Monthly Archives: March 2012

Pesach cleaning schedule 2012

I know, it’s less than a week until Pesach (Passover) and I haven’t posted anything about my preparations!

For some reason, people seem to assume that I’ve already finished or am close to it.  Nothing could be further from the truth!!

This year I decided to do things a bit differently than in the past.  We’re now in a smaller living space than in the past, and thanks to having moved overseas  seven months ago, have a lot less stuff than we used to.  I always try to keep Pesach preparations reasonable so that the spirit of the holiday doesn’t get lost in the unending drudgery of cleaning, and this year that means that we are doing our cleaning significantly later than we have in the past.

Here’s this year’s schedule – a schedule for last minute-ers! :):

– week of March 25 – I asked the kids to clean their rooms sometime between Mar. 25 – 30, ideally at the beginning of the week (though everyone didn’t choose to follow this suggestion :)) so that they would be able to enjoy being able to spend the rest of the week relaxing.

Last week I also somewhat cleaned the enclosed laundry porch and main bathroom.

– Sunday April 1 –

  • clean master bedroom/bedroom/office
  • finish cleaning laundry porch (this is my ‘pantry’ so it’s more about organization than cleaning)

– Monday April 2 – go to Jerusalem for the day; I hope to get some clothing shopping done after technical business is finished since I have no maternity clothing and at 5.5 months I think it would be a good thing to have. :)

– Tuesday April 3 –

  • will stop using kitchen sink in the evening

– Wednesday April 4 – the main cleaning day for the kitchen and salon (living room/dining room combo).  I’m planning to assign all of the older kids one big job each.  This will include:

  • clean living room/dining room, couches
  • cover dining room table, wipe down chairs
  • clean stove and oven, kasher
  • clean refrigerator
  • wipe down cabinets, line those we’ll use for Pesach

In the evening when the littles are asleep, we’ll kasher the countertops.  Usually at this point, we would unpack the Pesach dishes, but I left them behind with the intent to have them sent on someone’s lift.  They have yet to leave the US, so I’ll be buying disposable dishes and a few basic pots/cooking implements.

Thursday April 5 –

  • change sheets in all bedrooms
  • do all laundry
  • shop for Pesach food
  • start cooking for Pesach (being in Israel means that we will only have one seder instead of two, so while I usually like to have several days before Pesach to cook in advance and freeze food, and everything has to be ready accordingly, this year it would be overkill)

Friday April 6 – erev Pesach –

  • make sure everything is ready for the seder
  • have everyone take a long nap midday so they’ll be able to enjoy the seder that night

And that’s it!


Dealing with gender disappointment

As of now, I’m about 23 weeks pregnant, past the point when most women have gotten ultrasounds and found out if they are having a boy or a girl.

A few people have asked me if I know if I know what I’m having, and have been surprised that I said I don’t know because I try to avoid ultrasounds.  In this day and age, that’s become increasingly uncommon!  Why I have concerns about ultrasounds is a topic for another post; I did have one with my first two children (before it ever occurred to me to question standard obstetrical procedures), and then again with my eighth (when I was well-educated about obstetrical practices and their alternatives).

With my eighth pregnancy, it was the only time that I found out what I was having in advance.  At that point, I was five months pregnant when we were told by our midwife that there was a strong likelihood we were having twins.  Even though she said she couldn’t be sure, there was still disappointment when one month later we learned there was only one baby.  So much so, that knowing many of us were hoping for a girl (since we had four boys and three girls at that time), I wanted everyone to be emotionally prepared in case it was a boy.  I had an ultrasound to determine with certainty that there was only one baby (though my midwife was positive at that point), and what it was – and it was a boy!  I did miss the feeling of surprise of finding out at the actual birth, but it felt like the right thing to do in that situation – we all had time to shift gears mentally and look forward to our baby boy.

With this pregnancy and the boy:girl ratio at 6:3, there’s definitely a preference on almost everyone’s part to even things up a little!  At the beginning I was really hoping for a girl and was convincing myself that all the signs were there for a girl.  But it’s more likely that we’re having another boy (based on looking at the objective facts in addition to all the old wives’ tales! – though I can’t be positive).  The first night when I was honest with myself about the likelihood of a boy, I honestly felt sad.  You can say it’s silly or superficial, but that’s how I felt.  My youngest girl will be almost 12 when this baby is born, and I’d love to have another daughter.

But however shallow it seems, I think that experiencing minor to severe gender disappointment isn’t an uncommon feeling for many pregnant women when they find out what they’re having.  Along with the disappointment there’s often a feeling of guilt – we all know the most important thing is a healthy baby, so, we tell ourselves, how dare we be anything but happy regardless of what we’re having?

