Monday, December 28, 2015

A Walk With Grandma

I came across this today and I hope it's normal that I just sat for a few minutes crying. These simple words are so touching. I was also remembering my own Grandma, who was such a quiet and soothing presence, and who was always ready to play board games and tell stories about her childhood, early life, and numerous relatives whom I had never met.

Grandma is wise. She knows there is really nothing bigger, better and more beautiful than the fluffy clouds in the sky, the flower growing at the roadside, the butterfly fluttering around a rosebush. She has done it all. She has seen it all. She knows there is nothing more important than telling a story, taking a walk, baking cookies on a cold winter afternoon. 

We don't have to live to Grandma's age to appreciate the little things that really matter. Though our lives are busy, may we not let this prevent us from slowing down and walking with "short steps" alongside the child in our life, or the little child hidden within us. 

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Winter walks

By now you probably know I'm not a person to chase after every new gadget, but I do feel grateful for my cell phone camera - because, though I often mean to take my husband's excellent (much bigger, better, and more professional) camera along when we take our walks on especially beautiful days, I don't often actually get around to it - meanwhile, I always have my cell phone on hand, and can still snap some adequate shots as we walk along rambling paths and see flowers unfurling after a good winter's rain.

Speaking of winter... I do so wish it could always be this way - beautiful, bright sunny days, interspersed by occasional (mainly nocturnal) showers that fill up underground reservoirs, soak the thirsty ground and produce luscious vegetation to the delight of the birds and animals in our vicinity. Yes, we do need rain. Just give us warm rain, please. Have I mentioned that I'm a summer person, and that it's very lucky I get to live in Israel?

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

A year ago...

On Thursday, I went out with the girls to pick miniature oranges, and I was a little unsure whether those irregular contractions mean something or not.

On Friday morning, I was pretty sure I am in early labor.

On Friday afternoon, just a few minutes before the lighting of the Shabbat candles, my son Israel made his grand appearance into this world. I heard him before I saw him - a loud, powerful cry. Then he was placed on my chest, and I held him to me, and I've been holding him ever since.

Words fail me when I try to describe the great joy, the profound gratitude I feel for having him. I just feel so lucky that G-d chose to give this little boy to me, and so lucky that I am the one who gets to take care of him, snuggle him, and play with him every hour of every day.

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So, happy birthday, little one. I hope your life is wonderful. I hope I can be the mother you need to help you grow up happy and healthy, and to develop the unique gifts which will undoubtedly be discovered when you are older. Among those gifts, I hope and pray you will always retain the ones you have today: a pure joy of living, a passion for discoveries, and a radiant, conquering smile.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Still singing the Sugar Blues

Recently I've had the interesting experience of reading William Dufty's book, Sugar Blues. I first became acquainted with it through quotes in the margins of Nourishing Traditions, and was meaning to get to read it sometime ever since. Since it's a rather old book (written about 40 years ago) you can find it online in several places and read or download it for free. 

It's not a strictly scientific document; more like the experience of one man and some fascinating insight into how sugar changed the entire history of mankind. Some parts are not suitable for young readers. It does, however, make one irrefutable point: refined sugar, in all its forms, is detrimental to human health and creates a subtle addiction that is very difficult to get over.

I am the first to admit I have sugar issues (which were worked to the high pitch of a full-blown sugar addiction at some point in my life). Only later did I discover that it might be linked to my long-term vegetarianism; but also, I grew up in a home that was not aware of the extreme damage refined sugar can do to our bodies in the long run. 

Awareness of the problem is the first step to solving it. It's extremely hard to kick the sugar habit, especially as it's so socially ingrained. You can't go to a social gathering without encountering sugar-laden desserts, cookies&coffee corner, or candy handouts for children. You find added sugar or corn syrup in pretty much anything and everything - snacks, sauces, "natural" juices, even canned vegetables. Another reason to cook from scratch as much as you can and avoid commercially prepared food.

