It begins.

And so it begins…

Life with kids is hectic. We, as parents, know this. We know our social calendars get booted aside as our dear ones start creating their own social networks. If you have children interested in well, anything, your nights and Saturday mornings will be full of driving from one activity to another while balancing multiple birthday parties.

It was easier when they are small and portable. They came with you to run errands, napping in the car seat (if you were lucky) or content to sit in a grocery cart with a half eaten cheese bun in one hand while you frantically threw things in the cart praying they did not have to go number two as the thought of abandoning your cart in a panic to find a washroom for your potty-training child made tears well in your eyes.

After you weather these and multiple other things, you breathe a sigh of relief as you children move out of toddlerhood into more independent little beings. No more diapers! No more diaper bags! Soon we will be able to downgrade the dreaded swag wag for a cool SUV because the stroller is in the process of being sold on Craigslist. They all sleep through the night (most of the time), and the oldest one is starting to take showers alone.

But it is all a sham. What no one tells you is that your social calendar downgrades even further. (If that is possible.)  Your newfound free time is not spent elegantly sipping a glass of wine with your significant other. You are both still snoring on the couch trying to spend some quality time together exhausted beyond belief.

Why?

Because you have three children who have started the next stage of their development.

The participation stage.

What is the participation stage? It is the age when your children understand there are a plethora of activities available to them. Dance classes. Swimming lessons. Girl Guides. And all their friends are in different things and they want to go to all of them. Then add in the start of extracurricular activities from school. Cross country meets or choir performances. To even further complicate the issue, this doesn’t even take into account requested play dates or birthday party invitations. I have a calendar just with the kids activities or social activities on it.

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What I am slowly starting to understand is that when you have one child in multiple activities there are a lot of benefits. You can ensure one parent is always available or if you can’t for some reason make it, finding another parent who lives close to you to carpool with is an easier task. You have no tag along children needing to be entertained. You can bring a book, your work or just choose to sit in your car and nap. But you have that choice.

When you have two children the participation stage is a tad trickier. But if you can encourage said children to join things together or very close by with staggered start times, it is still doable without too much angst.

With three or more children there is no escape. You live in whirlwind that does not stop. You are either taking children to activities while trying to throw goldfish packages in the backseats because someone is hungry or trying to desperately find a babysitter because your littlest one, exhausted from all day kindergarten, wants to go to bed by 7:00 pm. Your new Coach purse (that you splurged on to celebrate your newfound freedom), resembles a babysitter’s starting kit. Pads of colouring sheets and crayons in case someone needs to wait longer than ten minutes somewhere and not to mention the wrappers and crumbs at the bottom. You arrive home, put kids to bed and cringe at the thought you have to now make three lunches and go through three piles of agendas and paperwork to ensure nothing is missed so you sit, spaced out, in shock from what just transpired that day.

I had the pleasure of starting my kid’s activities this past week. There was a lot of preamble at the end of August as we finalized everything.

“Kids, you get to each pick two activities and that’s it.”

“I want musical theatre.”

“Me too!”

“Great! Two checked off. Oh wait. You can’t be together this year. So Elizabeth you’re Thursdays 515 pm and Audrey you’re at 615 pm. What about Jacob. Hmmm..will deal with that later.”

“Mommy..I want to do tap dance this year.”

“Okay Audrey, you can do two activities as long as it fits into Saturday morning. I want everything on Saturday morning when Daddy is here to help me.”

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“But mom!! My two friends are doing Girl Guides again this year. I realllyy wanted to do that too.”

“No Elizabeth. We talked about this. You’re in grade three now. You’ll have more homework so can only have one activity during the week at least for the fall until we know how you’re doing. Okay? Plus Girl Guides is on the same night as musical theatre.”

“But it’s not until 630 pm and I’m done at 615 pm! We have time to get me over there if Dad comes home early and stays with Audrey at her class.”

Big sigh. How to explain to an eight and a half year old as much as I would like her to do everything, I can’t be in two places at the same time and her dad doesn’t get home on time for weekday activities and I have to consider her younger brother and how much he can handle in one night? So I try a different approach.

“Elizabeth, you can’t do both musical theatre and girl guides on the same night. Pick one.”

Musical theatre wins out and off we go. Thankfully Jacob is content with his one activity on Saturday mornings with the promise that I’ll look into hockey for him in the winter after he turns four.

A few days before our crazy Thursday night I realize two things. One, I can’t take Jacob on the crazy after school activity ride. Poor kid is struggling with full day kindergarten and exhausted. I’ve never seen this kid rub his eyes so much once he’s home from school. So I contact a new babysitter I’ve interviewed and ask her to come for a few hours until Mr. L arrives home. Done. I’ll reassess if I should keep her or try to take Jacob with me after a couple of weeks.

Second, all of Elizabeth’s homework is due on Fridays. She has two dictations (one French and one English) and needs to hand in a French reading report each week. I’ll need to ensure she gets most of it done before Thursday night and spend a half hour with her (while she wolfs down take-out dinner) at some random coffee shop quizzing her while her sister is at class. This issue reaffirms the need for a babysitter even more so I can focus on Elizabeth and her homework.

