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Fidget Spinners and Other Fun Grandchildren Bonding Activities

 

One of the reasons I love being a grandmother is that I think of every interaction with them as fun. Just having a silly conversation and making funny faces with my two and a half year old grandson is a blast but that’s another article!

A few weeks ago, reader Leah Hastings of Pure Flix media, wrote in to suggest I post some ideas for grandmothers to do with their grandchildren. Thanks, Leah!

So….Here are 10 fun ideas which are a mixture of culturally Jewish ideas and general population ideas. All are good, but since I’m a Jewish Bubby or grandmother, I veer towards the Jewish stuff! So come along with me and explore these ideas….

  1. Listen to CD’s of a  funny tape: My grandchildren love to listen to funny tapes which are usually educational stories and songs acted out by professional writers and actors and sold in Judaica stores. Really fun tapes filled with lessons on good character traits  are “When Zaidy Was Young”  and “The Marvelous Midos Machine”.These are wonderfully entertaining – for adults and children –and are useful for playing in the car during long and short errands. Play it at home in the kitchen or family room and sit around and laugh and learn. It’s great stuff and the lyrics and tunes will stay with you for a long time.
  2. Sharing Fads and Crazes: When I was a child, it was the Hula Hoop. When our kids were growing up it was the Rubik’s Cube which went out of style and then came back a few years ago when my own grandsons were pre-schoolers! How perfect. Just these past few weeks, the newest fad is the FIDGET SPINNER.                      It’s wild. It’s great for the kids to have something to share with their friends (during recess only, I’m told!) It’s not too expensive or hard on the parents’ wallets.  It’s fun for those kids with or without ADHD. (but don’t we all have a little bit of ADHD?) And best of all, it’s great as a conversation starter.  I love listening to my grandsons tell me about this fad, showing me how it works and asking my many silly questions (they are very patient with me!).
  3. Friday Night Shabbat Meal: Another fun activity revolves around our Friday night Shabbos or Shabbat meal when our son, daughter-in-law and grandsons eat with us. Every week, they come home from school with a handout from their teacher. The handout consists of questions on topics from the Torah Portion or Parsha of the week that the children have learned. My husband and my son read through the questions and when one of the kids doesn’t know the answer or hesitates, my husband makes up some silly choices with the correct choice being the only logical one. This always gets the boys to laugh and warms my heart because I know we are creating memories.
  4. Baseball Game Outing: Every summer we take the boys to a Dodger Game and the boys love it. It has become a tradition for the past six years since our older grandson was only three. It’s hard to believe he sat still for the entire game at that age, but he did. Anyway, we bring along hot dogs from home and other snacks and take lots of pictures and my husband explains the game to the boys and it’s really a lot of fun. Their mommy and daddy don’t come along, by the way. It’s a great way to give them time off. Oh yeah, we are due for that trip to the ballpark this summer, but the season just started so we’ll wait a month or so.
  5. Day at the Park: This is simple fun – we usually do this on a Sunday afternoon. We grab some balls of all sizes, sandwiches, water bottles, mitts and some scooters. And we head to the park and have a picnic. We haven’t done this for some time and just writing about it is making me excited to suggest it for a future Sunday.
  6. Playing Board or Card Games: As mentioned above, the most popular one is chess. I rarely beat my grandsons and the game goes by pretty fast before they “check-mate” me, so this one doesn’t take that much time. But it’s fun while it lasts.
  7. Reading Books – I love reading “The Cat in the Hat” to my 2 year old grandson. He gets really into it and  he points to the pictures on the page, enthusiastically naming  them. We have a blast, turning the pages (when he lets!)  and discuss his topics about the “fish,” and the “water,” and Thing One and Thing Two.
  8. Singing Songs and Finger Plays: I love singing songs to my toddler grandson. I also enjoy doing the motions and watching him giggle, sing and imitate my motions. He already knows some of the songs like “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and others from his playgroup so he’s an experienced guy. Recently we did “Head, shoulders, knees and toes….” and I just adore the way he’s picking up all the names of body parts.
  9. Piano Lessons: The old expression is that the shoemaker’s kids go barefoot, but this piano teacher is not going to allow her grandsons to grow up without piano lessons. So even if I have to give them a lesson here and there when we see each other and when I and they have time, I will do that! So far it’s been fun, if not sporadic. A few lessons on rhythm, note reading and such. They love it, I love it, and it keeps us bonding. And by the way, when they prepared an anniversary card for my husband and me several months ago, they wrote about us “Omi (that’s my grandmother name!) teaches us how to play piano!” And reading that made me proud!
  10. Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf: It’s always a fun tradition to take the boys for a cookie or Danish, or other snack at the Coffee Bean near our home. It serves as a special time with grandparents.

My Grandson’s Kindergarten Graduation Takeaway

When Robert Fulghum wrote that all he ever needed to know he learned in kindergarten, he wasn’t kidding.  I had a similar experience in kindergarten just by watching my grandson and his peers sings songs at their graduation.

silhouette-kids-holding-hands

The other day I attended the 5-year old graduation and listened to them say their valedictorian speeches – sing the songs and perform for the parents and grandparents with such clarity of speech, twinkles in their eyes and motions of their hands.  I realized for myself that these kids know everything they have to know already. Today.

They learned it already and they don’t have to learn it anymore. From here on in, it’s just review and repetition.

Robert Fulghum’s list of material learned in kindergarten included sharing, being fair, cleaning up your own mess, being nice and even flushing the toilet. Lots of things. You can check them out here. They all have to do with behaviors, rather than attitudes or values. Behaviors are important because the more we do them, the more practice we get at being good at them. And the more someone who we respect praises us for doing the behavior (kids love mitzvah notes!), the more we want to do it more.

