Get out of my head! 


  I feel my otherwise optimistic world view being slowly crushed, especially after the recent waves of violence. What with the recent stabbings and acts of vehicular murder in Israel and then the international incidents of terrorism in Bahgdad, Beirut and Paris, this little bleeding heart has had about enough.  

 The other night driving home, I saw a shooting star, right in my path of vision. The wonder and awe of interstellar magic happening before my eyes! Instead of being like, “oh wow! What a beautiful coincidence that this beautiful natural display happened just as I was looking!” my first thought was “oh shit!!! Is that a rocket?!? It was headed right for our kibbutz! Should I call Yotam? Tell him to get him and the kids to the bomb shelter???” A few moments of silence and darkness led me to realize that it had just been a beautiful shooting star… That nearly gave me a heart attack! Sadly, this is not the first time this has happened. 
Those fuckers have gotten transmitted by media through their terrorist acts, directly under my skin. Into my head. Into my heart.  

Terrorism: the most effective modern tool of persuasion. 

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It hurts to care


Empathy: the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions : the ability to share someone else’s feelings. 

  
But what if you don’t want to share someone else’s experience and feelings of hardship? What if it is just too fucking hard? Thinking let alone writing this most probably makes me a rubbish human being. But maybe I can still earn a modicum of cred for keeping it real? Maybe not…

There are reports that the third intifada is breaking out in Israel and Palestine as I write. For seven years I have lived in northern Israel, and for seven years I have protected my sensitive heart and soul by being staunchly apolitical and maintaining a firm ignorance of what was being projected by major news agencies. It’s not that I don’t care. I do care. I care so fucking much that it destroys my heart to see people living in squalor, grasping at straws in an attempt to provide for themselves and their families, and at times being maimed or killed in the process. To see the lifeless bodies of children, of babies, with their parents screaming at the fucking injustice of reality. 

The empathetic part of me demands that I recognize this suffering, if only to bear witness to it. The emotional part of me tells me that I cannot handle these agonies and that I had best look away. My cowardice most often wins in this battle of conscience.

  
Looking away is becoming less of a privilege that I can afford myself these days.

The fear is real. Terrorism is very effective in this way. 

The suffering is real. Knives and bullets, stones and rockets are very effective in this way. 

The people are real. All of the people. 

So I ventured into the news today, and was broken.

Often when I’m looking for information on current issues or news items, I turn to Twitter for a more on-the-ground, grassroots perspective.

Did a search for #intifada. 

The mechanations of fear, hate and violence appeared on the feed before my very eyes. 

Jihadist call to arms.

Videos of mayhem and destruction.

Dead fucking children. 

Dead. Fucking. Children. 

…Heart dashed to pieces…

Decided through my tears that I am too sensitive a soul for this shit. 
  
If anyone needs me I’ll just be over here with my head in the goddamned sand, waiting for someone to press the restart button. Because from this vantage point, “peace” is a laughable non-option and as a concept carries as much weight as a bumper sticker slogan. 

Meaningful movement towards any solution not based in war, terrorism and violence seems absolutely impossible. People only get more and more fearful, vengeful and distrustful as it is revealed time and time again how insecure life is here. 

Today was a hard day.

I hold out hope that tomorrow will be better.

You’ll excuse me if I don’t hold my breath while we wait and see though. 

Seasonal Homesickness


It’s amazing.

Six years.

Six years I’ve been away from my place of birth, and the change of seasons never gets easier. Especially fall and winter. But also spring… Summer, less so. Israel does a far superior summer to Canada. Not too much to miss there. Except for the “midnight sun”… And cool mornings evaporating to welcome radiant afternoons. And Caribana. Ok. So, there’s a few things.

Mostly it’s the transitions. The movement from season to season that makes me long for home.

IMG_3438.PNGRight now it’s 14 degrees centigrade. It is the first cool morning of the fall season here in the Jordan Valley and I am reveling in it. Enjoying the coolness of the tiled floor feel on my bare feet, heating up leftover oatmeal (with maple syrup!) for breakfast, closing the windows against the chill of the pre-dawn breeze. Back home, Canadians are proudly sporting shorts and sandals at 14°, hell, they’re going to the beach at 14°!

