Monday, March 31, 2014

super-easy chocolate chip bars and brownies

Here are two really easy desserts, no mixer required. I have made brownies on Yom tov before and you could hypothetically do the same with the bars. Both are non-gebrochts, for those who care.

"Miracle" Chocolate Chips bars
Preheat oven to 375

2 cups ground almonds or walnuts (get raw and grind in food processor
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 cup chocolate chips

Mix all the ingredients, do not add water or oil, just keep on mixing. Bake as bars for 23 minutes or cookies for 12-15 minutes.

I got this recipe from pre-Pesach bazaar in shul one year, so the credit goes to the woman who gave out the sheets with it. If you know whom I'm talking about, please let me know. And these bars are amazing!

Super Pesach Chocolate Cake
Preheat oven to 350

4 eggs
1 1/2 cups of sugar
1 c oil
1/2 cup cocoa
1/2 cups nuts, chopped
3/4 cup potato starch

Mix all till smooth, like brownies, pour into 9 X 13 pan, bake for 45 minutes.

This recipe I got from Mrs. Katz in Brooklyn, a Chassidishe lady. My husband ate quite a few of his single Shabbos meals at their place, so the first year we got married, we visited them on Chol HaMoed. She asked me about Pesach and I, a new bride, told her how I do not have any good recipes. She pulled out a cookbook and gave me this recipe. Now I make it every Pesach, since it is as easy as it gets, and I can pop it in the oven in the beginning of a meal and have it ready for dessert.

Sunday, March 30, 2014


Yes, before you decide that I am crazy, and that this is too hard, I do make meringues every Pesach. They are not that hard, but they do require some time. Best part about them: only two ingredients, gluten-free, dairy-free, fat-free... and you will not have to guess whether they will be eaten.

So here it goes.


First of all, make sure that your mixing bowl and the beaters are perfectly clean. If there is any oil, dirt or residue the meringues will not rise. I made them in metal bowl and in plastic bowl and that does not make any difference as long as everything is clean.

Preheat the oven to 250F (yes, 250, not 350). Line two cookie sheets with foil or parchment paper. Alternatively, you can double-up heavy-duty aluminum foil and use that as a cookie sheet.

You will need 4 egg whites, separated from the yolks. Be very careful not to get yolk into the the whites, or the meringues will not rise. You can use eggshells to separate the eggs, or a nifty egg separator, or crack the egg into the cupped hand and let the egg white run down as the yolk stays. Personally, I hate separating eggs, but I will do it for meringues and for chiffon cake for my husband, another Pesach-only dessert.

Once you got your egg whites in the mixing bowl, add a pinch of salt and beat them on low speed until they get frothy, about 3 minutes. Increase the speed to medium. Then measure out 1 cup of granulated sugar and start adding one spoonful at a time, beating the whole time. The whole process could take ten minutes. The meringue is ready when it is glossy, holds peaks, and sticks to the sides of the bowl. Now take two spoons and place individual meringue cookies onto the baking sheets. They do not rise, so you do not need to leave a lot of space between them. If you want to be fancy, many grocery stores will carry a pastry bag. Or you can snip a corner of a ziploc bag and load it up. I am usually too tired to play around like that, so I stick to two spoons and free-form meringues.

Place the baking sheets in the oven and leave them for at least two hours. Then turn the oven off and them them sit inside overnight. You are really drying off the meringues, not baking them. Also, this way once the meringues are in the oven, you are done cooking for the day.

If you are in a hurry, you could raise the temperature and bake them for a shorter time. Then you have to watch the meringues to avoid burning them. Also, they will remain soft and chewy on the inside, with a thin brittle shell. The slowly-dried meringue is hard all the way throughout.

Yes, I have messed up meringues. But I still make them every year, and I enjoy their simplicity.


The ratio is one egg white to 1/4 cup of sugar, if you need to scale the recipe.

cultural differences

Today I found myself saying to my daughter, who was trying to get her friend to do what she was doing: "You want this and he wants that. It's OK. You are different people, so you can like different things. You can still be friends even if you do not do exactly the same thing."

