The Chinese bamboo tree and our three year aliyah anniversary

Chinese-Bamboo-Tree[1]Today marks three years since we arrived home in Israel!

It’s been a very full three years.  And as I sit here thinking about the blessing of living here, I am so overwhelmed with gratitude that we are able to live here.  So many people for so many generations wanted to live in Israel, and I not only get to live here myself, I’m also able to raise my children here.

I can point to many things about this incredible country that are wonderful, and I can point to plenty of things that are irritating.  But I have a deep soul level feeling that this is where I belong.  It was this feeling that propelled me to tell my husband I thought we should move to Israel along with our nine children that included four teens and one almost teen.  And we did, just five months later.  It was crazy or inspired, depending who you ask!

Many people have told me of having the same feeling of deep belonging when they visit, and that’s how it is – the Jewish soul and the land of Israel have a deep connection and the Jewish soul can never be complete outside of Israel.  You can have a great life – I certainly did! – but there was an empty space inside me that wasn’t filled until I moved here.

Now, our ancient sages have declared that Israel is acquired with suffering and this is as true in modern times as it was thousands of years ago.  It’s pretty much inevitable that no matter how well you plan, how well set up you are financially, with housing, friends, family, community….you’re going to have some curve balls thrown your way.  And some of them are going to be major.  I’ve shared about our experiences with that!  It’s as if you need to be tested in some way as a preparation since living here requires a higher level of spiritual connection.

But life does settle down and – though I know I’ve felt life was settling and then I was hit by a car, and the next time I was feeling settled I had a can of cosmetic wax explode in my face –  I write without trepidation that things have settled.  Our kids have friends, my husband and I have friends, we are blessed to own a home that we love, we live in a beautiful city with lots of green space and beautiful views and we feel at home here in a way we never did in the US despite both my husband and I coming from families that were in the US for generations.

It’s hard for me to explain why our quality of life seems so much higher here, despite having much less materially than we had in the US.  Part of it is the soul connection to the land, part of it is the feeling that life is simpler here, of relationships mattering more than stuff.  My husband has been unemployed for over seven months and that’s not fun though it has precipitated a lot of growth for both of us (and I look forward to sharing with you when this changes!) – but our kids don’t feel poor.  Life is just simpler.  It’s more about living and less about having.  Kids here grow up with more freedom and less fear than kids in the US, and this simple, wholesome life is what I want for my children.

You know about the Chinese bamboo tree?  The Chinese bamboo tree has a very unusual growth pattern.  For the first four years after being planted, it doesn’t break through ground.  It looks like nothing is happening, it’s not growing and the person who planted it wonders if the seeds were a dud.  But he keeps watering it, trusting that something is happening underground even where he can’t see it.  And then suddenly in the fifth year, in five weeks it shoots up to over 80 feet!  An ‘overnight’ success built on years of setting down an incredibly strong, extensive and unseen root system.

I often think of the Chinese bamboo tree and take encouragement from that concept.  We’ve been sent many challenges since we moved to Israel that have forced us to look deeper inside and work through things we didn’t even know were there.  This growth and development isn’t visible and often it’s discouraging to work so hard and see no results.  But one day I trust there will be a shift when suddenly things are going to become so visibly amazing that it will be hard to believe how quickly it all happens.  When that occurs, we’ll finally see the results of building a strong foundation by working through lots of hard times and continuing to move forward.

As we mark our three year aliyah anniversary, I’m happy to be where I am right now.  My life isn’t perfect though I sometimes feel that it is.  I have my family, my health, an amazing husband and I live in Israel.  All of those took lots of effort.  I’m so grateful to be living here, so very, very grateful for my life that is overflowing with blessings.  And while I obviously have no way of knowing what the coming year will bring, I have a sense that we’re getting close to the bamboo shoots breaking ground.


Plans for coming year for older kids, transferring toddler from crib to bed

I did something really wonderful for myself about six weeks ago – I asked my husband to set the controls of my computer to shut off at 11 pm every night.

The reason for that I had a strong tendency to stay up too late, too often, and the later it got, the more tired I felt and the harder it became to exercise the necessary discipline to get myself to bed.  I’m now going to sleep earlier and getting up earlier, which is fantastic.  The only problem is I’m really having a hard time finding time to blog.

So that’s why I haven’t been posting as much.

Tonight I’ll do a quick roundup of what’s going on around here and type as fast as I can until my computer shuts down in half an hour.

