Friday, December 31, 2010

The Menu

After being out for all meals last week, it seems I'm compensating with lots of guests this week. We'll have fifteen tomorrow night and ten on Saturday. And what's on the menu? This!

DINNER
challah
red pepper spread
eggplant spread
caesar salad
tilapia cakes
sweet potato soup
chicken in barbecue sauce
roasted mixed vegetables
baked potatoes with tofu sour cream and green onions
pumpkin ginger pound cake
cranberry pineapple coconut sorbet

LUNCH
same challah/dips/salad
beef barley stew
same potatoes
turkey deli meat
some other kind of salad, tba!
same desserts

The Week

What a week. Art projects and more art projects, playing in the backyard, visiting the baby bisons at Oatland Island (in the sunny weather!), a token bit of science and not much else, sleeping later than usual and cuddling WAY longer than usual, lots of kitchen time (and really inspired at the moment, too!)...

I hadn't really intended this to be a two-week semi-vacation from our learning time, but I think the part of me that has been on an academic schedule since age 5 just couldn't keep on going despite all intentions to the contrary.

One of the best parts? DH having last Friday and this Friday off! Wouldn't 4-day work weeks every week be lovely? YES! Sigh... We took good advantage of them. DH put in the new floor in the learning room and it looks great. He's nearly done with all the shelving in the closet. So satisfying to have done it ourselves. In the fall we thought it very odd that contractors would appear at our house, wax enthusiastic about the project, and then never be heard from again. Or phone calls wouldn't be returned. Or... Turns out Hashem knew we were just supposed to be doing it ourselves and conserving our financial resources for other things. It's one of those times when you just think, "How could we NOT have thought of just doing it ourselves?" Next, on to the music room!

The week was very nice, and I am looking forward to diving back into our learning next week—especially since we'll be in our nice, new, bright learning room! I'll post a picture as soon as it's done.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Weekday Menus

What we ate last week...

Sunday: homemade seitan sautéed in teriyaki sauce, miso soup, brown rice, green salad with miso dressing

Monday: tofu macaroni and cheese, cauliflower with butter and preserved lemons

Tuesday: meatballs (free from friend!), steamed mixed whole grains, green salad

Wednesday: Ummmm... I forget! Oops.

Thursday: crepes and poached eggs

Quote of the Week

Mama, hugging Avi: Ethiopia makes good babies.

Avi: Nooooooooo! They make good doughnuts!

Art Week

We've been doing lots of art projects over the last week. It's been fun to focus on different things - art, science, lots of books, HOPEFULLY some history if we can find our (once again) lost history book. I was really hoping to catch up in history this week. Oh, well! Maybe tomorrow?

Here are some fun pictures the kids have done...

GOOD SHABBOS!
(crayons and watercolor)

By Amirah - a vase and shabbos candles on a table

By Eli - he threw in a havdalah candle and a tzedakah box for good measure

By Raizel

TURKEYS!
(We've developed a certain fondness for them since our ranch trip.)

By Amirah

By Eli

By Raizel

(What's not to like about silver paint pens and black construction paper?)

COWS!
(This project definitely had the largest amount of giggling,
and is our current topic of study in zoology.
Done in oil pastels.)

By Amirah (who turned her cow into a bull)

By Eli

By Raizel

BLAST OFF!
(Amirah's rocketship must have blasted off somewhere;
it's nowhere to be found...
Done in watercolor.)

By Eli - he says his rocket ship is exploding

By Raizel

We have had so much fun doing these and lots of other projects! Looking forward to a few more this week, than I've really got to make sure we do at least a couple of projects every week. It's so relaxing!

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Total

Well, we have 50%+ of a new floor and...

1 gallon of applesauce
8 quarts of orange marmalade (a few pints wandered out the door)
4 dozen orange muffins (2 dozen wandered out the door)
4 dozen hamburger/hot dog buns
2 quarts of preserved oranges

I'm very happy! I had hoped to get to bread too, but I'll get to that on Sunday, BE"H. It was so nice to have a chunk of time for non-shabbos cooking.

Also... want to know what the discount is on do-it-yourself floor plus paint? 66%! I don't care if it takes us 2-3 weeks instead of three days!

GOOD SHABBOS!

Orange Marmalade, Part 2

You know all that stuff I wrote about yesterday? About the orange marmalade not being up to par with the traditional recipe? Forget about it! The marmalade has mellowed out a lot in just one day, and I'm sure it will mellow even more (though we think it's perfect right now). It's so thick, you can turn the jar upside down without spilling any. I've added a little more water to the two batches that are on the stove right now (about 1-1/2 cups water to 9 cups of almost-puréed oranges and 9 cups sugar).

I also put up two quarts of preserved oranges, which are used in Moroccan cooking just like preserved lemons. Can't wait to use them in a recipe! I've been pretty giddy working in the kitchen. The kids made a huge batch of applesauce, so that's cooking away right now. Four dozen hamburger/hot dog buns are about to bake. Hopefully a 5-loaf batch of our cracked wheat oatmeal bread. It's been FUN to have a whole day for this. And meanwhile, I hear DH in the learning room pounding together our new floor. A very good day, indeed!

Orange Marmalade

We picked a good 30-40 pounds of oranges this afternoon, so of course I have to make some orange marmalade (my favorite jam). I perused a bunch of recipes. Most use oranges and lemons, and I didn't have any lemons on hand. I found one recipe that just took the oranges and chopped them up and added sugar and water. So... for my experiment I chopped up six oranges, measured them, and added an equal amount of sugar (in this case, 2-1/2 cups) plus about 1/2 cup water. I brought it to a hard boil for 15 minutes and that was it. Very fast and easy. This marmalade is a bit "rustic." The chunks are a bit too chunky, and with more of the pith in there it was definitely more bitter. I think the lemon juice really brightens the flavor too. On the other hand, this jam took thirty minutes to make. I didn't have to peel of all that zest. Maybe I'll compromise and make half the jam the easy way, and the other half with the more complicated process. In any case, it really is pretty good!

Quote of the Week

Mama: Avi, please don't jump on my legs. It hurts.

Avi: But I can do it quiet!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Menu

Here 'tis:

Painting walls
Installing new floors
Baking muffins and breads
Making orange marmalade

And for dessert...

Cleaning the house!

All before shabbos, of course. We're out for both meals this shabbos. WOOHOO! I've been able to get so much done in other realms, and it's perfect timing with us wanting to put new floors in the learning room and music room (it feels very weird to say I have a learning room and a music room!). The painting of the learning room is done and tomorrow, thanks to the bonus day off, DH is starting to put in the new floor. We're so excited. We're going to put lots of shelves into the closet that's in there too so we can have as little as possible in the learning room itself so there's lots of room to move around. There are already two built-in bookcases, so I'm hoping to have just those plus one other bookcase plus our table and chairs. We'll see...

Good shabbos, all!

Kosher Reading

The kosher book list I referred to earlier can be found here. What makes a secular book "kosher"?

For me this entails several things:

1) It should model good middos (character traits). Raising children is about lifting them up and modeling what it means to be a good person/Jew. Scoundrels, when they are clearly meant to be scoundrels, are fine. (There are some great scoundrels in Treasure Island, for example.) But if a lead character, often someone the reader is somewhat identifying with as we read the story, behaves rudely or obnoxiously to friends or (worse) his parents, it's not a book I care to read.

2) If a book glorifies another religion it's just not for us. I want our books to reinforce the middos we are teaching our children. References to holiday celebrations in, for example, Little House on the Prairie don't bother me at all. In fact, that's one series that really role models good middos!

3) If a book contains a lot of references to pop culture, it's not for us either - drugs, music, teenage dating, etc.

4) Not really to do with kosher, but twaddle is definitely out. The book must be well-written, the language rich, and the story well crafted. (This is especially true for our readalouds; I'm not quite as picky on what they pick up to read for fun around the house.)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Torah Leining!

WOW! You can hear any parsha from the torah leined here. What a great resource!

Book Review: The Silver Cup


This was the book we read last week. You can read more about the plot here. What I really liked about this book is the same thing I really liked about another book we read quite a while ago - The Hebrew Kid and the Apache Maiden. In both books, people from two utterly different religions meet and connect, but it does not melt into an "everyone is really the same" blather. The respect that develops between the characters is real, and each sees that for the other person to abandon their own culture/religion would be the same as death. A plot that could be so fraught with peril from a Jewish standpoint has been handled with great sensitivity.

