Friday, December 30, 2011

Our Chanukkah day trip

On the last day of Chanukkah, my husband took us all on a surprise day trip to the beautiful HaKfar HaYarok campus. It is such a perfectly enjoyable place for little ones: lots of places to run and explore, plenty of animals - both in enclosures and strolling freely across the vast, velvety green lawns, and to top it all off, air castles for active amusement. We packed our lunch and enjoyed eating it at a picnic table under a tree. 

All in all, it was one of those days to the memory of which you want to hold on forever. One of the days you would dearly love to live through once again, yet know you can't, even if you were to re-construct all the circumstances perfectly. There's magic in the air which just cannot be duplicated. 
 Shira, feeding goats.
 I told my husband right away I want a couple of such cute birds, if only he can get them!
 An interesting-colored rooster.
Shira chasing at a large flock of pigeons, who are taking flight only to land back after a minute or two. She amused herself in such a manner until she was too tired to run. 

I will say goodbye now, and wish my readers a good Shabbat and a very pleasant weekend.

Warmly,

Mrs. T

Monday, December 26, 2011

A Chanukkah update

 It has been a while since I've uploaded photos, so here you go: above - a couple of the peacocks that live at a campus where my husband is currently taking a course.
 A beautiful bright moon, high in a clear night sky. We took advantage of one such beautiful night to have a fire outdoors and roast our meal on it, then bake foil-wrapped potatoes in the hot ashes; a treat for the whole family.
 The stretch of narrow winding road that takes us home.
 Moussaka, in its kosher version of course. Simply delicious sliced, baked eggplants, layered with ground beef mixed with egg and tomato sauce. A new dish I had the pleasure to try for last Shabbat.
Our Chanukkah candles; both olive oil and wax. The bits of melted colorful wax will be of course collected to be used in the next candle-making session! You can also catch a glimpse of the reflection of lights in the dark window, and the tomatoes ripening on the windowsill.

I have had something on my mind, following my last post, on which I feel I ought to comment now. Bethany asked me whether we always plan to live as frugally as we do now; and I think I really need to clarify, that, if we always live as we do now, I would consider us very lucky indeed!! In some areas some would perhaps think we are "deprived", but in all essentials, I really am of the opinion that we are living in luxury. Luxury of space - a beautiful, and beautifully planned, cozy and roomy home where we can have fun living together as a family, and the vast space of delightful nature all around us; luxury of time, to be there for my family, and time to develop myself as a creative person; luxury of occupation, doing just what I was meant to do, and finding immense joy in it.

I will go offline now; we've been feeling a bit under the weather these past days, so I think chicken soup is in order, and some tasty surprise for today's dinner (right after lighting the seventh Chanukkah candle). I hope all my readers are enjoying a pleasant holiday season!

Warmly,

Mrs. T

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Frugal tips for beginners

I came across this article with money-saving tips while browsing Small Town Living. I must say reading it made me feel like a veteran soldier reading advice for new recruits, and I even laughed out loud a couple of times! I mean... stop buying fast food (don't remember what it tastes like)? Sell your lawn mower (in Israel, with our draughts, I think it's close to indecent to keep a lawn at all)? Stop going out to the movies (a movie for us is like a trip abroad for some people)?.. But otherwise, of course, it's good and sensible advice.

I will admit that I've had a bit of a pat-ourselves-on-the-back attitude when it came to saving money. I mean, my husband and I were always so sensible; we chose a modest wedding so we had plenty of money left over from presents to pay for it, our honeymoon was spent in an apartment that was lent to us by my brother-in-law, we opted for a house we could buy in cash, we never traveled abroad, we don't eat out, we stockpile, we are experts in finding good deals, doing it ourselves, and doing without. 

My husband is in charge of grocery shopping, due to the fact he's the one who takes the car (I don't drive). I think if I grocery shopped, we'd have an even healthier food array in the pantry, completely free of snacks and soft drinks my husband buys mainly for unexpected guests. But even so, I know we're doing well, even though it's always possible, of course, to be even more creative and cut back. 

However, lately I was forced to face an unpleasant truth: my attitude became arrogant. I gradually shifted to thinking that what's keeping us afloat, financially, is solely our good choices, and not the provision of G-d. I grew in stubborn forgetfulness of all the little (and not so little) miracles of His provision for us, such as when we were given a perfectly good free stroller for our first baby, or when we discovered a whole storage shed full of little girls' clothing. I began to feel all too pleased with how sensible we are, how frugal, how wise and rational. 

There is a young couple we know closely, whose financial situation is not very stable. Some of the choices they are making struck us as very unfit for their situation, for example, buying a new car and going abroad twice a year, splurging on gadgets such as new laptops, etc. We'd actually feel pretty smug, thinking about this couple, and telling each other "we'd never allow ourselves to overspend like this!"

Then, not long ago, we lost a considerable sum of money in quite a foolish, senseless way. An unexpected blow at a time of financial strain. How bitterly I regretted this loss! How much better it would be to have done something, anything with this money, I told myself - even spend it on a lovely trip that would create beautiful memories! And oh, how brutally did I come back in contact with the reality of Who is in charge. 

Am I saying, now, that we should all indulge our every whim? That we should overspend in the hope G-d will provide? That we should never have any savings put aside because we might lose them anyway? No, of course not! We should be led by common sense in our financial choices. But it's crucial to remember that, although we are required to be prudent and responsible with our resources (financial and otherwise), ultimately the outcome does not depend on us. We can make all the right choices, and yet fail. We can make wrong choices, and out of them, something beautiful miraculously springs up. All part of a higher plan to make us acutely aware Who is our one and only source of real solace, comfort, and security. Not our faulty sense. Not our frail human abilities. Only Him.

In Judaism, there is a term of "blessing in one's money". This is how some families, miraculously it seems, manage to raise ten children with a ridiculously small monthly allowance; this is how others never seem to make their ends meet, no matter how much they earn. Money earned on the Shabbat day, we believe, does not carry a blessing, on the contrary, it will lead to financial ruin, even if math says just the opposite. 

Do your best. Do what is good and sensible for your family. And all the while, keep your eyes on G-d, our kind and gentle shepherd, who wants us to remember it is Him we ought to turn to for all our needs. This is my first, and most important, frugal tip for beginners.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

I need a break... or do I?

"You need a break," the message sounds from every direction, "you are working so hard, you deserve a break!" - well, I do deserve a break, right? I'm taking care of two little children under 3 full-time, right? I'm ready to sleep even as I'm tucking my children in, right?..

"I'd be happy if they only let me drink my morning cup of coffee in peace," I thought one day. Then, "I'd be happy if only they went down for a nice nap at midday and I could handle some of my things in peace and quiet"; and then, "I'd be happy if they went to bed early, no arguments, and both slept through the night so I could wake up nice and refreshed."

Then I became brutally honest with myself. How long a break do I actually need in order to feel completely rejuvenated and ready to jump back on the bandwagon?

Um... several months? No... it isn't really going to work, is it?

I need, can, and will take time to shower, get enough sleep, take care of my things, work on projects in little snippets here and there... but my family is my life now; I cannot take a break of any considerable length from living life. It is not a break I need, therefore, but a change of attitude.

"A child is not a job," writes Susan Schaeffer Macaulay, "he is a friend." As a mother I am always on duty, sure, but can I also be a good, fun friend to my noisy, lively little ones? Can I lose myself for a while in the world of play-dough, Lego, and watercolors? Can I be excited about a tent made of a couple of sheets? Can I throw away thoughts of efficiency, in favor of letting my children be involved in everything that is going on at home (barring anything dangerous, of course)?

I will always have to be there, as long as they need me. But I don't always have to wear the hat of the mature, responsible, hard-working adult. I can goof around. My children don't care about bread crumbs on the floor. It is my project to work at creating such a life for us all, that none of us will feel the constant need to take a lengthy break from it. 


