Sunday, September 30, 2007

when what in my mailbox should appear...

Chol ha'moed is hard. Why is chol ha'moed hard? Because you're not supposed to knit, of course.

And what did I just get in my inbox to distract me from this terrible state of deprivation? None other than a ravelry invite.

Oh, dear.

Another recipe!

Whole wheat challah with sprinkles (or not)

I get four huge loaves and a dozen rolls out of this recipe. I do it in a Bosch with the seven-quart bread bowl; I wouldn't attempt it in anything smaller.

4 cups warm water
3 T yeast
1 cup sugar (sometimes I use brown)
generous squirt of honey or maple syrup
1 cup oil
heaping tablespoon salt
8 eggs
full 5-lb bag King Arthur white whole wheat flour (possibly a little bit more or less, depending on the weather)
Sprinkles, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, or all three

Throw everything but the flour and one of the eggs in the mixer bowl. Then dump in a cup or two of flour and mix until, well, it's mixed. Let it sit there for a few minutes. Then add in most of the rest of the flour and mix some more. If the dough seems too wet, add a bit more flour until it seems right. (Very scientific, I know.) Then mix on the lowest speed you have for about ten minutes. Dump the whole glob of dough--it will be a large glob indeed--into an oiled bowl and let it rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk.

(If you are going to be mafrish the challah, do it now, and if you're going to burn the separated piece on the bottom of the oven floor, for heaven's sake check that you haven't stuck anything in there like, oh, say, your entire set of Pyrex with the lids, because if you turn your oven to 525 all the plastic will melt, filling your apartment with appalling toxic smoke and setting off all nine of your smoke detectors. Wait--what do you mean, you don't have nine smoke detectors?! Doesn't everyone have at least that many?)

Summon your local three-year-old for the fun part, if he's wandered off during the rising stage. Shape the challah however you like and put it into or onto pans lined with parchment paper. (Note to those who have been mafrish the challah but not put it in the oven yet: do not, DO NOT, leave the little separated glob where local three-year-old might see it and innocently lob it back into the bowl of dough. If he does, you will find yourself unpleasantly surprised by the answer to your shaila.) As soon as you've shaped them, beat the remaining egg with a bit of cold water and smear it on top of the loaves. A pastry brush is nice for this, but since I lost mine three moves ago I can attest to the fact that fingers, while messy, work fine.

Sprinkle with topping of your choice. If your sous-chef is a preschooler, dispatch him or her to a different work surface with the challot he or she is authorized to coat with sprinkles, or you may find yourself with six challahs all covered with technicolor sugar. Not that this is a bad thing, necessarily, of course.

Preheat oven to 350 if you have light-colored pans, or 330 if, like me, you use dark Chicago Metallic nonstick pans. If your oven is big enough, just use the middle rack; if, like me, you don't have an industrial-sized oven, you'll probably have to move the challah around mid-bake because the bottoms of the challahs on the bottom rack might start to burn. How long it will take to bake them depends on how big you've shaped them--anywhere from 25 minutes to an hour. If you're not sure if they're done, leave them in for another 5 minutes. Burned bottoms are better than gooey middles.

Let them cool on wire racks. If you're not going to use them right away, freeze them the moment they're cooled in tightly sealed plastic bags with all of the air squeezed out.

Sunday, September 23, 2007


I've noticed that pretty much the only topic of discussion that reliably gets me comments on this here blog is anything pertaining to food, cooking, and/or recipes. Even a direct and blatant plea for reassurance that somebody is actually reading this thing didn't do it. (It wasn't the contractor, by the way--I'm sure of that now--but I still have no clue who it was.)

So, I'll try this. Here, in case you are interested, is Barak's favorite dinner: the only non-diarrhea-inducing vehicle through which carrots are considered acceptable for consumption.

Carrot pancakes a la Barak

1.5 cups whole wheat flour (I use King Arthur white whole wheat)
1.75 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt

Mix dry ingredients together, or get your handy local three-year-old to do it for you.

3 slightly beaten eggs
3 T melted butter
1.25 C milk

Mix liquid ingredients together, then mix them quickly with the dry ingredients.

Then add in two big carrots, peeled and grated on the finest side of your grater. You can't get lazy with this--if you use the coarser side, the carrots will still be semi-crunchy when the pancakes are done. Ick.

