Happy Tu B’Shevat and Bli Ayin Hara

First off, happy Tu B’Shevat!  It’s the New Year for trees and we’re celebrating as best we can.  I went to the store to find fruit and, being winter in Alaska, the pickings were slim and poor, but I did find some different fruits to make a seder.  I also spent $20 on 3 pieces of fruit, but it will be fun to celebrate.

And we have much to celebrate!

In Jewish culture, particularly Orthodox Jewish culture, there is a saying “bli ayin hara,” which loosely translates to trying not to invite the “evil eye.”  You could also compare it to “don’t count your chickens before they hatch,” or “don’t count your blessings.”  It’s the reason you don’t say “Mazel tov” to new parents before the child is actually born healthy and why often other big blessings are kept quiet until they have, for sure arrived.

I’m having my own “bli ayin hara” moment and I have been having it for about a week, so suffice it to say, I’m really hoping and anticipating that we will have good news in a few months.

In the meantime, we’re busy selling our house.

There’s been a mixture of feelings as I’ve cleaned and decluttered and really polished up our home.  It’s a really great house and sometimes I’ve forgotten how much I love this house and how hard we worked to get it.  We actually had to outbid another buyer and we just bought it a couple of years ago.  At the time, we anticipated living there at least until our children were grown since our dreams of conversion seemed to have ended.  It’s unlikely I’ll ever have such a bright, spacious kitchen to cook in again, particularly as we move to where we’ll be more in a city.  I know I won’t be able to see mountaintops out my windows or moose wandering through our yard.

As I cleaned, though, I also thought of the family that might move in after us.  I pictured them making happy memories here and focused on getting the home ready for them.  I hope that the house will sell well and fast, but I also hope that they’ll be as happy here as we have been and love the house as much as we have.  I hope their kids will be little enough to appreciate the treehouse in the backyard more than ours did.  I hope that they’re better at gardening in Alaska than I was and get good use of the raised vegetable bed we built and the rhubarb patch that we inherited from the last owners.  I hope they’ll enjoy the neighborhood and the schools as we have.

Chances are, we’ll need to move twice in the next few months.  The first move will be into a temporary rental for a few months so that the children can finish out their school year.  Then, we’ll begin the move that will take us across the continent.  My husband will be driving our belongings across Canada through the mountains and the children and I will be flying ahead of him with our dog to set up a place to live and buy a car.  For the most part, we’ll be selling almost everything we have or donating it and starting over.  It doesn’t make sense to move much when you’re moving that far.

We have little idea of what our lives will be like even as far out as this summer, but we do feel like we’re moving in the right direction.  When you get down to it, though…no one ever knows what the next few months can bring or how their lives will change and we’re all just moving forward in the best way we know how.

For some reason, though, now that it’s really happening and there is a photographer at my house as we speak taking pictures of it for sale…I’m filled with a peace and a deep belief that everything is going to work out as it should, even if I can’t picture what that is or how it will all come together…it just will.

Bli ayin hara, of course.

The Days of Iggy the Cat

When I was just out of college and in one of my first apartments, I yearned for pets.  I’d grown up with cats and dogs and my time as a college student had left me missing furry companionship.  By chance, my apartment lease allowed me 2 cats.  First came Grendel, a temperamental female cat that was an orange tabby.  I’m told it’s very rare for an orange tabby to be female, but apparently no one had told Grendel.  She came from my parents’ farm in a cardboard box.  About a year later, Iggy came along, a tiny gray tabby cat that my brother had said was weaned.  After unsuccessfully trying to get him to eat cat food, I gave up and bought kitten milk and hand fed him until he was able to eat on his own.  He slept on my chest to keep him warm, in the same spot that would later be claimed by each of my babies.

Iggy passed away last week at the ripe old age of 16 years old.

Iggy was the kind of cat that was perfect to raise children with.  He was patient with almost every kind of affection they offered and he enjoyed sleeping next to my daughter.  He was a faithful companion to all of us, making the trip first from Illinois to Florida and then, 5 years ago, from Florida to Alaska.  Whenever someone in the family was sick, Iggy felt it was his duty to sleep on them and purr and I think that the feeling of a sleeping cat purring on you is about the most comforting feeling there is.

Iggy’s passing was hard on all of us, even if we knew it was coming.

