I’m thinking about the concept of Soul Food and how we nurture our selves and families with whatever our personal concept of soul food is. It is regional, it is at the heart of who we are because for most of us, we cook or prep at least one meal a day, two on weekends, maybe, and the rest of the time, between housework, a job, and a myriad of responsibilities, we are thinking about what we crave and how to get it, foodwise. We run on food and go back for the memory of what satisfies.
Without light, who are we? Without light, what can we grow? Hanukkah celebrates Light and where there is Light, darkness cannot be.
Go into your darkest, blackest room. Flip the switch and watch light flood the darkness. It fills space. Awaken from a bad dream and speak love and truth. Light is the thing.
Hannukah comes in winter, sometimes in the dead of cold, in frosty wind, and in down jackets hung by the door. It is a hot mug of cider or a sweet glass of wine. It is for many people, the Jewish version of Christmas, but really, it is not so much about the presents. It’s all about the light and that glimmering, glistening oil. You’ll find me making donuts, too!
This is my post for a Hanukkah roundup (or Hannukah, Chanukah, you get the gist. It can be spelled differently since it is really just transcribed from the Hebrew language). Most years now I share something with Multicultural Kid Blogs. This year’s Festival of Lights post just happens to fall on Kristallnacht, Night of Broken Glass, when, for Jews in Nazi Germany, it was the night of their broken world which led to increased persecution, broken homes, businesses, synagogues, and to 30,000 men arrested and sent to concentration camps. You can see that this is not a post on merely gluing together blue and white popsicle sticks. It follows the attack on good, elderly people in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, simply worshipping in community on the Shabbat. Simply put, we need light. Hanukkah is right on time.
Welcome to our fourth annual Hanukkah for Kids blog hop! Be sure to visit all the participating blogs for creative ways to share this special time of year with kids. Plus you can find all these and more on our Hanukkah Pinterest board! (And don’t miss last year’s blog hop, 2016, and 2015!)
Chanukkah is about restoration and rededication. It is about cleansing what was destroyed out of fear and hate. Today, the eight-celebration cannot come soon enough. I crave light. I crave family time, good news on the TV, restored families, no more unstable people brandishing hate and guns.
Ready for the craft? I tried a little exercise. It only required some fruit and flowers. I found a black piece of felt, then made a design, closing the curtains and letting in only a little bit of natural light. What did I make? A menorah, basically the ancient emoji/logo, for our holiday.
Using flowers and vegetables and everything good that grows.
See, the conditions do not have to be “right” to celebrate Hanukkah. The cocoa does not have to be in the cup, the potato pancake sizzling on brand new gorgeous, unchipped plates. A mom can be in need of gifts for her children.
The reality is that this holiday originated in extreme conditions– the deepest anti-semitism and all of the components to destroy our ethnic, cultural, and spiritual faith.
The ruler who came into power in 200 BC, in Judea/present-day Israel, was not interested in respecting differences or co-existing. King Antiochus, Seleucid King of Syria, outlawed Jewish religion and ordered all Jews to worship his Greek gods. He murdered thousands, then went on to utterly desecrate the holy Second Temple (THE temple). No one said this Jewish holiday stuff is only bagels and lox!
And yet, like many celebrations from the Bible/Torah, God moved and saved His people (“They tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat!”). The strong stepped up, led by Judah (son of the Priest, Mattathias) and his family and band of Jewish rebel warriors, the Maccabees. They acted with conviction, being a sure light in the darkness. Judah, the Macabbee, or Hammer in Hebrew, rose up to be a light in the darkness and restore what could be restored, starting with the Temple.
During this Hanukkah season, when the Anti-defamation League has reported a massive spike in anti-semitic threats and incidents, I want change. I want flowers and happy families in synagogues, children not worried. I want restoration.
In one NPR article, George Selim, senior vice-president for the Anti-Defamation League, sites that 2017 carries a 60% increase in antisemitic hate crimes over the previous year. Students in k-12 classrooms nearly experienced a 90% increase of antisemitic incidents.
How do we, Jews, gentiles, families from all over the earth “be the light”? How do we drive out hate? What does it look like? Tell me what you do in the comments, please!