Melt butter in your pan and cook pancakes as per any other pancake. I like these with strawberry jam, since they are not really sweet at all. If you want sweeter pancakes, add a couple of tablespoons of sugar with the dry ingredients. Barak also likes these cold, in his lunch.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Department of mysteries

I would like to politely request that anyone about to read this post please leave a comment with their theories. Thank you very much.

This afternoon, I went downstairs to check the mail. When I opened the door at the bottom of the stairs, the door hit a box. I looked behind the door at the box and saw that my first name, spelled wrong, was written on all sides of the box in blue magic marker. The box was a rear-facing infant car seat box, containing, the label promised, one Evenflo 5 carseat, in a pattern of little bears.

I brought the box up, it having my name all over it and all, and left it in my living room and went back to work. My first thought was that a friend, possibly the divorced mother of two small kids across the street, was passing along a used car seat. The box had been opened and retaped, so I assumed it was used. You can't use a used carseat if you don't know where it's from, since it might have been in an accident, so I called the friend and left her a message asking if she knew anything about it. Then I emailed a friend saying what had just happened. "Are you sure it's a carseat?" she asked. Hmm. Good point. The box had been opened, after all--maybe somebody returning a borrowed object before Yom Kippur?

I opened the box and found a brand-new car seat, in gender-neutral colors, with the tags still on--and 13 cans of Nestle Good Start Supreme milk-based baby formula, stuck in the empty spaces around the box. No card. No note. No identifying information at all. A tracking label on the side indicates that it passed through a Wal-Mart shipping center, so it was bought at either Wal-Mart or Sam's Club--neither of which is very close to us.


All the reasons why this is weird:

1. Anonymous gift. Okay, not that weird--it could happen.

2. Baby gift four months before the baby is due. Very un-Jewish thing to do, and almost all my friends in town are either Jewish or work friends who, presumably, know how to spell my name.

3. Anyone who knows us would probably know that a) we don't have a car, b) we have two kids, so probably already have a carseat or two, and c) I nurse my babies. Anyone who knew us but not well would probably have written our last name on the box--or gotten my first name out of the community directory, in which case they'd have spelled it correctly.

4. Anyone who knows us knows that I work at home, so am usually here in the mornings. Not the best time to sneakily leave a gift, although I suppose it could have been left last night without our knowing.

Possibilities: random ba'al chesed (charitable person) in the community. Probably not--like I said, very un-Jewish to give a baby gift pre-arrival of baby.

Random friend? Maybe. But who isn't Jewish and doesn't know how to spell my name? If it were someone from MHH's work, s/he would have written our last name, not my first name.

The contractor who is fixing up our house from all the water damage. The most likely possibility, as a) he is not Jewish, b) he seems to like us, since his mother is Hungarian and he heard me speaking Hungarian to Barak, and c) he commented on my being pregnant "again." He has only heard my name, not seen it written, and I don't think he knows our last name at all, since he was hired by the condo association. Plus, formula feeding is very standard in his part of the world--he is Romanian. He is a friendly guy, and I know he has a young daughter, because he mentioned it. But. That was a very expensive gift--a $50 carseat plus 13 cans of formula. Thirteen is an unlucky number in Romania, so why thirteen cans? Plus, we're Jewish and he's not, he's Romanian, etc., etc. He does not know us--I've talked to him only a few times. The handwriting on the box does not match the handwriting on the estimate he wrote us. The box was left out by the mailboxes, where anyone could have stolen it, and not in front of our door--a part of the building to which he has access. I know where he lives, and it is the opposite direction to Wal-Mart. And why on earth would he do that? Besides which, he has been in our basement, where we've got the carseats, which are in pretty good shape, our not having a car and all. And even if he's just randomly an extremely nice person, that's still... weird. He may be the only person I can think of, but I can't imagine it was actually him.

Family? No. Unknown friends? I'm pretty sure I don't have any. Secret admirers? I'm a little on the fat and pregnant side right now for that. Neighbors? No--either we don't know them, or they know our names. I mean, our name is on the mailbox!

I gave away the formula already--the cans were sealed so I saw no reason to be suspicious. The carseat will, IY"H, come in handy--it's often nice to have a spare.

But... huh???

