Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Pretty plates

Someone didn't have a use for these plates anymore, so they found a home with us. They were used for meat dishes, so that is how we will continue using them. It is a set of several large plates, deeper plates for soup, and smaller dessert plates.

Look at the pattern around the edges. Isn't it pretty?
And they were entirely for free.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Potato blintzes

An easy, delicious dish; makes for a light dinner in the summer heat.

For blintzes:

1 cup flour
1 cup milk (or water, if you don't want to make it dairy)
2 eggs
A pinch of salt
2 tsp. oil
2 tsp. sugar

(Makes approximately 10 blintzes - the recipe can be easily doubled)

Mix all ingredients with an electric beater (you can do it by hand, but I can never really get it to a nice, smooth condition by hand). Batter should be approximately the consistency of buttermilk. Ladle about 1\2 cup of the batter at a time onto a slightly oiled frying pan and let it bake until edges of the blintz become golden. Then flip to the other side and bake for another minute or two. They are supposed to be very thin, so it shouldn't take more than a few minutes once the pan is hot.

For potato filling:

3-4 large potatoes
2 onions
1 cup of mushrooms, fresh or canned (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook potatoes until soft and mash them. Chop onions and mushrooms and fry them until nice and browned. Mix mashed potatoes with onions and mushrooms and add salt and pepper to taste. You can add a pinch of powdered turmeric (as I did) if you like a richer yellow color.
Take some filling and put it close to the edge of the blintz; roll it in, and enjoy this yummy treat. If you have some left over blintzes, they are also delicious with cream cheese, butter, jam or chocolate spread on them.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Our summer garden

Our grapes, finally ripe for picking.
A bird on the grape vine; one of our little feathered guests. We have to pick those grapes quickly, before they become a feast for the birds.
A flowering cactus. Isn't it beautiful?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

It's never too late to start your day

An important component of being happy at home is to be busily, cheerfully and productively employed. It doesn't mean running around from the moment you get up and until you go to bed; the daily rhythm has its ebb and flow, busy hours and quiet hours. But it's so satisfying to look back at the end of a day, on all the cooking and baking, cleaning and laundry, ironing and sewing, decorating and schooling, and to think how much your family has benefited from your efforts. A day of good hard work right here at home is one of the things I enjoy the most.

I have learned that getting up early is a big help to having a productive day, as well as a major stress reducer. Getting up early enables you to get dressed and have a cup of coffee while slowly thinking about what you are planning to do today, and start your work when you still have an entire morning stretching out ahead of you. I don't know about you, but I'm most productive in the mornings.

However sometimes, it just isn't meant to be. There were many mornings which I spent in bed, nursing little hungry Shira in the middle of a growth spurt. Sometimes I went to bed very late the night before - if I didn't get to sleep before 2 or 3 A.M., I'm still a zombie around 8. There were many days when by the time I was dressed and ready to go, the morning was already gone, the list of chores remained untouched, and I found myself wondering how I'm ever going to accomplish anything when my day is so unstructured.

Even if you get up late for some reason, or have to run out early in the morning before beds were made and last night's dishes were washed, it's never too late to turn that day into a productive one. Yes, perhaps the day will not be one for great achievements, but once you have tidied up, you can turn your attention to doing some odds and ends which don't take much time, but somehow don't get done as often as you wish. Don't we all have those?

It's amazing how not following a routine can make us feel disoriented. Remember the wasps that favored our grape vine last summer? Well, the grapes are here again, and so are the wasps. It is literally frightening to get out of the house during the day. While I might dash out to throw out the garbage, or pass through a neighbour's yard to get to the grocery store, I have found that I absolutely cannot hang the laundry during the day - the grapes are right near my clothesline. So I do the laundry in the evenings now, while it has always been a morning chore for me. A small change, but it requires adjustment nonetheless.

Instead of giving up and saying, "since I'm unable to follow my routine, I declare this is a wasted day", you can acknowledge the fact that you might do less than you planned, and pick up where you left. For me, those little spots of sane productivity in a rollercoaster day can be: cleaning the stove; cleaning the toilets; cleaning mirrors; dusting; cooking something quick, tasty and healthy; writing out a shopping list or planning tomorrow's meal. It doesn't take much time, but it sure gives a feeling of a spruced-up home and a yummy-smelling kitchen.

And remember, tomorrow will always be another day.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

To be her comfort

Shira is teething, and the past few days have not been easy for us. She is restless and fussy, has had some difficulties going to sleep, and to top it all off I think she hit another growth spurt. In this period, I feel it is such a joy and privilege to be here at home, taking care of my daughter, holding, nursing and soothing her, doing everything I can to make her comfortable. More than teething toys, Shira enjoys chewing on slices of cold cucumber, but sometimes nothing helps until I can get her to sleep.

As you can imagine, I've got my hands (happily) full right now, so at this moment I will excuse myself and go back to taking care of my baby and doing some work around the house. To those who have been waiting for an email from me longer than a week, thank you for your patience

Picture credit: allposters.com

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Watercolors

Click here to read the previous entry in Becky's diary.

I'm so tired. Every Friday is a cleaning day here. I was sent to work upstairs, and Catherine remained downstairs, so at least I didn't have to endure her company throughout the morning. The boys were sent into the garden to do some weeding, and Aunt Anne spent the entire morning holed up in the kitchen making food. By the time I swept, dusted, vacuumed, mopped the floor and did the laundry, I was so tired I wished it was school day. I would have even been happier to sit in my room cross-stitching. Yes, with Catherine.

One of these days I was so bored that I decided to go with Catherine to visit our neighbours, the Elliots. She gives their children, three girls and one boy, piano lessons. To tease her, I asked why the Elliots have only four children. She very seriously replied that they actually have nine, but five of them have already moved out. I'll bet they did it as soon as they came of age. I wish I hadn't told Catherine I'm bored around here. She took it as a challenge to entertain me, and drags me around every day, showing me the hills and forest and river and all the homesteads around. I won't deny it's a beautiful area - for a week-long vacation. But to live here?

