Monthly Archives: May 2010

“You’re not a member of the club”

Yes, this is what I was recently told – and I considered it a compliment!

I popped into our local kosher supermarket for some chicken and vegetables on Thursday evening.  I loaded up on turkey wings since they were .79 lb (that’s the kind of price I don’t often see!), and got a bunch of fresh vegetables for Shabbos salads (naturally the ones that were a good deal).  I was in the checkout line following a friend who said she needed to be more frugal and could use my tips, so I laughed and pointed to my stuff on the conveyor belt, and said: “Here’s my frugal tip of the day – buy lots of what’s cheap!”  😆

The cashier heard us and then took a look at what I had, and started estimating out loud how much my order was before he even finished checking out my friend!  When he finished ringing up my order, he looked at the total and said, “That’s awesome!  It’s even less than I was guessing.  You’re not a member of the (name of store) club!”  So naturally I asked him what that meant.

He said that he’s noticed that shoppers fall into four categories: those who spend a) $100, b) $300, c) $700, and d) $1000 (though he said this usually only happens around major Jewish holidays) for each shopping trip.  And since my full cart of food came out to less than $100, I’m not a member of the club.  Boo hoo.  :) I told him that I infrequently top $100 and only can spend $300 at a time in that store before Pesach (Passover) (since it includes my hand matzos)- which may be a total joke to some people, but that’s my notably big shopping trip there.

Personally I was more interested in how frequently most people are shopping, because it’s less relevant how much you spend than each time than how long a time you’re buying for.   When I do my monthly shopping, I spend a lot, basically my entire month’s budget in a day less $50 – 100.  Even after shopping like this for so long, I still am taken aback when I come out of the stores and think about how much I just spent.  Someone could look at me and think I’m a big spender and someone spending just $50 look like the frugal person, but I’m shopping for 4 – 6 weeks of supplies and if the $50 person is a typical shopper, they’re back in the store 2 – 3 times a week.  And that would add up fast.

In case you were wondering, the turkey wings can be useful in a number of ways – roasted as is, stewed, chopped for turkey salad and pot pies – and you can use the bones and carcasses as a base for your stock as a nice bonus.  They were very tasty for Shabbos lunch as turkey salad – I cooked a very large amount and then chopped it all into evenly diced pieces, then froze half so all I’ll need to do next week is defrost and add seasonings.  I actually enjoy cooking with inexpensive ingredients so much more than expensive ingredients – it’s like buying clothes at a thrift store – you’re just not as invested if something goes wrong, and when something goes right, you’ve gotten way more value than what you paid.


Weekly menu plan

It’s been a few weeks since I posted my weekly menu – I need to get back to putting it up on time, since posting it here helps keep me accountable to making sure the plan for the week is in place at the beginning of the week.  Menu planning is valuable all the time, but the busier I am, the more helpful I find it to have the menus written out and decided upon in advance.

Sunday – breakfast – leftovers; lunch – creamy cauliflower soup; dinner – chicken, quinoa, salads

Monday – b – french toast; l – creamy cauliflower soup; d – lentil tomato pie, cornbread

Tuesday – b – quinoa and milk; l – barley and white bean salad; d – turkey chili

Wednesday – b – chocolate zucchini muffins; l – barley and white bean salad; d – pizza, salad

Thursday – b – Amish oatmeal; l – stuffed baked potatoes, vegetable sticks; d – black bean tamale pie

Friday – b – polenta; l – leftovers

Today I transferred a bunch of the plants that I planted last week.  After the fence went up (not yet done, but hopefully tomorrow it will be!), I realized that I needed to make four garden beds with three paths, instead of three garden beds with two paths, so that they could easily be reached. So that meant replacing one garden bed with a path, and naturally it was the garden bed where lots of vegetables were currently growing!

I started working in the yard before breakfast, and we took the ducklings out with us.  They’re two weeks old, and since they’ve been three or four days old we’ve tried to take them outside whenever we’re out (and now that they’re older are leaving them in a protected area outside even when we aren’t out; they currently only come inside for the nighttime).  So there I was, digging up plants, and the ducklings kept getting so excited about every turn of my shovel that they’d tumble into the holes I dug trying to get all the freshly revealed worms.  They’re quite cute and very fun to watch! But I had to be extra careful when I was working not to hit them with the shovel, because right under the shovel was their favorite place to be.  I solved this by turning over fresh chunks of soil for them and then throwing them to the side for the ducks to enjoy out of immediate reach of my shovel.

