Monday, December 30, 2013

Deprivation vs. contentment and what we have been up to

Winter goes on, and though - thankfully - no new snowstorms are likely to happen soon, it's a very chilly and rainy evening and I'm very thankful for warm sweaters and socks, hot tea, and a roof that doesn't leak. 

While I know that in a large part of the world people are preparing for new year celebrations, here we have nothing out of the ordinary, and just go on with our usual pursuits: housekeeping with its myriad various tasks; learning; arts and crafts; and projects that pop up now and then, such as installing a toilet seat or cleaning up the solar panels. 

Oh, and I found out the lens of our camera is shattered just as I was trying to take a shot of some magnificent snow-capped mountains. So I didn't capture either that or the many narcissuses that are now in bloom around here. Cold seems to do them good.

Something that popped into my mind today was this: there is a vast chasm (though it may be in mindset only) between spending less money and feeling bitter and deprived because of that, and spending less money while feeling content with what you have/what you can afford. The first just makes you cheap. The second makes you thrifty and economically savvy. Pining for what you don't have is slavery; being content with what you have is liberating.

There is a vast difference between saying (with a long face): "oh no! This year, there will be no eating out for us, no vacation, no cell phone upgrade, no new furniture - what misery" and saying (with a cheerful face): "This year, we will be creative. We will try new recipes in our home, invite friends over, explore the area where we live, search the thrift stores and giveaway lists when we need something, and feel satisfied with how much we are saving." 

There is a vast difference between saying, "the food prices are rising so there is nothing the consumer can do - the government must fund our food" and saying, "yes, the food prices are rising, so we will be even more creative. We will clip more coupons, raise more things in our garden, harvest wild-growing foods, and keep chickens." 

You might say, "I wish we could have that new car. I wish we could have a bigger house. I wish I didn't have to stop and think twice before buying something." Or you might say, "I might be able to buy this, that or the other thing, but I prefer not to. My money is saved in order to enable me to have more financial security/pay off the mortgage/buy a house without a mortgage (even better)/enable us to have a parent at home. I know what I'm doing and why I'm doing it, and I'm content with my lot." 

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Top money savers

While browsing the Simple Living Forums, I found a lovely thread discussing the most effective measures for saving money (unfortunately you can't view threads on the forum if you're not a member). After looking through, it appeared that people found the following things most helpful:

1. Cooking from scratch. This really is a no-brainer. As a rule (though there might be exceptions), ingredients cost less than food. Flour is cheaper than bread, vegetables are cheaper (not to mention healthier!) than pre-packaged soup, and whole chickens are usually cheaper than chicken parts (and you can use the carcass for making rich soups and stocks). Dry beans are cheaper than canned ones. Oh and of course you get an even better return of your investment if you grow your own.

2. Making your own cleaning products. Here I honestly can't offer much insight. I have yet to make my own dish soap or laundry liquid, but I do clean with a mixture of vinegar and water, and the windows, mirrors and taps come out squeaky clean. I will probably look into homemade replacements for fabric softener once my stock runs out. 

3. Buying the best quality you can afford. This can be a double-edged sword, because it's easy to get carried away. Recently, a neighbour of ours wanted to get "the best" antenna for his internet connection. Well, he got something that could probably transmit a signal from Mars. It was ridiculously expensive. We, on the other hand, did a careful evaluation and bought something adequate that does the job. On the other hand, it doesn't pay off to buy something cheap and of low quality that will soon fall into disrepair.

4. Growing a vegetable garden and raising your own livestock. To this I would add gathering wild foods, or taking advantage of abandoned fruit trees. We do that every year. A garden is excellent, though I'm not very good at that - for now we just grow what the chickens won't eat. This includes some herbs, and recently I planted some onions, garlic and leeks - the chickens don't seem to fancy them. 

A warning about raising livestock - it might take a lot of investment in time and money before these ventures begin to pay off, especially if you run into unexpected trouble. All the chicken owners we know have had their flock demolished by a fox, a mysterious disease or a stray dog at least once. Most goat owners lost does and/or kids because of a kidding that didn't go as it should have, or else had to pay a large vet bill. These things are heart-wrenching and highly discouraging, apart from the cost.

Also, I will add from experience that after we began raising chickens I got very much into fancy breeds. It took a lot of willpower to remind myself exactly why we began raising chickens - not for showing, but for providing fresh healthy eggs and saving a bit of money. Mix-breed layers will do just as well for this purpose. Of course, this doesn't diminish my love for fancy feathers and crests, but I wouldn't spend money on something like this - we might obtain chicks or hatching eggs by bartering, though.

5. Thrift shops and op shops. A very good idea and there isn't much to add. There are enough people who have more clothes and things than they can ever need, want or use - and some of that inevitably trickles into thrift shops. I know, because I used to be one of those people! Right now I'm wearing a sturdy denim skirt which was priced at a second-hand store at 3 shekels (less than a dollar). I have worn it at least 3 times a week these past two winters, and it's perfect for working around the house and yard.

There are of course many other great ideas, such as stockpiling, mending and repairing things, revising your internet and phone bills (you might find out you're actually paying for something you aren't using, or paying full price when you are entitled to a discount), but time is too short to expand on each of those right now.

It seems to me this often boils down to a difference in attitude - would you rather do it yourself, or pay for the convenience of having someone else do it for you? There isn't a right and wrong or black and white in this, it's all a matter of priority in every specific area of your life. 

What are your top money savers? 

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Has it really been five years?

I am sitting today and, like every mother, wondering - has it already been this long? Where does the time go?

I hear her playing and chatting with her younger sister, and I can hardly believe that this baby, only five short years ago, was nestled in my arms, so tiny, so helpless, so absolutely wonderful in all the infinite possibility of her new life. A bundle of joy with a mop of dark hair, so very precious and beautiful.

Now she is learning her letters, helping me in the kitchen, playing, dancing, gathering eggs, snuggling with chickens, enjoying nature walks and just being what she had always been, a precious child. Thank you G-d for five wonderful years with our darling Shira, and may there be many more.

This is an old photo, but I love it so much. She is so full of concentration here, absolutely engrossed in some last-year's leaves and a grapefruit that had fallen down from the tree. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

The journey of life

While going through a couple of old posts, I had stumbled upon a post from exactly a year ago, where I told that Tehilla is nursing no longer. I can hardly believe it has really been a year - it seems like almost yesterday I still held her to my breast! Anyhow, I thought I'd share this little "graduation anniversary" with all of you - I am so happy with the breastfeeding journeys I took with both my daughters, with all its trials and challenges. Yes, it was sometimes hard, but mostly enjoyable, and we persisted and gently moved into the next phase of our lives.

In many places it is now culturally unacceptable to breastfeed toddlers, so many people miss out on obvious things about this experience; such as, nursing an older baby or a toddler isn't the same as nursing a very young baby. You can tell a 2-year-old "later", and they will understand, unlike a 2-month-old. You don't need to burp a toddler. You don't nurse as often, and you are aware that the breastmilk supplies only part of the child's nutritional needs, as the baby or toddler eats more and more solids. It is usually a gentle, gradual, child-led process which isn't at all like what many might call "weaning". It doesn't involve abruptly "snatching away" the breast in one day, nor ridiculous ideas such as sending the nursing mother away for a week-old "holiday", risking plugged ducts and severe congestion and paid that comes with weaning all at once, nor a crying, confused baby who doesn't know what is going on and is often given a bottle anyway because he isn't really developmentally ready to rely on solids alone. 

