Sunday, November 30, 2008

Conservation, thrift, recycling - the frugal choices

Take a look at this amusing, yet (in my opinion) educative article. It talks about how, long before it became fashionable to be "earth-friendly" and "environmentally responsible" (both of which I applaud and try to implement), people were thrifty, creative recyclers and stretchers of budget, simply in order to thrive during the tough times.

"I turn empty tissue boxes into space shoes for kids. I'm the one who thaws the frozen foods next to the boiling tea kettle, who warms my lunch on the hot dashboard of my car instead of in the microwave. I bucket brigade my bathwater to the rose bushes. I invented and patented a valve that allows one to irrigate gardens with used shower water. Like my father, I'm a toothpaste squeezer, brushing with the last dregs of elusive paste throttled from the very corners of the tube."

Often, when I talk about our choices of frugal life, I'm asked, "and can't you, indeed, afford this, that and the other thing..?" - it shows how much definitions of "can afford" and "can't afford" vary. Some people will only make a major purchase if they can pay for it in cash. Others will consider taking a limited loan which they can return within a reasonable amount of time. And some will say they "can afford it" if their bank will allow a loan high enough to cover the cost of the purchase - without ever considering how they will pay their debt off.

So, when someone who just bought a nice big apartment in an expensive location, and signed up for being in debt for the next twenty years of their life asks us, "can't you afford this?", I think to myself - you'd say we can. We say we can't.

Furthermore, even if we can afford something, it doesn't mean we will buy it. We will consider how much we really need it (as silly as I feel for pointing this out, this wasn't always obvious to me). Perhaps we'll decide that, even though buying this or that wouldn't put us under financial strain, we'd better direct our money elsewhere. It's all a matter of priorities.

For example, tithing. We are taught to give away ten percent of our income, but many people say they can't afford to do that. Indeed, some are poor - but let's think, in the last month, did I buy something I don't strictly need? If I could afford that item, I can afford to give a similar amount of money to charity. I try to remind this to myself whenever I'm asked to make a modest donation, right after I bought a "treat" for myself.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

I don't blog about politics. But this guy does!

Many times, people ask me through this blog what I think about this or that aspect of Israeli politics, and unfortunately, I'm forced to reject their comments, no matter how friendly and respectful they are. I have decided a long time ago that "Domestic Felicity" would be a non-political blog. I know how inflammatory, draining and vehement political discussions can be, and I simply don't have the time to deal with it.

Also, I believe it's better for a woman's peace of mind to stay away from politics, and trust her husband's leadership. Not that I don't have an opinion - I most definitely do, and my husband and I sometimes discuss politics - but I would so much rather focus on writing about matters such as running the home, marriage, cooking, crafts and social issues that are near and dear to my heart. I also know that most of the ladies who visit this blog are careful about guarding their sense of tranquility. Thus, as you might have noticed, I didn't write even one line about the recent elections in the USA, nor do I plan to write about elections in Israel.

Still, I realize that the very fact of us being Orthodox Jews, living in Israel, and refusing to apologize for it, can already be interpreted as a political statement. So no, we don't live in a vacuum. Yes, we are very much involved with what is going on here. But I will leave the pleasure of discussion to other bloggers.

So without further ado, I introduce you to Sultan Knish, a Jewish journalist and blogger who currently lives in the US, writes in English and isn't afraid of giving his non-PC coverage on both Israeli and American developments, no matter how many people might be infuriated by it. I must make a disclaimer and say that I haven't read all of his posts, and therefore cannot sweepingly proclaim I agree with everything he says - but in most cases, I think he is right on the money.

I kindly request you not to attempt a political debate here - no such comments will be published; for all the reasons I have stated earlier, I will resist the temptation even if I have a really good answer up my sleeve. Instead, hop over to Sultan Knish and learn what he has to say.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

From yesterday's walk

Pine cones. Aren't they simply beautiful, and beautiful in their simplicity?

Me, doing a bit of tree-hugging. Can you believe I still fit into this pre-pregnancy skirt?! And it doesn't even have an elastic waist band!

Some lovely cyclamens, leaves and flowers, growing in the wild. Apparently, they love to grow right in the shade of pine trees. The area looks very promising - many leaves, and a few first blooms. We will need to get back there in a couple of weeks - I hope the patch is covered with cyclamen blooms by then. One of my favorite Israeli wildflowers.

Today, we are hosting a party in honor of our new home. We're only inviting our closest family, which means there will be about twenty people. :o) As you can imagine, this means I must do many preparations, so I will leave you with just a quick hello for now. Wishing all you ladies the most wonderful weekend!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Coming back home

Courtney sent me the following question:

Since right out of highschool I have always worked full time. All I know is commuting, working, lunch, working, commuting, come home and make dinner, say hi to husband, crash, repeat. In a few days, my husband and I are moving to a place where his new job is. He landed an amazing position, and I will never have to work again. So I am wondering, since there are only so many dishes to do, and only so much laundry for 2 people, how do you fill the rest of the time up?? Am I going to be bored out of my mind? We wont have any family or friends around. How do you keep busy?

Dear Courtney,

Congratulations on coming home! What a privilege it is, to be able to dedicate all your time to your home, making it a cozy nest for you and your husband. As you will soon find out, home life is both rewarding and challenging, and not at all like we have been taught by those who would want us to believe there is nothing more boring than a simple day at home.

Even as a single woman, I developed great liking for the domestic life, and didn't feel inclined to move out at all. I enjoyed planning and completing different household projects, I learned to cook and bake, and my mother taught me the basics of knitting and crocheting. In addition, I lived in a busy place, I could hop over and see my friends anytime, and there was my grandmother who lived with us and needed lots of care and attention (mostly in the way of keeping company - I still try to visit Grandma at least once a week or two).

A lot changed when I got married; my husband and I moved to a very remote little place where we didn't know anyone. I was very excited about the prospect of my own home, but like you, I was a bit apprehensive - how is it going to work out, being home alone all day? Won't I feel lonely and depressed? Will I be able to use my time productively?

Far from being bored or having to "fill up my time", I can't stress enough just how important these first few months at home had been so far - as a new, inexperienced wife with a lot to learn, I'm so very thankful for this opportunity to be home before our first baby joins us. This allowed developing and practicing important home-management skills, which I'm sure would be much more difficult to learn if I only came home after the birth of our baby (something pretty much everyone around me - except my husband, of course - expected me to do). Even with only two people in the household, there's still plenty to do!

Being home full-time allows you to dedicate more time and thought to tasks you have previously rushed through. For example, I don't just hurriedly make our bed in the mornings - I take extra time to make it prettily arranged, fluffed up and inviting. I don't take a pile of washed laundry and shove our clothes into their drawers as quickly as possible - I take time to look for stains, tears, and missing or loose buttons; I have time to neatly fold, iron, and mend our clothes. Also, because my attention is dedicated to my home, I notice all the little-but-important things that need to be done in the realm of home improvement, and put them on my to-do list or ask for my husband's help with them (depends on whose skills are best suited for the task).