I wonder: After kindergarten, is there is anything more to learn about how to act properly, with manners and politeness? Or is it just trial, error, repetition, review, feedback, practice and refinement of the basic lessons?

Beyond behaviors, there are attitudes and values. Attitudes and values are important because they are the pillars that hold up what we believe to be important in life, and they motivate us to do the things we do.

My grandson and his buddies sang so many songs (they were each very short!) that my heart was singing and dancing. I couldn’t stop kvelling (pretty typical for me but ok).

Songs about values such as honesty, visiting the sick, being nice to guests, knowing that even bad things are all for the best, loving others, and appreciating what others do for us.

These children have learned things in kindergarten and learned it well.  I saw it in their eyes. I felt it in their smiles. And I watched it in their hands that moved in unison.

On that day, in that classroom, at that graduation, those 22 kids dressed as little sailors sang songs about values and beliefs that they will hopefully be mindful of every day of their lives.

Here they are sitting together and watching a slide show of the various activities they did this year representing the values they learned.

sailors

And now? Where do they go from here? We hope and pray they take these values and self esteem they have had this year and go forward from strength to strength.

And to that blessing this grandmother says “Amen!”

 

 

 


Thumbs Up to 10 Blogging Buddies

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As we enter the New Year of 2016,  I thank a group of  people who enrich my life with their insights and creativity. They enlighten me with their humor and spirituality. And they inform me with their knowledge and wit.

Most of these women are  younger than me; some are older and a few are just about my age and stage. Whether they blog about parenting, spirituality, grandparenting, midlife issues, world events,  religion or anything else…their sharing of ideas online  has improved my life.

Without further ado, I wish a Happy 2016 t0 the following talented bloggers (listed below in alphabetical order).

1.

An Empowered Spirit. Cathy Chester

From writing and advocating for those who have multiple sclerosis to bringing a positive angle from events….to teaching us the value of friendship and love….kindness and creativity to her friends and acquaintances…to reminiscing about oldies in movies, books and culture…to sharing exciting happenings in showbiz and musicals…..and how to age with grace and love and humor, and mindfulness….Cathy’s prose always inspires, hits the spot. Her ideas expressed on popular sites  and her personal blog resonate with spirituality and her words sing with just the right tones and beats, encouraging us all to find the beauty in the everyday lives we lead. Cathy’s blog has garnered a great deal of public attention, winning numerous awards, especially in her capacity as an advocate for people with disabilities.  One of these days, Cathy and I will meet – hopefully sooner than later.

2.

Cycling Grandma. Lisa Winkler.

Lisa and I began as grandmother friends as we both have grandma blogs and found each other online. Pretty soon we were swapping stories and grandchildren cute antics through email and some posts. Eventually, we actually met IRL when Lisa came to Los Angeles last year. Lisa is a woman of many passions: bike riding (“cycling”), knitting, play scripting,  teaching, stimulating her grandchildren’s growing minds, reading, traveling, and of course writing (I’m sure I left out a lot!).   I consider Lisa a dear and supportive friend who has given me many tools and tips for coping in my personal and professional life.

3.

Empty House Full Mind. Sharon Greenthal.

Sharon is one of  the founders of  Midlife Boulevard, a community of women who blog.  I joined that group a few years ago and met some like-minded and similar-staged friends. Sharon’s posts on her personal blog and other online platforms cover versatile topics including being a “mentsch” in social media, dealing with empty nest syndrome, perspectives on marriage, relating appropriately to adult children, and appreciating the good in our middle aged lives.  Sharon’s subjects are relatable and timely but always with an original twist that keeps me entertained and enlightened.  Her material is a reality check reminding me to laugh, relax and enjoy the ride. Sharon recently  became a columnist on About.com as their  expert in young adult parenting.  Thanks, Sharon!

4.

Friend for the Ride. Barbara Younger.

Barbara, a fellow grandmother was one of the first people that I met as a blogger. Barbara ran a guest post of mine and the rest is history.  Recently when I had a health scare that related to  menopause, Barbara gave me the encouragement I needed (and everything worked out well thank G-d!). You see, menopause –and everything tangentially related to it – is Barbara’s niche and expertise. Barbara is a hoot and expresses  serious medical topics with refreshing humor and candidness. Barbara’s bravery and optimism along with the accurate information that she posts are what attracted me to her blog. Her stories about being a grandmother and mom who juggles the sandwich generation are always relatable. Thank you, Barbara for being there.

5.

Grandma’s Briefs. Lisa Carpenter.

Lisa’s blog struck me from the beginning as the consummate “Grandmother Blog.” I loved the way Lisa gave her grandsons anonymous “bloggie” names on the blog. (Check them out on her blog in the sidebar). Lisa’s sense of humor, down to earth writing and really professional layout are what got me coming back. Lisa’s recent subjects on her blog have been movie reviews, combatting weight gain around holiday time, and other family matters. Lisa is the coordinator of an event where bloggers contribute their best post in one spot. She calls it the Grand Social and holds it weekly, inviting other grandmothers to submit their links on any topic (even non-grandmother topics – just no sales).  Lisa loves traveling and can often be found visiting her daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren in nearby Arizona. Check out some of those fabulous photos and videos  she takes of her grandsons. Thanks, Lisa for the inspiration.

6.

L.ife in the Married Lane. Rivki Silver.

