Thursday, October 30, 2008

Common sense, a lost trait?

After a long time, I finally made it to visit Generation Cedar, and have read some of the recent posts about the dangers of modern dating, and the alternatives. I encourage everyone to take a look.

Only a couple of generations ago, there was virtually no such thing as dating in the modern sense of the word. If a decent man pursued a woman, it was obvious to everyone that he intends to win her hand in marriage. He had to win the trust and blessing of the young lady's parents; and if they weren't fully convinced of the seriousness of his intentions, further contact between the young people was prevented.

Today, objection to dating seems so counter-cultural that it makes me wonder whether everyone suddenly woke up one day with their common sense completely and totally gone. It's clear that modern dating practices, with their casual approach ("we'll see how it goes"), instant gratification ("hanging out together just stopped being fun, so we broke up"), physical and emotional impurity ("we must try it out before we decide"), and drag of time ("we've only known each other for three years, there's no hurry"), have done nothing to prepare us for marriage. Actually, when I look at the divorce rates, it really makes me wonder whether we aren't missing out on something important here.

This, in my eyes, is just one of the symptoms of family breakdown. When parents aren't involved in their children's lives, when they don't put the time and effort necessary into protecting them, guiding them, and preparing them for mature and responsible adulthood, can we really wonder why young people make bad choices? There are many jokes about the Jewish mother who is worried because her son is 30 and still not married - parental involvement is seen as intrusive, excessively noisy, and even laughable. Big mistake!

I'm often accused of a dry, unemotional approach towards marriage. This is because I believe that people who are serious about marriage should know the basics of what they expect from marriage and from a potential husband or wife, and that they should keep that in mind when they meet someone who seems suitable - in order to prevent entering a relationship that will lead nowhere. He might be irresistibly cute, funny, intelligent, and like the same foods as you - but if he doesn't see marriage as his goal, or he doesn't want children while you do, or you have irreconciliable religious differences, you might be headed for a disastrous heartbreak a few months (or worse, years) down the road.

There's nothing wrong with having butterflies in your stomach when you see him, but beware of letting it overcome the consideration of basic compatibility. The romantic "love conquers all" myth might look awfully pretty in novels or movies, but marriage is about real, day to day life. A slight pang of disappointment now is much, much better than divorce a few years later, or a marriage where you constantly struggle because you can never agree on crucial matters.

Of course, I realize that problems may arise in already existing marriages, and when this happens, both spouses should be committed to resolve them. However, the argument of "people might change after marriage" doesn't hold water when it comes to initially choosing a spouse. Like one of my blog commenters wisely said, "you won't always be on the same page, but at least make sure you are in the same book!"

We have been told that traditional marriages were too suffocating, too pragmatic, too down-to-earth; traditional families were labeled as hypocritical and narrow-minded, when they looked for someone who was actually willing and ready to provide for their daughters and any children they might have. Yet life itself is down-to-earth, and so is marriage, for the most part. Ignoring this will only lead to inflated expectations, and thus disappointment.

Young people are told they shouldn't get married until they are madly "in love", and should get divorced when they are no longer "in love". It is also assumed that "being in love" is a random emotion we have absolutely no control of, yet our lives and the lives of our children should be dictated by it. With such a whimsical approach so widely spread, I can only marvel at how some married couples actually stick together.

It is claimed women in traditional societies were doomed for a life of misery in a loveless marriage, because matches weren't made according to the supposedly overriding argument of being "in love". Yet more experienced people knew that when both husband and wife are willing to contribute to a family in their unique roles, when there's respect, committment, basic compatibility of character and a reasonable degree of physical attraction (meaning that there shouldn't, at least, be any repulsion), a profound love and attachment is likely to blossom in the long run. Matchmaking is still a very common approach in certain Orthodox Jewish circles, and I don't believe it makes for bad marriages.

Don't get me wrong - I don't think any man or woman should be forced to marry someone they don't want to marry, nor is it even possible in Jewish Law. I'm talking about a rational, realistic, balanced, pure, committed and serious approach to marriage, which should be cultivated from an early age.