Theories, wild or otherwise, are most welcome.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Feeling better about the kitchen

My house is often a mess. It's not a horrible, cataclysmic, unhygienic mess (often), but it is rarely as clean as I would like. There are usually dishes in the sink, or in one of the dishpans. There are usually toys on the floor. There is almost always a backlog of laundry, to be washed or to be folded and put away. There's usually something on the floor and/or the counters that I should have wiped up hours ago.

I feel bad about this. I like my house to be clean. It makes me feel more in control, and I think it's just a better way to live one's life. And just having kids is no excuse for the mess--I know people with many more kids than I have who manage to keep their houses pretty much spotless, pretty much all of the time, without full-time cleaning help or even husbands who are around much. I won't lie. Sometimes it makes me feel a little bit, um, inadequate in the housekeeping department (and really, more reasons to feel inadequate are just what I need, aren't they?)

Last night, I went with a friend to help set up for another friend's new baby's bris. This friend lives across the street from me, was Barak's morah last year, and is one of my closest friends in town. She made the shalom zachor for Iyyar, takes me along on Trader Joe's runs, and was the one I called when we had water pouring out of our light fixtures and needed somewhere else to spend the night. She has twice as many kids as I do, who are always clean and usually pretty delightful, and not only is her house impeccably tidy and organized, but she cooks genuine meals with more than one dish out of healthful food every night. She has a job, not quite as many hours as I work, but still.

I was telling her that Iyyar had stopped nursing, and she was commiserating. "I can't wait to start nursing again," she said. (She's expecting a new baby IY"H in a couple of weeks.) "It makes me pay attention to them. If I did formula, I'd never pay attention to my kids."

I said something about not paying as much attention to my kids as I wish I did. She was driving, but looked at me sideways like I was crazy. "You pay so much attention to your kids!" she said. "You pay much more attention than I do. You talk to them all the time. I'm always running around doing things. As soon as they're self-sufficient, they just go off and do their own thing, and I'm off doing whatever. I never pay attention to my kids."

This last, by the way, is totally untrue; I'm just relaying the conversation. "Well, then that's why my house is always a disaster!" I said. "I'm too busy paying attention to my kids!"

"Well, which is more important, your kids or your house?!"

True enough. It's not a license to let everything fall apart, because when it does I'm miserable; but I have to admit it did make me feel better about my kitchen floor.

Car pajamas!

Is he styling or what?

...and other highlights of the chag

I thought over the course of the chag of about a dozen things I wanted to blog about, and have forgotten most of them. Well, let's see how many I can remember.

1. Iyyar stopped nursing on Shabbos. That's the big one. Up until a few weeks ago he was still pretty much nursing whenever he felt like it, which was often, all day long. I was starting to think that maybe we should put a limit on things when he got the toxic diarrhea attack, and I was worried about him not drinking enough, so for a couple of weeks there he was even nursing more than usual, not less. When he started feeling better I started trying to distract him from nursing when he wasn't waking up or going to sleep; it went okay, although he did periodically climb into my lap, grab the neck of my shirt with both hands, and peer down in there just to check that everything was still where it should be. Kind of like checking the refrigerator to see what's in there, even when you're not actually about to eat. Last week, he went to sleep without nursing a couple of times, so I started putting him to bed with just a cuddle, and that went over fine; over Rosh Hashana, my husband got him out of bed, and instead of wailing inconsolably until handed over to Imma, he just got down on the floor and started to play. On Shabbos, I picked him up to nurse him and he sort of latched but didn't really nurse; he just kind of looked at me, looked around, and then slid off my lap in search of toys. All done.

It's always a little sad, but it's definitely time; he's halfway through his seventeenth month, I'm well into my fifth, and I can't imagine he was getting much anyway. It's nice to be able to just sit and snuggle without him campaigning to nurse. Still... sniff.

2. Barak and sleep.... argh. Those who have been reading this blog for more than, oh, a week, will know that Barak was born and remains a terrible sleeper. He hates going to sleep and has never yet gone to sleep without a few declarations of "I don't wanna go night-night," usually at volume. Our original round of potty-trained was abandoned when he figured out that bedtime could be postponed indefinitely by crying "Poop potty!" from his crib; his standard sleep avoidance repertoire now includes at least one potty trip, plus drink of water, book, other book, etc. A few months ago, when he woke up at night (which he generally does a few times, every night) he would wake up calling "Imma! I needa pish potty!" I told him that if he needed to pish potty at night, he did not need to yell, cry, or call for me; he could just get up and go.

