Thursday, March 31, 2011

Time, a precious resource

Now that I have a (more) regular internet connection, I realize that being mostly offline for the past couple of months might have limited me in many things, but it sure saved me quite a bit of time.

Time is our most precious resource at home, and there are so many things that are potential time-guzzlers: TV, the internet, untimely long phone calls and visits. That is why we must be constantly on guard, in particular during hectic seasons such as Pesach cleaning, during which it always seems there aren’t enough hours in a day anyway (to me, it seems so even in seasons without Pesach so close ahead :o).

Personally I don’t have a TV at home, but with the internet I must be very careful. That is why I’m writing this post, purposefully, in a Word document, without opening a web browser. I know I’m prone to go online “only for a minute” to check my emails, and then it’s “only for a minute” to check my blog, or to look up a recipe, and then I end up browsing recipes for hours, or watching a documentary about medieval history – which is of course fascinating, but not strictly related to what I ought to be doing at the moment.

I wrote about this before, how in my opinion all the wonderful (and I mean it – wonderful) modern conveniences – washing machines, cellular phones, the internet – created the expectation that we are supposed to be a) always available, b) accomplish more, more and more.

I can hardly doubt people in the past worked much more strenuously than we do today, but I still think the stress levels were lower. For example, if a woman had to grow her own wheat, grind her own flour and bake her own bread all the time, it could be hardly expected of her to throw a three-course meal every day. I think that in such conditions, a humble slice of bread with some cheese would be considered a good dinner on most occasions. Does it mean I would want to be dependent on growing my own wheat, grinding my own flour, etc? Probably not. Just a point to think about how our time tends to get filled up.

Or when people went by on horseback or donkeys, no one could be expected to dash about here and there, to several places every day, which happens all the time today, and which is extremely stressful. And when letters went slowly, people weren’t caught up in a flurry of emails which they were expected to reply to within a day or two, nor in commenting on the Facebook accounts of people they hardly know.

So, practically, what do I plan to do now that I have internet connection again? To use it sparingly, purposefully, and chiefly for things that benefit our family. To keep it a tool, not a time-spender.  

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The last of winter

In the picture above, you see the remnants of one of the last, and particularly violent rain storms we've had this winter. Now spring is in full swing, and we enjoy new wonders every day: the unfolding grape leaves, roses that are about to bloom, and bees that are buzzing in the grapefruit blossoms, pollinating and ensuring that the next season will be fruitful.

Thanks to all who have inquired after us, following the recent horrible events in Israel. I'm happy to be able to tell you all that we are doing well, although of course, shaken by the atrocities that are taking place in our home land. I will try to respond to emails as time allows.

Monday, March 28, 2011


These flowers bloomed too early and were lost in one of the rain storms we recently had, but thankfully, I was able to capture them in a photo.

Aren't they beautiful?

Hope you're all having a great spring!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Pesach cleaning – the race begins

Another year has passed and Pesach cleaning is once more around the corner. Spring is here (unless you live in the southern hemisphere, in which case it is of course autumn where you are), and I feel an irresistible urge to throw open all windows and doors, let in fresh clean air, and have everything neat, clean, tidy and in order.

After Purim (and in some cases even before it) the Jewish homemakers begin to gear up towards a frantic race of Pesach cleaning, and while there is undoubtedly many things that absolutely must be done to render a home chametz-free, I feel that many are overworking themselves by taking up jobs that aren’t strictly connected with the purpose of Pesach, and later collapse in exhaustion by the time the holiday begins.

For example, while it is undisputable that bathroom cabinets should be clean and orderly, there is little chance to have chametz there, and so the bathroom doesn’t have to be included in the obligatory pre-Pesach works. Same goes for dust on the closet-tops – dust is irritating and should be removed, but it is not chametz and therefore not at the top of the priority list. And if one is really pressed for time, cleaning the windows on the outside can also wait until after the work load has dropped a bit.

I understand the desire to get everything neat and clean once you start putting the house in order, and to get all over and done with in one stroke; however, for some of us there is a need to prioritize, do what is necessary now, and take care of the rest later. Most of the chametz is naturally in the kitchen and this year, like every year, most of my pre-Pesach work will be concentrated there. It will include scouring out the counters, the refrigerator, the oven, the gas stove, and behind and under all the appliances.

