Monthly Archives: August 2010

Wedding, upsherin, yeshiva update

Today has been such a wonderful day!  I’m going to sum up today in just one post, so it’s going to be long – consider yourself forewarned! :)

We started the day by getting ready for my mother’s wedding.  Originally it was scheduled for mid October, but at the beginning of August they moved the date to today so that my dd15 would be able to be there before leaving to study abroad for the year.  My mother realized how important it was to dd15 to be there, and felt that it was important that all of our kids be there.  It meant a lot of extra time pressure for them and because it overlapped with this very busy time for our family, I really wasn’t able to be of much help in planning.  Fortunately, there were a number of wonderful friends who were there for them and were just incredible in the level of help and support they offered.  I actually think it was good that I couldn’t be involved since it gave my mother a chance to see how many people really cared about her.

Figuring out what everyone should wear was the biggest challenge the night before, since I didn’t have time to do any wedding shopping, so I relied on ‘shopping’ in my attic, which served me well for the boys.  The girls went out to a thrift store late Friday afternoon and found a couple of items – they decided they all wanted to wear black and white so they’d match.  Even though I would have preferred more color for the little boys, I went ahead and dressed them all in black pants, white shirts, and dark vests.  They looked very cute, and it was definitely easy to color coordinate them.  :)

Anyway, my mom spent Shabbos with us and asked if I’d take her to the wedding, which I was very happy to do.  Initially I thought I’d go myself, take her to the synagogue where the ceremony was being held, and then go back for the kids.  But in the end we all piled into the car to get her.  As soon as she opened the door to the van, everyone broke out into singing for her.  We got there early for photos, and I got to meet her fiance’s family members; they were a little apprehensive about the unfamiliarity of an Orthodox wedding ceremony, but were lovely people.

It was a beautiful wedding – everyone remarked on it.  I keep thinking about it, trying to put my finger on what was so special about it.  Everything was done nicely, but it was a simple event, not in a fancy hall or with extravagant catering or a huge crowd of people.  The chupah was held on the front lawn of the synagogue, under a chupa loaned and set up by a friend.  (Afterward I asked the man it belonged to how many weddings it had been used for, and he led me underneath and showed me an embroidered square with the name, date, and location for each couple that had so far used it – it was about eight so far.

The food set up and clean up, and much more than just that, was orchestrated by a wonderful family who both my mother and her new husband are close with.  There was a nice but not huge group of people attending – about 100 for the meal and more for the chupah and dancing, but I’m not sure how much more.   But everything about it was just so nice.  I think a big part it was was the obvious happiness of the couple, and the palpable support of family and friends.  It’s really only people who can create the environment, not the location or price of the food.

A few people asked me how it felt to be ‘marrying off’ my mother.  (Our kids all walked down the aisle, and I was the one by her side where traditionally a mother would be.)  My answer is that it didn’t feel strange at all – I’m so happy for my mother to have found such a wonderful person to spend the rest of her life with.   My mother has often marveled at my relationship with my husband over these last eighteen years.  Several times she’s asked me how I did it, and my first answer is always that I married a wonderful person, and that’s the most important thing.  She told me recently she finally understood what I meant;  she was able to now see that marriage doesn’t have to be constant hard work and realize how much easier marriage could be when you marry someone who you have a strong and meaningful emotional connection with.

We look at it as our family growing – the kids have a new grandfather, and his mother we’ve dubbed ‘Grandma (firstname); his brother and sister are now aunts and uncles.  He doesn’t have any children from his previous marriage and has inherited a large and very active family – us!  Fortunately his family seems to like us (my kids overheard his mother talking about them to and she kept saying how wonderful they were, so it seems they’re happy wit the family he’s marrying into!)

We left the house at 9:45 am, the wedding started at 11 am, and though it was officially scheduled for two hours, we didn’t get home until about 3:30.  Since I had the upsherin (birthday party for three year old boy) scheduled for 5 pm, it didn’t leave me much time to get ready. I asked dd15 to quickly whip up a cake, chose to forgo shopping for fruit and vegetable platters, and used apple and orange juice left from the wedding for beverages.  I had purchased a good bit of snack foods during my monthly shopping trip a couple of weeks ago.  After less than half hour getting the house and food on track, as well as putting the littles in for a nap, I left the girls to put together some snack trays while I went down the block to the engagement party of a neighbor’s son (who was in my carpool just three years ago!).   (Dd15 came with me but only stayed long enough to verbalize her congratulations.)  I stayed there for about a half hour, then came back about 35 minutes before the upsherin.

Ds3 was so exhausted that he had fallen asleep on the couch immediately after we came home from the wedding, and I was concerned that he’d be so groggy that he’d be out of sorts when he woke up.  But fortunately he woke up fairly smoothly after the house started filling up – the excitement of all the people definitely helped!  Since it was at the house and I have so much going on now that I didn’t want to create a huge pressure for myself, we didn’t invite a large crowd.  We invited grandparents, and three families, two of which were large.  But we had almost 40 people there (including my family, of course!) even though we kept it small.  This is the first time that we’ve had an upsherin with anyone from outside of the family present.  And it was really nice.  Ds did great sitting calmly while about 35 people cut snips of his long blond hair.  It was a lovely party which we all enjoyed.

Ds17 managed to get a ride from NY at 4 am from a friend of my mother’s – it was a last minute arrangement which I was so grateful for.  The day he went to NY for yeshiva, there was a major fire that affected the train routes, and when he got to his transfer point, he was stranded for a couple of hours until he ended up getting a cab with a couple of other people to the final train stop.  We found out late Friday afternoon that the damage still hadn’t been repaired and therefore the train that connects him to Manhattan still wasn’t running.  We really weren’t sure how to get him home in time for the wedding.  Because he’s so new there, he’s not yet familiar with subways and buses, and the times were so tight (he needed to arrive here by 10 am, meaning he needed to leave Manhattan before 7 am, and it takes 90 minutes to get into Manhattan from where he is) that there was no margin for error.  I mentioned my dilemma to my mom on Shabbos, and she told me she had a friend coming from the general area for the wedding.  She wasn’t sure how far away it was, or what their schedule was, but immediately after Shabbos she made a couple of calls and her friend agreed to pick ds up from his dorm (at 4 am).

