Friday, December 31, 2010

Awesome food find of 2010: Imagine KOSHER chicken broth!!

You're probably aware of the Imagine brand of boxed soups, many of which are kosher.  Their No-Chicken Broth is a tasty alternative to chicken stock and has worked well for me as a chicken broth/stock substitute in recipes (for when I'm tired of the consomme powder/water combo).  So - my husband and I were thrilled to discover, when we were roaming the aisles of Whole Foods Market with the kids as a field trip, actual real boxed Imagine KOSHER ORGANIC Chicken Broth - for only $3.99 a box!!  From REAL CHICKEN!!

Believe it people - check out that O-U symbol on the lower right corner!!

Now, of course, this cannot replace the real thing (especially when it's so easy to make with the slow cooker recipe), but when in a bind and you want reliable soup, this is perfect.  So far, I've only seen it in Whole Foods Market, but maybe other grocers will start carrying it.

**The crazy thing is that the Imagine website doesn't mention anything about it!!  Strange!!**

Apparently, the organic boxed soup makers must have recently woken up this new market for them because according to Whole Foods' blog, Pacific also makes a kosher chicken broth now.  Awesome.  Love love love competition!!!

Anyway, I thought this was a pretty cool find for this year.  If you try this out, let me know what you think!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Post Xmas morning/Sunday morning breakfast

Sunday mornings are usually special mornings in our house, only because we take our time with the kids and with breakfast (really, what's the hurry?).  Usually I make French toast to use up leftover challah, or sometimes we have pancakes or waffles.  Given the kids' early-birdness, by the time we're done with our morning routine, most people are just waking up.  However, it's almost 11 am, and we JUST now finished breakfast.

It's Sunday, it's the morning after Xmas (not that that means anything to us), so what better way to start off the day than with homemade bagels?

Yes, you read that right.

We can't take all the credit.  Our bread machine did all of the hard work.  Once the dough was done, it was easy to make the bagels.  In fact, the kids helped shape them so it was a nice morning activity.
Now, don't be jealous.  Really, this was super easy.  We used this recipe.

Here is a shot with homemade cream cheese and homemade grape jelly.

Here is my first artistic shot.  Enjoy the textures, if you see any.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Caroling...and me

I've never actually experienced a group of carolers before, until today.  Sure - I've seen them in movies and on tv, but I never before heard an actual group of roving singers singing Xmas songs.

Here's what happened:
I work in a hospital, and I was busy doing my work, with my door shut as usual, when I heard what sounded like live singing coming down the hallway.  It was getting louder and louder, and I thought that there is no way that could be fake.  I opened the door, and there was the group:  various nurse managers and volunteers singing their hearts out from these Xmas songs.  I really hoped the patients enjoyed the singing.

As for me, I suddenly had a strong urge to put up a mezuzah on my office door.

This is a funny season.  I actually love this time of year: buildings and parks and roadways are decorated nicely, cooking and parties rule the day, everyone has giftgiving and sharing on their minds, and tv programs and movies are all about families and reconciliations and getting together.  It's a wonderful feeling.  I wish the world enjoyed this feeling more often.  But it's not for me.  It's not my holiday, not my season.  And yet, I revel in it.  I savor every decoration, every cooking show, every magazine cover.  Maybe it's because it's an "other" for me - after all, I don't have to deal with decorating my house and buying presents for 50 people and making it bigger and better than last year.  As a matter of fact, I just wrapped up an awesome Chanukah holiday, if you ask me!!!

And on December 26, I always feel a little deflated.  Like - that's it?  After all that build up, that's it?  They get that one day, and then it's back to work?  What do you take with you for the rest of the year?  What did you learn from this holiday that you didn't know before?  How are you spiritually higher?

So I sit back, happy to be just a spectator in someone else's good time.  But like today, I am constantly reminded that it's not MY holiday.  Even if I like the music (no wonder why since my co-religionists composed many of the popular songs!), and the food (make it kosher!), and the decor.

Instead, I'll start planning for an awesome Tu B'Shvat 2011...

Something Special Tuesday: 12/21 edition

2010 is almost over, so here's Something Special Tuesday highlights of the year.  Wow, is it Wednesday already?  Sorry.  What would Something Special Tuesday be if not posted on Wednesday...?

Something yummy:  When my husband came home from Costco with a box of these, I completely underestimated how incredibly tasty they could be.  A perfect blend of crunchy and sweet, it's the perfect snack.  And - it's parve (neither meat nor milk)!!!  Really, I look forward to the moment each day when I unwrap the goodness...


Something crafty:  This was a year where I stretched my crafty muscle, with my kids 100% at fault.  By far, this is my favorite crafting tool since I've used it for so many applications.  If you only buy one thing, buy this.  Find a 40% off coupon for Hobby Lobby and grab one.  You'll thank me later.

Something financial:  Thanks to Kosher on a Budget for informing the world about a new daily deals site - jdeal!  Yes, Jews finally have a daily deal site of their own!  But wait Houston Jews - this site is for NY deals and for a few other towns...although there are plans to expand to other Jewish communities.  Why don't we start a campaign to bring jdeal to H-town?  We certainly have a few eateries to choose from (more on that in a future post) and there are plenty of business owners who I'm sure could use a boost to their business, so why not?  Let me know if you're interested in starting a grassroots campaign.
 
Something spiritual:  Thanks to Creative Jewish Mom for posting these beautiful posts about Jewish parenting and how we can bring down the lessons of the weekly parsha into our homes and apply them to our lives as parents.  The posts are short and to the point and as usual, there is always something in the weekly parsha that speaks to something that has happened to us this past week (how does that happen??).  I should also read them more often and hopefully you will enjoy them too.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

New precedent set in law - the "bris" precedent

One point scored for work/life balance.

Check out this story about a lawyer up in New York who actually wrote a pretrial motion requesting time off for a religious ceremony for a future grandchild expected to be born in the middle of a trial.  He didn't just notify someone ahead of time that he may need some time off; this is an official legal document!

The judge's response was great.  Check out the actual court document here.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Slow cooker chicken soup!!

I love cooking and I consider myself to be a decent cook, but for some reason I'm unable to make chicken soup.  I know, some of you are wondering how that's possible - and there are tons of recipes out there, not to mention my mom makes a wonderful soup - but every time I try chicken soup, it comes out as barely-flavored water.  So sad.

I was psyched to come across a recipe to make chicken soup in the slow cooker.  I enjoyed the results: the color was nice, dark brown and the taste was pretty good, considering I only used two chicken breast halves!!  The chicken meat was perfectly tender and a nice accompaniment to the soup.

Without further ado, here is the recipe.  Enjoy!!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Final Chanukah video of 2010

Yes, Chanukah 2010 has come and gone, but I'm still feeling the spirit (still played the Pandora Chanukah station for the kiddos tonight!) and I'm so sad that the holiday is over.  BUT - the hits just keep on coming!  This is the official last video of Chanukah that I'll be posting this year, and it's from Israel!  I think it's been a bumper crop of good holiday songs!!  Thanks AC for the heads-up on this one!!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Seeking help re: ravioli

Last night I boiled some frozen ravioli that came out of a bag.  Some of the ravioli was stuck together so I added a bit of olive oil to separate them up.  Didn't seem to help.  Then, a couple of the ravioli had a blowout and the ravioli stuffing floated into the water, leaving me with ravioli dough to eat.

QUESTION #1 - what do you do to un-stick frozen ravioli?

QUESTION #2 - what do you do to prevent a ravioli blowout?

Please answer in the comments section.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

More Chanukah videos

For some reason, I am really in the mood for Chanukah music this year.  Yes, I also didn't know there was such a genre.  Ever since I discovered the Pandora Chanukah music station, that's all we've been listening to in the evenings.  Here are some more videos for your enjoyment.

This song just cracks me up and has a very catchy tune.



This video comes to us from Chabad.org and their famed Itchy Kadoozy show (I may have misspelled that).



This is a new favorite song - I absolutely love the beat and the melody. The video? Left me a bit confused, but feel free to let me know what you think of the video in the comments.



