Some Pesach favorites

April 5th, 2011

I have been reading a lot of other material on line rather than writing much here as of late. I taught a shiur last night on the Seder Night: Feeling Elevated, not Exhausted. I hope my own learning and preparation will allow me to achieve that! I also hope to post a summation of that class here as soon as possible… but not now.

Today I just want encourage you to check out some other great stuff:

The Joy of Kosher has invited Kosher on a Budget’s Mara Strom to guest post on Frugality and Pesach, and as usual, she does a great job.

The Bima’s Ima has hosted the Kosher Cooking Carnival … just enough time before Pesach to still be planning.

In preparation for my class I came across a great piece By Rabbi Spoltor of Orot on leaning at the seder that is worth the read.

The Jewish Hostess has a great list of Charoset Recipes from around the world.

And last but not least, Esti Berkowitz is running a great (but “cheesy”) contest over at Prime Time Parenting. I have probably just hurt my own chances of winning. Oh well. May the best recipe win.


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Woven Baskets?

August 23rd, 2010

Whew! If you look at my recent posts, you certainly get a sense of just how all over the place my life has been lately.

My friend, poetess, and fellow blogger, Havaya, quotes the Talmud in Bava Kama 92a on this week’s parsha (Ki Tavo) to make a fascinating point:

The Kohanim, she explains, would return the gold and silver trays of the wealthy bringing their first fruits to the Holy Temple, but would keep the woven baskets of the poor. This seems so counterintuitive!

Her explanation for the discrepancy is beautiful. I hope that you read it.

This reminds me of the time in our lives when my husband and I had to work hard to save money. It might have been romantic and cute to be broke had we been young 20-somethings in love. We weren’t. The causes were not our own, and were sad and frustrating.  We researched, turned it into a mission, and with the help of Hashem and our family we did what we needed to do to get to a better financial place.

Having said that, the thing that made me feel poor was not what we were living without. I had what I needed. I always have what Hashem knows I need, even if it isn’t always apparent to me.

I felt poor when I couldn’t give tzedakah. When I had to say no. I had to keep everything within a budget, we lived in a community where lots of people asked for charity, and a lot of the time we just couldn’t give.

Growing up, my father tried to say yes to every Jewish charity that asked him. ( This, of course, has a Tribble-like effect on the number of Jewish charities that will ask.)  He couldn’t give a lot to most, and he had to give less to each as a result, but he successfully instilled in his children the power of tzedakah.*  As my husband and I struggled at the time, it was very hard for me to say no.

Captain Kirk with Tribbles

Capt. Kirk with tribbles on Star Trek

I cannot begin to understand how the people of Israel blessed to live in the time of the Holy Temple felt about their first fruit offerings. But I would like to think that one of the reasons that the woven baskets were kept is so the poor people who had fewer opportunities to fulfill the mitzvah of giving could feel the value of their contribution.

Yashar Koach to Chaya for a beautiful piece and pause for thought about something more important than smartphones.

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Day trip (with six kids.)

February 15th, 2010

I read that NYC’s “Gazillion Bubble Show” was coming to NJ’s State Theater in New Brunswick for a special “Family Fun Day” for President’s Day. The theater had a whole day of activities and shows planned, some reasonably priced and some free.

I have taken a true hiatus from day trips with my kids. The whining in the car, the whining when we leave, the inability to please so many people with any one activity, the money… the list of reasons goes on.  Child #7 was definitely the tipping point. But I have been feeling ready to jump back in. I thought that everyone except for dear stepson, who is a teenager, would enjoy. I thought it was a real find to grab a group rate price of $10 when NYC tix go for $40-60.  With that performance combined with the other free activities, it made for an unusually reasonable day, not too far away, and I have been thinking that maybe my kids are (or is it I who is?) ready.