Ds21 came home for a couple of weeks.  His yeshiva vacation was curtailed because of the war, as were many (most?) yeshivos.  The reason for this is that the people of Israel need physical and spiritual fighting and while our soldiers were risking their lives in combat, the role of our yeshiva students was to create extra spiritual merits.  Thanks to the ceasefire, he came home sooner than we were expecting.

Dd19 is in the US and making plans for the coming year.  She spent the past year in seminary while working towards her BA in psychology, along with working a job on the side.  She hopes to finish it before coming back to Israel next year (not sure if it will be mid year or the end of the school year) and will continue working at the same place.  My, we miss that girl of ours.

Dd18 (yes, 18, the newest birthday around here!) has been deliberating about what seminary to attend next year.  She was in an extremely good position since she did very well in the Israeli seminary she attended this year and her principal really wanted to keep her there for the second year.  She was considering an American seminary and interviewed there.  Before she heard back from them, she decided to stay with the Israeli seminary.  Then a friend currently studying at that seminary heard from the principal of the American seminary that they were very impressed with her and want to work with her to make it possible for her to attend.  (It’s a much more expensive program.)

The financial details remain to be worked out, but they’ve offered her a job as the manager of the school kitchen, a position reserved for very responsible students with leadership abilities.  In lieu of a salary she’ll receive a tuition cut and this will make it possible for her to dorm there, an experience I really wanted her to have.  She will continue her studies in industrial design with her current class in the coming year; her principal was very accommodating about this (usually if someone isn’t currently enrolled in the seminary, they can’t remain with their classmates and have to transfer to a parallel track).

Ds15 left to a one week sleep away camp today.  My older three kids attended sleep away camps when they turned 12, but the summer he turned 12 was right before we made aliyah.  The camp we had sent our older son to had administrative changes and the costs weren’t  manageable, so I very regretfully couldn’t send him.  I’m so, so happy for him to have this opportunity now.  I hope he’ll have an amazing time; he’s worked really hard this past year in school and deserves the break.

Skip all the middle kids, down to Yirmi.  Sorry, no time.  :)  Not much to say, either.  :)

Now that Yirmi turned 2, I decided it’s time to transition him from a crib to a bed.  This is never something that we enjoy doing since it’s so much easier to plop a child into a crib and know they’ll stay there.  It’s even more challenging since he’s used to falling asleep in a quiet room (ds12 shares a room with him and goes to sleep after him) and now he’s sleeping with ds8, ds6 and ds5.  Even when they’re quiet, there are a lot of noises from them moving around.  We started a couple of weeks ago with putting him in his bed for naps.  Now we’re moving onto having him sleep in his own bed at night.  Tonight was the first night and he was very unhappy about my persistence in keeping him in bed.  The challenge is for the adult to stay persistent with this until he’s used to his new sleeping arrangements.  We’ll see how long it takes.

I’ve begun looking for gluten free recipes that use frugal local ingredients, since Yirmiyahu understandably wants to eat what everyone else has and it doesn’t feel so fair to hand him a rice cake when everyone else is having something that looks noticeably tastier.  Right now I have a pot of quinoa pudding simmering on the stove, using sesame milk to replace the dairy milk.

Okeydoke, my time is just about over so I’m going to sign off for the night and hit send.  Don’t worry if you don’t hear from me, all is well but things are just busy and like I said, I’m trying to make self-care and getting adequate rest a priority.  :)



Preparations for Tisha B’Av

tishaBav[1]This year has been such an intense period of sadness for the Jewish people that it’s been all too easy to be in the spirit of the Three Weeks.

I went to a talk given by someone who grew up in Gush Katif (Gaza Strip) and was living there when the expulsion of all Jews took place in 2007.  It was more of a dramatic presentation than a speech, actually.  I came a few minutes late and when I entered, saw her standing in the center of the room with a balloon in her hands, with a number of other balloons on the floor.  She moved to Gush Katif as a five year old in 1978, married and had five children there.  Each balloon represented a memory in her twenty five years of living in Gush Katif (specifically Kfar Darom).

After she finished sharing the last vignette, someone rose from the audience and began to viciously pop every balloon, until all that were left was her sobbing, prostrate on the floor, with the shreds of the balloons scattered around her.

As a haunting song played the words from Tehillim, “G-d, why have you abandoned me?” and then went on to sing about the dawning of light, she slowly got up and began to gather the shreds of the balloons – the shreds of her life.  She bit by bit fastened them to a shape of a house made of tape on the wall behind her, as it became clear without words that her home now has been built upon the shreds of broken memories and dreams of the expulsion.

