family fun · Holidays Jewish and holidays not. · Homeschool · Jewy goodness · Kids · Travelogue · Worldschooling

Day 791: Museum Guy

“We’re going to the museum this afternoon,” I announced yesterday at breakfast.

The reaction was immediate:
“Museums are boring!”
“I hate museums!”
And then: “I’m not going.”

“We’re all going.” I said firmly. “This is a homeschool field trip, thus it’s not optional.”

I was ready for resistance, and I arranged to have a secret weapon this time: The Museum Guy. He’s an educator with a passion for getting people excited about museums, history, and archaeology. I found him through a website called Fun in Jerusalem (they were advertising one of his group tours, which was only for teens and adults) and contacted him about a private tour for our family.

I was nervous about the tour: what if his skill as a guide and teacher and storyteller was grossly exaggerated? What if the kids were still bored?

But the moment he arrived, Nachliel won over the kids by pulling a rubber ducky (a Roman centurion rubber ducky, to be precise) from his bag (when he heard about K’s ducky obsession he pulled out two more.) Then he endeared himself to me and Mr. December by opening with a line from Monty Python: “Apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?”

Nachliel spent over two hours engaging with the kids, explaining Lag B’omer (which was today) and Shavuot (which is in two weeks or so) and dozens of other things, some of which I didn’t know. He covered the Bar Kochba revolt, setting the kids up nicely for when they go to see Masada (not sure when, but we’re planning on it.) By the end the kids were flagging a little, from the sheer amount of information and all the standing (I think) but they had a fantastic time.

N, whose highest praise up until now has been, “It was almost fun,” told me that “The museum trip was GREAT!” (said with a big smile and wide eyes.)

All of the kids loved Nachliel. And when I asked them if we should book him again for a different museum, the response was a unanimous, “YES!”

“But,” E told me, “ask him to bring more duckies next time.”

I think that’s a ducking good idea. Don’t you?

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

Day 758: Brings Back Memories

Our seders were wonderful. With both my brothers there for the first time in years, we fell back onto some familiar roles and recreated some childhood memories. I’ve learned a few things from the last two nights:

  1. Our kids didn’t seem to fully understand that the search for the afikoman can begin as soon as it’s been broken and wrapped; one of them also made the mistake, having found the afikoman, of just putting it on the table next to her plate and then being shocked that it wasn’t there anymore (because I stole it back.) Why do they know so little of afikoman subterfuge?
  2. Next time we want a picture of my parents and all their descendants, we should take it before we start the seder so that everybody is wearing their holiday clothes and nobody is wearing pyjamas, teary-eyed, or so tired that they can only be silly.
  3. Years of living in three different cities can fall away in mere minutes when my brothers and I are singing “Echad Mi Yodea” together.
  4. It’s way more fun to sing Hallel when there’s harmony involved.
  5. No matter how prepared we think everyone is with Yontif clothes, someone will have a fashion crisis that will cause us to be late to the seder… even though people will only see you from the chest up for the entire four hours.

But what really brings back memories is the way I slept in until noon today. I haven’t done that since before children. Those were the days…

Holidays Jewish and holidays not. · Jewy goodness · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 755: Kosher

(Sung to the tune of “I’m Ready” by Bryan Adams)

I’ve got a burning in my lower back
My freezer’s so empty it’s obscene
There’s sticky plastic film on my countertops
I’ve set the oven to “self clean”

‘Cuz we’re cleaning… for Pesach…
Been working
since wake-up
Kitchen’s kosher… for Pesach…
The chametz
Is taped up
It’s kosher as it’s gonna be…

I scratched the rice pot with a pair of tongs
When I was dipping it today
We’re not sure where every dish belongs
But I can really, truly say…

That we’re ready… for Pesach…
This is not just
Spring cleanup
Kitchen’s kosher… for Pesach…
We switched over
Every plate and cup
And it’s kosher as it’s gonna be…

Chag pesach kasher v’sameach—A happy and kosher Passover!

Picture of my kitchen after passover cleaning. Countertops are shiny because of the clear shelf paper they're covered with.
Holidays Jewish and holidays not. · Jewy goodness · what's cookin'

Day 753: “So… what do you eat?”

I got a couple of comments on yesterday’s post that I figured were worth responding to, not just because they deserved answers but because they saved me from having to think of something to post tonight (thanks, you guys!)

One commenter asked:

So, if you get rid of all the wheat and oat products and can’t eat legumes, corn or rice, what do you eat? Meat? That seems to be most of the carbs available to us.

And I was about to answer when another commenter did it for me:

“Potatoes? (Not Jewish, so I don’t know, but I grew up in a place where dinner was often of the “meat, potatoes, and two veg” variety. I didn’t try pasta until well into my teens, which seems absurd now, and dinners with rice were an exotic treat.)”

