Parmesan Cream Zoodles

I am not especially crunchy. Maybe a little crispy around the edges, but certainly not crunchy. Vaccines. Formula. Gluten. These are things I have proudly taken advantage of. Essential oils and salt lamps…not so much. On the other hand I make my own baby food, I think kale is delicious, and we are planning to raise our own chickens soon. On a scale of marshmallow to granola, I’m about fried pickle percent crunchy on a good day.

I do, however, have plenty of friends who have their own versions of crunchiness, and I believe that when I host them I need to try and meet their preferences. Having religious observances that dictate certain food restrictions, I know the deep appreciation I feel when someone goes out of their way to make sure my dietary needs are met. It makes me feel cared for and honored, and I like knowing that perhaps I’ve made someone feel the same way when it comes to their concerns regarding food.

That is why I love finding delicious recipes that can meet various dietary needs. I love when I can serve a friend something that isn’t thrown together in a mediocre attempt to feed them within their barriers, but a dish that is enjoyable and tasty. Something that I would whip up for myself simply because it tasted good, regardless of whether or not I follow a particular diet.

While this dish isn’t for the vegans or dairy-free crowd, I did manage to throw together something the gluten free eaters would appreciate. As an added bonus I got to play with some kitchen toys (the spiralizer), which I love finding excuses to use.

Most importantly, however, I found a delicious meal.

Parmesan Cream Zoodles


5 zucchinis
1TBS butter
*3 cloves minced garlic
5TBS milk
8 oz cream cheese
1 cup Parmesan cheese
Cherry tomatoes (sliced)

  •  my general rule for cooking is to take the amount of garlic in a recipe, double it, and then pour Eeven more in. If you’re not as crazy about garlic as I am, the 3 cloves are a good start. If you love garlic, toss in what you like.


  1. Spiralize 5 zucchinis and set the bowl aside. Heat butter in a skillet, and saute garlic until well browned.
  2.  Once the garlic is cooked, add milk and cream cheese to the skillet. As the cream cheese melts, stir the mixture to create a creamed sauce.
  3. Fold in the zucchin noodles until it is well covered with the sauce.
  4. Add tomatoes, and stir in the Parmesan cheese until it is well melted, and the noodles are sufficiently cooked.

Homemade Blueberry Pie Ice Cream

Living in an agricultural state, we have this trend of finding entertainment in paying other people to let us preform the work of picking produce. I know some of my Yankee friends like to poke fun of the concept, but there’s an odd satisfaction in enjoying fresh fruits I’ve picked myself. It’s also a wonderful educational experience for kids, and helps build an appreciation for where our food comes from. I enjoy the tranquility, and kids somehow find it fun and exciting. It’s totally worth it to me.

Since reading Blueberries for Sal as part of our Before Five In A Row curriculum last year, blueberry picking has been a tradition we’ve recently started to pursue every summer. We go to a small family owned farm in our area and fill a bucket with as many blueberries as we can possibly gather. Once we bring our fresh fruit home we immediately can them and add to our ever-growing-never-ending collection of homemade jam.

This year I was pleasantly surprised to find that I had a lot of blueberries left over after the canning process. Considering that I’ve been in love with making homemade ice cream lately, the next idea I had for the blueberries was, of course, blueberry ice cream!

When I got around to actually making the ice cream, I decided to play around with texture and taste a little more than I intended. The result was incredibly delicious, and now a new favorite of mine. It’s rich in flavor, has a great texture, and I cannot stop eating it!

Also, if the blueberries are replaced with bananas this would make an excellent “banana pudding” ice cream!

Blueberry Pie Ice Cream


1 cup whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup sugar
2 tbs vanilla
2 cups fresh blueberries
1 11oz box of Nilla Waffers


Combine milk, cream, sugar, and vanilla in a large bowl. Whisk for about two minutes, until the sugar is well dissolved.

Mix in blueberries.

Fill a zip lock bag with Nilla Waffers (I used about 3/4 of the box). Using a meat cleaver or hammer (or whatever tool you have on hand), smash the cookies to a powdery consistency.

Mix the cookie powder in with the ice cream mix.

Prepare ice cream according to the manufacturing instructions of your ice cream maker. I have a niffty Cuisinart ice cream maker that has a freezable bowl I prepared a head of time. Your ice cream maker might require ice to be added. Read up on the instructions and become familiar with your maker.

