Monthly Archives: December 2007

Happy New Year!

I’ve had a busy two weeks, and I’ve been unable to get into my blog and share with you all the things I’ve wanted to.   I had some computer repair work done and all the cookies were wiped off of my computer (that included all the passwords into any site I frequent, including my own!).  Somehow, I didn’t have the right password and username to get onto my blog, and I kept getting the message that my email address didn’t exist so they couldn’t send me the necessary info.  I was so frustrated!

Fortunately tonight my website designer came to the rescue – it turns out she set up the username and password and she had a record of it.  It’s nice to be back!

Since all of my thoughts that I planned to share about consumerism, how to enjoy the holidays, affordable gift giving and more are too late to be relevant, I’ll just wish all of you a very happy New Year.  Here in my neighborhood, the fireworks have been going off for an hour already, and we still have a few minutes until midnight!  May the coming year be filled with good things for us all.


Sprouting grains

Today I did something I’ve thought about doing for a long time but never did – I sprouted wheat grains!  Are you wondering why in the world I would want to do that? 

Grains have phytic acid in them, and this blocks the nutrients present in the grains from being fully utilized.  So while you might feel really healthy when your diet is filled with whole grains, not nearly as many of the nutrients are  absorbed by your body as you might expect.  There are a couple of ways to remedy this.  The suggestion I’ve seen most often recommended for improving the quality of flour is to soak the flour in an acidic medium before baking with it.  But this didn’t appeal to me since it would change the quality of the bread. 

Then I remembered reading somewhere about someone who soaked and sprouted her wheat, then dehydrated it, and then ground it.  That option would give me a good quality flour and the flour would maintain it’s usual consistency for baking.  So I decided to try that.

The sprouting went much more quickly than I expected.  I needed to sprout a large amount of wheat, so I couldn’t use the usual quart jar that I use for sprouting salad sprouts.  I filled up a large pot a little more than halfway with grain, then filled it up close to the top with water.  In the morning, the pot was almost full since the water was mostly absorbed.  I poured out the remaining water and rinsed the wheat with fresh water before draining it again.  I was concerned about how effectively it would sprout due to the large amount that I was working with, but it really worked out fine.  I stirred it around when I swished water in, so that whatever was in the middle or top would switch places.  I did this a total of three times.

The wheat sprouted after a day and a half, much faster than I was expecting.   I didn’t even notice the tiny sprouts at first; my kids had to bring it to my attention.  Then I put all of the sprouted wheat into a big turkey roaster to dehydrate on a low temp in the oven, and periodically stirred it.

On one of the early stirrings, dd decided to taste one of the grains, and thought it was so good that she asked if she could eat some.  At first I thought she was joking, but then I realized it would potentially make a nice dish, so I agreed that we could cook a few cupfuls up.  I served it with butter and honey, and everyone gobbled it all up for lunch, and requested more.  I agreed again, but told them we would need to start more wheat sprouting so we would have the flour to bake with when we needed – that was the point of doing all this!  Today we started another large amount of wheat soaking, maybe about 15 cups or so (two potfuls this time). 

It’s amazing how easy this was – I initially envisioned it would be very time consuming (which is why I was reluctant to try it for so long), but the hands on time for it was maybe ten minutes total.  Most of the time involved was waiting.  I think the hardest part is just thinking and planning a couple of days ahead so that the grains are ready for grinding when you want to make bread.


Using up turkey bones

After two weeks of no food shopping, I went out last night and stocked up on chicken for the month, as well as a few other things.  Without checking, I assumed I would have room in the freezer for it (especially since I hadn’t put anything in for two weeks), which is usually true.  Well, that was a mistake.  My freezer is very full, for which I’m grateful.  But since I didn’t realize this until I got home, I put myself in a challenging situation of having alot of perishable food and no place to store it.  Believe me, I’m not complaining about having too much food.  But I was very busy for hours last night trying to find a solution (and I’m still working on it today!).

I started by rearranging the fridge to make room for the new groceries.  Since earlier in the day I defrosted a large amount of fish to make two new recipes in bulk, I took that out.  Then I prepared two fish pies and several loaves of a three layer fish dish – so there was more room in the fridge – but then I needed freezer space to store it!  It was a classic catch 22 situation, and one that was repeated every time I tried to make more room.

