Thursday, September 17, 2020

Tiny House Living

 I have been obsessed with tiny houses (and tiny cars) for a very long time. Ever since I've seen a smart car, seating a whopping two people and taking up so little space, I just really wanted to drive one. As far as the tiny houses, I am simply fascinated by the idea of scaling everything down, paring possessions to bare essentials, occupying less space.


My previous house was close to 4000 square feet, sprawled over three stories, plentiful bedrooms, bathrooms, large open-plan kitchen with two of everything. My current house is about 1500 square feet. If I divide it by six daily occupants, I get 250 sq. feet per person. If I include my husband's occupancy, I get 214 sq. feet. These numbers are on par of tiny house square footage. But the current house we are in is not so tiny.


If I am living in a less than dreamy version of a tiny house, why am I still browsing those books? I do it to get ideas and inspiration. Currently, I am using my crockpot as an additional oven to bake stuffed cabbage. I set up a table in the living room as an overflow counter for pre yom tov cooking and baking.


I also learned which things I cannot compromise on. I need two fridges because we go through an insane amount of gallons of milk. I need a full-size washer and dryer because I much rather do fewer large loads than throw some clothes in every day. I will sacrifice cabinet space for a dishwasher, and, hypothetically, two of them. I need to have a creative space where my projects and supplies can sprawl out and not be cleaned up every day.


I am moving from making this small space work to enjoying it and claiming it as my own. Our house will not be featured anywhere, but it is comfortable and cozy enough.


Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Bar Keeper's Friend

 I have discovered a new cleaning remedy, rather, finally bought it and started using it. It is called Bar Keeper's Friend. It's a white powder that comes in a cylindrical container that looks a whole lot like Comet (does anyone even use Comet any more?) I have joked with my husband that it is probably Comet, rebranded to look hipper. This white powder is magic. It removes stains, burnt-on grease, funky deposits. It made my stainless steel frying pan look like new. It removes scuff marks off the ceramic cooktop. It made my sink gleam and shine like a commercial.



Look at this! What's not to like? Why have I not bought this product sooner? Tell your friends!




Except that I happen to know myself. Housekeeping and keeping a clean pristine sparkly shiny house is nowhere on my list of priorities. I clean and get kids to clean once a week, for shabbos. Some of my kids complain that even that is too much. I have no problem going to sleep with a sink full of dirty dishes, mask-making scraps all over the floor, living room not straightened up. Nobody is visiting, nobody had come over in months, so there is no external need to clean that I can pin it on.


Where is this urge to clean coming from? 


I have learned that whenever I end up super-focusing on keeping external in order, even going to the extremes, the cause is the things that I cannot control. I cannot control Corona. I cannot control my kids from getting coughs, colds, fevers. I cannot control what other parents do about their kids, whether they are just as scrupulous about masks and exposure as I am. I cannot control this year's Rosh HaShana experience, neither for myself nor for the kids. Yesterday the power went out for a bit, and I could not get a head start on dinner on that gleaming electric stove. 

I am spinning further and further in the world where there are things I cannot control. But I can polish that stupid bit of sink, burn off those stains, vacuum up those cloth clippings. Do those things make me feel better? Are they a healthy sublimation of frustration? Better to focus on the things that I can fret over myself instead of suddenly coming down on my kids with high cleaning standards.


I have been thinking how Rosh HaShanah is almost here but I am involved in Pesach-like activity of cleaning and burning. For recognizing that Hashem is the One in charge (and I am not), I might be doing quite well. Then I wonder whether substituting external cleaning for internal reflection is not exactly where the spirit of the day lies. But this cleaning spree resulted in me thinking and pondering how I arrived here, jolted me awake from survival slumber.


So buy Bar Keeper's Friend and see where it lands you.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Corona and Tisha BeAv

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It is erev Tisha beAv. Except that we are living in a time where the very essence of time shifted, switched, became elastic. Days blend one into another, hours melt, distorted, like Dali clocks, minutes simultaneously gallop by and stretch into molasses. The very rhythms of the Jewish year seem meaningless. We are given Three Weeks during the summer to mourn about the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash (The Temple), culminating in the saddest day of tragedy: Tisha BeAv. But this year is not like any other year. Since the lockdown began in March, we have been in a modified state of mourning. We are not allowed to gather together socially, which is one of the essential messages of Tisha BeAv, reflected in the minhagim of not having company during Three Weeks, eating the last meal alone, without zimun, and not greeting each other. We were unable to get haircuts because hair cutting is not essential. The laundering of clothes and general grooming/bathing fell by the wayside, as very few saw us both inside our houses and out. The listening to live music ceased because there was simply no more live music. Taking pleasurable, distracting trips became impossible because there were no places to go. The mask became a constant physical reminder of our current state, similar to the black worn by mourners.

The causes and reasons for Tisha BeAv are numerous. Five are famously mentioned, with a dictum that "calamity occurs on a day of calamity" applied widely. In some ways, we are left with severe punishment from Hashem, of a different order of magnitude than any other punishment, and are left to reconstruct what went wrong and what was so horrible that we are still picking up the pieces, all these many millennia later.

