Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Ten Commandments

The holiday of shavuot begins Thursday night and celebrates the day that Moshe brought the torah down from Hashem to the Jewish people. It is a tradition to stay up all night and study torah (er, like I'm doing right now?). I decided that this year as a family we would study the ten commandments. I found this *wonderful* mnemonic for memorizing the ten commandments in order and I can't wait to share it with Amirah and the grownups! It's so incredibly simple. I just loved it!

Lovely (Free) Music

I accidentally learned about an incredible recording that was made a year ago in the UK celebrating the land of Israel. The arrangements and compositions are really beautiful. It's all available for a free download here. I've only briefly listened to parts of it since it is the omer (the period between Passover and Shavuot during which we are in a period of semi-mourning), but I look forward to really reveling in it after Shavuot.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


I've been looking for this recipe for a couple of YEARS. I lost it a while back, and now it's been found again. This is the BEST milkshake recipe, and it doesn't use any ice cream...

1-1/2 cups cold water
1-1/2 cups nonfat dried milk powder
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 to 1-1/2 trays of ice cubes
2 tablespoons oil to help it stick together

Whiz it in the blender for a couple of minutes. Haven't had them in a very long time, obviously, but I think I'll make it for the kids tomorrow if I can find the ice cube trays! :)

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Menu

roast chicken
mashed potatoes and gravy
spinach almond orange salad
roasted ginger carrots
roasted asparagus
chocolate birthday cake with handmade chocolate trucks on it!

and for tomorrow....

mergez sausage soup


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Happy 3rd Birthday, Raizel!

That girl has graduated from troublemaker to bubblemaker. She had a very nice birthday today. We had our learning time in the morning, followed by cupcake and frosting making. She decided on purple cupcakes and pink frosting. After lunch, we went to the toy store to spend some "free" money... we had filled up our purchases card (took 4 years!) and had about $30 to spend. They decided to put all the money into one present and get a remote control car. I also let Amirah get a nice little plastic horse. She followed me all the way to the register sighing, "Oh, mama. THANK you. THANK you. I love it..." It was very cute.

Then we walked across the street to Starbucks and sat and had a drink treat. They were very excited about that one! Then we went to pick up papa and I went to teach, then home for toast, eggs, and oatmeal... with cupcakes for dessert. And a few presents. Tennis balls were a big hit. As was the fancy-shmancy skirt and shoes from grandma. A nice birthday for our girl. And now for 3 more days, she and Eli will both be 3 years old. OH! Another big highlight was the phone calls. Her favorite thing (after fancy shoes) is definitely talking on the telephone. She kept coming up with names of people we should call. Very funny girl. Time for sleep...

Monday, May 18, 2009


Exciting topic, I know. But if there are six in your family you think about laundry A LOT. I've found a new method that feels like it saves me lots of time. For the heck of it, I'll tell you about it.

By the drier, I started keeping a laundry basket for each person (4 for the kids and 1 for the grownups), one for upstairs miscellaneous, and one for downstairs miscellaneous. As stuff comes out of the drier I sort it on the spot. Most of the girls' clothes and all of Eli's shirts now get hung up, so I'm not really folding anything any more either. As a basket fills up with clean clothes, I put it away. One basket only takes a few minutes. I run laundry through here and there. I also got our wardrobe down to an 8-9 day supply for the basics.

I used to do all the laundry in one long marathon on Sunday, then dump it all into a big (giant!!) pile and watch a movie while I sorted and folded. But this could take 2+ hours! Then it never seemed to quite get put away before I started the next Sunday marathon. Now I feel like I spend almost no time doing laundry. It's been great!

Anyway, very mundane, but things like this make a big difference. :)

It Won't Die

Well... the van isn't toast after all. Yay! (Boo!) Yay! (Boo!) Apparently, all you need to do to fix a latch that won't unlock is kick the door really hard. Our nextdoor neighbor, who just fixed the rear side latch on his car a couple of weeks ago, got this advice from a yahoo group. So... we're back in business (for now!), and this 5' 11" mama doesn't have to crawl through the van to buckle in the littles. Sure beats the $800 we were going to have to spend to get it fixed!!

