community · crafty · Kids · parenting · The COVID files · whine and cheese

Day 20: Bad Hair Days

Those who know me in real life have probably heard about my haircut schedule. I get it cut really short, then style it differently as it grows. When I can’t get it to look good anymore, usually about five months later, I go and get it cut short again. It’s a cycle that works for me.

For the record, I last got my hair cut in July. It has just reached the point where it’s really beyond redemption. Sadly, hairdressers are non-essential so they’re all closed. No haircut for me until this whole COVID thing blows over — which means that every day is a Bad Hair Day.

With a sigh of relief that I couldn’t bear to part with my huge collection of headcoverings, I’ve taken to wearing headscarves  again. My kids like it. I’m not loving it (they keep slipping off my fine hair) but it’s better than the alternative right now.

Today I committed to getting a new curtain panel sewn and put up in our bedroom. I tweaked the design so that the curtain would extend all the way to the ceiling. Now when Mr. December asks whether we can achieve total blackout conditions, I can proudly say, “We’re closer than ever before!”

(Fun fact: Anyone who laughed at that last line is between the ages of thirty and forty-five.)

My singleminded focus, difficult as it was for my children to comprehend, paid off: the curtain is up, and it’s better than the first two prototypes.

But just so you know, a day of focusing on one job doesn’t look the way I thought it should. There were the inevitable tech support requests from children who had clicked their way out of the class; Challah dough needed to be made early because it tastes best when I let the dough rise for three hours or more; Repeated interruptions by a kid updating me every time he finished another page of math (so, every two minutes); frequent whining for more screen time (“Only after you spend 20 minutes outside”, I’d answer); and, of course, cleaning up the dining room table and floor because there’s no way my Makery is clean enough to do a project this big down there. You can rest assured that I snapped at the kids anytime they so much as breathed a hint of a request that they didn’t really need my help for.

I can confidently say that it took me three hours of work to get the curtain done. I could also truthfully say that it took me all day.

I’m looking into volunteering to make fabric surgical masks, since apparently there’s a need for them. Tonight at dinner I told the kids that we each needed to find something we could do for the good of the community right now.

“Like what?” Asked one kid.

“Well, I’m going to sew masks. You know how to use a sewing machine. You could do it too.”

“That doesn’t sound very interesting,” she commented, “I don’t want to do that.”

I also mentioned that a few hospitals are asking for scans of children’s artwork that they can print and give to patients who need to be cheered up. That idea got rejected too.

Mr. December and I were disappointed. “This is not about whether you’re interested in doing it,” I pointed out, “This is about having the ability to help and the willingness to do what needs to be done. You have to help people the way they want to be helped, not the way you want to help them.”

I think my lecture fell on deaf ears, as most parental lectures seem to do. My kids seem so entitled right now. Mr. December suggested that maybe it was time to impose some hardship, like refusing to go to the grocery store for fresh fruit and dairy for a few weeks and instead serving only the non-perishable stuff that we have in the basement (all of which is pretty healthy and pretty plain: rice, beans, oatmeal. Not fun food.) My determination to improve my kids’ attitude in this area was further cemented by a Zoom call with my parents: when I dropped off challah at their house this afternoon, I also picked up the souvenirs they bought for the kids during their cruise. The children loved the gifts, but one (I’m not naming names) kept asking for this other thing she saw that was not for her. She asked repeatedly, until I said, “Ask again and the answer will be No forever.”

I’ve always said that my job is to help my children use their unique talents for good and not for evil. Right now I feel like I’m failing at it. Maybe before this worldwide crisis is over the children will come to understand that they can and must contribute to the common good. I really hope they do.

But tonight, right now, I’d settle for them understanding how to contribute to the common good (read: silence) by GOING TO SLEEP!

community · education · Independence · Kids · The COVID files · whine and cheese

Social Distancing, day 4: Online Schooling and Drive-by Ice Cream

After the debacle that was yesterday, I woke up in a body that was on the verge of a fibro flare. In times past I would have gone back to bed, but we do what we have to do, and I got up and dressed. (Although come to think of it, I can’t remember whether or not I showered. This not-leaving-the-house-or-encountering-other-humans thing is causing all kinds of norms to slip, isn’t it?)

After my coffee (made by the fabulous Mr. December – thanks for having it ready every morning when I get up, honey!) we had a forced march family walk in the bracing air. All except for K. She had a meltdown about not being able to go out with her hair the way it was (tangled and unbrushed) and how nobody was helping her with it. Welcome to the teen years, ladies and gentlemen. Two years ago she would have had a tantrum for the opposite reason.

