Sunday, February 28, 2010

The single, the elderly, and the community

Buffy mentioned in one of her comments that many of the professions now typically associated with women (teachers, nurses, even secretaries) are actually a way for unmarried women to display their feminine gift of a caring nature while they yet have no family.

It's a very interesting point of view, and in fact I somewhat agree. In the past, unmarried women were important members of the community, and their family and acquaintances were greatly blessed by the gift of time they had. Single women could take care of their elderly relatives or neighbors, or help take care of their sisters' children, or help new mothers with housework. There are endless possibilities to help others when one has time.

Now, however, when the families and communities have become so fractured, many single women find themselves lonely, and together with how most of us were raised, no wonder they feel useless if they have no paid job and no paycheck. On the flip side, many of the elderly spend their days in nursing homes, where they feel lonely and abandoned by their family.

Have you ever been to a nursing home? Even the best of them are institutionalized settings, not a real home. True, some elderly people need the help of professional nurses, but many just need some assistance in everyday chores. Because no one in their family can spare the time to provide such assistance for them, they are sent to nursing homes, which is very sad in my opinion.

My grandmother, who recently celebrated her 94-th birthday, has lived with us ever since I was born. She still lives with my mother. What she needs more than physical assistance is company. So many elderly people are lonely and neglected, even if all their physical needs are met. Depression leads many of them to eat very little and be malnourished, and no wonder – who likes to eat alone all the time? I believe that if my grandmother was placed in a nursing home, her condition would quickly deteriorate.

Of course, part of the equation is that people simply have smaller families. If a grandmother has five children and twenty-five grandchildren, at least some of them will probably make time for her. But if she only has one child, who has moved away, and one or two grandchildren, she is far more likely to end up living in a nursing home with no visitors.

I truly think we cannot over-estimate the value of strong, close-knit communities. I know that right now, not everyone can live near their family, but communities can be built anywhere, and they make a wonderful change in people's lives.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Oznei Haman

I spent a very pleasant morning today making the traditional Purim cookies, Oznei Haman, also known as Hamentashen. I made them with date filling (though any filling can be used), and the dough I used was very simple and nice to work with.

2 1\2 cups flour
1 tbsp. dry yeast
Approx. 1/2 cup oil
1/2 cup warm water
2-3 tbsp. sugar

Knead and let the dough rest for a short while, no more than half an hour. It isn't supposed to rise more than just a little. Roll out and cut circles out of the dough with a cup or glass. Put some filling in the middle of each 
circle, and close the edges towards the middle so that a triangle is formed (push three sides up).


Bake at medium heat for approx. 20 minutes.

Happy Purim to all my Jewish readers! 

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Bad financial advice


In an online question on an Orthodox Jewish website, I read the following:

"My wife and I are the parents of two young children, one is 2 years old and our new baby is 3 months old. We are now deliberating whether my wife should go back to her work, as her salary will be close to nothing, daycare costs deduced. What do you think?"

The reply this man got was this:

"It's highly advisable that your wife goes back to work, even if  the immediate financial gain will not be large, to enable her to grow as a professional and provide future prospects for a higher paying job."

I, of course, don't think this advice is at all wise, financially or otherwise. If my opinion was asked, I would have said the following:

Nobody promises that your wife will indeed get a pay rise or a higher-paying job in the future. The stress your entire family will experience due to both of you being out and about and your children in daycare, however, is guaranteed.

There are other work-related costs apart from daycare and commute, which are the most obvious. To name just a few: likelihood of buying expensive convenience foods increases because there is no time to cook; some women need work clothes that are more expensive than what they would have worn at home; there is a tendency to "treat oneself" for "working so hard".

When one of the children is sick, sometimes the parent who stays home is the one with the higher salary, because the parent with the lower salary is forced by more pressing responsibilities to go to work (example: a teacher must prepare her class for an exam, so the one who stays home with a sick child is her husband, whose day at work is worth three times as much as hers, money-wise). And of course, children who attend daycare with a group of other infants are more prone to get sick in the first place.

Unless one of you is a teacher, you will face the issue of how to occupy your children during summer vacations, which often involves expensive summer camps and study programs.  

