crafty · family fun · Holidays Jewish and holidays not. · Jewy goodness · Kids · The COVID files · what's cookin'

Day 343: We Made Lemonade

Happy Purim!

Know what I did almost all day yesterday? This, four times over:

Yes, those are miniature lemon loaves. I baked almost thirty of them yesterday. I only had eight mini loaf pans, so it took a long time. Never mind how the loaves turned out—the batter was pure silky, creamy deliciousness.

I am never doing that again. From now on, mishloach manot will be cleverly chosen premade goodies, labelled with puns and witticisms.

Since it’s been kind of a rough year in a lot of ways, I suggested to the kids that we call our mishloach manot “When life hands you lemons…”

There had to be a whole lemon—and enough sugar to turn it into lemonade—in each package. Obviously. Then K asked me if I could find a recipe for the lemon loaf they sell at Starbucks. “So when life hands you lemons, you just loaf around?” I asked. The puns spiralled from there.

In addition to the “you could loaf around” lemon loaf, we had “start over from square one” lemon squares, “you might snap at people” lemon snaps, and in some packages, “you may feel like pudding everything off ’til tomorrow” lemon meringue pudding cups. The best part is that I actually remembered to take pictures this year before we delivered all the treats!

Instead of our usual evening at shul followed by carnival-hopping from one synagogue to another, we logged onto Zoom to watch an online Purim shpiel (play) starring families from the congregation. Then I stayed on and listened to the megillah reading while the kids went into a breakout room to play party games with the other kids.

Although it’s a religious obligation to hear the megillah read twice each Purim, I can honestly say that before last night I have never actually heard the megillah read in its entirety. See, normally there’s so much noise from excited children waiting to drown out Haman’s name with noisemakers of all kinds that the readers can hardly be heard and the rabbi has to pound on the table repeatedly to get everyone to quiet down.

Ah, the magic of the mute button! The only people I could hear were the readers chanting the megillah; when Haman’s name came up we all unmuted ourselves and made noise for thirty seconds or so, then politely muted ourselves again. Some people (including yours truly) made signs to hold in front of our webcams when Haman was mentioned. Here’s mine, hastily scribbled at the last minute. The kids especially loved the angry-faced O’s.

Following the reading we had a Zoom dance party where four judges watched all the costumed people dance and then awarded prizes. I’m pleased to report that we were awarded “funniest costumes” for E’s lion, my ladybug, and N’s constantly changing outfits (he kept running back up to his room.)

I hadn’t expected the online programming to be particularly enjoyable; I was wrong. We saw a lot of familiar faces, we danced, we actually heard the megillah, and we all had fun. The kids went to bed feeling like they had just left a party, which I guess they had.

Today we spent Purim day in the traditional way: driving around the city to deliver the goodies we’d prepared for friends and family. This year I limited each one of us to four people, meaning a total of twenty-four packages, max. The first couple of years we did it I had to hype up the delivery aspect to K (who was having really bad Halloween envy.) Now the kids clamour to come with me, and they serve as faithful runners from the car to each front door.

This year I noticed how great it felt to actually see people who don’t live with me. As isolated as we feel now, the bonds we have with friends and family are still alive and well. It made me realize again that when COVID is over I’m going to hug everyone so hard and not let go for a few weeks. You’ve been warned.

So it was a good Purim. We made lemonade (Zoom parties, megillah readings, and treats) out of this year’s lemons (COVID lockdowns.) And if you ask the kids, it was the best Purim, because they got lots of mishloach manot and have divvied up all the candy and Bissli and chocolates—they’re well stocked until Pesach, I think.

crafty · Holidays Jewish and holidays not. · Jewy goodness

Day 330: Themed Treats for Purim

After yesterday’s fun with fake text messages, I started wondering what to do for Mishloach Manot this year. I had some ideas but wasn’t sure if I’d already done them, so I dug deep into my photo vault to find all the Mishloach Manot I’ve made in the past 13 years.

I didn’t find thirteen years’ worth, but I did find these. Feel free to copy any of these ideas—I don’t think they were mine to begin with.

Have a Campy Purim!

This one is pretty easy: mini Hershey milk chocolate bar, kosher marshmallow, 2 graham crackers, a hot chocolate packet, a skewer, and a candle (to roast the marshmallow over, of course.) The back of the card had instructions for making microwaved s’mores.

