Meanwhile, around here

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We’ve had a pretty ‘blah’ week with a nasty cold making its rounds around the family, so I’ve been trying to cut myself some slack and take things as easy as possible. Of course, some things still need to be done – little people and critters need to eat on time, and we all need clean clothes, for instance. In the photo above, Hadassah is helping feed our little pullets (they’re really spoiled and will leave half their grain behind unless it’s cooked!)

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We did still make time for some really, really short walks recently, but today, truly, it has all been about keeping my head above water. Just washing the dishes, folding the laundry, cooking a simple pasta dinner, and taking care of the plants has been a huge accomplishment in my book. And of course, we’re still doing some crafts in between to unwind and relax.

Now that I’ve put the littlest one to sleep, I’m off to reading with the older kids, and hopefully, we’ll all have an early bedtime tonight.

Pretty pineapple crochet bolero

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Yes! I am pretty proud of myself for accomplishing the intricate and beautiful pineapple stitch in his lovely bolero. Inspiration from here. Skill level: intermediate to advanced.

Crochet hook number 3. Material: soft cotton.

Good and straightforward tutorial for pineapple stitch can be found here.

With some crochet skills and an adventurous spirit, it’s possible to make a bolero with virtually any stitch, working from the top down. Start with a foundation chain and work the pattern back and forth across each row, increasing so that you get an almost circular shape. Drape over the shoulders and bind off the sleeves when desired and keep working the pattern below, skipping the armholes.

An oasis of mindfulness

Not long ago, a mom of little ones complained to me that her children never agree to settle down for a meal without her showing them some movie or video on the ipad or TV. They would watch, hardly aware of what they were eating, while she spooned food into their mouths.

Appalled by such a portrayal of family dinner, I asked whether she sits down to eat with them. It turned out the idea has not even occurred to her. She, too, would eat at odd moments here and there, fiddling with her phone.

I suggested that the first step should be setting aside all electronic devices and prohibiting all unrelated activities during dinner, to which the whole family should sit together. I told her I don’t allow reading under the table, drawing, or playing during a meal.

“It would never work for me,” she said with a little smile. I could tell she thought I was clueless.

Please note I’m not telling this to be condescending or to give myself a pat on the backj. This mom is wonderful and devoted and loves her children very much. The fact, however, is that we are now on the second generation of children who have been constantly bombarded by screens all their lives. I grew up with the TV constantly blaring in the background, and I hated it. Now, with the explosion of Internet access, touchscreens, and an incessant flow of information, is it any wonder we are getting lost in all that?

Don’t get me wrong, I love my laptop and phone. I love the fact that I can work from any device on Google Drive. I love being able to get on YouTube and find a quick tutorial for just about anything… But too much of a good thing, you know?..

No matter how educational a video is, I still maintain that it’s better for a toddler to play in a mud puddle. I firmly adhere to the belief that once you turn screens off, wonderful things begin to happen. Children pick up paper, paint, crayons; books, board games, puzzles; they climb trees, build forts, ride bikes; they learn to work with fiber, textile, wood; they dig in the garden, pick tomatoes off the vine, observe insects. You need proper space for that kind of good old-fashioned messy fun, and you won’t get that space until the siren song of screens of all kinds is turned off. Unfortunately, some children never get that space, not even when they go places.

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This afternoon: cool grass, bare feet, ball of yarn.

Don’t be afraid to be a little old-fashioned. Don’t be taken aback if your children seem to be constantly bored. Some boredom is a good and healthy medium conductive to peace of mind. So come… Let’s get bored together. Then we’ll think of things to make, grow, write, paint. And then life will get pretty exciting!

Another little crochet doll

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I’m just weaving in the ends of my newest crochet creation, a little amigurumi doll that I had tremendous fun making. The theme was traditional Ethiopian clothing with a Jewish theme, though admittedly my star of David looks a bit more like a flower.

I know dolls are something I’m going to make again and again now that I’ve discovered it. It’s tremendously fun, takes relatively little time (instant gratification!) and allows me to use up all the little odds and ends of yarn I have sitting around.

  • Check out this great guide to basic amigurumi here
  • Tons of free amigurumi patterns here

Cultivating Contentment: a journey to simplicity

It’s August, and it seems like almost everyone is either on vacation or toting their kids to amusement parks, water parks, malls, shows, zoos, movies, and any entertainment venue you can imagine.

Peer pressure, anyone?

We like to have fun as much as the next person, but when you consider what a month of constant going out costs, the sum is staggering. Besides, a day in the car is exhausting and usually saps my strength for the next day or two.

And you know what? It’s never enough, because once kids get in the habit of always being taken somewhere, they lose the taste for simple games and quiet, home-centered activities.

