Friday, December 19, 2014

Celebrating The Holidays When Your Family Is TINY



My family is TINY, as in just the four of us plus my mother and my mother-in-law. I usually don't think about it, but around the Holidays, when society's emphasis is on ALL THINGS FAMILY, I feel bad. We don't have large family gatherings with tons of people running around, my kids don't get loads of presents from relatives, and on special occasions, most of our friends want to be with their own relations, not us. Still, the reality is that until my kids get married and have children of their own, the family is not going to grow; in fact, since the two mothers are older, the clan is actually going to get smaller before it get bigger. 


Having a small family is a challenge around the Holidays...it makes me sad.


Coping with all of this pressure to have FAMILY has been a real challenge for me. Even though it's silly, I feel guilty that I can't give the kids more relatives. So my husband and I have come up with our own holiday traditions, fit for the interfaith family we are.


Hanukkah


Since my husband is Jewish, he's in charge of Hanukkah. We light the menorah and say the prayers every night. We've turned Hanukkah into The Literary Holiday by giving the kids books the first night only. Hubby hides the books, turning the gift-giving into a pseudo Scavenger Hunt by giving the kids hints as to where the books are. We have a special meal and continue to light the menorah whether my husband makes it home on time or not; it's important for the kids to know that I (the non-Jewish parent) respect Dad's tradition enough to carry through whether he's home or not. 


Pre-Christmas (Okay, so it's not a holiday, but it has become it's own materialistic season.)

Seymour (as in he "sees more")

Since I am a former Catholic and we're raising the children Unitarian Universalist (which embraces all religious traditions), we have a Christmas tree and TONS of decorations. Elf-On-A-Shelf came after Thanksgiving and he delights my daughter every day as he moves from place to place. My kids get stockings which Santa fills with little things like socks, which seem to consistently disappear, and sugar-free candy. Now for the two biggies:


Christmas Eve


First, we have a special Christmas Eve dinner, usually lasagna (my son's favorite), and the kids drink special sparkling apple cider out of plastic champagne glasses.


Later, we attend our church's Christmas Eve service for children. I fell in love with this years ago when my son was a baby. Our minister starts off by pointing out that God loves the sound of children, so we shouldn't worry about keeping the little ones quiet. He also tells the Nativity with the wee folk ages 6 and under coming up to the Sanctuary and acting the story out. When my kids were younger, they were angels and shepherds; I'm sad that they're too old to participate now, but it's still fun to watch.


Depending on how we're feeling, we may go to our town hall's free Christmas Light Show. Sometimes we drive around looking for extra-special house displays as well.


My daughter (who is 9) prepares the snacks for Santa and spends quite a bit of Christmas Eve making gifts for Santa and Mrs. Claus. She also says goodbye to her Elf who will be picked up by Santa when he comes later that night. 


Christmas Day

Yep, that's a bit smaller than our family - just a bit.


The first rule is that no one can go downstairs to look at the tree until EVERYONE is out of bed. We then go downstairs where Santa has given the kids three presents (the Wise Men gave Jesus three, so that's how many the kids get as well) and we have given them one. They also see what's in their stockings.


Everyone opens one present one at a time while we all watch. Then, while the kids enjoy their presents, either hubby or I make a special breakfast (he makes THE BEST OMELETS!).  Then my daughter and I start cooking for the grandmas while my husband goes to pick them up and Junior amuses himself.  Since the Nanas LOVE to eat, and must eat early, dinner is usually over long before 5PM, so we all sit down to watch a holiday movie (often, "It's A Wonderful Life"). 


Chris Moose


Okay so it isn't a lavish celebration, but from what I hear from other people, it's also not filled with the bickering and pettiness that families with larger families experience. Our Holidays are simple and they're ours. I'm savoring this time with the children, knowing that they won't be home with us forever. 


I guess cherishing time with the family you have and not bemoaning what you don't have, is really what the Holidays are all about.

--


I found two fantastic articles on celebrating holidays when you don't have a large family. Since they resonated with me, let me share them with you:


Tara-Michelle Ziniuk wrote this lovely article in which she tells about celebrating Hanukkah with her family of two.

Dresden Shumaker explains how she envies those with big families in this wonderful piece.


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Thank you for reading! Please come back again, won't you?

