Thursday, November 21, 2013


  Also known as the Festival of Lights, is an eight day celebration for those of the Jewish faith.  This year it will start on the eve of November 27th.   So what is Chanukah and how did it all begin?   A brief look back in history tells us of Antiochus IV, who was a successor of Alexander the Great, (about a hundred years after his reign). Now while Alexander ruled, he allowed the people of the lands he conqured to continue observing their own religious beliefs. This all changed when Antiochus came into power.  He oppressed the Jews, and would not let them practice their religion.  Taking over their temples and desecrating them.  After a time, forces were joined and the temples were rededicated.  However, the Greeks had defiled the temples and almost all the oil which was used to light the Manorah at the temple was completely depleted.  The Manorah,  a candleabrum, was lit every night and was to burn throughout the night, but there was only enough oil for 1 night.  Yet miraculously, it somehow burned for 8 nights, which was the time needed to make a fresh supply of oil. That is how Chanukah came to be, it  is a celebration of the miracle that happened so long ago.  It is also why it is known as the Festival of Lights and why it lasts for 8 days.   It is no wonder that this holiday is celebrated with the lighting of the menorah.  As mentioned above, this is a candelabrum, which consists of 9 candles.  The center candle, known as the Shammus candle, is normally taller than the other eight. The reason for this is because (in older times), if you needed light, you were allowed to light this candle at any time.  So to make it easier to not mistake it for the other ones, it was made slightly taller. As always, there is an order to all things, the shammus candle (the one in the center) is always lit first and used to light the other candles. On the first night the candle on the far right of the Menorah is then lit, this is done while reciting a prayer.  Every night that follows the shammus candle is lit first, a prayer is said, and then candles are lit from right to left in order.  So on the second night the far most right candle is lit, followed by the one to the left of it, and so on till all eight candles are lit on the last day.
    This holiday does not have many other specific rituals of sorts, but as it is celebration and a time to be with family there have evolved some family traditions. Some give small gifts to their families on each night the menorah is lit. Many like to sing after the lighting of the menorah is done.  There are songs of Chanukah most upbeat and happy; here is one if you care to listen; 

    You can also play with the Chunukah dreidel. (as see above) In this game, children of all ages spin the dreidel and bet on what letter will show facing up. The dreidel has 4 Hebrew letters on it, and when put together stand for the phrase “A great miracle happened here”.  The game is usually played for gelt, which is a chocolate, covered in gold foil and made to look like gold coins.  There are rules, and each letter has a different effect. So something happens each time the dreidel is played. For example, one letter means you get nothing of the pot, one means you get half, another (the lucky one) means you win everything in the pot, and of course one makes you pay. There is also a traditional song of the dreidel, if you like to listen go to this link

 Chanukah, a celebration of lights, the celebration of a miracle. Just as in all holidays, we celebrate with the ones we love, we sing, we play, and enjoy all the warmth that comes with it. 
Happy Chanukah to all!


Saturday, November 9, 2013

How to "winterize" your houseplants.

        We all know winter is coming. A season of shorter days and much colder nights. So because of this, the conditions inside your house change as well. The light levels you normally have during the summer, drops about 50% during this time. We also heat our homes, causing the air inside to be much dryer.
     As much as we get affected and need to adjust, so do our houseplants. So it’s a good idea at this time of year to do a little plant cleaning. Yep, they need a “bath” to rid them of dust that may have collected during the summer months.

     For larger leafed plants, this can be done using a moist cloth (use luke warm water, not cold or hot). Simply cradle the under part of the leaf with one hand while gently rubbing the top with the cloth. Once done, make sure not to put plant in direct light until it has dried, so as not to burn the leaves. For plants with smaller leaves, it would be easier to simply put them in the shower with a gentle spray, then let them dry before moving them (try not to drown them at the same time, concentrate more on just the leaves) For small plants with small leaves you can do these by the same method but maybe in your sink. If they are very small you could gently swish them in a pail of warm water, making sure to hold the plant in such a way so that the soil and the plant do not come out of its container. Again, let them be completely dry before placing them in the sun. For fuzzy leafed plants, like an African violet, the best way to clean them is with either a soft paint brush, toothbrush, pipe cleaner or even one of its own leafs that may have broken off. Then gently go over each leaf. Do not use a damp cloth on these varieties, as they will not like the water, or the pressure you may put on their leaves.

      It is also a good idea to make sure that you remove any flowers, or leaves that may be dead or dying, as they do take strength away from the healthier parts of the plant. Remove any dry leaves that may be resting on the soil as well.

    Now that your plant is happy and clean, it can better take in the nutrients it needs from the sun. As we do get less light, you may want to move your plants closer to a light source (window if possible). Making sure the leafs do not actually touch the window, as the cold from the glass will freeze them. Also avoid placing your plants over or near a heat source, as the leaves and soil will dry out. You should also keep in mind if they are in front of a door, or window that you open frequently, they also run the risk of freezing. Plants are more sensitive to temperature drops than we are, and it doesn’t take much exposure to do them harm. As the air inside is drier because of heating, most house plants will also enjoy a fine misting every so often, as it will help give them a bit of humidity.

    Watering your plants during the winter does require a little bit more attention. Most house plants do not grow much during the winter due to the shortened days and are what we refer to as being “dormant”. This does not mean you can forget to water them, or that they need less watering. Each and every home is different, some are hotter and dryer than others, and some have more natural lighting than others. This all comes into the equation of watering. Though your plant may not be growing much it still gets thirsty. If your home is very dry, your plant may need more frequent watering of a lesser amount. For instance, instead of once every 10 days, maybe it needs half the normal amount every 5-7 days instead. If you want to check if your plant requires water, insert your finger about 2” into the soil, if it is dry, add water, and if it feels very moist then wait. If you are not sure, you could always give it a touch. It is always easier to give your plants a little bit, (erring on a bit of the dryer side), than have them drown and then try to save it.

    The last thing is feeding your house plant. As mentioned above, most plants are “dormant” during the winter months. So for the most part, they do not require any food to help them grow. How ever, if you are in a home that has a lot of natural lighting, your plants may be slightly more active than others. This being said, if you decide to feed them, (though not necessary) dilute the normal amount you would give them by 4, and feed them only a couple of times throughout the winter months. Too much food will make for a very lanky plant that is not very strong.

    So keep warm and enjoy the winter. It's here for a while. Remember to help your plants through those long cold days and nights, and they will reward you for years to come.