The attraction to sweet foods is biologically ingrained and natural. In their original state, naturally sweet foods - such as dates, figs, carobs - are very rich in minerals and valuable nutrients. Refined sugar is an alien substance that does great damage to the body. But years and years of unwholesome dietary habits leave their mark. We crave sugar when we are hungry; we crave it after we've just had a good meal.

I did, however, find some ways which help me curb the desire for immoderate sugar consumption:

1. Make sure you eat your fill of whole, healthy, nourishing and satisfying foods. I personally find I'm a lot less likely to succumb to sugar cravings after a hearty beef stew, or a simple and delicious meal of artisan rye bread with a big slice of farm-fresh cheese, homemade hummus and salad.

2. Get your sleep. The more tired you are, the more likely it is that you'll eventually pop something sugary into your mouth to keep yourself going. If at all possible, go to bed when you're pleasantly sleepy and not utterly exhausted.

3. Gradually adjust your palate to less sweetness. Commercially prepared sweet foods are just loaded with sugar. Even most conventional recipes for cakes, cookies, etc, are full of sugar. When I first tried to teach myself to go without sugar in my coffee, it seemed bitter. But after a few days, I began to feel the subtle sweetness added by milk or cream, which I never noticed until then. Once your palate adjusts, you will be rewarded by a whole array of new, subtle tastes, rather than just the blunt sweetness of modern desserts.

Some of my favorite desserts today are:

- a platter of fresh fruit, attractively sliced and arranged;
- fruit salad which includes a variety of fresh fruit, some unsweetened dried fruit, some nuts, and just a bit of honey and lemon juice;
- fruit slices or berries with unsweetened whipped cream;
- Medjoul dates; I love them - these succulent dates are like natural candy. It's important not to overdo, though. One day, someone asked me if Medjoul dates are an acceptable pick-me-up snack. I said "yes". Then the same person asked if it's OK to eat 15 of them at a time...

I will finish with this quote from Sugar Blues:

"The difference between sugar addiction and alcohol addiction is largely one of degree. Small quantities of narcotics can change body-brain behavior quickly. Sugars take a little longer...
The enduring American fantasy of the dope pusher is a slimy degenerate hanging around school playgrounds passing out free samples of expensive addictive substances to innocent kids. This fantasy devil was created at the turn of the century by and for a country of booze and sugar addicts with an enduring nostalgia for the friendly country store where so many of them got their habit."

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

My humble offerings

For a long time, I labored under the unconscious illusion that Real Life is something that is happening out there to other people while I'm stuck in the kitchen washing dishes. It took me a while to realize that Real Life is happening right here, right now, while I'm doing something seemingly meaningless.

I used to think that I'm tied down, cooking meal after meal, while Great Deeds are just waiting to be done by people less encumbered. I cannot say that I grudged this duty of nurturing my family through wholesome food, but I used to think of it as trivial. Now I realize that the feasts I spread at our family table have a profound impact on us, our children, and our guests, for generations to come. 

I used to think of messes, misses and spills as unfortunate nuisances rather than learning opportunities. I still have a short temper, but I'm learning.

I used to think I would have time to exercise my talents and refresh my soul once I'm done with my duties; once I've folded the laundry, and mopped the floor, and nursed the baby to sleep. Now I realize I can exercise my talents and refresh my soul while doing all these things.

I've never had as little spare time as now (in an overall period of some months). I've never utilized my time better. My pursuits are all healthy and wholesome, free of watching silly movies, playing computer games or endless internet shopping. There's still time to pray (while nursing the baby), to read (while nursing, or old favorite classics with the children), to write (in concentrated bits, mostly late in the evening), to take walks, to catch up with neighbors.