It began with him hemorrhaging blood out his backside and he became weaker and weaker.  Toward the end, when I woke in the morning and rejoined his side, he was pretty much gone, his pupils fixed and dilated and his body just gasping for air every so often.  It was painful to witness and our family took turns petting him to the very end.

“It’s ok, Iggy,” I whispered to him, “you can let go.  You’ve been a good kitty and your work here is done.”

My daughter was hit especially hard by his passing since it’s the first pet she’s ever been close to that died.  As we sat with Iggy, offering what comfort we could to him, we talked about how everything comes from Hashem and everything eventually returns to Hashem.  Iggy was being freed from this life to return to his source.  She asked the tough questions that have no easy answers, like why death has to be a part of life.  I did my best to answer and also to admit that I don’t always know myself.

Then, Iggy took his last breath and was still.

We wrapped him in one of my daughter’s baby blankets she’d kept for her stuffed animals and the children stayed home as my husband drove us to the vet.  I sobbed openly as I held his body, remembering how much heavier a body is when the life has left it.  I thanked Iggy for being with me through everything, from being a newlywed, then mother, then divorced single mother, then remarried.  Through hard times and good times, Iggy had just always been there…until now.

I guess Iggy just couldn’t face another cross-country move at his age.

Iggy was a cat that taught us all about love and death and life.  He was a creature of Hashem’s and to Hashem he has finally returned.


When You Treat Me Like You

When you ask me where to find candles
just assuming I must know
my heart expands, relaxing
my eyes well with tears
simply because you counted me among your own

When you tell me “Good Shabbos”
casually as you walk by
just assuming I celebrate it
not asking me if I can break it for you
my smile widens

When you try to pass the wine bottle to me
even though its awkward and I demurr
I smile inwardly because you forgot
I blended into your world so well
it never occurred to you to ask

When I can sit, unnoticed and accepted
there is a quiet kind of peace
no justifications needed, no explanations asked
I finally feel like me
the Jewess I’ve been inside

I hold my breath as you approach
afraid you’ll ask me where I grew up or who I’m related to
not because I’m ashamed or trying to hide
because I don’t want the clock to strike midnight just yet
or this magical moment to be broken

I want to linger here just a bit longer
before the questions come and I become unusual
I want to breathe in this space just a little more
where who I was no longer matters
and who I am is all I need to be

Back in Alaska and Life on Fast Forward!

Yesterday, we returned from our trip to scout out a new community for our family.  It was a whirlwind trip and had a lot of layers and highs and lows, but we definitely found a connection to one of the particular communities we visited on the trip.  It is small, but has everything we need, including good day schools for both kids and more learning for us and more kosher food.  My husband and son enjoyed going to minyan every day and my daughter even made a friend.

Our first trip to a grocery store with a large kosher selection must have been amusing for everyone else shopping.  My daughter actually jumped up and down in joy and I just kind of stood there, my jaw dropped, trying to figure out what to buy.  I’m so used to going to the store, finding what is available, and then cobbling together a meal from that and having so many choices was just overwhelming to me!  If I’d had my kitchen nearby, I could have made my family anything at all they wanted to eat!  I also felt self-conscious, worrying a bit that we all stuck out, but a woman inadvertently did me a great kindness, similar to the boy who came up to me my first time in an Orthodox shul to ask me if I was related to someone else he knew.

This woman was looking for havdalah candles, the candles that Jews light at the end of Shabbos.  There were quite a few to choose from, but she was looking for a specific candle and she asked me if I knew where it was.  In the midst of all these Jews who seemed so frum and put together, she asked me, the wide-eyed Alaskan.  I explained that we were visiting from Alaska and that I didn’t know where those particular candles were among the havdalah candle display, but I felt more at ease after that.

We attended classes, visited schools, ate kosher sushi, and really just enjoyed being part of a community.  There were little moments that meant so much, like when the non-Jewish hotel owner knew to tell us “Good Shabbos!” as we left on Friday to go to where we stayed for Shabbos or the greetings from Jewish families in the grocery store.

The message was…”You don’t have to be alone anymore.”

Now, we return to the whirlwind of school applications, home sale preparations, packing, and helping our son study like crazy, but we can see where we’re headed.

And it’s warm and bright despite the cold windchill.