“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.

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.

Strategies for minimizing mold

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Ever had a mold problem? It’s one of the biggest challenges we’re dealing with in our current house, and though it’s an ongoing battle, I’m happy to say we’re gradually getting the situation under control. Read more in my latest Mother Earth News post:

“Mold isn’t just unsightly and nasty-smelling. It can have potentially serious health consequences such as respiratory problems or symptoms akin to allergy and asthma. Treat it promptly and uncompromisingly as you would a dangerous enemy.”

I’m telling you, in the first weeks of moving here it was like battling some malicious, purposeful enemy rather than colonies of fungus. Every spot that wasn’t completely dry, toasty and thoroughly aired would be covered with ugly black mold dots within days. Persistent airing and copious amounts of bleach made these attacks recede somewhat, but we still have to be extra diligent when it comes to maintenance.

By the way, when we first came to see the house, it was impossible to know there was a mold problem at all. The place was spotless! Which is something I always keep in mind whenever I feel challenged. It’s definitely doable.

I’m ready to try methods other than bleach, because I hate the way it smells. Vinegar and baking soda did not make an iota of difference. Anyone has any good tips?

Image source: Wikipedia

When you’re buried in housework

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I have come across a truly eye-opening post about why we are really overwhelmed by housework. It’s kind of oldish, but trust me, it’s a real gem!

‘Sometimes in my life I have not been overwhelmed by housework so much as just overwhelmed. Sometimes life sends stuff at us that is just hard. Sometimes we might not even want to acknowledge that stuff, even to ourselves, so we look around at the mess we are in, at the housework that is not getting done because we are so consumed by other hard stuff, and think, ‘If I can just get the house sorted and clean and pretty like every single other person in the world seems to be able to do, then maybe all this other misery will go away and we can be the Brady Bunch, and every area of my life will be Pinterest worthy, and then I will be happy.’

I have never stopped to think about any aspect of this except having babies and small children in the house, which obviously makes one slower. However, I did not often stop to consider that many of the times I was overwhelmed and frustrated supposedly with housework were not really about the housework at all.

Lately, I’ve felt I’m really struggling, chasing my tail and not really getting much done. I was too busy and tired to stop and think that it’s not really about the number of loads of laundry I have to do each week, but about some adjustments I’ve failed to make.

One is having my husband at home full time. He freelances, which means he often strolls into the kitchen for a drink or snacks or just hangs around. Now, I’m sure I’m not the only one who absolutely hates doing any sort of housework beyond bare maintenance when there are people around. I need space and quiet and can’t handle having to shoo people away while I’m cleaning. So I often find myself waiting for my husband to get out of the house to really get into gear, and it just doesn’t happen all that often. Now I tell myself, don’t wait for the perfect time to do whatever it is I should be doing, just jump in with both feet and get it done!

Another factor is living, for the first time in my life, in a house with stairs. Our previous house had a compact shoebox shape, and getting from one room to another took about half a second. Now I find myself wasting a lot of time running up and down the stairs whenever I need something or forget something. I’m slowly teaching myself to group my tasks so that I spend a chunk of time upstairs working on things that need to be done there, and then go downstairs for other tasks. I also keep some things I need on hand, like diapers, both upstairs and downstairs.

Finally, I’ve taken an extra commitment at the beginning of this year when I started working from home as a copyeditor. I love the financial perk and am grateful for the fact that I work with one company rather than having to hunt for new freelance gigs each month, but work is work and nothing gets done by magic. So some things just had to go, like ironing. It’s a delicate balance, and we all just have to keep at it, doing the best we can with what we have.

Clutter: the perennial problem

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A few short months after we were married, I already saw the clutter beginning to accumulate. It has the most sinister ways to creep in. Old newspapers and bills, empty plastic bags, a few items that were lovingly given to us, but are of little use… it takes a time to sort through it all!

In addition, I soon discovered a slight difference of attitudes between my husband and myself when it comes to stuff. I see anything that isn’t useful or beautiful as superfluous, and will gladly throw or give it away. My husband will stick to anything he thinks we might ever use, someday, somehow In a house with very little storage space, this usually means piles of clutter.

Here’s what happened one night shortly after we were married. My husband came from work, holding two unrecognizable metal objects in his hands.

“Aren’t they nice?”  he asked enthusiastically.
“What are these?”
“Well, I don’t actually know. But aren’t they cool?”

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not complaining. I have a creative and resourceful husband who can take what others would label as “junk”, make a few tweaks here and there, and produce excellent and useful items. Our very first living room table was found abandoned on the curb, and restored just a few days before our wedding.

