This is Annie reporting from my new headquarters

Thank goodness Christmas is over. I’m exhausted. J. tells me she couldn’t distinguish my snoring from Jelly’s last night, and Jelly is quite the snorer. I must have been loud.

I am writing to you from my new office. Since I donated my basement desk to the woman cave a while back, I have not had a place to park myself. I have been writing at the dining room table or on the couch. For months I’ve been talking about adding a small desk to my yoga room so I could reclaim a office space of my own. Every writer needs a place to write, doesn’t she?

I’ve been looking for a small desk that would fit in the room while still leaving space for a downward dog, and a live dog, or two. I had found the perfect one and planned to secure it after Christmas. It would be my holiday present to myself.

But let’s go back a few weeks, when I dared to visit our basement, only to see a threatening sign on the guest bedroom door:

Sign on door: STOP, NO ENTRY ALLOWED, Santa's workshop is closed, This means YOU!!!, Yeah you!! Any violations will result in ALL gifts being returned to point of purchase. So there, Bah humbugI may be Jewish, but isn’t Santa’s workshop in the North Pole? Now he has branch offices? Out of fear for my life, I heeded the threat and I did not enter. I assume the threat was intended for me; it sounded more like something J. would say than Santa, with good reason. I am not trustworthy in situations like these.

On Christmas Eve day, J. went downstairs with her computer to work. I knew she had a few upcoming weddings but, two hours later, I was questioning what was taking her so long. She came upstairs for scissors at one point. Did I need to introduce her to the cut-and-paste functions in her word-processing program? Then I heard what sounded like hammering, piquing my curiosity.

On Christmas morning, I woke up and showered, and then we opened our modest gifts to one another. The gifts were carefully chosen and perfect. Oddly enough, I unwrapped nothing that required assembly.

J. often thinks I’m so spacey that I don’t notice things–so what if a full 24 hours had passed before I spied the outdoor Christmas decorations she’d hung this year?–but I do notice. Why was Santa’s workshop off limits? Where was Santa’s handiwork? It wasn’t adding up.

In fact, when I exited the shower that morning, I spied the work of Santa’s labour in my office-to-be. I decided to pretend not to see the gift until much later that day. On closer inspection, she’d bought the exact desk I’d wanted, although I’d never shown her a picture. She is psychic. It fits perfectly. I’ll still have room for my yoga mat and even a dog bed, if Jelly chooses to grace me with her presence.

Later in the day, I was forced to enter this room to grab something, and I feigned surprise at my discovery. (It turns out I had heard drilling, not hammering.) Unable to delay acknowledgement of my subterfuge, I immediately confessed that I’d found the desk hours earlier. So J., despite what you may think, I do notice lots of things. But I thought a little torturous delay might be fun. Indeed it was.

Shot of office desk with chair, dog mat with dog on it, and yoga mat

 

 

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Sorry you didn’t get my Christmas card

Picture of Ebenezer Scrooge

I think I’ve been a great Jewish sport this Christmas season. I’ve taken in the Christmas lights. I’ve welcomed the tree in our living room, which J. insists on decorating herself. I’ve wrapped J.’s gifts in Christmas paper, and placed them under the tree. Not once did I complain about the Christmas music everywhere. That is a Christmas miracle.

Last night I even participated in the most festive of Christmas events: I attended A Christmas Carol, an annual sold-out play in town. Thanks to the kindness of our dear friends, Mr. and Mrs. Generous, J. and I enjoyed the live production for the first time.

Thankfully J. explained the story to me before we left. As a child, she had watched the movie on television every Christmas Eve. She didn’t believe me when I told her I had no idea who this Scrooge character was, or how he’d gotten so humbuggy.

I’d have been lost without J.’s excellent synopsis. I was captivated by the music and the dancing, and, in this one evening, my Christmas spirit grew three sizes. I was so inspired that next year, I may attend the Calgary Philharmonic’s annual sing-along Messiah. Hallelujah!

