Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Apple coconut cake

When guests are about to come and the moment asks for some quick and easy bakery... recipe (in Hebrew) from here.

2 1\2 cups flour
2 cups dry shredded coconut
1 cup sugar (the original recipe calls for 1 3\4 cups, but to my taste 1 cup was more than enough)
1\2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. baking powder

- mix all dry ingredients


1 cup oil
2 cups milk, juice or water
3 eggs, beaten
3 apples, roughly grated

Mix well and bake approx. 40 minutes at medium heat. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Some more pregnancy ramblings

In the past few days, I have been absent from blogging due to being busy with several check-ups. These days left me, more than ever, wishing I could switch to midwifery care and have all my prenatal exams done efficiently, quickly and peacefully, by someone who knows me, cares for me and listens to what I have to say instead of treating me like an idiot.

Unfortunately, independent midwifery is out of reach, financially, for most Israelis. It will continue to be so while the government only funds hospitals where a patient is like a tiny cog in a huge machine.

When I was pregnant with my first child, I already saw how time-consuming it is to always be sent here and there to do this and that examination, not before being sent here and there to get the necessary documents, the vast amount of which often left us fumbling with the net of medical bureaucracy. However, now that I also have a child to take care of, I clearly see how our health system is, with no exaggeration, disruptive to the home life of anyone who doesn't live in close proximity to a hospital or a large health center where all necessary check-ups are available.

My doctor recommended twenty minutes of fetal monitoring three times a week. When I pointed out that in order to accomplish that, I must waste half a day on traveling by bus and back to the nearest city and wait in the blazing heat at the side road (usually with my child in my arms) for an hour or more, all of which is not exactly conductive to the well-being of a heavily pregnant woman, the answer I got was more or less "well, that's your problem."

Yesterday, a doctor told me that if I want to stop being bumped into the "high-risk" and "IUGR" categories, my gestational age must be counted differently. Oh really? What an amazing discovery.  Isn't that what I have been saying all along?

I was told in a very patronizing tone that what I must do is lie about the date about my last menstrual period next time I'm asked. Technically this can be a solution, of course, but I somehow find it mind-boggling that I must lie about an actual fact in order to get the hysteria and threats of immediate hospitalization off my back. Why can't doctors simply face the fact that the date of last period does not always correspond with gestational age? After all, I had several ultrasounds done which confirm just that. Oh but wait, no one has an extra minute to waste on listening to your stupid ramblings. So just tweak the facts.

I wish I could give birth and have my post-natal recovery, if not at home, then in a place where my family could all stay together. I didn't mind being in the hospital last time so much, but now, I have a 19-month-old who is not really old enough yet to understand what is happening, and I find it a daunting prospect to have to disappear from her sight almost completely for at least several days.

Admittedly, my hospital of choice is in many ways the best option I could have, and I'm grateful for that. I just can't help but wish that overall, in all the current system, there was a bit less poking and prodding and treating pregnancy like an emergency, and a bit more humility and facing the fact that doctors don't and can't possibly know everything; that unexpected twists and turns do happen, and it is no solution to have a healthy woman become practically a resident of clinics and hospitals for months.

We are all in God's hands, including unborn babes and their mothers, and this knowledge gives me peace. 

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Eggplant salad/dip

Various eggplant salads are a very common side dish around here. There are plenty of store-bought varieties, but I prefer to make my own. We tried many recipes until we found one which is in our opinion a winner.

Take 2 large eggplants, pop in the oven and bake until very soft and tender. This is really important. An eggplant which is under-baked is difficult to mash and has unpleasant structure. You may want to puncture them with a fork in several places prior to baking, to prevent splitting of the skin. Baking time varies according to your oven and the thickness of the eggplant. I bake mine approximately one hour at medium heat (I turn them once in the middle of the process so they will be baked more evenly). Once eggplants are ready, their skin should be crispy and slightly charred and fork should come effortlessly through them. They also lose quite a lot of their volume.