And, perhaps the saddest of all, working women are often forced to give up breastfeeding their child, which introduces the cost of formula.

You are an Orthodox Jewish family with only two young children. God willing, you will have more. Daycare payments might well be an issue for you until your wife is in her forties. This means not a year or two, but decades of working for free. It doesn't look like a very good bargain to me.

On the other hand, if your wife stays home, not only the direct costs of daycare will be eliminated, but your wife will also have more time to do things that take time and save money, such as cooking from scratch, mending the family's clothes, and perhaps growing some of the food you eat. She will be more readily available to play with the children and make up games with them, eliminating the need for expensive toys. She will have the physical and mental energy to stretch the family money in creative ways you wouldn't think of otherwise.

She will also have more time to make the home a pleasant place, not a cluttered, messy corner you all want to escape (usually to places where you are likely to eat out and spend even more money, such as shopping malls).

Your wife might even research ways of doing something creative from home that will enable her to earn money, once she has more help from the older children and some of her time is freed up.  

 This is my advice to this young family, and other families in a similar situation. I can only hope they follow their hearts, as the heart of a mother will almost inevitably lead her to stay close to her children whenever at all possible.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The feminine professions

People often talk about professions that are "good for women", and indeed, some fields have become primarily female-dominated. These fields, such as teaching, nursing, and administrative jobs, cater to the women's natural abilities of care-giving and paying attention to details.

Usually, when it is said that a certain profession is "good for a woman/mother", what is meant is the following:

1. It isn't a male-oriented profession
2. It allows part-time work and/or flexible hours
3. It isn't very competitive
4. It usually isn't what could be called a career – it doesn't involve many years of extensive training, and there is a definite limit to how tall a ladder the woman can climb. It's a profession that will allow a "quiet life."

The last point, by the way, is sometimes a cause of disdain: people who hear that their former, very "promising" classmate, is working as a teacher, shrug and say, "oh well, that's a good job for a mother", meaning that "of course, now that she has a family, she can probably aim for no better."

And if we are talking about teaching, I'm not at all sure that having mostly women as teachers is that good for children in the long run. In the Orthodox Jewish sector, for example, families have multiple children. In the school where I work, someone is always expecting and someone is always on maternity leave. This means that children are often stuck mid-year, for a period of several months, with a substitute teacher who doesn't know them and has no idea how to relate to them. This is a huge setback, in my opinion, in addition to the fact that class dynamics don't allow much personal student-teacher interaction in the first place.

Then, just as the students begin to get used to their substitute teacher, their permanent teacher returns and has no idea what has really been going on in class in her absence. I have had that happen to me in the year of highschool when we were supposed to take our history exam, and it wrecked havoc in our learning process.

Or take for example being a nurse, which is considered a good profession for a woman because the work is in shifts, which supposedly allows you to spend more time with your family. Practically, what does it mean? That a woman might take care of her children during the morning and afternoon, and then she goes to work a night shift when her husband comes home. If I'm the only one who thinks this is an undue burden, I'll be surprised.

There's also the saying that "we NEED women in that profession." Ob/gyns are probably the most common example. I won't deny I wouldn't feel at all comfortable with a male ob/gyn, and in fact, the rabbinical guideline on this matter is that a woman should see a female ob/gyn when at all possible. But I also think that medical school is one of the worst options for women (at least here in Israel). After 10 years of grueling studies and professional training, most of the graduates are in their thirties by the time they are done, and many postpone having families until then. Doctors are also the ones to most often experience professional burn-out, which cannot be good for their family life.

And you know what else I have noticed? My (female) ob/gyn, although she is a wonderful person, does not use so much of her feminine traits – her intuition, her sympathy, her personal birth experience – in her work. She is working "by the book", which gives her no advantage over a male ob/gyn, who has no idea what being pregnant and giving birth is really all about.

I don't really need as many visits to my ob/gyn as it is common to take. Traditionally, pregnancies and births were attended by midwives – midwifery is far more flexible than medical school, and far more fitting to women, especially older ones. I daresay that professional midwife care, coupled with modern medical equipment to carefully monitor the woman's condition, is enough for a normal pregnancy and birth, and ob/gyns may only be "reserved" for emergencies. It's a pity that midwife care is not developed in Israel. When I was in labor with Shira, just the stress of having doctors hovering all over me stalled labor altogether, after which I fled that hospital and went to another  one, where my child was successfully delivered by non-interfering midwives.