If you don't live in a traditional community, or don't have the blessing of wise parental guidance, or are an older single, it's never too late to become serious about marriage. It can save so much time, energy, emotional involvement, and pointless frustration.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Just being home

In my previous post, I briefly mentioned how important is the simple presence of the homekeeper in her home. Allow me to clarify and tell that at no point I meant a woman is supposed to spent all her days shut between four walls. Far from it! A healthy amount of exercise, fresh air and sunshine is important for one's physical and emotional well-being, and in that sense, a homemaker is usually better off than the typical office worker.

Hanging the laundry outside, puttering around the garden, walking to the grocery store, to the post office, or to visit with a neighbour all count as exercise in my book. We can organize our day so that when we need to go out, we do that during the most pleasant part of the day, whichever that is for you. And even if there's no specific reason for you to get out of the house, a daily walk outside is highly recommended. If you have little one(s) that are too young to be out on their own, I imagine you will be even more motivated to spend time outside - which is all fine and well.

What I'm warning against is getting caught up in countless distracting activities that would, when combined, eventually take our focus off the home. This includes excessive social commitments - don't get me wrong; volunteering, taking classes and being part of different committees can add a lot of interest to your life and you shouldn't give it up if it's important to you, but keep in mind it can really steal a large chunk of your time if you aren't careful. Visiting, or going out with friends is another example of something that is excellent in moderation but can become a huge drain on your time, especially if your friends believe you have all day, every day to yourself. Then there's shopping, shopping, shopping - never being able to pass on a deal that's just too good to miss.

Of course, there are many distractions at home as well - the phone, the TV, books and magazines, and the internet. But spending much of your time outside the home every day can make you especially frazzled and exhausted. Eventually you might feel just like a woman who works outside the home full-time.

While you are out, work piles up. Dishes, surfaces and floors generally don't wash themselves, and laundry doesn't fold itself either. When you come back home, tired, you are overwhelmed at how much work needs to be done, and how little time you have left. Even worse, when a woman spends a lot of time outside the home on a regular basis, it's easy to lose that special connection to home that helps everything run smoothly. No matter how many lists you compile, you start to overlook things, because your attention is so divided.

Long-term household projects tend to be put on hold, too. Your back yard isn't a "representative" area such as your living room, so it can be left messy. Windows stay unwashed, storage areas unorganized, and drawers cluttered. The longer this goes on, the more difficult it is to roll up your sleeves and get something done.

And of course, there's no time left to do those supposedly non-essential, yet so special and homey things that add a comforting touch for the entire family. What about the delicious scent of freshly baked cookies, or a cozy hour under a blanket with your latest knitting project? Or unhurried reading to the children, or a nap to help you become refreshed before your husband comes home?

A welcoming, cozy home is important for bringing the family together. A good home is a center of relaxation, comfort, support, refreshment and fun. It doesn't mean everything needs to be perfectly clean; it doesn't mean you must serve five-course dinner every night, or sew every item you and your children wear. It simply means our focus should be drawn inside.

It's still raining here, and I'm having another lovely, relaxed day, filled with doing but also with comfort. Laundry was taken off the line and brought home, right before it really started pouring. I just enjoyed a pot of hot soup, and a cup of freshly brewed tea with home-baked peanut butter cookies. My plans for this afternoon include some more baking and learning how to use my new sewing machine.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Relaxing on a rainy day

We finally got some rain around here, along with rolls of thunder loud enough to wake us up at night. I always enjoy these first rains, and expect to see how lush and green everything will soon look after a long summer draught.

Mr. Duck looks very excited about the rain as he waddles around our front yard. The kitties seem to be less enthusiastic.

On rainy days it's especially comforting to remain at home, tending to projects that need to be done inside. Outdoor chores, such as running to the store or working in the garden, are often postponed, and it feels so nice to pull out the winter blankets, do some ironing, curl up with a hot cup of tea and a good book, or knit while you watch the raindrops roll down your window.

I'm re-reading some posts previously published on "Home Living", which are especially encouraging for young wives. I love the very balanced, sensible way of Mrs. Sherman to talk about prioritizing, using our time wisely, and establishing a routine - which, in my opinion, is more important than fancier skills (which are of course very nice and worth learning too). For example, quilting, sewing, knitting and so on is lovely - but without organizing my time and establishing a simple routine, I'm lost.

