Like the MamaLand Empire!

Have you joined the MamaLand Empire?
      Oh, yeah... and BUY MY BOOK, The Family Torah!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Naomi’s Bunkbed Rules

IMG_00004352

    1. no shoes
    2. no rude noises
    3. do as your told
    4. only bring a pillow to prevent lice
    5. no food on my bed
    6. avoid putting fingers & hands in mouth
    7. no more blankets
    8. not alot of dolls (get lost)
    9. consider a doll like mine BIG
    10. have fun, Naomi ♥

Love,

The dictator of the upper bunk.

(For some reason, she enjoys writing script even more now that she’s here.  I think because it sets her apart from the other kids in her class, who are only learning how to print.  Sadly, she has not finished learning the capital letters, so she just sort of guesses.)

Good Shabbos!!!

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Humbug Haggadah: HuffPo picks 25 “new” Haggadahs, to which I say bah.

Just the folks you want all up in your seder business… the ever-scandal-rousing Huffington Post brags this week that New Haggadahs Offer Unique Passover Experience For Every Seder Table.  In this case, they’ve decided to mix in where they’re not wanted by stirring up the pot and dishing up 25 “new” Haggadahs.

Now… before you get all riled up at me for being reactionary, please know:  I am all FOR new haggadahs.  In fact, I personally buy a new haggadah every single year.  (At least one!)  So I totally love new haggadahs.

But there are haggadahs, and then there are haggadahs. 

There are haggadahs that are all about Pesach, and then there are haggadahs that are all about other things – fair trade, for instance, or vegetarianism.  A few people this year (through facebook) tried to get me interested in connecting the idea of agunot (women whose husbands refuse to grant them a get, a halachic divorce, meaning they can’t remarry) with the liberation of Pesach… but I held strong.

It’s not that there aren’t other important issues.  But for one night, the seder night, I believe the focus should be on Pesach.  Plain and simple:  the story of bnei Yisrael leaving Mitzrayim and its emotional, psychological and spiritual ramifications.

There is also an argument that focusing on another issue helps make this old, old story of Pesach “relevant” – fulfilling the idea that every person should see him/herself as if he/she personally left Mitzrayim, which is very difficult for us today.  To which I say, really?  Like if you cannot see pictures of modern-day slaves in shoe factories in China, you will have no concept of slavery, and no understanding of what it meant for Hashem to free us back in Mitzrayim?  Well, okay, then.

A few distracting haggadahs

Here are some of the “distraction” haggadahs I spotted, kind of randomly, in the Huffington Post list (all descriptions are from their site, not by me!):

#6, Vegetarian Haggadah.  While many Haggadahs are vegetarian-friendly, the Haggadah for the Liberated Lamb is distinctly focused on vegetarianism and animal rights. Meat is never mentioned, and in its place are traditional veggie dishes your ancient ancestors might have eaten.

#9, LGBT Haggadah.  The Pride Freedom Seder Haggadah is an LGBT-friendly Haggadah dedicated to gender and sexuality equality. It is also a sober affair, substituting wine for water in solidarity with those in recovery.

#14, Humanist Haggadah.  This Humanist Haggadah invites Jews and non-Jews alike to participate in the Passover festivities. It highlights Passover as a celebration of life and uses the rebirth of nature in springtime as a parallel story of liberation.

#19, Haggadah for a Chocolate Seder.  There's no seder like a chocolate seder. A Haggadah for a Chocolate Seder is more than just a delicious seder alternative; it's also a statement on how organic and fair trade products continue the values of liberation highlighted by Passover.

#22, Unitarian Universalist Haggadah.  A Passover Haggadah for a Unitarian Universalist Seder is a Haggadah for anyone wishing to participate in the seder, whether Jewish or "Jew in spirit." As the Haggadah expresses, "Seders have a universal appeal because of the values being celebrated:  freedom, striving against oppression, and the enhancing of liberty for all."

A chocolate seder?  A Unitarian seder?  Not all the examples are this extreme, but almost all of them are about something other than Pesach, in my opinion.

A few good haggadahs

So what are some “new” haggadahs that don’t distract from the core message, haggadahs that really are all about Pesach? 