There is one Christmas task I have utterly failed this year, however. Early in December, J. began writing out our Christmas cards. Antiprocrastinator that she is, she set a clear deadline for me to contribute my good wishes before sending them off. Otherwise, she’d mail them without my contribution.

If I’m honest with you, I dread the Christmas card ritual every year. As a Jew, I hadn’t had a lot of practice with this task. Completing the cards was last on my list this December. That fateful weekend, I had Christmas baking to do and you know, from a recent post, how much mental energy that involves. We were celebrating Hanukah, and that involved latkes and menorahs and gifts. I was busy with other things that mattered to me, and the cards slipped my mind.

The day after the deadline, I remembered and asked J. for the cards. Of course, she’d already sent them. That’s fair. (Parenting 101: Set an expectation only if you plan to follow through.) Frankly I was relieved. I’ve decided my Christmas gift to myself is never writing another Christmas card.

I’ve done a lot of soul searching since that fateful day (not really, but I am trying to sound remorseful here). Am I a bad person? Do I not nurture my friendships enough? Of course I care about all of you, but a Christmas card is not my preferred way of communicating this. I never know what to say, so I write the same trite thing on every card.

As it is, three or so times per week all year, I burden you with the endless minutiae of my life. You are kind enough to follow along. You must know I’m grateful for your friendship now and always, but whatever I write in a Christmas card won’t convey that adequately. Trust your value to me.

And so, because this is the best I can do, I wish you a Merry Christmas x 3, and a Happy New Year. Be healthy, be happy, and find joy in the every day. I plan to.

On the first night of Hanukah, my true love gave to me….

Tray of unbaked chocolate chip cookies with cookie scoop alongside

So far this year, except for burning my baked latkes, Hanukah has been fantastic. Not only am I receiving daily gifts from J. but two friends have hopped on the Hanukah-gifting bandwagon. When I think about what I’ve received thus far, a thoughtful and inspiring cornucopia of gifts, I realize I must be completely one dimensional. At least others view me that way.

Almost every single gift has been related to food or eating in some way. There are chocolates, including real gelt imprinted with a menorah, and other edible treats, and there are kitchen implements and other things I don’t know how I lived without. J. has included a number of garden-relevant gifts. Keep in mind I had no interest in gardening until I realized I could grow food. Every single gift comes back to food.

I’m sure it’s my fault, though. For example, I’d put in a special request for baking scoops.  I figured that, with baking scoops, instead of obsessively weighing each cookie to ensure the batch would bake evenly, I could scoop out the same amount of dough for each. Think of the time I might save!

On the first night of Hanukah, J. gifted me two scoops of different sizes which I’ll use diligently in my baking. Imagine a whole batch of cookies that look the same size and shape without the help of a kitchen scale. I’ve even considered the scoops’ potential uses for cooking as well. Falafel anyone (of course they’ll be baked, not fried), or how about spaghetti and perfectly round meatballs? These new tools will not sit idle at the back of the utensil drawer.

New scoops notwithstanding, we all know my baking speed will improve only negligibly. The scooping may save a few minutes, but it will still take me hours to bake simple chocolate chip cookies. That’s because I funnel all of my obsessive tendencies into my baking. No hand-washing (if only) or lock-checking rituals for me. Place a recipe in front of me and I’ll be at it for hours, overthinking every step and conducting endless internet research along the way. I don’t consider this a disabling problem unless your need for my baked cookies is urgent.

While I bake, I’ll still be online checking the number of grams in a cup of sugar, or flour, or butter. I’ll wonder how the temperature of the butter will affect the texture. I’ll question why my light and fluffy butter-sugar mixture curdles when I add my eggs. I’ll question what kind of cookie sheet to use (light or dark, rimless or rimmed), whether the dough can be frozen, or if I should bake the cookies and then freeze them instead. Of course I’ll have no idea where to place the oven rack for even baking. By the time I’m done, the cookies may taste excellent (assuming my attention doesn’t lapse, causing them to burn), but I’ll need a nap from all the mental exertion.

