Kids with Down syndrome are smart!

Yirmiyahu, 2 years old

Yirmiyahu, 2 years old

Recently I was speaking to a mother of a child with T21 who is a few months younger than Yirmiyahu who asked me how he’s doing.  I told her he’s doing great – cute, smart, communicative, etc.

“I don’t understand,” she said.  “Mental retardation is the definition of Down syndrome.  How can he not be mentally retarded?”

 

It’s so obvious to me that Yirmiyahu isn’t retarded that I didn’t even know how to respond for a moment.  Then I told her, I don’t accept the limiting definitions by medical professionals as fact; this is what they think they know now and it will continue to change with time.

Earlier in the 20th century, it was believed people with T21 had an IQ of 20 – 40, would never speak or read, probably not walk.  By mid century, parents of a child with Down syndrome were told his IQ would be between 40 – 60, he would walk and talk but never live independently.  Now parents are told their child’s IQ will be between 60 – 80 and he will have a mild to moderate intellectual disability.

Did the children change over the course of a hundred years?  No.  What changed was how people treated them, and this was based on their expectations which were set by the definition of the diagnosis.

Less than a hundred years ago, they were hidden away, institutionalized from birth.  Of course their development was limited.  The support people with T21 are receiving continues to improve and accordingly, outcomes are much better.

In another twenty years, it’s very likely we’ll be hearing kids with T21 have IQs of 80 -100 or more.  (Though it bears mentioning that IQ tests are a very limited and inaccurate way to judge a person’s intelligence and capacity for contribution.)  If you wait for studies to tell you how bright your child can be, you’ll have wasted your child’s growing up years.

Well, I’m not waiting for the studies to catch up with what I already know.

I can see what people with Down syndrome are accomplishing now, people who are now in their twenties and thirties.  They have graduated from regular (ie not special ed) high schools with a full diploma, gone to college and earned college degrees.  They are athletes, activists, business owners.  They are married and living independently; some are parents.  They are living happy, healthy, full lives.  They’ve challenged what we assumed was true of people with T21, shown us what’s possible and set the bar higher for the kids in this coming generation.

I’m going to make the non-scientific assumption that all of these people had parents who believed in them and didn’t let the beliefs of medical professionals of the time determine their view of their children.

Currently I know of many children with Down syndrome who are reading at the age of 3 or 4, speaking two (or more) languages and reading both languages!  Does that sound like a lack of mental ability to you?

I told the woman above, if you treat your daughter as if she’s mentally challenged, that’s how she’s going to be.  I told her about my experience at the Feuerstein Institute, when at his six month evaluation they told me they rarely see a baby with T21 at the level he was at.  This mother asked me what I did.  I don’t think I’ve done that much; the main thing, I think, is that I’ve never believed what the doctors told me when he was born.

Yirmiyahu is a bright boy and I treat him as such.  He doesn’t have to prove that he’s intelligent for me to treat him that way, any more than any of my other kids had to prove themselves.  Will some things take him more effort and time to master?  Probably.  Does that mean he’s not intelligent?  No.  Am I more conscious of providing him with good quality input?  Absolutely.

We can’t limit our kids because of a diagnosis.  We can’t let professionals limit our kids because of a diagnosis.  Kids with Down syndrome have amazing potential and it’s unfair and damaging to view them through the lenses of outdated medical information.

Avivah

How to keep toys from taking over!

IMG_3398[1]>>Can you post a picture of the toy storage unit you put back together? Still wondering how you keep all the games, toys and supplies organized and accessible in a limited space.<<

The most helpful thing I’ve found for keeping toys organized in a limited space is getting rid of what you don’t really get a lot of use or benefit from.

A while back I went through all of our toys.  Most of what we brought with us to Israel was board games and learning manipulatives but it’s amazing how easy it is to accumulate stuff!  I began to take note of which toys my children played with most, and no surprise, I once again saw the 80/20 rule in effect.

In this case that rule means that 20 percent of toys will be played with 80 percent of the time, and 80 percent of toys will be played with just 20 percent of the time.  And that means, that your space is mostly taken up with toys your kids rarely use!  If you can figure out what is getting the most use and significantly scale down the rest, you’re on your way to an organized play space!

I took note of what toys they used the most, and began a big giveaway pile of all the rest.  This cut down on the storage space needed quite a bit!  I strongly recommend that everyone go through this process; not only does it help you keep your house cleaner, but more importantly, it helps the kids get more enjoyment from what they have.  It allows them to focus without the distraction of Most of our learning manipulatives fall into the category of being used 20 percent of the time, but these are worth keeping around for when we do use them.

Here’s the cabinet that I use for toy storage – it has two internal shelves and two drawers.

 IMG_3398[1]

We keep the games and puzzles on the shelves inside – the games to the right are smaller boxes and there’s another pile behind each of those.

IMG_3392[1]

This drawer is for Yirmiyahu’s toys.

IMG_3396[1]

The bottom drawer is where I now keep the printer and laminator, which were taking up prime space by being kept out all the time.   I tend to use them heavily all at once and then not at all for long periods of time, so it makes more sense to take them out when I need them than to leave them out all the time.