I found a letter from Grandma, addressed to Aunt Anne, on Uncle Ben's desk. Grandma wrote that she decided not to send my clothes and make-up here after all, because in her opinion, it's better for me to have a more modest wardrobe (!) and it's too early for me to wear make-up (!!) - she said she always thought so, but didn't dare to confront me or my parents. And now Grandma and Aunt Anne have the perfect opportunity to keep me dressed in Catherine's clothes. As you can imagine, I was very angry. But Aunt Anne just gave me a stern look and told me I'm not supposed to read other people's letters.

... Following Aunt Anne's advice, Catherine started what she calls a "home management binder", where she writes down everything she plans to do: cleaning, laundry, new recipes she wants to try, how many skeins of wool to buy for her latest knitting project, stuff like that. Because you know, God forbid, she might forget to wash the floors! She tried to convince me to do that too - "if you are bored, Becky, you can just take a look of your list of chores in the home management binder, it's so convenient!"

I have one bit of good news this time, though: I found a way to be alone for at least a couple of hours each day. I used to do some watercolor painting once, and then dropped it because I thought it makes me look like a nerd. Now I told Aunt Anne I want to go back to it. Maybe the result will be awful, but at least I'll get away from making doilies with Catherine. Aunt Anne, just like I predicted, was delighted. First, it fits her most cherished principle: "children must keep busy"; second, watercolor painting, in her opinion, is a "fine feminine art" too. It turned out that Mrs. Elliot's eldest daughter used to paint once too, and Mrs. Elliot was happy to give me all her daughter's paints and brushes.

Now I go out into the fields and paint every day. I do that from the time classes end, and until lunch. I told Aunt Anne I must be alone, because I "lose my inspiration" when someone else is hanging around. How wonderful! When the weather is good, I get two or three hours of peace and quiet every day. No one bothers me and I can quietly paint a landscape, while thinking about whatever comes into my mind. I paint whatever I see - an old mill, a river, a giant crooked tree, the hills, a distant farm. I made a painting of the Elliots' house and gave it to Mrs. Elliot, who was delighted, even though it was not exactly a masterpiece, if you get my drift.

To my vast surprise, a few other neighbours expressed their wish to buy some of paintings, and asked me to tell them when I have new ones. I finally have some pocket money!

Monday, July 20, 2009

24

I'm 24 years old today.

In 24 years, I've made mistakes and repented of them, found God, had my heart turned towards home, got a university degree, met and married my wonderful husband (whose wife it is such a privilege to be), and gave birth to my sweet, precious baby girl.

It has been a road with many bends. I wonder what comes next!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

A daughter's journey home

I would like to start by saying a big Thank You to all the dear ladies who took the time to share their stories following my post from Thursday. For those who haven't checked in during the last few days, be sure to take a look at the comment thread. You will see some wonderful, truly inspiring testimonies of women who found their way home, sometimes against all odds, and delight in their work as wives and/or mothers.

Through email, I received a beautiful letter from a stay-at-home daughter, now preparing to be a wife, who also shared the story of how her heart was turned towards home. Her message was written in such a touching and eloquent way, and I was truly moved to read it. I'm happy to tell you that I obtained this young lady's permission to share her letter with you all.

"Dear Anna,

I am currently a “stay-at-home daughter” so I cannot answer the question in your poll. Since your questions in your post somewhat apply, though, I thought I’d answer them here in an e-mail.

By God’s grace and guidance, I have never moved out of my parents’ house. However, most of my time was spent outside of the home. I went to a private pre-school at age 4 and then was in the public school system from age 5 to 17. Afterward, I went to a public university and graduated at age 21.

I went to school to be a teacher and taught in public schools (1 year at one and 3 years at another) until I was 25. At the end of my last “public school” year, I didn’t know what I would do, really, but I knew I didn’t want to work for the school I was currently in anymore, so I quit. Initially, I was interested in working for another school, but then I started to wonder if maybe I shouldn’t go back to working for such a corrupt system?

So, I guess I officially “came home” when I was 25, even though I was confused at that time. Since then, I have been home for 3 years… mostly. I would say that even though I have not always been at home physically in the last few years, my heart has come “home” and I have been learning the importance of home, what it means to be at home, etc. (During that time, I took a part-time job for a few months and also helped in a school in our Faith for 4 days a week for a total of 11 months.)

To give a little background, I have a stay-at-home mother who has been at home since she had her first baby over 30 years ago. Naturally, I wanted to be like her. My parents didn’t know about the option of homeschooling until the last several years, after it was too late for most of my siblings and I, with the exception of the sixth and last child who was homeschooled for his last two years of high school. We blindly followed our society’s expectations for getting an education, then a degree and settling into a profession/career.

Deep in my heart, I knew I always wanted to be a wife and mother, ever since I can remember. While I did have some advantages that have prepared me somewhat for this desired role, I wasn’t being fully prepared, especially because of the emphasis on education and a profession… along with the practical fact that in order to be a wife and mother, one first has to marry a husband. Since I didn’t marry anyone right out of high school, I did what the world expected me to do: went to college. I thought teaching was the only real option, as I love children. I was planning to attend school and teach just to take up time until I married… then it wouldn’t be long before I would be a full-time stay-at-home wife and mother.

I never had much vision for the future of my life and didn’t give it too much thought as I believe in the coming of the Messiah and establishment of God’s Kingdom on earth. I just hoped that, until then, I would be able to be married and have children. I never anticipated how many years would pass until I would actually have a real possibility of marriage! (I am 28 and will be 29 in early September.)

What prompted me to come home was dissatisfaction with the institution I was working for. I initiated coming home myself, but my family was supportive of my decision. Just as I wasn’t really sure what to do with myself, they didn’t have a strong opinion about what I should do, either. My sister, though, seeing how much I was consumed by the whole education system (in time, energy, etc.), knew that she didn’t want to do the same thing, even though she was going to school to be a teacher at the time, too. Her heart “came home” before she finished college, but she did finish because she was almost ready to graduate, anyway. Since then, she has had a couple part-time jobs, but has been mostly at home. Thankfully, my parents were supportive of her decision, so that made it easier for me.

The reasons why I ended up staying at home and not finding another full-time job were spiritual. I realized I was giving all my time to random families of the world (even though I did care about many of them and loved the children in my class) – while neglecting my own family and more importantly, my reading of Scripture and spiritual development. Since my parents were happy to have me stay with them as long as I wanted or needed to, I didn’t need to continue the job for financial reasons.

