Thursday, July 31, 2008

Baby crafts

babyset 002, originally uploaded by Anna's musings.

A few months ago, a lovely lady who visits this blog directed me to a very sweet pattern on I'm now making a set for a newborn, following this pattern. In the picture, you can see the sweater I've made good progress on (I'll add sleeves later) - and next to it, a pair of sunglasses, for you to get an estimation of its size. The set also includes booties and hat.

Ladies who like to crochet and are interested in the pattern (with detailed instructions in English) are welcome to email me at, and I'll be happy to send it in a PDF file.

Today, Tammuz 28, is my 23-rd birthday. My "other birthday" is July 17-th, that was two weeks ago. Things have certainly changed a lot for me in the past year! A year ago, I was a single young woman living at home. I had no idea that in just a few short months, God is going to lead me to my dear husband, and shortly I'll be married, move to a new home, and become pregnant! Indeed, this past year left me overwhelmed with joy and excitement. There's so much to do, pray about, and look forward to.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

In times of trouble

This week I found out that one of my favorite people in the blogging world, Amy, is going through a difficult time. I have been "visiting" Amy for over a year now, and I'm sure that those of you who had the chance to stop by Amy's blog at least once, came back again and again, attracted by the gentle, kind, loving and peaceful spirit of her writings. Amy is a devoted wife, helpmeet and mother, and has a passion for taking care of her family and home.

Recently, Amy's health began deteriorating, and it appears she has multiple sclerosis. Amy's husband is a soldier who is now deployed for a year; in the meantime, Amy is beginning to have more and more difficulty performing daily tasks. She has a 20-months-old daughter to take care of. Fortunately several kind people in her community offered their help and support in all that might be needed.

Amy's recent posts were amazing in their courage, grateful spirit, and faith in the Lord. Her words made me realize, more clearly than ever before, how much I have to be thankful for at this very moment: I'm alive and well, and not suffering from any pain or disability; my dear husband is also well, and even though he comes home late, at least I get to see him every day. I'm carrying a precious child, whose arrival is anticipated with prayerful joy. Soon we'll be moving to our own wonderful little home - an endless field for creativity and good work as we make a really cozy little nest out of it. Truly life is wonderful beyond measure - I have been so very, very generously blessed, and I'm ashamed of grumbling occassionally about things like dishes that need to be washed again, and again, and again. Bring on those dishes and dirty floors - at least I can wash my dishes and floors without any difficulty, and for that, I'm grateful.

I invite everyone to join in prayer for Amy, Sean and their little daughter. May the Lord faithfully guide them and protect them, every day during this hard time.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Fear of fertility

I've been thinking, once more, about how today's standard of beauty is much closer to a skinny teenage girl, rather than a mature, fertile woman who looks as if she is ready to bear children. A fertile woman normally has feminine curves and a healthy amount of flesh - only a minority of women are naturally very skinny. A typical woman is not skin and bones. She looks soft, womanly and motherly.

I've been somewhat on the petite side all my life - never even close to overweight. I've also been blessed to have healthy food preferences during pregnancy. I developed an aversion to chocolate, sweets, and almost all types of fried foods. Instead I've been craving fresh vegetables (in particular tomatoes) and fruit, soft cheese, and fish. Also, while I experienced a certain increase in my appetite, I'm not consuming double or tripe portions.

However, as would be naturally expected, I'm slowly gaining weight and becoming curvier. And you know what? My husband is very happy with that. Contrary to what glossy magazines promote, men like women who look like women. Soft curves were considered attractive in all times and cultures.

Open any magazine for women, and in many of them you'll see an ocean of tips on how to shed pregnancy weight, and squeeze into those jeans you used to wear in highschool six weeks after you gave birth. What nonsense. I realize I will never look like a teenager again, nor can I be reasonably expected to. I'm not saying we shouldn't make efforts to eat healthily and stay fit - on the contrary. But we must be realistic. Age, as well as bearing and nursing children, will change the shape of our bodies. Our husbands, too, won't stay eternally young. Our health, happiness, and loving relationships should not depend on, or be damaged by, the simple fact that we are all growing older.

Of course, in a culture that encourages 16-year-old girls and 40-year-old women to dress the same way - and very immodestly - it's difficult not to feel inferior because you gained a few extra kilos, the shape of your body has changed in some places, and you have stretch marks. But when you are liberated from exposing your body to strangers, only the loving eye of your husband will see the markings of age - which you acquired during your life together, and through bearing and nursing his children.

In a world ruled by feminism, mature women are pressured to look like teenage girls, and men are encouraged to look and behave like teenage boys. Androgyny is promoted, and men and women who dare to look and behave like mature adult men and women may feel less than welcome. Masculinity and femininity have been sacrificed on the altar of "equality", to the grief of the part of humanity that still has some reason left.

Pregnancy, nursing babies, and motherhood in general are now regarded as a weakness. Of course it cannot be completely eliminated, but it can be minimized by pushing birth control down our throats, and subtly convincing women to put off childbearing until such time when they wouldn't be able to have more than one or two children. Maternity, which used to be as natural as breathing, suddenly became a hindrance to women who are taught they can have it all, and don't understand why it seems near to impossible.

A few weeks ago, I happened to overhear the conversation of two women, one of whom was a mother of an 18-months-old toddler, and very pregnant with another baby. She was bemoaning the fact that her babysitter quit while she is in the middle of exam time in college, and she is forced to leave her little one in the hands of someone she hardly knew and didn't really trust.
"But what am I supposed to do?" - she asked in sincere frustration, - "give up my degree?"

This young mother, whose love for her child was shining through her very eyes, was clearly torn apart. Maybe all she needed was to have someone close and supportive who would tell her: yes, in such a situation it's better to quit college and take care of your family. Your husband and children need you.

We can be so much happier and so much more peaceful if we only stop fearing our nature, our age, and the changes the cycle of life draws upon us. Let us be women; let us be mothers; and let us be proud of the way God shaped our bodies and designed them to function.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Pregnancy and the digestive tract

A question from a fellow pregnant lady:

"Hi Anna. I'm pregnant and due around the same time as you. In the last couple of weeks, I began to suffer from very infrequent bowel movements and an uncomfortable feeling in my lower belly. I knew this is a common problem during pregnancy, but somehow didn't think it would happen to me because I've never suffered from it. Are there any changes I can make in my diet in order to improve my condition?"

You're right - constipation is very common during pregnancy. This delicate problem isn't discussed often, yet many pregnant women find that it makes their life extremely uncomfortable. The hormonal changes in the pregnant woman's body make her bowels move more slowly, and the growing uterus puts pressure on the intestine - two major factors that contribute to constipation during pregnancy. Iron supplements might cause constipation as well. Also, some pregnant women often don't feel like eating much, if they are suffering from nausea, and accompanying tiredness may prevent regular exercise - add all this up, and you'll see that you shouldn't be surprised at all.

Without treatment, constipation can become chronic and cause hemorrhoids, which is not at all pleasant, to say the least. That's why you are wise to pay attention to this problem.

You probably know all the usual advice - eat a fiber-rich diet, drink plenty, try to exercise regularly if you can - and indeed it's all very important. I would encourage you not to use laxatives, which only provide temporary relief and don't solve the problem. There are some natural fiber supplements available, but I truly think that eating plenty of vegetables, whole grains and fruit in your diet is both healthier and more effective. Some foods are known to gently stimulate the bowel, such as prunes and ripe tomatoes.

I will also suggest a natural remedy, which my husband told me about a few weeks ago, when I noticed similar symptoms. In the morning, right after you get up, take a tablespoon of cold-pressed olive oil with 6-7 drops of natural lemon juice. Fresh squeezed lemon juice is the best, but bottled is alright too. It's important that you do this before you have eaten anything, and if you can hold off about an hour before you have your breakfast, that's great.

You might feel improvement within a few days, or a week or two - depends on how serious your condition is and how long you have been suffering from constipation. Don't be discouraged if you don't experience immediate relief - it isn't meant to act as a laxative, but rather as a sort of "booster" to your digestive system. I must admit I fail to explain how exactly it works, but it does. In any case, preserve in this practice daily for three months, and after that continue once a week as a preventive measure. It's perfectly safe and natural, and olive oil is good for you in other ways beside constipation relief.