I generally try to divide my day in two parts - morning, which is anytime before lunch; and afternoon/evening. In the morning hours, I'm most productive and energetic, and so I try to do "heavier" work during that time. After I've done my morning routine, which includes making beds, doing dishes, emptying trash cans and general tidying up, I might do some washing, cleaning, organizing, and sometimes cooking. If I need something from the store, I'll try to do that before lunch as well.

In the afternoon, I like my time to be more relaxed, and so I dedicate these hours to quiet, comforting work, such as baking, writing lists, mending clothes, or crafts. I think it's my favorite part of the day - the major tasks already done, and still lots of time left. Later in the evening, I often make some calls, answer a few emails, read up a bit on interesting subjects, and just relax until my husband comes home.

An important thing I've learned: to be productive and relaxed at home, you need to be present at home. If something makes you spend a lot of time away from home - it might be shopping, or visiting friends, or social commitments - you're always playing catch-up. Mess, clutter and dirty laundry seem to breed while you're away; you forget what you have in your refrigerator and pantry; eventually, your home becomes so unorganized that you feel tempted to run away from it. That's why I love days like today, when it's raining outside, I don't need to go anywhere, and can fully dedicate myself to my domestic duties.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Domestic disasters

I think I've mentioned several times that we got a very old, heavily used washing machine when we got married. We were happy to have any washing machine for free, as long as it worked.

Well, it worked faithfully for a few months, then we started having troubles.
It stopped sucking in the detergent.
It stopped wringing.
I noticed it causes tears in some of our clothes.
And the most fatal blow of all, it stopped letting the water in.

After some futile attempts to fix it, we bought a new washing machine, thinking it's a wise investment in the light of us expecting a baby in a couple of months. We patiently waited for it to be delivered a week... two weeks... three weeks... and still no washing machine in sight. We called, to find out whether there's some kind of misunderstanding.
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Turns out, we were told apologetically, that the place where we live is too remote (imagine that, in a small country like Israel). Therefore, they are "waiting for a chance when one of their delivery men travels in our direction". Which might happen next week, or next month, or... next year? Well, I sure hope it doesn't come to that! Picking it up ourselves is out of the question, because a) it's too far, and b) it won't fit in our car.
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Did we give our address when we made the purchase? Of course. Did we ask whether delivery would be a problem? Yes. Were we told there would be no problem at all? Yes, we were promised our washing machine will be here in two weeks.
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Now we can rightfully fume as long as we want. We can even cancel the purchase. However, no one can promise us it won't happen again if we buy from someplace else.
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Anyway, while my husband calls back and forth several times a day, laundry has become an unexpected challenge here. Basically, I have two options: gather all our dirty laundry and use Mom's washing machine; or do it by hand. So far it has been a combination of the two.
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This makes me fully appreciate what a wonderfully convenient thing a washing machine is, and how unfairly we take it for granted these days. Just a couple of generations ago, everything was washed by hand, and it took a lot of work - especially in large families. Now, when we complain about "endless mountains of laundry", we forget to be thankful for the fact that practically all we need to do is sort our laundry by color and toss it into the washing machine! Sure, there's still drying, folding and ironing, and some heavy stains now and then that need to be pre-treated. Still, it's so much easier for us than for our grandmothers or great-grandmothers.
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We can survive doing laundry by hand. However, I still hope we'll have a working washing machine here before the baby arrives.
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image courtesy of allposters.com

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Your new family: finding the balance

Not long ago, a dear lady who emailed me shared a difficult situation: her mother was ill and needed extensive care, which she felt obligated to provide - to the extent of neglecting her husband and children, as she described. Whatever she would do, she fet, she would be torn apart.

Incidentally, this lady had siblings who didn't quite pull their share in taking care of their mother. In such cases, splitting the responsibility might provide a solution. However, some of us (like me) have no brothers or sisters to "fill in" for them. Some of us live much closer to our aging parents or grandparents, and so brothers or sisters who live far away naturally assume it's easier for us to take up the challenge.

It is said in the book of Genesis, "a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh". Marriage is always an enormous adjustment to make, in this way as well as others. Only yesterday, your parents and siblings were your family, and in your humble, loving heart you tried to put them first; suddenly, your husband becomes your first priority, and you must now put him first! How does one accomplish this, without hampering your own family, and without hurting our parents, which we all of course still love and respect?