Once the ice cream is finished, pour the rest of the Nilla Waffers into the zip lock bag. Once again crush the cookies, however, this time keep them a little more chunky and textured.

Pour the rest of the Nilla Waffers into the ice cream and mix well. Put the ice cream in a storage container and pop in the freezer to continue forming.


Family Road Trip Hacks

When my daughter was born this past December my husband received four weeks of family leave. He could take it at any point within a year of her birth, and the policy states that he must take the full four weeks at once. Since she was born in December he had time off for the holidays anyway, therefor it didn’t make too much sense for him to use his leave immediately. Knowing we had to make a trip to Chicago for a wedding this past June, we considered the possibility of using his time off to extend that trip into an even larger vacation. We had never been west of Chicago (together), and both of our kids handle car rides very well. It was something that could easily be pulled off with a little planning. We started plotting ideas for where to visit, planning how long we intended to drive for each day, what attractions we could hit throughout the various areas of the United States, and how we intended to make this adventure affordable. In the end we ended up with an incredible road trip that lasted 30 days. It was absolutely amazing.

Our final itinerary ended up looking like this:

Cherokee, North Carolina
Mammoth Caves, Kentucky
Hodgenville, Kentucky (Lincoln’s birthplace and childhood home)
Nappanee, Indiana (Amish Acres)
Chicago, Illinois
Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Badlands, South Dakota
Black Hills, South Dakota
Devil’s Tower, Wyoming
Little Big Horn Battlefield, Montana
Yellowstone, Wyoming
Salt Lake City, Utah
Las Vegas, Nevada
The Hoover Dam (which is in both Nevada and Arizona)
The Grand Canyon, Arizona
Santa Fe, New Mexico
San Antonio, Texas
Houston, Texas
New Orleans, Louisiana
Atlanta, Georgia
Charleston, South Carolina

It was every bit as wonderful as I imagined, and we now have lovely memories to look back on. I also have a number of tips and tricks for lengthy car rides we might take in the future (though after living a month as a nomad, I think “lengthy” is relative).

So, how did we pull off a month long road trip? Here are the things I found most helpful…


Packing is perhaps those most frantic portion of any vacation. I’m a procrastinator, I’m always aware of the fact that I’m most likely going to forget something , and I’m a dreadful over-packer. Packing is chaos.

This time around I started preparing to pack early without actually packing. The first step began about a month before we left (we didn’t even have our itinerary worked out at this point). My mind isn’t organized enough to make a list in one sitting, so instead I kept a running list using a note taking app on my phone. When I randomly thought of something we needed, I jotted it down on my list. By doing this I removed the stress of trying to recall important items, yet I was able to come up with a way to help keep me organized while I packed. Also, I constantly reminded myself that if we were to leave anything behind we can take comfort in the fact that Walmarts are everywhere. Remembering that bit of information can bring a little calm in the storm.

Besides the basic clothes and toiletries, there were a number of items I wanted to make sure we had on hand. When packing for a road trip, I would suggest keeping these items in mind for a safer and easier vacation:

  • Plastic bags. We took a huge bundle of them, and they proved to be useful for a number of purposes.
  • Paper plates, cups, and cutlery. We picnicked a lot, so these were pretty necessary. I skipped out on plastic bowls, since cups could be used as both cup and bowl.
  • Lunch boxes and picnic blankets (you can find really convenient picnic blankets that fold into a neat portable carrier)
  • Paper towels. Whether it’s a spill or car sickness, paper towels can come in handy.
  • Wipes. I carry wipes with me at all times now that we have a baby again, but keeping a spare bag in the glove box is generally a good idea, as they are useful when the car is getting a bit grubby. Also if you’re traveling in a particularly secluded area (which is a huge chunk of western United States), you may need to pull over in order to let your small child use the side of the road as a rest stop. Wipes could be a necessity in those cases.
  • Placing a plastic bin on the floor of the back seat really assisted in keeping our car tolerable. Throwing in a plastic bag made it a very convenient trash can that we emptied whenever we pulled over for gas. I am particularly glad I remembered this.
  • Thermometer
  • First aid kit (band aids, antiseptic wipes, tweezers, etc.). Getting a kit from the medical section of a grocery store would be the easiest way to insure you have the majority of what you might need. I keep one in the car at all times, and it just so happened that we needed to open it for the first time during our trip (a bandage for a skinned knee).
  • Basic medicines such as tylenal (both for adults and kids), allergy relief, and Dramamine. Thankfully we had no need for any of these medicines (didn’t even have to deal with car sickness!), but it’s good to have them on hand just in case.
  • Cash
  • Flashlights
  • Umbrella
  • Bug spray
  • Suntan lotion
  • 1 out of season outfit per member of the family
  • I personally found that maxi skirts and dresses were the easiest piece of clothing to pack for this vacation. While I normally prefer trips that require hiking boots and a t-shirt, we were traveling with small children and therefor couldn’t do anything too strenuous anyway. Maxi skirts provided casual and comfortable clothes to wear while out and about, and yet they could easily be made into a nicer outfit if you wanted to do something slightly more formal, such as going out to dinner. Just throw on a necklace and put your hair up. A maxi skirt/dress could easily work for two different settings.
  • A good rule of thumb for packing children’s clothes: Take the number of days you’ll be gone and multiply it by 1.5. That will give you a rough guess as to how many tops or onsies you should pack. For pajamas divide that number by two.
  • A laundry bag and laundry pods (your laundry bag could be a roll of garbage bags. Just something to separate your dirty clothes).  If you’re going on a particularly long trip, you might end up using a hotel’s laundry room. If that’s the case, pods are significantly easier to carry than a container of liquid detergent.


