Saturday, July 31, 2010

Six-Word Saturday: 21 Av, 5770

Why the weird dates? Click here to find out!

Crazy project:  Saving wax = eternal candle?

havdalah 001

(The answer is no, which I know because I’ve tried this before.  The wick eventually runs out, as Elisheva keeps reminding me, but long before that, the candle gets lumpy and generally unsightly and non-functional.  It feels weird and freaky and fun to save the wax, all at the same time.)

Friday, July 30, 2010

Dear Yeshiva Administrator

Okay, dipping my toes once more in the controversy, here follows – at the expense of my family’s Shabbos food – my reply to the fairly well-thought-out screed of the Yeshiva Administrator:

Dear Yeshiva Administrator:

Thanks for your post!  You were probably the friendly voice behind the "cheery phone call" I mentioned in my original post.  The administrators I have had to deal with have always been invariably discreet and friendly, so thanks!

But yes, I am guilty as charged.  At Pesach, it's hard to keep that one month's tuition cheque from bouncing.  I actually do negotiate with the grocery store, putting back every tempting prepared or frozen product and dreading the schleppery of once again creating eight times three delightful, original meals out of POTATOES. 

Our big Pesach splurge was not a hotel, but $120 worth of hand shmurah.  Chol ha moed?  Maybe we had free museum passes, or took the kids mini-golfing.  But mostly, I just cooked.  And cleaned - have I mentioned we're the only family in the school with no "help" at home?

Still, the potatoes and dish soap add up, and so yes, that cheque bounced.  And then it was hard to find the "extra" money to make it up - like I said, it was in the cash drawer at Superstore.  I'm sorry you had to call to remind me.  I’m even sorry and lied that we’d get it in right away. 

I guess it’s hard to come right out and say, “our bank balance is at zero this month,” but you’ve seen the forms – maybe you could have guessed.

Funny you should mention dental work.  Even with an excellent plan, I have five teeth now with root canals which I've been told will soon crumble without crowns.  Crowns are cosmetic; they're only reimbursed at 50%.  School tuition came first last year, and every year before that.

ALSO funny, on the topic of dental work:  I found out last year that my dentist is only getting back 80% from our insurance - I thought it was 100% because I never got a bill for the rest.  One day, last year, a bill arrived.  He took me aside at our next visit and said it went out by mistake because of a new secretary.  He told me not to pay it.

Menschlich, right?  Just a nice guy, who can SEE from looking at us that we're not just acting poor.  We had never discussed finances before or since.

I'm sorry you think I'm one of the parents demanding "educational excellence" or anything else.  Frankly, you've made me so ashamed through the subsidy process that I really don't feel like I have a right to speak up at all; not on a par with those full-fare parents, anyway.

However, I've also decided my younger kids don't have a place in Jewish schools - until we make aliyah, God willing, in 3 years' time, they will learn at home like my Bubby used to.

Speaking of whom.  My Bubby was indeed moser nefesh to come to Canada, on her own, only 19 years old.  For her, it meant throwing away old-world appurtenances.  Little things like sheitels, yeshivas, oh, and Shabbos and kashrus.  Her kids grew up speaking English, proud of their fine public education.  Sad and surprising indeed.  I've already mentioned the OTHER grandparents:  well-established, well-educated and unwilling to compromise on their daughter's fine Anglican education.

Don't assume all families in your school have the same back-to-har-Sinai committment.  For some of us, that committment is fierce but shallow, unrooted in generations of Torah observance.  Yet we need day school more than others:  how else are my FFB kids going to fill in the total blanks in my own Jewish education?

Have your kids ever been to summer camp?  One of my four children has:  it was her bas mitzvah present from me and three grandmothers, and even as she loved her summer there, she heartbreakingly knew it was her first and last.

Finally, I'm sorry to hear that the shorter subsidy form "doesn't change a thing." Sorry and surprised.

I really hoped that creating an atmosphere of mutual respect, where nobody has to beg for what both parties feel is our kids' right, would solve some big problems.  Maybe you just need somebody like my dentist running the office - somebody with the good sense to know who really needs it and who doesn't, and to apply the guidelines quietly and with dignity.

We're not adversaries, though it may feel that way sometimes.  I believe we are working towards the same goal.  I acknowledge our great debt to the community; at times, too humbly.  But I also look forward to moshiach each day, if only so I don't have to haggle with you again next year.


Jennifer in MamaLand

Shabbos Food

While the debate about school/yeshiva tuition that I started roars on over at DovBear… (here and here), life here in the real world must go on – unlike some of your inferior Deep Jewish Thoughts blogs which never take a break for such fascinations as childrearing, gardening or “what’s to eat?”

Here, then, is our Shabbos food for this week!


  • Iced tea
  • Challah
  • Soup w/kneidlach
  • Turkey Meatballs w/easy sauce (don’t laugh; it’s ginger ale and ketchup)
  • Mashpo
  • Corn
  • Roasted beets
  • Zucchini
  • Blueberry-almond bars
  • One other dessert?  Last week’s leftover brownie?

Lunch = meat, meat, meat and more MEAT!

  • Challah
  • Cholent
  • Turkey Pastries (aka Purkey Tastries)
  • Beef Steak Salad on lettuce
  • Steamed broccoli salad
  • Desserts etc

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Parsha Poem: Eikev

Devarim/Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25


This week’s Parsha is Eikev; it means a reward,

But not for battles that we fight with a sword.

Moshe said we must earn it; he knew that we can,

But only in Israel, that’s Hashem’s special plan.

Seven special crops that would grow in the land,

We’d grow them and eat them; they’d really taste grand.

Seven special crops to be our special prize

clip_image004Ripe and delicious, right before our very eyes.

Two grains to make breads; five fruits for our plate

All of them with flavours we can all appreciate.

חִטָּה (chitah) is wheat, growing tall and golden brown;

clip_image008שְׂעוֹרָה (se’orah) is barley, a grain from the ground;

גֶּפֶן (gefen) is a grapevine, to give us shade and fruit and wine;

תְּאֵנָהclip_image006 (te’ainah) are plump figs to share: yours and yours and mine.

רִמּוֹן (rimon) is a pomegranate with its funny clump of seeds;

clip_image010And זַיִת (zayit) is an olive-tree for all our olive-oil needs.

