- we have to tell them their business. The buses take much longer and aren't as convenient. So 4 people at 6.90 NIS each (about 27.60 NIS or $6.90) in a 35 minute bus ride (plus the walk to and from the bus) or 4 people in a 50 NIS ($12.50) 10 minute cab ride (door to door). While we try to make sure we use reputable cab companies, for that convenience, we have taken without vetting more than once.

The first half of the day was reserved for visiting Maddie's school and meeting some of her friends and teachers. I will save the snark for later because the school has done right by her and, though I was reduced to drinking instant coffee in a country where people bleed espresso, I think that the school and her peers are doing alright. Not much more to report on that front -- some rooms had more heat, some had less. I sat in on a class and resisted the temptation to be difficult (it is such a natural thing, especially as a teacher, to try and take over a class and do it better). We also packed a small bag of clothing that Maddie didn't want any more and exchanged it with the stuff we brought from home that she suddenly decided she couldn't live without. The next step was to run and catch a bus to the mall.

After sitting through a class we ran to catch a bus 33 to go to the mall. First stop, food court. Four people, four restaurants. Talia went to McDonalds because she could. She got a Texas burger and enjoyed it, even remembering the Alamo sauce. OK, that's not exactly true but how often do I get to make that joke? Some of you, no doubt, said "one time too many." You're welcome. A kosher food court is as overwhelming as it was last time I was here. I feel like I could just live ini the mall and eat. Eventually, I had to choose one place and so I sighed and walked in a random direction, driven only by the promise of dead cow. I had a philly steak sammich at New Deli (though in Hebrew, the name is "Sandwich, Sandwich") and batata (sweet potato) fries. Julie and Maddie got dairy stuff. Maddie's thing is a bagel with sweet potato and butter on it. I don't get it. Julie stuck with pizza but she was completely tired and feeling sick so I don't think she enjoyed it so much. My proof? When I asked what was on it, she replied (and this is true) "Poop."

Then we started wandering around the mall. I remember now why I hate the mall, and even though this mall is in Israel and has the heightened levels of holiness, it is still a mall. Tiring and over priced. Do I really need a $10 pack of Post-It notes? They really did cost 10 dollars. We went into a music store and Talia wanted to buy a vinyl album for her friend. Now I like music and appreciate vinyl, but is $30 necessary for a copy of a Pink Floyd album that I used to own but got rid of already? The girls did get some shoes ($16 a pair!) and we got out before we all became too, too cranky, so there's that. We cabbed back to the apartment, and Julie went for a nap. Maddie left to go to the Lone Soldier center for a Hebrew lesson and we will regroup and reassess the evening's possibilities shortly.

I remain humbly yours in food.

Monday, January 25, 2016

gnocch gnocch gnocch

We had grand plans. We were going to galavant and I don't really know how to galavant. Our plans for the day required two things: money and special cards to get us onto the light rail system, so off we went to the post office to exchange money (3.89 NIS per dollar) and the place for getting the "rav kav" cards (6.90 NIS per ride, but 10 rides for 55 NIS).

The light rail train in Jerusalem is interesting. First, you can get on in any door as long as you use the rav kav card to scan in. But no one is there to make sure you scan in. There is a strong honor system. I have heard that there are occasionally compliance people who check up on riders but while we were there it seemed completely based on the will of each rider. It was sort of nice, thinking that the populace is generally moral. In addition, there is a special button on the outside of each door. If you run up to the train and the doors have closed, you aren't out of luck; you push the button and the doors open up again. Imaging that -- a spiteful driver can't see you coming and zoom away. Again, power is in the hands of the riders. No one was standing at the stop pushing the button repeatedly, just to be a jerk. Heck, in New York they push people onto the tracks just to be a jerk. A button would be unthinkable. There is, also, just one line so it isn't as easy for me to get lost. Possible, but not easy. In the worst case, I could get on going the wrong way, and still just move to the other direction when I get to the end. The single line also means that the train doesn't go to many places. Short trips of a stop or 4 are more easily accomplished by walking and since every trip, no matter the duration, costs the same, it doesn't make financial sense to take a ride for only a few stops: save the money for long trips. Also, since the train only goes down a single street there are still many places not served by the train. We took a ride down a few stops but then had to walk back and across almost as much as we would have walked had we walked from the apartment in the first place. It reminded me of the T in Boston, only sleeker and with only one line and less vomit.