When I stopped working full-time, I felt a huge weight lifted from my shoulders. The freedom I felt was indescribable! It was so wonderful to be free from working for a dishonest and unfair institution, as well as not having to get up at around 5:30 in the morning and be away from home until late in the evening, take work home with me, etc., etc.! Some of the joys of being at home include being free to structure your own day, having time to do what is important to you, having the ability to be creative (such as with sewing and baking projects) and being in a safe, peaceful environment away from the frantic busyness and evils of the world. It has taken me awhile to learn what I can do to contribute to my family, but I am realizing how much my mood and level of contentment/enthusiasm affects my family and ways I can help with cleaning, laundry, meal preparation and all the other homemaking tasks.

Oh, there are many challenges, frustrations and weaknesses I have in being at home! Where do I begin? I’ll just share a couple things.

Most of the initial challenges and frustrations had to do with going from being in the world full-time to being at home. It was very challenging transition. I hardly knew what to do with myself! While I did enjoy the feelings of freedom and independence from the world’s expectations and not having someone dictate to me what I had to do and when, I almost went “crazy” with the extreme change. It took me awhile to find a place… I would say that it is only now, after three years of being at home, that it is more natural for me to be here. Mom had been doing most of the housework herself and hadn’t delegated much responsibility to her children, mostly because we were so busy with our own agendas including school or jobs. So… was I needed? What could I do? It was so frustrating!

Almost a year ago, we moved to a small farm in the country after my parents and a few of their children (including me) have turned our hearts toward home. We have been so blessed by the ability to have somewhat of a “homestead” with fruit trees and bushes, a huge garden that we have put in and we are hoping to have some animals, too, such as chickens. Now that we’ve moved here, there is little question about what I could do to contribute! My sister, mom and I take turns preparing meals for a whole week, including shopping for groceries. There’s other housework we can do, we put together a quarterly magazine for the encouragement of ladies (called Daughters of Zion)… the opportunities for ways I could contribute are endless.

Another challenge that probably most everyone who decides to come home faces is how to explain to others what you are doing. While you may find some who understand and are supportive, most people don’t understand and will try to make you feel insignificant or your efforts worthless. We do live in a community where it is generally acceptable to be at home – more so here than where we moved from. However, we do have acquaintances that have questioned us (mostly my sister and me) and have tried to “advise” us otherwise. We have had a hard time deciding how to answer the awkward questions when they are asked – not only do you have to be careful about what you say, but also how you phrase what you say. We basically try to explain that we are serving our family.

I think perhaps it is more difficult to explain what you are doing when you are a stay-at-home daughter than when you are a wife and mother. Once in a while someone will ask me if I plan to teach again, but they know that a farm can keep a daughter busy, so they don’t ask too many questions about why I am not off somewhere in the world. Thankfully I haven’t been given much of a hard time about what I’m doing.- - - I am thankful to Yahweh for teaching me so much throughout the last 10 years or so. I know that I am much more prepared now to be a stay-at-home wife and mother than I was when I graduated from high school.

Even though I always wanted to be married and at home raising children and knew enough about the physical responsibilities (I could cook well enough and knew how to care for babies), I wasn’t ready for the huge responsibility of being a proper help-meet to a husband or how to help nurture and train children to love the LORD their God with all their hearts in the fashion of Deut. 6: diligently throughout the day. Yahweh has blessed me with a good man whom, according to His will, I will marry this autumn. This man is so thankful to have found someone who will joyfully keep his home and help raise his children (if God wills).

What a blessing that we have been prepared for each other! As you say, though, we can never be ready for everything and we have to actually live the experience to learn as we go.The thoughts and experiences you have shared on your site, “Domestic Felicity”, have been encouraging to me. Thank you for taking the time to pass on what you have learned. I will look forward to continuing to glean support from your site as I transition into the new blessed role of wife and mother!"

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Questions for you, stay-at-home wives and mothers

At my sidebar, you can see a new poll I opened, directed at wives and/or mothers who stay at home. The subject of the poll is to find out how many of you planned to stay at home - say, when you were growing up - and for how many it was an unexpected bend in the road. Of course, a poll cannot capture the complexity of an individual situation, so whatever you have to add, I would love to read here.

I would also love to hear your say on the following:

1. How long have you been at home? How old were you when you came home? If you worked outside the home before, how many years of work experience did you have behind you.

2. What prompted you to come home - and stay home? Did you or your husband initiate it? Were there religious, social, financial reasons?

3. What are your particular joys about being home, and/or in what ways do you believe you being home contributes to your family?

4. What are your challenges, frustrations, weaknesses and fears about being at home? Are you afraid of losing your qualification, not having an independent source of financial support, not doing something that is considered "significant" by the rest of the world?

5. Do you live in a community where being a stay-at-home wife/mother is common? If not, have you ever had to encounter naysayers? How do you deal with awkward questions?

Of course, feel free to comment anonymously if you wish. I look forward to reading your input.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Breastfeeding language

Hat-tip to A Dose of Joy, who sent me a link to this most interesting article. While I might not agree with each and every word, the concept certainly gives some material for thought: perhaps breastfeeding can be given a better chance when we refer to it as the norm, and to other forms of infant feeding as inferior. Of course breastfeeding as a whole is a wonderful miracle - but it is also normal.

The article is long but worth reading.

"Women may say they "breastfed" for three months, but they usually say they "nursed" for three years. Easy, long-term breastfeeding involves forgetting about the "breast" and the "feeding" (and the duration, and the interval, and the transmission of the right nutrients in the right amounts, and the difference between nutritive and non-nutritive suckling needs, all of which form the focus of artificial milk pamphlets) and focusing instead on the relationship. Let's all tell mothers that we hope they won't "breastfeed"--that the real joys and satisfactions of the experience begin when they stop "breastfeeding" and start mothering at the breast."


Certainly the purpose is not to make bottle-feeding mothers feel guilty, but shouldn't we be free to state the obvious fact: that formula is significantly inferior to mother's milk? When nursing hits the rough spots, if a mother thinks there's no substantial difference between breast milk and formula, will she be inclined to fight to make it work?

A disclaimer which seems to be necessary every time I write about breastfeeding: I realize there are mothers who badly wanted to nurse their babies, and for some reason or other, were not successful, through no fault of their own. My last intention is to make anyone feel guilty, inadequate as a mother, or any such thing.