It really is middle school/high school reading material, but the tale is beautifully told. I did read a chapter ahead before reading it aloud in order to edit out some of the parts that made even me squirm. The Crusaders (and knights) were given no sympathy or justification, and no words were minced about their horrible treatment of the Jews.

So, this book would definitely not be for more sensitive, younger children, but for ours it was good. This was the author's first book (she's a retired lawyer), and I hope for more to come.

And for this week, we've started Treasure Island!

Quote of the Week

Avi: Mama, I don't like English.

Mama: What do you like?

Avi: CAKE!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Quote of the Week

While ripping up the old floor with papa...

Papa: Eli, you're really working hard.

Eli: Yes, and I'm working b'simcha!

B'simcha means "with joy." Jews are supposed to do all the mitzvos b'simcha.


And Eli really was a huge help. He was so happy working alongside his papa, using real tools to rip out glued-down (?) rug and old linoleum, and doing something of real value. He thinks tomorrow night we should surprise papa and do all the painting while he's asleep. Hand that boy a brush! :)

Old Old English

Tomorrow we're reading a little bit about Beowulf (Amirah is already a BIG fan of the story!), and exploring the sounds of Old (Old!) English. This video is incredible!

Halacha Songs!

I just finished composing another little halacha song. The halacha for this week is "Kabed es-avicha v'es imecha." ("Honor your father and your mother.") I think we'll be spending two or three weeks on this important mitzva. This has been such a fun project. Early today I heard them all singing songs I had done for Pirkei Avos last spring! It's nice to hear them remembering the songs. With the current songs, I'm also making sure that we are able to speak/read the words and not just sing them. The music is also being carefully written so it does not muck with the pronunciation in terms of both where the accents fall and for clarity. So... I think I'm ready for the week. Most schools are taking a break right now. We'll continue our mornings as usual, but maybe go on a few more excursions in the afternoons.

We also ripped out the learning room floor today (with a LOT of excellent help from Eli!). Of course, one home improvement project leads to another and we now can't bear to put in the floor before freshly painting the walls a nice white to brighten the room (instead of the gray they are now). So... first we have to paint the walls. But if we paint the walls, we really need to remove (and junk) all the nearly-useless upward-pointing fluorescent light fixtures going around the whole top of the walls. We've been using it for out-of-reach shelving, so instead the closet in the room will get lined with shelves and look nicer to boot. OY. We're having fun, though, and can't wait to see it all!

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Menu

Shabbos is coming, shabbos is coming!

And for tonight, we're having...

challah
olives
asparagus vichyssoise
oven-fried chicken
roasted potatoes
taktouka (Moroccan roasted green pepper and tomato salad, with lots of smoky paprika)
carrot/lettuce/dried cherry salad with rice vinegar vinaigrette and toasted almonds
brownies and chocolate ice "cream"*

And for lunch...

some of the above, plus
meatballs
rice salad
guacamole
tortilla española (kind of like a potato/onion frittata)


*My favorite pareve frosting is a melted bag of chocolate chips combined with a cake of tofu and sugar to taste. This frosting can also be served as a mousse, or frozen and called ice cream. Very versatile! This time, to stretch it further since we have a lot of lunch guests, I added a can of coconut milk. YUM.

Good shabbos, all!

The Week in Review

It's been a pretty good week! Let's see, what did we do? Oh, yes!

•The switch to Saxon math from Singapore was such a good idea! Amirah is all fired up to memorize her math facts and is doing so mostly all by herself. About 75% of the math is review, but about 25% is new to her. She has enjoyed how quickly she can do the math, and the variety of different activities (5-6) has been good. It's been much better than facing 10 pages of Singapore devoted entirely to adding three-digit numbers. Each section did have subtle changes in challenge, but nonetheless she did find it rather daunting. One reason I didn't like Saxon before was that part of what you pay for is a rather thick scripted teacher text. I don't like following a script, and I really don't like paying for it. So, I do skim through it to see if there are any pointers for the coming week, then just ad lib it. The teacher manual does include many "off the book" activities and I do appreciate that. We love taking our lessons off the book.

•We went to a Snakes class at Skidaway Island, but were very disappointed to discover that the class consisted of going into the room with all the reptiles and amphibians and waving hello to the snakes. Really, that was it. It was ten minutes. We hung out in the bird observation room and sketched pictures of the various stuffed birds they have in the room. Raizel did a pretty good merganser! Despite the disappointment we did have a nice (chilly) picnic and played at the playground.

•I've gotten better at more efficient learning time! I do more with all of them doing different subjects at the table at the same time (Amirah and Eli doing math, Raizel doing alef beis). It's a little crazy switching kids every 60 seconds, but it seems to work for certain subjects. We spent about 75 minutes per day on davening/parsha stories/chumash, then Amirah's learning took another two hours total. During some of her time I was also working with the other two. Then I did maybe thirty minutes with just Eli. We didn't do any science or history, but I don't really worry about that. We get to it as we get to it. Science is purely bonus, since Amirah already has plenty of science knowledge in her head, and history is really bonus for this age group too.

•Our halacha of the week is "Do not take revenge upon your people." Practically speaking, in our house it means that if Raizel takes apart Eli's K'nex structure (hypothetically speaking, of course!), Eli can't retaliate by throwing a block at her. Every time they do the mitzvah and refrain from taking revenge, they get to go write their name on the halacha poster. They get to do the same thing every time they do something like a chesed that falls under last week's halacha of "Love your neighbor as yourself." It's been pretty popular. This week's song was a big hit too. I've got to figure out how to post these things. If anyone wants a plain old pdf, I can e-mail it to you. :) We also call out "mitzvah point" whenever we catch someone doing a mitzvah, especially the ones we're focusing on. Where does the point get written down? In hashamayim, of course!

•Amirah's narrations (I read her a story and right afterwards she summarizes what she heard) have gotten more detailed while still remaining very tight. Writing is one of her favorite subjects.

•We started giving each of our kids "pocket money." It's a token amount, ranging from $1-2 for each kid. What do they do with their pocket money? Ten percent is set aside for tzedakah and how to spend the rest is completely up to them. If they choose to purchase something that we deem educational, we will pitch in 50% of the cost. And if they don't want to do a particular chore, they can pay a sibling or a parent $0.25 from their pocket money to do it for them. I didn't want to tie chores to allowance per se, because I think you should do your chores just because you're part of a family. So far a couple of them have given a chore to a sibling, who happily earned an extra $0.25, but for the most part they are doing all the chores without any complaint. We cleaned up the house tonight in about half the time it usually takes! I was happy. For now, we just made a list of their chores based pretty much on what they were already expected to be doing. Once our system is in place for a few weeks, we'll add a few more chores.

One thing I really miss - we used to do LOTS of art projects each week. There are pens, pencils, crayons, and drawing notebooks at their disposal and these are in constant use, but we haven't really done all that many special projects. I really want to find a way to work that back into the routine, at least once a week.

We've started the floor installation project in the learning room and music room. We actually bought the floors this week! We'll start ripping out carpets on Sunday. Learning room first, then the music room. Hoping to finally start that music class in January. I'm looking forward to having a place to set up all the glockenspiels, xylophones, drums, and all the other classroom instruments that are now living in boxes. (We're installing a lock on the door from the kitchen to the music room too so things don't get fiddled with in there!). It will also double as our exercise room. I'm going to hang my punching bag smack in the middle of the room, then take it down for the weekly music class. Fun stuff. I still can't believe we're in this house that so perfectly suits our needs. Baruch hashem!

So those are some of the highlights! Everyone is happy and humming and shabbos is coming. B"H!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Churros

We didn't get around to making doughnuts for channukah this year. Each year we make a different kind. This year I had planned to make churros, so we finally made a half-recipe of them today. This was an even better recipe than last year's beignets!

CHURROS

Bring to a boil:

2 cups water
5 T. sugar
1 t. salt
1/4 cup vegetable oil

Then add in:

2 cups of flour

Stir it until it forms a big ball.

Heat a pot of oil to 375. (I used a small pot so I didn't have to use up much oil.) When the oil is ready, you can pipe in sections of dough w/a pastry bag. (Or, if you're like me and couldn't FIND your pastry bag, you can roll small sections of dough with your hands... mine were 3–5 inches long.) Fry them until golden brown, drain them on paper towels, then roll them around in a cinnamon sugar mixture.

