Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Romi's Reading Round-Up for February and March 2017

Since I wrote my last reading round-up in January, I have read some amazing books – and some really bad ones. As you get ready for Spring Break, Easter, or Passover, I figured it would be great to have a new book to enjoy! Here is the rundown of my latest finds.

Books I Loved

When last we chatted in January, I had just started The Sleepwalker from Chris Bohjalian. This book was a bit different than many of his others, but it was a fascinating look at sleepwalking and the havoc it can create…and it had a great surprise ending.

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue was incredibly appropriate in the Trump world. It’s a story of American immigrants who have overstayed their welcome and what happens to them. Beautifully portrayed. 

News of the World by Paulette Jiles is an excellent, short read about an aging man in 1870 who rides around Texas reading the news to people, and is tasked with getting a white girl captured by Indians back to her family. Really good read.   

Another fantastic book is Bone Gap by Laura Ruby. Now, I don’t like magical realism much, and I don’t know what possessed me to buy this book. With that said, wow was this a trip! It’s a beautifully written tale filled with magic, but it’s also a story about family and finding where you belong. 

The Opposite of Everyone by Joshilyn Jackson was a really nice surprise. It’s the story of a high-powered divorce lawyer whose whole life goes for a tailspin when someone shows up on her doorstep. The main character was very believable.

Books I Enjoyed
There are always those books that you don’t absolutely love, but that you enjoy while you’re reading. So, Mrs. Kimble by Jennifer Haigh was one of those. It was an interesting look at three women who were all married to the same man at different points in his life and what became of them. 

Learning to Swear in America by Katie Kennedy was hysterical and adorable. It wasn’t the best book ever, which is why it’s not in the section above, but it was definitely fun. America's West Coast is about to be obliterated when a massive meteor hits the Earth, and the 17 year old Russian boy-wonder is brought in to save the day. Certainly not the typical read for me, but it was adorable and creative. 

Pennies from Burger Heaven by Marcy McKay isn’t a book I would recommend lightly. It was the very sad story of a 12 year old homeless girl and what she does when she realizes her mom has disappeared. It was quite gory, which was the main thing that turned me off, but her character was well-developed and I cared about what happened to her. 

The Rage of Plum Blossoms by Christine Whitehead was a mystery and I don’t usually read this genre. Now, it was highly, highly entertaining but so incredibly far-fetched and ridiculously drawn that I was shocked by the high ratings on Goodreads when I finished it. As long as you suspend all disbelief and just enjoy a fun ride – it’s entertaining. 

I could have enjoyed The Book of Moon by George Crowder more. It was slow reading at times, but it was a nice coming-of-age story of a boy growing up in LA dealing with his parent’s divorce and his own development.

Books I Threw Across the Room
Let’s start with Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy. Seriously. If you’re going to describe your book as one that is body positive and that celebrates every woman where she is – then maybe you should write a book where the main character likes herself and her body. Hmmmmm. I finished about 10% before I threw it down. 

Judy Blume – Oh Judy...I expect so much more from you than Smart Women had to offer, since none of the women in the book appeared to be smart. Rather, they were whinny, annoying middle-aged women and at about 40% I realized that I didn’t care what happened to a single one of them. Shame. 

I love Wally Lamb, so when Yakir found a copy of She’s Come Undone next to the trash and brought it to me with a huge grin on his face (how cute is that?), I figured I’d read it again. I rooted for the heroine the whole book and kept hoping she was going to pull her life together, but when she did so about 92% of the way into the book, did Lamb really think we would still care what happened to her?

I was also disappointed by Fannie Flagg with The Whole Town’s Talking. I’d love for the whole town to be talking if Flagg is on her game with her endearing characters and funny mishaps. But the town seemed to be talking about nothing…absolutely nothing. 

I’m never sure whether to bother with Anne Tyler, and when it comes to Back When We Were Grownups, I know the answer. Wow, this was boring. I finally let myself put it down at page 100. 

Finally, sometimes I don’t know what to do when Goodreads gives a book a 4.16 rating and I give it a 1. Forever is the Worst Long Time by Camille Pagan definitely proved the point that forever feels like the worst time when you’re reading this book. Enough said!

Next Up
I’m currently juggling a few books. I’m in the middle of The Handling and Care of Roses with Thorns by Margaret Dilloway which I love so far. I’ve started Following Atticus: Forty: Eight High Peaks, One Little Dog and an Extraordinary Friendship which is very sweet. 

I’m putting Atticus down, however, for the library book that just came off the waiting list, Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. I’m not sure how I’ll do with this book because I can’t keep track of tons of characters and centuries of history…so I’ll let you know how that goes!
And what are you reading?