This was a major blessing, since he got here 8 am, went straight to synagogue for morning services, and was back exactly in time to leave with us to pick up my mother.  And this wonderful couple offered to take him back tonight, and that’s what they did – and thanks to their offer, he was able to take substantially more than he could have taken on the bus in one suitcase.  That was great since he only took enough clothing for the first few days, and now was able to take some bulky things he was missing, like a blanket (he only took sheets).

I really didn’t have time to have a meaningful conversation with ds17 at all today (or any of the other kids, for that matter), since we were busy with one thing after another.  I told him I’m looking forward to hearing lots about everything when he comes home for Sukkos – but fortunately when we spoke on the phone several times in the last week, his overwhelming feedback is that he’s extremely happy in yeshiva.  He told me during one of those conversations that everyone is very positive about homeschooling; the peer feedback is that they think he was lucky, that it’s great/cool.  People have repeatedly been surprised at how young he is and that he’s so mature – he was chatting with a 20 year old at breakfast, and at the end the young man said, “I can’t believe I’ve just had an intelligent conversation over breakfast!”  He mentioned today that he already has a reputation, so I asked him, “As the boy who homeschooled?”  He said, “No, as a ‘shtarke bochur’ (used to describe someone who is serious about his studies) – that’s how his rebbi introduced him to his wife, and how his learning partner introduced him to someone else.  :)    It’s such a delight to hear in his voice how happy he is about literally everything.  (I was chatting with dh about this, and I told him, “That’s our secret – deprive them of things everyone else forces down their throat – eg, yeshiva, and then they feel so lucky when we finally let them have it!”)

I finished the day by taking dd15 to an appointment to try to clear up some things before she leaves in a couple of days.  We got home quite late at night, but are all glad we can look back on today as a wonderfully full and special day.


Encouraging love of learning in disenchanted teen

>>I read with great interest your posting about your son learning mishnayos, well done! You said kids just want to do the right thing etc and it’s better if they are not pushed, but this is not always the case. I didn’t want to post this in the comments, but I have a 14 year old son who has absolutley no interest in learning (he also wants a smaller yarmulke, never wants to wear his tzizis out, doesn’t want to wear a hat, wants to go to a less frum school etc etc – in general wants to push the boundaries on yiddishkeit). Whenver my husband tries to learn so gemorrah with him, my son puts up a great big fuss, and it’s really not pleasant. I am wondering if your husband himself learns after davening, I bet his does. Someone posted that it’s really to do with modelling, kids model the behaviour of their parents.

Now what do you do if your husband has no interest in learning? I would love my son to learn and it really hurts me that he doesn’t, he even spends much of Shabbos afternoon lying on his bed reading (usually non Jewish books). He has so much time to learn, but he doesn’t. (ALthough he does go to a shiur – not text based – after mincha, so maybe I shouldn’t complain). But he does not ever revise his gemorrah.

The thing is that he never sees his father sitting down to learn, and also his father never ever ever ever in all the years once asked him to learn without me first asking his father to learn wtih our son! This pains me deeply (that my husband, and now my son have no interest in learning), and has pained me for many many years (over 10). I have never told anyone this, as I don’t want to put my husband down to other people. I have had many phone calls over the years from my sons’ teachers telling me how he shows little interest in learning, but what on earth am I supposed to do about it? (I feel like telling them, well it’s not surprising as he never sees his father learn either!).  I have been told not to push my son, so we don’t, but I don’t really see how this will help the  situation. We dno’t push him and he doesn’t learn! Gemorrah is not a subject you can just drop, he will need to go to yeshiva in a few years and learn gemorrah all day, and I wonder how this will work. What do I do?<<

When I read your question, my sense was that there are a few issues behind the expressed concern about Torah learning.  When concerns are religiously based, we tend to not question what our deepest beliefs behind those concerns are, and assume that we have the right intentions in mind.  But although I believe there is real pain about your son’s lack of interest in Judaism and Torah learning, I have a sense that there’s a lot more going on than that.

My feeling is that the primary issues you’re facing are:  a) your relationship with your son isn’t good; b) your husband’s relationship with your son isn’t good; c) your marriage isn’t good; d) you’re very unhappy in general.  Please forgive me in advance for making assumptions that may not be accurate.

Yes, I said in the past that children want to do the right thing, and want to be close to their parents.  That goes along with the following caveat – when children are treated with acceptance and appreciation for who they are, they want to do the right thing.  When they feel a strong and positive bond to their parents, they will strive to emulate their parents. When they feel the heavy weight of expectations they can’t meet or don’t want to meet, it’s a different scenario altogether.

What happens if a child doesn’t feel accepted for who he is?  What if he senses that the approval he receives is dependent on him acting in a certain way, or doing certain things? Yes, we should have standards for our children and hold them to those standards.  A child can see his parents are displeased with bad behavior and appreciate good behavior.  But he should know that he is loved for who he is at the core, even if he doesn’t always live up to our standards.  This isn’t easy to do as a parent, particularly for some children, who due to behavior or personality, are harder to love and accept as they are.

Your son is making it clear that he doesn’t find the way Judaism is practiced in your home meaningful or positive.  This isn’t about gemara – this is about a general dissatisfaction and perhaps cynicism about the value of the life you’re telling him to lead.  He’s not finding inspiration by watching how this plays out in the lives of the adults around him.  Your husband isn’t the only influence on your son.  There are people who are married to spouses who aren’t religious at all who have been successful in giving over a love for Judaism and learning!