For a long time, I thought I had little to offer; or rather, that I could have had a lot to offer, if only I weren't so bogged down with the trivial and mundane. Now I offer up my nights of disturbed sleep, my sacrifice of privacy and leisure time, my late-night work as I stand in the kitchen cleaning up long after everyone else is in bed. This, too, is glory. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Weaning, attachment and separation

I have yet to have the experience of weaning a baby off breastfeeding; the first time, my milk just dried up because of subsequent pregnancy, but as my child was 15 months old and used to a wide variety of foods, that was alright. The second time, I went on nursing over two years, and somehow, very gradually, without my knowing how it happened, one day my daughter was weaned. I admit I was very grateful for it happening this way. Weaning is a bittersweet experience for me, even after a long and satisfying nursing relationship. I can only imagine what it must be like to intentionally wean a child who cries and frets and demands to be comforted in the best way they have known since birth, and to deny this comfort which it is in my power to give.

I realize sometimes babies or toddlers must be weaned, for a variety of reasons (medical, psychological or practical). It can, hopefully, be done gradually in order to minimize the stress and discomfort. I do feel compelled to speak out, however (at the risk of sounding judgmental), against a practice I noticed among some mothers I know - that of abrupt weaning of an older baby or toddler who is deemed "too old" to nurse, by the simple method of the mother disappearing from home for a week or so.

First off, the modern society's idea of weaning age does not correspond at all with Jewish tradition. In the Jewish tradition, it is a matter of course that a child is nursed at least until 2 years old, and breastfeeding is quite common and acceptable until even later. In practice, today most babies are weaned off the breast at less than 1 year old (only to be given a bottle of formula in exchange). 

A neighbor of mine went for a week-long vacation abroad with her friends, leaving behind her son (then 10 months old) in the vague hope that maybe he will give up on breastfeeding by the time she is back. That hope proved futile. "I don't know what to do with him," she complained irritably a day after returning home, "he cried and nursed all night. I didn't get any sleep!" I had to bite my tongue to keep from retorting. How could she be surprised? 

As far as this baby was concerned, his mother, who was always there to take care of him and nurse him, suddenly disappeared for a whole week - an eternity in a baby's terms - snatching away his best source of comfort and nutrition. He had experienced the trauma of losing his mother, without any possible alleviation in the form of understanding she will be back eventually, because a 10-month-old is unable to grasp the concept of Mom going on vacation. To him, when Mom is gone, she is gone. There is no difference, as far as he is concerned, whether she is on vacation or dead. She is simply not there. 

The same thing was done by several other women I know, always saying things like, "oh, he'll be fine", "I really need a break from it all", "I need to wean her because she's embarrassing me in public" and even "I need to wean because I want to get pregnant again". 

Now, I realize all babies go through the stage when they break out crying as soon as they lose sight of their mother (we're just past that stage at this time, actually), and learn that she will come back eventually, whether in several minutes (if Mom goes to the bathroom) or several hours (if the baby is in some sort of day care). Now, if you know me, you know I'm all for home education or at least for keeping children at home well past the toddler years, and don't think an enforced separation from Mom on a daily basis is good for the baby or toddler. Sometimes there really is no choice, however, and families adjust. A week-long separation, though, is really much too long for a baby, in my opinion. In their little minds, they are actually becoming accustomed to the idea of losing their mother forever. See quote from here

"Infants may develop attachments to other members of the family or carers, who can take mother's place for a while. But if mother does not return soon, some infants can become quite distressed, with crying and an increase of behaviors designed to bring the mother and infant together again. If the separation lasts for some days, the first state of crying and "protest" may be replaced by a mood of quiet unhappiness or despair. In the first two or three years of life an infant has no adult sense of time, and since explanations cannot be understood, the infant seems to despair of the mother's return, in a kind of grief or mourning reaction."

For this very reason, quite apart from breastfeeding, I personally would never voluntarily separate overnight from a child who does not yet have good verbal communication skills and a more-or-less consistent sense of time - in other words, a child under 3 or 4 years old. It is simply impossible to explain to a very young child that "Mommy will be back in a couple of days", and without such understanding, the enforced separation is, as far as the child is concerned, nothing short of abandonment. 

