Monday, December 27, 2010

Freshly picked radishes

Today, we harvested the radishes we planted not long ago. Shira had a lot of fun pulling the radishes out of the earth with her eager little hands. The ground was soft so it was easy even for a two-year-old to do.

I do feel there is something special in doing and watching the whole process, from planting to caring for the plants, to harvesting and eating them. Not to mention they taste far, far superior to store-bought. I can't wait to plant another batch.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Shira's birthday

Our sweet Shira is two years old today. Exactly 2 years ago, today, 19-th of Tevet, I became a mother, when my baby was placed in my arms for the first time, at nearly 6 on a Thursday morning.

Those were blessed years. We are so happy, so grateful, and so fortunate to be her parents - and Tehilla's, too.

I hope you all have a happy day, dear friends.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

More candles


The pictures are a bit blurry, but you can still see the results of the pleasant time I spent on my new hobby :o) I've now used up all the bits of wax that were waiting to be recycled, to much satisfaction.

Someone asked me what I use for wicks. I recycle wicks from old candles that were broken, or didn't burn well. I melt them down in a can and pull the wick out of the can with the help of pincers. I then place the wick on an old newspaper, allow to cool, and use it.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Purposeful pain

In the past couple of years, following the births of my two daughters, I became passionate about natural birth. The credit for this, like for many other things, goes to my dear husband who first prompted me to research the little known risks and side effects of popular pain relief methods (epidural) and birth interventions (the giving of pitocin to induce or augment labor and artificial breaking of waters to name only two).

This past weekend, I was irritated to no end by a one-sided and biased article written by a well-known Israeli anesthesiologist. The article was titled “Pain is Pointless” (translation mine), and promotes the use of epidural during birth. I won’t say names but it makes no difference – the following attitude is common to pretty much all doctors and even nurses on the L&D staff.

“We see birth as a natural and positive process…”

… So far so good…

“… and therefore it is needed to limit its unpleasant parts and allow the laboring women and those surrounding her to enjoy the beautiful side of birth.”

(Translation: the L&D staff are not supposed to deal with vocal, demanding, unsedated laboring women. The beautiful side of a birth with an epidural is peace and quiet in the corridors. Surely you don’t want to deprive the doctors and nurses of that?)

And yes, birthing is so natural and positive that you couldn’t be possibly thinking about doing it without pain relief!

“… Is the pain dangerous?... The answer to this isn’t simple. The harsh pain is accompanied by physiological changes in the woman’s body, and sometimes these changes can negatively affect the fetus.”

Physiological is the key word here. Why would a normal muscular and hormonal reaction of labor negatively affect the baby, when it is perfectly designed to get the baby out? The estimated doctor fails to explain.

Pain caused by labor contractions, which the doctor so aptly compares in the beginning of his article to pain caused by inflammation, injury or surgery, which can and should be treated to alleviate suffering, differs from other kinds of pain by the fact that it has a purpose. Unlike what the headline implies, it is not pointless. Remaining in full consciousness of her body helps the woman know what is going on, which stage the labor is in, and instinctively assume positions that help the natural process of birth.

“… we should also take in account the psychological damage the pain might cause the laboring woman. The effect of acute, prolonged pain on the laboring woman’s mood is added to the unstable psychological state of many women in labor.”

Unstable and dangerous, and must be taken under full medical control – that is how many doctors see the laboring woman, and that, in my opinion, is a great pity. The psychological state of the laboring woman is not unstable. It is sensitive. It is altered. It is on a different level of conscience. All of this is part of the natural hormonal process aimed at helping the woman birth, both physiologically and psychologically.

“Today there are various forms of epidural anesthesia, including one that allows the laboring woman to get off the bed and walk around.”

(We don’t offer this in our hospital but why bother with details?..)

“Epidural anesthesia does not cause harm to the mother or baby, but improves the condition of both.”

How exactly epidural helps the baby isn’t explained, and neither are the very real possible side-effects of it. Now, I know some women choose to have an epidural during birth. It is entirely up to the mother – but what about offering informed choice? Are you afraid you’ll be out of job if women hear about the real risks of what you are promoting? Sure, nobody usually dies because of an epidural, but the risks are there – prolonged labor, increased risk of c-section, prolonged back pains, more difficult recovery and damage to the pelvic floor muscles from badly controlled pushing to name only a few.

