Thursday, August 20, 2009

Free to be Frugal

Growing up, my family never had much money, but we always had just enough, which reminds me of the verse,"Keep deception and lies far from me, Give me neither poverty nor riches; Feed me with the food that is my portion, That I not be full and deny You and say, "Who is the
L-RD?" Or that I not be in want and steal, And profane the name of my G-d" (Proverbs 30:8-9). I was never without anything that I really needed. This upbringing taught me many valuable lessons, and I am grateful to be reminded of where I came from.

In one of my college composition classes, I wrote a descriptive essay entitled "Poverty" and though I never said so in the paper (which the professor read aloud to the class), I was describing the house in which I lived at the time and grew up in. The essay quickly became one of my favorites...

"I step out of the bright Florida sunshine into the dimly lit house. As my eyes adjust to the semi-darkness, I realize that I am standing in the living room. To my right sits an old beige couch, worn and stained. On the shelf below the television, a lone fish swims in a dingy 10 gallon tank furnished with green gravel, a plastic plant swaying in the current, and algae. On the far left of the room stands a century-old piano adorned with family pictures and dust. I have failed to mention the constant creaking of the ceiling fan overhead.

Entering the hallway, I turn to the right and enter a small bedroom. Inside, the air smells of lavender and moth balls. Turning to my left, I see two parakeets in a small birdcage. The first stares at me with curious peppercorn eyes. His feathers remind me of the sky on a summer day; they are a deep blue with white tips. His companion, however, is not so calm. She squawks hysterically and flaps her wings. I begin to whistle, and the angry queen becomes quiet. Her temper does not take anything away from her beauty. Her wings are a light blue color, as if the sky was being reflected off fresh fallen snow. Turning my gaze from these magnificent creatures, I notice an over-stuffed closet. On top of it, two porcelain dolls compete for my attention. The first displays her beautifully pink Victorian style dress. The second, a ballerina, shows off her favorite ballet position; she is a tall and graceful youth in a white leotard. Despite their vanity, I give them both one last glance of assurance and proceed out of the room.

It is time for me to leave and return to where I have come from. Exiting the front door, I am blinded by the light. Once again, my eyes have to adjust. As I descend the cracked stone steps, I remember the hanging in the blue room: The L-rd is my Shepherd; I shall not want. There is something truly humble about this place. Where poverty exists, humility is present forever. I must never forget that."

Although that was just an excerpt, hopefully you can get a mental picture. The essay is probably one of my favorites because when reading it, even after almost six years, I can still see and smell everything I mentioned. Now, married with a baby, I still don't have much money, but we always have just enough. And my "poverty" has become "frugality".

It was my plan from even before I became pregnant with my daughter to be a stay-at-home mom to my children. Not because I don't enjoy working, but because the thought of someone else raising my small children is unbearable. Of course, I had rose-colored glasses on at the time and I thought it would be easy! Needless to say, it is not what I would call easy, but it is definitely worth it.

In reading 1/2 Price Living by Ellie Kay, I was inspired.She speaks of frugality being a full-time job for a stay-at-home mom, and it is! I love to clip coupons! That has become my Sunday routine. Since I discovered CVS and their Extra Bucks Rewards, I have managed to stock up on shampoos, conditioners, body wash, razors, toothpaste, etc. (and it's name-brand stuff, but I got it for free or cheap!), so I restrain from buying these items unless there's a bargain I can't refuse. My "stash" could probably last for at least a year (maybe two?), even with my husband using it too. In addition, I have oodles of free samples (go to of toiletries that we use for travel or if we run out of something. If we stay in a hotel room, we always take whatever toiletries they are giving away to their guests.

Because milk is so expensive, we used to water down whole milk to turn one gallon into two, and I only buy milk at the stores that are cheapest. We go through a lot of milk because my husband drinks instant breakfast and I put milk into my "Cappuccino Coolers" I get from the grocery store to keep myself away from coffee shops! (They are about $2 for six. Compare that to at least $1.50 each for iced coffees, which is what I prefer.)

Having a baby is very expensive!(Surprise, Surprise!) I get free samples of diapers when I can (just got three in the mail today!) and there are days when we are home when I use cloth diapers to cut back on some of the disposables. And my Pampers and Huggies days are over! When Elisheva was born, that's what she wore, which was easy when we had so many giftcards, but now she wears Walmart & Target brand (just as good as Pampers if you ask me) and sometimes Luvs when I have a coupon. We saved lots of money on formula by breastfeeding, which I recommend. She is still nursing at 9 months and eating solid foods. Unfortunately, I haven't convinced her that homemade vegetables are better than Gerber. She doesn't seem to like texture much, but we're working on that... I do have the food processor and the strainer to make her food. I think it has been a matter of convenience (that's my excuse for buying prepared baby foods!), so I use coupons and buy more when it's on sale. Clothes are not much of an issue because since before her birth, she has been given more clothes than I can count! And when I buy her clothes, they are from clearance racks (and just as cute). I also buy clothes for myself from clearance racks (and sometimes thrift stores) and not very often. Kohl's has awesome clearance prices if you wait for them to go down. I have bought clothes for me, my husband, and daughter there.

