Habits of Kindness: Put First Things First

So Rosh Chodesh Tevet will take place over the weekend, but never fear, we will hold our Rosh Chodesh Tevet Assembly on Monday morning!  And with another Rosh Chodesh comes the introduction, from our “7 Habits Prototype Team” and Knesset, of the third of the 7 Habits: Put First Things First.

As the song says, there are 525,600 minutes in one year.  However, when you consider that approximately 175,200 minutes of that time will be spent sleeping, 16,425 minutes spent eating, and if you’re a student, 72,000 minutes spent in school, you have less than half that total to spend on the rest of your life. Therefore, it is essential to do the important things first—if you leave them until last, you might run out of time.

You know how something is so obvious that you dismiss it?

That’s how I feel about this habit.

You have likely heard that song and/or seen that video numerous times in the past and you know that the moral of the story is to remember that your big rocks are your family and friends and to not get bogged down in the sands of workaholism and workaday concerns.

So why did I get to work yesterday at 7:00 AM and come home at 9:15 PM?

Why do so many of us struggle with finding balance when we know where our true priorities lie?

I don’t have an answer…but I do have an opportunity!

[Bonus Expat File Mini-Post:]

I really believe that Canada is a place that pays more than lip service to work-life balance and wellness.  It may not have quite rubbed off on me yet, but I welcome the opportunity to share and reflect with my Canadian colleagues about how we try to keep ourselves spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically prepared to passionately pursue our profession while remaining loving and present spouses, partners, parents, children and friends.

I have made two commitments to wellness this year that are a constant source of teasing…

…I purchased a mini-standing desk for laptop users.

…I purchased a seasonal affective disorder lamp.

I have seen the articles all about how “sitting is the new smoking” and if that is even partly true, I am sadly stage something with sitting.  So I am now standing a few hours a day at my desk and we’ll see what happens!

It is dark when I get to school and dark when I leave school.  And for fun, for about half the year it is pretty dark while I am at school too!  So I have decided to see if one of these SAD lights will keep me un-SAD during the long winter months.

What do you do to “put first things first”?  Feel free to share your secrets via a quality comment on this blog!

Expat Files: The Heartbreaking JOMO of Gun Violence

I have been thinking about this and testing out a few ideas on social media before Parkland, but after Las Vegas.  I have watched and read how my colleagues back in the States and my former coworkers at Prizmah have organized, mobilized, written, advocated and participated in a variety of conversations, gatherings, and experiences in response to the surge in gun violence, culminating in the ways many Jewish day schools chose to participate in yesterday’s student walkout.  I have been impressed and inspired by their words and their deeds, especially those of the students themselves.  And yet…

I was watching yesterday’s student walkout play out live through social media and it left me with a strong feeling that I cannot quite put my finger on – somewhere sour between FOMO (fear of missing out) and JOMO (joy of missing out).  I feel motivated to do something, grateful to not have to, left out of a conversation I don’t want to have to be in, but feel guilty for missing out on…I have neither an audience nor an address.

Before moving to Ottawa, we spent 12 years in Nevada and Northern Florida deeply embedded in Jewish communities whose purple and red political hues contrasted sharply with our deep blue upbringing and bicoastal lives to that point.  We have learned to respectfully disagree with dear friends whose views on guns run counter to our own.  As head of the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School in Jacksonville, FL, I had to write my own responses to local tragedy when a colleague was gunned down in her office at a private school in our neighborhood, and to national tragedies such as Sandy Hook.  As head of the Schechter Day School Network and as part of the leadership of Prizmah, I had ample opportunity to write articles and participate in conversations as each new bubble of gun violence burst.  We are proud Americans.  We were proud when we lived in California, New York, Nevada and Florida.  We are proud now that we live in Canada.  But I cannot pretend to be proud of this part of the American experience…

Part of my desire to dedicate a section of my blog to “Expat Files” is to give me space to explore the many cultural differences between living in the States and living in Canada.  And the emphasis should be on the word “many”.  It isn’t all maple syrup and dogsledding. These are different countries with different histories, different forms of government (perhaps nevermore different than now), different shared assumptions, different languages (and I mean Canadian English, not just French), and when it comes to gun violence, completely different experiences.

