Friday, June 29, 2007

Shabbat Shalom! שבת שלום

Please note: this blog is not updated on Friday nights or Saturdays.
Happiness is... a working oven!
Comments made during this time will be put in a queue, to be moderated after Shabbat.

שבת שלום
Shabbat Shalom!

Three things I want my kids to refrain from saying on our upcoming road trip

Emily's hand holding up three fingers
  1. "Are we there yet?"
  2. "Mommy! She's looking out MY window!"
  3. "I forgot to pack underwear."

(This is my submission in the MamaBlogga 3 things group writing project. and in Daily Blog Tips' group writing project, too.)

Thursday, June 28, 2007

"The Adventures of Supermom"

Announcer: Faster than a speeding toddler! More powerful than the stuffed animal stuck in the vacuum cleaner! Able to change wet diapers with a single hand!

Voices: "Look up on that pedestal! It's a wife! It's a mother! It's Supermom!"

Announcer: "Yes, it's Supermom, strange visitor from another household who came to your house with powers and abilities and kugels of every variety...

SuperMom drawing by Juggling Frogs 2007

I just read a beautiful post by Baby Lox, called, 'Supermom?'

I can certainly identify with her juggling metaphor, as it is exactly why I chose it for my own screen name!

Someone once told me, of an erev shabbat she spent, in frustration with the lack of "perfection" in her family. It was one of those days, when everything went wrong, and she felt particularly inadequate. All the kids were squabbling, nothing was ready on time, she had over-committed during the week, and had demanding guests due for Friday night dinner. She was squeezed on all sides from the stress; most painfully from the self-induced variety.

She decided to go out for a walk to calm herself, rather than yelling at someone or breaking something.

Since it was a Jewish neighborhood on a Friday afternoon, it was filled with many houses where families were getting ready for Shabbat. The windows she passed all seemed lit from within, acting as frames of a film strip replete with idyllic erev-Shabbat family scenes.

It seemed that each house glowed with beautiful erev Shabbat preparations. She glimpsed mothers brushing their daughters' hair, adolescents setting tables, fathers and sons rushing off to shul tying their neckties as they trotted out the doors, all accompanied by the intermingling of the wafting aromas of so many shabbat dinners.

She stopped walking, and sighed, trying to steady herself against her disappointments. She started to cry in frustration. Why couldn't she have what everyone else has? Why was running the family so difficult? Why couldn't she be organized, calm, in control of her family life? Why couldn't she enjoy this time? Why did it have to be so hard?

After a bit, she realized that the nagging, negative internal monologue began to repeat itself. She and she made an effort to tune it out, imagining turning down the volume dial on the squeaky, noisy, ranting radio in her head.

Concentrating on taking deep, stress-reducing breaths, she started to tune in to the family sounds around her. As people left for synagogue, through open windows, across alleyways, she began to listen to the sounds of erev Shabbat falling on her community.


"OH NO! I forgot to bathe Ephraim!!! "

"EEEEEma! Josh has a dirty diaper!!!"

"PUT that DOWN!"

"Wait! Who forgot to put a liner in the trash can?!!"

She looked around, realizing that coming from those same perfect houses, was the sound of families stressing about getting ready, feeling the weight of the sunset deadline, calling out to the second floor from their kitchens... Many of these were almost the same sentences she called out earlier to her own children, in the same tone of voice.

She chuckled to herself, recognizing the universal sound of getting ready.

Then, she looked up at one house and peeked in its lit window. It was bathed in the beauty of erev Shabbat. The candles were in their holders, waiting to be lit. The challot were resting under an embroidered cover, in the center of a beautifully set table. She could see a teenage girl, helping tie the bow on the back of a smaller girl's dress. A boy was sweeping in the kitchen.

She thought of knocking on the door of this house, but decided to use her key instead.

Related posts:

Multiple shampoo dispensers

This is something I arranged when we moved to this house, over seven years ago. It's one of the
systems that guests frequently comment about, so I thought it might be worth sharing.

Throughout the house, in the bathtubs/showers and above every sink in the house, we installed liquid soap dispensers.

For the main bathroom that is shared by adults and children, I put two sets: one at adult height, and the other at a height that can be reached by a child from the bathtub. The adult-height set holds my (more expensive, not tear-free) shampoo, conditioner, and some baby shampoo. The tub-level set holds the kids' shampoo, conditioner and soap.

The baby shampoo in the adult-height dispenser allows an adult to reach it to shampoo a child's head, without having to bend over too far.

