Sunday, November 22, 2009

On Break

I am taking a few weeks break from the blog so the posting will be at best very sporadic. G-d willing, I'll be back and recharged afterward and share all kinds of great stuff with you. RG:)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The many lessons of weather

I was talking to someone the other day and was telling her that the weather this winter has really been erratic. It keeps switching between summer and winter and spring. So that got me thinking that there are many life lessons one can learn from this kind of weather. Sometimes there are long stretches when the weather is the same everyday. Just like in life, sometimes it seems that things are just monotonous, every day is exactly the same as the one before. Nothing much happens things kind of drift along. But if one looks carefully one would realize that really there is no such thing as sameness, every day has some small treasures and joys to offer no matter how humdrum. Imperceptibly day by day things happen and change. Also, sometimes one looks out the window and there seems to be just sun bleached brown yellow scenery on the horizon and then even after a short period of rainfall suddenly one notices that everything is suddenly alive again, there is green grass coming up everywhere and new plants peaking out out of the earth. So too in life sometimes one feels all dried out, nothing feels inspirational or one just doesn't seem to be getting anywhere with one's plans and aspirations and suddenly something suddenly appears like a surprise rainstorm and all of a sudden things are happening and growing and developing like you wouldn't believe. It works like that in education too, sometimes you try to teach something but it doesn't go, you try and try and then something happens and things click into place and suddenly there is unbelievable movement and growth and progress. So it goes, sometimes things are smooth the skies are cloudless and it's sunny and sometimes it can be grey or even black and fill one with fear and foreboding but then suddenly the sun appears again and all is joy and light and serenity. I love just watching the skies with all different kinds of clouds on any given day, with birds soaring above our heads or rushing off to somewhere. I love the new growth coming through and the old more mature brown look. I like the stillness and the blue grey skies before the rain. And it is nice to have so much sunny weather even though I wouldn't mind an occasional snowstorm which is what I grew up with. Really any weather has its' own gifts to offer, its' own lessons to teach if one is open enough to see them.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The goings on

The weather has temporarily flipped back to summer, but they are promising cooler temperatures and yay!!! rain. Thanks to the rainfall we had this far, new green growth has been detected in the yard, much to everyone's delight. We've been busy with the usual things plus visits by the in and out of the country relatives, always really nice. I got some rolls of gold leaf paper very cheaply, I think a cast off from some publishing company that used it for book embellishment. The kids had a real ball with it. You color or write on one side of it and whatever it is comes out on the bottom paper in gold. We've been doing a lot of reading. We have discovered a new or rather old British story series called My Naughty Little Sister, it was old-fashioned, very cute and wholesome. Just the way I like children books to be. We really enjoyed it, I hope we can get more from the same series. I've been unable to do as much writing as I'd like. But what can you do, sometimes life forces one to slow down. We've been playing and cuddling and learning some new things. I've been rereading various parenting books I have, I read a few great novels. We've been dealing with various minor domestic crises such as leaks and other exciting things like that. The other day my husband said, that the peeling paint on one of the walls came off in a pattern that looks very much like a really long dog, maybe a greyhound. Once he pointed that out to me, I must say that my attitude towards that particular wall ornament has softened tremendously. It's all in the eye of the beholder I guess. I've been finding lots of projects I'd like to get to some day but until then we are very much busy with the business of normal living. Much like this somewhat rambling post, a little bit of a lot of things.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Available in limited quantities

When one reads anthologies of writings by women there are usually at least a few articles on facing one's limitations. Parents are particularly prone to the super-parent syndrome, especially mothers, when the parent in question feels he/she has to do it all, often without much outside help, that he/she must be perfect, in order to be considered a good parent. Perhaps it's because being a parent is a very complex and multifaceted task. As the children grow and challenging situations arise, one has to keep readjusting one's priorities and coming up with practical solutions for the family to continue functioning at its' best. As much as we might want it, it's not always possible to do it all, or to do it all right away or to do it all without help. As my husband once pointed out to me, that as the family and the accompanying responsibilities grow, there is still only one of you, so something has to give. As the person grows up, he or she begins to realize that one has to make choices, that there are limitations on one's time, energy level, financial resources, etc. There is no need for parents to feel guilty about being human and it's good for children to learn to respect that their parents are people and have needs too. Every family has to make the adjustments and arrangements that are right for them. Just like people are different, family dynamics are different and therefore they will need different things. There is no one solution that will work for everyone at all times. One has to play it by ear, such is the nature of this most difficult (and most rewarding) job.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

A barbecue for breakfast

The mornings are pretty cold now and this one was no exception. So I guess the kids decided to inject some summer spirit into it. There were plans made for an early morning imaginary barbecue. Shopping lists were meticulously put together and the quantities needed were discussed in detail(Do you think eight grills would be enough? And don't for get those black things for making the fire). The person in charge of shopping went off to the imaginary store. The menu was the next thing on the agenda. The chief organizers decided on imaginary hot dogs for the main course with imaginary ice cream and roasted marshmallows for dessert. Everyone was in high spirits as the party set out for their early morning celebration. The door bangs and bits of happy conversation and laughter told that everyone was having a wonderful time. But alas all good things must come to an end and soon there were non-imaginary matters to attend to. Imaginary breakfast only fills you up that much so a non-imaginary one had to be eaten. Imaginary finery is good for imaginary barbecues but some real clothes had to be put on. Non-imaginary parents insisted that non-imaginary beds had to be made for the morning to commence properly.
But who would let such mundane trivialities dampen one's spirits? So with a shrug and farewell hug they were off to discharging their morning duties and getting on with the activities for the day.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Feeling crafty?

Every now and then, I feel this itch to make something.  The internet is full of great projects.  There are really too many to try but here are a few interesting ones.
Mobiles and Wind chimes - a collection of very creative crafts from Crafty Crow, I am particularly taken with the xylophone wind chime idea.
Young Craftsman - a vintage collection of over 400 projects form Popular Mechanics, very cool stuff.
Here is a what looks like a very neat t-shirt dying craft idea, there is more good science stuff there as well.
This link is not craft related, but it's for very nice english grammar learning program and I think one can use this program with books of one's choosing, using the examples of the kind of questions that are asked. Thanks to Frugalhomeschooling blog where I've been discovering lots of good links.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The winter of our contentment

At last winter has arrived.  The long awaited for rains are finally here.  I love rain and I love winter.  I love grey.  I love the contemplative mood that this kind of weather always inspires in me.  I love the ethereal grey white light that seems to fill the world during winter.  It's nice to be safe and warm inside with the winds howling and the rain beating against the window panes.  It's nice to put on the warm winter clothes. To bundle up everyone in their winter regalia. I love fat little legs in tights.  I love the cheeky  faces peeking out of hats and hoods. To read books together and do indoor things.  The smell of rain and winter always gets me somewhat nostalgic.  It brings back so many sweet memories.  Waking up as a child and looking through a frosted window to see the world all covered in white.  The fall leaves.  The new begginning of another school year.  Going to class. Looking through library stacks.  Being lost in a book and in my dreams. Going home to a nice warm home in the end of the day. Walking through the dark, wet , sparkly streets.  Starting out our married life.  Our first apartment.  Setting up shop.  And on and on. Oh that smell of late fall and winter.  But I digress.  In Israel there is really no fall as such, we kind of go from summer straight into winter, which makes it even more special for me. Rain is a sign of blessing and it's a good time to pray for all our needs.  Torah is also often compared to water.   We could all use more blessing in our lives and we all need physical and spiritual sustanance.  So here is to the winter of our contentment. 

