Archive for ‘Jewy goodness’

September 7, 2013

Gratitude, not Attitude.

by Decemberbaby

Those of you keeping track might remember that K is now five and a half years old. She’s got a wonderful neshama (soul) – she can be mature, thoughtful, gentle, and kind. She also feels things deeply. When she’s happy, you can feel the joy she radiates. When she’s angry… well, do you remember the old nursery rhyme? The one that goes:

There was a little girlwith a little curl
right in the middle of her forehead.
When she was good,
she was very, very good;
and when she was bad,
she was horrid.

It’s like that. I imagine that, were she an optimist by nature, this wouldn’t be as big an issue as it’s become. The fact is, however, that K can be a real complainypants.

I’ve tried to instil in her the Jewish principle of hakarat hatov – recognizing the good – in an attempt to minimize the number of complaints I hear. If you passed us a few months ago at the local shul, it would have sounded like this:

K: No fair! I only got one candy and those kids got three!
Me: Let’s try that again. Isn’t it wonderful that we get to go to a shul where there are grownups who give out candy to the kids just because they want to?
K: But they got more than me!
Me: But look! You got candy! And it’s purple – that’s your favourite! And it’s so yummy!

… and so on.

I’ve made this a priority with K right now. I know that what we do becomes who we are, and I don’t want her to go through life complaining about every minor injustice. Gratitude leads to happiness, and all that. What I really want to do is make gratitude and hakarat hatov habitual for her. I can’t change her personality, but I can help her change her default behaviour (can’t I?).

So a couple of weeks ago I went to Dollarama and brought home this:

journal

It’s a fuzzy journal. You know, for all the things that give her a warm, fuzzy feeling. It’s her hakarat hatov book, and we write in it every night. K chooses one good thing about the day, that she’s thankful for, and we also write down one Mitzvah or Chesed (kindness) she did during the day.

So far it’s slow and painful going. Every night I ask what she’s grateful for that day, and every night she says, “I don’t know… I don’t remember!” I list all of her activities that day and she still doesn’t know, or she’ll say, “Yeah, that one.” as if she’s too lazy to repeat the words I’ve just said. I insist that she says the words herself (“I’m thankful for the tooth fairy.”) As for naming a mitzvah she’s done that day, right now I’m telling her what I noticed. Maybe in future she’ll identify those for herself. Right now I’d settle for her telling me – the first time I ask – what she was most thankful for.

I hope that gratitude is like a muscle, and that K’s will grow stronger with this exercise. For the time being I’m grateful for the opportunity to help her build character.

November 27, 2012

Addiction

by Decemberbaby

Hi. I’m Sara, and I’m a cycle-a-holic.

I didn’t think it had come this far, but here I am. My knee hurts badly; I know that I shouldn’t bike tomorrow morning, and that makes me feel bereft. I don’t bike every single morning but I don’t take kindly to knowing that it’s off limits for now. The cravings are beginning. Driving the car is, at best, a necessary evil. There’s no joy in it; it just gets me from A to B and back. But cycling… aside from the obvious fitness benefits, it does wonders for my seasonal depression. Also my soul, my wallet, and my general sense of well-being.

Here’s why:

When I’m cycling, I’m close to the ground and there’s nothing between me and the world around me. I sing out “good morning” whenever we pass a pedestrian. We stop to examine the fire hydrants that haven’t been installed yet. We greet the same construction workers and crossing guards every time. Cycling gives me this sense of being part of the city instead of separated from it in a metal-and-glass bubble.

Nature is right beside me all along the road. I see the trees in various stages of autumnal undress, the places where there are more weeds than grass, the wetness of the road after a night of rain. The air feels clean in the morning, especially on the residential streets that make up most of my ride. I can see the sky – not a piece of it through a windshield, but the whole expanse – and I often marvel that even on cloudy days there is usually a clear patch of blue peeking through somewhere.

Throughout my ride, I have many opportunities to make it easier or harder for myself. I can relax and ride slowly if I feel like it, or I can push myself to the limit and set a new time record. I can lean into the turns more, challenging my skill and balance. I’m up against my own limits, and I often astonish myself.

I can chat with my children, point out landmarks, and ruffle their hair at stop signs. I get to watch them wiggle in time to the music from my iPod. When I greet pedestrians with a smile the children and I get to watch wizened old faces and jaded young faces break into a tentative smile or a grin and a surprised laugh. Even the grumpy-looking old man with the tiny dog (practically a fixture in our parking lot at drop-off and pick-up times) looks handsome when he smiles at us.

