Monday, April 23, 2012

Edwardian School Day in the Zion Schoolhouse

DSC02921Yet another homeschool field trip, our last for a while, because I’m off to Baltimore next week. 

This was FUN, despite several last-minute cancellations bringing our group size down to 13 kids (though this meant we could sneak along a friend’s kid for free!) and horrible weather so we couldn’t enjoy the usual outdoor recess with period games and toys. 

Most of the kids didn’t know how to spell; with the unschooly bent of most homeschoolers here, the spelling bee the schoolteacher organized was a bit of a joke.  Even after practicing the “list words” for fifteen minutes (writing them, reading them, saying them aloud), most of the children were still guessing letters somewhat randomly, like a G in the word “rain.”  Naomi Rivka did fine; her word was “ring,” which she spelled on the first try. 

Despite this, I respected the fact that the parents did not jump in at all to “rescue” their kids from potentially embarrassing situations.  Perhaps that’s part of the philosophy – if they feel pressured to read, and see younger kids doing it, maybe they’ll start on their own? 

In one case, though, a child was spelling “pain” and pronounced the first letter “bee.”  I happen to know the family has only been in Canada from Italy for about 2 years, so when the teacher tried to buzz him out, I spoke up.  She had asked him if he meant “b” or “p” and he said, “bee as in purple.”  It was obvious that he knew what he was talking about, but because he didn’t have much of an accent, I guess she just thought he was dumb, or strange.  Otherwise, the teacher was great, and flexible enough to deal with the kids’ wide range of ages and abilities.

image I also think none of the kids will forget the words to “God Save the King” anytime soon!  The teacher first showed the kids the words, played the music on the piano, then we sang the words to rehearse them.  THEN we did the whole thing again for real when she rang the bell to start the actual school day.

It actually felt a little grim singing with the word “King”, like we were rehearsing for the demise of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth.  Throughout my lifetime, since before I was born, we have always sung “God Save the Queen,” but someday perhaps in not too long, and perhaps for most of my children’s lifetime, the words will indeed change back again when Charles or Harry or whoever take the throne.  We also enjoyed the Victorian map of the British Empire, which would have been proudly displayed, along with the Union Jack and pictures of said king, on every schoolroom wall in the empire.

What was especially nice was that the teacher let the kids choose name tags of actual students who attended the school back in 1910.  Naomi’s student, Florrie Harrison, was a young girl just a bit older than she is now.  They have pictures of the kids on display, so they could see who “their” student was and that helped make it really concrete.  The teacher also talked a bit, coincidentally, about the student Naomi was named after, who came back in the 1980s to share her recollections when they were first setting the schoolhouse up as a museum.


In 16 years of having daughters, this is literally THE FIRST time I have braided hair.  Pretty good for a first-timer!  And she has perfectly captured the grim expression of an Edwardian schoolgirl on her way to face her certain doom.

DSC02917 DSC02919

But afterwards, she was very, VERY excited, and said we’d have to come back again.  I said, “maybe next year,” but the let-down expression on her face showed she’d probably meant something like tomorrow.

New Lapbook in Progress: צַדִּיק בֶּאֱמוּנָתוֹ יִחְיֶה / Tzaddikim Project

imageThis is a biggie, a heavy-duty topic, too.  For a while now, I have been wanting to do a lapbook of tzaddikim (great Torah scholars), but there are a few reasons why I’ve been stuck.  First, it’s a HUGE subject – over 6000 years of history, you’re bound to accumulate more than a few righteous people.  Indeed, the number seems to be potentially infinite, once you start scratching the surface. 

Second, humility.  That’s right – a characteristic I rarely demonstrate, but very much applicable here:  who am I to say this person is a tzaddik worth remembering and this person  isn’t???

Third, terminology.  I think of all these folks, the Rambam, Rashi, the Chofetz Chaim, as Gedolim, but there is a tendency to refer to modern Torah scholars as Gedolim.  The term Tzaddikim is often used only for Chassidic leaders, though to me, it means all major leaders, throughout history. 

Complicating this fact is that folks in the frum world also tend to use the word “gedolim” to refer to just about ANY major living Torah scholar, so you get videos on YouTube like “The Gedolim Visit Teaneck.”  I’m not saying they’re NOT Gedolim with a capital G, but, well, I’m not exactly sure what I’m saying, except that I want to focus on the biggies, even though they are all great.  (if you want to be slightly irritated and perhaps a little amused, see also this troublemaking xtranormal video about the process of “choosing” Gedolim)

imageSo I’m still not sure what the best name is for this project.  But at least I have gotten started working on it, in part because of a breakthrough that came in the form of a book which I’m using to help guide and organize my thoughts on this topic.

