Monday, November 30, 2009

A birthday surprise for Becky

Previous part here.

While David was here, the atmosphere in the house was festive, even when the Hanukkah lights no loner burned As soon as he left, there was a definite drop in the levels of cheerfulness of everybody in the family. Even the boys seemed less raucous that before, and Aunt Anne sighed each time she mentioned what a long time there is still to go until the summer holidays, when David is supposed to come home again.

"I wish he didn't have to be so far away from home," she sighed, "but I do hope he will be here in time for the birth of his baby brother or sister."

Personally, I thought that if anything can bring David rushing home as soon as possible, it would be this. He wouldn't miss it for the world. It seemed a bit strange to me at first, to think that one brother is in diapers while the other had already left home, but I suppose such age gaps between brothers are inevitable in a family as large as Aunt Anne's.

To my vast surprise, David mentioned me in his very first note, which was emailed to Aunt Anne almost as soon as he was back in the dorms. After a brief update on his studies and questions about the well-being of everyone back home, in particular his mother, David wrote:

"Dear Mom and Dad, I remember that Becky is turning sixteen next week. Here, not far from the campus, we have an opening course for talented young artists, ages sixteen to twenty-one. Some of my friends are participating, and people are coming from all over the country. Why don't you arrange for Becky to attend? She draws and paints so beautifully. The course will only last two weeks, and it's supposed to be a real marathon, she'll learn so much. Living arrangements are provided on the campus, and it's supposed to be very closely supervised so you shouldn't worry. And I'm around as well, I can keep an eye on Becky. Send me a reply as soon as you can, so I can reserve a place for her."

I waited with baited breath. Could I really be so lucky? If anyone had asked me for whatever I might wish as my birthday present, I couldn't come up with anything half as wonderful as this!

"It's a great idea, isn't it?" said Catherine enthusiastically to no one in particular. It was one of those few times she and I were completely in agreement about something.

Uncle Ben and Aunt Anne exchanged glances, and my heart fluttered somewhere within my belly. I could see right away that Aunt Anne was not like to stand up and cheer and tell me to run off and pack my bags.

"I don't know," she finally said, "what do you think, Ben?"

Uncle Ben "humphed" something incomprehensible and it was obvious to me that Aunt Anne counted on him to be the one who says no. Luckily for me, Uncle Ben clearly had no idea what part he is supposed to play, and Aunt Anne gave him a look that could be described as nothing short form murderous.

"I must ask for your Grandmother's permission, anyway, Becky," she said. And she swept off to talk to Grandma on the phone. And Grandma, bless her heart, thought the art course was the most terrific idea she ever heard.

At the end of Aunt Anne's conversation with Grandma, I went off to my room to pack, hardly believing my luck. I took some clothes, my diary and painting supplies, even though I was told those are supposed to be provided for us. I was made to solemnly promise that I will call every single day, or Uncle Ben will be sent to pick me up and bring me straight back home.

And then I was off.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

A secret garden

In response to this post, Star writes:

"Why do you cover your hair? What possible purpose does that serve? Didn't God give women beautiful hair to show it off? I cannot believe he intended it to be hidden under a scarf all day. How ridiculous! No, you are hiding, hiding from reality. You are hiding from the attentions of men and that is not normal to me, at any rate. Women are the flowers of the field. They should be seen and admired, not hidden away.
Some day, when you are old and grey and your hair is thin and wispy, you will wish that it grew long and thick and glossy again and that all the world could see it."

I already responded in the comments, but very briefly, as time didn't allow at that moment. For those who are curious about hair covering, I suggest you read my post on the subject.

Beauty is one of the gifts the Almighty graciously gave us, and like every gift, it was not meant to "go to waste". Also, like every other gift He chose fit to give us, beauty must be used wisely. My hair is meant to be seen, but now that I am married, it is intended for my husband alone, and I happily cover it out of modesty and as a sign of being a married woman. At home, I leave my hair uncovered for my husband to enjoy, and now that it isn't exposed to direct sunlight, it looks even better than before.

Why would I want any man but my husband to look at me and find me beautiful? What purpose would that serve, except perhaps making another man covet his brother's wife? I don't believe women should be hidden, unseen and unheard, all the days of their life. But together with the gift of beauty, we were graciously given the guidelines of modesty, which are a preventive measure against leading men into sin and women into vanity.