I never weaned either of my daughters, though when Tehilla was two years old I decided to test whether it would be alright to skip nursing her in the morning (such a busy time) and just feed her breakfast at once. I found out she was happy enough to go straight to breakfast. I'm so happy I never had to have any "weaning battles" like I've heard about from friends, neighbours and family. I never experienced any congestion when my children stopped nursing because it happened so gradually. 

And now we are moving on. From diapers and breastmilk we have graduated to read-alouds, letters, numbers, fun discussions, nature walks, and so many of the incredibly fun, challenging parts of parenthood. It's wonderful, it's hard, it's a blessing, it's a frustration, it's a rollercoaster, it's a gentle sway of a lullaby, it's beautiful, it's fragile, it's so, so, so good, for it is life itself. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

It was a cold, cold weekend

All over Israel. Which just proves sometimes one has to eat one's words - I have repeatedly said that we have very mild winters, that it never snows, never freezes, etc, but the past weekend proved just the opposite. It snowed heavily in Jerusalem and in the Gush Etzion settlements, and what's worse, several settlements were disconnected from electricity and had no running water (presumably because the pipes froze). Whole families, including women about to give birth and very young children, are only being evacuated now. I suppose that, precisely because summer here is a much more dominant feature than winter, we simply aren't prepared to handle so much snow.

Taking all this into account, and remembering how last year the only narrow road leading to us was blocked by a rockfall, I felt really lucky that we were able to take off in time on Friday, and spend the worst of the storm and cold in the much better insulated home of my in-laws. Still, it was so cold that we all climbed into one bed for our Shabbat midday nap and slept there bunched up together. When we came home, I felt no difference in the temperature between outside and inside, which just shows you how great our insulation is. We turned on everything we could: the a/c, the radiator, and both ovens (with the doors open, to let the heat out).

Today we are facing a new trial: our water heater had stopped working, so until our landlord can fix it we only rely on our solar panels for hot water. I can only hope today was sunshiny enough, because otherwise there will be no showers. 

"שיתוף פעולה בלתי רגיל". גוש עציון מושלג (צילום: אביה מקובסקי)
Photo: snow in Gush Etzion, from Walla! news.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Winter is coming

... or actually, it's already here with all that accompanies it - power shortages, leaks in the roof (the repairs done at the end of last season are now being tested) and high heating costs.

I like the house we live in, truly I do, but it has some inherent construction flaws which can never be fixed. One such flaw is planning; I have no utility room, for instance, and that's a big drawback for me. Another is insulation. We can try to improve, and have made some improvements, but for as long as we remain here, we will always be very quickly influenced by the weather outside. It will be cold inside the house in winter, and hot in the summer. 

So... it's cold. And rainy. And dark. What can one do, besides turn on the air conditioner and the heaters and let them work at full blast, along with lighting lamps all throughout the day? This extra toll on the appliances and lights will be seen in the electricity bill at the end of the month. Electricity usage, along with food, is another important variable of the household budget - the everyday decisions we make (turn on the air conditioner, run another load of laundry) are soon displayed in the bill we get.

A nice solution when it's cold is to just get under the blankets with your kids and a good book, and cuddle and read stories. This is personally my favorite one, but it has its downsides (housework still needs to get done...). So what else do we do to keep from shivering?

* Dress warmly. It may sound trivial, but for many people, wearing layer upon layer of clothes is seen as an inconvenience. So, the choice is yours: are you willing to have your electricity bill skyrocket so that you can walk around in winter wearing nothing but a T-shirt around the house? This doesn't sound like a good trade-off to me, so right now I'm wearing warm pants, a warm skirt over them, a long-sleeved T-shirt, two sweaters, knee-high socks and warm slippers. If it gets even colder, and I assume it will, I will pull on another pair of socks, or perhaps warm stockings.

* Have a cup of tea. A nice hot cup of tea is good to warm both body and soul.

* Have something bubbling on the stove. Winter is a great time for soups and stews that simmer for a long time, making the kitchen cosy and warm - and for baking too (the oven uses up electricity, of course, but if you have some baking to do anyway, you might as well do it on a particularly cold rainy afternoon). Everyone can then gather at the big kitchen table, play games, work, read, do lessons, and enjoy the warmth. And of course when you get a bowl of thick steaming soup with some fresh bread, it gets even better! 

* Move around. On a rainy day, you don't just get cold because it's cold; it also has to do with the fact that you are cooped up inside, without the chance to do your usual vigorous yard work. So find something to do around the house that will get you moving and your blood flowing. I like to do ironing on rainy days - besides the activity, the iron itself is hot, and I like to warm my hands on the hot just-ironed fabric. If you have nothing else to do, just turn on the radio and dance around the living room.

* Light candles rather than turn on the lights. Sure, candles cost money too, you'll argue; but it so happens that candle-making is a hobby of mine (though I haven't made any new candles in a while), and I have a big supply of candles I had made which aren't quite nice enough to be given as gifts. So I lose nothing if I light them in the middle of a dark rainy day. Besides, candles provide warmth as well. If you have a stock of old dusty candles you haven't used in a while, you can take it out and give it a try. 

* Go to bed early. The longer you stay up, the longer you will need to keep the house warm and lit. If you can, go to bed early, put on warm pajamas and socks, and snuggle under a couple of thick blankets. Try to make the best of the natural daylight this way. Besides, in the winter we tend to sleep more, so the earlier you go to bed, the easier it will be to get up in the morning.

* The water heater. My personal downfall is that I just forget to turn it off. We really need to set up a timer for it, such as we have for the Shabbat hot plate. Also, if one day it rains and I know with a fair degree of certainty that tomorrow we're going to have a sunny day, I may skip showers for one day and take advantage of the solar heater the next day. I mean, it's winter; it's not like we're stinking sweaty like we might be after a hot summer day. If I knew I could just turn the water heater on for an hour or so, I'd do it, but because I know how bad I am at remembering to turn it off, I try to avoid turning it on to begin with. 

Wishing everyone a nice cozy winter and lower electricity bills! 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

To own or not to own

We used to be home-owners, and I loved it - though I wasn't exactly in love with the house itself, it was good to own it, especially knowing that our home was purchased outright and we didn't owe anything to anybody. When we went through a period of unemployment, we did not have the pressure of paying off mortgage or rent. 

Later things worked out for our family so that now, we are living in another place, and renting. While I am much happier where we live now, I would love to own a home again someday, even though perhaps owning isn't always better than renting. Being a renter does have its benefits, however, there are also drawbacks:

When your lease comes to an end, you are at the landlord's mercy. Not long ago, our first two-year lease ended, and we didn't renew it until the very last moment, because our landlord kept putting off the signing of another lease. This made me suspect that they are looking for other renters who would be willing to pay more than we do. I also suspect that, had someone like that been found, we would be facing the choice of either paying more rent or looking for a new apartment at a frantic pace.

When there are repairs to be made, not every landlord is as good as another. Basically, so far our experience in this house tells the following: if a repair is needed and our landlord can do it himself (he's a real handyman), he'll do it cheerfully and willingly. If it is something that takes money, such as requires to buy materials or hire a professional, we'll go back and forth and negotiate with him, and eventually pay for it ourselves. We have a contract that states the landlord isn't responsible for malfunctioning air conditioners and other utilities. 