I caught my husband giving me a look. A total "political correctness" look. I knew that I sounded like Sesame Street.

But I turned to him and said, in Russian: "You know how this would have gone were we culturally Russian. (Elevated tone). Look at you! Why can't you be like everyone else? All the other kids are like normal people and you are sticking out. Look at ____. He is always doing this neatly. And you? You are always a mess. Can't you be like ___?"

I will take my American Sesame Street politically-correct earnest voice over traditional Russian shaming message of conformity any day.

Thursday, March 27, 2014


Pesach is coming and you have a Starbucks habit. Before you spend your money on a coffee maker that you can only use three days a year, before you resign yourself to instant muck, there is another choice.

A pour-over.

You can find it in your local grocery, or in Walmart. You can order it on Amazon. It is a little plastic piece that rests over a mug. You place a paper filter inside, add ground coffee and pour hot water over the grounds. Voila! A nice cup o' joe. It is very easy to use and to clean, and it is way cheaper.

The best part is that you can use it to make coffee on Yom Tov, something that an electric coffee maker will not be able to help you out with.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014


I will start with tomatoes. Two options come to mind: tomato dip and tomato salad.

Tomato dip
3-4 ripe tomatoes ( preferably on the vine kind, if not ripe, do not refrigerate, leave them on a counter for a few days)
1-2 cloves garlic
olive oil

Cut tomatoes into chunks, and place into food processor with peeled garlic cloves. Puree, and then slowly add olive oil and salt. If you add too little olive oil, the dip will be thicker, but less flavorful. You can play around with adding dill, basil, parsley, either fresh or dried. It is usually good with matzah rolls, or as a simple condiment. It keeps well in the fridge.

Tomato salad
4 ripe tomatoes, cut in wedges or chunks
1/2 red onion, sliced into rings
lemon juice
olive oil

Toss tomatoes with onions and spices, drizzle with lemon juice and oil. This tastes better when it is prepared right before serving.

These are not too hard. I bet you do not even need to write them down.


Yucca is also known as cassava, and manioc. It is the source of tapioca. It is a South American root vegetable. I find it in the local farmer's market, but lots of supermarkets carry it. It stars on Pesach as a good substitute to potatoes.

In a nutshell, you can replace some (or all) of the potatoes with yucca. Since it is large, I substitute one yucca root for 3-4 potatoes in the recipes. I tried it in potato kugel and in latkes, which are a perfect erev Pesach food, in that twilight zone between no chametz and no matzah. Yucca makes things crispier, in other words, more likely to be eaten by kids.

Here are the recipes that I use, but any old latke or potato kugel recipe will work.

Potato kugel (adapted from Kosher by Design)
1 yucca, peeled and chunked
4 potatoes, peeled and chunked
1-2 onions, peeled and chunked
5 eggs
2 T potato starch
1 T salt
1 t pepper
2 T sugar
1/2 cup oil

Preheat oven to 375, pour oil into baking pan and preheat. Watch it so it does not sizzle.
In a food processor, puree yucca, potatoes and onions until almost smooth. Pour into a mixing bowl, add eggs (I know they suggest beating them beforehand, but you do not have to, just mix them in well). Then add potato starch, salt, pepper and sugar, mix. Take the pan with oil out of the oven, stir in some of the oil into the patter and pour it all back into the pan. Bake for an hour. Time may vary depending on how thick your kugel is. It will brown on top when ready.

1 yucca, peeled and chunked
1 potato
1 onion
3 eggs
salt and pepper
2 T potato starch or matzo meal

Grate yucca and potato on a fine grater, or puree in food processor. Then grate in an onion. Take a few paper towels and wrap around the grated mass, to get as much liquid out as possible. Then add eggs (again, no need to beat beforehand, just mix them well), salt, pepper, and starch. Mix the whole batter. Take a few paper towels, fold them, and stick them on the side of the mixing bowl; they will wick up extra liquid which is invariably there.
Heat a frying pan, add oil (I like olive oil), add by heaping spoonfuls, fry for a couple minutes per side. Don't be stingy with oil, and use medium heat. When done, flip latkes on a paper towel-lined plate.

