Monday, August 31, 2009

What are the things that spell H-O-M-E to you?

To me, it's kneading bread, then putting it into the oven and having its wonderful smell spread around the house. Or pulling out a fresh batch of cookies and setting them to cool on the stove.
Hanging my washing on the clothesline in my back yard, row after row of sheets and towels, then bringing them in later that day, or next morning - smelling as fresh and clean as can be. Folding and putting them away. Ironing my husband's shirts on my all-purpose living room table.
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Sitting curled up on the couch on a quiet evening, with crochet or knitting needles, some yarn and a knitting magazine.
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Digging in the garden; watching the blossoms unfold and anticipating harvest.
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Cooking - trying out a new recipe, or otherwise going for the tried-and-true, which still come out a bit differently every time.
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The feeling of a clean, orderly home after a good deep clean - shame I don't get very inspired by the cleaning process itself! ;o)
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Finding new things to beautify the home - dishes, paintings, vases, furniture - preferably at the fraction of their original price.
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Sharing precious times with loved ones - good food and good conversation. The sweet smell of a freshly bathed baby. Going to a bed with fresh, clean, crisp sheets and falling asleep the moment my head touches the pillow.
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All the good things, simple things that I love so much. Things that will become memorable in years to come.
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Photo credit: allposters.com

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Entry to giveaway is now closed

Just a little note to tell that the entry to the CoverYourHair giveaway is now closed - I would like to thank everyone for participating! It was the first time for me to host a giveaway here, and I was truly overwhelmed by the response (and I say it in a positive way) - I had no idea I have so many hair-covering women among my readers.

It might take me a few days to put up the winner's name. Thanks again, everyone!

Mrs. T

Thursday, August 27, 2009

CoverYourHair Giveaway

Many of you have probably noticed CoverYourHair, a site I have listed on my sidebar under "modesty resources". They sell a variety of cute hair-coverings in styles that are popular in Israel. Recently, I was contacted by Rebecca from CoverYourHair, who asked if I would be interested to review a couple of their products and host a giveaway on my blog. Of course, I was delighted.

Head scarves - much like my usual style. Head scarves are without a doubt my favorite type of head covering. Light, versatile, you can tie them in a variety of ways, and they are suitable for any length of hair. And their prices are usually within the reasonable range. The ones you can see here are folded in a triangle, and tied in a simple way - instructions here. They are made of light, breathing material and are perfect for the summer. Note: the beginners will want to experiment with the tying of the head scarf to make sure it's firmly in its place and won't slip off, but once you master it, it's really a piece of cake.


Here is a head covering that is new to me - a pre-tied bandana, very convenient - no ties, no knots, just put it on! It's made of lycra so it's slightly hotter than the head scarves, but I like it all the same. It is a bit tight for someone with a mass of hair such as mine, though (mine falls nearly to my knees!) - I'm not sure if you can tell.
And now we come to the matter of the giveaway! CoverYourHair will offer the winner a free $100 box of surprise hair accessories. How do you enter? It's very simple:

Visit CoverYourHair, then return, comment on this post and write which products you would especially like to receive. You are, of course, welcome to spread the message among your head-covering friends who don't normally read this blog, so they can participate too. On Sunday, the entry will be closed and I will randomly select a winner in the next couple of days after that. The lucky lady will then have to email me her mailing address. You don't need to have a blog to participate - just don't comment anonymously, please, because then I will have no way to tell you from other participants; use at least some sort of nickname.

You can also:
1) Join Google Friend Connect for CoverYourHair: Scroll down the home page www.coveryourhair.com, click "join this site" in the Google Friend Connect box.
2) Become a Fan of Cover Your Hair on Facebook: Click www.facebook.com/coveryourhaircom (free item always being offered)
3) Follow on twitter: Click http://twitter.com/coveryourhair

Good luck!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Homecoming

To read what happened earlier, click here.

Life goes on as usual around here, apart from the fact that Aunt Anne gets tired much more quickly, sleeps more and goes to town more often to visit the doctor, leaving Catherine and me in charge of the house. It does have its benefits – now I can skive off a boring history assignment, saying "I must hang the laundry" or "dinner is on the stove, I've got to check on it."

It doesn't mean, however, that Aunt Anne left us to ourselves when it comes to our education. On the contrary; she offered me a choice: cello lessons or learning a foreign language. She reckons that I still have too much time on my hands, you see. After much inner debate, I decided anything would be better than cello, and chose to begin studying Spanish. I also make sure to complain at least once a day about how busy I am, so that Aunt Anne won't make further claims on the little free time I have left.

Aunt Anne and Uncle Ben got a call from David yesterday. He said that he is simply thrilled about the prospective of having a new baby brother and sister, and cannot wait to come home for his winter vacation and meet us all, including "dear Becky, whom I don't know yet, but who will surely become another dear sister." The winter holidays are about to begin, and our neighbors are already getting into a festive atmosphere. We will celebrate Hanukkah on a much more modest scale.