I thoroughly enjoy getting good deals. It's not about spending money for me; I just like to shop for things and bring them home... whether they are from the thrift store, the dollar store, or somewhere else is not really an issue to me.

To stretch our resources as far as they can go and still provide for my family is part of being a mother and wife. When it comes down to it, we don't really need that much to survive and to thrive, especially when we have the Messiah dwelling in our hearts and home. My daughter has also been a wonderful teacher to me concerning frugality. As she digs through the full basket of toys and comes out with a smile and a plastic lid or cup, I realize how little she needs to be happy. We could all learn a lesson from her contentment.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

the guest- part one

Your special guest arrives right on time as usual. Your day has been spent preparing for her arrival, and you have looked forward to the time when she would appear. You prepared dinner, tidied up the house, and tried your best to get everything done in time, but just like last week, you're not quite sure if you completed all you intended to. But thankfully, this is a gracious and pleasant guest: she probably won't even notice the stray clothes or the clutter or the few items "out of place" in your home as she greets you. Your home is filled with joy and gladness, fellowship and meaningful conversation. Perhaps you all retire early so that you can continue the pleasure in the morning after you've rested, or perhaps you all stay up late, unable to leave one another's presence. Either way, you're probably disappointed when after a day, she has to say her farewells... until next week. Of course, you send her off with another special celebration, sad to see her go, but hopeful you will soon see her again. Your schedule and your plans revolve around this special guest's weekly visits. The guest I speak of is, of course, the Shabbat...

Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the L-RD your G-d; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. For in six days the L-RD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the L-RD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy. -- Exodus 20:8-11

Nothing motivates me more to tidy up my house than company coming over. It's amazing how much I can get done in so little time when I know that someone is coming for a visit. A few weeks ago, as I was busy cleaning the house for an expected guest, I realized something. What if I could treat the Shabbat this way, as a special guest... a guest worthy of preferential treatment and honor...

In the siddur, Shabbat is referred to as the "Sabbath Bride" and there is a beautiful prayer, "Lecha Dodi" (Come, my Beloved) to welcome "her". It states, "Come my Beloved to greet the bride, the Sabbath presence, let us welcome! "Safeguard" and "Remember" in a single utterance the One and Only G-d made us hear. HaShem is One and His name is One, for renown, for splendor, and for praise. To welcome the Sabbath, come let us go, for it is a source of blessing; from the beginning, from antiquity she was honored, Last in deed, but first in thought." I am convinced that G-d holds Shabbat very near to His heart, and so should we. I have heard countless testimonies of individuals coming to the realization that they should be keeping the Sabbath as the first step in their journey to becoming messianic. As the siddur states, it is a source of blessing. Of all the commandments He had to pick from, G-d chose to list honoring the Sabbath in the Ten Words (Ten Commandments). That should tell us something!

The Shabbat is one way that the G-d of Israel chose to draw those from the nations to Himself as well. In Exodus 20, we read that Shabbat is for everyone, including the servants and foreigners. There is another beautiful passage in Isaiah 56 (verse 3-7): "Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the L-RD say, "The L-RD will surely separate me from His people. Nor let the eunuch say, 'Behold, I am a dry tree.' For thus says the L-RD, 'To the eunuchs who keep My sabbaths, And choose what pleases Me, And hold fast My covenant; To them I will give in My house and within My walls a memorial, And a name better than that of sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name which will not be cut off. Also the foreigners who join themselves to the L-RD, To minister to Him, and to love the name of the L-RD, To be His servants, every one who keeps from profaning the sabbath And holds fast My covenant; Even those I will bring to My holy mountain And make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be acceptable on My altar; For My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.'" Sounds pretty clear, doesn't it? Keeping the Shabbat equals blessings and acceptance from G-d.

But how do we do it? I'll write more about this in a later post...

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

keepers of the home

"...That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home..." Titus 2:4-5

I actually enjoy housework. In fact, I find myself being jealous of women who can spend a few hours cleaning their homes with both hands because they don't have a baby at home. Now, I have to get very creative and resourceful. I like to clean and to see and savor the results of my efforts around the house, even though it always seems that the whole house is never clean at the same time! In my studies, one of the most profound (and convicting) subjects has been on women as "keepers at home." As I have found, being a keeper of the home is so much more than cooking and cleaning. The responsibilities are so much deeper and more significant. As we have seen with women in general, the importance of the outer beauty of the home pales in comparison to the inner beauty that should be present there.

