Monday, May 30, 2011

In reply to an email

I received an email a couple of days ago, from a young lady who challenged me on some points I wrote about on this blog. I won't share the original email here, in part because I have not had the authorization to do so, and in part because it would be too lengthy. I will, however, share my reply - slightly abridged, out of which you will be able to get the gist of things.

I would like to humbly say that the time I can spare right now for blogging and/or replying to emails is very, very limited. I love and enjoy to hear from people who have visited the blog, but if you are writing in order to pick an argument, I beg you to please think twice, because often I simply cannot spare the time for replying in a proper way.

***

Hi and thank you for taking the time to write.

As I read your email, I must admit I stopped in puzzlement several times. You make quite a few assumptions about me and my personal life, just from reading my blog - and far from all are correct.

First off, I'm not exactly sure what you mean by saying "you've run away to Israel". I've been living in Israel since I was six years old. I became religious much, much later. 

You say, "you've thrown everything you've ever known away." Again, I don't know what makes you say that, but I assure you I have retained much of the things I used to like before I became religious - hobbies, books I like to read, anything that doesn't clash with my current religious values. Also, many of my friends are from my pre-religious time (which, by the way, answers your question regarding whether I have any friends).

I'm not sure what it is in my lifestyle (as it appears on the blog, which I assure you does not present the full picture, as I have notions of privacy and there's only a very little bit of my personal life that I choose to tell about) that makes you feel no one else could live the same way. Countless women all around me live pretty much the same ordinary life as I do - striving to be loving wives and mothers and successful home managers. Some of them are fortunate enough to be staying home with their children. Others work outside the home, but it doesn't define who they are, only what they do in their current circumstances.  

I have been accused numerous times of presenting male leadership as a Jewish idea, which it supposedly isn't, according to many Jewish women who wrote to me. I maintain that masculine leadership has been the cornerstone of Jewish life for many centuries, although undoubtedly, Jewish women have enjoyed far more extended privileges than their non-Jewish counterparts. Men are heads of their households and communities, and the fact that rabbinical discussion today tries to wriggle out of this issue only shows how deeply feminism has tampered with the thinking of us all. 

For example, some victoriously point out to me that Abraham was told by G-d to observe the advice of his wife, Sarah, regarding Ishmael. But the very fact that divine intervention was necessary in that instance points out that normally, the opposite would have been expected - her giving in to his leadership and accepting his decision. He was not initially supposed to obeyher

I wrote several posts in the past about how I do not mean women are supposed to sacrifice their talents. Again, time is limited, so I will only say it is up to every woman to find the best way to use the talents she was gifted with, in a way that will not come at the expense of her family. There is not one mold, nor one single way to do that. However, leaving one's children in the full-time care of someone else strikes me as not right. I believe we are given intelligence, compassion, artistic gifts and so on, and can use them in a multitude of ways. I don't believe in "I am meant to be a doctor/lawyer/rocket scientist and if I don't become one, I'm wasting my talents, so I must go along with it no matter what". 

You say you were raised by your grandmother, and admit that you were very lucky to have her. In your case, she probably was the feminine, ever-present influence every child needs so badly in our day. The fact is, while homes can be to some extent neglected without this causing immediate harm, children must be raised. It is a full time job which must be done by someone, and if the mother can't or opts not to do it, she has to accustom herself to the fact that the one who will be doing it will probably fare worse than she would have - unless, as in your case, she is incredibly lucky to have a thoughtful, caring and loving relative. 

There is another question of whether it is right to burden an older woman with the full-time raising of little ones, which is a mountainous, all-consuming task. Just as a sidenote, I know families which have placed their children in the care of a grandmother - an arrangement which suits the parents, and perhaps even the child, but which gradually makes the grandmother exhausted and resentful, while she doesn't dare to voice her concerns out of the fear of seeming selfish. After having done her share of childcare, she approached a time of her life which she thought would be a point of quiet retirement and enjoying her grandchildren without being fully responsible for bringing them up. Instead, she finds herself, once more, having to care for little ones full-time, while she doesn't have the vigor and energy of her younger years anymore. I'm not saying this was your case, just wanted to point out something that is widely practised but doesn't seem exactly fair to me. I personally wouldn't dream of handing my children over to my mother for full-time care. 

Time is running short, so I would like to conclude by stressing, again, that what I reveal on my blog is only a very small part of my day-to-day life, and no one could assume to truly know me solely on the basis of reading my blog. We value our privacy, and choose to keep to ourselves far more than we choose to share online. Also, no offense, but what I don't reveal on the blog I will hardly reveal to someone who randomly stumbled across it and chose to email me.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Child education myths

One of the things that irk me is the notion that normal, capable, intelligent mothers are somehow less competent to be in charge of their preschool children than “professionals”. I am especially bamboozled by the following myths:

  1. Children need daycare for socialization
Humans are social creatures, and it’s good for children to be placed in touch with all sorts of people, among them children of their own age. However, it doesn’t mean that the absolute best for such little children is to spend the chief portion of their day with their peers, without the balancing and equilibrating presence of elders and minors.