I am teaching my children that kindness is powerful, that Torah/every Word from God is powerful, that great Love knows no bounds, and that Righteousness, is better than things. I teach history and I expect change. I pray for it. I buy and grow flowers and try to smile more.
I thought of these artful takes on a menorah. Go to the local market with your kids and find the produce that most looks like candles, wicks, and flame. Use flowers, leaves, whatever natural, God-made things feel most beautiful. Fall leaves in their reds, oranges, and yellow splendor will work well!
For me, Hanukkah is a return to goodness, to the simplicity of a steaming latke, to a dreidel game that reminds us, through all of the chocolate coins and laughter, that really, “A great miracle happened there.”
That Goodness trampled despair and malintent.
While we mourn tragedy, sickness, violence, guns, or votes that didn’t add up the way we hoped, a lasting peace can burn in us. We can build one another up in community. We can be the flickering, undying flame the world so needs.
For those who know the Hanukkah story, Judah, his family and community cut back the darkness to get back into their temple. There they found utter destruction. Garbage. A slaughtered pig in the Holiest place. Desecrated scrolls. Filth. They cleaned. They used their elbow grease, but Hashem/G-d, made it shine. The oil that was required to rekindle the Menorah lit and burning for the eight days of Sukkah was no longer there; the Roman soldiers had destroyed that, too. The blessing and joy (mitzvot, in Hebrew) of Sukkoth could not be fulfilled.
This is where the Miracle came in. That oil, that piddly amount of oil, squandered at the hands of those wanting to destroy us, was stretched! The oil lasted the full eight days, enough to finally celebrate the days of Sukkot they had been unable to observe. That scant oil must have seemed barely enough to last a single day. Maybe it looked barely enough to fill a thimble or go more than one hour.
This year, Jewish families all over the world will light their menorahs, sing about the Miracle that happened, and light up the darkness with a light that grows ever stronger, adding a candle every night until the joy is complete at eight nights.
(May I add that the best photo, the one above, was created by my daughter). ❤
May every family on the earth experience more peace. May the figures of recorded hate diminish. And even if they don’t, may we know deep in our hearts that the Darkness will not always win. The Light will one day ever shine. Tears will be wiped away for good. I believe in the restoration of Hanukkah, the greatest Tikkun Olam, the Jewish phrase referring to the restoration of the entire world.
It is in the “until then”, that we must beat back the darkness.
Light the candles, invite new friends to share in your meal and feel the truth of a great miracle there and here. Maybe you’ll want to try this, too. All you need is some light, some bits of fruit or flowers, and a bit of black paper. Make a collaborative menorah or keep it solo! Use your light to illuminate the darkest corners.
All Done Monkey on Multicultural Kid Blogs: The Ultimate List of Hanukkah Crafts for Kids
Moms & Crafters
Kori at Home
Melibelle in Tokyo
Coffee and Carpool: 8 Days of Hanukkah Kindness Activities
Juggling with Kids: Personalized Dreidel Gifts
Get your self some sturdy boots for exploring city streets and jumping over new plants and splashing in puddles–or around them, if they are not rain boots.
Do not let your ankles turn in; it’s easy to fall at night and when tired and dealing with homesickness and miscalculations of how you would maybe feel on a blustery day. It is easy to feel you’ve failed.
Your shoes are not for running away. They are to help you feel held-up and wanted here, supported, my dear.
Practice standing on trains and buses without using a handle. Develop urban calves and even do calf raises. You may not get a spot on the train or bus unless you go during off hours or if you develop a loud voice prob in a diff language. Practice hearing yourself.
If pregnant, don’t let the people sleeping or not caring deprive you of a seat.
It is yours for the taking.
Bike and figure out how to go more places. Learn your city or tiny town inside out so that you could write about or watercolor your favorite spots–the trenches of quiet, robust beauty most others do not know about. Let it be yours. Name your spots.
Eat well. Find the farmers and their markets. Find the new kinds of veggies, the mini watermelon squash, the pineapple-mint. Get your behind in the hidden bar with the tattooed gent who shakes your gimlet 89 times. Find the most velvetty cuts of meat and those preserved lemons. Seek out the tallest cupcakes. Razzle dazzle with all you find. At home, give taste tests and ask, “What does it need?” Hand-out egg beaters full of frosting.