I realize that sometimes, such an abrupt separation is unavoidable (in the case of sudden hospitalization, etc). But I would not put a child through such trauma for the sake of a vacation, or in order to wean as quickly as possible (which, above all else, may result in plugged ducts and mastitis for the mother). It's far better to make an attitude switch and vacation with the baby, and wean, if weaning is necessary indeed, slowly and gradually. 

Just one final word: time passes so quickly. The baby who cries when his mother goes into the bathroom will sooner than you know turn into a 4-year-old who is quite happy at the adventure of staying with Grandma and Grandpa for a couple of days. There is no need to rush. Be with your baby; you will never regret it, and really, everything else can wait. 

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Hilbe - the WonderSpread of Yemenite Jews

Hilbe, a spread/dip made of Fenugreek seeds or leaves, is a staple of Yemenite Jewish cuisine, and is usually eaten at one or more of the Shabbat meals. It goes amazingly with pita bread. The recipes vary, and can include garlic, lemon juice, and various herbs and spices. 

Fenugreek itself has some wonderful nutritional benefits, being rich in calcium and magnesium - and also some very special health properties. It has a beneficial effect on blood sugar regulation and is known as a milk-supply booster for nursing mothers. I had taken Fenugreek capsules in the past, when I reckoned I needed to build up my supply, and I reckon they helped a bit, but nothing very dramatic. However, after a Shabbat of enjoying homemade hilbe spread in very moderate amounts, I suddenly felt a very prominent increase in my milk supply, something I didn't even think of or aim for (since my baby is now almost one year old and I figured we have a pretty steady supply-demand thing going). I suppose this effect was due to pre-soaking the Fenugreek seeds for a couple of days, thus allowing the special plant components to activate.

I think that's really worth noting, as capsules are so much more expensive - and, apparently, less effective - than the real thing. I'm not sure you can buy Fenugreek anywhere, though. In Israel, the seeds are available in health food stores, and the leaves can be found at certain markets in season. 

Here is the recipe we used:

- about 1\3 cup dry Fenugreek seeds. Place in a bowl of water for 48 hours, changing the water every day. The seeds will swell considerably. 
- a bunch of fresh coriander, about 3\4 cup shredded
- 2 big cloves of fresh garlic
- juice of one lemon
- salt and pepper to taste

Once the Fenugreek seeds are soaked and drained, put everything into your food processor (we have a new one, and this recipe was its stunning debut). Blend thoroughly and add water as needed, to reach desired consistency (thicker/thinner, however you like it). Once finished, it should have a refreshing characteristic smell, and look bright green, sort of like this:

Image taken from here. Our internet connection is so slow I can't even upload a photo of what we made, sorry!

A word of warning: hilbe has a dominant smell; some like it, some don't mind, some wish they could do without it. The smell can later come out in your sweat, or even in your baby's diaper. The Fenugreek capsules don't smell when you take them, but the smell comes out with a vengeance later through all your pores.

Update: shortly after writing this post, I experienced a further increase in my milk supply, up to the kind of engorgement that happens a couple of days after having a baby, when milk "comes in". It was really quite uncomfortable and painful, complete with plugged ducts. Thankfully the plugs dislodged after a night of nursing almost continuously, but the affected area still feels bruised and tender. I can attribute it to nothing but eating the hilbe 24 hours previously, and will be careful with the quantities next time - I plan to restrict myself to 1 teaspoonful (compared to the 1 tablespoonful I had eaten) and see whether it has any influence. 

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Modern technology and sustainability

In response to my previous post, Beka writes:

"I don't think the past was that simple, especially after researching the pre-industrial era. Rural life may seem idyllic to us, but the reality was often harsh and cruel. Children died from disease and ill hygiene. People worked and got by with so little, sometimes going for days without food to eat. 