Despite my obsessiveness, I do love baking. J. loves eating what I bake, but the long process drives her crazy. No wonder she bought me those scoops. Oh, the hopes she had for those scoops. Sadly, I may let her down.

Alarmed woman looking at burnt cookies out of oven

A Hanukah Miracle

Two reindeer visiting with people on sidewalk

This time of year, everyone focuses on the Christmas miracle. So what if a baby was born of a virgin? There are many other miracles happening all around us. Take the miracle of Hanukah: the Maccabees lit the smidgen of oil found in the desecrated Temple and it lasted for 8 days! If that’s not a miracle, what is? Who’s the wondrous one who thought of making coins out of chocolate? Yet another Hanukah miracle.

Then there are the many local miracles that happen this time of year. Imagine being a visitor at our local children’s hospital this week, only to look out a window and spy four local real live reindeer walking by. Nifty.

J. has been a busy little elf this past while performing Christmas miracles in support of the children at the hospital. She helped Santa dole out gifts to the inpatients, and sold gifts at a gala in support of the hospital. If she asked you, after purchasing your $250 ticket to attend this gala, “Would you like to buy a $40 gift for a child who will be hospitalised over Christmas?” Only a scrooge would say no.

Last Sunday she co-opted our special friend to volunteer with her at the Teddy Bear Toss, an annual Calgary Hitmen hockey game. Each year, attendees throw teddy bears onto the ice following the first Calgary Hitmen goal. The bears (or other stuffies, including two dreidels that J. saw) then need to be sorted into bags to be distributed to the children at 60 recipient agencies, including the hospital.

Our special friend is always dressed to the nines whenever she goes out, so let’s call her Ms. Glam. After hours of sorting stuffies, Ms. Glam realized she had lost the precious watch she had worn to complement her outfit that day. The watch was a beloved Christmas gift from her adoring husband last year. By the time she realized her wrist was bare, the watch could have been anywhere, including the garbage or amongst the bags of 24,605 stuffies. She figured it was lost forever. She accepted that perhaps she hadn’t made the best choice of accessories that day. She was not happy.

J. emailed her volunteer coordinator, described the lost watch as best she could, and figured that would probably be the end of it. J. firmly believes that, however unlikely the outcome, she always has to ask. Had the watch been found and J. had not alerted her coordinator to the loss, how could it ever make its way back to Ms. Glam?

Miracle of miracles, J. received notice last night. “I think we’ve found the missing watch.” An employee at one of the stuffie-recipient agencies found the watch when she unpacked a bag, and let someone know who let someone know who…you know how this story ends.

Ms. Glam couldn’t believe her luck. She’d thought it so unlikely that the watch would be returned that she had already replaced it. This afternoon, Ms. Glam is returning her purchase since it turns out she doesn’t need a new watch after all.

So be sure to ask, even if the outcome is unlikely, and then don’t give up hope. And don’t forget that people are basically good at heart. You already knew that, but the occasional reminder won’t hurt. Oh, and leave your special watch at home if you’ll be sorting stuffies.

 

It takes an introvert to know an introvert, or does it?

Guy lying on floor says: "I have an Introvert Hangover. I'm totally exhausted from too much human interaction.

During our PALS visits at the university last week, Jelly became quite tired early on, as she often does. Despite the chaos all around her–other dogs, exam-fearing students–she lay down and fell asleep. I apologized to the student petting her at the time, telling her that Jelly often finds the visits exhausting. The student responded, “Maybe she’s an introvert.” Kids these days. They’re so smart.

I’d never really thought of Jelly as an introvert before, which is odd because I am one myself. Introverts like their alone time. They may also enjoy being with others, but they can find social interaction draining. Extraverts, on the other hand, are energized by spending time with others. They leave the party wound up rather than needing a nap. Most of us are ambiverts, falling somewhere in the middle.