By putting the printer and laminator in a drawer, it makes space on top for things that I want to keep visible and easy to access – learning manipulatives and several more toys.

IMG_3397[1]

For those who are wondering what kind of manipulatives are included, here you go!

IMG_3394[1]

Left to right – pattern blocks (2 boxes), base ten blocks, cuisenaire rods, assortment of mostly card games, flash cards, tangrams (2 boxes); bottom left – geoboard, 100 number tiles, word cards with plastic letters, dominoes, teddy bear counters.

We have several boxes of toys that we keep in the closet opposite this cabinet.  (Bottom, l – r – Lincoln Logs, Legos; top l – r – Morphun blocks, toy animals; tall box is a ball and stick construction activity).

IMG_3390[1]

Below you can see the wagon of building blocks for young children, next to it a huge box of building blocks for somewhat bigger children (and next to that a couple of toys the kids found being given away).

IMG_3398[1]

Our boys love building toys – it’s what they use 80 percent of the time – and this is where I invest most of my storage space and money.

Last year someone gave us a starter set of Duplo blocks, Lincoln Logs and Mega Bloks, and this is what my boys would play with every single morning.  The only problem was that there are three of them and there just wasn’t enough for them to play together so there was usually some kind of conflict.  When I cleaned out all the toys that weren’t getting much use, I determined that if I had an opportunity, I would add on to these toys that already got so much use rather than get more kinds of toys.

Now, eight months after that decision, I’m amazed at how the opportunities to add to the toys that mattered most to them have all somehow come around!

A friend was clearing out her toys, and I bought a mega blocks wagon and blocks from her.  That doubled our collection of these building blocks for young children.

Then, someone else was downsizing her toy collection and was selling Lincoln Logs, so naturally I bought that!  And that doubled our Lincoln Log collection.

The other two toys I wanted to get more of were Duplo block and Legos – Duplo because we didn’t have that much, Lego because they were ready for the challenge of more detailed building but we had only a sprinkling that my kids found being given away.  But both of these were really expensive and here in Israel, the price is double buying them in the US.  Not happening.

In the winter my mom traveled to the US and asked what the kids would like.  I told her if she wanted to get them Lego, they’d love it!  She was able to find some great smaller sets on clearance at Walmart.; my in-laws also got them a mid sized set.

I also ordered a Duplo compatible block made in Canada that was half the price (Unico), and my mom brought back a box of them.  I was so happy with these that I wanted to get more, but they’re bulky and it’s not the kind of thing you can ask anyone but your mother to bring for you.  :)

Then this spring a blog reader told me she was coming and would be able to bring things for us.  I ordered two more boxes of Unico blocks (thank you, SH!) and this was the best money spent ever.  They play with this all of the time, and there’s plenty for them to all play together even when friends come over.

Organizing things in this way has helped us maximize our space and keep clutter at bay.  I hope you find some of these ideas helpful in your home!

Avivah

Avivah

Helping kids deal with rocket attacks on Israel

rocketrange[1]I got a worried email from my sister a couple of days ago, who has been following the latest news in Israel.

The latest news is that the internationally recognized terrorist group, Hamas, has been shooting hundreds of long-range rockets into Israel.  As I write this morning, 365 rockets were shot into Israel in the last 72 hours.

This began with southern Israel and is spreading throughout the country, to the Jerusalem and Tel Aviv area.  As of yesterday the first warning sirens were sounded in the northern part of the country as missiles reached the Haifa area; in the past missiles to this part of the country came from Lebanon further north of us, but for the first time these are being shot from the south.   We’re seeing  rockets with a very far range.

Miraculously, no one has been killed.  Truly a miracle.  However, there have been people who were seriously injured.

Hamas terrorists are using their citizens as human shields, deliberately encouraging people to flock to buildings that the Israeli army has warned them in advance to evacuate (this link is to a video in Arabic by terrorist leader clearly saying this is their strategy); the Israeli army aborted the planned strike as a result of the presence of civilians.  This article in Slate details Israel’s effort to spare Gaza civilians and calls it ‘exemplary’.  Meanwhile, the social media is being flooded with images of Arabs who were killed in Syria with claims that these are current pictures of the work of the Israeli army in Gaza; the notoriously anti-Israel BBC has said these are fake.

As for the millions of Israeli citizens who are being targeted…you won’t hear much about them in the media outside of Israel.

I’ve been thinking about how to present the rocket attacks to my kids – which I didn’t do an especially good job about so far - and now how to prepare them in case rockets are shot into our area.  It’s a balance to give them information but not to unnecessarily frighten them.

Here’s a song that was created by someone who saw that thousands of children in southern Israel (which has been targeted with rocket attacks for years) were very traumatized.

I’m impressed with the simple genius of this song, to turn a terrifying situation into something a child can deal with, and to help them release the fear and anxiety.  If you’ve ever heard one of these warning sirens, you know that just hearing one of them makes your stomach drop and your heart begins pounding.  That’s aside from waiting to hear the ‘boom’ of the rocket when it hits and then the all clear.

