Monthly Archives: June 2010

Applying for beis medrash

I was planning to take the family to DC today for the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. But it was sooo hot that a long day outside didn’t seem like fun, plus we went to our shul (synagogue) picnic yesterday afternoon, so we got back fairly late.  A late fun day followed by a early busy day isn’t generally my recipe for a relaxing fun time.

Instead I did some paperwork that really needed to be done, documenting all of our studies for the year and renewing my membership in the umbrella group for the coming year.  Then I completed the application for ds16 for Ner Israel Rabbinical College.  I had basically filled it out last week but was waiting to get letters of recommendation for him.  But then one rabbi told us  it would raise eyebrows if they received recommendations from people who aren’t currently teaching him – they would think there must be something wrong with ds not to have up to date references.  And the most recent ‘school’ references were in ninth grade.

A standard application leaves someone who has an atypical academic background at a disadvantage, and as I’ve said before, I don’t like operating from a defensive posture.  My son is a fantastic young man and I don’t want an initial impression of him as second class goods by the administration just because the paper trail doesn’t look impressive.  I realized I’d have to be change gears slightly with how I handled this application.  I threw away (recycled, actually) the form requesting referrals from principals and teachers that I had already filled out, rather than have it look weak.  Instead I wrote a letter in which I shared briefly about my son and why the typical letters of recommendation wouldn’t be helpful.  Here’s what I wrote:

“To whom it may concern,

E. is very motivated in his desire to learn intensively full-time, and it was this motivation that provided the incentive for him to complete his high school requirements a year early. In every venue in which he has found himself (yeshiva, camp, shul, personal interactions), he has been respectful of both his elders and his peers. The feedback on his behavior and middos has been consistently high and positive. He is serious and focused in his desire to grow personally and to further develop his learning skills. He has a strong work ethic, a kind heart, and a thoughtful demeanor.

E. has been exclusively home educated for ten years, with the exception of his ninth grade year, when he attended a local yeshiva for limudei kodesh. As such, the traditional assessments of principals and rebbeim are not available.

However, I believe that any and all of the following people who know E. will be happy to speak to you about him.”  (Then I listed seven names and phone numbers of community members who should be well-known to and respected by the administration.)

I’ll leave it to others who are asked about him to speak glowingly of him – as his mother, I feel it appropriate to be matter of fact and understated in my remarks.  The seven names that I provided should give a sense that he is involved in a number of ways communally, as they represent a nice cross section of the community, and are all people who are all well-respected in the community (eg, shul rabbi, high school principal, educators).

Doing all of this is very much like being a pioneer – I understand how the early home educators felt when they were applying to colleges. :)  The application is finally in the mail and hopefully we’ll get a call for him to come for an interview soon!

Avivah

Hard work and blessings often go together!

It’s been really, really hot here lately, so this morning I got up early to plant some of my many free tomato plants that I got last week before the heat got to be too much.  When I work in the garden with tomato plants, I always think about parenting.  That’s because about five years ago I read a comparison between raising children and growing tomatoes that I found valuable that often comes to mind when I’m in the garden.

Being out in the garden is a great time to think, particularly when it’s early and none of the kids are up yet.  Today I was thinking about how many blessings come with a lot of work.  For example, getting all of these tomato starts for free.  Sure, it sounds great to get 180 free plants.  But then when you think about having to prepare the soil, plant them, stake them, prune them – does it still seem like a blessing to have gotten so many, or does it seem more like a punishment? :)

Many of the wonderful bargains I’ve found, like the swing set I just wrote about a couple of days ago, were examples of a blessing that came with a lot of work. And the work alone is often enough to turn most people away from claiming many potential bargains.  I think that’s it’s a big challenge for us to appreciate so many wonderful things out there for the gifts that they are because they come with lots of work.

Children are a perfect example of blessings that come with a lot of work, so much so that most people don’t want more than a couple.  But children are unquestionably (in my mind, anyway!) the source of more joy than any parent can hope to find anywhere else.  But the work involved can be pretty intimidating!