Overall, I believe that the only profession that is truly "good for a woman" is the work of being a wife and mother, which is enough to keep most of us busy as it is. Even a part-time job is stressful for a woman who has children at home. I think it's very sad how people sit for hours discussing which profession will do less damage to a woman's family life.

A neighbor of mine recently quit her job to stay home with her child, who is about the same age as Shira. When she hesitantly told me about her decision, I wholeheartedly congratulated her and told her she will never regret it. She has important work to do, and however she may be "needed in her field", she is more needed at home.        

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Student loans: look towards the future before you take them

If you haven't read my previous post about student debt, I suggest you have a look at the post and especially at the comments, which provide a lot of material for thought and in fact prompted me to write this.

Several women who commented confirm a trend which I have already noticed in comments and emails I received from blog readers: young women invest time, energy and especially money (for which they often have to take loans) for a prestigious degree, and then realize a few years down the road that in truth, that they just want to be wives and mothers. They then face the agonizing choices: should they postpone starting a family? Go to work despite having little ones around? Stay home even though they know that paying off debt will be difficult on one income?

Here are some quotes from my readers:

One of my largest regrets is that I didn't keep my student loan debt down. When I married a year ago I carried about $25,000 in student loans with me… we know we can't start having children until it's gone because we can't eliminate it on a single income. All this for an education that will be of little value to me as a stay-at-home mother.(Melanie)

I have a lot of student debt, but I decided to stay home with my little one anyway, despite the fact that we have no way to pay. My thinking changed radically at the end of college and at that time I wished I had never gone but it was too late.

I hope to warn others that college should not be viewed as something mandatory to be pursued at all costs; something I was brainwashed to believe. I was scammed. (Catherine)

I was foolish and took out way too much money in student loan and it's adversely impacted my family (e.g. making it impossible for me to stay at home with my son, etc.). We live very frugally, so that we might be able to pay off my loans. But, at 24, when I took out my last loan, I didn't realize my PhD was not going to be that valuable. (Marianne)

I am one of those women who started university without the remotest idea that soon upon graduation, I will meet my husband and become a stay-at-home wife, and then, less than a year later, a mother. Thankfully for me, I passed through with no debt. I'm not sorry for having my degree, it has come in handy a few times and perhaps will be useful in the future if we apply for permission to homeschool, but if I had to get in debt to pay for my education, I'd say the price is too high as practically I'm not working in the field.

Why does that happen? I think the key to understanding this trend is the fact that most of us were indoctrinated to believe that college and career are the only true way to fulfill our potential, and therefore, girls who are intelligent and accomplished simply see no other path ahead of them.

The problem is, what looks glamorous to a young single can often turn out to be not at all practical to a woman once she becomes a wife and mother and re-evaluates the choices she has made so far. If she was careful and acquired no debt, she can usually step off the career ladder (although often not without feelings of guilt and inadequacy heaped upon her for "wasting" her precious education). If she has debt, she might discover that she is in bondage and the "freedom" she was supposed to have as a young, well-educated woman is actually slavery to a huge student loan, which doesn't permit her to go and raise her family in peace. 

We are wired to strongly desire marriage and children; God created us that way, and the false suggestion that wifehood and motherhood are "just one of the options" brings a lot of misery to women's lives. Even women who are caught up in their careers more often than not feel an overwhelming desire to start a family at one point or another, at the cost of an agony-inducing inner conflict, and then many times they discover that getting married and bearing children is far more difficult than it would have been a decade ago – most of the normal, nice men have already married someone who was happy to dedicate herself to family life, and time is running out.

If young girls are brought up with the goal of marriage and motherhood in mind, it is likely they will think far more carefully before leaping into ten years in medical schools and heaps of student debt to go with it. Ask any young girl whether she wants to get married and have children, and the answer will almost undoubtedly be yes. Ask her how she intends to combine family life with the prestigious and time-consuming career path she is about to start, and you'll most likely get a blank look. If you insist, she will stammer, or cheerfully insist that "it will all work out somehow." Not so; not without a careful plan.  

