Monday, June 20, 2016

Announcement: Domestic Felicity is moving!

It's funny, but when I think about it, I realize that in the years that passed since I started blogging I have moved house five times - once when I was still single, four times together with my husband - but kept to the same blog.

For a while now I have been thinking that it would be better to move to WordPress, for a more advanced blogging platform and better options overall, and in the past week I have taken the leap, creating a new place for Domestic Felicity where I will be blogging from now on. It's still a little rough around the edges, but I hope you will bear with me as I figure out the quirks of WordPress.

I invite everyone to keep following the blog at its new location.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Coconut, date and coffee cake

I don't often post recipes these days, but I just couldn't resist this one. This is a simple, easy to mix cake that is perfect for when company is coming over, or when you just want to pop something in 3 the oven with minimal effort. And it's pretty nutritious, too!

1 cup dried unsweetened shredded coconut
3 large eggs, or 4 if you use medium-sized
3\4 cup honey, maple syrup or other desired sweetener
1\2 cup coconut oil
4 tbsp. date spread, or 1\2 cup crushed Medjoul dates
1 rounded tsp. instant coffee, dissolved in 3\4 cup warm water
Approx. 2 cups flour - the batter should be just short of being runny
1 tsp. baking powder

Mix everything thoroughly in a large bowl. Pour into baking tray and bake at medium heat for about 40 minutes. Let cool slightly before slicing.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

My little one


Rest next to me, my little one.
There will be time to get up and go on;
But for now, just sleep next to me,
My little one. 

Play with me, my little one.
There will be time for serious things,
But for now, let's play together,
My little one.

Walk with me, my little one.
A time will come and you will run far,
But for now, just walk with me,
My little one.

Let's tell a story, my little one.
There will be time to face the world.
But for now, let it all be magic,
My little one. 

Give me your hand, my little one.
A time will come when you'll have to let go,
But for now, let's hold hands,
My little one. 

***

Painting: Picking Daisies by Hermann Seeger, 1905

Monday, June 6, 2016

Thinking of getting a dairy animal? Things to take into account

If you have the possibility to do so, keeping dairy animals – cows or goats – is one of the best investments you can make, speaking from both a nutritional and economic standpoint. We have kept dairy goats, and the milk, cheese and yogurt were a superb addition to our diet, and our grocery budget was significantly reduced. However, goats or cows are certainly a higher-maintenance project compared with chickens, and before you are tempted to bring home a couple of cute Alpine does, consider the following:

1. Housing. A goat barn needs to be sturdier than a chicken coop, with the possibility to lock the goats in if needed, and provide adequate shelter. It is possible to keep your chickens and goats together, and some people do that, but I don’t recommend this option, in particularly if you have young chicks that can be trodden on.

2. Fencing. Goats are notorious for leaping over fences. If there’s even a slight possibility of doing so, they will get into your neighbors’ flower beds and get you in a very unpleasant situation (ask me how I know). Be a responsible neighbor and keep your animals securely fenced.

3. Pasture. How much you can rely on pasture to feed your dairy animals will depend on the extent of your acreage and your climate. In Israel, the lean season is the summer, when everything is parched and dry. In colder climates winter is the hardest season. When you don’t have adequate pasture, you will need to buy hay and that can get expensive. You can also supplement the diet of your goats by giving them fruit and vegetable peels and weeds from your garden.

4. Commitment. Once you have a dairy animal, it needs to be milked daily. If you need to be away for a day or two, you must make arrangements with someone to come and do the milking for you (though we could work around that by letting the goat kids have all the milk while we were gone). Also, if you have a high yield of milk, you will need to dispose of it by making cheese, yogurt, etc, on a daily basis, and this may be inconvenient at times. If you have several goats who produce a lot of milk and you skip a day of cheesemaking, you may find your refrigerator overflowing with milk.

5. Breeding. Unlike chickens, goats need to be bred to be productive; that is, a goat will not produce milk until after she’s kidded. You will need to breed at least once a year, and if you’re very small-scale, keeping a buck may be inconvenient, in which case you will need to make arrangements to take your does to be bred, or borrow/rent a buck on a temporary basis.


We currently don’t have dairy goats, mainly due to reasons of constricted space and compassion for our neighbors, but I do hope to return to this exciting venture someday.

Friday, June 3, 2016

From around here

Our cats and chickens get along great. As you can see in this photo, even the little chicks can peacefully stroll across the yard right under the cat's nose. Intent on consuming a treat we just gave her, kitty doesn't display even the slightest bit of interest in them.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Nurturing Hands - natural health ebook giveaway

Following several requests, I have put together a compact little e-book based on selected articles on nutrition, breastfeeding and healthy cooking that I had published on this blog over the years. The e-book, titled Nurturing Hands, is now on Payhip where it can be purchased at a very reasonable price, but I'll be very glad to hand it out for free to anyone who participates in this giveaway.

The rules are simple:

1. Share this giveaway on your Facebook, Twitter or blog, or if you're not a fan of social media, share it with at least one friend by email.

2. Come back and leave a comment telling me about it.

3. Either contact me at domesticfelicity@gmail.com, or leave your email within your comment (see number 2) and I'll be happy to send you the e-book.

Disclaimer: I'm not a doctor, nurse, midwife or lactation consultant, and do not presume to give professional advice. I am simply sharing some of my own convictions and tips that have worked for me and my family in our pursuit of a healthier lifestyle.

