Sunday, November 30, 2008

Our Week of Learning

Our week of learning was a bit abbreviated...

Early Monday morning, Raizel came in and swiped my glasses before I was fully conscious and before I knew it they were utterly broken. It took until 11:00 that morning to find a somewhat-functioning second pair that allowed me to drive us all to the m-m-m-mall (I call it getting "malled") so I could get a replacement pair at one of those one-hour places. The insurance had just paid for the last pair a few months ago, so first had to go get a copy of my prescription.

We had a delightfully unexpected visitor call on Sunday to say that she was driving up on a whim from the Bay Area. JK stayed for two nights and got to meet Avi and Raizel for the first time. It was a fun, if brief, visit.

Then papa had Thursday and Friday off. Thursday we went to the zoo with 25,000 other people who thought it was a great thing to do on a rainy day. We thought it would be empty, but it was packed. Didn't realize it was free admission day! A&E were very excited because, since there was no parking, that meant we got to take the big yellow school bus from the satellite parking lot. I hadn't packed lunch, just a few meager snacks, and everything took longer than expected. We came home really hungry!

Friday, I finished cooking (but I got most of it done earlier in the week... YAY!), and papa did a run to the dump and Good Will. He was also going to take 4 boxes and 3 bags of kid clothing to the resale shop, but it hadn't occurred to us that they would be closed. Oh, well. It was a nice try!

So....... our learning!

We did tefillos and parsha. Amirah's new Hebrew books arrived, so we eagerly dove into the first few pages of those. It's exactly what I hoped it would be. We did one morning of alef bet with Eli and Raizel. Our mitzvah of the week was derech eretz (basically, good manners) and we will continue that this coming week since it's a biggie and we only spent one session on it. The melacha of the week was m'amer (gathering, i.e. sheaves of wheat). We only got to that once, and it really needs to be studied daily for a week to get into (our!) brain. Amirah finished four reading lessons. I think we did writing one day and math one day. We have finished Little Town on the Prairie and couldn't find the next book, which I'm almost certain I already got from the library... have to check.

On Monday for art, we did print-making. This is a GREAT activity that we've done before. You take a hard surface (cookie sheet or, in our case, shoe boxes) and paint a very light coat of black paint on the box. With a finger you draw a picture or design in the paint then you press a piece of construction paper or card stock onto the paint and lift the image off. If you do several, you can tape them together into a big poster. Eli loved this one, and Amirah's friend N joined us too. They had a good time. After that we did music class with Amirah's friends N and L. It was great fun. I'm so glad we're doing this. Avi loves playing the drums, and he even keeps a steady beat! The other kids seemed to enjoy it a lot. It's going to be great having this every week.

That's about it for now! I spent Friday night reading The Well-Trained Mind and daydreaming about 1st grade materials. I'm also starting to think how to fit everything in (Jewish studies and secular) and not get overwhelmed! Learning is such a smorgasbord. :) It's also nice to get into my head we're we are headed to next year. What a ride.

Heavy Heart

The rabbi and his wife were murdered. This is an event of unspeakable evil. The horror they must have felt in their last moments is unimaginable. B"H their 2-year-old son, Moshe, escaped in the arms of his nanny. This young couple was in India to do nothing but bring Jews back to Judaism (Jews do not proselytize to non-Jews) and provide hospitality to any Jew traveling in India. The building they had for this purpose was a pre-selected target by these most evil of rashaim. Here is a link to more details about the horror.

When a horrible event like this occurs, it is a traditional practice to make a new commitment to a mitzvah. I have decided on a couple of things.

1) BE"H, I will learn to recite tehillim (psalms) with pirush hamilos (knowing the translation of the words being said). Tehillim are said daily, and many tehillim are said in times of distress. I have started with psalm 1 and psalm 20. I will recite them and study the words until I really know them. And BE"H study more after that!

2) I have started to learn to read Rashi. Rashi is an 11th-century commentator on the torah, and it is the first commentary that students learn. He brilliantly elucidates the basic meaning of the text and fills in some blanks that are answered in the oral torah. Fortunately, I have 3 years before Amirah begins to study Rashi! Our rebbetzin has started a text-based torah study class (harder to find in Portland than one might think!!), and while the other three are working on the torah text, I'm going to work on the Rashi. Rashi script is different from Hebrew script. Six or seven of the letters are utterly different, and the rest are different but pretty close. The script was not actually used by Rashi himself, but rather was used by typesetters to ensure that his comments were not confused with the text of the torah itself. His commentary is printed in almost all chumashim (the first 5 books of torah). But not with vowels! I need to get an edition that includes vowels. Traditionally, Hebrew is not printed with vowels, unless you're a student just learning to read or it's a newspaper for non-native speakers!