Advantages of liquid shampoo/soap dispensers:

  1. No mildew-collecting bottles to clean
  2. No collection of bottles to wade through in the shower
  3. Can see how much soap/shampoo is left at a glance
  4. Can dilute the soap/shampoo in the beginning of usage, allowing for the use of every drop of soap, without a week of shampoo-water at the end of a bottle
  5. Can buy in bulk, gallon containers of shampoo. Gallon containers are too heavy to put in the shower.
  6. Uses less
  7. One hand dispensing
  8. Since the dispenser is mounted on the wall, can reliably reach for the shampoo with closed eyes
  9. (Not for the shower, but at the sinks:) Can use liquid soap on Shabbat
  10. Can refill all the hand soap containers in the house pouring quickly from a bulk container, in a couple of minutes. (Easy to "top off" partially full dispensers)

GTD: Meta-Two Minute Rule (mTMR)

My GTD tip is a modification of the "Two Minute Rule" (TMR). I think of it as a meta-Two Minute Rule, or mTMR. mTMR means that I shouldn't spend more time inserting an action into a tracking system, than is required to complete the action. So, mTMR isn't about the specific number of two minutes, but as many minutes as it would take to record and track the action.

Thus, if it would take twenty minutes to set up a project, but fifteen to complete, then that project is subject to mTMR, even though it takes more than two minutes. If it isn't appropriate to do a fifteen minute action right now, it can be inserted as a next action, even if it has multiple steps.

The trick (for me) is to avoid the overhead of tracking it as a project, if the tracking overhead will cost more than the project itself.

To summarize:

Cannonical GTD has the TMR:

If action takes less than two minutes, then do it.

My "mTMR" replaces this with the idea:
If Tracking Overhead > Estimated Action Time
     then do action without inserting the action into a tracking system
     else insert action into the tracking system

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Identifying sandals

We finally got around to getting sandals for the girls yesterday. By the time we hit the shoe store, there was only one style left (that didn't light up, have high heels, looked like it might make it out of the store without falling apart, etc.)

In order to tell the shoes apart, I took markers and colored the stitching on the center of the flower decorations. Hannah's stitches are green, Abigail's are left unchanged, and Emily's are blue.

These markings are subtle enough not to change the look of the sandals, but allow the shoes to be matched and identified from across the room.

Ah, sanity!

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.

A status report: Digging Out


It's Tuesday morning. I have been digging out from an activity blizzard, trying to find my life again.

Sunday was the last day of my "marathon" month of activities. Over the last three months, my calendar was a mountain climb that peaked Sunday. Anything that could wait, had to.

Sunday night, I planted my flag on the mountain peak and sighed.

Monday was filled with overdue personal errands and appointments. Like so much hiking gear, I spent yesterday packing my pickaxes and tent spikes.

This morning, Tuesday, I find myself in a cool green meadow. Thank G-d.

Already this morning, I've found my closet floor, the bottom of my inbox is in sight, the answering machine message indicator reads a blessed ZERO (it blinked >=33 all last week), the dishwashers are empty, and I have a plan to discover the surface of the dining room table.

Already this morning, my shoulders are unhunched, my brow unfurrowed, and I can exhale.

It's amazing how many simple 5-10 minute tasks built up, undone, clogging my mental corridors (and some of our house's actual hallways) over the past quarter. It's equally amazing, to me, how easy it has been to clear away the detritus of this over-busy month, and how liberated I feel.

Friday afternoon, the oven and washing machine were repaired. These mission-critical devices have saluted, and now stand at attention, having returned to service. My army is back to its full compliment. This moring, the house hummed with the happy sound of busy appliances.

Disorder drains me. There really wasn't time this past month to hang that laundry basket full of clothes, or file that basket of "benign" paperwork. Today, it feels SO GOOD to dig out, to put things away. It's not yet 7a.m. Tuesday morning, and I'm buzzing with the energy released by tackling these few critical clutter monsters. (This is what my closet jungle felt like.)

I've said "Behold it is good" many more than twice today!

I hope it's a great day for everyone reading this, too.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Shabbat Shalom! שבת שלום

Please note: this blog is not updated on Friday nights or Saturdays.

(My oven-repair guy came late this afternoon to breathe new life into our broken oven.
We plan to enjoy the bakery-made challot and other treats that were brought to us by a friend this afternoon.
Thanks, Miriam!)

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

שבת שלום
Shabbat Shalom!

Recipe for Sweet and Sour Meatballs

meatballs cooking
Prep Time: approx. 10 Minutes. Cook Time: approx. 40 Minutes. Ready in: approx. 55
Minutes. Makes 32 meatballs

After cooking, can keep the meatballs warm in a slow cooker until ready to serve.
I usually make step 3 (below) by just putting the sauce ingredients (all 2 of them!) in a crock pot to heat while I am forming and frying the meatballs. Then I put the fried meatballs in the warming sauce, omitting step 3.