We did hit a number of great restaurants. Ri Ra Irish pub in Vegas, Gabriel’s in Santa Fe, and Medieval Times in Atlanta were places we splurged on (with no regrets). However, in order to make this road trip affordable we did try to avoid eating out. That meant I had to consider what meals we would bring with us in addition to the snacks we munched on during the drives. Bringing a cooler gave us more flexibility in what we could prepare. It became routine to empty the water and replace the ice every morning, which wasn’t too much trouble at all. Many hotels these days provide a microwave in some way. Most places we stayed had a microwave in the room, and when we didn’t there was usually one available in the lobby. That helped us significantly. Our ideas for food included:


  • Dried fruits and veggies
  • Mozzarella cheese sticks
  • Hummus (as well as carrots, pita chips, and anything else to dip)
  • Popcorn
  • Pouches of yogurt
  • Chocolate and/or cookies (something to settle the sweet tooth cravings)
  • Granola bars
  • Apples/grapes/clementines
  • Horizon milk boxes for the kiddos
  • Crackers
  • Pretzels
  • Animal crackers


  • Baked goods. I simply grabbed some frosted rolls from the bakery section of the grocery store, and that was breakfast for the first few days.
  • Nature’s Path toaster pastries (especially good if you have a microwave in the hotel room, but also good enough unheated)
  • English muffins. Prepare them by adding turkey and cheese before popping them into a microwave.
  • Yogurt
  • Oatmeal: use the coffee maker in your room to heat up the water
  • Fruit
  • Bagels and cream cheese


  • Sandwiches are an obvious choice. Find different ways to change the flavors you’re eating throughout the trip so as not to burn out. Every time I went to replenish supplies, I choose a different type of lunch meat (turkey, shredded chicken, and then roast beef). Play with different ingredients to liven up the taste. Ideas for more interesting sandwich toppings and spreads include: sprouts, guacamole, hummus, salad dressings, horseradish (especially with roast beef), and herbs (such as fresh basil leafs).
  • Salads. To be completely honest, I simply grabbed pre-made (and pre-washed!) bags from the produce section.
  • Turkey rolls: Hawaiian bread with turkey, cheddar, and mayo (or mustard)
  • Quesadillas give you the option to make various sorts of wraps if you want to change things up from sandwiches. It can be as simple as turkey and cream cheese, or you can spice it up by making even more complex rolls (using the same ingredients as you would a sandwich). These are also easier for road trips since you wouldn’t need to worry about squishing bread.
  • Bagel pizza: Squeezable pizza sauce, shredded mozzarella, and turkey pepperoni.


With dinner we ate a lot of very cheap food to avoid going out. Most of the time I ended up using something from the lunch category, but I also had a number of foods to heat up in our hotel rooms.

  • Macaroni and cheese
  • Hot dogs
  • Soups that can be microwaved in their containers
  • There are any variety of microwave meals you can bring along if you’re willing to take a cooler with. Organic sections of grocery stores tend to have more interesting varieties (and more healthy options).
  • Frozen burritos
  • Frozen veggies

Also to keep in mind: Give your child his/her own lunch bag to keep in the back seat. It will keep them from bugging you about being hungry every ten minutes. You have control over portions, and they have the freedom of choice. When their inventory starts to run low, simply refill it.

