Back To School and Bannock Recipe

Last year, when my son was two (almost three) years old, I decided to start our adventure into homeschooling. Beginning at this young of an age has given me the practice of routine, scheduling, and also getting to know my son’s learning style all before we enter into the school aged years that will eventually require more depth, focus, and discipline.  We learned how to read an write our alphabet, counting and writing numbers, basic shape and color recognition, and we explored more abstract concepts through various books we read. It was an incredibly enjoyable experience to see my son absorb knowledge, and I was excited when he started to express interest in reading and math toward the end of the year.

After a summer break (which included an amazing vacation), I have been so excited to get into our homeschooling routine again. This year, however, I decided to include a lot more material to meet his interests and abilities. I receive a ton of questions regarding how I’m homeschooling him. Do I use a curriculum? What is my routine? How do I plan? It’s always a little awkward trying to answer those, because truth be told I’m just trying to go with the flow. I’m still sorting through what works best for my son and me, and it takes a lot of trial and error before getting it right.  So far I think we are starting this year off with a good rhythm, and as we get better at the routine of having a designated “school time”, I’m feeling significantly more confident in my abilities for the future.

With regards to curriculum, there are a variety of resources we are using this year:

Five In A Row – Five In A Row is a literature based curriculum that covers a little bit of everything. Each week we have a book that we read together, and various themes and lessons are pulled from the story. The curriculum provides weekly ideas on math, science, literature, geography, and art to create a well rounded curriculum that is very much appropriate for young children. The expectation of Five In A Row is simply to read and converse with your children. It’s nothing fancy and tedious, and it’s effective (at least it has been with my son). There are ideas for extra activities to go along with each book, however, most of the learning is intended to take place via reading and discussion. We use Five In A Row for geography (each book takes place in a different place), science, art, and any other abstract subject presented in the curriculum. For other subjects, particularly reading and math, my son needed/wanted something a little more concrete.

Math U See – As someone who had significant struggles in math, I have come to adore Math U See. It’s manipulative based in that the curriculum uses block pieces (think legos) to physically demonstrate the concepts being taught. I also love how the lessons build on one another. The sequence of learning follows a logical path – introduce, review, practice, master – and the order in which students progress helps solidify their understanding of concepts. At the moment we are using the primer, which has been amazing. We’ve gotten through basic number identification and counting, identifying shapes, and at the moment we are introducing place value. We picked up Math U See toward the end of last year, and this year we are continuing his lessons at the pace he naturally sets for himself. The good thing about the primer is that, unlike the rest of Math U See, it is not meant to provide mastery. It’s simply an easy way to introduce math in preparation for future lessons, so it’s great for younger ages. It’s a significant relief for me to see that my son is forming a love for math, because that was a major stumbling block all through my personal school experience.

Spelling-You-See – Since Math U See has worked so well, I decided to pick up Spelling-You-See to help with reading and writing. It’s a very simple workbook that teaches basic phonics. So far the progress I’ve seen has been absolutely wonderful, and my son learned very quickly how to sound out small words.

Time To Read Hebrew: A very simple workbook series that teaches Hebrew. You are given a few letters at a time, and immediately you begin seeing them used in words (for example, the first letters you learn are shin, bet, and tav…which spell “Shabbat”).  We use the workbook as a guide for progress, but mostly we are working with various games we play with flashcards.

The Bible Story Series by Arthur S. Maxwell – Chances are you’ve seen these books while sitting in a doctor’s office. They are everywhere, and yet most people don’t pay too much attention to them. Yes, they are a little outdated in artistry (think 1950’s or 60’s), however, I am finding these books to be fantastic reads for my son. The main focus I have at the moment with regards to teaching my son the Bible is simply familiarizing the stories. What has worked the absolute best for us has been to follow the model Five In A Row intends – we simply read through the story and discuss. These books are associated with Seventh Day Adventists, though there are very few grand theological pushes within the stories. The thing I absolutely love about this series is the fact that it covers Biblical stories your typical storybook Bibles leave out (for example – we just the other day read a chapter specifically about Enoch, and later on they cover various prophets that are seldom mentioned in storybook bibles).  While I do have to switch up some of the language while I’m reading (again, a few decades outdated), I do find these books to be a great way to introduce my son to the Bible (on top of the children’s Bibles we’ve already been reading).