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Cyprus You Say? Well, Yes, We've Got Advice to Offer

I’ve been asked five times in the last week about the trip that we took last summer to Cyprus. I don’t know if there is something in the air…or people are just looking for some creative ideas for this summer…but I realized that I uncharacteristically didn’t write about our adventure last summer. The horror!

And, of course, if I had written about it, I could have just sent the link to the blog and helped others to plan their trips. So, I’m here to rectify the wrong and to help all of you antsy souls looking for somewhere great to go for an amazing trip.

We loved Cyprus.

We thought it would be fun to take the kids somewhere new and different and to explore another country. But we didn’t realize just how great this little place, so close to home, could be.

The flight was all of 37 minutes long, which cracked us all up. It took us longer to check our bags and go through security than it did to fly.

We arrived in Limassol to our 8 seater van (driven on the other side of the road!) and started our journey to our rental house. We wove up into the mountains higher and higher until we arrived at a tiny village called Eptogonia. As we drove through the village I had that feeling of “Uh oh...what have I done?” There were mud and straw homes that looked like they were a hundred years old. I had royally messed up with our Airbnb reservation.

And then we arrived, and Nikkos, the young homeowner, was there to welcome us to his gorgeous three bedroom home. There were original antiques everywhere from his family’s history (yes, we told the kids to stay in the backyard the entire trip)! The house was equipped with a fully modern kitchen and we had a large, comfortable pool and yard all to ourselves.

In addition to basking in the sun by the pool and enjoying time in the house, we had many activities. 

We went on a 3 or 4 kilometer hike at Caledonia Falls. It was a lovely hike, although we weren’t so sure how we were going to get to our car at the end; turns out you could ask someone to call you a cab at the bottom and they would drive you back to your car. 

From the end of the Caledonia Falls there was an amazing ropes course nearby called the Sparti Adventure Park. It was an incredibly well organized course where each kid was able to challenge himself at his own level for 2-3 hours of adventure.

Another day we went to Ayia Napa where we surprised the kids with a boat ride on the Yellow Submarine. There are a lot of British people living in Cyprus who own water-related businesses. In Ayia Napa we had a blast on their boat which navigated the sparkling blue water to a snorkeling destination in the sea caves. The boat also had a slide attached to the side of it and three diving platforms, so when we stopped at the sea caves, everyone had a blast sliding down and jump off of a diving board. Kid heaven!

We went to Aphrodite’s Rock which was a gorgeous little alcove where the waves crashed around us and people came to learn about the myth of Aphrodite.

Next up was jet skiing in Pissouri. A sweet British family owns a water activity center there and we had a half day of fun. There were beautiful, unusual rocks along the water and we collected them and enjoyed the beach. We jet skied and the kids enjoyed being pulled by a jet ski on floating sofas and boats. 

Pissouri, by the way, has a large concentration of British people and the neighborhood grocery store was filled with British, kosher treats. 


About an hour from our house were the Troodos Mountains where there were loads and loads of gorgeous and well-marked trails. We hiked on two different days here, including around Mount Olympus, admiring the beauty and having a great time. They had a quaint town center that was fun to walk around.

Another day it was time to enjoy some mall fun. But the mall in Limassol isn’t just any mall. It has a full size, virtually empty skating rink in it and brand new bowling alleys.

We spent one day, as well, on the ancient activities including the Kourion, Limassol Castle, and the Kolossi Castle.

We had so much fun in Cyprus that we actually ran out of time. There is an entire, less traveled section of the country in the western area called Paphos. There are half day and full day tours that can take you to all of the sites…and there are many things you could do there on your own as well.

It was such a beautiful get-away and such a great way to spend time with our kids. We love showing them Israel and enjoying trips together here, but it was also fun to go somewhere new and different! Everything was incredible inexpensive, by the way, and we found many great kosher selections at the local grocery store from a list that Chabad puts out.

 Say hi to Nikkos if you go and have a great time!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Eliav's Soldier

Before Purim, my ten year old told me that they had a project to do at school. The school put together care packages to deliver to soldiers on their bases before Purim, and his class was in charge of writing notes to accompany the packages. Eliav wrote his note to his soldier with his full name and email in case the soldier wanted to get in touch.

That was the end of the story.

Until it wasn't.

I thought it was a very sweet activity. And as kids do around the world, our children were saying thank you to soldiers for all that they do.

Eliav didn’t hear from the soldier, but he didn’t really expect to.