I do understand why guilt is part of the equation, though, because every parenting choice we make is subject to lots of judgment, especially now that parental authority itself if questioned. Parents who are "too strict" are told they will traumatize their children, and parents who are "too indulgent" are told they will raise selfish, irresponsible brats. The world is overflowing with "experts" who are ready to tell you things will go terribly wrong if you don't do them just their way.

Still, I believe it should be possible to discuss breastfeeding without worrying someone's feelings will be hurt simply because it is mentioned formula is inferior. Do I feel guilty when I hear that organic, free-range, pesticide-free food is healthier than what common supermarkets hold, or that I'm supposed to exercise more often than I normally do? Do smokers feel guilty when they hear smoking is harmful? Perhaps, but it doesn't mean I'm hurt because the topic is discussed.

As long as no one is pointing fingers at me and saying, "hey, you! Yes, you, who refuse to buy local organic goat's milk because it's too expensive! You're making an irresponsible health choice and you and your family will be all terribly sick!" - my guilt levels will probably remain tolerable.

What I'm trying to say is that I believe we mothers should learn the art of dicussing all the alternatives without it all sliding into a war full of nasty personal comments and mud-slinging. Regardless of our personal circumstances and choices, we have such a wonderful opportunity to support each other, why not take advantage of it?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A bedtime conversation

We're taking another glimpse into the life of Becky, an urban teenager who finds herself living in a traditional family out in the middle of nowhere. Click here to read the previous part.

***

Everything about Catherine annoys me: her ridiculous dresses, her braids, her knitting and her piano practice. But more than anything, it drives me crazy how she always looks happy about everything. And remember that she spent all her life in this miserable place, with no entertainment but books and needlework! Maybe she's just pretending? I decided to check this.

It was late in the evening, and we were already in our beds. The room was dark, and only Catherine's bedside lamp was still on. As always, she was praying before bedtime. That was when I decided to drop my bomb.

- Catherine, - I started, - Have you ever had a boyfriend?

You'd think I asked her whether she wanted to pose for "Playboy". She got beetroot-red, and only shook her head silently.

- Well, I had a boyfriend back home. - I said, - His name was Ted, and he was really handsome. I met him through Jane, my best friend. I knew right away he liked me. I was wearing a miniskirt and knee-high boots, and Jane spent nearly an hour doing my hair and make-up that evening. He was looking at me all evening, but he had to have a few drinks before he was bold enough to ask me to dance. Later he invited me for a ride in his car. He had his own car, you see, - I added.

- He drank and then drove?! - Catherine was staring at me with horror. I decided to to tease her.

- Yes, but you know, he wasn't very drunk, - actually he wasn't drunk at all, Ted is always sober no matter how much alcohol he has in him, - we went for a ride, later he stopped at a quiet spot and kissed me. That was my first French kiss. - I decided not to tell what he immediately tried to do next. Catherine was close to fainting anyway.

- Later we went steady. We were seeing each other often, riding around in his car, we went to movies and parties. Naturally, we broke up when I moved here. But it's nothing, I already started getting tired of him anyway. And you, Catherine, would you like to have a boyfriend?

As if it matters, I thought, whether she wants to have a boyfriend or not! First, there aren't any guys remotely close to our age around here, and second, who would want to go out with her anyway?

- I will never have a boyfriend. - she said.

- Never? But you do want to get married someday, don't you? - Even ugly women get married, and she's not
ugly, just really... plain.

- Of course, Becky. I want to get married someday and have many children. But I don't need to have a boyfriend for that. Mother says that she and Dad will be involved in finding the right young man for me. If they approve, we will start getting to know each other, and if everything goes well, we will get married. And we will not kiss or hold hands or remain alone until we are married, it's not supposed to be done, you know.

Oh well, I thought, I knew it's only a matter of time before what I do is subtly criticized. I had nothing more to say. I closed my eyes and pretended I'm falling asleep. But then I heard Catherine's voice again.

- This is the first time you talked about your life before you came here, Becky.

I turned my head towards her. I told myself that if I see pity, I will not say another word, but she just looked interested. Of course, living here and being homeschooled, how many new people does she meet every year? Two or three?

- There's not much to tell, really. I had a normal life, just like everybody else. School, friends, shopping, going out on weekends. My parents were lawyers and both worked long hours, so when I was little, my Grandma often came to watch over me, and later I was left mostly to myself. You never knew them, right?

Catherine shook her head.

- Well, both my parents were pretty ambitious and wanted me to succeed, they could afford to send me to a good private school and I had good grades, so we didn't have too many confrontations. Even in the evenings, when we sat in the living room together, they would often pull out their laptops and browse emails from clients, or some legal documents.

- And when they didn't work? Did you, for example, do anything together as a family?

- My Dad loved photography. That is, theoretically, because he never actually had time for it, but he liked to look at expensive cameras when we were out at the mall. I would then go to look at clothes with Mom. Mom usually bought herself a new business suit every week or two, had a different shade of lipstick to go with each, and always looked very sharp when she was ready to go to the office. Other than that... well, my parents never used all their allotted vacation time. It's not like they never wanted to get away from work for a while, we often talked about the big family trip we planned to take in the future, but somehow when Dad could take a few weeks off, things would get really hectic at my Mom's office, and when it would all calm down, Dad would be busy again, and so it just never happened.

I paused for a few moments, then added:

- I'm sure they would put more of an effort into it if they knew how little time they had left. But they couldn't possibly know, could they?

All of a sudden I realized how miserable I sound. I didn't want to go on. I faked a yawn and pulled the blanket up.

- Well, just look at the time. I'm so tired, aren't you? Good night, Catherine.

Monday, July 13, 2009

I'm losing weight

I'm currently 55 kilos (121 lbs), which is 3 kilos less than my pre-pregnancy weight, and equal to my highschool weight. Shira, on the other hand, is growing nicely. I know, I should get my thyroid checked, but I have a feeling this is quite simply because I'm having difficulty to eat enough to keep my weight. Nursing burns up to 500 kcal per day, and I'm not eating more than I did before I had Shira. No wonder I'm losing weight.