These were so delicious. What a nice little treat! I think we'll definitely have to repeat these next year. Farewell, fried foods! We enjoyed your visit. :)

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Menu

Here 'tis:

For dinner...

challah
fried chicken
green salad
roasted potatoes, Greek style
orange ginger yam purée
hot coleslaw
spicy ginger cookies

For lunch...

SUSHI!

And all that comes with it...

Good shabbos!

Farewell, Channukah/Hello, Shabbos!

Well, today William the Conqueror conquered England and we started six fires at Skidaway Island State Park. But it's okay, Ranger Dave was there to help us out! We had a really great class at the park on how to build a campfire using magnesium stones. The kids loved it, and Amirah actually got the sparks going and we made fires. Very fun. We *were* the class too, and he commented that no one had showed up for the morning class (an art project involving animal tracks). I've resolved to get us to a class there at least once a week. It's a wonderful (and FREE) resource, and the staff has always been exceedingly helpful and interested when we've visited. The interpretive center is wonderful. The bird observation room is our favorite place, and for the first time ever I saw a red-bellied woodpecker, a female. Very striking. We also found an owl tree at the playground there, and sure enough, beneath it we found two owl pellets. We're hoping to tear them apart tomorrow and see what's there.

Today went so well that I'm going to see if on Tuesdays and Thursdays we can work just 9:30-12:00 (which means just getting Amirah's learning time done) and taking the afternoons for longer excursions and experiences. It was glorious to be outside in the crisp sunshine. We even did our traditional channukah gelt hunt on the playground (since the gelt is dairy and we had meat last night!). We also got to see where the turtles had dug into the mud to hibernate and we got to touch the baby alligator and wonder when it would eat the mice in its tank (just after we left the room, of course).

We did a little carschooling too. Amirah read from her McGuffey reader to us, and on the way home we recounted all the birds we had seen in the observation room - chickadees, cowbirds, red-bellied woodpecker, cardinals...

And math! We started our Saxon adventures this week. We tried starting in the middle, but it was tricky. Saxon has all the different skills sort of intertwined instead of in discreet units, like Singapore. We ended up having to start at the beginning and skim through it. We're doing 5-10 pages a day (2-3 lessons?). The timed math facts sheet are really good and frequent. I think we'll zoom through the first half pretty fast, then slow our pace for the second half. We'll see. Amirah is happy, and still learning new things.

Channukah was very nice, B"H. We had a party/dinner at the JEA (JCC) on Sunday, friends over on Tuesday night (for the latke, bagel, doughnut blowout), a shul dinner on Wednesday night, and the day school's performance on Thursday night. Seeing all those guys up there really got me reminiscing about my own school performance evenings. What fond memories I have of my students. I started fantasizing about doing a channukah story production, and the kids writing the music and the script, and... We had such a good time!!!!!!! For now, I'm looking forward to (please, Hashem, soon - gotta get those floors removed!) starting our own little music class. The kids here are also begging to write a little play and turn it into a movie. That would be a fun project too.

We started a new thing this week. I'm choosing a weekly halacha to focus on (this week it's v'ahavta l'reacha kamocha AKA love your neighbor as yourself). I made up a simple song that includes the Hebrew and English words. We talk about what it means and how to apply it, and how to not just do the act but to be conscious that we are also doing a mitzvah. Whenever one of us catches the other in an act of "loving their neighbor as themselves" we either sing the song or just say the phrase in Hebrew. Or, when someone needs reminding of what good middos are... :) We also talked about what we meant by "neighbor" and how that included a lot of different kinds of people, and specifically how we could help each one. We had some great conversations, and it was fun to hear the song being sung on various appropriate occasions.

I tried unsuccessfully to upload a MIDI of the song plus a copy of the sheet music to this blog. I'm not quite talented enough to pull it off, but DH says we can upload the files to our parked (and empty-for-now) website (alpidarko.org) and have the blog refer to archives there. SO, that seems relatively simple so hopefully we can do that soon.

Lots of fun things! I love this learning adventure we're on. So many interesting things to explore and we can explore any one of them to our heart's content. Ahhhhhhh... Good shabbos!!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Quote of the Week

Raizel: Mama, can we go to the fish market today?

Mama: The fish market? Why do you want to go to the fish market?

Raizel: You know, to look at the fish and go to the touch tank.

Mama: Oh, you mean the aquarium!

(Alas, our beloved little aquarium is closed for two months for renovations...)

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Menu

For dinner:

challah
olives
roast lamb & chicken
sweet potato persimmon kugel
sweet and sour cabbage salad
roasted carrots
brown rice pilaf
mashed potatoes
chocolate covered strawberries

And for lunch:

some of the above (olives, kugel, cabbage, pilaf, strawberries), plus...

tilapia quenelles (dumplings)
cucumber salad
tomato salad
potato salad
applesauce
guacamole and chips
cholent

And now..... time for a good night's sleep, so good night!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Quote of the Week

Mama: Avi, are your pants wet?
Avi: Yes! It was raining in my pants.

Hmmmmmmmmmm...

Our Day of Learning

We had such a nice day!

We...

• went to Ft. Jackson and participated in a 21-gun salute as the USS Taylor sailed by, simultaneous to the passing of the Georgiana, a huge freighter. We liked the big cannon! Here's the news video. At the very end you can hear Earlix kids cheering in the background (it was us, the news crew, the cannon firer, and two other people).

• got jelly doughnuts (á la sufganiyot) at Krispy Kreme.

• came home and sang a bunch of channukah songs.

• played channukah charades.

• had an exciting channukah quiz, with questions for each level.

• read a chapter from Tom Sawyer (even with somewhat archaic and therefore unfamiliar language they clamor for chapter after chapter).

• made some channukah decorations.

• lit candles and had a chocolate gelt hunt (our nightly tradition).

• went to a channukah party (cheap pizza, and free donuts and soda - OY!).

• read a chapter in High Country Adventure (about a boy whose small plane crashes in the wilderness and he and the pilot have to hike/canoe 150 miles through the Canadian wilderness).

• read a lesson from the family Chofetz Chaim Lesson-a-Day.

It was nice to do a lot of things not in our normal routine. Lots to squeeze in tomorrow before shabbos starts, though. Channukah sameach to everyone!

Math, math, math

Our success with our beloved Singapore Math seems to have come to a screeching halt. We've been doing three-digit addition w/carrying, and starting three-digit subtraction. We've also done the workbooks kind of non-linearally so we've explored other topics like measuring w/inches, centimeters, grams, and pounds. She LOVES all that! Amirah can also do the addition/subtraction pretty well, but when she sees a whole page (maybe 20 problems) she melts down and says it's too hard. When she finally drops the fit she can finish the page pretty quickly.

After struggling with this for several weeks I think that's enough. I know she needs to gain greater speed with her math facts. I think in addition to working on those, we're going to switch over to Saxon math, either for a "holiday" or permanently. I gave her the placement test and she placed just one point shy of third-grade math, so I put her in second grade and we'll start pretty much at her grade level (halfway through second grade). If it's easy for her, I'm fine with that. Let her spend some time regaining confidence and getting faster at her math facts. In The Well-Trained Mind, the author states that Singapore Math enters the logic stage too early for optimal learning. We've loved it up to this point, so I'm sad to say goodbye. WTM strongly recommends Saxon and all the WTM materials have worked GREAT for us so far, so I'm going to give this a shot.

Homeschooling is HARD work, definitely harder than when I was a classroom teacher. I have so many more variables to deal with at once (big variety of subjects and ages AND keeping the house clean AND janitoring AND all the meals in between - this house has lot of LIVING done in it!). Sometimes I get overwhelmed, like in the last few weeks, and sometimes we just cruise forward. I'm looking forward to getting back into a cruising mode. (Soon, please, Hashem?!) But I love what we're doing, the kids are happy, we're learning so many, many interesting things, and the flexibility is marvelous.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Ranch

What a great ranch trip we had! Amirah said, "It felt more like home than home does." We could hardly drag her away the one afternoon we went out to a (kosher!!) restaurant in Myrtle Beach, and trudged along the beach in our one afternoon of Portland-style drizzle. They were all so very content at the ranch. All we did was hang out there, read stories, and eat and the kids couldn't have been happier.

Highlights included...