It is not to say that gun violence doesn’t exist in Canada or that it is completely immune to school shootings…but I don’t believe parents worry that their child will go to school one day and not return home. And as one of those parents, I freely admit that I kinda prefer it that way.

Will this time be different?  Has the passion and advocacy of the Parkland survivors sparked a flame that apathy, special interests and a short attention span cannot extinguish?  I pray that the answer is, “yes,” while fearing that it is likely, “no.”

What is my responsibility as an American abroad beyond voting? What is my response as a Jewish educator beyond blogging?  What is my opportunity to contribute as the head of a Canadian Jewish day school in a field often described as “North American”, but with way more emphasis (for all kinds of reasons) on the “American” than the “North”?

Do our children have an obligation or an opportunity to put their Canadian Jewish values into practice?

I’m working on it…and open to suggestion.

Expat Files: Please and Thanks

Let’s talk about yogurt…

Nothing makes you feel more American than discovering what you think is snack-size is apparently appropriate for an adult meal. Nothing crystallizes my emigration experience from America like my search for a Canadian yogurt that doesn’t make me appear Brobdingnagian.

If your spoon doesn’t fit the yogurt container, it cannot possibly contain enough yogurt to be a meal.  Yes?  If the container fits in your closed fist, it cannot have enough protein to get you through four hours.  Right?  Maybe the European alcohol proofing in the beer makes it up on the other side?  I am definitely not starving here in Ottawa.  But I am definitely not satisfied with the yogurt situation. Stay tuned.

In other expatriate news, I have only returned my coffee three times forgetting that the default position for “coffee” apparently comes with milk and sugar.  You can get a joint checking account, but cannot get a joint credit card.  You can get tires at the supermarket and grills at the tire store.  The credit card machine comes to you.  Gambling is apparently legal and bingo is big.  The DVR has become a PVR and like half the channels appear two or more times in your guide, so I have wound up recording the same show like three times too many.

In expatriate educational news, you can be a Supply Teacher or an Occasional Teacher (that is my favorite job title ever), but not a Substitute Teacher.  You can be an Educational Assistant, but not a Teaching Assistant nor Assistant Teacher.  Do NOT confuse “college” for “university”.  You are in Grade Six, not Sixth Grade.  You do not misbehave, you dis-regulate.  (Giving new meaning to the idea of “staying regular”.  Ba-dum-bum.)  You don’t have snack, you get a nutrition break. Washroom (not bathroom).

You get the idea…Canada is a different country.  Brilliant.

I remember moving to the Upper West Side of Manhattan and revisiting Seinfeld reruns to pick up the nuances I missed upon first viewing.  I am not entirely sure what the exact equivalent is here, but I am considering The Kids in the Hall, Degrassi High and You Can’t Do That on Television for starters (and to totally date myself).

We have officially been in Canada for over two weeks and I am finishing up my second week here at OJCS.  I am very excited and encouraged by it all.  I am looking forward to seeing my kids next week (they are finished with camp and enjoying time with grandparents) and to having our whole family together again and here in Ottawa.  I am looking forward to attending Prizmah’s Governance and Fundraising Academy’s (GFA) conference in St. Louis next week with a few of our lay leaders.  It will be nice to reconnect with my friends from Prizmah and with my colleagues from the other participating Jewish day schools (with extra joy to see folk from my first school, the Solomon Schechter Day School of Las Vegas).

 

As I ease back into weekly blog posts, I am preparing to (re)focus on my OJCS stakeholder community as one primary audience.  I will begin linking my blog to the school’s website and pushing out new posts through its social media (in addition to my social media).  I will be thinking about how to integrate/revise the school’s existing channels of communication (Constant Contacts, email, GoogleClassroom, social media, website, etc.) to ensure parents, students and teachers have one clear address to find all they need and that all our communication vehicles are driving to that address. I will be sharing transparently about the big issues we are facing, the big conversations we are having, the big decisions we are contemplating, the big news we have to share and anything else worthy of your attention.  [Spoiler Alert: Announcing the OJCS 2017-2018 Faculty coming soon!]  Hopefully you will participate in those conversations by commenting on this blog, by liking/sharing/commenting on social media, by email, phone call or just dropping by for a cup of coffee (no milk, no sugar).

And for those of you who have been with me on this crazy journey across time zones, schools, organizations and countries, I hope you will continue to find this blog worth the read.

Please and thanks.