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Laugh (After Your Latkes) With These Kid-Friendly Hanukkah Jokes

What's better during this Festival Of Lights than sitting around the beautiful menorah, post-latkes? Sitting around and laughing!



So please,  enjoy these Hanukkah Jokes:

 

One Hanukkah night, the residents of a tiny village outside Budapest were scared that they wouldn't have enough latkes for everyone because they had run out of flour.

Rudi, the wise Rabbi, was asked to help solve the problem. He thought for a moment, then said, "Don't worry!  You can substitute matzo meal for the flour and the latkes will be just as good!"

Miriam looked to her husband and said, "Irving, you think it'll work?"
Irving replied, "Of course! Everybody knows Rudolph the Rab knows grain, dear."







������





Admiring the Christmas trees displayed in his neighbor's windows, Samuel asked his father, "Papa, can we have a Hanukkah Tree?"
"No, of course not," says his father.
"How come?"asks Samuel.
Bewildered, his father replies, "Well, my son, because the last time we had dealings with a lighted bush we spent 40 years in the wilderness."





������






Ethel went to the post office to buy stamps for her Hanukkah cards.  She said to the cashier, "May I have 50 Hanukkah stamps?"
The cashier asks, "What denomination?"
Ethel sighs and says, "Oy vey!  Has it come to this? Okay, give me 6 Orthodox, 12 Conservative, and 32 Reform."




Happy Hanukkah! 






Monday, December 15, 2014

EASY Gluten-Free Southwest Chicken And Rice Casserole


When a friend accepted our dinner invitation and casually added, “Oh, yeah! I'm gluten-free now,” I panicked. Most of my guest dishes involve pasta and are usually variations of lasagna.  How would I ever cook a gluten-free entree that my guests and my family, especially my finicky kids, would eat?



This EASY gluten-free Southwest Chicken & Rice Casserole is delicious and freezes really well!


This dish is my solution. It can be made with pre-cooked  (and even pre-bought) chicken and Minute Rice, can be as spicy or not as you want, and the only one I could see it challenging would be a lactose-intolerate person (but even there, you could use lactose-free cheese). 



So, here's my Easy Gluten-Free Southwest Chicken And Rice Casserole. This particular version serves about 12 people and leftovers freeze really well for future microwave suppers. 



Ingredients:


5 boneless, skinless chicken breasts which have been grilled and either shredded or cut into bite-sized pieces

8 cups of cooked brown rice

2 cans (15.25 ounces each) of DelMonte Southwest Corn (it contains red peppers and poblanos which adds color as well as flavor)

2 cans (15 ounces each) of drained black beans

2 cups of plain Greek Yogurt

1 cup of chunky salsa

2 cups of grated Mexican cheese (or a Cheddar/Monterey Jack combo) – 1-1/2 cups will go in the dish with the other ½ cup going on top



This would be a lovely kitchen to make this dish in.  Sadly, the kitchen is not mine.


Instructions:


Preheat your oven to 350. In a LARGE bowl, combine all of the ingredients and mix them thoroughly, being especially careful to make sure that the yogurt and cheese are dispersed throughout. Place it in a lasagna pan or other oven-safe dish and top with the extra cheese. Bake it for about 25 minutes.



Options: You can use sour cream instead of yogurt for a little extra sourness and sprinkle a bit of ground chili pepper on top for more color. Since my kids LOVE black beans, I actually add another cup of those in and serve with extra salsa on the side for those who want it even hotter.



With things so busy during the holidays, make this on a Sunday for dinner and it could last your family through Tuesday of that week.  

Bon Appetite!  

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Match 8 Hanukkah Game - You'll Find YOURSELF Playing It!

So I was looking for Hanukkah-inspired games for my daughter when I stumbled upon the free Match 8 Hanukkah Game in Google’s Play Store.  The reviews said that it would help children with their math and, indeed, I can see it doing that for younger kids. However,



I’m actually having a lot of fun playing it myself!




Match 8 Is A FUN Hanukkah Game!



match83
As you can see, the directions couldn’t be simpler: just drag the numbered candles to one another to total 8. You need to do it quickly, before the time ends. And, don’t forget to click on the coins you see.
Sure, this can be used to augment match learning in kids, but I’m finding that it’s also a game of speed.



