Not all on our own

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Image: exhausted mom
Reading this excellent post made me think about many things. In essence I agree; Me Time is often over-emphasized, over-rated and, worst of all, over-indulged, as in the notion that you are allowed to do almost anything that will make you “happy” or more comfortable.

However, it is true that motherhood can be draining. It is a joy, it is the greatest project of my life, but it is also hard, hard work 24/7. I will even venture to say that so far, things haven’t even really become easier as the children grow. The challenges are simply different. Sure, I get more sleep now than I did when I had newborns, and my day is more orderly, but frankly, breastfeeding and changing diapers was more… straightforward than handling some of the behavioral problems and educational choices we are facing now.

Before we reminisce about how our great-grandmothers did it all on their own and didn’t ask for any help or time off, I would like to step in and say I don’t believe it was the case at all. Childcare wasn’t the exclusive task of the mother. Our great-grandmothers lived in a much more supportive community, and often close to family who could offer some help. A woman of that time could, perhaps, see her mother on a daily basis; or perhaps she lived near her sister, who had children of the same age, and each of them could take a turn watching the little ones. Or if there was no family nearby, neighbors would often step into its place. I’m not saying it always happened, but it was common.

When my two eldest children were toddlers, I had basically two choices: either I stay home with them all day, every day, no breaks (my husband worked long hours) – or I put them in daycare and I’m away from them all day, every day. But I didn’t want or need to be away from my children all day; I only needed an occasional break to refresh me and provide some variety. So I always had them at home with me, for better or worse.

In the past, it was common to let young children play outside and explore on their own – such young children that today it would be considered criminal neglect. The outdoors were safer, and there was almost always some responsible adult outside at every hour of the day.

My great-grandmother used to have a maid. Not a live-in maid, but someone who came on a regular basis and helped around the house. You will say, “it may be so, but she didn’t have a washing machine.” That is true – however, according to my Grandma, the children wore the same clothes all week and only got clean ones for Shabbat. You can imagine how those clothes looked at the end of the week (there were five boys in that family!). Can you imagine not giving your child fresh clothes to wear every day, perhaps more than once a day? If my daughters get a little stain or spill on their clothes – and it happens often, as you can imagine – they start to wail and beg for a change, and sometimes I have to put my foot down, especially if it happens an hour before bath-time.

So what is my point? Feeling tired and drained is bad enough. Feeling guilty because you are tired and drained and you don’t think you are supposed to feel this way is far, far worse. It is perfectly normal to want to feel refreshed and rejuvenated by doing something different. This doesn’t always have to involve spending time away from your family – I have learned to say yes to my husband’s offers of little escapades in the middle of the week, even if there are dishes piled up in the sink.

I have learned to put my feet up in the middle of the day for a short while, and to lock the bedroom door and say, “Mommy is resting”. Usually this means only a few minutes of lying down, with or without a book, but sometimes I manage to steal a cat nap.

I have also learned to enjoy my children more, and to participate in their fun activities rather than frantically say, “oh, good, they are occupied. Now let’s proceed to the next thing on the to-do list.”

I know there are moms out there who are struggling; who live far away from any family, and in places where it is uncommon to rely on friends or neighbors. Who spend all day, every day with their children and are so exhausted that a day in the office may seem like heaven sometimes. What I would like to say that it is normal to feel tired. It is normal to want help. And if you live in the way many live these days – a relatively isolated nuclear family – your best and only source of help will probably be your husband.

Before you feel guilty (“he has been working all day!”), remember that a break can mean not only putting your feet up, but also simply doing something different from what you did all day. I used to be all of a “no, no, let me, I’ll do everything” person. But then I realized that after my husband comes home, or on weekends – after he has had time to eat and rest, and do some of his own stuff, of course – he is perfectly happy to take charge of some childcare and household tasks, and doesn’t see that as a burden. There is a novelty in that to him, because it’s a change from what he has been doing all day and all week.

