Monthly Archives: August 2009

Backpacking food preparation

Ds10 got back at 10:30 last night, and at 8 this morning, dd14 set off for several days of backpacking with four other girls and one adult.  I sometimes long for when everyone was young and doing the same thing at the same time – things that used to be very easy, like eating meals together or enjoying a family read aloud, now require conscious effort and planning.  So it will be a few more days before we all are together at the same time!

But don’t think I’m complaining – I’m very glad dd has this opportunity since it’s just the kind of thing she enjoys.  She’ll be spending three days and two nights on the Appalachian Trail.  Each girl is carrying all her food and supplies for the trip with her, so they need to pack light.  Yesterday I asked dd what the plan for the meals was, and she said that each girl was bringing enough of something for everyone.  For example, dd packed 24 packets of grits for breakfast, someone else is packing an equal amount of instant oatmeal, yet another girl will bring macaroni and cheese packets for dinner. They’re going to have a pot to boil water and a filter to get water as they go along, so that is the only cooking capacity they’ll have.  As I was listening to her, I was thinking that it didn’t sound incredibly well balanced to me.  Fortunately, I have a good supply of nuts and home dehydrated fruit I was able to tell her to take from so I didn’t need to run out at the last minute to buy her special food items.  As she was packing, it occurred to me that she could take some dehydrated veggies also.  Then the idea flashed though my mind that we could make her dehydrated meals to take!

So this is what we did yesterday.  We made a quick menu plan for three breakfasts and three dinners (they won’t be stopping for lunch so she packed nuts and dried fruit that she’ll be able to eat as they hike).  We decided to include cheese chunks with grits for breakfast for two mornings, and made a homemade instant oatmeal mix for her using quick oats, organic milk powder, dried apples (that we picked ten days ago), and some cinnamon.  She doesn’t generally eat sugar but someone who wanted to could add sugar or sucanat.

Then we turned our attention to the dinners.  I had hamburger rocks that I made several weeks ago (dehydrated and canned ground meat) that I initially thought I could include.  But she said that they were planning dairy dinners, so I shifted away from meat ideas.  At first she thought she’d be gone for three nights so we prepared for three dinners, but in the end they’ll be back in the evening in time for dinner at home.

For the first dinner she’ll have fish, mashed potatoes, and cooked vegetables.  I had in my pantry some vacuum packed envelopes of salmon and tuna (bought for .50 each instead of 3.29), so she took one of those.  It’s about 4 ounces so it’s good for one portion.  She cooked mashed potatoes, making them watery so they’d be able to be spread thinly on a paraflexx sheet to dry.  Then she cooked up a couple of boxes of frozen mixed vegetable and spread them on another sheet to dry.  This is different from how I dehydrate vegetables for cooking use- what I’ve dried is intended to be rehydrated by cooking and hot water wouldn’t make them soft enough.  Apparently when making instant meal kinds of foods, the trick is to first cook the food, then dehydrate it, and then use hot water and ten minutes in a covered dish to rehydrate it for eating.

That was dinner one.  Then dinner two was chili with cheese.  She made the chili and dehydrated it.  Then she cooked up more veggies – she made a batch of peas and another batch of mixed vegetables – and dried those.  We also cooked and dehydrated brown rice for another meal (was supposed to be eaten with albacore steak and vegetables)- even though she won’t need the food for a third dinner, I suggested to her that she take it just in case.  I don’t like the idea of sending her out on a trail with exactly the amount of food she’ll need – it’s good to have a little extra to be better prepared for eventualities. Hopefully everything will rehydrate as planned and she’ll be able to have well balanced food on the trail.

We had fun preparing the foods.  Dd said she hopes that the other girls aren’t jealous of her!! (They won’t be, I’m sure – if she was loaded down with chocolate, that would be something else!)   I’m telling you, it’s so liberating to be able to make things like this at home!  Now we’re starting to prepare for our annual camping trip next week (we usually go the last week of May but this week we had a week old baby so the plan obviously was adapted :)), and we’re considering if there would be a value in doing something like this on a larger scale for our family.


