Gobble Gobble and Challah Baking!

It always amazes me (though by now it probably should not,) how Hashem arranges things to happen at the “right time,” and it is all a very customized right time for each one of us.  We have gone away for Thanksgiving to my husband’s side of the family for our entire married life, except for the one year when I was almost 9 months pregnant with our first child and then my in-laws came to us.  (Being from Canada, and Thanksgiving a month and a half earlier, visiting my side of the family was never an option at this time.)  Our family celebrates Thanksgiving.  It is a time to be thankful for the sacrifices of others to let us be who we want to be today.  Baruch Hashem we are allowed our own religion and to observe it the way we choose as well as choose various life paths as we see fit.

This year we were unfortunately not able to make our yearly pilgrimage to the southern part of the country for the prices of the plane tickets DOUBLED and with 6 people that makes one big difference!  We were sad and disappointed for that means there will be only 1, not 5 boys running around Aunty’s house and no visiting with their Uncle and Grandpa either.  There is a rhyme and reason to all that happens in this world and the more I look for it the more I see it.  We do not always get to see the intricate web of life that is woven but if we are on the lookout, sometimes we are lucky to catch a few glimpses.

Since we will be at home, I decided to add some decoration to the kitchen.  My oldest printed out some place cards with everyone’s name on them and I went to a neat website called The Toy Maker which is filled with various paper toys and projects for everyone.  There are a lot of wonderful neat ideas to print out and fold.  There is even a newsletter to join to receive emails 3-4 times a year with links to various seasonal projects that the author has created.  In keeping with our “I’m Thankful to Hashem for…” theme we have been on this past month, we printed out some pretty cards from her Thanksgiving page and we all wrote out various things we are thankful for.  There are the standard thank you’s about the pilgrims, pumpkin pie and turkey, as well as some non-standard one such as being thankful for being able to go to a friend’s wedding this Thanksgiving weekend and even one that said, “I’m thankful that you are here!” (and yes, it really was directed to Mommy!)

Hashem really does work in mysterious and wondrous ways.  Having turkey on Thanksgiving seems to be a staple for many families who celebrate but not for us – for various reasons we have dairy on Thanksgiving so this will be our first Thanksgiving with a turkey and the boys are so very excited.  That definitely is something to be thankful for.  Baruch Hashem this weekend will be filled with more wonderful simchas with first a Bar Mitzvah on Shabbos and then the wedding of a friend on Sunday.  None of these we would be able to enjoy if we went away as usual.  Hashem knew.  Both simchas are ones I definitely did not want to have to miss and would have if the prices of the plane tickets did not double.  Yes, I will miss cooking a fun wonderful meal with my sister-in-law this year, but no longer am I disappointed in not being able to go.  IY”H the cooking will happen next year.

Aside from the turkey, 3 different kinds of potatoes (blue, yellow and red), homemade cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, lemon pie, yams with marshmallow fluff (a requirement by boys’ standard!), green beans, salad and fruit, as well as anything else I have forgotten to mention, I am most thankful today for my oldest asking me “when are we going today?” After going back and forth with him about what and when he was talking about, I remembered we were going to the Jewish Senior Home this morning to do a challah presentation.  Baruch Hashem he reminded me before we had to be there!  After several minutes of running around getting everyone ready, we were off and even arrived 5 minutes early.

Now, I hate to admit it, but this is only my second time being in the Jewish Home.  I do not have to be told how such a mitzvah it is to go there.  My Grandmother is in one and I did have the opportunity to visit with her twice last year, for which I am very grateful.  I just do not really know anyone who is in the senior home here and with being a very quiet person, I have a hard time going up and just talking.  That goes for sick people in the hospital as well.  The times I have visited someone in the hospital I have dragged a friend or two along or hidden amongst my boys in the room.  I’m just not a talker!

However, I do believe it is an extremely important mitzvah to do and I have struggled in my mind how to teach this to my boys.  Monkey See Monkey Do.  There are other things that I do and I make sure boys help participate.  If they see me doing something then it will be easier for them to do (and more likely they will do it.) But, if Mommy is not doing it, why should they?  I have found that if I can get myself to do something like this a few times, then the situation starts to get a little easier.  After 3 or 4 times going with a friend to visit a particular someone in the hospital, then going by myself does not seem as fearful for I will have a repertoire of things to say and talk about.

I was asked by a friend who works in the senior home if I would come and do a challah presentation over there.  I figured that was exactly what I needed – I needed a reason to be there to help “hide” behind; something I could use to talk about.  I know I have one outgoing boy, one sort of shy boy (whom I thought took after me in this area) and one EXTREMELY shy boy (whom I did not realize was that shy,) plus the little one who is both here and there.  I took them all with me.  It was the opportunity I was looking for to teach them about this big mitzvah.

