Sunday, March 28, 2010

One last (probably) little note before Pesach

Two days ago, I went to bed really late, after I finally cleaned out my refrigerator, gas stove, microwave oven, and some usually forsaken nooks and crannies of the kitchen. By the time I was done my right wrist was aching and I switched to cleaning with my left hand. I was physically very tired, but happy and energized by everything that had been done.

Earlier in that day, I was encouraged and inspired by Shira, who saw me wiping the outside of the refrigerator and very enthusiastically expressed her wish to join and do whatever Mama is doing. I handed her a little clean rug, and to my surprise, she went ahead and actually started wiping the refrigerator too. It was amazing to see how such a little person, not even 15 months old, is so eager to actively participate in whatever is going on at home.

Her enthusiasm was really contagious, and I found myself much more motivated to roll up my sleeves and go do some more cleaning after she was asleep.

I'm not sure I'm going to be able to post another update before or during Pesach, so I might be back online only when the holiday is over. Already I must fly and attend to Shabbat preparations. A happy day and week to you all! 

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Pesach is now really close...

How do I know? Well, just the fact that I'm frantically deep-cleaning my kitchen today is enough to tell. :o) Many things are laid aside for the moment, including correspondence - emails have been so numerous lately that I simply can't keep up with them all for now, and will probably have to wait until Pesach is over to even start making a dent in the pile. I do hope all the dear ones who have written and are waiting for a reply will understand. I would also like to remind everyone that the only email I currently regularly keep up with is, and if you have written to another email, it might take me weeks to even see your note. 

In the meantime, here are a couple of photos from a stroll around a local mini-zoo, last Friday. 
Shira, enjoying herself in the grass.
A couple of goats in their corner. The goats have recently had some adorable babies, but unfortunately, we didn't manage to get any good photos of the little ones, as they were shy and kept to the center of the enclosure, or else were skipping around without making it possible for us to capture them in a photo.
The colors of this flower are so expressive. All photos are courtesy of my talented husband.
A peacock, also in the mini-zoo. Even though we couldn't convince him to unfold his tail, he's gorgeous. I just love his colors, he's glittering like a jewel.
The hen was far more complacent when it came to showing off her tail.

A beautiful local mountain view.

Ancient fields, separated by stone hedges. 

The atmosphere here is simply ecstatic. Everyone are rolling up their sleeves and working, working, working all day long, occasionally coming out to relax for a few minutes in the warm sun and share their triumphs with neighbors who are likewise catching their breath, or trimming their gardens. The lights don't go out until late at night, and every nook and cranny in every house is scrubbed clean. I'm looking forward to the magnificent moment when it's all over and Pesach arrives, and all over the Jewish world, people will sit down at splendid Seder tables. 

Monday, March 22, 2010

Seeking simplicity

A few days ago, someone asked me why I'm always on the hunt for quick and simple recipes, and although I already answered in the comments, I would like to dedicate some time right now to talk about simplicity.

It's not only about food; I'm seeking to simplify in many areas of life and homemaking. It means getting rid of various knick-knacks I don't need, so I have less to dust and put into place, and giving away items of clothing we don't use, to free up space in the closet. It means buying and wearing mainly clothes which will be sturdy and easy to care for. It means trying to minimize time-consuming pursuits. It means, even, remaining in touch only with a limited number of people who bring peace and joy into my life, so I won't have to spare the time and energy to deal with needless anxiety and stress.

Time and energy. Two limited, precious resources we must carefully delegate, taking our needs and the needs of our loved ones into consideration. It would be lovely, of course, to have lots of time for everything. I would love to have whole days free to clean and organize now, before Pesach. I would love to have several hours straight to spend in the kitchen and cook. But the life of a wife and mother is busy, and the needs of the our loved ones, and our domestic duties, are numerous, and must be attended throughout each day.