I wish you a happy and easy pregnancy, and a healthy baby!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Chickpea burgers

I found this recipe on Rhonda Jean's blog - and decided to give it a try, because it looked remarkably good. Following are Rhonda's simple instructions:

Into a blender or food processor add:

two cups of pre-soaked chickpeas
2 small onions
one carrot
1 stick celery
2 eggs
1 cup dry breadcrumbs or two potatoes
salt and pepper
¼ teaspoon turmeric
¼ teaspoon cumin

Whiz that up until it forms a thick paste. Form into patties and fry in oil until brown on both sides.

One detail: I forgot all about the eggs! Naturally, it made the mass in my blender a bit dry. Adding some water solved the problem. It was still very very nice, and it also made the recipe vegan (for those of you to whom this might matter). The chickpea burgers (I made ours almost bite-sized) were happily consumed by my hungry husband and myself. They are great served with fresh salad.

Rhonda, who lives in Australia, mentioned it's a local meal. My husband and I both agreed it reminds us of our local dish, falafel.

Sorry for not adding a photo of my chickpea burgers to accompany this post. I'm not at home right now so what's left of them is out of my reach. :-) You may, however, take a glimpse of how Rhonda's came out.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Have a wonderful weekend!

PICT0946, originally uploaded by Anna's musings.

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone! I'm leaving you with this picture of a gorgeous flowering cactus, taken by my husband.

Blessings to you all. "Talk" to you, hopefully, in a couple of days.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The benefits of breastfeeding

When I wrote about breastfeeding on this blog for the first time, the subject was near and dear to my heart, but still - purely theoretical. I had no idea that in a year I would already be married and expecting a baby. A lot of things have changed, but not my convictions about breastfeeding. I remain of the opinion that unless there's a strong medical reason not to breastfeed, breastfeeding is the best option for Mom and baby.

I think we are all familiar with arguments such as, "I didn't breastfeed/wasn't breastfed/know mothers who didn't breastfeed their babies - and they all turned out just fine". Yes, of course it's possible to "turn out just fine" with formula. That's what happens most of the time, otherwise all the formula companies would go bankrupt. However right now I'm not talking about what that, but about what is the best for a baby.

Mother's milk contains a balance of nutrients ideal for the baby, and gradually adjusts itself to the growing baby's needs. When the formula companies add this or that nutrient to their formula, they brag about it as if it's a remarkable innovation - but remember that no matter what they do, they will never be as good as mother's milk. In the first days after birth, breastfeeding has a vital influence on the baby's immune system. Breastfeeding is perfectly designed to encourage satiety signals in a baby at just the right time (which is why breastfed babies tend less towards being overfed). Mother's milk is safe, readily available at the perfect temperature, and is naturally given in a way that enhances bonding between mother and baby. To sum it up, it's designed by God, which means it will always beat man-made formula. Oh, and did I mention that it's free?

In the not-so-distant past, mothers knew that if they didn't succeed at nursing their babies, the alternative would probably be cow's milk, which really isn't a good option. Therefore, women did all in their power to breastfeed. I was born prematurely and couldn't nurse properly until I was about a month old. During all that time, my mother pumped milk for me and gave it to me in a bottle until I was ready to nurse. Here, she would probably be advised to give me formula. By the way, because she had a lot of milk, she was also able to give enough to another baby, whose mother couldn't breastfeed for medical reasons. The baby boy is now all grown up and lives in Israel.

So, you all know I have zero experience in breastfeeding, but I think a good deal depends on proper guidance - and lots of determination. And determination is difficult to keep when the option of easy feeding with formula pops up whenever there's a challenge. Baby doesn't feel like eating when hospital schedule says "feeding time"? Oh well. Instead of encouraging the mother to nurse whenever the baby shows signs of hunger, let's just give formula!.. A nursing relationship that is disrupted from the very first days doesn't get a good start.

It depends on the hospital policy, of course - some hospitals, I've heard, are amazingly baby-friendly and breastfeeding-friendly. Here, hospitals get lots of money from formula companies who want to promote their products. I might not have believed that before, but after spending a few months in one of the largest Israeli hospital, I saw it with my own eyes. Why do you think new mothers get free formula samples as they leave hospital with their baby? Certainly not for their benefit; the formula companies want to "plant" these samples to be used in a moment of weakness: middle of the night, an exhausted mother, a fussy, hungry baby who is having difficulties nursing, a natural powerful urge to feed the baby... after a few times, getting back to breastfeeding is more difficult, and the mother is forced to buy formula. You know what this reminds me of? Tactics of drug-dealers. They lure you with free samples because they know that if you accept them, later they'll have your hard-earned money!

Another concern to keep in mind is that the formula-making process is not immune to human mistakes and neglect. There have been cases when an essential nutrient wasn't added at all, or not in sufficient quantities. For a baby who is exclusively formula-fed, the consequences can be disastrous. A few years ago, a terrible tragedy occurred in Israel when a certain brand of formula didn't include a sufficient amount of Thiamine:

"Vitamin B1, also known as thiamine, is vital for development of the nervous system in babies. Israeli Health Ministry officials say more than 20 infants suffered from a disorder caused by a deficiency in the vitamin after drinking the formula, and three have died."

I realize sometimes breastfeeding isn't possible - and in these cases, it's good we have formula. However I can't help but think that a large number of mothers who end up not breastfeeding, could have succeeded if the importance of breastfeeding was fully realized by their medical care providers.

I'm determined to do everything in my power for a successful nursing relationship, when time comes. Fortunately, I can get advice from women in my family who have successfully breastfed (such as my mother and mother-in-law). And there's always the option of seeking a lactation consultant.

For more information on the sinister tactics of formula companies and the damage they cause all over the world, read this article by Amy.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Russian potato salad

When I first made this salad, my husband was a bit cautious as he tasted it; however, in the upcoming weeks he requested it again and again. It's a vegetarian version and wonderfully easy to make. You will need:

3 large potatoes, boiled, peeled and chopped;
2 carrots, boiled, peeled and chopped;
2 eggs (you guessed it - boiled, peeled and chopped ;-))
approx. 1\3 can of peas - or as much peas as you like;
3-4 pickled cucumbers, chopped;
2-3 leaves of green onion, chopped;
mayonnaise, salt and pepper to taste.

Mix all ingredients and let the salad sit overnight. If you like, you can add a few bits of sharp cheese. I normally love this salad but recently I realized I can't stand eggs and/or mayonnaise (ah, pregnancy quirks!). More left for my husband. :-)

And for a bit of great news: Michelle delivered a precious, healthy baby boy. Welcome, little one! Praise the Lord for His goodness.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Vegeterianism, protein, and pregnancy

A day after we told my mother we're expecting, Mom called me, sounding panicky. "You can't continue being vegetarian now that you are pregnant!" - she said - "Meat is a source of protein, and you need protein!"

To many, hearing that you are pregnant and vegetarian sounds as though you are terribly irresponsible towards your unborn child, depriving the little one of essential nutrients - even if you have been a thriving vegetarian for years and years. I, personally, am of the opinion that during pregnancy, the best thing you can do is carry on with a familiar, balanced diet.

Protein is one thing people tend to get especially worked up about - unnecessarily. Yes, of course we need protein. However, keep in mind that protein deficiency is very rare in our affluent culture. In fact, many traditional diets - even if not exclusively vegetarian - don't count on getting a significant part of the protein from animal sources. They are based on a wide variety of combined beans and grains, with a bit of meat or poultry here and there.

When my husband was growing up, chicken was served in their house once a week - on Shabbat. On other days, dinner was usually a bowl of thick soup with beans and vegetables, and plenty of bread on the side. All children grew up wonderfully fit and healthy. To me, eating meat every day looks unncesessary, unless you do particularly vigorous exercise.

Aside from that, a pregnant woman - vegetarian or not - might consider taking a gentle supplement. For myself, I found this especially crucial in the first trimester, when I often couldn't force much food down because of nausea. Nausea still hits me once in a while, and then I feel as though I'm not up to eating anything but a light salad.