I hardly believe that when I grow older, I will regret not showing off the more beautiful parts of my body to strangers. What I do regret right now are the years when I didn't yet observe the Orthodox Jewish modesty code. From time to time, an ex-classmate tags a photo of me on Facebook and I cringe when I see it. I understand, of course, that those years had to happen for a reason, and I am grateful for the lessons I learned. Particularly about the wise application of feminine powers.

In my eyes, women are not flowers of the field, but rather, flowers of a secret garden, meant to be kept and cherished, not ogled by every passer-by; as it says in the Song of Songs: "You are a garden locked up, my sister, my bride; you are a spring enclosed, a sealed fountain."

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Homemade onion bread

I wish I had a picture of this bread after it was baked - it was so delicious. But as we were in a hurry before Shabbat, I didn't have time to take a picture to share with you all. Perhaps next time, as I'm sure we'll be making this bread again. Adding fried spiced onions was my husband's idea and it was the yummiest bread I have ever tasted. We got the recipe from here (in Hebrew):

2.5 kg of flour
4 tbsp active dry yeast - mix with the flour
3 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp salt
1\2 cup oil
about 6 cups of lukewarm water

mix and knead dough, let rise until it doubles.

knead again, let rise again - for a shorter time

divide and shape dough according to your desired number of buns or bread, let rise for another couple of minutes

bake until nice and golden - took us about 30 minutes in medium heat, but you have to keep watching all the time because you don't want to overbake.

You should give it a try. It's a really delicious bread.

PS: The onions were not part of the original recipe so I did not include them here. If you would like onion bread, fry your onions, add spices to taste, and add them to the dough before kneading for the first time.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Veil of Roses

Another book I received as a gift not long ago is "A Veil of Roses", by Laura Fitzgerald. It tells the story of Tamila, a young Iranian woman who gets a visa to the USA and plans to stay there through the means of finding a traditional Iranian husband to marry her.

There is a lot of talk in the book about the oppression of Iran vs. the liberty of America; as it appears, liberty is in walking around with one's hair uncovered, wearing a bikini at a mixed beach, and free mixing of men and women. I had to laugh at times while I read, because so many of the freedoms that are portrayed in such a glorious way in the book, are precisely things I choose not to do, even though I could.

I cover my hair, even though no one would look twice if I didn't. I don't go to mixed beaches, even though it is perfectly legal. I embrace a multitude of "restrictions" which come with the life of an Orthodox Jewish woman, and I'm happy with my choices. I suppose this is the key word here. These are my choices. No one came and forced a head scarf on my hair, or made me stop shaking hands with men.

Another thing I found funny in the book was an idolization of romantic love as a basis for a good marriage. You know, after reading so many stories that start with sweep-me-off-my-feet romance and end with marriage, I would dearly love to know what becomes of those marriages after a few years. Oh wait, I do know: at least half of them fall apart. Don't get me wrong, I don't believe in marriages based purely on calculated convenience. But I do believe there's more to compatibility in marriage than just romance.

After reading "A Veil of Roses", I asked my husband whether he would like an Orthodox Jewish regime in Israel. His reply was very wise, I think, and I couldn't define it better myself: it would be wonderful to have a government made entirely of religious Jews, as opposed to what we have today, but on an individual basis, no one should be forced to be religious. I can think of no surer way to make a religion or a way of life hated than forcing it on any and everyone.

At the bottom line, I am grateful. Grateful for living in a country where I can feel safe and accepted just being who I am; in a country where nearly anyone, as different from each other as they might be, can say the same. That's one of the great things about Israel. The society is divided and each sector views another as weird, but on the whole, each weird is somehow normal.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Railway Children

Just a few days ago, I received a gift of a book from a very precious friend. The book was called "The Railway Children", by Edith Nesbit. It was written over a hundred years ago, but to me, it was new and I couldn't put it down until I finished reading. It's such a sweet, heart-warming story about a mother and her children and how they overcome the struggles of life. Several times I nearly cried while reading because it touched me so.

I imagine this book will be just as good a hundred years from now as it was a hundred years ago. I plan to hang on to it, waiting for the time Shira can read English.

I would like to share my all-favorite quote from the book, about the Mother, who was a character I found very inspirational. In a quiet, gentle way, by setting a fine example, she molds her children's souls.