The last one, תָּמָר (tamar), is a date filled with honey,

clip_image012High in a palm tree under desert skies so sunny.

So how can we earn all of these special fruits;

the wheat for our cakes, all the plump olive shoots?

Do we have to pay money or fight in a war?

clip_image014No! Hashem wants us to do something more.

He gave us the Torah; he wants us to live it;

clip_image016He wants to feel proud and so happy to give it.

When He sees that we’re grateful, with hearts that are pure,

He’ll give us seven special crops – and a land that’s secure.

(seven species images borrowed from this lovely artwork site; Moses image (actually, it’s Ezra) courtesy of  Phillip Martin Clip Art)

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Happy, happy writing stuff

Ted's Farmer's Market 2007-01-01 101 I know I said I couldn’t put into words my enjoyment of Sunday’s fun fair and my personal bake sale, but it turned out I had to – I’d promised an article to the CJN. 

But, and this NEVER ever happens, my editor said she wanted it first-person.  And she also said it was okay to go long.  They NEVER say that:  “write what you want, as much as you want.”  Heck, that’s why I have a blog – I don’t even expect money for that kind of writing.

So I wrote the thing up, first person, and VERY long – over 1300 words.  I submitted it, nervously, last night.  It’s hard submitting personal writing – much easier if it’s just a matter-of-fact article.  Emailed it off and held my breath - and she loved it!

Just remembered, I’m supposed to be emailing her some photos… oops!  So I’ll do that, and hopefully, you’ll see the article in the CJN next week or the week after!

In other writing Fun-ness:  wallowing in this week’s tuition misery I collated my two tuition-related rants, one from last year, one from this year, and the result is now a guest post on DovBear’s fabulous blog.

However, having just caught sight of a post I consider a must-read (click here because you MUST read it!), I’m afraid I’m going to have to upgrade him to Brilliant Blog status.  Required reading if you want to stay in touch with the Jewish Condition in today’s English-speaking world.  So it’s an honour that my post is up there, but I can’t even say mine’s the best one.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Metapost: blog spam


What is with all this spam?  I sure do wish some of the “comments” were actual, real people!

There is a Thing

A thing that I hate to do.

And a regular day that I do it on.

And I do it anyway, and I do it happily, but when the Day is coming, I hate it… I dread it.  I despise every minute of it.

When it’s over, I’m relieved, but also, a little bit, starting to dread, because next week is coming, and the Day comes every week, and the Thing never ends.

Am I being vague enough?  Good!

But I wonder if this is one reason I am feeling so grey and glum and depressed every single minute of every single day, because the Thing is casting is Thingly pall...

Or whether that’s just due to lack of sleep, as usual.  Tonight, I’m trying to get some sleep, just in case that’s all it is.

Online shopping spree fun fun… FUNERAL!

Brace yourself, Kurt Vonnegut-style.  About 3/4 of the way through this free-associative post, there will be a funeral.

imageSo is having a flash sale on pretied bandanas, so I decided to try one.  I may hate it, but I used the $25 credit I won last month, so nothing much lost. 

The stuff I chose, the bandana, an Israeli tichel and a cap, came to just over $25, but there’s a bit of a shipping cost, so all these (three) hair-covering THINGS came to just over $8.  A bit more in Canadian dollars, but still… lots of fun shopping the site.  I am prepared to hate one or two, but hope one of them, when they arrive, will be my New Favourite Hair Covering Thing!

What?  One site doth not a SPREE make?  And oh, yeah, what about the FUNERAL?

Well, okay, I also went on eBay and bought a new USB cable to go with my new cellphone.


What?  Yes, I bought a cellphone.

Here’s why – the Straw that Broke the Camel’s Back, so to speak.  I showed up at the school today to drop off tuition forms and – humiliation on top of humiliations! – the door was locked, and nobody was answering the buzzer.  They’d helpfully taped up a sign that said, “to access ___ (the school’s name), please dial–” and the school’s phone number with an extension.

The Entire World now assumes you have a cellphone, and there I was, stranded in the parking lot, with no cellphone.

So I marched back to the corner of Bathurst and Lawrence, where there is a pay phone, but no, I did not have the requisite fifty cents to drop in.  So I had to drop in a WHOLE dollar and wait while it rang, all anxious that I’d get hung up on or get somebody’s voicemail.  Short story:  I got through, told them I’d be back in THREE minutes, hung up, walked back and went in to pay.

And then walked back to the plaza where I’d left my car, stopped at Second Cup for a premium coffee beverage and then marched myself down to Radio Shack, or what used to be Radio Shack before they changed to a new, dumb name.  And walked in and said, “what’s the cheapest I can get a cellphone for?”

Well, naturally, they upsold me on a monthly plan (I was leaning towards prepaid), but I still think it’s pretty good.  Very basic; very bare bones.  I tell myself I won’t use it much.  And that I will never be stranded again.

All this time, by the way, I was supposed to be at a funeral.  Here it is:  the funeral.

My sister Abigail felt sorry for me and came to stay with the kids, but later recoiled when she found out that the funeral was for our former neighbour, the husband of our former Crazy Neighbour Lady.  They both moved to an apartment in the fall, but apparently, he hasn’t really been well since, and on Sunday, he died.

His name was Yaakov Zev:  Jack.  He turned 89 the day before he died.  Happy Birthday.

He had no family, no friends, no ties to the world.  He worked for Canada Post his whole life, but his coworkers – and before that, his military colleagues – probably all died decades ago.  so when two neighbours came to tell me about the funeral yesterday, I decided it was important to go.  Indeed, the only people at the funeral were pretty much old neighbours from our street.

It was the most generic funeral I’ve ever seen, though Ted says he’s seen worse – like one where nobody showed up (he guesses the guy had left money for a funeral, maybe prearranged the thing, and nobody came except the rabbi). 

This was a little better, but they didn’t have a minyan.  Luckily, one of the funeral guys flagged someone down from off the street to make ten men, and somebody stepped up to say Kaddish.  It could have been worse.  I don’t know if all the guys the rabbi was counting were Jewish; the wife wasn’t Jewish.  Some of the neighbours weren’t Jewish.

I didn’t cry; I didn’t feel anything except glad I’d gone, because nobody is so worthless that he doesn’t deserve to be remembered. 

