Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Cranky Complaints-Lady confronts… highway robbery

407 ETR

Well, for a change, this bill may actually not be my fault, but I promised my mother I’d get to the bottom of it anyway. 

Recently, she got a collection letter for $70-something from 407 ETR, the nice folks who run a little toll highway just north of the city.  We do use this highway from time to time, but not often, and since I do all my banking online, I quickly verified that I had paid any bills we’d received in, oh, say, the last four years since my father died and my mother took over the bills.

So I emailed them through their website and they replied that the charge was indeed legitimate, from a second account that was no longer active… and for which we had not received a bill in anyone’s living memory.  And $70 is a LOT of money, given that each trip on this little highway costs under $10.

Then I went online and punched in the (inactive) account number, and discovered… this (rather badly cut n’ pasted together):


You read that right (if your eyes are good enough) – it goes back to September 2006.  Zooming in on the September 2006 bill, there’s a balance forward of about $10 (the system doesn’t go farther back, so I can’t look into that), plus (incurred on Wednesday, August 26 at 3:58 pm) a new charge of $8.47, in which my parents’ car travelled from Bathurst to Highway 427 (about 5 minutes’ travel time, or less), for a total of $18.50. 

And from there, the amount basically increases by a fraction of a dollar, then a dollar, and by now, a couple of dollars in interest a month.  Let me reiterate that had they sent a paper statement at any time, my mother would have taken care of it, as she has no doubt taken care of every single other bill that has crossed her doorstep.  She GOT the bill-paying gene, though I do fault her for not passing it on to me.

Well, I am not proud to admit this, but I determined that the most effective strategy, given that it’s the middle of the night, that my own bills are in some state of turmoil, and that I am not technically the person listed on the account with 407 ETR (but to repeat, I am the one who has suggested to my mother that I am the superhero who can make the problem go away) is one of fear, uncertainty and doubt, with the word “widow” tossed in liberally.  Here’s the best I could do – short, sweet, and stupendously dumb:

Please stop billing this account!  My father, _____, in whose name this car was registered, died four years ago.  I emailed back in June and was informed that these were valid charges, but further investigation reveals that these have been accumulating for years, since before his death, and we have never received a statement, either to my home (___ Avenue) or at my parents' address (___ Grove).  It is possible that he or my mother used the 407 before he died, but as I mentioned, we have never received a paper bill for this until my mother - to her distress - received a collection notice.  Now a widow, she has begged me to get to the bottom of this and figure out what's going on because the collection notice was the first she'd heard of this ridiculous debt, which consists mainly not of a charge for using the highway but of your organization billing itself $1 (and now $2) a month for the last several years.  If you have information for us about the original trip, I'd appreciate receiving that.  Otherwise, since this charge is mostly "fluff" and interest, I would appreciate your calling off the creditors from harassing a widow and set the matter straight by providing us with a copy of the original travel information.  Thanks very much.

Definitely not my finest moment, but there are times when a certain amount of je ne sais quoi (French for “idiocy”) is called for.  If they can continue dunning her in light of these persuasive arguments (let me repeat them for you:  widow, blah, widow, blah, blah, harassing, blah, “fluff”), these ETR folks are cold-hearted humans indeed.

Well, what would you have done???

Monday, July 30, 2012

Oliver’s Labels Updated REVIEW and Giveaway!

*** UPDATE!  We have a winner – Yosefa of Cooking Outside the Box!!!  Always nice to share with another food blogger…

Product IllustrationBack in January of 2011, I first had the good fortune to review Oliver’s Labels products and I was very, very pleased.  Thrilled, in fact, because I discovered that they have a line of kosher kitchen labels that actually STICK.  Having wrestled with various brands, I was delighted that not only do these stick strongly to a variety of surfaces (including wooden spoons!), but they are not see-through, meaning you can see them no matter what colour your implement happens to be.

At left is the picture I took of various utensils back then – over a year and a half ago.  You can see how useful these would be in distinguishing dairy from meat when the implements are almost identical, like with the pastry brushes (we make turkey pastries often for Shabbos, so we NEED a meat pastry brush!).  I just rounded up as many of these as I could find, plus a couple of new ones, to show you how well the labels are bearing up under extremely heavy use.

stickers 012DSC03721

(wondering what it looks like when inferior labels FAIL?  Check it out at my bread blog here)

The only times these labels haven’t stuck on well for us is when I’ve attempted to put them on a dirty or uneven surface, like one cutting board that was both chopped up a bit and slightly greasy (doh!).  Otherwise, they go on and they STAY on, unlike the leading brands that peel up and leave annoying frayed edges that flap in the breeze.  I did try to put one on the cast-iron dutch oven I use to bake bread, but repeated exposure to a 500° left the label adhered but blackened beyond recognition (which was sad, because it’s pareve but also a deep red colour, so it confuses everybody).

I also reported at that time that I’d used the labels not just for the kids, but for some of my own stuff – they actually make several more adult-looking label designs, and even plain ones, if you’re planning to do this, but I’m okay with butterflies and squirrels.  At left is my car key, which sees almost daily use, back in January 2011.  And at right, the same labels, clearly taking a licking but definitely still ticking, today. 

[stickers 017[3].jpg]


For which I’m grateful, because I lose my keys and other things quite a bit.  Because of the carabiner, I can also attach my keychain to the wristlet I carry most of my stuff around in… and then I never lose anything.  I also stuck one on my glasses case – another sometimes-lost but absolutely vital accessory:


(ignore the “packable” sticker – I just liked the big bold look of it!)

Oliver’s Labels also offer a feature where, instead of your phone number, you can add a special “Found-It” tracking code to any label so that when your items are found, people can go to their website and punch it in rather than getting your personal information directly.  This lost-and-found system is totally free with any label purchase.