This morning, C. woke me up at what felt like the middle of the night. It was still dark. C. was already wearing an apron over her dress, and there was a feather duster in her hand.

- Catherine, - I said, trying to keep indignation out of my voice, - are you out of your mind? It's only… - I looked briefly at the watch, - it's only five o'clock in the morning. Wake me up when breakfast is ready, - and I rolled over, attempting to get a bit more sleep.

- But Becky, David is coming today, and the house is a mess – we must tidy up, and prepare his room, and change the sheets on his bed, and I thought it would be nice to prepare something special for dinner. Mom isn't feeling well; you know she wasn't up to doing any housework yesterday.

- Alright, alright, - I grumbled, sitting up and trying to push my left foot into my right slipper.

By the time I washed my face, got dressed, ran a comb through my hair and went downstairs, there was more light outside and a smell of baking wafted from the kitchen. It turns out Catherine already put the first loaf of bread in the oven! We had a quick breakfast, just the two of us – it was only six o'clock in the morning, and the house was quiet and still. I nearly fell asleep again, chewing my toast, while Catherine already rolled up her sleeves and began to wash the dishes.

- So, - she said brightly when she finished, - now let's split up, Becky. I will take charge of the upper floor and clean up David's room, and you can sweep, mop and tidy downstairs, alright? I'll meet you in the kitchen at eleven o'clock, OK? Let's get a move on, otherwise we won't have time for all we need to do.

So I started walking slowly, sleepily, to get a broom, bucket and mop. Grumbling, I swept and mopped the living room, dining room, and Uncle Ben's office. At nine, the rest of the family started coming downstairs for breakfast. After another quick bite with everyone else, I got up again and proceeded to sweeping the downstairs corridor. Through the steady hum of the washing machine, I could faintly hear Catherine singing a cheerful tune from upstairs.

- Girls, you are so hard-working today, I'm impressed, - said Uncle Ben earnestly, - we'll get out of the kitchen now so you can clean up here too, Becky.

Thanks a lot.

Aunt Anne nodded approvingly and looked as though she wanted to say something too, but apparently she couldn't. Her face acquired a light green shade. The boys moved on to do their school work at the living room table; Aunt Anne went back upstairs, muttering about a shower. Rachel followed her, carrying an old rag doll. Uncle Ben shut himself up in his office, and I could hear him drumming on the keyboard.

I cleaned the kitchen, washed the dishes, and while everybody else was going about their business, swept the front porch and dusted and polished the furniture. Then I looked at the result of my work, surprised – when did I learn to do this, anyway?

By eleven, I was sweaty and thought longingly of a warm shower. It was clear that today, lunch will be whatever I can sneak out of the fridge and consume within five minutes. I tried to slip away unnoticed to avoid Catherine, but no – she got hold of me while I was tiptoeing upstairs, and together we prepared dinner: mushroom soup with herbs, oven-baked chicken with apple sauce, mashed potatoes, a dozen different salads, and a lemon pie for dessert. While I was cutting, peeling and grating, Catherine boiled, mixed, stirred and added spices. Finally, at a quarter past three, everything was ready, and the kitchen looked as though someone had a food fight in it.

- We should take a shower and wear something fresh, Becky, - said Catherine, wiping sweat from her brow with her apron. – You go first; go on, I'll clean up here real quick…

She didn't need to say it twice. Without looking backwards, I started towards the stairs. I took a long shower, washed my hair, and put on some fresh clothes – clean and tidy, but plain (like everything I own these days…). I thought of combing my hair again, but abandoned that thought and stretched out on my bed with a book. I spent an hour lazily reading and trying to keep myself from falling asleep. In the meantime, Catherine was enthusiastically ironing what she clearly thought to be a festive dress – a pathetic, high-collared, blue-and-white stripped piece. She brushed her hair and pinned it up. I reluctantly got up only when a car honked outside, and Catherine let out a delighted squeal and ran downstairs, shouting:

- It's him! It's him! David is here!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Remember that cat?

She had been gone for months, and we had no idea what happened to her. Yesterday she came back, painfully skinny and wild-looking. She was so hungry she even ate dry bread, something that never happened before.

If cats could talk, I'm sure she would tell us an interesting story.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Meet them: the Israeli homeschoolers

Recently, we have had the chance to talk to an Israeli homeschooling family. Needless to say, we were very excited about that, because even though we knew there are some homeschoolers in Israel, they are rare like unicorns and it's not every day you get to actually talk to one. Also, because homeschooling, on the whole, has a semi-legal status in Israel, people who practice it often choose to keep their head down, reasoning that the quieter they are the more chances they have to be left alone by legal authorities.

