Monday, November 30, 2009

And now… the tomato seeds!

tinyseeds 002 Here are the cherry tomato seeds I collected two weeks ago (yesterday), ready at last.  These are the variety I call Early Tiny Cherry.  They have no name because I received them in a packet from that was only labelled “Cherry Tomato Trio.”

My method of saving tomato seeds is outlined below, in case you’d like to try it out at home. 

It is a very cool thing that is extremely easy to do on your own or with kids.  I have absolutely no green thumb or special talent, so you have my promise that saving tomato seeds will make you feel like a total Earth Mama (or Papa, or the earthy equivalent in whatever gender you happen to find yourself…)!

Just don’t try saving seeds from supermarket tomatoes, even if you love them.  Chances are, they were grown in a greenhouse, or South America, or somewhere else that features conditions you absolutely will not be able to reproduce in your backyard to make those particular tomatoes happy. 

The beauty of saving seeds from tomatoes you’ve grown yourself is that you know that they will thrive in your environment, and theoretically, you can even improve the gene stock from year to year by selecting seeds from the most robust, happiest tomato plants in your own native growing environment.

This particular variety are amazing tomatoes, and I’m so happy to have more seeds to start with next year – although I do have a few left over from last year already.

These tomatoes start producing rather early in the season, they are sweet, savoury and absolutely delicious.  They also continue producing well into the fall, even through several frosts that have killed the other tomato plants (though the fruit does not really taste yummy after frost, they are still red and pretty).  The downside is that they are incorrigible suckerers.  You need to pinch back these plants relentlessly or they will grow a million side-shoots instead of tomatoes. 

It may be tempting to leave the shoots, because they will bear fruit also eventually…but don’t!  They steal energy from the main plant!  You will maybe get more fruits, but you’ll have to wait longer and they will be smaller.   I know this for a fact because Early Tiny Cherry plants that I didn’t pinch this summer started putting out tomatoes that were mere centimetres big.  Tiny, indeed!  (too tiny for my liking - blah)

Oh – despite the “Tiny” name, the plants grow HUGE.  This has easily been my biggest tomato plant two summers in a row.  I plan to use them again next year to vine up the trellis in the backyard because they grow so well, but you do have to pinch back the vines to encourage them to produce more fruit.

For such a giant prolific plant, by the way, these are some of the tiniest tomato seeds I have ever seen.  My thumb is in this picture for contrast.  They’re like teensy, weensy triangles.

Here’s my easy, foolproof way of saving tomato seeds:

  • Collect squishy tomato guts and add a bit of tap water in a clean baby food jar.  (like in this picture from two weeks ago)
  • Use masking tape to identify, on the jar, the name of the tomato you’re saving!
  • Leave it a couple of weeks to get good and moldy.  The mold is just on top of the water; it won’t hurt the seeds!
  • Drain off as much water as possible without losing any seeds.
  • Run cool tap water into the jar and stir the seeds up.
  • Wait a few seconds for the seeds to settle to the bottom, drain and repeat.
  • Once the water runs fairly clear, drain off as much water as possible.
  • Fold up a piece of clean newsprint on a plate. 
  • WRITE the name of the tomato you’re saving on the newsprint, or if you’re feeling lazy, just transfer the piece of tape from the jar
  • Pour the seeds and whatever small amount of water is left onto the newsprint.  Use a spoon to get out as many seeds as you can.
  • With the back of a spoon, spread the  seeds as flat as possible on the paper.
  • After a few hours, when newsprint appears dry, spread the seeds out gently with a spoon.  You may need to pry them apart a little; it’s okay if some are a bit clumpy.
  • Leave to dry on newsprint for a week or more, spreading and stirring whenever you remember – maybe twice a day – to encourage quicker, more even drying.
  • I tend to forget about the seeds at this point… when I remember, it’s usually weeks later, and then I just pour off the seeds into a paper envelope OR baggie.  Your call; there are advantages to both. 
  • Store with your other seeds.
  • Curl up in your hollow tree and dream of spring.

Many people recommend using paper towel for drying seeds – don’t!  Wet paper towel sticks to everything and could make it hard to get your seeds off when they’re dry.

I am especially happy about this little exercise because I was too crazed by the end of summer to save any other tomato seeds… so this is it for this year.  Last year, I saved a whole bunch from the heirloom tomatoes we grew at our local Children’s Garden.  Maybe next year! 

Meanwhile, I still have lots of tomato seeds from previous years, and they do keep well for three years or more, so I’m not worried at all about running out of varieties to plant.

Outdoor Time

One of the foundations of a Charlotte Mason-style homeschool education - which is a curriculum that seems to jive with a lot of what I love about learning at home in the first place - is that children, especially very young children (under 6) should spend a LOT, if not most, of their time outdoors.  By a LOT, Charlotte Mason and those who follow her philosophies mean up to SIX hours a day.
That is very hard for me.  Even an hour is very hard for me.
Until we moved to this house and I started gardening, I couldn't stand being outside for extended periods of time at all.  Given a choice between a building with sealed windows and climate control and the great outdoors with all its variables... well, indoors would win out every single time.  Memories of shovelling snow, raking leaves, mowing lawns and other mucky type activities as a child were just too horrific, and I figured I was sparing my children this grief by living in an apartment.  The older kids had probably never touched a snow shovel (maybe never seen one!)until we moved here, four years ago this month.
One of the first things I did, the week that we took possession of the house, was rake the leaves.  It felt very much like an authentic act of kinyan (the formal transfer of property according to Jewish law).  But then I did very little, because it was winter already, until spring came and I discovered the sandy expanse that was the backyard.  I wish I'd taken pictures.
Anyway, even before I started reading in-depth about Charlotte Mason last week, I came to the conclusion that I take my children out WAY too little.
I have always seen fall as a route, a descent into bleak wintry coldness, rather than a destination in itself.  Lots of people love fall for itself, for the leaves and the chill in the air and the back to school and holidays and whatever.  I never have.  I see spring that way!  Spring is such a terrific destination, it's crushing when summer finally arrives.  But fall... well... it's just the demise of everything that was born in the spring.
So I have to fix this attitude, I decided.  And I really have made an effort, the last couple of weeks, to get the kids out of the house a little more often.
But now, being December, I fear it may be too late to really savour fall before it crashes and burns and falls apart into snow and slush and blah.  Still, winter is a destination, too.  I have never really played outside with kids in the winter.
And things will probably get easier as the kids get older, need less help getting jackets and hats on, and need less supervision in the great outdoors. 
We may never make it to six hours (that's a LOT!), but even a little is a start... right?

Naomi's magical memory

Recited while snuggling at bedtime tonight:
"I woke up one morning and one hand was wet and one hand was dry. I said to myself, 'that's weird.' It was really... magical!"

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Saying Kiddush? In Hebrew? With kids?

I’m supposed to be shutting down the computer, but I wanted to say something here about kiddush, because a lot of people are stumbling upon a previous post about pronunciation in Hebrew (modern vs traditional, Yiddish/Ashkenaz vs Sefard, etc).

That post is interesting, and philosophical, but not very helpful, especially for someone who’s interested in starting to say kiddush, whether by themselves, with their family, with their kids, whatever.

I don’t usually do “Judaism basics” on this blog because it is covered so well elsewhere (like at Tracey Rich’s wonderful Judaism 101 site).  But I do remember being a beginner, long, long ago, and being impatient and eager to find information wherever I could. 

First of all, this is what your kiddush doesn’t have to be:

  • In Hebrew.
  • Read perfectly.  (okay, Ted would be upset if he read this, because I do get picky about his… so call me a hypocrite)
  • Sung out loud.
  • Said over wine.
  • Said over terrible, sticky-sweet “sacramental” wine

What do you need, to make kiddush?

  • Grape juice or wine (technically, you can make kiddush over some other beverages, but why…?) (sweet or dry wine is fine; whatever you like best)
  • Siddur (prayerbook), or prayers swiped from the Internet (audio versions to listen to here)… in any language you understand
  • As many people as you can possibly gather around you… preferably people you like and/or love and/or want to share a meaningful experience with.