I’m in the middle of reading Up From Slavery, by Booker T. Washington (along with about six other books I’m in the middle of, lol!).  Something that struck me again and again is the emphasis he puts on working hard as a value, as something that is formative in developing character.  He says at some point that slavery hurt the white slaveholders even more than the blacks because they got used to having others do basic things for themselves and as a result they never had a chance to work hard.  I found his attitude toward hard work very noteworthy – he didn’t look at work as a necessary evil, but as a critical component to personal development.

A good friend recently told me that I have a work ethic like people in the olden days.  I laughed and told her I’m nowhere near being able or willing to work like they did, but it’s true that I am willing to put effort into something that I want to accomplish, and it doesn’t generally phase me if it requires a lot of effort.  I don’t expect life to be effortless, I don’t expect to live my life with minimal exertion, and I realize that good things often come in packages that aren’t covered in satin and lace – sometimes you have to get out a crowbar to pry off the heavy wooden container covering your gift!  I think this is a big reason that I’ve been blessed with so much abundance – because I try to see beyond the work and recognize the value of something.

I was thinking about the times people have told me how ‘lucky’ I am, and reflecting that sometimes people would rather talk about luck than look at all the hard work that went into making that ‘luck’.  Life gives every one of us opportunities  to exert ourselves for things that are meaningful to us, and working hard for something actually adds value to many things.  Even if it doesn’t add value to whatever we’re working on, I think hard work adds value to us by improving our character and helping us grow past our comfort zone.

Avivah

My kids are so sweet!

Last night when those who went to synagogue returned, they brought me a copy of the weekly synagogue newsletter.  They all know I appreciate seeing this so they give it to me first thing.

I took a look at it and about two minutes after beginning to read, I noticed with surprise the following:

“This week’s (newsletter) is sponsored by:


E, T, M, B, T, B, E, D and S Werner in honor of our parents’ 18th anniversary. We love you Mommy and Daddy! Mazal tov!”

I looked up at my kids and they were all watching me read, waiting for me to notice and trying to look like there was nothing special on their minds.  I was so touched!  I told them how thoughtful I thought it was, and after thanking them all, asked them whose idea it was and how they organized it without me knowing about it.

They said that when I attended the neighborhood association meeting last week on Tuesday, ds16 and dd13 together thought of the idea (dd15 was in NY for a couple of days attending the wedding of a camp counselor and then a camp bunk reunion). They emailed the editor of the newsletter with the wording and called someone else to arrange payment.  They’re all chipping in for it – the youngest of the middles are paying $2 each and the older kids are each paying $5 or more (it’s $36 total).

Then dh came home (he had gone to a different minyan/service than the older kids).   The kids had asked me how I would bring it to his attention so that he was surprised, since they said he wouldn’t notice on his own.  After our meal started, I showed him something of interest immediately above it, thinking there was no way that he wouldn’t notice all those familiar names just a couple of lines below.  But he didn’t!  Then dd15 and I caught each other’s eye and burst out laughing, so when he asked what was so funny, I showed him the dedication.  He also thought it was so sweet.

It’s so nice when your children want to show their appreciation for you, without any prompting, just because they care.

Avivah

The newest addition to our yard

With the recent fence having been put around our yard, I was ready to have some things in our yard that I’ve been resistant to until now because I was concerned about the high likelihood of our yard being used in our absence without permission by neighborhood children who I don’t know.

Last week we bought a very large playset!  It has three regular swings, a rope swing, a trapeze swing, and a large fort area (5′ x 6′) with a ladder leading up to it and a slide coming down from it.  (I’m also planning to buy a toddler swing tomorrow so the littles, ages 1 and 2.5, can swing safely and comfortably without needing to be held on someone’s lap.)  Sets like these are priced at about $3000-4000 new, and used are still about $500-1000.  That was way more than I could spend.

