Archive for March, 2012

March 28, 2012

Work-in-Progress Wednesday: Countdown to Passover edition

by Decemberbaby

First of all, a shout-out to Elizabeth for subtly pushing me to do WIP Wednesday this week. Click on her name, because she’s joining WIP Wednesday! Go give her some bloggy love.

As for me, I’ve done nothing related to the following projects:

  • Photo books
  • Library doors
  • Kids’ table
  • Spring planting

Yup, nada. I’ve been spending my time dealing with K, who’s had a high fever for the last five days (doctor couldn’t fit us in today: we’re going in at 9 tomorrow,) a very clingy N, and a clingy, demanding R. Also, Passover is coming and that means some major planning and cleaning. Here’s the rundown:

In Progress: Using up the pantry

As of mid-morning a week Friday, We can’t have anychametz (leaven) in our home. There is a practice wherein we can box up all the leaven, put it away somewhere, and sell the box to a non-Jew for the week of Passover, but that always seemed disingenuous to me. So this year I’ve been planning since Purim, cobbling together weird meals from what’s in the pantry, and basically trying to use up everything that isn’t kosher for passover.

To that end, I’ve been baking (bad for the diet) and cooking a lot more desserts than usual. Last week I attempted baguettes – major fail. This week I’m trying to get rid of rice, so we’re eating rice porridge for breakfast, fried rice for dinner, and rice pudding for dessert. I still have half a canister of rice. Any suggestions?

In progress: Passover cleaning

For the record, I have a love-hate relationship with Passover cleaning. The hate is easy to understand, I’m sure. The love… well, I do feel that without Passover cleaning I might never throw out old spices or clean the cupboard where the garbage cans live (it gets grody in there.) And it feels really good to open the fridge and see no crumbs, no drips, and no forgotten leftovers.

The fridge is currently the only place where I’ve made progress: I emptied it, washed the entire inside including the shelves, and lined the shelves with plastic wrap. Then I put all of the edible stuff back in. This way I can just take out any remainingchametz, remove the plastic wrap, and – voila! – my fridge is kosher for passover.

This week I have a major list to get through: Clean the freezer, oven, and microwave; wash down all cabinet doors; clean out all cabinets; clean under/behind fridge and stove; vacuum the couch (including under the cushions and in the cracks; wash slipcovers; hunt for discarded and forgotten cheerios, pizza crusts, and half-eaten cookies (a definite hazard in my house); wash the garbage containers and the cupboard in which they live; empty the pantry, donating any non-kosher for passover food to the food bank, and throwing out the open stuff; tape off the cabinets with the year-round dishes, empty the drawers, and bring up all the passover dishes and utensils from the basement. Oh, and I have to sand the butcher block and oil it.

Gosh, I’m tired just typing that. This year I’ll be keeping the words of the Lubavitcher Rebbe in mind: “Dust is not chametz, and children are not the Passover offering.” I’m determined not to sacrifice my children on the altar of Passover cleaning perfection.

In Progress: Weight Watchin’

I’m down two more pounds this week, bringing the total to 18. Every week I say “that’s just noise because I’m wearing lighter clothes/I peed and breastfed right before weighing in/my major chocolate binge hasn’t had time to turn into fat yet.” It would seem, however, that the downward trend continues – so how much of it is really noise?

This week my goal is to get at least 15 minutes of vigorous exercise each day, on top of the usual cleaning/baby bouncing/running after kids.

In Progress: baby quilt

I’m attending a baby shower this weekend, and I’m making them a quilt. All the fabric is cut – I just have to sew it all together, quilt it and bind it. I’ve set aside a block of time tomorrow.

… looks like that’s it. Don’t forget to check out Elizabeth’s WIPs… and hey is anybody else out there trying to achieve something this week?

March 27, 2012

Cleaning #Exodusgram

by Decemberbaby

I think this idea originated with Ima on (and off) the Bima. Essentially, it’s a meme where bloggers (or tweeters, or whatever) post photos or short essays on themes related to Passover and the Exodus – one theme each day. Here’s my contribution on the theme of “cleaning”:

Yes, that's flour. And yes, that's K. I've been waiting 3 years to use this picture!