...I will now round up this post, head into the kitchen, roll up my sleeves and start making latkes - a yummy Hanukkah treat. Happy Hanukkah!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Headcoverings and me: a relationship

As a bride, I was pretty excited and enthusiastic about beginning to cover my hair. Skipping a discussion of religious convictions, I just thought hair coverings look so nice on women, marking their married status and matching their outfits. Two days before my wedding, I went into a shop and had fun selecting some pretty tichels, some long and some square, some plain for everyday wear and some more festive for special occasions. 

On my first day as a married woman, I lingered for a long time in front of the mirror, tying my head scarf in such a way as to ensure it won't fall off. My husband complimented me (as he does to this day). I felt exhilarated; there I am, married, and the whole world knows it simply by looking at me from afar, even before spotting my new sparkling gorgeous wedding ring. 

Then, as the initial excitement began to wear off, I noticed something strange. As soon as I put on a head scarf, I no longer knew the person looking back at me from the mirror. It just wasn't me. Somehow, the square of thin fabric managed to turn me, at once, into someone much older, someone plain and boring and lacking in individuality. Even when I wore one of my prettiest head coverings, the most I could say was, "she looks sort of nice." She - not me. 

Come on, I reasoned with myself. It's only hair. The only difference in your appearance is that your hair is no longer visible. This how you are marked as a married woman, and let's face it, yes, hair is an important part of a woman's attraction, so by removing it from sight we become - no, not ugly, sure, but less appealing to strangers. Which is the whole point, or at least part of it. 

So what did really bother me? 

Hair covering is a commandment I wouldn't contemplate giving up; I just wish I could find it in myself to love it more, I thought as something within me squirmed each time I looked at my reflection. Then it hit me; sure, the hair covering does hide away a part of who I am, only now when I am married, who I am is supposed to be guarded even more closely. 

I didn't go anywhere. I can still see myself, the way I know and like myself. So can my husband, my children, and any woman. It's only to strange men that I'm supposed to become invisible, and it does make all the sense in the world. Does it really matter to me that strangers can't see part of who I am? If anything, I ought to rejoice in that. 

I marveled anew, at how a piece of thin fabric tied around one's head instantly makes men businesslike and respectful, signaling "here is another man's wife". When I walk down a street, I know I am invisible to any decent man. This is powerful protection. It is now also part of who I am. Part of the new me; the married woman, invisible to half the planet.

I realize that only a minority of those who read this are hair-covering women, but I think the same feelings and reflections can be applied to any step taken towards modesty, when it is different from something you used to do throughout your whole life. I felt a lot less self-conscious, and a lot less noticeable, when I began to wear modest blouses, too, and when I switched from pants to skirts. 

Being Jewish, I'm really very happy we have such clear guidelines on modesty and on what ought to be covered, otherwise I would probably be forever deliberating, as I still do regarding some matters which are considered grey areas (such as open-toed sandals). So my hair is safely covered outside and safely uncovered at home.

So, perhaps I'll never fully identify with my hair-covered reflection. I will probably never be one of those women who cover when they are at home too, without feeling any urge to let their hair down; but I am performing the essential of this mitzvah, doing it whole-heartedly and out of full conviction, and I hope this is pleasing in the eyes of G-d. 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Early potty training

While I always saw the benefits of potty training early, somehow it didn't seem to me I'd ever be able to do it, but with Tehilla, the opportunity kind of presented itself a couple of months ago. Close to one year old, it was obvious that she simply hates going in the diaper. She would grunt, go red in the face, and cross her little legs in a gesture that said very plainly, "I don't want to do this!"

So, more to oblige her than anything else, I began to catch her whenever she was straining not to go, and sat her on the potty. Pretty soon she caught on, and when she received heaps of praise for successful action, she became wonderfully cooperative. I think seeing her sister go potty was great in the way of teaching, too.

Now, at 15 months, she actually progressed to letting me know she needs to go, and she goes potty many times a day, usually successfully. Sure, there are plenty of misses, and sometimes "false alarms", and I don't know how soon she will actually be out of diapers, but often she'll wear the same diaper throughout the day and it stays dry. This means we are saving money on diapers, which is something I'm thoroughly excited about, since we are using disposables (I've heard many good things about cloth nappies and really wanted to use them, but right now, when the rubber hits the road, I cannot willingly bring myself to do more laundry/cleanup than I'm already doing).

One thing I do have to say, is that she goes potty often. As in every hour or so, while Shira (our older girl) needs to go only several times a day. Since I'm home with my children, I'm able to attend cues/verbal signs and take my baby to potty, but otherwise, of course we wouldn't be able to do this - no caregiver could be expected to commit to hourly undressing and pottying a wriggly baby.

Another thing to mention, she is really very, very cooperative. I know I cannot make a rule out of this, since I only have two children to compare, but I've heard many times that 2 years is a wilful age, and so potty training might turn into a real battle of wills (we already had a taste of this).

Now, I can't actually know, right now, whether Tehilla will be out of diapers sooner than a child who begins at 2. But as I said, we are most certainly saving money on diapers already (not to mention reducing the amount of daily waste we produce), without any pressure towards our child. I think the effort is really worthwhile.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Book review: Loving the Little Years

Only yesterday, I received a copy of Loving the Little Years: Motherhood in the Trenches by Mrs. Rachel Jankovic for reviewing; I have read it from cover to cover today, and am now sitting down to write this. 

Loving the Little Years is a great read for busy mothers; written by another busy mother who has no time to be particularly long-winded, this little book is full of succint, straight-to-the-point advice on how to survive (and thrive) in daily situations of kitchen messes, diaper blowouts, and squabbling children. 

Right now, a book on motherhood that makes me nod and say, "yes, I've been there" is a welcome and comforting read. I giggled like mad as I read, "when taking the garbage out becomes a "destination", you know you are really in the trenches!" - well then, perhaps this isn't just me who says to her girls with the air of announcing a surprise party, "let's go for a walk to take out the garbage". Admittedly, the garbage bin is a little off the road from our house, but anyway, it's nice to know someone sane enough to actually complete a book and get it published can relate to what you feel.

Having said that, I have two issues to take with this book. One is the mention of spanking as an acceptable discipline method. I simply cannot agree with this; I do not wish to enter into an argument, and there is really very little to be added on this matter. By the way, this was also what put me off a bit while reading For the Family's Sake

The second issue is a general message I felt, while reading, that every difficulty can be dismissed by telling yourself, "stop complaining and count your blessings. There's no justification to feel overwhelmed when there's work G-d obviously wishes you to do." Now, this can be good advice in many situations, and moping is, certainly, not a very productive attitude. But there are also circumstances when people go through genuine hardship such as tragic family situations, crumbling marriages, illness, bankruptcy, and other experiences in which simply telling oneself to cope with it and move on can result in even worse burnout and depression. There really are situations when we must call for a stop and accept, with humble grace, the help of people who are sent our way in those troubled times, to support us until we can pull ourselves together.

I understand the reasoning behind not wanting to give in to negative feelings, but in retrospect, looking at certain periods of my life as a mother when I felt very hurt and vulnerable, reading that I'm not supposed to feel overwhelmed, nor speak of it, would not have been very good advice. In fact, it would have made me feel even guiltier for being inadequate than I was already feeling. Sometimes what we really need is comfort, unconditional love, tenderness, compassion and support. We always have that in our Creator, but there are times in our life when we need the material manifestation of His love in the people who surround us. 

Also, I believe that one must know one's strengths - as much as possible, anyway, as we do tend to err both ways; both in saying we can't do something we later manage to pull off and even do quite well, with G-d's help and mercy - and in trying to tackle something we cannot do without stretching ourselves very thin. We are, after all, blessed with different gifts, and what is easily possible for one is excruciatingly difficult for another. We must know our weaknesses - no, not to indulge them, but to allow room for growth by reasonable, individual planning. 