While the home of our parents ceases to be the main axis after we get married, our parents still deserve the utmost respect and attention. Helping one's aging parents is honorable. However, it must be clear that our husband and children are our first priority - even though it might not be easy. I have seen families where this gentle balance was not maintained, and it had devastating consequences on marriages - new, and even some years down the road.

I remember there was one time, in the second month of my marriage, when my Mom asked me to clean her windows - something I used to always do during spring. I would gladly do it now, too - but I was already newly pregnant and tired, and had our windows to clean. This meant Mom's windows had to wait... did I feel guilty? Yes, a bit. I know it's a very trivial example. Some people feel literally torn apart between two families who both seem to need them desperately.

Then, there's also the matter of frictions between in-laws. If you speak Russian, no doubt you've heard countless jokes about husband and mother-in-law who can't stand each other. I suspect this is a largely cultural phenomenon, because of how common it is (or at least was) in Russia to continue living with parents after marriage. Fortunately for our family, so far there haven't been any negative feelings between me and my in-laws, or my husband and my mother.

So, clearly, there isn't always an obvious solution, and each new family must find its balance. I'm not sure what life will hold for us some years down the road, but I do hope everyone will feel they are treated fairly, with love, respect, and care.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Smooth sailing into the third trimester

Pregnant Mom, joyfully expecting her first baby.

Beautiful Jerusalem, with its multitude of views and people who came to celebrate Sukkot.

Reciting psalms at the Western Wall.
I wanted to post a little update on how the baby and I are doing, now that we have stepped into the third (and final - can you believe it?!) trimester. I'm about six and a half months pregnant now.
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I feel wonderful, and so far, without any unusual symptoms. My feet stopped swelling entirely, probably thanks to the fact that the weather is pleasantly cooling down. I have experienced some discomfort in my pelvic area now and then, and from what I've read, it means that my body is preparing for delivery.
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I sleep and eat well, and even though I don't know exactly how much weight I've gained recently, my tummy is definitely becoming larger. The rest of me seems to be more or less the same size as before pregnancy. I'm not following any particular nutrition regime, but I try to keep meals regular, varied, and balanced, as well as drink plenty of water.
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I still move around quite smoothly, even though bending (or to be exact, breathing while I bend) is becoming more of a challenge. When I look down, I can't see my feet anymore. :o) I allow a bit more relaxed pace to my days now, but still manage to get all the basics done within reasonable time.
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As for the baby, she moves around quite a lot these days, and I can feel her little rolls and flutters in just about every part of my belly. It's one of the most amazing sensations I've experienced so far - knowing there's a whole little human being inside me, in control of her own little body, and with sleeping patterns sometimes quite different from mine - try to fall asleep when your baby is tickling your sides from the inside! :o)
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We haven't done any "baby shopping" so far. We already got or found quite a few baby items as gifts and hand-me-downs, in new or like new condition - baby clothes, bedding, blankets, and even the crib itself. It looks like we'll only have to buy a car seat and a few other items for baby and nursing mom as needed.
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I haven't bought anything officially labeled as "maternity wear", either - I wear lots of layers, roomy shirts and sweaters, stretchy items and creatively adapted clothes. Also, I still wear many of my pre-pregnancy skirts, which have a tremendous advantage over pants in the sense that you can wear them higher or lower as your tummy grows. I might get an item or two for the winter, but overall, I feel it would be a waste to spend much money on maternity wear right now - it's only for a couple of months, and my next pregnancy might be at an entirely different season.
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I hope all you fellow pregnant ladies are doing wonderfully and enjoying this very special season of carrying your baby. If it's your first baby, I also hope you're making the best of this time alone as a couple with your husband - an equally special season. Even if you aren't feeling particularly wild, it can be a good time to be spontaneous and easily do things which will require more planning once you have a little one in your home.
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I can't believe that in about two and a half months, this little treasure is supposed to be in our arms. We can't wait to meet, hold, and get to know her.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Beyond the holidays




With a hint of sadness, we waved the holidays away. What a fun time it was - yet busy, and absolutely packed with activity - which is why I haven't updated the blog for a week; how time flies! If it wasn't Shabbat or holiday that day, it was to be next day, and so we were preparing for it - or else, visiting someplace or having some family over in our humble little home.

