Thursday, May 31, 2007

Approaching Shabbat

Here are some (solicited) suggestions I made to my sister about approaching Shabbat observance.

Going from a secular lifestyle to full-blown Shabbat observance requires significant lifestyle modifications. Adjusting to these changes can be stressful. This stress increases geometrically with the number of people affected by the shifting household rules.

Marriage is a sack race. When a couple (or family) makes this transition, it is important to move together, in the same direction, at a similar pace. This requires cooperation, accommodation, and communication. Adding ritual at the expense of family harmony is short-sighted and counter-productive.

In Pirkei Avot, Rabbi Tzaddok said, "Don't make the Torah a spade to dig with" Certainly it shouldn't be a sledgehammer to hit your spouse over the head with, either.

The Aseret HaDibrot (usually translated "Ten Commandments, but "Ten Statements" is more accurate.) are found twice* in the Torah. We learn a lot from the subtle differences between the wording of the two. One of these differences is in the commandment to observe Shabbat.

In parshat Yitro the Torah commanded us "zachor" ("remember") the Sabbath day to keep it holy. In parshat V'etchanan, the Torah instead uses the word "shamor" ("guard") the Sabbath day and keep it holy. Both of these are vital aspects of Sabbath observance.

If you (or your partner) are not ready to take on the whole of Shabbat observance, try focusing less on becoming "Shomer Shabbat" than becoming, what I call, "Zocher Shabbat."

Instead of beginning by implementing a long list of restrictions and violations, seek ways to add beauty and distinction to the day:

  • If you're not ready to abstain from television for all of Shabbat, resolve to watch it mindfully. Make a distinction between watching a planned movie and watching the evening news. It matters less what the distinction is, than that you've made one.
  • If you come across a wonderful treat during the week, set it aside to enjoy it on Shabbat.

  • Save the most wonderful meal of the week for Friday night or Saturday lunch.

  • If you're not up for a whole Saturday chock-a-block with synagogue services and heavy meals, don't fill it up with laundry and errands. Make Saturday morning the time for a leisurely brunch, and save the food shopping and vacuuming for Sunday, instead.

  • Try to do something (however small) every day of the week, with intent, to
    prepare for Shabbat. Say to yourself, "this is for next Shabbat" as you set aside the candles on a Monday, clear off the dining room table on Thursday afternoon, buy flowers on Friday morning, etc.

  • Imagine the week as it is in the Jewish calendar, with Sunday as the first day of the week. The week has a rhythm that builds to a crescendo: Shabbat is the grand finale of the week.

  • Whatever the menu, serve Shabbat meals on your nicest dishes. Sit at the table. Serve wine. Use cloth napkins.

  • Wear jewelry.

  • On Saturday, indulge in a late-afternoon nap.

  • Stroll in the park instead of going to the mall. Play Frisbee.
    Read for pleasure.

  • Save arguments and upsetting conversations for another day. Strive to taste every flavor of peace on Shabbat.

The Zachor Shabbat approach first adds, rather than subtracts from the activities in order to distinguish Shabbat from the rest of the week.

The goal, of course, is both zachor Shabbat and shamor Shabbat. However, you can't run every mile of a race at once. If the path you're on leads toward your destination, don't sweat taking a scenic path.

You can't sprint in a sack race. Remember to follow this path together as a couple (or family), because, as the less-enthusiastic partner is likely to point out, it has a slippery slope. Just know that the incline, while slick, slants upward.

Recently, I posted a comment at my my sister's blog about my transition to keeping Shabbat:

I started keeping shabbat when I got married. Although I enjoyed Shabbat for the first few months, I didn't "get" Shabbat - the feeling of time transformed, the oasis in my schedule, the tangible relaxation after the candles are lit, etc. - until I had to give something up for Shabbat.

It wasn't until after I refused my manager's adamant directive to work on Friday night and Saturday on a very visible project whose deadline had slipped, that I was able to feel Shabbat. I had to defend the integrity of Shabbat's borders before the I could know the value of her contents.

My manager was frustrated and angry with me on Friday afternoon. I was just out of college, and newly observant. This was my first job, and I had been recently promoted from test to design.

