Monthly Archives: September 2013

Homeschooling – finding time to do it all?

>>How do you maintain your energy, keep the laundry, home, and kitchen in order, make sure everyone is occupied with educational things, and maintain your mental health for the sake of your children?  I hope I don’t sound too negative, just wondering how you “pull it off”?<<

I’ll tell you right off the bat that a huge part of this answer is about attitude and expectations.  I see that those who think that every bit of information has to be taught in a traditional school format tend to have much more stress than those who believe that learning is something that happens naturally. My academic focus is on the skills of reading and writing (in Hebrew and English) and math.  Once they have strong skills in these areas, I know they’ll be able to learn anything.  I either integrate other topics like history and science into our reading or treat it as extracurricular.  This trust in a child’s desire to learn and in the natural learning process takes a lot of pressure off.

An acquaintance with 14 children called a couple of weeks ago and upon learning I was homeschooling, asked me several times, “But when do you get anything done?  When do you rest?”  I find homeschooling easier than having kids in school but it certainly takes effort!  A general plan for the day helps me get things done in a way that feels balanced to me.

I do a load of laundry before I go to sleep.  As soon as I wake up, I hang that load and put another one in.  The little kids are always awake by now and they play together while I’m doing this.  Then I make breakfast and everyone eats together. By the time we’re finished, the next load is ready and I hang that out.  Then if necessary I put another load in the washer.  I wash the dishes and neaten up the living room/dining room and kitchen and ask the kids to make their beds and put their dirty clothes in the hamper and pajamas away.  After the house is in order, our official homeschooling time begins.  This is around 9 am.

By about 12 – 1 pm, I’m wrapping up my active involvement with the kids’ learning though of course I continue to be involved with them when the academics are officially done!  And of course the learning continues beyond this time, too!  I hang out the next load of laundry and start to make lunch around then, and my goal is to have lunch ready about 1:30 – 2 pm.  We sit down to lunch together and afterwards, this is when I rest if I’m feeling like I need it.  Sometimes I ask the older kids to keep an eye on the younger ones, but often I have quiet time for everyone in the family and the older kids can read quietly while the younger kids and I nap.  After about an hour, we have time for friends and outdoor play.  Then we do a quick pick up of the house, have dinner together, get ready for bed and have bedtime readalouds.  That’s our day in a nutshell!

I’ve found it works best for me to dedicate the morning hours to homeschooling, and that means I’m not available for other things.  Not cleaning, not errands, not cooking, not anything else.  I don’t answer the phone in the mornings (unless it’s one of my older kids calling), I try to schedule appointments either very early in the morning or  later in the day, and I stay off the computer.  The computer can be a big time suck because you can get on to check one email and before you know it you’re checking this and then reading that and then it’s an hour later with your kids getting restless because you’re not present for them.

I try to limit my personal computer time to the evenings when the younger kids are in bed.  I tend to stay up too late; I’m working on getting to sleep earlier but this is an ongoing challenge for me.  It’s much easier now that the oldest kids aren’t home and I’m optimistic that as we get back into our rhythm that this will improve; having teens who stay up late shifted everyone’s sleep schedule later.  Getting enough sleep is critical to our physical health and emotional functioning; we all know that but most of us still don’t make this a priority!  

Being able to get to sleep earlier and have time for the things we need to do also depends on our ability to say ‘no’.  We can’t do it all, and we have to guard our energy so it’s available for what is most important to us.  For me, this means cutting down on things that I would like to do and being honest with myself that when I go outside of these parameters, someone is going to be compromised – and it’s usually myself.  It also means valuing my energy and recognizing my needs as at least as important as the needs of everyone else.