Our first couple of weeks started out smoothly! Week number one was a lot of short, sweet, and simple activities that got us back in the swing of having a “school” time in the morning. I introduced the theme of Geography, and we spent a lot of time studying the map we now have hanging on our wall. Together we read Flat Stanley, and he even created his own Flat Stanley for The Flat Stanley Project! (Now, I just have to send those out…)

Week number two was a little closer to what I’m aiming for a far as goals and routine. We started Five In A Row with the book The Very Last First Time by Jan Andrews, which introduced us to Canada! More specifically we focused on Inuit culture. We placed our story disk on Ungava Bay, learned about how the Inuit fish beneath large blocks of ice , we studied igloos, and we also listened to Inuit throat singing (it was hilarious watching my son give that a try). We also learned about aurora borealis (northern lights). This provided an awesome opportunity to introduce my son to water colors while we painted pictures of the northern lights!

I also have a goal of bringing the various cultures we learn about into our home through food. I’m hoping that with each location we “visit” in his schoolwork, we try at least one culinary dish from that culture.

Since we were learning about Inuit culture, our food this week was bannock!

Bannock is a type of bread that can be found in a variety of cultures, but is pretty popular among the Inuit. Essentially it is flour that’s been fried in lard or shortening, and can be eaten in a variety of ways. We made ours for breakfast, and included some jam to go along with it. To make it extra delicious, you can sprinkle some powdered sugar on top for a tasty treat (it’s similar to an elephant ear you would find at a fair).

My son loved the stuff, and gobbled down the entire batch before noon. It’s super easy to make, and I will definitely be making it again as a special treat!

Bannock 

Ingredients

2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
water
2 cups shortening

Directions

In a frying pan on medium heat, heat the shortening.

While you are waiting for the shortening to completely melt, mix together in a separate bowl the flour, baking powder, and salt.

Gradually add water, mixing it well, until you have the consistency of batter.

Drop spoonfuls of the batter into the hot shortening. Once the bottom is golden brown, flip it over once to brown the other side.

There are a variety of ways to serve bannock. As I said, eating it with jam is a tasty breakfast and sprinkling them with powdered sugar makes them a delicious treat. However, you can also eat them with soups and stews!

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

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.

Food

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:

Snacks:

  • 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

Breakfast:

  • 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

Lunch:

  • 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.

Dinner:

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!

 

 

Teaching Our Children The Story Of Passover

Ever since our first year of marriage it has been a tradition for my husband and I to eat matzo pizza while watching Prince of Egypt at some point during the week of Passover. It is one of the most beautiful depictions of a Biblical event that exists, and no matter how many times I’ve seen it I am always struck with the magnificence of the Passover story. I cannot watch (or listen to) the burning bush scene without my emotions being rubbed raw. Between the dialogue and music it always manages to bring the sting of tears into my eyes.

So, you can imagine the conflict I felt when my son (who has yet to see the movie) asked to join our annual viewing. On one hand I was excited. Finally I get to share this gorgeous biblically based filmography with my kid. On the other hand I was hesitant. Is he ready for certain scenes? Is he ready to know the specifics of what Moses was up against?

This year Passover has gotten a little more exciting than it has before. My son, being 3 1/2 years old, is at a point in his life where he is starting to internalize the more abstract workings of the world. This means that as we prepare for Passover he is asking a lot of questions. Why do we need to buy special crackers? Why do we need to deep clean the house? What is a Seder, and why do we have to eat horseradish? Sometimes his questions have a straightforward response. Other questions require significantly more detailed explanations and a careful choice of words. Exodus is packed with the theme of G-d’s redemption and the fulfillment of His promise. I am beyond joyful to share those elements with my children. There are, however, darker portions of the narrative. Slavery. Murder. Even justice is a struggle to understand in the situation of the exodus. Telling only half of the story isn’t good enough. To understand the magnitude of G-d’s miracle, one must be aware of what Israel was being freed from, and what it took to accomplish that redemption.

I am a firm believer that if children are able to ask the right questions, they are ready for at least some version of an honest answer. Yet I don’t feel ready to explain to my small child the wrath of G-d,  and it pains me to introduce him to things such as slavery and oppression. His perception is still innocent. In his mind people are still good and the world is a safe place to live. Evil isn’t something that has caught his attention yet, so why point it out while he’s still in this very brief moment in life where everything is secure?

