Monthly Archives: January 2011

I’m in Israel – and a surprise!

I’m here in Israel!   The flight was good, although despite being extremely exhausted (1 hour of sleep the night before my flight), I got only about three hours of sleep.  We decided weeks ago that dd14 would come with me – I haven’t said anything here because we wanted to surprise dd16.  I told dd14 if she wanted to pay for her own ticket ($1075), that I’d cover all other expenses – passport, food, travel with Israel, and activities.  It’s a lot of money, and after thinking about it, she said she really wanted to come, but it felt like too much money for such a short time.

So I contacted the head of dd16’s program, to see if dd14 could stay with her sister a few days (attending classes with her – for someone who’s been homeschooled for over a decade, it will be  a new experience!), and she agreed.  Being able to spend an additional week in Israel made it worthwhile for dd14, so she’ll be coming back on her own a week after me.  It was really nice having dd14 with me – she’s been a great traveling buddy!

It’s also been nice for the two of us to have shared the preparation and anticipation for this trip.  We particularly talked a lot about how to surprise dd16 when we get to the airport, and after many possible schemes, decided to just have dd14 exit to the waiting area 5 minutes after me.  (It’s been a big effort not to let anything slip and to tell as few people as possible, to eliminate the possibility of other people letting it out.) The only problem with that was when we got there, dd16 wasn’t there!  So we stayed on different sides of the airport waiting area so dd16 wouldn’t see us together.

As I was walking around and looking for dd16, I suddenly heard, “Mommy!”, and I turned, and there she was!  She came over and started crying, and I gave her a huge hug, and then a few more hugs.  I didn’t want her to see dd14 yet, so we walked to the restrooms on the other side of the waiting area, then walked back in the other direction, as I was thinking about how to give dd14 a chance to see us before we exited to the train.  Fortunately, dd14 saw us, and came over, saying, “Hi, T!”  And dd16 casually says, “Hi, M!” and hugs her.  I was like, umm, aren’t you a tiny bit surprised to see your sister here?  

And dd16 told me she was sure I was going to bring her, and in fact, had told her friends that her sister would be coming back from the airport with us!  Apparently I had said something before I ever planned the trip that if I ever came, I’d want to bring dd14 with me, and she said I after I told her I was coming, I never expressly told her I wasn’t bringing dd14. The irony is I wasn’t planning to bring dd14 when I initially planned my trip! Her guess was confirmed a few weeks ago when ds4 told dd16, “Mommy bought us yummy cereal for when M. and Mommy go to visit you!” I quickly shushed him and told him to tell her it was a mistake, and he did; when she got on the phone with me, she asked me what he was saying, that she couldn’t understand him – she realized we were trying to keep it a secret from her and didn’t want us to know she figured it out. :)

So even though dd wasn’t surprised, at least most of my blog readers will be! 😛


Last minute trip preparations

It’s hard to believe that after eight weeks since I made the decision to go, that the departure date is already here!  Tonight has been amazingly relaxed, despite the fact that I’m leaving first thing in the morning to the airport!

As we enjoyed snow that made it difficult for us to leave the house for the last few days (our street doesn’t get plowed), I was especially glad to be a person who doesn’t wait until the last minute to get things done, or it would have been very pressured for me.  Instead, since I had done almost all of my shopping for dd16 early in the week, I didn’t have to venture out until yesterday, and even then it was because several of the items I bought to take with me seem to have disappeared from the time I gave it to someone to put next to the suitcases and when I was ready to pack them.  :roll:

I didn’t have any suitcases to pack in until Friday (thanks, T and Y!!) but once I did, I was able to complete most of my packing then.  I’m taking the maximum weight allowed per suitcase (50 lb each), and between the books and food for dd, some things for other people, and my clothing, I’m filling every bit of space I’m allotted!   And I’m really appreciative for my neighbor who lent me a luggage scale (thanks T and parents!) – this made packing so much easier – no stress of having to guess if my luggage would be declared overweight when I got there.  Having that mostly done really got the big stuff out of the way.

Tonight I worked on getting the mountain of laundry washed so everyone will have closets and drawers totally filled with clean clothes, giving three of the boys haircuts (ds3 gave himself a haircut couple of days ago, so I wanted to cut it all short so he wouldn’t look unevenly shorn – I was afraid dh might actually let him out in public looking like that – he’s more relaxed than I am in that way :)!), and taking care of the many small details.  I’m going to go do some quick exercise right after I post this, then shower and exercise again when I wake up in six hours (knowing I’ll be sitting so many hours, I want to preempt muscle stiffness or soreness as much as I can), then pack up the food in the freezer we have for dd right before we leave the house. 

I’ll take some food with me – baby carrots, grapefruit, and nuts.  I think that will be light but adequate, so that I won’t have to rely on the airplane food.  I wanted to make a crustless quiche so I could take a mini pan with me for lunch (during my 5 hour layover), but my kids told me that it seems I keep finding more and more to do, so I decided to do less as far as the food goes.  I’m also taking an empty water bottle, since the airplane air is so dry, and then I can ask the flight attendant to fill it for me without having to request multiple small plastic cups of water.