Don’t make yourself a victim or tell yourself you have no power.  You’re placing a lot of blame on your husband for things that you have plenty of room to affect for the better.   Stop blaming him and start owning your part – this is a hard thing to do, because you are getting some kind of payback for thinking the way you’re currently thinking that you’ll have to give up.  What are those paybacks?  You’re the one who knows yourself, and you’re the only one who can answer it.  I’m guessing that one very big thing is that you don’t have to be accountable.  No matter what happens to your son, you can say it’s because he didn’t have a father who learned with him, or whatever else.

But maybe you’re wondering, where do you have power?  The mother is the main one who creates the home environment.  No matter who your husband is or isn’t, you can become an emotionally safe and loving person for your son, so that in your presence your son feels secure and accepted to be the person he is, with all of his flaws, fears, and ambivalence.

Support actions that you like and focus on that, and you’ll get more of it.  Focus on all the things your son doesn’t do, and he’ll get the feeling that he’s never good enough and no matter what he does, he can’t make you happy.  I’ll turn the examples you gave upside down: instead of ‘he doesn’t want to wear a hat’, think with appreciation that he wears a yarmulke; instead of ‘he doesn’t want to wear his tzitzis out’, think how wonderful it is that he wears tzitzis even at times when it is uncomfortable or inconvenient; instead of focusing on the secular literature he reads, think how glad you are that you know where he is and what he’s doing, that he chooses decent quality books to read (if that’s true), that he’s not hanging out on street corners with unsavory friends engaging in dangerous or immoral behavior.  You can see where I’m going with this, right? :)  Whatever negative you feel, turn it upside down and try to find the positive in it.

What if you take your son to the Jewish library (if you have one) prior to Shabbos, and tell him you know how much he loves to read, and you’d like to help him find things he can enjoy that are in the spirit of Shabbos?  Show him that you understand he’s bored when there’s nothing to do, and are willing to exert yourself to help him find things.  What about taking him to the public library? There are things like inspiring biographies of famous people, motivational books written specifically for teens – maybe it doesn’t match your ideal of Shabbos reading, but it can still be a positive way for your son to use his time.  What about making time to play a board game or card game with him on Shabbos (eg Rumikub)?

Start consciously noticing all the good things your son does every single day – make it a goal to list ten different things a day.  It will be hard at first because you’ll be looking for big things, and you’re going to have to start noticing the small things that you take for granted, or things that don’t seem noteworthy at all.  Don’t tell your son you’re doing this; your attitude towards him will shift and he’ll feel it.

You can be enthusiastic and supportive of whatever learning he does – perhaps let him know you’re so proud that he chooses to go to a Torah lecture on Shabbos afternoon during his free time.  Who cares if it’s text based or not? Maybe you can bake something special for him to have when he gets back from his lecture.  Take five minutes when he comes home to sit down with him while he has a refreshing drink or a treat, and ask him what he learned.  You can share your thoughts, too.  Keep it light and positive, with the focus on the good person he is.  This goes very far in creating a positive feeling towards learning.

I’m going to try to clarify what is meant by the recommendation not ‘to push’.  That means, let go of your emotional expectations and the negative energy that you’re projecting along with it.  It doesn’t mean you stop trying to be a good role model – be a person who has joy in her Jewish life, a person who learns on her own or values those who learn.  Model for your son what a life of meaning in Judaism is to you.  It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as it’s really what matters to you.  Kids can sniff out hypocrisy and preaching from miles away, so don’t start faking it.  Think about why you do what you do, what it is you do that gives meaning to your life.  I share these things with my kids in conversation on a regular basis.

It seems there is a lot of resentment and anger towards your husband.  You’re not expressing it directly, and it’s understandable to have so much frustration when you feel your child’s other parent isn’t working with you to create the home you want.  But realize that as admirable as your goals for Torah learning of your son and husband are, they are rooted in ego.  We develop ideas of what the people in our lives should be, and how they should act so that it reflects well on us – and then we get upset when they don’t meet our expectations.  Let go of the expectation – it’s not serving you well and you’re causing yourself to suffer.

Finally, accept that maybe your son isn’t a person who will flourish in the arena of academic study, regardless of how loving and accepting you are.  Every person has unique strengths, interests, and abilities – in the Orthodox community there’s a Lake Wobegone attitude that all boys can be great learners and spend their teen years and up in intensive daily study for hours at a time learning in an intellectual and abstract way.  May I introduce the possibility of realism to this scenario? 😆

Don’t worry about what will happen in a few years, or assume that if your son doesn’t have interest in gemara now that he’s doomed.  Nonsense.  If later on he feels it’s important to him, he’ll exert himself to make up lost ground.  But not every young man will feel gemara is primary to him, and not every young man should be directed to full time yeshiva studies post high school – and that’s okay!  I know it’s almost sacrilegious to suggest that, but there are many ways to know G-d and live a meaningful religious life.  And there are many other parts of Torah except the Talmud:  Chumash (Bible), Navi (Prophets), halacha (Jewish law), mussar (study of character development) – there is so much a person can learn.

You didn’t ask about suggestions for your marriage, but everything I’ve said about accepting and encouraging your son could be applied to your husband, too.

I realize that all of this requires a change in mindset, and changing mindsets and the habits that go along with them is challenging.  It will take time, and it will take conscious effort.  But I guarantee that you, your husband, and your son will all be significantly happier if you do!


Organics – is that really what’s most important?

Yesterday I spoke for a very short time with a local reporter about organics and local food who connected with me at the recommendation of a blog reader.  However, I don’t eat exclusively organic and don’t claim to feel any passion about the topic of organics, so I was probably the wrong person for her to speak to. The things I felt were most important didn’t seem to be of much interest to her.

What kind of things?  Like the affordability of eating a high quality diet – her presumption was that it was expensive and when I said my experience was that good nutrition wasn’t precluded by a modest income, there wasn’t any question about how to accomplish that.  It would have been better, I sensed, if I emphatically agreed that it was outrageously expensive to eat well. But I don’t think it serves people well to believe that it’s unrealistic financially for the average person to eat nutritiously – most people will just give up and feel nothing they do will make a difference when told they have to spend money they don’t have.