"Mother did not spend all her time in playing dull calls to dull ladies, and sitting all day waiting for dull ladies to pay calls to her. She was almost always there, ready to play with her children, and read to them, and help them do their home-lessons. Besides this she used to write stories for them while they were at school, and read them aloud after tea, and she always made up funny pieces of poetry for their birthdays and for other great occasions."

What a precious gift it is, for us and for everyone involved, to be there for our children.

You can read the book online here, but I'm sticking to my paper copy. It's so much more mobile and can be easily carried into the garden or to bed, which are my two favorite places for reading.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Seasons of life with no children at home

Two interesting questions were raised in response to this post, and to do them justice, I decided to write about them in a post of its own. Both are about two sides of the same coin: what is expected of a woman when there are no young children in her charge? Is tending to the hearth and home sufficient to keep a woman productively employed at every stage of her life?

Here is the first question:

"Do you think it is best for a father to support his unmarried daughter, if it is within his means to do so?"

Saying that a father should support his daughter implies that the daughter would be a burden; I would rather say that the daughter should remain under her father's roof and protection until she is married, all the while taking care to remain productive and use her time wisely. There are many things one can do during the single years, many skills to learn and master. I can attest for myself that there are things I learned while single, which I wouldn't have had the time and energy to learn if I delayed them until I got married.

I understand, of course, that in this age of ours not every young woman can remain under her parents' roof until she is married. Some, like me, grew up fatherless; other come from unhealthy family situations. But whatever the young woman's situation in life is, she can prepare for a vocation of wifehood by choosing a path that would at least make her ready to start a family when there is a chance. Even if she has to work to support herself, it doesn't mean she has to dive into a path of a five-year degree and a job with crazy hours that would leave her drained and exhausted.

Young women are encouraged to invest in their careers before they start families; even those who explicitly say what they want most in the world is to be wives and mothers, are often pressured to enter a path of studies and career that would leave them in debt, exhausted, and would teach them nothing about running a home, being a good wife and taking care of children. The reasoning given is that they "should do it why they can".

Personally, I think it's awfully short-sighted - if a young woman plans to dedicate her life to being a wife and mother at home, why on earth would she invest precious years and lots of money and energy in doing something that would be entirely incompatible with wifehood and motherhood?

Here is the second question:

"My husband retired in Sept., and the day after, he was hired to work at the only place he ever wanted to work after retirement. Due to our thriftiness, and having no debt but our home, we are able to make it. On the other hand, I am a nurse, and am thinking about going back to work part-time so our savings doesn't go down, and as a "cushion" (my husband's income has gone down considerably). One daughter is in college (living at home), and the other I am homeschooling (she is in her last year). My husband wouldn't mind if I went back to work, but has not pressed the issue. What do you and your readers think? Should we stay home forever? I have lots to keep my busy here: gardening, cooking from scratch (my husband is on a special diet), just living a frugal lifestyle takes time." - Mrs. G

As a young mother, I expect I am still many years, perhaps decades away from the time I will become an empty-nester. I have, however, thought about that time in a woman's life. Before marriage and children, we are inexperienced, and have a lot to learn about keeping and managing a home; when children are grown, we are generally wiser and have much more valuable skills, and our homes are most likely running on a smooth routine, and much time is freed up for things we were too busy for in the hectic years of raising a bunch of little ones.

I think the years after the children have left can be a wonderful time for a woman to extend her creativity now that she has more time. A most wonderful example is Rhonda from the "Down to Earth" blog; Rhonda and her husband are a retired couple and their children no longer live with them, but Rhonda fills up her time with so many wonderful, productive ways. She gardens and cooks from scratch, sews and knits and works in the garden, keeps chickens, makes soap and writes. While I don't believe in copying anyone's life, I think that in a way, I want to be like this when I no longer have children at home: young in spirit, busy, productive, with more time on my hands to try things I have always wanted to try, and the doors of my home always open to children and grandchildren who come to visit.

I think that after half a lifetime of bearing and raising children, a woman should ideally experience a gentler, slower pace to her days, while still being there for her family. It doesn't mean she would be idle. Like Mrs. G said, there is always plenty to do at home, especially if you have a garden and cook from scratch. It's an awful shame, in my opinion, that older women, instead of having the freedom to enjoy their time at home, are once more facing the pressure to enter the working world, perhaps to compete with younger people for jobs. I think about my own grandmother and how important it was to me that she was always there while I was growing up, a solid presence. What a waste it would be if grandmothers are no longer waiting with open arms and hearts.