While your eggplants are in the oven, take:
1 large onion or 2 small ones, and
1 large bell pepper or 2 small ones, and sautee them in a large pan.
When onions and peppers are nearly ready, add:
3-4 cloves of crushed garlic
3-4 tablespoonfuls of tomato paste or tomato sauce
Salt, pepper, lemon juice, other spices to taste.

When your eggplants are ready, place them in a bowl and let cool. Then peel the skin  - skin should come off easily if the eggplant is properly baked - and mash with a fork. Mashing, too, should be easy if your eggplants spent enough time in the oven.

Then add onion and peppers mix to the mashed eggplants, and voila – your eggplant salad is ready. From my experience, it easily keeps in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.   

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Simple things

A simple dinner: pasta with tuna balls in tomato sauce. So many new recipes lately, so little time to post them!

And, believe it or not, my hospital bag is already packed (well, except for a couple of little things!). I know it's early, but I feel more comfortable having it ready to go.

Wishing you all a lovely day,

Mrs. T

Monday, July 19, 2010

Against the tide

In response to this post about singleness, I received a personal reply from a dear friend, who happens to be a single young woman herself. She reminded me that there is a flip side to extended singleness: young (and older) people, and in particular women, who long to be married but have not found their match yet, through no fault of their own; adult daughters who are mocked for spending their single years under their parents' roof; women who in no way need to be reminded of the fact that the "window of opportunities" for fertility is limited; women who are made to feel "picky" because they did not agree to the first offer that was made to them.

I decided to address a few of those points in a follow-up post.

What I discussed in my post was a social trend of delayed marriage and childbearing and having fewer children; if more young people valued marriage and family higher, this unhealthy social phenomenon most likely wouldn't have existed - at least not to such an extend. Yes, in every generation and today, too, there have been wonderful older singles whose God-given "program" in life included late marriages. But it cannot be denied that in the past generations, the average age of marriage has sharply climbed up, as has the divorce rate.

 Of course behind each statistic there is an individual and I do realize that the overall attitude towards marriage and children ("it can wait") sometimes takes its worst toll precisely on those who do not share it. A young woman who deeply wants to settle down often realizes it's hard to find a man with whom to settle, and the same is true for many men. It's even more difficult when your choice is automatically narrowed by your religious beliefs, such as is true for religious Jewish singles. The attitude has changed, and we find ourselves mocked and ridiculed about the fact that throughout our twenties, what we want the most is marriage and children. 

To address the first point you raised, I think it's sad moving out of one's parents' home is equalized with "growing up", while a mature adult daughter at home is seen as "childish". An older daughter at home can and should be seen as an asset to her family. The girls in college dorms have "moved out", but I don't see them leading a more mature and responsible life than a daughter who stays with parents and helps to run family business, take care of younger siblings, or simply allows both herself and her parents the pleasure of each other's company and support. This is especially true in cases of older parents. My younger sister-in-law, who happens to be the youngest child in the family, remained at home until the age of 25 when she was married. In her years at home as an adult, she attended a local university and has been a great help to her mother. She was raised to be a hard worker and a generous helper, like all of the children, so she never used her time at home to slouch around. Her parents, who are both nearing 70, wouldn't hear of her moving out, and were so much better off to have her with them than fruitlessly spending money on a rented apartment every month.

As for the issue of fertility, I do realize how painful it is to hear that the clock is ticking while you would love nothing better than to have children. However, it sadly seems that for every woman who is aware of our biological reality, there are several who think it is perfectly safe to deliberately push childbearing away into their 30-s, and believe they have all the time in the world - which simply isn't true. I have several friends in their mid-twenties who claim they "can't" think about marriage (let alone children) seriously yet, because they are too busy doing this, that and the other thing (mainly pursuing degrees). When talking about fertility, it's important to remember that many young women out there do need a wake-up call, though many others, admittedly, do not.

