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.

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

Day 549: At the Last Minute

Not sure who planned the timing on our (amazing, fabulous) weekend away (oh, wait, it might have been me,) but we got back home today at noon, which was about 7 hours before sundown marked the beginning of Sukkot.

No big deal, I thought to myself. I labelled everything so carefully when I took the sukkah apart last year—it should go up in an hour or two.

An hour or two? Ha! It took me around 6, start to finish. I haven’t figured out how it happened, but half of my carefully written-in-Sharpie labels were wiped clean, forcing me to guess which parts belonged where. I guess I’ll have to find something more permanent than Sharpie… maybe engraving with a Dremel?

Around 3:00 I realized that I was not going to have time to make dinner; I informed Mr. December, who went and told K and R that tonight’s dinner was their responsibility.

“Can’t we just order pizza?” They whined.

“Sure, if you’re paying with your own money,” Mr. December countered.

We didn’t order pizza.

K made Alfredo sauce from scratch and boiled an entire (big) package of fettuccine; N braided the challah dough that I’d had the presence of mind to take out of the freezer earlier; R made rice; then K made a “salad” of Multigrain Cheerios, dried cranberries, and almonds… with chocolate “salad dressing.” It wasn’t necessarily what I wanted to eat, but rules is rules, as they say, so I ate what I was given. The Alfredo sauce was very good—just the right amount of pepper and enough garlic to fell a 250-pound vampire.

So… a slightly under-decorated sukkah and a last-minute dinner by two child chefs. Not bad for the first night of Sukkot.

Stick around for a few days—I have so much to tell you. Right now, though, I need sleep desperately. I’m going to sneak upstairs before Mr. December and the kids notice I’m gone.

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

Day 546: A Fast from Screens

Yesterday was a weird Yom Kippur. I wasn’t feeling great, and fasting is more important than attending synagogue, so I took two naps. Yes, two. I got five hours of sleep during the day. At the end of the day I gathered the family and we did the end of the Neilah service, blew the shofar, and did havdalah. It felt magical.

I also went screen-free from Wednesday afternoon until I turned on our synagogue’s livestream yesterday evening around 7:00. I really enjoyed it—I might try going screen-free on Shabbat for a few weeks and see how that feels.

I’m actually very tempted to enforce a screen-free Shabbat policy for the kids, too; Yesterday I had said there would be no screen time for anyone til at least noon… which lead to them asking all morning whether it was noon yet. Their level of screen addiction isn’t surprising, but it doesn’t fill me with delight either. I think they need some time out to rediscover all the things they used to do.

This weekend we’re taking a short road trip and we’re not taking computers (at least, we’re not taking any of the kids’ computers. I might bring mine just for blogging purposes.) It’s going to be great—I love road trips with the kids. It’s the perfect opportunity to make them listen to whatever podcasts or musicals I want them to hear. In all seriousness, though, my kids do road trips really well—they always have, even as toddlers. I don’t even have to bring wrapped toys to surprise them with anymore.

All of this to say that if you don’t see a post from me tomorrow or Sunday, do not panic. Remain calm and go read some of my really old stuff—I was funnier back then.

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

Day 535: I am not ready for this.

Shana Tova! A Happy and Sweet New Year to everyone who is celebrating tonight (and tomorrow, and the day after that.)

This time last year I was up at a cottage, making sugar cookies shaped like shofars and preparing a pretty simple festive meal for the six of us. Tonight I’m hosting our parents and Mr. D’s brother (all fully vaccinated,) and I’ve just put the finishing touches on a lemon cake for dessert. It’s in keeping with my theme for the year: When life gives you lemons, make something sweet out of it, but not lemonade—you can do something more creative than just lemonade with lemons, you know.

Because the Jewish calendar is an oddly modified lunar calendar, the holidays always stay in their respective seasons but move around a fair bit within them. Rosh Hashana is always in the fall, but sometimes it’s as early as September second, or as late as the beginning of October. This year it’s “early” which is a little bit laughable because it’s right on time—the first of Tishrei—but it’s coming right on the heels of summer, and it feels like it’s too soon. I’m not ready.

Take clothes, for example. It’s been so long since it actually mattered what anyone wore, and my kids have been growing like weeds. This means that I haven’t even thought about what they’d wear for the holidays this year. E and R are covered, thanks to the gorgeous dresses that they’ve been handed down from K; K has her dress from her bat mitzvah, which is a wrap dress that fits many sizes, so she’s got something; this leaves N.

N has always been resistant to clothes that aren’t soft and comfy. He does kind of like wearing a tie, but he’s not keen on dress pants. As a result, I haven’t bought him any, instead allowing him to wear a pair of plain black sweatpants for shabbat and other holidays with the family. He used to have button-up shirts that fit him but right now his tuxedo-print t-shirts are probably the fanciest shirts in his closet. I have no idea what he’s going to wear to the small, distanced family service we’re attending tomorrow. I’m chalking this up to COVID: as with so many other things, I’m having to relearn things (like the fact that clothes shopping for the holidays needs to happen in August) from what my kids call “the before times.”

