Babyproofing Your Marriage

Babyproofing Your Marriage: How to Laugh More, Argue Less, and Communicate Better as Your Family GrowsBabyproofing Your Marriage: How to Laugh More, Argue Less, and Communicate Better as Your Family Grows by Stacie Cockrell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Babyproofing Your Marriage is easily the best book on marital relationships I’ve ever encountered, let alone read. The authors (three women) do a better job of getting inside the male brain than any comparable book I’ve encountered. Specifically, they do an excellent job explaining how precisely men connect sex with self worth and intimacy, and how corrosive vicious cycles get started. In recognizing how effectively they get inside men’s heads, I assume that their translations of women’s emotions into man-speak are as accurate as their translations of men’s emotions. The lessons in the book are couched in terms of what having a child or children will do to the daily life of the couple, but they are remarkably applicable to couples without children – good lessons in effective communication are always a good idea.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough, and hope lots of my married friends read it.

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I am filled with anger and frustration today. I got an email from the fellow who used to run one of the great venues for small-time local bands, indicating that he’s now the booker for a new club, and asking whether we’d like to come play.

Well, yes but, it just so happens that I can’t play guitar for more than 5 minutes without hurting myself, so I’ll have to take a rain check on that.

And then there’s the sudden, unpleasant GI distress, coupled with the back pain from the blood patch, not to mention the various and sundry unwelcome side effects of the pain meds, and all in all, it leads me to a pretty unwholesome place.

It feels like my world has gotten smaller all of a sudden: that the boundless possibilities I had merely last year are so far beyond reach. Hell, the ability to take public transit to work as a choice would be nice- I’m a conservationist and all, but I miss driving.

And the worst part of all of this? I still don’t have a diagnosis with more explanatory power than “you’re broken right now, but if we wait long enough, maybe you’ll get better on your own.”

So today is not a good day. Maybe tomorrow?

I’m a minority

apparently 30% of people get the “Spinal Tap headache” – this is basically like a particularly bad migraine which does not respond to normal treatment. The way you can tell if you have it is that it gets better (somewhat) when you’re lying on your back. Extra caffeine is supposed to help (check, but didn’t help much). So fortunately the neurologist is quite responsive: I get to have a blood patch tomorrow morning, and hopefully that will stop the symptoms (which are just below the “claw my eyes out” level).

It goes to 11

For those playing along at home, a spinal tap is pretty short: about 5-15 minutes of truly excruciating nausea-inducing pain. It is not a worse experience than the EMG, but it hurts more than any one part of it. Oh, and th effects linger: sitting up for more than a few minutes is quite unpleasant. The va’ad of greater Washington will be issuing a statement describing this as “not recommended.”

I’m particularly grateful for Sarah taking care of me: she’s the best blessing I’ve ever received.


/. brought this story of a woman who was arrested for denying TSA permission to either body-scan or physically examine her child.

A notable bit from that story is this:

“(She) told me in a very stern voice with quite a bit of attitude that they were not going through that X-ray,” Sabrina Birge, an airport security officer, told police.

“No, it’s not an X-ray,” she told Abbott. “It is 10,000 times safer than your cell phone and uses the same type of radio waves as a sonogram.”

So why is it okay for Federal employees to lie to the public?

Let’s assume for a moment that we’re dealing with a millimeter-wave scanner rather than the X-ray backscatter machine. Given that the resonant frequency of free oxygen and water is within the millimeter spectrum (and the USAF has weaponized this), how in the world would this particular employee be in a position to opine on the actual medical effects of the scanner? Worse, check out the lies in the form of pictures which the TSA have posted (the image to which I refer is the first one, which attempts to show relative energy densities of RF radiation, but manages to do so without reference to any sort of scale, or the fact that the actual frequencies involved are in fact different, and thus have different effects on the body. Further, the inverse-square law still applies, so having transmitters closer to your body makes them a LOT stronger, and of course, I’m not aware of the “everyday activities” which involve being right up close to a transmitter.

And of course, none of that actually matters. The important part of this is the intrusion on personal privacy for no actual security benefit. Given the now long and storied history of TSA abuse, a mother who is uncompliant in this matter is fulfilling her role as guardian of her children.