I’ve practiced drills with our kids a couple of times and hope that going to the bomb shelter won’t be necessary.  But for those in different parts of the country, this is already a reality and particularly for those who are experiencing rockets landing in their close vicinity, it’s terrifying.

This morning I saw this list of 7 positive group bomb shelter activities.  (Some people have homes with specially built safe rooms but our apartment was built a couple of years before this became standard building practice.)  These can just effectively be used with your children as with a group of strangers in the bomb shelter; they are all activities that encourage a positive energy and focus on something good.

I think the best thing for kids to have is a calm parent or teacher since they take their cues from us.  Easier said than done, right?  So helping our kids deal with this means finding a way to deal with it ourselves.

I like the above song because it gives a parent a concrete tool to help a child deal with the situation.  I decided that telling or reading a story would be most centering and grounding for me and my kids, after saying some tehillim (Psalms) together.  If we had to stay there for longer, then games would be helpful in spending time together in a relaxed way.

Our kids need us to help them stay calm, to give them the message that they’re safe and we’re there for them.  Listen to them talk, encourage them to draw or write down their feelings.  Don’t minimize this because you’re uncomfortable or so afraid yourself that you think that letting them share their feelings will make them more afraid.  Remember, they’ll take their cues from you.  The message you want them to get is, it’s scary but they are safe, that whatever happens it will all be okay.  You’re taking care of them.  This is our job especially at times like this, to be the emotional rock for our kids to lean on.

My ds15 heard a rocket land near where he was at the time and he told me he can’t believe how Israelis go on with their lives as if everything is normal.  Well, unfortunately for our beleaguered little country, being attacked by hostile Arabs is normal.  Israelis have developed the attitude that we have to go on with our lives, that to live in fear is letting terrorists win.

If you’re in Israel:

  • Do NOT share details of where you hear a rocket land.  We don’t want them to know where they are landing because this helps Hamas shoot more accurately.
  • Do NOT mention hearing planes going overhead.
  • Do NOT talk about where our soldiers are being deployed.

You know the saying from WWII, “Loose lips sink ships”?  It’s like that.  PLEASE – I know it’s scary and you want to share with your friends, but tell them in person, not on FB or other social media.  They are being monitored for this information and we don’t want to give information to people who will use it to hurt us.

Friends of ours in Baltimore began the Shmira project, where people around the world are paired with active combat soldiers in the Israeli army to pray, do good deeds or learn Torah as a merit for safety for that soldier.  Sign up here.

If you  have a smartphone there’s an app called Red Alert: Israel that you can download.  It will notify you when a rocket is being shot, giving people in communities closest to the danger zone just 15 seconds to get to safety.  For those of you not in Israel, you can use these seconds to pray for the safety of those being targeted that no one is harmed.

The Israeli army has just called up 40,000 reservists, which means that many, many young children are saying goodbye to their fathers right now.  So much courage from so many people in such a tiny country – our men, their wives and mothers and their children – we’re all one big family.

It’s hard to talk about this conflict without feeling frustrated and confused that regardless of how much terror is inflicted on the Jewish state, it is painted as the aggressor.  Why would people support evil when the facts are so clear, my older kids want to know (and what most adults are trying to wrap their heads around)?  To be very simplistic, it’s hard to deal with bullies when they control the world’s oil and everyone is dependent on it.  Better to look the other way so you don’t see what they’re doing, so you don’t have to take action.  Because ignoring evil makes it go away, don’t you know?

When I begin to feel upset or fearful about the injustice of the world, I take a deep breath and remind myself Who is running the world, and remember what we’ve seen time and time again – and I pray that we continue to merit this protection in this latest wave of attacks on Israelis.

Hodu laHashem for being our iron dome and protecting us constantly from the incessant life threatening rockets that continually rain down us. We are aware of your constant guidance and thank You with all our heart! Please continue to be for us a shield from harm and forever protect us from evil. Aliza Gable Lipkin

 

Please pray for peace, for safety and for a quick end to this most recent war of terror on Israel.

Avivah

Like Stars on Earth – movie

tumblr_lgk67hC6PX1qd7iy3o3_500[1]Last night I watched a simply beautiful movie with dd17, dd13 and ds12.

Like Stars on Earth is a movie made in India, about an eight year old boy who has dyslexia.  He also has a creative and artistic mind, which no one is able to appreciate.  All they see is a kid who won’t perform to their standards, and his self-esteem becomes more and more battered until he eventually almost totally shuts down.

This is a long movie, 2 hours and 40 minutes long.  It builds steadily as it brings you into the world of the boy and increasingly are able to view things through his eyes.  The version below has been dubbed into English spoken with a Hindi accent, and this sometimes makes understanding exactly what is being said a challenge.

From a parenting perspective, you see what happens when a parent imposes separation as a punishment onto a child, when closeness with a parent becomes too much to bear and something to be avoided.  Since every person has an innate need to attach, the child in this situation – as with any other situation – attaches to someone else who replaces the parent as the primary relationship.  But there’s much more to note about these relationships than just that.

One powerful message in the movie is towards the end, when the father tells the teacher that his wife has been reading on the internet about dyslexia, and explains that he wants the teacher to know this because it shows they care about their son.  The teacher replies that love is about accepting someone as he is.

