Whatchagot Soup

December 29th, 2010

Robert Urich and Avery Brooks in "Spenser for Hire"

Robert Parker used to write a detective series about Spenser, a private investigator. (The series was turned into a TV show in the80′s.)  Spencer was a real tough guy, but he also loved to cook. His specialty was taking the random ingredients in his fridge and turning them into something impressive and delicious. When I read the books all those  many years ago I dreamed of being that kind of cook.

A week and a half ago I got a whopper of a cold. It took me a long time to feel better, and it reached a point where all I wanted to eat for days was soup. 

I used to love making interesting soups. I cooked them for me and my husband all the time before I had all of these kids. They only like chicken soup. So lame.

Soups are the best if you aspire to cook like Spencer, using up what you have in the house. During my spate of illness, I did come up with one soup that was really good. Even with my smell and therefore taste compromised, it was good and my husband agrees.

A couple of years ago I started taking the stems of broccoli and trimming, cleaning and freezing them. I then use them in soups, saving the money, the food and the nutrients. Sometimes I have to shave the trunk a little if it is particularly thick, but they can be used to make a delicious cream of broccoli soup if you save up enough of them.

In this case, I used them in my most recent successful “watchagot” soup:

One large onion

4 broccoli stems, defrosted in the microwave, and chopped

2 stalks of celery, chopped

minced garlic

a handful of sweet mini peppers that had to get used up, seeded and chopped

1 can of diced tomatoes

1 tsp. marjoram

1 tsp. sage

1 tsp. basil

1 tsp. oregano

salt and pepper to taste

Sautee the onions in a tiny amount of olive oil, as they approach clear, add the minced garlic, and the celery. Heat on med. until soft. Add the can of tomatoes, fill the can with water and add. Add the seasoning. Bring to a boil, then simmer for a while – until you finish your phone call, change that diaper, answer those two urgent emails, or whatever.

Use a hand blender, mixing everything well until you get desired consistency. Simmer for a while longer; a half hour or until you just can’t wait anymore, and then enjoy.

If you don’t have a hand blender, you should get one. If you need enough recipes to justify the purchase, email me  and I will load you up. I couldn’t live without mine; I have two, a dairy and a meat one.

If you have any great “whatchagot” recipes, please post them!

Another Baby?

December 21st, 2010

I am NOT having another baby right now. No big announcement happening here on the blog. Sorry.

But it is the conversation that I, and many of my peers, friends – and fellow bloggers – have to have. For some of is, it is a conversation we keep revisiting.

I realize that for some people it isn’t as easy as a conversation or just deciding. I also know there are plenty of times we have “the conversation”, make a decision, and G-d just has other plans.  For better or worse, as Scary Mommy puts it: “It seems like all I need to do is think about a baby and poof, nine month later, I have one in my arms.”

So there are those of us who have “the conversation” because we do think that we have the ability to decide,at least on some level.

The decision can be about a lot of things, and I am hoping that you will chime in about some of them. There are two things I hear most often. For some, it is a question of family size above all else. “How could I possibly handle more? I can’t handle what I have!”, for example. Or, “I always thought I would have X number of kids, but maybe that is just my ideas getting in the way of what is practically best for us.”

For some, it is the AGE thing… “well, I am going to be/am/am over  40, so it’s now or never!” I hear too. I am going to be 39 in March, and I guess, well, I fall in this category. I say I am done, but saying so when you still have time to change your mind is one thing…..

When I was in labor with my youngest child (who will be 3 this spring), my husband said to my doula “the next time, we will…”  There was no rest of the sentence, because I threw the birth ball at him.

Seven is a lot of children. (And any of you tempted to say, or even think ” six and a stepson” you will just have to read this post on the matter.) It is a lot.

Everyone has to do what is right for them, and for many of us that means not only having “that talk” with our spouses, but with a Rabbi.  But I do want to address those of you who are considering going from 2 to 3 or from 3 to 4, because this is a group of women I think I hear from the most.