Time for myself is critical, and I think I’m like most mothers in that I don’t allot enough to this.  I enjoy spending time with the kids and don’t usually feel I need to get away.  But I still appreciate time with other women.  For the past few months I’ve been attending a weekly lecture that I’ve really enjoyed, but that’s unfortunately ending next week.  I attend periodic social activities and when the kids have play dates or I take them to the park, it’s often a nice opportunity for me to chat with other moms.  For a while this spring/summer I was making regular time once a week to get out by myself, but I didn’t maintain that and now that dh is back (after four months away) I’m not feeling it’s as critical.  Dh usually takes care of the bedtime routine so that gives me a break every evening that I really appreciate.

As you can see, you don’t have to be Superwoman to homeschool. What you do have to do is be willing to prioritize and use your energies toward what is most important for you.


Trip to Madatech Science Center

Last week we went to Madatech, a science center in Haifa.  It’s the kind of place I like to take the kids but like most of the museums, zoos, etc here, it’s pricey – entrance fees are 70 shekels ($20) for a child, 90 shekels ($25) for an adult – and when you add that to the bus fares to get here, we’re looking at almost $200 for a visit to a science center just for five kids!  So when I learned that there would be free admission to science museums across the country in honor of annual Science Night, we took the opportunity!  We spent about 140 shekels ($40) on transportation getting to Haifa, so it was a relatively frugal evening of fun.

This was our first trip since the older kids aren’t living at home full-time and we felt like a very small family with just six kids.  Different but nice.

They have a great outdoor area in which scientific principles are demonstrated in a hands-on way.  Below is the pulley area – ds7 is pulling on a boat with a single pulley, next to it is a boat with a double pulley- they then determine which is easier to pull.

e - boat pulley e - boat pulley 2

Here is a fun structure showing the power of a lever.  A globe with people sitting inside is pulled at two different points by the lever.  Our family in the globe:

globe pulley 1 globe pulley 2

Pulling the lever from different places:

globe pulley 3 globe pulley 4

We waited on line for forty minutes for this but thought it would be worth the experience for the kids.  This is a pedal controlled helicopter, almost like a ride at an amusement park but more labor intensive – how fast you go depends on how much you can pedal.

Ds7 went first.

heli 1 heli 2

Then ds4.

heli 3

Then ds6.

heli 4

As we were getting ready to exit the outdoor area, we bumped into a homeschooling family we know.  They have a daughter the same age as dd12; the two of them met for the first time for about three minutes on our trip to Kfar Kedem, a week later they came to the homeschooling park meet that I arranged in Karmiel, then they saw each other at the NBN picnic last month and here they got to spend more time together.  There aren’t many homeschooling families with girls her age and each time they meet has given them a chance to get to know each other a bit more.  By now they seem quite friendly and comfortable with each other!

There were crowds in just about every room, but when we got inside we found a quiet room with displays of birds and animals.

madatech 1

And then another quiet spot in the lego room.  After a short time, ds4 and ds7 opted to go with dd12 and ds11 to different parts of the museum, but ds6 was content to spent a long, long time building here.  The volunteer in the room watched him building carefully for a long time and finally came over and told me, “You have a future engineer there.”  I smiled and said, “Maybe.”  (The idea has already occurred to me.)  She said she expected me to say he would be a rabbi.  I told her that there’s no reason he can’t be both.

lego 2

Ds7 and ds4, watching a toy advance along a wire near the ceiling.

lego 1

Push the button and see how the inside of a car looks when the motor starts running.

madatech 2

Dd and ds11 had a fantastic time exploring the museum together.  They told me they wished they had an entire day to spend there. They sped through the exhibits so they could see as much as possible and would have loved more time to understand each one.  We met them again at the end – below they are in a car on a slanted track, where they are suddenly plunged down and stopped abruptly.  Here they are just after strapping in.

madatech 3

There was a room dedicated to the inventions of Leonarda da Vinci. We didn’t spend much time on it then because there was so much to see and do, but now we’ve used the trip as a springboard for learning about da Vinci and his inventions.  Very fascinating stuff.