Yum! Now I wish I had some yucca...

Oh, and you can sub it instead of potatoes in your cholent ( Pesach or year-round), nobody will know.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014


Since we got married, I made Pesach every year. Two of my boys were born around Pesach: one on the last day and one two days before. My baby was born three weeks before Pesach. Every year I have a bit of a freak-out, but every year it somehow comes together.

And every year I hear about the general dread that Pesach instills in women. The cleaning! The shopping! The cooking! The sedarim! Some of these are self-imposed, and since I am not a halachik authority, I cannot tell to simplify. Hopefully, your rav will tell you when you are doing too much and worrying too much. Ask, and you might find out that you can do less. What I can tell is that Pesach is not equivalent to spring cleaning. And when you are halachically preparing for Pesach, do not turn it into spring cleaning (unless you have nothing else to do, but then don't freak out about how complex it gets).

What I can tell you about are a few things which work and will simplify life. And I hope to post one Pesach recipe a day, in hopes of avoiding "there is nothing to eat" syndrome. Just click on the tag "pesach" on the right and they will come up.

Monday, March 24, 2014

two outdoor experiences

So we are unschooling, which probably causes more eye rolls: what are you teaching? What are they learning? And don't even dare complain how things might not be smooth and easy. Isn't all the pressure off?

This morning we were going to a community garden with homeschooling coop to learn about plants. The trip was supposedly geared towards younger kids, but it included the boys' age range, so I figured on taking the three olders.

The boys started up about not wanting to go about ten minutes before we had to leave the house. 9 yo was pointedly planning to spend the day playing DS, so he did not have a case. 7 yo had a more nebulous complaint. I was trying to get to the bottom of it, especially since we went to this place before, and there were chickens involved that he adores, and friends, so I sort of wanted to figure out why he is resisting, but I could not get that out of him.

So we went as we were. The boys quieted down in the car, and seemed fine once we arrived. They fed the chickens and gathered up for the class. 4 yo sat down with her friends. 9 yo and 7 yo sat next to each other. 7 yo came to me because he was worried about being stung by a wasp, but I said that it is too cold for the wasps to be out ( and hoped that it was true!) As the class went on, I was impressed with the level of info being introduced: plant parts, gymnosperms and angiosperms. It was all OK till 4 yo left the class to go dig in the sand pit, and the kids were handed out clipboards. Next thing I know, 7 yo is in tears. He has to write and he is not going to do it. I said that he doesn't have to. I said that I would help him. I tried asking him just to read what he has to write. But the child decided that he is bad at it, and he is not doing any of it. He did not write, we turned in an empty clipboard (I did it  quietly, without drawing attention). Moreover, for the next half an hour he refused to participate in any activity that the group was doing. Instead he spent his time crying and complaining how he wants to sit in the car and he didn't even want to go to this place in the first place. I was trying to talk to him in the sunshine on the corner bench, out of everyone's way, but he just needed a good wallow in his misery, and a good global misery it was! After listening, after talking, after trying to reason, after distracting, after deep breathing, he was still going at it. I ran out of patience. Glorious sunshine or not, this child had major clouds and he was spreading them around! I just told him that I am not interested any more, pulled out my phone and got engrossed. He moped for a minute, and went off to join the group. By this point they moved onto matching seeds to plants game and planting. Now he was happy as a clam, and I was left with his cloud of misery.

After the class, we drove home. The  boys each brought back radish seeds in a compostable pot. 7 yo said: "So you can eat radishes any time you want, mommy, cause you like them." Aww! Then his pot got knocked over because it was left next to a tether ball... and more anger and sadness followed.