Alright folks - Something Special Tuesday will resume next week!! Enjoy the last days of Chanukah!!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Near-viral Chanukah video

If you haven't seen this one already, here you go.  Enjoy!  It's clever.  And the melody is extremely catchy.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Happy Chanukah!!

Happy Chanukah everyone!!!   Enjoy the holiday!!

Homemade sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts)

Yes, you are looking at HOMEMADE sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts, for the un-initiated).  Fried in golden hot oil for the holiday (without a deep fryer!).  Filled with seedless raspberry jam.  MMMMMMM.  And they were TASTY....

Something Special Tuesday: 12/1 edition (I know, late again...)

Ok ok ok  - I'm sorry.  Time has been running away from me.  Alright - lets get to it:

Something yummy:  We make our own cream cheese!!!  All we do is strain the yogurt for a VERY long time (like, all day) in a cheesecloth bag (picked up this one) and at the end, we have beautifuul creamy goodness.  Easy?  Definitely.  Tasty?  You bet.  Just like Philadelphia cream cheese?  No, but it's very tasty and we haven't bought cream cheese in a while...Next up, homemade mozzarella.  That's right.  We received a gallon of raw milk, so what else to do with it but make homemade mozzarella....will let you know how that goes (it can be done!!).

Something crafty:  I'm so excited that I found this site.  I already found several projects I'd like to do, and I love that they are relatively easy and designed by a non-crafter like me!!  Ok - yes - the site is written by a very Christian person, but that's ok!  Crafts are crafts!!

Something financial:  Read, enjoy, save, become rich.  Easy, right?

Something spiritual:  I found this essay to be incredibly moving.  I love learning new things!  I never thought about the significance of oil.  Thank you Rabbi Jacobson!!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

My cousin is famous!!

Sorry if you don't understand Russian, but my cousin made it to a news spot on a Russian station while he is traveling through the country.  He's Sam at the end of the story (and the guy on the screen you see before you hit play).  Neat-o!!!

FYI - the report is about a new trend in tourism - "couch surfing" - where people stay in strangers' homes while traveling, and it's not so much about saving money as much as it is about learning about other cultures and really embedding oneself in a new culture and environment.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Something Special Tuesday - on Wednesday...

Yes yes yes, I know - it's Wednesday.  But - here's what I've got for you:

Something yummy:  Last Friday night was our Tex-Mex Shabbat.  This was the menu:
taco soup - devoured - obviously, I highly recommend
chips & salsa & guacamole
brisket tacos - made up of warmed tortillas, Sour Supreme non-dairy cream cheese, cilantro, diced tomatoes
Mexican rice - courtesy of a friend who shared her family recipe
Fajita veggies - peppers and onions sauteed with a whole lot of taco seasoning
I also made chicken drumsticks and chicken breast with taco seasoning in case someone wanted chicken.
And - watermelon for dessert.
It was - AMAZING!!

Something crafty:  I still need to make those Shabbat counselor tags for my synagogue's Mini Minyan, but for Thanksgiving, we're going to do some fun Thanksgiving-related crafty edibles.  Hopefully I'll snag some pics and post them.

Something financial:  Well - I just WON a giveaway on a blog!!!!  That rocks!!!  Thanks Kosher on a Budget!!

Something spiritual:  It's Thanksgiving, and I love seeing people get together with family and friends and share a special meal and memories.  But - what makes me sad is that apparently people do this so infrequently?  We are so fortunate to celebrate Shabbat every week, with its Thanksgiving-style meals, and we do surround ourselves with family and friends every week, so while I love Thanksgiving and how fun it is and all of the food, personally, I give thanks that I do this every week no matter what, and I don't have to wait for a special date on the calendar to give thanks for what I have.

Happy Thanksgiving!

A true Thanksgiving tale

(insert heart-warming story just in time for Thanksgiving)

A friend of mine had been looking for work for a long, long time. She was an extremely experienced executive secretary who needed a career change, but ultimately what she wanted to do was to pursue her true passion – performing. She had performed before and continued to perform but not regularly, and while she dreamed big, she needed a regular job and a stable income. So she decided that she had enough of her stable job and she quit to try making it on her passion.

How many of us leave what we know in order to pursue our dreams and move into the unknown? She had GUMPTION.

And she did it – she taught and sang, but it wasn’t enough, and she realized that she needed that stable income as a foundation. Unfortunately, the economy tanked and as we all know, it just wasn’t the best time to look for a job.

But she persevered – she looked and looked.

How many of us DON’T let challenges knock us down?

Another friend of mine got a contract position within my organization, and that gave me an idea – why don’t my friend (the subject of our story) apply and maybe she too can get a contract position?

I made a couple of calls and eventually my friend was interviewed, oriented, and placed in a temporary position.

Last week she called me and said they offered her a permanent position.

I can’t remember the last time I was so thrilled (pregnancies aside). In this economy, knowing how many people are out there looking for work – my friend got a job, close to home, in a new industry where she can learn, that compensates better than her old job – wow. Just wow.

What does this teach us? Patience, faith, networking – belief that Hashem has it all mapped out for us, even if we have to wait a bit.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Kitchen kapers

I've been having fun in the kitchen lately.

Two Sundays ago I was with my niece and nephews and for dinner we made homemade corn dogs.  The ingredients were everything we had on hand and the recipe came together easily.  The kids had a great time dunking the hot do-on-a stick into the batter and at first I was doubtful it would have any flavor, but it ended up to be extremely tasty and a crowd pleaser.  The 3 year olds happily ate theirs (I suppose anything on a stick is exciting!) and the 12 year olds literally gobbled up theirs, and made more.

Will definitely make again.  Poor husband didn't get any!



This past Sunday my husband and I were productive in the morning which gave us some "free time" in the afternoon where we could do something enjoyable that is not home improvement-related.  My husband had a super idea of making soft pretzels with our bread machine, so we called our niece and nephews to join in.  Everyone had a BLAST making the pretzels (it was quite a production) and every last pretzel was eaten (I got maybe half of one). 

We made two kinds: cinnamon sugar (the darker one) and salted (will use coarser salt than kosher salt next time).  Again - totally repeatable item.

Starbucks Buy One Get One Free Deal - Holiday Promotion!

 I want to be sure all of my readers are well aware of this nice promotion so you can treat yourself and a special person with some relaxing seasonal refreshment!  The deal runs November 18-21 from 2-5 pm.  Although in Houston it's not quite as cold as this image above portrays, while drinking something with peppermint, if you close your eyes and position yourself just right in front of the air conditioning, you could imagine yourself in a place that requires a layer heavier than a sweater.  Just maybe...

Of course, check the kosher status of the drinks before heading out there...check here or here.

Thanks Houston on the Cheap & Kosher on a Budget!

Something Special Tuesday: 11/15 edition

Ok - sorry that I haven't posted anything recently.  There were some other things in my life I had to attend to (like sleep, for example, since a certain son of mine recently decided that 5 am is a good time to wake up).

In honor of Tuesday, here are some special things:

Something yummy:  Here's a personal confession.  Tonight was Manwich night, and there was nothing gourmet about it!  I took the easy way out and knew that it would make my husband happy, so I sauteed some yummy ground beef and poured in the can.  Didn't even make any vegetables to go along with it (although the can does promote the full serving of veggies inside the sauce), although I did serve the saucy beef with brown rice and sliced up a tomato.  Could I have done better?  Probably.  But I was in and out of the kitchen and everyone was just happy tonight.


Something crafty:  My synagogue is starting a new Shabbat morning children's program and we have a few older kids who may find the program itself too "baby-ish" for them, but may instead want to help out.  The committee named them "Shabbat counselors" and I volunteered to make large name tags for them.  I need to go to a shop to find some pretty paper.  I'll post a photo once I'm done with it.  I hope the girls like them!