The esteemed doctor also states that epidural allows to smoothly make the transition from “natural birth” (I love how doctors use that term for every birth that isn’t a C-section, even if there are a million interventions and a needle stuck up the immobilized woman’s spine!) to C-section – without bothering to note that epidurals raise the risk of C-sections, as has been confirmed by various studies.

The article implies that either you have an epidural during labor, or you suffer uncontrollably – without mentioning that there are safe and natural methods to get through contractions while making pain bearable, including very simple things such as hot water (which you ran out of last time I was having a baby in your hospital, but never mind) and the change of positions.

I have been blamed several times for “hating” doctors following my posts on natural birth. Nothing could be further from the truth. Doctors do holy work and save lives every day – including anesthesiologists whose skills are needed during a surgery. But I think medical schools fail to educate doctors to view birth in the right way – not as a medical emergency, but as a truly normal, natural process which happens on its own, without the need for an anesthesiologist.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Candle-making

Making candles is something I've wanted to try my hand in for a while. Finally, yesterday afternoon I told myself: why not experiment? It costs virtually nothing and doesn't take a lot of time, and it's interesting for little ones to watch (though you have to be careful to keep them away from the hot wax).

I was inspired by Edith Schaeffer's book, "The Hidden Art of Homemaking":

"Candle-making is almost a lost art... everyone has stubs of candles, though many people toss them away as rubbish. These could be saved in a box, melted down and made into candles again. If you have the professional equipment, stubs can be used for your moulds, but if not, it is possible to use an empty tin can. You save the can after you rinse out the tomato juice, dry it and start pouring in your wax (melted in another tin can), combining colours in any way you like. To fasten the wick in the centre, stick it into the first half inch of wax when it starts to thicken, and tie the top end to a piece of wire fixed across the top of the can. Then pour in another inch or so of wax."

What I did was pretty much the same, although I used an empty yogurt can rather than a tin can for a mould: after the wax cooled down, I gently cut the plastic can and took it off the ready candle. Instead of a wire, I simply used a pencil placed across the top of the can.

It really is satisfying to make something useful out of something that would otherwise be thrown away into the garbage.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

All things home

Those who have been reading this blog for a while know my love for everything home-made, home-grown, home-spun, home-cooked... well, you get the idea. :o)

There's just something very special, a personal touch, to things that are made at home with the thought of the one(s) that will eventually be using them - something that is lost in the era of mass manufacturing and de-personalization of homes, clothes, food and people.

Mass production is convenient. In the past, everyone made everything from scratch for themselves - food, clothes, even houses, with the entire family, often extended family, working together. Not having to do that frees up a lot of time for personal pursuits, but we pay the price of fast-paced life, detached families, and constant fatigue. Somehow, with all our miraculous modern appliances, computers, convenience foods, dishwashers and cars, it doesn't seem we work less. Expectations have soared along with the convenience of everyday life. We are in charge of more possessions and larger houses which require more upkeep, most of which we are expected to do on our own.

Perhaps not many of us would like to go back in time to a period when we'd have to chop wood for fire and carry home heavy buckets of water from the well multiple times a day. But I think many are looking for a quieter, simpler and more meaningful life, which is achieved most naturally and blissfully in a home setting.

I think that is why so many people nowadays are getting back to trying their hand in hobbies which require manual skills and quite a bit of time and patience - sewing, knitting, stitching, making soap and candles, canning and preserving, and many more. From scoffing at these traditional skills, now seemingly "unneeded", people are going back to valuing them and hurrying to learn the secrets of traditional home keeping before they are lost forever. Perhaps we (well, most of us, anyway) no longer milk our own goats and spin our own wool from the sheep we sheared, but many make homemade gifts for their loved ones and enjoy filling a multitude of jars by a generous summer harvest, just the way their grandmothers did.
  

In the pictures above, you can see the beginning of a crocheted scarf. Crocheting is one handy hobby I acquired before marriage, and I'm so glad I did - it's so much more difficult to find the time to learn new skills once you are married, have a home to run all on your own, and little ones come along.

I think the educational value of growing and making things at home cannot be overestimated. There are just so many opportunities to teach your children this way, while having fun and making real useful things with real tools at the same time, with a most interesting process along the way. Digging in the garden is both more fun and more effective than looking at diagrams of plants in a workbook. Harvesting what you have grown teaches the connection between land, plants and the food that ends up on our table. Teaching a child how to knit or crochet teaches patience, perseverance, and satisfaction in a job well done. Just compare this to passive entertainment such as watching TV, and things that pass for "education" these days.