To be entirely truthful, I will confess I ate salmon a couple of times since I became pregnant. Not because I think fish is indispensable - in fact I believe we must be very very careful about mercury when choosing our fish - but simply because I got an irresistible craving for salmon, and decided to go with what my body desired at the moment.

By the way, my blood work came back a couple of days ago - perfect. I have been vegetarian for many years, and I feel wonderful. I don't think there is any need for me to make a change now.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Low-budget babies

In a few months, we expect we'll need to equip ourselves with all the things necessary for the arrival of a new baby. We don't mind getting most of our baby stuff second-hand, and hand-me-downs are very welcome as well. Many people raise their eyebrows when they hear this. "Don't you want the best for your baby?" - they inquire.

I think it's a sad, sad thing that in our culture, giving your child "the best" is often meant in the sense that both Mom and Dad spend most of their waking hours outside the home, working to buy lots of expensive things for their baby - things that won't have any long-lasting impact whatsoever on the child's happiness, well-being, or development.

We don't think babies care for brand-new clothes. As long as they are comfortable and made of natural, breathing material, the baby won't care if they were used by another baby before, and maybe there's a stain or two that won't come off - there will be plenty more anyway. We don't think babies care about perfectly matching furniture (as a matter of fact, we don't either) - as long as it's nice and sturdy, they won't mind a few scratches.

Babies need to be fed, warmly and comfortably held, and loved, loved, loved. Babies need their Mommy to play with them, and sing to them, and coo with them, and take them out on a nice day to relax on a soft blanket outside and drink in the world's beauty. Babies need Mom with them during this special, fleeting time in their lives that will never come back.

The industry of baby items often uses subtle techniques to make us feel guilty if we don't buy this or that "necessary" item for our baby. Much of it is propaganda that takes advantage of the parents' natural desire to provide the best for their child. We plan to stay as far away from it as possible, buying only what we really think we can't do without.

Some time ago I came across an article on LAF which illustrated this particular matter. It was called "Babies on a Budget". It's not a new article but certainly worth reading.

Often young Moms don't realize that returning to work and leaving their babies in daycare isn't a good option even financially (apart from the simple fact that babies need Mom). If the mother has a typical, average salary, daycare and gas expenses will easily eat away a large part of it (at least here). Then we also have to consider the fact that some mothers will stop breastfeeding because it doesn't work into their schedule - and therefore they give formula to the baby (more expenses). They might have used cloth diapers if they stayed home with the baby (a big potential money-saver) - but if they work outside the home it will probably be too much trouble. Then there are all the expensive items they will buy, as if unconsciously saying, "See? I'm working hard to give my baby everything!"

Sometimes women know this, but will still go and work outside the home. Not long ago I talked with a lovely young Mom, who was about to leave her baby behind (with a heavy heart) and get a job. She knew her family won't gain anything, financially - anything at all. Why, then? "In a few years," - she explained, - "I might start earning more"; she might. She might not. In the meantime, precious years will be lost. The social pressure to work outside the home is just so strong.

Please note that I'm not accusing anyone of being a bad mother. We are all victims of a huge scam, which led us into thinking that working and wasting all our hard-earned money on institutionalized services and objects of material value is better for the family than a frugal and creative full-time wife and mother.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Have a wonderful week

Dear friends,

I hope you all had a terrific weekend. Thanks so much to all the ladies who kindly agreed to share their birth experience. I might as well warn you that there is probably going to be a lot of baby talk around here in the upcoming weeks/months! I look forward to that. ;-) Yes I realize not all readers of this blog are new mothers or expecting a baby, so please bear with me...

By the way, so far ultrasounds have been unable to tell us whether the little one is a boy or a girl. We might have seen that, if the baby hadn't been curled in a certain position that didn't allow us a glimpse. ;-) I suppose we'll find out later, but even if we don't, we won't mind so much - all we pray for is a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.

It is one of those periods where there is so much to do and plan. A new marriage; moving into our first home soon; preparations for the arrival of a new little one... sometimes my mind is in a whirlpool and I just wonder how we are going to accomplish so much in so little time, but then I suppose the Lord will faithfully guide us through, as always.

Also, have I mentioned how incredibly fortunate I am to be the wife of such a sweet, loving, caring, supportive man? His resourcefulness and confidence in caring for us contribute a lot to my feeling of security.

Anyway just popping in for a quick hello today. Looking forward to many more interesting discussions in the upcoming week!
Just for inspiration, here is the story of Esther Segal, who gave birth to... not two, not three, but five babies at once! After long years of fertility treatments, David and Esther were pressured to abort some of their babies because the pregnancy was considered extremely high-risk. The couple made the brave decision to cherish and preserve all life, and were blessed by five children, three boys and two girls, who are now about 8 years old and thriving.
"Open up my mouth and my lips shall declare your praise"
I wish all my Jewish readers an easy 17-th of Tammuz fast.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Birth, epidural, initial nursing and bonding with baby

While we still have almost six months before our little one is supposed to arrive, my husband and I already started considering which would be the best way to help our baby make its entrance into the world. Well actually, I have to admit my husband was the ohe who started thinking about it - he seems to know much more about pregnancy and birth than I do. As a side note I'll confess that he knew I'm pregnant before I was sure of that. One night he pulled a home pregnancy test out of his bag and said, "You are pregnant. But go ahead, make sure!"

At first, I didn't even think of ways to have a baby other than what most women here go through: a hospital room, lying flat on your back, monitors, constantly changing faces of doctors, nurses and students fussing around you. And epidural. Oh, of course, epidural. I wouldn't consider actually going through labor pains, now, would I? And besides - you go home in a few days and it doesn't matter how you gave birth, right?

However, prompted by my husband, I began to question whether it is normal to treat birth - a natural process - as a surgery. Sure, there might be possible complications, and that's why it's wonderful we have advanced medical care available when it is needed. But shouldn't that be the exception, not the rule?

In the past, women were encouraged to move around during labor, and take any position that alleviated pains. When a woman is mobile, she may place herself in a position when gravity is to her advantage, and helps the baby come out. Epidural, I realized, limits the woman's freedom of movement and might slow down the entire process, which can ultimately result in pytocin induction - which wouldn't have been necessary, if only birth had been allowed to take its natural course. Also, I started reading evidence of women who suffered long-lasting damage to their mobility because of epidural. Damage caused by epidural can be irreversible:

"Four years ago during the routine delivery of my fifth child, my doctor (with my consent) called for an anesthesiologist to administer an epidural anesthetic. The epidural caused bleeding into the spinal column, and because of the neglect of the doctor and hospital staff, I remain a paraplegic to this day."

Now, I understand labor is painful. I have never given birth yet, so most likely I cannot imagine just how painful it is. However, I can't help but consider the following: labor pains don't cause long-lasting damage. Epidural might.

As someone who has worked in a hospital, I wasn't under the illusion that hospital is a safer place for a healthy child than, say, home. Yes, sometimes we need hospitals - thank God we have them. But I have seen more than one infant arrive to treat a minor complication, and end up hospitalized for weeks because of violent bacteria you won't find anywhere but in a hospital. I was aware of the fact that hospital surroundings are institutionalized, unpleasant, impersonal and not at all encouraging. Patients are treated as "products" on an assembly line. It adds a lot to the natural stress accompanying illness - or giving birth. But again, giving birth is not a surgery!

However, I didn't fully realize the dissonance caused by a typical hospital birth until my sister-in-law had her baby not long ago. She was in labor for 24 hours - during this time she was hooked to an i.v., to prevent her from losing too much fluids. At the same time they didn't give her anything to drink. I don't see the logic in that. Isn't it possible to drink between contractions, at least in the earlier stages of labor?

Newborns were separated from their mothers, and nursing was supposed to be done on "feeding hours". Now, I don't think it's very difficult to understand how absolutely ridiculous this is when we are talking about a newborn, who is supposed to be fed when there is need to, and not because hospital's schedule says now it's feeding time. My sister-in-law was told her baby "doesn't have strength" to nurse (of course she didn't, if she happened to be sleepy when she was "supposed" to nurse), and they gave her formula. Since they stayed for several days, this disrupted the initial nursing relationship.