So in practice, the way it works for me and my family, every day I have time to do a little bit of this and a little bit of that. Some laundry, some cleaning, some cooking, some ironing. Some long-term projects and some everyday tasks, such as doing the dishes and making the beds. There is also a little one I don't want to brush aside even on the busiest of days. So there is usually a walk in the fresh air and sunshine, games and stories and songs, and of course, bath time.

However, simple doesn't have to mean boring and unsatisfying. A simple meal can be a true feast. How about oven-baked fish and some baby potatoes and carrots, roast whole in the oven? Or a pot of soup simmering on the stove? This way, baking or cooking will take time, but as soon as you put your dinner in the oven or on the stove, you are free to go on and do other things, perhaps occasionally checking on what is going on in the kitchen.

 Above: a simple and delicious meal - rice with fish and stir-fried veggies. 

Hard work is good, important and satisfying, but when we try to cram too much into our days, we might lose that sweet relaxed feeling we can otherwise convey to our children as being mothers at home. By simplifying and streamlining and becoming more efficiency, we free up time. You can never have too much time on your hands when you have little ones by your side throughout each day.   

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Making something soft and cuddly

Here is something else I've wanted to share: a baby blanket I've been making during the past couple of months, at odd moments snatched here and there. I wanted to go for something really simple this time, something that would allow me to do an occasional couple of stitches whenever the time allows and without having to look at a pattern. I'm making it from the yarn left over from the projects I did before Shira was born.

Speaking of simplicity, this is a whole subject I would love to have a good long ramble about, and hope to do so soon, perhaps even before Pesach, if there is time.

Thank you all for all your sweet notes in the comments and emails regarding our latest big news. Your congratulations and well-wishes are very much appreciated.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Wonderful news

I'm finally going to share something I've wanted to tell for a while: we are expecting our second baby! I'm about 18 weeks along, at least officially (personally I'm inclined to believe it's a little less) – yes, we've actually kept it quiet for this long, though no doubt some of you have been wondering/guessing for a while now.

I'm due sometime around mid-August (though, again, I won't be surprised if it's actually closer to the end of August). The little ones will be about 20 months apart. I've got a feeling this little love is going to be a girl as well – can't tell exactly why. Soon enough I'm supposed to do an ultrasound scan and then we'll know for sure. I'll keep you updated.   

I have been feeling much better this time around, during my first trimester – though I've still experienced quite a bit of fatigue and the occasional near-fainting episode. Of course, having to take a job outside the home during that period didn't make things any easier. So essentially, those of you who said it wasn't normal to feel this tired, and expressed concern for my health, were right – had I felt quite so exhausted without knowing I'm pregnant, I would surely see a doctor about it.

I'm happier than ever to be back home at this time – there's so much to do in the months we have left until the baby is born. And it worked out so wonderfully well, that the opportunity to come home was just when there was a quiet period at work, so it wasn't at all as though I let down the wonderful people I was working with (something I didn't want to do, regardless of the knowledge that my commitment, of course, was first and foremost to my family). But as it happens, I was able to leave on very good, friendly terms, and even received a lovely thank-you letter a few days ago, along with a call from a dear friend I made at work, a far older and more experienced mother of five. I was so thankful. 

Anyway, now that the first trimester is behind me, I'm feeling wonderfully well again. I've finally managed to put a bit of weight on, and I'm full of energy (which is very good, considering how much there is to do before Pesach). I'm already showing quite a bit, perhaps I'll share some pictures soon. I've switched almost entirely to maternity clothes, rather than continue squeezing into my normal ones. I've also started feeling some movements this week – very slight ones, as it's still early on (and, as I said, I think it's even earlier on than I'm "supposed" to be).

We only told family a few days ago, and… well, I don't want to spoil the happy spirit of this post. It's enough that we are thrilled about having another child soon. What a blessing it will be for us all. Another little baby to cuddle and love. Another sweet darling to hold at my breast and nurse. For Shira, a sibling to be best friends with, to love and play and be a protective big sister to. Yes, we are so excited. I can't wait. God is so good.

