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.

diet recovery · Jewy goodness · parenting

Day 544: Yom Kippur

I’ve been reading Honey From the Rock, which is essentially an introduction to Jewish Mysticism, ever since my screen-free Rosh Hashana ten days ago. The very first section touched on my absolute favourite biblical analogy: the wilderness after the Exodus from slavery.

The story goes like this: after being freed from bondage in Egypt, the Children of Israel wandered the desert. They complained a lot. A LOT. They wanted to return to Egypt, where they had meat and onions to eat instead of manna all the time (they seem to have had a pretty short memory when it came to the brutally hard labour and the killing of their babies.) They were pretty insecure when it came to God, too—and as soon as Moses was absent for a bit longer than expected, they went back to the idolatry they’d become familiar with in Egypt. They couldn’t conceive of a God with no physical representation. As a consequence, nobody who had been alive during the Exodus was allowed to enter the Promised Land. They were all fated to die in the desert.

This resonates with me on so many levels. I feel like I’m in a wilderness of sorts these days, having escaped from the oppression of diet culture. Like the Israelites, I’m not really sure what to do now. I’m so confused about what to eat, when to eat, how to eat, how to live without constantly thinking about my weight and appearance. I don’t know what a life outside of diet culture looks or feels like. I often feel like it would be easier and simpler to return to diet culture, where at least I know what I’m supposed to be doing.

It might actually be easier for me to just go back to the endless cycle of dieting; it’s scary out here in the wilderness, where anything can happen. It’s wide open and full of possibility, but let’s face it—not all possibilities are good ones. More importantly, I don’t want my children to grow up surrounded on all sides by diet culture. I might die (not now, eventually) still wandering this wilderness without a clue, but my children will have a chance at a life that I can’t even imagine, where their bodies are valued for how they feel and what they can do instead of for how small they can become. To paraphrase Max Planck, body acceptance will progress one funeral at a time.

Going into the Yom Kippur fast tonight, I’ll be reflecting on how I intend to strengthen my resolve, stay the course, and explore this wilderness in which I find myself.

To everyone who is observing Yom Kippur (in whatever way you observe: not everyone can or should fast) I wish a Gmar Chatimah Tovah—may we all be written and sealed in the Book of Life this year.

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.

Jewy goodness · Keepin' it real · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 511: Eshet Chayil

On Friday night, before the Shabbat meal begins, a husband and his children will traditionally sing a psalm about the qualities of an Eshet Chayil, a woman of valour.

It’s not something we do in our home, although we have done sometimes; still, it’s a lovely sentiment. Even millennia ago it was recognized that women do a heck of a lot of things for their families. But some of it didn’t ring true, and in a kiddush-wine-induced burst of creativity, I decided to make it a bit more applicable to my life. I hope you enjoy it as much as my kids did.

A woman of valour who can find? For her price is far above the combined salaries of academic advisor, party planner, therapist, tutor, chef, personal secretary, medic, and chauffeur.
The heart of her husband safely trusts in her, And he has no lack of back scratches.
She does him good and not evil all the days of her life, unless he’s acting like a complete jerk, in which case she might swipe his favourite bathrobe for a day or two.
She seeks Mod Podge and Sculpey, And works willingly with her hands.
She is like the merchant­ ships; She brings goods from afar, though she is trying to buy more local products.
She rises also while it is yet night, And goes about turning off all the lights and jiggling the handle on the toilet that runs.
She considers a field, and remembers that the kids need running shoes; With the fruit of her hands she plants a tomato plant—a little later than she should have, but that’s okay because climate change has extended the growing season.
She girds her loins with spandex, And makes strong her arms with push-ups and planks.
She perceives that her IKEA hack is good; Her lamp goes not out by night because she needs to know how the novel ends.
She lays her hands to the keyboard, And her hands hold the mouse.
She stretches out her hand to the poor; Yea, she leaves coins in her car for the desperate who walk around the neighbourhood at night trying car doors to see if they are unlocked.
She is not afraid of the snow for her household; For snow removal is now the children’s job.
She makes for herself quilts; Her clothing is adorned with pockets.
Her husband is known in the gaming world, When he sits among the Wizards of the Coast.
She makes toddler backpacks and sells them; And delivers a good talking-to when her children need it.
Honesty and kindness are her clothing; And she laughs at dad jokes.
She opens her mouth with wisdom; And “Stop licking your brother!” is on her tongue.
She looks well to the ways of her household, And eats not the bread—because that is the only thing her son will eat.
Her children rise up, and let her sleep in; Her husband also, and he makes her coffee:
’Many daughters have done valiantly, But you really knocked it out of the park with your challah this week.’
Grace is deceitful, and beauty is vain; But a woman that doesn’t buy into oppressive standards of beauty, she is to be happy.
Give her of the fruit of her hands; And let her children praise her when they themselves become parents.

