celebrations · holidays · Jewish

Oh today we’ll merry-merry be…

Today is Purim. It is a joyous holiday where Jews celebrate the defeat of Haman’s plot to annihalate the Jews of Persia. And while I was excited to attend our community’s Purim Carnival, I tossed and turned last night. What if a bomb threat was called into our JCC in the middle of the Carnival. What would be our plan to get out quickly and safely?
Luckily, our community’s Purim Carnival was joyous (& full of security). However, as I scrolled through Twitter this afternoon, I learned JCCs in Rochester, NY, Milwaukee, WI, Indianapolis, IN, & Vancouver, BC had a bomb threats on what should be a festive day. 
I long for the days when my greatest concern was whether or not we’d be able to find a close parking spot. Walking through the cold seems trivial now since there are real concerns. 
Nevertheless, people were not deterred. I saw more people I knew at our JCC for today’s Purim Carnival than I have in the past. That is a wonderful thing, right?

Isabelle asked her Zayde to make her a spider costume so she could be Sammy Spider (from the Jewish book series). He said yes. Good thing he did because, as you may remember from last week, I’m not exactly a creative visionary when it comes to dressing up!
holidays · slice of life

National Pancake Day #sol16

II’ve noticed a proliferation in the number of phony holidays over the past few years. Every day is another national day of something. It’s ridiculous!

However, when National Pancake Day showed up on my iPhone calendar, I was giddy with delight. You see, pancakes are one of Isabelle’s favorite foods. Plus, I have a good gluten-free pancake mix that isn’t just edible; it actually tastes good!

On a typical weekday morning, Isabelle receives two choices for breakfast: English muffin or oatmeal. Therefore, she was excited about “Pancake Day” since it’s rare that I make pancakes on a weekday. However, she was more interested in playing with her stuffed animals, rather than helping, until she heard the sound of the mixer combining the dry and wet ingredients.

“Mommy, can I help you?” she called from her play room.

“Sure! Bring your helper tower in!”

Within two minutes, Isabelle appeared with her doll, Little Isabelle, in-hand. “What can we do?” she asked.

“You can help me drop chocolate chips onto the pancakes so long as you can be careful. Do not touch the griddle. It is VERY hot.”

“Okay, Mommy. We’ll be careful.”

Isabelle and Little Isabelle climbed onto the helper tower. Then, Isabelle asked, “Can I wear an apron too?”

“Yes you can,” I said as I shifted to my left to grab her apron out of the drawer.

“Do you have an apron for Little Isabelle?” she asked.

“No, honey, I don’t. Just for you.”

“That’s okay. I have one for her,” she said, pretending to put an apron on her doll as I tied hers onto her.

Just as I was about to pour the batter onto the griddle, Isabelle asked, “Can I eat some chocolate chippies?”

“After,” I said. “You need to drop the chocolate chips onto the pancakes first. Then, I’ll give you a bowl so you can eat some while the pancakes cook.”

Isabelle's first foray into chocolate chip distribution. (Created with WalaxyPic.)
Isabelle’s first foray into chocolate chip distribution.
(Created with WalaxyPic.)

Since I’m the kind of person who is good to their word, I poured a small bowl of chocolate chips for Isabelle who, in turn, shared them with Little Isabelle.

Isabelle fed Little Isabelle while the pancakes cooked on the griddle.
Isabelle fed Little Isabelle while the pancakes cooked on the griddle. (Created with WalaxyPic.)

In the end, we enjoyed our pancakes with what might have been too much whipped cream. But that’s okay. It’s National Pancake Day. Not a bad way to start a Tuesday!

