Happy Holidays!

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This won’t publish until tomorrow morning, but as I write this it is many things for many people today: it’s the day after Christmas, which makes it the First Day of Christmas. It is also the fifth night of Chanukah. It is Boxing Day. It is the first day of Kwanzaa. Please add your holidays in the comments, and I can add them to my yearly calendar for next year.

I had so many intentions for writing and publishing last week, and part of the week before, including a a reflection on gratitude, a short commentary on something my priest said during a homily about everyday is Thanksgiving or at least the opportunity for thanksgiving, the emotional legacy I feel for the new Star Wars movie as well as something Supernatural finale related, holiday photos of our family’s menorah and Christmas tree as well as other shared instagram-type posts. The one thing I really tried to get done was a special Mental Health Monday before Christmas with ways to avoid holiday stress.

Instead of writing about it, and offering some advice I decided to take my unwritten as of yet advice, and not worry about writing and posting (among a few household things). For one thing, every time I looked at my ever increasing list of writing projects, I blanked. I closed the computer or the Kindle, and I walked away. There were presents to be wrapped, cards to be mailed (which had its own special stress for the lateness that they were received by me and losing my address book), our tree wasn’t up yet, our stove wasn’t working and I wasn’t sure how we were going to prepare Christmas dinner*. I tried to write to avoid the stress of the holidays that were on a timeline, and in making an editorial timeline at this time was really stressing me out. Each time I postponed a day’s planned posting, it increased my stress. And this isn’t why I write. While there is good and valuable stress that comes with my writing choices, this last week and some days was truly giving me bad, debilitating stress.

Once I made the decision to not write until after Christmas Day I felt as though a weight had been lifted from my shoulders.

There are six days left to this year, and it’s been quite a year. It is not only a year ending, but an entire decade. It’s kind of a big deal. I will write again before the New Year and then after as I discover which direction I want to travel in with my writing.

My advice for the rest of this week is:

SLOW DOWN.
BREATHE.
TAKE TIME FOR YOU. If you’re working, spend your break times eating, hydrating, meditating, reading or whatever it is that you do for you. At home, take time for you. You’ve worked hard all year; take a little time for yourself.

Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, Happy Kwanzaa, and have a Blessed and Peaceful upcoming New Year.

*A quick note on these things:

The presents got wrapped.

The cards we ordered from an online photo card store didn’t come, but we did receive another family’s cards. It took a little longer to get our own cards, but we did. No big deal, and an unavoidable delay. I sent the cards out in waves, and it turned out all good.

I found my address book that has ALL of my addresses.

We got our tree and lights up. My son put his Santa hat on the top, and it looks very cute.

Our oven hasn’t worked for months and we are buying a new stove. Unfortunately, it won’t be delivered until the weekend. (My son is already planning on baking a pizza the first night!) Fortunately, a generous friend offered us her countertop convection oven, and Christmas dinner was saved!

It all works out in the end, doesn’t it.

Holiday Food

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Food makes the world go round. When we travel, the first thing we do when we get off the airplane or park the car is to find somewhere to eat. I know we’re always looking for that perfect, quintessential local food that we can instagram and taste, and talk about when we get home. Maybe that’s just me.

The holidays are also a time of food; not always trying new things, but having the old things – the things of our childhoods, of our in-laws, of that Pinterest thread that we’ve been promising ourselves we would eventually try.

Here are a few of mine:

1. Candy canes for Christmas and Gelt (chocolate gold-wrappered coins) for Chanukah.

2. Latkes. Confessional time: I make latkes more during Passover than I do during Chanukah. Passover has an overabundance of potatoes, and by  mid-week, it gets a little tiring, although celebrating our Exodus from slavery is never old.

3. French Toast. I happen to make the best French toast. Plain, unadulderated, egg, milk, white bread with butter and Aunt Jemima syrup. Mmm. On occasion I will make a French toast casserole that needs to refrigerate overnight, and then bake in the morning, and that is also amazing, but I think that has less to do with me than with easy French toast on a weekday morning!

4. Green bean casserole. Yes, the Kraft one. Or is the recipe from DelMonte? I think the recipe calls for milk, but my mother never used milk to keep it somewhat kosher-like. Again, simple: 2 cans of French-style green beans, drained, mixed with one can of condensed cream of mushroom soup, mixed with half a container of French’s fried onions and baked for 30-35 minutes on 350. Sprinkle the fried onions on top, and bake for another 5 minutes or so. Voila!

