Holiday Stress

menorahLots of people post about holiday stress.  They list all the things you can do to make a picture perfect Martha Stewart holiday for your family without going broke, getting divorced or killing your alcoholic famly members.  I do not have that kind of stress during the holidays.  I have a wonderful husband, a happy extended family (although some would say we are crazy) and I gave up having a perfectly decorated home long ago. Lots of blogs talk about the meaning of the holidays and how to avoid fighting over toys at the big box stores and how to get free shipping.  I have yet to read a blog about my kind of holiday stress.

My stress comes from celebrating Jewish holidays in a Christian dominated country. Channukah is a relatively unimportant holiday in Judaism, but the differences are really highlighted during this time of the year.   It is not just the Christmas music piped throughout the stores beginning shortly after Halloween.  I know all the harmonies to all the Christmas carols and I love to sing along. It is not the beautiful lights and decorations on the houses or the streetlights.  Although it is hard to explain to my kids why we do not have a Christmas tree or lighted snowmen covering our front yard. It is not having a Catholic husband who has all but given up his traditions to honor mine. I try to encourage him to incorporate his traditions with the ones we have created in our home.  It is not just having to proudly display all the Santa and Christmas tree coloring projects from my kids’s classrooms (this year they did do a menorah!).

My stress is less about the details and more about the big picture.  It is about being tolerated, but not having the support that people who celebrate Christmas have come to expect.  The world does not stop for my holiday.    I am expected to cook, decorate, and celebrate without having time off from work or the kids home from school.  Homework is due, projects have deadlines and classes activities continue.  So, my stress is more about struggling to get homework done, put a holiday meal on the table, light the menorah, give out gifts on a school night and then shuffle the kids to bed on time (oh and take a quick trip to the Emergency room for good measure last night).  There is little time to enjoy the holiday and the kids feel robbed of time to play with their brand new toys.  I would love a holiday season that was less rushed and had less stress where we could all just be together and relax and my kids could learn my traditions peacefully.

Growing up

yellow colanderMy niece sat for her driver’s permit test this week.  When I started dating my husband she was 3 1/2 and when she walked down the aisle in our wedding she was 4.  A good deal of our life as a couple includes memories of her and her then baby sister (and now another little sister).    I have a picture of her in a baby pool with a yellow Tupperware colander on her head (one of the only surviving kitchen utensils from my husband’s bachelor life). I have distinct memories of her refusing to call me “Auntie” until we got married, waiting for us at the airport when we came home from our honeymoon and years later asking me all kinds of questions about nursing a baby.  She was the proverbial “other woman” in our relationship. The only other girl my husband truly loved (until her adorable sisters and our kids came along).  In fact, the one time my husband cancelled on me when we were dating was when he called to say he was “hanging out with his niece” and wasn’t going to make it to see my friend play in a band. I could have been really angry after being stood up at the last minute by a guy I just started dating, but I think that was the moment I fell in love with him.

Over the years, my niece has grown into a confident, beautiful, intelligent young woman.  These days, she is talking about fashion, learning to drive, and wants to go to college to become a nurse.  She is a tennis player and an amazing student with unlimited possibilities for her future.  But, to me she is still a little 4 year old who asked my why my legs were so prickly.  Damn.  My sister in law must shave every day.

Losing it

Our Honeymoon

Our Honeymoon

I lost it yesterday.  Do not get me wrong, As a mom with three young kids, I pretty much lose it every single day.  But, yesterday I lost it worse than usual.  Part of it is that I have been sick with a flu that made me miss Thanksgiving and seems to be coming back as a hacking cough, earache and possible bronchitis.  Part of it is that my kids are often a real pain in the neck and seem to only get worse when I am not 100%.  Part of it is that my adorable, loving, handsome husband does not worry about the same things that I think are important after all these years. He is my laid back, fun loving, Yin to my stressed out, uptight, Yang.

So, I lost it and yelled at him.  In front of the kids.  I feel terrible.  Especially because he didn’t really do anything wrong.  He just did it differently than I would have.  And his way was just fine.  In fact, better than fine.  Besides, he works crazy hours everyday and then comes home every night and puts the kids to bed so I can veg on the couch.  When he finishes with the kids he brings me ice cream and rubs my feet.  He also does all of our laundry, deals with anything related to Legos, and is not afraid to paint my girls’ (and his own) toes with pink polish.

Sometimes when I am angry at him I go back and read the journals he has given me over the years.  I have one from the first home we bought together with sketches of how we were going to decorate it (of course we never did), I have one from our honeymoon with watercolor sketches of our adventures.  The one he wrote the first time I had a miscarriage makes me sob. He wrote a journal entry everyday on the train to work during my pregnancy and then when it was all over he printed it for me in a little book with a ribbon tie.  I like the tie.  Somehow it made it less accessible and allowed me to read it when I was ready (10 years later and I still can’t really get through it).

So, he is a good guy who has the right to do things his way (sometimes).  He deserves an apology and a break.  I deserve another sick day.

