Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Homeschooling: how do people do it?

Although my children have not officially reached school age yet, I'm already reading up as to what people do in their homeschool, as well as observing the (few) homeschooling families I know locally. A morning begins, and the family is up; all children are driven off to school, while yours stay home; what do you do

There is the possibility, of course, to purchase ready-made curriculum, such as for example K12 (and doubtless a more extensive Google search can yield more examples of the kind); the page dedicated to homeschoolers says that "Whether you need just one course or a complete, integrated curriculum, K¹² has solutions to meet your homeschooling needs." Translation: put yourself in our hands, and you are safe... which is what many educational experts would have us believe. 

No doubt that having a ready-made curriculum has its advantages - when asked, you can tell that you are doing exactly such-and-such courses; you are working with materials provided by someone who makes it their profession; you have a frame; you can have, essentially, a miniature version of school at home (minus the bullying, peer pressure and time wasted on discipline problems), and that is like soothing balm to the nerves of all who worry about your kids being homeschooled. 

I'm not sure anyone provides curriculum in Hebrew, actually, but there is one homeschooling family I know who have it in a pretty structured way: they get up in the morning, have breakfast and prayer time, and then sit down to their workbooks. I do believe that, in our country where such an educational choice is so rare, it might be for their good, if and when they are examined, to be able to point out exactly what the children have been doing. 

Then there is the opposite side of the homeschooling spectrum: the unschoolers. I, and many others, generally consider John Holt to be the father of this movement. The leading principle says that any learning should be child-led, that no formal lessons are needed at all, and that learning is done best simply through living a rich life, preferably with plenty of time to "stand and stare". 

The advantages here are different - you do what you want (within a framework of principles and healthy daily structure); when you want; any way you want. You aren't subject to school books, curriculum or "you must do three pages of math on Tuesday morning". I confess the idea appeals to me; personally, when I find myself having an interest in something (and I believe no thinking, feeling person can help having a keen interest in something, usually many things), I begin reading about it, researching information about it in any way I can, talking about it to people who might know more than I do... this isn't methodically done - the interest just lurks at the back of my mind, and surfaces at convenient moments. And of course, since all things in this world are connected, learning about something inevitably leads to learning about something else. 

For example, my love for chickens (and just so you know, I am now considered the crazy chicken lady of the neighbourhood!) led me to learn about a whole host of different things, such as poultry diseases, immunology and vaccination, different chicken breeds and the geography of their countries of origin, history (did you know Marco Polo saw Silkies on his travels?), and how to knock a fox on the head with a rubber boot on a Saturday afternoon. It also connected us to many lovely interesting people whom we probably wouldn't have met otherwise.

There are countless people, many of whom have dedicated their whole life to improving the education of others, who feel passionately and strongly enough to say, for instance, that education... awakens the mind and sustains curiosity. Sadly, many school children, even young ones, are exactly the reverse; their mind is asleep, their curiosity all but gone. What serves to awaken the mind? Life; rich life, which doesn't have to follow a single pattern, and can occur in different surroundings. Children who are part of a family, of a community, who are encouraged to develop interests and pursue them, who are free to simply live life, do not really need much to "awaken their mind" - it never lies dormant. I am convinced that even many children who go to schools learn more out of school than in; I see proof of that in how many children come back to school so changed, so grown, so much advanced in different areas at the end of a summer's holidays - much more than a simple interval of two months would make reasonable. 

So... when it comes to education, I guess I am all for freedom. Freedom for everyone to do what they wish, what they think, what they believe would be best for their families. Freedom to take any method, or any combination of methods, and apply it in whatever way they think might work. A person who has a keen mind, who isn't isolated from the world, and who knows how to read, most likely won't end up stupid; so let us relax a little, let go of anxiety, and enjoy the journey. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

I have my camera back!

That is to say, I finally found the battery charger.
My four Silkie chicks; very cute, I know, but all chicks are cute and fluffy; Silkies, on the other hand, have an even bigger potential for fluffiness as adults. I do so hope they will grow and thrive with us.