As five of us walked past restaurants with signs that said, “TAKEOUT ONLY” and bakeries with nobody in them, we talked about how important it is to support local businesses right now. We asked the kids to tell us which stores they thought we could still buy from while staying away from other people. Naturally, their first thought was for Baskin-Robbins (ice cream), so we made a plan to phone today and order something from them that we could pick up at the door. I think tomorrow we’ll call the French bakery for a couple of baguettes to have with soup for lunch, and when we run out of bread we’ll call the bagel company and make some kind of arrangement. Oh, and the small local grocery store that sells fruits and vegetables. Loblaws will survive this pandemic without our support. The local small businesses might not.

IMG_2606

On our way back we crossed over Allen Road and instead of bumper-to-bumper traffic, we saw a nearly empty expressway. It was oddly surreal.

We returned from our walk refreshed and energetic, and the kids got down to work on their respective assignments. E played phonics games on the computer; N worked on his diorama (after a brief mom-lesson about how to do papier-maché.) K shut herself up in the library to work on math. And R…

Today was the first day of online school for R. Unlike some other schools that are doing live Zoom conferences with the whole class, our school is using Google classroom as a way for teachers to post assignments and brief videos. I’d have thought that would be a better system for us because it’s on a more flexible schedule; truthfully it’s much, much harder because instead of messaging the teacher (who may or may not respond immediately) R would rather just yell “Eema? I need you!” and expect me to come running.

You know what subject my kids seriously need to work on? Resilience. Reasoning skills too. For the last three days I’ve been exasperated at how they can’t seem to figure things out for themselves. I keep delaying my response to them, even when I’m technically available, just to see if they manage to figure anything out on their own (so far the answer is no, not really. But that’s probably because they’re spending all that time yelling for me to come instead of thinking about the problem at hand.)

I know it’s just the first day, and it’s the first time the school has ever done this, so there’s a learning curve on both ends. It will get better. It had better get better — otherwise I might decide that we’re “unschoolers”. I can’t be constantly available for explanations and so on when there are three other kids who need things too. 

IMG_2611Remember how yesterday someone did a half-assed job of his kitchen duty? Well, no cleanup elves showed up last night: when I wasn’t running between kids who needed my help, I was cleaning up the kitchen. E even came in and offered to help – she scrubbed the little sink while I scrubbed the big one. Somehow the morning passed quickly and I put out the ingredients for PB&J sandwiches along with some raw veggies. Each kid came up to me and asked, “Will you make me a sandwich?” to which I answered, “No. I think you can do it yourself.”

They did. For twenty blissful minutes the kids made their lunch and ate it.

I’m having a hard time recalling what happened next. I know I printed out some worksheets for N and put them in a folder for him to work on independently. When I refused to extend her screen time, E went downstairs and busied herself with scissors, glue, and paper. I think K did some more math work. I’m positive R spent time throwing a tantrum because… well, I don’t know why. It started when I told her to go read the next two chapters in her book for novel study, but it feels like the tantrum was really about something much bigger. We’re all under stress here – and R is exquisitely sensitive to the moods of others. I snuggled her for a while, but after twenty-five minutes I had to leave her in her room to cry it out til she was done — other children needed me too.

When everyone was good and ready for another outdoor recess, I called Baskin-Robbins and explained that we were self-isolating, but we really wanted a polar pizza (it’s a cookie crust topped with ice cream and cookie chunks and yummmmm…). If we biked over, could she hand us a pizza at the door? Turns out that yes, she could. I handed over the money, she handed over the treat, and we had a lovely little conversation (standing 10 feet apart on the sidewalk) about how business has been affected by COVID.

Back at home, the kids couldn’t wait to eat their treat (honestly, neither could I.) Mr. December came upstairs from his office and we had a lovely little ice cream break around the table before going back to our own pursuits.

I had a moment after dinner when I could not handle people anymore. Mr. December and the kids were goofing around nearby when I raised my head and snarled, “I think you all should go somewhere else now,” and they backed off. Oh, well. I was patient all day, even during tantrums and yelling. I really just needed quiet and solitude.

So all in all, today was a good day. It could have been the sunny morning, or maybe the fact that I actually took my Ritalin. Or maybe my kids were particularly cooperative this morning?

…. Nah. Definitely the Ritalin. Say yes to drugs, kids!

community · waxing philosophical

Help

My kids like to ask for help. Their motto seems to be, “Ask early, ask often.”  And while I do try to help when I can (because I would want them to do the same for me), sometimes I ask them to wait. Do you know what usually happens next?

“Oh, nevermind! I did it myself.”

Let’s just say they often ask for help when they don’t really need it.