You will have time to cook wholesome, varied, healthy meals from scratch, and even invest in making side-dishes and home-made desserts and baked goodies - something that is extremely hard to do when working full-time. You will also have more time to plan your meals and compile your shopping list accordingly, which will save you a lot of time and effort (and possibly some money as well).

Since it's only you and your husband, you will also have time to do all the lovely "extras" which often have to be put aside, at least for a while, if you have little ones - such as home decoration; putting up pretty curtains, centerpieces, cushions, paintings, and other items which will make your home lovely; gardening, if you have a garden, or growing potted plants; half-forgotten but very rewarding domestic arts such as canning, preserving and jam-making. If you're on the crafty side, or have always wanted to learn how to sew, knit, crochet, cross-stitch, paint watercolors, make soap or candles, or some or all of the above, now is the time. You will also have time for creative self-development in the form of writing, music, or learning a foreign language, if you are inclined to do that.

It's important to establish a healthy, efficient (though not too rigid or demanding) routine, which will enable you to use your time productively. After working outside the home and being confined to someone else's schedule, it's often difficult to practice self-discipline, and only too easy to lounge around and eventually feel frustrated with boredom. Your routine will vary according to your needs, and your husband's needs - what suits someone else won't necessarily suit you. Some ladies find home-management notebooks or journals very helpful; I have an outline of long-term projects in mine, but my daily routine is usually very simple. First, I complete my morning tasks (such as putting our bedroom in order, doing dishes, laundry and/or grocery shopping), and then go on to whatever project I planned for the day.

Very importantly, you will have time to relax and unwind before your husband comes home - and what man doesn't love to be welcomed by a cheerful, rested wife? I call my husband during the day to know when he plans to come home, and about an hour before his estimated homecoming, I take a shower, put on clean, neat clothes, and curl up with a good book or some crocheting until he arrives. If your husband likes to eat dinner right after he comes home, you can have the table nicely set for the two of you before he arrives, with pretty dishes, candles and a centerpiece.

Good luck to you, and may your coming home be rewarding and inspiring for both you and your husband!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Can't argue with Darwin?

"Facts are facts. Science is precise. You can't argue with Darwin!"

I don't quite remember the original context of the passage, but this one line truly struck me. Can't argue with Darwin? Says who?

Don't get me wrong - I love science; I think it teaches us a great deal, and brings up many amazing angles of God's creation. But let's ask ourselves for a moment - how many scientific theories have come and gone since Moses received the unchangeable Torah at Mt. Sinai? Furthermore, how many theories were considered as "facts", and later were proven to be completely off the mark?.. You see my point - so excuse me if I don't bow to the almighty science.

Let's look, for example, at the famous theory (which many dare to present as a fact) that humans have evolved from apes - or rather, that humans and modern apes had a common, ape-like ancestor. To back this theory up, scientists point out the amazing similarity between the DNA of a human and, say, a chimpanzee.

No doubt, our DNA is very much alike. But does it mean we evolved from chimpanzees (or a similar creature)? Not necessarily. The Jewish belief is that apes, in fact, are humans that "deteriorated" as a punishment for their sins.

You see a delicious-looking cake. One person tells you, "someone took some flour, eggs, butter and sugar. Then he carefully measured all ingredients, mixed them all in the proper order, and baked exactly at the right temperature. The result is before you."

Another tells you, "flour, eggs, butter and sugar appeared in random quantities, and were randomly thrown into the air by a blow of wind. By chance, they mixed themselves properly, and then the cake popped itself into the oven, and here it is."

Which one makes more sense?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Young moms work for free

The other day, while I was waiting in line at the doctor's office, I happened to overhear the conversation of two young moms who were sitting right next to me. It caught my attention, not because how unusual it was, but on the contrary, because it's so very typical.

"I pay so much for daycare," - one of them said, - "that between daycare and gas, my entire paycheck is gone. In addition, I spend the whole day outside the home, come home tired, don't have time to do anything, and hardly see my children."
The second mom expressed her sympathy, said she's in the same boat, and added that, "while I'm not actually earning anything now, there's a pretty good perspective to start earning more in a couple of years - then I'll see more of that paycheck."

Note that not a single word was said about joy and/or inspiration the two young women were getting out of their work. None of them said anything along the lines of "it might be not very profitable, but I find my work so interesting - it makes my life meaningful". Both of them admitted that they are, as a matter of fact, working for free.

Now, I can think of many good reasons to work without pay, besides the obvious duties we all have at home. For example, volunteering in a crisis pregnancy center. Or creatively decorating one's place of worship. Or making and giving out handmade gifts just to make someone else happy. Or walking the dog for an elderly neighbour who broke her leg. But to dedicate the best hours of every single day to work I don't find particularly meaningful or interesting, without any pay, just for the fickle prospect of earning more in a few years? Doesn't sound very appealing, in my humble opinion.

I know many of you ladies will say that no matter what, no amount of money can compensate for time - precious time of children's lives, which their mother longs to be a part of, and from which she is unjustly separated by irrational social expectations. But as we so often see, it might not even be about the money - not really. Numbers don't lie - it's pretty easy to deduce the cost of work-related expenses from one's paycheck, and see what we are really earning. We are just so conditioned to think that we must spend most of our day working outside the home, that we rationalize even when it's obvious we don't derive any profit from it.

Of course, many young professionals have to settle for low pay for their first couple of years in the field, or else they won't find a job at all. But to actually work without receiving any pay? There's no guarantee things will change for those young moms in a couple of years, either. The current economical crisis might make any pay rises look far-fetched. Or they might have another baby, which will increase daycare costs. Note that I'm not talking about women who plan to have one or two children and "be done with it". I'm talking about religious Jewish mothers, who love their children, and in most cases will want to have many of them - which means childcare costs will be there for a substantial stretch of time.

The logical solution, in my opinion, would be to stay home and care for one's own children, with joy and peace in one's heart, instead of making someone else rich by handing out our paycheck every single month. But there are, of course, other considerations, such as - what if I want to work later when my children are older, and can't find a job? What will others think of me? Will I be seen as lazy and useless? More than money, this is about social trends and expectations only we - each one of us - can change by the choices we make.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The ultimate challah

My husband found an excellent recipe for challah, which we tried out this past Friday. It produced the best, softest, fluffiest challah I've ever tasted - I'm convinced every beginner challah-maker will be successful with this recipe.

You will need (makes two challot):

1 kg, or approx. 6 cups, all-purpose flour
2 tbsp. fresh or dry yeast
4 tbsp. sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tbsp. salt
about 1 1\2 cups water

To make your challah look even nicer:

1 egg, beaten
sesame seeds

Mix flour, sugar and yeast in a large bowl (since our yeast were frozen, we first "revived" them with some warm water and a bit of sugar). Add eggs and oil, mix. Add salt. Gradually add water. Note: flour/water ratio may vary. The dough must be "kneadable", so you might find you need more/less flour or water. Knead until forming a smooth, elastic ball of dough. Oil your ball of dough slightly from all sides, cover with clean moist cloth and let rise for an hour and a half to two hours, until size doubles.

