Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Purim is Coming!

Baking hamantaschen is one of my favorite yearly traditions.
We started a little early this year (maybe?) but I have plans, as usual, to make many.
We started with some of the usual kinds...chocolate, date, apricot...
And we started with some of the usual helpers...

Homemade apricot filling created by Bubbie using recipe found in this post.
Are you looking for some Hamantaschen Tips and Tricks?
Last year I posted some of my favorites! 

People have been posting their Mishloach Manot themes...very creative!
This is one of those times when I tend to be very...boring.
I like to give hamantaschen.
I can't help it!
They're so yummy.
If I didn't give them away...
I would just eat them all myself.

I have some ideas for creative hamantaschen up my sleeve so stay tuned....

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Haveil Havalim #349 - Happy Adar Edition!

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 through our Facebook group. 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/facebook/twitter and share the news about it!

 J-Pix, the Jewish photo blog carnival is always looking for submissions. 
Go to this link: to get involved.


Northern Lights muses on her experiences in the Northern part of Israel and her own personal transformation.
Batya wants to talk about Obama and tells young people to be sensible and study in Israel!

One of my personal faves, The Real Jerusalem Streets, offers this photo montage of the Mamilla Mall
Is Batya a typical Israeli? Typical of what?
Yoel Meltzer asks, Will Netanyahu Err Again?
Tomer Devorah thinks there is a freight train coming...and maybe these are the signs.
Joel Katz gives his regular round up of posts on Religion and State in Israel - part 1 and part 2

Ruti Mizrachi is undertaking a personal project "of seeking out Arabs/Muslims who say nice things about Israel, and who oppose the propaganda war against Israel. I need to find these people, to keep myself from being prejudiced against an entire nation, that seems far too silent on the topic. These individuals give me hope." Keep up the great work! Here's today's post:  "Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is the truth."


RickisMom has an Unwanted Script in her head. 
Trip'n Mommy is back to blogging, so toss her some love, okay? 
Steve shares a fable that he wrote.
Chaviva didn't know she was part of a trend.

Judaism and Torah

Rae offers a meditation on Awareness of God.
Batya considers Torah and Uppity Servants.
Getting ready for Purim? Check out my Purim Pins. 


Esser Agaroth tells us about the NachlaOr Jewish Songwriter Showcase. Sounds like fun!
Rabbi Jason has something to say about NASCAR and the Jews.
FrumeSarah joined Hadassah!

In honor of Purim, Mara@Kosher on a Budget is matching your donations! 

That's all for this week. Join our Facebook group to see where the next Haveil Havalim is going to be hosted and feel free to invite your friends!

Chodesh Adar Tov! (a teensy bit late)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Birthday Soiree: A Fancy Nancy Party

Ooh la la...I thought it would be fun to have a Fancy Nancy party for Yael's 5th birthday...and I was right!

Here's what we did:

Everyone arrived and "got fancy." It ended up with only girls (even though we had invited one boy) and all of them came in their fancy dresses. We gave each girl a crown and necklace.
Yael and her first guest waiting for the rest to arrive...

Then we did "fancy calisthenics." At all of our parties, Michael leads the kids in some kind of "exercise" related to the topic. He is so creative and funny - it's always great. (He's done spy calisthenics, superhero calisthenics, etc...) He put on a goofy English accent and led the girls in twirling and bowing exercises. It was roll-on-the-floor funny for the grownups. The kids ate. it. up.

The video stops when it does because I literally fell off the couch laughing.

Then we decorated butterfly wings (which I bought here). I decided to make it very easy for cleanup, so I put out only stickers. Michael helped by announcing all the different kinds of stickers and doling them out, but the kids were totally engrossed in this project. We probably could have done it for hours.

We played Hot Potato with a "fancy object"...thanks, Solly.

There was the ubiquitous "pin the tail" game which we have at all of our parties.

Sam took a turn
We did a "race" that involved feather boas and sunglasses....(and everyone won!)
Even David had a good time!
Parfaits are much fancier than cake so this is what we did:

And finally, there was a story...

Happy birthday, Yael!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Fancy Rainbow Cake

Although we had parfaits at the Fancy Nancy party (post coming soon)...I wanted to try one of these cakes that I have seen on Pinterest (yes, Pinterest strikes again. I wonder how many blog posts across the wide internets have started with that sentence!)