Found-it™ tracking system label illustration

For this review, I requested a sample of the “Stick-EEZ Clothing Labels,” expecting to find a lot of use for them during the summertime what with towels and camp and everything else we go through.  However, it seems that these are designed to be stuck onto clothing tags… and so much kids’ clothing doesn’t come with tags anymore that I don’t really know how useful these will be.  I do intend to paste a few onto the corners of hankies and see how well they do right on the fabric itself (especially on something like a hankie, which is washed frequently).  I desperately hope they don’t come off and jam my washing machine, and I’ll report back once they’ve gone through a few cycles.  They are definitely cute!  The printing I selected (____ family, and our phone number) came out somewhat microscopic.  If you just used a name, it might come out bigger.

Product IllustrationDsc03720

In the meantime!  Because now you’re totally excited about these wonderful labels, I am giving some away!!!  Between now and August 11th, you can enter and one winner anywhere in the world will walk away (figuratively; they’ll be mailed directly from Oliver’s Labels!) to win BOTH:

  • One set of kosher kitchen labels AND
  • One pack of either Original, Mini, Shoe or Stick-eez Clothing Labels (you choose!)

imageHere’s my fine print based on past giveaways:

RaffleCopter works well if you follow the instructions.  If it says you get two entries by doing something (like following me on facebook), it will LET you enter even if you don’t do it, BUT I will check the winning entry carefully.  If you are drawn as the winner and you have not done the action properly (ie followed on twitter, commented on my blog with the design/style you want, etc), your entry will be disqualified and another winner will be selected.  Let’s say you got a couple of entries for following me on twitter.  If you are the winner, I will check if you follow me on twitter.  If you are NOT a follower, I will throw away your entry and draw another one.  If you are not sure your entries were all done properly, leave a comment and I’m happy to check for you!!!

So here’s the ‘Copter.  Do your thing!!!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Stamping Stars for Parshas Devarim!

As I seem to say often, this craft is a little late for this year, but on the bright side, it’s WAAAAAY early for next year!DSC03704

ה' אֱלֹקֵיכֶם הִרְבָּה אֶתְכֶם וְהִנְּכֶם הַיּוֹם כְּכוֹכְבֵי הַשָּׁמַיִם לָרֹב:

“G-d has multiplied you, and look – now today you are as many as the stars in the heavens.”

Inspired by Creative Jewish Mom, we had some friends over to help us recycle some styrofoam trays (they came with corn on the cob, which is the worst way to buy corn (shrink-wrapped from the US – ugh!), but the best way to get styrofoam trays because there’s no concern about washing off meat or fish residue!

I have tried stamping with styrofoam before without much success, but she offers the tip that you MUST use a “thin coat of not-runny paint,” and I ran with that and discovered that I have always used too much paint in the past, and sometimes watered it down too much.  Just a thin layer of full-strength paint, right out of the bottle, painted onto the stamp, is exactly the right thing for a nice, delicate print.

It took me about 15 tries to get the four good stamps on the page at the top here.

DSC03705In keeping with Moshe’s bracha that bnei Yisrael had become like the stars of Shomayim, I thought stars would be a good, basic shape for the kids to carve out with regular pencils in their styrofoam blocks.  Also, sometimes it’s useful to limit kids’ creativity by giving them an assignment rather than telling them they can create anything they want, which usually takes MUCH longer and sometimes gets a little unfocused.  With the younger kids, I drew the star and let them go over it to make the lines deeper.  With GZ, I actually drew AND deepened his lines – he wasn’t into that part of it… he was more into the making a mess part.

DSC03706They all did pretty well with this, and most of the stamps looked terrific.  Although this isn’t a “compost-bin” craft, ie one you can toss in the backyard composter when you’re sick of it, I do like this craft because they can actually take the styrofoam bit home and reuse it whenever they want… in theory.  In practice, at least the styrofoam is out of my house.

DSC03708And it’s always nice to have friends come over to play… even for me!  Okay, especially for me.  For all of us.

 DSC03709    DSC03707

Another thing I like about this craft, thinking about it retrospectively, is that kids get out of it what they put in.  If they put in effort and do it carefully, they get a beautiful result.  Although I said they shouldn’t use text on their stamps (remember to write it in reverse if you do!), Naomi was quite pleased with her intricate stamp (it says “Jewish,” for some sweet reason).  Gavriel Zev didn’t put in as much effort – as I mentioned, he was more interested in slopping a lot of paint around than seeing the actual print, though it was kind of magical how the magen david showed up anyway in his picture (on the left); it shows up darker because lots of paint had pooled in the grooves.


Also, perhaps inspired by a JUMP Math teacher workshop I attended a couple of weeks ago, partway through the introduction, I told them it wasn’t a “baby craft,” and that they would have to work carefully if they wanted any results at all.  One of John Mighton’s things when he’s teaching a math class is that he shows confidence in the kids and tells them he knows they’ll be able to do certain problems or questions, even when they haven’t had success in math at all previously.  Especially then, when they might never have heard the words “you’re pretty smart” ever before.  Because what he’s learned is that they live up to expectations, whatever those may be.

(Okay, the phrase “you’re pretty smart” horrifies me on one level, because much of what I’ve read says you’re supposed to make both praise and criticism about the child’s behaviour and NOT about the child him/herself.  Like, “you did this one really well,” not “you are a good boy.”  But I can see the virtue of what he does as well, and the fact that he says it naturally and honestly makes up for any pedagogical flaws, I think…)

So!  I won’t be updating between now and Tisha b’Av, so I’d like to wish all of you an easy fast, a fast fast, and a meaningful fast - a phrase which, I must admit, sometimes irritates me, with its implication that some of us are merely hungry while others of us are on some higher spiritual plane.  Okay, that part is true.  But they don’t have to rub it in!!!

Have the best possible fast and we’ll see ya on the other side!

Short Parsha Riddles: Devarim / דְּבָרִים

דְּבָרִים / Devarim / Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22

Click for printable PDF version.

Don’t forget to read this week’s Parsha Poem AAACK! NO PARSHA POEM! (I think only 1 or 2 are missing at this point from the entire yearly cycle…) and parsha overview.  Plus… copywork and parsha activities – something for every week of the year!

image פָּרָשָׁת דְּבָרִים
Parshas Devarim
דְּבָרִים / Devarim / Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22


Before all the rules, Moshe starts with good news
A wonderful message to give all the Jews:
Hashem loves you forever, his Earthly ally,
He’s multiplied you like the __________ of the sky!