I'm a conflict-avoider in the tamest of situations. It wasn't easy.

I came in as soon as Shabbat was over, and worked late into the night. I returned early Sunday morning and continued to debug the problem. I couldn't figure it out. It was very scary. I was sure I was going to be fired.

On Monday, I learned that, had I come in that Shabbat, the problem would not have been solved any sooner. The problem I was supposed to solve wasn't in the software I owned, but in an area of code that belonged to a different department. It was broken in such a way that I would not have been able to detect it from my lab.

My boss was relieved, and enthusiastically thanked me for "working all weekend." I heard him on the phone with the other department's manager later that day, telling him that he (the other department's manager) should thank me for my hours.

That was twenty years ago. I have been reaping the benefits from that weekend, and from every other time that I have had to sacrifice some activity in order to observe Shabbat, ever since. I've found there can always be something so pressing that compromises with Shabbat's boundaries seem the most expedient path.

Just like quitting smoking, just like diet and exercise, just like resisting the snooze button, the long-term rewards are easily obscured by the tyranny of false urgency.

Observing Shabbat has shown me that, while there will always be another software bug, another overdue project, another frustrated manager, another overflowing inbox, another quotidian emergency, there will never be another NOW.

Clearing away time for Shabbat renews this perspective every week. I think I would never have understood this, without my "moment of choice".

I've started collecting links to stories and guides about making the transition to Sabbath observance. I hope to update this list as I find more: (Link recommendations welcome, please!) (The link list below is a collection-in-progress:)

Frum stories

Other worthwhile stories

Frum guides

Other worthwhile guides

*Here's the text of the two differing versions of the commandment to keep Shabbat: (See also this article by Rabbi B. Wein.)

ז זָכוֹר אֶת-יוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת, לְקַדְּשׁוֹ.Exodus Chapter 20:7
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
יא שָׁמוֹר אֶת-יוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת, לְקַדְּשׁוֹ, כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוְּךָ,ְה' אֱלקַיךָ. Deuteronomy Chapter 5:11
Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the LORD thy God commanded thee.

What to do with your pent up advice

Yesterday I mentioned my plan to avoid giving unsolicited advice to my sister and her family.

But, what should you do when do when the urge to share your copious spare wisdom with the world threaten to explode?

Enter my newest secret vice: Yahoo Answers. This nifty forum allows you to boss strangers around with impunity. They ask for it. Or you can.

Extra bonus: You get to feel brilliant by giving school kids the answers to their math homework. Who said cheaters never prosper?

If your idea of fun involves a posture with one hand on hip, another with finger raised, let your Pontification Monster run free... Save your family relationships from Seemingly Helpful Unsolicited Suggestion Hazards (SHUSH) by casting your pearls before the crowd at Yahoo Answers instead.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Nature abhors a vacuum: Why I'm not trying to sell my sister on the value of keeping Shabbat

Or, "A Tale of Two Vacuum Cleaner Salesmen"

STORY #1: My Father
My father tells the story of the summer between college semesters, when he sold vacuum cleaners:

Dad was trained to use his test model, and was ready to face his first customer. When he got to the man's house, however, he couldn't get the machine to work. Flustered and self-conscious, he fiddled with the controls. The customer, sensing my Dad's mounting panic, came over to him and helped him figure out why the vacuum cleaner didn't start.

Together, they were able to get the machine working.

My father made the sale.

Dad realized he sold that vacuum cleaner because his customer became personally involved with it. After investing himself in learning how it operated, the customer had developed a relationship with the machine. When my father's demonstration was over, the man felt some ownership of the vacuum cleaner. This helped him make the sale.

Thereafter, my father made a point of getting his victims fish potential customers to handle the machines during his sales spiel. He’d ask them to turn it on, or plug it in. He offered them the attachments to hold. He got them involved.

My father sold a lot of vacuum cleaners that summer.

STORY #2: Some other guy
In 1996, a vacuum cleaner salesman called. He told me he got my name from a friend of mine. He asked to come to my house and deep clean a room with his spiffy and expensive vacuum cleaner, free of charge.

I said, "No, thank you, I'm not interested in buying a vacuum cleaner."