Even at my fastest, my speed probably tops out at 18 km/h. Fast enough to get where we’re going, and slow enough to not feel harried and rushed. Traffic means very little to me, gliding along residential streets and through pathways where cars can’t travel.

It’s possible to drive a car on autopilot. We’ve all done it, I’m sure, getting somewhere and realizing we have no particular memory about the journey. I’ve never been able to bike on autopilot. Cycling makes me feel connected – to nature, to the city, to the people, to myself and my limits. To God.

To paraphrase the milk commercials of my youth, cycling does a body good… but it does a soul great.

 

November 5, 2012

Hallowe’en vs. Purim

by Decemberbaby

I don’t do Hallowe’en. Never have, and, I hope, never will.

Most of the time I tend to forget that we’re in a religious and cultural minority. But then K brings home notices from extracurricular activities inviting the children to wear their costumes to class and asking parents to send treats for the group. The first such notice I got threw me into a minor snit – I hate Hallowe’en! – until, eventually, I remembered that I’m in the minority here, and largely by my own choice.

I suppose you could also call it a religious decision, but looking around at the Jewish families who do celebrate Hallowe’en I’ve begun to realize that it’s not so clear cut for everyone. Nevertheless, I feel that Hallowe’en expresses values that are the opposite of what Judaism teaches us, and what I’d like to teach my kids. If you contrast Hallowe’en with Purim, the Jewish dressing-up-and-eating-treats holiday, you’ll see what I mean.

Treats. On Hallowe’en, children go from door to door in their neighbourhood requesting treats (or, as is often the case, demanding treats.) The goal seems to be to amass as much candy as possible from as many people as possible, including complete strangers (I don’t have anything against complete strangers, but I get a bit miffed at being expected to provide candy for a bunch of kids who would otherwise never even say “hello” if I saw them out and about.) On Purim we deliver gifts of food – baked goods, candy, fruit, drinks – to family members and friends, as well as neighbours we know or would like to meet. We also receive goodies, of course, but the focus is on the giving.

Dressing up. In this department the two holidays seem about equal. On Purim, as on Hallowe’en, anything goes. Even cross-dressing, which is prohibited by the Torah, is permitted on Purim.

Decorations and general theme. The theme of Hallowe’en is death, gore, and horror. I’ve got nothing against the pumpkins and witches that grace some front lawns, but I’m truly creeped out by faux corpses hanging from trees, front lawns turned cemeteries, and severed limbs dotting the landscape. It just seems so macabre, and so unnecessary. Purim, on the other hand, is a giant festival. Decorations are often colourful, glittery, and just outrageous – more like Mardi Gras that Murder She Wrote.

Demographic. While there are some adult Hallowe’en celebrations, the holiday is mainly aimed at kids. Purim, on the other hand, is a religious holiday with certain religious obligations that apply only to adults. Children have fun on Purim, but it’s the adults who really have to celebrate. That being said, non-religious Jews frequently relate to Purim as a children’s holiday. Pity.

Broader Message. Last time I checked, Hallowe’en didn’t have a broader message (I know that those who celebrate it as a holy day would disagree, and they’d be right, but I’m talking about the Hallowe’en celebrated by the majority of Canadians and Americans.) The story of Purim does: from it we learn to recognize and defeat evil, to remain connected to our heritage, and – most importantly – that many things in our world are hidden and disguised, including God’s intervention.

This year was the first year that K has asked us about Hallowe’en and Trick-or-Treating. “We don’t celebrate Hallowe’en,” I told her. “It’s not a Jewish Holiday. We have Purim, where we get to dress up and take people treats and have a big party.” K’s eyes lit up and she began reminiscing about last year’s Purim feast with the dinner in disguise.  The day after this conversation I overheard her at one of the extracurricular groups’ parties saying, “I don’t celebrate Hallowe’en, I have Purim. But I dressed up anyway because I wanted to come to the party…”

Hey, if we can tackle Hallowe’en so easily, the predictable Christmas envy should be a breeze.

Tell me about your Hallowe’en. Eventful? Non-existent? Do you love it or hate it?

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November 4, 2012

One hour later…

by Decemberbaby

I’ve ditched the complicated quilt for the time being (I’m waiting for my woven labels to arrive) and was finally, finally able to sew something fun from start to finish with no complications. Good thing, too, since my honorary nephew (his mom and I are often mistaken for sisters) had a birthday party today. What do you give the little boy who has absolutely everything he needs and most of what he could possibly want?

A tie.

Or two.

N already has a couple – one dupioni silk, one cotton – but I just can’t get enough of making these. A tip of the hat to Madelyn from Sharing the Wealth for the tutorial. I predict that a lot of little boys in my life will be wearing snazzy neckties for Passover! (Because, you know, Chanuka isn’t usually a “dressing-up” kind of holiday.)