You might think it’s fun to be a good judge,
As jolly and funny as bars of sweet fudge;
But in fact, Moshe says, it is really hard work,
For each case you must do this and not be a jerk.


In the tale of meraglim, Moshe has a surprise
By saying he really agreed with those guys;
The ones who all told him, “we must go and see!”
Now tell me, just what could his reasoning be? 
Why did Moshe say yes?


Some places to fight and some to make peace
Fight with Sichon and Og but with Moav, you cease
Gilad shall be yours, but leave Ammon alone,
To the children of __________, Hashem’s promise is shown.

[5] BONUS!

We know that Moshe is not a complainer,
He isn’t a kvetcher, now that’s a no-brainer,
And yet here’s a sad word that foreshadows here
A day that’s been called the worst of the year.  What word???


STUMPED?? Here are some answers: 
[ 1 ] stars (1:10)
[ 2 ] Review the halacha every time even if you’ve judged similar cases before (Rashi 1:16).
[ 3 ] Moshe figured bnei Yisrael would see that he had nothing to hide and reconsider the request to send meraglim (Rashi 1:23) .
[ 4 ] Lot.  The lands of Ammon and Moav were promised to Lot’s descendents in Parshas Lech Lecha as his reward for keeping silent when Avram told Paroh that Sarai was his sister (Bereishis Rabba 44) .
[ 5 ] The uncommon word אֵיכָה/eychah reminds us that this parsha always falls the Shabbos before Tisha b’Av.  May it be our last!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Shabbos Erev Tisha b’Av: What “R” you eating?

Here’s our food plan, for a full 3-meal Shabbos to go into the fast!  If you’re not sure what Tisha b’Av is (and also, perhaps, what Wikipedia is, because I’m sure there’s good information over there), click here for my very own FAQ.  Submit your questions here or there and I’ll be sure to get ‘em answered in time for next year!

Note:  Crossed out = done!

Shabbos Dinner (Meat)

  • Challah
  • Chicken soup w/kneidlach
  • Shake n’ Bake chipotle chicken (Ted – to bake at last minute before Shabbos)
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Corn / NO Black Bean Salad
  • Jello w/blueberries (I just type out Ted’s food plan… frankly, I think this is a terrible idea, but (postscript) I made it anyway)
  • Other hopefully chocolatey desserts

Lunch (Meat)

  • Challah
  • Turkey pastries (YM)
  • Slicey meats
  • NO!!! Cholent (ditto – terrible idea; I will seek to undermine this cholent idea in every way I can while Ted’s out at work tomorrow…)
  • Lettuce salad (yucko)
  • NO TIME!!! Potato salad
  • Pickles (he wrote this on the menu??!?)

Shalosh Seudos / Seudah Mafsekes (meal before the fast)

  • Homemade potato gnocchi w/ homegrown basil pesto
  • Hard-boiled eggs (traditional before a fast)
  • Salmon caesar salad

I still need to work on the desserts concept a bit more… we are not surviving Shabbos with only Jello-with-blueberries in sight.  I am in the mood for something fluffy and artificially-strawberry flavoured, but that happens quite often.

What are your tricks for eating ahead of time to survive a long fast???

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Work in Progress Sunday: Finished Softie BRAG!

Copy of DSC03668Okay, so I know this isn’t a crafts blog, but it’s MY blog, so bear with me here as I brag for a second about this little guy, who turned out to be a bit of a pain to create.  It’s supposed to be a sleepy-eyed triceratops, but kind of looks like a deranged mouse.  This is a baby gift for a baby who isn’t born yet, don’t know if it’s a boy or girl, but who needed something a little out of the ordinary.

Here’s the pattern, but I wouldn’t really recommend it.  I have no idea why the head, body and tail were separate pieces; I’ve made patterns before that just did everything all in one piece, and I think I’ll stick with that next time, because I don’t love stitching them together.  Also, the horns are a little wonky because there’s not much room on the face (okay, also because I’m not very good at this sort of thing, and lost patience and just kind of stuck everything together any which way).

Copy of DSC03670 Copy of DSC03671 Copy of DSC03672 Copy of DSC03674 Copy of DSC03675 Copy of DSC03667  

Remember, if you’re looking for genuine crafty, check out my friend Decemberbaby’s blog.  Otherwise, stay tuned here for more homeschool-related drivel tomorrow… !

Devarim Parsha Summary: Learning to walk, with Moshe

This is a basic overview of the parsha story in a format that can be adapted for a wide range of ages. Sources include parsha text, commentaries and midrash.  When introducing midrash or other non-pshat elements, I  use the words “some people think” or something similar. (find out why)


Please see the Vayeishev overview for how we use these narratives  in our homeschool.  I also have copywork sheets to go with the weekly parsha (Devarim is up now, including 2 levels of copywork for littles and middles)… enjoy!


Last week, we finished reading Bamidbar. Now, we’re starting the very last sefer in the entire Chumash!

This is a very strange sefer (book) indeed. Each one we’ve learned so far told part of the story of bnei Yisrael: Bereishis had the most story in it, talking about over 2000 years of history; Shemos tells about more than 100 years; Vayikra is pretty small, with only 14 months of the story, and Bamidbar is a long one, because it talks about 38 years of our travels in the midbar. Now comes Devarim, which is about only 37 days – five weeks!

All of Devarim is one long speech by Moshe in the last five weeks of his life.

Did you ever have to write a test? Were you nervous ahead of time?

Shmuli was worried because he had a spelling test coming up. “What if I do badly?” he wailed. “My teacher’s going to hate me!” His mother said, “Tests are one way teachers find out how well you’ve learned. If you don’t do well, she won’t hate you; she’ll find ways to help you learn them better.” But Shmuli was still anxious. “I’m not sure I know all the words!” Shmuli said. “Okay,” his mother said. “Let’s see which words are hardest.” Going over the list, they found only three words he couldn’t spell. That evening, they practiced those words over and over until Shmuli knew them perfectly!

clip_image002In this sefer, Moshe helps bnei Yisrael study for the “test” of entering eretz Yisrael.