The entire family will be taking me to the airport.  It’s going to be an early morning for them, so we dressed the littles in their clothes so we can take them directly from bed to the van.  I decided to take a flight from the local airport to NJ, then to fly to Israel from there.  The ticket was more expensive, but I felt it was worth it – I didn’t want the family to have to spend seven hours in the car driving to and from the airport each time (once to take me, once to pick me up) – and I think what we would have spent in gas to drive is comparable to what I’m spending on the increased ticket price.  I should be arriving in Tel Aviv on Monday morning, then going from there to dd’s school near Haifa.

I’ll be blogging while I’m away to the best of my time limitations – my focus is on spending time with dd, and I don’t know what my computer access will be like. But I very much hope to be able to share with you about my trip as it’s happening!


Heating system fixed – the frugal way!

Last week our heating system suddenly shut down, so we had a heating repair person come out from a local company to diagnose what caused the problem.  He walked in, saw the safety switch was off, and told us that was the problem.  He flipped on the safety switch back on, and we wrote him a check for $95.  No explanation of why the switch went off.  Then the switch shut back off again after he left.  Dh turned it on.  Then it shut itself off again, as well as shutting down another safety switch.

At this point it was obvious there was something more wrong than a switch that ‘happened’ to shut off.  We called the company back and they said they’d said someone to do a chimney clean-out.  So the next day, someone comes back, opens the (easily accessed by anyone) pipe in the laundry room, shines a flashlight in, and sees black crumbly stuff.  “Crystallized soot!”  he tells us, like that’s supposed to mean something.  Another $55 to tell us that. 

So I ask what’s the significance of that.  He tells us it means the entire heating system needs to be replaced.  I ask how a heating system that was working fine suddenly stopped with no warning and there’s no option but to replace it.  “That’s what happens.”  He shows me a fine circle of dust inside and tells me it’s because I don’t keep the floor around it clean enough that the system is no good any more.  It was good to learn how large an area around the system needs to be kept clear since I didn’t know that, but at the same time, I was skeptical that there was nothing to do but replace the system – for $5800.   When we asked about the possibility of cleaning the soot out, we were told that it would cost $2600 and they wouldn’t guarantee the work because there’s a low success rate, so they didn’t recommend it. 

After telling my husband at least six times on the phone that we’ve got to keep the area around it cleaner, then telling me five times that we’ve got to keep it clean, and then telling me a couple of times that I have to tell my husband when he gets home that we’ve got to keep the area clear (to which I told him that my husband is a bright guy and gets things the first time, and I didn’t think any further repetition was necessary), I wasn’t feeling very enlightened.  So when he warned me that we’ve got to replace the system right away and not to try to turn on the safety switch, I ask what would happen if it were turned on.  Not that I have any plans to try it, I clarified, but I wanted to understand what it could lead to (because I like to understand things).

“You’d blow yourself up!”  Ahh.  “How would that happen?”  “You’d blow the house up!”    I was making a conscious effort at this point not to talk more slowly and enunciate my words to help him understand basic questions – he seemed to think that repeating himself again and again using the same words was giving me more information.  He told me (again!) not to turn on the safety switch because it would be dangerous.  Right, I got that, but what theoretically would happen?  “Carbon monoxide.”   Now, I’m not a heating repair specialist but I’m also not a totally witless person, and it was becoming obvious to me that he kept repeating himself because he didn’t know the answers to my questions- since carbon monoxide is an odorless gas that causes people to die by breathing it, not by blowing them up.  

Since it’s the middle of the winter and it’s quite chilly indoors with no heat, I started to think about what the alternatives to replacing our heating system were since we don’t have the funds for it and we don’t spend money we don’t have.  (Fortunately we have a separate boiler for hot water, so we still could shower and do dishes and laundry.)   I started researching used boilers that would be a good fit for our needs.  Within a half an hour I found two – one for $300, one for $400. 

While I was doing that, dh got on the phone with a plumber he knows, and described the situation in detail to him.  The plumber was very surprised at the recommendation to replace the entire system due to crystallized soot – he suggested getting a shop vac and vaccuuming it out.  Dh asked him how much it would be if he (the plumber) did a professional clean-out of the system.  $600, the plumber told him.   There’s a big difference between $600 and $2600, and a big difference between a used system for a few hundred dollars and a new system for almost $6000, and we were glad to be finding options that were more affordable than those offered by the company representative. 

Before we hired anyone else, dh got out our shop van and started vaccuuming up all the crystallized soot in the pipes or visible dust anywhere on the unit that he could see – it took him about thirty minutes.  And when he turned the heating system back on, it stayed on – it’s been on for almost a week now and working perfectly.  Dh called the company to complain – how could they tell us the only option was a $6000 job when it could easily was taken care of with a quick vaccuuming by someone with no training? 

