Creative writing for children

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Being a writer myself, naturally I encourage my children to make up and record their own tales on paper. My daughters now each have their own notebook where they write down their stories – sometimes short one-shots, sometimes epic tales of many chapters and pages. They have been “pretend writing” even when they were very young, but now that they are actually creating legible, engaging stories, they enjoy reading them aloud to each other and to me, and also having their work read aloud by me to the entire family. This is so much fun.

We’ve taken this to the next level when I started writing, inspired by my daughters, a children’s humorous fantasy book about a fairy who is determined to tame an unruly dragon. In between readings-aloud, we all sat together at the table, drawing the dragon, the fairies and the enchanted forest kingdom (please don’t ask me to post any of my drawings :-)).

This was a lesson for me – used as I was to writing by myself and to myself, wrapped up in my own world, I now had to accommodate the wishes of an eager audience which wasn’t only constantly prodding me to get on and write down what becomes of the dragon, but didn’t hesitate to offer critique in the form of “this is stupid” or “change that whole chapter”.

Of course, creative writing helps children learn so many helpful language skills: spelling, grammar, composition, vocabulary; and retelling the story helps exercise logic and memory. It is really one of the best secret tools a homeschooler can use, but it’s important not to ruin the child’s creative genius by unpicking every spelling or grammar mistake, or it might put them off writing altogether, or of showing their creations to others.

One’s story or poem is a sensitive, visceral thing, and it’s better to leave a few misplaced commas in peace than discourage an enthusiastic young writer. Leave the corrections for specifically defined language exercises – and anyway, if a child reads and writes a lot, language skills and correct grammar and spelling will eventually be absorbed with very little help.

Terrific Twos: why I love toddlers

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Israel’s second birthday is now drawing near – it has been almost two years since this wonderful little boy has joined our family, and we feel so happy and blessed to have him. Raising him is a privilege and a joy I feel keenly every day, and it just gets better and better.

Not that I can’t relate to the “Terrible Twos” discussions – after all, toddlers are indeed a handful. It’s easy to feel wiped out at the end of a long day with a little person who suddenly decides hot water and soap are his worst enemies. But I do love two-year-olds – they are full of energy, fun, enthusiasm and initiative, curious about anything and everything, always ready to explore and discover, and easy to amuse. And two is an age of amazing physical, verbal and cognitive development which is a marvel to just stand back and watch.

Furthermore, though they can definitely throw tantrums and sometimes make you want to hide yourself in a very small hole somewhere, at least toddlers won’t try to sass and outsmart you the way older children can. A six-year-old can make you feel really stupid on occasion. With a two-year-old, you can still be pretty sure of your superior intelligence.

Some of the challenges of having a toddler in the house come from clashes with older children who like to have their own space for quiet creativity and don’t like their projects to be stepped on, torn, chewed or drooled over. Some maneuvering might be necessary there, for example scheduling art projects for a toddler’s naptime or providing a place for the older child where a toddler cannot reach. My eldest (aged almost 8) likes to take her reading, drawing and cross-stitching to the top of the bunk bed she shares with her sister.

Around here, every day is an adventure and there is never a dull moment. And I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Drying hyssop

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We don’t often find fresh hyssop in stores, so when we came across it we grabbed a bunch and I decided to take advantage of the dry, windy weather we’ve been having to dry it up.

Dry windy spells in winter are a pain. They make being outside unpleasant, they cause one’s hands to dry out and crack, and what’s more serious, they dramatically increase the risk of wildfires (by the way, thanks so much to those who have expressed concern for our family – we are thankful to say we are in no immediate danger of fire, but are keeping alert and hoping for rain). But these winds are perfect for drying herbs.

Drying hyssop – or any herbs, really – is very simple. All you have to do is take a good-sized bunch, tie it by the stems and hang it outside – or, if the wind is really violent like it was this time, put it in a mesh bag to prevent the leaves from scattering.

Of course, a food dehydrator or a simple oven can work just as well. Or you can hang the herbs inside. They will dry up eventually, only it will take longer. On the upside, they will make the room smell nice.