Here's a part of our conversation for you, along with some comments from me.

Q: Why do you homeschool?

Why not? Tell me one good reason to send my child to school. Let's face it, the main purpose of schools is to serve as babysitters. I have no need for that.

Q: What about socialization? (I'm sure all homeschoolers who are reading this are rolling their eyes, because this is such a common question)

Well, we are not the only homeschooling family around here, so my children have friends to play with, apart from their siblings. But you know, it all starts with one family in every area. (Side note: throughout the course of history, many children grew up in areas where they had little to no contact with people who were not family, such as on isolated farms for example. Were they scarred for life? Traumatized? Grew up to be socially inept? I think it's more of a myth now that we are so used to having children locked up in a classroom all day long)

Q: Do you follow any sort of academic program?

I have no wish to start a school-at-home. I think that with their rigid programs, schools stamp out the healthy and natural desire for learning. We make sure we have plenty of learning materials and good books at home. My children are on the same level academically, if not ahead, of children their age. My daughter, who is first grade age, can do third-grade math. Anyway, I believe that the most important thing is to help a child acquire learning skills. Once they have the skills, they can learn anything or almost anything on their own. (Side note: we spoke with a family whose children are young. Perhaps in older ages, and in certain subjects, there is need for more structured learning; but when we talk about lower grades – which means reading, writing and basic math – it makes even less sense to me to lock children up in classrooms all day long and pretend something terrible will happen to them if they don't get that sort of "education")

Q: How do you settle the legal issues?

We don't. When my daughter was three, I received a booklet inviting me to enroll her in kindergarten. Because I knew I was not legally obligated to do that, I just chucked it in the garbage. A few years passed since then, and the authorities seem to have forgotten about us, perhaps because we live in such an out-of-the-way location. I'm perfectly happy with this arrangement, and hope it goes on for as long as possible. Essentially, I've been homeschooling illegally for a couple of years already.

Q: But if the authorities discover you, you might end up in serious trouble. Wouldn't it be wiser to apply for authorization to homeschool?

We choose not to do that for now, because from experience of other families, we know it can be a real drag. And often, they deny families the right to homeschool their children for the most ridiculous reasons. For example, one family was denied the authorization to homeschool because the children "don't speak Hebrew". Well of course, as the family's native language is not Hebrew, they don't speak Hebrew among themselves – they speak it well enough with outsiders, but the person who made the inquiry didn't hang around long enough to hear them! Another family was forced to send their children to school because they "don't have any books in the house." Turns out that the government worker reached this amazing conclusion because she didn't see any books displayed on shelves, and didn't bother to inquire further. If she had, she would have known that they keep their books in closed bookcases, but once her report was handed in, it was next to impossible to reverse the damage.

Q: Homeschooling essentially means that you cannot work outside the home, how do you feel about that?

Yes, homeschooling my children is a full-time job, which I find very rewarding, even though I get no paycheck at the end of the month. With no work-related and school-related expenses, it's possible to live modestly on one average income.

Q: How long do you think you will be homeschooling?

I don't know (smiling). The sky is the limit!

… The legal status of this family is the reason I choose not to reveal any details about them, such as their name, location and the number and ages of their children. To be frank, I'm not sure what happens if a government official unexpectedly knocks on the door of parents who have been homeschooling for several years. It's bound to be more difficult to get authorization to homeschool then, I think. But when the government puts so many obstacles in front of each homeschooling family, I'm not surprised some people try to avoid them in the first place.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A bountiful harvest about to be ours

More grapes - this time pink. They are less sweet than the white variety we have, so the wasps stay away from them (mostly) and go for the sugar-loaded white ones.
A cluster of pears.
And another feathery visitor.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Why there is no concept of religious celibacy in Judaism

In response to my post about Charedi (Ultra-Orthodox) women who support their Torah-studying husbands, one of my readers asked me why there is no such concept in Judaism as religious celibacy, which apparently would solve the problem: the holy men who devote their life to religious studies would not have to face the mundane burden of supporting a family, and those who do not feel inclined towards religious life can work to support their wives and children.

The answer could be very long-winded, and of course I'm just skimming the surface here, but I will still say that the Torah is very practical. That's a big part of its beauty. It is not meant to be studied only theoretically, and if a man has knowledge but cannot apply it, what is his knowledge worth? A Jew with a vast religious knowledge is not called to be separated from the world, but on the contrary, to mix in it and turn the mundane into holy by applying the laws of Torah. There is no radical separation of body and spirit.

According to Judaism, each man ought to fulfil the obligation to "be fruitful and multiply". When God called us to have children and fill the earth, He didn't say "oh but wait, those who study Torah full-time are actually released from this". Infertility of one of the spouses is even considered one of the few valid reasons for divorce (though I personally don't think I could go through with it, in a loving marriage).