I asked a few friends on facebook (okay, I asked everybody; a few bothered to answer).  Here are their recommendations:

There are also a few weird new “novelty” haggadahs every year.  Here are two that jumped out at me… in both cases, somewhat literally.

As for me…Did I buy a new haggadah this year? 

Darn tootin’ I did! 

I already own Jonathan Sacks’ original Pesach haggadah, which features a (good) translation by Shlomo Riskin, alongside divrei Torah by Rabbi Sacks.  But this year, he released The Jonathan Sacks Haggada, which apparently features his own translation and a nice new cover.  Call me a sucker but as a stranger in a strange land (albeit my own holy land), I wanted something reassuringly English and familiar, and Yiddishkeit doesn’t get much more English than Rabbi Sacks.

image(I hope there’s not too much overlap between the old haggadah and the new one.)

What about you?  Will you be buying a new haggadah – or have you already bought one?  Do you have an old favourite you’d like to recommend?  Feel free to drop it in the comments section below!

Previous haggadah-related posts:

Also… to help you get in the Pesach mood, instant-download your copy of my PDF Pesach / Passover Lapbook over here at CurrClick.

Or this FREE printable “On Pesach” Passover mini-book (grab it free over at my kids’ books blog).

Monday, April 07, 2014

Ouch – do we miss homeschooling.

IMG_00004337The first day of Pesach break (okay, it’s really the second!) seems as good a time as any to take a deep breath and evaluate how the school year is going for us so far.  The year of schooling and not-homeschooling.  A year of literally HUGE continental shifts.

It’s also great timing because we did our annual (this year NOT) homeschool matzah bake this morning.  It was weird and very, very different.  But there’s a science-y edge that might be interesting and that got the homeschooler in me just a little revved up after gathering dust for a few months.  (click through to read all the details and maybe even try it out yourself!)

For the past few years, during March break, and every summer for a couple of weeks, the kids went to day camp.  It was like school – a nice break, gave them a chance to be with other kids and socialize “normally” for a change, gave me a few days off… etcetera.

We were happy to do it because we always knew that at the end, we’d go right back to homeschooling at the end.

And when camp was over, we never missed it – the routine, the friends, the teachers.  The kids never mentioned any of it again until it was almost time for camp again.  We’d all just settle right back in, hardly missing a beat.

But now… now that homeschooling itself is gone?  The word “missing” isn’t enough.

It aches. 

Missing homeschooling is a constant ache.  Not “something missing” like you get your hair cut and your head is lighter and you do a double-take when you look in the mirror. 

This ache is “something missing” – like a death in the family.

Something missing:

  • My kids:  They’re not the same.  When we see each other now, they are tired and pretty much all “learned-out” for the day.  They are also predictably more unpleasant – to me, to each other.  Still nice kids, but different.
  • Me:  After being home for almost 9 years, I’m out all the time.  Stuff around the house, cooking… not me.  Between ulpan and appointments and other classes, and now work, it feels like I’m either heading out or coming home constantly.
  • Leisure:  Homeschooling wasn’t all about leisure, but it was an important ingredient.  Naomi needed it to write her little books, and GZ needed it for all his imaginative play.  These days, they don’t have much; it’s rare and precious.
  • Socialization:  Yeah, the kids are getting it at school.  And we’re meeting adults and getting out and seeing people.  But we’re not socializing together – moving around in the world and hanging out with adults and kids the way we’re used to.

This all sounds pretty weak given that I started it by invoking the phrase “a death in the family.”

On some level, I thought it would just be about going to school or NOT going to school, but this decision (which couldn’t be helped in so many ways) has so many more consequences than I could have imagined.

I keep thinking that if our core reasons for sending the kids to school change, we could homeschool again.  But I honestly don’t know if it will ever happen.  And if and when we do… will things ever be the same again now that their minds have been “tainted” by school?

What were those core reasons?

  • We need to learn Hebrew – full-time ulpan is impossible with kids at home
  • We need to find work – again, very, very hard with kids at home
  • The kids need to learn Hebrew – school is the best way to do that
  • The kids need friends – and again, school is a quick way to acquire a built-in peer group.