Of course, when a woman's children are grown, she may find more time for pursuits outside the home, if her husband approves. She may do volunteer work, or expand some of her skills in a way that would serve others as well as her own family. If these skills bring some income, I don't see anything wrong with it per se. I just don't think an older woman should be pressured to enter the rat race instead of tending to the hearth and home.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

When husbands lose their jobs

Read this article, which talks about what happens when a husband loses his job and finds himself supported by his wife.

It won't come as a surprise to my regular readers to know I fully support the so-called "traditional" roles of man and wife. Tradition, of course, is the less important part in this; traditions might change, while God's plan for us never does, and He was the one to command Adam to work in the sweat of his brow, and Eve to bear children. So of course it's natural for the woman to take care of the nest and the family.

But of course, we all know things might not go according to our initial plan. Husbands may fall ill, lose their jobs, strike up a bad financial bargain, or all of the above. A woman who married someone financially stable might feel it's unfair if the situation changes unexpectedly, though certainly, no one can guarantee it won't happen.

I firmly believe this role reversal, when the wife becomes the main breadwinner, is not really a solution; it's unhealthy. Men were not made to be cooped up inside the house and women were not made to be far from their homes and families. It's easy to feel desperate when a "traditional" family is suddenly thrust into such a situation.

Here we have another example at how feminism did a huge disservice to women. In the past, if a family was going through a financial crisis, the wife was expected to be frugal, and perhaps do some work temporarily, preferably from home. Now, we are expected to jump into a "career", as if that will be a solution to all our problems, as if there aren't enough couples with two incomes who are up to their ears in debt because they don't know how to handle their finances wisely.

I take issue, however, with some attitudes expressed in that article I linked to. Like, for example, losing respect for a husband who lost his job. Many men lose their jobs through no fault of their own; they are likely to sink into depression as it is, when unemployment lasts for a while. The last thing that would encourage and motivate them would be vibes of disrespect and scorn coming from their wives. It becomes an evil circle: a man is unemployed, his wife treats him like a useless loser, and he feels like one, which prevents him to take off again in the working world.

It's easy to become frustrated and tell an unemployed husband, "you've failed your part, I'm going out there to do your job because you're inadequate." But wouldn't it be wiser to trust God and trust this husband he gave you, and tell him you know he is doing his best? Wouldn't it be wiser to support and motivate him, and tell him you fully trust his abilities, and perhaps help him look for a job, and motivate him to take advantage of his time of unemployment to learn useful skills? I truly believe it would pay off in the long run.

I understand, of course, that there are also situations when the wife is as supportive and encouraging as can be and it doesn't help. We don't live in a perfect world and some men are lazy and irresponsible. But I honestly believe that most men want to take care of their families and be good husbands and fathers.

As you know I'm not speaking only theoretically. My husband is currently looking for a job, and some tell me I should invest in my career instead, such as, for example, go ahead and start studying for a Master's degree. I do believe this attitude is not only short-sighted, it would convey that I secretly believe I can do my husband's job better than he could. And in the long run, I think I would pay for it dearly, especially when more children (God willing) come along and I'm stuck with a "career" I can't realistically handle.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

David prepares to leave

Read previous part here.

Two weeks passed as though in a dream. On the outside, everything went on as usual – we took long walks outside when the weather permitted. I carried on with my painting, Catherine with her needlework. By the end of the vacation, I completed portraits of all the little ones, while Catherine had made her first batch of baby things – sweaters, booties, hats and even a blanket.

Aunt Anne started looking at me with an oddly approving way ever since I volunteered to take some ironing off her hands. Don't get me wrong, I didn't suddenly begin to like ironing or something. But Aunt Anne is not feeling her best, that's obvious – and there's a limit to what Catherine can do on her own.

A day before he was to depart, David told us he is sorry to leave so soon.

David, Catherine and I were sitting downstairs next to the fireplace. After a long, full day, Rachel fell asleep in Catherine's lap, and Catherine was gently rocking her while we talked in quiet voices. It was very quiet – the boys were busy doing a puzzle at the opposite corner of the room.

"It must be really interesting in college, isn't it?" I asked.

"Yes," he nodded, "but it's different, all different. The people aren't the same – I'm not the same, Becky. Home is here. " he looked around, his stare tenderly lingering on Rachel's sleeping face, "I'm not even sure how to explain this, but here I feel so real. Now that I've been away for several months, I understand that our parents have always worked on creating a place where each one of us would feel loved and accepted, while being nothing more or less than himself or herself. When I have a home of my own, someday, I would like to give my children a childhood similar to what we had with Mom and Dad. They are extraordinary people."