Quote of the Week

We have someone who comes to clean twice a month to help keep the house "showroom ready." (Ha, ha.) Here's what Eli had to say...

Eli: Mama, does Rosemary come to help us clean?
Mama: Yes, Eli, Rosemary comes to help us clean.
Eli: Is that 'cause you don't clean so good?


First Siddur

A lot of birthdays coming up here... Eli's & Raizel's this coming week and papa's and Amirah's next month. I just ordered Amirah her first all-Hebrew siddur, traditionally received when a child turns six. Amirah has been very excited about this and can't wait to daven from a real siddur! Other than some Hebrew supplementary materials I've ordered everything I want to use for first grade except for her handwriting and spelling books, which I'm off to order... NOW!


Today the papa went into work to work on job applications and a class he's taking at PSU (last one!). So, any day that papa works we do too! Had a great learning time. I've been enjoying First Language Lessons so much that I decided to go to Ordinary Parents' Guide to Teaching Reading (same author), which I'd gotten a long time ago and never used much. Amirah did really well and we'll be trying it out for a while, I think. Explode the Code has been great for reading/spelling. Math is going well too. And Hebrew and torah. I'm pretty happy with everything, and very glad that we've been able to keep up a nice amount of learning time through all the crazy house stuff.

After the basics were done, I got all the kids together in the kitchen to make homemade butter. They loved doing this. We put a pint of whipping cream into the mixer (after tasting it, of course!) and let it go on high speed. We stopped it when it was whipped so we could have another little taste. Then we let it go again. Just when it seemed like we would never get butter, suddenly the butter and the buttermilk separated. Another few seconds and it was one big glob sitting in a bowl of buttermilk. I strained the butter and kneaded out the last little bit of liquid. We divided up the sweet, mild buttermilk and tasted it. I kneaded a little salt into the butter. Then we made toast. They all thought it was the best butter they had ever eaten. :)

the butter makers

the buttermilk and the butter

Afterwards, we went to play in the Beaverton fountain since it was so hot today (mid-80s). It stopped working 15 minutes after we got there! :( But we had fun on the playground, then went to pick up papa. A very nice day. And a very tired mama... Good night!

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Menu

Simple, since it's been a bit crazy today...

roast chicken
butternut squash kugel (a recipe from the end of my most recent murder mystery book!)
roasted cabbage
roasted zucchini/carrots/onions
cous cous/cracked wheat/lentil stuff
chocolate-covered strawberries

And for lunch...

I have no idea... YET!

A Toasty Van

The van is toast. The back latch stopped working and won't open. $800-900 to repair. Needs new brakes and rotors. Another $800. Gee, darn. Drat. Guess we'll be getting that new-to-us van now after all. At least the van got hit by a branch in December! Already got paid for it, and we ought to be able to squeeze a little more cash out of it. So, if anyone hears of a Ford, GMC, or Chevy full-size van, from 2000 or later, we're in the market for one! Hopefully in the next couple of weeks...


Now I'm downloading the manual for our home phone because I have NO idea how to change the outgoing message. Seems like it should be very obvious, but the buttons don't indicate anything that's relevant. This is really ridiculous.

Phones Are Too Complicated

But we need one for those realtor appointments... So, I spent a good amount of time figuring out how to actually USE my bare bones cell phone. In 3 years I've only used about 300 minutes on it (and that's mostly from when we use it out of town), which gives you an idea of how ignorant I am. After becoming an expert I realized that Tracfone does not have a call forwarding feature. We used my cell phone as the contact number so I would get notice of appointments wherever I was. Seems reasonable, right? Wouldn't want to come home and find out a realtor was coming in 5 minutes. So what's the problem??

When someone leaves a message, unlike an answering machine, you can't hear it. Over shabbat we don't use the telephone. If a message was left, but we didn't hear it, someone could show up on our doorstep without us realizing they had made an appointment. So instead we added call forwarding to our home phone, so that we could change that to the main contact number and I could forward calls to my cell phone whenever we left the house. It cost almost the same to add voicemail, which we did, which is a bit of a waste but our answering machine is not sounding so good anyway... But of course, when a message goes to voicemail you don't hear it either. I'm going in circles.