A translation of the original text can be found here.

DIY · education · family fun · Homeschool · Jewy goodness · The COVID files · Worldschooling

Day 484: Curriculum Decision

After lots of research into ready-made curricula, I’ve made my decision:

I’m going to create a curriculum myself.

It’s not that there aren’t lots of fabulous-looking curricula out there; there are, in as many different flavours as there are approaches to education. More, even.

But Mr. December and I have been working on our travel plans (for when we can realistically travel again,) and it looks like our most likely option would be Central and South America, since Costa Rica is open with no restrictions and Ecuador has no restrictions for those who are fully vaccinated (children too young to be vaccinated take on the status of their parents, so we’re good to go.) And as long as we’re there, might as well check out the Galapagos. You know, before climate change and tourism muck the whole thing up and there’s nothing to see.

With that decided, all of the homeschooling pieces have fallen into place. Of course we should learn about the geography and history of the places we’ll be travelling. Olmecs, Aztecs, Mayans, Incas. And then when we get to the Conquistadors and start talking about the monarchy that financed them, we’ll naturally be talking about the Spanish Inquisition (nobody expects it, but there it is) and the expulsion of the Jews from Spain. From there, we can talk about the Sephardi Jews: customs, music, food, and language (let’s learn some Ladino!)

I’ve gotten really into the planning; I have the mind map to prove it. I divided it into curriculum areas—Language, Food, Geography, History, Music, Art, Math and Science—and jotted down everything I could think of to learn about them. There’s even a separate section for the Galapagos, highlighted in blue.

I’ve compiled a long playlist of Crash Course History videos and the like to introduce various topics. Our public library gives us free access to Mango Languages, which we’ll use for learning Spanish and maybe Ladino (if they have it.)

So that’s it: I’m dumping the premade curricula and going with Mesoamerican and South American studies. This is going to be so much fun!

crafty · education · goodbye clutter! · Homeschool · Jewy goodness

Day 479: Shelving the Reshelving

I tried to reshelve the library books this afternoon. I really tried. It was okay at first: I took books off the floor and put them on the correct shelves. Then I ran out of space on the correct shelves and had to improvise temporary homes for them, cursing under my breath all the while. Finally, the floor was clear and I stepped back to examine my progress… and realized that there are an awful lot of shelves that contained a hodgepodge of books from all over the house. Damn. I thought I was done.

I shelved the project, if you’ll forgive the pun. It looks like I’m going to have to do a lot more rearranging than I thought, and I just couldn’t wrap my brain around it today. Instead, E and I went outside and painted some rocks.

There’s something very soothing about a nicely shaped rock; and for those of us so inclined, painting said rock is pretty soothing as well. It could be the smoothness of the craft paint, or the purity of the colours themselves, or the repetitive motion of stroking the brush against the stone. Whatever the reason, I find painting rocks to be a relaxing pastime. After almost an hour of painting, I was ready to get to work on report cards, which I’ve yet to finish.

I think I’ve chosen a curriculum for E for the coming year. The literature section focuses on fairy tales and folk tales, which I think could be a fascinating area of study for the older kids as well—PhD theses have been written on the topic, so surely there’s something of value to be learned there. Maybe I’ll have them research the historical roots of fairy tales, read the originals (Perrault, Grimm, Andersen,) and write about what they’ve learned.

I’m a bit stuck on how to teach Jewish History. Right now my only inclination is to not teach it the way I was taught (a combination of very dry textbooks and horrifyingly vivid Holocaust stories.) My kids don’t generally respond well to books designed for schools, what with the banal and “obvious” discussion questions, which means I’ll probably need to find original sources to read with them, which means… back to the library.

Jewy goodness · Keepin' it real · waxing philosophical

Day 459: This Week’s Rabbit Hole Is…

On Sunday I was following (and participating in) a Facebook conversation about code-switching. Someone made the claim that it is a term used only for the way Black American people have to alter their speech to fit in with white folks. There was an immediate backlash against this, with plenty of people chiming in about how their own ethnic groups also code-switch when communicating with people outside their group.

A few of the people who piped up with this information said they were of Romani heritage, which got me wondering exactly where the Roma people came from. Google and Wikipedia had the answer to that: Northern India. Wow. I had no idea. I had assumed the Roma were one of many tribal cultures originating in Europe. Nope.