The movie is based on a true story.  I already said it’s really long but I found it a worthwhile use of time.  There are so many messages to take away from this film, about learning differences, inclusion, teaching, parenting – each person will take away something else for himself. For me and my kids, I anticipate it will be a reference in conversations about education and other relevant topics for a long time to come.

Avivah

Yirmiyahu is two!

Our gorgeous boy is now two years old!  TWO!!!  I can hardly believe it!  Don’t you also feel like the time has flown?

This morning we went to a bris and it took me back to Yirmiyahu’s bris, when we publicly announced the Trisomy 21 diagnosis.

Down syndrome.  It looks like this.

Curious.

IMG_3365

Engaged.

IMG_3366

Flexible.

IMG_3367

Interested.

IMG_3372

 

Contemplative.

IMG_3373

Active.

IMG_3374

 

Loved and loving.

IMG_3378 IMG_3379 IMG_3380

 

Proud.

IMG_3377

Playful.

IMG_3376

 

Yirmiyahu – smart, healthy and OURS!!  We are so blessed and so proud of our little boy!

Avivah

Our pain, the unspeakable emotional agony of a nation….

A few weeks ago someone called me and asked, “Why is it that bad things happen to amazing people?”

I told her, people become amazing over the course of time and it’s the tragedy or difficulties that reveal the shining diamonds they are.

This has been something I’ve thought about for the last 18 days, as in every report of the parents of the three kidnapped teens I’ve been struck by how special each family is.

Every single boy that was kidnapped – a gem.  Smart, caring, responsible, gifted: youth counselors, musicians, composers, bakers.  Each one of a large family raised with boundless love and strong Torah values.

A picture of the two sixteen year olds a day before they were kidnapped with friends; Gil-ad on the center part of the tier and Naftali (US citizen) on the bottom. Regular kids on a spring day? Look closely - Gilad and Naftali the day before they were kidnapped by Hamas terrorists.<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /> Abbas, step up and bring them home!</p><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /> <p>http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/reflections-of-a-mother/<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /> Click on this blog and leave your comments, please.

Eyal Yifrach , a nineteen year old songwriter and guitarist, June 10 a few days before his kidnapping sings one of his original compositions with a friend (Eyal is in the white t-shirt).  He commented right before they sang that he looked forward to singing this in the near future at this friend’s wedding.  I put this on my playlist and have listened to it often, praying all the time for his safe return along with the other two boys.

Here’s Eyal singing another original composition that he wrote in honor of his cousin’s wedding and performed for her then.  This was two months before the kidnapping.   My sister commented on the strong resemblance between Eyal and one of my sons.  Yes, I also noticed it right away.

And then their parents… These parents…the faith and strength they have displayed has been amazing.  They have spoken of trust in God, in the strength of the Jewish people and with the full belief that their sons will return home, healthy and safe.  Every single parent has inspired us all.

Last night between 85,000 – 100,000 people came together in Tel Aviv, people from across the religious spectrum – to pray for the safe return of our boys.  The kind of event that the families wanted, that their sons would have wanted.  A gathering of solidarity and unity.  That’s how the people of Israel feel – they are ours.

I read the reports today of the Tel Aviv gathering, thinking how the Jewish people coming together in this way, setting aside politics, is bringing completion and wholeness to the world.  We so desperately need unity, and these last 18 days have brought our tiny little country together.

So many prayers, so many tears, so many good deeds done as a merit for the safe return of our boys… And now they’ve been found.  Truly.

My first reaction was one of delight and disbelief – found, so soon after the gathering!  God has heard our prayers!

And then I saw the next line of the message…and I burst into bitter sobs.  No, no, no!!  Not this, it can’t be.  It must be a false report, false rumors…I wouldn’t believe it, I couldn’t believe it.

It was true.  It is true.  This afternoon our boys were found murdered, buried together in a shallow grave in a field near an Arab village.

It is believed that they were shot shortly after their abduction, with the intent to exchange their bodies for the release of Arab terrorists.

Below, the windows of the army ambulance Humvee transporting the bodies of our slain boys are smashed, stoned by Arabs as they are returned home for burial.

8:44pm IDF Ambulance humvee transporting the bodies of the boys attacked by arabs....windows smashed.

I have no words… what I’m feeling threatens to overwhelm me.  I think that most of us are feeling something very similar tonight.  Deep, deep sadness, followed by horror, rage, fury – these are some of the emotions racing through us all.

I have no wisdom…I know that our prayers were not in vain, that the merits of all the good deeds performed have been gathered and are being saved for our nation, while simultaneously accompanying our boys on their journey in the next world.  But the pain, the gut-wrenching pain…

Our boys…now sitting in the highest Heavenly spheres.

left to right: Naftali Frenkel (16), Gil-ad Sha’ar(16), Eyal Yifrach (19)
I asked you to say tehillim/psalms for the boys with the hope they would be found.  Please join in the saying of tehillim for them now, as a continued merit for their souls.  You can participate online here.

May their memories be a blessing, may we continue to hold on to the incredible feelings of unity that we had these past 18 days and may God avenge their blood.

Jo Corre Odes's photo.