Restraint is not my forte

eggplantI am working on figuring out my garden for next year.  You may think it is too early for the Midwest, but I typically start my seeds indoors under grow lights in February.  I am trying to get a handle on my addiction to plant too much.  I cannot pass up a pretty seed packet and the seed catalogues are like crack to me.  My garden is only about 40 X 5 feet with a couple of smaller areas around the yard dedicated to edible gardening.  So, in an attempt at full disclosure (more to myself, that to you readers out there) I am trying to list what exactly I have out there and hope to use some restraint this year in an attempt to get better yields.

Perennials:  Blueberries, asparagus, rhubarb, arugula, strawberries, grapes, blackberries, raspberries, currants, about 30 shiitake mushroom logs, a 3 variety grafted apple tree, 2 potted fig trees (I bring them in for the Winter), 2 potted tea plants (they come inside for Winter, too), and many more herbs that I can list here.

Annuals that grew (last year):  Cucumbers, sweet potatoes, a random volunteer pumpkin from the compost, 5 varieties of potatoes (in garbage cans and grow bags), peppers, 4 or 5 lettuces, beets, carrots, cabbage, kohlrabi, celery, garlic, shallots, snap and shelling peas, broccoli, radishes, many heirloom tomatoes, kale, swiss chard, watermelon, Asian melons, and eggplant.

Stuff that got crowded out and/or died:  turnips, brussel sprouts, storage onions, soybeans and various winter and summer squash.

I am making myself a promise to plant a bit less and to use up all my seeds before I buy more…unless I can get my hands on some South African peppedew seeds.

8 is the new 18

Last week I watched some home videos from my childhood.  My father spent some insane amount of money to copy all of our old reel-to-reel movies onto 7 cds.  I noticed two things.  First, home furnishings in the 1970’s were surprisingly orange and avocado and Second, little girls used to act like little girls.  In one of the videos, I was about 9 or 10 years old.  I was dancing around our living room with 5 or 6 of my best neighborhood friends in our flannel Holly Hobbie nightgowns.  We giggled and pranced around and held hands in a circle.  We looked and danced like little girls.  We were little girls.

So, why does my 8 year old little girl act like a teenager (and do not even get me started on my 4 year old)?  My sweet little thing suddenly knows the words to songs I have never heard of and dances like her livelihood depends on it.  She has attitude and knows how to appropriately roll her eyes (no idea where she learned that one *wink *wink).  She wants to wear high heels and “fancy” clothes.  Some mornings she looks like she is going to the office instead of 3rd grade (thanks for the black knee high boots, Grandma).  The other day she told me I would “never understand her”.  Sweetheart, you are only 8.  If I cannot understand you now, we are in for some troubling times.  I do not understand how you have matured so far beyond your years.  We have tried to keep you sheltered and innocent.  We do not let you watch inappropriate movies, you are rarely out of our sight and we encourage you to do little girl things.  But, you have never loved dolls, you are suspicious of the Tooth Fairy, you refuse to play board games and dislike any Disney channel that includes the word “Jr.”.  I am at a loss. I think I am going out this week buy you a Holly Hobbie nightgown.

The Big Cheese

A lot of people are interested in my cheesemaking.  Everybody loves cheese and turning everyday grocery store milk into something so delicious and amazing seems like magic. I guess it is a form of magic, actually.  The problem is that cheesemaking is also a lot of work.  It takes patience, time and a lot of trial and error.  If you are up for the challenge, I highly recommend it.  What I do not recommend is doing it without a friend or a more experienced cheesemaker to show you the ropes.  Most cheesemaking recipes are fairly vague.  They assume you know what it means to “rehydrate the innoculants”  and the rennet and that you cannot do it with chlorinated water; that you know the proper size to cut curds for various types of cheese and you know what a “clean break” is, that you have “dairy wash” on hand and that you can tell the difference between the beautiful necessary molds required to properly flavor your cheese and the ones that popped up because you did not sanitize your workspace well enough. The best part about homemade cheesemaking is that it is very rewarding and once you learn the basics, they sky is the limit to what you can do with a few simple ingredients.  So, do not let me scare you.  Anyone can make cheese.

For the beginner, I would recommend starting with chevre.  Chevre is a creamy fresh goat’s milk cheese.  Goat’s milk is easy to work with and fairly easy to find in a non-ultra pasteurized form.  Most milks will not coagulate properly once they have been ultra-pasteurized without adding calcium choride. Since, chevre is a fresh cheese you do not need to worry about aging the cheese or growing proper mold.  It is also easy to flavor with herbs to make delicious treats.

The basic process for most cheeses including chevre involves heating the milk to the proper temperature, adding innoculants and rennet, cutting the curd and then draining the whey. I hope to be posting some step by step lessons here in the future, but if you are really excited to get started, everything you need can be found at these two websites: or from my good friend, Steve Shapson at  Steve is even having a Cyber Monday sale and it is good through tomorrow.