To complicate matters, I'm not the type of person who eats for fun or comfort when alone, and most of my meals during the week are taken alone (when my husband returns very late from work we might not even eat dinner). So eating is mostly functional for me. I don't have much of an appetite. Add to this the fact that I'm often in a hurry and simply don't have time to sit down and eat a decent meal.

If you are thin and want to gain some weight, or at least keep your current weight, it can be an extra challenge if you're vegetarian (like myself) and/or have dietary restrictions, such as lactose intolerance.

I want to gain some weight, because I don't like seeing my ribs so clearly, however, I want to do that in a healthful way. No junk packed with sugar, cholesterol and hydrogenated fats, thank you very much! So, just a list of ideas for myself and other moms who might be struggling with keeping their weight while nursing:

* A bowl of oatmeal, made with whole milk and with a handful of raisins added, is a wonderful, nutritious breakfast.

* In a hurry? Have healthy snacks available to you throughout the day. All kinds of nuts (walnuts, almonds, cashew), dried fruit, or a yogurt with a handful of dried berries mixed in, can tide you over until you have time to sit down for a proper meal.

* A sandwich with a salad of avocado and hard-boiled eggs is great for a quick dinner.

* I made a carrot cake with a reduced amount of sugar and oil, and loaded it with good stuff such as raisins, cranberries, blueberries, sesame and sunflower seeds.

Well, I'm off to eat something. When you're nourishing a baby (either born or unborn) with your body, nutrition really must be a priority. And even if you aren't pregnant or breastfeeding, it's important to take care of your health!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The school of marriage

A few days ago, I received an email from a lady who quit the work force to be home full-time. She did, however, meet some challenges in making the transition, and asked me about learning the traditional duties of a wife. Here is part of my reply:

What does it take, really, to be a good wife? Just like you, I'm learning "on the job" and slowly discovering the answers. While growing up, I didn't have a good training or example.

One of the challenges of women who are used to working outside the home and then come home, is that they usually had someone else manage their time for them. At home, we become managers of our own time, and sometimes it takes a while to build a working routine, especially if you come home when you already have little one(s) around. Most of the homemaking tasks aren't very complicated or difficult, it's scheduling them on a regular basis that's the trick.

See a post I wrote a while ago: how to become managers of our time.

Of course, many young women these days don't even know how to cook or iron, I had no clue until I was about 20. Fortunately that's something that can be learned on the job. If I had to name just a few practical things a wife should know how to do efficiently and well, that would be laundry and ironing, cleaning and keeping clutter at bay, cooking (knowing how to put a healthy, wholesome and nutritious meal on the table - it can be a simple meal) and baking, mending clothes, and keeping a garden if you have one. There are many other things but they are less than essential in my opinion (such as, you can survive without being very good at sewing or canning). But again, scheduling does the trick. There were times when my husband went without clean socks, not because I can't do the laundry but because I didn't find the time to do that.

Being a good wife is far more important than being a traditional wife (though the two often overlap!) Another woman, or a book (unless it's the Bible), or a counselor cannot really teach you how to become a good wife. Only you are your husband's helpmeet and only you can adapt yourself to his unique needs, which are different for every man. Some things might be good and traditional and womanly, but less than important to your husband. I used to be very annoyed when I couldn't get a crease out of a shirt while ironing, until one time my husband came to me and said, "thanks for ironing my shirt, it looks great" - while in fact that shirt wasn't ironed at all! I stopped fretting right away. On the other hand, my husband likes the refrigerator to be very neatly arranged, which might not be important to another man.

Naturally, communication is the key here. By asking your husband what he wishes to find in a wife and mother at home, it will be easier for you to know which skills and abilities you should focus on.

Check out this post, where I elaborated on this subject a bit. It was meant for a young woman who was engaged and preparing for marriage at the time, but I still think you will find it interesting.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Shira is turning 6 months

I can't believe six months passed since our beautiful, precious baby was placed in our arms. Where did the time go? I wonder if I will keep saying that in 5, 10, 20 years...

Six months of love and joy. Six months of hugs, cuddles and kisses. Six months of nursing and nurturing my child at my breast. Six months of learning and growing towards becoming the mother I hope to be some day. Six months that seem both the longest and shortest in my life. Six full, busy months. I'm so tired and so happy.

Endless adventures. My baby focuses her eyes on me, then smiles her first smile. She rolls over now and sits nearly without support. She's trying to crawl. Soon, she'll be all over the house. And it also seems we've got a teether. I'm looking forward to all the excitement that will come: standing, walking, talking. How fascinating to be here to see it every day, nothing compares to this.

I love watching my husband as a father. Shira adores him. Whenever he looks at her, she smiles. When he picks her up, she squeals with delight. She loves me, naturally, but I believe I'm seeing the buds of a very special relationship that will grow between her and her father as the years pass.

How wonderful that God chose to give us this sweet, adorable, in all ways lovely little girl.

How sweet to mark this half-birthday.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

And on we go...

... telling the story of Becky, who isn't too happy with her new life. For the previous part, click here.

I thought things were bad, but now it's getting worse. Aunt Anne is determined to make my life completely and totally miserable.

One of these days, she told me that for tomorrow, she assigns me as her personal helper and I will work by her side all day long. Alright, I thought, this means a break from school, doesn't it?

Next day, she woke me up at five in the morning. Five! It was still dark outside. What on earth was she thinking? But I knew better than to say this aloud. Instead, I politely asked:
- What's going on, Aunt Anne?
- Nothing special, Becky. Get dressed quickly and come downstairs, we're baking bread today.
No kidding, I thought. Why does it have to be so early? But she dragged me out of bed anyway.

That was the first time in my life I ever touched dough. I couldn't even imagine how sticky and disgusting it is. I was in dough up to my elbows, I had dough under my fingernails, I even broke one nail! I suspect it remained in the dough, but no one noticed.

After breakfast, Aunt Anne sent me to do schoolwork for two hours, but for the rest of the day, she kept me by her side. I had to peel and chop vegetables for lunch (I think I must have cut my fingers a hundred times), load the dirty laundry into the washing machine and hang it to dry, pick berries at the garden, stir the jam while it cooked, fold the dry laundry, sweep the living room floor, and a thousand other chores I'm too tired to write about. Never before I was so happy simply because I can finally crawl into my bed and sleep.