On the other hand, renting does give more flexibility. If there is a temporary financial crisis, we can move in with family at the end of our lease - but if we were paying off a mortgage, things would be far more complicated. We'd have to sell the house, and most likely sell it cheaply because of the pressure to be rid of a mortgage we are no longer able to pay. 

To sum it up, owning the roof above your head is an important part of sustainaible living, but if this comes with taking a huge mortgage upon yourself, the cause is defied by the means. The question is, is it possible to buy a house in Israel without a mortgage? I think it is, if:

a) You won the lottery;
b) You received a large inheritance or
c) You (an average family with an average income) saved money for a few years and have a sum that equals most of the house value, and you are willing to buy a fixer-upper in a cheaper area. 

If you work from home, it doesn't really matter where you live, and you are lucky to be able to snatch up a lovely old house in a remote corner where nobody else wants to live - one man's trash is another man's treasure, so to speak! It can also work if you are willing to undertake a longer commute, or be creative - instead of making the entire way by car and thus wasting a lot of time each day, some people go to the nearest train station, park the car there, and continue to work by train, which makes long-distances commute possible. 

So, there really isn't a single solution for every family,  but I do wish you all affordable housing in good areas and much luck in whatever choice you make. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Reviewing our grocery shopping habits this year

Though we are Jewish and so this month doesn't bring on the end of a year for us, I think now is as good a time as any to review our grocery shopping habits, and how they have changed in the course of the past year. 

Food comprises an important slice of every household budget - a slice that is likely to grow, as food prices are rising. Food is one of the variables of household consumption, together with electricity, water, clothing, entertainment, and miscellaneous purchases. It's an area where we can exercise a lot of creativity (as opposed to, for example, rent). 

So... I know I have recently expressed dissatisfaction with the fact that I am unable to do the grocery shopping myself, and that this way many things that weren't on the shopping list end up in the cart, but a fair examination of our pantry, refrigerator and freezer showed that we have actually improved a lot in the past year, in points such as:

* Shopping less often. We have managed to go down to one, perhaps two shopping trips per week. This is partially due to more successful list-writing. When composing the shopping list, I began to write down not just things that we almost ran out of, but also things that ran just a little low. Also, if we forget to buy something, now we most often just do without it for a few days, until the next shopping trip. 

* No more diapers. This sounds trivial, but a year ago we still had to buy diapers for Tehilla. Sure, I only put her in diapers at night since she turned 18 months old, but still this was a considerable expense, especially because we used to buy the higher-quality brands since anything else would give her a rash. 

* Less pre-packaged foods. In particular cookies, cakes, sweet rolls, etc. There was a time when I decided that we'll consume less sugar if I bake less. I tried that, and the result was only that my husband started buying cookies, cinnamon rolls, etc, which of course contained much more sugar than what I would have put into my homemade treats. I returned to baking, and now my husband knows he can almost always find a cake or cookies at home to serve with tea to the family and guests, and he buys less sweets. Of course if it depended on me I'd bake less and serve platters of dried fruit, nuts and such like, but one has to be realistic. If the choice is between my homemade cookies and cakes and store-bought ones, it's obvious that mine are the healthier and cheaper variety.

We also buy less spice mixes, which are mostly a waste - it's much cheaper to use basic spices, though a mix might be more convenient.

* Less store-bought bread. We do buy bread for sandwiches in the middle of the week, but I make our Shabbat challah. This saves a last-minute dash to the store on Friday (during which other things, some of them unneeded, were bought along with the challah). 

* Better-stocked shelves. I now have a larger variety of beans, grains, lentils, rice, pasta and such like inexpensive versatile basic foods which I can make into frugal meals. 

Speaking of frugal meals, most of the meat I cook these days is made in the form of a stew with a lot of rich sauce that can be spooned on rice or pasta or soaked up with bread. For example, last Thursday I made beef stew. On Thursday evening, we ate couscous with some of the liquid part of the stew. On Friday night and Saturday we ate the beef. On Sunday I took what was left of the stew - mostly liquid and little chunks of meat that fell apart - and cooked it with some leftover rice for a few minutes. This made an excellent lunch, and a total of four days' worth of meals - not too bad. 

Next grocery shopping goals: buy less soft drinks and disposables. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Should we reduce birth rates to save the planet?

I participated in an interesting discussion on the Simple Living Forums, which brought up the much-debated question of Should Birth Rates Be Reduced In Order To Save The Planet? The moderators eventually closed the topic on account of it being too emotionally/morally charged, but I felt so much dissatisfaction with the general spirit of the discussion that I thought I'd bring it here, to my humble blog. 

One point which I contributed to the debate, and which people often forget, is that generally - generally! - speaking, large families live more frugally. Of course someone might say, "this isn't true, I know a family that has ten kids and they are all extremely wasteful", but statistically, at least in Israel, large families own less vehicles per person - Charedi families often forego car ownership altogether - travel less by car and much less often by plane, have smaller houses (if you count space per person), buy less new clothes per child, and generally live a more frugal, sustainable life. Some will, because of this, define large families as "poor". I disagree. Sure, you usually need to be more economically savvy to raise a large family, but so what? If a large family has enough to feed, clothe and educate their children, to live debt-free and put something into savings, but not enough for luxuries such as trips abroad and lots of new gadgets, well, I think it's all to the good of both that family and the planet.  

Another point is that though the population of our planet is growing, this isn't happening at an equal rate at all regions. While some countries experience a growth burst, others are in a population decline - and ironically, those who propose to reduce birth rates, and indeed boast of doing so themselves, are often precisely those who live in countries where the population either hovers around the same number or is even in decline. There won't be more food in Africa if there are less children born in Sweden. 

In fact, I would argue that there might be less food in under-developed countries if more cradles in the West remain empty. A country with a dwindling slice of young working population is a country heading for a serious economical crisis. It is a country struggling to fulfill its obligations towards the elderly population, which requires proper care - which is supposed to be funded by taxes paid by those who work. Countries which are experiencing an economical crisis won't have much to spare for the Third World. Not much can be accomplished without manpower. Just an example: not too long ago, Israel and other countries voluntarily sent forces to the Philippines after the natural disaster that struck there. It wouldn't have been possible if we simply didn't have enough people to go around!

Very importantly, even in one country there may be over-populated regions and other areas which are severely population-deprived. This is true for Israel as well. The center is very densely populated, while the north and south are far less so, which leads to certain Bedouin tribes illegally taking over lands with no government control. The solution wouldn't be to have less children, but rather, to encourage people to move into areas which are less densely populated. If the government sees this as a goal, it can be accomplished by reducing housing prices and creating places of employment, such as, a fund for high-tech centers which are willing to move away from the densely populated areas. Just an idea. 

Someone argued along the lines of, "well, if developed countries reduce their birth rates, they can fill the empty slots of their work force by immigrants from over-populated under-developed countries". De facto, this really is what is happening all over Europe. You tell me how well it is working out. I see a flow of poorly controlled massive immigration from Third World countries as a potential disaster. Such immigration can cause an already weak economy to topple over altogether. Currently, Israel is suffering the consequences of a feeble-handed government which let in a flow of so-called refugees (but for the most part really immigrants seeking a better fate) from Sudan and Erithrea. Why is this a bad thing? Because we are over-populated? No; because these people are an anti-social element which drains, rather than replenishes, our country's resources, at the same time increasing levels of crime. If we had less people of our own, our situation would have been even far worse, because we'd have less hands to cope with this unsavory lot of illegal immigrants.

