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G-d Doesn’t Lose Track of Us: Yom Kippur Reflections

Yom Kippur continues to inch upon us, and for some, it is going to be a difficult day emotionally.  We go through the same routine every year, inflicting ourselves by fasting, acknowledging our sinful nature and promising to at least try and do better in the coming year. And of course, thanking G-d for his redemption no matter how undeserving we are. Sometimes it’s a fairly smooth process. Other times it is raw and tough.

For many individuals in my life at the moment, this is going to be a particularly difficult day that forces us to reflect on pain and trauma we are still trying to navigate. Some years Yom Kippur is a reinvigorating recognition of what G-d has done for us, while other years (such as this one), it is the tender spot a doctor touches in order to diagnose the core disease.

Wanting to make this day as reflective, personal, and intentional as I possibly can, there have been a lot of emotional preparations on my end. However, as with most times and seasons, there are traditions that have stood the test of time which offer guidance on how to make the most of our experience.

This year, for me, it is the story of Jonah.

Traditionally, the book of Jonah is read and analyzed on Yom Kippur. I’ve overheard many people speculate why that is, and theories tend to vary from person to person. But it’s a tradition taking place all over the world on this sacred day, year in and year out. And somehow, in a variety of ways, it is relevant.

This year, in particular, Jonah’s story is a punch in my gut. I’ve heard it since childhood. It’s a story that can be found even in the most watered down (no pun intended) storybook Bibles. It’s one of the popular ones we memorize as children and recall easily into adulthood. And yet somewhere, somehow, I forget the grit of a major message in the story.

Jonah demonstrates an important reality. Yes, we learn that running away from G-d is pointless. But we don’t always find ourselves purposely running from G-d. That aspect isn’t always relatable. Sometimes we’ve been following Him all along, and confusingly find ourselves lost and seemingly without direction. Sometimes we find ourselves in a panic because no matter how hard we tried, something pushed us off course. Sometimes we expect the thunder and lightning when G-d is working through the whispers of a still small voice we’re struggling to hear.

But in that confusion, we can still gain from Jonah’s experience. He thought he could hide from G-d. He hopped a ship heading in the opposite direction of where he was commanded to go and snuck his way to the very bottom of the hold. And in response, G-d did him one better. Jonah was tossed into the sea and swallowed by a whale.

Jonah found himself in the deepest darkest place physically possible.

And yet, that was not too far for G-d.

In Jonah, we find a comforting example. Each of us experiences a deep dark place at some point. Some have been there in the past, some continue to waver in and out, and others are there now. We don’t necessarily find ourselves there because of a decision to run from G-d. Some of us find ourselves stumbling into that area in the middle of our journey, feeling confident that we’ve been going in the right direction but suddenly wondering what went wrong.

Regardless of how we get there, wherever “there” is, Jonah’s story demonstrates that G-d knows exactly where we are. No matter how deep we find ourselves, He can still hear every word in our hearts. There is no place we can go that isn’t within His reach, and it is impossible to be outside of G-d’s watch.

G-d never ever loses track of us.

And that is a message to absorb during Yom Kippur. Whether we’re struggling through correcting what we’ve done wrong, or we are bruised and battered by something pushing us into an unpleasant or even scary circumstance, or (more likely) we’re dealing with a little bit of both, we are in good company along the way. Of that, we can be absolutely certain.

And if He knows where we are, He also knows the way out.

Yom Kippur, in essence, is a time to stop our thrashing from fear of drowning. It’s a time to admit that yes, we’ve done things we weren’t supposed to. And yes, things were done to us that were unjust.

It is a time to acknowledge just how desperately we need G-d to save us and surrender to that need. Insightful to the fact that we sometimes need prompting, G-d has given us Yom Kippur to cry out for His help while knowing that He can hear our wails from wherever we are.

But even when we’re swallowed into what seems like unreachable depths, we’re never abandoned. Sometimes sin is reactionary to fear. Sometimes it is a symptom of our confusion. But at some point, it is time to refocus from that distraction and realize that no matter how deep and dark things seem…G-d has already saved us from the deepest and darkest place possible. And now that it’s been done, He most certainly isn’t going to leave us behind now.