And now I’m a bit sad, imagining perhaps the simcha when he was born; the clamour, the bris, the pidyon haben, maybe (he was a first son and only child), the bar mitzvah – the raw potential in a life as yet unlived. 

Somebody must have loved him terribly at some time; maybe a lot of somebodies did.  But as I hope I learned from Nanny, it’s not enough to have BEEN loved once – you can’t take it for granted that you will always have people.  You have to work at it, your whole life long.

(more about Nanny… and still more)

So I consoled myself by buying a cellphone and leaving my sister here with the kiddies for an extra hour.  It’ll do them good:  they all got to bond, right?  Plus, I did give her lunch and one of my coveted Starbucks DoubleShots from the fridge, so it wasn’t a total freebie.

And that, there, was my day today.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The best bakey sale day ever!

Had so much fun at yesterday’s funfair, I can’t even put it into words.

beeg 2010-07-25 007

I made pletzl, muffins (strawberry and blueberry), brownies and beer bread.  Kept the whole thing totally simple and FUN and sold out almost everything (well, except Ted’s triscuit pizzas, which sold like crazy last time but not this time – weird!).

For more details and recipes, visit my bread and bakey blog here.

Menu-Planning Monday #24: 15 Av, 5770

Why the weird dates? Click here to find out! 
We are a Jewish family of 6 (2 parents, 4 kids) and all our meals are kosher.

Newcomers, you can read my MPM intro here which tells you all about who we are and what we eat, or just visit my super-duper-list-tastic itemization of Everything We Eat

With the big kids away, meals are a little bit more casual, and more dominated by the simplistic likes and dislikes of the little kiddies. 

Sunday:  BBQ hamburgers at Mommy’s house to meet the new naybs!  (that’s neighbours, in Canada-speak… they’re here from Israel for 2 months)

Monday (today):  Matzah brei and leftover chili from last Thursday

Tuesday:  Eating out!  New burger place @ Bathurst & Lawrence, eat in park

Wednesday:  Chicken Stir-fry

Thursday (Vegan Vursday):  Pasta, tomato sauce

Friday/Shabbos:  Turkey mballs from meat in freezer

Again. Ugh. Pain. Tuition-Related Depression.

NOTHING makes me say ugh like the annual round of tuition-begging.

And with the delivery of our Notices of Assessment from Revenue Canada, verifying our income (or lack thereof), the time is upon us.

Upon me.  It’s my job.

So I sit here, in a lethargic stupour.  Wishing for death.  Maybe not death, perhaps just solvency? 

But I’m sure the feeling is similar.

I have filled out just about the exact SAME six-page financial disclosure every single year for the last ELEVEN years.  Eleven!

Why does anybody believe this humiliating full disclosure each and every year keeps people honest?  Why not make it easier with a shorter form if your humiliating circumstances have not miraculously changed?  Like, you haven’t won a lottery?

Imagine the checklist:

  • “Is your husband is still in the same dead-end job (no pun intended)?
  • Is your house is still 70 years old and crumbling - oh, and WAY too small?
  • Is your car is the same cheap one your father bought you before he crumbled?
  • Have your kids stayed put, not been born, turned 18 or won lotteries of their own?
  • Is your annual family getaway four days in your brother-in-law’s house near Ottawa?
  • Finally, has the cost of living not gone down but, as always, up, up, UP…?”

“This year, we will no longer make the assumption that you are hiding your secret reservoir of funds from us, the standard-bearers of quality Jewish education!”

Seriously.  Why not a “short form” where you simply certify, to the best of your financial and halachic ability, that things haven’t really changed? 

Then, as on the full-length form, at the bottom of the simplified form, you’d write in the magic number you can’t really afford to pay but you’re scared to write anything lower lest your kid be denied re-admission?

Two phone calls today from one school; it really IS time.  One to ask for the forms.  Another to remind me in the most cheery way possible – I really like the guy who has to make the calls, and feel sorry for him because of ME – that we still owe $700 from last year.  $500 for Student Council fees and $200 for a bounced tuition cheque.

Um, okay.  If the cheques are bouncing, there IS the chance that I am lying scum of the earth (being my father’s daughter, that’s what I feel like when the cheques bounce)… but then, maybe it just means what I knew all along:  that I couldn’t afford the tuition we had been assessed, and Pesach came along, or a similarly urgent grocery need, and we needed to pay for something else instead of our kids’ schooling.

But no… a cheery phone call to say “this bounced cheque is clear evidence that you are indeed hiding your secret reservoir of funds!”  Yup; try the cash drawers at Superstore.  That’s the safest place we’ve found to stash it.

Statement of Principles: Gay Jews in the Orthodox World

A statement was released last week – on a weird, anonymous blog, not under the auspices of any official organization – which covers many points applicable to gay Jews living in the frum world.  The statement is here, and they’re looking for frum rabbis or mental health professionals to vet the thing and add their names to the list of signatories.

On some fronts, it’s helpful; in other ways, it may be seen as simply frustrating or a reiteration of stuff people already knew, in the same way the Vatican keeps coming out and forbidden birth control.  I’m sure there are many folks who are dying to hear something new from the frum establishment.

There are 12 points, but for me, these are the main ones.

  1. Be nice.  Treat everybody in a friendly, dignified way.  Actually, you could distill the whole thing down to this one principle, except we’re Jews, and we love specifics.
  2. It’s not our place to ask what goes on in the privacy of anyone’s bedroom.
  3. Theories of the origin of homosexuality are not really relevant to halacha.  Sad, maybe.  Frustrating, maybe.  But true.
  4. Regardless of the origin, attempting to change someone’s sexual orientation can be dangerous.
  5. There are gay people & their kids among us – be nice (see #1) and understand that living a frum life places them at risk.  Sad, frustrating, true.
  6. Gay marriage can’t happen halachically.  But you knew it would say that, right?

Here’s my favourite line:  “All Jews are challenged to fulfill mitzvot to the best of their ability, and the attitude of “all or nothing” was not the traditional approach adopted by the majority of halakhic thinkers and poskim throughout the ages.”

Here’s another link to the document.  I admire its honesty and forthright approach.

What part of this document speaks to you?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Six-Word Saturday: 14 Av, 5770

Why the weird dates? Click here to find out!

