The trouble with “measuring up”

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A huge stumbling block in the path of people who wish to simplify and live a quiet, slow and purposeful life, is being part of a social circle who all have bigger houses, more possessions, fancier gadgets, who take trips abroad every year, etc, etc.

An important thing to remember when you say to yourself, “how come they are able to afford it?!” is that you don’t really know whether they can. You don’t really know what goes on behind the closed doors of people’s homes, or in their bank accounts. Perhaps these people are living way beyond their means. Perhaps they are in debt. Or perhaps they afford their super-fancy, extra-packed lifestyle by maintaining two careers which leave hardly any family time at all.

And if you are a mother who stays home with her children, some people might deliberately or accidentally make you feel inferior, or this feeling might come across on its own when you’re reading about someone who “successfully” combined a career and family. And again, the true price of what it all entailed is seldom brought up.

Or perhaps you just walk into someone’s house and lament how this lady has it all together while you don’t, and seemingly never will, and forget that no one has our unique set of strengths, weaknesses, experience and family situation. I’m not saying we shouldn’t learn from one another. But this learning should be a thing of strength and growth, not just useless comparison that leads us to feel debilitating inferiority.

Maybe, when you were growing up, there was a child of your parents’ friends, or perhaps a cousin who was so much more accomplished than you, who spoke German and French and played the violin, and could do all the things you could never even dream of doing. Perhaps your parents spent your entire childhood and adolescence unfavorably comparing you with that “role model”, until you felt about that unfortunate unsuspecting child the same way Emma Woodhouse felt about Jane Fairfax – an almost unconscious grudge that is as unjustified as it is difficult to overcome.

G-d made us unique. He wants and expects us to improve, but not by striving to become the image of somebody else. His boundaries are wide enough so that within them, we can freely be just what we are.

Image: lovely oil painting by Trent Gudmundsen 

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Summer fun

The house is full of cardboard boxes, and all our stuff is nearly packed, except for a few last minute essentials. To celebrate this, we went away to spend a few days with my mom.

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A little boy on his first bike. It was a birthday present, and it’s blue – Israel’s favorite color.

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He was so happy and proud of himself. This was the first time he really experienced the freedom of having a pair of wheels, and he just wouldn’t get off. He rode like the wind!

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Dancing and splashing in the fountain.

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They had so much fun!

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Building a fort with blankets and pillows. The kids stayed in this cave for hours, and performed the most delightful puppet shows.

On the other side of the door

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Have you ever had to climb into your house through a bathroom window? I had this unforgettable experience a few years back, when my two older girls were a toddler and a baby.

Around midday, the girls and I were returning home from a play-date visit in a friend’s house, tired out and ready for lunch, story time and a nap. I opened the door, let Shira in, and lingered outside with Tehilla to give the chickens some fresh water.

Just as I had my back turned to the door, I heard an ominous click of the door locking from inside.T ehilla and I were out and Shira was in the house on her own, and there was a locked door in between.

I tried to get Shira to unlock the door, but the lock was stuck. All the windows were locked from inside too (for safety reasons) and I couldn’t quite get her to understand how to open them. Once it dawned on us that we’re separated by a locked door, we both got quite panicky. I heard Shira crying inside and could do nothing – I felt so helpless, my husband had a key but he was at least an hour and a half away.

I called a friend who lived nearby, more for moral support than anything else, and she dashed right over to try and get us to calm down, and to coax Shira to give the key another try from inside. In the meantime, I made a last desperate check of all the windows and discovered – hurray! – that the shower window is unlocked.

Problem is, it’s a small window that opens only halfway, and it’s right near the ceiling. In a stroke of uncharacteristic technical brilliance, I managed to remove the glass panes, which left a square right below the ceiling, large enough for a rather thin person to climb through (I’m proud to say I was even able to replace the panes later, in correct order).

I found a ladder behind the garden shed, took one of the plastic garden chairs and slipped it through the window into the shower stall so that I would be able to step on it once I swing my feet through the window. I then realized there’s no way I’m going to be able to do this in my long denim skirt. Sincerely hoping no one can see this, I slipped out of my skirt, immensely thankful that at least I was wearing long pants underneath. I then climbed to the top of the ladder, swung one foot over the window, then another (in an acrobatic fit I had no idea I was capable of), then I climbed down to the plastic chair – and yes! I was in!

I hurried to my frightened child, comforted her while telling her never, never, never to mess about with the lock again, and swung open the front door, admitting my friend together with her little ones and Tehilla, who was sitting in her stroller all the while, enjoying all the attention and oblivious to anything exciting going on. With a deep sigh of worn-out travellers, my friend and I settled on the couch and sofa to nurse our babies. Finally, rest was at hand.