The beautiful setting. This was our front yard. The owner lived across the street and down a little. His son-in-law's cows were directly across the street, and his bulls were right next to us. The pond there is (reportedly!) full of bass.


And here's Amirah trying to catch some of those bass!
No luck, but she had a great time trying...


Climbing trees was another favorite pastime. They could climb quite high with the branches so plentiful and close together. I was taking a picture of Eli up a tree (I was on the front porch), when he (slowly and safely!) fell. Afterwards he said, "I thought the branch was longer, but instead there was empty space!"


Amirah and the horses - the real reason she didn't want to take one step off that ranch.
She woke up extra early every morning, hair flying, to deliver a carrot to the horses. True love.


The barn where the chickens, roosters, turkeys, goat, horses, and our children hung out.


The bully goat. Just an over-enthusiastic nanny goat. Loved to play, but was too good with those horns! She also liked to dance up on her two legs and leap at you like a big friendly dog (with hooves and horns!). We had to keep her locked up in the barn, as much as we enjoyed having her running around. She even stood up at the front door and knocked!


Our farm kids, and the fence they spent a lot of time hanging on.


Sweetie Pie!


How we enjoyed our Thanksgiving turkey!
(Yes, he was still there the day after Thanksgiving... we did wonder!)


Another Sweetie Pie!


Re-entry was a bit rough. On the way out of our driveway at the ranch, the transmission died. D and the farmer poked around for a few minutes, then closed the hood. Left hoping we'd make it home! (Though the kids were rooting for a down transmission!) For some reason, it started working after that and all the way home it ran very smoothly. We stuck to the main highway instead of detouring to Charleston/Patriots Point. Too bad! We did have a nice picnic stop at Santee State Park, by a beautiful manmade lake where the (crazy) kids dipped their toes.

Got home at about 7:00, unloaded the car, got a quick dinner, then noticed that - ACK - our back sliding glass door had been jimmied open while we were gone. We were able to whack the lock back into place and close the door again. Nothing seems to be missing. We figure it was one VERY disappointed thief. Or maybe he thought another thief had beat him to the punch because of the obviously missing computer! B"H we had taken it down the street to be babysat while we were gone. Nothing else we have is worth anything to a thief. Printer? Dishes? Books? More books? Art supplies? Aquarium? Aspirin?

The children were excited to meet our friendly neighborhood policewoman when she came to inspect the scene of the crime. They had begged for a picture with her before she even arrived. Forensics is supposed to come later this week. Oh, the excitement. And technically it was called an "attempted burglary." I guess they don't really have a category for successful breakins to homes that just don't have STUFF! OTOH, there was nothing to show that the thief was actually IN the house. Maybe he just opened the door, took one look and ran.


Here they are, standing on location. The broken lock is by the policewoman's elbow.

Now, I just have to say, that normally something like this would FREAK ME OUT, and I cannot logically explain why I'm (mostly) not freaked out about it. Oh, at 12:30/1:00 a.m. I start to get a little jumpy and wonder if someone's looking in the windows. I don't know... We felt like something like this was a real possibility while we were gone. We prepared as best we could, and let Hashem take care of the rest, which is all we can do every day anyway. Whatever Hashem has in store for us is what's in store for us. We've added more security, and will still add a few more things, so that's our part. Life goes on!

And

HAPPY CHANNUKAH!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Eli's Soup

Last night, Eli made soup. I took out some beef broth left over from some shabbos meat we had made a couple of weeks ago. Then I told him to look through the fridge for any vegetables or other leftovers that he thought would go nicely in a soup. He added: carrots, potatoes, brown rice, two old tomatoes, crushed tomatoes (mama's contribution), and six eggs. At the end I thickened it all with a bit of flour. It was YUMMY! And everyone devoured it last night and again for lunch this afternoon. We called it Fridge Soup, and I think it will be Eli's weekly job. We usually have soup Sunday or Monday. Fun!

Book Review: The Lost Treasure of Chelton

We all enjoyed it very much. The language is less complex than Nancy Drew, but not as simple as The Boxcar Children. Satisfying enough. The mystery was a good adventure, and the Jewish parts were *very* well done and not cheesy. There are two families in the story—one not-observant family visiting for a 7-week vacation, and a rabbi and his family. Throughout the course of the book, the first family becomes increasingly interested in learning more about being Jewish and their interactions with the rabbi and his family are very sweet. There is nothing terribly contrived to make this fit into the plot of the story. So... 10 thumbs up from the Earlix family. Everyone is eager to read more by the same author. Now to pick something off our shelf for our vacation, and await the arrival of eight more Nancy Drew mysteries from a member of my Well-Trained Mind group.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Menu

By the skin of my teeth... And I even managed a 15-minute nap, and a whole lot of gratitude to the person who invited us for lunch! Hoping for a good 12-hour sleep tonight.

For dinner...

challah
red pepper dip
home-cured olives (the debut!)
chicken with persimmon chutney
basmati rice with preserved lemon
baked sweet potatoes
roasted zucchini, carrot, eggplant, onion
roasted potatoes
persimmon cake

And SLEEP!

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Good shabbos, all!

Yogurt

I'm back on track making our own yogurt, even though I still haven't gotten around to ordering culture from my usual place. I just heat a gallon of milk up to near boiling, let the temperature come down to body temperature, add a quart of yogurt with live cultures (either from the store or, mostly, from the last batch), then put it in a barely warmed-up oven for 5-8 hours. The step I've started doing which I hadn't done before is to strain it for 45 minutes or so through a pillowcase. WOW! This makes incredible Greek-style yogurt, as thick as sour cream. I let it drip until about 6 cups of whey have come out. It's incredible yogurt. If I let it drip longer, I'd have labneh which I also love. Maybe I'll do that with the next batch. Haven't had that in quite a while. It would go great with those olives!

I'm curious to see how long the store-bought yogurt lasts past the original purchase in terms of maintaining an active culture. I figure I would have to get 80 batches of yogurt to make it equal to the cost of the culture, so there's really no comparison, but still I'm curious. If I get only eight batches of yogurt, that's about $2.50 per gallon of yogurt (or about 1/7 the cost of yogurt at the store!). If I use freeze-dried culture, it's $2.05 per gallon of yogurt. Either way, it's a bargain.

So, try straining your yogurt, even if it's the store-bought variety. WOW! I don't even want to add any jam to it. More fun culinary experiments...

Home-Cured Olives

The olives have been soaking in salt water for six weeks now. For the first ten days, they soaked in plain water which was changed daily. After that, they soaked in a heavy brine for several weeks. Every Sunday, I rinsed the olives off and dumped out the old brine. Then I dumped an entire box of kosher salt into the barrel and filled it up with water several inches past the olives and mixed it all together. I placed a glass plate on top to hold the olives underwater, and used a mason jar filled with fresh water as a weight.

Today I filled up a mason jar with olives, then covered them in water. Every hour or two I changed the water so the salt could leach out. They tasted pretty good after that! Now they're covered in 50% red wine vinegar, 50% water, and five chopped garlic cloves. I don't know if they'll be ready by tomorrow, but I'll give it a shot! The rest of the olives will get packed up into mason jars (in heavy brine for longer preservation), then stored in the back of the second fridge. They should last quite a while, I hope. A fun project. Next year, I'd love to try salt curing and drying black olives.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A Vacation!

Our first getaway since moving here in January... BE"H, in six days we'll be moving into this North Carolina ranch house for five days:


And see this out our kitchen window:


And this from the family room window:

Amirah will be blissed out on cows, horses, chickens, goats, a pond, and whatever wildlife is passing through. I can't tell you how much we're looking forward to this getaway. It's been a rough week with viruses for all... I've been sacked out in bed half the day. Somewhere in that blur of a week, the kids managed to get quite a bit of learning done on their own! Amirah made a diorama/puppet show of whales and demonstrated all the different moves a whale makes on the surface. She plowed through a bunch of her spelling book. She read. And read. And read. She's turned into a reading monster. Eli decided he was going to whiz through the last twenty pages of his reading/writing/phonics book (Explode the Code), so he did and was very excited. His writing has been looking great. He made a city of cars out of a cardboard box, cutting and taping all kinds of things together. We read science and history. I pre-read our Jewish history book. We're onto the conquering of Spain by the Muslims. What a glorious time in Jewish and Islamic history. The Muslims actually contributed incredible amounts of knowledge and culture to the world, while Europe remained in the Dark Ages. If only their culture could regain itself and contribute something constructive to the world...