Drink up. Invite others. You do not need to feel alone. You do not need to entertain that when you can have a full house and the walls of your heart bursting. Invite the new people to ordinary events like the bookshop, like window shopping, like fishing, like whatever, eat cake. Carve out new ways.
Ask them to your kids’ birthday parties and keep doing this forever or as long as you want even without their reciprocation. Be the warm smile upon opening the door. Write thank you notes or send little messages with the most adorable emoji. Be ready to celebrate their joys, too. Learn birthdays. Anticipate births and make deep dishes of thoughtfulness. Bake lasagna.
Don’t judge through your disappointment, either, okay? Cultures are different and certainly so are the people. Societies are not built in a day or month, but over and over like a wheel tilling the earth with its repeat rotations. You can be persistent. You can be president of whatever community you envision, or at least keeper of the keys, star photographer, and team builder. More than you know. Don’t give up on people.
You can till dirt and come up with treasure.
You can leave your child’s first-grade event with only two moms having looked at you. You can walk out of the grade-wide parent meeting because you do not know one word they say and they haven’t even gotten to introductions. There will not be a translation. No one may realize just how little you know. They may or may not even think of you in their heart to even glance your way or compliment your scarf or today’s spectacular or crappy weather. You may be the only one they ever met.
In fact, you can say “Jewish” to eyes that only blink, but have little to no recollection or comprehension. You may be the only one they have ever met. Substitute Bavarian, Chilean, Trinidadian. They may have only heard of “you” on the news.
They will not know how to bless you when you sneeze. You have to let that go. You are your best friend right now and best friends help each other breathe.
Look in mirrors, do the shoulder back thing, remembering it is more about the heart and a chest lifted then it is about the back.
Love your child and appreciate the work they do, especially as you don’t know what the heck their papers say and you can barely speak with the teacher. Your child is the life here, the soil prepared and seeds and trees resulting in a picnic of fruit. Invite them to that picnic, all of the spontaneous ones and the picnics planned. They will surprise you, those moms. They will ride with you, impressed you know the way, and they will share their juice and tea. They will accept your kindness, your cold rice balls wrapped in nori.
You will understand why the children laugh. You will understand their songs. You will feel more comfort than loss, at least on most days.
You wear those sturdy shoes and recognize the artist on the cover of your kid’s textbook. You learn stuff. You make yourself seen. You sing loudly. Keep doing that. Keep singing. Keep going. Don’t walk out. Don’t skip out on any good verse. Don’t skimp. Dance to the chorus. It may be the only time they hear the words. Sing words that are good reminders to yourself.
Get up, order the lattes and think of your shoes, your new season and how to carry yourself into then.
Fall is about change. The whole world of seasons is exuberant, seeds and sprouts unearthed. While we drift out of October and gaze into November, my heartstrings are being pulled, yanked, and snipped. There is change. Let’s be more dramatic and call it upheaval.
Bottom line: my son will no longer go to school. Not just any school (is there such a thing, anyway, as a school being some nondescript place, perhaps only to an out-of-touch, insensitive parent?). This is the school our seven-year-old daughter practically founded. (Okay, too dramatic). Well, she started there as a baby. I placed her with kind teachers who calmed my mother nerves and still-nursing skin. She began just before crawling. We have history.
This is the community who folded me in with them and my children, helping me to see that I could make a life, that I could make being a mom in such a foreign place work. I grew there alongside my babies.
It is at this school, our boy, now age 4.5, he began taking in a broader world and social life. He was a chubby darling, about one-year-old, and I penned his name in Japanese across the bum of every diaper. (daughter, too). I learned to write out the basics of what he ate, when he filled a diaper, how long he slept, etc.
This place which he can no longer attend is the place his big sister graduated from before she began first-grade. I dressed in kimono and brought each fancy white-toed foot to the entrance where we took pictures as a family. I cried of course and stashed tissues in my wide, droopy kimono sleeves. I partied with mothers there, ached with them as our babies left on the colossal charter bus to pick sweet potatoes.
See how I am aching my own sweet aches? As a mother, it is the layered totality of experience, of ours, of our babies, of all of the ways our tips touch and make new colors. I grieve this now.