As the song came to a close, she sat down with a tehillim in her hand, the ribbon of a single balloon that said LOVE (representing G-d) wrapped around her hand, the balloon floating above her head.

It was amazingly powerful.

Then she shared with us about the background to this presentation.  She said after the expulsion she spoke many times before audiences until she reached a point she couldn’t listen to herself talk anymore.  Then for years she didn’t talk about it, until a couple of months ago she went to a therapeutic drama workshop.  She was asked, “Where are your memories of Gush Katif?” and she responded, “They’re locked up tightly in a box inside me.”

The presentation she gave was a direct result of her therapeutic process, as she began to open up and deal with the emotional trauma she experienced.  She told us how much she regretted having agreed to speak, and procrastinated about her preparations for this talk until the day before.  I was shocked to learn that this was the first time she’s ever presented in this way; she said it was very difficult for her emotionally.  Her emotion had been apparent but I thought perhaps it was done theatrically.  Our feedback to her had been that her message was incredibly powerful and touching, a testament to the suffering and loss of all those expelled as well as a the power of faith in G-d.

When I was younger, I wondered how the Holocaust could have happened – now in front of our eyes we see people calling for the death and destruction of Jews in countries around the world and it’s clear not only how it happened, but that it could easily happen again.  I see news headlines that are so bizarre that I think they must be parodies – yet they aren’t.  I see a worldwide justification of pure evil and the victimization of those who advocate for truth and justice.

In the middle of this incredibly disheartening and discouraging time, in the middle of the fear and frustration – we’re seeing miracles here in Israel (read an example of one miracle here).  Miracles every day that remind us that G-d is truly looking out for us.

The massive terror tunnels that crisscross underneath all of Gaza and leading into Israel civilian centers have been discovered, the mindboggling terror plot that has been in the planning stages for years and was set to take place on Rosh Hashana this year that would have resulted in the death of thousands – it was revealed and thwarted at the very last moment, just in time for us to take actions to save ourselves.  It came about through circumstances that were incredibly painful, but it allows us to directly see and feel G-d’s love and kindness in the midst of our difficulties.

Herehere and here are some of my past Tisha B’Av posts that include links to different videos and lectures for children and adults.  This year Ohr Nava has a lineup of speakers available online, as does the Chofetz Chaim Foundation (and many others – please share in the comments section if you have a favorite!).  Learning Torah is forbidden on Tisha B’Av; unfortunately, Jewish history is filled with suffering,  and reading/ learning about any of that is appropriate on this day.

Wake the Dawn: The Story of Jerusalem’s Holy Temple is a video that I plan to watch with our children on Tisha B’Av.

I usually read Book of our Heritage and learn the laws relating to the three weeks.  Another book that I love for Tisha B’Av is ‘And Rachel was His Wife’ – this is a novel set in the times of the Temple that is engaging and well-done, suitable for approximately ages 12 and up.

Tisha B’Av is not only the saddest day of the year, but the hardest fast of the year.  I can’t quickly find my past post about how to physically prepare for a fast but for those of you who see this in time, I’ll briefly suggest: lots of fluids (3 – 4 liters daily) ideally for the two days before the fast; the meal before the fast should be a mixture of proteins, good fats and some carbohydrates.  Watermelon is a wonderful food in the day or two before the fast to get you hydrated and keep you hydrated!

May this year our sorrow be turned to gladness!


1 month update on neurodevelopmental program for ds12

(Not ds12)

(Not ds)

Five weeks ago, I told you that we were preparing to begin a neurodevelopmental program for ds12 and that I’d update you with our progress at the time of our first follow up after four months.

It obviously hasn’t been four months but I’m so amazed and delighted with the changes we’ve seen in the short time since we began that I have to share!

First, a little bit about our neurodevelopmental program.  Our program for ds12 is two hours a day; an hour of this is comprised of two half-hour activities.  The remaining hour is mostly made up of activities of very short duration (2 -3) minutes that are supposed to be done 2 – 3 times a day.  That might not sound like so much but after a month, I’m still not doing everything with him daily.  I’m happy at this point to get to almost all of the activities once a day.

What’s amazing is the kind of changes we’re seeing even though we’re not fully following the program and it took two weeks until we were even doing half the daily activities.  This fits in with the unofficial theme of the week, how you don’t have to be perfect to see good results from your efforts.  :)

To recap about why we decided to do a neurodevelopmental program: ds12 was very emotionally reactive, with poor social skills and self-image.  We give him a lot of time, love, patience – but it wasn’t enough.  It was clear to me that we were missing a piece in the puzzle – I felt like there was some part of his that needed to be rewired.