Getting kids to concentrate on academic work

>> my biggest question for you is — how do you get your kids to actually concentrate on doing their work? I find that if I just give them something to do without sitting right next to them, they get distracted within the first few minutes, and before I know it, they are drawing on the sides of their notebooks, or reading something else (the 8 y.o.). Did you do anything to increase their attention span? Or is it just my kids that have attention problems? I remember myself in elementary school doing the same thing. It would take me forever to do my homework because in between the two lines that I was supposed to write in my notebook I would spend twice as much time drawing. I guess my kids got it in the genes.<<

There are a few aspects to this answer.  First of all, I really believe very, very strongly in getting your kids on board with whatever you’re doing.  I don’t want them to feel like I’m constantly strong arming them into doing what I want, regardless of their feelings.  So I talk with them at the beginning of each school year about what they want to accomplish academically, and how they want to accomplish it.  I tell them what I want to see them accomplish, what my guidelines are, and why.  A child who thinks what he is doing is relevant and valuable is less likely to dawdle than one who feels there’s not much of a point to what they’re being requested to do.  So getting kids to buy into your vision, and them making it their vision, is the most important part of getting them motivated.

For example, I’ve told them that I feel strong reading skills are very important, and explained why.  Then we discuss how it helps to have good reading skills.  That would be part of getting them on board, helping them to understand where I’m coming from, and they realize it benefits them to develop certain skills.  Then I ask them if they think these are good goals, and ask them how they think they can accomplish them.  I let them know that there’s no pressure on them to come up with an academic plan, and that I can provide them with a curriculum that I’ve designed based on what I think will be good for them, but I’m open to their thoughts and ideas.  Often they’ve said they didn’t care for the books I chose, and gave me suggestions for other books they’d enjoy more.  And I’ve generally accepted their ideas – even if the selections weren’t as challenging as mine – because getting my kids to feel responsible and involved in their education is important to me. 

Second of all, I try to be flexible and realistic about what is appropriate for my kids at each stage. Sometimes a lot of resistance and conflict occurs because a parent is expecting too much of a child.  I see this a lot with homeschoolers, particularly those who are in the first couple of years and haven’t yet found their balance.  Even a motivated child can get worn out and spacey if they’re doing more than what is right for them.  But assuming your expectations are reasonable (and this should be based on who your child is, not what they would be doing in school which is much less relevant than most parents think), sometimes kids space out and take a long time to do things.  It’s not a big deal.  I’m not motivated in every area of my life every day – are you?  And when I have to do something I don’t really want to do, I can procrastinate a lot.  Kids are the same way.

Practically speaking, look around through their eyes.  Is there something very distracting going on?  Are younger siblings running around and making lots of noise?  Are you talking on the phone?  Do they need a work space of their own in a quiet part of the house?  Or maybe they need to have play time before they’re ready for seat work?  Maybe you can change the order of how their time is scheduled.

When it comes to how they spend their time, my kids’ time is mostly their own (I have expectations for chores or other help in the course of a day in addition to academics, but that’s not most of the day).  They can take five hours to copy a few sentences or they can take fifteen minutes.  Sometimes someone balks (this is almost always one of the kids in the 7 – 9 yr age range).  Sometimes I step back to think about if I’m expecting too much; if I think a break would be good, I change my expectation for them.  Sometimes I think they need to develop more perserverance and learn to do things even when it’s not fun, and then I remind them that it’s their choice how much time they spend on their academic work, not mine.  And I remind them that they also are choosing how much time they’ll have later in the day to do fun things, according to how they spend their morning time. 

As a parent, I have to remember that this is their issue, not mine.  I don’t generally have a lot of emotion tied up into how fast or slow anyone does what they have to do; as long as it’s eventually done, it’s fine with me.  We have to be careful not to negatively judge our children because they seem slow or unfocused or lacking in some way.  Kids grow up and mature into better skills, unless they’ve learned that slow and unfocused is what you expect them to be and they continue to play that role to meet your expectations.

