Category Archives: USA

The Poor Princess in the Kingdom

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So the Poor Princess got poorer — $600 poorer — for one day (excluding accommodations) in Walt Disney’s genius megascam, Magic Kingdom (the magic is that they get you to agree to handing over $100s of your hard-earned dollars to wait hours to go on 3-minute rides that give you whiplash).

Poor Princess--the poorest princess in the kingdom

Poor Princess–the poorest princess in the kingdom

I’ll be honest: Parts of the day were brilliantly fun–like Splash Mountain, which we got a fastpass for and were all tall enough to go on:

The Princess-Scientist Family, renamed the Perries, on Splash Mountain

The Princess-Scientist Family, renamed the Perries for the day, on Splash Mountain

And parts revealed surprising beauty, like Cinderella’s Castle at night:

Cinderella's Castle at night

Cinderella’s Castle in shades of violet

And parts–like Cool J not being tall enough for Space Mountain (and LL raving about how amazing it was all day) and the miserably bad food we had to wait as long as Space Mountain for–were neither.

The day involved kicking, yelling, crying, too much ice cream (some of which was kicked . . . and led to yelling and crying . . . see above), a torrential downpour, rides that we could have ridden at any fair and at half the malls in America, and, of course, some magical delight. Was it worth $600?

Hell, no. Do you know what I could do with $600?

Unless–unless it was an investment.

This occurred to me the next day at breakfast, when I tried to interest the boys in the waffle iron but could not get their attention for the life of me. The boys were plotting and plotting. I listened in. Cool J, they decided, was going to built a bigger and better version of WDW–named after himself, of course. It would be in Texas–warm weather, lots of money, cheap real estate. The boys planned characters, logos, and rides. The conversation spilled from breakfast to our long, long car ride, and into the next day.

I doubt “Cool J’s World” will come to fruition, but I like the way my boys were thinking. WDW’s brilliant marketing suckered us into spending the cost of a roundtrip ticket to Europe for a day of kitschy Americana, but it also offered my boys an education.

And let’s face it: $600 is a whole lot less than I would spend on their MBAs.

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LL Encounters The Canadian Healthcare System

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“Let’s do the weekend plans simultaneously,” says The Scientist. “You book tickets for the waterslide park for tomorrow online while I call the mountain for the Sunday morning rock-climbing trip.” “Sure,” I say, flipping open my laptop. But before The Scientist can dial out, the phone rings. I hear one word: “Ambulance.”

To date, each of the kids has been in the hospital for his own birth and for each birth that came after his, if any, with one exception. Cool J was rushed–in The Scientist’s arms–to the ER after falling out of the attic and then showing signs of head trauma 2 years ago (the kids love to reminisce about it — they both remember exactly what scene they were up to in Star Wars 2/Attack of the Clones when The Scientist came home to see how Cool J was, and Cool J, not a puker, sat up and projectile puked all over The Scientist).

Today it was LL’s turn. He had been playing Capture the Flag at camp when he coincided with one of his opponents. How that head-to-head crash turned into a giant open wound on LL’s forehead I don’t understand. But it was obvious that he was going to need stitches. So for the second time in our parenting lives, we rushed to the ER.

We rushed — and then we waited.

And waited.

And waited.

And. And. And.

At one point the nurse approached us, though it turned out she wasn’t looking for us, but for the Agudah kid also sitting in the waiting room. I guess all we Jews look alike.

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Cool J, LL, and the kid who was apparently interchangeable with LL

After 6 hours, we complained. We accused the hospital administrators of favoring the Francophones over us. We said that people who came up with similar or lower triage scores were being taken to the doctors first. We said they hated us because we spoke English, because we came from the US, because we didn’t have medicare cards, because we were noisy. They were unfazed. “Please sit down,” they said. “The doctor will be with you shortly.” Sometimes they said it in French, and sometimes in English.

Another hour went by.

When they took us into a room and put LL onto a bed, we thought our waiting was over.

Then we waited.

Not that we didn’t keep busy at all. We did dance competitions that LL judged:

Cool J performing the winning dance. LL awarded him with the "Stanley Cup of dance competitions."

Cool J performing the winning dance. LL awarded him with the “Stanley Cup of dance competitions.”

We swiveled in the swivelly chairs. We lowered and raised LL’s bed to give him a ride. We looked on the charts to see which doctors had big hands and which had little hands based on their glove sizes.

And finally, the doctor came.

LL didn’t mince his words. Before the doctor could finish his introduction, LL cut in. “Why did we wait for 8 hours?” he asked.