Then when she asked what foods we ate organically, I told her that our raw milk from grass-fed cows and free range eggs aren’t legally able to be labeled organic, but are what well-known grass farmer Joel Salatin has called ‘beyond organic’.  But the only follow up to that was to ask if I buy organic milk from the store – no inquiry into what ‘beyond organic’ means, or what the benefits of eating animals raised in this way are, or to ask how to find local sources of free range eggs.

This is part of what is annoying about the organic focus – people ignore the quality of what they’re eating and assume it’s good for them because it’s organic.  Many, many organic foods are processed and raised in virtually the same way as non-organic, except that pesticides aren’t used (though apparently the letter of the law may allow for some pesticides, and organics grown overseas aren’t restricted by US laws).  Though I prefer to buy organic when it works for my budget, I’m simply not willing to pay significantly more for what doesn’t show me to be much more value.  Foods don’t automatically become good for you because it’s organic; foods that aren’t high quality to begin with are just less bad for you.

Even though I try to eat animal products from animals that are treated humanely, I don’t like when food is turned into a moral or religious issue, and never approach nutrition from that perspective.  I dislike when dogma becomes part of the discussion, though I obviously am aware of the broader societal applications of making certain food choices.   The ethical treatment of people is much more important to me than the ethical treatment of animals, and far too many people in the ‘ethical treatment of animal’ camp don’t seem to have much compassion for people.

An example is the story I remember hearing on the radio in Seattle of three masked men who beat someone over the head with a baseball bat until he was unconscious – because he worked in a laboratory where animals were used for testing.  I would bet the irony of their concern for animals leading to this horrific action isn’t lost on the average person.  More recently Lierre Keith, author of The Vegetarian Myth, was pied in the face with a pie laced with cayenne pepper when she was giving a talk – ironically, she was talking about the evils of factory farming when she was attacked.  I therefore keep myself separate from that entire movement which has been coopted by radical elements that are frankly, seriously imbalanced.

So when asked if I felt it was especially important from a religious perspective to eat organic and local on Rosh Hashana more than any other time, I’m sure I gave the ‘wrong’ answer.  I responded that I don’t think it’s more important to care more about the quality of your food on the Jewish New Year than any other time, and that everyone should eat the best quality diet he is able to afford that fits with his needs.

Other than giving her details about locally sourced beef, I don’t think I was of much help to her.  So I won’t expect to see my name anytime soon in the paper on this topic!

(This post is part of Real Food Wednesday.)


Lots of learning going on!

It’s funny how things sometimes seem to come in spurts!

Yesterday ds17 celebrated the completion of a section of gemara (Talmud) that he’s been learning for two years.  We had a small family celebration after our Shabbos meal.  Then his married learning partner this morning made another celebration for him, which was very nice of him.

Ds11 and ds17 recently completed a tractate of mishna together – they’ve been learning most weekday mornings this past year.  We wanted to make an official note of their accomplishment but were a little stymied by the timing.  We had a synagogue picnic in the late afternoon today that we didn’t learn about until a few days ago.  We realized that a number of his friends would have a scheduling conflict, but to do it afterward seems like too much to pack into one day, since the picnic ended at 7 pm.

However, Monday night dh wouldn’t be there, and Tuesday night ds17 and I wouldn’t be there.  We felt it was important that ds17 be there since he was the one who learned with ds11, and dh very much wanted to be there because this is something he values very much.  So rather than have it at a time when either of them would miss it, we decided to do the celebration at 7:15 pm.

Ds11 asked if he could invite a bunch of friends, which was fine. Then he asked if I would buy a lot of ‘junk’ (processed snack foods), which I also agreed to (you would be shocked how much food coloring and sugar was served in my house today!).  And finally, he asked if he could have a swim party afterward with his friends.  And I agreed to that, too!

Since we adjusted the time late last night, ds11 didn’t have much time to notify all the friends he wanted to invite.  After returning home from synagogue in the morning, he had a very short time at home before he went to help run a carnival with a few friends.  (This is their third year doing it and they donate 50% of the profits to charity.)  Then when he came home from that, he had hardly any time before he had to leave for baseball tryouts, and met us directly at the picnic later on.  So really  not much time for making all the calls he would have liked.

In spite of that, it worked out beautifully and a good number of his friends were able to make it.  The purpose of making a mini party is to validate the effort and time he’s put into this learning, and ds11 was very happy about having a bunch of friends be there for this and it turning into a bigger social event.  Also, when we scheduled this I thought ds17 was leaving on Tuesday to go to yeshiva in NY,  but he decided to leave tomorrow morning to have a little more time to get set up there before the term begins.  So tonight really was the last chance we had to have it with ds17 present, so I’m especially glad the timing worked out.

I’m so happy and grateful that both boys have made their Torah learning primary, and that we had good reason to celebrate so much with them both in the last couple of days!


Out with the old….

I have been on a serious decluttering kick in the last couple of weeks – and I tend to constantly be decluttering, so that’s saying something!