There are many things I would like to try, or learn better, such as knitting or candle-making. I'm not sure when time will allow me to do that. In the meantime, I'm happy with what I can do, and inspired by the work of other people. Inspired to live slowly, peacefully, with a presence of mind and time - at home.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The makings of marmalade

In the picture above, you can see marmalade from grapefruit peels that had been simmering on the stove all morning and into early afternoon. When you make marmalade or candied citrus peels, it is recommended to soak the peels in water for a couple of days, changing the water every 12 hours, to take away some of the bitterness. I didn't do it this time, and the product has a rather strong bitter taste, which means that its use might be limited to baking (which isn't bad either).

I generally have an aversion to using citrus peels in cooking and baking because of all the pesticides used on the fruit, but in this instance it's grapefruits organically grown in our garden. I think I'll use the remaining fruit for juice and zest. Zest keeps beautifully in the freezer and adds a lot of taste to cakes, cookies and sweet rolls.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Rainy day

The past two days, the temperatures dropped and we finally have had a good bit of rain. Today, it was windy, stormy and very cold (for Israel :p). We bundled up in many layers - I'm currently wearing two sweaters and two pairs of socks, one of them thick. The view in the picture above, in case you are wondering, is from our living room window.

It was a lovely slow day. Rain means we're staying inside and there is no romping about in the yard and no hanging clothes on the line, but there are plenty of things to do inside the house - reading aloud, drawing, cooking (which provides the bonus of warmth without the additional cost of heating), writing and crocheting (while there was still enough light).

In the area where we live, even a little rain often means problems with the flow of electricity. With today's thunderstorm, we spent most of the day without electricity at all. It got dark pretty early, and so it was time for alternative measures.

I lit candles on the kitchen windowsill
And on the living room table.

Their soft glow was so warm and comforting.

Stories and songs, candied peel cooking on the gas stove and spreading delicious aroma through the house, and everything suddenly looking so beautiful and mysterious with candle light twinkling through the rain in the house across the street, too - it was wonderful, truly. I was even a little sorry when the electricity returned, although it was undoubtedly nice to get back to a world of bright light, where reading, writing and crocheting can be easily pursued on a long winter evening.

It's late, but many things still must be done, and so I will sign off. I hope your day was as beautiful as mine.

Warmly,

Mrs. T

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Gifts

Our friend Rose, in Australia, is a talented knitter and has an exceptionally generous heart. Not long ago, we received a surprise gift from her and her family, which was a delight to us all and which I would like to share here with you.

This is one of Jenny's dolls. If you, like me, have been following Jenny's blog, you sure like her doll creations. Shira calls this one "Granny", and it's perfectly soft and squishy, and just the right size - not too bulky for a two-year-old to handle. It is hand-made from natural fibers in Jenny's home in Tasmania. Its little cardigan was knitted by Rose.
The painting below was done by Rose's talented husband Tony. It's postcard-sized and looks just perfect for a postcard.

Below, you will see samples of Rose's outstanding knitting. Whenever I see her work, I wish I had more time to improve my knitting as well. But, for every thing there is a season and hopefully, my time will come as well.
 
I hope your day is as beautiful as mine!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

About faith and walking with G-d

I received an email from a 25-year-old daughter living at home, who feels as though her life is going nowhere as she is unmarried and seemingly is doing nothing “significant”. I’m posting here part of what I wrote to her, omitting personal details.

I do not consider myself to be fit to teach others about unwavering faith; however, the first thing to know and remember is that G-d is ever and always present in our lives, whether we are aware of it or not, and nothing in this world is happening without His direct supervision and guidance.

It can be difficult to realize that sometimes, as the story of us all is, as yet, only half-written, and it’s easy to doubt especially when horrible things are happening in the world (wars, disease, natural disasters) or when our lives seem to be crashing, and it appears we are in danger of losing those we love the most – or when we simply feel stuck and life is apparently going nowhere, which can be just as painful as we think of all the time that went by, seemingly with no purpose. When we see a half-completed painting, it’s sometimes impossible to figure out what the artist means to convey – yet. But when it is completed, oh, we stand back in awe and marvel at the beauty of it all. This is how it is going to be when we finally realize what His plan was – though the completion of it may not be in this world.