 Late-night baking… now with illumination!

six 013

Friday, July 23, 2010

Fun free clip art site!

imageLots of cute & FREE Biblical and other clip art at … very cool!

Girl, 5, haircut

haircut 008For a few minutes this afternoon, the neighbourhood rang with screams as Naomi Rivka underwent the very-infrequent ritual of haircutting.  I’m glad she’s a girl, so we don’t have to do it that often, because she utterly dreads it. 

Once we get into it, though, she’s okay and by the end, after she’d seen it, she was loving her new left-side part. 

I was feeling ambitious and decided to attempt a part instead of bangs to give her more of a big-girl look.  Elisheva makes fun of me, I think, for all the years she spent in bangs, but it was mostly because I didn’t know how to do anything else – and didn’t want to pay somebody to do it.  From the few times I did pay a professional, she seemingly knew little more than I did about how to manage her straight, straight hair (and she was Filipina – don’t Asian people have straight hair?). 

Naomi’s hair is different from Elisheva’s – thicker, more bushy around the “sideburn” areas.  I think I did a decent job, but she ran to wet it down and slick it back before I had a chance to get a picture. haircut 010

It feels weird, posting pictures of the kids… I feel like mostly I post pictures of food, or dough, or plants.  Ted’s photo uploads on our hard drive are full of shots and videos of the kids, running, jumping, swinging, sliding.

Mine:  not so much.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Parsha Poem: Vaetchanan

Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11

clip_image002In this week’s parsha, called Vaetchanan,

We learn many stories together as one.

Vaetchanan, Moshe prayed to Hashem,

To let him cross over the river Yarden.

But Hashem said, “Though it might not seem fair,

clip_image004You hit that rock, so you’ll never go there.

Now choose a new leader to help all the Jews

Then gather them up to tell them the news.

Yehoshua’s the man who will lead them through

clip_image006A new leader almost as special as you.”

Remember Har Sinai? Moshe tells us again

Of all of its wonders, like lightning – not rain

Thunder and voices, a flowery hill,

Hashem’s voice said to listen; to stand and be still.

clip_image008He taught us ten dibrot, mitzvot to keep

Rules to remember, awake or asleep.

Listen to parents and anyone grown;

Ten special rules carved on luchot of stone.

Treat other folks nicely, be honest and kind;

Those are mitzvot we must all keep in mind.

Then Moshe taught us the most special word:

clip_image010“Shema,” means to listen, and that’s what we heard.

Listen to Hashem, remember with love

A parent and teacher watching from above.

Shema Yisrael, Hashem knows every Jew

So he’s watching and hoping… to hear it from YOU!

p.s.: The illustrations are from the excellent high-quality parsha archive at MiBereshit, a great site to learn more about the parsha – for yourself or your kids!

Missing them already

Well, okay, actually I’m not.  See their little pink plane (I coloured it to make it easier to spot), just approaching Regina?image

Fun, fun, fun!  And in a couple of weeks, they get to do the whole tedious trip again… by TRAIN.  Only instead of four hours, it’s going to take two and a half days.  Meshuggeh… but then, a) I wasn’t the one who decided it was a great plan and bought the tickets, and b) I have actually done the whole “trip across the Canadian prairies” thing, in my youth, by bus – a 50-hour trip, start to finish, so I speak from experience.

Which is how I know it is the most tedious scenery you will ever encounter unless you happen to want to cross Australia someday.

Here’s what that stretch they’re currently flying over looks like, closer up, on a satellite map:


And here’s the Google Street View, first facing west:


And now east:


Nothing, nothing, nothing… as far as the eye can see:


Shudder.  Terrible memory; days of tedium, first driving east across Canada from San Francisco, and then (dumb), heading west by bus from Toronto to Calgary – a couple of times over in one year. 

Perhaps the train trip will be more fascinating than the journey by car or bus.  At least you can get up and stretch your legs a bit.  And maybe they have somebody coming through to sell snacks, drinks, etc?  More likely, they will have WiFi and both kids will keep themselves busy for two days tootling on YM’s iPhone.

Egg-free cupcakes & pig-free pancakes

Egg-free; nut-free; dairy-free.  Those were the instructions on the sign-up sheet today for Naomi Rivka’s camp party on Friday, their last day (it’s only a one-week camp).  The party theme is “stripes and polka dots.”  (I think)

Dairy-free, nut-free – those are easy.  And when I signed up to make or bring cuppycakes, the one the counsellor pointed out specifically:  “they have to be egg-free.” 

“Fine,” I thought, “I can do egg-free, no problem.”  Okay!  I love accomodating different dietary needs, for whatever reason.  So I can do that.  So help me, I will bake for you, little EGGLESS BOY OR GIRL:  you “EGG KID.”  Sure – can do!

But just now – twelve hours later; that’s how long my brain takes to kick in – I started thinking. 

Here’s what that niggling thought said to me:  “Why?”

“Why do I have to accomodate their EGG KID, when they are not at all accomodating my KOSHER KID?”

I bring separate snacks for Naomi every single day, even though the camp provides snacks and drinks.  Beyond unprocessed fruit or veggies, I have told them she can’t eat or drink a thing.  The pure fruit juice may be grape; the crackers, unsupervised.

The thing of it is that I don’t expect them to accomodate her food needs – the camp is not in a Jewish area and she’s the only Jewish kid.  That would be weird – shopping kosher for just one kid.

So we just bring our own, I give it to her, we don’t make a fuss.  She knows she gets separate snacks.  No hard feelings – we all eat this way when we’re out of the house.  We often say “no thanks” to treats we would otherwise enjoy that just don’t happen to be kosher.  (drat!)

And that’s why it strikes me as just a little… unfair… that EGG KID is learning that wherever he or she goes, the world will simply open up to accomodate that weird little need.  It’s simply not true:  that’s not the way the world works. 

If we accomodate every single dietary need with every single school or camp snack, then what the kids are left snacking on is… lettuce, celery sticks, water.  Healthy stuff, actually.  But not very interesting, as the world of snacks goes.  Almost every snack food contains something that some kid can’t have.

Honestly, I think my way of teaching my kid to say “no thanks” will have more positive effect on her character than teaching EGG KID to say “yum, sure!” every time a snack is offered. 

EGG KID may someday die (or at least compromise his or her parents’ vegan principles) because of being taught to say YES to food.  Instead of saying, “I need to see the label,” or “it’s okay, I brought my own snack.”

