A Magical Winter

Winter can be rough. No matter where you are located (at least in the Northern Hemisphere) the days are shorter, they tend to be darker, its colder and we all tend to enter a bit of a hibernation. It’s funny as I never really thought of it that way- but, like many animals, we do tend to hibernate in the winter in some form. Whether that means that we just stay home more, stay inside, or if we actually struggle with a level of depression that tends to be present in those darkest months of Winter. And with that hibernation can come a level of…stagnation. There is so much “staying put” that it envelops us and tends to not only just affect what we do, but also how we think and feel. Seasonal Depression (technically called Seasonal Affective Disorder of SAD, but I’m shortening it for the purposes of this post) is a very real thing and a very common thing. 

How we deal with Seasonal Depression is such a personal thing. For some it requires a level of medication, for others natural remedies, and for some a combination of different things. For me, I’ve found that making an intentional shift to my morning routines, to my outlook, to what I eat and do really helps. 

I don’t know that I had ever dealt with Seasonal Depression prior to our move to Germany. And it wasn’t Germany’s fault that I got it- we just happened to get these super thick foggy weeks (yes weeks, not days) where you couldn’t see past your car hood, and it would just sit. Unmoving. I was driving home one day from playgroup with the boys and the direction my thoughts went was…unheard of for me. It crept up on me and, until my brain cycled through that, I didn’t realize that it was actually Seasonal Depression. 

It wasn’t that I didn’t think I would ever deal with Seasonal Depression, it was that I was such a gloomy day kind of girl. I love a soft rainy day, overcast skies, cooler temps (and by cooler, I mean like 60’s- let’s not go crazy)- all of this spells the perfect day for me. HOWEVER, when you go weeks with this thick unending fog, gloomy gray taking over everything and everywhere…well let’s just say even the gloomiest of weather girl gets out of sorts. And boy, I got way out of sorts. 

I learned a lot that year, about Seasonal Depression, about what works for me and what doesn’t, and then how to prepare and work through it for future years. I will say, I am very blessed in that I deal with this in a very mild way. Most of my issues just are general mood and sleep issues. I’ve found and learned and talked through intentional ways to “trick” myself (which we’ll get into) and make this work for me. However, if you are dealing with Seasonal Depression, it’s always a good idea to talk with a therapist and figure out what works best for you. 

For me, there is a lot of intention that I put in for the winter months. I’m already a “make the mundane magical” kind of person, but this really amps up in the winter (though to be fair it’s really just amped up across the board since coming back to the States). It starts when I wake up in the morning…

One of those things I struggle with in the winter is sleep. I tend to oversleep or have very little energy to actually get up in the morning. As this goes on, I can fall into the trap of becoming a bit of a night recluse, though that tends to come later when the real overstimulation hits. A lot of my morning issues boil down to the fact that there is no light. When I wake up in the morning it’s dark, throughout the day it tends (in our area) to stay very gray, and then all of the sudden it’s dark again before dinner time. Very dark. I’ve been looking at a variety of sunrise alarm clocks, and while I still need to buy an actual one some point in the near future, this year I did get a small light that is movable that I was able to set up as a makeshift sunrise alarm clock. I picked up THIS little light and one of the settings you can program is a sunrise to go off when you’re alarm clock goes off. It’s not quite a sunrise alarm clock as those mimic the sunrise much better, typically over an hour or so, this one cycles through the brightness and colors in about a minute and a half, but it does the trick in a pinch! 

In order to combat the overwhelming urge to just snuggle under and stay in bed, I will give myself 5 minutes post alarm (10 minutes if I’m sick/slept poorly/whatever), then I sit up, turn my actual lamp on, and turn my phone upside down. Since I’m already sitting up, a full light is on, I might as well just get out of bed and get going- mind tricks at their best. My body, my mind, and my soul truly appreciate the extra quiet time in the mornings to prep myself before the kids have to get up. 

Another trick that I play on myself is to properly get ready for the day, even if I’m not going anywhere (this is absolutely not the first time I’ve shared about this phenomenon). This is a twofold situation- the first is that I always feel better when I’m at least a little put together, the second is that if you trick your body and mind into thinking something is happening, you’ll actually make things happen. For me personally, if I stay in sweats all day or pajama clothing, I tend to do very little and, as someone who NEEDS to be at least somewhat productive, this is a problem. So, I pick out an outfit that works for how I’m feeling and then I’ll figure out how to make it work for the weather (as sometimes I just cannot bring myself to wear jeans). Once I get clothes on, throw a little dash of makeup on and fiddle with my hair, I put some soft music on my phone. 

I’m a big music person- it sets the mood, can change the mood, can alter my thoughts and feelings. Most mornings it’s a soft playlist (Romanticize Your Life), a mixture of classical, movie scores, and a couple of songs that just speak to my soul. I will play it through a Bluetooth speaker once I get downstairs and the soft melodies really drift through the downstairs and create a calm, cozy atmosphere.

But, honestly, the most important thing I do for myself in the winter is work on feeling like those little moments, the first cup in the morning, watching yet another snowfall from my backdoor, spending way too much time inside my house, are actually the most magical moments. Really just marveling at what winter DOES offer, rather than what I’m losing when it’s gray for days on end and I can’t always step outside for a long walk in the woods (which I technically could still do, but most of the walking paths aren’t maintained in the winter, so it requires snowshoes and full gear). 

Even though I can’t necessarily go for the walks and fun things that I normally will do with friends when the weather is nice, I try to do other things. I’ll do a brunch charcuterie with a friend, or a reading date, things along those lines (I’m not a big gym go-er so I don’t “go workout” or walk the treadmill- though I have done that). 

I will tell you what I don’t do, or rather what I try to do less…spend time on electronics. I try to limit (as much as I can) my time on social media, my time on shopping websites (which tends to get bad in the winter), and my time watching tv/movies/YouTube. During winter I’ll fall into rabbit holes very quickly and will find myself spending hours rewatching, scrolling, whatever. Then I end up feeling worse than I did before (I know psychologically I am dissociating and all the rest of that, but I really just want to do less psycho analysis this year my goodness). I try to put my phone up at distances while I am doing other things, or just ignore it all together as much as I can. Again, not perfect (as my screen time would confirm), but it is something I tend to try to be more aware of in winter. 