May the memory of Rabbi and Rebbetzin Holtzberg be for a blessing, and may we know no more sorrow. And may we all perform acts of chesed/kindness that will make this world a better place.

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Menu

Herring beet walnut salad
Chicken noodle soup
Mashed potatoes
Roasted sesame cabbage
Green salad
Mixed roasted vegetables
Apple cake

100% comfort food. Kind of like Thanksgiving food. :)

We don't really do anything for Thanksgiving. There's nothing in orthodox Jewish law that prohibits it, though many orthodox Jews simply don't celebrate non-Jewish holidays. Three years ago we were traveling on Thanksgiving and had Chinese take-out and thought it was one of the best Thanksgivings we had ever had, largely because of the total novelty of getting kosher Chinese takeout. It also felt really odd to have a big meal the night before shabbat. Usually, in anticipation of all the delicious delicacies that enhance our enjoyment of shabbat, we have a very simple Thursday night meal. Thursday is usually breakfast night - pancakes, eggs, waffles, omelets. I just don't like the feeling of shabbat getting upstaged by a different meal the night before.

What's the purpose of Thanksgiving? Why was it declared in the first place? Here are excerpts from what George Washington declared when he proclaimed the first Thanksgiving Day:

It will be "a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness."

That this day "be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be. That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks..."

It is a day to be thankful for God's care and protection; for tranquility, union, and plenty; for our national government; for civil and religious liberty; and for all of God's favors.

These are all very Jewish notions that are present in our daily tefillos (prayers) and thoughts, and most especially during the holiest time of shabbat. We are, I hope, continually thankful and grateful for all that we have. To have a day set aside for this just feels odd to me, when our religion already has so much of it built into our daily lives. Shabbat really is the ultimate Thanksgiving.

So, we had Eggs Benedict tonight, and it was yummy. And tomorrow we will have our thanksgiving feast as we do every week. We will take a pause in our normal stream of time, set aside prayers for things we lack just as we do every shabbat, and thank God for the incredible abundance that we have in this place and time in which we are living.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Prayers Needed

We are all davening for the Jews and British and American citizens that have been targeted in the horrible terrorist attacks in Mumbai. Many of us in the west cannot comprehend this kind of hatred. As far as is known, there are currently eight Jewish hostages being held, including a rabbi and his wife. Please daven for Gavriel Noach ben Freida Bluma and Rivka bas Yehudis. B"H today is a national holiday so that Jews everywhere can pray for the safety of these families.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Quote of the Week

Mama: Eli, what would you really like to do today?
Eli: Learning!!!!!

So we did, just Eli and me, for a half-hour on the couch. He was a real sweetie today, going out of his way to do nice things for his siblings, giving his mama those much-treasured boy hugs and kisses (rarer than the girl hugs and kisses!), using all his best manners and just being a yummy little boy. It was really cute.

Tomorrow, we are the lucky recipients of a surprise visit from JK, who will be visiting for a few days. We're looking forward to that!!!!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

This Week's Art Projects

We did a lot of little projects this week. This one was fun. We made 4 vertical lines and 4 horizontal lines, then erased and added random straight lines to create many different rectangles and squares. We went over the lines in heavy black crayons, then filled in the shapes with primary colors (red, blue, yellow). It was really fun to watch Eli carefully fill in his squares. He really liked this project.



On a different day I printed off simple outlines of a dove and a fish. We filled them in with paper mosaic tiles.





I'm not sure what made us decide to do an Israeli flag, but Amirah decided this would be a fun project...

A while ago we made several of these but I didn't post it. We took coffee filters and folded them many times. Then we dipped the point and edges into food coloring diluted with water. These turned out beautiful!

That's the week of art!

Our Week of Learning

I love my job. I love my job. I love my job. There. Just had to get it out of my system. :)

We had a nicely busy week, just humming along. The S Family came over one night and we did a slide show of their recent trip to Israel. Very fun to see pictures of their trip and share in the adventure. It was also lovely to daydream about taking our whole family some day, BE"H. After the Israel slides, we screened one of the episodes from Blue Planet. Breathtaking. We love this whole series. Did you know a coral reef releases its eggs and sperm in one big orchestrated evening every year? The closeup video they had of the eggs being released really took our breath away. Now for the nitty-gritty.

Still just status quo, same as the last two weeks. Last week and in the coming week (and probably the next!) we'll have a focused effort put into the words of Een Kelokeinu - understanding the text and memorizing the verses at least well enough to follow my lead.