5. Orange Marmalade. I’m not sure why I think of orange marmalade at Christmas time. Possibly because my mother-in-law is British/Irish and that’s a very British food to have during Christmas (or any tea time) with scones or English muffins or biscuits.
What are your holiday favorites that you really miss or can’t live without?

Holiday Traditions and Change

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​Everyone has family traditions that they follow throughout the year, but none more than on those special holidays. I’ve written about some of our family’s traditions, some that have come from my family and some from my husband’s family as well as the ones we’ve begun ourselves.

For Thanksgiving, we’ve adopted my family’s sweet potato pie. I don’t always make pie, sometimes I make a casserole. It had already been changed from the original recipe that I received from my friend in New Orleans by eating it as a side dish. My mother could never fathom it as a dessert. She wasn’t much of a pumpkin pie eater either; more coconut custard or cheesecake.

My husband’s mother was born and raised in Northern Ireland. She brought many of her Christmas traditions to her family including a roast dinner for Christmas dinner and the most amazing trifle, which I find impossible to replicate, so I choose not to.

When we began to have Christmas at our own house with our immediate family, my husband was insistent that we follow his familiy’s traditions to the letter. This includes Chinese take-out for Christmas Eve dinner, Dunkin’ Donuts for Christmas breakfast before we open our gifts, and roast beef and mashed for Christmas dinner. Since I had grown up Jewish, we didn’t have any Christmas tradition conflicts. After my conversion, I attend mass and events at my parish, but those are usually not in conflict with what we’re planning at home.

We’ve added our own like the gift of pjs on Christmas Eve night for all the kids, baking cookies for Santa, and watching the Doctor Who Christmas special.

In between all of that, I attend the masses, the Advent reconciliation prayer service, and the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, a wonderful musical event that my parish holds every year.

Having every year flow in nearly the same way with only a few differences is comforting. It’s how we build the family and let the kids see what and who is important at the holidays.

Things change as the kids get older and want to spend time with their friends, girl- and boy-friends; they have jobs and have to juggle days off, and the like.

That is our challenge this year. My oldest son is an EMT, and he is working Christmas Day. He is working from 6am until midnight on Christmas Day. After some now-what-panic, i jumped into mom mode, and rearranged all of our days so we will still have our family holidays time, simply by moving everything up by one day. After the regular Vigil Mass on Saturday, we’ll have our Christmas Eve Chinese take-out, and make sure all the gifts are under the tree. We’ll wake up Sunday morning, and open our presents all together. Unfortunately for the kids, Santa doesn’t rearrange his schedule so they’ll have to wait for him to come on Monday morning, which is a bonus for we parents who can make the kids go to sleep early. Sneaky, IO know. Monday morning, my son will see if Santa filled his stocking before he heads out to a full day of work, and I will go to Christmas Day Mass that I usually miss in favor of the Christmas Vigil.

We all have our holiday challenges. This is a good reminder to everyone that as long as you’re with the ones you love, it will all work out in the end. It isn’t just the thought that counts; it’s the people.

Holiday Traditions – Chanukah

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I’ve written recently about how I celebrated Chanukah as a child and growing up. I’ve included two of those links below. Some of those traditions I’ve brought to my own family, but because of our interfaithness I’ve added and tweaked some of them over the years.

In some ways it was easier to celebrate Jewish holidays while growing up Jewish in primarily Jewish neighborhood. In those early, formative years, our neighbors were mostly Jewish, and so we all celebrated the same things. It wasn’t until moving at the end of fifth grade that my new friends celebrated something different. I don’t even recall if the schools were closed on Christmas before; I imagine they must have been, but  it wasn’t until my own kids were young that I realized that schools didn’t close for the High Holy Days. I would keep my own kids home, and the only time there was a dispute with the school was when my middle son went to kindergarten and the first day of school was to be on Rosh Hashanah. I discovered another Jewish family and I joined them at the Board of Education meeting to change the first day of school. We did. But it was met with a plethora of excuses on why they should not change the status quo. It was demoralizing and it instilled in me a more vocal advocacy than I’d had before.