Sometimes I compare myself to my extraverted friend, Ms. Bubbly (it’s Dr. Bubbly to you, but Ms. has a nicer ring to it), who is at the other end of the spectrum from me. She’s constantly running from one social event to another. I don’t know how she does it.

Ms. B always invites me to the frequent large social gatherings she holds at her home. She understands when I politely decline each and every time. She knows I’ve always found such get togethers overwhelming.

Later this month, Ms. B will be hosting her annual Hanukah party, which I have already declined. I need to save my limited social energy for two engagements we’d previously scheduled for the nights following. This means I will not get to eat any of the 12 dozen latkes she has ordered for the occasion. (You read that right: 12 dozen. She has a lot of friends.) The authentic latkes alone spur my motivation to go, but my introversion still won out. That and the potential for bruising from having to battle the crowds to get to the latkes.

Ms. B and I often go for coffee after Sunday yoga, a sign that introverts do not avoid all social interaction. They may prefer more intimate gatherings, and they enjoy solo time to regroup occasionally. When we go out, Ms. B and I have lovely visits during which we catch up on each other’s lives. I relish this one-on-one time.

I can manage small groups, so long as I don’t overdo it. Two major social engagements last weekend necessitated a day on the couch. My introversion long predated my leukemia, so I can’t blame my health. If I hang out with you, whether alone or with others, and my eyes start glossing over after a time, please trust it’s not you, it’s me.

Now that I think about it, I realize that Jelly hasn’t fallen far from this introverted tree. She prefers small groups of dogs, cowering in the bushes when larger packs approach. She, like me, assesses any situation fully before jumping in with four paws. And just as I enjoy my alone time, she is fine to amble the off-leash park on her own, stopping to greet only the most fragrant of dogs. When she is overwhelmed by a group, she does exactly what I do: she avoids the situation altogether, or she lies down and takes a nap. Like mother, like daughter.

A poor facsimile of a latke

Hanukah poster with menorah, latkes flying out of frying pan, dreidl and bottle of oil

I am pleased to report that J. is thoroughly enjoying her beer Advent calendar. J. is not drinking her beers daily–I may indulge my addiction to chocolate almost every day but she does not drink daily–because sometimes the day’s beer does not go with what we are having for dinner. Turns out that just as wine is matched with food, so is beer. We teetotallers are so ignorant.

The Advent calendar was such a success that our friends bought one too, although finding a second was not easy. It turns out beer Advent calendars are hot this year, and calling around revealed that almost all were purchased within days of being displayed in the liquor stores. Here’s my super-shopper tip for the day: find out the date for release of the Advent calendar, and buy it that day. For your efforts, 24 days of praise will ensue.

My pleas for a chocolate Advent calendar unfortunately fell on deaf ears, so I ended up buying one for myself. Maybe J. didn’t buy me one because she was trying to respect my Jewish faith. Or maybe I didn’t earn one since I don’t really understand what Advent is. This leads to my second seasonal super-shopper tip: chocolate Advent calendars are a dime a dozen, even after the start of the Advent season. Buy your chocolate advent calendar after the start of Advent. Stores never seem to run out of these calendars, the chocolate won’t yet be stale, and the price will be a steal. If you end up having to open more than one little chocolate door per day, you’ll manage to choke down the extra little chocolate, I’m sure.

Enough about Advent; Hanukah is quickly approaching. Tomorrow at sundown, we will light our menorah to mark the first night of the holiday. I will face away from our nondenominational, dog-ornamented Christmas tree to light the Hanukah candles as I sing the prayers and J. hums along. Thus will start my 8-day reprieve from Christmas. We will celebrate our version of this holiday of dreidls, chocolate coins, and of course latkes and other deep-fried foods. Where is a good Hanukah jelly donut when I need one? Oh that we were still in Israel, where I’d be able to find those donuts hot on every street corner.

