The sea glass journey

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Following my latest post, I would like to elaborate a little on the sea glass analogy – how the process of roughing it we all go through in life will, ideally, smooth our prickly edges, sand down any uncomfortable bumps, and turn a tossed-off shard of glass into something new and beautiful.

This doesn’t happen, however, without the waves hurling and swirling the piece of glass, throwing it against the sand and rocks at the bottom of the sea.

Again and again. You can bet it isn’t always comfortable. You can bet it hurts.

When we just start out in life, we tend to be very optimistic, very driven, a bit naive, and extremely opinionated (a typical example is teens looking down on their parents and thinking they are so much cleverer and understand things so much better). This also, naturally, makes us a little unforgiving.

That’s why I love old people. They’ve seen it all. They have a much more balanced view on life. They have the wisdom that only comes with experience.

In my case, the opinionated thing manifested most strongly in the family model I yearned for: wife at home, homeschooling the dozen children and baking bread. Husband working diligently to provide for the family. Everyone enjoying the mutual fruit of these labors in harmony, peace, love, and respect.

You know what, I still happen to think it’s a really, really good model and it’s absolutely wonderful when it works. I envy people for whom it did. But though I did always nominally acknowledge it might NOT work, I was a little in denial of how often it actually doesn’t.

That’s why, when we were hit with a period of unemployment, then another, and another, then lost our house and a humongous sum of money – all due to decisions in which I had little to no say – I got myself sick with worry and stress.

My thought process at that time went like this: “It shouldn’t be this way! My husband should be more diligent about providing for the family! He should be more careful with money! The people who owe him money should step up and repay the debt! It isn’t fair!”

Let me tell you something, it can drive you crazy, thinking and talking about things others should and MUST be doing differently, while you can do little to nothing to influence them. It makes you feel small, helpless, and anxious, not to mention resentful and bitter.

To make matters worse, for a long, long time I was held back from even attempting to improve the situation by my own misguided beliefs: that by offering constructive advice, let alone actively attempting to earn money for the family, I would be humiliating my husband and expressing my distrust in his leadership. I refused to acknowledge that my husband was just a man, with fallible thinking just like mine, and that ALL of us sometimes need a tug in the opposite direction to balance us out.

That’s the true meaning of the “ezer k’negdo”, by the way: it’s usually translated into English as “helpmate”, but it’s so much more than that. It’s “k’negdo”, meaning, on the opposite side. The wife who is a perfect submissive helpmate that enables her husband’s failings is not much of a helpmate at all. The REAL helpmate gets on the other side of the seesaw to throw her weight there and get things moving. She offers balance!

So as I wore myself down with anxiety, I wasn’t really a piece of sea glass yet. I was just a prickly shard stranded on a rock somewhere, crying about how life wasn’t going the way it was supposed to. At some point, however, I realized I have two choices: I could either retain my nature as the sharp glass shard by being stuck on that rock and getting nowhere, or…

… I could roll with the waves and let the water and sand smooth me out.

I could rant and rave about how my husband should try harder to find a job, or I could look at employment options myself.

I could grumble about the way my husband managed the family finances (pouring money into risky ventures, lending to untrustworthy people who never repaid the debt, etc), or I could become more proactive about managing my own bank account (I always had my own, but for many years it just sat inactively).

I could keep being inflexible, stubborn and unforgiving, or I could learn some kindness, maturity and humility and realize that sometimes, things just don’t work quite the way we want them to.

I made the choice. I jumped into the waves and let them start shaping me into a lovely, smooth piece of sea glass.

Today, I live in a safe, comfortable place where my children and I have all necessary facilities within walking distance. I still garden, bake and raise chickens, but I also work and pay the bills. I have accepted the fact that I can’t expect anyone, not even my husband, to take care of me, because I choose to be a mature adult woman rather than a woman-child held hostage by her own beliefs.