As much as I wish to keep him in the dark for a little longer, I am also against the idea of purposely withholding honesty in favor of over protectiveness. He has been asking questions, therefore I have been delicately crafting careful yet honest answers. As we prepare for Passover this year he has become a little more aware that there are, in fact, bad people in the world. There are people who hurt other people. There is unnecessary sadness caused by evil. And sometimes, in order for the greater good to prevail, G-d responds with force.

As my mind shifts from the chaos of seder preparations to the intricacies of how to explain what is true in a way that is not going to scar a child’s mind, my thoughts are also churning over the deeper messages I as an adult still need to contemplate during this season. Part of observing Passover includes the acknowledgment that people around the world have always suffered, and continue to suffer, under the hands of oppression. Persecution and annihilation attempts directed toward Israel didn’t stop upon leaving Egypt. From Antiochus’ desecration of the Second Temple, massacres taking place as a response to blood libel in the 1100’s, the still-tender memory of the holocaust, or the more recent comments made by leaders such as Iran’s former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (e.g. Israel is a “disgraceful blot” that needs to be “wiped off the face of the Earth”), antisemitism has presented itself within every generation.

And if it isn’t antisemitism it’s other people, in other places, with other versions of suffering.

Rwanda. Cambodia. Child soldiers. Bosnia. Darfur.  Blood diamonds. Guatemala. Sudan. Isis. Human trafficking. Civil war.

We have a list of buzzwords that can easily cause us to wince and recoil, because they serve as reminders of atrocities human beings are capable of. This is all too evident as news reports and videos of the recent Syrian chemical attack make their rounds in our media at this very moment. As I sit here contemplating how best to comfortably present a movie to my child because it depicts an animated and watered down version of evil, parents elsewhere in the world do not share that same luxury. The nightmare of such maliciousness is an everyday reality for them, and it has no care for the age of it’s victims.

I take for granted that I am able to shelter my children from the vile ways people can treat one another. I have the ability to protect their innocence, and build for them a foundation of safety and security. That is a blessing I am relieved to have, and I bow my head in thanks for the mercy G-d has given our family.

But that is all the more reason to not shy away from the specks of curiosity our children begin to show. Our unviolated safety makes it even more important for us to introduce them to things we would rather pretend don’t exist. Eventually these issues will hit their radar. They will process a little more clearly the events described in their books. They will catch snippets of news reports and over hear the adults whispering among one another. The existence of evil won’t be hidden forever, and when we leave them to process this information on their own we run the risk of allowing such things to turn their hearts and minds bitter.

We need to confront the situation and we need to extend a guiding hand for our children. We need to teach them that they can be different than this. They can be the difference. After Israel came out of Egypt, G-d introduced them to laws that included instructions such as feeding the poor, caring for the orphans and widows, and treating the sojourners among them humanly. The commands within Torah are filled with love and compassion. After being redeemed from enslavement and abuse, Israel is called to be something better than those who had oppressed them. They are called to improve the world by example.

This is the element I cling to when talking to my children about the Exodus, and all the baggage that comes with such themes. Yes, there are bad people in this world. Yes, people hurt other people. There is no use hiding from it since those truths will be crystal clear eventually. But rather than pulling the covers over our head and pretending there’s nothing to be done, we need to think about what contributions we have to fix our situation.

Fred Rogers, known as the beloved Mr. Rogers, once said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things on the news, my mother would say to me, ‘look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping'”.  As we explore these difficult topics with our children this is the attitude we need to have. While they are still young and soaking in all we have to instill within them, we need to point out the warriors who combat nefariousness with love, compassion, and mercy. We need to draw attention to the midwives Shiphrah and Puah, who’s fear of G-d led them to defy Pharaoh’s command to kill newborn Hebrew boys. We need to point out the “righteous Gentiles” who helped hide and aid Jews in Europe during the holocaust. We need to show them the various ways people continue to work toward feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, sheltering those in need of protection. We need to teach our children how to become those people.