As you climb the levels, you’re combining the numbers and not always getting the ones you want. In the meantime, the candles are burning down.





Multi-tasking and quick thinking is involved.



The music is unoffensive and the Match 8 requires no special permissions, which I LOVE!  You’re not giving away any personal information and the app doesn’t ask for anything other than for you to have fun.





match82


Download it for your kids, but be forewarned: you just might find yourself playing Match 8 Hanukkah as well!

 

 Thank you for reading!

 

 

Friday, December 12, 2014

8 Fun, Frugal Hanukkah Ideas

I don't get it,” said one of my son's friends. “How come I usually see a Hanukkah menorah at your house along with Christmas lights and Santa decorations on your lawn?” Gather around, my friends, and -

 Welcome To The Wonderful World of Interfaith Families!


You can celebrate Hanukkah without having to take out a second mortgage!


My husband is Jewish; I am not. We are raising our children Unitarian Universalist (or, as my husband calls it, the “I'm okay, you're okay religion” where children are encouraged to develop their own belief systems). We celebrate Hanukkah and Christmas, with Hanukkah being what we call, The Literary Holiday. The kids get books the first night we light the menorah and then they get additional presents for Christmas. 

For us, giving books keeps the cost of the holiday down and reminds the children of the value of education. Still, we're a one-income family and don't have a lot of money, so I've come up with these 

8 ideas for a fun, yet frugal Hanukkah:

  • First , resist the urge to succumb to the pressure of having Hanukkah compete with Christmas. According to my husband, this is a minor Jewish holiday, so keep it in perspective. Focus on the love and togetherness instead of how much money is spent. Start traditions like “A Night In Front Of The Menorah” where you read books to each other or listen to music while enjoying each others company.  In other words, give the technology a rest.

  •  Make a Family Collage to help kids remember loved ones who have passed. Purchase a large, inexpensive frame (Ikea has some great ones) and print out photos; add stickers, ribbon, etc. Tell stories of your loved ones as you make the collage. Or make a Memory Tree by writing the names of loved ones on card stock, punching a hole through the card, and adding a ribbon. Hang from any tall plant in the house.

  • Agree to make a small donation to a worthy cause in lieu of gifts - what a mitzvah!

  • Shop clearance, online sales, thrift stores, and at the local dollar store. Also look in Big Lots, Amazing Savings, and even drug stores.  A gift is whatever a person might want, not what retailers tell you to buy.    


    Hanukkah can be a frugal holiday!



  • Make a Coupon Book good for things like “taking out the garbage on an extra cold night,” "doing one load of laundry," or "getting up to feed the cat."  People appreciate someone else doing their less-than-favorite jobs.

  • Look for free, local Hanukkah celebrations in your neighborhood.  Even if you're not associated with a temple, these events are often open to the general public.  Check your local newspaper or JCC for details.   


  • Go to your local library and rent some Hanukkah-related movies.  My favorites include:  Lambchop's Chanukah And Passover Surprise, Chanukah On Planet Matzah Ball, and Eight Crazy Nights.


May your Hanukkah be filled with happiness and peace! 



Wednesday, December 10, 2014

8 FUN Pieces Of Hanukkah Trivia - How Many Do YOU Know?

Lost in the midst of “all-things-Christmas” is the fact that Hanukkah is almost here.  Okay, so Hanukkah isn't as big a holiday for Jews as Christmas is for Christians, but it's still a celebration.  Since mine is an interfaith family and I am not the Jewish parent, I try to add my own spin to the traditional festivities. One way is finding trivia about this holiday and sharing it with my husband and the kids.  So I now I'd like to share with you: 


8 Little-Known Facts about Hanukkah
My family's menorah. 
See how many of these questions YOU can answer without looking!


What does the word, Hanukkah, mean?

Re-dedication. It refers to the Second Temple which was reclaimed by the Maccabees.



What did kids in Yemen go from house to house collecting?

Wicks for the menorah.



Why are children given money and presents during the holiday?

Traditionally, it was to reward them for their Torah studies.



Which nation ruled over Israel at the time of the Hanukkah story?

Syria. 



Why was the Second Temple re-dedicated?

Because Seleucid, king of Syria, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, had defiled the temple by having an altar to Zeus placed there. 



