education · family fun · Holidays Jewish and holidays not. · Homeschool · Jewy goodness · Keepin' it real · Kids · lists

Day 341: How is it Wednesday Already?

(Although R, standing behind me and reading over my shoulder, wants to know how it’s not Thursday yet. Obviously we experience time very differently.)

I feel like the week totally got away from me. I was chatting with Mum tonight about how I wanted to send my brother a package for Purim tomorrow “…so even if it takes two days it’ll get there by Friday… wait, what? Tomorrow is Thursday?”

Yesterday and today my lesson plans went mostly unappreciated, although the let’s-find-countries-on-the-world-map exercise was sorely needed. I’d say something like, “Korea. Anybody know where it is? … I guess not. It’s a little peninsula off the south-east corner of China.”

“Where’s China?” said one kid who shall remain nameless.

“Really? Where’s China?” I blinked a few times and schooled my features. “Does anybody know what continent China is on?”


I know that my kids weren’t the most attentive at school, but shouldn’t they know where China is by the time fifth grade rolls around? Do schools not teach geography anymore?

No matter, we’ll cover it eventually.

Purim starts tomorrow night, so I’m working on mishloach manot (although we don’t deliver them until Friday.) I’m also trying to figure out how to make Friday feel fun and festive for the kids. Here are all my brainstorms so far:

  • Gameschooling day
  • Watch funny history videos
  • Mad Libs (they’re fun, and they get to practice parts of speech!)
  • Torah Mad Libs. (Although I don’t see how it could get much weirder than some of the stuff from the middle of Vayikra (Leviticus.)
  • Giant bowling: the kids have to hurl an exercise ball down the length of the attic and knock over life-size silhouettes of the six of us.
  • Dance party
  • More charades. They did beg for more at last week’s party, didn’t they?
  • Karaoke again. It never gets old.
  • Drive around delivering mishloach manot while blasting music with funny lyrics.
  • “Just Like Mom,” Purim edition: each kid has to make a few hamentaschen with stuff we have in the house, then Mr. December and I taste them and guess who made what.

(As an aside, I don’t even really like hamentaschen that much. But E says we must make at least a few, so I guess we will.)

That’s all I’ve got so far. Maybe I’ll give the list to K and let her run with it. She loves making things happen (although planning is another story.)

Oh yes, and an update on my dress: I’ve decided to keep it. I’ll take it in only slightly, after which I’ll put it on and strut around the house with my hands in the pockets for the next several weeks.

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!

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

Day 329: Unappreciated

You know how sometimes you work really hard on something for the kids and their response is kind of “meh”?

Inspired by their interest in Hannukah, I decided to do an activity to gauge where they were on their understanding of Purim (which is around three weeks away.) So I came up with fake text conversations between the various characters, printed them on cards as screen captures, and then handed the kids the cards. “Read them and put them in order,” I said.

They did. They were mostly right, actually. And I did get some of the surprised, “Really? They never taught us that in school!” comments that I really enjoy hearing. But by and large, they were underwhelmed.

So here I am, sharing these with you, because I figure at least some of you will appreciate them. Feel free to print the images and use them in your homeschool or classes or whatever, but if you do that please comment to tell me that you did, and how it went. I’d really enjoy hearing it.

In the meantime, here’s my Purim slideshow of screenshots. Enjoy!

For those with visual impairments or otherwise needing a description:

Slide 1 messages:
Achashverosh: Hey guys, week-long party at my place!
Second King: Yo, last party was off the hook!
Third King: I know, right? The wine just kept flowing!
Second King: If you haven’t been before, you’re in for a treat. Achi’s crib is amazing!

Slide 2 messages:
Achashverosh: Vashti, baby! Come dance for meeeee!
Vashti: You’re drunk, aren’t you?
Achashverosh: Maybe a little. Wear whatever.
Achashverosh: Actually, don’t bother wearing anything! You’ve got a gorgeous body! The other guys will be so jealous!
Vashti: No way. I have some self-respect, you know.
Achashverosh: FINE. Then get the hell out of my kingdom! You’re FIRED!

Slide 3 is a screenshot of an emergency alert that reads:
The King is Queenless. Repeat, QUEENLESS. All marriageable ladies are hereby ordered to report to the palace harem IMMEDIATELY. Bring your bikini for the swimsuit competition.