So far, I realized this: I don't want to be helpless during labor, and I don't want to do anything that might cause long-lasting damage to myself or the baby; I don't want to be hooked to an i.v. and have birth treated like something abnormal, not a natural, God-designed process my body goes through in order to bring new life into this world; I don't want to be separated from my baby in the first couple of days after I give birth, and I want to be able to nurse my baby whenever there's need to. If at all possible, I would like to avoid induction, surgical intervention, and giving formula to the baby.

The remaining question was, how can we accomplish this? The perfect solution I could think of would be home birth assisted by a midwife, with the possibility to get advanced medical treatment within minutes in a case of emergency. That way, the woman is more secure within her natural surroundings, her home, and isn't exposed to foreign infections. I must tell you home births are extremely rare in Israel - which wouldn't have bothered me if it weren't for the fact that it's about 30 minutes drive to the nearest hospital from where we live. This seems like an awfully long time in case urgent intervention is needed. Of course, so far there's no reason to think this might be the case, but it would make me feel very insecure to know we are so far away from advanced medical help.

Right now my husband and I are considering the option of a natural birth center in our area. It's on hospital territory so help can be received within minutes if there's an emergency, but birth is allowed to progress as naturally as possible, with the help of a doula and monitoring now and then. The birth center encourages use of warm water pool, shower, essential oils, candles, birthing chairs and balls, soothing music and anything that might alleviate a woman's labor pains and make her feel better. Mothers are later given the option to remain with their babies around the clock, until they go home. It's costly, but if it's really what it promises to be, we feel it would be worth it.

As always, I cherish the advice of more experienced ladies. I would appreciate it if you could share about your birthing experience: did you give birth in a hospital, at home, or someplace else? Did you have epidural - if you did, were there any side effects? If not, why did you choose not to, and which alternative methods for pain relief did you use? What soothed you and kept you afloat during labor? Were you given the chance to be with your baby and nurse your baby whenever it was needed, and what overall effect did it have on your entire nursing relationship?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Genetic and prenatal testing

During my follow-up meetings with the nurse who is monitoring my pregnancy, my husband and I have been advised to do a series of genetic testing to determine whether we are carriers of abnormal genes - the nurse also expressed sincere puzzlement as to why we haven't done this before we were married.

You see, some Jews used to live in very small communities, which usually contributes to rate of genetic abnormalities. So now, when two Jews of similar descent marry, it is considered more high-risk - almost as if they are related - and they are advised to do genetic testing. But for heaven's sake, my husband's parents came from North Africa, and my family is from Europe! You can never know, but certainly there's no reason to act like we're in grave danger for genetic "defects". And besides, we're already married. Even if it turns out we are carriers of an abnormal gene, what would be the solution? Divorce? Have no children?..

We were also pressured into doing all kinds of expensive prenatal tests - as soon as we were done with one, we were sent to another. So, my husband put his foot down and said we are not doing the genetic testing - and there's no way we're going to travel every few weeks for expensive prenatal tests, either. If it meant possible better treatment for me or the baby, we wouldn't care about the time and money. But we realize that every test done right now, has a definite purpose: offering us the option of "terminating the pregnancy" if something is found to be wrong. It isn't an option for us, so there's no point really. So we decided to do, from now on, only those tests that can be done in the local clinic, without unreasonable costs (in terms of both time and money).

Please don't get the wrong impression: I think prenatal tests have their place; I don't think doing them is wrong, or indicates lack of faith. Some expectant mothers are very anxious, and doing the tests just to see that everything is fine can be very reassuring. But since it means lots of time and money for us (we live in a rather remote area), and not much can really be done right now, we might consider doing only those tests that are done in more advanced stages of pregnancy and might actually - if necessary, and we hope we won't need that - enable intervention that can help the baby.

One thing to remember is that tests aren't always accurate, and can result in a double tragedy if the mother decides to end her baby's life because she is told something is terribly wrong: not only the horror of abortion, but also the realization that this monstrous decision was brought upon by medical mistake. The danger of this is especially grave when we are talking about women who are under-educated and/or illiterate, and the doctor in question is arrogant enough to play God and doesn't bother to explain the reality of all possible risks, chances and complications.

My friend told me her neighbour was assured by doctors that her baby would be born without limbs, and was strongly advised to "terminate". Incidentally, she was a poorly educated black woman, and no one talked to her about odds, chances and risks. She was simply told: "Your baby won't have arms or legs. Go and end this now." Being a religious Jew, she refused, but you can imagine the grief this poor woman and her family went through during the next few months. She gave birth to a healthy baby boy, and after the joyous shock wore off, she brought her precious son to the doctor who had been monitoring her during pregnancy. "Here's my baby", - she said, "He has two arms, two legs and ten fingers and toes." The doctor went mute, and I really hope he learned a lesson and will think twice next time he advises a woman to have an abortion.

Also, this policy of making a healthy young woman feel as if she's in grave danger or seriously ill, while she is simply pregnant, really irritates me. I also have a gut feeling that since it's going to be our first baby, it makes us an easy target for brainwashing, since we might not have all the information of more experienced parents.

What stands behind this? Why are we sent to do any possible test? Where does our hard-earned money go, and who benefits from it? We pay a lot of money - surely it goes somewhere? I don't want to sound paranoid, but sometimes I feel we are manipulated to do many expensive and complicated tests which aren't really needed, don't help us and won't affect our well-being. Is our money used to support the horrific scheme of "weeding out" unborn babies who aren't "perfect"? Something to think about.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A new journey

Dear friends,

I have been holding this back for what seems like a long, long, long time, but now I can finally share our exciting news with you:

My husband and I are expecting our first child - our first little darling, who is supposed to enter this world and be in our arms sometime around mid-January!

I'm currently in my 15-th week, which means that the first trimester is behind me. I'm thankful to report that I'm feeling much, much better now than I did in the first two months, when nausea and fatigue got the better of me. I have been able to eat enough, mostly, but for a few weeks I had to make some drastic adjustments in my meal patterns. Also, this is a time when I'm especially thankful for the opportunity to be home and lift my feet up and rest whenever I need it, as well as take a nap after lunch.

Frankly, I don't know how I would have done this if it weren't for my wonderful husband, who rolled up his sleeves and cleaned, cooked and washed the dishes without any complaint, accepting the fact that his wife may run to the bathroom with her hand over her mouth simply because she saw a couple of dirty dishes in the sink... my husband has been so tremendously supportive during this period, and I truly feel what a blessed woman I am!

This time taught me a lot of humility. I had to accept that my energy levels are low, and I'm simply unable to be as efficient, and accomplish as much as I'm used to. I had to learn to accept my present limitations with a grateful heart.

Right now I'm feeling remarkably well, except for a fainting episode that unexpectedly happened last week. I'm still careful not to overstress myself, but I feel I'm back in the swing of things, and ready to prepare for moving - which we'll do in the next couple of months. I gained very little weight so far, but those who know me and pay attention have already noticed the changes in my shape.

As you can imagine, this is a very exciting time for us. Still practically newlyweds, we are already preparing for the arrival of a new baby, and moving to a new cozy home which we'll have to adjust to the needs of our growing family. I hope that in the future, we'll look upon this period with joyful memories.

I can't wait to feel and see this little one grow, first inside me, and then out in this great big world, drinking in the beauty and love of God. I pray as I move forward on the journey to motherhood, cherishing this most precious gift from the Lord.

"And the fruit of the womb is His reward" - Psalm 127


Now, I have a question for all you more experienced ladies: I know I have a tendency towards stretch marks, because I still have quite a lot of them since adolescence. I think I might have a lot more in a few months! I would like to prevent this, and will appreciate any suggestions, preferably using natural methods. If you know how to treat stretch marks once they already appear, you are more than welcome to add your two cents as well.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

For the Children's Sake

I just finished reading "For the Children's Sake: Foundations of education for home and school", by Susan Schaeffer Macauley. This short book is full to burst with ideas on how to lift "schooling" up from the miserable place it often occupies today, and turn it into something truly meaningful, fun, creative, enjoyable... and, well, educative. Eliminate the drudgery and make children's eyes sparkle as they explore the world around them with infinite curiosity, as they partake in all the rich goodness of true education - in the form of good books, music, nature, crafts, and real relationships in real life. Life, in itself, is the best teacher of all.