Why do families eat latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiot (jelly doughnuts) during the festivities?

Because they're fried in oil which commemorates the miracle of the oil.



What chant is traditionally sung as the Menorah is being lit?

Hanerot Hallalu.



Why is the dreidel a symbol of Hanukkah? (I LOVE this one!)

During the Syrian-Greek decrees against the Jewish people, one of the many things banned was the study of Torah. Still, the Jews continued secretly teaching and studying the Torah. When a Greek soldier appeared, they'd hide their books and pull out tops and play with their children. Written on the sides of the dreidel are the letters nun, gimmel, heh, and shin, which represent the words nes gadol haya sham, for “A great miracle happened there.” 



So that's why the dreidel is a symbol of Hanukkah!


 
I love acknowledging and celebrating my husband's Jewish traditions with my kids. It's important for children to know where their parents came from and it's been fascinating for me to learn about Judiasm and Jewish culture. I'm looking forward to taking out the menorah and celebrating Hanukkah with my family next week. And you can bet I'll be sharing the trivia above with them as we eat our latkes! 



Thank you for reading and Happy Hanukkah! 

~~

 
Sources for this post included: www.purpletrail.com, www.funology.com, www.cnn.com, and www.aish.com.
 

Monday, December 8, 2014

10 Reasons Your Elf Didn't Move Last Night (aka Mom Screwed Up)

The first few nights Seymour, our Elf-On-A-Shelf was here, I was fairly motivated.  I did a one or two of those cutesy Pinterest-things like putting Elf on a horse and giving him a mustache.   Now I'm officially sick of the little bastard.

Every night I lie in bed thinking of what I DIDN'T accomplish during the day and invariably one of those things is that I forgot to move the little idiot.  One night I know I'm either going to forget to move Seymour or will just be too lazy to get out of my nice, warm bed to do it. 



I WILL forget to move the Elf.  It's only a matter of time...




So here, for my reference and yours, are 10 excuses we can all use to explain why the Elf didn't move his damn butt last night: 


  • Elf has been moving around every night and he got tired. Everyone deserves a little rest!

  • He ate too many Christmas cookies and had a belly ache so he couldn't fly. He looks better now. Look! He's smiling! (The little narc is ALWAYS smiling...)

  • He can see everything from that point of view, so he must like it there. 

  • Santa told him to take this spot again. He has to do what Santa says, right?

  • He fell asleep waiting for YOU to fall asleep.


If he's drinking this, it explains why he's always smiling...
  • It was especially cold at the North Pole last night and Elf wanted to stay here where it was nice and warm.

  • He was afraid of the cat. (Or baby or Daddy.)

  • He heard someone moving around in their bed last night and was afraid someone would see him.

  • He's playing Simon Says with Santa and Santa hasn't said “Simon Says” yet.

  • He's testing you and wanted to see if you'd notice that he didn't move.  Wow!  You passed the test!  Good job!  


As much as I detest the work associated with Elf, I am loving the fact that my daughter is so completely into the magic of Christmas. 


She looks for Seymour every morning and is thrilled by his antics.  She and her carpool friends discuss what their elves have done and where they've been hiding.  Listening to Lily, seeing how much happiness Seymour brings her, makes the work associated with the Elf worth it. 


What are you favorite "my Elf didn't move" excuses?  I could probably use more...


Thanks for reading!  













Friday, December 5, 2014

Helping Kids Cope With Death Around The Holidays


My wonderful, great Aunt Winnie passed away just before Thanksgiving. Now, death itself is hard enough for anyone to deal with, but add in the upcoming holidays and it can be even more difficult for children. While Winnie was 93 and we expected the call sometime, the experience has been surreal since I don't think we're ever ready for the grieving process to begin. In the midst of it, I've been watching my children (9 and 14) deal with this in their own ways. 


My Aunt Winnie - I miss her so much!
 



Here's what I've been observing and what's been helping us all through these rough weeks:




  1. Our faith: Here's where I think religion really is incredibly useful! We are an interfaith family, with my husband Jewish and me a former Catholic. Our children are being raised Unitarian Universalist; they're being taught about all faith traditions and learning to develop their own belief systems.  To some degree, they already have.  My daughter is a firm believer in reincarnation and the afterlife. The Teen believes in some semblance of the hereafter. Both kids feel the spirit lives on and this is helping them understand that in some way, our dear Aunt is still with us in Spirit.  On Christmas Eve, we'll be saying a special prayer in her honor.  