* Free image from Pixabay

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Sourdough Simplicity: book review

For a while now I've been meaning to review a very useful little book by my friend Rose Godfrey, Sourdough Simplicity. It's really a very handy, practical instruction manual for those just striking out in the world of sourdough starter. Personally I've been wanting to try sourdough for a while, and was only stopped by my husband's "eek!" factor. Now I'm more inspired than ever to give it a shot.

I'll be honest: despite Rose's just warnings about whole-grain sourdough bread coming out dense, if I do try sourdough, it will only be with whole grain flour (either wheat, rye or spelt). I just don't see much point in making a starter, keeping it going, investing in a long rise process, making the gamble of an unpredictable product, and all this to get what essentially is still white bread from refined, nutrient-stripped flour (though undoubtedly superior in taste to the usual quick-rise bread).

Yes, traditionally fermented bread is in many cases better tolerated by those with grain allergies, as opposed to quick-rise bread made with baker's yeast. But still, from a nutritional standpoint, it isn't much. It might not give you an allergic reaction, but it won't give you much of anything else, either.

Either way, Sourdough Simplicity is a great way to get going in that confusing new world of sourdough starter. It also provides many great recipes, creative ways of utilizing leftovers, and troubleshooting tips.

"I needed a method that was pure simplicity and a recipe that tasted great. In the end, I found that sourdough baking did not have to be complicated, and it could fit all my objectives. I started with a wonky oven that had 4 distinct heat zones and still managed to bake delicious breads. My loaves are not always Pinterest-perfect, but they are tasty, nutritious, and easy to make. There is always some minor variation from loaf to loaf, and we are OK with that."

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Diaper Debate

A long time ago, when I was pregnant for the first time and we had many lofty ideas about our own capabilities, my husband and I talked about cloth diapers. We were pretty much decided we are going to use them, for the sake of frugality, sustainability and baby's skin health. It just seemed the right choice all around, until one day, when I was getting pretty big, we had the following conversation.

DH: "But where would we wash the diapers?"

Me: "What do you mean, where? We put them in the washing machine."

DH: (wrinkling his nose): "What, you'll put poopy diapers in the same machine that we use to wash our clothes?"

Me: "Not in the same cycle. We'll wash them separately, you know." 

DH: "I still think that's gross. Think of all the bacteria that will be left over."

Me: "Well, what do you suggest?"

DH: "My Mom always washed our diapers by hand."

Do I have to tell you? We've been using disposables ever since. And at times I've been feeling guilty about it, too, especially when I haul out a big garbage bag full of almost nothing but diapers and think about it adding to some tremendous landfill.

It wasn't just the gross factor that put us off; we've had plenty of poop in our washing machine anyway over the years, what with newborn blow-outs and all. There were periods when changing a poopy diaper equaled changing a whole baby outfit, every time. We're still all alive and well.

It was also that conveniently made cloth diapers are a pretty hefty initial investment, one we hesitated to make, and I'm not up to sewing my own. And, of course, there's the convenience; at times, I've been so overwhelmed by laundry (especially not having a drier, on long rainy weeks in winter) that voluntarily adding more seemed an effort of will beyond my capability.

As a compromise, I have tried doing early potty-training, with babies running around bare-bottomed around the house on many a summer day. The little tushies got a pleasant breeze, we saved some money on diapers, and I felt better about the ecological aspect of it all.

In the place where we live now, we have frequent electricity and water shortages, up to the point that everybody living in the neighborhood often gets requests to save on electricity and water as much as possible by trying to minimize the usage of air conditioners, ovens and, of course, washing machines. An extra load of diapers every day or two just doesn't seem feasible in such conditions.  I actually believe that in Israel, where water is a precious commodity, bio-degradable diapers may be more eco-friendly than cloth.

There had to be, however, a compromise: green and convenient; eco-friendly but disposable. So lately I've started looking into the option of switching to bio-degradable disposable diapers, such as these. I'd love to hear from any of you ladies who care to share your experience. Cloth? Bio-degradable? Plain ol' Pampers?

Thursday, May 19, 2016

My guest post on Baking Humble Pie

Bethany, over at Baking Humble Pie, is hosting a series of I Don't Do It All guest posts from Mom bloggers while she is taking her time to recover from the birth of her latest precious baby girl, and has graciously asked me to participate. My post, basically a short interview, is up now:

Let me enthuse a little here: life is full of fascinating things to do, learn, experience and explore, and there is never enough time to do it all! There are many things I am passionate about and thankful for the opportunity to try my hand at, alone or together with my awesome family. 

Pop over to Bethany's blog to read the rest

Sunday, May 8, 2016

His help

When I was first married, I had a certain mental image of myself in my mind: not just a wife and mother at home, but a wife who does absolutely everything in the home, which is her exclusive domain, with no help from anyone. It was a nice image, but it was unrealistic. The truth is, I was unaccustomed to housework, I was an inexperienced cook, and I soon had two small children. I was under stress.

It took me a long time to realize that my husband, in fact, is quite capable and willing to lend a hand in order to promote the things that are important to him - such as cleaner floors and more diverse dishes - and what's more, actually enjoys doing some of the cooking and baking. His pita bread is famous around the neighborhood.

It took me even longer to let go of the feeling of inadequacy when my husband takes over some of the household duties - another of my unspoken convictions being that, since he works such long hours, when he's finally home he's supposed to have perfect liberty and leisure. Somehow, it never seemed to work. Eventually I realized it takes both of us to finish the Shabbat preparations at a reasonable hour, not because I'm lazy or disorganized, but because even though I am, in fact, busy doing my duties at home every day and all day long, there are things I just don't get around to soon/often enough, through no fault of my own.