GZ was amazed a few months ago over how many more friends he has this year than last year.  But then again, he also cries every day that he doesn’t want to go to gan. 

And I think he’s realizing that even though he knows a lot of kids now, they aren’t really his friends.  In fact, some are just the opposite.  He has said “it will be 107 days before they want to be my friend.”  I have assured him that the kids just don’t know how cool he is, how many jokes he knows, what kind of a sense of humour he has and how much he knows about so many subjects.  He’s still buying it, but he wishes they’d catch on quicker.

Naomi Rivka is a social bunny, and she is well-loved, not just liked, at her school.  Especially compared to the rest of the kids, she is quiet and delicate and poised and demure.  Having taught her for the first 8 years of her life, and having seen what Israeli schoolchildren are like, I imagine it’s like having a small adult in a class of baboons.

I fear that she will become a baboon, too, before much longer.

Have the core reasons changed?  Well, not much. 

  • Ulpan is no longer a full-time concern, true.  But I just started a new job.  Granted, it’s part-time, 20 hours a week.  And Ted isn’t working and could take over when I’m not here.  But it’s also temporary, a mat leave position.  So that means in four to six months, I’ll be jobless again and need to re-evaluate yet again.  And yet, if it can happen once, it could happen again.  Or something else could turn up, equally part-time, equally ideal.  Or I could strike it rich in the lucrative field of writing kids’ bookscould happen!!! :-D (big zany grin)
  • The kids do sort of know Hebrew – a bit.  The “learning” stage could conceivably go on for years; at what point could you decide they know enough and pull them out??? 
  • The “friends” thing has been a bit of a letdown.  They’ve met more kids with whom they have more in common just through the small English-speaking chevre (crowd) here in Kiryat Shmuel.

But here’s another thing that has happened.  Watching how much Naomi Rivka is learning in limudei kodesh (Jewish studies), and how fast, has completely undermined any sense that I could ever hope to do it myself. 

Take Chumash, for example.  Where, last year, we learned one new passuk (sentence) every 2 weeks, these days, she’s learning a chapter a week.  We took 2 years to learn the first part of Lech Lecha – her class zoomed through it (having started at the very beginning of Bereishis) a couple of months ago already.

This is Grade 2, I tell myself.

These are Israelis, I tell myself. 

They know what they’re talking about – literally.  They speak the language, and always have, and so will your children if you don’t mess things up. 

This is the holy land; the formula is tried and true, I tell myself.  Leave it to them to teach the kids; it’s easier. 

And also, I ask myself:  why move to a new homeland and then decide you want your kids to stick out more than they already do?

There is great emphasis placed here on “klitah,” absorption.  To absorb is to choose a school where you think you’ll fit in… and then fit in.  Don’t mess with the system, work within the system; be absorbed.

Overall, the system works.  I have seen it, and I believe in it.  But, but, but.

Sometimes, absorption hurts.  Not a small hurt, but a great, big wound, in the very centre of my life.

Of course, self-absorption can hurt, too.  Like when it’s 11:00 pm (in Israel, 23:00) and time to sleep because I have work in the morning in a city two hours away and I’m still not in bed and the laundry’s still not hung up, and I’m sitting here trying to convey just how sad I am to be apart from my kids every day and wondering pointlessly how to fix it.

I guess you’ll have to take my word for it.  The laundry calls.

If you are homeschooling, appreciate it.  I want to throw all kinds of wonky wisdom at you like, appreciate it and hold them close and sleep in more.  Like think of me and – what?  Hesitate?

That all depends:  am I a cautionary tale, or just exactly what I’ve always been… a mama trying to figure out what’s best for her kids, her family, her life?  Trying to live the dream Hashem has dreamed for all his people, for all eternity.  Maybe, maybe.

I may not get a chance to blog here again before Pesach…

So whether you’re absorbing or being absorbed or just plain absorbent (don’t all parents need a bit of that?), have a happy and kosher Pesach… from the entire MamaLand cast & crew!!!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Frogs in the Bed: A Book Review (“I hate when that happens!” said Pharaoh)

image I recently had a chance to interview author/illustrator Ann Koffsky for my kids’ book writing blog (come on over and read about it here!).  And today, I got a chance to read an advance review copy of her new Pesach book, Frogs in the Bed:  My Pesach Seder Activity Book.