Aimed largely at middle schoolers, Sol Scharfstein’s Torah Teachers and You, from Ktav Publishing, is far from perfect.  The graphics are weird and cartoony, so kind of inappropriate for such a serious subject.  And it’s got more than a few typos.  I’m not sure if I would recommend the book to people going through the lapbook / unit study, but maybe.  (though it may be out of print or hard to get; my copy was $7.95 at Batner Bookstore and if they carry it, it’s probably on the curriculum in at least one day school here)

Anyway, the book highlights the lives of 18 tzaddikim from the 5th century BCE to the 18th century CE, with parallel descriptions of events in Jewish and secular history.  There are a few maps, and a few somewhat lightweight “___ and you” type questions at the end of each tzaddik’s section.  The gedolim described are major leaguers according to almost every definition, although in my opinion, he should have covered at least the 19th, if not the 20th century.  But I guess then the author would have run into the same problems I had in classifying who deserved to get into the book.

image  image image

As it is, there are quite a few names “missing” from the book (including 2 of the 3 people shown above) which probably ought to be included in any comprehensive study of Torah teachers.  Indeed, most of the important meforshim (commentators) are NOT included.  And frankly, I’d agree with all the selections in the book except Queen Esther, who was definitely a major figure but who I don’t believe was a “Torah teacher” according to most definitions.  She is presented as mainly contemporaneous with Ezra and Nechemia, which in my opinion was only done for the sake of including a single woman in the collection.

But it’s a springboard, and I feel like I’m ready to get started pulling everything together at this point, into a fascinating unit study that will touch on history, middos, hashkafa, halacha and more.  No primary sources, and definitely not enough tzaddikim, but I will start with these 18 and see where it goes from there.  I hope to make it accessible to a wide range of ages, but (in contrast to the Yom Tov lapbooks) can’t imagine something like this being of interest to anyone much below the age of 7.  Most convenient, given that Naomi will probably be 7.5 when we start!

For a unit study on tzaddikim, what would you want to see included?  OR, if you have studied tzaddikim, what was most interesting to your kids???

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Crocheted Kokeshi Baby Doll

DSC02906Although there are tons of free dolly patterns out there, I actually bought this pattern on etsy – I like the shape of imagethe body, and the idea of the removable outfit really appealed to me.  Mine turned out slightly more wonky – and very much less natural-looking due to the odd tints of yarn I had available.

imageThe pattern is modelled on a traditional Japanese wooden “Kokeshi” doll, which looks like the one shown on the right.   Though I have done it as minimalistically as possible, mine definitely lacks the “kawaii” factor – the utterly adorable cuteness associated with Japanese kitsch.

Still, I’m pleased with the way she came out.  And iimagen fact, especially with her odd colouring, and due to her armlessness, she looks very much like a VeggieTales character – not entirely a bad thing.

 DSC02914 DSC02915

Here she is, naked, but I think I will leave her outfit on most of the time, because it’s a bit tighter around the neck than I had anticipated.

Any suggestions for a name to go along with her personality???

Kosher Cooking Carnival – the Eeyore (Iyyar) edition!

imageAnd yet again, I am privileged to host the delightfully monthly Kosher Cooking Carnival!

When the month of Iyyar (אִייָר‎) rolls around, I have always secretly thought of Winnie the Pooh’s sidekick, Eeyore.  I have never mentioned this to anybody before, so I hope you appreciate this confidential divulgence.

But really, there is no month that better captures the spirit of Eeyore, not even Cheshvan, which is called “mar” (bitter) Cheshvan, because it contains no holidays. 

Just like Eeyore has his moments in the sun, Iyyar hosts its own joyous date on the 18th.  Only in true “Eeyore” spirit, in which he often feels slighted and taken-for-granted, almost nobody recognizes the 18th of Iyyar: instead, the holiday goes by its more common name – Lag BaOmer / ל״ג בעומר, the 33rd omer-counting day.  And finally, doesn’t Eeyore’s constant loving kvetching remind everybody of their favourite Jewish Bubby???

I'm telling you. People come and go in this forest, and they say. 'It's only Eeyore, so it doesn't count.'

It’s certainly easy for Iyyar to be overshadowed by the excitement of Pesach in Nissan and Shavuos in Sivan.  But let’s use it as a time for post-Pesach reflection, and regrouping to begin our food year anew, shall we?  On with the food!

Pesach (Still!)


"Eeyore, what are you doing there?" said Rabbit.
"I'll give you three guesses, Rabbit. Digging holes in the ground? Wrong. Leaping from branch to branch of a young oak tree? Wrong. Waiting for somebody to help me out of the river? Right. Give Rabbit time, and he'll always get the answer."
"But, Eeyore," said Pooh in distress, "what can we - I mean, how shall we - do you think if we -"
"Yes," said Eeyore. "One of those would be just the thing. Thank you, Pooh."
Sharon presents Passover Leftovers posted at The Real Jerusalem Streets.  Check out those matzah sandwiches, and then – if you must skip the non-food-related pictures! – scroll to the bottom for her shot of the bus sign.

