Monthly Archives: August 2008

Today was the bas mitzva

Today we had the bas mitzva party of my second daughter – it was beautiful.  There’s a really nice feeling after it’s all over to know that it was successful in every way, particularly that it was a celebration that was special and meaningful to our daughter.  And I’m glad that everyone was happy with it, too! 

They began by making fleece blankets for hospitalized children – I feel that this age is a spiritual milestone and it’s appropriate to mark it with a clearly defined group act of altruism for others when celebrating.  Then everyone introduced themselves informally, and shared how they knew my daughter.  People often have a hard time wrapping their mind around how kids can make friends if they aren’t in school.  They aren’t aware that there are so many other venues, because that’s how they themselves made friends, and that’s how their kids made friends – so they tend to think that homeschooled kids must be lonely or socially isolated because they don’t attend school.  It was interesting to hear the varied responses, so different from most parties like this – in which the only answer would be, ‘school’.   There were friends from our old neighborhood, homeschooled friends, synagogue friends, teenage friends whom she assisted as a junior counselor for their camp last year, Girl Scout friends, camp friends, and cousins.  It was a very nice group of girls.

An hour into the party, just in time for the introductions and meal, two more friends arrived.  They came by bus all the way from NY (4 hours away) just to be there, and planned to take the next bus home an hour after the party (but we convinced them to stay the night and take a bus tomorrow instead :)).    Here’s the story behind that friendship: my older daughter was friendly with the older sister from sleepaway camp last year, and invited her to spend a weekend with us, which she did.  When she was here, she got to know my younger daughter, and they liked each other, too.  Then when the friend invited my older daughter for a weekend in NY, she invited my younger daughter as well.  And when my girls got there, they got to know the younger sister of that friend, and the two younger (ie, 11 year old) girls hit it off.  Those were the two friends, sisters, who travelled so far just to be there.  Isn’t that amazing, to travel 8 hours to be somewhere for 1.5 hours?!?  I was very touched that they wanted to do that.

But I digressed. :)  After that was the meal, then a speech by my daughter, which she independently planned and talked over briefly with my husband to clarify her ideas.  I had no idea what she was going to say, but she was articulate and poised (didn’t use notes) and shared some meaningful concepts that she thought about.  This particular child has a depth to her thought process – it’s a gift – and comes up with concepts that are surprisingly (to those who don’t know her already) mature and eloquent (her 15 year old brother only partially jokingly told her she should write a commentary on the Bible).  My mom then spoke, followed by a group presentation by five of her friends, which we didn’t know about until a few minutes before we called on them!  Then my father in law spoke, and my husband spoke – everyone spoke briefly but from the heart.  I’m not a fan of long and drawn out speeches (and goodness knows it’s hard for younger people to sit through), but it was the perfect time to just share their appreciation of her and that’s what they all did. 

After the speeches, we had dessert and dancing.  I was slightly concerned that we hadn’t left enough time for dancing, since we started the dancing only 15 minutes before we were scheduled to end.  But no one left until a half hour after the scheduled ending time, and a bunch more stayed an hour later, so they got lots more dancing and fun in together. 

It was a beautiful event, and the credit goes mostly to my two oldest girls. They planned it, the schedule, activities, handled the invitations and rsvps, decorations, down to the smallest details, like borrowing the appropriate dance music from friends.  They planned the menu and prepared most of the food.  I did help with the food prep (meaning I chopped all the veggies and cut up some fruit) and set up, but not much more than that.  They’re quite a team. 

In the last 28 months, we’ve had two baby boys, made a bar mitzva, and two bas mitzvas.  It’s been wonderful to be so involved with all of these celebrations, and I’ve enjoyed every bit of it.  I suppose I’ll somehow adjust to the quieter pace, now that the next bar mitzva is 3.5 years away (and then a few months later, another bas mitzva!).  :)


Ahh, the joy of teenagers!