Rivki, SAHM mother of four, musician of too many instruments to count (clarinet, piano, saxophone and more) published writer, and performer,  blogs (in her free time…) a potpourri of ideas including Judaism, parenting, music, marriage,  motherhood and general “of interest” subjects.  Whether she’s covering serious or funny topics, Rivki’s writing is both engaging and gripping.  Check out some of  Rivki’s published posts and amazing you-tube videos where she articulates thoughts on spiritual growth and healthy priorities. Enjoy her musical selections such as “Ode to a Cosmic Carrot” that she’s composed and arranged. Rivki’s story about her spiritual journey and her gifts at combining technology,  spirituality and art with down-to-earth topics, inspire me to personal growth.  Thanks, Rivki!

7.

Nina Badzin, Writer.

In the beginning I read Nina’s blog to gain insight from an accomplished writer and blogger. I saw how vast her publishing experience was and I wanted to learn from her. But soon I realized that I was learning more about character traits and relationships than about knowledge on how to write. Nina has an intuitive sense of honing in on a theme and  is the go-to person for  how to navigate the complexities of social media;  I read her  friendship advice column and am amazed how spot-on she is. Nina seems to get so much done in a day that often I’m dizzy (in a good way) after reading her posts. From Challah baking groups to the myriad books she devours and reviews…. to the creative things she does with her cute kids, to her ambitious yet pragmatic outlook, I’m constantly inspired. But what I most enjoy about Nina’s writing is her solid voice with a sense of who she is and who she aspires to be. We can all identify with her  practical and sensible advice that always has a positive and hopeful tone. Keep teaching, Nina and thanks!

8.

Out of the Orthodox Box. Ruchie Koval.

Ruchie Koval’s blog’s title is reflective of her mission to bring Orthodox Judaism out of the box or to demystify the customs and practices of Orthodox Judaism for the Jews of all ages, affiliations and levels. Besides being the the author of the newly published book, Conversations With God,  her articulate posts offer perspectives on hosting unaffiliated guests for Shabbat meals  , a young Orthodox girl’s  conviction to wear a skirt for gymnastics, Orthodox Jewish women covering their hair after marriage, parenting, and relationships. Ruchi and her husband are the dynamic team who run the Cleveland program of Jewish Family Experience or  JFX, an organization for Jewish outreach. They, their seven children and staff  bring  Jewish people back to their roots through lectures, programs, entertainment and trips to Israel. With raw honesty and sincerity,  Ruchi breaks down complex issues into little understandable bites. Thanks, Ruchi.

9.

Rebecca Klempner’s Blog.

Rebecca Klempner, my IRL friend before my blogging friend,  was the one who got me motivated to get into blogging. She is the mother of four, science fiction fiend, and talented author of children’s book. Additionally, she has published anthology collections online and on the website Tablet magazine, and countless short stories and essays. A regular contributor to several print magazines and periodicals, Rebecca has become the go-to person in our community for knowing the ins and outs of the publishing world. Rebecca’s blog is about writing including her journey as a writer, her writing process, struggles and successes in composing essays and novels, news about her new publications, and general tips on writing for all of us readers. I always learn about the industry and the craft of writing when spending time with Becca or reading her blog.

10.

Renee Jacobson’s Blog.

Talented artist and painter, writer, blogger, lover of cute hats,  Renee and I met when she organized a Hannukkah Hoopla blogging event for a group of bloggers in December 2014. After that, we became fast Face-book friends (love that alliteration…) and Renee even painted a set of colorful canvases (!) for my new kitchen. Renee’s creativity in fashion, writing and teaching are only a small part of who she is. I’m happy to have met Renee online and look forward to meeting one day! Maybe you’ll come out to LA and give an art workshop. Who knows?

 

My wish for the coming year is that we continue to enjoy to gain inspiration through reading, writing and sharing our thoughts. Happy 2016!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


When the World Around Us Is Crumbling, Embracing Inner Change

Just this morning, the LAUSD (Los Angeles public school system) and other school systems received “credible threats” leading some to shut down the doors  to the schools. We hear this news and we are scared, insecure and feeling powerless.

But sometimes it seems that changes in the outer world have the odd benefit of causing self-reflection.

chinese-proverb-on-windmill

Recently I’ve been thinking about how I’ve changed  over the years. Most importantly, my identity about who I am versus who I was is more defined for me these days than it ever was.

At the core, I’m still the same person. Yet, my hobbies, how I occupy my time, my life goals, and my overall perception of myself have gone through small and large gradations.

On the exterior, I’m a hybrid of middle aged dieter and sometimes-exerciser, part time music therapist, English teacher, home owner (new kitchen remodeler!), broken ankle survivor, grandmother, writer, blogger, friend, daughter, mother-in-law. (not in that order, please).

My relationships keep expanding: Friends, acquaintances, more grandchildren, new daughters-in-law, colleagues, social media friends and so forth.

But on the inside I’m a mixture of the former and insecure together with the new and evolved and more confident. My struggle throughout life seems to be to peel away the layers of insecurity one by one, and hopefully emerge as a whole person.

When I was newly married, I’d fill out forms and where they’d ask about occupation, I’d write “housewife.” There was no hesitance as I checked off that box.

housewife-with-cook-book

There was no place for “stay at home mom” (and the term wasn’t yet in vogue) so “housewife” was the closest thing to my truth. I spent my days at the park or library,  shopping for groceries, carpools and cooking uncomplicated meals.

You know, Mommy-ing.

I also taught piano lessons up to ten hours per week, and taught Music Appreciation at local elementary schools.

