Monday, September 07, 2015

Aliza's moved!

As of September 2015, my new blog is at Come check it out!

Friday, December 05, 2014

Siblings sharing a birthday

My latest Kveller post tells the story of how I thought my daughters were going to have to share a birthday. You can check it out here.

Friday, August 29, 2014

My daughter watched Frozen and now she won't stop talking about death

On our drive to camp last week, my three-year old interrupted the song "Do you want to build a snowman" with a startling pronouncement.

"Ima, if you and Abba die, I won't be sad. I'll take care of my baby sister."

Later that day, she shared with me her follow-up plan: If I die, she'll go to Cambridge to live with her aunt.

Today, she wasn’t quite so sanguine. After she asked me why Maimonides isn’t here right now, I couldn’t extricate myself from the conversation without using the d-word. Somehow we got from “He lived 800 years ago and no one lives that long” to her crying “I don’t want to die.”

If you’re keeping score, she also clarified that I should not predecease her, since she loves me very much. I’m not equipped to help her wrap her head around the idea that all people die eventually. A very long time from now is still far sooner than ‘never’, and she does not want to go live with God.

I don’t know whether to blame Frozen or myself.

As adults, we’ve been rocked by mortality this summer. My husband and I have not shared recent events with our daughter. She's three. We don't live in Israel. She doesn't know the army sent her cousins to fight in Gaza. She doesn’t know who the Yazidis are. She’s never heard of Robin Williams.

But oh, does she know Frozen. Our family's "limit the TV" policy has one massive loophole: sick kids can watch full length movies. When she was too sick to go to camp (or do much else of anything) earlier this summer, I let her watch Frozen three times in 26 hours. We got the soundtrack as a gift right around that time, and started listening to Frozen on the way to and from camp every day.

This isn't particularly onerous. I'm a huge fan of the movie, myself. I sing along without shame. But now I have to explain to a three-year-old why Anna's and Elsa's parents died when they were quite young. It's not too far a leap to connect to our own mortality.

My daughter had asked about death before Frozen, but sporadically. The book Magic School Bus Inside a Beehive upset her, because the new queen bee had to kill all her rivals. She asked if her great-grandmother was dead after we named our new baby after said great-grandmother. The concept of loss seemed to distress her - she was sad because "Oma needs her mommy" - but only briefly. Her short attention span is our friend in this regard. Next question - “Does Omama still need her house?”

Even today, when she asked (again!) if I was going to die when her sister was still a baby, she distracted herself with a long dissertation on how she would go to the store to buy her sister oatmeal, which was followed by how much she likes oatmeal, a digression into the three bears, and some questions about which animals eat porridge.

What’s a parent to do? I'm not going to lie to my kid. I'm not going to whitewash reality more than is necessary. Even if we don’t let her watch movies, we’ll still encounter illness in real life. My husband and I agreed long ago we could tell her that most people only die if they are very old or very sick. This backfired. The very day she watched Frozen, she said, “Abba, I'm sick. Am I going to die now?"

I want to reassure her about death. Though I know that we never know, I’d prefer to keep her from thinking that death lurks around every corner. Statistically, she’s been born in pretty much the safest era in recorded history. But of course, she’s too young for me to teach her statistics.

So she’s going to keep asking questions and I will keep answering them. Some will be about death. Some will be about Maimonides. Some will be about porridge.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Locavores in Markham, ON

My latest piece is about a farmer's market and "science rendezvous" in Markham, ON. Check it out here.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Not feeling guilty

After I wrote this piece, but before it was published, I posted a picture of myself to Facebook on my first day back at work. A dear Canadian friend commented that I looked tired and lamented my short maternity leave. In truth, I was happy to go back. In the immortal words of Amy Poehler, "Good for you. Not for me."

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Waiting by the phone for school to be closed

When we went to sleep, the ground was clear. Within the next few hours, we'll be in the full grasp of what newscasters are calling alternately a snowstorm, a blizzard, a nor'easter, and of course, many other monikers I'd be familiar with if I was watching the news.

I'm not. I'm waiting by the proverbial (and actual) phone for an email from my toddler's preschool to find out if school is closed. Enough snow is forecast and the temperatures are going to be so cold (by New England standards) that my work sent out an email cancelling school at 5:15pm yesterday. This is a highly unusual move. Some local school districts have already preemptively cancelled two days of school.

I check my email again. Still nothing. 