True to my usual way of doing things, I had to turn it into a production. I wanted to get the group rate. A group is 10 people, and we were seven, so I didn’t think it would take much. Once I found out, however, that the tix were selling out really fast and I was already making plans, why not include some more? I also arranged to order kosher food from the town next door and have it delivered to the theater between shows! Of course food for six adults, two babies, two toddlers and eight kids isn’t really very simple, is it?

The day was NOT a complete success. Almost no one liked the bubble show. It was too young for the kids old enough to sit still, and too long for the kids young enough to appreciate  it. It is also really hard to see bubbles and appreciate them from far away. Duh. As you can imagine on a holiday day, with a bunch of activities that were free or inexpensive, it was CROWDED. I expected that. Doesn’t make it any more fun to deal with, though.

The day was also NOT a complete failure. This is some of  what I learned:

  • Pep talks – good ones – before going anywhere really do make a big difference.
  • Kids making a mess and eating in the car on the way to somewhere that is a long experience is worth it and a good idea.
  • If I am going to take my kids somewhere without another adult in my party, but with friends, then I need to speak with my friends ahead of time about the eventuality that they will end up helping me in one way or another. My friends were 100% okay with this  – this time. But I didn’t talk about it ahead of time, and I should have. I was lucky they were so cool, but I forget so easily how it just inevitably ends up that I have to be in at least two places at once.
  • Labeled bracelets, especially for the younger ones, with my number on them. My wise friend brought some and had extras. Thank G-d we didn’t need them, but they are great for peace of mind.
  • I will never buy nosebleed tickets to a performance with little ones again. It was just too much of an issue. They felt they could be noisy because they were so far from the performance, and they didn’t engage well. Not worth it. No matter what. This had never occurred to me before, and I am glad I will know better for next time.  I hope at least one person reads this and gets to learn this before doing it.
  • Always bring a notebook so kids can “journal” or take notes. In the case of one child, that turned the whole day around. This is often really successful.
  • Kids – my kids, anyway – bond when they have a family outing, whether it is an outing they enjoy or not. The experience bonds them; even if it is sometimes against me!
  • Bring something (small) to read, do, or daven from. Even if I am sure I will never have a chance to use it.
  • Nothing, but nothing, pleases everyone of all ages as well as the zoo.
  • My boys have outgrown outings that aren’t sports, active or “guy stuff”. They just aren’t interested. Next time I will let them go sledding into a creek with their Abba like the last time, and take the girls somewhere with me quiet and sedentary…. maybe only one of my girls.

The ten year old gave the day a 6.5 – that’s pretty good. She is very visual, and liked the bubbles better than the rest. My four year-old told me that the best parts of the day were hugging Elmo, and my reading her bedtime story. I think that just about sums it up. The next time I am thinking of taking them on a day trip, alone, I am going to reread this post.

Especially the part about the bedtime story.

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“Work at Home” Mom

January 25th, 2010

I am trying something new this year. I am now what I like to call a “work at home” mom. I am working as a PR consulant part time, from home. I also am home full time with my 1 1/2 year old son.

while the other six are in school during the day, that only gives me until 3:30 to work until basically 9 pm, when bedtime is over.

(I also carve out time for teaching early childhood Jewish music classes and some Torah learning.)

I have remained a “stay at home” mom for almost the entirety of the preschoolers-rearing stage — a long ten years. I am glad that I did, and it has always been because I felt it what was best for my kids. I even kept everyone home for a year, with 3 preschoolers and a baby having “Gan Ima” all day every day. (The horror others had that I was “homeschooling” my children who were all too young to technically be in school is for another post.)

But being home with my kids full time was always a struggle for me.  I don’t enjoy going to the playground for hours. I don’t like fingerpaint. I don’t enjoy sitting on the floor with one cute little child and playing trains. Certainly not as much as I liked working. I LOVED working. I enjoyed my career. When I gave it up, it was never forever and it was never really completely. I found fulfillment in event planning or article writing within my Jewish community instead of for an employer. I joined the shul board, founded a Jewish girl scout troop… lots of activities to keep me busy and engaged at certain elements of my career.

