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:)