Each week we sing a little sing-song verse to memorize the names of the parshas in sefer Bereishit (genesis). We've started the sixth parsha of twelve tonight, and so far Amirah (and Raizel!) can sing all the parshas in order. I wonder if we can make it to twelve? We read My First Parsha book as soon as shabbat was over and sang our little song. It's nice to start the week right away with a taste of the new week's parsha. We've also started having very lively parsha quizzes on Friday nights and Saturdays, and it's a real pleasure to actually be having more involved parsha discussions at the table with the kids. I love this, and look forward to more and more.

MITZVA OF THE WEEK: burying the dead
In this week's parsha, Avraham buys the cave of Machpelah for Sarah's grave. We talked about the chevra kadisha, the group of men or women that stays with the body from the moment of death until the body is buried. They guard the body, wash it, dress the body in a white shroud, and recite tehillim. The body is placed in a plain wooden coffin (unless they are buried in Israel in which case no casket is used at all). All Jews, rich or poor, are buried alike in this manner. No fancy caskets, no fancy outfits, no flowers. We go out as we came in. We don't burn bodies because that was the tradition of the pagan religions that surrounded us in our beginnings. And since World War II that thought has become even more abhorrent (though that was not part of our discussion this week!). The chevra kaddisha is considered to perform one of the greatest acts of chesed (kindness) because it is a favor that cannot be returned.

MELACHA OF THE WEEK: kotzer (reap)
We had a lot of fun acting out plowing our field (choresh), planting our field (zoreah), and reaping our crop (kotzer). We have these three melachot down pretty well. We learned that we don't cut down flowers or plants or trees on shabbat. We also may not smell a flower that is growing for we might be tempted to cut it. If the flowers are already cut, then it is okay. We also can't climb a tree because we might break a branch.

We continued our study of chesed because it is so much a part of the last parsha and this one. Eliezer goes in search of a wife for Yitzchak, and decides that whichever girl offers water to both him and his camels will make a suitable wife for Yitzchak. Yitzchak, like Avraham, will be doing a lot of kiruv (outreach) and will need a wife who is kind and hospitable (more discussions of hachnasat orchim!). He is successful in his search, and brings home Rivka. She enters the tent of Sarah, and, like for Sarah, her shabbat candles stayed lit for a week, her challah miraculously multiplied, and the cloud of the shechinah (divine presence) hovered over their tent.

Swimming along here. We're on lesson 70 of 100! Eli loves doing Get Ready for the Code. He loves figuring out words that begin with the letters we're studying and doing a couple of pages in his book as it suits him. I always let him say yes or no to doing it.

HWOT has been a nice little book, but I think it wasn't really necessary to buy it. I could have easily produced practice sheets for her. On the other hand, it was only $7 or so, so I guess it saves me quite a bit of time! I've really been using a more Charlotte Mason approach - short writing assignments with a focus on producing beautifully formed letters. I really think this is the way to do it, instead of practicing a bunch of letters that get increasingly poor. Also, we always stop after writing 4 or 5 letters or words and circle the one that was the most accurately written so she really recognizes what looks good. I only ask for a page per day, and sometimes she does more than this.

Amirah loves math. She's been doing at least twice as much as I think we "ought" to do. Right now we're doing addition with numbers 1-10, including doing things like 5 + ? = 8. Getting ready for subtraction! We're also working on number lines and counting up, i.e. when you have 5+3 you say "5" then count "6, 7, 8" instead of counting from 1 to 8. She gets a kick out of it. Eli is working on recognizing the numbers 1 to 5 and counting objects.

We're about 2/3 through Little Town on the Prairie. Laura just got to go for a first ride in Almanzo's buggy, and Nellie Olsen showed up in town (and school). We've also added a few other companions. I've decided to read one Jewish folk tale every day. Right now we're reading My Grandmother's Stories. Really well-told, and many of the stories have charming twists and details that are not quite expected.

In our geography book, we reviewed chapter one, and started in on chapter two. We learned about the atmosphere, and how Hashem created the waters below (water) and the waters above (atmosphere). In Hebrew the words are mayim (water) and shamayim (heavens, lit. "fire waters"). Fire water is a really interesting image to use in thinking of the gases in the atmosphere. We had fun with that. We'll continue Chapter 2 this week. There are 11 chapters, and we're wandering through it slowly, doing a chapter every 2 or 3 weeks.

Amirah has a huge interest in the deep sea ecosystem, so we're doing some extra study of that. We're reading an interesting book aptly called The Deep Sea and we have many other books from the library for us to explore. We read about a species of jelly that is longer than a blue whale. We have decided to do a mini-unit on jellies this week.