Paper Bag Surprise

The surprise is that I don’t remember what I put in these. But this packaging is probably my favourite. It’s just brown paper lunch bags, a piece of ribbon, and some staples. Easy peasy.

Mishloach Manot for Breakfast

I couldn’t find a pic of the package, but it was definitely in a brown paper bag (like the one above.) I put in a mini cereal box, a single-serve carton of milk, a cup of yogurt, a banana, and a box of orange juice. This was especially well-received by an elderly neighbour of ours who appreciated having her breakfast just handed to her.

Take a Hike!

Another great example of me forgetting to take photos. This card was stapled to a clear cellophane bag that contained a bottle of water, a granola bar, and apple, and a box of raisins… or something like that.

Go Bananas!

Banana-shaped candies, banana chips, a fresh banana, and a mini banana bread went into this one. The packaging was super simple: those yellow bags are from the party section of Dollarama.

Night at the Movies

Homemade oil-popped popcorn with a mini mars bar tucked into a popcorn box. A can of Coke was attached to the outside along with a movie ticket for the card.

Tea Time

I used white paper bags to make these packages that looked (a little) like giant teabags with a giant tag on a string. Inside we put mini jam packets, a couple of tea biscuits, a miniature pie or other dessert item, and—of course—tea.

Cookies and Milk

Try as I might, I couldn’t find photos of this one anywhere. Each package contained chocolate chip cookies and a single-serve carton of milk. It was packaged in a brown paper bag (of course) with an attached card that said something like, “Imagine how much better the world would be if everyone sat down at 3 p.m. for milk and cookies…”

This year’s theme is…

A secret. I have friends and family who read this blog. You wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise for them, would you?

What’s the coolest Mishloach Manot you’ve given or received? Please tell me in the comments!

crafty · education · family fun · Homeschool

Day 323: Monet isn’t everything…

Sorry. I couldn’t resist the awful pun.

We haven’t done art class in a couple of weeks. I’d forgotten how much fun it is. First we learned a bit about Monet and the impressionists, and then we went down to the makery to try our hand at some impressionistic oil painting.

It was my first time using oils. They feel great to paint with—creamy and smooth. I chose to paint a landscape that was more Group of Seven than Salon des Refusés. As usual, I probably enjoyed the work more than the kids did.

I also washed more paintbrushes than the kids did, which made me think that a scientific investigation into the properties and uses of dish soap would be a great idea. From making giant bubble solution to stripping cloth diapers to washing oil paints out of brushes, is there anything dish soap can’t do?

I wish I had something witty to say today, but it was a very full day with little to no downtime, and I’m beat. We explored a new-to-us park today and between walking on uneven snow and along with the lack of sleep last night (I was awakened by certain children who will remain nameless,) it’s left me with sore legs. I’m off to bed; I’ll just leave you with this photo of my very first oil painting.

crafty · family fun · Kids · The COVID files

Day 311: I guess everyone likes to feel useful.

Strange things are happening at my house: K came downstairs this afternoon and said, “I never realized how much fun cleaning the bathroom is! What should I use on my bathtub?”

Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I passed her a sponge and some dish soap. “Soap is soap,” I told her. “Have fun!”

And she did.

Last night E asked if I could sew clothes for her stuffed animals.

“I could teach you how to do it,” I offered.

She began to wail, “It’s gonna beeee too hard for meeeee!” (there might have been some crocodile tears involved.)

I assured her that I have a special sewing machine just for little kids. That did the trick. This morning she cleaned up her small table in the craft room to make room for the machine; with a little guidance she sewed a pillow for one of her elephants.

R had impromptu tryouts for a band tonight: she played her three chords on the guitar while N drummed and E danced and sang. She must have sounded fine to them, because E enthusiastically welcomed R to the band. Now three of my four kids are planning to head out on tour as soon as COVID allows.

crafty · DIY · hackin' it · Jewy goodness · The COVID files

Day 301: Mikdash Me’at (a little temple)

Jewish tradition says that ever since the Beit Hamikdash (main temple in Jerusalem) was destroyed, each Jewish home is a Mikdash Me’at (little temple.) I usually take that to mean that all the small Jewish rituals we do in our homes—Chanukah candles, Kiddush for Shabbat, Havdallah, even thanking God after meals—make our homes a place for spiritual connection with the divine. But today I got a bit more literal with the whole “little temple” thing: I turned my living room into a chapel of sorts for K’s bat mitzvah.

