Monthly Archives: September 2008

Packing pears and apples for long term storage

I have been busy, busy the last couple of days!  Remember all that fruit I told you about at the end of last week?  Well, I’ve been dealing with it, and here’s what I’ve done with some of it. 

I learned something very useful:  you can keep pears and apples for long term storage without refrigeration  (if the weather isn’t too hot) by wrapping each apple or pear in a piece of paper.  I took a bunch of newspaper from the recycling pile, ripped it in appropriate sized pieces, and put my younger kids to work. :)

They went through the boxes, and pulled out only fruit that was unbruised, withoug marks of any kind that could lead to spoilage.  They sat there wrapping while listening to their book on cd – good multi tasking.  I’ve lost track of how many pounds we’ve used for what, but we have a box of wrapped pears and another of apples, with a lot more apples still left to deal with. 

In the winter this would serve to keep them for a really long time – I’ve kept apples in my basement for over a month in the winter with no problem, but never knew about wrapping them before.


A new educational addition

Last week one of my husband’s coworkers called me and asked if I would be interested in an entire set of Encyclopedia Judaica.  I asked him why he was asking, and he said that he was given a set that was in brand new condition (though it is from the seventies) but his family wasn’t interested.  So I said, sure, we’d be happy to have it.

It really is in beautiful condition – no mustiness, in fact it looks as if it was never used.  The hardest part was finding a place for it, but fortunately several weeks ago I reorganized all of the bookshelves, and was able to spare an entire shelf to devote to the new encyclopedias.  This set is amazing, it’s just chock full of historical information, maps, etc, and my ds15 is already using it today for the two part research project I gave him – to research the US national anthem and the Israeli national anthem, and to write about both.   We also have a regular set of encyclopedias, and since I prefer my kids use physical books to research than the internet, this will be a wonderful and useful addition for our homeschooling. 

I often feel that G-d showers me with goodness, day after day, and this is one more physical example!


Crawling out of the chaos – step #1 – make a menu plan

I heard within two days from three moms who told me they are overwhelmed and don’t feel like they’re coping well.  So I thought it might be helpful to give a starting point to work your way out of the feeling of being in a quagmire.

First of all, don’t compare yourself to anyone else!  A saying I love is, “Don’t compare your insides to someone else’s outsides”.  And that’s what we all do.  You know yourself on the inside, and you think what you see of someone else is what they really are, through and through.  It’s not true, and even if it would be, it doesn’t matter.  You are you, and learning to love and accept yourself as you are, for who you are, should be part of your efforts.  That means, forget being perfect and just do the best you can wherever you are right now. 

There are probably a number of potential first steps you can take to start to putting things in order.  I’ll give you my suggestion for the first step – make a menu plan.

I suggest this as a starting point because there are three meals a day that need to be prepared, and when you don’t have a plan for this, then you’ll constantly be scrambling to pull something out of thin air.   When the food isn’t ready, everyone feels hungry, irritable, and out of sorts.  When everyone is fed, they’re much more enjoyable to be with, and then you can get them involved in being more helpful with other areas.  Also, feeling rushed and pressured every day before mealtime rolls around is emotionally wearing, and you end up spending a lot more money on food because you’re reaching for whatever is quick and easy.   So we’ll break the cycle here, by doing something that will save you time, energy, and money.  Sound good?

How do you make a menu plan?  For the first weeks, let’s keep it very, very simple.  Don’t overwhelm yourself by planning time consuming dishes that require several pans to prepare.  Take a piece of paper, and make a grid that has each day listed going across the top, with the first day indented about an inch or so – like this:

            Sun                  Mon                     Tues                    Weds                   Thurs                 Fri

Okay, now that you’ve done that, on the left hand horizontal side, write the three meals you need to prepare – like this (add in snacks if that’s part of your day):




Now make grid lines between everything with a ruler (you don’t have to use a ruler, it will just make you feel really organized and neat – I usually don’t).  Repeat this so that you have two empty menu charts on the paper (this will be enough for two weeks).