We had a friend of Amirah's over on Monday, and I decided to do an impromptu music class. Everyone had a really great time. So did I! It's been fun to think about, and I don't associate any feeling of stress with it so I know it will be a good thing. Another friend of Amirah's will be joining us on Monday too. This week we did a Hebrew counting game, a game where the children demonstrated different physical responses (running, jumping, arms swinging, standing still, etc.) to different sounds on the drum, and a rhyme with changes in voice inflection and some hand motions. We also took out many different rhythm instruments and explored their sounds (and silence!). Students were introduced to the alto xylophone and learned proper mallet technique and how to do a simple repeating pattern to accompany a name song we did. The music teaching I've done so many years of (more than two decades!) so it's very easy to do the lesson planning. The fun part is getting to add in songs that relate to the torah/parsha/Hebrew. I'm really excited about adding this and seeing that it doesn't add stress to the week - just pleasure!

PHEW! I think that sums up the week. It was very rich and the kids are all doing great. I just love doing this.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Menu

Here 'tis:

Harira (lamb, tomato, lentil soup)
Carrot salad
Beet salad
Green salad with oranges and walnuts
Spinach tagine
Brown rice
Morrocan apricot chicken
Apple cake

Morrocan feast tonight. Ditto tomorrow. :)

It's been a great week!!!! So much happening, so little time to post. Lots of great educational adventures. Amirah decided she wanted to do a little research project on a strange sea creature that is longer than a blue whale and disintegrates into a million pieces if it is taken out of the water. Some kind of jelly or snake, I'm not sure, but I'll know more by next week! We've been studying all about deep-sea life. Amazing what they've discovered just in the past few years. We've also been reading a Jewish folk tale every day which has been a really nice addition to our routine. And Amirah has enjoyed watching three shiurim at - a great online torah-learning site that has hundreds of free classes. One was all about the melachah of koshair (tying and untying knots - a melacha we haven't yet studied). You would have thought she was watching a comedy show from the sounds of it! The rabbi's assistant was pulling out all kinds of examples of knots that one might (or might not) encounter on shabbat - shoes, rain coats, twist-ties, scarves... she thought it was really funny. And she remembers nearly verbatim what the rabbi said several days later! This will be another great resource to integrate into our week. Great for me too! The truth is I homeschool for utterly selfish reasons - I get to learn right along with them! It's been fun, and I've gone on way too long.

Shabbat is imminent. Regular time is retreating and we're entering the shabbat zone. All worries cease. All time pressure ceases. The candles get lit. The grape juice is drunk. The challah - YUM. The feasting. Enjoying each other's company. Lots of reading and naps. Reviewing the parsha of the week. What a glorious, brilliant day. A weekly pinnacle of thanksgiving. Ahhhhhh....

Sunday, November 16, 2008

TEFILLAH (prayer)
Same as last week. It will take a few weeks to get these all under our belt. It's been great! We've really gotten into the tefillah routine.

IVRIT (Hebrew)
We pretty much finished up with Shalom Ivrit, book 1. We'll just be doing some vocabulary and grammar review while we're waiting for our new books to come. Rosetta Stone is going very well. Amirah is really enjoying it. Eli has learned the first four letters (and so has Raizel!) of the alef bet. Amirah has been a great "assistant teacher." We had fun going on an alef-bet-gimmel-dalet hunt around the living room I taped letters up all over the room and they had to run to whichever letter I called out. They thought this was hilarious. Raizel is one smart cookie. :)

MITZVA (commandment) OF THE WEEK: hachnasat orchim (hospitality) In honor of this mitzvah-of-the-week, we invited LOTS of shabbat guests and did we have a great time! It really is not much more trouble to cook for 12 rather than 6 (or 7 or 8). Just a few more logistics to get the tables together. What a *great* time we had today with a full house - lots of ruach, singing, great drashes, and good friends. It was really, really nice to have the house so full for shabbat.

MELACHA (work prohibited on shabbat) OF THE WEEK: zoreah (planting). Again, we got to see plenty of examples of this in The Long Winter (well, as soon as that long winter was over, anyway!).

MIDDAH (character trait) OF THE WEEK: chesed (kindness). We learned that there are two kinds of chesed. The basic form is to see someone in trouble or in need and helping them out. In this case, the impetus comes from the other person. The higher form of chesed is to do a chesed without seeing a need in someone else, but simply for the sake of doing a chesed. I thought this was a very interesting distinction. Avraham, of course, was a master of this middah.

What an exciting torah reading this week!! From Avraham and Sarah learning they would have a child (ha, ha), the destruction of Sodom and Amora, the kidnapping of Sarah by Avimelech, and the birth and later near-sacrifice of Yitzchak, and Hagar and Yishmael getting the boot. WOW. It was high drama. Amirah remembered every detail. We quizzed her on Friday and Saturday on nearly every detail of the parsha and she remembered it all. It was quite riveting.

We're on lesson 67 of 100!