I shut the door and called a play therapist that a friend recommended. Not reaching anyone, I left a message.

One of the deals of unschooling was that boys still continue doing chumash every day. I have done chumash with 9 yo in the morning, but not with 7 yo. Frankly, by this point, I was dreading it. He said that he wanted to do it after the baby went for a nap, and stalling was just fine with me. He ate lunch, played magic school with his sister, and I was quite surprised when he popped out of the sun room and asked when the baby is going to take that nap so we can do chumash?

I put the baby down, and he asked me to do it outside. He found his spot in the chumash, read and translated the previous pasuk, remembered the Rashi we did about the dots on top of "eilav". No, we are not doing Rashi inside, but he knows that Rashi answers a lot of the questions we might have and he actually wanted to know what Rashi had to say about those dots. He read the next pasuk, and translated it with some help. He knows what's coming next in the story and I think he finds it helpful, because it is easier to guess from the context what the words mean. He also instills his own drama into the proceedings: Sarah is about to laugh, they are about to tell them about Itzhak, tumm tumm. Overall, it was such a pleasant opportunity to sit out in the sunshine with this kid and hear him eagerly read...

Some days, I feel like I am crazy. I have this kid with this wide range of emotions, and they change so fast that often I catch myself still processing the last one when encountering a whole new wave. I do not want to be his therapist. I do not want to be always on guard. I do not want to be so flexible that I am negating all that I am feeling because my child is experiencing this, and I need to be in tune to this, otherwise, the whole world comes crashing down. In the parlance of Larry Cohen, I do not want to be a perpetual second chicken.

And I just want to experience sunshine.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

unsupervised backyard dig

In my house, a major part of what kids are doing is working on "the pit" in the backyard. It is a clubhouse, a rain shelter, a guard tower. Once or twice I was asked to come out there and inspect it. Overall, though, they are perfectly happy trudging up the hill behind our house with shovels and disappearing into the thicket. leaving me behind.

Overall, and especially with unschooling this week, I let them be. They come back, eventually, sweaty and muddy. The weather is warm enough so only clothes need to be shed, not the winter jackets. The huge clunks of mud are scraped off on the ridges of front steps, but that red clay still makes its way into the coat closet, to dry and fall off and disintegrate into dust, covering the knees of baby's pajamas. He pulls up by the front screen door now, asking them to take him along.

I do not supervise the digging and the backyard exploring. Whichever conflicts they have, they work out on their own. Occasionally someone might come in crying, but it is usually more fun to be out there.

I do not always view all this digging favorably, especially when I am the one stuck cleaning up the mud or washing yet another load of laundry. Sometimes I wish they did something more productive and useful. Sometimes I wish they did something more academic. Sometimes I wish they were in school, clean and neat.

And bored.

And wishing to be out there in the back, digging in a pit of mud, covering it with pine branches and old shower curtain; crafting a desk and decks and other spaces discrete only in the rules of their game.

Play is so fundamental to humans. Freedom to explore and make mistakes and try things out without any grown-up oversight: why should this be saved up for college instead of being an essence of childhood?

One of things I bemoan is living in a place without sidewalks, without a library or a park within walking distance, on a block without other kids my kids' age. I wish they had a gang, a group. I wish that I could send them to a corner store with a ten dollar bill to buy milk. I wish there was somewhere for them to walk to on their own. I wish that it would be viewed as normal. Moreover, I think that my kids do not wish those things because they expect to be driven to places and rely on grown-ups to get them there. I saw a statistic that fewer teens are getting their permits and licenses, presumably because they see no need in having the independence of a car. That scares me.

But back to play. I even have a nice article backing me up that unsupervised play today is in danger of disappearing. Caution: it might cause severe nostalgia for your own wild childhood, because, chances are, whichever childhood you had, it was more adventurous than whatever your kids are getting.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

on Purim, leaning back and control

Today is Purim. Happy Purim,y'all!

Time to be happy, time to let go, time to realize who is in charge.

