Monday, December 31, 2012

Little by little, every day

In the past days, beginning since last week actually, I've had very little time for... well, for everything, it seems. And when things are a little rushed, as you may well imagine, my computer time - along with other personal pursuits - is the first to go. So what happened? Nothing too terrible; my husband is feeling a little under the weather, and took a few days off work. And of course, as you all know, when a family member is sick - and particularly when it's Daddy staying off work - your routine (often along with your sanity) flies straight out of the window.

For me, the most difficult part in days like these is the feeling that I'm milling around, trying to accomplish this and that - simple things, really - but somehow, nothing gets done. The barest essentials stretch throughout my entire day, and it feels like every little task demands thrice its usual time. And of course, laundry still needs to be taken care of, meals cooked, dishes washed, animals tended, play dates hosted, etc, etc. 

So, in the midst of my little frustrations, I decided to challenge myself and change my attitude. Perhaps, in the near future at least, efficient work is denied me. But I can still do something... and why not in the areas that can give me satisfaction, while also benefitting everyone involved?

Clutter is one of the things I find most difficult to tolerate. I see a place that can be beautiful, and yet it is messy; I see space that could be wonderfully utilized and easy to maintain and clean, and yet it is piled high with stuff I know we will never use again. This is especially jarring after I've visited the homes of other people, homes which are smaller than mine, yet every object has its proper place and function, and nothing unneeded is tolerated within the home - from necessity, which blossoms into something very inspiring (for me at least). 

However, I have also had to come to terms with the fact that I am married to a pack rat, who finds it hard to say goodbye not only to his 20-year-old floppy disks from the era when DOS still ruled, but also to some little baby sleeping bags which Shira used for perhaps one month, and Tehilla not at all, and which have been taking up much-needed shelf space for nearly 4 years now. Furthermore, my husband will rarely pass a dump with discarded furniture without rescuing a few boards, some door knobs, nails, etc. Most of these sit unused for years, until I (after a long process of negotiation) wheedle permission to dispose of them.

 

Please note I am not complaining. I realize this quality is part of my husband's self-sufficiency; he is always on the lookout for useful objects which help him in his DIY projects, which have saved us a great deal of money throughout the years. Whenever we do need something, we are almost certain to have it on hand. But due to such accumulation of various objects, our house - how shall I put it? - does not have the look of a showplace. 

So... having said all this, I realized that lately, I have been wallowing in bitterness over the inability to put the house in order the way I see fit. "Fine," I told myself, "I lost the battle. I will always cringe when people come to visit." But then, as I looked around me, I realized that all around the house, and especially in the yard, there is trash and clutter in abundance (without even taking the disputed stuff - and there's a lot of it - into account), and lately I have grown neglectful about it, because I couldn't have my own way in everything. Well, no more, I said - and began the job of clearing the yard. It might never look perfect, but it looks much better, and I feel much more accomplished, too, despite everything seemingly being upside down, at the moment.

Since I truly cannot know whether I will have time to log in tomorrow or not, perhaps now is also a good time to say that tomorrow will be our Shira's 4-th birthday. Actually, since we count a day from the evening before, now is tomorrow already! No words can be enough to say how grateful I am for this child - this wonderful, special child. So many sweet memories accompany the moment, 4 years ago now, when she was placed in my arms - so tiny, so fragile, so perfect. Now it's hard to imagine that once upon a time, she was not a part of our lives. 

I feel that if I'm going to write much longer, I will end up sounding completely incoherent, so I'd better wrap this up now. I hope to talk to you all soon, and certainly intend to fill you in on our (as planned, very modest) birthday celebrations. 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

A sunny morning

When I first woke on Saturday morning, I thought either my eyes deceive me, or the clock must be wrong, because I have never in living memory woken so late - not since I became a Mom, anyway! :o) But the mystery was solved when we did get up: during the night, the electricity in all of our house got unplugged, and since it was so dark and quiet, we just went on sleeping... it was very refreshing, though naturally, not something that can be repeated often. 