We get through the Thursday night in not too bad of shape. It was nice to have dinner with just Audrey and then be able to focus on Elizabeth (even if we’re in a food court). Some fine-tuning is required with regard to homework as she still had to rush Friday morning to finish something, but we did it.

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Saturdays are infinitely better. With two parents we can divide and conquer. I can take one to her dance class. Mr. L can take Jacob to his class and Elizabeth (who is supposed to be doing extra reading) is the tag along but being older she should be able to handle it the best.

We get to the dance studio on Saturday and find a good friend has signed up his two daughters for a jazz dance class. I can see Elizabeth’s mind swirling and it isn’t long before the question arises,

“Mom, can I take jazz since I’m here anyway?”

Another sigh but I ask her. “Will you promise when we get back home after you will still do your extra reading homework?”

She nods (although I know this will be an ongoing battle) and I go over to inquire if there is space in the class. Two spots left and a few hundred dollars later (and a realization that I need to increase our kid activity budget at some point) she is enrolled.

So my Thursday nights will be crazy but if I can schedule and budget in a sitter each week, manageable. Saturdays will be busy but with all kids occupied at the same time, when I’m not bouncing back and forth between two classroom windows to wave and smile at my two girls, maybe I’ll be able to sit for ten minutes and reflect upon weather it’s possible to clone oneself? I will accept the fact that this is only the beginning. Next week we add in three birthday parties over a two-day period. I’m still not one hundred percent sure how we’ll manage that but I think come Saturday night, we’ll have to plan a very lively comedy to watch to keep us both awake.

Let the crazy times begin…..

Celebrating a new year!

Shana Tova!! Happy New Year! Well, happy Jewish New Year.

A time to reflect, celebrate and wish one another well. Summer passed by in a nomadic blur leaving little time to write. The beginning of September rushed through in a whirlwind of checkered backpacks and multi coloured labels affixed to the clothing of my three children.

Yes. It is official. I am now the proud owner of six free hours, five days a week! Until one of said kids takes ill and then my time vanishes in a puff of smoke replaced by mommy cuddles, thermometers and humidifiers. But I digress.

Rosh Hashanah.

Another year. Another celebration.

Being part of an interfaith marriage, we proudly embrace and celebrate the plethora of Judea-Christian traditions. People enjoy coming to our house between mid-September until the end of December, as we always seem to have a holiday going on. It may be apples and honey one week followed closely by gourds decorating the house and turkey cooking in the oven. Halloween follows close behind until we sprint towards Hanukah and Christmas with eyes closed praying we did enough, ate somewhat healthy and made more memorable moments with our darlings.

This year, for the first time in our twelve plus year marriage, I am responsible for the entire menu and cooking for Rosh Hashanah dinner. (Thank goodness it isn’t Passover!) When I first agreed to take it on, I thought, Pshaw! Some fish. Some chicken. Some honey cake. How hard can it be?

Oh vey!

Well, perhaps hard is not the correct word. It is always hard the first time you do something new. But with it comes a rich learning experience that I chose to undertake.

Twas the night before Rosh Hashanah and all through the house, sweet smells were like manna so even a mouse, would come out of its corner to partake in the crumbs, leftover from mom’s attempt to bake honey cake for our tums.

I churned. I measured. I dropped flour all over the countertop. But, the night before Rosh Hashanah, the traditional honey cake was placed into a pre-heated oven. Was it well-organized meal planning that drove me to make the honey cake the night before? Of course not! I had to be sure it was edible so I had time to go try and find honey cake in our suburban west end neighborhood well removed from traditional Jewish bakeries of the Toronto area.

As the cake baked, the tantalizing smells of cloves, cinnamon and honey wafted through the house as I researched the rest of our dinner menu.

Honey glazed chicken thighs.
Fish (With head attached. As I forget every year, a whole fish is presented at the table to represent the Rosh (Hebrew for head). Thank goodness Mr. L reminded me a couple of days ago.)
Vegetables
Salad
Potatoes and carrots in a glazed honey sauce
Apples and honey
Challah
Chocolate glaze for honey cake

Not too much but enough variety for our family of five with all traditional elements accounted for.

My to-do list grew longer and longer as I tried to figure out my prep time and cooking time to ensure each dish was not sitting too long outside the oven.

The timer for the prized cake went off somewhere before midnight and not to brag, but even I was impressed with how nice it looked. I swatted Mr. L’s hand away but his excellent basketball moves enabled him to catch a few crumbs. The impressed look on his face warmed this newbie baker’s heart.

Honey Cake

Honey Cake

The day of Rosh Hashanah arrived and in a tizzy I realized I had offered to volunteer at my girls’ school that morning. Making a quick grocery list with a cup of coffee in one hand and shooing three kids to their respective bus stops with my feet (as I didn’t have a hand free) I wrote down all elements of my menu not yet purchased.