I have been tightening and tightening my homeschooling belt, and things were feeling worse and worse. We were dissolving into more fights, more arguments, more mental reasons for sending them all to school. It did not help that external factors were not aligning, and there was a lot of external pressure to get this or that done.

In the middle of all this, a few things happened. Both local Kroger and Publix pulled out their Pesach displays, with shocking prices. The Pesach order for kosher coop went out a few weeks ago. Do you know how many people you will be having over Pesach eight weeks in advance? I don't, but I have to guess what I'll be making and in which quantities. Throw this on top of that my usual shmura controversy...

I did not grow up with Pesach. Neither did my husband. He got a minchag (a custom) from his rav to eat shmura on Pesach. When we got married, and were living in New York, we did shmura. The expense was driving me nuts, and knowing that this is a chumra (a stringency) and not halacha, added to the stress. Then we moved to Houston, and I had to place my matzah order weeks in advance. I normally like to plan, but this additional step of planning Pesach before Purim was nuts. Then we moved again. Now I had to place hand shmura order in one place and machine in another, with different deadlines and pick-up times, and both orders had to be placed well in advance. I was crumbling. First two years, I had friends get married in NY two weeks before Pesach, so I drove up, stayed an extra day to go to Brach's and bought my shmura there. Last year I had a baby, but my husband took care of the ordering. Machine shmura was supposed to come through coop, but it didn't. Before I had time to stress, I found some in Publix, innocently sitting on a shelf.

This year, I was too overwhelmed to keep track of when and where shmura was supposed to be ordered. I spoke to my Chabad friend about how I do not feel that I am exactly on a spiritual level which would warrant eating shmura, and she said: "Fake it till you make it." Well, this year I did not feel like faking it. And I do not believe that outward religiosity should come before inner spirituality. So when the deadlines passed and my husband did not order shmura, I said that we are not doing it this year. Publix did not have any and was not planning on bringing it in.

Lo and behold, Costco brought in some hand shmura. My husband got a few boxes, and I decided that all machine matza will be regular this year. I just stopped stressing about it.

At about the same time, this tragedy struck. A young mother passed away, and the internal tumult intensified. I did not know her personally, but this was such a close and horrific call, that I kept on thinking and thinking about it. And at the same time I came across this article. When I read it, I wanted to stand up and pump my fist: preach it, sister! I am so ready to lean back, and so are my friends. Why are we hosting people for sedarim when we need quiet? Why are we stressing about not creative enough costumes? Why are we berating ourselves for not feeding our kids organic when my conventional sweet potato is growing TEN TIMES BETTER than organic one? (I will post pictures one day, I promise!)

Meanwhile, things at my home front kept on deteriorating. I had a full meltdown on Friday night, right in front of my kids. I had a talk with my husband: please, we have to do something, send them to school, find a program, get cleaning help (we have been cleaning the house ourselves and it has been too much). He listened and said: why don't you just go on vacation? Call the school year over, only do things with kids that they want to do, let it all be, and you can always pick up in a week or month or next year. Basically, he suggested going back to unschooling. What's funny is that 7 yo has been asking me to unschool him lately, despite smoothly finishing Lech Lecha, despite starting on Vayeira in regular chumash, and despite his desire to do two pesukim a day...

Additionally, the Rabbi in shul gave a pre-Purim speech which touched on how many things happen, and they are horrible things (meaning the communal tragedy of loss) and we cry at the time, but these tears are there for a reason and we might not know what is the reason till much later on. Oh, and he also mentioned how on Purim it would be appropriate to ask of Hashem with abandon, since we give out tzedakah without investigating, so Hashem gives out our requests. I filed this away, thinking primarily about my tears in my current sorry state of being overwhelmed.

This morning I got to shul for megilah reading a bit early, and I had a unique opportunity say Shemone Esre without distractions. I prayed and asked and requested calmness and best decisions for all current situations.

