Monthly Archives: June 2015

How we celebrated our most recent bar mitzva

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESWe’ve just celebrated our third son becoming bar mitzva. Each of the three bar mitzvas have been very different and I’ll share with you what we did this time and why we did it this way!

Several months ago we talked to our then twelve year old son about beginning bar mitzva lessons so he would be able to read the Torah portion in synagogue the week of his bar mitzva.  He told us then he didn’t want to do it.  I told him everyone is nervous in the beginning and that’s okay; he would learn what he needed to learn, practice and it would be fine.

He went to lessons.  He occasionally would say he didn’t want to read the Torah portion in synagogue.  I told him I understood he was nervous but encouraged him that he would do fine.  After all, dh, ds21 and ds16 have often served as the baal koreh (Torah reader) in addition to leading the davening (prayer services).  It’s something the males in our family are comfortable with and enjoy doing.

When we moved dh took ds to a local bar mitzva teacher to continue his lessons.  The teacher asked him what he wanted to do, and ds emphatically said he didn’t want to read the portion in public.  At that point, it was clear to us that he wasn’t saying this because he was unprepared, and dh and I reevaluated.  We spoke to a rav who agreed there is no reason he needs to lein his bar mitzva parsha.  If and when he wants to read the Torah portion at a later time in life, the opportunity will wait for him.

As parents it can be a challenge to recognize when your child needs an encouraging push and when that push is too far beyond his comfort zone.   Sometimes your ego can get in the way and blur the lines.  In this case we recognized the line and discussed with ds what would make his bar mitzva special and meaningful for him.  He chose to do extra learning of mishnayos and learned the laws of tefillin in depth in addition to what he was already doing.

How do you celebrate when a bar mitzva boy doesn’t take an active role in the prayer service?

On the day of his actual birthday, dh went with all of our boys and visiting male friends and family members to the Kotel (Western Wall) for the morning prayer service.

Ds13 on day of bar mitzva at Kotel

Ds13 putting on tefillin at Kotel

This was followed by a dairy brunch in our home.  We initially planned to have this at a restaurant but ds said he preferred it at our home.  It was a great choice on his part since it ended up being more personal, abundant and enjoyable for everyone of every age.

After everyone ate, we went around the room and each person shared something they appreciated about ds13.  This is something we do on every birthday but for the bar mitzva it was more extensive and the older kids each spoke a few minutes about their younger brother.  Almost everyone shared about his good heart, his humility, and his comfort with who he is without a need to impress others.

I spoke last and talked about some of his special qualities that hadn’t yet been touched on – qualities like thinking and feeling deeply, persistence and courage in sticking through difficult situations.  I got teary eyed talking about this and afterwards the kids told me that most of the people in the room were as well.  (Even an 11 year old guest later said he went out to the porch at this point so he wouldn’t cry.)

Later that day he went to shul where the rabbi and some other men and family members danced with him.

The following morning he was called up to make a blessing on the Torah in shul.

We opted to skip a kiddush on Shabbos since it would highlight what he didn’t do rather than what he did do.  Since we’re new here and don’t yet know many people, having a large meal for local friends wasn’t necessary.  Instead, we had a special Shabbos spent with extended family members joining us for the entire weekend in honor of ds.

I wasn’t going to share the picture we took right before Shabbos since the camera was held at an angle and it caused a misrepresentation of our heights.  But then I thought you might  appreciate seeing it anyway.

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It has been such a deeply meaningful experience for me as a parent to watch ds13 emerge into the wonderful young man he is.  The maturation process is amazing to watch; when given time, acceptance and support – and our belief in them – our children will amaze us with the people they become.

Avivah

The busy summer season is in full swing at our house!

It’s a busy season of life now and I haven’t done a personal update for a while so here goes!

Dd20 moved back home several weeks after we moved to RBS while she continues to work in Jerusalem.  Dd18 graduated seminary last week (I’m not supposed to embarrass her and say how she was honored so I won’t) and moved back home this week.  She’s finishing her second year of industrial design and has one year remaining of her college studies.  We now have three girls in the girls’ room and had to add closet space and additional shelving to accommodate the increase in storage needs.  :)  It is SO nice to have the older girls at home again, even though they’re so busy with work and school that we don’t see much of them.

Tonight we hosted a bridal shower for a friend of dd20 and dd18; I simultaneously attended a high school graduation.  Tomorrow afternoon is a petter chamor ceremony locally that I’d like to take the kids to; I’ve only been to one before this and most people have never been to one at all.  Tomorrow morning this is what we’ll be learning about before we go!