As a recoup, the "original sin" was that of the spies, slandering Israel and causing people to cry in their tents. Somehow this melting of the hearts aroused a degree of Divine anger not experienced previously. The verdict was that the entire nation would spend 40 years in the desert until that generation would die out.

That sin was followed by the destruction of both Temples. The reasons given are that people didn't keep mitzvot during first one, and engaged in baseless hatred during the second one. Gemara seems to list a few other less popular opinions. Again, it seems that we are left with a verdict while trying to reconstruct what is the defect in need of correction.

For the past few days, I have been feeling disoriented. Every morning I woke up, wondering whether today is Tisha BeAv. Every day I got my morning coffee in this funny state of feeling that I'm transgressing. Yesterday, as I walked and sun was heading towards sunset, I felt a certain resignation, almost as if my dinner was that final meal before the fast. This is not how I normally experience Three Weeks. I do not believe in asceticism, or need for prolonged and excessive suffering. I do not relish fasting or mourning. One of my resolutions after a year of mourning for my father was over, was to attend every wedding that I could. So I was taken aback with personal eagerness and anticipation of more pain, more restrictions.

I wonder if living in a constant state of minor mourning desensitized me and is behind this anticipation of greater emotion. But I realized one more thing:

-Three Weeks and Tisha BeAv are finite. We go through concentric circles of deeper mourning, focusing all our energy of yearning for Jerusalem until the Tenth of Av comes. Then we remove all the symbols of mourning and experience joy. There is no gradual decrease (unless you count half a day of Tenth, but not this year because Shabbos pushes everything off). We are free to rejoice and encouraged not to mourn excessively.

-The lockdown is the opposite. It's mild, it can be almost put out of mind, but it has no ending point. We do not know when we will be able to do all those social activities fully, without reservations. Those who jump the gun and do them anyway are not viewed as acting wisely. So the state of minor mourning and separation continues, without an end in sight.

The tenth of Av this year will bring laundry and morning coffee. It will not bring weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs, 7 Haftarot of consolation, music performances, summer vacations, fun outings, amusement parks. We will still be in the same state of social mourning that we had been until now.

So how do we get out of this? 

Wear a mask, stay away from others as much as possible, listen to the sound advice of medical experts, and look out for others, even if you cannot see them in person. We all need to leave our mourning world. It will happen, but it is up to us how long it will take.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Getting over the hump

Image result for hump ahead sign


Many years ago, a seasoned homeschool friend told me about homeschooling humps that everyone hits in November and February and how, instead of making drastic decisions because nothing feels like it's working, there might be sense in waiting it out, giving it a go, and not assuming that something is terribly wrong. I really valued that advice because, like clockwork, I hit those humps. They felt terrible. I felt terrible as a teacher, as a mother, as a person. Moreover, I was not even sure that my kids would not have been better off in school somewhere, under someone else's care. I would be working, plugging in nine to five and be a productive member of the society. And the torture and drudgery would cease. Usually, when I waited just long enough, and reset enough, I would overcome those humps and would go back to star-eyed homeschool devotee, trying to convince others to give it a try.

Around the time that I had my youngest, I hit a major hump. With child number five, I thought I was an old pro at this whole parenting and homeschooling and getting balance thing. I gave it time. I waited. I schemed and arranged. I sent this one to school, these ones to preschool, this one out. I demanded support and cleaning help in the house. I searched for babysitters and nannies. I tried online school. I even tried moving into a different community, hoping that being within walking distance from the park and JCC and other frum homeschoolers will make a difference. Yet the hump kept on not getting smaller. I just could not go over it.

I was desperate.

I was depressed.

I was so miserable that I made a decision to send all the children to school, including the youngest, in the middle of the year just so I could get a reset. I sent them all out, but I did not recapture that feeling of peace that I was after. I breathed, but it was shallow panting.

Then, the following year, I kept my second child home and sent everyone else to school. It was clear by this point that whatever issues my child was having had nothing to do with my educational approach and that he needed homeschooling/unschooling to function. In fact, I started out again in the place of desperation: there was no good school to send him to. It was a year of hell, for many private and personal reasons. I felt like I was still climbing over the hump, out of breath, and miserable.

This year I have two at home. It is not perfect. But it is significantly better. They get along really well. They are content, for the most part. My daughter picked up reading. My son is (finally!) expressing interest in trying out things that he never would have attempted before. I am slowly, slowly rebuilding myself. I do not doubt myself anymore, not today, at least. When the kids are happy, momma is happy. They are also older, can be left at home alone, can work independently. I can get out, take a walk, run errands, make it to appointments on my own.

It only took me good three years, but I think I am getting over this hump.

I am glad that we live at a time with long life expectancy. I can afford the luxury of spending this part of my life on homeschooling, and then still feel like there will be plenty of time to work, develop interests, get involved in projects.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

On feeling weak

Think:

Who benefits from you feeling down? Who gets to feel strong as long as you feel weak? Whose narrative do you feed into as long as you are not at your top capacity? And who is standing in the way of your hoping and dreaming?