Yes, potatoes. And meat. And more potatoes. Matzah, of course, and… potatoes. Eggs. Salad. Potatoes. You see where this is going, right? It’s actually starting to sound like a Yiddish folksong:

Thursday and Friday, potatoes.
But on Shabbes something special—a potato kugel!
Then Sunday—and so on—potatoes.

(Yes, those are the lyrics. Yes, the whole song is about potatoes. No, I did not just make that up.)

There’s a joke that makes the rounds every Passover:

“This Passover, as we sit down to our festive meals, let us remember that there are people who have nothing to eat on this holiday. We call these people Ashkenazim.”

As Homer Simpson once said, “It’s funny ’cause it’s true!”

When I was growing up (just as now,) my parents usually hosted both Seder nights, at which there was a lot of food; we mostly ate leftovers from the seder for the rest of the week. Don’t pity me, these were the good kind of leftovers: turkey, sweet potato pie, potato kugel, brisket, chicken, matzo stuffing, chicken soup with matzo balls… and the desserts. Mmmm.

Since I don’t live with my parents anymore, what will we be eating for most of Passover? We do eat kitniyot, so rice and legumes are in—this makes a massive difference. Breakfast is either Matzo with something on it (salted butter on matzo is one of life’s simple pleasures) or matzo brei—kind of French toast made with broken-up matzo instead of bread. Lunch will likely be matzo pizza or bunless hot dogs with a side of matzo. Dinners don’t have to change much: some kind of meat along with some variation on potatoes, salad, vegetables. We’ll have yogurt, fruit, and nuts for snacks, not to mention chocolate. Fear not, we’ll be well-fed. It is a festival, after all.

Holidays Jewish and holidays not. · Jewy goodness · Keepin' it real

Day 752: Annual Reminder

To answer a question from my commenter Rose (love your comments, by the way,) the Passover restrictions are that you can’t have any chametz—grains mixed with water that could ferment—in your home; you also can’t eat chametz or derive benefit from it. In a practical sense, this means purging the house of processed foods that may have chametz in them. What does this look like? In our house, we’ll be getting rid of all the flour, pasta, rolled oats, bread, cookies, cereal, crackers, croutons, bread crumbs and panko.

Then there’s the sticky question of kitniyot—the legumes, corn, and rice that Ashkenazi Jews customarily avoid on Passover (you can read more about that custom and the controversy surrounding it here.) Even for people who don’t eat kitniyot on Passover, there’s no prohibition on having them in the house, feeding it to your pets, and so on. So even though the debate over whether we eat kitniyot in our home (these days we generally do) and which ones we’re comfortable eating (I still can’t wrap my head around a big bowl of rice on Pesach,) they’re not really a factor in terms of cleaning and getting rid of things.

Some people will insist that you need to vacuum the couch for crumbs and shake out every book on your shelves to make sure you’re not unwittingly harbouring chametz. However, if you ask any rabbi, they’ll tell you that it has to be a fairly large crumb in order to count. A rabbi friend who later moved to New Zealand made me extremely happy one year when he pointed out that if it’s smaller than a single Cheerio, it’s most definitely not chametz; other rabbis use the Talmudic measure of a kezayit (the size of an olive) as a rough guideline. And while we’re on the subject, there’s apparently also no obligation to move the stove or fridge to check for chametz.

That’s right, all you mothers and grandmothers who insist that Pesach requires a complete top-to-bottom spring cleaning: the jig is up. We now know better. I’ll be removing the chametz from my house, and that’s all (well, that and changing over all the dishes and utensils.)

Then again, I’m not above citing tradition to get my kids to help me with Pesach by cleaning the car… and their rooms… and…

Holidays Jewish and holidays not. · Keepin' it real · what's cookin'

Day 751: Sharing Isn’t Caring

If you’re my friend on FaceBook, chances are you saw a post I shared yesterday, something heartwarming about a mom with little kids who couldn’t afford a hotel room at the airport—

You know what, the content of the post doesn’t matter. What matters is that I didn’t share it—at least not intentionally. I don’t share those kinds of things for a few reasons: the story might be completely false; worse, the story might be true but is missing some crucial context that completely changes the tenor of the event; it’s virtue signalling at its finest, etc…

That post was so out-of-character for me that it made some of my close friends wonder whether I’d been hacked. Mr. December asked why I’d posted it. I couldn’t fault him for asking, because I had a similar question: instead of why, how?

My best guess is that my butt did it.

You know, like a butt dial.

(whispered conference with nearby kid who thinks the word “butt” is hilarious)

Okay, apparently it’s actually called a pocket dial, not a butt dial. Either way, it’s one of those times when sharing isn’t caring.