Tomorrow night there will be a presentation I’m planning to attend in RBS called “Seeing the Beauty in Those Who Are Different”.  This will be “a one-of-a-kind, fascinating event on how we can all understand better the mindset, capabilities and drives of those with Down Syndrome. But really, the event is about seeing the beauty in those who are different from ourselves.”  I hope that this will be an empowering evening that will open peoples’ minds to the potential and abilities of people with T21.

Family members from the US arrived a couple of days ago to share in the celebration of our upcoming bar mitzva!  Ds12 put on tefillin for the first time on erev Shabbos/Shavuos.  This Shabbos we’ll be having family members with us for all the meals for a total of about 20.  We’re keeping our plans on a smaller scale than our last bar mitzva, to honor the personality and preferences of the son we’re celebrating with.

This coming week dh and I will be celebrating our 23rd wedding anniversary.

We have Yirmiyahu’s third birthday coming up a week after the bar mitzva which means we’ll be having his upsherin (haircut for a boy when he turns three).  I can’t believe how big he is already!  The time really has flown by.

Even without all of these milestone events, I’ve been busier than ever since moving!  There are a lot of choices for how to spend my time and now more than ever I need to plan carefully to make room for what’s important so it doesn’t get crowded out.

Avivah

Fun and Easy Granola – recipe

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESToday my home is filled with the delicious smells of homemade granola!

Granola makes a yummy and quick breakfast or snack, and is a fun and gratifying activity to do with kids with just a bit of oversight from you!

And if you’ve ever seen the price for ready made granola in the store, after making this you’ll wonder why anyone would pay so much. :)

Fun and Easy Granola

  • 3 c. rolled oats
    • 1/2 c. oil
    • 1/4 – 1/2 c. sweetener (honey, date syrup, sugar)
    • 1 t. vanilla
  • 1 c. coarsely chopped nuts (almonds, walnuts, peanuts)
  • 1 c. shredded or flaked coconut
  • 1/2 c. sesame seeds
  • 1 c. sunflower seeds (or sliced almonds, chopped walnuts)
  • optional – dried fruit (eg raisins, banana chips, papaya, mango, apple – anything!) chocolate chips –

Mix the oil, sweetener and vanilla together and heat over a low flame for 5 minutes.  Pour the hot mixture over the oats and mix thoroughly.  Spread in a thin layer on a baking pan, then bake at 300 degrees for about 45, stirring periodically.  Mix the remaining dry ingredients and add them to the cooled oats.  If you want to add dried fruit or chocoiate chips, you can also add that now.

That’s it!

Not so photogenic but very delicious!

Doesn’t look like much but it tastes sooo good!

– I made three times this recipe, using 1 kg of oats as a base.  I used coconut oil but you can use any oil.

– If you’re using sugar for your sweetener then stay to the lower side of the recommended amount.

– Granola is incredibly flexible and you can add in all kinds of nuts and dried fruit to keep it different and fun every time.

Avivah

 

The things I love about my new kitchen – pictures

Last week I shared with you my disappointment about my kitchen counters.  Now I’m moving on to the good things.  The final cosmetic finishes aren’t yet done but today I’ll share with you some of what I love about my new kitchen!

Since I’m constantly cooking and washing dishes, I didn’t want to have a dish drainer on the counter because it’s constantly being filled and it keeps the counter looking untidy.   The solution – hidden built-in dish drainers.  Yep, two of them.  :)

Now you see it...then it's closed and you don't!

Which brings me to the next advantage.  I now have two sinks and they’re both nice and big.  For the first time in many years I have a separate work space for dairy, along with amply storage space for dairy dishes, silverware and pots.  All of a sudden it’s so easy to cook for and clean up from a dairy meal!

Deep bottom corner cabinets are usually very difficult to access, with lots of wasted space. This corner carousel that makes use of all the space and makes it easy to find what I need.

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All of the bottom cabinets except one have shelves that pull out so there are lots of drawers.  I strongly prefer drawers.  Here’s what the pull-out shelves look like.

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Here’s the only cabinet not to have a pullout shelf and it makes it the perfect place for pantry items.  Since it’s a blind corner cabinet, the storage is about double what you can see here.

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Next to the pantry is this cabinet that has a chrome design on the front that none of the other cabinets have.  Wonder why?

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Open the doors and you see storage space for vegetables – close at hand but out of sight!  These heavy duty metal slotted drawers together with the special door opening provide air circulation to keep the vegetables fresh.