I realized last night that I had some fresh turkey bones in the fridge so I made a pot of stock (that now needs to go into the freezer).  I deboned it and have a pan full of turkey for a stir fry or pot pie now, but then my kids told me we have more turkey bones in the freezer.  So I figured I would just cook up another batch and be finished with all of the bones at once.

Because of their shape, they take up a disproportionate amount of room, so even though I would need to put stock and a pan or two of shredded turkey back in the freezer, I figured I would have some space gain.  I asked my ds8 to bring up all the bones – and he brought up three big supermarket bags full!  I didn’t realize they had been accumulating – I vaguely remember dh bringing them home and asking what to do with them, and me telling him to put them in the freezer.  But I didn’t see how much he had, and assumed it was the same amount as usual (enough for one pot of soup).  Usually I don’t  have more than one batch in the freezer at a time at the very most, but there was a lot after Thanksgiving (in case you’re wondering how we could possibly have so many turkey carcasses, we got them for free from a friend who owns a restaurant).  I’m now on my second bagful, so we’re down about 8 carcasses.  Just 10 or so carcasses still waiting to be dealt with!!  My sink and counter are full of them!

I’ve decided to spend all day making stock and since it’s so concentrated, I can freeze it in small amounts.  When I defrost it, I’ll add plenty of water and each container of stock will be the base for a delicious soup.  Since I’ll have an entire shelf available in the freezer with all of those bones taken out, I’m planning to spend some time cooking ahead all the chicken I brought home and then pans of chicken will replace the bones.  And then I should have a little more room in the fridge – so I can go shopping for vegetables. :)

By the way, do you know how extremely good for you properly prepared bone broths/stocks are (not the stuff that comes in a can from the supermarket)?  I didn’t, until reading Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon a couple of years ago, a combination of a cookbook and nutritional information resource.  She goes into detail about the benefits – a gelatin rich broth (the gelatin is released by the bones that are cooked for a long time) supply hydrophilic colloids to the diet (you’ll have to read the book to know what that means!), and are protein sparing and thereby allow the body to fully utilize the proteins taken in.  Gelatin also is useful in the treatment of many chronic diseases.   Broths also contain amino acids, cartilage, and collagen, which have been used to treat a number of health ills.  In short, they are very nourishing and if you are on a limited food budget, they are not only inexpensive to make, but can substitute for meat in the diet.  You can cook your grains in them, use it to flavor other dishes, or use it as a base for incredibly flavorful soup.  I always marvel at how everyone seems to think that you need a powdered MSG filled soup mix to give a soup flavor – definitely not!

Last winter I posted instructions on how to make stock from scratch, so if you want to try your hand at it, you can click here.


How do homeschooling moms get a break?

‘As a homeschooler who is around your kids all the time, when and how do you get a break?    What do you do when your kids are driving you crazy?’

For me this is an issue that has become much less of an issue over the years – maybe partially because I don’t have negative judgement of myself or my kids when some days are harder than others, and partially because we’re used to being around each other and enjoy each other for the most part.  If I see someone is having a hard time (and this includes me), I try to see where it’s coming from, and address the source.  For example, an overtired child will be sent to take a nap, or go to sleep early, and I’ll remind myself that the behavior I’m seeing is because of exhaustion. Sometimes I haven’t been as consistent in the discipline area as I needed to be and I had to tighten up, and sometimes I’ve been too uptight and needed to loosen up.  It just depends on what is going on and addressing the root issue vs. the symptom is what has worked for me. 

Since I now have older kids around, I can physically take a break if I need to, which  obviously won’t be a helpful suggestion for a mom with much younger kids.:)  But I didn’t have this option for years!  I think that a daily rest time can be helpful, and is something I sometimes did when everyone was younger.  They didn’t have to sleep, but they had to be quiet – reading, listening to a cassette, etc – and they had to stay in their room – for the designated amount of time.  I would coordinate this time for when the toddler or baby was taking a nap.  This gave me a chance to have a breather, and this daily recharging kept me going even during the less pleasant days (and we all have them).  

When a mom is feeling positive and relaxed, she transmits that and the kids tend to be lots more enjoyable to be around in that case.  It’s usually when we’re tired, tense, burnt out, or overwhelmed in general that our kids seem to be the most challenging, and I’ve come to realize that it’s not coincidental!  They pick up on our signals.