Passover is in five days. We haven’t started cleaning or turning over the kitchen yet, and there’s lots of chametz that needs to be eaten. K just asked if we can keep the rice cooker out, since rice is kitniyot (and we eat kitniyot on Pesach.) I was going to get some more haggadot and I haven’t. Why is it so hard to get into the pesach mood this year?

crafty · DIY · Holidays Jewish and holidays not. · Jewy goodness

Day 738: Mo(u)ld?

Now that we’re home, my thoughts have turned to passover prep. Remember how I made a seder plate with the kids before our first COVID passover? Well, it broke last year, so we’re back to square one.

I went to K and suggested that she could work on a seder plate as an art project. She loved the idea of an epoxy seder plate but she rejected my existing mold out of hand because a) it’s plastic, not silicone, and b) it’s not deep enough.

So we searched online to see if there was a silicone seder plate mold. There was… for $150. Call me cheap, but I’m not paying that kind of money for a mould. I’m just not.

So I did what I do best: I started brainstorming and googling. I landed on a page that explained how to make your own silicone moulds for epoxy, using 100% silicone from the hardware store and dish soap (to use as a catalytic bath.) After another half-hour of googling for ready-made moulds, K finally conceded that we’d have to make our own; so off we went to my happy place (Lowe’s.)

We tried it out as soon as we got home. The kids were pretty into kneading the silicone in the catalytic bath, and they each chose a small toy (or three) to cast their moulds around. I attempted a section of the seder plate mould. We left everything to cure, which the tutorial told us would take an hour.

It is now five hours later, and the silicone is still a bit sticky. I (carefully) separated it from the plastic mould to see how it was doing: the silicone had definitely set, and all the little carved embellishments were there, but the side that had been in contact with the mould was still pretty wet. It also smelled like ammonia.

I have no idea whether the silicone will dry or cure any further, but I’ve got nothing to lose by leaving it overnight and seeing what tomorrow brings. If we’re lucky, the silicone moulds will pass muster and we can start casting a beautiful seder plate.

Holidays Jewish and holidays not. · Jewy goodness · what's cookin' · Worldschooling

Day 726: Purim in Mexico

Remember how we celebrated Hannukah in Costa Rica, and my kids told me they didn’t want to be away from home for any more Jewish holidays? When Mr. December found this worldschool summit and pushed for us to go, I was kind of bummed that we’d end up missing Purim at home. So were the kids.

So I did my research and found that there’s a Chabad in San Miguel de Allende, a mere hour and a half from Guanajuato, and they were hosting a big “everyone’s welcome” Purim party. I thought maybe we could go to that one, but as it turned out, I wasn’t inclined to make all the transportation arrangements it would entail.

Instead, we decided to host our own Purim party. We invited another Jewish worldschooling family to join us.

E helped me do a grocery shop for everything we’d need: ingredients for hamentaschen, party food, treats for mishloach manot, and a few decorations. The next few hours were spent making hamentaschen in an under-equipped kitchen (we used a pot as our mixing bowl, our hands to mix and combine, teacups for cup measurements, and a drinking glass as our cookie cutter. I’m pleased to say that I thought ahead and bought a small baking pan and a rolling pin at the supermarket.

We used this recipe to make Nutella hamentaschen with sprinkle dough and raspberry hamentaschen with lime-infused dough. They were so good, I forgot to take a picture of them until just now. That’s why the finished product looks less than fabulous—those two were the ugly ones I didn’t serve at our party. They still tasted fabulous, though.

Mr. December was the hero of the evening when he managed to open a corked bottle of wine without a corkscrew. It’s true what the engineers say: if brute force isn’t working, you’re not using enough.

We set the kids up with piles of little treats and sandwich bags, with instructions to make mishloach manot and then give them to each other. They did—and then traded back, because of course each child made a bag designed for themself.

We got dinner from the falafel place across the road and enjoyed some lively conversation over dinner and wine.

It wasn’t our usual costumes-and-delivering-30-mishloach-manot-and-going-to-the-megillah-reading Purim, but it was fun.

Costa Rica · DIY · family fun · hackin' it · Holidays Jewish and holidays not. · Jewy goodness · Keepin' it real · Kids · Travelogue · what's cookin'

Day 620: Hannukah Hacks

It’s no secret that I really miss our Chanuka box. That little baby has everything in it: story books, candles, dreidels, menorahs, extra chocolate gelt, and a candy thermometer for perfect deep-frying. Here in Costa Rica we have… none of that. Put it all on the list of stuff I didn’t bring.

So how exactly are we celebrating Chanuka this year? Read on…

Candles and Menorah

Back home, I decided that we’d be able to do an oil menorah by boring some holes in a potato, filling them with oil, and using pieces of string as wicks. Then I got to the supermarket here and saw a pack of birthday candles with a bonus: those little plastic candleholders you stick into the birthday cake. My plan shifted, and we decided to stick the holders into a plantain to make our chanukiyah. It worked beautifully except for one minor detail: the plastic candleholders melted. From now on we’re just sticking the candles directly into the plantain.