Still, I’ll take what I can get. There are no frosty mornings, no multicolored foliage, no migratory geese, no wisps of chimney smoke on the crisp breeze. No Halloween, no Thanksgiving, no Pumpkin. Spice. Latte. ::sob::

But these pleasant facets of real Canadian autumn reside pleasantly in the stores of my memory.

For now, that’s enough.

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Another Birth, Another Story


How to begin? I feel like a second birth must be informed by the first (like any series of experiences in life, I suppose). As I prepared myself for this second birth, I could not help but compare to my experience with Aidan’s birth two years ago.

I was blessed with a truly wonderful labour and birth experience with my first child. A gentle planned home birth assisted by an amazing and experienced midwife. Everything went according to plan, and the labour itself was smooth, strong and totally empowering. I was so proud and grateful to have had my dream birth, and with my second pregnancy I knew I wanted to have this experience again.

In a lot of ways, my second labor ended up being very similar to the birth of Aidan, and of course different in others. As with my first labour, I was in the early stages of labor for a loooong time. Like five days long. The Monday of the week our daughter was born, I had a crazy night with lots of light, erratic contractions and the hormonal rushes that accompany early labor contractions. It was fabulous. The chemicals released by the body during this stage make you feel warm and euphoric and full of love. I don’t remember having such a strong impression of these hormonal sensations with Aidan, and I felt really grateful for such a pleasant signal that my baby was coming this time around.

I was sure that baby would be making her appearance. And soon thereafter… Nothing. No progression. No strengthening of contractions. No increased speed. Ok. Let the waiting game truly begin. The last week of any pregnancy is hard, even in the best of situations, and this pregnancy was no exception.

With Aidan, the last week involved a lot of anxiety; over when the labour would begin, over what it would be like. Over whether or not I would be up to the task of a completely natural, drug-free labor and birth at home. In the end, I succeeded and was given the strength and self-confidence to do it again with my second birth.

All of this positivity aside, by day three or four of light, inconsistent contractions, I was beginning to enter “mind fuck” zone. I was SO ready not to be pregnant anymore and ready to welcome baby into the world.

IMG_0384Thursday came around and by evening contractions were getting noticeably stronger and (a bit) closer together. Yotam cancelled his evening class, I baked the baby’s birthday cake and Saba Danny came and took Aidan for an overnight as I was sure baby was really on her way. We inflated the birth tub, prepped towels and by 11pm I decided to go to bed and take a rest before the real work began. I woke up at 6am feeling well-rested and quite disappointed. No baby, and light irregular contractions.

IMG_0396By Friday, I had decided to try and put the birth on my mental back burner and focus on the family birthday party we were hosting for Aidan. I cooked a lovely dinner, baked another birthday cake, cleaned our house and hosted a beautiful, intimate celebration of Aidan’s second year. Again come sundown (how do they know?!) contractions picked up, but I didn’t want to get too excited as I thought perhaps it would be an anticlimactic replay of the previous night. Having been in touch with Rozie our midwife all week, I again gave her an update by phone that things seemed to be picking up. By 10pm I was having about 8 light contractions per hour. By 11pm we called Danny to come and pick up Aidan again, as it did seem that baby was getting her move on. At around midnight, Rozie arrived of her own accord, saying that even if it wasn’t in full swing yet, when active labour started it would all go down quickly. She wanted to be in our home and ready when it did.

Upon her arrival, after Yotam helped her bring in her numerous bags and gear, she checked the fetal heart rate, and she asked me if I wanted her to check my progress. A dilemma. As any birthing mama knows, being checked “too early” can dampen morale and increase frustration when real dilation progress isn’t reported. I stalled a bit, but then agreed – 3cm, head low, good effacement. Not terrible, but not very inspiring either. You can labour for days at 3cm.

Rozie recommended Yotam and I go take a walk, that maybe it would help to move baby down, and to take my mind off things. Yotam and I walked around the kibbutz for about an hour, pausing for contractions, which were about medium intensity at this point. I had to concentrate on them, but they weren’t painful.

Upon our return, about 1:30am, I was feeling tired as was Yotam and we decided to retreat to the bedroom and rest. Rozie told me not to worry, that it would start when it would start and best to rest up before hand. I laid down and closed my eyes to rest, feeling disappointed, anxious and worried that it was just going to be another false start.

