Sunday, May 26, 2013

Saying goodbye

When I wrote this post about my grandmother, I knew goodbye must be somewhere close, perhaps right around the corner... but I did not know how soon it would come. Last Wednesday my grandmother, Magdalina (Miryam), passed away. 

In my head I know there should be no regrets, for she had lived a very long and full life, and has gone to be with her parents and siblings, her husband and children and grandson who had already left this world, but somehow I can't wrap my mind around the fact that she is gone, because she had always been such a constant and steady presence in our lives. 

Once, many years ago, I asked her how long she wants to live (I was a child, obviously, otherwise I wouldn't ask such an awkward question). She told me she wants to stay alive just as long as she can still take care of herself, walk, talk, and lead a normal life. In the past year, her life had been anything but that, as she was losing her functions step by step, sinking into a helpless existence. I know that she had suffered a lot, and that I should probably rejoice in the fact that she is suffering no longer, but I just feel numb.

On the night of her passing, she came to me in a dream. She was like I remembered her from her good days, and we sat talking for a long time. I cannot remember what she said, but it was something important, and after we were done talking, I knew that all that mattered had been said and done and forgiven, and that she is at peace. When I woke, I already knew she was gone. 

And although I know she is gone, I can't help but wish she might visit me again. 

Monday, May 20, 2013

The best I can of what I have

Every day, my time is occupied by taking care of two small children, a house, and a bunch of animals. I live in a remote, way-out-there spot, and I have no car (no driver's license, actually, although I do plan to get one). This means that the majority of my time is spent in the home and its surroundings. Oh, we do go on outings, of course; day trips, shopping trips, family reunions and celebrations, but sometimes I wish I had a car I could just take on a whim and drive somewhere... even to the grocery store when the vegetables have run out and my husband won't be home until late.

Then again, I try to look on the positive side. Not having a car at my disposal has its benefits, too - it saves money, it limits pursuits which could have been frivolous, and it propels me to explore all that I can do, learn and plan, right here at home.

Sometimes, my imagination takes me to times past, when the wives of mountain shepherds, fishermen, pioneers in the wilderness on lonely farms, spent all day and every day (perhaps except a few days a year at an annual fair) in their homes or the surroundings of them, grinding flour, drawing water from a well, tending livestock, washing clothes in a stream, and seeing little to no people outside their family. Compared to them, we live in a world of almost endless stimulation (and I wouldn't say it's always to the good). 

Electricity extends our day well beyond the natural sunlight hours. We need but to click a button to hear the voice of someone far away, or to research any information you can think of on the internet. Books and films allow us to glimse a thousand different lives. If you turn on a TV, its flickering never stops, the pictures and scenes run in a never-ending succession. 

And so, although I still want to have a car someday, I keenly realize the need of limiting ourselves in activities, pursuits, purchases, relationships... much of what the world has to offer is interesting, but far from all of it is worthwhile, if you consider that we are beings of finite time and resources. 

I go on, attempting to make the best I can of what I have. 

Sunday, May 19, 2013

What does it mean to be a genuine Jew?

I've just finished reading this. It's a short autobiography by a very intelligent, highly sensitive man, and while I cannot say I agree with every idea of his (nor do I seek to read only that which I completely agree with, it would be too boring!), I consider the time put into reading his thoughts very well-spent indeed. Thanks to Avigayil for the link. 

Here are some bits I particularly enjoyed:

""With few exceptions, I pray with people I can’t speak with and I speak with people I can’t pray with. Still, I love them all. They are Jews, so they are my family."

"The Talmud afforded the Jews wings, enabling them to fly to other worlds, to return to the past that no longer existed and to look toward worlds that were still to come. It became the Jews’ portable homeland, and their complete immersion in its texts made them indestructible even as they were tortured and killed."

"The Torah was the first audacious text to appear in world history. Its purpose was to protest. It set in motion a rebel movement of cosmic proportions the likes of which we have never known. The text includes all the radical heresies of the past, present and future. It calls idol-worship an abomination, immorality abhorrent, and the worship of man a catastrophe. It protests against complacency, self-satisfaction, imitation, and negation of the spirit. It calls for radical thinking and drastic action, without compromise, even when it means standing alone, being condemned and ridiculed."