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I asked the person who fabricated the countertops to raise them since I’m tall.  That little bit of additional height makes it more comfortable for me to work at the counters.

I wanted a very light, open look with lots of cabinet and counter space.  At the same time that we have so much more cabinetry in the kitchen, it feels more spacious and open than it did before.

Front view of kitchen

Front view of kitchen

Below is the right side of the kitchen.

Right side of kitchen

Right side of kitchen

The left side of the kitchen that was a holding place for unpacked boxes is now a great work area.

Left side of kitchen

Left side of kitchen

I bought the cabinets used and having all the features I wanted, plus everything fitting into my kitchen space so well is pretty amazing!

The next thing I’m going to do is put up one more top cabinet in the space next to the window (just thought of how to do this yesterday!), then tile the backsplash and cover the toekick.  That will hopefully bring the entire kitchen together.

In the meantime, we’re all enjoying our new kitchen!

Avivah

The countertops arrived and my new kitchen is ruined – expectations, disappointment and acceptance

I haven’t written about my kitchen renovation progress even though the counters were installed a week ago.

The counter is beautiful.  And the cabinets are beautiful.

But the shade of the countertops isn’t a perfect match for the cabinets.  The cabinets are a pinkish beige and the countertop is a yellowish beige and while that doesn’t sound like a big deal, it’s off.  It’s not what I was envisioning.

The loss of a dream can be a very painful thing.

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When Yirmiyahu was born and I found out he had Trisomy 21, I accepted it very quickly – in less than a minute.  No regrets, no what if, no wishing it would be different.

But most parents go through a mourning period after learning of the diagnosis, because it’s hard to let go of your dream of who your child will be.

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Why was it so easy for me to accept my newborn son had Down syndrome and after a week I’m still struggling to accept my countertops being a different shade than I anticipated?

When I got the news about the T21, it was clear that was the reality and there was nothing that was going to change that.  The only option was to look forward and do the best I could to nurture the child I had.

I also  have a very strong belief that everything in this world happens as it’s meant to happen, when it’s meant to happen, to whom it’s meant to happen.  G-d doesn’t make mistakes and nothing about Yirmiyahu or him being part of our family was a mistake.

But this countertop…it felt like a mistake.  My mistake.  I have a good sense of what looks right together.  This isn’t the kind of mistake that I should have made.  Except that I did and how it happened doesn’t really matter.

And  –  I don’t want to call it grieving because that should be saved for really serious situations – I’m feeling a sense of loss and sadness.  I invested a lot into this project because the final vision of what it would look like motivated me.   After the countertops arrived, I lost all interest in finishing the kitchen.  I wished I hadn’t started it.  Better to have kept the old tiny yucky kitchen than to invest myself in a project that didn’t turn out the way I wanted, my mind said.

While I can accept what G-d sends, it’s harder for me to accept a mistake that I made and realize, this is also the way that G-d wanted it.

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As long as I’m wishing I could change the countertops, tell myself that I can’t bear looking at it every day, think how it’s a reminder of my failure – I’m not going to find acceptance.  And without acceptance there’s no emotional peace and definitely no happiness.

Acceptance truly is the answer.   Acceptance will only come when I can internalize that this is how it is, this is how it’s meant to be and this is G-d’s will just as much as something that doesn’t have any element of human involvement attached to it.  It means focusing on what I have, not on what doesn’t fit my image of how it should be.

When I begin to let go of my insistence that something is wrong and realign my vision with the reality that’s now in front of me, it’s freeing.  I can focus on what’s right.  I have a well-designed kitchen that uses the space well, that’s easy to organize.  I have all the features in my kitchen that I wanted.  All while staying within my budget.

Since what I want is emotional health, serenity and peace, this is what I’m choosing.  To accept that I don’t always get what I want, to enjoy what I have, and to notice what a beautiful countertop I have – even if it’s not the right shade.

Avivah

Getting ready for Shabbos early and in a relaxed way

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARemember earlier in the week I wrote about wanting to upgrade the way that I approach Shabbos?

Something that’s important to me is being ready earlier on Friday so that I’m not busy until the last minute before candlelighting.  As anyone who faces this deadline knows, it’s a challenge since somehow what needs to be done grows to match the time you have available.

Good intentions are nice but without starting preparations earlier in the week you’re unlikely to be able to be ready when you want to be. There’s just so much to do!  This week I sat down with my planner on Saturday night to think about what my goal for the coming week was in order to plan for success.  My goal is to light candles on time and in a relaxed way, and ideally be finished by midday Friday.  I want the hours before Shabbos to become a gentle segue into the special spirit of the day versus a sudden shift in atmosphere once the candles are lit.