This is the boy who names festival goldfish for the best friends in his class and knows the fish apart. He talks about his teachers at length, in tones that honor. This baby is big, cheeks less fleshy, and his legs sure are speedy. He cannot go to school with his friends and I need to be okay with that–for a little while, perhaps. Or a great long while. I don’t know.
November is mean. It’s cold to me. It’s “enjoy this now because your warmth is fleeting.” We have but two days at his school this week–Monday, Tuesday, then “so long, Charlie”. Even to my sweet Jude.
I must be positive. I will need to make us warm and bake cookies with broad chocolate chunks and remember to buy bread. He will no longer eat that delicious pre-school lunch (the aroma from the kitchen when I drop him off in the morning!!). Not that wonderful balance of flavor and health from Japanese school lunch and snacks, but just me! Just me for breakfast, lunch, snacks, and dinner. Just me in every prominent role until Dad gets home.
And I will have to make some marvellous changes. I shall have to go from brown, mottled pidgeon to beguiling, inspiring peacock. Or pink flamingo or fierce, fast hawk. I shall have to plan every lesson, scramble and scrape for friends of his weekday. I shall have to be my best parenting and best teacher self in one, every day. I am suddenly a homeschool mom. His success and languishing between languages will squarely come down to me.
I want the flutter of inspiration and promise of making headway.
Most of all, more than my grief, much more than anxiety or hope, I want for us, resilience and the joy of something gorgeous and doable around the corner. I want us to feel warm. I’d also love to teach the boy to read, count, and love science and poetry.
It seems his education is now, more than ever, a matter of heart.
When I was pregnant & wondering about my new roles & difficulties, a creative mother of three.
I wake just after 4 AM, 34 weeks pregnant with the realization of movement, the placement of knees like sticks. Have I rolled on my stomach this way, in the night? Have I shifted internally, done most of the work it will take to memorize another human while I sleep? She is more angular now, the jabs more distinct.
Soon there will be a little mouth to latch. Soon I will have to back away, give up the independence I’ve gained while my three and five-year-olds play, nap, and lunch in school. There will be a mouth. There will be my body racked, newly postpartum, a new synthesis for measuring sleep and feeds. Words will gather under my skin, will need to be let down as I find new ways to write. On clouds, in midair, scrawl on a bookmark.
I will need to relearn this “mothering while writing thing” I’ve developed. Maybe I’ll need to stave it off like deadlines one can just worm out of. No one will miss it. No one will miss my take on the world apart from my kids. Maybe it is an early retirement, or at least a writing sabbatical.
Maybe by the time this new child is taken into school, accepted with fresh bibs and labelled sheets, the world will be so different and I will not be able to offer any more words. Maybe writing will have simply been a dream, an old website, forgotten blog with links that don’t even work anymore. Is this how every creative mother prepares for maternity leave, her sad exit curled up like leaves?
How shall we tether ourselves to letters when the head hits the floor? Birth, labour, new hours to sleep and not sleep. Seems like finding ways to bake without any flour. To raise roses without any ability to smell. I pack for the rolling in of fog, a compass tucked in flimsy nursing bras. What do we bring with us to birth a child and also words? Is there room for poetry amidst ointments and salves?
Oh, how I want to be programmed in some way to keep my hand on the pen, my eyes seeing all and swiftly reporting in Morse Code, in Farsi, or Latin, in kindness functioning to give off a sound, a tangible promise for the exchange of words or jewels.
I want to stay present is all, to have birthed and stay whole, mind relaxed but pages taut. How do we stay writable when our whole makeup sways under the wave that unclips our very legs? There will be contractions, surges that come so quickly I cannot really breathe. There will be hormones that dip and molecularly change my hair. I am curly, no, straight, mist and salt. I am phantom mother-writer, both pirate and hostage on a creaky old ship.
We women raising bodies from our own, we shift. We change, our very organs giving up space, saying, “No, you stay. I’ll get up.” We move from our spot on the floor, crisscrossed. What will I discover to be gone, or rather, who might I become?
I cannot make commitments when I don’t know how fragile I’ll be, yet I want assurance that words will be there. I want the promise of poetry, the green, blue, red, and gold foil stars on my paper. I want to stay writer, beholden to insightful critiques, to stay planted and yet, I roll with every impending contraction.
