Preparing for changes

I’ve started packing in earnest, and filled three big boxes before I called it a day. There’s something both desperate and addictive about packing; when I begin, it seems at first it will never end, but at the same time it’s hard to stop filling up those boxes. An early start, careful packing, and careful labeling are all necessary for effective, pain-free transition from house to house.

Either way, it’s not a project that can be completed in a day, and in the weeks that are left to us here, we will enjoy our remaining time in this place that has been home so long.

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My basil plants are really beginning to look up. I’m practically salivating just looking at them, thinking of all the delicious fresh pesto I’m hopefully going to make.

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The kittens have found a place to relax on this old chair in the yard I’ve been planning to throw away. I find it hilarious how the little black female is making herself comfortable at the expense of her brother.

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It was an unseasonably cool, windy day here, and when I took Hadassah out for an airing, I put on her this little sweater I made when I was expecting Shira to be born. This brings back such memories… me, on long evenings in our first little home, anticipating the birth of our first child, and diligently working on this little outfit for her. The red buttons came from my mom’s button box. I’ve gotten into the habit of saving buttons too, and now have a button box on my own.

With the next babies, I didn’t have that much time anymore, and had to settle for quicker and less elaborate projects, such as hats and blankets. I haven’t had time to crochet much lately, and miss it. I hope to find a simple and satisfying project to pick up soon, so I can work on it in odd spare moments that crop up throughout the day.

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Creating Memories

Though a few days have gone by, I can still scarcely think of anything but Julie’s sudden passing. I have never met anyone for whom, like for her, life was such a great, big, ever-growing circle of love and light. The words I most often remember in connection with her are, “I love to create, and my favorite thing to create is memories. How thankful I am for each one that is stored in my heart, and the hearts of those I love.”

With this in mind, when we chanced to be at the park with the children this week, I put my whole being into being with them. I let go of every care and worry, and only whipped out my phone to take a few pictures.

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Climbing.

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Balancing.

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Precious sibling love.

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From home: One of this year’s new kittens.

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The latest thrift-store find: two lovely vintage kiddush cups. These will get shined and put away in the kitchen cupboard today. Please ignore the table mess. 😉

Up in the Clouds with G-d

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Today, I logged into Facebook and received a punch in the stomach – Julie Ryan, a great and noble woman and one of the people dearest to me on the other side of the Atlantic, unexpectedly passed away.

There are no words to describe Julie. Those who knew her, even a little bit, will never forget her. I never had the privilege of meeting her in person, but nevertheless, she was an enormous spiritual influence in my life. I am firmly convinced that Hashem led me to blogging first and foremost so I could get to know Julie. Though not Jewish, she was the one who first taught me the importance of what Rabbi Nachman from Breslev calls hitbodedut, just being out there alone with G-d and pouring all our feelings and prayers and cares and sorrows, our thankfulness and our fears and dreams, to Him in our own simple words, like a child speaking to their father.

Julie used to have a blog called Eyes of Wonder, where I first found myself on the receiving end of her kind and loving words. She eventually stopped blogging in order to protect her family’s privacy and her own time, but in years to come we have kept in touch – occasionally, as Julie was the busy mother of ten children and grandmamma to several grandchildren, and I also got married and started a family of my own – but she was in my thoughts very often. I have a whole notebook, which I treasure, filled with inspirational quotes from Julie’s blog, and excerpts from emails she had sent to me. Here is one, which I know she wouldn’t mind me sharing:

“Dear precious Anna, I have written you so many letters in my heart (and have a couple in my saved drafts folder, that never got completed and sent along—as I seem to always try and write a *longer* letter than time actually allows, then end up sending nothing–please forgive me for that, my dear friend). So, this morning I am sending along much, much, love to you—and an enormous thank-you for sharing your beautiful life and family with me, with all of us. We treasure you and have been so very blessed and honored as you have shared your beautiful wedding and priceless gift of your baby (and the exciting journey with all the sweet steppingstones along the way to actually holding your jewel in your arms and taking him/or her to your breast). ((Anna)) thank-you for continuing to share with me/us, even though at times life has not permitted me the time to respond as I would have so liked to. Thank-you for being my friend, for always thinking the best and hoping the best, and freely giving from your heart. I am so grateful that it is so.”