Now, I'd better wrap this up because it's getting a bit long for a book review post. I will summarize by saying that the book is definitely worth a read, even if you don't agree with everything you find in it. If you are a mother of little ones, you will probably relate to many passages, and will most likely crack a good laugh or two - which, in my opinion, is the number one test that makes a self-help book worthwhile.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Self-nurturing, stress and depression

I would like to thank all who have taken the time to send a comment, particularly in private, in response to my last post about meeting one's own needs. Writing this makes me feel a bit exposed, but I'm still taking the time and effort to do it because I feel it's really important, and to be frank, right now I cannot afford the time or energy to do, write or research what isn't truly important.

What I'm about to write now is basically a response to the comments, public and private, that have been directed to me. I beg your apology if this post appears incoherent or rambling to some or many of you.

So, here goes: if you are a mother, you are probably fine-tuned to meeting the needs of others, which is good and right. However, you must also be alert to your own basic needs, and make sure they aren't neglected, because on your well-being depends the welfare of small and helpless beings who have been entrusted to your care.

I'm deliberating on the correct wording now, because I really do not wish to be misunderstood. Our culture often embraces the focusing on "self", at the expense of all else, and this is the last thing I'm advocating. But if I am a mother and primary caretaker of a family, and I feel I am about to crack (for any reason), yet I'm pushing myself forward and making myself pretend all is good and well, it's not going to work. It might be a necessity during a brief period of critical circumstances that parents put themselves aside wholly and completely, but I believe it is highly inadvisable to let the father and mother go along, for an indefinite period of time, with their needs entirely suppressed.

I'm not saying we are entitled to anything that will "make us happy". That can often slide into imbalanced self-indulgence. Yet no one's life is supposed to feel like a prison, and if it does, it means something has gone badly wrong. We all deserve laughter, pleasant companionship, peace, joy, basic respect and the presence of our Almighty Father in our lives - on a daily basis. Under basic respect I list, among other things, orderly meals, daily showers and clean dignified clothes for Mama - and sadly, I have seen instances when women chose to forgo this basic dignity, and look unkempt, constantly exhausted, and on the brink of breakdown. I do not believe it is good for children to grow up with a role model who does not induce respect.

It is also good and right to pursue and develop one's unique talents, within the scope of realistic possibilities available to us at the moment. For someone like me, whose main creative outlet is writing, it means (at this stage of my life) that I cannot shut myself in the office for hours and work on the many projects I have drafted throughout the years - but I can do some work bit by bit, using a spare 15 minutes here and there, and I can still run a blog (although at times, not as regularly as I would like to). Sure, it takes a lower priority than my basic duty of caring for my family, but there's a place in my life for this as well. It is, after all, part of who I am, as a person as well as a mother - as I certainly pour a lot of my personality into motherhood. I am hoping that someday, my children will read all I ever wrote, and thus will spring a new level of knowledge and understanding between us. 

Sometimes there will be days when not all of our basic needs are met. However, the important thing is keeping in mind what we need, so that we can make sure we'll attend to these need as soon as we are able. If we suppress our needs, if we disqualify our feelings, if we try to act as though we can live without proper food, rest, love, faith, hope and joy, eventually it will backfire - on us as well as those we are supposed to care for.

In the eyes of our Father, we are all special, important, cherished and loved. Think of the treatment you believe your children rightfully deserve - the nurturing, the support, the understanding and care. Doesn't it logically follow that His children - ourselves included - deserve to be treated the same way? There is good reason why the Torah commands us to love others as we love ourselves. It makes perfect sense, spiritually as well as practically.

Our worth does not depend on our accomplishments. Sure, there are things we must do, and there are things which are nice to have, but we are loved regardless. We are loved unconditionally. There's the love of G-d, which is sometimes difficult to grasp, and there is the reflection of His love in the many people we come across, along our life's journey. I know, personally, that many times tears of gratitude welled up in my eyes, as I contemplated the friendship, support and generosity of others towards me, and told myself, "I do not deserve this." Yet apparently it is not so much about deserving, as it is about accepting, as a gift, what is sent our way - with humble gratitude when we can give nothing in return.

Gratitude, however, doesn't mean we must always feel bouncy-happy, with an unchanging smile plastered on to our face. As I have discovered, it is pointless to try and shame myself into cheerfulness, when I actually feel sad, weak and confused, by comparing myself to others. I am immeasurably grateful for many things I have been blessed with - a lovely family, a nice and spacious home, many comforts of life, the unlimited use of my five senses, the delights of nature, books and music, and much more. Yet the woes and worries, the challenges and troubles exist in every life, and serve to bring us closer to the one and only eternal source of our comfort. It is no use firmly telling oneself that "many would love to swap with me" or that "centuries ago, people were so focused on surviving they had no time for contemplation." Our feelings are valid. We are valid. 

I'm not sure how I'm supposed to close this, except that I feel I really should round this post up while it can still be published in one reasonable piece. I thank you, again, for your friendship and kindness, your attention and kind wishes, your concern and your prayers, and remain, warmly,

Your friend,

Mrs. T

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Nurturing ourselves and others


Thank you all for the overwhelmingly supportive response to my last post. It is so encouraging to hear from other mothers who are facing the same challenges (not that I thought for a moment that my challenges are unique, but it's reassuring to hear it all the same). 

My friend Avigayil, in her comment, mentioned nurturing ourselves - something we usually have to take charge of, because no one in the house can know our material needs as well as we do. We are the ones who know whether we are tired, hungry, in need of a shower, preoccupied about something that keeps sitting in the back of our mind, and so on and so forth. 

Basic needs have to be taken care of. Of course, sometimes we will be required to step out of our usual limits to take care of others, such as at times when there is a new baby, or a child is sick, or other emergencies. But it doesn't work long-term. We simply cannot ignore our own needs on a regular basis and still expect ourselves to have the mental energy to nurture others. One can only give what one has, it is a basic law; just as I cannot give a thousand dollars if I don't have them, I cannot give relaxation and peace of mind to my family if I'm an overwrought, exhausted nervous wreck by the end of a day (or even worse, close to its beginning).

Of course, here we reach a point when an argument might follow, discussing what is a basic need and what isn't. We are all vastly different and come from different cultural backgrounds; some would say that going on a vacation abroad or having two cars is a basic need for them. For the moment,  however, I will focus on three things that are important to me in order to get through a day successfully: food, sleep and last but not least, re-uniting with our Almighty Father for even a brief time. 

I will start with sleep, because lack of it is what makes me malfunction most seriously, and additionally, it isn't something I can simply catch up on whenever I need to (as opposed to food). Recently, when I realized I can hardly drag myself out of bed most mornings, it occurred to me I simply must make getting more sleep a priority. To do this, I basically had 3 options: go to bed early, get up later in the morning, or take a midday nap. Now, getting up later in the morning is not a really feasible option most days, and I can't always count on getting quiet time in the middle of the day. So my only real alternative was going to bed early. Of course, it would mean missing out on things I could be doing during the evening (whether housework or my own projects), but as I found out, I don't really do anything constructive anyway when I'm too tired, so it's not a big miss-out. 

Then there's food. Here we're doing good; I sit down to eat with my kids at least 3 times a day, and often we have a snack once or twice in between. I love to cook. I love the wonderful aroma that fills the house as pots stand bubbling on the stove. However, I mostly make one-dish meals (pasta, soup, crustless quiche, stuffed peppers) and there are those days when cooking just doesn't fit in. On such days, I'm thankful for frozen leftovers, and when it comes to the worst, there's always eggs, toast and oatmeal. 

Then there's spiritual life. I consider it a must, like food or sleep, but it doesn't have to happen through solid long periods of inward reflection and prayer. I simply close my eyes, for a few moments several times a day, to lift up my thanks, sorrows, hopes, requests and frustrations. 