Reliable info about the storm is hard to come by. The stuff I really need to know is on Facebook. School X has already closed. School Y has announced they'll be closed for two days, I read at 3:45 am as I nurse my infant. School Z has not yet "called it". The salient points for a local parent are distilled in a series of statuses. The city of Boston has declared a parking ban at noon. Now I have a dilemma.

Will she have school or not? And if she does have school, what will I do? Do I dare brave the drive if there will be nowhere to park?

As a teacher from Canada, I'm of mixed minds about the snow. On the one hand, I like a day off as much as anyone. (Being on maternity leave, that point is pretty moot.) On the other hand, I can't resist the thoughts of "you call these puny flurries a snowstorm?"  Sometimes, however, we really do have a lot of snow here in New England. But my hometown of Toronto spent much of Christmas week without power due to an ice storm. Tepid or not, this snowstorm will be just enough to make my toddler CRAZY if we have to stay home.

If school closes, what are my options? A full day of Dora and Sesame Street? No way. A walk to Starbucks or the local ice cream parlor? Possibly, but we just did those over vacation and I don't want to raise a toddler who expects fancy hot chocolate multiple times per week. Sledding? Not with an infant. Baking cookies will kill an hour, tops. 

To make matters worse, if she doesn't get out enough energy during her normal activities, she won't be tired enough to nap. She'll just be tired enough to make my life miserable.

My husband's work does not get snow days and I have a doctor's appointment. Thus, the parenting juggle begins. Will he take the day off? Will I take a 6 week old infant AND a toddler to the doctor with me? That option is not entertained for a second.

The tentative plan - my husband takes my daughter to work, plants her in an empty cubicle with some crayons and the baby and I take the subway to them after my appointment to pick her up - reads like it could be a sitcom plot. But it's not that funny. It's terrifying.

I maintain hope until the last second that school will be open. My daughter's wonderful no-nonsense Russian Preschool has many strengths. I love that they never close. The last time we had snow, other schools called early dismissals for 1, 3 and 3:45. My daughter's school stayed open until 6 and employed people to shovel out parking spaces around the school. I picked her up at 5 like normal, and she was playing very happily when I arrived. I drove slowly and cautiously and didn't regret it for a second.

Being a parent has turned the delight of snow into something I dread the most - a disruption to our routine. That is the crux of my problem. My daughter does well surrounded by friends and toys and teachers who are running familiar and pedagogically sound activities. I love spending time with my child, but she NEEDS to go to school.

At 6:49am, the email comes. My daughter's school is closed for today. It must be one heck of a blizzard. More snow is forecast for tomorrow morning, during rush hour. Now begins the scramble for today and the wait for another email - will my daughter have school tomorrow?

Pray for me.

Monday, August 12, 2013

On saying farewell to Simmin

When my daughter was 12 weeks old, I dropped her off at her new home daycare.

It was not the calmest of days. My grandfather’s shiva was concluding, my husband and I had flown back from our impromptu trip to Canada on the first flight of the morning, he was returning to work at the end of his paternity leave, and I was returning to work (late) after President’s day vacation. My entire family had some horrible flu-like bug we think we picked up at the hospice and my blissful 12-week-old was the only one not hurling.

The rest is here.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Human Reproduction

My post on ectopic pregnancy is a featured post on Kveller. Check it out here.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Mother's Day and graphic design in Markham, Ontario

In April, I profiled software-designer-turned-artist Alex Hsu for the Markham Review after his artwork won the New Yorker annual cover art contest; profile appears here:

Hsu’s “Eustace Tilley in Gangnam Style” features Tilley dancing the Gangnam Style dance with King Kong and the Statue of Liberty. “Coded Age” is closer to the classic New Yorker cover, but Tilley’s hat and shirt are patterned with a bar code, the butterfly is replaced with a QR code, and Tilley himself is holding what appears to be a smartphone.
For Mother's Day, I wrote about fun things to do in and around Markham, here.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

On Passover and Figure Skating

I've recently started writing for the Markham Review. This issue, I got to explore figure skating and Passover. Passover article PDF here.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Diaper prices, going up?

When Rena was born, I came up with a three-point financial plan: beg, borrow and steal.

My revulsion for larceny led me to interpret point #3 as "get everything you absolutely must buy for a steal."

Especially diapers. Really. The baby wears it for 5 minutes (if we're not lucky) or 10 hours (if we are) and then we just toss it in the trash. I'm not paying full price!