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Interesting stuff

We are attempting to work out various technical issues with our internet so here are a few interesting things until I can get together a decent post.
A very important article about watching what your kids are reading and interesting social commentary about literature and society
I went to a women's event from our shul last night, part of the evening were various drama improvisation games.  It was really fantastic and so creative, so I figured it would be a nice something to do with the children as well.  Good idea for parties too so here are some links for drama improvisations games.
Creative drama lessons for kids

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Battle plans

In today's world it has become unfashionable to fight a good fight, let alone win it.  People who fight their enemies are routinely portrayed as aggressors and the real aggressors are routinely turned into victims.  "Soft power" is supposed to be a solution to all of  live's problems.  Heaven forfend should one actually stand up for one's principles instead of discarding them as an old pair of shoes when they are no longer convenient.   One is supposed to fight wars with the chief aim of protecting one's enemy from harm while disregarding the needs and rights of one's own population.  I will not belabor the point.  Plenty has been written on the subject and one sees this kind of totally inverted thinking every day.  Just when one thinks that the previous day's travesty can't be topped, once again one is proven wrong.  Really the world we live in is supposed to be a metaphor for our inner spiritual world, but just from observation, a person living today, who is not prone to deep thought or introspection will get a totally skewed perception of reality both inner and outer.  Rabbi Chaim Moshe Luzzatto, the Ramchal, who lived in the 1700s, writes that really all of us are cast in the role of soldiers and all our lives until the moment we leave this world we fight  battles with our Yeitzer, the evil inclination that tries to ensnare us at every turn.  That is how we grow.  Not only are we expected to fight, we are expected to win. I just read a wonderful book by Rebbetzin Tzipporah Heller and Sara Yocheved Rigler called Battle Plans, which uses this metaphor to explain how the Yeitzer operates and offers strategies based on Torah teachings of the Ramchal, the Maharal, the Mussar greats, etc. for fighting and winning our battles.   It's full of great explanations and practical examples and suggestions.  Winning a war takes courage and perseverance, it takes planning and thought.  One wins wars by defeating the enemy, it's true in our internal battles and   it's true in life.  No amount of soft power will convince your enemy to change course, only decisive victory will.  One achieves peace by defeating the enemy, period. Today, it's considered old fashioned and oh so unenlightened.  It's a shame that such simple truths are so hard to accept in today's day and age but we have no choice but to press valiantly forth and hold our own in the world that seems so insane so often.  Luckily it's G-d that runs the world and not the selfdeluded lovers of soft power and false peace.  And luckily we have the Torah to provide guidance for us and reassure us of what the right perspective should be.  Failure is not an option, our future in this world and the next depends on it.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

On the Yahrtzeit of Rachel Imeinu -11 Heshvan

I just came back from some lectures in honor of the Yahrtzeit of Rachel Imeinu.  It was  very inspirational.  To summarize very briefly, our matriarch Rachel  teaches us about self-sacrifice and seeing the bigger picture beyond the here and now.  That we have to see the ultimate destination while we are taking the small steps and getting ourselves ready.  We can't get distracted by everyday living from seeing the big picture and we have to build ourselves into the kind of people that live with this kind of reality.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Random interesting links

Here are a few links of interest.

Art - a ton of art projects
History History Guide -A guide to learning and teaching history
Crafts- Coffee painting- what a great idea
Decorating ideas -A gentle makeover-  Really cute ideas for home decorating and a quilting project
Math- Mathematics Enhancement Programme a whole math curriculum available online- looks interesting
Science - Life Science, etc. for kids-

To be continued

We've been somewhat under the weather here, hence not much writing has been happening.  Hopefully, we''ll be back in business soon.  Until then here is a nice song:)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

War and Peace

This morning the sounds of battle to come were in the air,  as pajama clad generals set up their troops and organized their equipment.  For a moment there I though it will be a peaceful morning.  But as the saying goes, if you want peace prepare for war.  Before long there were wild shrieks coming from the direction of the living room.  It sounded like there was a different battle taking place, this one off the official battlefield.  Suddenly an incensed young gentleman materialized next to my bed, "Mommy, he says he won already and we didn't even get to have a war yet, I want to continue playing."  I couldn't get a word in edgewise as each side presented its grievances and asserted its rights,very loudly.  Eventually an unhappy ceasefire was brokered. I thought that  peace has been restored, but alas it was short lived indeed.  Next thing I knew, there was the incensed young warrior back again.  "What is it now?" I inquired casually.  "You gave him clean socks, but they are MY socks".  Round two.  So we were back to calming everyone down, finding lost socks,  organizing a fair sock exchange, inquiring what exactly happened to all those pairs of socks I just bought before Succos and why only one of each pair has ended up in the laundry while the other was still at large somewhere AWOL. Oy.  Finally an agreement was  reached, from now on Mommy would hold on to all clean socks and one could only be given a new clean pair when a complete dirty pair was turned in.  The terms of the agreement were deemed equitable by both sides.  Crisis averted.  A victory for diplomacy? I didn't have time to pat myself on the back.  The incensed one was back again.  "He has my yarmulka, I only let him have it for Rosh Chodesh, it's not Rosh Chodesh any more."  I couldn't argue with that point and so we were back on the battlefield, explaining what fair play was, how to treat and not to treat one's brother,  what language is and is not acceptable.  Again, after some time,  peace was restored.  They got dressed, ate breakfast and were off to school, still in one piece, still on amicable terms.   They fought, they made up and they moved on. It's true, they are still young but as parents  we have to teach them how to navigate the battlefield that life often is, how to fight a good fight and how to pick their battles, so they could emerge victorious in the end in the truest sense of the word.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The art of crafts

I've been randomly looking through my books looking for project ideas to do with the kids, so I picked up One-to-One by Gareth Lewis.  I happen to really like that book and its' sequel Unqualified Education.  Even though I disagree with the author's outlook on life and his take on some things , the books are full of great observations and practical advice on education in general  and  teaching many subjects and skills in particular.  So today I was reading the section on crafting and the author points out that  making things (he suggest that craft projects should be used to make useful things)  helps children put material things in proper context and helps them sort out in their mind what kind of things they like and what's important to them which in turn helps deflect the onslaught of consumerism.  I think it's an interesting idea.  It does look like making something gives a person a deeper  kind of satisfaction than buying something.  I wonder if the fact that the modern society has moved away from the mode where an average person  has to make things has to do with such overwhelming materialism sometimes?  But I digress.  I was looking at some really stunning paintings by a Norwegian artist I've never heard of until today, quite breathtaking really and it reminded me of something.  I suddenly found myself remembering my art class in college, many moons ago.  It was a beginning painting class and the professor, whose name escapes me right now, had an interesting technique for helping students to paint.   There were a few projects that semester.  The first one was to cut out some pictures from magazines and make a collage. Then using carbon paper he had us trace our collage onto  painting board and paint it from the picture.  The second project was to choose a painting we liked, again make a photocopy and trace that onto the painting surface and then paint by looking at the reproduction.  The third project was to do a self portrait from a photograph using the same technique as above.  It was really a brilliant approach because it freed the students from worrying about the quality of their drawing skills and allowed them to concentrate on painting itself.  I think the same technique could be used with children, especially those that tend to get stuck due to perfectionism or lack of skill and introduce them to the joy of painting .   It's a good and very hands-on way to introduce them to different artists or schools of art as well.  You can even tie this in with history.  But back to the mechanics.  These days you could just make a clear black and white photocopy if you want to avoid the tracing part even though tracing happens to be  good practice for hand-eye coordination and strengthening hand muscles for kids that need it.  But this is an art project so one should stick to art, I suppose and leave tracing for a different activity such as writing practice.  I really should be doing more painting, so maybe I'll do this project together with the kids:)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

So how is the weather?