Now we come to a point which, I have noticed, is often debated, regarding its necessity and even advisability. I'm talking about having one's own projects and making time for them, for enjoyment, personal growth, and learning not strictly related to our job as wives and homemakers. Here I see two polar attitudes; there are those who say your own comes first and you are entitled to anything as long as it makes you "happy". There are also those who self-righteously give up on anything unrelated to motherhood and homemaking, and feel it would be selfish to have any hobbies, friends or intellectual pursuits. 

I am somewhere in between. I certainly have enough in my home and with my children to keep me busy from the moment I rise till the moment I go to bed, but I find it stimulating, enriching and uplifting to carve out - again, not long stretches of time, but snippets here and there - to work on projects which, as I feel, enhance my intellectual life; creative writing, crafts, expanding my knowledge about things that interest me. Those things occupy, of course, only a small portion of my time, but it's like the icing on the cake. An added bonus of this is that kids who have a mama who loves to learn and create, will, I am sure, love those things too. Seeing their mother's enthusiasm about various things is a far more effective learning boost than a detached flow of "reading is good for you" admonitions. 

Others come first. I cannot keep little children waiting (not for any considerable length of time, anyway) for their meals, naps, baths, boo-boo kissing, storytelling and discipline. But I can and will make sure that I am not forgotten either. For long hours every day, I'm the only adult in the house, and I sometimes feel alone; sometimes there's the pressing need for a friend, a mature, generous, motherly-type friend who would kindly ask: how are you feeling? Is there anything I can do for you? What would make you feel better, more secure, more comfortable? 

I don't have to wait for someone else to ask those questions. I can be my own friend. I can ask myself: how am I feeling? What can I, realistically, do for myself right now? What would make me feel better, what can help me relax? Is it a cup of tea? Baking some cookies? Curling up on the couch while my children are playing on the floor? And sometimes, in the desperate busyness of a day, I can tell myself, "hold on. It's crazy right now, but as soon as things calm down, as soon as the little people in your charge get their necessary portion of attention, you can have some for yourself." It doesn't make me lazy or selfish. It makes me a responsible mother who teaches her children self-worth and self-respect.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Is this me?

It's very early in the morning, and I'm finding it difficult to unglue my eyes. Little children are already whining, clamoring for breakfast and squabbling over toys. A bunch of chickens and a dog are waiting for their morning meal as well. Husband's lunch has to be packed and sandwiches made for him to take along before he hurries off.

I feel a stab of annoyance rising within me. Can't they all just leave me alone for a couple of minutes, so I can have a cup of coffee in peace before diving head-first into the busyness of the morning? I move along moodily, irritably, doing what has to be done and speaking in short grunts.

It's midday, and I really need to do a couple of things on the computer. There are emails to be answered, my husband asked me to research a certain topic for him on the internet, not to mention the laundry must be folded and brought in before it starts raining. Yet my older daughter refuses point-blank to take a nap, and the baby wakes up after 30 minutes, fussy and unrested but with no intention of settling down again. I shut down the computer and take my little ones outside, where they "help" fold the laundry by clinging to my legs.

I'm so frustrated I could rip my hair off. When am I going to do all the stuff I must do? Why can't "they" (husband, children, whoever claims some of my time) understand how much I already have on my plate, and let me carry on with it? Why can they never wait? Why do I always have to be so frazzled?

It's evening, and I'm stifling a yawn while the girls are playing in the bathtub. I thought I would catch up on ironing once they are in bed, but now I realize I'm not really up to it. I'm lucky if I can summon enough energy to do the dishes before turning in. I waste no time in attempting to get my toddler into the fresh clean clothes I laid out for her earlier, but she takes it all as a fun game and prances along from one edge of the bed to the other, giggling loudly. 

Why can't they understand how tired I am? Why won't they go to bed quickly for a change? Why does my husband have to choose this precise moment to tell me he is arriving soon with a month's worth of groceries, and that I must somehow find extra space in the already overstuffed freezer by rearranging it?

The part of my mind that has not yet gone off-balance knows I'm being unreasonable. My children are as good as can be, it's just that they are children, and so will play, bounce, squabble and demand attention from the moment they rise till it's time to go to bed, and beyond. And you won't find many husbands who completely and totally take charge over all the grocery shopping. Yet I feel an irresistible urge to snap, bite someone's head off, stomp my feet, raise my voice - several times a day. I don't want to be reasonable anymore. I want to have things the way I want, and I want to stop whatever is getting in the way. 

As I sense this sweeping over me like a tide, threatening to swallow me, it's like watching a car crash in slow motion without being able to do anything about it. I'm just helplessly, desperately asking myself - who is this insufferable, unloving person speaking out of my mouth? Can it really be me? And if it is, how can I live with it? 

What keeps me going is the knowledge that it is not me. Or at least, that it isn't the deepest, truest part of my essence as a person. Fighting what bursts out of me when things don't go as planned is like fighting a many-headed dragon, yet I don't give up. I start every day afresh, and rejoice over tiny achievments such as keeping myself within the limits of my patience as I explain for the tenth time in an hour that we do not play with the contents of the bathroom cabinet.

I am humbled. I'm walking in small steps; I'm not trying to be a perfect mother, or even a better-than-most mother. For me, it is immense pride and joy just to be good enough.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Nursing and resting

Having now successfully nursed two children, the younger 15 months old and with no signs of weaning anytime soon, I can say that one of the best things about nursing is the simple brilliance of it - how convenient it is, and how it allows a tired young mother to rest.
 
Oh, I know by now nursing can have its stresses and challenges - we've had slow weight gain, tongue-tie, plugged ducts complete with high fever, and others can probably chip in with stories of their own. But basically it's supposed to be pretty much straightforward, or our species wouldn't have survived. Throw in the facts that nutritionally speaking, it's perfectly composed to meet the baby's needs, it's free, and you don't have to prepare and wash bottles, not to mention worry about hygiene when you're out and about - and there you have why I love it so much. 
 
Most of the time, on many busy days, nursing is what allows us to put up our feet and rest, at least for a little while, without feeling guilty. We often try to do too much, and find it difficult to switch to a different mode once we have a baby - and nursing is just the thing to force us to slow down, for our own good. It's healthy, it's natural, it's simple, it involves sitting down for regular periods every day and cuddling a sweet baby. It's so wonderful. 
 
For us, as managers of the home, as those who are used to have it all under control, it can be so tempting to say to our dear husband (or whoever there is to help us out), "here, just hold the baby - and I'll do those dishes"... but no. The baby needs us, and us alone. Someone else can do the dishes, but no one can nurse our baby. And while we are sitting down, we can have a cooling drink of water or a little snack to refresh us on a hot busy day. 

I guess this is what some would call "being tied down by babies". And let's face it, the number one reason mothers switch to formula (at least here) is because of going back to work. I know only few people for whom pumping had worked out long-term, and even if it does, it just isn't the same as nursing (although definitely preferable to formula).

Actually, this "being tied down" by nursing is the best thing that can happen to a frazzled young Mom looking over a messy house. Because let's face it, we need to rest, we need to slow down, whether we acknowledge it or not. There will be challenging moments, of course. There will be days when you feel you have done nothing but nurse the baby - but these things slowly and imperceptibly change as the baby grows older. There will come a time when by-and-by, some of the baby's nutritional needs will be met by solid food, then a bit more... there will come a time when you are able to leave your baby for an evening and go out.

 And there will come a time of a bittersweet goodbye, when, with a feeling of a job well done, you relinquish the bond of breastfeeding and continue to nurture your little one in countless other ways. With Shira it happened at 15 months; she self-weaned, so I honestly can give no insight on weaning a baby. I know for sure I'm in no rush to end this very special connection between my baby girl and myself. Every minute of nursing and snuggling is precious, time well spent. 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Cute balloons

We got those not long ago, at a baby boy's birthday party. Aren't they marvellous? The balloons have since deflated and were disposed of, but the happy memories remain.