Statistically, the more educated women are, the less children they have. In the Western world, this statement is defied only by a small population slice of religious Jewish and Christian women who, by choice, have large families though they are in possession of a good education and access to birth control. Such women, instead of being condemned as a burden on the planet's dwindling resouces, should be applauded for raising a morally sound, resourceful, sustainable, well-rounded and hard-working generation. 

Sunday, December 8, 2013

"... And her worth is far above pearls"

The Jewish sages believe that the financial well-being of a family largely depends on the wife (though the husband is the one who is supposed to be the main provider). There are lovely spiritual explanations to this, such that a peaceful and loving home draws the blessing of G-d, but I also think there are some very practical reasons to why a woman can make or break her home, financially included.

There is of course the basic fact that nothing influences emotional, spiritual and also financial success in life like a good marriage. Working together as a team, having the same vision, journeying together towards common goals, consulting each other and valuing each other's opinions is good for just about any endeavour, while the lack of this, when it feels like the two spouses are just pulling in two opposite directions, can be draining and exhausting. 

Another thing, and this is something very, very important, some women are unaware of the deep intrinsic need of a husband to make his wife happy. It is of vital importance to a man to feel that his wife is content with what he can give her. And, opposing this, nothing discourages a man like a wife who always grumbles and is never content, and feels like she deserves to have all the goods of the world at once, disregarding the family's situation.

I guess I should say as a preamble (although I think it's obvious) that I believe there is nothing wrong in enjoying nice things, new clothes, a spacious house, eating out, going on trips, etc, etc - if it is affordable. Now, of course I'm not in a position to tell anyone what they can or can't afford, but I'll say what I believe to be the wise medium. If a family is out of debt, and the house is paid for, and they enjoy a good income, and are able to put something into a savings fund (for the children, for emergencies, etc) each month, why, then, they are lucky, and in the right position to treat themselves. But for many, many people this isn't the case, and don't get me wrong, but many times men see clearer than women about these things. I believe this is because women, generally speaking, have a more developed aesthetic sense, and therefore place more value in things like a big, handsomely fitted up house, new furniture, new appliances, nice clothes, jewelry, etc. 

Of course there are also men who spend money on "men's stuff" such as gadgets, sports, etc, when circumstances call for thrift. But, as I am writing generally to women and for women, I will concentrate on our side of the coin. 

Unfortunately, some women don't only fritter away the family money - and please note I am not making a distinction between "his" money and "her" money, because I believe that money earned by either spouse belongs to the whole family - but drive their husbands into reckless financial decisions, such as buying a bigger house, and taking on a bigger mortgage, than the family can afford. The consequences might be disastrous.

On the other hand, in hard times - lack of work, disability, unexpected expenses, etc - nothing cheers up a husband like a content wife who looks into the future with faith, and is ready to make the best of what the family does have. The crisis will likely pass, and when better times come, the husband will have more confidence to go on, because he will know from experience that, should something out of the ordinary happen again, he has a cheerful companion he can rely on. The worth of such a wife is, indeed, "far above pearls". 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Two-color cookies

On a lazy morning, what can be more fun for a Mom and her two little girls than making a batch of these interesting-looking cookies?

For the basic dough, I just used a simple recipe for cookies. It doesn't matter really - to get the pretty two-color effect, you can use any recipe that gives you nice workable white dough.

Once you have made your basic dough, divide it into two parts. Add some cocoa powder to one part - just enough to make it brown. Then pinch off a bit of white dough and roll it between your hands, making a longish rounded "worm". Do the same with a bit of brown dough. Twist the two "worms" around one another, roll into ball, flatten slightly and place on baking sheet. Very easy and fun for children and adults.

Put into the oven and be careful not to overbake. I like my cookies only just done, even before the edges have started to turn golden.

Then make a pot of tea and enjoy tea and cookies as a family, or call a friend to come along!

Monday, December 2, 2013

The winds were blowing...

... and the house was shaking.

This winter, we haven't got much rain so far, but we have had a lot of windy days and nights. Two nights ago, I pulled the blankets over my head, trying to block out the howling of the wind and go to sleep, but it was no good. The noise kept me wide awake, and even worse, I suddenly had this horrible certainty that the house had never shaken like this before, and that next thing I know, we will all find ourselves falling down the side of the hill, among the broken remains of walls and roof.

I felt ashamed about waking my husband, who was sleeping peacefully, but couldn't help it. "I think the house is going to collapse," I told him.

"Relax," he said, "We have had winds like this before."

"But the house had never shaken like this. I'm sure it hasn't. What if the roof is blown away? Maybe we should just grab the children and go?"

"Go back to sleep. You'll see, it will be quieter in the morning."

It was. When I woke, the windows were rattling, but the house was still standing, and it even had its roof on top of it. I went outside to feed the animals. The chicken coop was a disaster. It was secured in its place by thick ropes tied to large rocks, so it didn't topple over, but only barely. The Silkie cage was ruined by the wind, and the birds were walking around the yard, looking surprised at so much freedom, and not coping very well with so much wind. The nesting boxes were scattered over the floor (thankfully no eggs), as well as some boards I have neatly stacked next to the wall.

There are many people who live in houses where they hardly have a notion of the weather outside. Their living space is fully air conditioned; they have another apartment above them rather than a roof, so they might not know if it's raining. They go everywhere by car. Wind doesn't even phase them. But around here, I feel we really live close to the elements. The house doesn't have very good insulation; cold drafts come from the cracks beneath the door. The roof is made of tin, so a rainstorm creates an overwhelming noise; rain, wind and dust often create problems with electricity and internet connection. 

Every day of our lives, we tread the earth. We have lots of eggs in spring and summer, and only a little in winter. In the summer I collect figs and carobs, in the autumn olives. Herb plants bloom in spring and attract humming bees. We eagerly await the end of winter and anticipate chick season. 

And, though I would very much like a house that is better protected against the weather, and do hope we'll have such a house someday, I believe there is also a priceless lesson in this vulnerability we are currently experiencing. It teaches us that we are not truly in control; it teaches us to make do without what we can't have at the moment (comfy warm bedrooms, internet, electricity, hanging the laundry outside). It teaches us to make the best of what we do have (quiet days, time for working around the house, time off yard work). That is a valuable experience our family will always have, even if in the future we move to a different place. 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

First egg of the season!

We've had a couple of really warm days lately, which was probably what prompted my Leghorn cross pullet to lay her first egg this morning. You can see it on the left, next to a commerical White Leghorn egg for comparison. Can't wait to taste it, and can't wait to stop buying eggs from the store altogether!

I know that's a whole lot of excitement over one small egg, but we've had a couple of months of no eggs at all, so it's really nice to finally have a hen start laying.

Oh, and in case you are wondering, no, she didn't lay it in the new nesting box (what lack of appreciation for my thoughtful work!) - she preferred a lemongrass bush for that purpose. It's a convenient spot that has been long favored by our hens, though, so I hold no grudges.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Not a brilliant homemaker

I wouldn't call myself an outstanding homemaker; I do all the usual things, of course - I clean, I cook, I do the laundry, I take care of the chickens, I raise children, walk the dog, make phone calls and appointments for the family, etc. But my meals aren't as elaborate as what some of my friends cook; my home never looks immaculate or very tidy - it rather seems that as soon as I'm done putting something away, I have ten more things in its stead; I'm not very good at removing some types of stains; and though I make most of our food from scratch, I succumb to the convenience of store-bought bread in the middle of the week, and canned beans when I hadn't planned ahead to soak some dry ones. 