I use a portion scoopportion scoop at amazon and tongs to make meatballs. These two tools have made the process run smoothly, especially when making the meatballs in bulk. (I made 1800 meatballs in 2005 for Jonathan's bar mitzvah!)
meatball making tools: tongs and portion scoop
The meatballs freeze nicely (just after step #2)

2 pounds ground beef
1 cup dried bread crumbs
2/3 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup soy milk
2 eggs
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 cup shortening, used 1/4 cup at a time
2 * 15 ounce cans sloppy joe chili sauce
1 32 ounce jar grape jelly (Smuckers and Liebers are kosher)


  1. In a large bowl, combine ground beef, bread crumbs, onion, soy milk, egg, salt, Worcestershire sauce, and ground black pepper. Mix together, and gently shape into meatballs with minimal handling.

  2. In a large skillet, heat shortening over medium heat. Add meatballs, and cook until browned, about 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from skillet, and drain on paper towels.

  3. Add chili sauce and jelly to skillet; heat, stirring, until jelly is melted. Return meatballs to skillet, and stir until coated. Reduce heat to low. Simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes.

Index of Recipes on Juggling Frogs

Monday, June 18, 2007

My turn!

I enjoy reading productivity blogs. Mark Shead at Productivity 501 asked 30 of the best productivity bloggers three compelling questions, and compiled their excellent answers.
Now, he has asked the rest of us to respond. Here are my answers:

What is the single biggest way people waste time without even realizing it?
Worry. Each day comes at us with a certain pace. We can plan; we can do our best; we can analyze our performance and plot our progress.
Worry - dreading what might come - is paralyzing and counterproductive.
I think of it as mental nail-biting. With my head down, nibbling on my nails, I can’t face the world.

What change has made the most difference in making you effective in life?
Eschewing perfectionism. My father-in-law often repeats the following two aphorisms:

"Don't let an imperfect situation become an excuse to do nothing."
"The Perfect is the enemy of the Good."

I have to remind myself before, during, and after an undertaking, that no human is perfect. Attempting perfection is hubris. I tell my kids (and myself) not to aim for perfection, as only G-d is perfect. Aim for excellence instead.

If someone were to read just one post from your site, which would you recommend the read and why?
I'd choose "Simcha Blisters" because it demonstrates the practical application of the answers to the above two questions.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Shabbat Shalom! שבת שלום

Please note: this blog is not updated on Friday nights or Saturdays.

(no picture of our challot this week- the oven died while baking them this morning!
We'll be defrosting something quick!)

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

שבת שלום
Shabbat Shalom!

This week's episode of the "Find the Dining Room Table Game" is brought to you by Hannah's Bat Mitzvah Chessed Project

Hannah is 11 years old. We've just begun a chessed project as part of the bat mitzvah year's activities.

We contacted the director of a nearby children's trauma clinic. A significant number of the children served by her clinic are from abusive or neglectful situations. Many are in foster homes. Others are with their families, but the arrangements are under supervision.

We asked her what they need. She told us that a number of her client children don't have basic personal care items of their own. For whatever reason.

Hannah's chessed project is to make personal care baskets for these children.

We have been assembling personal care items for the past six weeks. We are making 4 dozen baskets, aimed for boys and girls (the baskets are gendered, at the trauma clinic director's request) aged 4-8 years old.

Assembly began last night. We were out late, delivering stuff to the school for various events. By the time we came home, the girls were too tired to start. Jonathan set up the baskets and helped streamline the process for today's assembly line.

This is how our dining room table looked this morning:
Everyone was pressed into service. Abigail and Emily were very helpful. Gretta, not so much.

One of the finished baskets:
This is what my dining room table looked like at 4 this afternoon. Oy!

Wish me luck at digging out. We need the table for dinner tonight!

(We hope to deliver the baskets early next week.)

This week is my Heartbreak Hill

heartbreak hill
I'm slogging through the Heartbreak Hill of a two-year PTA marathon. Next week, I get to pass the baton to two wonderful new PTA presidents. Our school is so lucky to be getting the benefit of this pair of extremely capable, dynamic, young, enthusiastic, hard-working, visionary, lifetime volunteers who really enjoy working with each other.

It's such a relief just to have the end in sight. Having such fantastic people ready to take the job on makes the hand-off even easier. We've already had a few transition meetings. There are plans to restructure, re-brand, and repopulate the parent volunteer system. Many improvement are in the works.

This last month has been outrageously hectic. Yesterday alone, I brought 5 mini-van-fulls of supplies from various warehouse stores, supermarkets, and restaurant supply stores to the school. Well, the van was only partially full of the supplies, as the 5 kids and I took up the spare space.

These photos are from just one of the five of yesterday's mini-van-fulls of supplies. This was the Costco trip for barbecue supplies for two school-wide events. The kids had hot-dog rolls and burger buns between them and in their laps. There were #10 cans of ketchup under their feet:

Abigail and Emily in their Color War (Maccabia) t-shirts

Wednesday was Senior Recognition Night. Today was our color war (maccabia) with barbecue. Graduation is Sunday. Wednesday is a whole-school celebration.

The finish line is in sight! Woo hoo!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The garbage that made me kvell

Yesterday was Jonathan's last day of ninth grade. We were running late, and rushed off to school in the morning,. The tires squeaked as we left the driveway.