Got a few pages done in Handwriting Without Tears. I want to finish the book by late spring or so, and if we only do one page per day we'll easily get there. She's doing great. Eli is really liking his writing book too, and learned to form F and E with the wooden letter pieces we have. Then he wrote some Es and Fs too and thought it was funny.

We mostly learned about different ways to add up to a specific number, i.e. 0 + 5 and 1 + 4 and 2 + 3 and 3 + 2 and 4 + 1 and 5+ 0 all equal 5. We did adding like this up to 10. Amirah picks up on it all pretty quickly.

Eli is learning to identify the numbers 1 to 5 and apply them to groups of objects. Amirah and I help Eli and Raizel count to 20 and they are both putting their counting skills to good use playing Hide and Seek, accompanied by gales of laughter when Raizel triumphantly shouts out TWENTY at the top of her lungs.

We didn't do anything formally, but she has been very interested in animals and fish that live in polar seas, so we talked about the geographical locations of the Antarctic and Arctic - how one usually appears at the bottom of the map (south) and the other at the top (north). We also looked at the shape of North America and the United States and where Oregon was and our city inside that.

We finished The Long Winter, and are a few chapters into Little Town on the Prairie. Our enthusiasm for the series has not waned one little bit. I'm kind of sad there are only two more books after this one!!

What a satisfying job this is. There is a lot of prep work to do, but really the bigger challenge is managing all four children with two of them so very little. In two more years this should really be a piece of cake, and at least once I become more familiar with a variety of materials it's just a matter of adapting to different learning styles. I'm really curious to see how different they are. What an adventure.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Menu

In honor of this week's parsha, we have been studying the middah of hachnasat orchim (welcoming guests). Avraham displayed this middah par excellence. And that in turn has inspired us to invite a whole bunch of guests for shabbat lunch. I know at least six are coming, and maybe a couple of others. I'm really looking forward to it. We've had one or two guests here and there but it's been a while since we had a really full shabbat table.

So, here's the menu!!

Chick pea tomato rice soup with rye croutons*
Poached salmon with aioli
Rosemary Garlic Lamb
Green salad
Steamed cracked wheat
Baked squash
Apple cake

same as above, but no lamb, and:
Pineapple kugel
Hazelnut apple chicken wraps
Sun-dried tomato puff pastry pinwheels
Chocolate cake with (tofu) frosting

*I bought three HUGE loaves of day-old bread at the local kosher bagel store. Much to my dismay, when I got home I discovered that I had bought rye bread. Rye bread??? I like rye bread fine, but three HUGE loaves??? What would I do with it all? Well, tonight I made croutons, and let me tell you those were surprisingly some of the best croutons I'd ever had. I thought they would be okay, but they're scrumptious - better than rye bread itself.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Peanuts for the Peanut

Courtesy of my microbiologist husband who always thought that keeping peanuts away from the peanut was a bad idea. Here's an article about the latest research.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Our Week of Learning

We had another really good week (I don't think there is such a thing as a bad week!). Here's a synopsis of what we did:

TEFILLAH (prayer)
We are now up to doing modeh ani, negel vasser, reishit chochmah, tzitzit, torah tziva, mah tovu, adon olam, torah berachos, shema, een kelokeinu. The last two weeks, we did a special focus on clearly enunciating the words of mah tovu.

IVRIT (Hebrew)
We're cranking away on Rosetta Stone. We're in the last chapter of Shalom Ivrit. Eli is doing a set of books called Otiyot Step by Step and loves doing it. Amirah helps him out and we do it together. We also read at least one short story each day in Hebrew. This past week we also had our first Amirah-initiated conversation in Hebrew that was outside our usual Hebrew time. She looked outside and said (in Hebrew), "It's cold outside. It's raining." Mama: "Do you want your hat?" Amirah: "Yes, mama I want my hat." She was thrilled to use it this way. I'm looking forward to more and more of this.

MITZVA (commandment) OF THE WEEK: brit milah (Abraham circumcised himself and the members of his household in this week's parsha). That one was an interesting discussion!

MELACHA (work prohibited on shabbat) OF THE WEEK: choresh (plowing). A melacha is something we can't do on shabbat. Everything connected to building the mishkan are the things we can't do on shabbat. Plowing is the first step towards making bread, so plowing is issur (prohibited). Fun to talk about plowing, in light of all the plowing we've been reading about in the Little House books! We were already quite familiar with the idea. :)

MIDDAH (character trait) OF THE WEEK: bitachon. There is faith in Hashem (emunah) and there is bitachon. Bitachon goes much deeper than just believing God exists and that he is omnipotent. A person with bitachon has absolute certainty that God is actively protecting us from harm and seeking out what is in our best interest. This trust itself is what generates God's protection. In other words, "Think good, and it will become good." Abraham is one of our best examples of bitachon, especially when he challenged the norms of his day and did not question God when God told him to leave that place and go to a not-yet-disclosed location, with all of his family in tow.