Activities for kids

One of the biggest struggles parents face when traveling is, of course, keeping the kids entertained. I’m not going to lie about our use of electronics. The tablet definitely kept our driving easy and peaceful. However, there were other things we did to try and keep our son entertained throughout the trip. In between the two car seats I provided a basket with various activities he could access, which he was involved in helping to put together. We also tried to find ways to relieve any boredom that might have built up. Rest stops provided space to run around. Walmarts and grocery stores can be an excuse to get out of the car and walk around during longer stretches of driving. Public parks can be a wonderful release of pent up energy, and most major cities have some sort of children’s museum (we visited the Salt Lake City children’s museum while passing through).

Our activity bin included:

  • A cookie sheet with magnetized puzzle pieces. The preparation was simple. I stuck magnet strips to the back of puzzle pieces and threw them in a baggie with a cut out of the completed picture for reference.
  • A lego baseplate (also with magnetic strips on the back) with a small container of legos.
  • Rubix cube
  • Sticker sheets along with a small notebook to decorate (though most stickers ended up in various spots around the car)
  • Mess-free coloring sheets (Crayola color wonder) with their markers (markers were stored in a pencil bag)
  • An activity binder I put together. I printed various worksheet activities and slipped them into page protectors inside a binder. I also included a pencil bag with dry erase markers, which could be wiped off of the page protectors for reuse. Ideas for pages included: Activities from letter and number writing workbooks, a map of the United States so my son could follow along and keep track of our journey, various puzzles and maze activities I found online, and coloring sheets.
  • Glow sticks – they were a hit when we drove into the night
  • Books. Of course we brought a ton of books
  • Calculator. I  grabbed a cheap one at the dollar store (a wonderful resource!) before we left, and it turned out to be incredibly entertaining for my 3 year old. Particularly when his imagination turned it into a phone.


While road trips take time and require some preparation to pull off,  they are amazing experiences. These little details helped get us across America smoothly, with only very minor hiccups we can laugh about as we look back.  We returned home safe and sound, and we now have amazing memories to remember. I can’t wait to see how our next adventure goes!



Caprese Chicken Lasagna

With Passover coming up it is once again time for me to go through my kitchen and find ways to use the breads and pastas hanging out in the back shelves of my pantry before the big chametz clean. “Kashering”, which is what we call the process, is basically a major spring cleaning right before the beginning of Passover where we rid our home of any food and ingredients that contain leavening (crumbs and all). At the end of the prep there are a few moments where I can sit back and sigh in relief as I enjoy the house being the cleanest it has been all year. It’s one of the more taxing parts of my job as matriarch of this house, but I love the end result.

Leading up to the big sweep I try to salvage what I can in terms of food. This time around we had a ton of lasagna noodles, so of course this meant Shabbat dinner was going to be more on the Italian side this week.

Usually I stick with one particular recipe I’m familiar with. A basic vegetarian lasagna my grandmother gave me. This time around I wanted to try something a little different to add to my collection of recipes. Caprese is an Italian salad I absolutely love. It’s simple to throw together, it warms my heart and waters my mouth whenever someone provides it at a pot luck, and it’s sure to win people over whenever I introduce it to those who have never tried it. For those who are not familiar, caprese is a piece of tomato, basil leaf, and fresh mozzarella cheese put together with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. Sometimes it is tossed together in a salad. Sometimes the basil and mozzarella are laid on top of a piece of sliced tomato. Sometimes they are made into a cute bite sized appetizer by using baby tomatoes and toothpicks.

This time around I decided to turn caprese into a lasagna, and the result was incredibly delicious.

For those of you needing to use up that box of lasagna noodles before Passover, here’s your answer. For those who are simply looking for new dinner ideas or something to provide at a pot luck, this will put smiles on the faces you serve.