It is appalling to me that we Americans are trading our birthright of freedom for a mess of security-theatre pottage.

In Praise of Naïveté

I just got home from the wedding of a young couple who have dated for a few years, and are delightful people. They met when he was fresh out of college and she was in high school (!) and spent a few years making eyes at each other before it was okay for them to start officially dating. Theirs is a beaujolais relationship – young, fresh, and completely un-ironic.

I was struck by the innocence and obviousness of their love for each other – it is unleavened by the cynicism which has infected the modern age, and in that is like a throwback to a better time. My hope for them is that they maintain this un-ironic view of each other, and serve as a reminder to all the rest of us that comparison to the bitter is not necessary for something to be sweet.

I’ll certainly pay for dancing and clapping, but it was worth it; I got to rejoice at the union of two dear friends, and that’s worth a lot.

Ħéåѷÿ Ҧêťąĩ

So the neurologist is checking me for heavy metal (guess which link is more accurate!) and having me get a Spın̈al Tap, also referred to as a Lumbar Pun̈cture, and I have that scheduled for next Friday. Best line? The warning that 10% of people get the worst headache they’ve ever had because their spinal fluid is leaking out of their back. Oh, awesome.

On the bright side, apparently my brain MRI was excellent, and the spın̈al tap is not going to be anywhere near as bad as an EMG, so that’s good.

What it’s not

So the saga of my health troubles continues – my exceedingly good rheumatologist examined my MRIs, EMG results, and enough bloodwork to keep Bill Compton busy, and the answer is… (drumroll)

no idea yet.

But the good news is that lupus, multiple sclerosis, brain or spinal cancer, rheumatoid arthritis*, and lyme* are not visible. The asterisks are there because those in particular can hide, so until there’s a confirmed diagnosis, they’re not fully ruled out. I had been thinking that I’d rather know that it was something horrible and incurable than be in the position of not knowing, but I will admit that ruling out MS is a good thing.

But one of the things which is evident in a true expert is humility about the boundaries of knowledge. In this case, my doctor is referring me to other specialists who might be able to pin this down. I sure hope so: the sensitivity to vibration is pretty severe – using an electric razor gets pretty painful, and I haven’t driven a car in over a week. This, of course, puts the daydreams of getting a motorcycle on the extreme back-burner.

I’ve long hated the period of waiting – my tendency is to want to make a decision and jump right in: like once I knew that I wanted to marry Sarah, I didn’t want to wait the eighteen months of engagement; once I decided to convert I jumped in with both feet, etc. So given this, this state of ignorance is exceedingly frustrating, and I hope that I’ll get some answers soon.

What makes this phenomenon different from all other?

Orthodox Judaism is a communal, public religion. While many critical and core observances of daily life are in the home (the Seder, taharat hamishpaha, etc), and the de facto center of the communal life is the Synagogue, the key milestones and transition points are observed communally. By this I mean birth, death, transitions to adulthood, marriage – all these and more are celebrated publicly. The community is there with us enjoying our happiness at a birth, and the custom is for folks to pitch in to help the new parents. The community mourns with us in shiva, and again, folks pitch in to visit, and provide both food and comfort. The prayer books contain formulas to guide the bewildered person who is new at this through the process, and for the most part, they work pretty well. Pretty much any triumph or tragedy is cause for either comfort or public congratulations, with one exception.

Miscarriage is entirely unlike any of the other events.

See, when someone dies, everyone knows what to say – there is a formal grieving period, and the mourner has specific practices which are designed to steadily ease him or her back into the world, and slowly allow him or her to function again. Folks help out, even those people who don’t know you very well: lots of people rise to the occasion, and demonstrate the best of what humanity can be.

But miscarriage is entirely private – no announcement, no formal prayers, and no opportunity for those who have been through this to offer those pieces of wisdom they’ve gained via experience. Instead, you merely get to suffer inside, while putting on a brave face for the world. Whispered conversations in the corner of the room are the closest to received wisdom which is provided, and acquaintances are left to wonder why you’ve gotten so snippy all of a sudden.