As the only Jewish family in our schools or the only Jewish teacher when I taught, it’s fallen to me to have to explain Chanukah, and unfortunately the expectation is usually how it fits into Christmas, which of course, it doesn’t. It would even be doubtful if Jesus observed/celebrated Chanukah; It’s always been considered a minor holiday.

Continue reading

50-45 – Chanukah

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Plastic dreidl that can be filled with gelt, chocolate coins for Chanukah. When I was a kid, we got new ones each year, but I try to save them for my kids to reuse each year. (c)2016

When I was a kid growing up in Queens, we lived in a two bedroom apartment. There was a tiny vestibule where you could either go upstairs to our neightbors or turn left and walk into our place. There was a window and a radiator (where on Passover we would put a wine glass for Elijah). The living room had a sofa, a television on a wheeled TV cart, a dresser, my baby dresser that my daughter now uses, and possibly a chair, but I don’t recall that detail. It flowed into the dining room which had a doorway to the kitchen.

At Chanukah, we never had an electric menorah when we lived here. It was a brass one with a lion at the back and the shamas way up on top with a row of eight candle holders below. We would set this menorah up on the dining room table on a piece of tin foil for the wax to melt onto. Each day, we’d add another candle and watch them burn brightly until they flickered out.

We’d eat latkes and play dreidl with pennies for the pot.

Along the bottom of my baby dresser, my parents set up three piles of wrapped presents, eight gifts in each pile, and every night after we lit the candles we could choose a gift. Just one.

There was a lot of shaking and feeling of shapes going on every night. I have a very clear memory of wondering if I should open the Barbie doll or her clothes first, so distinctive was their packaging.

For our interfaith family now, we usually have done one large gift for the first night of Chanukah. Only once did we do eight gifts. It just gets too expensive. We do light the candles and use an electric menorah, the candle menorah in the dining room and the electric menorah in the living room. I always get my kids a new dreidl and a mesh baggie of gelt which they devour pretty quickly.

These are the traditions that make a holiday memorable and worth celebrating year after year.

I’m posting this a bit early because Chanukah isn’t until Christmas Eve this year, but that just gives us more to celebrate all throughout the month from Thanksgiving to the New Year.

Happy Chanukah to all.

Last Night

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Frying chicken in (peanut) oil.

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Fried chicken tenders

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Frying latkes (potato pancakes) in oil

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My dinner: fried chicken tenders, latkes, applesauce, and sour cream.

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At the table with the menorah

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There is something amazing that feeds my soul about the taste of applesauce mixed with sour cream on the crispy on the outside, soft on the inside latke

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Dreidl and gelt

Believe in the Light

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“Jesus said to them, ‘The light will be among you only a little while. Walk while you have the light, so that darkness may not overcome you. Whoever walks in the dark does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of the light.'”

– John 12: 35– 36

This is the reflection for today’s saint in The Big Book of Women Saints by Sarah Gallick. It is reflected along with the short bio of Saint Eulalia of Merida (292 AD-302 AD).

It struck me profound as it comes right in the middle of Chanukah, the Festival of Lights. Chanukah commemorates the rededication of the (Second) Temple in Jerusalem in 165 BCE. There was only enough oil for the eternal light to burn for one day, and to replenish the holy oil would take an eight day round trip. The oil remained burning until the men returned with a new supply.

For those who know my relationship to fandom, this Scripture Reflection also came one day after the mid season finale of Supernatural. Surrounding Season 11 is the storyline of the Darkness returning to the
Earth. The Darkness is a beautiful woman who rivals Lucifer in power. The television show has her as an equal to G-d. As she is Darkness, the only way to vanquish her is with light.

Obviously this is a fictional story in the sci-fi/fantasy genre, but I did find the coincidence of the timing of seeing the show and reading the reflection scheduled for today as enough to comment on.

I Remember…Chanukah

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This is my daughter’s dresser. I don’t know how her clothes fit in here. With the closet and the pjs under her bed, sweaters in the basket next to the dresser, she manages to get it all in. Mostly. This was my dresser when I was a baby, but what I remember this dresser most for was hat it sat in the living room of our NYC apartment (and later of our suburban house). In our two bedroom apartment it was placed against one long wall directly across from our green patterned sofa. During Passover, we’d walk along it on our way to leave a glass of wine for Elijah on the radiator.

