Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The most beautiful birth story I've ever read

Being just a few days before my due date, I'm of course busy with things like washing tiny clothes and packing my hospital bag, but if you ask what I've been doing most of all in the past month and a half, the answer would be, fretting and worrying about the upcoming birth. 

All sorts of crazy thoughts are swirling in my brain:

How on earth do babies come out of there? It doesn't make any sense! (Never mind that I've had two babies come out just that way, with no complications, very straightforward. I think I can have ten babies and never fully grasp the sheer miracle of it.)

Whatever made me think I can do this? I'm sure I can't. It will kill me. My body will fall apart. (Again, never mind I've already done this and was up and about the next day). 

I don't want to be there. It's not the pain I'm afraid of, it's the enormity of the act itself, it's just freaking scary. I don't want to be aware of what is happening to me. Someone please put me under general anesthesia and wake me up when the baby has arrived. 

I've been suffering from insomnia. I haven't been able to really focus on anything productive. I've been having heart palpitations and shortness of breath and panicky thoughts that can amount roughly to, SOMEONE STOP THIS TRAIN NOW, I WANT OFF!

My husband reminded me that I've had the same fears before, and that when I actually got into the last few days before labor, I experienced a feeling of calm, relaxation, faith and confidence. He's right - I guess it's part of the hormonal alchemy that indicates my readiness to go into labor. 

Last night, I came across the most beautiful, amazing, encouraging and peaceful birth story I've ever read. It was just incredible how something clicked into place once I've read it. For the first time in many weeks, I was able to go to sleep at night peacefully, without sitting up in bed for a long time, gasping for air and moaning, "I can't do this! I can't! Perhaps it's not too late to schedule a C-section?"

I invite you, too, to read and be inspired

Monday, December 22, 2014

Nine candles will shine tomorrow night

My soul had been sated with troubles,
my strength has been consumed with grief.
They had embittered my life with hardship,
with the calf-like kingdom's bondage.
But with His great power
He brought forth the treasured ones,
Pharaoh's army and all his offspring
Went down like a stone into the deep.


Just popping in for a little hello... to reassure that I'm still here. ;o) 

Happy Hanukkah! 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

And some more yarn

To be precise, a lot of cuteness in exchange for very little yarn. :o)

I made these following the pattern for Bev's Very Easy Booties, and now I've tried it, I don't think I'll ever want another bootie pattern again... it's so simple! I whipped them up in a total of about one hour or so.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Small projects

There's not much time left for big projects... but little ones - for little people - can be just as satisfying.

After completing this wee pair of booties, I'm now making another, in dark red, following a very easy pattern I found here. I'm enchanted with its simplicity - the bootie is made entirely in one piece, which is so convenient. Perfect for times when you're on the go, or when your brain is getting into this snail-paced, inner-focused, ninth-month of pregnancy mode.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Coconut cream for smooth skin

I got my hands on a nearly-discarded bar of coconut oil in my Mom's refrigerator. At first I thought it's some ancient soap, but when I asked and was casually told that "it should probably be thrown out, it has been here for years", I took it for myself.

The internet is full of wonderful recipes for homemade creams, lotions, butters, balms and scrubs using coconut oil, and the simplest of them is this: just take some coconut oil (in solid consistency - cool it if you need to) and whip it with an electric beater until you get a smooth, airy consistency, akin to whipped cream. I tried to do that, but the coconut oil itself was too thick to whip up well. I had to add a glug of almond oil - don't ask me for quantities, but I think it was about 1 tbsp. of almond oil to 1/2 cup of coconut oil.

By the way, I used almond oil because that's what I had on hand, but I daresay it's also possible to use olive, wheat germ or grape seed oil, or whatever you prefer.

When what I had in the bowl resembled whipped cream so much that my daughters begged to lick the beaters, I stopped whipping and scooped what I got into a small wide-mouthed jar, which I refrigerated for an hour or so before transferring it to room temperature. Then I tried the body butter. It has a lovely creamy consistency and feels very pleasant on dry hands. And it cost practically nothing! A very welcome acquisition, just as I've nearly ran out of the body butter my husband got me as a gift last time. 

In various recipes, I saw that people suggest adding a few drops of essential oils to your skin product. While I imagine a hint of lemon, orange or lemongrass wouldn't go amiss if I had them on hand, I must say I simply love the pure natural smell of coconut, which is both gentle and delicious. 

Result: easy-to-make, very affordable, 100% natural concoction that I wouldn't hesitate to use even on small children or babies.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

The long, long journey home

I was invited by Urban Compass to participate in their Starter Home project - basically, they ask bloggers to tell the story of their first house/apartment and how they made it into a home by fixing it up, improving it, and adapting it to the needs of their family. I decided to jump in, thinking that a summary of our home saga could make an interesting story.

Back to 2008: we're planning our wedding and looking up and down for places to rent. The clock is ticking - there's only about a month to go until the wedding, and still we have no idea where we're going to live. We nearly purchased a lovely wooden mobile home which was affordable, but we'd need a plot of land to put it on, and that was a problem. Eventually we expanded our search to include the settlements of the Shomron, in which area we reside to this day. 

The first home we ended up renting was a trailer-type temporary home which was, frankly, in awful condition. I remember once in the middle of the night the toilet flooded for no obvious reason, and there we were in our night clothes, trying to fix it. There was no air conditioning and it got boiling hot in the summer. Luckily we knew we wouldn't have to stay there for more than 6 months, so we didn't really invest much in the place. We didn't even have a proper bed at that point: we slept on air mattresses thrown right on the floor. By the time we moved I was midway through my first pregnancy, and the mattress didn't provide adequate support for my back. Getting our bed was a huge relief.

Then there was our second home, of which I will always have fond memories because our first two children were born there (well, not technically there - they were born in the hospital - but they were brought to that home when they were a few days old). We bought it outright, with no mortgage, and there was a great deal to be done to fix it up. Unfortunately, after the purchase we didn't have any money left for fixer-uppering, so we kept delaying that. We lived there for 3 years and didn't even paint the walls once. We did, however, build our first little chicken coop there, which began our Great Chicken Adventure that goes on to this day.

Before we managed to save for fixing up our home, an opportunity came up to move to a place which we fell in love with when we first saw it. From a typical little house on a street full of other little houses exactly like it, we began living out our dream: moved to a stand-alone house on a hillside and became integrated into a small community of an outpost. The space all around us was a huge luxury - from neighbours next door, to no visible neighbours at all. Since that home was rented, we didn't do much in the way of improvement either, but we built a nicer and bigger chicken coop which also served as a goat shed (animals are addictive!). There was a large and lovely balcony with a breathtaking view, and a river that flowed during the rainy season. 

After three wonderful years, we felt it was time to move on. We let our landlord know we wouldn't be prolonging the lease and, about three months ago, moved to the house where we currently live. Here we are, for the first time, doing what I can call major renovations, such as covering the wall paneling afresh. We only started that after we've built a chicken coop, of course. :o) And hopefully other animals will come again too, in their time. My husband loves to surprise. Today he called in the middle of the day and just asked out of the blue whether I'd like a couple of donkeys (donkeys?!). I'm fully prepared for the possibility that I might wake up one day and find an alpaca or two grazing in the yard. 

