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!

Beautiful hobbit house

I love hobbit houses with lovely rounded corners and natural materials – and, though living entirely off grid seems a little daunting, I’d move into this super cute little house if I only had the chance! Straw bale building fascinates me so much that I’ve been itching to try it for a while now.

It’s a great inspiration to us all to watch people fight back against mass building and insane housing prices by raising shelters that are sustainable, affordable, beautiful and easy to maintain. In Israel, however, the main obstacle in the way of lowering housing prices are the prices of land. Land is scarce (in most regions – some are sadly underpopulated), and there is also the unfortunate phenomenon of widespread land piracy by Bedouins – which, despite the romantic image of the uncivilized nomad, cannot be tolerated in a small country with few and precious land resources (and, indeed, would not be tolerated in any country with a semi-developed legal system).

I hope, and dream, and pray that one day soon, our government will recognize the potential benefits of low-impact living, with eco-friendly building, environmental awareness and reduced energy exploitation, and will encourage people who would choose such a lifestyle, wishing to tread gently and lightly upon the face of this earth.

Little homes, creative solutions

Lately I’ve been greatly enjoying Teri’s blog, Homestead Honey. Teri and her husband live in a charming tiny cabin of 350 square feet (just over 32 square meters) that they had built themselves. They have two children, whom they homeschool.
How do four people fit into 350 square feet? On her blog, Teri talks about some creative solutions that have enabled them to live in their small space. They have, for instance, an outdoor kitchen and an outdoor shower. And, of course, despite having a storage shed they need to be very selective about which possessions they keep.

We live in a house of about a 100 square meters, or 1070 square feet. In addition, we have a storage shed of about 15 square meters (about 160 square feet). Our house is by no means huge, but I confess we do have a lot of poorly utilized space. First, our storage shed is filled to bursting with stuff we hardly use. We also have an office and a guest bedroom that are seldom used for their direct purpose, and a lot more for accumulating junk. In addition, we have three bathrooms in our house, out of which one is used very, very rarely, and its shower not at all – I consider it completely superfluous.

So, while it’s certainly nice to have a roomy house and lots of space to put our stuff, it’s an undeniable fact that a family like ours can downsize and live in a smaller house that is easier and cheaper to heat (or cool), clean and maintain. Also, in Israel, the smaller your house is, the lower the occupation tax you pay.

Of course, you wouldn’t pay occupation tax for an outdoor kitchen, an outdoor shower, a storage shed or a covered front porch/deck/pergola that would enable you to place garden furniture, benches, swings, hammocks, and spend many pleasant hours outside! The only hitch I see in this arrangement are the days when you are confined to the interior of your house – when it’s too rainy, windy, stormy, cold or, as more often happens in Israel, too hot.

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Above: deck at our new cabin

I do have to be fair and acknowledge that all these wonderful outdoor extensions are only possible if you are living on the land. In city apartments, you just make do with your space (though I’ve seen some very neat space-utilization practices done in apartments too). But if you have some land, however little, you can work wonders.

We have been married close to nine years now, and we are on our fourth house, so far. Despite my desire to get settled in a permanent home (as much as anything can be permanent in this world) straight away, I think it was a blessing in its way, because it did force us to go through our possessions from time to time and decide what we can’t do without. When you must pay to have your stuff moved, you’ll probably let go of that old broken-down washer than has been sitting in your back yard for years, waiting to be turned into a potter’s wheel or some other marvelous engine (talking from experience here). Still, we tend to accumulate possessions at an alarming rate.

At this time, we are facing the prospect of moving to a smaller house. When it first began to dawn upon me this is a serious possibility, it was daunting. How would I sort through all our things? Obviously we wouldn’t be able to keep everything. We’d have to get rid of stuff, possibly a lot of stuff. How would we fit into a smaller space? But now that I’ve found Teri’s blog, and the testimonies of other people who have downsized and are happier for it, I’m not nervous anymore, but rather looking forward to this as a challenge. In the future I hope to post updates of our progress.