Monday, December 28, 2015

A Walk With Grandma

I came across this today and I hope it's normal that I just sat for a few minutes crying. These simple words are so touching. I was also remembering my own Grandma, who was such a quiet and soothing presence, and who was always ready to play board games and tell stories about her childhood, early life, and numerous relatives whom I had never met.

Grandma is wise. She knows there is really nothing bigger, better and more beautiful than the fluffy clouds in the sky, the flower growing at the roadside, the butterfly fluttering around a rosebush. She has done it all. She has seen it all. She knows there is nothing more important than telling a story, taking a walk, baking cookies on a cold winter afternoon. 

We don't have to live to Grandma's age to appreciate the little things that really matter. Though our lives are busy, may we not let this prevent us from slowing down and walking with "short steps" alongside the child in our life, or the little child hidden within us. 

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Winter walks

By now you probably know I'm not a person to chase after every new gadget, but I do feel grateful for my cell phone camera - because, though I often mean to take my husband's excellent (much bigger, better, and more professional) camera along when we take our walks on especially beautiful days, I don't often actually get around to it - meanwhile, I always have my cell phone on hand, and can still snap some adequate shots as we walk along rambling paths and see flowers unfurling after a good winter's rain.

Speaking of winter... I do so wish it could always be this way - beautiful, bright sunny days, interspersed by occasional (mainly nocturnal) showers that fill up underground reservoirs, soak the thirsty ground and produce luscious vegetation to the delight of the birds and animals in our vicinity. Yes, we do need rain. Just give us warm rain, please. Have I mentioned that I'm a summer person, and that it's very lucky I get to live in Israel?

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

A year ago...

On Thursday, I went out with the girls to pick miniature oranges, and I was a little unsure whether those irregular contractions mean something or not.

On Friday morning, I was pretty sure I am in early labor.

On Friday afternoon, just a few minutes before the lighting of the Shabbat candles, my son Israel made his grand appearance into this world. I heard him before I saw him - a loud, powerful cry. Then he was placed on my chest, and I held him to me, and I've been holding him ever since.

Words fail me when I try to describe the great joy, the profound gratitude I feel for having him. I just feel so lucky that G-d chose to give this little boy to me, and so lucky that I am the one who gets to take care of him, snuggle him, and play with him every hour of every day.

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So, happy birthday, little one. I hope your life is wonderful. I hope I can be the mother you need to help you grow up happy and healthy, and to develop the unique gifts which will undoubtedly be discovered when you are older. Among those gifts, I hope and pray you will always retain the ones you have today: a pure joy of living, a passion for discoveries, and a radiant, conquering smile.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Still singing the Sugar Blues

Recently I've had the interesting experience of reading William Dufty's book, Sugar Blues. I first became acquainted with it through quotes in the margins of Nourishing Traditions, and was meaning to get to read it sometime ever since. Since it's a rather old book (written about 40 years ago) you can find it online in several places and read or download it for free. 

It's not a strictly scientific document; more like the experience of one man and some fascinating insight into how sugar changed the entire history of mankind. Some parts are not suitable for young readers. It does, however, make one irrefutable point: refined sugar, in all its forms, is detrimental to human health and creates a subtle addiction that is very difficult to get over.

I am the first to admit I have sugar issues (which were worked to the high pitch of a full-blown sugar addiction at some point in my life). Only later did I discover that it might be linked to my long-term vegetarianism; but also, I grew up in a home that was not aware of the extreme damage refined sugar can do to our bodies in the long run. 

Awareness of the problem is the first step to solving it. It's extremely hard to kick the sugar habit, especially as it's so socially ingrained. You can't go to a social gathering without encountering sugar-laden desserts, cookies&coffee corner, or candy handouts for children. You find added sugar or corn syrup in pretty much anything and everything - snacks, sauces, "natural" juices, even canned vegetables. Another reason to cook from scratch as much as you can and avoid commercially prepared food.

The attraction to sweet foods is biologically ingrained and natural. In their original state, naturally sweet foods - such as dates, figs, carobs - are very rich in minerals and valuable nutrients. Refined sugar is an alien substance that does great damage to the body. But years and years of unwholesome dietary habits leave their mark. We crave sugar when we are hungry; we crave it after we've just had a good meal.