Would you go into the kitchen late in the evening and start cooking? I wouldn’t, because by late evening I have seen enough of the kitchen for the day. But my husband is often inspired to cook or bake after he has come home from work, or on Fridays. For him, it’s recreation, not a chore. Also, often I’ll have tired, squabbling kids in the evening, but the moment there’s a knock on the door, they run swift as the wind to open and are so good and happy when they are around their father. Why? Because we all benefit from a change. The children, too.

I realize there are also single mothers (and often not by choice) out there. My heart truly goes out to them and I hope they, too, find the right healing balance for themselves and their children.
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Choosing a dairy animal

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Those who have been reading my blog for any length of time probably know that I’m itching to get to milking again. And I have faith that G-d will eventually lead us down the path to further food self-sufficiency and sustainability, which will include keeping dairy animals.

Do you dream of having your own delicious milk, cheese and yogurt as well? Do you keep, or plan to keep, goats or cows? Are you struggling to choose between the two? Read my latest Mother Earth News post for more insight.

“This is a question many homesteaders seriously grapple with when they consider getting a dairy animal. Goats or cows? Cows or goats? There is no one clear-cut answer for all, but rather, many points to be considered while you make the decision about what kind of dairy animal is the right one for you.”

PS: Today, my thoughts are with my American friends as I remember September 11-th. The world is with you. Let’s not let evil get the upper hand.

The Basic Guide to Backyard Livestock

Dear friends,

I am happy to announce that The Basic Guide to Backyard Livestock is now live and available. It contains all I’ve ever written on the subject of raising chickens, arranged in compact, well-organized, easy-to-read form, plus an introductory chapter to goats. As I’m Jewish, naturally I only deal with kosher animals and did not touch on the subject of pigs/rabbits, etc.

The book is available in digital form on Kindle and Payhip, the latter at reduced price, and also in print. I do have to make a disclaimer, however, that the print book is in black and white, as adding color photographs would bump up the price quite unreasonably. I do encourage all who would like a digital copy to purchase from Payhip, as it only takes a tiny commission compared to Amazon, and pays the authors instantly.

I would be infinitely grateful to all who help me spread word about the book by sharing via their blog/social media, or simply among friends who are making their first steps in the direction of raising poultry and goats. People who are interested in review copies are very welcome to contact me.

Nutrition – defeatism, real change and investment of time

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While I was in university, several of our professors repeated that there is almost no way to acquire all the needed vitamins and minerals from the typical modern diet, and thus progressed to say that synthetic supplements in the form of pills, and artificial fortification of widely used foods, are recommended to the population.

It is true, they argue, that what would really be optimal is a whole series of radical changes in the modern diet, but since these aren’t feasible, supplements should be taken. Similarly, since people are unable to give up their sugar addictions, it would be useless to try and make them do that. At most, we should recommend artificial sweeteners to replace refined sugar, based on the evidence that these are harmless in moderate amounts.

To me, even then and especially now, such an attitude seems not only defeatist, but also very underestimating of people’s willpower, intelligence and determination. Shouldn’t we believe that in the light of scientific evidence and proper encouragement, many people will go to great lengths to do what is needed in order to gain good health for themselves and their children?

“Children will never give up sweets,” they say. Thus, it is acceptable to feed them ice-cream and highly sweetened milk products in order to reach the needed daily calcium intake. “Children don’t like vegetables,” and so, it is alright to give them sugar-bombarded, poisonous-colored breakfast cereal because it has some synthetic vitamins stuck in it by the benevolent food industry. This is saying it’s impossible for little children to like and eat with relish simple, wholesome and healthy foods.

True, it might be more challenging, but it isn’t impossible for the committed parent, especially as children tend to copy what they see. If we consistently sit down to good, proper family meals consisting of good healthy foods, this is what the children will see as their model. Food should be a prize, not a chore. We never make a fuss when our daughter trifles with her food, nor attempt to make her eat a full portion when she clearly has no appetite for it, nor offer rewards in the form of sweets.