In my opinion, it’s important to allow ourselves to feel the disappointment without any self-criticism, which makes it possible to  then go on to embrace what the reality is.  It doesn’t matter that your dream of pink or blue may seem immature or selfish or downright wrong to others.  You’re entitled to your emotions, and when you allow yourself to feel your feelings, you can move through them and on to a positive place in your mind.  And from there you can move to a place of genuine appreciation for what you have.

Something else that helped after that point was focusing on what we’ll have instead of what we won’t have – there’s nothing cuter about a baby girl than a baby boy, really!  Every baby has its own sweetness, and every baby is a special blessing.  Dd15 commented that it will be so cute to have a group of little boys running around, and thinking about the sweetness of all of our boys was helpful, too. :)

How do I feel about having a boy at this point?  It took about three days to let go of residual feelings of disappointment about not having a girl.  But at this point, I’m one hundred percent at peace with the idea.  More than at peace – I’m really looking forward to our newest baby’s arrival!


An inspirational Pesach message

This morning I received a link to a Pesach message that I found encouraging and inspiring (thanks, Michelle!).

This is a six and a half minute video of the Chief Rabbi of South Africa, Dr. Warren Goldstein, speaking on the topic ‘Vehi sheamda – and the covenant stood for us’.  This is a phrase from the Passover hagada, in which is mentioned that in every generation, there have been those who have sought to destroy the Jewish people.  And yet the Jewish people are still here, against overwhelming odds.

With the Jewish people currently being threatened with nuclear extinction by the ruler of Iran, it’s a timely reminder.

I hope you enjoy it!


What’s so great about schools?

Lately I’ve been thinking constantly about schools – primarily, I keep asking myself, what’s so good about them that justifies keeping my kids there for next year?

This past week we had all the things that people use as an example of how great schools are – school trips for a couple of kids, a major school performance for another one, and a school birthday party for another.  I feel like I should be glowing over how lucky they are to have these experiences.

But I don’t.  While I’m grateful for everything positive that they experience, I’m ambivalent.  Because I know that despite good schools staffed with good and caring people, there are so many wasted hours at school and so little that is being learned, that the social structure is unhealthy and not supportive of developing strong social skills and abilities (unless you consider the ability to conform to be an important skill).  I sat there watching the two hour performance of dd11’s grade, and I’m sure I was the only one in the large audience who was analyzing the value of being part of something like this against the much richer life that homeschooling offers, rather than just enjoying the experience.

I’m grateful for the school trips.  Since we don’t have a car now, traveling with our family has become an expensive and limited experience, so we stick with local outings around town.  I’m glad the kids can go to these fun places, especially since right now we can’t take them on those trips.  And it’s especially nice when the trips are included as part of the tuition that is already being paid.

So here are my conclusions about why to keep kids in school: they’ll probably learn to speak Hebrew more easily; they have more access to same aged kids (though this is no guarantee of meaningful friendships); they sometimes have redeeming activities like the above.  It’s legally and logistically easier for me.  And I ask myself a few times a day, do these things justify keeping my children in an institutional framework that I believe to be inherently stifling to the spirit and to healthy emotional development?

(To be clear, my concerns are with schools in general, and this isn’t specific to our local schools.  I think our local schools are quite good as far as things go, and am so appreciative for the warm and caring staffs at the religious schools our children attend.  But schools are based on a framework that inherently is flawed and encourages mediocrity.)

I read this article a week or so ago out loud to dd15, and after hearing the list of things that students learn in a regular classroom, she said to me, “That is so true.  Every single thing you read is so true.”  Then she went through point by point and gave me an example of how she sees this in school.  In case you’re wondering what we were discussing, here are some of the points that author Tess Bomac (who wrote about why she is leaving teaching to homeschool her child) made:

  • “The rules are always changing, and since you never know when the teacher is going to enforce them, try to get away with as much as you can until she starts screaming. Then blame your neighbor.
  • You don’t need to think about your education. The teacher will decide what you should learn, you’ll do the things that she decides matter, then she’ll give you a grade that represents how well you can follow arbitrary directions.
  • While the teacher can make mistakes and move deadlines all the time, you will be penalized if you misunderstand the directions.
  • Almost everything you learn is a measure of your docility, not your intelligence or your effort.
  • Working with others is more important than learning actual content. Group projects, no matter how unfair, inefficient, and tedious are here to stay, and if you complain about it taking 10 hours out of class to make a collage that demonstrates 15-minutes worth of learning, tough. Life isn’t fair.
  • Life isn’t fair, so thus it is okay for me to be unfair.
  • Don’t question textbooks, even though most of them are riddled with errors and omissions.
  • Learning is for school, school is painfully monotonous, so learning must be boring, too.
  • Learning is for school, so once the day ends, you’re free to do whatever you find fun.
  • Learning can only take place in hard plastic desks, in crowded classrooms, while being told exactly what to do.
  • Nothing is more important than fitting in. If you don’t fit in, there must be something wrong with you. Maybe you should buy some more accessories? Try a different hair style?
  • Reading in school? Are you crazy? We have to get ready for the state tests!”

That last point brings up something that happened today.  One of the kids brought home a test that she was told she needs to take (she hasn’t yet had to take any tests because her comprehension isn’t up for that.)  I had gotten a note from the school saying that this was an important school-wide test and everyone should urge their child to study hard so they’d do well.  Her tutor took her out for two periods and went over the actual test with her, and gave her a copy to take home to study.

Since it’s all in Hebrew, dd11 doesn’t understand what’s written well-enough to read it and answer on her own, even though she knows the material.  No problem – the test is multiple choice and so she’s memorizing the order of the answers for the twenty four questions.  And not only that, but at least a couple of other kids from English speaking homes (who came a couple of years ago and are now fluent in Hebrew) were given the same test to take home to ‘study’, and they’re doing the same thing.

Dd asked me before she started memorizing if this was cheating, that she didn’t feel right about it.  I told her it seems this is what the administration wants of her, so though it’s not meaningful learning, it doesn’t seem dishonest.  But what kind of message is this about the value of education??  It’s crystal clear to her and all the rest of our kids watching this that this isn’t about her learning or understanding, and that whatever the purpose of this test is, it’s incidental to her.

As much as I’d love to homeschool all the kids under the age of 13, I seem to be in limbo about making a decision for next year.  To a degree, that’s reasonable – I need to see how things go for the kids as they finish this year before drawing conclusions for next year.  And it would certainly be easier in a number of ways to leave them in school, particularly as they seem to pretty much be doing fine – I keep telling myself, as long as the schools do no harm, then it is enough.  But when I think of all the positive messages they could be getting by homeschooling, the emotional development and maturity that is supported without the external negative messages and pressures that need to be countered, the knowledge and skills they could acquire….my heart pulls at me.

So right now I have the discomfort of being in a place of indecision.  Last week I made the decision that they’d definitely homeschool.  Two nights ago I made the decision to leave them in school.  There are some cultural realities here that I haven’t mentally resolved which are making this difficult, and I don’t feel much certainty right now!

You know what my only consolation is?  I really come back to this one again and again.  That the school day here is short so there’s still a good amount of time when they get home.  And that most of the kids will have a nice long summer vacation.


Message from bereaved Tolouse wife and mother

Last week, a gunman claiming sympathy with terrorist group Al Quaeda murdered four Jews in front of a Jewish school in France: Yonatan Sandler, with his two children Aryeh (6) and Gavriel (3), in addition to eight year old Miriam Monsonego.  As a particularly tragic aside, I read that three year old Gavriel was named after Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg, who was murdered by terrorists in Mumbai, India.

As a mother, it’s beyond me the kind of pain the mother of even one child who is killed must be feeling.  To think of losing one’s husband and two children within just minutes is horrifying.  I don’t this woman and in all likelihood never will meet her,  but she’s been on my mind all this past week.  How is she coping?  How will she find the strength to go on?

(The Sandler family earlier this year. From the left Gavriel (6), Rabbi Yonatan, Aryeh (3), and Eva carrying baby daughter.)

Today someone forwarded to me this message from Eva Sandler, and I wanted to share it with all of you.  It’s in difficult times that a person’s true essence shines through, and the strength of this woman’s faith is something we can all learn from.

>>My heart is broken. I am unable to speak. There are no ways for me to be able to express the great and all-consuming pain resulting from the murder of my dear husband Rabbi Jonathan and our sons, Aryeh and Gavriel, and of Miriam Monsonego, daughter of the dedicated principal of Ozar Hatorah and his wife, Rabbi Yaakov and Mrs. Monsonego.

May no one ever have to endure such pain and suffering.

Because so many of you, my cherished brothers and sisters in France and around the world, are asking what you can do on my behalf, on behalf of my daughter Liora and on behalf of the souls of my dear husband and children, I feel that, difficult though it may be, it is incumbent upon me to answer your entreaties.