Naturally, we had to wait until the end of Shabbat before my husband could even attempt to fix the problem, which he eventually did. I must say it's really nice when your husband is gifted with his hands and possesses basic technical skills in plumbing, electricity, carpentry, etc, that enable your family to keep the home running smoothly without calling for professional help every other week!

Today, after a stormy weekend, was a day when the sun shines so nicely you feel you could spend the whole day outside, and just keep finding excuses to go out. I had all the materials ready for a project I have long wanted to do - a little sandbox for the girls. A couple of large solid rectangular wooden blocks for bordering (leftovers from this house's construction), some flat stones to go at the bottom, several bags of lovely clean sand my husband bought at a store for building supplies - and there you go; a very simple, inexpensive, yet highly satisfying sandbox. 

They spent a couple of hours there, in vast contentment. Don't they look engrossed? They certainly were. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Vocational Guidance for Girls

A visitor of this blog, Rebekah M, was kind enough to share with me a link to a book called Vocational Guidance for Girls, written by Marguerite Stockman Dickson and published in the year 1919. I started reading it and found it highly educative, in the way it portrays the first wave of feminism at the beginning of the 20-th century. Here are some interesting quotes from Chapter 1.

"The home, as a place where work is done, has lost a large part of its excuse for being. Among the poorer classes, women, like their husbands, being obliged to earn, and no longer able to do so in their homes, have followed the work to the factory. As a result we have many thousands of them away from their homes through long days of toil. Among persons of larger income, removal of the home industries to the factory has resulted in increased leisure for the woman—with what results we shall later consider. Practically the only constructive work left which the woman may not shift if she will to other shoulders, or shirk entirely, is the bearing of children and, to at least some degree, their care in early years. The interests once centered in the home are now scattered—the father goes to shop or office, the children to school, the mother either to work outside the home or in quest of other occupation and amusement to which leisure drives her."

"A second change in the conditions affecting home life is found in the increased educational aspirations of women. Once the accepted and frankly anticipated career for a woman was marriage and the making of a home. Her education was centered upon this end. To-day all this is changed. A girl claims, and is quite free to obtain, an education in all points like her brother's, and the career she plans and prepares for may be almost anything he contemplates. She may, or may not, enter upon the career for which she prepares. Marriage may—often does—interfere with the career, although nearly as often the career seems to interfere with marriage. Under the new alignment of ideals, there is less interest shown in homemaking and more in "the world's work," with a decided feeling that the two are entirely incompatible."

Here I will pause to say that perhaps thinking that homemaking and career are entirely incompatible - as was thought back in the times when career was primarily considered as an option for single women - is better than the attitude prevalent today, which claims that homemaking and career are entirely and fully compatible and both can be juggled with ease, without substantial cost to either home, career or children. Now women are expected to be able to do it all. 

"The girl, educated to earn her living in the market of the world, no longer marries simply because no other career is open to her; when she does marry, she is less likely than formerly, statistics tell us, to have children—the only remaining work which, in these days, definitely requires a home. Marriage and homemaking, therefore, are no longer inseparably connected in the woman's mind. Girls are willing to undertake matrimony, but often with the distinct understanding that their "careers" are not to be interfered with. To them, then, marriage becomes more and more an incident in life rather than a life work."

"A third disintegrating influence as affecting home life is the great increase of city homes. Urban conditions are almost without exception detrimental to home life. Congestion means discomfort within the home and decreasing possibility for satisfying there either material or social needs; while on every hand are increasing possibilities for satisfying these needs outside the home. Family life under such conditions often lacks, to an alarming degree, the quality of solidarity which makes the dwelling place a home. No longer the place where work is done, no longer the place where common interests are shared, the home becomes only "the place where I eat and sleep," or perhaps merely "where I sleep." The great increase of urban life during the last half century is thus a very real menace, and, since the agricultural communities constantly feed the towns, the menace concerns the country-as well as the city-dweller."