We ended up at Kodesh Patissiere, a small, quaint bakery-restaurant which opened in 1967. I got the sense that the main course was ambience and food was an afterthought. Julie and I got mini quiches (mushroom and leek) with a lovely salad. I didn't expect them to be mini but the flavor was ok so I wasn't too annoyed. Talia's onion soup was great but her gnocchi in a rosa sauce was beyond bland. I don't know what is beyond bland other than "really bland" but these were. Maddie got the Israeli equivalent of a grilled cheese sandwich, called "toast." Apparently, when converting sandwiches from US to Israel, the conversion rate changes the type of cheese and adds a hair. She was not happy. They exchanged the order for a feta on bruschetta which she ate some of. Just for the record, they exchanged the food (at no cost) simply because Maddie didn't like it -- she made no mention of the hair. The beet carpaccio was very good: topped with lemon juice, soy sauce and olive oil plus black pepper. Ambience, though, was still the main attraction.

I noticed that when we paid via credit card, the waitress didn't make anyone sign the receipt. I don't know if that is good or bad but it's a trusting country.

Mani pedi time for the girls. It is important when traveling to a foreign country to do something which can't be done at home, right? Mani pedi time...Female rituals confound me. We have three women using the shower in the apartment and we have 12 bottles of product plus 2 bars of soap. I know how to cut my own nails and pamper myself by using a bar of soap and a tube of shampoo, both of which I took from some hotel a number of years ago.

In order to kill time while the children inhale nail salon chemicals, Julie and I walked up to Ben Yehuda street and she bought cappuccino at Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf in order to warm up as the rain and snow began to fall. In Israel the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf store serves alcohol in the evening. If they did that in Paramus they wouldn't have closed. Afterwards, as the wind and rain were daunting, I bought a scarf. That fixed everything.

We stopped in a number of souvenir stores and bought little things for friends while Julie struck up conversations. Everyone is friendly and volunteers to help out with Maddie if she needs anything. I even get the sense that they are sincere; they hand us cards, give us phone numbers and really volunteer their time and resources to help her. If Maddie were to stop in to a store and say "My parents bought a shot glass here 3 months ago and I need a place to sleep tonight," she would be taken care of, no questions. Weird, but another sign of that underlying morality.

Julie then went into Aldo and got some dark chocolate and some coffee ice cream because 35 degrees and wet snow just cries out for ice cream. Because of the nut allergy thing, I can't even have the ice cream here. I heard someone suggest a fruit flavored sorbet but if that's what I am reduced to then I see no need to try anymore.

We found a cab who could take us to the neighborhood of (Hey, it's) Pat [pronounced "Pot" so that's no better...] to visit my niece and her husband and their baby, whose birthday is today. The cab driver had on a radio station marked "95.0 MHz. That's strange to me. Another station was displayed on his screen, "Echo99FM". Even in another country, a knowledge of English is essential. This is why I don't try to learn other languages. The apartment is very nice, if you like that sort of thing ("that sort of thing" being "apartments in Pat"). The baby was delicious especially compared to Israeli grilled cheese, and we caught up with the family, plus RachelL R. and Tara T. Julie napped on the sofa briefly until we promised that we would go find a creme brulee for her. So back into a cab and off to Chaba restaurant, right near Machane Yehuda.

There was some wait for a table, but it was worth it, mostly. Talia forgot her Lactaid so she shied away from most everything on the menu. I had a pizza and some Pecorino Cheese Fried things (there must be a technical term but I stopped at "Fried" and placed my order). The sweet tomato dipping jam really worked well. I avoided the salad because I feared it might have nut...rients in it. Julie had a sweet potato and chestnut soup that had way too much pepper in it so she couldn't eat it. Maddie chowed down on a large baguette with garlic butter and Talia had them take the gnocchi and hit them with olive oil, bay leaves and salt/pepper. It was pretty good. I ducked out as they ordered the mandatory desserts (so many restaurants are expanded makes me wonder why the same hasn't happened in the states) -- creme brulee and a tiramisu. I hear both were good. I walked over to the Swidler household to touch base and pick up an avocado while the ladies went to a local karaoke event (women only on Monday nights). It is midnight here now so I will turn in and prepare for an exciting day visiting Maddie's school tomorrow.