At first, a great Groupon made me think, is the place to be. Then that great Groupon disqualified us from any discount ever again, and we said sayonara. For a while, we were using the Amazon Mom discounts on Amazon to score super-cheap diapers, discounted 30% and paid for with gift cards I got for free with Swagbucks and credit card points.

Have I mentioned I'm nuts?

All the while, my obsession with finding the best coupon codes was fueled by my favorite frugal mommy bloggers, Kosher on a Budget and Chief Family Officer. Unfortunately, a lot of the good couponing principles (like "stock up when there is a good price" and "wait for sales") don't work when there is only 1 diaper between the baby being adorable and the baby peeing on the bed on Shabbat morning.

I'm a bit annoyed because Amazon Mom is now only offering discounts of 20% on new subscriptions, meaning that I need to find a new "cheapest place to get wipes". I had lately been cheating on Amazon with CVS for diapers, since I can get the same gift cards with credit card points, and the Extra Bucks and stacked coupons often make a lackluster sale really cheap. However, the wipes deals have not been as easy to find. I expect that Ari will mutiny if I announce that we'll resume wiping the baby's adorable derriere with paper towels, like the doctor made us do for the first 12 weeks of her life.

We all have our own points of view, the things we don't care about and the things we can't let go. The thrill I get from a good deal combined with my feeling that I should not pay good money for anything I use to wipe my baby's butt keeps me reading circulars and pining for specials. Until the day I'm the lunatic driving a tractor trailer away from a store with $1000 worth of goods I paid $12 for in an episode of Extreme Couponing (which I'm convinced cannot be real), I'll be reading my circulars, searching for the best price and running to two CVS stores at 10pm on a Saturday night to get the best deal before it expires. In my own bizarre way, I'll consider it worth it.

Seriously, have you seen what they are charging for diapers these days?

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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

On Lactation

Check out my profile of Mother's Milk Bank of New England founder Naomi Bar-Yam in Brandeis Magazine here:
“Milk banks are really designed to help premature, hospitalized babies,” she says. “Our screening procedures for both mothers and the milk they donate are so involved because we’re taking surplus milk from a healthy, full-term baby and providing it to a baby who weighs just 1 or 2 pounds.”


Thursday, March 24, 2011

On childbirth

When Rena was born, I wanted to remember all the details, so I tried to record them as a note on my iPod. I went back and reread it, and had ended up with a dry list of facts I recorded between IVs, monitors and epidurals. Ari did a much better job, which Isis published today on their Parenting Starts Here blog. An excerpt:

The surgery went really well. Shortly before the baby was delivered, Aliza said something along the lines of "okay, call it. Boy or girl?" Neither of us really wanted to guess. I had a brief glimpse of a little blue thing get handed to the pediatricians, who then went to work. It took a few minutes before the baby started crying. They were probably the most terrifying moments of my life. I heard a lot of suctioning, and oxygen being pumped, while several people called out facts and figures. (The baby’s first APGAR score was a 5, the second was an 8. As a teacher, Aliza totally understands the need for the occasional retest.) One of the nurses came over to our side of the drapes to tell us that the pediatricians were doing their thing. Before she walked away, I managed to ask, "is it a boy or a girl?!" Amidst all of the carefully organized chaos, nobody bothered to inform us. The nurse ran over to peek, then came back to tell us that we were the parents of a little girl.

If it's not TMI, you can check out the rest of the story here.

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Saturday, October 23, 2010

Corporate Rewards Programs: Not All Created Equal

My husband came home with a code for Hood cottage cheese rewards after a trip to Stop and Shop last week, which is right about when I discovered that the corporate rewards world had hit oversaturation.

When I first began to collect airline points, shortly after moving to Cambridge in 2005, I set a goal for myself: I would know I was doing a savvy job juggling points programs if I could fly for free once a year. Alternating Aeroplan miles, Aadvantage points and Bank of America rewards points, I have basically made that goal and flown for free or almost free four times. We also now have enough points for at least one free flight in the winter or spring.

Once upon a time, the rewards program world was a small one: airlines, credit cards, and that was about it. In Toronto, my father would make sure to pay Canadian Tire (like a smaller Home Depot) in cash so he could get his Canadian Tire money - literally, fake money that you could use at the store. These programs were particularly valuable to us, and I learned from him that it made sense to consider where you were buying, how you were paying, etc. so you could work all the angles and get the most rewards. If only all rewards programs that later sprang up were that straightforward and easy to use.