One of my favorite classes I took in college was called "The Three Cultures of Medieval Spain." We read and studied Jewish, Islamic, and Christian poetry and religion. The poetry that came out of Jewish Spain is unrivaled by any other time in Jewish history. Beautiful. And it was a very religious community, while also maintaining a very advanced secular knowledge. When I was 14, I became utterly enamored of medieval Ladino songs, and memorized as many as I could get my hands on. It's still my favorite music. At heart, I'm a sephardic Jew, but by an accident of conversion I'm an Ashkenazi Jew. Oh, well! :) Back to the kleenex box, and maybe sharing some of that Jewish medieval Spanish history with the kids. More about that soon. Fascinating!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Menu

Well, a day late, but we sure enjoyed it! :)

challah
red pepper dip
squash kugel
baked potato wedges (like giant french fries)
roasted vegetables
brisket (the $2.50/lb bargain we got a couple of weeks ago)
apple crisp

and for lunch...

turkey sandwiches
potato chips (did you know they cost as much per pound as regular-price brisket????)
barley salad (w/roasted carrots, celery, cabbage, preserved lemons and mustard vinaigrette; later I added leftover olive tapenade and that perked it up a bit more)
other things from Friday night

No guest, since three kids were sick. DD spent the day out with a friend, then spent the night, so I haven't seen her since breakfast this morning!

Tomorrow... out to Hunting Island State Park in South Carolina for the day (beach!), with a few other families. Papa will stay home and beef up our security and work on some electrical things, and Eli will probably stay home with him. So... hope everyone is having a lovely weekend!

Book Review: Mary Poppins

I did NOT like this book. I have a kosher book list that I refer to when selecting secular literature, and this was listed as being OK, with a note made about the strange story and rich language. Yes, it has rich language. But the story is WEIRD, and just not pleasant. Here are some of the things that bothered me:

•Mary Poppins was extremely vain and in nearly every chapter, she spends quite a bit of time admiring her figure and her clothes in mirrors and windows. She is also frequently rude, selfish, and very self-absorbed.

•Not a single character went through any kind of transformation. They were exactly the same before Mary Poppins arrived as they were when she left. Mary Poppins did not seem affected in the least by the other human beings around her and seemed to make no effort at connecting with them.

•I found one scene where Mary Poppins took them to the zoo in the middle of the night particularly disturbing. The humans were in cages and the animals were walking about. Mary referred to the snakes as "Lord" and said she was a distant cousin and related to them. Bleah.

•The first chapter is about her arrival at the Banks' house, where she refuses to give references (they're not "in fashion") and Mrs. Banks goes with it. The second chapter is her day off with her magical friend, Bert. Shouldn't the second chapter have included GETTING TO KNOW THE CHILDREN???????

I think I'd like to forget I ever read this book, and just remember Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins in the 1960s Disney version. A much more palatable - and human - character.

Our next readaloud? Ruth Benjamin's The Lost Treasure of Chelton. We love mysteries!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Strange Visitors

Last night I went to my drawing class, then a quick trip to the grocery store for a couple of things I forgot to get on Tuesday. When I got home at 10:15, three of the kids were still up. Eli proceeded to tell me that he had been in his room with the lights out playing with k'nex when a woman and two teenagers (a boy and a girl) came up to his bedroom window and shined a light inside. He told me a great many details - what they said to each other outside about the flashlight, what kind of car they drove away in, what color shirts they were wearing, etc., etc. I queried him a couple of times in the evening and a couple of times in the morning and he told the exact same details. It would be very unlike him to make up such a story, except we had been reading several Nancy Drew books lately, so it wasn't out of the realm of possibility that he was being a bit imaginative and having fun telling us a tale. But it just doesn't seem like he could have made this up. He never cracked a smile, and I gave him plenty of friendly chances to call the joke. Apparently, the episode had ended just a few minutes before I got home as he had just finished telling Amirah what he had seen. YIKES! We're going to install motion detector lights on all sides of the house, and fortunately none of those will bother neighbors so I think we'll put in fairly bright ones. If this really did happen, it was very odd and very ballsy to walk up to someone's bedroom window and peer inside. WHY? We're just going to do a few more home security things. The kids were all gung-ho for searching the grounds for clues this morning. We did look around, but found nothing out of the ordinary. If this really is an Eli tale, maybe it's just Hashem's way of telling us that we need to make our house a bit more secure. Either way, I guess the result is the same. I'm just hoping it wasn't true. A thief would be a bit disappointed at our house. Nothing much beyond an old computer. Sigh. I'm not enjoying sitting by this not-entirely-curtained window at the moment. I think I'll go do a little shabbos cooking before turning in for the night. Good night!

Fabulous Day

Today was declared Field Trip Day, so after davening and parsha stories we took the rest of the day off, packed up a lunch, and headed out to Skidaway Island State Park. I can't even begin to relay how wonderful this day was. The temperature was in the mid-70s, so really utterly perfect. The biting insect factor was low (but still there!). We first went to the playground and played then ate our lunch. Another homeschooling family pulled up at about the same time. They were from out of town, but had brought grandma to Savannah for an operation. They had two very nice children and they all enjoyed playing together.

After lunch, we took our car down to the beginning of Big Ferry Trail. There's a nice path (former road) that goes straight out to the slough from the parking area. I passed out scavenger hunt cards that I put together last night. They were laid out in a 5 x 5 grid, with each square big enough to put a sticker on when we found the thing from the list. Look here to see what was on our list.

The scavenger hunt had them really LOOKING intensely at things while we were on our hike. I think it would be fun to include some little activities in the grid next time, like to sit very quietly for five minutes and afterwards talk about what you heard. We did manage to find everything on our list. The hardest to find was a feather, but we saw stuffed birds at the nature center and decided to count those. They were real feathers, after all! :)

We had a GREAT time on the Big Ferry Trail. This was probably our best walk ever, and unfortunately I forgot the camera at home. :( We saw lots of interesting things - walking sticks (first time I'd seen on in the woods!), squirrel nests, great horned owls (only heard them), ibises, crabs that were barely 1/4" long, salt flats, alligator ponds, frogs, giant black beetles, and freshwater and saltwater sloughs. At the mid-point of the trail is a wonderful observation tower that looks out over the salt flats. We also took a small side trail and walked out onto the flats themselves. Slightly mucky, but not in a terribly messy way. I think it's time to get our annual pairs of boots, though!

There was a tree identification pamphlet at the trail, with numbered trees along the way. We learned to identify Spanish bayonets, cabbage palms, saw palmettos, water oaks, sparkleberries, native bamboo (but I forget the actual name), and pignut hickory. Others too, but those are the ones I'm sure I'll recognize again. :) Eli spied a letterbox in a hole in a tree, so that was a nice bonus. We all signed the little book, but sadly had no stamp since we weren't going letterboxing on purpose.

Afterwards, we stopped at the lovely little nature center and said hello to all the little animals there (snakes, baby alligator, baby turtle, box turtles, hissing cockroaches...) and to the very tall fossilized skeleton of a giant sloth (and we just happen to be studying rodents this week!). Then home for dinner. Really lovely. The fresh air was magnificent, and I was really wishing we were there camping right now. It was so perfect.

Then dinner at home came out great and that's always a good thing. And most of them ate it too; that's a great thing! We had whiting (frozen fillets from Walmart) pan-fried with herbs, flour, salt and pepper; linguini with pesto and preserved lemons; and a salad (a little too puckery with marinated tomatoes from shabbos... kind of bleah). I had some beautiful basil, so I made a pesto with almonds, basil, garlic, and oil, then tested out a spoonful with some preserved lemon. WOW! Perfect taste blend. So in went 1/2 a preserved lemon. The pesto was great next to the fish and on the linguini. Really yummy. Yes, I'm obsessed. But don't worry, I'm not planning on making preserved lemon ice cream any time soon. Hmmmmmm... maybe??!?!? :)

Amirah and Raizel have bad colds now, so I don't know how much learning we'll get done tomorrow. On the other hand, we got oodles of geography, zoology, and reading done today! Everyone was supremely happy with our outing. Looking forward to another one soon.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Hold Onto Your Seats

Here's what's on the list for this week...