Caprese Chicken Lasagna 

1 box of lasagna noodles
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 lb. boneless skinless chicken breast
1 tbsp oregno
1 tbsp parsley
1 tbsp thyme
salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
5 cloves of garlic (divided)
3 tbsp butter
3 tbsp all purpose flour
1 yellow onion (chopped)
2 1/2 cups milk
5 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
3/4 cups grated Parmesan cheese
1 – 15 oz container of ricotta cheese
1 egg
4 tomatoes
1 cup thinly sliced basil leaves
extra balsamic vinegar for a glaze


1) Preheat oven to 375 degrees, and cook noodles according to package instructions

2) In a large skillet heat olive oil over medium heat. Cut up the chicken and mix with oregano, parsley, thyme, and salt and pepper. Cook until golden. Stir in balsamic vinegar and 2 cloves of garlic until well combined. Set aside.

3) In a sauce pan melt the butter. Saute chopped onion and the remaining garlic for about two minutes. Add flour and cook until a golden color. Stir in milk and simmer until the texture is creamy. Add one cup of mozzarella and the Parmesan cheese.

4) In separate bowl stir together ricotta cheese and egg.

5) Assemble the lasagna in a large baking dish. Spread a thin layer of sauce. Add a layer of cooked noodles. On top of the noodles spread a third of the ricotta cheese mixture, followed by a third of tomato slices, and a third of mozzarella. Repeat layers.

6) Bake for about 35 minutes. Once the lasagna is bubbly, drizzle a balsamic glaze over the top and serve!

My Free Range Childhood

Back in the 90’s and early 2000’s you could look around my hometown and see kids wondering the streets unsupervised on a regular basis. Among those kids you would almost always find a ten year old me riding my bike to the park or pool down the street, or walking the 1 1/2 miles to the public library or Tasty Freeze. If I wanted to go to the mall or a movie, my parents had no qualms with dropping me and my friends off for a couple hours. If I wanted to go to a friend’s house within town, I didn’t have to wait until I had a ride. My feet were perfectly capable of taking me.

If I wasn’t around town I was running through the woods in my backyard. I built forts, climbed trees, scrapped my legs on thorn bushes, brushed through poison ivy, played war games, had campfires, and generally lived as if I were Pocahontas herself from the time I woke up to well past dark. If my parents needed me they could step outside and yell my name, but I was otherwise left to do as I pleased without their hovering as a distraction.

I was to a tee a free range kid, but that wasn’t what it was called back then. Instead it was simply refereed to as being a kid. My parents always knew my whereabouts. They trusted that I exercise the caution they taught me, and simply let me be.

These days when I visit my hometown I take a glimpse around and realize that while there were once handfuls of kids roving the place, I have seen very few unsupervised children lately. The kids at tasty freeze or the library are almost always accompanied by an adult. Children on bikes seem to be confined to their driveways rather than allowed to zip through the neighborhood.  I don’t remember the last time I saw a kid under 16 in a movie theater or mall by themselves. Times have drastically changed since I’ve grown up.

On one hand I can understand why this is. It is incredibly easy for parents to imagine in very vivid ways the driver of a rusty windowless van sitting at the side of a park, beckoning young children to get in. It’s a chilling thought, but it’s also mostly one of the imagination rather than practicality. We’ve heard it said that times have changed since “back in the day”, but that seems to be an assumption built out of emotion rather than evidence. In fact, when we do look at evidence we can find that times have actually gotten better. The chances of a “stereotypical kidnapping” (a case of a stranger snatching a child) is extremely rare.

In a 2011 report it is noted that homicide rates in general have “declined to levels last seen in the mid-1960’s“, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, with the majority of homicide cases against children being the fault of a parent or other family member. If you’ve ever stopped to look at the missing person’s bulletin board at Walmart you can see that most cases of kidnappings involve a custody issue within families, or a runaway situation.

It is heavily unlikely that a child will be picked up at the mall by a stranger, yet I rarely see kids hanging out in the food court alone with their friends like I used to do. What’s far more likely is a stranger meeting a child through social media, and yet there are more children at younger ages carrying their own smartphones and laptops. The idea of allowing children the freedom to explore their physical locations unsupervised is becoming significantly more challenged by the justice system (you can see a few cases here, here, and here). However, the idea of a 12 year old having practically unlimited access to the internet isn’t as widely considered to be neglectful.

It is natural parental instinct to constantly worry over a child’s safety, and it can sometimes be a struggle to make decisions that effect their well being. There is a comfort in having control over a situation, and when a child is under direct supervision it is easier to believe they are doing okay than when they’re allowed to drift on their own. Strangers can’t threaten them, bullies can’t hurt their feelings, and we can step in when they’re about to break a bone. Not only is it hard to trust the world around them, but it is also hard to trust them. It’s almost as if there is a piece of parental subconscious that believes children have no regard for their own well being, and lack any awareness of safety. Whether we want to admit this out loud or not, it is easy to withhold trust unfairly rather than giving them the space to take responsibility over their own security.