 

Please pray for the parents of the boys, and for the siblings that each leaves behind (Eyal was the oldest of 7, Naftali and Gil-ad both the second of 7), that they find whatever they need inside themselves to cope with this horror.

Avivah

Great buys on books during Book Week = happy kids and happy mother!

IMG_3350Every year in Israel there is what is known as Book Week, which is really book month, when bookstores all over have great sales in the month of June.  Last year it wasn’t on my radar, but I was in Jerusalem for an appointment with Yirmi and I just happened to walk into an area that had huge amounts of books for sale.

I had a tight schedule because I had a bus to make, and within ten minutes I managed to make my purchases, a five volume set of children’s parsha stories as well as a laminated copy of the 39 Melachos Shabbos book by Baruch Chait.

Those were purchases that we’ve gotten a lot of mileage from.  The set of parsha books were a particularly good buy since they were discounted about 30% since there was some kind of damage – the damage varied but the books I chose were very minor, like the imprint of a line on the back cover, nothing major.  This was my main book purchase for the year, other than 60 shekels on used books throughout the year.

I knew that I wanted to do some more book buying for our homeschooling and when I was in Jerusalem for the Temech conference earlier this week, I had my chance!  Finding books that I wanted was a challenge; I like well written books that aren’t overly preachy or obviously intended to be educational, and so many books have beautiful illustrations but the text leaves something to be desired.   I want the books to be interesting enough for my kids to pick them up and read them on their own.

I finally settled on a laminated illustrated copy of Megilat Esther/Book of Esther, a picture book of 1000 words in Hebrew, and 3 Hebrew copies of Tintin.  The Megilat Esther has a basic drawing that looks similar in each page but many details change from page to page so I thought the kids would enjoy this.  The laminated versions of books are heavy duty and will last for many years but the downside of it is that it’s so much more expensive.  The cover of this book looked used though the inside was perfect so I got this for 50 shekels instead of 118; I could have gotten a new unlaminated version for the same price but for our family this was the better choice.

The 1000 word book is for my kids to learn the words in Hebrew for things they already know in English; it has beautiful photos and is engaging (50 shekels).  The Tintin books are because my kids love Tintin in English so that makes it a good segue into encouraging Hebrew reading.   A plus is the text in a couple of the books is in Hebrew script so this is great practice in reading script.  Usually these are each 88 shekels but I got all three for 100.

The next day I went to Steimatsky’s book store, since I had a 100 shekel credit that’s been sitting in my wallet since July.  I wasn’t purposely holding on to it for Book Week but it worked out beautifully!  We had the credit from a children’s siddur we bought that had buttons you can push to hear the prayers but it wasn’t what I wanted and the credit for it was basically enough to buy one other book.  I decided I wanted to get a laminated world map for the wall with our credit, but the store didn’t have one.  The clerk called two other stores in walking distance; one didn’t have a map and the other wasn’t answering the phone.  Since it was just a few minutes walk away, I went over to ask in person if they had a map.

They didn’t, but what they did have was a totally different selection of sale books than the first store I was in (which hadn’t interested me much).

There was a sale table where you could choose three books for the price of the most expensive of the three.  One book immediately caught my eye and I knew I had to get it; it was a illustrated procession of how Jerusalem looked from Biblical times until today. Each time period has a two page spread filled with many illustrative details.  I knew my kids would love this and they would learn lots without even knowing it.  (As it turned out, I’m already learning lots from it- ds8 asked me which time period Alexander the Great lived in, and I wasn’t sure so I said, “Hmm, good question, we’ll have to look that up!”)  This is a very well-done book, as interesting for me as for the kids.  There’s only one paragraph of text on each page, but around the border there are tiny pictures that correspond to something in the larger picture with a fact about it.

IMG_3350

That was 89 shekels, and then I found two more books that were also 89 shekels – both are heavy duty board books with lots of flaps to lift up; these are geared toward the elementary aged child based on the information and is sturdy enough to stand up to lots of usage.  One is all about the human body, with pictures of different physical processes inside (eg digestion) and the other is How Things Work; both are in Hebrew.

I was disappointed that I wasn’t able to get the map but I ended up much better off – with my credit I was able to get all three of these books for just 89 shekels (because of the special sale for Book Week – next week it will be full price again), and had some change left over to buy the kids some erasers as well!  (Steimatsky isn’t a cheap store so the erasers were the only thing inexpensive enough to use my eleven remaining shekels for, just in time for their summer online drawing lessons!)

The kids are devouring the books and of course that makes me happy.  :)

Then the next day I returned some books I borrowed to a friend who is moving, who offered me six volumes of the Magic School Bus chapter books.  Do you think I turned that down?  No way!  And then she remembered she had some other books she was giving away and did I want to look through them?  Sure!  I came home with two bags of books.

And guess what??? Just a couple of hours later, ds8 came in after playing outside with friends and told me he found something he thought I would like.  I asked him to show me what he found and he ran to get a boxed copy of a laminated world map in Hebrew – in brand new condition!!!  (Ds just informed me that the listed price on this was 49.90.)  Someone was giving it away and he found it outside where they had left it.  He had no idea that I had wanted this and was surprised at how excited I was.