So, I just figured out that I can record the Friday/Saturday message to realtors explaining that we have limited hours available then, leave the answering machine on during shabbat, then turn it off afterwards. I won't have to change the message every Friday to explain the shabbat rigamarole. I can't believe how many hours I've spent on TELEPHONES. OY. I was wishing we could plug in the corded phone, dump it all, and have people talk to us when we're home, which is often. But people - especially realtors and their clients - expect instantaneous contact availability. And of course I would hate to miss an appointment with someone that could be THE person who buys our house. On the other hand, if all of this instantaneous communication weren't available, then it wouldn't matter at all. On the other hand, I do like having my $9/month cell phone for those occasions when it avoids great inconvenience. Oy. I need shabbat! Baruch hashem, it's only hours away. I have no idea what I'm cooking, but there's plenty of time... unless a realtor calls! :) Shabbat shalom!

John Day Pictures

DAY ONE - Shabbat

Sorry, no pictures! But it was a lovely day...

DAY TWO - John Day National Monument, Sheep Rock Unit; fossil digging; Murderers Creek

the lovely hills

resting in the Sheep Rock area

digging for fossils at Fields Creek

our cow friend

playing at Murderers Creek

DAY 3 - Lake Magone and horseback riding

Digging holes at Lake Magone

Deer bones at the side of the road. A bit odd!

Can we please live on a farm, mommy?

DAY 5 - Fossil (too wet to dig for fossils in Fossil); John Day Nat'l Monument, Clarno Unit

great clouds

We hiked up to those spires above. It got so windy near the top
I thought we'd all tumble down, so back down we came.

She can't have keys until she's 25.

Farewell, John Day National Monument!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Our Amish Cousins

This article is so funny! When you see Amish and orthodox Jews standing side by side you realize just how very similarly they dress. In the pictures you have to squint to figure out which ones are Jewish and which are Amish.

Ethiopia Adoption Statistic

Avi and Raizel were 2 of 1,725 children adopted in the US from Ethiopia in 2008. It was the fourth most common country from which to adopt. Guatemala had 4,123 children; China had 3,909; and Russia had 1,861. China has dropped off a lot. In 2004, 7,044 children were adopted. In 2008, it was only 3,909. Just interesting...

Really Great Book

We have nearly finished reading The Hebrew Kid and the Apache Maiden by Robert Avrech. I was a little skeptical when I ordered it from the library, but the reviews were all so high I thought I'd give it a try. Most Jewish children's fiction that is written from an orthodox perspective is, well, bad. Other Jewish fiction from a less traditional source barely delves into the religious life of the character at all, or is so non-traditional that I just can't read it.

This book is a wonderful, sometimes humorous, often touching story of a boy from a Russian shtetl who escapes the pogroms in Russia to arrive in Arizona to face dangers of a different sort. The boy is a young man grounded in tradition and it informs all of his actions. The book warmly explores multicultural understanding without ever being trite or annoyingly "politically correct." Someone who does not know anything about Judaism will find it immensely accessible and very educational. All the Judaism in it rings true.

The conversations are smart. The Jewish aspects are not forced at all. They are an organic part of the story. We have two chapters left, and it has been a long while since I have enjoyed reading a book this much. I will be very sad when it is over. It is Mr. Avrech's first novel, and I hope there are many, many more to come.

Another touching note - the main character, Ariel, is named after the author's son who died of cancer when he was 22. Mr. Avrech wrote the novel in the midst of his grief. I can't recommend this book enough. One of the best laughs - Ariel serving up his mother's kugel and cholent to Doc Holliday (as in Gunfight at the OK Corral). Funny. I just love, love, love this book.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Horse Photo

It's way too late, but just had to add these before bed...

Wonderful Vacation

We are back from 5 days in the ruggedly beautiful desert of eastern Oregon. Highlights included seeing the incredibly pastoral John Day River (which brought on intense daydreams of getting our raft in the water), walks in the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, digging for (and finding!) fossils, Amirah's first horseback ride, learning about Chinese workers in Oregon 130+ years ago, and missing the 11 visits from realtors that happened while we were gone.

