Monday, August 31, 2009


For grandpa's birthday, the kids each did a self-portrait. Avi's portrait was a collaborative effort. We sure had fun with these!

Weekday Menus


roasted leg quarters
spinach salad (w/olive oil, salt, lemon juice)
steamed barley and millet with roasted vegetables

crock pot special!
I went through the refrigerator and pulled out anything that could be thrown in the crock pot - barley, millet, steak bones, chili, zucchini, carrots, onions, celery, balsamic vinegar, salt - and I hoped for the best. We actually LIKED it! Wow! Even the kids! WOW!

crepes and eggs

wedding food!

birthday dinner for grandpa
lasagna, garlic bread, salad, angel food cake, blackberry whip

An Annulled Decree

It is with tremendous gratitude to Hashem that I let you all know that we have received the news that my dear husband will NOT be laid off next month. Thank you all for your tefillos and your support. This was an extremely difficult week, and I am thankful that this is the worst that we have experienced. I am also very thankful for my husband, children, extended family, and friends. I am thankful for all I have every moment of the day. I am thankful for "beans and rice, rice and beans." I am thankful for the everyday joys that take place in this house. And I KNOW the kids are thankful that our annual camping trip can now proceed as planned next week. We are so much looking forward to just some nice, relaxing family vacation time. OY! And I will continue to daven for those who are looking for work, known and unknown to me. Much of this year has really caused me to greatly deepen my eternal gratitude for all that we have and for all that we are capable of. Be very kind to each other.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Calm Has Been Restored

DH and I are both feeling remarkably calm now. In less than two days we may get what is some of the worst possible news, but we also now have a basic plan of how we will go about handling it. (I only pray that we DO get news, and not just silence...) Having a plan, and seeing that that plan is very doable we're feeling fine about things. Shabbat was really lovely. Great companionship Friday night, and just us Saturday. I took a nice walk with Eli and Amirah just before sunset. I know adversity can really bring up disharmony in some marriages, but B"H every time DH and I have gone through a challenge it only unites us. We are so absolutely yachad (together/in unity), and I am so very glad I married him. In good times, and challenging ones, that main undercurrent of utter gratitude is always at the forefront. And so it continues even now. I wouldn't trade one minute of this life. B"H.

Great Snack

We have enjoyed these from time to time and each time I get around to making them I know I have to make them more often (and DH ardently agrees). Everyone likes them, and they're a perfect balance of carb, protein, and fat.

Here's the recipe...

2 cups cooked chick peas
2 T canola oil
salt to taste

Preheat oven to 400ยบ. Spread chick peas out on baking sheet and coat with the oil and salt. Bake for 30-40 minutes until medium brown and crunchy. You can also just turn off the heat after 30 minutes and leave them in the warm oven to finish drying. Don't store these in a jar with a lid or they'll lose some of their crunch. YUM!

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Menu

baba ghanouj
roasted red pepper salad
chickpea millet salad
roasted chicken with plum sauce
roasted balsamic cabbage
Greek oven-roasted potatoes
peach pie
mango sorbet

and roasted turkey breast sandwiches for lunch

Good shabbos to you all and may Hashem hear all of our tefillos!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Dodging Bullets

We may have dodged half a bullet today, but still no final word. We're hoping to hear good news by Monday. At the very least, this has all caused me to finely hone my super-frugal drive and I will keep at it. I felt much better this morning in general. More like I had my head solidly on my shoulders rather than spinning in circles. No matter what, we can do this. Even if it means selling the house. Even if we had to live in a 2-bedroom apartment. Because the only things that ultimately matter is having the six of us together, under one roof, with enough to eat, living a torahdik life.

Someone asked me yesterday if I ever regretted being a one-income family, because it increases financial risk if unemployment should occur. The answer was a whole-hearted NO. It has never even occurred to us to become a dual income family. In the very worst situation, I might add some piano students in the hours after Dean comes home from work, and B"H I can make a very good hourly income that way. Income can be managed one way or another to meet our needs, even if by the skin of our teeth. What can't ever be replaced is that time with our children, gently molding their neshamas, guiding their yetzer hatov, and helping them to be "honor students" (students that have honor). They are growing stronger roots than any money could buy. And because an adult is in the home making the home a home—a peaceful, holy refuge—this home has a palpable heartbeat. It is a living thing, full of Hashem's shechina. No amount of money could create such a refuge.


Not sure what to say exactly other than to come right out with it. We just found out yesterday that Dean is likely to be laid off by September 30. There's still a chance he will be the one employee kept beyond that date, but it doesn't look good. They laid off half of his department in June, and now suddenly it seems the rest are to follow suit.

I alternate between shock, fright, and levelheadedness. I have no idea what the future holds. I have no idea how we'll manage until another job comes through (soon, please, Hashem). I have no ideas at all. I went to a wedding today, and as I stood in the room with all the dancing the juxtaposition of my stressful internal state with the whirling dancers and happy laughter were completely overwhelming. I quickly had to excuse myself from the friend I was talking to and go to the restroom. I numbly interacted with people, but did not feel very present. I was really hoping the happy occasion would be a good antidote. It wasn't.

Most amazing of all is my dear husband who, despite having feelings that must be very like my own, was able to play with the kids and make them laugh and make them feel that everything was the same as it was last week. Tomorrow I want to be more like him. And celebrate grandpa's birthday! Good night.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Specifics on PreK Education

Here are the specific books I've enjoyed using for PreK:

We use Saxon Math for Kindergarten. I originally got the K-3 manipulatives set, the teacher's manual, and the meeting book. There's no separate workbook for kindergarten. The meeting book is mostly calendar work and some pattern stuff and a couple of other things. I ended up not using it at all. The manipulatives are very good, especially pattern blocks. Soaking up those pattern blocks and just creating patterns and images with them is great pre-math work. The math book is a bit expensive because the entire program is scripted. I found it overkill for me, but the activities are really good. After this, switching to Singapore Math's Kindergarten program was really great. And much less expensive!!