Here is my two cents, which may be worth much less than that:

  • When you have two kids, you can have a lifestyle. I mean hobbies, vacations, date night… a lifestyle.If you want to maintain a lifestyle and choose to have a third, you have to stop and consider how close your parents live, how good a roster of babysitters you have, and how flexible you are. I believe it can be done, but with effort.
  • However, if you want or are willing to have parenting be your lifestyle, than three is nooo problem, because parenting is what your lifestyle will become. You will take vacations around the kids, and basically do what you do for and about them – at least for a decade or two.
  • … And if you have chosen parenting as your lifestyle, then four is really not a big change over three. Very often you can then have “team A” and “team B” for the purpose of logistics. Who is on which team is constantly in flux, but you can divide up the kids while doing  playdates/errands/ naps/baths/homework… you get the idea.  The kids have taken over the life, then house, the plans, so a fourth means more diapers and less sleep, but not much of an adjustment.

A friend recently related her feelings of still yearning, loving pregnancy and child-bearing, and wanting to enjoy yummy little babies. She is not sure if those feelings are a sign she should keep going, or just some biological stirrings that she needs to learn to contend with. Another friend told her of a woman in her fifties having a hysterectomy and crying, because for some, there is no magical age when that feeling just fades away on its own.

People often talk to me about this very personal issue, telling me that they wonder how can a person do what they do, times seven. “It seems so crazy!”

I tell them that it is crazy, and fun, and joyous and hard and full of love. That when I became a mom I wasn’t a patient person who could live with clutter or a lack of control. I had no choice but to become that kind of person along the way. I remain organized, I prioritize my expectations, I ask LOTS of people for help (and try to help in return whenever I can, ) and I am married to someone who LOVES babies, and loves kids and loves being involved with the poop-changing and bed-timing, etc., which is a HUGE factor in the equation for me.

My husband’s involved co-parenting is the primary, if not sole reason I have the family I do. However, it is precisely because he really does love babies that much, we do end up still having “the conversation“…..

What about you? Are you having “the conversation”???

A New Phase of Recognition

September 26th, 2010

I was a little surprised by my children’s reactions to the rebuilding of our sukkah this year.  Every year has been met with some level of wonderment and suprise as well as excitement. This year…. there was recognition. They had very clear expectations of what it looked like, where it would go, certain decorations, and even our annual problems with it.

As I was scrambling to get ready for yet another 3 days of yom tov in a row, I considered why this made any impression on me at all. They aren’t babies anymore was the most obvious and immediate thought.

Then I stopped to realize that I have now lived in this house longer than I have lived anywhere since I was sixteen and we left my childhood home in Connecticut. My parents moved to Boston at the beginning of my junior year which felt like a death sentence to me at the time. My life was my friends, and leaving that behind was unimaginable. Rather than put down new roots for the remaining two years of high school, I chose to spend part of 12th grade in Israel.  This led to many years of moving; three years at university in Canada, a brief return to Boston, and then aliyah.  I had thought for many years that once I had settled in Jerusalem that that was it. The end. Enough wandering.

First I would find a job. (I did.) Then I would find a husband. ( I did.) Then I would find a nice house in a nice Israeli suburb, settle in, and never leave.  That part wasn’t exactly what Hashem had in mind. So I moved to New Jersey, and took a while to settle here in the amazing community in which we live.

Time has passed and many babies have been born, thank G-d.  I have been busy with much and don’t pause to consider how long we have been here. I DO spend time “counting down” until Israel, but that clearly has distracted me from the roots that have been planted and grown here.

I think there is something wonderful about the wonderment and surprise of the sukkah  box that emerges each year. I am also enjoying this phase of recognition. The familiarity is becoming part of their holiday experiences, as ritual is intended to be.

This is just one piece of a much larger adjustment to a new phase. After over a decade of  ”making babies”, my husband and I daily come upon some new aspect of having a house full of children, not infants and toddlers.  For example, we both took a nap at the same time on Shabbat.  Imagine that.

How does this change sukkot? Well, their expectations of us have changed, since they now have expectations for the holiday and its routine. Certain decorations from year to year have become important to them. Sleeping in the sukkah with a specific set-up matters. (Even at the expense of hundreds of mosquito bites, apparently.) Our sukkah door, (which I photographed and tried but failed to upload here ), must be added to every year, according to certain parameters not only not determined by me, but for the most part I am not even privy to.