Is there a limit to inclusiveness? 

Can we tell parents gently, nicely, that we will NOT accomodate their kid’s special food requirement, not even try, not even a little bit?  Ask them to please take responsibility for their own child’s safety, or their own family’s principles, rather than rely on the supervision of strangers, creating delicious baked goods in their own home?

Where do we draw the line?

Surreal post-script:  I’m thinking I will make the cupcakes… but somehow bake them IN THE SHAPE OF EGGS.  And I will ice them, white, shiny-smooth, eggy.  Ha!  That will show them.  “Oh, yes; they’re egg-free.  What?  They look like eggs?  Sure do.  You got a problem with that???”  Sort of like kosher pancakes in the shape of little piggies…

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Is your name “Rivka”? Rebecca? Beck? Rose? Or Yerachmiel!

My mother was in a class today and somebody asked about the meaning of the name Rivka.  She figured I would know, having one for a kid and all.  I told her I remembered from deep, way back, that it meant “to bind,” but that I’d look it up for her, because I don’t have a source.

I didn’t choose the name for its meaning, but rather, because both my grandmothers had the name:  my father’s mother, Rose, was Chana Rivka; my mother’s mother, Rebecca (everybody called her Beck), was just Rivka. 

[Actually, I remember her sister saying once that her name was Rivka Keindel.  However, I have never seen or heard the name Keindel (rhymes with Sheindel) anywhere else, so I dropped this assertion early on and it is not on her grave; the sister did not say anything at the time she was buried.]

So it was clear we were going to have a Rivka, and it’s a good name, a tzadekes following in the giant footsteps of Sara Imenu, which is an image I enjoy.  So I didn’t bother looking up the name, when Naomi Rivka was born, or ever since.

Naomi loves the family history, by the way.  Just as she loves all things Flower Fairies, she loves being named after a Rose.  She would probably choose the name Rose herself, if she could.

But now, of course, I have the Internet!  (thanks to Ted handily intercepting the cutting-off-the-Internet-guy who was trying to do his job due to nonpayment of the Internet bill)

So I assured my mother I could get her a better definition for the name.  Ha ha ha… not really, as it turns out.

Many of the web entries are of the unhelpful “Biblical name” variety, like this one, which says, “in the Bible, Rivka was the wife of Isaac.”

From the “out of nowhere” department, the winning answer on this page says it means “a young calf…which is a symbol of innocence.”  Huh?

And then there are the predictable ones that are probably correct.  This site says "possibly a snare,” while this one says "ensnarer.”  Same difference.

Most give some version of "to bind," which is what I said initially.  And the ultimate authority, Wikipedia, says "to tie; to bind; captivating, beautiful,” but doesn’t give a proper shoresh (Hebrew root), which is what I’d really like to put the matter totally to rest.

Funnily enough, there are a bunch of Israeli sites and they just seem to make the definition up out of thin blue air.

This one says "Primary, individualist ambition, initiative, opponents impatience, competitiveness, control, isolation" while another one says it means "bright and wise." 

And finally, here is one that says it means “confident, genuine, competitive, intelligent, reasonable, with energy and courage and ambitious initiative. Adhere to (? sorry – Google translation!). Do not accept dictates from others. Enjoy the admiration and popularity. When they are injured they can be merciless.” 

Well, that is Naomi Rivka to a T.  Have you ever seen her fearsome “I didn’t get hurt don’t you dare get near me” snarl???

I suspect these sites are more connotative than strictly literal when they refer to the “meaning” of the name in question, and most of the Israeli sites offer gematria and numerology information about the name as well.  One,, also includes a helpful icon to let you know whether the name is “international.”  Rivka and Gavriel are; Pinchas and Elisheva are NOT.

However, in terms of meaning, this site offers the same unhelpful explanation as most of the English sites:  “השנייה מארבע האימהות של עם ישראל, אשת יצחק אבינו, בתו של בתואל ואחות לבן הארמי” – “second of the four (fore)mothers, wife of Yitzchak, daughter of Besuel and sister of Lavan the Arami.”  I knew all that already.

What it all means, ultimately, is that perhaps Israelis don't have any more of a clue than us Anglos do when it comes to this name.  So Naomi Rivka will remain my little Rose…by any other name.

While tottling around the site, I stuck in Yerachmiel’s name, and, funnily enough, ShemLi had this to say:  “כינוי לבטלן, עצלן, ביש מזל ולא יוצלח. (דברי הימים א' ב' ט').”  It’s apparently shorthand for a “lazy, unsuccessful, unlucky person.”  Huh?

BUT – and I swear, I did not know this! – it also says the name comes from the Tanach.

I have never been able to find a source for his name; he’s just named after my grandfather, my mother’s father (who was called Sam his whole life – I only found out his name the day he lay dying). 

But apparently that’s just because I wasn’t looking in the right place:  Divrei HaYamim alef, perek bais, pasuk tes (in English, 1 Chronicles 2:9).  There’s even a bit of a genealogy, and a second wife, Atarah (first wife is nameless, for some reason).  Plus, in sefer Shemuel alef (First Samuel), there is a reference to the tribe of  what non-Jewish Bible scholars apparently refer to as “Jerahmeelites.”  After 16 years of knowing NOTHING about this name, it’s suddenly everywhere.

So why is it synonymous with all those negative characteristics?  A superficial glance at the genealogy reveals nothing special:  just the usual lists of names and offsprings and the occasional wife.  Maybe it’s the Hebrew version of the English “shlemiel.”  Oh, I guess that’s Yiddish.  Whatever it is, it’s not HIM.  It’s not his identity; it doesn’t define him.

Hmm… maybe just (occasionally) his report card.

I did it! (Chapter Books)

Pat me on the back:  after almost sixteen years of raising kids, I finally, FINALLY read my kids a chapter book!

Oh, I have started many over the years.  But finished?  Zero.

The fault is partly mine, and the credit is partly due to Charlotte Mason.  ;-)

When the older kids were little, I was working full-time and they were in daycare, then school.  We were all just too busy and exhausted to do chapter books.  Since learning about Charlotte Mason homeschooling, I’ve come to realize how very important it is to sustain a child's attention far beyond the "twaddle-length" of most kids' books.