Now, there are many things around here which are my exclusive property, such as dishes, laundry and diapers. There are, on the other hand, things my husband does on a regular basis, such as grocery shopping and fixing things around the house. And there is what I normally do but what he lends a hand with, such as washing the floor and cooking.

There are women in my neighborhood who would rather invite their mother or sister over, or hire household help, than accept help from their husbands, the premise being that there is women's work and there's men's work. And you know what, in most cases it might be true. I, however, have come to terms with the fact that I'm not just a stay-at-home Mom, but a SAHM who gets a great deal of help from her husband - and grateful for it. I realized that well-functioning arrangements are better than idealized expectations, and that pride leads to unnecessary stress. It took me a long time, yes, but I finally got there.

Today I know that, the nature of work in and around the home being constant and never-ending, there will always, no matter what, be more than enough left to my share, even deducting anything my husband can reasonably do. Therefore, I accept whatever help I can get with no qualms and with a lot of simple gratitude.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Pesach and power shortages

It has been a long time since I was able to indulge myself in any stretch of time on the computer. Pesach - the last few frantic days, then the holiday itself - and later a few days with severe power shortages around here make me scarcely believe I'm actually sitting in front of the screen and typing (be it even a short post).

The power shortages, which lasted from about the beginning of the week until this evening, were trying but not fatal. I was mostly concerned about the contents of our freezer, but since it was packed and we avoided opening it, it was alright. Immediately after the power returned I peeked inside and saw that almost nothing has thawed. The insulation must be really good!

Overall the last couple of days had a slower, gentler rhythm to them. The running water functioned just fine. Like most homes in Israel, we have a solar water heater, and with our long sunny days we always have plenty of hot water for showers at this season. My only challenge was to get everything - dishes, kids' showers, mopping the floor - done before nightfall, which is about eight o'clock in May. Then it was time for some candlelit relaxation with stories and board games, and then bedtime. Really, if we could just keep the refrigerator going, I wouldn't mind the power going out for a week or two!

We've also been pretty busy in our chicken coop, accommodating the new broods that have hatched this week (and more to come, hopefully, next week). I took a snapshot of one of the tiny fluff balls - standing on the threshold of a wonderful new world! Our current resident rooster is a Black Brahma, so it's no wonder that almost all the chicks are black and all have feathered legs.

There is a lot of work to be done this season, and many projects I'm longing to get started at/pick up again. But amidst it all and along it all, I pray there will still be time for candlelight, stories, board games, baking, crafts, and other relaxing pursuits to be done together in our little home.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

What I'd love to do right now

Just look at these two kitties snoozing on the front door mat - seeing them this morning filled me with envy. I really could use me a nice nap, after/in between all the cleaning, organizing, laundry, throwing out the garbage, last-minute scrubbing, etc... like every year, can't wait for Pesach to come so it will all be over!

Monday, April 11, 2016

A tiny dream home




At this frantic period, just about a week and a half before Pesach, I find myself fervently wishing for a beautiful tiny house, just like this one in the video - a place that would be neat, compact, efficient and fully utilized, with as few possessions as possible and all the peace and freedom I could possibly want.

Honestly, if you were to offer us this cabin tomorrow, I'd gladly move in. Wouldn't you? It just looks so beautiful and homey. And it's solar-powered!

In the meantime, I'm making a few steps in the right direction, such as pack away most of the children's toys and give up what isn't missed; thin out my closet and bookshelves, and try to put our storage shed in order.

Monday, April 4, 2016

The ordinary

I get up in the morning and change a diaper. Get breakfast to a chorus of, "what's taking so long? I'm hungry." I put tiny socks on tiny feet, unlock the coop and feed the chickens, start a load of laundry. I wash the dishes, dig into a reading exercise with the little ones, hang out the laundry and collect some eggs. I fix lunch and do some yard work, sew on a few missing buttons, think about what to make for dinner, bathe the baby, stop a huge sibling squabble, wash some more dishes, mop the floor, shoo a cat from under the kitchen table. I throw something simple on the stove and watch a magnificent sunset while it's cooking. I let myself exhale, tired after another full and busy day and more than ready to see the little people off to bed. 

I don't run a home business. I'm not on any committees or local councils, I don't do any regular volunteering. My home is far from spotless and I don't do any fancy cooking and baking. I love to crochet, draw and make candles, but do it all very sporadically and, in general, keep things simple. I'm lucky if I can snatch an hour to write after the kids are asleep. I don't own a car, so our outings (beyond walking distance) are rare and family-oriented. I'm notoriously bad about returning emails and phone calls. 

I don't have time, energy or inclination for the complicated. The simple and straightforward more than keeps my hands full. 

What about the natural human desire to stand out, to do something special? When we are young, we all think we'll do just that. Because we are unique, and nobody quite like us has ever existed before in the entire history of the universe. So am I doing something special? The prosaic answer is, not really. I cook, clean, wash clothes, wipe bottoms and spend a lot of time saying, "don't do that" and "give that back to your sister".

It's not the things that make it all special, but the people; and they are special because G-d had given them to me, and not to anybody else. It's not the swept floor and the clean sheets, but the wondrous eyes of the child watching a column of ants, it's conversation over dinner, discussion of an interesting story. It's a walk among yellow spring blossoms, the retelling of a dream, it's looking at a bird soaring in the sky. It's all the moments in between, and the giving of oneself, in the little things - in the everyday things, which ultimately add up to something beautiful, something that means more than we could have imagined, because it's life itself. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Spring snapshots


Some old containers re-purposed as nesting boxes - works really well! These eggs are plastic, by the way - to encourage laying/brooding in the right places.