I feel like this should be a tutorial. I could show you how to make a Torah-reading table out of an IKEA desk, some leftover moulding scraps, a spare drawer box, and some Masonite. You have all of those things at home, don’t you? Doesn’t everybody?


Does that mean you also don’t have seven metres of sheer drapery fabric sitting around? Because that would be really useful to hide the computers and messy cubbies from the webcam.

Nevermind, then.

Image description: white plastic envelopes, each sealed with a duck-shaped sticker.

K and I prepared little packages for some of our more local friends and family, containing the siddur (prayer book) I’ve compiled for the event as well as some soft candies to throw at the bat mitzvah girl. We sealed them with the logo stickers I designed (rubber ducky silhouette wearing a blue kippah and a blue mask,) and spent two hours driving around to deliver them in person, before the stay-at-home order comes into effect at midnight tonight. We didn’t get to a few people, but they’re the ones who live close enough that we can go for a walk and just drop the package into their mailbox, so we can do it tomorrow or Friday (I’m pretty sure a stay-at-home order still allows us to go for a walk.)

Below are some pics of our reading table uncovered, N playing on the computer behind the drapes we put up (using a tension rod) to hide all the clutter, and K reading during our Zoom rehearsal (note the computer sitting on a stack of game boxes.) There’s plenty I could tell you about our rehearsal, but I’ll just say that it was much needed. And now I’m off to relax a bit before my bed beckons any louder.

birthing babies · crafty · DIY · Kids

Day 292: Six!

Six years ago today, my kids went out for Chinese food with my parents. One of them cracked open a fortune cookie and read the fortune: “A new friend shall soon be made.” They didn’t know it then, but around the same time and a few kilometres away, E was born.

And we’ve all doted on her ever since. All of my babies were cute, but E was breathtakingly so—and still is, much of the time. Today she’s vivacious, friendly, clever, and stubborn. She is the self-appointed “shnuggle monster” of the family and makes sure that I get my “shnuggle” as soon as I wake up every morning.

She’s my last baby, and she is undeniably no longer a baby. A couple of weeks ago I asked her to go through her stuff and get rid of things she doesn’t use or play with anymore. An hour later she proudly announced that she was done; when I went up to survey the results, I saw all the Paw Patrol and Peppa Pig toys in the “give away” pile. She adored them, played with them every day, took them in the bath with her… and now she’s done with them. The Paw Patrol stuff has already gone to an appreciative friend, and Peppa Pig is still looking for a new home.

These days, she’s into playing dolls with R, who now has a whole family of MapleLea and American Girl dolls. R decided to give E one of her dolls as a birthday gift, which I thought was very sweet of her. E decided that her new doll will live in the big dollhouse with all the others.

I should have thought about a gift for E weeks ago, but my usual knee-jerk reaction kicked in (“I gave her life! Do I have to give her a present, too?”) and I did nothing until this morning, when I kicked into high gear, doing what I do best: I went down to the makery and made E some food for her dolls. All I can say is thank God for the internet, because I googled “DIY American Girl Doll Food” and found a website that had a ton of printable food packaging scaled for dolls. I ended up making her two boxes of cereal, a box of mac & cheese, a can of Pringles, a box of individually-wrapped granola bars, and a pack of Oreos with some cookies inside. E was thrilled.

So here’s to my six-year-old E, who loves elephants, chickens, dolls, and her family. Life with her is always interesting, usually joyful, and full of unspeakable cuteness. Happy Birthday!

crafty · quilty pleasures

Day 279: In Progress

A downside to being a creative type with ADHD is that I always have dozens of unfinished projects sitting around. As of today I have two unfinished quilts, five woodworking projects that I started but never finished, a song parody I was supposed to plan a video for, two sewing projects, and assorted things to fix and mend.

Yesterday I started thinking seriously about a quilt for N. I made one for K when she got her first big-kid bed; I promised myself that I would make a quilt for each of my children as they hit that milestone. Seven years later, K is still the only one with an Eema-made quilt. So I began planning a quilt for N and quickly ran into a problem: my design wall was full.

The design wall sounds fancier than it is: it’s a large piece of white quilt batting that hangs on the wall. Quilting cotton sticks right to it without the need for pins, which makes it the perfect place to store finished quilt blocks and to arrange them before I sew them all together.

As I was saying, the design wall was covered with a quilt top I began before our renovation. You’ve seen it in the photo tour of the Makery. I suppose I could have folded it and put it away again, but I really wanted to finish something. I figured I could complete the quilt in a few hours, tops.