When I returned from dropping everyone off, I discovered that Jonathan had put the garbage out without my asking. It has been such a busy week, I had forgotten it was garbage day.

He remembered and took care of it, without even pointing it out to me!

Gretta's strudel crusts speak to me

On weekdays, the kids put pieces of leftover strudels in their school lunches. Gretta doesn't go to school yet, so she gets her piece at home as a mid-morning snack.

Gretta is three years old. She has a three year old's approach to table etiquette. So we have rules. One of these rules is: if she picks out the raisins or chocolate chips, and leaves the crusts behind, she can't have a second piece of the cake. It's wasteful; it's bad table manners; it's a rule.

She's consistent about asking; I'm consistent about refusing.

Today is Thursday. That means our leftover strudel is a week old. (Our lunch guests had to cancel last week, so I had a couple of extra strudels made) I plan on making fresh strudel tomorrow, as usual. Since it's getting a bit stale by now, I plan to toss the remnants this afternoon.

Thus, when Gretta asked for a second piece of strudel after picking out the raisins from the first piece, I shrugged and cut her another slice.

She looked at me quizzically, then bounced with delight as I placed the cake on her plate.

I shared her delight, musing to myself at how wonderful it is to be able to induce so much joy by allowing her a happy, cost-free, waste-reducing indulgence. I have to say 'no' so often, that I treasure getting to say, 'yes!"

She said, "I can have more only when it's bad, right Mommy?"


She picked out the raisins from the second piece, alighted from her seat, and went off to play with Legos, humming happily to herself.

And I'm left with her crusts, in the form of unanswered questions:

  • When is it appropriate to grab the best part first? Where is the balance between 'life is short' and short-sighted?
  • When is caving-in not a weakness, but a strength?
  • Where would we (our family?, society?, the human race?) be, if we allowed ourselves to enjoy the parts we like most, while the loaf is fresh? Would we be living in a pile of stale strudel crusts, or would we just be happier, sooner?
  • Is delaying gratification an end in itself?
  • Why doesn't she enjoy the raisins as much when they're served separately? Why are they more enjoyable when picked out of a slice of cake?
  • Which is worse: wasting stale strudel to maintain the consistency of legitimate rules, or laying waste to legitimate rules to indulge a three year old's simple request?

Given the same circumstances, I'd do it again. My working model is: indulging her isn't spoiling her if it gives us both joy.

I'm sure Gretta hasn't given it any further thought, and that this one incident doesn't really matter one way or the other. But I think this is a typical internal (maternal) monologue. There is meaning in the dirty dishes and stale crusts.

One of the benefits of being three years old is getting to leave the crusts on the table.

One of the benefits of being a mother, is nibbling on the questions the crusts represent.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Senior Recognition Night remarks 2007

As your PTA president, it is my privilege to present you with our gift.

This year’s choice, “A Maimonides Reader,” is Rabbi Twersky’s English translation of selections of the Rambam’s works that he thought essential to understanding the scope and content of the Rambam’s outlook, philosophy, and impact.

Appropriately, Senior Recognition Night falls in the week of parshat Korach this year. This parsha is replete with lessons about accomplishment, recognition, responsibility, and the attainment of power that can be learned by analyzing Korach and his sins:

Numerous commentators characterize Korach's faults, contrasting his methods with Moshe’s.
We are struck by the disparity between Moshe’s renowned humility and the insolent, hubristic, sarcastic tone Korach used to deride the Torah.

Dissatisfied with his resources, (wealth, political power, charisma, intelligence) he used them to foment strife. From Korach, we learn "It is forbidden to sustain an argument”

In masechet Avot, the mishna criticizes Korach’s motives by comparing them with those of Hillel and Shammai. The dispute of Korach and his group defines an argument not for the sake of Heaven. We are told such a dispute will not endure.

Moshe, Hillel, and Shammai’s motives were pure. Korach and his cronies’ his opportunistic power grab is characterized by a stunning lack of dereh eretz. Korach’s harsh satire of the commandments, his mockery of the Torah, was teeming with jealousy and arrogance.

Okay, so everybody agrees Korach and his methods are contemptible.

But what about the content of his argument?

Korach contested Moshe’s appointment of Aaron as Kohen HaGadol, by asking, “aren’t all the members of the nation holy? After all, haven’t we all experienced the revelation at Sinai?”

Korach’s argument is a multi-faceted contradiction in terms. Not only is it illogical to say that he, Korach, should be singled out from the group for a position of distinction, based on the equality of the merits of its members, but Korach’s acquisitive rebellion was a repudiation the very achdut obtained at Har Sinai that he claimed as the foundation of his argument.