Our very handsome Black Brahma roo.

The first broody of the season. Doesn't she look like she might peck the camera any moment?

A patch of mint, looking very fresh after the spring rains.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

The things you will never regret

In our previous home, we had a separate room for a home office. Such privacy is very convenient, but it is also the pitfall of the computer junkie (which, I admit, I am). I could tuck children into naps or, at a period of time when I didn't have any children young enough to need naps, I could let them watch a movie - while I got into the office to check my emails, etc.

The problem is, the "etc" only too easily turns into watching silly YouTube videos, participating in draining online discussions, making frivolous Google searches ("why does the top point of my left ear sometimes itch?"), and keeping up with the social media. The power of the click is just too alluring. 

Of course, there are also the good things - reading excellent helpful articles, writing letters to friends, taking care of personal projects, working on my books. However, the good things are even more dangerous, in the way of justifying an extravagant amount of time spent on them. If you watch a video of a cat playing the piano, you'll feel guilty for wasting your time after five minutes. But knitting how-to videos are okay, right?

Unfortunately, I became feeling entitled to that office time, alone behind closed doors. It was my time; I needed it. So when naps were broken, or squabbles interrupted movie time, I became unreasonably frustrated. I don't have an exact estimate of how many hours were spent on lawful pursuits, and how many on mindless web browsing, but there is no doubt a large chunk of my time could have been better employed.

In this house, I have one computer in the living room for everybody's use, faulty internet connection and a little one that really isn't a very good sleeper. And I'm happier than ever; this change has been the best thing that could have happened to me. It taught me to prioritize; on a good day, I might have half an hour or so after lunch for answering emails, browsing ads, etc, and if I'm not too tired there's an hour or so at night when I can write, read, research information or watch a movie in peace and quiet.

The thing is, when I look back on times enjoyably spent with my children - whether reading together, or taking nature walks, doing crafts, playing games, even just watching a movie together - I can't think of one hour I would rather have spent doing something else. Even if a baby is colicky or teething, it means a night of precious snuggling with someone who needs me, just then, more than anything. I might be very tired, but I have no regrets.

But when I remember my "me" time, my feelings are not so unequivocal. There are many pages I wish unread or unwritten, many videos unwatched, many games unplayed, many conversations unspoken. Not because these things were bad in themselves, but because they took away from the truly important things I should have been doing.

You will probably never regret spending time with your children. The same cannot be said of other things, be it personal projects, volunteering, hobbies or social commitments. I keep that in mind every day, and it makes all the difference.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Pesach cleaning, schedules and resentment

Purim is nearly here - which, at least in our household, means we're already busy cleaning for Pesach. Some people actually relish the chance to scrub out every little long forgotten nook and cranny, but I'll admit this isn't my favorite season. Our day to day life, while simple, is full - and when extra cleaning creeps into my schedule, it feels like a thief trying to rob me - of peace, tranquillity, adequate rest, time with my children and the very limited time I have for hobbies and personal projects. All gives way to cleaning the top of the kitchen cabinets, because maybe some long-lost crumb had found its way there somehow.

I realize all these spots - the tops of kitchen cabinets, bathroom cabinets, pantry shelves etc - do need to be cleaned some time, and without Pesach looming on the horizon I would have little incentive to do so. Still, I can't love the feverish business of these spring weeks - especially as the lovely weather is so inviting to be out.

My husband usually contrives something to make things easier for me. For example last year we needed to replace our stovetop,  which was done just a few days before Pesach so that I could simply throw the old one away without bothering to clean it. Another year, we had a new refrigerator delivered shortly before the holiday. But of course we don't replace our kitchen appliances every year.

I always find it ironic that window-cleaning, the traditional Israeli pre-Pesach sport, should take place at such a particularly unlucky season - full of sand storms and dusty rains. Rationally I would say there is no point in cleaning the windows on the outside till the summer. But of course everybody still does it, including me.

This year I have a detailed schedule which will, hopefully, get me through the next six weeks with my sanity intact. Every day I get up knowing what I need to do, and when I'm done I hang up my mop and dust rag. I don't try to outrace myself, knowing that no matter how hard I drive at those kitchen cabinets, there will still be plenty to do the next day.

Moving at a turtle's pace, slow and steady 


Monday, March 7, 2016

The Private Life of Chickens





Once in a while I come upon a documentary that is as deliciously comforting as a cup of hot cocoa when you're feeling a little under the weather. The Private Life of Chickens was just that for me: a dose of comfort and relaxation to take late in the evening, when the chores are done and I'm tired and craving something cozy and domestic like only a British documentary can be.



This documentary takes us to the beautiful English countryside (something I would dearly love to re-create in Israel), to the farm of a sweet lady named Jane, who rescues ex-battery hens, cares for them, and passes them into the hands of small backyard flock owners. She is really one of a kind - I wish I had a neighbor like her.



So, if you're a chicken lover and would like to learn some fascinating facts about your favorite bird, kick back, relax and enjoy an hour of fun and relaxation with The Private Life of Chickens.



As for me, I'm moving on to watch The Private Life of Cows.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Why I love raising chickens

Our love affair with chickens started a few years ago, when my husband surprised me with a box of baby chicks. Those little ones all turned out to be males, but no matter - the chicken bug was already there. Ever since, we've had a chicken coop wherever we lived.