Just want we all need!  (just in time to bookmark for next year, that is)  Leah offers valuable tips to simplify next year’s Pesach NOW over at her blog, Ingathered.

Oops – a bit late for us, but along the same lines, here are some great ideas for getting organized at the END of Pesach each year, in After Passover review and SBB update from Amital at Organized Jewish Home.

Here’s one to bookmark for next year, as Mrs. S. transforms mandelbroit into “non-gebrochts choco-nut bars” in Changed beyond recognition, over at Our Shiputzim: A Work In Progress.

In Israel, where Kitniyot (products made with rice, beans, corn and other legumes) are everywhere, avoiding them can be tricky.  Luckily for us Ashkenazim, Miriam has shared two recipes, including an amazing-looking boreka recipe, in Non Kitniyot Pesach Recipes for You to Enjoy! over at her blog, From Miriam’s Kitchen…

Speaking of Israel and Kitniyot, you’ll do a double-take when you see this picture of the sandwich for sale at Aroma cafés in Israel during Pesach, with a complete review by Daniela in Aroma’s Pesach Sandwich, at her blog Isreview.

Curious about Yehuda’s new gluten-free “matzo-style squares”?  While you can’t use them for “mitzvah credit” at the seder, Shoshana over at Couldn’t be Parve, offers her review, which (I’ll spoil it for you!) goes from initial skepticism to delighted enjoyment in her post, Gluten-Free Eating on Pesach and a Great New Product.

As for me, we did our annual Homeschool Matzah Bakery and had a great time, but for the first time, did NOT manage to finish even one matzah in the required 18 minutes… luckily, we were just doing it for fun, not making serious kosher l’Pesach matzah!

If you’re even slightly squeamish, please don’t think about clicking through to check out these Final Pesach Guests of ours.  But it gives the eco-crunch-Jewish-mama in me tons of nachas to host them all year ‘round!!!  (and don’t say you weren’t warned!)

"Good morning, Pooh Bear," said Eeyore gloomily. "If it is a good morning," he said. "Which I doubt," said he.

Chocolate & other Desserts:


"Hallo, Pooh. Thank you for asking, but I shall be able to use it again in a day or two."
"Use what?" said Pooh.
"What we were talking about."
"I wasn't talking about anything," said Pooh, looking puzzled.
"My mistake again. I thought you were saying how sorry you were about my tail, being all numb, and could you do anything to help?"
"No," said Pooh. "That wasn't me," he said. He thought for a little and then suggested helpfully: "Perhaps it was somebody else.""Well, thank him for me when you see him."

Food and memories go hand in hand, and Mirjam Weiss thoughtfully reflects back on her parents’ lives and the Shoah, while offering a delicious brownie recipe that helps her remember in A Phoenix From The Ashes, posted at Miriyummy.

"That Accounts for a Good Deal," said Eeyore gloomily. "It Explains Everything. No Wonder."

Shabbat Food

image"And I said to myself: The others will be sorry if I'm getting myself all cold. They haven't got Brains, any of them, only grey fluff that's blown into their heads by mistake, and they don't Think, but if it goes on snowing for another six weeks or so, one of them will begin to say to himself: 'Eeyore can't be so very much too Hot about three o'clock in the morning.' And then it will Get About. And they'll be Sorry."

Well, only one post in this category… which is fine, because one of the things I’ve discovered is that you can eat your favourite “weekday” food on Shabbat, too!

Irene Saiger ventures out into the lebidikeh velt (joyous world) of cross-cultural Shabbos cuisine in Soba Salad over at her blog, Bamitbach.

"It's snowing still," said Eeyore gloomily. "So it is." "And freezing." "Is it?" "Yes," said Eeyore.
"However," he said, brightening up a little, "we haven't had an earthquake lately."

Everyday Eating!

image “Could you ask your friend to do his exercises somewhere else? I shall be having lunch directly, and don't want it bounced on just before I begin. A trifling matter, and fussy of me, but we all have our little ways."

More food memories: this one from Batya at me-ander, sharing reminiscences of childhood chicken dinners in Wishing for Something Special.

Lucky Batya also got to eat out recently (well, not so recently now), but as she often does, shared the dining experience for the rest of us to drool over in Yummy Escape from Building Noise Downtown.

