About Passover, Speedy Haggadahs and Human Rights

Last night we celebrated the first night of Passover with my cousins. I’ve not always been a fan of the whole Seder thing. As a kid, it was protracted and boring and, as an adult (and lapsed Jew) it always filled me with a mixture of identity crisis and homesickness. Last night’s was filled with the usual angst but also with a new respect for the intention of the Seder and how many of the ancient elements of the Haggadah (the prayer book used for the Seder) still apply to many of the political and social struggles faced today.

Before I get too heavy, I wanted to share this Two Minute Haggadah that a friend sent me—a funnily, abbreviated, modern version of a service that can last almost two hours or more before you even get to the matzah balls!

Back to the real stuff, below is a photo I snapped last night featuring one section of the Haggadah that spoke to me. Feels quite fitting, given that today is the first day that the Supreme Court tackles marriage equality which I fully support.

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Coffee or Wine?

Your dental hygienist knows a lot about you, I’ve discovered. During my first few years here in the US, when I was either single and partying, or dating my soon-to-be-fiance, or enjoying the life-before-kids times, my dental hygenist would often remark about the red wine stains on my teeth. “Hey, I’m young (ish) and having fun,” I’d retort. And yes, I’ll brush more thoroughly, I’d promise as she hacked away at the stains with her evil implements.

(On a side note, may I just say that dental hygiene here in the US has been a real revelation to me. Y’all are way more serious about having sparkly whites that we were/are back home in the UK. I now feel it a necessary part of my acceptance into American society to have remarkably white teeth. But I digress.)

Dental visits over the last eight years have painted a different story. In large part, because the red wine stains on my teeth have mostly been replaced with coffee stains. Strong, black coffee stains. My dental hygienist always points this out and then, with an almost nonchalant non-sequitur, asks “So, how old are the kids now?” She knows, she gets it.

The thing is, my relationship with red wine has changed. Flash back to 1997-2000, three glorious years living in France when the wine was abundant, cheap and good. I became more knowledgable about wine regions and my preferences but, quite frankly, if it was red and in my glass, I’d drink it. Lots of it. No matter how much it cost or where it came from. And then I went and married someone in the wine industry. My supply of good wine became perpetual! Hoorah! And I became better educated and much more picky and wines I like and wines I don’t.

And then I had kids.

Child birth will do strange things to your palette (among other things.) After kid #1 was born, I went off red wine altogether, much to the chagrin of the husband. Fortunately, after kid #2 “popped out” (hahahaha) my desire for wine slowly returned and, in the almost six consequential years, has remained. But with new terms and conditions, namely:

  • I only drink the wines I like
  • I can only drink when eating
  • No more than a glass and a half or I get heartburn and/or an upset stomach
  • There will be wine on Friday evenings when I crave it most—or else
  • Cheese = wine

On the flip side, my relationship with coffee has remained consistent. While red wine is a select pleasure, enhancing specific moments, coffee is my lifeline. I cannot start the day without coffee. It is the very first thing I think of the moment I awake. I cannot exist without a large steaming cup of strong black coffee within approx 10 mins of my neurones firing up.

I was pondering my absolute and profound need for coffee the other morning and comparing it to my relationship with red wine. If I had to, I wondered, which would I give up? The answer was quite simple. But, just to be sure, I thought I’d conduct a brief poll with a few of my Twitter and Facebook pals. So I lobbed the seemingly innocuous question out there. Within nanoseconds—maybe even less—I was met with a barrage of visceral reactions! Before I share them, here was the final count:

  • Votes to keep coffee: 5
  • Votes to keep wine: 7
  • Undecided: 4

But it was the comments that cracked me up the most, including:

Are you kidding?

Is nothing sacred?

What am I being threatened with?

If my world no longer included those things, it wouldn’t be much of a world 😉

I feel like this is a trick question somehow.

I don’t know this Samantha but I don’t trust her 😉

I plan on giving up both…shortly after I give up oxygen.

So, you, yes you over there sipping your Sunday morning coffee – which would you give up, if you had to: coffee or wine?

P.S. Get your teeth cleaned.

But Enough About Me ….