(Oh… also; light candles first, while you’re at it.  Why not?)

Now, if you have kids with you, you are super-duper-extra-terrifically lucky… because this is the point where you sit down, sigh, look around at each other, hopefully eat a nice meal, or at least a piece of challah. 

Even if you can’t sing kiddush, maybe you could throw in a Jewish song or two afterwards… anything you know is fine to start, even that awful “David Melech Yisrael” (leave out the “pizza pie” line) or “Dreidel, dreidel” if it’s anywhere near Chanukah.  We don’t sing a lot around our table, and I really want to try to change that now that we don’t have any really little babies.

Whether you have only grownups or whether there are kids at your table, you can get into the weekly parsha.  There is something for everybody at Aish HaTorah’s site here… and the UAHC site offers a reform slant here.  For a challenge, there are quizzes for each weekly parsha (along with quiz rules) from the Pardes site here.

Whatever you do with this special time, the week is over and these 25 hours between kiddush and havdalah are your gift… use them to linger with the people you have gathered around you.  Make it Family Games Night, play charades with friends, make it Quiet Reading Night… whatever you do, it’s your special day.


How autistic are you?

And how autistic am I?  I sometimes think a little. 

I am more comfortable using the term autistic now that it has opened up to everybody and his brother thanks to the mild-autism-slash-asperger’s end of the spectrum… I think it pretty much encompasses everybody who is slightly awkward socially, which is certainly me.

But please accept my apology if I’ve offended anybody who is genuinely autistic, or caring for a loved one who is.  I don’t think I’m genuinely, fully, 100% autistic.  But certainly a little…. off.  And getting more so, in a kind of calcification process, as I get older.   I can fell it setting in, the nimble structures of my mind fusing into greater and greater rigidity.

What I am very autistic about is television.  It has to be the SAME, over and over.  Ted can barely stand watching television with me, because it absolutely has to be exactly the same every time.

Here is what I watched on our television before we cancelled our cable:

~ Judge Judy

~ occasionally, Iron Chef

Here is what I watch on our television since we cancelled our cable:

~ Medical shows (ER, House, Grey’s Anatomy)

To be interesting, the characters on the screen must be occupied with saving lives in some way… the human drama of the shows is not enough, and in some way, not reassuring or practical enough for me to tolerate.  It has to be formulaic.  There must be Latin spoken.

I miss Judge Judy, repetitious and awful and shrieky though she may be.  If I could get a DVD of nothing but Judge Judy, or maybe of several judge shows interspersed, it would make me very happy.  Like “One Hundred Judge Shows”… do they make a DVD like that?

The format is so predictable!  I love it.  (Iron Chef, too, by the way, plus you learn foodie tidbits along the way)

I just remembered that Rain Man had that Judge Wapner thing going on.  That was People’s Court, one of my least favourite judge shows, actually.  I haven’t watched them in a couple of years, so I don’t know if the same ones are still on. 

I miss being able to turn on the VCR and have dozens of Judge Judy shows lined up.  Ted used to tape them for me, 1/2 an hour or an hour every day… I’d save them up and watch them a few at a time, gobbling them like popcorn.

My mother has cable and a VCR, but it’s not really the sort of thing I can ask her.  Everything is such a big deal for her.  For Ted, it was no big deal.  He is so non-judgmental (no pun intended)… he’s just, like, “okay, here is Tape A, here is Tape B, here is Tape C, there are about twenty shows on them… Tape B is the oldest ones.”

(you kind of have to watch them in order because there is a promo for the next show at the end of each one)

I love the medical shows, but sometimes, the plots and suspense get very tiring.  But I would be very happy if I had a DVD of judge shows, enough to last for a while (okay, at 22 minutes per show, even a DVD full would probably not last too long… I might need several). 

Who knows… ?  I’ve got a birthday coming up!

Wild Things (spoilers, but not a review)

Elisheva and I have a running joke that every single children’s book ends with the kid (or kids) falling asleep… at least, the good ones all do.

So why is that?

Kids certainly don’t fantasize about falling asleep, so whose fantasy is it?  Well, the parents’, obviously.

So there is a moment, and if you haven’t seen the movie Where the Wild Things Are, you might not want to read on because it might spoil it for you, but maybe not, because we all know he comes back in the end.  But anyway, read on at your own risk.

There is a moment at the end of the movie where Max comes home and his supper is, of course, still hot… just like in the book.  But in the movie, his mother waited up for him, she meets him at the door and doesn’t say much, which is just right.  And they sit at the kitchen table and she is watching her son eat and she falls asleep.

That’s the ending of the movie.  Sorry if I blew it for you – it’s been out for two months or whatever already, so if you haven’t seen it, you probably didn’t want to anyway.

And it is the PERFECT ending because it is that Everyparent fantasy that so little kids’ lit acknowledges:  your child is safe, your child is home… now you can go to sleep.

I thought about my mother-in-law in Calgary at that moment.  I don’t know how she sleeps.  She told me once she feared nothing because the very worst thing has already happened.

I knew, KNEW almost five years ago when he died, that this moment would come.  The movie I wish Jeremy could have seen.

This is that movie. 

Of course, there may have been dozens more in the interim:  I haven’t seen many movies in that time, and our interests didn’t often overlap.  No doubt, he would have loved every single computer-generated, animated, action-adventure end-of-the-world zombie-thriller special-effects bonanza to have hit the silver screen in the last half-decade (are screens still silver?).

But this is the movie he would have called me after, maybe crying, maybe gentle, maybe sad, maybe demanding I take the kids.  (Elisheva came with me, and I was happy that she did, because she is part of him – so he is still here, seeing it, in some way)

Assuming, assuming, assuming… he hadn’t fallen in love… married… had kids of his own.  Five years changes a lot, or at least, it has in my life.  I know it’s dangerous to make assumptions like that, to assume our relationship, such as it was, would never have grown or changed.

But for what it’s worth, this is that movie.

And it is a movie I hope my mother-in-law never sees, because it is about a little boy who runs away to a scary world, and then comes home… and her little boy will never walk through the door again. 

She may sleep well enough each night, but she will never shut her eyes and be filled with peace ever again.

New (Pocket) Diapers!

DSC05866Well, it’s been a LONG time since I bought new diapers, but with two kids and not so many diapers, they do wear out. 

I must say,  however, it is a LOT less exciting buying new diapers for a 2-year-old and 4-year-old when I keep thinking they OUGHT to be trained by now.  Okay, maybe not the 2-year-old, but 4?!?  And alright, it’s only for nights… but still.  Four.  A lot less cute picturing her wearing the new diapers than when she was a tiny chubby bundle.

Anyway – that’s all I’m saying about that. 

This time around, I am replacing some of our worn-out Kushies Ultra (they are falling apart to the point that some of them emerge from the dryer literally inside-out, with the PUL layer gaping and the “hidden” layers flopping around outside) with a very small collection of pocket diapers:  two AMP Duo (size Large) and three Sweet Pea One-Size

Don’t they look cute, lying there, all pristine?  I have bought so few brand-new diapers in our 5 years of buying cloth!  Most of them have been used, but I figure we don’t need many now, and, okay, I wanted instant gratification.

They were fairly reasonable (with an extra 15% off right now because of a holiday -slash- grand opening sale) from Baby Kay Diapers, a local mama (can East York be considered local?) with a cute little shop set up in her basement. 

She was very helpful considering I dropped by early Sunday evening in the middle of what was probably family time.  She does have regular store hours, and is an experienced CDing mama of 2 herself, happy to answer questions, so if you are more considerate than I am, then call ahead and show up at a reasonable hour to see what she has in stock!

So now all I have to do is wash up these diapers and the liners (the AMPs don’t actually come with liners, so I have to buy microfibre cloths at Dollarama – or hunt through the sewing area for ones I probably already have)… and roll them out, probably tomorrow night at bedtime.