The grey Silkie chick which is seen in the background in the previous photo; I love it; generally I prefer grey Silkies to any other color variety. Perhaps I can get more of those in the future. 
And one of our other chicks, which hatched together with the Silkies; very cute as well, but these are intended as egg layers, as opposed to Silkies which are to be, hopefully, our pets and broodies. 

Monday, July 29, 2013

And summer goes on...

... with all the good things, for many of which I really wish I had a camera, but somehow I can't find the battery charger - and so we just enjoy, day by day, the simple pleasures of summer: long days and pleasant evenings, splashing about in the wading pool and rocking in the hammock, homemade lemonade, chilled watermelon and corn on the cob. 

* My birthday present Silkie eggs have all hatched successfully, and now I have four Silkie chicks: two black, one white and one grey. Hopefully, they will grow and thrive, and become much loved pets.

* I have roasted another batch of carobs, and we also began harvesting figs; we pick the ripe ones every few days. So far, just enjoying them fresh and still warm from the sun, but I hope to have enough to dry as well this year. 

* As you might now, we don't have a real vegetable garden (we only grow what the chickens won't eat :o)), but my husband was fortunate enough to receive a big box of tomatoes which were just at that ripe-and-ready stage that meant they need to be used up quickly; yesterday, I spent part of the morning coring and chopping the tomatoes, and stewed them with some onions and mushrooms to make delicious tomato salsa, which was just lovely as pasta sauce. I used up part of it yesterday, and froze part for a quick meal sometime next week.

Smoky Tomato Salsa Recipe
Illustration photo: www.myrecipes.com

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The speed limit of life

After a little hesitation, I thought I would touch upon a topic that is perhaps out of the scope of my usual blog posts; I mean the terrible tragedies that happened here lately, of babies and small children dying after they were forgotten in cars. A quick Google search proved that it does not just happen in Israel. There was also a recent incident of a child drowning in a wading pool. 

I talked about this with my husband more than once. "How could it be? How could it happen? I can't wrap my mind around it; I just can't"; I said. I had this terrible, terrible vision of a little helpless baby struggling against the straps of her car seat, calling, crying, unheard, perhaps, unnoticed by the passers-by... until the heat and the sun did their evil work, and she passed out, never to wake again. I shut my eyes tight and then opened them again, quickly, just to make sure that my two little ones are right here in front of me at the table, doodling with crayons. 

I cannot judge; I cannot blame the parents; I cannot even say I support a prison sentence, or believe it will make any difference. The way I see it, they were already judged and punished severely enough. I don't see how anyone can truly go on with such a burden of grief and guilt upon them. 

There was, however, something in the article that caught my eye. "Initial reports indicated that the father, who worked the overnight shift as a security guard, apparently forgot about the baby after dropping his older daughter at her day care. He then went home and slept for seven hours, and only when he awoke did he remember the infant."

To me, this speaks of a hectic life; an impossibly hectic life; a life which most of us are unsuited for. I am blessed; I have been a mother for 4.5 years now, and as of yet I don't know what it's like to get up in the morning, every day, and rush the children to some places where someone would look after them, and then rush to another place myself - all this done under terrible pressure of time, because we cannot, of course, afford to be late. And I just cannot help thinking - if there was no need to rush these babies out of the house in the morning - if they could have just stayed home with their mothers - if there was leisure of time and of mind to remember them always - isn't there a chance they would have been saved?

"At the beginning of the month a 9-month-old girl died after she was left in a parked car in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan."  I cannot think of any subrub of Tel Aviv which is completely empty of people, no matter what the hour. Were there no passers-by? Did no one notice the baby in the car? I'm sure that if I strolled around the nieghbourhood and there was a baby in one of my neighbours' cars, I would have noticed. But then, I almost always stroll at a leisurely pace with my children. People who rush cannot be expected to stop and peek into someone else's car. And everyone rushes; that is the normal course of things.