And astonishingly, they told him that their lawyers don’t allow them to tell anyone to have it cleaned out because they might be held liable.  (I don’t know what that literally means, but practically it means that they’d rather put in a new system with a warranty than work on an older system.  Nice profit to them by avoiding liability.  :roll: )  I was sorry to see that given the chance to correct the situation, they continued to justify their lack of interest in what was best for the customer rather than their pocket.  If you’re in the Baltimore area, I’d strongly caution you to about dealing with this company – Farnen and Dermer.  When dh got off the phone with them he said told me it reminded him of obstetricians who do c-sections even when they aren’t medically necessary because then they can’t be sued, regardless of how it affects the mother and baby.  Good analogy.  😛   

The lesson for everyone, regardless of where you live, is that you really need to get your own information – don’t be afraid to ask questions, or to take some time to get more information.  You don’t have to make a decision on the spot.  Don’t let yourself be pressured to make an immediate decision.  When you’re faced with an expensive repair or recommendation – whether from a mechanic, heating technician, dentist or doctor – do some research, make some calls, check things online.  There are very, very often more frugal and equally effective ways to take care of the situation that the person you’re hiring isn’t aware of or would prefer not to mention to you.  No one cares about you hanging onto your money as much as you do, so look out for your best interests! 


Musings on trip planning

Last week I was busy putting together my itinerary for my upcoming visit to Israel, and I was thinking about: a) how critical a mission statement is to life in general and helpful to my trip in particular, and b) how you can craft the best opportunities for yourself by knowing what you want and being willing to put in the legwork to create the necessary framework.

I have a very finite amount of time for the trip – ten days, but that includes travel so it’s really just 8 days there – and there are an infinite amount of possibilities for how to use my time.  As I’ve said before, our choices in life generally aren’t between the good and the bad, but the good and the best!  And that’s what makes it so challenging to organize our time – because the good things are appealing and we can lose sight of what is our personal best. 

I had to determine what activities would be the best for me and dd16, and to do that, I had to repeatedly think about the purpose of my trip.  And this was easier said than done, because I kept mentally latching on to different aspects and planning around specifics, then feeling like I was losing sight of the overall goal.  The goal is to spend time with dd, to take advantage of the spiritual opportunity for connecting to the holiness inherent in the land of Israel, to access some inspiration, and to have some fun – and keeping this all in mind helped me put together an itinerary that I think will allow us to maximize the enjoyment of our time together. 

Thinking about my personal mission statement as a parent, as well as for this trip itself, was so helpful.  I’ve talked here and in my classes about the importance of having a mission statement (whether written or not), having a clear understanding of where you want to go.  This is a powerful tool to use in making decisions of all sorts.  Knowing where you want to go is helpful to keeping yourself on track, as well as getting back on track when you stray from your original destination.  It’s like developing an internal compass that directs you.  One example of how this helped me in planning my trip was the following: I initially planned to meet the English speaking homeschoolers in Jerusalem (some of whom I’ve gotten to know online over the years) on their regular get together date.  I even got the information about their meet-up in advance so I could schedule my ticket around it.  And I kept scheduling things around this activity, that was set in mind as a definite.  But when I finally assessed what I had time to do and where my time was being allocated, I realized that I was giving priority on my very first day after arrival to something that my dd wouldn’t find interesting and would minimize my interaction with her, and would keep me from acting in accordance with my inner value system of what was most important to me to do on my first day in Jerusalem – to go to the Kotel/Western Wall.  This was a hard thing for me to take off of my schedule, but I had to do it to make room for what was most important.  By making this choice, I was able to schedule a visit to some holy sites that are deeply important to me, allowing me to schedule the best option (for me), by bumping off something that would have been good.

I had to continually evaluate each activity in the same way: what was the value, what would it give me, and what would it cost me (not in money, but in lost opportunities to do something else).  I also recognized that regardless of how others who visit Israel spend their time, the activity had to be of perceived value to us – it doesn’t matter how much it’s a must-see or must-do if it doesn’t touch me or interest me.  This helped me really balance what I wanted to do, and I’m very pleased with the schedule I’ve come up with.  Some of it may change as I share it with dd and get her feedback, but overall I’m confident that she’ll enjoy what I’ve loosely organized.   (I’m not trying to be secretive about my plans – I’ll share about them next week as I experience them!)

As I was putting in hours researching, looking at maps and destinations, reading descriptions of tours and activities, I thought to myself that I could really appreciate the appeal of going on an organized tour.  You pay the money, and are assured of great sights and activities every day.  It reminds me kind of buying a structured curriculum – you know what you’re going to get, and trust that you’ll hit the most important information. 

Yet what you lose in that is the personalized approach – my itinerary is crafted with our personal needs in mind, and as such, I’ve scheduled in some things I haven’t ever heard others mention or seen on online tour schedules.  I won’t have to stay a set amount of time somewhere if we find it boring or not what we expected when we get there; we have the freedom to go where we’d like to go! 