Knead dough again, until air comes out (you should feel and even hear it). Cover and leave to rise again, until dough doubles its size once more.

Pre-heat oven. In the original recipe, it says 200 C (or about 400 F), but we decided to be careful because our oven tends to burn baked goodies very quickly. So we went by 50 degrees lower, and it worked just fine for us. I think it's better to start with lower temperature and increase it later if you see the progress is very slow, than to start high and end up with challah that is burned on the outside and raw on the inside.

Divide the dough in half, and braid as desired. Place challot in baking tray, cover with cloth, and let rise for 30 minutes. Brush challot with beaten egg and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Pop into the oven and bake until golden.

Illustration photo: the Shabbat table

Note: we had little time left before Shabbat, so we were unable to let our challot rise for as long as the recipe suggested. The first two times, instead of an hour and a half to two hours, we only left our dough to rise for one hour each time. The last time, we skipped altogether. Still, it was beautiful, fluffy challah. We didn't even have time to braid it, and divided it into rather unimpressive buns (which is why there's no picture this time :o)). Anyway, it was really, really good.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

And some more random pregnant musings

How does one prepare for childbirth?

Honestly, I fail to understand. I haven't signed up for birth prep classes, but I've read books and articles, talked to more experienced women and to new and expectant moms. I'm doing exercises which are supposed to assist me in the "moment of truth". And I'm still not an inch closer to understanding what is going to happen when it's actually time to have the baby.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not panicky - I just feel a bit... silly when I read, "breathe in such and such a way, as if you are having contractions" - while I'm not actually having contractions. Or, "practice position X - it will be very useful in such and such stage of labor"; OK, I've been practicing position X for the past two months. It might be a nice part of my exercise routine, but I doubt it makes me any more prepared. Or does it?

Do I feel more informed? Yes, absolutely. But the more I read, the more convinced I become that when it's time to give birth, I should simply allow my body to take control and do whatever feels most comfortable at the moment. For example, I might not feel like "doing" position X after all. It might be good for another woman, but not for me.

I also stopped feeling anxious about not reading each and every bit of information I can find. There's more than I can digest anyway - with the endless flow of useful knowledge from books, magazines, websites, blogs, and dear, well-meaning people, I actually feel I must protect myself from the thought that if I don't do this and that, I will fail to bring the baby into this world. Babies have a tendency to come out, not stay in, and most deliveries today are very safe, praise God. So while I like to educate myself, I know the world won't end if I miss out on a few undoubtedly useful how-to articles. The baby, with God's help, sincere prayer and good attitude, will be out safe and healthy in her due time.

Speaking of due time, I'm not fussed about that one either. Mom called me from work today to... ask the date of my last period. Turns out, she and her co-workers were sitting there, trying to calculate my exact due date through a new method. But we all know that a "due date" is only an approximation. No doctor can really know the exact moment when my baby is ready to enter this world. It just happens when it happens.

My plan for the next few weeks is very simple. I will need wholesome nutrition, routine exercise, enough sleep, and plenty of quiet time alone and with my husband. We might go out now and then just for the fun of doing things as a couple, and we plan to make basic preparations for the baby's arrival. If I'm not sure whether we really need this or that item, we can probably wait until the baby is here to find out. There are also a few household projects and crafts I'm tackling at my leisure.

And now, we're off to a relaxing weekend - wishing the same to all you ladies!

Mrs. T

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

It walks like a duck...

... But it's not a duck. It's pregnant me! :o)

I suppose it's just a funny but natural part of the supernatural process of bringing a baby into this world. Right? Right.

Yesterday, we did another ultrasound, and were told that our precious treasure currently weighs approximately 1,8 kilos (that's about 4 lbs, I think), and is positioned with her head down. Are those little feet I'm feeling against my ribs now?.. Baby's heartbeat, as well as my placenta and fluid, appear normal. Great news.

I think I've hit the stage of restlessness, excitement and urge to arrange and prepare things, commonly known as nesting. I spent the entire morning re-arranging stuff on my living room shelves. I'm feeling an itch to do something all the time, and fortunately, I have no lack of work. Now, where's my dustcloth?

As my thoughts become more inward-focused, there are very few things I remember which aren't related to baby and preparations for her arrival. Hey, I still remember my name and where I live, that should be good enough for the next few weeks. I've given up on trying to grasp the overwhelming fact that in less than two months, we are supposed to have our baby in our arms. I know it intellectually, but I can't wrap my mind around it. Not really. It's too awe-inspiring.

My most tender wishes go towards the dear ones who are also about to have a baby. May you be enveloped in sweet love, peace and joy for the weeks leading to delivery and following it. May you soon hold dear, precious babies in your arms.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Orthodox rabbi permits having children out of wedlock

Some time ago, I read an article which left me perplexed, hurt, and disappointed. It was written in response to a question sent to a famous Israeli "modern" Orthodox rabbi. This week my husband brought it up again, and I felt I can't pass by without saying a word. Once more, I felt cheated - I can find no other word. Why? Read on and see for yourselves. I'll give you an abbreviated translation from Hebrew, and my comments later on.

Question: "I'm a bright, good-looking, educated 36-year-old woman who has been trying to get married for 15 years, with no success so far. At first, I made some mistakes and rejected men, and later on no one wanted me.

I want to have a child! I keep dreaming about it, and I want to have a child! I beg you, tell me how I can find a way
(*underlying concept: without violating the Jewish Law) to have a baby while I'm not married."

In reply, the rabbi gave some tribute to the holiness of the Jewish family, to how everyone should make their best effort to get married, to how children are best suited to growing in a family with both mother and father present, and so on. And later? Later, his "modern" and "enlightened" side got the best of him. I won't quote all of his reply, but the bottom line was, he "couldn't see a direct prohibition from the Torah for a woman to have children out of wedlock". And thus, as we acknowledge a childless woman's grief, and her biological clock is ticking, and she wants a child so badly, there might be an option... what, you might be asking yourself in disbelief, to have a child while she is unmarried? Yes, that's right.

"This permission should be limited to women approximately of age 37 and older, who unwillingly reached such an age while they are still unmarried, because this is an age when a woman's possibility to conceive is close to disappearing. Women who are younger than that should continue doing everything possible to get married and start a family. Of course, even if a woman has a baby while she is unmarried, she should still try to get married and have a family."

In the last part of his reply, he talked mostly about what practical method should be used, as sexual intercourse outside marriage is prohibited, and so the woman would have to resort to artificial insemination or IVF, and whether it's better to have an identified or anonymous "donor"... I'll spare the details, as they are less significant.

Notice I didn't say the rabbi's name, but I'm sure my Israeli readers know who I'm talking about, as he is quite famous, and this specific article was published just about everywhere - to joyous reactions such as "Oh good! Finally, we have a modern, enlightened, understanding rabbi! Finally, someone who isn't stuck in the Middle Ages!"