I thought it would be super fancy!

And it was.

The cake wasn't complicated but it still felt like a challenge.

Two cake mixes, six layers, two batches of frosting...and a whole lotta food coloring. I like gel colors to get the Rainbow Brite effect...

It looked so cool just like this....
 But we frosted it and it looked good too....I had some helpers with the decoration....
 She was so excited for the big reveal...I loved having a big secret....

I know I say this almost every time I make a cake, but I think this one might be the coolest I've ever done. It was completely worth all the work - a smashing success! (which is a fancy way of saying: go me!)

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Can she really be 5?

My baby girl...
...seems so grown-up.

Five years old.

Opinionated about how things should be.
Likes her ponytail "low" not "on top of my head."
Believes in the power of accessories.
Carries around a large purse. Contents: crayons, coloring book, miscellaneous toys.
Intensely social.
Adores her brothers.
Loves "salad eggs" (spinach omelette) but won't drink a spinach-banana smoothie.
Did a little dance when peas were on the menu last week.
Favorite song: the Alef-Bet Song by Debbie Friedman
Favorite TV show: Dora the Explorer
Favorite game: playing "school" 

I can only imagine how much better this is going to get....

Friday, February 17, 2012

The $4 cookie

This is a $4 cookie.
You might think it's just an ordinary Girl Scout cookie's not.

I bought a whole box of these puppies.

And I only ate ONE.

Just one.

It's all I wanted. Just a taste. To have that reminder of the yearly cookie fix.

It was worth every penny.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Birthday Menu

Someone had a birthday today.
That same someone has been talking about her upcoming birthday for....well....months.
And planning.
We've regularly read Henry and Mudge and the Best Day of All - and each time, Yael has reminded me that she wants a birthday breakfast "just like that."

So this morning, she reminded me again.

As we prepared to make the pancakes, she said, "wait! I have to go get the MENU!"

She ran to get the book....
I checked to make sure that, although not in the picture, coffee was an acceptable part of the breakfast menu (phew, it was) and then I set out to make the pancakes.

I used this recipe, since it is quick and easy. Thanks to my pal FrumeSarah for introducing it to me!

One Cup Pancakes (adapted from Jamie Oliver)
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2 cups milk
2 eggs
2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
glug of vanilla

Mix it all together, let it rest for a little bit, and then cook like pancakes.

Serve, according to The Best Day of All, with butter, syrup, and strawberries.
It causes happy sticky faces.

Happy birthday to my girl!
Other birthday posts coming soon...

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Spelling Lessons

Me to Yael: How do you spell Yael?
Her: Y-a-e-l. Okay, ask me another one, ask me about my brothers.
Me: Okay, spell David.
Her: D-a-v-i-d. Now Sammy.
Me: Okay, spell Sam.
Her: S-a-m.
Me: Now spell Solomon.
Her: (long pause) S-o-l-l-y.

Me: Close enough.

I adore that the very most important people in her life are her brothers.
Her teachers tell me that she talks about them all day long.
I hope they are always close and connected and best of friends.

I hope they always seek out each other as they do now.

Thursday, February 9, 2012


You have probably heard of Pinterest.
I have actually blogged about this back in November.
(If you want an invite, let me know.)

The other day was full of Pinspiration.
Here's what I did, all inspired by Pinterest:

 I displayed a bunch of photos, in a super-simple way. And Solly looooved it.
How beautiful is this? About six weeks ago I printed 50 free prints from Shutterfly (thanks to another obsession - online coupon sites), with the intention of creating something with them. And then they sat around...until today when I was inspired by this pin. (And it's very high-tech - I used scotch tape.)
 We also tried out the broken crayon project that has been pinned many times. It was fun, it didn't work exactly the way I wanted it to but we still had a good time. I wanted to use this project for Yael's upcoming birthday party but I'm not sure it will work. I have to muse on it a little more...

 AND I learned that you can freeze avocados. Did you know that?

What have you learned on Pinterest?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

#TuBishvat Green Smoothie & Date-Fig Bars

In honor of Tu BiShvat we had green smoothies...

Simple recipe - bananas, milk, a little chocolate syrup (mostly because they were watching and insisted) and a little whipped cream on top (because, of course, it's a holiday!)

I can't believe that my oldest, who won't ever eat a vegetable, drank this smoothie.