It was a long, long day. We left Karmiel at about 3:30, got to the museum at 5 pm and stayed until they closed at 10 pm.  From there we had a local bus back to the central bus station, then a bus to Karmiel.

On Haifa bus to central bus station:

bus home

Our trip got longer when the bus to Karmiel broke down on the highway.  Ds11 and dd12 thought this was fun since they got off the bus and got to walk around outside at midnight along the side of the highway.  Memories.  :)  I stayed in the bus with the younger four sleeping boys and we woke them up to transfer them when the new bus finally arrived over 30 minutes later.  We got home at 12:30 am and were greeted by ds14, who had come home for his school vacation while we were gone.

My husband doesn’t usually get to go with us on outings like this and it was really nice that this time he was able to get off work early to go with us.  It was such a wonderful trip!


Against expert’s advice – 13 year old genius pulled from special ed classes shines

A friend who is an inclusion specialist sent me links for the following videos with the comment that this makes a powerful case for unschooling.  Featured is a thirteen year old boy who was autistic, supposedly would never talk and couldn’t learn, whose parents despite their fear went against the advice of the experts, and pulled their son out of special education classes, noting that the longer he was there the more he was fading away.  Instead, they tried a different approach – to let him explore his passion.  And he’s now on track to win a Nobel Prize

Check out this link to read more!  It includes an interview of him with 60 Minutes as well as a Ted Talk that he gave.  Parents have such a strong sense of who our kids are and what they need, but it’s easy to discount that when people who are trained specialists tell us we’re wrong.  These parents talk about the fear they had of doing something against the ‘experts’ advice’ but by listening to their inner voice, they freed their child to become who he was able to be.




Our sukka 2013

This is our third Sukkos since moving to Israel in August 2011.  The first year we were able to use the sukka of the shul close to our home and made a small sukkah on our porch for sleeping and snacking (we don’t have a yard).  Last year we built our own sukka in our parking lot but it was small, and with just three guests we felt we were really stretching the space limitations.

This year ds14 had a brainstorm!  He realized if he used the same number of boards but left one side of the sukka open, he could double the size of the sukka.  He and ds20 put it all together and it worked out beautifully!  It’s not as large as our sukka in the US, which was 16′ x 20′, but at 16′ x 12′ it’s a comfortable size and we’re delighted with his idea.  Unfortunately I didn’t know we’d have this much room so I couldn’t invited guests until the last minute, by which point everyone was booked.  That’s okay.  Ds20 and dd17 are home so it’s almost a full house – just dd18 is missing.  (And we really, really miss her.)

A parking lot might sound like a seedy place for a sukka but in our case it’s a quiet and private location.  There are five buildings like ours on the street and we share a large lot with the building next door; the other three buildings have limited spots in front of the buildings and no lot.   Our parking lot has 20 spots for the twenty families in the two buildings, and at least ten of those families don’t have a car. And since I live at the end of a street, almost everyone prefers to park in front of the building instead of in the lot. That  means that at least 3/4 of the lot is usually empty – we’re very blessed in having so much space to use.    Our sukka is on the far side of the lot, which is paved with brick and surrounded by hedges and flowers.

Our sukka from the outside

It’s a little bit of a walk to the sukka from our house – about two minutes – but we try to be organized and bring out everything at one time after washing for hamotzi so we don’t have to go up and down.  Then when we finish our meal we bring everything back in at one shot – it works as long as everyone takes something!  Last year the kids loved it – the lot is lit so even at night they could run around outside and make noise without it bothering anyone.  Since I try to be careful about noise due to having neighbors underneath us, this was very relaxing for us all!

Here’s a view of the inside.  I did warn the kids I was going to post this on my blog so they should get out of the picture, but they didn’t pay attention.  So now you see what our spontaneous life looks like!