We are still experiencing a major heat wave.  The weather feels more like July rather than October.  But hopefully rain is on the way and the whole country is eagerly awaiting its arrival.  So weather has been on my mind.  I also noticed that yesterday the ever present ants have vanished from the scene suddenly.  So that got me thinking.  Meteorology is a very interesting subject with lots of educational possibilities.  Young children are naturally fascinated with different weather phenomena.  So teaching about climates and weather is a good introduction to the world of nature and the study of science.  Weather is something that lends itself to easy observation so there are plenty of things to do with kids.  So a parent can draw the child's attention to what's happening outside, to temperature, to precipitation or lack there of, the color of the sky and the cloud formations, the presence and the direction of the wind, to how different animals, insects and plants react to different atmospheric conditions, etc.  One can also talk about the seasons,  agriculture,  the difference of climates in various geographic locations, how people predicted and dealt with different types of weather in the past and  how it's done today, how to read weather maps and more.  So here are a few interesting links that could help you explore the subject. - a website with a lot of great information about meteorology with lots of great links for more weather and science resources
Animal behavior and weather - very interesting
How to predict weather by observing nature
Some great weather projects to try

Monday, October 19, 2009

On the face of it

Here is an easy and versatile project that I've made by myself and with my kids. It's also a great gift idea. I was inspired by a project I once saw for making a personalized clock out of a frisbee and it gave me an idea, why not use a clock I already have and personalize it in some way?  Most clocks' faces, at least the cheap varieties', could be easily accessed by taking out a few screws in the back and then the sky and your imagination are the limit. You can use family photos to cover some of the numbers, or cover the numbers with hebrew letter to make a jewish clock, you can write anything you like on the clock face, use any pictures or stickers or anything at all that has some significance for the recipient. Here are two examples of the clocks we made. Enjoy! For some reason the pictures keep uploading sideways, I'll see if I can fix that, but until then it will still give you the general idea:)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Show me the wood

After yet another plastic toy bit the dust, I started thinking about wooden toys again, that is about making some myself. The truth be told, I've wanted to try my hand at woodworking for some years now. I think that making toys would also be good practice for those woodworking skills without it being too overwhelming. Commercially available wooden toys tend to be very nice but very expensive(such as these for example) even though if you would add up all the money spent on plastic toys over the years I would venture to say that it would make sense to maybe invest some money into buying a few good quality wooden toys that would last instead of the endless parade of plastic that doesn't. There is definitely something to be said for quality workmanship, for something that is made with love and care, for something that lasts. And it doesn't have to be too complicated, with some wood and some basic tools you can make some really neat things. So here is a link for some plans for making wooden toys. There seems to be a lot of creative potential here as well as educational one. I think the kids might really enjoy it as a project, now I just have to figure out the logistics.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Youthful exuberance

They were young and energetic. In fact, they weren't quite sure what they should do with all that energy. All they knew that some unknown force was propelling them to wake up at 5:30 in the morning. Now what? Sometimes there was a project to be finished from the night before. Perhaps they should play something? What about some Simchas Torah reenactment, complete with energetic singing and dancing? Or maybe they should press the buttons on the new telephone/answering machine, they really liked the electronic voice announcing that indeed there were no new messages. How about banging their bedroom door open and closed over and over again, while attempting to keep some siblings in and some definitely out? Homework? Not such an appealing option. How about a good fight? Let's see who should be started up with next. What should they bicker about today? Whose turn to take the baby out of the crib (she must be a light sleeper if she can't sleep through all this ruckus)? Maybe they should play another game now, the wilder and louder the better. What's wrong with that clock anyway, it's way too slow, it's still not even 6:30. So, how about that game? Nah, much better to go and see if they could manage to get one of the parents up. Not such an easy task that. Why are these parents always so reluctant to abandon their cherished slumber, don't they know there is the whole world waiting out there? They took turns trying to think up most original and innovative ways to accomplish their goal. Sometimes it was a group project. Most often success and victory were theirs. At times, they've made up their mind to be very virtuous and truly were model children, siblings and citizens. On those days, they were constructively occupied, kept fights to a necessary minimum, took care of their siblings, got ready without being prompted and let their parents sleep for 10 or even 15 extra minutes. But perfection is often an elusive goal, acquired slowly and with effort; there is only that long one could be virtuous without slipping up here and there, when one is well, young and energetic. And so it went, day in and day out as they danced, sang, fought and played their way towards the future and adulthood.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The goings on

This week has been basically dedicated to getting everyone back into the routine, washing the sky high pile of laundry accumulated from yom tov and getting organized for this season of "mommy schooling".  It's been  very hot this week, hopefully the summer's last hurrah before the coming rain season. As the result,  there's been plenty of opportunities for indoor activities such as rearranging furniture, cleaning up, cooking and doing art projects together in between  other things.  I've been rereading some of my teaching and homeschooling books.  I like to do that from time to time, because as children get bigger and their abilities, skills and interests change and develop, some subjects and projects which before were not relevant suddenly become relevant  so we can try learning and doing new things.  The plan for now is to continue to work on phonics, mental arithmetic, writing practice and elementary grammar, as well as more geography , looking at maps and globe, plenty of art and other projects and of course read read read about all kinds of things. We are thinking of starting music lessons for the big ones too.   I'd like to also start doing some more formal learning with the younger set , they would probably really enjoy it and feel very important.    Meanwhile, here are a few interesting things I've discovered  that might be of interest. - lots and lots of interesting stuff for all subjects - a ton of art lessons and projects, great when you need a project to do in a hurry - I haven't had the time to look at this site extensively but it has some interesting history and science stuff - you can make your own worksheets for handwriting practice on this site
There are many audiobooks for children online and quite a few sites that are free such as , and that might be interesting  because they have a lot of children's classics in audio but obviously parents have to prelisten to everything to make sure it's appropriate. 
I'll be writing about some of my favorite teaching resources soon, as well as our family favorite picks for good children's books.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Teaching History

I've been trying to formulate my thoughts about the best way to teach history to young children.  So after reading up on the subject for a quite a long time now, I think I am finally getting an overall picture of a good approach.  I've been reading a book by Jacques Barzun, a famous intellectual, who wrote extensively on the subject of good education.   Here are some of his thoughts which are in agreement with the ones I read in a few other books as well. There doesn't seem to be one comprehensive resource for teaching history to kids, they all seem to fall short either in scope or depth.  The reason for this is because history and the forces behind it are very complex and cannot really be taught or understood on one foot especially by a child.  Therefore Barzun suggests (and in general this is the approach taken by Classical Education and to some extant by the Charlotte Mason approach as well) that when children are young one has to concentrate on geography and stories from history to give them a panoramic view which when they are intellectually mature will serve as a framework for them to understand the larger picture by reading and researching history in depth, usually starting in the teenage years.  So when children are young, it's a good idea to read good quality story books with historical themes, as well as animal and plant atlases, to look at maps or a globe, to learn about the diversity of people and climates around the world, teach flag recognition, etc.  Field guides, travel guides and travel diaries could also be very useful.  When you look at it that way, suddenly there are many ways of teaching the subject without feeling like you are trivializing it and not doing it justice.  A jewish parent will still have some homework to do to make sure the materials are appropriate and chances are some modification will be required but this seems to be a good overall direction to follow with history.

Monday, October 12, 2009

More nutrition ruminations, lacto-fermentation and other food links

I've been reading up more on nutrition, the health benefits of lacto-fermented foods such as sauerkraut for example.  I've revisited a cookbook called Cooking the Wholefoods Way that I first checked out of the library something like 8 years ago at least and it suddenly hit me that macrobiotic diet recipes might be very good for my allergic child because they usually don't include dairy or eggs, so that suddenly opened up a lot of cooking possibilities.  My family is generally into soups and with the weather getting colder in the evenings we are full force into the soup season - mushroom barley, cabbage barley, chicken soup in its various incarnations are a few that we've had recently.  I've been looking at some homemade healthy soda recipes and found some quite interesting ones, also for other health drinks that could be made at home.  Some of course we can't make because of the dairy allergies  but maybe you can, so enjoy.
Lacto-fermeted Fizzy Drinks
Soda making at home
Lacto-fermented blueberry soda
Here is something else I would like to try making at home - sour dough bread .
Sour dough bread basics
More sour dough recipes
Some more sour dough recipes
Naturally, you can try making all these things with your kids, that should cover quite a bit of science as well as health and practical skills.

Wine making links

As promised here are a few links for making wines at home.   Have a good time!!!
Beginner wine recipe, plus links to other wine making resources
Mead honey wine recipe
More easy wine recipes includes mead, fruit wines and other exciting possibilities>
Another easy homemade wine recipe

Wine Wisdom

I like to experiment and make different things at home.  I have been thinking of trying to make wine at home for a long time, but the books I've looked at made it sound somewhat complicated and it sounded like you would need all kinds of special equipment so I kind of put it on the back burner, that is until now.  Over Succos we were visiting my husband's grandparents and while we were there our grandfather showed us his shack where he keeps his homemade wine and described the process he uses which he learned from his late father-in-law the last Rabbi of Babruisk.  It sounded very simple, didn't require any special equipment and so of course I got interested.  Our grandfather uses emply 1.5 L soda bottles which he washes carefully, he perforates the top so the bottle wouldn't explode while the wine is fermenting, he fills the bottle almost to capacity with grapes, with a funnel puts in about 100gr of sugar, shakes it around a bit and then lets it sit for about 5-6 month in a dark place.  That's it.  After that the wine is strained into a glass bottle (usually a recycled wine bottle with a cork)  using a collander and a piece of cloth.   After that you can continue to age the wine for as long as you like or just use it.  He's been doing it for years. Sound's very promising doesn't it?  Anyhow, there is a ton of information on the web about home wine making and loads of recipes so hopefully I'll be posting some links in the near future.  Enjoy!!!