That’s the upside of creating your own trip plans or learning structure, but the downside is the time and thought involved.  And perhaps even more than that, the fear that the professionals (educators, tour guides) know what’s most important or more interesting, so how could a regular person without a specialize background possibly do any better? 

The answer is that you don’t have to know the answers for everyone else; just for your family.  I can create the best curriculum for my kids because I know their needs and interests, and I can create the best tour schedule for dd and I, because I know our needs and interests.  Does that mean that there’s no value to the organized offerings of the professionals?  Not at all.  But they should be used as a tool to support your goal rather than to replace your effort.  With curriculum, I’ve chosen to use a structured math curriculum that works well for our family (Singapore), and with my trip, I’ve chosen to participate in two organized outings that I think will be more enjoyable for us than trying to do it on my own.  To me it feels like the best of both worlds – I can access some of the fantastic support available, and I can enjoy a personalized experience that will bring me joy and inner satisfaction.


Torah learning with the littles

>>How do you get your littles to learn Torah?  I don’t really mean halacha and every day things they see you doing, but – I don’t know.. The parsha, things like that?  Maybe you have a parsha reader?  Do you do crafts at all?  I am very, very, very not-crafty.  But I want my kids to.. learn! :-)  They are 4.5 and 2, so still very young, but I really wanted to ask you. <<

I think my answer is going to disappoint you, because I really don’t focus on it!   A big part of that is that so much of my focus is on the older kids, so the littles naturally have things filter down to them without me consciously learning with them. 

We have a parsha reader – My First Parsha Reader – it doesn’t excite me but I do have it and it’s okay.  There are definitely better books but that’s what I have.  Our supply of parsha cassettes, that were heavily used for years, has dwindled with breakage or being lost, so I don’t consistently use this anymore.  Dd14 often tells the parsha to the littles and the middles; she prepares it for girls that she tutors and so they always know it well come Shabbos!   And of course dh goes over salient points at the Shabbos table.

I do other Jewish reading with them but it’s not systematic in any way – sometimes we read Our Sages Showed the Way type material, and sometimes we read the Artscroll middos series type books, and they get something from it all.  They enjoy listening to stories by Rabbi Burstyn, and ds4 has picked up a lot of knowledge like that.

Ds4 this week asked dh to learn gemara with him (he hears ds12 repeatedly telling dh he wants to start)!  After a few insistent requests like this, my husband agreed to learn some mishnayos with him, so they did three mishnayos together, and I was a little taken aback at how well ds4 explained it all to me later that night!  When they’re ready, they’re ready….(not that we’re officially starting mishnayos now!  It’s about following their lead.)

I’m not too crafty; I’m better at being with them, taking them places, and reading than doing projects.  The one exception to that is that I’m pretty good about letting them help bake in the kitchen; I’m happy to let them play with challah dough or roll out dough to make whatever they want.  Dd16 used to do more crafts with them (that’s a strength of hers) and sometimes dd14 does that now (like last week she did some nice stuff with the splitting of the sea), but I give them lots of paper and crayons/markers/colored pencils, and let them color whatever they want. 

I think my husband is very good at integrating Torah stories into bedtimes and general storytimes.  I don’t know all that he tells them since I don’t hear, but I know he covered a lot of Navi by telling them stories of Nach, sitting or standing in the dark next to their beds at night.  He’s often just read to the kids straight (with a little paraphrasing difficult words or concepts) from the English translation of the Tanach, and I can’t figure out why they sit there and listen with interest, but they do!  Sometimes I read them Nach stories (from different books), but again, it’s not systematic. 

It’s likely that if I only had the littles, I would be a lot more conscious of what I was doing with them, since I wouldn’t have the influence of siblings benefitting them and I’d be aware that it was all up to me and my husband to create the learning environment.  I’m more relaxed about this than I was when I had six kids under age 9, and was making sure to cover different material (albeit in an integrated manner).   I don’t think you have to make a huge effort as much as to look at what you’re already doing, and find ways to help your child be involved in it. 


Monthly shopping and tips for saving on food costs

I used to regularly post what I bought on my monthly shopping trips, but at some point stopped because I didn’t want readers to be discouraged by the prices I was paying.  As I’ve shared before, I don’t shop with a list – I buy whatever is a great price when I go into a store, and build my menu plan based on what I’ve already bought.  Often it means that we will enjoy something one month and then not have it again for a long time!

Also, I’ve worked hard to find the cheapest sources that I can for whatever I need.  I didn’t just stumble onto these prices!  Since a number of readers found it helpful when I shared what I bought and the prices I paid, I’m sharing below most of what I bought during my monthly shopping trip, but keep in mind that these are sale prices – the regular prices at the local stores aregenerally higher than what I paid!   This is pretty typical for me in terms of how I shop – large quantities of a small amount of things. 

