Easter Out!

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​Since my mother-in-law passed away, except for Thanksgiving which we spend with my sister-in-law’s family, we spend every holiday at home. We eventually get the dining room table cleaned off. We add a pretty table runner. No one drinks out of a can. Phones get confiscated, kind of. Each meal has its own traditions: Rosh Hashanah is roast chicken, challah bread, yams, apples. Halloween is pizza. Christmas is roast beef, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, caramelized onions, peas & carrots, dinner rolls, one year we had Yorkshire pudding. New Year’s are appetizers as is the Super Bowl. St. Patrick’s Day is corned beef and cabbage, mashed potatoes and carrots and of course, Irish soda bread. Passover is chicken, potato pancakes, carrots, matzo ball soup, matzo and butter, sometimes gefilte fish and/or chopped liver. Easter is roast turkey or chicken, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, carrots, and dinner rolls. We seem to eat a lot of carrots, don’t we?

Our oven hasn’t worked consistently for over six months. We got very lucky for Christmas that it did indeed work and we were able to eek out a delicious Christmas dinner as well as our yearly birthday cheesecake for my son. A few weeks ago we tried to bake cornbread as a side dish to something that I can’t quite remember. After the apportioned hour, it was still gooey. The oven, which had been set for 350 was only about 200 degrees warm, which was not enough to cook it. I scoured Facebook for directions on how long to microwave the cornbread and dinner was saved, but not before realizing we were going to have a problem.

From then on, we have been using our crock pot. Lasagna, meatloaf, roast (not quite roast but fully cooked and tasty) chicken. I intend to try bread in it, but I don’t have the energy quite yet, and either way, it’s Passover for the rest of the week.

On the Monday after Palm Sunday, I told my husband that it was decision time, so what would it be – fix the oven before Good Friday or eat out on Easter? He would fix the oven. He did his research online, found the part he thought was the problem, and went to order it. He thought it was twelve dollars; it turned out it was fifty. We already know we’re going to need to replace this oven in the near future. We’re waiting on a tax refund to see if it’s doable or if we need to go another year on crock pot/stove top meals (which have been working out okay to be honest, if a little more time consuming). We decided to eat out.

My oldest son would come home in the early morning from work before he went to sleep and then back to his next shift for our annual Easter egg hunt. I know they’re old, but they all play along and they get some candy, and I get some pictures and everyone has a fun time and some sugar high donuts and hot chocolate for breakfast. Then we’d nap and have dinner much later.

It felt weird from the moment we decided it. Would any place even be open? I know that Dunkin’ Donuts is open, and several places do a we’ll make the meal, you heat it, but we ignored the situation for a day or so more.Then I got two emails – Applebee’s was open as was Texas Roadhouse for Easter dinner. Hmm…not exactly what we were looking for, but who knows?

We finally settled on Cracker Barrel. We thought that would be the closest to eating at home. We’d allow everyone to get dessert if they liked to make it a little more special than a regular dinner out. I even got a salad. I also mandated no phones at the table. That worked for the most part. Not perfect, but what dinner ever is?

It was a lovely change of pace. I enjoyed it, and I’d consider doing it again, but I don’t know that I’d want to make it a tradition, but it worked out for everyone, and I was actually surprised how busy they were. I thought brunch time wold be busy, but we were there just before traditional dinner time, at around four in the afternoon, and it was busy. No one was waiting but it was crowded and the waitresses were constantly on the move. On our drive there, I was alos surprised at how many other restaurants were open and their parking lots relatively full: Friendly’s, TGIFriday’s, Panera Bread. Starbucks drive-theough was still buzzing, although the supermarket was closed and its parking lot was empty.

All in all, a grateful Easter celebration with most of the family.

It was actually kind of relaxing.

Happy Easter!

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.

Blending the Holidays

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​In talking about how we balance an interfaith family, I’ve mentioned how I like to keep Christmas and Chanukah as their own holidays. Usually, the calendar cooperates by keeping them separate. The same goes for Passover and Easter. Usually, I can juggle Passover’s restrictions with Easter’s celebrations. When we would go to my mother-in-law’s for Easter, I tried to allow my kids to enjoy Grandma’s holiday her way without making our Jewish traditions …, well, restrictive.