Then, right before Shabbat, our neighbor and close friend's son, Zvi, showed up at the door with his wife. “We have a message for Eliav,” they said, and he hand delivered a note from a soldier.

“What??” we all said in unison. “What’s going on? How could this be?"

Turns out that Eliav got assigned to a soldier whose family lives in Efrat (the next town over) and that the soldier is friends with Zvi. He was with Zvi recently and said, “You know I got this adorable note from someone in Neve Daniel. Do you happen to know Eliav Sussman?”

Zvi proceeded to laugh, and to explain that our families have been friends for almost 20 years and that we are neighbors.

The soldier wrote the sweetest note to Eliav, explaining how the army is often hard and it’s difficult to keep your focus on what’s important; he said that with Eliav’s note it reminded him that he’s working hard to protect kids like Eliav and to work for our nation.

Kids around the world send packages and notes to soldiers. Sometimes the soldiers write back and sometimes the kids never hear from them. 

When we deliver food to the Pinat Chama (the Warm Corner for soldiers) near our home, I see the notes that kids from other countries send to the soldiers. The notes are so sweet, but there is a certain feeling of disconnect, of thanking the soldiers for what they do there, in another country

It’s so indicative of our lives here in Israel that Eliav should get a hand-delivered note in a situation of this sort. There are simply no degrees of separation here, and when a little fifth grader writes a note to that nameless, faceless big soldier, it just might be that the soldier lives nearby and is friends with a family down the street.

Thank you, sweet soldier, for your service, for taking the time to write back to and inspire a 5th grade boy down the street, and for all you do for our nation.

Monday, March 06, 2017

An Only-In-Israel Purim Emergency

As many of my friends know, we’ve had a unique opportunity this year to reconnect with a student of mine from Churchill High School. It just so happens that he’s a professional basketball player for Hapoel Jerusalem. Yeah, it’s been wild.

So, of course, as Purim started to roll around, my two little guys decided that they had to be Jerome Dyson. We went to the Hapoel website with plenty of time before Purim and ordered up two jerseys.
This is what the jersey looks like. But this one is mine - hands off little people!

And then the waiting began.

As the date for them to dress up approaches, they are getting more and more nervous that those jerseys just aren’t going to make it in time. We’ve had a few meltdowns about it already, but there isn’t much that I can do except to keep calling the Hapoel office and keep begging the post guy in Neve Daniel to miraculously find those jerseys.

We aren’t known for having the best post office on the planet, and when I go back each day (during the one hour that the post office is open) the guy keeps laughing. Still looking for those jerseys, huh? And I would laugh with him, if it weren’t getting to be a dire situation and if I didn’t have the sneaking suspicion that those jerseys are buried beneath the 12000 boxes of Better World Books and other packages that he has in that disorganized, tiny space.

So, today, with four days left before the grand meltdown, I called the Hapoel office and sent them an email. I got a quick reply to my email, with Uri explaining that they mailed the jerseys six days ago. He gave me the tracking number and he told me that they should definitely be in our post office.

I was impressed with his quick reply, and sure that the blame now sits squarely on the shoulder of our postman.

Then, this afternoon, I received a phone call.

“Romi? It’s Uri from Hapoel. Did you check your post office?”

“Well, Hi Uri!” I said, giggling just a bit in surprise that he had called. “I can’t check until tomorrow, because, well, you see, the post office was open from 7-8 this morning and then they aren’t open again until tomorrow night at 6. So I’ll be there tomorrow to check.”

“Are these jerseys for Purim,” he asked.

“Yes. Yes, they are Uri.”

“Ok,” he said, as he became a man with a plan. “When do they want to wear them?”

“So, the kids want to wear them to school on Friday.”

“Ok Romi. Here is the plan. When you check the post office tomorrow night, if they aren’t there, then you call me Wednesday morning. I’m going to get two more jerseys in the right sizes and I’ll have them waiting for you in Jerusalem on Wednesday. Can you get here for them?”

“Uri,” I said. “I’ll go just about anywhere if you’ve got those jerseys for me.”

We both had a good laugh about that and the lengths that we will go for Purim, and our kids.

“Ok Romi. Call me either way on Wednesday morning. We will make sure those kids have Hapoel jerseys. Ok? Ok!”

I hung up smiling from ear to ear. While this was great customer service, I knew that his call wasn’t about looking good or about customer service. It was about Purim and about the absolute joy, almost zeal, with which Israelis approach this holiday. And how precious they understand that it is to the children in our tiny country.

I’ll let you know how our “Only In Israel” story ends in a few days. But I'm guessing that it's going to end with a few happy little Jerome Dysons.