I got a copy of Spectrum Phonics for Kindergarten in the discount bin at the local teaching store. It's been pretty good. We've focused mostly on the letter sound activities and not taking the writing assignments seriously. I've also used several $2-4 books from the teacher store whose titles I don't remember. Pretty much anything will do. I might check out the Saxon Phonics books if I wanted to spend the money, but for this kind of thing I think cheap is the way to go. :)

I can't tell you how long it took for me to settle into a reading approach that worked well for Amirah. We tried Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons and Hooked on Phonics. 100 Easy Lessons was pretty good up to about 2/3 of the way through the book, then it just didn't click for Amirah. We've been happily humming along with Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading and are up to lesson 81 and very happy with it still. I wish I'd done that from the beginning. That's what I'll be trying out with Eli, probably after the fall holidays are over. In fact everything written by Jessie Wise Bauer or Susan Wise Bauer has totally clicked for us so far. (Visit their store at PeaceHill Press.)

Shaah Shel Menuchah, by Menuchah Fuchs, and published by Judaica Press, has been my favorite alef bet book. We memorize the vocabulary in there, go on "letter hunts" in the siddur, draw the letters (to aid in letter recognition, not so much for printing practice) on paper and in the air... Lots of the kinds of things you would do playing around with the regular alphabet.

I have also enjoyed using Shalom Ivrit as a way to do oral Hebrew with the kids (we used a lot of puppets). I haven't done it for a while (we were somewhere in book 2), but I know the kids would love it. We had quite a cast of characters - Zevi the Wolf, Achbar the Mouse, and Tzemi the Sheep. I think I need to bring them back! The kids did not use this for written Hebrew, just conversational.

The Well-Trained Mind, by Susan Wise Bauer, has hands-down been my most beloved resource for guidance on homeschooling. It outlines a highly rigorous education with references to many resources. I'm sure I've read that book cover-to-cover at least a dozen times. I pick up and re-read all about first grade frequently, and the much shorter section on preschool/kindergarten is very useful too. We're pretty much following all of the recommendations in the book, with some cutting back to make room for our very full kodesh curriculum. It's working really well for us.

The Fuchs Mizrachi School in Cleveland also has their curriculum available online and I am using that as a very helpful guide for what to study when in our kodesh studies. Go to the bottom of the page that is linked to and download the "full FMS Lower School Curriculum Handbook."

Basically, my central goals for preK/K/1st grade are to learn to read and write in English and Hebrew (much easier than English!!). And do a lot of math. Everything else is truly extra. Good night!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Yay, Bimart

Every year we have a tradition of going camping the week of Labor Day, after school has started (for most!) and before DH's job gets really crazy (he's on an academic calendar). It's a lovely time for a vacation. We've always gone yurt camping, but this is the first year we decided to go tent camping. Since our little 3-person tent (as in 2 people plus clothes!) will no longer suffice, we searched craigslist for large tents that would accommodate all of us, preferably with at least two rooms in it so as they get older we could have a boys room and a girls room. There were quite a few options, all for around $100. We also found used cots (which I really wanted!) for around $30-35. Then we needed more sleeping bags too. And mats.

After checking prices on craigslist and Amazon, I dropped in at Bimart to check out their prices. Well, we found lower than used prices there!!! A 162-square-foot 9-person tent was marked down to $85 from $110 and had a 10-year warranty. Sleeping bags rated to 40 degrees (we're fair-weather campers, so that should be fine) were only $18. Got those for 3 of the kids. Avi will use one we already have, as will papa. Mama got an extra-long one for $30. Got sleeping mats for $10 each for the kids (typical price for the cheapo ones). Got a new cot for Dean (too short for mama) for $30. Then DH went and picked up a used extra-long cot for mama for $35. So now we're all set and very excited to do our first tent-camping trip with everyone!

We've given up on ever hearing back from the job in Pittsburgh. 6+ weeks is too long, and in the meanwhile DH has had increasing concerns about working there, given their inability to handle this in a timely manner, plus some other things he picked up on while visiting. It's nice to feel like we're no longer holding our breath, though I really was hoping we'd be packing up a U-Haul truck this week!!! The time will come, as will the exact job DH is meant to have. May it come soon. And speedily!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Teacher: Student Ratio of 1:100!

I just chanced upon a book on Google books entitled Public Elementary School Curricula: A Comparative Study, written by Bruce Ryburn Payne and published in 1905. He compares the curricula of many different countries. One interesting thing I read - in Prussia the maximum teacher:student ratio was 1:80, but in fact it was often closer to 1:100 in rural schools. Can you imagine??? The book is very interesting, and I wish there was more time to browse it, but other things are more pressing...

Bulgogi Report

WOW! Marinating the delcious grass-fed beef in the Korean mixture of soy sauce, garlic (lots), rice vinegar, and brown sugar, and then doing DH's brilliant idea of pan-braising the meat instead of broiling like I had thought made for one incredible dish last night! The grass-fed taste (which apparently I'm more aware of then DH) really comes through. I think the vinegar helped tenderize it and bring out those flavors that I think make grass-fed meat outrageously delicious. I'm sure I could distinguish in an instant the difference between grass-fed and regular. It was by far the best thing we have done with those steaks. Can't wait to much on the leftovers!

Early Learning

Most of my recent homeschooling posts have been a bit Amirah-centric, and in the last week or so four people have asked me what Eli was up to, and one asked me in general about my approach to preschool education. So, here are my thoughts.

Before the age of 4, all kids really need to do is play, cuddle, hear stories, sing songs, play at mommy's feet while she davens, help out around the house, get some help reigning in their yetzer harah, and talk about Hashem and the world around them. And get loved up all the time by their mama and papa. That's it. Well, maybe a little food. :) Kids this age are learning constantly, and mostly through osmosis. Give them a rich environment and their brains will be adding plenty of wrinkles without any formal efforts.