This means I get to adjust my expectations too; children old enough to recognize so much from year to year are definitely old enough to start helping get ready for the holidays in a BIG way.   :  )

Bedtime issues

April 15th, 2010

The worst bedtime issues in my house are not those of any of the children. They are entirely my own.

I like control. I like feeling in control, I like being in control. And being a parent, I have found, is one long road of giving up all control. It starts when your body doesn’t feel like your own anymore, and your eating, sleeping and peeing are all controlled by the little being growing inside of you. It ends, well, I doubt it ever ends.

After I  have helped with homework, fed them, bathed them, read to them, cajoled them, brushed teeth, had the heart-to-heart conversations that always seem to need to happen only 5 minutes AFTER they are supposed to be asleep, cleaned up from the homework, dinner, baths, cajoling and everything else, I sit down… and it is quiet. It is bliss.

It is my time. I get to decide what I am going to do (or not). I can eat what I want, and I can work using my full concentration and whatever brain cells still have energy to function. I can even blog about still being awake.

What my husband wants is another story. He has waited for the kids to get homework done, dinner, baths… I think you have seen the list.  So he has waited a long time to talk to me, spend time with me, or just to go to sleep at the same time. He also wants a wife that is well rested and has gotten enough sleep to do it all again the next day without needing him to take over.

But I don’t want to go to bed at a time that is convenient for someone else. And I don’t want to go to sleep just to do the right thing and get enough sleep, any more than the kids do who need the aforementioned cajoling. (As I write this it sounds like such a rebellious, childish sentiment.)

I want to control this precious time, and use it as I see fit. I would like to think that if I had more control over other aspects of my life than bedtime wouldn’t become a “power struggle” for me. However, I accepted a very long time ago (or at least I thought I had) that I don’t really have any control over anything. It is an illusion. Hashem controls it all, and I have to do the best I can in each situation I am given.  I also thought that raising a non-custodial stepchild who also happens to be a teenager had stripped me of any remaining control issues. Clearly not.

Staying up as long as I want, enjoying the peace and quiet, using my time only mildly wisely and eating things I won’t let the rest of my family have is the closest I am going to come to a “room of one’s own”  for now. And it feels  self-indulgent and “selfish”… blissfully so.

It says in Pirkei Avot that one should make for yourself a Rabbi. There are slightly different variations on how this is understood. However, there is consensus that a person can spend time with and learn from as many rabbis as they like, but should have A rabbi that gives them halachic rulings and advice. We are not supposed to shop around for opinions on each matter until we get the one we like. Or go to our “makel rav” (lenient rabbi) when we want a lenient answer and our “mahmir rav” (strict rabbi) when we don’t.

I am frequently amazed at how many frum Jews I meet who tell me that they don’t have a rabbi. They may live near a rabbi, or know several, but they don’t have one Rabbi that they trust completely, see eye to eye with on Torah, and not only are prepared to live by what he says, but feel elevated and stronger as a Jew through their psak (rulings.)

The common response I hear is that “I don’t know someone like that” or “I can’t find one” or “I like the Rabbi in my town/city/shul/yishuv I just don’t feel that we are 100% on the same page but it’s what I’ve got.”

This is so very sad to me.  I wonder why the Rabbinic leadership doesn’t encourage people to seek this out, especially in our digital day. The Rabbi of our community is my friend, teacher, role model. He is an amazing person from whom I learn all of the time. But my posek, my Rav is many many miles away, and most of my communication with him is “cyber-psak”.

We have the most wonderful Rav. I met him through my husband. I often feel through my questions and conversations with him closer to Torah, closer to Hashem. I just believe that is how it is supposed to be. I don’t know that his answers would elicit the same feelings in other people; that’s why we each have to make for OURSELVES a Rabbi.

His answers make sense to me, and make me feel supported. Even when they are not what I want to hear. They make me want to grow in Torah in mitzvot.  There are times when my husband and I just cannot agree on what is the right thing to do. And there is no worry, because he can give us direction when we reach an impasse.

I don’t understand why this process of finding one Rav both spouses really relate to isn’t a requirement or pushed part of the process of getting married.

There has been much concern from my non-religious and non-Jewish relatives and friends that I let my Rabbi do my thinking for me. That is absolutely not the case, but I do ask him to elucidate halacha and to clarify the role of minhagim (traditions) in our lives. (Not growing up with any religious family members on either side of the family means very few minhagim.)