Young women need to take into consideration that the majority of them will become wives and mothers. When this is a background thought, the entire lookout is different. It's possible to choose to study for a degree or certificate that will enable a woman to work flexible hours from home, and/or start her own business. Or it's possible to simply choose broader education that will later help with homeschooling. Those are non-competitive options which do not require lots of debt, and often allow a young woman to continue living at home and being an asset to her family.

I'm writing this because I truly feel for women who are trapped in situations that are bad for them and their families, because of rash choices they made when they were younger. I could easily have been one of them. 

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Student debt gone to extreme

Here is an interesting article about a case of student debt gone to extreme. It talks about a woman who, due to poor financial management, will probably live with her student debt for the rest of her life. The debt is ruining her life and preventing her from starting a family.

Most students who take loans to pursue their education manage to pay off their debt eventually, but it can still be a heavy burden for years, and it's not always worth it, especially if the person in question is a woman who eventually decides she wants to stay at home with her family, on a permanent basis or at least while her children are young. I can't count the times when I've had readers tell me (through comments or emails) that they are only working to pay off their student debt, so that they can stay home with their children. The early years in marriage often take some financial adjustment anyway (new responsibilities, purchasing a house, having a first child). Starting family life with the additional burden of debt must be very stressful.

I believe that the need for higher education for any and everyone must be re-evaluated in the first place. Universities, and here in Israel especially private colleges, have become places that gobble up our money, often without the students' effort paying off in the future. In some professions, it's very difficult to find employment. Others don't pay off nearly as well as you'd think, considering how much effort people put into acquiring their degree.

In some fields, like nutrition, young professionals (around here) are paid very little in their first years of work, until they have enough authority to build a private clientele, and the prestigious work in hospitals, which helps to keep up a professional profile, is always low-paid. One can often get more in unprofessional jobs. When I see how my friends from university are doing in that regard, I think to myself that when they are no longer single, they will need to re-evaluate. Either they will postpone having children (for how long, I don't know, nature does have its limits), or they will stay home with them – or they will work nearly for free, daycare costs deduced.

Ideally, I think a person should save up for education in advance. It makes more sense to me to postpone higher education for a year or two, work and save up, than to take a loan and dive in, and later have that loan hanging over your head for years. If parents can help out that's wonderful, but I don't think they should feel obligated to do so, and if they do help, I think they are within their rights to question whether that particular education path they are paying for is indeed a sensible choice for their child.

During my years in university, I lived at home, went to and from campus by bus, worked part-time in private tutoring and translating, and in general lived very frugally. I don't have and never had a credit card. I finished my education with no debt, which was wonderful because, although there was no way I could anticipate it, I got married very soon after graduation. My husband was always very financially responsible as well, so we were off to a good start.

 I'm not saying a student loan should never be an option. Sometimes, when it's fairly certain the professional degree will be a great economical boost, it would make sense to take a modest loan rather than to work for more years in unprofessional low-paying jobs. But overall I believe we should all strive to be debt-free.

We opted not to take a mortgage, but instead to buy a house in an area where housing is cheaper, and where our savings were nearly enough to cover the house. You can imagine how glad we are about that now. Yes, there are still bills to be paid, but at least we're not slaves to mortgage. Mortgages are so common here that having one isn't considered being in debt at all, but it is debt, and one that will often keep a family tied in a knot for 20 or 30 years. People live in nice, impressive apartments, but they haven't really paid for them yet, and if the main bread-winner is laid off, the situation can become very complicated indeed.

Debt will weigh you down. Living with past debts will often prevent you from doing what is good for your family now, such as having the wife and mother stay home. If you are out of debt, good for you – stay out of it. If you are in debt, work carefully towards eliminating it. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Poor weight gain in older babies

Many of you probably remember that back when Shira was 4 months old, I was informed that her slow weight gain is obviously and without a doubt caused by me not having enough milk; and I was told to switch to formula.

I contacted La Leche League, tossed away the advice of formula-feeding, and continued to exclusively nurse my baby. Supposedly, if the pediatrician's theory was correct, I was to expect a major leap in weight gain once we started solids, but it never happened.