In related news, the inside of my fridge (minus the door trays) has been cleaned for pesach. I lined the shelves with plastic so that on erev pesach I can just remove the food, remove the plastic, and – ta dah! – the fridge will be kosher for pesach. Now, on to the rest of my (flour-coated) house…

March 27, 2012

Menu Plan Monday – countdown to Passover – March 26 edition

by Decemberbaby

It’s T minus ten days (give or take) and I need to get serious about using up all the non-Passover stuff. This morning I used an entire loaf of bread to make French Toast. Starting tomorrow it’s oatmeal for breakfast every morning and cold cereal for snacks.

Monday – Pasta with meatless sauce (from the freezer)

Tuesday – Baked chicken, rice

Wednesday – Egg-fried rice, edamame, broccoli

Thursday – Tandoori chickpeas (tandoori sauce from the freezer), rice, cucumber salad

Friday – Challah, broccoli-cheddar quiche (from the freezer), Greek salad, rice pudding for dessert

Saturday -going out to friends!

Sunday – Chicken sandwiches on homemade focaccia with sauteed veggie toppings and garlic aioli, bean salad

Wow. I don’t need to buy anything except for tomatoes and fruit. Whee!

Stay tuned for next week, when I reveal my menu plan for the week of Passover.

Not sure what you’re having for dinner this week? Check out Organizing Junkie for the rest of the Menu Plan Monday submissions.

BTW, does anybody have a really good recipe for rice pudding?

March 24, 2012

Fine tuning

by Decemberbaby

When I tune my guitar, I can hear the second it slides perfectly into tune. It’s a minute adjustment, really, and yet there’s a huge difference between being pretty much in tune and being perfectly tuned. There’s a sweet spot, you see. Just beyond the sweet spot you might hear the correct pitch, but you won’t hear the depth of resonance that the sweet spot gets you. When the string is at the  perfect tension, all of the other strings sing when the one string is plucked.

My life doesn’t resonate like that yet, Jewishly speaking. I thought that by this stage in my life it would, but it doesn’t.

I’m very, very close. We have a kosher kitchen (although still not kosher by some standards, and sometimes I wonder why I bother), we celebrate the arrival of Shabbat with all the traditional blessings and foods and songs, our children demonstrate time and again that they understand tzedakah (charitable giving), chesed (acts of kindness) and hachnassat orchim (welcoming guests). We observe and celebrate the holidays. We attend shul some of the time (less often than weekly, more often that just on holidays). Our home is full of beautiful Jewish objects and books. I sing Hebrew and Yiddish lullabies to my babies.

But it’s still not quite right.

If you’ve been reading this blog since the beginning, you already know that I’ve experimented with different levels of Jewish observance before. Tune up… no, too sharp. Tune back down… nope. Flat. I feel the need to experiment again and I have this strange sense of urgency, as if time is running out, as if I have to be fully settled and decided in my Jewish observance so that I know exactly what I’m teaching my kids. As if I would always express my Judaism the same way for the rest of my life.

For a long time, I’ve yearned for a Shabbat that is more… more complete, more peaceful, more refreshing. More Shabbat-y. It’s hard to achieve alone, and I’ve dragged Mr. December along at times but ultimately accepted that I can’t push him into something he doesn’t want as much as I do. Still tuning: we go to shul, but it doesn’t really work right now with the kids’ naptimes. Still tuning: I turn off the laptop and put it away for all of Shabbat, only to discover that without plans to go out or see friends, it’s a long day that the kids and I could come to resent.

There are moments that I think I hear the sweet spot: I’ll be baking challah, or taking food to a lonely neighbour, or sitting in the window seat just reading on a Shabbat afternoon, and I’m precisely the Jew I want to be. But something shifts, and I can’t get it back. So I go back to tuning.

It would help to know precisely what pitch I’m trying to hit. Did you know that North American orchestras tune to A440, but many European orchestras tune to A438? (You might ask what the difference is, and aside from the obvious – two vibrations per second – the answer is, nothing that the average ear would notice.) It’s basically the same pitch, comes across the same way to most people’s ear, but if you’re tuning to 440 and you’re at 438, it just isn’t right. Jewish observance can be like that. Shabbat can look like Shabbat, but the minutiae – do you host other people or do you accept invitations and eat out? sing any music that makes you happy, or just Shabbat music? – well, the minutiae can make it fall flat.