Hashem loves bnei Yisrael so much! This parsha says He multiplied them like the stars in shomayim. If you’ve never done multiplication, try skip counting by fives or tens and see how fast the numbers get really, really big! Just look up on a clear night in the country and try to count the stars (you’ll probably fall asleep before you’re done!). Hashem wants His people to pass the test – so Moshe helps them learn from everything that happened after yetziyas Mitzrayim.

What kinds of things does Moshe teach bnei Yisrael?

  • Judges: Moshe couldn’t judge everybody by himself, so judges were chosen from the shevatim to judge fairly and not listen to one person just because he’s rich, or another just because he’s poor.
  • Protection: a desert is a frightening place to travel alone, or even in a large group. Nobody can survive for 40 years in the desert without help – so Hashem helped bnei Yisrael, carrying them like a father carries a child.
  • Battles: travelling through the midbar, Hashem would lead bnei Yisrael to other nations’ land. Hashem told them when to go around, when to cross peacefully without a fuss, and when they must fight and conquer the land.
  • Power: true power comes only from Hashem – even mighty kings fell before Him, like סִיחֹן/Sichon, king of the Emori people, and עוֹג/Og, the mighty giant-king of Bashan.
  • Land: Hashem promised eretz Yisrael to Avraham’s descendents, and now it will be divided among them. The land conquered from Og and other kings on the other side of the Yardein River will go to half of shevet Menashe, along with Gad and Reuvain, while the rest of bnei Yisrael will get their land across the river in eretz Yisrael.

Moshe reminds bnei Yisrael of the story of the meraglim – with a very important lesson!

At first, he tells a short version of the story – the meraglim went to eretz Yisrael, came back, said it was good there, but bnei Yisrael didn’t want to go there. But why didn’t bnei Yisrael want to go there? Because ten of the meraglim said it was a terrible, deadly land filled with giants! Moshe leaves that part out of the story at first because it doesn’t really matter whether they said it was good or bad – Hashem said it was a good place, so we should only listen to Him.

Moshe tells everyone about all the complaining and rebelling in the midbar.

After the story of the meraglim, some of bnei Yisrael realized they should have gone in when Hashem said to, so they tried to go up now – even though he’d said not to. They died, because they’d gone against what He told them to do.

Do you remember learning how to walk?

It’s probably better if you don’t remember! Why? Because it’s a pretty scary time. There’s so much you have to figure out – how to stand up and balance, how to move your legs properly, one at a time, one in front of the other. Most babies spend more time falling than walking at first. Boom! But it’s not just scary – it’s exciting. Most babies know that figuring out how to walk will get them the thing they want most – independence. They can go off on their own and be free at last! The story of bnei Yisrael in the midbar is filled with mistakes; they’d been slaves for so long, they forgot how to be free. They’d forgotten how to listen to Hashem, and how to serve Him properly. They fell down a lot, but it was an exciting time, because whenever they made a mistake, they were learning how to be independent, a free people at last.

But the most important lessons were still to come, as we will find out in next week’s parsha…

Do you read these parsha summaries with your kids???  Are they helpful to you?  Is anybody out there?  I have more readers than ever and fewer comments than ever before… :-(  Since I’m hoping to market these as a book someday, feedback – constructive, of course! – is more than welcome, it’s essential.  Tell me what I’m doing right!  Tell me what I’m doing wrong!  (except my teenage offspring, who have already most generously filled me in on what I’m doing wrong…)

Haveil Havalim #369

Lucky me!  It’s my first time hosting the weekly Haveil Havalim - a carnival of Jewish and Israeli blogs.The Haveil Havalim blog carnival was founded by Soccer Dad and every week a different blogger takes a turn to host a weekly collection of blog posts.

The term הֲבֵל הֲבָלִים / “Haveil Havalim,” which means "Vanity of Vanities," is from Kohelet, (Ecclesiastes) which was written by King Solomon. King Solomon built the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and later on got bogged down in materialism and other excesses and realized that it was nothing but “hevel,” or in English, “vanity.”

The carnival is hosted by different bloggers each week, and jointly coordinated through our Facebook Group.  If you blog about Israel or Jewish-related subjects, please feel free to join the Facebook group or have a look at the Haveil Havalim website.

And so, without my usual further ado…


Proud mom and recent olah Ester explores Israel and family connections in A day off… at Northern Lights and Reflections.

What’s Hillary up to in Israel?  Ya’akov Ben-Yehudah finds out in The Wicked Witch Of The West Visits Israel at Esser Agaroth.

Joel Katz keeps tabs on what’s what in Israel in Religion and State in Israel.

Sharon discovers Ten Favourites at Jerusalem’s Bloomfield Science (now 20 years old, but it looks as exciting as ever!) at The Real Jerusalem Streets.

Do Israeli non-Jews deserve refugee status in Canada???  Find out what I think in And now for some “Anti-Olim” at Adventures in AliyahLand, my newest blog!

In Jerusalem?  Discover a new park with Julie – there’s even a restroom! - in Brander Park & Gardens, a playground review at Walkable Jerusalem.

Gevalt! A Havel Havelim Sans Me?  Travelling but not forgotten:  no HH would be complete without Batya of Me-Ander and Shiloh Musings!  Lots going on over there, including a link to the latest Latma skits…


imageMichael Tzadok Elkohen receives a terrible shock – one which may affect the entire Torah world – in What is the Truth? at An Aspiring Mekubal.

Fellow former Montrealer Miriam offers insights into the 9th of Av, saying “so many tragedies happened and are still happening on this date to the Jewish nation,” in A Time of Sorrow...Then and Now! at Miriam’s Words.

Looking for a way to explain the Three Weeks and Tisha b’Av to kids?  Try this printable overview, right here at my blog.  There’s also a Tisha b’Av FAQ for grown-ups.

