donation · holidays · Jewish · slice of life

This one’s for the goats!

When Isabelle was in preschool, we began dedicating the fifth night of Chanukah to charitable giving. It felt like a no brainer to me since I’m not a present-each-night kind of mom. For the past six Chanukahs (including this one), Isabelle has emptied her tzedakah box and picks an organization for her donation. In the past, she’s donated to organizations such as Best Friends Animal Society, Children’s Miracle Network, and the Pajama Program (which Slicers may recognize as TWT’s SOLSC charity of choice!). This year, she selected to donate her tzedakah money to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital “to help kids with cancer.”

This year, Ari joined the fifth night donation for the first time. Over breakfast, I explained this Chanukah tradition to Ari. I asked him, “Do you want to help feed kids who are hungry?” He said yes. I asked him, “Do you want to buy books for kids who don’t have books in their homes?” He said yes. I asked him, “Do you want to help kids who are sick?” He said yes. I asked him several more questions and every answer was yes. But, finally, I got a different answer when I asked, “Do you want to help animals who may have been hurt or not cared for and are trying to get better?” His face lit up and he gave me a big YES!

I suggested Lancaster Farm Sanctuary, which is a local organization that cares for animals who have been abused and neglected, to him. I showed Ari some photos and a video on their website. Once he saw that some of Lancaster Farm Sanctuary’s residents are goats, he declared, “That’s where I want to give my money!”

This evening, Ari came into my office to make the donation. (He handed over the cash to me and I put it on my credit card.) When I filled out the donation form, I wrote:

Ari (my four-year-old son) is donating some of his saved Tzedakah money instead of getting a Chanukah present tonight. He loves animals, especially goats. We hope to come visit after COVID!

Less than two hours later, I received an email back from one of the women who runs the sanctuary, which said:

Please tell Ari we are so grateful that he chose to support our farm sanctuary. We hope after COVID you and Ari are able to come and visit us at the farm to see all of our residents, especially the goats 🙂

One of the photos I received this evening.

And do you want to know what else was included in the email? PHOTOS OF SOME OF THEIR GOATS! Ari will be thrilled when I show him the email and the goats’ photos in the morning.

Quite frankly, I’m touched the folks who run Lancaster Farm Sanctuary took the time to write back — and send photos of the goats — after receiving what amounted to a small donation. That kind of personal touch will have us donating again in the future.

Head over to http://twowritingteachers.org on Tuesdays for more slice of life stories.
holidays · Jewish · slice of life

Making Traditions… Together? #SOL20

I heard about Days United sometime between our decision to pull Ari out of preschool and Rosh Hashanah. It’s a subscription service that provides holiday and culture boxes to families. I ordered the eight-box holiday set. The kids and I adored the Rosh Hashanah and Sukkot boxes. So, yesterday, when my friend Emily asked me if we had received our Chanukah box yet (She gets them for her daughter too and thought this one was amazing!), I said “not yet.” Both kids were awaiting the box’s arrival eagerly.

This evening, as I was preparing dinner, I noticed a package from Days United. THE BOX! I gathered the kids around and we unpacked it together. We got excited about the activities inside and decided to make the Chanukah menorah before bedtime.

Isabelle showered in record time since she knew we’d be doing a craft project together. I laid out the contents of the Star of David Menorah bag on the kids’ craft table and scanned the QR code for the speedy instructions. While the video was too fast to follow (They always are!), I knew I could look at the book and follow the pictures step-by-step.

But I couldn’t.

The booklet’s photos for the traditional menorah, which the kids wanted to make, were too small for me to see which side of each bolt to use. I called Marc since I needed help. He watched the too-fast video. He flipped through the instruction booklet. He couldn’t figure it out either.

WE HAVE FOUR ADVANCED DEGREES BETWEEN US AND WE COULD NOT FIGURE OUT WHAT TO DO! (Apparently we needed a master’s in engineering, which neither of us have, to complete the traditional menorah.) The kids were grumbling, but I was groaning the loudest. “This is supposed to be fun.” “This is a craft project we’re supposed to do with the kids, not for them.” “The company’s tag line is ‘making traditions together’… this isn’t together if they’re sitting on the floor while we’re sitting at the table trying to figure this out.”

After I scrapped the traditional menorah (since we were working unsuccessfully on it for over 20 minutes), I declared that we should try to follow the picture directions for the Star of David menorah, which contained slightly larger images. After fiddling around with it for about seven minutes, I finally figured it out. Even Marc was impressed since I am not a handy person by nature.

I allowed the kids to screw in the final two candle holders so they could feel like they completed some aspect of the project.
Ari inserted two candles so the kids’ menorah is ready to go for Thursday night.

I’m feeling better after having written this, but quite frankly, I’m hoping the rest of the items in our box are more fun than this was since this was anything but fun.

holidays · Jewish · slice of life

Making Traditions… Together? #SOL20

I heard about Days United sometime between our decision to pull Ari out of preschool and Rosh Hashanah. It’s a subscription service that provides holiday and culture boxes to families. I ordered the eight-box holiday set. The kids and I adored the Rosh Hashanah and Sukkot boxes. So, yesterday, when my friend Emily asked me if we had received our Chanukah box yet (She gets them for her daughter too and thought this one was amazing!), I said “not yet.” Both kids were awaiting the box’s arrival eagerly.