I was SO hoping I wouldn’t ever ever ever need to buy diapers again, but we’ve had a pretty good run of it with these way overused Kushies, and have spent zero on diapering in a very long time, so I’m taking this as philosophically as I can.  They were not that expensive, as these things go.  I just hope it’s a better “dryness experience” than my last attempt at using pocket diapers.

temp_diegoseatGavriel Zev is actually in underpants full-time at home, and we have actually started making little excursions with the underpants also.  I take along a plastic bag with a change of trousers and underpants, just in case, but so far, so good.

I bought him a special new potty seat to take with us when we’re out of the house.  He’s so proud of it.  I couldn’t find one without a logo of some kind (okay, there was a plain white one, but the splash guard didn’t look as comprehensive, and a splash guard, I’m learning, is very very important), so his has Diego all over it.  Go, Diego, go!

I hate shlepping this thing all over the place.  I bought one for Naomi Rivka also, but gave up hauling it around pretty early on because she could just sit backwards or I could hold her up while she used a regular toilet.  With a boy, well, it’s just different.  Holding him up does NOT work well, from what we’ve encountered so far.  With this seat, I can tell him to lean forward and most of the time that keeps things pretty neat.

Teaching Hebrew to Kids… for the Hebrew-Impaired

DSC05865So here is one of my little tricks for being a moron in Hebrew and still reading Hebrew books to my kids with reasonable competence and comprehension!

Yes, thanks to the “Pina Ivrit” (Hebrew Corner) of our local public library, there are a few, not many, books which are available in both Hebrew and English.

These Dubi Dov / Little Bear books are great, by the way!  They are actually a recommended part of several sites’ Charlotte Mason homeschooling early reading recommendations.

They are wholesome, classic books, which each include four simple stories that are easy enough to read.  I have found three so far that are available in Hebrew and English:  Little Bear (Dubi Dov), Little Bear’s Visit (Dubi Dov Etzel Saba v’Savta) and A Kiss for Little Bear (Neshika l’Duvi Dov).  Cute!

Naomi Rivka’s favourite so far is “Birthday Soup” (Marak shel Yom Huledet) from the first book, Little Bear (Dubi Dov).

For continuity purposes, I use the same names whether I’m reading in English or Hebrew, so my kids only know him as Dubi Dov, and the mother as Ima Dov, etc.  Makes it a little confusing, but not too much so…

So there you go – one of the (super-cheapo) secrets of a bilingual supermom, revealed at last!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Thinking, thinking, thinking... Charlotte Mason curriculum

I have heard the name bandied about but never really known what was involved, until a bit more reading tonight.
There is something about this curriculum that deeply appeals to the British in me...
The frustrating part is that there is very little one can do at the JK level.  Read good books, but not too many:  little kids need to get outdoors, they need to play, they need to acquire the basic skills for learning and life.  Isn't it SO tempting to want to cram your child's entire education in when you're just starting out?
To me, the beauty of this curriculum is that it says (to me, at least), "pace yourself... they have decades of learning ahead."
It also says "don't blow the bank!"  This site and several others offer very good - if bare-bones - resources that can definitely help any parents teach any children.  Some of the bits are weird; classical stuff like art, music and nature "appreciation" and the hymn-o-the-month... I don't think I'd take very naturally to those.  BUT maybe, maybe, it's wholesome enough to come together as an entire, well-rounded curriculum.  If an old-fashioned one.
We shall see.

November 28, 2009: Six Word Saturday

erev 002 Undaunted, cosmos bloom… while I wilt.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Shabbos Menu

Yes, we're still up... Ted's peeling cholent vegetables as I sit here.
Chicken Soup w/Kneidlach
Pickled Brisket
Miso Roasted? Green beans
Pareve desserts:
Blueberry "Sour Creme" Coffee Cake (still need to buy tofutti sour supreme)
Chocolate-chip cookies
Gefilte fish
Lettuce salad
Sushi rice salad
Teriyaki green beans
Dairy dessert:
Chocolate Malted Pie

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Two papers from my father

Two things you should know about my father:

writing 010

1)  He reused paper – a LOT.  Over and over and over.   You’ll notice that this paper, which is pretty typical of his business records, has printing at both ends of the page.  Other pages in the same binder feature a collection of classic Yiddish and old-timey songs on the reverse. 

My mother must have brought a booklet of lyrics home from something at work and my father whomped the staples out and appropriated the booklet as “good-one-side” printer paper.  Hey, if you get bored reading boring mortgage details and bank statements, you can flip them over and sing “To life!  L’chaim!” or “June is Bustin’ Out All Over.”

2)  But this is the actual flipside of the page shown above.  More good-one-side paper:  this time, an old business letter that he no longer needed (my father used dot-matrix printers long after everybody else’s were in landfill).  The important bit here is not frugality. 

This is a formal letter asking for a series of post-dated cheques; pretty standard mortgage-broker letter… with a handwritten note:  “wife sick – operation.”  He could be insistent, tough even… but only if you weren’t up front with him.  If you were honest, if your story checked out, you’d always get the most compassionate response in return.  And you can bet he didn’t call this guy back about the cheques.

 writing 012s

So those are just two small things I found in a binder.  I don’t need them anymore; now I can throw them away.


Will somebody pleeeeeeease invent track lighting, because with the shortage of overhead lighting I feel like I am just losing my sight every day at this time...
I look up from the bright-white computer screen and just simply cannot see.  Yes, there are lamps here and there, but it is dark and it is gloomy here.  Sheesh.
Lucky thing we're having cauliflower soup for supper... at least the cauliflower is easy to spot in the murky semi-darkness of our dank old house.

Random Plot / Thought

I was thinking about blogs the other day for a couple of reasons.  (partly because of this annoying Nishma article knocking the whole idea of blogs as Not a Jewish Concept, because it lacks tzniut)

And I thought about people who turn their blogs into books… and how their books have a plot, which means they’ve sculpted the anecdotes of their lives to resemble a plot, because most of us don’t really have much of an interesting plot in real life.

I was thinking about whether my blog has a plot… certainly, my life does not.

And I decided it might be interesting to round up some of the more, shall we say, profluent (ie less navel-gazing) posts from the last year and sculpt it, creating a record of two things:  the year leading up to my 40th birthday, whenever that happens to come out, and the year of mourning for my father.

Of course, both of these ideas have certainly been done to death already.  But it might be interesting as an end-of-year project to round things up and stuff them into some kind of Word document that I could call a book… just so I could say I’ve written a book.

I mean, I wrote it, right?  It wouldn’t be plagiarism if I wrote it?  I’d just be borrowing from my blog… assuming there’s enough material here to make compiling it worthwhile.

The only trouble would be finding a take-away.  Have I learned anything?  Have I become anything?  Other than my father being dead, am I any different at the end of this fortieth year than I was a year ago?

Hmm… or maybe I’ll hunt for my missing earring-back instead.


My mother is not big on photographs... any time I've ever tried to give her a framed picture of her grandchildren, she says, "I have nowhere to hang this." (eventually, I stopped)

But she does have several small, inexpensive albums that she keeps on the TV stand next to the DVD player in the living room, in case anybody who comes over feels they are in the midst of a family without a history. The albums encapsulate three of our family's more recent simchas: my sister Sara's bat mitzvah (she's 31 now), my sister Abigail's bat mitzvah (three years later than Sara's), and my first wedding (a couple of years later). There is a fourth, I think, that contains baby and camping pictures of Yerachmiel Meir (13-14 years ago).

Nothing since then.

These little, cheap albums are actually the tip of the iceberg, photo-wise, as we discovered during the shiva. There are hundreds and hundreds of photographs in the house... some older, some newer, mostly hidden away in the basement. They were probably destined for albums at one point, but never quite made it, and after the shiva, the ones we took out were probably mostly reincorporated into the vast tidy oobleck that is the basement spare room.