Last time I wrote about rabbis giving despicable, immoral, life-ruining advice, I received emails and comments from Jewish readers accusing me of making Jews and Judaism look bad. I'm fully prepared for this to happen again - but I can't and won't remain silent, while a man who dares to be a spiritual leader shatters the most precious columns of Jewish family, society, and moral standards. I cannot remain silent, while those who are truly faithful helplessly look at how a so-called "Orthodox" rabbi makes the unthinkable seem acceptable.

Of course, technically artificial insemination isn't sex, so it isn't included in the prohibition of sexual intercourse; however, Torah is crystal clear on what a family is supposed to look like: a husband and wife becoming "one flesh", and children born from their union of married love. Now, we all know life is diverse and there might be many different situations, such as a childless couple or a widow with children. However, this is not the initial choice; not the ideal described in God's word; not what we should aim for, or willingly put ourselves into.

Furthermore, what about the child?! Yes, some parents are divorced; sometimes fathers disappear completely from children's lives; sometimes, tragically, a parent dies - and we all know it has a lingering impact on a child's life. Our generation has been deeply hurt by its fatherlessness. Yes, there were orphans in all ages, and the Almighty provided for them, as He is the One who "puts the solitary in families". But when I think how few children actually have a close, respectful, trusting relationship with their fathers, it sends shivers down my spine. Fathers have been cut off from children's lives. Do we have the right to choose this for a child - not to accept the inevitable, but to actually choose it - to the extent that the child can never know his father's identity?

The "limit" of 37 years or older is beyond ridiculous. Any reasonable person understands it's an arbitrary line. If it's alright to have a child out of wedlock at 37, why not at 36, 35, 34? As it becomes more acceptable, 30-year-old women who yearn for a baby will go ahead and do an artificial insemination, reasoning that "their fertility is declining". The statement about women who "unwillingly reached such an age while they are still unmarried" is even more unbelievable. It's supposed to mean a woman can only resort to artificial insemination once she tried everything reasonably possible in order to get married - but what does it mean, and who can testify to that? The woman in question herself admits that she declined marriage offers. Next thing we know, a 35-year-old "Orthodox" woman will be full of righteousness about her artificial insemination because, "come on, you couldn't have expected me to marry that nerd, could you?"

No, of course not. No one can expect you to work hard to establish a family with a man who might not even be perfect. Feel free to wait for Prince Charming until you are 37, because you know how it goes: once loneliness becomes unbearable, you can always get an artificial insemination, and there's a rabbi who will back you up.

I don't want to sound harsh. I know wonderful, precious people who are older singles. I know excellent, praiseworthy married couples who are longing for a child, but their arms are still empty. Sometimes, God's plan doesn't look exactly like our plan - and wanting something, even wanting something very badly, doesn't justify trying to find a way to break His instruction.

Monday, November 17, 2008

An inspiring young lady

I received a very inspiring reply to a post I wrote a while ago, and since it was sent to the comments thread, I hope the young lady who wrote won't mind me publishing it in a separate post to share with you all.

"My name is Machelle, I'm 18 years old and currently (miserably) attend college as an art major. Why? Because, as I'm sure you know, I was told all throughout school that you will fail at life if you don't go to college.

God gave me a contradictory gift; although I'm nearly legally blind, I can draw and paint. He blessed me with the gift to record the world, either the real one or the images He graces through my imagination, realistically and almost effortlessly. And so my friends and family all told me I must go to college, get my Master's in art, and become a world famous artist, and for a while, I liked the idea. My work was (is) selling, I was humbly blessed with honors and awards for my work, and when I earned a full-ride to college for my portfolio, I was overjoyed.

But college life, in a nutshell, is torture. My teachers make me cry, the counselors are unhelpful. My art teacher even went so far as to insist I am "a modern liberated woman!" and didn't need anyones help, despite the fact that I was currently making a fool of myself in front of the whole class by being unable to loosen the bolts on my easle. I'm quitting after the next semester is over, and most of my extended family is devastated. "But you're so talented!" they tell me, and ask what I'm going to do all day, clean?

Sure, happily. And cook, and bring out my sewing again. Learn to make my grandmother's noodles and and glace. All sorts of more useful skills than sitting through a two-hour lecture on the different ways to draw a line (yes, that actually WAS a class!)

My family is sad because they think I'm wasting my talents, but I fear they don't realize that God gave me an even greater blessing; a smart mind with which I made the decision to be homeward bound. He gave me the desire for family, the intelligence to look over the lies of feminism. And he gifted me with the compensation for hindering my eyesight. I can't drive, and could not get a job if, God forbid, my future husband and I ever fell on hard times. If it ever did get to the point where, for whatever reason, we needed a few extra dollars, drawing portraits is something I could do in the evenings, quickly and joyfully, to help my family through life's rough patches. I've always loved art, but I want my finest masterpiece to be my home!"

This dear young girl's testimony isn't only encouraging in its boldness; it's informative. It's a perfect example of today's prevalent attitude. When a young lady exhibits a certain talent, be it in music, arts, science, or anything really, she is told, "How wonderful! You should develop this," - and should I even mention that when talking about developing and promoting a young lady's talents, people rarely mean anything that might also prepare her as a future wife and mother.

(Then there's also, inevitably, the argument of, "but she's so young, who knows, she might never get married at all" - saying this is, in most cases, out of touch with reality, because most women do get married. If a young woman feels she will be inclined to get married at some point in her life, she must prepare to the duties of a wife with all seriousness.)

One must also wonder about college itself. Some people report that they had wonderful college experience, both in terms of education and in the dominating moral environment they found on campus. However, others - after finishing, with relief, a dozen boring years of institutionalized schooling - find themselves yet again in a class where they are spoon-fed mostly useless information. Others soon realize it's pointless to cram your short-term memory with disconnected facts, then spit them out during an examination. And some feel their emotional, spiritual, and even physical well-being is endangered by the so-called "carefree college life".

Of course, if one plans to become an engineer, a doctor, or a researcher in the field of molecular biology, the college path is probably inevitable. But a young lady who is home-drawn, whose primary goals are to become a wife and mother, might eventually realize that she has an option to continue her education and pursue her talents - from home. And it's a shame this option is so rarely mentioned.

Furthermore, not even every young man must have a college education. Some become independent professionals, after an apprenticeship. Others have talents that can be developed not only through sitting in class, listening to lectures, and paying a whole lot of money for it each year. We are just so strongly programmed to think that college equals success, or rather, that no college equals failure; that we cannot be successful professionals, or even accomplished adults, without four years spent on campus and a diploma adorning our wall.

College education is often ridiculously expensive - and takes years, during which we are supposed to put our life on hold, and delay marriage, family, and the real responsibilities that come with it. Many people find themselves later on working in a completely different field, while still carrying the burden of student loans. In my humble opinion, it's time to think outside the box and - no, not dismiss the college option in the first place - but to see whether there are more creative, more effective, more practical and less expensive ways to educate ourselves.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Welcoming a new week

Sunday mornings, which are very similar here to descriptions of Monday mornings throughout the world, are normally busy. There's work left from the weekend to do, and also plans to make for the week ahead. If I use my time efficiently, Sunday is productive and helps me set the entire week in motion. If not much gets done on Sunday, I will often see during the week that I am no longer in control of what I need to do. This Sunday was especially important, since we'll be absent from home for a couple of days during the week, which means appropriate planning is needed.

