Green cleaning: simple and effective

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I have a wide array of all kinds of cleaning agents, sprays, powders, liquids, etc, under my kitchen sink – but in general, I prefer to leave them there. My favorite cleaning agents are vinegar, baking soda, and citric acid crystals. Combined with hot water and elbow grease, these will get almost everything clean.

It’s especially important to avoid most commercial cleaning products if you have allergies. Quoting from this article:

“Most household cleaning products are harmful to children. According to research done by the University of Minnesota [1], several chemicals found in the home are linked to allergies. They cause birth defects, cancer, and psychological disorders. The Consumer Protection Safety Commission [2] states that since 1970, asthma cases have increased by 59 percent. Children under 15 years of age have suffered from asthma at a higher rate of 41 percent. The data is alarming to healthcare professionals.”

While it may be difficult to find an unequivocal link between this or that cleaning product and allergies/asthma, one thing is certain: cleaning with stuff that you can actually put in your food has to be safer. It’s better for the environment, too. And as a bonus, it will save you a bundle in the long run!

Read more about green cleaning in this post.

When you are just swamped

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You don’t remember when you’ve last had a night of uninterrupted sleep. You haven’t washed your hair in three weeks. Your friends send anxious messages asking if they’ve offended you somehow, because you haven’t returned their calls for ages. There’s a dark unrecognized sticky puddle under your fridge that you are going to tackle as soon as you have the opportunity – and you’ve been saying this for two months at least.

It seems you are on a treadmill, running and running and never getting anywhere.

Congratulations! You are a Mom to little ones.

This is often the picture of my day-to-day life. Sometimes toddlers can actually be even more intense than newborns. So it’s not like things don’t get done… but admittedly, very little gets done, and this little costs a major effort. The two things that get me through right now are the following:

1. Appreciate the small things. You’ve washed the dishes? Emptied the garbage can? Wiped the bathroom mirror? Great! So what if these aren’t major projects or fancy meals you can show off at the end of the day (because, you know, a sink can refill itself in the span of an hour around here). You still deserve to be appreciated for your efforts in keeping a clean, livable home.

2. Take advantage of the little snippets of time. If the baby is settled down on the rug with a couple of toys, you know you probably don’t have hours to rearrange your closet. But you do have five minutes to take the washing off the line or water the house plants.

And, finally, this too shall pass. From my experience babies get a lot better at entertaining themselves once they start crawling. And, in the more distant future, they might find the company of other people to be more exciting than their mother’s. So we had better enjoy this while it lasts.

Just Being Home

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I think the best, most effective, and most enjoyable way to save money at home actually isn’t about pinching pennies, or utilizing the contents of our freezer and pantry to the utmost efficiency, or saving electricity and water (although all these practices are good and valid, of course). It is simply staying home, as opposed to running/driving about.

Of course, we all like to go out sometimes. Day/field trips, visits with family/friends, even shopping trips are fun – but it’s all about the proportion of time spent in vs. out (by “in”, I also mean on your lot – in your garden, on your deck, on your sun roof, etc, not necessarily in your living room).

It is really quite straightforward: when you are pleasantly occupied in your home, instead of browsing shop-windows, for example, you have less temptation to buy stuff you don’t really need. Also, you don’t waste money on gas.

Naturally, this means you have to put in the effort to make your home a place of fun, enjoyment, wholesome activity, family togetherness, usefulness, comfort and recreation. And there is really no limit to all those things, even in the smallest, most humble home.

This doesn’t mean you need to have expensive decorations or furniture, or spacious rooms. A welcoming home is cozy and well-organized, without being oppressive to children or visitors (as in, making people wary of touching anything for fear of ruining a perfect arrangement).

A day or two ago, my daughters complained about “having nothing to play with”. Now, if you had seen their room, you would have known the claim was simply ridiculous – because though we’re not at all consumerism-driven when it comes to toys, still, gifts from grandparents and friends, and giveaways, etc, make for quite enough to be getting on with. As a matter of fact, they had a couple of new board games and puzzles they had hardly touched. All these, however, were lost in a jumble of toys all piled atop one another.

So, you need to make books, games, toys, and art and craft supplies easily accessible.

Another point is to create inviting areas for all sorts of activities: reading, drawing, sewing, etc. We have one all-purpose table in the kitchen that serves us for eating, studying, ironing, board games, and all sorts of projects. Being so much used, it’s easy for our table to overflow with stuff. I must be careful to keep it clean and clutter-free, so that when my children want to draw, they won’t need to restrict themselves to the last tiny corner of free table space.

