Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Cold days and baking bread

After a nice long period of sunshine and perfect spring-like weather, we're having some thunderstorms around here again. A lightning (can't think of any other explanations) messed up with our electricity so that we don't have lights in the living room at the moment - which made me happily pull out some candles. It was very cozy to sit like that in the soft light, and eat some apple fritters I whipped up on the spur of the moment as a cold-weather treat. 

Since it was a cold day, I find it nice to spend it in the warm kitchen, cooking and baking. I made meatballs, and also four loaves of rye bread. My first attempt with whole rye flour was less than satisfactory, I must confess: the dough didn't rise properly, and the final product was very dense. Also, when I washed my hands after kneading, the dough felt like clay - it was equally sticky and difficult to remove.

So, it was the lack of desire to knead rye dough again that prompted me to use the no-knead pita dough recipe this time. And lo and behold, not only did I save myself some messy work, but the dough rose much better! I haven't tasted any of the loaves yet (I froze them for Shabbat) but they sure look nicer than last time. So perhaps this little tip-off will be helpful if any of you were put off using whole rye flour in bread making. 

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Beautiful craftswomanship

Here is a pair of knitting masterpieces (and my photo is nowhere near doing them justice, I know) made by my friend Rose, for the two delighted little recipients who are currently wearing them with great pleasure. The jumpers are knitted of lovely soft wool and are a treat to touch as well as to look at. 

In the meanwhile we, although still lamenting the lack of time to learn to knit properly, haven't been idle either. I've had a crochet project going on for a while, and in the past few days I'm also recycling some yarn which was used in projects that were less than a smashing success. Shira expressed the desire to learn to crochet, so today we sat down for our first lesson... which wasn't a smashing success either, but it's a start. 

I remember, long before I knew how to hold the knitting/crochet needles, my Grandma used to ask me to make balls of yarn for her. We would sit cosily, she knitting, me making those satisfyingly soft balls of yarn. I was very little, and so proud to have something useful to do. 

It's a rainy day today, so we were forced to dispense with our usual walk, in favor of quiet pursuits here around the house... much to my liking. :o) I hope you all are having a wonderful day as well! 

Monday, January 28, 2013

Educational Agencies

So, what has been going on here during my few days of blog silence? A lot, actually; we celebrated Tu B'Shvat (although we did suffer the slight disappointment of almond trees, the symbol of the holiday in Israel, not being in bloom yet this year), began making plans of Purim (I'm hunting for ideas for non-sew homemade children's costumes, please do share if you have something in mind!), and even thinking about Pesach (love the holiday, but can't we somehow get to it without getting wiped out by frantic cleaning first?)


Having made this little preface, I continue sharing from Vocational Guidance for Girls, Chapter 5

"For years, and in fact until very recently, the whole tendency in education for girls has been toward a training which ignores sex and ultimate destiny."

Here is another quote which confirms that, despite good intentions of some women's educators, things really have not changed much (except for the worst). Girls are expected to slave away at their educations and careers, which for long years will take precedence over anything else in their lives - while completely ignoring that these are women, and these women will eventually get married and start families (their "ultimate destiny"), at which point many of them will be sorry for not being able to run a home properly, and/or not having the financial ability to stay home at least during their children's infancy. Mothers, husbands and children all lose something very important in the process.

"Yet we are confronted by the fact that the majority of girls do marry, and that many of this majority are woefully lacking in the knowledge and training they should have. Nor are these girls exclusively from the poor and ignorant classes."

"The girl who grows up in an ideal home will be likely to look forward to making such a home some day. Or, if the home is not in all respects ideal, the father or mother who nevertheless recognizes ideal homes as possible may show the girl directly or otherwise how to avoid the mischance of a less than perfect home."

I think few of us have grown up in homes, or as adults, made homes that were "in all respects ideal". Nevertheless, the striving to improve is, and should always be there. Once we shrug our shoulders and say "it is evil, but it cannot be changed" we lose even that ground which we were able to gain. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Do they really teach this at school?

I would like to share with you a popular song for children; since it's in Russian, I'll translate the lyrics for you - sorry for any inaccuracies.