What can I say? I’m a sucker for instant gratification. Now I’m going back downstairs to make my baby girl a hat.

October 20, 2012

Prude.

by Decemberbaby

I just need to take a moment to bask in your love and approval. I might lose it with this post. Then again, maybe not.

You see, I’m kind of a prude. Sure, I’ll put my hand up at a Weight Watchers meeting and casually mention that sex counts as an activity, even if it’s not listed in the program guide. And I’m not in the least bit inhibited when it comes to, uh, marital intimacy. And I’ve slept with every guy I ever dated (it’s true! Does the fact that I only ever dated one guy change how that statement sounds?)

But you know, most of those things happen behind closed doors. And with the exception of the first one, my sexual exploits (sexploits?) are known only to me and Mr. December. Which is as it should be, as far as I’m concerned. There’s a time and a place for everything.

So I hope you’ll all understand when I state, here and now, that it bothers me exceedingly when women attend synagogue in skirts that don’t even make it halfway to their knees. Or in tops that show a lot of cleavage. It just screams “inappropriate!” to me. Even worse, it smacks of disrespect – even if none is intended.

I find it strange that some women get all defensive and bristly when I say this, as if it’s their God-given right to wear whatever they want whenever they want. As if someone is imposing some medieval dress code on them. As if we’re passing judgment.

Okay, I’m passing judgment.

But why do women defend their right to wear too-tight and too-revealing clothing into a synagogue when they would travel to India and gladly take off their shoes in any given temple, or respectfully don long pants instead of shorts when visiting the great cathedrals of Europe? What gives?

I’m not an adherent to the standards of tznius (modesty) in dress that orthodox women follow. But you know what? We come to synagogue, many of us, to talk to God. Or to be part of a holy community. It’s hard for me to feel holy, or focus on God, when my eyes are constantly drawn to a woman’s cleavage – and I’m a heterosexual woman. Seriously, it’s that distracting.

Is this about ego? Is it about being blind to the effect of one’s clothing on other people? And is it so hard to remember that how we dress for synagogue (or anything) is an expression not only of ourselves, but also of our respect (or lack thereof) for the sanctity and importance of the occasion?

I don’t have any answers. Just questions that come up time and time again… so I’m turning to you, my readers. What do you think? And if you think that there should be standards, who gets to decide?

 

October 14, 2012

Turn around and she’s one…

by Decemberbaby

My baby turned one on Friday.

She has four teeth and hair long enough for two tiny pigtails. She has at least five words that we can tell – Mama, Baba (abba – “daddy” in Hebrew,) “Zeh” (Hebrew for “that”,) “Den” (Ken – Hebrew for yes,) and our nanny’s name. She has recently become attached to one of our baby dolls and can spend upwards of twenty minutes sitting in a chair, cuddling her baby.

In my usual fashion, I invited the grandparents over for cake and pizza. Honestly, she has no clue what a birthday is and it seems silly to go all out on a party for her first birthday. My policy is to throw a small cake party with lots of cool decorations, so that I have photographic evidence that we cared enough to have a first birthday party for each kid. So this morning I contemplated what kind of theme I could whip up in a few hours, and came up with dots. Polka dots. Have a look:

The garlands were a lot of fun to make: Cardstock circles (I used my 3 1/2 inch circle punch and some 5-inch precut circles) sewn into a chain. They’re fast, too.

I started to set the table and realized that my white tablecloth is terribly stained. Don’t worry, I totally fixed it:

No, there isn’t a stain under every polka-dot on the table… just some of them. The polka dots on the glasses, by the way, are wall decals that used to be on the wall in K’s room. I put a different colour and size on each glass so that people wouldn’t get confused about whose caffeine-free diet coke was whose. Oh, and see the tiny little bucket on the table? Mr. December thought it was just more junk when I brought it home from Shoppers one day – 99 cents after Easter – but I knew that we’d find a use for it sometime. It really rounded out the theme (pun intended.)

I tried to keep the food thematic. We had brownie cookies with “polka dots” (m&m’s,) cupcakes in polka-dot wrappers with round sprinkles on top, and veggies cut into rounds. There was also pizza and bourekas. Yum.

Sure, the icing is a bit sloppy, but nobody complained. And aren’t the polka dots all over the table cool?

Even R’s outfit – a polka-dot dress – fit in with the theme. And as you can see, she was mesmerized by the candle on her cupcake… and very pleased when we finally gave her one to eat. It was only a couple of minutes before all that remained of her cupcake was a (very large) smear of icing on her face.