You’ll notice I haven’t said anything about moving my body. It’s true that I’m a big exercise that doesn’t feel like exercise person- think hikes, walks, bike rides, and such, with a little yoga on the side. During winter outdoor walks are…difficult until they end up becoming impossible without fifty million layers. It’s also true that I’m a big believer that moving your body in some way is essential to your mental health (and your physical but you already know that). I try to move my body in some way 3 times a week. Typically, that ends up being yoga, but sometimes I try to throw a little cardio dance workout in there just to get my heartbeat going and the blood truly pumping. But I also don’t push it too much- if it happens then it’s great, if not there is another day to try. I’m always outside walking to and from the bus stop twice a day so there is something every day. 

I’ve written about romanticizing your life HERE and this is just a much bigger expansion of that. Our winter season here tends to be really bad in the January/February/a little of March time period- though I can fake it with March, pretending like Spring is coming (though it doesn’t here until late May), so I really focus on myself, my mood, and the little things during those times. It doesn’t always work, I still have rough days, but I find that it HELPS. And honestly, I’ll take any help I can get. 

New Year, New Fashion

I feel like it seems to be every year that I make some sort of fashion post (upon review- this was much more frequent…should it come back???). Every year I have at least one, which is funny because I would not consider myself a…fashion chatter. I like what I like and I’m comfortable in what I’m comfortable in and that’s that. I don’t expect anyone to come to me for fashion advice, nor do I dole it out. I’m a big believer in the idea that if you love what you wear, you can typically wear whatever you want. It’s all about confidence.

 

With all that said, I have seemingly honed in a bit more on my style, on what I move towards and what I feel the most comfortable in. I think I’m starting to find a bit more of myself in fashion and a bit less of myself in the “trends” of the moment. So, I figured I’d talk about it because why not. It’s fun to see how we evolve over time and grow more and more into ourselves. 

If you want a quick moment to look over some of my previous fashion related posts I did one where I switched out of constantly wearing the same “momiform” of sorts (this is what kicked this off) HERE, where I shared some of  what I wore HERE and HERE (I actually have several more of these- more than I thought!), where I first talked dresses HERE, then when my style shifted a little bit more to “me” with some of my favorite dresses HERE, and then a funny one on my “winter” wardrobe HERE. Quite a few posts to see the evolution- which is fun (though I cringe at some of those-oy). 

I think my style really started to shift when we lived in Europe. It’s a whole different ballgame there on so many levels and I really was able to draw inspiration from a wide variety of options. Oddly it was as overwhelming as it was exhilarating at times. I was able to figure out what I liked/didn’t like simply by observing those around me. This is also when I started to really look at fashion accounts, find what I actually liked, and then find places that fit my budget. 

Two things I found helpful when I started trying to figure out what my style actually was, mostly so I could stop spending money on things I would either wear once or liked the idea of but didn’t realistically fit “me”. The first was a concept I stumbled on on TikTok, which is the three-word method.  Using three adjectives to describe your style, or what you want your style to convey. The first two are typically constant and describe what your current most constant style is, but the third can change from time to time, or season to season in my case, to reflect what you want in your style. I found that the three-word method really helped me with the second helpful thing- being more aware when buying clothes. I think we can all name a time where we succumbed to a purchase, or a trend and it didn’t…work out in the way we hoped for. I found that the three-word method helps narrow down not only what I liked, but what I was looking for in my own clothes/closet. 

My first two words have seemingly fit right into everything I love. I want my style to reflect effortless and classic. I don’t know if those words really fit together, but I like to think that they do. And this is my personal style so I can do whatever I like haha. I find myself avoiding most trends- they never seem to look just right on me and I don’t really want to go buy new wardrobes every single time a trend goes in or out of fashion. I’d rather have classic staples that work through trends, then if I feel drawn to something specific that is trending, I can see if it fits with what I’ve already got going on. The third word is probably the one that changes the most- I find that my needs tend to shift when one season changes into another. I tend to fall into the same line of thinking- in summer it’s “soft” or “floral”; in winter it’s “oversized” or “layered”. We’ll get into it a little bit more in a minute. 

So, when I purchase something new, I try to remind myself of a couple of things…

!) Do I have more than one thing to wear this with? You would be shocked to find out how many times any of us purchase something that only goes with…one other thing in our closet. I’ve done it countless times. So, when I purchase something, really anything, it has to be with versatility in mind. I have to be able to make at least 3-5 outfits with the new item and what I already have. 

2) Will I actually where this/Does this fit with my lifestyle? Again, you would be shocked at how many times this happens. We find that cute top or dress or heck an entire outfit, buy it and then either never find an occasion to wear it or realize that it just doesn’t fit with our day-to-day lifestyle. For me, this means that when I am buying something new it has to fit with a variety of activities. 

3)Do I already have this or something similar in my wardrobe? I’m probably the worst at this one- if I find something I like I buy it in many similar variations. While I want my wardrobe to fit my style, I want it to subtlety be different. It needs to be dynamic. If we feel like we are wearing the same thing ALL, the time- it gets stagnant. So, while I might want 5 gray sweaters, maybe I should by that pop of color sweater instead. 

4) Am I buying this because it feels “of the moment” or because I feel like it actually fits in my wardrobe? This is something I try to stick to, but probably give myself a bit more grace on this because sometimes those “of the moment” options can fit right into my existing wardrobe and become a long-standing piece. But honestly, most impulse purchases tend to be in the store going “oh this is so cute” and then I take them home, realize it’s either too trendy for me or just doesn’t look how I want it when incorporated into other outfits and it goes to the wayside. 

I’ve found that honing in on my style, then incorporating it into my buying habits, and trying to stay a bit more…strict about it has really cut down on my buying of a bunch of random clothes. I don’t stick with these hard and fast, there are times where I’ll grab something completely off the wall, but most of what I buy tends to fit very well into what I already have. 