Well, it’s the Nine Days… but: No meat, no problem, say Abby and Jody at Urban Frum, fellow Toronto bloggers – tell them I sent you!  (if you haven’t seen their “frum girls say” video, you absolutely MUST… it is far out of the ordinary and LOL funny)

Another local blogger:  my husband Akiva Natan gets blood from a stone – in cartoon form – in Parsha of the Week:  Chukas over at Kosher Nice Time Cartoons.  Updated weekly!

Ruchi finds that her young daughter knows where God is and isn’t afraid to say it in God: Up, Up, Down, Down at Out of the Ortho Box.

Susan Esther Barnes invites you to explore unexpected and meaningful surprises with her in Camp Newman Generates Jewish Joy at Religious and Reform.

One more from me:  why we’re losing Richard Feynman and other geniuses in The perils of bad Hebrew school, Sunday school, yeshiva right here on this blog!

Rae Shagalov asks what your divine purpose is in Life Purpose Blessing at her Holy Sparks Art Blog.

And finally, two more from Ya’aqov Ben-Yehudah at Esser Agaroth:

That’s it for this week!  Hope you’ve enjoyed this eclectic collection.  Please stop by the Facebook Group to find out about upcoming issues or click here to submit your own blog to next week’s host!

Quick Kitchen Tip: Running out of toasted sesame oil?

This is one important staple if you’re thinking of cooking anything even remotely Asian-inspired.  But sometimes, we don’t plan ahead and run out.


Once you’ve poured off the last drops, grab your trusty bottle of cheap-and-flavourless cooking oil:  we use canola, but whatever you usually use for salads and things will be fine.  Pour some into the sesame-oil bottle.  Less is better, of course, because it won’t dilute the flavour, but if you need, say, 1/4 cup or whatever for a recipe, use that much.  Put the lid back on and shake your new oil well.

Refrigerate for a few hours or more – giving it more time lets it pick up more flavour.  Use as you would sesame oil.  The colour isn’t quite so rich & beguiling, but it will impart some yummy sesame taste. 

You could probably get even more flavour by toasting actual sesame seeds, adding them to the oil, letting it sit for a while or overnight, then filtering out the seeds.  But then, you could get the very best flavour by running to the store and buying a replacement bottle.  Neither of those is what I’d consider a “quick tip.”

(PSA:  Always use TOASTED, not plain sesame oil, when you want a nice Asian flavour!  And always refrigerate between uses; it goes rancid fast at room temperature.)

What do you do when you’ve run out, or are running out, of a favourite hard-to-replace ingredient???

Easy last-minute (pareve) Shabbos brittle!

Update:  Feb 2015
This post has been moved to my spiffy new food blog.  Come join me over there!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Is Judaism a “religion of peace”?

This week’s parsha, Matos, includes a command to wipe out the women and children of Midian.  Shocking, yes, and disappointing, perhaps, to those of us with “modern sensibilities.”  Still, I must disagree with this assertion I found in an otherwise helpful dvar Torah:  “We are taught that Judaism is a religion of peace, and so we read these words with some disbelief- how can a Torah of life and peace teach ethnic cleansing?”

Here’s the thing:  I don't believe the single word "peace" encapsulates Judaism any more than "Shabbat" or "kashrut" might.  It is a religion "of" doing God's will.  We can argue about what that will is (yay, arguments l’shem shomayim!), but sometimes, as in the difficult bits of this parsha or the command to wipe out Amalek, that Godly will comprises bloodshed and revenge as much as it does peace. 

Which is not to say that the two – devilishly brutal, bloody revenge, and sweet, Godly peace – are mutually exclusive.  As much as I enjoy the phrase "fighting for peace is like [ahem; marital relations] for virginity," it's dead wrong, at least from a Jewish perspective.  Bloodshed can be a means to a peaceful end, but in any event, God’s “end” – in the context of this parsha – is not peace, but about making His will known among the nations that will border the Jewish homeland.

It's very trendy right now for folks everywhere to assert that Islam is a "religion of peace," which I don't believe, simply because that's not what the religion is ABOUT; that's not why it was established.  It doesn't seem to me that it's any more true about Judaism.

Oh, and before we use that phrase “modern sensibilities” without the quotation marks (a straw man I introduced in the first paragraph – it was NOT in the original dvar Torah, but I hear it a lot), I recommend travelling forwards 200 years and listening as they enumerate their judgments on our moral character.  I’m sure they will be many, and valid.  Doesn’t every era view itself as the most forward-thinking, the most modern, sensible, advanced… only to be quickly surpassed by future generations?  Only Torah offers eternal moral certainty, and sadly, our glimpses of its truths are often tinted / tainted by the lenses of our various “modernities.”

Cranky Complaints-Lady when the CHIPS are down…

imageAttention:  Canadians!  Call to action follows.  We can make a difference (maybe)!

imageThese have been reformulated, along with the chunks, and are no longer kosher (pareve).  I'm sure the kosher supervisory organization is happy to keep on taking your money for their stamp of approval, but ask them honestly how many people who care about kosher are interested in dairy chocolate chips.  There are a million dairy chocolate products out there, but very few high-quality pareve ones.  The reason these have become the most popular chocolate chips within Canada's Jewish community (and well-known by reputation elsewhere) is because they were kosher, pareve - and quite tasty.  Because products with dairy in them, like these chocolate chips, cannot be eaten within six hours of a meal containing meat or meat products, these chips are now next to useless in a kosher kitchen.  Very upset over this switch, and I hope I'm not the only one writing to you about it...

Not quite up to my usual high rant standards, sorry!  I’m so tired today. 

If you’re sad about your chips, take a minute to copy, paste, or make up your own words, and kvetch about it here.  Some things are worth taking a stand over and chocolate chips… well, they’re just one of those things!  Seriously, the more of us they hear from, the more chance they’ll change it back, right?

Short Parsha Riddles: Matos-Masei / מַּטּוֹת-מַסְעֵי

בְּמִדְבַּר / Bamidbar / Numbers 25:10-30:1

Click for printable PDF version.