I’ve only realized lately that there are people on the entirely other end of the spectrum. In the past few months I’ve had conversations with a few friends who, despite some particularly challenging personal issues, flat-out refuse to ask for or accept help. “I just don’t feel comfortable asking for help,” one of them told me. I was flabbergasted.

Do I live in a bubble? Off the top of my head, over the past year I’ve given and accepted the following help:

  • A friend helped me organize our home library.
  • I helped a friend declutter his overwhelmingly overstuffed home office.
  • Other parents at my kids’ school have picked my kids up when I’m running late, and I’ve done the same for them.
  • I’ve taken in packages for our next-door neighbours so they don’t get stolen.
  • I’ve given kids rides home from my daughter’s dance class.
  • I’ve made challah for neighbours who were just having a crappy week.
  • I’ve offered the use of my laundry machines when a friend’s machines were broken.
  • I’ve borrowed and lent out tools.
  • An acquaintance asked me to connect her daughter’s friend with my husband, who works in the same field, for job hunting help.

And let’s not forget the biggie – when a concussion had me unable to drive for months, my parents and in-laws pitched in and made sure that my kids got everywhere they needed to go. And they babysit our kids regularly so that Mr. December and I can have date nights or time to work on the house without distractions.

I seem to be swimming in a sea of help: help requested, help offered, help received, help given. As Mr. December often says, most people are pathologically helpful. At least, in our experience they are.

So who are these people who aren’t comfortable with asking for help? Do they also not offer help? Do they believe that they have to do everything themselves? Or do they fear rejection and prefer not to even ask than to ask and be told “no”? Are they afraid of being a burden? I don’t know. I don’t get it at all.

I (jokingly) threatened one friend that I would be seriously offended if she needed help and didn’t ask me for it. She seemed to think the associated guilt might tip the scales in favour of asking me. I hope it does.

People, we can’t do this life alone. Humans never have. Humans have always had help, whether free or bartered or hired.  It really does take a village.

I’m curious – so please do comment below – what’s your experience? Do you live in a bubble of reciprocal helping, like I do? Or do you avoid being helped? And if you don’t like asking for help? Why not?

blogging · community · love and marriage · waxing philosophical

It’s an honour just to be nominated… the Liebster award

I recently received a message from my bloggy friend Rivki over at Life in the Married Lane that she had nominated me for a Liebster award. I’ve never heard of these awards before, but it’s an honour to be chosen. Here are the rules:

1) Tell 11 things about yourself.
2) Answer 11 questions from the blogger who nominated you.
3) Post 11 questions for those who will be nominated by you.
4) Nominate 11 bloggers.
5) Get in contact with those bloggers to inform them that you nominated them

It’s easier than thinking up a totally original post, so here goes…

11 Things about me:

1. I once ran a half-triathlon. I was 19 years old and reeling from a recent diagnosis of fibromyalgia. I set my own training schedule, trained for three months, and came in second in my age class… out of two athletes. I am immensely proud and still have the plaque and the photos to prove it.

2. I knew that I would marry Mr. December within moments of seeing him. Not meeting him, seeing him. And it wasn’t a conscious, “wow, he’s so gorgeous I wanna marry him.” It was more of an intuitive flash: my brain said to me, “I’m gonna marry that guy,” and I said to my brain, “What? That’s crazy! You don’t know him! You don’t even know if he’s Jewish!” Needless to say, my intuition was correct. I was 15 years old.

3. My children did not come easily to me. I was infertile. My first pregnancy ended in miscarriage and completely changed my perspective on life. Truly. I’ve been depressed, bitter, emotionally unstable, jealous, and every other ugly emotion you can think of. Infertility is brutal. One of my biggest fears is that infertile people may see me with my three children under the age of 5 and feel jealous and resentful. Our past struggles aren’t out there for all to see. I sometimes wish I could dress my kids in t-shirts that say “IUI Baby”, “IVF Baby”, and “We thought we were infertile. Surprise!”

4. I’m very comfortable with the elderly. I used to work in a nursing home. Dementia doesn’t make me feel uncomfortable. I’m happy to sit and converse with elderly people for hours. I wouldn’t normally mention this, but it’s been brought to my attention that many people are extremely uncomfortable in those situations.

5. I once spent a month in a wheelchair. It was crunch time in second-year university and my fibromyalgia was flaring up and making it difficult to get through the day. Staying home sick wasn’t an option, so I used a wheelchair to help me conserve energy so that I could keep up with my schedule. It was definitely an education. To this day, that was the only time anyone at Tim Hortons has asked me if I’d like my muffin heated up.

