Orthodox Women Talk: Round Two

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Hello and welcome to the second installation of Orthodox Women Talk!  You have questions about living an Orthodox Jewish life, we, a panel of Orthodox women answer them.  If you missed last week’s post, you can find it here.

Much gratitude to Keshet Starr for coming up with this concept!  Have a question?  Leave it in the comments or just contact me.

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The question:  How does one prep or enjoy Shabbos with young children/while working full time/on long Shabbos afternoons?

KESHET STARR

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I think I could write a whole book on this one—making (and enjoying!) Shabbos while working and taking care of little kids is definitely not easy. While I have by no means figured this out, here are some tips that have helped:

  1. Do things your way

Every household has their own traditions for Shabbos, and I’ve had to learn to embrace the ones that work for me and let go of the others. For example, many people serve an appetizer, but I’ve found that if I do that I feel like I’m in the kitchen the whole time, so we skip it!

2.  Plan, plan, and plan some more

Nearly every day of the week I do something to prepare for Shabbos. On Sunday, I invite. On Monday, I make my menu and order groceries. On Wednesday and Thursday, I cook. And Friday, I set the table and tidy up the house. Dividing up my tasks like this prevents me from being up until 3:00 am Thursday nights, or spending all of my Fridays (my day off) in the kitchen, which I REALLY like to avoid.

3.  Protect your Oneg Shabbos

Before I had children, I would light my Shabbos candles and pray, say Kabbalas Shabbos, and then relax on the couch with an inspiring magazine. Now, I’m lucky if I can light my candles and squeeze in the blessing between “Mommy, I have to go potty!” and “Baby Moshe needs you!” and “Ma-ma-ma-ma!” So I do whatever I can to make things easier on Shabbos so I can relax. I prep everything for the meal ahead of time, I use pre-made bottles for my baby to save a few steps, and I try to relax and let the mess wait as much as possible. Shabbos with little kids is always going to be different, but it can still be wonderful!

Keshet Starr is an Orthodox wife and mom who works as an attorney and moonlights as a scrapbooker, blogger, photographer, baker, reader, writer, and lover of all things creative! She lives in New Jersey with her fellow-attorney husband and two young children. When she isn’t taking care of her to-do list, indulging in a hobby, or sipping a hot latte, she likes to think about the deeper things in life and connect with others. Keshet blogs at www.keshetstarr.com and Instagrams at @keshetstarr.

TALI SIMON

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I make Shabbos every week, but I’m still not sure how to prepare for Shabbos with young kids at home! My kids are 20 months and 3 months and I could easily spend all of Friday just feeding and changing them, never mind cooking and cleaning.

One thing we’ve done is simplify the Shabbos menu. We started doing this during my second pregnancy because I just didn’t have the energy for more, but we’re still doing it because we really like it. Our menu template at this point is challah with 1 dip, soup, and dessert on Friday night and challah with the same dip, two cooked dishes, and the same dessert for lunch. (If you’re interested, I wrote more about making Shabbos back in February.)

Whatever I’m cooking, I’m usually making it with the kids around. My son’s meals are prime cooking time, unless the baby also needs to eat then. His nap is prime cooking time, too, minus whatever time I spend feeding the baby. (Do you sense a pattern?) Sometimes I cook five minutes at a time, whenever five free minutes happen, and eventually I manage to turn out a couple of finished dishes. And if my husband isn’t working, having him around makes a huge difference.

In terms of enjoying long Shabbos afternoons when you have little kids, you’re touching on something that struck me when my toddler was born. It doesn’t really matter what day it is, kids still have basic needs that need to be met — even if Shabbos/Yom Tov is starting in less than an hour and the kitchen is a wreck and I haven’t showered, let alone thought about finding some clean Shabbos clothes. And on Shabbos afternoon, I might be dying to relax in bed with a magazine, but the baby still eats every two hours, and inevitably as soon as she’s done, my toddler’s nap will be over. So yes, Shabbos afternoons are not what they used to be — my husband and I haven’t played a board game in eons (did that all the time pre-kids), and getting more than a few minutes to relax with a book is really rare.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy Shabbos afternoons!