And an easy way to celebrate the greenest of green holiday!

(We had these smoothies on Erev Tu Bishvat and we're going to make them again for the big day...okay, it might become a regular thing.)

We also had delicious date-fig bars.
Adapted from King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion's Bakery Date Squares

Date-Fig Bars:

3 cups of chopped dates and figs *the original called for only dates, and had a variant filling recipe using figs and orange juice, but I just mixed up dates and figs for that Tu Bishvat flavor!
1 cup of water
1/4 tsp salt
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons vanilla

In a saucepan, combine the stuff, bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer for about 5 minutes. The mixture will thicken after a few minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to cool. I ran the immersion blender through it to give it a nice smooth texture and let it sit for a while.

1 1/2 cups rolled oats
1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (or all-purpose)
1 cup brown sugar
3/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Whisk together the dry ingredients (except the nuts) and then add the melted butter. Stir until well combined.

Lightly grease a 9x9 inch pan and press 2 1/2 cups of the crust mixture into the pan, smoothing it out to fill the bottom with no gaps. Spread the filling on the crust. Add the nuts to the remaining crust mixture and sprinkle it over the filling.

Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees, until golden brown. Let cool before cutting.

What treats will you have (or did you have) for Tu BiShvat?

Activities for #TuBiShvat

How do you celebrate the Birthday of the Trees?
Here are some suggestions...

- Take a walk outside. Even if it's raining or snowing or cold or....whatever. Enjoy the fresh air and look at a few trees.

- Eat a tree fruit or nut. There's a tradition to hold a Tu BiShvat Seder but it's not necessary to make a big production of it! Just enjoy the products of a tree.

- Get a little silly. One year I made green pancakes. One year I made a tree-shaped challah. What can you do to honor trees? Is this the year that we color the milk green???

- Plant something. Parsley seeds, flower seeds, anything! It doesn't take much to plant something small. Supposedly if you start parsley now, you'll have enough for your Pesach seder. Give it a try!

- Read a book about trees. Try Grandpa and Me on Tu B'Shevat or A Tree is Nice.

- Do something for the earth. Turn off a light, pack your lunch, recycle a magazine. What new thing can you do to add to your efforts to be "green"?

What else does your family do to celebrate Tu BiShvat?

Monday, February 6, 2012

#TuBiShvat Haiku

What is Tu B'Shevat*?
The Jewish New Year of Trees -
in essence, tax day.

This date was the end
of the fiscal year for fruit
to count up the tithe.

The day is now more -
a day to celebrate green
Hooray for the trees!

Make the world better
by planting a tree or two,
recycle, reuse.

If you're not Jewish
celebrating trees still rocks!
Join in! Hug a Tree!
*Tu in Hebrew is 15, therefore the name of the holiday, like the Fourth of July, is the name of the date. It is the 15th of the Hebrew month of Shevat.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

#TuBiShvat - For the Love of Trees

Tu BiShvat is the Jewish holiday celebrating the "new year (or birthday) of the trees." The name comes from the calendar date on which it falls: Tu is the Hebrew equivalent of 15 and Shevat is the Hebrew month in which we are in right now. Tu BiShvat was originally a day when the fruits that grew from that day on were counted for the following year in regard to tithes.

In modern times, it is celebrated as a Jewish "Earth Day" -- celebrating trees, planting trees, and reflecting on environmental and ecological issues. This year, Tu BiShvat falls on Wednesday, February 8th.

See this post on how to properly spell Tu BiShvat in English transliteration. Interesting and thought-provoking, so you'll notice my spelling.

I'm going to repost some of my previous Tu BiShvat content this week and also add some new stuff, so stay tuned all week for some Tu BiShvat fun with trees!

So here's a sweet video on tree-planting from Shalom Sesame to get you started!

And click over here for my Tu BiShvat playlist on YouTube. What's your favorite Tu BiShvat song?

Interview with Susan Campbell Bartolleti, Author

I am so excited to bring you this interview with Susan Campbell Bartolleti, as a part of the Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Book Tour sponsored by, and the official Sydney Taylor Book Awards. The full blog tour schedule will be posted at - go see which of my friends are participating and meet some new folks!
Her book, Naamah and the Ark at Night, is a sweet lyrical poem combined with gorgeous illustrations. As I told Susan when I sent her my interview questions, Sam and Yael really liked the book - which might trump any award, right? 