But should it be? Suppose we ask - what is the speed limit of life, and how do we know we have long passed it? Perhaps the indication of it is that people are forgetting, actually forgetting, about their own children. Not for a moment, but for enough time that lives are lost, families ruined, hearts broken beyond repair. 

Suppose we slow down. Suppose we have a look through the glass. Suppose we see a baby that was forgotten in a car, and is just about to pass out from the heat; suppose we raise an alarm early enough to save one little life. Wouldn't it be worth the few minutes of delay? 

Monday, July 22, 2013

Debt-free life and peace of mind

An important part of simple, peaceful life is discharging your debts; not always easy, as circumstances can be different, but it is an essential. And when I say debt, I include mortgage in the definition as well; I'm not saying a mortgage is always wrong, and never acceptable, but today people tend to forget that mortgage really is a state of debt; that a mortgage means one is not really an owner of one's home, or at least, an owner only conditionally - because if something happens and the payment cannot be made (in a case, say, of an illness and/or unemployment), the owners face a very real danger of losing their home. 

Owning the roof above one's head, free and clear, is therefore an important part of one's peace of mind. If your home is your own (as much as any earthly possession can truly be our own), a reduction or loss of income is, of course, a blow - but at least you have your safe haven, which is yours, and you don't owe anyone anything for being under that roof. 

Having said that, I will allow myself a little vent and say that, at least in Israel, paying for a home without a mortgage is a near-impossibility, as the prices of land, and consequently housing, are very, very high. Most young families - unless they are fortunate enough to inherit property, or to have parents who can assist them in a very material way - face being bogged down by very considerable, suffocating debt. 

Is there no cheap land or housing to be found here? To be sure there is; and we did find it when we were first married, even though it wasn't exactly the home of our dreams, and we have moved since. When people here are rioting for "affordable housing", I think they ought to amend and say they actually mean, "affordable housing in the tiny over-crowded piece of land that comprises most of the country's population" - which, in all fairness, I don't think possible. Yes, there are sparsely populated areas with very affordable housing - but the problem is, to live in such an area means fewer opportunities of employment. 

Obviously, each situation is unique, but there may be several options. Working from home, or mainly from home, is one; re-considering the possible length of commute is another - some people park their cars at the nearest train station, and make the chief of their daily journey by train. Or a family may move to a less expensive area as a temporary measure, to obtain low rent, and scrimp and save for a few years to be able to buy a home in a better area with no or lower mortgage. 

Another thing I wish for is that we weren't so bogged down with the difficulty of building regulations. I say, give people more options of doing things for themselves, and there will be less outcry and demand of the government to do everything for everyone. 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Random observations from Tisha B'Av

On Tuesday, we observed the fast of Tisha B'Av. It was hard; it always is, being 25 hours without food or water in the middle of summer... and although we have a nice comfortable home with air conditioning, one can't always lie on the sofa and just count the hours until the end of the fast - not with little children and a bunch of animals to be attended to.

Our girls are now of an age when we can begin to explain to them about the Temple and its destruction, and I was struck with the freshness of their perspective. "The Temple was destroyed?!" (said in genuine distress). "But why?! Why did the bad people come and destroy it?" - their questions serve as a great reminded to us to think about things we have gotten used to take for granted.

I often find myself thinking with longing of, and looking forward to, a period when we might have our own, permanent home, in which we could make deep roots, and invest our time and energy by improving it, and hopefully, remain living there for the rest of our lives and then pass it on to our children. Then I remind myself that, as lovely as having such a home would be, and as thankful as I would be for it, nothing on this earth is truly permanent. We are all in G-d's hands; this was illustrated all too painfully a few years ago through the story of the Gush Katif settlers. 

So... wherever you are, whatever you do - enjoy it. Whatever your situation in life, your family, your occupation, your present location is - make the best of it. Love those who are near you. Send love to those who are far, yet dear to you. 