Kodesh:
daily davening + parsha stories
starting parshas Lech Lecha (w/ta'amim!)
Hebrew speed reading
tefillah reading practice
Hebrew suffixes for their/them

Math:
counting by 1s, 2s, 3s, etc. through 9s
adding three 3-digit numbers together
working with inches/feet/yards and centimeters/meters
speeding up math facts (Flashmaster)

Language Arts:
independent reading daily
McGuffey reader - 2 stories per day out loud
spelling workbook
narration and dictation from literature
defining/identifying predicate adjectives
cursive writing practice

Science:
It's all about rodents this week, and maybe catching the ten escaped crickets in Amirah's room! We'll do a nature walk w/sketchbooks too, I'm hoping. Also supplementing some of our rodent study with video clips from Discovery Streaming or (previewed!) videos from YouTube.

History:
Aboriginal Australia and Kingdom of the Franks (yes, completely disparate subjects, but pressing ahead to get to the very interesting period of Islam taking over Spain, etc. We'll be lingering there for quite a while; lots of interesting topics to explore during that time!)

Art:
Printmaking (pouring very thin layer of black paint onto hard surface, scratching a picture in the paint, then lifting the picture off by pressing down a piece of paper).
Eraser pictures (covering paper in very light charcoal, blending it with a paper towel, penciling in a drawing, then erasing either the positive or negative space).

Feeling kind of organized. It was a great day today. A lot got done around here and around the house. We're picking out the new flooring for the learning room and music room. We're thinking we may just go ahead and try installing the floor ourselves. We've been wanting a circular saw anyway, so this would be a good excuse. If we get stuck, we can always call a floor guy after all. Got a long shelf installed in the dining room which had been mounted elsewhere in the house when we moved in. It's perfect for shabbos candles, etc., so it's nice to have that there. Had a wonderful, wonderful shabbos with great company. Planned the meals for the week. Simple, since we ate kind of fancy over shabbos. :) Dean went to check out a table from Craigslist that supposedly seated 12, but it didn't pan out. Didn't seat 12, and the leaves were partly from a different table (!). Oh, well! Patience... Or build my own... Really like that idea still... :)

The weather has cooled down quite a lot. Nice and sunny during the day, and pleasantly chilly at night. Pretty perfect right now. Looking forward to a nice nature outing somewhere this week. Ogeechee Canal?? Skidaway??

Wishing everyone a wonderful week!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Discovery Streaming Education

Georgia Public Broadcasting offers Discovery Streaming Education free to homeschoolers (it's usually a couple of hundred dollars). We just got our login information today, and on first glance it looks like there is a tremendous amount of useful material. It has sections for careers, English/language arts, health, math, study skills, science, social studies, teaching practices, visual/performing arts, and foreign languages (Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Russian, Spanish). I'm looking forward to exploring it more, especially to see how we can supplement our history reading. And we never get tired of science documentaries around here! The teaching practices sections could have some interesting ideas too. No more exploring today. Kodesh studies, cleaning, and cooking will fill the day!

The Week in Review

It didn't start out as such a great week - I got a bad (but short B"H) stomach bug - but it really is winding up very nicely. Sunday Amirah (with friend and brother in tow) got to go miniature golfing to celebrate finishing The Ordinary Parents Guide to Teaching Reading. They had a great time. I stayed home and cleaned house and got one half of the house very, very clean. It felt great. Doesn't look very, very clean any more, but it was nice for a little while!

Monday I came down with the bug. Dean came home at lunchtime and took over and I mostly just slept. The day disappeared in a fog, but so it goes sometimes! The kids were great and kept themselves busy helping me in the morning, drawing, watching a David Attenborough documentary, reading, listening to music. Tuesday I was very tired still, but we managed about a 2/3 learning day. The three older kids got new Hebrew books in the mail (the wonderful Sha'ah shel menuchah series), so they each started in their respective books with great gusto. New books are always a wonderful thing. On Wednesday it felt so marvelous to feel good, that I floated through the day with a grin pasted on my face.

I also started being able to streamline things a bit better this week. Last year, it was pretty easy. Amirah's studies really took precedent, being in first grade, and learning for Eli was done as we got to it (most days, but I didn't worry about it if we missed a day or two or three), and Raizel was just learning by osmosis (which really had her learning A LOT!).

This year, Eli is intensely into the learning time (as in his choice!), and Raizel is intensely into the attention, so we have three rather intense learners. Makes it more challenging! Fortunately, Amirah is able to do a little bit of her studies independently now, so after davening/parsha stories/songs I send Amirah to her desk in her bedroom with her spelling and cursive writing books. She finishes those while I work with Raizel and Eli on Hebrew and writing. They can each do their writing books fairly independently, so Eli does his writing while Raizel does her Hebrew then we switch. They're both happy to color pictures in their Hebrew books if they have to wait a minute or two for me to get to them. That's worked pretty well. Then Amirah comes in for her kodesh studies and the three littles go play until lunch.

After lunch, we alternate doing history and science. If we're running ahead of schedule, we'll read a chapter or two from our readaloud book (otherwise that's after dinner). We just finished a Nancy Drew mystery and just started Mary Poppins. Then Eli and Raizel take math turns while Amirah plays with Avi, followed by Amirah coming in for writing (composition), grammar, and math. I've managed to shave an hour off of our day this way, which has been great. For a while we weren't finishing until 4:30 or 5:00 (of course, we don't start until 10:00!). Now we pretty much do 10:00-3:30 with a one-hour break for lunch and we're done. At least, I am. After dinner, the kids beg to do more learning. Eli especially just can't get enough. Very enthusiastic around here! Except when it comes to Amirah and adding three-digit numbers to three-digit numbers. She can fly through it if she wants to, she just doesn't quite understand why she ought to! :) That and reading the same pasuk/verse in chumash AGAIN. :) Oh, well. Otherwise, high enthusiasm quotient.

Oh! One other thing I did was to get a used Flashmaster. It's a non-obnoxious electronic flashcard. I rarely, rarely buy things with batteries but this is great for drilling flashcards which Amirah really needs to do to burst through the next steps in math. It can keep track of the most-missed problems and drill you extra on those. It gives timed and untimed tests. I haven't figured it all yet, but I think it will be useful. Another good week here.

Good shabbos, all!

The Menu

At last, I got food ready before Friday. There's still a little to do, but all the big stuff is DONE.

Here 'tis:

For dinner...

challah
red pepper sauce
sundried tomato hummus*
kalamata olive tapenade w/chopped garlic and preserved lemon
matzo ball soup
baked chicken with basmati rice and preserved lemon
roast veggies w/preserved lemon (yes, I'm hooked!)
roasted potatoes
pumpkin tofu ice cream
butterscotch chocolate chip squares

And for lunch (and guests!)...

dips and roasted veggies from dinner
pickled carrots (if I like them well enough to serve them!)
avocado surimi salad
cous cous with pomegranate seeds and green peppers
cholent**
turkey rolls (puff pastry/mustard/turkey)
tomato salad with basil

So looking forward to shabbos, and after this one they'll be coming EARLY! Good thing I'm starting to feel on top of things. Sort of... :) Good shabbos!


*I inherited about (how much was it, EE?) 3-4 gallons (?) of diced sundried tomatoes about two years ago. They're still great and I continue to dip into them as needed. I'm sure I still have a good gallon left!

**It's a new recipe. I'll post it later if it's a keeper! It includes a healthy dose of my smoky bbq sauce. Regular cholent tastes like what we have the rest of the week, so I wanted to make something different.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Playtime

Eli (to Avi): Let's play the game where you're the Daddy and I'm the Papa.

Amirah: And what should I be?

Eli: The thief!

(We've been reading a lot of Nancy Drew mysteries...)

Playtime

Eli (to Avi): Let's play the game where you're the Daddy and I'm the Papa.
Amirah: And what should I be?
Eli: The thief!

(We've been reading a lot of Nancy Drew mysteries...)

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Menu

Shabbos is coming, and so is...

challah
red pepper spread
brisket
sautéed bok choi
orange ginger carrot purée
baked potato with tofu sour cream
stewed okra and tomatoes
coconut custard
pomegranates

And for lunch...

We're OUT! :)

It was a fun shabbos prep time. I got a rather large amount of red peppers from a grocery store that has a discount produce rack. I wanted to duplicate my favorite red pepper spread from Trader Joe's (sniff, sniff), and I DID! It tastes exactly the same and I'm very happy. I just roasted eight large red peppers with oil and salt (at 400 for an hour), then puréed them with a small amount of white wine vinegar (2 T?), two cloves of garlic, and a couple of teaspoons of sugar. YUM.