View towards entrance door

View towards entrance door

Here’s the open side of the sukka.  As you can see, it faces hedges that are about eight (10?) feet high so we have privacy in addition to lovely greenery surrounding us and lack of a wall between where the sukka ends and the hedges begins makes the sukka feel much bigger than it is.  Ds is standing next to the pole which is the halfway point in the picture below – that’s where the sukka ended last year before it was extended.

inside sukka 3 - 1

We got ready early enough that there was time for everyone to relax a little midday.

Some of the kids relaxing in the sukka

Some of the kids relaxing in the sukka

Dd12 and Yirmiyahu (14 months)

Dd12 and Yirmiyahu (14 months)

For those of you celebrating Sukkos, from our family to yours, have a wonderful holiday!

Family Sukkos 2013- 1


Matbucha – Moroccan tomato dip

Here’s the matbucha recipe that I was asked about last week – our family thought it had the right balance of flavorfulness without being too spicy.

Matbucha – Moroccan Tomato Dip

  • 7 tomatoes, diced
  • 1 green pepper, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 T. sweet paprika
  • 3 – 5 T. olive oil
  • 1/2 t. tumeric
  • salt and pepper to taste

Mix all the ingredients and put into a pot.  Cook on a high flame until the mixture comes to a boil, then turn flame down to low and cook uncovered for two hours (yes, that’s not a typo!) or until the mixture thickens.  (I made several times this recipe and was surprised by how much it cooked down.)  Serve warm or cold.

(This post is part of Real Food Wednesdays.)


Figuring out hidden health issues with Yirmiyahu

I haven’t been able to find much time for blogging about the many significant things on my mind, and hope you don’t think I’ve disappeared!

Since the older kids are out of the house, I spend more of my free time speaking to them on the phone in the evenings, which cuts down on my blogging time.  And an ongoing area where I invest a lot of time is reading about issues relating to Trisomy 21 and trying to wrap my head around them.  Methylation cycles, folate receptors and stuff like that honestly make me want to yawn immediately.  I don’t enjoy the details of bio-chemistry; I’m very much a big picture person and the kind of details I have to now try to understand are almost overwhelming for me.  Since Yirmiyahu has been born I’ve done so much reading and I feel like I’m barely getting the gist of most of it.  Unfortunately, it’s still more than many doctors know (which is understandable since how much experience is any one doctor going to have with T21? and they can’t spend the time that I can on this) and that’s really frustrating since I’d like medical advisors who understand my questions and can help me find answers.

When Yirmiyahu was ten days old, I asked his pediatrician about having his MTHFR status tested.  She told me she never heard of it and that I’m making problems for myself with my internet research.  Undeterred, I spoke to the geneticist when he was two weeks old, sure that she would have experience with this.  She had never heard of it.  Undeterred, I spoke to his pediatric hematologist that same day.  He also didn’t know what I was talking about.  That was my first experience and it was to become typical of my experiences in the year to come.

Here’s what I’ve been working on for the last few months.  I’ve been concerned that Yirmiyahu’s thyroid isn’t functioning properly, and believe he has some signs of being hypothyroid.  Lately I’ve been deep into reading about the thyroid.  Did I mention I really dislike biochemistry?  I really really really don’t enjoy it and I feel a lot of pressure to figure this out whether I like it or not.  I have a strong feeling that when it comes to Yirmiyahu’s health, “If it is to be, it’s up to me”.  I know that sounds arrogant, but believe me, I really don’t  mean it like that.  I wish I didn’t have to figure out so much by myself, I wish the doctors would help me address issues instead of mostly telling me that everything is fine or what do I expect, he has T21.  I constantly battle feelings of frustration that as a lay person I have to figure things out; this frustration is coming from my fear that Yirmiyahu is going to be negatively impacted if I don’t figure this out.  Fortunately I believe that God plays a large role in this or I would have a lot more resentment and pressure than I do.