Will you share a little bit about yourself and your journey towards becoming a writer?

Thank you for inviting me to participate in this interview.  I’m really excited about this blog tour.  I’m grateful to the Sydney Taylor award committee for Naamah’s honor.

My journey to becoming a writer was a bit slower than some writers I know. I wasn’t one of those writers who knew she wanted to become a writer as child.

I’ve always loved to read. I’ve always loved stories of all kinds, good and bad. But I didn’t begin to write seriously until I became an eighth-grade English teacher.

My students wrote poems, short stories, and essays. They researched, wrote, and illustrated their own nonfiction picture books and other work. They held poetry readings. They kept writing journals. They published their work to the school’s award-winning literary magazine, which I co-advised.

It felt good to see my students grow as writers. They inspired me to practice what I preached. As they wrote poems and stories and essays, I did, too. Our classroom became one large writing group. They brought their work to class; sometimes I brought mine. Together, we would figure out what makes a good story and how to make a story better.

The first big discovery that a writer makes is her voice and audience. My students helped me discover that I wanted to write for young readers.

I sold my first story to Highlights for Children in 1989. By 1997, I had published short stories, two picture books, and a nonfiction book. I had a novel and another nonfiction book under contract.

The time had come for a difficult decision.

For eighteen years, I had a career that I loved – teaching. Was it time for another? Could I make it as a full-time writer?

“Leap and the net will appear,” a friend told me. (That friend was Laurie Halse Anderson.)

And I did.

And it did.

I’m lucky to work that my hands, my head, and my heart love.

What inspired you to write the story of Naamah?

A very old wooden ark that sits on a shelf in my dining room.
Susan sent me this photo of her old wooden ark.

As a little girl, when I visited my grandmother – my father’s mother – I played with the ark.

I lined up the animals, two by two, and boarded them safely. I imagined the falling rain. The rising floodwaters. The ark tossing and turning on the churning sea.

The ark now sits on a shelf in my dining room. One day, several years ago, I found that my imagination turned to Noah’s wife. In the book of Genesis, we’re told that Noah was a just man, full of grace, who pleased God. But who was Noah’s wife and what kind of a person was she?

I began to imagine this woman who spent more than a year on an ark filled with animals. I began to ask: what did she think when Noah told her his plan? How did she feel packing her house? When the rain began to fall? Surely the neighbors must have noticed. What did they think as Noah hammered and sawed away? When Noah gathered the animals? What did her sons and her daughters-in-law think? How did it feel when the floodwaters rose? What did it feel like to leave all those terrified people behind? What was life like on the ark?

The answers to these questions led me to write different versions of the story. None of those versions “worked,” and so I tucked the story away. It sat in my drawer for many years. Every so often, I’d return to the story and try again.

Then one day, I realized that I wasn’t asking the right question: What was Noah’s wife’s name?

Many people have suggested various names over the years.  In 1941, an American scholar named Francis Utley listed 103  different names for Noah’s wife.

From my research, I learned that some rabbinical legends tell us that Noah’s wife was called Naamah because her deeds were pleasant. (These legends also tell of another Naamah whose name meant “great singer.”)

I liked that, and the interpretations of the name Naamah helped me imagine her personality and her talents. They helped me imagine how a woman might have inspired and comforted her husband and their three sons and their wives, the animals, and herself during all those days and nights afloat.

Perhaps Naamah sang.

You explain at the end of the book that you chose the ancient poetic form of the ghazal for this book. What inspired you to do so? Why did that format fit in with the story of Naamah for you?

A few years ago, I heard my friend and colleague Molly Peacock read a poem that she termed a “sonnet-ghazal.” Molly’s hauntingly beautiful poem gave me goosebumps.

I knew what a sonnet was, but I didn’t know what a ghazal was. As I read more ghazals and learned more about them, I felt drawn to the form for Naamah’s story. Once the story had a form and Naamah had a name, the words poured out in the first draft, with little revision and very few changes after that.

Strictly speaking, a ghazal (pronounced “guzzle”) comes to us from the Middle East.  It’s an Arabic word that means, “talking to women” and the subject of a ghazal is usually longing and loss. (How perfect is that meaning for Naamah’s story?)

The traditional ghazal is so beautiful! You can find examples by conducting an internet search online.

Many Western poets take liberties with the traditional form, as did I.