They Teach You In School

To write different letters
With a thin pen in a notebook
They teach you in school, they teach you in school, they teach you in school
To subtract and multiply
To be good to little children
They teach you in school, they teach you in school, they teach you in school

To add two to four
To read words in syllables
They teach you in school, they teach you in school, they teach you in school
To like good books
And to be well-mannered
They teach you in school, they teach you in school, they teach you in school

To find East and South
To draw a square and a circle
They teach you in school, they teach you in school, they teach you in school
And never to confuse
Islands and cities
They teach you in school, they teach you in school, they teach you in school

About verbs and commas
And about rain outside
They teach you in school, they teach you in school, they teach you in school
To be good friends,
To cherish friendship from childhood
They teach you in school, they teach you in school, they teach you in school


This song is considered very sweet and innocent, and for many it is nostalgic, yet I see it as a disturbing example of an attitude that places the bringing up of children completely in the hands of government-guided schools - not only in reading and writing, but also in such things as morals, kindness, friendship. What about parents? Where is their role? 

The common factor to all the things that are listed in this song as supposedly "taught in school" is that they either can, and often are, easily taught at home (reading, writing, arithmetic, basic geography), or definitely should be taught at home (being nice to younger children, love for good books, good manners).

I definitely feel a strong taint of USSR in the lyrics above, and I daresay things are different in other parts of the world... but not drastically. The prevalent opinion isn't only that parents are unfit to teach their elementary-school-aged children, but also that the home is insufficiently stimulating/developmentally advantageous for the young toddler.

I remember when I had my second baby, people said, "but of course your first is going to go to daycare? You couldn't possibly keep two children at home with you?" Shira was only 20 months old. This really strikes me as ironic - on the one hand, it is common for religiously observant Jews to have large families, but on the other hand, keeping children at home beyond 2 years of age is virtually unheard of (the place where we live is a small and rare exception). 

Would love it if you added your thoughts to mine. 

Monday, January 21, 2013

Running The Domestic Machinery

From Vocational Guidance for Girls, Chapter 4: "Running the Domestic Machinery".

"In the days of famine and fear, the individual was fortunate who had food, shelter, and a skin to wrap about his shivering shoulders. In these days it is not enough to have merely these things. Certain standards of civilized life must be met, and we shall find that it requires judgment and skill to apportion our funds properly.
The common needs of civilized mankind are usually roughly classified as follows: food; shelter; clothing; operating expenses, including service, heat, light, water, repairs, refurnishing, and the general upkeep of the plant; advancement, including education, recreation, travel, charity, church, doctor, dentist, savings."

This chapter, which talks about finances, includes a lot of numbers which I have barely skimmed over, because obviously, prices have changes somewhat in the last century and anyhow I live in a very different part of the world. But the essence remains the same.

Now we come to an interesting quote: 

"The ideal homemaker of the future will be a woman who has had a personal income, and preferably one that she has earned herself and learned how to spend before she enters upon matrimony and motherhood."

Now, as it happens, the average homemaker of today is a woman who not only has earned a personal income before marriage, but who most often continues to earn money after she is married. And quite often, thsi average woman is very far from the ideal homemaker. Why is that? 

Education and income can be obtained in ways wholesome for young girls and women hoping to start families, but very often that is not the case. Career success and money are considered the highest goals, while home-management is put almost entirely aside as a menial job. Furthermore, a working wife/mother still often sees her earnings as a personal income, while it is not so after she marries. It is part of the family income, just like the husband's salary.

In the Charedi communities, girls are often married too young to have reasonably had time to earn any income of their own before marriage (apart from some babysitting, perhaps). Does this mean they are bad money managers, at least at the beginning? On the contrary, I believe most of them have very solid notions of budget and spending, because they grew up in families that budgeted and spent wisely. A girl of 18 might be a very good budgetary, and a career woman of 30 a very bad one, if the former comes from a sensible, hard-working family, while the latter has spent money frivolously for over a decade of earning her own. I'm not saying that is necessarily the case, but it might be. 

I am generalizing here, I know, as we are all different and our circumstances as well, but on a large scale both my husband and I believe it is better to marry young, when character is more pliable. Another aspect of this is the financial. A single person has no needs to consider other than his/her own, and so falls into habit of catering to his/her needs alone. In the partnership of marriage, these habits are replaced by healthier ones.   