I have also realized I actually like the piece of sea glass, smoothed and rounded at the edges by the waves and coarse sand it had had to endure, much better than the original glass shard, which was pretty and flashy but would cut anyone who came too close. Oh, and it was much more brittle than it realized, too.

Is my journey done? I sincerely hope not! Life is a dynamic thing. I can only try my best to move upward.

Light cotton crochet cardi

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In a final crafting spree before the Feast of Tabernacles, I finished this light cotton cardigan in the picot fan stitch. I worked from the top down, following this tutorial, and then added a harmonizing border around the edge and sleeves.

I used a beautiful, soft, drapey bamboo and cotton blend and crochet hook number 2.

I look forward to wearing this during the balmy Sukkot evenings.

“Should be” vs. “Is”, or the Kitchen Sink Saga

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Last week, I discovered a massive leak under one of our kitchen sinks (yes, we’re lucky enough to have two). After mopping up the mess and emptying the cabinet under the sink, I did what any reasonable woman would do: asked my husband to fix it.

Unfortunately, my husband declared that he’s too busy in the next few days, and that I can just use the other sink in the meantime.

Now, the second sink was OK as an emergency backup, but I have always used the first for my meat dishes and didn’t want to mix them up.

So basically, I had two choices here:

I could stomp my foot and get angry, and rave about how inconsiderate my husband was and what’s the point of having a man in the house if not for such emergencies?!

… Or I could roll up my sleeves and get the job done myself.

(There’s also the option of paying someone else to do it, of course, but it’s kind of out of our budget right now).

I swung by the hardware store, bought a piece of piping after consulting the nice man behind the counter, watched a couple of YouTube tutorials, and dug in.

Did I do the job perfectly? No.

Did I accidentally poke myself in the face with the loose piping, split my bottom lip, dribble blood all over my front and, for the next few days, look like a poster girl for a battered women’s shelter? (I wish I were joking).

Um, never mind.

But is the sink usable again now?? Yes!!

And every time I wash the dishes, I experience this warm glow of satisfaction: I did something that I thought I was incapable of. And you bet it feels a whole lot better than sitting around and grumbling about how unfair it is and how I’m not supposed to also work as a plumber while taking care of four children, running a household, and doing my best to pay the bills.

This little kitchen sink episode illustrates a truth that had taken years and years to penetrate through my thick skull: it’s so much better and healthier to take a deep breath and deal with how things are, rather than keep getting hung up on how they “should be”.

And this, my friends, is – in a nutshell – the difference between the younger me and the me of today. I spend less time thinking about the discrepancies between ideal and real, and more time rolling up my sleeves and getting things done to the best of my ability.

In case any of you Freejinger ladies are reading this (you know who you are!), that’s the process that has brought me to the point where I am today.

I have heard a lovely metaphor, that life treats us like sea glass: the waves, sand and rocks create constant abrasions that smoothe out our sharp edges, tone us down, and shape us into something new and beautiful, and much more pleasant to handle than prickly glass shards.

For me, this process has included internalizing that dreams, ideals and self-appointed rules sometimes don’t match reality, and you have two choices: roll with the waves and become a piece of sea glass, or…

Shatter on the rocks.

I’ll bet you can guess which choice I’m making every day.

Building a financial safety net

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When I was younger, I argued that maintaining a full-time career while what you would really like is to stay home with your children – not out of immediate necessity, but out of concern for possible future happenings such as illness, death, or divorce – is akin to living your life out in a bunker instead of being out in the fresh air and smelling the flowers.

In the meantime, I was doing something that was more like walking the tightrope without a safety net underneath. I had moved to a remote, inaccessible area without reliable transportation means, counting on my husband to always provide for our family and effectively making sure that, in the foreseeable future, I would not be able to contribute to the family income. Having no car and no driver’s license, I depended on my husband entirely for every errand and every little grocery store purchase (there being no facilities within walking distance at all).

I didn’t realize it back then, but I was setting myself up for some pretty unpleasant consequences should something go wrong.