Well, I only meant to post a short little note to share our thrilling news, and here I am, rambling on and on. I'd better stop for now, but I will surely write an update soon.   

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Spring in full swing

I never tire of watching the spring come - around here, it comes in great bouncing steps and simply washes over everything in, so it seems, just a few short days. Our little garden is full of life, of glossy fresh leaves and tender new flowers creeping out of branches that seemed dead - ah, the promise of bounty.

Our pomegranate tree. 

If you look carefully, you can see flowers on the bare branches.

Our grape vine. If not pruned, it creeps all around the front and back yard, onto my clothesline, and over to the neighbors. Luckily, they don't mind, and adopted it as their own. Who wouldn't, when it gives such deliciously sweet grapes?

It's a beautiful day today, with a high blue sky dotted with feathery little clouds, and a warm sun Shira and I took advantage of earlier in the day, when we went out for a walk and for a lovely scamper in the soft fresh grass dotted with tiny yellow and purple flowers. A morning of playing outside left her good and tired, and she seemed more than ready for a nap after lunch. Now she is in her bed, surrendered to the sweetest sleep. In the meantime, I quickly went to get some things done - tidying up, cooking, phone calls, crossing things of my Pesach to-do list. 

The house smells delicious. There are eggplants in tomato sauce cooking on the stove - a new, promising recipe I hope to share soon, provided it's a successful one, of course. The wash is hanging on the line - one of the many extra pre-Pesach loads. So many things yet to be done, in preparation for Pesach and for Shabbat, but oh, how sweet is this moment of quiet in the middle of the day. 

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Tuna fritters

Just a simple recipe I threw together while my hungry husband was on his way home. I think this is the first recipe on my blog that isn't strictly vegetarian. It made for a quick, easy, enthusiastically consumed dinner (you might have noticed that around here, the word "dinner" is usually combined with the words "quick" and "easy" :o))  

The following quantities make about 15 small fritters, but the batch can be easily doubled

1 onion, finely chopped
1 potato, finely grated
1 zucchini, finely grated (can be replaced with a carrot or some pumpkin)
200 gr canned tuna (that's two standard tuna cans around here)
2 eggs
About 1 cup flour (the flour has to hold the liquids and make the mixture firm enough to work with comfortably, so you might need a bit more, or a bit less – see as you go. You should be fine, provided that you add the flour gradually)
Spices to taste (I normally don't add salt to anything containing a fair amount of canned tuna, as the tuna has lots of added salt already)

Mix everything together. Take tablespoonfuls of the mixture, and drop onto a frying pan, then press slightly with the back of the tablespoon. Or alternatively, form balls with your hands and squish them slightly, then place in frying pan.

Fry until golden brown on both sides.

Serve with whatever side dishes your heart desires, preferably a big fresh salad and some baked potatoes. 

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Questions to ask when preparing for marriage

Here is part of an email I received from a new reader a couple of days ago. I'm publishing it anonymously, with her kind permission:

"My boyfriend and I have been considering marriage, lately, and we want to take serious steps in that direction. Our pastor's wife suggested that, as a preliminary task, I talk to married women that I look up to and ask them what questions they think a young couple considering engagement should be asking themselves-- or even what questions they, themselves, wish they'd asked before getting married. They can be shallow or deep, vague or specific-- anything is valuable to us, right now!"

I'm always very hesitant about offering any advice regarding marriage - please understand that I'm a new wife myself; we've only been married for two years, and we're both imperfect human beings with our failings and faults. But, from the limited experience I do have, I'll try to share a few points. 

I assume that you and your young man have already been seeing each other for a while, feel comfortable around each other, and respect and trust each other - otherwise you probably wouldn't be thinking of marriage at all. 