Sounds reasonable, doesn't it? Yeah, well. This is Barak we're talking about. So for the last couple of months, whenever he's woken up, he's a) screamed about pishing potty for a while, often waking up Iyyar, before b) going into the bathroom by himself and screaming for help pishing potty, which he patently does not require, and c) coming into our room, finding a spare blanket and going to sleep on our floor. In principle I have no objection to the occasional visiting toddler on our floor, as long as said toddler does not have territorial ambitions including our bed. However, I do not want it to become standard. Also, while I can do fairly well on quite little sleep if it is uninterrupted, I do very badly indeed with even seven hours' sleep if I get woken up every hour or two all night long, even if only for a couple of minutes.

Yom tov got particularly bad. Instead of one or two wakeups a night, we were up to, oh, I don't know, a lot. Iyyar woke up, Barak woke up, they woke each other up, they woke me up. They also woke up my husband, who has a tendency to get sort of enraged when woken up by howling small people who are in no obvious pain. Then he gets angry, the kids get more upset, and there's more howling, etc. So the last night of yom tov I told Barak that he was not sleeping in Imma and Abba's room, he was not going to come out of his room, and he should not call for Imma because Imma was going to be asleep. (I am not an idiot, by the way, and have tried variations of "ignore your child when he cries" many, many, many times. They haven't worked. Ever. My kids just assume I can't possibly be hearing them and cry louder, till dawn if that's what it takes.)

However, this time things seemed to be marginally more successful. Iyyar woke up twice, but with dirty diapers, so can't blame him for that; Barak woke up and cried, I ignored him, and for what was possibly the first time ever, he just went back to sleep.

Seven hours! of sleep! in a row! Wow.

3. (Hey, this is getting long already.) Iyyar's vocabulary has recently expanded to include the essential toddler word "no." When he says it, it sounds like "nah," and he shakes his head vigorously for emphasis. He enjoys saying it so much that he says it to most things, sometimes even things he clearly wants. "Nah," he tells me emphatically, before stretching out his hand to the cup of milk I'm holding.

4. Iyyar's walking is now much much better, and he rarely crawls. He still does the flat-footed, splay-legged toddler lumber, but not with the zombie hand position. It's funny to notice the things he does like Barak did at this age, like walk around the house banging two Lego together, or pointing at Abba's books on the shelf that he knows he is not allowed to remove, asking politely, "Dis? Dis? Dis?" about each in turn. How about this Gemara, Imma? Can I pull this fifteen-pound tome off the shelf? No? How about this one?

5. Remember the Little Tikes car I got a couple of weeks ago. Barak likes it, but Iyyar loves it. It is his go-to toy, any time he sees it. He gets in, he gets out, he climbs in through the driver's entrance and then through the window, he pulls out the steering wheel and puts it back in. He puts Little People in the trunk. Sometimes he gets lucky and Barak pushes him around in it. He loves it, and spends a lot of time cackling with delight.

6. Speaking of delight, I bought Barak new pajamas yesterday. I am a big devotee of LL Bean's heavy polarfleece pajamas for toddlers, and that's what my kids have slept in in all previous winters. This winter, Iyyar is almost ready for Barak's 2T PJ's, but Barak is pretty thoroughly out of his 3T pajamas--and those nice LL Bean ones won't be on sale till December. I looked online, thinking I might buy them anyway--we keep our thermostat low in the winter--but quickly discarded that idea when I realized I'd be spending upward of $25 a pair. No way. So I decided to get him a couple of pairs at Target ($11.98 for two pairs, totally flimsy and cheap), hope they lasted till the December sale, and stock up on the really warm pajamas then. I went to Target yesterday and got a set that had one light blue pair with a car on the front, and one dark blue pair printed all over with little cars.

You have never seen joy and glee until you have seen a three-year-old boy with a motor vehicle obsession put on pajamas with cars! all! over! He literally cavorted around his room, dancing and singing (ai nai nai!) for a good fifteen minutes. Car pajamas! I gotta car pajamas! Iss got little cars! Iss got yellow ones and green ones! The joy, the joy!