Being married and raising children is a big step towards infusing the mundane with holy. Of course, when you have a family, you cannot possibly run away from the mundane, as bills must be paid, groceries bought, laundry done, dinner cooked, dishes washed and diapers changed. But you also learn a great deal about being patient, loving and self-sacrificing. Studying Torah is spiritual. Comforting a sick child in the middle of the night, done with a loving heart and a passion for God, is spiritual as well.

If we are talking about the physical side of marriage, Judaism takes an approach which is, in my opinion, healthy and balanced. Desires are not supposed to be stifled, but channeled in the right direction: a holy marriage. There is no such thing as a "holier" vocation; marriage is sacred, and no man is "too good" or "too spiritual" to get married. An unmarried man is considered incomplete.

Furthermore, rabbis are supposed to set an example of godly marriages to the community, and to provide marital advice and counseling. Would I take advice on marriage from someone who is not married himself? Somehow, I think it would lack credibility. By the way, it would also be difficult for me to trust the advice of a man whose family life is crumbling, for example because his wife is about to crack under the triple strain of being the exclusive caretaker of the home, the children, and the family finances.

As a side note, throughout the course of history there were sects of Jews who practised celibacy, but they were marginal and didn't last.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The big surprise

To read the previous part, click here.

Today we washed the windows. I'm so tired!

Ever since Aunt Anne told me her story, I keep looking at Uncle Ben, trying to understand what is it about him that made her leave everything behind. She was only three years older than I am now. If, three years from now, I go to college and meet someone I really like – really, really like – someone I fall in love with – will I be able to renounce my
life and go live someplace like here, if he asks me to? I don't know.

I still had many questions to ask Aunt Anne after that conversation and I planned to corner her sometime today, but when I went down to breakfast I saw that Catherine is making eggs and toast, Samuel is sweeping the kitchen floor, Nathan is setting the table and Rachel, with an important-looking air, is handing him plates from the lowest drawer.

- Where is Aunt Anne? – I asked.

- Mom went to town, to see her doctor, - said Catherine. She sounded worried. – She isn't feeling well lately. Dad will probably take her home sometime around lunch.

I thought that if Aunt Anne isn't around, we could at least skip schoolwork, but there was no way Catherine would agree. So we went ahead and started working on our algebra assignments. It has been a while since I stopped being happy about not having to go to school. School would at least mean a change of air, seeing some new people, not being stuck in this house all the time. I could have new friends; who knows, I could even meet some nice-looking guys!

It was pouring since early morning, so I could even go out and paint my landscapes during the bleak hours between breakfast and lunch. I It was very quiet. Catherine was making a casserole in the kitchen, Sam and Nathan were still busy with schoolwork and Rachel was playing dolls on the living room floor.

Because I had nothing to do, I started drawing a sketch of Rachel's profile. At first I simply doodled absent-mindedly, and then I found myself paying more attention to the outline. I've never done any portraits before, but I think the result was not so bad after all. When Catherine emerged from the kitchen, wiping her hands on her apron, she took one look at my work and became ecstatic.

- This is wonderful, Becky! – she exclaimed.

- It's nothing, - I mumbled, covering the sketch with my hand. I still decided to keep it, though.

Aunt Anne and Uncle Ben did return right in time for lunch. I helped Catherine set the table, and it was then that Aunt Anne finally released their big news: it turns out she is expecting a baby.

- I'm already eight weeks along, imagine that! – she said, - And I didn't even start suspecting anything until last week.

Even Uncle Ben, unlike his usual custom, talked a lot and very excitedly while we ate lunch.

- Now you must help your mother even more, children, - he said. – She mustn't over-exert herself.

And Catherine was already going on about how Rachel's room must be cleared up to make space for the baby, and that the walls must be painted, and that she's going to sew new curtains, and take out Rachel's old crib out of the basement, and which things she plans to knit for the baby.

- Do you want a boy or a girl, Mom? – she asked.

- Anything will be welcome, my dear, - smiled Aunt Anne. – Well, I think I'll go and call David, and later I'll lie down and try to take a nap, I'm feeling tired again.

And it became quiet once more. The boys and Rachel went to play in the garden. Catherine went off to her room, no doubt to choose between different shades of pastel-colored yarns. Uncle Ben disappeared in his working room, and Aunt Anne went upstairs to their bedroom, holding the phone in her hand and dialing David's number as she went. I began to clean up the kitchen, and through the gentle clinking of dishes in the sink, I could hear Aunt Anne's animated voice from upstairs, talking excitedly to David. I was left alone with my thoughts.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

A few simple life snapshots

A plate of crackers.
A bird on the grape vine.
A thoughtful gift from my husband - a few skeins of lovely, 100% cotton yarn. How wonderful it will be to sit down and make something from it.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Disappointed in academics, desiring a change

I received an email from a young woman who spent several years pursuing a degree, only to find herself later with heaps of debt, feeling disappointed and cheated after trying to fit in with the idea that each woman must have a prestigious education and career in order to be considered accomplished. She kindly gave me her permission to share her testimony with you, so here it is before you.