We’ve spent this summer refusing to get pulled into the merry-go-round of “doing something special”, and have passed our time pleasantly enough going to the swimming pool, the library, the local play center, and a few visits to see family.

I also believe it’s entirely possible for people who desire a slower, gentler rhythm to their days, to gradually wean their kids off the habit of always being driven to places, and rediscover the simple old-fashioned pleasures of a quiet neighborhood life. Here are a few ideas:

1. Take full advantage of the free or cheap entertainment options in your area. Are there any parks, museums,  or, if you live in a more rural area, farms you haven’t visited yet?

2. Cultivate a home that is conductive to learning, relaxation, and creativity. Start a garden, even if all the space you have available are some pots on the balcony. Get your children to help you and gradually delegate age-appropriate responsibilities. Chickens make great, easy-to-keep livestock/pets combo in areas where they are allowed.

Keep cozy, clutter-free corners for reading and arts and crafts. Encourage your children to explore new hobbies such as painting, sewing, knitting, etc.

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Above: the scarf Shira (10) has started crocheting in the past few days. It’s a lot longer now than in this picture!

3. Do fun and unusual stuff such as camping out in your own backyard. Hang up a couple of hammocks and let your children sleep in them from time to time. Take nature walks, ride bikes, set up a bird feeder and waterer.

Above all, don’t let notions of inferiority or deprivation creep in. I know many families that really struggle financially but still give their kids expensive entertainment and brand-name clothes and shoes, stating that they don’t want the kids to “miss out”. Well, I firmly believe that having the family finances together, and working towards a financially secure, debt-free future is FAR more important than any fun trip or impulse purchase of today. I KNOW that even if my kids might sometimes grumble about not getting this, that or the other thing their friends have, I am working for their future greater good by saving money and cultivating the habit of being content with simple, basic things.

So I guess I just wanted to encourage you on your journey to a simple lifestyle in the face of the rampant spending that is going on all around. Don’t worry, you’re doing great!

Are you prepared for shifts in economy?

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For the past few weeks, butter has been increasingly hard to obtain in major chain stores around here, up until the point when, last week, my husband failed to find butter in any of the grocery stores near us. Our kids, who are butter lovers, grumbled and complained until I made pancakes for breakfast.

While the butter deficit is a comparative blip among the heavily laden grocery store shelves, I still remember times, during the fall of the Berlin Wall and the crumbling of the communist block when I was a child, that grocery stores virtually emptied out within an hour of being open. People weren’t actually starving, but no basic staple was taken for granted.

It is disconcerting to realize how much we are all really at the mercy of import, global food production, government policies – in short, the economy, which can be capricious. We buy what we can find at the local store, at prices we have no way to change.

Honing one’s preparedness skills is a great investment that doesn’t cost much and may really pay off in the long run, whether in a real emergency or just to save money in the face of rising prices. Here are some questions for starters:

1. Can you grow at least a part of your own food? Do you have space for a vegetable garden, a chicken coop, perhaps a couple of goats?

2. Can you identify wild edibles? Do you know of any untended orchards in your area?

3. Do you know how to preserve food by canning and drying? Freezing is good, but you can’t always count on having electricity.

4. Do you know how to make and/or mend clothes? Can you attach a button, sew up a ripped seam, unravel an old unused afghan to knit or crochet warm clothes for your family from the yarn? Do you know how to weave a simple storage basket from material you can find lying around in the nature?

5. Are you up for doing basic repairs? Can you unclog a drain, drive a nail into wall, install a lightbulb?

6. Do you know how to make your own soap and cleaning products, use herbs and natural remedies to treat minor ailments, recycle wax to make candles?

7. Can you devise a simple plan for developing a network of mutual help and reliance among your neighbors, rather than be wholly dependent on what you can buy or obtain from outsiders/the government? Do you have any useful skills you are prepared to barter (I’ll bet you do)?

All of these aren’t just fun hobbies; today’s quirky hobby is tomorrow’s survival skill! I would suggest it’s never too soon (nor too late) to begin practising.

Little crochet tote bag

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A little lacy crochet tote bag for summer, for odds and ends that I might take with me if I’m just going for a short walk to the playground – a pack of tissues, an apple, a small bottle of water, sunglasses.

The simplest bag imaginable, made of two lacy squares, a triangular flap, and a strap that is basically a super long rectangle.

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A large, elongated bead attached to the tip of the flap serves as a button that goes into the middle hole (the center of the square).

Square pattern from a vintage Russian magazine:

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The flap and strap are more or less freestyle – just make sure the tip of your triangle reaches the center of the bag.

Worked in thin, sturdy cotton thread with crochet hook number 2.5.