Wednesday, December 30, 2009 year ends...another begins...

192 posts.

What have I said?

It's been a year full of history and ordinary life.

Sometimes I was funny. And sometimes I wasn't.

I traveled to Israel.

We celebrated all the holidays but I realize that I didn't blog about all of them in any great detail. Oops.
(We did make these cool eggs for Pesach...)

My kids were, of course, super-cute and funny and entertaining.

We went to camp (and can't wait to go back, of course...)

I read and reviewed a lot of books, and I baked a lot.

{{{Sigh}}} It's hard to believe that another year has come and gone.

And so I continue blogging....I look forward to 2010. I'm sure I'll host Haveil Havalim (I think soon, actually), and I know I'm going to be celebrating holidays and sharing the funny things my kids say and do. I will celebrate my 10th wedding anniversary and I will send my own child off to camp alone for the first time. And who knows what else will come my way during this calendar year?

I feel so lucky and blessed to be Jewish, to have the opportunity not once but twice to consider a new year (technically, there are other Jewish dates that are "new years" but I'm going with the main one, Rosh HaShanah) and to have a chance to rethink, renew, and restart.

So as we begin this secular year, I hope for all of us, for all of you, for my family and for yours, that this year bring peace, health, and blessings. May your dreams be fulfilled and your path be smooth.

May it be a sweet year, a full year, a year of hope and a year of love and life.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Road trip according to Sam

(AKA musings of a four-year-old on his first car trip longer than 3 hours)

Sam, about 20 minutes into the trip: Mom, you said that Yael and I could watch movies, David could play his DS and you would sit on Dad's lap and help him drive.*

*this is an almost-actual verbatim record of this pre-trip conversation minus the lap-sitting.


Sam, about 2 hours in: if we're going somewhere really long away, we should take a plane instead.


Sam, about 5 hours in: where are we going again?

(And his brother gave him the same answer we would give...a patient re-iteration of our itinerary! And then Yael repeated the question...and David answered AGAIN!!!!)
Sent via Blackberry
Visit me at

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

My Kids Say the Darndest Things...

A Grown-up Friend to Yael: Why do you have that bandaid on your finger?

Yael: Well, Sammy got an owie and I got a bandaid too.


Sam, eating a chocolate covered pretzel, after one bite, in surprise:
Oh! Did you know there was a pretzel inside?


Anyone: Yael, what's your favorite song?

Yael: We Will Rock You

Anyone: Who sings it?

Yael: The Queen

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Winner of the Reunion CD

And the winner of the Reunion CD by Julie Silver is catdfox - Adrienne, I know you will enjoy it!

Thanks, everyone, for entering the giveaway!
Thanks, Julie, for the great CD!

Don't forget that I'm also giving away Yiddish for Babies, ends on Thursday.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Don't Let the Light Go Out

Haveil Havalim is up over at Frume Sarah's place. Go tell her what a nice job she did!

Chanukah comes to its inevitable end.
The lights shone brightly
and filled our hearts and homes.

We have come to banish night,
banish it with candlelight.
May the lights of Chanukah continue to warm us
from within
as we work to banish night all over the world.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Yiddish for Babies - Review and Giveaway

Oy gevalt, stop kvetching and take a look at this hilarious and adorable book!

Yiddish for Babies: A Language Primer for Your Little Pitsel by Janet Perr arrived at my house last week and let me tell you, my kinder don't care so much (ima is meshugga) but I think it's awesome.

It's got photos of really cute babies illustrating various words in Yiddish. Then the words are used in sentences. (and it's a little bit of an alphabet book, too.)

KVELLING: proud, bursting with joy. Baby made in the potty and mommy is kvelling.

SHMUTZ: dirt. Oy, fill up the tub. Baby has shmutz on his foot.
(and there's a picture of a cute baby with a dirty foot)

I think my favorite:
TRAIF: non-kosher food. Baby, why are you carrying around that traif?
(and there's a picture of a baby carrying a LOBSTER!)

It's a book for the whole mishpocha to enjoy, but I think the imas and abbas will get the most out of it.

For a real Yiddish dictionary online, try this one

And, Simon and Schuster was kind enough to give me one of these books to give away to one of you, my lucky and wonderful readers!

Leave me a comment telling me YOUR favorite Yiddish word or expression. I'll choose one lucky reader to win their very own copy of Yiddish for Babies.
Extra entry for tweeting, but you MUST come back here and leave me a separate comment or it doesn't count.
Ends Thursday, December 24th....
(And throw me a little Facebook love, would ya?)

P.S. Don't forget that I'm also giving away Julie Silver's new CD, Reunion. Ends Tuesday!

Total disclosure: Simon and Schuster sent me TWO copies, one to keep and one to give. While I might give the second one away to a friend, I might also keep it! I was not obligated to do anything...