I never returned to see that pediatrician again, but if I did, I would dearly love to hear her explanations on why my child is still gaining slowly now, when my breast milk is no longer her primary source of nutrition. Perhaps it would make her think twice next time she's about to tell a young mother she "doesn't have enough milk".

Our current pediatrician made the ridiculous and insulting suggestion that we're underfeeding our child. For the record, Shira happens to be an exceptionally good eater. She'll eat practically anything and has an excellent appetite. She's healthy and very active. When we said so, we were told to stuff our child on bottles of milk and cornflour. I was also recommended to wean my baby so that she would eat more (quite a ridiculous bit of advice, as breast milk is high in calories, but especially ridiculous considering the fact that our daughter is already eating a wide variety of foods). Our pediatrician actually told us with all seriousness that "you can't add cornflour to mother's milk."

Now, that was one of the moments when I was very happy to have 4 years of nutrition studies under my belt. As I pointed out to our pediatrician, there are so many ways to boost a child's diet with healthy, calorie-rich foods, when it is really needed, especially when a child is not a picky eater. Truly, some pediatricians desperately need to upgrade their knowledge on both breastfeeding and children's nutrition.

Some days later, I happened to get together with two neighbors for a chat. It turned out that their children (aged 12-18 months), too, were labeled as not growing fast enough, and their concerned mothers had a whole array of frightening suggestions thrown at them, from various absorption problems to growth hormone deficiency.

I do believe that if a doctor suspects something serious is responsible for the child's slow growth, it's better to perform the necessary tests (though I personally wouldn't rush to do invasive procedures) and rather be safe than sorry. However, I must ask myself, if so many healthy children happen to be off the growth charts, might it be that the charts, not the children, are at fault?

Mother in Israel wrote about the topic some time ago: here and here

The comments below the posts are very informative as well. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Easy crustless potato quiche


This is one of my favorites for a quick lunch.

3 large potatoes, peeled and roughly grated, or else pre-cooked and mashed.
1 large carrot, grated or finely chopped
About 1/2 cup fresh or frozen peas
2-3 onions, sliced and fried
3 eggs, beaten and salted and spiced to taste

If I ever want to make this dish dairy, I think some grated cheese wouldn't go amiss either.

Mix all ingredients in a baking pan and press slightly with the back of a spoon.

Bake at medium heat for about one hour, or until the top of the quiche is nicely browned.   

Monday, February 15, 2010

Pretty knitting

The beautiful dishcloths and pretty little dress were knitted for us by my friend Rose. I'm sharing them here so that you, too, can admire Rose's very skillful knitting. 

Hand-made items are my very favorite kind of gift, because of all the time and love that goes into them. 

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A book He is writing

Mom and Daughter Reading Wood Sign
"Don't you think it's rather nice to think that we're in a book that God's writing? If I were writing a book, I might make mistakes. But God knows how to make the story end just right – in the way that's best for us."

"Do you really believe that, Mother?" Peter asked quietly.

"Yes," she said, "I do believe it – almost always – except when I'm so sad that I can't believe anything. But even when I can't believe it, I know it's true – and I try to believe it."

Edith Nesbit, "The Railway Children"

Photo credit: allposters.com

Saturday, February 13, 2010

There is an amazing God

There is an amazing God, and His everlasting presence in my life is my sweetest comfort.

When I'm happy, He rejoices with me. When I suffer, he cries with me, even if my grief was brought by my own foolishness.

When I feel worse than worthless, he explains to me that I am cherished and precious, that I am, and always will be, His beloved child.

When I feel inadequate about making a mistake, He tells me no one is without fault, for He knows that love and mercy, not harsh judgment, will motivate me to correct my ways.

When I'm afraid I'm losing my sanity, He assures me that I am simply tired and sad, He can tell the difference – and He puts fresh vigor in my heart to go and do something that will make things at least a bit better straight away.

When I feel useless because there is never enough time and energy to do everything I should do, He gently points out to me that in the long run, what now causes havoc and stress and criticism, will make no difference, no difference at all.

As long as I am with Him, I shall never be alone – and I shall call Him into my life. I will take this walk beside Him while I get up from bed, prepare for the day, move along doing my duties as a wife and mother.

I only need to close my eyes to be taken to a place where I am always loved and cherished, and where harsh words are never spoken.