It's been a lovely, lovely holiday season.  It was busy and hectic but also very happy and joyous for most part.  The weather was beautiful and mostly rainfree.  There were family get togethers with local and overseas relatives. Times spent together looking at old family photos, reminiscing and catching up.  There was a lot of cooking, cleaning and eating.  Lots of reading of stories, conversations and playing.  It was mostly a time of informal learning and just enjoying being together without necessarily doing anything extraordinary.  The kids were first busy helping build the sukkah, then decorating, then eating, playing and sleeping outside. They really enjoyed going on excursions to visit their great grandparents, great aunt and uncle and various cousins and also having their grandmother visit from the US.  There was the shul simchas beis hashoeiva complete with a juggler and unicyclist show for the kids which  they were enthralled with and tried to replicate in part the next day.  So there was plenty of excitement.  In between all of this, I had plenty of ideas for various posts but unfortunately not much time to write, so now I have at least a week and a half worth of writing to do.  It's such a beautiful time of the year when we really take ourselves outside of the regular routine to inspire and orient ourselves as to our priorities before we settle in for the winter and the rest of the year. Now the holidays are over and it's time to implement our plans and resolutions for the year ahead, but instead of taking ourselves outside, now we take what we learned outside back in with us.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Nutrition Confusion

For years I've been reading books and articles on nutrition and for years I was trying to get a clear idea of what constitutes an optimal healthy diet. One would think it should be simple enough to find an answer to this question. Yet there are so many schools of thought on the subject, varying in their degree of radicalism, that to find a straight answer is quite a daunting task. I was also looking for something that could be reasonably implemented in an average household, that went well with and didn't contradict the Torah ideology and was based on sound evidence. So here are the conclusions on the principles of good nutrition in a nutshell and hopefully I'll come back to this topic in the future. A)It's important what you eat - your food choices and the quality of food B)It's also important what you don't eat - sometimes just removing some foods from your diet, even if you don't change anything else makes a tremendous difference C)It's important how much you eat - I just read in an interesting book the Life-Transforming Diet that sometimes even if you eat the "wrong" food but in the "right" quantities it doesn't affect you adversely D)Sometimes it's also important when you eat - what food to eat and in which combinations and how heavy or light the meal should be in the particular time of day. The benefits of proper nutrition are many. Good health, longevity, high energy level and self-discipline are just a few. But even from the educational point of view, it's important to give our children a good foundation for life both physically and emotionally. To teach them the basics of good nutrition, to appreciate the intricacy of the design of the human body, how to relate to food in a healthy way, how to exercise self-control and the health and medicinal properties of various foods. Having a child with allergies brings all of the above into sharper focus for me. I really learned to appreciate food as medicine, because due to many sensitivities my son often does better with natural rather than conventional medicines. Here are a few books I found particularly helpful and informative.
Life-Transforming Diet by David J. Zulberg - a really interesting book on health and nutrition based on traditional jewish thought and the teachings of the Rambam.
Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon- a cookbook with a lot of interesting information based on the research of Weston Price who went around the world to discover what an optimal diet should be.
Gentle Healing for Baby and Child by Andrea Candee

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Yom Kipur inspirations

Here is a wonderful short video about the meaning and power of Yom Kippur. A nice thought on tshuva for mothers, an article to make Yom Kipur prayers more meaningful and a beautiful song. Have a G'mar chasima tova, may we all be sealed for a truly GOOD year!!!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Some preschool links

Generally the preschool years don't require too much formal instruction. However early childhood education is very important because it sets the foundation for all the future learning that a child will do. It also sets the foundation psychologically and emotionally and will effect the child's outlook on life, so it's crucial for parents to invest a lot of effort at this time in their child's development. Most of the learning at this stage takes place just doing the regular everyday things. And many basic skills are learned just fine through interaction with parents, siblings and friends, through a lot of play, through reading and discussing, looking closely and analyzing what one sees. Children develop and mature at different rates so instruction of any sort has to be appropriate for the particular child. But with a lot of love, patience, flexibility and enthusiasm, a tremedous amount could be accomplished during this stage. Here are a few links with some useful stuff for preschoolers. -lots of worksheets, games, crafts and more for young children - a preschool curriculum with lots of interesting things, I really like the journal section. There are also good ideas for introducing science and history among other things. - more stuff for teaching basic skills

The Bris

Yesterday I went to my nephew's bris. It was a beautiful family event and it brought back many memories of brisim past, particularly that of my firstborn. I remember the vulnerability of new motherhood, the roller coaster of emotions and the intense love I felt for this tiny human being that I was finally privileged to meet. I remember how I felt I just couldn't get enough of my baby, how I wanted to just bottle up all the sweetness of those new beginnings, to keep it with me forever and ever, to capture it in all its' pristine and fathomless beauty. And then I thought about the most beautiful baby card I ever received. It was kind of plain looking without smiling fat babies or booties and such on top, on the front in old- fashioned type a list appeared. It read "so sweet, so cute, so cuddly, so soft, so wonderful" and then you opened the card and in the same type it read "and yours." Then the giver of the card wrote that he hoped that we would always remember and feel the same love for our baby as he grows as we felt when he was new and small. I still have this card somewhere and I have this warm feeling whenever I think of it. The road we take as parents is often not smooth, there are many bumps and twists and turns and we need this love, that we feel so strongly for our children to keep us from going off track into places we don't want to go as we raise our kids. It's also very relevant when we talk about the bris, the covenant, that we make with Hashem. I used to wonder why the Torah talks about our relationship with Hashem as a covenant so much. Why so much emphasis on the covenantal nature of our relationship? Then it occurred to me that perhaps it's to impress upon us the strength of the relationship and the obligations that come with it. When we forge a relationship like that, it's not a contract that could be terminated at will, we pledge to cherish the relationship and all it stands for, to be loyal, to do everything to nurture and improve the relationship, to make it better as time goes by, to live up to our obligations, to go the extra mile. It's not surprising that marriage is also referred to as a covenant. But I think our relationship with our children is also a covenant. May we stay true to this covenant and may the special love that we feel for our children propel us further and higher in our mission as parents, our relationship with our children and each other and of course our relationship with Hashem Himself.

Songs of hope, optimism and faith

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Artistic musings

Art presents a special challenge to a Jewish parent. Mostly it's the issue of tznius (modesty). The Jewish idea of what's appropriate, even for art and self expression purposes, is very different from that of the secular world. There is also the issue of shmiras einaim, being careful not to look at things that are spiritually detrimental to one's soul, which is at least as important as eating kosher food. There are a few reasons though why teaching art is important. First, there are the technical aspects, of which there are many, that develop many practical skills that could be later applied, transferred or combined with other disciplines. Secondly, it teaches one to pay attention to detail and beauty in the world. Thirdly, a beautiful piece of art has a potential to be as moving and inspirational as a piece of music or a poem. Finally, it allows the individuals with artistic inclinations, latent or otherwise to develop their creativity. However, as far as I have seen there is no one art program or package that could be used by a religious Jew without modifications. So it's up to the parent or a teacher to come up with appropriate materials and present them to the student in a proper way. Luckily there are many sources of artwork available on the Internet (reproductions that could be bought or printed out) so one can pick and choose and select what is appropriate. Post cards and art from calendars or old books can also be used. One can even use picture book illustrations to explain various elements of art. For the Charlotte Mason system fans, picture study is a good way to introduce students to art. From the Montessori crowd, the idea of utilizing child sized masterpieces also offers a good way to introduce art. The book, Mommy It's a Renoir or How to use child sized masterpieces by Aline Wolf, explains the details (the books with the actual postcards are not all Jewish child friendly so you are better off making your own selections). As for the technical aspects there are myriads of books available on all different types of art, one just has to pay attention and make the necessary modifications. For the Jewish parent teaching art is more of a practical matter rather than cultural, even though some art can be taught in its historical context. There are also ways to combine art with teaching science and math or foreign language. Also, art could be a practical skill that could be used effectively in many venues in the home or otherwise. Art is a subject that could incorporated in home learning in many, many ways. It's also something that parents and children can do together. So if you or your child are artistic or like art, make it a part of your home education.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Taking control

Recently, I read a few great articles about how keeping a personal journal and writing in general can increase self-awareness and with proper introspection can help one do tshuva. It is something that has been used and recommended by the mussar greats. But journal keeping and letter writing are not just for the giants. In fact, it used to be widely practiced by many regular folks in the past. However, with the advent of modern technology these practices are unfortunately in danger of becoming a lost art. There are social,spiritual and sociological ramifications to this state of affairs as well. So here is an article by Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblum about how the modern media overload has a tendency to take over our lives and how to regain control.

