Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Sunflowers of Our Lives

I love flowers - and I love having them in the house.

But, when you're on a tight budget, they are a bit frivolous.

So, for awhile now, a child in the neighborhood has been coming to our house on Friday afternoon, asking if we want to buy flowers. He's in sixth grade, and clearly very industrious (he works for someone older and he gets to keep 25% of whatever he sells). I've been turning him away for months because we really don't NEED flowers.

But then, one day, we must have been having company and I said "yes" to him. And after that, when he knocked, I started to feel badly. It was winter, and he was shlepping the flowers in the rain, wind and snow (ok - not the snow, really, but you get the idea).

So, I started buying flowers more often. And then, last week, he showed up, smiled, and said "I saved your favorite flowers for you."

I don't recall telling him what my favorite flowers were - but there, in his hand, was a gorgeous purple bouquet filled with some of my favorite flowers. And I just had to laugh. The kid's got game.

So, this week, when he came to the door, I couldn't believe the bouquet that he had to offer. And even more so, I couldn't believe that no one had snapped it up yet!

I love sunflowers.

And here was a vibrant, amazing bouquet of sunflowers.

I've been admiring those beautiful flowers ever since. I marvel that something so simple - so mundane - can bring me so much joy and can light up the house with such an aura of health and happiness. If only such little things could always fix our pain, create an aura of health and put a smile on our faces.

And while nothing can work miracles of this sort, it sure is lovely to have found a way to enjoy momentary joy from some of the more simple things in life.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Kale Fever

So, the grand kale experiment today was DEEElicious!!!! I went to buy the kale this afternoon and took a few pictures of their garden and surroundings.

I brought it home, looked at it and said, "Hmmmmmmm..... Now what?"

One of my friends (actually, a few of them!) recommended kale chips. So that's where we started. I cut the stems off of the kale, washed and dried them well, put them on a baking sheet and sprinkled olive oil and salt on them. Then I put them in the oven at 350 degrees (that's 175 to you friends in Israel) for 12 minutes.

So, they turned out a bit too salty, but I loved them anyway. None of the little boys wanted any, so we waited for the big boys to get home to see if they would like them.

I guess they did.

When he finished licking the plate, Yehuda said, "Isn't there any more we can make?" and ran to the refrigerator to get the rest of the bag. I made them, and they were gone in a flash. As I popped the last one in my mouth, Yehuda said, "Oh darn. I wanted to bring some to school tomorrow!" Kale chips at school...now that's a new one.

We also made kale and bean soup and it was fantastic. Not a drop was left after dinner. Here's the recipe for that one.

Next up? I've got no more kale, so I don't know what's next.

But when I get my hands on some more (hopefully next week), we'll try out a kale and pasta recipe and some other yummy delights.

Betaovon! בתאבון

Good Eating to You All!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

What's Kale Anyway?

I’ve just ordered kale. I’d tell you how much I ordered, but I don’t really know. Nor do I know how much 100 grams of kale is. Come to think of it…I don’t even know what kale IS.

What I do know, however, is that my neighbors are awesome. I know, in the news, our lives in Gush Etzion and throughout Israel aren't portrayed accurately at all. These distortions make me laugh at times; other times, they make me cry.

What we are here in Neve Daniel is scholars, bankers, SEO specialists, writers, politicians, non-profit workers, speech therapists, physical therapists, accountants, social workers, and yes – even farmers.

One of my neighbors has a farm in their yard. They’ve taken a large area of land in their garden and they’ve grown an organic, completely pesticide-free farm. Each season they sell different items and they sell them throughout the area.

And this winter, it’s kale.

I don’t know why I’ve never purchased from them before. I’m actually embarrassed that I haven’t supported my neighbors in this endeavor. Never fear for them, however. I was late on the uptake with the kale, and when I turned around to ask if I could buy some, they explained that they had filled up with all of their regular customers already. Filled up? What do you mean filled up? Where's my kale?

I was kale-offended. Now that I’d gotten wind of this activity, I wanted in. So, I put up my best kale fight and put on my favorite kale face and they agreed that they could find a bit of kale to sell me.

So tomorrow, I’m picking up my kale. I don’t know what I’ll be making with it, and I don’t even know how much we’re talking about.

What I do know, however, is that I’m damn proud of the amazing people around whom I surround myself. And I’m in awe when I think of the incredible hobbies that many of my friends have. And I feel privileged at the thought that I’ll be eating organic, pesticide-free kale grown in the heart of Eretz Yisrael by my Israeli neighbors tomorrow.

Pictures of their garden, of my kale and of my first recipe to follow soon. Assuming I figure out a first recipe! All suggestions welcome, you kale lovers out there!
Kale and Onions...now that looks good!
Kale salad...hmmmmmm
And even Kale soup!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Gift of Giving

“Mommy, this is the BEST activity… We should do this every holiday!”

Yes, these words are music to a mother’s ears. But they are music for more reasons than you might expect.

This Chanukah, while my in-laws were visiting, we made a number of plans. The kids went to the zoo.

They went to an amazing science center in Rechovot that is part of the Weizmann Institute.

And they climbed on tanks at the IDF Museum.

But with all of this fun, what was their favorite activity?

Collecting food for the poor.

There is an amazing organization in Israel called Leket that serves as the country’s National Food Bank. Started about 10 years ago by an American Oleh (immigrant)who was distressed by the amount of food that he saw going to waste after weddings, bar mitzvahs and conferences, he created a network to collect and distribute food.

Today, Leket rescues over 700,000 meals and 21 million pounds of produce and perishable goods for those in need. They supply over 1.25 million volunteer prepared sandwiches to underprivileged children at 7500 schools each day.