Shameless plug alert: I am thrilled to be the Featured Parent Blogger this week on Boston.com Moms! If you want to be featured, or nominate another local parent blogger, here’s the link. It’s a great resource!

Today, Boston.com asked me to prepare 20 facts about me and my blog – you can find it and the ensuring discussion published here – but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to share it here too. So here goes!

  1. I am grateful everyday for my Mom friends. They are my muses.
  2. I am also grateful every for my kids and husband who provide me with endless blog worthy material.
  3. I have lived in the US for 13 years; I lived in France before that and the UK before that.
  4. I am a lapsed Jew married to a practicing Catholic. Which is probably why my son believes leprechauns are from Israel.
  5. I met my husband on a blind date.
  6. My dog is a thief
  7. I love anchovies and loathe licorice, eggplant and watermelon.
  8. Without spellcheck, allll mi wurds wood bee speld rong.
  9. But I can spot someone else’s typo from 100 feet.
  10. I love to dance but need someone to dance with me
  11. I love doing the laundry. I know, it’s strange. 
  12. I value kindness above all. And then silliness.
  13. I suffer from Mommy hair but I’d really love to have long red curly locks like Merida from Brave.
  14. I’d rather be asleep. Or eating. Or both?
  15. I tweet. A lot. Mostly because it’s part of my job but also because I love to interact with other parents, expats, local folks, colleagues, clients and reports. You can find me at @samanthamcgarry.
  16. I live an imaginary life on Pinterest where I seem to pin recipes I will never cook, clothes I will never wear and so on.
  17. I love blogging. Why did I not do it sooner?
  18. My kids are a constant source of humor, energy, admiration, inspiration, disbelief, stress and drinking.
  19. I am a TV addict. Favorite shows are The West Wing, Mad Men, Homeland, Greys, So You Think You Can Dance and more. And isn’t it amazing how you can always find an episode of Law & Order somewhere on TV?
  20. I speak French. Also I dream in French often, which is weird but rather amazing. I even blogged in French once. 

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I Want To Dance With Somebody

(…. to quote the late, great Whitney Houston.)

If you’ve read my Twitter bio (@samanthamcgarry), you’ll see that it says “happiest when dancing,” And it’s true. When I am dancing to music that moves me, I’m at my most blithe. I can close my eyes and be carried away by rhythm, beat, movement and feeling. It’s thrilling.

Sadly, these days, I very rarely get the chance to dance, other than the odd silly and spontaneous dance-off when a track comes on the radio that pushes my buttons. I danced all through my childhood and teenage years, be it formal ballet, modern or tap classes or at disco birthday parties. As a young adult, dancing was either clubbing or performing in musical theatre. Once I was lucky enough to dance in the arms of a professional ballroom dancer who spun me around the room: for a brief few minutes, he was Fred and I was Ginger and it was heaven. Heaven.

During my years living in France, I was always impressed by and envious of the people there who just knew how to jive dance with a partner, as if it was part of their cultural DNA. When I moved to the US, one of the first things I did was register for swing dance classes. And I was hooked! In addition to taking classes where I learned first the basics and then advanced moves and choreography, I would take myself solo to swing dance parties where I’d be invited to dance and, even though still technically a newbie, I’d be spun around the room, light on my feet, jiving to the beat and high on life.

Now that I’m married, I’ve tried to persuade my husband to swing dance with me and he’s always been a great sport. He’s taken classes with me and taken me to a few dances but it’s just not his thing. He gives it his best effort, for which I am very grateful, but truthfully I think he’d rather be sticking pins in his eyes.

But I still want to dance. I need to dance. For my mental health, for my waist line. For my joie de vivre.

And so this is my plea for a dance partner, someone willing to either take classes with me or go out dancing every now and then. No funny business, mind you! Just someone who loves to dance and is a good partner. Ideally for swing dancing but I’ll happily do ballroom or Latin which I’d love to learn.

So, who’s game?

Kids, Curse Words & Cultural Differences

(Readers: this post is PG-13: contains some vulgar language. You have been warned.)

My parents sent me to an all-girl private school in England. Not only did they want me to get a great education (which I did) but they were also hoping it would make me a lady. Well, that part failed.