When I saw the ad on CL, the description was accurate but the angle of the picture showed only the fort, not the other features.  I think that people are so visual nowadays and dependent on pictures that it’s the reason this set, priced at only $100, wasn’t snapped up for the amazing deal it was (I saw how fast most inexpensively priced playsets/swing sets were sold).  And that’s why I think I was only the second person to show any interest (the first decided he didn’t want it), and when I showed up in person and offered $80 for it, the seller immediately accepted.  (I had to buy some hardware and lumber that added to the cost, about another $40.)

The owner had built it himself based on a unit built by a well-known (and expensive!) playset company (Rainbow), and he did a fantastic job.  It was very solidly made!  We spent 3 hours taking it apart, and then a lot more hours putting it back together.  A big part of why it took so long to rebuild was that I needed to change the configuration to make the best use of our space, which meant redesigning it a bit.  And we didn’t have pictures or diagrams to assist us in remembering how things were before it was dismantled, which made it more challenging.

My ds16, who is extremely good with building, renovations, etc, found it very frustrating to make structural changes as we were going along to something someone else had built (he has no problem doing it with his own ideas) – we couldn’t make the changes in advance because we weren’t sure which boards went where!  So it meant duplicating our time and effort several times.  Fortunately together we made a good team; he put in the sweat and muscle and I told him what to do.  :)

Amazingly, this set that was in a huge backyard before we bought it actually fits in my side yard.  Not only does it fit, it fits perfectly there!  Until we fenced the yard in, I thought of my side yard as a sliver of land that was basically big enough to walk from the front yard to the back.  The only thing I had there was a few blueberry bushes along the pathway (which I’ve recently moved since being right next to a swingset is a recipe for a short lived plant!), and a narrow bed of strawberries at one end.

Fencing the yard helped me see that it was actually usable space.  I don’t know if most people would have thought it realistic to put this large a set in so small a space, but it really worked out well.   I’d estimate it’s about 26 feet long, 6 feet deep, with a swing depth of closer to 12′.   I’m amazed that even the older kids can swing pretty high with no restriction, other than to pull their legs in when they go backwards (so they don’t graze the fence).

It was honestly a lot of work, and it’s been a busy time so it felt like even more work than if we had tackled this project at a very quiet time of year.   But it’s so rewarding to have finished it and to watch all of our kids enjoying it. We were able to transform what was basically dead space into a great play area!

Avivah

Our 18th anniversary

Today is my 18th wedding anniversary!  And what makes it even more special is that I’ve now been officially married for half of my life.  (My ds16 asked me today if I felt like it had been 18 years, and I wasn’t sure how to answer – I don’t feel old enough to have been married that long but obviously I am!)

I’ve been thinking about marriage lately.  Some people might think that if you have a good marriage, it kind of stays like that once you get it off the ground.  But you really can’t take your marriage or your spouse for granted, no matter how strong your relationship is.  Relationships become stronger with regular investments of time and energy, and feelings of connection fade when too long goes by without consciously putting forth time and energy to build the relationship.

I recently caught myself being so busy that my husband and I were basically giving instructions/information to one another in passing, without having time for meaningful conversation.  Even though my husband is the most important person in my life, I realized I wasn’t allocating my time in a way that reflected that.  A couple of days ago I told him I recognized that I’ve been doing this, and that I’d really like to have a weekly night out together.

This has been something he’s wanted to do for a long time but I’ve been resistant to making it something regular that I have to put into my schedule.  My nature is that I enjoy getting things done, and it’s actually relaxing for me to be at home and cleaning the kitchen while chatting.  But my husband understandably doesn’t find it relaxing to talk to me when I’m cleaning the kitchen and flitting from one thing to another.  And honestly, it’s totally different when you get out of the house, because all of your focus is on your spouse, not on what else has to be done at home.

Recognizing that love means doing for someone what they perceive as loving, not doing what you want and then getting annoyed that he doesn’t appreciate your efforts, I felt it would be an important message for him and for myself, that I was putting our relationship ahead of everything else.  It’s not just a token acknowledgement – it means in the middle of a busy week setting aside an evening when we know we’ll have a chance to connect on a meaningful level (we already have that on the weekend, so having a mid week opportunity helps bridge the gap).

