Monthly Archives: December 2009

Homemade Eggnog

Last week I did my monthly shopping when ds10 noticed large cans of eggnog, reminded me of when I bought a few cans of it several years ago how delicious it was, and suggested I buy some. (This shows you how little processed food I’ve bought over the years, that a memory like this is so clear three or four years later!)  I told him we could make our own instead, that it would then be tasty and good for us.  This week is my ds16’s turn to make breakfast, and when I told him that eggnog was on the schedule, he said, “Eww – homemade?”  But since I brook no dissent :) I told him to make it and then see what he thought of it.  Well, as soon as he tasted it he was singing a different tune!

Here’s the recipe we used:

Homemade Eggnog

  • 4 c. milk (we were out of milk and used 3 c. water and 1 c. heavy cream instead)
  • 1/4 t. cinnamon
  • 1/2 t. vanilla

Mix and slowly bring to a boil in a saucepan.

  • 12 egg yolks
  • 1 1/2 c. sucanat

Whisk these until fluffy.  Remove about a cup of the hot milk mixture and mix the beaten eggs into it.  Then return the egg and milk mixture back to the pot and cook over medium heat for several minutes, stirring constantly until thick.

  • 4 c. cream
  • 1/2 t. nutmeg
  • 2 t. vanilla

Mix these together, and when cool, stir into the above mixture.  Drink cool or warm. (We heated ours and then the kids mixed it with the freshly fallen snow for ‘snow ice cream’.)

If I had pastured eggs, I’d be comfortable blending the raw milk, cream, and eggs together without any cooking and this would be super fast and easy to make!  But my farmer has been having a hard time meeting the growing demand for his pastured eggs lately, so when I last was there I couldn’t get the amount I wanted and I’m using regular supermarket eggs to fill the gap.  You can only do what you can do! I won’t use these eggs raw; hence the more involved recipe.

I got a great deal on organic heavy cream last week; it was significantly marked down since it was close to the expiration date so I paid .79 for a pint! Since that’s a third of the price of regular non-organic cream, I was very pleased!

Eggnog isn’t exactly a traditional breakfast, but if you look at the ingredients, you’ll see lots of protein and high quality fats – perfect to feed your brain, give you energy, and keep you feeling satiated for hours!  (A cup of this easily will hold you over until lunch.)  And do you think the kids mind non-traditional when it tastes like this?!


Weekly menu plan

Another wonderful week already beginning!  Last week we had friends and family over almost every night of the week for dinner, and I felt like I was in the kitchen nonstop (making huge batches of latkes will do that!)! This week I’m back to regular meals with just our family.

Sun- breakfast – homemade eggnog; l -Greek egg lemon soup; dinner- honey baked lentils, roast potatoes, fresh salad

Mon – b -banana oat pancakes, whipped cream; d – lamb vegetable soup, green bean mango salad

Tues – b – coconut flour biscuits, eggs; d – oven baked turkey chimichangas

Weds – b – baked banana oatmeal; d – crustless vegetable quiche

Thurs – b – pumpkin pudding; l – green beans, potatoes, and sour cream; d – CORN (clean out refrigerator night)

Fri- b – polenta with sour cream

This week I’m not planning out separate lunches since we’ll either make a double recipe the night before for planned leftovers, or have some kind of soup or salad with a simple protein for lunch.

I took ds16 to the chiro a couple of days ago and asked her to check on his allergies (with energy testing).  It was a pleasant surprise to hear that he’s testing with no food allergies!  The problem is an internal virus manifesting as allergic symptoms, so I ordered some homeopathic supplements, will get him started on those in the coming week when they arrive, and will go back for another appointment after that to see what’s happening.  Soooo – that means he can eat the same foods as everyone else again!  I still will be limiting grains because I think it’s healthier, but it’s nice to have more options.

Since this past week I bought a 40 lb case of ripe bananas, this week I need to make use of them.  In addition to the two breakfasts that have bananas in them, I’m hoping to do some baking for the freezer today: banana bread, banana date muffins, chocolate zucchini muffins.  I’ll see how realistic that is time-wise; so much to do, so little time! :)  A couple of these recipes use coconut flour and I’m interested in experimenting with them.

I also found an amazing deal on whole frozen organic green beans – 5 pounds for 2.99, less than I pay for my regular frozen green beans!  Being me, I bought 30 pounds.  :)  (Fortunately it’s so cold that I’m able to store them on the secured steps that lead from the basement to the yard – that’s one of the very nice things about winter!)  Today I’m planning to try lacto fermenting some – I’ve never done this with green beans before, but I don’t see why they shouldn’t turn out great.