As part of their gleaning program, Leket has a relationship with farms all over the country to rescue unused food and to deliver it to the poor. The farm where we were is situated on 175 acres in Rechovot. They have fruit orchards and vegetable fields where food is picked and given to the needy with a 24 hour turnaround time. We were honored to be part of this chain. On their website, Leket explains that, in 2010, they rescued 9 million pounds of fruits and vegetables from over 300 farms throughout Israel with this project. The produce is delivered free of charge to more than 290 nonprofit organizations that serve Israel’s needy.

On Thursday, we spent two hours picking clementines with a few other families from Neve Daniel and many others from other locations. What other activity would please 10 family members who range in age from 2 to 69?

And, it was a dream come true for a mother of six rambunctious boys. For two hours, I didn’t worry about where my two year old had wandered or what trouble he was getting into.

He was busy picking (and eating clementines) while his brothers climbed trees to catch the best fruit, sat on their Daddy’s shoulders to get up higher, and worked incredibly hard.

While we enjoyed every minute, we could also see the fruit of our labor (sorry for the pun). We filled two enormous crates with clementines that would soon make it to someone’s table, and we talked to our children about the importance of giving, about poverty and about need.

And as we left, Yehuda turned to me and said, “How early can we make our reservation for Pesach?”

The perfect ending to a perfect activity. There is nothing as valuable as learning the gift of giving on a holiday that children associate with gift-getting. And with feeling the spread of the Chanukah lights and the chance for education that they bring.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Go Ahead - Prove Me Wrong!

A few days ago, Matan came home and declared that he wanted to run the 10K at the Jerusalem marathon…and that he wanted to do so for SHALVA. Now, Matan started running about a year ago and he’s completed a few 5K runs. We’ve been very impressed with his initiative and commitment and have cheered him on (ok, mostly from the sidelines) with these projects.

I was surprised, however, to hear that he wanted to run it to raise money for a cause. I don’t know why it surprised me. After all, Matan is being raised in a culture of giving and doing for others. Most recently, he helped us to raise thousands of shekels for Shaare Zedek hospital as part of the bike ride that Yarden undertook for Stella and the many other cancer patients at the hospital. Every month we walk up and down our street collecting food for poor families in the area. And once a month, if not more often, we bake desserts for the Pinat Chama, the small house near our home where soldiers can get free coffee and cake while they are serving.

The list goes on and on.

But I guess I’m always surprised when the things we are trying to teach our kids through example actually permeate and get taught.

So, Matan is training to do his first 10K, and he’s raising money for SHALVA. SHALVA is a leader in the field of disability awareness and intervention for children with special needs in the Middle East. Founded in 1990, they provide services to more than 500 people with special needs around Israel with round-the-clock therapies and tailor-made programs. They have every therapy imaginable to help children and young adults from hydrotherapy and music therapy to pet therapy, computer therapy, art therapy and beyond.

So Matan is undertaking his first personal chesed (charity) project right before his bar mitzvah. It’s funny - I had recently thought about the fact that I wanted him to do some form of chesed tied to his bar mitzvah, but I hadn’t gotten around to thinking about what he should do.

What a gift that he should come up with something entirely on his own and beg us to sign him up.

He’s checking the website every single day, by the way, to see if new people have pledged for his run. Matan would love your contribution – even if it’s only for a few dollars or shekels. To him, everything is exciting and every dollar/shekel makes a difference. We know many of you so generously gave to Stella’s Army and to Yarden’s bike ride. I reminded Matan that he might not get too many pledges as a result of that; that our friends and family might be burnt out after all of the fundraising that we just did for Stella.

Here’s an idea – Let’s prove me wrong!

Sponsor Matan Here!

Check out more on this video:

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Not Your Every-Day Olives

These were on our Shabbat table this week.

"Wow," you say, with your most sarcastic voice, "those look really unusual. So different than the thousands of olives people serve around the world every week."

But wait - they ARE different, and here's why.

This past Sukkot, in October, we went on a number of hikes with the family. On one of these hikes, we enjoyed an only-in-Israel experience. As we pulled up to our parking spot and got out of the car, we all bumped our heads on the branches of a tree behind us. We were giggling about it and trying to figure out what kind of tree it was, when an older woman started talking to us.

I had no idea what she was saying at first and couldn’t seem to grasp the context of the conversation.

But boy, was she intent on telling us something. Eventually, one of the boys whispered to me, “Mommy – she’s telling you about the olives!”

And, indeed, she was. She was explaining that we had parked below an olive tree. And then she proceeded to tell us what we should do next. We should, she explained, pick the olives and cure them. And she went into elaborate detail about exactly how to cure olives, how long to wait to try them, what to do if they don’t work the first time and on and on and on. And of course, for good measure, she squeezed a few of the boys’ cheeks and gave us some brachot (blessings).

It was adorable.

So, we went on our hike, and then when we returned to our car, we gathered together and picked olives. And when we got home, Josh followed her instructions and began curing them. The boys wanted to know when the olives would be ready, and we kept trying to explain to them that it would be months.

Every few weeks we would try one, and then make that sour face, shake our heads, and throw the olives back for some more curing.

And, I, of course, assumed that only little old ladies and those born of the Land could possibly make olives to perfection. I doubted that we would ever get it right. And then one day when we tried them, the olives were actually good! We had done it!

And this week, on our Shabbat table, sat home-cured olives picked from the Land and cured to perfection in our very own kitchen.

We aren't going to hang out an "Olives Made Here" shingle just yet, but it sure was a fun experience for all involved.