Going out doesn’t have to be extravagant or expensive.  I prefer quiet settings where I’m not distracted by other people, so I can focus on my husband.  My husband knows my preferences by now and suggested a place by a lake, which was really beautiful.  It was peaceful and quiet (both of which I really appreciate, not having much of that during the course of a day!), and I’m looking forward to making it a regular part of my week.  I really enjoy his company, and I love that our relationship gets better and better every year!

Avivah

Today’s shopping outing

Today I did my monthly shopping and I felt like sharing some of the blessing that has come my way during this outing – every time I do a major shopping I feel like H-shem (G-d) is sitting on my shoulder making sure to send me just what I need, and today was no exception.

First I went to get free range eggs from a woman I discovered on Craig’s List several months ago.  She usually charges 1.50 a dozen, but I had seen an ad on CL for 1.25 at a time when she had lots to get rid of, so she agreed that’s the price she’d charge me.  Then a month ago they had so many, that she told me if I would buy them all they’d charge me $1 a dozen.  They told me it was worth it for them since: a) it saved them the time and effort of going to sell the eggs at an auction, where they’d also get $1 a dozen, and b) since from the beginning I’d offered to give them egg cartons that I recycled, it saved them having to buy them, so they’d actually make more profit selling to me than the auction, with much less aggravation.  We use a lot of eggs since they are a high quality protein from an ideal source, and at this price they’re very affordable to boot!

Today she had 43 dozen for me, but I only had twenties and she didn’t have change for $60, so she told me to just pay $40 for all of them.  The last couple of times I went, they gave me a dozen ducks eggs free (they only have a couple of ducks and never used them for themselves, but when I mentioned I was interested in trying them just gave them to me!).  They’re very nice people who take great care of their animals, and today I asked her if she’d be interested in having our ducks.  I thought it would be a great home for the ducks and that this family would enjoy them as well, after her husband telling me last month that he bought a bunch of ducks and geese for no reason but because he likes seeing them run around the property.

The kids (I took ds4, dd9, ds11, and dd13) enjoyed seeing the 8 week old puppies (and imploring me to take one home), cows, horses, ducks, geese, ducks, and chickens.  Picking up the eggs would have taken just a short time but we were there for 45 minutes, which was especially nice for ds4, who was very upset that he didn’t get to go to his grandparents with his three brothers (ages 1, 2.5, and 8 ) when we were out shopping.  So it was a personalized, hands-on kind of  ‘farm tour’ and added a lot more interest to his day out with us.

Before I left, she offered me a 50 lb of potatoes for free.  Her husband had bought more than they could use at the auction and they were starting to sprout; she didn’t want them to go to waste but told me most people she knew wouldn’t be willing to consider produce that wasn’t perfect.  I told her that maybe I’d cut off the sprouting eyes to plant – I had a few potato plants that started from my compost pile and last week when I did some digging for the new raised beds accidentally discovered treasure -beautiful red and white potatoes growing right in my yard without any effort on my part!   Now planting those sprouted eyes seems like a worthwhile thing to do (though if I’ll get to it or not will depend on how much time I can find for it)!

Then I went to the store, where I found some great deals!  Firstly, they were giving away tomato starts – I asked why, and they said most people had planted their gardens already and they wanted to clear things away.  I’ve never seen anything like this before.  Since I was so busy with the conference and the older kids’ high school graduation, plus building new raised beds just a couple of weeks ago, I didn’t do nearly the amount of planting from I wanted to earlier in the season, and a couple of days ago was thinking that I’d really lose out on the growing season this year.  And now I was sent about 180 free tomato plants to get me on track!  Yes, you read that number right! Good thing we like tomatoes.  :)  I also got 3 eggplant starts and 2 peppers starts for $1.  Though it might have been too late for some people, the timing was perfect for me.