Today I made a nice big pot of turkey broth, which I haven’t been making much of since the weather has gotten warm.  I also rendered a pot of beef fat, so I have a nice amount of tallow now.   With the weather so warm, I can soak beans overnight and they’ll begin sprouting within a day of being drained.  So I’ll be soaking and sprouting the beans and lentils for this week’s menu just a day or two in advance.

Have a wonderful week!


Our fence is going up!

I’ve been living in this house for almost four years now, and seriously feeling the need for a fence for over two years.  But having a fence installed is very expensive – to enclose our yard would cost about $7000.  And two years ago my wonderful dh agreed to put one in because he loves me and knew how important it was to me, but it honestly was too big of a project for him to take on in his limited time, so it never got done.

Finally this year I decided if I wanted a fence, I was going to have to spearhead the project myself.  So I did, but lest you think that means I did a lot of work, I’ll clarify- it means that my kids got on board with the idea and were very motivated to get one put in.  I did all the shopping and getting supplies from the store to home, and said what I wanted. They’re doing all the rest.

Almost two weeks ago we rented a two person power auger to facilitate digging the post holes.  My dh started off doing it with ds16, but he was feeling under the weather so then dd15, dd13, and ds11 took turns with one another. They really enjoyed that!  Too bad our camera wasn’t working – it would have been a great picture!  Theoretically all of the holes we needed to have dug could have been dug in the 4 hour rental period.  But it required preparation which hadn’t been done and it took some time to figure out the auger, so a number of holes still had to be dug manually afterwards.

Then a week later (when it was again dh’s day off of work), the kids started setting the posts in concrete.  I think dh did the first few with them, then they continued on their own in the afternoons when their academic work was done.  This week dd13 and ds16 have been hard at work digging the remaining holes with a manual post hole digger, then cementing in the poles.  It’s not only very physical work, but exacting to get things lined up exactly right, and they’ve done a great job.

Today I went with a friend to pick up the fencing panels, but was told my credit card was declined when I tried to pay.  I was very surprised since I use only a small part of my available balance each month, and it’s always paid off in full on time, so I couldn’t even guess what the problem could be.  My friend offered to use her credit card to pay for the purchase, and after realizing that for Memorial Day weekend there was a 10% discount for military (which she is), I agreed!  (Turns out the card was declined because my company flagged it as a fraud alert – four hours later they called to tell me and said, “Are you still in the store?  If you’d like to complete your purchase now, you can go ahead.” :roll:)  So it worked out well that I couldn’t use my card since it saved me $75. :)

So late this afternoon the supplies were all finally here and the fence started going up!  It’s really, really exciting to see it happening.  All the other work was preparatory, but now I can already begin to get a feeling of privacy when I’m outside – ahh!!  I love privacy!  I enjoy people, but I really like having my own clearly defined space.

My kids are really hard workers and the bulk of the credit for this particular project goes to dd13 and ds16.  Right now (11 pm) there are thunderstorms, but assuming that they clear somewhat by tomorrow and it’s dry enough to work outside, they’re hoping the bulk of it will be up by Shabbos!

(Of course, my frugal price analysis will come soon. :))


A long day ending with a nice call

I’ve had a long and busy day, and am feeling physically and emotionally wiped out tonight.  I started the day by attending the end of the year activity sponsored by my umbrella homeschool organization, and went directly from there to our local monthly homeschool gathering.  There’s no way I’m going to even think about touching the dishes in the sink until the morning!

Today I had an extremely awkward situation arise, and though I handled it in the best way that could be expected and was satisfied with my response, I’m very unhappy about the entire situation – this is why I’m so emotionally worn out.  I acted according to guidelines recommended to me by the rabbis of the community, and even though I should feel reassured that I did what I was told to do, I don’t feel at peace at all.  I’ve written here about listening to your inner voice and being true to yourself, and in this case I feel like I’ve violated my own sense of right and wrong.

It’s a complicated situation and there are many people involved in different aspects, and when the rabbi of the other party called afterward to discuss the situation with me for a half hour, I was very direct about my concerns with him, but I also was open to his perspective and told him I shared some of his feelings.  I’ve left a message for my rabbi that it’s important that we discuss this issue at more length and hope that with some intense discussion and clarification, that this situation can be handled in a way that is more congruent with my values in the future.

Meanwhile, it had gotten very late and my kids were still awake and hadn’t eaten dinner.  I was so tired of everything right at that moment – the kids, the noise, the meal that hadn’t been prepared since we didn’t get home until 7:30 and then I was dealing with all of this, the house waiting to be cleaned up, and all I wanted to do was fall into bed.  I was so emotionally overloaded that I didn’t want to be around the kids for even two more minutes.  And then the phone rang.