Something financial:  This is semi-financial - I discovered (courtesy of Orthonomics) a new blog that is RIGHT up my alley!  Please welcome KosheronaBudget.com!!  This is THE blog I would write if I could, so I am thrilled that someone else did!  I am adding this one to my blogroll!

Something spiritual:  I haven't read anything online that is particularly spiritually moving but I did start learning a how-to book on keeping kosher with a long-distance friend of mine.  The process of learning with her by phone has been spiritually motivating for me, and it completely lifts the rest of my day.  It's also a great way to catch up with her that email and online chat can't really fit the bill.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

How to not eat

I just came home from a work function which was held in the local science museum and featured lots of tempting food choices.  I say tempting because, as someone who adopted a kosher lifestyle several years ago, the possibility of eating out is still very tempting. 

Eating only kosher food is a very strategic process, if you think about it.  First of all, there is the whole meat/milk separation.  Beyond that, there's the waiting time in between meat and milk.  Beyond that is the idea of kosher/non-kosher food.  This is where it's possible to create some murkiness.  It's possible to rationalize by saying that one can eat the fruit, or eat the breadstick or dinner roll, or enjoy the salad bar, or the ultimate - enjoy dessert.  It's possible.

But if you want to just avoid the temptation completely, just eat something with meat beforehand.  That's it.  That puts a lid on everything.  Eating meat means I won't be able to eat anything with dairy, and that rules out pretty much everything (since I should assume that desserts and sauces are made with dairy ingredients).  Fruit and the salad bar are still an option, but if you're already avoiding everything else, you may as well avoid everything, and besides, if you're eating out, would you really choose the salad bar?

So, if you want to be strategic about your eating, go the kosher route.  It forces you to think about dinner when you're about to have lunch, and snacks are an entire microcosm of strategic kosher eating.  I'm definitely not saying that kosher means healthy, but it does bring food to the forefront of our consciousness.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Missing a pair of shoes *UPDATED*

**UPDATE:  Shoes were located under the bed.  Of course.**

Help!  I am not sure how this happened but I am missing a lovely pair of black, wedge-heel shoes.  I scoured all of the obvious places in my house, but no shoe has turned up.  I'd be ok if I had one shoe and couldn't find the other, but I'm missing both.  Weird.

It's not as exciting as our lost cheese story, but still, if you happen to find my shoes, please let me know!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Return of Something Special Tuesday

It's been a while but I haven't forgotten about you, dear readers of Something Special Tuesday.  It has returned.

Something yummy:  We've been making our yogurt for a while now, so we're going to step it up a notch.  We're going to try to make homemade cream cheese because we go through cream cheese like it's...water.  We'll try it soon (need to get a draining bag first) and I'll let you know of our results!  We're going to try this recipe first.

Something crafty:  My daughter celebrated her 3rd birthday on Sunday and we had a zoo party.  My husband put together awesome favors consisting of a zoo-theme lunch box, animal sunglasses, animal stickers, an animal whistle, and the actual food.  Lunch, which I took care of, consisted of alligator- and frog-shaped sandwiches (cream cheese + cucumber and peanut butter + banana), baggies of veggie sticks, a juice box, fruit skewers (strawberry + pineapple cube + kiwi on a stick) and yogurt dip (with homemade yogurt of course), and the piece de resistance: marshmallows decorated with pink sprinkles + strawberry cupcakes with pink frosting all skewered together. 

The idea for the dessert portion came from this blog post.

It was totally awesome.

Something financial:  As always, I Will Teach You To Be Rich has a great post about the invisible scripts that rule our lives.

Something spiritual:  There are so, so many things that require our attention: work, children, significant others, interesting tv shows, the dishes, our friend's current problem, a new recipe to try.  Usually, in the midst of all this chaos we call life, we forget our center.  Yoga focuses a lot on "finding your center".  So does Judaism, actually.  The Shema prayer helps us to find our center.  It helps us to focus, take a step back, and re-calibrate to what is most important.  Here is a good article to learn more about the Shema.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A post about me

I remember a scene from Runaway Bride where the bride can't decide what kind of fried eggs she likes, and whether she likes a particular kind of eggs because her fiance prefers those eggs, or whether she actually really likes that particular kind.  She couldn't decide because she herself didn't know and never thought about what she, as an individual, really likes and enjoys.

That scene really resonated with me, and recently I started to think about what do I actually like, versus what others like and I just go along with, or what others tell me I should like.  Turns out I actually have some definite likes.

In honor of my upcoming birthday, here's a post about me.

I really like:
raspberries - my favorite berry, followed closely by strawberries
cooking from scratch - I find it intensely therapeutic
wonderful bed sheets - I found a great set of sheets, and who knew, I love bed sheets
a 20-minute chair massage, and I'm good to go
foamy coffee drinks like lattes and mochas
Italy - everything about it, I just love it all
breakfast and all of the food associated with it
cold cereal - I'm addicted
bread - soft, chewy bread and even better if I baked it myself
sitting and chatting with my best friends over a meal - just like in my college days
high heels
road trips
reading a really good book that I literally can't put down - that's a rarity for me these days
playing the piano - maybe it's because I rarely do this now, but I get a feeling of satisfaction when I play
warmth - I can't stand being cold
cheese - except blue cheese and Swiss cheese
watermelon - I lived on this during my first pregnancy
the industry I work in - I am 100% passionate about it
organization - maybe I'm not 100% organized, but I strive for it
magazines - especially home-related (like Real Simple) and cooking magazines
cashmere
diamonds
Paris
surprises
Sergei Rachmaninoff
kitchen gadgets
non-electronic/non-plastic toys

Well, that's all I can think of for now.  This list excludes the obvious like my children, my family, my husband, and Israel.

Because isn't living really all about knowing who you are?  I'm getting there...

Monday, October 18, 2010

Blog recommendation: Eat a Duck I Must

I'd like to bring your attention to this very interesting food blog, aptly titled Eat a Duck I Must! (and you know there's a story behind that title!).  It was brought to my attention by an old college friend and it turns out that a mutual college friend of ours has her own food blog and it really is quite beautiful.  This week she is giving away a cookbook, but not just any cookbook!  Indian slow cooker recipesMmmmm.  Amazing.  I would loooove to win one of those (hint hint!!). 

Anyway, best of luck to you, Alice!!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

How to make your life easier: Tip 1 - Baby wipes aren't just for babies

Wow, that's a pretty presumptuous title up there, the "How to make your life easier".  This series of posts was inspired by an email exchange I had today with one of my college best friends, a working mom herself, exhausted, overworked, and overwhelmed.  I absolutely do not have the answers for her, and there are certainly many times when I am exhausted, overworked, and overwhelmed myself, but I strongly believe that we shouldn't ever feel that way.

I'd like to start sharing some tips I've picked along the way that make my life easier, and hopefully will make your life easier as well.

Enter Tip 1 - the baby wipe.

Lest you think that this tip is just for parents of small children, let me tell you straight on that this tip is for everyone.  It's perfectly ok to be a single guy purchasing baby wipes.

Baby wipes can clean anything.

That's it!  Baby wipes can be used to clean floors, kitchen counters, tabletops, bathroom counters, marks off the wall, hands, grime, precious objects, dust - anything you can think of, a baby wipe can most likely clean it.  I'm not talking about a deep clean here; I mean the "every day" clean where you just need things to be clean.

Think about it: they are gentle enough for a baby so you know there's nothing harsh in there, they don't scratch surfaces, you can get unscented, and they can be eco-friendly (the ones I buy from Costco are made from a renewable material).

How will this make your life easier?  You don't have to worry about fancy cleaning products; just a quick wipe and you're done.

Apparently I'm not the only genius with this idea.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Shabbat dinner menu 10/8

I had responded to a post about Yom Tov preparations recently on Beyond BT and that got me thinking about my own practice of preparing for Yom Tov and Shabbat in general. I enjoy reading housekeeping-related magazines and blogs, and I always try to incorporate new ideas into my personal practice. I love a well-kept home, but I don't always have the time or energy to make it as nice as I'd like it to be, so I love learning new shortcuts.