Slide 4 text messages:
Mordechai: Esti, I just heard two servants plotting to kill the king! You have to tell him!
Esther: OMG!
Esther: OK, just told him. He’s got investigators looking into it.
Esther: He’s having them killed.
Mordechai: PHEW!
Esther: He says thanks, BTW. You’re totally in his good book now.

Slide 5 text messages:
Haman: Zeresh, sweetie! I got promoted! The King chose me as his right hand man!
Zeresh: I’m so proud of you! Now we can buy that villa we’ve always wanted!
Haman: Ugh, this one guy won’t bow to me. Some garbage about how Jews only bow to their god.
Haman: I hate him. Know what? I hate Jews. I wish they were all gone.

Slide 6 text messages:
Haman: Majesty, have you heard of these “Jews”?
Achashverosh: IDK, maybe?
Haman: They don’t obey the law. They won’t bow down to me.
Haman: *you
Haman: Stupid autocorrect.
Haman: I’d like to eliminate them. You cool with that?
Achashverosh: Sure. I’ll text you my authorization codes.

Slide 7 text messages:
Achashverosh: Guys, I can’t sleep.
Night Guards: Want some Melatonin?
Achashverosh: Nah, maybe some light reading.
Guards: we’ll bring you your good book.
Achashverosh: And some hot cocoa. Also cookies.

Slide 8 text messages:
Achashverosh: Hey, what do we do for a man who’s done me a solid?
Haman: Well, your majesty, we could dress me up fancy and parade me through the streets on your best teed while proclaiming my good deeds to all.
Haman: *him and his, not me and my. Autocorrect sucks.
Achashverosh: OK, let’s do that for Mordechai. Turns out he saved my life a while back.
Haman: Yes, sir.

Slide 9 is an emergency alert which reads:
For ALL provinces:
The King has declared that Jews must be destroyed. All those faithful to the king must eliminate the Jews—all men, women, and children—by any means necessary. This order goes into effect on the thirteenth of Adar. (Once you’ve killed them, you can go ahead and take their stuff. You’ve earned it.)

Slide 10 text messages:
Mordechai: Esti! Do something!
Esther: About what?
Mordechai: Didn’t you see the Emergency Alert this morning? The King has ordered all Jews to be killed! You have to stop this!
Esther: OMG I turned it off without reading it. I hate those stupid alerts. I’ll talk to the king.
Mordechai: Thx. KUP.

Slide 11 text messages:
Esther: I’d like to have you both over to my place for dinner. How’s tonight?
Haman: I’ll be there.
Achashverosh: For you, my queen, anything. See you at 8.

Slide 12 text messages:
Esther: No worries, Uncle Mordy! I told the king. You should’ve seen Haman’s face!
Mordechai: What did the king say?
Esther: He’s going to have Haman killed…the same way that Haman had planned to kill YOU!
Mordechai: Ah, the irony. But isn’t there still a decree against us?
Esther: Oh, crap.

Slide 13 emergency alert that reads:
For ALL provinces:
All JEWS are hereby permitted to defend themselves against attacks on Adar 13 by any means necessary, with no legal repercussions. 
They can also legally plunder their attackers’ belongings. 

Slide 14 looks like a news widget with four headlines:
Shushan’s Jews kill 500, including Haman’s sons
Kingdom’s Jews kill many in self-defense, but won’t pillage
Mordechai promoted to high office for service to the kingdom
“They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat”: everything you need to know about the new holiday.

education · Holidays Jewish and holidays not. · Homeschool · Jewy goodness

Day 321: A Real Education

You know, homeschooling is a real education… for the parents.

I know it’s educational for the kids too, but that’s sort of assumed. Tonight I want to tell you about how much I’ve been learning as I teach learn alongside my kids.

Today we started our study of New Brunswick with the Bay of Fundy and its tides. This meant learning about tides and how they’re affected by the moon (and to a lesser extent, the sun.) Before this morning I could not have told you anything except that the moon’s gravity had some kind of effect on the oceans. Now I can tell you about spring tides and neap tides, and even why the Bay of Fundy’s tides are so pronounced (the answer to that one is resonance. Go look it up.)

While reviewing parts of the haggadah text, I was asked a very perceptive question about a pronoun that is used by both the wise son and the wicked (or contrary) son; only the contrary son gets castigated for it. This led me down a rabbit hole that ended with explanations of minor differences in manuscripts of the Torah dating back to the fourth or fifth century CE.