I love spending time with my kids, and even though I do it all day, every day, there’s something special about having time with them that isn’t interrupted by my phone/email/Facebook going off, washing dishes, cooking, doing laundry, etc. I’m much more relaxed in general on Shabbos; everything is more laid-back. My husband and I love to take the kids to the park or friends’ houses in the late afternoon when the weather’s nice, and even though one of us could stay at home, most weeks we both go because we just plain like it. (When he or I really need a break, the other one takes the kids out.)

Tali Simon is a writer, editor, and food blogger living near the Dead Sea. She loves to cook, her skinny husband loves to eat, and their two kids are rather unpredictable. Check out Tali’s vegetarian recipes, weekly menu plans, and stories about life in Israel at More Quiche, Please.

REBECCA KLEMPNER

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I haven’t worked full-time since I had children, but I have definitely experienced the challenge of keeping those kiddos entertained on long Shabbos afternoons in the summertime.

When they were really little, we all took naps, followed by reading, playing, visiting, and usually a walk. Now, we read, play board games, have playdates, and play in the backyard. Sometimes we walk or visit friends. And read some more.

The biggest challenge came was when our children outgrew their naps, but weren’t yet old enough to read or to play without adult supervision. The most pressing issues was that after a long week, my husband and I REALLY needed naps, or at least the ability to rest in a horizontal position without someone crawling on us and begging for attention. I’d look at my three year old at about 2 pm and burst into tears of exhaustion.

Some things that helped:

  • Holding a brachos party midafternoon, with or without guests. You serve fun foods to go with different blessings (mezonot, gefen, eitz, adama, shehakol) and say, “Amein!” to each person’s bracha in turn. My kids love this.
  • Getting games that don’t require reading or arithmetic. Our favorites are Memory (and all the different copycat games) and Hiss.
  • Living in a neighborhood with other families who keep Shabbos (or are at least home and cool with shutting off all devices for a while). There’s nothing nicer after a hot afternoon than a stroll when the temperature begins to cool off. And visiting all those friends you don’t see during the busy weekdays is a real treat. If there’s a park nearby, that’s a great destination, too. Or visit something interesting: a house with a koi pond in front entertained my kids, as well as one with a spectacular garden and interesting lawn art.
  • Getting a teenager to come watch the kids for a while. They can take the kids on a walk, read picture books to them, or monitor them in the backyard. Even if we didn’t actually nap, if we could rest or have a private conversation, it was such a relief.
  • Trying not to go into Shabbos so tired in the first place. At some point, I realized that it was better to serve one or two less dishes if that meant I could go to bed at a decent hour on Thursday or take a nap on Friday afternoon.

Hope these tips help! Just remember that this is usually a temporary stage. Eventually, the kids will make their own social engagements for the afternoons, find books to read, play games with each other, and so on.

Rebecca Klempner is a wife, mom, and writer living in L.A. Her picture book, A Dozen Daisies for Raizy, appeared in 2008, and her short stories and essays have appeared in publications including Tablet Magazine, Binah, Hamodia, and Ami. Her current serial for teens and tweens, “Glixman in a Fix,” appears weekly in Binah BeTween.

MELISSA AMSTER

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My husband does most of the cooking. When it’s just us, we keep it simple. My kids are easily entertained but they end up getting more screen time in the hours before Shabbos starts. On Shabbos, they play together in the basement or we get together with friends. Sometimes my husband will play board games with the boys.

Melissa Amster lives in Maryland (DC Metro area) with her husband, two sons and daughter. When she’s not reading and interviewing authors for her book blog, she works for a Jewish non-profit. In her spare time (what’s that?!?), she likes to watch her favorite shows on TV, bake challah and desserts, and host meals and other gatherings. Check out her personal blog and follow her on Twitter.

SKYLAR BADER

Skylar Bader

Well, again, it’s really easy if you don’t have to prep for Shabbat! This is a really common stereotype about frum women, but it doesn’t always hold true for specific individuals.

