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.