Monday, January 30, 2012

Cold and rainy out, warm and snug in

Above: the chickens, a bit damp and bedraggled, but still happy to be outside after a bout of rain.

I'm happiest when the sun is shining, which is why it's lucky I live in Israel. Rain puts me in an almost sleepy mood, almost as if I'm hardly aware of the time passing by. Still, there's a certain magic to rainy days; knowing I don't have to go out, I can concentrate on what needs/can be done inside. 

Oh, and it's also cold. It doesn't get cold cold in Israel, you'll point out. But precisely because our winters are so short, it would be a waste to have central heating in the houses, so the when it's cold outside, it's cold inside. I'm currently wearing a thick pair of pants, a denim skirt, two pairs of socks (one of them thick), and two sweaters, one of them knitted for me by Rose the previous winter. And my feet still feel cold. I can hardly wash the dishes if the water hadn't been pre-heated earlier.

In addition, now we've moved Out to the Hills, I've discovered the true meaning of windy. All I had experienced before, I've found out, is a breeze. When you go out to feed the chickens and get blown off course, now, that's windy. When you can't let your kid join you in the yard for fear she'll be picked up by a gust of wind and carried away, that's windy. And if I hadn't known this house has already withstood a couple of windy seasons, I would be worrying myself silly every night, wondering whether I won't wake up in the morning with the roof gone. 

If you shovel the snow every morning, go ahead and laugh at me. If you have decent heating and can still feel your toes, count yourself lucky. I, in the meantime, will go and look for another pair of socks.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Driven to De-Clutter online class membership giveaway

A week whizzed by, and the giveaway drew to a close. Shelly, Verna, Beth, Miri and Lavender Garden are the lucky winners; please email me at domesticfelicity@gmail.com, so I can forward your email address to Youthful Homemaker, and then you will receive instructions on how to take advantage of your free membership.

Happy de-cluttering!

Anna

Thursday, January 26, 2012

A 10%-off coupon at Princess Modest Swimwear

Just a short note to let my readers know that Princess Modest Swimwear is once again giving a discount coupon of 10%, which will be available until the end of February. The code is FELICITY.

Wishing everyone a good Shabbat!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Time

Following my latest Shabbat post, Avigayil pointed out that not everybody experiences Shabbat in the same way. The more I thought of it, the more I felt myself to be in agreement that indeed, for many Shabbat preparations and Shabbat itself is not a source of enjoyment, but rather, stress, rush and fatigue.

For almost the past 4 year now, ever since I was married, I have had the pleasure and liberty (and sometimes challenge and struggle) of being a stay-at-home wife and mother. I have also, temporarily, found myself working part-time, which did much to confirm my belief that I need to be home full-time in order to fully enjoy my occupation as a wife, mother and homemaker. 

I can imagine that if I worked outside the home, I would not have time to do the necessary preparations throughout the week that make my Fridays so much less stressful - such as menu planning and freezer cooking. Also, I would get used to a child-free environment if my children weren't with me full-time, and then their noise and boundless energy would come as a shock every weekend. 

If I met Shabbat after a week spent rushing here and there, I would not have the energy to host nicely set, pretty meals for my family, let alone guests. If I didn't have a moment's rest during the week, on Shabbat I probably would feel resentful towards my husband for resting after his tough week. Perhaps we'd spend most of the Shabbat squabbling over who takes more of the "chore" of being with the children. 

What am I getting at? Essentially, that I'm not superior to anyone, not cleverer than anyone, nor do I have any great secret. Quite simply, to enjoy life at the fullest, as I perceive it, I need time. This is a gift I have had in abundance during the last 4 years - time for the important things. There were plenty of days when I went to bed exhausted, but I was mostly home, and my children were always with me. I didn't have to cope with the additional stress of shipping them off to an institution every day, so my husband and I could go our separate ways until evening. 