But you understand why, right? :)

Avivah

Why practicing gratitude will change your life

gratitudeEarlier this week I traveled to Jerusalem for the Temech business conference, an event geared specifically to religious women.  The organizer is one of my blog readers and I was delighted to meet her – and other blog readers- there.

I had a fantastic time connecting with so many people!  This was the best thing and worst thing about the conference – too many great people to talk to! – and I missed the last session that I wanted to sit in on because of my shmoozing.  :)

Naturally I heard other women saying how wonderful and empowering it was, and I also heard some grumbles.  It made me think about how quick people are to complain and how slow they are to express their appreciation.

Several weeks ago I completed a repair in my building that was part of a problem for eight years.  I took on the job of building representative in the beginning of August and at that time I hired someone who located the leaks in the building and then took care of getting them fixed. The final part of the repairs was to replace the tiles that had been pulled up in the entranceway of the building before I took over.  These had been left open because they didn’t want to close up the flooring only to have to rip it up again if the pipes there were the cause of the leaks.

IMG_3315

I spent months speaking to all the members of the building until I got a majority of people to sign that they agreed to have the entrance way repaired.  That gave me the legal backing to do the repairs.  But it still meant I had to get everyone to pay, which was very, very difficult.  This was a huge stress for me.

Someone in the building called me when I was in the hospital after I was burned and asked how she could help. I told her I was feeling very pressured that I hadn’t yet collected money from everyone, and the biggest thing she could do for me was to speak to the three people who hadn’t yet paid.  She agreed and I was very grateful for this because it took a huge weight off my head.  The only problem was that these are tough people to deal with. So this woman trying to help was brought to tears when speaking to them because the way they talk is to yell and attack you, and I was left to collect the rest of the money on my own.  (Yes, being yelled at and attacked.  Fun times.)

There were many hours put into getting this done and many, many steps involved in what could have been a very simple repair.  17 months after the floor was left broken open and nine months after I began the process of getting this repair done, I had the entrance flooring completed.  It was such a huge accomplishment that I felt like throwing myself a party.  But I mentally prepared myself to not be thanked, not for the many hours I put into getting it done, nor the end result.  That’s human nature, to comment only when something is wrong.

Good thing.  Not only was there hardly a word of thanks, but the next morning someone yelled up to me through my window – from outside – that the building was disgusting and dirty since the floor hadn’t been mopped after the repair was done!  It couldn’t be mopped after the tiling was done since it had to be left to dry overnight, but it had been thoroughly swept.   After almost a year and a half of daily looking at this eyesore and safety hazard, she couldn’t spend literally one moment to appreciate that it was fixed.

That’s how some people are, no matter what they only see what they don’t have.  Some people actually look for things to be miserable about.  This is the key to having a miserable life!  Look for everything in life that doesn’t line up for what you want and then complain to everyone you see about what a miserable life you are and how much you suffer.  Ignore everything good that happens and take it for granted as your due.

Several weeks ago I received a note from a blog reader expressing her appreciation for what I write.   I’m blessed with a high quality readership and always appreciate when readers take the time to let me know if something I’ve written has been helpful for them.  In this case, she not only wrote but took the extra effort to put a card in the mail to me from overseas!  As nice as it was for me to receive, the person writing it got just as much as I did from the act of writing and sending it.  You know what she got?

She reinforced with her action the kind of person she wants to be and the kind of life she wants to have.  Writing that card made her a more thoughtful, caring and appreciative person, and as a result she’ll have a more fulfilling and happy life.

Expressing gratitude can be hard, since it means acknowledging that someone enhanced your life in some way, which implies that you would have been lacking without it.  Also, sometimes people feel they have to notice what they don’t have because the focus on what they want will bring them more.

It doesn’t work like that.  You don’t become better by bashing yourself for being inadequate and life doesn’t hand you more goodies when you don’t notice the huge platters piled up all around you.

The more you appreciate what you have in your life, the more good will flow in.  Regardless of what you do or don’t have in your life in that moment, focusing on what you have will make you a happier person.  And being a happier person means you have a more fulfilling life.  This happens step by tiny step, every time you pause and practice gratitude in your life.

It’s that simple.

Avivah

(This post is part of the Hearth and Soul hop.)

My journey towards healing adrenal fatigue

adrenal fatigueAre you dragging and can’t get your day started without coffee?  If so, this post isn’t going to be theoretical for you!

There’s now a lot of talk about adrenal fatigue in the alternative health community, but when I began learning about over seven years ago, it was something neither I nor anyone I knew had ever heard of.  (In the mainstream medical world this flies under their radar and they say it doesn’t exist since they only recognize the most extreme form of adrenal fatigue, Addisons disease.)

I was somewhat familiar with adrenals before then, since eleven years ago I visited a naturopath for a suspicious growth on my neck.  He checked a number of things as part of the overall intake and told me, ‘your adrenals are shot’.  I asked what the consequences of that were, and whatever he said wasn’t so compelling – I was much more worried about the swelling that brought me there.  (I later healed this on my own by going sugar and wheat free – the disappearance of the swelling was a side effect and not something I intended – and it wasn’t until I researched candida at a later point that I understood an overgrowth of yeast had caused this symptom.)