Once the hyssop is properly dry, remove and crush the leaves and discard the stems. The crushed leaves can be used as a seasoning in various dishes or, as is more common in Israel, mixed with olive oil, salt and sesame seeds to make za’atar, a popular local dip eaten with pita bread and/or cream cheese.

New addition to our poultry yard

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My husband found this lone guinea languishing in a tiny little cage in a pet store and decided to rescue it and bring it home. I was never particularly interested in guineas and don’t know much about them (can’t even tell for sure if the one we have is a male or a female), but I was taken with this bird’s quirky appearance and how easygoing it is around the chickens – to be honest I expected something like a blood feud in the coop, but to my surprise the guinea fitted right in, eating and drinking with the flock and squeezing in between the chickens when the time comes to roost for the night.

Now I’m hooked and would like to get a couple more of these funny birds as soon as we have the chance. As a bonus, I found out that guineas are actually kosher and there is a tradition of eating them in some Jewish communities (we don’t bother raising birds for meat, but we might eat the eggs).

The only downside is the racket it tends to make, but on the other hand it helped us spot a sneaky fox a couple of days ago! Luckily, we don’t have neighbors near enough to be bothered.

Your Own Hands Release and Giveaway

I’m very happy to tell that Your Own Hands: Self Reliant Projects for Independent Living is now available on my Amazon page.

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The book is also available at my Payhip store in PDF format – with a special 30% discount for blog readers who choose to download it from there. Coupon code is 0HBO2YU1XO and it will be active until the end of November.

I am also excited to tell that I’m giving away three review e-copies of the book. Entering the giveaway is really simple: just drop me a line through my blog’s contact form. Winners, who will be chosen randomly one week from now, will make me really happy if they opt to review the book on Amazon or their social media or blogs (though it is entirely a matter of goodwill). You are also welcome, of course, to spread word about this giveaway on social media so more people can enter.

Thank you for your support!

Sourdough Simplicity: book review

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For a while now I’ve been meaning to review a very useful little book by my friend Rose Godfrey, Sourdough Simplicity. It’s really a very handy, practical instruction manual for those just striking out in the world of sourdough starter. Personally I’ve been wanting to try sourdough for a while, and was only stopped by my husband’s “eek!” factor. Now I’m more inspired than ever to give it a shot.

I’ll be honest: despite Rose’s just warnings about whole-grain sourdough bread coming out dense, if I do make the effort at sourdough, it will only be with whole grain flour (either wheat, rye or spelt). I just don’t see much point in making a starter, keeping it going, investing in a long rise process, making the gamble of an unpredictable product, and all this to get what essentially is still white bread from refined, nutrient-stripped flour (though undoubtedly superior in taste to the usual quick-rise bread).

Yes, traditionally fermented bread is in many cases better tolerated by those with grain allergies, as opposed to quick-rise bread made with baker’s yeast. But still, from a nutritional standpoint, it isn’t much. It might not give you an allergic reaction, but it won’t give you much of anything else, either.

Either way, Sourdough Simplicity is a great way to get going in that confusing new world of sourdough starter. It also provides many great recipes, creative ways of utilizing leftovers, and troubleshooting tips.

“I needed a method that was pure simplicity and a recipe that tasted great. In the end, I found that sourdough baking did not have to be complicated, and it could fit all my objectives. I started with a wonky oven that had 4 distinct heat zones and still managed to bake delicious breads. My loaves are not always Pinterest-perfect, but they are tasty, nutritious, and easy to make. There is always some minor variation from loaf to loaf, and we are OK with that.”

Book update

I’m quite excited to tell you that I’ve made a lot of progress with Your Own Hands. I’m still open to receiving more stories and testimonies from homesteaders and simple living enthusiasts, but overall the first draft is pretty much put together and will soon be proofread, formatted and sent out to the people who had been interviewed so everyone can review their own part before release. Once I get the OK from everyone, it won’t be long before the book is out. I was fortunate enough to have the participation of people who contributed some awesome stories and gorgeous photographs and am really happy with how it’s all coming together.

For more updates, visit my Facebook page.

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Above: one of the possible cover versions (I’m still tinkering with it).