I also want to prep some vegetables for the week.  At the beginning of last week I did this and it made the rest of the week so much easier.  I prepped separate containers of various vegetables – eg, chopped napa, chopped green peppers, shredded carrots, washed snow peas, chopped cucumbers, chopped summer squash – they stay fresh much longer than when mixed together, and it was a cinch to throw them together in various combinations for a quick salad.  A large salad is a great lunch – I add cubes of meat/chicken/cheese, nuts, avocado, etc and this makes it very easy.

My garden beds are covered with about a foot of snow, so it will be interesting to see how my greens emerge when the snow melts.  But no plans to dig them out and see until then!  I have lots of baby napa in the fridge so I’ll manage fine without them right now anyway.


King Corn – a review

A big part of why my kids are happy to eat healthfully is that they buy into the concept of food quality mattering when it comes to building up the body.  (It doesn’t hurt that our food is delicious!)  I regularly share with them things I learn about health and nutrition, and when I heard about this dvd titled King Corn, I thought it would be interesting to watch with the kids and reserved a copy from the library.  Yes, my kids really find this stuff fascinating – even ds2 and ds3 sat through it!

King Korn is an entertaining documentary of the journey of two young men who set off to learn about the growing and processing of corn.  It begins when they have their hair analyzed and find out that the carbon is their body is mostly made up of corn!   So they temporarily move to Iowa to grow an acre of their own corn and follow the ‘journey’ of their corn.

After finding a farmer who agrees to let them rent an acre of land from him, we watch them follow typical farming guidelines.  They begin by preparing the soil with chemical fertilizers, and soon after plant the acre (it takes just 18  minutes to sow the entire area).  When they spray for weeds, we learn that all corn would be killed by this pesticide called Liberty, except for this particular kind of corn (Liberty Link) that was developed to withstand Liberty.  It’s one thing to know your food is liberally sprayed with pesticides, it’s another to watch it!

Nowadays, the average is 180 bushels of corn to an acre, and 200 bushels isn’t uncommon.  That’s an incredible thing.  This is possible not because each plant produces more, but because they’ve been bred to be able to live much closer together. As I heard the discussion about current crop yields , a scene from the Little House on the Prairie books came to mind, when Pa was exultant that he was expecting an incredible yield of forty bushels of grain to an acre.  There was an explanation about current farm subsidy practices, and it becomes clear how crucial this is to farmers, since without it they’d literally be losing money even when getting record yields.  Farm subsidies explain the seemingly wasteful overproduction of corn.

Once the corn was ready to be harvested they tasted their crop, only to be taken aback by how unappetizing it was.   No surprise there, though- after all, it was bred to be able to grow in crowded conditions and withstand powerful herbicides, not for flavor or nutritional value.

What happens to corn once its harvested?  Ten percent is used for ethanol, and the other ninety percent is split 50/40 towards the corn sweetener industry and for cattle feed. It becomes clear that with the mega production of corn that exists in the US today, industries have developed which find ways to use it all.

One of these is the industrialized beef market, so they went into the cattle industry to see how corn is used there.  I thought this was a particularly important part of the film, since most people have no idea that corn is an unnatural and unhealthy food for cows that causes them to become disease ridden.  (I only learned about this a few years ago when I researched raw milk – what cows eat affects the quality of their milk.  Corn sounds like a healthy food for cows, doesn’t it?)  Once cows are brought into a feedlot, they are fed a diet that is almost exclusively corn, which is effective in fattening them quickly for market.  It also makes them very sick.  Don’t you think it’s obvious that just like the milk quality is affected by how a cow is fed, the quality of their meat would be affected?

Cows and calves of a local cattle rancher who sells her young calves to the feedlots are shown, and the difference between the young cows with their mothers allowed to graze and roam in grassy pastures is very stark when contrasted with the reality of feedlot cattle.  Enough said.

They then attempt to visit a factory that produces corn syrup but when they were denied permission, they got a hugely technical explanation, then found a recipe, and made it themselves.   I’m a do it yourself kind of woman, but corn syrup wouldn’t be on my list of projects!  Corn syrup is ubiquitous to our food supply since it ends up in just about every processed food on the shelf.  (Oh, by the way, here’s a couple of spoofs that the makers of King Corn did on the ads the corn refiner’s association recently put out to try to spin that their product is a healthy one.  Very humorous.)