So, what is my actual style incorporating this whole method?

Well, I found that in the warmer weather I have an affinity for dresses. I love to wear a dress the minute the weather warms enough, and I typically wear them all summer long- I’ve got enough to last (and I’m always adding more). I like to think that my summer style lends itself to that…European Countryside/Cottage Core look. I still keep the effortless and classic but add in that “soft” touch with the style of dresses- most that I lean toward tend to be longer, flowy (I love a good midi dress) and softer colors that, mostly, give hints of floral elements. Now, I do still have my jean shorts and some shorter skirts that cycle through during the summer (we do hike quite a bit when the weather turns nice) so it’s not sure fire this, but even the shorts and skirts tend to be paired with tops that fit these words. 

My Autumn/Winter style tends to be a bit more…well more. Most of the time it’s full of sweaters and pants- usually oversized sweaters with some skinny or straight leg pants. I still keep the effortless and classic, but I add in “oversized” or “layered” to my Autumn/Winter style.  Where we currently live (and honestly, it’ll probably be the same wherever we settle down to) it is simply to cold to be able to wear anything other than the chunky sweater/jeans look. And honestly, I think even if it wasn’t as cold, this would still be a bulk of my Autumn/Winter wardrobe. I do love a good sweater- I just would probably pair it with a skirt/longer dress or wear a good sweater dress. I’ve actually picked up a couple of the longer sweater/ribbed dresses for Autumn/Winter to try out. If a random warmer day pops up through the winter (or if we’re traveling to somewhere that is a bit warmer) I’ll throw those on instead.  

Two final thoughts…as you can tell from the pictures, I don’t typically go towards specific colors- though I do tend to find myself reaching for certain colors depending on my mood or just general vibe. If I had to say though (even if it’s not well represented in these photos) I tend to own a lot of blues/whites and then browns, grays, and recently some more greens. I do have a few pops of color- though they tend to be bright pops rather than softer muted tones.

Throughout the season I typically add a couple of pieces that refresh and fall into my wardrobe quite nicely and I’ve already got my eye on a couple spring/summer pieces that I’m very much looking forward to adding in.

And that’s really it! Who would have thought I would have had 1500+ words in me to share about fashion, but here we are! A little chatty clothing post to break things up a bit. 

Best & Most Disappointing Books of 2022

Better late than never, right? Every year I compile a best and most disappointing books list for the previous year. I go through all of my stats and just give a quick…debrief as you will. And while I think the time might be close to passing to do this, life has just gotten away from me a bit. And to be honest, this is going to be a bit of a book heavy month on the blog…it’s what I’ve got going on over here right now haha. 

Also- I realize that I never wrapped up the books I read in December…I read 6 books and I honestly just don’t have it in me to go backwards and review them at this point. The standout reads were The Savior’s Book Café Story in Another World by Kyouka Izumi (manga), The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton ((Historical Mystery) and that’s really it. 

So, in 2022 I read a total of 31,032 pages across 85 books. I gave an average rating of 3.8 stars. My longest book of the year came in at 805 pages! I feel like I had several standouts for both good and…not good reasons. I will say- most of the books were average to good – even some great ones in there and this year it was actually hard to narrow down to the best books I read.  Let’s get into those…

Best Books of 2022

People Love Dead Jews by Dara Horn – Be prepared to hear a lot about this one this month (as I’m doing a nonfiction edition of Jewish Literature), but I’ll scream this to the rooftops- read this book. Seriously. This single handedly changed the way I looked at several things, and a lot of it was relating to how I look at what we consume and Jew Hatred. Read it. Read it. Read it.

Dead Silence by S.A. Barnes – Let me tell you, this science fiction novel took me by surprise. I enjoyed the suspense, the slow build up to the explosive ending, even if the ending felt a bit like an empty balloon (and I mean the end end, not the explosive ending). The atmosphere and that foreboding feeling was enough to make this a standout success for me. 

Neon Gods by Katee Robert – Boy did this book set me off on a course that I didn’t expect. Hades/Persephone retelling with a whole lot of smut thrown in…I guess I’m there. Now I will say, I do think that A Touch of Darkness by Scarlett St. Clair is BETTER, but this one gets the props because it really set me off on the road. 

My Fine Fellow by Jennieke Cohen – You’ll hear me talk about this one again next month I believe as it features in a Jewish Literature post, but I loved this young adult novel. It talks about so many different, but very real and very similar social issues that we deal with in a historical baking setting. A gender swapped retelling of Pygmalion (by Shaw) it’s a good time that had me shouting YES throughout. 

It wouldn’t be a best of list if there weren’t some Honorable Mentions…

You Truly Assumed by Laila Sabreen – I found this book, similar to My Fine Fellow, really tackled those social issues at a YA level incredibly well. As a reader you are really able to see the modern world, where internet and reality collide and how that impacts everyone, as well as different levels of hatred. 

Chain of Gold by Cassandra Clare – This was a surprise for me as I put down Cassandra Clare a long time ago and had zero interest of picking it back up. I read this on a whim and fell right back down the rabbit hole of her worlds. Looking forward to continuing on with all the series (minus the very first). 

A Touch of Darkness by Scarlett St. Clair – I mentioned this earlier, but I find this Hades/Persephone retelling to be just top notch. The entire series is a great coming of age story with a fantasy romance that just makes for fun reading. 

Foul Lady Fortune by Chloe Gong – Another smash hit by Chloe Gong! I’m looking forward to just about anything she writes. 

Disappointing Books of 2022

Only two this year as, like I said, I feel like most of my stuff was average and above, so really only two notables stand out as disappointing.

The Hunting Wives by May Cobb – This was just…not great. It was supposed to be one of those fun mystery/thrillers with like bored housewives who start something, and it gets out of hand. And it is, but it’s horrible. The main character does not have any redeeming qualities, none of the side characters are developed in a way that maybe you could root or find enjoyment in them, and the story is…predictable and nothing great. 