He is Love, He is Truth, He is balm and healing to broken souls. He will never forsake. How thankful I am for that. 

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Modesty at work

Some days ago, I finished reading a book that talked about various aspects of modesty, and how we can all improve in this area. It was written by an Israeli Orthodox rabbi.

In particular, some valuable advice was offered on how men and women should conduct themselves in places of work with both male and female employees – no touching, even casual, no conversation outside the boundaries of business, being careful not to remain alone with a member of the opposite sex even for a short while.

All these precautions might sound excessive, but the truth is, men and women are wired to be attracted to each other, and when they are cooped up together for many hours a day, the spark just might go off some time, wrecking havoc in people's lives. Countless families had been ruined because of affairs in the work place.  

However, the author glossed over the most important aspect of the problem: the presence of both men and women at work in the first place.

I know I risk sounding radical, but I truly believe one must be blind to not be aware of the dangers in free intermingling of men and women. The problem is exacerbated when men and women stay overnight in close proximity, such as in college dorms or in the army. Every year, there are stories about how high rank officials in the Israeli army were caught in affairs with young female soldiers who were assigned to be their secretaries. We are talking about girls of about 18-20 years of age. Many of their commanders are married, and the resulting tragedy casts a shadow on the entire lives of these young women.

As careful as we are, as certain as we might be that our own family life is beyond such risks, awkward situations can and do happen. It's not just about blatantly immodest dress and behavior; perhaps even more dangerous is the intimacy and friendship that develops when sitting next to each other for a long time every day. I truly believe most people have the best interests in heart, and most affairs begin innocently, until one day they are not innocent anymore.

True, we are supposed to resist temptation should we be tested, but there is a barrier of avoiding temptation in the first place. Ignoring this barrier, I believe, is rooted in pride and excessive security in one's own resistance. You never know how slippery a situation can get, and how quickly.

Back when the majority of women were homemakers, the problem of morals in the work place did not exist to such extent. I don't believe in radical artificial isolation of men from women (separate sidewalks, obligatory separation in buses, as can be seen in some areas of Israel), but when most people in a woman's surroundings are other women and she only sometimes has random polite contact with men, much of the problem is solved. 


PS: I'm in the process of incorporating some ads into my sidebar, and I hope you will bear with me while I work it out. To tell the truth, I prefer seeing ad-free blogs and I kept my own blog ad-free for a long time, but at the current situation, if I might earn a bit from ads I can't pass it up. I hope you don't mind too much. Thanks for your patience! 

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Eating from your pantry

I adore fresh, home-cooked food made from fresh products. It's really the best for you – tasty, healthy, nutritious. But sometimes, compromises must be made. A generation or two ago, when fresh vegetables and fruit were still available only seasonally, during the winter people ate mostly fruit and veggies preserved in various ways – canned, salted, pickled, made into jams and jellies. Salted fish and meat were also common ingredients in winter meals.

Our grandmothers were experts in canning. Often, the circumstances required it – if you didn't can and preserve, you would have nothing to last you through the winter. Today, canning is oftentimes a lost art, but people who have large gardens with lots of surplus products are re-learning it. And some foods, like olives for example, are usually only eaten in their preserved/canned form. About a year and a half ago, my husband collected some olives and canned them (I don't remember exactly how he did it, but there was no special equipment involved). We only finished the jar a couple of months ago, and the olives did not spoil.

As a rule of the thumb, fresh produce is usually cheaper than pre-packaged, processed foods, but canned foods and grains and dry beans can often be cheaper than fresh vegetables and fruit. When your grocery budget is low, sometimes you have no choice but to opt for the cheaper parts of the fresh produce aisle, and heavily supplement your diet with ingredients from the pantry, whether they are something you grew/preserved yourself, or store-bought.

Here are some ideas:

Rice and lentils, in its varieties. Quick, easy, cheap, nutritious, readily available. Can be served as a side dish, but for us on weekdays, it can also be dinner, when served with something little on the side like salad or sautéed vegetables.

Tuna salad, made from canned tuna, again in its varieties – with avocado, canned corn, tomatoes, onions, pickles, olives. Served along with some bread, cheese and hummus, it can be a light lunch or dinner as well.