In this home, we've faced some new challenges, such as dealing with the local wildlife (scorpions, giant yellow centipedes and lots of rodents). There's also an irregular water and electricity supply, which brings out some obsessive tendencies in me, such as washing every dish as soon as it's dirty and running the washing machine in the middle of the night (because then it's less likely everybody else is running their appliances, and so you have less chances of the electricity suddenly fluking out). 

Trite as it sounds, I've come to realize that it's the people who make a home. No matter where we are, when we all sit together around the Shabbat table it feels like home. It's a privilege to have such a lovely place of our own, though. I only hope it will all be fixed up, ready, orderly and clean by the time the baby comes. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Is parenthood a "right"?

There's a lot of talk about the "right" to be parents; as in, people who believe it is their undeniable right to delay childbearing for as long as possible, also believe it is their right to beget children as soon as it is desirable. Recently, there was a revolutionary ruling in Israel, which states the possibility of writing two "fathers" or two "mothers" into a child's ID, as opposed to the usual father/mother option. You can imagine the confusion.

Certain Modern Orthodox rabbis authorize single women in their mid- to late thirties to conceive, without being married, via sperm donation, ruling that the woman's "emotional well-being" and her "natural ambition to be a mother" are reasons enough to bring children into this world - children who will never know their fathers and who will, eventually, know how they were conceived. Somehow, nobody thinks to suggest a simple concept which should make perfect sense to a person of faith (and I presume that those who consult rabbis are women of faith): if G-d desires you to have children, He will send you a husband. If He has not sent you a husband yet, it's part of His plan and your task is to find different ways to fill the void, rather than wilfully insisting on creating an unhealthy situation.

Some will say, "easy for you to say - you got married at 22 and had a baby ten months later!" - which is true. I know, however, the other side of the story. 

I was raised without a father. This, unfortunately, isn't unsual, nor was it unusual throughout history - many children were raised without fathers. Some were orphaned. There was always illegitimacy. But it's worse when a child is raised with the dangerous message that a father - or a mother - is actually dispensable, unnecessary. It's very, very difficult to compensate for the defects of such an upbringing. When I was newly married, I thought I'd defied everything I've been brainwashed to believe, such as that women don't really need husbands, and that a woman who "succeeds" in marriage is one who tramples her husband and makes him do just what she wants. Yet the message was ingrained deeper than I had thought. I was absolutely clueless about what it takes to make a marriage work. Almost seven years later, I'm still learning, and sometimes it feels I'm only beginning to learn how much my upbringing had actually hurt me.

It's criminal to deliberately and knowingly create situations in which children will grow up not just fatherless, but rootless - deprived not only of the physical presence of a father, but also of fatherhood as a concept. Divorce - in its current rampant state - is tragic, but children usually still keep in touch with both parents, at least to some extent. Orphaned children can see still pictures and hear stories of their absent parent, and meet their father's relatives. Children created by a sperm donation will never know any of that. It's worse than being an orphan, or the child of divorced parents.

Motherhood, and parenthood, isn't so much a "right" as a duty. Remember that old-fashioned word? You may have the "right" to purchase a house or buy a new car. But there is no "right" to obtain a child. Children are gifts and heavy responsibility above all. They aren't our property, nor prizes to be woven around in false triumph. G-d made it so that children can only be naturally conceived by a man and a woman. He meant for it to be done in the holy covenant of marriage. Defying that only leads to confusion, disorder and grief. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Tell lice to get lost

For the past three weeks, we have been struggling with getting rid of head lice. These creepy-crawlers have become the bane of our existence, with constant treatments, combing, checking, re-checking, hoping we've gotten rid of them all, only to have a child complain of itching again a week later (and sure enough, there they are, which shows we must have missed a couple of nits). For some reason they prefer Shira (though Tehilla has much thicker hair, which you'd think would be head lice heaven). 

I've tried several over-the-counter remedies, and read many tips for home treatments - including smothering your hair in anything from mayo to olive oil to Listerine (by the way, if anyone has a good strategy to share, I'll be most happy to hear it). Today, I came across this article, which not only made me almost choke on my cup of tea with giggling, but also contains some really great tips on thoroughly de-contaminating your children's heads and your home. 

I think a huge factor here is how serious the people around you are about treating lice. When I was a child, back in our "Old Country", lice was considered something to be treated ASAP. Once your parents found some on your head, they freaked out and you were isolated and kept at home (no seeing anyone) until there was no sign of lice or nits and every strand of hair was squeaky clean. Think children spent most of their time in neat little sterile boxes? Nope... almost nobody had lice, because they were always treated on time. Lice were associated with terrible conditions, such as in concentration camps or prisons. In Israel, the attitude is comparably very lax. 

I've actually met some parents who have despaired of ever getting rid of lice completely, and settled on keeping their population down (just so they won't crawl all over the child's face and become a public shame). Their children always have lice, and they rationalize by saying "so what? Everyone has them!". The Israeli Ministry of Education isn't very helpful, with its guidelines which forbid teachers and daycare workers from checking kids' heads (so as not to "shame" anyone), and which declare that no child will ever be sent home because of lice, even if they are live, multiple, and untreated. If one of your children's friends has head lice, it doesn't take much to get an infestation. If left uncontained, it will spread to every person in the house. 

It's either cry or laugh..we hope you laugh

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The true work of feminism

My recent acquisition of a Smartphone enables me, sometimes, to check on blogs without actually sitting behind the office desk and turning on the computer (which I often just can't find the time to do, nowadays). Today, I was lucky enough to come across this fabulous post by Daniel Greenfield, titled "The Unbearable Lightness of Feminism". Here are a couple of select quotes:

"Professional feminists respond to the negative feedback by claiming that feminism is simply equality. But if feminism were equality, women, and for that matter men, wouldn’t dislike it so much.

Professional feminists don’t want to fight rape; they want to fight an intangible “rape culture”. They don’t want to help women. Instead they want to exploit the problems facing women to advance their own agendas and careers. They are part of a movement cut off from ordinary people and rooted in academia. Few women want to identify as feminists, because feminism doesn’t identify with them."

Do take the time to read the entire post if you can. Some of the comments below are very insightful, too. 

All the talk of "equality" is mostly nonsense, because equality doesn't exist in nature or naturally developing societies, and when someone artificially tries to create it, it doesn't usually lead to anything good. Equal opportunities for equally capable individuals who can do the same kind of work equally well, that's fantastic. But usually it goes far beyond that. Examples are not exactly hard to come by:

- Standards of physical performance in the army are lowered in order to enable women enter elite combat units. Thus, the performance level of the entire unit is compromised, in order to stroke the ego of a few conceited individuals who label this as "progress" and "enlightement". 

- Women demand longer, government-funded maternity leave. The money would of course go out of the taxpayer's pocket. And there's no going around the fact that being out of your chosen field for a few years lowers your professional level. No amount of government funding will compensate for that loss of competence. 