I don’t have to cook for Shabbat because my father-in-law cooks each week at his house or we all go out somewhere else. I don’t ever have meals in my house, though I hope to host a few in the coming year. I make an effort to do some house cleaning, but that’s about it for Shabbat prep. I’ve been married for almost two years, and we have no children. I’ve also been unemployed for a long time, but I’m now in the process of opening my own law firm. Flexible hours and being my own boss will be really helpful on Fridays. For instance, I plan to make Fridays the day for paperwork and other bureaucratic needs. No meetings!

Before I was married, I also ate out for nearly all my meals or ate simple meals at home alone. I always brought something to contribute to the meal, but it was much less stressful to prepare one thing than a whole meal. I don’t like cooking, and I’d rather spend my time doing other things like reading, working, or listening to a podcast. (Can you tell yet that I’m an introvert?)

I don’t know how well this will work as I get older and our family changes, but my goal is to have as little prep work as possible. Except for the bathroom. I think a freshly-cleaned bathroom is really important to my Shabbat experience! The first major “unnecessary” expense I hope to add is having some housekeeping help. I don’t believe it will feel so unnecessary when my income allows for it or having children requires it.

And I believe that expense will make me a happier person, a better mother, and/or I could make more money working those hours than it would cost to pay someone else to do it. In many ways, Shabbat prep is about opportunity costs for me. Is this really how I want to spend my time? Will taking time to do X, Y, or Z make me bring in Shabbat with a bad attitude? Will it make me irritable and cause me to snap at the people I love? I have to be honest with myself and follow through to make Shabbat as positive an experience as it can be for me. (And yes, I apply this same logic to cleaning for Pesach!)

Skylar Bader is an orthodox convert living in New York City. She wears many hats, which you can check out at www.skylarbader.com. She blogs at crazyjewishconvert.blogspot.com, teaches conversion candidates and kallahs, and is also a lawyer for small businesses. Originally from the South, she has four pets and an addiction to books.

EMILY CHILUNGU

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First off, you have to know your limits.  If life only allows for you to have the time, energy, money, etc. to make a simple meal, then make that simple meal with happiness.  Better that than putting out an amazing spread but losing your patience or feeling frustration.

With 4 kids and a physician husband who is (seemingly) on call all the time, the idea of an extravagant, ready for Bon Appetite Magazine meal went out the window long ago.  Sometimes, it’s a three course meal or even a 4 courser with various salads and soup and two types of meat and a vegetarian option and dessert–but most of the time, it isn’t.  And we are cool with that.

Learning to manage time is a big one, too.  I do a lot of my shopping Thursday evening or night, and leave Friday for cooking and cleaning.  I’m a stay-at-home mom, so I have that option.  A lot of my friends who work outside the home get a lot of stuff done on Thursdays.  Also, never underestimate the beauty of a slow cooker.  It has saved Shabbat for us more than I would like to admit.  As far an enjoying Shabbat, especially in the summer when it goes late, we do a lot of stuff outside.  We live in a small community in an old suburb, where a lot of houses are quite close together and sidewalks everywhere (I grew up out in the country, where roads didn’t even have stripes down them let alone sidewalks, sidewalks are something that I am still grateful for).

Kids play together, we walk to the park to the jungle gym, or go for surprise hikes in the nature preserve.  We do a lot of walking, which leads to a lot of stopping by at different houses to chat, sometimes for 10 minutes, sometimes for a couple of hours!  We are, by nature, not very extroverted, so this is not something that always came easily to us.  But the reward of strengthened friendships and ties to people is worth stepping outside of ourselves.

Books and magazines are also big in our house for adults, and letting the kids play with their Legos or play food or dress up costumes anywhere in the house is great for them.  It took me a while to not get annoyed when the kids dumped what must be 1,000 Legos on the living room floor, or got out the milk crate of play food and made a restaurant, but now, we are fine with it (as long as they clean it up!).  I want my kids to see Shabbat as a time where Mommy and Abba are chilled out, happy, chatting with each other and with them.  A long Shabbat brings with it a good bit of chaos in our house, and I’ve learned to accept and embrace that!

