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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.

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!

Independence · Just the two of us · Keepin' it real · The COVID files · what's cookin'

Day 263: Shopping for Six

Ever since COVID-19 hit Canada, I’ve felt a little weird when I buy groceries. I suspect it looks a lot like hoarding when my grocery list includes four loaves of bread, eight litres of milk, four dozen eggs, four or five packages of sliced cheese, and four pounds of strawberries, among all the other produce and random stuff we buy.

Here’s the thing, though: if you do the math, it quickly becomes clear why my cart usually resembles nothing more than those heaps of clothes in my childhood closet that threatened to spill out as soon as anyone opened the door. Let’s start with breakfast: If all six of us want eggs and toast, that’s a dozen eggs (two each) and pretty much a whole loaf of bread (which usually has fifteen slices, if I recall correctly.) If the kids want grilled cheese for lunch, we’ll need another loaf of bread and a package and a half of sliced cheese (11 slices in a pack, two slices per sandwich, some of the kids eat two sandwiches.)

This week we ran out of milk two days after buying a 4 litre bag (yep, all of you foreign folks, our milk comes in bags.) We’re not big milk drinkers, but the kids have milk with their cereal—and lately cereal has been a staple for breakfasts and bedtime snacks. It’s dumb, but I feel really annoyed that I have to shop again so soon. Seriously, guys? It’s almost as bad as when I buy strawberries: a 454 gram (one pound) box of strawberries means maybe five strawberries each (if they’re not huge), so they don’t last very long. And have I mentioned that strawberries and bananas are the only fruits N will eat?

Sometimes I stand in the dairy section and look at those little half-cartons of eggs (six to a pack) and wonder what good those are. Six eggs is the exact right number for my challah recipe, which I make every Friday. I suppose there will come a time when my children have left home and it’s just me and Mr. December, and we’ll buy six eggs and have them last a week.

(Who am I kidding? With real estate in Toronto being as pricey as it is, it’s likely that at least some of our children will be living with us well into the adult years.)

In the meantime, I think I’ll encourage independence in my kids by sending them to the grocery store for more milk. It’s like they say at camp, “You kill it, you fill it.”

Keepin' it real · Kids · what's cookin'

Day 225: Balanced

“A balanced diet is a cookie in each hand.”
-source unknown, because I’m too lazy to look it up.

I like to think we eat fairly well in this house. Mr. December and I try to steer the kids clear of sugary snacks (granola bars are just as bad as cookies,) we eat dinner together pretty much every night, there are always fruits and vegetables on offer. We’re not so healthy that we eat freekeh and tempeh and drink kombucha, but we eat home-cooked meals, which I’ve heard might not be the norm these days (then again, it might be. I don’t know.)

Take tonight’s dinner, for example: bell peppers stuffed with ground beef and black beans, rice, grilled chicken breast, roast cauliflower, and spinach salad. A nice balanced, meal. Right? Wrong, for at least half of my family.

I mean, it could be balanced, if you put me and Mr. December on one side of the scale and everybody else on the other. See, Mr. December and I ate a little of everything on the table, except the rice. Three out of four children ate rice. That’s it. Just rice.

I’ve heard the advice that our job as parents is to put good, healthy food on the table, and their job as kids is to choose what to eat. So far, so good. I’ve also heard that a child won’t let themselves starve. Interestingly, our girls won’t—but N will. He’ll just not eat until he can sneak into the pantry for a slice of bread. Or until we serve schnitzel, which is his favourite food; then he’ll eat piles of the stuff as if he’s storing it up for hibernation.

We’ve tried the old “eat your vegetables or you don’t get any treats,” which only works to a point: he eats a whole English cucumber every single time. It doesn’t matter how many times I tell him that cucumbers are just water and vitamin C, cucumber is his go-to vegetable.

Where does this leave us? I’m trying very hard to teach my kids to listen to their bodies, and I’m trying very hard not to police their food choices. That’s how my son has ended up on the all-carb diet. What’s a parent to do?