I don't suppose I will be able to squeeze in another post before tomorrow, so I'll wish you all a very happy weekend!

Your friend,

Mrs. T

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

On the other side of the door

Have you ever had to climb into your house through a bathroom window? I had this unforgettable experience yesterday.

Around midday, the girls and I were returning home from a play-date visit in a friend's house, tired out and ready for lunch, story time and a nap. I opened the door, let Shira in, and lingered outside with Tehilla to give the chickens some fresh water.

Just as I had my back turned to the door, I heard an ominous click of the door locking from inside.

Now, I'll explain - I have two locks, a lower and an upper one, and the lower tends to get stuck so I only use the upper. The key to the upper lock was in my bag, and the lower lock has a fixed key inside it that can't be removed, and another key which can be used from the outside and which I didn't bother to take with me, because I'm not using it anyway, right? The point is, Tehilla and I were out and Shira was in the house on her own, and there was a locked door in between.

I tried to get Shira to unlock the door, but the lock was stuck once more. All the windows were locked from inside too (for safety reasons) and I couldn't quite get her to understand how to open them. Once it dawned on us that we're separated by a locked door, we both got quite panicky. I heard Shira crying inside and could do nothing - I felt so helpless, my husband has the key but he was at least an hour and a half away.

I called a friend who lives nearby, more for moral support than anything else, and she dashed right over to try and get us to calm down, and to coax Shira to give the key another try from inside. In the meantime, I made a last desperate check of all the windows and discovered - hurray! - that the shower window is unlocked.

Problem is, it's a small window that opens only halfway, and it's right near the ceiling. In a stroke of uncharacteristic technical brilliance, I managed to remove the glass panes, which left a square right below the ceiling, large enough for a rather thin person to climb through (I'm proud to say I was even able to replace the panes later, in correct order).

I found a ladder behind the garden shed, took one of the plastic garden chairs and slipped it through the window into the shower stall so that I would be able to step on it once I swing my feet through the window. I then realized there's no way I'm going to be able to do this in my long denim skirt. Sincerely hoping no one can see this, I slipped out of my skirt, immensely thankful that at least I'm wearing long pants underneath. I then climbed to the top of the ladder, swung one foot over the window, then another (in an acrobatic fit I had no idea I was capable of accomplishing) then I climbed down to the plastic chair - and yes! I was in!

I hurried to my frightened child, comforted her while telling her never, never, never to mess about with the lock again, and swung open the front door, admitting my friend together with her little ones and Tehilla, who was sitting in her stroller all the while, enjoying all the attention and oblivious to anything exciting going on. With a deep sigh of worn-out travellers, my friend and I settled on the couch and sofa to nurse our babies. Finally, rest was at hand.

Later, when I was at leisure to think it all through, it occurred to me how this whole situation illustrates something bigger - the feeling of helplessness, the frustration, the fear; separation from our dearest ones; knowledge of being very close to something precious - so close, yet unable to reach it. And finally, the miraculous discovery of a way to get to it - doing things you didn't think you could do, climbing up a steep ladder, a dangerous - squeezing through a narrow gate, and finding yourself, finally, at the peaceful place your heart so desired - your home.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Winter flowers

I was pleasantly surprised to spot narcissuses popping up all over our yard, in every crack between the rocks. Here is one of the first clumps that has burst into bloom. I saw cyclamen leaves come up too, and it all looks very promising - seems we'll have a carpet of flowers once the rain season advances!

We've been very busy here, as always. Thanks to all who have sent us useful tips about introducing new chickens to a hen-house. I'm pleased to say our old birds are already letting the new one eat from the same tray once they have eaten their fill, without pecking her.

I hope there will be time for a longer post and/or more photos, later this week. In the meantime, I remain

your friend,

Mrs. T

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A new bird


My husband knows I'm partial to black chickens, so two days ago he got me this cute black pullet you can see in the picture above. Now, since she is so small, yesterday she managed to escape through the bars of the chicken house and was gone all day. I thought it was the last I had seen of her, but just after sunset she turned up and went into the coop to sleep with the other chickens.

This morning, I noticed the new bird is getting pecked at a lot, which is probably unsurprising, considering it's a newcomer and much smaller than the others. Luckily for her, she can get out of the coop while the others can't, so they can't really harm her (though they still show every sign of aggression). I left her to wonder around the yard, while keeping the rest cooped up inside. They have access to the same feeder, and the little chicken is seen but can get away from the pecking. I do hope they all get used to each other soon and order is established.

If anyone has tips on introducing a new bird to your flock, advice would be most welcome.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Winter woollies

OK, so they aren't exactly shapely. They didn't even, strictly speaking, come out identical. But they were very quick and easy to make, and are pleasantly warm on little feet, which makes for a satisfying cold-weather project.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A re-run: "What's going on? Women are coming home!"

I rarely do re-posts on the blog, as somehow there is always something new to say, but today is a special occassion. I had an email from a reader who was outraged by some sayings of feminist Linda Hirshman, and wondered whether I might consider debating her points. Now, as it happens, I already wrote a blog post in response to Linda Hirshman years ago, back when I was still single. Here it is:

***


This article is a rather old one, but this is the first time I came across it. Thanks to Green Eyes for sharing the link! When I saw it was written by Linda Hirshman, I already had a vague guess about its contents, and was proved right: Hirshman expresses her deep and sincere concern about women who make the choice to opt out of the workforce and go home to their families. It was a true masterpiece as a whole, but some of the following pearls of wisdom really got me ticking:

"What is going on? Most women hope to marry and have babies."Really? What backwardness! What lack of rational thinking! Of course, this is the reason why we are all here in the first place, but why on earth would someone willingly choose this sad fate for themselves, if they have glorious alternatives in the form of high-paying career, dating into their late thirties, fertility treatments in their 40's, and loneliness in later years?

"Prying women out of their traditional roles is not going to be easy."
Pay attention to this, ladies. It's not about what you want. It's not about what your husbands and yourselves decided will be the best for your family. It's not about what makes you peaceful and happy, or gives you contentment, or enables you to take better care of your children; it's about someone's willingness to push a certain anti-utopian agenda on us all.

"If women never start playing the household-manager role, the house will be dirty… Either the other adult in the family will take a hand or the children will grow up with robust immune systems."You should never allow yourself to make an effort to keep your home pretty, tidy and well-managed; you should never allow your home to become a safe haven of relaxation, warmth, love, joy and hospitality, because if you enjoy your home, this might make 'prying you out of your traditional gender role' much more difficult. Don't mind if your children get infections from food pathogens, either. The important thing is that you don't give in to your natural drive for making your home neat and clean!

"Have a baby. Just don't have two. A second kid pressures the mother's organizational skills."
You mean, being a busy wife and mother of many children makes you better at organizing, multitasking, being flexible, effective and resourceful? Or you mean that motherhood and home life are a full-time job? That's no news to us. We knew it all along, and as a matter of fact, we don't see anything wrong or negative in it. It's the feminist camp that tried to convince us family and motherhood are of little value, and rob us of our intelligence, skills and talents.

But if – as we are told all the time – it's all about 'choice', why should they even care about what we freely choose?

"We care because what they do is bad for them."If you make your husband and yourself happy by being keeper-at-home, it's bad for you. If your children have their Mommy with them, it's bad for you. If you don't give into the habit of addictive consumerism and live frugally and resourcefully, it's bad for you. If you have time to pursue your talents, practice hospitality, and create a peaceful life for your family instead of being exhausted, harassed, overwhelmed and stressed out, it's – again – bad for you. To keep matters simple, everything that is bad for your career, independence and/or bank account is bad for you.