I am a 23 year old American girl and I feel so torn in my life right now. You see, after high school, my parents pressured me into going to college even though I was only 17 and didn't know what I wanted to do with my life or what God wanted me to do with my life. They said I could never achieve any sort of success unless I went to college.

Four and half years later, I have a bachelors degree in American History, and owe thousands and thousands of dollars in student loan debt. Let's just say the amount of student loan debt I am in is the equivalent of buying two new convertibles!

For the last five years or so, I have barely spent time at home. I went to college in two different states, switched college majors three times, and basically went through the motions of school to appease my parents and "make something of myself". I realize now, after wasting so much time, that I want to be a wife and mother. I want to stay at home and be the woman God meant for me to be.

I am currently in the process of moving back home with my parents, so I can prepare for my future husband and learn the valuable skills I missed out on while gaining my so-called "education".

Yet, I keep feeling that it is too late for me. I am so buried in debt right now. Will I ever be able to be a housewife? Will I even be able to ever find a man who follows the Lord and wants a stay at home wife? Will my huge student loan debt be too much for my husband? I feel so ashamed for the last four and half to five years of my life. I fell into all the feminist propaganda and right now I regret going to college at all!

My parents don't even know that I want to be a housewife! They keep telling me to find a career and make a game plan for my life and how I need to find a high paying job! Right now I am working two dead end jobs but...will they accept me for wanting to be a wife and mother? Will they scoff and laugh at me?

I asked the Lord to forgive me, and I know through His mercy that he can fix all of this and turn it around. He can give me a new start but I still can't help but feel I messed everything up.

Do you think it is too late?


Certainly, nothing is impossible to God and at 23, it's definitely not too late to make a complete turnaround in one's life. However, I can appreciate the difficulty of this young woman's situation, having gone in the pursuit of a degree myself long before I had decided what I wanted to do with my life, simply because it was expected.

I'm not saying that if a young woman feels she is called to be a wife and mother, she should not pursue an education, which might or might not include a university or college degree. However, it would be possible to make a careful plan and choose a path of education that would not leave her in debt later on, something that can become a burden on her future family.

For example, if a young woman would eventually like to become a full-time homemaker, there isn't much sense for her to go through the long years of hard work in medical school. She might also want to continue, if it is possible, to live at home with her parents so she can have more opportunities to hone her homemaking skills.

That is just to say, young women would be much better served to consider their educational choices in light of what they want to become in a lifelong perspective.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Charedi women speak out

Once, I already addressed the matter of Ultra Orthodox Jewish women financially supporting their husbands while they devote most of their time to religious studies.

Now, women who are living that life – and experiencing a terrible burn-out – give us a peek into their lives. I'm including the link for those of you who read Hebrew. For the rest of you, I will translate the paragraphs that best summarize the essence of the article.

"We are collapsing. We work three jobs: maintaining the home, educating the children, and a full-time shift outside the home. We all know what a scholar husband contributes financially (a meager scholarship - my note). And it got even worse with the economical crisis. We, like most of our community, have large families. We do not hire household help. With great pain in our hearts, we are forced to ask our older daughters to step up to the task, and these girls, even before they are married, already carry a burden which will be even heavier once they are wives."

"Was it the way of Torah in the past too – that the entire pressure of maintaining and financing the household would fall on the woman's shoulders? Isn't it a change of the last generation or two? Once, nearly all the wives of religious scholars held teaching jobs. We had plenty of vacation time. Our work day was finished early and we could return home before our children. Today most of us work in fields that require great emotional resources and many hours of exhausting effort. And only then we come back and begin the full-time second shift – which is actually the first for us."


I will be the last person to deny that we need full-time Torah scholars, especially in our generation of spiritual and moral downfall. But when there are no financial resources, I see something surreal in a situation when a man immerses himself in the spiritual while ignoring the very real plight of his wife and children.

The ketubah, the Jewish marriage contract, states quite plainly that the husband is the one who is supposed to support the wife, not the other way around. Yes, there is a loophole saying that if the wife is willing, she may support her husband while he's at his religious studies. But there is a tremendous pressure on the eligible young brides of the charedi community to choose a scholar husband, which is considered more noble and prestigious – and I'm not so sure all those girls know what they are getting into, and/or are really ready to be primary wage-earners while raising a family of 12 and keeping an immaculate house.

Here is a question that some, I'm sure, will consider almost sacrilegious: are all those who study Torah full-time really so brilliant that our generation would suffer a terrible loss if they worked at least part of the time? Certainly, we need scholars, but I don't believe that every boy should be encouraged to become one.