Don’t forget to read my Parsha Poem (Matos and Masei) and parsha overview (both).  Plus… copywork and parsha activities – something for every week of the year!

Art credit:  Once again, actual original artwork, specially commissioned from a talented illustrator on fiverr


פָּרָשָׁת מַּטּוֹת-מַסְעֵי
Parshas Matos-Masei

בְּמִדְבַּר / Bamidbar / Numbers 30:2-32:42 and 33:1-36:13


When it comes to cheeses, we all have our taste,
Some might like a muenster or cheddar,
But when thinking of vows, they must not go to waste,
For Hashem says to keep every __________!


Revenge on Bilam, that bad guy, is coming,
For the evil he worked in his days;
And just to be sure that he’ll quit all his humming,
Hashem said to kill him four ways.  What were they?


Another great tzaddik is here introduced
Related to Kaleiv, it can be deduced;
Another great leader, through family produced
A soldier in “book-town”who gave them a boost.  Who was he?


Though much of our parsha is all about going,
Stopping and starting, not thinking and knowing,
To see the big picture, don’t call your attorney,
Just know that the word Masei means a __________!

[5] BONUS!

A person by accident kills off his friend,
So off he would run by himself;
But there someone special would come and attend,
Bringing clothing and food for his shelf.  Who was she?


STUMPED?? Here are some answers: 
[ 1 ] נֶדֶר / Neder
[ 2 ] Some say Bilam received all four capital punishments of human courts – skila/ stoning, srefa/ burning, hereg/ decapitation and chenek/ strangulation (Sanhedrin 106b).
[ 3 ] Kaleiv’s half-brotherבן קנז   עתניאל/ Osniel ben Knaz (Rashi 32:12).  In sefer Yehoshua, he conquers Kiryas Sefer, winning Kaleiv’s daughter in marriage (Yehoshua 15:17).
[ 4 ] Journey
[ 5 ] Killers could return to their home only when the kohein gadol died, so to avoid a curse, his mother would visit and appease the killers with gifts (Makkos 11b).

The perils of bad Hebrew school, Sunday school, yeshiva

At almost thirteen I dropped out of Sunday school… mainly because I suddenly saw that the picture of Jewish history that we were learning, of a marvelous and talented people surrounded by dull and evil strangers was far from the truth. The error of anti-Semitism is not that the Jews are not really bad after all, but that evil, stupidity and grossness is not a monopoly of the Jewish people but a universal characteristic of mankind in general. … The error of pro-Semitism is… that intelligence, good will, and kindness is not, thank God, a monopoly of the Jewish people but a universal characteristic of mankind in general.  Therefore you see at thirteen I was not only converted to other religious views but I also stopped believing that the Jewish people are in any way "the chosen people."

- Richard Feynman (letter)

In case you figure your kids are smart, that they’ll figure it out and develop a connection to Judaism and Hashem no matter how badly it’s taught to them and embodied in the teachers standing in front of them… Richard Feynman says that’s just not true (I know, I promised I’d stop with these Feynman quotes, and I will, really!!!  Or maybe I’ll get another blog: Adventures in Feynman-Land.)

Here’s where he says that kind of thinking leads – and, of course, he’s right:

To select for approbation the peculiar elements that come from some supposedly Jewish heredity is to open the door to all kinds of nonsense on racial theory.  Such theoretical views were used by Hitler. Surely you cannot maintain on the one hand that certain valuable elements can be inherited from the "Jewish people," and deny that other elements which other people may find annoying or worse are not inherited by these same "people." Nor could you then deny that elements that others would consider valuable could be the main virtue of an "Aryan" inheritance.

These quotes come from this letter, which I have not verified in any rigourous way, but the letter certainly rings true.  I mentioned that in the book I’m listening to (about 10 more minutes left!), Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman (I hope you’ve clicked the link and bought it by now!), he never said anything more than that he came from a Jewish background. a Jewish family, or joined a Jewish fraternity; never, in this book, at least, does he admit to actually being Jewish.

To combat what he saw as irrational and potentially dangerous pro-semitism (and this is a guy who worked on The Bomb, so he knows from dangerous), he embraced a wildly universalistic atheism in which ever person, of any race, could learn all those wonderful virtues thought of (in his Sunday school) as being Jewish. 

He saw that we should be sharing these virtues, not keeping chosen-ness to ourselves behind parochially closed doors.  And he was right.  As Dennis Prager has said often, the Jewish people are a messenger who have forgotten their message.

One more quote, which breaks my heart – a brilliant man, a brilliant Jew, just “not getting it” on so many levels.

God was invented to explain mystery. God is always invented to explain those things that you do not understand. Now, when you finally discover how something works, you get some laws which you're taking away from God; you don't need him anymore.

I read this to YM just now and he said “God of the gaps.”  Indeed.  In the spaces where Science lives, God cannot, and vice versa, as if they are both particularly irksome and territorial squirrels.  Here’s the thing Feynman and others just don’t get – I suspect because their Jewish education wasn’t nuanced enough:  you don’t have to settle for that type of science OR that type of God.

Gerald Schroeder has two interesting sections of his website:  Top Five Religious Myths Popularly Accepted as Fact and Top Five Scientific Myths Popularly Accepted as Fact (can a suitably large number of monkeys indeed compose the entire works of William Shakespeare?  find out there…).  You can also listen to this fascinating discussion between Britain’s Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks and a couple of atheists.

Feynman didn’t leave Judaism because he wasn’t religious enough.  It had nothing to do with Reform, Conservative, or anything else – you can find closed-minded, pro-semitic, parochialist bigots in every movement – or at least, folks who teach it that way.  We lost Feynman because all he heard about was how great the Jews were and how terrible everyone else was.  And then he found out that the Real World was actually about something else entirely – in the same way that when a bald man enters a crowded room, all he sees is hair, nobody but us thinks of the world in terms of “Jews and non-Jews.”

