Thursday, August 30, 2012

Blocks

For a long time, I've wanted some wooden blocks for the girls, but it appears they simply stopped making such, and the only ones to be found are made in the most jarring plastic. In my eyes, few things are as charming as a box of simple old-fashioned wooden blocks.

And well, guess what! A neighbour of ours, who is a carpenter, left us some small scraps from a project he did, which are very neatly cut and serve perfectly as blocks. They have already been used to create houses, buildings, chicken coops (that's practicing for homestead life :o)), trains, railways, etc... arranged in a neat little wicker basket, I think they are just lovely.

Today, I started our routine of breakfast and chores a bit late, which means that the day hence flies in a bit faster pace than I would ideally want, but that's life. Hopefully, now that everything is done we're in for a nice afternoon with tea, a walk, supper, bath time and stories as usual... and to sleep early today, too!

Hoping your day is lovely,

Mrs. T

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Baking day

 Pear, date and cinnamon rolls...
... and braided challah - all made from one batch of my favorite WonderDough! I can tell you, it was fun to roll up our sleeves, stick our hands in and work at it. 

I like days like the one we are having today the most - full, but not hectic; plenty to be done, but not too much to overwhelm. I have just discovered the beautiful instrumental music of Brian Crain, which goes along with me on my merry way. If you've never listened to him, give it a try. So lovely and soothing - any words I can say aren't enough to describe it. 

In case you are wondering, our new goats are adjusting well, and the girls are having great fun feeding them treats. It's very rewarding to see how very little leftovers we have now - between the goats, the chickens and the dog, our garbage fills much more slowly than it used to.

Yesterday, while talking with some friends, I was startled to find out that summer is officially over, and children are back in schools. Well, we took no notice of that... for us it's summer still, although the spirit of the autumn holidays can already be felt in the air. Soon enough, it will rain again, and everything will turn lovely and green, and we shall miss the lovely long days and starry nights before summer is upon us next time around. 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Goats

We have been dreaming of getting a goat or two for a long time now. They are cute, they provide a natural weeding solution, and they could be a source for fresh, organic milk and cheese. However, there were always some other considerations - what if it's too much work? Where are we going to keep them? What if we want to get away for a weekend and there's no one to feed them? And on and on. Until finally my husband, finding two goats at a real bargain price, just went along and bought them (I don't recommend doing something like this, but that's how we started with chickens, too. Apparently we are motivated enough to build sheds, coops and pens only when we already have animals on our hands). 

For a couple of days, we kept them tethered around the yard. Then we asked our neighbour, who also keeps goats, to provide shelter for them in his pen until we figure out the housing issue. He obligingly agreed, but the goats managed to find their way out and return to us. We were flattered by such a display of loyalty, but still brought them back to the pen, because we figured it would be better for them than to be kept on a leash all the time. 

They escaped again - and went off into the valley below our house. I just saw two white spots vanishing in the distance, and desperately called my husband. Down in the valley, there's an Arab outpost and they were going right at it. I was sure that they will be caught, and then odds are we will never see them again. Still, my husband and several of his friends descended into the valley two days later and parleyed with the Arabs, who denied ever seeing any unknown goats in their vicinity. My husband surveyed their herd of goats, and ours definitely weren't there. He came home, defeated.

A day or two later, as he was driving through a larger Arab village not far from here, he spotted one of our goats. Upon a closer look, he was sure it was her - they didn't even bother taking off the leash. That village wasn't within goat walking distance, so the conclusion was that our goats were stolen and sold right away, to remove evidence. Naturally we were incensed, but there was little we could do - if someone already paid money for a goat, we could hardly come up to them and ask to give it back, especially considering the very insufficient knowledge of Hebrew on their part, and Arabic on ours, would make parleying exceedingly difficult. 