We start with reading My First Parsha Reader to get an overview (and for the sake of the littles!). Then we read directly from the torah in a mixture of Hebrew and English one aliyah per day (one-seventh of the parsha for the week), along with the appropriate commentary from The Little Midrash Says. I started to become concerned that Amirah would not realize which stories were from the chumash (five books of torah) and what stories were midrash (oral rabbinic tradition passed on by Moshe, but equally binding). Dean suggested doing them in different locations. So I think we'll read the chumash at the learning table, and then read the midrash stories on the couch. I think that was a great suggestion.

We're on lesson 63 of 100! We should finish the book around Channukah.

We got the first grade book for Handwriting Without Tears. She wasn't into writing too much last week, so we only did a couple of pages. Good enough! :) We are doing a lot of oral spelling and she likes that a lot. I'm also giving her a word or two per day based on what sound combinations we've learned in our reading lesson. That has worked pretty well too.

She loves math. We're doing addition and subtraction with all numbers between 0 and 10. I just love the way Singapore Math teaches concepts. I hope we continue to enjoy it this much. Eli is really liking his math book too. The one challenge is having them do math at the same time. Since they're so young, they both need a lot of help. Sometimes I feel like a corner of each mouth belongs to each child and sometimes I have to talk out of two corners at once. Not sure how to do it differently. I don't want to stretch out our day at all.

We read about how the earth is our home, and our house is our home, and how not everyone actually has a house (or something) for a home. Then we talked about our house, our street, our city, our state, our country, our continent, our planet, our solar system, and our galaxy. That was fun! We spent quite a bit of time poring over maps. Then Amirah asked me to show her where Poor Knights Island was. I had no idea, but we found it off the coast of New Zealand. She said they have special warm currents there that bring in all kinds of food from the ocean and many, many different species live there. I learn something new every day! Then she wanted to know if her aunt and uncle and cousins had gone there when they lived in New Zealand. (So did you, SE?) :)

Didn't do too much other stuff. We were distracted in the afternoons by doctor appointments (Avi, 1-year-appt; then later all of us for flu shots). Eli had an awful experience with shots to numb his thumb a couple of months ago. He was so anxious about his flu shot that he threw up all over the floor. :( He's supposed to get two shots, but I'm not going to do that to him again. At least he'll get partial immunity. I'll take Avi and Raizel back for their second shot, though.

The rest of the afternoons were taken by thinking (freaking) about the house and decluttering. We got a LOT done on Friday and Monday. Still a lot to do, but we've made a substantial dent. Hoping to have that all done in a couple more weeks so we can move on to fixing up the house. I don't have a spare moment so we're going to pay someone to help us sell stuff. The kids have been great during this fury of decluttering, so I want to make tomorrow afternoon all play.

Oh, and don't worry, JY, the bookshelves still have plenty of books. We just got rid of the riff-raff. :)

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Mussar from Farmer Boy

This is a brief synopsis of my favorite scene to date in the Little House series. It's from somewhere in the middle of Farmer Boy.

Almanzo is at the 4th of July celebration in town. His cousin brags that he has a nickel that his dad gave him and he uses it to buy lemonade. He dares Almanzo to go to his dad and ask for a nickel. Almanzo claims that of course his dad would give him a nickel (but he doesn't really know since he's never asked). His cousin does not believe him. So he goes over to his dad to ask, reluctantly, for a nickel. His dad pulls out a fifty-cent piece and asks him what it is. Almanzo answers correctly, but then his dad says he wants to know what it really is. He talks about all the work it took to make $0.50 worth of potatoes - the harrowing, fertilizing, plowing, planting, re-plowing, hoeing, digging, and storing. Half a bushel of those potatoes brings in $0.50. That's the real meaning of the fifty-cent piece. He gives the money to Almanzo, and tells him to buy a pig and raise it and have it raise a litter of pigs worth $5.00, or go and buy a bunch of lemonade and drink up that $0.50. Of course, Almanzo chooses not to buy the lemonade.

Some of the reasons I loved this scene...

His dad gave the lesson but left the choice up to Almanzo.

Almanzo has the chance to really impress his cousin, but he foregoes that opportunity.

It makes one really pause and think about the true value of money.

I think this was just one of those often-elusive Perfect Parenting Moments. :)

(Mussar, at its most simple level, means "ethical teaching.")

Parallel Lives

Just had to mention two funny encounters with other Jewish families adopting children from Ethiopia...