So that’s what I’ve been working on when I’m not homeschooling. K helped me spray-baste the layers together, and then I spent an hour last night laying out the quilting lines with masking tape. It took me about an hour this afternoon to sew all those lines—if you don’t include the half-hour when I was unthreading and rethreading the machine and frantically googling “bobbin thread keeps jamming.” Worry not, I changed the needle and reversed the bobbin direction, and it didn’t jam again.

I know I put away fabric for the quilt binding, so tomorrow I’ll go hunting for it and start the binding process. I’m very excited to actually finish a quilt. It’s been a long time since the last time that happened: I finished the last quilt when my niece was born. She turned five last month.

Here’s a sneak peek at the quilt, sans binding:

Image description: a quilt, with fabric strips arranged in a rainbow gradient. The bottom left corner of the quilt is folded to show the backing, which is bright pink minky fabric. The diamond quilting is visible on both front and back.

You know the saying, “A change is as good as a rest”? Quilting is very focus-intensive work, but it’s totally different from everything else I’ve been doing lately. Going back to an old hobby, and still enjoying it, is a really great feeling. Especially when it helps me clear my design wall.

crafty · DIY · Jewy goodness

Day 267: Renewed Menorah

For our wedding, Mr. December and I received five menorahs among our gifts. At the time we joked we’d just have to have one child per menorah, and then each kid could inherit one. We didn’t count on breakage and loss.

Our colourful glass menorah got knocked off the mantle somehow and shattered. Our large menorah that came apart and went together like a puzzle went missing in action (maybe during our renovation?) and hasn’t been seen since.

Our metal menorah from our Israeli cousins had an accident years ago: the window was wide open, and a gust of wind blew in, caught a picture frame that was angled just right and blew it forward, which knocked the menorah down. Part of it snapped off and couldn’t easily be glued back on. I couldn’t throw it out, though, so I relegated it to a corner of my workshop for broken things that might one day be mended.

There it sat for years. I packed, stored, and unpacked it when we renovated. I had no idea how I was going to fix it (solder, maybe?) but I never gave up on the idea that I would. In the meantime, we still had a menorah that I got as a bat mitzvah gift. It’s beautiful, shaped like a dove with the candles sitting along the wings. It’s also a gift from family friends who are close enough to us that I grew up knowing them as Auntie and Uncle (and they read this blog. I’m just not sure if they want to be named here. But… hi Auntie and Uncle! Love you!)

This morning I was setting out our menorahs and candles, and generally trying to make our front windowsill look festive, when I remembered the menorah from my cousins. I went downstairs and contemplated it. I tried fixing it with hot glue, then krazy glue, then carpenter’s glue, all to no avail. The top of the tree had snapped off and nothing could keep it on. I left it on my workbench and started to tidy the kids’ art desk. And then…

I picked up a spool of gold craft wire and suddenly remembered the beautiful serving pieces we once had that were wrapped with wire and adorned with beautiful beads. Could I use the gold wire to wrap the menorah? Would that keep the treetop in place? Would it look good?

I could, I did, it did, and yes, it looked good. For the sake of symmetry—and to make it look intentional—I wrapped the trunks of both trees with gold wire. It looks very pretty, like it was meant to be that way, and it solved the problem.

Tonight we were able to light that menorah for the first time in eight years. I never thought I was this sentimental, but using it made me feel a bit closer to my Israeli cousins (who I haven’t seen in person since 2008.)

Look, I didn’t exactly restore an entire desecrated temple like the Maccabees did two millennia ago, but there was still something very special about taking something that was broken and useless, keeping it despite its brokenness, and finally being able to renew it and use it again. Especially on Chanukah.

Chag Sameach! Happy Chanukah!

crafty · family fun · Homeschool · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 265: Art Class

I gave up on school around 1:30 today. The kids had already done math, physics, and writing, and they were fed up. I was fed up. The sun was shining. Clearly, it was time to end school and chase everyone out of the house.

But half of our lessons didn’t get done, and I’d be damned if the kids got out of school stuff because they were acting all whiny at lunchtime. That’s how I ended up announcing that school hours were starting again after dinner so we could do art and social studies.