Enrich your soups with dry and canned beans. Ironically, canned beans can sometimes be cheaper than dry. Canned beans have the advantage that you don't have to soak them before use, but I prefer to buy dry beans whenever possible, because they take up less space than cans.

Other things that can be kept for a long time: onions, carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, apples. Those, too, we often buy in bulk and later use up in small portions.

An unexpected bonus of eating seasonally is the excitement of waiting for all those fruit and vegetables to become available (or available at normal prices, in our day!). My mother told me that the first time they ate fresh cucumbers after a long winter, was like a small celebration. This is something we are unfamiliar with, used as we are to anything being there all the time. I think doing without certain foods for a while would make us so much more appreciative of God's bounty when we can eat them again.

PS: anonymous comments are back, for the benefit of my faithful readers who were having some problem with the OpenID option. I added word verification, though. It's annoying, but with the amount of spam I've received lately, I'm afraid there's no choice.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Some more on stockpiling

My husband and I are both recovering from a nasty cold, so I hope you bear with me while my thoughts run a bit incoherent today.

Following my stockpiling post, one reader commented that she would like to stockpile but doesn't have the space. Many people, including myself, have a problem with storage space. We live in a tiny two-bedroom house, and my kitchen is just a small area where we managed to squeeze a refrigerator, a portable gas stove and a toaster oven. I barely have room for the bare essentials in my kitchen, let alone keeping a stockpile. I don't have a pantry either.

Read here about creative solutions for stockpile storage. Personally, we keep our stockpile in a cabinet in Shira's bedroom. The cabinet is soon going to be removed, and we'll have a closet installed in its stead – much more effective, storage space-wise. Then, our stockpile will be moved to the closet. An unorthodox solution, but it will have to do until we have a nice big kitchen with lots of cabinets.

Our stockpile was not created deliberately, it just grew; most often, my husband would see something on sale, and buy several items instead of just one for immediate use. There's often something at a good price that can be stored for a long time – canned vegetables, pasta, rice, non-perishables such as shampoo and toilet paper. I must admit that back then, I felt a little pang in my heart whenever I saw the grocery bill, thinking to myself that here are things we could do without, taking up storage space. Time proved that I was wrong.

I was always of the philosophy that buying something you didn't plan to buy was still spending money, even if the price is very good. It is indeed a fine line between stockpiling wisely and becoming a pack rat. Unhealthy foods, snacks loaded with salt and sugar, are never a good deal even if they happen to be very cheap. And luxury items won't help you stretch your budget, no matter how you look at it.

Yes, it's true that we bought more than we needed at the moment, but back then, we could spare the extra cash. I was very glad we did when time came to cutting back costs as much as we could (even though we always did our best to live frugally).

All over the world, people are struggling with the results of a major recession. People who didn't imagine it would ever come to that, now have to think twice before buying a pack of beans or some canned tuna. I know it's unpleasant to think about such possibilities, but it may happen. Being well stocked up on the essentials makes the tough times pass more easily.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Stockpiling


Up until around six months ago, we used to buy in bulk many foodstuffs that can be stored for a long period of time. That includes pasta, rice, canned foods, dry beans, etc. We accumulated quite a nice stockpile of food that was bought at very good prices.

Building and keeping a stockpile is recommended, but of course, it will only work if you have at least some spare cash each week to buy more than you need at the moment. Right now, we keep our grocery shopping to a minimum, and eat a lot from our stockpile. This really helps to reduce the grocery bill.

When things get better, financially, I hope we can replenish our stockpile again. We'll keep an eye on those non-quickly-perishables at good prices, and buy some for immediate use, and some for stockpiling. Some of that stuff can last for years. Just one caveat: each year before Pesach, we need to get rid of the items that are not kosher for Pesach. Last year, it meant giving away a pile of pasta.

There is really something very comforting about knowing that you have a lot of food in your house, food that can tide your family over in tough times. Having a stockpile may also reduce the frequency of shopping, which saves money and time.

Photo credit

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The professional homemaker

Today's more liberal brands of feminism are trying to convince us that they are not anti-family; that "being a wife and mother is an option like any other for today's women", and therefore, as they cheerfully point out, a woman can be a wife and mother, or a doctor, or a scientist, or an engineer – and all of these options are equally valid, and equally worth of protection by those who are concerned about women's rights and liberation.