Do interesting things at home and thereabouts. We currently have seeds going on indoors, several experiments on the go, our chickens, our garden, and always plenty of reading to do. Naturally, in the winter when it’s too cold and rainy, and in the summer on the hottest days, we are more restricted to indoor activities. The spring and autumn are the pleasantest seasons where we live.

PS: Isn’t it funny how some of my favorite Jane Austen quotes are actually put in the mouths of characters I can’t stand? The above “staying home for real comfort” was said by Mrs. Elton.

Pesach: a time to clean (and declutter!)

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Image source: Decluttering Queen

Pesach is associated with the seder, the haggadah, matzo balls soup and, of course, cleaning. Starting about a month before the holiday, Jewish households begin to be turned upside down as every nook and cranny is searched for stray crumbs of leavened bread. If you think doing this outside the kitchen is an exaggeration, you should know that I found a coated peanut in the girls’ room two days ago. I have no idea how long it had been living under their bookshelves and how it got there. Probably the same way as the broken ventilator or the rolled-up length of garden hose I found under a pile of toys.

I’ve never been what you might call a cleaning freak – give me a choice between cleaning and reading a good book, or cleaning and baking, or cleaning and working in the garden, and I don’t have to lie awake all night trying to make my mind up. Which, of course, is why I constantly seek out ways to make cleaning more effective – I want it to be done as quickly and efficiently as possible! Normally, I hugely resent the pre-Pesach frantic rush for disrupting my routine and depriving me of peace, sleep, downtime, and fun activities with my children. But there is something I relish about the pre-holiday prep, and that’s decluttering.

We all have too much stuff in our homes (well, I know I do. Maybe you don’t. If so, you have my fervent admiration). Every year before Pesach as I go through the clothes, bookshelves and toy shelves, I find piles upon piles of stuff that can be given away – or, let’s be honest, that should have found its way to the dump a long time ago. This year, we freed up our home from bags upon bags of old, outgrown or unused clothes, and two large boxes of toys. I can guarantee that none of this stuff will ever be missed. Last year I did an especially rough purge of the toy piles and, taking advantage of a spell when the children were playing outside, just hauled out half of it all. Nobody ever missed or asked about what was taken away.

Some useful decluttering tips can be found here.

Pesach cleaning, schedules and resentment

Purim will soon be 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, tranquility, 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

His Help

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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 some 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.

Of kitchen sinks and gratitude

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Illustration photo: Huffington Post

Last Friday I awoke to the sounds of gushing water from the kitchen. It actually sounded like a small, gurgling stream. Bleary-eyed, I rolled off the bed and went to see what’s the deal; I discovered a small lake spreading out from under the kitchen sink.

Of course, I did what any rational woman would do in such a situation – I ran to shake my husband awake, panting, “Quick! Quick! There’s an emergency! We’re all drowning!”. My husband opened one eye, stepped into the kitchen, took a look at the whole thing and closed off the pipeline leading to the sink. While I was mopping up this miniature Lake Windermere, he remarked, “Well, at least the kitchen floor will be clean.”

He explained to me that there’s something wrong with the kitchen pipeline (you don’t say?!). Did it rust through? Got nibbled on by mice? Punctured by evil aliens? I didn’t care; I just wanted the use of my kitchen sink back. It didn’t help that Friday is the busiest day in Orthodox Jewish households, growing progressively crazier as the clock ticks toward afternoon and the lighting of Shabbat candles.

In case you are wondering, washing dishes in the bathroom sink is not very convenient.

I’m sure my husband, who is a real handyman, will put this right eventually, but this kitchen sink incident got me thinking of all the other things we normally take for granted – our comforts and conveniences, the abundance of food and clothes, our spacious, well-heated homes, our civil rights and freedoms, our families, health, and very life. So let us stop for a moment to appreciate it all. Celebrate the kitchen sink!

This week we marked our son Israel’s second birthday. I am so happy and grateful to be the mother of this little boy. With my older girls, I was very young and newly married and it was Mommy Boot Camp all the way for the most part. But once Tehilla, our second daughter, was out of her toddler years and I realized I might never have another baby again, I shed many tears. When Israel was born all felt like a gift; it still does. For the past two years, I am grateful to say I have been able to appreciate so many things about his infancy and toddlerhood – just relax, enjoy and let go. We all sit on the floor a lot, playing with Lego, blocks or toy trains, and I no longer have that itch telling me I have to get going and move on to do something more important.

I guess this post is just a record of thanksgiving. For children, families, life, and comfortable homes with modern conveniences. I thank God for what I have, really I do.

Just please, fix that kitchen sink.