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

Day 186: A Different New Year

Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, begins at sundown today. Normally our family would celebrate with festive meals with the extended family, and five-hour-long services at synagogue (there were always kids’ programs, babysitting, and breakout sessions too.) This year synagogue services aren’t happening in the same way and we’re not even at home; so what are we going to do?

Here’s what I’ve planned:

Friday Night
We’ll have the usual festive meal (minus the extended family) with round challahs, kiddush over the wine (or grape juice,) and sweet foods (for a sweet new year.) We bought five different types of honey from a local honey farm, so we’ll have a honey tasting and see which one is the family favourite. We’ll also have a game that relies on puns and randomly selected foods to create blessings or wishes for the new year. Some ideas I’ve got so far:

  • Peas (May this year bring us world peas)
  • Turnip (May the right opportunities turnip for you this year)
  • Root vegetables (May you have lots of people rooting for you this year)
  • Grapes (May we all have a grape year)
  • Tomatoes (May you be able to say ‘I feel good from my head tomatoes‘)

You get the idea. It’s corny, and the kids will love it — N especially grooves on word play.

We’ll do a few of the Rosh Hashana-specific prayers, including the one on which the Leonard Cohen song “Who by Fire?” is based (and yes, we’ll teach the kids “Who by Fire?”). We’ll discuss one of the Rosh Hashanah Torah readings, probably the one about Akeidat Yitzhak, the “Binding of Isaac.” We’ll bake, decorate, and enjoy a birthday cake for dessert (because in the prayer service we read, “Hayom harat olam,” which has sometimes been interpreted as “Today is the birthday of the world”), and I anticipate reading all of our Rosh Hashana storybooks.

I’ve planned to go hiking at a nearby waterfall. We’ll do tashlich (a ceremony in which we symbolically cast our sins away) with water-soluble paper; we can each write or draw what we want to cast off this year and then watch it dissolve as soon as it touches the water. Another possibility is to write it on leaves using wet-erase markers so that the leaf is washed clean in the river, a play on “turn over a new leaf.” I’ll also blow the shofar over the lake in the morning, and maybe again at the waterfall. We’ll end with havdallah and a campfire.

On a more personal level, I’ve been reflecting on the changes we’ve seen in the past year and what possibilities I want to embrace in the coming year.

I want my life to be joyful when possible, purposeful otherwise, and always intentional. I don’t want to wait til the end of the year to evaluate and change course. If something doesn’t work for me (or for us as a family,) I hope I’ll have the courage to change it.

I’m raising my expectations this year: we should all be able to thrive, and if we’re not, something needs to change. Since the schools closed in March I’ve seen all of my children thrive in ways they hadn’t before. None of us should just be passing the time between waking and going to bed.

I want to express my gratitude more, and in ways that are more evident to my children. I am deeply grateful for everything I’ve been given in life — I certainly didn’t earn it! — and I want them to see and understand the world that way too.

On the physical plane, I will give my body more of what it needs: adequate sleep (we’ve been getting 9 hours a night up at the cottage and I feel great,) food that nourishes me and makes me feel good, and exercise to keep me strong and healthy.

I wish all of my readers, Jewish and not, celebrating and not, a sweet and good year (even if not necessarily happy) in good health. May you have everything you need and most of what you want.

See you next year!

blogging · family fun · Kids · water you paddling? · what's cookin'

Day 183: Waves

I’ve come to understand that temperature is really only one element of a “nice day.” It was probably about 19 degrees today, but the wind was strong and the lake was rough, so it wasn’t the idyllic day on the dock that I had hoped for.

In some ways it was better, though. K, my sensory-seeking kid who loves swings, spinning around, and trampolining, decided to try taking a kayak out on the waves. We went together, paddling ferociously towards the waves and cheering when our kayaks went over the crest of a wave and crashed, bow first, into the next one. We felt so alive… and so very, very wet.

So now I have a partner in crime who will sneak away with me anytime to go kayaking on a rough lake. That’s a good thing.

My in-laws visited us today, which was a lovely break from our usual routine. I dropped them and the kids off at the park so I could drive to the supermarket two towns over. The twenty minutes of alone time in the car was a much-needed reprieve from being with people all the time.