Then the brisket... It was marked down to $3.50 per pound at the store (nearing its expiration date). I had them open it up at the cash register to make sure it smelled good. It was perfect. :) I did my usual sliced onion on the bottom, 1/2 cup of water, put the brisket in and covered it with garlic salt. Baked it at 250 for 4 hours, then sliced it and baked it for another hour. Best brisket I've had in a long time! Best part - the whole brisket (2.5 lbs) only came to $8.75. It would have been more expensive to have chicken. :) The other best part - I split it with a friend (it was originally a 9+-pound brisket, so we'll both be enjoying some really good, really cheap brisket.

The tofu sour cream is another imitation recipe, and tastes just like the Better Than Sour Cream that's available at the grocery store. Much cheaper to make it than to buy it. I have the recipe posted here.

Okra was from the bargain rack too, but looked very, very fresh. Turned out pretty good! I love that bargain rack. I really should go get a bunch more things from there... but maybe not until AFTER I make peach jam from my 30 lbs of peaches, and AFTER I finally make strawberry jam!

Kroger's got Pomwonderful pomegranates in last week, so I bought three when I was there this week. Really hoping they survive transport to GA as well as they survive transport to OR. We love, love, love pomegranates, and it's the first kind of tree we want to plant here - just as soon as we get those stubborn bushes out!

And the real highlight of it all - two dear people successfully got through major surgery at the same hour on the same day this week. B"H! I'm very grateful that they both did so well.

Good shabbos, all!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Farewell, Zebra

Our cichlid tank has been the source of much amusement and drama in this house. They're fascinating fish to watch, very busy and full of personality. A couple of months ago the Chief Fish, Crunchy, got sick and nearly died. While he was out of commission and in solitary confinement Vice Chief Fish, Zebra, became quite the brutal dictator. All the fish in the tank spent the whole day trying to hide from him. Kind of sad to see a big tank with nobody swimming in it! We re-introduced Crunchy, but he wasn't up to being Chief Fish any more so we put up a barrier and left Zebra in jail, which absolutely infuriated him. Fluffy, #3 fish, was glued to Crunchy's side nursing him and protecting him. Very funny to watch. Then the #4 fish, Zippy, somehow got through the barrier and Zebra killed him! Yikes! We said farewell to Zippy (Eli's fish).

Yesterday, Zebra somehow jumped or scooted through or around the barrier and was beating up on Crunchy and Fluffy when Amirah woke up. She scooped him up and put him back in jail. So, tonight, off to the fish store went Zebra to go live with much bigger fish (and hopefully get a taste of his own medicine!). We traded him in for two little tiny three-inch cichlids (well, actually traded him in for 70% of one cichlid and we paid for the rest!). They are now swimming around the tank (a little) and hiding under the rocks (a lot). There were beautiful yellow and dark blue cichlids, but both Amirah and Eli wanted plain white ones, so that's what we got! No names yet. It's nice to have the jail barrier out of there and fish swimming around the whole tank again. And we all hope Zebra is enjoying his new home, and Crunchy and Fluffy are enjoying a less stressful environment. Great classroom pets!

Oh, and we almost came home with a hissing cockroach (after Amirah begged and begged), but papa decided she could clean out her old goldfish bowl and catch her very own cockroach for free instead of paying $1.50. Granted, the $1.50 ones were much larger and made a great hissing noise but, well, I think fish make good pets. Today we also got to see one of the hermit crabs out of his shell, maybe getting ready to molt (?). He's buried in the sand. We think the other one is buried somewhere too. The cage has a few mites, so we're going to have to clean it all out sometime soon here.

One is constantly reminded of how perfect Hashem's creations are and how absolutely wonderful and intricate. How could one doubt that Hashem is everywhere?

Medieval Geography

We're still in the 800s in history, but I just purchased what I hope will prove to be a very fun geography and history book — The Travels of Benjamin of Tudela.


Binyamin left northeast Spain in the late 1100s and traveled through Spain, Europe, and the Arabian peninsula. In his book, he describes the local customs of Jews and non-Jews in the cities he visits. He also did a census of Jewish populations in the areas he visited. It is considered a highly accurate account of daily life at the time, and he accomplished all of this while the Crusaders were committing horrible atrocities against the Jewish people. When we start it, it will be great fun to get a blank medieval map of the area and trace his travels. I'll patiently wait another 365 years, though. That should come sometime in January, so plenty of time to prepare! :)

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Menu

Ah, shabbos...

Ah, family...

Ah, hashem...

Ah, life...

Feeling very, very grateful right now. Very grateful. Hashem has given us so many blessings.

And the menu:

challah
lamb
roasted carrots
roasted potatoes
giant green salad with lots and lots of veggies
peach cranberry crumble (thank you, Amirah!)

Just felt like simple again...

And for lunch...

We're OUT!

Good shabbos, all!

Hooray!


Amirah has finished all 231 lessons in the Ordinary Parents' Guide to Teaching Reading (her phonics book). We started at around lesson 20 in May, 2009. So after 18 months WE ARE DONE! It ends at about a 4th-grade reading level, so now we'll be picking up with the McGuffey readers from 1835. We'll start with book 2 (3rd grade-ish) to work on fluency and diction/elocution. I'm looking forward to diving into that next week. In the meantime, she's really taken off in her independent reading. She's been doing quite a bit of independent reading, and she's also been copying interesting facts out of various science books and putting them in her science notebook and adding illustrations. What fun to launch a new reader into the world. Now Eli is hot on her heels. He's devouring OPGTR enthusiastically and is excited to be reading. What a pleasure to be their companion on the journey.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Cats

I love these cats! We did them several weeks ago, but better late than never.

AMIRAH
Tiger-cat!

RAIZEL
(No, it's not upside-down. That's how she drew it!)

ELI
Bedraggled Cat

I love, love, love Bedraggled Cat.

The Beach!

We had a really lovely little outing to the beach yesterday evening. The weather was perfect - 75 degrees. The water felt nice too - also about 75. Warm enough! The breeze was gentle, and at the end several dolphins came out and swam back and forth in front of us. What a lovely evening. Here are some pictures!





We're hoping to get out one more time during the week after D gets off work before the time changes. I'm not crazy enough to take all four kids to the beach by myself. I feel like four eyeballs is barely enough to keep an eye on all of them!

Look Who Turned 3 Last Week!

ONE...


TWO...


THREE!


We love this little guy! No more babies. Yay. Boo. Yay. Boo. Ad infinitum.

Olives and Other Culinary Adventures

The olives have been moving along. I soaked them in water for about ten days, changing the water daily. Then on Sunday I drained them and made a salt brine, with a 1:3 ratio of salt to water. By then, most of the bitterness had leached out. I'll keep brining them until I think they taste good (2-6 weeks), then mix them up in different "flavors." I'd love to make one with chopped garlic and preserved lemons. We'll see!

And now for the kefir, long-neglected in the back of the fridge. I'm sure I haven't looked at it in 8 weeks or so. It's been sitting in a quart of milk all that time. I pulled it out dreading what would happen when I took the lid off. Much to my surprise, it was fine! Smelled like kefir. I declined to drink any, however. I did get it going again in a fresh quart of milk. Time to get that and the yogurt going full-swing with cold and flu season coming! We're out of culture, so time to re-order that too.

And coffee! Our old green bean supplier seems to have gone out of business. Our 20 pounds of green beans lasted us about a year or so. We're nearly out, so ordered six different one-pound samples from a supplier in Florida. We ordered all coffee from all over the place - Ethiopia, Zambia, Mexico, a house blend, a couple of others. It will be fun to try some new coffees and find a new favorite! The prices were great too - $3.95 to $4.25 per pound. Shipping from Florida was $9 for the 6 pounds. It should be better shipping costs when we order a larger amount. Anyway... we love our frugal coffee!

Tonight I found peaches and plums for $0.99/lb. Bought 20 lbs of peaches and 6 of plums, and hoping to jam it all this week. We've been out of jam for too long. Have to finally get those spring strawberries jammed too.