Maybe you’ve heard about the Paleo trend or are even thinking about taking steps to eliminate beans and grains from your diet to make it more closely resemble that of our paleolithic ancestors. Yosefa, at Cooking Outside the Box, fights back against thistrend with a post about digestive aids to “de-gas” cooked beans in Beans – Stop the Music.

If you DO want to go paleo, don’t forget about edible flowers, like these Redbud blossoms Avivah shares about in How to recognize redbud blossoms over at Oceans of Joy!

Real-life friend and fellow stay-home mama Decemberbaby talks about letting go of the urge to “out-crunchy” every other mama on the block when it comes to feeding her kids good, healthy food in Just Sweet and Jewy? at sweet & crunchy… with a Jewy centre.

And finally, I know the heading says “every day,” but really, I think any day would be special if you were waking up to these Mini Roasted Tomato and Spinach Quiches, posted by Nina Safar over at Kosher in the Kitch!

imageDitto for this mouth-watering recipe for Pepper Steak with Plum Sauce, by Chanie, who blogs over at Busy in Brooklyn.  A couple of special ingredients makes all the difference, she says, in creating “pepper steak that didn’t taste like I was chewing rubber.”  (hint:  cook it low and slow!)

"I might have known," said Eeyore. "After all, one can't complain. I have my friends. Somebody spoke to me only yesterday.”

Hey – we’re done! 

That concludes this edition. Read it, enjoy it, pass it around! Then, submit your blog article to the next edition of kosher cooking carnival-kcc using our carnival submission form or directly at the KCC Facebook page. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page.

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Friday, April 20, 2012

Short Parsha Riddles: Shemini / שְּׁמִינִי

וַיִּקְרָא / Vayikra / Leviticus 9:1-11:47

Click for printable PDF version.

And don’t forget to read last year’s poem and parsha overview.  Plus… copywork and parsha activities – something for every week of the year!

image [1]

Kohanim are special, from Aharon descended,
Though the Mishkan is gone, their line hasn’t ended.
In this week’s parsha, he raised his hands fast,
To say __________ __________, our bracha, at last.


A guy named Nad and his brother Hoo,
They did not know just what to do;
Sizzled some cinnamon in a pan,
And disobeyed Hashem’s great plan.  Who are they?


Though brothers now are dead and gone,
Our family’s legacy must live on;
So we two stepped up, snipped our hair,
Just say the word, and we’ll be there.  Who are we?


Rashi admitted they’re kosher indeed,
Though he’d never eat any, even in need,
But some Jews can nibble them, far to the east,
So maybe someday you’ll find __________ at your feast!

[4] – BONUS!

Just four little letters, and two are the same,
So tiny they barely deserve their own name,
Yet these tiny letters together spell DOOM –
And maybe predict Aharon’s sons in their tomb.

STUMPED?? Here are some answers: 
[ 1 ] Birkas Kohanim (however, the actual text isn’t given until Parshas Naso, Bamidbar 6:24)
[ 2a ] Aharon’s sons Nadav (“Nad”) and Avihu (“Hoo”).
[ 2b ] Aharon’s sons Elazar (“Zar”) and Isamar (“Mar”).
[ 3 ] Locusts.  Google “Mesorah Dinner” after Shabbos for more fascinating details!
[ 4 ] The parsha’s first perek starts with the word Vayehi/וַיְהִי, which, it is suggested (Megillah 10b), is usually used to begin relating an unfortunate incident.

Final Pesach Guests (warning – gross stuff)

DSC02889Most people, when they’re getting excited about Pesach, probably don’t think about all the beautiful COMPOST it creates.  And they certainly don’t think about all the WORMS they’re feeding over the Yom Tov.

But think about it – you’re eating basically vegetables, for eight days, along with thousands and thousands (well, maybe it just seemed like it) of eggshells.  Peel, peel, peel… crack, crack, crack – and every peel and every shell is making my garden happier and healthier than it would be otherwise.

DSC02892I got so mad two years ago when I saw somebody tossing Pesach eggshells into the city compost bin.  My standard line is, “we already pay taxes; do we have to give them our compost, too???!?”  The (somewhat rabidly-made) point being, it’s perfectly good stuff.  And the worms (a few pictured at right) are the very best kind of Pesach guests – the ones that stay on afterwards and help you with your gardening all year round.

In other, less delightful, more rot-full gardening news, at some point in, oh, maybe December, I noticed that the lids were missing to the two big garbage pails in which I keep dried leaves, raked up in the fall.  I usually rake them up in the fall, keep them dry all winter, and use them throughout the garden and/or in the compost come spring – because in the fall, there’s no room in the compost bins for all the leaves.