This evening, as I was preparing dinner, I noticed a package from Days United. THE BOX! I gathered the kids around and we unpacked it together. We got excited about the activities inside and decided to make the Chanukah menorah before bedtime.

Isabelle showered in record time since she knew we’d be doing a craft project together. I laid out the contents of the Star of David Menorah bag on the kids’ craft table and scanned the QR code for the speedy instructions. While the video was too fast to follow (They always are!), I knew I could look at the book and follow the pictures step-by-step.

But I couldn’t.

The booklet’s photos for the traditional menorah, which the kids wanted to make, were too small for me to see which side of each bolt to use. I called Marc since I needed help. He watched the too-fast video. He flipped through the instruction booklet. He couldn’t figure it out either.

WE HAVE FOUR ADVANCED DEGREES BETWEEN US AND WE COULD NOT FIGURE OUT WHAT TO DO! (Apparently we needed a master’s in engineering, which neither of us have, to complete the traditional menorah.) The kids were grumbling, but I was groaning the loudest. “This is supposed to be fun.” “This is a craft project we’re supposed to do with the kids, not for them.” “The company’s tag line is ‘making traditions together’… this isn’t together if they’re sitting on the floor while we’re sitting at the table trying to figure this out.”

After I scrapped the traditional menorah (since we were working unsuccessfully on it for over 20 minutes), I declared that we should try to follow the picture directions for the Star of David menorah, which contained slightly larger images. After fiddling around with it for about seven minutes, I finally figured it out. Even Marc was impressed since I am not a handy person by nature.

I allowed the kids to screw in the final two candle holders so they could feel like they completed some aspect of the project.
Ari inserted two candles so the kids’ menorah is ready to go for Thursday night.

I’m feeling better after having written this, but quite frankly, I’m hoping the rest of the items in our box are more fun than this was since this was anything but fun.

COVID-19 · holidays · Jewish · slice of life

May her memory be a revolution. #SOL20

There are five days each year I cease from using my phone. They are both days of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and the first two days of Passover. I’ve been strict about that through the years for I want to stay present rather than getting pulled away by the dinging and pinging.

I knew I would be unable to stay away from technology this year since we would need it to access services. On one hand, I was saddened by the fact I wouldn’t be getting dressed up to celebrate in synagogue because of the global pandemic. On the other hand, I was thrilled I could stream services from my former synagogue in Manhattan, which I haven’t worshipped at on the High Holidays since 2007.

Last night, I walked upstairs and changed out of my dress. (Yes! We dressed up for Erev Rosh Hashanah even though it was just four of us dining together since I fell down the steps last Erev Rosh Hashanah and spent hours in the ER, not in synagogue.) I grabbed my phone to join our Lancaster synagogue’s services since it was past the start time of the one in New York. I gasped when I saw The Washington Post breaking news: Justice Ginsberg died at 87.

Many liberal and progressive Americans felt gut-punched by the news. But for those of us celebrating Rosh Hashanah, it was even harder. Writer Carly Pildis summed it up perfectly in her piece for The Forward:

Her loss is unthinkable. She seemed like Moses, like she would live 400 years. Grief filled our Rosh Hashanah tables. We Jewish mothers who had been working for days to try to somehow make a sweet holiday in these bitterest of times became overwhelmed with mourning. What use to us were apples and honey when Justice Ginsburg was gone?

Carly Pildis (Source: https://forward.com/opinion/454793/may-ruth-bader-ginsburgs-memory-be-a-revolution/.)

Carly encapsulated every feeling I had in that paragraph. I had spent the previous four days preparing for Rosh Hashanah. I made honey cake, brisket, and kugel. I created a Rosh Hashanah Seder plate with items Ari and I shopped for together. I did craft projects with the kids to get them ready. I ironed clothes. (My parents, who will read this, will attest to my disdain for ironing.) I pulled off an abridged Rosh Hashanah Seder — my first ever — after we said our Shabbat prayers. And then, just when I thought it was time for me to enjoy the holiday as a participant, I read that breaking news alert. And while Justice Ginsberg passing in the final moments of 5780 was totally on-brand for that Jewish year, it was just too much.

Yes, there were moments of joy on Rosh Hashanah, which included dancing around our great room with Marc and Ari during the children’s service while singing “B’shanah Habaa” and making a second honey cinnamon pound cake that was better than the first honey cake. But this year wasn’t as sweet and it wasn’t just because COVID-19 kept us at home.

Jewish people don’t say “rest in peace” when someone dies. Instead we say “Baruch Dayan Ha’Emet,” which means “Blessed is the true judge.” When we want to share our condolences, we typically say, “May their memory be for a blessing.” But let’s go a bit further with Justice Ginsberg. May her memory be a revolution.

Something to ponder: How will you let her memory be for a revolution with what you do in the next weeks and months of your life?

Honey Cinnamon Pound Cake
(Recipe from Leah Koenig’s Modern Jewish Cooking bakes in a mold from Days United.)
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.

{Sigh.}

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.