Is our knee-jerk reaction to be overly safe the best for their long-term welfare? Hovering over our children will grant us the ability to swoop in when a situation becomes uncomfortable, but at some point the lessons children will learn from their freedom will outweigh the risks taken when parents let go of some control. As I think back on my own experience as a free range kid I strongly believe that the freedom I had as a rover instilled some of the traits I find most useful as an adult.

If I wanted to go somewhere in town, and my grandmother (who raised me) was too busy to drive me, I was told to walk. To this day I maintain a “if you want something done, do it yourself” mentality that has gotten me through a number of stressful situations where I couldn’t rely on others. The idea of walking a mile to get ice cream, or to meet a friend, or to pick up a book from the library, or to buy supplies from the hardware store for a creative project was not foreign to me. I was motivated to abandon a little bit of laziness in place of determination. My schedule wasn’t under the dictatorship of my parent’s schedule, which allowed me the opportunity to learn how to manage my time and efforts. To this day my determination can get me up and going when I need something done my way, and I have always blamed that on the fact that my grandmother told me to walk myself from point A to point B if I wanted to do something bad enough.

Not only was responsibility and character built through free-ranging, but I also feel I had a better sense of safety than I would have, had my parents chosen to hover. If they were going to let me out and about unsupervised, they were going to be sure I knew how to handle myself in various situations. My freedom provided opportunities for us to discuss the common sense of keeping safe, and had I spent my childhood with an adult helicoptering over my every move I doubt it would have been as effective. I would have grown up with the expectation that my parents had my safety and well being covered, rather than understanding that I share responsibility in taking care of myself. When I walked through a neighborhood without my parents I was well aware that I needed to be cognizant of anything suspect.

And yet, I also believe that it helped me keep reality in perspective. The majority of people out and about are generally good, and I was comfortable accepting help from strangers when I needed it. Asking to borrow an unknown person’s cell phone at the library to call home when needed (which I did once or twice) is a far cry from climbing into the back seat of a windowless van. Rather than encouraging fear and over caution, my parents allowed me to have a healthy mix of common sense and a comfort in seeking help when I needed it. It is without a doubt necessary to teach  “stranger danger”, however, as we go through life we will find that strangers are significantly more likely to lend a helping hand rather than carry evil intentions. Had I been more sheltered I would have been less able to accept that help. As I grew into the person I am today I couldn’t count the number of times simple acts of kindness from strangers helped make my life a little easier, and in turn my comfort has allowed me to be on the giving end of these interactions . A dear friend and role model of mine once said to me that it is easier to instill caution than it is to get over fear, and I could not agree more. I didn’t start off afraid of the world around me. Instead I became aware of true dangers after I saw that most people at the library, or the park, or the public pool were regular humans. As an adult I realize that if something were to ever truly go wrong while I’m out and about, it would be these strangers who I would call out to for help.

But aside from the lessons and responsibility I’ve gained, the true benefit of my free range life was having a real and genuine childhood. I have been bumped, bruised, and my skin has been permanently scarred, but with each injury I have a history that I wouldn’t trade for the world. With my parents inside the house and unable to disrupt our activities in the middle of the woods with their watchful presence, the other kids and I shared a world that no one else could ever experience. No one could understand the battle lines of our war games, and our inside jokes will never make sense to an outsider. We trusted each other in a way that is incredibly unique among children, and encouraged each other to take new risks and overcome challenges. We developed teamwork and comradery while building forts and attempting the crazy ideas we came up with. We knew how to be silly, we knew how to be brave, we knew how to productively argue with one another, we knew how to encourage each other, we knew how to pick ourselves up when we fell, we knew where to find adventure, we knew how to make the most out of our carefree days. We knew how to live, because those were the first moments in life we were free to be who we were separate from authority.

Someday my son will experience something I could never be part of. He will have a world separate from anything I could understand, and there will be things he won’t be able to find the words sufficient enough to explain to me. My hope is that I can trust him enough to look out for himself, and that wherever we are at that time it is a place where I feel comfortable unleashing him. If I’m able to do that, I know he will learn things I could never teach him. They would be the type of things a child only learns while their parents are not looking. They are the things that will help shape him into the person I want him to be.

