Post Purim Notes for Next Year

Post Purim Notes for Next Year

Sitting down at the computer now, it’s been a busy and beautiful day. One aspect of this blogging platform that I’m particularly enjoying and coming to appreciate is the journaling aspect of jotting down my thoughts and knowing they’ll be there to reference in future years, to grow and to learn from. After each chag, we have those recurring thoughts regarding what went well, and what we’d like to remember for next year. Well, here’s my report. Perhaps it’ll enlighten more readers than only myself.

1.     First Thoughts

Aka, my gut reaction. Purim this year was beautiful. The mishloach manos were delivered, cards sent, megilla heard, matanos l’evyonim given, and seuda had. However, I. Did. Too. Much. Purim is a time with so much potential. We can involve our young children in the preparations, affording them a deeper appreciation of what each mitzva symbolizes. However, in today’s age of social media, where so many of us are looking at others’ themes and family costumes on facebook, pinterest, or instagram, or even just passing on the street while wishing one another a “Freilachem Purim,” we’ve got to get back to basic. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have themes. I’ll continue to do so as it makes the preparations even more exciting in our house. However, I’ll scale it back im yirtze Hashem next year so that we can focus on what’s important; our relationships with Hashem, with each other, and with ourselves. Lesson 1: Tone down the details – it doesn’t have to be perfect.

2.     Choosing My Kids’ Costumes

This year, while on vacation I found the cutest costume for my son. It was great, it was perfect, and it was all Boy. However, I knew our theme had been chosen for the wrong reasons when my son was at shul, saw someone dressed as a clown, and said “I wish I were dressed up as a clown.” Puzzled, I reminded him that we’d had a clown costume that would have been just his size this year. He answered me saying “I didn’t know that was an option.” Lesson 2: Let the kids choose their own costumes – it’s their fun. Don’t get me wrong, he enjoyed and had a good time in his costume, but we have to realize that as our little ones get older, kids must be able to express their identities through their own imaginations and ambitions – and on Purim, the costume is their form of expression.

Another aspect of the costume thought process that I’ve noticed in recent years, is that (at least the little ones) are being asked to bring their costumes into school on Taanis Esther. Particularly on years when I’ve put a fair bit of DIY effort into a costume, I’m hesitant to send it in knowing that it may get dirty of damaged before Purim. In lieu of this, I pull out a dress up costume from the dollar store that my little one can wear to school that day. saving his real costume for Purim itself.

3.    Planning Ahead

I’ll write down the following deadlines now, so that perhaps I might remember for next year.

  • Rosh Chodesh Shvat – Have a theme chosen.
  • One week into Shvat – Place eBay orders (I’ve become a huge fan of ordering aspects of costumes extremely inexpensively on ebay. However these can often take more than a month to ship.).
  • Rosh Chodesh Adar – Have a list of card mishloach manos / card recipients completed so I’m ready to go shopping and place card orders. Have all DIY costumes DONE. Take pictures in full costumes if using for mishloach manos labels / notes.
  • 7th of Adar – Have cards filled out, stamped and sealed, ready to mail. Mishloach maos shopping should be completed (possible exceptions if food items might spoil). Have mishloach manos labels / notes designed and printed. Have seuda menu completed. Have all seuda decor bought, including paper / plastic goods.
  • 12th of Adar – Have mishloach manos packed, and ready to go. IF making real food MMs that need to be assembled last minute, purchase easy to close packaging with no fumbling, tying, or curling aspects. Open gift bags are ideal.

 Lesson 3: Plan ahead, and stick to the plan. In short, I may or may not actually stick to these by the book next year, because life happens. But I do know that I’m going to try my best. There’s got to be a game plan. A game plan was soarly missing this year, and I felt it in my exhaustion leading up to Purim.