- Firing a pregnant worker results in very unpleasant consequences for the employer. This was established in order to protect the right of pregnant women, but the fact is that it's very much abused. Basically a lot of pregnant women consciously decide to put up their feet and relax at work, because they know their employer probably won't dare to fire them. As a result, many employers think twice before even hiring a woman of childbearing age. And from their point of view, they are absolutely right. 

- On the other hand, we are told that government-funded daycare from the earliest age is the answer, encouraging women who are otherwise "stuck at home" to leave their babies in the care of strangers and go do something useful with their lives. Besides the fact that this concept is incredibly demeaning (implying that if a woman stays home with her child/ren, it's only for lack of other opportunities - or, to word it simply, she'll leave her children if only she is paid enough), I wonder if anyone even thinks of the fact that no matter how you slice it, it takes women to care for children. I've never met a daycare or preschool worker who wasn't female. So... yes, of course young children have always been, and will be cared for by women. But if they receive the personal full-time care and attention of their mother, why, that's a waste of resources. 

- When several people apply for a public office, their capabilities are of course taken into question, but... alarm call! Alarm call! We must have such-and-such percentage of women. But what to do if the most suitable professionals applying for the position are all male? Sorry, tough luck. Have to weed part of them out and somehow squeeze a woman into the office. Think I'm exaggerating? Not at all. I've actually witnessed this in the process of a formation of a small committee. The most suitable people were chosen, and then it occurred to someone that none of them are women. The head of the committee flat-out refused to give up on people he found most capable, just for the sake of fitting a woman in. This caused a lot of offended feelings in "under-represented" women, despite the fact that many of them were members of all-female committees, and no man ever protested against the under-representation of his sex. 

- A sobering fact: in Israel, about 400 people kill themselves each year. About half of them are divorced or separated men. In contrast, about 70% of the divorces in Israel are initiated by women. Coincidence? On a regular basis, innocent men are stripped of their rights, separated from their children, and forced into unbearable financial consequences - often before any evidence against them is presented. They are men, ergo, dangerous beasts who must be strictly controlled. Actually this is such a wide subject that I wish and hope to do a separate post on it, if and as time allows. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Sending children out into the world

A few days ago, I stumbled across this, and though pretty much everything I wanted to say had already been said in some of the comments below, I still felt compelled to jot down some of my thoughts on the issue.

Obviously, I disagree theologically with the author. He's Christian, I'm Jewish. However, I have heard the same argument repeated in various forms and guises:

"You cannot shelter them from the world" - not when they grow up, certainly; but as long as your children are young, it is actually the parents' duty to shelter them as much as reasonably possible from what they see as a negative influence. Previously we have had the misfortune to be often in company with a man who absolutely could not and would not watch his mouth. Every time we encountered him, I had some very awkward questions from the girls ("what is a homosexual?"). Eventually I began taking an effort to avoid this man. That's because the girls were 5 and 3 years old. I felt absolutely no scruples about avoiding such confronations. Had they been teenagers, my attitude of course might have been very different.

Almost all parents I know use discernment when deciding what sort of movies their children can watch, what internet content to allow, whether the children can have a Facebook account and at what age. What is it if not sheltering? Thus, if parents feel that the local public school can and will damage their children, and think that the best educational option would be to pull their children out and teach them at home, I see it as absolutely justified. 

"It's immoral not to be part of society. Everyone should be schooled together" - This goes beyond the homeschooling argument. This actually implies that only one type of schools should exist, with uniform program and content. In Israel, there are secular public schools; religious schools on a wide spectrum of Orthodoxy; alternative schools; Muslim schools; Christian schools. People can and do separate into groups according to their religious and moral values, and want their children to be educated according to said values. It is natural and it has always been so, and always will be so, and trying to artificially weed this out results in tremendous injustice and trampling of human rights. At the dawn of Israel as an independent democratic state, Jewish children from North African and Yemenite religious families were forcibly or near forcibly sent into secular education by the more "enlightened" European-descended founders. This is not democracy and is still remembered with indignation by many people. 

"Your children can be a good influence in a bad environment" - In Israel, there's a long-standing public conflict, at the heart of which is the refusal of Charedi (so to speak, "Ultra-Orthodox") Jews to serve in the IDF. One of the arguments of the army avoiders is that the army does not provide a culturally acceptable atmosphere for the young Charedi man, even one who isn't capable of becoming a full-time Torah scholar. This can cause much bitterness while a large slice of the population is risking their lives for their country, and others are shirking their duty because of seemingly petty excuses. However, there is no denying that a secular environment promotes secularism in isolated religious individuals, far oftener than such individuals can reform a secular environment. When my husband went into the army, he remembers being quite shocked at the mixed male and female environment and the lack of modesty it promoted. He told me that nearly all his Orthodox friends who joined the army experienced a slipping of their religious standards. It was simply a lot more difficult to keep up in an environment which was not supportive. 

The question of women in the army is another one, and too charged to be lightly discussed here. I only meant to use this as an illustration. These are adults, with adult struggles. What, then, can be said of children? What are the chances that children reform a government-funded system run by adults whose authority they must obey? Think basic nature laws. Drop an ice cube into a bucket of boiling water. What will happen? Will the single ice cube be able to cool the whole bucket? Or will it melt instantly until no difference is felt in the temperature of the water? 

It is no wonder, then, that though few people in Israel actually homeschool, most - and especially Orthodox Jews - take an effort to find a school which will represent their values as closely as possible. 

Monday, November 3, 2014

Do the first thing

When I'm feeling an upsurge of terrible pressure because of all the things that have to be done, and are undone; all the things I planned to do, and have no idea when I'm ever going to do them; all the things I would like to do, yet know that it is impossible for the time being, I remember very precious words which I once copied down, from the (now long gone private) blog "Eyes of Wonder". They now have a place of honor in my personal notebook of inspirational lines, and I have read them so often that I can quote them with tolerable precision:

"Do the first thing, and let the first thing be just to love and care for the people in your life. 

If you feel that extra commitments or certain relationships are hindering you for doing so, cast them (the commitments) or set them (the relationships) aside for the time being, until you feel you can reach out a bit further." 

I feel that at this time, it's very important for me to hold on to this simple truth: set it aside. Set it aside, for the time being, if it doesn't really matter, and/or if it isn't really urgent. Let myself be free from the burden of feeling that certain things must be done, when in fact the only one who feels that they must be done - and without delay - is actually myself.  

Even when it (frustratingly) feels as though nothing will ever be done - because of time constraints, money constraints, energy deficiency common to the last trimester, certain circumstances that oblige us to be away from home oftener than it would be convenient - I know that it is not true. Just as we have had busy periods before, and then they passed, and when things were calmer a great deal of what I had hoped for was accomplished, so it will in all probability happen now. Even and especially when it seems when the pressure will never end - during cleaning for Pesach, or moving house, or when a new baby is born - the difficulties are temporary and the hectic busy-ness is over all too soon. 

And for now, I try to focus that today, like every day, I have the privilege and joy of caring for my family. There are meals to be served and dishes to be done, clothes to be washed and folded, walks to be taken, conversations to be had and countless things to be learned. 