For those fasting from sundown on Tuesday to sundown on Wednesday: May your fast be safe, intentional, effective, and meaningful.

Five Alternatives to Paint Brushes

Today I planned to mop the kitchen floor. I don’t know why that matters considering tomorrow it will once again see drops of paint, but I figured since I’m going to be scrubbing anyway we might as well make a mess.

As many of my friends know, I am the Napoleon Bonaparte of the revolution against bougie motherhood. If my kids are without mosquito bites, dirt under the fingernails, skinned knees, and splattered paint on their clothes…I start to wonder what I’m doing wrong. It’s unfair to expect kids to act like anything but kids, and I say we might as well facilitate some of the opportunities for them to enjoy childhood. Life is too short to be tidy. We survived our own germ ridden grubby childhood…our kids will survive theirs.

Sensory play is a driving force in the way kids explore the world, and inside every child is the creativity that makes an artist. At least that’s what I believe, anyway. Understanding these two aspects offers the opportunity for fun projects that, while messy, create interesting paintings you wouldn’t be able to recreate with a regular paintbrush.

Here are 5 alternative paint activities we’ve tried:

This one takes some overnight prep time, however, it’s super easy to put together.

All you need is an ice tray, food coloring, popsicle sticks, and aluminum foil or saran wrap.

It’s a pretty obvious process. Fill the ice trays with water, leaving enough room for food coloring, as well as space at the top so the different colors don’t slosh into one another.

Experiment with varying amounts of food coloring, as well as color mixtures for different shades. Use your popsicle sticks to stir the coloring.

Cover the ice tray with saran wrap. Or if you’re like me and completely incapable of working with saran wrap, aluminum foil works just as well. I simply marked out the lines of the tray beforehand so I knew where to find each slot once covered.

Poke a popsicle stick into the middle of each section of the ice tray, and carefully transfer the tray to the freezer. Let it sit overnight.

Once the ice is completely frozen, pop them out of the tray. Mine came out easily, however, you can also use a knife around the edge of each piece of ice if you’re met with a struggle.

 

As each piece of ice melts, run them over white paper to create watercolor paintings. At first not much will happen, but given a few minutes, the effects can be pretty interesting to play with!

This next activity didn’t require prep time, but of the painting activities we tried, it was the messiest.

All you need is paint, paper, and a fly swatter.

Yes…a fly swatter. Personally, we used brand new and unused swatters. But hey, do each their own.

The activity is simple. Drizzle paint on to white paper and then smack it with the fly swatter. Of course this splattered paint everywhere, but the kids had a ton of fun. Next time we will do this outside if I’m not already planning to scrub the floor. That will give us the oppertunity to be a bit more violant and crazy with our splashes.

 

 

The squeegee painting was a huge hit with the kids, and it also made an incredibly beautiful picture.

Once again set up was simple. We poured a line of paint across the top of a piece of paper, using two or three different colors.

Simply swipe the squeegee down the page, and the result is gorgeous.

 Bonus points for the fact that this was not especially messy compared to all the other activities we tried, with the exception of our marble painting:

The marble painting required only a container, paper, paint, and marbles. We placed the paper at the bottom of the container with drops of paint (once again using two or three colors). After dropping a handful of marbles on top of the paint we tilted and turned the container, causing the marbles to roll around and create fun designs.

This one tied with the squeegee painting for most beautiful. I can’t decide which one’s my favorite.

Our final activity was for the sake of pure fun and mess. This is where I set up and then stepped away, leaving the kids to simply play and see what comes of it.

Like the marble painting, I took some toys from the playroom in the name of art: Hot Wheels.

I set up the track from the edge of our art table, laying pieces of paper on the floor at the end. The paint was poured onto the track and the kids let their cars run over the paint, streaking the paper with their wheels.

This one was second in messiest, but also held the kid’s attention the longest.

 

All in all, I’m pretty happy with the new art we have for our fridge. Now it’s just a matter of waiting till the paint dries.