Pesach time of year is one where I, like most, spend more time checking with the Rav.  And I never stop feeling tremendous hakarat hatov – appreciation – that we have him.

The VERY sick Sick day.

March 12th, 2010

If my life had a theme it would be the old Yiddish expression “man plans, G-d laughs”.  When I wrote my last blog post I was quite sure at an early hour how the day would go.  I had been there before, and confidently typed out my plans for the day….

… I hadn’t counted on catching the stomach bug my 4 yo had just finished dealing with. Soon after publishing my blog post and immediately after eating a small meal, I knew that the day wouldn’t go as planned.

By late afternoon I had summoned my husband to work from home. By early evening… you don’t want any details of what went on early evening.

I lost all of that day and the next day, too. Turns out the recovery from such stomach bugs can be worse than the bug itself, as your muscles all try to recover from working backwards.

I cancelled my dss’s time to be with us that day in an effort to spare him similar agony. I almost never, ever cancel his time with us. I don’t like the message it sends. Luckily, at 15, he voluntarily opted to come the next day instead. Readers, please remind me of that when I am not having a great stepmom day.

I am now two days behind in both work and Shabbat preparations, and needless to say my Pesach prep will have to happen next week.  That is what I get for so confidently declaring how my day would go.

While I was sick, I thought to myself that this was actually worse than labor. At least with labor while my insides are turning inside out I know there is something wonderful coming out of it.

The following day, while I lay there feeling like my guts had been run over a few times, losing patience with my recovery time, I became flooded with gratitude for my problems. My husband was able to work from home. My illness wasn’t going to be a long term one, didn’t require a hospital stay, or lots of chesed from my community (little bits, for which I am also grateful.)

There are a number of people in my community going through some tough stuff health-wise right now, and the day I fell ill I had also read this heartbreaking article about a woman trying to have a baby.

It occurred to me that when their children whine that they “want their Ima back” after one day of being sick, those Imas can’t really give them what they want and need, and how difficult and sad that must be.

I thought about this because most of my children came to me while I lay in bed, one by one, and told me that they “really, really, really didn’t want me to be sick.”Because my incapacitation was causing them to suffer. While I appreciate being valued and needed as the Ima in the family, I am looking forward to their maturing to the point where they can realize that Imas need compassion and sympathy too.

Of course then I realized that while I give my children compassion and sympathy, I really didn’t when the little one was actually sick!

The night the 4yo was up sick I lay in bed incredibly grateful that my husband was taking care of it all. Next time, now that I have lived through it I think I will drag my tired self up to make sure I give some soothing words and some hugs in the middle of the night.

I will still let my husband clean it all up.

Purim – #3

March 2nd, 2010

The kids really enjoyed Purim. The costumes went really well. My 4 yo decided that poofy dresses like Queen Esthers wear hamper one’s lifestyle. So she changed into a ballerina outfit for most of Purim. You can do a lot more bouncing off of walls and everything else in ballet clothes…

Unlike years past, we kept Purim pretty simple. Familiar, close to home, and simple. The kids volunteered (which means I volunteered them) to deliver a large number of mishloach manot on behalf of our shul. My husband took them. He didn’t enjoy it very much. Delivering anything with 7 kids isn’t ideal. But the kids thought it was fun.

I, on the other hand, had a pretty rotten Purim.

I have had time to think about what was wrong. First of all, my number one rule of life as a parent played a major part.

IT IS ALL ABOUT THE SLEEP.

I got up early with the kids the day before Purim. Wisely, although not necessarily willingly, everyone in my household took a late nap. Except me. The next morning (Purim morning) I got up early with the kids again. Therein lies 90% of what went wrong with my Purim. I should have insisted on being the non-tired one, and slept in. Hindsight is so great.

The other factor in my less-than-ideal Purim was also my own doing.

A few weeks ago I intiated a conversation with my family at the Shabbat table.  I told them that every year I make a big seudah, a big production for the whole neighborhood, because I really like it. (That’s not the only reason, but that’s a story for another day.) This year, I told them, I wanted to hear what they wanted to do for Purim.