From a post on the wonderfully inspiring "Down to Earth" blog:
"My simple life is about a mindful rhythm of work that bubbles along at an easy pace, it's about consistency of purpose and it's about focus and getting my jobs done."

This morning, to my disappointment, started a tad late, but later on I managed to catch up and all my morning jobs were done before lunch. Bedding was changed, and now our bedroom, with clean fresh sheets and blankets and plump soft pillows, looks wonderfully inviting. Laundry was washed and hanged outside to dry in the cool wind and sunshine.

By the way, to the ladies who asked about how we manage with only one load per week, I thought about this long and hard and I suppose our "secret" is quite simple: we only wash what needs to be washed. Nothing is tossed into the hamper simply because it was used; an item is washed when it's dirty, stained, sweaty and/or smelly. Thus, while we do change our underwear every day, our upper layers of clothing don't really need to be washed that often. This saves us water, electricity, detergent, and wear and tear on the clothes, not to mention valuable time.

After quickly washing the dishes left from breakfast (and, ahem, last night's dinner), I started the daunting task of setting the second bedroom - which, to my shame, has fallen into a state of complete mess - in order. I made some very satisfying progress there, as well as in tidying up our living room, and even puttered around the garden a bit before going on lunch break. Now that lunch is over, I will start afternoon chores, such as making dinner, and after kitchen is cleaned up, I look forward to a quiet hour with my crocheting and a good book.

Wishing a wonderful week to all you ladies,

Mrs. T

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Jewish potential

Some time ago, I wrote a post called "is there such a thing as Jewish feminism?". Since then, after participating in a few online discussions, I have discovered that far from wondering about whether there is a connection - there are people who are convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jews are the ones to blame for all ills of modern society that stem from Marxism and feminism, such as destruction of the family, devaluing of men, promiscuity, "no-fault" divorce and "safe and legal" abortions.

The logic? "Karl Marx had been Jewish. Betty Friedan and other feminist leaders had been Jewish. Thus, Jews are, of course, guilty". You might be rolling your eyes now, but some people claim - with full conviction - that the feminist promotion of abortion "rights" is actually part of a Jewish conspiracy to eliminate as many non-Jewish children as possible.

Are you shocked? I'm not. After all, we were the ones accused of using blood of Christian children as a part of our traditional Passover matzo recipe. And that didn't end in the Middle Ages, either. Remember the trial of Beilis? It was in 1913, people. The irony of these specific, recurring blood libels is that it's absolutely prohibited under Jewish Law to consume blood - any blood, in any form - and anyone who knows just a wee bit about Jewish dietary laws could testify to that.

Still, many of the leaders of social movements that wrecked havoc throughout the last century had been Jewish. However, none of them - as far as I remember - had been observant. Karl Marx was born into a family of Jews who rejected their faith and heritage for the possibility of social acceptance and career, and eventually became an atheist. Betty Friedan was far from being a religious Jewish woman. I could go on and on, but you get the idea - none of these people could represent, even remotely, the Jewish faith, philosophy, tradition, values or culture.

In Proverbs 3, wisdom based on the Lord's teachings is described as "more precious than rubies"; it is "a tree of life to those who embrace her". As Jews, we are given tremendous potential and a powerful drive to change the world for the better, but to use it wisely, we need to align our thoughts, plans and desires with the holy Torah - our tree of life. Unfortunately, there have been some misguided Jews in every generation, which gave us people like Karl Marx, Betty Friedan and Moshe Rosen.

Letting go of the tree of life inevitably results in death - death of family, of motherhood, of society. Death of millions of innocent children murdered in their mother's womb. Jews have impacted the world tremendously, considering the fact that we are, perhaps, 0.1% of the world's population and never made any particular effort to expand our numbers. A Jew who abandons his faith remains a carrier of great potential, which can become destructive.

Imagine how different our world could be, if instead of atheist-Jew Karl Marx, we had rabbi Karl Marx, who dedicated his entire life to studying the matters of social justice and treatment of the poor and downtrodden according to Jewish Law. Imagine if instead of feminist Betty Friedan, we had rebbetzin Betty, the proud mother of twelve children and a Jewish marriage counselor.

Nothing like it can happen once Jews no longer embrace the Torah, our tree of life. Let's hold on to it.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A little update and some neat links

We finally have our new washing machine plugged in and working, and it has been such a pleasure to use it - amazing how much ease and comfort it brings to our lives. I'm so happy we've worked this out before the baby is here. Yesterday, caught by an adrenaline rush, I found myself hanging the laundry at 1:30 in the morning (!) - for some reason, I just couldn't sleep. Perhaps it's somehow connected to the fact that our baby was doing a very, very wild dance in Mom's tummy. :o)

And now, to some of my latest blog-reading finds...

My blog friend Jenny (known as "The Retro Housewife") opened a new blog where she talks about living with her recently diagnosed Celiac disease, and provides useful information and gluten-free recipes. Have a look.

A wonderful article about why "just staying at home" is so difficult in our generation.

"We don't have the management and multitasking skills to drive the household forward, and often wind up getting dragged behind a run-away mob of runny-nosed hooligans, maybe not every day, but often enough to lead to at least minor bouts of despair."

Simple Green Frugal Co-op - a lovely new blog about green living, sustainability, and making more on less. Highly recommended.

Just for fun: even while recovering from a c-section and an infection, Michelle has a sense of humor that makes everything seem much better. This one really cracked me up.

... "You're still crying? What's wrong, little baby? Do you have a diaper rash?"

*Moron! Do I need to draw a picture or something? I'm saying it loud and clear: GIMME MILK!* **Sigh** *This woman claims to be my mother but I'm starting to have some serious doubts. She doesn't exactly strike me as bright enough to be a mum...* "WAAAAAAAHHH!!"

Serena wrote an extensive user review on cloth diapers - lots of valuable information for new moms and moms-to-be. Worth checking out.

And if we're on the topic, here's a neat pattern for crocheted soakers.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Do women want to be treated badly?

A couple of days ago, I ran across an article written by a woman who became involved with a man who was, to quote her own words, everything she was looking for in a husband - sweet, intelligent, responsible, handsome, and a good provider. Do you think she was praising the good man she found, and planning a happy future together with him? Think again.

That fine piece of work was dedicated, mostly, to criticizing her potential husband. For what? "Being too nice". More specific "crimes" included never raising his voice, refusing to drive over the speed limit, not being a sports fan, not getting drunk, and to sum it up, not being an impressive macho. Not being "a challenge". All these, according to her, implied that her man "doesn't have a backbone".

How old do you think she was? 18? 20? She didn't specify her age, but certain details implied that she's near or over 30.