I am torn between sorrow for Julie’s passing, and thankfulness for there having been such a woman, mother and friend in the world.

I will conclude this with a poem Julie loved, Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Out in the Fields with God. It just about summarizes her simple, childlike faith, and the very essence of her being:

The little cares that fretted me,
I lost them yesterday
Among the fields above the sea,
Among the winds that play,
Among the lowing of the herd,
The rustling of the trees,
Among the singing of the birds,
The humming of the bees.

The foolish fears of what might pass
I cast them all away
Among the clover-scented grass,
Among the new-mown hay,
Among the hushing of the corn,
Where drowsy poppies nod,
Where ill thoughts die and good are born —
Out in the fields with God.

Image: Grey Havens by Carel de Winter

The gift of today

As time passes, it is clearer and clearer to me that the most important work we have to do upon this earth is in loving, and showing love to, and caring for the people around us, starting from the people closest to us.

I am very privileged in this sense, at this season of my life. I have many people to love. I have little children at home, who need me many hours out of each day, and therefore I have no lack of opportunity to give love and care in a thousand practical ways. I also get to stay home and do all those things myself. My children never had a diaper changed by anybody else but me and their dad, except perhaps occasionally a grandma.

Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not some kind of perfect person. I have low tolerance for whining. I snap if a child shows open disobedience. I have all these hobbies and projects and things I like to do on my own, and like every mother of young children, I sometimes desperately wish for a good long restful stretch of quiet time.

But then I look back at the time when Shira was a baby and motherhood was new and overwhelming and I cried because I felt as though I’d never sleep again. Now she’s a 9-year-old who reads, writes, learns, works on her own projects, has her own friends and folds her own socks. She can do the dishes, wash the floor, and fry eggs. I have no idea how this happened, but facts are staring me in the face. It’s bittersweet, really. Seasons chase seasons, and as much as I’d want to stop time, even for a day, I can’t.

All I can do is enjoy. Enjoy the little downy head that is resting on my chest. Enjoy the playdough art and creative spelling. Enjoy the child who is small enough to sit on my lap, because someday soon he won’t be. Enjoy the full house, because one day these little birds will fly out to make their own nest.

Live, love and enjoy the gift. The gift of today.

It’s that time again… preparing to move

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Right now I’m at this stage when I’m psyching myself up for the upcoming house move. I don’t thrive in the mess and chaos of cardboard boxes all around and not remembering whether a something has already been packed or I just can’t find it in the general disorder, but… hey, we’ve survived this several times in the past decade, so I figure we can do it again. Even with twice the number of kids we had last time. Yeah. Totally.

I do have some tips for moving house in a way that will leave your sanity and your possessions largely intact, and I share those in my latest Mother Earth News post:

Moving house is the ultimate decluttering motivator. All those nooks and crannies, stashes and boxes you have successfully avoided until now are going to be dragged into the light of day, like it or not. And, since you’re actually taking the trouble of packing each possession, you naturally ask yourself, do I really need this?

The answer for us, in about half of the cases, is probably not. I’m married to a hoarder, and my kids have magpie-like tendencies as well. If they’re away from home, I can throw away half their toys and they won’t notice, but if I try to gain some more shelf space while they’re here… oh boy. We had quite a bit of drama last week over a one-armed doll.

Just wish me luck as I’m going to pack and move and unpack all over again, okay?

 

Poverty or simplicity?

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These two matters are often a subject of confusion: simple living and poor living. Where do we draw the line?

Generally speaking, I think the difference is that living simply is living well, even when it is done within the scope of the same budget which draws another family into the pit of poverty.

In many ways, it is also a matter of attitude. It is possible to have an income which could provide for normal life – good food, reasonable housing, proper healthcare, etc – and yet be dissatisfied and feel poor, if one thinks oneself entitled to all sorts of fancy things which cannot be afforded on that small income. Or worse, if the modest financial resources are squandered on luxuries which “must” be had, not much is left for the true necessities.

