The House Archive

Why is This Year Different From All Other Years?

by Bryan Friedman in All In The Family, Daddy's Corner, The House

With apologies to T.S. Eliot, April is the sweetest month for me. Spring is my time – it’s my favorite season because it means better weather, good strawberries, the return of baseball, and…Passover.

For those who have a love affair with all things bread (like my wife for example), it is sometimes hard to understand why I love Passover so much. Even as a kid it was my favorite Jewish holiday. Of course the obvious choice here would have been Chanukah – presents, latkes, dreidels, chocolate, all the bread you can eat. But somehow I’ve always preferred the other eight-day Jewish festival. Maybe it’s the sweet, sweet charoset. Or the buttered matzah. Or the reclining at the table?

I guess for me it always kind of felt like Jewish Thanksgiving except you replace turkey with brisket, cornbread with matzah, football with baseball, and pumpkins with strawberries. Those are pretty much all upgrades in my world. (Except for the cornbread I guess. I mean I do love matzah, but let’s get serious.) Sure, it may seem like a slog through the Haggadah before the meal – but I love the story of Exodus and all the seder plate symbolism. Plus that’s the whole point right? Remembering that “once we were slaves, but now we are free.” Then we eat. (It’s a familiar Jewish holiday pattern.)

When I was little, we did seder at my mom’s house for a lot of years, then eventually just did it with our old congregation (before Alison and I joined the one we involved with now). But after Alison got pregnant with Madelyn, I decided it was time for us to start a new tradition. It was time for us to own Passover. Thanksgiving at Mimi’s house. Chanukah at Grandma’s. Passover at our house. That’s how it would work.

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Luckily, Alison loves me so much, she jumped on board. Plus she makes the best charoset around, a totally mean (and easy thanks to the crock pot) brisket, and amazing matzah ball soup. (Hat tip to my own Grandma’s recipe – the trick is to use seltzer water in case you didn’t know.) So we started the tradition and we’ve kept it alive. Sort of.

In 2011 we had our first annual Friedman Family seder in our old condo.

Then in 2012, Madelyn’s first Passover.

In 2013 we were in the process of moving so we had no dining room table and even though we made everything, we had the seder at my mom’s house instead.

2014 marked the birth of our current dining room for our first seder in our new house.

And then in 2015 Arielle was born like 3 weeks before Passover started, and I had to travel for work, so we had to forgo having our traditional seder last year. (But Alison threw me an awesome impromptu surprise mini-seder complete with a seder plate of Madelyn’s toy food.)

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This year though, I was determined to get our tradition back on track. Plus, we now have a total Passover pro in our household this year. Madelyn came home from school one day and recited all four questions flawlessly then explained what all the seder plate foods represent. Jewish preschool for the win.

The festivities for us started on Friday night, the first night of Passover, when Madelyn and I watched “The Prince of Egypt” together. I love the music in this movie and also its version of the telling of Exodus. Two years ago we also watched it together, but I don’t know if Madelyn really got what was happening. This time, since she already knew about everything – Pharoah, Miriam, the burning bush, the plagues – she totally followed along. It was really fun to analyze it with her and answer the tough questions like “Did God really talk to Moses?” and “Is it all just magic?” I definitely want to make a yearly tradition out of watching this together, and I can’t wait for Arielle to join the fun.

Prince-of-Egypt

The next day was our seder. While Mimi and Poppa were in New York this year having pizza instead of matzah, we invited Gigi to join us as well as Grandma and Grandpa, Auntie Alison, Uncle Michael and Cousin Jordan. A perfect amount at our dining room table!

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We had all of Madelyn’s Preschool Passover pictures and assorted artwork on display for everyone to admire. I led the Haggadah reading, handing off sections to everyone at the table to get them all involved. Madelyn even asked the four questions herself in English before we all joined her and sang the Hebrew. Arielle and Jordan did their part too, eating charoset, soup, matzah balls, brisket, and everything else in sight. The seder is the peak of my Passover happiness. Food and family. Hungry but humble. A Jewish holiday at its finest.

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We ended the night with strawberries and Cool Whip and a lovely flourless chocolate cake courtesy of Auntie Alison. (Delicious enough in fact that no one thought to take a picture of it first.) And of course, Maddie found the afikomen since she doesn’t have very worthy competition yet and this garnered her a whole $2.50 – paper money from Gigi and Grandpa and a half-dollar coin from Daddy. Now she’s really rolling in [matzah] dough. She was very happy to get “money” to put in her “purse.”

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I kept things going for one more day as Maddie and I made matzah brei the following morning. She was so confused about soaking the matzah first, but she liked breaking it up. Girl loves her matzah. Like father like daughter I guess.

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While we’re sitting at the table eating this Passover breakfast, she turns to me unsolicited and says, “You know what my favorite part of Passover is?”

“Matzah?” I said.

“Nooo. (Well yes I love matzah too.)” she answered.

“What’s your favorite part then?” I asked. I was really curious now.

“Family and prayers,” she says.

Family and prayers! Are you kidding me? Who is this kid?