Rabbi Soloveitchik pointed out that

“[while] It is true that every Jew, […] is innately holy, […] there is another
aspect of holiness that depends on personal merit. The greater a person
makes himself, the greater his degree of holiness. In all his
speeches in this chapter, Korach referred only to the communal, common
holiness. Moshe never did. He spoke only of the individual whom God
chooses. Moshe acknowledged the national holiness, but he added that
leadership depends on personal merit, and it was in this that Aaron was superior
to his detractors.”

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch highlights Korach’s error in confusing reality with potential. He says that at the time of Korach’s rebellion,

“Kol haeidah coolam were by no means Kedoshim already. They were Anshei
Kodesh, men of a holy calling, Kedoshim yehiu, they have the calling to become
holy, and just by this calling are Kedoshim lalokeichem, are an am kodesh
la’Hashem, men hallowed to God, a nation […] exclusively to God; but
Kedoshim, “holy”, that they are not yet.”

He says that
“[…T]hey [should] not mix up what they are with what they should be, … not
imagine themselves already holy because they are hallowed to a holy calling, but
that they should rather keep this holy calling of theirs always before them as
the goal set by God for all their endeavors,…”
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch on bamidbar 16:4

As freshly minted graduates of [name of our school], you are in a position that can be likened to that faced by klal yisroel after receiving the Mesorah at Har Sinai. Just as then, you must now decide what to do with the knowledge you have gained. How will you apply it to the challenges and circumstances of your life? How will you live up to your potential? It is the unfolding story of the answer to this question that comprises our history as Jews, the story of our ongoing relationship with Hashem and His world. We, your parents, eagerly anticipate learning your particular answers to this question.

There is another similarity between Klal Yisroel at the foot of Har Sinai and our [name of our school] students as they graduate. When we stood at Har Sinai, we were “am ached im lev achad” – one nation with one heart – yet we each heard Hashem’s voice in our own way, according to our own individual level of understanding.

The schismatic machinations of Korach did not, and can not, endure.

Likewise, the Class of 2007 is a cohesive group, having journeyed, studied and grown together these past 13 years. Yet each of you experienced your education individually. Together, in your educational tenure at [name of our school] you experienced all the unique qualities of our school: the guiding vision of Rav Soloveitchik, its fabulous teachers and staff, our passionately involved and committed community. These are but a part of a special partnership, to which each of you brought your unique personality, aptitudes, enthusiasms and outlook.

We, your parents, stand in awe of what you have accomplished and the fulfillment of your potential that you’ve realized. We celebrate you - individually – and together – and the opportunities that lie ahead.

May you always stand tall, as you do today, knowing that your foundations are secure and true, built on love and fear of Hashem and His Torah, the love of your family, and on an excellent education based on Rav Soleveitchik’s philosophy of engaging in worldly matters, always for the sake of Heaven.

May you continue to be like Aaron, focusing on the attainment of kedusha, not its trappings. May you always confront the world l’shaim shamayim, so that your accomplishments will endure.

May you continue to merit being the joyful conduit of HaShem’s gift of nachat to your parents.
May you always know that we, your parents, are very, very proud of you.
Mazal tov!

Spell checking blog comments and posts

I like to use spell check before posting comments on other blogs.

My quick way to do this, is to copy the text into an e-mail, sending it to myself. Since I have a domain name for this blog (, I send it to an e-mail address called "spelling" at that domain name. I created an e-mail filter to whisk away the result to an email folder called "spelling".

Before I had the domain, I would send the e-mail to myself, with the word "spell:" in the subject line, and set my filters up to catch those messages.

I could just delete the e-mail without sending, but too often my fingers hit the send key out of habit. Having something in the "to:" field prevents me from sending it to other people by accident. It also saves me time, because without a valid address in the "to:" field, I'd have to click "cancel" a couple of times to close the windows and discard the changes.

I like this method because it gives me a bit of a record of what I said, when. I've added the habit of putting the link to the website in the subject line, in order to find the post in the future.

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.

Monday, June 11, 2007

One of the many reasons I love our school

In the mid-afternoon, there are many tefillin bags lying around our school's lunchroom. Every so often, one of the boys forgets to bring his home on Friday afternoon. (Tefillin are worn every non-holiday weekday morning except Saturday.)

This means that sometimes, there are tefillin bags that are left in the school over the weekend. Our wonderful high school principal writes these "love notes" on the bags for the boys to find on Monday morning.

Tefillin love note

The note says:

I missed you on Sunday.
Please take me with you next weekend.

Your tefillin

I'm told that ever since our principal started doing this, the number of tefillin bags forgotten over weekends has decreased significantly.

My fantasy advice column

There have been times when I have been astonished by the impact attributed to my words.

A few years ago, I received a "bread-and-butter" thank you note from a houseguest that went on, in the tiniest of handwriting, for two pages, thanking me in the most glowing terms for my sage advice and wise counsel.

This was confusing, because I couldn't remember offering any advice at all. I wrangled my memory, trying to recall what I said that was so brilliant as to precipitate such praise.