4.     Mishloach Manos

So many lessons here. Lesson 4: Buy open top bags (gift bags) if giving real food MMs so that they can be assembled in advance with the fresh food component just being popped in easily on Purim morning. Lesson 5: If making a seuda, cut down recipient list to the bare bones, and send cards instead. Between the cost, time management of making mishloach manos, and then delivering, in addition to making a seuda, something’s got to give. If you’ve got the time, go for it, however if life is particularly busy (and whose isn’t) it’s fine to cut down. Lesson 6: Keep them simple. Lesson 7: Skip the homemade themed baking projects. There’s a good chance they’ll end up not being eaten, and are extremely time consuming. Lesson 8: Remember that we’re meant to spend more on matanos l’evyonim than on mishloach manos – keep priorities in check.

5.     Seuda

OK here I declare an unabashed WIN. I pre-cooked and stored foods in the freezer and was able to meal plan with detailed ingredient lists. More importantly however, I finally convinced myself that I had cooked enough food (Jewish mother syndrome anyone?). Lesson 9: Know when to stop cooking. Ask yourself: is this appetizer necessary? The decor side of things, well, that could have been done earlier. I’m going to give myself breathing space on this one, because had misshloach manos been simplified (see lesson 5 above) decor would have been done much earlier. One aspect of expansion I would like to consider for next year is to Lesson 10: Consider inviting non family members who may need a seuda. There are so many people out there, whether a single parent or simply a single man or woman, or maybe an older couple whose children have moved away, and would appreciate an invitation.

6.    Matanos L’evyonim

This is simply an idea I’d like to share because I love having one less ‘to do’ on my task list for Purim. Lesson 11: Find out if you can prearrange matanos l’evyonim donations. My shul has established a set-up whereby members arrange for our rav to be a shliach of our money, and it’s all arranged before Purim so that I know there’s one less task to be done on this busy day.

7.    Megilla

I really, I mean really like the shul where I heard megilla last night, however it was a very family oriented minyan, which meant there were many stalls in the leining waiting for kids to quiet down, which meant we got home late, which meant my little one was very tired today. In future years, I’m going to reread this post and be reminded to Lesson 12: Attend a leining that’s quick, and quiet if there is one available – again, this applies especially if planning a seuda in our home.

……Till next year!

What lessons did you learn this year’s experience that you’d love to share? Please comment below!

Tips for Keeping Purim Costs Down

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I’m writing this article 1.5 weeks prior to Purim. For the past number of years my mantra in managing household finances has been “I’m learning. This is a journey.” This year, my second year making a seuda in addition to prepping shalach manos, purchasing costumes, and matanos l’evyonim, I’m particularly aware of the inherent costs wracking up. And while I gladly accept the opportunity to be mehader the mitzva, I do still want to keep my expenditure in check. Well, inspiration is borne of experience, and that is why I’m going to share with you the lessons I’ve learned over the years, and perhaps you’ll stow them away for next year. I know I will.

COSTUMES:

One of the most widely accepted strategies for buying lower priced costumes is to purchase them in late October / early November when they’re put on sale to clear. But what happens if you don’t know five months prior to Purim what your kids are going to be dressing up as?

Ebay. Did you know that you can order kids’ Purim costumes for under $11 on Ebay, including shipping? Just search “kids costumes” and hit lowest price + shipping from their drop down menu. Note: These costumes can take over a month to reach North America, so order early. Ebay is also a great place to order inexpensive costume accessories and seuda decorations.

Second hand and thrift stores often have costume stock that’s stored in a back room until October each year. Either purchase around then, or ask off season if they’re willing to pull them out for you to browse through. Picking up a teddy bear costume for $3 in perfect condition? Yes please!

If you’re lucky enough to live in an area with a significant Jewish population, you might be lucky enough to find secular dollar stores pulling out costumes prior to Purim, knowing that they can reap significant profit. Even if not, local dollar stores often have dress up memorabilia like various dress up hats, doctor sets, and accessories available for purchase year round. I buy these just to have on hand for the dress up bin at home.