She’s my daughter of course. I couldn’t agree more, Madelyn.

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Matzah Mayhem at Our First New & Improved Passover

Since buying a house in the past year, we’ve shared a solid round of firsts. And last week was no different: we hosted our first formal dinner party for Passover. It was important to us that our house accommodate the ability to entertain: a large, spacious kitchen, accessible living space for after-dinner socializing, and of course, a dining room that would be home to an 8 to 10 seat table. This house really does allow for all that, but the only thing missing was the dining room table!

Madelyn came shopping with us everywhere as we shopped for, as she calls it, “the diamond room table” (if only it was a room full of diamonds!) and it was no small feat. Our first task was to make sure the table was the right size, as the room is not very long, but we also have an existing China hutch which I was not willing to part with, so the table had to match. Trying to match espresso-colored woods requires many cups of espresso. SO HARD. But we found it and then bought chairs and the whole thing was stressful, but ended with full bellies, so I suppose it was more than worth the aggravation of furniture shopping.

So with the table delivered a week before Passover and the chairs arranged the night before our Seder, we were ready to have our parents, Madelyn’s aunt and uncle, and her great grandmothers over for dinner! We didn’t host a Seder last year in our condo because we were in the middle of organizing and packing, so we joked: “Next year in Jerusalem our new house!” At the time, we didn’t even know where our new house would be and here we are, 8 months into living in it, and one Passover down. So, because we hadn’t hosted a Seder in about two years, I’d forgotten how much work it is! But it was worth it. Thankfully, Bryan and I make a good team and we have a pretty solid routine down, which almost always includes his many trips to the grocery store for forgotten items. He’s so accommodating that way.

Ready for our guests to arrive!

Ready for our guests to arrive!

Everything's ready. Just waiting for the empty bellies to fill up.

Everything’s ready. Just waiting for the empty bellies to fill up.

Madelyn could even get in on the action too. The last Passover Seder she attended, she was kind of worthless in the kitchen and couldn’t even eat solids yet. The Passover before that, she enjoyed whatever goods she got in the womb. So this was really her first participating Passover experience, and it didn’t hurt that in preschool, she’d learned all the songs and symbols and was totally into it. Be still, my Jewish mother heart.

Madelyn was my Charoset sous chef, but she didn't like the noise of the food processor as it went to work on the apples and walnuts.

Madelyn was my Charoset sous chef, but she didn’t like the noise of the food processor as it went to work on the apples and walnuts.

So instead, Madelyn helped pour [lots of] cinnamon and stirred the combo. She did a great job and loved helping!

So instead, Madelyn helped pour [lots of] cinnamon and stirred the combo. She did a great job and loved helping!

It was so nice to cook for family and spend the evening together. The Seder was truly all for Madelyn who sang her songs very proudly for a very captive and adoring audience. We read from a 30-minute Hagaddah, but directed much of the spiel toward Madelyn and she really soaked it in. I think she’s a little scholar like her father, which delights him since Passover is his favorite holiday.

Rabbi Madelyn leads the Seder.

Rabbi Madelyn leads the Seder.

After Madelyn, my other baby.

After Madelyn, my other baby.

All 3 of us seem to be enjoying the soup! Proud Jewish mother moment!

All 3 of us seem to be enjoying the soup! Proud Jewish mother moment!

After dinner, Madelyn went on a hunt for the afikomen, the hidden matzah. It was her first time playing this game, and it was fun to see how excited she was from her family cheering her on. With no competition, she successfully found it, received a Minnie Mouse-tastic prize, and spent the rest of the evening singing and dancing to her Grandpa’s guitar as we gathered for music time. It’s not a true holiday celebration without a song session led by my rockstar, musical prodigy father-in-law.

We had a great time and even though I’m not a deeply religious person, I do love the holidays and sharing them with our family. What’s even more amazing is celebrating them through Madelyn’s eyes. I think that’s really what it’s all about!

Is the matzah hiding by Bubbie and Gigi??

Is the matzah hiding by Bubbie and Gigi??

Is the hidden matzah in the drawer??

Is the hidden matzah in the drawer??

IT IS!

IT IS!

One proud matzah finder.

One proud matzah finder.

You know you're a happy person when you have a dance off with your matzah and your Minnie.

You know you’re a happy person when you have a dance off with your matzah and your Minnie.

And this is the start of a series called: Making Old Ladies Melt Into Puddles

And this is the start of a series called: Making Old Ladies Melt Into Puddles

Madelyn force feeds matzah to her 92-year-old great grandmother.

Madelyn force feeds matzah to her 92-year-old great grandmother.

The Money Shot. Cue the "Awwww"s.

The Money Shot. Cue the “Awwww”s.

Madelyn poses with her Uncle Michael. They love to be silly together.

Madelyn poses with her Uncle Michael. They love to be silly together.

All the ladies of the group snuggled under the Hello Kitty blanket, per Madelyn's orders.

All the ladies of the group snuggled under the Hello Kitty blanket, per Madelyn’s orders.

The dessert spread of fruit and macaroons. Madelyn was a happy eater!