The doctor, who could see on LL’s chart that the boy was coming from the US, used the opportunity to give LL a thorough response. “In the United States,” he said, “You would see the doctor much faster. Much faster! You would see him and go home. That would be great, right? But it would only be great if you had money. You see, if you didn’t have money –lots of it to give to the insurance companies or the doctors who charge much more there– you wouldn’t be waiting because you would never get the treatment. Do you know why? Because that’s how they do things in America. If you’re rich, you can have everything, but if you’re not, you can go home with a hole in your head. Here in Canada, on the other hand, we don’t ask how much money you have. We treat everyone.”

LL: “I have no idea what you’re talking about. Am I getting stitches or what??”

He did:

FrankenLL

FrankenLL

And the doctor, who was very nice, and explained everything in careful detail to the kids, did a great job of it.

By the time we got home, LL was in high spirits, his hours of waiting behind him. He was excited to tell his story. Canadian system, American system, whatever.

We called my mom. “Gramma–Guess what? I got stitches!” Before she could recover from her heart attack, he continued: “So isn’t that good, because now I can be in the NHL because now I know what it’s like to get stitches. I got my practice and now I’m ready! I’m so happy! Bye, Gramma!” All’s well that ends well.

Poor Princess Meets Frankenstorm

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At 4:21, I’m getting on an airplane to Go west, Young woman! —Not that I’m really young, but I’m about to behave as though I am. After all, here’s what I’m going to do when I arrive in Scottsdale, Arizona, where today’s high is 87 degrees and–what else?–sunny:

I’m going to meet with 7 other fantastic mamas from far-flung cities.

We’re going to go on an artwalk. We’ll eat. We’ll drink. Maybe dance?

Tomorrow, we’re going to get up early and go on a canyoneering trip. What’s that? Well, let me tell you: We get driven in 4x4s across the desert. We then hike and scramble; we rappel down waterfalls; we swim across crystal clear springs. We do some other stuff. It’s all insanely awesome and beautiful.

Check out the pictures.

Then, when we’re good and tired, we go home, quick shower, quick-quick beautification–

PP and Salsa Shaker — Jewish Mamas’ Annual — 2011

and then off to dinner at Cowboy Ciao where some of us will indulge in duckfat ice cream (and some of us will definitely not!). Where then? The night is young, and all that is calling our names in the next couple of days is the pool, long runs, perhaps a hike,  some shopping, lunches with aguas frescas, dinners with lots of alcohol, and who knows–maybe we’ll have to hit the V Spot again, as we did on one of our previous Jewish Mamas’ Annual Scottsdale Trip–

2010 –where we all learn the word “vagazzle” — but none of us were daring enough to try it. (Tatazzling seemed a safer bet).

Now there’s a business model I bet you didn’t think of!

Or maybe find a post-Halloween Halloween party–

The trip will end with me meeting some very old friends for a much-needed catching up. And I will return to my family happy, refreshed, and full of love.

It’s the perfect Fall Break and the perfect Girls’ Weekend. Which is why it’s the THIRD annual.

Except — poor, poor, poor Princess.

That’s not what is happening today. I can sing “I’m leaving on a jet plane” all I want (FYI–it’s Chantal Kreviazuk I’m channeling, not John Denver), but I am not leaving on a jet plane today, thanks to this baby–

Instead, I am huddled in my house where the temperature is not 87 or 77 or 67. It’s 53F.

I’m under 4 blankets with four other people and we’re all hacking away like a bunch of consumptives sleeping together in a freezing Lower East Side tenement at the turn of the 20th century.

From Jacob Riis’s time — not so different?

We have no heat, no electricity, no home phone service, no cell service, and no internet. When we’re not under the blankets, we’re smushed together in my office–surrounded by offices where people are trying to actually work–and fighting over the screens (oh internet, I miss you so!). And when we get good and hungry, we’ll wait in line with the rest of the town to get into the one restaurant that’s running. It’s all good.

I really really really want to leave on a jet plane today, but with roads blocked or jammed, and transit not running, there’s no way of getting to the airport and getting the fuck outta here. Poor, poor Princess.

This Vagabond Life (Day 31 and counting)

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It’s Day 31 of the month–and of our lives as vagabonds.

After packing up everything we own and sending it to storage, we departed our princely town on June 30, and we have been busy! We’ve spent weeks traveling the continent. We’ve stayed at country houses and city houses and hotels and motels and in our palatial tent (as palatial as tents come, anyway . . .) . We’ve been seeing mountains and fountains and lakes and moose and elk and bison and geysers and hot springs and canyons and tall towers and waterfalls and shopping meccas and bears and a Cubs game–

This fellow greeted me on my bleary-eyed amble to the bathroom for my morning ablutions. If you think I backed away slowly, pretended to be big and scary, or zapped him with bear spray, you overestimate my woods smarts. I ran for my life.

