Blog Siyyum

I taught the phrase, “I did it,” to Aliza a couple months ago to help her express her successes, and now she uses it with abandon to mean anything from, “Look what I accomplished,” to “Look what I got someone else to do for me,” to “I like this thing.”  She apparently learned these meanings from me, because it is with all of those in mind that I say, fervently and emphatically, “I did it.”

In case you need a recap, I blogged about all my Shabbat meals for a year, I got other people to blog about their Shabbat meals for the next year, and I really, really like the way it all turned out.

Here are some of the things I didn’t do to commemorate the end of the blog:
I didn’t…

  • Make one representative dish from each month of the past two years.
  • Offer to fly people in from around the world for a party.
  • Bake cut-out cookies in the shapes of 2’s, 5’s, and x’s.
  • Rewrite the Smashing Pumpkins’ “This is the Last Song,” as, “This is the Last Post,” and then make a music video of food prep.
  • Host an elaborate dinner, or lunch, or try to make the best whatever.
  • Try to recreate last year’s Blogstravaganza.
  • Decide to keep the blog going for another year.
  • Finally perfect my chana masala recipe.

But here’s what I did: I spent all day Friday in my kitchen, mostly by myself, making a humongous mess, using all of our kitchen appliances and most of our dishes, and cooking a set of foods that I was excited to eat and to share with my friends.  I made spinach pinwheels, curried pumpkin apple soup, cream cheese and cucumber sandwiches, cranberry-grapefruit shortbread, and vanilla cupcakes with chocolate-almond frosting.  I also put a gallon of apple cider in the slow cooker with mulling spices.  By the time Ilana and then Rebecca arrived to help, I was basically done (but very glad for the company!).

Last year was a Blogstravaganza, but this year was a Blog Siyyum. Traditionally, a siyyum is a meal that celebrates completing the study of a tractate of Talmud, and while I’m not exactly comparing the blog to all that, I wanted a way to celebrate a milestone of finality, so I feel good about appropriating the term.  Plus, I scheduled the party for the late afternoon on Shabbat followed by havdalah, the ceremony that lets you know something is really over (and the way Shabbat is separated from the rest of the week).

Friday night, Marc and I ate leftovers for dinner, and Saturday, in the excitement of party prep and having a snotty-nosed toddler, I forgot to eat lunch.  Moments before guests started to arrive, we had two gigantic messes to clean up, but then suddenly, we had a clean(ish) floor and a house full of people who cared enough about me and about this project to come out in the freezing rain for the festivities.

Lots of people brought food and drinks to share, and we enjoyed Rebecca’s amazing spinach artichoke dip, Amanda’s kale and tofu salad, Suzanne’s chocolate-y bars that made my shortbread seem like health food, Mattea’s homemade laffa, Jo’s homemade challah, Trader Joe’s cashew brittle courtesy of Ilana, and David and Joanna’s gingerbread cookies, plus Joline brought wine, as did Edward, in addition to seltzer.  If I forgot anyone’s contributions, please forgive me!

I promised less soapboxing than last year, and I think I came through on that, though I had to restate my sentiment that I am so incredibly lucky to have so many people in my life willing to put up with and go along with my schemes. I also said then to the 25 or so people in my living room and will say now to anyone reading this that I really, genuinely hope that this blog has had a positive impact on how you view Shabbat and community and ownership over your own identity and decisions, religious or otherwise.

Mostly, people sat around and talked and ate, and Aliza ran back and forth between everyone and shrieked a bit.  I led havdalah, which has never been one of my strengths, but if not now, when, right?  Towards the end of the night, Mattea made a most generous offer to create a recipe archive for the blog, something I once started and then quickly gave up on.  Stay tuned for that!

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Aileen, like at least year’s blog celebration, once again received the distinction for furthest distance traveled to attend, and she and I talked about what the next chapter of the blog would look like, were I to keep going (which I’m not).  She suggested that the next thing to do would be to write about creating meaningful Shabbat experiences in a family with young children.  With that in mind, I’ll close this post, this year, and this blog with a description of what Shabbat looks like in our house these days.

At sundown, we light candles; if Marc is home, he holds Aliza, if not, I hold her (and I’ve perfected my skill of lighting a match really far away from her reach).  As soon as she sees the flame, she puts her hands over her face and says, “eyes,” and usually, before I’m done saying the blessing, she’s started asking for grape juice.  She pauses in her normal level of activity, though, to stay still while I give her a blessing and kiss her head.  She gets a taste of grape juice next, and then we wait for Marc to come home for the rest of the rituals.  A couple weeks ago, instead of greeting him with her usual, “Daddy,” when he walked in, the first thing she said was, “challah.”

Last week, while singing Shalom Aleichem, she was so desperately asking for more grape juice, that, in order to deflect her, we started maniacally dancing around the kitchen while singing.  This week, as soon as we started singing, she grabbed our hands and said, “dancing.”  It was beautiful.  We say kiddush (more grape juice), the blessing for handwashing (Aliza sticks her hands directly in the cup of water), and motzi over challah (Aliza is now in charge of the saltshaker).  For a 19-month-old, I think that’s a pretty good start.

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On Saturdays, we try to stay in bed a little longer than usual, entertaining her with books and songs to delay the inevitable trek downstairs to start tearing through the house, and it usually works.  Then we have some combination of playgrounds, Tot Shabbat, lunch, visiting friends, and, when we’re lucky, naps.

Why the excruciating detail about Friday nights and not about Shabbat day, when, ostensibly, this whole blog was about how Shabbat lasts 25 hours?  Because 1) we’re still figuring out what Shabbat looks like for our family, and 2) life with a toddler is busy, exhausting, and unpredictable, and if we weren’t able to adjust accordingly, we’d go nuts.

So, after two years of excruciating detail about some aspects of Shabbat and not about others, maybe that’s the point: Do what works for you in the moment without driving yourself bonkers, whether we’re talking religion, family, community, food, whatever.  I thought I might have extensive and profound thoughts to sum up everything I’ve learned or a strong closing statement to take forward into the future.  Instead, I have this: a loving husband, an incredible toddler, a huge belly (mostly because of being pregnant, but maybe a little bit because of all the food, too), a wonderful community, and a lot of great memories, recipes, and leftover cupcakes.  I also have an advice column, which really did come directly out of this blog.

Thanks for reading.  Seriously.  This has been awesome.  I don’t expect to do it again, but I’m awfully glad it happened and that you, anonymous reader or close friend, were there for it.  Shavua tov, happy 2013, and, when it’s that time again, Shabbat shalom.

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