Afterwards, when I got home and started getting ready for the seudah, I realized that I never got balsamic vinegar for marinated mushrooms. I looked earlier in the week in Publix and at the local farmer's market, but neither one had it. I decided to try Kroger, maybe they have it in their large Pesach section. When I got to the store, I saw that they expanded their Pesach display, so I went looking through it. I found my balsamic vinegar, but I also found... drum roll... machine shmura matzah! 

I just started laughing. Just at the time when I gave up on hunting down matzah and on being stressed about matzah and on feeling not quite right in my observance, Hashem sent me a little reminder of who's in control here. As I stocked up, I realized that what I minded about keeping shmura was not the expense, or the level of observance. What I minded the most was worrying about Pesach before Purim and scheming and planning and bending over backwards to get this matzah. When it was right there, just sitting on a store shelf, and Purim planning had passed, I did not mind buying it at all.

There we have it: if we just let go and let Hashem be in charge, he will help us connect the dots, everything will fall in its place. We just need to lean back, release the reigns. I am planning on going back to unschooling, because my sanity comes before outward appearance of busyness.

One final detail: when my husband was putting away shmura boxes, he came and told me: "You know, there is a bottle of balsamic vinegar sitting down there with the pesach food." 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

small stuff vs. big stuff

Hashem, hatati.
I have sinned.

I got complacent. I forgot all the good things that happen to me. I focus too much on the bad. And I focus too much on the small stuff.

When my father was sick, when I was undergoing my treatment, when every day was a crazy roller coaster, I yearned for normalcy. I wanted small problems, small stuff, like teething children and which dress to wear to a wedding rather than, should I be jumping on the next plane or what to do about really expensive medication that I forgot to refrigerate after it got delivered on second day of Yom Tov. I wanted the problems that every one around me sweating, and I wanted to yell: wake up people, this is small stuff!

Time passed, things have changed, and, slowly things settled in. Now I fret about intake forms for possible PT for 1 yo and how 9 yo is slacking in his schoolwork. But the intensity stayed. What should be viewed as small problems all of a sudden get blown up on the scale of large, full-blown disaster.

This morning, Hashem had a personal message for me: wake up! You are fretting your life away!
A Chabad rebbitzin passed away. She was just a few years older than me. Eight children are left behind without their mother. The community is reeling. And I am shaking.

This is big stuff. All the other daily struggles are small. That PT form? It will get sorted out. 9 yo will not spend his whole entire life as he is now. But a sudden passing of a mother, a devastation wrought on that family, orphaned children: this is the big stuff.

Do I want to spend my energy on being upset about small things? Do I choose to live my life being unhappy, as if there is a later, happier time just beyond horizon, or will I make changes to make my life fulfilling NOW? Do I want to spend my days snapping at the kids because I am overwhelmed? And what if it will be me tomorrow? What will my kids remember? "Yeah, she was a good mom, but always stressed" (or some not-so-flattering version of this). The kids will not remember highlights, they will remember everyday moments. If those are overtaken with frustration and impatience and misery, then what am I doing here? Why am I living as if I will go on like this forever?

It is a very Chassidic concept to be always happy. Incidentally, 9 yo watched a TED talk about hackschooling and happiness today. He said that he agrees that everyone should be happy, only he viewed it that it is all right for a teen to say that, but not for a grown-up. I guess he is not exactly surrounded with positive thinkers here. I am also not so sure whether I have it in me to be always happy. I am not a naturally happy-go-lucky person. That american plastered smile does not come naturally.

What I can do is stop sweating small stuff, because, ultimately, if you spend all your time sweating small stuff, there will be no space to sweat the big stuff.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

hamantash baking

Yesterday we got together with a few other families to bake hamantashen, make groggers and watch a Purim movie. That was the explicit purpose of the get-together. If I would be held accountable by how many of these goals were achieved by my kids, we would score quite poorly: 9 yo is the only one who successfully participated in all the activities and had something to show in the end (a grogger and hamantashen).