 

 

2 Ingredient Rainbow Slime

It has been a fun year filled with one adventure after another.

Last week we wrapped up a year of preschool that took us beyond where I expected to go. We discovered the world through geography lessons using a literature-based curriculum, and simple letter and number recognition activities eventually turned into reading and multiplying. Now that I see what happens when I let my son explore the world at his own speed, I am excited for Kindergarten next year.

Though is it really Kindergarten when he’s a few weeks too young, and ahead of schedule academically? Who cares. That’s the beauty of homeschooling.

Of course, being gifted in math does not mean we have to spend all day every day working on “school work”.  After all, my son is still 4 years old and spends the majority of his time creating shenanigans with his sister.

With the free time that comes with the beginning of summer, I got in on some of the fun by introducing the kids to a new slime recipe! The great thing about it is the fact that it comes down to only two ingredients, which made set up incredibly easy even if this activity got messy.

All this recipe needs is equal parts liquid starch and white Elmers glue. That’s it! Wanting to make a large batch of it, we used four cups of each.

It started out as a pretty messy business while the glue and starch reacted to one another. It may take a few minutes before you begin feeling confident in the texture, but if you do go at it for a while and don’t feel an improvement, you may need to add a little bit of either glue or starch. If it’s too runny add a little more glue. If it’s too sticky, drop in tiny bits of starch.

To make this activity extra fun we added food coloring to give a rainbow effect!

The easiest method of accomplishing this is to divide the slime into individual plastic bags and drop in food coloring. This allows you to knead the color into the slime without dying your hands (and mixing the colors together to create an ugly brown effect before you have a chance to enjoy the beauty of multi-colored slime).

Once all of our slime had some color…it was time to play!

   

Instant Pot Jambalaya and Sweet Potato Soul Review

In my small area of the country, we find ourselves at a crossroads between two cultures. We are one part down-home southern and another part yuppy hipster, creating an interesting social mix. There’s  the well-dressed church crowd who stuff themselves into the mom and pop BBQ  joints every Sunday at noon,  but we also have the man bun and skinny-jean wearing crowd who fill Vegan restaurants on Friday nights. My area is an eclectic loop within the Bible belt, and I love it. It reminds me that cultures are not only able to coexist, but they’re also able to intermingle and mix.

If there is one thing both cultures have in common, it’s a love for food. We all agree that food is an enjoyable experience that can magically bring people together. The challenge, however, comes when you begin sifting through various dietary restrictions. Having my own convictions regarding food, I’m well aware of how awkward this situation can be. My primary example being that I have a religious restriction against pork, and yet here I am living down the road from the annual “Ham and Yam” festival. For the vegetarians and vegans that flock to the area, there are obvious clashes when it comes to soulful southern cooking.

This is what makes Jenne Claiborne’s cookbook Sweet Potato Soul a gem. Having grown up in Atlanta, GA Claiborne was raised on traditional southern cooking. After becoming vegan she spent years experimenting with food, working to find the perfect fusion that fits the cuisine of her heritage into vegan standards. Sweet Potato Soul is her successful masterpiece.

The book is filled with 100 easy recipes and a variety of flavors to work with, each page perfectly capturing the essence of both southern and vegan cooking. There are enough photos to satisfy those who tend to”taste with their eyes” when choosing recipes out of cookbooks, and although there are short introductions to each section, the majority of this book is straight to the point with easy to find recipes.

I’m thrilled to work my way through this cookbook, and it is a perfect resource for entertaining friends who avoid the consumption of animal products. For our regular weeknight meals, however, it is totally easy to tweak these recipes in order to satisfy my carnivorous ways. For example, I decided to give her “jackfruit jambalaya”a try (found on page 137), however, instead of dragging myself to the Asian market for jackfruit I used chicken. I also used my instant pot instead of cooking this stove top.

Definitely not vegan like the cookbook intended, and I changed my cooking method in order to utilize kitchen toys, but Claiborne certainly inspired a delicious meal.