I could give it another year. I could choose to ignore the grit of what Passover is, and leave it as a holiday where we have a fun dinner and eat special crackers for a week. But a lot of development happens in a year, and more of my son’s personality is going to establish itself within that span of time. Eventually we have to teach our kids this reality, because it is not something we want them stumbling upon elsewhere. We shouldn’t let the bad overshadow the good. We have to be intentional in pointing out that for every mean person who raises their hand against others, there are good people rushing to defend. We learn our history so that we don’t repeat it. We retell these stories so we become familiar with what went wrong in the past, as well as what went right even in the face of monstrosity. There is a G-d who has upheld His promises and will continue to do so. The world is currently suffering, but He will intervene at the time He deems right.  He led us out of Egypt, He brought us our Messiah, and we can confidently believe with complete faith that He will come back to correct the wrong and bring restoration. Until then, however, we have our own work in repairing our broken world. Despite the challenges that are sometimes found in upholding kindness, compassion, mercy, and love, it is what we are called to do.

I want my children to grow into people who stand up in righteousness. I want them to be an example of love that casts a light against the shadow of hate. These lessons start in our home and from there they are carried to the playground, extra curricular activities, schools, work places, and wherever else life takes them.

So I stick with my original conviction that if children know the right questions to ask, they are ready for some version of the truth. We don’t have to side swipe them with the gory details that can haunt their psyche,  but being age appropriately upfront and honest at a time when personalities are being cemented is, perhaps, one of the most effective ways we as parents can change the world.

Tsipporah Ruth

This past weekend we celebrated the introduction of our precious Tsipporah, and officially welcomed her into our home congregation. After having many people ask how we choose “Tsipporah Ruth” as a name, this was finally our opportunity to share the story behind the decision. There is something beautiful and satisfying about the formality of a Simchat Bat no matter how simple, short, and sweet it is, but I have been anxious to describe the finer details on what her name means to us, and how G-d showed His confirmation over our decision.

Tsipporah, which means “bird” in Hebrew,  was a name on our minds for many years.  Back in the early days of our relationship Jonathan and I, like most young and in love couples, would often talk about our plans for the future. I was insistent, due to an especially intense circumstance, that our future son would be named “Jude” (“Yehudah” is the Hebrew form that “Judah” is derived from).

I remember the moment “Tsipporah” entered the picture rather clearly. We were sitting in a diner waiting for our food, and having another discussion about our future (I was about 19 or so). After talking it over for what was probably the 100th time, Jonathan asked what we would do if we were to have a daughter someday. Up until that point I hadn’t put any thought into that possibility. I had been so wrapped up in the intuitive knowledge that we were eventually going to have a boy, I had no idea what girl names I preferred for a daughter.

Since I had nothing to say on the issue Jonathan simply stated that he had always liked the name “Tsipporah”.

And that was that. I figured I would think it over later and come up with my own preferences to debate over, but as we left the diner that night her name settled rather nicely in my mind. From then on further conversations about our future kids always seemed to include the idea of having a Yehudah and a Tsipporah. We were simply waiting for the right time to meet them.

The name “Ruth” came to me shortly after our diner conversation. I was observing Shavuot (equivalent to Pentecost) for the first time with the Messianic congregation we were beginning to call home. The traditional reading for this holiday is the Book of Ruth, which up until that point I had never read in full (for those who don’t know, growing up I had to journey outside of my home for religion. I didn’t have my own Bible and relied heavily on what I could pick up from youth groups and visiting the churches of whoever wanted to invite me).  As I got to know this woman during the study, I connected deeply with her journey throughout the text.

So I mentioned to Jonathan the possibility of “Ruth” as a middle name for our future Tsipporah. From then on she was (going to be) known as “Tsipporah Ruth”.

When we became pregnant for the first time I fully expected a boy. The night before we were scheduled to find out the gender, Jonathan and I sat down to make our final decision on names. We sifted through both boy and girl possibilities, but the reality of the situation was I only  had “Yehudah” in mind.  When the ultrasound confirmed we were having a son, I wasn’t surprised in the least.

With baby number two I was less sure, but held a sneaking suspicion that we were going to have our baby girl. After all, isn’t that what we had naturally fallen into planning for? At least I did.  When the ultrasound confirmed her gender, I was once again not surprised. I did, however, begin to have a wave of doubt on our name choice.