I crochet, but I don't really knit or sew; I don't grow a vegetable garden, though I hope to change that; my children aren't as accomplished and well-behaved as some other children I know; I can't whip up a six-layer cake in thirty minutes; I have dust bunnies under the beds; I try to save on electricity, but often forget to turn off the water heater; I don't make my own soap, laundry detergent, cleaning or skin care products. The list of my imperfections is long, and I always feel as though I don't have enough hours in the day to do all that needs to be done. 

It is possible that I am wrong, but I have this theory that, as we full-time homemakers have made a very counter-cultural choice, there is strong pressure on us to prove that we, indeed, aren't wasting our time at home. I have often heard working women tell with satisfaction, "oh, we had such a slow day today, we were able to lounge in the conference room for two hours drinking coffee" - but I have never heard a full-time homemaker say, "today I just sat in the middle of the day on the couch for two hours with my feet up and watched soap operas". Even if we do that sometimes, it's not a source of pride. Our salary doesn't continue trickling in for those slow hours. 

Note: I should clarify there is a big, big distinction between - to make a crude division - Career Women and women who just work outside the home. The former are a minority who truly have a career they love, and usually a lot of ambition. The latter simply work, often part-time, just because society expects them to. Fortunately we are not all expected to be brilliant; it's alright even to be a secretary, a kindergarten teacher (a respectable job, but hardly a high-powered career), a research assistant, or any part-time not-too-high-paid profession - it's fine to be anything, as long as you work outside the home. If you choose to be home full-time, you must be a failure. If you stay home full-time and your house isn't in top order and your children aren't always happy and your meals aren't gourmet, you are a dawdle and a slattern. 

And then, even if we do conquer mountains (of laundry) and cross rivers (of milk spilled on the floor) and fight frightening wild beasts (cockroaches and spiders), no one is there to give three cheers for us. As an acquaintance cheerfully pointed out to me, "it's much easier to take care of a home that doesn't have people in it all the time."

But then, isn't the purpose of a home to have people in it? 

I believe that our work is worthwhile, even if we are not perfect. I might not be brilliant, but I'm trying; my home might not be picture-perfect, but I'm tending it; my position may not reap immediate rewards, but it is valuable. 

I will try to remember all this next time we are all being crabby cooped inside on a rainy day, when I'm trying to mop the floor just to get tracks on it the next moment; when a freshly washed shirt is stained a moment after it is put on; when a pot overflows onto a pristine stove, or sudden rain soaks my nearly-dry laundry. I'm here, and that's what matters. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

No-cost nesting box

Here is a nesting box I set up yesterday. It is made from a large sturdy white plastic container my husband found (I have no idea what it was originally used for), with a round perfect-size-for-chicken opening. I put inside some dried leaves I picked up around the place, and on top of them I artfully arranged three "fake egg" large peeled avocado pits.

My chickens have been checking out this construction yesterday and today. I just hope they like it. :-) Last year we had an "egg strike" around this time of year, and it was broken as soon as the days stopped shortening - that is, a long time before spring. Can't wait for some fresh eggs!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Post-partum depression or impossible pressure?

Translation from an article about post-partum depression I read in the Hebrew Nashim ("Women") magazine:

M., a religiously observant woman, was 25 when her second son was born. The maternity leave at home with the baby passed by quickly, and after three and a half months [note: the length of maternity leave in Israel is 14 weeks] she had to return to work.

"I went back to work unwillingly [she says] - I wanted to extend my maternity leave, but I wasn't allowed to. I worried very much. I worried about how the children will cope in daycare, and I was under pressure to arrive at work on time."

The disquiet gradually took over the rhythm of her days. "I went out of the house every morning in great stress, came back in the afternoon stressed, everything was very pressured. In addition, there was a lot of criticism of my performance at work. There were many demands and endless remarks, and I felt I can't deal with it anymore. One evening I came home after a long conference at work, sat down in the living room and just began to cry. I cried and cried, my baby woke up and I felt I can't pick him up. I felt I have no power left. The house looked awful after about two weeks of no laundry being done, no cleaning and no cooking. But I couldn't cope, nor did I want to.

"The next day, I told my husband I have no strength to get up. He took the children to daycare, and I just stayed in bed and didn't stop crying. My husband tried to make me feel better, but it didn't really work, so he called my parents... and my mother said it might be post-partum depression."

Note: I am no expret, but if I may express my humble opinion, a depression that begins several months after birth - just when the mother is pressured to leave the baby and go to work - can hardly be called "post-partum depression". There's no doubt this poor woman was severely depressed, but I would rather say she suffered from "post-maternity leave, back to work" depression. 

So what was done to help M.?

"The psychiatrist understood right away work is a huge stress factor for me..."

So far, so good... and...

"And gave me a month of sick leave and a recipe for anti-depressants. Of course I had my prejudices about depression meds, but I decided to try them. In the first two weeks I felt awful, I had terrible mood swings and all I wanted to do was sleep. I was either a zombie or really mad. But after a month I felt much better."

Today, a year later, M. is still on anti-depressants, still sends her children to daycare and still rushes out to her stressful job every morning.

Am I the only one who is outraged by this story? How come nobody told this woman that what she feels is perfectly normal? We are biologically programmed to be with our babies until gradually, very gradually they begin to grow into toddlers and children and young adults, and go on to their own separate lives. We are not designed by G-d to send a 3-months-old helpless baby to the care of a stranger, and feel as though this is the normal course of events!

Sidenote: I realize there are many, many different people in the world in many, many different circumstances. I also realize many women in the aforementioned situation (baby in daycare, stressful job) cope well. However, it is normal not to cope well. If somebody told me I must leave my babies when they are just 3 months old and go out to a highly demanding and stressful job every day, I would likely very soon be depressed. Should I just then go on anti-depressants, or perhaps it is time to revise my life and see what can be changed? 

Sometimes people must go on anti-depressants to cope with situations that come to pass, such as the loss of a loved one, sickness in the family, etc. The situation itself cannot be changed in such cases, and if there is no other way to deal with it, medications have their proper place. But consider a woman who is trapped in an abusive marriage with a violent man who is unfaithful to her on top of all. If she goes to counseling and asks for anti-depressants so that she may continue to cope with this sick situation, what will she be told? I am almost certain that the advice she gets will be, take the kids and go and it is almost certain you will be fine! 

But when a woman only longs to be home with her baby, and instead is pressured to go to work and so doesn't perform well at her job and doesn't cope well at home, she is given anti-depressants so that the stressful situation can go on.

Try as I might, I can't wrap my mind around this. Why didn't anybody suggest to her, "perhaps you might just stay home?" - I'm not talking for the rest of her life, but perhaps at least until the baby is a toddler. If money is an issue, perhaps an alternative source of income can be found at home (not to mention that daycare and formula cost a lot of money!). But no; this option wasn't even mentioned. Not by the woman herself, not by her husband, not by her mother, not by the psychiatrist and not by the journalist, whose only aim was to show how "there is no shame in treating post-partum depression". No; it was unthinkable that the young mother wouldn't work. It was unthinkable that she might just need to stay home with her baby.