Maybe this writer thing will be a memory of something I once did. Something that fit me then like being someone with waist-length hair and hippy skirts. Maybe once the babies come in multiples, we officially can’t have it all. (See, I teeter on resignation. I flirt with the notion of failing). Maybe three is really what they say: “You’ll be outnumbered”.
You’ll never again brush your hair or even take care of your teeth. They’ll rot out of your cheeks and dirt will paste your nails. Never again have jeans that fit right and your husband will never even remember your naked body before kids. Maybe writing is the only fair trade. The thing lost in war or fallout after divorce. Simply a lost commodity, like stale breadcrumbs to toss at ducks.
Or maybe, with the help of memory, of muscles that curl to a pen, we’ll invent a new kind of filling in. An idea that comes in the night, curled up tight in cloth, that needs to be let in. Maybe I’ll find my words in a new lullaby, just the thing!
I’ll learn how to take a journal to the park when we swing. Maybe chapters and phrases will branch out like wild things, the ceiling disappearing into a jungle, a little boy named Pan standing on the cornice in search of his shadow. Maybe I’ll be the one to help, the one with stories when my daughter asks. Maybe. I’ll have words and the chance.
Maybe time, the wrestle of hours is okay, gestation building something in terms of writing. After all, those very tiny mouths open and open to find their own words, too. They eventually make sentences from all of those “goos”. Maybe waiting is okay.
I inhale enough to fill bottles, to practice for when air gets thin or stifling. I store up my breath for when I feel closed-in. I’ll choose to trust there will be enough, molecules left even for me. New reserves, hell, maybe a new alphabet.
There are many words that tell of letting go, expressions like, “Later on, then”, and, “After a while, crocodile.”
In an out. It’s only an exhale, the passing of oxygen through the narrowest of passages, reliance in an automatic system. I let go, ship off trust in a red balloon covered in peeling, gold foiled stars. We are both forging new identities, both of us created for birth and change. Where she kicks, I feel and breathe.
I am writing about food lots lately. Who could blame me, Jewish south Florida girl in Tokyo now, home among eight varieties of mushrooms and hanging, dried out squid?
I’m an eater. I don’t understand the people who stop eating when faced with stress. I could live in a drive-through. To type one essay, I empty whole pantries and snack cabinets. It’s busy and frenetic like as if I were smoking one Marlboro after another.
As we speak, I’m (delicately?) shovelling in pizza and taking alternative swigs of Sprite and beer.
Five different essays on my turntable–we’ve got the draft on leaving an eighteen-year life of Vegetarianism for the freedom to nosh on beef or peachy flakes of fish.
We were vegetarians who gobbled scrambled tofu with turmeric and cumin. I reported to my tenth-grade class the dangers and irresponsibility of factory farming and quoted Upton’ Sinclair’s The Factory with the ease of a Smiths’ lyric. It wasn’t until age eighteen when my paradigm shifted and suddenly I did not need to keep my identity clutching this box called “I am a vegetarian”, I loosed my grip. Dramatically.
There is the essay on strolling Paris as my mother and the tightness that loosened on our relationship with every outdoor meal of cheese and bread, and in my eighteen-year-old dreams, Sauterne. Vegetarian then, I scoffed at the prospect of veal or frog legs. No Quenelles de Brochet, but more pasta or whatever it is we ate. Bread. Lots of bread.
I traveled to Paris with my mother as a high school graduation gift. I skipped frogs’ legs, skipped escargot, walked past all of the city’s coq au vin, anything with a fin or bone. What did I eat? Crosissant and couscous. Yeah. And this nearing college girl I was becoming? This adult would find herself in more cities, with friends and relationships. I wanted to be flexible. I also wanted to be able to cook, to batter chicken for those I loved. To expand my cooking repertoire and CV of tasting.
There is sushi, a whole electric and old-school (good pun?) world of sushi here in Japan, exactly as one would suspect. Every market boasts sashimi and maki (the rolls) on plastic trays. Our family goes to a sushi joint in Akabane, famous for the wall of life fish/call it an aquarium. Yes, while we diners pluck pickled ginger and swizzle our pats of wasabi into shoyu/soy sauce, the cooks/aquarium men spear and pull our still swimming, breathing, “glub-glubbing” meal from the water. I had/have some trouble with this, as you might be perceiving. There is a whole long essay flopping in my head. It involves having to take many, many sips of beer. One of my family celebratory trips there also involves a particularly unlucky octopus, a hook, and a sheet of plexiglass.