Emily Chilungu is a 35-year-old mother of four.  An observant Jewish convert married to another observant Jewish convert, from rural Ohio and currently living in upstate New York.

RIVKI SILVER

With three little kids underfoot, I’ve found that being organized about Shabbos really helps me be less stressed out on Fridays.  Preferably, I make my menu and shopping list on Tuesday, go shopping on Wednesday, start cooking on Thursday, and, in an ideal world, am finished before the kids come home from school on Friday.  Lately, things have been pushed back a bit, so I’ve been cooking a lot of Fridays, which kind of works, but then I can’t really do anything with my kids, and it gets a little stressful.  I do try to keep it simple, and even though I like to cook and bake, I like my sanity more, so I will limit how much food I make and stick to recipes that don’t involve a lot of steps.

Shabbos morning has become a bit of a trying time this past year, since I am not even remotely proactive about contacting the families that live nearby.  We’ve lived here for a year, and I’ve only made a nominal effort to engage.  That’s my bad, totally.  On the occasions when I do get out and socialize, I don’t regret it.  It’s good for my kids, it’s good for me, so it’s worth whatever effort it takes to get everyone dressed.

On days when we’re either not motivated to go out, or haven’t made any solid plans and don’t feel like chancing it with a surprise visit to a friend (though those can be fun!), we play in the house, on the porch or in the yard.  We recently purchased a sandbox and a trampoline, so that has been extremely helpful.  Now that the weather is (hopefully) becoming more mild, we should be able to make the trek to one of the playgrounds around us.  The closest ones are both about a mile away, so it’s a little miserable to go when it’s hot out.  But fall should be perfect.

Rivki Silver has spent most of her life immersed in the study of music, but for the past six years has been learning about marriage and motherhood.  She writes about relationships, parenthood, music and religion, as seen through the lens of an Orthodox Jewish woman.  Her writing can be found on Kveller.com, Aish.com, PartnersinTorah.org, as well as her blog, LifeintheMarriedLane.com (yes, that’s right here where you are!).  You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

 

Introducing: Orthodox Women Talk

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Do you remember when I announced the exciting new series where a panel of Orthodox Jewish women will answer your questions about living the life of, you know, an Orthodox Jewish woman?  Well the first post is up over at Keshet’s blog right now!

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I am so, so excited to share this with you, and to start a conversation to (hopefully) explore and demystify this often misunderstood and sometimes confusing faction of Jewish life.  I know that before I ever met anyone Orthodox, I had a lot of assumptions, questions, and the like, but it’s not like I could even ever ask anyone.  What was I going to do, go up to someone on the street?  That just wasn’t my style.

This is one amazing benefit of the internet, how it can bring people together who would otherwise not have a chance to interact.

And even now, after living the “Orthodox lifestyle” for about ten years, I *still* have questions about how to manage certain practical aspects, like having little kids and making/enjoying Shabbos (which we’ll actually address in the next OWT post), and how to stay inspired when routine sets in (which we address in part in today’s post).  Just because someone is Orthodox doesn’t mean that they can’t have questions about being Orthodox!

So, on that note, I am really looking forward to our interactions!

Now head on over and check out the first post!  And keep sending in those questions!

Six tips on how to keep your toys organized when you don’t have a playroom

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So even though we moved from an apartment to a house, we don’t have a designated play area.  This means that our living room is also our play room, which means it’s normal for it to look like this:

And this is with the new system in place

Truly, this is nothing

That’s actually the manageable version.  Having toys on every conceivable surface (the couch was unusually accessible in that photo, btw, totally misrepresenting its normal uselessness for sitting), makes it difficult to, well, live in the living room (obviously, there is quite a lot of living being done in this room.  Just not quiet living.  Or living involving adult conversation).

So after many months of cleaning up and sorting massive amounts of toys, and feeling more and more like Sisyphus, I decided it was time for an overhaul of our Toy Management Approach.  Two things about my take on toys:  1)  I’m fairly obsessive focused about keeping toys organized, since my kids play better with them when they are sorted (and since I’m quite type-A).  2) I’m working hard to get my kids to clean up after themselves.  But when there are so many different toys all mixed up and spread out all over the floor, it’s too much for either me or my kids to deal with.  Something had to give.