When we got there, there was a dog in the house. 4 yo is very afraid of dogs, so she would not go out back with the other kids as long as the dog was on the deck. I did not want 1 yo crawling on the deck with the dog either, so I did not really help out the boys. 9 yo started on grogger making with decorating his container. 7 yo had hard time squeezing glitter paint, then he saw a little clown that 9 yo made on the lid of his grogger, got frustrated that he can NEVER make a clown like that, and just stomped off into the backyard. He climbed on everything: the top of the sand box, the grill, the outer railing of the deck. Then he went inside, to play with Perplexus, read and make balloon animals.

Meanwhile the dog was brought into the house, 4 yo came outside, 9 yo followed the crowd to roll and fill hamantashen. I finally put the baby down, who made a beeline for the steps up the deck and the plastic slide. Oh, and the opening in the deck railing, second-floor height. I ended up watching and following him rather than helping 4 yo with her grogger. She made a half-hearted attempt to make one, but she was more interested in all the bikes and scooters on the deck. She tried out a scooter and a tricycle, but what really caught her eye was a bike with training wheels. She got onto the seat, and, with a little push, was able to pedal. There was not a whole lot of space, and the seat was a bit too high for her, but she spent a nice chunk of time practicing riding the bike.

I asked her whether she wanted to make hamantashen, but she was too engrossed in her new skill. I asked 7 yo if he wanted to make them, but he said no.

At the end, the kids did watch a Purim movie together (Megilat Lester and I heard good things about it).

When it was time to leave, 4 yo was ready to make hamantashen. Luckily there was one more piece of dough left, so she made two, and her friend shared one of hers to eat, so we did not have to wait for 4 yo's hamantash to be baked.

Was this a success? Was this a failure? Did we have good time? Did we learn anything?

Now I know that 4 yo is ready for a big bike. I know to bring some books for 7 yo to keep him busy, and that he is very much OK doing something different from the rest of the crowd. We also made some hamantashen on Friday at home, and he had hard time lining up the sides and pinching them, so we ended up with hamantash tacos and burritos. That might have been the extent of his desire to make hamantashen. We also had a really pleasant time walking to and from the house.

Maybe when the kids are not meeting educational objectives, the trouble is with the objectives, and not with the kids. I need to spend more time looking at the big overall picture rather than just a particular activity.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

close reading of directions

I was working on something with 9 yo when 7 yo told me he was having hard time with math. I told him to skip ahead and that I will help him when I finish.

Here are the directions for the section that gave him hard time:

Solve. Write a multiplication or an addition or both for each problem. Do not just write the answer. You can draw pictures to help you!

I saw that he did the rest of the problems in that section except for one. Here is the problem that he wanted help with:

The Johnsons ordered four pizzas, sliced into four pieces each. The dog ate one slice. How many pieces did the people get?

I asked him what was not clear about this problem and he went into early stages of meltdown. I asked him to talk out loud what he has to do. He clearly knew that a dog ate on slice so that's minus one. I asked him, how many slices were there before and he tearfully said, sixteen. (He did a problem about this family on a previous page, ordering three pies with veggies and one with meat, each sliced into four slices, and he knew the answer there, so that could not have been the problem). I asked him just to write down what he just told me and he screamed back: "But in the directions they say "a multiplication or addition", not subtraction!"

Did you catch that inconsistency? Would that have bothered you? Would that have stopped you from solving a problem that you know how to solve? Would that be a reason to cry?

It is so freaking hard, watching out for these little things, catching them before a full-blown tantrum ensues, explaining that it is OK if not everything is 100% clear. Is it a learning disability? Is he still so young that everything is taken literally? Is he super-observant? And what am I to do about this?

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

team building

We had coop classes in the morning, and when we got back and finally got around to eating lunch, the boys started one of those "if you could do anything, what would you do" conversations. It turned out that they wanted to work on their backyard pit/shelter. I still had schoolwork planned out, but no desire to fight to implement it. We left the park day early because the baby was done. I figured, let them go out there, dig, work as a team, enjoy some sunshine. If you manage to get along with your annoying siblings for a couple hours of intense project, you will manage to get along with anyone.