Then I got 2 large watermelons for $3, 6 cases of Brown Cow yogurt (2.49 for 12 -1 serving flavored yogurts), and 25 dozen eggs (cage free, hormone free) for .89 each.  (I don’t like to buy all the eggs I need for a month from one person because then they’d have to save them up for me for a while and the eggs would be too old when I bought them.)  I got some other things, like 10 lb of baby limas for .49 lb, and canned tomatoes.  I also got a flat of marigolds ($3) to plant near my vegetables – they’re a natural and attractive insect repellent.  The yogurts will help to make mornings simpler – no one feels like cooking or eating much during summer mornings, and little yogurts like this are a treat.  I was so busy looking at the yogurts that I forgot to buy the organic canteloupe, honeydew, and blackberries that were really good prices.  But since they would have required fridge space I didn’t have, I think it was providential that I ‘happened’ to get distracted.

I also got some delicious raw kombucha – I don’t know if the price was good or not since I’ve never bought it before, but I felt like I needed to have a little something, and when I saw this, knew it would be just the thing. And it really was.

At the next store (only went to 2 today), I picked up my bulk order.  Today I got 30 lb. raisins, 30 lb pecan meal, 30 lb almond meal, and 2-50 lb bags of hard white wheat.  I couldn’t believe it when my dd told me last week that we were almost out of wheat!  Since November when I started reducing our grain intake, I haven’t replenished most of the grains that I had in the pantry, and didn’t really notice things running down – I used to always have plenty of wheat on hand. I’ve been using a lot more nut meals in baking, but I was aware of how fast I was going through those so there was no surprise factor.

Usually I like to be sure my fridge and freezer are fairly empty before I go shopping, but despite my efforts for the last two weeks, nothing I did seemed to make a dent in what we had.  Part of that is that our side by side fridge that we got several months ago really isn’t space efficient (even though it’s several inches wider than our previous fridge), so no matter what I do it seems there’s not enough room for much more than some leftovers and a moderate amount of fruits/vegetables.  And the other thing is that my freezer is an ancient manual defrost model – I came home from the conference a week and a half ago to find the door half open, and a layer of ice over 5 inches thick encasing everything!  So I couldn’t easily get things out that I wanted to use and didn’t have time to hack away at the ice with a sledgehammer.  The freezer now seems a lot more full than it is, and until it gets a major defrosting, nothing more will fit in.

So I was really limited by how much I could buy of perishables, but H-shem knew what I needed and didn’t send me the temptation of amazing prices on things I wouldn’t be able to store.   I did get a case of cream cheese (.59 for 8 oz, and there were 36 in the case, so 13 lb – it’s a very compact box) and several flats of 8 oz sour cream containers (.59 each), and two cases of blueberries (ie 24 pints – each case was $15). Blueberries and sour cream make a lovely lunch!  The only other thing I got that needed refrigeration were (3) 3 lb bags of broccoli for 1.99 each.

My dh has been eating according to the GAPS diet for several months now, and one of his staples is butternut squash.  I was thinking this morning before I left that I wanted to be sure to look for things he could eat, and I was delighted to find 6 large butternut squash for 1.49 each, and then a lot more mid sized butternut squash priced at .50 each!   And something nice about winter squash like these is that they don’t require refrigeration, so they stay well stored in  box in the basement.  In this same store I bought brown rice in the bulk section for .57 lb – some of the bags were marked .59 lb, but if you can pay less by paying attention to what packages you buy, why pay even .02 more per pound for the same product?

I also bought a huge turtle cheesecake for ds16’s upcoming birthday.  I was debating about if I should since I don’t exactly find the ingredient list to be healthful and we could easily make it from scratch, but his favorite dessert is cheesecake and I knew this would be something he’d appreciate on his birthday.  The cheesecake was almost 7 lb so there will be plenty for everyone, and the price was only 5.99.

I always come home from these trips pretty tired – but so grateful for all the abundance that comes our way, at just the right times!