I was a Mom who stayed home and who also went out to teach part time. When posed with the question about what I “did,” my answer was “Mom, mother.” Not very glamorous on today’s standards, but that was my answer.

Whatever work I did, it wasn’t “real” work, to me. The other non-Mom stuff were more hobbies to me than form of profession.

Looking back, I don’t think I was completely truthful. Maybe I felt guilty admitting that I wasn’t really a full time mom, so I fudged the whole truth on those forms. (You know, like the weight on driver’s license? Okay, that’s different, but you know what I mean).

So, it wasn’t until I started to work as a music therapist, specifically when I did my full time grueling music therapy internship, that I thought of myself as something other than a Mommy. After years of music therapy school, studying, auditioning and practicing more hours of piano than I can believe, I changed my self-perception.

hintergrund-350

After getting my first (music therapy) job, I declared myself a professional.

Finally, I embraced the real me – the one who did enjoy Mommying and nurturing, but had a drive to help in the outside world. The one who could feel whole and complete doing the things that I always wanted to do with my music, with people and for the world.

Being a professional to me was more than just a term that defines the protocol for gaining respect in the corporate world. Professional didn’t only mean practicing ethics and values deemed appropriate for my job.

Professional standing – and my admitting that I am a person with a profession or career – helped me carve my identity in my other roles.

I suddenly became in touch with my raison d’etre and my dreams.

I had always dreamed (a far-off seemingly unattainable dream) of becoming a music therapist, ever since my first piano teacher – whom I adored – had worked during the day as a music therapist for children with autism. She would discuss what it was like to be a music therapist (in between teaching me songs I would ask questions!) and I was fascinated.

So, in my early 30’s, when most of my then four kids were in school, I went back for another degree, earned my music therapy credential and a few years later, my Masters in Special Education and started to work. As I built up my music therapy practice,  I realized more and more how fulfilling my new career can be.

Fast forward to about 8 years ago when I became a grandmother, I suddenly was overcome by a newly emerging identify. I was a grandmother. Hey, I wasn’t young anymore. I wasn’t a Mom of little kids.

I gave birth to a new identity – that of grandmother.

I began to write. My first article – which I called “Naming the Grandparents”  was published in a local magazine for Jewish women. The editor gave me a column every other month and I jumped at the opportunity.

I realized that I had been touching upon a relevant topic to women of my age. Every month or so, I would sit down to write my thoughts about this new stage of being a grandmother, mother-in-law and mom of adult kids.

As my younger sons were growing into young men, I was starting to see large themes and topics burst into articles of interest and humor. I took stories of my life and wrote about them.

Then came the birth of my book, titled “Mazel Tov! It’s a Bubby!” – a collection of my stories about the joys and oys of being a grandmother and mother of adult kids.

Then came blogging and publishing on social media.

As we watch our children all “growed” up and our grandchildren doing so well thank G-d, my husband and I feel we’ve done a pretty okay job at the Parenting Profession. (Yep, he gets a lot of credit for that part..)

Now, I am knee deep into many other professions – that of adult parenting, grandmother of toddler, pre-school and early elementary school grandsons and other roles.

I’ve broken my ankle and gone through surgeries, gained lots of weight (7 months of non-weight bearing will do that) and gone through other challenges.

Looking back at the changes I’ve made, I can be proud. I can now look forward to more changes to come within myself.

And if those terrorists continue to make threats at Western Civilization, maybe others can work at changing the world. I’m just going to try to change myself with one song, post, article, school lesson, or kind word or hug at a time.

 

 


My Takeaways from Chanukah Music

happy-hanukkah-holiday-text

While lighting the first candle of the Chanukah menorah this evening, my husband sang the traditional hymn “Maoz Tsur” song with my accompaniment on the piano.  After the guys left  to eat the latkes, I continued, playing almost the entire book of Chanukah music.

Chanukah is a holiday that holds a great deal of meaning for me, and so it’s no coincidence that its music puts me into a good mood. Although there aren’t oodles of  songs out there for Chanukah, the Chanukah songs we sing are representative of deep and relevant themes.  Catchy melodies are set in major keys, evoking a peppy, uplifting and happy spirit.

Growing up in NY I heard Christmas Holiday songs while shopping with my mom during the winter holidays season,.  These childhood memories come in handy nowadays as a music therapist, when I sing and play music in nursing homes.  After all, my gentile clients are not so interested in Hava Nagila or Chanukah songs.  Why should they be? So I take out my green and red anthology of Holiday music, and I play for them on my instrument.  Many of the tunes are familiar and I play by ear.  Others are not, so I  sight-read the music and I’m good to go.

But, in  real life I’m a Jewish mom and mother-in-law (and little girl at heart) who loves her Jewish Chanukah songs. The ones that my first piano teacher, Miss Miller taught me when I was in 4th grade to improvise on the piano with cool arrangements.

The songs our family sang every year  and the melodies that my children sang and performed in school plays.

The tunes my husband and sons and I sang at the top of our lungs while any one of our piano lesson-ed sons played the piano.

Each of those compositions has a message. The lyrics resonate with relevant themes today in modern times, although many were  composed decades or centuries ago.

Many Chanukah songs were originally composed for young children – often in pre-school – but the tunes are endearing. so even adults enjoy them. The messages are timeless, ageless, conveying themes that encompass all our lives whatever our age and stage.

