Should you work for peanuts?

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Let me just preface this post by saying that not getting fair pay for your work sucks. It really does. It’s rotten and unjust to work your backside off for less than minimum wage, which is why many freelancers follow the advice that says, “hold off until you can get a worthy compensation for your time”.

I had nobody to tell me this when I started my first regular freelance gig, at probably less than $10 an hour. The terms were exploitative, but at that point I had been out of the workforce for about a decade, and my confidence was in the pits. I was ready to grasp at just about anything.

So I found myself editing Chinese serial fiction, trying to slap atrocious translations into shape. I wasn’t making much money, but it was my own money… And it made a huge difference to my self-esteem.

Apart from making that little bit of money, two things happened. One, I gained experience. I was no longer a person with nothing on my resume. I could now truthfully say that I had one year of experience as a fiction editor.

Second, I kept getting praised for my work. I got into the editing team’s top tier. I was assigned the responsibility of training newbies and rating translators. I got involved in new and interesting projects. I got a couple of bonuses. My team leader kept telling me that I was a responsible, professional, and capable team member during her monthly calls.

Eighteen months later, I moved on to better-paying opportunities, but I will always be grateful to the first place that took a chance on me and helped me progress from nothing to something – probably the hardest step for every freelancer.

So, for me, working for peanuts eventually paid off. If I kept waiting and waiting for an opportunity that was “worth my time”, I might still have been stuck.

I’ll just give one caveat. If you do start with low-paying work, try not to let it hog all your time. For many months on my first job, I was like a hamster on a wheel, too busy running to look right or left or to notice I’m going nowhere. So do reserve the time to look for better options and polish your skills.

Should she ask her husband’s permission to buy a new dress? Part 2

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In my last post, I responded to a question I saw in a Shabbat leaflet. It dealt with a woman whose husband opposed her buying a new dress for her sister’s wedding. I raised my concerns over the potential red flags of such a situation – namely, financial helplessness and covert abuse – and one reader suggested that I might respond to the woman by writing to the newsletter.

Well, I did it. I wrote to the editor, and today I received a response, along with a copy of this week’s leaflet, in which my comment (abridged for reasons of space) and their answer appeared. I’m copying and pasting their answer here.

“Thank you for your comments!
Financial abuse is not only extremely harmful, but can be used as a tool to trap a victim in an abusive relationship. As with emotional abuse, financial abuse is generally not about a specific situation. In most relationships, there are periods of financial stress wherein the couple must reduce their spending
or make other decisions and adjustments.

However, with financial abuse, the abuser usually wants to control, manipulate, trap and dominate the other person. Some examples involve controlling the victim’s acquisition and use of money and assets, preventing the victim from working, putting the victim into large debt and/or ruining their credit, creating legal issues for the victim, controlling all the spending, refusing to work, withholding basic needs and hiding assets. Even if they are only using one of these tactics, their behavior may still be financially abuse.

While there may be indications of possible abuse in the woman’s question, it might also be simply a tight financial period. A good idea, as you mention, would be for the woman to know the finances. Her husband not agreeing would be a red flag. However, assuming he agrees, she should also participate in financial decisions, hopefully lessening her resentment.


Shalom Bayit (for my non-Jewish readers: this refers to marital relationships, literally “peace in the home”) counseling is delicate. The goal is to bring the couple closer while also being attuned to the individual needs and vulnerabilities of husband and wife. Before introducing a label such as emotional, verbal or financial abuse, it is important to gather as much information as possible.

Targeted questions, involving the subjects mentioned above, will enable both the counselor and the counselee to understand whether it is abuse or not.
If a person feels their situation might be abusive, they should speak with a professional who can help them assess their situation and move forward with a healthy, successful and normal life.”

***

I have just a few words to say in conclusion. First, I appreciate the editor’s attention to my concerns, and I am thankful they chose to give space to the subject of financial abuse, often subtle and not enough recognized in Orthodox Jewish circles. I also agree that it is impossible to find out, just on the basis of what we know, whether the writer of the original question is going through financial abuse or just a period of financial strain and faulty communication.

However, there is one thing I just wanted to note: “If a person feels their situation might be abusive” may be hard to pinpoint. Many people live in a financially abusive situation for years without being aware of it. They might feel it’s normal, or it may happen so gradually that they look back one day and realize they have given up all their financial freedom and capability.

I guess what I’m trying to say is just that I hope people will gain more awareness of financial abuse. A couple of years ago, a few Israeli Knesset members tried to pass a law that would protect victims of domestic financial abuse. I am sorry to say that Orthodox and right-wing PMs were the ones who stopped this law from passing. They ridiculed the suggestion of giving more legal protection to financial abuse victims and claimed this law “interferes in family dynamics.” I found a brilliant article that discusses it here.