  • 60 dozen extra large non-pastured eggs – 1.25 dozen
  • 50 lb butter – 1.99 lb
  • 40 lb yams – 16.50
  • 50 lb onions – 18.50
  • 5 boxes clementines – 3.99 ea
  • 1 case red grapefruit – 9.95
  • 3 – 5 lb bags baby carrots – 2.99 ea
  • 12 – 15.25 oz cans pineapple in juice – .79 ea
  • 3 heads cauliflower – 1.39 ea
  • 8 heads fennel – .50 ea
  • 36 -4/4 oz containers organic apple/cranberry sauce – .50 per 16 oz
  • 8 -12 oz bags frozen blueberries – .99 ea
  • 4 -250 ml bottles extra virgin olive oil 1.99 ea ( got these because the small size will be best for dd16 to take to meals in the lunchroom; I get larger bottles for the family at a better price – 1 liter for 3.99)
  • 12- 45 oz packages whole wheat tortillas – .99 ea – (these are massive, way bigger than the standard size I usually get – each one is about the size of a pizza crust!)
  • 6 boxes whole grain breakfast cereal – 1.49 ea (for the kids when I’m away with dd16)
  • 8 – 24 oz. cottage cheese, 4% milkfat – 1.39 ea
  • 12 – 32 oz. plain yogurt – 1.29 ea
  • 6 – 8 oz cream cheese – .89 ea
  • 14 – pint organic heavy whipping cream – 1.49 ea
  • 12 packages corn tortillas – $5 for all
  • gallon jar of olives – 16.19
  • 1 small bottle raw kombucha – 2.99
  • 13 gallons raw milk
  • 15 dozen pastured eggs (chickens aren’t producing much so that’s why I had to buy so many regular eggs)
  • free – three cases of mini snack packs of baby carrots

Not in this trip but also purchased for this month:

  • 12 lb ground beef – 3.99 lb
  • 12 lb turkey hot dogs – 1.59 lb
  • 2 – 2 lb shredded cheese – 8.49 ea
  • 4 – 6 oz sliced cheese – 1.49 ea

I got other stuff for dd16 that is included in my monthly total but I didn’t list here: chocolate (for mishloach manos to give her friends), and lots of herbal teas. 

I’ve shared tons of tips on saving money on food in detail in past posts, but here are a few that came into play with this shopping trip: 

1) This looks kind of skimpy for month’s eating, doesn’t it?  Last month I bought a good amount of canned vegetables and fruit, frozen vegetables, and some other staples so I still have that on hand.  At the end of last month I bought 60 lb of chicken wings (1.29 lb), so that will last me through this entire month.  Stock up when the price is right!

2) I go shopping for vegetables between 2 – 4 times a month.  In addition to what I bought yesterday, I have a good amount of cabbage, turnips, and potatoes left, as well as tomatoes and lots of homemade pickles in the fridge.  I went kind of crazy two weeks ago making about 30 lb of cukes into lacto fermented pickles when I was able to buy them for .39 lb.  I also made a gallon + of lacto fermented salsa (with sale tomatoes – .49 lb), and two gallons of kimchi (with red and green cabbage).   The last couple of vegetable shopping trips I spent $80 and $60 respectively; the first trip filled my cart to the top and the second had it overflowing.  It depends on how much reduced produce I’m able to buy – reduced produce is a great budget stretcher.  I look for items that are discounted because a new shipment came in and they need to make room – not because they are rotting. 

3) I don’t buy only reduced produce, but I try to limit my produce purchases to items that are under $1 a pound; however, that’s not a hard and fast rule.  Root vegetables tend to be the best bet in the winter.  The checkout clerks always comment on how much produce I manage to buy for such a small amount of money!

4) Pay attention to the sizes of the packaging.  Food costs have drastically gone up in the last couple of years, and to keep consumers from being aware of how high the prices actually are, the packaging sizing has been changed for many items (eg sugar is now in 4 lb bags instead of 5 lb, dried beans are in 12 oz bags instead of 16 oz) but the price is staying only slightly below the price for the larger size.  For the cans of pineapple that I bought above, they are only a bit more than 15 oz – the standard size is 20 oz (for which I paid exactly the same price – .79 can – last month).  I realized when I bought them that the cans were smaller and weren’t a super price, but it was still acceptable to me – the key is to be aware of what you’re paying for and what you’re actually getting.

5) I stocked up on butter because it was on sale at my target price – 1.99 lb.  It’s been a while since I could find that price, and when what I had ran out two weeks ago, I did without.  I used coconut oil instead.  Then I didn’t realize we were almost out of coconut oil until it was too late to order it in time for this shopping trip (I thought I had another 5 gallon bucket), so we’ll have to do without coconut oil for this month.  (I could have driven somewhere else to get it for a comparable price, but it would have added at least 40 – 50 minutes of driving to my schedule and it wasn’t worth it to me.)  I rendered a batch of beef tallow last week, so between that and the butter, and olive oil for salads, we’ll be fine.  Sometimes staying within a budget means making choices and not having everything you want right when you want it

6) You’ve probably noticed by now that I buy very little processed food.  The cold cereal I purchased above was for a treat, not as a regular breakfast food.  I can make a much more filling breakfast for less money, so cutting processed food is a good way to eliminate a lot of costs.  When I get treat food, we enjoy it as the treat that it is. 