L’hitraot Y’all: A Farewell to Seven Years of SaltLife

“Salt Life” bumper stickers originated in Jacksonville, Florida and are originally stickers on the back of cars that used to indicate a surfer or body boarder whose life is centered on beach. Salt Life is a way of life and dress brand for individuals who adore surfing, boarding, and all things shoreline and wave related. The term “salt life” means a kind of boho beach lifestyle, now it’s also a company that promotes it.

My very first blog post was called “Southern Hospitality” accompanied by the above photo of Jacksonville Beach and was written almost exactly seven years ago.

How do you even try to wrap up seven years of a life?  Images, quotes, data, audio, memories start to flood the mind making it difficult to make sense of what a chapter that long in a life truly means.  We’ve all aged, but our girls have definitely aged in a much more fun way than their parents.  Professionally, I have had the unique (at least in my profession) opportunity to share farewells from each of the three amazing professional opportunities that occupied much of my time while living in Jacksonville.  Our journey from Las Vegas to Jacksonville was to assume the headship of the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School. Four years later it was time to say farewell

Next up was my executive directorship of the Schechter Day School Network.  Two years later it was time to say farewell

And just last week, I reflected and said farewell to Prizmah

So, I wouldn’t blame you for being sick of hearing me say “good-bye” at this point.  I’m tired of saying “good-bye” and we don’t actually leave for Canada for another week and change!  But. Professional good-byes only cover so much.  Seven years is longer than anywhere I have ever lived in my life as an adult and pretty close to the longest that I have ever lived anywhere at all ever.  A chapter of life this impactful is worthy of more than a series of professional reflections and thank-you’s however heartfelt.

And to think…that a guy who hates the beach could love a salt life.

Things That Definitely Happened During These Seven Years

  • Maytal went from 2 to 9; Eliana went from 4 to 11.
  • Jaimee and I went from 8 years married to 15.
  • We lived in two houses.
  • We voted in two different presidential elections and had very different feelings about the outcomes.
  • I successfully transitioned saying “y’all” ironically to non-ironically.
  • There were at least 11 days in which I did not sweat.
  • We went a on a variety of road trips only to abuse social media with friendly hashtags like #MitzmacherSummerFamilyRoadTrip2015Day12EatingASandwichInRoanokeVirginiaOnlyToAnnoyFriendsAndFamily
  • I had a love affair with no less than three styles of travel bags.
  • My children can identify each brand of Hilton by their signature cookie.
  • I can identify each airline by their signature customer service approaches to delays-cancellations-rebooks-refunds.
  • I checked “airport shoeshine” off my superficial bucket list (#SuperficialBucketList).  It was pretty awesome.
  • Who likes Mint Juleps?  Apparently we do.
  • I went from a .7 mile commute in Las Vegas to a .5 commute in Jacksonville to a 37-step commute inside my own house.  Take that carbon footprint.  Sure, I’ll be driving the same minivan for 23 years at this rate, but I saved the world from climate change.  You are welcome.

 

When we moved here seven summers ago, lots of folk asked “Why Jacksonville?”  (Just like now we are cycling through a round of “Why Ottawa?”)  Well, despite the risk of cliche, “southern hospitality” was really part of what drew us to this community – its genuine warmth and welcoming nature.  So warm and so welcome, in fact, that we were quite convinced when we first arrived with muffins delivered and wagons welcomed, that perhaps we, ourselves (or really who are we kidding, me) weren’t nice enough to live here. In the same ways that I found my work environment as nurturing and supportive as any I have ever worked in, I would say that we found our overlapping work, school, shul, and Jewish communities all that and an authentic biscuit.  All four of us leave Jacksonville with treasured friends for life.

Las Vegas is a community where (almost) no one is from; Jacksonville is community where (virtually) everyone is from.  We learned in Las Vegas the power of opening up our homes to build community – as teachable moments, for professional networking, to enrich our children, to make a life – and kicked it up a few notches in Jacksonville.  As our annual holiday celebrations grew and grew each year, no guest felt more grateful than Jaimee and I did as hosts. We hope to continue to pay forward the warm welcomes of prior homes in our next chapter.

Speaking of Jaimee…

How blessed am I.