Monday, October 27, 2014

Some pictures from our new home

So many times lately I have wanted to blog, and been prevented by something or other - the holidays, or having irregular internet connection, or just the extreme busyness of this season of our lives. Now, however, I'm snatching the couple of minutes I have at hand to post a few pictures. 
 The chickens, enjoying their new coop. My husband and a friend raised it in two days, but it isn't finished yet (as you can see from the photo below). It does, however, serve to keep chickens in and predators out.
 And yes... it's actually a scorpion in our bathroom cabinet. The array of various critters here astonishes me; we've always lived in houses located right on the ground, yet we've never had such a variety. Only two days ago, poor Shira stepped on a giant venomous yellow centipede (luckily, nothing happened to her. The centipede ended up as a treat for our chickens). We also have a multitude of spiders and, to my chagrin, mice we are battling in every possible way.
 A truly magnificent picture of the evening sky, captured by my husband.
 And the view from our living room window, which may perhaps hint that we haven't moved all too far from our old home.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Cooking simply

I have come to the conclusion that cooking isn't really very challenging - unless you specifically aim at gourmet recipes, of course - if you can almost always be assured of almost all ingredients, or at least, if it's only a question of putting something on your next shopping list. 

It isn't very difficult to make a good dinner if you always have a chicken or a good part of beef.  Salmon steaks are pretty hard to ruin, too. And your baked goodies, soups and pasta will almost always turn out well with plenty of butter, cream and cheese. And it's really easy to make fancy desserts with copious amounts of whipped cream and chocolate. 

It's a lot more of a challenge to create a variety of healthy, tasty, satisfying meals from the simplest, most economical ingredients. If you use vegetables and fruit in their season, when they are best (and cheapest), things become even more interesting. 

My mother-in-law cooks, and has always cooked, soup almost every day - mostly meatless, sometimes enriched with the bony parts of chicken or turkey. Her lentil soup and split pea soup are especially beloved. A bowl of such thick, savory soup is a meal in itself. I don't cook soup nearly as often, but nevertheless we hardly eat meat during the week - or if we do, it makes for a supplementary part of the meal, such as bits of chicken breast with stir-fry veggies, served over noodles or rice. 

In my mind, I have scrumptious visions of lemon meringues with fluffy clouds of whipped cream piled up high; of an impressive cheesecake with fresh berry topping (berries are rare and expensive in Israel); of espresso mousse with kahlua liqueur, served in individual elegant glasses; of brownies oozing with lots and lots (and lots) of chocolate. Usually, however, I have to compromise for the simple good stuff, such as carrot or apple cake. It's a lot more down-to-earth, but the house smells of cinnamon, and anyone who comes through the door enthusiastically turns toward the oven. 

There was a time when bell peppers were so cheap that my husband brought home great full bags of them, and I made stuffed peppers almost every week. Then came a time when peppers got so expensive we did without any for maybe two months in a row. Nowadays I have just enough for fresh salads. Having any vegetables at my disposal at any time would be more convenient, no doubt, but there is also something nice in not having something, and looking forward to a time when you can have it again, and enjoy it all the more. 

In the photo above; my bean and barley soup, which I'm looking forward to making again soon, in the cooler days yet to come.

Monday, October 6, 2014

To teach one's own

 "We can sum up very quickly what people need to teach their own children. First of all, they have to like them, enjoy their company, their physical presence, their energy, foolishness, and passion. They have to enjoy all their talk and questions, and enjoy equally trying to answer those questions. They have to think of their children as friends, indeed very close friends, have to feel happier when they are near and miss them when they are away. They have to trust them as people, respect their fragile dignity, treat them with courtesy, take them seriously. They have to feel in their own hearts some of their children's wonder, curiosity, and excitement about the world.

And they have to have enough confidence in themselves, skepticism about experts, and willingness to be different from most people, to take on themselves the responsibility for their children's learning. But that is about all that parents need. Perhaps only a minority of parents have these qualities. Certainly some have more than others. Many will gain more as they know their children better; most of the people who have been teaching their children at home say that it has made them like them more, not less. In any case, these are not qualities that can be taught or learned in a school, or measured with a test, or certified with a piece of paper."

- John Holt, Teach Your Own

Image taken from here.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

A message from an Italian bachelor

A few days ago I received the following comment, and though I by no means agree with everything this man writes, I found his thoughts interesting enough to be posted here (in a slightly abridged version).


"I had always thought of woman as possessing those delicate qualities of mind and soul that made her in these respects far superior to man. I had put her on a lofty pedestal, figuratively speaking, and ranked her in certain important attributes considerably higher than man. I worshiped at the feet of the creature I had raised to this height, and, like every true worshiper, I felt myself unworthy of the object of my worship.

But all this was in the past. Now the soft-voiced gentle woman of my reverent worship has all but vanished. In her place has come the woman who thinks that her chief success in life lies in making herself as much as possible like man--in dress, voice and actions, in sports and achievements of every kind.

The world has experienced many tragedies, but to my mind the greatest tragedy of all is the present economic condition wherein women strive against men, and in many cases actually succeed in usurping their places in the professions and in industry. This growing tendency of women to overshadow the masculine is a sign of a deteriorating civilization.

Woman's determined competition with man in the business world is breaking down some of the best traditions--things which have proved the moving factors in the world's slow but substantial progress.

Practically all the great achievements of man until now have been inspired by his love and devotion to woman. Man has aspired to great things because some woman believed in him, because he wished to command her admiration and respect. For these reasons he has fought for her and risked his life and his all for her time and time again.

Perhaps the male in human society is useless. I am frank to admit that I don't know. If women are beginning to feel this way about it--and there is striking evidence at hand that they do--then we are entering upon the cruelest period of the world's history.

Our civilization will sink to a state like that which is found among the bees, ants and other insects--a state wherein the male is ruthlessly killed off. In this matriarchal empire which will be established the female rules. As the female predominates, the males are at her mercy. The male is considered important only as a factor in the general scheme of the continuity of life.

The tendency of women to push aside man, supplanting the old spirit of cooperation with him in all the affairs of life, is very disappointing to me.

Woman's independence and her cleverness in obtaining what she wants in the business world is breaking down man's spirit of independence. The old fire he once experienced at being able to achieve something that would compel and hold a woman's devotion is turning to ashes.

Women don't seem to want that sort of thing to-day. They appear to want to control and govern. They want man to look up to them, instead of their looking up to him, so.. as a bachelor Italian man, I may understand American men who still avoid marriage and I guess they also believe that Women today become the greatest evil, as such, any good men should avoid marriage like a plague!"

Sunday, September 28, 2014

A little update

It has been a while since I posted, and I received some anxious inquiries from friends and readers, who wondered how we are all doing and whether everything is alright. So, yes - we are doing fine, settling into our new home. I've been, and still am, extremely busy with everything that needs to be done, and sometimes it seems as though there will never be enough time to accomplish everything while I'm still, ahem, light enough to be mobile and active. 