Someone identified himself by name, then asked me if I have a child who learns at x location in the morning.  ‘Yes’, I say.  ‘Does he learn in this particular part of the building?’  Yes.  ‘And sometimes he learns with a younger boy, sometimes by himself?’  Right.  ‘Is that also your son?’  (I was really starting to wonder where we were going with this line of questioning.)  “Mmm, yes.  Is there something you want to tell me that I don’t want to hear?”

“Well,” he says, “every day I see this young man, and notice that he’s always either learning by himself and taking notes or learning with a younger boy.  I could tell they got along very well together but I couldn’t tell if they were brothers – at first I thought the older one was tutoring the younger one.   I was impressed with both of them.  I work at the local school but I didn’t recognize them, and I wondered what they were doing there.  One morning I noticed the last name embroidered on the tefillin bag, and today I was reading your article in the (local magazine) when at the end I saw your name and that you homeschool your children and have two older children who are graduating.  So I suddenly realized, this must be the mother of these boys.  And I had to call and tell you what special children you have, that you’re obviously doing something right not just with your homeschooling, but as a parent.”

After thanking him a couple of times for taking the time to call a stranger just to tell them something nice about their children (isn’t that amazing??), I thought about how grateful I was that this call came at just the right moment, to help me recenter myself before I had a chance to act like the overtired witch I was feeling like.  Even though I was still exhausted, it changed my state of mind, and I was able to shift away from those negative feelings inside and be pleasant with the kids.   Isn’t it remarkable, the ways of H-shem and people, to send something so nice my way at just the right moment?


Do the values behind homeschooling matter?

I wrote the following as part of my recent post on homeschooling, then decided to take it out because it was going off track regarding my main point, which was just talking about how nice it was to speak to minded homeschooling parents, and to express my appreciative feeling that homeschoolers are incredibly nice people.  Instead I put it to the side as a material for a future post, but will share it now before responding to some questions on my last post because I think it’s relevant for readers to realize this was written as part of the original post and before any questions.  (It was an oversight on my part that I removed the following without significantly editing the only paragraph remaining, which would have made my intent more clear.)

(My statements) >>A homeschooling friend in a recent email said that we can’t make it harder for people to homeschool by talking about ideals, but I disagree.  Is there really a value in promoting home education without talking about the values behind the choice?  I guess some people would say that values don’t matter much, that the only difference is the location where the schooling takes place, but I really can’t get on board with that way of thinking.  My way and your way to home educate won’t – and shouldn’t – look alike.  I don’t think there’s one right way to do things, just the way that is right for your family.

But  I don’t believe that making things easy for people is necessarily being kind to them – parents today tend to be disempowered and fearful of their abilities to meet the needs of their child/ren.  That gives rise to the constant comparisons of their children to their schooled peers, focus on if the kids are ‘up to par, and their focus on curriculum as if it’s the curriculum that will give them guaranteed results.

Sure, it’s easy to provide curriculum and lists and classes for these homeschoolers – that’s what they’re asking for because that’s what they think they need, and they’ll be very grateful for it.  But isn’t it just as valuable – more valuable, actually – to take the time to help them think about what their educational philosophy is?  Or to help them develop it?  To talk about a deeper and more meaningful way to approach learning and living than recreating school in your dining room?<<

Okay, end of those thoughts, which I had planned to flesh out in more detail before sharing here as its own post.  Read the past post with these comments added in between the second and third paragraphs if you’re inclined to see how it was originally written.  Now on to some comments from the post.

(Binah said)>> I don’t know if I would call homeschooling a “parallel academic choice”, but I not sure I see much value in promoting homeschooling or a particular way of homeschooling dogmatically. Hate to be so relativistic, but I can only do what works for me, and others should do what works for them. If that involves sending their children to school, signing up for a cyber academy charter school, or using school-in-a-box type curriculum, I don’t see the need to bemoan that state of affairs.<<

Agreed.  I believe that home education is at the core about individualizing the process to meet your needs.  But I want to address what I think is a common response to those expressing their belief that there is a better or worse way to do something, the assumption that they’re judgmental (as seen in the choice of words ‘dogmatically’ and ‘bemoan).

I’ve often noticed that those who have standards that are different than the collective norm are accused of being judgmental, regardless of how cautiously and respectfully they express themselves.  To be accurate, only if the standards are perceived as being higher is it viewed as a problem, because we don’t refer to those who push their values on us who lower the standard as judgmental.  Somehow, that’s okay.

