Category Archives: Smile

Planting trees and more ways to celebrate Tu B’Shevat, or Jewish Earth Day

Spending time in nature and appreciating the beauty of the world around them is an ideal I hope to instill in my kids that will stay with them for years to come.

Tu B’Shevat, which begins at sundown on January 27 and ends at nightfall on January 28, is known widely as the new year of the trees, or Jewish Earth Day. In Israel, this time of year is when the most rain falls, rain that we as Jews pray for, rain that brings fourth new life and new hope. We celebrate by eating new fruits and expressing our appreciation for new life.

Of course, if you live in area of the world that is smack in the middle of the cold winter months, it’s hard to imagine celebrating a holiday about growth and renewal.

Yet, even those of us living in colder climates can find ways to get out into nature and appreciate the beauty of the world.

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Spice up your family’s health with these flavorful recipes

Getting kids to eat healthy is a battle I know all too well. From artistic uses of fruit, to “hiding” vegetables, parents seem to have to go through extreme lengths just to add some nutritious foods into our children’s diet.

While eating produce is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, and sometimes we do need to get creative with our recipes, there is an even easier way to add nutrition to your family meals, and chances are, you already are doing it.

Herbs and spices, the stuff you pull from your pantry to add flavor to your favorite dishes are packed with the vitamins and minerals our families need to promote healthy living. From improving digestion, reducing inflammation, to boosting immunity, just a pinch or two of these small, but mighty spices cand do wonders for your nutrition.

Read on for some delicious ideas to add flavor and health to your family meals.

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Eight socially-distant Hanukkah ideas to try with your family

Hanukkah is just a few nights away, and, if your kids are like mine, they’ve been counting down the days until the Festival of Lights.

Though many of us enjoy the fun gatherings of friends and family at this time, this year the desire to stay safe and healthy means we will be doing things a bit differently.

Despite these different times, we can still experience the joy of Hanukkah.

Read on for some ideas.

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An epic Chanukah starts with PJ Library and Manischewitz

My kids love cookies (who doesn’t?), and have enjoyed making holiday-themed cookie houses at school and elsewhere. And, while those are a lot of fun for children, they tend to be more Christmas themed, which can make Jewish kids like mine feel a bit excluded. So, when our family got the opportunity to test out Manischewitz’s new Chanukah cookie decorating kit, they could not wait to get their hands (and mouths) on this fun and tasty project.

The Chanukah House Cookie Decorating Kit comes with pre-baked cookie walls and roof pieces, ready-to-use frosting and decorations, to make building an enjoyable and easy process. You can choose to follow the design pictured on the box, or you can get creative and decorate the house any way you like.

My kids got creative with their design, and had a little trouble getting everything to stick at first, but once they got the hang of it, they really enjoyed putting the house together and putting their own spin on the decorations.

Of course, the best part about building the Chanukah Cookie House was getting to eat it. Ours wasn’t up long before my boys went right for the delicious, frosted cookie pieces. As you can see in the picture below, my kids couldn’t wait until Chanukah to give the cookie house a try, so you can believe us when we say that this project was both fun and yummy.

Kids of all ages will love building this tasty treat this Chanukah (which begins on December 10), and families will love that each kit comes with a PJ Library subscription card so that families raising children with Jewish values and traditions can sign up to receive a free expertly curated, age-appropriate children’s book each month.

For even more Chanukah fun, check out PJ Library’s “Hanukkah Hub” for recipes, stories, games, gift ideas and more.

The Manischewitz Chanukah House is available at retailers nationwide and on Amazon.

Disclaimer: As a PJ Library influencer, I am compensated for promoting this program. All opinions expressed are my own.

So your kid is curious about keeping kosher

As kids get older, they naturally get more curious about the world around them and why they do certain things. Being a Jewish family, who keeps a kosher home, we observe a number of rules: separate dishes and utensils, no pork, shellfish or other unkosher foods in our house and not eating dairy and meat in the same meal.

Lots of rules, which for most of their young lives, our children accepted as part of their reality.

In recent years, and in particular the last few months, my oldest, soon to be 8, has become more interested in what being kosher means, and has been asking more questions.

The other day, for example, my son asked me how long he had to wait to have dairy after eating meat. I explained how, as often is the case with Jewish law, that different Jews have different answers, with more observant ones waiting at least six hours after a meat meal before eating dairy, while others wait just one hour or less. I explained how we are generally more lenient when it comes to time between meals, but others in our extended family are more strict.

Whether you are strictly kosher all the time, observe some of the laws, or choose not to be kosher at all, there are lots of ways to help an interested child explore what kashrut means and how to make it a part of their lives.

Ways To Teach Kids About Kashrut

Go on a kosher-label scavenger hunt

From “OU” to “K” to “Star-K,” there are dozens of kosher certifications to be found on food and beverages throughout the supermarket. If you aren’t familiar, review the labels as a family, make a list and head to the store. Ask your kids to find one item with each symbol. Notice which ones are easier to spot, or if some are missing. Does your supermarket have a kosher section, or are items more spread out?