Toys, games and children, oh my.

Children learn through play, it's their equivalent of work. So play is very important for children and by extension their parents. I think every parent has his take on the subject of toys. Most would complain that they have way too many and even with many years of experimentation they are yet to find an effective way to store toys and keep them organized. So here are my two cents worth. I like toys that are multifunctional, open ended and most importantly relatively indestructible. I don't like toys that require batteries, toys that make noise and toys that break within one hour or less of purchase. My kids are still young, so we hadn't had much luck with board games (the competitiveness gets out of hand) or puzzles (they enjoy them but inevitably after one use the pieces get lost). I found that push and ride-on toys are a good investment for children of all ages. My kids found only limited use for the myriads of stuffed toys that they have. For the kids that like to build various wooden blocks have been much loved and well used as were other building sets like Lego's and Clicks (most ended up cracked or lost though). Craft supplies are always welcome here.They like coloring books and other variations there of such as stained glass like coloring sheets. They like to dress up and play games that don't require any specialized equipment. There are many games that could be played with a ball. Everyone here likes swings and seesaws in their various incarnations. It was useful to have a few rattles for the babies. Pop-up toys were liked by all in their time. A pail and shovel and other sand toys are good and could always transition into bath toys. For years one of my son's favorite toys was an old broken down toy garage left behind by the previous tenants. He colored it with crayons, festooned it with masking or scotch tape, covered it with contact paper, etc, he pretended it was a million different things. Otherwise they like to make up their own games, load their play bags with books and other things, the couch becomes a bus and off they go to where their fancy will take them. Hobby horses were also popular at one point, otherwise they ride the sponja sticks or other sticks or chairs. They like to make play houses and tents and we made and tried various over the years. All of them had a nook or a cabinet or a shelf that they liked to climb into at different stages. They all like dolls and we've made some and bought some. They like to listen to music and stories on tape/CD. We have lots of children's books to read and look at. I'll write more on children's books later. But mostly they've been pretty happy with whatever was handy and available around the house more so than what has been bought in the store. I try to get educational materials but not every toy or thing I've ever bought has been an unqualified success. As far as storage is concerned I found that big and shallow works better than anything else, so they could see what's inside the box and there is a lot of surface area for easy clean up. So most of the time there is no need to spend a small(or big)fortune on toys, lots of things can be gotten secondhand, some things could be made at home, you can swap with friends and family. Some toys are worth buying and are a good investment for years of happy playing. Like everything else, it takes trial and error and trying to take the long view as opposed to impulse buying helps one make good decisions when it comes to toys.

The Holiday Chronicles

I really love holidays in Israel. The holiday spirit is all around you, especially in the religious neighborhoods. One can feel the excitement when everyone is shopping for yom tov, everyone is buying honey, everyone is building a
sukkah, when the arba minim sale signs are all around the neighborhood and parking lots sprout piles of lumber and sukkah decorations appear in all the stores including the supermarkets. When you are so immersed in it, it's harder
to let the holidays pass you by without leaving some sort of an impact. It's really special to be surrounded by uniquely Jewish things and to live with the jewish calendar and to realize that your life has taken on a purely Jewish
rhythm and you suddenly feel disoriented and bewildered when a relative from overseas talks about Labor Day or other legal holidays which are no longer relevant to your reality. When Sunday is a regular work day like any other, when all the offices are open and kids have school and the words "holiday season" mean something entirely different from what they mean in the US. So here we are, 5770. It was a beautiful holiday. The kids were very excited about all the interesting simanim. Some got to go to shul and participate for the first time. We took care to decorate the table in the extra special way. The dual nature of the day with its' seriousness on one hand with the excitement and sweet anticipation on the other hand. Reflection and prayer intertwined with children's play. Inspiring speeches and the raw sounds of the shofar blasts. The special High Holidays tunes. Delicious meals with family and friends and the normal ups and downs of trying to feel the spiritual energy of the day while cleaning up and breaking up squabbles. Even the weather kept switching from sunny and hot to breezy and overcast, to sometimes rainy (highly unusual for this time of the year here). Trying to think of resolutions for the new year while dealing with ear aches and rumbling tummies. Going to the park, wishing everyone you know a shana tova, answering amen to all the new year's wishes and blessings you get in return. The holiday itself is a good metaphor for one's spiritual journey, sometimes you feel on top of the world and sometimes you are gripped by fear and despair and feelings of inadequacy. Did I try hard enough? What do I want to accomplish in the coming year? Were my mistakes so bad? Were my good deeds really that good? What can I contribute to the Jewish people? How can I change in a meaningful way? It's a time of love. It's a time of Judgement. Is it the direction that's important? How about the individual triumphs and slip ups? What about the Jewish people? What about the ones that are lonely, hurting, lost?What about the ones who don't even realize they are lost? What about all of us? What about Hashem? What would he like for us to do today? What will it take to finally get things right in the cosmic, global sense? How about on the personal level, what will it take? One can't look into the future, but no matter what the year will bring, in many ways it's been a good Rosh Hashana.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Paper craft ideas

Paper is a very versatile medium and easily available too. So here are a few paper craft links and ideas .
Some Origami projects
Coloring Pages
Paper dolls - there are many many available online if you do a google search but some have to be adjusted for tznius
Paper toys - this is just one link, I'll try to post more later
Paper Quilling or Filagree - you can make some really amazing stuff with this relatively simple techniques. Here is one example of what could be done.
Make your own board games

Rosh Hashana Reflections

It's been quite a busy week and still there is a lot to do before Rosh Hashana arrives tomorrow night. I think I could use another few weeks of Elul:) Baking honey and apple cakes and thinking about holiday menues meshes with thoughts of tshuva and what is really at stake. The list of all the people and things to pray for is quite long. General reflection is so necessary but so difficult when we are so caught up in the business of living. I just read a beautiful thought from Rabbi Lazer Brody, thet there is no double jeopardy in the Heavenly court, if we take the time to judge ourselves and commit to necessary changes there is no need for the Heaven to impose it on us from above. Elul is a special time of love, when Hashem so to speak comes down to us and it makes tshuva more accessible. After Rosh Hashana it's more like a King sitting on His throne so the relationship is a little different. We have to seize the day. We all have our struggles, we all have needs, we all know people who need something be it shiduchim, parnassah, children, help raising the children in the right way. We all know people or of people who were here last Rosh Hashana but are no longer in this world today. There is a lot to pray for on the personal and national front. So let's use what remains of Elul wisely. Hashem should grant us all a sweet, healthy, prosperous and peaceful year. Shana Tova U 'mevorechet, may we finally see the geula shleima b'karov!!!

Two beautiful tshuva songs

He is bored. Really?

