Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Recycled Dreidel "Paper Dolls" Guest Post At Bringing Chesed (Kindness) Home

I recently discovered a new blog called Bringing Chesed (kindness) Home. I love the concept of the blog and was happy to do a guest post for Sarah. Recycled Dreidel "Paper Dolls" is a great project for kids of all ages (even toddlers!) Check it out at Bringing Chesed Home.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Great Gifts for Kids

I thought I would share with everyone what some of our favorite toys are right now. All of these would make excellent holiday gifts for any kids on your list.


D is really into games now so I'm always on the look out for ones that are fun but don't take forever to play. I found Make Me A Cake at West Side Kids my favorite toy store in my neighborhood. All of the girls (5,8 and 11) love this game. Each cake you finish gets you a certain amount of ribbons based on the cake's height. Who ever has the most points at the end of the game wins. This is not a new idea but building the delicious looking cakes takes it to a new level.

I once read somewhere that kids don't fully understand winning and losing until they are 7 years old and I have found that to be true (well at least with my kids!). I have been hearing about cooperative games for ages but had not bought one until a few weeks ago. Cooperative games are games where all the players work together to achieve a common goal.  Recently, I was on Bella Luna Toys looking for a baby gift when I clicked on the  Cooperative Games link and decided to finally buy one. I ended up choosing Harvest Time. It is an engaging game and a pleasure to play with all my kids, especially my 5 year old who doesn't totally understand winning and losing yet.
Play Silks were the baby gifts that I was looking for when I found Harvest Time at Bella Luna Toys. The kids make everything from outfits to tents with them. The best thing about them is that your kids will use them from the time they are old enough to play peek a boo until they are at least 11!

Obscenely expensive? Yes. The toy that your kids will get the most use out of? Yes. The things I love most about Magna-Tiles (also available at West Side Kids) are that they keep my kids occupied for a long, long time and are loved by both boys and girls.  My girls like to design homes and decorate them with Polly Pocket furniture and my 14 year old son will still play with these (OK, OK. He will only play with them on Shabbat and they already have to be out!). We actually have 4 sets of them bought at different times for different occasions.

I don't know what it is about Sharpies but kids love them. There is just something about drawing with them that is fun. Be aware that these are very permanent so make sure  that if your kids are not old enough to understand what that means they should only use them when they are supervised. 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Hanukkah or Any Holiday Sugar Cookies with All Natural Colored Sugar

Since it is a custom to eat fried food on Hanukkah, over the 8 days of the holiday your kids will be fed what seems like dozens of commercially made jelly doughnuts with all sorts of artificial flavors and colorings in them. I try very hard  not to think about this too much!

We will be having a small family get together over Hanukkah and I will not be serving any jelly doughnuts. Since I don't want to be a complete killjoy I will be serving potato latkes with applesauce and these buttery sugar cookies that the girls and I made last night with Joby & Marty's Amazing, All Natural Colored Sugar (I found it at Whole Foods).  I had a vision of cookies with only blue colored sugar on them for Hanukkah on them but as you can see the girls had other ideas! These cookie can be frozen for at least a month so you can make these ahead of time.


3/4 cups of sweet butter at room temperature
2 large eggs plus 1egg for glazing
1 cup of granulated sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
2 cups plus 1/2 cup of flour and a little extra flour for rolling the dough out
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
Parchment paper to line the cookie sheets with

1. Combine the 2 cups of flour, salt and baking powder and put aside.

2. Cream the butter with a hand mixer and then add the sugar. Cream the butter and sugar together until it is well combined.

3. Add the first egg and beat for a minute or so. Then add the second egg and the vanilla extract and beat until well combined.

4. Add the flour mixture while mixing on low until you can no longer use the mixer. Add any of the remaining flour mixture with a spoon (or your hands!). The dough should be a little sticky but if it seems too sticky add the other half cup of flour a little bit at a time.