Being at home doesn’t mean living in isolation on a deserted island! There are friends, playgroups, many different activities to choose from, countless interesting places to visit if one thinks of it, and most of it costs nothing or next to nothing.

  1. Mothers are not competent enough to teach their preschoolers
Preschool is not rocket science. Any intelligent parent can read stories to their child, draw with them, practice simple crafts such as sticking and gluing, playdough, etc. Anyone can take their child for walks. Neither is it very difficult, a bit later, to begin teaching a child his letters and numbers. And most importantly, at home the child gets this essential touch of participating in everyday life and doing valuable jobs, which can only be unfaithfully imitated in a preschool setting.

  1. Problems are surely the result of the home upbringing, and will be solved by sending the child to daycare/preschool
Toddlers tantrums? Power struggles? The child is shy of strangers? No doubt all of it is caused by the fact that you are bringing up your child at home, and all would be solved if only you agreed to send your child to All-Problem-Solving Preschool – totally ignoring the fact that countless preschoolers have the very same problems, which might in fact be exacerbated by their being away from their mother all day long. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

“A Home Education” by Charlotte Mason

I was finally able to tackle this home education classic not in a bit here and a bit there, but chapter by chapter, and though at times heavy, it made a very good and useful read.

As always when reading a book by a non-Jewish (in this case, Christian) author, I had to make adaptations and skipped whole parts which were irrelevant to people of our faith. Nevertheless, I gleaned a lot from this book.

Some teachings and explanations are of course outdated, as Charlotte Mason lived about a hundred years ago, but some of the things she speaks about it are even more relevant today, I believe, than they were at her time.

Charlotte Mason emphasizes the importance of spending a lot of time out of doors, having a lot of thoughtful contact with nature, and plenty of time set aside for imaginative play and creativity. She also recommends having no structured lessons until the age of six, and then only a small portion of lesson-time every day, so that the whole afternoon can be set aside for time outside, imaginative play, and creative pursuits.

Those are chiefly the things that resonated with me as I was reading, and I believe the implementation of her philosophy, even partially, could do so much good in this age where children are cooped up so much, study is so fitted up into small tablets that are then artificially fed to little ones, and everyone is in such a hurry to push academics.

C.M. also expresses the opinion that the best place for a child to grow is home, and doubts how wholesome it is for a little child to be thrust into kindergarten, where he will have hours upon hours of overstimulating peer company. She wrote this at a time when many children were still brought up at home, and kindergartens were only beginning to become widespread. I wonder what she would say now, when people warn that a two-year-old will become socially inept if he remains at home until the ripe age of three.

Monday, May 23, 2011

A beach trip

Last week, we went to the beach; it was the first time in the girls' lives, and they had great fun, especially Shira, who splashed about in the waves to her heart's content. There was a lovely shallow area there, which was like a wading pool - perfect for toddlers.

 Boats on the marina.
 The "wading pool".
I hope you all had a lovely weekend!


Mrs. T

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Some crochet

A little vest I made for Shira, for next winter, and perhaps for Tehilla too, the winter after that.
Made during little snippets of time here and there.
It's very simple and straightforward, with a square opening.
I like it.
Have a wonderful day!

Mrs. T

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Artwork

 Some rose-scented candles in various shapes, made in the new molds my husband so thoughtfully gifted me with.
And watercolor artwork by Yitzhak and Shira.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Disposable dishes

Before I got married, I thought that my househould would always be super environmentally-conscious, and that disposable kitchen utensils would never pass my threshhold. I would always use cloth tablecloths with no plastic on them, and in a little while, I told myself optimistically, we would switch exclusively to cloth napkins. 

Then, of course, I was hit by reality.

Hannah at "Cooking Manager" recently wrote a post where she listed the disadvantages of disposable kitchenware, and I agree with a lot of her arguments. Plastic dishes bend and break, the better varieties are expensive, and they all result in heaps of garbage. Plastic knives and forks aren't very convenient to manage. I infinitely prefer glass, ceramic and stainless steel in my kitchen, in all senses - environmental, finacial, aesthetical. 

However, sometimes disposables become a real situation-saver here, in particular when we're having guests and there's more washing up to do (not to mention, not always enough dishes). Yes, I heard that buying a dishwasher might actually be a greener and more frugal choice in the long run, in the sense that it saves water. But it still requires an initial investment, and our tiny kitchenette wasn't designed to accommodate a dishwasher. 