I can honestly say that the mental stress of this birth was its most challenging aspect. I had experienced birth before, so I knew I could handle contractions, I knew how to breath and open myself to the waves, knew how to focus and free my mind of all other elements once the time came. But the time Just. Wouldn’t. Come. In these few hours of the deep night I felt truly alone and comforted myself by visualizing my baby and asking her to please come soon.

And then she came.

At about 3:15am the contractions started to get noticeably stronger. I could no longer lay down and breath through them comfortably. I got up and put my birthing ball on the bed to have something to lean against as contra during the contractions. I continued laboring alone (Rozie was catching a few winks in the living room and Yotam was also asleep) until about 3:45am when I was sure things were picking up.

I woke up Yotam and went into the living room. Rozie had already woken and was waiting for me. I told her I thought the labour was really starting and she checked the fetal heart beat again. All good.

I brought the ball out to work against again (I LOVE my birth ball!) and asked Yotam for a wet cloth to wipe my face with between contractions. Rozie smiled when I began wiping my brow “Here we go!”

All the while I had been listening to my shanti labour music, and at this point Rozie asked if I’d like to hear something a bit different. I agreed and she played this amazing Zulu music which totally provided the right rhythm for me, and gave a positive focal point. A word to the wise; nothing, and I mean nothing can replace the wisdom of a trained, experienced midwife during labour and birth. Nothing.

After about 20 minutes I was ready to get into the birthing tub. It had been filled by Rozie during our walk and kept warm from pots of boiling water on the stove. With the addition of a kilo of salt, the buoyancy of the water was simply blissful to my birthing body. Instantly upon entering the water I felt soothed, supported and strengthen as I continued to labor.

My heavy contractions continued and I could tell I was getting close to transition. (SO nice to be able to anticipate it this time around!) Although, I kept thinking that the contractions weren’t strong enough and kept waiting for the really heavy ones to start. They never did. Perhaps it was the water, perhaps it was my mothers body, perhaps my experience from Aidan’s birth, but I never got to the really heavy contractions I remember from my first birth.

During transition, things got real serious real fast. Having been on my knees, head against the tub until now, I suddenly felt horribly uncomfortable and that I HAD to change positions. I yelled to Rozie “can I change positions!??” “Of course!” She said, and I flipped over to sit with my back against the pools wall. This was the one and only point during the birth I experienced fear, and therefore, pain. The sensations changed so quickly with the head descending that I felt it didn’t have the opportunity to adapt. I could feel her head coming down fast and didn’t know how to work with it. I felt myself reacting by trying to push away from the sensations. Needless to say, that didn’t work. Rozie, checks me, feels the head but says it’s not visible yet. She told me to breath and not to push, to let her come but slowly, so I wouldn’t tear. End contraction. Rozie tells me with the next contraction to make the sound of the letter “J” to ease baby down and not have my body just shoot her out. Contraction starts and I jjjjjjjjjjjjj like my life depended on it! Having something to do, to focus on was really helpful. Head comes down. Next contraction more J’ing and the crown of the head emerges followed by forehead, eyes, nose, mouth and chin. Whew. Head rotates in preparation for expulsion. “On the next contraction,” Rozie says “you’re going to push.” Contraction begin, I bear down and for the first and final time all at once, I push. Push, push, PUSH and out into the water, as if she is flying, shoots baby into Rozie’s waiting hands. Up out of the water and into mama’s arms. Wheeeew. It’s 5:05am. An hour and fifteen minutes of active labour and baby is with us.

She coughs and cries a little. Silence. “Blow on her face” says Rozie. Yotam and I blow, eyes open and real bellowing begins. My heart explodes with relief, happiness, hormones and love and I say to Yotam “I did it, I did it!” IMG_0403

We hang in the tub for about 15 minutes before making our way to the bedroom (stepping out of tub and walking with a wet baby and with umbilical cord/placenta still intact is no mean feat, I assure you). I lay back in the bed and baby immediately starts rooting. She latches on like a pro and suckles for 20 minutes. A breastfeeding champ from the get-go!