Extraordinary people. Well, when I first arrived here, it sure seemed extraordinary to me to have no TV and dress in long skirts, not to mention all the other weird religious rituals kept in this house. I felt stifled. But now I sensed that Aunt Anne and Uncle Ben are, indeed, not only weird beyond weird – there's something more about them, even though they can be a pain in the neck. However annoying they might be, I feel welcomed and cared for with them. And in a way, as much as it pained me to admit this, looking at them made me think they are more like what parents should be than my own Mom and Dad ever were.

Our conversation was interrupted by Aunt Anne, who entered the room to remind David to email her and Uncle Ben at least once a week, which David promised he would do.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Priorities

At this season of my life, I'm so occupied by my duties at home - both mentally and physically - that I often become overwhelmed by a pull in different directions. There are, after all, so many books I would like to read; so much writing I would like to do, while I only snatch a moment here and there; so many great blogs I would love to keep up with; so many friends I haven't called in ages. There are so many emails waiting in my inbox, and ungraciously, I am forced to let them sit for weeks.

I'm not saying I don't have any time to do any of those things. I do, after all, read, and write, and talk to my friends. But the time is so very, very limited, and more than ever, I must be cautious not to be sucked into things that might pull me away from what I should really be doing.

Sometimes I feel so burnt out that I can actually sense my mind going numb, to the point when it's hard to keep up with any intellectually challenging reading, or even with the news. I would define this as emotional and intellectual indigestion. Sometimes I wish I had more time for myself, more organized days, more control over my time. But, as I remind myself when it gets tough, I was not sent here to have more time for myself or to have the perfect schedule. I am here to love and serve the people that the Almighty put under my care.

So, the biggest sanity-saver is defining my priorities while going on a "fast" of time-wasters. Not having a TV is a great help, but the internet can steal just as much of your time. I do love to check in on my favorite blogs and websites, but if I sit down to do that (and it doesn't happen every day), I try to limit myself to no more than five blogs or websites per day. I wrote about it extensively in a former post on preventing blogging from taking over your life.

Same goes to talking on the phone and visiting with friends. Around here, I can't get out without stopping to greet at least three neighbors, and most likely to share a few minutes of friendly chat. Personally I'm not a type to schmooze all day long, but I do love a friendly, refreshing conversation. If I'm talking on the phone, I can usually do other things around the house in the meantime, so I don't regard this as a waste of time at all, even in the midst of a busy day.

On the upside, not having that much time for myself means I appreciate more the time I do have. If I read a book or an article on the internet, it will be a really good one. If I'm meeting a friend, it's like a small celebration. If I chance to spend half an hour on the couch curled up with some handcraft, I truly savor every moment.

Sometimes, however, there is no choice but to go on an information/activity diet, and focus on just what's important, if we don't want the order in our homes to go to ruin. Take a deep breath and be patient, and remember - for every thing there is a season.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A bit more about looking nice at home

In response to yesterday's discussion about looking presentable at home, I would like to thank you all for contributing your opinion and sharing your experience. I hadn't realized there is actually a trend of going out in pajamas and slippers, I took it for granted that people get dressed when they go out, but apparently this isn't true everywhere.

I invite you to check out a new addition to my list of modest clothing websites - KosherCasual. Their clothes for girls and women represent just what I think home wear should look like - they are modest and wouldn't make you blush if there are unexpected visitors at the door, yet they also look very comfy. Their prices are not bad either.

Personally I have never ordered clothes via the internet, because I like to see and feel what I'm buying and I'm blessed to live in Israel where we have no lack of modest clothes stores, but if I lived elsewhere, where modest and comfortable clothes are hard to come by (and several ladies who wrote to me complained of just that), I think I would consider ordering from KosherCasual.

You can also check out the KosherCasual blog.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Being presentable at home

I sometimes wonder how it happens that we wives and mothers often appear in the least attractive form to the people who love us the most, and who matter to us the most: our husbands and children.

I understand, of course, that home is a place to relax and feel comfortable, and I'm not talking about prancing around in high heels around the clock. I also understand the demands on the time of a busy mother, which often make us unable to wear make-up, groom our nails, or invest in other small details of caring for our appearance.