But personally, when I think back to some things in my life which were terribly painful, and I couldn’t understand why it is that I have to go through them – and then, a couple of years later down the road, I realized that these trials were necessary for the beauties and wonders I’ve been so richly blessed with. That it was, and is, part of the same path. This gave me just a tiny taste of G-d’s perfect understanding.
G-d loves us. He delights in every good deed and every positive thought. He created us, and he has beautiful, beautiful plans for our lives, if we walk through life putting our trust in Him alone.

It doesn’t matter how old we are, how seemingly far from where we would like to be, how deep in trouble, how desperate. There is no despair, no hopelessness – not when we realize that what G-d wants the most is for us to grow in closeness to Him, and quite simply, walk with Him. There is of course much more, but that’s the start – us realizing, and cherishing G-d’s presence, and turning to Him as our rock, our only ever present and solid hope, our dearest, closest, most trustworthy Father and friend. Nothing can replace that.

We cannot do it all on our own, and in fact, shouldn’t even attempt to. The burden of doubt, confusion, fear, guilt, uncertainty, loneliness and frustration can be grave when we try to hoist it all on our shoulders. But when we turn to Him in pure, innocent faith, it is easy to see how these burdens are lifted off us – and I mean especially those things about which we can’t directly do something, such as the future which is hidden. To stop worrying is not irresponsible or mindless. It the wisest, most sensible thing to do.

Not that we should do nothing. There is always something we can do, but once we have done it, the responsibility is no longer ours and we aren’t supposed to torture ourselves with thoughts that perhaps we haven’t done enough – but rather, trust and continue the walk of faith.

On a more practical note, it is important to enjoy every stage, and in fact, every day of our lives to the fullest, without thinking of it as a transition or a step to something greater. Even if it seems you are doing “nothing” in your life, and nothing is happening, it is not so. Neither should you see yourself as unemployed, but rather, as blessed with the gift of time which is not limitless and which is precious and can be used to do great things – I don’t know you, and of course, can’t tell you exactly what you can/should do with it. But it can bless countless people, among them yourself, and your loved ones and perhaps even people you don’t know.

I’m not sure how clear I have articulated my thoughts in this long and rambly talk, as faith is such a huge, all-encompassing subject that it isn’t really possible to “finish” talking about it, but I hope I managed to convey at least a small part of how I feel about G-d and His presence in our lives.

I leave you with my warmest wishes and kindest regards, and hope your life is beautiful.

Anna

Monday, December 6, 2010

Holiday updates

 Dear friends,

Thanks to all who have inquired about our safety, following the horrible reports of the raging fires in northern Israel. I haven't been online the past few days, but now is a good time to tell that our home is not in the zone of fire and we're quite safe from it. May G-d turn His wrath upon the evil men who caused this terrible tragedy.

We're enjoying a quiet holiday here. My dear husband took a couple of days off so we can all be together and work on some household projects. It has been busy and restful at the same time. Busy because there's always a lot to do around here, restful thanks to the fact that we're here at home, following our own schedule and taking relaxing breaks as we go along.

In the picture above, you can see the hanukkiah my husband made for Shira from acorn shells and a wooden plank. It is done very simply. Shira and I collected the shells, and my husband drilled holes in the plank so the tips of the acorn shells will fit and fixed them with glue. Then we fixed the candles inside the shells. The interior around the candle is filled with water, so it will extinguish the flame as soon as it reaches the level of the acorn shell. Of course, such a hanukkiah still needs to be supervised since it's flammable.
And here are some grapefruits, picked and brought in, ready to be eaten raw, juiced, or made into marmalade.

I hope all the Jews out there, and especially in Israel, enjoy the remaining days of Hanukkah, and the families who lost their loved ones or their homes in the fire find consolation and know no more sorrow.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Happy Hanukkah!

Tonight we are going to light the first of Hanukkah candles, and I'd like to take the opportunity to wish a very happy Hanukkah to all my Jewish readers.

I made potato latkes today. There are countless variations for latkes, and I whipped mine on the spur of the moment, taking:

3 potatoes, grated
1 carrot, grated
3 eggs
about 1/2 cup of flour
salt and pepper to taste

Mix it all together, drop onto a frying pan with oil a spoonful at a time, and fry on both sides, and a delicious treat is ready.

Happy Hanukkah, and may we see Beit Hamikdash rebuilt soon in our day, Amen.