The boys were all busy with their various degrees of shyness and using Mommy as their safety net that I do not think they realized they were used as a safety net as well!  I definitely had to step up to the plate for them but I think we all had fun.  As soon as I started talking to the Grandmas, I had all 4 boys beside me.  I was not planning on having them helping in that way, but realized that was their way of hiding behind me.  I talked and explained all I knew about bread making and challah making and the boys did.  They scooped the flour and sugar, poured the oil, mixed and kneaded and were all kept busy and (for the most part,) out of trouble.  They even braided and egged and sesamed the challah.  It gave them the courage to put away some of that shyness and do a mitzvah.  I was even asked again if I would come back in the spring.  (Phew! We were liked!)  That is just what we all need – a reason to go.  After another 1-2 times of doing this, I think that even the extremely shy one will have more confidence and none of us will need that safety net.

As we are remembering all the things to be thankful for, let us not forget to daven for the safety and well being of all our family and friends in Israel, especially the ones serving in the IDF.  The more things we can be thankful for the better.

Keeping Our Children

I am sitting here remembering that last night I thought of a good idea to write about but did not have the time.  Tonight, I have the time but do not have the idea.  My sister suggested talking about how my 3 year old vacuumed the area rug in our living room for 30 minutes (which normally does not get more than a minute or so of TLC time,) and how we should take those mundane tasks that we do and use those times wisely to clean ourselves spiritually and emotionally.  I guess that idea will also work with the kitchen and dining room floor that he insisted he mop after an older brother did his share.  There was so much opportunity to sit down and cleanse my soul while I waited for the inch of water on the floor to dry.  If we would to look around and snag a little time here and there to re-Jew-venate, we would be so much further ahead.  Alas, unfortunately I was busy trying to get all the BBB’s (beautiful bouncing boys) into bed!

The only thing I remember about the wonderful idea last night is that it was all about Emuna (faith/belief).  Over the past several weeks it seems to be a recurring theme, at least in my mind, and I know it has not been any coincidence! It is like when you get a new car, all of a sudden everyone has the exact same car, though they were always on the road, it is just that your eyes were closed to seeing them.  Only when we get that car do our eyes open.  Too often we (or should I say, I?) go through the day and do not think.  Life gets busy – teaching, coordinating children with schoolwork on computers, supper, nap time, house cleaning, etc. and before you know it, the day is done.  What happened to it?  Life can get meaningless and one  can start to wonder “why”?  When my children grow up and move out of the house, it will be harder to help them with these obstacles.  We all want our children to not only remain faithful to the Torah and its teachings, but to WANT to remain faithful.  I know that I want to remain, but will my children?  Now is the time to ingrain within them the answers before the questions arise.  The million dollar question – How?  How can I instill in my children a connection with Hashem that is strong enough to remain?

I am not sure I have all the answers, but I lately I have sure gotten a lot closer.  I have been trying to open up my children’s eyes by asking them what they are thankful for.  I enjoy listening to their answers.  Unfortunately I often forget, or should I say the day goes by and I remember too late to ask, but when I do it is nice to just listen.  This is one time I always smile and say, “Ok!” and never try to change or “correct” an answer.  After all, there is no right or wrong answer, and how can it be their answer if I butt in?  A few times I have asked, “Did you mean this, or that?” just to clarify in my mind, but never to change their answer. Every time they have to think, it helps create a slightly stronger bond with their Creator.

Our community was given the honor of having Rabbi Lazer Brody come and speak last week.  Rabbi Brody translated Rabbi Arush’s book, “Garden of Emuna”, among many other of Rabbi Arush’s works.  There was one thing he said that struck me.  Happiness.  Judaism IS happiness.  If you are not happy then something is wrong.  Judaism is not wrong, Hashem is not wrong, there is something with you that needs to be fixed.  Of course!  It was like a light bulb turned on in my head.  How many times have we heard of people who have gone astray because of all the arguing about minhagim (customs) or the strictness (with lack of happiness and love) in doing mitzvos?  Someone who grows up (or just sees) fighting about who is right and who is wrong, or feeling that we do the mitzvos because we have to and we better-do-it-right-or-else attitude, why should they remain?  There is a mitzvah in the Torah to be happy.  If we are happy to do a mitzvah or happy that we have Hashem, then we want to continue.  Yes, this is something that I knew, but it never dawned on me that this was the answer or was at least a huge part of the answer I was looking for for my children.  The next step is knowing how to be happy.  That answer is Emuna.  If we have emuna in Hashem in all that He does, we will be happy.  If not, we just need to have more emuna. (Now is the time for me to say that to help with emuna read, “The Garden of Emuna”!)

