DIY · education · family fun · Homeschool · Jewy goodness · The COVID files · Worldschooling

Day 484: Curriculum Decision

After lots of research into ready-made curricula, I’ve made my decision:

I’m going to create a curriculum myself.

It’s not that there aren’t lots of fabulous-looking curricula out there; there are, in as many different flavours as there are approaches to education. More, even.

But Mr. December and I have been working on our travel plans (for when we can realistically travel again,) and it looks like our most likely option would be Central and South America, since Costa Rica is open with no restrictions and Ecuador has no restrictions for those who are fully vaccinated (children too young to be vaccinated take on the status of their parents, so we’re good to go.) And as long as we’re there, might as well check out the Galapagos. You know, before climate change and tourism muck the whole thing up and there’s nothing to see.

With that decided, all of the homeschooling pieces have fallen into place. Of course we should learn about the geography and history of the places we’ll be travelling. Olmecs, Aztecs, Mayans, Incas. And then when we get to the Conquistadors and start talking about the monarchy that financed them, we’ll naturally be talking about the Spanish Inquisition (nobody expects it, but there it is) and the expulsion of the Jews from Spain. From there, we can talk about the Sephardi Jews: customs, music, food, and language (let’s learn some Ladino!)

I’ve gotten really into the planning; I have the mind map to prove it. I divided it into curriculum areas—Language, Food, Geography, History, Music, Art, Math and Science—and jotted down everything I could think of to learn about them. There’s even a separate section for the Galapagos, highlighted in blue.

I’ve compiled a long playlist of Crash Course History videos and the like to introduce various topics. Our public library gives us free access to Mango Languages, which we’ll use for learning Spanish and maybe Ladino (if they have it.)

So that’s it: I’m dumping the premade curricula and going with Mesoamerican and South American studies. This is going to be so much fun!

crafty · education · goodbye clutter! · Homeschool · Jewy goodness

Day 479: Shelving the Reshelving

I tried to reshelve the library books this afternoon. I really tried. It was okay at first: I took books off the floor and put them on the correct shelves. Then I ran out of space on the correct shelves and had to improvise temporary homes for them, cursing under my breath all the while. Finally, the floor was clear and I stepped back to examine my progress… and realized that there are an awful lot of shelves that contained a hodgepodge of books from all over the house. Damn. I thought I was done.

I shelved the project, if you’ll forgive the pun. It looks like I’m going to have to do a lot more rearranging than I thought, and I just couldn’t wrap my brain around it today. Instead, E and I went outside and painted some rocks.

There’s something very soothing about a nicely shaped rock; and for those of us so inclined, painting said rock is pretty soothing as well. It could be the smoothness of the craft paint, or the purity of the colours themselves, or the repetitive motion of stroking the brush against the stone. Whatever the reason, I find painting rocks to be a relaxing pastime. After almost an hour of painting, I was ready to get to work on report cards, which I’ve yet to finish.


I think I’ve chosen a curriculum for E for the coming year. The literature section focuses on fairy tales and folk tales, which I think could be a fascinating area of study for the older kids as well—PhD theses have been written on the topic, so surely there’s something of value to be learned there. Maybe I’ll have them research the historical roots of fairy tales, read the originals (Perrault, Grimm, Andersen,) and write about what they’ve learned.

I’m a bit stuck on how to teach Jewish History. Right now my only inclination is to not teach it the way I was taught (a combination of very dry textbooks and horrifyingly vivid Holocaust stories.) My kids don’t generally respond well to books designed for schools, what with the banal and “obvious” discussion questions, which means I’ll probably need to find original sources to read with them, which means… back to the library.

Jewy goodness · Keepin' it real · waxing philosophical

Day 459: This Week’s Rabbit Hole Is…

On Sunday I was following (and participating in) a Facebook conversation about code-switching. Someone made the claim that it is a term used only for the way Black American people have to alter their speech to fit in with white folks. There was an immediate backlash against this, with plenty of people chiming in about how their own ethnic groups also code-switch when communicating with people outside their group.

A few of the people who piped up with this information said they were of Romani heritage, which got me wondering exactly where the Roma people came from. Google and Wikipedia had the answer to that: Northern India. Wow. I had no idea. I had assumed the Roma were one of many tribal cultures originating in Europe. Nope.