Being pathologically polite to salesmen, I wasn’t able to hang up on him quickly enough.
(I suffer from LUMPY OATMEAL Syndrome: Lamely Unable to Modify Politeness Yields Overly Approachable To Marketers Employing Assertive Language.)

Somehow he stuck his foot in my door over the telephone, and continued his pitch.

"It won't cost you a dime," he said.

"I'm not going to buy a vacuum cleaner."

"I'll do a deep cleaning of one room. You don't have to buy anything."

"I'm not going to buy a vacuum cleaner."

"What do you have to lose?" He persisted.

I gave up after a few minutes of repeating, "I'm not going to buy a vaccum cleaner" after every round he fired at me and scheduled the appointment.

The next day, he showed up five minutes early, wearing a jacket and tie. He pumped my hand. He flashed a seminar smile. His eyes were tractor beams.

"I'm not going to buy a vacuum cleaner," I said, before returning his greeting.

"That's okay, no problem. Just show me to the room you'd like to have deep-cleaned."

He used my first name in every other sentence. Business cards sprang from his pocket. He offered them with both hands.

I told him I didn't need multiple cards. "They’re for your friends. They might like to have a room cleaned, too." He winked.

"I'm not going to buy a vacuum cleaner," I said.

For an hour and a half, he vacuumed and vacuumed my living room. He moved decisively. He was cheerful and energetic, and worked up a heavy sweat.

"I'm not going to buy a vacuum cleaner," I said, handing him a glass of lemonade.

He shrugged and went back to work.

During this time, I puttered in the kitchen, calling out to him every so often, "You know, I'm really not going to buy a vacuum cleaner. You do understand that, right?"

"Sure, that's fine, that's just fine. Hey, come over here and see the difference between the part I haven't done yet and what I just finished. Let me show you how the drape attachment works..."

He did a fantastic job. When he was finished, I felt guilty, yet determined. The room was thick with a burnt-dust just-vacuumed odor. We were the third family with children to live in that house, with that off-white carpet. I doubt it was ever that clean, even when newly installed.

I praised his machine. I praised him. I thanked him profusely. I told him, "I'm really sorry you went to all this effort, because I'm really not going to buy a vacuum cleaner."

He smiled his seminar smile, chirping, “No problem. I hope you enjoy the living room. Maybe you can recommend me to some of your friends," as he packed up his equipment heading for the front door.

I couldn't stand it anymore.

"Look,” I said. "I don't get it. From the moment you called, I told you I wasn't going to buy a vacuum cleaner. I repeated it throughout your visit and demonstration. I stood here, with my hands folded across my chest, shaking my head, repeating that sentence. Yet you worked so hard. You did such a great job. Why did you bust your tail for me for half a day, knowing that I wasn't going to buy one of your vacuum cleaners?"

"Oh, that." He chuckled a bit. "Everyone says that."

"But I repeated it over and over again."

"Everyone does that. I'm used to it."

I was surprised. "Okay, so lots of people say that. Out of all the people who say that, how many break down and actually buy the vacuum cleaner?"

"About half of them," he said.


"Yup. I'm almost at 50 percent.. Now you go and have a lovely day, and don't forget to tell your friends about me..."

And off he went.

Ducking the “Hard Sell”

So, how does this relate to my sister and me?

My sister and her husband recently started keeping kosher. She’s blogging about it at Kosher Newbie.

As she mentioned in a recent post comment, they are not (yet?) shomer Shabbat (Sabbath observers). While I did comment about my own experience of becoming shomeret Shabbat in reply, I have no intention of explicitly urging them to become shomer Shabbat.

There are two reasons for this: one philosophical and the other strategic.

First, it is no secret which way I would choose. After all, I have already chosen for myself. This is the only choosing I get to do. My opinions are known. I know that they know I’m available, if they ask my opinions or advice in this area. Given that, any unsolicited coaching from me would be insulting or patronizing. At the very least, it would be annoying. I hate being annoying.

The strategic reasons are related to the two vacuum cleaner stories above.

In the first story, my father taught me that a sale is more likely when the customer sells the product to himself. This is especially effective through direct involvement with the product. It’s easy to tune out the enthusiastic sales pitch made by someone who “works for the company;” someone is vested in the sale. One’s own experience is much more convincing.