And, if already we are speaking of the gift of time, perhaps this is a good opportunity to mention that our Shira turned 3 not long ago, and as I look at her, so healthy and beautiful, so lively, funny and curious, I am immensely thankful for being given the chance to simply be with her, and enjoy her, these past 3 years. Nothing, ever, is likely to make me regret the precious time spent with my children. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Leftover rice kugel


I don't have the camera today, so I am using the photo from gourmetkoshercooking.com


Ever been stuck with leftover rice? Nowadays, they usually go to the chickens, but today I made kugel from some leftover rice:

2 cups plain cooked rice
2-3 eggs
approx. 1\2 cup sweetener - sugar, molasses etc. I used date spread.
a handful of dried fruit - I used prunes and dried apricots, but raisins would be perfect
a dash of cinnamon and vanilla essence to taste

Mix thoroughly, pour into baking pan of appropriate size and bake until top is golden brown. I baked for 40 minutes at medium heat, but this will vary considering your oven and the depth of the baking pan.

Enjoy!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Driven to De-Clutter - online class review and membership giveaway

Recently, I was contacted by Youthful Homemaker with an offer to review their online class called Driven to De-Clutter. Naturally, I gladly agreed; I never signed up for online classes which I'd have to pay for, so this time I was happy to take advantage of the free membership that was offered to me.

As the name implies, the online class is about de-cluttering - not only your home, but also your time, your social engagements, and your life in general. This strongly resonates with my own opinion which I have expressed here on the blog in the past, that less is more, and that too many things, commitments and relationships leave us drained and frazzled.

Now, I will be honest. Most of the tips I read on Driven to Declutter, I was either familiar with from other sources, or figured out on my own - but keep in mind that I have been browsing the web for efficient homemaking advice for years. If I were only beginning, and if I had a bit of loose cash, perhaps I would consider paying for having all the helpful advice (along with an easily accessible question form) neatly arranged for me.

Youthful Homemaker offers free memberships to five of my readers, so if you are interested, do sign up and I will pass your name and email along. I will leave this option for a week, so everybody has the chance to enter. In addition, any of my readers who decide to sign up, will receive a 10$ discount if they enter the code  DOMESTICFELICITY.


Good luck to us all as we endeavour to get rid of the clutter in our homes and lives!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Shabbat: the peak of my week

About two weeks ago, only a couple of hours after Shabbat was over, I approached my husband and asked: "so, what do you fancy I should cook for next Shabbat?"

He found this funny, but the truth is, I start planning, and often cooking and freezing for Shabbat, starting from the beginning of the week. It feels as though my whole week is leading up to Shabbat, which is undoubtedly the most important day of the seven.

It is a day of family togetherness. Throughout the week, we don't always have a daily family meal together - the children and I eat together, of course, but my husband often comes home when the girls are already in bed. We have resorted to emailing each other, because often, it's difficult to squeeze in even a hurried phone call. Shabbat, on the other hand, means the luxury of Daddy and his girls being together all day long. 

It is a day of hospitality. During the week, of course I get to meet other moms for informal get-togethers at the playground, but overall we are all pulled into our separate routines. Shabbat means opening our doors to others for a leisurely Shabbat meal full of laughter, noise, fellowship and sharing. It also means inviting, sometimes on the spur of the moment, neighbours whom we don't normally see during the week. It means forging connections, building a real community of friends who can count on each other in times of need.

It is a day of peace and rest. There's the luxury of midday nap, of course, but also, and especially, the knowledge that no cell phones will ring, no emails will need to be answered, and talking about paying the bills or planning for the week ahead is actually forbidden. Not just our bodies, but our minds and souls are refreshed by the pleasant rest of easy conversation, Shabbat songs, and appropriate reading and study. 

That is the precious gift I receive each week, starting on Friday and ending with Saturday night. Tomorrow night, I will be once more lighting the Shabbat candles, forging yet another link in the chain that connects us to Mt. Sinai. I can hardly wait. 