Next on the priority list will be washing and cleaning out the things where chametz might have reasonably reached, such as everything within reach of little hands with bread and cookie crumbs – the children’s toys, the sofa and bed covers, the chair seats and the curtains. There might be more but you get the gist. Needless to say, immediately before the holiday the house will get a good bit of general cleaning, all floors will be washed, the bedding changed and all clothes that might have come in contact with chametz taken off and laundered.

As for the rest – bathroom cabinets and weeds in the garden, bookcase tops, window frames and shutters – I’m not giving them up, and I will deal with them as time allows. I am merely saying that some of those might not be in perfect condition before the holiday, while I’m concentrating on getting rid of all the chametz.

I’m wishing a happy, successful and – as much as possible – stress-free cleaning to all.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Happy Purim

Dear friends,

I am briefly online, a rare occasion which enables me to wish you all a very happy Purim.

Thanks to all the kind friends who have been so patient with my slow replies to their emails, due to our being offline most of the time. I am not forgetting you and hope to blog more regularly in the near future.

Your friend,

Mrs. T

Thursday, March 17, 2011

It should be enough

Most women have more than enough to occupy them at home, and I’m not talking only about mothers of young children – indeed, Moms of little ones are often forced to stick to the bare essentials to just keep the home running, apart from their many childcare duties.

Granted, there comes a time of life when a woman has more time at her disposal, generally when the children have already grown up and left, and she has learned to do her housekeeping duties so effectively that she often has quite a bit of time on her hands. However, it is also a stage of life when the woman, although still far from old, usually benefits from the slower pace.

Perhaps some young wives with no children yet also have more time to spare, however, I think it strongly depends on how prepared they are to running a home when they are married. Personally I feel as though I have more time now than when I had when there were no children at all, because thankfully I’ve come a long way (although there is still a lot to learn).

However it always leaves me troubled when I hear the proclaimed success of women who combine family life and career, especially when we talk about mothers of large families. I am highly skeptical about the use of the word “successful” in these instances, because it is very difficult to measure outwardly just what was the price a family had to pay for the career goals of a wife and mother.

When this question is raised, for example in interviews, and the woman is asked how she “did it all”, we often hear vague answers such as “I had a supportive family”, but what does it mean, exactly? Or we hear tongue-in-cheek answers such as “I don’t bake cakes, that’s how I have time”. Is that all indeed? Why is it that few are willing to talk about the amount of stress entailed with balancing a home and a career? Or about how soon they had to leave their babies after they were born? Did they have to give up nursing and the many physical and emotional benefits that come with it? People triumphantly proclaim that someone is a world-famous scientist and also the mother of ten children. Yes, these are the dry facts combined in one person. But what is the real cost? Yes, she had ten children, but how much time did she actually spend with them when they were in need of her?

We also shouldn’t forget that we can’t all have the same degree of brilliance and energy. We couldn’t all have astonishing professional success even if we set our mind to it. As things are at present, the logic appears thus: doing something outside the home is worthier than pursuing things at and for the home and family. And the worth of a wife and mother is increasingly measured by her income.

There is always much and more to do at home, and if someone claims it doesn’t take a lot of time, they either aren’t aware of what it really takes, or bend the truth while it would be more honest to admit they choose to neglect some aspects of housekeeping in favor of other pursuits, which they are within their right to do, because certainly, we all have different priorities. For my husband, cleanliness and order are very important, while many men won’t mind if their wives use their time in other ways.

Taking care of children, however, is beyond a doubt full-time work. Children aren’t windows that can be left dirty until it is impossible to see through them, or dust balls that can accumulate under the sofa for years. Children will be taken care of, the question only remains, by whom – by their mother (which is the normal, natural and desirable state of affairs) or by a stranger who might be “professional” but who does it for money and not out of love and so will more often than not be inferior to a mother. Taking care of children and of a home is a career. It is time-consuming, challenging, worthy and satisfying. It should be enough and plenty in the eyes of anyone who wonders about the occupation of a woman.