Ever since my kids came back from camp, I feel like I need to make a rotation for the phone and computer so that we all get a chance to use it.  The 15 and 13 year olds both want to talk to friends, 13 yod has lots of friends to email, ds15 has his paper account for learning stock options that he monitors and studies daily.

Tonight, ds’s options mentor called to tell him about a relevant online seminar.  But our computer speakers weren’t working, so out I went to Staples to buy new ones in time for his seminar.  (While I was there I got some free folders, which was a nice bonus, and picked up some of their super cheap school supplies.)  Back home, he installed the speakers, 8 minutes before the seminar was to start. 

Well, I have no idea what he did, but he wasn’t able to get onto his seminar, so he left to view it at his mentor’s home.  I grabbed my opportunity so I could post here, and I couldn’t get into my account, or in two other places I usually have no problem with.  Fun, fun.  I finally got on, but it took a bit of time since I don’t do it often enough to remember any of the passwords and usernames.  He must have deleted all the cookies or something. 

Teenagers are amazing.  I love, love, love having teenagers.  They are so enjoyable to spend time with, and are mature and old enough to see the wisdom of a lot of things their parents do, so there are very few disagreements.  Most people give you the impression that teenagers are hard to live with because of personality clashes, but for me, the hard part of having teenagers around is things like this.  I guess I can’t really complain, can I? :)


Apprenticeship opportunity for teens

About two months ago, I saw a community notice about a paid apprenticeship for teens.  It’s a new program, for teens ages 16 and up, to teach them about financial responsibility, management, investing, etc, and was limited to only 10 teens.  As soon as I finished reading the notice, I reached for the phone and called the person who was organizing it.  My son was away at camp then, but it had his name written all over it, and I wanted to get more information as well as present him as a potential applicant since he couldn’t call himself. 

I enjoyed our conversation and was impressed with how she was putting the program together, as well as her intent in creating it.  My son had said a short time before that, that he was feeling he needed more guidance in learning what he wanted to learn about finances, and wished he had someone who had done what he wanted to do to give him some guidance or support.  I told her about my son, and asked if they would consider admitting him even though he wasn’t yet 16 (actually, his 15th birthday was the next day).  She asked me about him, and told me they would consider it, but they really needed to speak to him.

Her manager called me a couple of days later, to ask me to have my son call them.  I said he was away, but could call them two weeks later, as soon as he got back.  I sent my son the flyer with the info, and told him about it on visiting day.  He was excited about the possibility of participating, but worried about his chances for being accepted, particularly since he was younger than 16, and because he was concerned that an opportunity like this would be flooded with interested teens.

When he got home, he called them right away, and was told to come in for an application. The application required writing an essay outlining his long and short term goals, as well as answering some other thought provoking questions.  After all of the applications were received, they were going to interview teens that they were interested in.

My son wrote the essay, and gave it in a couple of days later, a day before the deadline.  He was told that the program would start a couple of weeks later, and if they were interested, he would hear from them within a couple of days to come in for an interview.

Days went by, and he didn’t hear anything.  I suggested he call them and make sure his application wasn’t misplaced, but he didn’t want to – he said that if they hadn’t called, it was because he hadn’t made it into the group of people they wanted to speak with.  When a few days after that, the date the program was slated to begin passed, he knew that he wouldn’t be included.

He was disappointed, but he then told me that he had mixed feelings about it all along, because he was concerned how he was going to successfully manage his intensive school schedule with the demands of the program.  I told him that because he was ambivalent about it, he wasn’t projecting a clear positive intention about it and for that reason alone I wasn’t surprised he hadn’t been accepted.

Okay, fast forward to two days ago.  When we started discussing options to school, his mind starting opening up to possibilities, and he started thinking how much he would like to be in this program.  Guess what came in the mail today?  An acceptance letter welcoming him to the program, along with the changed start date (two weeks from now), dated two days ago – written the very day that he changed his attitude about it! 