7) My shopping took place over three stores and two farms.  Know what a good price is for the items you want so that you can buy lots when you find it.  Learn what stores have what you want at the prices you want

8) I travel once a month or so to do a large shopping because I’ve determined that the savings are justified.  Gas costs and time has to be factored in.  If someone is buying much smaller quantities, their savings in traveling to different stores may be outweighed by the secondary costs.

9) If something free is offered to you but you don’t have the room for it, think creatively about how you can use it.  I accepted three cases of carrot snacks in the mini bags after determing that I couuld can or pickle them in the coming week since I don’t have adequate fridge space.  Blanching and freezing or dehydrating would have  been other options. 

Food costs can take a substantial chunk out of a family’s food budget, but there are lots of ways to have ample amounts of food and stay within the predetermined amount!


My new super shoes :)

With my upcoming trip to Israel in mind and knowing that I’ll be doing a lot of walking, I’ve been thinking about what shoes I have that would be suitable.  This usually wouldn’t be a difficult question to answer.  However, in the last few months I’ve stopped wearing black (which was very major for me since for years the staple of my wardrobe has been black) and instead have been wearing brown as a replacement base color, which means that almost all of my shoes and boots no longer are a good match.  Due to the nature of how I like to shop (very frugally) and the kind of shoes I like to buy (good quality), it can take me months to find shoes that I want at the thrift store that are the right size, style, color, and in excellent condition. 

This was never an issue until I suddenly decided that none of the shoes I’ve accumulated over time were going to be worn by me anymore.  I was fortunately able to find one nice and comfortable pair of brown dress shoes (Naturalizer) but wanted to keep them for Shabbos use, so I really needed something else for daily wear. 

I solved this several weeks ago by buying three more pairs of shoes even though they didn’t meet all of my criteria; I got one pair daily casual, one pair for daily or dress (Clarks), and one pair of sneakers to accomodate the needs of my trip (Land’s End).  They all look good, are decent quality, and were in like-new condition.  But none of them are super comfortable for lots of walking, though they’re fine for my regular needs.  If you’re wondering why I bought them, it was because I was in a situation of something pretty good being better than a perfect pair of nothing.  (Lest you think that I was burning dollar bills up, I paid less than $20 for the three pairs combined.)

Every time I think about what to pack for my trip, I start wondering if I should wear my comfy Clarks black flats or wear one of the newer brown pairs that is less comfortable, and since I don’t like not matching and I don’t like being uncomfortable, neither choice was appealing.  I know that may sound petty or superficial, but I’m just being honest.

So you can imagine how glad I was to end my dilemma today!  Today when I did my monthly shopping, dd14 and I stopped into a couple of thrift stores.  We both were pleased with how we did, but I was most happy about a pair of shoes I bought – just what I needed!  I got a pair of brand-new Earth shoes that will be perfect for lots of walking.  It was on the expensive side for shoes at a thrift store, but since they usually cost about $100, I didn’t think 10.97 was unreasonable.  😛 

The reason I knew what Earth shoes were when I saw these was that my mother used to wear them back in the late seventies/early eighties.  The idea behind them is the heel is a few degrees lower than the front of the foot, which stretches muscles in the leg and improves posture since it forces you to stand at a better angle. 

 They’re supposed to be extremely comfortable as well as being good for your foot, but I wasn’t sure when I tried them on that I liked how they felt.  I walked back and forth for a bit, and after deciding I’d buy them, did something I never have done before – I kept wearing them as I did the rest of my shopping (the cashier was fine with it).  My feet felt strange – not comfortable, but not in pain – I couldn’t tell if it was a good thing or not, but I didn’t feel like taking them off.  I wore them for the rest of the day, and after I got home, I checked their website and found they recommend that you only wear them for an hour the first day, then build up over the next few days by wearing them an hour more each day, to give your muscles a chance to acclimate.  (This is the same advice about Vibrams, which I don’t own but researched extensively, so I’m familiar with this idea.)

Even though they don’t yet feel perfect, I’m confident that within the week they will, and I’m so glad to have them them!  You know, an advantage of thrift store shopping that I’ve never seen mentioned but often experienced is that you can really feel how providentially you are sent just what you need just when you need it!   


Car repairs and lots of food to dehydrate!