My "curriculum" for ages 4 and 5 isn't all that different. Maybe more reading, and we get the alphabet and alefbet down pat. We talk about sounds a lot (Hebrew and English). In fact, Eli spelled his first word today ("cat"). He knows the sounds of the letters. Oral spelling is great practice for getting ready to read. And so is talking about what letters/sounds words begin and end with. They can write letters if they want to, but for some children like Amirah, small motor skills can be a big challenge and waiting until age 5 or 6 is so much better for them. If your child is crying or upset with learning time, then he's just not developmentally ready for it or you're overwhelming him with too much information. Follow his cues, and learning will be an exceedingly pleasant experience.

When Eli seems ready, I'll start reading lessons, but when is entirely up to him. Amirah wasn't really into it until she was about 5-1/2 or 5-3/4, and writing didn't really start to take off with enthusiasm until the last couple of months (right after her 6th birthday). I really strongly believe that whether a kid starts reading at 3 or at 6, with the same rich home environment they'll be at the same level either way by the time they're 8. There's no reason to push, as tempting as it is if you are an enthusiastic parent who gets a thrill watching your child learning new things.

So, with all that, here is Eli's routine:

In the morning after some free play time, all the kids come together for davening and torah stories. The davening lately has been terrific. Even Avi sits in his own chair, opens his siddur, asks for the right page, and sings with all his might. Having all four of them davening along with me is really, really a lovely way to start the day. After that I read parsha stories for about 15 minutes, then other torah or gedolim stories (gedolim are great Torah scholars) for 15 minutes. During this time they can all color and draw. They each have their own box of pens and there's always a stack of paper in a tub on the table. After that we sing our two new Hebrew songs for the week, and review ones we've already learned. Then Eli and Raizel go play while I work with Amirah on kodesh (religious) studies.

After about an hour, I send Amirah to go play and I work with Eli one-on-one for about thirty minutes. We're using the wonderful Sha'ah shel Menuchah kindergarten book for alef bet. (The one odd thing about this series is the Kindergarten book does not lead directly into the 1st grade book, where you suddenly go from learning the alef bet to being expected to read whole sentences. We switch to the Migdalor program after kindergarten.)

Then we spend a few minutes working on letters. I get $2 books from the teacher supply store. We've gone through maybe two or three different alphabet books, and I'd say now he knows his alphabet plus the sounds of just about all of the letters pretty well. He also enjoys forming letters, but I leave that entirely up to him. The one thing I don't like about most alphabet books out there is that they put so much emphasize on writing. It's a rare book that just focuses on the letters and their sounds ("phonemic awareness"). I may start him on reading lessons here pretty soon to see if he takes to it already. He's showing many signs that he might.

Eli also really enjoys doing math. Again, I mostly just get the $2 preschool workbooks from the teacher store, and we also do a lot of real life math (i.e. counting mangoes at the grocery store, baking, etc.), and playing with a bunch of math manipulatives I have in a box. Next month, we'll start the Saxon Kindergarten math book. It's pretty perfect for 4-year-olds if they enjoy math. After that, we start the Singapore Kindergarten math series which is more challenging than Saxon. I do view math as entirely optional at this point.

After we have a snack, Amirah comes back for her chol (secular) block of learning time, then we eat lunch. After lunch we do history, science, or art, depending on the day. These are usually everybody activities, except for the mapwork we do for history. History is a lot of story reading. We're studying ancient history this year, and are currently on the Middle Kingdom of Egypt, approaching the time of the Exodus. All four kids will always be studying the same period of history. That simplifies at least one subject a bit! The science experiments we do are a lot of fun for everyone, and Amirah keeps track of our work on her science notebook. The art projects we do can also be adapted to any age.

So that's pretty much it! People often (really often!) ask how I manage with all four while doing learning time, and I always say that for us it's just a matter of habits. They know what to expect in our daily routine. Eli knows that he has a nice amount of play time, then davening and story time, then play time, then learning time, then snack, then play time, then lunch, then everybody learning or other summer adventures. He just knows what to expect. Avi is the only one who occasionally gets out of sorts, but I can usually just scoop him up into my lap and give him a crayon and a piece of paper and he's happy again. Amirah is also able to do some of her work independently too and I'm getting little glimpses of how when Eli needs to step up his learning time in a couple of years, it will all fit together.

Raizel is pretty much just going along for the ride. She loves davening and singing. She may be one of those kids who learns to read by osmosis at age 3! She's constantly asking what different words say and what letter this or that is, and trailing her finger along the words as she davens. She can find some words in the siddur, like Hashem's name, "baruch", "shir", etc. She's my little powerhouse, and the queen of berachos (blessings, as in she's the first to remember to say them when eating or seeing something, etc.).

So that's the gist of what we do with Eli. It's a very nice rhythm we've gotten into here, and I can't say enough what an absolute, total pleasure it is to be learning at home. Our lives are not full of crazy rushing out the door and all over the place. Our lives are simple and satisfying, and I have an ever-present deep sense of gratitude to Hashem for what we are doing for our children, and for Hashem bringing me exactly the husband I needed before I even knew what I needed. Gratitude doesn't even scratch the surface of what I feel. Good night, and shavua tov!

Friday, August 21, 2009

The menu

beef bulgogi (Korean marinated, broiled meat)
kimchi (pickled cabbage)
Korean potatoes
roasted zucchini, sweet potato, and red pepper
steamed barley and millet
sesame spinach
green salad
mango sorbet

and for lunch...

deli sandwiches
roasted red pepper salad
green salad

Shabbat shalom!

Conversation of the Week

Mama: We need to take Amirah to the doctor today to see if we can get her some medicine for her rash.
Raizel: I want some medicine!
Mama: You only need medicine if you are sick.
Raizel: But I am sick!
Mama: Where do you feel sick?
Raizel: My head!
Mama: What's wrong with your head?
Raizel: It's stinky!!!!

Weekday Menus

Roast chicken, steamed corn, steamed broccoli with lemon sauce
COST: $11.00 (with enough chicken left over for Wednesday's dinner)

steamed brown rice
palak paneer (homemade cheese in a spinach tomato sauce)
garam masala lentils with zucchini

I used the green French lentils. I like those and the red lentils much more than the regular brown lentils. The green lentils are the most expensive, and the cost after cooking is $0.87/cup. Red lentils come out to $0.44/cup and brown lentils cost $0.25/cup. I really don't like brown lentils very much, but I love red lentils. Normally, that's what I buy, but this time I had bought some green lentils on our last trip to the mill. Brown rice costs $0.12/cup, cooked.