For a long while, I bought all the new kosher for Passover cereal, pancakes, muffins, and the rest. It cost a fortune and we usually had several boxes of things leftover. By the time the next Passover rolled around again, they had passed their expiration dates.

This year, all I bought was a large box of matzo, Temp-Tee cream cheese, matzo ball soup mix, potato pancake mix, and macaroons. Oh, and gefilte fish.

The blending of the two holidays has been a bit more complicated since my baptism. I try to give both their significant place in our family.

Both promise death from life.

In our Exodus from Egypt, we began with the Ten Plagues, the angel of death and the first born. After forty years of wandering in the desert, we found new life over the Jordan in Canaan.

Easter begins with forty days in the desert, death by crucifixion, and life everlasting.

The kids see matzo and bunnies, chocolate and latkes. They get more latkes during Passover than Chanukah.

This year sees a lot of compromises. My church has a community dinner on Holy Thursday to commemorate the Last Supper, held before the Mass of the Last Supper of the Lord, the first day of the Triduum. It’s always lasagna. We will join my church and share the Holy Thursday meal with the other parishioners before Mass in spite of it being Passover.

I don’t know how it translates religiously, but in according both holidays proper observances, I think it brings the long held traditions to my kids. I never went to temple (kids weren’t really allowed), but I remember Seders and presents lined up for Chanukah. Lighting candles. Somewhere I still have my childhood Haggadah, dogeared and torn in places; colored and drawn on, and every year, read from cover to cover.

I remember Elijah’s wine glass sitting on our radiator with the front door open to let him in. This was unusual for my mother – her doors were always closed and locked, but not on Passover. There’s always a space for Elijah.

And by the same token, there’s always a space for learning, understanding, and sharing our traditions with each other.

Holiday Traditions – Christmas Eve

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​Before we moved and had children, my husband and I would spend Thanksgiving with my parents and Christmas Eve and Day with his parents. My sister always alternated Thanksgiving with her in-laws and I thought our way made things much simpler and fair for everyone since my family didn’t celebrate Christmas. After we moved and decided to stay home with our kids for Christmas so they could wake up in their own house, things changed for us, but we still kept several, if not all of my husband’s family’s traditions that my husband  brought to our family.  Continue reading

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

50-50 – Birthday Traditions

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I usually like to spend part of my birthday on my own. Since college, I have never worked on my birthday. The one time I did work-business for a new job, getting a physical and a drug test, I almost got into a car accident. Never again. 

I get up. I take a shower. I wear my favorite clothes. Today, I will wear my favorite boots and jacket. On years that my driver’s license is due, I go for a haircut and then go to DMV for a new picture on my new license.

There is a local, fancy strip mall that is more boutiques than strip mall that I like to spend the day at. The first week in December is usually not too cold if I’m wearing a heavy sweater and snood and the sun is shining. I would wander in and out of stores, window shopping, grabbing a muffin or a tea, picking up trinkets and then replacing them on their shelves.

I try new things.

In recent years, while my kids are in school, I let my husband work and I head out to Starbucks for a couple of hours. I get my free drink and a cranberry bliss bar. I take myself shopping, usually for a new pocketbook or a new wallet. I go to Target and buy myself a Christmas ornament, sometimes a new notebook.

My mother used to give me money for my birthday, and this is how I would use it. The year after she died, my husband gave me a $50 Visa gift card so I could continue my ritual for my birthday despite my mom being gone. It was one of the nicest things he’s done for my birthday.

On the weekends, I usually spend the day with my family. Sometimes, I’ll go to Starbucks for breakfast alone, but the rest of the day we’re together.

This year, today, we’re going to the firehouse for a pancake breakfast, then the local airport for the Santa Fly-in, Fantastic Beasts at the movies, and dinner at Delmonico’s Italian Steakhouse. Cake and presents after.

I’m being unusually decisive for my 50th birthday. I’m very much an I don’t know kind of person, but not this year. The only other time that I was this decisive on my birthday was when I was pregnant with my first child.

I’m looking forward to turning 50. Honestly, I don’t know why. It’s not something that I’ve looked forward to – growing older, and while this is a chapter ending, it is also a chapter beginning.

This is my final reflection of the fifty I planned before my fiftieth birthday, and I plan to write another fifty next year, a bit more focused and a bit more consistent.

I’m looking forward to what’s to come, and that in itself is unusual for me. It feels like a good thing, though.

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.