Wholesome entertainment for toddlers and tots

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The long, hot days of summer leave us with many hours – virtually most of the day – when being outside is uncomfortable and even dangerous. During those hours, children will get bored, and the lure of computers, TV, and any screen imaginable calls out to them like a siren song.

I admit it calls out to me as well. It’s so, so easy to sit kids in front of a movie or a computer game and have some blissful peace and quiet. And so much of the content out there is educational and cute and does have its place.

Yet overindulgence in passive entertainment comes with a heavy price – restless, cranky, dissatisfied kids who are always bored; have lost their taste for the outdoors, books, and simple games; can never get enough screen time and are always whining and negotiating for more, becoming insufferable, insolent and aggressive if their parents won’t allow it.

So how would you entertain children on a hot (or rainy) day when being out of doors isn’t an option? Board games and Legos are fantastic, but all kids inevitably get bored with their toys and games, no matter how many they have. This doesn’t mean you have to buy more stuff! Here are some tips on getting through a long day of being cooped up indoors:

1. Try to go out anyway. If your kids are bouncing off walls, check the option of a short trip to the library or a play center, or get together with a friend. I don’t recommend malls, because the lure of buy, buy, buy is just too strong.

2. Crafts. I stock up on craft supplies whenever I can! Paper, paint, scissors, glue, modeling clay, glitter, beads, fabric and yarn, as well as natural materials you might want to collect beforehand, can provide the whole family with several happy hours. I’m teaching the girls to crochet, and all the kids love to draw and paint.

3. Science. If you have the option of keeping an aquarium, it can be great for kids who love to observe (and maybe even take notes!). You can set up a worm farm, sprout seeds, or transform your kitchen into a lab with some fun and simple experiments.

4. Reading. It’s kind of an obvious choice… For those who read! That’s why it’s only number 4 on my list, though I could read all day. Younger children will enjoy being read to, but you will need to commit your full attention and have reasonable expectations as to attention span.

5. Cooking. Though sometimes it’s too hot for cooking or baking, there are always many fun things to do in the kitchen. Salads, vegetable or fruit platters with dips, no-bake cookies and bars, smoothies, lemonade, iced tea and popsicles can all make a kitchen-centered activity.

6. Water play. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a full-blown swimming pool, either. A cool or tepid bath or a wading pool are refreshing and fun for younger children. A baby bath with toys placed on the front porch, balcony, or even in the bathtub can entertain toddlers for hours. ALWAYS supervise water play of any kind!

7. Dress-up. In our house, we have a dress-up container that only comes out when all else has failed. The children love it, which is why I insist on keeping it a special treat, and they are responsible for putting all the things back in when they’re done.

Ultimately, each family has their own strategies on dealing with a time of being housebound. I’d love to know what works for you.

Summer simplicity

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Softie the crochet doll gets new hair from upcycled yarn. It’s naturally curly from former use, and isn’t it perfect for hair?

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Wee feet. She has just started walking recently, and already I can’t keep up with her.

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Current favorite read from the library. We usually go once a week, and we really should do it more often because we get through all the books in about two days.

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Sprouting lemon seeds in a pot for a fun little project.

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Pomegranates already ripening on the tree, reminding me that as much as I love summer, it will be over eventually, followed by another cycle of the High Holy Days.

My favorite time-saving strategies

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With four children and an extremely busy life day to day, time is my most precious commodity. There are only 24 hours in a day, which is never enough. So we have to make choices. There are no right or wrong ones, just those that work for us at this season of our lives.

Here are some tactics I use to prioritize the important things and save time:

1. I rarely take or make phone calls. Whenever it comes to customer service or doctor’s appointments, I try to handle things through apps or websites. I am so introverted that talking to strangers throws me off for a long time after I actually finish the call – I forget what I was doing earlier and have to spend a few minutes collecting my thoughts. I don’t even always take calls from friends or family if I’m having a busy day.

2. I clean what is dirty and leave what is not. Housework is never-ending and I simply have to prioritize. Clothes are usually worn more than once. Towels and bedding are used for as long as they are tolerably clean before being changed. I do three loads, sometimes four, per week with a family of six. I do my best to sweep, mop and dust, but my priority is the “gross factor” things: toilets, showers, bathtubs, sinks, kitchen counters and stovetop.