I must note I think that for us, living in "the country" and having a large yard for our own is a huge boost to pleasant home life. Our home may not be large, but we are not cooped up. I can open the door and easily let little children play outside, while watching over them from the window - something that could never be possible in an apartment building. We have space to grow things, keep animals and take nature walks, all of which gives us exercise, interest and contentment.

 And now to the subject of child-rearing:

"It is a commonly accepted fact that young children do better, both mentally and physically, in even rather poor homes than in a perfectly planned and conducted institution. And we need go no farther than this in seeking a sufficient reason for saving the home. This one is enough to enlist our best service in aid of homemaking and home support.

From earliest ages woman has been the homemaker. No plan for the preservation of the home or for its evolution into a satisfactory social factor can fail to recognize her vital and necessary connection with the problem. Therefore in answer to the question "What ought woman to be?" we say boldly, "A homemaker." Reduced to simplest terms, the conditions are these: if homes are to be made more serviceable tools for social betterment, women must make them what they ought to be. Consequently homemaking must continue to be woman's business—the business of woman, if you like—a considerable, recognized, and respected part of her "business of being a woman." Nor may we overlook the fact that it is only in this work of making homes and rearing offspring that either men or women reach their highest development. Motherhood and fatherhood are educative processes, greater and more vital than the artificial training that we call education. In teaching their children, even in merely living with their children, parents are themselves trained to lead fuller lives."

"Women will bear and rear the children of the future, just as they have borne and reared the children of the past. But under what conditions—the best or those less worthy? And what women—again, the best or those less worthy? Has woman been freed from subjection, from an inferior place in the scheme of life, only to become so intoxicated with a personal freedom, with her own personal ambition, that she fails to see what emancipation really means? Will she be contented merely to imitate man rather than to work out a destiny of her own? We think not. When the first flush of freedom has passed, the pendulum will turn again and woman will find a truer place than she knows now or has known."

Yes! It took a long time, but we're getting there. The daughters and granddaughters of the first feminists are realizing the price home life paid, and they are reclaiming the honor for what was allegedly a "boring" and "menial" occupation. Women are coming home, full-time or part-time, or at least they try to make most of their hours at home, because they realize there is no replacement for spending time with one's children. Also, many are reclaiming the lost home arts by sewing, knitting, cooking and baking from scratch, making jams and preserves at home, etc. Yes, clothing can be cheaply bought, but when you make some items for yourself, you feel satisfaction and get an individual garment no one else has. And yes, it's easiest to pick canned goods off supermarket shelves, but factories will never use traditional slow fermenting and pickling methods, and thus the nutritional values of food are reduced.

"Two obstacles to the successful pursuit of her ultimate vocation stand prominently before the young woman of to-day: first, the instruction of the times has imbued her with too little respect for her calling; second, her education teaches her how to do almost everything except how to follow this calling in the scientific spirit of the day. She may scorn housework as drudgery, but no voice is raised to show her that it may be made something else."

It is amazing how relevant this quote is even today, almost a hundred years later. 

I will certainly continue reading! 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The end of an era

Tehilla, who always asked to be nursed before nap time and sleep time, dispensed with her beloved routine as a matter of course. She is now 2 years and 3 months old. 

Such an event, I imagine, is bittersweet for many mothers all around the world, but I am at peace and thankful for what had been. I can give praise and feel deep gratitude for knowing that, at least, this first and essential task of motherhood was accomplished successfully. Nursing my children was a lovely long period of time, and I enjoyed it to the fullest. Now we are ready to move on to other things, different but equally wonderful, that life has in store for us. 

We have gone a long way. When I first became a mother, I wasn't sure whether I'm holding the baby the right way, whether I'm producing, and she getting, any milk. An uneducated remark of a doctor about my ability to nurse reduced me to tears. But with Tehilla, it was all pretty much smooth sailing, which acted like a balm for past wounds, and I had had the most wonderful two and something years. 

To this day, I only have a vague idea of where baby formula is located on supermarket shelves, and how to prepare it, because I have never done that myself, and we never kept formula in the house. 