"Now the glass ceiling begins at home. Although it is harder to shatter a ceiling that is also the roof over your head, there is no other choice."
This statement really simplifies the matters. These are no hints or implications: it's acknowledged that what we are encouraged to do means shattering the roof over our heads. Fortunately, no one can force me – or you – to do that. I'm opting out. I choose to keep the roof – and my home – intact.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A 10%-off coupon at Princess Modest Swimeaar

Princess Modest Swimwear is a website I only got acquainted with recently, when their representative contacted me and offered a 10% discount for my readers. The brand is Israeli but ships worldwide, and I'm always in favor  of supporting Israeli businesses. To activate the discount, simply type 20010 as coupon code when ordering. PS: the coupon is valid until December 31, 2011.  


Now, personally I'm not sure I would feel comfortable swimming at a mixed beach or swimming pool even fully dressed, because even modest swimsuits are bound to cling a lot when they are wet, and at women-only beaches or pools I'm OK with wearing a simple one-piece swimsuit and my husband's swimming shorts. But modest bathing suits such as these have the additional bonus of sun protection, which is important in Israel. I would also wear something like this, I think, if I had a private swimming pool in my garden.


Anyway, it looks a lot better than what you can find in most standard stores. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Over a thousand

For a while, I've been looking forward to my 1000-th blog post anniversary, but when it came it sort of slipped by unnoticed, and only yesterday I saw that I already have, in fact, published 1,023 posts since beginning this blog back in 2007.

A lot of things have happened along the way. When I started blogging, I was single, a university student in her final and very busy year, with long-unacknowledged and suppressed yearnings for things I hardly dared to name - home, family, marriage, motherhood.

Now I'm a very thankful mother to two dear beautiful girls. I spend my days taking walks to the playground, cleaning up spills, breaking up fights, giving baths, reading stories and getting excited about every new step along the journey, be it an original way of making play-dough or the fact that my almost-3-year-old expressed keen interest in washing the dishes.

In the beginning, I loved long and heated online debates with a lot of rational discussion. Now, I am most gratified by personal emails from people who have been, in some way, touched by what I have to say here, and in turn felt called to share a bit of their life with me. This is, without a doubt, the greatest gift I got through blogging - the personal contact with many different people, the revealing of hearts, the touching of lives. I am so grateful for that.

I love life. It's so beautiful, and I'm enjoying it so much. The awe-inspiring splendour of nature, the familiar, comfortable surroundings of home - it's all part of the harmony of life. You, my readers, visitors and friends, are part of it too, and for that I thank you.

Warmly,

Mrs. T

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A taste of winter

Winter in Israel doesn't exactly mean shoveling snow, but we still get more than enough days which are rainy or very windy, so we stay home, apart from a quick dash to feed the chickens (who would have been horrified if they knew that the wonderful aroma spreading throughout the house is actually chicken soup).

So, these past few days, we've had rain or strong winds non-stop. The winds were such that two days ago, I got up at 4 in the morning and let the chickens out of the coop because I was sure it was going to collapse right on them (it did not - what a pleasant surprise).

Anyway, we have been cooped in the house, ourselves, and those of you who are mothers to small children know what this means. It's generally easiest to occupy children out of doors. There are plenty of interesting things to see, a lot of what can be professionally called "educational opportunities", and you don't have to worry about stains on the floor or crumbs on the sofa. A couple of rainy days, though, and a bad case of cabin fever starts to form.

So, after we've exhausted our supply of picture books and puzzles, I proceeded to constructing a doll's house from an old shoe box, with furniture made out of match boxes and corks. We also made a tent from some chairs with a large blanket draped over them, and spent quite a while observing a spider spinning its web on the outside part of one of the windows. It will last, I suppose, until next time I clean the windows on the outside.

Soon enough, a fine day will come and we'll go out to observe how everything is turning from dry yellow to vibrant green, and how winter flowers are beginning to pop out of the earth. And now, some hot soup is waiting for us on the stove, and I hope that you, like us, are headed for a delicious lunch (or breakfast, or dinner, or tea).

Warmly,

Mrs. T

Monday, November 14, 2011

Large families, faith, freedom and pride

I really enjoyed this post by Melissa at Permission to Live. I do love her fresh, invigorating thoughts, despite many differences in background, upbringing and religious beliefs.

I have discussed birth control in the Orthodox Jewish community before, though I can't remember right now in which post exactly. In a nutshell, it is encouraged to have a large family, and children are seen as something more important than numerous possessions or unlimited freedom to pursue personal interests. When opting for rabbinical counsel regarding birth control, there are few instances when it is acceptable, and fewer still when it is recommended.

But there's balance, and this is very important. There really are some situations which are radical. There are special circumstances of physical and/or emotional health (though I admit, those are sometimes stretched to an unbelievable extent, such as "my emotional health does not permit me to have children unless each one has a room of his own").

I know of a woman who is deeply religious, devoted to her children, and who strongly desired to have a large family. Indeed, she does have a large family, though not as large as she could have had, had she not used birth control due to her extraordinarily difficult pregnancies, during which she is basically incapable of functioning normally, and thus has to rely heavily on help. So each times she struggles, seeks counsel, tries to walk in truth of what is best for everyone involved.

See, this is one of the many reasons I'm so grateful for being a Jew. Our laws are so numerous and complex, and things are rarely black and white. It's impossible to say that if you are using birth control, you are selfish, lazy, and lacking faith, and if you don't, you are a crazy religious fanatic who looks down upon everyone else. Life is many-faced and so fascinating and wondrous.

Because it's such a complicated issue, it's good for every couple to have a rabbi to whom they can turn, perhaps not on a regular basis, but in troubling circumstances such as when there are genuine problems with the mother's health or other special reasons. It's impossible to write a neat list of who should and who shouldn't have more children, and in which circumstances. That's why we talk to a rabbi. Not to have him think instead of us, but to guide us into looking with (hopefully) more precision at our personal wishes vs. what G-d wants.

Also, an important thing to keep in mind is that a large family isn't, or at least shouldn't be, a cultural statement. Children aren't trophies or achievments, they are ours not as our possessions, but in the sense of belonging to us as we belong to them, and as we all together, as a family, belong to one Maker who placed us all on this earth and blessed us by bonding us for life.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Backpack or suitcase?

Following thoughts from my recent post, the principle of simplifying often comes to whether you are walking through life with a backpack, or dragging a large suitcase along. 

The wheeled suitcase looks more fashionable, it is bigger and you can fit a lot more into it, which will allow you to travel with a higher degree of comfort. But with a backpack, you will stay light on your feet, you will probably be able to walk further and visit places you will hardly reach if you have a suitcase in tow. Even more importantly, it will leave both your hands free to reach out to those close to you. 

Now, if you decide to travel with a backpack, you will have to settle for the bare necessities, because not much more will fit in. You will have to decide what is truly important, and what isn't. The good news is, when you are having fun most likely you will forget about other things you could have had, anyway.

There might be bumps along the road, of course. Sometimes you will realize that your backpack is about to rip from all the things you are trying to cram into it, while in reality some true necessities are missing. Then you will have to sit down, re-evaluate and... re-pack. 

What truly matters is the uniqueness of each individual journey. Yours, mine, your family's, your children's. Each person is a fascinating world, the depth of which you can perhaps never quite reach. We are all so unique in purpose and destination that no one can tell you what you must pack in your backpack, or even what you can pack, although many people will have many things in common. 

And so, some of us will be sweating through our shirts or freezing in the high winds while climbing a steep mountain, while others will be enjoying a leisurely journey along a green river's bank. There is no telling which way is right, which is better, because our purpose always remains the same, and we don't know whether we have reached it until we have walked all the way till the end. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Throwing off excess weight: take it slow


I'm not talking about physical weight (this actually has never been a problem for me), but about things, commitments, relationships, projects, obligations that are clogging our life and dragging us down, preventing us from focusing on what is truly important. Some things are inevitably missed out on if you aren't walking at a slower pace, preferably like the caterpillar in the picture above.