Okay, now that you have an empty chart ready, get out your cookbooks.  Take out another piece of paper, and make four sections: breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks.  As you go through your cookbooks, if something looks good to you, put in under the appropriate category.  I like to make a note of which cookbook and what page the recipe was in, because if it’s a new recipe, I won’t remember later on where I found it, and it would be time consuming and counterproductive to have to go through all of the cookbooks to find it again.  Try to list about 5 – 10 options for each meal that look like options your family would enjoy.  Also, if it’s a recipe that I won’t automatically be able to recall which ingredients are in it, I make a note right next to where I’ve listed it of the main ingredients (not every little dash of spices) so that when I compile my food shopping list, I can buy what I’ll need for the planned meals.

Now, here’s the easy and gratifying part.  Put your cookbooks away, and with just the two pieces of paper in front of you, start filling in the boxes on your menu plan.  Fill in all the breakfast meals first – if you want to eat the same thing every day, that’s fine.  If you don’t, planning all of them at one shot helps you to schedule it so that you won’t have eggs or cold cereal two or three days in a row.  I personally think it’s just as easy to plan two weeks of menus as one, once you’re in the mental planning mode, but if you don’t, then just fill in one week’s worth of menus right now.

Next, on to the lunch menu.  Do the same thing as you did with the breakfast menu, keeping in mind what is already written for the breakfast meal that day so it won’t be repetitive.  Once that’s finished, fill in the dinner menu. 

If this is new to you, you might want to plan to begin using your menu in a few days, or a week from now.  If you try to jump into it without being properly prepared, you’re going to end up feeling overwhelmed and like a failure.  You’re going to need to go shopping to be sure you have everything in the house you’ll need, so if you want to start right away, then make sure you have all the ingredients you’ll need for a week already in the house, or go shopping first thing tomorrow. 

Remember, keep it simple!  That can mean cottage cheese and bread for lunch, baked potatoes and chicken for dinner, rice and beans, canned tuna, etc – whatever – anything that takes very, very little time or effort.  You can plan for slightly more involved meals after you’ve done this for a week or two and feel like you’re starting to get into a groove.

Now, post this on your refrigerator.  Take your list of menu options and file it away somewhere, in a cookbook if you don’t have somewhere else you’ll remember to look for it.  You’re going to add to this list over time, and can pull it out each time you make a menu plan (saves you having to take out a pile of cookbooks every week or two).

Any questions?  If so, please ask.


A new homeschooler shares her thoughts

Here’s a letter that a good friend sent to her parents after her first week of homeschooling.  She shared it with me, and I asked her if I could share it with you (with personal details edited out), because I think it is encouraging to hear from someone who shares what her life was like with all of her children in school.


>> It’s Thursday night, we’re coming to the end of our first week of homeschooling. It has been more of a pleasure then I could ever hope to describe. I can’t even believe that we could be privileged enough to be able to do this.

There is simply no comparing between school life and this life. Well, there is comparing, but the differences are so vast it’s hard to find anything that’s similar.

In school life you wake all the kids up they moan and groan and fight you. They beg for a day off. They fret about undone homework. Despite your efforts and early rising there is always some mad dash to get to school on time as you try to feed and dress all the kids and pack them in the car with one lunch and 4 snacks each.

And then they’re off; leaving you to pray that they have a good day even though one out of eight is bound to be overtired and one is anxious about a test or homework or a friend and none of the teachers know any of this though they’ll be with your kids for the next 7 hours.

Then it’s on to the kitchen and how did it get messy in such a short amount of time and why is the nurse’s office calling me when I just sat down for a coffee and will I be on time for the baby’s doctor appointment if I wash the dishes first and Oh! my husband just came back from shul!

The day is full of cleaning and errands and making supper so that everything will be just right for when your sweet children walk through the door.

You drive around the neighborhood 5 times doing carpools and when the afternoon is over and you feel like you’re ready to take a nap that’s when…THE KIDS COME HOME! And no amount of preparation on your part can help the fact that they’re tired, wound up and need you. I mean they ALL NEED YOU.