Isabelle's Short Stack (She convinced me to add more whipped cream several times during breakfast.)
Isabelle’s Short Stack
(She convinced me to add more whipped cream several times during breakfast.)
Head over to http://twowritingteachers.wordpress.com for more slices of life.
Head over to http://twowritingteachers.wordpress.com for more slices of life.
holidays · Jewish · reading the world · slice of life

An Emerging Jewish Identity

I’ve found navigating pleasantries can be tricky when you’re a Jew living outside of New York City in December.  Nearly everyone I encounter assumes I celebrate Christmas.  I’ve learned to respond to “Merry Christmas” with “Have a happy new year.”  It’s non-denominational and I figure it won’t offend anyone who is an atheist or agnostic.  However, if someone asks me, “What are you doing for Christmas,” I respond with “I don’t celebrate Christmas because I’m Jewish.”  Occasionally someone will follow-up with, “So you don’t have a Christmas tree?”  BUT, most of the time, the conversation switches to something else.

As soon as Isabelle was able to sit upright, people began asking her, “Have you been a good girl for Santa?”  I found, “We don’t celebrate Christmas. We celebrate Chanukah” to be a good enough response.  Even though she can speak for herself now, I still pre-empt the conversation and tell the other person why Santa won’t be visiting our house.

Before I tell you about the BIG THING that happened on the Christmas front today, allow me to go back to Tuesday afternoon.  Isabelle and I were at Chocolate World where she was admiring a beautiful red ball with chocolate candies inside.  She wanted the ornament and I had to explain it was for a holiday, Christmas, that we don’t celebrate.  “We celebrate Chanukah,” I told her.  I located the tiny Chanukah display inside of Chocolate World and brought her over to it.  “See the blue and white Hershey kisses and the chocolate bar wrapper with the dreidel?  Those things are for our holiday, Chanukah.”
She was not impressed.  “I want the red ball!”
“It’s a Christmas ornament for a Christmas tree, Isabelle.  We don’t celebrate Christmas.  I am not going to buy you the ornament.”
“I wanna celebrate Christmas!” she declared.
“Well, that’s not going to happen because you’re Jewish!”
“I wanna celebrate Christmas,” she repeated.
{Deep breath.}
“Let’s go find the Chocolate House,” I offered, changing the subject.
She agreed.

Fast-forward to this morning.  I was talking with her occupational therapist at the end of her session in the office lobby.  Isabelle was twirling around and chatting about her Elmo stuffie with four older women who were ogling over her.  Once I was finished speaking with her OT, I told her it was time to get our coats (to go back to Chocolate World — of course).  As we walked away one of the women wished Isabelle a “Merry Christmas.”  Isabelle paused.  In a calm voice she looked at the women and said, “It’s Chanukah.”

None of them responded.  I said nothing.  I just watched as Isabelle articulated herself more carefully.  “It is Chanukah,” she said.

“Oh, well, Happy Chanukah, then!” the lady who said “Merry Christmas” said to her.  All of the other ladies joined in and said, “Happy Chanukah.”

I couldn’t believe it.  My little girl took it upon herself to use her voice to, in essence, say, I don’t celebrate Christmas because I am Jewish.  I was FLOORED.

I took Isabelle aside after I zipped up her coat and told her how proud I was for calmly telling the ladies, in her own way, that Christmas wasn’t her holiday. In the car, I explained to her how I respond when people say “Merry Christmas” to me, but told her what she did was perfectly okay.

My daughter used three small words to send a big message today.  She essentially told a group of women not assume everyone celebrates Christmas.  Her Jewish identify is emerging and I couldn’t be prouder.

* * * * *

Let the record show that when she was at Chocolate World today she saw the Christmas ornaments from Tuesday, pointed at them, and said, “Those are for Christmas.”  She paused.  Then she said, “I celebrate Chanukah.”

Chalkabration · holidays

Practical Poetry: A Halloween Haiku

Betsy hosts Chalkabration on the final day of each month at http://teachingyoungwriters.blogspot.com.
Betsy hosts Chalkabration on the final day of each month at http://teachingyoungwriters.blogspot.com.

We Trick o’ Treat the Thursday before Halloween in Central Pennsylvania.  Even after living here for 5+ years, I do not understand why we do this.