The albums are one of my kids' favourite things to visit at Bubby's house. They go straight for them, and I'm surprised they haven't fallen apart over the years.
Naomi has just recently discovered that the strange bald woman at Aunt Sara's bat mitzvah was ME.
She's also still delicately feeling out the idea that the man she's never met in mommy's wedding album is Yerachmiel and Elisheva's first Abba.

(I told her a while ago that YM & EC used to have another Abba, when they were babies, but that he died when they were younger, and now her Abba is their abba, too. We can get into the details a little later on.)

My mother mentioned the other day that friends of hers came over and were perusing the Abigail bat mitzvah album. She told me these people still commented, after all these years, that I wasn't there. I wasn't; I was at Sara's and I wasn't at Abigail's. Those were the years of metamorphosis, when family things became difficult, began conflicting with what I'd learned about Jewish law, with the ideals I wanted to live my life by.

"Even after all these years, they still remembered you weren't there."

Me, still big-mouthed after all these years: "I wonder what they'll say about the wedding."

I may be less idealistic now, but I do continue to believe that marriage, especially one involving a Jewish person, should have a spiritual foundation. That it is a sacrament, a way of concretizing our relationship with everything that is holy and taking our place in the chain of Jewish marriages that brought us to this point.

And, boy, would I love to celebrate my sisters' Jewish weddings. Either sister; both sister. I will love them both forever, but I would love to see them building Jewish lives as they get older. I love seeing Sara and the many small, beautiful Jewish things she accomplishes. It is a lot, and I'm sure it's not easy. Being herself, she must rethink, reinvent each and every step. Every step must have meaning; every breath must be breathed with intention. She'd never do it just because it's done... the way I do. I think it would be very tiring to be Sara.

We all, the four of us, think way too much, in some cases to the point of mental illness (not me! mine only goes to the point of drivelling on this blog...). But maybe I deal better than Sara with the way the world does NOT think, and is often full of people who are cruel and stupid for no reason at all. It hurts me to think of her, so thoughtful and careful, getting jostled by all the morons out there. Marriage... well, that's a whole lot of morons to sift through to find a nice Jewish guy who could appreciate her and always be kind.

I don't know if I can see either of my baby sisters ever getting married under a chuppah... but I can still hope.
I would certainly make my mother go out and buy another little cheap photo album if it ever came to that.

P.S. Added a couple of hours later, which I don't usually do, but I thought this was important enough: the word that seems perfect to describe my sister Sara is "earnest." I don't like to use that word, because it's often used in the sense of somebody well-meaning but bumbling. She's not that; she doesn't bumble. When she decides to do something, it sometimes seems almost effortless, but usually perfect on the first try. What I wouldn't give, most of the time, for that kind of casual grace.

Earth Balance Margarine Cookies… Take 2, a little more successful

cookies 001A couple of weeks ago, we made  chocolate-chip cookies using Earth Balance, a “healthy” new margarine alternative.  They turned out really, really badly.  Monumentally badly; we pretty much had to throw them away and start over with Fleischmann’s.

So I wrote to the manufacturer, who wrote back that for some reason unbeknownst to their top scientists, their product works exactly the same as regular margarine in any recipe except in chocolate-chip cookies (shouldn’t it say so on the package?)… in which case, they suggest using “1/3 more Earth Balance than called for in the recipe, baking the cookies at a slightly lower temperature for a slightly longer period of time.”

Well, okay.  My first thought was, “What kind of sucker am I?”  “Hmm… this product doesn’t work, so let’s use 1/3 MORE of it next time!!!”

But in the interest of fairness, and also because I desperately needed chocolate-chip cookies last night when we were all out of Fleischmann’s, I decided to try again.  We had exactly enough Earth Balance to make up the 1 cup needed for our regular cookie recipe.

(it’s from the Crisco package, and I used to use butter-flavoured Crisco until they made it dairy a couple of years ago)

The recipe calls for 3/4 cup of Crisco, so with 1/3 more, I subbed 1 full cup of Earth Balance.  We just don’t add the milk that the recipe calls for, and I baked them for 14 minutes at 350ºF instead of 12 minutes at 375ºF.

So, nu???

Well, not bad, not bad at all.  They ought to print the chocolate-chip cookie exception right on the package, because the revised directions really do work WAY better, if not perfectly.

cookies 002The cookies were still a bit oily.  They had the same strange “sheen” when first removed from the oven that the last batch had, though it was not as pronounced this time around.  They were also very dark on top, more so than our regular cookies.

A little tweaking might improve both things.

So okay… it’s not butter.  But these are definitely acceptable chocolate-chip cookies, if still not as tasty and wonderful as our margarine ones. 

The trade-off, presumably, is that these are made with a blend of oils rather than icky old hydrogenated fats… and so we will live longer and thus consume more over a lifetime and so they will probably still (eventually) do us in.

I also didn’t make a note of the price of the Earth Balance versus margarine.  But price is not as important as taste, in my opinion, because in any event, home baking is SO much cheaper than buying pre-made kosher bakery baking.  Like maybe $5 for two dozen big cookies instead of $6 for a dozen measly greasy horrible ones at a bakery.

Ultimately, I may compromise and leave the Earth Balance for pareve breads or cakes… while making cookies either with straight canola oil (cake-mix cookies come out very nicely with just oil) OR from time to time using Fleischmann’s.

It would be very interesting to see how Earth Balance performs in our Pesach baked/frozen chocolate-mousse cake, which really contains too much margarine to make often in good conscience.  Last year, I mostly made the Chocolate Olive-Oil Mousse instead, which we all love and contains ZERO margarine.

Anyway, it would be kind of a moot exercise, because Earth Balance will not be available to us at Pesach time.  Still… just out of curiosity, that may be the next experiment in this series!

Manipulate Me!

cookies 003So despite my misgivings, I bought the frogs!

And today, our first real, purchased Math Manipulative came in the mail:  a set of 108 fancy, shmancy Funtastic Frogs, from Rainbow Resource in the U.S.  I tried to find a Canadian source, but the manufacturer wasn’t all that helpful… so they came with a small customs charge that required me to dig out the emergency credit card.  Ugh.

I was leery of ordering these because, okay, they’re plastic frogs in a bucket.  Three sizes, six colours, 108 altogether… how special could they be?  Plus, we already have lots of colourful things the kids could use for sorting, counting, patterns, etc.  It’s just more STUFF, and what I don’t want is STUFF. 

Well.  Indeed, they are stuff.  But cool, cute, stuff, as it turns out.  I love them!  And I think both kids will love playing them, too.  Who doesn’t love clacky happy mathy frogs?

You get three sizes, four of each colour in the medium and large sizes, and ten of each colour in the small size.  I was surprised by the frogs’ texture, which you can’t tell from the picture… they’re hard plastic, like beads, not soft like toys.  That gives them a nice weight in your hand (they sell a balance scale separately for weighing and measuring the frogs, but it’s a little pricey); they are cool and make a nice “clacking” sound; they make a nice multi-sensory first impression.

I also bought the “Logs for Frogs”, which let you attach up to ten small-size frogs of any colour to make patterns or start learning tens and place-holding.  Pretty fancy stuff for a kindergartner who can barely count to one hundred, but anyway, I think they’ll be fun.  Certainly, the logs will help the kids “meet” the frogs by building “frog menorahs” over the next couple of weeks.  (eight frogs in any pattern, a blank space, and a frog for a shamash!)

The  basic 108-frog mix also comes with a couple of no-frills black laces for stringing the frogs (the hole runs from top to bottom), and also an “activity sheet” that basically tells you to have your kids sort the frogs, count the frogs, or make patterns out of the frogs.  Thank you, but I could have figured that out on my own!

Anyway.  Right now, the kids are sleeping, so after counting to make sure they were all there, I put the frogs away on a high-up shelf.  I may not get a chance to formally roll these out with them until next week, but I’m looking forward to it.

I suspect one of the main purposes of a purchased manipulative is to get the teacher/parent excited about sharing math with the kids… and in this case, I’m pumped and ready to go!