We all wind down over supper and the mood mellows. The little ones go and play and anyone age 5 and up has homework to do. You really don’t get to be little for very long these days! Heaven forbid getting involved in a good book or inviting a friend would come over. I wish I was using poetic license here but it’s just the facts. After this whole day of tight adherence to bells, rules, assignments, tests and sitting still there is still more to be done. A LOT MORE. And it can’t be done alone, never mind that the baby would love to play outside or that your young ones desperately need attention or that your preteen could use a new pair of shoes. If you have any qualifications as a mother or father you sit down and do the homework with the kids!

Bedtime – “But I didn’t even have time to play, Mommy! “ Hmmm, I think one hour a day of play is not enough for an eight year old. But I say instead, “Come, I’ll sit with you on your bed, you have to go to sleep, you have another big day of school tomorrow.” We sit and talk and all the while I’m thinking “How much longer?” because there’s still so much to do and I’m thinking of the hours of homework support that I’m needed for downstairs.

When the big kids go to bed, I come to their rooms for a few treasured moments and at last they relax after a whole day and they have so much to say and so many things to show me and the kitchen is so MESSY again and I’m so tired! But I stay and talk because I really really love them and that’s what love looks like. But they know somehow that I’ve got one foot out the door ready to prepare for another day of school and I’m really wanting to just sit and catch up with my husband.

I’m painting this picture with honest strokes. This is my experience. Times are different then when I was raised. The academic pressure just knocks the wind out of family life. And I know it’s not unique to my family. This is the life that most people have come to accept. A compromise for a greater cause at best, a shameful waste of the gift of parenting and childhood at worse.

Have you heard this line uttered by many a frustrated parent “This is not a hotel!”? Well, to the kids it may as well be. They’re away from the house all day and just want to relax when they come back, why should they care about making a mess? How much do they have invested in it?

How many of children’s behavior problems are brought home from school?  My answer based on experience is “almost all.” It’s intense finding your way around 30 kids all your age who all want to be liked the best and be the best at ball and be the teacher’s favorite and be the best student. Everyone’s vying for the same elusive prize and there isn’t enough to go around.

I know this sounds frenzied. And to me it is the equivalent of being in a pressure cooker. But you’d never know. We had plenty of laughs and my face was smiling. But now, feeling the contrast; my entire body, my entire being is at peace. Life is work, hard work and it should be, but pressure filled? It’s like driving with your parking brake on. It just drags you down and holds you back.

And now, one glorious week of homeschooling. What can I say? I’m so relaxed, the kids are so relaxed. They settle down to work with a certain zeal. They enjoy each other. The little ones are elevated by sitting around the table working with their older siblings. The boys go to minyan so proudly with my husband. Today he took over teaching the girls chumash while I cooked for Shabbos.

My 6 year old is in heaven coloring while I teach her about Rosh Hashana. She is progressing so fast in her reading skills that I can barely believe it. At 6:00 someone stopped by and I actually schmoozed with them. I stopped by a neighbor’s house today and sat down!

Bedtime is not a chore. We’ve been together the whole day and everyone’s needs have been met, it’s the natural end of the day. The kids are learning alot although I’ll be increasing their load over the next couple of weeks.

The Rebbe works with our boys’ personalities and they love their learning. And suddenly there is so much time in the day! We’ve accomplished so much by lunchtime that we’re constantly surprised that we have another 8 hours of the day.

We’re still in development and I think we’ll always be. There’s just so much still for me to learn and adjustments need to be made constantly. But the framework is there. I can work like this. I’m full, my husband is content, and the kids can be kids again.


It really thrills me when someone gets to experience for themselves the joy of homeschooling. As I’ve said before, you can try and try to describe it, but there’s nothing like having the experience for yourself!


Overflowing with pears and apples

This afternoon I was so exhausted that I conked out in the living room on the recliner, and didn’t even know I’d fallen asleep until after I woke up! 

We had a busy, busy day picking fruit today.  (And I’m going to be a lot busier at the beginning of next week dealing with all of it!)  At about 12:30, we stopped whatever we were in the middle of to go fruit picking. We started with picking Granny Smith and Mcintosh apples from one person’s yard, and while the kids picked, I ended up having two very nice and substantial conversations with neighbors in the area about homeschooling.  One is now planning to call me to get specific suggestions for getting started with her boys. 

