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.

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.

My favorite time-saving strategies

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With four children and an extremely busy life day to day, time is my most precious commodity. There are only 24 hours in a day, which is never enough. So we have to make choices. There are no right or wrong ones, just those that work for us at this season of our lives.

Here are some tactics I use to prioritize the important things and save time:

1. I rarely take or make phone calls. Whenever it comes to customer service or doctor’s appointments, I try to handle things through apps or websites. I am so introverted that talking to strangers throws me off for a long time after I actually finish the call – I forget what I was doing earlier and have to spend a few minutes collecting my thoughts. I don’t even always take calls from friends or family if I’m having a busy day.

2. I clean what is dirty and leave what is not. Housework is never-ending and I simply have to prioritize. Clothes are usually worn more than once. Towels and bedding are used for as long as they are tolerably clean before being changed. I do three loads, sometimes four, per week with a family of six. I do my best to sweep, mop and dust, but my priority is the “gross factor” things: toilets, showers, bathtubs, sinks, kitchen counters and stovetop.

3. Meals are simple and as healthy as I can make them. Dinner is most often soup, pasta with tomato sauce and grated cheese, a crustless quiche, or a salad and eggs in some form. If at all possible, I prefer to have only one pot, meal or mixing bowl to clean. I don’t usually freeze meals in advance, but I do like to make a big batch and eat the leftovers for next day’s lunch.

4. I make it a priority to get rid of as much clutter as I can or, better yet, never let it cross the threshold of my home. It’s a little easier said than done, because I live with a hoarder who can’t pass a dump without salvaging something that might be useful someday, someway. But yes, decluttering saves a bunch of time because you have less stuff to clean, sort, and organize.

5. I minimize outside commitments that would involve me herding the childremn there and back several times a week. We have one afternoon a week when we go to the library and, along the way, hang out with friends. I try my best to arrange any errands for the same day. My eldest daughter attends piano lessons, which she is able to do independently of me. Otherwise, I refuse to commit to regular extracurricular activities. The way I see it, there’s nothing that can’t wait until my children are old enough to go there and back themselves.

Day to day

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First crop of tomatoes from the garden. Plenty more to come.

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Fresh mulberries from a nearby tree – these are seriously good, and there are so many of them I made jam this week.

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The older girls with newly braided hair.

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Israel, planning to make many wonderful things with these discarded boards you see in the picture.

I hope your summer started off with just the right vibes! Enjoy the season.

Little gifts

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I’m not a big fan of prickly pears, but I do love the large, bright flowers. A tiny short-lived miracle that one just has to enjoy while it lasts.

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Another piece of beauty from one of our afternoon walks: this little ladybug on a flower. My children always enjoy letting these little guys crawl over their hands and fingers until they inevitably fly away.

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A pile of fresh, juicy lemons from the very generous tree of our lovely neighbor, Jocelyn. Just think of all the jugs of refreshing lemonade we can make from these.

We’ve had a terrible heat wave yesterday and today and I’m extremely thankful for the blessing of air conditioning, because otherwise I literally don’t know how we would be able to breathe. The outdoors were such a furnace that I felt my eyes start to water from the heat as soon as I walked out to water my poor plants. I hope you’re enjoying pleasanter weather, wherever you are.