Thursday, January 27, 2011

Streamlining kitchen work, saving time and freezer cooking


During our previous meeting at the home ec classes group, the lady who gives the classes talked about how much more effective it is to cook in bulk and do all the weekly cooking and baking in one day. It streamlines kitchen work and saves time. I then couldn’t refrain from speaking out, and said it’s a great idea to have a cooking day, cleaning day, wash day, etc; however, sometimes it just isn’t doable.

I used to do most of the cooking and baking on Friday, before Shabbat. Then Shira was born and I spread out the cooking over Thursday and Friday. Lately, I’ve found out I feel more at ease and work more effectively if I spread out the Shabbat cooking throughout the week, and throw in several meals to be eaten during the week. I do a bit each day, and so when Friday rolls around, almost all the cooking is done and I’m free to do other things (and there’s always enough to do).

The freezer is a wonderful invention, and if your time is very limited, it can be a good idea to cook in advance (whenever you have the time) and freeze meals for later. This way, I can start preparing for Shabbat right at the beginning of the week. For example, last Sunday I made challah buns for Shabbat and froze them. I’d make another batch if I had more freezer space. The week before, I made enough fish to last us for two Shabbat meals, and froze it in two portions. We ate one last week, and are going to eat the second portion in a couple of days.

Not everything keeps well in the freezer – one example is potatoes, which lose their structure when frozen, so I only cook them close to when they are going to be eaten. But bread, cakes, pastries, meat and fish, among many other things, keep beautifully when frozen and taste just like fresh when they are defrosted.

Most days, it turns out that I do a bit of this and a bit of that: a load of washing, some cleaning, some cooking, a bit of pulling weeds in the garden. Some writing, a bit of reading aloud to Shira, drawing and playing with playdough or building blocks. My days are full and busy, but not hectic.

***

These past few weeks have been the first long period in ten years that I’ve been without actively using the internet, and I must say the effect is very calming. Without the internet, some of the urgency of modern life is lost, and I find it all to the good. Of course, I suppose that when we can connect again, I won’t be able to give up on all the wonderful resources internet provides (limitless information on so many topics, great new recipes, craft websites, all my favorite blogs, free music and movies on YouTube), but so far, I’m enjoying my time offline. I hope you are all well, and look forward to the next opportunity of reading your comments and emails. 

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Risks of going postdates vs. risks of induction


Here is a question (slightly rephrased and summarized) I received by email recently:

“I am currently 29 weeks pregnant, and my doctor told me he would like to induce me if I don’t go into labor by 40 weeks. I was slightly surprised to hear that, because I thought the cut-off point was generally 42 weeks. I was told that after 40 weeks, the rate of sudden fetal death goes sharply upward, and my doctor said I don’t want my baby to “overcook”, since he personally knows of three cases when babies died because their mothers went postdates. I know you refused to be induced and gave birth to your last baby at past 43 weeks, and would like to ask what you think.”

I’m not the person, of course, to be giving out medical advice, but I believe that when it comes to our health, we should make an informed choice. Thankfully, we live in a period of time when information is easily accessible, and by comparing various sources, we can do our own research and make our own considerations. You don’t have to discard your judgment just because you are not a doctor – you are still allowed to think and ask questions.

40 weeks is the time when an average pregnancy usually ends, which means at least half of all pregnancies will naturally end beyond 40 weeks (most, but not all women will naturally go into labor by 42 weeks). That’s the normal course of things. By saying he doesn’t want you to go past 40 weeks, your doctor basically says there is at least 50% possibility you will be induced – and that is not normal. Interfering with normal pregnancy should be a last resort, not a routine procedure.

It’s true that there is a slight increase in the rate of sudden, unexpected fetal death past 40 weeks of pregnancy, however, this increase is not as dramatic as doctors would like us to think while they frighten us into unneeded inductions (many of which are performed for legal, not medical reasons). I currently don’t have internet access so I can’t provide a link, but you can find the actual numbers online.