I was very downcast. In the short time they were with us, I had so fallen in love with the goats. And then, my husband figured that a couple of shameless thieves in the valley below aren't supposed to hinder us from following our dream, and got two more goats. Both does presumably have been bred, but it's difficult to know yet if they are pregnant (if anyone knows fail-proof pregnancy signs in goats, I'm all ears!). 

We are moving on... hoping all will work out this time. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Unmedicated birth leads to PTSD?


A reader of my blog, Carol, emailed me and shared a link to this study, which was conducted in Israel and concentrated on occurrence of PTSD after giving birth. The study found an alleged link between unmedicated births and PTSD:

"...there was a greater incidence of PTSD symptoms among women who did not receive an epidural."

I believe such a hasty conclusion might serve to promote the unnecessary use of epidural and other medical interventions, even more than it happens today. Moreover, I am convinced the results of this study are skewed. Here is why.

The only participants in this study were women who had hospital births. I think I have mentioned before that home births are extremely rare in Israel, and very expensive - while hospital births are 100% government funded. Therefore, the only ones who can, and insist to, afford a home birth with a qualified midwife are the select few who feel very strongly about natural uninterrupted birth, and have a couple thousands to spare.

Incidentally, the hospital in which the study was conducted was the same from which I ran as fast as I could, being 9 months pregnant and actually in the process of labor, after they have tried to pressure me into an utterly and absolutely unneeded induction (I gave birth naturally in another hospital not 24 hours later). This, of course, is anecdotal evidence, but I do feel that if I had remained there, and if I had to put up with the ignorance and callousness of the staff, and if I had no one around to support my choice of natural birth - then yes, I might very well have ended up with PTSD.

As for those women who "did not receive an epidural" - what alternative methods of going through the labor were offered to them? Were they free to move around? To eat and drink, to use a birthing ball, to soak in a tub or use a warm shower? Or were they, perhaps, strapped to a monitor because someone on the staff noticed something "alarming" and required constant supervision? The study gives no details, but if the latter is true for some of the women, I don't envy them. It is excruciating to be kept from natural relief of movement and change of positions during contractions.

What I would like to see is a study which compares the occurrence of PTSD between women who gave birth in a hospital and received an epidural or other method of medical pain relief, women who gave birth in a hospital with no medication, and women who had natural home births. If someone conducts such a study in Israel, I would be very interested to know its results.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Battered hens


We have rescued and added to our coop a few battery hens which otherwise would have been disposed of. Well, the term battery hens seems to fit remarkably well, as the poor chickens are very battered. It's really startling to see the difference between our home-grown, spoiled-rotten, glossy-feathered birds and those poor hens who have perhaps never seen daylight.

They are still laying well enough, however, and hopefully their condition will improve in our nice big coop and later in the yard.

I hope more people will become aware of the cruelty that involves obtaining battery-raised eggs.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Education in theory and practice

Last year, I gave several lectures on healthy nutrition to local schoolchildren. I thought that, as something to be done once in a month or two, this is reasonably compatible with my primary and time-consuming job as a wife and mother. A couple of weeks ago, I received an offer of doing the same job on a much more intense schedule, in kindergartens. Of course, such work would not fit in with our goal and vision of family life, as we are living it out now. 

Basically I was offered a choice: should I put my children in the care of others and go and teach someone else's children about nutrition? Or do I continue doing what I've been doing for the past few years - go into the kitchen, put on my apron, and start chopping, measuring and cooking, with my children by my side? We chat; explanations follow. The girls help out with what little age-appropriate tasks they can reasonably accomplish - mixing, stirring, peeling garlic, shelling hard-boiled eggs or whatever. They get to shape dough or roll it out - a much loved occupation. 

We make an apple-pie together. I am about to add sugar, when Shira stops me: "you shouldn't add sugar, Mommy, it's unhealthy!" - my hand stops in mid-air. The nutritionist gets a lesson from her 3-year-old! "Alright. Let's see if we can go without."