However, when we go out, even if it's just a quick trip to the grocery store, we don't wear pajamas, no matter how busy we are. We comb our hair (or at least I used to, before I got married and started wearing head scarves!). We might dress casually, but we still make ourselves presentable enough so we won't blush when we meet a neighbor along the way. This, I think, is a minimal reasonable level of decent appearance we ought to maintain at home as well, for the sake of our loved ones.

If your husband works outside the home, most likely he meets young, attractively dressed women every hour of every day. Even if he is the perfect family man, he can't help but notice the contrast when he comes home.

I wrote about this topic before, when I was still single. I must say dressing decently at home was easier while I didn't have an energetic little one to keep me on my toes, but still, my opinion remains largely the same.

I'm not always dressed up at home, but I do make a point to appear at my best at home in front of my husband, and not just when we go out. If I only dressed nicely for other people, what sort of message would my husband get?

In the long run, fueling a husband's attraction will be much more important to a woman's happiness than what other people think of her. I think our efforts should be distributed accordingly.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Images from the beginning of winter

It is the beginning of winter, even if it doesn't feel like it, with all the warm sunshine we've been getting lately. The mountains are preparing to welcome the rain.
Pine cones on the ground.

Cyclamens preparing to blossom.
Braided challah straight out of the oven.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The makings of a Shabbat

Pita bread looks good, doesn't it? Challah is more traditional, but pita goes better with the salads I normally serve at the beginning of the meal. But whatever we choose to make, my husband is quite the baker.

There are so many things to do it makes me feel slightly disoriented. Cooking and cleaning and ironing... fortunately, I have my to-do list to keep me on track.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A bit about observing Shabbat

I get many questions via email about Shabbat observance in our home, so I thought I would write a bit about it here.

The matters of Shabbat are so multiple and there is no way I will be able to discuss them all right now, so I'll just start by saying that the purpose of Shabbat is, of course, rest, though non-Jews are not expected or supposed to observe Shabbat in the same way Jews do.

For us, the types of work forbidden on the day of Shabbat are explicitly described so there is no problem defining what isn't supposed to be done. A general rule is not doing creative work (which would include painting as well as cooking) and not preparing for the upcoming week, which means that we don't sit around on Shabbat talking about what we are going to do tomorrow. This allows us to recharge mentally.

Naturally, there is still "work" to be done, such as serving meals and clearing up the table later, not to mention there's a baby to take care of, diapers to change, and dishes to wash.

Speaking of dishes, I wash mine. I simply don't have enough plates, cutlery, glasses and serving dishes to last me through the three Shabbat meals without washing up. So I wash what I need for Shabbat itself - I try to wash up the pots before Shabbat, but if I'm stuck with dirty pots, they wait until the Shabbat ends, because I wouldn't need them during Shabbat. I know families who simply let it all (dishes, glasses, etc) sit in the sink until the end of Shabbat. I don't do any wash up between the third meal and the end of Shabbat, because that's a period of time when we don't eat.

We heat our meals by using a Shabbat hot plate. A Shabbat hot plate is a simple device to keep food hot, but not hot enough to cook the food (as opposed to leaving the food on the stove). It turns on according to a pre-set clock so we have time to heat the food before meals. While I was single I didn't have a hot plate so I just ate cold food on Shabbat.

Other details of Shabbat: bathing the baby

Theoretically, I would be allowed to bathe the baby, but there's a problem with heating water on Shabbat, so I bathe her on Friday afternoon, and then her next bath is Saturday night.

Brushing our hair:

Brushing one's hair is forbidden on the day of Shabbat because hairs might get pulled out, but we can smooth out hair using one's hand. By the way we never had to brush Shira's hair yet, because it's so sleek.

Training children in Shabbat observance:

We always have Shira at the table with us during kiddush and meal times, and if she happens to touch something that we don't touch on Shabbat (like an electric appliance, a pencil, etc) we tell her "no. It's Shabbat!" - she will understand eventually.

Tending to animals:

Generally, there is no problem tending to the animals - your animals, just like your family members, need to eat, after all! And if you have a dog it must be taken out for a walk, Shabbat or no Shabbat.