Confession: I enjoy swearing. Not gratuitously, but I do love to use a well-timed, judiciously-selected swear word to add punch and color to my point of view and delivery. I realized pretty quickly upon my arrival here in the US that this was politically incorrect, especially in business meetings. Oops. But, hey, I still do it from time to time, just for shock and entertainment value.

Therefore it’s a bloody miracle that, so far, my kids haven’t uttered any curse words. (Well other than the time that my son asked at the dinner table whether “total f*cker” was a bad expression. And yes, my husband & I pissed ourselves laughing. Teachable moment, gone.) Fact: my husband and I very strenuously avoid swearing within ear shot of our kids and, other than that one mishap, it has paid off so far.

But my son has started becoming more aware that there are good words and bad words. I’ve explained to him that there are words that only grown-ups should use. I explain they are inappropriate and unnecessary parts of a kid’s vocabulary and, moreover, sound incredibly ugly coming out of a child’s mouth. A good friend of mine has a rule with her son. If he’s going to use a swear word, he has to understand what it means first. That’s fine if your kid is 12+ and has been through sex-ed; not so much for a six year-old though.

I vividly remember a scene from my childhood in which my older brother was complaining about his math teacher. “Mr Agnew is crap!” he proclaimed. In my innocence, I repeated this detail at the dinner table that evening when we were discussing how our school day was with our parents. Well, I got my mouth washed out with soap. That taught me quickly that “crap” was high on the list of expressions that would get me into deep shit.

These days however, I’ve noticed that, at least here in the US, crap is now an acceptable term, used with increasing frequency. I’m not sure how I feel about this, given that I am scarred from the mouth-being-washed-out with soap incident. I’ve not heard my kids use the word yet, but I’m sure that day is coming.

There are other American phrases which, to my ear, sound pretty close to being swear words but which are also socially acceptable. “Shoot” being one. Not only is it grammatically nonsensical (“Shoot, I forgot my homework”) but it’s so close to shit, why not say it? Or for the fainter-hearted, why not chose something different that’s not so close to a swear word or a blasphemy? My personal favorite is “rats!”

And then, there’s “this sucks.” What has sucking got to do with a situation? I’ve never understood the etymology nor the attraction of this socially-acceptable US expression. And while we are at it, people, what is up with the double negative “this doesn’t suck?” A crappy expression, in my mind.

Anyway, my point is, our languages are rich with verbal choices. Choose what’s most colorful, impactful, original and, only if required, shocking. And to my kids, best to err on the side of caution rather than risk getting your mouths washed out with soap. Cos you know I’ll do it.

And so, I leave you with this …

Should I Limit My Kid’s Reading?

My son was slow to learn to read. He left kindergarten with six-month delay in his reading abilities and this caused me to worry. Compared to all the other kids who were already speeding through Harry Potter, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and the Encyclopedia Britannica, my son was still struggling, even with that damned Cat in the Hat.

But, thanks to an IEP (Individual Education Program) and being placed in an inclusion class with a higher ratio of teachers to kids, he emerged from first grade a confident reader. Now, halfway through second grade, he’s become a ravenous reader. I can’t stop him! If he’s not stuffing his face, watching TV or playing with Legos, you’ll find him knee-deep in books. He devours them. It’s a beautiful thing.

Until it’s bedtime, that is.

It’s nice that his bedtime no longer involves hours of negotiation after tucking him in and reading together (“Yes, I’ll rub your back some. Yes, I’ll get you some water. No, I won’t read another book. Yes, I will put another light on. No, you can not still be hungry …!”) Now, all he needs is a quick hug, a kiss and a tussle of his hair and, quite frankly, he’d probably not even notice if I didn’t do that, because his nose is firmly stuck in a book. Either side of his pillow are books. At the last count, there were about 12 books around his bed.

But the “problem” is he’s staying awake longer and longer at night, sometimes not falling asleep until 9.30 or 10pm which, in my mind, is too late for an eight year-old. Especially one who, until this past month, was averaging 10 or 11 hours sleep a night. It makes for grumpy mornings, that’s for sure.

I realize that he is growing up and maybe that means his bedtime no longer needs to be the same as his five year-old sister. But at the same time, it’s ridiculous when he and I are going to sleep at the same hour!