I need to ingrain into my children that Judaism is suppose to be happy and if one is not happy, they need to become happy, it is not Judaism that needs to be changed, chas v’shalom.  Also, I need to give them the tools needed to create emuna so that when tough times do happen, and yes they occasionally will, they will know with their heart that it is them that needs to change and they will have the knowledge and ability how to make that happen.

We can try the best we can and we should, but like the concept we are trying to teach our children, we have to practice what we preach.  We have to have emuna and daven ourselves that Hashem will help us all out in succeeding in this area.  We have to work on ourselves.  Not only will our children learn for it’s “Monkey See Monkey Do,” there is an added bonus that we ourselves will be more happy as well and what child does not want a happy parent!

With that said, tonight I am thankful that my rug is clean, my kitchen floor is now clean (and dry!) and the boys like coming to stores with me still. 🙂 What are you thankful for?

Thoughts on Sandy

This post is not really going to be about homeschooling, however, as the writer of the blog I reserve the right to occasionally deviate from the main topic.  Today, I feel it is more befitting to write about some of my thoughts and feelings about Hurricane Sandy.

Sandy was predicted to reach just east of us by Wednesday, by Monday we had already started feeling the effects, even though Sandy was several hundred miles away from us.  On Sunday, schools were closed for Tuesday.  We were not expecting Sandy to be a hurricane by the time it reached us, just a tropical storm, however, even tropical storms bring lots of wind and rain and that means potential flooding and fallen trees and limbs and loss of electricity.

My Mr. Ham Radio Boy got a message saying that the Amateur Radio club is covering the emergency communication for the Red Cross shelters and were looking for volunteers.  Of course Mr. HRB wanted to go, however, being not even 12, Daddy and Mommy had reservations.  After finding out that the shelter he would be going to was fully staffed with about 8 adults, and talking to him about the 2-deep leadership we have in Scouting (you need 2 adults in a room if you want to talk to a scout privately, or at least 2 scouts in the room if there is only 1 adult), and how it is for the safety of everyone, we let him go.  He spent 5 hours at a nearby shelter while the winds and the rain picked up.

It was (and still is) amazing how 400 miles away from the storm, we were getting such effects!  It was also amazing how the prediction was so far off. Sometime Tuesday morning, in the wee, wee early hours, it all basically stopped.  The path went from 70 miles east of us to way west of us.  Still, 12,000 homes lost power.  As of Wednesday morning, there were still 5,000 homes without power, and today, Thursday, there are still 3,000 homes without power.  Tonight, we have some wind and some rain again, and by looking at the map, the storm is yet again several hundred miles away from us this time northeast, but we are still feeling some of it’s strength even now.

I have listened to the radio and viewed photos.  The boys and I have talked about it.  The damage is amazing, this morning the estimates were around the $20 billion mark.  Such damage, such flooding is hard to really imagine unless one is right there, and even then it can take a while for reality to sit in.  Millions of people were left without power, and it will take many days (a week and a half one person said in the Jersey area) to restore power to everyone.

The amazing thing is that even with all this damage – damage that was more than predicted – only around 70 people lost their lives.  Of course it is saddening that even 1 person lost their life, but if we think about the millions of people that were affected, and only 70 fatalities?  I asked my boys how we know that Hashem is kind.  One boy answered that it was because He kept his promise and did not destroy the entire world.  Yes, that is true, but I was thinking that even with such terrible damage in such an extremely populated area, only 70 died.  What was destroyed were things that could be replaced.  Things can be replaced.  People cannot not.  Only Hashem can cause such damage and not destroy lives at the same time.

At times like this, people are asking “why?”  Why did Hashem do this?  The answer is that we do not really know why.  We can, however, see some amazing things come out of it.  All the way across the country in Los Angeles, there is a restaurant that offered a free meal to anyone who was stranded because their plane was cancelled due to the storm.  All they had to do is come in with their ticket and a free meal was given.  Such a mitzvah!  I teased my friend who was stranded there that she and her husband got an extended vacation.  However, I know that extending a vacation costs money – food in the least, and perhaps hotel, car rental, laundry and other unexpected expenses.  I believe on Tuesday I read an article about simchas that were suppose to happen on Monday and Tuesday of this week in the New York City area.  The person in charge of the catering mentioned that several years ago something similar happened and the simchas went on as planned.  There were three simchas that were suppose to occur – the Monday one was moved to today (Thursday), the other two on Tuesday occurred as planned.  The caterers and hotels had generators and extra food for the extra people that were going to show up.  The goal was to make everyone as happy and comfortable as possible.  Life does go on!  Simchas do still happen!