Driving is a treat up here. I love driving, but not sitting in traffic, so I try to avoid driving in Toronto. But here when I turn onto the road, there’s this long stretch of road ahead of me. If there are other cars they’re moving along at the speed limit (or just above it.) Navigating a grid of straight highways isn’t as much fun as driving on the winding roads in rural Pennsylvania, but it’s very pleasant — especially when the soundtrack is by Great Big Sea instead of Great Big Complainypants Kids.

We had a late barbecue lunch (including brownies my MIL baked for us) which left most of us with no desire for dinner; but by 7:30, I heard discontented rumblings about hunger and bedtime snacks. Half an hour later I was pulling homemade tea biscuits out of the oven. With Skyr (instead of clotted cream) and blueberry jam, they hit the spot. The children sat around the table munching and listening to me as I read aloud from The Weighty Word Book. I’ve since sent them to bed (with the requisite arguments about who’s sleeping where with whom) and am finishing my own tea while I write this post.

And now a teaser for tomorrow: E will be my guest author (she’ll dictate to me and I’ll faithfully type everything she says.) She’s writing a book about the adventures of her favourite stuffed animals, Chickaletta and Bubbles, and would like to share a few pages of it with my readers. You really don’t want to miss this. It’s adorable.

While we’re up here vacillating between ennui and excitement, some of my readers are affected by the fires in the western United States. According to my brother, the air quality in Vancouver is awful now, and friends in Toronto have said that the hazy sky there has been attributed to the fires. Wherever you are, dear readers, I hope you are safe and healthy.

education · family fun · Independence · Keepin' it real · Kids · parenting · well *I* think it's funny... · what's cookin'

Day 174: KP

After our frustration with our children’s unwillingness to be helpful here, Mr. December and I decided to implement a better system than the one we have at home. No arguing about which chore belongs to whom: one person is on KP (Kitchen Patrol) for an entire day, and is responsible for preparing, serving, and cleaning up breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Halfway through day one of this new system, it’s working well in that I haven’t had to do much. N took his turn today because the menu consisted mostly of things he already knows how to make: oatmeal for breakfast, grilled cheese and tomato soup for lunch, and chicken fajitas — which he doesn’t know how to make but is about to learn — for dinner.

Since it’s his first full day on KP, N has a few things to learn: you have to start cooking a meal for six people at least half an hour before you want to serve it; you have to unload the clean dishwasher before you can load the dirty dishes; and you have to set up and clean up while everyone else is out having fun. He tried griping about that last one, but I looked at him and deadpanned: “I have no idea what that must feel like.”

We brought a lot of food up with us. Mr. December has remarked several times that we have way too much and won’t finish it before the end of the month. He clearly doesn’t cook for the family very often; if he did, he’d know that it takes a whole loaf of sliced bread and two packages of cheese to make grilled cheese for the family. We brought six dozen eggs, which he thought was ridiculous. I broke it down like this: a dozen eggs is a single breakfast for the family (along with a whole loaf of bread for toast), or two batches of challah dough (we’re here for four shabbat dinners as well as Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, which means we could probably get by on three batches of dough.) I know there are people who buy those little half-dozen cartons of eggs, but we’re not them.

“Okay!” He says, with his hands up in a gesture of innocence, “But look how many different kinds of bread there are! There’s so much of it!” And then I tick them off on my hands: pita, one dinner (with falafel and salads); naan, two bags will take us through two dinners of tandoori chicken; those six bags of flour tortillas will go quickly when we use them for PB&B wraps, quesadillas, and fajitas. I give it two weeks before we’re down to our last bag of bread.

K has just come outside. “I’m hungry,” she announces to me.

I check the time. “Well, we can tell N that it’s time to start getting dinner ready.”

“But I’m hungry now!” she whines, “and I can’t go in the hot tub as a distraction because the water is a weird colour because you guys didn’t add chemicals to it last night. Can you do something about one of those problems?”