And, you can imagine how much I loved this one:

"No housewife is properly fitted for her task unless she has some knowledge of dietetics."

"It is not too much to expect that the girl of the future will be able to set before her family meals scientifically planned or food wisely and economically purchased, well cooked, and attractively served."

Alas, too many families today subside on haphazardly thrown together meals of expensive, nutritionally deficient convenience foods. I believe the book author in all honesty imagined that the more officially educated women will be, the more of their knowledge will be directed into managing her home. Unfortunately, today, the more educated and accomplished a woman is, the more she is expected to excel in anything but managing her own home. 

"There need be no crusade against adulterated foods other than real education and the refusal of homemakers to buy from merchants who carry them in stock."

Do you recall the scandal revolving around trans fats in McDonald's meals? Well, I must say I can't relate to it at all. You can't dine in a fast food joint and expect healthy meals. You can't expect manufacturers of commercially prepared foods to have your health, rather than their profit, as their primary consideration. The only foolproof way to obtain truly healthy food is to buy good-quality basic ingredients and cook from scratch. 

There are many more wonderful quotes in this chapter, far too many to share them all here; I do encourage you to pour yourself a cup of tea and read Vocational Guidance for Girls: Chapter 4 from beginning to end. 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

We all live like kings

Last night, I was reading to the girls the story of how Rebecca married Isaac, and came across a curious detail I have never noticed before... according to certain Jewish sources, apparently, Rebecca was only 3 (!) at the time when Eliezer comes to look for a bride for Isaac. I pointed this out to my husband; could it be true? How is it that a 3-year-old girl is sent away from her home to go with a stranger and marry a stranger? Furthermore, how can a 3-year-old girl be as responsible and mature-acting as Rebecca obviously was in her encounter with Eliezer? 

I checked it up online, and according to most sources, her being "3 years old" isn't to be taken literally (there are various, rather complex explanations). Still, she was supposed to be very young, perhaps in her teens, whereas Isaac is closer to 40 (he was 37 at the point of Sarah's death, and did not marry until later). This led to other interesting musings on our part... why hadn't the eligible bachelor Isaac marry earlier? Obviously Isaac and Rebecca were both holy people and belonged together, despite their large age gap. And sometimes we can't follow divine plans with our logic; we use our minds to the best of our ability, yet often it is insufficient.

Then we began to talk of other things, namely, of how his parents and their parents lived in North Africa. They lived in a desert; there were no shops nearby, no school, no doctor; no electricity, no running water; you ate what you grew, and if you were well-off you could supplement your diet with whatever you could contrive to buy in your neighbourhood. The environment was hostile. Jews were a minority, often unable to defend themselves properly, and many girls were carried off by Muslims if they were unmarried. 

Since Muslim law prohibits taking a married woman from her husband, many Jewish girls were married very young, as young as 5 or 6 years old. I had a neighbour who told me her grandmother, in Morocco, married at the age of 9 - although there were no marital relations until the girl reached at least puberty. The little girls would be raised after marriage in their husband's house by their in-laws, who would become like parents to them. I can imagine it was heart-wrenching for mothers to part with their little daughters, but the alternative was worse. It was a harsh life, no doubt. Yet people were content with their lot, stuck together, and mostly didn't contemplate divorce, even if problems arose. 

With distances so great and transportation so slow, there wasn't much social mingling on a day-to-day basis. In the absence of dating websites, the matchmaking was conducted by parents. My father-in-law mentioned an interesting fact that in the place where they lived, few girls were born, while in the Jewish community of Djerba, Tunisia, there was a surplus of girls - and from there many procured a bride. Still, it was far, so every girl was precious, and often matches were made while babes were still in the womb. 

Daily life was a challenge. Without electricity, there were no refrigerators, and in the heat food would spoil very quickly. If meat was to be prepared, an animal had to be butchered, cleaned and cooked with utmost speed, to avoid spoilage. Nights were dark and cold. Often, husbands had to leave their families for months to provide for them. 