I will always have fond memories of breastfeeding, will always be a breastfeeding advocate, and will always be ready to share my (limited) experience with new Moms, and help in any small way I can to promote the lovely experience of breast-nourishment (physical and emotional) for other mothers and babies. 

This beautiful oil painting is "The Young Mother", by Charles West Cope, from 1845

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Practical beauty

Yesterday evening and throughout the night it rained a lot, and so today I woke up to see the world still wet, but bright and sunshiny; the rivulets of rain flowing down from the hills formed a sparkling silvery net. Inspired by the beauty of the day, we headed out to our little garden as soon as the morning chores were done, and dug into the fresh, damp, nice-smelling earth. We decided to go ahead and plant some vegetables, namely potatoes and garlic, that have sprouted in the refrigerator. We have had good experience in the past with planting potatoes that way. 

While I worked, I meditated on how many things are so beautiful to me, not because they are fancy, but because they paint a picture of a home where life is lived constantly, on a day-to-day, hour-to-hour basis, some satisfying hard work is accomplished, and good times are enjoyed:

- Clothes on the line, billowing in a soft breeze;
- A shiny pot or two on the stove, bubbling with soup or stew; 
- An apron hanging from a peg in the kitchen;
- A glass, copper on stainless steel kettle of tea; 
- Beds fluffed up with fresh linens;
- A sewing machine set out and ready, with some fabric situated right by it; or a pair of knitting needles next to a ball of yarn;
- Food growing in the garden, whether in the form of plants or animals - because it speaks of humane farming and self-sustainability; 
- Woodwork in the process of being done - garden furniture, swings, house extensions, barns, decks... several of our neighbours have recently completed very nice decks, and it has been a pleasure to watch them at their work. 


Illustration picture from innaartwork.com

Of course I love also other, purely decorative things, such as candles, flowers, homemade soaps, paintings, oil burners, crocheted table mats, and the list is long. But there's just so much beauty in the daily life, even without all the embellishments. It goes without saying that neatness, cleanliness and order (as much as can be expected at one's season of life) enhance every beauty that may be found at home. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Some time in the kitchen

Today, we had a cold and rainy morning - far too wet to take our usual walk - so the girls and I spent a couple of cozy hours in the kitchen, making sufganiyot, a traditional Hanukkah treat - basically little fried buns, usually filled with jam, chocolate, sweetened condensed milk and such like (I used apricot jam). Since those involve deep frying, I make them literally once a year, and even then usually after my husband requests them several times. :o)

Here is the recipe I used:

4 cups flour
1 tbsp. dry yeast
2 eggs (I used our home-grown eggs)
a pinch of salt
4 tbsp. sugar
2 tbsp. sweet wine - I've heard alcohol prevents the buns from absorbing too much oil during frying, don't know if it's true but I decided to give it a try. You can't taste the wine in the finished product. It's also possible to use other alcohol, such as brandy/cognac, although I imagine the taste will be more pronounced. 
1 tbsp. lemon zest
approx. 1.5 cups warm water - you have to knead the dough while gradually adding the water, until you reach desired consistency. I always mix all ingredients before I begin adding water. Dough should be soft and pliable and readily workable. 

After you knead, let the dough rise until it doubles in size. Now we get to the interesting part... usually the buns are filled by puncturing them after they are ready, and sort of "pumping in" the filling. It's a messy process, so I was delighted to discover a new idea for filling, which I tried out today, with great results:

When the dough has risen, roll it out on your working surface - not too thinly. Cut out circles with a cup. Take the filling and place some in the middle of every second circle. Cover those circles with the others, which have no filling, and press the edges firmly. Drop into hot oil and fry on both sides until you get a nice golden-brown color. This way, most of my sufganiyot were beautiful and round, and no filling leaked out. 