Shabbat meal preparation is a recurring activity and unfortunately, I'm not yet one of those ladies who preps and freezes much in advance. I do what I can. But, I am becoming an "expert" in throwing together meals in a short time period. Here's what's been happening recently: I get home from work and have about 1-1.5 hours to do work kitchen work while the nanny is with the kiddos, so I try to do as much as I can. This is what we had for shabbat dinner this week (thankfully there was a lunch at the synagogue!), and I did it all in just over one hour:
cabbage soup
roast chicken - chicken stuffed with onion and cilantro and rubbed with a paste
curry scented (spiced?) Israeli couscous (thank goodness for the Epicurious.com iPhone app!)
roasted garlic asparagus
potato salad

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Brief Hiatus

Due to the Sukkot holiday, I am taking a hiatus from posting simply because of time issues.  However, I'll be back!  In the meantime, check out this awesome Chabad video (and it includes Houston, of course!) to get you into the mood for Simchat Torah!!


Friday, September 17, 2010

Ten Questions for Ten Days: Parts #9-10

Sorry this is coming so late in the day.  I was swamped at work.

Question # 9 - What small step can I take to begin meaningful change?
Are you starting to feel as though these questions are like therapy-lite?  Where is the Judaism in all of these questions?

Well, Judaism is a religion of action.  Intent is very important too, don't get me wrong, but if you think about it, a lot of Judaism centers around activities and experiences.  You light the candles, you shake the lulav, you immerse in the mikvah, you say out loud a loud, you communicate nicely with your spouse.  Having the right intent gets you halfway there, but you need to act on that intent to make it count.

What Judaism actually cares about, and this is something that the Chabad movement emphasizes very well, is that any positive step counts.  Can't take on all of the observances related to Shabbat cold turkey?  Start by not watching tv while you eat dinner on Friday night.  Can't dive into keeping kosher with a cannonball dive?  Try not eating crabcakes for a week, and reassess afterwards.  Can't totally stop yourself from criticizing your spouse?  Try having a critisicm-free hour.

Every little step counts.  What will your little step be?

Questions #10 - What can I do for my people and the Land of Israel?
We are a unique people.  The Jewish people are a communal people; no matter where you go in the world, if you are in a foreign not knowing a single soul and you walk into a kosher restaurant/synagogue/Jewish center, you will be welcomed with open arms, offered recommendations, invited to people's homes for meals, and more (I know because it's happened to me).  Everything that happens to Jews in one part of the world affects the rest of the world Jewish population.

So given all of this introspection and self-reflection, the final questions asks you what kind of role YOUR link in the Jewish chain of history and peoplehood will play.  What kind of impact will you have on all of us?  How will you defend and support Israel?  How will you stand up to anti-Semitism?  How will you ensure the continuity of the Jewish people?  How will you teach your children?

(all ideas taken from this Aish.com article by Rabbi Benjamin Blech)

Yom Kippur 5771: the day you begin the rest of your life.

I wish everyone an easy and meaningful fast and a new year filled with love, good health, and (to paraphrase a toast in Georgia, the country) may your needs and wants coincide, always.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Ten Days of Awe: Ten Questions - Part #7

Question #7 - What should I pray for?
Hm, now that's a loaded question.  Theoretically, you should give this question a lot of thought before the big day comes.  In the words of the wise Spice Girls, what do you want, what you really really want?  Do you want a new car?  Do you want some new living room furniture?  Do you want to make enough parnassah (income) this year to pay for your kid's tuition without having to seek financial aid?  Do you want good health because you work in a hospital and realize that at the end of the day, you can have all the money in the world and it would do you no good if you're sick?  Do you want to find your soulmate?  A better relationship with your mom?

What are your priorities?

(ideas taken from this Aish.com article by Rabbi Benjamin Blech)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

9/14 Something Special Tuesday update!

Thanks to my husband, I have a new Somethng Crafty for this week.  This just might win the recycling craft award.  This brings Jewish crafts to a whole new level.

If you do this, please send me pictures and I'll post.

Something Special Tuesday: 9/14

Sorry that I missed Something Special Tuesday last week; with all of the Rosh Hashana prep + work, there was just no time allotted for it.  But - we're back this week!  Check it out below:

Something yummy:  When life returns to normal and I won't be cooking Thanksgiving-style meals on a regular basis, I plan on making this taco casserole (kosher, of course!).  And possibly instituting taco night on a weekly basis.

Something spiritual:  Well, check out the Ten Questions for Ten Days posts.  Or anything else on Aish.com or Chabad.org.  Or, and I found this interesting since I have children of my own, read this post about making these holy days meaningful for kids at Beyond BT.

Something crafty:  Ok, all of my creative energy is now being spent in the kitchen.  Sorry.  Come back next week for Sukkah decorations.

Something financial:  Some friends and I initiated a coupon swap.  The idea is that we contribute coupons to an envelope which we pass around to everyone and everyone takes and contributes as much as possible  We're through week 1, so we'll see how this progresses.

Ten Days of Awe: Ten Questions - Part #6

Question #6 - What should I be doing differently this coming year?
You've prayed, you're hopeful, you're optimistic, and you have a dream for the coming year.  What's missing?  YOU.  You need to change some action or behavior or thought process in order to facilitate bringing about the change you desire.  Obviously what you've been doing in the past hasn't been working; what step will you take to change?  Even a teeny tiny step will do.  Why?  Because it's the effort that counts.

(ideas taken from this Aish.com article by Rabbi Benjamin Blech)

Monday, September 13, 2010

Ten Days of Awe: Ten Questions - Part #5

Question #5 - What is my dream for the coming year?
This comes on the heels of the previous question, which asks if you are optimistic about the coming year.  What is your dream?  Is it for world peace?  Is it to buy a house?  Is it for personal growth?  Is it to find a spouse?  What's your goal, what is stopping you from pursuing it, and how can you overcome that barrier?

(taken from this Aish.com article here by Rabbi Benjamin Blech)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Ten Days of Awe: Ten Questions - Parts #1-4

We are now in the period between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, a time of heightened introspection.  Well, heightened is really an understatement; the judgment on each of us that was determined on Rosh Hashana will be sealed on Yom Kippur.  But - there are still ten days of opportunities where we have the ability to change our fates.  The Ten Days of Awe give us the final chance to do true repentance and to do real growth.  This great writer at Aish.com has ten questions for us to consider during each of the Ten Days.

Question #1 - What should I be grateful for as I begin the New Year?
Life goes by us so quickly that we forget the myriad of things we have to be grateful for: the sunrise every day, our children's laughter, our good health, our sound mind, our parents, our friends, our modern conveniences (hello indoor plumbing!).  My husband and I have a tradition, which we copied from a rabbi and his family who greatly inspired me, to go around the table every Friday night and have each person say what they are grateful for for this past week.  It is important to remember and to say it out loud.

Question #2 - What do I owe G-d for all of the things He's done for me?
Did you get a new job or new opportunity this past year?  Did you meet a new friend who is now your best friend?  Did your kid score well on a standardized test?  Did you find a super bargain at a store for something you love?  Do you owe G-d a simple "thanks" for any of those things?

Question #3 - What can I do to ensure that G-d hears my prayers?
When you converse with someone, what do you do to ensure that they listen to you?  You listen to them first.  Everyone has had those conversations with people where they felt that they totally were not being listened to, and the other person was just talking and talking with no end.  It's the same in our conversation with G-d.  Rav Kook teaches that when we talk, it's through prayer, but when G-d talks, it's through the Torah.  You want to be heard during this Ten Day period?  Then make sure you do some listening (aka studying).

Question #4 - Am I optimistic about the coming year?
Well, in a nutshell, you ought to have something to live for, yes?  Otherwise, it just wouldn't work, right..?  Ergo, you must be optimistic.  Pick a goal for the year, pick a dream - some may call it a "resolution".  Choose to do something for the better, and have hope, faith, and trust that you will be able to accomplish it (with Hashem's help, of course!).

(all questions and ideas by Rabbi Benjamin Blech as presented in this article)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Don't wait, start now!