Self-sufficient they may have been, but their life was pure drudgery, toiling from dawn to dusk without education or recreation. I don't think the farmhands who ploughed and sickled by hand, enduring blisters,and the women who spent hours lighting fires and scrubbing clothes by hand really appreciated the simplicity of their way of life, haha. People died earlier too!"

Far be it from me to deplore modern technology. On the contrary, I am very thankful for all we have at our disposal today, modern medicine not the least of it. There's no way I'd willingly give up my washing machine, which helps us do our laundry with so little effort; my nifty little grinder, which allows me to prepare freshly ground oatmeal with such ease and efficiency; the ability to control our room temperature with one press of a button; the Internet, which allows me to obtain a wealth of information and connect with like-minded people from all over the world; my cell phone, the ability to travel with relative ease, our refrigerator or any of the countless things we take for granted these days. 

Being free of the drudgery of drawing water from a well or scrubbing clothes by hand frees me up to spend more time with my children, relax, and work on meaningful projects. 

When it comes to people who desire simple living and the connection with earth and nature, I believe technology is actually what makes modern one-family homesteads possible. Things like solar panels, milking machines, incubators and modern agricultural techniques, for example, enable people to go off the grid and start their own small-scale farms.

Furthermore, even when building small-scale, off-grind cabins, people normally use electricity-powered tools such as saws, drills, etc. 

In our neighborhood, we have a farm which is run by a very industrious family. They make delicious cheeses, yogurt, and a variety of other products. They use milking machines, a computerized irrigation system and, of course, extensive refrigerators for all their fresh produce. They work hard, that's for sure, but if they didn't have modern technology there's absolutely no way they would have been able to accomplish all that work on their own, without employing a few workers (which I know they cannot afford). If you read historical novels set on farms, it will strike you how many people it took to do all the work manually, in order to accomplish anything on a serious scale. Most of these people were unpaid or very poorly paid and uneducated. These days, nobody would want to live like that, and that's perfectly understandable. 

It's all great while technology is used as an aid at home; but when the coin flips, and technology controls you - when people are addicted to always having the latest gadget, to over-processed foods, to internet shopping, to online social networks; when people begin to spend a larger and larger portion of their life in front of the screen, that's where I believe we do have a problem. It does take a particular balance to eat the apple, so to speak, and spit out the seeds. And this is precisely what I'm aiming for when I talk about simplifying. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The too much and too fast of today's economy

The more I think about it, the more unnerving it seems to me just how much we rely on foreign, primarily Chinese technology and manufacturing these days, for just about anything - our clothes, electronic devices, household products, toys, all sorts of equipment. Even our food comes from afar. When I first saw Spanish and Italian olive oils in the stores, I was surprised - why should we import olive oil when Israel is full of olive trees? But it turns out, even with the cost of shipping, that the foreign oils are often cheaper. It's hard when you're torn between the desire to buy local and the need to lower your grocery store bill. 

Things used to be different. We used to produce more of our own food, clothes, household tools, etc. Much of it is now imported. Experts say it makes sense economically, but I'm not sure it makes sense from the point of long-term strategy, community ties, and the environment. 

Things used to be of better quality, too. Clothes, toys and equipment were made sturdier, for longer-lasting use. When I look over some clothes that were made before I was even born, I marvel at the quality of the fabric and the seams. Even the colors didn't fade with time. Now half the things we buy at such a fabulously cheap price break down the next day, so we can go on and buy more. The discarded items then pour into our landfills. 

Obviously we can't go back to the days when we all lived on isolated farms where we baked the bread from the wheat we'd grown, drank the beer we brewed, and wore the clothes from the wool we've spun, which came from the sheep we'd sheared. But our current economy seems so impersonal and wasteful it literally gives me the creeps. 

Still, I sometimes think - what if we wake up tomorrow to a reality that makes foreign import no longer possible, or at least not possible to the extent we are used to today? I don't know - a massive civil war in China, perhaps? Obviously we would have to make adjustments, but what if the change is so abrupt our economy can't handle it?