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Reunion by Julie Silver - Review & Giveaway

I just want to start off by saying that I earned this CD.

Julie Silver, a sweet-voiced gem of a singer, is also pretty lively on Twitter and Facebook these days. And during a presenation I made at the recent URJ Biennial, she dared me to pinch the cheek of one of my co-presenters. She told me she'd give me a CD if I did it. How could I refuse!? After all, it was for you, my dear readers, so I could offer up this giveaway. So, in the spirit of full disclosure: I earned this CD and now I'm giving it away to one of you, lucky readers. See below for how to be entered to win.

Julie's CD is lovely. It's a pleasant and heart-warming mixture of liturgical music and what other reviews call "story-songs" (I just love the sound of that phrase....I want to tell story-songs!).

My favorite track is Halleluyah, a rendering of Psalm 150, is singable and lively - definitely a new favorite for me! I love how she mixes personal words in English with the prayerful words of Yih'yu l'ratzon and looks for shelter in a re-telling of part of the Hashkivenu prayer.

One of the most interesting songs on the album is Where Am I? This song puts into words the struggle that so many women feel when they read Torah - how can I find myself in these stories that for generations have left me out? How can I respond to statements that the Torah makes like "If a man should make a promise, his word must never fail/if a woman makes a vow to God, the same does not hold true/Her husband or her father must decide what she should do..."? Julie asks the question but doesn't really give an answer - and as she says at the end of the song - "surely this is what our tradition's all about" - we seek answers that we haven't yet found.

Each time I listen to the album, I find a new treasure in Julie's words and music.

It's available to buy here at SoundsWrite but it's a smidge less expensive to download from Amazon. know you want this CD. Of course you can buy it somewhere else, but you can also WIN IT here!

Leave a comment and make sure I know how to get a hold of you if you win.
Winner will be chosen on Tuesday, December 22nd. Tell your friends!
Extra entry for tweeting but YOU MUST LEAVE A SEPARATE COMMENT to tell me about your tweets, pretty please?
Wouldn't it be nice if you shared it on Facebook too? I'd appreciate it. You know you love me. Thanks, y'all!

Pillow Pets - A Review

I saw an ad for these on TV. That's what you get when you watch commercials.
I clicked over and totally fell in love.

Yes, I fell under the spell of the Pillow Pet.

I couldn't resist! But then...I thought...hmmm...and I sent off a nice gentle bloggy "beg letter" - can I review your product for my nice blog?

And they said YES!? (Thank you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)
(which just goes to show...)

So the fuzzy Pillow Pet arrived at my house. My husband's response: "you only got ONE!?"

The kids fell in love:

Yes, that is my 8 year old hugging the furry bee. Yes, they've fought over who gets to sleep with it. Oh, by the way, the 4-year-old won it. I don't really know how, he is the one who has possession. That's 9/10ths of the law, I guess.

Anyway, the Pillow Pet really is great. It's soft and furry, the perfect size pillow for a little person, and adorably squishy. It folds in half (I'd imagine it's great for travel, just like they say) and my 4-year-old is dying to take it to school to show his friends and use it at naptime. They have a bunch of other cute animals, also with adorable names (although my kids named this one Fuzzy). You can see the whole list here, but I'm very sad to report that Pillow Pets are out of stock. I tried to order 2 more and couldn't!

If I were a bigger person, I'd be giving this Pillow Pet away to a nice reader. But I'm not. Sammy just can't part with I'm writing this really nice review instead and I'm hoping that you'll wait until the Pillow Pets come back in stock and buy one to thank those nice people for sending me this one to review for all of you!

Seriously, I never thought I'd like it this much. Who knew!?

I received a Pillow Pet from the company for purposes of review. My kids will not give it up.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

My Best Winter Menu...aka Comfort Food

You're looking at it.
This is my favorite meal to make and to eat in the winter.
I like lots of food, don't get me wrong.
But Sukkot comes, I make this meal for our Sukkah party,
and then I love every wintry opportunity to make it. Oh, and it's super easy.

Vegetarian Chili
I don't have a recipe. I do something like this: open cans of beans, all varieties. Rinse. I usually use "chili" beans, preferably the organic ones. Small can of chili peppers. Can of refried beans. Corn? Sometimes. Spinach? Usually, although it appears not in this photo. (package of frozen chopped spinach, thawed) Oh, don't forget the canned tomatoes. The really big can. Sprinkle in some chili powder. Let simmer.

Go to Costco. Buy the cornbread mix (Penguin brand), follow directions on package plus add one can of creamed corn. Bake it.