The second story demonstrates the effective strategy of allowing the victim fish potential customer to state objections without posing an emotional counter-argument. True, the guy in that story didn’t sell a vacuum cleaner to me. He did, however, have a fantastic closing rate. The salesman in the second story let the product speak for (and sell) itself.

I care about my sister and her family. I’m interested in the choices they make.
Yet, my plan is to sit back and let them sell themselves (or not) on Shabbat observance, and let Shabbat sell itself to them.

This way, I don’t have to become a pushy salesman, and the chances of a successful closing are maximized.

That’s the plan: Mind my own business, unless asked, and hope.

Now it’s time go vacuum my living room…

Monday, May 28, 2007

Triumph of imperfection: Juggling Frogs shirts for the kids

Here is my new guerilla marketing team, in their battle garb:

Juggling Frogs t-shirts on the kids

When Hannah saw what I was doing yesterday morning, she called out to the others, "Eema's at it again. She's doing it again!. Eema has a website, so we're getting shirts again...."

I made these shirts yesterday, using the Gocco machine and some spare t-shirts. This was an exercise in Cafepress avoidance. They offer too many tempting and cute items. Consider this was a defensive budget-protection maneuver.

I always tell the kids that "Nobody is perfect, except HaShem, so strive for excellence, not perfection." My father-in-law says, "The Perfect is the enemy of the Good."

Making these home-made t-shirts certainly gave me quite an opporutnity to prove that I practice what I preach. I got to demonstrate making the best of myriad mistakes as "teachable moments."

Okay, that's my story and I'm sticking to it. It sounds so much better than, "I can't believe I'm making the kids wear these patchkied-up t-shirts...."

I started with the idea that everything would fit on one master Gocco screen. This was going to be a quick, monochrome (green stamp ink for cloth), cheap (leftover green ink from a long-ago project, spare t-shirts from our stockpile) project. I was going to outsmart Cafepress and have the kids in shirts in 15 minutes. Ha!

Juggling Frogs: making Gocco t-shirtsJuggling Frogs: making Gocco t-shirts

When I did the first test-print on paper, I realized that only part of the URL for Juggling Frogs made it onto the screen. I didn't want to waste a screen, so I taped up that part with packing tape, to prevent it from partial printing. This worked well, but it was messy.

Juggling Frogs: making Gocco t-shirts

The first two shirts registered well. They did seem a bit too monochromatic, though.

Juggling Frogs: making Gocco t-shirts
This picture shows how the rest of the shirts didn't get a complete impression from the screen print. I think this happened because the ink was old. The cloth ink is much more difficult to work with than the ink for paper. The paper ink never clogs the holes of the screen, and it stays wet/usable for days. When I use cloth ink, I have to move fast, before it dries up, blocking the holes.

Juggling Frogs: making Gocco t-shirts imperfect registrationI touched the mis-registered/missing parts up using a paintbrush dipped in the excess stamp-ink-for-cloth.
Juggling Frogs: making Gocco t-shirts touch-up paint for the missing parts I thought I'd be clever, and make the URL for Juggling Frogs as big as possible, maximizing the screen space by flashing it onto the screen diagonally. I forgot that this would make lining up the words almost impossible.
Juggling Frogs: the url had its own screen when making Gocco t-shirts Instead of trying to line up the words carefully, I decided that a "random angle" URL placement was part of my design. The fact that this angle is different on each shirt is a feature, not a bug. I swear.
Juggling Frogs: slanted url registration when making Gocco t-shirts Here are the completed shirts:
Juggling Frogs: making Gocco t-shirts
I thought the logo looked a bit too monochrome, so I added some color with fabric paints. This adds to the readily apparent subtle lack of quality control uniqueness of each shirt.