I  work quickly and often do too many things on Friday because I can.  Then there’s too much squeezed into too little time, which doesn’t make for a relaxed entrance to Shabbos.

Here’s my general plan:

  • Make a list of what I need to buy/do by Tuesday.
  • Do the shopping by Wednesday night.
  • Do any sewing repairs by Wednesday.
  • Finish all the laundry in the house by Thursday night.  (I often have two kids who come home on Friday with laundry so I can’t avoid doing laundry on Friday but I can limit it to only their clothing.)
  • Do the bulk of cooking and baking on Thursday.
  • Don’t do anything on Friday that isn’t related to Shabbos preparations (organizing projects, errands, blog posts).

Friday is reserved for basic cleaning (no big organizing or cleaning projects!), baths, haircuts, nail cutting, heating up the prepared food and setting up the hot plate.  All of this needs to be actively planned so that I don’t get overly relaxed, thinking everything is done and then rushing at some point in spite of all my advance preparations.

Your goals will be different than mine and the way you go about getting ready for Shabbos on time will be different as well.  Thinking and planning ahead is what makes it work for us all!  And lighting candles on time and in a relaxed way is spiritually powerful for us all.

I’m dedicating the merit of lighting Shabbos candles in a timely and relaxed way for the complete healing of Chaya Dina bas Sarah.  She is very ill and medical doctors have said there’s nothing else they can do for her.  I attended the births of Chaya Dina’s first two children years ago and this is my way of supporting her now.  Please join me in transforming the way you approach Shabbos!

Avivah

My new Shabbos candleholders

Jewish sages teach that the day of Shabbos (Sabbath) is a source of blessing.  I’ve been reflecting on this recently and thinking about different ways that I could value and honor this special day more, to feel and receive more of the blessing in my life.

There are some things I’d like to change about how I approach Shabbos, and one of those things is what I use for candle lighting.  My mother-in-law generously bought me a lovely pair of candlesticks when I got married and I supplemented with tea lights as each child was born.  During an international move fifteen years ago, the candlesticks were badly damaged and couldn’t be repaired.  Since then I’ve used only tea lights in simple glass holders, and when I moved I didn’t bring the holders so for almost 4 years it’s been just tea lights.

It’s not that I wouldn’t have wanted something nicer.  But there’s always something more pressing that needs to be purchased.   While expensive silver candlesticks aren’t my choice for a couple of reasons even though I love how they look, I’ve been thinking that getting nicer candle holders for the candles that I light for Shabbos would be more honoring of this special day.

Yesterday morning I was walking through the industrial zone.  I had several errands there and since I wasn’t on a tight schedule, decided to look into each storefront as I passed in order to familiarize myself with the area.

I noticed a flyer on a storefront window about a sale they were having on crystal candelabras and went inside.  It was a strange store, no lights on, a huge area with boxes and just a couple of bookshelves displaying various items.  I had to actively get the attention of the man who was in charge and he seemed reluctant to answer my question about prices.

When I pressed him for the price, I learned he sells to stores in addition to his own six retail stores but he doesn’t sell to private individuals.  Hence the strange storefront – it’s his warehouse.  He happened to be there for just a half hour loading merchandise to take to the stores when I came in.  He told me even though this wasn’t a storefront, since I was there he was willing to sell to me at the same price he sells to stores (where the prices are then marked up 200 – 400%).

Our new Shabbos candlesticks

Our new Shabbos candlesticks

I’m so happy with them.  They’re beautiful but not overdone or something that would make anyone jealous – just the balance that I wanted.  (The picture above really doesn’t do them justice – I love how the light sparkles through the prisms but you can’t see that here.)

I had such a strong feeling that G-d had led me right into this store at just this time, because I had so much wanted to do something to honor Shabbos.  This ‘coincidence’ made it possible for me to buy lovely crystal candle holders at a price that was affordable for us; I wouldn’t have considered them at the typical retail price.

As our sages have said, “In the way that a man wants to go, so he is led!”

Sample fountain for illustration purposes

Sample fountain

 Edited to add – I wrote this post in the morning and later that night went to a lecture run by Arachim.  I attended a lecture of theirs in the past and wanted to give a donation to support their work but it was given on Shabbos. This time I was able to donate and they gave each person who donated a gift – mine was a kiddush fountain!  

Another way to beautify one of the mitzvos of Shabbos!

Avivah