Perhaps, if there were less full-time scholars, and scholarships were awarded only to the most talented, there could be larger resources for each who receives one. Then the rest could also work part-time, and some of the burden could be lifted off the women's shoulders.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The future of schooling and homeschooling in Israel

Some time ago, I read an article in one of our local newspapers about a phenomenon that is becoming increasingly common in Israeli schools: teachers count on their struggling students to get back-up lessons through private tutoring, to an extent that they don't really try very hard to present the material in a way that would be understood by each and every student.

Private tutoring was very common when I was still in school. I think every student in my class took private lessons at some subject or other, and usually in more than one. I took private lessons in math myself. We soon found out that we were dependent on our private lessons, and if we struggled, it was practically the only way to get extra help because the school provided none. Of course, this meant that those who could not afford private tutoring would not get decent marks in the subjects they found more difficult – creating a huge discrepancy between students from rich and poor families.

Now it seems that in some schools, the situation resembles a mafia of sorts, with teachers failing on purpose to adequately present a subject, and then directing their students to private tutors - their colleagues, teachers from other schools, who are trying to supplement their meager salary. In turn, they serve as private tutors themselves to students from other schools.

It's very understandable to me, of course, why private tutoring is such a popular system. I think it would be safe to say most children blossom when they get lots of one-on-one attention, which is something that is impossible to achieve in a classroom of 30 students. But of course the current school system, as it is, is intolerable.

I'm certain that voices will cry for a school reform, which is undoubtedly much needed. Perhaps changes will form, but it will take time, and in the meantime children will continue to suffer from an inadequate education.

For some families – not many, but some – the answer, I'm sure, will be found in homeschooling. The first buds of it are already seen in Israel, though homeschooling families are still regarded as freaks. Some time ago I read an article about homeschooling parents who were born in Israel – a rare phenomenon, as most Israeli homeschoolers, I believe, are people from English-speaking countries.

I doubt homeschooling will ever becoming truly popular here, because Israel is a country with highly institutionalized childcare and very few stay-at-home mothers – and let's face it, a parent at home is probably necessary for homeschooling to succeed. But I think it will take hold in some families who want to make sure their children are properly educated, and are ready to take the challenge of living on one income to make it happen.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Grapes

Finally ripe for picking and sweet like honey.

Straight from the vine!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

How Aunt Anne came to love homemaking

To read the previous part, click here.

- After Ben went off to work every morning, I would sit down and cry. Sometimes it seemed to me that I rushed into this decision of marrying him and leaving everything behind. Several times I tried to find a job in town, but there was none with hours suitable with Ben's working schedule - which was a necessary condition, because I needed a car to get around here and there was no way we could afford a second car at the time. There were times when I was angry with myself and with Ben for cutting off my path to interesting education and career so early. Is it possible, I asked myself, that I am going to spend my entire life here, in this boring, ugly, neglected place?

It was all made worse by the fact that I knew absolutely nothing about housework. Most of the meals in my parents' house were take-out, and someone was always hired for spring cleaning. Shirts with loose buttons took up space in the closet because no one bothered to fix them. At eighteen, I moved out to live on a college campus, where I didn't have too many opportunities to hone my homemaking skills either. I scoffed at cooking and laundry. Why would such mundane tasks matter when I'm immersed in the heights of intellectual dispute?

But there you had me, eighteen years old, married and supposed to keep house - and quite a big farmhouse it was, even without all the extensions we later added to it - and without a clue of what I'm actually supposed to be doing. I couldn't really clean and I really couldn't cook. I couldn't sew, or iron, I could hardly operate the washing machine to supply my husband with clean socks. I might have been a witty writer, but at homemaking, I was completely inept.

I have no idea how it all would have ended if Ben's older sister, Esther, hadn't come to rescue. Esther already had three little children and I'm sure it wasn't easy for her to find arrangements for them, but she came to visit us for several days - alone. To this day she claims she only did this to get acquainted with me, but I am certain Ben told her about our sad state of affairs. At any rate she showed no surprise upon finding our house and ourselves in the most miserable condition.

Esther acted as though nothing is amiss and we're just having a pleasant picnic, but at the same time, she put all her ingenuity into helping me. In the few days she was with us, she scrubbed the house top to bottom with me and sewed curtains for our living room. Together, we pulled weeds in the overgrown, neglected garden. One day, we went to town in Ben's car, and met him after work, our arms laden with pretty but inexpensive home accessories, house plants and seedlings for the garden. Then Esther took out an iron and together we ironed my tablecloths, sheets and pillowcases, which were then left crisp and fresh in the closet. She also helped me to rearrange the furniture so that the living room would be less cluttered and appeared more spacious.

To put it simply, at the end of Esther's visit my house finally looked like home, and I realized that I love it. I certainly wasn't prepared to let it slide back to its previous state.