6. I like sex. I hear jokes and anecdotes about wives not being interested in sex and I’m completely unable to relate. This is verging on TMI, so I’ll leave it at that.

7. My guilty pleasure? Ready Pride and Prejudice Fanfiction. I don’t know why I love it so much, but I never get tired of the “what ifs?” inspired by Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy. It’s like reading trashy novels, I suppose. Also, some of it is surprisingly (and enjoyably) smutty (see item #6.)

8. I’m not happy unless I’m creating something. I actually kind of dread vacations, because I don’t know what I’d do after the first few days without my sewing machine and power tools. Honestly, just how many novels can one person read?

9. I had some seriously low self-esteem. I had practically no friends in elementary school. I was frequently the only kid in my class not invited to bar mitzvahs (really, what kind of parent allows their child to invite the whole class minus one?). I was teased about my clothes, my hobbies (apparently classical opera-style singing isn’t cool,) the way I spoke (my mother was from a British colony. We didn’t braid my hair, we plaited it.) It wasn’t until I got to high school that I realized the problem wasn’t me – it was the culture at my old school. Suddenly my skills and talents (and quirks) were valued, I had friends, and my whole self-image changed.

10. I kind of wish I had the discipline and dedication to be frum. I love Judaism, its traditions, its community, and I wish I could really be fully part of a frum community… but I can’t. I’m just not there. I’m still coming to terms with that realization. Good thing my frum friends still love me regardless.

11. I have no regrets. I’m one of those annoying people who feels that everything that’s happened has made me into the person I am, so no regrets. Not one. Well, maybe one: I shouldn’t have eaten that chocolate bar today. But aside from that, no regrets.

Now, Rivki has asked a bunch of questions that I’m supposed to answer. Let’s see how many I can get through before my eyes start to close:

  1. If you could outsource any domestic chore or duty, which one would you choose?

Definitely laundry. I’d rather scrub the bathroom than fold laundry. It used to be grocery shopping, but now I’m all organized and in a groove, so I don’t mind it so much.

What mitzvah, or spiritual practice, do you connect with the most?

Oh, boy. I’d have to say it’s a toss-up between Mikvah and the Passover Seder. Mikvah because it was personally very relevant right after my miscarriage and through the years of infertility treatments – it felt very much like a fresh start, physically and emotionally and spiritually. And the Passover seder? I love the wisdom inherent in it: our culture and religion are passed on through the things we tell our children. I love the ritualization of that retelling.

What’s your favourite holiday?

Passover, hands down.

Where’s the most beautiful place you’ve visited?

You’re going to make me choose? Okay, fine. We went on a hike in the Golan heights to a river called the “Jilaboon” (Nahal Giv’on, in Hebrew) and it ended in a deep valley, covered over by oleander trees in bloom, and a waterfall cascading into a deep pool. We went swimming there. It was gorgeous.

What song would you listen to for a burst of energy?

Walking on Sunshine. How can you not want to get up and get moving when you hear that song?

What do you consider comfort food?

Chocolate. Preferably Cadbury’s pretzels & peanut butter chocolate bar. Yum. Also on the comfort food list are hummus and pita, and chicken soup.

Prior to marriage, did you have a “list” of qualities you wanted in a spouse? If so, how close was your list to reality?

I’m sure I had a list running in my mind. I wanted a man with a beautiful voice, who would sing to me. I wanted someone who loved being outdoors. Someone who knew that chivalry wasn’t dead – who would open doors for me, etc. I wanted someone gregarious and optimistic. And who did I marry? I call him “Tall, Dark, and Broody.” He doesn’t really sing. He’s practically a vampire – feels no drive whatsoever to go outside. I trained him in the art of chivalry. Gregarious and optimistic? Hmmm… he’s a charismatic skeptic. He’s my perfect other half, and I’m crazy in love with him.

If you could play any instrument, which one would it be?

I do play an instrument. No, I play five or six: voice (yes, it’s an instrument,) piano, guitar, viola, flute, drums. If I could choose another to learn magically? I wouldn’t… I’d just choose to become very, very good at guitar.

You won a free trip to anywhere you like. Where would you go?

Israel.