Trouble on the Books by Essie Lang – This one wasn’t much better than the other. I was hoping for a good cozy mystery set in/around a bookstore, small town community (a la Ellery Adams) and it was just…not. The story was flimsy, the main character who was supposed to be a “detective” in the amateur sense, was horrible and she just went off the deep end so many times. The story was a bit too convenient in too many ways and it just wasn’t enjoyable. 

So, there you have it! My Best and Most Disappointing for 2022. What tops your list for the past year??? 

2022 – A Year in Review

Whew- 2022 is coming to a rapid end. Does anyone else just feel like…where did this year go? It can’t just be me, honest it can’t. I feel like this year has just flown by. 

The New Year is funny as I celebrate the Jewish New Year and it’s always, historically been when I feel like it’s a new year…but then I celebrate and wrap up with the English calendar. So, most of my thoughts and goals have already been stated possibly, though I have a bit of a firmer attitude at this point. 

2022 was…notable and yet not notable. I learned some things about myself, my relationships, and others that really shaped my thoughts and life moving forward. I’ve alluded to this before, but there have been some real ups and downs over the past year. Nothing terrible, but just…reminding myself of lessons I’ve learned prior to this. 

I’ve learned that jealousy from others is a very real thing and that there is nothing that you can do about it- maybe even more so when it’s about aspects that you can’t really…help. I’ve learned that as much as you might love something, if it’s toxic you have to lesson your involvement. I’ve been reminded that once you remove certain people and situations from your life you remember what life is. 

I’ve had to relearn and remind myself what sticking firm to my boundaries looks like. I’ve had to remind myself that there are shades to boundaries (remember THIS post?). I’ve had to have conversations with my children that I hadn’t expected to have yet- and I’ve said, “this is a conversation we aren’t quite ready for, but if you have any questions, please ask them”, several times. 

But I’ve had so many good times in 2022. I’ve re discovered and reminded myself who I am, the beauty and excitement and magic of the little moments I’ve found joy, happiness, and magic in the little in between moments, in the mundane daily tasks, in the tiny touches nobody notices (until they do). We’ve traveled quite a bit- NYC, Niagara, Mackinac, Toronto, Montreal, North Creek for the Autumn Leaves, and Letchworth for our Camper Trip. Our older baby “graduated” Kindergarten ahead of grade level, and our youngest started Kindergarten strong ending 2022 with an award! 

When I sat down to figure out my word of the year back during Rosh Hashanah (post HERE), I really took the time to think about what I wanted to welcome in my life in the new year. It sounds ridiculous but I really want to choose a word wisely. I don’t know it’s just important to me, but it is and this year I kind of struggled. Eventually it just came to me…

Simcha – the Hebrew word for Joy. That’s what I wanted. That was all I wanted. Joy in everything. And to be honest, I think I’ve found it. It’s funny because I picked “Simcha” because that’s what I wanted, but it’s what I had been finding for several months. I had been reminding myself what joy in everything looked like. And I feel like I’ve brought it to life, both in myself and in my family. And I’m excited to see what is coming in 2023 and my Jewish New Year has already been going SO WELL. 

What else do I want in 2023? Well, not a whole lot. I think this year is the year that I don’t have a lot of goals- every year I’ve said that I want to complete a few personal projects, and this still stands, but I don’t have a timeline for those. I started back on my podcast, and I want to continue that, I want to take on a bit more volunteer work and do more within my community. But I also want to recognize that 2023 is going to be a toucher one for us and I want to be flexible to work around the year ahead. 

I hope that everyone has a wonderful start to the New Year! Let me know if you do a word of the year, if so, what is it? Do you have any goals for the new year? 

Hanukkah 2022/5783

Ah, Hanukkah- the magical holiday about hope, about holding and fighting on to your beliefs, your traditions, and about having a joyous celebration for 8 long nights. It’s one of my favorite holidays and one of the few that is purely celebratory. We celebrate the Maccabees triumph, and we celebrate the miracle of the oil lasting. This year Hanukkah started this past Sunday evening and goes until Christmas Day (so our original gift giving of the first and last night is not happening this year- I’m thinking first and fourth? Who knows).

This year is a special one as it is the first year, I am going to be sharing Hanukkah in a real way. I’ve been invited into the boys’ classroom to share the holiday, as well as our local library for Storytime. It feels good, in the light of all of the rampant Jew Hatred lately, to be able to share the joy of Judaism through this holiday. To be able to share my Jewish-ness in a real way, in a way that is meaningful. 

Last year I really talked about the holiday of Hanukkah – you can read that HERE (I also talk about the Christmas-ization and the attempt of companies to profit off of Hanukkah more and more). This year, because I am teaching in a public school, I am not able to touch on any religious aspects of the holiday. This actually works out well as a) Judaism is an ethnicity before a religion (though the two are closely tied and it is technically considered and ethnoreligion) and b) Hanukkah is a minor religious holiday- not even really religious at all beyond the fact that they are praying in a temple. 

Since we aren’t fully going into the details of the celebration of Hanukkah (beyond the basic festival of lights), we are going to be leaning heavily into the traditions of the holidays and what exactly we do to celebrate.

Light the Hanukkiah

So, I think this one is pretty obvious if you know anything about Hanukkah and it’s one of the most important, key things. Every night we light one candle on the menorah celebrating every night the oil lasted. We light the candles from right to left using the Shamash (Helper) Candle. Now, a Menorah and a Hanukkiah are two different things. They are often used interchangeably- especially by non-Jews as the menorah is not as universally recognized. A Hanukkiah is specific to Hanukkah and has 8 candles plus the ninth Shamash candle (so a total of 9 candles). A menorah is a more standard 6 candles, plus a seventh helper candle (a total of 7). There is a difference, and to see a standard menorah on a Hannukah shirt bugs me. 

Every night of Hanukkah at sundown we kick the evening off with lighting the menorah, some families might light multiples) before getting down to the celebration. 

