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.

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

Day 368: Good Day Sunshine

(With apologies to anyone who now has that Beatles song stuck in their head…)

We’re on a four-day streak of beautiful weather. It’s been 12 or 13 degrees (celsius) here since Saturday; and as some of you know, 10 degrees is the threshold past which Canadian children shuck off their coats and sweaters and run around in t-shirts and shorts. The kids have spent hours playing outside (as they should) and even Mr. December and I have taken advantage of the weather to sit on the back patio and daydream together about how our backyard will look when the landscaper finally gets back to us and we can transform the mud pit into something more usable.

I hear tomorrow morning will be rainy, which is unfortunate; we’re going on a field trip to a sugar bush. In a rare example of what homeschooling was like pre-covid, another homeschool parent arranged a bunch of tours at this maple farm and invited people to sign up for the day that worked for them. I can imagine in a year or so when people have gotten vaccines and the COVID panic ends, spending many of our school days learning at museums, parks, shows, and workshops. I can’t wait.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to test a flourless brownie recipe before I feed it to the family at the seder on Sunday night. And some Pesach cleaning wouldn’t go amiss, either, although there’s not much that has to be done: remember, dirt is not Chametz! And a rabbi friend of mine told me that if it’s smaller than a single Cheerio, it doesn’t count as Chametz either. Passover cleaning isn’t spring cleaning. Doesn’t that just lighten the load?

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

Day 367: Here it comes…

Passover.

It used to be my favourite holiday. Then, with each passing year of seders filled with people who really just want to stop the talking so we can eat already, my enjoyment of it waned. Now it feels like something to get through, a change that I’m not happy about. Will this be the year I start really enjoying it again?

You know what I say, the key to happiness is lowered standards. So this year I’ve decided that if the kids enjoy the seder and participate in it, that’s good enough for me. Dayenu.

I found a program plan online for a series of puzzles, each of which has an answer that opens a particular kind of lock. There are five locks, and the fifth one opens a container that holds the afikoman. I have all the locks (one directional, one four-letter-word, one four-digit code, one three-digit code, one keyed) and need only to print out the various instructions and cards and so on. Hopefully this keeps the kids engaged.

Then again, kids aren’t usually the problem. It’s generally the jaded adults who want to just “get on with it.” For that problem I haven’t found a solution. I’ve tried compiling my own haggadah (which worked, sort of) or bringing in humorous parodies (those went over like a lead balloon.) Last year after another disappointing seder I downloaded a bunch of seder table games for this year. If only I could find them…

And don’t get me started on Pesach cleaning or turning over my kitchen; we’re terribly under-equipped for Passover, given that my mom has a whole Passover kitchen at her house and we’ve always had the seders there (and then happily taken home the leftovers to eat all week.) I guess it’s time to be a grownup and get my own Pesach cookware, isn’t it?

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

Day 356: Matzah baking on an open fire…

For our bread class today we made Ethiopian-style matzah. Ethiopian Jews, like some Sephardic Jews, make a soft matzah that is probably much closer to what the Israelites would have made on their way out of Egypt.

The recipe we used told us to do it on the stove, but after I saw a video of Ethiopian Jews making matzah in Ethiopia I decided that an open fire was much more authentic. I started a fire about an hour before we were to begin baking. I also set our oven thermometer inside the fireplace.

According to our stopwatch, it only took us nine minutes to mix, roll, and bake our matzah. And then we tried some. It tasted just like matzah, only chewy and soft. I think I actually like crunchy matzah better.

We decided to see if there would be a difference in flavour if we let the dough rest for a while after we mixed it (if the Israelites hadn’t been in quite such a rush, would the bread have been different?) In baking terms this is called an autolyze, and it’s supposed to let the gluten develop without too much kneading. The only difference we detected in the second batch was that the dough was pretty wet and difficult to spread out in the pan. When I tasted it I thought that maybe it had a slightly different flavour from the first batch, but nobody else agreed with me. Either I’m a supertaster and they’re not, or I was imagining it.

The kids each took notes in their “Book of Bread” notebooks. Surprise, surprise: K, who abhors writing and will do almost anything to get out of it, diligently wrote down all the particulars, including the fireplace temperature, her observations of the matzah we made, and what we should change for next time. There was no argument; she just did it.

Will there be a next time? Will we be making our own matzah for the seders? Probably not. But it was a cool experiment and a fun way to integrate our Pesach studies with our bread unit. I hadn’t planned for them to coincide, but it’s a serendipitous combination. Next week we’ll learn some of the chemistry behind fermentation, and then after Passover we’ll start a sourdough experiment.

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

Day 343: We Made Lemonade

Happy Purim!

Know what I did almost all day yesterday? This, four times over:

Yes, those are miniature lemon loaves. I baked almost thirty of them yesterday. I only had eight mini loaf pans, so it took a long time. Never mind how the loaves turned out—the batter was pure silky, creamy deliciousness.