…. So they got what they said they wanted; simple plans, simple food. Socializing, but elsewhere and in doses.

When I felt at the end of the day that I had taken care of everyone else while no one had taken care of me, I was exactly right.

It was just that I had forgotten that the person who was in charge of taking care of me is the same one who spending all of Purim taking care of them.

Maybe, just maybe next year will be the year I get the balance right. I know it will be the year I go into Purim with enough sleep.

Ima2seven as a happy happy clown on Purim

Me, the happy Purim clown.

I was asked by the local outreach organization to teach a “lunch and learn” class on Tu B’Shvat this past Shabbat.  I heartily agreed because I love what they do and love to help them do it. I love to teach and jump at every chance to do so (there aren’t that many). I have been running a women’s Tu B’Shvat seder at the same location for the past four years, and as a result have ended up learning quite a great deal about the holiday.

However, once I had a chance to stop and think about it, I realized that this would be the first time I was teaching a shiur to a mixed crowd. I teach lots of mixed crowds – religious and not religious – but never men and women together. My rebbetzin – who would never agree to do such a thing –  gave me a look that read “give me a break”. My husband gave me same look, but even stronger.

I am not shy or in anyway less than completely outspoken in mixed company. I have “addressed” mixed audiences before in the same location… but not as a teacher of a Torah shiur. Not for an hour and a half. I have taken gemara shiurim for women.  I studied at Drisha. I had a Rabbi (the brilliant Rabbi David Aaron) speak under my chuppah, but was adamant that I wanted a woman – the incredible Rabbanit Chana Henkin – to speak at the wedding…. so no wonder they gave a look that said “give me a break”, right?

I wrote as my title that I am not a feminist. I am a strong sexist, and a huge fan of womankind.

What I do not support, however, is the idea that we are the same as men in any way, that Hashem wants us to have similar roles in any way, and that male opportunities can and should be given to women wherever and whenever possible. (Even when speaking within the boundaries of halacha.) That is my understanding of what feminism is, and so that makes me not a feminist.

Here’s the thing; I think that women are better at just about everything under the sun than men. Maybe not lifting huge weights or playing football. But if we needed to, we would find a wiser way of getting both of those things done. I have seen and heard and read numerous studies on how women use more parts of their brain. I have read shiurim on how the limitations put on women in Orthodoxy are because we are “exempt” and not because we are “prohibited”. Why do more things than you have to in order to connect to G-d? Why not perfect instead what you do need to do?

My experience of egalitarianism in Judaism is the equivalent of the best behaved child in the school fighting for decades for the right to stay after school in detention.

I once had a dream of becoming a Cantor. I had amazing role models, education and experience to pursue such a thing. My choice to sit behind a mechitza is not because I feel a desire to be subjugated. It comes from a true sense of superiority – not the opposite.

Years ago, I sat in a session at the GA – the General Assembly of the UJA.  In this session they were discussing a new crisis in the Hebrew Union College’s Rabbinical program. According to the panel, as the percentage of enrolled female students neared 50, the enrollment of males just started drastically dropping off.  The woman on the panel went on to describe studies that had been done in other industries, and cited the same phenomenon in the secular world.  Men fled the nursing profession when women began entering it in equal numbers.  The rise in female enrollment in medical school, at least according to the panel member, was having the same effect.

This would seem to be data that agrees with the way a sexist Orthodox Jewish structure was explained to me. Women can be rabbis; they can be great rabbis…. but what does that do to the men? There is something in the male psyche and makeup that doesn’t like competing in anything against women.

And I think the sages understood that much better than contemporary secular society would like to.

I know there are some that believe that this is about evolving and growing beyond such primitive and unfair inclinations, but I don’t buy it. If you believe in G-d, and you believe (he) made man and woman the way he did for a reason, then I believe you need to conclude that the differences are not to be ignored or squashed, but acknowledged, celebrated and worked with.

…. So I believe all of that, and still gave this shiur in front of a bunch of men.  G-d must have a wonderful sense of humor. Someone in our community had a baby, and while baby and Ima stayed in the hospital, many family members came for the shalom zachor and to lend a hand. From Brooklyn and from Lakewood. With very black hats on their heads. And these family members decided to stay for the ‘lunch and learn’.