We've now passed through Rosh Ha-Shana, which means the Sabbatical year is here. In the last weeks before the beginning of the new year (which, incidentally, also marked the fourth birthday of our Tehilla), we raced against the clock, trying to complete all we won't be able to do in the next twelvemonth. There wasn't much time (as we've only moved so recently, and garden work, by necessity, wasn't a first priority), but at any rate we've cleaned the yard from weeds, put the flower beds in order and gave some space to the poor suffocated geraniums, and planted a bit here and there. My desire to have more plants is by no means satisfied, but until the end of the shmita, I will have to be content with potted plants. Luckily it's possible to grow almost everything in pots.

Our life out here is even more adventurous than in our old home. Water supply has been inconsistent for the past month, and so we are planning to install a water tank for the times when water is cut off. I've learned an important lesson: do not put off laundry, dishes or showers, or the water might be gone when you least expect it!

Knowledgeable folks around here have also warned us that electricity might not be very reliable in the coldest days of winter, and as I'm due in January, we are preparing accordingly. We will probably purchase a small generator and/or a gas stove for heating. Many people here have wood stoves, but neither of us feels up to chopping wood on a regular basis. 

It would be wrong to say I haven't been writing it all; on the contrary, I began a new book (while trying at the same time to find representation for the previous one), and I soon realized that if I don't make writing my first priority whenever I have computer time, which is so very limited (not to mention the irregularity of our internet connection), nothing will be done. So I'm trying to make the most of the little time I do have, even if it means I temporarily slack as a correspondent, a blogger, or a reader. 

There are still many alterations in the house to be made and, of course, a chicken coop to build. Also, Yom Kippur and Sukkot are still ahead of us, which means there is a lot to look forward to in the next few weeks. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Time of changes

Well, I'm finally able to take a deep breath and say: we did it. The last things were packed, the moving van came, and all our furniture, electric appliances and towers of boxes arrived at the new house. The girls spent a couple of days with their grandparents while we frantically packed and unpacked, and after a week I can proudly say that the only boxes are those in the storage shed. Er, don't mind the clothes strewn on the bed in the mess room. Guest room, I mean.

It wasn't easy. Especially so, since I'm now about halfway (!) through my third pregnancy. I've been extra careful not to lift anything heavy, of course, but still it was exhausting, and now we're savoring some well-deserved rest and enjoying what is left of the summer (which, in Israel, can unofficially last until the end of October).

I don't have a regular internet connection these days, which is both a limitation and a blessing... I do hope we'll get this fixed sometime in the near future. In the meantime, here's a cheerful wave from our little home in the hills.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Nursing on demand and parental authority

There is a lady who writes in an Israeli magazine, whose articles on parenting I always look forward to. She speaks a lot about parental authority, delegating responsibilities to children, resisting worldly influences and other subjects I find instructive. Her most recent article was no exception. She lamented the fact that so many parents are encouraged to choose the so-called "child-centered" lifestyle, becoming slaves to the child's choice of friends, clothes, toys, extra-curricular activities, and... nursing on demand. 

Are You Afraid of Your Child? How to Get Your Parental Authority Back

Nursing a newborn on demand? Why, yes. "In the past," she writes, "new mothers were told to breastfeed according to a schedule. Now it is recommended that you do it whenever the baby feels like it." 

I felt compelled to send this lady a personal email, in which I pointed out that all the examples she used in her article were good ones, except nursing on demand, which in no way "spoils" the baby or harms the mother's authority. Quite simply, the fact that the recommendations in hospitals changed is due to finding out that nursing on demand (or rather, on cue) is actually the easiest and most intuitive way to establish successful breastfeeding - which is important not only for the baby, but for the mother's health as well; try skipping a feeding for the sake of a schedule and you may end up with painful engorgement, complete with a plugged duct and high fever. 

She wrote back. Her response was polite but self-assured. "Our mothers breastfed on schedule," she said, "and we turned out a lot better brought up than the current generation of children." True? Perhaps. Cause and effect? Not in the least. 

I responded and said that, indeed, our mothers were told to breastfeed on schedule - and not coincidentally, it was a generation of formula-feeders. My mother-in-law, for example, was told to breastfeed her newborns every 4 hours. No more, no less. Baby is crying? Let him cry until the set hour. Baby is sleeping and you are thinking of taking a nap yourself? No way - wake him up to nurse. Unsurprisingly, her milk "just ran out" after 1 month, after which she had to give her children's cow's milk (as formula wasn't readily available), and  many years later told me how she "was one of those women who just couldn't produce enough". 

I also heartily recommended this lady to discuss the matter with a lactation consultant, and to consider all the facts. After all, it is a pity if a new mother who threw feeding schedules out of the window reads her article and thinks, "what if I'm spoiling the baby? What about my 'authority' as a parent?" 

Imagine the following situation. It's nearly evening, and I'm busy making dinner. A five-year-old is hanging around and says, "Mom, I'm hungry." "Dinner will be ready in an hour," I say. "But I'm still hungry," she insists. "Alright, then," I say, "if you feel you really need to eat something right now, you can get yourself an apple or a pear." She proceeds to do so, and settles down with her little snack while I continue making dinner in peace.

Does the exchange above make my household "child-centered"? No. Does it make me less of an authority as a parent? No. Would it be better if I barked at my little child, "wait for dinner!"? Again, no. By the way, those who have been reading for a while know I'm very much in favor of regular family meals. But if I get myself an unscheduled snack, sometimes before dinner or right before bedtime, and find it acceptable, why should I refuse when it comes to my children? I'm not speaking about things like sweets and treats, of course, but about an apple before dinner or a slice of bread and cheese before bedtime. 

So what is the difference when we're talking about a baby? A baby is completely dependent. She cannot get up and get her own snacks. She cannot communicate her needs in words or negotiate. All she can do is signal to me that she needs to be picked up and fed - which, if the baby is exclusively breastfed, can only be done by me. So there is no getting around the fact that I must, indeed, feed when the baby needs it, not when it is most convenient for me. This has nothing to do with authority, and everything with meeting the most basic need of a tiny human being. 

Think of a novel concept: scheduled diaper-changing. After all, why must we be slaves to the baby's whimsical schedule of bowel movements or wet diapers? Why must we hurry with a new diaper in hand every time? As parents, we are the leaders, and thus the baby must follow. She must learn that she is part of a family, and adapt to the family schedule. Thus, from now on, diapers will be changed - regardless of how wet or dirty they are - five times a day, at set intervals, and once at night. Try this for a few days, and you will see how your baby soon stops crying because of a messy diaper! 

Sounds ridiculous? Of course. But in my eyes, this concept really is no different from feeding on cue vs. feeding on schedule. Some day, your children will be able to go to the bathroom without your help. Some day, they will open the fridge and make themselves a sandwich. But babies need their parents to provide those primary needs, and it is the parents' job to do so. 

Image taken from

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

How to subdue a pumpkin

I love pumpkin. It has this delicious, neutral, slightly sweet taste that makes pumpkins perfect for a wide variety of dishes - soups, pies, quiches, cakes. Not to mention the lovely bright orange color. It's just that, whenever I'm faced with a nice fat chunk of pumpkin, the question is - how am I going to cut it/slice it/grate it? Uncooked pumpkin so hard that, whenever a recipe calls for pumpkin, most of my work actually involves dealing with the unruly vegetable. 