I chose Little House on the Prairie, specificially the first book, Little House in the Big Woods.   Or perhaps I should say WE chose, because Naomi loves the fact that Elisheva also enjoys these books.  In fact, they’re great for all ages, and I suspect the big kids enjoy listening in and/or picking up the books when I’m not reading them, just to browse through.

The Little House books are a recommended part of Ambleside Online’s Charlotte Mason-based homeschool curriculum because the writing is of a fairly high quality, plus the books reflect what I suspect most CM homeschoolers would call “good, Christian values.”  Now, it’s true that some of those “values” include calling black people and native people what are considered today to be some pretty rude names.  At one point I had to skip reading the words to a song altogether because I felt it was offensive.

But for the most part, the stories are interesting, and the bits that do come through about actual Christianity – observing the Sunday Sabbath, celebrating Christmas, etc. – are largely seen by my kids as anthropological curiosities.   If anything, the Little House Sunday experience makes our Shabbos experience look like a veritable amusement park:  the girls in the story have to sit on a bench, read the Bible, and are forbidden to laugh, run or have fun.

The first book focuses on the passing of the seasons from a young child’s experience, and the agricultural nature of the story – different crops, foods, celebrations, labour, at different times of year, cycles from which my city children are almost completely alienated (except in our garden).

We started our NEXT chapter book last week, On the Banks of Plum Creek, which is actually Book 4 of the series, because I the library didn’t  have #2 or #3.  So far, so good.  The kids are fascinated by the little dugout house the family moves into, hidden under the creek bank.

My sister helpfully pointed out that the books are kind of miserable if you read them from the mother’s perspective.  It’s all well and good for the kids to have adventures and move around to settle America in brand-new prairie lands. 

But for the mother (Caroline), she just had to keep shlepping around and the second they’d start to get comfortable somewhere or maybe make friends, she’d have to pack everything up into the wagon and go live in some dirt house where she was forced to haul water in sacks she’d stitched out of oak leaves, or make clothes out of straw, or cheese out of mud.  I admire the woman’s resourcefulness, but her patience?  She must either have been a saint or a moron.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

I hope there’s a moment

… in everybody’s life – if they were raised frum – maybe in their early 20s; maybe when they have a few little kids, and they come out of a busy fast day of taking care of kids and they say, “I never knew.”  And they feel immensely grateful.  “I never knew how much my parents were doing.”

To kids, these horrid fast days just feel like normal, busy days.  So maybe they never realized before how much it took for their parents to stay cheerful, to stay busy and alert, serve three meals just as usual, read stories, play games, drive to camp, bike to shul, all while preparing a delicious after-fast meal for themselves.

Well, I feel like I just ran a marathon. 

And I sure hope my kids realize – and that they’re immensely grateful someday.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Menu-Planning Monday #23: 8 Av, 5770 (erev Tisha b’Av)

Why the weird dates? Click here to find out! 
(What’s Tisha b’Av?  Click here to find out!)

We are a Jewish family of 6 (2 parents, 4 kids) and all our meals are kosher.

Newcomers, you can read my MPM intro here which tells you all about who we are and what we eat, or just visit my super-duper-list-tastic itemization of Everything We Eat

So today is the last of the days of mourning leading up to Tisha b’Av, when all our meals have been vegetarian (no meat or wine).  Tonight begins the 25-hour fast itself, but that doesn’t mean there are no meals to plan – we have to eat TONIGHT, before the fast, and TOMORROW NIGHT, afterwards, so in fact, no suppers will be missed in the observance of this day! 

Another note:  even though the fast is over Tuesday night, the mourning period extends into Wednesday morning.  In general, we continue the “nine days” (really TEN) and do not eat meat, drink wine, listen to music,  have haircuts or in general enjoy ourselves until after noon on Wednesday. 

At which point, I have also promised the kids we will go buy our monthly “Rosh Chodesh Slushies,” which we don’t generally buy for Rosh Chodesh Av because “mishenichnas Av, m’atim b’simcha” – ie, it’s not a time for happiness.  Gavriel Zev calls them “flushies.”

Sunday (yesterday):  Mommy-made Tuna/cheese quiche, fresh Ontario corn

tisha 010 Monday (tonight):  Easy double-batch lasagna; making a second to take to a friend.  Jim Lahey’s no-knead “potato focaccia”.

Tuesday (Tisha b’Av; Ted off work):  Blintzes w/blueberry sauce; easy fast-day broccoli soup

Wednesday:  BBQ of some type of yummy meaty object!!!  Maybe on a stick?

Thursday (big kids away; Ted’s late day; Vegan Vursday):  Hmm… stuck on this one, for some reason.  I guess a week of veggie meals has sapped my imagination.    No!!!  I will NOT let myself cop out and post without putting something in for this meal.  Let’s say chili with cornbread… or polenta.  Something with cornmeal.  Yay; I’m done!

Friday / Shabbos:  Dunno!  Some type of challah; some type of chicken.  Who knows?  ;-)

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Fast cheap hanging planter

This planter makes me SO happy!!! 

sweepo 020I potted it up back in May when I did the petunias, and believe me, it didn’t look like much back then.  This was basically a “leftovers” pot:  two spare lobelia plugs I’d grown from seed, a neglected indoor spider plant, and a sprig of coleus that I found snapped off a hanging planter at a Home Depot store (I didn’t do anything special, just stuck it in the soil and kept it watered).

It might not look like one of those huge, overflowing-with-blooms planters you buy at a garden store, but all the plants inside mean something to me, and they’re all healthy and doing great.  What more could I ask for?

Oh.  I just realized I lied.  Because this planter was VERY cheap – almost so cheap as to be free.  Two lobelia seeds?  A billionth of a penny.  A spider plant we got free at the Ex many years ago.  And a coleus sprig that would have been swept up and trashed in a big-box store. 

But I lied because it was fast only in that it took only seconds to put it together.  I did that back in May.  It’s now mid-July and it’s only starting to look halfway-decent.  So, two months… which, in today’s instant-gratification gardening terms is practically an eternity.  Which, in Toronto, is about half the nice-weather gardening season that we get.

So, okay, cheap and EASY.  But definitely not fast.

I also realized I haven’t followed up on my various petunia-related kvetches to say they are flowering like crazy and I’m loving every minute of them.