I’ve just realized that this is sort of an absurd post. Tuning is important, but it’s not something you do and then forget about for the rest of your life (or even the rest of the week). A well-constructed instrument should certainly stay in tune for a while, but the strings stretch and humidity affects the wood, and daily (or hourly) readjustments might be necessary to keep that sweet spot.

Sometimes I just have to give up tuning my guitar, accept that it’s “good enough”, and go ahead and play even though my ear is telling me that the music would be so perfect if I just kept seeking the sweet spot. That’s how I’ve been living recently – life goes on, Shabbat comes every week, and even though my soul thirsts for the sweet spot, I’ve had to make do with what we’re doing right now. But it doesn’t resonate the way it ought to. So I go back to tuning.

There are times when it all becomes muddled, the distinction between pitches becomes so minute that I’m not sure what I’m hearing anymore. When that happens I have to de-tune the string drastically – take it way out of range – and then bring it back in order to regain my ear. Do I need to do that with Shabbat as well? Should I drop back to just Friday night dinners and then run errands and use the computer on Saturday? And if I were to build my Shabbat day from scratch, what should I add first?

And, finally, sometimes I can’t get the guitar tuned to my satisfaction no matter what I do. That’s when I hand it over to someone else, perhaps a better musician or just someone with a fresh ear. And so… that’s what I’ll do. I’m handing it over to my readers. Please comment and tell me: if you became Shabbat Observant (halachically or not) at some point, how did you get into it? What obstacles did you face, and how did you address them? And if you’ve always been Shabbat Observant, just tell me… what is your favourite part of Shabbat? What new traditions or activities should I try?

The Shabbat that just ended was a bit flat for me, and my soul is cringing a bit in response. Will someone please hand me a tuning fork?

March 23, 2012

Shabbat Shalom!

by Decemberbaby

Ah, the secret to speedy Shabbat prep – bentos in the bath! A wooden cutting board make the perfect floating table.

The stories this bathtub could tell... births, babies, bentos...

I’m still trying, as I have been for years, to make Shabbat feel more restful and holy. Last week I managed to resist the lure of my laptop (and the internet) for the entire 25-hour day, only because just before Shabbat I shut down the computer and took it downstairs. I spent the day talking with Mr. December, playing with the kids, napping, and getting together with friends. Our Shabbat day is a work in progress, but this feels like a step in the right direction.

And speaking of progress and steps… R seems to think that she has to keep up with the other little people around here:

Up on all fours and rocking. Mummy is not ready for this!

And so, I’m shutting off my computer to spend Shabbat with the little people. I hope your Shabbat (or just plain Saturday, as the case may be) is delicious, relaxing, and happy… just like the current moment in our home.

March 21, 2012

Work-in-Progress Wednesday: “crying baby at midnight” edition

by Decemberbaby

We were all tucked into bed, R sleeping happily. Then she woke up and swiped at my back. Ouch. I think I need to cut her nails.

So it’s past midnight, which makes it Thursday, but I haven’t slept yet so I’ll pretend it’s still Wednesday.

The insanely warm weather this week has drawn me outside to do much-needed things like cleaning the interior of the car and tidying and scrubbing the front porch. It’s amazing how a shift in weather shifts my priority list of tasks. It feels a bit absurd, but here’s the rundown of my last known task list:

Still in progress: Weight Watchin’

Despite a lack of effort on my part, today I weighed in at 16 pounds less than my starting weight. Some of that is what Mr. December calls “noise”: at least a pound can be attributed to the lightweight summer clothes I wore today. Still, 15 pounds feels kind of significant. Hopefully I’ll be able to put some concerted effort into it this week.