Adrenal fatigue is when your adrenal glands are overstressed and can no longer keep up with the needs of your body. That malfunction causes a snowball of symptoms that become increasingly severe if left untreated.  (For a more detailed description of adrenal fatigue and the accompanying symptoms, read here – I really strongly recommend you read this since a huge percentage of people are suffering from some degree of adrenal fatigue.)

Do you think knowing about this made me take any action to heal my adrenals?  Nope. Too busy to slow down, rest and nurture myself, and that’s basically how you heal adrenal fatigue.  I did pass the information on to friends who I saw had symptoms, though.

There are many symptoms but for me the first and most obvious was my difficulty losing weight despite an excellent diet.   After my seventh child I was able to get close to my ideal weight before becoming pregnant when he was eight months old.  After my eighth was born, it became very, very hard to lose weight.  I don’t like to use the word impossible but it’s often felt like that.  And the flip side is it’s extremely easy to gain weight.

Despite my adrenals being very depleted, I was able to continue to function surprisingly well, which I credit to eating a very nourishing diet.   Time went by and I began to have some more obvious signs of adrenal fatigue, though I didn’t recognize them as such for quite some time – most notable of these was bronchial stress in the winter.

When we decided to move overseas almost three years ago, we began a prolonged period of intense stresses.  Last year after two of our kids almost died within two weeks, I began crashing emotionally and physically.  I was extremely depleted and exhausted, I had no motivation or desire to do anything, a total feeling of apathy, I didn’t want to get up in the morning.  An energy healer told me my adrenals were in bad shape.  I was like, ‘Yeah, I know.’  Do you think I made it a priority then?  Nope.  I knew I should and tried to take some vitamins but my husband was in the US for several months with our oldest daughter and I was trying to hold my family together.

Then in October I was hit by a car.  At this point it was clear to  me that my adrenals were really struggling, it wasn’t intellectual knowledge anymore.  I started taking vitamins more but I couldn’t seem to muster the energy necessary to really do what I needed to do.  This is a catch 22 of adrenal fatigue – I was exhausted and totally drained and needed enthusiasm to jumpstart a self-care program, but enthusiasm was the last thing I felt.

A short time before I was burned at the end of March, I had determined that I needed to make healing my adrenals a priority.  Adrenal fatigue only gets worse and I didn’t want any more wake up calls to take care of myself.  And then I was burned and spent nine days in the hospital.  I had several lessons from that experience and one was that I need to take care of myself in as loving and nurturing a manner as I take care of my children.

To simplify a big topic, healing your adrenals basically entails removing the stresses from your body while strengthening the adrenals so that you can heal.  I asked my husband to bring my vitamins to the hospital for me and spent most of my time in the hospital resting and meditating.  It was just what I needed.  The real challenge was to maintain a self-care regimen after returning home from the hospital, with all the demands of daily life.

I’ve been making this a priority and almost three months after my burn accident, I’m happy to share that I’ve been making progress in this area.  Self-care isn’t something I’m good at so all of the things below have taken a lot of conscious effort to do, and it’s been a process and continues to be a process.

Here are some of the steps I’m taking.

- nutritional supplementation

- amino acid supplementation

- nutritious and regular meals

- lots of fluids

- minimal sugar and flour (mostly Shabbos)

- added salt

- positive thoughts

- gentle exercise

- earlier bedtime

Each of these target different aspects of adrenal fatigue.  I have a busy life and it’s not easy to stop and make myself a priority, but this is exactly what I’m trying to do.  So far it’s been three months and I keep getting better at self-care but none of it is automatic or effortless yet.  Every aspect that I listed above deserves a detailed blog post (I’ll try to elaborate on some of these in the future); when I list these points it looks easy and effortless but each of these things have required me to really exert myself and change longstanding habits.

It took years of putting myself last to run myself down, so it’s not a quick fix situation.  Just like it took a long time for me to see the symptoms of adrenal fatigue, it’s going to take time to see visible signs of reversal.  I’m feeling better and have some encouraging signs that things are beginning to heal, and I continue to remind myself that I need to continue to do the right things and eventually I’ll fully restore my adrenal function.

Back to my comment in the beginning about coffee – when a person is too tired to do what they need to do without a pick-me up (eg use of a stimulant like coffee), this is a sign that your adrenals may be struggling.  Trouble getting started in the morning is a sign of adrenal fatigue.

I’m not a coffee drinker but for years I’ve noticed I’m more energetic in the late evenings than the mornings.  I often chastised myself for not getting to sleep earlier, for being so undisciplined.  Little did I know that my cortisol levels were reversed and that was the biochemical reason for my late nights.  Cortisol levels should be high in the morning and low late at night, to reflect the natural cycle.  Someone with adrenal fatigue will have the opposite cortisol levels, which is why I felt energetic at night and was dragging in the mornings.  It wasn’t laziness or lack of discipline and when I finally understood this it helped to me let go of the self-shame and blame I had around this issue.