An hour or so after baby was born, Yotam cuts the umbilical cord, and takes baby so I can deliver the afterbirth, which is intact. No tears, no heavy bleeding. Again, experienced midwife. Nothing like it!

Baby is weighed (3.45kg) some food is consumed, a few parental phone calls are made to share the good news, and the three of us are tucked into bed to rest. Pure bliss.

IMG_0407This birth was a blessing, like any birth I think. It showed my how vulnerable I am, how strong I am and that trust in ones self and in ones body can achieve greatness. I know home birth isn’t for everyone, but it is the best option for me. When left to my own timing, and intuition and provided with the right support, I can birth gently and free (almost!) of fear with beautiful and empowering results. For this I am truly and eternally grateful.

Three days after giving birth, it is time to register baby and get her first doctors check up. We name her Mikaela (Mika) Victoria Beery. A big name for such a little girl, but I think she’ll grow into it.

 

 

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Why so long?


I recently recommended to my sweet and awesome little brother Pat that he beef up his journalistic chops by starting a blog which, being amazing advice, he of course initiated immediately. Shout out to PShields Sports, check it!

His success, in turn, reminded me of how very, very long it has been since I did a little ditty of my own. Evidently, inspiration is circular.

What I have been thinking of lately revolves around my recent return from a long overdue vacation to visit the familia in Canada. Aside from having a great time seeing family and friends from my many walks of life, I have been given the opportunity to realize and reflect upon the fact that somewhere along the way, Israel became “my home.”

Why the quotation marks? Indeed, I am Canadian and the great white north will always hold my roots. However, upon my return to Israel this time around, I seem to have avoided the feelings of displacement, depression and lack of bearing that usually accompany me.

Aside from being an obvious improvement emotionally, this new reaction to returning to “my home” has certain implications in terms of self-identity and sense of belonging that I find to be of interest. I cannot help but think that the recent and major shift of becoming a mother to a little Israeli must affect my bearings on this subject. Also, my relative proficiency in Hebrew and the effects that this has had on my ability to integrate are likely to be held accountable.

However, when I really ask myself in honesty what has changed since the last time I returned about a year and a half ago, what comes to me is acceptance. Acceptance of my choice to live half a world away from my roots; acceptance of my less than perfect language skills; acceptance that I cannot know what the future might hold, and that trying to control it only brings suffering. Acceptance of myself. Period.

For these realizations I am very grateful, as I am proud of myself for getting to the level of awareness to make them. Life is good. What more can I say? 🙂

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Christmas in the Land-of-No-Christmas


It is truly ironic to me that in Israel, the Holy Land, the birthplace of the Big JC, Christmas comes and goes just like any other ordinary day. There is no month-long consumer gorge-fest, no obnoxious Musac playing in every public establishment, no eggnog, no Santa Claus and no Baby Jesus. And snow is just completely out of the question.

For a great lover of secular Christmas such as myself, this is a rather depressing irony and one that I hope to remedy by seeking out the Christmas havens, the nooks of crannies of holiday cheer that do prevail in this predominantly Judaic environment.

Over the course of the coming month, I will be blogging about how I am bringing Christmas back, to my little corner of Jewish suburbia anyhow. Props to the Christians in Nazareth, Bethlehem, and other Arab communities around the country who have been keeping the Christmas-love alive for… well, a really long time.

I will seek out Christmas going-ons where they can be found, adapt traditional iconic Christmas decor to my current climate (Christmas palm tree?) get crafty and create what cannot be bought, and get my bake on like never before (how this last item will be harmonically balanced with losing my baby fat, no one knows 🙂

Stay tuned for twenty days of Christmas tidings, from the Land-of-No-Christmas!

Arab IDF Soldier, keeping it real for Christmas

A Condensed Window into Israeli Secular Society: A Foreigners Persepctive


The end of April or beginning of May (depending on how the calendars align) in Israel is marked by a series of heavy national days of reflection, Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Day), Yom HaZikron (Memorial Day) and Yom Ha’atzmaut (Independence Day). While the latter can readily be identified as a “holiday” (by those Israeli’s who celebrate the realization of the national Jewish state, anyhow – see more on Nakba Day for those who don’t), this yearly week and a half long national ritual truely captures the quintessential intensity of this burly budding nation, and is perhaps the best time of year for newcomers and foreigners to experience the pulse of Israeli secular culture.