Something I liked about this presentation is that though the producers clearly had an aim in mind when producing this, they let those they interviewed do the talking.  We see a corn farmer emphatically saying that the corn they’re all growing is low quality and he wouldn’t eat it.  We see the head of the feedlot explaining that what Americans value most is cheap food, and that’s what they’re given, that if they were clamoring for grass fed beef, that’s what the industry would produce (and I believe he was sincere and that this is true).  We see the pathetic explanations of the corn syrup representative as to why visitors aren’t allowed in the factory to view the process of how corn becomes corn syrup (we were laughing at how ridiculous the explanations sounded).  We see a farmer who can’t keep getting bigger and bigger forced to sell his home and farm after generations.

As they go through this process, the two young men become increasingly uncomfortable about their role in growing corn that will support these industries.  In the end, they buy the acre that they rented, and the final scene shows them playing baseball together in the acre covered with grass, with acres of corn all around them.  At first I didn’t comprehend the message of this, but then understood that the point was that they chose to leave it unfarmed, ie, not contributing to the corn industry.

Though very little of this was novel to me, for my family it was, and I felt King Corn was a valuable film to watch.   A short time before we watched this I said to my husband, “The more I know about food and the way it’s produced, the more frustrating I find it to shop and the less I want to eat any of it.”  He didn’t share that feeling and didn’t really get where I was coming from, until he watched this film.

Something all my kids wondered about was how the producers of the film continued eating fast food after learning all they did!  They also asked me if I thought that our family would be classified as consisting of corn carbon if our hair was analyzed.  I told them I wasn’t sure.  While we eat virtually no processed food, no corn oil, and no corn syrup, we do sometimes use cornmeal and eat frozen/fresh corn.  That, I think is probably less of a problem than the animal products we eat – corn fed beef, corn fed poultry (even organic chickens often display ‘grain fed’ or ‘corn fed’ on the labels), eggs from poultry that is corn fed (we try to get pastured eggs but often use regular eggs), dairy products from cows that are corn fed….

The unfortunate reality is that it takes a lot of education and effort nowadays to eat a decent diet.  Getting information like this helps with the education component!

Next on my list is Food Inc – I reserved it weeks ago and had 36 people in line ahead of me (that’s a record; I reserve books all the time and rarely have more than a couple of people waiting for something); I’m down to only about 22 people ahead of me now so hopefully I’ll get it in a few more weeks. :)

(This post is part of Real Food Wednesdays and Fight Back Fridays.)


Presents for our parents

Tonight our mothers came over to enjoy the second to last night of Chanukah with us.  It’s been such a wonderful week!  The kids have given them gifts each of the three evenings they’ve come so far, and tonight dh and I gave them our gifts.

Remember when I told you about making first aid salve?  I made a bunch with the intent to give some as gifts.  It’s the kind of thing that is expensive to buy, but so affordable to make yourself, and useful for so many situations.  I bought tins from Mountain Rose Herbs weeks ago to package the salve in, and asked dh if he could make a label for it – that was the plan and I thought I was all set.

Then I saw that the salve that was a perfect consistency when I made it in September was too firm for the cooler temperature now.  Actually, it was downright hard!  (Now I know that I should have stuck with the measurements of the original recipe!)  All I needed to do was melt it all down and add more oil, but then started thinking that I didn’t want to give ‘imperfect’ salve and should just start all over.  Then when my husband didn’t have time to make the label, I decided I didn’t want to give it if it wouldn’t look the way I pictured it looking!

Yep, thoughts of perfectionism sneak in and I have to beat them back!  I melted the salve down, added some cold pressed flaxseed oil, and cooled it down.  Then I hand labeled the tins with a ‘product name’, a list of ingredients on the back, followed by the uses for it. This wasn’t so easy for me to do, since I had to let go of my image of what I wanted it to look like.  It was a good exercise in letting go of my ego. :)

But you know what?  The salve itself smelled wonderful, the texture was wonderful, and it will be a useful gift for our parents.  They both appreciated it, and were impressed that we made it ourselves. Giving nothing because I couldn’t make this perfect wouldn’t have been a better option.  Neither would buying something just to have something to give been good.

In addition to the salve, we gave my inlaws a jar of homemade organic fig preserves; I used honey as the sweetener so it’s delicious and a healthy jam option.  We made this in September when we picked the figs. I was hesitating about giving this because a) it tastes so good that I don’t want to share! and b) it’s unattractive looking.  Finally I decided that I have enough ‘currency’ with my inlaws that there’s no reason they would expect to be given something awful, and stopped worrying about it!