So there’s no quick way for me to tell you to get your kids motivated.  It’s a process based on understanding, respect, and communication (like everything, really!).  But give your kids trust, time, and space to grow, and you’ll see them develop skills and abilities that will make you smile. :)


Weekly menu plan

This week we are tentatively beginning a modified chore chart.  Instead of the kids doing dishes, they said they’d rather cook the meals and I’ll wash the dishes.  The reason this is tentative is ds16 isn’t home at the necessary times to prepare meals but we’re trying it out.  I suggested that the person making dinner double the recipe so that there would planned leftovers for lunch the next day so that it wouldn’t feel like non stop food preparation, which it could very easily feel like when three meals from scratch are being prepared.  Alternatively lunch can be something easily self prepared by the kids, like a sandwich or eggs.  But it’s not going to be listed on my weekly menu for now.

Shabbos – dinner – challah, meatballs, mashed potatoes, roasted vegetables, fresh garden salad, rhubarb/apple crisp; lunch – kids requested dairy, for the second or third time this summer – lasagna, onion quiche, sweet potato pudding, Israeli salad, beet borscht with sour cream, cream cheese, brownies, grapes and orange slices; shalosh seudos – laffa wraps, gefilte fish, sardines, leftovers from lunch

Sunday – this is why it’s very helpful for me to write my meal plan down in black and white – I don’t remember what everyone ate for the first two meals of the day since it wasn’t yet written down.  They did eat, though! :)  Dinner – vegetable soup, shwarma, rice, lacto fermented pickles and fresh tomatoes from garden.

Mon – b – Dutch puffs with blueberries; d- lentil rice mushroom loaf

Tues – b – Southern biscuits, eggs, gravy; d – polenta casserole

Wed – b – rice with milk, fruit; d – oat walnut burgers

Thurs – b – cranberry muffins; spinach cheese casserole

This week I’m hoping to write a breakdown of how much meals for the week cost, meal by meal, like I did a couple of weeks ago with meals for a day.  Since there are often changes to the plan that I write here in the beginning of the week, I’ll have to make a note of them to give you an accurate accounting.


Cooling house without air conditioning

This past week we’ve had a heat wave, but until now none of us have felt too hot in the house, even without a/c.  Last summer we took out our air conditioning window units, and didn’t replace them with anything.  I had wanted to do it for a couple of years but it seemed foolish to take out something of value and not replace it with something better. 

I preferred not to use the units for cost reasons, but also because I didn’t find them very effective.  The area right next to them was too cold, but the area across the room was too warm.  When I opened the windows to take advantage of the natural breeze, the units blocked any cross breeze that we might have been able to enjoy.  opened the windows.  So finally I took the leap and consigned them all to the scrap metal pile for recycling. 

It was a very good decision!  Our house was much more comfortable this summer and last than the preceding summers without them!  A couple of tips we’ve found helpful in staying cool without air conditioning are:

– open windows opposite one another so that you’ll get a cross breeze

– close the blinds on the side of the house that gets southern exposure

– we  replaced the top half of the back storm door with screening, and now leave that door locked but open all day long.  Since this door is an exit from the kitchen to outside, it helps a lot of cooking heat be moved through.

– in the kids rooms, they have window fans.  We’ve set them up so that they are positioned in two rooms opposite one another; one is set to exhaust hot air, and one to bring cool air in.  When we did this, it made a very noticeable difference in temperature on our second floor – it used to feel hotter as we went up the stairs, but now it actually feels cooler when we get to the landing on that floor.  For the third bedroom (the smallest), the ceiling fan is very helpful.  Our next step will be to buy a couple more for the living room and dining room and to install them after installing security bars on those two windows.

– if you can, do the bulk of your cooking/baking/canning in the evening or earlier morning hours when it’s still cool.  Otherwise you’re unnecessarily heating up the house. 