Anyway, the lids were missing and we couldn’t find them anywhere.  And I knew that, with no lids, the pails would fill up with snow and ice and the leaves would get disgusting.  Well, I told Ted, and he worked out an arrangement where he upended one full pail on TOP of the other, presumably to act as a “hat” and keep out the moisture.  Naturally, since it wasn’t sealed, it didn’t work.  And today was the day to deal with the two pails full of soggy watery rotten leaves.

The top layer was nice and dry, so I just spread that in the garden.  the rest was pretty soggy, so I thought I’d drag the bin to the backyard, not realizing exactly HOW waterlogged it was… turned out it was completely full to the top with water, and as I dragged it, the disgusting leaf-rot water was sloshing out onto my hands and shoes.  Ewwww… plus, it was super-heavy and kept hitting bumps in our driveway cement and sloshing even MORE.

DSC02894Finally, I decided to just tip the thing out right where it was.  Oy, vey – a great deluge of coffee-coloured rot-water sloshed out, all over Gavriel Zev’s feet, my feet, and threatened to run right into the garage.  I grabbed a snow shovel and started shovelling the water as fast as I could, tossing it into the garden and into the empty pail so I could spread it around when I was done.  Despite the intense REEK, or perhaps because of it, I knew this was probably the very best kind of compost “tea” that gardeners like me are supposed to go crazy over.

Throughout all this, and despite the smell, the kids kept playing happily, running around with “adopted” worms I had given them from the composter.  Naomi was setting up a worms-and-ants habitat, while GZ was taking his worm for a drive in the toy car (seen in the background here).

Later on in the afternoon, when the leaves were somewhat dry, I scattered them around on the garden paths, since all the straw I put down last year is pretty much GONE (where did it go??  it rotted!)  And as with all garden smells, once dry, it began to dissipate… leaving, I hope, the benefits of rottenness without the stinky drawbacks.

By the way, when I called the kids over to see the worms in the composter (of course I called them to come look!), Naomi Rivka made a big girly show of reacting to the smell, baking away and saying, “smelly!”  To which I said, “actually, it smells kind of sweet, don’t you think?”  Because a well-fed, well-stirred composter really doesn’t (and shouldn’t) smell like food gone bad.  And she agreed, and came back for a closer look. 

Real girls, cool girls, are not afraid to smell the compost.  But I still wear gloves to touch the worms, unlike this brave IRL friend, who is also not afraid to tackle home improvement projects with power tools.  I like to leave a few frontiers unexplored.

How many worms did you feed over Pesach???

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Rock the (Comments) Vote!

imageGoogle made some changes this week which have made comment moderation even more of a pain.  Previously, I just had to click a link in my email and it would automatically either publish or reject the comment.

Now, I have to go through a whole rigmarole, which – practically speaking – is going to be very annoying to follow through on every single day.

So I’m asking you to vote… would you prefer to:

A) leave a comment the current way; it will not appear immediately and Jennifer has a hassle to approve whatever I have to say,


imageB) leave a comment immediately (instant gratification!) but have to pass through one of those annoying CAPTCHA word-scrambles (which seem to get harder with every passing week) to verify that you are a human being and not a spammer.

It’s your call – moderation or captcha???

(if nobody leaves a comment, that means you folks probably don’t care enough and I’ll just do whatever the heck I want and nobody will notice!)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Fun day at Humber – Trip #12 of 15 :-o

DSC02872Looking at my spreadsheet, it’s hard to believe that I have organized FIFTEEN homeschool field trips this year – that’s more than 1 a month.  Indeed, there are two this month – one this week and another next week.  Here’s a complete list, while I’m feeling braggy:




  • Humber Arboretum - Fall Animal Tracks nature program
  • NFB – Claymation animation program
  • FREE Four Seasons Centre Concert November 1st:  Reeds & Keys (we didn’t even end up going to this one!)
  • Royal Winter Fair (this was really just a group ticket order; we didn’t go together)
  • FREE Four Seasons Centre Concert January 12th:  Peggy Baker Dance Company
  • FREE Roy Thomson Hall Bach Children’s Chorus
  • NFB – Pixilation animation program
  • Toronto Symphony Orchestra Junior Concert
  • FREE Roy Thomson Hall Orpheus Choir
  • NFB – Pixilation animation program (we didn’t go… because once was enough)
  • Bruce’s Mill Maple Syrup Trip
  • Humber Arboretum – The Huron People spring nature program (this was today’s trip!)
  • Zion Schoolhouse – authentic “settler school day” half-day program (next week)
  • FREE Four Seasons Centre Concert May 15th:  German Romanticism: Fairy Tales and Fantasy
  • FREE National Ballet Centre guided tour & rehearsal (coming up in May)

Today was our second Humber Arboretum trip of the year.  Last year, we came three times, but this year, we did a maple program somewhere else.  It’s nice seeing the children totally at ease now in this familiar setting.  I had a couple of drop-outs and flake-outs (ie people who have a million excuses and then don’t pay), so it was a slightly smaller group than usual, but the minimum number of people is 20, so I didn’t feel terrible.