Unfortunately we are not fryers, either of us. We do not heat large vats of oil and cook food in them. We do not fill our frying pans half way up for shallow frying. According to the story of Hanukah, not enough oil lasted 8 long days, and so that is the guideline I follow.

I will make my grandmother’s latke recipe as she recited it to me, almost. I’ll grate the potatoes into cold water, drain and wring them dry, mix with grated onions, flour, baking powder, salt, and pepper, and assemble little patties. Then I will put them on a greased baking sheet, brush them with oil, and bake them. Consider my method a cooking compromise. With enough sour cream and applesauce on the side, I’ll hardly be able to tell the difference.

That’s not really true. Even if I fry them, they won’t hold a candle to Bubi’s. Nothing will.

 

 

 

Obsessives everywhere are making mountains out of molehills

First a few brief updates:

  1. The three wise men may need to consult a wise woman for directions if that errant package is to arrive before Christmas.
  2. Dr. Blood Lite tells me my platelets are continuing to improve. This means that any excessive bruising I am experiencing is all of my own doing.

Now that we’ve cleared those matters up, I’ve a new focus for my fretting: Advent. I don’t know what Advent is. I’m Jewish, after all. My research revealed that Advent lasts for four Sundays each year, ending on the last Sunday before Christmas. This means that the length of Advent varies each year depending on when Christmas Day falls. This year, Advent starts December 3 and ends December 24.

2017 Craft Beer Advent Calendar boxThis information begs another more important quandary: when to give J. her 24-day Craft Beer Advent Calendar if Advent is only 22 days this year? Do I give it to her on December 3, knowing she’ll still be opening little cardboard doors well past Christmas Day, or do I give it to her today, December 1, so we can recycle the empty box with all the other Christmas refuse?

Am I the only one who sees the problem with a 24-day Advent Calendar irrespective of the length of the actual Advent period? Probably. A normal person would be excited that they’ve scored two extra beers. Also, I’m imagining daily beers does not quite capture the meaning of Advent. Daily chocolates maybe, but not beers.

I made an executive decision, based primarily on my excitement and inability to delay J.’s gratification–this is truly the perfect gift–that I would give J. the calendar today. While she was showering, I dragged all 15.4 kilograms of beer (it would have been lighter with only 22 beers) to the living room, where I placed it underneath our Charlie Brown Christmas Tree. Then Jelly and I left for our walk.

Why did I vacate the premises? Normally I’d want to be there to witness J.’s glee at finding a gift, but this morning, I assumed the role of secret Advent Santa. As expected, I received a text not long after I left: Thanks Santa [insert Santa emoji here].

When Jelly and I arrived home soon thereafter, I was glad to see that J. had opened the first cardboard door and her first beer was cooling in the fridge. Had I given the calendar to her this evening, the beer would not have been chilled for her to imbibe tonight.

This time-of-day issue sound easy but it was not. My internet search revealed considerable debate over whether people start at Door 24 or Door 1, but I don’t care about that. Trust me that J. will find every single beer–she is not by nature a wasteful person–in whatever order she chooses. I found nothing about what time of day one normally opens each door. So I let the chilling factor guide me.

J., if you are reading this, please be aware that you have two more days to buy me my chocolate Advent calendar–we all have our vices–if you can tear yourself away from the beer. Purdy’s has one this year, although you may need to buy two since theirs lasts only 12 days. Thanks sweetie.

Can you keep a secret?

Oy to the world countdown to Hannukah calendar

I admit it, I missed Giving Tuesday this year. I volunteered Monday at Canadian Blood Services, and tomorrow I’ll go to a PALS visit at the retirement residence, but today I did not much of anything at all. I did make J. dinner for the first time in forever, but that doesn’t really count.