There are a number of precepts and principles that I believe to be worthy of emulation and try to integrate them into my life, as a spouse, parent, friend, and individual.  Even though I’m  frequently not successful in integrating them to the degree I would like, I still find inspiration in having ideals and something more to strive for. If those from whom I learned about these ideas hadn’t written or discussed them, I would unquestionably have set the bar in my life much lower and experienced significantly less happiness as a result.

To refrain from sharing one’s ideas and to remove ideals from discussion is to remove any striving, to prevent people from knowing about other options that they may want to explore.  So many parents begin homeschooling knowing very little about it, basically superimposing a school structure on their home lives.  Wouldn’t it be a kindness to share the exciting possibilities and options with them, to let them know that there might be other ways that would bring more joy and delight into their lives, rather than just smile and nod, and let them think that there’s nothing better out there than what they’re doing – because we don’t want to be seen as judgmental??

We easily forget that often people are making choices without knowing that there are options to what they’ve chosen.  This is true of homeschooling, and of many other areas as well.  An approach to marriage, work, parenting, money management – all of these are often determined by our past experience.  And when our experience is unhealthy or simply limited, we don’t grow beyond that without getting a glimpse that there’s something more, something that could make our life better.

(Binah said)>>Are you concerned with potential future affects on all homeschoolers’ freedoms as cyber schooling and other one-size-fits-all approaches become more popular? I think that is a very valid concern.<<

Yes, I am.  Attendees of some cyber schools don’t realize their programs aren’t homeschooling; they are registered as public school school students learning at home.  This is a legal definition, not my personal opinion.  (This isn’t true of all cyber schools, however.)  Those who are enrolled in cyber schools tend to be comfortable with the school system and its demands, and their values and goals often conflict with many homeschoolers.  (The reasons for that are material for a long discussion.)  Further complicating matters is that many of these cyberschoolers will refer to themselves as homeschoolers, which is inaccurate and misleading, and they don’t even realize that they’re misrepresenting themselves. Home educators have worked hard to establish the legal rights we now have, which could easily be jeopardized by cyberschoolers.  Much has been written about this concern in home education magazines (for those who are interested in learning more, the columns of Larry and Susan Kaseman in Home Education Magazine are worth reading – I believe you can find past columns online).

(Malkie said)>>As for this new trend of people taking the “homeschool” label when their kids just need a year off from school. Obviously I mind people using the term “homeschool” to mean “neglect” (or recently in the news here, abuse). But something else that really troubles me is that those kids then go back into the school world with the label “homeschooler” on them, and are NOTHING like homeschoolers. Half the time they haven’t even detoxed! Especially here in Israel, where there aren’t that many of us, and the first one you meet, or believe you meet, makes a lasting impression. They make things harder for those of us who do put in the effort for our kids, and I resent it.<<

This is unfortunately something I’m all too familiar with, and this was reflected in my comments in the last post.  People tend to think if you’re in an area with a number of other homeschoolers, that’s a clear advantage.  But there are disadvantages, too.  When homeschooling becomes more common, some people use this as an excuse for not educating their children.  In my community, the religious schools (which previously would have thought long and hard before telling a student to leave) now tell problem students and their parents to ‘homeschool’.   But many of these kids and parents have no inclination to homeschool, don’t want to homeschool, and have no plans to change the dynamic they’ve enacted until this point.  This leads to a problem of truancy.  And that leads to a problem that these kids, who call themselves ‘homeschoolers’ but are actually nothing of the sort, negatively impact the positive image that homeschoolers have worked hard to earn.

Fortunately one local program that previously catered to ‘homeschooled’ kids has now decided to officially call itself a school, a move I’m personally very happy with.  Now the kids who go there won’t be considered homeschoolers by the community, which the majority of them never were to start with (the parents and the kids would agree with that).

A person doesn’t become a homeschooler soley by being out of school for a year (this was in part what was referred by the comment in my last post that there are differences between those who are homeschooling and homeschoolers).  I don’t appreciate hearing people claim that homeschooling doesn’t work because they tried it for a short period and were miserable, particularly when it’s clear that important steps weren’t taken or there were outside contributing factors that badly influenced the experience which were independent of/not caused by homeschooling.

That’s not because I demand that everyone love homeschooling – I’ve said again and again that it’s not for everyone (though I do believe that when we individualize our approach for each child, then it can work for each child).  But when someone goes back into the system as if they’re a representative of homeschooling, but they aren’t, then again, homeschoolers as a group/homeschooling as a concept end up unfairly tarnished.