Macaroni and Cheese 
all measurements approximate. just dump it in.
1 (8 ounce) package elbow macaroni
(or whatever shape pasta you have on hand)
8 oz shredded sharp
Cheddar cheese
1 (12 ounce) container cottage cheese
1 (8 ounce) container sour cream
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350. Make noodles. Drain. Return to pot. Dump in cheeses and stuff. Mix well. Add salt, pepper, seasonings to taste. Spray nonstick cooking spray in a large baking dish. Spread mixture into pan, bake for about 30 minutes until crusty on top. Sometimes I sprinkle wheat germ on top but don't tell the kids, k?

If you're feeling healthy or the Queen is coming to visit, serve a salad with it.
 What's your favorite comfort meal?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Lighting Their Fires - Review & Giveaway

I was blessed to receive a review copy of Lighting Their Fires: Raising Extraordinary Children in a Mixed-up, Muddled-up, Shook-up World by Rafe Esquith.

The title alone is a pretty awesome thing to unpack. We do live in a pretty crazy world these days, and every parent I know is trying to make it work for them. But something that I seem to notice a lot is a lack of "fire" in kids - there is a lack of passion and a loss of the sense of wonder that I would wish for my children. So the very title got me excited to read this book.

I have not read Esquith's first book, Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire (the guy has a penchant for well-titled books!), so I was unfamiliar with his classroom and his unique teaching methods. But that didn't really matter, even though I now would like to go and read his first book.

Using a class trip to a baseball game to frame his story is an excellent technique. As the innings pass by, the readers are drawn into the real-life weaving of Esquith's teaching, parenting, and enriching tools. He doesn't hesitate to use examples from movies and books to illustrate his point, and he's not afraid to say that he thinks television is a real danger to young minds. I love the way he focuses his goals on things like punctuality, focus, confidence, selflessness, humility - beautiful values that create little human beings, rather than little robots or college applicants.

It's not preachy, and I want to go back and re-read this book. I actually took a really long time to write this review because I wanted my husband to read this book too, but he's been busy so I finally gave up and decided to write it - and also give it away to one of you, my lucky readers!

By the way, may I also recommend Mitten Strings for God and The Gift of an Ordinary Day by Katrina Kenison. I just finished reading the second (the first I read many years ago) and in some ways it was a beautiful coda to Rafe Esquith's book, her writing is lyric and calm even as it seems that her world is being turned upside down as her sons grow and change (and apply to college). 

But I digress.

One lucky commenter will win a copy of this book. And if you don't win it, you must go and get it and read it.
Leave a comment telling me your favorite parenting book. 
Tweet for an extra entry, but leave me a separate comment to let me know, okay?
I'll pick a winner on Wednesday.

Disclosure: In case you haven't figure it out, I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.

TV or Washing Machine?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Happy Chanukah...and the Winner!

Winner of the $25 gift certificate to Oh Nuts is AMY who actually made a comment that she thought I "didn't need her any more"!!!! See, Amy, you were win! I'll be in touch to get the code from Oh Nuts to you:-)

Wishing you all a wonderful Chanukah and Shabbat!!!

I'll be back with more giveaways and Chanukah stuff after Shabbat. Things got a little crazy around here this week and I didn't quite get to it all....

Here's one of my all-time Chanukah favorite songs...Ocho Kandelikas...sung by one of my favorite bands, the LeeVees (hey guys, where's my Sukkot album?)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Winner of the Holy Ground CD

And the winner is Leah Magid! I'm so happy to send this off to Alaska....
Mazel tov, Leah!

Everyone else - come back soon since I'll be giving away a CD by Julie Silver next....and a children's book....and some other stuff.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Holy Ground - Review and Giveaway

Chanukah Countdown Picture

Craig Taubman, a wonderful Jewish musician (and a friend), published a new album recently.
I love the cover art:

I love the way the shoes are set next to a book - a mixing of the sacred and the ordinary that exemplifies the American Jewish experience.

The title track, Holy Ground, is beautiful. It reminds us that "all of life is holy ground" - wherever we are. What a powerful reminder for those days when we feel that our lives have become mundane and ordinary. It was commissioned in honor of the HUC Rabbinic Class of 2008, and I think it's a perfect song to help new (and veteran) rabbis (and non-rabbis too!) remember the sacred nature of every act they perform, even ones that seem trivial.

My favorite track on the CD is V'shamru. It's a rockin' rollin' awesome version of this traditional reading. And Craig writes in the liner notes: "Don't let PlayStation steal this chance to live and to love." I love this singable song and I love the reminder to carefully guard and protect the joys of Shabbat.

The other track I'm holding onto is Ki Hem Chayenu (not the least of which because it is dedicated to the memory of Grandpa Ben and Grammy from Ben, Anna, Noah, and Dorothy - a family that I hold dear), because it's a really beautiful reminder of the real meaning of the prayer Ahavat Olam. Teach us to number our days that we may have a heart of wisdom...