In front of the radiator was a television stand, one of those carts with wheels that our television sat on. I remember sitting on that sofa watching Fonzie jump over a shark on Happy Days (although I think that it’s the sofa I’m remembering and not the apartment.) I also remember spending a day or two curled up there, under a warm blanket when I was sick and stayed home from school. It is a comforting memory of warm soup or mashed sweet potatoes with butter and the television.

Behind the television cart is a medium sized picture window that I can still see my brother and I looking out of while we were home with the chicken pox. When we recovered, my sister got them. Some things we didn’t mind sharing more than others.

What I remember most about that dresser, though is the three little piles of Chanukah presents on the floor in front of it, waiting to be opened each night after we lit the candles on the menorah. The menorah was placed on the dining room table on a small sheet of aluminum foil. My mother would never put the burning candles on the dresser; they might start a fire. As the oldest and the only one attending Hebrew school as it were, it was probably my job to do most of the lighting. The candles came in a box of forty-four, different colors that were randomly chosen each night and lit, reading the prayer from the side of the box. We might sing a song and play dreidl. My cousins lived in the same garden apartment complex so they were probably around more often then not. We went to the same shul where we learned the songs and traditions of the holidays. I thought I remembered it differently but when I saw those cousins recently they had the same memories of music in the school basement and we kids not being allowed into the temple on the High Holidays. We used to play in the parking lot, which seems a ludicrous idea today.

Describing the gifts as a pile makes it seem much bigger than it actually was. Yes, there were eight gifts, but they were all small things. Each one wrapped carefully in white paper adorned with multi-hued blue Stars of David and dreidls. We would of course get dreidls and gelt, probably on the first night. One of my favorite things about celebrating Chanukah today is the taste of the gelt. It’s not anything fancy or special but it tastes exactly the same as it did when I was a schoolgirl. My kids wonder why I won’t share mine with them. After all, they each get their own bag of gelt.

Choosing which gift to open was a several minute decision making process. Picking each package up, shaking it slightly, bringing it to my ear as if I would hear something or smell something underneath the packaging and the paper. Nothing was hidden; it was all wrapped around whatever the shape of the package was. Shake the rectangular box. Should I open the Barbie doll shaped package? Or the Barbie doll clothes shaped package? There might have been puzzles and books too. No Nintendo. No tablets. No smartphones. What a simple, beautiful time that holiday was. Everyone in our court had an electric menorah in their windows or their curtains were open and we could see the candles burning deep inside their apartments.

There were also latkes to look forward to. They came from a box, but after mixing and refrigerating and then frying them in the pan, they were as homemade as they could be. The house smelled of the oil, and they were eaten hot with applesauce and sour cream. Back then, they were the only thing that I ate sour cream with. When I cook them today for my family, I still use vegetable oil. They are the only things that I cook in vegetable oil. I tried olive once, but the smell didn’t work for me, so I went back to the usual vegetable oil and they were perfect. Applesauce and sour cream could give any kind of potato pancake that latkes taste, even frozen or those triangles from Arby’s, but there is nothing like the real thing, frying them alongside the burning candles on the dining room table.

For the holiday we celebrate in our family with my children, we keep Chanukah separate from Christmas. That is my personal thing; pet peeve if you will; the one tradition I don’t want to share. I’m fine with families that celebrate both Chanukah and Christmas; we’re one of them, but I prefer to keep the two separate even when they fall in the same week. My personal feeling is that it keeps their significance and their importance significant, and important. For Chanukah, we don’t give eight presents anymore. Some years they might get one larger gift on the first night, but most years they get a new dreidl and a bag of gelt. Some years they get stickers or pencils or an extra something, but we still keep it a little simpler.

Simple, minimalist, centered on the eight candles burning like they kept the fire burning in the temple for eight days until the oil could get there. Just like Christmas, it is a reminder of a time long ago, a history that we forget too often, and the simplicity of working together and taking care of each other.

That’s what this dresser reminds me of – my family and all the special things they taught me, especially when they weren’t trying to teach me anything at all.

Better to light a candle than curse the darkness.

Happy Chanukah.