We are often very influenced by our preconceived notions about life, even without realizing it. So when I hear parents say that their child is bored and they have to find something for their kids to do or find them a place to go, I often wonder if the parent is really the one who is feeling bored. I think boredom in general is a social construct. Little kids have no such concept unless it's taught to them. Take a little kid and let him out into a relatively unkempt backyard without swings or fancy toys. Without any prompting, most of the time he will find plenty to do to keeep himself occupied for hours on end. Chances are he'll be digging and raking and making mud pies. Touching everything in sight. He'll invent new uses for half broken toys or implements. He'll collect flowers, chase butterflies, look closely at all the little critters, collect stones, make up games or just plain enjoy the sun on his face and the wind in his hair. He'll be thrilled just to be outdoors. Little children generally find plenty to do, in fact that's exactly what often drives their parents to distraction. Children naturally have a feeling that the world is such a beautiful and exciting place with endless possibilities. We as parents have to reinforce this outlook as they grow. So the statement "I have nothing to do" is factually incorrect. There is always something to do. The options might not always be equally appealing but they are there nonetheless. We have to teach our children to use their time constructively, to find solutions, to think creatively and not get used to wasting or wiling their time away. It's important to try and teach them good habits while they are young so it will benefit them throughout their lifetime. So next time your kid complains that he is bored and he has nothing to do, start him on the road to meaningful and mindful living.

Don't worry be happy - the jewish version

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Need more inspiration for the holidays?

I went to a fantastic lecture last night by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller on Finding your true self through Koheles. It was about thinking of what you want to be on the last day, chosing your struggles and working towards spiritual goals so our lives are not lived in vain at any stage of living. There are many of her lectures, as well as lectures by other inspirational speakers available online at Another good link with articles and lectures on jewish topics is Enjoy!!!

The Age of Innocence

When I was small my world was a a relatively safe place. As far as I was concerned most people had stable home lives and happy marriages, if people died it was of old age and if there were tragedies for most part they were outside my immediate circle. I am not sure whether it was due to a natural self-centeredness of children or the conscious effort of my parents to shield us from the harsh realities of adult life but it ensured us a happy and secure childhood. I think it's important to give the children a sense of stability and security in order for them to grow and learn about the world unencumbered by adult problems and emotions that they are noy yet mature enough to assimilate. I believe we should be honest with kids and explain things to them, but on the level they are capable of understanding without unduly traumatizing them. Some information has to be on per need basis only. When the last wide scale operation in Gaza was taking place my older ones had lots of questions because they knew something was happening, what with the military aircraft flying overhead and practice air raid drills and kids talking in school. We answered their questions very matter of factly without scaring them too much. So once I had this really detailed conversation with one of my sons, he had a million questions abot war, missles, Arab-Israeli conflict, etc. After 20 minutes of this he said but Gaza isn't so close to us and then just ran off to play. That's the way kids are. They process all the information but with firm defense mechanisms in place. Let them stay innocent for a while, there is no rush to make them grow old before their time without need. Let them be carefree for now, they'll have plenty of opportunities to see the other side of life when they are bigger and more capable of handling it.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The project that folded

Today's project was not the greatest success as far as kid interest is concerned but something good still came out of it. I was showing them a fancy origami napkin fold called Bird of Paradise from a book called Lifestyle Origami. The kids weren't terribly interested and soon ran off to do their own thing, they were playing a bus trip or something much more exciting. But I learned a new thing and realized that a) with the holidays coming up it might be a useful skill and b) it could be useful to other people so it would make for a good post idea. So here is a a link for fancy napkin folds there are also recipes and housekeeping tips on the same site. So even if this particular project folded (literally in my case) it was still quite useful as it turned out.

All of a kind family

Someone once commented to my husband how all our kids look so different from each other. And not only do they look different on the outside they are different on the inside as well. One loves school and every morning is the one hurrying everyone along to get out of the house ASAP. The other one should have been a poster boy for unschooling, he likes to do his own thing on his own time table. One is a philosopher, one loves to bargain, one likes to cuddle and for one every day is a day of unparalleled naughtiness with a new antic in what feels like every couple of minutes. One needs order and predictability to function. Others like more spontaneity. All have strong personalities and their own opinions about life. All keep us on our toes. As soon as we think we have it all figured out, they change their stripes on us, just to keep things more interesting. I could go on and on. But when that person commented on their differences, one of my sons replied to my husband that just because we are different doesn't mean we are not brothers. There is a really important message in this statement, that is especially important to remember at this time of the year. As much as we are all different and have our individual goals, we are also part of a larger whole. We have to find a modus operandi despite all our differences. And not only that but figure out a way to function well together perhaps even to everyone's greater benefit. We keep telling our kids that we are all born with different strengths and talents as well as our personal weaknesses. We don't all have to be the same, it's not a competition because we are all on the same team. There is no need for strife and jealousy and bitterness. The same is true for the Jewish people. We don't all have to be the same and don't have to always agree on everything. We have to remember that often what we have in common is greater than what divides us. We are really all on the same team. We don't get to chose our family and so we have to find a way to get along, perhaps even to everyone's greater benefit. All parents want their kids to get along, to fight less, to be kind to each other. There are very few things sweeter to a parent than that. When there is love and unity in the family, good things happen. Hashem too wants us to try and get along, to be kinder to each other, to fight less and then inevitably good things will happen.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

When blessing rains from heaven

This morning my kids were stuck to the window in great excitement. It was raining. Not just a drop or two either, but the pavement outside was actually wet. It's very unusual for this time of the year in this part of the world. Generally it doesn't rain here till after Succos. But last night was the first night of slichos and right away there was a response from Upstairs. G-d's presence is felt so clearly here in Israel. Rain is a sign of blessing. I read once in a book called In Joy!!! that when it's raining, it's a good time to pray for things because it means the Heaven's treasure houses are open. As Elul the time of special closeness to Hashem winds to an end and the holidays draw closer and the preparations get into high gear it's nice to have this message from Above. To feel Hashem saying that he can't wait to shower us with blessing figuratively and literally if only we make some changes in the right direction. Let this early rain be a harbinger of good year to come.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The tale of the mussar chairs

Two summers ago we really needed to get new chairs because the old ones were literally disintegrating one by one. Every week I found myself borrowing my neighbor's folding chairs. Finally at a moving sale I saw a set that I liked and the price was right. And so we became the proud owners of really beautiful, aristocratic, antique looking chairs. They weren't new but they were lovely and extremely comfortable. Even from a purely aesthetic point of view I was really enjoying these chairs. When a friend of mine saw them she said that I'd better cover them with plastic because the kids will just destroy them in no time but with plastic they can be preserved in all their glory for a long long time. I must say I did entertain the thought for about a minute but then I decided against it. I don't like plastic covered chairs and the kids would be more comfortable without it but the main reason I decided not to was something else. Being human we tend to get attached to our possessions and I wanted to make sure that I should remember that no matter how beautiful and fancy, human beings are more important than chairs. Things, even very beautiful things (and I do love beautiful things) are just that, things. Things are there mostly for a utilitarian purpose, not as a status symbol or a slave driver. It's been over a year and yes these chairs have seen plenty of spills and wild play, they've been through a lot of wear and tear and may be they won't last through the kids' childhood and into my retirement. There will be other chairs and there will be other sales but the kids will only be little once so let them play and spill even if it makes me cringe now and then.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Junior Bakers Assoc.

I am yet to meet a child who wasn't interested in a baking project especially of a sweet nature. So in a pinch, when the familiar voices intone "What's our project for today?" and nothing coherent comes to mind, I just announce "Who wants to bake?". That usually elicits an enthusiastic response in the affirmative and off we go. We usually go for the quick, not too labor intensive variety of baking recipes. So here are two of our recent successes. The first one was a very simple recipe for soft pretzels from the Tightwad Gazette. It was very quick, because it requires no rising despite having yeast in it, which is a definite advantage for junior bakers with many important things to do and places to go. The pretzels could be shaped in any way you fancy, hearts, circles, triangles and of course the traditional pretzel shape. You can also double or more the recipe successfully and when very pressed for time it could be used for challah as well. The final result has a very nice texture reminiscent of a bagel but without having to go through the boiling process. Our next successful experiment was the granola bars recipe from the American Wholefoods Cuisine. Also a very quick one both to mix and to bake. Due to allergies we replaced nuts with sesame seeds, coconut and flax seed which tasted just fine in the final product. Despite its' very healthy makeup it was pronounced a great success, the only complaint being that there wasn't so much of it, so next time I think we should make more. Enjoy!!!

Soft Pretzels

1 pkg yeast
1 1/2 cups water
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp salt
4 cups flour
1 egg for brushing

Bake in preheated oven on 425 degrees for 15 minutes.