In my personal opinion, formal lessons from a nutritionist are wasted on 5-year-olds. To learn about food and wise choices regarding it, such little ones should be taken into a real kitchen and given some job to do, then praised for doing it, until their eyes shine with gratification and their eager little helping hands are ready to do more! Then some things can be explained by-and-by, and later, a meal is served and eaten together. This is learning for little children: real life in real homes. 

If some formal explanation is done, I believe it should be family-oriented, not child-oriented, but of course this isn't possible when everyone runs about in different directions all day long. 

Government health experts fund expensive programs, perhaps with the best intentions, but nothing can replace the vibrant home life and the care given personally by mothers. It is a pity that when women prolong their maternity leave or choose part-time jobs to be there for their children more hours in the day, sociologists and economists refer to this as a "negative trend". Feminists begin talking of government funding for daycare, afternoon care, etc. But no institution, ever, can take the place of real nurturing in a home.

What I did love doing was a gathering for a small group of women I hosted in my home one night last week. We talked about wise consumerism, self-sustainability and healthy cooking; about our power, as wives and mothers, to influence the health of our families. Our job has lots of demands and no promotions or glamour, but we are making a real difference, in this area and others, in the lives of generations for years to come. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Self-absorbed

Yesterday, we had an especially busy day around here. As usual, I got up before sunrise, to get all the morning chores out of the way before it's too hot. Then I spent the best part of the day visiting with my friend Avigayil, whom I hadn't seen in way too long, and two of her children. I tell you, it takes some courage and determination to make your way here! ;-) 

My husband came home early and then we were busy until evening with things that needed doing. And were we tired! The girls were asleep by 7:30 PM; as for me, I was in bed by 9 PM, although I didn't actually get to sleep until a little later. 

Today, I got to think about an email from a reader I received not long ago. In it, I was accused of being too self-absorbed in my own life and concerns, and in putting too little of myself into benefitting others outside my home. To this, I can reply that it was always traditional for women with young children to put most of their energy into their family life, and when this balanced and natural pattern broke it wrecked real havoc in our society. 

It is true that these days, I have little time, energy or inclination to be very much "out and about". I am occupied caring for my husband, children and home, and during most of my days I rarely have a moment to spare. Cramming in more activities on a regular basis would result in a rush incompatible with raising little children the way we envision it. Also, there are only so many intense relationships I can cultivate at this time of my life, and most of them are right here in my home. I am drawn to the quiet and peaceful, and feel we all need the leisure of living slowly and simply. I am also available, when need arises, in our little community - for example when a child needs to be watched, or there is a new mother who needs hot cooked meals. 

I feel that the pressure on mothers of young children to do more than they should be naturally expected to, is destructive to everyone. Homes are abandoned; lives that could have been peaceful, become stressed. And I'm not talking only of mothers going out to paid jobs. These days, even when a mother chooses to stay home with her children, it is difficult to resist the pull of too many activities and people who assume she must have a lot of extra time on her hands because she is a stay-at-home Mom. Also there is the tremendous piling up of extra-curricular activities on younger and younger children - baby swimming, baby yoga, and many other things that can be good and worthwhile, but which result in the wife mother being out and about more hours in the day than she can reasonably spare. I know this isn't for me. 

I lived a very different life when I was single, and perhaps things will change again once my children are grown; I can see myself with more time on my hands. I might dedicate it, perhaps, to keeping in closer touch with friends and extended family; to help out mothers with younger children, and to develop various skills I would love to try. For now, however, I am content as I am; perhaps my job isn't glamorous, and it won't get me a standing ovation from all who know me - but what I do must be done, and it is important, and that is what matters. 

Monday, August 13, 2012

Busy bees

As usual, there is plenty to do around here. While in homes where children are at school, summer is often a time to set all routines aside, we are just rolling along our merry way - getting up early to tend the animals, make breakfast and get all the morning chores going, so that all outside jobs are done by the time the sun is glaring in the sky.