If your community doesn’t yet have a Purim costume gemach, it’s time to start one! These are a huge service to the community. Due to the fact that so many families use costumes only for one year, especially if choosing to coordinate a theme, donating costumes and then being able to pick up gently used ones is a fabulous way to pay it forward!

DIY costumes aren’t for every balabusta, but can be so much fun for little ones to help out with. Though they can be time consuming, making a costume from scratch means you can make a costume literally for pennies by recycling materials around the house. Papier mache anyone? I’m actually partially DIYing my son’s costume this year, and he said to me today that he’s so excited for his costume “because it’s the first year we’ve ever MADE my costume!” Getting the little ones involved in the arts and crafts just adds to the dun.

Check out this link for a list of DIY Purim costumes with instructions that I’ve pulled together.

MISHLOACH MANOS

This is an area in which it’s so easy to get lost in the process and become overwhelmed, spending both more money and time than we should be allotting to shalach manos. With the upsurge of family themes and the need for the perfect presentation, women are spending hours and hours searching the internet for ideas, browsing store shelves for inspiration, and then finally having to put together the bags full of supplies on which you emptied your wallet and just lugged home.

And yet, guilty as charged. As mentioned, I’m learning!

#1 is remember the actual mitzvah. We give mishloach manos, of two different minim or types of foods, to increase achdus and unity with our fellow Jew, and to ensure that everyone has enough food to make their seuda. Perhaps there’s someone out there who otherwise wouldn’t be receiving any mishloach manos this year – this is the perfect opportunity to extend yourself. For more information on the mitzva, Aish HaTorah’s website provides a succinct and informative summary of the related laws and reasons pertaining to the mitzva.

How to we balance practicality with presentation?

Simplify.

Keep your list of recipients in check. Sit down and think to whom you need to give rather than giving to everyone you know. These days you can mail tzedaka cards instead of food which benefit community members and still show your family and friends you’re thinking about them. These can be prepared long in advance and mailed out prior to Purim saving the stress at crunch time. Mailing out cards has the added benefit of reducing the number of deliveries to make on Purim day.

Keep the contents simple. Remember there’s a requirement of only two minim, or different types of food. There’s no need to spend extra cash on food that will just need to be cleared out of the house before Pesach.

Offer real food contents rather than junk food. If you’ve seen my take on the amount of candy our children are eating, you’ll understand why I generally don’t offer sweets in my shalach manos packages. I do however aim to please. Whether or not you’re baking or cooking your contents, we can make a difference communally in our families’ health by offering healthy options. For inspiration, check out this post on DIY real food theme based mishloach manos options.

MATANOS L’EVYONIM

Related to the above section on mishloach manos, remember than we’re meant to spend more money on matanos l’evyonim than on mishloach manos. Allocating our funds properly can truly make someone’s Purim a chag they’ll remember for years to come.

Wishing you a wonderful simcha filled Purim! Do you have tips on keeping Purim costs in check? I’d love your input. Please comment below to offer others your wisdom!

6 Tips for Job Hunting as a Mom

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Despite having the heart of a stay and home mother, I’ve found myself having to go out into the workforce as the primary breadwinner for our family. When I completed my program last year and graduated with a what I was told statistically was a very employable career, I thought finding a job would be a piece of cake. Little did I know that statistically employable job description in this day and age would mean only a few dozen job applications being sent out before receiving an interview. To be clear, that’s 46 applications, and 5 interviews at last count.

The market at the moment is a tough one for anyone seeking employment; man or woman, recent grad or seasoned employee. As mothers, women are often torn between whether to venture out into the work force, or remain at home. Depending how tight finances become, and how frugal a couple is willing to get along being, the decision is sometimes in a woman’s hands, and is sometimes made for her. Either way, if she does find herself seeking employment, job hunting is a fate that inevitably awaits her. Thus post is about simplifying the job application process so that a mother can maintain balance while seeking employment.