So today, when I wanted to make pumpkin fritters, I came up with a brilliant but simple solution: I took the whole piece, boiled it in a large pot, and when it was done (which doesn't take a long time), I could just scoop the pumpkin from the rind into a bowl, easily mash it up, and voila - it's ready for the making of fritters. No fuss, no mess, no sweat. 

Here's to kitchen tips that make life easier! Especially now that so much of my time is taken up with preparations for the house move, which is due to take place in about a week and a half. 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Orangey orange cake and a lot of cardboard boxes

Packing is now in full swing here. Our guest room is bursting with boxes, the closets are almost empty, the curtains have been taken down, and I have this uncomfortable and slightly melancholic feeling I always experience as I look at an emptying house. So many memorable times were spent here, both sad and happy. So many dinners, lunches and cuppas with friends. So many leisurely evenings with propped up feet and a good book, or curled up in an armchair with some yarn and a crochet project. I am so looking forward to when we have moved into the new house and I can start the hard but satisfying work of unpacking, after which everything will be in proper order again. 

Since we have at least two weeks left here, though, my kitchen cupboards are still full and cooking/baking is going on as usual. Today I decided to go ahead and try the orangey variation of the lemony lemon cake. My husband surprised me with a bag of oranges last week - they couldn't be fresh at this season, of course, but they served well enough. Instead of 2 large lemons, I used 4 small oranges - 3 for the batter and another small one for the syrup, and was able to use a little less sugar. 

Mmm... tomorrow, I think I'll make orange juice to go with breakfast. Nothing jump-starts a day like a small glass of fresh orange juice. Why small? Because I'm too lazy to make enough for a big glass for everyone. ;o)

I have detached myself from the news websites a little in the past days, because I felt that anxiety about what is going on was making it difficult for me to cope with the several high-pressure personal situations we are currently facing as a family. I do have to say, however, that while I am generally focused on my private little corner with its chickens, whatever is cooking or baking, and getting up in the middle of the night to comfort a child who woke up with a cough, I also live in Israel. Moreover, I unashamedly live in the "disputed" area of the so-called West Bank, and indeed, as a Jew who believes in the Torah I believe Jews have a right to live - and live safely - in all parts of Israel. While I will never be a second Daniel Greenfield, I will very occasionally share my opinions on certain regional hot topics. 

I am not an authority on anything; not an official, not an expert, not anyone's representative. Since this is a private corner of the web, I did not sign any contract that states my content must be consistent, or that I am under obligation to read, publish, or respond to every comment. Really, if I did, I think my mind would go numb. Just today I received a mile-length scathing retort which stated that, as I admit I was born out of wedlock, this fact must have affected my thinking abilities (!). While it was mildly amusing, I didn't bother to finish reading. I had more important things on my agenda (like packing all my husband's jeans). 

And thus, dear friends, I reserve the right to be as eclectic, inconsistent, and unprofessional as I please. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Breastfeeding questions and concerns

A couple of days ago, a friend emailed me with some concerns about breastfeeding, and I thought I'd share several of the general points here, because they are often asked by mothers of new babies. I'm not a lactation consultant, of course, but as a dietitian and as someone who loves breastfeeding, I often find myself answering questions such as what a mother should eat while nourishing a baby at her breast, when baby is supposed to start solids, etc. 

1. Crying baby = hungry baby = "you don't have enough milk"

Are you familiar with this scenario? You go on a visit to your relatives. After some time, your baby starts crying. "She must be hungry," rightly observes the nearest auntie or your mother-in-law. You go and feed the baby. Half an hour later, the baby is crying again. "Oh no!" cries the concerned relative. "The baby is obviously still hungry. You don't have enough milk" (variation: "your milk must not be nourishing enough"). 

In truth, there may be a million reasons why babies cry. Maybe they are hungry; maybe they just messed up their diaper; maybe they are tired, have a rash, or are fussy or over-stimulated. Or maybe it's colics/teething. I realize how comforting it is to think that we can always pinpoint and control the reason why a baby cries, but it just isn't so.

2. "Perhaps the baby is colicky because your milk is of 'low quality', and formula would be better"

Baby colics - inexplicable tummy pain that doesn't have to do with a known issue such as reflux - are commonly thought to be related to the growth process of the digestive system and the muscle spasms associated with it. The symptoms certainly aren't caused by "low quality milk", and though it isn't scientifically proven, my logic tells that the food of nature - mother's milk - is certain to be gentler on a new and sensitive digestive system than a bottle of something based on cow's milk.

3. "It isn't normal for a baby to be hungry so often. Your sister-in-law's baby is fed formula and usually looks satisfied for a much longer time after a bottle."

It's normal for babies to have growth spurts and, at a time, nurse more often than usual. It's also normal for breastfed babies to determine frequency of feeding - for example, "cluster feed" in the evening (which is when things get a little crazy, because you want to have your dinner, and the baby wants to have his!) and sleep for a stretch of time at night. It's normal for breastfed babies to nurse more often than formula babies take a bottle, because the proteins in mother's milk are more easily digested than cow milk protein, and also because a breastfed baby isn't urged "to finish these last 20 ml from the bottle". Think how you feel after a light, easily digested meal, vs. a big, heavy meal. Most likely you will want to lie down and have a nap after the bigger meal. This doesn't mean that it's healthier.

4. "I think my baby is gassy because of what I eat!"

Often mothers will ask me, "what should I eat while breastfeeding?", and more importantly, "what shouldn't I eat?". One was particularly anxious recently. She asked if she must exclude cabbage, oranges, chocolate, beans, milk, eggs and a million other things from her diet, because she "heard it might give the baby gas". The thing is, food passes through our digestive system and breaks down. Then it is absorbed into the blood flow. Then it's made into milk and is received by the baby. So, while it's true the baby is getting his nutrition from you, it's not like you ate cabbage = the baby ate cabbage. Sure, you might have indigestion, but the baby's digestive system isn't dealing with it all - yours does the job! 

Or it might work the other way: "my baby was absolutely miserable until I eliminated eggs, all dairy products, all grains, beans, and almost all fruits and vegetables from my diet. Now the baby is happy but I don't know what to eat." 

First question is: how long ago did you do that? It's very probable that the baby's colics/gas/whatever symptom was development-related and has passed on its own, while the mother is convinced her diet was the culprit and continues to needlessly restrict herself for months (frustration and early weaning, here we come!). 

Second question: did you eliminate all those foods from your diet at once? More often than not, the answer is yes. If so, even if one of the foods in question was indeed the cause of the trouble, you have no way of knowing which. Consider: there was a wave of crime in the neighborhood, and ten suspects were arrested. The crimes stopped, so obviously you've caught the culprit. The problem is, nine innocents are held captive for no fault of their own. Obviously the investigation must continue until we can pinpoint the criminal! 

If you are suspicious that a particular food is giving your baby certain symptoms, you might want to eliminate this particular food from your diet for a week or two, then re-introduce it and see what the effect is.

