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.