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Archive for February, 2010

A few years ago, my daughters went to a Valentine making workshop at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. This is a gem of a museum, and the program was wonderful (my lack of enthusiasm for Valentine’s Day notwithstanding.) But while I sat there watching my girls potchke with collage materials for over an hour, I couldn’t help but think… wouldn’t it be great if they did this for Purim?

So this year I wrote a grant to offer a series of Jewish parent-child art workshops at a local art studio where Ella has taken some fabulous classes. Thanks to the generosity of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation Arts and Culture Initiative, yesterday we led the first of these events.

We started with these

and these

and of course, these.

A couple of hours (and a bunch of recycled cereal boxes) later, we came out with these

and also some of these

Our next workshop will be on March 28 (yes, I know it’s the day before Passover.) We’ll be learning book making techniques and doing something else really cool which we will decide upon in the next few days. I promise to post more pictures.

ps, doesn’t Zoe look cute working on her basket? The only problem is she worked so hard on it she refuses to give it away…

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Looking for fans….

In the hopes of spreading the word about my blog, I’ve created a facebook group. If you’re on facebook, will you become a fan of Homeshuling?

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I’m a holiday kind of gal. I really enjoy excuses to celebrate special days, especially when the celebrations involve preparing food. But Valentine’s Day? I’m just not that into it.

There been some shakla v’tarya amongst the Jewish mommy bloggers about whether it’s appropriate for Jewish families to celebrate “St. Valentine’s Day.” I’m not a real stickler for determining the ancient origins of a holiday long divorced from its religious or pagan history. We celebrate Halloween, after all (though as I blogged back in October, it’s not one of my favorites.) Nevertheless, when I received an email from Zoe’s preschool reminding me that all children would be decorating and hanging Valentine bags in the classroom, I groaned. The idea of “helping” Zoe construct 15 creative handmade cards was only slightly less appealing than the idea of buying a box of cheesy pre-made cards with stupid jokes. (Zoe received one with a picture of a yawning hippo and the caption “You’re such a bore.” Um, Happy Valentine’s Day to you, too…..)

When we received an email the next day with a list of the correct spellings for all 14 of her classmates, the message was clear that opting out was, well, not an option. The Jewish mama in me suggested to Zoe that we bake and decorate heart-shaped sugar cookies to share with her class rather than making cards. The treat lover in Zoe loved that suggestion. A serendipitous “snow” day (there was no snow) on Wednesday made the plan executable, and, voilà!

While I was fairly delighted with the outcome, there will be no repeat performance today, in honor of the real holiday. In fact, there is no evidence at all  of Valentine’s Day in our home, other than the bag of valentine cards Zoe received in preschool.

After reading what other Jewish moms had to say about the holiday, I thought a lot about my relationship (or lack thereof) to Valentine’s Day. Why am I not turning this into another joyful day for our family?  I realized that the primary reason is simply that my family didn’t celebrate this holiday. Not for religious reasons, as far as I know, but I think just because, like me, my mom just wasn’t that into it. ( I actually had no idea that Valentine’s Day was a holiday that parents celebrated with their children until I was in college, when my roommate Jenny received an annual care package of red, pink and heart shaped treats from her mother.) Consequently, my associations with Valentines day are all about romantic love. Decidedly not the domain of 4 and 6 year olds.

And as for romance…..well, I were to construct a long list of my husband’s many fine qualities, let’s just say “romantic” would not crack the top 100. Even when we were dating, and he pretended to be romantic, Valentine’s Day was way out on the very periphery of his radar.

All this makes me realize how above all else, family, both of origin and of choice, defines our relationship to holidays. Despite a popular culture that has inundated me Valentine’s Day messages since birth, I have absolutely no emotional attachment to this day. There’s an obvious lesson for me here as a parent. If I don’t make a fuss about the holidays and traditions I hope to pass on to my grandchildren, (all of which are ignored by the dominant culture) the odds of Ella and Zoe caring about these traditions is terrifically slim. And, as part of an interfaith couple, my job is just that much harder and more essential.