So what makes chickens such a popular choice for almost everyone? They are kept by big and small farmers, country dwellers and urban homesteaders alike. Here is why I petsonally like my chickens so much:

1. Eggs - need I say more? Fresh homegrown eggs are about the best source of high-quality animal protein out there. They are full of essential nutrients and their taste is far superior to the bland egg factory product. In winter, when our hens went off laying and we had to buy eggs from the grocery store, we were actually shocked at the contrast in taste.

2. Pest and weed control - chickens love to eat all sorts of insects, bugs, worms and weeds in their young green stage. All this goes into the eggs and makes them healthier and better-tasting - and helps with yard maintenance. Of course, chickens will also go for many garden plants, so you have two choices: either keep a fence around your vegetable patch, or learn which plants you can grow without competing with your chickens. Generally we find that herbs (such as mint, sage, rosemary), certain vegetables (onions, garlic, potatoes) and fruit trees are safe with chickens.

3. Entertainment - just sit back and watch your chickens for endless hours of entertainment. Observe how they interact with each other and with you. Yesterday I entertained a 1-year-old for half an hour by making a rooster jump and snatch tricks out of the air. Keeping chickens is one of the best fun and educational experiences we've ever done.

4. Easy maintenance - once you get into the routine of chicken-keeping, it's incredibly easy. Basically what chickens need is acess to food, water and a sturdy sheltered coop that provides protection from the rain and wind and can be locked at night against predators. Depending on the climate in your area and the breed of your chickens, you might have to provide a source of heat during the winter. We usually don't need to do this as we keep sturdy breeds and temperatures here don't often fall below freezing.

You can greatly reduce the cost of chicken feed by giving your chickens your kitchen leftovers (old bread, rice, pasta, cores and peels, etc) and by allowing them to free-range and find their own food.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The work which is always there

The household, as a live, dynamic thing, requires constant upkeep and endless work, from the most routine to once-in-a-while projects; there's always something to wash or clean, cook or bake, make or mend, plant or grow. And, most importantly, there are the people living in the house - each of them a unique individual with their needs, wants, hopes and dreams. 

When you live in your home full-time, there is undeniably more mess and upkeep involved than if the entire family steps out of the house in the morning and returns in time for dinner, being present only on evenings and (maybe) weekends. But a lot of work accumulates anyway. Clothes are worn, meals need to be made, dust settles down on surfaces. 

If you have a garden or pets or some livestock, it is even more so. Even while you are away, weeds keep growing, chickens keep laying and pets need to be fed and taken care of. Whenever I'm away from home for a couple of days, or we spend a couple of days on errands, I find myself rushing to catch up later: weeding, mucking out the chickens, picking up stray items blown into our yard by the wind (the winds are pretty strong here, so we get all sorts, from snack wrappers to plastic kiddie chairs).

But of course, most important of all are the children. There are simply no short-cuts here: while housework can be put on hold, children must be looked after. Someone must do it... and that someone is usually a woman. Daycare centers, preschools, kindergartens are all staffed overwhelmingly by women (I've never even heard of a man working in a daycare center or preschool, at least not in Israel). In schools, too, most of the teachers are women - the younger the kids are, the more pronounced this is. That is because young children respond best to a motherly figure... who, ideally, should be their mother. 

I do realize that in some circumstances even mothers of young children must go out to work (though in many cases, creative solutions can be found and sacrifices made in order to provide a full-time at-home caregiver for the family). However, one must remember that this isn't an ideal situation. Just a couple of generations ago, it was a matter of course that a married woman with children, whose financial circumstances are not so constrained that she absolutely must work for a living, will stay home with her children (and no one would ask her what she does all day long).

I find it especially ironic, and a little sad, that mothers get up in the morning, put their babies in daycare and go off to care for other people's children: they outsource their children to someone else, while making their living off other people who also outsource their children. Financially, economically it might make sense, but in straight thinking, emotionally, socially, it would be a lot better if everyone could simply take care of their own children (who were give to us by G-d to raise and bring up), perhaps occasionally relying on help from extended family such as grandparents and aunts. 

It's crucial to remember that at any given moment of the day, someone is taking care of the children. Their parents, or someone else. The children are well-cared for - or not. Happy - or not (though present happiness is no indicator of good upbringing). Well-nourished - physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually - or not. Recently, two children in a local daycare center were found playing with a dead mouse. Apparently they had been playing with it for a while before someone paid attention. I'm not saying blunders are inexcusable, but there is a heavy price to the efficiency of a group of children herded together all day long - the inadequate, impersonal care too many children are getting; the generation of overburdened, overstretched, overworked women. 

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Does it all matter?

Rose Godfrey is a talented writer, a loving mother, and a very special person. I don't have very much time for reading blogs these days, but I do like to pop in once in a while and catch up with Rose. Usually, I find something to inspire, encourage, or cheer me up, such as this post:

"I wonder sometimes about making a difference. Wiping fingerprints off the walls and sweeping behind the toilet can be thankless tasks. Making dinner usually gets a few comments, though not all of those are compliments. “I don’t mean to hurt your feelings,” my daughter said one evening, “but dinner tasted a little burned.”