Trick o’ Treat Night has rules.  For instance, Trick o’ Treaters may only go to homes from 6 – 8 p.m. that have their front porch light on.  This doesn’t provide much time nor is it convenient for those of us with little kids who typically go to sleep at 8 p.m.  Throw in a neighborhood party afterwards and that doesn’t leave me with much time to open the door to kids who are looking for candy since I’m out from 6 – 7 p.m. with Isabelle.


Then I remembered that today was Chalkabration and I didn’t have my chalk poem ready yet.  (I no longer had an excuse now that I bought a package of 48 Crayola chalks and it wasn’t raining.)  So, I crafted a Halloween Haiku on my driveway yesterday around 4:15 p.m. so passersby would know to come back after seven.

My Halloween Haiku
My Halloween Haiku

Practical and creative, right?

holidays · Jewish · music · OBSERVATIONS · podcast · speech

A Toddler Song of Thanksgiving

DSC_9513About two and a half weeks ago, Isabelle’s speech and music therapists worked with us to create a Thanksgiving song to the tune of “Hot Cross Buns.”  During that time, I’ve worked with Isabelle to brainstorm a list of things and people she was thankful for this year.  Since thankfulness is a pretty tough concept for a toddler to grasp, we started out by talking about things she loved.  The list ranged from her family to our neighbors’ dogs to her friends to her teacher to Chocolate World.

In an effort to keep the song manageable and reverent for today’s festivities, I whittled the list down to family members, the neighbors’ dogs, and to Chocolate World.  (Especially because the neighbors’ dogs, Tiny, Rudy, and Lexie, as well as Chocolate World, were in her version of the song every time she practiced singing it.) Also, I created a chart with pictures to help guide her through the song.  Here she is, singing her song (with my assistance), earlier this evening:

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the fact that tonight was also the second night of Chanukah, aka: Thanksgivukkah. We lit the menorah and sang a few Chanukah songs. Other than that, the day belong to Thanksgiving. (Thankfully, there are six more nights of Chanukah left for us to celebrate!)

dress-up · holidays · Jewish · self-esteem · slice of life

The Tutu: An Unexpected Purim Costume

The little ballerina is ready for the Purim Carnival.
The little ballerina is ready for the Purim Carnival.

You know those girls who attend music class or go to the supermarket in a tutu?  That’s not my daughter.  I’ve never bought her a skirt that even resembled a tutu since I fear turning her into a diva by running around town in a tutu.  In my mind, tutus are for ballerinas.  I have the utmost respect for ballet dancers.  I’ve taken ballet as a child and again in my early 20s so I know it’s challenging!

My friend Lauren, who danced ballet for years, made Isabelle a tutu for her first birthday.  She asked me what color to make it (I said lavender.)  It was for playing dress-up. The tutu sat in Isabelle’s closet for over a year since it was too big for her.  Today it made its debut — for Purim.

Isabelle was going to wear her Halloween costume (ladybug) for Purim. However, in the middle of the night I had a NEW idea for her Purim costume.  It wouldn’t cost a cent (Yea!) and would be a good photo opp.  What would she be?  A ballerina, of course.

When I woke up this morning, I searched for a pair of black tights in the sock/tights drawer of her room.  All I came up with were a pair of black 12-24 month sized tights from the Baby Gap that she wore for Rosh Hashanah in 2011!  Would they fit?  If not, no tutu!  Then, I looked for a black onesie since she doesn’t have a leotard.  I found a black turtleneck onesie in her drawer.  Yea!  But would the tutu fit?

After breakfast, I brought Isabelle upstairs and bribed her with the Maccabeats Purim video while I put the tights on her.  (She hates tights!)  I got them on her without so much as a grimace.  (Yea Maccabeats!)  Surprisingly, they weren’t too small.  I guess they have a lot of spandex in them.  Next came the onesie.  That was a cinch to get on.  Finally, the big test came when I stood her up to put on the tulle tutu.  One leg in, then the next.  I shimmied it up to her waist and it didn’t fall.  It fit!  She would be a ballerina after all!