Those who have been following my blog know what happened next: over the course of a few years, unemployment, underemployment and unwise financial choices had brought us to a full-blown crisis, while I couldn’t do much more than wring my hands and try to cope with anxiety and panic attacks. I did do some remote work, but even that was extremely difficult with patchy network access.

While I’m still a big proponent of making decisions out of love, not fear, and while I don’t regret for a second being a stay at home mom to my children (which in fact I still am), I would give my younger self one piece of sound advice:

Make sure you have a safety net. Don’t travel down a road that gives you no possibility to do a U-turn in case the you-know-what hits the fan. This doesn’t mean you are a wimp or lack faith. It’s simply common sense.

If I were to break it down into practical points, I would tell her:

1. Keep on building up your credentials even if you think you won’t be needing those. You never know.

2. Think twice (maybe more like ten times) before you move to an area where you would have extremely limited mobility and no services. Even if it’s your quintessential rural dream with rolling hills, olive groves, and herds of goats. If you purchase a house, take into consideration how easy or difficult it might be to sell it later on.

3. While role division in marriage makes perfect sense for many occasions, two heads are better than one. For a long time I used to think I’m displaying loyalty and trust towards my husband by leaving everything concerning the family finances entirely in his hands. In fact, I was doing none of us any favors. My husband was fallible, as was I. Neither of us was perfect in any regard, but it’s always so much worse when you feel pressure to do what is “right” rather than what works practically.

4. Build up your savings. That’s a tricky one with zero income, I know! But in case you come into some money, like after selling a house, stash some away right away and don’t allow it all to be frittered on stuff like food and rent (ask me how I know).

I guess it all boils down to this: don’t put yourself in a situation where you are disproportionately, entirely dependent on another person for all your basic needs. Even if that person is your spouse. Do not place yourself in a situation where you would be unable to help yourself if need be.

I have a friend whose husband, a really nice, hardworking man suffered an accident on the job and has lost his livelihood. Insurance doesn’t come up to scratch. He is undergoing a long and grueling process of physical rehabilitation. However, my friend is keeping afloat because she lives near supportive family and there’s every necessity readily available in the vicinity. The you-know-what has certainly hit the fan for them, but they had not placed themselves in a situation where they wouldn’t have the tools to cope.

I shudder to think what would have happened to me in a similar situation a couple of years ago. I would be left stranded in the boonies with a bunch of tots, unable to help my husband or my children or myself. I count myself lucky to have been able to move to a better, safer place.

Being safe doesn’t mean being a wimp. On the contrary, the wimpy choice is sticking one’s head in the sand and refusing to consider tomorrow.

Cozy cabled crochet beanie

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The cozy winter hat for Israel is done, and I love how it turned out! This was my first attempt at two nifty crochet techniques, namely the stretchy slip stitch ribbing and the cabling (which also involved mastering the front and back post double crochet). It was incredibly fun to learn and I love the texture I got! I followed a wonderful, very clear tutorial from All About Ami almost exactly, except that I found a matching pompom in my stash rather than making my own.

I used lovely, irresistibly soft single-ply merino yarn and a crochet hook number 3.5. Working with single-ply yarn was another novelty for me, and it certainly does come with its own challenges. The yarn doesn’t hold up its structure as firmly as three-ply, and doesn’t take kindly to ripping out (which almost inevitably happens in a row or two when learning a new technique). But the softness and beautiful sheen were just lovely.

I hope Israel wears this hat with as much pleasure as I had making it.

PS: Did you mean to ask when I had the time to do this in the middle of the High Holidays prep? I kind of wonder myself! It was a fantastic way to relax and feel I’ve accomplished something at odd moments here and there, that’s for sure. I wish all my Jewish readers Shana Tova and a wonderful year ahead.