Here is a very interesting (pretty long, but worth the effort of reading) article on over-consumption.  It was written nearly 20 years ago, before the age of massive instant internet shopping, but it's amazing how so much of it as relevant as ever. For example the following quote:

"MANY of us who attended college in the 1960s and 1970s took pride in how little we owned. We celebrated our freedom when we could fit all our possessions -- mostly a stereo -- into the back of a Beetle. Decades later, middle-aged and middle-class, many of us have accumulated an appalling amount of stuff. Piled high with gas grills, lawn mowers, excess furniture, bicycles, children's toys, garden implements, lumber, cinder blocks, ladders, lawn and leaf bags stuffed with memorabilia, and boxes yet to be unpacked from the last move, the two-car garages beside our suburban homes are too full to accommodate the family minivan. The quantity of resources, particularly energy, we waste and the quantity of trash we throw away (recycling somewhat eases our conscience) add to our consternation."

I grew up in an apartment of 56 square meters (about 600 square feet). We had no storage shed, no garage, no balcony. The 56 square meters were all the space we had available for living and storage. Nevertheless, when we moved and I sorted through my stuff, I was amazed at the bags upon bags of junk that came out of my little room. How did I ever accumulate all that clutter?

Today, scrounging through our closets, drawers, storage shed, kitchen cupboards, etc, I'm still amazed at the amount of stuff that somehow sneaks in. Certainly we could live very well without most of it - and with less items to shift, rearrange, dust, organize, pack and re-pack every time we move. 

What I really want is a simple, harmonious home that holds all the essentials and the comforts of family life, but isn't overflowing with stuff. Such a home would be easy to maintain and enable us to live a peaceful, satisfying life in harmony with nature. Getting rid of excessive possessions is just a detail. The big picture is longing for what you can grow, or make, or find, rather than what you can buy. 

We try to do our bit by supporting, as much as we can, local Jewish farmers who grow very high-quality food. We also took to buying second-hand. It isn't just about saving money; when I buy second-hand, I'm not contributing to over-consumption and over-production, because I'm using something someone already bought. If I don't take it, it will go to the landfill. 

I really feel it's such an amazing privilege G-d has given us, that of living in Israel and seeing the rolling hills of the Shomron out of my window every day. We love this land, and hope to do our bit towards keeping it as beautiful as it is today. 

Monday, November 16, 2015

Smaller homes, creative solutions

Lately I've been greatly enjoying Teri's blog, Homestead Honey. Teri and her husband live in a charming tiny cabin of 350 square feet (just over 32 square meters) that they had built themselves. They have two children, whom they homeschool. 

How do four people fit into 350 square feet? On her blog, Teri talks about some creative solutions that have enabled them to live in their small space. They have, for instance, an outdoor kitchen and an outdoor shower. And, of course, despite having a storage shed they need to be very selective about which possessions they keep. 

We live in a house of about a 100 square meters, or 1070 square feet. In addition, we have a storage shed of about 15 square meters (about 160 square feet). Our house is by no means huge, but I confess we do have a lot of poorly utilized space. First, our storage shed is filled to bursting with stuff we hardly use. We also have an office and a guest bedroom that are seldom used for their direct purpose, and a lot more for accumulating junk. In addition, we have three bathrooms in our house, out of which one is used very, very rarely, and its shower not at all - I consider it completely superfluous.

So, while it's certainly nice to have a roomy house and lots of space to put our stuff, it's an undeniable fact that a family like ours can downsize and live in a smaller house that is easier and cheaper to heat (or cool), clean and maintain. Also, in Israel, the smaller your house is, the lower the occupation tax you pay. 

Of course, you wouldn't pay occupation tax for an outdoor kitchen, an outdoor shower, a storage shed or a covered front porch/deck/pergola that would enable you to place garden furniture, benches, swings, hammocks, and spend many pleasant hours outside! The only hitch I see in this arrangement are the days when you are confined to the interior of your house - when it's too rainy, windy, stormy, cold or, as more often happens in Israel, too hot.