Many times, I blushed with the thought of the limitations and imperfections of our household - such as, you know, too little room, too few chairs, not enough plates and cutlery... but the fun of having people over was so worth it! You don't need to have the perfect home to be good hosts - warmth and hospitality go a long way to make everyone comfortable.

Now we are back to routine, which is delightful in itself, in the normal and ordinary flow of days. There is so much to do - entire areas of the house to clear away and put in order, something that was put on hold during the holidays. For the past few weeks, I had my dear husband at home all to myself, which is a rare treat for us. We were busy spending time together, which means I spent a lot less time on house upkeep than I normally would. Now is the time to catch up.

On one of our free days during Sukkot, we visited the Western Wall in Jerusalem, pictures of which you can see above. Below is a photo of me - I know I look very tired here, after a particularly steep walk uphill - but overall my energy level is more than satisfactory, and I'm feeling wonderful. More photos of pregnant me coming, hopefully, soon.

To all the wonderful ladies who emailed me - thank you so much for your patience! During the past weeks, I watched with concern as I opened my inbox every day how the number of new emails grows, and grows, and grows... I know many of you have been waiting for a reply for weeks now, and I hope to catch up with you soon.

In the meantime, I send you the warmest friendly wishes for a wonderful day from

Mrs. T

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Some freshly baked bread



... Sweet, warm, comforting smell of bread freshly baked by my husband...

... The weather, slowly cooling down, with a pleasant rain today, and such clear, fresh air here in the mountains...

... And still the holidays continue. Ah, the bliss. What a joy it is to not do much, and just be here at home.

I'm looking forward to writing more at the end of Sukkot.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

A fresh start

A few days ago I received a question that deeply touched my heart, so much that I decided to do a separate post about it. Not because I'm such an outstanding expert on the matter, but rather because I'm as much in need of humble learning and improvement as the lady who sent the question. So here it goes.

"What can a woman do, 6-7 years into her marriage, when she realizes she started out all wrong? When we first married I was cold, rude, demanding, unfeminine and hated everything domestic. I have completely changed my outlook on everything at this point. I now do my best to be kind and nurturing to my husband. But what else can I do to try and un-do my past behavior towards him? For those of us that have been married for a while that are trying to change the way we behave as wives and mothers - any tips?"

Obviously, I'm a very, very new wife - my dear husband and I have only been married a few short months. However, even in this brief period, I learned how important it is to let go, forgive, and start over. A new, fresh page opens every day if we allow it - and if we don't, consequences can be devastating.

Unresolved issues can eventually form a high wall that divides you and prevents open communication and true intimacy. It can be very painful even when we're talking about matters of weeks - I can only imagine how high and wide this wall can grow within years! Each misunderstanding, frustration, argument, and silence treatment is another brick in the wall that stands between husband and wife, until finally, tragically, they become two hostile strangers who would rather reveal their hearts to anyone but each other.

As we all know, old habits die hard. The longer you let a destructive pattern go on, the more difficult it is to reverse. It's important to recognize the mistakes of our old ways, passionately desire a change, and commit to this change - not half-heartedly, not out of cold duty, but out of love, pure love.

I can't even begin to express how important it is to sit down with your husband and talk, talk, talk about everything that is on your heart. Pour out your heart, unrestrictedly, and thus make it easier for your husband to know how you feel, and let you know how he feels. Pray for each other and for your marriage, and ask the One Who brought you together to renew your love and devotion for each other. Ask Him to turn your heart towards your husband, and become the wife you have always wanted to be.

I'm writing this with a constricted heart because I, too, have been guilty of unfair behavior towards my dear husband, of miscommunication, of letting difficult matters lie for a long time instead of resolving them as soon as they arose, of allowing us both to carry a weight in our hearts, which became a burden on our budding new marriage. All because of not finding the courage to openly talk, and then commit to, and make a change. Thankfully, the Almighty has blessed me with the gift of a patient, loving, devoted husband, who made every effort to help me see what we both need to do in order to improve.