“People don’t have time to cook,” and so commercially prepared meals indisputably become usual fare. The often overlooked fact is that the modern diet is correlated with the modern lifestyle – rushed, crazy, and highly stressful. If you want to eat healthy homemade food, it doesn’t mean you need to spend all day in the kitchen preparing gourmet meals, but it does usually mean investing more time in food preparation. It means slowing down to plan ahead and think. If the morning is always spent in insane rush of both parents hurrying to get the children out of the house and get out themselves, each going his own separate way, chances are that someone will reach for that box of sugared cereal, rather than make a simple and nutritious breakfast of oatmeal porridge, scrambled eggs and toast.

The habit of family meals is something else we have been robbed off. Even when the family eats together, it often means that they all sit in front of the television with their eyes glued to the screen, many times eating convenience food of inferior quality and taste. A lot more than nutrition is compromised; we are losing the fellowship of the family table, the easy conversation over dinner, the laughter and exchange of ideas, and what happens by-and-by – the training of children in good eating habits and proper behavior. Even with the quality of food in conventional stores so compromised, we would still all be far better off simply with the investment of time to prepare good, proper, simple, nutritious and economical meals.

Needless to say, a mother at home makes a huge difference. Most often, it is her who keeps the cooking fires burning; it is her who gathers the family around the table, nicely set, and offers delicious hot dinner, at the end of which her children will go to bed well-fed, full and sleepy. But of course, conventional nutritionists will not tell women to stay home, if at all possible, and cook for their families. It isn’t politically correct.

The only hope is that people will see for themselves that the lifestyle so many are trying to maintain is nearly always impossible to combine with good health and vibrant family and community life. Our homes have been empty all day for too long, locked up, dark and cold. Our freezers have been stocked, for too long, with food that will temporarily satisfy the hunger while offering no real health benefits. For too long, we have looked for the secret to health and long life in all the wrong places, giving in to the calorie counting craze.

My belief is that nothing will make a real difference unless home, family, and consequently the family table, return to occupy their traditional proper place in our society. This is far more complex than calories, fats, vitamins and DRI. This is about the whole course our life will take from now on.

September 1st

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September the 1st, the date so many parents are longingly looking forward to, is upon us. And though homeschooling obviously isn’t the way for every family (though I believe it can be the way for many more families than those practicing it today), I do find it a little sad that not more parents can enjoy the summer vacation with their kids.

Undoubtedly, there is a very practical reason for the collective sigh of relief that is going to sound once the school buses come to take the children away. In most households in Israel, not only do both parents work, but both parents work an increasingly high number of hours (how family friendly this practice is, and whether there are alternatives, is probably a topic for a whole different post). There is a real, big discrepancy between the days children are out of school and the days parents can take off work. Thus begins a merry-go-round of summer camps, summer schools, babysitters, driving the children off to grandparents, and in many cases, leaving them home alone way too long and too early. Every year, parents campaign for the shortening of summer vacation, stating that the education system is out of tune with real life. I’m mainly saddened by the tone of these discussions, which make children appear to have become a liability.

I’m convinced it’s more than that, however. Many parents, even if they can take time off work, just aren’t comfortable with the idea of spending time with their children at home for any length of time. Thus the typical summer crowding of malls, amusement parks and waterparks, zoos, and any place that usually serves to amuse children. Without a home-based routine, summer becomes a time of chaos, and parents understandably feel they want order restored.

We used to have a simple year-round routine when the girls were little(r), but last year we found a small family-based study group in the area, and when it broke up for the summer, while we didn’t experience the school withdrawal symptoms common in most families, I did have to deal with some attitude problems. For example, whenever I tried to teach something, I would hear whining and remarks such as, “this isn’t what summer is for!” To which I would respond, “Oh, right, I forgot – your brains have gone on vacation and stopped working.” A few days were mostly enough to fix this.

I often hear, “don’t your kids drive you up the wall?” and the answer is, of course they do. Kids whine, fight, test their boundaries, and sometimes I do feel like I need out, or I will explode. It’s important to remember, however, that taking a break, while it can be refreshing, does not solve problems. I have had instances when children fought over something silly (“over dead air space”, as a friend of mine aptly puts it), were taken by their dad to the library or the park for distraction, and resumed the same argument the moment they got home!! Now, clearly the solution isn’t to always keep children away from home, or siblings away from each other (preferably on leashes and in cages). Problems need to be addressed and attitudes worked on. And believe me, I have had my moments of utter despondency. I have clutched my hair and yelled myself hoarse, and I know this can be so very hard. I’m just saying that you’ll have to deal with the same problems whether you home educate or not, although admittedly every little issue is magnified when it has been raining for days on end and you’re all cooped up at home day and night.