  1. Find someone already working in the business. Someone already working in your field of choice is not only experienced in their work, but in what a potential employer seeks. They know what skills a resume should promote and what about their cover letter caught the employer’s attention. Once you reach the interview stage, ask if they’d spend twenty minutes coaching you through potential questions. Build a rapport with this person and don’t feel shy about asking them to forward your resume out further than you’re able to reach.
  2. Network, network, network. I cant stress enough how vital this is. As a natural introvert, I’ve had to step waaaaaayyyy outside of my comfort zone here, but I’ve already seen it paying off. Reach out to anyone who knows anyone in your community and beyond, and ask if you could send them your resume and cover letter. Each time I send mine out, I add the line “Feel free to forward as you see fit,” because you never know whose eye it might catch. Friends of friends are always fair game. In my book, schlep is absolutely an avenue towards employment.
  3. Refine your resume. Research shows that employers spend less than 10 seconds scanning a resume before deciding that an applicant is or isn’t candidate material. Take advantage of resume writing workshops. Ensure that keywords match skills sought after by employers in your field.
  4. Craft a cover letter that presents the true you. When I was first job hunting, my cover letter was very to the point, detailing my qualifications as a potential employee based on my academic and employment history. Shortly after I began job hunting I was approached by two contacts who said to me that my cover letter was too manufactured and needed to tell the story of who I was. I spent some time, and decided to craft a letter that tied in my parenting history with the (quite unrelated) employment field I was entering. To my surprise, employers were interested, and it was with these new cover letters that I began receiving calls for interviews!
  5. Pace yourself. Job hunting is draining. Each job submission takes time and effort. Leafing through job classifieds often takes more time than the application process itself. With little ones underfoot and a million other things on your mind, it’s important to keep from burning out. Set a quota each week and stick staunchly to it. For myself I found putting in one good morning per wee (about five hours) has brought in slow but steady results, without leaving me overwhelmed by the process.
  6. Know your employment parameters, and hold them dearly. I recently had an interview at 7:30 am – yup, your read that correctly. It was in a great office with a respected name in my industry. I left the interview knowing however that whether or not I received a call back, this wasn’t the place for me. I am a mother first and foremost, and knew that this would not be an office to provide the flexibility I require as a mother. From this I learnt my lesson; all that glitters is not gold. My role as a mother comes first.

What tips would you like to share with soon to be working moms out there? What factors do you feel have contributed to your employment? Hit comment below and let us know!

Why I’m Not Booking a Vacation – Again

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I love travelling. The sights, the experience and the education all entrance me. However, I don’t go away more often than once every few years.

I’ve been known to spend hours on deal sites, travel sites, flight comparisons and train fare sites, without ever actually booking. I yearn to visit the locations in the photos. I research a city’s history, its excursions and its entertainment venues. And then I close the browser windows.

Why?

Well, today was one of those days. With midwinter vacation coming up, I found myself battling the travel itch. It’s bitter cold, and my wanderlust has kicked in. I need to visit the great outdoors! Well, with my little guy in tow and getting older, I knew there was a chance. And then I clicked that little “x.”

To me vacation is about getting in touch with yourself and your surroundings. Where we live in such a temporary society, with seconds whizzing by, I couldn’t bring myself to spend the money on going to theme parks. A week in paradise sounds wonderful, but then, so does the prospect of growing as a person, as a mother, as a woman.

Living in America, there are so many tens of locations I would love to see. I love learning about and experiencing history, and these are the experiences I seek in a vacation. Until now I have savoured these moments in the Eretz haKodesh. There aren’t many local options in midwinter because unfortunately this is the time when travel is most difficult in cold climates.

Our vacation will be spent at home. Exploring and experiencing our city’s own history. We will enjoy one another’s company, and create lasting memories together. After all, isn’t that was history is made of?

My kind of vacation.

Make some memories today.