The air was bright and fresh. The sun poured down. We battled the GPS that kept telling us that the "better route" was on one-lane dirt roads full of potholes. We enjoyed the extra-friendly hospitality at the Best Western in John Day, where we were surprised with a 2-room suite with three queen beds and a crib. Made a 5-day stay in a hotel very pleasant! We usually prefer vacation home rentals or yurts, but there were no yurts and very few vacation homes. We almost had a house, but it had to undergo emergency repairs.

So, we're exhausted, but really had a great time. I'll post pictures soon, especially the ones of a blissed-out Amirah on horseback.

Quote of the Week

Amirah: Mama, we're probably moving to a new house soon. I think we need to sit down and make a plan for what pets we are going to have.

(Mama, in her head: Ummmmmm... how about a new stuffed animal?)

Torah Homeschooling Conference

This is very exciting. Makes me wish we lived in Baltimore. Hey, maybe we will!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

An Apology

Just now, Raizel came up to me, crying, and told me that Avi threw a train at her. I sympathized and we called Avi into where we were. I looked at him and said, "Avi, you threw a train at Raizel and it hurt her. Now you need to apologize." I thought that we would just be going through the motions and that I would be the one saying, in a tiny squeaky Avi voice, "Sorry, Raizel." But Avi looked at her, said, "Sorry." and offered her a hug. Then he brought her a toy. (Our normal post-apology routine is that you have to do a chesed ("kindness") for the person you wronged to help make up for it.) I cracked up. I guess he's seen his siblings do it often enough that now he knows the routine himself! He's a yummy little boy...

Learning Fun

We've been exploring all kinds of things recently. More time to explore than to write about it, though! Briefly, one of my favorite new-to-me finds is Google Books. If you enter a subject, it will show all books on that subject. After it does the search you can change the "showing" menu to "full view only." These are books whose copyrights have expired or are otherwise in the public domain. I've gotten the beginning Elson readers from the early 20th century, a really nice 1904 collection of bird stories by Audubon and others, and some Hebrew books (grammar, fiction, poetry) from the 1800s. Lots more to explore.

We've also enjoyed doing picture studies from the art series Come Look With Me. It has wonderful art selections that are interesting to study and discuss. Each picture has five or six questions that lead to discussions about technique, the subject, and your imagination about what else the painting might be telling us. It also includes a couple of paragraphs about the artist. We look at the same painting probably three different times during the week and talk about it for 5-10 minutes or so. It's really fun!!

I also can't rave enough about First Language Lessons. It's really been great for Amirah. And the Elson readers and Dick and Jane too. The language and daily life are much more similar to our own life here then some of the more contemporary books. So, we're really having a good time with learning. I feel like we've done a LOT in our more compact time of 30 minutes for kodesh basics (Hebrew, torah) and 30 minutes for chol basics (reading, writing, math). Other stuff we fit in as we can. It's really very good.

OH! And Amirah and company started learning to play recorder in our music class this week. They were very excited. We're having a good time. Three days until the "FOR SALE" sign goes up!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Quote of the Week

Amirah: Mama, could we just sit on the couch so we could go straight to the kill?

(One of Amirah's favorite games is to pick different predator/prey combinations to act out. Mama is usually the predator and Amirah is the prey. I tried being a shark chasing her through the ocean, when she said the above... I'm sure there's no therapy required, right????)

Free Coffee!

Go here for a rebate form on 12 ounces of Seattle's Best Coffee. Yahoo! As part of our frugal grocery shopping, I've been just getting the Folger's Extra Special Dark or whatever it's called. We're going on a little vacation in a few days and I was thinking it would be nice to bring some better coffee along. Now we will! :)

Reading and Learning

We have been so busy preparing the house that there hasn't been much time for blogging! We have done some nice learning, but definitely in a more compact amount of time than earlier this year.

We have been immensely enjoying First Language Lessons. We've learned all about nouns - proper ones and common ones - and we memorized a poem by Christina Rossetti. Amirah memorizes things very quickly. I think she had it down pat after hearing it three times. Her mama took several more times to get it down! Here she is reciting the poem, with a bit of a stuffed-up nose.