My husband’s life was dedicated to teaching Torah. We moved back to the country of his birth to help young people learn about the beauty of Torah. He was truly a good man, loving, giving, and selfless. He was sensitive to all of G‑d’s creatures, always searching for ways to reveal the goodness in others.

He and I raised Aryeh and Gavriel to live the ways of Torah. Who would have known how short would be their time on this Earth, how short would be the time I would be with them as their mother?

I don’t know how I and my husband’s parents and sister will find the consolation and strength to carry on, but I know that the ways of G‑d are good, and He will reveal the path and give us the strength to continue. I know that their holy souls will remain with us forever, and I know that very soon the time will come when we will be together again with the coming of Moshiach (the messiah).

I wholeheartedly believe in the words of the verse: “The L-ord has given, and the L-ord has taken away; blessed be the Name of the L-ord.” I thank the Almighty for the privilege, short though it was, of raising my children together with my husband.  Now the Almighty wants them back with Him.

To all those who wish to bring consolation to our family and contentment to the souls of the departed: Let’s continue their lives on this Earth.

Parents, please kiss your children. Tell them how much you love them, and how dear it is to your heart that they be living examples of our Torah, imbued with the fear of Heaven and with love of their fellow man.

Please increase your study of Torah, whether on your own or with your family and friends. Help others who may find study difficult to achieve alone.

Please bring more light into the world by kindling the Sabbath candles this and every Friday night. (Please do so a bit earlier than the published times as a way to add holiness to our world.)

The holiday of Passover is approaching. Please invite another person into your homes so that all have a place at a Seder to celebrate the holiday of our freedom.

Along with our tearful remembrance of our trials in Egypt so many years ago, we still tell over how “in each and every generation, they have stood against us to destroy us.”  We all will announce in a loud and clear voice: “G‑d saves us from their hands.”

The spirit of the Jewish people can never be extinguished; its connection with Torah and its commandments can never be destroyed.

May it be G‑d’s will that from this moment on, we will all only know happiness.

I send my heartfelt condolences to the Monsonego family for the loss of their daughter Miriam, and I pray for the speedy recovery of Aharon ben Leah, who was injured in the attack.

Thank you for your support and love.<<

May we all be blessed with strength during difficult times, and may we never be faced with tragedies such as these again.  And please, do something, some good deed in the merit of this special family who was suddenly torn apart.


Hungry for Change – view free until Mar. 31

‘Oh, great, another real food documentary.’  That’s the unenthusiastic thought that went through my mind when I saw the notice about a new movie, Hungry for Change, that is premiering this week worldwide.  I’ve watched several food related documentaries over the past few years, and though I found them all interesting (except one in particular that I couldn’t make myself watch through the end – Fathead), there’s only so much you can watch on the same topic without it becoming tiresome.

But for some reason despite my lack of enthusiasm I watched the short trailer, and that made me sign up so that I could receive free access to this movie until March 31.  I watched the entire thing today, and I enjoyed it so, so much – more than any of the other food films I’ve watched before.

It was intelligently done, so that someone without a background in health and someone with a lot of knowledge would still come away with something.  But what was really different, was that it wasn’t all about food.  Yes, it started off discussing obesity and ill health, and how food is manufactured to create addiction.  This is a huge issue.  But when I hear people talk as if eating healthy food is all you need to be thin, I feel frustrated because that hasn’t been my personal experience.  What if you don’t eat any processed foods and haven’t for years?  You can’t blame MSG and artificially concocted chemicals for your health issues.  Since my eighth child was born four years ago, I’ve been unable to get back to my ideal weight (after my seventh I did), despite an extremely good (WAP) diet.

Yet after this part of the film, it went on to talk about solutions – solutions that go beyond buying local or organic (though you can hear this referenced in comments, it’s not a main focus).  The way juicing was presented made me rethink my position on it, which I suppose was good since I haven’t seriously considered it since I mentally put it to the side years ago along with low fat vegetarianism as a path to health.

I loved that they then they went on to discuss the non food related aspects of ill health – stress, exhaustion, and the thoughts you put in your mind.   I think all of these are really critical issues, and the latter topic is one I have a special affinity towards.  In all of these points I was able to see areas where I had room to improve (I tend to burn the candle at both ends), and I felt inspired to make positive changes as I watched.

Where I’ve found other programs interesting, I found this something I would really strongly recommend.  I really, really liked this.  I’m going to rewatch it sometime in the next week, despite the pre-Passover period being, hmm, slightly more busy than usual.  :)

Here’s a link for the film –  To get free access, you have to sign in at the top right hand of the screen with your name and email address; at first I couldn’t find this and was a little frustrated that it was supposedly free and I couldn’t view it!