(I received it a while ago – the book is now available… I’m just slow on the uptake here.  Did I mention we just moved to a whole ‘nuther continent???)

Anyway, the book has now been read and my verdict is…  “Bubby-riffic”!

What does that mean?

Every year for a long time, my mother and I used to shop for Pesach food and when we were done, and all the groceries safely stashed in the car, we’d wander into the next-door bookstore to find something new and exciting for Pesach.  I’d buy a new haggadah, and she’d buy something for my kids:  a story book, activity book… whatever I suggested to her that they might like as a (readable, not eatable) treat.

And this, I’m happy to report, is a really likeable, readable book.

Frogs in the Bed starts out with a contagiously singable story / song (one of our favourites around here!), followed by activities for several sections of the seder (including the full Four Questions), and a fun 3-page comic in place of the regular story.

What I liked about Frogs in the Bed:

  • Hebrew names of the seder sections are included along with certain activities (Maggid, Motzi Matza, Marror, Tzafun).  This is a nice touch, and a nod to lining up this kids' version with the full "grown-up" haggadah.
  • imageThe art!  The colourful, frog-laced illustrations (and full-colour activity pages, which are a rarity in the world of Jewish kids’ activity books) – they’re great!
  • The content – clear, concise, kid-level explanations of seder symbols and rituals.

What I didn’t love about Frogs in the Bed:

  • Only four "steps" out of the total fifteen are mentioned, which might frustrate kids who want to follow along in "their" book.  (This is based on past years' experience with kid haggadahs that don't include all the sections.)
  • Hebrew names of seder steps aren’t translated literally - “Motzi Matza” in Hebrew has the words “Munchy Matza” next to it; “Shulchan Orech” says “Silly Seder Scene.”  Non-Hebrew speakers may assume these are the words’ meanings… but they’re not.
  • It’s short.  If you’re hoping for either a full-length storybook or a full-length activity book, you won’t get either one here.

If you want a single volume that will magically teach your kids everything about Pesach, this isn't it.  But for a fun way to introduce or supplement your family's preparations for Pesach, it's a great bet and probably one you'll come back to year after year.

That’s why I’ve given it the “Bubby-riffic” rating.  Would I buy it for my own kids?  Honestly, probably not, especially in the cash-strapped weeks leading up to Pesach.  But not because it’s not wonderful.  Mainly because it’s short, and silly, and when I buy them I book, I want it to be something “substantial” that will probably bore them to tears.  (The literary equivalent of eating their veggies.)

Would I hint, strongly, that it’s something my mother (or another friend or relative looking for a meaningful gift) could get them that they’d probably love…?  Absolutely!!!  (The literary equivalent of her sneaking them cupcakes when I’m not around.)

imageThe art is easily the best thing about this book.  More than lively, it's often hilarious (GZ would spend all day on the page with Pharaoh brushing his teeth and watching the frogs diving into the toilet if I had an actual hard copy of the book).  And, while the activities aren't super-abundant, they're fun, original and well-drawn enough to hold kids' attention... and most importantly, get them excited about seder night.

Note: the book includes sheet music, but I don’t know if it includes a URL or link where you can go to listen to the song.  However, there are lots of versions online (many use slightly different lyrics), so it shouldn’t be a problem to find and sing this song at home with your kids.

While you’re online shopping for Pesach books, there’s still time to buy…

As mentioned, I received a free PDF copy of this book in return for a fair review.  If you’ve been reading here for a while you know that nobody gets in the way of me and my opinion, for better or for worse.  So you can rest assured that this and any other reviews that appear on any of my blogs are completely unbiased in every way.

Speaking of other blogs… please stop by and visit me over at:

Do you have a newish, Jewish, Pesach book you’d like to recommend?  Pop on in to the Comments section to let me know!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Even though we’re in Israel… cute drawings!