Here are a few of my favorite Chanukah Songs.  Click on the links and enjoy the music provided on videos. For more Chanukah songs, see this anthology

Dreidel Song – when I hear or play this song I think of happy children spinning their “tops” (dreidel in Yiddish, sevivon in Hebrew) while the lights of the menorah are burning. I think of the warmth and security of the children and the blessings we have while G-d watches over us in our homes. I think of how the children during the time of the Maccabees had to hide in caves and pretend to play these games while the Romans showed up suddenly. Anything but to study their Torah forbidden by the Romans.

top

English version
I have a little dreidel. I made it out of clay.
And when it’s dry and ready, then dreidel I shall play.
Oh dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, I made it out of clay.
Oh dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, then dreidel I shall play.
It has a lovely body, with legs so short and thin.
When it gets all tired, it drops and then I win!
Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, with leg so short and thin.
Oh dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, it drops and then I win!
My dreidel’s always playful. It loves to dance and spin.
A happy game of dreidel, come play now let’s begin.
Oh dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, it loves to dance and spin.
Oh dreidel, dreidel, dreidel. Come play now let’s begin.
I have a little dreidel. I made it out of clay.
When it’s dry and ready, dreidel I shall play.
Oh dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, I made you out of clay.
Oh dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, then dreidel I shall play.

Maoz Tsur – the timeless song of the Maccabees’ fight for freedom. I think of the concept of victory of few against the masses, when it is meant to be and when G-d is on our side. I think of hope, faith and courage in the face of troubles and storms. I think of perseverance and doing what’s right and what’s true to ourselves.

English:
Rock of Ages let our song,
Praise thy saving power;
Thou amidst the raging foes,
Wast our sheltering tower.

Furiously they assailed us,
But Thine arm availed us
And Thy word broke their sword,
When our own strength failed us.
And Thy word broke their sword,
When our own strength failed us.

Oy Chanukah, Oy Chanukah – When I listen to this song (it’s usually sung in Yiddish, so I’m not so good at the words!), and then play it on the piano (too difficult for the harp so far!), I think of the happiness in the air during Chanukah. The festivities. The celebrations. The donuts, the potato pancakes. The celebration of the little tiny oil that lasted for 8 days, the gratitude we have for all that is good, because even though there is darkness in this world (for sure!), there is that little light that illuminates our world, and we can make that happen. That’s what I think of when hearing the words to this song.

Oh), Hanukah, Oh Hanukah
Come light the menorah
Let’s have a party
We’ll all dance the horah
Gather ’round the table, we’ll give you a treat
Dreidels (or Sevivon) to play with, and latkes to eat
. ( (
And while we are playing
The candles are burning bright (or low[2])
One for each night, they shed a sweet light
To remind us of years long ago
One for each night, they shed a sweet light
To remind us of years long ago.

 

Chanukah Blessings – this is the blessing (melody) we sing on the candles, in which we declare our gratitude to G-d for the miracle of Chanukah. There are actually 2 blessings.

menorah-bokeh

 

So, from gratitude to strength to courage to optimism to confidence and to peace….

To any important value out there –music really does it for me, and Chanukah music really gets me going faster than you can say “Happy Chanukah!”

Happy Chanukah to all! Don’t forget to sing! – And OH  – here’s a video of the Maccabeats a cappella group doing their latest (unconventional) version of Chanukah music


SCHOOL DIARY #1: First Day of School Jitters (and how to deal)

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My grandson who is seven shared with me the other day that he is “scared” of second grade. Now mind you he’s a very bright student and a confident child…(Spoken like a true grandmother!). But still, he expressed what many of us feel each year as the summer winds down and the new year –with the first day of school and other firsts — creeps up on us.

Fear. Worry. Concern. How will things go?

All beginnings are hard, our sages tell us. As a teacher of high school, I have my own share of jitters in the weeks leading up to the first day of school. Will my students do well? Will they behave? Will I have a good lesson planned? And so on.

I shared how I’m also nervous, but not to be a student. I’m jittery about the first day of school (in a few weeks) when I will be an teacher after a 6 year hiatus from that job.

In the 1980’s and 1990’s, I taught music in various settings. Between 2000 and 2009, I taught high school English in a local high school. Then, in 2009, I “retired” from teaching, partly due to burnout and partly to focus more on my writing career, my grandchildren, and my music therapy career. Sounds like a lot, and it was.

And now, I was approached by the principal of a small school to take on several English and language arts classes. This teaching job of approximately eight lessons per week will be on top of my already full load of music therapy patients.

As I told my grandson, I’m nervous. Why? Several reasons, but mostly because beginnings are often difficult and it’s relatively normal to have butterflies in our stomachs when starting new things. New auditions. New rehearsals. New roles. New anything.

So what do we do when we are worried about starting something new?

We draw on our old experiences and remind ourselves what we did right. And do more of that. In my case, I took out all my materials from years ago, and sorted through it all.

Things are different these days. More material online. Communication between administration, I’ve noticed, is less on paper and more via email and text. Grades are posted online. And students have computers in the classroom.

Kids have things to worry about too. Will they make friends, will they understand the material, and will they get picked in sports? Among other things.

This is also the time before the Jewish New Year, when we pray for a happy new year and lots of good things to come. A  certain amount of concern and vigilance is in order. 
 
Maybe it’s a healthy sign for us to have some degree of anxiety at this time. That motivates us to pray, to prepare ourselves for the High Holy Days.

How do you get motivated to do the preparation necessary for good beginnings? Do you have any sense of fear or anxiety when starting new things? How do you cope?


On Celebrating Mistakes and Making Music

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When my 6 1/2 -year old grandson came over after school a few weeks ago,  he pulled a worksheet out of his backpack and sat down at the dining room table to do his homework.