For my mom, I bought three different kinds of herbal tea- two are holiday blends and one is her favorite kind.  Celestial Seasoning boxes are attractive, so we stacked them one on top of another, and wrapped a ribbon around it, then popped it into the fabric gift bags we made.   She loves herbal teas and really appreciated this.

I love so many things about Chanukah, and I love giving the people I love things that they appreciate!


Making time for yourself

Today I set out to do my monthly shopping, which I always enjoy.  But it was a long day and when I got home there was the van to unpack, then a living room filled with boxes of groceries to put away – and the baby was crying while ds2 and ds3 discovered things I bought that they wanted to eat right that minute, pulling them out and asking to eat them (or just opening it and throwing the wrapper/peel on the floor). And it was time for dinner and my mother had gotten there earlier (I forgot to tell her I’d be home late) and wanted to give the kids their presents right then (she had somewhere she needed to be at a certain time so she couldn’t really wait).

The way I do present giving is that each person gets a gift, opens it, and thanks the giver before the next person receives anything.  It makes the entire thing an experience of togetherness instead of each person focusing on what he’s getting/giving.  That wasn’t what was happening!  Instead I had a chaotic, noisy house, was tired, hungry (it was 7 pm and hadn’t eaten since breakfast), tense, and felt like I’d scream if one more person touched me or even came near me. :))   Fortunately, I’ve learned when I feel like this that as long as I remember to take a deep breath and be careful about how I speak and interact with those around me, then it passes.

So I nursed the baby, my mom gave presents and left, we had dinner, we put away a bunch of groceries, the kids went to bed, I cleaned up the kitchen – and with each step, it got easier to unknot the tension I was feeling.  Now I’ve had a hot cup of tea and am enjoying a quiet house, and since what I was really feeling earlier was the need for was some self-time, it seemed like an appropriate time to respond to the question below!

>>Avivah, could you share how you manage to take downtime/selftime/recharging time for yourself?<<

This is such an important question!  Mothers do so much all day long for everyone, and it’s too easy to forget to take time for ourselves.  When we keep giving and giving without taking time to recharge ourselves, we end up resentful, hostile, and burnt out.  Oh, and guilty – guilty for feeling resentful and hostile, guilty for having needs, angry for feeling guilty for having needs….

My reality was living far from family, with no extra money for cleaning/babysitting help, a husband who wasn’t home very often – and having six children under the age of 9 home all day long, every single day.  So if I wanted to have a break, it was up to me to create the space for it to happen. This is crucial – you have to value yourself enough to make the time.  That might mean going to sleep early so you can get up when the house is still quiet, or staying up  late after the house has settled for the night (that’s what I do).  When you have that quiet time, you can use it for whatever you find relaxing and rejuvenating – talking to a friend, a good book and a cup of herbal tea, a relaxing bath, crafting, computer time, etc.

I used to love to go walking with a friend.  This has been different times of the day, depending on my life circumstances.  I started when I had two young children at home and one or two out for a few hours a morning, and I would take a double stroller with the two kids loaded up and go for a walk (and this was before the days of jogging strollers!) mid morning.  I sometimes went walking late at night after the kids were in bed (when I lived in a neighborhood that was safe enough to feel comfortable with that).  This depended on my buddy in large part – I found that my walking partners all ended up becoming friends, because you end up talking quite a bit to each other.  Then I moved to a new neighborhood and didn’t have anyone to walk with, but I started swimming a few times a week (I became friendly with someone on a women’s syncronized swimming team and they let me do laps while they practiced for their state and national competition – they offered this to me since they knew that I needed a womens only swim environment – I left the house at about 5 or 5:30 am and drove 20 miles in each direction to get there!)  This was when I was homeschooling and had five kids.   Later when I was in yet a different city and homeschooling six kids, I again found a walking buddy and at 5 am would head out before the kids were awake and before my husband left for the day.  At one point, I went to a woman’s gym to exercise almost daily, though I didn’t enjoy this nearly as much as a walk outside!  Unfortunately I haven’t been walking for a long time; I don’t have a partner and my efforts to consistently walk by myself didn’t pan out.