I have no idea how someone can work full time while seemingly being a full-time wife and mother at the same time, but somehow Jaimee manages.  Her organizationals skills are epic and well-documented.  Her cooking skills have evolved past recognition from box-and-boil to multi-course-from-scratch delicacies.  Late-night meetings became biweekly business trips, but somehow everyone got where they were supposed to be.  She’s an amazing educator in her own right, influencing me professionally more than she knows, my closer, my partner, and my bestie.  For the last 18 years, we’ve taken many leaps of faith from job to job and from community to community, but always together.

 

And so we say our final (for real this time) goodbyes as we await the moving trucks in the days ahead…

What happened in Vegas definitely didn’t stay there; what happened in Jacksonville won’t stay there as well.  We will remain connected to the people and places who continue to shape and contribute to our lives as we look forward to all the new experiences awaiting us in Ottawa.  Follow our story on social media if you like, as we will surely follow yours.

We’ll always have flip-flops in January.  #SaltLife Out.

The Expat Files: Spellcheque

Will I be marked down for spelling like an American? – Eliana M., Age 11

I was trying to figure out why all of my received emails from Ottawa were totally marked up with red lines…and then for like the 150th time since our move to Canada became official, I was reminded of what on the surface seems totally obvious: Canada is a different country!

I know.  You already knew that.  I did, too.  But like a good American, I really didn’t take all that much time to unpack what that really meant until circumstances required me to.  So, in recognition of all the new experiences emigration is providing me and my family, I want to introduce a new feature of my blog: “The Expat Files”.

Blog posts in “The Expat Files” will focus in on one family’s journey from America to Canada.  I might zoom in on such hot-button issues as which “spellcheck” language I am supposed to click, porting your cell phone number, or why the only doctor who can submit our emigration exams is 300 miles away.  I might zoom out how our experiences with socialized medicine, parliamentary democracy, and state-sponsored media inform what we believe to be true as American citizens.  But, what I imagine I will mostly do, is share a bunch of completely embarrassing situations that reveal how little I know about things that I probably should, but don’t.

Hold that thought.

Two additional sub-features to “The Expat Files” will provide you with an opportunity to enhance your reading experience.  I will include a curated musical playlist and a signature cocktail to accompany each post.  [Thanks to Nancy Davis for the inspiration.]  I can assure you that it is the same playlist I am listening to while writing…

Signature Playlist: For the first post, I offer up Spotify’s “Canadian Pop”. [Parents be warned that a few songs on the playlist are labeled with “explicit” lyrics.]

Signature Cocktail: Ginder Rum Shandy [Parents be warned that the drinking age in Ontario is 19, which is something I totally just looked up and belongs on the aforementioned list.]

I assure you that future editions of “The Expat Files” will focus in on specific events or issues worthy of going deeper than a Facebook update or a tweet.  However, this inaugural edition comes after an embarrassment of embarrassments, so we’ll wrap up with a series of quick hits.

An Unedited List of Things Jon Has Learned, Realized or Mused

  • Why can’t you choose your own car when you rent a car from National in Canada?
  • Do I sing the Canadian national anthem?  Do my children? Different rules for different contexts (stadiums or school assemblies)?
  • Will the 11 Spanish proverbs I remember from Spanish 5 in high school help me learn French?
  • Is Drake a national treasure?
  • Is there such a thing as Canadian Fantasy Football?
  • Will I start writing with English spellings of words?  Should I?
  • This seems like a particularly charged time for an American to transition to socialized medicine.
  • I genuinely look forward to trying kosher poutine.
  • It would be awesome if the Ottawa Senators won the Stanley Cup while we are in the process of moving to Ottawa.  But it wouldn’t be ironic.  Don’t you think?  #AlanisMorrisette #Ironic
  • We are totally psyched for learning a whole new geography through family road trips.
  • I distinctly remember watching “The Terry Fox Story” on TV when I was eleven and at no point did it occur to me that it would inspire my future employer’s biggest fundraiser.
  • It is pretty awesome watching Maytal and Eliana practice French on their iPads each day.  This is going to be such a wonderful opportunity for them in so many ways.

We have less than two months left before the moving trucks arrive to pack us up.  We have so much more to do both here and there. We have so much to learn and to unlearn.  We are sad to leave what has been a wonderful seven years in Jacksonville.  We are excited to begin what will surely be a wonderful new chapter in Ottawa.

You are welcome to join our adventure here in “The Expat Files”.