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!



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...

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



Good shabbos, all!


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! :)

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...

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

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

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.

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!)

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...

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
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


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...)


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...)