After dinner and dessert I pulled out the guitar and sang her favourite songs. Then I changed gears and got everybody singing the Shehecheyanu, the Jewish prayer thanking God for sustaining us and keeping us alive to reach this milestone. Mr. December and I got a bit misty-eyed, especially during the next song – Al Kol Eleh – which is all about being thankful for all of life, both the bitter and the sweet. The bitter was so very bitter… but the sweet is indescribably sweet.

So that’s it… we survived her first year. Sure, we were in “survival mode” more often than not, and we’ve been awfully exhausted, but we made it. And – as my best friend pointed out – I made it to her first birthday without getting knocked up (I was six months pregnant at N’s first birthday.) And that, as Martha Stewart would say, is a Good Thing.

Happy Birthday, little R. It’s been a real trip.

October 4, 2012

Little Sukkah in the Big City

by Decemberbaby

For those of you not keeping track of the Jewish calendar, we’re now halfway through the festival of Sukkot, the next-to-last in our month-long marathon of holidays (trust me, the Christmas season has nothing on the Jewish holiday season. We’ve pretty much got at least two festive meals a week for four weeks.) I love Sukkot. Building and decorating the sukkah takes care of any residual Christmas-decorating envy I may have, and it’s a mitzvah to invite guests into the sukkah, which I love to do.

We built our first sukkah several years ago, on the driveway. It was lovely (if poorly lit) until the wind started up one night. The canvas walls acted like an enormous sail, and the next morning we found our entire sukkah lying on its side on our next-door neighbour’s lawn. The next year we tried the backyard, which meant that bringing food and drinks to the sukkah involved walking through the back hallway and through the third bedroom, then down the porch steps, sometimes in the dark. Also, there was no urgency involved in taking it down; I joke that we’re the Jewish equivalent of people who haven’t taken down their Christmas tree by June, because last year’s sukkah was still up as of this past May.

Anyhow, after last year’s debacle in which I pressured Mr. December to set up the sukkah, which we then failed to use (it wasn’t my fault! I gave birth on Erev Sukkot!) he declared that I was on my own. I recruited a friend’s husband to help me build (bartered, actually, for some groceries and a place to bury their placenta – true story.) And build we did! I even used a circular saw to cut the lumber. And the reason I had to cut the lumber? This year we have a new location, the best yet! This year our sukkah is on the front porch.

The banner says “welcome” in Hebrew. The gate keeps the babies inside. The roof, as per Jewish law, is made of a natural material (bamboo) and lets in the rain and the sun. Come inside…

It’s a mitzvah to decorate the sukkah. Some people use strings of lights and tinsel (especially in Israel, where they don’t really associate that stuff with Xmas,) others decorate with fruits, vegetables, and other harvest-themed decor, and still others hang posters of Israel, of great Rabbis, and of quotes from the Torah. I’ve decided that since Sukkot is also called “the season of our happiness” we should decorate the sukkah as we would for a big, joyful party.

All of our decorations are handmade by us, and they dance beautifully when the wind blows through. You might recognize my reusable fabric streamers from last Purim.

A paper chain is an easy craft even for a preschooler. For this one I cut strips from gift bags that were too shabby to be re-gifted. I handed them over to K along with a roll of tape and she spend the next hour engrossed in making the chain.

This banner, and the “welcome” banner, were made using a batik technique involving blue school glue and craft paint. This one depicts a lulav and etrog, or as Wikipedia calls them, the Four Species.

We even have a light in our sukkah. The front porch light is plenty bright in the evenings, and it doesn’t require us to run extension cords at all.

Oh, and those paper balls are from a tutorial by Creative Jewish Mom. Aren’t they cool? I love them so much that I might just bring them inside and hang them in the playroom when Sukkot is over.

So that’s our sukkah. Thanks for visiting, and Chag Sukkot Sameach – Happy Sukkot!

September 25, 2012

Days of Atonement

by Decemberbaby

Six years ago tonight, I stood in the synagogue and prayed more fervently than I ever had. I cried, I pleaded, I rocked back and forth on the balls of my feet. I begged God for the clarity to understand why I was denied the chance to mother my child, for the grace to recover quickly from my miscarriage, and for the good fortune to get pregnant again and have a chance to be a mother.
Five years ago tonight, I wasn’t especially hungry. I was pregnant and sick with a cold, and wasn’t planning to fast. I prayed, if not as feverishly as the previous year, for a safe birth and a healthy baby.
Four years ago tonight I took K into services with me and hugged her close while I sang the Yom Kippur liturgy.  I was thankful, so thankful, that I finally was a mother. The shehecheyanu – the prayer of thanks for being able to reach this day – never felt more apt.