These are often sprinkled with powdered sugar on top, but I decided to dispense with that, as powdered sugar has a tendency to get everywhere. They were delicious without. :o)

Enjoy, and do let me know if you happen to try them out! 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Thank you, dear friends

Thanks to all who have commented on my last post. You are so wonderfully supportive. Our goat seems to be doing well, but is much more nervous and easily spooked than usual, which is quite understandable. The sound of a window opening, for example, is enough to send her running. I hope this won't be a long-lasting change in her personality. I can tell you I'm very twitchy myself, checking on the goats and chickens much more often than usual. 

I went to the local authorities, and when confronted by them, the dog owner said he was "sorry" and promised it "would never happen again." Unfortunately I know his heart isn't really in it, otherwise he would have told the same to my husband right away, not just under threat of a fine. Truly, I believe there should be a "potentially dangerous dog license" the same way there is a driver's license, with the possibility to take the license (and dog) away under certain circmstances. 

For today, here's a random shot from our yard: a cute featherball of a bantam cochin cockerel. 

I wish a happy Hanukkah to all my Jewish readers, and an enjoyable holiday season to you all! 

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Not very festive

Last night, we lit the first Hanukkah candle, but I'm afraid this post isn't going to be exactly festive. You know I don't often go into rants here on the blog, so I hope that this time you will just bear with me, because I believe I have a good reason to complain. Besides, I really need to let off some steam. 

Yesterday after lunch, we managed to get a really nice, lazy Shabbat nap. Then, some time later, we woke to the sound of barking outside our window. My first thought was, "oh no, the dog got loose". But when I pulled the curtain aside, I realized two things: 1) the dog isn't mine, and 2) one of our goats is pressed into a corner of the balcony, trembling from head to hoof, and BLEEDING from her ear. As soon as we hurried forward to rescue the goat, we noticed with a shudder that a chunk of her ear is actually missing. The poor thing was clearly in pain, and so frightened.

Well, it turned out the dog's owner was not far away. He took his dog for a walk, and simply decided that he'd let her loose for a bit, so she might get some running about. Unfortunately, she chose to run into our yard and maim our goat. If this isn't enough, when we confronted him we met total lack of remorse and utter defiance. According to him, he "couldn't be expected to always keep his dog on a leash". When we pointed out that we, too, sometimes let our dog run around with no leash for exercise, only we do it FAR from anyone's (human or animal) place of habitation, he had the audacity to say he "can't be bothered to walk too far", and that we are guilty (!) for not keeping our goats penned up. As if it would be justifiable to have his dog in our yard as long as no actual damage was done! Just to clarify matters, we aren't talking about someone old or crippled or very overweight, but about a young, lean, apparently fit man who looks perfectly capable of jogging along with his dog. This is just what is very accurately described by the Hebrew word "chutzpah". 

He offered to pay "whatever expenses" we might have as a result, but naturally, nothing will repair our goat's ear. Of course, this morning I issued a complaint to our local authorities. A person who owns a dangerous dog and isn't prepared to be responsible for it shouldn't be allowed to keep one. 

The poor sufferer, today. She appears to be eating with good appetite, but she doesn't get into everything as much as usual. Most of the time she keeps close to the house, and to me. From this angle you can't see her maimed ear, but if you have very tender sensibilities, you probably want to skip the next couple of photos.

 I just feel like crying every time I look at her. She is so friendly, and a special favorite with us all. I've been giving her treats (cabbage leaves, banana peels and other such delicacies) and extra affection all day. 
We called our vet and got instructions for disinfecting the wound, and today we emailed the photos above to her. Perhaps she'll drop by for monitoring, to make sure there is no infection. 

It is so VERY crucial to be responsible for one's dog, especially if you own a large breed. Our dog is a pet and generally very friendly to everyone, but we wouldn't dream of letting her loose if there's the slightest chance she might encounter and startle someone, let alone do actual damage. I shudder to think about what might have happened if one of the children was playing in the yard at the time the aforementioned accident happened. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Rain, rain, don't go away...