There are other great tracks that I'm going to learn...a musical setting for Birkat HaGomel, a prayer that Reform Jews have begun to embrace thanks to its inclusion in the new Mishkan Tefillah prayerbook, a Lecha Dodi that is also pretty jazzy (but I'm a fan of Craig's earlier Lecha Dodi too!), Love Your God, a setting for the Shema that is a perfect lullaby.

It's a great CD, would make a great gift, and no one even paid me to say this! (Actually, Craig himself handed me this CD at the Biennial and I told him that I'd be giving it away after I listened to it!) know you want this CD. I'm sure you can get it somewhere else, but you can also WIN IT here!

Leave a comment and make sure I know how to get a hold of you if you win.
Winner will be chosen on Tuesday, December 8th. Tell your friends!
Extra entry for tweeting but YOU MUST LEAVE A SEPARATE COMMENT to tell me about your tweets, pretty please?
Wouldn't it be nice if you shared it on Facebook too? I'd appreciate it. You know you love me. Thanks, y'all!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Wrestling with the Angel [Re-Post]

Re-posted from November 23, 2007

Vayishlach, this week's Torah portion...briefly...

Jacob stays alone
sends the family on ahead
scared of Esau's wrath

By himself at night
he wrestles with an angel
or was it a man?

The man could not win
so he pulled the leg muscle
and he cried "uncle"

but Jacob was wise
"I can't let you go until
a blessing you give."

and so he was blessed
his name changed to Israel
means "wrestler with God."

Jake renames the spot
Peni-el, face-to-God's-face
His life changed a lot!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Winner of RotemGear Giveaway

The winner of the Got Latkes shirt is @irajwise.

Didn't win? Go order your own at RotemGear - so many cute things to choose from. Order fast so you get it in time for Chanukah!

Oh, and come back soon since I'm going to be giving away some great stuff in the next week or so before Chanukah!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Thanks, Shabbat, Love

Those are the three top words that I use in my tweets.

Did you expect anything else from me!?

Thanks to this cool Tweet Cloud, I can show you!

How fun is that?! Thanks @icodeforlove!!!


Even though NaBloPoMo is over, I guess I just can't take a day off!!!

Don't forget the Got Latkes shirt giveaway (ends soon) and the Oh Nuts giveaway going on right now...

Monday, November 30, 2009

Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Celebration and a Giveaway!

I am so proud to have (almost) completed my third NaBloPoMo!

It's been a great month around here ... a whole bunch of birthdays, a whole bunch of baking, hosting Haveil Havalim (it's so convenient to host during November), and I even went to the Biennial and got famous!

So, to celebrate, a really great giveaway from my friend over at RotemGear.

Go check out her cool stuff, she has a great collection of t-shirts and other wearables with funny and quirky Jewish stuff on them. Some of them make me laugh out loud!

Winner will get a "Got Latkes?" T-shirt - isn't it adorable???

To win:
Go over to RotemGear (I'll wait) and pick your favorite t-shirt. Come back here and leave a comment telling me which one is your favorite.

Get an extra entry by tweeting about it. Make sure to leave me a comment telling me you did that, please.

Make sure I have a way to get ahold of you if you win!

Giveaway will close on DECEMBER get commenting, folks!

Anyone can win, but non-US addresses won't get their shirt in time for Chanukah this year.

Another chance to win is available over at the RotemGear blog...write a Chanukah-themed limerick to win!

Don't forget, I'm also giving away a $25 gift certificate to Oh Nuts over here.

Chanukah Countdown

Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Guest Poster (sorta)

It's late, it's almost the last day of NaBloPoMo...and here I am...

I haven't written many of these "filler" posts but...motzei Shabbat is as good of a time as any.

So, I went looking for a funny video to share with you instead of writing a post.

But really, please come back tomorrow since I'll be posting a giveaway from RotemGear!

Oh, AND the guest who is looking over my shoulder as I write this, Rabbi Anne Persin, wants to say hi to all my loyal readers. {{{{waving}}}}

Okay, so here's the video that Anne decided I should post today. In case you haven't seen it yet, it's pretty funny:

Friday, November 27, 2009

Who ate the pie?

Come back after Shabbat for a really cool giveaway from RotemGear!

Shabbat Shalom!!!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

I'm Thankful

"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
—Emma Lazarus, 1883

 Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

What's on Your Wish List?


I totally stole borrowed am playing along with the Angel Forever.

TodaysMama and Provo Craft are giving away a sleighful of gifts this holiday season and to enter I’m sharing this meme with you.

1. What 5 items are on your holiday wish list this year? 

- one morning to sleep in as late as i want and a whole day to laze around in bed
- a family vacation to a warm place
- a CSA membership for the summer
- a personal chef to cook all the CSA food (hey, a girl can dream, right?)
- one of these shirts
- this phone...or this one.