Beautiful illustration art by Victor Brindatch

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Compulsory education in Israel from age 3

In the past months, a lot of debate has been going on in Israel about providing government-funded preschools from the age of 3. Recently, the Knesset approved compulsory education from age 3. Most of the talk was, really, about "free" education, while the compulsory factor was treated as a non-issue - because, really, who in their right mind would keep a preschooler at home? 

For a long time, I was confused, optimistically thinking that we are only talking about free, not compulsory, preschool attendance, but recently I've been disillusioned. In particular, today we have discussed this with some other mothers who live nearby (as you may recall from my previous post on home education, our neighbourhood is unique in the sense that most 3-year-olds are at home with their mothers). 

So, the way things are looking right now, those who still keep their 3-year-olds at home are now trespassing upon the new law, but in reality parents are hopefully going to be pretty much left to their own devices until the children reach the age of 5 (well, at least in small communities like ours, I'm not sure what will happen in towns or cities). Among us, the moms in question, there was consensus that the new law shouldn't really make a difference to us. Those who have been planning to send their child to preschool/kindergarten next year, will do so, and those who intend to keep the child home for another year will do so as well, trusting that no one will actually knock on their door and harass them to enroll their child in school. 

So what does this new law get us? First, in my eyes, it is yet another step in detaching mothers even further from their young children. In areas where the new law will be more zealously upheld, some mothers who would otherwise have wanted to keep their preschoolers home, will send them to school. And I'm not under an illusion this is the end of it:


MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud), who chairs the Knesset’s Committee on the Status of Women, welcomed the new law.
“I welcome the Prime Minister’s full commitment to changing national priorities,” she said. “Education is one of the central obligations of any state to its citizens and it cannot be that so many families have to bow to the burden of educating their children while other families avoid proper education of their children for financial reasons. This is the essential first step in the revolution that would give free education already from the age of thee months.” (emphasis mine)

Financially, the law will hurt those who don't benefit from it - such as people who do not wish to send their children to preschools. You see, to fund free preschool, they are detracting off the budget of other things. So ultimately, the government hand once more finds its way to the taxpayer's pocket. 

On the other hand, I can perhaps imagine that this law might prompt more people to fight for official, easily attainable permission to homeschool, once those who could have "unofficially" kept their children at home at least until the age of 5 will find themselves unable to do that. 

The key word here, in my opinion, is choices. The education of children has always been the responsibility of parents, and Jews have always had strikingly high literacy levels, even at periods of history when this was most uncommon. I don't believe there are parents in Israel who don't wish their children to be educated in the best way possible. Taking this responsibility out of our hands is like saying: you are inadequate, you are incapable, you don't know what is good for your own children. We do, and we will make you do things our way.

Regardless of what their personal educational choices might be, I don't think Israeli parents should take this implied statement in their stride.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Random thoughts on home education

Question from a reader:


"I am very curious as to what led you to the decision to want to homeschool your kids. Still, truth be told all the orthodox Jewish families I know in Israel and America send their kids to religious schools, and you are the first Jewish woman I have heard of who home schools her children."


I wouldn't define us as "homeschoolers" just yet, as our older daughter is only 3 years old, not a compulsory education age in Israel, and we aren't doing any official "lessons" yet. However, it is true that the vast majority of children her age in Israel attend preschool, and in the place we have lived previously, people saw it as very odd that our daughter (back then, aged 2.5 years) is "still" at home. 

Yesterday, at a family event, a relative (herself a mother to 4 children, aged 5 years to 2 months) wondered how I can stay home with my two girls without "going crazy", as she herself said happens to her after just one Shabbat with her children. My answer to her was that I, of course, do go crazy, on average ten times a day! When she pressed me for a serious reply, I said that I heard many mothers complain of the same thing, and in my opinion, once you have a certain routine it's far easier to run along with. If your routine is having children around the house during the day, it might be a very messy, very noisy routine, but usually you end up adjusting and even having fun. If having children around is more of an exception, of course having them all land on your head at once might be overwhelming and get you wondering how you will survive the summer vacation. 