All this sleeping has been cutting into my holiday shopping time. It’s beginning to look a lot like Hanukah–okay, maybe not, there’s no escaping the Christmas music–but Jews can dream. It’s 14 sleeps until Hanukah, which has me obsessing about what to get the woman who has everything. (She has me. What more could she want?) Here are but a few of my quandaries:

  1. Why did I insist we exchange gifts for each of the eight nights of Hannukah? I can’t be creative for 8 nights in a row. Plus, if I stop at eight gifts, there’ll be nothing for under the Christmas tree.
  2. Is this the year I secure a secret Visa, so everything I buy J. does not end up on our joint credit card? How else can I keep my purchases from J.? Last year I used cash, but those young sales clerks did not know what it was. This year, I’ve tried to debit, but mastering this new skill set has been a challenge.
  3. Am I the only person under 80 who’d rather go to a real live store than do my shopping on line? I want to see what I’m buying and walk out with the goods. Is that a sin?
Stuffed singing matzo ball in a bowl of soup, says Happy Hannukah

A stuffed toy: singing matzo ball

 

After a recent experience on Buy Nothing Day (which happens to coincide with Black Friday), I may have to rethink my gifting strategy altogether. I went shopping at the mall with all the old people. Where was everyone else? Home shopping on line, I imagine. I immediately found The Gift, but in the wrong size. (Yes, J., I was seeking an article of clothing, but that’s all I’m saying.) I approached a bored clerk.

According to the store’s computer, The Gift was somewhere in the store, but it was MIA during a physical search. The sales clerk checked another location on her computer and found The Gift there. Another extensive ground search at that store revealed that this item too was nowhere to be found. I then learned that “the computers are sometimes not up to date (???)”, and was informed that The Gift was available for on-line ordering. The clerk suggested I take a photo of her computer screen to facilitate my ordering.

Was I was being punished for shopping on Buy Nothing Day? Or for deigning to shop in person?

Hannukah stuffed dog with menorah on its backI made the purchase reluctantly on line, using our joint credit card. Then I reminded J. of our strict no-checking-the-Visa rule in December. The Gift is now in transit but it has headed east province by province before being redirected west. Hopefully three wise men will drop it off on their way to Bethlehem.

In the end, my efforts to ensure those store clerks were not replaced by computers were all for naught. All roads led to my need for a secret Visa. Of course J. has had one for years. Search me what I’ll find under the Hanukkah bush.

 

 

 

A true Israeli breakfast of champions

Israeli breakfast buffet, eggs, olives, etc.

Lest I leave you with the impression that if you go to Israel, you’ll come back with a high bilirubin count, let’s talk about the food. It’s incredible, every single morsel.

Because Israel is surrounded by countries that are, at best, ambivalent about her existence, Israeli food is largely produced within its borders. In our travels we passed olive trees, date trees, banana trees, grape vines, and pomegranate trees dripping with fruit. The bananas were so tasty, J. refuses to eat another Chiquita.

(By the way, I don’t recommend eating an olive straight from the tree–it’s not a pleasant experience. Squeeze it and watch the oil ooze out, but cure your olives before you take a bite. I learned this lesson the hard way.)

Then there are the milk products, the yogurt and labneh and white cheese, which is a loose facsimile for our cream cheese but smoother and much tastier. Because so many restaurants and hotels in Israel have kosher kitchens to accommodate the religious Israeli residents and the tourists, many kitchens exclude meat from their menus. There isn’t enough space in this small country to produce a lot of meat. Rather, there is a very large sea known as the Mediterranean that is bursting with fish, and since fish can go either way–it can be eaten with milk products or with meat–the fish is aplenty.

Now imagine that all of this food finds its way into the buffets of the typical Israeli breakfast at hotels. This meal is often included in the cost of the hotel. We call it “Israeli breakfast” while Israelis call it “breakfast”. Whatever you call it, it is a perpetual exercise in self-restraint.