Okay, now it’s my turn to ask the questions! Here goes…

1. What’s your passion in life?

2. Given the option, what time would be the “perfect” wake-up time for you?

3. What’s your favourite mode of transportation?

4. What do you think of The Simpsons?

5. If you were a food, what kind of food would you be?

6. What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken? Did it pay off?

7. If you didn’t have to work for a living, how would you spend your days?

8. What’s your favourite charity?

9. If you had two hours a day all to yourself with absolutely no other obligatons, how would you spend them?

10. What’s the best book you’ve read lately?

11. Why do you blog?

And now for the nominees…

Jennifer from Adventures in Mama-land
Lisaleh from Modern Balabusta
Miri from Here we are together
Andy from Fly, little words, fly!
Sheryl from Little Snowflakes
Gideon from Exploring Souls and Cities
Elizabeth from Project Progeny
The ever-skilled at Lego, and apparently kind of anonymous, Bible Belt Balabusta
Cheryl from Wunch Break
Lisa from Helical Smile

And… that’s it. I know it’s only 10, but you’ll forgive me. Right? Right? If I’ve forgotten you, by any chance, please consider yourself nominated.

And now, off to inform my nominees. Can’t wait to see their answers!

… 1506 words later, I must conclude that it would have been easier to come up with my own post idea!

bikes planes and automobiles · community · Jewy goodness · mental health · waxing philosophical

Addiction

Hi. I’m Sara, and I’m a cycle-a-holic.

I didn’t think it had come this far, but here I am. My knee hurts badly; I know that I shouldn’t bike tomorrow morning, and that makes me feel bereft. I don’t bike every single morning but I don’t take kindly to knowing that it’s off limits for now. The cravings are beginning. Driving the car is, at best, a necessary evil. There’s no joy in it; it just gets me from A to B and back. But cycling… aside from the obvious fitness benefits, it does wonders for my seasonal depression. Also my soul, my wallet, and my general sense of well-being.

Here’s why:

When I’m cycling, I’m close to the ground and there’s nothing between me and the world around me. I sing out “good morning” whenever we pass a pedestrian. We stop to examine the fire hydrants that haven’t been installed yet. We greet the same construction workers and crossing guards every time. Cycling gives me this sense of being part of the city instead of separated from it in a metal-and-glass bubble.

Nature is right beside me all along the road. I see the trees in various stages of autumnal undress, the places where there are more weeds than grass, the wetness of the road after a night of rain. The air feels clean in the morning, especially on the residential streets that make up most of my ride. I can see the sky – not a piece of it through a windshield, but the whole expanse – and I often marvel that even on cloudy days there is usually a clear patch of blue peeking through somewhere.

Throughout my ride, I have many opportunities to make it easier or harder for myself. I can relax and ride slowly if I feel like it, or I can push myself to the limit and set a new time record. I can lean into the turns more, challenging my skill and balance. I’m up against my own limits, and I often astonish myself.

I can chat with my children, point out landmarks, and ruffle their hair at stop signs. I get to watch them wiggle in time to the music from my iPod. When I greet pedestrians with a smile the children and I get to watch wizened old faces and jaded young faces break into a tentative smile or a grin and a surprised laugh. Even the grumpy-looking old man with the tiny dog (practically a fixture in our parking lot at drop-off and pick-up times) looks handsome when he smiles at us.

Even at my fastest, my speed probably tops out at 18 km/h. Fast enough to get where we’re going, and slow enough to not feel harried and rushed. Traffic means very little to me, gliding along residential streets and through pathways where cars can’t travel.

It’s possible to drive a car on autopilot. We’ve all done it, I’m sure, getting somewhere and realizing we have no particular memory about the journey. I’ve never been able to bike on autopilot. Cycling makes me feel connected – to nature, to the city, to the people, to myself and my limits. To God.

To paraphrase the milk commercials of my youth, cycling does a body good… but it does a soul great.

 

community · family fun · Holidays Jewish and holidays not. · Jewy goodness

Hallowe’en vs. Purim

I don’t do Hallowe’en. Never have, and, I hope, never will.

Most of the time I tend to forget that we’re in a religious and cultural minority. But then K brings home notices from extracurricular activities inviting the children to wear their costumes to class and asking parents to send treats for the group. The first such notice I got threw me into a minor snit – I hate Hallowe’en! – until, eventually, I remembered that I’m in the minority here, and largely by my own choice.

I suppose you could also call it a religious decision, but looking around at the Jewish families who do celebrate Hallowe’en I’ve begun to realize that it’s not so clear cut for everyone. Nevertheless, I feel that Hallowe’en expresses values that are the opposite of what Judaism teaches us, and what I’d like to teach my kids. If you contrast Hallowe’en with Purim, the Jewish dressing-up-and-eating-treats holiday, you’ll see what I mean.