We've also been doing some fun reading...

Amirah loved Eragon, and now she and papa are on to Eldest, the sequel.

We've been amused by several entertaining stories of encounters with wildlife in Animal Dialogues (with some editing by mama on just a few of the details about the humans!).

Yesterday afternoon Amirah enjoyed hearing a Sherlock Holmes story. The richness of the language is really lovely, and she wanted to know what each of the new words meant.

These may seem like unusual things to read to a kindergartener, but Amirah loves the language in these books. When she was two years old, she lugged around her 4-inch-thick copy of The Jungle Book, which is also very rich in language. She wanted to read it every day. She has a really good ear and learns things aurally in a flash (like the poem).

Something else I've been thinking about recently...

Dean and I do not overprotect our children. Keep them safe? Of course. But we let them experience the real stuff of the world in doses appropriate to who they are. Cats die. People go to war, and often that war is just and necessary. Boys pretend to battle bad guys at the front door to keep their mommies safe. There is real good and real evil in the world. By removing all of these things from our children's awareness we give them no opportunity to exercise the internal muscles they need to have developed when they are hit with life's realities (and the very things that give life meaning). With no practice, they can crumble. But if they have the chance to practice having these emotions while in a safe, nurturing environment, they can greatly increase their ability to handle "real life" with grace and courage.

As parents we radiate confidence in our children's ability to handle these varying emotions. Things happen that should make us sad, but they should not make us unable to carry on. Sadness is an appropriate response. Or anger. Or fear. I think fairy tales of old, which were much more gory than what is typically read to children these days, served just such a purpose. And interestingly, our children rarely, rarely have bad dreams. Maybe two or three times ever in my life have I comforted a son or daughter after a bad dream. Maybe.

In addition, I feel like so much of society has utterly lost any sense of modesty. Modesty of dress, thought, speech. We are losing our manners, our respect, and our reverence. Everything seems to shout "Look at me!" or "I don't care." Do we overprotect our children when it comes to matters of modesty? You betcha. Tznius (modesty) is a BIG Jewish value. It leads to dignity of spirit and self-respect.

On shabbat, I was reading a dvar torah that talked about how the Hebrew word for face ("panim") is nearly identical to the word for interior ("pinim"). Then it was pointed out that the English word "face" is closely related to "facade." Quite opposite derivations! The content of our character should match what one sees in our face and our manner, just like the ark is covered with gold on the inside and the outside. As Jews, we are charged with striving to become a true container for holiness, and making that holiness the very thing that is reflected in our outer being.

And with that, good night!

Friday, May 1, 2009

The Menu

What a week! I feel every one of my 40+ years, but it was a very satisfying week. The house looks terrific. Lots of nice empty space. We got new carpets put in on Wednesday. The realtor came and took pictures on Thursday. We're pretty much set!

Several people have asked me, "Don't you wish you'd done all this work sooner?" The decluttering, yes! I had no idea how many useless (to us) items we had. Mountains of things have gone to Good Will and the dump. There's still a little more to do. When we move, I want to be certain that every item in every box is useful, needed, and/or much loved. It's a lot easier to keep the house neat without any clutter! I want to preserve this state forever. Fortunately, no one in this family really collects stuff or is attached to things so I'm hopeful.

Do I wish we'd done the cosmetic fixing sooner? Not at all. We didn't use our own money to fix it up. That will come out of the sale of the house. Instead, we have devoted ourselves to the care, feeding, and education of four children, and what could give us more joy than that? Yes, the house looks beautiful, but not nearly as beautiful as the sight of all of them rolling around on the floor together. I have not one ounce of true wistfulness that we were staying in this house, or a house equally well fixed up. I do love being in the house the way it is now, though, and wouldn't mind if our next community is inexpensive enough that we could afford a house as nicely fixed up as this one. But only if we can pay it off in 15 years or less!

And now the menu...

lamb chops
roasted potatoes
roasted carrots/zucchini/onion/garlic
roasted asparagus
spinach salad
apricot cake

and for lunch...

meatballs and rice

Shabbat shalom to all!