No progress: Photo Books

Really, why would I spend more time indoors on my computer when there’s outdoor work to be done? At this rate I need to schedule some time to put the thing together. Maybe next week when it’s cooler outside…

No progress: Library doors

See “Photo Books”

Still in progress: Kids’ table

We’ve used our kids’ table for a while now (in its unfinished glory) and I’ve identified a design flaw, so I have to figure out a different way to attach the legs. On the upside, I purchased a wood rasp (or as my friend Bill over at Lowes called it, “a cheese grater on steroids”) and was finally able to file down the plugs so that they’re even with the rest of the table apron. I’ve also begun filling the gaps and holes with wood putty, and sanding the whole thing in preparation for staining and painting. This is my go-to project right now, since I can do it outside in the sunshine. I’ll have more progress to report next week, for sure.

In progress: spring planting

Mr. December is quick to caution me that we may still have a freeze, but I’m not buying it. That’s why starting tomorrow I’ll be cleaning up the garden beds in the front and planting seeds. This year we’ll keep our vegetable planting small and manageable and devote the large front bed to flowers. I’ve also picked up some low-growing perennials to fill out our rock garden. By next week I want to have all the beds and containers prepared and sown with the appropriate seeds.


That’s it for now. Nothing major, just chugging along.

Oh, and for those interested in posts about teaching kids Jewish values, check out this post over at my Montessori blog. I wasn’t quite sure where to post it and Montessori won out, but I think a lot of this blog’s readers would enjoy it as well.

What did you do this week? And for those in Toronto, what is the sunshine-induced-insanity making you do?

March 19, 2012

Menu Plan Monday – March 19 Edition

by Decemberbaby

We’re still winding down to pesach… three more weeks of eating regular stuff, and then a week of chametz-free eating (for those of you just joining us via Menu Planning Monday, chametz is the Hebrew word for leavened foods – passover is in three weeks and at that point all leavened foods must be gone from my kitchen.) I’ve already figured out dinners for the week of passover, but I’m still not sure how much I should be buying for the coming weeks. I’m going to err on the side of under-shopping so that I don’t end up having to throw out a whole lot of stuff. Also, the meal plan may look weird as we start to use up everything in the house.

(is three weeks in advance too soon to stop buying new chametz? when do you all start just depleting the pantry instead of shopping?)

Monday – Chicken and veggie stir-fry over basmati rice

Tuesday – spinach & feta quiche (from the freezer), crusty bread, Israeli salad

Wednesday – tacos (we have tons of canned beans and salsa; might as well get rid of ’em)

Thursday – baked chicken, rice, some kind of veggie

Friday – dinner chez parents

Saturday – pasta with meatless sauce (from the freezer)

Sunday – homemade pizza, bean salad, baby carrots

Monday – moroccan chicken breasts, citrus-nut couscous

Wow. So the only things I really need to buy are chicken breasts and some crusty bread. And produce.

So, what are you eating this week? Still don’t know? Pop over to organizing junkie and see what others have planned!

March 18, 2012

Sunday funny… contraceptive fail?

by Decemberbaby

Seen in the leaflet for a contraceptive product:

If your physician has told you that you should not become pregnant, ask your physician if you can use this product for contraception. If this product is used together with another contraceptive method, there will probably be better protection against pregnancy.

In other words, product may not work as advertised. You just wasted $15. Suckers!

March 15, 2012

Just Sweet and Jewy?

by Decemberbaby

First my infertility cred goes down the toilet, and now this… I’ve come to the realization that I’m just not that crunchy. Either that, or I’m somehow hanging out with a very crunchy crowd.

Yes, I’m a fan of cloth diapering, and I have a compost pile in the back. I grow my own vegetables and I replace car trips with bike trips. I feed my kids “real food” (by my standards, that means “not chicken nuggets and no handi-snacks.”) And yet I’m just not crunchy enough, and I’m finally self-aware enough to understand why that bothers me.

The catalyst for all this crunchiness-related navelgazing was, oddly enough, our synagogue. We have a food committee that recently created our new food policy: that food served at synagogue should be (whenever possible) organic, local, sustainable, and healthy. Anyhow, this has drastically changed the food that gets served at our shul’s kiddush luncheon. In my opinion the food is delicious, but kid-friendly it’s not.

So I mentioned this to someone on the committee. I suggested that maybe the caterer could just make a pot of Wacky Mac (the kosher equivalent of Kraft Dinner) for the little kids. She responded flatly that it would never happen and I said, “but it’s what little kids like to eat!” It is, right? Wrong.