A very important part of staying cool in the heat is giving your body the chance to the temperature outside.  Our family is now more comfortable than most with summer temperatures.  Last year I read a great book by Eric Brende, I think it was called Lights Off.  In it the author wrote about how he got ill from the heat when working outdoors with a bunch of other Amish (type) men, and couldn’t understand why no one else was bothered by the heat.  He realized that the problem was he had just returned from a trip in which he spent most of his time in air conditioned cars and buildings, and his body hadn’t had a chance to acclimate (as I wrote this word it occurred to me the direct connection between climate and acclimate).  So he suffered from heat stroke while the other men he was working with were fine, since they had two weeks from the onset of the summer for their bodies to adapt.

Wearing light clothes, putting cold washcloths on the back of your neck to cool you off, and doing physical work during the cooler parts of the day will also be helpful.


Kosher raw milk cheese

A couple of days ago I was at the local kosher supermarket and was very pleasantly surprised to find that they have a new offering – grass fed raw cow’s milk cheddar cheese!  After looking at the price, I went back and forth with myself for a few minutes as to if I should buy some, because it was very expensive – 12.99 lb!

On one hand, it was waaaay more than I usually pay for cheese.  On the other hand, this is the kind of cheese I really would want my family to eat.  Additionally, I want to support products like these so the management realizes there’s a market for them and brings in more of them.  So though my budget doesn’t allow for me to totally start buying this in place of the regular cheese we use, I decided to buy a couple of small packages to show my support.

If you’re interested in finding out about it, the name of the company is 5 Spoke Creamery (  It’s really delicious!

(edited to add: for those who don’t keep kosher but are interested in raw milk cheeses, you can easily find them at Trader Joe’s for about $6 a pound.)


I’m back – for right now!

We got the new keyboard right after our phone lines went out due to some faulty wiring.  Hopefully dh will be able to fix it tonight or tomorrow but I decided to go to the library to use their computers so I wouldn’t be uptight about when the repair happens and can be a smiling and patient wife when he walked in the door.  I don’t have very positive thoughts about the internet usage at the library (since the library has a handful of people looking for books but the computers are always taken), but I’m grateful now for the ability to connect with all of you even though my home computer is down.  This isn’t very easy, though, since the person right next to me is using his time to look at very revealing pictures of plus sized large chested women and I’m really having to try hard not to use any peripheral vision.  It’s kind of distracting and very unpleasant.  I can’t believe people aren’t embarrassed to have others see what they’re watching.

On one hand it’s been challenging not having easy computer access for a week – the hardest thing has been not being able to post here since that’s something I love to do!  But on the other, it’s been liberating.  I’ve been more present emotionally for my family, gotten more done around the house, and most importantly, gone to sleep lots earlier!!  I’m going to hopefully use this as a reminder to be more careful to limit my online time and focus on doing what I really need to do.  It’s easy to get drawn into all the info out there, especially when there are so many things to learn about….

I have lots of things to post about but very limited time (31 minutes left), so I’ll catch you up on what’s going on in our house this week.

My oldest ds came home from camp yesterday afternoon.  Like dd14 a few weeks ago, he’s spent most of today sleeping.  She took at least a week of sleeping for hours later than usual to get back into her regular routing. This reminds me of the sleep needs of infants – I don’t think adults and infants are very different in this – we all need a certain amount of sleep and when we don’t get it, we need to either make it up or we get crankier and crankier. 

Ds16’s birthday was July 4 but we didn’t make much of a big deal about it, and then when dd13 had a birthday on Aug 4, we also didn’t do much.  Tonight we’re having a surprise birthday dinner for them both.  Dd is particularly difficult to surprise – she notices every single tiny thing that’s a little different.  She had a sleepover at my inlaws a couple of days ago so dd14 baked the brownies for her then and prepared the french fries – and of course dd13 came home and commented on a pan being in the freezer that wasn’t there before!  I bought a cheesecake for ds (he loves cheesecake) and we’ll have pizza, onion rings, french fries, and salad for dinner.  We’ve done what we can to keep dd from catching on, but we’ll see if tonight we actually manage it or not. 