These are the Laura Bush petunias I dreamed of in January and started back in February.  The colour is not nearly as purple as it looked in the photos, but still; they are great performers, as homegrown flowers grow.

You can see them in their infancy here and click the links back from there to watch me start them from their teeny-tiny seeds.  Here they are from the front lawn.  I am trying to be vigilant about cutting back about 1/3 of them every week or two so that they won’t get too gangly-tall and will keep blooming right through the season.

summertime 033

Here’s the view from above, so you can contrast it with what the planters looked like when I first potted them up.  The spider plants still aren’t showing very well; the first rains of the season usually knock them back almost to the soil, and I don’t mind because they usually bounce right back.  But hopefully they’ll get a bit more growing in before I have to bring them in for the winter.

sweepo 008

Six-Word Saturday: 7 Av, 5770

Why the weird dates? Click here to find out!

Short trip first… fast… then gone!

Abigail’s taking the big kids “camping” tomorrow, Tuesday is Tisha b’Av, and then on Thursday, they’re off to Calgary for their annual visit with grandparents and other assorted family and friends, human and doggie, out there.  Last year, I went with them.  This year, I am mostly just relieved that I don’t have to travel anywhere.  And yes, there is relief that we will be semi-childless for much of the next three weeks. 

But we’re also losing our “built-in babysitter”!!!  I am scheming to find a way to go out with Ted Wednesday night before the big kids head off because after that, we’ll be relying on the kindness of my mother and sisters.

“Camping” is in quotes, by the way, because as Elisheva points out, it’s just overnight – they have to be back in time to eat the meal before the fast on Monday – and they’re not going too far from home.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Shabbos Food Plan a la Ted


more food 009Ted’s off work today (he works every other weekend instead), so he made the rhubarb pie himself (and some mini-pie-lets with the leftovers), but I’m not doing brownies.  Kinda sick of brownies right now, unless anyone has an amazing brownie recipe that is worlds amazinger than the regular ones we make.

Here’s his pie, all done!

 more food 011

I’m baking banana cake right now, and if I have more chips left over (plus time, plus energy), I think I’ll try Mrs. S’s (Our Shiputzim) kids’ chocolate-chip cookie recipe, which uses oil instead of margarine or butter (pl us a whole lotta egg).  I won’t do the brownie thing inside, but it looks very interesting, maybe for Elisheva to make sometime…

The brisket and gravy are from the freezer – my mother made it a few weeks ago, but we had lots of leftovers.  The roast potatoes are local new potatoes, from the farmers’ market yesterday.

Oh - “shiny chicken” refers to glaze-style Shake & Bake… we seem to be alternating Shake & Bake flavours right now, but that’s okay, because we all LOVE Shake & Bake and Shabbos will be our last meat meals for a few more days!

Let’s see – what else?  The corn is frozen Green Giant Niblets, as usual.  Nothing else compares; tinned corn, nope; other frozen brands, nope.

The challah this week is from yet another new recipe.  Still trying to snap out of my challah ennui, I guess.

Can you tell I’m tired?  I think our Shabbos party was okay this morning, though I kept forgetting bits and sticking them in at random – they’re kids; they don’t remember and don’t care about the order of the songs anyway (I hope!).  But it was tough to muster the energy and doing that on a lack of sleep plus the return of the HEAT have me feeling, well, sleeeeeeeeeeepy in the extreme.

Oh – I just discovered a few pattypan squash in the bag from the farmers’ market!  The lady selling it said to slice it and bread & fry the slices in a pan.  So that’s what I’ll do.  Never had pattypan, but she said it’s basically the same as zucchini.  I don’t love zucchini, but other people do, and I’m always willing to taste a bit now that I’m mature.  ;-)

cooks 001Post-Shabbos Post-Script:  Cookies, made & delicious!  Mrs. S.’s teenagers’ recipe made a larger batch than our regular recipe, enough for two rather substantial logs, which I froze for 2 hours instead of the recommended 1-2 hour refrigeration.

Actually, I only sliced one log – it made 12 very generous (read:  huge) cookies, plus one big blob of cookie dough that I was tempted to make into a 13th cookie, but it wouldn’t have fit nicely on the pan so we all ate it raw instead (Canadian eggs have never had the same salmonella problem as in the US).

I found the oil-based cookies very slightly drier, harder and less flavourful than butter or marg-based cookies.  Slightly!  But then, they also had less tendency to turn into toffee blobs than many of the cookies we’ve made in past.   BUT – it’s terrific to have this as a fallback and easy recipe.  Much less mixing (no more waiting for margarine to thaw OR teenage daughter breaking my mixer by attempting to cream chunks of frozen marg).

Also, these big sturdy cookies would be great with a blob of ice cream (pareve or otherwise; homemade or otherwise) squashed inside, then refrozen.    The regular choco-chip cookies we make would probably be too crumbly to stand up to the task, but these (probably sliced a little thinner) seem like they would be fine.

Yum!  I’m baking up the second batch for the kids to take on their “camping” trip tomorrow morning.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Hanging Things 2010, part the Deux

I promised in the first part that I would post pics of the three hanging things I had forgotten.  And then, today, Gayla Trail of You Grow Girl had a post all about growing sweet potatoes!  She mentions that the leaves are edible, something that’s well-known in Africa and not-at-all-known here.  So even if we don’t have a long enough season to get actual tubers, at the end of the season we can eat the plant rather than throwing it away!

sweepo 001So here’s my own homegrown sweet potato, finally growing vigourously.  Lovely foliage!  But, inspired by Gayla, I really, really want to try them in grow bags next year!

Click here to see this potato when it first started growing roots, back in May.  It was very slow to start this year – after many many weeks of almost no progress – perhaps because the house was so cold.  I separated off about three slips and planted them separately in a hanging planter.  For more info on starting sweet potatoes, have a look here and here.

Here are two other hanging friends I neglected to photograph in yesterday's post.