Today, Uncle Ben went to town on work business, and gave Aunt Anne a lift so she can make her weekly shopping trip and run some errands. Most of the fruit and vegetables we eat come from the garden, but there's still a lot to buy. Aunt Anne was gone all morning, so Catherine took over preparing breakfast and lunch. I thought I could slip away, but she wouldn't leave me alone. We had beetroot salad on the menu. I had to peel and chop the beetroot, and my hands are still bright pink, even though I've washed them three times. Then we went to do our schoolwork, and Aunt Anne returned around lunch.

After that one miserable experience, Aunt Anne didn't make me get up at the crack of dawn to bake bread (Catherine sometimes volunteers to get up early instead of Aunt Anne, and bakes bread for the whole family - have I mentioned I think she's crazy?); when she saw that I already learned how to wash the floors and dishes and operate the washing machine, she decided that I should learn what she calls "fine feminine arts". I tried to protest, but in vain. C., shining with enthusiasm, volunteered to help. I'm trapped! At least they aren't making me play the piano. Yet.

So, what did Aunt Anne mean by "fine feminine arts?"

Sewing - by hand and using the sewing machine

Knitting and crochet
Cross-stitch and embroidery
Making flower arrangements

Doesn't it sound like it would bore anyone to death? And it's just the beginning. Catherine happily told me that as soon as I try my hand at all of the above, she'll be glad to show me how to do calligraphy, basket-weaving and scrapbooking.

- Make that every day after lunch, Becky, - said Aunt Anne. - You don't need to be very good at sewing, but you should at least know how to fix a loose button.

Every day? I couldn't take that. I protested. If you believe this, Catherine stepped up for me. Aunt Anne allowed me to practice sewing and all that every
other day, and on days when I don't, bake with Catherine or work in the garden. Thanks a lot!

I wish I had thought twice before coming here.

The first sewing lesson was terrible. It seemed as though I managed to stick the needle in my fingers more often than in the fabric. But Catherine is optimistic. Alright, I understand that fixing a button can sometimes be practical, but why, oh why would I ever want to knit sweaters or make doilies?

- I'm not saying you will need it, Becky, - said Aunt Anne, - and I'm not saying you will like it. But I do believe you ought to at least try.

So, I was given a whole basket of clothes to mend, and I'm knitting a scarf. I keep missing stitches and it looks dreadful, but Aunt Anne and Catherine don't seem to care, they are just delighted when they see me in the process. I still don't see the point in all this. Aunt Anne doesn't mind that the buttons are lopsided, as long as I "keep busy".

What I fail to understand is how C. can endlessly sit and do all that stuff without anyone making her to. Whenever she has a spare moment, she takes out her knitting. She does that while we wait for the boys to wash their hands for dinner, in the car if she goes to town with Aunt Anne, and even in bed before she goes to sleep. I wonder how come she doesn't take her knitting needles to the bathroom yet.

I forgot to mention another brilliant idea of Aunt Anne. While we sew or knit, we do that to the sounds of classical music
. It's supposed to "fill us with energy and inspiration". C. is far from objecting, of course - if she could cross-stitch with one hand and play the piano with the other, I have no doubt she would do that.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Some questions about the feminine calling

Replying to a few assorted questions I received by email...

"Do you think God’s only calling for young women is homemaking?"

Most women are called to marriage, and of the married women, most will become mothers. It always baffles me when people say that "a young woman might, or might not get married", as if the odds of the two possibilities are anywhere near the same! Unless you are one of the extremely rare women who do not desire marriage at all, most likely you are called to marriage as well. And of course, once God gives us husbands and children and homes, He expects us to tend to those precious treasures He gave us. All other pursuits come next, and it must be considered whether they are compatible with our primary call as wives, mothers, and guards and guides of the home.

Of course, it also depends on the season of life a woman is currently in. A daughter, a wife who doesn't have children, or a woman whose children are grown will probably find more time and energy for pursuits outside the home, if she wishes, than a mother of young children. The key here that the home and family come first, and not just in words to appease one's conscience, but also in deeds. Many can be excellent teachers and doctors, but only you can be a wife to your husband and mother to your children.

"Do you think it is God’s calling for every woman to have children?"

God doesn't bless every woman with children. Some are unable to bear children (because of a health problem they or their husbands may have), and may or may not feel called to adopt. But in general, God told us to "be fruitful and multiply". If a woman is married and has no fertility problems, she doesn't have to question whether she is "fulfilling God's calling" by having children. She doesn't even have to do anything - just allow God to bless her with children, which will naturally happen in the course of a marriage.

"Do you think that, even though I'm reluctant, I should have children? I feel that some women are naturally more maternal than others and better cut out for motherhood."

Just a bit of background: before I had Shira, I was not what you'd call the maternal type. I didn't have too many opportunities to spend time around babies. When I did spend time with babies, I was afraid to hold them because I had no idea how to handle them. When I found out I'm pregnant, I spent long months wondering how on earth I'm going to take care of a baby 24/7, and what I'm actually supposed to do with a baby. But when she was placed in my arms for the first time it was natural and wonderful. Having a child is a change of your entire life, and you might not imagine how you will ever be able to pull it off, but it doesn't mean you should put off having children. On the contrary, I think it's often easier for a young mother to adapt, both physically and emotionally. I think motherhood is unique in the sense that we often don't realize how much we're called to it until we're already there.

"Is it possible to enjoy some of the benefits of feminism while avoiding the pitfalls?"

Now that's an interesting question. Feminism, indeed, gave women some opportunities they didn't have before, such as the right to vote and broader possibilities of higher education (there were always educated women, and there were also colleges for women before feminism, but certainly some professions were off-limits for women). However, can we actually call these opportunities "benefits"? I suppose it depends how you look at it. For example, a woman who got out and got herself a prestigious degree can say this is a "benefit" of feminsim, but a few years down the road, when she wants to stay home with her children but her husband is pressuring her to go work outside the home because he doesn't want to waste her potential for earning money, she might actually come to regard her degree as a pitfall. Overall, if I had to choose whether I want to live in a world with or without feminsim, I'd definitely choose the latter. I think feminism did much more harm than good.