I probably should have moved Baby MoFo a little further away from this bit of wildlife rather than snapping pictures …

Too much damn traffic. It’s worse than NYC around here!

We’ve been going on magnificent hikes and boat rides and elevator rides and bike rides–

Is this freaking gorgeous or WHAT?

And we’ve been doing a heck of a lot of driving.

Pinch caught on camera

The driving is something of a challenge. Our home rule is 30 minutes of screen time a day (iPad, TV, computer, and Wii all count), but we tend to be laxer on the long drives. After all, although my friend Anna Oh believes kids can be kept entertained for hours on end with a roll of tin foil (think of the possibilities!), I see no evidence of such vast creativity in my kids. We play Geography and Brain Quest and word bingo; they color and write in their journals; they nap and snack and fight; and when they get bored of all that, they watch DVDs. It helps with everyone’s sanity.

The downside is this: whenever I ask them what their favorite thing has been thus far, they reply, hesitantly, because they know what answer I don’t want to hear: “Do you mean other than screen time?” And then they scramble to come up with a suitable answer (“Does eating ice cream count?”).

And when my friend asked them what their favorite activity has been–asked them, that is, when I wasn’t around–they told her frankly: “Playing Wii at our cousins’ house!!!!”

So you might wonder, as I wonder, if I am completely wasting my time taking them on adventures across the continent when clearly this–

Looking at the “grand” canyon below–

is less interesting to these boys than this:

Bliss

Another year, another home for the Perambulatory Professors/Wandering Jews

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A soon-to-be happy 9th anniversary to The Scientist and me! Here is a hint as to how we’re going to spend our anniversary:

Some people get married, buy a house, and spend their lives in it. Maybe they move once or twice. In 9 years of marriage, we have moved a few more times than that.

Here I was at our Southern apartment complex when we were newlyweds:

Southern complex, 2003

The next place, a total of 567 shared square feet, was a little less luxurious:

Northeast urban condo, 2004

But a year later we were in a nicer home, with 2 bedrooms, 2.5 bathrooms, a patio, and a winter view of the river:

Suburban Northeast townhouse, 2005

And then our jobs took us really really far away–into the Canadian hinterlands–where we dropped back down to one bathroom. The condo was OK–we were grateful to find a place in a province where it is both legal and popular for owners to choose not to rent to people with children under the age of 18. Here I am  with Cool J in the oven and latkes on the stove:

Canadian Hinterlands condo, 2006

We got two years off moving in 2007 and 2008, so in 2009, we had to move several times. When we subletted a furnished place, we had access to other kids’ playthings, to the delight of our own kids, whose personal cache of toys has long consisted of Lego, Lego, and more Lego:

Canadian Hinterlands sublet #2, 2009

Luckily, we ultimately landed in the ultimate house:

Canadian Hinterlands Dream House, 2009

But sadly, that didn’t last long. By the end of 2010, we were packed up again and ready to go. We found a house with one bathroom (for the now 5 of us!) sandwiched between a House of Prayer and a Urologist (The Scientist chose to go to neither). Here are the boys and their cousins in our current house (Messy? You try having 7 kids stay in your 1200 sq ft house!):

A Princely Town Duplex, 2011

And here we’ve been installed for a whole year and a half. A lifetime! But alas, all houses come to a quick end for us, and a couple of weeks ago, The Scientist walked around our house, studying it thoughtfully, and at last declared: “OK, I’m done with it.” And so we all are, it would seem.

On to the next adventure, and to our new house, which I am calling The Nut House, owing to the series of nut-named streets in the area, and for no other reason at all! (3 nutty children? irrelevant!). The Nut House has a small, overgrown backyard, no parking (not even on the street out front), and an uphill when you walk out of the front door that is going to kick my butt when I’m on my bike, but it does have 2 bathrooms (woohoo!!), and my kids’ all-time favorite house-feature, an “upstairs-upstairs.” It’s a bit bigger and it’s nicer than our current house, and being the wandering jews that we are, we embrace the new adventure (moving is fun! moving is fun! moving is fun! Repeat ’til the page is full, printer, or, um, blog).

Pictures of the Nut House in a Princely Town, 2012, are forthcoming . . .

It’s Not Starbucks

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AFter all that blah blah blah complaining about unemployment, I do it. I get a summer job. It’s not my dream job, but, you might say, it’s not Starbucks. I don’t have to wear a uniform (I don’t really do hats) or pretend I don’t understand when people say “medium” (“I’m sorry. We don’t carry that size. Perhaps you mean a grande??”). At the hourly rate local crossing guards make, it also pays a bit more per hour than Starbucks–although, as I’m soon to discover, there are many hours (“Be here an hour early to test the incoming students, but DON’T PUT THAT HOUR ON YOUR TIMESHEET WHATEVER YOU DO!!” “Oh, did we mention there’s a faculty development meeting today? Bring a lunch, and expect to stay and extra hour and a half or so. Oh, and DON’T PUT IT ON YOUR TIMESHEET!”) that are simply unpaid. So perhaps not.