I think the first, and very important question to be asked, is whether the two of you have the same long-term goals regarding how both of you view your future life, and in particular marriage and family. How does each of you define the roles of husband and wife in marriage? How do you imagine children entering your family, and how would you like to raise them? 

There are couples who feel they are very well-suited when they are dating, but later their marriages fall apart because one of the spouses believes in a husband's leadership and the other doesn't, or because one of the spouses is open to the gift of life and children, and the other isn't. I know a couple where the husband bore a deep emotional wound because his wife was not ready to have another child, however he asked. I realize people change as years go by, and what seems acceptable now may look different in, say, five years, but if you're on the same page now that's still saying something.

What sort of lifestyle do you envision for your future family? Do you want to live in the city, suburbs, country, near to one or both sets of your parents? Do you think you might wish to homeschool your children? My husband expressed his interest in homeschooling on something like our third or fourth date, and just so you understand, this is generally very unacceptable in Israel so it helped to know that at least in theory, we're both comfortable with the idea of being "those weirdos" wherever our family happens to live. 

How do you like your future in-laws? It may not seem that significant right now, but the fact is, the two of you will not just be starting a new family, you will also be marrying into existing families. I've been blessed with the most wonderful in-laws you can imagine. My husband's parents have open hearts and had immediately accepted me as one of their own daughters. All his siblings are very special, precious people whom I admire and love to be around. But I also know of marriages where great strain was placed on the couple because of tactless interference, nosing around, poisoning the husband and wife against each other, all done by the people who are supposed to love them both. I believe it's very important to put some distance between your parents and your new family, and make it clear from the start that you are paving your own way. If you and your future husband don't see eye to eye regarding his and your family issues, it may be a problem. 

How would you handle finances? Do you agree on what you consider basic necessities for your family, and what you consider luxuries you can do without? Are both of you financially responsible, are you ready to live frugally if need be? Money may become a huge stress-maker if one of the spouses is sensibly frugal and the other is more of a spender. 

Is your boyfriend happy with the idea of his future wife being a homemaker? Does he see the importance of a wife and/or mother at home? Are both of you willing to make sacrifices to make this possible, if need be, and to withstand social pressure? Does he realize the responsibility of a husband as a leader of his family and a role model for his children? 

These are just a few questions I believe you should ponder, and also discuss with your young man. Some of these, of course, you may have thought of already. Above all, I believe you should pray for Godly providence and guidance in this very crucial matter of tying your life together with the life of your husband. 

To wives who have more experience than myself: your thoughts and input on this matter will be welcome and very much appreciated!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Some good news

My computer time is very limited these days, with Pesach so soon upon us, but I just wanted to tell some good news.

Thanks to a recent and very positive improvement in our situation, I was able to quit my job sooner than I expected, and I'm now back home full-time with no distractions, which is so important right now that every free moment must be dedicated to organizing and cleaning - and as you can imagine, with a little one around, and all the usual homemaking routines such as tidying, cooking, and laundry taking a big chunk out of the day, that free time to do the "extras" is rare and precious and is mostly snatched away while Shira is sleeping.

I was able to quit without awakening any harsh feelings, and said goodbye to my manager on very good terms. I was told some very nice things about my work, and I in my turn said what a great time I had working along with everybody. I was completely sincere. I was blessed to work with wonderful people whom I had the privilege to get to know, but nevertheless, I'm happy to be home, which is where I belong and am needed the most.

This brief taste of life as a "working mother" (an euphemism I find rather amusing) has been a sobering experience for me. I have worked outside the home in the past, you see, but never since I got married, and I didn't realize just how taxing it would be. Even the so-called "family friendly" jobs aren't really family friendly when it's a mother of young children we're talking about. Nothing is family friendly if it takes a mother away from her little one(s).

And now that my lunch break is over I'd better go and do what I should be doing whenever I can - prepare for Pesach.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Sprouting out of the earth

Over a year ago, when I was in the hospital with Shira newly born, I received a lovely gift of narcissus in a pot, from my mother.