There is the everyday need for me to feed my family and occasionally, pack an o-bento (like on special events at kids’ school like Undokai/Sports’ Day, probably the most elaborate day for o-bento, field trip days, odd days for my husband, park picnics, and absolutely the whole season, every day of cherry blossoms). I wrote about that here in my first-ever Washington Post piece.
It is funny to see the Washington Post’s “Democracy Dies in Darkness” just above my O-Bento Headline, but you know? How we relate to food can mirror and highlight how we internalize and act-out our place in this world, within our native or adopted environment, the marketplace, our fridge, stove, and place at the table with baby bird-like mouths to feed.
Food is base, it is beautiful. We are all part of this very human experience and I am a happy gal writing about the sauce and salad that came with my meal. I’ll include another bit from a piece, not because I wish to throw down my quotes like I would for Whitman, but because I don’t know what to do with all of these food essays!
I like that I could change those years ago, reimagining myself as a traveler and a lover, learning a whole other code called omnivore. A recipe, after all, can span decades and generations. New dinners can also be thrown together, a work of simple beauty and sustenance. The tomatoes gleam, skins thrown open by heat and expanding molecules.
Here is to expanding, to getting and giving the full force of our existence, if even to prep the seemingly rote breakfasts and wash those dishes again for dinner. To becoming reignited by the senses and the part we play and plate.
Also, I will never eat those dangling frog legs parading with their “chicken taste”. I may always choose couscous and cheese over bouillabaisse. But I’m growing.
*a sponsored but authentic post
I am here in Maryland visiting my brother and sister-in-law. Every counter, every nook and cranny of their home is remarkable. One stand-out space is actually a bathroom, yes, a bathroom. Nearly black walls, mod white light fixture, sleek hardware, and then this toilet paper holder that is in its own right, an art installation. The immense mirror is even backlit. Of all of these fabulous features, the one element most easily simulated in my own home is the toilet paper wall art.
I found it there on UncommonGoods’ site, near other treasure. See more rad home decor and ways to make every space more organized and brilliant.
(Photo from UncommonGoods’ site.)
I was smitten by the site long ago and it so it is a natural fit being asked to write a post. Their offerings are more diverse than I recall.
Now, looking through new arrivals and old favorites, I’m ready to make a housemade blend of hot sauce with my husband (one of their many culinary kits!!!). I’m ready to laze with this Sriracha-inspired pillow. See this home textiles page for hand-embroidered state pillows, too! I want Florida! What a great personal gift, too!
My wish list also contains the entire gardening section, with specialized seed bundles and bee homes.
I tell you. I’m ready to brew our own spicy ginger beer and Moscow Mules, customize our own wooden cutting boards, and stockpile gifts so that my loved ones can make absinthe (they have this, too, and a thrilling list of cocktail and infusion kits!). For my husband, magnetic running lights and clip on headlights for his sneaks.
Part of my excitement is about the character and behind-the-scenes action. I cannot not bring up all of the good. Each product fits with their vision of environmental and social responsibility. Figures they began in Brooklyn!
Each product fits with their vision of environmental and social responsibility. Figures they began in Brooklyn!
They meld commerce with art and community. Every product features the creator(s) with tidbits that further inspire. These are real people, not nameless factories with unnamed people. They offer beauty for the home in ways that are community/global-minded.
Uncommon Goods helps create uncommon connections, from their work donating to one of four stellar non-profit organizations, providing fair wages for employees, health insurance, and a pledge to present products created with handmade, recycled, and organic elements. We, the buyer, get to choose which of the four organizations our donation will go. To buy with more than a clear conscience is a deal.
The other thing is, knowing the maker behind an object of intrigue simply makes the thing cooler. You’ll even read how these runner’s mini headlights I’ll be ordering were first dreamed up.
Take a look. Let me know which pages grab you. Maybe we can window-shop together. Or come over; I’ll pour you an uncommonly delicious drink I’ve concocted.