You could say it’s a coincidence, that they just ‘happened’ to write his acceptance on the very day he released his ambivalence about the program, weeks after his application was given in and the program was set to begin.   But I don’t think so.  I think situations like these give us the opportunity to see the hand of G-d, and that every day is filled with small miracles when we take the opportunity to see them. 

However it happened, receiving that letter today, right after we made the official calls notifying everyone involved that he wouldn’t be returning to school, was even more of a validation and encouragement to my son that he made the right decision! 


The decision has been made!

I’m really, really glad to say that we’ve made the decision regarding my son’s schooling for next year, and all of us are very happy with it.  It’s been on my mind nonstop for several days now, and it’s a relief to have the decision made.

Sooooo…….our 15 year old son will be ……. HOMESCHOOLING!  Once again for the entire day!  (For anyone new, we’ve homeschooled everyone for the last eight years, but sent oldest ds to a high school last year and brought him home for the secular studies.) I’m thrilled, so are all the kids, and the best thing is that he’s chosen it and has a really good feeling about all of it.

His principal doesn’t have a good feeling about it, though.  My husband left a message notifying them he won’t be returning, and a record was probably set for the speed of a call being returned.  :)  He told my husband that every child belongs in school, and wanted to know why he was leaving.  My husband told him that we’re grateful to the school and teachers for all they’ve done, but it wasn’t fully meeting his needs.  And that the only way we saw it possible for those needs to be met was for him to be allowed to miss the night learning, and we didn’t want to ask the school to change policy for him.  The principal was very unhappy about it – his teacher and principal have both told us that our son is a ‘model student’, so it’s a loss for them to have a student like that leave. 

My husband was slightly surprised that the principal responded, “All I can do is beg.”  If anything, he would have expected him to make a counteroffer.  But we’re glad he didn’t, because our decision was made and it saved us getting into negotiating.  We’re grateful they have such a positive feeling about our son, and I’m glad that they had a chance to see a homeschooled boy excel in all areas, in ways that to their way of thinking homeschooling should have prevented him from succeeding (social skills, learning level, behavior, confidence, etc). 

So now I’m having to make some sudden adjustments mentally regarding this, and have to start making plans with him. Something really nice aout having a child this age is: they’re mature enough to access adult level learning.  He’s not limited in his Judaic studies to private tutors or groups of homeschooled boys.  Our community has tons of options for adults, and it’s very exciting to realize how much is available when you start to open up your mind and eyes.  He’s looking into pursuing some learning options that we think will be wonderful, and I have 100% confidence that he’ll be able to pursue an education that looks different than the school model, but will fully prepare him for life. 


Oatmeal muffin recipe

 To start off the day, here’s a yummy breakfast recipe for oatmeal muffins! 

  • 1 c. rolled oats (you can use quick oats, too)
  • 1 c. buttermilk or sour milk (you can add a tablespoon of vinegar to a cup of regular milk; I use kefir)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 c. brown sugar (I’m thinking of trying out agave nectar for this)
  • 1/2 c. coconut oil or butter (or shortening or margarine, but you know those aren’t good for you :) )
  • 1 c. flour (whole wheat for me, of course!)
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1 t. baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Soak oatmeal in buttermilk 1 hour (I soak it overnight because it helps break down the phytic acid and it’s also convenient – in the morning I can get up and immediately add everything else); add egg and beat well. Add sugar and mix, add cooled shortening. Add flour sifted with salt, baking powder and soda. Bake in greased muffin pans in hot oven (400 degrees) 15 to 20 minutes. This should make about a dozen, and I usually make four dozen for one meal.

You can throw in diced fresh fruit, blueberries, raisins, or whatever other kind of dried fruit strikes your fancy.  This is a new recipe that I’m trying, but it looks like it should be good.  If you make it, let me know how you like it.