It wasn't until half a day later that I fully remembered the conversation. This guest and I were in my kitchen late Friday night, after everyone else had gone to bed. We were stacking the dinner dishes and chatting.

She shared stories of her life with me, and we discussed a couple of issues that were bothering her. She asked me what I thought she should do to handle a particularly difficult relationship with a family member.

My reply was, "Wow, that's such a difficult situation. I have absolutely no idea how to handle something like that."

We talked late into the night (there were a lot of dishes.) I remembered feeling impotent and frustrated that I had nothing to offer her. I went to bed disappointed at how unresolved and difficult her situation remained.

Years before that, I attended an annual party at a friend's house. I sat on the sofa, focusing on keeping my paper plate of buffet goodies and plastic cup of seltzer balanced and upright.

Someone vaguely familiar rushed over, earnestly seeking me. It took me a moment to place her. She was a mutual acquaintance of the hosts and me, who had moved out of town a couple of years earlier. Her name bobbed in and out of my mind, just out of reach. I tried not to squint, tried not to let on that I was struggling to retrieve her name.

"I just had to come over and thank you," she said.

"Thank me?" I started to demur, figuring she had me mixed up with someone else.

"You changed my life."


"I followed your advice."

"My advice?" Now I was certain that she had me confused with a different person. The last time I saw her before that evening was a few years ago, at the same hosts' party. We had never been at each other's houses when she lived in our town.

I was a bit relieved, because now we could reveal our names to one another, and the confusion would dissipate in chuckles about mistaken identity.

"Three years ago, we sat on this sofa, at this same party," she explained. "I told you I always wanted to go to graduate school to study [I've forgotten what she studied!]. You encouraged me. You told me I should go for it. I applied for the program at [some out-of-state school] and was accepted. That's why we moved to [whatever that state was]. I just finished my program."

Okay. This took some serious mental time travel, but, finally, I located the memory of that event. We were chatting on the sofa, as she described. She described her passionate interest in a certain subject. She told me she was more interested in this subject than anything she was doing during the day, and that she wished she could spend the day studying [whatever that subject was.] She told me about the graduate program in the other state.

I casually said, "Wow. If it means so much to you, why not apply? They can only say no. If you don't apply, they can't say yes." I'm sure I shrugged while saying this.

The topic changed, probably to mystery novels, and I never gave it a second thought. Until she came over to the sofa three years later. I had no idea we were having anything other than a small-talk moment at the time.

I learn from this that no moment of listening with empathy is ever wasted. Words don't have to be profound (or even decisive) to have an impact on others. They have power that transcends their content.

I have a dream. In that dream, I have an advice column. People write in to ask me what they should do about sticky life situations. I reply with a well-written, detailed and specific article describing why I have absolutely no idea what they should do. I explain that they are the world's expert on their own opinion.

Weeks later, they write follow-up articles, thanking themselves for following their own excellent advice.

Once a year, the publisher hosts a advisee reunion get-together and serves ice-cream. Everyone orders a different flavor, and all are satisfied.

Recipe for (Sweet) Noodle Kugel (Noodle Pudding) (pareve)

This is a very reliable, quick and easy recipe. We make it almost every week.
(Since we have an "instant hot" dispenser, this is easliy made, using an 8 cup measuring bowl. Total messy items include this bowl, a fork, a small other bowl, the bundt pan, a teaspoon measure, and a quarter cup measure.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

  • 4.5 cups boiling water (can be from the "instant hot" or kumkum)
  • 0.5 cup white sugar
  • 4 oz. margarine (1 stick)
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 0.25 cups brown sugar
Mix the above items in the measuring cup. The hot water will dissolve the sugar and melt the margarine.

Stir well. While this mixture cools, grease the pan.
You can use a bundt or cake pan. I have successfully used a "Viennese Swirl" 12-inch diameter round pan, but the texture is best with the bundt pan. I like to put a larger pan underneath the bundt pan, (or, sometimes, a sheet of heavy foil around the outside) to catch any potential drips.

Place 12-16 oz. egg noodles in the greased pan. (I like medium width.)

In a small bowl, beat 4 to 5 eggs with a fork.
Temper the mixed eggs by putting a small amount of the cooled mixture in the bowl and mixing with the fork.

Pour the eggs over the noodles in the pan.
Pour the mixture over the eggy noodles in the pan. If there are exposed noodles, add a bit more water to cover them.

This is a picture of the eggy-liquid mixture on top of the uncooked noodles in the greased pan.

Bake at 350 degrees F for an hour and a half.

(Can be served warm, cold or room temperature.)

(Note: I'm looking for the photo of the completed kugel, hoping to update this post with it when it is located!)

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Saturday, June 9, 2007

Happy Birthday, Julie!