We live in a time of fast paced living with lots of expectations of ourselves.  Our bodies weren’t created to deal with the kind of lifestyles most of us live.  Pregnancies and raising children are some big stresses on the body (I would guess most mothers of a large family are suffering from adrenal fatigue); work and interpersonal stresses can also create a big strain on the adrenals.  Understanding what your adrenals do, what stresses them and how to heal adrenal fatigue is a big piece for many in restoring health.

Avivah

(This post is part of Real Food Wednesdays and Hearth and Soul.)

Parent teacher conferences for ds15

Parent_Teacher_Conference_6238503[1]Ds15 attends a yeshiva high school that I’ve never visited, due to the distance from our home.  Yesterday were parent teacher conferences, which neither dh nor I were able to attend earlier in the year because of the travel involved.  We felt it was very important to be there and get to know his teachers, for them to know that we’re behind him and for ds to feel our support, but it meant taking a full day from work and that was something we couldn’t to do.

With dh not working at this time, he was able to spend several hours traveling in each direction to get there, leaving at noon and returning at 2 am.  It was a long, tiring and expensive trip but we’re both glad he went!

Something that I thought was interesting is that the student goes into each conference with his parent and hears everything that is said by his teacher.  I commented to dh that I would think the teachers might feel uncomfortable speaking openly about a student in front of him, but dh laughed and said this didn’t seem to be an issue.  It must be part of the more open and direct Israeli communication style.

Ds is doing wonderfully, for which we’re very grateful.  I really grappled with the decision of what school to send him to: a local typical charedi yeshiva where he would be close to home, or to this yeshiva, a charedi yeshiva high school with a full secular studies curriculum and a bagrut.  The biggest downside of this was that ds would have to live away from home in a dorm.  Our next concern was that the boys who attend this school tend to be more modern, which if you understand the charedi dynamic in this country makes sense.  I wasn’t sure what kind of influence this would be for him; I knew it could go either way – either it would help him strengthen who he was and wanted to be, or he would be pulled after his peers.

I’m happy to say it’s been a really good choice for him.

Ds is thriving.  His Torah learning is excellent, his secular studies are excellent, he’s socially very well-integrated (this is a school that is predominantly Israeli with just a sprinkling of Anglos).  All his teachers had only good things to say – two of them asked my husband what he had done to merit a son like him!  The commment that made me the most happy was from the mashgiach.  He told dh that ds is the most popular kid in the class and has consistently been a positive influence on the other kids, without coming across as  a frummy or goody two shoes.

One example was from that morning.  The rosh yeshiva gives an early morning Torah class at 6:30 am.  Usually only three boys in the yeshiva attend – it’s very early!  Yesteday morning, ds15 woke up extra early and went around the yeshiva waking up lots of boys and encouraging them to attend the class (not only boys in his grade), and shocked the rosh yeshiva when he had 20 or 30 kids there instead of the usual three!

Ds doesn’t talk about this much but I had an inkling about this dynamic (though I didn’t know how clear it was to teachers), based on something that came up in conversation not long ago.  A couple of weeks ago I shared with him that a local rosh kollel had expressed his dismay (that his wife then shared with me) that the local yeshiva missed out on having ds as a student there, and I said to ds that even though he would have done great locally, I’m glad he’s happy where he is.  Ds15 responded that he’s not so sure he would have done so well if he was learning locally.  Where he is, they appreciate him and that makes him want to live up to their hopes and expectations for him.

He mentioned that kids look at him and think if he’s doing something, it must be okay and that makes him more careful.  Once there was a water balloon fight and he realized his involvement encouraged other kids to feel it was okay to do it also.   Social power is a big responsibility.  But, he continued, if he was somewhere where they took him for granted (eg the local yeshiva), he wouldn’t be as motivated and would probably have been tempted to slack off.  It’s a good insight.

At the same time that I’m grateful for the positive reports about my son, the thought of the three kidnapped high school students doesn’t leave me.  The first thing on my mind when I wake up is the boys, the last thing on my mind before I go to sleep is the boys.  It is now over a week since they have been missing and their parents don’t have reports like this to fill them with joy, only the terror of knowing their children are being held by ruthless murderers who place no value on human life.

Please continue to pray for Eyal ben Iris Teshura, Gil’ad Micha’el ben Bat-Galim and Ya’akov Naftali ben Rachel Devorah.  Rabbis are recommending that people all over the world take in Shabbos early as a merit for the boys, which I hope to do today.  I saw the idea of lighting three extra candles for Shabbos for them as well, and asked dh if there’s any problem with this.  He checked with a rosh kollel, who said to do it with the intention that I’m not making a neder/long term commitment, and then told him ‘yasher koach’, that it was a very nice idea.  It’s a powerful thing to pray for each of them along with each of my child each Friday  night and I’ll certainly add my prayers for them, just not sure about lighting more candles.  Taking in Shabbos early is a big thing for us and I want to be able to make a full commitment I can stick with rather than spread myself too thin and then not follow through.

It’s unquestionably a tremendous merit to do something to increase one’s observance of Shabbos/the Sabbath, even if someone isn’t observant.  The army is doing their part to find the boys, our part is to continue to add merits through prayer, Torah study and increased mitzva observance.

Avivah