Aunt Anne smiled, and for a few minutes, continued to eat her ice-cream in silence.

- Esther, who remains one of my most cherished friends to this day, has a gift of teaching people in an easy, natural way. What she taught me, by pure example, made a tremendous change in my life. Even after she left, she kept sending me simple recipes and sewing patterns for beginners. She gave me suggestions for a daily routine which would keep our house at least tolerably clean and neat, if not spotless, such as washing the dishes without waiting for them to accumulate in the sink, make the beds, keep up with laundry. For her it was as natural as breathing - for me, it was an unknown science.

As I pracised the basics of houskeeping, I started getting more and more ideas to make my home prettier and more inviting. For example, plant a rose bush near the entrance or sew curtains to match the furniture. Soon I was surprised and thrilled to find out that my days at home are filled with productivity and creativity, and that I get up and go to bed happy. I didn't think I'm wasting my time anymore. With the help of handbooks sent to me by Esther, I taught myself knitting, crochet and embroidery, and started making pretty things for my home and for gifts.

Ben was happy, too. I asked him several times whether he wouldn't rather have me working outside the home so we could pay off our loan on the house faster. However, he told me I shouldn't be under the illusion that I will be able to keep the same sort of peaceful, beautiful home once I'm away from it most hours of the day. It takes time, Becky. And once David was born, the feeling that I have plenty of time disappeared forever and hasn't returned to this day.

That was the beginning of my path as a wife and mother. And that is all I ever became, Becky - "just" a wife and mother. I didn't start a home business, I don't volunteer on a regular basis, I don't write for ladies' magazines. And every minute of my day is packed with action. We grew to love this place, too, despite being the only Jewish family in the area, which can get lonely sometimes. Even though we never thought of homeschooling when we got married, we realized we will have to do it if we want a Jewish education for our children. Now I love it, though - the freedom of home, for myself and my children, to pursue learning and various talents. This is definitely the life for us.

"Well, it might be a life for you, but it doesn't mean it's a life for me!" - I thought, but didn't dare to say it aloud. Aunt Anne, however, seemed to realize what I was thinking, because she leaned closer and said:

- Despite what you might think, Becky, I am not trying to model you into something you are not. I realize you must be feeling like a misfit in our family, perhaps angry and disappointed with a way of life that was unexpectedly forced on you. Think about it this way: you are not too far from adulthood and from making your own choices. In the meantime, why not try something different?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Simply bowls

For me, being frugal is not necessarily running around and looking for the best bargain. It's enjoying the simple things in life, like these bowls.
I think they are going to serve us as ice-cream bowls. For a nice big portion of ice-cream. Yes, I don't think either of us will mind that.
I do love simple ceramic bowls.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Summer in Israel... hot, dry and rocky

Yesterday, we went for a little drive in the late afternoon.
Got into some places we did not plan to visit, and were rewarded by seeing some fascinating wildlife.
It was hot.
It was dry.
It was rocky.

... But still beautiful.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Conversation with Aunt Anne - part 1

To know what happened earlier, click here.

Uncle Ben is down with a nasty stomach virus – and today was supposed to be shopping day, because the refrigerator is nearly empty. So Aunt Anne decided to take the car and go to town, leaving Uncle Ben to Catherine's care. I was surprised when Aunt Anne told me to take the day off schoolwork and come along with her.

Aunt Anne and I visited many different shops and bought plenty of food and other home and school supplies. After we loaded all our shopping into the car, Aunt Anne stopped by a small café and ordered two large ice-creams with whipped cream for both of us.

I was sitting and looking out of the window, enjoying myself. This was the first time I've been to a… a
populated place since I came to live with Aunt Anne. Of course, eating ice-cream with Aunt Anne is not the same as tearing down the mall with Jane and Ashley, or going to the movies with Ted. But still, it's a place full of people and cars, of delightful noise. How I missed that!

Unexpectedly, Aunt Anne leaned forward and looked at me intently.

- Listen, Becky, - she said, sounding as though she's whispering a secret. – I want you to know that I understand perfectly well what you are going through.

I choked on my whipped cream, but remained silent.

- You know I didn't grow up here, right? – Aunt Anne continued, - I moved here when I got married.

I knew that.

- While I was growing up, my life was a lot like yours. Both my parents spent most of their waking hours at work. We lived in a small apartment close to the center of the city. After school, my time was mostly at my own disposal, and I wasted it, just like I wasted my parents' money – shopping with my girlfriends and just "hanging out." Still, I was a smart girl and did pretty well at school. When I was eighteen, I started studying for a degree in literature. I cannot say I was particularly interested by the lectures, but I loved the campus. I had a new, fun life! And then, quite randomly, I met Ben.