Here’s what I’ve given away so far:

  • 12 upholstered dining room chairs – very comfy but wide and could only comfortably fit 10 around the table; it was a pain when guests came to have to switch some narrower chairs with our regular chairs
  • 1 set of pots – I was washing a lot of pots at the end of the day, and it hit me that it was because I had so many that it was easier for the kids to just pull out something clean each time they needed it
  • 1 set of dishes, service for 14 – this was hard to get rid of because I paid so much money for them, but I inherited a set of stoneware dishes for 12 that was better suited to Shabbos, and I recently bought a nicer melamine set of dishes for the week – so more than one set was definitely overkill, and the set I gave away was never quite what I wanted
  • two sets of encyclopedias – one regular, one Judaic – I love the idea of having them but they take up a lot of space and we weren’t putting them to good use
  • 1 treadle sewing machine –  a machine that isn’t powered by electricity is fantastic, and treadle machines are particularly good for kids who are learning to sew – but I don’t know how to use it and haven’t learned in the three years since my mom asked me to keep it here
  • 1 sewing machine in cabinet – I have two portable sewing machines that are more space efficient, even though this one is much better quality (made in the old days when things were made to last!); practically speaking it’s easier for me to bring the machine to where I am than take myself to where the machine is
  • high chair
  • car seat- I’ll get another one when I need one
  • 3 large garbage bags of baby boy clothes – it was shocking how many baby clothes I’ve accumulated – I could have easily dressed triplet boys (still holding on to baby girl clothes, though – I’m still hoping we’ll one day even the score!)
  • several hundred books – donated to a book exchange, still have a box with probably a hundred more that I’ll take tomorrow
  • homeschooling curriculum and textbooks
  • 2 full size bookshelves
  • gave away a number of board games that we weren’t using (though the shelf still seems full!), also a chemistry set
  • 1 cordless phone – our kids chipped in to buy use a new phone that has two handsets and an intercom feature (our room is in the attic on the third floor, and this makes it possible to get a message downstairs without having to really raise your voice), so we no longer needed this
  • in addition to all of that, today – one overflowing shopping cart to Goodwill –  blankets, cushions, clothes, shoe.

What prompted me to do this at this particularly busy time?  I took a look around and started thinking about where most of the mess comes from, what makes me feel relaxed, and what makes me feel less than positive.  One big project that grew out of this thinking was something that I’ve spent the last three days on.

We had 8 full sized bookshelves in our home, all about 6 feet high and all stuffed.  Four were in the dining room, three were in the hallway upstairs, and one was in ds17’s room.   I decided that I wanted to move all the bookshelves out of the dining room to open up the space – I love books and we use them a lot but they create a lot of clutter, visual and physical.  (When my littles take a book off the shelf, they end up taking off another 10 or so at the same time, most of which end up scattered on the floor right in front of the shelves.)

To begin, we moved a double bookshelf to the living room, but first had to cut it down by 3 inches so it would look right in the available space.  You know I wasn’t rebuilding it – good thing I have a very competent son who is willing to help his mother with her great ideas.  :)  Then with those gone, I only had two more bookshelves.  This required a lot more work than the first set of shelves.  To do this, I needed to: a) find another bookshelf to bring down to replace one of them so I could move it to a better spot – only one bookshelf in the house was narrow enough; b) move books from one bookshelf to a shelf upstairs; c) empty an entire bookshelf upstairs to make room for the migrating books.

Well, this wasn’t simple at all, and if I try to explain all the logistics of how I turned everything upside down to put it all right side up again, I’m going to lose you because it’s complicated. Even my family members who were watching me and who I kept explaining my idea to were having a hard time following me.  But after moving almost every book in every single bookshelf, and a few days in which hallways were stacked with books and only the periphery of the dining room table could be used for meals, it’s done.  I’ve eliminated 2 entire bookshelves, meaning 1/4 of the books we had, ds17 no longer has a bookshelf in his room, and I incredibly have extra space on a number of shelves!

Though I was definitely the driving force with this project, when dh came home tonight, he got right to work sorting through his seforim (Jewish religious books).  I had asked him in advance to mentally be prepared for that since it was the last part of the project and I couldn’t do it for him.   Amazingly, he was far more ruthless than I could have even hoped for!  We have about four banana boxes full of books – one box will be donated to a local synagogue right away tomorrow morning, the others are stacked neatly in the basement while we decide what to do with them.

My husband has a habit of picking up books that I’ve checked out to read from the library, and then keeping them with him until he’s finished with them.  Since he takes them to work and doesn’t read as fast as me (not many people do! :) ), that usually means I don’t end up reading whatever book he’s taken a fancy to before it’s due.  Such was recently the case with the book The Power of Less (I finally checked out another copy for myself).  He found it very valuable, and it was this reading that helped him mentally shift into a readiness to let go of things he’s had for a long time.

These books were all purchased retail, have been through numerous moves, transatlantic, cross country, and intercity.  So a lot of money, effort, and emotion has been spent on them.  But you know what? Sometimes we hold on to things because we spent so much money, and it feels like a waste to let go of it.  But it’s crazy to keep holding on to something just because we have to justify the past investment in it.   The money was spent, and the money is long gone!  So I decided, if it’s not serving me right now or in the reasonably foreseeable future, then it needs to go.

Though I was looking at my decluttering from an analysis of how the 80/20 rule could be applied to keeping things clean, and my husband was viewing it from a different angle, we were really on exactly the same page.

On Tuesday a thrift store that I sometimes drop in at happened to have some beautiful used furniture – and I happened to have taken both bench seats out in preparation for my monthly shopping at the suggestion of dd9 (more often I only take out one bench seat).  And what I saw was a set – two dressers and a hutch, and for an incredibly low price – just $20 for everything!  Apparently it had just been put out at the end of the day before closing, and then we came in first thing in the morning – so we were definitely in the right place at the right time.

The dresser in the boys’ bedroom is falling apart and this was such perfect timing – it was wonderful to get such an amazing bargain, but it was also fantastic that at this busy time, I didn’t have to go out of my way to shop for this, which I really needed.  Their room just wasn’t staying clean and it was because with some drawers not working properly or even broken, they didn’t have enough space for their clothing.   So tomorrow morning we’ll take the old dresser and some other odds and ends to the dump – more purposeful decluttering!

Moving the bookshelves and giving away the bulky dining room chairs has really opened up the space in the dining room – when dd11 and ds15 came home tonight from MI, they both immediately commented on how much larger the room seems.  And because bookshelves attract clutter – loose papers and items that don’t have a home seem to find a place there – there’s will be a lot less to clear up and clean around.

