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!

Wholesome entertainment for toddlers and tots

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The long, hot days of summer leave us with many hours – virtually most of the day – when being outside is uncomfortable and even dangerous. During those hours, children will get bored, and the lure of computers, TV, and any screen imaginable calls out to them like a siren song.

I admit it calls out to me as well. It’s so, so easy to sit kids in front of a movie or a computer game and have some blissful peace and quiet. And so much of the content out there is educational and cute and does have its place.

Yet overindulgence in passive entertainment comes with a heavy price – restless, cranky, dissatisfied kids who are always bored; have lost their taste for the outdoors, books, and simple games; can never get enough screen time and are always whining and negotiating for more, becoming insufferable, insolent and aggressive if their parents won’t allow it.

So how would you entertain children on a hot (or rainy) day when being out of doors isn’t an option? Board games and Legos are fantastic, but all kids inevitably get bored with their toys and games, no matter how many they have. This doesn’t mean you have to buy more stuff! Here are some tips on getting through a long day of being cooped up indoors:

1. Try to go out anyway. If your kids are bouncing off walls, check the option of a short trip to the library or a play center, or get together with a friend. I don’t recommend malls, because the lure of buy, buy, buy is just too strong.

2. Crafts. I stock up on craft supplies whenever I can! Paper, paint, scissors, glue, modeling clay, glitter, beads, fabric and yarn, as well as natural materials you might want to collect beforehand, can provide the whole family with several happy hours. I’m teaching the girls to crochet, and all the kids love to draw and paint.

3. Science. If you have the option of keeping an aquarium, it can be great for kids who love to observe (and maybe even take notes!). You can set up a worm farm, sprout seeds, or transform your kitchen into a lab with some fun and simple experiments.

4. Reading. It’s kind of an obvious choice… For those who read! That’s why it’s only number 4 on my list, though I could read all day. Younger children will enjoy being read to, but you will need to commit your full attention and have reasonable expectations as to attention span.

5. Cooking. Though sometimes it’s too hot for cooking or baking, there are always many fun things to do in the kitchen. Salads, vegetable or fruit platters with dips, no-bake cookies and bars, smoothies, lemonade, iced tea and popsicles can all make a kitchen-centered activity.

6. Water play. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a full-blown swimming pool, either. A cool or tepid bath or a wading pool are refreshing and fun for younger children. A baby bath with toys placed on the front porch, balcony, or even in the bathtub can entertain toddlers for hours. ALWAYS supervise water play of any kind!

7. Dress-up. In our house, we have a dress-up container that only comes out when all else has failed. The children love it, which is why I insist on keeping it a special treat, and they are responsible for putting all the things back in when they’re done.

Ultimately, each family has their own strategies on dealing with a time of being housebound. I’d love to know what works for you.

Summer simplicity

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Softie the crochet doll gets new hair from upcycled yarn. It’s naturally curly from former use, and isn’t it perfect for hair?

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Wee feet. She has just started walking recently, and already I can’t keep up with her.

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Current favorite read from the library. We usually go once a week, and we really should do it more often because we get through all the books in about two days.

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Sprouting lemon seeds in a pot for a fun little project.

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Pomegranates already ripening on the tree, reminding me that as much as I love summer, it will be over eventually, followed by another cycle of the High Holy Days.

Enjoying the spring

We’ve had delightful weather here recently, which means lots and lots of time spent out of doors, lounging under trees, visiting all our favorite playgrounds, and just enjoying the pleasant spell before the heat that will inevitably come.

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The kittens, now three weeks old, are growing rapidly and becoming playful. Let me just tell you, nobody needs screen time when they can have kitty time! My kids can play with these snuggly fur balls all day long.

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In between, I’m working on a rather ambitious crochet project for Hadassah, who has become a walker and now merits a lot more cute little dresses.

Lately, I have found no more perfect way to unwind than watching videos by this amazing lady living in rural paradise in China. It seems she knows how to make anything with her own two hands and some primitive hand-operated tools. It is both inspiring and humbling. I know that if you watch, you will become enchanted as much as I am.

Happenings here

Now that the holidays are over, we are gradually getting settled back into a more peaceful routine, which feels great. Today I made my first after-Pesach pizza, and we enjoyed it so much!

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The kittens are two weeks old, and have opened their eyes a couple of days ago. Luckily our cat is very laid back and doesn’t mind us playing with them. Guess what my kids would be doing all day long if only I let them?

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We have recently discovered a beautiful local park and had a blast there one afternoon. Doesn’t this little munchkin look like she’s enjoying herself?

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There was this round thatched hut that really gave the feeling of us all being on a trip to Africa. It fascinated my kids, but to their great lament, it was locked.

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The duck pond.

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Some goats with their babies and one friendly alpaca. No, they don’t always keep them in that little pen – they just closed it off while someone was cleaning the yard.

Enjoying some rest

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The house has been scrubbed, my hands were sore and raw, and the kitchen was sparkling clean on the night before erev Pesach when we overhauled everything to make matzo from scratch (a feat I could personally have dispensed with, but which my husband insisted on trying at least once). Three exhausting hours later, I went to bed to wake up to a busy day of cooking for the seder.

DSC_1233However, as Pesach just can’t come without some surprise to brighten up my life, I discovered that the cat has snuck into the house and had her kittens. In my kids’ bunk bed. On top of the clean sheets. I was desperately exhausted and extra laundry was about the last thing I needed, but who can be angry with such cuteness?

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Now that I have gotten back into the swing of crocheting, the days of chol hamoed (the Pesach week) feel a little empty with the prohibition of crafts and drawing. I compensate myself by braiding my daughters’ hair.

The weather is lovely, and I intend to be very, very lazy for the next few days.

Cheering up with chickens

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Wherever we are, it seems like it’s only a matter of time until we find some chickens. It turns out we have a neighbor who has a whole yard full of poultry (we found him through the crowing of his roosters), including all my favorite chicken breeds such as Silkies, Brahmas, Polish, Wyandotte, Sussex… And it turns out we have some poultry aficionados as common acquaintance. So now hopefully, once I am able to nudge my husband (*smile*) in the direction of building a coop and giving the incubator a test run, we can get fresh eggs for hatching. Really, in moving here, there is nothing I miss like my chickens. For the time being, we go to visit and feed our neighbor’s birds whenever we can.

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Speaking of going somewhere… There hasn’t been much of that lately because the rains have been SO intense for the season. We even missed our regular afternoon in the library today! I’m surprised at the strength of my craving for sunshine, warmth and all that comes with it – hammocks, picnics, wading pools, bare feet, and working in the garden.

In the meantime, we have been trying to make the best of these days of being cooped up inside (as you can judge by Shira’s modeling clay art), drawing, reading, and taking out all our favorite board games. We have actually finished the fifth Harry Potter book, which has been our ongoing read for months.

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I have also been putting the closets in order and discovered another stash of yarn scraps that will be just perfect for a doll-making project. Once, of course, I put Pesach (and all the cleaning it entails) behind me.

I hope spring is on its way to all my friends in the northern hemisphere!