In orthodox Judaism (and indeed in Biblical Judaism) today, the woman's responsibilities often revolve around the home and what goes on inside it. I recently read an article on entitled "I am Woman" where the author, Sara Esther Crispe, writes about the mitzvot, or commandments, for men and women. In orthodox Judaism, men are said to be required to keep all of the "time-bound commandments" (i.e. praying with a minyan in a synagogue three times a day, etc.) and for women, many of these mitzvot are optional because it is understood that a woman (especially with small children) needs to be at home for the majority of the time in order to fulfill her responsibilities. Crispe also mentions that many commandments given to men are physical and external (i.e. wearing the tallit, tefillin, and tzitzit or the tradition of wearing a kippah) while a woman's commandments are more internal and private. She says "In almost every case, they are done within the home and in some cases no one other than she is aware as to whether or not she is doing them." Examples would include her private times of prayer, preparing kosher food, and teaching her children. Also, in the Artscroll Women's Siddur, which we pray from on Shabbat morning at our congregation, it gives an explanation as to why women pray "Blessed are You, HaShem, our G-d, King of the universe, for having made me according to His will" (while men pray "...for not making me a woman..."). It explains that "it is a woman's unique opportunity to offer thanksgiving to G-d for her special role as a transmitter of our illustrious tradition. Commentators explain that women are naturally more spiritually inclined than men. For that reason G-d exempted them from certain obligations that He imposed upon Jewish men. Instead, He entrusted women with building the Jewish home and introducing His mitzvot to Jewish children at the very start of their lives..." Well, I don't know if all woman are more spiritually inclined than all men, but it would definitely seem that they are the primary caretakers for children and that they pass on more traditions than their male counterparts. I suspect that many congregations (like ours) have more women filling the seats than men.

In addition to a woman's mitzvot at home, she has many responsibilities. In the words of Debi Pearl (Created to be His Helpmeet"), "keeping the home is more than staying at home; it is having a heart that is fixed on the home. A help meet will be engaged in creative enterprises that challenge and inspire the children. She will guard the home against outside influences, and she will always be on watch to protect the children from their own inventions of evil. She will not be idle and neither will her children. She will ease her husband's load by painting the hall and cutting the grass. She will be frugal in all her endeavors, and she will teach the children to love serving Daddy. She will keep the home so that when Daddy comes home, it is to a sanctuary of peace, love, and order. A real help meet will make herself useful to her man instead of wasting her time."

Whew... what do I say after that quote (that 40 hour a week job is sounding easier now, huh?). I am surely guilty of doing the opposite of everything she just said at one time or another. Keeping a home and raising a family is no easy job description. So if this is truly what G-d wants for us, women, then I am blown away by how He must view us... if He didn't think we could handle it, then He wouldn't have made us who we are. He has equipped up with an unmatchable inner strength and passion to be keepers of the home, godly wives, and mothers who will create and pass on beautiful memories and traditions to our children. When something challenges me (like being a keeper at home), I always marvel at the strength G-d must think that I have. After all, why would a loving G-d who knows everything about us set us up for failure? He wouldn't...

Don't misunderstand me and think that I am saying that women are responsible for doing everything around the home by themselves. No, we are not superhumans... we are women. Even the Biblical matriarchs had servants! If you need a house cleaning service or hired workers to paint your home or cut your grass (thank G-d I don't have to cut my grass), you are not less of a woman. If you need to work outside the home, you are not less of a woman. The most important aspect of being a keeper at home is not the home itself, but the people who live there... your husband and your children. You need to be their home. G-d knows that you can do it because if you are a believer in Yeshua, then you are already home to G-d's Holy Spirit, are you not? As He has sanctified us by His indwelling Spirit, let us sanctify our homes and our families in His strength...

Comment:*He provides help for His helpmeets when we need it! After I posted this, I received a call from my mom saying that my nephew and brother are willing to come tomorrow and help me paint my bedroom, which I was going to do a little at a time because I know my husband doesn't have time to help. Now it will get done much faster! Baruch Hashem!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

changing times

She's crawling! The most common phrase I've heard in the past week is "you're in trouble." Yes, little Elisheva is crawling and trying to stand and talk and do things by herself already. Perhaps I am in trouble, or at least it seems that my writing has been! Not finding the time to post a real entry in the past week, I figured I would write something to explain why (mostly to myself).

Elli has two more top teeth coming in. It has become rather easy to know when she is teething, because she ceases sleeping through the night, her naps become a little shorter, and she becomes a lot more aggressive and cranky. It's a beautiful time! :) She also requires more attention when she is awake and on the move, so when she sleeps I find myself doing the things that I couldn't do when she was awake. This doesn't leave much time for reading or writing, and for me the two are somewhat inseperable. Turning 9 months old in less than a week, she thinks she is really grown up now. (She's always been a miniature adult, but now more than ever.) Along with her personality developing and coming out, her temper is also rearing its little head! I have to keep reminding myself that she is probably in pain most of the time and that she wouldn't be so unruly otherwise. Don't get me wrong, she is still a very sweet and loving (and funny!) little girl, except when she's tired....

So between caring for her and for the house (I've been cleaning and organizing our clutter), the little free time that I do have has obviously not been spent writing. But bear with me until this season passes and Elli becomes herself again. I suppose these times are necessary in motherhood and in life. So as the ideas and inspirations roll around my head like dice looking for their exit (alongside the nursery rhymes and Shalom Sesame songs that are stuck there also), I praise HaShem for bringing me to this season, and for giving me the strength to get through it.