Instant Pot Jambalaya

Ingredients

3 chicken breasts
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 yellow onion (diced)
2 garlic cloves
3  celery stalks (chopped)
1 green bell pepper (chopped)
1 (14 oz) can diced tomatoes
1 cup uncooked brown rice
1 (15 oz) can chickpeas
3 cups chicken stock
3 bay leaves
Freshly ground black pepper
*3 Tablespoons creole seasoning
2 teaspoons worcestershire sauce
salt

*A recipe for creole seasoning can be found on page 36 or Sweet Potato Soul)

Directions

1) Add chicken breast and 1 cup of water to the instant pot. Cook on high pressure for 10 minutes.

2) When chicken is cooked, remove and set aside. Switch the instant pot to the saute setting and heat olive oil. Once the oil is heated, add onion, garlic, celery, and bell pepper. Saute until onion is transparent.

3) Add tomatoes, rice, chickpeas, bay leaf, pepper, creole seasoning, worcestershire sauce, and salt to taste. Seal the instant pot. Switch the setting to “soup” and cook on high pressure for another 15 minutes. When cooking is finished, unseal the pot and enjoy!

Disclaimer: I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review

Blogging For Books: Everything Beautiful

My most recent Blogging for Books order was a little different this time around. Rather than my typical novel or cookbook, I went with a new adult coloring book titled Everything Beautiful, by Waterbrook.

There is nothing that makes this one stand out from others, however, I found that it provided a relaxing form of entertainment most people expect from an adult coloring book.

The artwork is beautiful, and coloring the simple yet detailed pages helped me decompress from built up stress I had harbored from a long day. The messages formed into the pictures were encouraging, and overall I felt good after spending even just a few moments coloring a page.

Again, Everything Beautiful is not especially unique. It is yet another adult coloring books you find in, say, the book aisle of a grocery store. However, it serves it’s purpose and would make a beautiful gift for someone you love.

Two Ingredient Snow Dough

Winter in our state is incredibly short-lived. For example, it is currently the middle of January and the thermostat in my car claimed the temperature had reached 67 degrees the other day. This is a far cry from the cold, dreary, and very icy Januaries I grew up with in the Chicago area. Here snowfall happens once, maybe twice, a year and lasts about a day. Usually, we can’t even classify the phenomenon as snow. More often than not it’s a sort of sleet that coats our roads with ice, causing everything to shut down.

As I planned our Five in a Row curriculum schedule back in May, I figured I would place the book Katy and the Big Snow at a random week in January. If I were still living in the Midwest, I could easily assume that any point in the winter would be an appropriate time for a snow-themed week, considering that there is almost always a white powder on the ground. Down here in the south, however, I had to take my chances. The best bet would be sometime in January.

Similar to last year when we read The Snowy Day, it just so happened that on the week we were scheduled to read a snow themed book, we received our 24-hour snowfall. I was overjoyed about the timing.

I love snow days, especially now that I’m living in an area where snow isn’t common. The way it softens the loud hustle and bustle of everyday life is dreamy, and I’ll admit that I love an excuse to spoil my kids. When snow happens here, it shakes up schedules and brings a different atmosphere to the house. It’s a special occasion of sorts, therefore rules can bend and we concentrate on making our day cozy and memorable.

To be completely honest I fed my son way too much sugar that day. We began the morning with honey since I normally allow him an activity that involves drizzling the shape of letters onto a plate whenever he is ready to progress in Hebrew. The idea is that we want to instill our children with how sweet G-d’s word is, so we offer them a taste of honey while we learn a Biblical language.

After doing school work, we went outside to play in the snow, where we built Hudi’s first real snowman (usually we don’t get snowman worthy snow, so this was pretty exciting). Naturally, hot chocolate followed after, topped with whipped cream and sprinkles, of course. As a continuation of our  Tale of Peter Rabbit week, we dabbled in English cuisine and baked delicious raspberry lemon scones. To finish out the night we had one last treat that is a snow day tradition in our home: snow cream.

It was a wonderful snow day and perfect for our snow week lessons. When planning a schedule for our curriculum, I can only guess when snow-themed books will work for us, and for two years in a row now I was excited to discover that I guessed right. I was, however, prepared to move forward with or without snow. If there wasn’t snow outside, we were going to make our own snow inside.