(This post is part of Real Food Wednesdays.)

Ds4 is now out of preschool and at home

It’s amazing to me how many things I want to write about and how many things I either don’t get to or get to after a long time!

One of these things has been the process my four year old is going through in the last couple of months.  Beginning in February, he increasingly requested to stay home.  It was making mornings much less relaxed since he would be ready to go out the door, and would suddenly balk and refuse to leave. This made ds9 and dd11 feel pressured, since they walk him to school and didn’t want to be late for class.  Sometimes he’d get almost to school and suddenly something very small would happen, and he’d refuse to go to in and they’d have to bring him home.

I asked him about why he didn’t want to go, but he wasn’t really able to articulate it.  Which is normal, since he’s only four!  I let him stay home once a week, then twice a week, wanting to see where his feeling about not wanting to go to school was coming from.   He was happy to stay home even if it meant taking a long nap instead of doing fun activities at preschool.

So this continued through the month of February, with him staying home more and more often.  By the time we had our family trip to Tzfat at the end of February, he was staying home most of the week.  After that trip, ds4 went back to preschool just one more time a week later, for the Purim party at his school (which was held after school hours).

I know you’d think it would be a no-brainer for me to let him stay home full-time, being the long time homeschooler that I am, but it wasn’t.  I kept thinking that it will be easier for him next year if he starts kindergarten understanding and speaking Hebrew well; that’s the main reason I put him in preschool and I had to work through my conflicting thoughts about this.  It’s also very different not putting your child into school, than actively pulling them out of a framework – I really had no desire to  insult anyone and having to start explain myself.  In this country, having a 2.5 year old at home with you is strange, and having a four year old with you is so outside of the norm that I think most people have never seen it.

But I saw that ds4 really didn’t want to go to school, and saw no point in insisting a four year be somewhere that wasn’t serving his needs if I had a better option – so I decided to keep him home with me for the rest of the year.  (I waited a month before making this decision, to see if he just wanted to stay home occasionally or if the long term choice would be better.)  I called the school to stop payments, and one of the secretaries told me that I’m making a mistake, that next year is kindergarten and it’s so academic that he won’t be able to keep up if he’s not in preschool this year.  I politely told her that I have a child in the kindergarten this year and know exactly what the learning expectations are (actually, the kindergarten teacher is fantastic and all the learning is through games – she’s very against all the academic pressure that many kindergartens have), and I thought he would be okay.  (When I told dd15 about the secretary’s comment, she lifted an eyebrow and skeptically said, “He knows the English and Hebrew alphabets, his colors and numbers, and can do basic math – how is he not going to be ready for kindergarten?”)

I wondered about the secretary’s comment because it really didn’t seem logical to me, and what I think is that many people don’t really stop to question what their children are learning in school, or what the value of it is.  When I told her ds4 would be staying home with me, it prompted an instinctive response from her that I must be wrong if I was doing something different than what she did.  It wasn’t an unpleasant conversation because she’s a nice person, but it’s never fun to be told by someone (particularly someone who doesn’t really know you) that you’re being an irresponsible parent.  She also said she didn’t know if they’d be able to stop our monthly payments, and would speak to the person in charge about it.

A couple of days went by and I didn’t hear from them.  I really didn’t feel like pursuing this, but it had to be done so I called back and this time got a different secretary.  As soon as she heard my name – oh, my goodness, what a difference!  She started talking to me in such a friendly and warm way, but I was sure I didn’t know who she was.  I soon realized that the kindergarten teacher had told her just a short time before I called about her dilemma – she needed to leave half an hour early and after hours of calls the night before, she couldn’t find anyone to substitute for her – until I heard about it and volunteered to come in and help her out.  Who would have thought a tiny thing like that would be mentioned to anyone?

This secretary right away understood the situation and and made a special effort to call the person in charge at home, who was out that day, to get the financial piece straightened out for me.  So dd4 is officially now off the school books and I have the money that would have otherwise gone to tuition to use towards supplies for him at home.

So how is he doing at home?  He is so much happier and calmer.  Before we moved, I remember often thinking that he was so sweet it was hard to imagine ever getting upset with him.  He was just so full of love and cuddles all the time.  This is something that changed once he went to school, when we began seeing an upswing in resistance, defiance, and aggression.   Some of my older kids wanted me to clamp down on his behavior, but it has to be recognized that a child who feels very securely attached to you emotionally and one who is away for five hours a day are going to behave very different, and have to be responded to with the root issue in mind.  (I have to add here that the behaviors we were seeing are considered ‘typical’ issues for this age  – but what is typical is that most young children have too much separation and frustration in their lives, and it has to show up somewhere.)