My main concern. Where to get a whole fish? Some grocery stores carry them and some do not. Although we eat fish in our house on a rotating basis once a week, I am quite content with our fish guy at our regular supermarket that gives me the little extra big salmon fillet because he knows my kids eat a lot. I did not think ahead to ask them to ensure to have whole fish, with head attached ready for me.

Raking my brain, a visual image hit me of another local grocery store, visited once in awhile and conveniently near the school. The image of fish on ice. Fish eyes staring at me as the kids ogled the live fish tank. Live fish tank meant whole fish for sale.

After checking in books and trying to maintain order of a class full of grade one kids at the school library, I drove to the grocery store forgoing the cart stomping right to the fish department. Passing the bakery on the way, I affirmed what I suspected. Yes, they had fresh Challah. But if there were no fish, there would be no shopping for me at this store.

Walking up to the counter my shoulders sagged in relief. There, behind the smudged glass laying on a blanket of ice staring at me in all their dead eyed glory were numerous types of whole fish. Snappers. Sea bream, Flounder. Mazal Tov!
Quick turn of the heel and I briskly strode to get the cart. I was now committed.

Challah please. Check.

Two snappers please. Wait. You have to what? Clean them up for me? They’re not clean already? Okay. Snip, gut and wash. Thank goodness I didn’t have to do that! The fish, named Charley and Sam, were mine. Check.

Chicken. Check. Apples Check. Honey. Check.

Down my list I went throwing in a few extra items here or there until my shopping was complete in less than a half hour. Record time.

Back home I carefully paced the remainder of the day between cooking and other errands until it was time to pick up the kids from school. I wasn’t making bad time. But it was with much relief when Mr. L walked through the door before 4:00 pm (unheard of most days) to relieve me of kid duty so I could focus on the food.

As each dish was ready, I realized I was kind of enjoying myself. I was learning to cook new things. The house smelled divine and I was helping our family celebrate an important Jewish holiday.

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There are those times in your life when in one moment you are proud of something you accomplished. It may not be a huge thing or perhaps it is. For me, I had a moment like that last night as I presented the Rosh Hashanah feast to my family. I know Mr. L appreciated the effort, the kids ate almost everything, (Well we couldn’t convince them on the fish with the heads on but I don’t blame them.) and we had them tucked into bed just as tired eyes were rubbed and yawns imminent.

We may not have the most observantly Jewish Rosh Hashanah dinner, but it worked for our family and all the components were there. As a mom of three children and half of an interfaith partnership some people ask,

“Aren’t you concerned the kids will be confused?”

My answer to them, look at what they gain. They gain a rich, diverse experience that will enable them to think in on a more global scale. Having exposure to both our familial religions will free them from the binds of archaic practices enabling them to intelligently celebrate whatever holidays they identify with, in whatever way they deem fit. My hope is that they will empathize with people from whatever culture or religion they are. Tolerance, acceptance and compromise are blessed traits to possess. So is the ability to see the world in a bigger picture than beyond your own cultural schema. So, if I need to buy a fish head or two and learn how to cook a Rosh Hashanah meal to enrich my children’s understanding of the world they will inherit, than I will happily comply. (And enjoy eating a kick-ass honey cake. Recipe below.)

Regardless of how you celebrate this holiday, I think we will all be blessed with a sweet, successful year ahead.

Shana Tova!

DEFINITIVE MOIST AND MAJESTIC HONEY CAKE *Want to take this opportunity to mention I found this recipe on a great website called, www.interfaithfamily.com in an article by Linda Morel

By Marcy Goldman (www.betterbaking.com)

“Like most honey cakes, this can be made days ahead.”

3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup honey
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup warm coffee or strong tea or Coca-Cola
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1/4 cup rye or whiskey (or substitute orange juice or coffee)
1/2 cup slivered almonds

This cake is best baked in a nine-inch angel food cake pan, but you can also make it in one nine- or 10-inch tube or Bundt cake pan, a nine-by-13-inch sheet cake, or two five-inch loaf pans.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly grease pan(s). For tube and angel food pans, line the bottom with lightly greased parchment paper, cut to fit. Have ready doubled up baking sheets with a piece of parchment on top.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves, and allspice. Make a well in the center. Add oil, honey, white sugar, brown sugar, eggs, vanilla, coffee, tea, or cola, orange juice and rye or whiskey.
Using a strong wire whisk or in an electric mixer on slow speed, stir together well to make a thick, well-blended batter, making sure that no ingredients are stuck to the bottom.
Spoon batter into prepared pan(s). Sprinkle top of cake(s) evenly with almonds. Place cake pan(s) on two baking sheets stacked together. (This will ensure that cakes bake properly.)
Bake until cake springs back when you gently touch the cake center. For angel and tube cake pans, 60-80 minutes; loaf pans, about 45-55 minutes. For sheet-style cakes, baking time is 40-45 minutes.
Let cake stand 20 minutes before removing from pan.