Schools and workplaces pay money for team-building exercises, training people to work together towards a common goal. I can get my kids to have this kind of training for free.

When they left the table, I reminded them about a dishwasher that needed to be unloaded. Boys do it together, and 4 yo has been helping out. This time they included her in the division of labor, and talked it out, to make sure it is fair for all. They assigned her a small section. 9 yo asked whether it would make more sense for them all to just do whichever part needs to be done and then he answered that it would be like socialism and nobody would work, expecting others to unload instead. I silently cracked up. He went on, saying how we need features of both socialism and capitalism. He asked his sister to hand him a plate and she said :"Yes, master!" with admiration. He told her not to say it: "It reminds me too much of slavery. Could you just call me "leader" instead?"

They are definitely sorting out their relationships.

I am enjoying a sudden burst of free time.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

crying boys

I have been reading a few different things on anxiety. One thing that I saw repeated and that really spoke to me was the fact that tears of anxiety release stress hormone cortisol, as in, if you are anxious, your body is getting ready to "fight or flight", you are awash in cortisol and tears help you release it. (Don't ask me how getting teary-eyes and blurred vision help you deal with danger from an evolutionary perspective, but a good cry clearly can be therapeutic).

7 yo is very emotional and is easily moved to tears. In fact, just about on any given day, he finds something or other to cry about. Those tears just come, sometimes as a part of a fit, sometimes as a part of feeling helpless. One of the anxiety books recommended sitting down with an anxious child, especially a boy, and having a talk about the value of a good cry. It was encouraging parents to teach their child to release those tears. The premise is that it is not socially acceptable for boys to be anxious, and on top of that, it is not socially acceptable for boys to cry. So if you have an anxious boy, not only he is anxious about some original cause, but he is anxious in addition about those involuntary tears and how he will be perceived by others as being weak and emotional.

It seems to me that 7 yo is normalizing himself by openly displaying an abnormal behavior of expressing his feelings and crying easily... When he is calm, he can easily and spontaneously state how he feels and what bothers him. Maybe he is the normal one and we are all emotionally-repressed crazy people.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Purim costume theme

Purim is coming up. I know plenty of families do a costume theme each year: all members dress up to match; it makes great pictures, they all have fun and work together; Pinterest is full of them. I never seemed to get my act together for something like that, despite the fact that I have Purim costume gemach and access to all these costumes.

This year, sometime in the fall, we started discussing Mad Hatter's Tea party as a theme for Purim. Some roles were hashed out: my husband as Mad Hatter, my daughter as Alice, one of the boys as March Hare, another as Cheshire Cat and baby as Door Mouse. Since so much time has passed and this year gave us two Adars (a full month's worth of wake-up time), I decided to check in with everyone before proceeding to plan out and craft the costumes. My husband was OK with being a Mad Hatter and the baby did not really get a say. 9 yo wanted to be Griffin (if you do not recall a Griffin reread the book, especially the Lobster Quadrille part). 4 yo wanted to be a butterfly. I was telling her that there is a caterpillar, and she can be that, but she was not buying it, she wanted wings. Really, she wanted to be a fairy. I got her a matching tutu and wings. Since now we lost Alice, I had to sub as one. The baby got bumped up to March Hare. Luckily, I have a bunny costume in his size, I will add a vest and a toy pocket watch, and that should do. When we started looking into Griffin costumes, nothing was coming up, so I suggested ordering eagle wings and head, and then attaching them to a lion body costume. 9 yo said that he much rather be a chimera, with a goat's mask attached to his back and a spiky tail. Lewis Carrol would approve.

What about 7 yo? He wanted to be Optimus Prime from Transformers (he had never seen the movie, but we have the costume in the gemach).

My family is too individualistic (selfish?) to stick to a theme. Sorry, Pinterest, maybe another year?