Tonight would be the first dinner in almost 2 months that we would all be here for, except for the fact that ds10 is away.  He was invited on Sunday evening by a friend to go to Indiana with them first thing the next morning, and I shocked ds by immediately agreeing that he could go.  He’s having a great time. 

This week I’ve canned peaches (bought three cases of 24 lb each for 9.50 each on my shopping day last week) and peach fruit spread. I wasn’t happy with the fruit spread – I used frozen strawberries that I didn’t realize came from China and they were terrible.  I’ll have to check where the frozen fruits and vegetables come from, from now on.  The strawberries were tiny and a lot hardly had any color – I should have just composted them but I didn’t and I won’t make that mistake again.

Today I’m dehydrating pears that we picked last week.  They’re now very soft and ripe so they should be very sweet when dried.  I also have a basket of apples that the kids picked on Thursday when we out for our shopping day.  I have to decide what to do with those since they are rather tart.  They are HUGE – I was amused when I was told they are called Rambos.  They are very appropriately named – each apple is at least 1 – 2 pounds!


Self sufficiency

>>So I see you make almost all food from scratch. Now I see that you are making a deck from scratch. What else do you make from scratch? Do you build any furniture from scrach? Sew your own things? Just curious in which other ways you can be self sufficient.<<

This is an interesting question. I answered it briefly in the comments section when it was asked, but I was thinking a lot about what is meant by self sufficiency.

To me, the root of self sufficiency is being willing and able to think for yourself and finding solutions to the needs that come up in your life. It’s not just about making clothes or growing vegetables – that can be part of it for some people – but being able to take care of yourself in a variety of areas. That means for us that I actively take responsibility for my family’s needs. Yes, that includes their clothing and food, but also includes areas like education and health that many leave to the government or other institutions.

To do that you have to believe in your ability to provide for those needs. As a nation, we’ve become overly dependent on the experts to tell us what to do and how to do everything. Unfortunately we live in a time where an attitude of disempowerment is very prevalent.  Most people really believe that the ‘experts’ have all the answers and trust them more than themselves. While I respect the knowledge and skills of those who have aquired certification in their areas of specialty and would certainly take very seriously their opinions if I consulted with them, that doesn’t preclude me aquiring knowledge that will be valuable to my family.  There are never ending areas to explore if you’re really searching for self sufficiency, but  fortunately, there’s very little that a person can’t learn about if they have the desire to pursue it!


Keyboard problems

I haven’t been able to post in the last few days since there’s a problem with my keyboard.  Right now I have a few minutes at my in-laws house so I wanted to pop in and let you all know why I haven’t been posting daily.  We’ve ordered a new one and are waiting for it to arrive.

If I haven’t responded to your emails recently, I haven’t been able to get online.  I’ll get back to you!  Also, if you asked me a question and haven’t seen the response yet,  I haven’t forgotten it and be”H will get to it soon.


“I want my sons to have a yeshiva education”

>>My dh said this to me the other day – “I want my sons to have a yeshiva education.”  It’s something that he never had, something he thinks is important.  Now mind you, our sons are 3 and 9 months, so …I think we’re thinking way too far in the future!  Should I just let this go and deal with it when the “time comes,” see where we’re holding then? <<

People tend to build up the things they haven’t had as more important than they are.  For example, my husband has a friend who grew up with very little money, and as an adult this man is in serious debt primarily because of his determination that his children never feel they’re lacking anything.  This man didn’t have money, so he’s overestimated its importance in the life of his children. 

As a homeschooling parent, I particularly appreciate having had a yeshiva education, because I’m very realistic about the benefits and disadvantages of school and that helps me be much more confident about homeschooling.  I’ve found that those who didn’t grow up in the religious world tend to be the insecure about their ability to provide a decent Jewish education, and I think a big part of it is that what the schools actually do is a bit of a mystery to them.  So it gets built up as an unrealistic ideal that parents could never compete with. 