I think it's very important that other family members pitch in with Shabbat chores (serving meals, clearing up) as well. I've been saddened to see families where people sit leisurely around the table, while the mother spends the entire meal dashing every minute to get this or that for one of the children, her husband, or the several guests that were invited. There is also the mad race from Friday morning till afternoon (you Jewish wives surely understand what I'm talking about!). Shabbat is supposed to be entered peacefully, not in a state of collapse from exhaustion.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The mad chase after degrees

It seems that today, hardly any people don't have a degree in something, which causes employers to be increasingly picky about people who don't have degrees, even if the job in question doesn't really require studies of three or four years. I used to work as a secretary when I was fresh out of high school, but now, most secretaries are required to have a degree, even though in my opinion it's completely unnecessary.

My husband is currently hunting for a job, and many places won't even interview him because he hasn't completed his degree yet. Those who do interview him, however, are deeply impressed by his level of both theoretical knowledge and practical skills. It's really frustrating that a piece of paper should stand in the way when everything else fits right in.

Not long ago, I was asked to provide daycare for a one-month-old baby. It didn't work out eventually and I'm glad it didn't, because it would have broken my heart to see this little one left with me every day, instead of being with his mother where he belongs. I refrained from judging, of course, because who knows what desperate circumstances might force a new mother outside the home so soon after her baby was born. I soon found out, however, that she was about to begin studying for a Master's degree - hardly an emergency. I remained speechless for several minutes after I heard this. This young woman, only 22 years old, now leaves both her babies in daycare every day before catching a ride to university. Again, who am I to judge another person's choices? Yet I can't help but wonder whether she will regret it in, say, ten years.

As you know, I have a degree in nutrition. While what I learned was interesting and useful, I don't think the degree would have been worth the sacrifice if I had to accumulate debt or postpone starting a family because of it. Thankfully, I didn't have to do any such thing, as I received a scholarship and continued to live at home. But now, practically, if I chose to work outside the home I wouldn't be able to afford a nanny. My friends from university work at jobs with the most pitiful salaries, which might be alright for them now as they don't have children yet, but I'm sure that as the years go by, choices will become increasingly painful and complicated. Four years of excruciating effort, and there is hardly any way they will earn more than the cleaning lady.

A young woman I know recently started a two-year study program which will give her a professional license. She was almost ashamed to admit that what she is doing isn't a degree. Yet what she is doing is much more sensible, in my eyes, if she plans to settle down anytime soon.

I'm not trying to bring across that degrees are useless. I'm just questioning their need for any and everyone. Now, it seems that even having a bachelor's degree isn't enough - more and more people are doing their masters', which means more years of much effort and little income. I do believe there is a place for a reform, for reasonable evaluation whether the job (or person) in question really requires a degree or not.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Becky continues writing her diary

The previous part here. Sorry for not updating for a while, but the draft isn't written in English so I need to translate and it takes time.

***

After dinner, we proceeded to the living room. I was strongly tempted to try and see just how wrinkled my skirt was at the back, but refrained from doing that. Aunt Anne served tea and cakes – Catherine made them two days ago, and they were still good. Everyone took their favorite place on the old sofa and armchairs.

- You know, Becky, - I jumped up, startled, when David addressed me, - when I first found out why you are going to live with us, I felt really sorry for you.

Oh no. Why does he have to bring this up now, in front of everyone? Even though his voice was very quiet, I was pretty sure Aunt Anne and Catherine are listening.

- Mom forbade us to tell you this, though, - he went on.

- I'm glad she did, - I nodded, - I don't want anyone to pity me. Around here, I'm treated just like one of you, and that's how it should be.

As soon as I said this, I felt just how true it is. As annoying as it can sometimes get around here, I didn't want to be singled out. Somehow, being treated just like Catherine made adjustment easier.

... Today, Aunt Anne felt better and even ventured into making strawberry jam early in the morning. It smelled delicious. When I went down to the kitchen, it felt as though I'm standing in the middle of a bountiful strawberry patch.

Naturally, Catherine was in the kitchen too, preparing to make pancakes for breakfast.

- Want me to lend you a hand, Cat? – I asked, surprising even myself, though not as much as Aunt Anne and Catherine, who both gave me startled looks. However, Catherine just smiled and handed me the pan. And imagine this, I spent an entire hour making pancakes while I could have been sleeping.

Later, while we were breakfasting and everyone piled up their plates with pancakes and fresh strawberry jam, Aunt Anne declared that today, as a special treat, school is called off. Her last words were drowned in exclamations of delight from Sam, Nat and Rachel. I, however, lowered my eyes and merely played with my food.