They do a classroom component and then you go out and schlep through the woods.  Today, we actually stuck mostly to the sunny, non-wooded areas, which was nice because it was a VERY chilly day. 

Mostly, Gavriel Zev kept to himself or hung out with a 4-year-old friend.


Naomi has a special “field trip friend” she enjoyed hanging out with – just to her left in the first picture.

DSC02871  DSC02877

We saw the most beautiful hawk circling the pond and I actually managed to catch a picture of it (look closely, or click to enlarge) just after it splashed down to catch a fish or something in the water.


The friends we were with on the bridge watching the hawk actually brought along notepads, colouring supplies, etc., so they could sketch in situ, but I had the kids do nature drawings and VERY short narrations when we got home:

 DSC02883  Dsc02885nameDSC02884

Gavriel Zev’s is hilarious.  He drew a turtle we’d seen, but the turtle is saying “I love you.”  I told him he could make the title something like “turtle” or “Humber” and that I’d spell it for him.  He said “I know how to spell TURTLE!”  And indeed… perfectly!  Then, he was sick of writing, so he abbreviated his name at the bottom (“Gavl”) and the date (“W”)!

Even though I said to draw something we’d SEEN, meaning something in nature, Naomi drew one of the Huron longhouses we were learning about.  We didn’t actually SEE one, except in pictures… but hers is good enough anyway.  She learned something; that’s good enough.

I wanted somebody to paint, and brought out the watercolours, but nobody was motivated to do it, so I grabbed the watercolour markers for my own illustration, which I think came out not too badly… for someone with ZERO drawing talent.  It’s always great to have toddlers to compare your drawings against!  (as long as I don’t look at Ted’s art, right?)

Anyway – good times had by all.  I like going on trips so much it ALMOST makes up for the hassle of organizing them and dealing with people’s flakiness.

Here’s a question I’ve asked before

When it comes to homeschool field trips, are you a lone wolf, or a pack wolf?  Do you prefer to go it alone – spontaneously, away you go! – or have others along to share the experience (and resources, like teaching staff)?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

An Outsider’s Glimpse of Our Family’s Madness

One of my western Canadian cousins stopped by for lunch at my mother’s house on the last day of Pesach.  This is the son of my father’s brother, who died last year.  I don’t know this branch of the family well – although they started out quite close to us in Scarborough, they gradually moved farther away:  out to Whitby, Waterloo, and eventually, British Columbia.  My parents visited a few times, and both of my sisters have spent time in BC, so that leaves me being the only one who’s had nearly zero contact since they left Ontario.

Even when they lived here, they were always much closer with the other side of the family, which is Finnish and culturally very different from my own.  Visiting their family often felt like venturing into a foreign country, even though it was only 15 minutes away – their home was full of exotic touches:  a spider monkey, a microwave, wall-sized panoramic wallpaper, take-out submarine sandwiches.  I never felt like we were estranged, exactly… but we didn’t spend much time there.  I always sensed my mother didn’t approve.

In any event, my cousin was at the table on Shabbos, the last day of Pesach, taking pictures and videotaping our chaotically noisy family scene.  At one point, I asked him not to take pictures of my family on Shabbos.  I thought I said it pretty nicely, but one of the kids said it sounded nasty anyway.  YM decided he was davka going to stand in front and ham it up for the camera – anything to stick it to me and my oppressive religious traditions, right?  Blah.  :-(

I do approve of the fact that he’s muted the sound during the bentsching… so you can’t actually hear us singing, which is probably for the best!

How would you handle it if someone wanted to take your picture on Shabbos or Yom Tov?

Back to alef-bais school!

Here is Gavriel Zev with one of his inner circle, “Miss,” which is what he calls this blonde sleeveless Groovy Girl, singing an Alef Bais song.  This is not the one we sing together when we learn a new letter, but it’s currently the kids’ favourite, having been featured in Naomi’s Alef-Bais Siyum Video a couple of years ago.

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Our new letter today was actually TWO letters – mem and nun, because we sorta-kinda did mem the week before Pesach, which fit perfectly with Mah Nishtana, but I was too busy to really sit down and do any actual schoolwork with either of them.  So we caught up with two this week. 

Gavriel Zev is a kid who HATES colouring, so to colour one letter each week is sheer drudgery, even though I have suggested many ways to liven them up.  Naomi was infinitely more creative when she was colouring hers, drawing little pictures or patterns, using watercolours, dot-dot markers, whatever she wanted to make each one colourful and varied.  Each week, GZ makes excuses about why he shouldn’t have to colour in the letter, and asks me repeatedly if I can put it up without. 