(Binah said)>>Anytime something becomes popularized and mainstream, the newer proponents of that thing, whether that thing is homeschooling or punk rock, may not share the same values and experiences as the older ones. I am not sure this is a process that can be avoided. Is there any value in getting concerned about this normal process? I don’t know. It reminds me a little of my angst as a teenager over some obscure band that became popular, leading me to claim that they had “sold out”.<<

That’s a good point.  But yes, I believe there’s a purpose to holding on to a clear view of what your principles are, regardless of what those around you do or don’t do.  And I think the dumbing down of our society both morally and intellectually has in part been aided by those who don’t want to judge and don’t want to set any standards because it will make people uncomfortable.


Busy in the garden

On Friday and then again this morning, I was able to get out into the yard for a solid chunk of time and do some gardening!  I really enjoy gardening – I find it very relaxing (even though often it’s a lot of work), centering, and just enjoyable.  My husband came out and saw me working in the yard, and he said he loved seeing me outside.  I asked why, and he said that I seem very happy then, and it’s true – I’m not walking around with a big smile on my face, but it’s more like an inner enjoyment that I guess is reflected out.

Last week I did my monthly shopping and succumbed to purchasing some vegetable starts for planting – even though the price was fairly good, I have plenty of seeds already so I considered this a splurge.  But I used part of my grocery budget for the plants, figuring that it fits best into that category since I’m buying them with the intent to grow food.

Right now I have a variety of tomatoes – 6 Early Girl, 6 grape tomatoes, 4 yellow tomatoes, 2 roma, 1 beefsteak, 4 cherry, and I’ve started seeds for three (four?) more heirloom varieties.  I have seeds for two more varieties, and I saw the first volunteer tomato plant (ie coming up on its own from tomatoes that fell on the ground last year), and am expecting a LOT more – last year I had about 50 volunteers.  They were seriously like weeds, except that I was happy to have them!  I have several kinds of peppers that I already mentioned putting in, and seeds for another couple of kinds that I want to try.

I planted 8 green beans in a couple of pots on the front porch (4 in each); they had each had a tropical plant that I left outside over the winter, and all that’s left of them are the sturdy stems.  I thought it would be a good use of the space to plant the green beans around them so they can grow up the stems.  I also planted five green bean plants into the yard, and started another packet of seeds – yardlong asparagus beans.  I guess that was about 40 seeds so hopefully a good number of them will sprout. I have to look at the dried beans I have in the house and see what else I want to plant – did you know that you can just use any dried beans for planting?  Pretty cheap to do it like that – instead of paying $1 -2 for a small packet of seeds, you can get a pound for under a dollar.

Thanks to the inspiration of my littles (opening my seed packets and getting them wet while I was transplanting), I decided to plant the package of purple carrots and really need to do the solar yellow carrots since they opened that as well, but haven’t yet – at least those aren’t wet.  :)  Generally I don’t think carrots are worth the effort because they’re so inexpensive, but I got three types that looked interesting, so it’s worth it to me for the novelty (the third type is called Parisian Market carrots, like small round balls).

I casually planted basil, Italian flat leaf parsley, thyme, lettuce leaf basil, and garlic chives along the front walkway.  Casually planted means that I loosened the soil, then sprinkled the seeds in a haphazard way and stirred a little dirt around.  I’m not the most systematic gardener in the world when it comes to tiny seeds!  It will be interesting to see what will come up.  I figured that herbs look attractive and are almost all perennials, so they’ll grow back year after year and will be a nice addition to the front yard walkway next to some other perennials (non-edible) that I planted last month, instead of taking up space in the raised garden beds.  I have a few other herbs still waiting to be planted – Forest Green parsley (the curly kind), marjoram, Greek oregano, cinnamon basil, sage, Italian large leaf basil, Finocchio fennel, and catnip (to make my cat happy).

Ds2 planted the remaining lavender plant I bought last month – it’s not really quite enjoyable yet planting with him, since he throws the plants in the holes, or manages to lose all the dirt around the roots before it gets into the hole. When gardening with my littles, I have to remember to shift gears from getting something done to making it fun for them, and putting my energy into helping them learn what to do.  When I do, we all enjoy it; otherwise, they feel like a nuisance!

I also planted 7 gold zucchini, 7 regular zucchini, 8 delicata squash, 7 watermelon (the big red ones), 4 small yellow watermelon, 7 spaghetti squash.  I have seeds for yellow summer squash that I plan to plant soon, in the next few days, and a few other winter squash – butternut, Gold Nugget, and Sweet Meat.  Squash are easy because the seeds are big and you can plant them directly into your yard.  Also I moved a bunch of squash seeds that sprouted in the compost – not sure what kind they are, but I’ll see when they fruit!