Later, when I was at leisure to think it all through, it occurred to me how this whole situation illustrates something bigger – the feeling of helplessness, the frustration, the fear; separation from our dearest ones; knowledge of being very close to something precious – so close, yet unable to reach it. And finally, the miraculous discovery of a way to get to it – doing things you didn’t think you could do, climbing up a steep ladder, a dangerous squeezing through a narrow gate, and finding yourself, finally, at the peaceful place your heart so desired – your home.

The countdown

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I have shared this little video of some of our potted plants which, like me, are waiting to be moved to more permanent soil.

The countdown to our house move is now past the one month mark, and about 90% of our things are currently in boxes, making the place a maze of cardboard. I can’t wait to get to the new house so I can unpack and rearrange it all.

It’s exhausting, but also oddly addictive – once you start packing, you can’t stop filling those boxes. Please wish us luck as we go through this process once again… and, oh, also wish us many peaceful years at our new home. I really don’t feel like doing this again anytime soon.

 

Unclogging Drains

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You know those times when you’re washing dishes and the water drains just a little bit slowly in the sink, and you’re trying to deny it and say, “oh, it’s probably nothing”? Well, don’t do that, because you might just find yourself with a fully clogged drain before you know it! Treat the problem while it’s manageable.

Read more in my latest Mother Earth News post:

“The simplest and most obvious thing is prevention: try not to let your drains get mucky in the first place. Clean plates thoroughly before placing them in the sink, especially plates with lots of fatty/oily residue, and try to catch hair and other gunk before it slides down your bathroom drain.”

On a more serious note, my thoughts right now are with Bruce and Carol McElmurray, who have fled from wildfires in their area in Southern Colorado and left their beloved mountain cabin behind. Bruce and Carol and their dogs are safe, but they might never return to their home. I’m crossing my fingers and hoping for a miracle. I’m sure they will appreciate your prayers.

Starting solids: our experience

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Image source: stuff.co.nz

I got a question about starting solids with babies; and while there are several ways to approach this, here is what has always worked for our children so far.

First off, we always introduce solids very gradually. Pushing solids is a bad idea, as is abrupt weaning/restriction of nursing to get baby to eat solids. Breast milk is a lot more nutritionally balanced than almost every kind of typical baby food.

We never bought ready-made baby food. I don’t see why anyone would buy those tiny, overpriced jars (unless you’re going on a long trip with poor refrigeration facilities). We never thought to look up recipes, either – we simply improvised. As you dive into it, you’ll see making baby food is easy and fun.

We usually start giving tiny tastes of mashed or blended fruit and veggies at around five months, though solids don’t make a full meal until around 6-7 months. Mashed banana makes a good first food, and babies love it (though a few years down the road, they don’t believe me when I tell them they once did!). After introducing each new food, we wait several days to make sure there’s no adverse reaction. After we try an array of foods, we start making mixtures and smoothies using a blender.

I know it is often recommended to give the baby cooked fruit, but generally, we gave it raw (apples, pears, plums) and only cooked/baked veggies (sweet potato, zucchini, pumpkin). I never saw that it disagreed with our babies.

Many grandparents and pediatricians think that cereals are a good choice for baby’s first food at 5-6 months, but at that point, the amylases in our digestive system aren’t fully mature yet and it doesn’t do good to overload baby with starches. Fruit and vegetables are far better as first foods.

As our babies grew older, we felt more and more comfortable to simply take a fork, mash whatever is on our own plate and give it to them. However, up to one year, we avoid foods that are considered allergenic (such as fish, eggs, peanut butter, etc).

When I make baby food, I don’t add salt or spices, but when we feed babies off our plate we don’t avoid salt, though we steer clear of very spicy foods and artificial taste additives. As much as possible, for as long as possible, we avoid giving foods with added sugar, and fake foods such as morning cereals. Sugar is addictive, and once kids have a taste of it, they grow into sugar junkies.

Gradually, our babies grew out of baby foods. Bit by bit, they moved on to soft finger foods, learned to use a spoon and cup, and joined the family table as equal members. I look forward to the expression of pleasure and interest that will appear on Hadassah’s face when she first tastes solids, but I do so love this special time of exclusively breastfeeding her.