COST: $3.87 to $5.73, depending on which kind of lentil you use. This was enough for one dinner (and all but Eli liked it!) and two lunches, and there's still some left over.

pancakes, eggs, oatmeal, toast
The kids had pancakes, DH had pancakes and oatmeal, and I had eggs and toast. :)
COST: $2.03

vermicelli rice noodles with cabbage, carrots, red peppers, oni0ns, garlic, shredded chicken, and a soy sauce/garlic/sesame oil/rice vinegar dressing
COST: $7.00

Mexican casserole (because I have no idea what it was)
chips and guacamole
COST: $16.50 (enough for dinner and four lunches)
The walnuts, canned chilis, cream cheese, and cheeses made this a more expensive meal. The good part was that it used up some walnuts that had been sitting around since pesach, and I used up that can of chilis too. And there was a lot of leftovers. Still, dairy meals are quite often just as (or more expensive) than meat meals.

Well, the plan was to make veggie enchiladas. Except I was too lazy to steam the tortillas, sauce them, and roll them, so I was going to just lay them flat and make a sort of "casserole" (catch-all phrase). I sauteed a bunch of onions, garlic, carrots, cabbage, zucchini, and red pepper. Then I mixed in some cheddar and mozarella cheese. I went to the cupboard to pull out the can of enchilada sauce and, oops, there wasn't any. Hmmmm... Way in the back of the cupboard was a can of tomatillo sauce. Perfect. Expiration date, two years ago. Not perfect. Can looked a little bulgy. Hmmmm...

This vague thing went through my head that said "Mexican walnut sauce" so I went to the computer and typed it in. The first thing that came up looked delicious. It was for "Chiles en nogada." Perfect! I did have a can of Anaheim chiles. Next? Pork. Um, well, you know... Next a long list of 17 other ingredients. Nope, almost none of those either. The veggies will just replace all of that. Next was to stuff the chiles with the meat. The stuffing thing again. Couldn't do that. Next? The nogada, the walnut sauce. Okay! First I had to soak the walnuts in milk for 24 hours, but that didn't really seem necessary. Piece of de-crusted white bread? Nope. 1/4 pound queso fresco? Nope. But I had neufchatel cheese (like cream cheese)! Yeah! Sour cream or creme fraiche? Nope, nope. But I had tofu! A little lemon juice and salt and it would be just like sour cream! Sugar? Bleah. That belongs in jams, not walnut sauce. Cinnamon? Not in the mood. Blend in a blender? I could do that! So in went the tofu, lemon juice, walnuts, salt, and neufchatel cheese.

Then the great assembly. First, two tortillas. Then two chiles, sliced open and lying flat (and definitely not stuffed). But only on one side of the pan so the kids wouldn't kvetch about the weird green things. Then a layer of veggie/cheese stuff. Then a layer of walnut sauce. Repeat. It was 6:00. The kids are getting hungry and I know a casserole like that will take a good 45 minutes to heat up in the oven. Too. Long. Into the microwave it went for 10 minutes while the oven heated up to a smoking 450 degrees. Then into the oven for another 15 minutes. With great trepidation, I pulled out the wonder dish and set it on the table. Threw together a bowl of guacamole and a bowl of chips to help it look more "Mexican." Put on a great big smile and called everyone in to eat. Trembling, I took that first mouthful, expecting to look at my husband and say, "Wow, this tastes really healthy." But instead, with genuine shock, I said "Wow, this tastes really good!"

If you want to see the recipe I used but didn't use, you can find it here. Bon appetit!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Short Lessons

Charlotte Mason (1841–1923) was a British educator who developed several teacher-training programs in the 1880s. One of her programs was a college for governesses where they were trained to be effective tutors to their young charges. She had students attend her school to be "students" for the governesses while they were in training. Most of these children came from very poor families and given the opportunity to get an excellent education (and to prove her methods were very effective, even for those who did not come from educated families). So, she was training governesses to be homeschoolers! I have read parts of her writings here and there, but have yet to read through all six volumes that she wrote on the subject of education.

One concept that I did feel kinship with early on was her belief that children's lessons should be kept quite short. About a week ago, I decided to start timing our instructional time just for informational purposes. The first block of the morning is always davening, torah stories, Hebrew songs, plus other Jewish studies. That takes about an hour, 30 minutes of which the children can quietly draw while they are listening. What I was a bit astonished to discover is that most of our other subjects (Hebrew writing, Hebrew grammar, English printing, English grammar, spelling, composition, and math) only take 5 to 8 minutes per lesson! Reading (English and Hebrew) (5x/week) and history (2x/week) each take 15 minutes per session. Science and art take longer just because of the nature of the subject.

And yet, even with lessons this short and plenty of time taken for summer activities and play, we are already pretty far ahead of schedule compared to what I estimated we would complete in the first two months of our year (our learning calendar runs July to June). I think optimal focus (short lesson) + optimal instruction (tailored completely to the student) = a great deal of information being processed in a very brief amount of time.

There is another Charlotte Mason suggestion that I have always used in our printing work—that it is much better for a student to write three really good Bs, then to write a whole page of them getting sloppier as they go. Again, there is the principle of instilling a good habit, in this case of making letters that are very well-formed. This takes advantage of that absolute focus that comes when a student is fresh and the length of the lesson hasn't allowed their mind to wander off.

Miss Mason recommends that lessons for elementary school children should be 15-20 minutes long. For junior high it should be 30 minutes, and for high school, 45 minutes. Even the youngest students should have 15 to 21 subjects to study (we have 20, thanks to all of our Jewish studies!). I'm sure our lessons will naturally lengthen as the material demands it, but for now it's working really well, and I absolutely believe in the effectiveness of (surprisingly) short lessons.