... Stay around for one more day...

or even two. :o)

The outside chores are done, the goats are in their house, and we're sitting very cozily here at home. There are eggplants, for eggplant dip, baking in the oven and the kitchen is nice and warm, and we're all having such a perfectly wonderful time, telling stories, making Hanukkah crafts and just doing this, that and the other thing. 

And I thought this woodstove picture is just so cozy. Yes, I know some of you lucky ones have woodstoves or fireplaces in your homes! How you must be enjoying them right now. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A surprise gift

For a while now, I have been thinking Shira needs a new bed to replace her creaky and narrow one. And... while going about our errands yesterday, guess what we found waiting for us at the side of a road, ready to be picked up?

I know, I know - I couldn't believe it either! And such a short distance from our home, too, which made it possible to haul it up and tie it to the top of the car and make our triumphant drive very slowly and carefully (altough I do confess, all along I was afraid to hear a mighty crash just behind us, which would mean our load has fallen!). 

It seems to me that, since even before we were married, we haven't thought in the terms of needing something, then just going into a store and buying it. Most of our furniture and many appliances and household items were either gifts, hand-me-downs or fabulous unexpected finds (which, interestingly, made their way into our hands and our home just as we needed them the most). I don't feel at all deprived because of that. Gently used furniture is so much better for a home with little children, because then you don't have to fuss because of stains or crumbs. And after a few months with us, an item of furniture is not so gently used anymore. 

We finally got the much-needed rain around here, and it got quite dark around midday - a perfect opportunity to light some candles and make some bread. One tray is now in the oven, and the other awaiting its turn. Laundry is spread inside today, on the drying rack. I know it will take a longer time to dry inside, but I don't mind waiting because I took good advantage of the previous sunny days and am well caught up on my washing. 

Whenever I find myself in a rainy day that doesn't permit me to leave the house, I daydream about a Viking winter, the way I imagine it based on books - a smoky longhouse; a snowy blizzard outside; people gathered 'round the fire, mending tools, women spinning, weaving and sewing, telling stories, and passing the long winter away, waiting for the renewal brought by Spring. Not that I would actually want to get snowed in for several months with a few dozen other people in one hall, but it makes for a nice daydream. 

I hope your day, rain or snow, wind or sunshine, is lovely - wherever you are.

Mrs. T 

Monday, December 3, 2012

And more beauty

In the past days, I have fallen into a negative circle of going to bed late, getting up late, and as a consequence, having my whole day rushed and stressed while I'm chasing my tail, trying to do all that needs to be done. Today, I will do my best to break this circle by going to bed early. 

As a somewhat random thought, a quote from "To Love, Honor and Vacuum" springs to my mind: "Let's face it. Housework's depressing." I find that I cannot agree, not quite, at least, because the term "housework" covers so much. Being a wife and mother at home is really a job with so much variation. Sure, there are the tasks I don't particularly relish (although I still do them every day) like washing the dishes or mopping floors. But I do love laundry, cooking, wiping the windows. There are a lot of things that I do around here that give me satisfaction, not only in having done them (such as a pile of clean dishes) but in the process of doing them. Were it not so, I think it would be quite a challenge to remain at home for even as long as I have so far. 

And, while I'm getting back into my stride, here are a couple more photos from Eilat. 

A lovely little harbor.

At night.

And, another stretch of lovely desert, with some well-adapted trees. Did I mention I (various considerations aside) wouldn't mind living among this magnificence?

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Beauty

Around here, another week began today. We haven't had rain for a good number of days already, and also I know in my mind that I ought to pray for as much rain as possible, my heart loves the sunny, breezy winter days, which mean the laundry billowing in the warm wind, splendid long walks enjoying all the new greenery outside, visits with friends, all the children playing together in the sunshine, and, recently, taking the goats out to pasture.

Below, some beautiful photos taken by my mother in the Utopia park.
Photo

Photo

Photo\

Photo
Some very lovely goats. So cute!

Photo
And a mother hen with her chicks. Adorable.

Wishing the loveliest week to you all,

Mrs. T