This topic is quite near to my heart: we learned that Sarah was pregnant the day after she got up from sitting shiva for her father. Obviously then, we’re on a roller-coaster of emotions – grief for the loss of a good man far too young, but exhilaration at the possibility of becoming parents: this is something we’ve wanted for a long time, but the timing was wholly unexpected.

About three weeks after that, we were just about to start telling more than our parents, and we learned that the embryo had died some weeks before, and that this was a miscarriage.

So now, here we are nearing the end of Sarah’s shloshim (thirty days) for her father, and lots of folks are coming up to us saying things like “Things getting better now, right?” and we’re left with no reply – instead of the joy we had before, the lingering taste of the swallowed reply is bile and ash.

In talking to friends individually, we’ve found that the number of women with children who have had miscarriages is something just barely under “most of them.” Several of our very close friends have had several, and we had had no idea! Apparently roughly 25-33% of pregnancies are miscarried, and it is overwhelmingly likely that most women who ever attempt to have children will experience a miscarriage. And of course, there isn’t any ritual to help them through it.

The lack of ritual, I suspect, dates from a time when infant mortality was high – there is no shiva for an infant who dies before thirty days of life, for instance – so perhaps in the past, people were less attached to pregnancy (and of course, before any of the modern testing methods, women would have taken a lot longer to realize they were pregnant). But times have changed.

So I believe that this is an area where modern thinking should be applied – there needs to be an organized communal support system for women who have miscarriages. My intention, as President of the National Capital Mikvah, is to take this on as a project and try to create a systematic support structure that would provide women in this position with support from others who have been through this. Of course, their husbands are going through it too, and I know that my pain and anxiety have been quite real and debilitating. The most valuable thing anyone said to me was one particular man at Kesher Israel who has several children told me about his experience when his wife miscarried on their first pregnancy, and he really got it – that this is a loss which doesn’t ever completely heal: all you can do is keep living life as best you can, and it becomes less immediate. But he still teared up when he talked about his experience, and in that moment I truly felt understood.

I hope that those reading this don’t ever have to go through the pain of miscarriage. If you do, hopefully by then there will be more communal support in place to ease you through it, but it’s worth knowing that other people out there have experienced this, and it’s okay to ask for help.

How to Kasher a kitchen

I’ve had some requests to re-post my basic Judaism course notes – this is the first (and arguably most useful) part. The decisions rendered here are based on my conversations with Rabbi Dr. Freundel, of Kesher Israel, and of course, any errors are mine and not his.


Why do we do this whole kashrut thing anyway?

Because we are what we eat. This is a public symbol of our embracing the idea that God’s will for us is more important than our own desires for this cheeseburger or that slice of pizza.

What things are always kosher without requiring supervision?

Fresh fruit & vegetables, frozen fruit & vegetables (pure), extra virgin olive oil, salt, sugar, dried beans, rice, eggs, milk (in USA)

What things are widely held to be okay without supervision?

Dole Pineapple, beer, American whiskey, gin (but not sloe gin), most scotches, lots of other things, but when you’re learning it’s good to validate these with the Rabbi.

Do things that aren’t food require supervision?

Not normally. Soap, for instance, is not food. Aluminum foil is not food. Laundry detergent is not food. None of those require supervision.

What hashgaha is okay?

Check – they have a relatively sane list. If you find a supervision with which you aren’t familiar, ask Rabbi Freundel, and he’ll let you know. Feel free to call him from grocery stores: I certainly do. Yes, the Kelloggs “K” is acceptable. O-U, O-K, Khaf-K, Star-K, KSA are the most prevalent national hashgahot.

Terms: Cold Contact    Ben Yomo    Harif

How to Kasher a kitchen

In general terms, the order of kashering is “clean, wait 24 hours, kasher

Step 0:

Get rid of stuff which isn’t kosher, and get the supplies needed to do the cleaning and koshering in the following steps (cleaning supplies, gloves, tongs, a big pot to kasher other dishes, etc).  This might sound obvious, but it’s essential.

Step 1:

Clean your fridge. You don’t actually need to kasher the fridge – it is by definition cold contact, so all you need to do is clean well with damp cloths. If you use chemicals, make sure to damp-rinse well, because you don’t want to eat them.