Family #1 - lives less than a mile away, has two children already, is adopting two young children from Ethiopia, AND they homeschool their children!

Family #2 (hi, MH) - is looking for a new community like we are, is adopting one (or two) young children from Ethiopia (or perhaps another country...), is a ger (convert) like me (and took 8 years to accomplish that, like me), went to the same university as me, and was raised Lutheran (like me). That was the funniest encounter of the YEAR, I think.

Friday, November 7, 2008

The Menu

Here 'tis:

broiled chicken in barbecue sauce
mashed potatoes
sauteed spinach and chick peas
celery anchovy salad
mixed roasted vegetables
apple cake

There are so many things I want to write about!!! It's been a bit busy here this week. Stay tuned for stories about Farmer Boy and parallel lives (bli neder). :)

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Mussar in the Little House books

One of my favorite bloggers has written about finding mussar in the Little House books. Fun to read about since we're discovering the same things! I still will, bli neder, blog about my favorite ethical/instructional chapter to date. But not tonight... tired mommy!


Major decluttering has begun. The numbers of tops and bottoms in my closet is now equal to my husband's. That's quite an accomplishment. I still have plenty of clothes to last 10 days. I also went through the upstairs toy bins and donated HALF of our toys and stuffed animals to Good Will. Anything that I thought just got dumped but never really played with went into a giant trash bag while they all watched a puppet show downstairs. I also - knowing some may think this sacrilegious - donated a LOT of our secular fiction books. We're only planning to keep really special books, reference books, hard-to-find books, and, of course, all of our Jewish books. Anything that can easily be requested from the library isn't staying here. I have yet to go through the games closet, but I'm sure there will be a few donations there too. We've definitely bought a few dud games over the years. It's been four days now, and none of the kids have said one word about any of the missing toys, books, or stuffed animals.

We are hoping to move in 2009, BE"H. Tonight we met with our realtor and found out what our house was probably worth, and I was surprised to find out it has dropped more drastically than I thought. A year ago, our house was worth about 60% more than when we bought it five years before that. Today we found out it's probably only worth about 24% more than when we bought it. Just slightly more than inflation. OY. Oh, well. So it goes. I'm just glad we bought when we did, and not later! B"H.

So, on to high-speed decluttering, extraneous object-selling, and repairing. 5769 (2008-2009) should prove to be an interesting year.

Good Article

A friend that I have communicated with on and off about homeschooling matters and seeking out a Jewish community has written a pretty good article on torah-observant homeschoolers here. I would love to think that we're at the forefront of a trend, and that eventually there will be scores of families truly teaching their children al pi darko (according to their way) instead of according to the "derech" of the middle. I honestly believe that being personally responsible for our children's education, as the torah COMMANDS us, is what we ought to be doing. Hiring a shaliach (representative) to perform most mitzvos (commandments) is considered second-best to performing them yourselves. Jewish day schools were created for orphans in the time of the Second Temple, as the article points out. Anyway... I truly feel I have the best, and the most holy, job one can have—passing on our precious mesorah to our children.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Duck for President

It was tempting. Very tempting. That long blank line. Perfect for four letters: D-U-C-K. But I didn't duck the issue. I voted. Before 8:00 pm even.

Monday, November 3, 2008


We've been doing a lot of yummy projects around here lately...

Making bagels

Making cookies for shabbat dessert

And eating cottage cheese!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Fun Family Movie

Tonight we watched Candleshoe, starring Jodie Foster when she was a young teenager. We thought it was a very fun family movie. Everyone enjoyed watching it.

Our Week of Learning

It was really nice to have a wonderful, normal week this week! The holidays are over. Shabbat was lovely. The time change has come. We did a lot of really good learning this week. I treasured each of those "aha" moments I saw on Amirah's and Eli's faces. What a privilege to partake in those many times a day. If they were at school I would be missing so many of them! Before kids, I really treasured those moments with students. I loved bringing a student along bit by bit, and shared in their joy when they really GOT something. Now those students are my own children and the pleasure is immeasurable. We are all really enjoying this journey.

For Hebrew, we've been working on Unit 10 (of 14) in Shalom Ivrit. This is focused on body parts and colors. We'll probably continue to work on this and learn a few more obscure colors. Amirah is still really enjoying doing Rosetta Stone Hebrew. I let her do this at will, and she generally does about 30 minutes per day. Eli is having fun with body part names because they all sound hilarious to him. :) Kriyah (reading) and ksivah (writing) is on hold for now while we're waiting for our new books to arrive, hopefully in a week or so. We've also been reading "Tale Tales in Biblical Hebrew" which has been a great supplement. Right now we're reading The Boy Who Cried Wolf. I'm excited because I pretty much understand everything in the stories. We'll be doing the same story for a week or two, I think. We also got some comic books in Biblical Hebrew called Ag Harasha. Cute little stories, and great vocabulary. Perfect for us right now.