I know many of the ladies who read this blog are more experienced wives, and therefore I'm opening this for discussion. I wish every struggling couple - and I believe most married couples face challenges once in a while - a beautiful renewal of love, commitment and closeness in their marriage.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Past the fast

For everyone who might have been concerned, I'm putting on a little note just to tell that we passed Yom Kippur without any unusual symptoms - Mom and baby both seem to be doing just fine. Spending over 24 hours without food and water was difficult, but not more than when I wasn't pregnant.

I've heard reports on the news of some women who were prompted to give birth a few days sooner than expected because of the fast, but as far as I know, none of the deliveries were significantly premature, and would have happened any day anyway.

Next week, we are preparing to celebrate Sukkot - our first time as a married couple. What fun!

Looking forward to the chance of a longer post, and to catching up with all you ladies.

Mrs. T

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Maternity leave 'damages' careers

I happened to read this article, titled "Maternity leave 'damages' careers", and just couldn't pass without making a few comments on it here. Most of my readers already know what I think about trying to combine a full-time career with wifehood, homemaking and motherhood - one or another inevitably tends to suffer, and unfortunately it's the most important things we tend to stray away from - but this article was such a perfect example of how we can try to avoid reason and logic, even when they are banging at our door.

"The extension of maternity leave to up to a year may be sabotaging women's careers", we are warned. But wait... is anyone actually surprised? Isn't it common sense that out life consists of time - years, months, weeks, days, hours and minutes - and when we spend time doing something, we are spending the same amount of time not doing something else? If I spend the day visiting family, I won't clean that day. If I spend time at work, it's time I didn't spend at home. And someone is away from work for a year, can they truly wonder things have changed while they were gone?

The grim consequence of extended maternity leave is that "some employers are thinking twice about offering women jobs or promotion."

Well, you know what? If I had been an employer, I would probably think about it twice, too.
I realize that in order to succeed in the corporate world, one can't be all about charity and providing equal opportunities for everyone, regardless of whether they measure up or not. It's not about being "family friendly", either. It's about money, money, money, and aggressive competition. If I had two applicants for the same job, with identical skills, knowledge and experience, and one of them was a 30-year-old man while another was a recently married childless woman of the same age, I'm not sure I could avoid thinking, "what if she has a baby in a year or so?" - after all, why should I, as an employer, spend valuable resources training an employee who is likely to disappear for an extended period of time, and later pay for maternity leave?

The matter is often discussed in light of "equal rights", but in my opinion, this is far, far away from it. There's a limit to the level of sympathy a boss can be expected to extend towards an employee's personal circumstances. When someone simply cannot pull the same load everyone else do, yet even talking about it is labeled as "discrimination", it isn't equality. It's mollycoddling.

There's work to do, and someone needs to do it. Work doesn't take a vacation while the woman is on maternity leave. Who picks up the slack? The remaining employees - and the smaller the company is, the more difficult it is to accomplish. "As a kind of reality check, if you had a small employer employing four people and one of those is on maternity leave then that's a quarter of the workforce out of action." Sometimes it will mean searching for, hiring and training temporary employees - an additional expense and a reduction in efficiency.

While the world bangs its head against a wall trying to figure it all out, I marvel at how simple and beautiful God's design is. He knew what He was doing when He placed women at home, to take care of their husband and children. To me, the very expression "maternity leave" sounds ridiculous and sad at the same time. It's like the woman is allowed to fully experience the joy of motherhood for a short period alone, before being expected to give up the best part of each day with her child to someone else.

If an employee is valued and needed, and able to pull her weight, he or she will be hired. If she needs to force herself in by legislations and court decisions - which is precisely what is happening - it makes an alarm go off in my head. Are we trying to artificially turn employment into a charity institution? It might satisfy the self-focused needs of some individuals, but for the rest of us, it's an economical drag when employers are forced to hire workers who simply won't be there. It created a world of smaller salaries and a two-income trap for us all.

Whatever angle you look from, we haven't been able to think of anything better than a God-ordained family design. With women at home, men in the workforce (including our own hard-working husbands!) won't need to pull the slack for someone's maternity leave. Women, in their turn, won't need to prove that they are valued and needed; they won't need the state's protection to enforce their right to take adequate care of themselves during pregnancy, after giving birth, and while raising small children; the home's nourishing environment will provide enough flexibility for both efficiency and rest. Salaries will grow, thus enabling families to live on one income more easily.