Fortunately, I’m home in the mornings – it’s not like I have to be out of the house and I can’t have him home with me.  And I since I have ds2 at home, it’s not like I’m used to having the morning to myself, though having ds4 home definitely changes the dynamic.  Dh and I both feel grateful that we have the luxury of being able to do have him at home now.  So once it was clear that going to preschool wasn’t a good option for him, the logistics of making this decision were pretty easy; I realize that many parents wouldn’t be able to do this even if they wanted to and have no judgments about that.

What was the issue with school?  I wish I could elaborate on what I’ve seen in the preschools and why I feel they are a concern, but don’t want anyone who reads this locally to think I’m saying anything negative about his teachers, who are warm, caring, and dedicated.  One point I will share is that he was in a class of 33 other boys, and I don’t think he felt connected to those taking care of him – when you’re a teacher managing such a large group, your priority is on management, not attachment.  This is reality, not a criticism.  (And this can easily be an issue in a much smaller class.)

So it’s not surprising that he’d rather be home with me, where even if I only read him a book for five minutes and ignored him the next few hours, he’d have more emotional connection and security than he did in preschool (we spend a lot of time interacting together in the morning so I’m not saying that I ignore him but that even if I did, he’s still be coming out ahead).  It’s not surprising that with so much time to connect with me daily, that his frustration and aggression level dropped dramatically (ds13 said, ‘Wow, he’s such a nice kid again now that he’s staying at home!”) and that the supposed discipline issues kind of evaporated.  And now he falls asleep for a very long nap voluntarily every day about an hour before he used to come home from school –  so he’s consistently well-rested now.

What’s better for him about being at home? He feels loved and secure, and gets lots of time with me.  He doesn’t have to vie with a huge group of other kids for a minimal amount of attention.  He doesn’t get lost in the crowd as a result of being a well-behaved child (I saw this happen at the party we were on his final day – it was like he was invisible even when he was standing right where he was supposed to be, waiting to be noticed and responded to).

There’s absolutely no question that he can learn lots more at home than in preschool, in a much more fun and relaxed way.  He has lots of time for free play, we read and cook and clean together…it’s really nice when it’s so easy to change a troublesome situation and meet your child’s needs.  And it’s really nice to have him home.


Seven month aliyah update: emotional transitioning

Today marks seven months since we’ve moved to Israel!

I’ve been thinking alot about making a big lifestyle transition like this – I don’t know if you can overstate what is involved.  Some people are so flexible and fluid that they won’t be as aware of the transitions they have to make on a daily basis, while others will be aware of every bit of effort.  I’ve seen this with a number of people, including our own family.

Dh and I were recently discussing how each of our children has transitioned to living in Israel.  Two of our middle kids have been having the most difficulty, and I commented to him that we have to remember that seven months isn’t really that long a time.  I’ve heard people say that for adults it takes about three years of living here to really feel integrated, with constant and gradual adaptations that need to be made during that time.  I don’t think it takes children that long, but I do think that 1 – 2 years is very reasonable for children of this age.

Had we moved to a city with lots of English speakers, I think in some ways the transition would have been easier for the kids – at least in the short term.  The older kids (13, 15, 17) are all glad we came specifically to a place without many Anglos, and told me that they definitely have been forced to learn Hebrew much faster and better than they would have in an Anglo enclave.  It was important to me that my kids learned Hebrew, and it’s well-known that in Anglo enclaves the kids are delayed in this area, and often don’t learn to speak Hebrew well.

But for those who are having a hard time picking up the language, friendships aren’t happening for them, and this is something that isn’t an issue for them when they interact with English speakers.  Dd11’s tutor was at our bar mitzva seven weeks ago, and saw her interacting very comfortably and animatedly with English speaking guests – the tutor told me later that when she saw this, she realized that this was who dd11 really was, not the shadow of personality they see in school.  It totally changed her picture of her.

I think we’re fortunate in that I’ve never placed a huge emphasis on friendships outside the family, and this experience of not having friends would be much more painful if they were used to their social orbit being filled by peers.  Our children still have each other, and this isn’t a small thing.  However, I think it’s difficult for them to spend hours in an environment every day in which they are basically social wallflowers.