  1. Talking: They're seeing me grieve and although they weren't as close to Winnie as I was, they understand the sadness inherent in death. The kids have been cutting me some slack on not being myself lately. We've talked about how much we'll miss her and have been sharing stories about what a kind, generous person she was and how much she loved us all.  My children know that it's okay to be a little sad this holiday season; healing takes time.


  1. Asking questions: My daughter has been asking about the rituals associated with death more than anything else. Before the memorial service and burial yesterday, she and I were able to go into the funeral parlor early. She asked questions about the casket, the body, Mass cards, etc. I described the body much like the shells of the cicadas we saw over the summer. Because I wasn't rushed and there was no one else there, we were able to have a nice, long discussion about what she was seeing and what to expect. After the service, the nun invited us to bless the body with Holy Water and the woman was kind enough to explain to Lily why we were doing it.  Because I answered her questions honestly and in a matter-of-fact manner, there was nothing scarey about yesterday's rituals. 
Grieving is a process, not an event


  1. Honoring the memory of the deceased: We've always had a memory tree (really just a corn plant) which hang with homemade ornaments containing the names of loved ones who have passed. We'll be adding an ornament in Winnie's name. Similarly, when she first died, I lit a Yahrzeit candle for her and let it burn in the fireplace. I love this Jewish tradition of burning a candle to symbolically represent the human soul (for more on this, click here). Watching the flame flicker made me feel closer to Winnie and was a loving reminder of her warm spirit. During the wake yesterday, Lily and I brought flowers to the casket because we always brought flowers to my aunt when she was alive. I plan to continue to have fresh flowers in my house so that the kids and I will be reminded of Winnie's beauty and kindness.  Our Christmas tree contains ornaments she sent us over the years.  If we cherished them before, they're even more special now.  


Grieving is a process and I fully expect more questions to pop up, especially since the kids' grandmothers (one of whom is 90) will be coming over for Christmas. I'm anticipating the need for more cuddles on both their parts, possible regressive behavior and nightmares, and the need for them to feel more secure in the upcoming weeks. If need be, I'm ready to ask our minister to intercede and help us all cope with what's happened.



Death is an inevitable event that no one likes to think about. By keeping the memories of our deceased love ones alive and letting my children constantly know that I love them, I'm hoping to help them grieve just as I am. Aunt Winnie may be gone, but she lives in our memories and her death is an opportunity for us all to grow. She gave us love and that love continues. 







~~


Resources that have been helpful to me have included:






Thank you for reading!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

11 GREAT Uses For Old Wire Coat Hangers – Don't Throw Them Out!


Thanks to hubby's copious amount of dry cleaning, we have a TON of wire coat hangers around the house. I mean, you could fill a closet with all the hangers we have!  Being a frugal crafter, I knew that there had to be something I could do with those old hangers. 


You can re-use those wire hangers!  Easy!



Here are 11 of of my favorite uses:


  • Fish things out of small spaces, especially between car seats. If you've got kids like I do, you're always finding Goldfish crackers, pencils,popcorn, and other materials between the seats of your car. Use a cut coat hanger to get that stuff out (until your kids fill those spaces up again...).


  • Hang pot holders from the door of your refrigerator. I have a TINY kitchen and need my potholders handy. I took a hanger and made a hook that slips over the handle of the fridge and holds my potholders. Now they're nice and close! 


Use hangers to hang potholders close by.


  • Remove static cling. Run the long side of a wire hanger between your skirt and pantyhose, between your leggings and top, etc. Even running the hanger over the outside of your clothes will help.


  • Unclog your drains by forming a hook on the hanger. Unscrew/unhook the drain plug and fish out the hair. You can also use a hanger to just get hair out of the tub. Yuck!


  • Bend a hanger into a giant bubble wand. Then use one part dish detergent and one part water to make a great bubble solution.  This is actually a lot of fun in the winter as the bubbles stick to snow and ice.


  • Stake plants by bending the straight part of the hanger into different shapes to hold the leaves and stems.   


  • Make a mobile for inside or outside using brightly colored coat hangers. 