1. Out of sight out of mind

I keep the vast majority of my kids’ toys in the dungeon basement.  I got some open shelving from Home Depot, which were extremely easy to assemble, and holds most of our toys (my brother-in-law has these fabulous, tall rubbermaid-ish cabinets that I *really* like, so whenever we’re in the market for a storage upgrade, I’m totally getting those).

When the toys are stored in the basement it makes going down to get one a treat.  It also makes it somewhat easier to enforce the rule of one up, one down.

it just needs some chains on the walls to complete the look

it just needs some chains on the walls to complete the look

The main drawback to this (besides the obvious:  STAIRS) is that stray pieces which hide from us during picking up accrue and before I know it, I have a whole collection of “toys that really belong downstairs but have been separated from their toy families.” Naturally, I procrastinate putting these where they belong (because STAIRS), so they build up until it’s a whole thing.

2. One up, one down

Before we can bring a new toy up from the basement, we have to put away one toy that’s upstairs.  This has been the trickiest rule to enforce, because it takes a lot A LOT of stamina and consistency on my part to make happen.  My children don’t exactly clap their hands and say, “oh, yes Mommy, I would love to pick up all the cars/playdough/blocks and put them back in their appropriate container before getting out a new toy!”  Not so much.  There is often kvetching, sometimes bargaining, occasionally yelling.  But after six to nine months of trying to enforce this rule, we’ve actually gotten pretty good at making this the norm.  So there is hope.

3. Minimize and Rotate

I try to keep the amount of toy upstairs to a minimum.  This is what my idea of a minimum looks like:

this is the bulk of it

this is the bulk of it

Obviously, everyone has a different threshold of how many toys they can tolerate underfoot.  My kids barely touch 3/4 of these toys, so I could realistically pare back even more.

Even though rotation takes effort (STAIRS), it’s fun to randomly switch out which toys stay upstairs, and to see the kids get all excited when they find a “new” toy in rotation.  It’s like I went to the store, except the store is the basement and I didn’t have to get in the car or spend any money.

4. Find the right containers

This is a constant work in progress.  I recently engaged in some retail therapy at Marshall’s and got three new containers (I probably spent a total of $40 on them).  The container the duplo blocks were in was literally falling apart, so that had to be upgraded, and I disliked how the bulky duplo train track set (which I got free from someone who was done with it – score!) was making the regular duplos impossible to get to without dumping out the entire box.  So now I have them neatly separated out.

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And the other new container I purchased is for the coloring books/construction paper collection that was previously spilling out and getting wedged behind the storage unit.

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So not only do I feel good about the purchases, I thoroughly enjoy looking at them, and basking in their contributions to my need for neatness.

5. Be Flexible

I am constantly tweaking my toy management situation.  As my kids get older and become better (thankfully) about taking care of their toys, but as our family continues to grow, it’s been necessary to regularly evaluate what’s working and what isn’t, and not to become too locked in to any one system of organization.  This is working for us now, so I’m happy for the time being.

6. Give them away

I also occasionally choose some toys that aren’t played with so much/aren’t a present from a grandparent/not so appealing anymore and have my children choose some to put in a donation box.  Yes, this actually works (and yes, I do “disappear” toys when they’re sleeping/at school as well).  I only do this about twice a year, but I love how it’s an opportunity to teach them about giving to others, about appreciating that we have so many toys (though I’m not so sure that message has sunk in yet), and about not being too attached to our stuff.

How do you manage your toys?   Do they make you crazy, or are you ruling over them with authority?  