It took a while to do all the picking, since we’d picked all the apples that were easily reached without a ladder a few weeks ago, but we picked about 60 pounds between the two kinds of apples.  Then we went home, dropped off the 13 year old, picked up the 15 year old (who stayed behind with the sleeping toddler and infant), and went to pick pears.  Why would I do this all on the same day?  Because the woman who lived next door to the place we picked apples was so appreciative we were picking them (because the fallen ones were right next to her driveway and attracted bees) and she offered to let us borrow her ladder.  Though she couldn’t part with it overnight, she was willing to let us borrow it for the rest of the afternoon.  Since we also picked all the pears we could reach without a ladder several weeks ago, we needed a ladder for that, too.

So off we went to pick pears, after switching the two oldest.  I didn’t think we’d get many, but surprise – my 9 and 15 year olds managed to get an astounding 110 pounds worth.  Yes, really.   

Then we went home to get more boxes, because whatever we took with us was filled up.  Everyone else elected to stay home (with my 9 yo complaining that he didn’t get to finish his work before we left, poor boy), and ds15 and I went to the final fruit picking stop of the day – to someone else with yet a different kind of apple.  (I told you, I had to take advantage of having the use of the ladder while I had it.)  I don’t know what they are, but they have an attractive pink tinged flesh and are better cooked than fresh.  These were the easiest to pick, because they grew in clusters, but were also the buggiest apples of all the trees we had seen, so we didn’t pick nearly the amount we could have if we weren’t as selective as we were.  We picked 30 pounds of those.

Then we returned the ladder, we went home, I took ds to meet his learning partner, and then spent a half hour going through two books of canning recipes.  Right after that, I just fell asleep.  I don’t know if it was doing all the picking or thinking about preserving them all that caused me to feel so tired! 

My kids have been munching all afternoon on them, my baby has been strewing them all over the living room floor (they’re lined up in boxes but haven’t been put away downstairs yet), and I’m trying to figure out the best way to use them all.  Two hundred pounds of fruit isn’t an insignificant project, but one must make hay while the sun shines, you know.  :)  I’ll start on that project at the beginning of next week, and let you know what I end up doing. 


Our daily homeschooling schedule

Here’s our homeschooling schedule that most of you are probably interested in, as this addresses the younger kids in the family.

  • 7:30 am – wake up, get dressed, clean room
  • 8  – prayers
  • 8:30 – breakfast
  • 9:00 – chores
  • 9:30 – academic time

For the six year old, this means: daily handwriting (D’nealian), Hebrew writing (print lettering, copies one letter between ten – 20 times), math (Miquon orange book, just because I have it around, not because I especially recommend it), reads to me from a book (5 – 10 min), and does some beginning Hebrew reading with me.  That’s it.  My younger kids have adopted academics as part of their day because they see their older siblings doing it, but I wouldn’t insist on a daily math workbook for a child this age.  The times I gave for him are approximate because I don’t pay much attention to it; he determines how much he wants to do.  He finishes before anyone else, so he then plays with the toddler, reads something with me, or finds something else to occupy himself. 

7.5 year old – daily math (Singapore 2B), copywork, sometimes reads something to me (today was The Emperor’s New Clothes, by Hans Christian Andersen – it’s in the Jamestown Heritage reader that I aquired free from someone- but she liked it so much that she kept reading to herself after she finished reading to me – oh, the troubles of homeschooling :)), Hebrew reading practice a couple of times a week, and independent reading (she chooses what she wants to read, though I did get the Billy and Blaze series by CW Anderson for her that she’s enjoying because it has challenging words but doesn’t look intimidating, and it’s a very nice series).

9 year old – daily math (Singapore 5A), copywork, an hour of reading (currently Treasure Island), learns chumash/mishnayos sometime in day with older brother, Hebrew handwriting. 