Be your own friend

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As mothers, we are nurturers, giving to others as naturally as breathing. But what happens when you feel your fountain is about to run dry? I can tell you it happened to me more than once. In the early years of marriage, with two children under two, living in a remote place with no close friends or family support and with a husband who worked long hours at the time – there were many, many days when I felt overwhelmed.

Nurturing ourselves is something we usually have to take charge of, because no one can know our material and spiritual needs as well as we do. We are the ones who know whether we are tired, hungry, in need of a shower, or preoccupied about something that keeps sitting in the back of our mind.

Basic needs have to be taken care of. Of course, sometimes we will be required to step out of our usual limits to take care of others, such as at times when there is a new baby, or a child is sick, or any other emergency. But it doesn’t work in the long term. We simply cannot ignore our own needs on a regular basis and still expect ourselves to have the mental energy to nurture others. One can only give what one has, it is a basic law; just as I cannot give a thousand dollars if I don’t have them, I cannot give relaxation and peace of mind to my family if I’m an overwrought, exhausted nervous wreck by the end of a day (or even worse, close to its beginning).

Of course, here we reach a point when an argument might follow, discussing what is a basic need and what isn’t. We are all vastly different and come from different cultural backgrounds; some would say that going on a vacation abroad or having two cars is a basic need for them. I will, however, focus on three things that are important to me in order to get through a day successfully: food, sleep, shower and (I know it’s a fourth) some quiet, peaceful time.

I will start with sleep, because lack of it is what makes me malfunction most seriously, and it isn’t something I can simply catch up on whenever I need to (as opposed to food). Recently, when I realized I can hardly drag myself out of bed most mornings, it occurred to me I simply must make getting more sleep a priority. To do this, I basically had 3 options: go to bed early, get up later in the morning, or take a midday nap. Now, getting up later in the morning is not a really feasible option most days, and I can’t always count on getting quiet time in the middle of the day. So my only real alternative was going to bed early. Of course, it would mean missing out on things I could be doing during the evening (whether housework or my own projects), but as I found out, I don’t really do anything constructive anyway when I’m too tired, so it’s not a big miss-out.

Then there’s food. Here we’re doing good; I sit down to eat with my kids at least 3 times a day, and often we have a snack once or twice in between. However, I mostly make one-dish meals (pasta, soup, crustless quiche, stuffed peppers) and there are those days when cooking just doesn’t fit in. On such days, I’m thankful for frozen leftovers, and when it comes to the worst, there’s always eggs, toast and oatmeal.

Then there’s spiritual life. I consider it a must, like food or sleep, but it doesn’t have to happen through solid long periods of inward reflection and prayer. I simply close my eyes, for a few moments several times a day, to lift up my thanks, sorrows, hopes, requests and frustrations.

Now we come to a point which, I have noticed, is often debated, regarding its necessity and even advisability. I’m talking about having one’s own projects and making time for them, for enjoyment and personal growth. Here I see two polar attitudes; there are those who say your own comes first and you are entitled to anything as long as it makes you “happy”. Others self-righteously give up on anything unrelated to motherhood and housekeeping, and feel it would be selfish to have any hobbies, friends or intellectual pursuits.

I am somewhere in between. I certainly have enough in my home and with my children to keep me busy from the moment I rise till the moment I go to bed, but I find it stimulating, enriching and uplifting to carve out time for writing. Being an author is another “me”, something that exists apart from the daily grind. There are also crafts, reading, expanding my knowledge about things that interest me. Those things  occupy only a small portion of my time, but it’s like the icing on the cake. An added bonus is that kids who have a mama who loves to learn and create will love doing those things too.

Others come first. I cannot keep little children waiting (not for any considerable length of time, anyway) for their meals, naps, baths, boo-boo kissing, storytelling and discipline. But I can and will make sure that I am not forgotten either. For long hours every day, I’m the only adult in the house, and I sometimes feel alone; sometimes there’s the pressing need for a friend, a mature, generous, motherly-type friend who would kindly ask: how are you feeling? Is there anything I can do for you? What would make you feel better, more at peace, more comfortable?

I don’t have to wait for someone else to ask those questions. I can be my own friend. I can ask myself: how am I feeling? What can I, realistically, do for myself right now? What would make me feel better, what can help me relax? Is it a cup of tea? Baking some cookies? Curling up on the couch while my children are playing on the floor? And sometimes, in the desperate busyness of a day, I can tell myself, “hold on. It’s crazy right now, but as soon as things calm down, as soon as the little people get their necessary portion of attention, you can have some for yourself.” It doesn’t make me lazy or selfish. It makes me a responsible mother who teaches her children self-worth and self-respect.