Every day, with our routine schedules, lunches to pack, meetings to attend, laundry to do, bills to pay, we forget how we have the capability to actually change the world.  Yes - WE have that ability.  A warm smile, a warm meal, an attentive ear - what a simple action can do is open the door to a new world order.  As we launch the new year, think about the power you embody, the people you see every day and the strangers you gloss over, and don't wait for the new year to start changing the world, start today.

Watch this video; it will stay with you forever.

The blog post to rock your month

(month of Tishrei, that is)

I'm not sure that three-day holidays (read: Rosh Hashana and both ends of Sukkot this year) are all they are cracked up to be, but regardless of the logistical challenges they pose, we are supposed to approach them with joy, thoughtfulness, and full-mindedness. 

However, sometimes the logistical challenges can seem overwhelming.

Enter Juggling Frogs and her amazing blog posts.  This blogger has stopped blogging since fall of 2009, but her blog continues to inspire and amaze me.  For three-day holidays like we have this year, she created an extremely handy grid and a lengthy blog post to help you prepare better for these holidays.

Read the full post here.

You can thank me later. 

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Something Special Tuesday

Time for another edition of Something Special Tuesday.  Enjoy!

Something yummy:  I think these Instant Oatmeal Packets are a great idea and I hope to make these in the very near future.

Something crafty:  Find inspiration for Rosh Hashana and Sukkot crafts here.  You won't believe the creativity of this lady!

Something spiritual:  Think you can never turn your life around?  Think again.  Remember this young man's story, thanks to Aish.com for another moving article.

Something financial:  With Rosh Hashana approaching, it's a good time to take stock of your finances.  This article provides advice and inspiration.

Have a great Tuesday!

Monday, August 30, 2010

My Zumba class experience

I attended a free Zumba class yesterday and I made a few observations. For those who don't know, Zumba "fuses hypnotic Latin rhythms and easy-to-follow moves to create a one-of-a-kind fitness program that will blow you away." It looked like a party from the outside and who wouldn't want to party at the gym?

My observations:

1. Do you know why most workout pants are black? Because it's hard to find yourself in the mirror when you're in a Zumba class in black pants. I was wearing hot pink pants (the black ones were in the laundry!) so I was easy to spot, unfortunately.

2. For a good portion of the time, I wasn't exactly dancing, but I looked like I was being electrocuted.

3. I actually had to laugh out loud during several of the moves. My chest just does not move that way, nor will it ever.

4a. So during the class, I thought that it would be just GREAT to have a similar class set to Zumba-style Jewish music, you know, really upbeat, because I certainly do put in a workout at weddings, and that's in heels and dressed nicely. Surely we can have an exercise class that's with Jewish/Israeli music.

4b. Thank G-d someone had the same idea I had because we actually did a dance to Hava Nagilah Zumba-style, and let me tell you, it was awful (and I don't mean the exercising or the hot pink pants, although the pants may have had something to do with it). Listening to the music and trying to follow the steps actually made say out loud "OY VAY" unintentionally. So glad I did not take this idea and run with it.

5. My brain got a workout too as I was trying to figure out why I always had the wrong arm up (or down) or was stepping with the left (or right) leg when it should have been the opposite. I was having such a hard time following the leader and I prayed really hard that the windows looking out onto the treadmill area were really only one-way.

All in all, it was great, and my body feels like a wet noodle today. It did live up to its promise and it was a lot of fun. I have no idea how many calories I burned, but I would recommend the class if you are interested. Just leave your dignity at the door...

Friday, August 27, 2010

Having a bad day?

Having a bad today? Here's what I do:


1. Wear a bright color. You can't feel down if you're wearing something lime, fuschia, or turqoise. It instantly lifts your spirits.

2. Wear some luminescent eye shadow. You know, to make yourself look awake and happier than you really are.

3. Read something funny or listen to a joke. Make yourself laugh.

4. Pack some chocolate in your lunch.

5. Treat yourself and buy a fancy cup of coffee or yummy espesso drink. Sip it slowly and enjoy the frothiness of the milk.

6. End work emails with Have a great day!

7. At the end of your rope and can't get away from the kids? Go to the bookstore or the fancy grocery store or pet store and let the location do the entertaining for you. And feed them ice cream for snack. Ice cream solves a lot of problems.

8. Your day is not nearly as bad as the doctor who was just named in a lawsuit. No, really: I just walked to my office and overheard a doctor's phone conversation. Presto - my day instantly looked better.
 
9.  Count down: it's always "T minus" the days until Shabbat!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Something Special Tuesday

Wow, I can't believe it's been a whole week since my last Tuesday post and I haven't added another post.  Bummer.  Where does the time go.

Sorry this is late but here is today's edition of Something Special Tuesday:

Something yummy:  The ladies over at Gourmet Kosher Cooking have posted their best Rosh Hashana recipes.  If you are feeling daring in the epicurean sense, try one of the chefs' posted recipes.  Time to start the meal planning!

Something crafty:  I found this blog that has a bunch of activities geared towards toddlers, the age group of my children, and if you're like me, you're always looking for creative ways to occupy the kiddos.  I haven't perused the entire site yet but I like what I've seen so far.  Of course, crafts are included...

Something spiritual:  As Rosh Hashana approaches, we need to remember that it is never too late to turn towards Hashem, no matter what your background may be.  Read Rebbetzin Heller's inspiring Rosh Hashana article.

Something financial:  I wrote a post about this topic a long time ago, and it's nice to see it repeated by someone else.  Speaking of ethnic, two nights ago I made rice and beans for dinner (with leftover chicken).  I was surprised at how tasty it turned out, and it was very filling.  Not to mention an inexpensive dinner!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Something Special Tuesday: 8/17

Welcome to Something Special Tuesday!


Something yummy: I stumbled onto a blog that has fantastic recipes and gorgeous photography - the best of both worlds!  I made this summer veggie soup last week and I can't wait to make more; trust me, this soup will make you love veggies. 

Something crafty: Rosh Hashana is right around the corner and I love to enhance my holidays with some sort of craft, and this centerpiece from Creative Jewish Mom doesn't seem too difficult to do.

Something spiritual: Need inspiration?  Find it in a 23-year old martyr.  May his memory be a blessing forever more. 

Something financial: For those of you who have always inspired to something greater (monetarily speaking), consider this blog I found and after about 3 months, let me know if you've followed any of the author's tips and how it's worked out for you.

Drop me a line and let me know what you think!  Have a great Tuesday!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Synagogue Bake Sale!

Live in Houston?  Enjoy tasty chocolate chip cookies, mandelbread, or homemade challah?  Then please support my synagogue's bake sale by purchasing one or more of these items!  All products will be packaged beautifully and freeze great, and they are perfect as hostess gifts or as-is!  Make the upcoming holidays just a tad easier on yourself and buy some yummy delights today!  Distribution will be right before Rosh Hashana.

Click here for an online order form (which you would need to print out and submit).  Questions?  Details are on the order form.  Thanks in advance!

Friday, August 13, 2010

What is a widget?

Anyone who has been to business school - either graduate or undergraduate - has heard this line many times before:
"Lets say you own a factory that produces, oh, I don't know, it produces widgets..."

Back in the day, widgets were the stuff of imaginations in the minds of countless business professors, a handy imaginary product, the production of which was most educational to students of business.  Widgets were endlessly marketed and endlessly analyzed, and I remember sitting in class thinking, "I absolutely must look up the etymology of the word because I cannot possibly fathom where it came from."

Going online to search for the word's etymology, the all-knowing Wikipedia offers this:
The widget is a placeholder for an object, or more specifically, a mechanical or other manufactured device.

Apparently, the word goes back to 1924 and may be a derivation of the word gadget.

A Princeton University website offers synonyms for widget:
doodad, gizmo, thingamabob, whatchamacallit are my top favorites.

Nowadays, the term is used to describe a "mini application" used online, like the LIKE button on Facebook.  All of those little doodads and thingamabobs that enhance your online experience are known as widgets.