I pulled her hair back into a slop-knot ponytail, which is the only kind she’ll tolerate.  However, I didn’t want all of the pieces flying around since she does have curly hair, after all.  So I did the unthinkable.  I found my hairspray and began to spray it in her hair.  It was the first time she’s ever come into contact with hairspray.  I shuddered each time I misted it over her toddler hair.  Was I creating a diva or was I just getting my daughter dressed up for a Purim Carnival?  I decided not to beat myself up over the hairspray since it was for a special occasion.  So, I moved on.

There she was, dressed as a ballerina in her purple tutu.  She looked darling as I had her spin around the room.  Much older than the two year old she is.  And while she looked very pretty, I must admit, I was delighted to put her corduroy pants back on her after the Purim carnival was over.  Corduroy pants are everyday play clothes.  At least that’s how we roll.

holidays · Jewish · picture books

The Tie Man’s Miracle & Other Fantastic Chanukah Books

This meme was started by Sheila at Book Journey and the kids’ version has been adapted by Jen and Kellee at Teach Mentor Texts.
Over the summer I borrowed The Tie Man’s Miracle: A Chanukah Tale written by Steven Schnur from the library. Let me be honest: I have no idea why I borrowed it. I’ve been racking my brain trying to remember the reason why. I don’t remember if I was doing a search on Amazon for one of Schnur’s acrostic poetry books or if I was thinking about the tragedy of the Holocaust. (Though I do remember both things happening.) However, I know I didn’t pull the book off of the shelf since I had to get it on interlibrary loan from a different Penn State library than the one where my I taught my course.

While the reason I got it is unclear, I think it found my way to me for a reason. You see, I’m on a quest to make Chanukah a meaningful holiday for Isabelle. It’s about so much more than eight nights of presents and eating latkes. It’s a holiday where Jews stood up for the right to practice their religion. Yes, there was a miracle where the candles burned for eight nights, but the premise of the holiday stems from the desire to be Jewish. Therefore, when I come across stories that reflect the real meaning of Chanukah, I pay attention to them since I long to share meaningful books about the holiday with my daughter… not the ones that make it look like Chanukah is all about gifts.

To learn more about The Tie Man’s Miracle: A Chanukah Tale, read the synopsis of the book by clicking here. Here are some other wonderful Chanukah titles that we’ll be reading as a family this week:

Once I get a home library copy of The Tie Man's Miracle, I will need to find one more great Chanukah picture book so I can have one for each night of the holiday.  Do you have any suggestions?
Once I get a home library copy of The Tie Man’s Miracle, I will need to find one more great Chanukah picture book so I can have one for each night of the holiday. Do you have any suggestions?
holidays · OBSERVATIONS · raising strong girls

A G-Rated Costume for Trick o’ Treat Night

Our lady bug went Trick o’ Treating for the first time last night. (She took a small bite of a Snickers bar and made a face. Apparently all of those fruits and vegetables taste better than chocolate — to her.)

Several weeks ago, my husband and I were discussing what our daughter should be for Halloween.  We tossed around a bunch of ideas and got excited about her being a doctor.  We wanted to find a white lab coat rather than scrubs since we thought the white coat would be more practical if Trick o’ Treat Night was cold.  (BTW: It’s a Midstate Pennsylvania thing to Trick o’ Treat before Halloween.  Most of the townships in our country Trick o’ Treated last night.  As someone who grew up in the NY Metropolitan Area, I really don’t understand why they feel the need to Trick o’ Treat early.  However, if I want my daughter to participate in the festivities, I have to go with the flow, so-to-speak.)

I searched online for a doctor costume for Isabelle, but came up empty-handed since the costumes were in 2T sizes and up.  (She wears an 18 month size.)  Therefore, I took to the stores.  Imagine my horror when the only doctor costume I could find was in the boys’ section.  (It was also too big!)  Really?  Since when are doctors only male?  When I think about the doctors I have, they’re an even mix of men and women.  What kind of message are girls supposed to receive when the find a doctor costume only gets sold in the boys’ section.

I was unable to find a white lab coat in Isabelle’s size so I gave up on having her dress up as a doctor.  Instead I headed to Carter’s and purchased her a ladybug costume.  It was reasonably priced, warm, cute, and in her size.  However, there was a piece of me that was upset I couldn’t dress her up how we originally intended.