Also, it was very helpful when I respected my needs as a parent and let my children know what kind of behavior I wanted to see.  When I clarified this and consistently gave this same message, supporting my words with action, things became much more enjoyable as I didn’t feel myself getting tense about lots of annoying things – if it really bugged me, I made it clear the actions were off limits, even if it wouldn’t bother other moms – and for the most part, the kids stopped doing it (after learning that there would be decisive action if they did). 

Here are some starter questions you can ask yourself if you’re feeling burnt out and like you want a break from your child.  Do you expect too much of your child?  Do you expect too much of yourself?  Is this behavior normal for a child his/her age?  Are you dealing with a lot outside of the homeschooling arena that is affecting your energy?  Everyone will have different answers, but clarifying your answers will help you find the the best solution for you.  


Parenting well takes a lot of work

Today I’m feeling discouraged.  I love helping other moms work through issues I’ve worked through, because I know how hard it can be.  That’s what I try to do here and on some other boards that I sometimes frequent.  But sometimes it seems really hard to effectively communicate and not be misunderstood. Parenting is such a charged issue that it’s hard to say  anything too non-generic without eliciting defensiveness or negativity from someone.   I’ve experienced this myself, and I’ve seen this dynamic a number of times in various venues with others. 

I’ve never tried to portray myself as perfect, and I’ve never tried to gloss over the challenges of raising kids.  I don’t have perfect kids – there’s no such thing.  Sometimes they misbehave, aren’t respectful, or do the wrong thing.  But having made that disclaimer, all in all they are really great kids. And putting aside false modesty – whenever you see a really nice family, you have to realize that it didn’t happen by default.  (I met a mom with three kids in the library and after noticing the interactions between her kids while I was there, commented favorably to her on her oldest child treated her younger siblings.  She said, ‘Yes, she’s a good kid,” and I told her, “You have to take credit for creating the environment where that developed, because something like that doesn’t happen by itself.”)

Let me be really clear – parenting is hard work.  I realize that some of my suggestions sound simplistic to some people.  I strongly advocate active and involved parenting, keeping your kids close by, and supervising closely.  Is that the answer to everything?  Of course not.  But it’s amazing what a big difference it makes.  When you combine that with actively and regularly building the relationship, it’s very powerful and effective.

Some people think that my suggestions are too hard and unrealistic.   That’s okay.  As the saying goes, ‘Take what you like and leave the rest.”   I can only share my experience and what’s worked for me.  My intent is never to hurt or slight anyone, or to judge anyone who does things differently than I do.  What works for me isn’t necessarily going to be the best approach for everyone.  But I really hope that anyone who’s been reading my blog for a while knows my intent is to share and be helpful.  I’ve finally come to the realization that I can’t keep people from reading into what I say/write intentions that I don’t have, no matter how careful I try to be. 

Please feel free to ask for clarifications if something I say doesn’t make sense, or to disagree (that’s what the ‘comments’ are for). 


Holiday coupons for gift giving

As far as gift giving goes, one thing that we do is give the kids a homemade coupon book as a gift – I mentioned this last year.  This is really popular with our kids.  This year when I created them I looked at my files of what we gave last year to see what was most used.  That helped me to create coupons I was sure would all be well received.  Basically, I use coupons as the gift of our time/personal attention, or for things they like to do but we don’t usually agree to.  I also offered 2 chore replacements for the older kids (out of a booklet of 10).

One of the coupons we gave our three younger kids (8.5,7,5) is for a sleepover on the pullout couch in the living room with a sibling.  These three children regularly request this, and usually get told ‘no’.  So last night the 5 yo used his coupon for a sleepover and invited his 8.5 year old brother to be his sibling of choice.  (That was after asking his 11 yo sister, who really didn’t want to accept the honor. :))

The two oldest girls also used a coupon right away, a couple of nights ago.  We have family video night once a month, along with educational videos that relate to what we’re studying.  So one coupon was for each child to watch a video of their choice, by him or herself, with me or dh.  (DVD player is in our room.)  Because they have similar interests in movies, I allowed them to each use ‘half’ a video credit and watch the movie they chose together, and then they can use the other half to watch another movie together.  They chose Ice Princess, which they loved – it’s a G rated Disney movie, but not something I would choose for a family video.  I recently showed them some clips of ice skating footage from past competitions and they enjoyed it very much, and this was an ice skating movie – so, perfect. 