Even with the experience of having real snow on the ground, my kids were getting stir crazy once they got tired of playing outside. Having the materials needed for fake snow was a life saver, as it kept both my four year old and one year old occupied for quite a while. Having the real stuff was great, but making pretend snow in your kitchen is pretty intriguing as well.

The directions are simple. In a large bowl or container, mix 1/2 cup of conditioner with 3 cups of baking soda. Include toys such as trucks, cookie cutters, plastic forks, and anything you would normally give your kids to use with play-dough.

This was a fun and relaxed winter themed sensory activity that captured the attention of both my 4 and 1-year-old. They even played together, which I love to see! Clean up was a bit more of a challenge, but nothing a vacuum couldn’t handle.

Definitely worth it for the time it occupied their interests.

 

Raspberry Lemon Scones

Valentine’s Day is underrated. Over the past couple of years, I’ve begun to see a little more value in it besides a day of last-minute chocolate purchases and sitting around a chaotic restaurant waiting your turn for a table. Lately, in my house, Valentine’s Day is an excuse to be festive during inarguably the most dreary and boring time of the year. It is a month of red and pink decor to replace the blue and white of Hanukkah. There are crafts to attempt, delicious baking adventures to experiment with, and no one can argue against celebrating love.

Last year, during the first 14 days of February, I started a small and simple

tradition focused on making my kids feel loved. Every night I stuck

a paper heart to my son’s door, which listed something I loved abo

ut him. We used it to build his confidence and encourage positive behaviors. In the mornings he was so excited to find a new heart on his door and the entire process was a way for me to express sentiments I feel are not shared nearly as much as they should. I’m looking forward to continuing the precious tradition, this time slipping the hearts into a decorative envelope or mailbox outside his door.

 

Already I’m starting to think of the baked goodies we should try tackling in our kitchen. I live by the idea that food is a way to express love and between the sugar cookies and chocolates associated with Valentine’s Day I know I’m not alone in that mindset.

As it turns out, we already began our themed baking. At first, I didn’t intend for it to be Valentine’s Day related treat. This week’s Five In A Row book was Peter Rabbit, and therefore our geography lessons concentrated on England. As we move around the world in our homeschool curriculum, I wanted to incorporate culinary projects representing the various cultures we learn about. This week we made raspberry lemon scones.

As soon as I pulled these things out of the oven, I realized just how perfect they are for Valentine’s Day.  Visually they have the beautiful red and pink tint for a festive look, but more importantly, they are delicious. I couldn’t stop sneaking into the kitchen for another taste, my very honest husband greatly approved, and my son ended up finishing them off while I wasn’t looking.

My suggestion would be to include these little cakes in the breakfast in bed you intend to make your spouse. Or bring them to the brunch you’re sharing with your girlfriends on Galentine’s Day. Or make them with your kiddos and have them for dessert.

 

Rasberry Lemon Scones

Ingredients

scones

1 stick of cold butter
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 cup sugar
zest of 1 lemon
3/4 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup frozen raspberries

Glaze

Juice of 1 large lemon
1 cup powdered sugar

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. and line a baking tray with parchment paper
  2. Cut butter into pieces, about 1/4-inch and set aside in the refrigerator.
  3.  Mix flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, and lemon zest in a large bowl.
  4. Using a fork, add the sliced butter and toss to coat. Use fingers to rub the butter into the mix. It will begin to have a mealy texture.
  5. Mix in frozen raspberries until they are well coated.  Add heavy cream, and continue mixing with a fork.
  6. When the bowl is well mixed, begin kneading the dough with your fingers. Turn dough out onto the prepared baking sheet. Gently shape the dough into a square on the baking dish. The texture may be ragged, and that is okay.
  7. Slice the dough into 9 squares, and then slice them diagonally to give them a triangular shape. Give the scones some space between them to bake. Bake for 12-15 minutes.
  8. While the scones are baking, prepare the glaze by mixing lemon juice and sugar in a small bowl. When scones are finished, give them 15-20 minutes to cool before drizzling the lemon glaze on them.