Even with the help of ultrasounds (and many doctors discard even that and just go by the arbitrary and very imprecise line of LMP), it isn’t always possible to know exactly when a woman became pregnant, and therefore, when she approaches the “cut-off” point of 42 weeks. The woman’s own instinct often provides a far more accurate estimate of when she is due. During my second pregnancy, I just knew I could not be as far along as the doctors said, and the fact that all along, I was told the baby is “small for gestational age” was additional proof. She was eventually born at 43 weeks and 3 days, at a very respectable weight of nearly 3,5 kilos, and with no signs of being “postdates”.

Some women are naturally inclined to have longer pregnancies. It is helpful to know medical history of the family, as well as the woman’s personal history (though if she was repeatedly induced shortly after 40 weeks, there’s no way of really knowing).  

Had I fallen into the hands of a doctor who would convince me to be induced at 40 or even 41 weeks, my baby may well had been born with prematurity issues and at a low weight. That’s one risk of inductions doctors gloss over. There is also the fact that use of pitocin and the unnaturally strong contractions it causes increase the rate of fetal distress and emergency C-sections (and of course, if you are induced most likely you will need an epidural, which carries its own risks). Such a scenario only recently happened to someone I know, a young woman only 25 years old. She was talked into an induction at 41 weeks, the induction didn’t work but caused fetal distress, and she was rushed to a C-section where the life of her baby was “heroically” saved. Now, every subsequent pregnancy will be considered high-risk for her, and the chances of a repeat C-section are far higher, carrying with it the risk of more complications.

Taking all this into account, I believe that for a healthy woman, with a healthy pregnancy, going past 40 weeks (and with observation, even past 42 weeks) is less risky than consenting to an induction when there is no obvious medical reason for it (apart from going “postdates”). However, most importantly, I hope you make your own, truly informed choice, without giving in to pressure and scare tactics.

I was blessed to experience two uncomplicated natural births, and it saddens me to think many women would like to have a natural birth as well but are robbed of the experience for no good reason. Good medical care does not mean “medicalizing” a normal physiological process. During pregnancy, labor and birth, I believe medical care should be used as back-up, ready to step into action should anything go wrong, but otherwise not interfering.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Natural foods, taste buds and health

Three years ago, I graduated from university with a degree in nutrition. Around that time, I got married and happily started an entirely different, simple and slow life as a wife and mother. Other than my internship, I did not work in the field I studied, although I might, perhaps, do something in the future from home on a small scale. However, the subject of nutrition remains most interesting for me, both theoretically and on a personal basis, as a wife who provides daily meals for her family.

It’s difficult for young and inexperienced students to question the authority of professors, who seem infallible and all-knowing in lecture halls (and sometimes take advantage of that to promote their opinion regarding questionable issues), let alone wonder about the entire curriculum and how much time is dedicated to specific issues. Thinking back, I realized that we studied a lot about various rare medical conditions, and way too little about nutrition that would provide optimal (optimal, not adequate) health for normal individuals.

Biology and physiology in general, and nutrition in particular, are complex subjects and not everything can be known, currently. I think there is a tendency among scientists who deal with such imprecise matters to over-simplify things in order to prove a point they believe in, and perhaps to underestimate factors that cannot be calculated mathematically. And so, we dealt a lot with counting calories and fat percents, and very little with the healthful benefits of specific foods or subtle and/or questionable health effects of various food additives.

Even back then, something in me rebelled against the idea that the “right” diet we were supposed to promote (low fat, minimal amount of animal fat) seemed so unpalatable; that a person who is struggling with weight loss should choose zero-fat milk products, which are loaded with artificial sweeteners and stabilizers in order to make up for their lack of taste and runny structure. That artificially added vitamins and minerals are absorbed the same way as those occurring naturally in our food. No one argued, for example, against the fact that we need fat-soluble vitamins, such as A, D and E – which are found naturally in animal fats. Somehow, this was at odds with the idea that the animal-sourced products we consume should be almost fat-free (lean meat, skim milk, etc). The solution, we were told, was to take the fat-free product and artificially enrich it with vitamins, to make up for the fact that most of their content was lost with the extraction of fat. To me, it always made more sense that if the fatty fraction contains necessary vitamins, then we should go ahead and eat it (in moderation and combined with a healthy lifestyle).