Games for Hanukkah

Another obvious one if you know anything about Hanukkah is the game of Dreidel, but maybe you don’t know the history of the game…

So back in King Antiochus’ reign, the Jews were not allowed to study Torah or practice any of their beliefs, this is all well-known knowledge at this point. However, the Jewish people have always found a way, even if it is under darkness and in total secrecy. The Torah Scholars in Antiochus’ day would quickly hide the torah scrolls and studies and pull out the spinning tops when the Greek soldiers would approach. They were “playing” not studying. Later this game would get the name “dreidel” (Yiddish for “to turn around”) and the letters on the dreidel stand for “Nes Gadol Haya Sham” or “A Great Miracle Happened Here” (I would have the appropriate Hebrew here, but Word and WordPress do not take kindly to inserting Hebrew into English- it reads different and then messes the entire document up). 

Dreidel is a fairly simple game that can descend into competitive chaos and great fun. Each side represents a different task- Nun – nothing, Shin – put one in, Hay – get half, and Gimel- get everything. Each player can start with the same amount of gelt, and then the center pot has enough gelt for each player to have one (so 6 players, the pot needs a minimum of 6 pieces- you can choose whether this comes from a separate amount or if the players put in to start). If you do not have enough gelt you can also use chocolate chips, raisins, pennies, whatever little treat. Each player gets a turn to spin the dreidel and follow the direction. Once a player runs out, they’re out! The game ends when there is only one player left with all the gelt. 

What we eat during the Holiday

I’ve actually been asked this this year and the answer is…a lot of food. Food is at the heart of the Jewish community- we show so much of ourselves, our community, our family with food. It’s one of the unspoken love languages (we will ALWAYS try to feed you or fret over food in some way). Most of our holidays have some element of food specifics- i.e., we eat a round challah on Rosh Hashanah, fasting is how we atone for our sins on Yom Kippur, we don’t eat leavened bread during Passover, I mean every holiday has some food element- whether it’s in the traditional foods or a more major atonement or guidance revolving the holiday. 

Hanukkah is no different. Most of the foods that we eat and enjoy revolve around…oil! Shocker since we are celebrating the miracle of oil and light. 

First up- latkes. Latkes are a potato pancake. Literally. That’s it. Shredded potato’s (with some other ingredients) fried in oil and then consumed with either apple sauce or sour cream- which triggers some lively debates (apple sauce for the win over here). 

You’ll also here a food called Sufganiyot, which are fried jelly filled donuts- think of it like if a beignet and a jelly donut had a baby. A delight (if you like that sort of thing) for the senses! 

Again, the main theme with both of these is that it is fried in oil. When we taste and smell the fried oil it is supposed to remind us of the miracle of the oil lasting all 8 nights. 

Most of our holiday celebrations are met with a main course of Brisket. Fun fact- brisket is the easiest of the meats to slice Kosher and it is more affordable, which is why we tend to eat it on all the holidays (it’s also delicious). 

Final- almost all Hanukkah celebrations contain some extent of Gelt. Meaning “money” (Yiddish), Gelt are wrapped chocolate coins commonly used when playing dreidel. They also signify the “gifts” that were originally given to children during Hanukkah. 

Finally, a note on gifts. 

Gifts are a fairly modern idea that mostly American/European Jews participate in, that’s right modern and only on our Western side of the continent (Israeli’s do not gift give during Hanukkah). The thought is that when Jewish families became more “mainstream” and Jewish children more integrated into our heavily Christian leading society, the idea of giving a gift during Hanukkah was introduced as a way for children to not feel “left out” in the rush of Christmas gifts. This tradition is vastly different from family to family, community to community, heck even year to year. 

Any Hanukkah questions? Leave them down below!

Jewish Literature 1st Edition

I haven’t quite come up with a clever title for this series, but I’m going to go with “editions”. I also have no idea what I really truly want this series to look like…or rather I know what I want it to look like, but I don’t know how the format will follow. I am probably making very little sense…here are my thoughts. 

Each post will be devoted to two books, that I will try to have correlate to each other in some way (whether that’s genre, content, whatever) and then I will deep dive/dissect each one individually as well as compare them. I’m going to try and be as balanced and impartial as I can be, but of course I do have my own background and history that seeps into all of this. I’m also going to try and span a wide variety of stories, so that hopefully this is balanced not only in review but also in content for you to then go and read. I’ll avoid spoilers in each post as much as possible, but if I can’t I’ll give a good warning. 

Another exciting thing- I am going to try and do a podcast episode with each book or each post that goes a little bit more in depth with the stories. That’s right, the podcast is coming back- Round the Kettle, and this will go hand in hand with it (but the podcast is not solely for this- more later). 

Honestly, my goal with this is twofold, I not only want to read more Jewish Literature and support more Jewish Authors (in the hopes of seeing more), but I also want to be able to give full, well-rounded recommendations. There is a lot of “Jewish Literature” out there (you can see my full post all about that HERE) and I feel like some of it is great and some of it can be…not as great in the “Jewish” side- with these first two books being great examples of that. 

So, I’ve waffled on long enough, let’s talk about the two books for this 1st Edition of Jewish Literature. 

The Matzah Ball by Jean Meltzer

Ok, I wanted to start with this one because a Hannukah Rom Com? It’s the dream for a lot of Jewish Women Readers- in a holiday world that is dominated with Christmas (which- don’t get me wrong, love a good Hallmark Christmas movie) it’s so nice to be represented in a book or a movie. Since we are heading right into the holiday season, I figured it would be doubly important to talk about now, 

The Matzah Ball is about Rachel, a Jewish girl from a prominent Jewish family that loves Christmas and spends her days writing Christmas romance novels…in secret. This year though, her publisher wants her to write a Hanukkah romance. The only problem, Rachel doesn’t feel the joy and magic of Hanukkah, at least not how she feels it with Christmas. Desperate for inspiration, she scores a ticket to what is being shared as the event of the year- The Matzah Ball- hosted by her mortal summer camp enemy. 