I got into survey-based incentive programs early (I've been doing e-Rewards for almost five years). When I joined, it was sponsored by Aadvantage, and I once got 1000 Aadvantage miles from them for the many surveys I had taken. A year or so later, a $50 gift card to Starbucks showed up in the mail. I was following, of course, the cardinal rule of rewards programs: they are only really valuable if you can use them to get things for free that you would have paid money for otherwise. Since I make it my goal to underspend my coffee budget and put the excess right into savings, and since I was never intending to miss my grandmother's 75th birthday, both rewards directly saved me money. There are many other programs whose email updates I've received, or who I've tried out, and none have delivered the way e-Rewards has. Not everyone is such a fan, though, including me two years later. They only gave out Starbucks gift cards for a really short time and they discontinued their partnership with American Airlines a while back. I now get rewards and don't know what to use them for. I've got too much credit to allow to expire, so I get magazine subscriptions, fill out the occasional survey and hope for better rewards in the future. But the time I spend on a site like theirs is directly proportional to the value I expect to get out of it going forward; in the case of e-Rewards these days, I'd say that both of those are "almost none."

You can't always tell at first if a rewards program will be good for you. I was passing along Coke points for My Coke Rewards to my brother-in-law for the longest time before we decided we could probably use it to our advantage. I admit, I have never been an early adopter, so though my sister-in-law sent me an invitation to Swagbucks in November '08, I didn't sign up until January 2010. Swagbucks seems to me to be in the same category as MyPoints, where the best benefits come to those who buy things and "participate" in "special offers" - read: buy things - but I regret not signing up 14 months earlier for Swagbucks. One of my favorite mommy bloggers, Chief Family Officer, calls it her favorite way to make free money, and I have come to agree since it only takes me 2ish months of >1 minute a day of investment and I get a $5 Amazon gift card effectively for free. Since the advent of Amazon's "Subscribe and Save," I've been buying certain groceries online, and this knocks down the price. (In one memorable transaction, I got 48 Timothy's K-cups for $2.21.) But I have no use for MyPoints. I am pretty sure I've been a member for longer, but I have never received a tangible benefit.

We all have a calculus of how much finagling and tracking is worth our time. I am of the mindset that if you wait to buy something until you absolutely need it, you'll probably pay too much. This has its reasonable limits - such as non-pregnant people buying maternity clothes - but is certainly true for things that one will use eventually, like toothpaste and toilet paper. If you're careful with coupons and savvy about ExtraBucks, you can get these items for a fraction of their original price (and sometimes even "make money" in the form of ExtraBucks) when you buy these things at CVS. I avoid making myself crazy, though, by sticking to one store, so I ignore Walgreens' parallel Register Rewards program. There are normal human limits.

It's a lot easier in this day and age to stretch a buck. Coming from Canada, where there are fewer consumers and less attractive programs, I am always appreciative of the ease of finding good sales, cheap shipping, coupons and coupon codes, and online shopping portals. (I use Ebates and Bank of America's Add it Up, though I prefer Ebates.) I like feeling like my loyalty and patronage are rewarded, that I am saving money I might otherwise have spent, and that I am doing my utmost to keep spending down so I can build a nest egg for the future. The road to financial security seems to sometimes be filled with useless rewards programs, and I occasionally think that the energy I put into something (like the Tropicana rewards program) has been completely wasted.

The fundamental theorem of corporate rewards programs seems to be simple: Their goal is to get you to spend more money than you initially intended, a larger fraction of your shopping budget there than elsewhere, and to get you to "come in" (in-store or online) for something cheap and wind up buying something expensive as well.

But who is to say that any of this is not to your advantage?
The math is simple. If:
Benefit to you > cost to you (especially if you would have spent the money anyways,)
It is worth your time.

That being said, there is some saying about needing to kiss a lot of frogs to find a prince, so I recently signed up for Hood Cottage Cheese rewards and Pampers Gift to Grow (since I'm hoping to have a lot of points before the baby is born so that we can reduce our inevitable spending by using rewards.) Though I ought to spend the rest of the evening doing work, my husband just walked into the apartment with my new issue of Conde Nast Traveler, to which I got a free subscription through e-Rewards. On the cover? A text box advertising "How to Save a Bundle: 15 Magic Web Sites."

I suppose I'll kiss a few more frogs.

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