When we last tossed around baby names (in our first pregnancy), we still came to the conclusion of “Yehudah Yishai” and “Tsipporah Ruth”. The same names we always talked about. Part of that had to do with the fact that I wasn’t fully committed to finding a girl’s name at that time. I was too (rightly) convinced in my mind that we were having a boy, and he was going to be our Yehudah. This time around we hadn’t revisited possible alternatives, and I began wondering if we should at least pay some thought to other names. Just in case she was meant for something we had never considered.

After leaving our appointment Jonathan went back to work, and I went back home. The more I thought about it the more bothered I became over the fact that we never gave other names a chance. Once I got home I began searching and making lists. I went through dozens of names, researching their correct pronunciations and meanings. I made a narrowed list I approved of and sent them to Jonathan, who was too busy at work to respond in that moment.

To further my frustration I had to pause my investigation when the mail arrived. Packages are a big deal to Hudi, so when he found a box on the doorstep we both had to stop everything and see what was inside.  I tore myself away from the list of names I had been playing with, and begrudgingly sat in the foyer with him to open the box.

As I was expecting, the package contained used children’s books I had ordered online (I emphasize “used” here). It is almost ritual that when books come in the mail, Hudi and I read them immediately upon arrival, so naturally he crawled into my lap to read The Carrot Seed. I was already irritable that my attention was being drawn elsewhere (I was anxious to figure out a name), and almost as soon as I began reading my disgruntlement increased.

I specifically choose a  book marked as being in “very good” condition. Yet there, on the second page, some kid before us had written in the book.

I was trying to calm the hormonal nerves building up against false advertisement, when I actually looked at the writing:

“Zepporia”.

The writing in the book said “Zepporia”.

I was frozen and in shock for a moment. No, it wasn’t the same exact name we had been planning all these years. But it was close enough to completely halt my baby name search. “Zipporah” is the more common transliterated spelling used in English Bible translations. “Z” is the closest single Latin letter to the Hebrew letter “Tsadi” (צ), which more accurately transliterates into a “ts”.  And no, we weren’t planning to add the extra “ia” at the end of the name.

But, what were the chances of this?

Whether the spelling is “Tsipporah”, “Zipporah”, or “Zepporia” it is not a common name here in America (none of them are listed on the social security’s top 1,000 names for 2015). Yet of all the used copies of this book for sale, we received the one that had a variation of her unique name scrolled across one of the pages. On top of that, the timing of this find was perfect. We just found out we were having a girl, and needing confirmation on our decision I was literally pulled away from my search and redirected to our original choice. The one G-d had put on our hearts so many years before.

To add extra spin to the circumstances, I also noticed that The Carrot Seed was written by a woman named Ruth Krauss.

Snapping out of my shock I immediately messaged Jonathan with a picture of the book. There was no question from either of us that Tsipporah’s name was set in stone at this point.

After my moment of concern had been followed by something I consider to be confirmation, I was finally able to settle on what the name “Tsipporah Ruth” carries.

She is named after the Biblical Tsipporah and Ruth. Tsipporah, who was the wife of Moses, is a woman I find to be intensely fascinating and admirable. She saves Moses’ life on their way from Midian to Egypt (Exodus 4:24-26), and she stood beside Aaron and Moses as they confronted Pharaoh with G-d’s demand. She was witness to the plagues falling upon Egypt, and as the wife of a person coming to lead Israel out of slavery I would imagine people eyed her as an example of strength during such a hopeful, yet intimidating time.

While Tsipporah, to me, is a woman of fierce bravery and fortitude, Ruth is an exemplary woman of a patient and loving faith. When we first meet her in the Biblical narrative, she is a Moabite woman who was the widowed daughter-in-law of Naomi. After her husband dies, she refuses Naomi’s demand that she return to her Moabite home, and declares on of my favorite verses in the Bible:

Where you go, I go. Where you stay, I stay. Your people shall be my people, and you’re god my god“.

The magnitude of determination in that stance carried Ruth to Bethlehem with Naomi, where G-d blessed her with Boaz, an honorable and godly man who takes her as his wife.

