A Walk With Grandma

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I hope it’s normal that, every time I happen to come across this poem, I just sit for a minute and cry. These simple words are so touching. I also remember my own Grandma, who was such a quiet and soothing presence, and who was always ready to play board games and tell stories about her childhood, early life, and numerous relatives whom I had never met.

Grandma is wise. She knows there is really nothing bigger, better and more beautiful than the fluffy clouds in the sky, the flower growing at the roadside, the butterfly fluttering around a rosebush. She has done it all. She has seen it all. She knows there is nothing more important than telling a story, taking a walk, baking cookies on a cold winter afternoon.

We don’t have to live to Grandma’s age to appreciate the little things that really matter. Though our lives are busy, may we not let this prevent us from slowing down and walking with “short steps” alongside the child in our life, or the little child hidden within us.

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.

Commitment to healthier cooking

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When I graduated with a degree in nutrition from a prestigious university, I knew a great deal about enzymes, hormones, and dietary regimes for various ailments, from diabetes to kidney dysfunction – but next to nothing about 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 (we did make some progress there over the years, I am happy to say).

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 (depends on 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 more recently 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 cook 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.

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 after lunch for answering emails, browsing ads, etc, and if I’m not too tired there’s an hour or two 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.

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Speaking on another matter, I’m very excited to tell that my upcoming novel, Wild Children, is now on Kindle Scout – which is essentially an Amazon-based contest the winners of which get their book signed up and promoted by Amazon. You can read the book description and first chapter and, if you feel it deserves to be supported , nominate it on its Kindle Scout Page.

Working in our pajamas

There are some days when, if it weren’t for the necessity to go out and feed the chickens, I’d probably remain in my fuzzy pajamas all day long. As the critters do need to be fed, and as someone might pass by and wonder at seeing me in pink pajamas and fluffy socks at midday, I get dressed, put on my muck boots, and trudge out with a box of feed in hand. Moral: if you want to have more motivation for self-discipline, keep animals. If nothing else, it will make you get dressed properly in the morning.

For most families, structure is something integral to every day. They get up, fly through the routine of dressing and breakfast, and everyone goes off their own separate ways for the days. For those who both work and learn from home, the situation is very different. We are pretty much in each other’s hair every day and all day long, and that is by necessity a mess-generator (both physically and mentally). Structure is important; it doesn’t have to stick to conventional routines or hours, but it must be there.

One of my favorite homeschooling resources, The Homeschooling Handbook by Mary Griffith, has a chapter on schedules called Structure, or Can We Wear Our Pajamas to School? Here’s a quote:

“Often families who start out with a fairly rigid structure find themselves becoming more relaxed and flexible as they grow more comfortable with homeschooling, whereas those who began with an informal and casual style may discover the need for more structure.”

We’ve been in both these places. Some years ago, a homeschooling friend told me that in her family, and in all homeschooling families she knows, later hours and more flexible meal times for kids are the norm. I bristled. Not with us! Dinner at 6, bath at 6:30, story time at 7:00, bedtime and blissful silence by 7:30. And you know what, for a long while I adhered to these principles religiously. But I paid dearly for it. Stress, tension, and constant chafing with my kids became the norm. On the other hand, I wouldn’t adopt my husband’s suggestion of just letting them run about until they drop off from sheer exhaustion. These days I’m more flexible, but I do know, and so do my kids, that once we’re on the track of dinner-baths-reading time, it leads to bedtime and that’s that.

Another great quote from The Homeschooling Handbook:

“Figuring out which part of which ideas will work for you is not easy. Often the ideas you find most attractive and expect will best fit your family don’t work for you at all. Or they work for a year or two and then suddenly seem ridiculous. Just remember that your kids are growing and changing and the relationships among you all are changing as well. It’s unrealistic to expect homeschooling to remain the same in the midst of those changes.”

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.