Now, you would think this would be a great story to read- a melding of a love for Christmas, a love for Judaism, a main character who is grappling with herself, and an “enemies to lovers” style romance. While I thought this book was ok in a book sense, I found it to be…lumbering and not great from a Jewish person sense. Give me a minute to push my sleeves up and gather my thoughts as I’ve been waiting to talk about this since I read it last year. 

Where to begin? I’ll start with just the representation of Judaism in the book. Rachel’s parents are a level of Orthodox with a well-known Rabbi for a father. The main conflict that we see our “heroine” go through is whether her parents will approve of her chosen career path or if they will see it as a betrayal of everything, they believe in. We, as readers, are given no insight in to why they might think that her writing of Christmas romances will be so horrific, and spoiler alert it is not. Because, spoiler alert, Jews don’t hate Christmas- at worst we have nothing to do with it, at best, those of us in interfaith relationships celebrate some level of it. Further, whenever something was, even slightly, Jewish, the author made a very obvious point of it. To the point, where even a non-Jewish person would feel ostracized reading the story. Little things felt big purely because they were being pointed out in a noticeable way. 

On a positive side, we do have two characters who are from different backgrounds, and we get to see both of their viewpoints. We have Rachel who was raised Orthodox Jewish, only attending Jewish schools, Jewish summer camps, seemingly only mildly aware of the “goyim” world around her and then Jacob, raised Jewish, but by and large stays in her Jewish community. We see her deal with a chronic illness and how that sends her in to the escapism that Christmas provides. 

On the other hand, we have Jacob, her mortal summer camp enemy who has had a drastically different upbringing. From a lesser practicing Jewish family, divorced parents to Catholic high school to finding his way through Judaism and always seeking that community. I found that I preferred Jacob’s point of view, I think probably, honestly, because it matched a lot of my own relationship with Judaism and I found him to be a bit more down to earth, a bit more levelheaded about Judaism, life, and our relationships between everything. It felt like for a lot of the story Rachel was a bit of a whiny brat, though dealing with a lot, and Jacob was a bit more…life experienced.

I talk about this because it’s important when it relates to how the Jewish people are portrayed in books and, to be honest, the two tropes presented in our characters, especially Rachel, are very common tropes applied to regular Jewish people in the real world. While I appreciate the growth that our characters experience and appreciate the full circle moments we get at the end, I just wish I left the book feeling…more of a celebration at this great Hanukkah romance. 

For the most part of the novel, Judaism is presented in a positive light, I’m not going to disagree with that, and Jean Meltzer does talk a lot about the various traditions and important bits. I’m not sure what I’d hoped for with this novel, but I think the fact that throughout the book she is “pitching” this book to be the Hanukkah Grinch…which I feel sums up a lot of my feelings in two words. 

I will more than likely read more books this author writes to see if this theme sticks, or if it changes as we go along. Jean is Jewish, went through rabbinical school, and did suffer with a chronic illness. This was her debut novel, so I’m trying to keep an open mind for future books. 

Overall- this is very much a book written for the Anglo Christian person who wants to read about a Hanukkah romance. There’s nothing wrong with that, however I do feel like there is the potential out there for better books and better characters. This book felt very much like it was trying to fit in with the Christmas Romances and maybe it is, and I don’t think it’s a bad thing…I just feel like there is better out there somewhere. I wish that the Yiddish and Jewish customs had been integrated a bit better, not as word/concept, then definition, word/concept, then definition, etc. If you are trying to “normalize” Jewish-ness, then normalize it, don’t make it obvious over every little difference.  But I think we’ll see that more in the next book…

An Unorthodox Match by Naomi Ragen

Like, The Matzah Ball, this is also a romance book. It’s not tied to any specific holiday, more of an everyday story, which is nice to have, and we are following different levels of observance. In An Unorthodox Match we follow Leah as she struggles to find a place for herself, a home, within the Orthodox community of Boro Park, Brooklyn. WE also follow Yaakov a recently widowed Orthodox Jewish man who is trying to find a way forward with his family after losing the only one for him. In this story we see how beautiful and transformative love, community, and personal strength can be. 

Now, when I pick up a modern Jewish story, this is what I envision it to be…honestly. I won’t make a secret of my love for this book, but I’ll get into the basics and the Jewish side specifics. 

First off, we get to see the process of…returning to the faith. Leah was not raised observing Judaism. It’s important to note that she IS Jewish, her mom was Jewish, though her mom ran away from the faith and her grandparents are Jewish. At the very beginning of the story, we get to learn just a little insight into the different options for Orthodox Jews (of which there are many). We get insights into Chabad, Modern Orthodox, Jewish life in Israel, and then for the rest of the book, the traditional Orthodox of Boro Park Brooklyn. It’s a good breakdown of how to return to the faith or explore a deeper connection with the faith, but in a truly beautiful way. The author regularly reminds the reader that this is her choice, and supplies Leah with characters who serve as “foils” to her maintaining this new life (both in her mom- who’s viewpoint we read from and who views Judaism as a cult- much like a lot of the regular world as well as in one of the children who she nannies for- who views her as not enough for their family). 

I think the true beauty of this book and its representation of an often not represented or harshly judged community of Jewish people, is in its normalcy and continuing to stress the choice each person makes to live this life. It’s truly special and beautiful. 

I think the other choice that this book makes and does well is just…normalizing everything. Unlike the Matzah Ball, we do not get word/concept, then definition, in this there is a glossary at the book that explains everything. By just having the words and concepts in the text it doesn’t make these ideas that may seem strange to those unfamiliar with Judaism so strange…it normalizes everything. I also think having Leah go up against two different foils. Two different forms of thought, the idea that she is joining a cult, and the idea that she is not worthy as she is a “convert” to Orthodoxy, is very telling. 

When you look at Orthodox Jews in the regular world (and I’m specifically referring to this specific community that is in the book- Judaism is wide and far reaching and no two Jews are alike in any way) the external fight is that they are “strange, close minded, closed lipped, tight community” and it is true to an extent. They close ranks around their own, they protect, and they are open but not open to outsiders. That is the way that it is, that is almost the way that it has been forced due to those who do not understand. I feel like this book is a fair representation of the community from someone who is not in the community (so I can’t fully speak to it, just as a fellow Jewish person who holds my faith and ethnicity close/high). The internal fight is always to keep the tradition, the faith alive and so yes, that does mean a high standard of traditions, of care, of ways of life. 