This week’s menu

I’ve been really lazy all summer long about writing out a menu in time to share it with you for Sunday, but I decided today to share it with you for this week even though it’s already Tuesday.  Maybe it will motivate me to post it more regularly, earlier on, as some of you have told me privately you found it helpful.  Which I appreciated hearing.  :)  I didn’t write it until Sunday afternoon, so Sunday isn’t on it.

Mon – breakfast – oatmeal; dinner – mexican shepherd pie

Tues – breakfast – polenta, cottage cheese; dinner – oat walnut burgers (actually ended up having leftovers from last night because I made so much)

Wed – breakfast – eggs and potatoes; dinner – lasagna

Thurs – breakfast – oatmeal muffins; dinner – fast and easy black eyed peas

I’ve recently adjusted my meal schedule so that dinners on Sun/Tues/Thurs are vegetarian meals, Mon is meat, and Wed is dairy.  The main change from how it’s been all year is to replace one meat meal with a vegetarian meal.  Since we have a lot of meat on the weekend, this is a good balance.  Lunch isn’t listed because we usually have planned leftovers from the night before (I cook a larger amount than I need for one meal for this purpose), or we have something simple and quick like sandwiches or baked potatoes with cheese.  I add salads to our dinner if the main dish doesn’t have a substantial amount of vegetable in it, and usually have fruit and milk for breakfast, but I don’t write that on my plan. 

I don’t strictly stick to this if something comes up, but I find it makes the day run much more smoothly, when I know what we’ll be eating and can plan my time in the day accordingly.


The Shaggy Dog

I can’t remember if I’ve shared this with you before, but we don’t have a tv.  And and until three years ago, we didn’t watch videos, either.  But at that point, I felt that it would be helpful homeschooling-wise to have the ability to selectively use videos, and we accepted the offer of a family member who was giving away their combo monitor/vcr.

I was concerned when we did that, it would be the beginning of a slippery slope, but I’ve been careful to use it with thought and caution, and it’s been great.  I’ve found it especially valuable for science and history videos that supplement our homeschooling (National Geographic and History Channel presentations have been especially useful), but it’s also been nice to watch something purely for fun as a family.  Once a month, we have a family movie night, and finding videos that I find something we all really like and appreciate takes effort.   There are very few contemporary movies that I approve of, even those rated G.     

Last night was our movie night, and everyone really enjoyed the movie we chose, so I thought I’d share about it with you.  It’s called The Shaggy Dog; it was the top grossing movie of 1959, Disney’s first live action movie, and a lot of fun.  There was a bit of suspense, but not enough to make it scary for anyone (I have one child who’s particularly sensitive to this).  It’s about a boy who turns at unexpected times into a dog and then back to himself, because of an ancient spell that is finally broken at the end.  Everyone loved it – the kids all declared it the best movie they’ve ever watched, and I also enjoyed it alot.  So much so, that they asked if they could watch it again, using as an excuse their 9 year old brother who missed it last night when he went to watch the Orioles with my husband (earned 2 free tickets from the summer reading program).  Being the very kind and generous mother I am, and knowing that next week I’m going to be shifting into homeschooling mode and won’t let everyone stay up late for something like this, I agreed, and they’re all happily sitting together and watching it right now. 


Breakfast time

What does breakfast in our house look like?

First of all, breakfast is a meal where we all take time to sit and be together before beginning our busy day.  My husband, because of his work schedule, is frequently not with us for mealtimes, but otherwise, whoever is home is there.  It’s officially supposed to start at 8:30, but that doesn’t always happen, like today (8:50).  I don’t make fancy meals – today breakfast was polenta, cottage cheese, and watermelon – but it’s always something filling and nutritious.  To me, mealtimes are an opportunity to connect with the entire family while everyone eats, not a time to eat and happen to speak to each other.  The focus isn’t on the food, but on our time together. 