We are busy as bees today, since tomorrow night is Shabbat, and an entire day in the middle of the week was "lost", in terms of work, on account of the fast. So today, I'm making pot roast chicken, oven-baked salmon, eggplant dip and (thanks to your helpful tips!) pumpkin bread. I hope it all turns out well, and hope you are all having an equally pleasant, enjoyable, and productive day.

With friendship,

Mrs. T 

Monday, July 15, 2013

Food of the season

Last week, someone offered my husband the kind gift of a freshly harvested pumpkin; he had some help with getting it into the car, but getting it out and hauling it home was some trouble, I can tell you. 


I cleared the table, and we spent an hour cutting the pumpkin and wrapping it in cling film. It filled our entire second refrigerator, which I've been contemplating to turn off for the sake of saving some electricity, but evidently it was not to be. 

After giving away some slices to relatives and friends, and after we made pumpkin soup and pumpkin fritters, it still seemed as though we are going to eat a lot of pumpkin for the next six months or so. I sat down at Google and typed, "what to do with pumpkin". Mainly got suggestions for using the pumpking as a decorative piece, but I'd guess ours is a little past that stage. :o) 

Don't you just love a gift of food? :o)

Thursday, July 11, 2013

My carob experiments

I don't know if I've ever mentioned this, but close to where we live there is a carob tree which produces, in season, an abundance of sweet fruit - more than we could ever eat. Personally, I consider carob pods one of nature's convenience foods, as they are very nutritious, deliciously sweet, do not result in sticky fingers, are easy to pack and carry, and keep extremely well - for months in the refrigerator without losing flavor. However, somehow, it appears we are the only family in the neighbourhood that enjoys the bounty of the carob tree.

Last summer, we sat in the delicious shade of the tree many times, watching over our goats and munching on carob pods straight from the branch. The goats munched on the pods that had fallen down, and as the season progressed, there were more and more of those - a pity, I observed, but we were eating all we could anyway. 

This time, inspired by some websites, I decided to try and grind my own carob flour from the pods. Yesterday, the girls and I went down to the tree, picked up an experimental batch of good-looking pods, came home with our bounty, and I proceeded to chop the pods into pieces and pry out the seeds (careful - very hard, you don't want to bite on one by mistake!) with the point of a knife. That was by far the most time-consuming part of the process; if anyone knows an easier way to get carob seeds out of the pods, do let me know. 

I then put the chopped-up pods on a baking sheet and popped them into the oven on a low setting to dry. I only did it for one hour, and I think I should have given them more time - overnight would probably be ideal - because my end result was rather stickier than I aimed, and not the dusty, powdery flour I envisioned. 

Anyway, when the pod-parts were dried, I put them into my coffee grinder and transferred the ready flour into a jar. 

It is rather coarse, as you can see, and has some chunks; however, it works well in baking - once I obtained the flour, the road was short to making a delicious and nutritious snack of carob brownies, substituting the cocoa for (chunky) carob powder. The powder, apart from its exquisite flavor, is also a thickener and a sweetener; so I only needed a very little white flour, and only 1 tablespoon of sugar (which can be substituted by a natural sweetener like honey or molasses, but I didn't have any on hand). Result: a snack which I have no scruples to offer as a mid-afternoon treat. 

If you have a carob tree nearby, or an alternative source of carob pods, I encourage you to try this at home! 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A few days later...

Dear ladies,

As it sporadically happens here, we spent another few days without an internet connection, which I can honestly say did me all the good in the world, freeing me from distractions and allowing me much more peaceful days. Actually, today when I logged on and saw that the internet is back, I had half a mind to pretend that it's still off. :o) But then I decided to just take everything very slowly, and catch up, by and by, with my pending emails and everything else that must be done (our sales ads, research for information, etc). 

So... what have we been up to?

Last Saturday was my birthday. On Friday, my husband took me on a surprise trip to a chicken breeder I have long admired, by reputation and by the photos of her amazing birds. Well, the reality far surpassed anything I imagined; the variety and beauty of her heirloom breeds were staggering, I could hardly wrap my mind around the fact that one person takes care of them all. I wish I had brought my camera along!.. Her Silkies were especially beautiful, and we drove home with some Silkie eggs, which are now in the incubator. I do hope they are good and fertile, and will provide us with some beautiful cuddly pets. :o)

The little Leghorns who were in need of physical therapy are now all walking upright and thriving, by the way.