Months ago I made an appointment with the specialist in the country on T21.  I did this specifically to discuss the thyroid issue with someone knowledgeable about how this affects people with Down syndrome and what can be done about it.  After a three month wait, I had the appointment.  I told him the signs that I thought were pointing to hypothyroid, and I was pleasantly surprised that he took me seriously and said I was very likely right.  However, he ran the bloodwork following that appointment and so I wasn’t able to discuss the results with him that day.  I did ask him about his approach to treating it; he said he was very aggressive (good) but didn’t know anything about natural thyroid treatment (bad).

I got the test results and wasn’t able to reach this doctor to discuss the numbers, so I took them to my pediatrician, who said they looked normal.  I didn’t think so.  I sent them to another mom of a child with T21 who has become a bit of a self-educated expert on thyroid issues, who told me they looked ‘wonky’ and asked for permission to send it to someone much more knowledgeable than her.  (That someone is flat out amazing; I’ve become familiar with her in another venue and I’m awed by what she knows about thyroid stuff.)

The answer I got back was a relief, since she said there’s a good chance we don’t yet have a thyroid issue but a lack of nutrients that are manifesting as thyroid issues.  It doesn’t mean everything is okay – everything isn’t okay – and I spent hours this week working out what supplements to get him, in what form, etc, in order to address this.  It was interesting how her recommendations intersected with other health issues I’ve been researching.  All the concerns I was researching as separate issues seem to be linked to some key nutrients that he’s deficient in, specifically folinic acid, B12 and l-5MTHF.   I was leery of supplementing folate because of oxidative stress issues in the T21 population – it’s not as as simple as, ‘notice a deficiency, give a supplement’ – and he can’t swallow pills so that’s why I needed time to work out the specifics.  I’m so grateful to other T21 moms for paving the way and sharing their experience because this would be incalculably more difficult without them.

I’m hopeful that once we get started with these supplements that we’ll start seeing some changes.  I’ll be looking for changes in his energy- he’s become less and less active over time; he’s still the same sweet natured baby but he seems tired and weaker than he was months ago.  I’m also hoping for an increase in growth.  I’ve repeatedly told the doctors that I think something’s wrong, that he’s very small and not growing enough.  I have nine other kids who were in the 95% for height and at least 75% for weight.  Yirmiyahu has the same genes as them (obviously excepting the issue of the triplication of the 21st chromosome) and he’s off the charts small,   They told me that kids with Down syndrome are all small.  And why do they think that is?  Could it be because there are underlying issues that aren’t being treated?  This answer is one that grates on my nerves a lot, it’s like an excuse for not giving him the treatment he needs.

I’m still concerned that there may be an iron absorption issue, something that is keeping him from absorbing the nutrients that he’s getting.  But I’m hoping for the best, and if  I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.


Top ten mistakes when raising bilingual children – article

Eventually I’m going to finish writing my post on my thoughts on teaching kids Hebrew if you’re a native English speaker homeschooling in Israel. Eventually.  That seems like everything in my life lately….I get to things but it’s all taking longer than I would like.  Especially when I keep having more and more things to say about that topic!

One of the more relaxing things I’ve been recently spending time learning about lately is early literacy and how that intersects when there are two languages you want to teach your child.  I just found this website and though I’ve only looked at it briefly so far, it seems to have a lot of interesting information that I’m sure will be helpful to those of you who want to raise bilingual children.

On this site, they list the ten mistakes parents make when raising bilingual children (in this context when they say ‘raising’ they mean the aspect of teaching your child a language):

“- Don’t teach — make it fun and natural.
– Don’t make a big deal of the languages — but do explain the usage.
– Don’t correct — just repeat the words correctly.
– Don’t ask your child to “show off,” — but praise him if he volunteers.
– Don’t mix languages yourself — a consistent language system provides structure, predictability, and security. This in turn promotes learning.
– Don’t rely on recordings — speak or sing to your baby directly and intently.
– Don’t be shy — use your language in public even if you sometimes feel embarrassed.
– Don’t make abrupt changes to your child’s language environment — go slow and explain what’s happening.
– Don’t wait to expose your child to a second or third language — the earlier your child starts, the easier it will be for everyone.
– Don’t wait! We really mean it! If not now, probably never.