Finding the balance: working from home with your kids around

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Stay-at-home moms are on call all the time. There’s always something to do at home – it’s more than a full time job! Between settling sibling fights and washing another never-ending stacks of dishes, it’s no wonder most moms of little ones are ready to collapse at the end of the day.

If you throw in home education and extracurricular activities, you get an even busier life.

And if you are also trying to set up a home business or establish yourself as a freelancer? While it may seem (and is often true) that working from home is a family friendly option, enabling parents to still be there to take care of their kids and save time and money on commute, it does come with challenges of its own.

Many work-at-home parents still have hired childcare, which basically makes it no different from any other job – they do have set office hours, it’s just that their office happens to be right where they live. But if you, like me, choose to work from home so that you don’t need to hand your children over to anyone else, your hours become very fluid. You may find yourself locked up in the upstairs bathroom having a video call with a client because that’s the only place where you can be sure of privacy and you really, desperately need those three minutes right NOW.

It may seem extremely difficult, next to impossible, to find time when you seemingly don’t have any, and I’ve had to become very disciplined. I don’t remember the last time I have watched a movie. I only read for pleasure on Shabbat (as a copyeditor, I basically read for a living during the week). My friends (the ones I have left) often complain that I don’t return calls. I often get up early and go to bed late, and I still have to struggle with guilt for having to do some things during the day when my children are awake and need me.

I have implemented early bedtime, even for Shira who will soon be 11, and have also gotten my kids used to the idea that I’m not always available for whatever it is. We have a home office, but I don’t use it because I can’t leave little ones unsupervised during the day. So if I do have work to complete during daytime hours, I settle with my laptop in the living room and my children know that I’m there for any emergency, but not for fixing sandwiches, reading stories or helping them make beaded bracelets – not for the next hour or two, anyway.

The older kids are encouraged to have quiet time while the baby is napping so that I can work. This includes both my own books and my paid job, though my books often find myself having to wait as I focus on a deadline for a paid project.

I still think I have got a pretty good deal. I am there when a child is sick and needs extra care. I choose my own hours and decide how much work I can take up (the more I do, the more I get paid, but one can only do so much). I run errands whenever it is convenient, I have no commute, and I can always take time off for family occasions.

A few insights:

1. Simplify. Opt for less stuff, less commitments, and simpler meals. Clutter is your enemy, especially when the whole family is home every day and all day long.

2. Avail yourself of any help with kids and/or housework you can get. If you live near family that is willing to help, so much the better for you. Don’t worry, no matter what you do, there will still be more than enough work left over for you.

3. Avoid the guilt loop. While my husband walks into our home office to take care of his stuff and make phone calls without interruption, I have often felt guilty for saying no to sitting on the carpet and coloring because I’m working to a deadline. At other times, I’ve felt guilty for neglecting the deadline and sitting down to color.

You can only do your best. If I find myself struggling with feeling I have not done enough, I look back at the end of the day on all the things I’ve done for my family – from cooking meals to giving baths, from wiping noses to paying bills, and earning the money to pay those bills, too – versus the “me time” (usually a stolen 20 minutes to work on a book, some crochet at the playground, and texting a friend for a bit) and I realize I have absolutely no reason to feel guilty. In fact, I even can and should become my own cheerleading team, applauding all my efforts and appreciating what has been achieved.

The cozy spot

As we’re enjoying shorter days and cooler evenings, I get to spend more time sitting in the shade of our huge mango tree, in the refreshing pleasant breeze. Though our garden is very much a work in progress, it’s always great to be outside.

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Water beading on leaves.

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Can you spot the praying mantis among the leaves of the container sweet potato?

IMG-20190915-WA0011┬áPomegranates just in time for Rosh HaShana (this one is not from our garden, but I thought it’s a great shot).

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Pink geraniums, spilling over from their pot.

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More geraniums, a little sunburnt but refreshed by prolific watering.

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On the crafty side: a cozy textured hat I’m making while dreaming of colder days and frosty mornings coming up in a couple of months, hopefully.