In Israel, summer vacation is shortly followed by the string of Jewish holidays that leave many parents at a loss again. What I suggest for every family, homeschooling or not, is the cultivation of quiet contentment among children (and parents) that will enable you to stay home together as a family, and entertain yourselves inexpensively by things like reading, crafts, walks, and picnics in parks. I know some families that flat out refuse to put themselves in the heavy traffic flow on the middle days of Sukkot, for example, and they save a whole lot of time, money and frustration. If you do take trips, you needn’t go far – exploring your own area can be more interesting than you think.

What is enough? Thoughts about spending and debt

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We’ve been staying with my Mom for the last couple of days, and like many times before, I find myself stricken by the contrast between our life and the life of people in town, if only an hour ‘s ride or so away.

My kids are very unused to being cooped up in an apartment 24/7, so naturally, I go out with them a lot. Luckily, there are many beautiful parks in the area where they can run, jump, swing, climb, and take out all their seemingly boundless energy.

One thing that really struck me every time we go out is how much people buy. It seems that possibilities to spend money are endless – clothes, toys, books, any kind of stuff you can imagine, as well as eating out. I hardly know what to think when I see a waitress moving forward with a tray that probably costs as much as we spend on food in a week.

I must be honest, and can’t say the only thing I’m thinking is, “sheesh, how much money are they throwing out, these mindless spenders!” Sometimes I feel a pang of envy, wishing that I, too, could just sit down and order a meal in a cozy cafe without comparing its cost to my grocery budget; or whip out a credit card, walk into a store, and buy heaps of clothes – things that smell beautiful and new and that had been owned by nobody before; and if the size doesn’t fit, why, I can just go to the saleslady and ask for a bigger or smaller one. These are things we have gone totally out of habit of doing, and most of the time I’m not sorry we can’t afford them.

The thing is, judging from statistics on income and poverty, I’m not sure all the people who are caught up in shopping sprees can afford it, either.

Last Shabbat, I participated in a Torah class led by a lady who brought out a variety of very interesting sources, which all seemed to point into one direction, essentially stating that borrowing money and being in debt is wrong from the Jewish point of view, and should be avoided as much as possible. Of course, many people who are not Jewish or even religious at all have come to the same conclusion regardless. The big stumbling block to this principle is, of course, a mortgage, without which buying an apartment is impossible for most Israelis in most parts of the country. When women pointed this out, the lady said that the best compromise she knows of is to take as little a loan as possible and settle for a modest apartment.

Being committed to avoiding debt, we have never taken a mortgage and bought, so far, two houses with cash. They were old and fixer-uppers, and many people would no doubt say they wouldn’t have chosen such a bargain, but I still consider it a good choice. Financial freedom does not come without certain sacrifices.

Would love it if anyone cares to share their thoughts on this.

Chicken Behavioral Problems

Above: a photo of one of our roosters strutting around. This guy has been occasionally known to have some attitude problems, which are quickly adjusted by a well-aimed sweep with a broomstick. Some roosters are a lot more troublesome, however, and may be found incompatible with the backyard flock owner seeking a quiet, peaceful life.

Admittedly, roosters are often the more problematic part of the flock, being noisy, territorial and sometimes aggressive. It is no wonder that the English language boasts of expressions such as “being cocky”. However, I also believe that at least half of all the behavioral management programs in backyard chicken flocks – whether it’s excessive pecking, aggression toward humans or extreme flightiness – can be dealt with by choosing the breed that suits you best.

Read more in my latest Mother Earth News post about chicken behavioral problemsPredators, pests and diseases are not the only challenges a backyard flock owner will have to deal with. Sometimes the problems are originated in the flock itself, and solving them involves lots of creativity, ingenuity and even diplomacy.