So for now, I'm washing by hand. Always. And I've learned to use some plastic (very occassionally and sparingly) without excessive guilt. 

Same goes for tablecloths - in the everyday, I have our table covered with thick, easy-to-wipe sturdy nylon. But for Shabbat, I take out the pretty cloth tablecloths - and cover them with transparent plastic. I know that with two tiny tots near the table, there's no way I would ever be able to remove all those stains and spills. 

Sometimes, that infamous plastic stuff is the tiny bit of help that makes our load a little easier. And for me, I suppose that's what matters right now. 

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The trouble with “measuring up”

I think a huge stumbling block in the path of people who wish to simplify and live a quiet, slow and purposeful life, is being part of a social circle who all have bigger houses, more possessions, fancier cell phones, who take trips abroad every year, etc, etc.

An important part to remember when you say to yourself, “how come they are able to afford it?!” is that you don’t really know whether they can. You don’t really know what goes on behind the closed doors of people’s homes, or in their budgets. Perhaps these people are living way beyond their means. Perhaps they are in debt. Or perhaps they are affording their super-fancy, extra-packed lifestyle by maintaining two careers which leave hardly any family time at all.

And if you are a mother who stays home with her children, some people might deliberately or accidentally make you feel inferior, or this feeling might come across on its own when you’re reading about someone who “successfully” combined a career and family. And again, the true price of what it all entailed is seldom brought up.

I think I mentioned before, in some previous blog posts, Dr. Hannah Katan – an Israeli Orthodox ob/gyn who is the mother of 13 children. She is often talked about as an example of a woman who “did it all”. I greatly respect her views and her experience and wisdom. But in her most recent personal column, she told about working 36-hour shifts during her internship, while she also had young children waiting for her at home. I can only imagine how taxing that must have been.

Even if in retrospect, grown-up children can be generous and understanding, and say they say they acokeeaks their hearts, and the ramifications of such a lifestyle perhaps aren’t even realized until they start families of their own.

Or perhaps you just walk into someone’s house and lament how this lady has it all together while you don’t, and seemingly never will, and forget that no one has our unique set of strength, weaknesses, experience and family situation. I’m not saying we shouldn’t learn from one another. But this learning should be a thing of strength and growth, not just useless comparison that leads us to feel debilitating inferiority.

Maybe, when you were growing up, there was a child of your parents’ friends, or perhaps a cousin who was so much more accomplished than you, who spoke German and French and played the violin, and could do all the things you could never even dream of doing. Perhaps your parents spent your entire childhood and adolescence unfavorably comparing you with that “role model”, until you felt about that unfortunate unsuspecting child the same way Emma Woodhouse felt about Jane Fairfax - an almost unconscious grudge that is as unjustified as it is difficult to overcome. 

Perhaps your parents thought they were giving you motivation to succeed by such comparisons, but in reality all it did was sow resentment and made you feel as though you can never be good enough. Which is far from true; G-d made us unique. He wants and expects us to improve, but not by striving to become the image of somebody else. His boundaries are wide enough so that within them, we can freely be just what we are. 

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Inspiration in a homemaking journal

Today, during a few leisurely minutes, I worked on assembling a fun little project I started a while ago - an inspirational notebook.

I actually got the idea from Jewels, a while ago. What she suggested was basically that you take a plain notebook, and making it beautiful and inspirational by gluing in homemaking-related photos, and perhaps some quotes that you would love to come across as you're making an entry. Of course, you should leave space for your own entries as well!

I used photos cut up from a catalog, along with some texts I printed out, and as you can see I left some blank spaces as well. The photos are of things that make me inspired, homemaking-wise - nicely set up tables, prettily made beds, and all sorts of beautiful and practical home utensils. Of course a similar journal can have different themes as well (for example, a homeschooling record notebook might contain photos of children or fun activities, a gardening journal can be decorated by photos of your favorite plants, etc).

Just thought I would share this, as it's really easy to make, aesthetically pleasing, and fun to do with children.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Fun and fireworks

 We had great fun celebrating Independence Day - here are a couple of photos of decorative bright lights and fireworks.
Hope everyone in Israel had a good time too!

Mrs. T

Monday, May 9, 2011

Independence Day

I'm not sure how many of my blog readers know this, but here in Israel, Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and victims of terror is coupled with Independence Day, meaning that today is Memorial Day, and tonight we're already going to have fireworks and celebrations. I've always felt that there is something profoundly right in this bittersweet order of things, especially here in Israel, where joy and sorrow often go hand in hand. 

So, a very happy Independence Day to all my Israeli friends and readers. I hope you have fun celebrating tonight and tomorrow, and hopefully, we'll have some pictures to share later.

