If you are anything like me, Chol Hamoed can be just the teeniest bit stressful. Okay, maybe very, very stressful. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way.
Yes, you just spent a minimum of two to three, or more, weeks scouring every square inch of your humble abode, cooked up massive quantities of food in a minimum amount of time in pots, pans and appliances that you barely even recognize as yours, have spent countless hours washing endless streams of pots, pans, silverware and dishes and then Chol Hamoed rolls around. Despite the inevitable exhaustion that is oozing out of your every pore, your entire family wants you to not only prepare gourmet food but structure social activities that are fun, enticing and will make them the envy of everyone they know.
If you are anything like me you will try your best not to have a meltdown as you explain to your family members that with all the work you have done preparing for Pesach you have zero interest in being designated the family social director as well.
Take a deep breath and remind everyone, including yourself, that you don’t have a cape, you don’t have superpowers and you can’t possibly do everything, for everyone all at once. What your family is envisioning requires you to be in multiple places at once and requires an endless supply of money, which you probably don’t have, having just bought matzah, food for an eight day eating extravaganza and clothing for the entire family. So tell everyone to take a chill pill and remember that if they want to live in Fantasyland, they need to head down to Disney World. Because you can either prepare gourmet meals every day of Chol Hamoed or you can plan exciting activities to keep everyone entertained. You can’t possibly do both.
But that’s okay, because neither can anyone else. So just relax. You have worked so hard to get this far; it is finally time to enjoy a well-deserved break. Let’s start with the food. Go check your refrigerator. Got leftovers? Great. Then put them to good use.
Flake up leftover roast and serve it with a salad for supper one night. Dice up extra chicken and resurrect it as chicken salad or chicken potpie. (Skip the bottom crust. Trust me. No one needs all those extra calories this week.) Don’t have any leftovers? Cook up a pot of hot dogs or buy a package of cold cuts and remember that this just isn’t a week for dieting. Feel free to add some easy veggies to your menu: think bagged salad, grape tomatoes, mini sweet peppers (depending on your minhagim), or even a jar of pickles, all things that don’t require cutting up. Round out your meals with all those leftover kugel pieces and potatoes that are taking up valuable space in your fridge.
Try yogurt, leben, smoothies, fruit salad or even brownies for breakfast. Lunch choices can include tuna, eggs and if you eat gebrokts, matzah pizza or matzah brei. If you are planning a day trip, try serving a serious breakfast – say scrambled eggs, matzah and lots of sliced veggies – giving you the option of a lighter lunch which could consist of yogurt, string cheese, fruit, nuts or anything else that is easily totable. Feel free to freeze a few water bottles to take with you. Not only will they keep your perishables cold, but you will have drinks for the family as well.
Now that at least some of your meals have been taken care of, you can enjoy some quality time with your nearest and dearest. With this years’ long Chol Hamoed, there is ample time for lots of family fun, but as always, use your head and plan wisely. It is entirely possible that your teenagers may want to spend a day or two with their friends. Let them. It gives you the perfect opportunity to plan activities that are geared towards either older or younger family members. Check the weather sites and see what the forecast is for Chol Hamoed, taking advantages of the best weather for outdoor activities.
If your family enjoys the big outdoors then budget friendly opportunities abound. Try hiking, biking, rollerblading, or if the winds allow, kite flying at your local park. Stroll across the George Washington or Brooklyn Bridge. Pay a visit to the nearest (or not so near, if you are in the mood of traveling) botanical gardens and enjoy the most fascinating time of year as the trees start to leaf and the flowers start to bloom. (For those of you with springtime allergies, don’t even think about leaving the house without taking some form of allergy medicine.)
In New York then hit the Statue of Liberty, Battery Park or take a ride on the Staten Island Ferry, still one of the best bargains in New York City.
Of course there are some long standing Chol Hamoed traditions. Plan a day trip to Six Flags (either the theme park or the safari) in not so far away Jackson, New Jersey. Take in a Mets game at Citi Field on Sunday afternoon, Monday and Tuesday nights and for those who like to cut it close on Erev Yom Tov, Wednesday afternoon. While as of this writing the multitude of Chol Hamoed concerts have not yet been announced, just flip the pages of this newspaper and you are sure to find several. Visit the Bronx Zoo, which is free on Wednesdays, but always fills up super early on Wednesday Chol Hamoed for obvious reasons but is still the best place to play Jewish Geography. Sadly, the circus is not in town this year on Pesach.
Some other ideas? Grab a double decker bus around Manhattan. Take the Yankee Stadium tour and get to sit in the dugout and visit the locker room. Ride the Circle Line around Manhattan. Visit the Sony Wonder Technology Lab in Midtown, which is free, but closed on Mondays and pretty much impossible to get into on Chol Hamoed without an advance reservation.
Don’t feel the need to come up with wild adventures every day. Get together with grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles and spend some time catching up. Plan a family game day or night or have everyone grab their blankets and pillow and snuggle up together with a DVD or pull out the old family videos and have a good laugh. If you are truly desperate for good ideas find the one person you know who always finds the best activities and call them up to find out what they are planning. If they don’t mind you tagging along with them could be tons of fun.
Most of all, try not to get stressed out about Chol Hamoed. Do the best you can and invite everyone else to pitch in. There is no reason you need to do all the work by yourself. Recruit help to sweep the floor, wash the dishes, set the table or even cook a meal so that you can enjoy quality time with your family and friends.
Sandy Eller is a freelance writer who has written for various websites, newspapers, magazines and private clients in addition to having written song lyrics and scripts for several full scale productions. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Author: Sandy Eller is a freelance writer who writes for numerous websites, newspapers, magazines and many private clients. She can be contacted at email@example.com.
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