Somehow I don't think I'm going to be replacing those with plain red LL Bean pajamas anytime soon, no matter how much warmer and better-made they may be.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Halakhic Man Does the Dishes

When halakhic man approaches reality, he comes with his Torah, given to him from Sinai, in hand... And when many halakhic concepts do not correspond with the phenomena of the real world, halakhic man is not at all distressed.

-Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Halachic Man

[Note: Some details and identities have been changed, for narrative flow and to protect the innocent.]

My husband and I have fairly clearly defined roles within the running of our household. In some ways it might look as though the division of labor runs along traditional male/female lines: I do the cooking and most of the housework, I am the one primarily in charge of the children, and my husband spends most of his time out of the house either learning, davening, or earning a living. In fact, though, the apportioning of responsibilities is made on a somewhat different basis. Me, I deal with the physical world; my husband deals with everything else.

Do you want to know how one of the rishonim paskened on some issue in taarovos? Ask my husband--he passed the bechina. Do you want to know where the fleishig forks are, and whether the bottom of that bowl you just put on my treif counter was at yad soledes bo? Ask me. You want to know all about a hetter iska and who paskened how about levying interest? Ask my husband. Want to know how much our mortgage payment actually is, and how much we paid in interest last year? That would be me.

When the yamim noraim are on the way, my husband is the one up at all hours going to selichos. He's the one getting in the extra learning, working on the teshuva, asking mechila and making sure to have his house in order (spiritually, that is). He's the one who put the poster about how to have a more meaningful Rosh Hashana with your kids on the fridge. He's the one who thinks, yom ha'din is coming, and I'm not ready.

Me, I think something a little different. I think, guests are coming, and I'm not ready. I am the one who fills foil pan after foil pan for my husband to haul down to the basement freezer. I'm the one making the soup and the cakes, and the kugels and the knaidlach. I'm the one laying in supplies of non-perforated tissues (Target brand are the best) and wipes (Target brand again), making sure we have enough paper plates and little paper cups for kiddush, enough grape juice and tablecloth covers. I make sure everybody has clothes that fit, that the paper towels are torn, that there are new books for the kids to keep them busy over the three-day yom tov. I invite the guests, and figure out who is davening when so we know when we're liable to start eating. And I'm the one trying to keep the kids more or less sane, when everything about their normal schedule is completely blown apart by a three-day yom tov.

I did hear shofar. I got that far. Barak and I went to hear shofar, and I was the only mother there who had forgotten to bring pekelach to keep him quiet with; every other child there had a little plastic bag of candy and treats with at least one lollipop, distributed with stern instructions not to open until shofar-blowing. He watched lollipops being passed out, and accepted my whispered, "I'm so sorry, I forgot to bring you, but if you can be quiet when they're blowing shofar you can have a treat when we get home." He listened completely silently, and with interest; when we got home, he had a peanut butter granola bar from Trader Joe's.

That was the entire spiritual aspect of my Rosh Hashana. I am ashamed to admit that not once did it even occur to me to crack open a machzor. When my husband and his father, who was with us for the holiday, were at shul and Iyyar went down for his morning nap, I did not even think of davening; instead, I made salads, or cleaned the kitchen, or lay down on the couch to rest while Barak played. On the first night, I did all the dishes and had the entire kitchen clean before I went to bed, even though it was late and I was collapsing. It is the only sane way through a three-day yom tov--you cannot let any mess accumulate. First day lunch, after our guests left, I cleaned up the living room (we don't have a dining room, and when we have more than six people for a meal set up a long folding table in the living room--which is almost at the absolute opposite end of the apartment from our kitchen, down a very long hall). I moved into the kitchen and started scraping and stacking dishes. MHH, who had a sefer open in his hand, came into the kitchen.

"Are you sure you should be doing that? Isn't that hachana? You shouldn't be preparing for the second day before the first is over."

"I'm not preparing for the second day. I'm doing the dishes so that we don't get ants in the kitchen, and so that all the food doesn't dry on, and it isn't all gross in here."

"It's not all gross in here. The kitchen's clean. It's just the dishes."

"I can't leave dirty dishes in my sink."

"Do we need them before dinner?"


"Leave them. I'll do them tonight."