I sure can, I think. Tomorrow I’m instituting a new daily job: Hot Tub Attendant. And since K seems to know what’s needed, I’m nominating her.

el cheapo · family fun · Homeschool · Kids · what's cookin'

Day 162: Crowd Control

N and R came back from my in-laws’ house on Sunday evening. Within half an hour we were all bustling around the kitchen, baking goodies for the Ve’ahavta van again. There I stood in the middle of the room as kids passed measuring cups back and forth, flour flew out of the mixer, and everybody talked at once; and I was loving every minute of it.

Mr. December, on the other hand, looked like he wanted to run and hide. Later that night he moaned, “It was so much easier with just two of them!”

I laughed. “Aren’t you the guy who keeps saying he wouldn’t have minded having a fifth kid?”

“Well yeah, but we could still send a few to the grandparents sometimes.”

Yesterday afternoon I took the kids shopping for clothes, which they all professed to need. We headed to Value Village where we found such fabulous deals as leggings for $1.99 and some really comfortable shorts for $4.99. Being a thrift store, Value Village is my compromise between my cheapness (I do not want to drop $20 or more on a pair of jeans for my kid!) and my desire to boycott Chinese products (a near impossibility, I know, and hypocritical given my love of my new kayaks, which are made in China.) I’ve also sold the kids on the thrift store concept, since they get to buy books of their choice ($1.99 each) and occasionally find unique clothes that you can’t buy at the mall. It doesn’t hurt that I’m likely to allow them to get pretty much any clothes or books they like because it’s just so cheap.

There I was, with four kids, still absolutely loving having them all together again. R helped N find fuzzy pyjama pants, K scored some really nice Lululemon tops (I’m not brand conscious for fashion reasons, but Lululemon’s stuff lasts forever. I still can’t justify getting rid of my wide-legged yoga pants, because they look and feel so darn good!) and I found some comfy shorts. At one point N and R took E to the book section while K and I browsed. It was a bit busy, and a bit chaotic, and once again I revelled in it.

I’m starting to realize that crowd management is one of my parenting strengths. It’s a skill that served me well when I was a camp counsellor and then a trip leader for Birthright Israel. I do periodic head counts automatically, announce our plan clearly at the outset, and herd everyone in the right direction. I can also speak very loudly without shouting, a skill I’m sure my fellow singers share.

My camp counsellor persona serves me very well when we’re out and about, and usually less so at home. When we’re out, I can field questions from three different directions. At home I get overwhelmed just from two kids talking at the same time. I have no idea why. Maybe I’m just not in the same frame of mind when I’m at home, because I don’t have to be.

As I type this, the younger three kids are building a fort together out of foam puzzle mats. They’re not finished their school work, but I’m loathe to interrupt them. I can hear them negotiating, planning, problem solving, and creating. Even better, they’re working together and cooperating (not always a given around here.) That’s why I’m waiting for the game to reach its natural conclusion before dragging them back to their workbooks.

Just after I wrote the above, K walked in from hanging out at the park with two neighbourhood friends.

“WHO WANTS TO GO TO THE PARK AND PLAY ‘THE FLOOR IS LAVA’ WITH ME?” She bellowed (K has definitely inherited my natural facility with crowds.)

N, R, and E clamoured to join her. They filled their water bottles, put on their shoes, and ran off to the park; all four of my kids, together, with no adult. They walked and skipped, chattering amongst themselves like the group of squirrels near our back porch. The older kids watched out for E, asking her to walk ahead of them so they could see her. I love that I have four of them. I love the craziness, the chaos, the noise (most of the time; I’m neither a saint nor deaf), the fact that they’re a little tribe unto themselves. I am so profoundly thankful for my big family.

I’m also profoundly thankful that they’re out of the house for the next hour or so. Maybe now I can get some work done.

education · family fun · Jewy goodness · Kids · parenting · The COVID files · what's cookin'

Day 120: This is not what “until 120!” means!

“Until 120!” Is a Jewish greeting at milestones and life-cycle events. It means that we wish the other person a long life (preferably a healthy one.) As I typed out today’s title, I couldn’t help thinking cynically that we’ve made it to day 120 — can we catch a break now?