Today my oldest son read from a book about prayer and it led us to a discussion about the the importance of establishing a deep emotional connection with G-d, and the purpose of difficulties in helping us build that connection.    This is a book our family chose to read together at each meal, since it has daily selections.  My husband shared a true story that illustrated the importance of a connection, not just getting what you want, that illustrated that we desire connection more than just stuff (a rich man gave his 18 year old son a credit card with no limit, and told him not to contact him anymore since his new wife didn’t want the kid in their life).  Then we talked about how this ties into the law of attraction, what the seeming contradictions are, and how the concepts fit together.  We always try to share some Torah thoughts (sorry, can’t think of a good translation for that) at each meal.  Sometimes it’s quicker, sometimes it leads to a much longer discussion. 

When we talk, it’s not us lecturing the kids.  It’s a discussion – someone will bring up a topic, and we all share thoughts on it.  If someone doesn’t have anything to say, that’s fine, too.  It’s pretty informal and relaxed. 

Then we talked about the video most of us watched last night, what we liked and why we liked it.  This ended up being a discussion of family values and how hard it is to find videos that support that. 

As the meal wound down (breakfast is officially 30 minutes, but today it was closer to 40 minutes), we give the kids a quick reminder of what they need to do after they leave the table.  That means their after breakfast chores, and what they need to do as far as their academic work. Sometimes I’ll ask each child to tell me what they’re going to be doing, and how they’re going to do it, so I know what their plans are.  If we have something outside of our regular routine planned for the day, I’ll go over the plans for the day regarding that outing or activity.  On regular days, it’s just a quick run down of what we’ll be doing that takes about two minutes. 

Then we do a quick clean up (bathrooms, laundry, sweeping, dishes) so we can move on to the next part of our day in a pleasant environment.


Experiencing school related doubts

Since Friday, I’ve been having an experience that reminds me what it’s like to be a potential homeschooler.  How hard it is to do things differently from others around you, to trust the process when others don’t trust you, and to fear that you’re making a mistake that your child will pay for.

Early Friday morning (as in 1 or 2 am, when I suddenly woke up), I had a flash of inspiration regarding my oldest son’s school situation for next year.  Though he’s done well this past year – very well – there are a number of things that don’t fit our goals or philosophies.  And I’ve told you how much time and energy has been required of me to support him in the compromise situation the school and I have come to.  It’s very hard to spend so much time, money, and effort on something you really don’t feel is ideal.  Or even close to ideal.  I’ve been telling my husband for months that I simply can’t do another year like this one, and for two months have been intensely telling him that.   I’ve had a strong feeling of dread regarding the coming school year for my high school son, so I keep trying to not think about how soon school is starting.  As if by not thinking about it, I won’t have to deal with it. 

Back to my 1 am mental light bulb.  Fortunately, when I woke up, my husband did, too.  That was very convenient, since we were able to have a productive conversation and discuss in depth all the issues involved in the long term that concern me.  He finally was able to really hear how strongly I felt about the school situation, understand my reasons, and agreed that the second school would be a much better fit for many reasons.

The problem is that school begins in a few days (Thursday).  I don’t like leaving things to the last minute and rushing around like a maniac.  Particularly when this could easily have been dealt with months ago, and when this week I already am going to be busy preparing for my daughter’s bas mitzva celebration on Sunday. 

And the even bigger problem is, we’re talking about a 15 year old.  Not a five year old, who you can independently make decisions for based on what you think is best, and just tell them to do it.  Teenagers have their own ideas and deserve significant input into a major decision like this.  And my son isn’t buying into my vision of this second school being an excellent choice for him.  Not at all.  That’s despite spending a lot of time talking, listening, discussing, making lists of pros and cons of each school (with his current school having a very short list of pros, long list of negatives, and the other school having the exact opposite – long list of pros, short list of negatives).

All of this is leaving me in an unfamiliar head space.  Which is, wondering if what I feel so strongly about is really the best thing for my son, and if it’s a good idea to push or let go on this one.  I strongly believe in trusting my gut reaction, and the new school feels right to me.  The old one really, really doesn’t.  But he really, really wants to stay where he is.  Despite all the negatives, he wants to be there.  He hates the idea of switching.  