The lives of both these women have played a crucial role in G-d’s ultimate plan for the world. From saving her husbands life, to standing beside him as he shepherded Israel out of Egypt, Tsipporah is partly to credit for the eventual reception of Torah, and the establishment of Israel. Ruth’s commitment to Naomi, and Naomi’s G-d (our G-d), brought her into Bethlehem where she met Boaz. Together her and Boaz created a lineage that lead to King David, and eventually Yeshua (Jesus).

Whatever impact our Tsipporah Ruth has on this world, it is our hope that she establishes it through a faith which reflects something similar to the example of her namesakes. I pray that she remains a pillar of righteousness as she stands against adversaries throughout her life, just as Biblical Tsipporah stood against Pharaoh. It is also in our prayers that her relationship with Yeshua (Jesus) maintains a grounding of commitment similar to that of Ruth’s.

Wherever He goes, she will go. Where He stays, she will stay. His people shall be her people, and His G-d her G-d.

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Seven Species Muffins

I am a firm believer in the saying “without tradition, our lives would be as shaky as a fiddler on a roof“, and as my husband and I continue to build our home I find myself relying heavily on tradition for help. Growing up in a secular household I only had speckles of traditions here and there, but nothing particularly concrete or foundational. It was more along the lines of routine rather than tradition.  When I came to Messianic Judaism as a young adult, I suddenly entered into a world overflowing with traditions. As Tevye the dairyman in Fiddler On The Roof elaborates: “we have traditions for everything! How to sleep, how to eat, how to work, how to wear clothes…“, and that is no exaggeration. In Judaism there is a way to confront anything and everything in life. How to mourn, how to celebrate, how to face the big and important stuff, and how to get through everyday routines. Having transitioned from a life without traditions into a life overwhelmed with them, I very clearly realize the importance of keeping them alive whether they be great or small. With the traditions I’ve eagerly taken a hold of as my own I find myself on a steady surface that helps hold me upright while the world around me seems unsteady and shaky. As a mother trying to raise her child to be righteous and G-dly, I am in great need of such steadiness.

While I try to incorporate certain traditions into the nooks and crannies of the everyday, holidays are perhaps most dominated by traditions. One of my favorite things about Judaism is the fact that these holidays are almost always observed kinesthetically. On Rosh Hashanah we blow shofars. On Yom Kippur we fast. On Sukkot we build and dwell in sukkot. On Hanukkah we light the menorah. On Purim we literally reenact the book of Esther, and on Pesach we go through the motions of Israel’s escape from Egypt during the seder.

And then there are minor holidays such as Tu B’shevat, which is the “new year for trees”. While it was once a day used to calculate agricultural cycles, it quickly became a sort of Jewish Earth Day. While I’m not particularly hyper with go-green sentiments, I do appreciate nature as G-d’s creation, and I most certainly believe it is our responsibility to tend and enjoy it. Even more important to me is the fostering of a culture which we now deeply connect with, even for the minor stuff. So this year Tu B’shevat was on my radar.

I was then left with a question of how to observe. After an ice storm we couldn’t plant trees as is tradition to do. I have a strong aversion toward “Tu B’shevat sedars”, and while it is completely appropriate to donate money toward planting a tree in Israel, it isn’t something my toddler could be involved in.

So I went with two activities that gave a nod toward the day (three if you count watching the Tu B’shevat episode of Shalom Sesame). First we planted my son’s very first herb garden which included cilantro, parsley (hopefully to be used at our seder in a few months), chives, and oregano. We placed the containers in front of a large window at my son’s level so they continue to be his responsibility and enjoyment.

Of course, like almost all other holidays (with the exception of Yom Kippur), there is  traditional food to be prepared. With Tu B’shevat it is customary to eat a new fruit and/or the seven species of Israel (wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and honey, which is all derived from Deut. 8:8). Originally I wanted to make a full meal that incorporated all of these elements, but ironically enough our ice storm had us locked in the house a couple days prior to Tu B’shevat, and that had me hustling at the last minute.

I ended up going with one recipe that included all seven elements, and it was delicious. My toddler enjoyed helping since there was plenty for him to pour and mix. It’s a simple enough process, though I did have to grind my own barley flour since my regular groceries store didn’t carry it (I found the grain in the Mexican aisle though!).

The result was delicious, and definitely something I will continue to do every year.
A nice little way to celebrate a nice little holiday. A new tradition.