I purposefully don't quote from the original article, because the language used there was offensive to me, and I know you ladies would have felt the same way if you read it. Instead, I would like to focus on the sad phenomenon of women being irresistibly attracted to men who treat them badly, while ignoring - or worse, despising - men who could have been wonderful husbands and fathers.

The big question is, why? Why do women fall at the feet of men who are clearly not good marriage partners - immature, irresponsible, rude, aggressive, often violent men? Why do women waste precious years and get deeply hurt while trying to tame those men and make them nicer, instead of turning their eyes towards men of a different kind? And why, why, why is this vicious cycle so often repeated by the same woman again and again?

When we look at herd animals, we often see that the leading male is the biggest, strongest, and most aggressive one. He is the one who usually gets most female attention, too. However, we aren't herd animals; most women realize they want a marriage with a man who is caring, understanding, supportive, loving and kind. A man who will, when needed, do the shopping, take out the trash and hold the baby. Muscle display has nothing to do with long-term happiness.

Do women really want to be treated badly? I doubt it. If a woman believes she deserves unfair treatment, there is something deeply wrong with her self-esteem. My guess is that there's some sort of a romantic fantasy - a tough and rough man who will go all nice and mellow when it concerns his wife. A macho who will give up his usual night of excessive alcohol to care for a sick baby. A man who emulates an aggressive leading male, but purrs and curls into a soft little ball like a kitten while he cuddles with her on the sofa to watch a girlish movie.

Only it doesn't work this way. A man who yells at the waiter, someone who is horrible to his co-workers and rude to his parents, will very likely behave in a similar way towards his wife. A man who has a terrible temper probably won't develop an angelic patience all of a sudden. A man who is used to driving over the speed limit won't stop when there's a baby at the back seat. To sum it up, look at how a man treats others - it's a pretty good indicator of how he will behave in everyday domestic life. Look at his habits - what looks "cool" (such as, supposedly, driving over the speed limit) often becomes disturbing, incompatible with day-to-day routine, and even outright dangerous once you start a family.

Think about what you really want your life to look like. And I don't mean that once-in-a-lifetime trip to the Himalaya. I mean what your life will inevitably, for the most part, consist of. Your home, your family, your day-to-day doings, spending time together. The sort of husband and father you would like to wake up with, for the rest of your life. Soon, you'll notice that the under-appreciated "too nice" qualities are precisely the ones that will ensure long-term happiness.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Top ten ways to lose your domestic happiness

... A reminder to self as much as to anyone else...

1. Nag. Nag about whatever needs to be done around the house and requires your husband's cooperation, such as fixing a leaking sink, moving furniture, or digging in the garden. Just reminding your husband once or twice about whatever needs to be done cannot be considered proper nagging, so be sure to nag constantly and repeatedly, especially when you're supposed to be having fun (such as on your "eat out night" or "movie night" or just during a relaxing evening).

2. Moan. Moaning can be considered a variation of nagging, but comes with explaining just how miserable you are because the walls aren't painted yet, or you can't afford a vacation right now, or you don't have new furniture, or he didn't wash the dishes or whatever. Refuse to be fun and easy-going, and moan, moan, moan about... well, just about anything. The possibilities are endless.

3. Criticize. When you can no longer nag because your husband went out and did whatever you asked him to do, criticize the result. Did he move that sofa two inches left of the exact spot you wanted? Does it seem the walls are painted unevenly? Don't do anything to acknowledge his hard work; instead, criticize. Also criticize his salary, your lifestyle, his hobbies and habits (such as liking sports and leaving the toothpaste open), expressing your deepest dissatisfaction with him in general. Don't forget to compare him to other men you know, who are more successful/understanding/funny/intelligent.

4. Under-appreciate. In the rare cases you can't find anything to pick on, take it for granted. Never express your gratitude for what your husband does for you, from washing the dishes, to spending his only free morning during the week working in the garden, to buying you expensive gifts or taking you on vacation.

5. Neglect. Never ask your husband about how his day went; actually, even a simple "how are you?" is too much. Around the house, be as frumpy as possible. Wear shapeless, stained and torn clothes, and don't bother to brush your hair. When you go out, dress nicely and wear make-up, and make sure your husband knows you do it for other people and not for him.

6. Accuse. When you think about your husband's intentions, always assume the worst. For example, if he forgot to take out the trash, say "you don't care about me!". If he says you can't afford to buy new furniture right now, say, "you want me to be miserable, right?"; the basic principle is: whatever he forgot to do, he did it on purpose. Whatever he did that isn't to your taste, he had the specific goal of making you unhappy. No doubt about that. You are a poor, suffering martyr. Oh, and don't forget to make your accusations as broad as possible ("you always talk to me like that; you never take out the trash").

7. Suffocate. Foster your rightful indignation about the fact that your husband has hobbies, friends, a life. Does he like fishing, woodwork, tinkering with the computer, or playing sports? It's a waste of time which he could spend working around the house doing what you want. Resent him for spending time with friends once a month, surfing the net for twenty minutes, reading a book or even taking an afternoon nap during the weekend. If you are on vacation together and do some sightseeing, make sure you don't go to the places he wants to see. Take all fun out of his life. At first signs of protest, apply techniques of nagging, moaning and criticizing.

8. Suspect. Ask your husband to call you at the very minute he leaves work, and throw a jealousy scene if he's ten minutes late, according to your calculations. Every time he talks on the phone, demand to know who called him, and why. Allow a traffic jam, a delay at the doctor's office or a call from the secretary at work be a source of jealousy. Let your husband know you don't trust him one bit.

9. Be a kill-joy. Eliminate all your husband's attempts to get you two to have fun together. Don't allow a bit of spontaniety in your life, such as an unplanned dinner date. Stifle every ounce of romance, even some candles in your bedroom or wearing some perfume when you go to bed. Sigh when he tells jokes, cut across him when he tries to communicate with you, don't ever let him see you smile. Don't ever wear anything but thick and shapeless flannel pajamas when you go to bed.

10. Reject intimacy. During the week, always be too tired. On weekends, pretend to have a headache, or simply be grumpy and not in the mood. If you have a baby who wakes during the night, this is even easier. Don't be generous with hugging, kissing or holding hands, either. When there is absolutely no way you can avoid intimacy, make it as dull and technical as possible. Keep the room completely dark, keep your flannel pajamas on for as long as possible, and check the watch from time to time with an impatient sigh.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Truth is simple

I remember, back from the time I worked in a hospital, many examples of generous love, charity, kindness, giving and selflessness. One of the most striking cases was a little baby girl born at 26 weeks gestation, weighing only 700 gr, or 25 ounces. The girl was named Chaya, which means "life".

I didn't meet little Chaya until she was already a couple of months old, and weighed like an average newborn (which makes sense). Due to being born so prematurely, she suffered from a few respiratory problems, which brought her back to hospital. She fought courageously, and so did her loved ones. Whenever I passed by, I could see her mother and grandmother sitting next to her and reciting psalms. Her mother pumped milk for her around the clock. Baby Chaya was making steady progress, and by the time I finished my internship in that unit, she was already getting better.