It won't be easy to reverse the trend and stop this snowball, but it can be done.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Yom Kippur reflections

One day, we will all go home.

To a place where our earthly possessions, our looks, ambitions, frustrations, demands, petty fights and competition with one another won't matter anymore.

Where it won't make any difference how much money we had, how big our house was, how fashionable were the clothes we wore; where it won't even matter how much we excelled in housekeeping, gardening, cooking, sewing, or any other skill we prided ourselves for.

Our blunders won't matter, either, nor will the blunders of others. The clumsy child who was scolded by his mother for smashing a cup, and had his little heart pointlessly broken over this, will be finally healed. The woman who felt torn apart because of cruel gossip, will have her heart restored.

There will be no more place for misunderstanding, suspicion and offence, no negative assumptions, and no need for explanation. It won't matter what we had wanted to say, what we meant, tried, and failed to express. It will be possible to look into each other's hearts, into our very souls, and see the goodness in there.

And finally we can cry over all the hidden treasures of goodness, kindness, forgiveness and love - tears of joy because they were found, tears of sadness because we never discovered them here on this earth, because of our human limitations.

We will be enveloped in infinite love. We will be, again, beautiful, beloved, sweet children. We will be forever with the One Who shaped us in our mother's womb, and there will be no need to part again.
... For now, we are still here, going, stumbling, falling and moving on this earthly journey, laughing, crying, searching, gaining and losing, knowing and forgetting, holding hands with the people we love, and hurting them, and being hurt by them, feeling happy and sad, complete and broken, together and alone.

It's impossible to achieve perfection while we are here. But we can remember our soul is on a purposeful journey to meet its Creator, and be strengthened by it. We can love, and extend ourselves to others, ask for forgiveness and forgive, forgive, forgive.

Not much of what we have done on this earth will matter eventually. This will. This extension from soul to soul, this reflection of unconditional, selfless love, which we can give to one another until we are out of this narrow corridor that leads beyond.

Until we, finally, go home.

* image from allposters.com

Monday, October 6, 2008

Preparing to become a wife

"Dear Anna,

I'm preparing for marriage next summer. I am pleased with how my fiance and I are preparing for marriage together in terms of our relationship in our faith, discussions about our goals and desires for marriage, and matters such as finances and responsibilities. However, I admire your dedication to your job as a wife, and would like to ask you: How should I prepare in more practical matters to become a wife? I'm excited to care for my husband and our household, but feel that I should be doing things like preparing a recipe file, compiling a notebook with ideas for caring for our home in a frugal way, and discovering ways I can prepare for the duties that I will have as a wife. I'm just not quite sure where to start! My fiance and I are both young, and are thrilled to be making this commitment to God and to one another. If you could advise me on the ways I could practically prepare for the duties and roles of being a wife, I'd be so appreciative!"

My very best wishes on your upcoming marriage! May you be very happy as a new wife in your own home! I love being the keeper of our home - even though I'm definitely not perfect and have a lot to learn.

It's wonderful that you see the importance of preparing for marriage and homemaking - and that you have time to do so, without being overwhelmed by all the wedding preparations which are undoubtedly taking place.

I believe that each young lady who is preparing for marriage and running a household, should first and foremost focus on developing appropriate skills and abilities, such as cleaning, laundry and ironing, cooking, baking, organizing, time management, and living frugally. There are also extras such as sewing, knitting and other crafts, canning and gardening, which are lovely to learn, but can be acquired later on during your time as a new wife, which is a precious opportunity to become settled into a schedule.

Since I don't know you, I'm not sure where you stand in the area of homemaking, but now is a good time to improve any essential skills you feel you are lacking. For example, if you can't iron, now is the time to learn. Having a recipe file and a few schedule suggestions is lovely, in fact, it has been very helpful to me as a new wife so far - but I've also come to realize it shouldn't become my focus.