It's interesting how the word went from referring to something unspecified, to something actually very specific and technical.

I guess business school professors now need to find some other word to describe an imaginary object, and business school students will probably spend much of their time utilizing little widgets.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Something Special Tuesday

Welcome to Something Special Tuesday!

Something Special Tuesday is devoted to 4 subject areas: yummy, crafty, spiritual, and financial.  Whether or not I add more to the list is yet to be seen.  I will present to you my favorite posts from the blogosphere related to these subject areas and I hope you enjoy the posts as much as I do, and perhaps even get inspired from them.

Caveat:  since I do have a full-time job and 2 little ones under the age of 3 at home, I cannot absolutely promise that I will stick to this schedule every single week, but I will certainly try.

Of course - I would love to hear suggestions!  So here are my picks for this week:

Something yummy:  I made homemade yogurt last Thursday in my crockpot!  Yes, it can be done!  The result is a very creamy plain yogurt with a fresh, tangy taste.  I made it with 1% milk (my first attempt was with whole milk and that got rave reviews).  Now I need to make some homemade granola to go with it...

Something crafty:  Even though I moved in to my office about 6 months ago, I really haven't decorated it much (and the addition of a dry-erase white board last week got me very excited).  I saw this gorgeous mirror and I really plan on making it, especially since it looks super-easy, so even though I totally don't sew, I just love the idea of the colorful rainbow.  And it will really brighten up my office.

Something spiritual:  I get a lot of my inspiration online - there are so very, very many beautiful stories out there - and since we are now starting the month of Elul and the countdown to Rosh Hashana, when this essay landed in my inbox yesterday I knew I had to share it with everyone.

Something financial:  When it comes to saving money, I can't think of anything easier than clipping coupons.  You don't have to be all obsessive about it, and you don't need to spend a lot of time on it, and there are lots of blogs that do all of the work for you so you can just print the coupon or grocery list and go.  Those few minutes spent gathering those coupons, those several dollars saved with each trip to the grocery store, all of that can really add up.  Right now I am averaging a savings of about 30% on my grocery bill.  NOT BAD AT ALL.  This site is a great place to start for coupons and terrific deals.

Let me know what you think!  Have a great Tuesday!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Your comments please!

Since I installed Sitemeter which tracks how many people have viewed this site, I'm interested to know who is reading, but I can only guess at the data Sitemeter gives me.  You know what's the best way to know that someone is actually reading my posts?  If you post a comment.  I would so very much appreciate it if you would comment on a post, if you are so inclined.  I just want to be sure that no one out there is shy...

And I do very much appreciate all of the readership out there...I am enjoying writing the blog!

Thanks!

The upper limit of productivity?

Earlier this week I had another one of those days - a day when I literally had nothing to do at work.  Which is ironic, given that I have several projects in different stages that I am working on simultaneously, but it just so happened that all of the projects converged at a single point where I could go no further with them.

No further, that is, unless someone else did something first.

See, I made a to-do list for myself and noted what the next action was for each project.  Amazingly, beside each task was someone else's name along with the specific task they had to do, without which I could not do my part.

And so - I reached the upper limit of productivity.  I was extremely productive in creating my list - I have that down to a science - but ultimately I was stopped because I was at the point where I was dependent on other people.

After all of the emails and phone calls I left with those other people, there was nothing left for me to do but wait for responses.  And so, this begs the question: is one's productivity relative to the productivity of others?  At what point does one call oneself "productive"?  How is the "productive" standard set?  Is productivity a state of mind?  What if a person considers himself productive, and then meets someone else whom he deems to be more productive than he - does that negate his previous productivity?

And with that, my friends, I leave you to discuss...

Friday, July 30, 2010

An unusually good customer service experience

I think it's sad that these days that wireless phone companies/providers are pretty much synonymous with bad customer service.  Everyone has those stories of getting the run-around when they call, of not getting any useful assistance, etc.  So of course I was hesitant to call our wireless service provider, but I had to in order to clear up our bill.

The backstory:  In December, I called the company to drop one of the phone lines on the plan.  I distinctly remember the rep telling me that the line will be discontinued as of the 27th, and on top of that she switched me to a lower cost plan, based on my usage pattern (how nice of her).

Cut to now:  My husband pays the phone bill online, so (now) I believe that he hasn't actually been looking at the statements.  Which would have been fine, except that last week when I happened to look at the bill, I noticed that the phone line that was SUPPOSED to be discontinued was not only NOT discontinued, but the primary phone line on the bill.  Hm, that wasn't supposed to happen!

So I made the call.  After I explained the situation to the rep, she put me on hold while she looked through the history of the account.  Amazingly enough, she did not find any notes related to my call in December asking me to remove that specific phone line.  Great.  Now it was my word versus the rep-in-December's word, and I didn't have her name or a confirmation number or anything.  But here's where the "good experience part" comes in: not only did she believe me and discontinue the line, but she credited my account for 2 months the portion of the bill attributed to that line.  AND she lowered my plan again (apparently, I don't use my cell phone all that much).

I was really surprised that the outcome was in my favor.  I thanked her profusely, and I told her that this was the best customer service experience with a wireless company.  It really was!

And that company is:  Verizon Wireless.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

An unwanted cookie

I was at an early-morning meeting at work today and when the meeting ended one of the attendees brought out a box of homemade chocolate chip (with pecans!) cookies.  And edible glitter

(Who knew there was edible glitter?)

So here I was, with a finance director and a chief nursing officer, and we're looking at the box of cookies (mind you, this was before 10 am) and both of them are encouraging me to take a cookie.

As cool as the glitter was, I did not want a cookie.

However, since I was outranked, I felt no choice but to take a cookie.  I felt like I was taking one for the team.

So I took a cookie.  I admired its shimmering glitter.  But as much as I love chocolate chip cookies (and I mean, I really do love chocolate chip cookies), I simply could not bring myself to enjoy that cookie so early in the morning.  It was just too much for me.

So I walked down the administrative hall with this cookie on my paper pad, looking slightly less than professional, hoping that no one would spot me and my cookie.

And so began my workday...

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Funny story: Riding the elevator yesterday...

A couple and I were in the elevator yesterday and the wife noticed my work badge.  She said to me, "Since you work here, can you tell me where they do neurosurgery here?"  I just looked at her and slowly said, "I'm pretty sure they do it in the OR (operating room)..."  She looked at me and laughed to herself a bit and said, "That's good!  I hope they do surgery in the OR!" and I quickly corrected her and said, "You are wondering where the neurosurgery nursing units are!" and I proceeded to tell her.

The couple got off the elevator and thanked me and the wife added that her temporal lobe will be taken out.  (I don't even know if I heard her right - is that possible?)

As the elevator doors closed, I hastily said, "Good luck..."

It's moments like those when I don't know what to say...

Monday, July 26, 2010

Smartphone envy...or not?

I'm not sure I can remember a time when smartphone was not yet a word, but sometimes I feel like I'm the only one left without a device which can check my email.  Sure, I have a cellphone, but I use it exclusively for phone calls and occasional pictures of my kids to use as my phone's wallpaper.  But now I wonder if there is a new arms race going on, an arms race to see who is the most important?

This is what I'm getting at: it appears to me that a person with a smartphone is "important", while a person without a smartphone is "not important".  I feel this is particularly acute at work or networking parties.  "Important" people have smartphones, and during meetings, the smartphone lets out some kind of noise when an email has been received, making the smartphone owner "super important".  Other attendees at the meeting silently wait for their phones to ring in concert, announcing to the world that they too are "super important".  The "extremely important" people actually respond to the email during the meeting, indicating to the world that this email that was received absolutely positively must be responded to RIGHT NOW or else the world just might collapse, and so the email cannot wait even one. more. second.  Those who check the email during the meeting but do not respond to it are subtly-but-not-really indicating to the world that, "Yes, I am important, but I am aware of this and will graciously give you my attention right now during this meeting, but know that at any moment I can respond to this email".

