Making progress

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In between all the rush of unpacking and preparing for the High Holy Days, we are getting to know our new neighborhood.

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There are lots of beautiful green nooks and trees that are great for climbing.

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Now that I have actually made a dent in the boxes and have all the essentials on hand, I look forward to making progress on this weedy patch of land and seeing what we can grow and do there.

I will post more updates soon!

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Can We Really Make A Difference?

 

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“Is the wave of sustainable living, local-centered economy and ecological awareness a marginal movement, or can it actually have a global impact? I’ve heard many people say that we won’t be able to make any difference, because for every conscientious consumer there are a million reckless spenders, and for every organic backyard garden there are a million plastic bags of junk food. Others say that the yearning to return to closer, more self-reliant communities is nothing but hopeless nostalgia of people who have failed to adjust to a modern world.”

Read more in my latest Mother Earth News post.

The trouble with “measuring up”

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A huge stumbling block in the path of people who wish to simplify and live a quiet, slow and purposeful life, is being part of a social circle who all have bigger houses, more possessions, fancier gadgets, who take trips abroad every year, etc, etc.

An important thing to remember when you say to yourself, “how come they are able to afford it?!” is that you don’t really know whether they can. You don’t really know what goes on behind the closed doors of people’s homes, or in their bank accounts. Perhaps these people are living way beyond their means. Perhaps they are in debt. Or perhaps they afford their super-fancy, extra-packed lifestyle by maintaining two careers which leave hardly any family time at all.

And if you are a mother who stays home with her children, some people might deliberately or accidentally make you feel inferior, or this feeling might come across on its own when you’re reading about someone who “successfully” combined a career and family. And again, the true price of what it all entailed is seldom brought up.

Or perhaps you just walk into someone’s house and lament how this lady has it all together while you don’t, and seemingly never will, and forget that no one has our unique set of strengths, weaknesses, experience and family situation. I’m not saying we shouldn’t learn from one another. But this learning should be a thing of strength and growth, not just useless comparison that leads us to feel debilitating inferiority.

Maybe, when you were growing up, there was a child of your parents’ friends, or perhaps a cousin who was so much more accomplished than you, who spoke German and French and played the violin, and could do all the things you could never even dream of doing. Perhaps your parents spent your entire childhood and adolescence unfavorably comparing you with that “role model”, until you felt about that unfortunate unsuspecting child the same way Emma Woodhouse felt about Jane Fairfax – an almost unconscious grudge that is as unjustified as it is difficult to overcome.

G-d made us unique. He wants and expects us to improve, but not by striving to become the image of somebody else. His boundaries are wide enough so that within them, we can freely be just what we are.

Image: lovely oil painting by Trent Gudmundsen 

Be your own friend

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As mothers, we are nurturers, giving to others as naturally as breathing. But what happens when you feel your fountain is about to run dry? I can tell you it happened to me more than once. In the early years of marriage, with two children under two, living in a remote place with no close friends or family support and with a husband who worked long hours at the time – there were many, many days when I felt overwhelmed.

Nurturing ourselves is something we usually have to take charge of, because no one can know our material and spiritual needs as well as we do. We are the ones who know whether we are tired, hungry, in need of a shower, or preoccupied about something that keeps sitting in the back of our mind.

Basic needs have to be taken care of. Of course, sometimes we will be required to step out of our usual limits to take care of others, such as at times when there is a new baby, or a child is sick, or any other emergency. But it doesn’t work in the long term. We simply cannot ignore our own needs on a regular basis and still expect ourselves to have the mental energy to nurture others. One can only give what one has, it is a basic law; just as I cannot give a thousand dollars if I don’t have them, I cannot give relaxation and peace of mind to my family if I’m an overwrought, exhausted nervous wreck by the end of a day (or even worse, close to its beginning).

Of course, here we reach a point when an argument might follow, discussing what is a basic need and what isn’t. We are all vastly different and come from different cultural backgrounds; some would say that going on a vacation abroad or having two cars is a basic need for them. I will, however, focus on three things that are important to me in order to get through a day successfully: food, sleep, shower and (I know it’s a fourth) some quiet, peaceful time.

I will start with sleep, because lack of it is what makes me malfunction most seriously, and it isn’t something I can simply catch up on whenever I need to (as opposed to food). Recently, when I realized I can hardly drag myself out of bed most mornings, it occurred to me I simply must make getting more sleep a priority. To do this, I basically had 3 options: go to bed early, get up later in the morning, or take a midday nap. Now, getting up later in the morning is not a really feasible option most days, and I can’t always count on getting quiet time in the middle of the day. So my only real alternative was going to bed early. Of course, it would mean missing out on things I could be doing during the evening (whether housework or my own projects), but as I found out, I don’t really do anything constructive anyway when I’m too tired, so it’s not a big miss-out.

Then there’s food. Here we’re doing good; I sit down to eat with my kids at least 3 times a day, and often we have a snack once or twice in between. However, I mostly make one-dish meals (pasta, soup, crustless quiche, stuffed peppers) and there are those days when cooking just doesn’t fit in. On such days, I’m thankful for frozen leftovers, and when it comes to the worst, there’s always eggs, toast and oatmeal.