This just got me thinking, once again, how spoiled we all are. In the place where we live, many make their homes in caravans (trailers), which are tiny and cramped; the heat/cold isolation is lousy. Several families of 6 people live on 46 square meters. And yet they all have running water and electricity, they need only to drive 10 minutes to see a doctor or buy food or clothes, they have cellular phones and internet. When a woman is pregnant she doesn't have to prepare for a 50% chance of losing her baby. As for me, perhaps I don't have a driver's license so I don't drive out and about, but I know that in an emergency I can pick up the phone and in a few seconds I will be talking to my husband, who comes home every day. My refrigerator and pantry are stocked with a surplus of food that can keep for months, and I have air conditioning and heaters. 

Truly, if we reflect on how people lived in the not-so-distant past, and how some still live in parts of the world today, we have nothing left to do but count our blessings. Yet so often, we are dissatisfied. My mother-in-law, an excellent woman with a lot of down-to-earth sense, said to me not long ago, "it's all these riches that are spoiling people. Everyone has a washing machine." Are you smiling? Perhaps in our time, it sounds ridiculous to equate owning a washing machine with being rich, but it does give us some perspective.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Little joys

I would like to share with you two recent gifts that have found a place of honor in my home.
 Above: one of the two matching salad bowls given to me by my husband. I love the apple pattern around the edge. Overall, even taking into consideration my love for hand-thrown pottery, sturdy glass is always a winner here. It displays the natural beauty of food in an attractive way, it's easy to clean, and in a setting even of mismatched glass pieces, everything kind of flows together. 
And this armchair, a really great find by someone from the family; it ended up finding a home with us because we happen to have an extra bit of space in the living room. It is temporarily placed next to our old armchair, but I plan to move it to a different corner. Its frame is lovely solid wood, and it reclines in a way just perfect for relaxing.

Sometime (perhaps when I'm a Granny) I might sit down and compile a little book titled "How to Get Good Furniture for Next to Nothing". Can you visualize this? Chapter 1: The Landfill. It seems to me this has the potential of a bestseller, doesn't it? :o)

Basically, whatever it is that you need, you can be pretty sure that it either lies abandoned somewhere and just needs a little dusting off, or someone somewhere is looking to give it away or to sell it for a fraction of its store price. It might take a little search and effort, but very often it's just a matter of looking about. Why bother, you are asking? Well, the money-saving element is obvious, but there are other advantages to not following the want, grab, pay routine. 

* You get satisfaction in giving new life to items that were discarded as "useless". And sometimes, surprisingly, the "old junk" is actually something of much better quality than what you can buy for a reasonable price today. I've seen old furniture that looks like it will endure for eternity, but today, I get the feeling manufacturers say, "let's make junk so it breaks down sooner and people will be forced to buy more from us!"

* Thus, if you use the old instead of buying new (when you can) you are withdrawing your financial support from a wasteful industry. 

* Since your "new" acquisition cost you nothing or next to nothing, you can get creative with it. Basic carpentry skills can often be applied to making shelves from discarded bits of wood, and you can experiment with paint, varnish, gluing a mosaic of glass or pottery onto an old coffee table (I've seen this done very artfully) or whatever your heart desires. Lovely slipcovers and seats can be sewn, knitted or crocheted for sofas and chairs. 

* You get the additional benefit of not having to fret as much if your children spill something on the sofa or vomit all over their bed. And as we all know, it will happen. I've been to many homes (with resident children) where people have bought their furniture new, and after a surprisingly short time it doesn't look any better than our "oldies". I remember Susan Schaeffer Macaulay in her book, "For the Family's Sake", told about an old table she had. "It was my luxury," she writes. Was it such a fancy expensive table? Oh no; it was an old giveaway, and its surface was all ruined, so the children could comfortably draw, paint, and get creative with playdough on that table. And when it's covered with a lovely tablecloth, it looks good as new. 

Of course, if money isn't a consideration at all, it's nice to just walk into a store and get yourself whatever new gorgeous set of table and chairs your heart desires. But many people who have very little, waste too much of the little they have on things they could have gotten for free or nearly for free, and that is a pity. 