5. Refrigerate the dough overnight.

6. When you take the dough out of the fridge the next day let it sit for about 5 minutes .

7. While the dough is sitting pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.

8. Sprinkle some flour on the dough and roll out the dough on a floured surface. It will still be cold and it will take some adult body weight to roll it but the cookies will retain their shape much better and will be much easier to work with if the dough is cold.

8. Cut out the cookies with a cookie cutter and place them on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. 

9. Glaze the cookies lightly with the beaten egg and sprinkle the colored sugar on them.

10. Since you will need to bake a few batches you should put any cookie dough that is waiting to be cut in the fridge or freezer depending on how soft it has gotten and how soon you will be using it.

11. Bake at 350 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Fassoulyeh b'Lah'meh (Syrian Cholent)

On Shabbat Torah observant Jews do not cook. That does not mean that we can't enjoy hot food. One of the ways that this is accomplished is by using a crock pot. You put in the food before Shabbat starts and turn the crock pot on low. The next day you have hot food for lunch ( you can also put your challah on top of the crock pot and enjoy warm bread for lunch). My favorite thing about this recipe is you can prepare it on a Monday, put it in the freezer and put it in the crock pot frozen on Friday right before Shabbat. This means that you have one less thing that needs to get done of Thursday night!

The Fassoulyeh cooks for between 20 hours in the winter to about 16 hours in the summer (this is because Shabbat begins at 4:30 in the winter and 8:30 in the summer). I'm sure you could use this recipe for a weeknight dinner. My assumption is that if you put it on in the morning it should be done by the time you get home.

1lb of great white northern beans
2 lbs flanken
White flour
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup finely chopped onions
2 -3 cloves of crushed garlic
1 can tomato paste
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons sugar
Pepper to taste

1. Soak beans overnight (you can also use sprouted beans).

2. Saute onions in olive oil until golden. Remove with a spoon leaving the oil in the pan.

3. Dredge flanken in flour and brown on both sides in the pan that you sauteed the onions in.

4. Put the flanken on the bottom of a 5 or 6 quart crock pot. Put the sauteed onion, garlic and soaked beans on top of the meat.

5. Add 4 cups of water, the tomato paste, cinnamon, allspice, sugar, salt and pepper and combine with the water without stirring the beans and meat up.

6. If you are going to freeze it put it in the freezer.

7. Put it in the crock pot, cook on low over night and eat for lunch!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Dreidel Garland

It is hard to believe but Hanukkah is less than 3 weeks away. Since the Jews follow a lunar calendar all of the holidays are early this year so it's already time to get started on your crafts. As many of you know I love garlands. I think they are very festive and look great hanging up. I wanted to do one for Hanukkah that the kids could help out with and I came up with this dreidel one.

All of the girls were able to cut out the dreidels but obviously the older they were the neater they came out (If you look at the last picture you will actually see a few of those less than perfect dreidels). The nice thing about a hanging garland is that you can get away with a less than perfect one. I do have to admit that I "cleaned up" some of the ones the girls did!

By the way here are 2 more projects to do with the kids that I posted last year: Sparkly Hanukkah Menorahs and Stained Glass Hanukkah Menorahs

Materials you will need:

Felt (I have a weakness for the wool felt from Weir Dolls)
Rick rack (the wavy trim I used to hang the dreidels on)
Tape measure
Glue gun or fabric glue

1. Figure out how long you want your garland to be and if it will be horizontal only or horizontal and vertical. Since I did both I measured out how long I wanted my horizontal section to be and marked the beginning and end of the section with a pins. I got 8 dreidles per yard horizontally and 6 dreidels per yard vertically.

2. Make a dreidel pattern using the pencil and the ruler. The square part of the dreidel was 2 1/2 by 2 3/4 inches and the handle was 1/2 inch by 1 1/4 inch.

3. Make a bunch of copies of the pattern since you will probably got through through them when you are cutting the felt out. This is especially true if your kids are helping out.

4. Cut out the pattern, pin to the felt and cut out the dreidel. You may need to cut out a few until you get into a rhythm. Cut out the amount of dreidels you need.