Yesterday, I worked on fortifying the chicken coop against predators. I also let out our adolescent chicks for free-range - always an experience of some trepidation for me!

 Later, there was onion and chicken wing soup on the stove. I threw in some potato wedges. In the summer, my soup-making usually slows down, but I've missed soups and there's nothing like it for a light and hearty meal.
I discovered a poor little, almost dry eggplant - had no idea we had one in our garden - and was determined not to let it die. Now it's nice and green, and putting out many leaves. You know how much we love eggplants here - looking forward to some bounty soon!

Today we had a nice, relaxing morning. As all chores were out of the way early enough, I could settle in the shade and do some hand-sewing while the girls were busy drawing, splashing in water, getting creative with play-dough and blowing soap bubbles. Shira had only just figured how to do it properly, and was delighted.

Now off for an afternoon which, hopefully, will be busy but slow-enough-going, just as we like it around here. Slowly, the day will progress towards what is probably its best part - dinner, followed by bath time and stories. Then maybe, for me, some more good reading - and off to bed, to get up bright and early the next day again.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The satisfaction of simplicity

Ever since the beginning of our marriage, we have been taking small steps towards self-reliance and self-sustainability - whether it is in growing plants or chickens, recycling, finding creative uses for things other might discard, fixing up furniture someone else might have deemed beyond repair, and teaching ourselves to do a whole host of things we didn't even think possible. 

People who are "in tune" with our lifestyle and goals understand us well, even if their lives might be, at the moment, vastly different from ours. Others are puzzled. For instance, we've had people tell us that with all the effort we are putting into our chickens - hatching them from eggs, taking care of baby chicks, providing safe housing, battling foxes, buying good-quality feed (which is necessary even with whole day free-range, at least during the dry months, to provide balanced nutrition) - we could easily buy organic free-range eggs of the best quality. 

To this I might reply that it isn't always about dry numbers. We love to see chickens pecking and scratching and clucking around the yard; we derive immense satisfaction from observing how an egg miraculously cracks, and a tiny beak appears in the hole; then a wet and bedraggled chick climbs out and lies exhausted... to become, in an hour or two, a very cute and fuzzy creature! This is a great source of education (not to mention entertainment) for our children and ourselves. 

Perhaps growing your own tomatoes isn't that much cheaper than buying from a store or a market; perhaps a creative chicken housing solution does not really save THAT much money, when you take into consideration all the work that must be put in. Perhaps making your own bread is actually more expensive! But all of this, combined - taking care of plants and animals, living resourcefully, learning to do things by ourselves - makes for such a simple, full and lovely life that just the daily humdrum is immensely satisfying. 

An added bonus is, the simpler and more down-to-earth most of your daily tasks are, the easier your children - even very young ones - can be included, to become, from a very young age, genuine helpers around the house - this gives them such a sense of accomplishment, and solves a host of problems that arise from children being cooped up, bored, and over-stimulated by artificial means. 

We do not feel the need to travel as often and as much as other people do (and of course, there's the necessity to find a babysitter for a bunch of assorted animals, and a volunteer gardener!). We do not feel the need to compensate for the rush of life by treating ourselves to expensive gifts; we don't often crave shopping malls or costly night-out entertainment. Our home is not a show-place, but it's a spot that bubbles with life and creativity - and all the mess that follows. I even feel our living room will become a little dull when the boxful of peeping chicks is removed. :)

So, indirectly but very definitely, all of this also means we are living less expensively. But it isn't about the money; it is about the joy and satisfaction, without which all we do wouldn't be possible. 

I'm not romanticizing or idealizing our life, and I realize it isn't for everyone; we live very much out-of-the-way of everything, there is a lot of work to be done - over and over again every single day - and when it comes to some tasks, I praise G-d for giving me enough physical strength. But I do want people all around the world to know that such choices can be made, and can turn into something very interesting and beautiful. 