Also, for whoever is curious, the leaflet that prompted me to write these last two posts is Living Jewish.

What to do when everything gets expensive

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This sure has been a crazy summer so far. Between tons of work and lots of projects around the house, I also try to do fun stuff with the kids and work on my own projects (specifically the upcoming sixth and final volume of Frozen World). And, by and by, I watch everything get more (and more, and MORE) expensive.

I mean literally everything. Electricity, food, public transportation, gas. I know it’s like that all around the world. Though I had taken on extra clients and more work, it’s not enough to compensate for the absolutely outrageous costs of living (and by living, I literally mean just that: a roof over your head, food to eat, keep the lights on).

Sometimes, I feel like shaking a fist at Global Economy and saying, “You ain’t getting my hard-earned money!”

Luckily, I have lived through Shoestring Budget Bootcamp which involved zero income, young kids, and limited access to basic facilities. I figure that, for many of us, it’s time to get back to basics and tighten those belts.

It starts with nonessentials. While I have argued that being too frugal can actually keep you stuck in poverty, when retailers and service providers are literally trying to rob you, it’s time to examine what you can live without. I believe in the consumer’s power. If we buy less, prices will drop, or corporations will go out of business.

My favorite way to cut discretionary expenses is to avoid going into stores. I know that all my willpower fails when I face a great deal on craft supplies, so I just dodge the temptation. Same goes for online stores (sorry, Woolstack!).

You can also save on:

Food: Cut the prepackaged foods and go with what’s basic, cheap, and healthy. Mix meat with beans and rice to stretch it. Try growing your own vegetables, stock up on long-keeping goods when you expect prices to rise, and consider keeping some chickens if your local regulations allow it.

Electricity: This one is tough. We live in Israel, and summers are hot. However, I try to be extra mindful of any AC units working needlessly (this usually involves peeking into any room my kids have exited). There are also long stretches in the afternoon when it’s not that hot outside anymore but the house radiates accumulated heat. Spending these hours out of doors helps cut electricity costs.

Transportation: We now pay an arm and a leg for gas, and local public transportation is undergoing a “reform” which essentially means you pay more unless your whole family uses buses and trains often enough to justify a monthly plan (spoiler: few kids do). So we’re falling back more and more on the old-fashioned form of transportation called walking. I try to merge several errands in one trip to save both time and money.

Second-hand: I love hand-me-downs and thrift stores. You can find excellent quality clothes, furniture, and household items for a fraction of the cost. Of course, it’s a matter of luck and it’s not as convenient as hopping online and just ordering whatever you need.

Entertainment: Luckily, no one has yet tried to make us pay for walks, local hikes, hanging out with friends, making dinner a picnic, or borrowing extra books from the library.

I’d love to hear how everyone is coping with the rising prices and what strategies you have adopted to live well during tough times.

What to do when you’re starved for time

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Ironically, right after my last post, which talked about how to use stretches of low-intensity time productively, a heap of Things landed on the top of my head. Tons of work. New clients. Sick kids. A house in shambles.

So let’s flip the coin. How do you cope when there simply aren’t enough hours in a day? Everyone has their tricks, but here are mine:

#1. I get up early. And I mean, really early, like when it’s still dark and the roosters are crowing. I know, I know, I’m not really THAT much of a morning person either, but I figured out my day is a lot more productive if I get the most difficult tasks of the way before the kids are even up. Which brings me to…

#2 Save your productive time for the important stuff. If you know that your energy and concentration ebb in the afternoon, don’t plan anything big for that time of the day. Complete the large tasks (whether it’s major work assignments or cleaning out the refrigerator) in the morning. I allot time in the afternoon mostly for mindless stuff like picking up around the house and maybe some admin tasks.

#3. Get the most out of your time. We all know what this means, right? Set the phone aside. No quick peeks at social media. No glimpses of the latest yarn arrivals at Woolstack (guilty here). And no hopping between tasks – if I’m writing an article, I don’t stop in the middle to answer an email (unless I’m convinced it really can’t keep an hour!). I don’t answer most phone calls, either, because an interruption of even a couple of seconds gets me out of the loop and makes me spend more time on whatever I’m doing.

#4. Get enough sleep. I don’t always follow that rule to the T, I admit. I used to work nights after the kids were in bed, but I don’t do that anymore, because I realized my health and sanity pay the price. If you overdraft on your “sleep batteries”, your brain becomes sluggish, everything takes more time, and eventually, you have to take a nap. I’m typically in bed by 10 p.m., which allows me to feel rested and ready for another day by 5:30 or 6 a.m.