I do have to be fair and acknowledge that all these wonderful outdoor extensions are only possible if you are living on the land. In city apartments, you just make do with your space (though I've seen some very neat space-utilization practices done in apartments too). But if you have some land, however little, you can work wonders.

We have been married close to eight years now, and we are on our fourth house, so far. Despite my desire to get settled in a permanent home (as much as anything can be permanent in this world), I think it was a blessing in its way, because it did force us to go through our possessions from time to time and decide what we can't do without. When you must pay to have your stuff moved, you'll probably let go of that old broken-down washer than has been sitting in your back yard for years, waiting to be turned into a potter's wheel or some other marvelous engine. Still, we tend to accumulate possessions at an alarming rate, perhaps in part because every house we have moved to has been slightly larger than the one before, and had more storage space.

At this time, we are facing the prospect (though it isn't yet definite as to timing/location) of moving to a smaller house. When it first began to dawn upon me this is a serious possibility, it was daunting. How would I sort through all our things? Obviously we wouldn't be able to keep everything. We'd have to get rid of stuff, possibly a lot of stuff. How would we fit into a smaller space? But now that I've found Teri's blog, and the testimonies of other people who have downsized and are happier for it, I'm not nervous anymore, but rather looking forward to this as a challenge. In the future I hope to post updates of our progress. 

Monday, November 9, 2015

"Sorry, I'm calling in sick"

This week, we've been sick - not sick enough to call my husband off work (which of course I could have done in the case of a real emergency), but sick enough to feel thoroughly unwell and very much in need of rest. 

The worst part, perhaps, was that the virus had hit us all at once - which meant that I had sick children who needed plenty of attention, while I was unwell myself. So, what are some things you do to get through the day?

Lower your expectations. Obviously, when you have young children, your first and foremost responsibility is to care for them. If you can't do it yourself, you must ask for help. If, upon honest assessment, you decide you can manage, focus on keeping your children safe, fed, hydrated, warm and quietly amused. Everything else can wait. Even if your house is a mess, never mind - you can tackle anything that isn't urgent when you're feeling better. You don't want to exhaust yourself by doing more than you reasonably can.

Take care of yourself. Make plenty of hot tea for everyone, providing the easiest snacks you can get. It's a good thing if you always have something on hand so that a quick meal can be thrown together without much effort (such as a batch of frozen pasta sauce, or frozen chicken so all you need to do is cook pasta or rice). 

Lie down on the couch while your children play next to you. I was able to distribute colorful pens and go take a refreshing nap next to the baby. I believe it really helped me to carry on until bedtime.

Say no to extra commitments. In our neighborhood, we have a second-hand co-op shop, and as the lady who runs it is swamped with work, I repeatedly offered her some help. Well, it just so happened that she asked me for help on the very day we were all sick, and it was a bit embarrassing to say no, but of course I did so anyway. Oh, and we took a couple of days off regular school, and instead chose quiet diversions such as drawing and board games. 

If you're having a cold, most likely it is nothing serious, though it's pretty nasty while it's going on. All you have to do is get through it with some gentle care, and it's almost certain the next day will be better. 

Friday, November 6, 2015

A bowl of popcorn

Now that we're into colder days, I'm going to make popcorn more often. I really can't think of anything more suitable as a snack for all occasions!

It's extremely quick and easy to make - just the thing for unexpected visitors, children and adults alike, when you have no baked goodies on hand. All you need is a handful of corn kernels, some oil, some salt and a suitable pot. Since I make it on the stove, it's great even when there's no electricity. Oh, and it's about the lowest cost imaginable snack, too, because a package of corn kernels costs so little and lasts so long.

This nutritious snack has a tendency to stop quarrels as little ones flock to a large bowl of popcorn in the middle of the table. It's also fascinating for them to watch the kernels pop - I always use a pot with a transparent lid especially for this purpose.