PS: In the picture above, you can see hens and a rooster which are no longer with us... they fell prey to a sneaking fox. Thankfully, we have obtained and hatched fertile eggs from them before this happened, so we've been able to raise the next generation. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Bounty

 In the photos, you can see some lovely fresh figs and carobs from local trees. Each time, I am overwhelmed by the generous bounty there is for taking, as the summer (slowly and, in Israel, almost imperceptibly) draws to a close.
Also, the past week was a mark of a kind for me - the nursing pillow got put away, for the first time in 3.5 years. I am still nursing Tehilla, but not often or long enough to justify taking half the space from the couch by a nursing pillow that sits there full-time. Looking at the old dear nursing pillow gave me a bittersweet pang, as I thought of how long and well we've been able to nurse, and how this season, inevitably, passes away to be replaced by new things, just as lovely but in a different way, and how what has passed may never return again, and will remain all the more precious in our memory.

I hope you, too, find new beauties in your daily journey, wherever it may take you.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Busy days

When weekend is past, you are suddenly aware of the many, many things that are just waiting to be done...

Laundry to be washed;
Shopping lists to be compiled;
Garden to be taken care of;
Meals to be cooked;
Animals to be fed (well, this is something that always goes on :o);
Stories to be read, amusements offered, baths given;
Bread to be baked and beds to be made;

And time comes for tea break... lovely photo from here.



Afternoon chores: folding laundry, perhaps whipping some tasty treat to be taken along with lunch the next day, feeding the animals again... and a lot of creative play in the meantime.

All the humdrum which might seem odd to make much off, but which eventually adds up to very full and busy days, here on our little homestead.

Which makes sitting down to dinner and getting into bed, at the end of each day, all the more enjoyable.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Something really quick

I love to make fancy cakes; to roll out dough and make different fillings and whip cream and make icing, etc etc... but more often than not, my busy mama schedule calls for Something Really Quick. When time is really pressing, these brownies come into the picture.

Tahina brownies


[I do have to make a side note... I love tahina (sesame seed spread). In Israel it's very popular and is used in many different recipes, from salads to dips to sauces, and in baking as well. It deserves a space on every shelf.]

The following makes a small pan. Quantities can be of course doubled, tripled etc, as you desire.

3 eggs
3\4 cup sugar
3\4 cup tahina
1\2 cup cocoa powder (*regarding the last three I'll make a bold confession: I no longer measure quantities. My eye has become trained enough. This saves some cleanup, but at first of course you'd want to use a measuring cup)
1 tbsp. baking powder

That's it. This isn't a mistake, no flour! Into a mixing bowl it all goes, and mix well. You are supposed to get a very gooey mass (or should I say mess? Certainly, if you allow little hands to help!). Pour into paper-lined baking pan and bake for about 20-25 minutes, checking often. You don't want to overdo - the middle is supposed to retain its delicious gooey quality.

Very quick and easy to make if unexpected guests are coming through, and cleanup is a breeze!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Baking day

Apple and plum rolls with cinnamon. The smell was so lovely all throughout the house.

I also made really fancy braided challah, and at the last moment, just before I brushed it with beaten egg, rememered that I forgot to add salt and lumped it all back together, as sorry as I was to do so. I ended up with rather sad-looking little buns, and I hope I will be excused from providing a photo of this culinary fiasco. :o) Well, even experienced bakers have their bloopers, and I'm still far from being one... 

Right now, I have salmon steaks in the oven, with teriaki marinade, rosemary and thyme. They smell delicious. 

I have found my menu plans considerably easier to follow ever since I discovered freezer cooking - I thoroughly recommend it to all my friends who are bogged down by cooking for Shabbat on Friday. If you have the time during the week, and freezer space, and if you choose the foods that freeze well and taste fresh after they are defrosted, it's possible to make cooking a breeze. I especially like taking advantage of this option in the summer, when an overtime-working oven certainly does not help keep a house cool.