I have already told him that the individual letters are “cookies” that we are feeding the Wiggle-Worm.  And I always make a big deal, each week, over how hungry the Wiggle Worm must be – not having eaten for an entire WEEK.  Well, today I had the brilliant concept that the colours were FLAVOURS and that as GZ coloured them in, he was choosing delicious flavours for the Wiggle Worm to eat.  And, of course, not having eaten for TWO weeks, I said the Wiggle Worm was extra super duper hungry. 

GZ was enchanted with the concept for about three seconds, excitedly choosing “blueberry” and “lemon” markers to colour the letters.  Then, he sat down beside me and said, in a quieter voice, “I think the Wiggle Worm is SO hungry that she doesn’t mind eating cookies with NO flavour this week.”  I said, “oh, no… she is SO MUCH looking forward to the flavours of her cookies.”  So he sat down and quickly coloured in the letters and pasted the back with glue stick.  Yerachmiel Meir stuck the mem up himself, then actually lifted GZ up so he could paste on the nun, which I thought that was super-sweet for both of them – wish I’d gotten a picture.

I was amazed, listening to how strong and self-assured GZ’s voice has become, and grabbed my camera to capture the moment, BUT I must warn you: this video gets a bit silly towards the end… and then cover your ears - there is a very piercing scream near the end.  When I heard it just now, I thought, “some mother should come in and DO something about that kid!”  He is still very much a screamer, and I am still somewhat inconsistent about dealing with it.  Sometimes, he gets spanked.  Sometimes, he gets hauled out of the room… and sometimes, as in this video, he is apparently simply indulged.  Blah.

The "baby voice" he's referring to near the beginning is a reference to Naomi’s Alef-Bais video, where he pops up right at the very end, after the credits, to say "Thank you, Alef Bais!" in what was indeed a bit of a baby voice.  I love hearing how his voice has changed now.

Pink Penguin… and a Scrap-topus

Elisheva loves penguins (so do I, I admit), and I have been wanting to use my newly-wicked crochet skills with this free penguin pattern.

Here’s the original (named Howie the Holiday Penguin, because he comes with a festive December-ish cap you can crochet for him)…

NOTE:  I DID NOT MAKE THIS ONE!!! (click the picture to get to the free pattern)


NOTE:  I DID NOT MAKE THIS ONE!!! (click the picture to get to the free pattern)

This is the one I made!

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Somewhat pointy-headed and lopsided, with a VERY bulbous beak/nose… but still, I think, rather cute.  I propped him in the corner of the sofa, took his picture, then called Elisheva in to warn her “not to sit on the sofa.”  She asked why a few times, then peeked and pretty much screamed in adoration.  She appropriated him immediately and he’s been in her room with her other penguins ever since.  I warned her not to let anyone know of her weakness for penguins or people will buy her nothing but – as happened to my sister with elephants over the first 30 years of her life.

And, of course, if you have been reading this blog loyally since, oooh, January of 2008, when I went through a sock-creature phase, you’ll know that I have a soft spot in my heart for octopi.  And no, I don’t mean octopuses, I mean literally, PIE made of OCTOPUS. 

Well, okay, I do mean octopuses, and if you must know, the correct plural – and believe me, I fought this, is actually OCTOPUSES.  My sister the grammarian explains that this is because Octo-Pus means “eight legs,” so legs is already pluralized properly in Greek, or whatever language it came from… so to pluralize the creature, in English, you just do it the regular way, by adding “es.”  Of course, it looks totally wrong with a single S… my inclination is to pluralize it “octopusses,” but that is not correct either.

So in response to Elisheva’s suggestion that I crochet an octopus, I went desperately searching for a pattern at ten to 6 on my way out the door to Naomi’s swimming lesson so I’d have something to do with my hands while I waited for her to swim.  Not finding a pattern, I took off with a small ball of Value Village yarn (part of a bundle of assorted yarns for $1.99, so basically FREE) and created this little freeform “quadropus”:

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The yarn ran out after 4 legs, but I think he looks complete enough, so I just left him that way. 

I didn’t have enough yarn to close off the bottom, so I made a circle with some Value Village black mystery yarn and sewed it on the underside.  I haven’t figured out what I’m doing for its face yet.  It’s a very dark, variegated under-sea blue tone, so I’ll have to find colours that will contrast well.  Haven’t decided whether to give him eye circles like the penguin yet or just embroider the features on with yarn.  My embroidery skills are not that great, however, and I think the circles give the penguin a really nice sense of drama.

UPDATE:  Here’s a picture of the finished quadropus – one eye is slightly puffier than the other, but otherwise, I think he’s sweet.