I am never doing that again. From now on, mishloach manot will be cleverly chosen premade goodies, labelled with puns and witticisms.

Since it’s been kind of a rough year in a lot of ways, I suggested to the kids that we call our mishloach manot “When life hands you lemons…”

There had to be a whole lemon—and enough sugar to turn it into lemonade—in each package. Obviously. Then K asked me if I could find a recipe for the lemon loaf they sell at Starbucks. “So when life hands you lemons, you just loaf around?” I asked. The puns spiralled from there.

In addition to the “you could loaf around” lemon loaf, we had “start over from square one” lemon squares, “you might snap at people” lemon snaps, and in some packages, “you may feel like pudding everything off ’til tomorrow” lemon meringue pudding cups. The best part is that I actually remembered to take pictures this year before we delivered all the treats!

Instead of our usual evening at shul followed by carnival-hopping from one synagogue to another, we logged onto Zoom to watch an online Purim shpiel (play) starring families from the congregation. Then I stayed on and listened to the megillah reading while the kids went into a breakout room to play party games with the other kids.

Although it’s a religious obligation to hear the megillah read twice each Purim, I can honestly say that before last night I have never actually heard the megillah read in its entirety. See, normally there’s so much noise from excited children waiting to drown out Haman’s name with noisemakers of all kinds that the readers can hardly be heard and the rabbi has to pound on the table repeatedly to get everyone to quiet down.

Ah, the magic of the mute button! The only people I could hear were the readers chanting the megillah; when Haman’s name came up we all unmuted ourselves and made noise for thirty seconds or so, then politely muted ourselves again. Some people (including yours truly) made signs to hold in front of our webcams when Haman was mentioned. Here’s mine, hastily scribbled at the last minute. The kids especially loved the angry-faced O’s.

Following the reading we had a Zoom dance party where four judges watched all the costumed people dance and then awarded prizes. I’m pleased to report that we were awarded “funniest costumes” for E’s lion, my ladybug, and N’s constantly changing outfits (he kept running back up to his room.)

I hadn’t expected the online programming to be particularly enjoyable; I was wrong. We saw a lot of familiar faces, we danced, we actually heard the megillah, and we all had fun. The kids went to bed feeling like they had just left a party, which I guess they had.

Today we spent Purim day in the traditional way: driving around the city to deliver the goodies we’d prepared for friends and family. This year I limited each one of us to four people, meaning a total of twenty-four packages, max. The first couple of years we did it I had to hype up the delivery aspect to K (who was having really bad Halloween envy.) Now the kids clamour to come with me, and they serve as faithful runners from the car to each front door.

This year I noticed how great it felt to actually see people who don’t live with me. As isolated as we feel now, the bonds we have with friends and family are still alive and well. It made me realize again that when COVID is over I’m going to hug everyone so hard and not let go for a few weeks. You’ve been warned.

So it was a good Purim. We made lemonade (Zoom parties, megillah readings, and treats) out of this year’s lemons (COVID lockdowns.) And if you ask the kids, it was the best Purim, because they got lots of mishloach manot and have divvied up all the candy and Bissli and chocolates—they’re well stocked until Pesach, I think.

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?”

Silence.

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.

fame and shame · Jewy goodness · Keepin' it real · whine and cheese

Day 339: No good deed goes unpunished?

Remember my rant about not wanting to use Amazon but being fed up with the subpar online shopping experience with Canadian companies? And remember how I called out Canadian Tire specifically?

(I hope you remember. It was just last week.)

It just got worse: apparently Canadian Tire now owns Party City. The once-functional Party City website has migrated to the same system used by all Canadian Tire companies.

I was trying to find somewhere to buy packaging for our mishloach manot and I hit on Party City, which is nearby and offers curbside pickup. I even knew exactly what I wanted and put it into my cart quickly and went to check out. The page started loading… and kept loading… loading… loading…

I barbecued our dinner, ate with everyone, cleaned up, and came back to the computer. Still loading…

Maybe I should hit refresh, I thought. Maybe it timed out and if I reload the whole thing it’ll work?

Nope. Dream on.

I even tried using an incognito browser window, just in case there was some problem with cookies or some other kind of cached information (almost sounds like I know what that means, doesn’t it?). I got this:

Image description: screenshot of the Party City website. There’s a pop-up window that reads, “Sorry, there is a problem. We are currently experiencing system difficulties and cannot process your request at this time. We are working hard to resolve the issue. Please try again later.”

If this was the first such issue I’d had with this platform, I’d shrug and try again tomorrow. But I’ve had this kind of problem many times with Canadian Tire. Do they not know that their system is terrible? Or do they just not care? Plenty of other companies seem to have reasonable e-commerce systems, so what’s the problem here?

Amazon’s terrible ethics and business practices are worse, in the long run, than a frustrating online shopping experience, so I’ll probably keep trying to buy this stuff from Party City even though I’ve already wasted at least half an hour on what should have been a five-minute transaction at most. It sure feels like no good deed goes unpunished, doesn’t it?

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.