Simple living, on the other hand, is voluntarily and cheerfully going without things you know you don’t really need – either foregoing them completely or taking it as a challenge to make the best of all you can have right now.

For example, if right now your budget prescribes that you go without new clothes, you can either feel “poor” (or buy that which you cannot afford) or you can take it up as a challenge to go through your closets and look for things you have forgotten about, and how they can be combined with what you do have – or look through second-hand shops to look for items in excellent condition, or learn to sew, etc.

Simple living is taking small steps towards sustainability – cooking and making what you can from scratch, growing some of your own food and/or swapping with families who are doing so. Not because you can’t afford to buy it, but because you enjoy the blessings of abundant health, resourcefulness, and an easier burden on your budget.

Simple living is making the best of all the pleasures of life which cost nothing or next to nothing. If you can’t afford costly travel abroad and staying in hotels, you might feel poor and deprived – or you can dig into vigorous, extensive exploration of the area near your home, and it is almost certain you will make fascinating discoveries of wonderful spots you haven’t visited yet.

Simple living is shedding the time-consuming pursuits which stand between us and what is truly important to us.

Poverty is deprivation, while simple living is fullness of beauty in everything that is available to us. No one wants to be poor, but many can and do find true delight in simple living.

Why Large Families Are Environmentally Friendly

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There’s an argument going on among some radical environmentalists claiming that having more than two children is about the greatest sin one can commit against the planet. While many developed countries are characterized by reduced reproduction rates, I would like to argue that large families – and now that we have four children, I believe we have officially crossed that bridge – are often a lot more environmentally friendly than households with no kids, or two children at most.

We are frugal. On average, with each child added to a family, the per capita income is lower. In addition, it’s more likely that one parent, usually the mother, will stay home to be the primary caretaker. This forces large families to be creative with their resources, and make a little go a long way. Around here, a lot less food gets thrown out now than when we were newlyweds. We use less disposables, among other reasons, because when you need to put out plastic dishes for a lot of people, it gets pricey.

Our households are more efficient. The more people live in the same household, the less, on average, they use up per capita in terms of space, water and energy. Children share rooms. Our electricity bill has grown with the addition of children, but not proportionally to the number of people in our family. That’s because the same amount of energy is used, for example, to bake a casserole for two people or for seven (you just use a larger pan). When we use the water heater, we take advantage of every drop of hot water. We take shorter showers because there are other people waiting to use the bathroom, and often two children will share a bath. Oh, and we have much more incentive to declutter and bring less junk into the house to begin with, because we just don’t have the room!

We are hand-me-down experts. Not only are clothes, shoes, toys, books, baby equipment, etc, passed from child to child, but we’ve become experts at looking for, and finding, the best second-hand deals. That’s because the price of new clothes, shoes, toys, and so on, even if you choose the cheapest bargain, really adds up. It makes a lot more sense to buy a gently used item of good quality, or accept hand-me-downs from friends and family. I currently have three huge bags of children’s clothes to sort through. I’ll choose what we’ll keep, and pass the rest on.

We travel less. Before I got married, I traveled abroad on average once a year. I’ve never boarded an airplane since, and now, with four children, it’s unlikely we’ll do that in the foreseeable future (unless it’s relocation for purposes of my husband’s work). With the addition of a fourth child, a standard 5-seat vehicle is no longer enough. This means we need a bigger car – which burns up more gas, that’s true, but here’s the incentive to drive around less! Plus, when you have a bunch of kids and no babysitter, you have to tote everyone around, and this teaches you to be efficient with your errands.

Our entertainment is more family-centered. The more kids you have, the more expensive (and more of a hassle!) it becomes to take everyone to eat out, to the movies, to an amusement park, or indeed to any paid entertainment venture. Finding a babysitter is more challenging, too. Our outings, if we go out, are family friendly and free – to local parks, the library, farms, farmers’ markets, etc.

Disclaimer: we are religious and do believe that earth was created for the benefit of mankind, and not the other way around. Nevertheless, it is our duty to be good and diligent stewards of the resources we have been given, and make sure we “waste not, want not.”