Most of our furniture was either found and repaired, or we got it used. It saved us a good deal of money, and is very useful. However, we also have much (too much, in my opinion) stuff that gathers dust on our shelves, taking up limited storage space. Not that I think having more storage space is a solution! Rather, it tempts you to hoard more and more stuff if you have such a tendency.

All our house moves were seen by me as opportunities to get rid of unnecessary clutter. Moving is the perfect time to do that, because you are forced to go through all your things and decide what is important enough to be wrapped, put into a box, and taken with you to your new home. Often, you will find things you even forgot you had – and ironically, even though you hadn’t used them for years and didn’t miss them at all, once you see them you are unable to say goodbye.

There is a certain box that has been sitting with us, unpacked, through two house moves. I figure that if we could live without thinking about its contents for four years, we aren’t likely to ever need it. My husband begs to differ. I have learned to let some things slide, however.

I think that once in a while, I will just pretend we are moving again, and simply let go. Let go of unnecessary items and simplify our life. It feels good.

Who is looking for perfection?

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Today, just after the holiest and most awe-inspiring days of the new year, I was so happy to discover this… it’s something I wrote way back, when I was a new mom, and it rings just as true today.

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God is not looking for perfection, and though I always knew this, in my mind, I think that it only began to sink into my heart not so long ago. It cost me a great many tears until I reached this realization, but the reward was infinitely wonderful, because it gives a sense of security and confidence each one of us, as His precious child, deserves.

He is not, and cannot be, looking for perfection, because He did not make me perfect. He left room for improvement, and He delights in, and appreciates the efforts I undertake to improve.

Yes, there is the standard (vast and challenging) set of commandments each practicing Jew sees him or herself committed to. But other than that, He watches and appreciates me according to my own abilities and limitations – not those of other people.

For example, even though I am dedicated to – and know my place is in – my home, with my family, caring for my children, even though I have never been happy and content anywhere the way I am in my home throughout each day, the practical truth is that I’m challenged when it comes to everyday domestic tasks. And I mean, really challenged, which is why, when I say “if I can do it, anyone can”, I mean it most sincerely. I think the reason for this is a combination of natural clumsiness and forgetfulness (I’m prone to knocking things over, and I’d be lost without my notes and lists), and not being required to lend a hand around the house when I was a child, which could have formed helpful lifelong habits (but which undoubtedly would have been frustrating for whoever tried to engage me in helping).

So, if someone stops by one day and examines my house with a critical eye, perhaps some lingering undusted spots may be noticed, and some lack of order. But God doesn’t see this. He knows what my house had been like before, and knows the effort I put in to achieve a certain measure of tidiness. He knows the long hours I spend working in my home every day, long after the baby goes to sleep, scrubbing floors, ironing and working in my kitchen. He knows I do it all with a happy heart, thinking about how to make life more comfortable and orderly for my family. And he appreciates it, even though I might be forever and always lagging behind someone else’s standards.

He doesn’t want or expect us to be perfect. He wants our dedication, our faithfulness to the important tasks handed to us, our willingness to improve, our best efforts, our cheerfulness, our joy in being with Him, our appreciation of the blessings that adorn our lives. And He wants, appreciates and loves us, just the way we are, with our weaknesses, our misconceptions and our failings.

He sees us through eyes of compassion and love, which is how we are to be with our own children: to value and cherish them for what they are, never compare them with others, but celebrate their achievements as they make progress at their own pace. Who knows how many children’s souls have been terribly wounded, not by lack of care or provision, but by constant remarks about some other child, who speaks three languages and plays the violin. Thankfully, God is beyond human failings. Yes, He will never fail us.

We should know that each and every little thing is rewarded, even when it is seemingly noticed and appreciated by no one. He sees, He knows, and that is why pleasing people or measuring up to other people’s standards is not supposed to be our primary goal. He looks at our heart, and may we ever and always be strengthened and comforted by this knowledge.

Moving mess

So, we’ve finally got ourselves at the new place, and because I’m brave I’m going to show you a glimpse of the jumbled mess I’m dealing with right now. Wish me luck as I sort through it all!

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Backyard – overgrown weed jungle. I’m hoping to set up a little chicken coop and run here. Yesterday I was happy to find out that other people around her raise poultry in their back yard, too.

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A huge stack of boxes in the living room. I can’t seem to find my arms and legs right now, but it will all get done eventually.

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The kitchen is a huge mess right now, but I hope you can see the potential. It’s actually my favorite part of the house. There are two sinks, a lovely granite countertop and a window that lets in plenty of light.