Archive for August, 2009

No worries

In case I was ever worried about Zoe’s self esteem:

Me: Zoe, what do you think Rosie (a friend from pre-school) would like for her birthday?

Zoe:  A big picture of me when I was a baby. In a heart.

After a considerable amount of eye rolling, Ella suggested that Rosie might prefer a princess costume. But just in case….


yes, mom, i know she looks exactly like me

Happy Birthday, Rosie!


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written for the The PJ Library® September e-newsletter

There are some indisputable signs that Autumn is coming – the lettuce has bolted, the broccoli has gone to seed, the Perseid meteorites have showered down in the night sky, and the back to school sales have begun. Both teachers, my husband and I mourn the end of summer vacation’s long, lazy days more than many parents. Of course there’s some general enthusiasm about the start of another school year for each member of our family, but it’s always tempered by a hint of anxiety and a wistfulness for all of the summer plans we never quite got to. We are resigned to Fall’s arrival, we do not celebrate it.

Looking over the PJ Library books for September, I discovered another harbinger of autumn – books about Sukkot appearing at our doorstep before we’ve even had a chance to vacuum all of the sand out of the car. As I spread the titles out on my kitchen table, I learned that the youngest members of my family have a very different relationship to the Fall equinox, thanks to the holiday of Sukkot.

Looking at the pile of books, Ella and Zoe brimmed with enthusiasm. “Can we sleep in the sukkah this year?” asked Zoe as she glanced at the cover of Night Lights. “The whole night,” added Ella, who remembered last year’s thwarted attempt. “And can we have another sukkah party for my class?”  she added, staring at the children sharing a snack on the cover of It’s Sukkah Time.

painting the sukkah walls, and a few other things for good measure

painting the sukkah walls, and a few other things for good measure

If I were to stage a family-wide election for favorite holiday, I am certain that Sukkot would come out on top. Of course my children love the costumes of Purim, I love the rituals of the Passover seder, and my husband waits all year to wolf down plates of latkes. But as family unit, Sukkot wins, because it’s the one holiday that every member of the family is actively involved in preparing for and celebrating. This is particularly important for us, because my husband is not Jewish; despite his desire to play an active role in our daughter’s Jewish upbringing, it’s often hard for him to figure out his role in our Jewish home. But at sukkot, Papa is front and central, organizing the annual construction of the sukkah in our backyard. The girls are in charge of interior design – we hand over acrylic paints (along with smocks and lots of newspaper) and set them to work on decorating the walls. I’m in charge of the schach, rustling up bundles of corn stalks and heaving them onto the roof, and of course, the meals (there seems to be no sharing of this responsibility in sight.)

 The other reason we love Sukkot so much is that it’s the one time of year we can comfortably entertain. We live in a 1,100 square foot home with no dining room, and it’s a tight squeeze for us to host even one other family for a festive meal. On Sukkot, we take advantage of the open space (the sukkah is only required to have 3 walls, allowing for comfortable spillover of excess guests.) I’m fairly certain that we host more guests over the one week of sukkot than the rest of the year combined. It’s like turbo-hachnassat orchim, the mitzvah of home hospitality.sukkah2

So let those school supply flyers flood our mailbox and corn and tomatoes harvests wane. Yes, we’ll shed a few tears as we haul the beach umbrella up to the attic for hibernation, but while we’re up there we’ll catch a glance of our beloved sukkah kit waiting to be unpacked, and the girls will begin counting the days until the next favorite-time-of-year rolls along. Thanks to a calendar rich with celebrations, when the sukkah comes down, there will be yet another festival on the not so distant horizon. And then another, and another. Before we know it, it will be time to make a new list of summer plans that we’ll never quite get to.


(r) cmyk PJ Library logo with tagline and pieces

The PJ Library® program sends Jewish-content books and music on a monthly basis to families with children through age seven. Created by The Harold Grinspoon Foundation, The PJ Library is funded nationally in partnership with The Harold Grinspoon Foundation and local philanthropists/organizations.  To learn more, go to www.pjlibrary.org

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Looking for shortcuts

In exactly a week and a half I will be returning to full-time work out of the home for the first time since giving birth to Ella, six years ago. While my husband will be taking on some of the household chores (well, laundry, anyhow) there will be fewer aggregate hours available for the cooking, cleaning, shopping, etc. And of course, for the children. How will it all get done?