5. Lay a piece of wax paper down on a table or the floor and figure out where you want your dreidels to be on the rick rack.

6. Using a glue gun or fabric glue, glue the dreidels to the rick rack.

7. If you are going to be doing a mix of horizontal dreidels and vertical dreidels glue down the horizontal ones first (If you are using fabric glue wait until it dries). Then lay out where you want the vertical ones and glue those down.

8. Hang it up!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Interesting Links

I often read or hear of interesting links and I always mean to post them but I never get around to doing it. This week thanks to the Jewish Homeschool Carnival I will actually do it!

This month's Jewish Homeschooling Carnival is hosted by Adventures in Mama Land. Even though I'm just a wanna be there's a link for my Fall Leaves Garland. I (of course) think it would be a good project for anyone with kids.

I heard about this really cool website on NPR called Save the Words. It's a site that is trying to save words that have been removed from the Oxford English Dictionary in order to make room for new words. You can adopt a word that has been removed and try to use it as often as you can to help bring it back into fashion. The word I adopted is wilmish. It means a pasty and/or sickly complexion.

The next time you feel bad about how much TV your kids are watching read this article in the Wall Street Journal. I was shocked at how many hours a week of TV the average American pre-schooler watches. You'll also find out who's fighting to get a piece of that time.

I love this apartment that was in the New York Times Home section last week. It's got some really interesting ideas about using space when you don't have enough, a problem that most New Yorkers have.

I discovered the BBC's education site after reading about it on Patch O' Dirt Farm. My kids seem to really be enjoying it and I love the British accents that all the characters have.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Kids and Computers

I have been feeling uneasy about the amount of time that my kids are spending on the computer. It's not like they have been spending all their computer time on the Internet playing games and watching videos. The girls do all sorts of "good" things like making movies on iMovie, listening to music, writing stories and playing school with SMART Notebook. Z spends time reading about sports and other things he is interested in, checking out his fantasy sports teams and of course IMing and video chatting (kids do not talk on the phone anymore). He also uses the computer for school work now that he is in high school. In addition to all this home use they are using computers in school. Our school has SMART boards in all of their classrooms.

A few weeks ago there was a very interesting article in the Wall Street Journal about handwriting and brain development for both kids and adults. According to the Journal:

"Recent research illustrates how writing by hand engages the brain in learning. During one study at Indiana University published this year, researchers invited children to man a "spaceship," actually an MRI machine using a specialized scan called "functional" MRI that spots neural activity in the brain. The kids were shown letters before and after receiving different letter-learning instruction. In children who had practiced printing by hand, the neural activity was far more enhanced and "adult-like" than in those who had simply looked at letters."


"Adults may benefit similarly when learning a new graphically different language, such as Mandarin, or symbol systems for mathematics, music and chemistry, Dr. James says. For instance, in a 2008 study in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, adults were asked to distinguish between new characters and a mirror image of them after producing the characters using pen-and-paper writing and a computer keyboard. The result: For those writing by hand, there was stronger and longer-lasting recognition of the characters' proper orientation, suggesting that the specific movements memorized when learning how to write aided the visual identification of graphic shapes."

This article of course made me even more uneasy about all this computer use. It really got me thinking so yesterday I declared a computer free evening. After a bit of whining and complaining they settled down and began doing things that had nothing to do with the computer. T and D managed to play school with out using SMART Notebook while they listened to School House Rock multiplication songs on the CD player. R joined in for a while but she spent the rest of the evening reading a book about Helen Keller. Z had homework he needed to do and since he had a basketball game last night he didn't have much free time anyway. He did however get to sleep earlier than usual.

One of the things that I love most about Shabbat is the fact that for 25 hours there is no use of the computer or TV. The kids always manage to keep themselves busy (even with out being able to draw or write!). Each week they are forced to deal only with actual people an actual thing such as books and toys. I know that everyone, including the adults, greatly benefits from this break from technology. While I do think that there are many benefits from all the things my kids do on the computer there are also many benefits from not using it. I am seriously rethinking how much of their time at home I want them to be on it.


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