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!

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

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...

(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

(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?)

(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

(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!


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...

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
rice salad
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


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!


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...

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

For lunch...


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 ( 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:

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
guacamole and chips

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.


Our Day of Learning

We had such a nice day!


• 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.