A plantain (looks like a large bruised yellow banana) lying on its side on a dark granite countertop. There are nine plastic candleholders stuck into it in a line; the holder farthest to the right has a birthday candle in it.

A Dreidel

If you want to try this one, you will need:
A roll of blue painters’ tape
A pole-dancing pole
Children who enjoy the sensation of spinning
Something small to use as gambling currency (we used mini cookies)

It’s simple, really: using the blue painters’ tape I made the four Hebrew letters on the floor tiles surrounding the pole. We divided up the cookies equally, then took turns spinning R or E on the pole. The kid on the pole stuck out one leg, and whatever letter that leg pointed to when the spinning stopped was the result.

Chanuka Food

This one was easy. Potatoes and onions are cheap and easy to come by (which is probably why potato pancakes became the chanuka food of Ashkenazim in the first place.) I substituted panko crumbs for matzoh meal, and voilá! Tastes just like home.

We made sufganiyot too, which was easy given that the recipe uses basic baking ingredients. It was even easier than at home, actually: I found jam in a squeeze pouch with a nozzle, eliminating the messy work of getting jelly into my giant syringe for injection into the donuts. We need jam packaging like that at home!

Matches or a Lighter

If you don’t have matches or a lighter, you can roll up a piece of paper and stick it into the flames of a gas stove or barbecue. No gas appliances? Well, then you’re out of luck. That was us tonight: we had our candles all lined up and then realized we had no way to light them (this is the first place we’ve stayed that didn’t have matches in a drawer somewhere.) Sadly, we couldn’t light our candles tonight—but we still sang the blessings, omitting the one specific to the actual lighting.

After all that, my kids have still asked that we not travel over any more Jewish holidays… unless it’s to Israel. I can’t say I blame them.

Holidays Jewish and holidays not. · Jewy goodness · Keepin' it real · parenting

Day 558: Shul is Sweet

Today was Simchat Torah. I decided last week that we would cancel school for the day and go to synagogue in the morning. In other words, the kids knew, although apparently the warning wasn’t enough to ward off the whining.

“I don’t wanna go. Why do I have to?”

“Can I take a book?”

“Do I really have to go?”

Sometimes I wonder: do they really have to go? What are they getting out of it if they bring a book from home and read it while sitting and standing as required?

My best guess—and hope—is that they’re getting exposure. They’re feeling comfortable in the space; they’re hearing the words and traditional melodies of the prayers; they’re vaguely aware of the structure of the service. In other words, they’re getting comfortable with being in synagogue.

Today, in addition to getting comfortable in shul, they also got candy. So much candy.

I responded to the whining with, “You know, I’m so excited that this dress has pockets. Now I can hold Skittles in it to snack on at shul!”

They ran for their shoes.

I felt guilty for bribing them with sweets for about one minute before reminding myself that there’s a long Jewish tradition of this very thing: putting honey on a child’s first Hebrew book is the one that gets a lot of press, but also the occasional elderly congregant who kept candy on them just to give to kids at shul (“Don’t take candy from strangers,” I tell my kids, “unless they’re familiar people from shul and I’m there with you.”)

So there I was, standing for the prayers and dancing with the Torah with one or more children digging through my pockets for stray Skittles. At the end of the service—surprise!—someone handed out full-sized Dairy Milk bars, saying something about it being a South African tradition to give out chocolate to celebrate a Bar or Bat Mitzvah (one of the Torah readers today was a woman—South African, of course—celebrating the sixtieth anniversary of her Bat Mitzvah.) The kids went home happy.

On the walk home we ran into a friend who said, “Come to the dinosaur park at 2:30. There’s going to be a magic show and a parade with the Torah.” Three out of four of my kids are too old and too cool for that sort of thing, but E was enthusiastic; so we went.

There were two magic shows, as a matter of fact: the first one at the dinosaur park, followed by a Torah parade and candy for the children (E got a ring pop, which is her favourite,) and then a walk together all the way to a second park where a different magician gave a show, followed by a Torah parade and—yup, you guessed it—candy for the children. This time it was a treat bag containing chips, lollipops, and some kind of fruit leather.

To E’s credit, she didn’t rub it in her siblings’ faces when we got home with her bag of loot. She did say, “You guys missed a great show and I got a whole bag of candy!”. Then she proceeded to share everything in her bag.

As usual, I’m conflicted about all this candy. On the one hand the kids (and E in particular) have a positive (dare I say “sweet”?) association with shul; on the other hand, nobody needs this much candy… I’d better get Mr. December help me dispose of the rest, right? It’s for their own good, after all.