2. What is your favorite handmade gift you have received? 

When I went to college, a dear friend of my grandmother's knit me an afghan. I still have it, and I still treasure it. She remembered the colors of my Bat Mitzvah invitation and made it to match. What an amazing gift.

3. What handmade gift have you always wanted to tackle? 

I'd like to learn to knit and felt purses. I think they're so cool.

4. What was the best Christmas Chanukah gift you received as a child? 

I remember receiving a "boom box" the year I turned 8. It was a joint present for Chanukah and my birthday and I loved it. It brought music into my own room and I thought that was the greatest thing in the world.

5. What items are on your kid’s wish list this year? 

My children really want for nothing...they've just had birthdays and our cup runneth over.

That said, Sam is into Ben10 gear, David into Legos and DS games, and Yael really wants this Dora dollhouse.

6. What is your favorite holiday food? 

Sufganiyot. The chocolate-filled ones. Preferably hot and fresh and purchased in Mahane Yehuda. But since that won't happen, I'll be heading over to Mizrahi Grill for my sufganiyot this year.

7. What will you be hand-crafting for the holidays? 

I'm thinking of doing some jars of cookie mix. Might make a nice gift...

8. What is your favorite holiday movie? 

Lights: The Miracle of Chanukah

9. Favorite holiday song? 

(okay, maybe not it's my very favorite, but I do love this one!!!!)

10. Favorite holiday pastime?

Playing dreidel and singing songs

Feel free to play along. The amazing prizes up for grabs can be found here. Thanks to TodaysMama for all of the fun. You have until December 13 to join in 

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

How to Raise a Reader

I love to read. Perhaps I've mentioned that before.

But I've always worried that my own love of reading (and that of my husband) would not be enough to create little readers.

Our oldest loves to read. He's 8 years old, and he's zipping through books. He has read some of the Harry Potter books, he's read the Little House books, and he's currently devouring every Encyclopedia Brown book I can get him.

Sounds good, right? But it's not enough for this Ima. Now that I've created one reader, I'm onto the next...and it seems to be working pretty well!

We are trying the same path with Sam as we did with David, and it seems to be following quite the same course. Nevertheless, it still makes me giggle with delight that he's so into the books we're introducing. What's the secret we've found? The Magic Tree House books.

David loved them and now Sam does too. I can't quite figure out what the draw is, except that there are a lot of them, and they have various topics that are all interesting to little boys. (We haven't quite gotten Yael on the Magic Tree House bandwagon yet, but as you'll see, she's doing fine on her own as well.)

We are currently spending a brief amount of time visiting my parents. When I say brief, I mean that we will be home before Shabbat. Less than 4 days will be spent away from home.

Sam packed some cars:

But he also packed some books:

And when we arrived, he laid them all out on the floor. To be fair, the top row (7 books) were packed by Yael with help from her Abba. But the other row, the long row, with about 20 books, was packed entirely by Sam himself.

Think he brought enough?

David packed about 8 books. (And I threw in 2 extras for him in my bag.)

And what about me? Four.

Guess it just runs in the family!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Oh NUTS Giveaway for Chanukah!

Oh yes, my loyal readers (all 6 of you...thanks, guys), the fun that you've experienced for the last 2 years is's year 3 of the Ima's Chanukah Countdown!

And to kick it off right, Oh Nuts has generously offered a $25 gift certificate to one LUCKY reader!

Three ways to enter:

1. Go to the Oh Nuts Hanukkah gifts page. Choose your favorite Hanukkah Gift and leave a comment RIGHT HERE on this post with the name and url of the gift.

I will pick ONE lucky winner! You have until December 10th, the day before Chanukah!

2. Go to the Oh Nuts Facebook page and post on the wall the url and name of your favorite Hanukkah Gift. PLEASE also write "I am here via Ima on and off the Bima"

3. Follow @ohnuts and should Tweet:
Win a free Hanukkah Gift from Follow @ohnuts and Retweet to enter.

Absolutely full disclosure: 
Oh Nuts has agreed to give me personally a gift if I hit 40 comments on this post. 
So help me out, y'all!? Thanks! Tell your friends...

Stay tuned for more Chanukah Countdown giveaways and Chanukah posts over the next 2 1/2 weeks...

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Haveil Havalim...

Mother in Israel has put up a really nice Haveil Havalim.

Go check it out and see what's going on in the Jewish and Israeli blogosphere. Much to see....

Day 22 of NaBloPoMo...into the home stretch!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Sharing Germs

So, my husband and I were having a fight discussion intense debate heated conversation the other day. I was in the driver's seat, getting ready to leave, and he was standing outside my window.

Sam was eager for us to leave.

We were intent on our conversation.

Finally, he shouted "we're going to be late!" (which is what, of course, I always say) and we realized it was time to end the discussion.