I really like that they are cashing in their coupons so quickly this year – last year everyone was hoarding them and there was a rush about a month ago when everyone realized the year was almost over and they better use them before they expired.  When I owe money, I like to pay it off immediately, and so this is kind of similar -I owe my kids these things, and I’m happy to ‘pay it off’ as soon as I can. :)

This may sound like a simple or boring gift, but don’t underestimate it – the kids all look forward to this and excitedly go through their coupon books when they get them.  Next year I’m thinking that I will change the way I present the coupons, maybe in a certificate form instead of as a booklet.  But I have plenty of time to think about that!


Homemade cough syrup

Everyone around here still has that pesky cough – it seems that lots of people have gotten this now.  Dh went to the health food store a couple of days ago for the remedy that I wanted, but they didn’t carry it.  So he went to another store that sells homeopathics that we’ve never been to before – and they didn’t have it either! 

Dh told the doctor (I don’t know what kind of doc, but not a homeopath) what we wanted, and he looked it up in his homeopathic reference book. He had never heard of it but when he saw what it was indicated for, he agreed it was the right thing for this kind of cough, and said he’s going to order it for the store since it seems it would be helpful for many people. 

Then he recommended a homeopathic cough syrup (that we already have but dh didn’t know that), and told dh that to really help the baby, we should hold him upside down when he coughs – he said it would help him expel the phlegm.  Um – that might make sense but I’m really not going to try that.  I can just imagine how a little baby would feel to be held upside down when he’s already not feeling good. 

Yesterday one of the major newspapers had an article in their online version (can’t remember which paper it was) and they said that recent studies have shown that honey is more effective in helping coughs than over the counter cough syrups (like Robutussin).  No surprise, is it?  It’s so interesting to see how so many things that past generations instinctively knew are being corroborated by science nowadays. 

You can quickly make a cough syrup replacement using equal amounts of honey and lemon juice or raw apple cider vinegar (I like the taste of lemon juice better but the ACV is better for you).  Just stir it up and give your kids a spoonful.  Tastes lots better than cough syrups, too! However, raw honey isn’t safe for infants under the age of one.  Not that most people are using raw honey anyway since most of the honey sold is pasteurized, but it’s something to be aware of. 

This is quicker than the natural cough syrup I made last winter – I sliced up a couple of onions and let them sit in honey for a week or so.  That released the antioxidants in the onions into the honey.  Once it was finished, I threw the onions away and used the remaining syrup by the teaspoonful for coughs. 


Is boarding school the answer?

Recently I was out shopping and ran into a woman who called me three years ago asking about homeschooling, and has spoken to me a couple more times since then about the increasing difficulty with her son and asked for advice to handle him.  Though I spent a lot of time with her to understand the situtation and gave some clear suggestions regarding her son, she said my suggestions were too hard.  I pointed out a year ago that living with a volatile adolescent who was almost entirely out of control wasn’t easy, either, and would get much worse if it weren’t dealt with.  “Yes, but…..”

This is the challenge of parenting – sometimes doing what we need to do is really hard.  We’re tired, worn out, and emotionally spent at the end of a day.  It’s hard to be proactive and implement new ways of doing things.  I think this is at the heart of why there are so many books about ‘how to parent’.  Many parents are looking for quick and easy tips, for quick fixes to big problems that don’t entail making any real changes to how they already are doing things.  And I don’t blame them – I myself would love a magic pill or to just use the right phrases and voila – perfect children!  But that’s not the reality of parenting.

Back to the woman in the store.  I asked her how things were going with her almost 13 year old son (she called me initially when he was 10).  She said, “Better.”  Really, I asked, glad to hear it but surprised (surprised because I didn’t think she was going to make any changes in her approach to her son).  “Yes, he’s getting older, and soon he’ll be old enough to go to yeshiva out of town (boarding school) for high school, so he won’t be at home anymore.”  Oh.  I ask her if she thinks that sending him away for school is going to address his issues, and she says unconvincingly, “Maybe – sometimes it helps kids.”