While I was in the garden I met a neighbor who lives across the alley when her dog escaped into my house!  She’s been living here for three years and I’ve been here for four but you don’t really see neighbors across the alley much except at a distance.  She just started a garden and we got to talking about lots of interesting things – she also had a pet box turtle that she brought out for the kids to watch while we were talking, and we had the three ducklings in the back yard while we were working there that she asked about and held.  I offered her some volunteer squash starts with the caveat that I didn’t know what kind they were, and she was happy to take some for her yard – she got about ten, I guess.

Oh, and I can’t forget about the cucumbers; I planted maybe 7 of those, too.  I have three more kinds that I want to plant from seed (Armenian cucumbers, Tendergreen, and Sumter), plus one kind that I started in mini pots that I’ll transplant when they’re ready – I think they’re called Meditteranean.  I like those best – they’re the very thin skinned ones that are crisp and delicious, with very small seeds.

The ducklings are being kept inside in a large plastic container covered with straw that we change daily.  I’m putting the straw around the plants that are in the garden, to discourage weeks.   We try to take them outside when we go out – I think everyone and everything is happier outside!  We have a grating that goes around a grill but we’ve never used it for that – it’s like a metal screening about two feet high connected all around.  We put the ducks and their water dish inside that on top of some grass, and then cover the top with a piece of metal screening left over from my composter (I saved it when I took the rest of it to the dump when it rusted through).  They’re very happy there and protected from prowling cats; I put them on a different patch each time we go out, though they’re so tiny it’s not like they eat up all the grass around them.

If you’re wondering where in the world I’m going to plant all of this in my not so big yard, the answer is that I’m planning to grow things vertically rather than taking up space on the ground to maximize the yield.  Gardening is an enjoyable hobby and part of the fun is that it’s so productive!


Ds11 completing tractate of mishna

Earlier this year, my ds11 (who was then 10) and his best friend initiated their own learning time together each morning after davening (morning prayer services).  They did this entirely on their own initiative, and decided to learn Seder Makkos (tractate of mishna), using the Artscroll English translation to help them understand the Hebrew wording.

This morning we made a private kiddush together with the family of his friend (our two families were over 20 people!) in honor of them completing the entire seder Makkos.   What was so nice wasn’t just that they did the learning, but that they wanted to do it.  Over the past months my ds hardly mentioned anything to me about it except in passing, but they kept it up, morning after morning.  His friend’s mother said she felt the push to do it was from my ds (because  every morning at 7:30 am his name showed up on her caller id to be sure his friend was awake on time :lol:), but my ds said it wasn’t true, that they encouraged one another equally.  It’s heartwarming to see our boys voluntarily wanting to spend their time increasing their Torah knowledge, not to get pats on the back from the adults around them, but for their own sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.

You know, kids want to do the right thing.  They want to be knowledgeable, and grow in their competence.  They want to develop their character and become better people.  We adults tend to think we have to push things down their throats, that we have to make them be responsible and do what we want.  And it’s true that sometimes left to their own devices they’ll make different choices than what we’d choose (though different doesn’t mean bad).  But overall my parenting experience has been that kids do more, and do it better, when they’re listening to their own inner conscience.  When kids develop their own sense of internal motivation, it’s powerful, so much more than something imposed on the outside can be!

By the way, this morning ds16 mentioned to me that he and ds11 are almost finished with a different tractate of mishna(they learn together immediately after morning davening, and then ds11 learns with his friend while ds16 learns with his adult chavrusa/learning partner, then come home late in the morning for breakfast).  So it looks like the two of them will be making a siyum very soon – BH no shortage of occasions for festive meals around here!


Homeschoolers are the nicest people!

A few nights ago I told you about the self-defense class for women that I attended with dd13 and dd15.  The martial arts studio that offered the class is owned by a homeschooling family who have been home educating for a long, long time – they decided to do it when their 22 year old son was an infant.  Afterward the three of us hung around and chatted with the husband and wife, and later were joined by their college age daughter and friend.