I'm not sure whether this is normal, but I feel it's necessary for my sanity to have a clear, not-too-crowded routine, to know what to expect from my day, not to feel torn between various obligations that make my time rush past without allowing breathing space. I like it slow, clear, simple, straightforward, with a few goals that can be reasonably achieved without cramming.

I guess this makes me a misfit in the modern world, where being overwhelmingly busy is an inseparable part of a successful life. But then again, I suppose my definition of successful life is somewhat different.

Same goes about things. Clutter is constantly irritating to my brain. I like to have just as many things as I can reasonably and comfortably place in my closets and cabinets without cramming. I prefer the empty look to the overstuffed. And my refrigerator - no, it's not that I like it empty, but when I open it to place a pot inside, I like to have comfortable space without having to move everything on top of each other.

The bottom line is, I don't like the thought of there being anything that I'm supposed to have done, without actually the time/possibility to do it. If I can't let go mentally, it will continue sitting at the back of my mind, harrassing me.

So I prefer to simplify. There is abundant joy in knowing you don't have to do, have, go, see, say too much. It allows to focus on the truly important. For me, watching along with my children as a young tortoise pokes its head out and starts crawling between the bushes counts as truly important. Children are not adapted to the rush-along life, and neither are most of us, if we look deeply inside - not long-term anyway. As a mother of little ones, I'm happy to live my life slow.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Book review: The Pig in the Pantry and Other Homeschool Tales

Some time ago I got an email from Rose Godfrey, asking me whether I would like to read and review her new book, "The Pig in the Pantry and Other Homeschool Tales". I happily agreed, of course, and over this weekend I read Mrs. Godfrey's book from start to finish, to my great delight.

Recently I have read quite a bit of "serious" homeschool literature, which was wonderfully inspiring but sometimes made me wonder whether there are people who are actually living up to all these lofty goals. Mrs. Godfrey's book is a collection of short stories from a very real, funny, bubbling-with-life large family, with a mother who pretty much tried it all and lived to tell the tale. Reading it was encouraging, in the way of talking to a good friend who makes you laugh like there's no tomorrow, and who doesn't think you are crazy if you are hiding a can of soda in your toilet container.

Overall, if there's any conclusion I have reached about child-rearing so far, as a young mother paddling along with her super-energetic nearly-3-year-old and an attention-seeking baby, it's that there isn't really a definite conclusion. There's not "one right" way to raise children or families or keep homes.

You don't have to live on a farm in the middle of nowhere in order to give your children the perfect authentic experience of nature and animal life. You don't have to live in a big city full of museums and beautiful architecture so that you can provide as many cultural development opportunities as possible.

...o You don't necessarily have to homeschool your children, nor send them to a particular kind of school.

... or provide just the right number of extra-curricular activities, play dates, play groups, field trips, spare rooms, a particular routine or anything specifically that has worked great for someone else's family but might not be a workable solution for yours.

There are, though, some essential components - love, time - a lot of time, as much as you can make, for it is from the very mundane "being there" that precious moments spring up - and patience, and my, I do hope that
!it includes the kids being patient with me as much as it means me being patient with them

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Rain, rain, come again

I'm typing this as the rain is drumming away on the tin roof and against the windows, creating one of the cosiest sounds in the world. It's warm and dry inside, and though the electricity goes off once in a while, it doesn't bother me - it's simply a good reason to light some candles!

Now, if you had to group the entire human race into "sunny" people and "rainy" people, "summer" people and "winter" people, I'm definitely for summer and sun. Which is why it's very fortunate that I live in Israel! However, because winter is so brief here, and rain so scarce and precious, it makes for a very welcome change, and every rainy day is thoroughly relished.

I usually try to give the children as much outdoor time as possible, which I believe is most wholesome for them - not to mention that it's such a relief for a tired Mom to just sit back, relax, and watch her children's happy play in the sand box, without having to worry about them demolishing the house. Rainy days, however, call for more time indoors, and can you think of spending a day inside without a creative outlet? So give us paper, crayons, watercolors, glitter glue, beads - we love it all. Or how about some playdough, or experimenting with real dough (with tasty results to show afterwards, and a house smelling sweetly of baking)?

Steaming mugs of hot tea or cocoa. "Valse Triste" by Jean Sibelius on the CD player. Curling up on the couch under a warm soft blanket. Reading stories. Laundry drying inside on the folding rack (not my favorite bit, but it happens inevitably every winter). Some crafts, some cooking, some dawdling about. Time passes in a luxuriously slow way, and what I want more than anything to is grab it and make it go even slower.

In the house where we live now we have a wide front porch which is sheltered from the rain, so we can go out and inhale the clean, moist, fresh scent of it, and watch the drops falling all around us without actually getting wet - what a delightful treat for the children. There is no greater delight for me than to be one of them - their mother, the one responsible for all their basic needs, yes, but also their friend, another child who loves what they love and enjoys what they enjoy, and who lives a full, rich life looking through their eyes.

I know some of my friends far away have already had some snow - in some parts of the world it will last until May. Other friends, in the southern hemisphere, are welcoming spring. All seasons are beautiful, in a year as well as in life. May we enjoy them all and savor every moment that is all the more precious because we know it will never come again.

Warmly,

Mrs. T

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

For the Family's Sake

"For the Family's Sake"  by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay is a book I just got started on, but it's so good I couldn't wait to share some selected quotes with you. I have been wanting to read this book ever since I got "For the Children's Sake", by the same author, and it doesn't disappoint.

***


"It is easy to excuse ourselves from working at our everday lives with the words, "if only..."


"If only I were married."
"If only I were married to another person."
"If only we could leave this miserable home and have a nice place."
"If only my spouse had not died/left me."
"If only I had more money or a better job."
"If only I had more time/energy/ideas."
"If only I'd had a good childhood model."

I can tell you, so many of these "if onlys" sounded familiar that it sent a chill down my spine and served as a true wake-up call to do the best I can with what I have.

Here is another quote I loved:

"How could anyone dare to suggest or say that working at the huge task of making a home and carrying on through years and years of ups and downs is not one of the very few truly worthwhile ways to spend our energies and gifts in human life?"

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Feminism, unprofessional thoughts

"I have recently been debating feminism with a few women who claim that it has done great things for people, especially in protecting women from abuse. 

However, I am an anti-feminist, who does not see any good in the feminist movement. 

Do you have any insights? Perhaps you've read books by feminists or books on the feminist movement that would be helpful in exposing the real agenda and history behind the movement."

Thank you for your thought-provoking question!

Now, I'm not an expert on the origins of the feminist movement; I'm not a sociologist, I haven't read a whole lot of serious literature on the development of feminism. I'm just like you - gathering thoughts and insight simply from living in a world where feminism has already won its battle. 

So, what has the feminist movement done for us? How has it improved our lives? Has it, upon the whole, made women happier?

True, we now have more professional options open in front of us. We can choose to be anything we want to... or almost anything, except the obvious, natural, all common trait of women all over the globe: wives and mothers, which is more than a full-time job. Now that we can do "anything", being "just" a wife and mother somehow isn't a valid choice anymore.

The way I see it, the feminist movement wasn't started and promoted by the normal, busy, hard-working, sometimes frustrated but upon the whole pretty much satisfied family-centered women. Rather it was the movement of unmarried, childless, brilliantly educated, slightly rebellious and very well-off women who did not fit the mold and who felt frustrated because whenever they tried going somewhere in life that wasn't the traditional marriage-and-children route, their heads hit the infamous glass ceiling. 