The problem? Most women will want to get married and have children – even those who have ambitious professionalism drilled into their heads from a young age. The desire to be a wife, mother and homemaker is so overwhelmingly strong that no modern waves can stamp it out of women. What we have been, tragically, sold, is the myth that we can delay marriage and motherhood for as long as we want, and juggle it with any type of career.

Of course, this kind of thinking led to a tragedy for an entire generation of women, who remain single after they realized – too late – that they should have boarded the train earlier. Others are struggling with fertility treatments, clinging onto the slim hope of ever having a child. We have way too many celebrated stories in the press about women who became mothers well past their 40-th birthday, and too few presentations of how often fertility treatments actually fail for older women, statistically speaking.

I'm not saying that marrying late, never marrying or never having children is something that didn't happen in the past. Surely, there was always a small number of older singles. But in the past decades, it has become commonplace, too commonplace – women are told to get busy chasing degrees and careers, to do things that are "worthwhile"… which, coincidentally, are not the things that we are wired to be truly happy and content with.

The result is that we are always in an inner conflict, always anxious as to whether we are truly doing what we are supposed to be doing, wondering whether we are spending enough time with our husbands and children vs. professional "investments". Whether we won't come to regret, in a few years, the choices we made.

I have noticed that the attitude of men and women towards work is drastically different, in the more educated/ambitious circles. Men usually talk about good jobs with good prospects that will enable them to take care of their families. Women talk much more often about doing something "interesting", about fulfillment and personal growth. Some say, "I would love to stay home now that my children are little, but I must think about my future." Future – translated as the years when the children are older, when supposedly being a homemaker is not justified. I'd rephrase and say, "I need to stay home now, because I must think about my future." What do I want to have in my future? Heaps of student debt? A blur of years I struggle through, exhausted? Or happy, well-adjusted children who are used to the comforting presence of their mother at home?

I have heard 30-year-old women debating about whether they should dedicate their next five years to doing a PhD, or to having and raising another child. They fully realize that later, whatever they choose, it might be too late for the other option. Whenever I have the chance, I say, "you will never regret the time you spend mothering your children."

I don't think I can ever refer to myself as a "professional" homemaker, because my desire to have a good family and an orderly, peaceful home is so much more than the wish to have a career. It's simply the deepest desire of my heart.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A song about housework

A blog reader shared a song about housework with me, and it put a smile on my face on a rather gloomy day, when I was just about to head out of the house to do some boring work outside. I decided, in my turn, to share the song with you. Apparently it was written sometime in the 1940's, but I feel it fits very well to these days!

***

"Homework"

I'm so tired of working in an office
And it's making me blue
There is work that don't require an office
That I'm anxious to do

Homework, I want to do homework
Instead of an office, I want to work home

Staying at home and crocheting
And meekly obeying
The guy who comes home

A cozy kitchen to be in there pitchin'
Is the thing I'm longing to do
To be there learning when a steak needs turning
And just what goes into a stew

Homework, I want to do homework
A genius who sits and plans with pots and pans at home
A genius who bakes a pie that keeps a guy at home

[2]
Homework, I want to do homework
Instead of an office, I want to work home

Messing around with French dressing
And slightly impressing
The guy who comes home

I long to settle with a steaming kettle
And a frying pan and a pot
And be the keeper of a carpet sweeper
That's the one ambition I've got

Homework, I want to do homework
A genius who has a way that makes him stay at home
A genius who has what takes that makes or breaks a home

[3]
Homework, I want to do homework
Instead of an office, I want to work home

Patching his trousers and matching
The part that keeps scratching
The guy who comes home

A table wiper who can change a diaper
Is the thing I'd like to be best
And be the master of a mustard plaster
When the cold goes down to his chest

Homework, I want to do homework
A genius who does her part so he don't start to roam
A genius who earns her keep that makes him sleep at home


***


And now, I'm off to do some much needed work right here at home! (PS: I disabled anonymous comments due to receiving a lot of spam, most of which was anonymous. You don't have to have a blog to comment, just sign in as OpenID).