Which is why I plan to make a much bigger fuss about Purim. We’ll bake again, but more and better. We’ll decorate mishlocah manot baskets and go on a family outing to deliver them. We’ll host a Purim seudah. I’ll do everything I can to make sure it’s something they remember for a long, long time.

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Written for The PJ Library March e-newsletter

Remember the Little Red Hen, who searched the farm high and low for help baking bread? Well, she’s back. Only this time she speaks Yiddish, and she’s getting ready for Passover. Unfortunately, not much else has changed around the farm in this month’s PJ selection The Little Red Hen and the Passover Matzah. No one wants to help plant, harvest, or grind the wheat, or do much of anything besides kvetch and, of course, eat. So, the Little Red Hen ends up preparing her Passover meal all by herself.

“That’s not fair,” cried my daughters. “She doesn’t have any helpers.”

“That’s not fair,” I thought. Why can’t I have the kitchen all to myself the day before Passover?

The benefits of cooking alone are not lost on me. Neither are they lost on The PJ Library, whose other book about Passover cooking, Too Many Cooks, is a cautionary tale about what happens when everyone wants to contribute a little something to the charoset. Let’s just say that Bubbe should have locked the kitchen door and worked her magic. Alone.

Do I sound like a grouch? In truth, I love many things about cooking with others, which in my case, invariably means my children. I love how serious they look in their little aprons, and the way they try to sneak their fingers into the sugar when I’m not looking. I even love the way they can’t manage to crack an egg without half the shell going along for the ride, and the cloud of flour that flies around their heads whenever they mix dry ingredients, like a bleached out version of Pigpen from Peanuts. Their enthusiasm makes the work of cooking way more fun than it ought to be, and their sense of wonder about it all is a welcome reminder of how magical baking really is.

But, when it’s time to prepare a holiday meal for a table full of company, sometimes I just want everything to be picture perfect, like my mother’s table looked when I was growing up. Deep down, I want my guests to ooh and aah, at least a tiny bit, over my flawless creations, as I try to replicate my mother’s handiwork. And let’s face it – little hands do not pinch perfect hamentashen, neatly chop the apples for charoset, or evenly coat the challah with egg wash.

Does that mean I’m going to lock the kitchen door? No. (And not just because we don’t have a kitchen door, much less a lock.) When I think back on celebrating Jewish holidays as a child, I don’t remember much about going to synagogue, shaking the lulav and etrog, or even reciting the four questions. (Granted, I kind of remember High Holiday junior congregation, but I think that’s only because Ira Glass of This American Life used to lead the services when he was a teenager.) What I do remember is cooking and baking with my mother. My little hands pinched perfect hamentashen, neatly chopped apples for charoset, and evenly coated the challah with egg wash. Or at least that’s how I remember it.

Did my mother really manage to teach me how to make such beautiful food? Or did she tuck away the items I had helped with in the kitchen, putting only the work of her skilled hands on the dining room platters? Last night, I called her up and asked.

My mother laughed. “Of course I served the food you made,” she said. “Who cares if the apples were a little big, or the hamenstashen filling spilled over a little bit? You were so proud of what you made!”

Probably my mother was a more patient teacher than I, and perhaps my work was a little more careful than that of my daughters. But more likely than not, what made those plates of food so gorgeous was the love and joy that went into their preparation. What I remember as perfect is really just a perfect memory.

I’m not completely relinquishing control, lest I end up like Bubbe in Too Many Cooks, with an inedible dish. But, it is my job to throw the kitchen door wide open. If I’m lucky, it will be a long time before I get a “Not I!” from one of my daughters when I ask for help preparing the next big meal.

(r) cmyk PJ Library logo with tagline and piecesThe 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.

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Today, Zoe had her Kindergarten screening. Since I teach at her future school, I got an insider’s report about how the morning went.

The teacher began by asking the children to name one of their favorite things. A few children said playing in the snow. Another said gymnastics. Another – ice cream.

What did Zoe say?

“My family.”

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