Juggling Frogs: making Gocco t-shirts

Here's a picture (taken in 2004) of the kids in their "Warning: If you get too close to me, my Mommy might moblog you" shirts:

Juggling Frogs:  Kids in moblog t-shirts in 2004

And, here they are this morning, in 2007, in their new Juggling Frogs t-shirts:
Juggling Frogs t-shirts on the kids in 2007
Here's Gretta in her moblog onesie, three years ago:Gretta in her textamerica onesie

See also: How to make inexpensive quick t-shirts

Having just discovered Dave's wonderful weblogcartoons, I think the next (personal use, not for profit, etc.) shirt projects will come from using the Gocco machine to make something from his generous site. They'd be great Gocco projects: not too much ink, all meant to be monochrome. The trick will be in narrowing it down and choosing!

This post is an entry in the group writing project at about t-shirts. (With an name like that, how could this duct-tape-loving Mom resist?)

My blog is a smorgasbord, come and eat...

Charlene at Essential Keystrokes asked, "How do you explain blogging to your Mom?", which then sparked a group writing project called, "The Metaphor Project: What’s Your Blogging Metaphor?" at The Successful-Blog.

I recently explained blogging to my mother (Hi, Mom!), so it seems fitting to participate in this project.

I see blogging as an enormous buffet table, or smorgasbord. There are many different types of dishes: appetizers, entrees, side dishes, and desserts. Each blogger puts out a dish, refilling it as resources allow. (I guess the porn sites would be like an open bar?)

Compelling, original content is a nutritious, well-executed treat.

Many dishes are made from creatively re-using leftovers. To some this is cheating, but others don't mind the source of the dish, as long as it has an appealing look and taste.

There are some whose offerings are straight from a cookbook, others have an artistic and spontaneous approach.

A few casseroles appear home-made, but are really from a mix. Buying a cake at the local bakery and passing it off as yours (content scraping) is illegal, but some still do it.

A little bit of CSS-garnish around the edges of bowl, makes the offered food much more appealing. No amount of kale will disguise spoiled food.

A chef might offer SPAM, and customers might put it on their plates, a few might eat it, but none enjoy the experience.

It is possible to gorge oneself, overfilling a plate with RSS feeds. Just as with an all-you-can-eat-buffet, I have a tendency for my eyes to be bigger than my google-reader's stomach.

cartoon from

Blogging allows us to choose different cuisines, yet sit together at the same table and share the meal.

This was fun, but somehow it is making me hungry.... Bon Appetit!

Sunday, May 27, 2007

How to get the kids to set the table correctly: Place Setting Mnemonic

Table set with correctly, with paper showing the Place Setting Mnemonic
We use the following two-part mnemonic to help our children remember how to set the table correctly:

Part 1: Number of letters in FORK, KNIFE, and SPOON
The number of letters in each of the utensil names matches the side of the plate to which it belongs.
FORK has four letters in it, which corresponds to the four letters in LEFT.
KNIFE and SPOON each have five letters, and they go on the RIGHT side, which has five letters as well.

(GLASS also has five letters, and it also goes on the RIGHT.)

Part 2: Alphabetical (for English, at least) order
The Fork, Knife, and Spoon are placed on the table in alphabetical order. Note that this works, even when the child forgets the leading/silent K in knife and misspells it Nife.

Works for Me Wednesday header at post is part of the Works for Me Wednesday group writing project.)

Here are the rest of my contributions to the WFMW project.

Craft room tip: Attach measuring tape to edge of shelf

shelf with measuring tape attached to front edge
A measuring tape attached to the front-facing edge of a shelf saves so much time!

Friday, May 25, 2007

Shabbat Shalom! שבת שלום

Please note: this blog is not updated on Friday nights or Saturdays, due to the Jewish Sabbath.

Gretta surveying lots of baked goods, Shabbat Shalom!
(It's 90 degrees F in Boston, and I've been baking all afternoon! What was I thinking? The house smells, great though. I wish I could attach a scent attachment to share it with you!)
Shabbat Shalom!

Comments made during this time will be put in a queue, to be moderated after Shabbat.

שבת שלום

When the family has a fever: Organizing for a house full of flu

If everyone does get sick, it helps to have some basic tools in place to preserve as much sanity as possible.

I bought thermometers for every person in our family, and wrote each person's initial on one of the them with a paint marker. This way, when the whole family gets sick, we don't need to share thermometers (and our cold germs.) We can take all the kids' temperatures simultaneously.