Treats. On Hallowe’en, children go from door to door in their neighbourhood requesting treats (or, as is often the case, demanding treats.) The goal seems to be to amass as much candy as possible from as many people as possible, including complete strangers (I don’t have anything against complete strangers, but I get a bit miffed at being expected to provide candy for a bunch of kids who would otherwise never even say “hello” if I saw them out and about.) On Purim we deliver gifts of food – baked goods, candy, fruit, drinks – to family members and friends, as well as neighbours we know or would like to meet. We also receive goodies, of course, but the focus is on the giving.

Dressing up. In this department the two holidays seem about equal. On Purim, as on Hallowe’en, anything goes. Even cross-dressing, which is prohibited by the Torah, is permitted on Purim.

Decorations and general theme. The theme of Hallowe’en is death, gore, and horror. I’ve got nothing against the pumpkins and witches that grace some front lawns, but I’m truly creeped out by faux corpses hanging from trees, front lawns turned cemeteries, and severed limbs dotting the landscape. It just seems so macabre, and so unnecessary. Purim, on the other hand, is a giant festival. Decorations are often colourful, glittery, and just outrageous – more like Mardi Gras that Murder She Wrote.

Demographic. While there are some adult Hallowe’en celebrations, the holiday is mainly aimed at kids. Purim, on the other hand, is a religious holiday with certain religious obligations that apply only to adults. Children have fun on Purim, but it’s the adults who really have to celebrate. That being said, non-religious Jews frequently relate to Purim as a children’s holiday. Pity.

Broader Message. Last time I checked, Hallowe’en didn’t have a broader message (I know that those who celebrate it as a holy day would disagree, and they’d be right, but I’m talking about the Hallowe’en celebrated by the majority of Canadians and Americans.) The story of Purim does: from it we learn to recognize and defeat evil, to remain connected to our heritage, and – most importantly – that many things in our world are hidden and disguised, including God’s intervention.

This year was the first year that K has asked us about Hallowe’en and Trick-or-Treating. “We don’t celebrate Hallowe’en,” I told her. “It’s not a Jewish Holiday. We have Purim, where we get to dress up and take people treats and have a big party.” K’s eyes lit up and she began reminiscing about last year’s Purim feast with the dinner in disguise.  The day after this conversation I overheard her at one of the extracurricular groups’ parties saying, “I don’t celebrate Hallowe’en, I have Purim. But I dressed up anyway because I wanted to come to the party…”

Hey, if we can tackle Hallowe’en so easily, the predictable Christmas envy should be a breeze.

Tell me about your Hallowe’en. Eventful? Non-existent? Do you love it or hate it?

community · crafty · DIY · el cheapo · mental health · weight loss · whine and cheese · Work-in-progress Wednesday

Work-in-Progress Wednesday – mental health day edition

I am severely sleep deprived, and it’s starting to show. This morning I woke up (that’s too strong a term for what happened, actually. Let’s say I achieved consciousness) and realized that my limbs felt heavy and my speech was really slow. I made Mr. December drive K to school (anyone who is sleep deprived has no business driving a car, in my opinion, although I understand the necessity of driving sometimes) and I went back to sleep. I just need to catch up before I really make a mess of things – for the past five days I’ve had a case of what I call “the stupids”, which means that I was aware that my decision making abilities were way, way off – or seriously yell at the kids for all the little things that are driving me nuts right now (why are there stickers on everything? Why does K need to hoard toys and then haul them all over the house? And so on.)

Right. So it’s “restore my mental health” day today, which seems fitting since yesterday I found this door while on my way to an appointment:

I definitely need to get my hands on that key. In the meantime, here’s my progress for the week:

In Progress: choosing my apps

I really, really like Remember the Milk. I like it enough that I bought the Pro version. It’s a bit like a hybrid between a calendar and a to-do list, and it lets you tag things, set priorities, schedule tasks, set deadlines, postpone… and to-do items can have notes attached, so if my to-do is to phone someone, I can have all my information right there – telephone number, what we need to talk about, reference numbers, etc. It’s really awesome. Even better is the fact that I can use it on my iPod and on my Mac, so I can organize lists and notes on my Mac so that the typing gets done faster, and then sync it with my iPod to be able to refer to it throughout the day.

Yesterday was the first day that I organized myself with RTM, and it went very, very smoothly. I got everything done. Even more amazingly, I was able to see that I really have no spare time in my day, and I could see how long it will be before all my items actually get done, and so I was much more able to say “no” to new commitments.

I’d still like a month-at-a-time calendar view. I think I should be able to sync it to my iCal, but I’m not sure. I’ll play around with that this week.

In Progress: weight watchin’

I’m up two pounds this week, and I know exactly why: when I’m exhausted but circumstances dictate that I can’t (or shouldn’t) sleep, I eat to keep myself awake. Also, I was exceptionally testy on Shabbat and so had Mr. December go out on Saturday night and get me some cookie dough and some ice cream. I ate all of it.