Some jobs will be handled by others. Zoe will attend preschool full time next year, and we will have a housecleaner for 3 hours, twice a month. Some jobs will simply get dropped – fewer hot out of the oven muffins for breakfast and trips to three different grocery stores to find the best deal.

But what role does technology play in all of this? Can a machine ever replace a mom?

I don’t have a definitive answer, but when it comes to home-baked bread, I’d have to say …..no.bread

It wasn’t terrible, but it certainly wasn’t great. And I haven’t the foggiest idea how to cut it without destroying the whole loaf.

I guess I’m relieved that I won’t be replaced by R2D2-dak any time soon.

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Bedtime revisited

sleepLast month I wrote about how my husband and I had just about lost control of the bedtime hours. When we returned from our vacation at the beach, I decided to tackle this situation before the girls go back to school and I start working full-time.

Sometimes when I’m struggling with a parenting issue, I try to imagine what advice I would give a friend if she were having the same problem. (For some inexplicable reason, I tend to give other people much better advice than I give myself.) “So”, I asked myself, “what drives you crazy about bedtime right now?”  “Well,” I answered, (silently of course – I’m only a little crazy) “it’s the general feeling of chaos in the bedroom. And the way they call for me a dozen times after lights out, which leads me to slowly (or is it rapidly?) degenerate into yell-y, grouchy mom.”

In my defense, it’s been hard to tackle the chaos, because the girls share a room. I know it’s not realistic to demand total silence into in the room, but unfortunately it’s a very steep, slippery slope from whispering in bed to Cirque du Soleil’s Saltimbanco.

So, I advised myself to start with some rules. I brainstormed with the girls and made a list of no-no’s, which we adjust as needed. It currently reads:

No screaming or shouting

Stay off your sister’s bed

Heads near pillows

Get your own books

No bouncing or jumping

No animal noises

No touching the lights

Next, I suggested adding some incentives. So, after 10 minutes of following the rules, I come and give cuddles to each daughter in bed. If they follow the rules all night, they get a Trader Joe’s cat cookie in the morning. (These are small, come in a big bucket, and frequently serve as our “training treats” when necessary.)

Lastly, I tackled the frequent hollers for mama by distributing “mama/papa money.” Each daughter gets three coins to keep on her nightstand. If they want me to come into the room for any reason, they need to pay me. Yes, I’m charging. I’m charing for changing cd’s, rescuing stuffed animals, smoothing out blankets and glasses of water. I’m even charging for hugs and kisses. Overtime

Each night at bedtime I read aloud the rules and make them repeat them aloud. This may sound like boot camp, but the girls love it – and act out each of the no-no’s as we do the review, which I’m fairly certain they don’t do at boot camp.

I never thought it would actually work, but…. it has. Things aren’t silent after lights out, but they are ok. Which, I’ve discovered, is good enough for me. I’m glad I listen to my own advice.

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salt shakerIt’s a widespread custom to dip challah in salt before eating it. Why? When the Temple was standing in Jerusalem, the Israelites worshipped God by offering sacrifices, which they were commanded to salt.  By dipping the challah in salt, our shabbat table becomes like an altar, giving us a chance to recall the sacrifices, which ceased when the Temple was destroyed.

This is not a practice we observe in our home. For one, I have high blood pressure and try to keep the salt off the table. Also, my daughters tend to overindulge in one of their favorite delicacies, freshly ground salt. But more to the point, I don’t really wax nostalgic for the Temple. I may not like shul that much, but it’s a major improvement over participating in animal sacrifice. Similarly, I don’t pay much attention to the many fast days that mourn the destruction of the Temple, most notably, Tisha B’Av (The 9th Day of the Hebrew month of Av), which fell a couple of weeks ago on the calendar. I’m sure there’s a homeshuling-friendly way to frame these days for my kids, and I’d love to hear how other parents honored the day, but for now, it’s comfortably off our radar.

But a week after Tisha B’av comes a glorious and little known holiday, Tu B’Av (The 15th day of the same month.) Falling on the full moon in the heat of August, it was a day when, according to the mishna, “the daughters of Jerusalem went out in white garments … dancing in the vineyards. And what did they say? ‘Young men, look up and see what you will choose for yourself. Look not at beauty but at family….”  – a celebration of romance, love and fertility.