Now, when my husband makes an offer like that, he is invariably totally sincere. He has every intention of doing the dishes. He may even intend to do all the dishes, possibly even emptying the dishrack before beginning. He means well, there is no doubt about that. But his batting average so far as actually getting everything done to where I would consider it done is, well, let's just say he's not getting out of the minors. Or in them, probably.

"Just let me do the dishes."

"Go rest. You need to go rest. I'll do them!"

"Will you really do them? I'm sorry to doubt you, but I really don't want to wake up to dirty dishes."

He looks miffed. "I'm telling you I have every intention of doing them. I'm not going to lie to you on Rosh Hashana. Bli neder I'll do them. Now go lie down."

I don't think I actually went to lie down--I think I took the kids to the park. But I did not do the dishes. There weren't that many; we'd had a family with lots of kids for lunch and I'd decided to keep my good china in the cupboard and use paperware. It was just serving dishes and utensils, water glasses for the adults, the kiddush cup and so on.

I put the kids to bed. I lit for the second night. I warmed up the food, set the table, waited for my husband and his dad to get home from shul. Kiddush, motzi, meal, bentching. Time for me to go to bed--or start cleaning up.

"Are you still planning on doing the dishes?"

"Oh, right. The dishes." My husband looks around, and his father, who is praiseworthy in both his willingness to do dishes and his willingness to refrain from touching anything in my kitchen when I've asked him not to, looks up. Aha! his father is clearly thinking. I will help do the dishes, because my son will know what is milchig and what is fleishig and what goes where!

I look at the dishes. I look at my husband. "Can I just be sure before I go to bed that it's all going to be done when I get up?"

My husband begins to look visibly uncomfortable. We have a long track record of very different approaches to dishwashing and kitchen-cleaning. I think of it as a perfective verb: I have washed the dishes, and the dishes are clean. My husband, he does some dishes, or spends time washing dishes, or does a bit of dishwashing. He wants me to be happy. He has no idea what he is supposed to be doing.

"Can you just specify for me exactly what I should be doing here?"

I try very hard not to heave a long-suffering sigh. I mostly fail. "Put away all the food, in covered containers. Wash all the dishes. There shouldn't be anything left on the table at all. Wipe down the table and the counters. There are paper towels torn up in that bag over there. There shouldn't be anything on the counters related to this meal or lunch."

My father-in-law seems to take this with equanimity. My husband's brows start to pleat. He looks intently at the sink. He looks at the dishrack, which has a few dry dishes in it from lunch. "Am I going to have to empty the dishrack?"

"Yes, you're going to have to empty the dishrack."

"Can I do that? Isn't that borer (sorting)?"

"No, that's not borer."

"How is that not borer?"

"Because you can do it on yom tov. Every family I have ever known has put away dishes on yom tov. It is okay."

His gaze travels to the sink. "What should I wash the dishes with?"

"The shabbos scrubber, right there. It's that plastic bristled brush, marked 'meat.'"

"Isn't that s'chita (wringing)? Are you sure that's okay for yom tov?"

"It's fine."

"How do you know it's fine."

"It's a plastic bristle brush. It doesn't absorb water. There's nothing to wring."

We went on like this for a while, establishing that yes, it was entirely muttar to clear the table, put the food away, wipe the counters and so on. After a while, my father-in-law interjected, to my husband.

"You know where all the dishes go, right?"

My husband starts looking even more uncomfortable. He has no idea where anything in the dishrack goes. I can tell just by looking at him.

"Those are Shabbos china," I tell him. "It all goes in the hutch in the living room, the white hutch in the corner of the hall."

Eyebrows go up. "We need to carry those dishes all the way to the living room?"

My eyebrows go up. I have, after all, been serving entire meals from the Siberia of my kitchen to the Moscow of my living room. "It's not that far. I'm pretty sure it's within t'chum (the distance permissible to walk on Shabbos or yom tov.)"

"Okay, okay," he says hastily. "I just wanted to be sure."

At this point, I am pretty confident that things will be okay. My father-in-law will not let my husband go to bed without finishing up, and reason and cleanliness will probably prevail. "Don't forget that the back burner is on," I remind him. "Don't go putting any of the dishwashing tubs on the back of the stove."

"We won't," they assure me, and I go to bed.