I think it was a lousy example of post-partum depression but, in contrast, a very good example of how modern feminism-infused society places horrible and unhealthy stress on women, children and families. 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Incubating chicken eggs

This video about chicken egg incubation really made me long for the excitement of spring, baby chicks, and an expanding flock! I know, however, that for the next couple of months incubating eggs wouldn't be wise, because of the power shortages we experience each winter around here (and which can do away with even the most successful batch of eggs), and the fact that it would be too cold, windy and rainy for the chicks to be outside once they reach the age of "graduating" out of the brooder.

Some things we do/believe slightly differently from what is mentioned in the video:

1. It is stated that "it's not unusual to lose up to 50% per hatch, depending on quality of eggs, etc." Quality of the eggs is the key here. If you use fertile, fresh eggs, which have no deformities and which have been properly handled (eggs intended for incubation must be turned at least once a day, preferably twice, before they are set into the incubator), and if the conditions inside your incubator are favorable, a 100% success rate isn't anything too far-fetched. Of course, the bigger your batch, the higher your chances of losing at least some eggs - but 95% success rate is not unusual. 

Alas, if any of these conditions isn't followed (i.e., the eggs aren't very fresh, haven't been turned, etc), your hatch rate goes down dramatically. We always have very high success rates with eggs from our own flock, because we handle them properly. Alas, too many breeders are very irresponsible when it comes to that, and will sell you hatching eggs that are obviously old and weren't turned at all from the point of being laid. We once had a breeder of Brahmas tell us, with incredible audacity, that "month-old eggs hatch with no problem". Not so; we prefer to set eggs up to a week after they were laid, and of course we turn them twice a day in the meantime. 

2. The video didn't mention you should stop turning your eggs on day 18. This is important to allow the chick to settle into hatching position. 

3. I always bring the humidity levels in the incubator a little higher in the last days before the hatch - that is, more like 75% than 50-65% during the first 18 days. I know there are a lot of discussions about humidity, but this is what we do, and it works well for us. 

4. I never leave a chick in the incubator for a whole day. I transfer them into the brooder (a simple cardboard box with a heating lamp and a thermometer for temperature monitoring) about an hour after hatching. I once used to leave chicks in the incubator longer, and because of the high humidity they just never seemed to dry, so I stopped doing that. Our chick survival rates are very high, in case we are wondering, we hardly lose any - almost never any that seem well and healthy at the moment of hatch, anyway. 

So, if you have been wanting to do this, hatch your first batch of chicks this spring! If we do it, you can, too. Instructions for building a simple homemade incubator are here

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Back to Eden

Today I would like to recommend to all who haven't seen it, the film Back to Eden. If you have a garden, or would like to have a garden someday, or just grow some plants in containers to soothe your "green itch", this film is for you. Theologically, I disagree with much of what is quoted in the film; but ecologically, I am both educated and inspired, though I haven't watched it to the end yet. 

The link was sent to me by my lovely friend Miriam, who blogs at Miriam's world (I hope I got that right, Miriam?! I'm a very poor Finnish scholar, as you know). 

Photo taken from

I always have been inspired by people who grow things, and do it well; by people who manage to save where others spend; by people who make something out of nothing, and never stop being creative in every area of their life. And, going back to gardening, perhaps we really might start something on a very small scale. I sure would like that very much. 

Oh, and by the way, I signed up for the Down to Earth Simple Living forum. I'm not sure what took me so long; the forum is delightful and full of wonderful valuable advice for all homemakers interested in a simple, frugal, sustainable lifestyle. I post there as Domestic Felicity. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Use those avocado pits

You know how much I love to find creative uses for all sorts of "junk"; I just stumbled upon this fun link of ideas for your surplus of avocado pits which you might have wanted to dump into the trash (or, at most, into the compost pile).

We came up with an idea of our own.

Avocado seeds in a child's hands.    Date: 31 May, 2008.  Location: Ottawa, Ontario
(Photo isn't mine. USB isn't working for some reason. Taken from here.)

Look at these seeds. Don't they rather look like eggs? We think they do (especially the large ones). The brown outer shell is pretty easily peeled once the seed is washed and dried. We have accumulated a few this way, and intend to use them as "dummy eggs", to encourage our hens to lay where we want them to lay.

What do you think? Will it work? I'll be waiting with baited breath for the results of our ingenuity... :o)

Friday, November 15, 2013

Going upstream

Though I am content with my life as a homemaker and mother, I can't say there are no anxious moments. I keep in touch with some of my friends from university, mainly through the Facebook Israeli Nutritionist board, and I hear of my co-students treating patients, working in hospitals, doing research, writing articles that are widely published, receiving wide acclaim and growing as professionals. And I, though I do try to keep up to date with research, have seemingly achieved "nothing"; and there are sometimes these prickles of anxiety and worry: "oh no; I am doing nothing; time just keeps slipping by; what am I going to do later in life? What will I do if I need employment, pension programs, etc?"

Therefore, I think I can say that being a homemaker is not so much as a leap of faith, but more like constantly going upstream, in faith, battling doubts and fears. 

I do, however, wish to stress that what I am dealing with is precisely this: doubts and fears. On the large scale, I am doing both what I feel I am most suited for - a quiet, very simple life - and what is best for my family, because I do believe life is far less stressful when there is somebody to manage the home and family affairs full-time, and the woman is singuarly suited for this task. 

If I were to hop on the rush and stress bandwagon because:
- I am expected not to "waste myself";
- To have something to "fall back on";
- To have more money;
- To have all sorts of saving programs and funds that would "ensure" my future;

... It would mean that I am succumbing to fear; that I am letting go of my dream, my vision, out of fear of things that haven't happened yet and may never happen. And that, I believe, would be a pity.

Today I live in a community where most women are homemakers, and where children commonly stay home until they are at least 3. Still, I feel at times like I am going upstream. It's OK, however. Though I wish I always had perfect peace, I can deal with things as they are. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Some yarn

Tehilla, in the little square poncho and matching hat I made her from a recycled baby blanket. The hat was made last year, and the poncho whipped up last week. 
And Shira, in a similar hat and her little frilly poncho which I'm planning to make rather longer, as soon as I manage to make a trip to the yarn shop. I think it's lucky I don't have a chance to go there too often, or I'd spend rather a lot on yarn! 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Chocolate cake with original frosting

The stomach virus has made a visit to us again, accompanied by fever in Tehilla's case. She has been resting all this morning, sometimes moving from the couch to the table to have a little snack. Naturally, I've been taking everything very, very slowly. Still, I had time to try a new recipe for chocolate cake, with Shira's birthday in mind. I know, I know - not the healthiest treat, but I've noticed that if I don't make any baked goodies, my husband buys all sorts of sweet rolls, cookies, etc, which are higher in sugar and made from inferior ingredients. 

Anyhow, this was a new recipe shared with me by a neighbour:

2.5 cups flour
2 cups sugar (I used 1.5)
1 cup cocoa powder
2 tsp. baking powder
3 eggs
1 cup oil (I used less)
2 cups water (I used less, around 1.5. It depends on the consistency - batter shouldn't be too thick or too runny.)
A little sweet wine, around 1 tbsp. - it adds a lot of flavor, and the alcohol evaporates during baking.