Monday, July 6, 2009

A few more thoughts on giving birth

When I found out I'm pregnant with Shira, I had no idea that in a few short months, I would become a natural birth advocate. In fact, it was very obvious to me that I would have an epidural. Why would I want to suffer?

The credit, like many other times, goes to Yitzhak. He was the one who introduced me to the knowledge of the potential harmful side effects of epidural and other drugs used to relieve labor pains. It turns that those drugs have an effect on the baby, and can interfere with the progress of labor (because the contractions aren't felt the way they normally would be) and also with establishing a successful breastfeeding relationship afterwards, because the baby might be too sleepy to nurse. What about all the mishaps of epidural? Many women experience back pains for months afterwards, and a few are paralyzed for a lifetime.

Epidural might even fail to achieve its purpose - relieving pain. I have a friend who had an epidural administered so badly that she could still feel the labor pains, but she couldn't move around or do anything to make it easier for her.

I won't elaborate further about the side effects of drugs used during labor, but you can find literally an ocean of information through a simple Google search.

It's true that with modern medicine and hospitals, the rate of maternal and infant mortality is wonderfully low, but there is a great number of self-induced "emergencies" and an outrageous rate of c-sections. I think it comes in a large part with the prevalent interference policy practised in most hospitals. If the mother and baby are fine, the focus should be on monitoring and not on interfering, but many doctors just don't seem to understand that. They are in a hurry, they want the labor&delivery room free, and the policy of giving a healthy woman pitocin or breaking her waters for no medical reasons is "Why Not?"

Even if there were no dangerous side effects to epidural, I think natural birth would be worth it for the emotional benefits alone. And by natural I don't just mean unmedicated, but mostly quiet and uninterrupted. I don't believe it's a coincidence that my labor stopped after a couple of hours of constant poking, prodding and pressure, and sped up beautifully after we had the sense to escape to a quiet, homey environment for a couple of hours.

When I told my birth story, I was accused of being not entirely truthful because I failed to describe the overwhelming pain and fear I was supposed to feel during labor and birth. But the truth was, I didn't gloss things over. Giving birth was no picnic. It was hard work, but it was also an incredibly beautiful, uplifting emotional and spiritual experience. I can't say I loved every moment of it, but I'm looking back with fond memories and a smile.

I realize that every birth experience is different, and that all women are different. While I breathed through my contractions and hopped up and down on the birthing ball, I could hear women from other rooms screaming for the anaesthesiologist. One woman broke down in hysterical sobs when she was told she will have to wait. I'm not trying to show myself off as superior, or able to do something other women could not. I'm simply telling how things were for me.

Of course there are also women who had epidurals and loved it and had no side effects and no problem to breastfeed afterwards. But how could I know which one I would be? I was so happy I was able to avoid it.

Some people say it doesn't matter how you give birth, because the final result (unless something, God forbid, goes terribly wrong) is the same. Of course the most important thing, at the end of it all, is to have a healthy Mom and baby. But I do believe that the memories matter. Ask any mother, and even if all her children are already grown, chances are that she remembers every moment of labor, birth, and the first few days with her baby. Even my Grandma remembers, and she is 93. It's like a wedding: of course, in the end what matters is a good, life-lasting marriage, but the wedding is a big day and most people hold precious memories of it!

I loved it that most of the time, it was just me, my husband, and God watching over us. It was lovely to have the help and encouragement of midwives and a doula, which made me feel more confident, but when it comes to the bottom line, I think I could have made it on my own as well. I didn't need drugs or a team of doctors supervising. There's something very empowering in the thought that God made your body with the ability to bring a baby into this world, from start (conception, which happens on its own) to finish (birth). And it was beautiful.

I'm already waiting to find out how next time goes!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

How to prevent blogging from taking over your life

I wrote the title of this post tongue-in-cheek, but the truth is, Blog World is vast and it's so easy to sit in front of the computer for hours, hopping from blog to blog. There are so many interesting people with wonderful blogs, who generously share their lives, families, recipes, tips and musings.

However, now that I'm a wife and a new mother, my computer time is very limited, and while I opted to continue blogging, I set some strategies that helped me not to lose control of my time. With a baby and a house to tend to, time is oh so precious!

Limiting computer time doesn't include only blogging, either. I rarely log on to my Facebook account and can truly understand my friends who opted not to start one at all, or closed their account (are you reading this, Judith?!)

I limit the number of blogs I visit every day, and usually I try to make it not more than five. There's literally an endless numbers of blogs, many of them excellent, but I simply don't have time to read them all, at least not on a daily basis.

I comment less frequently on other people's blogs - mostly when I feel I have something to contribute to the discussion, or when I want to "wave" a friendly hello to someone I hadn't caught up with in a while.

I don't reply to comments on my blog as much as I used to. I love reading your comments and emails. I know it might be disappointing to someone who took the time to participate in a discussion and got no adequate reply, but I simply don't have the time to answer each and every comment. I have a disclaimer saying just that in my comment section, and usually, people understand. Some who didn't get a reply in the comments send me a question by email, and then sooner or later I get to it.

Speaking of emails, I had to set a limit on this one too. More often than not, my inbox is bursting with emails from dear people sharing questions, comments and prayers. I try my best to reply, even if it takes me weeks. But sometimes I choose to be brief. For example, when I get questions such as, "what are the traditional Jewish foods for the Purim feast?", I think Google can answer much better.

I cannot please everyone. I cannot possibly explain and justify myself to each and every person who is too quick to jump to conclusions about my life after reading one paragraph, or who clings to one badly-worded phrase. I cannot participate in endless discussions, it's draining and exhausting. So there are many comments I don't let through. Some people are offended, no doubt, but I'm willing to take it for the sake of peace and quiet on my blog.

I don't participate in blog awards, carnivals, tags and memes. It's not a rule and I don't have anything against blog carnivals and tags, but realistically, I can rarely find the time. I always take the time to thank those who give me blog awards, but it's difficult to acknowledge them all on my blog, let alone pass them on.

Blogging is not the real world, and I cannot be consumed by it. While I love writing, most of my time is spent living what I write about: being a wife, mother and homemaker. I do my best to be cautious. It's important to remember that while I view many of my blog pals as cherished friends, the web is full of people who cannot be trusted. Once, someone who comments on my blog regularly sent me anonymous death threats, thinking I won't find out who they were from.