The summer, beautiful bountiful summer, is in full bloom, and fruit are ripening on trees. A couple of days ago we made a lovely walk to the ancient carob tree that grows hereabouts, and enjoyed the first sweet fruit of the season. Now waiting for figs, and our lemon tree is making some promises as well. 

I hope you are all having a lovely season, wherever you are; and expect to catch up with you again soon. How happy I am that this blog is a peaceful place, for me and for others, and that many of you are encouraged to send me personal messages, be it via comment or email. 

With friendship,

Mrs. T

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The sense of breast-milk

Recently, I came across an ad for an Israeli-developed personal breastfeeding monitor. The page is in Hebrew only, but the general idea is finding out exactly how much a baby got from each breast at each feeding. Although I no longer breastfeed, as a mother who had successfully breast-nurtured two children I couldn't pass this invention without commenting; it seems ingenious, but in my eyes, though in rare instances it can perhaps be useful, in most it can actually be harmful. Why, you ask?

1. It might be inaccurate, erring in both ways. Suppose the baby is happy and satisfied, but the monitor says he didn't eat enough; result, a mother frets needlessly. Suppose it says the baby ate quite enough, but the baby continues restless and fussy, looking for more milk. Result, a frustrated mother who doesn't know what else to do to comfort the baby. 

2. It might be indirectly misleading, in the way of displaying a very small number of ml. for a specific feeding. A mother might panic and say, "oh no, it's less than an ounce" - forgetting that she doesn't breastfeed 6 times a day like "the books" say, but more like 12. Some babies are fussy and restless, and will only settle down for a good long nursing session in a quiet room with no distractions. Some just like to snack. Unless you monitor every feeding (and who would bother to do so at night, I ask?), you won't really get a clear picture.

3. It might be used as another step of technological fear-mongering, i.e., leading us to believe that we cannot trust our senses, but only what a monitor screen shows. "What! You aren't using a breastfeeding monitor? You are so neglectful, how do you know the baby is getting enough?" - just as it is now generally believed that in order to give birth you need a hospital, an army of doctors and nurses, constantly beeping monitors and pain meds, so it might be proclaimed that you cannot breastfeed "properly" without a monitor. The truth is, of course, that if all goes well you can give birth mostly by yourself (though it is good to have a back-up plan, I believe), and in order to breastfeed, you need nothing but a breast and a baby (though we all have our personal preferences as to other things we like to have on hand, such as a tall glass of water or, in my case, a spare cloth diaper for the other breast, which would always leak). 

4. I don't know how much this monitor will cost, but this lovely invention will almost certainly be used to try and pull some more money out of anxious young parents. I see it as formula: in some instances it is necessary, like medicine; in most, it is useless and potentially harmful. But if formula companies only promoted their product for strictly medicinal purposes, they wouldn't be clipping huge coupons like they are today. In this case also, I'm willing to bet anything that in order to succeed, they will try and get their product into every home. The reviews on their website claim it is "A must for every nursing mother", which it is not. I strongly disagree; no, very few mothers, if any, would truly benefit from such a device. 

I personally see no reason to complicate what ought to be simple. Especially in a postpartum, sleep-deprivation-addled-brain state, with hormones plunging down and surging up, it's best to keep things straightforward. You have a baby; you have milk. The baby is drinking, peeing, pooping, sleeping (though perhaps not as regularly as you would like), and growing (though not necessarily according to charts). If you breastfeed and your baby begins fussing in an hour or so, no harm will come from offering the breast again. If that doesn't help, try something else. If the new baby is with its mother always, and the source of milk is always on hand, generally there should be no trouble, and no need for monitoring. 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Overrun with chickens

On the Backyardchickens forum, there is a status saying "Overrun with chickens"; I believe I am now beginning to grasp what it means. 