The author quotes extensively from Charlotte Mason's work, which I am yet to become familiar with. I feel more prepared now to tackle the 6 volumes of "The Original Home Schooling Series".

As a child, while my peers dreamed of becoming famous actresses or space explorers, I wanted to become a teacher. However, before long I became discouraged. A shy and quiet person, I knew I could never handle the pandemonium of forty children cooped up in the same room during many hours. I couldn't force-feed dry extracts of information to dull-eyes teenagers.

I didn't enjoy my lessons, either. I was a quick child, so I would simply try to be done with "school" as soon as possible - so that I could go home or to the library and pull a few good books from the shelf. I curled up for many hours with short biographies of famous men in history, breathless with attention. At my leisure, I would browse pictures of animals and art work reproductions. I read books by foreign authors, and without meaning to, I learned more about geography and culture in other countries than what school ever managed to teach me. When I got tired of reading I would roll in the grass and then lie flat on my stomach and watch ants carry crumbs and leaves to their underground cities, forming busy highways.

Looking back, it's amazing to see how little of the boring, crammed school material stayed in my head after exams were over - and how much I learned during my leisure time, seemingly without effort, which remains with me until today and hopefully will remain always. Why, I wonder, does life need to be divided into tiny cubicles and spoon-fed to children, thus underestimating their ability of creative thinking, of wonder and excitement at the abundance life has to offer? Why can't we have less memorizing and homework, and more close, personal touch with what will actually stay in our memory - real life?

Quoting from "For the Children's Sake":

"Some people today are ignorant of how well all of this can work. They have perhaps never witnessed the concentration and pleasure of children who are listening to a good book being read aloud. They do not know about the unique atmosphere that exists when children are absorbed in creative activities, including self-motivated play; they do not know about the atmosphere present when there are good, human relationships: where there is respect, trust, order, and time for individuality and work. Some do not even know about the atmosphere of love."

Sadly, it is true.

My passion for teaching, however, remained bubbling under the surface. I loved to tell and explain about things I knew, and could patiently study for hours with a classmate who didn't understand the material. When I was a highschool student, I was asked to tutor a child in English. She was recovering from surgery and didn't go to school for the time being. It was then that I fully realized the following: when you aren't in an overcrowded class, and you have patience, there's all the time in the world: time to talk and listen, time to explain and pepper up your point with interesting examples. There is time to learn.

In the following years, I had the privilege to get to know children of all ages, from toddlers to teenagers. I saw what a challenge it was to try and build a bridge, however thin and rickety, between homework and real life. Just one example: in a science book for 10-th grade, it was stated that as temperature rises, solid turns to liquid and then liquid becomes gas. The children didn't understand, because no one thought to give them an astoundingly simple, real-life example: ice melts into water, and water turns into vapor.

I also got to know the pleasure of playing monopoly with a child, of painting and drawing together, and making elaborate constructions out of playdough. I witnessed children's joy at exploring the outdoors and of seeing anything new and unexpected: an unfamiliar plant, a sand dune, a little wild animal. I grew up without siblings or younger cousins, and now learned how creative, intelligent, funny, sensitive and original children truly are. Even more than before, I realized what how terribly cruel it is to dull their sharp little minds by blocking access to anything real and leaving only the government-approved, the organized, the progressive and efficient.

My childhood passion for teaching blossomed into the desire to educate my children, to open the doors of beauty and love, freedom and joy, and security in the truth of God Almighty. In time, I prayed for God to bless me with a husband who has a sensitive, tender heart that would be ready to lean towards a small child, read and talk, play and listen. All of this I see in the man who eventually won my hand in marriage.

If the Lord sends us children, I don't want them to suffer the sad fate of modern childhood: unncesessary limitations in learning, and no boundaries at all beside that. I would like our children to grow up knowing love, freedom, joy, creativity, excitement and discovery - but also respect, honor, and duty. I want our children to spend hours watching butterflies, building camps, and exploring the wonders of our surroundings - and also know that elders should be respected, parents obeyed, and God looked upon as the ultimate authority.

"Education is an adventure," - says Susan Schaeffer Macaulay - "it's about people, children, life, reality!"

Education is also a journey. A journey that starts the moment a child is born, and never ends. Isn't it exciting?

Monday, July 14, 2008

The curse

A woman tells about her journey from a solitary poet to a happy wife and mother:

My whole adult life I wanted to be a poet. Then my poetry professor of all people cursed me, saying, "You'll probably end up us a housewife with a bunch of kids."

Isn't it ironic how in this day and age, the words "housewife with a bunch of kids" have come to mean "nothing meaningful; nobody" - resulting in an entire generation of women with aching emptiness in their souls, not knowing why they feel so unhappy if they have everything necessary for "fulfillment"? The pillars of feminine contentment - a good husband, a home, children to love and care for - have been portrayed as hindrances to what we are "supposed" to pursue.

I encountered little resistance except for the lone dissenting voice of my mother who asked me every few months if I had any plans to get married and tried to fix me up with her friends' sons.

Jewish parents are often blamed for "sticking their nose" and being over-protective of their adult children. However I think it's definitely preferable, compared to indifferent parents who don't notice that their son or daughter is getting closer and closer to 40, with no prospective marriage ahead. I know more than one good marriage that started from introductions made by parents.

Thirty years later, the poet says:

Much of the writing and creating I've done has not been on paper but rather on the lives I've touched and been touched by.

Click here to read the entire article.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Pita bread

Hello there, dear friends. It's wonderful to be back from a refreshing weekend break; I hope all of you either had, or are still enjoying a great weekend too. We were a bit rushed on Friday, and then about only 3 hours before Shabbat my husband announced that he wants to make pita bread. I doubted we'll make it on time, but still decided to give it a shot - I figured that if we don't have time to pop it into the oven before Shabbat, I could freeze the dough and bake it later.

The picture above is only an illustration; I wish I had taken a picture of the pita we made, but unfortunately, I didn't think about it before it was already Shabbat (and as you might remember we don't operate electric appliances on Shabbat), and by the time Shabbat was over, the pitas were already consumed! :-)

The recipe we used is for Yemenite pita, and was given to us by a neighbour:

3 cups flour
1/2 cup water
1/2 tbsp. yeast (we used fresh yeast - I must note that we keep them frozen, so before starting the dough, I "revived" the yeast with a bit of mildly warm water and a little sugar)
1/2 tbsp. salt

Mix all ingredients to form dough, which shouldn't be very sticky. If you feel the dough is too sticky or too dry, you may add some water or flour as needed.
Cover dough with clean cloth and leave to rise for 10 minutes.
Leave to rise for 10 minutes.
Leave to rise for 10 minutes.
Leave to rise for about an hour (we only waited half an hour, as it was very hot).

Divide dough into balls of desired size, on a floured surface. Flatten balls with both of your hands, or roll out. Place on a baking sheet and bake until lightly browned. Our pitas formed nicely and actually had pockets in them (convenient for sandwiches), but were slightly dry on the outside. Next time I think we'll sprinkle them with a few drops of olive oil before baking.

I think it's a wonderful recipe to make with children - it's simple, and each child can make his or her pita of the desired shape and size. For my husband, it was the first time he tried his hand at bread-making, and he savored the process of rising and kneading and the smell of fresh bread with childlike delight.

I'm off - there's a lot to do around here. Laundry is waiting to be hanged, dishes need to be washed, and some order must be instilled in our messy refrigerator. Later I might settle on the couch for a while with some crafts, and continue reading "For the Children's Sake", which I've been devouring chapter by chapter during the last few days. I hope to be able to review it soon. Have a lovely day!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Why homeschooling?