The sheet had a series of incomplete phrases, pictures and blank lines where he was supposed to fill in the blanks with the word that matched the picture. The first word was “bike,” which he found on a list of choices and copied correctly onto the blank. Further along the page came a picture of a lake. He saw that and started to write the word, but he somehow skipped the “a” and wrote “lk” which I pointed out to him, by asking him to look at it again.

Oops,” he said, and turned over his pencil to erase it. And just as he was beginning to erase the letter, he said, “Wait a minute,” and turned the pencil back again upright. Then he drew a circle around the K and wrote the remainder of the word “ake” alongside the  letter l followed by the circled K. The lake now had a huge circle in the word, which somehow annoyed me slightly but I said nothing, so as not to distract him.

But when he did it again on another word further down on the page, I asked what was going on with the circling of mistakes.

He shrugged and said, “My teacher says we shouldn’t erase, but we should draw circles.”

Playing after homework!

Playing after homework!

Okay. Who am I to argue with what the teacher says?

A few days later I’m faced with a situation that reminds me of my grandson circling his mistakes.

I’m about to play the keyboard for a group of students who are visiting a facility for the elderly.  As part of a program in memory of a creative member of our community, Avigail Rechnitz, I’ve coached the students in a local girls’ junior high school to sing several Hebrew and Yiddish songs. This is the big day. The girls are prepared, excited, ready to go.

All ready to go...

All ready to go…

I turn on my keyboard so I can play the intro, to cue the girls to begin their first song.

I peer into the digital window and see no electricity. Nothing. I bang on the keyboard in vain. I search my bag for extra batteries. None.

I motion to the girls to begin singing a cappella, which they do. They sing the three songs we’ve prepared and then an encore or two.

Everyone thanks the girls for the performance. The residents are thrilled and the social worker in the home is grateful for our coming.

But I’m annoyed with myself. Why did I forget the batteries? How could I be so disorganized?

Batteries out of juice....

Batteries out of juice….

A week later the girls are going to another rest home to perform. This time I remember the batteries. And the strings for my harp, in case one of them rips. And the stand for my music and some extra sheet music, just in case.

The performance goes over well. I’ve circled my mistake from the time before so that I know not to do it again.

Imagine if I could do that with all my missteps. Just circle what went wrong and then correct it the next time. All that energy wasted on “what if,” and “oh no,” can be transferred to new energy with brand new batteries. Or harp strings.

I’m reminded of the story about Itzhak Perlman at a concert, where one of his violin strings popped in middle of a piece he was playing. (Incidentally, this also happened about 25 years ago when my husband and I were at the Hollywood Bowl watching Perlman’s concert and when a string broke, someone just brought him another violin. The audience applauded, Perlman made a joke and the concert went on – but that’s reality. I digress.)

So according to the supposed story about Perlman at the supposed concert, he began to play the music using the three remaining strings while the audience gasped in awe. He changed keys, modulated so that he was able to avoid the missing string and produced the same piece that he had rehearsed on all four strings.

Whether that story is true or not (it’s been bandied about online for many years), I love it because of the alleged remark that Perlman made after playing the modulated song:

“Sometimes we just have to make music with what we’ve been given…”

How have you coped with mistakes in the past? How have to gotten past sweating over mistakes, and instead celebrating them, circling them and learning from them?


Writers Wondering About Writers

A few weeks ago, writer Kristen M. Ploetz wrote an article called “Nine Questions I Wonder About Writers,” where she invited other writers to answer some questions about their own writing.    Some of my blogging friends, Nina Badzin, Rivki Silver, and Rebecca Klempner  followed through on their respective blogs with extremely insightful answers to Kristen’s questions. I read and enjoyed  their ideas, and commented on their blogs.

I briefly thought about following suit on my own blog, but wasn’t sure whether I had enough material in my conscious mind to respond coherently to many of the questions.

Anyway, today I decided to stop overthinking, and to formulate Kristen’s answers on screen, thereby sharing my process with you.

Here are Kristen Ploetz’s questions in bold, followed by my answers:

1. Do you share your work with your partner or spouse? Does it matter if it’s been published yet?

Yes, I often share my work with my husband, usually before I submit to online or print magazines.  I print out hard-copies of the drafts and he goes through them with his pen, circling and commenting on material that he thinks is not working  My husband is an avid reader of sci-fi and math books so he knows what does or doesn’t work clarity-wise! He also tells me if he thinks something is not ethically okay to write.  I don’t share my blog posts with him, though. Those I just write, edit myself and post! Now I’m thinking maybe I should share some of those with him too before publishing…hmmmm.

2. How much of your family and/or closest “friends in real life first” read your stuff…let alone give you feedback about it?

My mother is my biggest fan and reader of my blog and other material. Not kidding! When I first had my book published, I was told she went into the local stores and made sure my book was prominently displayed. Ha ha.  A mom’s job! But seriously, some friends and family follow my blog, read my posts and often comment. Others don’t and that’s just fine.   I write for a weekly print magazine, Binah Magazine, and I often get spontaneous comments  from people whom I meet out and about,  telling me they enjoy my writing. Regarding feedback, I generally go to my husband for that, even published stuff, because I trust him to tell me the truth.

3. What do you do with the pieces that continually get rejected–post on your blog? Trash? When do you know it’s time to let it go? 

Usually, after a piece is rejected, I just put it aside. I can’t deal with it right away, because I’m too close to the situation and topic at that point and I’m kind of tainted in my opinion  of the piece initially. But I keep it in a file  and then sometimes come back to it,  edit and tweak it, revise, and then often resubmit, with success. Sometimes I put a condensed version of it (if it’s too long) on my blog, or use parts of it later for other pieces.