Avivah

2010 Torah Home Education Conference recap

Things have been pretty busy this week but after spending months on planning and organizing the Torah Home Education conference, I wanted to at least share about how it went!

First of all was the shalosh seudos, which a number of families who came for Shabbos from out of state as well as those in Baltimore attended. I don’t know how many families or individuals came (maybe 60?), but it was so nice to see all the kids as well as their parents getting to know each other. I went over to the older and younger girls groups to introduce myself and make sure everyone else knew one another, and there were at least ten in each group (older – approx 13 – 16; younger – approx 7 – 10). That was a nice opportunity to meet some attendees with nowhere else to be and nothing competing for time and attention.

The conference was the next day, and started with a bang with Rabbi Daniel Lapin, bestselling author, radio talk show host, and nationally sought after speaker.  Following that were two simultaneous workshops; one was given by long time home educating parent Susan Lapin from WA, discussing the long term view, how her children, and areas that were successful and not as successful. The other was given by Chana Lazaroff, also a long term homeschooler  who has two sons with Down’s Syndrome, talking about special needs children across the spectrum and how to educate them according to their unique learning styles.

These workshops were followed by the second general session of the day, given by Rabbi Yosef Bentzion Bamberger, an experienced mechanech with over 30 years in the field who is a new home educating parent. He spoke about the challenges in the yeshivos and shared about his feeling that home education was a very valuable way to educate one’s child/ren.

Then there was a 90 minute lunch break during which some people left to check on kids or take care of other things, while most stayed on site to have lunch together and chat. I was glad to see the more in depth conversations people were able to have at this time, since social connection is a big part of the benefit of attending the conference.

After lunch, we reconvened for another set of simultaneous workshops – I spoke about specific ways to keep the costs of home education low, in addition to some philosophical points regarding the ability of parents to learn with their own children, rather than feel disempowered and as if they have to hire out learning to paid tutors/services. Yehudis Eagle (listmember from Baltimore) gave a talk about prayer and how to approach it as a home educator, which I enjoyed hearing afterwards (since I have the benefit of being able to listen to recordings right away :)). I particularly enjoyed hearing her speak about being inspired in tefilla/prayer by my now 11 year old son (he wasn’t named during the talk which I’m sure is what he would have preferred :)); hearing someone else’s perspective about your children helps you appreciate them even more.

Then we had another set of workshops: Malky Adler from Detroit spoke about dealing with feelings of separateness and isolation that occur when home educating without a local support network, which I think is an issue that is relevant even to those in a community where there are a decent number of other home educating families. Russell Hendel spoke about teaching Rashi, an approach he has put years of time and effort into developing.

Finally to close the conference, Rabbi Simcha Feuerman from NY spoke about home education and the Oral Tradition. Then I added an additional feature for those in MD – a workshop on the state laws and legal compliance given by veteran homeschooler Celia Greenberg, who used to run an umbrella program that many Orthodox area homeschoolers were registered through. About 40 minutes after officially calling the conference to a close, we had to leave since the building was closing! All in all the feedback to me was overwhelmingly positive, BH. A number of people told me they walked away feeling proud to be homeschoolers; one person told me that last year she was embarrassed at the thought of associating with homeschoolers, thinking they would be strange and weird. This year, she said, she feels proud to be one of the elite! Big change, isn’t it?! Others have told me they were considering home education but were very unsure and felt alone, but now they realize there are others doing it and so many resources that they feel much more confident about the option. Since a major goal in founding this conference was to put home education on the map of the frum community and put a proactive positive face on the presentation of homeschooling (since the general position is that people feel forced into a defensive posture on the topic), I’m delighted to hear that this goal is being achieved. The other goal was to build a stronger sense of community among home educating families, something I also think was achieved as kids of all ages and their parents from around the country got to know one another face to face. The internet is wonderful but there’s no substitute for personal, real-life connections.