The school-age kids can push the buttons on the digital thermometers and take their own temperatures. The thermometers save the last temperature recorded. This way, when it gets very busy, the thermometer with the person's initial has the latest temperature recorded. If I'm tending to one child, the others can leave their thermometers on the bathroom sink for me to find when I have hands free.

cup of many individual thermometers, with each family member's initial

We keep a Tylenol/Temperature chart posted on the inside of the medicine cabinet. When a child gets sick, we weigh the child on the bathroom scale and record the child's weight on this chart. The corresponding dosage of Tylenol (or equivalent) gets written next to the weight of the child. This is a lifesaver when the whole family requires different dosages.... It's easy to mix up the dosage schedule without this.

Here is a sample of this list as we use it. (Note to family members: This file uses sample data as an illustration - everyone is healthy right now, TG, no worries!)

Sample Tylenol chart, with data filled out

If you want a copy of my list, I've uploaded a (free) generic version/template for this chart for you to use.

Here's a photo of the chart, taped to the inside of our medicine cabinet:

Tylenol chart, hanging on the inside of the medicine cabinet

May you rarely need this list, and may whatever is causing the family of fevers pass as quickly and painlessly as possible.

GTDmobile 2.0: The Whiplash Edition

Shortly after uploading a heavily annotated description of my GTDmobile on Flickr a few months ago, a falling fire extinguisher hit me in the face, resulting in "whiplash."

This put me in bed for a week. I made a number of modifications to the GTDmobile to make it more comfortable to work from bed for long stretches.

I'm all better now, (thanks for asking), but the GTDmobile improvements remain.

Here's what I changed:

I moved the tickler file to a basket that hangs off the side of the cart. This allows more hand-room for using the laptop directly from the cart.

GTDmobile tickler basket hanging on side of the GTD cart

I added labels for the pockets of supplies. When I was stuck in bed, I had to rely on help from other people. I know where *I* put the stapler. If I want other people to be able to find it, or to be able to put it away where I can find it later, then the pockets need clear labels.

GTDmobile with labels on the pockets

I added a shower curtain ring to hold a headset for the telephone. If you know anyone with a neck injury who doesn't have one of these, order one for him immediately! This was a lifesaver. I still use this all the time, now that my neck has healed.

I bought this "old-school" model, for under $10 (shipped free via Amazon Prime)

GTDmobile with telephone headset hanging by a shower curtain ring

I added a carabiner to hold a plastic grocery bag, to hold trash. Eliminating the extra reach to the garbage can was a welcome improvement.

GTDmobile trash bag held by carabiner and a clothespin

bookdarts hanging from the GTDmobile by a retractable badge holder

I added a bag of bookdarts, attached to the cart by a retractable badge-holder. After a week, my bed looked more like a library table than a place for sleeping. I love bookdarts! They don't fall out of the page, they don't mark the page, and they point to a specific line of text.

I bought them in bulk, because I like to use them liberally and leave them in the books. (I keep a similar bag of these inside a kitchen cabinet, for marking frequently used recipe pages in cookbooks.)

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Chag Sameach! !חג שמח

We made this poster from stuff found around the house, a couple of years ago - Har Sinai is made from a torn paper bag, etc.
There is a whole lot of dough rising on our dining room table, and four cheesecakes just out of the oven.
Please note: this blog won't be updated from Tuesday night until Thursday night, due to the Jewish holiday of Shavuot.

Comments made during this time will be put in a queue, to be moderated afterwards.

Abigail cutting peppers

Jonathan helped with the strawberries

Gretta inspects the rising dough

Chag Sameach! !חג שמח

Monday, May 21, 2007

A few of my favorite bloggy things: Jott, my "SchedulePad", and Texter

I've been blogging for two weeks. I've already become dependent upon a few favorite tools:

Jott: (Free service - public beta) Jott by Jott Networks
Jott is a free service that transcribes telephone messages into text e-mails. It is in beta test, and I've been using it since March, 2007.

I've programmed my cellphone's speed-dial to Jott's service (their recommendation.)

Thus, when driving parked carefully at the side of the road, I just hold down the "2" button, wait for the voice asking "Who do you want to Jott?", answer "myself" and start talking. Whatever I say ends up transcribed in an e-mail by the time I get home.