When my kids were all younger, it wasn’t enough to get up early or wait until 9 or 10 pm to have some quiet time.  My kids are fantastic, I love being with them – but there are a lot of demands on a mother and it can be very draining to go and go and go all day long.  I recognized that I needed to create a mini break in the middle of the day for myself.  I did that by putting my toddlers in for a nap once the baby was down for a nap.  Then, I’d tell the older three kids (this was when I had only six kids, so the older kids were about 6,8,9 when I started this) they needed to have quiet time in their rooms for an hour.  They didn’t have to nap, but they had to stay in their beds and they had to be quiet.  They could take a book or game with them, but they could not get out of bed and they couldn’t talk.  That was a huge help since I had an hour mid day to  physically and psychologically recharge myself, and enabled me to thrive through years with no outside help at all in any area, while continuing to enjoy my family.

Nowadays I have other ways to meet my needs.  Some people have asked me how I find time to write on my blog. The answer is that writing here is something I do because I enjoy it.  Once in a while I start to feel like I have to do it, and that’s usually when you might notice a two day hiatus while I recenter myself.  Recharging yourself shouldn’t be something that feels like a chore, or something else on your ‘to do’ list!

Another thing is to give yourself a break emotionally.  Tonight, why was I getting so uptight?  Where was all the pressure coming from?  From everyone else?  Not really.  Mostly it was inside my head.  It was what I was telling myself that was the true problem – usually I can have that exact same situation going on and I can stay cheerful and relaxed.   We have to learn to let go and relax our standards sometimes.  There are things you can do at some periods of your life that will leave you chronically run down and overextended at other stages.  And we have to learn to accept ourselves as we are, not only when we’re at our best, but when we’re at out worst.


Kids using the internet

>>Do you allow your kids to research topics of interest on the internet?<<

This isn’t a black and white answer.  In general I’m not a fan of the computer or internet for kids, even though it’s an amazing resource.  My main concern is that it can be a huge time waster and addictive.  There’s a huge amount of material to sift through, and it can take a long time to get to the ‘meat’ of an area of interest.

A couple of weeks ago dd9 and a friend were working on preparing a presentation for their geography club, so I sat with them at the computer to help them find their information.  When they get older, I do allow them to use the internet on their own – that’s for kids about 12 or older. We only have one computer and when combined with the number of people who want to use computer, and the limitation that they can only use it when their chores and academic work are completed, they naturally can’t/don’t spend huge amounts of time online.

Each of the older three kids have their own interests.  Ds16 is probably the one who needs to use it the most for research- he has a particular area of interest that he’s constantly learning more about, and though he’s read books on the topic, he enjoys the online resources he’s found.

My second concern about the internet is the huge amount of offensive material that could be accessed.  I’m not concerned about the kids seeking out unwholesome materials as much as realizing that they could accidentally click on a link or mistype something that could take them somewhere unsavory.  We keep the computer in an area of the house where people are always around.  My husband and I have recently discussed getting a filter, too. Until fairly recently, like about a year ago, our kids weren’t using the internet much so it didn’t seem necessary.  But now it seems prudent.

We also until recently had an older computer that had some kind of problem that kept us from being able to see youtube videos or other high definition graphics – I considered this an advantage. :)  Even though there are loads of educational things on youtube (this is how I learned how to preserve tomato seeds for planting), there are lots of others that aren’t okay and when you view the main screen, there are often objectionable pictures or titles that you can’t help but view.

So while I’m not against it, I’m careful to limit it.


Happy Chanukah!

Wow, can you believe we’re already halfway through Chanukah?

The kids spent two days before Chanukah decorating the house with Chanukah themed shapes.  We have dreidels hanging from our dining room chandelier, a large menorah and dreidels adorning the front door, and snowflakes in the window.  A day ahead we took out the menorahs and moved around some living room furniture – almost all of the kids light their own menorah, so we need a six foot table in front of the window to accomodate everyone (and that’s atill pretty squishy!).

My mother spent Shabbos with us, then my in-laws joined us for Saturday night and then again on Sunday night (when we had a surprise birthday dinner for dd15).  We went to friends on Saturday night after our parents left, and tonight we enjoyed a quiet family evening – we’ll be having friends over for dinner tomorrow night and then spending the next night with other friends.