There was something about him that attracted me – something quiet, strong and real, that I didn't see in any of the young men I met before. He was stable, more mature, and this was more than just the fact he was a few years older. He was a man of action. Only a month passed since we first met when he asked me to marry him. I was confused. We barely knew each other, and I knew that my life with him would be nothing like I planned. Ben's idea of a life in a quiet, rural place clashed with the glamour I imagined and planned for my own future. I was only eighteen years old, I barely started my degree, all my friends told me how much I will miss out on if I get married so young. My parents begged me not to rush. But I didn't have much time for consideration. Ben was finishing his degree and was about to move away. I had to choose: go with him as his wife, or never see him again.

And imagine this, Becky, Ben won! I quit college and married him. We had a modest wedding, because we were in such a hurry. By the way, my wedding dress was sewn by your grandmother. She did a wonderful job, even though she had to work at top speed – I will show you the dress later. By looking at my friends' faces at my wedding, you'd think they were attending a funeral, crying over my ruined life. We didn't have any money to spare for a real honeymoon, but I supposed that our trip here, to the house in the country we bought, would be a honeymoon of sorts.

I couldn't be more wrong.

Our home, where we moved in nearly twenty years ago, badly needed repair, hardly had any furniture, the yard was neglected, the pathways barely seen through the overgrown weeds. There were no fruit trees, no vegetable patch. Everywhere I looked, chaos reigned. We hardly had any neighbors, not to mention any Jewish community – something I always took for granted, despite not being very religious as I was growing up. In the mornings, Ben would get into his car and go to work; keen to establish his reputation in his first job, he worked long hours and got a very small salary in return. I spent my entire days in an empty house, alone…


What happened next? How did Aunt Anne adjust to her new life - and came to love it? Stay tuned for the next part!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Breastfeeding and fasting

Hello, and a good week to everyone. I hope all my Jewish readers had an easy time fasting on Tisha B'Av last Thursday – I wanted to stop by before it and wish everyone an easy fast, but didn't have the opportunity. At any rate I hope this was the last time we fasted on Tisha B'Av, and that next year we can rejoice in a new, rebuilt Holy Temple.

As you might know (or not), Tisha B'Av and Yom Kippur are the only two fasts pregnant and nursing women are not matter-of-factly released from. Therefore I fasted, for the first time since Shira was born, and it was one of the most difficult fasts I ever had to go through. Nursing makes you lose extra liquids, and as soon as I sit down to nurse, I have an effect of violent thirst kicking in, making me want to gulp down a big glass (or two, or three) of water. Torturous! While normally I fast with no adverse effects (even while pregnant), this time I spent most of the day lying down on the couch, dozing in and out of weak sleep, and day-dreaming about everything I'm going to drink once the fast is over.

Needless to say, I felt a dip in my milk supply and could not nurse as much as I often do. So during the day we supplemented with a few bottles of milk I pumped during the previous week. My husband was a great help, taking over all the baby business, feeding and entertaining Shira. I couldn't have done it without him. I broke the fast about half an hour before it ended, because I felt too weak to even pick up my baby, and my husband was in synagogue.

We tried to seek counsel from a rabbi prior to the fast, but there is no rabbi we can call "ours" (meaning that we would fully trust his opinion in all matters), and there is a variety of rabbinical opinion on the subject – there are those who say a nursing mother may eat and drink as usual if she even thinks a fast might cause lower milk supply, and there are those who say a mother should give up trying to nurse that day altogether and feed the baby formula – and even supplement with formula the day before, to "make sure the baby will drink it".

It goes without saying, of course, that I'm incensed by the ignorant (I'm sorry, but I have no other word) advice of the latter, particularly when given to a young mother of a baby who is just a few weeks old, disregarding the permanent damage such practice may do – exposure of a very young baby to allergens like cow's milk or soy protein, disruption of the (perhaps fragile) nursing relationship, not to mention engorgement, plugged ducts and mastitis. As Mother in Israel once eloquently said, "I don't believe Judaism is about replacing a warm breast with a bottle." I don't like supplementing with bottles at all, even though it was my milk. Had we run out of pumped milk, or had I been unable to pump prior to the fast for some reason, I would have broken the fast as soon as I felt I'm not producing as much milk as usual.

When time comes to prepare for the next fast I must observe (which will be Yom Kippur, in two months), we can seek advice from a rabbi while informing him of how ill I felt during the previous. I suppose Shira will take more solids in two months than she does now, but I still expect her to nurse as much or nearly as much as now. Certainly I'm not supposed to be too weak to take care of my baby.

Fortunately, a one-day fast is not supposed to cause permanent damage to milk supply. After a day of plentiful liquids, food, rest and nursing, everything seems to be back to normal. If any of you ladies ever have to fast while nursing (for religious or other reasons), make sure to check out this page of excellent advice from KellyMom.