As he walked away, the same thought occurred to both of us.
We've both just finished reading NurtureShock, a really remarkable book about children and what we think we know and don't really know. A general common wisdom is to not fight in front of the kids - but then kids don't see the "make up" or the resolution of the um, conversation. (Go. Read. This. Book.)

So he came back to the car to kiss me good bye.
It was a nice long kiss.

Mr. Impatient in the back seat yelled again "let's go!"

And then he took a new tack:
"You're going to get sick!"

It's not a bad point.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Rituals for Thanksgiving

It's hard to believe that the holiday of Thanksgiving is nearly upon us. Just one more week!

Thanksgiving is such a wonderful American holiday. It's simple - say thank you for the blessings in life and share a meal with those you love.

But often, the meal takes over, stress of family and needing a "picture perfect" celebration cause a little fraying at the edges. Creating an atmosphere of gratitude can be tricky when you're just trying to keep your 3-year-old from pulling the tablecloth off the table, don't you think?

I have created 3 different Thanksgiving services, based loosely on the idea of the Passover seder. After all, one good holiday centered around the table deserves another, doesn't it?

Feel free to read all three and pick and choose from within them! Your family might be somewhere between the longer edition and the quick version.

The first, a Thanksgiving Seder, is the longest of the three - suitable for strong attention spans.

Thanksgiving Seder 

The second, a Thanksgiving Seder for Families with Young Children, is a quick version, meant to be fun and light for the preschool and elementary school set.

Thanksgiving Seder for Families with Small Children 

And finally, an ecumenical version. What do I mean by that? It talks about God but it's not particularistic, i.e. not really very Jewish. (I know that some of you loyal readers aren't Jewish or share your table with people of many faiths and still might enjoy this concept!)

Ecumenical Thanksgiving Service for Families 

All three include ideas for usage and suggestions for incorporating your own cultural and ethnic heritage. I hope you like it and I hope you let me know if you use it.

May your celebration be full and enriching!
Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Magnifying Glass....Cake!?

So what kind of cake would you make for a Secret Agent party? We discussed making binoculars out of chocolate donuts. That sounded delicious but complicated.

Instead, I settled on a magnifying glass cake.

It took 2 boxes of cake mix. Seriously, cake mix is really good stuff.
I used one box of chocolate and one box of sprinkle cake.
I made 2 rounds, 1 square, and 12 cupcakes. The cupcakes were just for kicks so as not to waste the rest of the cake mix. They went to the staff in my office!)

I recently read this piece by Gale Gand in the Chicago Tribune. Turns out, even pastry chefs sometimes get birthday cake stage fright! Anyway, I'm not in any way a trained pastry chef, all I know about frosting cakes comes from trial and error. But she mentioned that it was important to chill the cakes - which I've never done before. It did seem to help but I didn't beat the chocolate frosting enough (or something) and it was stiff and hard to work with. I thought it was just me, until I realized that the vanilla frosting was delightfully spreadable. Oh and learn. It sure tasted yummy!

Came out kinda cool, didn't it? And it was delicious. One of the yummiest cakes I've ever made.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Secret Agent/Spy Party

For David' 8th birthday, he requested a spy party. I did a little research and came up with this secret agent/spy party.

Each secret agent was greeted by the Spymaster (AKA the Abba), and put their fingerprint and signature on an ID card created by the Ima. They got a notebook and pencil and lined up for some Secret Agent calisthenics and other spy warmup tricks.

We played a form of "pin the tail on the donkey" - each Secret Agent had to sign his or her name while blindfolded. Think David is cheating?

Secret Agents need to have good memories. They spent one full minute in absolute quiet (a miracle in itself) observing 30 small objects and then had a few minutes to write down what they could remember. They had a great time and took it really seriously!

The Spymaster read one story from Encyclopedia Brown, my favorite boy detective. You'd think this was a boring party trick but in fact, they were very into it!

We ended with a Disguise relay race. Every spy needs to be able to wear a good disguise. These spies had to put on a shirt, hat, and glasses and then pose for the camera - here's my 8-year-old Secret Agent...striking a pose!

Oh, and a really cool cake.
Stay tuned tomorrow to see the cool cake.

Planning parties is so much fun!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Eight is GREAT!

When David was born, it was at that moment that I became a mother.

It's a little bit hard to believe that 8 years ago, I wasn't someone's ima! But

He started out like this (6 days old):
(this was originally a film print...oy, I feel old!) this....first birthday: (also film....) this 2 year old.... this 3 year old.... a 4 year old with super powers... a five year old... a six year old karate-doing, kindergarten-going, book-reading kid... a 7 year old, actual person who has likes, dislikes, and interests... this character of an 8 year old, who is full of opinions, a comedian-in-training, and the life of the party...