Relearning and unlearning have been front and centre for me this year: a year of change and growth for me personally and for us as a family. I feel honoured that you have chosen to read along with our failures and our triumphs. May we all have a sweet and good year and share many laughs and frustrations together. Shana Tova.

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

Day 422: I’m getting too old for this.

It’s Shavuot, most famously known around here as “the holiday where Eema lets us eat lots of ice cream and cheesecake and we don’t have to go to bed until late.” Officially, of course, it’s the holiday that commemorates our receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai, as well as an agricultural holiday related to the first harvest of the season.

There’s a tradition of staying up all night on Shavuot to learn. In my younger days I actually went all night, and it was really fun. Now I’m old, and by 10:30 tonight my energy was flagging—but the kids were still going strong.

We read some folk stories (Isaac Bashevis Singer’s retelling of stories about Chelm are pretty funny.) We ate cheesecake and make-your-own ice cream sundaes. Then we trooped up to the attic and watched an hour or so of The Frisco Kid, which thought was mostly boring. Mr. December and I were enjoying it too much to care if anyone else was.

The kids were determined to stay up, so Mr. December read to them from a history textbook published in 1840’s United States of America. It’s kind of wild that this history book recounts biblical stories as absolute historical fact, a realization that led to my reading the corresponding stories from the Torah and discussing them with the kids.

That took us to midnight, and now it’s 12:26 and I’m exhausted. We’ve given everyone permission to sleep in tomorrow; the only schooling will be Shavuot- or Jewish-studies-related. And now I’ll go to sleep, because I am way too old to stay up all night learning things.

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

Day 381: Kitchen Turnover

For those who don’t know, on Passover we change over our entire kitchens—dishes, pots, utensils—so that there will be no trace of leavened things, which we’re forbidden to have on Pesach. Most of the people I know call this “turning over the kitchen.”

There’s a particular feeling of accomplishment in having washed, dried, and packed up all of the Passover kitchen stuff within 24 hours of the holiday ending. We don’t use our dishwasher on Pesach, so this is always a monumental task. I did it today and it took about three hours. I felt so proud of myself.

I did have some help: R got up early this morning and started to wash the dishes herself, so I wouldn’t have to do it all (thanks, R!) She came to me when I was still waking up and told me that she’d broken a plate.

“That’s okay,” I said, “these things happen.” Meanwhile, my inner voice cheered, That’s one less dish to wash! Whee!

Anyhow, everything was finally packed away by dinnertime and I was feeling very satisfied. Then after dinner I went to get a tupperware container for leftovers; I opened the drawer and my satisfaction evaporated. There in the drawer were my Passover casseroles and serving dishes that I had entirely forgotten about. I wasn’t done after all.

I closed the drawer quietly, turned away, and tried to pretend I hadn’t seen its contents. I’ll deal with it tomorrow. Sufficient to this day is the kitchen turnover thereof, or something like that.

Image description: two open drawers, one above the other, containing some glass casseroles, a colander, and some jars. Evidence that I’m not done turning over the kitchen yet.

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

Day 374: If a picture says a thousand words…

Look, if it’s true what they say about pictures saying a thousand words, you won’t mind if I just post a bunch of photos from last night’s seder and leave it at that. Right?

Oh, fine. I’ll give you my summary. Then I’ll post a bunch of photos.

Last night’s seder was very satisfying. The food was good, the kids participated, the puzzle clues for the afikoman were mostly fun, and we did the whole thing. They key to seder success (defined as doing both halves instead of petering out after dinner) is to withhold dessert until the very end, it seems.

I had fun making the table look pretty and laying out the food; I took enough photos of the food to create my own catering brochure. I used tiny little plates and bowls to create an individual seder plate for each person, and as we all know, anything in a teeny tiny plate looks fancy.

(In case you’re looking at the individual plates wondering why there’s melted chocolate and a strawberry on each one: Karpas doesn’t actually have to be a green vegetable. Apparently anything over which we say the blessing “borei p’ri ha’adama” (creator of the fruits of the earth) counts. And wouldn’t you know, we say “borei p’ri ha’adama” over strawberries! Of course Karpas has to be dipped, so I added some melted chocolate to fulfil that requirement.)

Today I was tired. I’m still tired. I wanted to take tomorrow as a day off, but we’re building a sample river table with epoxy to see how it holds up to heat and scratching; we want to do the epoxy work outside and tomorrow is supposed to be warm and sunny, so I can’t put it off. I guess I’ll rest later, like maybe in 2023.

Photo descriptions, from top left: a stone serving tray with an array of lemon-filled meringue nests topped with blueberries, and brownies in paper muffin cups; miniature square bowls of chopped liver with a mini fork sticking out of each one; a corner where two runs of countertop meet, with the dessert tray, a casserole dish with marshmallows on top, and small round plates with an assortment of items visible; a large oval table set with a turquoise silk tablecloth, plates with black and gold rims, stemless wine glasses, and three bottles of wine; a close-up of dessert-sized plates with black and gold rims, each with a hard-boiled egg in a tiny square bowl, some melted chocolate on a tiny square plate, a scoop of something brown (charoset) on a tiny square plate, and a strawberry, a sprig of parsley, and three small strips of horseradish.