On Not Fearing Those Who Are Different Than You

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{Did you know that I’m doing a daily video series for the month of Elul?  Very, very short videos (less than two minutes long).  You can subscribe to my YouTube channel, or see them on my blog’s Facebook page (if Facebook decides to reveal them to you), or on Twitter, or contact me to be added to the email list.}  

The other week at the zoo I had an experience which gave me pause.  Due to a ill-timed discovery of a flat stroller tire (like, I discovered it after arriving at the zoo and packing all our stuff into said stroller), I found myself shlepping up to the front entrance, two massive bags of supplies on my shoulder, a squirmy two-year-old in my arms, and two excited little boys hovering around my maxi skirt.  About two feet beside and slightly behind me was a grandmother (I assume) with two granddaughters (also assumed).  Facing both of us, about five away, was a woman approximately my age.

This woman stood before us, looking first at me, then at the presumed grandmother.  After a quick deliberation, she approached the grandmother and said,

“Are you purchasing tickets for admission? I have this coupon for 10% off, and I totally forgot to use it!”

Thanks and pleasantries were exchanged before the coupon-donater turned and hurried back to where she came from, muttering something about leaving her children unattended.

It felt…weird.  I had the distinct impression that I had been assessed and then rejected for this coupon opportunity.  And all well within earshot, to boot.   Continue reading

New Video Series for Elul

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Well, it’s here!  Duhn duhn DUHN!  Chodesh Tov everyone, and welcome to Elul (well, technically it’s the last day of Av, but it’s still Rosh Chodesh).  This is a month of potential, of great possibility for growth, and a month where for many years, I’ve watched in dismay as the hustle and bustle of daily life has made it difficult to take advantage of this opportunity.

This year, I’m doing a series of short (very short, like under two minutes, because, well, my attention span is short, and in general, I think the attention span of the interwebs is short, too) videos with a quick Torah thought that will hopefully help elevate your month and mine as well.

I’m not going to post every video on this blog (that would just be too much), but you can follow my YouTube channel, or email me and I can send you the daily link.  I’ll also be posting it on my blog’s Facebook page (which sometimes won’t show up in your feed unless you do something along these lines – I know, annoying of Facebook to not show you things you want to see), and my Twitter account, so there’s lots of places to get it, if you’re interested.

Here’s the first episode of QTFE (Quick Thoughts for Elul):  Enjoy!  Let me know what you think!

Pushing the Boundaries

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The summer really is drawing to a close.  My Facebook feed is full of pictures of the first day of school, talk of purchasing supplies and the arrival of uniforms.  We successfully made it through Camp Mommy, took multiple road trips, added both a sandbox *and* a trampoline to our yard, and even found a carpool for the upcoming school year.

Amazing.

We just returned (like, nine hours ago) from a fabulous trip to Cleveland, where we spent a whole week enjoying my mother-in-law, aunt-in-law, brother-in-law and all the cousins.  It was a last-hurrah-of-the-summer kind of trip, where I threw all caution to the wind (okay, not all caution, but I did get a little brave) and scheduled the trip even though my husband would not be able to come until Shabbos.  

all by yourself?  Are you insane?

All by yourself? Are you insane?

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Why We Don’t Do What We Know Is Good For Us

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Our phone rang immediately after last Shabbos, and when I went to screen the call see who it was, I saw my mother’s cell phone number on the caller i.d.  But when I answered, it was my father on the line, which was unusual (I usually call him, and on their land line).  He told me that, shockingly, my mother was in the hospital (what?!), as she had had a gallstone which ended up in her pancreas and caused pancreatitis (yeah, I hadn’t ever heard of that before, but it’s a thing), and so she had been admitted to the hospital, and they were planning on keeping her until Tuesday.

Tuesday.  That was like, a five day stay.  That sounded serious to me.  And scary.  This is my mother.  Who is obviously supposed to be immortal and immune to all physical ailments.

Thank G-d, everything was okay.  My husband assured me that he’s seen plenty of pancreatitis which resolves very nicely (one of the perks of being married to a doctor, I guess.  They know stuff about things like pancreatitis).  My mother had her gallbladder out yesterday, and she’s recovering nicely, Thank G-d, may she continue to do so.

I was speaking with her yesterday evening, and she mentioned how much better she felt without her gallbladder, and how she realized now that she’d been feeling lousy for a little while, but just hadn’t realized it.  She had just gotten used to it.  And I had a flash of insight: Continue reading