Ingredients
3/4 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup dried figs
1/2 cup dates
1 1/4 cup whole milk
1/4 cup applesauce
1 tbs cinnamon
1 tsp all spice
2 eggs
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup barley flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup pomegranate seeds
honey as a spread

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Chop up dates and figs and put them in a blender or food processor along with milk, applesauce, cinnamon, and allspice. Blend until the consistency is smooth and thick. Set aside.

In a bowl mix eggs, olive oil, sugars, and the vanilla. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, mix the flours, baking soda, and salt. Toss in the pomegranate seeds until they are well coated.

Pour the blended fig/date mixture into the flour mix and stir until well blended. Add the egg mixture.

Fold in the raisins

Spray a muffin tin with cooking spray, and spoon in batter. Place prepared muffin sheet in the oven, and immediately turn heat down to 375 degrees F.

Bake for 23 minutes.

When muffins are cool, cut in half and spread honey in the middle of them.

Enjoy!

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.

High Holiday Reflections

This was not my proudest week. I’ve been feeling awful, crummy, and burdened with a sense that life is being held together with bubble gum and shoe string. While I normally feel like I have this wife and mother thing figured out, I was put in my place by a mix of frantic car shopping, a broken air conditioner (which we still needed even in September), failed plans, a messy house that was beginning to drive me mad, lack of sleep, and a very real case of terrible twos that I am still trying to figure out how to deal with. It has been a week of a constant battle in my mind between one half insisting that I am doing okay and will conquer the chaos, and the other latching onto feelings of failure and defeat.

Now we enter into the holiday season, where my time is consumed with Rosh HashanahYom Kippur, and Sukkot. While I am about to face many hours at our synagogue over the next couple of weeks, preparing various foods for the numerous community meals, and an overall topsy turvy schedule, you would think that the constant rush would push my anxiety over the edge. On top of the hustle and bustle of holiday season, this is also a time of heavy reflection and acknowledgement of the ways we fall short as humans, as if I didn’t have enough guilt over my faults recently. Yet as Shabbat rolled in on Friday night I was able to release the breath I had been holding in all week, and take in rush of fresh air.

As a major control freak it is almost as if the sudden burst of stress and panic was a form of pre-holiday preparation. I am regularly attempting to force life to go my way, stepping in to do everything myself when I feel things are going opposite of what I desire. If you were to ask me who the ultimate authority is over my life I would quickly answer “G-d“, and deep down I know that to be true. In practice, however, it seems as if I am making routine attempts to high jack that authority for myself. This week I had to acknowledge all of the strengths I lacked, and confront my weaknesses. I failed at so many things, and the tasks that I did successfully accomplish took so much energy and effort that it didn’t feel at all like achievements. By the time Shabbat arrived I was completely drained.

As we inched closer to this holiday season I had so many plans and goals. I wanted a cleaner house, better food prepared, less stress, more confidence in my parenting, and I wanted the days leading up to Rosh Hashanah to be filled with excitement and anticipation. Instead I received what I truly needed. This week of chaos left me with little of what I had set my mind to. My ego was bruised and my confidence wounded. It left me the way we all should feel coming into these holidays. Broken and ready for repair.

This is the time of year when we face G-d straightforward. Admitting our defects can make these days heavy and difficult, but there is also a sense of freedom accompanied with our confessions. It is commanded that we set aside this precious time to reflect, and while our worship is directed solely onto Him, this is also a time for our benefit. Last week I continued to push through and spared no time to regather myself, and if I struggled with that in one week then imagine what the rest of my year looks like.

Our all knowing G-d tells us to pause. We are drowning, and our instinct is to flail our limbs in every which way as we try to save our panicked selves, which only accelerates our sinking. Instead, what we need is to be still long enough to float on the surface. We are told these holidays “…shall be to you like a Sabbath…“, and we are expected to set everything aside to rest, observe, and sift through the deepest places in our hearts. We are to halt our panic, and instead calmly rise away from whatever is pulling us under.

In between the food, music, and schmoozing, there is the uncomfortable and intimidating process of encountering our transgressions, whether they are against another person or G-d Himself. For anyone who truly takes these holidays for what they are, it is a tough process. Just like swallowing a spoon full of medicine. However, just like medicine, once we overcome the initial challenge we can feel ourselves begin to heal. We can realize what it is in our everyday life that leaves us broken, and start to repair for the future. We are not stuck on a carousal of saying and doing the wrong things. Through the Days of Awe we are receiving a chance to step away, realize where we are going wrong, and decide to change. We are given the chance to catch our breath before we re-enter the title wave of everyday life.