Currently we are very blessed to be living in a place where most children are home at least until the age of 3-4, and there is also a family who homeschools. But again, yes, this is vastly different from what is normal throughout Israel. You will not easily find a 1-year-old cared for at home by his mother, in secular and religious families alike. 

On one of my first dates with my husband, he first brought up the subject of home education, how young children should be home with their mothers, and what a waste of time and potential most schools are, serving largely as government-funded babysitters so that mothers can go out to work. I tell all this in a nutshell now, but we remained sitting in the car for hours, discussing this. I was amazed how he voiced the very ideas about childrearing I was hesitant to bring up, as I thought they would sound too unusual. 

Raising children is an ongoing adventure with unexpected turns. I don't think one can say in advance "we'll do things in such and such way exactly"; however, it's true we were interested in learning more about homeschooling from the start. I'm not sure we'll end up actually homeschooling, but for now, I can definitely say I greatly enjoy being home with my girls, aged 3 years and 16 months, and wouldn't trade the time spent with them for anything. I like the approach of delaying academics and allowing young children to be "educated" by nature; by sun, wind, sky, earth, air, plants, birds, animals; and to learn by actively participating in real life and the running of a household, being allowed to "help out" from a very early age. 

Monday, January 16, 2012

Hello from the hills

Things have been busy, busy, busy here lately, in this little house nestled at the side of a hill. What with a very rainy week, which meant staying mostly inside (and making three times as much mess as usual), and having people over for (a very rainy, etc) Shabbat, time just whizzed by without me making a single update in over a week. In the short time I had off, I did write (frantically!), but not online.

Just before last Shabbat, I heard my little black hen clucking in a worried sort of way, like she usually does when she wants to let me know there's a stray cat around. But when I went out, I saw a different type of intruder.

This type of partridge is a common local bird I'm very partial to, and I'm sure you can see why. Cute, isn't it? It has a round shape and is about the size of a small hen. I particularly like seeing them with their chicks walking after their mama all in a straight line. This one was attracted by the all-day buffet we offer to the chickens.
The hens were a bit suspicious at first...
But ended up letting the guest eat from their tray, as you can see above. It stayed for two days, pecking around the yard with the chickens, then left - probably to rejoin its own flock.

I hope to post again before long. In the meantime, wishing you all a wonderful week,

Your friend,

Mrs. T

Friday, January 6, 2012

A short time before Shabbat

Time is short, and there is always so much to do before Shabbat - floors to mop, laundry to hang out, children to bathe and dress, and most of all, food to cook. Somehow, even though I begin planning for Shabbat since the beginning of the week, and start cooking (and freezing) sometime around mid-week, I always find myself with some last-minute ideas and in the midst of a frantic race, complete with counting down minutes until sunset and the soothing moment of lighting Shabbat candles, when all work ceases.

In particular, since we moved into our new home, we're having much more company over than we used to. We are fortunate enough to have got, for free, a very nice sturdy table which comfortably extends to ten seats, and I use its maximum capacity because I just never know how many guests are going to show up for Friday night dinner. What's nice, though, is that around here, guests usually bring their own food from home (especially if the invitation was on the spur of the moment), which turns each dinner into a pot luck party.

What I love the most about good food (besides its being comfortingly delicious), is the wonderful smell that wafts all through the house as I am cooking. I love dishes which call for long, slow cooking, because it permits me to enjoy their aroma for a longer while. Yesterday, for instance, I made beef stew that cooked for 3 hours. The smell and warmth were delightful, especially in cold weather!

I must be off; Shabbat preparations are calling strongly, even though it's only 10 AM. I wish all my readers a very pleasant weekend!

Mrs. T

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Midnight rose


My midnight rose, who dwells in crumbled stone!
I crave your scent; your fragrance makes me yearn
For moments past, for dreams and days long gone,
For distant lands, for paths with no return.

The stars are gone; the world will soon remain
Black as your heart, and ignorant of pain
That plagues the souls of those who dare to hope,
Who cannot tell themselves to call a stop.