But Do: praise, encourage, and have fun! “

This fits in nicely with my views on education, in that I strongly feel that education of whatever topic matter should be interesting and relevant to the child, low pressure, the approach used should be as integrated and natural as possible and above all, keep it enjoyable!


How to make brown sugar

It was my dd18 who first discovered this.  Fortunately when ds11 was making oatmeal cookies he remembered that there was an alternate to make brown sugar since he needed some for his recipe, and I would have just told him to use an equal amount of sugar instead.  Making your own brown sugar is such a money saver and is so incredibly simple that I have to share it with you – try not to be overwhelmed by how easy it is!

  • 1 c. granulated sugar
  • 1 T. molasses (for light brown sugar) or 2 T. molasses (for dark brown sugar)

Mix until thoroughly combined.  Use as called for in recipe.  That’s it!

(For those of you wondering, since moving to Israel I’ve begun using white sugar, since the alternative sweeteners I had been using for so many years are either not available here or are way out of my price limits.  We’re able to mostly limit this to Shabbos and holidays and skip making the healthy breakfast bars, muffins, etc that used to be staples here.)


Pomegranate Salad

This is an easy and delicious salad that our family loves.  It’s perfect for this time of year when pomegranates are seasonal and the kids pick lots and bring them home.

Pomegranate Salad

  • 1 large head romaine lettuce, chopped
  • 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 c. pomegranate seeds (you can use more or less according to availability and preference
  • 1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 c. date syrup/honey (if you use sugar, use 1/2 c. sugar and 2 T. honey)
  • 1/4 c. grape juice
  • 1/4 c. vinegar
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 t. mustard
  • 1/2 t. salt

Put the romaine, onion and pomegranate seeds in a large salad bowl.  In a glass jar, mix the remaining ingredients, shaking very well or blending with immersion blender (my preference).  Pour over the salad right before serving and enjoy!


Rosh Hashana 2013 menu plan

This year Rosh Hashana is immediately followed by Shabbos, making it a three day holiday.  Although you’re allowed to cook on Rosh Hashana, my preference is not to because then my entire holiday becomes cooking, setting up for the meal, serving, cleaning up, and cooking some more.  That doesn’t allow for me to feel the spirit of the day, so I try to prepare everything in advance.

Below is a list of the foods we’ll be making for Rosh Hashana.  Some are old standbys, some are new for this year.

  • Round challahs
  • hummus (chickpea and white bean dip)
  • matbucha (spicy cooked tomato dip)
  • dill dip
  • simanim salad for Rosh Hashana night meals
  • pomegranate salad
  • red cabbage salad
  • cucumber salad
  • cabbage salad with peanut butter dressing
  • corn salad
  • tomato salad
  • bisli salad
  • Moroccan carrot salad
  • apple spoon kugel
  • onion kugel
  • sweet and sour pineapple beets
  • ratatouille
  • chef salad (I’m still considering if this should be a main course for the second day meal of Rosh Hashana)
  • baked fish
  • roast chicken
  • baked sweet potato rounds
  • oatmeal cookies
  • brownies
  • two tone honey marble cake
  • birthday cake for ds6

When there are so many festive meals, it’s easy to feel weighed down by so much food.  I’ve found by having lots of salads and not so many starchy side dishes that everyone feels comfortably full but not weighed down by the food.

Usually I make a number of dishes for the simanim (symbolic foods), and this year decided to do something different and have a big salad that will incorporate as many of these foods as possible – I think I should be able to get just about everything except the fish in.   This idea has never appealed to me before, but now it does – it feels much simpler and I think everyone will like it just as much as what I’ve previously done.

If there’s a recipe you want to see, please let me know  – things are really busy  so I make no promises but I’ll try to put it up in time for Rosh Hashana!