Art class is a rather recent addition to our homeschool; I found a curriculum that’s very well organized and comes complete with supply lists and recommended videos for each lesson. We began with Leonardo Da Vinci and the Renaissance, did Michelangelo’s ceilings of the Sistine Chapel, and this week learned all about Bernini and Baroque sculpture. Even if the kids are learning nothing in homeschool, I’m getting a heck of an education.

After learning about Baroque sculpture, I broke out a 10-pack of Ivory soap bars and some carving tools. We all set to work on creating our own sculptures. In the process we learned some Very Important Things about carving soap:

  1. It breaks. A lot.
  2. The size of Ivory bars really limits what you can create.
  3. There will be soap shavings EVERYWHERE.
  4. It gets soap all over everybody’s hands—which is a boon when certain kids just “forget” to wash all the time.
  5. It’s very easy to clean up.

It was pretty quiet while we worked. I decided to kill two birds with one stone and combine art class with music appreciation: we listened to Holst’s The Planets (chosen because of N’s current interest in Greek and Roman mythology) and, to my surprise, the kids loved it and wanted to hear more.

Bedtime snack followed art; R made herself and E a smoothie, N ate cereal, and I read aloud to them from a novel about the Acadian expulsion (for our Nova Scotia history unit.) K stayed downstairs for an extra hour and continued working on her sculpture—it’s a fairly complex design that involved hollowing out the soap and then carving an intricate tangle of tree branches on the outside. I think she’s still not quite done.

Hey, notice how K is wearing a toque inside? It was supposed to be mine, but it somehow ended up on her head. She wears it all the time, even inside, and with her earbuds in, her toque on, and her hands in the pockets of her hoodie, she looks like a stereotypical teenager. Acts like one, too, with or without the toque and earbuds. And in less than a month, she’ll actually be a teenager—how on earth did that happen?

crafty · DIY · Holidays Jewish and holidays not. · Jewy goodness · Just the two of us

Day 259: Always with the Dreidels

If I asked my non-Jewish friends to name one Chanukah song, they’d probably start singing “I have a little dreidel,” which makes me crazy because there are many beautiful Chanukah songs—and the dreidel song is NOT one of them. Alas, the dreidel song remains popular.

If you google Chanukah decorations, you’ll get a few menorahs and a whole lotta dreidels.

Given my knowledge and appreciation of the holiday, I would’ve predicted that my homemade Chanukah decorations would feature some lesser-used Chanukah motifs, like oil jugs or doughnuts, and yet dreidels are my go-to. I wasn’t even paying attention to it until I sat up here at my desk and noticed the view of my new garland:

Sigh. All dreidels. At least I didn’t restrict myself to blues and silvers. Today I made the mistake of telling Mr. December that I had a few small Chanukah surprises for the kids, including Jelly Belly jellybeans in Chanukah colours. He jumped on that one right away.

“Chanukah colours? Did I miss some rabbinic declaration? Or is that laid out in the Torah somewhere?”

I mean, of course it’s not in the Torah. Chanukah itself isn’t in the Torah. But somewhere along the line, blue and silver became the unofficial colours of Chanukah as surely as Christmas is all about the red, green, and gold.

This could turn into a much longer post in which I agonize over the same old “December Dilemma”: where is the line between Chanukah decorations that are festive and appropriate, and those that are just aping Christmas (which is kind of ironic when you’re talking about a holiday that celebrates us resisting assimilation?) But there’s nothing new about this discussion, even as it rages over my own dinner table.

You see, I couldn’t resist the idea of things that are pretty and shiny, so now I have one hundred silver and metallic blue dreidels to use. I also happen to have a jar of craft jewels in shades of blue and turquoise. The result of a little crafting in the basement was a bejeweled (be-dreideled?) placard on which I plan to write Happy Chanukah or maybe חג שמח. Mr. December took one look at it and declared it too “non-Jewish” looking (fine, he used the G word, which is considered offensive these days.) Of course he followed that with, “It’s very pretty. You did a great job. It’s just kind of Christmassy.”

But back to the dreidels. Why are they so popular as decorations? I’m not an authority of any kind, but from my perspective it’s this simple: they’re easy to make. All straight lines, a combination of a simple square, an equilateral triangle, and a tiny rectangle. When you need to churn out decorations in a jiffy, the dreidel is as easy—and as lazy—as it gets.

So I pushed myself to get un-lazy. I found a few different shapes I liked, traced them, and turned the page into a jpeg to post here. Think of it as my Chanukah gift to you. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a date with 91 dreidels and a glue gun.