There are intangibles that I’m trying to take into account, and I can’t tell if I’m losing perspective and building up the importance of some things and minimizing the importance of others.  Do you know how hard it is to speak to someone about something like this, and for them to listen and reflect back based on what you’re saying?  Not based on what they would do, but considering who we are and all of our reasons?  I was fortunate to speak to a good friend this morning who validated my thinking, which was particularly nice since the other three people I spoke to all told me to ask a community leader for his opinion on what I should do and think it’s a bad idea (‘if he’s happy, why move him?” Umm, because he’s not getting a good education, and his long term happiness might be more important than letting him stay in his comfort zone…..). 

So right now, I’m not pushing or trying to convince him.  That’s not my approach anyway, but I think he was feeling besieged because we spoke about it at the table with everyone there, and everyone of his siblings old enough to speak (except the 2 year old) thinks he should switch, and keep telling him that.  I’ve told him that this is a decision we’re going to make together and I won’t force him into it.  I’ve also told him why I don’t see the current school as a good option, and put the burden of responsibility on him to tell me how he could make it work there.   A big part of me thinks that if he had more time to get used to the idea, if it wasn’t suddenly thrown at him, then he might be more open to considering it.  But there’s not much time.

So tomorrow I’ll be contacting the school, finding out about setting up an interview for him, and letting the idea sit with him, as well as giving him time to think of new options to present me with.  I’m very open to his ideas.  We have to make a decision very soon, so I’ll keep all of you posted!


Holiday food shopping

With the holidays coming, I thought you might find it valuable to hear how we keep our food expenses in check.  I know that most people spend significantly more during the holidays, but I don’t.  A lot of what I’ll share will sound familiar to you, because I just do more of what I do all year round.

 First of all, think ahead!  Don’t wait until 1 – 2 weeks before the holidays, like everyone else.  The stores will be packed, and in my area, the prices of everything seems to go up then.  Think about what the most expensive/important items you’ll need are.  For me, these are the meats and grape juice.  Fruits and vegetables obviously have to be bought fresh, but if you bake, you can also stock up on flour, sugar, oil, spices, or whatever else you’ll need. 

Once you know what you’re going to need, keep it in mind when you do your regular shopping.  Do you have roasts on a super sale this week? Don’t sigh and think ‘too bad I don’t need them now’!  Snap them up and put them in the freezer.  I bought 24 bottles of grape juice last week (64 oz each), which will hold me well through the holidays, and should be enough until there’s another sale on it, when I’ll again stock up.  I almost never buy grape juice that’s not on sale.  I mentioned that I bought salmon last week – it’s not something I usually have, but when I saw it at a good price, I bought it for the holidays.  Yes, there are 5 more weeks before we have to worry about it, but shopping ahead makes it possible to spread out the expenses associated with the holidays and significantly decrease your hassle and stress. 

I mentioned getting a case of chicken – that will be enough for five weeks, but I’ll be ordering at least one more case in another month.  That means that I’ll have some extra chicken from this month’s overlap that will be for the holidays in addition to whatever else I buy next month.  In addition to that, I have ten lb. chopped meat from last month’s shopping that I’m keeping aside, and 15 lb of lamb breast that I bought when it was 1.99 lb.  So even if there aren’t any incredible sales between now and then, I have two kinds of fish, chicken, lamb, and beef, ready to grace our holiday meals. 

This is a large part of what makes it possible for us to enjoy the holidays, without the financial stress or extensive credit card use that seem to be pervasive at these times.  It’s very freeing to know when the holidays approach that you have almost everything you need already on hand.  No need for standing in long lines, rushing into numerous stores, and maxing out your credit card or energy!

Plan ahead, buy large amounts when the prices are low, and enjoy your holidays!