The emotional roller coaster ride beginning on the eve of Holocaust Day (all Jewish days of importance begin and end with the setting of the sun) and can be outwardly discerned by the sad songs played on the radio, and the general pause of daily, regular life and routine. At our chain of sports clubs, Spin Dan, we stop all classes that use loud music and continue only with those that can be done without music. In the evening all of the kibbutziem in our area, and presumably around the country, pause to hold memorial ceremonies where family members read the names of their relatives who lost their lives in Nazi-occupied Europe, the sad songs of Holocaust Day are sung, and a general air of remembrance is observed to respect and honor what the modern state of Israel was born out of. The next morning, at 11am the entire country pauses in unison to stand in two minutes of silent respect for the 6 million Jews who were slaughtered, signaled by the air raid sirens blasting their woeful sound nationwide. I always find that these two minutes really hit home the gravity of what we are standing for, and of what this country was built from. Intense, to say the least.

The setting sun signals the end of Holocaust Day and life returns to normal for a few days before Memorial Day. Again beginning at sundown, this day of remembrance is marked by two sirens, the first a one-minute silence at 8pm the eve of Memorial Day and the second at 11am the following morning, when many people attend ceremonies around the nation in cemeteries where their fallen countrymen and women are lain. If possible, Memorial Day is even heavier than Holocaust Day and understandably so.

You are hard-pressed to find any Israeli who has not personally lost a family member or friend (and sadly most often both) to the nations many wars and terrorist attacks. Our family, for example, gathers at the cemetery in Kibbutz Ashdot Ya’akov Ichud every year to honor the memory of Jacob (Ya’akov) Barkai, my mother-in-laws brother who was killed in the 1973 Yom Kippur War in the Sinai (Egypt). And he is not the only son of the kibbutz to be memorialized. The ceremony honors all of the fallen soldiers and victims of armed conflict (ie. children and farmers killed by landmines in the Ashdot fields that border with Jordan) by having the eighth grade students of the kibbutz school lay memorial wreaths on each of the graves as the names are read aloud individually. I have never counted, but by my estimation there are well over 20 wreaths every year. And this is one small kibbutz in the north of Israel. We also attended the evening ceremony of Kibbutz Degania Alef this year, another kibbutz in the Jordan Valley, and their dead equaled or exceeded the number in Ashdot. Every community has lost and sacrificed in Israel’s short yet marred history, and you really feel this on Memorial Day.

It is interesting to compare the general atmosphere of the Israeli memorial day to that of the Americans, where aside from perhaps slapping a “Support Our Troops” bumper sticker on the back of the pick-up, the national holiday is celebrated with booze, BBQs and good times. I suppose time and distance does heal all wounds. Although I’d imagine the families who have lost (and continue to lose) their sons and daughters in Afghanistan and Iraq probably have a different perspective.

The end of Israeli Memorial Day serves as a rather dramatic (and shocking) transition between tears of remembrance for all of those who fought and died to make Israel a reality and the bursting national pride of what they fought and died for; Independence Day. When the clock strikes 8pm, it literally takes only a matter of moments (or however long the national anthem takes to sing) to jettison out of the past and into the now, where the State of Israel is alive and thriving, despite the trials and tribulations her people have suffered over the decades.

Again, ceremonies are held but in an entirely different atmosphere – what was somber and reflective on Holocaust and Memorial Days is now replaced by active, joyous even raucous celebration. In the kibbutiem members put together elaborate shows with the children singing and playing music, ceremonial fire-lighting for those who have celebrated their bar/bat mizvahs that year, and dance numbers to your hearts content. The end of the ceremony is then topped off with a fireworks display and Popsicles, a great combo. The next day is also a holiday, during which all self-respecting Israelis practice one of their favorite national pastimes; barbecuing.

All in all, these 10 days run the full gamut of emotions. From this foreigners perspective, the condensed experience contained in Holocaust day, Memorial Day and Independence Day really define the national consciousness of secular society here in Israel of a people steeped, scarred, and eventually triumphant in their history and fearlessly charging into whatever future may hold for them.