Pack a kosher lunch

If you have a school-aged child who is interesting in keeping kosher, or if you’re considering this option for your family, a great place to start is with school lunch. Though keeping kosher has limitations, unless you plan to pack a meat-based meal, most “traditional” bagged lunches are possible. PJ Library, a service that provides FREE Jewish books and other materials to families, has some great suggestions for lunches that are kosher AND allergy-friendly

Go vegetarian (at least once in a while)

Vegetarian (though you do need to be mindful when it comes to cheese, but that’s a seperate post) and vegan meals tend to be kosher by design. When you go on your kosher scavenger hunt, your kids may notice the fresh produce has no kosher markings or labels at all. This is because unprocessed or uncooked fruits and vegetables are kosher on their own and need no further certification. Make a meal (or part of a meal) of only fresh produce and discuss what makes it kosher and why.

Try a meal without mixing meat and dairy

Another simple way to test out keeping kosher as a family or if your child is interested on their own, is to avoid serving dairy with a meat meal. So if your kids normally drink milk with their meatballs, mix it up with another beverage or even a non-dairy milk alternative such as almond or coconut milk.

Understand kids will make mistakes

Speaking more to those families who do keep kosher, understand that remembering and following the rules of kashrut can be challenging for young children (not to mention grownups). Whether its a birthday party where your kid is confused about why they can’t eat the burgers, or a piece of candy shared with them at lunch that isn’t kosher-certified, there are many moments for misunderstandings and slip ups. Be patient, and acknowledge their efforts.

No matter where you, your family or your kids on their kosher journey, exploring the laws of kashrut can be a great way to connect and learn more about Judaism.

Disclaimer: As a PJ Library influencer, I am compensated for promoting this program. All opinions expressed are my own.

2020: The year of canceled dreams and postponed wishes

Since the world stopped earlier this year, our November trip to Disney World was a beaming light of hope. By then, surely, the pandemic would be under control, or at least manageable enough to allow us to travel without too much worry.

But, as the months went by and the COVID-19 cases went up, our Disney trip seemed like less and less of a possibility. Still, I stayed positive.

Numbers were declining in my state — once an epicenter for the New Coronavirus — and I was encouraged when Disney World opened its doors again this summer. I followed along with the ever-changing protocols, rationalizing the sacrifices we would have to make would be worth it to go.

Sure, I thought, the masks might feel odd, and the characters won’t hug us, but the crowds would be smaller, and the parks will be cleaner than they’ve ever been.

I told myself not too feel bad if this was the first experience the kids had with Disney World. They’ve never been, they wouldn’t know any better. But, I have, and I know better. Yet, I convinced myself all the restrictions and changes would be a minor price to pay to give my children the chance at something magical in an otherwise difficult year.

I held on to the hope as the months, weeks and days drew closer to our planned trip. I sent countless emails back and forth to our agent, making and re-making dining reservations, I spent hours one morning to snag our set of limited park tickets, all the while knowing our trip would likely be postponed.

And, today, was that day.

Today was when I sent the email asking our agent to move our trip to next year.

That dream we had all the way back in the beginning of 2020, before COVID-19 was a word in my vocabulary, that dream was now gone. Well, not gone, but delayed.

As, I write this, I hear how incredibly privileged I am to even have entertained the thought of a Disney World vacation. When so many have suffered tremendous loss both in terms of life and livelihood, I know some mom whining about not being able to take a trip to Disney is the least thing the world needs right now.

So, I write this with no intention of anyone to feel sorry for me. I have no right to elicit sympathy, nor comfort. Those are things we should grant to those truly suffering, because there is plenty of suffering and not enough sympathy to go around.

But, I will permit myself to feel just a little bit sad about these now canceled plans. I will take a moment to grieve the loss of what I had hoped would have been a special trip for my family.

I will wallow and bitch about the state of America and how if we could have only gotten our act together fewer people would have died, and I would get to watch my youngest get a hug from Cinderella and my oldest wield a lightsaber against a Sith lord.

So, please, forgive me for being petty and whiny. I am aware of how foolish I sound.

Then again, maybe you are like me, maybe you had a big trip planned, or you were hoping for a huge wedding, or you thought you would be celebrating your kid’s graduation with hundreds of people, or your family has yet to meet your new baby, or you will be alone on Thanksgiving.

I want you to know you are allowed to feel devastated about all of it. Feeling sad over what you lost doesn’t make you any less appreciative of what you have.

I am so grateful for all the incredible people and comforts I have in my life. I thank God, and hope a canceled Disney vacation is the worst thing that happens to our family this year.

Because while we may not get to experience the magic of Disney World, we have had plenty of joy and happiness right in our own home. We have found new ways to connect and appreciate one another, all while managing a challenging year.

And our Disney Dream isn’t over, it’s just on hold until next year.

Celebrate the Jewish New Year with these easy, D.I.Y. honey jars

Rosh Hashanah is almost here, and what better way to celebrate the Jewish New Year than with a customized honey jar?