Somewhere in one of the articles I read, there was mention of Ashkenazi Jews (peripherally, not directly related to the Roma in any way); my brain jumped to the genetic studies of where Ashkenazim came from. As you know, where my brain jumps, my internet browser soon follows. It occurred to me that it would be really cool to see how far back I could trace my family history.

So I tried. I didn’t get very far, possibly because I can’t read Polish or Romanian and also because I wasn’t ready to plunk down money to access some of those websites. What I really wanted was just to find records of births and marriages and keep on working backwards from there. Maybe that was naïve of me. I’m sure I’ll attempt it again, but for now I’ll have to shelve it in favour of more immediate concerns.

But if I couldn’t find official records of my ancestors, maybe I could understand a bit more of their migration route. So I looked up the history of the town my grandfather was from, and then the history of Jews in Poland more broadly. And then there was an article about Jewish merchants and trade routes that went all the way from France to China in the eleventh century, which was interesting, and led me to read up on Khazars, which led me to Mountain Jews and the language they speak—Judeo Tat. And all because someone mentioned the Roma.

Come to think of it, this is how my mind works pretty much all the time. It jumps from one thing to another in a matter of seconds, so that I can be talking with Mr. December about summer camp and then say, “I just realized that trepidation and intrepid are from the same word! Why have I only just realized it now?” Admittedly, my conversation can be hard to follow.

But oh, my brain—and the hyperlinked internet world—takes me to so many interesting places. Thank God for the internet.

blogging · education · fame and shame · Homeschool · Jewy goodness · lists · waxing philosophical

Day 455: Not as bad as you think.

I hear a lot of bad things about social media—probably you do, too. And there are a lot of downsides: comparing your imperfect life to someone’s touched-up selfie, getting angry because “someone is wrong on the internet!”, seeing humanity turn ugly behind the anonymity the internet affords. There are definitely days when I think I’d be better off without Facebook.

Duty Calls
You can find an image description here.

On the other hand, Facebook has some very good points:

  1. It’s my proverbial front porch. I sit there in the evening and catch up with the people I know. I get to hear about all the mundane things, all the frustrations, all the celebrations—just like I would if we lived in a close-knit neighbourhood and sat on the front porch every evening, chatting with each other.
  2. It can be a great resource. Both Mr. December and I are members of a few homeschooling groups on Facebook. Through those groups we’ve discovered some of our favourite curricula and courses. We’ve also been able to get a sense of what homeschooling looks like for many different families. I’m also a member of a neighbourhood group, from which I learn about traffic issues, why our city councillor sucks, and who’s giving away free stuff.
  3. It reminds me about birthdays. If I wished you happy birthday this year (or any year, really,) you can thank Facebook for that. Every day it pops up and tells me whose birthday it is. It even lets me post a birthday message directly from the notification. I do realize that some people do this with their own calendar—digital or paper—but Facebook makes it so easy for me.
  4. Some people do use it for the betterment of us all.

Point number four is the one that gives me hope for our society. I’ve recently joined a group dedicated to being a space where people can ask good-faith questions about all kinds of social issues and receive honest, thoughtful answers rather than scorn and derision.

(If you don’t get why a question would be met with scorn or derision, think of someone asking about transgender issues and being labelled a TERF because of that honest question. It happens all the time, and it’s ugly.)

I have learned so much from this group. People have taken the time to post complex answers to questions about racism, gender issues, disabilities, etiquette… it’s an excellent read and very eye-opening, as the group members come from all over the world and from all walks of life. I’m enjoying it immensely. Even more incredible than what I’ve learned from that group is the simple fact that so many people want to ask questions, learn, and improve the way they relate to people who are unlike them.

I have similar feelings about the group where non-Jews can ask questions about Judaism and Jews answer them. I’m fascinated by the things non-Jewish people don’t know about us; from the big stuff, like the fact that we don’t revere Mary, mother of Jesus, to the minutiae of why inviting a Shabbat-observant friend to a wedding on Saturday is more complicated than just making sure they have accommodations within walking distance of the venue. I also enjoy being able to answer people’s questions and see their responses when they’ve read all of the answers.

People are learning, reaching out, connecting, and supporting each other in ways that would never have been possible without the internet (and social media in particular.) To me, that almost makes up for how social media also makes it easy for people to foment hatred, recruit people to radical organizations, and spread misinformation. Almost. Maybe if enough of us participate in groups like the ones I’ve been part of, education and enlightenment will replace the ignorance and hate.