I'll need to find the exact recipe for the granola

1 1/2 cups oats
3/4 cup combination of sesame seeds, coconut, flax seed or whatever you want
1/4 cup oil
1/4 cup honey plus molasses to get to 1/3 cup
1/8 tsp salt

mix it all together and bake for 15 minute on 350.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

If I knew then what I know now

Sometimes we look back on some decisions that we've made in the past and we tell ourselves that if we had to do things over again we would do it differently. Looking back at some of the financial decisions we have made as newlyweds setting up shop, I can't help thinking that if only I knew then what I know now, I would do it differently. But I guess you live and learn, right? So here is the great truth that I've discovered some time down the line and that is that most(not all but most) material possessions worth acquiring are worth acquiring used i.e. secondhand. Secondhand living saves a lot of money, is often good for the environment, and improves the quality of life by freeing resources for living the life you really want to live. Paradoxically, you often end up with a better quality product secondhand than you would be able to buy firsthand. Furniture, clothing, baby equipment, books etc. are all available secondhand from different sources and the internet makes it easier than ever as well. In most places there are all kinds of sources of secondhand goods one just has look for them. Library book sales, garage, yard and moving sales are some. Some places have secondhand furniture stores as well. Consignment stores(you have to look though because some could be quite expensive) and other secondhand clothing stores could save you a fortune when outfitting your family. Here in Israel there are many Gemachs that sell wonderful clothes in excellent condition sometimes for the equivalent of garage sale prices but even if it costs a little more, it's still way below retail and the quality is great so you really get a good value for your money. Same for various household things. Most of the time buying secondhand beats any sales price one would get in the store. Secondhand living can relieve the financial pressure that many people are feeling especially in today's day and age. It can make living on one income possible. It can develop your creativity. Perhaps it's not everyone's cup of tea. I am not saying one should never buy anything new. But even new things lose their newness pretty quickly so is it really worth the price? But I think the most important benefit of secondhand shopping is that it puts materialism in proper perspective psychologically. It's possible to waste money on secondhand purchases of course but it's harder to sink into unbridled materialism. In the world we live in it's not as common to find people who usually pay cash for things instead of using credit cards or save up money until they are able to purchase the things they really want, who make do with less for some future benefit. It's difficult for people today to resist the urge for instant gratification. But by spending less on material things perhaps it will help us think along the lines of more responsible spending and of what is really important in life. And hopefully set a good example for our children so they could grow up with a healthy attitude towards money.

Some nice craft projects

Here a few really beautiful craft projects from Creative Jewish Mom just in time for the holidays, look under Holidays:Rosh Hashana.

Here is another really nice craft project with lots of creative possibilities from Filth Wizardry.

Happy crafting!!!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Hot Drink Addendum

Here are few more drinks that are very good cold or hot. Milk or soy/rice milk with molasses or with selan(date honey). Another favorite that doubles as medicine here because it stops coughs is grape juice with honey (a teaspoon of honey dissolved in a little bit of hot water with about 8oz. of pure grape juice). Enjoy!!!

Budding builders

This past winter we had a major leak that seeped under the floor and left us with a lot of peeling paint in some parts of the apartment. For various reasons we decided it was impractical to repaint professionally right now so instead this became a project for my budding builders and renovators and me. First we chipped off and cleared away the old paint. The kids really enjoyed this one. Then one night I went online to learn how to plaster walls. So the next day I set off to the local hardware store and got some tools and the plastering mix. The kids were giddy with excitement. They felt very important and grown up. And so the renovation got underway. It wasn't terribly messy and the materials were actually very cheap. With help the children did quite a fine job with only minor heart attacks on my part. A good time was had by all. The next day I distributed sand paper and the enthusiastic crew sanded away the imperfections from the previous day with great fanfare and gusto (at times too much gusto). The messiest part was getting everyone washed afterwards, especially in their overexcited state. Once again the project dujour was well received. For the next step, I would like to try and make some natural homemade paint and paint the wall. With my allergic child we have to do things in the least chemical and caustic way. The trouble is a lot of homemade paint requires milk and he is really allergic to it. So we have to look for other alternatives. But the possibilities are very exciting. I'll try to post my findings one of these days. My crew is already looking forward. They are still a little young for woodworking but I defintely see some carpentry in our future. I really like these home improvement projects. Perhaps it's just our Zionist urge to build. There is a real satisfaction in doing things yourself. Rather than being a thorn in my side these peeling walls have become a long term project with a lot of potential for teaching and learning not to mention home improvement and quality family time. Insert a happy sigh here:)

More building

Building is often used as metaphor in education. There is a great book on teaching called Growing Minds by Herbert Kohl. It's a great read and while I don't agree with everything he says, it's full of excellent observations on the subject of education and teaching. He writes that his family was in a construction business and he feels that when he chose teaching he really stayed in the family business but instead of working with bricks he was working with children. "All of us are in different stages of completion or renovation, and none of us is ever without the need for some kind of building. A teacher has to become a construction expert, someone who knows how to help draw together skills and resources to create a harmonious functioning whole, or who knows how to renovate a structure that is dysfunctional or damaged." Same for parents. So much of parenting and child development is abour building. Building relationships, building confidence, building skills, building ourselves and helping our children build themselves. So here is to successful building!!!

The Building

Construction has been on my mind a lot lately, especially with the world's unhealthy obsession with Jewish building. We are taught that everything that happens in history is meant as a lesson for the Jewish people. In last week's parsha we read that many sad and painful things will happen to the Jewish people because we "didn't serve Hashem with simcha" (usually translated as happiness.) It seems kind of strange at a first glance that lack of happiness would warrant such a harsh punishment. In reality though Hashem's punishments are not really punishments but natural consequences. My husband tells me that in in addition to its usual meaning the word simcha also means the feeling of closeness to G-d. So here is what I think. When a Jewish person doesn't feel a close connection to G-d, doesn't appreciate his special role, doesn't see his Jewishness as a gift, then it leads to disintegration of his Jewish identity which then leads to tremendous confusion where he no longer understands why he is special, what his purpose is, doesn't understand why he should fight for his G-d and His Torah, his people and his land. Because really it's His People and His Land. When that is the sad state of affairs that a Jew finds himself in then naturally all kinds of aweful things follow. So one of the things that we can learn from the current events is that our connection to the Land is based on our connection to Hashem. Hashem is the one who is orchestrating the events to get us to go or at least think in the right direction. It seems to me He wants us to think about building in our land, about our connection to our people and to think about the Beis Hamikdash - the ultimate Building, the Home for Hashem's presence. How many people lose sleep over this one? But we should. Hashem is our true friend, He wants us to rely on Him and not pseudo-friends. Our strength lies in our faith. We have to have conviction. Hashem will help us. He wants things to be good for the Jewish people, we have to stop being our own worst enemies. As I am writing this I am listening to one of the neighbors practicing blowing the shofar. May this be the year of blessing and joy for the Jewish people, that will usher in the Ultimate Geulah and the Ultimate Building!!!

Sunday, September 6, 2009


Friday, September 4, 2009

Hot drinks

I love love love this time of the year. With the weather getting more fall-like and the holidays to look forward to. There is just something really special released into the universe at this time. Anyhow, we are a family of tea drinkers. We drink tea (herbal or regular) all year around but the cooler it gets the better it is for us tea drinking people. To add to this I am also a concoctionist, I like to play around with recipes, substitute things, try out new combinations, you get the picture. So I've been contemplating hot drink alternatives (my allergic child is allergic to both milk and chocolate so hot cocoa in its' original form is out). I was also trying to reduce the intake of refined sugar at least some of the time:) So it dawned on me that I could use pure apple juice concentrate ( not an innovation really) and instead of using cold water use hot, then maybe put in a dash of cinnamon or use the hot juice as a base and add a herbal teabag for flavor variations. Both of these were taster approved this far. I am thinking of using other juice bases to make things more interesting. Another recipe I read in some jewish health book a while back is for a hot molasses drink - put a tablespoon or more according to taste add hot water and voila, my kids pretend they are drinking coffee when they have that one. Here in Israel for Rosh Hashana some of the juice companies come out with a special drink which is basically a combination of apple juice, honey and pomegranate juice (isn't it brilliant?), it tastes amazing too. So this year I'd like to play around with it and make a homemade version, it would probably be great as ices too (but here I go again). I think hot drinks are very conducive to a nice homey atmosphere, whether in the beginning of the day for a grand sendoff or in the evening when all the birds come back to the nest or in the afternoon for a nice cosy snack time or any other time a comforting something is in order. So l'chaim, may we and all of the Jewish people be inscribed for a sweet, healthy and blessed year with many comforting moments (on a spiritual, national and personal level).