Sometimes, not very often,

...I check on what kinds of web searches land people at my blog.  (really!  not very often!)
And sometimes, I want to reach out to people after the fact, get in touch with them through their search... like the person who asked Google "really necessary to brush hair before mikva."  For some reason, that didn't land them on the page about mikveh shampoo.  Which probably still wouldn't tell them that yes, it is really necessary... and sometimes, really, really difficult.
Another person searched for "inexpensive tichel," but unfortunately, it was last week, before my post about why you should buy a Buff for $20, or even a clone buff for under $10!  Much less expensive than some of what's out there... and more practical, in some cases.
One mystifying search was looking for "Jewish shepherd pie."   I don't know if they're looking for the pie of Jewish shepherds, perhaps Biblical ones like King David, or kosher shepherd's pie, as made by Jews.  But anyway, they were helpfully passed along to my recipe for killer fruity shepherd's pie (sweet n' meaty!).  Thanks, Google!
Finally, it seems like my Bubby wasn't the only one with Jewish diabetes, as that search turned up yesterday as well... sadly, she's long-gone, or she'd be happy to be in such wonderful Internet company!
I am still waiting, by the way, for my bubby's phone number to get OUT of my head.  Will it never leave?  I could sure use the brainspace for other things these days...

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Cranky Complaints-Lady Rocks the Government!

Have you written to YOUR MPP yet?  It may be too late to stop them, but let's all be cranky, just for crankiness' sake!
----- Original Message -----
Sent: Wednesday, November 25, 2009 12:14 PM
Subject: Harmonized Sales Tax and All-Day Kindergarten

Dear Dr. Hoskins:
I am a voting resident of your St. Paul's riding, and I'd like to express my strong opposition to two issues currently receiving Liberal party support in the legislature:  all-day kindergarten and the Harmonized Sales Tax.
It is absolutely horrific that the government plans to throw billions into increasing its kindergarten program while continuing to deny my children their right to funding for basic education in Math, English, or Geography, simply because they attend Jewish schools.  I'd like to point out that these subjects are the same regardless of the school's religious affiliation, and, indeed, the schools are fully accredited by the Ministry of Education - just not funded.  This is wrong.
I might support an optional full-day kindergarten program if I were satisfied that the government of Ontario was doing all it could to meet the needs of children currently enrolled in Ontario schools.  However, this is currently far from being the case.
As for the HST, I believe it will simply take money out of the pockets of Ontario residents, creating taxes in some cases where taxes have not existed before and in other cases, making it more difficult for struggling, low-income families to get by.  I'm sure there may be some kind of program of rebates and/or tax credits based on income tax returns, however, these types of programs generally only give back money that families like ours may have desperately needed at the time it was spent.  Receiving it as a credit or refund up to a year later is little consolation.

I'd like to hear your views on these issues, and, if possible, convince you to rethink your party's stance of denying funding to Ministry-accredited schools teaching recognized secular subjects according to the established Ontario curriculum.
Thanks in advance!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Supper and not much else

beerbread 002Tired tired tired.  So here’s our supper, a lazy supper which is mostly made out of Things I Discovered in the Freezer.

~ Of Tov frozen chicken nuggets… wow; it’s been a long time since we had anything like this.  Like years.  Maybe forever.  They aren’t bad, though thoroughly reconstituted-looking and chewy-tasting.  The big kids liked them, as a fish-sticks kind of thing.  The little kids didn’t seem to recognize them as chicken; they love chicken and did not love the nuggets very much, I think.

~ Frozen peas; reheated in a pot.

~ Soup made of an onion, fried, frozen veggies added and boiled with a tin of diced tomatoes which I puréed.  Oh, and I threw in a pack of chicken necks to add flavour, but they didn’t give it enough, so I still had to use chicken soup powder also.

~ Beer bread!  Slightly unsuccesful but still kind of nice.  YM made the bread, so it still counts as lazy supper.  He said, “it looks nice in the soup, take a picture of the bread in the soup.”  So here it is:

 beerbread 003

And that’s all she (that’s me!) wrote.

Latkes and Hamentashen and other FREE Online Jewish Music


Currently listening to this album on TWO online Jewish music archives, which I am quickly coming to appreciate for the vast amount of archived Jewish music they both offer – absolutely free.

Here are the two sites:

Judaica Sound Archives (a service of Florida Atlantic University)

Dartmouth Jewish Sound Archive (from Dartmouth College in New Hampshire)

Both archive music which is then searchable by album or performer, or you can browse through song lists.  The search features of both are similarly fickle:  plus, there’s the difficulty of not knowing how Hebrew spellings are transcribed.

When Naomi wanted to find a song we heard yesterday – Al Sfat HaNachal – I searched everywhere for it and couldn’t find it.  Turns out I wasn’t looking under “Al S’fat Hannachal”… I later found it on the Dartmouth site today (by total coincidence; I was looking for “L'shana haba” and it was on the same album) and played it to her very extensive happiness.

Both sites are also similar in that you can play music on the site itself… but none is available for download.  They want to share the music, not give it away.

I love  having access to album art – and, in some cases, photos of the original vinyl from which the music was digitized.  This stuff is precious, and I do hope that newer Jewish music will continue to be archived to services like these.

Surprisingly, though both databases are operated by universities, neither is located in what I’d consider a busy centre of Jewish life.  Still, kudos to both for hosting them and making these services available.

The Dartmouth site requires users to sign up and obtain a password.  I just got mine a couple of days ago, so I haven’t had a chance to explore to what extent the two databases overlap.  The Dartmouth one seems to offer a broader selection, and more Israeli music, but that could just be my initial impression.

So why do I like this album so much?

It’s a weird one, that’s for sure.  Chanukah and Purim songs in a mix of English and Hebrew… and most of the songs themselves are pretty typical, though Avni’s voice can be on the shrill side sometimes (my older kids call it “shrieking”).  And I’m not sure I agree with her qualification of Antiochus as “not a good king, nor a bad king… he was just a silly king.”

Silly?  Ordering at his minister’s whim the destruction of an entire people?  “A silly, dilly king” indeed!

But what I do love is mostly the fact that Avni takes this opportunity to present Chanukah and Purim together.   Yes!

Chanukah gets so much of the spotlight, and Purim so little… I see this album, with one little chag on each side (okay, not on the CD version, or online), as the perfect way to right the wrong and give each “miracle” festival its proper due.

I wish every Chanukah album out there were required by law (Jewish law, maybe!) to include at least a few songs for another Yom Tov – maybe toss in a couple of Shavuos ditties, or a Rosh Hashanah medley, just for balance.

A long time ago, I read somewhere about a mother who was asked to go in and explain about Chanukah at her kids’ (public) school.  She agreed – but only on the condition that she be allowed to return for another holiday at another point in the school year.  What an amazing condition.

I would be much happier with the widespread acknowledgement of Chanukah in our secular society if people would also wish us a “happy whatever-it-was” at other times of year.  (It would just about knock my socks off if a  non-Jewish friend said something without prompting!)

Anyway, Latkes and Hamentashen is a cute album that I remember enjoying with the older kids.  They sang the Maccabee song, Cleaning the Temple, and a few others in daycare.  (though I think I never need to hear the “Oy, Oy, Uncle Mordechai” song ever again in my life)

And now you can listen to it free – online!  Check it out!

Diet Candy!

package 002Noticed this message on the side of a pack of Whoppers last night.  Well, I thought it was hilarious and ate the whole thing… because it’s diet, right?

Today was officially “Taking Care of Business Day”.

Massively didn’t want to go to aerobics class, especially on the subway, but it turned out the subway actually got me there early.  And then got me both up to the health-card office and down to the drivers’-license office similarly super-fast.  So much for putting down the TTC; it was lovely… relaxing, too.  I brought a book along and just read like crazy. 

I should really drive less often.  I love riding subways and buses SOoo much.  I forget between times, but that is how I spent a good huge chunk of my life, and I do miss it.  The quiet, the weird kind of solitude when you’re surrounded by people who don’t care about you at all.