What a nice day this is turning out to be!   Yesterday morning I simply could not get myself motivated to go to our weekly history class after having heard the night before that we’d be having sleet and snow, making for icy driving conditions, and I assumed the class would be cancelled.  When I found out at 8:22 am (I usually leave at 8:30) that class wasn’t cancelled and I was still in bed (because I was letting everyone get a slow start), I had about 60 seconds of wondering if I could get everyone dressed and ready within 8 minutes (I know, totally an insane thought), or at least make the effort and get there late.  Then I decided that there was no way I was going to try to rush out so that I could navigate icy driving conditions during rush hour to somewhere that in the best of traffic conditions is over an hour away.  I felt a little guilty but opted to stay home.  

Well, it turns out that it was really good that I didn’t go.  Because later in the day when my husband got home, he drove somewhere about ten minutes away, and on the way home the brakes totally failed – he put his foot on the pedal to slow down and nothing happened.  (Not something we’d have expected since we replaced our brakes pretty recently and had no signs of any impending problem.)  Thank G-d, he was going slowly and no one was around.  But if I’d been driving, I’d have been on an icy highway during rush hour with a van full of children and it could have been catastrophic.

Dh drove home very, very slowly and left the van close to the mechanic’s shop last night, and this morning I walked over with the keys; I’m grateful that his shop was in easy walking distance.  It was nice to get out early in the morning, and it was a beautiful day – sunny and not too cold, and getting some fresh air is always good in boosting myappreciation of life!     

I’m also glad to have found a good mechanic that we feel knows what he’s doing.  The last three major repairs we’ve had done prior to finding this mechanic were poorly done and led to constant related repairs since the underlying problems that weren’t addressed.  Dh was nervous about our van needing so many repairs, and the old mechanic told him it’s just the kind of van we have, he sees them all the time and they have so many problems.  The new mechanic told us vans like ours last for many years, that it has a strong engine and is in good shape, and we can expect it to last well past 200 – 250,000 miles.  Interesting how different their perspectives were.

Ds12 and dd10 got a ride with someone to the radio station tour that they were scheduled to go on today, and ds4 got a ride from someone else for his activity this afternoon.  In the meantime, I started dehydrating some of the food I prepared yesterday afternoon – 16 quarts of chili, 12 quarts of split pea soup, and 12 quarts of 16 bean soup.  Back in December I sent some homemade foods that I dehydrated to dd16 in Israel, and she’s finally gotten around to eating them!  She said they’re really good, and when I asked how well the chili rehydrated, she said she doesn’t bother waiting long enough because it tastes good even if it’s crunchy!  She even snacks on the dehydrated chili mix as it is. :)  So now I’m making up a bunch more food to take to her so she can have a taste of home. 

Right now in the dehydrator I have about half of the 16 quarts drying; once this is done I’ll go on systematically until all the pots full of food are done.  I’m hoping I can finish this by Friday midday.  It’s not the cooking the food that takes a long time, but the dehydrating of it all.  But it will be worth it to take a good amount of nutritious food to her in a compact and shelf-stable form. 

Then in the afternoon a heating technician came to tell us that our heating system isn’t working because of soot build-up and we need to replace the entire boiler ($5800), that it would be $2600 to clean it out and they say cleaning leads to spotty results that they won’t guarantee.  I wasn’t impressed by that company’s diagnosis (two visits each consisting of a minute each – $150 to tell me their opinion, that it was caused by me not sweeping the floor thoroughly enough around the boiler base :roll:).  I’m sure there’s got to be a less expensive option, so we’re doing some research.  I found a couple of compatible used boiler options if we decide to replace this, and dh spoke to a plumber who told us to vaccuum it out for starters, and said for a complete cleaning he charges $600.  That’s a lot different than $2600!  Hopefully we’ll sort it out quickly because it is rather on the cool side with no working heat!

For dinner we had a Tu B’shvat meal – dd14 made biscuits (wheat), Dutch babies with barley flour (barley), and then we had dried fruits and nuts at the end.  We didn’t have all of the seven species but it was still very nice!

The mechanic stayed late so that our van could be fixed in time for me to do my monthly shopping tomorrow, which I really appreciated.  So tomorrow will hopefully be a day of lots of bargains!


Claiming parental lead – part 2

 Last month I wrote about how to supercharge the feeling of love and security your child feels when you respond to his requests, by giving more than he asks for and thereby claiming the lead role in the relationship.  I was asked for more examples of how to claim your lead with your child, and was actually thinking about this tonight in conjuction with my upcoming trip to Israel (less than two weeks away now!).

Right now I’m planning my itinerary for my time there visiting dd16.  We’re both very much looking forward to spending time together, and I’d like to keep the focus on being with each other, not the activity, which is one reason I’m not sharing with her more than the basics of the plan (ie, 1 night Haifa, 3 nights Jerusalem, 2 nights Betar, 2 nights Tzfat/Safed, 1 night Haifa).  The second reason has to do with claiming my lead as a parent: she doesn’t expect me to be planning anything (she already told me she doesn’t care what we do, she’s just happy to spend time together), so surprising her with my plans once I get there is a way of giving more than is sought. 