Two years I began working again outside of volunteering. Very, very part time, and all from home.  At first pregnant, with a sitter for my toddler. Then,  with a little baby around. It wasn’t so complicated. He loved to nurse and sleep, and those things made it easy for me to squeeze in work. And parts of my brain started to buzz with activity again.

Now I have developed a business and a client base. (I happen to love the clients I have now.) My little one is a lot less little, and I find myself doing a challenging juggling act I never really attempted when my other children were this young.

A friend who has her children in the same school was laid off this year, and is having a go at consulting, and also at trying to be a “work at home” mom. Her little one is younger than mine, and still a tad easier. (He will catch up soon enough, I have no doubt)

“G” & and I are trying an experiment; we are going to try to work in the same house 2 – 3 days a week while the little ones play, sleep, whine, make messes, etc.  The idea is to have a mother’s helper here with us, share the expense, be with our children, while successfully earning money.

When my now ten year old was 18 months I would have never made it past the guilt to such a plan. I needed to be spending my days at mommy and me, music classes, gymnastics for toddlers, and water babies — which very pregnant with twins was quite a picture, believe me.

Now, I am a different woman, ten years older with a lot more experience and confidence. Those classes were fun, but she didn’t need them. What she needed, and what my little one needs now is a happy, healthy, focused, centered mommy who can give her little one(s) attention and love with a whole heart and mind.  She didn’t really like those classes any more than she liked the park. It was “Ima time” no matter how you sliced it, made it fancy, added programming, or spent a lot of money on it.

I am hoping that I can find the perfect balance for this child and for me – his Ima – at this stage. The experiment with his friend, my friend, a sitter and two laptops all in one house is a new one, and you will have to follow me in seeing if it works.

But I can tell you that I nurse him to sleep while writing letters and articles. I take a break between skype calls and emails to nuzzle his neck and tickle him like crazy and even to play with trains a little…. and so far, it is the most fun I have had being home.

Now if I can just find a way to get the 20 weekly loads of laundry done in the mix……….

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Winter break

December 29th, 2009

Today is day 3 of the kids being home for winter break. DH and I planned a day at the Museum of Natural History in Manhattan. Needless to say, such an outing, even with only six of the seven kids, is a production. Lots of planning…..

DH broke his toe last night (I can’t even begin to explain.) So either we had to cancel, or I had to take five of them on my own. That wasn’t going to happen. Especially after yesterday’s near melt-down.

One rule of thumb I learned (the hard way) a long time ago is that I don’t discuss big plans like these with the kids much ahead of time. This way when they don’t work out there is little whining and disappointment.

Another, is that kids like small, easy and familiar outings as much if not more than a big production of a trip that requires travel, planning, and is usually exhausting.

Today was a case in point. Instead of our big day at the museum, we counted out the money in their banks, did lots of fun math to total the amounts, and trotted off to the local bank to open FIVE student bank accounts. This including explaining to my four y.o. at least ten times that she would still have her money, just at the big bank not in her piggy bank.  Luckily someone came in to use their safety deposit box. She sort of interpreted what I told her to mean that she was going to have her $18 stored in one of those… and I let her leave believing it.

The people at the local PNC branch deserve a lot of credit for their patience.

We then went to a friend’s to watch an American Girl movie on DVD…. for some reason the fact that it took place during the Great Depression was enough to get the boys to watch it. Everyone loved the movie. My eight year old son got a lot of pleasure out of the fact that Ima cried at the end, for some reason.

The last exciting outing of the day was a trip to Target to use the gift cards the children received for Chanukah. That was my idea, the gift cards. I must remember to post a blog about what a terrible idea that was.

They were thrilled. A full and fun day. So, so, so much easier than a 90-minute each way trek into NYC to the Museum of Natural History on a day with record freezing winds…… and, for the record, I spent absolutely nothing.

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Snow day… so much to say.

December 20th, 2009

Last night was the first real snowfall of the year. Although there was no school to cancel, it still feels like the first real snow day.