One night, when my husband (and then, just a nice young man I have seen only three or four times) brought me home after taking me out to a cup of coffee, we were sitting in his car and talking. I don't remember all of our conversation, but it was an interesting and long one - we talked about many different issues, from Torah and science to sustainability and simple living.

At one point, he looked uncomfortable and said uncertainly:
"OK... now I'm going to say something that will sound very freaky."
I waited.
"I think children are better off when they are educated at home."
I blinked. I couldn't believe that someone I randomly met - a stranger, basically - is voicing something I often thought, but didn't dare to say.

Homeschooling families are rare like unicorns in Israel. Homeschooling isn't illegal, but it is strongly discouraged by both law and society. The handful of families that homeschool are typically English-speaking, and originally from places where homeschooling is common. I haven't studied all the specifics of local homeschooling laws, however I do know that each family which plans to homeschool is required to send an individual request, with explanations of why they think public education isn't suitable for their child, what exactly they intend to teach their child in the upcoming school year, and who will be teaching.

Both my husband and I have been public-schooled, and other options were never considered when we were growing up. I was born in USSR, where homeschooling was actually illegal whenever there was a possibility to attend school. I was educated in secular school. My husband went to religious school and then yeshiva. Despite our different educational backgrounds, we both reached the same conclusion: children are probably better off educated at home. There are several reasons why we think so.

School - even a very good school - cannot possibly provide the individual approach which makes children thrive and succeed in their learning. A large group of children (anywhere between 25 and 40) is crammed into a crowded classroom and required to perform the exact same task, at the exact same time. If a child is a quick learner, he will soon be bored. If a child lags behind a bit, he will feel pressured. If a child fails to perform a task when everyone else completed it successfully, he feels like a failure.

Some very gifted children are naturally slow thinkers who require plenty of individual attention they cannot possibly receive at school. My experience in private tutoring often showed amazing examples of how a child can grasp a subject in an hour, when learning is done in a quiet room and in a non-pressuring manner - after the very same subject couldn't be learned for weeks spent in classroom. Of course there are also children who will successfully learn in a classroom - but they, too, will normally learn more thoroughly and efficiently when they are taught one-on-one and encouraged to think on their own.

School, by its very nature, wastes a lot of time. During my school years, less than half of the time we spent in school was actually dedicated to learning. I don't think it will be an exaggeration to say that at least half of each lesson was spent just trying to keep all the pupils quiet and get their attention ("Stop pulling at her hair! Put that inside your bag! Go out and don't come back without a note from the principal!"). Add to that changing classrooms or waiting for the teacher to arrive, individual questions which are not necessary for all pupils to hear, and different administrative announcements that often disrupt the structure of a lesson ("I just wanted to remind everyone that those who want to participate in the school trip next week must get their parents' permission in written form"), and you will see that institutionalized education isn't a terribly efficient model.

The school I graduated from, the one I attended during six years, prided itself on having "a prolonged school day". Yet what was it good for? Simply making it convenient for parents to work longer hours, knowing their child is "safely" (more on that later) shepherded someplace else. I would come home exhausted, with my head buzzing from noise. The same material could have been easily learned at home, more quickly and efficiently, freeing more hours in a day for the child to pursue individual hobbies, read, engage in creative activities, and simply play outside.

As for the actual "safety" of school environment, I could talk about this alone for hours. You name it, we had it: alcohol, drugs, immodesty, promiscuity...not to mention that history, geography, and social studies curriculum was composed by biased ministers who wanted nothing but to push their political agenda down students' throats, and parents had little control over it. One might think that in Israel, with the abundance of religious schools we have here, parents can ensure the safety of their child by opting for such a school. Not quite. It's true that problems such as drugs and promiscuity are less common in religious schools, and parents can choose a school with likeminded administration - but eventually, the child is still sent away for many hours, which he spends without the supervision of his parents.

Another big problem with schools is that they are so hooked up on curriculum, exam papers, and diplomas, that they don't help to build a mindset of creative learning. We believe learning is done from the first day of a child's life, spontaneously and naturally. How come young children, who are thirsty for knowledge and will ask any number of questions about any subject if you only let them, turn into bored teenagers who sigh when they open their schoolbooks, and settle in front of the television for the entire afternoon and evening? An observation from my tutoring experience: I encountered a great number of children who simply have no motivation for learning at all, or try to memorize facts instead of learning. It is not natural. It is the unfortunate consequence of spending too many years in a system which only cares about cramming facts into their heads. In many cases I had to throw curriculum aside and simply work on a child's desire to learn. I did it by praising the children, asking for their opinions about what we are learning, and adding interesting facts to "spice up" the subject.

I now remember an especially dear student of mine, who fell completely behind in her schooling. How should I put it? The train has long gone by, and she was left behind at a forlorn station. She was so used to being a failure that she was afraid to ask a question, and passed through lessons by trying to make herself invisible. The poor child's eyes grew enormous the first time I encouraged her for doing something successfully. And worse of all, she was bored. Here in Israel we study lots of modern Jewish history, and most of it is about European Jewry, taught with a false assumption that most students are from European background - which they are not. My student's parents' came from Ethiopia, and she had no clue about European history or geography. Half of her class was in the same situation. Yet no one ever bothered to make history lessons more interesting for them.

Since we don't have children yet, some time will pass before the matter of schooling becomes a pressing one for us. However, when I tried to discuss it with a good friend of mine, she was horrified at first, and then said: "How can you teach? You don't even have a teacher's diploma!" - see, we're all so stuck on diplomas that we believe a piece of paper makes someone more qualified to teach a child than his own mother, who knows and loves him from before he was born, who studies his strengths, talents and weaknesses every day of his life. And of course there are all the objections such as, "you will over-protect them"; "they will feel isolated"; "they won't develop social skills"; "you don't have enough knowledge about everything they need to learn" - if you ever read blogs of homeschooling moms, I think you'll know what I'm talking about.

Since this post is getting monstrously long, I will touch just one last point. Several readers were curious about what we intend to do in order to make sure our children receive proper knowledge on subjects we don't know enough about. For example, Jewish education and religious studies (especially for boys). Well, I think there are many solutions beside formal schooling. Two families can make an exchange: if a fellow mom knows mathematics well, she can tutor my children in maths, and in exchange I can help her children with English. For deeper religious studies, boys may join a local study group with a rabbi (there are many of those where we live), and when they are older they may choose to go to a yeshiva.

Whatever choice a family makes, it's important to make sure that first, there is a choice; and second, that the choice is fully informed. Who knows how many families would have chosen to homeschool, and how many children would have benefited from it, if the opposition to home education hadn't been so strong, and if parents weren't made to feel inadequate to teach their own children just because they don't have a piece of paper that says they are qualified to do that.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Women in the army and other quirks

If you have never visited Israel can hardly imagine the magnitude of cultural variety, which is a true phenomenon in such a small country. Ashkenazi Jews and Sephardi Jews; Jews from Russia, Morocco, Yemen, India, Ethiopia and Australia; observant Jews and secular Jews; Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. A multitude of languages, dress codes, skin colors.

In my opinion, one of the biggest contradictions in Israeli society is that on the one hand, it's largely based on Jewish traditions - Jewish calendar, Jewish holidays, and of course everything about tradition that cannot exist without the structure of a Jewish family; on the other hand, many founders of Israel were zealous Marxists, who were against their own heritage and wanted a country for Jews that wouldn't actually be Jewish - simply based on ethnic and cultural reasons and as a refuge from antisemitism.

Which of course, as plain common sense will tell, can never work. If a Jew isn't Jewish, nothing ties him to Israel. There's of course historical and cultural significance, but it isn't enough. A Jew who doesn't believe this land was given to our father Abraham by God Almighty Himself, has no reason to stand firm. He has nothing to prevent him from assimilating, conforming, and melting away into other nations.

So, as religious Jews flowed to Israel and founded traditional communities and Torah schools, secularized Jews did their best to build a social model based on Marxism and communism - the kibbutz, with it's "everything for everyone" ideology. The kibbutz, where children didn't live with their parents, but instead were sent to a "children's house", where they slept and spent most of their free time, and only saw their parents on "visiting hours". Gender neutrality was hammered into children's heads, and many were traumatized from lack of seeing a traditional family unit as they were growing up. The kibbutz, as a social movement, has failed, just as the unnatural and forced social structure of communism failed after doing grave damage to Russia and every other country which was touched by it.