#5. Reevaluate. How much of the strain is temporary and unavoidable, and how much is because of choices? I had to let go of clients and pare down some other commitments because they didn’t work into my schedule. Living under constant stress is unsustainable and not worth it.

Crochet simple ribbed hat in Malabrigo Rios: yarn review

Why would I make a winter hat when it’s April and the next cold day is months away around here? Simple: I finally got my hands on a beautiful hank of Malabrigo Rios, and I couldn’t wait to try it out.

Malabrigo refers to Rios, a worsted weight 100% superwash merino, as their “workhorse yarn”. Once I started my project, it was easy to see why. This is a smooth, even yarn that rolls easily into a ball, doesn’t tangle, has a marvelous stitch definition, and slides through your fingers nicely as you work with it. If you make a mistake and need to rip out a few rows, you can do that easily. And, of course, being a Malabrigo and superwash yarn to boot, it comes in a beautiful range of variegated and solid colors.

Now let’s talk a bit about the drawbacks – or, I should rather say, the specs that make a specific type of yarn more suited to one project than another.

I wanted to make a hat for my son. What I had in mind was an interesting cabled pattern with tons of texture. However, about midway through my project, I realized that, a) my chosen colorway, Playa, looked a tad too busy with cables, and b) the cables seemed a little flat. I wish I had taken pictures, but since I hadn’t, you’ll just have to take my word for it. I did not achieve the satisfying bouncy, squishy cables I got in my other hat projects.

It turned out I wasn’t alone. Another crafter who had made beautiful hats in Malabrigo Rios complained of the cables not holding up too well. Her project was knitted and mine was crochet, but it still prompted me to seek more feedback.

This was my first time working with superwash merino. After reading up a bit, I realized that superwash merino yarns have their strengths and weaknesses. In a nutshell: the superwash treatment removes some of the scales on the fiber surface. This results in a sleek, smooth yarn that offers more drape than body.

I switched gears and decided to rework my hat into the simplest pattern I could find. It’s literally nothing but a crochet rectangle, all worked in single crochet in the back loop and then seamed and cinched at the top. It came out very simple and neat, and the all-ribbing structure gives it a nice stretch.

So would I recommend Malabrigo Rios? Working with it was a treat. However, if I purchase more Rios (or Malabrigo Arroyo, its sport weight version), I will probably earmark it for a project where drape matters more than bounce, such as a cardigan or a shawl.

Happy Passover (my least favorite holiday)

Pure loveliness

At this time of the year, I always wish I had the means to reach whomever set up the counterproductive tradition of combining the Passover chametz hunt with spring cleaning. That, and the founders of the waaaaaay overboard chumrot (unnecessarily tricky practices) like covering all the kitchen surfaces. Hello, aluminum foil, how nice to see you – NOT.

I’d file a collective lawsuit against them or something. Because when I toll the accumulated stress, chaos, frustration, exhaustion, and pangs of hunger of hundreds of thousands of Jewish children unable to get a proper meal in a disordered pre-Passover home, the mental damage is just unimaginable.

Jezreel Valley in spring

If my children grow up and decide to part ways with Jewish tradition, I’m laying the charge at Passover’s door. Yes, it’s that bad. I envy the rich people with holiday homes they can use just during this week.

But, on the up side, this year I managed to lower the level of insanity a tiny bit. I left ALL the bookcases and closets alone (other people in this house who are unhappy about it can roll up their sleeves and get busy – I never told them not to), and in the week before the holiday, I peeled off my scrubbing gloves and went with the kids on a hike through the woods.

Such lovely weather. So many different kinds of vegetation, especially lush after a generously rainy winter. This most beautiful time of the year, totally wasted on cleaning.

Chickens on a stroll

And here is just a random pic of the backyard flock roaming while I was cleaning out their coop. The rooster just showed up out of the blue over a week ago. Isn’t he a handsome boy?

Super simple headbands

This season, I’m challenging myself to use up the yarn I have in my stash rather than keep drooling over delightful new yarn I’d love to order. So far, I’m pretty proud of myself. I’m fitting my stash into a compact storage space, I’m making useful things, and I’m being creative.

I’ve discovered headbands as a terrific way to use up half a skein of yarn (or less) when you don’t have enough for a hat. Headbands are cool accessories, work up quickly, and can function as earwarmers. They make great gifts or items for a craft booth when you need to make something quick.

My girls love their headbands and keep asking for more, although personally I’m ready to move on to more interesting stuff. These are literally simple rectangles, done in SC in the back loop, and sewed using the Simple Twist Headband method (look it up on YouTube).

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