Mothers: An Image of G-D

We live in an age where women are not bound to a specific role in life. They can heal people as doctors, defend justice as lawyers, spread knowledge as teachers, voice a message as authors, or lead an entire nation as politicians. Women have the ability to be of great influence, and they can choose among a variety of opportunities in life.

For those women who choose to stay home with their children, it can sometimes be discouraging to think about our worldly influence. While we proudly make the decision to put all our efforts into raising a family, our self-worth can be damaged by the question of “what do you do?”. It sometimes may seem that people ask that question expecting to hear something exciting and worthwhile. When we answer “I stay home”, it’s suddenly as if our influence in the world is minuscule. All believers strive to have a role in the coming of the kingdom. We all want to participate in bringing forth “tikkun olam” (repairing of the world). If we choose to stay in our homes, concentrating on our specific family, how are we ever going to contribute to G-d’s greater plan? It’s a question many of the stay at home mothers I know struggle with.

Overall I don’t dwell on this question too much. I’m thrilled to do what I do, and I chose to stay home because I feel it is a necessity for my family. G-d made it very clear to me that I need to focus on my child, and I dare not question His intentions for me. That does not mean, however, that I am not struck with self-consciousness every now and then, especially when I’m speaking to someone who is out and about changing lives through their work. Every now and then I need something that uplifts my spirits, and reminds me that my role in life is worth a great deal.

A great encouragement, however, came this past weekend at my community’s annual women’s retreat. The theme this year focused on being created “in the image of G-d”, and how we as women reflect that image. For part of the time we glanced at the characteristics of G-d, and how He possesses both masculine and feminine traits. We are familiar with the masculine language used to describe G-d (such as the Bible’s use of the word “He”, or referring to Him as “The Father”), but there are also times when G-d is compared to a motherly figure as well (Isaiah 66:13, or Luke 13:34 for example).

For me, this presented a new and improved perspective as the matriarch of my household. We know that G-d created both man and woman in His image, as stated in Genesis 1:27. However, the first time we see G-d declaring something as “not good” is in Genesis 2:18 when He says that it is not good for man to be alone. As G-d is the definition of what is good, His reflection (man) should be good as well. So G-d solved this by giving man a woman.

This small detail really hit me, and it’s something I have been thinking about ever since coming home from the retreat. I had already known that my son needs both a mother and father figure for a variety of practical reasons. However, I walked away from this weekend realizing that together as man and woman, husband and wife, father and mother, two people working as one unit, we present a reflection of G-d.

The two distinct roles of father and mother are not required solely for the every day functions of our house. These roles are needed to help show my son who G-d is. G-d presents Himself in many ways, whether it’s through His word, prophetic dreams or visions, blessings, the words of our congregational leaders, or even the actions of complete strangers. One of these manifestations is the reflection a father and mother show their children. The role of a mother, half of a complete image of G-d, is no small thing to be. It is a responsibility that cannot be taken lightly, and one that can have great impact not only in the lives of her children, but in the world as a whole.

As we raise our kids we are presenting them with a message and way of life that will be passed down from generation to generation. They are the future. The people who will continue leading by example and spreading this message. What we instill in them will be spread to their friends, their coworkers, their own children. There is something special and important in the decision to give up any personal success in order to focus solely on one’s family. It’s something that shouldn’t make us feel ashamed, but proud. We see that what we impress upon our children will have a variety of ripple effects, so we might as well give it our all.

This does not mean that G-d expects all women to stay home with their children. It does not mean that there isn’t another purpose and path that G-d may lead some women through. Women have made great impacts throughout history outside of their homes, and they too have contributed to tikkun olam. Their work should never be diminished, and everyone should be encouraged to follow the path G-d has set forth for them, traditional or not. It most certainly doesn’t make them any less of a mother.

I am, however, saying that those of us who choose a more subtle and traditional life are worth something as well. We are not stuck in the house because we would be unsuccessful in other areas of life. We are not the weakened damsels who remain locked away at home under our husband’s enslaving authority. Our kids are not the chains that make our lives a miserable Hell. That imagery is pathetically deceitful, yet very common in the mindset of general society these days.

We are so much more than that. We too strive to accomplish G-d’s work, and we have a purpose in our roles. We play a part in the completed reflection of who G-d is, and we present that image to our children who will continue the progress of tikkun olam.