Recently I’ve been feeling somewhat troubled by the changes I see in the homeschooling world that is paralleled in the Jewish world.  Home education has gone from a choice made mostly by parents who have done a tremendous amount of thinking and considering, who are looking at the individual needs of their children with the focus on how to support individual strengths, who were willing to go against the current because of their strong belief in those principles – to growing numbers of those who look at it as a parallel academic choice, as just another way to do fulfill the scope and sequence.   (Edited to add: that’s to say that there’s been an increase in families who are viewing home education in the latter light; however, the majority are definitely still in the former category.) To me, that’s a real loss of potential joy in learning and in family life that has always been inherent in homeschooling.

So because this has been on my mind lately, it was especially enjoyable spending so much time speaking to long-term homeschoolers who know exactly what trends I’m referring to, and find it equally of concern.   So refreshing to speak to people who intuitively ‘get it’.  We all started off talking together, and then we started having more than one conversation so the girls spoke to the wife and later on her 18 year old daughter while I spoke to the father.  Finally after an hour we said goodbye – we could have kept talking lots longer.

When we got back in the car, the girls both strongly commented at how nice homeschoolers are.  They really enjoyed the conversation with the mother and the college daughter, and commented on how unusual it is for them to be treated with that kind of respect or enjoyment by people older than them, but how common it is with people who have been homeschooling a long time.   One went on to say, “There’s a difference between homeschoolers and people who homeschool.  When people are homeschooling for a short time, they tend to be more similar to people who send their kids to school.”  That was quite an interesting observation, and fairly accurate, too.  (Edited to add that I’ll clarify what was meant in a different post since after reading this I realized it could seem to be a criticism of those homeschooling a short amount of time.)

In our discussion of homeschoolers, we were noting some subtle qualities found in those who have been homeschooling a long time that are really nice to experience.   In general, homeschoolers tend to be accepting, interact with people of all ages comfortably, and are respectful of the differences. This is noticeable in social groupings with homeschoolers, where the differences in how the kids interact is so visibly different from the typical playground interactions that it’s quickly notable.

Something else that’s unique is how homeschooled kids enjoy one another regardless of age – I recently took four of my kids to a homeschoolers pick up sports session, where ds4 was able to play softball with ds7 and dd9 (they were on different teams, though).  It’s so nice to see how there were kids ages 4 – 10 on these teams all having fun together (we also see this at our local homeschool gatherings –  a mother new to homeschooling recently commented that she couldn’t believe that so many kids could be playing together without adult supervision, and no fighting, no yelling, no bullying!).

There are many positive qualities I’ve noticed in homeschoolers: their willingness to think about difficult issues and really act on their concerns rather than follow the crowd, the commitment to their childrens’ well-being, their intelligent and thoughtful approach to life in general.  But in short, they’re really nice people to spend time with, and it seems the longer they homeschool, the nicer they get!


Women’s self-defense class

Tonight I took my dd13 and dd15 to a women’s self-defense class.  I had never attended anything like this but was recently talking to someone very active in planning/publicizing these kind of events who told me she’d give me a heads up when one for women only came up in the summer.

But before she did, I learned about the class I attended tonight.  It was $25 a person but the fee was waived for homeschoolers who learned about it on a particular list serve.  I found this class to be very valuable – personal safety is the kind of thing a parent needs to talk to their children about, particularly older daughters.  But it’s sometimes hard to strike the balance between providing helpful information and scaring them into believing that behind every car lurks someone waiting to attack.

The class was interesting and well-done.  I unfortunately got there late (took three different wrong turns) so I missed the first 20 minutes, but the first hour was talking about developing situational awareness and general strategies. Then we paired up (my girls were together) and practiced some simple but very effective moves to break away if grabbed, enabling one to escape. After practicing with partners, we had a chance to practice particular moves on ‘Bob’ the human dummy – hard slaps, elbow jabs – the kind of things you don’t want to do to your partner!  And there was a knee move practiced on a heavyweight punching bag.

I asked the girls afterwards how they liked it. They both thought it was interesting and useful; the only thing one dd found frightening was when a myth was debunked about people hiding in wait under cars in a parking garage (they don’t). That idea made her nervous.  Overall I felt the entire evening was empowering, giving women simple tools to protect themselves if necessary – there’s something reassuring about knowing what to do, even though by virtue of practicing situational awareness you’re significantly less at risk.

Communities across the country sponsor these kind of events regularly, and I’d strongly encourage all women to take the time to attend one.