Funny thing – sometimes the big kids wander in while I’m typing these thoughts, late at night, and they scatter everything I’m thinking and I resent it.  And sometimes, they walk in and everything crystallizes around them and becomes perfectly clear.  If you’re a teenage girl in a frum high school, apparently, what you get a lot of is talkings-to about skirt length and what could be summarized as, “omg, don’t go off the derech!”  As if there was some derech [path], just lying there for its own sake.

(It doesn’t help that at a cynical age, they will also quickly dismiss the other stuff – that mushy-gushy talk on, “here’s why I love Hashem so much,” that would leave adults in tears is very likely to go in one ear and get scoffed right out the other.)

What this may come down to is something I mentioned a couple of years ago that I heard from Shmuli Boteach (I’m not a huge fan, but I interviewed him once, and he said some smart stuff):  Be POSITIVE with your children.  He said it in the context of parents who dread sitting down for THE TALK – whatever that may be.  If all you talk to them about is negative (“don’t have sex, don’t do drugs… don’t DIE”) you’re sending the wrong message; you’re pushing them away with scare tactics.

The right message – I gathered from my little Chat with Shmuli – is an ongoing dialogue – from birth to marriage and beyond – about how to live holy lives, in line (as I said before) with a higher purpose.  Some version of that is what I will keep hammering into my kids’ heads until I’m  no longer around to hammer.  I lack the hubris to suggest that it would have made all the difference for Richard Feynman, but according to the Torah, there’s nothing so special about the Jews, so that’s really all the ammo we’ve got.

Did you survive bad Hebrew school, Sunday school, yeshiva with your faith intact???

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Latest blog spam

I have received the following spam comment a few times now... aargh.  I do admire how it echoes the blog's theme without containing any meaning whatsoever.
----- Original Message -----
From: Jenifar
Sent: Wednesday, July 18, 2012 6:23 AM
Subject: [ blog name ] New comment on...

Jenifar has left a new comment on your post...

As I am quiet new in Jewish, looking around for some Jewish information> Got something important here. Nice to get it.
Have you seen this video [ link removed ] It helped me get over my internal anger.

Feynman on Humility

Another memorable passage in an audiobook of Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman.  I promise I’ll stop talking about Richard Feynman soon… I’m just so very, very impressed this time through his memoir, Surely You’re Joking (remember, I only listen to it when I’m doing laundry, so it’s taken a while to get through it).

Where I am right now, he’s lamenting the fact that he used to drop in on local high schools to chat with kids there about physics, maybe a handful of them (“about relativity, or whatever they asked me about”)… but after his Nobel prize, he couldn’t do that anymore.  The first time he tried, they filled the auditorium with 300 kids.  “It was a mess.”

“I got that shock about 3 or 4 times, being an idiot [!] and not catching on right away.”  Invited to Berkeley, he prepared a rather technical talk, but arrived to find a huge crowd of people who knew nothing about physics.  “I know there’s not that many people in Berkeley who know the level at which I prepared my talk.”

Finally, he realized what to do – make up a dull-sounding title and a dull-sounding professor’s name, and then only the kids who were genuinely interested in physics would come.  Now this is unique anyway because so far in his memoir he has emphasized that he almost always tells the truth, almost to a fault.  But I can imagine he was driven to this because there was simply no way he could reach the audience he was trying to reach with the Nobel hanging around his neck, so to speak, like the proverbial albatross.

So, billed as Professor Henry Warren from the University of Washington, giving a talk about The Structure of the Proton in Room D102.  On the day and time, he showed up and told the kids gathered there that Professor Warren was unable to make it, so he’d come instead.  But the kids ultimately got in trouble when faculty advisor found out, and he had to call and fall on his sword over the incident, explaining that the trick had been his idea.  “I’m very sorry, please excuse me, blah, blah, blah.”

“That’s the kind of stuff I’ve got to go through on account of that damn prize.”

Just one more, if you’ll indulge me.  Further on,  he’s talking about the reception and general pomp & circumstance surrounding the prize, and he says he was raised by his father, who was in the uniform business.  “He was in the uniforms business, so he knew the difference between a man with a uniform on, and the uniform off – it’s the same man.”

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Facebook says… I say… * tznius warning *

image Okay, so I promise this will not become a regular feature.  But there is seriously much drivel out there that needs commentary in my own private place because I will tick off all my friends, IRL and otherwise, if I do it on their posts.

So what does facebook say now???  That THIS is beautiful art.

(*** tznius warning *** please don’t scroll down if your children, husband, father-in-law or anyone who might object, or go mad with desire, is looking over your shoulder)

What is THIS?









(just a little bit further)










(thanks for scrolling!)

A few of the many comments (344 likes, 144 shares):

  • Very beautiful, one of my favorites :)
  • wow, that's just awesome
  • beautiful pic my i steel it hun?? [sure: “steel” my dictionary, too, while you’re at it]
  • ty ty [ty = thank you, in the hectic-paced world of the Web]
  • Wow! I love this!!!!
  • I love this pic so much. I want it as a tattoo..
  • Gorgeous picture!

There were a few smart comments:

  • Is breastfeeding still safe when you're on acid? *joke* please don't hurt me!
  • first did someone on serious good drugs paint this? second.. it looks like the baby is sucking blood from her breasts [to which someone replied: “isn't milk all part of blood production? At least that is what I was told.”… um, no, not technically part of blood production, no, it isn’t]

So what do I say???  “Where the heck did you find that demon changeling pixie baby and how can you get him back to the underworld before he sucks the rest of your soul into nauseous splashy oblivion?!?”

Believe me, I am STILL breastfeeding my 4.5-year-old, for seven and a half years of non-stop nummies; I have loved almost every moment of it.  And I am grateful, I suppose, that none of those moments even remotely resembled this painting.