It was a huge amount of work, particularly since the older kids weren’t around to help much, but it was worth it.  Getting rid of things that don’t serve you is very freeing – it feels like I’m making room for more good things to enter our lives (and I don’t mean more ‘stuff’)!


The advantages of xylitol

I first heard about xylitol about three years ago when I was researching tooth health, but because it ends in ‘ol’, that indicated to me a chemically created processed sweetener and I had no interest in learning more at that point.

But now ds4 and ds3 (almost) have exactly the same problem that none of the older 6 kids had – they each have one top front tooth that is grayish.  Exactly the same tooth.  (Edited in Jan. 2011 to add – it turns out that this isn’t a result of decay, but because the tooth was injured by being hit during a fall – the dentist said it was very common in young children.  If a tooth is rotting, it will be brown, not gray.)  So clearly I need to do something more than what I’m doing, and in addition to beginning homeopathic cell salts for them (something else I learned about back then but didn’t do!), I decided it was time to do some more research into xylitol instead of responding with a mental knee jerk to the thought of something that didn’t seem very traditional.

So I started doing some reading and it was really, really interesting!  I was fascinated at how many benefits a sweetener could have. I learned a lot and since I don’t particularly enjoy writing reports on my blog with lots of technical details, I’ll just share with you what I find to be the most salient points.

First, what is it? Xylitol is a sweetener that was originally made from birch bark when discovered during World War II in Finland; it is actually a substance that is naturally occurring in the human body and in many fruits and vegetables.  Xylitol is a white crystalline substance that looks almost the same as white sugar, and can be effectively used to replace sugar in most foods in the same ratios (ie 1 cup for 1 cup), though I prefer to use a little less.

The biggest complaint that I read about was intestinal discomfort.  A person can take 15 -20 grams daily with no side effects. More than this acts like fiber and cleans your system out, which can cause intestinal discomfort until the body gets used to consuming these quantities.  As a person who is comfortable with the concept that good foods sometimes can lead to cleansing reactions, the possibility doesn’t really bother me.  But it seems like the easiest thing to do is just start with small amounts and avoid the problem altogether.

Because it is chemically a different structure than most sweeteners, it doesn’t lead to food cravings and doesn’t feed candida (and therefore can’t be used in baking yeast breads, because it won’t feed the yeast for it to rise).  To me those are two very incredible features, but additionally, it’s been found to be beneficial to your health in other ways.

It can prevent colds, ear infections, runny noses, and head colds in children.  It aids in stronger bones because it allows the calcium in your body to be absorbed better.  It metabolizes in the body without using insulin, which makes it a great option for diabetics. It doesn’t cause a spike in blood sugar and actually helps reduce sugar and carbohydrate cravings.  It benefits your teeth by changing the acidity in your mouth, making your mouth less hospitable to the bacteria that cause decay – this is my main motivation in using it.

Does xylitol fit with a natural foods way of eating?  The answer is that I don’t know.  It seems the WAP foundation has come out against it, but just saying something is processed and wasn’t eaten by our ancestors isn’t in and of itself compelling enough for me to disregard all the positive benefits of using it.  I’ve been eating according to traditional foods guidelines for about five years, but learning all that I have in addition to doing some initial experimenting with xylitol has pushed it to the top of my list in terms of preferred sweeteners.  So call me a rebel, but I’m just not willing to be a purist about food for the sake of dogma.

My kids like the taste – they think it tastes like sweet snow – it has an almost minty feeling in the mouth that isn’t mint – it’s a refreshing feeling.  I plan to use it actively to combat tooth decay by giving the littles some after dinner, and ideally after every meal (1.5 teaspoons daily is the recommended amount for this purpose).  Some people use mints or gum that are xylitol based, and eventually I’d like to make my own ‘candies’ with xylitol to give the kids, but for now, I’m planning to give it either directly on the spoon or dissolved in water, in addition to using it directly to brush their teeth with.  It will take me some time to make it part of our regular daily routine, though.

Tonight after I gave ds3 his cell salts, which are lactose based, I gave him a spoon of xylitol to eat before bed so the lactose wasn’t the last thing in his mouth for the night.  It seems outrageous that a mother could do something like this and be responsible at the same time!  So easy!

In addition to the benefits I listed above, I like that it’s white – we’ve been using organic sucanat as our primary sweetener for baking, and dd15 (our primary baker) finds it frustrating that all cakes turn a brownish color as a result.   However, though she initially liked the idea of using xylitol, as well as the taste, so far two cakes that had cocoa in them flopped (her words, not mine), and  she believes xylitol doesn’t react well with cocoa and caused the problem.  I think we have to try it a few more times to see if that’s regularly the case or not.

Since I don’t eat anything with flour in it, I can’t say what the flopped cakes tasted like – the other kids liked it – but I can say that the few times I’ve had xylitol it’s been very tasty and whatever I made turned out well.  I used it just this morning with my chia seed/coconut milk drink, and have had it with nut butter dessert recipes and it was excellent.

My general approach is to minimize the use of sweeteners, and this continues to be my approach.  Too much of anything isn’t good for anyone, and I’m not about to start adding lots of sweetener to our diets, no matter what it is (the exception being the very small amount for the littles for their teeth).  Having said that…..

Good for the body, good for the teeth, fights infection, doesn’t cause cravings, low in carbs, tastes great, and substitutes well for sugar in most dishes – xylitol has a lot of advantages.  With my purchase in bulk of 55 lb (I bought Xylosweet), it made it affordable enough to be a full-fledged addition to my pantry.  Move over sucanat, here comes something better! :)))

(This post is part of Real Food Wednesday.)


Of Daffodils and Diesels

I’ve seen this anonymously written article in a couple of places, and think it nicely shows the difference between schooling and education, as well as the importance and relevance of intrinsic motivation.

Of Daffodils and Diesels

Author Unknown

I’m not very good in school. This is my second year in the seventh grade, and I’m bigger than most of the other kids. The kids like me all right, even though I don’t say much in class, and that sort of makes up for what goes on in school. I don’t know why the teachers don’t like me. They never have. It seems like they don’t think you know anything unless you can name the book it comes out of.