As I think back on the core feelings I experienced just within this past week, I can pin point sensations of pride, envy, jealousy, distrust in G-d, and various other experiences that can be traced back to my sinful nature as a human being. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are reminders that I cannot save myself, and with all the mistakes I make in my life that is an incredibly reassuring reminder. I know that if I were expected to provide my own salvation I would fail gravely, just like I fail at so many other things. Just as G-d continues to hold our hands through the process of accepting that redemption, He provides us a time to step out of our routine in order to reevaluate what that deliverance means for us.

It means we have another chance to do better. We do not need to be enslaved to our mistakes, and they do not have to define us. Humanity has such a hard time admitting that we do wrong, and our excuses can run rampant when our sins catch up with us. When we are forced to bow our heads in defeat and admit our faults, setting excuses and denial aside, we are able to begin the process of improvement.

I want my life to be so much more than balancing between justifying my wrong doings and hanging over feelings of guilt. I want to be revived when my imperfections overpower me, and be continuously molded so that whoever I am when I decease is the best person I could possibly be. I should be able to refocus whenever I make a mistake. I should be able to recall everyday the fact that G-d provides for me what I cannot provide myself, while also giving me the power to overcome my lapse of righteousness and goodness. Among all of my other struggles, however, is my forgetfulness to pause and reflect. When the average day becomes too much for me to handle I once again start to drown in my panic, forgetting to still myself long enough to be lifted above the surface. So I am given Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. A time to encounter what is most difficult in my life, be freed from it’s subjection, and brought further into the dominion of The One who truly holds His merciful authority over my life.

And that is such a sweet experience every single time.

What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?

A couple days ago we had our friend’s 3rd grader in the car with us. She’s a sweet and very adorable kid, and conversations with her are always entertaining. In an attempt to keep her occupied during our drive we asked the one question grown ups love to discuss with children: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

At first her answer wasn’t surprising. Veterinarian. Doctor. Astronaut. However, her list became a little more flavorful as she described things that had nothing to do with a career.

“I want to be a weed puller for my neighbors”
“I want to be a person who makes babies laugh”
“I want to be a traveler!”

My husband and I got a good giggle out of her long (very long) list of ambitions, but she struck me with the uniqueness of her answers. Children are asked all the time what they want to be when they grow up, and somewhere down the line they learn exactly what to say in order to please the grown ups of our career driven society. They can parrot a list of well payed prestigious careers that so many people value. America is filled with little wannabe doctors, lawyers, astronauts, scientists, and presidents. We have trained kids from a very young age that what they should strive to be is a career.

It was refreshing to hear a little girl want more than that. She didn’t want to be just a career. She wanted to be a person. Someone who cares about her neighbors. Someone who has enough of a personality to brighten a baby’s day. Someone who has a hobby, and a sense of adventure. When asked what she wanted to be her future career wasn’t the defining factor. She projected an entire character to strive for.

Our society struggles with an inability to accurately determine self-worth. We care too much about the money we make. The house we live in. The career we have. We are taught that we should find jobs which suit our passions, even though it is near impossible for the majority of people to do so. It is a rare thing to see someone who separates passion from work, or has priorities outside of their job. Heaven forbid someone sees their career simply as a means to pay for the things they truly value, rather than valuing their work above other things.

What this conversation showed me was how quickly children catch on to a job centered attitude. Her list of non-career related answers made me smile because they were so different from what I was expecting, but what I was expecting is actually pretty sad. I assumed I would hear a list of high paying professions which require years of hard work and school. That is what most kids resort to when asked what they want to be.

Not her though. She wants more out of life, and it is so encouraging to know that I don’t have to push my own children to be like everybody else. I can teach them the priorities that really matter. I can teach them that they can do anything they want to do for money, but happiness is not limited to work.

The person you are is not the title you have at a job. The person you are is defined by your everyday actions, in and out of work. It is defined by the things that interest you, and the priorities you cherish.

If growing up means losing that perspective, then I don’t want my kids to be grown ups.

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.

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