Where I think the Matzah Ball can fall flat in some ways, An Unorthodox Match really shines. It showcases the Jewish culture in such a positive light, while also being realistic about the choices that are made. It highlights struggles from within and out, and normalizes things like going all of Shabbat without electronics or only eating kosher foods, dressing modestly, etc. Little things that mean a great deal. 

So, that’s it! The first Edition of Jewish Literature. Let me know your thoughts and opinions- I’d love some feedback on how this works for you. I’ve got two nonfiction books lined up for the next edition that I’m really looking forward to sharing. 

A Cuppa Cosy Reads – November 2022

Happy end of November! Happy almost end of 2022! What a crazy thought to thing. I’ve been seeing a several memes circulating about how it’s about to be 2023, but we’re all still stuck in some way in December of 2019 and…well facts. Hard to believe it’s about to be 2023. 

November was a good reading month for me! A lot of can’t put down, stay up late books and that really, honestly, just makes a reading month for me. I did have a little reading break Thanksgiving Week with family and the boys off of school for much longer than anticipated (we got a massive snowstorm, which you would think would be great reading weather, but instead I just kept staring out the window in absolute wonder), but overall, a total of 8 books read and average 4.28 rating. 

So, let’s break that down…

The Last Final Girl by Stephen Graham Jones NR This is a screenplay horror that takes the final girl slasher and puts a bit of a spin on it. I really enjoyed this, and it was a good way to keep the Halloween horror vibes going just a bit longer. 

Lore Olympus: Volume 3 3.5 Stars I’m still enjoying these graphic novel interpretations of the Greek G-ds/Hades & Persephone myths, though I wouldn’t say they’re my favorite. I’ll keep on keeping on with them because boy are they beautiful and I’m still feeling this whole Greek Mythology retelling genre.

Anon Pls by DeuxMoi 3.5 Stars This was borderline bumped up to a 4 (and I did on Goodreads) because I just really enjoyed it. I really love pop culture in so many ways, and the DeuxMoi account on social media is really great to just get all the random tidbits about “famous” people. While the author does a really great job at adjusting and making clear this is fiction (though based on real life events), it does give some insight in to the behind the scenes of an industry that prides itself on looks/appearances/smoke & mirrors. 

Foul Lady Fortune by Chloe Gong 4 Stars Chloe Gong does it once again. This is a separate duology set after the These Violent Delights duology, following one of our characters. I loved this one, even if it took me a good chunk of pages to get into it. 

Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng 5 Stars This book was a start and stop for me, mostly because it terrified me. This book could be so close to our reality in so many ways that it almost made it unreadable (for me). Celeste Ng just has a way with writing and storytelling, and I always end up crying throughout her books. 

A Light in the Flame by Jennifer L Armentrout 4 Stars This is the second book in the Flesh & Fire Series (that takes place prior to the Blood & Ash series) and once again, these books do exactly what I need them to do. The world building and character development is a bit better in this series than Blood & Ash- it feels like maybe now she’s a bit more comfortable in the world or maybe she’s figured out the rhythm to these characters. Regardless, romance with slight fantasy plot and I’m good. 

My Fine Fellow by Jennieke Cohen 5 Stars I read this for my Jewish Literature project, so I’m not going to talk about it too much, but I loved it. I was hesitant to pick it up, but it was well worth it. Of note, it’s shocking the things that the characters experienced in the 1800’s are things we experience today. Just some food for thought before my post.  

The Night Swim by Megan Goldin 5 Stars – Boy this one punches you in the GUT and I enjoyed it. We are following a podcast host while she is working on a current events podcast, so not only are you getting the narrative, but you also get the podcast. Highly recommend, however this does come with some content and trigger warnings so please check those out before reading.

And that wraps up my November in books! Not bad, not bad at all! Looking forward to that last month of holiday reading!

Boundaries – A Holiday Moment

Oh, Holiday Season- the time of year has finally descended upon us, and we greet either two ways…or a mixture of both. We either have excitement for the coming holidays, the family time, the vacations we are bound to take, OR it’s a feeling of at best reluctance at worst outright dread. 

It’s the time of year a lot of posts start to circulate about “maintaining boundaries” and that whoever doesn’t respect your boundaries can get out, and empowerment, and such. 

And those are all very important. It IS important to set boundaries, not only for yourself but for others. And boundaries are for EVERYONE not only for those who may have strained or toxic relationships. And boundaries look DIFFERENT from person to person, relationship to relationship. 

And while we see posts about setting boundaries, maintaining boundaries, we don’t really see many posts about the realities of boundaries. We don’t see posts about how complicated this can become, how boundaries being disrespected isn’t always black and white (though we wish it was), and that sometimes hope for something better can change boundary limits. 

Because while we can cut someone out of our lives who disrespects a boundary, and I know plenty who do, and there is nothing wrong with that, it’s not always that simple in some instances. Sometimes it’s more being firm in your boundary, reaffirming it, and then moving forward. 

I’m speaking from a recent personal experience where I was very much reminded that I can do the work, I can set my own boundaries, verbalize them, work independently on myself to ensure that relationships with a high number of boundaries will work for me in a way that does not harm me, and have someone steamroll through that with a smile. It was a rude reminder that not everyone will respect, acknowledge, or believe in the work that you put in to make a relationship work all around.

Now you might be wondering from the above recent experience, why not just cut this individual off? And this is where I say it’s not always black and white. I have worked hard on myself and what I need my boundaries to be in this relationship to ensure that others can have a relationship, as others do. And I am OK with that. I have a hard line that, if crossed, the relationship will cease, but when working on boundaries I find that sometimes it’s better, for both parties, to reaffirm the boundary. 