I read a lot at home—things like Popular Mechanics and Sports Illustrated and the Sears catalog—but I don’t just sit down and read them through like they make us do in school. I use them when I want to find something out, like a batting average or when Mom buys something secondhand and wants to know if she’s getting a good price.

In school, though, we’ve got to learn whatever is in the book and I just can’t memorize the stuff. Last year I stayed after school every night for two weeks trying to learn the names of the presidents. Some of them were easy, like Washington and Jefferson and Lincoln, but there must have been 30 altogether and I never did get them straight. I’m not too sorry, though, because the kids who learned the presidents had to turn right around and learn all the vice presidents.

I am taking the seventh grade over, but our teacher this year isn’t interested in the names of the presidents. She has us trying to learn the names of all the great American inventors. I guess I just can’t remember the names in history. Anyway, I’ve been trying to learn about trucks because my uncle owns three and he says I can drive one when I’m 16. I know the horsepower and gear ratios of 26 American trucks and want to operate a diesel. Those diesels are really something. I started to tell my teacher about them in science class last week when the pump we were using to make a vacuum in a bell jar got hot, but she said she didn’t see what a diesel engine has to do with our experiment on air pressure, so I just shut up. The kids seemed interested, though. I took four of them around to my uncle’s garage after school and we watched his mechanic tear down a big diesel engine. He really knew his stuff.

I’m not very good in geography, either. They call it economic geography this year. We’ve been studying the imports and exports of Turkey all week, but I couldn’t tell you what they are. Maybe the reason is that I missed school for a couple of days when my uncle took me downstate to pick up some livestock. He told me where we were headed and I had to figure out the best way to get there and back. He just drove and turned where I told him. It was over 500 miles round trip and I’m figuring now what his oil cost and the wear and tear on the truck—he calls it depreciation—so we’ll know how much we made. When we got back I wrote up all the bills and sent letters to the farmers about what their pigs and cattle brought at the stockyard. My aunt said I only made 3 mistakes in 17 letters, all commas. I wish I could write school themes that way. The last one I had to write was on “What a daffodil thinks of Spring,” and I just couldn’t get going.

I don’t do very well in arithmetic, either. Seems I just can’t keep my mind on the problems. We had one the other day like this: If a 57 foot telephone pole falls across a highway so that 17 and 3/4 feet extend from one side and 14 and 16/17 feet extend from the other, how wide is the highway? That seemed to me like an awfully silly way to get the size of a highway. I didn’t even try to answer it because it didn’t say whether the pole had fallen straight across or not.

Even in shop class I don’t get very good grades. All of us kids made a broom holder and a bookend this semester and mine were sloppy. I just couldn’t get interested. Mom doesn’t use a broom anymore with her new vacuum cleaner, and all of our books are in a bookcase with glass doors in the family room. Anyway, I wanted to make a tailgate for my uncle’s trailer, but the shop teacher said that meant using metal and wood both, and I’d have to learn how to work with wood first. I didn’t see why, but I kept quiet and made a tie tack even though my dad doesn’t wear ties. I made the tailgate after school in my uncle’s garage, and he said I saved him $20. Government class is hard for me, too.

I’ve been staying after school trying to learn the Articles of Confederation for almost a week, because the teacher said we couldn’t be a good citizen unless we did. I really tried because I want to be a good citizen. I did hate to stay after school, though, because a bunch of us guys from Southend have been cleaning up the old lot across from Taylor’s Machine Shop to make a playground out of it for the little kids from the Methodist home. I made the jungle gym out of the old pipe, and the guys put me in charge of things. We raised enough money collecting scrap this month to build a wire fence clear around the lot.

Dad says I can quit school when I’m 16. I’m sort of anxious to because there are a lot of things I want to learn.


Interesting read, isn’t it?


My schedule for next couple of weeks

I have so many topics that I’ve said I’ll get to and I’m not forgetting about them!  It’s just that there’s a lot going on here so it’s more challenging than usual to find time for computer stuff.

Here’s a overview of just the bigger things in my schedule for the next two weeks:

Thurs. Aug. 12 – evening performance at dd14’s camp – she was in drama, dance, and a musical interpretation, we stayed for cast party and got home at 1 am

Fri. Aug. 13 – did shopping with boys for clothes, tried to get food cooked and house cleaned for Shabbos :)

Tonight, Sat. Aug. 14 – dd15 and ds11 left for a five day trip to Michigan

Sun. Aug. 15 – hope to attend a morning session at dd’s camp for mothers and daughters, ds14 comes home from camp mid day,  I was asked to speak somewhere at 5 pm

(This week doesn’t look so full but in addition to activities I have scheduled for kids, need to get house in order and do a couple of biggish house projects)

Tues. Aug. 17 – full day of shopping in PA

Wed. Aug. 18 – building berry pergola in garden (ds17 said he wants to do this for me before he leaves)

Thurs. Aug. 19 – building berry pergola in garden, dd15 and ds11 return home in the evening

Fri. Aug. 20 – pick up dd15’s friend from bus (coming from NY) mid day to spend five days with us

Sat. Aug. 21 – last Shabbos with ds before he leaves to yeshiva, make siyum in honor of gemara ds17 finished after two years

Sun. Aug. 22 – tryouts for baseball travel team for ds11, siyum and swim party for ds11 and ds17 for mishnayos they finished, family dinner bbq afterward

Mon. Aug. 23 – take dd15 to get fitted for contacts, take dd15 to hairstylist

Tues. Aug. 24 – early morning – take ds to bus to NY, evening – take dd’s friend to airport

Sat. Aug. 30 – ds17 taking last bus from Manhattan here, pick him up in early morning hours

Sun. Aug. 29 – wedding for close family member early afternoon (we’ll be quite involved with the preparing, setting up, etc), upsherin for ds3 in late afternoon, take ds17 to bus back to NY in evening