From the moment Amirah arrived, I strived to create an environment that was not full of all kinds of stimulations, with noises whizzing by and toys that gave instant gratification and big, flashy rewards for no effort. I wanted them to have the habit of taking the time to observe and interact with things. When I think of this, I always think of the Mr. Rogers episode where he spent FIFTEEN MINUTES just observing an African violet. That's the kind of habit I want all of my children to have. The habit of observing, questioning, pondering, and analyzing—and not glancing at something before rushing off to the next thing. The habit of a quiet, focused mind.

Good night!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Educational Spending

When I was a kid, the amount of dollars spent per child for education was nearly half what it is right now. What happened?

The official government report can be read here.

I would love to see side-by-side budgets from a single school from 1979 and 2009 to see what the cost differences are. Benefits must be much, much more expensive. Technology costs, of course, were nearly non-existent in 1979. (I personally see no "need" for technology in the lower grades at all, other than computer and internet access for teachers.) Taxes also pay for a lot more full-day kindergartens (which I also think is in the best interest of working parents, but not necessarily in the best interest of 5-year-old children). Where else is all this money going? And why are the schools continually in financial crisis, given they have nearly twice as much money as 30 years ago? It reminds me of families that, no matter how much they make, it's still not quite enough to pay for their expenses.

If any wants to counterpoint my comments, I really do welcome it!!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

A Couple Things We Enjoy

There are just a couple of things we've really enjoyed recently that I haven't mentioned before. One is that we're learning two or three new Hebrew songs per week. My favorite Jewish children's songbook (that I've seen so far) is The New Children's Songbook by Velvel Pasternak (not so new having first been published in 1981). It has a little of everything - shabbos songs, songs for the yamim tovim, everyday songs - all appropriate for early childhood Hebrew learners.

Another thing we've enjoyed is a question/answer game called Professor Noggin's Life in the Ocean Card Game. It has nice illustrations of all kinds of sea creatures, with sets of easy questions and sets of hard questions. We went through the whole deck three times today. :) We don't use the actual games rules; we just enjoy identifying the pictures and answering the questions. Nothing original, but Amirah loves playing with it.

That's all for now! But of course, the night is young...

Friday, August 14, 2009

Silly Government

This just came out a few days ago:

WASHINGTON, Aug. 4, 2009 – The U.S. Department of Agriculture today released a new report, Expenditures on Children by Families, finding that a middle-income family with a child born in 2008 can expect to spend about $221,190 ($291,570 when adjusted for inflation) for food, shelter, and other necessities to raise that child over the next seventeen years. Issued by USDA each year since 1960, the report is a valuable resource to courts and state governments in determining child support guidelines and foster care payments. For the year 2008, annual child-rearing expenses for a middle-income, two-parent family ranges from $11,610 to $13,480, depending on the age of the child.


If we spent that much raising children, ALL of our income would go to them, with nothing left for poor old mom and dad. Guess they're cheaper by the dozen. And we as a society do have a lot of things in our lives that are not needs. Wants can get very expensive.

I was just thinking the other day that I truly could teach my children with nothing but books, pencils, paper, and the computer and internet access (though one really could make do without... like they used to!). A good globe is pretty handy too, but maps in a book would be just fine. We have very few things in our house that could be identified as classroom supplies that aren't in the above list. You don't need toy clocks, special math manipulatives, sentence strip holders, posters, etc. when you learn together. There's a real clock over there on the wall. Math manipulatives, if needed (my daughter is not so much a kinisthetic learner) can be found in the kitchen (beans, cups, scales, etc.). We don't need to post anything up for 30 kids to see at the same time, so everything is kept small.

Well, speaking of which, time to wrap up ancient African history, our biblical Hebrew vocabulary list for the week, our English spelling list, our explorations of phylum cnidaria, and learning the exciting phonics rule that, unlike what most people think "tube" is not pronounced "toob"! It ought to be pronounced "tyoob"! The things you learn... and learning I am. Many, many things each day on this incredible journey.

Urban Edibles

This is a great resource!!!

The Menu

Here 'tis. Bli neder (without a vow).

tomato soup
cabbage rolls
roasted corn
roasted potatoes
roasted zucchini
cucumber salad
green salad
carrot slaw
peach pie (thank you, DH!)

Shabbat shalom!

Weekday Menus

Most frugal cooks will make a menu plan for the week (or if they're really good, for the month!), but I've always resisted planning everything out. I like improvising. I try out new recipes constantly. I think my way is just as frugal...

We always have a freezer stocked with ground beef and chicken (sometimes other beef, and if we're REALLY lucky, lamb). We have storage pails that can hold up to 35 pounds of flour (bread flour and cake flour), brown rice, pinto beans, oatmeal, sugar, soy beans, and oat bran (we use about 1-1/2 cups per day and it stores forever). In smaller quantities, I also always have black beans, chick peas, all kinds of whole grains, and green coffee beans (stay fresh for 2 years). Then I keep a well-stocked pantry. So grocery shopping mostly consists of dairy products, a few canned items (tomato paste, which can be turned into tomato sauce, coconut milk, and diced tomatoes), peanut butter (but after we move I'm going to bulk order this from a restaurant supply store), crackers, vegetables, fruit, and a few paper goods. We've cut back on dairy quite a bit lately. I know approximately how many fruits and vegetables we need for a week, so I buy what's available at a reasonable price and very rarely will I buy any produce that costs more than $1 per pound.

We generally have meat for shabbat (Friday night/Saturday), then one night of chicken or fish, two nights of beans (usually non-dairy, with dairy available as a condiment), one night of dairy, and one breakfast night. This week we had three bean nights. Wow. And they were all actually GOOD! :)

Here's what we had this week, and what each thing costs. I won't be doing this forever, but it's interesting to see how very, very cheaply nutritious filling food can be made. I shudder to think that so many people on desperately limited food budgets are grabbing the 25-cent ramen noodles, when they could have something much more life-sustaining for the same amount of money. I fantasize (only fantasize!) about doing free $1.00 menu classes...