Honey, with it’s sweet, delicious flavor is synonomous with Rosh Hashanah and our desire for the upcoming year to be full of sweetness and joy.

While any honey will do, creating honey jars with your family is a great way to add a special twist on the tradition, and add some decorative flare to your Rosh Hashanah table. Huge thanks to a special person in my life for sharing this idea.

What You Need

Honey Jars (with or without stirrers, plain mason jar will do)

Decorative Bees

Tacky Glue

(Optional: Paints, glitter glue and other decorative items)

What To Do

Clean and dry honey jars.

Add bees where desired, using tacky glue.

Let dry.

You may customize the jars with your child’s Hebrew Name, L’Shanah Tova or other messages for the New Year.

Fill with honey as desired.

For a fun side project, and a simple way to review the blessings over the apples and honey, you can create Rosh Hashanah “Brachot” sheets using construction paper, marker and glue. Older kids can write out the Hebrew themselves, while younger ones can work with an adult.

Simply layer a white piece of construction paper on top of a colored paper of your choice. Flip over and glue another white piece of paper on the other side. Write out the blessings in Hebrew on one side, English (or preferred language) on the other.

Even more Rosh Hashanah ideas and stories can be found at PJ Library. The renowned philanthropy that brings Jewish-themed books to families all over has lots of fun ways to prepare for the Jewish New Year.

Introduce your children to the Jewish books, music and more from PJ Library by signing up here. Content is geared toward children ages 6 months to about 7 years, depending on your area.

Disclaimer: As a PJ Library influencer, I am compensated for promoting this program. All opinions expressed are my own.

“The Old Cocoon” offers needed comfort in times of uncertainty

“The Old Cocoon,” by April O’Leary arrived in my mailbox just when I needed the encouragement.

After weeks agonizing over our children’s education, reviewing statistics, reading through our district’s plans, and consulting with our friends and family, my husband and I submitted the forms to enroll them in their respective, modified, in-person learning options.

Though the deed was done, I still felt anxious about my choice. I was scared about the future, frightened by the uncertainty. Did we do the right thing? How will our children handle this “new normal?”

I am comforted by knowledge and being able to control situations. Yet, as we all know, these days, that’s a difficult task.

Reading “The Old Cocoon” reminded me of the beauty of change and how we can embrace the future with hope, knowing we are held by those who love and support us.

Through a beautiful, 34-page tale of a caterpillar’s metamorphosis into a butterfly, O’Leary addresses the hardship and fear of change, while offering a path toward acceptance and positivity.

I believe people of all ages will appreciate this beautiful story. The words are uplifting, genuine and heartfelt. They are truly written with love and a passion for helping others.

I especially feel this is a wonderful story for parents and children to read together as the school year begins (whether virtual or in-person) across the country.

“The Old Cocoon” can serve as a tool for discussing your child’s concerns about school, wearing masks, canceled trips or any other “disruptions” caused by the current pandemic.

Even beyond the uncertainty of the current global environment, “The Old Cocoon” will guide you and your loved ones through such moments as the death of a loved one, moving to a new city, or the ending of a long friendship.

Now available with the limited time offer to “Buy One Get One” via the O’Leary Publishing website, “The Old Cocoon,” which is designed to fit easily inside most standard greeting cards, is a wonderful gift of hope and comfort to deliver to the loved ones in our lives.

And as a special gift to you, I will be giving away four copies of “The Old Cocoon” to the first four people who comment on this post with how they think this book can help them or someone they love.

“The Old Cocoon” is available for purchase through O’Leary Publishing and on Amazon in both soft cover and Kindle format.

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post. All views expressed are my own.

Socially-distant summer activities with PJ Library printable

Summer is in full swing, and Americans have accepted that this season will unlike any other in recent history. Many of our favorite summer spots are closed, or running with limited capacity, and health concerns have left many families wary of venturing too far beyond their homes.

With limited and restricted options for entertainment, you may wonder what to do with kids all day. Afterall, bored kids can be the worst.

A little resourcefulness and creativity can turn those bored days into memorable ones. Read on for some ideas to try with your family.

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Spark the kids’ creativity with The Story Pirates Creator Club

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to limit much of the activities many Americans can do as a family. And with many summer camps cancelled, schools closed or closing, parents are left wondering what to do with their kids all summer.

In between hiking and playing with the sprinkler, why not let your kids exercise their creative muscle with the Story Pirates.

The Story Pirates are a hilarious troupe of comedians, musicians, authors and teachers who produce content that honors the creativity and ingenuity of children. The widely popular Story Pirates podcast, takes stories written by kids and turns them into songs and sketches with the help of special guests including Billy Eichner, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Dax Shepard, Bowen Yang, Claire Danes, John Oliver, and Lake Bell.

creatorclubstorypirates

My own kids just submitted their own story to The Story Pirates, and are eagerly awaiting to hear back. I mean, who wanted to hear a story about a dog, cat and sloth driving themselves to the vet, but I digress. Even if their story doesn’t get accepted, the process allowed them to excercise their creative muscle. Continue reading