I don't suggest young women ought to go and marry the first guy they meet - absolutely not! If we marry someone who is clearly unsuitable, just because we desire marriage so much, that's a recipe for disaster. And yet, I have personally witnessed women rejecting offers which could have great potential, for truly negligible reasons, without bothering to even personally see the young man in question. What do I mean by negligible reasons? Not fitting certain criteria of looks (and we do know how deceiving photos can be!) and hobbies; not having a degree (while otherwise being a hard worker and a clever entrepreneur) or having a degree from a less prestigious institution than herself; just hearing that the young man is "the quiet type" (without bothering to meet him and find out what, precisely, it means; we do know such definitions are shifty); the man being a few years older than what she would consider an "ideal" age gap (and I don't mean a twenty-something declining to meet a forty-something, but rather, women in their mid-twenties who won't meet men who hit the magical number of thirty - because twenty-eight sounds "young" while thirty sounds "old"). 

Of course there are those of us who receive few offers. Not all singles have a network of relatives and friends who are constantly thinking about how to make a match. I was personally one of those; as someone who didn't have a religious background or a community, I was sort of detached. Some live in very small communities with an almost nonexistent pool of singles; some are just shy. To each their own and each situation is different, but we do have professional matchmakers as well as "virtual matchmakers" in the form of websites.

Surely singleness isn't a disease. It is, however, a cause of great anguish for many people, and on a wide scale, the trend of late singleness is a problem that isn't easily solved (and that, as several ladies wisely pointed out, most likely has its roots running deeper than just getting married later). I do not have a magical solution, but I still believe it's important to bring up this issue.

... On a final note, tomorrow is the Tisha B'Av (9-th of Av) fast, which I hope goes easily for all my Jewish readers; may we see the Temple rebuilt soon in our day. Talk to you soon. 

Thursday, July 15, 2010

I couldn't resist...

Even if you don't like cats as much as I do, I know you will love this picture. :o) At first, when I went out and looked from afar I thought I'm seeing a furry cushion and didn't understand what it's doing on the neighbors' front steps. Then I realized it's a bunch of kittens all piled up on top of their mother and nursing.

* It's very hot and my feet are swelling, but it seems my brain is swelling worse. :o) I keep thinking about all the things I plan to do until the baby arrives. Shame it doesn't go much beyond thinking!

* The baby did flip and is now head down. Let's hope it remains this way. On the other hand, they are now trying to drive me into pressure over the fact that the baby is "too small for gestational age". Remember, officially I'm 35 weeks along, and even though I estimate it's about two weeks less my own evaluation and even ultrasounds are just ignored. And then they wonder why I don't fit the charts!! I kind of envy those of you who told me their stories about switching a health care provider and being much better off. Where we live, we're sort of stuck with whoever is the resident ob/gyn.

* Anyway, I can't believe we're going to have a baby so soon. Just can't wrap my mind around the concept. It's mind-bogglingly miraculous!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Ponderings on solutions to singleness

The situation in the singles' world and the increasing average marriage age often lead me to pray for all Jewish singles. I know the problem of late singleness isn't an exclusively Jewish one, of course; on the contrary, it stems in a large part from accepting the Western cultural values of self-centeredness, self-fulfillment, being focused on advancing academically and professionally (in particular for women), and the prolongation of adolescence.

Extended adolescence is a rather new phenomenon, something that didn't exist in past generations (even when people were in good health and led long lives, despite claims that young people only matured more quickly because life span was expected to be shorter). I have friends whose grandmothers still belonged to a culture and a generation when girls got married as soon as they reached Bat Mitzvah age – 12 (and some were married earlier, but marriage was not consummated until the girl was at least 12). Today, this would have been considered child abuse, but back then, girls were trained for marriage and housekeeping from an early age, and were ready far sooner than today. Even today, I know 15-year-old girls, in particular older daughters in large families, who seem to be much better suited for marriage than some 25-year-olds.

I recently read an article by someone clamoring to push the age of Bar Mitzvah further off, because 13-year-old boys are too immature today, according to him. It might be true that 13-year-olds are immature, but I don't think it means we ought to postpone Bar Mitzvah according to a cultural whim. On the contrary, I believe this should serve as an indicator we ought to educate our children differently.