I think a lot about how to support them in this, and take a two pronged attitude towards this.  One is that I try to support their Hebrew language learning at home.  The other isn’t concrete, but I feel is much more significant – I work to shore up the relationship with them, the goal being that their inner needs for emotional connection and being known are being met.  I want them to have a full enough sense of themselves that they can withstand the daily beating that their self-esteem is taking.  It still won’t be fun for them, but at least it won’t be too damaging.  That’s my goal, anyway.   Dr. Gordon Neufeld explains that a parent can protect a child without even being physically present, by having established a strong and deep emotional attachment with them – because what you think of them informs their self-image more than what those around them think of them.

A couple of quick points about what a transition to a new country entails.  The first thing that comes to mind is the language.  When you can’t express yourself, you can’t be seen for who you are, and it is very difficult to interact with others knowing that they really can’t see you for yourself.  Since one of the deepest desires of a human is to be truly known and valued, language struggles aren’t just a superficial issue.

Since moving means leaving behind your family and friends, you’re leaving behind your emotional base at a time when you are most challenged to replace it.  It’s a lonely feeling.  This can be alleviated by moving to a place with more Anglos and a wider support system, but that doesn’t yet exist here.  We were very much on our own, and I think our expectation that we’d have to be our own support network was what saved us from the frustrations and compounded difficulties that others experienced who came here expecting more outside support.

Another issue is that different cultures have different unspoken rules.  I’ve tried to teach my children to be polite and considerate, and the way these qualities are expressed here are different; I’m not sure that what in the US was constantly commented favorably upon serves them well now.  Ds13 told me he realized that when he spoke in a way to his peers that would have been understood as being nice in the US, boys didn’t respond well to it.  He has learned that here, being very direct is respected, and has changed his communication style with his peers as a result.

This is a reality among all cultures – there are inherent differences even when there’s a common language.  I had a British neighbor (who later became a good friend) who early on in our relationship told me how frustrating it was to speak with me – what to an American was considered friendly and open seemed intrusive and nosy to her.  So I learned to tone down my ‘Americanness’ when I spoke with her.    And here we’ll all need time to learn the culture and figure out how to effectively be part of it without losing who we are.

All in all, I think we’re in a good place.  Some of us are thriving, others are getting used to things more slowly.  No one says they are unhappy or wish we didn’t come.  However, time takes time, and I think it’s important to allow each of our family members their own time frame for adjustment.

If you have experience or insights with living in a culture different from one you were raised in, I’d love it if you shared!  How long did it take you to really feel like part of your new culture?  Did you ever really make the transition?  Whether you did or didn’t, what do you think were the critical factors for your experience?


Home remedies for the flu

I realized early on this week that all the kids had the flu (funnily enough, ds18 called home and he has it, too!), though I didn’t feel like mentioning it to anyone in person because I didn’t feel like answering the inevitable question: “You didn’t give them a flu shot?”  Because if I was asked that, I would have felt it necessary to explain that the underlying assumptions about the effectiveness of the flu shot are false, along with a host of other points that I didn’t feel like getting into about vaccines concerns.  And sure enough, the first person I mentioned the flu to exlaimed, “What, you didn’t give them a flu injection?  I take it every year and I never get the flu!”

I really dislike that the seasonal flu is now on its way to being considered life threatening, along with everything else that we have vaccinations for.  Sure enough, this same woman told me about how many people die every year from the flu – as I said, I know when starting even a casual conversation about a topic like this how ready you have to be to intelligently counter the ‘facts’ that people have heard.   

Anyway, let me not get onto the flu vaccine issue!  The flu isn’t fun but it’s really just a super bad cold, and if you can find ways to move through it faster or more easily, that’s a good thing!    Everyone around here has been sleeping lots and drinking plenty of fluids (chicken broth and tea).  My go-to remedy for any sickness is high doses of sodium ascorbate dissolved in juice, but not all of our kids like taking it like this.  

I realized tonight that my brain was on automatic, and I needed to pause and think about other remedies I might have on hand that would be helpful for the kids.  Here’s what I thought of:

– Aconite – this is a homeopathic remedy ideally given at the onset of the flu, which I didn’t do because I wasn’t thinking along these lines.  The early dosage would be 3 pellets of 30 c each; I’m thinking three daily doses along for treating it at this point would be good.  Homeopathics aren’t my first line of defense because it’s not the area I feel most competent with (and I don’t know what happened to most of my remedies when we moved), but I do have aconite on hand so this is a good option even though we didn’t catch it early. 