When I came home, we planted the bulbs, and to tell the truth, forgot all about them for many months.

A year later, they sprang back to life and are now blossoming just beautifully in my little garden.

What a sweet memory.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A number of questions about women, dating, marriage and careers

A couple of days ago, I received an email from a reader with the following statements/questions:

1. Family life can be successfully combined with a career, in particular if a woman works part-time from home.
2. Secular dating may work well for some people.
3. Both spouses can be helpmeets to one another, instead of a wife serving as a helpmeet for her husband.
4. Household chores may be shared between spouses.
5. The statement given by G-d to Eve, saying that her husband will rule over her, is given after Eve tasted of the forbidden fruit, implying that in a sinless, perfect world, both husband and wife may in fact be equal. Do I believe it applies not only to Eve, but to the entire womankind?

Here is my reply, slightly abridged:

In writing my blog, I talk from the angle of a Jewish wife and mother, and tell a good deal about my personal experiences. What I find most interesting, however, is discussing social trends. I am part of a trend; for example, when I say secular dating didn't work for me, I'm not saying so in a detached way. I know I belong to a whole generation of women whose self-respect, self-worth, dignity, emotional and physical security, were swept away by their disastrous experience of casual dating.

Speaking of a different topic, I do not believe that the roles of men and women are defined by their respective shares of household chores. My husband is quite the baker, and doesn't shy away from using the sewing machine. That does not take away from his leadership in our family. However, the home is mainly my domain, as God created me a woman, and therefore I'm wired to be a mother and a nester. I felt this very strongly even before I was married; for some women, the realization of their unique role does not hit until after they are mothers.

When I got married, I was 22. Only ten months separated the day when my husband slipped a wedding ring on my finger, and the day when our darling little daughter was placed in my arms. Of course, it would make no sense to squander that short and precious stretch of time on some short-term work outside the home. I had so much to do - get used to being a wife, establish a household routine, get ready to welcoming a new baby. Oh, and we also moved sometime in between.

If I might have been planning to do something from home while I was pregnant, when our precious child arrived there was no longer room even in my thoughts for doing anything on a regular basis apart from taking care of my home and baby. Frankly, while I read your email, I wondered how and when children enter the plan of your future life. You see, my husband can do a lot of things instead of me, but technically, he cannot experience fatigue and morning sickness in my stead; he cannot have my backaches and swollen feet, he cannot bring a baby into this world and he certainly cannot nurse that baby.

God wired me to be a mother. He created me with breasts and a womb, and most importantly, with a mother's heart, a gentle heart that will draw me towards home regardless of the number of children I actually have. Yes, I believe that even if I never had any children at all, home would still be a place where I am naturally drawn to. I have not conducted any studies, but I am certain beyond a doubt that the same can be said of the vast majority of women.

Just to note, I have always said that a woman may have her own personal interests, hobbies and pursuits, in the home and outside it, pursuits that might, or might not, bring some income. However, this shouldn't be something that the husband expects and/or relies upon. The wife is supposed to have time and peace of mind to tend to matters of the home. I think it's all a matter of how much time such pursuits actually take away from the time that should have been dedicated to caring for the husband, home and children. There are seasons in a woman's life when she can give more, and seasons when she can give less, and at any rate the home comes first. Alas, the majority of employers want us to give them everything, all the time, at all seasons of life, and it only makes sense in an economy that is based on business and not on charity.

Right now, due to a pressing necessity, I work part-time outside the home. My husband and I did not rush into this arrangement, because we knew what a detrimental effect it would have on our home life. It surpassed our expectations, and made us determined that I should return home full-time sooner rather than later.

You say yourself that you think it's better to work part-time, and preferably from home; however, in the majority of fields, to have a real career, it simply isn't enough. Most likely, whatever income you have will be supplementary, and your husband will become the main breadwinner.