Singapore Math has been TERRIFIC. I'm very happy with it. Amirah really enjoys it so far. We did all of unit 17, the first unit in Book B. It incorporates many little drawing activities, which is great practice for Amirah and her still-developing small-motor skills. Her math is getting pretty good! A couple of days ago I was telling her about something she did when she was two. She looked at me and without missing a beat said, "So that was three years ago and you were 37." Wow! She also figured out that to put 1-1/2 cups of flour into our sugar cookies on Thursday she could also do 1/2 + 1/2 + 1/2, because 1/2 + 1/2 makes a whole. We haven't been doing fractions at all, but we sure do bake a lot! It was funny. Eli is having fun with the Kindergarten A book and so far he's keeping up with the concepts just fine. I think I'll just stretch the activities out a little and see if it keeps working for him. He's thrilled!

Handwriting has been going really well too. Amirah got a fire lit under her and charged through a bunch of the book on her own. We should finish it this week or next, and I've gone ahead and ordered the 1st grade writing book. Eli started writing his own name on his drawing projects. The letters aren't always in order, but they're all there!

Reading has been very good too. We're on lesson 60 of 100 Easy Lessons. Eli is also really interested in letters and reading, so I'm going to start giving him more alphabet activities to do so we can actually learn the names of all the letters. Raizel will go along for the ride. She's already heavily into counting and wants to know what the letters are too. Pretty cute!

We also started a once (or so) per week geography lesson using A Child's Geography. It's extremely well written by a religious Christian, but it requires only very minimal editing to be useful to us Jews too. :) We'll mostly use it as a read-aloud and do any of the activities that are interesting (and that we have time for!).

We read lots of parsha stories too, finished Farmer Boy and started The Long Winter. Amirah practically swooned this afternoon while saying, "I LOVE these books. I don't want them to ever end!!!!!"

Next week our new adventures will include learning a melacha per week (the melachos are those types of "work" that are prohbited on shabbat; there are many things that we would consider work that are not prohibited on shabbat, and many things that are not usually considered work that ARE prohibited on shabbat; I'll report week-by-week what we learned.)

I also hope to add music instruction time 1-2x per week. Not instrumental - I really don't see the need until they're 7 or 8 (unless they're begging for lessons before that). The most important things that a young child can learn at this age is to be able to keep a steady beat, develop a very good ear for music (possible for virtually everyone), and learn to sing in tune (also possible for virtually everyone unless not exposed at an early age). I splurged a while back and got a music curriculum that we're going to use that wasn't published yet while I was teaching, but I knew that when it was I would love it. It looks great. I'm going to use it to guide our concept development, and substitute many Jewish songs and verses for the usual stuff in there. Here's a link for anyone who is interested. We'll be doing lots of rhythmic work, movement, rhythm instruments (xylophones, glockenspiels, drums, sticks, rattles, etc... I have boxes and boxes of instruments!), and plenty of singing. I just have to fit it in somehow!

And another good thing... cleaning up! Charlotte Mason goes into great details in her books about developing habits and that much learning (and living) depends on the development of simple habits. We have a routine now of always cleaning up upstairs right before storytime/bedtime. Eli is really especially good at this, Raizel does the best a 2-year-old could possibly do, and Amirah sometimes fades out on us. We go fast and it really takes less than 10 minutes. This week we're going to start faithfully doing a 5-minute pickup downstairs before lunch and dinner. I set the timer, and we run around like crazy as fast as we can. It's really great when papa can walk into a warm, cozy, clean house!

All of the above really sounds like we spend a lot of time with our noses in books, but actually each lesson is pretty quick. I would say we end up with 90 minutes of academic learning + reading stories, art projects, whatever Amirah feels like doing with Rosetta Stone, and adventures. When you only have 1 or 2 students, you can do things pretty darn efficiently. Generally we learn from 10:00-1:00, and this includes snacktime, younger sibiling, interruptions, art projects, time for just Eli, time for just Amirah, etc. It has an open and relaxed feeling.

Other than learning, we've been making plans to declutter the house. We're hoping to move this year to another city and want to really weed out everything that is not worth taking with us. Sell a lot on craig's list, take lots to Good Will, pare down our clothing collection (especially me and Amirah), keep only the kitchen stuff that gets used regularly or is impossible to be without. Having fewer clothes also prevents huge mountains of laundry from piling up. We really don't have all that much "stuff" but I really want to have even less. I won't be packing all of our clothes into two carpetbags, like ma, but I sure would like to do the contemporary equivalent (whatever that is...)