My kids have been busy buying/making things for each other and for friends and relatives – I took them to a floral design workshoplast week where five of them made lovely floral centerpieces.  They’re small, with a floating tea light in a glass cup in the center.  I hinted to them that dh and I would appreciate having one to put in our bathroom.  :)

We’re again using the fabric gift bags that I made last year of green taffeta and black velvet.  They worked out so well last year- they looked festive and elegant, and there was no messy cleanup after each present was opened.  Last year when I gave my mother my gift, I had to disappoint her and tell her she couldn’t keep the bag!  Dh’s father had a similar reaction this year. :)

I don’t make myself crazy looking for presents.  I keep an eye out for things that gifts that would be appropriate, then put them to the side.   In addition to that, if there’s something a child needs and I buy it around this time of year, I’ll put it to the side and also give it for Chanukah. This can be something small or big, but they all enjoy getting it as a ‘gift’.   And I don’t feel that they have to be bought brand new, at retail prices, either!  What’s more important to me is that it’s something the child will appreciate and use.

An example is the Shabbos yarmulkes I bought for a couple of the younger boys, which they were given before Shabbos candle lighting on Friday.  New Shabbos shoes for ds16 were also given then so he could wear them to shul.  I know it sounds boring but our children are all  appreciative for what they receive; my ds3 spontaneously thanked me several time for his new yarmulke, and tonight was so happy about new tzitzis!  I’ll even give socks or underwear one night if I happen to have them!

This year I took dd13 and dd15 each shopping to choose what they wanted, since I didn’t want to guess about their tastes.  My kids enjoy thrift store shopping as much as me, and that’s where we headed first.  Dd15 found great quality boots that she liked (like new, selling for $70 retail but we paid 3.50 :)), ds13 wanted a poncho (not for rain, the fashionable ones you wear on Shabbos) and found something she really liked for $8.   I got brand new boots for dd9 – she has two pair of boots, but neither are waterproof – so I got her good snow boots with the tag still on them (yes, from the thrift store).

Also from the thrift store I bought a couple of shrink wrapped science kits (can’t remember the company this minute, but they’re good ones), a set of toy construction tools for ds3 in the original packing, a gorgeous solid wood toy train for ds2 (it has five parts, and were giving him one car each night), and an origami kit for ds7. At the annual library book sale I got books for ds10 and dd9 from their favorite series -sometimes people donate books to the library to sell, so you can get books that have no signs of wear and no library stickers.  These books were brand new books in a series they love – .50 each; we gave it to them tonight and ds10 kept asking me how much I paid, since they’re expensive hardback versions and he knows I wouldn’t pay $25 for a book – I didn’t tell him, of course :)).  I got a couple of stationary sets for the older girls.  I estimate for everything (including the boots and shoes) that I paid less than $40, which is pretty good when you consider that almost everything I bought was new in the wrapping or like new.  I spent more than that on new socks and yarmulkes for them!

Anything we give them is supplemented by gifts from grandparents and siblings. Again, everything is kept simple, which allows us to focus more on our family traditions as well as what holiday is actually about!


Uses for baking soda

>>On another subject, I am anxiously awaiting your post on baking soda. All of a sudden I seem to be using it in so many things.<<

>>I am always looking for ways to be more frugal and I noticed u sed don’t use coupons. I was wondering, what brand do u or did u use for diapers, laundry detergent, and I get the impression ur more “green” in terms of healthy choices. Do u use bleach or chemicle cleaners or is ther another alternative for killing bacteria or viruses in the house?<<

Since both of these requests came in within a day of each other, it looks like it’s time for me to share about the magic of baking soda!

In answer to the second question, no, I don’t use chemical cleaners, but I do periodically use bleach for whitening whites – very periodically.  Baking soda is an incredibly effective, inexpensive, and versatile replacement for many household cleaners.  It can replace some of the things you’d buy as health and beauty aids.  It seems that there are endless uses for it, but I’ll share some of what we’ve found most helpful.

I’ll start with my favorite uses that I start my day with.