Mixed learning in our community, taught by a woman at times, isn’t unusual or controversial. So the issue was with me, and my comfort level. Now, I was dealing with men in my audience who had never (they told me) listened to a shiur by a woman in their lives.  So apparently, I was making some statement or stand anyway.

I would love to hear from my readers if my next move was cowardly; I asked the proud new father of said baby to get up and read the Gemara section (the first part of Masechet Rosh Hashana, in the Mishna) that is our first mention of Tu B’Shvat. The truth is he is a wonderful Rebbe in the school and he did a much better job at reading and explaining it than I ever could have.  I am quite sure that there is no halachic distinction at all whatsoever between my teaching the class and my reading that Gemara. But I couldn’t do it.

The rest of the shiur I chose to enjoy. After all, no one made anyone stay, or indicated that it would be rude for them to leave. They could have eaten and then left. They chose to be there. They complimented me afterwards. I take comfort in the fact that I seriously doubt that any of the black hat men have ever heard much of anything about Tu B’Shvat at all whatsoever. Certainly not why the kabbalists made a Tu B’Shvat seder and perceived it to be a tikkun.

I am not embarrassed to teach in front of men, and I don’t apologize for my own level of knowledge, access to learning (yes, the Gemara) or my ability to give that knowledge over.

Through this process I have come to realize that ultimately what bothers me is only that I don’t like being the focus of attention in a room for over an hour that isn’t filled solely with women. Although the focus should of course be on the material, in principle I just don’t want to stand up and be that which everyone looks at for such a long period of time in mixed company.

I don’t think that I will agree to do such a thing again. In this particular case, there was a least some strong element of kiruv, outreach, involved. I know there were men at an early point in the Jewish journey who became more connected to the holiday because of my teaching. This is the one aspect that causes my ambivalence.

I have no doubt that the “black hat” men (as if I can judge them by their head covering…) did NOT learn that a  woman can be learned and teach a coherent shiur on a topic and give over information they didn’t know. I am 100% certain they already knew that.

I don’t think tzniut is about hiding your talents. G-d forbid. Or denying them. But I do think it is about having the confidence to share them in a way that draws attention to the service of Hashem and only the service of Hashem and not attention to ourselves or what we are capable of.

I hope this is the way in which the shiur was received.  I am confident that Hashem is concerned with my intentions.

I am still left with the feeling that I made a statement, and not one I am sure I wanted to make.

I am, after all, a sexist.  :  )

sick….

December 21st, 2009

So I had the nerve to go and get a cold. With a cough, that has flattened me for some reason. Probably because of the snow day yesterday. Fun, but took all of my energy.

I have read that it is just “known” that when husbands get sick the world stops, but when women do the world must go on. I am skeptical, to say the least. How do I know this isn’t just our letting them off the hook? I think men can plead ignorance to get away with not working as hard. “If I never learn how to do it, then I won’t be expected to,” right?

Is it really biological? Really? Or is it just crafty laziness? Do we let them get away with not doing as much as we do because we believe they can’t? And can they? There are stay at home dads, so certainly they must figure it out.  I mean I certainly don’t feel that I was given a gift by Hashem in folding laundry, settling a dispute between to kids, supervising the Hebrew reading homework and answering a phone call all at the same time.

I have been told by many – MANY – that my husband is a rare gem in the amount he helps with the kids.  He is such a great Abba, and he loves to play with them and to facilitate their playing with each other… but is that the same thing as being a really helpful spouse? Sometimes, I suppose.

There are a lot of things that have to happen other than their play. I really don’t buy that it is a woman’s make-up to make sure homework is done before too much fun is had. I think it is just a habit we develop after too many nights of “I can’t go to bed now, I have to do my homework.”

So does it mean I coddle? Do I do it all too well too often? The times I have been away or slacked because of illness haven’t seemed to fix the problem. Everything can always wait until Ima feels better.

I was sick today, and DH did a load of laundry. (Which is about 1/20th of the week’s.) I still had to make dinner, clean the dishes, and make sure homework got done – after some of them were supposed to  be in bed.

So which is it? Unrealistic expectations? Male hardwiring?

I have a feeling I am going to have grown kids who don’t need me when I am sick before I am going to get a really  good answer to my question.