"Tiffany Box" cake for Miss Julie, our piano teacher (& friend), by request.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Senior Gift from our PTA: "A Maimonides Reader"

One of my afternoon activities today is wrapping the gift from our PTA to the graduating high school seniors. We're giving them "A Maimonides Reader" by Rabbi Isadore Twersky ztz"l, which is an excellent and extremely lucid translation (to English) by Rabbi Twersky, of what he determined to be some of Rambam (Maimonides)'s most important works. (Rabbi Twersky was the son-in-law of our school's founder.)

At a shiur (lecture) given by our school's Rosh Yeshiva, he recommended this book so highly that I ordered a copy from Amazon that night. This book is worth owning for the introduction, alone. (By the way, Amazon ROCKS. They got me 45 copies in under two weeks, and the shipping was free because I use Amazon Prime.)

It's such a valuable book that I chose it, despite it only having a paperback edition available. It would have been nicer, I suppose, to have bought something in hardback as a gift to the seniors. I can only hope that if the spines crack over time, it will be from constant use.

For the attaching of the nameplates, I've fallen in love with my friend Martha's tape runner. This device has saved wear and tear on my fingernails and a ton of my time.

If I have any hope of finding the dining room table before dinner tonight, each book needs to have its personalized bookplate (with the graduate's name written in beautiful calligraphy by Unique Simchas) inserted, gift wrap applied, and name label attached to the outside of the gift, all while keeping the challah crumbs (and Gretta's curious fingers) away from them and alphabetical order maintained within the NEXT HOUR. OY.

All the best, (Shabbat Shalom!)

(In the past couple of years, we've given the seniors Rabbi Shapiro's excellent bookon Rabbi Soloveitchik on Pesach, Sefirat HaOmer and Shavuot. Since it had been a couple of years of the same book, we decided to mix it up a bit with a new title. The amazon link says Rabbi J.J. Schacter is the author, but I think that's a misprint. Rabbi Schacter was the dean of the former Rav Soloveitchik institute, which was housed at our school and hosted (edited?) this series, but Rabbi Shapiro is the book's author.)

Shabbat Shalom! שבת שלום

Please note: this blog is not updated on Friday nights or Saturdays.

challot with flowers, shabbat shalom

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

שבת שלום
Shabbat Shalom!

Q. Why did the turkey cross the road?

A. To provoke a blog post.

My brother-in-law was quite amused when he saw wild turkeys roaming residential roads during his past visit to the Boston area. So, when I see them going about their business, I'm often prompted to snap a few turkey pictures to share with him.

The turkey (pictured above) sauntered the streets a block from our school yesterday afternoon.

I parked the car and began to take photos. The turkey was less interesting, however, than the reactions of people to him:

Our school principal biked by on his way to his office, did a double take and swerved. He's from Israel. I guess he wasn't expecting to see a bird as big as his front bicycle wheel. Are there wild turkeys on the streets of Israel?

A kind lady in a minivan full of children saw that I was taking pictures and stopped her car in the middle of the road. She must have been a resident of this street, because she asked if I'd seen the chicks.

Apparently this turkey is "the Dad." There's also a mother with ten turkey chicks living in a nearby backyard. The turkey began to cross the road in front of her, while she chatted with me through our open windows.

A line of cars had formed behind her, and the drivers started honking impatiently. Turning in her seat and stretching half her body out the driver's side window she yelled at them, morphing seamlessly from sweet and informative local resident to the obnoxious assertive Boston driver that lives in us all, bellowing, "Hey, whadaya expect me to do? There's a [expletive deleted] turkey in the [expletive deleted] road here. Have a little [expletive deleted] patience, willya?"

She turned back to me, smiled, and told me I should really try to get a picture of the whole turkey family; how they all walked in a line, like ducks. The drivers of the cars behind her continued blasting their horns. Just as the turkey reached the other side of the road, she waved to me, then gestured [ahem] differently to the cars behind her, and drove off.

A dump truck with four tired-looking workers drove up, as the turkey weaved back across the road. It pulled up very close to the turkey and stopped short in front of it. The turkey stopped walking and turned to face the truck. It looked first with its left eye, then turned to look with its right eye.

Arms waved in frustration from both the driver's side and passenger's side windows. Cussing could be heard, keeping rhythm with the gesticulating arms. The turkey continued to eye the truck and the men in it. The turkey took a step toward the truck.

The truck then inched closer to the turkey (from a stop!) I guess the turkey won the game of "chicken" [sorry, couldn't resist!], because the truck stopped again, shaking from the sudden use of the brakes. The turkey slowly turned its back to the truck, taunting the men. It started walking very slowly away from the truck, but still in the middle of the road, daring the truck to follow. The driver honked the truck horn and yelled at the turkey.

After half a block, the turkey must have become bored with the game, because he changed his angle and moved diagonally to the side of the road.

The men in the truck yelled after the turkey as they passed it.

A lady in running shoes, walking her twins in a jogging stroller eyed me suspiciously as she approached my car. She watched me carefully, following the aim of my camera to the turkey and back to me, multiple times.