Somewhere in one of the articles I read, there was mention of Ashkenazi Jews (peripherally, not directly related to the Roma in any way); my brain jumped to the genetic studies of where Ashkenazim came from. As you know, where my brain jumps, my internet browser soon follows. It occurred to me that it would be really cool to see how far back I could trace my family history.

So I tried. I didn’t get very far, possibly because I can’t read Polish or Romanian and also because I wasn’t ready to plunk down money to access some of those websites. What I really wanted was just to find records of births and marriages and keep on working backwards from there. Maybe that was naïve of me. I’m sure I’ll attempt it again, but for now I’ll have to shelve it in favour of more immediate concerns.

But if I couldn’t find official records of my ancestors, maybe I could understand a bit more of their migration route. So I looked up the history of the town my grandfather was from, and then the history of Jews in Poland more broadly. And then there was an article about Jewish merchants and trade routes that went all the way from France to China in the eleventh century, which was interesting, and led me to read up on Khazars, which led me to Mountain Jews and the language they speak—Judeo Tat. And all because someone mentioned the Roma.

Come to think of it, this is how my mind works pretty much all the time. It jumps from one thing to another in a matter of seconds, so that I can be talking with Mr. December about summer camp and then say, “I just realized that trepidation and intrepid are from the same word! Why have I only just realized it now?” Admittedly, my conversation can be hard to follow.

But oh, my brain—and the hyperlinked internet world—takes me to so many interesting places. Thank God for the internet.

blogging · education · fame and shame · Homeschool · Jewy goodness · lists · waxing philosophical

Day 455: Not as bad as you think.

I hear a lot of bad things about social media—probably you do, too. And there are a lot of downsides: comparing your imperfect life to someone’s touched-up selfie, getting angry because “someone is wrong on the internet!”, seeing humanity turn ugly behind the anonymity the internet affords. There are definitely days when I think I’d be better off without Facebook.

Duty Calls
You can find an image description here.

On the other hand, Facebook has some very good points:

  1. It’s my proverbial front porch. I sit there in the evening and catch up with the people I know. I get to hear about all the mundane things, all the frustrations, all the celebrations—just like I would if we lived in a close-knit neighbourhood and sat on the front porch every evening, chatting with each other.
  2. It can be a great resource. Both Mr. December and I are members of a few homeschooling groups on Facebook. Through those groups we’ve discovered some of our favourite curricula and courses. We’ve also been able to get a sense of what homeschooling looks like for many different families. I’m also a member of a neighbourhood group, from which I learn about traffic issues, why our city councillor sucks, and who’s giving away free stuff.
  3. It reminds me about birthdays. If I wished you happy birthday this year (or any year, really,) you can thank Facebook for that. Every day it pops up and tells me whose birthday it is. It even lets me post a birthday message directly from the notification. I do realize that some people do this with their own calendar—digital or paper—but Facebook makes it so easy for me.
  4. Some people do use it for the betterment of us all.

Point number four is the one that gives me hope for our society. I’ve recently joined a group dedicated to being a space where people can ask good-faith questions about all kinds of social issues and receive honest, thoughtful answers rather than scorn and derision.

(If you don’t get why a question would be met with scorn or derision, think of someone asking about transgender issues and being labelled a TERF because of that honest question. It happens all the time, and it’s ugly.)

I have learned so much from this group. People have taken the time to post complex answers to questions about racism, gender issues, disabilities, etiquette… it’s an excellent read and very eye-opening, as the group members come from all over the world and from all walks of life. I’m enjoying it immensely. Even more incredible than what I’ve learned from that group is the simple fact that so many people want to ask questions, learn, and improve the way they relate to people who are unlike them.

I have similar feelings about the group where non-Jews can ask questions about Judaism and Jews answer them. I’m fascinated by the things non-Jewish people don’t know about us; from the big stuff, like the fact that we don’t revere Mary, mother of Jesus, to the minutiae of why inviting a Shabbat-observant friend to a wedding on Saturday is more complicated than just making sure they have accommodations within walking distance of the venue. I also enjoy being able to answer people’s questions and see their responses when they’ve read all of the answers.

People are learning, reaching out, connecting, and supporting each other in ways that would never have been possible without the internet (and social media in particular.) To me, that almost makes up for how social media also makes it easy for people to foment hatred, recruit people to radical organizations, and spread misinformation. Almost. Maybe if enough of us participate in groups like the ones I’ve been part of, education and enlightenment will replace the ignorance and hate.

I hope so.