I fear for the day they will start to charge for this service, because it has become an important way for me to remind myself of things, especially when driving parked carefully at the side of the road.

It wasn't until last week, however, that I set the Jott service up for blogging drafts while driving parked carefully at the side of the road. It has been such a boon! Blogspot/Blogger has an option to send a draft post to a special e-mail address. In the configuration menu, I added this address to my list of Jott contacts, calling it "My Blog".

Now, when I call Jott, I can answer either "myself" to get a to-do item in my personal e-mail, or "my blog", where whatever message I leave will be waiting on-line in my drafts folder!

Here is a sample post I created by speed-dialing Jott from my cellphone, while driving parked carefully at the side of the road. I redacted my name and the link to the audio of the message, but the rest of it is as it arrived in my "drafts" folder on blogger.

picture of my SchedulePad
My "SchedulePad": Since starting this blog, ideas for posts flood my waking hours. This is a little device I made to help me sort out the ideas and schedule them. It has kept me from drowning in little green post-it notes and (in GTD-speak:) "empty my head" into a "reliable bucket."

(I plan to explain how I made it and how it works in an upcoming, separate post.)

It's 8.5" x 6", about the same size as a Moleskine notebook, so I can carry it with me during the day.

Texter (Free download) Texter (from Lifehacker)
Texter is a text-expander that really works. It is based on auto-hotkey, but is extremely easy to set up and use. I use it to avoid typing repeated link codes, enter names in forms, and send form e-mails.

I downloaded and installed it just before starting this blog. I can't imagine how many hours of typing (and re-typing) it has already saved me.

The Gossip Cure

Gretchen Rubin posted this cute entry, Six dodges for pretending that you're not gossiping when you really are today.

As a religious Jew, I am supposed to adhere to explicitly and broadly defined rules about avoiding speaking and listening to gossip (לשון הרע "lashon hara").

I *thought* I was doing well at this, until one day (16 years ago) when I was in a restaurant with my husband.

clipart of guy listeningI was giving him a summary of the upcoming week's activities; including trying to determine if we "had to" invite a certain couple to dinner. I explained that while owed them a return invitation, they would be incompatible with the other couple who was already invited to that dinner.

We discussed the personalities involved, and agreed that the two couples should be invited for separate weekends. We paid the restaurant bill, and stood up to collect our coats.

As we stood up, we saw that the very couple we were discussing was sitting at the next table. They were definitely within earshot.

Mortified, we greeted them as politely as we could, and slunk out of the restaurant.

While I didn't say anything exactly "bad" about them, I would never have spoken with a detached, analytical, know-it-all tone about their relative personality quirks, to their faces. I would never have specutlated about their relative compatiblity, or who they might enjoy as friends, directly with them.

Upon review (something I have been doing for the past 16 years), we were very lucky. We liked both couples, and didn't "trash" either of them in the discussion.

None of us ever mentioned the incident. The couple who was in the restaurant with us that day, is still close with us. (We've lost touch with the other couple.)

The lesson I learned, however, is always with me. (And no, that lesson isn't to avoid restaurants.)

Something I want to do: Make a digital photo shelf

I want to do this:

Pictures of child #1
digital photo frame

Pictures of child #2
digital photo frame

Pictures of child #3
digital photo frame

Pictures of child #4
digital photo frame

Pictures of child #5
digital photo frame


But I'm too cheap cautious to buy five photo frames just yet. I'm waiting for them to come in a multi-pack at Costco for $20 a piece...

The goal is to yield a shelf with a photos of each child in their own digital photo frame. This way, if one child has billions and billions of baby pictures, but another has but three, the three would take up as much "visual space" on our wall as the billions.

Paying for five frames isn't the only hurdle to cross. I'm still trying to figure out an elegant way to power the frames. I need to find a safe, ventilated, discreet way to hide power strip and five transformers...

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Recipe for Pizza

Great pizza is easy to make, using the bread machine for the dough.

children eating pizza
We can have pizza on the table less than 90 minutes after deciding to make it. One hour of that 90 minutes is waiting for the dough to form in the bread machine while preheating the oven with the pizza stones.