There are so many things unique and important I have learned the hard way about making a snow day successful – at least what I consider successful.

First of all, I try to always offer the snow plow guys that come some coffee or pancakes (see below). I don’t know for sure that they plow a little more for me, but I am pretty sure they do, and I think it models great hakarat hatov for the kids.

I took out the snow gear Thanksgiving weekend when I had a few hours to really work. Sorting what fits, getting out 7 (!) pairs of boots, gloves, etc. The pool gear bins in the coat closet became the hat bin and the glove bin. The odd gloves didn’t get thrown away, but are in a separate bag. That way when one is lost, and a child is desperate, out comes a mismatched glove to save the day.

Three years ago I went on-line and bought a wholesale package of kids’ waterproof gloves. There were 50 pair in the pack, all the same, with a variety of detail colors. Kind of like this listing:   I realize that 50 pairs may seem extreme, but I wound up paying a lot less (like half) per pair. I have a lot of kids who not only wear a lot of gloves but LOSE a lot of gloves. I have now had 3 years in a row with enough gloves, as we have slowly used them up. We have had enough when kids soak theirs and want a second (or third pair.) We have enough for stray kids that end up at our house and need extra gloves. And no getting upset when someone comes home without the ones they left with.

It was a great investment. Most of my kids are outgrowing them as we speak, and I will probably get a case of the next size up.  The smartest will be to make do until February or March and buy them for next year, when they are really, really cheap.

Snow pants; they fit more sizes then the labels say, so I always keep them around despite the sizes listed until the winter comes and we can try them on. My size 8/10 boys are wearing size 6/7 snow pants. Again. I will buy at the end of the winter when they are on clearance for next year.  Or wait until I get hand me downs, as I am often blessed to get.

My kids have come to know that I will make a bigger, homemade and hearty breakfast on a snow day. I have learned that if they go out with a filling warm breakfast in their tummy they will stay out longer. And complain less. Our favorite is healthy whole wheat, no sugar, no oil pancakes. Sounds awful I know. They are delicious. I use apple sauce; it is a modified version of a recipe on the Mott’s apple sauce jar.  I will post the recipe today as well if I am given enough time. I use a lot of blueberries (frozen; I stock up when they are on sale,) and I give the kids cinnamon and sugar. I have to remember to write a separate cinnamon & sugar post, too.

Next; when kids come in from the snow, they are STARVING. I have learned to use this to my advantage. Although I will make hot cocoa, I usually have some fresh steamed veggies waiting on the table when they first get in. Or worse – leftovers! Once they devour whatever happens to be in front of them, I move on to what they may actually want to eat. Amazing.

Movies. Almost always a staple on snow day – but it really has to be its own post as well. So much to say….

Drying wet stuff; I try to have two of everything. I have hooks in the front hall, and I take the usually messy mix and get it out of there so the wet stuff can go there right away. Same for the shoe rack, which happens to be over a heating vent. It means the coats and hats are a big mess until the whole thing is over. The house is always a mess for snow day anyway. I have come to accept it is part of the fun.

I don’t like to go out and play in the snow. I love the excuse to not leave the house. I don’t like the cold. I have lived in CT, Boston, and Montreal (!), and I have had my fill of the cold and the snow. Unless there happen to be skis on my feet.

So one of my favorite things about having so many children is that they have lots of people to play with out in the snow and I don’t have to be one of them.

When I was starting this journey with my children, I used to be stunned at just how long a snow day seems to last. Today has been very long already; it is 11 am, and my children have gotten up, made and devoured a messy breakfast. Gone out in the snow, come back in, made snow slush, built a fort, and started two messy craft projects.

Expecting the day to stretch out and be amazingly long has been really helpful.  I have come to just watch them and really, really enjoy the snow days. Enjoy them enjoying them. Enjoy the slower pace. Enjoy the mess. Allowing the peace of the snow to make it a peaceful – fun, messy, chaotic, long and tiring – but peaceful day.

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