I flashed a friendly smile at her, but her brows knit, and she frowned.

Maybe she's a turkey hater. Maybe she thought I was a terrorist, using the turkey as a clandestine cover for unspecified nefarious ends. Maybe she had indigestion. Maybe she thought I was a turkey tourist. Maybe her feet were tired.

I couldn't tell if she was more annoyed with the turkey, or me, or something else altogether.

I hope she found something in the rest of her day to make her happier.

Here are pictures of the turkey. Next time, maybe I'll take pictures of the people, too.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Recipe for Strudel (pareve, uses bread machine)

Here's how I make strudel dough in the bread machine. One batch makes one HUGE strudel or two normal (10-15 servings) strudels. This is the same dough I use to make crescent rolls for shabbat breakfast. It also makes a nice apfelkuchen or pflamenkuchen base.


  • 1/2 c. water or soymilk

  • 2 eggs

  • 3 c. all purpose flour

  • 1 t. salt

  • 3/4 c. (yes, that's 1.5 sticks!!!) margarine

  • 1/3 c. sugar

  • 1.5 t. yeast (or half a coffee scoop of yeast)

For Strudel

  • Roll dough into rectangle

  • Brush with melted margarine

  • Fill with [whatever you like

  • Let rise again

  • Bake 35 minutes at 350 degrees F

  • Cover with simple confection-sugar-and-water icing when cool.

Here is the one half of the recipe of dough, rolled out to a 2' x 1' rectangle, with the melted margarine ready to be brushed onto the dough's surface:

Chocolate Strudel:

The plastic container at the left has cocoa and sugar mixed in a 1:1 ratio. This is sprinkled on the magarine-coated dough surface:

Pareve chocolate chips (I like the ones at Trader Joe's) on top of the cocoa:

Rolling the strudel into a loaf
Place the rolled up loaf, seam-side in a greased pan.
The excess/spilt cocoa can be put on top of the loaf. I like to do this, especially when making a bunch of different types of strudels, because it helps identify the contents. Also, I hate to waste anything - most particularly chocolate! Make a simple icing by putting a cup (or less) of confection sugar in a bowl, add hot water by the tablespoon, mix well until it behaves like a spreadable icing. Drizzle it on the cooled competed loaf.

Almond Strudel:

One of the favorite fillings is marzipan. I buy mine from Bierman (OU pareve) at Amazon in 5lb. blocks. One 5lb block makes 6-8 strudels, generously filled. I have found this to be a delicious brand of consistent quality. I've tried buying more than 5 lb. at once, but it tends to dry out after a couple of months, even when kept in an air-tight container. Less than that isn't cost-effective, when the cost of shipping is considered.

To fill the strudel, roll out the strudel dough, coat with margarine (as above), and roll out the marzipan with the rolling pin to cover the margarine-coated dough's surface:

Don't worry that the marzipan fills the dough's surface completely. Patch it together as best you can.

Sprinkle the top of the uncooked marzipan strudel with slivered almonds. They'll brown up in the oven.

To make crescent breakfast rolls with this same dough, roll the dough in a circle and coat with melted margarine:

On top of the margarine-covered dough, sprinkle brown sugar and cinnamon. Sometimes I add raisins, dried cranberries, and/or chopped walnuts. One recipe yields 16 crescents.Cut the circle into eight wedges. Roll each wedge, starting from the arc to the point (middle of the circle) and place on a greased pan, leaving room to rise. In the upper right hand side of the below picture, you can see two HUGE strudels. They had fruit filling. I used to make two HUGE fruit-filled strudels every week (and would cover them in drizzled icing, as described above.) Last year, however, I started making four of the strudels that fit in the 9x3 pans, as above each week, instead. The idea was to reduce waste and stock the freezer with one or two strudels per week, for "dessert emergencies" and for giving away. This has worked very well. The full recipe strudels pictured below would work for very large (20+) crowds, but are impractical for smaller groups.

If you look carefully, you'll see tiny pieces of paper labeling the types of strudel fillings on the inside of the strudel's curve. I used to make (at least) two different types of filling each week. Once baked, you couldn't tell which was which. To identify them, I'd put a piece of paper with the filling's name on the greased pan, and bake it along with the strudel. Then, when it was time to serve the two strudels, I'd put each on a platter with its label discreetly tucked near it. This way, my husband could offer the guests their choice, and know which filling was which, before cutting into them.

ApfelKuchen and PflamenKuchen: (Apple and Plum cakes)

One recipe of dough above makes 6 of these little cakes, or three in 9-inch round pie pans:

Grease the pan. Press the dough into the pan. Brush with melted margarine. Slice apples or plums as thin as possible. Lay the fruit slices on top of the margarine-coated dough. Paint the tops of the fruit with a very thin layer of melted margarine. Sprinkle cinnamon (and, optionally, either brown or white sugar - I omit this) on top of the fruit slices. Bake at 350 degrees F for 20 minutes.

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