When I read the job description, it sounded glamorous and exciting. I wonder if I misread it. I don’t have the ad, so I’ll try to reconstruct it from memory. It went something like this:

Italian students will be coming to America to discover, imbibe, inhale, and digest American culture. Some other Europeans are coming, too. For the small sum of 6000 € (plus airfare), they will: Shop! Go bowling! Visit the White House! See a Broadway play! Hit the mean streets of Philly! Eat hamburgers and fries! Stroll along the Baltimore Inner Harbor! Cry at Ground Zero! Spend lots of money! Tell their friends and brothers and sisters about their experience so that they, in turn, can  add many more euros to our coffers!

Teacher of English: You can be a part of this experience. You can impart to these FOBs what it is to love the land God blessed. You can teach them what it is to speak the language of our beloved country. You can fill their mouths with clichés and their heads with stereotypes. You can’t join them for that Broadway play (though feel free to play youtube videos from the production in your classroom), or live out your little Cary Grant/Deborah Kerr or Fay Wray/colossal gorilla romantic fantasies at the top of the Empire State Building (ditto the youtubes) with this job, but you can do something far more important. You can lock yourself in a classroom with them for 3 hours/morning–don’t come late! don’t leave early!–don’t take more than 10 minutes for a break!–and do something or other with them (we don’t really care what, but their parents aren’t going to pay for them to just go sightseeing. We are calling this edutainment, people!!)(ps: We recommend youtube videos).

Will you be paid for this job? Oh yes! Of course you are! Don’t you worry! Well, OK, we’re only going to pay you a pittance (hey–that 6000 € is ours), but just think about it: This is the opportunity of a lifetime.

YOU can give your students:

THE AMERICAN DREAM.

And so I did.

How to fill 3 hours of class time for a class with no objectives, no curriculum, and no rules (apart from those pertaining to the number of hours to be in class)? There are youtube videos . . . and then there are cupcakes. I filled my students up on Americana both ways. Also, I attempted to improve their English. Which is, I think, what they were there for.

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Bagel Anyone?

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My new town. Here is a glimpse of a typical home in the Winter–

And here in the Spring–

The talk around town is about tennis and golf, not the Yankees. The kids play lacrosse. Families escape, in the summer, to their vacation homes on Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.

Sarah Smith is in the library in my town with her daughter Lexi when she sees another mom walk in with a little girl who could be Lexi’s twin–same bouncy brown curls, same dolphin-framed glasses making her eyes appear too large for her head, even the same trip-along gait. Sarah strikes up a conversation with the mom, whose name, she learns, is Pam Brown.

No clue there.

“I haven’t seen you around here before. Have you lived here awhile?”

“We just moved from the City,” confesses Pam. “You?”

“We moved a few years ago. Upper West?”

“Tribeca.”

Oh.

Maybe not.

Sarah gives her new acquaintance the once over. Pam has sleek hair that no doubt once looked like her daughter’s but has been straightened into submission–Japanese straightening or Chi? Surely once also dark like her daughter’s, it is a pretty melange of caramels, coppers, and golds. She wears casually nice mom clothes–a loose cotton shirt with a boat neck, designer jeans, and ballet flats–and she has a diamond the size of a marble perched on a thick platinum band on the fourth finger of her left hand.

“Did you move here for work?” Sarah asks.

“My husband’s,” confesses Pam. “He’s a dermatologist.”

Sarah becomes more confident. “It’s really hot in here, huh? I am shvitzing like crazy.”

Pam looks at her blankly.

She tries again: “They say it’s better to drink hot drinks when you’re hot even though you’re desperate for cold ones, but I don’t know–I think it’s a bubbemeise.”

Nothing.

In walks another mom, this one with a little boy clad in Star Wars paraphernalia top to bottom. They hear the mom call the boy “Levi.” The new mom gravitates toward the other moms, looks them both up and down, introduces herself as Leah, and nods toward the door she has just entered by. “It just started shpritzing out there,” Leah declares. “I think it’s gonna pour! I wish I had thought to schlep my umbrella. I guess we’re all stuck here for a while. What treyf do they serve in the caf here?”

Pam looks at her blankly. Sarah smiles.

Another day, Sarah and Leah get their kids together with some of Lexi’s boy-cousins to play a little soccer:

And Sarah, who doesn’t have a bee problem, puts a sign up by the front door:

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