I hope so.

family fun · Jewy goodness · Worldschooling

Day 433: My kind of fun

N has always been a whiz at puzzles. As a toddler he breezed his way through so many of them that I started buying out all the puzzles at the secondhand toy store. Now he takes out our jigsaw puzzles and times himself to see how quickly he can finish.

He’s clearly ready for a new challenge. That’s why Mr. December and I decided to buy him an infinity puzzle: it has no straight edges, and if you could bend a puzzle into a cylinder, the opposite edges fit together. The pieces don’t look like any puzzle pieces I’ve ever seen before. Truly, this thing is the work of either a genius or a sadist. I’m not really sure which.

N tried it for a little while and then declared it too difficult. Meanwhile, I became engrossed in it. It’s slow going—it probably takes me five to ten minutes to place a single piece—but it’s so exciting when I manage to get it right. Now that he sees me working on it, N has taken to joining me again. We both find it hard to drag ourselves away.

I had planned to spend some time with the puzzle tonight, but I got distracted (of course I did. It’s what I do.) I was working on our travel plans and started to explore things to occupy our time if we worldschool in Israel. I googled “Tourist ulpan for kids” and next thing I knew I was taking a Hebrew proficiency test to determine my level. It involved some verb conjugations, reading comprehension, and conjunctions; and I had to type it all in Hebrew. I can touch type in Hebrew, but it’s slow going and I’m quite error-prone. Anyhow, now I wait for them to email me my score.

So that’s what I do for fun: fiendishly difficult jigsaw puzzles and Hebrew grammar quizzes. If you can think of a more fun way to spend the evening, please keep it to yourself for now; it’s time for bed.

Jewy goodness · Keepin' it real · mental health · Uncategorized · waxing philosophical · whine and cheese

Day 427: Fear

I broke my own rule, and now I’m sorry.

Scrolling through my Facebook feed, I noticed a post about Israel, by one of my FB friends. He said something about how nice it is to see the Jewish community starting to come around to the pro-Palestinian movement. A lot of other things were said, too, to which I responded with a few pointed questions about why the rest of the world is not engaged in this level of protest or demonization with regards to, say, China’s treatment of the Uyghurs, or the Syrian civil war. Could it be because Israel is the Jewish state? Could Antisemitism be a factor? I don’t even remember what was said in response; I do remember that one person’s comment ended with “shame on you!”

She also accused me of being too snarky and aggressive in my post. If I was Black and posting about racism, that would be called tone policing. If I was LGBTQ, I could say that any support for people whose goal is to kill all the Jews is a complete non-starter, because my right to exist is not up for discussion. If I was a university student I could claim that this kind of talk makes me feel ‘unsafe’, and I would receive emotional support for it. But I’m Jewish, which means that none of those things applies to me.

There is a degree of cultural and generational trauma for the Jewish community that often informs our view of the current (and ongoing) conflict. There is a lot of fear of what would happen if Israel backed off (because, you know, Hamas wants to drive us all into the sea.) The recent rise in Antisemitic attacks in North America doesn’t help. If the supporters of the Palestinians insist that their position has nothing to do with Antisemitism, how do they square that with the fact that Jews outside of Israel are being attacked because they are Jews? Is there an explanation that doesn’t point to Antisemitism? If there is, I’d desperately like to hear it and be able to believe it.

The whole situation in Israel/Palestine confuses and disturbs me. The situation of the Palestinian people, living under the thumb of a terrorist organization, is deeply saddening. And I hate that my Israeli cousins and friends have to wake their children in the middle of the night to run down to the bomb shelter. Beyond that, I’m hesitant to make any analysis, partly because I feel like I can never do the situation justice and partly because it won’t help anyway. There’s precious little, if anything, I can do to influence the situation.

I should probably just snooze posts from this friend and anyone else who posts things that upset me. It’s probably naïve of me to believe that if we can speak openly with each other, maybe we can find common ground and move closer to peace for everyone. But if I shut out the voices that make me uncomfortable, isn’t that also part of the problem? I don’t want to live in an echo chamber. I do, however, want to live without the anxiety that these encounters cause me. I want to live without fear. And right now, I don’t think I can.

family fun · Holidays Jewish and holidays not. · Jewy goodness · Keepin' it real

Day 422: I’m getting too old for this.

It’s Shavuot, most famously known around here as “the holiday where Eema lets us eat lots of ice cream and cheesecake and we don’t have to go to bed until late.” Officially, of course, it’s the holiday that commemorates our receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai, as well as an agricultural holiday related to the first harvest of the season.