I commented:

"it’s incredible (or perhaps it isn’t…) to see how Moms to any number of children, all over the world, are facing the same questions/dilemmas. Since I got married, I never worked outside the home on a regular basis… and I still feel like I’m juggling. Baking cookies or taking care of the yard? A homeschooling assignment or getting everyone bathed while there’s plenty of hot water from the solar heater? Dusting or cleaning the toilet? (toilet wins). And those are just normal days, not Passover cleaning or moving house in a frenzy of packing boxes and garbage bags. I don’t know… I honestly don’t know if I’m doing enough, being the imperfect Mom who reads stories, hands out writing tasks, bakes cookies, takes walks, and sometimes breaks down and yells and then feels guilty. All I can say is that I’m hanging on to G-d, every hour of every day."

Rose replied:

" I think there is beauty in the struggle, in the waking up every day knowing that there will always be more dishes to wash and clothes to put away. Someday, if everything is clean all at once and the cookie jar is empty and the smudges are all off of the windows then it means that my home is empty. So we sweep up the crumbs and hope to reserve a few minutes each day in order to recollect our thoughts, and we get up the next day and do it all over again. Our payment? A few sticky kisses, a funny drawing to hang on the wall, sleepy “I love you”s that are whispered at bed time. Keep hanging on dear friend. We are all imperfect. Anyone who thinks she isn’t is delusional. Or very heavily medicated. Or both."

...So the bottom line is, yes, I believe we are all making a difference, as mothers - even if there's a lot of mess, grumpiness, frustrations and hair-tearing along the way. Every time we get up at night to nurse or comfort a child, every time we cook something that makes our loved ones smile. In all the seemingly modest ways, we are making a difference. 

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Why I love to make soup

Whenever I'm in doubt as to what to make for dinner, the answer is usually soup. Do you wonder why?


Image: oil painting of soup pot and vegetables, by Pat Meier-Johnson. 

It's easy. All you have to do is chop up some vegetables and throw them into a pot - carrots, potatoes, onions, zucchini, whatever you have. I usually add a cup of red lentils for thick soup, or quinoa, or some pearl barley and the bony parts of a chicken (wings, back, neck).

It's economical. You get to use up all sorts of odds and ends you wouldn't know what to do with otherwise - a squishy tomato, the stem of a cauliflower, a slightly wilted sprig of celery, or, as I already mentioned, the bony parts of a chicken - and make a whole meal out of it. And usually you also get plenty of leftovers for tomorrow's lunch. 

It's efficient. Once you throw everything into the pot, you put it on the stove and let it simmer, stirring occasionally - and that's it. Minimal work, great outcome.

It's versatile. You don't need to follow any recipe. For me, soup is always some veggies, hardly matters which, and something to make it thicker - lentils, oats, barley, quinoa, rice, noodles or couscous. 

It makes for a cozy home. Soup cooking on the stove in winter makes the kitchen warmer and sends a delicious smell all over the house. 

It's healthful. Homemade soup is one of the most digestible foods there is. It's great at a time of the flu (especially chicken soup), upset stomachs, upset spirits or upset minds. 

So pull out a nice big pot and cook some healthy, delicious soup for all the family. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The eldest daughter

I see her in almost every large family that happens to have a daughter as their first-born child. She is mature and well-spoken for her age. She is kind and responsible, efficient and organized. She takes on the task of being her mother's helper, folding laundry, washing dishes and watching over younger siblings. 

She feels the importance of her position in the family, and enjoys the near-adult status this gives her, very early on. At the age of 12, she knows perfectly well how to clean a house, iron a shirt, diaper a baby and bake an excellent challah. 

This girl is a blessing to her parents, and doubtless she is acquiring many important skills that will help her in her future home. However, there is also a risk - a risk that the mother, especially the mother of an extra-large family with all its burdens and chores, will come to rely on the eldest daughter too much and too early. 

Now, I think it's excellent training for adulthood to give children age-appropriate responsibilities. My daughters know they are in charge of tidying up their room. They know they are responsible for keeping important art work stashed in appropriate files. They realize that if they take a book to read or look at, they have to return it to its proper place later. 

So what do I mean, exactly, when I talk of relying on the eldest daughter too much? How early is too early? Often the answer isn't clear-cut. But I believe it is undesirable when:

- an eldest daughter has very limited time for age-appropriate activities, such as playing, reading for pleasure, pursuing hobbies, or even simply quiet time for reflection and dreaming, because household chores and childcare are being heaped upon her. 

- household chores and taking care of younger siblings are hampering a girl's academic success (as in, an important math assignment goes undone because the young girl has to cook dinner for the family).

- a pattern is created when the eldest girl is expected to always act more mature and responsible than her siblings, even taking age difference into account. As in, when she was 10 she was expected to do the dishes every night, but when her younger sister reaches 10 years, no such responsibility is given her. 

- the eldest daughter is expected to take up the slack when her siblings shift away from responsibility  - as in, she picks up after her siblings, sorts their laundry, etc, even when they are developmentally capable of doing these things for themselves. 

A child is a child, and needs time to be a child, even if she is the eldest of numerous children. This is so very, very important to remember, even though it's incredibly tempting to allow a girl who is kind, obedient, and responsible to take up the lion's share of household chores. 

Note: I am specifically talking about girls, because it happens more often that a daughter becomes a mother's helper. However, I'm not saying it can't happen that an older boy is given a disproportionate number of chores compared to his older siblings. 

Naturally, the older children will pitch in and help more often and more efficiently than younger children. But in a well-functioning family, everyone does their share. Otherwise it's an unfair and unhealthy pattern. It is unfair to the child who gets heaped up with too many chores, and it's unfair to the other children, who grow up thinking it's OK to let others work for them. 