While they are all doing their handwriting, they don’t need me to help them with anything.  With math, they usually need minimal help – an explanation of a concept and help with one or two examples, then they’re good to go on their own.  They come to me if they have a question.  While they’re doing this, I’m with the baby and toddler, sometimes reading something to the toddler (he loves books – I think it’s genetic :)) while the baby crawls around and pulls everything out of everywhere that he can, making an unbelievable mess in about two minutes.  I’m sure none of you can relate.  But he’s happy, so it’s fine, and I just accept that this stage of life is about having regular pick up times and a floor that isn’t clear long enough to enjoy the clean feeling.  :)

The six year old is usually finished very quickly, in time to listen to me read to the toddler, and I usually tell them both to choose a book from the library shelf that they want to hear.  These are mostly books that I’ve chosen, most recently from those I saw recommended in Under The Chinaberry Tree. 

Yesterday’s books included Autumn Story and Summer Story, from the Brambly Hedge series by Jill Barklem.  Today they chose Once There Was a Tree, by Natalia Romanova, about all the various forms of life that live in a tree stump, and Malian’s Song, based on the true story of the attack on the Abenaki native community in 1759.  I don’t try to qualify and categorize every single thing we do into little academic compartments.  So though these books would easily be science and history, it just happens to be what they chose.  Having good quality books around means that whatever book they choose has value. 

Sometime mid morning, I do a read aloud with the 6, 7, and 9 year olds that is separate from our evening read aloud for the entire family.  Right now we’re in the third book of the Little House on the Prairie series, Farmer Boy.  Again, the book chosen for this is one that is well written and content rich.  We do 2 – 4 chapters each day, depending on the length and what time it is by then.  That’s fun history.

I try to coordinate the naptime for the baby and toddler, which usually means I put the toddler in an hour or so after the baby, since he doesn’t sleep as long.  If I don’t consciously do this, the toddler ends up falling asleep right before the baby wakes up.   Usually I put the toddler in sometime around 11 am or so, and he’s then sleeping when I do the longer read aloud. 

The 9 year old practices piano sometime in the morning (and usually again in the afternoon), my 12 year old decided this week that she wants to teach the 7 year old piano, so she’s spending time with her on that.  We eat lunch at 1:30 until 2 pm, and then they have the rest of the day until dinner at 6:30 to do with as they want. 

The 7 and 9 year olds almost always spend time together in the afternoon listening to a long and complicated audio book.  That’s fun literature.  They both have similar interests in literature and have high comprehension levels, so they easily listen to books geared towards kids aged 12 and older.  They could sit there for hours listening if I let them.  They choose those books, but I approve them, so they aren’t fluff books.  They play inside and outside, work on projects (the 7 yo started a science project with her 12 yo sister a couple of days ago, growing crystals), ride bikes or scooters, play with friends (though I limit this a lot), and somehow manage to productively pass the afternoon.  (You know what productive means for little kids? Having fun and being able to relax.)  

Beginning this past Monday, they’re all enrolled in a new Junior Rangers series, which  goes for three weeks, for two hours each time.  They learned about insects this time, and the next two sessions will be on flatlands and grasslands.  That’s what we call fun science.  This group was one that several homeschooling families in our area are doing together so the kids enjoyed being with their friends while enjoying the activity.  What’s nice is how easy and natural it is for them to pick up a lot of information in an environment like this.

If there’s something that I didn’t cover that you’d like me to give more info on, just ask.


Homeschooling with a newborn

‘How do you homeschool with a newborn?’

Much more easily than you might expect!  Small infants are pretty simple – time intensive, but you don’t need much intellectual space to take care of them.  Hold them, nurse them, change them, put them to sleep, and that’s about all that they need.  You can hold and nurse them while you’re reading or interacting with your other children.  Small infants tend to sleep a LOT, which gives you significant periods of time that they aren’t around.  If you like infant carriers, you can pop them in while they’re awake and you’re walking around and getting things done while they’re contently enjoying your presence.       

The harder part for mothers is to remember that they just had a baby, and to rest and take it easy.  I think it takes six months to really be fully back in the groove, and nurturing yourself is an important part of that.  Don’t expect yourself to do everything as well and as quickly as you did before you had a baby. 

Now, homeschooling with a toddler around is another topic!