I’m hoping to make this week a better week, but there’s only one thing I can prioritize at a time, and right now it has to be sleep.

In Progress: Upcycling clothes!

I have a whole lot of t-shirts stashed in my workshop. In (seemingly) unrelated news, most of K’s stretchy play dresses have seen better days. This week I’m going to make her some play dresses (and matching bike shorts to wear under them) out of my old shirts. Wish me luck!

So nu, what are you up to this week?

blogging · community · Jewy goodness · what's cookin'

Repost: It’s not about the dishwasher unless I make it so.

This is a repost from a very old blog of mine. Ruchi over at Out of the Ortho Box just posted about this issue, so I dug this one up so that current readers can have a look. I believe this was published in 2009. It still applies today.

A friend of mine just wrote a post about how, as an Orthodox Jew, she really regrets that she can’t eat in someone’s house just because they use the same dishwasher for both their meat and dairy utensils. She goes on to talk about how many people accuse the Orthodox of caring more about the dishwasher than about the friendship.
I understand that point of view. But I also think that it’s not about the dishwasher until I decide that it is.(full disclosure: I’m pretty sure that I’m the person my friend is referring to, given that we just had this conversation about her eating in my home. Maybe it comes up a lot, but I’m not betting on it.)

Here’s my point:

I understand why, for an Orthodox Jew, it’s impossible to eat things cooked in my pots and pans, served on my plates. It’s like asking a paraplegic to walk up the steps into my house. Impossible. When that person says no, it’s not a judgment – it’s simply a statement of fact. So I can grouse about how offended I am, about how seriously I take my Judaism and how picky this friend is being. But ultimately, it’s a fruitless exercise. Alternately, I can offer a solution or a compromise: eat in my home, but on paper plates. We’ll order takeout. Or I can cook things in foil pans with single-use utensils.

It’s just as if I invited a person who is wheelchair-dependent to my house with stairs. I could build a ramp. It won’t be pretty, or as elegant a reception as I like to offer my guests. There are some parts of my house a wheelchair-dependent person would never be able to see. But we could still enjoy each other’s company, a bite to eat, and stimulating conversation. It’s not about the stairs, just as it’s not about the dishwasher.

There are some of my much-loved recipes that my Orthodox friends will never taste. That’s unfortunate, but far from a deal-breaker. Where I come from, hachnassat orchim (welcoming guests) is taken very seriously. It’s about accommodating your guests to the best of your ability, and seeing to their needs, not to your own. And so I’m choosing to overlook the small sting to my pride and build the metaphorical ramp. And when we all sit around the table in the succah, breaking bread and celebrating together, the dishwasher won’t even be relevant.

community · family fun · Jewy goodness · Kids · weight loss

Shabbat reality check

First of all, I want to thank everyone who commented on my post about Shabbat observance. I haven’t had time to respond to comments this week, but every comment was read and appreciated. Keep the ideas coming!

So, you may ask, in the wake of that post, how was Shabbat for me this week?

I started off with the attitude that “Shabbat is our day of Yes.” All Friday afternoon I was running around cooking, quilting, cleaning, and generally trying to get absolutely everything done before Shabbat. As usual, my children were at my heels, begging for a scrap of attention. “Ima, will you read me this book?” “Ima, come watch our play!” “Book!” “Baff!” and so on. This time, though, instead of acting all frustrated with them, I told them, “I have to finish this work before Shabbat. As soon as Shabbat comes, I’m all yours.” This appeased them for 10 minutes at a time and got them very excited about Shabbat.

We eventually lit the candles, and so began our “Day of Yes.” We sang and danced. We allowed the kids unlimited grape juice refills. K requested that I sing one Passover song after another, and I obliged her without so much as an “Ima needs to eat too, you know.” We had dessert. After the kids’ bedtime I sat down with a glass of wine and a book. R sat on my lap and played with my fingers as I read.

Amazingly, I was able to get out of bed pretty swiftly on Shabbat morning – simply shifting my expectations allowed me to look forward to focusing on the kids instead of grumbling that I had to get up early on a weekend. Everything was luxuriously slow – we took our time getting dressed (we read books in between articles of clothing,) brushing our teeth (we sang songs,) choosing breakfast foods (rice pudding for K and “lalla” (challah) for N.)