Facebook wisdom says… I say…

Sometimes, I think I’m the “anti-attachment parent.”  But there’s some real drivel out there, isn’t there???  So here’s the “wisdom” going around on facebook this evening:

“Listen earnestly to anything your children want to tell you, no matter what.  If you don’t listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won’t tell you the big stuff when they are big, because to them all of it has always been big stuff.”  - Catherine M. Wallace

These comments are from the 121 commenters who mostly adore with this quote, eagerly, as it were:

  • So true!
  • Oh my this is wonderful
  • Wonderful advice 4 sure:))
  • I have to borrow this... it is way to true to pass by.
  • so true....always listened to my kids!
  • Now that's somethin to think about
  • AMEN.
  • It is a wonderful feeling knowing that my sons have been able to talk with me their entire lives. I say we grew up together! I was a young mom & my sons are close in age! We are truly Blessed
  • So true!!

Only one smart person – and it wasn’t me – piped up,

  • Cute, but unrealistic. They won't tell you the big stuff when they're grown, unless there's no way around it..8^}

And here’s my curmudgeonly knee-jerk reaction, which I didn’t post – I saved it for you guys, right here and now:

  • Actually, it's not going to kill our kids, or even scar them, or make them hate us, to say, "wait a second."  Listen eagerly, yes, but don't let them interrupt OR believe that they are the centre of the universe.  These eager moments are indeed precious, fleeting and few… but so are the opportunities to build their character.

What do YOU think?  Why does this quote alarm me the way it does???

Monday, July 16, 2012

Matos-Masei Parsha Summary: Revenge… and forgiveness

This is a basic overview of the parsha story in a format that can be adapted for a wide range of ages. Sources include parsha text, commentaries and midrash.  When introducing midrash or other non-pshat elements, I use the words “some people think” or something similar. (find out why)

Please see the Vayeishev overview for how we use these narratives  in our homeschool.  I also have copywork sheets to go with the weekly parsha… enjoy!  (um, okay, not one for Pinchas yet, but maybe tomorrow)


Hashem wants us to be VERY careful choosing our words!

You promised your best friend he can borrow your bicycle tomorrow, and he’s so excited! But when you get home, your family is packing for the cottage and bringing your bike along. The next day, your friend waits and waits and waits… and you never show up. He’s disappointed – you broke your promise! This parsha reminds us how serious it is to make a נֶדֶר / neder, a vow. We try not to make promises, in case we can’t fulfill them.

Unlike a person, Hashem always keeps His promises.

Remember in last week’s parsha and before, when the people of Midian called Bilam to curse the Jews, and then sent their women to marry the men of bnei Yisrael? Well, Hashem remembered, too. Now, he told Moshe it was time to fight against Midian, to avenge everyone who had died. After that, Hashem said, it would be time for Moshe also to die.

A thousand soldiers came from each shevet, led by Pinchas (remember him from last week?)

(With twelve shevatim, how many soldiers did they have altogether?) They killed five kings of Midian, plus the wicked Bilam. But the soldiers made a mistake – they killed men, but left women alive even though the women had also attacked bnei Yisrael. Hashem said they must die, too. Only He knows what everybody truly deserves.

The battle was successful; they brought home riches, and not even one soldier died.

But that’s impossible! In most wars, many soldiers from both sides die before the fighting ends. But here, Hashem sent bnei Yisrael to war, and protected them. The soldiers realized right away that Hashem had helped them, so they decided – nobody even had to ask – to bring every gold thing they brought back with them to the Mishkan, to thank Hashem.

Now everybody was getting ready to move to eretz Yisrael.

Two shevatim, Reuvain and Gad, saw beautiful land near the river Yardein and decided it was a great place to live. Eretz Yisrael was not very big, plus they’d still be close to the rest of the shevatim across the Yardein. But Moshe thought there wouldn’t be enough soldiers to fight for eretz Yisrael. He was also angry that they didn’t want eretz Yisrael, just like the meraglim. But those shevatim came up with a plan:

“What if we leave our wives, children and animals here and come with bnei Yisrael to fight?”

Moshe said, “Okay; after the battle, you can return to your families here.” Moshe wouldn’t be leader then, so he asked Elazar and Yehoshua to make sure that Reuvain and Gad did as they said. So much of Torah is about keeping promises!

Now, in the 40 years since bnei Yisrael left Mitzrayim, they have lived in 42 different places!

Remember, Mitzrayim and eretz Yisrael are VERY close together, but Hashem said to wander until the older generation was gone. Now, almost everybody has died, so Moshe tells the new generation about their travels in the midbar.

Where do you come from? What’s your family story?

derp_matos It’s fun to hear about the day you were born or how you came to live with with your family, and to see and hear about places in your family story: “look, that’s the first house we lived in together”; “that was the shul where we made your bris!” Well, the new generation didn’t see most of the places bnei Yisrael had lived, so now Moshe tells them how much Hashem loved and took care of them on the way.

Hashem had another important reminder for the people!

Eretz Yisrael is unlike any other place – it is very קָדוֹשׁ/kadosh. Do you remember what that means? (special to Hashem!) So nobody could do avoda zara there and people who did must be kicked out, their idols smashed and burnt. Hashem told Moshe to give out the land by “lots” – like rolling dice to decide who’d get which area. But He’d also make it fair: big families got more, and small families, less. Land would belong to the same shevet forever. Levi would receive cities in the areas of other shevatim. Hashem told Moshe exactly where the borders should be – almost like drawing a map of His gift to Avraham’s descendents. He also explained one more unusual thing about eretz Yisrael…

Have you ever done something really bad by accident???

derp_masei I knew a boy who was playing around and bumped into a girl. She fell over and her tooth broke; she needed a whole new (fake) tooth! That was a terrible accident – but it was an accident. He should have been careful, but he didn’t mean to hurt her. Hashem knows what we really mean inside, so He said to make special cities in eretz Yisrael for people who killed somebody by accident. The family of the dead person might be so angry they wouldn’t care that it was an accident – they might kill that person for revenge. So he could run away to an עִיר מִקְלָט / ir miklat and be safe. And just to make sure he didn’t have to stop and ask directions, they needed signs pointing the way. It’s hard to know when to take revenge and when to forgive. We make mistakes all the time… but Hashem never does!

We are now finished reading Chumash Bamidbar, so we all stand up and say together:

חָזָק חָזָק וְנִתְחַזֵּק!

May learning Torah make us strong!