Currently there is a huge, and ever growing, gap between the age when young people first begin experiencing yearning towards the opposite sex, and the age when they actually get married. I'm not saying marriage should be a way to satisfy immature lusts, and it's of course better to abstain than to rush into marriage. However, when it becomes a rule that abstinence stretches for decades for almost everyone, this creates an unhealthy situation which fosters temptation and sin.

Extended singleness may also have consequences such as more difficulty to adjust to life together, and (in particular for women) reduced fertility. Not to mention the frustration, loneliness and possible heartbreak that comes with attaching our hearts to the wrong people ("because no one is thinking about marriage yet, so why don't we just meet and have fun"). It might seem boring and prudish to consider marriage perspectives from before the first date, but it's far wiser than plunging into a relationship without thinking where it will lead.

A family member (on my husband's side) argued that a solution to the rampant singleness would be to authorize polygamy again, and pointed out that his grandfather was married to five women (simultaneously) "and none of them was selfish enough to complain". I should add that polygamy was only ever banned by rabbinical decree for European Jews, but continued to be an acceptable (though by no means ideal) practice in the Jewish communities of North Africa, Yemen, and probably other Muslim countries as well. It is, however, illegal in Israel (though unofficial polygamy is still quite common in the non-Jewish population, but that's a whole different story). Anyway, as I pointed out to him, in his grandfather's community women usually far outnumbered men, because of violent conflicts and dangerous occupations. Of course when there's a balance of 70% women and 30% men, many will be forced to make the choice between being second (or third, fourth or fifth) wives or remaining single. This hardly applies to our community in Israel, where there are many single men and women.

In general I believe there is too much blame placed by each of the sides (men and women) on the other side. Women accuse men of being immature and flighty; men accuse women of being too picky. Personally I think both young men and women ought to be educated and encouraged to be far more serious about marriage, far sooner than it is common today. When 25-year-old young Orthodox Jews only begin scratching their heads, thinking that perhaps they would like to settle down sometime in the near future, this "near future" often doesn't happen until they are 30. And the older we get, the more pitfalls we face.

Also I believe parental involvement should be encouraged, although of course, realistically it won't work in every case. It's not a healthy situation when so many singles are simply left to fare for themselves! It leads to excessive closeness between men and women without real prospects of marriage. It also creates false "friendly" bonds which can be exceedingly dangerous. Just a week and a half ago, I heard a newly married young man saying his female friends are "like sisters" to him; this was said in front of his wife, who squirmed in her seat. Knowing her, I can only imagine how uncomfortable she really feels with those "brotherly" feelings of his. Such excessive "friendly" closeness between men and women creates an atmosphere of frivolity and often masks hidden romantic dreams and sexual tension. 

The creation of marriages and families is far too important to just let it slide. We do believe in soul mates, in a God's plan to bring a certain man and a certain woman together. However more often than not it still requires some conscious effort on their part. Our job isn't to sit with our hands crossed in our lap and pry into divine plans; we ought to continue doing the sensible things that need to be done. 

Monday, July 12, 2010

My story of nursing in public

I was sorry to see I missed out on this blogging carnival about nursing in public (which isn't surprising, because lately I have very little time to keep up with my favorite blogs), but I decided I will share my perspective on nursing in public here anyway.

In Judaism, breastfeeding is given a lot of consideration, thought and importance. A woman's breasts, while generally considered an erotic body part (no, it is not a modern over-sexualized invention - breasts are not only for feeding babies) gain a special status while a woman is breastfeeding.

It is possible to explain that - in many cases only theoretically - breastfeeding while uncovered is immodest. And I say theoretically because if such concerns are expressed by someone who doesn't flinch upon seeing a woman in a bikini, that's hypocrisy. However, many people seem to have a problem with the fact that they know the woman who is sitting on a bench over there is nursing her baby. They will squirm just because of that knowledge, not because they have actually seen anything. So obviously the issue goes much deeper than modesty.