At about 3 am, Barak woke up crying, and woke up Iyyar. I got them back to sleep, and then peeked into the kitchen, just to see. It looked pretty good. The water pitcher was still on the table, the counters needed work, the sink wasn't wiped, but all the dishes were definitely done and all the food was definitely put away. I felt a little bit guilty for my lack of faith. I went back to bed.

A few hours later, I was woken by my husband, hissing in my ear, "I'm really really sorry, but I think everything's okay." This is never the ideal way to be woken, especially not on yom tov.

"Are the kids okay?"

"Yeah, the kids are fine. It's the kitchen."

"I saw the kitchen. It's fine. What's wrong?"

"Well, we cleaned the kitchen. But I forgot about the burner. And I put the high chair tray on the back of the stove..."

Do you know what I think? I think it just didn't register--because bishul (cooking) is muttar (permissible) on yom tov.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

From the mouths of kinderlach

Sitting on the couch tonight with Barak, post-story, pre-bedtime:

"Barak, do you like tom yov?"

"I likea little bit yom tov. I don't likea lot. I likea little bit."

I think he speaks for us all.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Erev chag

Last year, my Yom Tov preparations were, shall we say, somewhat lacking. Iyyar was still in the phase (that six-month-long phase) of nightly screamfests, I was catching up at work from twelve weeks out, Barak was still waking up hourly all night long, and I was in that state of advanced sleep deprivation where you are seeing double for hours on end and don't even notice anymore.

This year is better.

Okay, the last couple of weeks have been pretty chaotic. I haven't slept much, and the kitchen has been in a pretty constant state of disaster. I don't think Barak's had a vegetable since Sunday and all the male members of the household had blueberry waffles and milk or yogurt for dinner. But you know what? My kitchen is completely clean. My kids' room is clean. The back bedroom is ready for my FIL, who should be here IY"H within the hour, and there are vegetables and brown rice for him cooking on the stove (macrobiotic etc.) The freezer in the basement is loaded with foil pans and the 11 loaves of challah and a dozen rolls that Barak helped me make (he only put sprinkles on some of them.) We have broccoli kugel, pumpkin kugel, mushroom-barley kugel, and all of their kin; we have roast, and meatloaf, and chicken soup, and cabbage stuffed and fried; we have pumpkin cake and brownies and chocolate peanut butter Rice Krispie treats. The bottom shelf of the closet is full of grape juice and seltzer. We are stocked with tissues and diapers and wipes; I bought two new sippie cups for fleishigs; MHH made it to the keilim mikva with my new cookie sheets.

It's not totally perfect. Our bedroom is a mess, I haven't put away the laundry, and I have a billion work-related things to do tomorrow. We're out of cat litter, and I haven't made matzo balls, and I still have to make salads and the fresh vegetable-type dishes I couldn't do ahead; I didn't invite all the guests I probably should have, and I know that erev yom tov will be a scramble, because it always is.

But hey--it's a whole lot better than last year. Shana tova, everyone. May you be inscribed for a happy, healthy, and peaceful new year, with lots of good sleep, a minimum of screaming, only leak-free roofs, and lots and lots of nachas.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

O to be in England (and other tales)

In the late nineties, I lived in England for a year, getting a master's degree in Russian. (As I said to everyone who asked, "I'm the only person ever to study in England for the great food and fabulous weather.") I'm still good friends with a few people from that year, and one of them paid us a brief visit last weekend while in the country for an academic conference.

She's not Jewish, and has stayed with us before on Shabbos so knew the drill. Our front door (we live in an apartment building, remember) is not Shabbos-friendly (electric lock) but our back door opens directly into the backyard. So I told her to come right in the back. Friday night, right before MHH got home, I heard the doorbell ring. The front doorbell. Hmm--did she forget? Weird. I couldn't buzz her up, obviously, so I propped open our door, and ran down to let her in.

"It IS the right house! I was so worried!"

"Why? Didn't you see the number?"

"I did, but you said that I should come in the back. I couldn't find your back door, so I thought this must not be it!"

"What?" We live in a square building surrounded on all sides by a fenced-in grass yard. How could she not find the back door?

"I couldn't find the back of the building! I was walking up and down the street, and I went in the alley but it was dark, and my bag was heavy, and I didn't know what to do and couldn't find anyone to ask."