Those without a smartphone, like me, just want to get the meeting over with so that we can move on with our lives, but because everyone is taking the time to respond to their emails on their smartphones, or checking their emails, then we cannot hold a discussion and so the meeting. just. plods. along.

And don't think that this post indicates that I have a deep-seated envy about all this; I actually don't.  I had a Blackberry in my previous job and I don't in this one and I love the freedom that not having a smartphone brings me.  When I attend meetings or meet people one-on-one, I don't have to worry about who is emailing me and what are they saying; I can focus my attention 100% on what/who is in front of me.  I find it liberating not to be "chained" to the smartphone.

Besides, I can always borrow my husband's iPhone...

Thursday, July 22, 2010

What's going on in my kitchen right now...

Just as an FYI, this is what is happening in my kitchen:

I have homemade challah doing its second rise, ready to go into the oven soon.

I have milk slowly turning into homemade yogurt in my crockpot.

I have homemade jam (three. different. kinds.) in a cabinet.

I have homemade granola in the freezer.

I make my own salad dressing, I make my own pizza dough (and pizza), I frequently bake my own bread.

When did I turn so kitchen-capable?

Speaking of birthdays...

We threw an awesome birthday bash for my sister two Friday nights ago.  And by saying "awesome", I'm being only slightly modest.

Since my sister loves Hawaii, and since my nephew has been begging for the return of theme night Shabbat, I hatched the idea of doing a Hawaii theme night.  Did I mention it was awesome?

It was a total family affair.  My mom and I shopped for decorations, my dad made salted salmon (his specialty) and purchased some key ingredients, and my brother-in-law had to keep everything a secret and covertly obtain for me their friends' email addresses.  The plan was for the whole family to come to my house for Shabbat dinner following my nephew's and niece's summer camp play, and then my sister's friends would join us for dessert at 9 pm.

We decorated the house and put the little kids in hula skirts we borrowed from a friend.  My husband borrowed a Hawaiian shirt from the same friend, and I popped into Goodwill Friday afternoon and fortunately found a Hawaiian shirt for myself!  We were set...

The best part, of course, was the menu.  We started with alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks.  Everything began with vanilla challah, followed by lomi lomi salad, mahi mahi fish, huli huli chicken, pineapple kugel, pineapple quinoa, mango green beans, and dessert was pineapple truffles, upside down pineapple cake, and coconut milk ice cream (yes, parve!).  The friends came at precisely 9 pm and thoroughly surprised my sister.  Everything was just perfect.

Did I mention awesome?  Did I mention tasty?  Did I mention awesome?

I went to see the corpse flower, and all I got was...

This past Sunday was my dad's birthday, so we did what everyone else in town has been doing and hopped over to the Houston Museum of Natural Science to check out Lois, the famous corpse flower.  At the time, she wasn't blooming yet, but we got a kick out of her anyway.  She has finally started to bloom, albeit slowly, but you can check her out for yourself here.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Tonight begins the saddest day of the Jewish year

 Tonight is the start of Tisha B'Av, the Ninth Day of the month of Av, known as the saddest day of the year.

Quite simply, Tisha B'Av marks the many occasions the world has attempted to destory the Jewish people.

A few famous mentionables (from this article):

• During the time of Moses, Jews in the desert accepted the slanderous report of the 10 Spies, and the decree was issued forbidding them from entering the Land of Israel. (1312 BCE)
• The First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians, led by Nebuchadnezzar. 100,000 Jews were slaughtered and millions more exiled. (586 BCE)
• The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans, led by Titus. Some two million Jews died, and another one million were exiled. (70 CE)
• The Bar Kochba revolt was crushed by Roman Emperor Hadrian. The city of Betar -- the Jews' last stand against the Romans -- was captured and liquidated. Over 100,000 Jews were slaughtered. (135 CE)
• The Temple area and its surroundings were plowed under by the Roman general Turnus Rufus. Jerusalem was rebuilt as a pagan city -- renamed Aelia Capitolina -- and access was forbidden to Jews.

More modern events:

1.The Spanish Inquisition culminated with the expulsion of Jews from Spain on Tisha B'Av in 1492.

2.World War One broke out on the eve of Tisha B'Av in 1914 when Germany declared war on Russia. German resentment from the war set the stage for the Holocaust.
3.On the eve of Tisha B'Av 1942, the mass deportation began of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto, en route to Treblinka.

So we commemorate by a national period of mourning.  We mourn for all of the suffering endured, and we mourn for the suffering that continues.  We mourn for the Temple that was destroyed, and for the dis-unity among our people that led to that destruction, and continues to prevent its rebuilding.  We mourn the lack of Divine Presence in this world.

At the same time, Tisha B'Av is like a call to arms.  How can we make a turn for the better?  It all starts with the individual.  The individual learns to love his/her neighbor unconditionally, to give them the benefit of the doubt, to help in times of need, to commit deeds of living-kindness.  And then you have a whole family acting in this way.  And then a whole community.  And a whole loving-kindness culture is formed.  And that is how we can change the world.

Is it do-able?  Absolutely.  Is it difficult?  Yes it is.  It is so easy to do what is instinctual, so easy to say what you think.  But to say a kind word (when you don't feel like it), or to lend a hand (when you are running late yourself), or to withhold saying something inappropriate (even though you're right)....that is what will change the course of the world.

All it takes is one individual.  And one, and one, and one, and one...So mourn today.  And tomorrow is a brand new day.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

My personal Grocery Game

Remember the Grocery Game?  Even though my free trial ended, I am determined to continue saving money at the grocery store.  We've fortunately reached a point now where this week we only had to buy milk, eggs, and bread and fruit, and we've been able to reach into the pantry, fridge, and freezer for yummy meals.

This past Saturday night I had my best score to date.  Check this out:
I went to Walgreens and bought 4 Dove products at their 4/$15 sale. I had 2 $2 Dove coupons, plus I spotted that Finesse was "buy 1 get 1 free", and I had a $1 coupon for that, PLUS a mail-in rebate for Finesse for the purchase price. So - here goes:

4 Dove @ $15

2 Finesse @ $3.99

= $18.99

- 2 $2 coupons

- 1 $1 coupon

= $13.99

- $5 register rewards for the "buy 4/$15" Dove sale

= $8.99

- $3.99 mail-in rebate for Finesse

= $5 for 6 products

= $0.83 per bottle and I got 2 body washes, 2 shampoos, 2 conditioners
 
Ridiculous, right?  Do you have a favorite coupon story to share?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Floor 1, Humans 0

Sad news for moms everywhere as children continue to fling food onto the floor with glee.

The five-second rule is no longer valid.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Plant dominating Houston news

I can't ignore this any longer.

The Amorphophallus titanum, hereafter referred to as the Corpse Flower, is set to bloom any day now.  The reason why this is so special is because this particular plant is famous for its odor when it blooms, which just so happens to be why it's nicknamed the Corpse Flower (and not because the Latin name is so hard to pronounce).  The odor, if you can call it, is likened to rotten flesh.

Not exactly roses.

Apparently, it's rare that this flower blooms, and once it does so in Houston, it will be the 29th bloom that's observed in the US.  The plant is at the Houston Museum of Natural Science and the museum is now open 24 hours a day to allow visitors to come check out the plant for themselves.  The plant has its own webcam, its own suggested play list, and is rocking the Tweet world.  Museum officials are thrilled that people's curiosity has increased for botany.  Admittedly, it is pretty cool.

Check it out for yourselves here.

Watch where you light that cigarette

I could have titled this post so many different ways, it was hard picking just one title.

Perhaps the guy missed the day this was covered in science class.

Perhaps the guy didn't watch the bomb episode on Gray's Anatomy in the first season.

Perhaps the guy didn't see the warning signs plastered all over the hospital.

Perhaps the guy just really really wanted a cigarette to make him feel better about being in the hospital to begin with.

A patient in a hospital just outside of town, hooked up to oxygen, tried to smoke a cigarette in his hospital room with the oxygen mask on.