I can't believe that I'm the mother of an 8 year old!
He's a real person, he watches movies and tells stories, he reads books cover-to-cover and he plays video games. He always wants to do whatever's next, whatever he might finally be old enough for, but he also likes to watch Dora the Explorer with his little sister. He's in that not-a-baby but not-a-preteen, still a little kid but with the vocabulary of a middle-schooler. He slides on the floor whenever possible and never walks when he can run. He hasn't yet asked for his own cell phone but I can't believe the request is that far off (not that I'll grant it, mind you)....he's definitely growing up!

What a difference 8 years makes....

That last one is my Best Shot Monday, even though technically my dad took it.
I ordered the shot (nicely, of course).

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Haveil Havalim #243: the NaBloPoMo Edition

(It could have been the hashtag edition, as in, the hashtags from the conventions like #urjbiennial and #ga09 but I decided to let that go...)

haveil havalim

I took a little heat for not giving the last edition that I hosted a number. It was totally inadvertent! I was in a big hurry and forgot to check the number. I won't make that mistake again!

What's going on here today?
Founded by Soccer Dad, Haveil Havalim is a carnival of Jewish blogs -- a weekly collection of Jewish & Israeli blog highlights, tidbits and points of interest collected from blogs all around the world. It's hosted by different bloggers each week and coordinated by Jack. The term 'Haveil Havalim,' which means "Vanity of Vanities," is from Qoheleth, (Ecclesiastes) which was written by King Solomon. King Solomon built the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and later on got all bogged down in materialism and other 'excesses' and realized that it was nothing but 'hevel,' or in English, 'vanity.'
Please please please publicize HH on your own blog and share the news about it!

Funny Things...good to start with a laugh

Conversations in Klal laughs at The Words We Use when talking about frum dating.

Benji Lovitt has new Israel tourist t-shirts to replace the old ones: It's Benji Lovitt's Funny Israeli T-Shirts! Take That, Dorky Ben-Yehuda Stores! 

Israel and the Jewish World

rutimizrachi offers fiction: End Of Days Scenario (from her son)
How to Be Israeli shares You are more Lebanese than you think... This post is the comments that a Jewish student studying in Beirut left on her blog -- Israeli and Lebanese cultures have a lot in common. She also offers up Aliyah after the honeymoon..., comparing aliyah to marriage.

Judaism and Torah

Schvach Yid wonders: Who cares if Mahmoud is Jewish?

N and aml wants to know: What did Avraham buy? 
Yechezkel shares some encoded words with Mitzvos Hatluyos BaAretz.

Miriam taught her triplets about Avraham Avenu and Sarah Imenu (and by the way, she's starting a new cooking carnival this Tuesday...)


Eliyahu Fink watched The Good Wife: Unorthodox, From a Rabbi / Law Student Perspective - great summary of why this episode needed a little patching up.

Isramom offers us Do you believe in miracles? - it's a wonderful Veteran's Day story.
Elms in the Yard was a film extra! Quiet on the Set! 
Chaviva presents Chavi Goes to the Beth Din: The First Meeting She says: "I share my experiences from going to the beth din for the first time. This was my first meeting with them, prior to mikvah and everything therein. Now I'm waiting on pins and needles to hear back from them." Good luck, Chavi!

me-ander shares The Latest in Home Renovations, which isn't about home renovations really, but about honoring parents.
The Home-Shuler put up a Jewish Mama Meme and some people responded like me, Miriam, Edible Torah, Ima Shalom, RonyPony, Sarah...anyone else?

The Creative Jewish Mom made these cool recycled coasters.
I went to the URJ Biennial and got famous.
Robin posted this gorgeous picture.

And the title - in case you're not following anyone who is participating in NaBloPoMo, November is National Blog Posting Month, a challenge to post daily throughout the month. I'm doing it, FrumeSarah is too. Marci is doing it and I know that Miriam is too. MomInIsrael and IlanaDavita were doing it too! Leora, are you doing it? I can't remember. Did I miss anyone? My apologies - let me know and I'll add you in. The hardest part of NaBloPoMo for me is that there are so many posts to read as well as writing one each day!

That's all for this week's Haveil Havalim! Please link up so lots of people can share the Haveil Havalim fun...

Who's next?

Friday, November 13, 2009

What I'm Reading Lately...

How to use Google Wave (anyone really get this stuff?)

Quiche in a Loaf

The Reason Social Media Matters for our Kids

S'mores Kits (I am the geekiest person cuz I bookmarked this with "mishloach manot")

What are you reading lately?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Jewish Mama Meme Maker

Oh thank you thank you, Home-shuler! I needed a post for today and yours is just perfect!

A Jewish Holiday Meme

One menorah, or several? Hillel or Shammai? (just kidding about that part)
We have several chanukiyot. It seems like every year the kids bring home one made from a block of wood and metal nuts. The candles don't fit into those metal things, honestly, people. I know they seem like a good idea. And then I have to figure it out for the whole week...cuz the kids really really want to use the ones they've made and how dare I pooh-pooh their bee-yoo-tee-ful creations!?