  • Toothpaste – I don’t like fluoride based toothpastes (due to toxicity), and though I could have gotten plenty of name brand toothpastes free during my stint couponing, I wasn’t interested even at that price.  I keep a small container of baking soda on my bathroom counter, and after moistening my toothbrush, dip it in so there is just a tiny bit on the toothbrush.  You need only a very small amount; using a lot would be counterproductive since it would be overly abrasive.  You can also mix up your own toothpaste by using a mix of 70% coconut oil to 30% baking soda.
  • Deoderant – this is something I really love, since anti-perspirant was something I continued to buy for years, despite concerns it was inherently problematic (it’s not a good thing to block the pores that release the toxins from your body).  There are various recipes I intended to try out, but started with plain baking soda and after a year ago of using this in all seasons and situations, can say with confidence that it’s very effective – no odor at all.  I take a generous pinch and rub in on clean skin.
  • Some inevitably falls into the bathroom sink, but since I wipe it down every morning as part of my routine, it doesn’t matter to me.  In fact, baking soda is useful as a dry cleanser for sinks, tubs, and toilets.  Sprinkle a little on and rub.
  • I tried baking soda as a shampoo replacement and didn’t care for it, but I didn’t give it a fair try.  You really need to be willing to do it for several weeks, to give your hair a chance to adjust and reset its oil levels.  That’s the biggest challenge, the adjustment period.  Dd15 used it for months and it was great, but when she went to camp the water was different and her hair felt stiff, so she switched back to regular shampoo.  To do this, you mix some baking soda and water, massage it into your hair, and rinse.  Your hair will feel very squeaky clean.  Then you do a rinse with diluted apple cider vinegar to restore shine.  I kept a spray bottle in the shower with the vinegar rinse.  I’ve read that once your hair resets itself, you’ll need to wash your hair much less frequently.  You don’t have to use straight baking soda to benefit from its cleaning ability, though- you can also add a teaspoon of baking soda when you shampoo your hair to remove dinginess and residual soap build up.
  • Facial scrub – mix 1 part baking soda with 2 parts ground oatmeal, and add water to make a paste.  Gently rub on your face, leave on for a few minutes and rinse with cool water.  (I haven’t done this but it sounds good.)
  • Laundry – can be used as a booster to regular loads by adding 1/2 c. baking soda to each load.  When I wash cloth diapers (don’t use them in the winter), I use straight baking soda to wash them since my homemade laundry detergent isn’t good for diapers.
  • Vegetable wash – you can add 1/4 c. of baking soda to a sink of warm water to wash fruits and vegetables; this removes dirt and insecticides.  Rinse with clean water.
  • Appliance cleanser- For ovens, make a paste of baking soda and water and spread inside.  Let it sit for a few hours, then scrub off.  To wipe down appliances, sprinkle some on a damp sponge.  When I’m cleaning the stove top, I often sprinkle baking soda on it, then pour some white vinegar on top, and wipe it down.  The vinegar and baking soda interact chemically to make a powerful cleanser.
  • Clean crayon marks on wall – make a baking soda paste with water, and using a damp rag or an old toothbrush, lightly scrub wall.
  • Clean silver with a paste of baking soda and lemon juice.
  • Relieves indigestion and heartburn – mix a teaspoon of baking soda into a cup of water, and drink quickly.
  • Poison ivy/itchiness – relieves itchiness; add 1/2 c. baking soda to a tub of warm water and soak.
  • Bee stings, insect bites, sunburn – make poultice of baking soda and water
  • Mouthwash – mix 1/2 t. baking soda with 1/2 c. of water and swish around your mouth.  This gets your mouth clean and fresh and apparently is good to relieve canker sores (we’ve never had canker sores so I can’t say from personal experience).
  • Fridge freshener – this is classic – everyone probably already has a small box of baking soda in the door of their fridge to absorb odors.
  • Car freshener – I can’t stand the smell of commerical car fresheners.  Fill a little dish with baking soda and put it in the console where cup holders are.  A couple of days ago I noticed the van was smelling musty from all the dampness tracked in by wet boots, and I plan to do this in the coming week.
  • Ant repellent – mix equal parts salt with baking soda and sprinkle where ants enter.
  • Play clay- for a fun play dough for kids, mix 1 1/4 c. water with 2 c. baking soda and 1 c. cornstarch.  Knead until smooth, store is closed plastic bag or container.
  • Remove burnt on food – soak the pan with hot water and baking soda.
  • Clean clogged drains- we stopped using it for this since I’ve gotten conflicting information on it.  You pour in a 1/2 c. of baking soda, followed by a cup of vinegar.  Let bubble a few minutes, and then run hot water down for a couple of minutes to flush it all through.  I’ve heard that when not sufficiently flushed out, it can solidify in the drain.  Since this is a popular suggestion, I didn’t want to ignore it here.
  • Clean stained countertops – make a paste and scrub.