I was totally confused. "You saw the number on the house, right? Why didn't you just walk around the building to the back?"

Blank pause. "Well there's no path, or anything!"

I start remembering that she is not only English, but very very English.

"You just walk on the grass."

"Walk on the grass?" Stare of shock and disbelief. "Oh. Right." Pause. "People do that?!"

Ah, England.

I don't miss England generally, but I do miss certain things about it: Cadbury Dairy Milk with Caramel (she brought me two five-packs!), Minstrels (two bags!) and Marmite (big fat jar!) I don't eat Marmite that often, just because I rarely eat toast, but when you want Marmite nothing else will do. (Speak to me not of Vegemite, for it is but a pale wimpy imitation.) I do, however, have a rather strange modus operendi when it comes to Marmite consumption. A little backstory:

I developed my taste for Marmite before living in England, when I lived with a few English people with a penchant for the deliciously tarry goop. Then I went to Russia for the summer. The weather was fine, but there was almost nothing I could eat. I ate a lot of toast. A LOT of toast. And pancakes. With sour cream. Fattening food, but you get sick of it fast, and I lost about thirteen pounds in two months. Two weeks before I left, I was staying in a Moscow youth hostel and met a woman from Britain who was there for a week or so doing field work for her degree. In her bag was... a pot of Marmite. I definitely did not ask her to do this or even hint, but I guess my look of starved longing was such that she took pity on me and gave it to me. For the rest of the summer, I ate pancakes with sour cream--and Marmite. I am probably the only person in the world who thinks that sour cream and Marmite on pancakes is absolutely the perfect combination.

Fast-forward to today. This afternoon, Barak needed some Imma activity (more later on our, ah, behavioral issues these days) and we made carrot pancakes. I ate them with Marmite and sour cream. Then I gave some to Iyyar. He thought they were great.

In other Iyyar news, have I mentioned that this kid climbs? Yesterday I heard him toddling up the hall and remembered that Barak had just been in the bathroom, so went to check that the door was closed. It wasn't, and Iyyar was already in there. As I turned the corner to the bathroom, he was clambering up on Barak's potty stool. By the time I had my hands out to grab him--four feet later--he was standing on top of the closed toilet seat, hands out to clear the reading material off the top of the toilet tank so he could get up there. I had to relocate all the plastic drawers from under the crib, because he's been using them as stepping stools to climb up the crib's sides. And the activity table that we got as a baby gift for Barak, that Barak to this day has never thought of climbing? Yeah, he climbs up on that too. Gleefully.

The transition to toddlerhood will not be complete until Iyyar starts yelling "no!" but we are getting there. Yesterday he threw his first full-on toddler tantrum when I took something away that he wasn't quite done with--not "Hey, I want that back!" but "YOU ROTTEN EVIL MOTHER, I CAN'T BELIEVE YOU JUST TOOK THAT AWAY FROM ME! AAAAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!" He is still in a big phase of putting things into other things: blocks into bags, toys into bins, puzzle pieces into drawers, anything at all into the garbage can. You really have to watch him with the garbage can--a few days ago he threw out a shoe without my noticing. I was taking out the trash when I saw something suspiciously blue and leathery-looking in there. I would have been looking for that shoe for months, if not years.

And Barak--well, where to start? Let us just say that Barak is in something of a defiant phase. Let us hope, anyway, that it is a phase. "Barak, please put that book back on the shelf." "I don't want to. I'm busy." "Barak, I asked you to put that on the shelf. Please put it on the shelf." "I don't want to." Etc. I feel very strongly that it is not wise to let such behavior go, but naturally do not want to be in a state of constant battle. It's especially difficult because Barak is normally pretty amenable to suggestion, likes helping, etc., and we get on very well--so I don't like escalating things, always counting and using time-outs and leaving him alone in his room while he tantrums himself out. But what else to do? Yesterday we went over to Morah Shapiro's house and, on the way down her high, steep, and treacherous spiral back stairs, Barak decided he did not want to go home and threw a fit RIGHT ON THE STAIRS. There I am, holding a 16-month-old Iyyar squirming in one arm, Barak endangering life and limb on these stairs, and I can't even grab him and bear him bodily homeward. I did get pretty angry, though, and got in his face to tell him so when I finally got him down the stairs.

Parenting suggestions?