I guess we sort of did: our nanny’s COVID test results came back negative. FINALLY. It’s only been a week, after all. I think we’ve done pretty well without her this past week, what with the kids doing their own laundry and dinnertime chores, but we’ll all be happy to have her back.

Speaking of kids and household work, tonight R and E made dinner (with very little help from me.) We had vegetarian tacos — my recipe for those is pretty much foolproof. E worked at her low kitchen sink, draining and rinsing the beans and mixing them with veggie “ground beef” and a jar of salsa. I’m still amazed at what little kids can do by themselves when the tools and equipment are the right size for them.

(Oh, and that Henessey box? It’s just a really nice box. One of the kids adopted it from my uncle’s house and it’s come to rest in our kitchen.)

Tonight I was looking online for a cottage to rent in September (if we homeschool, we can take summer break whenever we want, right?) and K elbowed me out of the way. I figured, Why not? She should learn how to research this stuff too. I was off doing something else when she hollered for me.

“Hey, Eema? I found one! It’s perfect!”

“What’s perfect about it?” I shot back.

“It’s so nice!”

“How nice is it?”

“It has a hot tub!”

“No, I mean how nice is it? Is it $500 a night nice? ‘Cause that’s way too nice.”

Turns out it wasn’t quite that far outside of our price range, so now the hot tub cottage is in the running. I also found a less expensive place that has a bunkie (i.e. a tiny shed with a bed inside, for moody tweenagers to hide in.) I may have won K over with that one, not that it’s her decision.

We had a family meeting tonight to discuss home schooling, vacation plans, and personal achievements. K said she was proud of getting most of the way through the grades 6-8 algebra book; N was proud of his math work as well, as was R (whose achievement was that she can now do her division questions in half the time it used to take. I know I shouldn’t belittle that achievement just because ten questions used to take her an hour, but…)

E was proud of having finished reading two boxes of Bob books already. And me? I told the kids that I’m proud of how I was able to get organized and maintain the structure so that we could homeschool. But most of all, I look at how they’re thriving right now, and I’m proud of all of us.

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Day 104: Contentment

As I type this, I’m sitting on our back porch being caressed by evening breezes. The sounds of my children playing (long past bedtime, but isn’t this what summer is for?) and the birds calling from tree to tree are a backdrop to a live online concert of camp tunes. The clouds look like cotton candy. Right now, everything is all right.

This morning we made one hundred and seventy-six sandwiches for the Ve’ahavta street outreach van. Mr. December made the kids (one at a time) be the supervisor, and coached them to figure out a method, maintain quality control, and keep the assembly line moving at a steady rate. The three older kids also got to practice their handwriting by making labels for each of the 176 sandwich bags, and they got to see how multiplication is the simplest way to count large quantities of items.

We talked about assembly lines and how they revolutionized manufacturing. The kids knew that Henry Ford was famous for making assembly lines very profitable (apparently they learned that from the musical Ragtime.) We chatted a bit about children’s work in times past.

“You know,” K observed, “E is the best person to bring us the bread and carry away the sandwiches. It’s easy work and it lets her keep moving.”

“That’s why throughout history little kids often did those kinds of jobs. It freed up older children and adults for the skilled tasks,” Mr. December responded. “If you had been born a couple of hundred years ago, you might have had jobs too.”

We decided to bike the sandwiches over to Ve’ahavta’s office, which is about five kilometres from our house. That was five kilometres, uphill, on a bakfiets (which weighs 100 pounds) carrying E and all of the sandwiches. Within fifteen minutes my legs were shaking, but — and this is one of my favourite things about biking for exercise — we had to get those sandwiches to their destination, so I persevered.

We biked to my parents’ house for a swim, and then found reasons to hang around a bit longer. I’d forgotten how nice it is to just be in their house with no particular agenda.

And now it’s long past the kids’s bedtime, and I must put E to bed. The sun is down, the leaves are rustling, and a few diehard birds are still chirping to each other. It’s peaceful. Everything is all right.