I hope all breastfeeding mothers out there eat well, drink plenty, and are happy and healthy. I wish you all a long and successful breastfeeding relationship with your baby, and hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed mine. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Israel's "fault": not enough civilian deaths

Today, while browsing some blogs, I came across a post (written by an American, Christian blogger) which can be summarized as the following: Israel, so far, has suffered far less civil casualties than the residents of Gaza. Conclusion: Israel is somehow at fault, because not enough of our citizens are dying.

It's pretty obvious what we need to do in order to gain worldwide sympathy, right? Just die in larger numbers... um, no. Sorry, we've already tried that multiple times in history. Doesn't work.

In addition, the operation in Gaza is "an act of excessive revenge for the kidnapping of three people". No mention that the three kidnapped teenagers - Gil-Ad Shaer, Eyal Yifrach and Naftali Frenkel (who, by the way, was an American citizen) - also happened to be brutally murdered.

I will not link to that blog because I don't want to give it traffic, but here is a copy of the email I sent the blog author:


Do you wonder why much fewer Israelis than Arabs have, so far, been killed in this conflict? 

The answer is simple. The Israeli protect their citizens. We invest much in devices such as the Iron Dome. Actually, to the best of our ability, we protect Gaza citizens, too. It seems Israel cares a lot more than Hamas about the citizens of Gaza. Hamas uses live people as a human shield and the death of citizens is conveniently utilized as propaganda. 

Meanwhile, Gaza and West Bank Arabs continue to receive complex and expensive treatment in Israeli hospitals, at Israeli expense. And I'm not referring to war casualties, either, but to things such as children's oncology. I saw it with my own eyes when I did my hospital internship. 

Ask yourself: can you imagine an Israeli being thus treated in a hospital in Gaza? 

Ask yourself the following question: if (hypothetically, of course) rockets were constantly launched at the southern cities of USA from across the Mexican border, how would USA react? How long would it be until a full-blown war on Mexico? And how would the lives of USA citizens be valued, against the lives of Mexican citizens? Somehow, I think Israel was a lot more patient than America would be. Israel has tolerated things that are beyond anything any reasonable country would put up with. 

Israel vacated the Gaza strip in 2005. It was a one-sided act; it was also a mistake. Why? Because ever since, the citizens of southern Israel have known no peace. Such a situation as they have been living in is intolerable. I do not doubt that the kidnapping and murder of Naftali Frenkel, Gil-Ad Shaer and Eyal Yifrach served as a catalyst for the current operation in Gaza. However, this doesn't mean that the operation was unwarranted. On the contrary, I believe it was tardy in coming. I am certain that if you lived in Sderot, you would feel the same.

I also believe Israel has no way to ensure its safety but re-take control over Gaza and wipe out the Hamas entirely. 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Lemony lemon cake

For those who have been wondering about us, we are doing good, despite the turbulent events in Israel. In fact, there have been no missiles in our area at all - this doesn't mean we are unconcerned by what is going on in the rest of the country, of course, but we're keeping up a normal life around here.

Yesterday, I decided to try a new lemon cake recipe on the spur of the moment. I have tried to make lemon cake several times in the past, and it always came out too dry; the taste of lemon wasn't sufficiently pronounced, either. Well, let me tell you, this recipe isn't only the simplest I could find, it's also very, very satisfyingly lemony. You will need:

1.5 cups flour
1 cup sugar (reduced from original recipe) + 1/4 cup for the syrup (again, reduced)
3 eggs (I used 4 small ones)
2 large lemons, as fresh and juicy as you can get 
1/2 cup oil - you can replace it by butter if you wish, of course
A pinch of salt
3 tbsp. water (if the batter seems too thick)

Grate the lemon peel, making sure you only take off the yellow part. Juice the lemons. 

Mix flour, sugar, salt and baking powder, and add the eggs, oil, lemon peel, half of the lemon juice, and water if it's needed. Keep the other half for the syrup. Line a pan with baking paper, pour the batter in, and put in the oven. Bake at medium heat for about 30 minutes, or until knife comes out almost dry from the middle of the cake. Don't overbake!

While the cake is baking, make the syrup. Mix 1/4 cup of sugar with the second half of the lemon juice in a small pot and heat, stirring often, until the sugar has melted. The syrup comes out rather runny. 

Once the cake is baked, take it out of the oven at once and poke some holes in it (with a fork, for instance). Then pour the syrup over the hot cake, trying to spread it as evenly as possible. Let it sit and cool for a while before serving. 

I'm sorry, but I was too lazy to whip out the camera before the cake was gone. If you like lemons, you will enjoy it! I plan to try re-making this same recipe with oranges, when they are in season, and then maybe I can reduce the sugar even more. 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Parenting, schooling choices, and being good enough

I would like to share with you a comment I received on my previous post; I'm sharing it because I believe it raises some important points and deserves to be addressed.

By an anonymous commenter:

"The current mode for being down on formal education, even at the primary level, and attempting to disavow exams, reminds me (sadly) of the current vogue for claiming that vaccines cause autism and similar nonsense: It is most vehemently embraced by people whose own lives are largely devoid of memories of a society without the availability of widespread basic education, or one haunted by fear of such diseases as polio and whooping cough. Those memories fade, and people start to think, "Hey! We don't need to get "experts" to educate our children, and we don't need to set baselines for achievement! And we don't need vaccines--those diseases won't come back!"

While of course it is right and wise to examine, on a regular basis, what it is we want out of education and how we are assessing its progress, I'm cautious about the current vogue for saying that anyone can educate a child in any way he or she likes, and it will be good enough. This is especially concerning among certain groups that actively encourage parents to remove children from formal schools and school them themselves, regardless of the parents' own literacy levels, teaching abilities, or basic intelligence (frankly--it's not like one has to be bright to reproduce). While in many cases this will produce engaged, interested, well-informed children, in just as many cases it may not--and the very idea that all children being homeschooled, with progress assessments left to...well, honestly, I don't even know what, will _not_ result in marked disparities of ability and knowledge among large groups of children who otherwise would at least have been measured by a common baseline (however low) strikes me as naive, at the least.

Again, I'm not saying that there isn't some real thinking to be done on these issues. But I think we should consider very carefully how we demonise things like formal education and/or examinations just because they may cause our children to feel bad sometimes. There's a real danger of throwing out babies with bathwater."


As far as I understand - and do correct me if I'm wrong - widespread public schooling was initially established to ensure a basic level of literacy for all. This was, of course, good for children who would have no other opportunity to learn to read and write, but attendance was not compulsory at first. Many children in well-to-do families continued to be instructed at home - at least until a certain age - by their parents and often with the help of private tutors or governesses, and nobody seemed to think that those children are missing out on something. If the family was respectable and the parents were educated themselves, nobody doubted their ability to teach their children. It was only later that school attendance became mandatory, taking a large bite out of parental authority.