Three years ago tonight I was feeling testy from the fertility drugs and hormones flooding my body. I had just received a jubilant email from an aquaintance announcing her second pregnancy. Why was it so easy for her, and so hard for me? We were nearing the end of our options: we’d finally made the jump to in-vitro fertilization. I was terrified that if it didn’t work, I’d have a hard time being with our friends who had more than one child. I davenned, prayed, that God would give me the strength of character to accept the outcome of our treatments with patience and peace.

Two years ago tonight I snuggled our tiny baby boy in a Moby wrap and tried to daven, though my attention was mostly on K’s behaviour and N’s feeding cues.

One year ago tonight I was heavily pregnant – overdue, in fact – and didn’t fast for fear that I’d end up going into labour too hungry and depleted to be able to push. I prayed for my labour to start soon.

Tonight I hope to have at least ten minutes to myself to truly pray. I need to thank God for the family that I feared I might never have, I need to atone for all of the big and small ways that I’ve messed up this year, and to pray for patience and strength in caring for this crazy brood, because some days it’s all I can do to close my eyes, grit my teeth, and mutter, “I prayed for this.”

To everyone observing Yom Kippur, Gmar Chatima Tova (may you be inscribed in the book of life) and have an easy fast.

September 23, 2012

Frustration… and another summertime project.

by Decemberbaby

I’ve just spent the last three hours in my workshop, developing a pattern for my tiny torah design. Three hours, and all I’ve figured out is the proper pattern shape for the handles (trying to make them a bit more realistic.) Oh, and also that it is possible to sew the scroll parts inside out so the seams don’t show, and then flip it around. For some reason that method has eluded me for the past two years, but I think I’ve conquered it.

My goal is to be able to sell a PDF pattern to those people who want to sew a tiny toy torah, but who don’t have the patience for trial and error that my tutorial requires. The tutorial will remain up – I assume that some people really would rather have me do the measuring and so forth and therefore would gladly pay a few dollars for a pattern, and some people will just want to jump in and wing it with a tutorial as my guide. It’s all good.

In the meantime, though, it’s not so good. My hands hurt from wrestling with the fabric and the machine, and I’m wondering why the thread keeps getting caught in the bobbin casing. I suspect it’s time to go to bed.

For your amusement tonight, here’s a photo of the teacher gifts we gave at the end of last year:

See you tomorrow!

May 24, 2012

Repost: It’s not about the dishwasher unless I make it so.

by Decemberbaby

This is a repost from a very old blog of mine. Ruchi over at Out of the Ortho Box just posted about this issue, so I dug this one up so that current readers can have a look. I believe this was published in 2009. It still applies today.

A friend of mine just wrote a post about how, as an Orthodox Jew, she really regrets that she can’t eat in someone’s house just because they use the same dishwasher for both their meat and dairy utensils. She goes on to talk about how many people accuse the Orthodox of caring more about the dishwasher than about the friendship.
I understand that point of view. But I also think that it’s not about the dishwasher until I decide that it is.(full disclosure: I’m pretty sure that I’m the person my friend is referring to, given that we just had this conversation about her eating in my home. Maybe it comes up a lot, but I’m not betting on it.)

Here’s my point:

I understand why, for an Orthodox Jew, it’s impossible to eat things cooked in my pots and pans, served on my plates. It’s like asking a paraplegic to walk up the steps into my house. Impossible. When that person says no, it’s not a judgment – it’s simply a statement of fact. So I can grouse about how offended I am, about how seriously I take my Judaism and how picky this friend is being. But ultimately, it’s a fruitless exercise. Alternately, I can offer a solution or a compromise: eat in my home, but on paper plates. We’ll order takeout. Or I can cook things in foil pans with single-use utensils.

It’s just as if I invited a person who is wheelchair-dependent to my house with stairs. I could build a ramp. It won’t be pretty, or as elegant a reception as I like to offer my guests. There are some parts of my house a wheelchair-dependent person would never be able to see. But we could still enjoy each other’s company, a bite to eat, and stimulating conversation. It’s not about the stairs, just as it’s not about the dishwasher.

There are some of my much-loved recipes that my Orthodox friends will never taste. That’s unfortunate, but far from a deal-breaker. Where I come from, hachnassat orchim (welcoming guests) is taken very seriously. It’s about accommodating your guests to the best of your ability, and seeing to their needs, not to your own. And so I’m choosing to overlook the small sting to my pride and build the metaphorical ramp. And when we all sit around the table in the succah, breaking bread and celebrating together, the dishwasher won’t even be relevant.