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.

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.

Mean Green Cleaning Machine

Do you like to clean? I think I see a couple of you shaking their heads and smiling… yes, I mean you. And I’ll be brutally honest – while I, in fact, appreciate a clean bathroom and floors, there are many other things I’d rather be doing – like baking cookies, taking a walk with the kids, digging in the garden or writing.

However, cleaning must be done in order to maintain a livable, inviting atmosphere, and while I’m at it I’d rather avoid harsh dangerous chemicals as much as possible (and save money along the way, too). Check out my latest Mother Earth News post on this subject:

“When standing in the household supplies aisle in a supermarket, it’s easy to be dazzled by all the various cleaning agents in colorful bottles and packages. However, most of that stuff isn’t just outrageously expensive, it’s harmful for the environment and can even be downright dangerous. Luckily, it’s possible to clean house simply and effectively, just the way our grandmothers did – combining simple materials which don’t cost a lot and aren’t dangerous to keep around small children.”

citric acid crystals

Above: citric acid crystals – one of my favorite green cleaning little tricks.

One-minute household chores and e-book giveaway!

How many times have you looked around the house and experienced this sinking feeling that there is a million of things to be done, and no time to do them? Well, apparently the key to success is to break the million things into one-by-one, and just head in and do something, even if it is something little. The sense of accomplishment will motivate you to go on, and efficient planning will enable you to make good of those little pockets of time during the day.

Here is an excellent list of household chores that can be done in one minute.

I do have to say, however, that sometimes those little things may take longer than we estimate; for example, it really is only a minute to change your kitchen towels – if you keep them readily available. I personally don’t have much cupboard space in the kitchen, so my kitchen towels are kept in the closet in the children’s room and I have to walk there and then back to the kitchen to get the towels. I also need to drop the used towels into the laundry basket.

If you really only have a minute or two, work in the space where you already happen to be, or near it. For example, if I’m watching over a toddler playing in bath, I might use up that little slot of time to wipe down the bathroom mirror, sink and tap, and perhaps to scrub the toilet. If I’m watching over kids while they are playing in the yard, I will clean the outside of the living room window (yes, the one with fingerprints and nose prints all over it!)

Logical storage strategy is another important thing. I’ve already mentioned kitchen towels; by necessity, I keep them away from the kitchen, but I realize it would have been better to make room in one of the cupboards. The little sponge I use specifically for wiping sinks, I keep in the bathroom so it’s within easy reach. I’m forced (again by necessity of space) to keep some of our clothes in the storage shed closet, which is larger, but I make sure those are the clothes we use less often, in particular during the warm months (coats, jackets etc).

Then it’s important to assess whether a chore really takes up only a minute, or we are run away with our fanciful imagination. For example, I’ve been known to step out to fold the laundry, saying “it only takes a minute”, forgetting that with little ones in tow, it most certainly does not. In that case I must either allot more time for the chore, or delay the task until later.

And of course, this doesn’t mean every last little moment of spare time must be filled with housework! Sometimes, when you only have a couple of minutes, it’s better to take a deep breath, have a glass of cool water or a little snack, or read a page or two of a good book.

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Giveaway announcement: starting from now and until August 31-st, you can download my natural health e-book, Nurturing Hands, from my Payhip store for free! Simply proceed to checkout and use the 100% discount coupon I have activated. Of course, you are most welcome to share this giveaway on your own blog, Facebook or Twitter and let your friends know! Coupon code: 783CZRSQDP

I have also included a 50% discount coupon for The Practical Homemaker’s Companion, which will be valid until September 7-th. Coupon code: E1KQKKJURV

In addition, following requests, The Practical Homemaker’s Companion is now also available in paperback for only 5.38$. Since it’s a short, very condensed book and my aim was to make it as affordable as possible, I chose the lowest price setting allowed.

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From the back cover:

“Our job as wives and mothers is of tremendous importance and eternal impact, but it’s all too easy to get bogged down and discouraged by the mundane. The dinner got burned; the mountain of dirty clothes in the laundry basket is growing at an alarming rate; you have outstripped your grocery budget; your kids are squabbling; you lose it and yell and feel guilty. You go to bed with a nagging headache, wondering how you’ll get up and begin all over again tomorrow.

We’ve all been there. We’ve all done that – are still doing that. Opening a fresh page every day, doing our best and hoping it’s enough.

This book is a compact combination of inspirational articles, practical tips, and advice for making a small income go a long way. From encouragement to take heart in your job as a homemaker, to stockpiling, wise grocery shopping and keeping chickens, it’s based on the homemaking and simple living tips I have found most useful over the years.”