Giving away tefilla workbooks

I have two identical tefilla workbooks that I was given quite some time ago, by Rabbi Mayer Birnbaum.  It’s put out by Torah Umesorah Publications, and covers the second part of Shema and the Shemoneh Esray.  Each have one page that was done, as far as I can tell, and are otherwise in very good condition.

These workbooks are illustrated and teach some of the laws of prayer, as well as the translation for the prayers I mentioned.  I think it’s geared to children in approximately the third grade, though it could be used more flexibly with kids a bit younger or older.

I’m not going to be using these, and I’d love to pass them on to someone who will benefit.  If you’re interested in one, please let me know in the comments box below, and I’ll contact you privately to get your mailing address. 


Schedule for my 10th grade son

Okeydoke, here’s the schedule my 15 year old son set up for himself for this year (I’ll put translations in parenthesis but can’t avoid using certain terms):

  • 5:40 am – wake up
  • 6:20 – amud shiur (Talmud lecture), followed by shacharis (morning prayers)
  • 8:30 – breakfast with family
  • 9:00 – chores
  • 9:30 – math
  • 10:25 – check something on computer
  • 10:30 – mishnayos/chumash, alternating days, except Friday- parsha (portion of the week) 
  • 11:15 – break

Until this point, the schedule is the same Sunday through Friday.  After this, Sunday is free time, and Friday is helping get ready for Shabbos (Sabbath).

  • 11:30 – language arts (currently using Learning Language Arts Through Literature)
  • 12:30 pm – science/history, alternating days
  • 1:00 – nap
  • 1:30 – lunch
  • 2:00 – options
  • 2:45 – learn mishnayos with 9 yo brother
  • 3:00 – learn chumash (Bible) with 9 yo brother
  • 3:20 – 4:15 – free
  • 4:15 – walk to meet learning partner (unless I’m available to drive him, in which case he doesn’t have to leave until 4:40)
  • 4:45 – gemara chavrusa -maseches kiddushin (one on one Talmud study))
  • 5:45 – mincha (afternoon prayers), walk home (half hour walk)
  • 6:30 -dinner
  • 7:15 – family readaloud
  • 8 pm – free, additional time reviewing learning
  • 9:30 – bedtime

This schedule is going to change soon, since he’ll be starting to work a couple of times a week, probably.  He doesn’t yet know what time slots are going to be available there, and hopes that he can start working right after his afternoon chavrusa (study partner) so that it will minimally affect his schedule.


How sweet it is!

This week I’ve had the chance to speak with two new homeschooling moms, and it’s so nice when I hear the light and pleasure in their voices,  as they begin to enjoy a totally different model for education and family living.  Now they’re able to experience and appreciate first hand some of the wonderful things that I’ve enjoyed for years, and I’m so happy that they’ll get to live in a way that most parents will never get to experience. 

I love homeschooling.  Really, I can’t say enough good about what it does for family closeness and relationships (let alone providing a balanced way of living for the parents and children, a superior education, etc).  Our decision to homeschool as the second most significant we’ve ever made (the first was quitting work when my third child was born to stay home with my kids) and I credit homeschooling for the incredible life we’re able to enjoy together as a family.  But there’s no possible way to adequately describe how sweet it is to someone else, because it’s something that has to be experienced. 

It’s in the seemingly small things that you can feel the beauty of this lifestyle.  Things like being able to relax over breakfast with your family every day, take a family trip in the middle of the day when the museums or zoos are empty, spend relaxed time connecting with every one of your children each day (without twisting yourself into a pretzel trying to schedule in ten minutes for each child), watching your children learn in a spontaneous and natural way things you used to think had to be taught.  Do you know how nice it is to enjoy your children when they’re well rested and happy, instead of  sending them off for their teacher to benefit, and getting them back when they’re wired and exhausted?    To see your children becoming each other’s best friends?  To have time to do the fun things as well as the necessary things, and to be able to adapt your schedule based on what you need, not on what someone else has said you need to do?

How amazing homeschooling is shouldn’t be a secret.  We often don’t tell people just how good things are because we don’t want them to feel defensive about their choices, or sad that they don’t have what we have.  But it’s really amazing, a homeschooling life!