This is why I feel like posts talking about boundaries tend to be lacking. It’s not black and white, it’s not across the board, it’s not the same thing for every person. Boundaries are so important, but it’s equally important to recognize where/what/how people choose to use those boundaries. Yes, crossing a boundary is disrespectful and wrong, but the decision on what you do when that happens can only come from you. 

So, while this is an excellent time of year to check in with yourself and your boundaries, and all those posts (and this one) might be a great affirming reminder for you to do that…remember that those boundaries are YOURS and you choose how implementing them works for you. 

A Week of Rest, Relaxation and Re Charging

What a month October was. I don’t know if it was for anyone else, but man it was just a lot. Here’s the thing- it wasn’t even that bad of a month really. I think it was just a lot of things happening at once. Aside from that first long weekend, my husband was in and out most of the month with work, we were finishing up our Autumn sports, I was planning one event the full month, and wound up helping plan another one last minute, there was a whole lot of Jew Hatred going around (along with all the regular hatred), along with just some regular volunteering that I do, being a mom, wife, homemaker etc. By the end of the month/beginning of November I was completely strung out. Like I said, nothing bad, it was just a lot of things at once.

Not only did I feel strung out and just exhausted, but I also started to feel a lack of…creativity? I’m not sure if that’s the best term, it was more so just the lack of desire to create anything. Whether that was social media stuff, or blog posts, or really anything. I just needed a minute to pause.

So, I decided last week that I was going to do that. I was going to take a week, do very little, and just focus on doing the things that I know helps me feel better. It’s little things, like the tidying the house, scrubbing up the kitchen and such, doing a puzzle, reading a book. I vowed to just lay low. I wanted to take the pressure off of everything and just…relax. 

It was nice. I didn’t realize how far down the rabbit hole I had gone in doing all the things all myself until I stopped. After the first couple of days, I already felt so much more like myself and just much more relaxed. I think that sometimes it’s really good to be able to take a step back and just take a day or two to ourselves. Often times that’s all we really need to do- take a day or two to take care of ourselves and our mental health. 

My week of rest/relaxation/recharge ended up having to change halfway through due to a sick kiddo, but I found that even just having those couple of days made a world of difference in myself. And I was still able to finish out my goal of the week while tending to a child (who I was a much better mother to just having those couple of low-key days). 

And now, going into this new week I feel much more open to what is to come. I have a renewed sense of self, a renewed outlook, and a small amount of creativity seeping back into myself. 

At the end of all this, I feel like this is a bit silly. It’s a funny thing mental health (not really) and it’s a funny thing when you logically know that there is so much more going on in the world. Things could always be worse as the saying goes. But I know that as silly and trivial and ridiculous it might seem, that I was at the edge of a very long, very frayed rope and I needed…something. I needed to not be needed for just a few minutes, to feel like everything was done and handled and I could go off into my “den” for just a few days and hibernate. 

Yea, I mixed a whole bunch of nonsense in there, which is typically a sign to sign off.  I have a couple of low-key things planned for the rest of November, as well as a dream resurfacing. Tell me, what do you do when you’re at the end of your very long, very frayed rope? What is the thing to bring you back?

A Cuppa Cosy Reads – October 2022

We have reached the end of another month, one that seems like a blur…at least to me. I’ve felt all the emotions and read a wide variety of books. I wish I had a lot of insight to add to this introductory paragraph, but to be honest, I’d like to just put October to bed- literally. I’m done with that month- nothing super bad, but when life is just…a lot I want to be done with that time. So, let’s just get into the books that I read. 

Lore Olympus Vol 1 by Rachel Smythe 4 Stars – Look- I’ve been on a Hades/Persephone, modern era Greek myth retelling, and this fit that mold perfectly. A graphic novel/comic style story, it’s a great quick read. 

The True Love Bookshop by Annie Rains 3 Stars – This was fine. I feel like every once in a while, it’s nice to just read a hallmark esque style story and that’s basically what this was. 

The It Girl by Ruth Ware 4.5 Stars – I think this was probably one of my top reads of the month. I really enjoyed this slow unfolding story, with a shocking culmination that did get me. I was very one the fence about picking up another Ruth Ware, but this one was just different enough and she does a great job at leading and misleading the reader throughout the story.

A Shadow in the Ember by Jennifer L. Armentrout 3.5 Stars – I was really craving some more books along the fantasy romance genre- something I notice I gravitate towards when things are rough in the real world, so I dived back in to Armentrout’s world. This is the prequel to the Blood and Ash series and while it took me a bit to get into the story, once I did, I was in. The only detriment, realistically, for me is that we go through the same thing as the other series- where I want to shake the main characters. 

A Touch of Malice by Scarlett St. Clair 4 Stars – This is the third book in this series and all I could think of was FINALLY (which is something even the author acknowledges). The second book had a lot of moments of self-doubt, whereas this third book is a lot more plot and action. I feel like this might be my favorite, depending on how the next book goes. 

Silver by Chris Wooding 3.5 Stars – This was a book that I just picked up off the shelf at the library. It’s a YA Thriller about a virus outbreak at a boarding school. I’m not going to give too many details, but I found it to be quite the ride- even for YA readers. It was well done, though the ending left me a little…downtrodden. He created such tension and such fear, but there wasn’t any like final to the final fight. 

Lore Olympus Vol 2 by Rachel Smythe 4 Stars – This is the second volume of the same series and, once again, I really enjoyed it. I can’t say that this is one of my favorites, but I am enjoying reading this series. 

You’ve Lost a Lot of Blood by Eric LaRocca My final read of the month, and it was Halloween weekend and I wanted something disturbing. This definitely filled that spot; however, I don’t know if it filled it in a satisfactory way. I feel like this book maybe tried to do too much in too short of a time frame or if it was just supposed to feel disjointed and not fully formed. If that was the case, it definitely did that, but I feel like a lot of attention was given to the book inside the book and that book was interesting, and then the rest just…wasn’t much? I don’t know- but it was definitely disturbing.

And that’s it for October! It was actually a good reading month- I did overall love everything that I read