Peggy Orenstein tweeted two interesting links in the past two days.  One was to two licensed Cookie Monster outfits.  If you click on this link, then you’ll see a boys’ Cookie Monster outfit that looks a lot like the furry monster we see on TV.  The girls’ costume is a too-short dress with cookies on it.  It also comes with a Cookie Monster tiara.  Personally, I would never put my daughter in a Cookie Monster dress if she wanted to be Cookie Monster for Halloween.  That’s a complete disconnect.

The second link Peggy Orenstein tweeted was to a slide show of Girls’ Halloween Costumes: Then and Now.  It left me aghast!  I know costumes have evolved through the years, but I didn’t realize how overly sexual little girls’ costumes have become!  It makes me cringe to think this is what I’ll be up against as my little lady bug gets older.

How are we supposed to guide our girls to make age-appropriate choices for Halloween when they’re faced with party shops that make fun costumes for boys and slutty costumes for girls.  (And don’t even get me started on the princess costumes!)  It makes me I am going to have to work hard to make my daughter realize it’s okay to wear the “boys” costumes (or get really creative / learn to sew)!  Why does Halloween, a time that used to just be about dressing up in a simple costume and getting candy, have to be so complicated?

holidays · Jewish · music · picture books

Elul: Preparing for the High Holidays Through Music, Books, and Food

I picked up a whole wheat challah this afternoon.  I prepared a chicken for dinner, which is roasting as I type.  I pulled out the ritual items for tonight’s Shabbat dinner.  As I did these things I remembered that Rosh Chodesh Elul is tomorrow night.

Elul, the month prior to the Jewish High Holidays, begins this weekend.  That means that Rosh Hashanah will soon be upon us.  This year, Isabelle is more aware of her Jewish life.  By aware I mean that she anticipates the grape juice coming towards her in the Kiddush cup, enjoys eating challah, and enjoys watching videos by the Maccabeats.  While it’s hard to cultivate a Jewish existence for a toddler, there are small ways that I will prepare for Yamim Noraim with her this year.

First, we will listen to to Tekiyah, the music of the high holidays from my former synagogue, Congregation B’nai Jeshurun, in Manhattan.  I have the album on my iPhone, which means we can listen to the inspiring melodies of the high holidays on-the-go when we’re in the car.  While it’s far too early for her to learn the words or the meanings to the songs, I want her to hear the melodies of the songs that will be sung (though they’ll sound different in the synagogues we attend now) when we’re in synagogue as a family for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Second, we will read books.  I have a bunch of books that contain shorts stories about the high holidays.  I will begin to read those stories aloud to her during Elul.  Also, we just received a book from the PJ Library, Today is the Birthday of the World by Linda Heller and Allison Jay, which I’m really excited to add to our Jewish home library.  This book, which made me tear up the first time I read it, is an affirmation of the notion that every living thing contributes to making the world a more beautiful place.  Today is the Birthday of the World‘s message is that even a small child can help make the world a better place.  This is something I want Isabelle to internalize.  Even at her young age she can help to brighten someone’s day with a smile or a simple “hello.”  Additionally, as we prepare to begin a parent/child “school” program in the middle of Elul, I want to teach her that being kind to her classmates (by sharing toys and by being a gentle friend) is a way that you can honor yourself, other people, and G-d.

Finally, we eat apples and honey on Rosh Hashanah to symbolize our hope for a sweet new year.  Therefore, I will reintroduce these foods to her during Elul.  Apples were a favorite until the bounty of summer kicked into high gear.  Therefore, we replaced our apples and pears, our winter fruit staples, with blueberries, strawberries, and melons.  Therefore, as we go through the month of Elul, we will again taste the sweetness of the apples (and the honey) so she’s ready to dip the apples into the honey on Rosh Hashanah.

How do you prepare for the high holidays with your children?  Please share your customs, ideas, and book titles by leaving a comment.