Not long ago, I’ve read the book “Nourishing Traditions” (about which I have done several blog posts), and it strengthened my view that it is safer to choose foods that are closer to their natural state, foods that did not undergo processing apart from normal cooking. That food should taste and smell like food, and be delicious and satisfying, not a pitiful substitute that always has us rushing for more in hunger that cannot be quenched, and that has nothing to do with what our grandmothers used to eat. I was amazed to find out how little we learned about such an influential component of modern diet as refined sugar. We were told sugar was harmful because it adds extra calories – “empty” calories, and that’s it. We didn’t learn that sugar causes actual mineral depletion, certainly when we look at the extent it is consumed. I ran to the grocery store today and was struck by how, it seems, most of the products in the store contain large amounts of added sugar.

Nutrition, without a doubt, is a topic that should be learned by every “family cook”, which is the mother in most of the cases, and also by daughters who are growing up. You don’t have to have a degree for that, today we have access to many wonderful fascinating books and the internet.

***

As a note to my readers, I am looking forward to the moment when I have internet access and can read some of your comments to my older posts. I appreciate that you continue to visit and write, and miss the dialogue with you. Thank you for your patience while I keep this blog running from my “offline” position. 

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Time management tips


During the last meeting in our homemaking classes group, we discussed the issue of time management. It was something I was really looking forward too, because time is a precious resource, and I don’t know whether I’m not very good at managing it, or perhaps there just isn’t much of it to manage.

Anyway, here are some tips I found helpful, and am implementing or hope to implement:

  1. Have a plan. It should include the important things you want to accomplish in the next day, week or month, but it should also be flexible and allow time for the unexpected. It should also be realistic, to avoid stress and delaying and piling up of things to do. Keep in mind that planning takes time, but it’s time well invested and saves more time in the long run.

  1. Make clear priorities. Focus on the important/urgent things, don’t stress too much over things that can wait or aren’t necessary. This of course sometimes requires a change of outlook. I used to regard ironing as necessary, but must confess that I haven’t ironed a single item since Tehilla was born.

  1. Look whether there are things your husband and/or children can help you with. You don’t necessary have to do everything by yourself.

  1. Try to get the things you like less out of the way as soon as possible, preferably at the beginning of the day (for me, those are always the dishes – I try to wash them as soon as possible).

  1. Work on avoiding or limiting time guzzlers such as TV, the internet, and people who drop by on unexpected long visits or exhaust your resources of time with long phone calls (unless talking on the phone doesn’t interfere with what you are doing at the moment, such as peeling potatoes or pulling weeds).

  1. When you have a big project to accomplish, spread it out to small, manageable tasks, and just keep doing the next thing.

  1. Try to recognize potential trouble/challenge, and provide a solution in advance (“the children will be bored while I’m making dinner, I’d better provide quiet entertainment”).

  1. Work with your pace and your priorities – not someone else’s.


That’s it for today; I hope to come back from the next meeting with more useful tips. Oh, and I would like to clarify also that currently, I don’t read the comments on a regular basis – my husband publishes the comments from his work computer, so if there was any confusion that’s the reason. Thank you for understanding.   

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The subtle demands of modern life

I’ve been thinking many times about how our lives, even though in many ways they are easier and safer than the lives of our ancestors and we have more free time, are so much more fast-paced and hectic, and people don’t seem to be happier. All the wonderful modern conveniences save us time, no doubt, but they also create higher expectations which we sometimes find difficult to fulfill – and I wouldn’t say we always should.

Take for example such a wonderful thing as a washing machine. In the past, doing the washing meant that an entire day was supposed to be dedicated to it. All the scrubbing and rubbing and wringing and washing were done by hand, and it took a lot of time. Now, all we have to do is keep two hampers (generally), one for lighter-colored fabrics and one for dark fabrics, wait for one of them to fill (which sometimes takes a surprisingly short time), throw it into the wash and then into the dryer if you have one, or on the clothesline if you don’t, or if you are lucky and the weather is good for drying. Then fold, put away and you’re done – one of my favorite chores, personally.