With kids, well, it is much less relaxing.  And there are so many variables that I don’t like to navigate with kids:  weather, delays, unexpected detours.  Cars are inefficient but generally offer the most direct route:  strap ‘em in and go.

And then, when I got home, perfection… the house to myself.  Well, almost.  Ted took the little kids down the Children’s Storefront benefit, but Elisheva came home from school sick, so she’s in the bathtub while I do laundry and play here on the computer.

Aerobics class was tough today.  I psyched myself up and DID go (the Whoppers may have been low-fat, but they were high in everything else).  I told myself I’m an adult and I didn’t have to sign up for the class in the first place… but now that I have signed up, I shouldn’t just skip classes.  But it was a hard workout, or at least, it felt that way to me. 

Tuesday mornings used to be my easy workout.  The other participants were fairly geriatric (I was easily the youngest one there) and the teacher, a friendly, middle-aged Russian woman about my age, took it slowly for everybody’s benefit.  Probably didn’t want anybody ‘s heart attack, stroke or hip replacement on her conscience.

This year, we have a new teacher (Gracia, a decidely non-Asian name), and she is perky as anything… sigh.  In deference to the older participants, she’s always calling out “Option!”, like you if you want an easier workout, you can point your toe or something instead of kicking your leg; shuffle instead of leap.  But I don’t think she means me.

The last thing I want on a Tuesday morning is perky, but an energetic, young, skinny morning-person teacher is no reason to drop out of aerobics class, I suppose.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Delirshis Stewy Supper!

bagels 010So, dummy me, I was WAY ahead of the game last week by making the cholent on Thursday afternoon. 

What a concept!  While the kids napped on Thursday, I made my new “magic” caramel onions, added in the rest of the ingredients for a pareve cholent, cooked it up with barley,  and stuck it in the fridge until Friday.  Smug little me.

So, of course, on Friday it was totally forgotten in the pre-Shabbos chaos.

So in the fridge it remained over Shabbos… and sat there all weekend because I glumly decided I would reincarnate it as “stew” and trick my family into eating it by serving it with good bread.

The bread, I decided, would be bagels.  Why not?  Bagels and stew; isn’t that what they ate in the old country?  Homemade bagels… from a new recipe, which I started last night.  Big-production yummy bagels, because the stew itself was essentially finished.

Indeed.  The stew was so NOT cholent; it’s almost impossible to believe how good it was.

I was not looking forward to this meal, but knew in the back of my head that cholent is so essentially cholenty because it’s overcooked into a gloopy overdone mass.  Which this cholent hadn’t had a chance to become.  So it WAS indeed perfect vegetarian (even vegan) stew.

bagels 011I buffed it up a bit today by adding a tin of beans, a bit more onion soup mix, some merlot and finally, a bit of flour, mixed with water to thicken it up.

AMAZING!  I hope it shows here at least a little… look at that texture; glistening, substantial.  And the bagels, too, were perfect.  What a simple meal.  How wonderful.

I think I had to do pull off something both frugal and culinarily extraordinary today to make up for the fact that my drivers-license idiocy is costing us a fortune this week. 

Spent an hour paying the tickets themselves today; I was lucky Elisheva was off school, because I wouldn’t have brought the kids with me to the crowded office full of society’s bottom-feeders (ie people who don’t pay their tickets on time). 

And tomorrow, Ted’s day off, I’m off to try to reinstate my license.  And renew our health cards, which hopefully won’t cost any more money… cuz it’s almost all gone already.

The Bell (Jar) Curve: Let me out of this pregnancy!

(No, no, no!  Once again, I am NOT pregnant!  Happy happy not to be.  Just surrounded by people who are… and, for once, not minding a bit!)

Reproductive technology:  besides helping us get pregnant, and knowing when we have succeeded, sometimes down to the millisecond, it has also made us the most impatient generation of pregnant ladies… well, ever.

I have a friend on Facebook who’s expecting a baby.  She’s 39 weeks and sick of being pregnant, as I discover every day when I log on.  And then there’s Amy, whose blog I read sometimes (Assertagirl), who, when she hit 40 weeks, blogged that her baby was “officially on borrowed time.”

I don’t blame them… I got to 42 weeks with one kid, 39 with two, and those are tedious places to be, believe me (Elisheva had the good sense to be born at 34 weeks!).  Everything’s done that’s going to be done, and there’s only so much nesting you can do when you are so big you could rent out ad space on your sides.

Used to be, in the dark old days, that a woman just “turned up” pregnant, perhaps diagnosed by a fainting spell, or perhaps she just sagely knew after a few weeks with no period.  As a consequence of the pregnancy’s fuzzy beginning, the ending was just as fuzzy:  she had no idea when her baby was due.

Even if she asked a midwife, she’d be told her baby would probably come “sometime around March.”  Forget finding out down to the second thanks to a planned C-section; she was lucky if they could correctly predict the season of her birth.

So after a while, I figure you probably just anticipated giving birth both not right away – and any second.  It was both imminent and distant… a blurry time looming in the sort-of near future.

These days, it’s easy to get sick of pregnancy because we have this myth that everything is supposed to be precise. 

Because we know almost to the second when we conceived, and we know almost to the second when the baby is due, we feel like we should have control.  It’s easy to get impatient:  “Get out of there!  It’s your due date!  You.  Are.  Due.  Get out!”

One of the sadder consequences is C-sections, more more more C-sections.  Especially if it’s an older mama or a reproductive-technology baby to begin with, because then, the stakes are higher.  Who’d want to risk any kind of post-term problem with a premium baby? 

But even if it’s conceived the old-fashioned way, there is a tendency to see anything over 40 weeks as a problem.  Which is a problem.  Why?  What doctors or midwives fail to explain well is that the whole 40-weeks thing is a bell curve

If you’ve ever seen a bell curve, it doesn’t just go up up up and then drop down to nothing. 

Noooo… not so simple!  What the bell curve means is that some women have their babies three weeks “early” – before their due date.  Not many, but enough that it’s normal.  More will have a baby two weeks “early” and many more a week to a few days “early.”  Quote, quote, quote.  None of them are “early”… they’re all on the bell curve.

Remember, we’re not talking prematurity here.  Three weeks is alarming, but usually okay.

And then, HUMP!  Lots and lots of women have their baby within a day or two of their due date.  The most of any other day on the curve!  Yay, due date!  Let’s call those babies “on time.”  In quotes, again, because they are just on the curve, like all the others.

But that still leaves… you guessed it… a heck of a lot of women staring bleakly at the other side of the ski slope.   The ominous “late” side.  OMG, my baby’s LATE!  Who’d want to be LATE?  (okay, I was a late baby… who’da guessed it?)

That’s right.  Up to three weeks late, given the natural course of things.  Of course, that’s only a tiny percentage; the same tiny percentage who had their normal, full-term babies three weeks early. 

By two weeks past the due date, some huge percentage of women, probably in the high 90’s, will have naturally had their baby.  Not “late,” just like those other babies weren’t “early.”  They were all on the curve.

Suffice to say, that doesn’t happen much nowadays.  Few midwives and fewer doctors let a pregnancy go beyond 42 weeks.  Too much risk to the baby, too much risk to the mother.

In most cases, it’s nonsense.  Sometimes, somebody miscalculated early on; wrong or bad guess for a date-of-last-period … ultrasound not as precise as it should have been.  But sometimes, it’s just a baby that needs to gestate a couple of weeks longer; still on the curve, still normal.  The baby’s not stuck, just needs a bit longer to cook.

Those babies are getting induced, they’re getting c-sectioned, they’re getting grabbed out and suctioned and spanked into the world before their time. 

I’ve read that a surprising number of c-sections for post-term babies revealed that the babies were not, in fact, post-term; doctors just had their information wrong, and panicked.  Ditto for c-sections due to alarming large babies.  It can be very tricky to estimate the size of a baby based on an ultrasound at term.