So, remember that next time someone asks “what do you do?”.

You strive to present the future generations with the image of G-d.

Above all else, that is what we were created to do.

My Obsession With Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a huge deal to me. Once November hits I immediately begin brainstorming menu ideas, and researching new techniques for old recipes. I start eyeing the turkeys at the grocery store, and crossing my fingers in hopes that the sugar pumpkins don’t go out of stock before I’m ready for them (because yes, I use actual pumpkin puree in my cooking). Since my husband and I have been spending our holidays together, I’ve scratched my brain over how to make Thanksgiving work in my favor. I disliked the idea of sharing responsibilities and not hosting in our home. Hospitality is a particular gift I want to strengthen within myself, and it’s a form of ministry I want to keep up with. However, I also need to respect the traditions of my husband’s family. I completely understood that I couldn’t dominate the holiday and expect everyone to make their pilgrimage (no pun intended) to my house from various parts of the region just because I wouldn’t give up my insistence that I host Thanksgiving every year..

So I compromised. Thanksgiving is always on a Thursday, and within Judaism we prepare special weekly meals on Friday nights in order to welcome in Shabbat (the Sabbath). Right there was an easy solution, and one that actually adds a deeper meaning to this beautiful holiday. Thursday we do whatever the rest of the family is doing, while the next Friday night we extend the celebration with out closest friends for a Thanksgiving-Shabbat meal. It also gives us an opportunity to be thankful not just for our blood relatives, but also for our closest friends who we consider part of the family as well.

This would be the first year I’m throwing this Shabbat Thanksgiving dinner, and I’ve been pondering what it is that makes it so important for me to host Thanksgiving. Taking one look at my son, I knew the answer to this immediately: It’s for my children.

In my memories, Thanksgiving is distinct and precious. My grandmother woke up early to prep the turkey, and by noon the house smelled incredible. I remember the happiness that radiated off of her as she stood in the kitchen all day, watching every detail that went into preparing the food. I remember sitting at the table stirring various mixes, and taking in all of her kitchen know-hows she was passing along to me as I assisted her. It’s a memory heavy with warmth, and something I believe helped shape me into the person that I am.

I want to cook Thanksgiving dinner, because that is a memory I want my children to share with me. I want them to see me planning menus, comparing turkey sizes, spending a week dividing the work into increments of what can be prepared ahead of time and what will be cooked day of. I want my kids to see me in the kitchen, radiating with happiness and spouting my own kitchen know-hows as I create culinary masterpieces from scratch. I want them to inhale the same smells I breathed during the Thanksgivings of my own childhood.

In our world, we get so caught up in our individual successes. We want the jobs that come with flashy titles and fancy pay checks. Our vacations and adventures define how much we are truly “living” life. Simplicity is boring, and we’re pushed to spend our most lively and energetic years in “self-discovery”. As I’m growing more and more into my role as a stay at home mother in the most traditional sense, I’m beginning to realize the worth of this simple lifestyle, the kind of lifestyle where cooking Thanksgiving dinner for my family and friends every year is an enormous deal.

Despite the simple lifestyle I lead, I still acknowledge the fact that I’m in my years of self-discovery, and I fully take advantage of the energy I have as a young 20-something. I learn who I am by the things I’m instilling in my child, pulling out the morals and convictions that are most important to me, and observing the changes in the way I view the world now that I’m responsible for raising another human being. I wear myself out keeping up with a toddler while at the same time keeping my home a comfortable environment for the entire family. As Thanksgiving rolls around, I’m making shopping lists and looking ahead to a week of constant food preparation. I’m doing these things while I’m still young and able, fitting in as much of it as I can in my life.

Yes, I am definitely living life. As I sit back this Thanksgiving basking in the tremendous relationships that I am blessed with (whether it’s my son, husband, family, or friends), I will be spending every moment thanking G-d for the beauty of it all.

So perhaps I’m a little frantic when it comes to Thanksgiving, but it is my way of showing my loved ones how Thankful I am for them. It’s not about the food itself, though I do admit I have a deep love for cooking. It’s about the message that the food carries. When I’m 65 years old, perhaps I’ll be ready to pass the kitchen over to someone else. Preferably a daughter of mine (be it my own child or an in-law). That is still quite a few decades away, and until then I fully intend to exhaust myself, because that is what my loved ones deserve, and that is how I want to live my life.