I believe you extrapolate - if we all say no to vaccines, dangerous diseases will come back. If we all say no to schools, levels of literacy will fall again. The first might be debatable; the second I frankly do not believe to be a valid argument at all. You see, it works this way: people learn what they use. People learn what they need. The illiterate world was largely rural, a world comprising a society where you could get by without reading and writing and still become a respected individual. Today's world is full of the written word; it is based on technology. An artisan village carpenter before the Industrial Revolution didn't need to know how to read and write. An artisan carpenter today has a website where his products are promoted, and he gets orders from clients by email. I just don't buy the idea that we might all sink back into illiteracy if schools are abolished.

Not that they are likely to be abolished. Truly, I don't think the school system has anything to fear from the relatively small number of parents who want to educate their children at home. Only a minority of people have the time, energy and desire to teach their children at home, or even to keep them home through preschool. In Israel, you'll be hard-pressed to find 2-year-olds who are still at home. 

I've never said homeschooling is for everyone. I'm not even sure it will be the right path for us in the future, because after all each child is an individual and each situation must be assessed and re-assessed individually. But I do believe it should be a real option, a socially acceptable option for families who want/need it. As for who is good enough to teach their own children... my personal opinion is that to have a decent shot with homeschooling, you must:

1) Be literate. That's a really basic requirement almost anyone can comply with. You don't need a teaching degree, a college degree or even a high school diploma. My father-in-law has no higher education, but he is one of the most intelligent people I know, with a vast amount of knowledge on just about anything. 

2) Desire to homeschool. This should include the understanding that you will spend much more time with your kids than is considered normal these days. I believe that the desire to teach one's own children usually belongs to people who are passionate about education and think outside the box; thus, the very fact that you want to homeschool, usually means you can

I repeat: there is no one-size-fits-all mold. There is no right choice for every family or even for every year of every child in the same family. It's important to evaluate burn-out correctly, too. There is a family in our area whose children move in and out of public kindergarten and school, according to their wishes and needs. There is another family who was much more zealous and whose daughter, aged 10, eventually begged to go to school. She was allowed to go and is happy. Her sister, aged 9, is now following in her footsteps. Some families will decide, "no homeschooling this year because we're having a new baby". Some will say, "we're homeschooling our son because he can't function in a school setting without Ritalin, but our daughter is doing fine so she can continue to go to school if she wants to." What matters is educational choices. Choice - real choice, and the right to teach one's own children - for every family. 

Edit: In Hebrew, the Ministry of Education uses a word to define itself - "chinuch", which is actually different from "education" the way it is meant in English. It's meant as something more all-encompassing, and I'd say it translates closest to "bringing up". Well, perhaps I'm making much out of nothing, but this "ministry of bringing up" term really bothers me. The modern state of Israel was founded on communist principles. In the kibbutzim - which were the home of Israel's early elite - children were separated from their parents in "children's houses" for most of the day and all night, and some people (incredibly) are still nostalgic about it. But we live differently now. So get this "bringing up" out of your ministry, people. Your job, at most, is to provide education. Bringing up is the family's task. 

Friday, July 4, 2014

Low grades, anxious parents

I've finally started the packing frenzy today, and after stuffing four huge boxes full of our things, I looked around in exasperation and it seemed as though I hadn't even made a tiny dent in everything that needs to be packed in the House of Never-Ending Stuff.

So, while I was taking a well-deserved break I flipped through a magazine and came across an article which, loosely translated, could be called "How Not to Panic When Your Child Receives a Bad Grade Chart." Basically it was a guide on how to deal with low end-of-year grades, and how to motivate your child to achieve higher scores on their school tests. It spoke particularly to mothers of children under 10 years of age.

Now, I must say that, particularly in the case of young children, I find competitive, examination-focused learning with precise grades (in Israel, score out of 100) largely detrimental. The younger a child, the more damaging this practice is. I have tutored children of 9 and 10 years old who have lost all interest in learning and suffered from severe exam anxiety. I remember I would try to come up with interesting things to read (in English), and all they could think of was the upcoming exam. The children were not to blame, of course, but I found it all very sad.

"When my daughter received low end-of-year grades," one of the mothers interviewed for the article tells, "I didn't lecture her. I allowed her to take responsibility. I merely sat next to her on the bed as she cried and cried."

Am I the only one who finds it profoundly sad that a third-grader "cries and cries" just because they were graded as only 60 out of 100 by someone? Or, on the flip side, that a child feels conceited and self-satisfied because somebody had given them a high grade? 

Or consider this:

"My daughters asked me why, unlike all their friends, they don't get a reward for bringing home good grades at the end of term. I told them that the good grades are in themselves a reward for their hard work."

How about if learning were its own reward? The reward for learning to read is access to many wonderful books; the reward for learning math is the ability to count one's change correctly at the store. The reward for learning a foreign language is broadened horizons and a key to a different culture. 

When I was in fifth grade, I had a teacher come once a week to tutor me in English. Our work was completely unrelated to school. Basically my teacher and I would gradually read together through interesting texts, until I learned enough to read simple children's books on my own. The teacher would then ask me about what I'd read, and once in a while she would pick a paragraph and ask me to explain what it says. There were no grades of any kind. 

I remember, some years later, trying to plow through Don Quijote de la Mancha, in original. It was hard work, as Don Quijote's language is archaic and my Spanish just wasn't (and still isn't) good enough. But I was doing it for me. My reward was the ability to ask for directions when I was lost in Madrid one day. 

I believe grading has its place, especially for high school and college students, but it shouldn't be all-consuming, and first learning for its own sake must be encouraged and established. Throughout elementary school, I don't recall studying for exams much at all. I always got good grades, but I wasn't fussed. I just read pretty much every book I could get my hands on, including my school textbooks.

Somewhere I read that you can't be a good writer if you only write for an audience, or with the thought of making money, or for any other reason than being simply compelled to write because an idea grabs your mind and doesn't let go. I believe the same principle applies to learning; you can't learn well if you only do it to please others or to achieve good grades.

Of course, in order for learning to be self-motivated, the study subject must be interesting and/or useful, which can't be said about a lot of the stuff that is learned in schools.

Remember the chapter from Pippi Longstocking in which Pippi plays tag with policemen? My daughters keep asking me to read it over and over again, and I'm happy to oblige. It's one of my favorites, too.

"But don't you understand that you must go to school?"
"To learn things, of course."
"What sort of things?" asked Pippi.
"All sorts," said the policeman. "Lots of useful things—the multiplication tables, for instance."
"I have got along fine without any pluttifikation tables for nine years," said Pippi, "and I guess I'll get along without it from now on, too."
"Yes, but just think how embarrassing it will be for you to be so ignorant. Imagine when you grow up and somebody asks you what the capital of Portugal is and you can't answer!"
"Oh, I can answer all right," said Pippi. "I'll answer like this: 'If you are so bound and determined to find out what the capital of Portugal is, then, for goodness' sake, write directly to Portugal and ask.'"
"Yes, but don't you think that you would be sorry not to know it yourself?"
"Oh, probably," said Pippi. "No doubt I should lie awake nights and wonder and wonder, 'What in the world is the capital of Portugal?' But one can't be having fun all the time," she continued, bending over and standing on her hands for a change. "For that matter, I've been in Lisbon with my papa," she added, still standing upside down, for she could talk that way too."