Being conscious of the actual costs is also good for reinforcing the desire NOT to pay way too much for things that are already made (and that don't taste nearly as good!). Here's what we had this week:

pinto bean tacos with tofu sour cream (skipped the veggies 'cause we were in a rush!)
COST: $0.50 per taco and our family ate 8 tacos

crock pot whole chicken with plum chutney, kamut, celery, and carrots
COST: $11.50 for dinner for 6 + lunch for 1

tvp/oatmeal veggie burgers with all the fixings
COST: $0.31 per burger

poached eggs, toast, and salad (lettuce, tomato, cukes, croutons, dressing; nothing fancy)
COST: $0.60 for 2 eggs, 2 pieces of toast, and salad

black bean chili with cheddar cheese, green onions, tofu sour cream, and a few chips on top
COST: $0.40 for 1 cup of chili (which is plenty!) w/fixings

We didn't get in quite as many veggies this week as I normally would. A few nights were rushed.... Sunday we HAD to have time for a family movie, Wednesday we were out picking peaches and came home to discover the crock pot hadn't been turned on (duh), and Thursday I was teaching and didn't get home until 6:45.

Other food news... I've almost finished preserving our year's supply of jam. I have one batch of blackberry to do as soon as I pick some more blackberries around the corner from us. We also picked 25 pounds of peaches on Sauvie Island this week. I'm going to let them ripen a little further. DH is making two peach pies for shabbat and for the freezer (he's a pie maker extraordinaire). I think I'm going to dry a bunch, freeze a few, and can the rest. I also got enough pickling cucumbers to do about 12 quarts of dill pickles. I need to pick up some dill seeds, then hopefully that will get done on Sunday or Monday. I haven't made pickles before, so I'm very excited about that. I'm also fantasizing about buying fresh-picked olives from Penna Olives and salt curing a bunch of my own. I'll chuck the fantasy if we end up moving to Pittsburgh early next month! But if not, that will be our, er, my reward for staying (DH doesn't understand the pickle thing OR the olive thing!).

Fun stuff. I guess this is why my kitchen is always a mess. High mileage. But I enjoy every minute of it. But not as much as I enjoy being a wife and mama. Good night!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Fun Puzzle and Activity Book

I picked up this book, How Deep is the Sea, for Amirah at either Fred Meyer or Target quite a few months ago. She picks this book up constantly and loves doing the many different activities. It has everything: dot-to-dots, math, drawing, puzzles, reading, crossword puzzles, word searches, maps, biology/ecology, word scrambles, mazes... lots more. There are several books in the series too. I'm sure this book will last quite a while since it has 233 pages, but when it's used up it will be well worth buying another. It cost $13, but we'll definitely get our money's worth out of it.

Okay, I promise, that's all the blogging I'm going to do tonight. So many things on my mind, and things that I want to keep records of as we go along. This blog is my memory! :)

Readaloud: The Journey

We were all SO excited to begin book two of this series - The Journey. The owl band from book one is in search of the Great Gahoole Tree to find out if the legends about it are true. The books remind me a little of the Poppy books by Avi, another series we really enjoyed quite a few months ago (a year?!). So far the story is just as tightly written, and you really, really care about the characters. Every night we read two chapters and it is pure torture for all of us to put the book down. We keep trying to get into bed sooner so we can read more, but no luck yet. Maybe tomorrow!

Veggie Burgers for 31¢

Every once in a while, I like to sit down and calculate the cost of a meal we just ate. I like the "way to go" feeling if we ate for under $5 and I really get to know on a concrete level how much less expensive it is when we make our own.

Tonight I made tvp/oatmeal veggie burgers. A pretty basic recipe, but it's very quick to make (a few minutes to combine ingredients + a few minutes to pan-fry the patties).

This is the recipe:

1-1/2 cup tvp (I used beef flavor)
soaked for 15 minutes in 1-1/2 cups boiling water


2 eggs
1/2 cup oats
1/4 cup water
6 T flour
2 T soy sauce
2 T ketchup
2 t salt

Shape into patties and pan fry.

This recipe makes 14 medium-sized veggie patties (about the size of a Morningstar Farms package of veggie burgers). Morningstar Farm burgers usually cost $3.00 for a pack of 4, or $0.75 each. I made this recipe for $0.15 per pattie! The homemade buns cost $0.06 each. A generous amount of condiments (lettuce, tomato, onions, pickles, mustard, mayo, ketchup) brought the total cost per veggie burger to $0.31 each. We had water to drink, so the entire meal cost $2.48 since 8 burgers were consumed.

Knowing how cheap it is to make, I find myself totally, completely unable to actually go to a restaurant (if we had a kosher veggie burger available!), and pay $10 (with tip) for a veggie burger that's no better than my very ordinary recipe. (I want to work on the recipe; it needs a little more pizzaz.) Certainly not 30 times better!

My Latest Exercise Adventure

I've been very good with my Very Big Hill walking routine. Three times up said Very Big Hill gives me a perfect 35-minute workout, which I do daily while DH cleans up after dinner. Every year, my problem is that as soon as the rainy weather comes my dedication to the art of exercising wanes considerably. I love walking. I love tackling that big hill and getting to the top. We do have an exercise bike, which DH uses to keep his migraines away, so I do have that available to me, but it doesn't quite give me the same kind of workout that walking does. (And it's SO much nicer to be outside!) We pondered buying a treadmill, but that sounds totally B-L-E-A-H, and also costs a lot of money.

So, alternatives... Off and on for a good year I've been joking about getting a punching bag. I kept imagining how satisfying it would be to punch a heavy bag after a bout of frustration (not that those EVER come!), or a busy day, or a stressful event (none of those either, of course). And the best part? It's cheap! So I finally did it for real.

Last night, DH went out and bought a 75-pound heavy bag that we found on craigslist for $40. (When the seller asked DH if he was going to take up boxing, he had to admit it was for his wife; it was a bit of a funny moment.) Gloves and hand wraps have set me back another $20 (or less, depending on how my ebay bid turns out). I also got junior gloves so we can make it a family affair. No, the gloves aren't pink, but I can't wait to get them! I've ordered quite a few boxing dvds and books from the library. I'm sure I'll have absolutely no idea what I'm doing, but I can't wait to start doing it. Probably another week or so before my gloves come.