I do realize that for some mothers, it's difficult to cover up while nursing because the baby tends to be uncomfortable under the cover and/or yanks it off. For me, that was never an issue. I could cover up so that nothing would show, and still, I had huge hang-ups with breastfeeding in public for months after my daughter was born. I had this vague notion, though I never verbalized it, that I must both nurse on demand and never let people see I'm doing it, lest someone's feelings be offended by a baby's burp from underneath the cover. 

Sometimes it is simply more comfortable to nurse in a private corner, for example if you are in a crowded noisy place and your baby is already a curious, active little one who is easily distracted by all the commotion. But it's lousy to feel you must hide out.

There was a time when I had to nurse pretty much constantly to boost my supply. It worked and we never had to give formula, but it meant that I hid out for a month and a half or so, without being able to go out for more than forty-five minutes. Very frustrating and totally unnecessary when I reflect on it. If I had been less committed to nursing, no doubt I would have given up.

When our daughter was seven months old, we were invited to a Shabbat chatan. It had been months since I’ve been to synagogue because I didn’t feel comfortable nursing in the (mostly nearly empty) women's section. This time I had to go. I nursed in the dusty and stifling geniza (a back room where old holy books and texts are kept). Not very comfortable but at least there was a chair and shadow. After that, we proceeded to the meal, which was a long one. She wanted to nurse again. The meal was in a dining hall and it was impractical to go back to our room, so I just went outside, crouched somewhere in a tiny spot of shade and nursed. The baby and I were stiflingly hot and I was crying because I felt so suffocated by always having to miss out on conversations and family celebrations. I felt as though I had spent the best part of the last months hidden away. I didn’t even dare to tell my in-laws, “I need to nurse the baby.” I would just disappear.
Anyway, when I came back, I saw another mother comfortably sitting on a mattress in that dining hall and nursing without even a cover. Her breast was hanging out, and no one was paying the least bit of attention. I could have hit myself over the head for how silly I’ve been! It was a wake-up call and since then I was much more comfortable with nursing in public. Surely if she could nurse during lunch without covering up, it would be alright for me to nurse while modestly covered up.

We also went to my husband’s high school reunion where most of the couples were Haredi; most had a baby (in addition to the 3-4 older children) and women just nursed their babies (covered up) during dinner without even thinking of leaving the room. They behaved in a very discreet and natural way. I later asked my husband whether he noticed they were nursing their babies and it turns out he had no clue. I’m sure that was true for most of the men.

This time around, I hope and plan to do things differently and nurse whenever the baby needs to and wherever both baby and I feel comfortable. I do intend to cover up, but not hide away. There's nothing more natural than feeding your child the way God intended, whenever the need arises. The more women do it, the less people will cringe and squirm when they see it being done. 

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Fun in the back yard

A mother cat with some of her babies. She has been coming for a while to eat scraps from the table, and because it was evident she's a nursing mother, I assumed her kittens were very little and hidden in a lair somewhere, and she's bring them over when they grow up a bit. Sure enough, a few days ago she brought all five of them to the back yard.

The fun for the children is incredible. :o)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Frozen delights

Ice-cream with layers of biscuits dipped in banana liqueur. A special dessert for this Shabbat, which just happens to be my 25-th birthday. How time flies! When I first started writing on this blog, I was a young single woman, and now I'm due with my second child in just under two months. Life has sure been interesting these last couple of years!

Monday, July 5, 2010

The "impossibility" of living on one income

A couple of days ago, I received a comment saying it's impossible to live on one income alone in our day and age. This touched a nerve (in a positive way!), because most people would probably say it's impossible to manage on our monthly budget, yet we have been doing it for a while now.

Just for the record, this post only focuses on the practical side of a wife at home; the spiritual is a story onto itself, along with the husband's obligation to provide for his family. My husband often says there is no true financial blessing when husbands rely on their wives to provide. 