Fun stuff... Very satisfying. :)

Poetry Memorization

Memorizing poems is one of my favorite things to do with the kids, even though one of my greatest weaknesses is the ability to memorize things. Even for music recitals, I was always the last to memorize my piece. I even remember one piano teacher calling my piece in at the last minute. We couldn't perform unless the piece was memorized, and I squeaked by at the last minute. We just pick a poem until it's memorized, then pick another. Sometimes I pick one; sometimes Amirah does. Here's Amirah doing our most recent poem, "The Eagle" by Alfred Lord Tennyson.

video

We finished that one last week. This week we're memorizing "The Wind" by Robert Louis Stevenson. It just so happens that my all-time favorite children's cd is Ted Jacobs' A Child's Garden of Songs "The Wind" is one of the pieces on the cd, so this time we're going to memorize it as a poem and as a song. RLS's poems are so well-crafted, and the music here is very tastefully done (unplugged!).

Looking forward to continued memorizations, and making my own dendrites make more connections!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Homeschool Joke

So true! (Did I post this before?? Maybe...) Really, what it means is that in homeschooling we have the freedom to chase down all kinds of rabbit holes and discover all kinds of things. What a pleasure.

Q: How does a homeschooler change a light bulb?

A: First, mom checks out three books on electricity out of the library, then
the kids make models of light bulbs, read a biography of Thomas Edison and
do a skit based on his life.

Next, everyone studies the history of lighting methods, wrapping up with
dipping their own candles.

Next, everyone takes a trip to the store where they compare types of bulbs
as well as prices and figure out how much change they'll get if they buy two
bulbs for $1.99 and pay with a five dollar bill.

On the way home, a discussion develops over the history of money and also
Abraham Lincoln, as his picture is on the five dollar bill.

Finally, after building a homemade ladder out of branches dragged from the
woods, the light bulb is installed.

And there is light.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Menu

Another shabbos! Hooray!

And for dinner we're eating...

Challah
Chicken noodle soup
Spinach salad w/yummy yellow cherry tomatoes
Tzimmes with dried cherries
Chicken w/bbq sauce
Mashed potatoes
Roasted veggies w/preserved lemon
Swedish apple pie

And for lunch...

Some of the above, plus
Turkey deli wraps
Surimi salad
Rice salad
Green salad

Better get to finishing all that!

Good shabbos to all!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Quotes of the Day

QUOTE #1:

Amirah (while looking around for a little present for Avi's birthday):

All of these things are so... modern! Modern is boring. Does Savannah have an old-fashioned toy store? It's easier for Eli. He's more of a modern boy. He likes trains.

[Mama agrees, except I'm not sure that trains are "modern." I just wanted a simple medium-sized, all-metal, no-batteries, Tonka truck, but alas, such a thing was not to be found... EVERY SINGLE TOY HAD BATTERIES! BLEAH!]

QUOTE #2:

Eli: I'm not an ordinary boy. I like to stay up late and get up late.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

This and That

Happy Cheshvan! This is a very relaxing month on the Jewish calendar - the only one without any holidays! Hoping to get a lot of learning done, to build up one little garden plot, and start one of the many art projects I'd like to do around the house. And get this music class going for Amirah and friends! Everyone's looking forward to it. We just have to nail down a day and order materials.

My twenty pounds of California manzanilla green olives are curing in the pantry. I wasn't sure what container I would use, then I realized I could just move the popcorn I overbought a year ago into plastic bags and store it elsewhere. That provided me a really nice food storage container, one of several that I got at our much-beloved (and much-missed) Bob's Red Mill. One of my pareve dinner-sized glass plates is perfect for holding the olives below the water. I heave the large container to the edge of the sink every evening, drain the water, then place it in the shower to let it fill up again. After 4 days the olives are already very much less bitter. I wasn't expecting it to taste much different yet. I'll soak them in just water for ten days, then switch to a salt water brine for five days or until they're ready. Before soaking, I cracked them all so the bitter chemicals could leach out. I always thought you needed to use lye for olives, but it's not so. Can't wait to try them out! Last shabbos I served some olives marinated in olive oil, chopped garlic, and chopped preserved lemon. Wow! A repeat venture for sure.

Outside, with the encouragement of Mr. Barnett, our 94-year-old neighbor and master gardener, I viciously pruned the non-productive :( wild plum, the pyrocanthus (ouch!), eliminated a yucca, and knocked over a four-foot-tall rotten trunk with one finger (much to my surprise!). It really opened up the sunlight there, for what Mr. Barnett is certain will be the optimal location for a 50-square-foot winter garden. I'm taking him up on the idea! He wants to help Dean get our compost heap going too. A lot to clear out, especially now that I've piled huge branches on top of it all. Once it's cleared, we'd love to go to the recycling center to get some broken up recycled concrete to use for the border (FREE!). For filling the bed, I found a great idea. I'll just fill it (8 inches or so) with compostable materials like what I would be throwing into our compost pile anyway — leaves, grass, vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, shredded newspaper — then top it off with (for now, purchased) compost (4 inches or so), then plant some winter things in it. This makes it MUCH less expensive than carting in purchased compost. If we really go crazy, we'd love to do the same thing with more beds in front and just grow a cover crop (like vetch) on it over the winter. Okay, getting into the dream-o-sphere now. Better stick to the hope of getting one tiny section cleared and planted. We'll see... The kids are all for it! Eli was really a big help clearing some of the lower growing things with his pruning shears.

Otherwise, we're humming along. Amirah is getting a bit tired of three-digit subtraction, so we're moving sideways to speed up our 1-20 addition/subtraction math facts with one-minute tests. She likes that! I need to throw in a little more work with manipulatives and math games to spice it up a little. She loves multiplication, so we skipped ahead in the book to do the earliest sections on that. Refreshing. She's almost done with her giant phonics book. Eleven pages to go! She's really taken off on reading in general, and is so happy to see that now she can pick up nearly any book in the house and just read it for pleasure. Her printing has gotten very neat, and at first she was enthusiastic about cursive, but now much less so. We'll just do a little at a time. Maybe I should get her a fancy pen for practicing her cursive. :) Her kodesh is going pretty well, but just like in English reading a year ago, she's hit a bit of a wall in her Hebrew reading. She gets overwhelmed by a page full of long words (i.e. tefillah reading practice). I need to simplify it quite a bit and do just a few words in larger type. She's fine doing chumash that way and has pretty happily worked her way through the pesukim we've done to date. My project for the weekend is to come up with some ideas for that.

Eli is devouring his first grade math and printing books. He loves math, thinks in math, and wants to do math all the time. Reading and writing come much more naturally to him at this age then they did for Amirah, which actually surprises me. I would have guessed her to be stronger in that area than he. So interesting to see the differences! We're working on reading mostly consonant-vowel-consonant words, but he's suddenly looking around and picking out six-letter words with no problem. He also takes in quite a bit of the science that we study and can report back quite a bit of details of things he's learned in the past. Hebrew is going fine too, just reading simple words and sentences. We'll probably start the Migdalor series in the next month or two.

Raizel is also a math fiend. She's using Singapore's Kindergarten math book (which I don't like as much as their elementary series, but it will do). I don't think a math book is necessary for kindergarten at all, but she's just doing all she can to do the same things her bigger brother and sister do. It makes her very happy to pull out her math book and do learning time with mama too. Her alef bet book makes her supremely happy too. She loves to draw too.

Avi is almost three! His Hebrew birthday is on Monday be"h, English one on Friday. Kippah and tzitzit, here we come! Everyone is excited about his birthday. He gets to pick the menu for both birthdays, so it will be interesting to see what he picks. :) Avi is our baal tefillah. Really. He knows all the words! And bentches too! He takes it all very seriously. He also loves to dress up for shabbos, insists on a (heretofore nonexistent) tie (hey - THAT'S what we'll get him for his birthday!!!!), and refuses to go to the toy room at shul. He'd rather be IN shul getting down to business.

Last night we had friends over for hamburgers, and after dinner it turned into an impromptu poetry recitation night. We had a blast!!!!! Taking turns reciting poems we've memorized over the last couple of years, our friends pitching in, trying to remember how our newest poem, The Eagle (by Alfred Lord Tennyson) went, hearing Eli's hilarious improvised poems (great meter and rhyme schemes!!!!), hearing Avi make up a few of his own, and enjoying Raizel's recitations accompanied by dramatic and effective hand gestures. What laughter is in this house. A lovely soirée. The first of many, I hope.

Wishing everyone a good shabbos and a good month!