Tu B’Av fell on August 5th this year, and while I accidentally ignored it on the actual date,  I thought it would be nice to commemorate the holiday on shabbat. It happened to be one of the most gorgeous evenings of this wet, muggy summer – seventy degrees, low humidity, and a cloudless sky. So we decided to take a picnic shabbat dinner over to the park down the street. I ran out to the supermarket, and picked up a pizza and 2 baguettes (sort of like challah) and scanned the aisles looking for something to add an extra touch of love to the meal.

I remembered that in the first year of marriage, many couples dip their challah in honey instead of salt, to celebrate the sweetness of their love. But with Rosh Hashanah approaching, honey didn’t seem quite special enough. Fortunatley, as I turned the corner in the market, I found my answer. This was on sale. And they were giving out samples. And coupons. Who could say no? After all, isn’t chocolate the food of love?

So, we now have a new Tu B’Av tradition – challah dipped in nutella. I’m sure it comes as no surprise that it was a big hit with the whole family, who will likely clamor for nutella every single shabbat, not just the lovey-dovey one. But it occurred that it would have tasted even sweeter (if it’s at all possible to out-sweeten nutella) if we usually dipped our bread in salt. So, I’m going to spend this week looking for other explanations of the salt, ones that don’t channel blood and fat dripping off a stone altar. If I succeed, we’ll give it a try next week. I’ll just take the shaker off the table after motzi, so my kids don’t mistake it for a salt lick.

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Back from vacation

ellabeachWe’ve actually been home for almost a week, but I’ve been having a hard time getting back to blogging. We had a fantastic vacation, visiting my mother at the Delaware shore, and part of the reason I’ve been reluctant to write is that I know I won’t be able to capture what made it so wonderful.

This was not a luxurious escape by most people’s standards. The four of us slept in one room – my husband and I in a double bed (whoever came up with that name surely slept alone), and the girls on air mattresses that flanked the bed and covered the entire surface of the floor. The effect was not unlike a 2-tiered bounce house, which, come to think of is, was probably quite luxurious from Ella and Zoe’s perspective. At one point in the trip there were 7 of us sharing a bathroom, and we did not dine out other than to celebrate our anniversary.

Nevertheless, it was the kind of vacation I fantasized about when we were starting our family out in Oregon, thousands of miles from any immediate family. Now, here we were, my mom, my brother Tom, my aunt Carole (who isn’t really my aunt) and my cousin Jill (who isn’t really my cousin) and her daughter Ilana (who really is her daughter), spending glorious “quality time” together. 

Tom and I took turns cooking dinner each night. We went grocery shopping together almost every day, and acted as each other’s sous chef for most meals. We pretended that we weren’t competing to create the best meal, but we were, and I’m sure he won. I did whip up some tasty cod-cakes, but his bison roast (bought at the kosher butcher in Baltimore for a small fortune by my mom) definitely topped the week.

The weather, for the most past, alternated between stiflingly hot and humid and pouring rain, and sometimes a combination of the two. While only a monsoon will keep my mother (and Ella) from the beach, there was still a lot of indoor time. Which, in the absence of wi-fi and dvr, and a self-imposed limit to the number of Pee Wee’s Playhouse episodes allowed on any given day, forced us to get creative. We filled quite a bit of time with jigsaw puzzles of every shape and size, including this one.

where's mike?

where's mike?

Also, lots of trips to the dollar store for more puzzles, and some other priceless investments which transformed the living room into a looping spool of the classic film “Princess Sits on a Whoopie Cushion.” The digital camera and the couch also provided the girls with hours of entertainment. couch1couch2couch3Tom, a fantastic singer-songwriter, entertained the girls with cheerful songs by Merle Haggard and Townes Van Zandt (har har) and they entertained him with songs they made up on the spot. (Here’s a clip of Tom from many years ago, but he’s still that cute. And single….a-hem.) 

There were heaps of other highlights, including rides on the boardwalk, sunset walks on the beach (no, not the romantic kind), a trip on the Cape May Ferry, and dairy queen blizzards. But at the risk of sounding treacly, the best part really was just all the time together.

None of this vacation could have happened if it weren’t for the generosity of my mom, aka bubbe, who rents the house for three weeks for some much needed r&r, and then lets us fill it up with the exact opposite of r&r. But it looks like she doesn’t mind too much, don’t you think?beachgirls

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