On the other hand – and I’m saying this in full awareness that I wouldn’t want to do without a washing machine! – this created far higher expectations regarding the cleanliness of clothes. In the past, people had fewer garments, and it was acceptable for children to wear clothing that was a bit stained or patched and frayed here and there. Now, we’re all expected to look neat and clean at all times, which is sometimes difficult with little ones. We have piles of clothes which take up a lot of closet space, and a lot of time to fold and sort through with each change of seasons. So I thought a bit about it and figured that it’s OK for children to walk around with stains, at least until the end of the day. :o)

Cooking from scratch is another similar story. In the past, people grew a lot of their own food, and most of the food was homemade. Women used to cook much more, yes, but it doesn’t mean they served elaborate meals! In most families, people were happy with a simple meal, such as soup and homemade bread, or bread, cheese and homemade canned vegetables for a snack. Now cooking is easier, which allows us to think up more varied menus – and it’s nice but can be time-consuming.

Transportation and communication is another example. Just a century ago, most people didn’t go out that much, except for working in the field or garden, or to the local store; visiting was done mostly between those who were within walking distance, and letter-writing was a slow and relaxing activity, quite unlike emailing, text-messaging, Facebook Wall posts or Twittering. Relationships weren’t as numerous, but they were deeper, slower, more personal and meaningful. Quite simply, going somewhere or contacting someone required effort, and therefore people only bothered if it was important.

Now, with the wonders of easy transportation, we have the opportunity to visit far more places, but we also have the pressure and expectation to find the time for many different activities. It’s easier to communicate, and so we are expected to keep up with many, many social obligations and people who aren’t, in the long run, meaningful in our lives. In the past, it was considered normal to wait for a letter for weeks and months, and people didn’t forget each other. Now, you are pressured to answer emails on the same day you got them, or you are “out of touch”. All of this pulls us in many different directions.

It used to be common knowledge that a day means toil and busyness from sunrise till sunset, but the work was unhurried and not so stressful. The question to be asked, is why should we try so hard to save time, if that time is immediately torn apart by new things we are supposed to be doing, not all of which are conductive to our emotional health?

Simpler slower living allows more involvement of children in daily chores, rather than segregating them in “age-appropriate” activities with little meaning. This is why I don’t want to get a bread maker – I like to create the opportunity for Shira (and in the future, both girls and hopefully other children we may have) to knead by hand. Same goes for mixing by hand rather than with an electric beater.

As a family, we’re not always out and about, wasting gas. And I can sometimes answer an email after a few weeks, even if it makes me look like someone from another planet. I do want to retain some of that slower pace in my life. Sometimes, less is really and truly more.


Friday, January 7, 2011

Yes or no?

Among the emails that piled up in my inbox, was a message from a young lady who was debating a marriage proposal. He seems like a good man, she writes, but she does not feel affection towards him, and is also concerned about his bad temper. What should she do?

I've only been married three years, not an expert on marriage by all means - but here is part of what I wrote back.

***

Of course, only you can make the decision on whether or not you should marry the young man in question. I can only tell you my attitude on the whole matter of courtship and marriage, based on my own experience and observations.

I'm not exactly sure what you mean by not feeling affection towards your suitor, among other reasons because I don't know how long you have known each other. If it hasn't been very long, it might be that you need a chance to get to know each other better and see how your feelings develop. Of course, you should not marry someone who repulses you, or someone with whom you feel deeply uncomfortable. But my attitude is that, if in the initial stages of courtship there is no clear-cut reason for a definite "no", you can go on and continue getting to know each other, until your feelings are clearer to you. Don't miss out on someone who might be right for you, just because there isn't a lot excitement in the beginning.

Personally, I can tell you I didn't feel that famous "spark" when I first saw my husband, and now, three years and two children later, I'm much more deeply in love with him than on the day we were married. I think it's much better than when there are deep feelings of mutual attraction in the beginning, which fade away when the couple begins living together (which is the case in many marriages in Western countries).