All in all the feedback to me was overwhelmingly positive, BH.  A number of people told me they walked away feeling proud to be homeschoolers; one person told me that last year she was embarrassed at the thought of associating with homeschoolers, thinking they would be strange and weird.  This year, she said, she feels proud to be one of the elite!  Big change, isn’t it?!  Others have told me they were considering home education but were very unsure and felt alone, but now they realize there are others doing it and so many resources that they feel much more confident about the option.  Since a major goal in founding this conference was to put home education on the map of the Orthodox community and present a from a position of proactive positivity, rather than the typical defensive posture most people feel cornered into, I’m delighted to hear that this goal is being achieved.

The other goal was to build a stronger sense of community among Orthodox home educating families, something I also think was achieved as kids of all ages and their parents from around the country got to know one another face to face.  The internet is wonderful but there’s no substitute for personal, real-life connections.

I’ve been asked when cds of the talks will be available; the first set has been purchased but only because someone was in a rush to NJ and wanted to take them to a meeting of parents there discussing home education.  At the beginning of this week (Monday) I plan to officially make the talks available for those who couldn’t attend, or those who did but want to hear the messages and information again!

Avivah

PS – I’ll try to post some conference pics soon.

Free educational resources

At the conference on Sunday I spoke on the topic of ‘Don’t Break the Bank! – Home Education on a Budget’.  I offered a number of suggestions for ways to save money on curriculum and extra curriculars.

In addition to those ideas and principles that I shared then are the special offers that come around from time to time.  Here are some free educational resources that I’ve ordered in the last week, available only for educators (this includes home educating parents):

History of US – free dvd set – my kids have really enjoyed the History of US books as well as the audio version that we’ve checked out from the library.  This hasn’t yet arrived but I anticipate that it will be a nice addition to our history studies.

Journey to the Stars – free dvd – I just checked the site and it seems that the demand has been so high that they are temporarily not offering this. But you can still sign up to be notified when they do make it available for free again.  This also hasn’t yet arrived – I think the site said it would be mailed close to the start of the official school year.  I plan to use this to supplement science.

Books by Ayn Rand – these are provided by the Ayn Rand Institute to educators who plan to teach these works to their students, and as such are suitable for students about 8th grade and up.  I read Atlas Shrugged a year ago and thought it was extremely thought provoking as well as being a very interesting story.  As an important and relevant side note, there was a thread running through the book of some physical relationships between characters that I don’t consider appropriate for my kids (or me) to read.  Though this might sound strange, I’m not sure how detailed it was since I immediately skip any sections that seem inappropriate and resume when the book seems to be back at the main storyline – I read very fast and I can scan a page at a glance so I can tell when something isn’t suitable without having to read every word.  I may skip too far at times but I don’t think I’ve ever missed out on the essential points of the story, and if it seems I went too far, I just go back a page at a time until I’m at the right place.  This is a book that I would like to do as a read aloud with my older children, thereby skipping over any questionable scenes while being able to discuss important points together.  I haven’t read her other works but plan to read Anthem next to see if it can be given to the kids to read independently.  The box with the three books I ordered arrived remarkably fast, within just a couple of days.

Here’s a site that my kids enjoyed watching a couple of days ago: http://animatedtalmud.com/. The kids (even ds16) enjoyed it, and I’ll happily let them watch it another time to further integrate the information.

Avivah

Ask a question, save some money!

Now that our new privacy fence is up, I’d like to put up a good quality swing set for the kids.  On Monday evening we purchased a used one from someone on Craigs List who made his tools available to take it apart (and was really a pleasure to deal with).  But in order to put it back together at home, I needed to buy a new ratchet set, since the one we have is too small for the bolt sizes of the swing set.

When I headed into Home Depot yesterday, I noticed that the packaging for the set I wanted was open, though all of the pieces were there.  So I asked an associate what the discount would be if I purchased it.  I was told I could get it for 20% off of the listed price since all of the pieces were there.  Whether that sounds significant or not, the fact is I would have discarded the packaging as soon as we got home, so I essentially earned several dollars for what would have gone directly into the garbage in any case.