What is your own favorite children's book or books? Do you read and find inspiration in other authors' work?

I continue to read and to write a lot of poetry. I always try to read the most recent Best American Poetry Series.

I don’t have a favorite children’s book. I love so many! I’m presently reading Jack Gantos’s Dead End In Norvelt. (I’ve already laughed out loud twice!) Another book I loved from last year was Gary Schmidt’s Okay for Now.

There's a great deal of variety in the subjects of your books - a lot of historical fiction but also some sillier subjects like some of your picture books.

I am equal parts silly and serious.

How do you come up with new and different ideas for your work?

One of my grad-school professors once remarked that I have a “lively intellect,” and I suppose that’s true. I’m curious. I ask a lot of questions (which can be annoying). I have a passionate desire to learn more and to puzzle things out.  I enjoy the intellectual process and the physical process. I like fitting the pieces together, thinking in new ways – and this always leads to new ideas.

How did Naamah fit into the other books you've written?

For me, Naamah story’s was the perfect emotional arc to They Called Themselves the K.K.K.

I often write about tragic and dark times in history. In my other work, I’ve explore the lives of the disenfranchised, the exploited, the victimized, and the silenced -- from the pain of child labor in Growing Up in Coal Country and Kids on Strike!, to the trauma of famine of Black Potatoes: The Story of the Great Irish Famine, to the horrors of the Third Reich in Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler’s Shadow and The Boy Who Dared, to racial violence in They Called Themselves the K.K.K. is a continuation of this interest.

Authors often say that their books are like children to them, and they’re right. As I researched and wrote about these things, the subject matter kept me up at night, made me cry and made me angry, made me worry, and made me frustrated, and yet my research inspired me and filled me with wonder and awe at the courage of the human spirit.

And yet, I wonder: How do people survive dark times? Perhaps by holding on to hope and faith and trust through the night, just as Naamah must have done.

Holly’s art is awesome, in the true sense of the word. I love how she depicts Naamah moving through the night, carrying that candle.  That’s the answer, isn’t it? To shine a light on the darkness and to keep moving.

The illustrations are truly gorgeous.
How do you find that you best create a balance for yourself in your family life and writing?

[Insert maniacal laughter here.]

It’s hard.

Writing is pretty all-consuming.

I believe we make the time to do the things we really want to do. I want to write books, and so I make the time to write. I want to spend time with my family, and so I make that time, too.

Sometimes the balance needs an adjustment. I’m on a tight deadline right now, and the other day, my very grownup daughter and mother of three under three  said, You know, Mom.  I really hate it when your characters see you more than I do.

I’ve got her and the grandbabies penciled in.

A huge thank you to Susan for participating in this blog book tour, and mazel tov on your award! Please don't forget to visit the rest of the STBA Blog Book Tour at

*The Sydney Taylor Book Award is presented annually to outstanding books for children and teens that authentically portray the Jewish experience. Presented by the Association of Jewish Libraries (AJL) since 1968, the Award encourages the publication and widespread use of quality Judaic literature. Gold medals are presented in three categories: Younger Readers, Older Readers, and Teen Readers. Honor Books are awarded silver medals, and Notable Books are named in each category. Thirty-three outstanding books were selected from among the over one hundred and twenty titles evaluated by the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee during 2011. The Committee recommends them for library, classroom, and home use. List of all 2012 Award, Honor, and Notable Books.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012


Sam is right on the edge. Right on the cusp.

Of reading.

He is so ready.

Tonight, I brought home a used set of Bob books.

He opened one and started to read.
His face lit up as he read the simple story.
And then he read the next one.
And the next.
And he couldn't stop.
"Can I read the next one?"
He didn't want to go to bed.
He read one on Facetime to his grandparents.

Finally, it was bedtime.

"Can I take them upstairs and read with Yael?"
Um.... how can I say no?

A few minutes later, they're back.
"We need a little light."
(Now, let me tell you, it was waaaaay past bedtime. But I know the feeling. When you're on a roll and you just can't go to bed.)

I listened at the door.
"Look, Yael, that says 'Dot'. Say 'Dot.'"
Not only did he learn how to read tonight.
He taught his little sister too.

Because it's way more fun to read with a friend.
Do you remember that feeling?
The beginning of reading....the opening of that big, amazing, exciting world?
Let the adventure begin....