Yes, it's pretty funny. I think if I saw myself punching that bag I would roll down my hill laughing all the way. But I can't wait!!!!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Children's Music

I just had to post a couple of our favorite children's music cds. I'm very picky about what we listen to. We absolutely avoid anything with commercial tie-ins and brand names, and I personally just don't enjoy listening to music that is plugged in (a microphone is the only exception - I know I'm weird!).

So, here are our favorites:

Ship of Chocolate Chips, by Joel Frankel (that's our favorite, but anything by him is fun)
Rhythmically Moving, with Gemini (great dance music; there are 10 cds, I think)
Gift of the Tortoise, by Ladysmith Black Mambazo
Your Child Needs Music, by Rahel (the best collection of simple children's songs in Hebrew I've ever heard)

And my all-time #1 favorite:

A Child's Garden of Songs, by Ted Jacobs (truly lovely settings of Robert Louis Stevenson's poems; Ted Jacobs' others aren't anywhere close to this good)

I've not had a good time finding Jewish religious children's music that is pleasing to MY ear. So much of it is really trite with generic accompaniments of loud electronic keyboards and other artificial sounds. Just not my cup of tea. If anyone can help me find something lovely, I'd be so very happy! And post your other suggestions for any children's cds you know that are in the unplugged vein. I love new discoveries!

Eating Locally

As in produce. I've been wanting to blog about this for quite a while. Forbes magazine had yet another thought-provoking article called "The Myth of the Locavore." Now I've always fancied myself a locavore of sorts; I prefer to get my produce whenever possible from local sources and we generally only eat foods that are in season. When we do eat non-seasonal produce, I try to avoid produce that has been imported from foreign countries.

Why? Good question. Part of the reason is that I just much prefer to eat tomatoes grown by Dave than tomatoes grown, er, where exactly? I love getting our annual supply of fresh grapes for our homemade grape juice from Mrs. Justy every year. I love the many, many places we can go pick our own fruits and vegetables around here. I loved our csa where the farmer himself brought our weekly produce delivery to our door. (We didn't subscribe this year since we weren't sure if/when we'd be moving!) Also, local produce that is grown for flavor is a lot better-tasting then trucked produce that is grown for its ability to survive shipping. A lesser reason I did it is I had a vague notion that it was probably better for the environment.

About a month ago, Forbes ran this very interesting article, and it really made me re-think what all of this means. You can read the article for yourself, but these are some of the points I found most interesting:

•How a particular crop or animal is raised can significantly affect the carbon footprint; so much so that food brought in from another country may actually have a lesser impact on the environment than food produced locally but in a less carbon-friendly way (the author cites a study that showed that it was actually more environmentally responsible for Brits to buy lamb from New Zealand than lamb that had been home-grown).

•Transportation accounts for only 11% of a food's carbon footprint

•Sending 2,000 apples 2,000 miles costs the same fuel per apple as sending 50 apples 50 miles.

•Finally, it's nearly impossible for the consumer to determine what a particular item's carbon footprint actually is.

Interesting points to ponder. Doesn't change my habits at all. I always take the buzzwords "organic," "fair trade," and "local" with a grain of salt. And I am simply floored at the premiums that people will pay for products that come with these buzzwords when they can't even afford to pay their rent. I guess I'm a moderate. :) Good night!

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Menu

Here 'tis (and with it post #400!):

roasted red pepper salad
mashed potatoes (Amirah's special request)
green salad
gluten-free mango coconut cake

And, courtesy of our visiting Good Cook:

plata (a fish/potato dish)
tabouleh-style millet salad
cole slaw

And for tomorrow...

brisket and chicken salad sandwiches (chicken in case there's not enough leftover brisket)

A feast, and I feel like I'm on a chetzi-vacation. Better get to cleaning... :)

Readaloud - Savitri

We just read this book, Savitri: A Tale of Ancient India, by Aaron Shepard, as a followup to our study of ancient India. This book was so lovely it made me teary-eyed. The central character is so kind, thoughtful, and selfless. It is one of the nicest short story books we have read in a very long time. Even Eli asked if we could read it again, and usually if it doesn't involve cars and trucks he's not too interested in a repeat performance. :)

P.S. to Previous Entry

I just had to add that I credit my entire approach to writing and narration to Writing With Ease by Susan Wise Bauer. Her approach and sensibilities mesh so well with us. I'm tremendously grateful for this book and the many other resources she publishes. Very clearly structured and well thought out. We use the same author's materials for history and grammar, and her mother's book for reading. My job is so much easier thanks to these top-notch resources.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Weekday Menus

I so much appreciating other friends' menu plans for the week. Since I borrow from them heavily I thought I would start posting mine too.

Our breakfasts and lunches are pretty repetitive. Five mornings a week breakfast is usually a smoothie (frozen berries, soy milk/milk/yogurt, oat bran, flax meal, cottage cheese/tofu, and a little sugar to sweeten). Other mornings we have either eggs or oatmeal, occasionally something fancier. :) I frequently make a batch of high-protein, high-fiber muffins.

We have fruit with every lunch and another as morning or afternoon snack. My snack is usually a bowl of raw oatmeal with a rather large heap of oat bran and some milk. Sometimes I nuke it, sometimes I don't. Sometimes I add dried or fresh fruit if we have something around.

Lunches are leftovers for myself and DH, and usually a cheese or peanut butter/jelly or tuna or egg sandwich for the kids. Or sometimes they have leftovers too.