These are some uses, but there are lots more.  Since baking soda is great at absorbing odors, it’s good for anything where odors are a concern (eg carpets and pet odors).  Since it’s good at scrubbing, it’s good for that.  When mixed with vinegar, it increases the potential uses!  Baking soda is very inexpensive – I used to buy it in a 12 pound bag at Sam’s, now I buy a 50 lb bag (through my bulk source). (I also buy white vinegar by the gallon and keep it under the bathroom sink, as well as one next to the washing  machine.)  It’s non toxic, which means that you don’t have to worry about your little kids ingesting something poisonous. Because you can use it for so many things, it eliminates a lot of specific cleansers, saving you money, improving your health, and it’s better for the environment to boot!

If you use baking soda in your home, please share your tips with us in the comments section below!

(This post is part of Fight Back Fridays and Frugal Fridays.)


Older boys and homeschooling

>>your 16 yr old son…. how does he learn gemara and other things 16 yr old yeshiva boys should be learning?<<

He learns them pretty much same way any other boy does; the main difference is his location.

>>is it really in the best interest of a yeshiva age boy to be home all day instead of in yeshiva?<<

Historically, I think the answer is that yes, boys were taught by their fathers or in small groups by a hired teacher for short periods of time each day.  Large yeshivas are a fairly new development in the way things have been done for generations.

But regardless of history, I can only determine what’s in the best interest of my child at this time.  Every person has to make a well-thought out decision for themselves. There is no perfect solution – the yeshivas have challenges but also there are advantages.  Homeschooling has  advantages and challenges.  That’s why it’s so important to think about this, to make a thorough cost benefit analysis of the situation.  Doing that requires a parent to really think about what the true strengths and weaknesses of each situation are.  Don’t make the mistake of thinking that following the well-trodden path means that there are no problems and that you’re guaranteed a certain result – you couldn’t be further from the truth.

Having said that, I think what’s far more important than where they learn, is how they learn, why they learn, and what they do with it. I’m interested in my child’s character development and intellectual development, both of which I believe are better served by homeschooling.   I’m not impressed by bench warming.  I want my children to develop a relationship with H-shem (G-d) and find a Torah life full of meaning and joy, not to be religious robots who do it because everyone else does.  The reasons I choose to homeschool are at the root of my approach.

I think that speaking to high school aged boys and girls will be very enlightening for most parents as to what is actually going on in our schools.  What the adults think is happening and what the students experience are often two entirely different things.  (If you can’t speak to high schoolers, at least speak to their parents.  They’ll also have experience to share.)  My approach isn’t to slam the schools but rather to focus on the positives of my experience,  so I won’t detail things that concern me about school.

I’ll generalize and say that good middos aren’t generally developed by throwing together a bunch of immature pubescent boys for many hours a day with minimal adult guidance.  The hours are very long, and it’s a small percentage of boys who are really shteiging all day long.  A disproportionate number of kids are burnt out and going through the motions.  And mainly what’s necessary to get by in school is to look the part, act the part – not to be the part.

These issues are recognized by educators as growing in severity all the time, and they’re searching for answers.  So far the answers I’ve seen seem to have a common theme – try to make the school environment more home like (ie, more warmth, personal attention, discussion about issues of concern). The yeshivas will do whatever they think is best, and so will I.  I have a responsibility to my children to focus my energy to actively raise them as I think H-shem wants me to.   And for us that means homeschooling.


Save the date – Torah Home Education Conference

I’m posting this now to give those of you who need to make flights time to make reservations. :)   Last year the feedback on the conference was very positive and enthusiastic, and this year it’s going to be bigger and better!

The Second Annual Torah Home Education Conference will be held in Baltimore, MD  on June 13, 2010.

We have loads of great workshops and speakers planned and it will be a day packed with information, encouragement, and support.  Come and meet homeschoolers from across the country, learn, and be inspired!

The conference will be held on the second floor of the Park Heights JCC from 9 am – 5 pm, located at 5700 Park Heights Ave, Baltimore, MD 21215.  There is ample parking on site.  Lunch can be purchased at the Eden Cafe, a dairy restaurant on the first floor of the JCC.  Special hotel pricing is available to conference attendees.  A variety of Jewishly oriented curriculum will be available to view.

The advance registration price for the entire day will be $25 per person, $40 per couple for registration completed by May 1, 2010.  After that, the regular price of $50 per person, $90 per couple will apply. Payment can be made by check, Paypal, or cash.

Specifics of the workshop schedule will be posted closer to the date of the conference at Please help get the word out and pass this along to those you feel will be interested, other homeschooling lists geared toward Torah homeschooling, etc – thanks!

Last year I really enjoyed getting to meet some of you at the conference; I hope this year I get to know more of you!