Sometimes, I think to myself, but not this time, when nothing that’s led to the situation developing has changed.  If the parents can’t positively influence him at home and encourage the behavior they want to see, how likely is it that in the 24/7 atmosphere of peer presence that he’s going to rise to actualize his higher self?  We all know how good an influence peers are on susceptible kids, don’t we?   (Yes, I’m being a bit sarcastic.)  This boy also has lots of friction in his interactions with his parents, as well as watching ongoing conflict between his parents.  How would going to a school far away change that?  I would be willing to bet money that this boy will probably be asked to leave at least the first school they send him to, and that the parents response is going to be to explain it away because it wasn’t the right kind of place.  And then their energies will go into finding a different school.  Sheesh.


Coughing and feeling yucky

Everyone’s been under the weather here for the last few days, when the weather suddenly got very cold.  I always find that sudden weather changes result in the kids getting sick.  This time it’s a runny nose and chesty cough. 

My very good friend organized our synagogue Chanuka party to encourage a sense of community among members, and my older girls are volunteering (they just left to take care of setting up and whatever else they need to do before it starts a little later today).  I’m sure it will be a lot of fun and a nice opportunity to spend time with people I don’t get to regularly see much of.  But I don’t think we’ll go, as much as all the kids are hoping that we will.  

When my husband gets home, I think I’ll run out and buy a homeopathic remedy.  We have one remedy for coughing (spongia tosta), but it’s for a dry barking cough, and isn’t really a good fit for the kind of cough they have.   Homeopathics are very specific, and the best benefits come from accurately matching the symptoms and remedy.  I don’t know nearly enough about homeopathics, so I did research online.  (I just love the internet – it’s fantastic how much great and useful information you can get right away.) 

I don’t take the kids to doctors unless they really get sick, which means they rarely go.  For something like this, the doctor would confirm that there’s some kind of virus going around and that there isn’t any medication that will help, that it will pass with time (I know this from experience, which is why I don’t bother going anymore).  Once when I went to the pediatrician with a child hit hard by a virus, she told me the above, and added that most parents want to leave the doctor’s office with a prescription, since that it makes them feel they are doing something to help their child.  


Yummy Cinnamon Rolls

We made fresh cinnamon rolls for breakfast, along with eggs and rice.  They were delicious – isn’t everything especially good when it’s fresh from the oven?  I made this same recipe a week or so ago and wasn’t thrilled with it.  So I eliminated the overly sweet maple topping (I didn’t share that below), replaced the white flour with freshly ground white wheat, and used sucanat in place of the sugar.  Very yummy and it was fairly healthy!

This makes a large recipe so be ready with about six pie pans, and you can pop them into the freezer for another day or can share them with someone else and brighten their day. So here it is:

Yummy Cinnamon Rolls

  • 4 c. milk
  • 1 c. oil (I used coconut oil)
  • 1 c. sugar (I used sucanat)
  • 2 pkg. dried yeast (I think I used 2 T.)
  • 8 c. flour

Mix all this up, let sit covered for an hour.  Then add:

  • 1 c. flour more (I had to add more than this to get it to a good consistency for rolling)
  • 1 t. baking powder
  • 1 t. baking soda
  • 1 T. salt

Once all this is mixed, your dough is ready.  You can start to roll it out right away, or you can leave it covered in the fridge for a day or two. That’s what we did, which is why I had the dough ready to work with in time for breakfast.

Okay, now roll it out on a floured surface into a huge rectangle.  On top of that spread 1 1/2 – 2 c. melted butter (I used coconut oil the first time but preferred the butter flavor), then 1 c. sugar, and last a nice big sprinkling of cinnamon.

Roll up the dough so that you have a long skinny roll (not short and fat). Then cut through the dough at about 1 inch intervals.  Butter the pans, and place about seven rolls in each round pie sized pan in a circle, six around and one in the center.  (That’s not really important, it’s just how we do them and they look pretty.)

Let them rise for 20 – 30 min (it was cold today so I put them in the oven on ‘warm’ to hasten the process), and then bake at 400 degrees for about 15 – 18 minutes.  It’s important that you take them out when they are light golden brown.  Another batch we made was taken out when they were golden, and they were good but on the dry side.

These are especially good served warm, and if I hadn’t served them this morning, would have had some ready for the kids when they came in from playing in the snow.

If you wanted to make this as a rich dessert, you could add a glazed topping, but as I said, we all felt that was way too sweet.