  • Unclog a vacuum hose.


  • Unclog the bottom of a gutter. We always get leaves stuck in the bottom of one of our gutters. I've taken a part of a hanger and fished the leaves out. 


  • Roast marshmallows. It's fireplace season and my daughter loves roasting marshmallows. We use a cleaned hanger (with a potholder because the hanger will get hot) to hold those 'smellows. Yummy!

These pliers have wire cutters on them to cut hangers.


  • Anchor inflatables. I always lose the hooks that anchor my Christmas inflatables outside.  Use a bent hanger to easily keep those inflatables from falling down.


If none of the above appeal to you, you can always return the hangers to your dry cleaner. They'll be happy to have them.


Do YOU have any uses for old wire hangers? Share! 




And, as always, thank you for reading my blog!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Mensch On A Bench - Another New, Commercial Holiday Tradition

“Elf-On-A-Shelf Mania” is in full swing and even though I'm already sick of the little smiling bastard, I was quite amused when I recently spotted the Jewish version of the Elf called Mensch On A Bench.


Mensch On A Bench - What a cutie!


In the Elf story, your elf sits somewhere in your house, watching your children and reporting back to Santa if the kids have been naughty or nice. If the kids touch the Elf to see if he/she is real or not, the magic leaves the elf and can only return if you sprinkle a little cinnamon beside them (source: www.elfontheshelf.com); apparently, cinnamon is like “vitamins” for the Elf and gets them back to the North Pole so they can be checked out by “North Pole E.R. Doctors” (I am NOT making this stuff up, but apparently someone does).


Both Elf-On-A-Shelf and the Mensch On A Bench watch over families, judging the behavior of the kids. 


Anyway, like Elf, the Mensch is “filled with holiday magic” and watches over children to see how they're behaving. Both have the power to affect how many presents are received. While the Elf flies back to Santa to tattle on the little ones, the Mensch stays up to watch over the menorah. If the children misbehave in his house, he will holds tightly onto the shamash candle and will not allow them any presents. However, while the Elf is untouchable, the Mensch is like a cuddly, old Jewish guy and is designed to be played with like any other doll.


The Mensch is adorable and especially popular with interfaith families who are always looking to teach old traditions while starting new ones. And the book that comes with the Mensch tells the story of Hanukkah in a heartwarming way with sweet, vivid illustrations. 






The problem I have with the Mensch is the “holiday magic” part. For years, I have heard predominately Jewish kids in my town taunt my children, flat out saying that their parents have told them that “Santa is just a myth that Christian parents tell their kids.” Now it seems that those same families are embracing the concept of “holiday magic” and telling their pint-sized skeptics that it's okay to believe in magical beings. If it was a “lie” before told by Christian parents, why is the Mensch a “truth” now that it's being perpetuated by some Jewish ones?   How would they feel if my kids told theirs that the Mensch isn't magic?  


Why was the concept of holiday magic a "lie" before, but it's okay now that's it's being embraced by some Jewish families?  How would they feel if my kids told theirs that the Mensch isn't magic? 


Being in an interfaith marriage and raising our children both faiths (under the umbrella of the Unitarian Universalist Church), my Jewish husband wisely bows his head and sends the kids to me for all-things Santa. He's always known that holiday magic is real and should never be tampered with. Honestly, I don't like any character, magical or not, that stands to judge whether my kids are “naughty” or “nice” - all kids are good; it is their behaviors and decisions that are wrong or right. 


Now, having said this, we do have an Elf, mainly because an old family friend gave it to us. Rather than tattling, Seymour challenges my daughter to find him every morning, a total pain for me, but my little one loves it and while Seymour does fly to Santa, it's more to check in than check up on my kids.


Will we be getting the Mensch? There's no reason to. My kids know the story and traditions associated with Chanukah. They take pride in lighting the menorah every year and are proud of their Jewish heritage. The Mensch is just another commercial way for a company to make money off the “competition” between Chanukah and Christmas. It's another example of commercialism at its worst.


Maybe, rather than naughty or nice, the question for us, as adults, should be how much are we and our families succumbing to the commercialism of the season – whether in the name of Christianity, Judaism, or anything else? Elf-On-A-Shelf? Mensch On A Bench? They're both superfluous.