The kids wanted to play “camping” and wanted me to watch – and I actually did. It was unexpectedly interesting. K was pretending to sleep in her “tent” (read: under the kiddie table) which involved her sucking her thumb with her eyes closed, and periodically peeking at me to make sure I was still watching. If it had been a TV pilot it would have been cancelled after the first broadcast, if it even made it that far. What it lacked in plot, character development, and acting skills, it made up for in opportunities to really look at my kid for the first time in a while. She’s beautiful, with delicate features and long eyelashes. I fell in love all over again.

Mr. December took the “big kids” (laughable because really, N isn’t even two years old) to his parents’ house. R and I got ready to go to shul and eventually made it there – just in time for the kiddush lunch.

(Side note: Kiddush lunch was really great this week, and very kid-friendly. Baked mac and cheese, tabbouli salad, banana bread, fruit. Maybe my kvetching helped after all!)

I discovered something: Nobody cares if you show up at shul just in time for the food. They’re just glad that you’re there. I used to feel like if we didn’t get there by 10:30 or 11:00 there was no point; yesterday I arrived at 12:45 and spent over an hour chatting, singing, and praying (grace after meals) with my community. It was lovely.

I took the subway up to the home of a friend who was having a baby shower (not a Jewish friend, obviously.) In my view, a party at someone’s home is the perfect Shabbat activity: food, folks, and fun, as the treyf fast-food giant’s commercials used to say. An afternoon spent with other women, wishing our friend well and sharing stories about our kids. The addition of cupcakes didn’t hurt either.

I walked home through the ravine, which took about 40 minutes… had to take care of those cupcake calories, so I walked pretty quickly. That was definitely out of tune with how I want to be on Shabbat: walking for the enjoyment of nature and to get somewhere in a relaxed manner? Great. Walking at a slightly uncomfortable pace in order to get my cardio in and burn extra calories? Not so Shabbos-y, in my opinion. I’ll remember that for next time.

The other not-so Shabbos-y thing was that I used my cellphone to make arrangements for my brother to come over as soon as I got home. I really prefer the Shabbat “go with the flow” feeling where you drop in on people, or arrange a time in advance and recognize that timing is approximate. I felt like the cellphone was taking me away from the present moment and focusing me on future plans, and that didn’t sit well with me.

Did I mention that my big brother was here from Vancouver? He came over to chat and ended up leaving with most of N’s newborn and 0-3 months clothing (his wife is very, very pregnant.)

And just like that, Shabbat was over.

I walked through about twenty minutes of this on my way home. Hard to believe it's right in the middle of the city, isn't it? I need to bring the kids here this summer to play in the creek.

Things I’d do again: Dedicate lots of time on Shabbat to just being with my kids, however they want me. Go for a nice long walk. Visit with friends and family.

Things I would change: No more exercising with a goal in mind. Turn off the cellphone and leave it at home. Make social plans either in advance or in person (i.e. arrange a Shabbat afternoon playdate in the morning at shul.)

All in all, I was reasonably happy with Shabbat this time. Tune in next week, where I’ll tell you how I managed the Shabbat right before the second seder (will we be setting up and preparing? I hope not!)

Shavua Tov! (have a good week!)

community · family fun · Kids · parenting · whine and cheese

Getting soft.

For those of you living under a rock, this has been an exceptionally mild winter – and that’s an understatement.

Today it was 7 degrees Celsius outside (that’s about 45 for you Fahrenheit people) and sunny. Clear, unadulterated sunshine. And let me tell you, 7 feels mighty warm to a Canadian in February.

I did what any sane, sunshine-loving parent would do: I bundled the kids up and took them to the park to run around. At least, I thought that’s what any sane parent would do, but apparently not. The park was practically deserted.

Where are all the children? Are we so married to the calendar that we just don’t think of outdoor play in February? The exact same weather in March or April would have kids outside on their bikes and dozens of toddlers vying for our park’s single baby swing. As a matter of fact, this kind of weather in March or April would have the adults out, too: walking, biking, gardening. Where the heck was everybody today?

I can’t help feeling like we’re all getting a bit too soft. Not to sound like an old lady here, but when we were kids we used to run outside and play in the snow for hours. I’m not exaggerating. These days everyone just whines about how cold it is. Even my daughter’s school, as free-range and commonsense as it is, keeps the kindergarten classes inside if it’s “too cold”, which in my opinion it simply hasn’t been at all this year.

I have to admit that I’m guilty too. Sometimes I don’t feel like getting the kids bundled up to go out. Sometimes it seems to get dark so early that I can’t get them all outside after picking K up from school. Most of the time it’s just laziness, or maybe I have a tendency to forget how much better life is outside. Maybe we all do.

But now that I’ve been reminded, I feel extra motivated to get the kids playing outside every single day. For at least an hour. The question is, will there be anyone else to play with?

"Hey... come out and play!"