That’s what ND work does – it rewires your child’s brain.  And it turned out, that is what he needed – to strengthen connections to particular parts of his brain that were weak.

When we began, he was cautiously willing to do the activities but quickly felt discouraged because everything was a challenge.  He was quite resistant  and initially we really had to push him to do the activities.

I emailed our ND therapist to ask if it was normal for behavior to get much worse, because his behavior about two weeks after we began got horrible, much worse than I had ever seen.  Really over the top.  Screaming, crying, extreme emotional overreactions.  All day long.

She said it was normal.  His reaction reminded me of cleaning out the basement, how you have to pull out all the junk before you can thoroughly reorganize - it gets much messier before it starts to look better.  This was the same thing.  Seeing this behavior made dh and I both feel even more committed to sticking out this process.

Now we’re a month in and I.can.not.believe.the difference.  I didn’t expect to see noticeable results for a few months and definitely not until we had consistently been doing the full program for a while.  I didn’t expect that the small things that we did with him could have such huge results so soon.

He is so much happier.

He used to constantly tell me he had the most annoying siblings in the world and get very frustrated with his younger brothers and do passive aggressive things to them (trip them when they walked by, pinch them when he thought I wasn’t looking, eg).  They often told me how mean he was to them and didn’t enjoy spending time with him.

Three weeks into our ND program, I noticed he was playing Monopoly every day with ds6 and they were both having a great time.  Every day.  He never played like this with ds6 before.  He began spending two hours every afternoon doing activities with ds8.  (He walked in while I was writing this and asked me what I’m writing about.  I said, about his ND program and asked him if he sees any changes in himself.  No, he said, but his younger brothers aren’t so annoying anymore. :))  Ds15 and dd13 have started walking with him in the evenings, the three of them doing some program activities together as a group.

He is much more cheerful, helpful and calm.  I came home a couple of days from a morning appointment, and he asked me if I had eaten yet and when he heard I hadn’t, offered to make me a meal.  He now usually handles disappointments gracefully rather than exploding.  I can almost see his self-esteem growing in front of my eyes.  He now smiles often and usually is in a good or neutral mood.

His auditory processing has already jumped from 5 – 6.  I wrote about the importance of auditory processing – this seemingly minor improvement is HUGE (go read the post that I linked if you haven’t so you can understand why all of this is connected).  His visual processing has also jumped a digit.

His physical stamina is building, his gait when he walks has improved.

Edited to add this tidbit because I had to share! – On Shabbos our family enjoys singing together but ds12 had always refused to join in despite our encouragement to participate.  This Shabbos he voluntarily joined our family in singing zemiros (Shabbos songs), as naturally as if this was something he had been doing for years.  Dh leaned over to me to be sure I noticed but whispered not to comment or draw attention to him.  I noticed the moment I heard his voice ring out and wouldn’t have missed it in any case, but a moment later from the other side of the table, dd17 looked at me, raised her eyebrows significantly in the direction of ds12 and subtly pointed to him to singing.  It was beautiful.

It’s pretty incredible to see this taking place. I’m so encouraged to have found a way to help him at the core level and I love seeing the remarkable young man I knew was in there emerge.  I’m looking forward to seeing what happens over the coming months!


The pressure to be the perfect mother

>>You know, parenting is so all consuming and I never feel I’m doing as well as I’d like. But I look at you and so many times, you’ve got it nailed down. Even if you don’t show us your every mistake, I think you are doing an awesome job, and I really appreciate that this specialist bothered to acknowledge it, because you know what, almost all of us want to hear it at least now and then after we’ve poured heart and soul into something for so long.<<

I often feel like I’m not doing as well as I would like – thoughts like this sneak in pretty regularly!

I don’t have it all nailed down, far from it.

I see a lot of people online who seem to be doing a lot more with their kids than I do with mine.  Parents who are more focused and goal directed, parents who provide their kids with T21 with more cognitive/physical support, parents who offer their homeschooled kids more active support in following their passions, parents who do more of everything, parents who have more of everything.

But my  kids weren’t sent to those parents; they were sent to me.  Perfectly imperfect me.

My message on this blog isn’t that I’m awesome and I’ve got it all figured out, because I haven’t.

If there’s a message I want to share, it’s that you can be lacking and inadequate, you can fall short and doubt yourself often – and your family can still be pretty darn wonderful.