Mon. Aug. 30 – dd15 wants to go to MVA to get driver’s permit since you have to be 15 and nine months and this is the first day she can get it (there’s a mandatory six or nine month waiting period between getting the permit and license, so she wants the waiting period to happen while she’s in Israel)

Tues. Aug. 31 – entire family going to NY to take dd15 to airport, will go to pick up ds from his part of NY so he can go to airport with us – full day trip

Ds17 is working most days, dd14 is babysitting almost every day (so there are hardly any older kids around during the days), ds17 wants to go get his permit (never ended up getting it when we went in the winter because of a technicality- he never wears his glasses; it’s a light prescription and he doesn’t really need them, but they wouldn’t allow him to take the test without them), dh needs me to pick him up from work a couple of times because the person who he used to carpool with no longer works in the area, and the kids’ piano teacher wants to have a recital before dd15 leaves for the year.

I didn’t mention any of the activities and trips I have planned with the kids, or that I’m trying to pull together our homeschooling plans for the coming year.   It also doesn’t take into account all the things that need to get done to keep the house running, the shopping and packing for both of the kids going away (they’ve both presented me with lists), or the holiday shopping for the kids who will still be home.    :))

After this, I’ll have almost a week and a half before Rosh Hashana, and then will be mostly busy with holiday preparations for the entire month of September, in addition to starting our official homeschooling schedule.  I told ds even if he makes the travel baseball team (he’s an excellent player but he would be competing for a spot with boys up to age 15), I don’t know if I’ll allow him to join – it’s a lot to add to an already full schedule.   I’m thinking that sometime mid October things will start to slow down a little.  :)

So bear with me if it seems to be taking longer to get posts up.


Times of transition

I was about to begin writing this post when I realized that this is my 900th post!  It’s amazing how things add up with time – those of you who have been reading all along probably know me better than I know myself by now. :)

I didn’t plan to write anything spectacular in honor of this, but it’s probably appropriate that I share my thoughts on this transitional time in our lives, since these transitions are quite significant for our family.

Late last night (Tues) dh and ds17 returned from the trip to NY for ds’s yeshiva interview.  They both had a very positive impression about the yeshiva, and because of a comment that one interviewer made to ds (“When you come to me for Shabbos, I have lots to ask you about homeschooling!”), we knew he was accepted even though they don’t notify you on the spot.   Dh received the official call today.  He’ll be going to Shor Yoshuv in NY, a yeshiva I feel is a fantastic choice on a number of levels – it met all of our technical criteria, and has a warm and supportive atmosphere where the focus is on the individual.

The term begins on Aug. 25, which means ds will be leaving to NY on Tues. Aug. 24.  When I realized it meant we have less than two weeks with him, and less than three weeks with ds15 before she leaves to Israel for ten months (she’s leaving Tues. Aug. 31), the realization struck me very hard that time is flying by and this short time will be gone before I blink!  I’ve intellectually been aware of this – particularly when this past Shabbos, I realized that we have only one more Shabbos with all of the kids home (for at least another ten months).   I had to consciously create the space for even that last Shabbos together, since ds11 and dd14 were away last week, dd14 will be at camp this coming weekend, and the following week dd15 had planned to travel to NY for the weekend.  I asked her to cancel her plans even though it might mean she won’t be able to see a very close friend before she leaves to Israel.  Family takes priority.

I’ve been so busy with the technicalities of all that needs to be taken care of – obviously there are a number of things the oldest two kids who are going away need (which has been significant in terms of time, energy, and money! – and tonight the oldest two converged on me, each with lists of more things they need to take care of), as well as the day to day summer activities, and planning the coming school year (which is taking more thought than usual since I’ve been considering if dd14 should graduate at 16, which influences the choices I make now).  And all of this busyness means that I haven’t had time to feel anything about them going – until last night.

As parents, we want to give our kids the ability to be independent and follow what is important to them, to grow into mature and emotionally healthy adults.  I’ve been looking back on our home education journey and thinking about what has been successful as well as where I’d like to adapt for the future, but overall my feeling is immense and intense gratitude that they’ve grown up so beautifully.  I’m so happy for both of them and grateful that they have found opportunities to grow and experience things that are important to them.  And as each older sibling moves out, I think it’s wonderful how the next child in the family has his/her chance to have the spotlight; I’m looking forward to focusing more on the younger kids in the coming year, with a particular focus on dd14 and ds11.

But having said all of that, last night when ds asked me what the starting date for the yeshiva was and I answered him, I was suddenly hit with a strong wave of  already missing them even though they’re still here.  Just having dd14 out of the house for two weeks at camp has been an adjustment for everyone (even though she comes home every night around 10:30 pm) – so I expect the oldest two leaving for a long time will be quite significant for us all.  Fortunately, ds will probably come home every six weeks or so for Shabbos – that definitely makes it much easier!

Life is full of so many good things, but that doesn’t always mean it’s easy!


Chocolate Coconut Chia Bars

I found this recipe online when I was doing a search for recipes using chia seeds.  I unfortunately don’t remember what site I found this on – it was from a company that sold them, and the recipe was sent to them by a customer.  I slightly adapted it; it’s an easy recipe filled with healthy and tasty ingredients.

Chocolate Coconut Chia Bars

  • 1/2 c. coconut oil, melted
  • 1/3 c. cocoa
  • 1/2 c. xylitol or 1/4 c. honey
  • 1/3 c. coconut milk
  • 2 tsp. chia seeds
  • 1 1/2 c. dried coconut flakes
  • 1/4 c. sliced almonds
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla

Combine all the ingredients, stirring until everything is mixed well.  Spread the mixture on a baking pan in a thin layer, and put in the freezer or refrigerator to set.  Cut into small squares to serve.

As requested, details to come about chia seeds in a separate post. :)

(This post is part of Real Food Wednesday.)