We have been thinking of adding some more ex-battery hens to our flock, remembering the satisfaction we felt at having seen them recover in our yard from the miserable caged-up life they led until they came to us. Sadly, several were killed by our dog when she got loose, but at least they had had a chance to live and enjoy freedom before that happened. So, we were planning to get some more. 

But then, someone posted a message on the local poultry forum and said he is looking for a home for these little chicks. They come from a commercial strain of White Leghorn, and from what we were told, were used in lab experiments as eggs, and then discarded just a day or so before hatching. Many still managed to hatch, but were weak and with a bad condition of spraddle leg

The good soul who picked them up had the right notion of putting their legs in a sort of hobble at a fixed distance from each other, to help the chicks stand upright and learn to walk properly, but unfortunately he did it with hard plastic "snappers" (sorry, don't know the English word), and so when my husband picked up about a dozen of them and brought them home, they all had sores and chafed skin on their legs. We patiently snapped off the plastic, and this morning I spent an hour or so fixing their legs in place with some soft yarn instead. Shira made a debut as a Poultry Physical Therapist Assistant, as she held the wriggliest chicks for me while I worked on their legs.

They seem to stand and walk much better already, and are all active and with a good appetite. By the way, they have a much larger "nursery", I only placed them in this box for a group photo, together with our home-hatched crosses. 

Hopefully, they will grow up to live a happy and productive life here in our yard. 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The pleasure of the ordinary

Lately, I found myself fretting about things that I wanted/planned/meant to do, and just didn't get around to; even, and in particular, special projects I have been meaning to do with the girls, such as a kite-making session, watercolors, and what not. I know I've often written about how we love the slow, simple life, but even it can bog you down: some plants need pruning, you have a marvelous new idea of going on a tour of the carob trees and picking the first ripe fruit, etc. 

Then I had an epiphany... actually it should have been pretty obvious, but there you go: better have an ordinary day in which nothing "special" is accomplished, and be calm and relaxed, and be able to answer my children's question and pull them alongside me into whatever simple activity I'm doing (washing the dishes, folding the laundry, collecting eggs), than snap at them irritably to leave me in peace and allow me to get the chores done as quickly as possible, so that we can move on to something better and greater. 

In this world, there are thousands of projects worth undertaking; millions of books worth reading; but only a few people who love you and depend on you. So, much more material than what you do together is how you do it. A relaxed chat while you are washing the dishes is more nourishing for the soul than a mad dash for the swimming pool while you are constantly checking your watch and thinking that dinner will be late and bedtime will be late, and you all need to be up at the crack of dawn tomorrow morning. Not that I don't love the swimming pool (or the beach, the park, the library, etc) but just trying to say that time spent together can be great even if you don't do anything particularly "special", "creative" or "artsy". All you need is a smile, a hug, and a few words that come from the heart. And a drink of homemade lemonade with clinking ice cubes shared on the front porch won't go amiss, either.

I stay home with my children in order not to be rushed and stressed; I do my best to relieve my family from unnecessary outside obligations, not just to be bogged down by self-imposed ones; what I want is an orderly home, yes - but also a peaceful, cheerful, relaxed atmosphere.

And once you lower your expectations, you will see things do get done. Truly, they do, unless you stay in bed all day. By and by, opportunities present themselves not only to get through the basics, but also to do some of the things that would make you feel accomplished, such as gardening, trying new recipes, or working on a hobby or project. It might not happen as fast and as smoothly as we like, but most likely it will, and the wait will be well worth it.

So, I'm going to throw on my apron and cook dinner. It won't be anything gourmet, but it will be enjoyed, and little cooks will be encouraged to participate along the way. Come along, too - there's plenty of room for everyone. 

Monday, July 1, 2013

Fuzzballs




From our last batch of chicks, hatched yesterday. Isn't it cute how they all look different? That's part of the fun of experimenting with different breeds/crosses.