Then there’s spiritual life. I consider it a must, like food or sleep, but it doesn’t have to happen through solid long periods of inward reflection and prayer. I simply close my eyes, for a few moments several times a day, to lift up my thanks, sorrows, hopes, requests and frustrations.

Now we come to a point which, I have noticed, is often debated, regarding its necessity and even advisability. I’m talking about having one’s own projects and making time for them, for enjoyment and personal growth. Here I see two polar attitudes; there are those who say your own comes first and you are entitled to anything as long as it makes you “happy”. Others self-righteously give up on anything unrelated to motherhood and housekeeping, and feel it would be selfish to have any hobbies, friends or intellectual pursuits.

I am somewhere in between. I certainly have enough in my home and with my children to keep me busy from the moment I rise till the moment I go to bed, but I find it stimulating, enriching and uplifting to carve out time for writing. Being an author is another “me”, something that exists apart from the daily grind. There are also crafts, reading, expanding my knowledge about things that interest me. Those things  occupy only a small portion of my time, but it’s like the icing on the cake. An added bonus is that kids who have a mama who loves to learn and create will love doing those things too.

Others come first. I cannot keep little children waiting (not for any considerable length of time, anyway) for their meals, naps, baths, boo-boo kissing, storytelling and discipline. But I can and will make sure that I am not forgotten either. For long hours every day, I’m the only adult in the house, and I sometimes feel alone; sometimes there’s the pressing need for a friend, a mature, generous, motherly-type friend who would kindly ask: how are you feeling? Is there anything I can do for you? What would make you feel better, more at peace, more comfortable?

I don’t have to wait for someone else to ask those questions. I can be my own friend. I can ask myself: how am I feeling? What can I, realistically, do for myself right now? What would make me feel better, what can help me relax? Is it a cup of tea? Baking some cookies? Curling up on the couch while my children are playing on the floor? And sometimes, in the desperate busyness of a day, I can tell myself, “hold on. It’s crazy right now, but as soon as things calm down, as soon as the little people get their necessary portion of attention, you can have some for yourself.” It doesn’t make me lazy or selfish. It makes me a responsible mother who teaches her children self-worth and self-respect.

To sit a little

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Image: the ever-hospitable Rivendell

I wanted to share this little poem, which I wrote a few years back, and which I still like to re-read sometimes, as a reminder to self that it’s alright to just slow down when I feel the need, close my eyes, and cast all my cares upon G-d. I always come away refreshed after such a silent spell, and ready to go on with whatever is challenging me at the time.

It is fine to sit a little,
Not for long, just for a bit.
Close your eyes and think a little,
When confusion overwhelms.
It’s alright to rest a little,
To refresh the soul with prayer –
Pray with words or tears or both,
Just as you are able.
It’s alright – slow down a little,
Not too long, just for a moment.
It’s alright to cry a little,
Rushing to the perfect safety
Of a child that’s near its mother.
You can lie down for a moment,
Close your eyes and think of kindness,
Think of tenderness and friendship
And of love that lasts forever.
Then get up and walk a little,
Look at beauty, think of gladness,
Smile and know that when you need it,
You can always have a refuge.

Gnocchi with butter, garlic and sage

Gnocchi used to be one of those things I’d never think to make from scratch – because I guessed the process involves some complex, extremely delicate kitchen magic. But then the prices of store-bought gnocchi rose and we stopped buying them. Then, one day, I was reading The Shoemaker’s Wife, and got the most irresistible craving when I came across the description of making gnocchi with butter, garlic and sage. It all sounded so easy – mashed potatoes, flour, an egg, roll out the dough, cook the dumplings. What could possibly go wrong? Dinnertime was about to roll soon, and I just figured out I’d quickly make a batch of gnocchi and surprise my husband.

Well, let me just tell you dinner was very late that night, and I ended up having to scoop up bits of dough with a spoon and dump them into boiling water (which made me understand, for the first time, the origin of the word ‘dumpling’). My husband tactfully said it was delicious as he consumed his plate of amorphous blobs, but I was pretty sure gnocchi was not supposed to assume the consistency of playdough on a hot day.

What could I do but harass Italian friends for their family recipes, scour the web, and keep trying? I came across this tutorial yesterday and gave it another go, and made some definite progress – though I didn’t attain the elegant shapes of the tutorial, at least I was able to roll out the dough and cut it with a pastry knife. I made two changes from the tutorial: used a potato masher, rather than a potato ricer (I’ve never even heard of such a contraption before), and popped the little bits of dough into the freezer on a large tray before cooking them, to better retain the shape. I ended up keeping one batch in the freezer for a quick dinner next week.

The dressing I like to make for gnocchi is simple and delicious: melt equal parts of butter and olive oil in a skillet, add 3-4 mashed garlic cloves, a pinch of salt, and a handful of sage leaves. I am blessed with an abundance of fresh sage from the garden, but you can use dry sage leaves, or omit it altogether if you are not a fan.

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.