Updates on oldest kids and ducklings :)

I’ve been pretty busy this past week and to top it off, got a bad cold that left me spending most of two days in bed.  Because my ears were affected, my balance was thrown off and I literally felt like my head was spinning – not conducive to doing much but sitting still!  It makes one appreciate the importance of healthy ears.  However, I had a deadline for an article I needed to write, and write it I did.  When I pressed ‘send’ to send it to the editor, I hoped to myself that I wasn’t embarrassing myself since I my head was swimming – that’s not just a saying – while I was sitting still, it was like inside my head everything was going around and around. And sure enough, the next day I reread it and I was disturbed to find several grammatical errors, so I fixed them and sent them back to the editor.  But she said me a message saying the article was great, which was nice; she had already edited it and approved it, and I didn’t feel the need to explain the reason for not having caught the errors myself.   :)

Anyway, that’s why I haven’t been posting as much recently.  Some updates: on Friday dd15 received her notice that she was accepted to the program she’s considering for next year, which was exciting.  (I couldn’t imagine them not accepting her but you never know until it’s official.)   Now we’re looking into yeshivos for ds16 and have tentative plans to go with him in a week and a half to Conneticut to check out one that looks particularly suitable for him.   I warned him that if dh and I can’t do it, he’s taking a train and I’ve enlisted the support of a young man we know who has been at this institution for four years to pick him up from the train and introduce him around.  I’m honestly not feeling driven to go there with him – it would be nice, but it’s a very long trip at a very busy time of year for ‘nice’, and this is post high school, after all.  Ds has a very good feeling about it and unless we learn something new that changes things, he’s already feeling that’s where he’d like to be for next year.

Last night I went to sleep feeling quite anxious about our still unhatched ducklings. They’re supposed to hatch in 28 days, and we were at day 30 with only one showing any signs of pipping.  And I was afraid that one wasn’t going to make it since he pipped on Thursday and by late Saturday night wasn’t noticeably closer to getting out.  So I searched the internet to try to find out if this was anywhere in the realm of normal (couldn’t find anyone that had a duckling that took that long) and if it was still possible for him and the rest to hatch despite the delays.  I think  that we didn’t have enough humidity in the incubator and the shells weren’t soft enough for them to get out of.  I was almost dreading waking up and finding it dead, since the kids were so excited and I knew they wouldn’t take it well to find the duckling they’d been watching struggle to get out for over two days died.  I sprinkled the eggs with warm water (including the one that was already partially hatched) and sprinkled more water in the incubator, hoping it would become humid enough for their needs.

Well, by the time dd13 was up just four hours later (I got to sleep very late and she gets up very early), not only had the one we’d been watching hatched, but so had another!  And within another half an hour of that, a third one hatched.  (Named: Peeps, Darth Vader, and… I can’t remember and the kids are sleeping so I can’t ask for a reminder, maybe Quackers.)  You don’t know how relieved I was for the sake of the ducklings and the kids!  So far one more pipped but we think it died.  The kids think that tonight more might hatch, and I hope they’re right.  We incubated 15 duck eggs and 12 were viable according to our candling, and it’s not a great feeling to have such a poor hatch rate.

This week marks one year since I was overdue by three weeks before finally having our delightfully yummy baby, and as I was noting the long delays with this hatching, I was thinking about it all comes down to the same thing – understanding the natural process and trusting it. The problem is that I don’t understand the natural process for hatching eggs well enough to trust it or myself.

Though I said we’d be limiting our contact with the ducklings for the first three days, that was hopeless.  My kids are fascinated with these adorable and fun little birds and can’t get enough of them, and all their friends who visited today also enjoyed them.  Tonight after all the littles and middles were asleep, dd15 and ds16 put the ducklings in a shallow pan of water and were having fun watching them.  It’s the kind of thing you can just sit and watch for a long time.  Then they blowdried them; I wish we could find the camera – watching the littlest one stand on dd’s palm while she blowdried him was too cute!

I’m trying to identify what breeds we have – we bought the eggs from someone who has a number of different kind of ducks and they’re a mixture.  So far I’ve figured out one of the three, I think – it’s a Rouen.  What I’d like most if we keep them for egg laying are Khaki Campbells or Indian Runners.  One might be a Campbell, but I can’t tell.  And I can’t tell which are male or female, anyway!

We’re going to try again with chicken eggs.  My wonderful dh was trying to help me put away groceries after my last shopping trip, and had no way of knowing that I had put the fertile chicken eggs we planned to hatch in a particular box.  So when he put them away, it was together with all of the other eggs.  The kids picked one box that they thought might have been from the farm where we get fertile eggs, but there was no outwardly distinguishing markings and though we put them in the incubator, I wasn’t confident at all that they were the right eggs, and there’s no visible action going on with them.  But who knows – maybe I’ll wake up tomorrow to a dozen little chicks in addition to some more ducklings!