When my oldest daughter was diagnosed with an eating disorder, I felt I had totally failed.  It was as if all the good things I had done for years had never happened.  I stopped writing about parenting, I stopped doing parenting consultations and I stopped trusting myself as a parent.

My husband spent four months in the US with her as she went through treatment, and one of the first things he told me when he came back was, “None of what you did all these years was wasted, it’s all still there inside of her.  She’s an incredible girl and a lot of the credit for that is thanks to what you gave her.”

I didn’t see it at the time, but he was right.  She had a big bump on her life path, but the person she was, the relationship we had – it was just temporarily obscured.  It wasn’t gone.  When the sun came out again, everything was better and brighter than before the dark clouds of life covered it all up.

So your family can turn out great with the efforts you worry aren’t enough.

And you, right now, as you are – you’re wonderful. The perfectly imperfect mother who never does all she wants to do.  That’s a hard one to believe, isn’t it?

We have to learn to recognize what we do, validate ourselves, pat our own backs.  Sometimes we get a little bonus when someone from the outside appreciates what we do, and that’s really nice.  But we have to live with ourselves every day and that means we have to consciously reprogram the thoughts in our mind that can grind us down and make us feel we’re not enough, we’re never enough, and we’re never going to be much better than we are right now no matter how hard we try.  All of that is a lie.

Countering this lie isn’t a one time lesson.  I can’t write about this in the past tense as something I’ve worked on and surmounted, because this is a constant daily effort – to appreciate myself as I am when I’m having an adequate day, or especially when I’m having a much less than adequate day, not only on the days when I can check off every item on a long and detailed to-do list.  To value myself as a human be-ing, not a human do-ing.

It’s about progress, not perfection.

It’s about learning to love ourselves, learning to nurture ourselves and appreciate ourselves as we are right now – just the way we love and nurture our children.


Breakthrough meeting at Yirmiyahu’s two year assessment

Today Yirmiyahu and I went to his two year appointment with the child development doctor, his speech therapist and his physical therapist.    We have these appointments about every six months.  You may remember that I haven’t enjoyed these meetings in the past and even though our interactions have improved, I still had an apprehensive feeling when thinking about this meeting.

I was thinking about how to approach the meeting and decided it’s important at this point to share with them a bit more of what I do with Yirmiyahu, beyond what they directly ask me about.

The doctor started the meeting with a smile, saying she heard that I’m teaching Yirmiyahu several languages (ie English, Hebrew and sign).  She asked me what words he knows and I began listing them.  She was happy to hear that I use sign together with speech (not to replace it), and asked me what signs he knows and if he uses them independently to communicate.

We were talking while Yirmiyahu was walking around, squatting in place, asking me for a drink and drinking while standing.  They watched him playing with a doll imaginatively rather than copying what he was shown.  In response to her questions, I detailed some examples of how he follows instructions and shows comprehension of what he hears.

When he pointed to their computer and indicated he wanted to climb up to it, I explained he’s used to sitting with me at the computer and asked if they wanted to see the program we do together.  I had brought my laptop along just in case it was relevant, so I pulled it out and turned on the early literacy program (Brillkids) that we do daily.  This is a fantastic program that Yirmiyahu loves – he comes to me several times a day and signs ‘words’ to ask me to do this together with him.  Seeing a demonstration of what Yirmiyahu does at home was more valuable for them than hearing about it, and they could also see how attentive and engaged he was by the words and pictures.

I feel like this appointment was a game changer. The doctor didn’t refer to Down syndrome even once. She didn’t grade him and tell me how he was doing compared to other kids. She didn’t talk about delays, she didn’t pressure me about putting him into a special needs daycare. She didn’t tell me I need to come for more frequent therapy.  She didn’t say anything like, ‘kids like him’, ‘special needs’ – it was just about him as an individual.

After all the assessments were finished, the doctor said to me, “You’ve obviously been very successful with him.”  In the past I would wanted specific feedback on what she meant by that but today I just said, “Well, he’s an amazing boy!”  And then she replied, with something I never expected to hear, “Yes, he is an amazing boy, and you are an amazing mother.”

And then she repeated, “You are an amazing mother.”

There’s a saying, “Don’t quit until the miracle happens.” Well, this is how I feel about my interactions with the child development team.  I stuck with them, they stuck with me, we kept trying to communicate and we’ve gotten to a good place of mutual respect and appreciation.  It’s been a journey.


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.


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.


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.


This drawer is for Yirmiyahu’s toys.


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.


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


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).


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).


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!



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.


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.