These might not be conscious. Some of these might be sabotage from within because you were fed a narrative that these things are not for you. Some of these come from your nearest and dearest because of the familiarity of the sentiments.

Be curious about it. Explore it without judgement or fear. Let the answers come to you.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Thoughts on emunah and bitachon.

Relax.

Take a break.

Have a breather.

Stop and smell the flowers.

Take care of yourself. Put yourself first.

I have written many times about self-care and how that seems to be impossible to achieve. Today is one of those days that sounds almost like a comedy, were I not in the midst of if.

I have overscheduled, but I was counting on two adults being home and dividing up all the driving and all the prep and all the emotional labor between two people. But my husband got called up into the hospital for a VBAC that became a c-section. It is almost 3 pm and I have not seen him yet today, let alone him doing any of the things that were planned for today.

I know how these days play out: I will be emotionally going offline just as my younger kids will be coming back home and "unloading" from their day of interactions. Those once a week gymnastics that I signed all four kids for will seem like an unnecessary torture instead of a pleasant activity. I will end up being short-tempered because that's what happens when dinner is not served until 7 and then they still need a bath. And then my husband might want to unwind, too. And my mother will grumble how fine, she will martyr herself, we should go out, have fun, attend a lecture... and all want to do is crawl under my covers at 5 pm just as it will be getting dark with a good book or with a mindless magazine, but with a sense of completion of the day.

These realities crashing with my needs will be painful. I am really awed by those who manage to balance their needs with the needs of their families. I am also not so sure whether everyone is faking it, or those who claim to have it balanced really squelch somebody's needs down.

We are often told to have emunah, loosely translated as faith. Having any troubles in your life? work on your emunah. Things feel overwhelming? Your emunah is lacking. What I am really after is bitachon (security). Bitachon is a firm belief, backed by facts and realities on the ground. Bitachon is knowing that there are others who will catch you if you falter. Bitachon is knowing with certainty that you are not alone.Bitachon does not mean that there are no troubles, but bitachon is knowing, deeply and fully knowing, that things will turn out OK. Emunah causes anxiety, emunah is blind trust. Bitachon is lack of anxiety because there is no point in worrying (NOT an absence of worrying!)

I am a bit allergic to emunah, but I can squarely get behind bitachon.

(Yes, I know that G-d runs the show, that he is involved in my life, that everything is for the best, that it is easier to believe G-d won't give you more than you can handle, that it is all a test, that I should not sweat small stuff, be grateful for what I have. However, until these resonate as truths and not as platitudes, they are pointless)

Friday, November 16, 2018

Priorities

There is this harmful and damaging myth that one (especially a woman) can do it all and do it all with a smile. This myth leaves so many of us crying out in frustration because we are trying to do the best that we can, with the resources that we have, yet somehow we are constantly bombarded with the messages that we are not enough. We are not doing enough, not caring enough, not volunteering enough, not healthy enough, not happy enough... Notice that I am avoiding such things like being thin enough, put together enough, or rich enough. I sort of hope that we have stopped comparing ourselves with others or realized that it is a pointless task. But what about all these other areas, that are immaterial and seem so important?

It is a matter of priorities and those priorities are constantly shifting. I will throw out there some choices that I made today, possibly not "correctly enough", but I hope that my disclosure will make all realize that you do you, and don't worry about others doing it bigger and better.

I was jetlagged, so I am relying on challah from my freezer plus assorted pitas and bagels for shabbos. I am not making challah from scratch.

I wanted to take the homeschool kids out today, so I had to cook the bulk of shabbos last night. No aroma of homemade prep in my house this Friday.

I wanted to go walking, collect beautiful fall leaves and maybe do that leaf watercolor activity, but the kids' eyes lit when I mentioned Gem and Mineral Show. I wanted them to attend a workshop on gem identification, but they were more interested in wandering between the vendors, looking at the stones and fossils, and conversing about them. I prioritized a pleasant time at the show over the educational component. Also, since I took the kids today, I will not be taking the younger kids to the same show on Sunday. On the plus side, for once I did not have to worry about losing kids in the crowds, or constantly reminding not to touch and look with your eyes, not your hands.

I wanted to get a chunk of homeschool work done in the morning before the show, but the basement was in a hair-raising state, so I asked them to clean it up as a birthday present for me over buying me yet another set of earrings or a necklace from the show. I also saw that I have their cooperation in cleaning because they did not seem overwhelmed by the mess.

I wanted 12 yo to do laining, but math ended up taking more time, partly because I saw that one of the concepts needed additional practice and he admitted to not understanding how to work it out. I wanted to show him a complete solution, but he wanted to take over and do his mental math as soon as he understood what needed to be done.

I wanted to have a homemade lunch, but we left late for the show, hung out there longer than I thought it would take, and so I ended up grabbing random food before driving more carpool. No, I did not pack lunch or snacks. I did not even grab my water bottle.

I wanted to do my nails before shabbos, but I chose to be blogging.

Shabbat shalom!

(Am I freaking out about academics and skills? A bit, yes, but I think learning how to do things pleasantly, and how to prioritize is also important. I need to give the kids time and space to try those things out, in a safe environment when the stakes are not too high.)