Nevertheless, Israeli society remains heavily institutionalized, and I'm convinced this is due to traces of Marxists who founded this country. For example, homeschooling is practically unheard of in Israel. Only not long ago, a small homeschooling community arose, formed mainly by parents who came from countries where homeschooling is common. They made the first pioneer steps, and now finally more parents are starting to see it as an acceptable option for their children. Still, it looks far, far, far more radical here than in certain areas of the US.

Also, staying at home with your children looks very socially unacceptable in Israel, and maternity leave is only 3 months. 3 months! The problem is exacerbated by the fact that in more traditional sectors of society, where women have many children and you'd think it would be more natural for them to stay home, a certain social trend developed in the past few decades - women supporting their husbands while they study Torah full-time. Throw in religious feminism, and you'll get a very glum picture of how family is pulled apart.

I must also mention the compulsory service of women in the army (2 full years), something unheard of in any civilized country. I won't buy into stories about how recruiting women is necessary for Israel's survival. It's typical communist brainwashing based on egalitarianism. Nations throughout history faced difficult situations, and whenever a bit of dignity still remained, women stayed behind. Fathers wouldn't send their young daughters away from home so they could be taught to crawl in the mud and use weapons, and have every bit of feminine gentleness extracted from them. It's true that women can be released from army quite easily for religious reasons - observant Jewish women generally don't serve, and neither do Muslims or Christian Arabs. But the default assumption is that an 18-year-old girl will go to the army, and I find this deeply wrong.

I don't think it's wise, prudent, or even beneficial in any way, for anyone, that an 18-year-old girl is taken away from her parents' home and into military training. Even if she is home every day, like at a normal job, the atmosphere usually doesn't support moral or religious values. I do have friends who served in the army and "escaped unscathed", but the risk is too high for a young girl, in my opinion.

Men have to carefully guard their purity standards in the army as well. From my husband's testimony, he often had to face temptation himself. Before going to the army, he studied in a yeshiva (men only, naturally) for 5 years, and before that he was in a school for boys only as well. Then he suddenly found himself locked in an office for the entire day, with young women dressed rather provocatively (many alter their uniform pants so that they sit lower, are tighter, and bring off their, hm, features). He told me there were a couple of girls who said hello by kissing on the cheek, and he was absolutely appalled when one of them did just that to him - simply approached and kissed him (at that time he wouldn't even think of touching a woman's little finger prior to being married to her). Overall, I think the excessive closeness between men and women in the army creates dangerous tension.

In the midst of it all, there are women who are simply trying to build a sweet, calm, peaceful, productive, traditional home life for their families. Women who are dedicated to their husbands and children, women who love to be feminine and gentle. I am blessed to know some of them, and can happily say there is still hope.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Homeschooling books

homeschoolbooks, originally uploaded by Anna's musings.

I know you might wonder why you are seeing this title on the blog of someone who doesn't even have children yet. However, my husband and I started discussing the option of homeschooling for any future children we might be blessed with - even before we were married.

The reasons why we think home education is good for children can hardly be expressed in just a couple of phrases, and I think this subject merits a separate post. Homeschooling is extremely rare in Israel, and home education resources in Hebrew are scarce.

Therefore, you can imagine how thrilled I was, when a lady who reads my blog contacted me by email - and told me she just happens to have extra brand-new copies of several homeschooling books, and asked whether we are planning to homeschool, and if we are, would I be interested in having them.

Of course, I was delighted! Homeschooling looks like a great big ocean to me, and I know we must learn a great deal in order to navigate through its waters. There are many, many, many books about homeschooling, I'm sure. This looks like a good place to start.

Although I already sent a personal "thank-you" note, I feel I simply must say again what a kind, thoughtful and generous offer it was to send us this gift. Thank you!

For those of you who are curious, here are the titles:

For the Children's Sake - Susan Schaeffer Macaulay
The Original Home Schooling Series - Charlotte M. Mason (6 volumes)
The Homeschooling Handbook - Mary Griffith

I intend to start reading and studying these books, bit by bit, during the next months. As time allows, I will try to post book reviews. Homeschoolers who feel inclined to leave me a note are more than welcome.

Monday, July 7, 2008

The gentle balance of truth and love

I can't really thank you ladies enough for sending me so many encouraging and thought-provoking emails. One such email echoed a question about which I have been wondering on my own: what do we do when our loved ones act in sharp contradiction with our own conviction, and with what we believe is the best for them? Do we step aside? Do we intervene, how much, and in what way? How do we do the right thing without arrogant self-righteousness, and how can we be soft and loving without compromising our beliefs?

"My friend is moving in with her boyfriend of several years," - writes one of my readers, - "and expects me to be happy and excited for her. What do I say?"

I think we've all dealt with similar situations, especially when we are talking about someone we love and don't want to hurt, and at the same time we want the best for them so we feel an obligation to be truthful about what we really think.

Sometimes, however soft and loving we try to be, the other side may get very defensive. Usually this is because, deep in their heart, they know they aren't doing the right thing - and when their loved ones turn into living, walking and talking conscience, anger may flare up. And sometimes, confrontation can hardly be avoided.

I had to deal with this when a friend of mine was planning her wedding, and decided to have a reformed "Jewish" ceremony. That was because she had some difficulties in proving her ancestry to the rabbinical court, and simply gave up, out of pride and misunderstanding the court's intentions. So I tried, gently and lovingly, to tell her that if she wants a Jewish wedding (and I knew she did), she should stand up, take an extra effort to prove she's Jewish, and have an authentic ceremony which will link her and any future children to the Jewish people for all generations to come. A watered-down, very much compromised pseudo-Jewish ritual would only bear a weak resemblance to what she wished, and would not bear any real significance by Jewish Law.

Since I wanted to be tactful, and keep that balance between telling the truth but avoiding hurtful words, I didn't mention the word "sacrilege" at that point, though it was on my tongue all the time, remembering that the so-called "rabbi" who was to conduct her ceremony, would marry not only couples whose Jewishness was not certain - but also gay and lesbian "couples" (which is an outright abomination in the eyes of God).

Things took a rapid turn for the worse when she asked me to actively participate in her ceremony (as one of the confirming witnesses), which I of course couldn't do, because my participation would mean that I see the ceremony as legitimate and equal to a real wedding by Law of Moses and Israel. With an aching heart, I was forced to tell her that I simply couldn't do that. Performing in such a ceremony is forbidden.

She didn't speak to me for almost a year, until I called her before my wedding and sent her an invitation. She came and we did the wildest dancing together - at the women's separate section, of course. :-)

So where am I getting with this? Our friends expect us to be happy for them, and rarely want to hear less-than-encouraging words about their choices. Sometimes we have no choice but to remain mute - sometimes we gather our courage and speak up.

You could talk to your friend, doing your best to speak lovingly and in a non-judgmental way. If she thinks that's the "next step" in their relationship, ask her, how does she see their relationship developing from there? Marriage and children? Have they ever discussed that? And in what time frame? I think that if you can make her ask these questions, it will be more effective.

Common sense and statistics show that living together is not a good preparation for marriage; neither is it a "step" towards marriage. All too often, it's a convenient arrangement for one of the parties (usually, the man), who enjoys the comforts of home life without the commitment of marriage. The woman, who at first was certain a proposal is just around the corner, slowly starts to realize she is as far from "the next step" as she was before moving in with her boyfriend - if not further. Very often living together prior to marriage is a dead-end for a relationship.

I think there is little you can do beside speaking to her in a way that would make her realize what her own expectations are. Right now your friend is probably excited because finally, after years and years of dating, her relationship is taking a certain change - and right now she cannot analyze the situation and see that this change might not be the expected step towards marriage and family. But after some time, she might remember your conversation and get out before it's too late, and find someone who truly wants to start a family.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Marriage and money

Dear friends, it's lovely to read all the comments and emails you have sent in the last couple of days. I hope your weekend is/was lovely.