The kids still do some things that are incomparably cute and that don’t exactly pertain to “aliyah” as such, so don’t belong on my aliyah blog.  One night last week, I happened to find a stack of GZ’s drawings on the floor that he had “supplemented” with detailed cut-outs from a handout of clothing that they gave out in gan, presumably to teach the kids about dressing appropriately for the weather (“short sleeves in summer, long sleeves in winter” is mainly the extent of it here).

IMG_00003755

On the upper left, we see a monster (who’s wearing a “pocket with skin-coloured paint”) slipping something into a mailbox and saying “tee hee.”  And the lower-right shows another fearsome monster who appears to be going for a swim and showing off his summer vest.  None of the monsters apparently had use for a parka or a nice pleated skirt.

There were a few more like this… I just thought it was very, very sweet.  And imaginative.

And nostalgic, for the days when all he had to do, mainly, was draw and amuse himself and cut stuff out.  I mean, that’s mostly what he does in gan all day, but these days, I’m not there to see it.

Not all the drawings were supplemented with stick-on clothing.  Here’s another one that pretty much reflects GZ’s general attitude towards the entire human race:IMG_00003756

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Book Reviews, not Book Reports

Do you do book reports with your kids?  Have you found a great way to help them reflect on what they’ve read?  This step is important because otherwise (if they’re anything like me and my children), they’ll just gobble down the book and move on, without much reflection.

(I know, I said I wasn’t going to be posting here much, but right now I have a restless, not-really-sick kid home from school, so I put her to work writing a book review!)

First of all, what’s the difference?

Okay, I’m not sure exactly what the difference is, except that a review implies that you’re throwing in a little of your own opinion.  “Report” sounds objective, like a dry listing of the book’s features, as if it were a notable geographic feature:  a desert, or an ocean.  You wouldn’t “review” a desert, you would “report” on it.  Okay, actually, with the Internet, people review everything from national parks to public bathrooms and I wouldn’t be surprised if you could find reviews for various of the world’s oceans, but never mind that.

I once went to a book group discussion – once.  I can’t speak for every book group everywhere, but in this case, it was dull, dull, dull.  First, one person (a semi-professional) presented some of the key ideas of the book.  Then everybody sat around talking about features of the book that they had noticed while they were reading through, the meanings of things in the book, and so on.  And then… that was it.  Nobody said at any imagepoint that they loved the book or hated it; they dutifully read it (two women admitted that they hadn’t read it, but didn’t blame the book itself).

Like I said:  boring, boring, boring.

I’ve always thought book reviews are better writing practice than book reports.  More fun, for one thing – who wants to just list a book’s features?  And then, it’s impossible not to have an opinion about a book you’ve just read, so why shouldn’t you get to sneak that into your writing somewhere?

Also:  almost nobody in real life gets paid to write “book reports” – just a few academics here and there who analyze meanings and interconnections between various bodies of literature.  How do you make money writing about books?  You review them.  That’s because nobody opens up their newspaper hoping to see a book report – they want a REVIEW that will guide them towards books that they, too, may find interesting.  Or help them steer clear of books they’ll hate.

So when I want a kid to not just read but reflect on what he or she is reading, and express an opinion, I assign a book review.  When YM was homeschooling seven long years ago, in Grade 6, I made him write one a week.  EC joined him when school ended for the summer, so she didn’t write as many  as he did (and she still remembers it bitterly as a time of weirdness and servitude).

image *** CAUTION:  You should read and listen to everything Susan Wise Bauer has to say about kids and writing, especially Writing With Ease (the parent/teacher guide, NOT the workbooks).  Please don’t make ANY child who isn’t already writing capably and confidently write a book review, report, or anything else until you have.  Here is also a $4 mp3 of a talk she gave that I have found very, VERY helpful to listen to over and over.  ***

My guidelines are pretty simple and haven’t really changed much over the years:

  1. (1-2 sentences) Tell me about a book you’ve read recently.  What’s it about?  (I say WHAT because I don’t just want them to tell me WHO it’s about; character names are generally uninteresting and unhelpful.)
  2. (1-2 sentences) Did you enjoy the book?  Tell me or why not.
  3. (1-2 sentences) Tell me one thing you remember that happened in this book.
  4. (1-2 sentences) What age and kind of kids would enjoy this book most?
  5. (optional) How many stars would you give this book?