Do you buy your children gifts for every night of Chanukah?
We've decided not to give any gifts at all, beginning this year, for Chanukah. The kids will get gifts from grandparents and assorted other people. But not from us. We've decided to give all gifts at Purim instead. It's not only motivated by a desire to get out of the commercial ridiculousness of the season but also the reality that we have November and February birthdays. Enough is enough in gift-land!

Do you and your spouse/partner or any other adults in your life exchange gifts?
Not usually. I do have a birthday at the end of December and usually get a gift...

Special family chanukah traditions?
We eat latkes. We decorate the house. We set up a table in the living room with all the Chanukiyot. As the kids get older, I'm hopeful for some traditions that involve going out and doing for others. They go to bed awfully early now. We also take a "dreidel tag" which is a tradition at our congregation to buy gifts for kids in need through the Jewish Children's Bureau. I usually do a whole big Chanukah blog party too...giveaways and all that.

Latkes or sufganiyot? If latkes, sour cream or applesauce?
Both. Both. 
The more the better, I always say! Last year I made my own baked sufganiyot.  

Favorite chanukah book?
Potato Pancakes All Around by Marilyn Hirsh. I think it might be out of print but I love the peddler who teaches them to make potato latkes from a crust of bread. It's like a Chanukah stone soup!

Do you actually play dreidl? If so, what do you use for counters?
No, not really. But I vote for m-n-m's. Everything's better with m-n-m's.

What relationship, if any, do you have with Christmas and all things Christmas-y?

If you're reading, you're tagged!

Day 12 of NaBloPoMo and I haven't missed one yet!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

I Really <3 Hebrew School Teachers

Last week, I baked some amazing chocolate cookies for our Hebrew School teachers. They really are amazing people who put up with some crazy stuff in their classrooms.

I do like to lot. The teachers seem to be willing guinea pigs for my baking experiments.

So I just whipped these up for our teachers:

Strawberry Cheesecake Bars
adapted from the King Arthur Cookie Companion (which is seriously one of my favorite cookbooks)

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup unsalted butter

2 8 oz packages cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
1/4 cup strawberry jam

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9x13 pan. Make the crust: mix together flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and butter. I mixed with my hands. Do not lose your rings by leaving them on the counter and sweeping them off into the sink. I'm just reminding you in case you might ever think to do something like this. Press into the bottom of the pan. If it's not smooth, spread some plastic wrap over the top and even it out with your hands or a small rolling pin (can of beans, BPA free please, works well.) Bake 12-15 minutes, until set. Remove from oven and let cool for 15 minutes or until you're done making the filling

Beat the cream cheese and sugar together until smooth. Correct Spanish homework while beating. Oh wait, that was just me. Gently beat in the vanilla and eggs. Spread over the crust. I used an offset spatula to make it all smooth and pretty.

Put the jam into a ziptop bag and squish it around to make it really spreadable. Snip off one corner and pipe lines of jam the length of the pan, I did three lines. Then use a knife to pull the jam from side to side through the cream cheese mixture to make a cool swirly effect. This was the reason I made the recipe, because I thought it looked so cool in the book. Hold up children who want to see what Ima's doing.

Bake for 20-22 minutes, until the filling is set. Middle will wobble slightly. Remove from oven, run a spatula around the edges of the pan to loosen and keep from cracking. Cool for 1 hour at room temperature and then refrigerate until chilled and firm. Then hide the whole pan away because you'll want to eat it all.


Thanks to my dad for the photography:-)
This is what works for me this Wednesday...see what works for other people...

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Monster Truck Cake

I always browse around to try and find great looking cakes. I've made a Ninja cake, blues clues cupcakes, lion cupcakes, tie-dye cupcakes (I get a lot of hits on this one, actually)...and a few miscellaneous chocolate frosted things.

I knew I could make a cake that looked like a monster truck.
Started with cake baked into two loaf pans, stacked up after cutting at an angle like a windshield.
(I use cake mix. Go ahead, flame away. Everyone's got their ability limit.)

Covered in bright yellow frosting. I use the frosting recipe from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. Yum! (I'm not sure why, since we're not vegan. And I usually sub in butter for the vegan margarine. But it's a good and easy recipe.)

We needed to add some reinforcement to the body of the truck. My husband helped me stick two drinking straws through the cake. This helped hold it together after it started to collapse.

Chocolate-covered donuts served as the wheels. That was a huge hit. Everyone wanted to eat them along with the cake!

The finished product - a big hit!
Sam greeted each of his friends with "come see my truck cake!" which was enough for me!!!

Day 10 of NaBloPoMo, still going strong...I've gotten three days out of this one birthday!