There is an entire section of this blog devoted to frugality; I'm probably not the most frugal-savvy person there is, though. I know many of my readers have been living on one small income for quite a few years and have raised/are raising large families this way. I'm not an expert on budgeting, coupon-clipping and discount-hunting, but if there's one thing I can tell, it's this: living on one income (and one far from large!) is definitely possible.

The greater part of it is in the mindset. Letting go of what I call "the entitlement syndrome" will almost immediately lead most people to think of whole lists of things they have previously regarded as necessities or legitimate needs, yet in fact it's entirely possible to do without them. There are so many ways to cut down costs in the usage of electricity, water and gas, grocery shopping, entertainment and many other things; time and space currently don't permit me to dig into them. I'll just share one main principle – enjoy what's free; think twice before spending a shekel (a penny, a cent… you get the idea).

Another important thing I would like to mention is the importance of being debt-free from the beginning. My husband and I were blessed to start out that way. Of course it's more difficult (though not impossible) to manage on a small income if you also have debt to pay.

The notion that women can't afford to stay home because that second income is so badly needed is a false one. It's a myth perpetuated by those who are interested in pushing women out to the work force – where they more likely will benefit someone else than their immediate family. The fact is, there are many people living on one income. Take for example single mothers (whose rampantly increasing number is a direct outcome of feminism). While fathers are legally obligated to pay child support, the fact is that many single mothers get none and support their children themselves. No one tells them they "can't" do it. But in a family where the wife is healthy and hard-working (and therefore able to do beneficial work for her family in her home), they are told they "can't afford" for the wife to stay at home.

The notion is that the wife's working outside the home will automatically double the family income. This idea is in most cases a false one. To start with, women generally earn much less than men. Not because of so-called "gender discrimination", but because women naturally choose the less lucrative fields and invest less vigorously in their careers. In most families, the husband is the one who produces the lion's share of the income anyway. I know many families where the wife's paycheck is viewed as pocket money and is spent on luxuries and "extras" – most of them meant for her personal use alone.

Of course, in many more families the wife's income is only directed towards what is considered necessary. I had one woman tell me the surplus of her salary, gas costs deduced, is only enough to pay for daycare for her two-year-old. For this family, daycare for a two-year-old was believed to be an unquestionable necessity; not for a moment did they stop to consider the possibility of just keeping their boy at home. Why is that? Because we were led to believe that "properly trained" people are better at caring for toddlers than us, their own parents. In Israel, especially, it's very unacceptable for children over a year old to still be at home. It always boggles my mind to think how many families with two children under three (in religious families, this is nearly a status quo for many years) could afford for the wife to be home if only they considered keeping their children at home as well. I'm not even talking about full-fledged homeschooling, just the delay of shepherding the children off to institutions from very young age.

Naturally, daycare and gas costs are a no-brainer when we try to calculate what is actually left of a wife's salary at the end of the month. By the way, I'm by now thoroughly familiar with the feminist argument that said costs should not be deduced from the wife's salary, but rather, from the combined family income. Such theoretical calculations are utterly useless if what we want to know is how much the family will gain or lose by sending the wife out to work.

There are of course many things a wife at home can do directly or indirectly in order to cut costs. An example of a direct way to save is having more time to plan menus and shopping trips and to cook from scratch and in bulk. An indirect way of saving is providing a joyful, pleasant place to be in by investing many hours into home keeping – thus making the home more attractive for the family. A family who loves being home is less likely to dash out at the first opportunity. Being out and about usually means spending more money, on gas, eating out, and different temptations that always present themselves on such outings.

I'm not saying a family will never lose out financially if the wife doesn't go out to work. For sure, for many having a wife at home means giving up on certain material benefits (even if those aren't nearly as large as the world would have us believe). Yet it is possible to make it on one income once you decide that a wife and mother at home is a more important asset than the paycheck she can potentially bring in.    

Friday, July 2, 2010

Yesterday, cooking away for Shabbat

Nicely spiced up rice.
Oven-baked crispy potatoes.
Meatballs in sauce.
Fish with tomatoes, garlic and herbs.

I wish you many happy hours spent ensconced in your cozy kitchens, cooking away, too!