This, despite the vehement protests of egalitarian voices, is the normal and natural course of events. It makes sense to have a captain and a captain's helper on a ship. It makes no sense to have two captains or two helpers. It is time to accept that as our husbands' helpers, we must fulfill a unique and challenging role, which is just as important as the role of our husbands - but it's different.

You are right in saying that Eve was told that her husband will "rule over her" after she tasted the forbidden fruit; but regardless, she was created to be her husband's help meet - and however you define help meet, you cannot go around the fact that she was created to help and assist him in his endeavors, and not the other way around; also, even in our sinful and far-from-ideal world, men and women are equal, though they are without a doubt very different creatures.

And certainly, the commandments given to Adam and Eve apply to all men and women who descended from them, which means the entire human race. Saying it doesn't apply to me because I wasn't there is like saying the commandments given at Mt. Sinai to the Jewish people don't apply to me because I wasn't there. I realize that you, like the majority of my readers, aren't Jewish, but my point is that God's will concerning us cannot be applied solely on a personal basis.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Discovering the local library

Last week, I took advantage of the opportunity to visit our local library for the first time. It seems kind of strange to me now that we have been living here for two years and it's my first visit to the library, but there you go.

Anyway, I wanted to subscribe and asked how much that would be. The very kind and helpful librarian proudly told me that library subscription is now free, and they get all their funding from the Ministry of Culture. She told me that the number of readers has doubled since the new reform.

Needless to say, I was thrilled to hear that, and subscribed right away. I think it's truly wonderful that libraries are now funded by the Ministry of Culture. I expect our local library will be quite a useful resource now, and perhaps even more so in the future if we stride further down the homeschooling path.

I discovered a shelf of cardboard books, which Shira loves but which are also very expensive, if you take into account that they are small and only have a few pages. Borrowing them will be a great solution.

If you don't have a library close by, you can start a book swap with your neighbors. There will always be, of course, those books you want to have in the house and read again and again, but there are also many books you'll only want to read once, and buying them doesn't make much sense. I used to have neighbors who were my unofficial library for years and years. Many of the books I read while growing up were due to them being so generous with their time and hospitality.

There are also many classics available to read online for free, but nothing can replace curling up in bed or in an armchair with a good book.  

Monday, March 1, 2010

Purim behind, Pesach ahead

I hope all my Jewish readers had a great time celebrating Purim. The beautiful little dress you see below served as Shira's Purim costume this year. It has been hanging in her closet for quite a while, and I have been admiring it, but couldn't imagine an occasion except for Purim when Shira might wear it, as it's so fancy, with many layers and lots of lace, satin and beads. 

Notice the lovely details. I'm going to carefully wash it by hand and put it on its hanger once more, and perhaps one day there will be another little girl to wear it.

With Purim now behind us, the next thing on the agenda is Pesach cleaning (known by the name of Spring cleaning in non-Jewish households). There is a long, long list of things to do, apart from the daily routine which is enough to keep anyone busy - there are meals to cook, laundry to wash and hang and sort and fold and iron, floors to mop, beds to make, and on top of it all, there's one very active, curious, energetic, determined and resourceful little explorer around here.

Strictly speaking, Pesach cleaning is supposed to be about getting rid of the chametz, but there's a powerful instinct that prompts Jewish wives to do a deep clean of their bathrooms and other places where no one ever eats, as well as wash curtains and scrub windows squeaky clean and do a million of other things that have nothing to do with chametz but leave the house cleaner and tidier than it will be at any other point during the year. Of course, many families have guests for Pesach, which gives a motivation to do extra cleaning and re-arranging.

Go figure why, but right before Pesach there's an upsurge of people throwing out perfectly good bookcases, chairs and coffee tables, which can turn a casual drive through a neighborhood into a real treasure hunt for people who don't mind getting second-hand furniture for free.

I have a lot of "extras" on my list as well. Last year, we accomplished but half of it. It was alright, though. God willing, we will get through the necessities and do what we can about the rest.