I did, however, find some ways which help me curb the desire for immoderate sugar consumption:

1. Make sure you eat your fill of whole, healthy, nourishing and satisfying foods. I personally find I'm a lot less likely to succumb to sugar cravings after a hearty beef stew, or a simple and delicious meal of artisan rye bread with a big slice of farm-fresh cheese, homemade hummus and salad.

2. Get your sleep. The more tired you are, the more likely it is that you'll eventually pop something sugary into your mouth to keep yourself going. If at all possible, go to bed when you're pleasantly sleepy and not utterly exhausted.

3. Gradually adjust your palate to less sweetness. Commercially prepared sweet foods are just loaded with sugar. Even most conventional recipes for cakes, cookies, etc, are full of sugar. When I first tried to teach myself to go without sugar in my coffee, it seemed bitter. But after a few days, I began to feel the subtle sweetness added by milk or cream, which I never noticed until then. Once your palate adjusts, you will be rewarded by a whole array of new, subtle tastes, rather than just the blunt sweetness of modern desserts.

Some of my favorite desserts today are:

- a platter of fresh fruit, attractively sliced and arranged;
- fruit salad which includes a variety of fresh fruit, some unsweetened dried fruit, some nuts, and just a bit of honey and lemon juice;
- fruit slices or berries with unsweetened whipped cream;
- Medjoul dates; I love them - these succulent dates are like natural candy. It's important not to overdo, though. One day, someone asked me if Medjoul dates are an acceptable pick-me-up snack. I said "yes". Then the same person asked if it's OK to eat 15 of them at a time...

I will finish with this quote from Sugar Blues:

"The difference between sugar addiction and alcohol addiction is largely one of degree. Small quantities of narcotics can change body-brain behavior quickly. Sugars take a little longer...
The enduring American fantasy of the dope pusher is a slimy degenerate hanging around school playgrounds passing out free samples of expensive addictive substances to innocent kids. This fantasy devil was created at the turn of the century by and for a country of booze and sugar addicts with an enduring nostalgia for the friendly country store where so many of them got their habit."

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

My humble offerings

For a long time, I labored under the unconscious illusion that Real Life is something that is happening out there to other people while I'm stuck in the kitchen washing dishes. It took me a while to realize that Real Life is happening right here, right now, while I'm doing something seemingly meaningless.

I used to think that I'm tied down, cooking meal after meal, while Great Deeds are just waiting to be done by people less encumbered. I cannot say that I grudged this duty of nurturing my family through wholesome food, but I used to think of it as trivial. Now I realize that the feasts I spread at our family table have a profound impact on us, our children, and our guests, for generations to come. 

I used to think of messes, misses and spills as unfortunate nuisances rather than learning opportunities. I still have a short temper, but I'm learning.

I used to think I would have time to exercise my talents and refresh my soul once I'm done with my duties; once I've folded the laundry, and mopped the floor, and nursed the baby to sleep. Now I realize I can exercise my talents and refresh my soul while doing all these things.

I've never had as little spare time as now (in an overall period of some months). I've never utilized my time better. My pursuits are all healthy and wholesome, free of watching silly movies, playing computer games or endless internet shopping. There's still time to pray (while nursing the baby), to read (while nursing, or old favorite classics with the children), to write (in concentrated bits, mostly late in the evening), to take walks, to catch up with neighbors.

For a long time, I thought I had little to offer; or rather, that I could have had a lot to offer, if only I weren't so bogged down with the trivial and mundane. Now I offer up my nights of disturbed sleep, my sacrifice of privacy and leisure time, my late-night work as I stand in the kitchen cleaning up long after everyone else is in bed. This, too, is glory. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Weaning, attachment and separation

I have yet to have the experience of weaning a baby off breastfeeding; the first time, my milk just dried up because of subsequent pregnancy, but as my child was 15 months old and used to a wide variety of foods, that was alright. The second time, I went on nursing over two years, and somehow, very gradually, without my knowing how it happened, one day my daughter was weaned. I admit I was very grateful for it happening this way. Weaning is a bittersweet experience for me, even after a long and satisfying nursing relationship. I can only imagine what it must be like to intentionally wean a child who cries and frets and demands to be comforted in the best way they have known since birth, and to deny this comfort which it is in my power to give.