There’s a tradition of staying up all night on Shavuot to learn. In my younger days I actually went all night, and it was really fun. Now I’m old, and by 10:30 tonight my energy was flagging—but the kids were still going strong.

We read some folk stories (Isaac Bashevis Singer’s retelling of stories about Chelm are pretty funny.) We ate cheesecake and make-your-own ice cream sundaes. Then we trooped up to the attic and watched an hour or so of The Frisco Kid, which thought was mostly boring. Mr. December and I were enjoying it too much to care if anyone else was.

The kids were determined to stay up, so Mr. December read to them from a history textbook published in 1840’s United States of America. It’s kind of wild that this history book recounts biblical stories as absolute historical fact, a realization that led to my reading the corresponding stories from the Torah and discussing them with the kids.

That took us to midnight, and now it’s 12:26 and I’m exhausted. We’ve given everyone permission to sleep in tomorrow; the only schooling will be Shavuot- or Jewish-studies-related. And now I’ll go to sleep, because I am way too old to stay up all night learning things.

Fibro Flares · Jewy goodness · Just the two of us · love and marriage · The COVID files

Day 407: Netflix and Chills

As many people warned me, today I felt pretty icky in the aftermath of my COVID shot. The good news is that my immune system is doing its job. The bad news is that I felt fluish and everything hurt—which I thought wouldn’t be a big deal since I’m used to everything hurting, but this pain was sharper and just… more, somehow.

We still managed to have a pretty nice evening, the Mr. and I. I popped Advil and Tylenol and then snuggled on the couch with Mr. December to watch On the Basis of Sex, the film about Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

On the one hand, it was really nice to watch a movie about a Jewish woman as the hero of the story. On the other hand… would it have killed the writers and producers to let her say “L’chaim” instead of “Cheers” as she and her husband toasted her new job? Or for her husband to refer to her mom as “Bubbie” instead of “Grandma” when telling their daughter about her?

But I’m quibbling over minutiae. The bottom line is that we had a lovely date night of Netflix and chills. (That is what the kids call it nowadays, right?)

family fun · Fibro Flares · Jewy goodness · what's cookin'

Day 391: I’ll pay for this tomorrow…

Today was Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day. We celebrated in a low-key kind of way. Instead of our usual workout, I taught everyone some Israeli folk dances; we made fresh pita, Israeli salad, and schnitzel with chips for dinner; and we ended the day with more dancing followed by blue-and-white-iced cupcakes.

All of which means that I was on my feet more than usual, what with double dancing sessions and baking pita and cupcakes. Sadly, I suspect that I’ll be paying for it tomorrow. I feel like this flare is better than it was last week, but maybe I’m just getting inured to the constant ache. Anyhow, I think I’d better lay low tomorrow and over the weekend.

Just for the record, though, it was worth it to see Mr. December dancing.

Holidays Jewish and holidays not. · Jewy goodness · Keepin' it real

Day 381: Kitchen Turnover

For those who don’t know, on Passover we change over our entire kitchens—dishes, pots, utensils—so that there will be no trace of leavened things, which we’re forbidden to have on Pesach. Most of the people I know call this “turning over the kitchen.”

There’s a particular feeling of accomplishment in having washed, dried, and packed up all of the Passover kitchen stuff within 24 hours of the holiday ending. We don’t use our dishwasher on Pesach, so this is always a monumental task. I did it today and it took about three hours. I felt so proud of myself.

I did have some help: R got up early this morning and started to wash the dishes herself, so I wouldn’t have to do it all (thanks, R!) She came to me when I was still waking up and told me that she’d broken a plate.

“That’s okay,” I said, “these things happen.” Meanwhile, my inner voice cheered, That’s one less dish to wash! Whee!

Anyhow, everything was finally packed away by dinnertime and I was feeling very satisfied. Then after dinner I went to get a tupperware container for leftovers; I opened the drawer and my satisfaction evaporated. There in the drawer were my Passover casseroles and serving dishes that I had entirely forgotten about. I wasn’t done after all.

I closed the drawer quietly, turned away, and tried to pretend I hadn’t seen its contents. I’ll deal with it tomorrow. Sufficient to this day is the kitchen turnover thereof, or something like that.

Image description: two open drawers, one above the other, containing some glass casseroles, a colander, and some jars. Evidence that I’m not done turning over the kitchen yet.