I have decided to write about it after observing several families who have (without even noticing it, I am sure) fallen into such a pattern, of heaping up too much responsibility on the eldest daughter (or daughters), as well as talking to several women who were elder daughters in large families, and report feeling overwhelmed, burdened, even taken advantage of, as they were growing up. This, later on, made them delay marriage and limit their number of children - that is, after growing up in a large family, they didn't want a large family for themselves.

In my own home, I feel I have the budding personality of just such a girl - mature, eager to help, responsible. That's fantastic, but when Shira (age 7) offers to pick up after her younger sister, or mop up somebody else's spills, I say no. No, because it isn't fair or just to have her do it, when everyone should do what they reasonably can to pitch in and keep the home running smoothly. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Lessons from our first home

We purchased our first home eight years ago, just before we were married (I can hardly believe I've really been married this long!). It was a small, modest two-bedroom house. The total space was 70 sq.m., and some of it was taken up by a corridor and a utility room, so the actual living space was a lot less. The kitchen was old and crumbling. The yard was a blanket-sized space in front of the house, and another such space at the back, most of it taken up by a clothesline. It was located in a street of other such houses all squeezed in close (too close) together.

Still, we were excited, because this was our own home, and we could afford to buy it outright, without a mortgage. It wasn't perfect, but we made the most of it. There were great big grape vines at the back of the house, and they produced the sweetest grapes I've ever tasted, with skins so thin they nearly popped in the mouth on their own. We planted things in the little garden. We even built a tiny chicken coop for our first-ever chicks.


A bird on that old grape vine. How I loved it.

Because we were operating on such a tight budget at first, we moved in without making any improvements to the house, thinking we'd do that later, when there's more money (it never happened; three years later, we moved to a different neighborhood). Usually I'm all for being frugal and doing without what you can't afford, but there are some things I wish we had splurged on, things that are a lot more convenient to do before you've moved in, and which cost very little, compared to buying a house, such as:

- Painting the walls - goes without explanation. The walls in our house were rather dark which, together with the little space, gave a feeling of being cramped.

- Changing the locks - again, doesn't cost much and provides a lot more security.

- Installing a fence - since our neighbors were so close to us, having a fence would have given us a lot more privacy.

- Changing the kitchen cabinet doors - they were really crummy, and this made me feel a little dejected every time I went into the kitchen.

- Fixing water damage - the house foundations weren't high enough to give protection from floods and rain, and there was quite a bit of damp and mold we figured we'd deal with later, but never have.

One thing we never compromised on, wherever we lived, is having a good security system. Since we live in the Shomron, we soberly face the fact that we must be concerned about more than robbers. Thankfully, through my husband's connections we were able to get excellent security cameras (for free), and in our last two homes we've had dogs as well. In the past we also got motion detectors, but these cause a lot of false alarms when you live in an area with roaming wild animals such as wild boar and deer. The combination of security cam + good guard dog is the best, I think. 

If and when we go to a new home again, I hope we remember these little lessons, and make our home as nice and comfortable for our family, with as little inconvenience as possible, before we move in. 

Sunday, January 24, 2016

A quiet, simple life

My friend Leah shared this fabulous article with me. Judging from the number of comments, it's insanely popular, and for good reason. If you haven't read it yet, do, and I know you'll be blessed, as I have been.

Just like this lady, I have often anxiously asked myself: is this enough? Am I enough? And if you are asking yourself this question, know that the answer should be yes. Of course, we should all try and improve, especially as it concerns our relationship with G-d and with our loved ones. But on a very primary, basic, fundamental level it is important to remember that we were made by an Almighty G-d who made us, knows us, and loves us - just as we are, not as we can (maybe) be at some point in the future.


"What if I am not cut out for the frantic pace of this society and cannot even begin to keep up. And see so many others with what appears to be boundless energy and stamina but know that I need tons of solitude and calm, an abundance of rest, and swaths of unscheduled time in order to be healthy. Body, Spirit, Soul healthy. Am I enough?"

"What if I embrace my limitations and stop railing against them. Make peace with who I am and what I need and honor your right to do the same. Accept that all I really want is a small, slow, simple life. A mediocre life. A beautiful, quiet, gentle life. I think it is enough."

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Commitment to healthier cooking

When I graduated with a degree in nutrition from one of the best universities in the country, I knew a great deal about enzymes, hormones, and dietary regimes for various ailments, from diabetes to kidney dysfunction - but next to nothing on how to make healthier choices for simple homemade food cooked for basically healthy people.

Sure, I knew the basics - avoid over-processed junk, eat plenty of fruit and veggies, reduce sugar and salt. But I didn't internalize the importance of what comes into the process of making food: organic vs commercially grown produce, pasture-raised eggs and meat vs animals raised in crowded feedlots. I wasn't fully aware of the detrimental effects of commercially processed oils, or even sugar.

Fast forward a few years. I'm pregnant with my second child, and a friend sends me the wonderful book Nourishing Traditions. I gobble it up, fascinated. Some things I disagree with, but so many more make perfect sense. I discover a wealth of information about the diversity of diet and traditional food preparation techniques. My horizons are expanded, but I'm also discouraged. This is too much for a family who love their triple chocolate ice-cream and depend on the convenience of plastic white bread.

Slowly, bit by bit, I become convicted that health is a treasure in the sense that it makes everything else possible, and that it is my job, as the cook of the family, to make the most effort towards preserving and enhancing health. My means are ridiculously inadequate. I happen to be married to a man who isn't exactly on the same page; who doesn't just think that whole grains are nothing more than a nutritional fad, but who requests desserts, foods fried in large quantities of unhealthy oil, etc.