Like the penguin, the quadropus is stuffed with CLEAN used socks.  We had so many mismatched socks sitting around in the basement, both light and dark colours.  They’re athletic socks, so very fluffy and filling.  I cut them into rings and just push them gently (so as not to overstuff) into the corners of the critter.  I think the socks are slightly heavier than regular stuffing, but I don’t really MIND a few extra ounces – they are not surprisingly weighty when you pick them up or anything weird. 

I was scared to use the socks for stuffing at first – I googled it like crazy to see if anybody else had tried such a thing before.  Apparently, it’s been done with panty hose.  Anyway, so far, there have been no terrible consequences.  I suppose they might bunch up more than stuffing over time… hopefully, cutting them into loops will help the socks resist the tendency of any stuffing material to wad up; it might even last BETTER than real stuffing, because they’ve been laundered many times and won’t lose their shape in the wash.  And hey, FREE STUFFING!!!

Here are some previous stuffed friends you might be interested in:

Seed Starting

DSC02819DSC02817 Tomatoes!  Planted yesterday – very, very, VERY late in the season, especially considering how warm it was in February and March. 

I didn’t bother firing up the whole seed-starting rig, which is under a ton of clutter at the moment anyway.  This is the countertop grow-op, just a bulb at the right height over the downstairs kitchen counter, which happens to be clean and clear because of all of Ted’s Pesach organization down there.

I had altogether too many varieties of tomato seed waiting to start, and I only wanted to do one tray (36 plants, under ideal conditions)… so I forced myself to start 4 each of 9 varieties.  I let YM pick a couple of his favourites (based on the names only), and chose a few of my favourites as well (based on either past experience or Googling to see how well-behaved each variety is, in terms of fruit size, plant growth habit, days to maturity and flavour). 

All these seeds were free, either saved myself or gleaned from various seed swap tables I’ve volunteered to run in the last few years – running the tables means I sometimes get first pick!  Most are old seed, however, so I planted generously – in most cases, at least 4 seeds per hole, and usually far more.

  1. Break-o-Day (Red, Early)
  2. Brown cherry
  3. Children’s Garden peach (seeds saved myself)
  4. Early tiny cherry (seeds saved myself from a variety I’ve grown every year)
  5. Morden Yellow (Canadian short season)
  6. Purple Prudens (researched and it sounds interesting)
  7. Silvery fir – sounds like nice fruits on a beautiful silvery plant
  8. Paul Robeson – dark tomato, I think named after a black Canadian musician, but I could be wrong
  9. Gartenperle – nice baskety-style plant with many tiny fruits

So that’s the selection.  If they sprout and if they grow, I’ll plant a bunch around here, give some away to friends and my mother.  I’ll probably also buy some plants at farmers’ markets because they are SO beautiful and smell so good (the plants!).


I feel weird starting seeds so late, but I really didn’t get a chance before Pesach.  It took VERY great effort to force myself, every single day of chol hamoed to not touch the box of seeds, just waiting, waiting to be free…

What projects are you tackling now that Yom Tov is over??? I have one more that I’m posting next…

Miscellaneous Memories of Pesach

Just a few things I was too busy to blog!

DSC02812First – are stickers getting STICKIER?  I had to take a bunch of things to the mikveh, and spent literally half an hour scraping labels off two pots.  DSC02815What do people do if they’re NOT toivelling their new things?  I assume they just wait and the sticker comes apart in the course of time after a few good washings?

The one here wasn’t QUITE so murderously hard… but just about.  The nice thing is that the mikveh now seems to stock “GooGone” fairly regularly.  The bad news is that I was using it with bare hands and it left the pots I was toivelling all greasy and stinky.  Of course, we wash everything when it gets home from the mikveh anyway…


DSC02811Heart-shaped matzah – thought this was kind of cute – in a dumb way.  It would be better if the matzah had the face of Elvis or Mother Teresa in the burnt markings.  We ordered EXACTLY the right amount of matzah: 7 pounds.  I thought we used it all up but we had a couple of pieces left over because I had regular matzah the last day at my mother’s house.


DSC02816And finally – being super-organized this year had one very nice perk… FRENCH TOAST!   This is Pesach sponge cake (potato starch; no gebrochts), dipped in egg and fried in a pan.  In years that I’m not organized, I don’t have time to make the cakes ahead of time and we just do without.  But since Pesach is the one time of year we can’t eat matzah brei, this makes a really nice change at breakfast from yogurt and homemade “mandelbroit.”

I serve it with honey, though jam would be nice.  Maple syrup would be nicer, but definitely not worth springing for the special kosher l’Pesach “pancake syrup.” 

I’m sure there are more memories that I meant to blog and forgot… it was a busy week, and a rather lovely one given my mood at the moment.