Then, just for fun, I looked up how to speak in a Yorkshire accent. I’m trying to make literature read-alouds more entertaining by doing different voices and accents for each character, and The Secret Garden has a few characters who speak in broad Yorkshire. Now my Martha and Dickon will sound a bit more authentic.

The above three examples were just from today. Nearly every homeschool day is like this. I’ve learned about gorillas, the origins of words spelled with gh, how to draw any regular polygon accurately, how igneous rock forms, why Bernini’s sculpture David is so different from Michelangelo’s…

And so it goes. Everything I want the kids to learn, I have to learn as well. And as Mr. December observed one evening, “Now I can see the gaps in my education.” I guess nobody can know everything (anymore) but knowing me and Mr. December, we’ll probably die trying.

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

Day 274: Eight Greasy Nights

Tonight is the last night of Hannukah. Tomorrow is the last day, and then it’s over for another year. We don’t do presents, but we do have eight nights of fried food. This year we had schnitzel, latkes, sufganiyot (jelly donuts), funnel cakes, vegetable pakoras and onion bhaji, and more sufganiyot. What can I say? We love our donuts.

Here’s a link to the recipe we used this year. They were amazing. Pro tip: you can refrigerate the dough overnight in an oiled ziploc bag, and it’ll be easier to roll and cut out. Then let them rise someplace warm for about 20 minutes before you fry them.

Soon it’ll be time to take down the decorations and get on with life. K’s bat mitzvah is in just under four weeks. COVID cases are still going up in Toronto and there’s talk of possibly extending the lockdown. At this point, we might just have to borrow a Torah from our shul and broadcast her reading from home on a Monday or Thursday morning.

I’ve been trying to plan things that will make it a special Shabbat for her anyhow, even if it’s just the six of us. But I can’t write about it here: she reads this blog from time to time. But I promise that when it happens, you’ll get all the pics and videos that K will allow me to post.

family fun · Holidays Jewish and holidays not. · Jewy goodness · Just the two of us · Kids · parenting · waxing philosophical

Day 272: 41-derful

Happy Birthday to me! As of today, the world has enjoyed my presence for 41 years.

I think we’ve done ourselves a disservice by glorifying youth. I really do. I don’t particularly want to be 25 again. University was fun, those early years of marriage were too, but I think I’m a better person for the last 16 years of life experience. Why would I want to give that up?

People keep asking me if I’m doing anything special today. My answer is one of two, either: “You know, these days it’s all special;” or, “Like what? We’re in lockdown. It’s not like I can do anything I’m not already doing.”

A few fun little things stand out, though:

  • This morning when the kids asked if they could have popsicles for breakfast I paused, about to say no, and then instead announced, “Heck, it’s my birthday. Popsicles for everyone!”
  • Tonight was Funnel Cake Night in our house.
  • I got to pick what we were ordering for dinner (Indian food.)
  • Our Language Arts lesson was a game of Scrabble, and literature is watching Gulliver’s Travels tonight after dinner.
  • I took time out in the afternoon to go for a walk and have some alone time with Mr. December (yes, I sold my kids’ souls to Disney for that hour. I regret nothing!)
  • My parents came over to light Hannukah candles and eat funnel cakes with us.

And the less fun thing (although my inner mama bear finds it deeply fulfilling) was taking care of N today while he recovered from his tonsillectomy. I showed him the lego pain scale so we could keep tabs on whether he had adequate pain control. There’s nothing sadder than a kid begging for Advil an hour before he’s allowed another dose (and yes, we’re staggering Advil and Tylenol so he’s got constant coverage.) So I spent some extra time snuggling and hugging him. I’m not happy he’s feeling awful, but I do enjoy the snuggles.

And that’s it… my birthday is over almost as soon as it began. Maybe I’ll just do as the rabbis did and declare that outside of Israel, birthdays are a two-day celebration.

Yes, that will do nicely. Popsicle breakfast for everyone!

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

Day 269: Warm Fuzzy Feelings

Mr. December and I don’t give the kids presents at Chanukah. I usually try to do one small surprise or trinket per night: a dreidel and some chocolate coins, a mini craft kit, stickers and stamps, that sort of thing. Of course, the grandparents seize the opportunity to give the kids gifts. So do their Aunties.

(Just as I was raised calling my parents’ cousins and close friends Auntie and Uncle, my kids are growing up with Aunties and Uncles who are our close friends or cousins.)

“Hey guys,” I told the kids over breakfast, “Auntie S is coming to drop off some presents for you at 10:00.”