The dessert spread of fruit and macaroons. Madelyn was a happy eater!

End-of-the-night attempt to get a family shot, Madelyn's crazy hair and all.

End-of-the-night attempt to get a family shot, Madelyn’s crazy hair and all.

We Need a Yard

by Alison Friedman in The House

So, we moved to our house in July.

From the front, you'd never know there was a wasteland jungle in the back.

From the front, you’d never know there was a wasteland jungle in the back.

We remodeled our kitchen right away and now I love cooking in our kitchen. (cooking = cleanup. I don’t like cleanup).

After we remodeled our kitchen, the house, which had been a moderately neglected short sale, encountered small changes: new paint, new furniture, new garage organization methods. We did the little things that we were allowed to do after the expense of the kitchen. We knew we wouldn’t be able to do all the projects the house required all at once, but as new homeowners know, we chiseled away the best we could to make our house into a home.

The one thing that remains heavily neglected is the backyard which we inherited in horrific condition. I’m not even being dramatic about it. It’s truly an eyesore and I am filled with anxiety and sadness every time I look out the windows.

Welcome to the Dirt Reserve.

We moved out of our condo for several reasons, but a main reason was that it did not have a yard for Princeton and Madelyn to enjoy. So when we found a house that met all of our needs, we were also glad that it came with a sizable yard for Princeton’s frolics and Madelyn’s explorations.

The size is great, yes, and the space has huge potential. But right now, well, it’s in crisis mode. A dilapidated patio cover hangs over a stained slab of concrete. The patio is surrounded by an unnecessary brick wall that completely bisects the yard and serves absolutely no purpose. The hill above the yard would be great for privacy, but instead vomits a jungle of overgrown shrubs and trees with whoknowswhat living inside. I am constantly nervous about Princeton going out there, for fear that there’s a creature that would find him delicious. And then there’s the … dirt. The space needs some fresh sod instead, because, well, 1800 square feet of dirt is just not attractive. Or neat.

The side yard where I dream of paving with concrete for smooth access and convenience.

The side yard where I dream of paving with concrete for smooth access and convenience.

Dead grass and weeds line the OUTER perimeter of the patio that's contained by a useless brick wall.

Dead grass and weeds line the OUTER perimeter of the patio that’s contained by a useless brick wall.

Knocking down this ugly and pointless brick wall is no easy feat and will cause a lot of additional work since we'll be left with raw, uneven patio.

Knocking down this ugly and pointless brick wall is no easy feat and will cause a lot of additional work since we’ll be left with raw, uneven patio.

The overhang that's been serving a 24/7 AYCE buffet to termites.

The overhang that’s been serving a 24/7 AYCE buffet to termites.

Hey, Friedmans: Jurassic Park called. They want their jungle back.  Overgrowth from 40 years of neglect. Thanks, previous homeowners.

Hey, Friedmans: Jurassic Park called. They want their jungle back. Overgrowth from 40 years of neglect. Thanks, previous homeowners.

We thought: hey! No problem! A little sod and, bam! We’ll be in good shape.

But really, that requires a repaired sprinkler system. And putting in sod is a step in the right direction, but what about the hill? And the patio cover? And that dumb wall?

Of course there are additional bonus ideas we have: fruit trees, planter boxes, extended patio. One idea spills into another and then we’re looking at plans that cost more than our kitchen we ever did. And that’s a kitchen.

I really hate that this yard causes me buyer’s remorse because a house is very bad purchase to regret. I have those pants I bought in 2007 with the tags still hanging on them because I promised myself I’d lose weight to eventually fit into them. Now that is reasonable buyer’s remorse. But over $600,000 is a big amount to regret, and all because of an overwhelming yard that requires a lot of green to make it green.

I’ve received a lot of bids from all sorts of workers: the contractor who did our kitchen, professional landscapers, our mow-and-blow gardner, dudes who’ve advertised in the local paper that they do clean up and haul away. Even at the lowest amount, it’s a big job and I recognize that this project costs significant money. But as Spring emerges and Madelyn’s birthday is on the horizon in the middle of Summer, I can’t help but wonder if we made the wrong choice in our home and how on earth we are ever going to get our yard to a usable state. I don’t want to make mistakes; I want to do it right the first time. So even starting with just lawn, I’m concerned we’ll run into problems later when we want to clear the hill of all that brush and add a sprinkler system up there, or level the area for new patio concrete later after the sod has taken.

Since I lack a lot of knowledge in anything having to do with the great outdoors, this backyard projects makes me nervous, overwhelmed, and sad. When we were house hunting — and maybe, I should replace “hunting” with “scouring,” since there were really slim pickins — all I could picture with each and every offer was a little girl and her friends dressed up in bathing suits on a hot summer’s day and a frisky pup who was exploring the great outdoors with his ears pinned back and his tail pointing him toward each adventure.

Princeton dreams of the yard he's been waiting for for seven years.

Princeton dreams of the yard he’s been waiting for for seven years.

At each bed time, I hope that the next day will bring us closer to somehow achieving our backyard haven.