And here enters my defensiveness. The response that there are “lots” of children who love tofu, quinoa, and raw bok choy instantly raised my hackles. She said, “lots of kids like this kind of food,” but I heard, “lots of kids, with parents better than you, like this kind of food.”

I feel like I’m hearing that kind of thing a lot these days. “Good parents don’t let their kids drink juice [ever?]”. “Good parents don’t feed their kids white flour and refined sugar.” Really? Since when are juice and cookies the dietary equivalent of rat poison?

(In order to spare myself the inevitable lectures, yes, I understand what sugar does to insulin levels and the pancreas. And yes, I understand that whole grains are much better than refined. And yes, I know that juice, cookies, and white flour are by no means essential to human survival.)

It’s interesting to me that the comments at which I take umbrage are directly relevant to my kids. The ones about foods we don’t eat either pass me by, or I really agree with them… like not serving tuna fish because of overfishing and the entrapment of other animals. Or serving fewer eggs because eggs from truly free-range chickens are more expensive than our shul can afford. I’m fine with those. But today there was an article in our shul e-mail about why refined grains are bad and we’ll only see whole grain products at kiddush, and my first thought was, “why is it the shul’s business to police what we should or shouldn’t be putting in our bodies?”

See? I get defensive. Also a bit belligerent. I mean, I personally think that if there’s ever a time to eat sweets and rare treats like juice, it’s Shabbat. If other parents don’t want to let their kids drink juice, then don’t give them the juice. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be on the drink table. Just learn to say no. Parent your child!

(see? the judgment goes both ways.)

I’d like to posit that this overemphasis on feeding kids only the purest food is, for many, a parenting issue, not a health issue. Parenting is tough. Really, really, really tough. You can do your best to teach your kids values and appropriate behaviour, and they still might not demonstrate those when they grow up. But we can absolutely, completely control what we feed our children and their resulting physical health says, “see? these parents did a Good Job!”

Parents, listen up. You ARE doing a Good Job. Whether you feed your kids organic quinoa or flourescent cheese-flavoured rat poison macaroni, you’re feeding your kids. (Look, if you’re starving your kids, you’re not doing a good job. Just so you know.) They’re growing. You’re teaching them some values. You’re raising them to function in your society. You’re Good Parents. Most parents are.

I’m trying, really trying, to remember that this is my baggage, not everyone else’s. I’m trying to remember not to roll my eyes when another parent crows about not serving juice at a birthday party and how none of the kids asked for it (do you remember childhood? Most birthday parties I attended offered pop (soda for you Americans) as a once-in-a-while treat!) I’m trying, but I don’t always succeed. And sometimes I’m not sure I want to.

Because honestly, does the whole “no juice, no sugar, no refined grains” thing seem a bit… preachy… to you? As if we can’t trust parents to provide certain treats in moderation?

Please comment. I want to know what you think.

March 12, 2012

Menu Plan Monday – March 12 Edition

by Decemberbaby

Here we go, the four-week slide into Passover. This month is all about using up everything in the house, since my goal is a kitchen free of leavened stuff, legumes, rice, and grains. I’m hoping it’ll be a cheaper month, too (more on how I’m achieving that in a future post.)

So, what do we eat? Here goes…

Monday: Vegetarian shepherd’s pie (using up leftover mashed potatoes)

Tuesday: Vegetarian tacos with tomatoes, cheese, sour cream, and guac

Wednesday: Cream of mushroom soup (using up leftover sauteed mushrooms), homemade biscuits, broccoli

Thursday: Stir-fried chicken and peppers with rice 

Friday (guests for dinner – 4 adults and 4 kids plus us):Challah, chicken soup with noodles, brisket (from the freezer), baked chicken, saffron rice, roasted carrots, broccoli, fruit, and banana bread.

Saturday: Leftovers from Friday

Sunday: Spinach quiche (from the freezer), challah buns

Monday: Pasta with meatless sauce

Wow. The only thing I’ll actually have to buy is tomatoes, and maybe some fruit if we run out.

So, what are you eating for dinner this week? Stumped? Check out some of the other Menu Plan Monday posts for inspiration!

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