For dinner this week, this is what we had:

1) roast chicken, eggplant with miso dressing, brown rice, stir-fried pea shoots (tough and stringy, but we ate them anyway; much better raw)

2) picnic! chicken salad sandwiches (w/apple and onion), watermelon, spinach salad (lemon juice, olive oil, salt, croutons, tomatoes)

3) salmon with lemon butter sauce, broccoli, cabbage salad (cabbage, carrots, cukes, onions, cilantro, lime juice, olive oil, 1 T mayo)

4) cheese souffle, watercress cucumber salad, whole wheat English muffins

5) veggie stir fry (onion, garlic, ginger, cabbage, gi choi, red pepper, zucchini), General Tso tofu, peanut sauce, brown rice

Stay tuned for the shabbat menu... I have no idea what we're having! Except that our dear friend RF is bringing three things with her when they come for dinner (can't ever turn down a good cook!). I'll figure it out tonight... or tomorrow. OY.

Lei Zu and the Silkworm

We've been studying ancient China this week, including farming, the Yangtze and Yellow Rivers, the Shang Dynasty, pictograms, and silk. Part of what Amirah does for history is to narrate back to me what we learned at a previous lesson. She's requiring fewer and fewer prompts to do the narrations. This time it was just questions like, "And then what happened?" and, before she dictated the last three sentences, "What was the point of her discovering the cocoon?" It's been fun to see her progression with this skill. Narration is a precursor to writing. It helps the student gather their thoughts in an orderly fashion without having the additional task of writing them down on paper which can really disrupt the flow when they're in the early stages of printing. So, here's her narration!

Lei Zu and the Silkworm

One day, Lei Zu was sitting under a mulberry tree. She ordered her maid to get her lunch underneath the mulberry tree. When she had some tea, a cocoon fell inside of her tea. She pulled it out and the cocoon started to unravel. She took the cocoon and went around the whole garden and unraveled it as she walked. She decided to weave it for her husband and make a robe. Her husband gasped because it was so shiny. Her husband said, "We will call it silk."


I really like doing these narrations. When papa comes home and asks Amirah, "What did you do today?" he rarely gets a grunted "I forget" or "I don't know." She gets lots of practice, mostly for history and composition, in recalling things in order and expressing them out loud. I see very clearly how good it is for student to gain a lot of skill in narration and printing separately before putting them together.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Learning in Record Time

Today we did a LOT of learning in a very compact amount of time. We still have reading and history to go (probably 40 more minutes), but already this morning we did davening, siddur/prayer book word search (mostly baruch, shema, and god's name) for the littles, torah stories, learned two new Hebrew songs, worked with Eli in his alef bet, alphabet, and math books, then with Amirah on ketivah (Hebrew writing), spelling (2 pages), grammar (days of the week), composition (passage comprehension and narration), and math (doing things like 9+2 and 8+9 by turning the larger number into a group of ten by borrowing from the smaller number, then writing the tens and ones to make the answer). All of this in 2 hours and 15 minutes. So, with the last bit that we'll do after lunch we've hit a nice, even 3 hours which is my goal (1-1/2 for just Amirah, 1/2 for just Eli, and 1 hour for everyone). It's really just right, and the pacing, though compact, does not feel rushed at all and Amirah is not overwhelmed. For many things (especially math and writing (!)) she keeps asking for more, more, more, but I don't want us to be sitting there for hours on end. A very satisfying morning, and soon we're on to play. Have I mentioned that I love this life? I LOVE THIS LIFE! :)

Green Coffee Bean Verdict

When we got our roaster we got five one-pound samples of different green beans. This week I realized there was one I hadn't tried yet - Mexico Chiapas. (On the link it's a few coffees down the list.) WOW! This is a really, really dark roast, especially when I do the 8-minute roast (the longest roast on our machine). I can use 2/3 the usual amount of coffee and still get black, black, very flavorful coffee. So instead of $0.35 per cup, this should be more like $0.25 per cup. Next time we order we can get 20 pounds (green coffee beans stay good for a year or more), so the cost is only $4.15 per pound. I've never had a better cup of coffee.

Now, on to learning time... ancient Chinese farming and silkworm cultivation are on the menu today! And an exciting trip (truly) to Bob's Red Mill to stock up on flours and oats and flax and whatever else will be on our list. We all love visiting the mill. I hope there's one wherever we move to next. I really like buying my food in real places.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Quote of the Week

From a couple of days ago...

(Eddie is a bunny that is on vacation at our house for a week.)

Amirah: Mama, can we change Eddie's cage now?
Mama: No, Amirah, we should change it every three days or so and it hasn't been that long yet.
Amirah: But papa said we could!
Mama: No, Amirah, I'm sure he wouldn't have said it's time to do it yet.
Amirah: But papa says we should do it twice a week!!!

I always tell her that mama and papa always give the same answers...


Monday, August 3, 2009

Iced Coffee - Cold Brew or Hot Brew?

Every erev shabbat we make coffee ahead of time, and enjoy iced coffee on shabbat morning. I've always loved iced coffee. I had read in several of my regular culinary sources that the best way to brew coffee for iced coffee was to just combine cold water with the ground coffee and let it sit for twelve hours. We decided to try it that way this shabbat. Being married to a scientist, we couldn't just leave it at that. We also had to do a hot brew so we could compare the two and see which was in fact better.

The next morning, we each independently did a taste test and arrived at the same conclusion - the hot-brewed iced coffee was immensely superior! The cold brew was very acidic and overly-assertive. Not all that pleasant a taste. But the hot brew was nice and smooth and of a good flavor. It's possible that twelve hours was too long for a cold brew, so it developed too high a pH. We're not sure. But in any case, we're sticking with hot-brewed iced coffee.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Readaloud: Misty of Chincoteague

We tore through The Capture over shabbat and finished it this afternoon. It was just one of those books we couldn't put down! I've ordered the next three books from the library. It was a really lovely story, of truly courageous heroes, utter evil, and a great escape. I hope the series continues in the same vein. And one bit of trivia - the author is Jewish!

So, this afternoon we started reading Misty of Chincoteague. Given that Amirah is a bit crazy for horses, it too was a great selection. It was first published in 1947, and the story is absolutely timeless with charming illustrations.

Between the Ga'Hoole series and books by Marguerite Henry, we should be kept busy for quite a while! Works out great too because readalouds for the periods in ancient history we are studying right now are few and far between.

Hope everyone is having a nice weekend!