A woman who works outside the home may contribute to the family budget if her income is significant compared to that of her husband, however, there are more than enough families where the supposed influence of that additional income is exaggerated, because it is mostly spent on work-related costs such as daycare and a second vehicle, and on “we can afford it because we work so hard” luxuries such as expensive trips abroad. There are many, many families who would have been much better off long term financially, among other considerations, with a mother at home and a single income which is prudently managed.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Living with or near parents, for married couples

Recently, I’ve heard and read several discussions about married couples living with or near their parents, and although I think I’ve already written about this subject once, right now I have no possibility to re-read it, so I beg your pardon if I’m repeating what I already said.

There is, of course, a plus in living near one’s parents, especially if they are elderly and frail and need their children’s help. There’s love, friendship and lifelong closeness. Also, the grandchildren, of course, benefit from having their grandparents near and really involved in their lives, not merely visiting a couple of times a year.

However there’s the danger of the parents/in-laws becoming excessively involved in their married children’s private life; sometimes with the best intentions, parents pry into their children’s marriages, the way they run their home and finances, the way they raise their children. It can become a real source of conflict, and far more difficult to bear when opinions clash on a daily basis.

I’m not saying the parents’ experience is not worth listening to, but I do believe that young couples/parents, especially in the first few years of marriage/parenthood, need the necessary space to develop as a new, unique family and a set of parents.

There is also another side of the coin, of adult married children living near their parents and continuing to rely too much on their parents’ help, always asking their mother to prepare dinner for them to take away to their homes, counting on her to become a free babysitter 24\7. And I really do think that in the grandparents’ stage of life, they should be allowed more to enjoy their grandchildren, in a way of less commitment and work, and more carefree time spent together at their leisure. I also believe the parents of adult children should have more time for their own pursuits – the mother of a thirty-year-old married son isn’t supposed to cook meals for him to pick up every evening.

As in many cases in life, “it all depends”. Some people are just so wonderfully tactful they can live together or very near, and avoid frictions. Most of us aren’t angels. I’m of the opinion that in most cases, a bit more space won’t go amiss.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

No-cost home improvement

I’ve been thinking, once more, how we all have almost limitless opportunities for useful employment at home, and for home improvement. I almost ceased writing on the subject lately because I felt it was so obvious, but as it is, there are still people who seem bent on thinking that unless you get a paycheck, you “just sit at home”.

The words “home improvement” usually bring to mind renovations or buying new furniture, and that is all undoubtedly very nice – however, we can all improve our homes without any strain on our budget. We can all clean more vigorously and put more thought and effort into our homes being neater and better arranged – I daresay no one is perfect in this regard. Nothing is so welcoming as cleanliness and lack of clutter, nor speaks so obviously of the homemaker’s pride in her home, however humble.

I’ve been in homes where furniture was sparse and the walls bare, but everything sparkling clean; and I’ve been in homes with fancy interior, but with an inch-thick layer of dust on all the expensive furniture. I found the first kind of home more welcoming, thanks to the obvious presence of a caring and devoted homemaker.

Of course, we can’t all keep perfectly clean homes, as we all have our own limitations, especially those of us who have little ones, and cookie crumbs and sticky fingers seem to get just about everywhere. But when you put an effort, it shows, and even if you can’t always keep up it is obvious that the home isn’t neglected, and you have the satisfaction of a job well done.

We’ve had a good deal of sandstorms and dusty rains here lately, and each time a layer of dust was left on the windows, and each time I cleaned (I still have to clean up after the last one). It seemed, perhaps, like futile work, but not so – cleaning was far easier since I didn’t let the dirt sink in.

To my delight, I’m discovering how a two-year-old can be pleasantly occupied by being given a dusting rag, or shown how to pull weeds, without any of it seeming like work at all. It’s so very nice to be able to convey the feeling of real usefulness to such a small child.

There are so many talents that can be pursued while making a home a more welcoming and interesting place to be. To name only a few, trying out new recipes, growing plants (whether in your garden, if you have one, or in pots), making things out of your own handiwork for decoration or for gifts. This, too, is very interesting and useful for little children to observe.

I know we all have periods of low energy and no motivation, and for such times, it’s good to keep a list of inspiring reading – books, websites, and blogs. Right now I have no internet at home, so I’m almost completely cut off from all the wonderful homemaking blogs out there, but I have the wonderful book “The Hidden Art of Homemaking”, by Edith Schaeffer, and some great quotes I printed out to keep. I highly recommend having your own notebook with inspiring quotes, which will lift you up when you don’t feel like there is a lot you can do.