I yearn to exchange all the junk for an invigorating array of fruit and vegetables, for high-quality natural oils and whole flours, and excellent fresh meat, fish and dairy products. I yearn to remove all the temptations from us. I do so wish I could be the one who does the shopping, but unfortunately, this isn't practical.

More recently, reading Sugar Blues made me more mindful of the effect sugar has on people, especially children. It's actually chilling. Intelligent people lose all rational thought and consume foul junk like candy and soft drinks as if those were manna from heaven.

So, what do I do? I cook. I cook for my family. The ingredients are often inferior, but here's what I do:

I cut down on desserts. I've realized that I can spend hours working on a fancy layered cake, lovingly decorating it, and what I'm really doing is investing my time in a poison bomb that is detrimental to my family's health, because I don't have the whole flour, high-quality eggs (at this season), healthy oils and natural sweeteners that would make such a dessert even somewhat more nutritious than its store-bought equivalent. So, if I can't make a dessert or a treat that isn't an anti-nutrient, I don't make it at all. 

Of course, this has a downside, being that my husband, if he sees I've stopped making sweet treats, buys them at the store instead. Then he introduces something that is even more loaded with sugar and unhealthy oils than what I would have made at home. But my protest, in refusing to make such things, creates an echo that really serves to convince my family, bit by bit.

Same goes for white bread. Making bread from scratch is time-consuming, and I've repeatedly told my husband I don't see the sense in doing it if I end up with a product that, nutritionally speaking, is only slightly better than what I can buy at the store (though it does taste better). So, in the past weeks we've been experimenting with slow-rise breads made partially of whole grain (because my husband still claims that bread made entirely of whole grain is too dense for him). 

Of course, I'm doing my best in cooking a variety of real food - soups, stews, casseroles, quiches, meat, fish, and eggs-based stuff. In short, I'm doing the best I can with what I have, at this moment. 

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Shower power

My favorite time to have a shower is just before bedtime, so I can get into my cozy warm pajamas and thick socks at once. It's also practical to bathe kids after supper, once they've finished getting dirty for the day.  Lately, however, I was forced to re-evaluate this practice, due to us living in an area with plenty of power shortages in winter.



In Israel, most houses heat water using solar energy. Of course, for this to be efficient, you need to have plenty of sunlight. Israel is a sunny country, but there are those days/weeks in winter which are cloudy, rainy or even (in some areas) snowy. Also, days are shorter in winter so you have fewer hours of sunlight, and the water might get cold again before you shower. Then you need to turn on the water heater. Even if you don't mind the extra expense, it's not an option if there's a power shortage like we had this week.

So here's our new strategy: if there's a sunny day and our solar heating provides plenty of hot water, I take advantage of it while I can and we all take showers during the day or right after sunset, before the water gets cold.

An additional bonus of taking daytime showers or baths is that we don't need to waste electricity on heating the bathroom itself, or at least we don't need to heat it as much, because it's a lot warmer than it is in the evening.

I've also come to the conclusion that it's OK for kids not to take showers every day in winter. It's quite enough if their hands and faces are clean. For the baby, I prepare a pail of hot water (which can be heated on the gas stove) to wash his tushy as needed.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Educational attitudes

For a long time, I've felt that unschooling is the very thing for each and every child of every age; I've literally felt guilty every time I tried to teach reading or math, even if my children responded well, and doubly so if they bristled. After writing this post, and engaging in a very interesting discussion in the comments, I went through a process of in-depth introspection which convinced me that:

- It's quite alright and, in fact, advisable to actively teach children older than 6 to read, write and count.

- It's quite alright to gently but firmly enforce discipline in homeschooling, just as in other areas of home life (chores, meal times, times of visiting friends, etc).

- I'm not a bad parent if I sometimes make my children do things they don't like. I will occasionally encounter tears, tantrums, whining, and complaints, and my confidence as a parent should not be undermined by that. I don't need to be afraid that they will hate me for setting some rules, on the contrary (as long as it is all done with good intentions and a loving spirit). 

- I'm not destroying spontaneous learning or my children's interests/hobbies/curiosity if I introduce some structured learning into our day. The total of the basic subjects (spelling, reading, math) I aim to cover each day takes approximately two hours, spread through the morning: for example, an hour of math after breakfast, then a break and mid-morning snack, and another hour of writing/spelling before lunch. We don't have homework. So this still leaves plenty of time for the children to pursue their interests, do crafts, play outside, read, write, draw or look at picture books, meet friends, and so on.

I am still a big proponent of plenty of quiet free time, especially exposure to nature, for each child, every day. When I say "free time", I don't mean sitting in front of the TV or computer, naturally, but anything that stimulates curiosity, creativity and imagination: reading, crafts, dress-up, exploring the outdoors, etc. 

I have made a quiet resolution that I will correct my daughter's written work only during "school time", but not when she shows me a story she had written for her own and her sister's amusement (unless she specifically asks me to check her spelling). I believe that a child who perhaps struggles a little with spelling at this point, but who loves to write and does it all the time, eventually will become a better writer, with a richer language, than a child who does everything in a perfectly neat and orderly way, but only as a school exercise.  

This need for free time and unstructured play is felt by me especially strongly in the winter days, which are so short. I see school children coming home when the best part of the day is already gone - barely two hours left before sunset, when it gets too cold to be out. The children, as young as 6, are already so bogged down with homework that one of my daughters' friends told us last week she might not be able to attend the birthday party at our house because she has so much homework. This, I believe, is tragic. Surely little children deserve better balance.