After talking with friends with kids of the same age, I discovered that this “problem” seems to be happening across the board with our kids. Most advocated setting a 9pm “lights off” hour, something which I’m trying to now enforce.

But my son keeps asking, “Why are you trying to stop me reading, when all along, you’ve been trying to encourage me to read better and more?”

And, he has a point.

A Letter to Dr Seuss

Dear Dr Seuss,

Allow me to introduce myself: I am Sam. Yes, Sam I Am. For the last eight years, I’ve spent LOTS of time with your books and I’ve some things I need to get off my chest.

I have to confess that the first four years were torturous, truth be told. You see, my little ones were at that stage when they wanted to be read the same book over and over. And over and over. And over. I became sick and tired of Green Eggs & Ham, the Cat in the Hat, There’s a Wocket in my Pocket and others. I mean there’s only so many times you can read, and re-read and then read again, those rhythmic lines and words without wanting to tear your hair out or bang you head against something hard. Fortunately, these were also the years when my kids couldn’t yet read and were blithely oblivious to my skipping lines and even pages, which I would do a LOT just to expedite matters.

Then my kids become early readers. And I gradually realized the genius of your books, especially ones like Go Dog Go and Hop on Pop. Words cleverly assembled, rhymed, reversed and scrambled, forcing their developing brains to focus, sound out words, take their time. As my kids started to be able to read these books for themselves, I could see their pride forming and reading confidence grow.

Naturally, they started bringing home more of your books every week from the school library. Books they wanted me to read to them because they were complex, long, filled with ridiculously non-sensical words, creatures and situations. Find me a parent who, weary at the end of the day, really wants to put themselves through such tongue calisthenics? Don’t get me wrong, I’m a HUGE fan of silliness, creativity and all that is good and goofy but really, these book were too much for this tired, working mama.

And then we watched the movie, The Lorax. And a light bulb went off and my whole relationship with you changed! I saw your genius. More than just a wrangler of words, I realized you’re a philosopher, a commentator on society and, most importantly, a voice of inspiration. Your simple phrases make profound statements—better-sounding to me, quite frankly, than any catechism or sermon I’ve ever heard. (Here’s 30 of your finest quotes.) Your books are life lessons to the young and old, inspiring us to be who we are, think for ourselves, take chances (try new foods!), read, boldly forge our way in the world—and to care for others, no matter how small.

So, dear Dr Seuss, on this day, March 2, 2013, your birthday, I say thank you, thank you, thank you!

Love,

Sam I Am

My Avocado Dilemma

I woke up super early this morning. Actually I was awakened by my five-year who was evidently dreaming about something that didn’t work out for her and was crying out “I want it my way,” in her sleep. Well, don’t we all, sweetheart? After that, I couldn’t get back to sleep, my mind racing through the never-ending to-do list. So up I got and went downstairs.

As my coffee was brewing, my eye was drawn to an avocado sitting alone on the windowsill, where we had placed it about five days earlier to catch the sun and ripen. I gave it a squeeze.

Tell me, what is better than a perfectly ripe avocado?

But then dilemma set in. What to do with this solo avocado in the next 24 hours before its splendid green turns to mushy brown?

I figure I have two options – one involving my stomach and one involving my face.

First, the face. Winter is a bitch to my pathetic British skin. Put simply, my face is falling off, no matter how much water I drink, moisturizer I slather or how long the humidifier runs. I’m thinking this avocado could easily be mixed with some honey, oatmeal or yogurt to make an unctuous face mask that might salvage my skin. After all, it’s Friday and I’m working from home so there’s no-one to notice how strange I might look, sitting at my desk resembling a green monster. Fortunately, no Skype meetings today and hopefully no-one will FaceTime me!

But then again, there’s my tummy. All the different, glorious ways I could eat this delightful avocado! Maybe I could just slice it in half and drizzle it with the heavenly dark chocolate balsamic vinegar I recently bought? Or maybe I could squirt some lime on it and  grill it, loaded with cheese (recipe here.) Or, or …

Choices, choices.

Happy Friday folks, hope there’s a perfectly ripe avocado in your future.

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