Your friend,

Mrs. T 

Sunday, May 8, 2011

How I started eating meat again

 I’ve been a vegetarian for many years, and I was pretty happy with it. A couple of years back, I even wrote a post about the reasons it is so, and I can still stand by many of the reasons I stated back then.

Going to university and obtaining a degree in nutrition didn’t shake my beliefs at all. My nutrition, after all, was balanced, I said. I didn’t eliminate all animal protein and fat. I still included eggs, milk, cheese and butter in my ration. I was healthy and fit and my blood tests never showed any deficiencies.

When I was pregnant with Shira, I experienced an irresistible craving to eat fish, something that greatly surprised me, since I hadn’t touched fish in about twelve years prior to that. Nevertheless, I decided to go along with this craving and added fish to my diet. My husband suggested I might try eating chicken too, but I just didn’t feel up to that.

Even reading “Nourishing Traditions”, the great advocate for eating meat, didn’t make me feel I should try it. I was pregnant with my second child by then, and thought I’m fine as I am.

Then, after Tehilla was born, I started to experience a constant, nagging and irresistible sense of hunger. No matter what and how much I ate, I seemed to be hungry all the time – until I tried eating meat. Then I finally felt as though something in my stomach settled down. Ever since, I have included meat in my ration – not on a daily basis, more a weekly, but it’s a constant part of my diet now.

I have no explanation for this phenomenon, except that the burden of pregnancies and nursing created a sort of nutritional overload on my body, making it a necessity for me to provide more concentrated nutritious foods. I wonder if any of you have had similar experiences. 

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Candle creations

 
Above: a photo of my recently made vanilla and cinnamon scented candles.

I'm greatly enjoying this new hobby of mine, and must tell how wonderfully enthusiastic my husband has been about it. Recently he surprised me with a gift of beautiful new molds I can't wait to try, and also some glitter for decoration. I hope to upload pictures when I get to it.

Recently I was supposed to participate in a local handmade arts and crafts fair with my candles, but it rained and most of the people had to move inside, so in the end there was no room for me (as I called about joining quite late). Oh well, perhaps next time.

Monday, May 2, 2011

And the potty training saga continues…

If you aren’t a Mom who is going or has gone through potty training, I won’t blame you for skipping this post. If you are, you probably know exactly how I feel – knowing that all this will be over someday, in the near future, and perhaps sooner than you think; yet sometimes feeling as though you will be changing diapers forever.

Shira is currently 28 months old, and so far, only goes to potty when I chance to offer it at the right moment – which isn’t exactly a smashing success in my book. I know that physically, she must be ready, but I guess that mentally, something just doesn’t “click” – yet.

A couple of days ago, we had a really hot day around here, and I just took off her diaper and let her run around bare-bottomed. I placed the potty in her play area in the living room, and explained to her that whenever she feels the need to go, the potty is right there.

Soon after that, we had the first “miss” on the floor (thankfully, we have tiled floors in all rooms – no carpet). She looked down with curiosity and an expression of mild concern. Nothing to worry about, I encouraged her. Next time, just go in the potty.

The next time she missed the potty, she was even more worried. The third time, she was hysterical, clinging to me and begging me to hold her – even though I did my best to soothe her and didn’t express any anger or frustration whatsoever over her not going in the potty.

All that day, she didn’t go in the potty even once. I spent the entire day mopping up the floor – and being thankful it’s only the floor, and not the chairs or sofa.

Then, we had another few rainy days, it was too cold to continue going bare-bottomed, so we went back to diapers. Still, I think the experiment was not entirely useless, in the way that it evidently raised her awareness of bodily functions – now, every time she feels the need to go, she grabs her diaper, looks up at me, and says she doesn’t want to go on the floor. I then promptly offer the potty, and we have had more “hits” than usual.

Still, it’s obvious that we have a long way to go (a way that might be completed within days or within months). The goal is awareness and independence – she has to know she must go, and must be able to either use potty independently, or call me for aid. As long as it’s only guesswork on my part, we haven’t done much as far as I’m concerned, even if we’re using fewer diapers.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Gifts

 Above: a bouquet of flowers my husband brought home last Friday. Placed in a simple clear glass jar, it still adorns the center of our living room table, and the pictures and memories will be there long after the flowers fade away.
 The area we live in abounds in natural beauties we never cease to enjoy. Above and below: irises growing in the wild. White and gold. Purple and gold. Perfect.
 Ruins of... some building? I'm not sure, but one of these days we'll take a hike and look at it up close.
My friend Avigayil wrote a fabulous post on how contact with nature affected her children. I must say, I feel so blessed to be living in a beautiful rural area, surrounded by peacefulness, quiet, and a gorgeous mountain view. We also have a yard, a small one but you don't need much to enjoy the feeling of having your feet (and hands!) come in contact with earth.