Perhaps this sounds simplistic, but again, if you want to get a professional survey, you're asking the wrong person. It just seems to me that for a woman to have the possibility to lead a social movement such as feminism, she must have both freedom from family ties, and enough money so she can think about more than how to make ends meet. She must also be a bit of a snob, in order to be able to talk about "career", "fulfillment" and "self-growth", and gloss over the fact that most people, men included, work at simple jobs and are mostly concerned about putting bread on the table. My conclusion is that feminism is a movement of upper middle to high class women. 


So, in our days such women can be happier because if they aren't inclined to marry, well, they can do pretty much all they want, to general applause. The problem is, women in general are just as domestically inclined as they were 150 years ago, and in their heart of hearts what they truly want is to settle down with a husband and children in a nice home of their own. However, today's education practically robs them of the knowledge of how to do that, so many commit themselves to a demanding career without a second thought when they are young, and then feel lonely and miserable, and when they finally have a family of their own they are torn between the need to be with their children, and the pull to prove that they are "worthy", in the modern terms of feminine fulfillment. Which means having it "all", and that as a general rule means really having nothing because your resources are limited. 

I've heard so many women at work, or on the way to or from work, frantically trying to solve their children's problems over the phone, break up fights, tell how to re-heat a refrigerated meal... that's not "having it all". That's trying to sit on both chairs, and doing a very mediocre job of it. I'm sorry if I'm not being very coherent, but that is how I feel. There is blessed peace and true freedom in embracing the thought that it is alright, that it is even good and worthy to be "just" a wife and mother.

Bottom line, the way I see it, feminism has paved a road to career which is smooth for the few who do not have the urge to marry and settle down, and which feels rough and pebbled to the normal, mainstream woman who deep down yearns for a peaceful life with her husband and children, without juggling too many responsibilities in addition to those which naturally fall to her lot. The pebbles are those parts of womanly calling - pregnancy, nursing, caring for young children, domesticity - which make the career progress for family women slow and painful. So slow and painful that many stop to re-consider whether they truly want to continue going down that road.

Right now I'm not at leisure to even begin touching upon a vast number of other issues, such as the religious aspect of feminism and the different G-d-given roles of men and women, feminism and its correlation to the soaring divorce, promiscuity and abortion rate, feminism and the break-up of a family, feminism and fatherlessness, and many other matters which time simply does not allow me to cover right now. If any of you feels like adding your own thougts, it will be most welcome. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Your life in a day

You rise in the morning, full of expectations of the day ahead. Each day is a unique gift, a life in miniature, with its joys, sorrows, triumphs, disappointments, doubts, fears, laughter and tears.

Enjoy it to the fullest. You and I must have heard this so many times, in so many different ways, by so many different people, yet it doesn't cease to be true. If you have found time to hug your loved ones, laugh with them, put a smile on their faces; if you have made someone feel welcome, appreciated and loved; if you opened your heart to G-d's presence in your life, in the way of other people, nature, beautiful art or music; if you thought about what truly matters, then your day was not spent in vain.

There is so much work to do. There is, always. Don't fret about what you have not been able to accomplish today, because there will always be something. We, this life, this day's work - it's all meant to be something, not everything. There is only One who is Everything.

There are so many ways to spend a day. Perhaps you will be at home today, or driving out and about. Perhaps you are at work, on a trip, visiting family, or perhaps, like me, you spent the day in the kitchen among mountains of pots, pans and mixing bowls, with a huge clean-up in the end. Either way, the important thing is to stop, smile, and freely give our love to those who need it most - whether those are far-away dear ones, or people in your immediate vicinity.

I am so thankful for all those who touched my life, in countless ways, among them through this blog. I hope your day is beautiful. I hope that when you go to bed at night you can close your eyes and reflect upon it with satisfaction.

Warmly,

Anna

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Narnia - the adventurous and domestic

When I was a girl, I got as a gift a thick, very plain-looking book titled "Chronicles of Narnia". It didn't look very interesting, so I wasn't in any hurry to open it. Thankfully, I was (still am) a real bookworm who will eventually read any book that's lying around, so finally I cracked open the cover of this thick grey volume and... was lost. It was a strong lesson for me not to judge a book by its cover (literally).

I enjoyed Narnia as a girl, still enjoy it today as an adult (my husband loves it too), and look forward to passing the joy of this book to my daughters. As a child, I loved the adventures of course, but there is something else I adored while reading the book - the vivid descriptions of food and the amount of detail C.S. Lewis put into telling about each meal the heroes share.

You know what is one of my favorite scenes in Narnia? The one where the Pevensie children sit around the table with Mr. and Mrs. Beaver in their cozy home, and eat a good simple meal, reading about which I always find myself with my mouth watering. If you read the book and love it as I do, surely you know what I mean. For me, Mrs. Beaver is the image of such blissful domesticity I never cease to enjoy reading the lines talking about her.

"Well, I'm nearly ready now. I suppose the sewing machine's too heavy to bring?" — Mrs. Beaver (LWW, Ch. 10)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Holiday updates and lonely homemakers

Dear friends,

The holidays are over, and now we are going back to normal. Today is the first after-holiday day, and it's hard to believe how fast everything has gone by, how many wonderful memories were created, and how much what I see outside the window resembles autumn. Our sukkah, which hosted twenty people during one memorable evening in Sukkot, has already been folded to prevent it from flying away in the strong winds that have been blowing here these past days.

And oh, what a wonderful evening it was! There is really nothing more joyful than seeing the whole family gathered around the same table (two long tables, in our case), sharing stories and jokes. We put our cookfire to use and made roast chicken for the entire company - a very authentic cooking experience. In the evening, the little ones gathered around the fire, making roast marshmallows and burying potatoes in the hot ashes.

I have quite a few emails piled up, waiting to be answered, and I hope you will be understanding if you are one of those awaiting a reply. The holidays really left me hardly any computer time at all during the past two weeks.

Here is one question I received by email:

"Do you have any suggestions for dealing with the loneliness that can result from staying at home in a society where most women are away at work during the day? I find the isolation trying at times and am open to ideas for connecting with other young mothers who are staying home to care for their house and children."





It's true that sometimes it can get lonely, being the only stay-at-home wife and mother on your street, in your neighbourhood... or even the only stay-at-home wife you know. It's only natural to want to feel accepted, normal, part of a community. There isn't really a magical solution to the isolation stay-at-home wives often feel. 

If there is one piece of advice I can give, it is to be open to finding new friends in the most unexpected places, in most unexpected ways. If you have already been hurt by negative opinions, criticism, raised eyebrows, constant questioning and constant demands on you to "prove yourself" and "justify your existence" as a wife and mother at home, it can be hard to open your heart to someone you don't know.

But you know, not long ago, I made a conversation at the playground with a most wonderful, most delightful older woman - all I can say is that I wish I had an aunt or older friend like that while I was growing up. The subject of our conversation hovered awkwardly around "what do you do", when I said I'm staying home with my children "for now". Then I braced myself and said, "actually, I really love doing it and feel this is where I belong" - and then this other lady felt free to say she feels just the same! You see, the constant questioning made her shy of expressing her real thoughts - and if I hadn't been bold enough to say the truth of what I feel/think, we wouldn't have had the most inspiring conversation that followed. And there is hardly anything more supportive than talking to a fellow homemaker!

Of course, the internet opens many venues for us too - for meeting like-minded ladies in our area or even all over the world. Personally, I am so thankful for the opportunities blogging provides for me, for meeting new people. Some of them, I have been able to meet in real life, others not, but in many cases I was enriched by a flow of wonderful ideas and life stories people so generously shared. I only wish there was more time to expand on this.

And sometimes, we simply must make peace with the thought that we are going against the grain. That we are doing what we feel and believe is right and best for our families, rather than what everyone else is doing. So... perhaps I will always feel a bit out of place in most social circles, but I still believe it is worthwhile.