Mix dry ingredients and then add the liquids (eggs, oil and wine). Stir until there are no lumps. Pour into baking dish and bake in a medium-heat oven until a knife comes out dry from the middle of the cake, which is approx. 45 minutes. I had to loosely cover my cake with aluminium foil during the last 20 minutes, to prevent it being scorched at the top while not quite done in the middle.

Then, when the cake was taken out of the oven, I remembered the recipe calls for frosting while the cake is still hot. What to do? I had no chocolate and I didn't want to make something very sugary and buttery. I settled on an original idea which came out great: I took a couple of tablespoons of date spread (I use date spread quite a lot in baking, it's common in Israel), mixed it with boiling water and 1 heaped tsp. of cocoa powder, until it approximately reached the consistency of chocolate syrup. I then added a little (very little) sweet red wine, no more than 1 tsp., and spread this over the cake. It worked great, and my husband didn't even guess it isn't really chocolate frosting. 

I'm saving this recipe for Shira's birthday, and meanwhile looking for cake design and decoration ideas.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Nutrient density

I'm subscribed to the Mother Earth News newsletter - which I highly recommend, by the way, I'm eagerly waiting for each new issue in my email. Last time I got this fabulous article about nutrient density in foods. I already knew pretty much all that was written there from Nourishing Traditions, but it was the clearest and most accurate summary article about nutrient density I have ever read. 

It's true that the contents of the soil have much to do with the nutrients in our food. Currently I don't grow anything but a few herbs - sage, lemongrass, verbena, and rosemary - which I use for making tea and in cooking, because our chickens roam all over the yard and so far we've been (let's face the truth) too lazy to fence an area for a vegetable garden. But I know we can increase nutrient content in soil by composting and adding natural fertilizer. 

However, the main (and most important) point is, I believe, that when you look at the average shopping cart, you see that its owner doesn't even give himself a chance for a nutrient-dense diet. The average shopping cart is loaded with pre-packaged, processed, sugar and salt-laced items, cereals in boxes, hot dogs, fizzy drinks, etc. Such items (I can't even in good conscience call them food) have a double cost, both in money and health.

The ideal shopping cart should contain basic, good-quality ingredients such as fruit, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, good fresh meat and fish, eggs and whole milk products. Dried fruits, nuts and nice sorts of cheese can come as treats. All pre-packaged junk foods, snacks, drinks and convenience foods should be eliminated, both for the sake of our health and our budget.

It's hard to reach and maintain such an ideal, but one must never stop trying. That's what I keep reminding myself; every time my husband sticks to the shopping list and our pantry is empty of snacks, I feel like I've gained a small triumph. 

Illustration photo: shopping cart 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Between two worlds

As mothers, our job is an almost supernatural mold between the intensely practical and the highly spiritual. On the one hand, much of our time spent in occupations such as providing clean clothes, nutritious food and clutter-free space for our family; on the other hand, though we clean, we are far more than housekeepers; though we cook, we are more than cooks; though we wipe noses and bottoms, we are more than nannies. 

We do all we do with the broad, long-term vision of creating a home, being part of the community, and shaping the next generation. Often I sit down and pray for my children's future, the formation of their character and, if it be in G-d's plan for them, their future marriages. And yet, I cannot wander about with my head in the clouds for too much time, because something is constantly calling for my attention here: wiping a spill of milk, feeding the chickens, or taking out the garbage. 

The job of a mother is deceitful in its simplicity. In practical terms, we are simply around, doing what needs to be done. In spiritual terms, we are the heart of our homes.

This lovely oil painting is called Mother and Child with a poppy. It was painted by Frederick Richard Pickersgill. I just love painting which depict parents and children, enjoying the beauties of nature together. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A windy week

We didn't have rain this week, but we had very strong, fierce, howling winds which made it practically impossible to go out and enjoy nature as we are used to. So, we have stayed home a great deal... and what do you think we've been up to? Well, more often than not, catching up on everything that needed to be done:

* Washing - hanging out your washing in a strong wind is like drying clothes with a blow-drier - very effective, provided you can secure them so that they don't fly away!

* Baking - the Shabbat rolls are already in the freezer. We also made cookies and oven-dried a bunch of pecans a friend of ours gave us. Shelling them was a bit tedious, but it can be done when you have time.

* Mending - I had accumulated a big pile of things with rips at the seam, missing buttons, and such like. One windy morning, I sat down to tackle it all, and rose an hour later very satisfied. I also went through my closet and came up with many things to give away and free some much-needed shelf space. 

Today, however, the weather was just lovely, so I quickly hung out the laundry and took the girls out for a long, rambling hike here in the hills. We were singularly fortunate to see more wild animals than I have observed in a long while. In our walk we startled a herd of gazelles and watched their graceful leap across our path; we also encountered a flock of partridges and many other birds. 

I took the camera along, and snapped a shot of this interesting rock. Doesn't it look just like some kind of ancient creature that came out to warm itself in the sun?

Sunday, November 3, 2013

To sit a little

It is fine to sit a little,
Not for long, just for a bit.
Close your eyes and think a little,
When confusion overwhelms.
It's alright to rest a little,
To refresh the soul with prayer -
Pray with words or tears or both,
Just as you are able.
It's alright - slow down a little,
Not too long, just for a moment.
It's alright to cry a little,
Rushing to the perfect safety
Of a child that's near its mother.
You can lie down for a moment,
Close your eyes and think of kindness,
Think of tenderness and friendship
And of love that lasts forever.
Then get up and walk a little,
Look at beauty, think of gladness,
Smile and know that when you need it,
You can always have a refuge.

Oil painting: A Peaceful Retreat, by Thomas Kinkade.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Sustainable chickens

Days are shortening rapidly, and right now, we have no eggs from our hens. We have several pullets who are about the right age to begin laying now, but I've noticed the onset of laying may be delayed when a pullet reaches maturity in the late autumn or winter. We also have one hen (see above) who stopped laying when she went broody for the last time (she went broody 3 times this summer), and has been rearing her chicks ever since. 

My husband is less of a trusting nature than I am, and usually suspects our hens of hiding their eggs. I have, however, learned by observation that when the hens are laying, or are about to begin laying, they mate with the rooster; since they have all been shunning the rooster lately, and since I hear no "egg noises", nor see any suspicious moves of hiding under a bush, etc, I think I can say with a reasonable degree of safety we really have no eggs now. 

We heard from other people, whose hens are laying even now, that some artificial light in the coop at night, and some extra feed may do a lot to promote egg-laying, but we decided we will just leave the chickens be and let nature take its course. They all get some layer's crumbles, all our leftovers, and any plant or insect they can find on our lot, which is pretty large. All our chickens enjoy complete free range, except the Silkies, who are too delicate to be let out to fend for themselves. 

So here we remain, looking forward to longer days and some fresh eggs. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Little children have come to play

Little children have come to play,
Go and tell them that they may stay; 
Go and welcome them with a smile
To a place they may play a while.

Little children have come to play;
Make a gift of a pleasant day.
Sun comes up and goes down again - 
Give them shelter from wind and rain,

From the flurry of rushing by,
From the frown of a winter sky,
From the cry that there is no time,
From the notion that dream's a crime. 

Little children have come to play
Knowing they won't be turned away.
There's a child within every soul - 
Welcome him when he comes to call. 