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

Day 373: Always room for one more… craft.

Today was a whirlwind of preparation as I organized, baked, and cooked for our seder. The kids set the table (I decided to be kind to myself and use disposable plates, so we had these fancy gold and black ones) and when I came to see it, I noticed they hadn’t put down any napkins yet. They didn’t have the patience for fancy folding; I thought napkin rings could be an ideal (and pretty) solution.

The problem was, the only napkin rings we own are a silver colour. I decided we’d make napkin rings out of sparkly paper; I led the kids down to the makery, got out the glitter paper… and noticed some gold wire. Now that would look really special, particularly with some shiny beads.

So we forgot about the paper and started wrapping the gold wire around our play-doh rolling pin to shape it. I found the nicest beads we had in a turquoise colour to complement the tablecloth. After the first five were finished I realized I was out of gold wire. No matter, I finished up the rest with clear elastic strung with gold beads.

They looked great. So did everything else. As much as Mr. December would differ on this point (he’s forever telling me not to add extra touches,) I believe there’s always room for a bit more beauty—even (maybe especially) when it takes more work.

DIY · family fun · Holidays Jewish and holidays not. · Jewy goodness · Kids · what's cookin'

Day 372: Everybody helps

One of my favourite memories of Passover as a child is actually a composite of pretty much every Passover until I left my parents’ house. What I remember most isn’t the seder itself, or the food we made; it’s that everybody was involved in making it together.

Mum and Dad have always hosted at least one seder (and usually both,) and the last couple of days leading up to Passover (as well as the day of Passover itself) were spent in the kitchen, all of us rotating in or out, with Mum and sometimes an Aunty giving instructions. Kids were put to work peeling boiled eggs, making charoset, chopping horseradish for maror, setting the table, and sticking our little thumbs into balls of cookie dough so we could fill the indentations with jam. Dad would usually be busy running to the store for last-minute ingredients or bringing folding tables and chairs up from the basement to accommodate the twenty-or-so people who were invited to the seder.

I want my kids to look back at Passover and feel the same warm fuzzy feeling I do when they think of the preparation. So I give them jobs to do, even when those jobs take them twice as long and leave twice as much mess than if I’d done it myself.

Today K grated apples for charoset and then passed them off to E, who mixed in all the other ingredients before spooning it onto tiny individual appetizer plates. N made a batch of flourless brownies (although I did have to get involved quite a bit at the end.) And Mr. December did his part to keep things moving smoothly by taking apart our kettle.

Yeah, you read that right. Our kettle stopped working two days ago, and Mr. December ordered a set of special screwdrivers so he could take it apart and see if maybe he could fix it. Turns out he couldn’t fix it, but at least the kids got to see how a kettle is made.

Chag Sameach to all my family, friends, and readers. May you have a meaningful seder, and may your matzah never be soggy.

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

Day 370: Pesach Cleaning

I may not be fully into Passover mode yet, but it looks like the kids are. They’ve been asking all week about cleaning the car: “When can we clean the car?” “Can we use the ShopVac?” “Will you help us take out the seats?” Truly, it was music to a mother’s ears.

Today was the day. All four kids went outside armed with vacuums, baby wipes, and giant boxes to hold all the stuff that came out of the car and needs to go into the house. There was enough clothing in there for every one of us to have an extra layer, plus some fleece blankets I keep in the car, plus an assortment of gloves (as expected at the end of winter) and socks (who’s taking their socks off in the car in February?). K got a bit obsessive about getting all the crumbs out of the cracks in the door sills. She took “a break” for a while and never went back out; the seats are still sitting on the driveway, but boy, are those door sills spotless.


I stopped by my parents’ house this evening to check on our sap bucket. There was a respectable 200mL of sweet, golden liquid. We strained it, poured it into a jar, and stowed it in my parents’ fridge. There will be a few more freezing nights next week, so we might get lucky and have enough sap to make a spoonful or two of syrup.


Image description: Two wooden chairs with padded seats: one has a green and pink fabric which is torn on the side; the other has a bright turquoise fabric in pristine condition. Table and other chairs in the background.

Oh, and the exciting stuff: I reupholstered our dining room chairs today! The last time I did it was just after my concussion (two years ago) and the fabric wasn’t particularly well-suited to the task. This time I used a heavier cotton twill that I’ve had lying around for ages. It’s my favourite colour, too.

Here’s my pro tip: sure, most people use a staple gun to attach the fabric to the underside of the seat, but in a pinch (like, say, if you run out of the right size of staples and the long ones stick out of the chair no matter what you do) you can actually use hot glue. That’s what I did two years ago, and although today I started with the staple gun, I moved to hot glue to finish up.

The colour of the new fabric makes me smile every time I see it. I think I should use the scraps to make matching socks for my chairs.