I don’t want to get really technical here, because that totally isn’t my point.

My point is – what’s wrong with us, that we’ve gotten so impatient?

Not that women of my grandmothers’ generation suffered silently through those last weeks.  I knew my Bubby when she had diabetes (“I have Jewish diabetes?”  “No, it’s not a different disease… it’s a meeting for Jewish diabetics.”) and angina; I can’t imagine her suffering silently through anything.

I bet they kvetched, for sure.  But they didn’t clockwatch.  They didn’t start peering up at their cervices anxiously round about 38 weeks, didn’t poke and prod and start chomping down the raspberry leaf at precisely 39 and a half weeks.

Pregnancy shouldn’t be on the clock.  Of course I was as miserable as anybody towards the end, and just as eager for it to all be over, so what kind of hypocrite am I? 

But I did do the smart thing and tell many, MANY people a made-up due date that was a couple of weeks beyond when I was actually due, so at least others weren’t poking and prodding and inquiring over the state of my cervix (at least, not over kiddush in shul).

If I ever become a midwife, or, more unlikely, an OB, I know what I’ll tell my patients when they come to me.  I’ll shake hands, get their information, the date of their last period, their IUI or whatever it was that got them knocked up in the first place.  Then, I’ll pull out my little wheel and spin it around a bit, looking contemplative.

And then I’ll say, “well, it looks like we can expect your baby to come along… hey, how’s spring for you?”

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The downside of blogging...

... is not strangers finding out your personal stuff, but FAMILY.
My mother knows I have a blog, but thankfully, she probably assumes it is something tedious and navelgazing (of course, you and I know better, right?) and has never pressed for further details.
But the downside is when certain people in my family who DO read this don't know not to mention certain things in front of my mother.
Oh-kay.  Yes, I'm almost forty, and yes, I have mommy issues.  I've said that before.
So let's say it in code so she won't understand:  "Ix-nay on the Ivers-License-Dray!!!"
(oops - my mother is actually the one who taught me pig latin in the first place...)
Anyway, I will definitely take care of it on Tuesday when Ted's off work... never fear!

Interloper among the coleus…


interloper 002

Saving tomato seeds?  This late in the season???

I was sad because I hadn’t saved any more of the “early tiny” cherry tomatoes that I love so much.  They are incredibly reliable performers, though also very suckery and branchy tomatoes. 

Anyway, another of their virtues, apparently, is the ability to stay reasonably fresh-looking long past when other tomato plants have shrivelled:

  interloper 004

The tomatoes don’t taste particularly wonderful – apparently, they don’t get sweeter with frost, like some fruits do, but they have continued to ripen and not shrivel like most other tomatoes out in the yard. 

Wow!  So not only are these cherries just about the earliest to ripen, they are the last to fade… that’s got to be worth something in the genetic world.  So I grabbed a few, popped their seed-stuff into a baby-food jar, added some water, and now I’m leaving it on the windowsill for a week or so to get a little scummy…

interloper 003

Floating in this broth, they remind me of some weird jelly-like fish reproductive thing.  Eggs?  Maybe.  I know nothing about fish reproduction.

Here’s a picture of the raspberry bushes.  Pretty sad, but the raspberries are still ripening!  Those are pretty nice, dark and sweet…

 interloper 011

The plants may be sad, but the berries sure are glad(dening of the heart)…

interloper 010

Weird Craigslist Blip

I have noticed this for a while now:  why is in GERMAN?  Have we been taken over and I just didn't know because I don't read newspapers???
It searches properly and everything... and it's only German on the front page.  Still; weird.  Crazy.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Google N for Nachas!

YM told me one day this spring that he’d seen the “Google Car” coming through the neighbourhood… taking pictures for Google Street View, which now seems to be available throughout North America.

And sure enough… they saw him, too!

Here he is… walking down the street towards the camera…


A teensy bit closer…


And now, because he’s been well-brought-up, he’s giving a GREAT BIG dorky Google-eyed wave to the array of cameras mounted on top of the car!!!  There he is!  That’s my boy!

temp_ymgoogle4 temp_ymgoogle3  

There’s only just this one shot of him.  If you scroll around to look at other views of the same street corner, he mysteriously vanishes.

And okay, I know you don’t actually Google a letter, like N.  It’s not a dictionary.  I really know that.  I will give full credit (if not an actual, tangible prize) to the first reader who cares enough to suggest a better title for this post.  So there!

Why wear a tichel when you can...

temp_buffpic ... buy a BUFF?

Yes, this is a frank attempt to convert all Jewish women who cover their hair to the world of BUFF performance headwear

I discovered this thing in the quest for a tichel I could wear for Aikido class.  (Before I found out we were expecting Naomi Rivka and I didn't feel real comfy getting punched in the stomach.  Go figure.)

The class involved a lot of rolls and controlled falls, and a regular tichel just wasn’t cutting it.  Frankly, with my frizzy mess of hair, a regular tichel wasn’t cutting it in regular life either.  (why am I thinking so much about hair these days?  maybe because my mother “kindly” pointed out that my hairline is receding – but that’s an issue for another post)

temp_snoodWhat I used to wear, most of the time, was a snood (like this one, at right).  The way my hair works (and many other women’s, if my observations are correct), when a snood starts to slip down in back, pulling it back up doesn’t work.  Pulling it back up only pulls out the frizzy clown-hairs around the tops of your ears.

So then you look like a frizzy-haired clown with a snood on:  VERY modest.  Or, I should say, I do.  The only thing that works with a snood is to pull the whole thing down over your face and then whomp it back up onto your forehead.  Peek-a-boo!

FFB women seem to be able to pull it off (so to speak!).  But I could never get the peek-a-boo thing right, and was tired of looking like a clown and interested in doing Aikido (though I have decided since that there is NO headcovering that will stand up to this and also negiah issues with mixed-sex classes and okay, also tznius issues with the gi you’re required to wear in class).

So I bought a buff.  No idea how I found out about these, except maybe some random desperate googling of various sports headwear until this thing came up.  And it has been pretty durn close to perfect ever since.

What is it?  A seamless tube, maybe 10” wide x 18” long.  It’s not even cotton, which I thought I’d hate, but I love.

It’s a smooth “performance” polyester that – once washed and roughed up a bit - feels exactly like cotton.  (you’ll want to get it roughed up a bit so it becomes more grippy, less slippy on your head)

I have about five:  two black, one bandana print, one “jeans” print, one 2008 olympic print that is a knock-off brand and WAY too tight, and one pretty multicoloured print.  My sister Sara has at least one, in white, for her work – she’s a baker and wanted an alternative to tie-on headscarves, perhaps one that made her look a bit less like a Keebler elf.

They come in just about every colour and many pretty prints.  They can be worn alone for a pretty bare-bones basic covering, or under a hat to make sure stray hairs are tucked in.  It is absolutely the lightest, most comfortable summer head-covering I have ever seen.  Did I mention there’s no seam?  No scratching, no itching, no rubbing!

(They all do come with a fairly innocuous half-inch Buff logo at two corners; it is slightly visible when worn, so if that bothers you, consider buying basic solid colours only and wearing them inside-out.)

They are also VERY low-profile under hats, more so than anything else I’ve tried; you can actually wear your real hat size as they take almost NO room.  As a bonus, hats slip around less.  In fact, I even wear the basic black model under the basic fringed Israeli headscarf that I love.  I tried it once without the Buff and was SHOCKED at how fast it slipped backwards.

To put it on, I scrunch the whole thing up and pull it on around my neck, like a scarf (“Neckerchief” mode in the chart of configurations below).  Then, I pull it up over my face, like the “Alice Band” mode below, only just in front of my hairline.  Finally, pull the back side of the buff down, like the “Samarcane” (?) mode shown in the bottom left.  Then, twist the “tail” and tuck it in securely.  Done!


After several years, the whole process takes me only about three seconds, literally, and there wasn’t much of a learning curve before I got good at it.