I realize sometimes babies or toddlers must be weaned, for a variety of reasons (medical, psychological or practical). It can, hopefully, be done gradually in order to minimize the stress and discomfort. I do feel compelled to speak out, however (at the risk of sounding judgmental), against a practice I noticed among some mothers I know - that of abrupt weaning of an older baby or toddler who is deemed "too old" to nurse, by the simple method of the mother disappearing from home for a week or so.

First off, the modern society's idea of weaning age does not correspond at all with Jewish tradition. In the Jewish tradition, it is a matter of course that a child is nursed at least until 2 years old, and breastfeeding is quite common and acceptable until even later. In practice, today most babies are weaned off the breast at less than 1 year old (only to be given a bottle of formula in exchange). 

A neighbor of mine went for a week-long vacation abroad with her friends, leaving behind her son (then 10 months old) in the vague hope that maybe he will give up on breastfeeding by the time she is back. That hope proved futile. "I don't know what to do with him," she complained irritably a day after returning home, "he cried and nursed all night. I didn't get any sleep!" I had to bite my tongue to keep from retorting. How could she be surprised? 

As far as this baby was concerned, his mother, who was always there to take care of him and nurse him, suddenly disappeared for a whole week - an eternity in a baby's terms - snatching away his best source of comfort and nutrition. He had experienced the trauma of losing his mother, without any possible alleviation in the form of understanding she will be back eventually, because a 10-month-old is unable to grasp the concept of Mom going on vacation. To him, when Mom is gone, she is gone. There is no difference, as far as he is concerned, whether she is on vacation or dead. She is simply not there. 

The same thing was done by several other women I know, always saying things like, "oh, he'll be fine", "I really need a break from it all", "I need to wean her because she's embarrassing me in public" and even "I need to wean because I want to get pregnant again". 

Now, I realize all babies go through the stage when they break out crying as soon as they lose sight of their mother (we're just past that stage at this time, actually), and learn that she will come back eventually, whether in several minutes (if Mom goes to the bathroom) or several hours (if the baby is in some sort of day care). Now, if you know me, you know I'm all for home education or at least for keeping children at home well past the toddler years, and don't think an enforced separation from Mom on a daily basis is good for the baby or toddler. Sometimes there really is no choice, however, and families adjust. A week-long separation, though, is really much too long for a baby, in my opinion. In their little minds, they are actually becoming accustomed to the idea of losing their mother forever. See quote from here

"Infants may develop attachments to other members of the family or carers, who can take mother's place for a while. But if mother does not return soon, some infants can become quite distressed, with crying and an increase of behaviors designed to bring the mother and infant together again. If the separation lasts for some days, the first state of crying and "protest" may be replaced by a mood of quiet unhappiness or despair. In the first two or three years of life an infant has no adult sense of time, and since explanations cannot be understood, the infant seems to despair of the mother's return, in a kind of grief or mourning reaction."

For this very reason, quite apart from breastfeeding, I personally would never voluntarily separate overnight from a child who does not yet have good verbal communication skills and a more-or-less consistent sense of time - in other words, a child under 3 or 4 years old. It is simply impossible to explain to a very young child that "Mommy will be back in a couple of days", and without such understanding, the enforced separation is, as far as the child is concerned, nothing short of abandonment. 

I realize that sometimes, such an abrupt separation is unavoidable (in the case of sudden hospitalization, etc). But I would not put a child through such trauma for the sake of a vacation, or in order to wean as quickly as possible (which, above all else, may result in plugged ducts and mastitis for the mother). It's far better to make an attitude switch and vacation with the baby, and wean, if weaning is necessary indeed, slowly and gradually. 

Just one final word: time passes so quickly. The baby who cries when his mother goes into the bathroom will sooner than you know turn into a 4-year-old who is quite happy at the adventure of staying with Grandma and Grandpa for a couple of days. There is no need to rush. Be with your baby; you will never regret it, and really, everything else can wait.