Grocery bag tomato.  No idea what variety this is, but it’s the same bag I used last year and as you can see, much the worse for wear.  Lots of holes and tatters that I wish I’d seen before I had the tomato in and filled it with soil.  Once again, I have a rectangular basin in the top with a wick to transport water to the soil, so this is a bit of a self-watering (is it still called sub-irrigated if the irrigation comes from above???) setup as well.

 sweepo 002

And finally, my “bulletproof” drought-and-flood-resistant side-door planters – first assembled in June of 2009, and back this year for yet another appearance.  At the end of last season, I pulled the soil out and stuck them in holes in the backyard, where the plants overwintered nicely.

 sweepo 005

In what way are they bulletproof?  Basically, I put pretty WEEDS that I already had (from a swap and Craigslist freebie) into POTS that I liked… and hung them up.  Cheap, easy, done!

Phalaris arundinacea (“ribbon grass”) and Lysimachia nummularia aurea (“golden creeping Jenny”) are both plants that will invade and spread and can survive both periods of drought and periods of dryness, making them good for these impractically-sized tiny pots that only get watered when I remember (ie, never – I have 6 mouths to feed here!).

I think they look quite nice together, and more importantly, they SURVIVE!

Cookin’ the “Orthoprax” soup

Ortho = correct

Dox = thought

Prax = actions

Orthodox Jews = those whose every thought is correct.  Ha ha ha.

And then, there are the “Orthoprax,” people accused of just going through the motions without necessarily meaning it.  This is the “religious but not spiritual” (RBNS) counterpart to the SBNR epidemic (one in five Americans, apparently).

But while SBNR is seen as thrilling and new-age and laudable, for some mysterious reason RBNS is seen as slimy, lying and/or just plain hypocritical.  Why?  We say “going through the motions” like it’s a bad thing.

I see two categories of SBNR folks.  One, like Orthoprax Rabbi, doesn’t believe at all:  the atheist – in his case, doing it for a paycheque, others, for family or community pressure.  Second, like Modern Orthoprax, admits to some degree of theism, or at least agnosticism, and affirms the value of some religious practice and ritual.

To be honest, I can’t relate much to the first group; the second feels closer to home.  I claimed agnosticism for most of my life simply because it seemed arrogant to deny God altogether.  And, frankly, I haven’t shifted that much towards actual, concrete faith.  I am extremely uncomfortable declaring things about God as actual, literal fact.  To me, that seems almost as arrogant as declaring that He doesn’t exist. 

Maybe my tiny brain simply cannot encompass God’s reality – and who’d want a God that we are capable of understanding, anyway?  The folks who stand up and announce that God told them to do something?  Those are the ones to keep your eye on.

(Previous related posts:  Thoughts on atheism, and More on atheism, which gives a bit of background as to where I’m coming from, religiously.)

Does that make me RBNS?  Maybe.  Sometimes.  I do stuff and sometimes I don’t know why or even if I do know why, it feels weird and awkward and frankly, like I’m making it up or even – gasp – just “going through the motions.”

Does that make me a hypocrite?

What it does make me of is leery of any term with the word “ortho” in it.  I take more exception to that than the “dox” or “prax” put together.  Because as Garnel Ironheart so lucidly points out, the word “ortho” – correct! – reflects nothing more than an extremely poor understanding of the halachic process, which is so rarely black-and-white.

If halacha itself isn’t ORTHO-anything, how the heck can I be?

Manis Friedman has used the term "arguing over how He likes His soup." 

Har Sinai was a marriage.  Hashem was the groom; b’nei Yisrael the bride, and the Bais HaMikdash was the honeymoon.  Then, the groom goes away.  For thousands of years.  He’s gone, and we have no clue where he’s gone, and we’re still bound to a man who has vanished off the face of the earth.  We despair.  We barely remember Him.

Then one day, the groom comes back, and he’s standing outside the door.  He’s listening.  And what does he hear?  He hears his wife making soup, debating, arguing with herself:  “No, he likes it with carrots.”  “No, he prefers potatoes.”  “Add a bit more pepper.”

Is he going to be angry that we’re not cooking it right?  That we’re arguing?  That we’re uncertain?  Or will his heart melt with love that we’re still cooking his soup after all these years? 

It’s a simple mashal, and I heard it from a Chabadnik, but I’m a sucker for a simple mashal and truth (Truth) can come from anywhere and everywhere. 

The minimalistic God I believe in will simply be full of love that we're still here after thousands of years, with so little true guidance, hanging in here, figuring out how to please Him.  Even if you don’t mention His name, or don’t say it often enough, does that mean it’s not ultimately all about Him?

That’s where I see orthopraxy.  That’s why I don’t condemn it; that’s why it feels a bit like home.  Because, for all its flaws, is the essential debate over how God likes His soup – or, if you will, side-stepping the debate altogether and just making soup, dammit.

Persicaria (polygonum) amplexicaulis “Firetail” (fleeceflower), 2010

summertime 002A little concerned about the “vigourous” growth habit of these.   I don’t know if you can see here, but there are two huge clumps of this plant in the left-side foreground.

From two small plants last year,  they have grown to occupy almost the entire front bed.  The foliage is not that beautiful, though it does appear to be big, bold and bug resistant.

I may have to divide this sooner than expected.

You can see a few coleus peeking out here and there.  When the  persicaria quits flowering, I plan to lop it back mightily and by then hopefully the coleus will have grown in to take its place in the (metaphorical) sun.

Look at the difference 2 weeks makes!

Here are the three free sub-irrigated planters I built two weeks ago.

First, the two identical tomato planters… doing amazing; check!summertime 006

But the zucchini in the small planter is the star of the show.  Click back and see how runty it was!  And look at it now!  (in between these two homegrown bananas…)summertime 005

Other sub-irrigated (self-watering) news:

Two out of three of last year’s planters are doing great.  Kale and tomatoes in the left one:

summertime 008

No close-up, but zucchini and a tomato in the right one:

summertime 007 

But the third one is kinda runty… I threw in another tomato and pulled out any traces of the leeks that were growing there, in case they were inhibiting the tomatoes’ growth.

 summertime 009

This is a bad picture, because it doesn’t really show the setup at all, but I have two more self-watering planters with tomatoes by the side door.  Again, they were easy and FREE to build and the tomatoes are growing stupendously.

 summertime 032

I hope by growing tomatoes in self-watering planters, they will have constant, even access to water and therefore be less susceptible to blossom end rot, which has been a scourge in past years. 

I also know they’re less likely to be overtaken by the general wilty malaise that overtakes all my tomatoes by the end of the season.  Here’s a comparison of the sub-i tomatoes vs planter tomatoes at the end of last year.  No contest!