OK, I'm on a roll here. If I don't stop now I'll press right on to Chapter 2: Give-away Websites, so I'd better wish you good night right now, and leave you with hopes to talking to you again soon. 

Monday, January 14, 2013

Establishing a Home

I continue to enjoy Vocational Guidance For Girls. Chapter 3, "Establishing a Home", is perhaps less relevant for the modern homemaker - many of the things it discusses are today a given in any house, city or country, and keeping a domestic servant is far less popular. "Once upon a time practically the only labor-saving device possible to the housekeeping woman was another woman." I am thankful that today it is not so; our modern homes are generally smaller, more efficient, and easier to run. I don't need someone else to heat my water or stoke the fire; I have a washing machine and a vacuum cleaner, and many of us also have dishwashers and driers, which save a great deal of time (although there's still enough work to be getting on with!)

Here are some other quotes I loved:

"No more inspiring moment comes in the lives of most men and women than that in which the first step is taken toward making their first home."

"In general, the good house is plain, substantial, convenient, and suited to its surroundings. Efficient housekeeping is largely conditioned by such very practical details as closets and pantries, the relative positions of sink and stove, the height of work tables and shelves, the distance from range to dining table, the ease or difficulty of cleaning woodwork, laundry facilities, and the like."

"We must therefore teach our boys and girls that houses are for shelter, work, comfort, and rest, and to satisfy our sense of beauty, not to serve as show places nor to establish for us a standing in the community proportionate to the size of our buildings. We must teach them to measure their house needs and to avoid the uselessly ornate as well as the hopelessly ugly. But most of all must the homemaker be taught that the comfort and well-being of the family come first in the making of plans."

"[The homemakers] must learn that expense is not necessarily a synonym for beauty; they must know the characteristics of fabrics and other decorative materials; and they must be trained to recognize the qualities for which expenditure of money and effort are worth while."

"The trained housewife will have an eye toward future dusting and will choose the less ornate articles. The same person, in her capacity as the mother of citizens, will see that chairs are comfortable to sit in, that tables and desks are the right height for work, that book cases and cabinets are sufficient in number and size to take care of the family treasures. She will use pictures sparingly and choose them to inspire. Perhaps, most of all, the woman with the trained mind will know how to avoid a superfluity of furniture in her rooms. She will be educated to the beauty of well-planned spaces and will not feel obliged to fill every nook and corner with chairs or tables or sofas or other pieces of furniture which merely "fill the space."

Sunday, January 13, 2013

A new week begins

After a very cold and stormy last week, this one dawned bright and sunshiny, with a clear sky and a warm breeze reminiscent of spring. I took advantage of the extra clotheslines my husband very thoughtfully fixed up for me, to hang out three loads of laundry one after another. It was a busy morning, as the aftermath of a weekend usually is. 

The view of the muddy river from our balcony, last week. I can tell you, I did not envy the goatherds down in the valley. The water is nearly all gone now, though. 

A couple of very cute goats we saw on our last visit to Ha-Kfar Ha-Yarok. Isn't that long hair adorable?! I'd love a goat like that for myself. I risk getting dangerously addicted, I know. :o)

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Ideal Home

My review of the first chapter of Vocational Guidance for Girls generated quite a few critical responses, to which I would like to say that I don't necessarily agree with 100% of every book I read... in fact, I would probably read very little if I only chose books with which I could find no point of dissent. 

So, I'm continuing on to chapter 2 of Vocational Guidance, called "The Ideal Home". 

"A historical survey of the home leads us to the conclusion that although times have changed, and homes have changed, and indeed all outward conditions have changed, the spiritual ideal of home is no different from what it has always been. The home is the seat of family life. Its one object is the making of healthy, wise, happy, satisfied, useful, and efficient people. The home is essentially a spiritual factory, whether or not it is to remain to any degree whatever a material one."

"First of all, the home must be comfortable, and its whole atmosphere must be that of peace. This implies order and cleanliness, beauty, warmth, light, and air; but it implies far more. It means a home planned for the people who will occupy it, and so planned that father's needs, and mother's, and the children's, will all be met. What does each member of the family require of the house? A place to live in. And that means far more than eating and sleeping and having a place for one's clothes. There must be not only a place for everything, but a place for everybody in the ideal house. There will be no room too good for use, and no furnishings so delicate that mother worries over family contact with them. There will be a minimum of "keeping up appearances" and a maximum of comfort and cheer. There will be little formal entertaining, but many spontaneous good times."