- What's the matter, Becky? – Asked Catherine, - Strawberry jam not to your taste?

- No, no, it's delicious, - I said quickly and started shoveling pancake into my mouth. A second later, I chocked, and after a coughing fit and lots of clapping on the back from Catherine, I gave up on eating anything else and just finished drinking my cup of coffee in total silence.

All of a sudden, I remembered that conversation with Catherine, when I first told her about Ted Pearson, the boyfriend I had back home. It might sound strange, but I really wished I hadn't said anything about it. Of course, I only touched the subject once, but I felt sure Catherine could remember it, because of how shocked she had been when I brought it up.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

After the rain

We've had a couple of really rainy days here. I love the feeling of the first heavy rains of the year, spending my time holed up at home, watching out of the window as our plants are drinking their fill. When the sun came out again, everything was nice and washed up after the rain, and our garden truly came to life.
Plants have hit a growth spurt, and some funny creatures came out. I'm not sure what these are, bu when we have chickens, they will love to eat them, don't you think?
Yesterday and today, it's time to catch up on laundry, which has been put on hold during the rain (we don't have a dryer) and see my clothesline nice and full again.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Chickens

Dear friends,

It looks as though my husband and I are soon going to venture into raising chickens in our back yard. The chickens will be intended only for eggs and not for meat. Since we are real novices in this area, I thought I'd share some of our questions and concerns here, in the hope that some of you who are experienced in raising chickens can give us a bit of advice. We have already read through Rhonda's excellent guide for raising chickens, but there are still some questions left.

A little note about the climate in our area: it's generally pretty warm here in Israel, but some winter days it can be as low as 0 degrees Celsius and that must be taken into account.

Nests. How do we arrange nests for chickens and make sure they lay their eggs there and not all over the place? There is one guy in our area who has chickens, and every morning he combs his entire yard, collecting the eggs. We would like to avoid that if at all possible.

We would like to get our chickens as young as possible, but we want only hens. How old must the chicks be before you can tell the hens from the roosters?

How do we make sure we avoid salmonella?

Frugal feeding. Any tips? How should the chickens' diet change, and at which stage, as they approach laying age?

Which breeds are the most reasonable to have in your back yard? I mean taking everything into account - a reasonably large number of eggs (doesn't have to be too many, but preferably not too little), friendliness, ability to get along with each other and with children, neighbors and other animals.

Do chickens like to eat ants, and if yes, which breeds prefer ants and other insects? We have repeated infestations of ants all over our yard no matter what we do.

We haven't got a chicken coop yet, but our back yard is very small so we think we'll get something of about 120X60 cm (that's about 4X2 feet), which should house a small flock of about 3-4 birds. Do you think that should be enough? What about the height? Should 80 cm be enough? We intend to let them roam around the yard during the day.

Predators. We have plenty of foxes in our area; is there a way to guard the chickens from the foxes without having to lock them in the coop every night? Sounds tricky, I know. Or will we have to lock them in every time we go to sleep? My husband came up with the idea of perhaps lifting the coop up from the ground and installing ladders, or maybe placing something that will ward the foxes off but I'm not sure it can work.

What do we do if we need to be away for a few days?

Are there plants or any kinds of food that are harmful to the chickens and should be kept away from them?

I think that's about all for now. I might come up with more questions as we embark on our chicken adventure. Thanks in advance for sharing your experience!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Why should a breech baby mean an automatic c-section?

I feel very strongly something is wrong with this practice of automatic c-sections when the baby is breech. After all, merely a generation ago breech births were considered almost routine. I know many people who were born breech. I do realize there are more risks to a breech birth, but why does it automatically have to be a c-section?

I suspect that at least a part of it is because the doctors making the decision about the delivery are thinking short-term. They don't really know their patient, and they certainly won't have to meet her in a year or two, when the risks and complications from the (perhaps unnecessary) c-section present themselves when she is pregnant again. If this time she truly is in need of a c-section, performing two of those makes it highly unlikely for her to have a natural delivery in the future.

I think it's a point of grave concern that these days, as my doctor told me, young doctors are not even taught how to deliver breech births, and rely entirely on c-sections. This means short-changing women who could deliver a breech baby with no complications if only they were given a chance.

Read this article; it seems that in some countries, the medical community is starting to become more open-minded towards this issue. I hope Israel follows.

Also take a look at this article about a campaign to stop unnecessary inductions.