4. Are there pieces you write for one very specific place that, once rejected, you just let go of, or do you rework into something else?

With one particular site, I’ve submitted  different pieces repeatedly over time, and have been continually rejected. I’ve been told my style doesn’t speak to them. I tried reworking the rejected pieces into other forms or styles, and written completely new pieces. But so far no luck there. Something tells me it’s time to let that one go already, and realize that it’s not meant to be.

5. What is your main source of reading-based inspiration (especially you essayists)? Blogs? Magazines? Journals? Anthologies? Book of essays by one writer?

I like self-help books, blogs, magazines, and novels. I don’t enjoy anthologies (of myriad writers in the same book) so much. I generally get through half the book and then stop, or pick out the few writers whose writing I can relate to.  I enjoy Jewish non-fiction and biographies also. Regarding essayists, I enjoy humor writers. When I was a kid, I read a lot of Erma Bombeck’s books.  I also like articles on writing, such as William Safire’s work,  and satirical writing by Russell Baker.

6. What tends to spark ideas more for you: what you see/hear in daily life or what you read?

When I read other people’s blogs, I get sparks of ideas from my own life for future writing. But most of my ideas come from my own experiences in life as a mom, mother-in-law, daughter, friend, etc. When I have an inner conflict or some issue in a relationship, I try to figure out what went wrong, and to find some insight and humor in it. Then, when I have clarity I write about it. Incidentally, the material for  my book came about, after I experienced bumps in my new role as mother-in-law and then grandmother, and wrote about those experiences.

7. Who have you read in the past year or two that you feel is completely brilliant but so underappreciated?

There is an author, Riva Pomerantz, who writes books, magazine articles and online material for the Jewish Orthodox audience, and is completely brilliant, in my opinion. I love her stories, characters and also the dialogue she writes. I could never write such perfect and natural dialogue! (not yet, at least!).

8. Without listing anything written by Dani Shapiro, Anne Lamott, Lee Gutkind, or Natalie Goldberg, what craft books are “must haves”?

I started a book by Elizabeth Berg, which was very helpful to me.  I need to go back and finish that. Someone recommended William Zissner’s “On Writing Well” as a must have. I once wrote a post about improving our writing craft. So now I’m going to re-read that post and start to follow my own advice!

9. Have you ever regretted having something published? Was it because of the content or the actual writing style/syntax? 

I think the longer I write, the more I regret writing stuff. I think it’s because I become more honest in my storytelling.  and venture into areas that may have felt unsafe for me to touch in my earlier writing years. Recently I published a piece for a certain magazine and went back and forth in my dilemma while I was writing it, whether to submit or not.  Even after I submitted it and it was accepted, I worried that I would regret it. I recall emailing the editor and asking her if she felt it needed tweaking. (True story). When they sent me the final draft, I toyed with some phrases, trying to reword to make it more p.c. But in the end, I just left it as is.  And my husband backed me (he’s my reality check!) Anyway, now that it’s published, I’m trying to let it go and realize that it’s important to tell a story as is, even if it feels raw to do so.

So there you have it. My 9 questions answered. Thank for reading, and thank you, Kristen for writing up these questions for all of us to answer!

Happy writing and reading to all!


It Takes a Village – Endless Kindness

Stuff to Be Kind

By M. Hendeles (lyrics); A. Kaufman (vocals, recording); Jana Stanfield - music

Last week my husband sponsored  a kiddush reception for all our friends and relatives at our synagogue on Shabbos. The reception was a come and go type of event and the purpose was to give thanks to everyone  – our entire community, friends, relatives and acquaintance –for their help to our family and especially me during my recuperation from several foot surgeries the past 9 months. Now that I’m doing much better and walking, we wanted to give public thanks to Hashem as well. Many friends showed up and it felt good to have a tangible way for closure to an period in our lives that was challenging. During those months, I lost the ability to walk and get around. But I also discovered a lot of love and kindness around me.

One of the things my husband said during his short two-minute blurb or speech was that people came through for me in our community in amazing ways. And “just when Miriam was about to lose it, someone always came through by visiting, cheering her up or cooking a meal…” I laughed at his wording; did I really “almost lose it?”  He was trying to convey how much everyone really helped out and in his effort to do so, he may have exaggerated a bit about my situation. But did he exaggerate? I thought about it for a minute.

No, he did not exaggerate.

Truth is, when I thought about it, I realized that yes, I did almost “lose it” many times. I recall the time I had a serious meltdown on my way to the bathroom when it took me ten minutes to get there and everything was hurting me. I began to cry hysterically and my thoughts revolved around things like “I’m dying, they’re not telling me, they’re keeping it a secret from me, but I’m really seriously dying…”

Shortly afterward, a friend texted me “hey, Miriam can I bring you an Ice-Blended from the Coffee Bean?” A light in the darkness is how I viewed the text and I answered “Yeah, I’d love that…”

Things like that happened throughout the time of my ups and downs and complications. There was the friend from NYC who was visiting her own children in LA where I live, and she came by to visit, bringing me needlepoint projects to do. She also brought CD’s of classical music spanning composers from Bach all the way to Rachmaninoff. Listening to that music over the next few weeks made me feel like I was back in music school, and took my mind off my pains and complaints.