My twilight rose! The field of war still burns,
The battle in my heart will never end.
I reach for you, forgetful of your thorns,
But you slip through my hands like fickle sand.

The woods, the smells and sounds of summer night - 
These memories make me your helpless prey.
I'm yearning for the day, for morning's light,
Forgetting I will die with first sun's ray.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

For the childless

I recently received the following question from a reader:

"Do you have any advice for those of us who want to be traditional wives and mothers, yet are, as it seems, unable to conceive?"

I decided to publish this here, in case some of my readers have valuable experience that they would like to share. 

Personally, I have no experience in the difficulty of fertility struggles, as we held our first child in our arms only 10 months after we were married. However, I will do my best to say a couple of things, some of them based on a wonderful book (in Hebrew) by a rabbi I much respect. 

It is a Jewish belief that all our matriarchs (Sarah, Rebecca, Leah and Rachel) struggled with infertility - yes, even Leah, who had numerous children. The plight of Sarah and Rachel is perhaps most widely known, as is that of Hannah, mother of Samuel the prophet. The point is, those wondrously righteous women of the Bible struggled with the heart-wrenching pain of yearning for children and not having any for many years, despite them being many degrees higher in faith and closeness to G-d than any of us will ever be. Their pain did not mean that they were doing anything wrong, or that G-d didn't love them; He had a very special plan for their lives, and worked sheer miracles - our sages tell that Sarah, in fact, had no womb! So she was physically definitely unable to carry a child, yet she did. Now, I'm not saying any of us can expect quite that degree of a miracle, but there are many stories of people who conceived against very low odds.

I won't go into details of possible fertility treatments, medical tests, methods to enhance one's fertility, etc, because you don't need me to tell you all this; I'm sure you and your husband, as a couple, can discuss what is the right path for you, in this area. Some families are blessed beyond words by adoption. A relative of mine married a widower with 3 adopted children; with 2 children of her own from a previous marriage, and 3 common children, they are now a family of 10, all happily living in the same house. G-d works in marvellous ways, uniquely in each person's life.

Then there is the matter of being a traditional wife, which in people's minds is most often connected with having a large brood of children - but the fact is, while young children are those whose need in the stability of a well-established household is most readily perceived, we all need stable, warm, welcoming homes, no matter how old we are. As Susan Schaeffer Macaulay beautifully explains in her book, "For the Family's Sake", homemaking isn't only for couples with children - it is for married childless couples too, as well as for single people. It is important to the individual, as well as the community. 

There were many women who didn't have children, yet their homes were warm, open and welcoming, largely thanks to the wife, who still took effort to work at her home and take care of her husband's needs; those childless women could be more at leisure with their time than other people, able to extend hospitality more, serve as counsellors, perhaps unofficially "adopt" lonely children who came back from school to empty homes. All through history of mankind, until relatively recently (a century or so) it was considered proper for a woman to find her place within the home, whether she was single, married, or widowed. Community was active and work was plenty. One of my ever-favorite novelists, Jane Austen, remained single, yet lived a home-centered, productive life.

I confess I cannot really imagine my life without my dear children; I don't really know what my life would have been like now, if they hadn't made it so action-packed, full of fun, mess and noise. Yet I do try, from time to time, to look forward into that inevitable point of my life when my little ones are grown and gone - and it will happen, some day. At that point, perhaps I will be able to put more effort into areas of homemaking which are currently pushed aside (such as ironing, decorating, and cooking on a more time-consuming scale than I do now). I might also be able to be more active in my community, to do more to support other people, and practice hospitality on a larger scale. Actually there are so many things for which I would love to find time, but I won't list them all because that would be different for each person. 

I don't know whether anything of what I said "clicks" with you in your present situation, but I do hope and pray that you find peace, joy, and abundant blessing as you are walking along the path of your life, under the loving and watchful eye of our Creator, who made us, knows us and loves each one of us, precious and unique as we are in his eyes. 

Warmly, with my very best wishes,

Mrs. T