3. Meals are simple and as healthy as I can make them. Dinner is most often soup, pasta with tomato sauce and grated cheese, a crustless quiche, or a salad and eggs in some form. If at all possible, I prefer to have only one pot, meal or mixing bowl to clean. I don’t usually freeze meals in advance, but I do like to make a big batch and eat the leftovers for next day’s lunch.

4. I make it a priority to get rid of as much clutter as I can or, better yet, never let it cross the threshold of my home. It’s a little easier said than done, because I live with a hoarder who can’t pass a dump without salvaging something that might be useful someday, someway. But yes, decluttering saves a bunch of time because you have less stuff to clean, sort, and organize.

5. I minimize outside commitments that would involve me herding the childremn there and back several times a week. We have one afternoon a week when we go to the library and, along the way, hang out with friends. I try my best to arrange any errands for the same day. My eldest daughter attends piano lessons, which she is able to do independently of me. Otherwise, I refuse to commit to regular extracurricular activities. The way I see it, there’s nothing that can’t wait until my children are old enough to go there and back themselves.

Day to day

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First crop of tomatoes from the garden. Plenty more to come.

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Fresh mulberries from a nearby tree – these are seriously good, and there are so many of them I made jam this week.

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The older girls with newly braided hair.

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Israel, planning to make many wonderful things with these discarded boards you see in the picture.

I hope your summer started off with just the right vibes! Enjoy the season.

Little gifts

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I’m not a big fan of prickly pears, but I do love the large, bright flowers. A tiny short-lived miracle that one just has to enjoy while it lasts.

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Another piece of beauty from one of our afternoon walks: this little ladybug on a flower. My children always enjoy letting these little guys crawl over their hands and fingers until they inevitably fly away.

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A pile of fresh, juicy lemons from the very generous tree of our lovely neighbor, Jocelyn. Just think of all the jugs of refreshing lemonade we can make from these.

We’ve had a terrible heat wave yesterday and today and I’m extremely thankful for the blessing of air conditioning, because otherwise I literally don’t know how we would be able to breathe. The outdoors were such a furnace that I felt my eyes start to water from the heat as soon as I walked out to water my poor plants. I hope you’re enjoying pleasanter weather, wherever you are.

Basic Lip Balm: two ingredient recipe

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I ran out of lip balm a few cold and windy days ago, and rather than venturing out in this weather, I thought I’d try making my own.

Most lip balm recipes call for beeswax, which I thought I didn’t have on hand, but then I discovered some fragments of a broken beeswax sheet while I was clearing out a drawer (Pesach, here we come! ). Perfect!

Other than the beeswax, the only ingredient you will need is oil – I used olive, but coconut, jojoba or another nourishing oil would work just as well.

The proportions are approximately 1 part beeswax to 6 parts oil. You can decrease the amount of beeswax a little if you live in a cold climate and would like your lip balm to be softer.

Mix the oil and beeswax in a small pot over a very low flame, or better yet, place your small pot into a larger pot filled with boiling water and stir. The beeswax will melt very quickly.

Optional: at this point you can add some essential oils. I added a drop of mint and rosemary for a refreshing herbal scent.

Pour the mixture into containers and allow to set. That’s it! A few minutes of work, and you have a healthy, natural balm that’s great for your lips and other extra dry areas such as elbows and heels. It can even be used as a diaper cream.

PS: in case you are wondering about the hole in the middle of the lip balm jar, I suspect it had set this way because I popped it into the refrigerator to speed up the process.

Along with homemade soap, a cute little jar of this lip balm would make a fantastic gift for whomever you might want to pamper.

And it rained, and rained, and rained

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For the past couple of days, it has been cold, dreary, windy and rainy, and we’ve been shut inside, doing our best to spend our time productively and pleasantly indoors. I started some seeds, did some baking, and went on with my crocheting projects. The little poncho/capelet is coming along nicely.

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I’ve also ordered some yak wool blend, and I’m excited to try it – I’ve never worked with yak wool before, but it sure feels very pleasant to the touch.

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A batch of super simple granola bars, thrown together in 5 minutes, out of the oven in 15 – a healthy snack to keep up our energy in the afternoon.

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A kitty who found the coziest spot on a cold morning. Behind, you can see our crafty center, where we keep all our art supplies, paper, glue, modeling clay, etc.

I look forward to sunny days and puttering around the garden, but in the meantime, there’s so much to be grateful for – for instance, the fact that we repaired the roof and the air conditioning before this last cold and rainy spell.