– Most people are deficient in vitamin D, especially in the winter when the sun isn’t out as often and doesn’t shine as intensely.  Did you ever think about why it’s so common to get sick in the winter and not the summer?  Our vitamin D levels have a lot to do with that!    One of the main immune system functions of vitamin D is to help trigger production of a substance called cathelicidin. Cathelicidin is a naturally produced antibiotic that is able to be made only in the presence of high vitamin D levels in the bloodstream.

The littles have been having cod liver oil a few times a week, but the rest of us haven’t been very consistent with it after my initial efforts.  That’s a good option for vitamin D, but I have high quality vitamin D3 in my cabinet, and this has been shown to be very effective in fighting the flu.  (I researched this back when there was the H1NI/swine flu hysteria going around – here’s one article if you’re interested.)  3000 – 5000 IU of vitamin D3 seem to be recommended just to maintain adequate vitamin D levels; today I gave everyone 10,000 IU right now to fight the flu (this includes all the kids from age 9 and up – the littles are getting just 5000 IU). 

Olive leaf tincture- I made a good sized batch of this back in November.  So I pulled it out and put it to use!  Rather than make everyone aware I was giving them a dose of it, I made a big batch of regular tea (which everyone requests as soon as they wake up from their extended naps), and added a couple of spoonfuls of the tincture to the large container.  The heat will cause the alcohol to evaporate, and the flavor is hardly noticeable because it’s so diluted.

Also, yesterday my first batch of home-cured olives were finished!  These were from the olives that I picked on an outing with ds5 and ds2.  I thought I’d share instructions for this process once we tasted them, but I’m not fully satisfied with the end results – they’re okay but still have a hint of bitterness underneath.  However, as I was eating some today, I was thinking that the effective component in olive leaves is oleuropein, which is bitter.  And the reason that you spend three weeks curing the olives is to remove the oleuropein.  So maybe our health is benefiting by eating olives that still have some bitterness remaining in them!!

A couple of kids had ear pains in addition to other symptoms, and I fortunately had a batch of what I call my ‘ear oil’ already prepared!  Very simply, this is minced garlic that has steeped in olive oil to pull out the healing properties.  Strain, and put a few drops into the ear that has pain.

Another child had red and irritated eyes yesterday – I usually use the homeopathic euphrasia for something like this, but as I said above, most of my remedies disappeared when we moved.  So I did a bit of googling to see what I had in the house that would be useful, and learned that an eyewash made of fennel seeds or raspberry leaves would be helpful to bathe his eye. 

It’s nice to be able to deal with this at home – everyone is feeling kind of yucky, but it’s so valuable to have something in my home arsenal to help my family. 

What are your favourite home remedies for the flu, or even just a cold?   Have you tried any of the things I mentioned, and if so, how effective were they for you?


(This post is part of Real Food Wednesdays.)

Steam treatment for head colds

Today my diligent dd15 went to school in spite of my strong recommendation she stay home another day until she was fully over the flu.  She insisted she felt fine and needed to get back to school, so that she wouldn’t miss too much material.

But the weather today shifted from warm and balmy to cold and rainy, and she came home definitely sick.   Tonight dh suggested that she do a steam head bath, something I had prepared for him a while back when he had a head cold.

This is a simple but effective remedy that will help clear head and nasal stuffiness, as well as chest tightness.  You boil a pot of water, then pour it into a large bowl.  Add a few drops of essential oil to the mixture – tonight dh used eucalyptus oil, but tree tea oil or anything else with camphor-like qualities would also be good. These help clear the sinuses out, and can be found in most health food stores.

[There’s a lot of hype around the quality of different essential oils, and though I happen to use the ones that many people claim are the best (Young  Living – because I was able to barter 60 pounds of spelt for a few bottles of these oils before moving!), I personally have some skepticism about that claim.  I think for this kind of steam treatment, most oils that you find in the store will be helpful.]

After adding several drops of essential oils to the bowl of boiling water, lean over the bowl and drape a towel over your head to hold in the steam.  When I do this, I try to breathe with my mouth open to let the vapors into my lungs (I do this when I have tightness in my chest that makes it hard to breathe).  If you feel it’s getting too hot, lift the towel very briefly for a couple of seconds or totally emerge from the towel.  I try to do this for as long as there’s still steam remaining but it really depends on how you’re feeling – when you’ve had enough, then stop.

When you finish, either pat your face dry or rinse your face with cool water (to close your pores).  Also, have a couple of cups of water to replace any fluids you may have lost during the steam inhalation.  There will usually be a noticeable improvement in how you’re feeling!


(This post is part of Monday Mania and Real Food Wednesdays.)