One of my readers asked me whether I think a woman shouldn't agree to be pursued by a man who doesn't make enough money to support both himself and his wife. Since this is an important topic, I thought I would address it in a separate post.

Yes, a basic amount of money is needed to support a family. And yes, men are to be the primary wage-earners (even if the wife has a side income from a home business or giving lessons, I don't think it's wise to rely upon it). However, from here to thinking, "I expect to be supported by my husband, so I will only agree to be courted by wealthy men", the road is long.

In my opinion, the amount of money a man - especially if he is young - makes at a given point has little to do with his future potential as a good provider for his family. Many young men combine work and studies, or are just starting at their work place - naturally, with low wages. Maybe he has just started his own business, and is waiting for it to pay off. Maybe he lives off a scholarship for a time. Tossing a good man aside because he doesn't make much money right now is more than unwise, in my opinion. Few are born rich or even somewhat well-off. Many work towards building financial security for themselves and their families.

Instead of asking yourself, "how much does this man earn and will it be enough for both of us and the children too?", ask the following questions: is he hardworking and reliable? Is he steady, trustworthy, responsible, and careful in his financial decisions? Does he tend to spend a lot of money on nothings? And most importantly, does he see himself as the provider for his future wife and children, or does he expect his wife to pull an equal share of the financial burden, if not more?

I went out with many young men who had higher degrees and better-paying jobs than the one who eventually became my husband. But my husband was the only one who said he wants his wife not to work outside the home at all. Only in him, I saw the readiness to assume the responsibility of providing for a family. The willingness, if necessary, to work a boring job, day after day, in order to make his wife and children feel secure. He wasn't focused on himself, his studies, or his career, but on the needs of his future family. And this was among the many things about him that captured my heart. It's called maturity, and it's a rare gem to be found in a man nowadays.

Unfortunately, not many men today will accept, even temporarily, a less prestigious job to provide for their wife and children. Too many will sit with their feet up until they find a job that is in their opinion worthy of their degree or their talents. It might be a radical example, but a former executive who lays bricks in order to feed his family looks much better in my eyes than a man in a similar position who expects his wife to provide until he finds a "suitable" job.

Also, one must keep in mind that a caring wife, a life partner to her husband, can also become a financial asset. Many young men are less motivated at their place of employment, and tend to spend more money, because they know they have only themselves to provide for. Once they find a wife who encourages them, praises their hard work, offers support, advice and companionship, and does her best to live cheerfully and frugally on a small income, their motivation grows and with time they find ways to become better providers.

Marriage isn't about sponsorship. It's a partnership. Like the young bride and groom grow together in their marriage as husband and wife, and later as mother and father, men, assisted by their wives, may grow and become more established in their finances. It's the right attitudes - maturity, responsibility, and readiness to provide for a family - that are important to look for in a potential spouse.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Becoming a lady: how?

Q: Do you know how I can act to be more feminine and gentle? I know its a broad subject, but has there been anything you've learnt to change in the ways you relate to others? I don't want to repress my personality and be fragile and bland at all, but do want to be sweet and delicate.

I must tell you there have been periods in my life when I felt completely un-feminine. As a child I loved to climb trees and get my knees bruised playing outside, and there's no way you could make me wear a skirt! I act more feminine now, but I assure you, it has nothing to do with being weak or bland.

There is no magical recipe for gentleness and femininity, and I'm certainly far from being an authority figure. But I have discovered that our state of mind is greatly impacted by our surroundings, what we wear, and how we behave. Often, people who are depressed are advised to keep a happy expression on their face, even if it's fake. After some time, they really start feeling happier.

The same is true for being feminine. The more you act femininely, even if at first it doesn't feel natural, the more it becomes a part of you. After all we are women, and even if we weren't taught to behave in a gentle and feminine way, it is somewhere deep inside us - we just need to let it out.

Dress in long, flowing, feminine garments made of delicate fabrics in soft colors. Long dresses and skirts make you feel wonderfully feminine and if you didn't use to wear a lot of skirts, after a few days you will notice how comfortable it gets. You might need to adjust your skirts before you sit down. Make sure you take care of basic grooming, such as combed hair and clean fingernails. It might sound trivial, but the truth is that too many girls neglect their appearance these days.

Surround yourself with prettiness - flowers, pictures, soothing music. Put a pretty tablecloth on the table, with a lovely centerpiece. If you do any kind of needlework, take it out and do it while listening to classical music. Or do something equally soothing and gentle, like making cards or writing a beautiful letter. I know it probably sounds very simplistic, but it does make you feel feminine and with time it becomes second nature.

Watch your step and posture, and walk gracefully. Don't walk too quickly if there is no need of it. Also, watch your voice - is it soft and gentle? Is it unnecessarily loud? Are you being tactful, speaking your opinion when there is real need of it - or are you doing everything possible simply to make yourself heard? I don't equal voiceless with feminine, but I believe pushiness isn't a feminine feature.

Be generous with your smiles, your helpfulness, and your cheerfulness towards those who surround you. Show hospitality and good manners. If a neighbour is walking by and it's a hot day, offer them a glass of lemonade after saying hello, or at least some cold water. Many repairmen and plumbers who visited us over time were pleasantly surprised when we offered them something refreshing to drink after they worked hard for hours.

Most importantly, cultivate a kind, gentle and loving spirit, which is the truest essence of a real lady. It will shine through in your words and your actions, and you will be unmistakeably seen for who you are.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

How to get rid of clutter

We only got married and moved into our little home a few short months ago, yet I can already see the clutter beginning to accumulate. It has the most sinister ways to creep in. Old newspapers and bills, empty plastic bags, a few items that were lovingly given to us, but are of little use... it takes a time to sort through it all!

In addition, I have discovered a slight difference of attitudes between my husband and myself when it comes to this matter. I see as clutter any object we don't use for practical purposes or to beautify our home, and will gladly throw or give it away. My husband will most often stick to anything he thinks we might ever use, someday, someway. In a little house with very little storage space, this usually means piles of clutter.

Here's what happened last night. My husband came from work, holding two unrecognizable metal objects in his hands.

"Aren't they nice?" - he asked enthusiastically.
"What are these?"
"Well, I don't actually know. But aren't they cool?"

Don't get me wrong - I'm not complaining. I love having a creative and resourceful husband who can take what others would label as "junk", make a few tweaks here and there, and produce excellent and useful items. If you visited me, you'd see our multi-purpose dining table - we don't have enough space to squeeze in a desk, so I also use it as a working desk for computer, writing letters, crafts and ironing. You'd never guess this lovely table was found abandoned outside, and repainted just a few days before our wedding.

I think I have mentioned previously that most of our furniture was either found and repaired, or we got it used. It saved us a good deal of money, and was very useful. However, we also have much (too much, in my opinion) stuff that gathers dust on our shelves, taking up limited storage space.

In a few months, we are supposed to move again, and I'm eagerly waiting for this opportunity to get rid of unnecessary clutter. Moving is the perfect time to do that, because you are forced to go through all your things and decide what is important enough to be wrapped, put into a box, and taken with you to your new home. Often, you will find things you even forgot you had - and ironically, even though you hadn't used them for years and didn't miss them at all, once you see it you are unable to say goodbye.

After we move, we plan to settle in our little nest for more than a few months. Which means I will have to be even more careful about letting clutter in. We'll have an outside storage shed in our new home, but I don't want it to become full to burst with unnecessary items either. So I think that once in a while, I will just pretend we are moving again, and simply let go. Let go of unnecessary items and simplify our life. It feels good.

PS: I'm happy to share some joyous news with you all, dear friends - we have a new niece! My sister-in-law gave birth to a sweet, precious baby girl. I can't wait to see them both.

PPS: I'm glad many of you enjoyed the Jewish wedding video I posted yesterday. Keep in mind that Jews have varying traditions, depending on place of origin. The wedding you saw was Ashkenazi. My husband is Sephardi so some things about our wedding were a bit different.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Jewish Wedding Video

I found this lovely video of a Jewish wedding on YouTube and thought I'd share it with all of you who have been curious about what a traditional Jewish wedding actually looks like. Have fun!