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Help them get there

I went to an amazing lecture by Rabbi Dov Bryzak last night. It was very motivational. So here is a brief synopsis of the main points. It actually ties in quite nicely with my previous post.
-Even though we live in the generation where there are many, many challenges in childrearing we can succeed with Hashem's help, just like a person can walk away completely unscathed from a horrific car accident.
- Every Jewish child is a diamond, even if they don't look it, don't act it and give us plenty of grief. But just like diamonds don't come out of the mine in shiny and polished form but black and gunky looking, kids come in their raw material form and it's our job to help them get to the polished and shining state.
-Our parenting should be proactive not reactive.
-We shouldn't get upset that our children aren't yet the way we want them to be, instead we should help them get there. So instead of getting upset about them making a mess, use your energy to help them be neat. In stead of getting upset at the lack of academic success help them get there, etc, etc.
-Believe in your kids and it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Build them up. Catch them doing it right. Give them a good reputation to live up to. Even the most difficult kids want to be good, sometimes they just don't believe in themselves any more.
-Each child is capable of becoming the best he or she could be. Sometimes it requires a lot of help, effort and perseverence to help them get there.
-Our children are not in our way, they are the way. They are our path to spiritual greatness. ( This is especially important to remember for mothers of young children, with the holidays coming up if you can't go to shul or spend the whole day thinking lofty thoughts. This is our avodah.)
-The best way for us to protect our children from all the things out there aside from Tfillah (prayer) is to have a good relationship with them. That way they will tell us if something is on their mind or if they need our help. We have to listen to our children. We have to listen without being judgemental. R' Bryzak recommends that when a child is spewing just listen, don't interrupt with mussar or stop them. Let them vent. Teach the lessons and talk about your values a different time, perhaps a different day.
-It's a particularly good time to work on our parenting in Elul, because when Hashem sees our efforts for His children, He will respond by taking care of us, because we are His children too.
Let's start and Hashem will help us get there and hopefully we'll see a lot of nachas from all of our kids.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Call him spirited

When I was expecting my first child I wanted to read up on the subject of pregnancy and childbirth. The books that I saw, I found to be both unnecessarily graphic and unnecessarily scary. Then I came across the book entitled Bradley method - Husband Assisted Childbirth or something like that. I no longer remember any of the details and I don't recall using any of the techniques extensively during labor but what I do recall is that I went away from reading it with a very positive feeling, that childbirth should be a wonderful and even inspiring experience. Another such book that I read was Raising Your Spirited Child by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. It's a book that is meant for parents of children who are more of everything - more intense, more active, more sensitive, etc. Again I don't recall many details and I don't think any of the offered solutions were for me but this book was very helpful in reframing my perspective on parenting challenges. The author writes that very often the traits and behaviors that we find very frustrating in children are the same ones we respect in adults. We have try to see the things that we find difficult in a positive light. Such as don't call him/her difficult call him/her spirited. She writes that when you come upon many thorns chances are you are dealing with a rose. And she is right too. This small change in perspective totally changes how we view the situation and how we relate and react to our child especially if we find the child challenging. Often in parenting we are so emotionally involved we cannot react in a rational fashion when someone is pushing our buttons. But if we work on our perspective and see things in a good light it will help us be better parents and better people. So lets call him or her spirited, we can all use more Spirit in our lives anyhow:)

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Worksheets and textbooks revisited

One often hears complaints especially from the unschooling crowd that decry the use of worksheets and standard school textbooks as stifling, uninspiring and generally conducive to destroying all of the enthusiasm for learning. While I would agree that as sole and primary learning tools the above assessment is for most part true, there could be room from employing them in supporting roles. Especially if the completion of the aforementioned worksheets is not forced some children actually enjoy doing them. Especially the types who enjoy structured activities as opposed to open-ended ones. I wouldn't necessarily introduce a new subject using a standard school textbook. I do think that good books that cover the particular subject would be better but for supplementary exercises and drill these textbooks and worksheets could be quite handy. A little drudgery and tedium is not necessarily a bad thing. It's good for children to realize that these too are a part of life and not to be put off by them but use them for good purpose. So next time you spot some old textbooks or workbooks at a library sale don't automatically dismiss them.

More Music

Here is another timely song.

For everything is in it

It's always a good time to remind ourselves that everything is found in the Torah. We just have to keep on learning and mining for endless treasures.

On the sunny side of the street

When I was small I remember my mother once singing a song about a man who was going to a meeting that he was anticipating with great excitement. Because of his general feelings of euphoria everything appeared wonderful, the air was fragrant with flowers and the people around him seemed like heavenly beings. When things didn't quite go as anticipated he now viewed the exact same scenery totally differently. The people now appeared demonic and everything reeked terribly. We cannot control our circumstances but we can choose our response to them. We all know people who are like a ray of sunshine wherever life might find them. But there are also others who always manage to see the dark side no matter how wonderful things might be in reality. We are all born with different predispositions. Some people are by nature more easygoing and find it easier to be happy and optimistic. Others might have to work harder to achieve feelings of happiness and satisfaction. While one cannot change his core personality, it's still important to work on acquiring a positive attitude in life. If a person is positive than he would naturally see his life as overall good and all the normal setbacks will shrink into the background. It's really our choice to see ourselves as living on the sunny side of the street despite the normal challenges and vicissitudes of life. Especially if it's difficult than it's all the more reason to work harder at it because the payoff for ourselves and our children and our quality (and possible quantity) of life is enormous. I remember reading some of my old journal entries from a few years back and I was thinking to myself that wow, we certainly seemed to be having a wonderful time. Does it mean there were no difficult days, that the children didn't tantrum, that the laundry didn't pile up to the sky, that various appliances and furniture didn't break suddenly? Of course not, but all these things were eventually overshadowed by the good times. Sunny side living has definite advantages.

Free education on the net

Here is another link that I found recently with different free educational resources available on the internet for homeschoolers, afterschoolers, beforeschoolers and other people who like to learn:)

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Healthy attitude

Medicine is something I was always interested in, particularly neuroscience. But it was mostly an intellectual exercise combined with increasing appreciation for the wonders of creation. When one of my children turned out to be very allergic to quite an impressive list of substances ( whoever heard of someone being allergic to garlic?),I decided to do some research. First we tried the standard route - allergists, benadryl, hydrocortisone, etc. There was only one problem, it didn't help and I was not so enthused about my infant getting addicted to antihistamines or using steroids on regular basis. As I discovered, allergies are a fairly undiscovered field and therefore the possible solutions in conventional medicine were few and formulaic. So out of desperation I started looking for alternatives and discovered a whole new (or rather old) field of natural medicine. Eventually someone recommended a homeopath. I was desperate, my husband was skeptical, both of us prayed that we should find some relief for our child. The homeopathic treatment worked and relieved his symptoms so he could function, thank G-d ( he is still allergic but his reactions are not as severe). In the process though I learned a lot about the human body and the amazing way it works and a whole lot about natural ways to treat many different problems that could arise. Having gone through this experience and becoming more informed about health and various related issues, I also gained more confidence about making decisions about my family's health. I am not anti conventional medicine but neither am I totally under the sway of New England Journal of Medicine to the exclusion of all else. I particularly like to read naturopaths who are also MDs, or MDs who also use naturopathic treatments in their practices, I think one gets a more balanced view that way. One of these days I'll hopefully write a post on my favorite natural health books(consider yourself forewarned). But either way medicine, study of plants, etc and their effects on the human body makes for a very interesting study. One can also use it as a great springboard for health related topics such as healthy living, nutrition, home remedies, various branches of medicine, history, chemistry, biology and other sciences, anatomy and of course various practical, mussar and metaphysical implications of how and why our bodies are organized the way they are. And if neuroscience tickles your fancy, try books by Oliver Sacks, he has quite a few popular books on the subject (just ask my editor:).