I cheat and use jarred sauce, making homemade pizza a true convenience food.

Recipe for Pizza

(bread machine, dough is pareve, pizza is dairy)

Yields 2 Pizzas

Pizza Dough:
1.5 cup water (= 12 fl. oz.)
2 t. oil
2T + 2t sugar
1 t. salt
4 c. bread flour
2 t. yeast

Dough Dressing:
(spread on dough with a pastry brush after it has been formed into a pizza shape, before baking or topping with sauce)
2 T olive oil
2 t sugar
1/2 t. minced garlic

Preheat the oven with pizza stones to 500 degrees F, starting when starting the bread machine dough cycle . This way, the oven will preheat for an hour.

Form the pizza circles and place the formed dough on greased pizza pans (the ones with the little holes all over the bottom) dusted with cornmeal.

Spread the dough dressing on the dough with a pastry brush. Bake the naked pizza shapes for 5 minutes, remove from oven, top with sauce and cheese, and bake for another 3-5 minutes.

They should be placed immediately on a room temperature pan when removed from the oven, and left to cool a bit before slicing.

UPDATE (May 21, 2007): Check out this post on The Kosher Blog about how to get pizza-oven-temperatures from a home oven. Oy!

Index of Recipes on Juggling Frogs

Curling Ribbon Center

curling ribbon storage organization

I store curling ribbons for gift wrapping and other projects, three-up on bent pants hangers.

The scissors is kept local via a retractible id badge holder.

Curling ribbon is a very economical gift wrap embelishment. A huge roll costs $3.

(There was an extra "standard" for hanging shelves in my laundry room. I twist the tops of the pants hangers to fit in the holes in the standard.)

Sleepover tip: Toothbrush Library

When our children have first-time, spur-of-the-moment sleepover guests, I give the guest a fresh toothbrush from our stockpile, and label a baggie with the guest's name.

If the guest is likely to return, we keep the toothbrush, in its baggie, in our "Toothbrush Library" (a box in the medicine cabinet). The children enjoy having "their" toothbrush staying in a permanent place in our house, portending future visits. I appreciate not wasting the toothbrush!

Friday, May 18, 2007

Shabbat Shalom! שבת שלום

Please note: this blog is not updated on Friday nights or Saturdays, due to the Jewish Sabbath.

Comments made during this time will be put in a queue, to be moderated after Shabbat.

שבת שלום

(Abigail shaped her dough in the shape of the word "Shabbat" in Hebrew)

Shabbat Shalom!

Virtual Challah Lesson: Step-by-step instructions for making challah, recipe and photos

A friend called me late one Thursday night in 2004 asking for "challah counseling". She was making challah for the first time, and it wasn't working. She had thrown out two batches.

I thought I had talked her down from the ledge, but when I woke early Friday morning (to bake my own weekly challot), there was a frustration-filled e-mail message, indicating she had given up in discouragement.

At 4:30 a.m., there was little I could do... Or so I thought. I remembered I had a digital camera and a moblog. I quickly threw together a "Virtual Challah Lesson", snapping pictures of each step as I made that week's batch of challah.

My friend was not only able to learn to bake challah, but today she is a weekly challah baker. She has taught and encouraged others using these instructions!

The "Virtual Challah Lesson" was meant for one person, but it helped many who found it on the web and used it in the past few years, despite the difficulty in navigation and the mis-fitting moblog format. Unfortunately, some of the pictures hosted on the moblog have become corrupt over time.

I am posting a restructured and revised version of the Virtual Challah Lesson in this format, because it is easier more conducive to instructions and recipes with multiple pictures. This version has the corrupted pitctures restored from their original photos.

Links to beautiful challah stories:
Second overall, first in the middle
Sara Yoheved Rigler's "Dr. Laura, God Loves You" at

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[Virtual Challah Lesson] Bake, then cool

Remove from oven and cool. We have these six wrought-iron chairs in our kitchen that make nifty cooling racks. (There are some weeks where all six of them are occupied with cooling baked goods!)

(Back to Virtual Challah Lesson Index)

[Virtual Challah Lesson] Egg wash (optional)

If you liked this article, congratulations! You have great taste. Please brew yourself a cup of coffee.
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