When events such as Sandy occur, it brings out the best in most people.  It is in times of hardships and sorrow that we all seem to pull together and help seems to flood in (excuse the pun.)  I was listening to the radio this evening in the car for a few minutes and it was talking about Meals-On-Wheels.  People are sending in food, but since there is so much damage for everyone, they are having problems getting enough food and enough volunteers.  The volunteers they have that are delivering have a hard time finding working elevators, so they have to walk up (as in the example they told on the radio) sometimes 29 flights of stairs…in the dark.  But they do that for they know the person on the 29th floor is in bed and cannot come out of his apartment to find anything.  It is in times like these that we often find ourselves going beyond what we thought possible.

These events also brings us closer to each other, and hopefully to Hashem.  It says in this week’s parsha (Vayaira), the angels who came to visit Avraham asked him, “Where is Sarah, your wife?” (Vayaira 18:9)  Rashi says this was to endear Sarah, his wife, to him.  Even though Avraham loved his wife we see it is good to be reminded.  Sometimes we all need reminding of what we already know.  Sometimes we need to have in our conscious minds that we love our family and friends.  It is hard to always remember when we are busy with our lives, so sometimes we need help remembering.  We hope that we can have more of a reminder like Avraham had and not have to go through hardships to be reminded.

Even through this pain, we can have comfort in knowing one thing – life will go on.  Houses will be rebuilt, businesses will be reopened, and we will live.  The people will not be the same, they will be stronger, better people.

That is all fine and dandy for me to say, as I sit in my comfortable warm house, with lights on in too many rooms while my boys play in their dry basement.  I checked in with my friends and everyone is safe and sound.  Who am I to say that life will go on? How do I know how it feels? I am just an outsider.

When I was about 8 or 9, we did have a flood in our house.  There was no hurricane, but the rains just kept coming down.  I remember looking outside and watching people with inflatable boats rowing down our street to friends houses and helping people who were stuck in their cars.  I remember how, as a little girl, how scared I was that the waters were going to get a lot higher.  I remember going downstairs to the basement where my bedroom was and moving everything off the floor and I remember we lost almost everything in the basement, except my bed for somehow the waters did not damage it enough.  I had that bed until almost exactly 16 years ago to date.

16 years ago, this month, while all us children were still living at home, I was out working and I got a frantic call from my sister.  Our house was on fire.  We lost just about everything in a matter of minutes.  The thoughts that first night of “I don’t even have pjs, let alone a toothbrush” ran through all our minds.  There was the call I made to my husband, who, at that time I was only dating and trying to get the words out of my mouth.  There was the first time I went to the house.  It was cold, very cold, there was already layers of snow and ice on the ground. The freezing fingers as we tried to pry frozen items from the ice, trip after trip, day after day and the time when my mother found her wedding rings but since her fingers were too cold to go back upstairs that last time, decided to go home; only to find out that by the time she got there the next day, they had been stolen!  The chuzpah!  How could someone be so low!  Going to a home that has already been destroyed and you take what precious little remains!  And don’t forget turning on the news, and for almost 2 weeks, the news channel showed OUR HOUSE burning, day, after day, after day.

But we got to see something else as well.  Something that I will never forget.  There was the warmth of friends who took us all into to their home the first night and the empty home that other people had that they gave to us, RENT FREE (though I think we got our insurance to pay something.)  Oh, and the dear friend of mine who not only sent over some crayons and papers for the littler children, but even a few needed rolls of toilet paper!  And not to forget the call my mother received from the JCC – “Are you going to come and take any of the clothes that we have collected here for you?” What clothes?  A previous teacher of my brother heard about what happened and started a collection at the JCC.  By the time my mother came to look, there was a mountain of clothes that was donated by the entire community!  Amazing!  The feeling of achdus from people we never knew.

So here I am, almost 16 years later, as someone who really knows what it is like and really has been there, and I can tell you from experience that yes, life really does go on.  Happiness will be had.  Initially things will be hard, that is a fact, but remember to look around you and see all the wonderful things – all the little things that people are doing for you and for others.  Perhaps, even with our own troubles, we can help someone else.  We do not know why these things really happen, or what exactly we are suppose to get out of them, but one thing is for sure- there really is good that comes out of it.  Good from others and good from ourselves.

To all those that were affected in any way – great or small – please remember that you are all in our thoughts and you really can get through this.  Remember what really counts – the house can be rebuilt, the pots can be replaced – make sure your friends and loved ones are safe and we all have each other.  May Hashem help you all and keep you strong. You can do it. I know.