Remember a wife is called to be her husband's helper. This means you must first and foremost focus on your future husband's needs and priorities. There's no "recipe" for becoming an ideal wife - because all men have different needs and wants. Mr. X may like a clean, nicely decorated home and hot dinner most of all. Mr. Y will ask his wife to help him in a home-centered business. Mr. Z will want the family to have a garden. We sometimes have a tendency of trying to "have it all together", trying to live up to some standard - which usually causes unnecessary frustration.

My cakes and pies tend to be slightly burned at the bottom. It made me nearly rip my hair our countless times. I felt embarrassed; I felt inadequate; I wanted a new, better oven; I wanted to stop baking altogether... until I realized one simple, overwhelming fact: my husband loves my cakes. He thinks they are delicious, and he isn't faking it. He doesn't care about that little blackened layer at the bottom of the baking tray. He will eat it and enthusiastically ask for more! He still wistfully remembers the first birthday cake I made for him, which I considered so hopelessly lost that I baked another. Conclusion? While I will still definitely try not to burn my cakes, I stopped fussing so much about it. I realized it was stupid and pointless to drive myself up the wall about such a little thing that wasn't even important to my husband.

Sometimes, these matters can't be very easily defined prior to marriage, precisely because they are so flexible and practical. If you ask your fiance, "what is more important to you, a clean home or variety of meals, or always having an ironed shirt or..?" perhaps he won't be able to answer, until you are actually married and in the process of establishing a household.

Once you become a wife, adapt yourself to your husband's needs. Adapt your routine, as possible, to his schedule. Pay attention to what matters to him, and concentrate your efforts accordingly. Ask him if there's any specific dish he would like served, or anything in particular he would like you to do that day. Allow your husband to be involved as much as he desires. Perhaps he'll ask for your help with something. Perhaps he'll smile and say he doesn't mind as long as he has clean socks. In any case be his wife, his helpmate, and willingly commit yourself to what he needs. This is what truly matters.

***

Suggestions for this young lady from wives more experienced than myself will be greatly appreciated!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Convictions vs. judging

I happened to find this article a few days ago, and have been wanting to link to it and share a few words of my own. While obviously, I don't agree with everything the writer believes, she shares very beautifully a truth I haven't been able to word too well, and that is: having convictions about something, even strong convictions, isn't remotely related to finger-pointing, guilting, blaming, and sticking our noses into what others are doing.

She talks, specifically, about the privacy of a woman's womb and the decision of how many children one should have. It is, indeed, between husband, wife and the Almighty. I might have my convictions, but I would never dream of stepping up to someone I know, pointing my finger and asking, "and why aren't you having more children?"

I believe the same can be applied in other areas as well. A couple of days ago, someone told here on the blog that she feels guilty and judged for having a dishwasher, because of a discussion about conserving resources and being frugal. Ladies, I don't even know you personally! I don't know your families or your personal circumstances or, in fact, anything about you. And if I did, so what? Every day, I walk past houses which are nicer and bigger than ours, and it doesn't mean I think, "our neighbours probably have two cars and lots of brand new clothes - wasters!"

I might be supportive of living frugally, but it wouldn't occur to me to ask you, "why did you buy that car?"; I might believe breastfeeding is wonderful for mothers and babies, but I would never say, "you are a bad mother if you don't breastfeed". Your choices are so far beyond my field of competence that I'd rather not even dwell on them.

Living out what I believe in doesn't mean, to me, that I'm supposed to stand in judgment of fellow human beings. It means, largely, that I see how it can be applied to my own life. I'd rather concentrate on improving my own attitude than make the mistake of finger-pointing, while I ignore the log in my own eye. I will do my best not to cast judgment or offer unwanted advice.

I am not the Almighty, and it's crystal clear to me that we can never see the full picture of what others are doing. Therefore, we should be very, very careful before saying or even thinking anything negative. We just never know what injustice we might have done carelessly, and how damaging and painful it might be. Instead, we should act, above all, in love and with love guiding every step.

***

On another note, after spending a very pleasant and relaxing Rosh Hashana with family, we are finally back home, and there's a lot to do - so I'm about to get to work. How good it is to be home! All our things need to be unpacked, some items of clothing washed, bedding and towels changed, shopping list compiled, and there's also some cooking for Shabbat to do. And if I'm lucky, maybe I'll even have time to wash a couple of windows today.