Her family's love and devotion were deeply moving to me even then, and now that I'm pregnant it brings tears to my eyes whenever I think about it. When I was 26 weeks along, I remembered baby Chaya, and asked the Lord to keep my baby safe in my womb for as long as necessary to avoid any health risks and complications.

It also brings tears to my eyes when I hear people promoting the so-called "right" to dispose of babies just like Chaya, in the name of "freedom". To her family, Chaya was a dear, loved, cherished and treasured little human being. To others, millions of little Chayas are obstacles to be rid of - in the name of "choice".

All the debates I hear about the personhood of the unborn child, beside being annoying in their lack of logic, are frightening in their attempt to complicate the simple and to mask the crystal clear facts of life.

Ask a three-year-old what a pregnant woman has in her belly. Most children will readily reply, "a baby!"; if you press further and ask how come she has a baby in there, you'll probably get many interesting answers. Our nephew's explanation was, "because she's a Mom"; you might notice his logic is missing something, but I'd say this little boy's insight about life, pregnancy and the connection between baby and mother is far superior to many full-grown "pro-choice" philosophers.

Explaining obvious truths should, in general, be simple. Explaining lies can get very complicated.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

An exciting update

Michelle has given birth to her first-born - a sweet baby girl named Elspeth! Congratulations, dear friend! I know hearing that Mom and baby are fine comes as a great relief to all who contacted me, anxiously asking about whether I have any news. I admit I've been biting my nails.

Wishing you a wonderful and beautiful journey of motherhood!

Keeping it real

The delicate net of home, with its everyday doings, projects, gatherings, relationships, laughter, cooking, baking, crafting, plans and friendships is a joy and blessing. However, we cannot forget that home and family means life - real, down-to-earth life. Sometimes this life is not as clean, neat, pretty and peaceful as we wanted it to be, or thought it would be. Sometimes our plans go amiss - and it's normal.

I've had people incredulously ask me if there's "anything at all I dislike about being a homemaker". To this, I can only say: ladies, life at home isn't, nor is it supposed to be, a bed of roses or a never-ending holiday. Homemaking has its frustrations and downfalls, but hey, can't the same be said just about any job? Yes, there will be days when we are unorganized, unmotivated, when things just seem to be falling out of our hands, or an unexpected flu delays our plans. Still, it doesn't change the big picture - the one of making a house into a true, heart-warming home, which is a special, noble, and irreplaceable occupation.

I'm not perfect - and I will never be perfect. I doubt I "have it all together" more than any of you ladies. I'm a young wife and soon-to-be-Mom with a lot to learn and improve about my character, attitude, skills, abilities, organization, planning, and anything you can think of. What I write on my blog rarely conveys my everyday frustrations; instead, I try to focus on the more profound, lingering satisfaction of being a wife and having my own home to tend to. It doesn't mean that I always hop around sweeping the floors with an enthusiastic smile on my face, but I do love my home.

Yes, sometimes I groan when I notice the sink loaded with dishes just when I was about to take an afternoon nap. Yes, sometimes I'm still in the frenzy of cleaning and cooking when my husband comes home, because I've been too tired during the day, and wasted too much time. My life doesn't consist entirely of peaceful bliss, but I do love being a wife and a keeper of my home. The solution isn't running away from home to leave it neglected, just because we are frustrated by the slow and tedious process of making it into the cozy nest we want it to be.

Also, when I talk about the beauty and peace of home, I'm often told, "Oh, just wait until you have that baby! You'll never have a peaceful moment again! You will never be able to spend time together with your husband, or enjoy a quiet dinner together, or do any of the things you love."

As we haven't had our baby yet, it's indeed difficult for me to predict what will happen when this little one joins us, but I can already tell you this: I don't expect we'll have a baby who smiles and coos all day, lets me know she's hungry or needs her diaper to be changed by gentle, delicate sounds, and sleeps throughout the night from the moment she is born. Little ones do keep Mom on her feet, and need, at least for a while, lots of undivided attention. Having a baby will produce a shift in our schedule, availability, mobility, plans, routine, and family dynamics. And yes, from observing other Moms with young babies, I expect that for a while we'll feel as though everything else is put aside. I pray for a gentle, patient and contented spirit to help me be a good mother, but I absolutely cannot guarantee I will never be frustrated or exhausted. Most likely I will be, at least at some point.

However, seasons change. I suspect it might be a bit difficult to look a couple of months ahead after you've just had a sleepless night with a colicky or teething baby, but undeniably, everything comes and goes. Babies eventually start to eat less frequently and sleep in longer stretches. They grow; the older children help around the house and with new little ones; the entire family network is dynamic - it shifts, changes, adjusts, and from more experienced Moms I've heard the advice that it's better to just let go, and go with the flow of whatever needs to be done at the moment.

I'm sure I will never be "Mrs. Perfect Mom". I can already say this with a good degree of certainty, because I'm merely a woman, flesh and blood, a faulty human being. Perhaps many evenings in the near future will include burned dinner, unanswered phone calls, and a crying baby. However, if some peace and stability are eventually to be achieved, where will it happen if not in the realm of home? Will I gain freedom, contentment and peace if I give up the care of my home and tiny baby over to someone else, and instead run around frazzled all day at an outside job? Somehow, I seriously doubt it.

I'm not perfect, just as none of us is perfect. Our family is as real and has as many real-life faults and challenges as you can think of. This journal is of my dreams, hopes, plans, and moments I like to remember and cherish. I'm on an ongoing journey of learning and improvement, and sometimes it feels as though I take two steps forward and one step backward. But as long as I keep it real and preserve, the rewards are sweeter than I could ever have imagined.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Claims and answers

I got quite a few claims and queries through the comments section over the following weeks. Answers to some of those can be found on my sidebar (see FAQ). Others I don't think I've answered yet. However, first I'll just address arguments that begin with "of course, if you take the Bible literally, it is true, but..." - well yes, I do. If it is said explicitly in God's Word, it is the only Truth I need. I cannot discuss any subject with the premise that God's Word is somehow faulty, wrong, or imprecise.

"There is no such thing as masculine or feminine nature. Men and women aren't born different - they are simply shaped by society"

It is written in the book of Genesis, "male and female He created them". Obviously, we don't learn all we need to know about masculinity or femininity just from reading this - but it's equally obvious that if there had been no difference between men and women, there would be no need to mention that we were created "male and female".

"A woman can have a career, a family, a social life, and help to take care of the home, without neglecting any of the above"

Yes, we can "have it all", in the sense that we can cram every single day of our lives with activities we cannot fully dedicate our attention to, or enjoy in a relaxed manner. We can rush through our days without getting together with our family for even a single meal. We can neglect our homes until we feel like running away from them. We can go back and forth and back and forth about how many children it is "reasonable" for us to have so it won't interfere with our career plans. It has been hammered into our heads that this is, in fact, the most appealing of the alternatives we have - but somehow, it doesn't seem so to me. Dedicating my all to my highest calling seems so much more comforting than a life of endless cramming and juggling.