R raised an eyebrow and asked, “Is she giving us pyjamas like last year and the year before that?”

“Is that a bad thing?” I wanted to know.

It was not a bad thing. Said Auntie arrived at the door and gave us the gifts. The kids ripped the packages open and squealed in delight, then ran off to try on their new fuzzy footed jammies. They came out to the porch to show their Auntie that her gifts fit perfectly.

But the warm fuzzies didn’t stop there, because Auntie T dropped off gifts too: hand-knitted scarves, one in each child’s favourite colour. It was sweet to see how excited they got. K carefully saved the sticker and card that proclaimed, “This gift was handmade especially for you by Auntie!”

So tonight, as the kids are all snuggled in their beds wearing footie pyjamas, and their new scarves hang on their respective hooks in the mudroom, I’m feeling all warm and fuzzy too—because my kids are growing up surrounded by so many trusted adults who love them.

Chag Sameach! Happy Chanukah!

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

Day 268: Donut be jealous…

We made sufganiyot (jelly filled doughnuts) from scratch today. Every year I forget how long they take to make, but they’re definitely worth it. They were so delicious I forgot to take pictures of them… so instead, I’ll leave you with this picture of my attempt at Chanukah themed challahs. Can you tell what they’re supposed to be?

Shabbat Shalom and happy Chanukah!

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.

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

Day 257: All Astonishment

I’ve changed my approach to scheduling our week: instead of doing a little bit of everything each day, I’m doing lessons in large blocks of time. Today’s major block was literature and language arts. Our start was delayed by Mr. December’s very drawn-out physics lesson (but really, how can I complain about that?) so we didn’t really get started until after lunch.

Instead of K going off on her own to do her work on a computer, I kept her in the living room with the rest of us and insisted that she handwrite her work today. She did a pretty good job, and I heard not a single complaint about people talking (one of her pet peeves, and often a precursor to a meltdown.) While R and N worked on their passage I invited E to fill in the blanks in the first sentence; after some mild resistance she checked the spelling on the page and then gave me the appropriate movable alphabet letters to add the missing words. In the end it looked like this:

The opening line of The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich.

We all reconvened to discuss the linguistic and literary element of the book’s introduction. The kids found the non-English words in the first paragraph and were highly amused to hear James D. Nicoll’s assertion that “English doesn’t borrow from other languages. English follows other languages down dark alleys, knocks them over and goes through their pockets for loose vocabulary.” They pulled out all the adjectives, and then had to brainstorm adjectives for each letter of the alphabet (I gave them “xenophobic” for X and they came up with the rest.)

Through all of this, E played with her Lego and listened with one ear; K alternately participated in N and R’s lesson and worked on her own literature passage. Nobody screamed. Everyone was fine. It was so refreshing.

After a short break, I brought out our Hannuka Chanukah חנוכה box and asked them to tell me what they know about the story of the holiday. K volunteered a fairly complete, if simplified, version. I asked them what they knew about what was happening in the world at the time: they responded with blank stares. So I read them a chapter about the historical context of Chanukah, pausing to reword or explain as needed. By the end they were, as Jane Austen might have said, all astonishment.

“How come they never taught us that stuff in school?” K demanded indignantly. “That’s way more interesting than the usual story!”

Wide eyed, R asked, “You mean there were Jews who wanted the Jewish laws abolished too? That’s crazy! I thought the Maccabees were only fighting the Syrian Greeks!”

N had many things to say on the subject, but (as so often happens) he rambled so much that I lost his point.

To end the lesson I asked the kids to help me put Chanuka on our history timeline. E decorated it with a shiny Menorah sticker and I wrote the caption—although I probably should have had the kids do it. Sometimes I get a bit too excited about this stuff and just do it myself.

After that the kids ransacked the Hannukah box for decorations and went to put up all the window clings they could find. Of course, there are never enough decorations, so we wound up in the Makery creating more. I put on our favourite album of Chanuka music and everyone did their own thing. I made a dreidel garland, K and N made window clings out of hot glue, and R folded teeny-tiny origami dreidels. E worked in mixed media and finished this sign:

That was the end of our school day, although I did read them another chapter and a half of The Birchbark House for literature. I went back to the Makery after dinner and started painting my drawing from last week’s art class (I’ll show you when it’s done.)

It was a good day, a full day, and a lot of learning happened. I’m really looking forward to tomorrow, when I’ll introduce them to this month’s writing project and teach them about Michelangelo before we attempt to paint on plaster.