Imagine a variety of yogurt and cheeses, granola, dried fruits, and preserves. There’s smoked fish and tuna salad alongside a variety of breads and rolls. Add in eggs in various preparations, perhaps in spicy tomato sauce, or as an omelette to order. Of course there are sliced tomatoes, olives, and a mishmash of salads, including Israeli salad (which Israelis call “salad”). It’s finely chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions. Then there’s the stuffed pastry with savoury fillings like mushrooms or cheese.

Finally, there’s dessert breakfast, usually consisting of babka, i.e., chocolate- or cinnamon-swirled heaven, and halvah. Halvah is tahini and sugar, with added flavourings like cocoa powder or pistachios or whatever you can imagine, pressed it into a block. For immediate sugar shock, shave some halvah onto your babka.

If Israelis ate breakfast like this every day, they’d all be morbidly obese. The full Israeli breakfast is purely a tourist phenomenon, not that I’m complaining.

You won’t be surprised to learn I gained 10 lbs over the course of 14 days. But you may be surprised when I tell you that J. gained 0 lbs eating as much or more than me. Then we came home, and within one week on my strict low-sodium diet, I was back to my fighting weight.

I’ll admit it feels crummy to gain 10 lbs in 14 days, but losing 10 lbs in a week more than makes up for it. Best diet ever. You’ll come back with your bilirubin level intact, but if you gain weight, it’s all on you.

 

My limited knowledge of the language of our people

Shalom in Hebrew and English on Aramaic pottery tile

Have I ever told you that I studied Hebrew for years, even during university? I even lived in Jerusalem for a year. You might think the year of language immersion would have helped me hone my spoken Hebrew, but you’d be wrong. Back then, I was too timid to speak the language much. Often when I sheepishly tried to use my Hebrew, Israelis responded in English. They wanted to practice their second language as much as I wanted to practice mine.

It’s been thirty years since my Hebrew language learning stopped, but during our trip to Israel, more Hebrew came back to me than I expected. Most of the time, I think people understood the phrases and sentences I’d first carefully scripted in my head. Being able to speak the language helped when we needed directions, or the price of something in the market, or where to find the nearest bathroom/babka/baklava. I found I could read many store signs, understand the odd menu, and eavesdrop on the occasional conversation. The eavesdropping was the most fun.

Fully fluent I am not, however. Generally, I understood every third word or so. The Israelis that I understood easily, however, were those like me whose first language was English. They spoke with an accent like mine and at a moderate pace. At one of our first lunch stops on our trip, I realised I easily understood our server’s Hebrew. Then I overheard him speaking to the person at the table next to us in fluent English. Turns out he was born in the U.S. but emigrated to Israel with his parents a few years ago. I thanked him for allowing me to speak my slow, broken Hebrew, knowing full well we could communicate more easily in English, during the lunchtime rush.

Stuffed Grover standing by raisin challah that's been cutI may have understood what was being said around me, but I often forgot that J.’s Hebrew was limited to “shalom” and “challah”. Once we were in an elevator when a fellow asked her to push the 14th floor. J. was facing away from him, and had no idea this man had asked her for help. I, in my ignorance, impatiently repeated the floor number to her in Hebrew. Thankfully we sorted the miscommunication out before he’d missed his floor.

Over the course of the trip, my question-asking skills improved, but my ability to understand Israelis’ responses, spoken in rapid-fire Hebrew, didn’t. On our second last day, I asked a restaurant server for the washroom, but I didn’t understand his response at all. After standing there momentarily with no idea where to go, I repeated the same question to another server. Thankfully she pointed me in the right direction while repeating the same incomprehensible response.

There are several morals of this story. If you’re going to speak with the locals in their language, remember that you’ll also have to understand their responses. If you don’t understand, keep trying, and don’t worry if you sound like a toddler. At least you’ve made the effort. Oh, and don’t forget that your travel partner may have no idea what you, or anybody else, is saying. Trust me, she’ll remind you if you do forget.