"When we tell our children to eat kosher, we need to inform them that this is an act of disobedience against consumerism that encourages human beings to eat anything as long as it tastes good. When we go to synagogue, it is a protest against man’s arrogance in thinking that he can do it all himself. When couples observe the laws of family purity, it is a rebellion against the obsession with sex. The celebration of Shabbat must be presented as an enormous challenge to our contemporary world that believes our happiness depends on how much we produce."

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Leave the kids alone?

I've just read this interesting article (thanks for linking to it, Rhonda!) and was left with a lot of material for thought.

"Children need wild, unlimited hours, but this time is in short supply for many, who are diarised into wall-to-wall activities, scheduled from the moment they wake until the minute they sleep, every hour accounted for by parents whose actions are prompted by the fear their child may fall behind in the rat race that begins in the nursery."

While we do not live in a primitive society, and I do believe in orderly routines that include, for instance, regular meal times and bedtime, I also think children need a lot of unstructured time to play, develop their imaginations, and just be. This isn't neglect - this is a real need for children (adults, too) which is being pushed aside in a world where everything is compartmentalized and ten different activities are vying for every open slot of a spare hour.

Our government is using taxpayer money to pay for longer and longer school hours, extended afternoon daycare programs, compulsory education from the age of three - and for what? For the good of the children, supposedly. But is it really in the children's best interest to be shut between four walls for most of the day and shuttled between home, school and afternoon engagements? 

The reality is that, as it becomes more common for both parents to work long hours, a lot of things are lost, some of them important, some of them among what makes life worth living. There is no real place for the child in such a life; and so people campaign for long school hours and many after-school activities, while the only purpose of it all, truly, is to create a place where the child can be until he is picked up, driven home, fed supper and put to bed. 

Please let it be known that I'm not criticizing anyone personally. I have friends who work long hours because that is what has to be done for their family at this time, and they are most certainly well-meaning people who love their children. But I often hear the argument that children are "deprived" when they aren't given enough organized activities, and/or don't go to school, because supposedly they won't "fit in". I say that children who have no free time to dream and roam, and little to no contact with nature, are truly deprived. 

We all live in our unique circumstances. We all strive to make the best we can of what we have. I have a firm belief that when you have a goal in your mind, and particularly when you pray for it, little by little, almost unconsciously, you are changing the circumstances of your life. If your goal is to live simply and spend more time together as a family, but you don't know how to bring this about at the moment, don't be frustrated. Wait and pray, and eventually, almost always a chance will present itself.

PS: A very happy Shavuot to all my Jewish readers! 

Monday, May 13, 2013

Downsizing

If you feel I've been posting a little too often about our animals lately, you are welcome to skip this. :o)


Last week, we had enormous problems with our goats. They escaped several times and ruined our neighbours' gardens, our landlord complained of the damage they did to the trees on the property, and I was running a fever and instead of resting had to run all over the place chasing goats... we sat down and thought about it, and realized that practically our only option to control them would be extensive (and expensive), very strong fencing, which we didn't feel we could afford, given that the place where we live is rented, and so any investment would be lost once we leave. 

So, after a lot of wrestling, we traded our goats for two pygmy does, some cash, and some Brahma eggs for our incubator. It was a hard decision, but we know they went to a good home and hopefully, now we'll have less upkeep, less feed costs, and less damage if our little goats do escape. Perhaps once, if/when we own our own place and it is possible, we can keep larger goats once more.

On the up side, they are really cute. Here's a picture of one of them... the other looks just the same. I believe they are twin sisters. They are one year old, and about as tall as my knee. 

We haven't decided on names yet. What do you think? 

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Fluff

Quote from a poultry forum: "When your eggs are in the hatching stage, you need two things - a thick rope and a good friend. Ask the friend to tie you up and only release you when the hatching process is complete, so you won't do any damage by meddling!"

Well, it really is difficult to keep one's hands to oneself... but I did my best by reminding myself that chicks who are struggling to come out of their eggs need high humidity levels, and every time I open the lid I let moisture out. Fortunately, when my husband came from work he quickly fixed a transparent lid to the incubator, so we could watch the process for as long as we liked. 