There’s another aspect of my planning that touches on this topic.  Dd has been there for several months and I haven’t been there for over ten years, so naturally she’ll be more comfortable with some aspects of getting around than I am – she’s used to the buses, has money in the proper currency, etc.   That’s fine and natural, but as a parent, if you can be the one to orient your child rather than vice versa, that’s a good way to claim your lead.  In order to be the active leader in a situation that I could easily default to letting her take care of things, it means doing detailed research from a distance so I know about places and times of activities, bus routes, money changing, etc, in order to be comfortable as the one doing the guiding. 

There’s something really powerful about a child feeling safe and secure with a parent, knowing that the parent can and will take care of whatever comes up, that allows them to relax when they are with you.  Nowadays many kids and parents have switched roles, and the kids are too often in leadership roles (eg, kids in divorced homes who become emotional caretaker of the parent) – but this takes away from a child the security of being able to lean on and depend on their parent.  I can’t always be this for my children, but I try to recognize opportunities that present themselves so I can fill this role as much as possible. 

There’s virtually no end to the possibilities of ways to claim your lead, and it really depends on how your child expresses his wants and needs.  I’m sharing just a couple of personal examples, but it’s just to get your mind going in the right direction.  Look at what your child wants and seek to be the one giving to him in the situation; it can be emotionally giving (like my trip planning, a warmer than anticipated emotional response) or physically giving (a hug, gift, drink of water, help getting dressed). 

Ds4 came to me crying since something that was thrown hit him in the hand, and with a little bit of empathy quickly stopped crying and then asked me to read him a book.  I told him, “I’d love to read you a book!  Actually, I’d love to read you TWO books!!  Run and get two really good books right this minute so we can read together!”  The same idea applies if your child asks you to take her shopping or do some other errand that is important to them; you can mentally groan to yourself and tell her that you’re not really in the mood but you know she needs to go, so you’ll do it.  Or you can recognize that it’s something you’re going to do anyway, and express to her your willingness and desire to spend time with her, or tell her how glad you are that she asked you. 

What if you don’t want to give your child what he’s asking for, either because you: a) don’t have time/energy at that moment; or b) don’t think that it would be beneficial to give it to him?  If it’s a question of your energy, you don’t have to be everything to everyone at every moment!  Let’s be realistic, parents have limited energy!  If you can’t give something that you know is important to your child that moment, tell him that you’re not able to, and tell him when you will be available.  “I really want to do this with/for you, but right now I’m not able to.  I’d love to spend some time with you a little later, after I rest/wash these dishes/put the baby in bed.”  Obviously, the older a child will have an easier time waiting, but even little kids can learn to respect your limits.

If it’s a question of a child requesting something that you don’t feel is beneficial for them, then this isn’t a reason to give it to them!  There are plenty of ways to give to them that will be comfortable for you both, and it’s not responsible to give something they shouldn’t get even if you give to them with a full heart.  Remember that you can and should initiate giving as much as possible, that you don’t have to wait for a child to make a request.  But if there is a request made, try to respond with enthusiasm or in some other manner give more than they’re expecting; this can be a way to make a big deposit with a child, while simultaneously giving your child the unspoken message that you are there for them and they can depend on you. 


Reconnecting with old friend

It’s funny and inspiring the things that happen sometimes!

I recently was contacted by an old friend who moved to South Africa years ago.   Since the contact information I had for her changed, and she lost my mine, somewhere back in November 2006 was our last of our sporadic emails.  Several months ago, a mutual friend was visiting South Africa, so friend no. 1 asked friend no. 2 if she had contact info for me.  “No, sorry”, replied, friend no. 1, who I haven’t been in touch with for over ten years! 

Well, friend no. 1’s husband works for a school in South Africa, and at the end of this past November he traveled to England for a week to do some school related work.  While he was there, he picked up a popular Orthodox womens’ magazine that is distributed internationally but not available in South Africa to take back to his wife, thinking she’d enjoy it.  A couple of weeks later she was finally sitting down with it, and when she started reading the article about home education, it reminded her of me.  And then, lo and behold, she got to the end of the article and saw that I was the author, and my contact information was included!  Isn’t it amazing that the only issue she got was the only one I had an article in?

So thanks to my Binah magazine article, it helped two long out of touch friends reconnect!  But wait – it gets better!  My friend has two weddings to attend in Israel, and I mentioned to her that I’d also be visiting.  But from the dates she included for her trip (beginning of Jan.), it was obvious that we’d totally miss one another.  When I emailed her back to express my regret that our travel dates weren’t overlapping at all and told her my arrival date, she responded that we actually would be arriving in Israel exactly the same day!  It seems she had mistakenly written January instead of February!

She’ll be staying in Jerusalem, and since I’ll be in Jerusalem for three days, I’m very much hoping that we can meet for dinner or something to finally see each other in person!  After all of this serendipity pushing us together, it would almost be a crime not to!

Isn’t it amazing how Hashem (G-d) makes things happen to happen?