"The ideal mother, who is the mainspring of the smoothly running mechanism of the ideal home, will be scientifically trained for her position. Always she will keep before her the object of her work—to make of her family, including herself, good, happy, efficient people. She will not be overburdened with housework, for overworked mothers have neither time nor strength for the higher aspects of their work. She will know how to feed bodies, but also how to develop souls. She will clothe her children hygienically, but she will teach them to value more the more important vestments of modesty and gentleness and courtesy. She will require obedience, but, as their years increase, the requirement will be less and less obedience to authority and more and more obedience to a right spirit within."

I just have to say that, despite the fact that this book was written many years ago, I find these passages both inspiring and as relevant as they ever were. But of course, here we are talking of an ideal home, and we know that realistically, none of us can attain that. We can, however, have good enough homes - homes that meets our needs, and those of our family, within the limits of our time, budget, energy, health and situation.

"If all girls grew up in ideal homes, it seems probable that homemaking would appeal to them quite naturally as the ultimate vocation. Indeed, we know that many girls feel this natural drawing, in spite of most unlovely conditions in their childhood homes. Some girls are not fitted by nature to be homemakers. Some may with careful training overcome inherent defects which stand in the way of their success. Some have the natural endowment, but have their eyes fixed on other careers. Some have unhappy ideals to overcome. The fact, however, confronts us that at some time in their lives a very large majority of these girls will be homemakers."

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Unexpectedly disconnected

Dear friends,

We quite unexpectedly lost our internet connection for over a week, and literally the first thing I'm doing now that I'm back online is pop in here and let you all know we are OK (there were some anxious inquiries). There's quite a bit going on here, so that I hardly know where to begin!

I know most of the world is just resurfacing from holidays, and I hope you all had an enjoyable time with your dear ones. Around here, we've had quite a bit of rain... well, actually that's an understatement. It's been stormy starting from the weekend, so that I've been watching from my window for a small break in the rain to go and feed the animals, and eventually had to go dancing between the drops. Today was the first time in 4 days that I've been able to venture out and throw away the accumulated garbage. On my way back I came running inside, chased by drops of rain.  

All around Israel, we've been having floods, and major highways were blocked. A river is now flowing in the valley beneath our house, a wide muddy current. The rains have been so strong that there was a downfall of rocks on the only road that connects us to the outside world, and people haven't been able to leave for work until it was cleared. I just spoke to a friend in Jerusalem, who told me it's snowing there - as it is in many other mountain areas throughout the country. As for us, we've had hail that threatened to break the windowpanes. 

So, we finally have some real winter around here... and the main question is, of course, how do you entertain kids when day after day, you are forced to remain inside without a possibility to get out of the house even for a short while? I pulled out all my resources in the shape of games and crafts, and my husband brought me a wonderful old book from his parents' house, full of little scientific experiments one can do at home with one's own children, with the aid of materials that can be found practically in every home. Here's one cute experiment with static electricity we did yesterday.

If you want to try it out, you'll need:
1 plastic spoon
1 piece of woolen cloth
some coarsely ground salt
some finely ground black pepper

Mix salt and pepper and spread out on a table. Then ask your children how they think it might be possible to separate the salt and pepper. 
Rub plastic spoon with wool, and hold it close to the salt and pepper mixture. The grains of pepper, which are lighter, will fly up and attach to the spoon, while the heavier coarse salt will stay down. It's really very simple, but cool to watch, and a nice way to explain about static electricity.

A little ray of sunshine that peeked through the clouds gave us the gift of a beautiful rainbow. 

I hope you are all snug, cozy and warm in your homes, with big steaming mugs of tea, good books, knitting and sewing projects, board games, candlelight and soft music playing, and everything to help brighten up a cold and grey day. It is also my sincere hope that the internet connection (indeed, electricity, as we've had some problems with that as well) will continue holding up, so that I can talk to you again soon.