Four chicks hatched last night, another today just a couple of hours ago, and two more eggs are making progress. So far, so good.

PS: If you have a few minutes, you might enjoy this great article about simple living

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Changes always come

I'm reading this beautiful post and crying. 

"I thought there’d always be sand and Tonkas and footed pajamas, and always a place at the table and their shoes at the back door. I thought there’d always be stacks of picture books and read alouds and legos everywhere. I thought we’d defy time, that they’d grow up and stay little, that we’d have our cake and eat it too and we’d have it all. A head can think otherwise but somehow a heart can feel wiser"

When Shira was born, I - unconsciously, of course - thought of her as a first out of a dozen. She was unique and special and wonderful, of course, but I was gearing up for 20 years or so of pregnancy, nausea, fatigue, breastfeeding, diapers, sleepless nights, spit-ups, and everything else that comes with babyhood. 

It didn't happen yet, it was only in the vague future, but I was already tired, so tired, just from thinking that it might be. That was preventing me from truly enjoying my baby. 

20 months later our second daughter was born, and I said to myself, "There, see. It's going to be like that for decades. A baby every 18-20 months."

Now Tehilla is 2.5 years, and I still only have my two girls, and for various reasons it might be that I can never have another. I am at peace, because I know Who is in charge.

And I'm going around the neighbourhood and giving away baby things, and smile through my tears when I see other women's babies wearing them, and I cook meals for mothers who have recently given birth, and we sold the crib and stroller and the shoes are getting gradually but irrevocably bigger. And the girls are still very little and my hands are full, and I am happy with all that had been, and all that is, and all that might be, but here I stop.

I savor the moment. The day. The time. It will never come again. And you know what? Even if I had a dozen children, it would not change a thing about the particular moment with a particular child, for every life is unique. 

Do not lose the present worrying about/planning for the future, for the future, really, doesn't exist. We can prepare for it, but we cannot live in it. We can only live in the here and now, seizing the moment, seizing the day. 

And so I'm reading and crying, and reminding myself that it's OK to cry. 
It's OK to be unable to say one more thing, for sometimes words aren't needed. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Something untitled

My grandmother is a special woman. Behind her she has almost a century of world history fraught with wars, repressions, a totalitarian regime, separation of families, the abrupt ending of an entire world of European Jewish culture and community, the fall of the Iron Curtain, and the mass emigration of Russian Jewry.

I grew up with her, and her stories have become vivid in my mind's eye, as though I lived them myself. The innocent pre-WWII world, a houseful of children, baking days and washing days, the smell of home-baked Challah, tales of potato candy told in such detail that they make my mouth water to this day even though I never tasted it, ominous rumours, the scattering of families, emigration to the Soviet Union, marriage (no silly things like wedding rings or a honeymoon), a train to No Place somewhere in Siberia, poverty, cold, hunger, walking through a winter forest with an axe as a weapon and a bottle of  life-giving milk for the baby held close to one's heart, to keep it from freezing. 

Raising a family, gardening, fresh fruit and vegetables in season, sewing, knitting, crocheting, living a life that was humble but honest, a lifetime, a whole world encompassed in just one person. It is good to tell the same stories again and again, so that they are remembered. 

There were people in our family who perished tragically and senselessly, like millions of other Jews in the Second World War. Perhaps those branches were cut off the tree, but the tree lives on. And by hearing stories about them, and perhaps trying to do something in the way I was told they used to do, I am doing my little bit to make them, in a way, come alive again. 

I did not have a garden growing up, but I heard of it, and thus began my passion, for many years hidden, to live a simpler life closer to nature, and interact with plants, animals and seasons. Perhaps my heart was  first touched by what was no more, but something new in me stirred. 

Now my grandmother, while still here, is slipping away as it sometimes, unfortunately, happens to old people, and her world is slipping away as well.  I retell some of the things I heard from her, trying to make them come alive as they did for me when I first heard them myself. I tell my children that while she could, she held them, and she loved them very much. 

That is probably the ultimate purpose of our earthly work: to hold and love each other as much as we can. 

We blunder, we make mistakes, we hurt each other. But I want to believe that ultimately things will come right if we wake up every morning with the resolution to hold and love and comfort each other in the limited time we have.