If I have one bit of advice to give, it is this: do make it clear with yourself whether your long-term goals and hopes for the future are compatible (I mean big things like children, lifestyle, children's education, handling finances, dynamics in marriage, and more).

As for him having a bad temper, again, it's a bit difficult for me to know what exactly you mean by it, since I don't know you or him. It might be a harmless and innocent character trait, or a fault you can live with, or a red flag which points to a potentially abusive husband. Some people get angry easily, but the question is, how well does he control his anger? Is he rude and insulting? If you feel unsafe around him, it is surely a no-go. If you just wish he took things easy, perhaps it can be negotiated.

I suggest that you have a honest conversation with him about things you like about him vs. things that make you doubt your future together, and see his reaction. See how seriously he takes your words, and whether he shows willingness to change (and more importantly, sees true need to change) in matters that concern you. However, I also wouldn't advise to marry someone while hoping he will change dramatically. If you absolutely can't live with the way he is now, it's better to say no straight away and save yourself potential heartbreak.

On a deeper level, I believe G-d is the Master Matchmaker and leads us to our true matches. So if we do the sensible thing while regarding a potential match, and most of all, pray about it, we can be confident that the path we walk is good and right.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Living offline, sleep deprivation and co-sleeping

Dear friends,

For the time being, we lost our internet connection, so it has been a while since I signed in (the last post was written offline and posted through my husband's work computer). It has been a pleasure to read all your comments!

Until we have internet again, I expect my future postings will be somewhat irregular, and I won't be very good at keeping up with answering comments or emails, but I'm still there. I do have to say that, even though I sure miss blogging, emailing, and my favorite recipe websites, being offline frees up time for other pursuits, something which is of immense importance in this busy season of our lives.

Anyways, I hope you all have had (or are still having) an enjoyable vacation.

As of a little update, I can tell you that we're currently going through a severe case of sleep deprivation. :o) Tehilla, who has been sleeping pretty well at night so far, suddenly began to prefer sleeping during daytime, and does not settle to sleep at night unless she's right by our side, and often likes to nurse through the night. We hardly had any sleep during the previous week but I'm holding on by reminding myself that, as exhausting as various stages of babyhood might be, they are usually short.

So far, I've been skeptical about co-sleeping, even though I knew it works well for some families. Shira had never shown any inclination towards it, and always preferred sleeping in her own bed. However, now it seems that co-sleeping is just about the only way either of us can get any sleep at all.

I hope to pass on to a stage of less exhaustion and more productivity, soon. In the meantime, I remain your tired but cheerful friend,

Mrs. T

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Home ec classes

Not long ago, with the blessing of my husband, I started attending a series of Home Ec classes for married women. I thought everyone there would be young brides or mothers of 1-2 children at most, like me, but there are also more experienced mothers, including a lady with 9 children, 3 of them married, and 6 grandchildren. I suppose that when it comes to homemaking, you just never stop learning!

I thought I’d share a few practical homemaking tips we talked about during our last meeting.

* Have nothing in your house you have no place or use for.

* A place for everything and everything in its place – saves a lot of disorder! I try to adhere to this principle as well as I can.

* Availability – place the item near to where you use it, and make access easy (for example – the kitchenware you use the most should be within easy reach).

* If you use don’t use something for a while (winter clothes, Pesach utensils, clothes the children have outgrown), put it away in a labeled box, and preferably keep a notebook where you write down the places of all items you have stored away.

* Food: use up the old before using new (the FIFO rule – First In, First Out)!

*  If you buy new clothes, bedding, towels, etc, and after a while realize you never use the old ones anymore, give them away or use them up in a creative project – save closet space.

* File all your paperwork in a logical and easy accessible way (for me, a few large ring binders do the trick).

* Abundance does not mean endless purchases you have nowhere to store.

* A simple life doesn’t mean a poor life, but simplifying your daily routines and tasks. In many cases this means less things, less gadgets, less fads (and I’d like to add: less activities you can’t spare the time for, less relationships which you feel are draining you at the expense of your family).

Hope to share more tips from class next time!