"A woman should do anything in her power not to depend on, or submit to a man"

Another lie we have been sold is that independence is the ultimate, highest value. "Authority", "submission", "humility" and "respect" are dirty words, and having your way is more important than marital harmony. We chose to ignore the fact that Eve was created to be a helpmeet for Adam, and not the other way around, nor were they told "you will BOTH be help meets for each other". What did we get? Series of meaningless relationships, bad marriages, divorce, and men who hate and fear women so much that they swear they will never marry. Sorry, but I prefer the type of marriage where my husband is a king, and I am his queen. No type of rebellious obsession with so-called independence can give me the satisfaction of living out marriage for the glory of God.

"If it weren't for feminists, you wouldn't have the right to speak your mind as a woman"

If there's one thing that drives me up the wall, it's how feminists paint themselves as the saviours of womankind, the ones that led us from darkness to light, from being a flock of mindless sheep who were chained to the stove and told to shut up, to thinking, feeling beings. Well I'm not sure what you've heard, but I've been taught that a godly woman "opens her mouth with wisdom" (Proverbs 31). These words were written a long, long, long time before feminists stepped into the picture. And yes, I'd rather do my best to open my mouth with wisdom, than fight for the right to utter any kind of nonsense that pops into my head.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The beauty of bread-making

I've always been impressed with my grandmother's stories about her mother, who always made her own bread for their family of nine. Her descriptions of the warm, delicious smell prompted me to give it a try.

Lately, baking our own bread has become a norm around here. Here is a simple, tried and true recipe I've been using for ages. It makes for a delicious bread with crispy crust, and doesn't require a bread machine. To be honest, right now I can't think why I'd need a bread machine anyway.

I've always assumed bread-making must be a lot of work. But in fact, if you are using good, active yeast, nothing could be easier. I freeze my yeast, then activate it with some warm water and a bit of sugar. I don't add the yeast to the dough until I see nice bubbling.

Bread-making doesn't take a lot of time, either. Sure, rising of the dough can take several hours - even up to half a day, if I knead and let rise twice - but in the meantime, I just go about my business. It's not like I need to pay constant attention to the bread. As for mixing and kneading - I doubt it takes over fifteen minutes, honestly. And there you go, my bread is ready to be popped into the oven!

Bread has become awfully expensive around here lately. Last time we had a store-bought loaf, I calculated that I could make half a dozen (!) loaves for the same price. And the taste of homemade vs. store-bought bread? It's surprising how my simple bread tastes so much better. Not to mention that it's more filling, so we don't need to eat much of it to feel satisfied.

The only drawback, perhaps, is that my bread doesn't remain fresh for a very long time, compared to store-bought. But of course, that's because I don't add any preservatives. My solution for now is to make just one loaf at a time, and frequently enjoy the wonderful aroma of freshly baked bread.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The humble and the noble

Jewish tale number one...

A young Torah scholar came to his rabbi's house, and said, "rabbi, my wife doesn't understand me. She won't keep the children quiet so I can focus on my learning. She asks for my help with the baby. She reminds me the children need warm clothes for the winter. I feel my spiritual life is in danger because I get so caught up in the mundane. You are my teacher. Tell me what to say to her."

He looked around. The rabbi's house was full of children, from adults to little ones. Several of them were playing right outside the tiny office, making a lot of noise. One of the children fell down, bruised his elbow, and started crying. The rabbi hurried to the sobbing child, held him on his knee, and stroked his hair until his tears had dried and he was happy again.

Then, he slowly ran his fingers through his long beard, pondering the young man's question. "I'm sorry for the interruption," - he began.

But the young scholar realized he didn't need to hear anything anymore. Tears of shame filled his eyes, and he hurried home to his wife.


And Jewish tale number two.

A rabbi asked one of his best students, "why do you seem so frustrated lately? Is there anything wrong?"
"It's my wife," - replied the young man with a sigh, - "she asks me to help her with housework, claiming she's too busy and tired with the new baby. No matter how many times I explain I'm too busy with my studies of the Torah to be bothered with such trifles, she doesn't give up, and every day we end up arguing over this."

On the next day, the young scholar's wife was startled to hear a knock on the door, and see her husband's rabbi standing on the doorstep. He was wearing plain work clothes and holding a broomstick, mop and bucket.

"I heard you need help around the house," - he said.


Judaism has never proclaimed celibacy in the name of spiritual excellence. All men are commanded to marry, and children were never looked upon as anything else but gifts and blessings. All our greatest men had been family men, with everything it includes - messy houses, crying babies and sticky fingers.

It's easy to feel spiritual when you are impeccably dressed and immersed in holy studies. It's easy to feel spiritual when you have all the time in the world to learn, pray, and meditate, without having to think of other people's most basic needs needs. Unfortunately, it also becomes frighteningly easy to feel holier than you really are.

The brilliance of mind, the theory of holy studies are noble. But there must be also room for spiritual growth in the way of a humble, loving, selfless, giving heart. In wiping dirty little hands, in helping a tired woman mop the floor, in taking care of feeding, clothing, sheltering and guiding the little ones God gives us.

Men might not be the primary child caretakers, or household keepers, but mundane works should not be beneath them. In this world, we are not and cannot be pure souls. That's why the spiritual, the studies of Torah, were always to be seen as a guide to living in this world. The physical isn't cancelled and isn't seen as the enemy, but rather, is used to enhance the spiritual. Being "too holy" to do the dishes or wipe up baby spit can mean only one thing: you are missing out on the truest, humble nobility of heart.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Another week on its way

Hi everyone! I hope you had a wonderful, wonderful weekend. We spent a lovely, relaxed Shabbat here at home - which ended way too soon. Though of course, it means there's another week to look forward to!

Sunday mornings around here are probably similar to Monday mornings for most of my readers. I like to begin my week in a slow manner. On Sundays, we usually still have plenty of leftovers and bakery from before Shabbat so there's no need to cook, and the house most often needs just a general tidying up. It's a perfect day for planning what will need to be done during the week, digging in the garden, and doing things I normally don't have time to do.

I spent some time pulling weeds today, and in the process uncovered a patch of mint which unexpectedly sprung up thanks to the rains we've had lately. What a nice surprise - I hope now it can grow freely. I once wanted to plant some mint in a pot on a kitchen shelf, but never got around to that.

Last night, my husband and I spent about three hours figuring out the secrets of my sewing machine, and much to our pleasure it finally seems to be doing what it's supposed to do. I truly couldn't have done this alone, so I'm very thankful for a pair of skilled manly hands here around the house. I hope to practice a bit more once I finish my lunch - which includes, today, leftover bean-and-veggie soup, leftover potato salad, and some liberally buttered home-baked bread from Thursday.

The picture above is of a fluffy chicken we saw not long ago. I find the thought of having a few of these cuties around here nearly irresistible. Anyway, we are still trying to figure out what it is exactly, because there was no one to ask. I thought perhaps one of you ladies might know and tell me.