I haven’t found these locally (yet!), but I don’t really shop in the kind of stores that outfit people for active bikey-sporty kind of lifestyles, so maybe there are tons available around town. 

But there IS a very good Canadian online retailer, the official original online Buff store:  They also sell and ship free to the US (orders over $30). also has this cool movie clip showing a few different ways you can wear the thing (in the privacy of your own home, because most don’t cover all the hair!).

I have also found and bought a few discontinued models more inexpensively on eBay, but I don’t see any on there at the moment.

I’m always amazed that I’m the only frum person wearing one of these.  I think this product is amazing, it has made a HUGE difference in my life, and I’d love it if it could help others to find out about it.  That’s why I’m throwing in a whole bunch of keywords here – something I have never done before, in the hope that somebody p’d off with their tichel or tichl or headscarf or wrap or hat or snood (maybe they’ll type it snude by accident?) or sheitel or sheitl or headscarf or any other form of Jewish religious modest tznius or tzniut haircovering (like the classic Conservative-shul doily!) will check in with Google seeking alternatives… and wind up here and try one.  I’m not promising it will amaze you, but for $20, it may be worth a try.

I am getting absolutely zero kickbacks for writing this, but if you buy one, let them know I sent you… and maybe they will send me along a new one for free!

Sunday update:  P.S.  I have learned a couple of interesting things I wanted to add to this post.

First, these were not unavailable on eBay last night when I posted this – eBay crashed.  Worldwide.  Weird.  It was worst in Australia, apparently.

Second, the generic name for these seems to be “tube scarf.”  There has apparently been a huge surge in generic Buffs since I last bought one, maybe two years ago.

temp_buffripoffHere’s one of the knock-offs, and actually, I kind of like the “layered” look of it.  The holes are cut into the outer layer so you can see the beige layer beneath.  Of course, that would make it twice as heavy and probably less useful and flexible in other ways.  BUT more acceptable as an interesting piece of headwear on its own merits. 

FYI, if you want a generic one, the listing title for this on eBay Canada is:  BN NAVY BEIGE SCARF BUFF BANDANA WRAP HEADWEAR CAP TUBE.  Catchy, I know.  Who isn’t looking for one of those?  Some of the listings also present them as “beanie scarves.”  Colourful!  Fun!  This one is just under $10, including shipping to Canada – from its present home in Hong Kong.

Just from the picture, you can tell that the edge of this is less well-finished and more frayed-looking than the authentic buffs, which tend to be fairly crisp around the edges.  There’s also a seam, probably where the two layers are serged so they’ll stay together… which kinda defeats the purpose of buying a seamless garment… but again, maybe it’s worth it (under $10, ripoff buff… hmm…) to have something kind of nifty and interesting to wear on its own.

As for the plain knock-offs, if I were you, I’d be suspicious and go for the original, though at those prices, to be honest, I’m tempted to try one just to see how bad they could possibly be for that price.  (original Buffs are around $20, plus shipping)

Beware of boys bearing Tiramisu

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Or adopt them… depending on your feelings about tiramisu, of course!  We personally love it, so we’ll be keeping him.  For the time being.

Six Word Saturday: November 21, 2009

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Now these are chocolate chip cookies!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Drivers wanted? None here!

Gack. Once again, only one of my parents' children has a driver's license.  Only now, it's Abigail, not me.  :-o
Mine was expiring anyway next month, but apparently the government couldn't wait 'till then for me to pay the fines... and suspended it instead.  MUST take care of this immediately!!!
(like first thing after aerobics class on Tuesday, when Ted is off work and I'm also renewing my health card and the littles'...)
p.s.  Eli used to have a driver's license, but apparently relinquished it voluntarily.  A Very Good Thing, if you ask me.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Mikveh Sham(poo)

One of the few things I dislike about going to the mikveh - because really, what is there to hate about a place where they basically order you to take a half-hour soak in a warm tub, and don't make you clean up afterwards??? - is the shampoo.
I love not using shampoo.  I'm a total convert from shampoo.  I have a special no'poo method instead using baking soda and apple-cider vinegar (it's here if you're interested, though these days I sometimes just dump baking soda on my head because it's quicker). 
Call me a total wacko, but I have come to believe that shampoo is a scam.  Hear me out!  First, it strips your hair of its natural oils, then, so it won't feel dry, coats it with conditioner instead (this is either one or two different products and different steps in your daily routine).  And then, you wash it again the next day because it's lank and unpleasant.  I believe that if you leave hair for a couple of weeks, it will regain some of its natural balance and require washing FAR less often. 
I understand that this is a very big IF for some people:  going a couple of weeks without shampooing while your hair recovers.
Not NEVER, you understand:  I point this out for anyone who thinks this whole business is pretty gross.  How often will depend on the individual woman, and on different times of your life.  Whether you are pregnant or menstruating or using hormone-based birth control could affect how often your hair will need (really NEED) washing.  Certainly, it will NOT be every day, or every other day, or whatever schedule - slash - short leash your current brand of shampoo has you barking on.
Anyway, back to the mikveh.  Specifically to the one on Sheppard, which is very nice and has several "kallah suites," each with a small, personal mikveh in the same room as the bathtub.  You can't really request it, but it's lovely and private if you happen to be assigned to one.  I usually go to the Village Shul, because it's closer, and really quite nice, but on this particular evening I wanted to go during suppertime and the Village Shul one wasn't open yet.
If I remember, and if I have time and leisure, since I've been no'pooing, I try to wash & brush out my hair before going to the mikveh, then wash everything else when I get there.  On this particular evening, no time, no leisure.  I got a final bedikah in before sunset, which was early; that's about the extent of my leisure time that afternoon.
In past, if I haven't had a chance to no'poo at home, I've used the chemically squirt-dispenser shampoo they give you there.  It smells nice; I'm sure it's not terrible.  But actually, the fact that the scent lingers in your hair feels, to me, actually LESS clean and LESS ready for the mikveh than just the faint vinegar smell after no'pooing.  It usually feels and smells like I've just coated my hair in a cosmetic product; how pure is that?
So this time, I took my no'poo on the road.  Had to stop at Shoppers first because I forgot a brush and comb for my long tangly curls, and then I was on my way.  And I happened to luck into one of the aforementioned kallah suites.  Yay!
The only problem was the smell.  By the time I'd finished no'pooing, the whole room STANK of apple-cider vinegar.  I thought the mikveh lady would faint, or, even if it dissipated a little, assume I'd been cooking, or drinking, in there.
But what could I do?  I finished the rest of my preparations as quickly as halacha would allow (the reason I went early is because we had a committment later on).  And yes, there was a faint vinegary tang in the air when I pushed the buzzer.  I could smell it, but I was pretty sure it was ALMOST at an acceptable level.  Certainly, it couldn't be as bad as the bleach and nail polish remover I'm sure some women use in there.
Anyway, of course, the anticlimactic climax to the story is:  the mikveh lady came in and didn't say a word.  (what could she possibly say?)
My other fear was that baking soda would get everywhere and leave a powdery, dusty mess.  I'd brought along the whole industrial-sized box of Arm & Hammer because I was in a hurry to get out of the house before prying teenagers got home from school.  In future, I would probably bring a reusable container with just the right amount.
And yes, I suspect there will be a future for the mikveh no'poo experience.
There's no way around the vinegar smell, I think.  I may mention it to the mikveh lady next time, if I'm brave enough.  At least to let her know that the smell will clear pretty quickly... in time for the next customer, I would hope.
Speaking of smell, I just want to say one more time:  the smell DOES completely dissipate.  It leaves your hair TOTALLY.  There is NO TRACE of vinegar smell.  Because, beyond the one or two weeks of greasiness at the beginning, that's usually people's main objection to no'poo.  It certainly was mine.  And it was no objection, as it turns out because, miracle of miracles, the smell does leave your hair very, VERY fast.
(Which is also true, by the way, of white vinegar as a rinse agent in the washing machine:  it does NOT leave a lingering smell of vinegar on your washload.  In case you were worried.)