I like to say “tell me” because that gives kids an automatic audience for their review.  Believe it or not, figuring out who the audience is is one of the biggest problems for most professional writers, and knowing they’re just writing to a parent lets kids skip any issues they might have with this step.

With a kid who isn’t a great strong writer, or who is new at this game, you may need to sit down and have them go over their responses verbally before they put pen(cil) to paper.  (See above caution – for kids who aren’t great strong writers yet, don’t make them write AT ALL, though you may let them narrate their responses while you write them down.)

Just to brag, here are 3 sample book reviews written by the big kids, when they were younger:

The Giver, by Lois Lowry, review by YM, age 11image

I think that The Giver is an amazing book. I like the way it helps us understand how the characters feel at all times. For example, when Jonas is trying to transfer the memory of red to Asher, we can understand how hopeless he feels, and sympathize with him. This is an excellent book by an excellent author, and I hope we will be seeing more from her soon, maybe even a sequel to The Giver. I sure hope so!

True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, by Avi, review by EC, age 100545477115

I have just recently read the book "The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle" and I think it is a great book. It tells the story of a girl named Charlotte Doyle who is coming on a ship from her boarding school to visit her family. On the ship she met Captain Jaggery that at first she thought was a gentleman but then he killed someone on deck for no reason. I especially like the part of the book where Charlotte climbed up the main mast that was over 50 feet high so she could become part of the crew. I would recommend this book because I love action and the book is full of it.

The Indian in the Cupboard, by Lynn Reid Banks, review by EC, age 100375847537

I would recommend this book because it has a nice story of friendship.People might think from the title that the book is racist but it is just the opposite. In the story the indian named Little Bear becomes friends with a cowboy named Boone.Both were dolls turned to life by a magic cupboard. I would also recommend other books written by Lynne Reid Banks because she is a great author.

With Naomi Rivka, who was home from school but it turns out feeling perfectly well, I had her write her first draft with pencil on paper and then she got to type her second draft on the computer, which was helpful because a) her spelling is falling to pieces, and b) as an Israeli schoolchild, she has quickly forgotten all conventions relating to capitalization… oh, and c) anything on the computer is WAY more fun.

Naomi Rivka also seems to like exclamation marks more than my other children ever have.  Here’s the review she just wrote.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid, by Jeff Kinney, review by NRM, age 8.50810993139

The book I just read is AMAZING!!!  I recommend this book because I think it is really funny!!!!  For example, Greg’s mom has glasses, but in the pictures you can’t see her eyes!!  I think Greg is jealous because his parents are all for Manny!!!!!  And it seems Manny gets whatever he wants!!!!!  [Manny is Greg’s little brother, and Rodrick is Greg’s big brother!]  So the big brother, Rodrick is always pulling pranks on Greg + Manny.  There is a girl at Greg’s school and class called Holly Hills, who Greg has a crush on, so he thinks humour is best to make an impression on her.  I don’t think this book is for a specific age, like 4,5,6,7,8,9,10, but it is simply for people who like humour, because there is a lot of humour in this silly book, and for people who like to read!  I liked this book and now I read more “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” books by Jeff Kinney!!!!!!!!  I also recommend THIS BOOK and OTHER BOOKS by the author JEFF KINNEY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  Hope you like this great book!!!

As an optional final step, I have them pick a number of stars and a short headline, then post the reviews on Amazon.com, indicating that it is a kid’s review.  Then (only once we’re finished), we have fun reading what other people – kids and adults – have thought of the book.  I think this last step makes the process feel more interactive and realize that lots of people review lots of things for many reasons, and when they see the diversity of responses (usually ranging all the way from 1 to 5 stars) they realize that their opinion is just as valid as anyone else’s.

Do you do book reports or reviews with your kids?  What’s the best way to inspire them to write and comment on books they’ve experienced?  Share your tips, tricks and ideas and I promise I’ll respond even though I’m not “really” here!