Step 2:

Clean the oven. If you’ve got self-cleaning, you’re in luck. If not, then clean well with ez-off or something like it. USE GLOVES – those chemicals are exceptionally bad for you, so open windows and try not to get any on you – it’s like a cross between litigation and nuclear power. If the oven self-cleans, you probably need to take the racks out first (two reasons – first, they discolor, and second, they can expand in the heat and damage the oven).

Step 3:

Clean the stove. I’ve found barkeeper’s friend to be very effective.

Step 4:

Clean the microwave – the trick here is that cleaning the microwave is exactly the same procedure as koshering it, so you’ll end up repeating this. See below for the details.

Step 5:

Clean the countertops. Feel free to use chemicals, but rinse them well, because you don’t want to eat them.

Step 6:

clean the sink. well. If it’s a metal sink, you’ll be able to kasher it, if it’s ceramic, it won’t be kasherable. When you’re done with this, note the time. Put a piece of tape or something across the sink so that you don’t use it accidentally.

Step 7:

sweep the floor.

Wait until 24 hours have passed from the time noted in step 6. One good way to do this is either to start kashering on Friday and let it lie over Shabbat. Another good way is to do it right when you move in, or to visit friends for a day or two. The hardest thing to avoid using is generally the sink, thus the tape mentioned in step 6.

Step 8:

Kashertime! First, the oven: with the racks IN, bring the oven up to its hottest temperature (generally 550 F) for about 2 hours (i.e. let it get to 550, and then wait two hours – this will take about 2.5-3 hours or so total). Put the burners on full for one hour. Sanity tip: do two at a time, so that the room doesn’t get too hot. Another tip: open a window so you don’t suffocate.

Step 9:

After step 8 has finished, if you have a metal sink, boil a VERY large pot full of water (this will take a while). When the pot is at a rolling boil, pour the water into the sink, making sure to get it all over the sides – you want to heat up the whole thing at the same time. WEAR GLOVES: boiling water is dangerous and really sucks if you get it on you. After you’re done, boil another pot of water.

Step 10:

Kasher your microwave. The process here is to take a pyrex cup (or something else which is both microwave and boiling-water safe) with a bunch of water in it, and boil the heck out of it. Generally microwaving for ~7 minutes on high will fill the thing with steam (which is what you want). Wipe the inside of the microwave out with a cloth, refill the pyrex, move it on the tray, and repeat.

Step 11:

Kasher your stuff – those items which are kasherable should be immersed in a pot of water at a rolling boil. USE TONGS.

• Entirely metal utensils – kasherable
• Entirely glass utensils – kasherable
• Wood – often kasherable, but ask a Rabbi
• Plastic – doubtful
• Knives or other things which are part metal part other – depends, ask a Rabbi.
• Ceramics (including china and pyrex) – ask a Rabbi
• Dishwashers – RDBF holds that dishwashers are fundamentally next to impossible to kasher. There are other opinions out there, but one thing of note is that the price of new racks is generally very close to the price of a new dishwasher.
• Toasters – no
• Toaster ovens – doubtful, but ask
• Crock pot – no

Step 12:

Relax with a gin&tonic

Don’t plan on using glass plates for meat and dairy – there are certain cases where it could theoretically work, but that’s very high-risk kashrut, and the likelihood of making a serious problem is really high. However, you can use the same drinking glasses for meat and dairy, as long as they’re not used for hot things (like a mug/teacup would be). Pyrex is NOT glass, and acquires a “gender” when used.

Things you need to get ahead of time (perhaps during the 24 hours?):
2 sink racks & 2 drying racks (different colors!)
3 scrubbies – the kosher stores sell some which are labeled “meat/pareve/dairy” but color coding works well. Generally, blue = dairy, red= meat, and either green or yellow=pareve. Sponges are good too, but can’t be used on Shabbat, thus the scrubbies.

Other kitchen things which are highly recommended:
1 blech – I recommend an un-blech k’deira blech which is a steam tray, or an electric warming plate
Hot water pot / urn
Crock pot
Bread board / knife