I don’t think you should wait to start discussing your values about education – there’s no time like the present!  If you wait until it’s time to put your kids in school, the likelihood of significant friction between you is very high.  I don’t believe in wishful thinking and I don’t think that people usually change their views significantly unless something pushes them to reconsider. 

At the same time, I don’t think this should be an issue of major intensity right now!  You can take a relaxed attitude towards it, and certainly you don’t need to have a discussion about specifically homeschooling if that’s something he’s resistant to. Before talking about the ‘how’ or ‘where’, you need to talk about ‘why’.  When you understand why a person wants something, that’s when you start to really understand where they’re coming from.  And to have a meaningful and productive discussion, you have to come from a place of understanding and openness. 

I’d suggest clarifying what a yeshiva education means to your husband – you may already know this, but if you haven’t had the discussion, don’t assume you know what his concerns are.  Is it a certain level of skills he wants your sons to have, to fit into society as ‘insiders’ rather than from the outside looking in, or something else?  When you can together identify what he’s afraid your sons will miss out on, then you can begin to talk about other potential ways your children can get those things.  When concerns are vague or intangible it’s very hard to address, and the feeling that somehow he’s missed out and he doesn’t want his children to miss out is going to prevail. 

If when discussing this you focus on the fundamental concerns and emotions and can reflect that you understand where he’s coming from, he’ll be more open to hearing what you have to say.  People need to feel heard and understood before they can be open to truly hearing someone else.  My dh and I have both evolved in our goals for our family, and we’re now reaching those goals in a manner that ten years ago I could never have imagined!  I never would have considered homeschooling without a certain amount of life experience and a lot of thought about what true education entailed.  So that’s just to say that whatever he’s expressing is right now isn’t necessarily going to stay his view forever!


Drying squash and pears

I love having the ability to preserve food!  It’s very fun to be able to find a way to use any amount of food that comes our way. :)  Yesterday I dried a load of yellow summer squash – we were given a box of them when the person who got them realized they were so perishable that they’d go bad before they could use them and didn’t want to wait for that point so they passed them to us; I still have enough to do another half load in the dehydrator.  We dried four trays as slices, since the kids like to snack on them, and six trays with chopped pieces, since that’s the way I use it most frequently for cooking.  I’ll do the rest of them chopped.  It will nice when the winter comes, to add a taste of summer to my dinners.  Right before the squash I dried the last of the peas and carrots I had in the freezer, to get them out of the way.

Today we went pear picking and got loads of delicious pears.  (Thanks, Alisa!  Your kids were a great help and a pleasure to spend time with!)  Fruit picking is a wonderful family activity, and I love being able to do it locally and for free rather than driving forty minutes away to pay for the experience.  I put a large wooden basket of them in the basement (where it’s cooler) for eating fresh, and will load the dehydrator with some before I go to sleep.   Last year when we got a lot of free pears we found that the kids really enjoyed them dried – it’s hard to dry them fast enough to keep up with their ability to eat them!  This time I’m not bothering with peeling them or deseeding them – we’ve sliced them thinly and put them on the trays at 135 degrees; they’ll be ready when I wake up in the morning.  As they ripen more I’ll probably want to can some, too.   Dh liked having them canned, so there’s something for everyone.  :)

Tomorrow I’m taking the kids to a Hands On History Day at a historical museum.  I scheduled my monthly shopping trip to coincide, since the museum is somewhat in the area of where I’ll be going.  This museum day is the main reason I haven’t been in eight weeks (I didn’t want to go during the Three Weeks and it didn’t make sense to go right after Tisha B’Av and then to go again now for this trip).  After a few hours at the museum, we’ll do some shopping.  It will be nice to stock up again, and if I find some good produce bargains I’ll then have more dehydrating in my immediate future!