Bubbles: Cottage Scene with Children at Play - James Dawson Watson
This adorable painting is called "Bubbles: Cottage Scene With Children At Play", by James Dawson Watson.

The poem above was written as I watched my girls play with their little friends, in contented simplicity, for hours. Nothing was required of me but to open the door, step back, smile, and sit in a quiet corner where I could observe without interrupting. Tears of gratitude filled my eyes over and over, for the time which, if not remembered explicitly in years to come, is laying a foundation to be cherished always.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

How much does it cost to entertain (and be entertained)?

When you are revising your entertainment budget in pursuit of a simpler, more frugal lifestyle, it always seems you have an endless list of "don'ts": don't eat out; don't go to the movies; quit shopping for fun; and on and on. Instead, let us look at the "dos":

- Do have friends over to visit. Everybody appreciates a platter of home-baked cake and cookies, and some freshly brewed lemongrass tea from the garden.

- Do cook something interesting you have always wanted to try.

- Do curl up on the couch together and watch some great movie, alone or with your friends. The bonus is that at home, versus the movie theatre, you can take off your shoes.

- Do visit interesting thrift shops (but don't buy what you don't need - remember, stuff needn't clog up your home, even if you get it for free!).

- Do take hikes in your surroundings; it can be in the mountains or fields, if you live in a rural area, the seaside if you are fortunate enough to live by the sea, or up some interesting street you have never explored before, if you live in a city. You don't always have to travel far to see something new and fascinating.

- Do take the time to appreciate beauty in your surroundings; observe migrating birds, a glorious sunset, some chickens dust-bathing, the shape-shifting clouds in the sky. Take out your camera and make beautiful memories last by snapping some pictures.

- Do reap the benefits of simple lifestyle. Children who are content with a ride to the grocery store in Dad's car, are far easier to manage than those who will only be pacified with a trip to Disneyland.

Illustration photo: two children on a hike.

Friday, October 25, 2013

My lovelies, enjoying a sunshiny morning

 This bird (notice I'm careful not to say pullet or roo, because I cannot be sure!) might need a little trim to the crest, as you see it gets in the eyes.
 Posing to the camera.
Steered into the right direction by Shira's hand.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Making do with what you have

Shopping was somewhat of a neglected chore this week; and so, yesterday I found myself practically out of vegetables. I had no tomatoes, no eggplants, no zucchini; no carrots, no potatoes, and I was down to my last two onions. So the option of making soup was gone as soon as I contemplated it. My children asked for pasta, but I didn't even have tomato paste to make my usual simple "staple sauce". 

What I did have were a couple of sweet potatoes. I ended up cooking them, mashing them, adding some water and blending it all to form a thick sauce. I then added some fried onions with canned mushrooms, some salt and pepper, and served it all over pasta. I put some of the leftovers in my husband's lunch box today.

So, be brave and daring, and combine whatever ingredients you have to make a creative, unusual meal! You never know, it might become the next family favorite. 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Shopping strategies

Theoretically, if you don't waste money on gas it doesn't matter whether you go to the store once or three times a week. You just pop in, pick up all the items on your shopping list, pay and go. But, as we all are human, in practice going to the store more often usually results in spending more money, because you spot "just this one thing" you must have (though you perhaps wouldn't have even thought about it if you had not seen it). Then some things are on clearance so you buy heaps, and later it spoils, or you use it too lavishly. In short, the less often you go shopping, the less money you will spend. 

Plan ahead. Plan your meals - at least the more important meals of the week. Don't forget to make alterations when you know you are going to entertain, go on a vacation (so you won't buy what will spoil while you are gone), etc. Then make a shopping list accordingly. 

Stick to your shopping list. Of course there are some bargains it would really be a pity to miss. But most of the "great deals" are not so very great or necessary. Good deals on unhealthy stuff in a box are not really good. Same goes for good deals on stuff that will just clog up space in your home. 

Improvise. If you intended to make, say, avocado dip for entertaining but found out you ran out of avocado, you can quickly run to the store and buy avocado, and perhaps ten other things on the way. Or you can take a look at what you do have, and alter your plan accordingly. If you have cream cheese and tomatoes, for example, you might make tomato salsa and/or a cream cheese dip.

And in conclusion... just love this:

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Make things last

Part of living economically is not only the avoidance of unnecessary purchases, but also making things last; by "things" I mean anything you would use long-term - clothes, shoes, appliances - as well as your non-perishable grocery store items, such as toilet paper, shampoo, toothpaste, soap, cleaning products, etc.

With clothes it's really straightforward. We have work/play clothes, which we tend to treat a little more carelessly (and more often than not, we either got them for free or for a bargain), and we have good clothes, such as for Shabbat. Clothes go into the wash because they need a wash, not because they had been worn once. Of course, with children's clothes, being worn once usually means a wash is in order!.. 

Doing less loads of laundry means reducing your expenses of electricity, water, detergent, and wear and tear on the clothes and on your washing machine. Line-drying minimizes wear and tear, too, not to mention saves electricity. 

Good shoes receive regular treatment of shining, oiling and polishing, which makes them last longer. I have a black pair for summer and a black pair for winter, and they are in such condition that I hope they might last years. Of course, for walking, yard jobs and home, I also have sneakers, mud boots, and slippers. 

When it comes to non-perishables, I guess disposables should be mentioned. I wish I could say I don't use disposables, but I will be honest. I do. Just last night, we had friends over and I used paper cups because it was late at night and I couldn't face waking up to a sink full of dirty glasses. Sometimes, when you go out for a picnic, for example, using disposables makes sense. But generally I try to minimize that.

As for other non-perishables, I don't mean to imply gross things such as that you shouldn't wash your hair, skip washing your hands, etc. Use what you need - but not more than you need, like the manufacturers of every product would have you do (so that you run out soon and go and have to buy more). Have you noticed the enormous holes they make in toothpaste tubes? If I'm not careful and squeeze just a little bit too hard, half the toothpaste comes out at once. 

I used to wash my hair three times a week, and thought I needed it. But then, one winter it was cold and I only washed two times a week, and I noticed that very soon, my scalp adjusted its oil production so that I had the same result as when I washed three times a week. Now I wash once a week, and find it more than enough to keep my hair in good condition. This, obviously, means I use three times less shampoo and conditioner.

It's important to keep your hands clean, especially when working in the kitchen, but you don't have to use soap every time. Using too much soap makes your skin dry. When I use detergents - such as for laundry, for floors, for windows, etc - I always use less than is recommended, and the results are very satisfactory. Remember, the instructions on the package are made by people who want you to use it all up and go buy more! 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Recycled chicken breast

I don't know about you, but around here, every time I make a chicken for Shabbat everyone is vying for the legs, and no one wants the breasts. So, at the beginning of pretty much every week I find myself with leftover chicken breast to try and make something of.

Usually I cut the chicken breast into wedges and then make stir-fry with any veggies I have on hand, to serve over noodles or rice. Today, however, I ran out of onions (an indispensable part of stir-fry, for me), so I simply decided to dip the chicken wedges into beaten egg and then breadcrumbs, and fry until crisp. 

Not the healthiest alternative, perhaps, but at least we didn't waste food. It will do this time. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Dough day

For lunch today, homemade pizza with fresh tomato sauce and toppings of olives, mushrooms and grated cheese. I finally managed to get the crust as thin as I like. 

And for Shabbat, challah bread that goes into the freezer until tomorrow evening to keep nice and fresh.