If you’re at a store and see something has been opened or damaged, ask a manager what discount you’ll receive if you purchase it.  Sometimes you’ll be told there’s no discount (the Walmart here stopped discounting opened packaging since apparently people were purposely opening items so they could claim it was damaged and get a discount :( ), but often it will be worth the 20 seconds it takes you to ask the question.

Along the same lines, when you’re buying something used, it’s often appropriate to make an offer that is below the listed price.  The swing set we went to look at was listed at $100, but I asked the seller if he was flexible on the price, and offered $80, which he immediately accepted.  $100 was the total amount I had allotted to purchasing a swing set, and I knew that I’d need to buy more supplies (new screws, some replacement boards), which would bring up the total price.  I also had seen similar swing sets listed for about $75, so my offer seemed to me to be reflective of fair market value.

If you were to compare how these savings stack up if they would be based on an hourly rate, it helps put into perspective the savings value of just one question!  Of course, how much you save in each instance will differ, but in this case, $20 saved with a thirty second question equals $240 an hour.  Not bad, is it?!

Avivah

Regrouping after conference

The Torah Home Education Conference was wonderful.   Fantastic speakers, lots of very nice people to get to know in attendance.  The shalosh seudos on Shabbos was also really nice.  There’s lots more work involved in arranging all of the conference related activities than anyone can imagine, but it’s very special for me to see my vision and goals for the conference being actualized.  I wanted to do a recap for you but I am so, so, so tired.  As in weary deep in my bones. So for now I’ll just say that as much work as it’s been, and as much head space as it’s taken up, every bit of it has been worth it.  Maybe I’ll have a chance a little later on to share more details.  (I would love for someone else who attended to share their perspective and give an overview!)

I was thinking that after the conference, I’d take a breather and have a mellow week.  But I forgot to take into account that all of the conference planning took place in addition to my very busy regular schedule, not instead of it.  So I don’t really have the extra time that I was envisioning!

I haven’t been posting much recently so here’s a little of what I’ve been busy with the last few days, in addition to the conference.  I enjoyed having a good friend I haven’t seen for 11 years come in for the conference and come for Friday night dinner with her family of 11.  That was amazingly wonderful to see her in person again; both of us have had five kids since seeing one another and it was great to see all of the kids who have grown up so much in all these years!  Then for Shabbos lunch we had a couple of men who were in town for the conference.  Later Saturday afternoon we went to the shalosh seudos that I organized for conference attendees and I stayed with the kids until after Shabbos, so we got home after 10 pm.  We got an early start on Sunday morning, had a super full day with the conference, and then on Sunday  evening following the conference I got to enjoy the company of a homeschooling mom who was here for the conference (also a blog reader :)) who spent the night here.  What an easy and enjoyable guest!

Ds11 also had a friend sleep over, the son of my friend who was visiting who he met Friday night. And in the morning on Monday, dd15 invited a friend who came from out of state with her family for the conference to spend the week with us.  The same dd has another friend who also came for the conference who spent most of today with us and will be with us some more days this week and next.  They’re both lovely girls and I’m glad dd has a chance to spend time with them.

Right after coming home from picking up dd’s friend, I had a phone interview for a Baltimore paper.  I was so tired that I really just wanted to go to sleep, but instead I spent 1 hour and 20 minutes having to rephrase and clarify the questions I was asked before then answering them. I don’t mind doing that for someone really interested but as nice as this freelance writer was, she didn’t seem to have much interest in the topic – it was just the assignment her paper gave her.  She didn’t know anything about homeschooling and it was challenging to spend so much time correcting misconceptions while trying to answer questions, knowing that any little piece of what I said could be quoted and taken out of context.  I would have rathered taken a nap.  :)

Last night (Monday) my husband called from work but I was out until 10:30 pm (working on the next home project). When he finally got me on the phone this morning, he said, “What was that you said about slowing down after the conference???”  😆

So while I do hope to take a little more time for sleep this week, I’ll be back to posting more regularly again here.

Avivah