ACTS OF KINDNESS

Other friends cooked for us huge  gourmet meals (did I mention my husband and I are empty-nesters and we are only TWO people?), and still others went shopping for me. I received constant texts from friends to the tune of “Miriam, I’m at Costco – what do you need?” or “I”m at Target, can I get you something?” or “I’m going to the market tomorrow, call in an order and I’ll pick it up for you..”

One friend came by and played her cello for me, and another friend sent me a bunch of you-tube clips of Brahms  symphonies and sonatas so I could divert my mind to something outside my own pains. Just to cheer me up.

My daughters-in-law ran errands for me, and brought the kids over to visit and watch videos together with me. One DIL brought me a book of crossword puzzles and some friends sent balloons and flowers and cards. On Shabbos afternoon, friends and neighbors came by to keep me company, and while I had my leg raised on 8 or 9 pillows, these friends shmoozed, laughed, listened and cared. It was truly magical.

When I needed to go to the doctor, and my husband was at work and couldn’t drive me, a friend or relative would come by and give me a ride. Our community has an organization called Bikur Cholim  which provided drivers for me when I needed a lift.

What did all this teach me? The power of love. The power of giving. The importance of visiting someone who is not well. The creativity that one can use when trying to help someone else. Whereas some people are cookers, others may be drivers, and yet others may be visitors. Some just wrote emails or texts and others called to check in. There’s no one way to do a kindness. It’s all good.

Thankfully, now I’m better and I am on the other side of fence, helping others when I can. I’m able to drive, walk, cook and visit others. I feel so blessed to have reached this point. But I will never forget the feeling of helplessness of needing, because that feeling of “losing it” is the rock bottom that made me appreciate the kindness even more so.

While I was in bed, I did some composing, and one of the songs I wrote is featured at the beginning of this post. I hope you enjoy it. It’s called:

“Stuff to Be Kind” – lyrics composed by yours truly

Vocals by Arthur Kaufman; and Music by Jana Stanfield (“If I were Brave”)

 

 


This Test is Too Hard!… Or is it?

Life is a Test

By Miriam Hendeles (lyrcis); Jana Stanfield (music); Vocals and recording Arthur Kaufman

Remember when we were in school as kids and a teacher gave a really challenging test? I’m thinking about a particular math teacher in high school who always created questions with a little bit of trickiness in them. You may have another teacher in mind.

But we all have memories of tough teachers, don’t we? How did we handle it?

Careful studying. Practicing. Understanding.

AND SINGING

Singing is Fun!

Singing is Fun!

Singing? Yup. I sang a lot of my material while studying. I created mnemonics to tricky problems and formulas and I would recite them in my mind and make up lyrics to familiar songs.

 

I believe other people do the same thing. I’m not unique in that way. Studies have shown how music can enhance memory.

Life is a lot like that. Sometimes things are easy and we coast along, figuring stuff out with our lovely children and spouses.

familyirvine-001

Also  financial situations, relationships and so forth. Other times things get a  little bit tricky and we just want to scream out how unfair it all is.

IT’S NOT FAIR. THIS IS NOT THE COURSE I SIGNED UP FOR!

Singing is one way I have coped through the ups and downs of life.

I’ve been around the block a few times in my life, with stuff that I’ve gone through. Most of that I don’t write about in my blog, because I try to keep this blog upbeat and fun. Hey, it’s about the joys (and oys) of being a grandmother, and how challenging can that be?

mountainkids

Climbing mountains! That’s fun for us!

But, there have been tests over the years. Way before I became a mother-in-law, grandmother. I’m a middle aged person (sounds really old, but I don’t feel that way!), and  my husband and I have gone through raising a family of sons, marrying off three of them, thank G-d, and the various ups and downs of life.

Last year, our second son came down with a new (to us) virus, which affected his spinal chord and he was diagnosed with an illness called transverse myelitis. Needless to say, he, his lovely wife,  my husband and I and the rest of our family, went through a lot to be there for him. Thank G-d, 9 months later, he’s much better. But he’s not out of the woods yet. He still needs prayers, (Avraham ben Miriam is his Hebrew name for praying).

I broke my ankle almost 7 months ago, and I’m much better, thank G-d, but not out of the woods yet. Soon I will be.

Through all this, and other stuff, we thank G-d for our blessings, we enjoy our lives, and we continue to sing.

Sometimes the words and the structure of the song combined with the melody inspires us to focus on important concepts inherent in the lyrics. If the same words were spoken or heard, we may not get them. But by singing and playing them, we get the message stronger. The music accesses our heart as well as our mind.

Recently, I composed a song called “Life’s a Test” (play above in post) – (lyrics by yours truly) to address this theme of doing our best in life, studying as hard as we can, and trusting that G-d will do the rest.

So the next time, you have a difficult exam, whether it is a school – or life — challenge, try singing! It may be just what you need!

Check out the song above, “Life’s a Test” and let me know how it helps you!

For more information about music therapy, please visit the music therapy website,  http://www.musictherapy.org

  • Lyrics by Miriam Hendeles, MT-BC; Lyrics adapted for instructional and sharing (non-profit) purposes to Jana Stanfield‘s music –

“How Beautiful”  by Jana Stanfield and Jerry Krimbrough; (used with permission for instructional purposes only).

(http://www.janastanfield.com)

-Vocals and Recording by Arthur Kaufmann of Magic Key Productions – Cedar City, Utah (http://www.redrockrecords.com)

Non-photo images above: Credit http://www.publicdomainpics.net

“The reason my co-writers and I write these songs is so that people will hear them, use them, and enjoy them. There are very few radio stations out there that play this kind of music, so please be our DJ’s.” — Jana Stanfield (on her website, 2012).

 


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