There are many days when I don't write at all. At least not here - I might still work on my fiction writings or poetry. I have pre-written posts I jot down whenever I feel an idea popping into my head. Later I copy and paste it on the blog. Of course, you've witnessed some terrible spelling and grammar mishaps when I don't even have the time to proof-read, but overall it does the trick.

It all boils down, I guess, to spending less time on the computer and more time tending to the needs of my family and cultivating real-life relationships. I like blogging but I don't allow it to take over!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

"Why can't you do both?"

When you tell that you chose to focus on raising your family and keeping a home, because you cannot satisfactorily balance it with working outside the home, do you ever hear, but everyone is doing it - and very successfully?

Look at S., for example. She has a good husband, nice children, a lovely home and a successful career (have you noticed, by the way, that men usually talk in terms of "job", while women use the terms "career", "self-fulfillment" and "professional/personal growth"?); why can't you be like her?

Of course, you don't really know how things work in other people's homes. It might just be that what appears as "perfect balance" on the outside is really neglect of something or other. Perhaps the marriage is under strain because the husband and wife don't have enough time together. Perhaps the woman itself is heart-broken because she doesn't see her children. Perhaps she is detached from her family.

Or perhaps she is running herself ragged trying to be perfect at everything. Recently, I read an article in a magazine (in Hebrew) which featured interviews with several mothers of small children who chose to go ahead with their demanding careers full-steam. Their day starts at the crack of dawn and ends well over midnight. The words they used most often in description of their lives were rush, stress, frustration, exhaustion. It's only a matter of time before the shell begins to crack.

There are, perhaps, those rare women with boundless amounts of energy, who can thrive on 3-4 hours of sleep at night, work full-time, drive the children to ten different activities and still manage to spend a romantic evening with their husbands. They excel at everything they do and are perfectly happy with their lives.

Still, it doesn't mean that our normal, ordinary, human selves are supposed to feel guilty because we cannot be like those superwomen. Or because we chose not to. When people talk about "balancing work and home life", they rarely imagine a woman who has 4 children under 5 (why would she?) and perhaps another 4 under 12 (again, why would she?). Even if they are pro-family, they picture a family with a "reasonable" number of children, who are all "reasonably" spaced and spend most of their time in a "good" daycare starting from a very early point in their lives.

It's obvious that if you don't choose to limit your family size, you will spend the lion's share of your productive years, your energy, talents and intelligence, raising and caring for children. When someone comes up and tells you that you could be "doing what everyone else is doing", they rarely mean that you can combine a career with having a baby every year or two and spending as much time with your children as you and your husband think appropriate. Most likely they mean that you should wise up, start using birth control, and find a suitable "arrangement" for those children of yours so you can finally go out and do something worthwhile.

More often than not, you cannot realistically do what "everyone else" is doing, on top of what you are doing. You have to choose, and it's between you, your husband and the Almighty. Then there's of course a great deal of faith and trust, because sometimes it seems there's no way you'll get the financial provision for what you are doing. My husband told me many times that when God gives a couple the gift of a baby, He also designs ways to take care of that baby. My husband pointed out examples of couples who were impoverished even without children, and somehow, much better off financially once they had their fifth child. According to the world's wisdom, they shouldn't have started a family because it was "irresponsible", but with some prayer and planning, God provided.

Now it's summer; poke around family-oriented websites and magazines, and I'm sure you'll find dozens of articles titled "How to Survive the Summer and Keep Your Sanity" and "What to Do With Your Children On Vacation and You Run Out of Ideas". Families spend so little time together that it's awkward for parents when the entire family is at home, so children are sent off to summer camps to spend some more time away from the family. People say that children are bored at home and need their peers. Maybe, but I'm convinced it is largely so because the children have spent most of their life in age-segregated groups. Not only school, but afternoon activities as well. Is this really the way a family is supposed to function?

Perhaps in a way it is easier for me than for some women, because I never felt "torn" between family and career. In my heart, the only thing I ever truly, really, deeply wanted was to be a wife and mother, and to have a good family. Oh sure, there are probably fields I would enjoy working in, and I do have hobbies such as writing which might blossom into something more professional, but I never felt powerfully drawn to something that would be a burden on family life. I didn't, for example, feel called to spend a decade studying to become a doctor, and called to become a wife and mother at the same time.

At some point, however, I did feel as though I'm supposed to be called to something "greater". It took me a while to be at peace with the realization that it's alright to be "just" a wife and mother. Just a simple woman living a simple life and delighting in every moment of it.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Where do we seek advice?

Not so long ago, I got an email from a young lady who, in her heart was prayerfully preparing for dedicating herself to a marriage and family. However, she was raised in a broken home and her parents couldn't give her the advice she needed. The advice of parents and elders is so important, and so many people in our generation are deprived when it comes to that. I wanted to share with you some of what I wrote to this young woman, without revealing the particular details of her situation.

Thank you so much for writing and sharing your heart. I truly appreciate it! I can understand you so well, because I felt the same way in college, in particular during my final year. I was completing all my assignments and taking my tests, but my heart wasn't into it at all. I was growing to love more and more the simple daily doings of a home, and could hardly wait to get married and have a family and home of my own.

In the meantime, I was stocking up on valuable practical homemaking skills - thank God for that, because I had no idea how soon I would meet and marry my husband. How thankful I am now that I spent the couple of years prior to my marriage catching up on all the basic domestic knowledge I had missed out on before! Marriage, then motherhood, just came upon me so soon and suddenly there's much less time to learn.

Like you, I didn't have too much support from my family as I was making my way to a more traditional life. I was raised by a single mother and never knew my father at all. My mother was never married and had to work full-time all her life to provide a living. When considering the issues of courtship, whether in general or with any young man in particular, wise parental counsel is such, such a blessing. But in our generation, sadly, many young women (such as yourself and me) find themselves on their own.

Without anyone to guide us, we have to exercise an extra measure of caution and care. As long as you pray, and keep your eyes focused on God and on what you would like your future family to be, all should be fine. If you haven't already, I suggest you read a post about courtship for people who come from broken homes I wrote a while back, and also what to do if you already made some mistakes along the way. I think you can still relate to a lot of what I wrote there.

Blessings, and good luck as you prepare for married life!