That act sparked a fire, which the nursing staff put out, and he was later transferred to another hospital with a burn unit.  Fortunately, no one else was injured and damage to the hospital room was not extensive.

However, what we do know is that the patient just injured himself even more, could have made the room blow up because of the oxygen, and just caused damage to the hospital room.  Awesome.  I wonder who will pay all of those costs.

What we don't know is whether the guy now remembers the science lesson that fire + oxygen = very bad news.  Particularly when it's in your face.

A Facebook friendship: An update

I want to clarify my previous post, particularly to my out-of-town friends.

I greatly enjoy our phone conversations.  When someone calls me and I hear a voice from long-ago, I get a huge smile on my face and it brightens my day and breaks up my monotony.  I enjoy talking on the phone and reconnecting that way.

The reason why I prefer email is because I can fully concentrate 100% on what I am writing in an email, and as much as I try to concentrate 100% on what is being said on the phone, usually I am at less than 100%.  And I like to give my friends the 100% attention you all deserve.

So I don't hate the phone.  I enjoy it.  But I feel bad short-shrifting you, knowing that I am not fully listening as well as I should be.  That is a failing of mine.  And please know that an email from me, even a short one, is 100% dedicated to you.  So I want to be clear that I do not want to cut off phone calls.  I just wanted to clarify my position about how I feel that technology can enable friendships, or let them dither away.

And please call and put a smile on my face.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

A Facebook friendship?

Last week I reconnected with a dear old friend of mine (and by old, I mean going back to fifth grade) who is moving back to town. She is one of those friends who, if we only speak once a year, we pick up right where we left off. Which happened to be rather convenient because we were both lamenting the fact that we really did not communicate while she lived out-of-town, but now that's she back we can (and will!) be more in touch with our lives.

I said to her, well, it's not like I didn't really know what was going on in your life because I kept track of status updates on Facebook, not to mention the pictures posted there, so I even had a peek into your world.

To which she responded, yes, she even "stalked" me on Facebook and kept up with me that way, but come on, that is no way to have a relationship! Facebook is not a substitute for a real friendship! She added that she has some friends who have a text-based relationship, and she stood her ground and said, "I will not have a thumbs-only friendship!"

Which got me thinking. I love spending time with my friends immensely, but the dark side to it is that I really, really, do not want to spend any time on the phone with them. I'd much rather pick a date and go out with them. I'd much rather exchange emails. But sit and talk on the phone? Please, no. And it's not because I am not interested in what they have to say; I actually am interested (otherwise we wouldn't be friends, right?). It's just there is so much else I could be doing with my time while I am on the phone so I am reluctant to give up that precious time. So, in this case, Facebook actually fills a void for me. It helps me stay up-to-date with people without actually having to communicate with them. No effort involved.

Maybe it should be a ghost friendship?

At the same time, there is definitely something lost. Viewing someone's photos is not the same as hearing all about it, or hearing the stories that accompany the photos; it's not the same as feeling like a part of someone's life, of knowing their day-to-day frustrations, of being able to help them when they need it (which I think is a vital part of friendship). It really is just watching someone's life go by, like watching traffic go by. And every now and then I comment on someone's photo, but really, that is not like having a conversation. It's more like a token, notifying the friend that "hey! I cared enough to look at your photos! I haven't forgotten about you even though we haven't spoken in forever! Nice photo..."

So my conclusion is mixed. Facebook fills a need, but in no way does it replace a real friendship. That work still remains up to me.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Speedy flexibility

A dear, dear friend of mine who is a new mom recently sent me an email that ended with a sense of desperation as she wrote that she was so drained by the end of the day taking care of her daughter that she simply didn't have time nor energy for anything else, and how can I possibly manage with two?

To put into context, this particular friend is the most ambitious person I know, so incredibly driven when she has a goal, and is an accomplished attorney, so this plea for help is very atypical.

I have two answers (ok, maybe three) for her question. And by no means am I an expert: I remember asking the same question to another friend of mine who was ready to give birth to #2 when I was pregnant with #1 and I simply couldn't imagine how she would handle two, and of course there is the case of the Duggars with their 19 kids, so I am sure that Mrs. Duggar has better answers than I do.

First of all, this is the situation that no one tells you about. Every single person thinks that taking care of a newborn - all of the feeding, burping, changing, napping - just won't take up all day. It just won't - it can't! The math doesn't add up for the very needs that a little baby has. What's interesting here is that it does take all day and no one is yet able to figure out why.

(I think this is an official mystery of the universe.)

So, it's important to remember that everyone goes through this initial shock and there's an adjustment period. Yes, it takes several months to adjust to it all.

That being said, here are my two cents:

Cent #1: The key is being flexible. You need to let go of strict schedules (and I don't mean a schedule for baby here, I mean a schedule for you) and planning. You need to become flexible because you simply cannot control what the baby will do. Once you let go of defining yourself by a schedule, you will be better able to "go with the flow" and set your own pace. This doesn't mean not developing a routine - I actually think that a routine is important - but this means that if you always take a walk at 2 pm, but today the baby is napping at 2 and you're only able to go at 2:30 instead, then that's fine. If you try to stick to a strict schedule then you are just setting yourself up for failure.

The corollary to the "be flexible" mantra is "improvise". Substitute a towel/sweater/blanket for a burp cloth when you don't have one, use a carrot for the baby to suck on instead of the pacifier, wash the baby in the sink instead of the tub if necessary - figure out how to make do with what you've got, given the constraints that you have. 99.9% of the time, the baby will not care.

Cent #2: Be speedy. This doesn't mean that you should always be in a rush, heavens no, since rushing leads to accidents. Being speedy means that you don't have time to dally. When the baby is napping and you have a 20-minute window, you ramp up your pace to get things done. Use Clorox wipes instead of a cloth and spray bottle, use convenience foods for shortcuts, take a 5-minute shower, multi-task in the kitchen. If you want to get certain things done during the day, you're just going to have to take advantage of your non-kid times to do the priority items. (If you're flexible and you don't get everything done on your list, well, tomorrow is another day and you'll pat yourself on the back for you what you did accomplish.)

Not that I figured all of this out overnight. But for you, it's available here free of charge...

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

I'm a winner!

Right before Pesach, I somehow found an amazing blog called Gourmet Kosher Cooking. The principle is simple: cooking gourmet can be kosher cooking. I prefer the recipes with photos because I use the photos as a guide, but most of the recipes I've read are mouthwatering. For both Pesach and Shavuot, the site featured gourmet recipes from gourmet chefs - you know, the chefs in the fancy restaurants in New York!! The website is great in that it offers recipes for both weeknight meals and Shabbat meals, in addition to kid recipes, suggestions on great products, a forum, health-related articles, and more. It's been about 3 months and I have only read maybe one-third of the site's content. As far as recipes go, I've made quite a few and I'd say that almost all of them were repeat-able items, with some garnering raves.

Here's the best part for me -

I entered one of the giveaways and I won! I was so excited! I won a two-piece serving dish set by a designer, Alan Lee, and I got the pieces last Friday. They are so beautiful! I am so thankful that I won since this is the exact kind of thing I would always want but just never buy for myself.

Check it out - aren't they gorgeous?

Monday, June 7, 2010

Jam I am


Yes, what you are looking at right now are the fruits of our labors to date (see, I'm not counting children here). Let me explain this image to you:
The top jar with the RED STUFF is homemade strawberry jam.
The bottom 3 jars with the BLACK STUFF is homemade blackberry jam.
Let me repeat for you: HOME. MADE. JAM.
And to answer your question - no, it doesn't get much better than this.
We went strawberry picking back in May and made jam, and we thought that it was good. But then we went blackberry picking last Sunday, and we made jam, and man oh man, that stuff is good. Not to mention our jam-making technique improved so we think the quality of the jam improved. We consider the blackberry jam to be liquid g-o-l-d. Yes, it's that good.
Sometimes we share it with the kids.
Next up is blueberry picking, and I'm sure we'll make jam again.
Oh my gosh, don't you wish you lived near me now so you could try some of it...