We sometimes have ladies' nights here, and usually everyone brings fancy cakes, homemade granola bars, etc. I cheat by bringing a simple large bowl of popcorn, made 10 minutes before leaving home - and usually it's the most popular snack around, especially among the pregnant ladies who like to have something to munch on, guilt-free.

Making popcorn is very easy once you get used to it, but there are a few tricks. Take a stainless steel pot and pour some oil into it, to just cover the bottom. There's no need to heat the oil in advance. Take a handful of corn kernels and spread them out over the oil, until the bottom of the pot is nearly covered, but not quite. Put the pot on the stove - the flame needs to be strong enough for the kernels to pop, but not excessively so, because otherwise the kernels may burn before they pop. You'll find just the right balance after a couple of tries. Now I've found mine I have only a few unpopped kernels in each batch.

Wait until popping stops, transfer into bowl and shake some salt over your popcorn.


Thursday, October 29, 2015

In the hope of brighter days

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Though the thunderstorms and rains still go on, we are looking forward to sunny days - which are inevitable in Israel, even in winter - and so made this experimental little solar cooker, to try when the sun does shine. 

It's an excellent project to do with kids. There are plenty of variations on the internet, and most likely all you need is already on hand. We roughly followed the instructions here

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Power shortages in Israel

This week, Israel experienced - and is still experiencing - one of the worst electricity shortages in its history. As I write this, thousands of families are still without electricity - a staggering number in a small country like ours.

It all began on Sunday, which actually started out with a sunny aspect. I put in a load of laundry, intending to hang it outside later. However, ominous dark clouds soon looked in from the west. I marveled at how fast they moved toward us. 

About five or ten minutes after my husband left for work, a powerful gust of wind hit our house. I could see objects flying in the neighborhood - pieces of cardboard, plastic bags, tangles of dry weed. The windows shook and rattled, and the thick clouds made it almost as dark as night. My children, frightened, asked "but what if the house should fall?" - I assured them it would be fine, and at that moment, the electricity went out. I congratulated myself for putting in the load of laundry early enough in the morning so it was done by now. I opened the folding rack and hung it to dry inside. 

To obtain some cheerfulness and light, we proceeded to look for some candles. We lit several and put them on a tray in the middle of our combined kitchen/living room table. I also added a few drops of essential oil to an oil burner, and for a little while we drew and read by candlelight. It was comfy and cozy. There are no large trees near us that could break and fall and damage the house, so I was pretty sanguine on that account.

Unexpectedly, my husband came back. It turned out his car was hit by something - he wasn't even sure what - flying in the high wind, and there was damage to the front window which obliged him to turn back home to make a call to the insurance company. I just felt relieved he wasn't hurt. 

Because I didn't know how long the electricity would be off, I tried not to open the fridge or freezer unnecessarily. The power flow returned an hour or two later, which is not uncommon in our area, so I didn't think much of it but went on as usual. At that time, I didn't know that the uncommonly strong winds caused extraordinary damage to the electricity infrastructure that left around 200,000 people with no electricity. 

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A photo of our resident chameleon, taken while that eventful morning was still sunny.

All this made me think about how good it is to be prepared for emergencies. Something of this sort is quite uncommon in Israel - in our area, yes, we do have shortages, especially in winter, but in most places I used to think the power flow is completely reliable. It turns out you can never count on something entirely. The few people who have their own independent source of electricity (solar panels, etc) are in luck. I do wish we could have our own source of electricity. 

The problem is exacerbated by the fact that in Israel, the electricity supply and services are monopolized by a single company. They control the bills and the level of service, which is an outrage in itself. If the company workers decide to go on a strike, thousands of innocent people can be held hostage, so to speak, with great inconveniences and financial damage. 

Things could be a lot worse. Think of something like this happening last winter, when it was extraordinarily cold and snowed all over the country. In such a case people would be stuck with no proper heating, on top of everything else.

Even if you have no independent source of electricity, you can be prepared for an emergency by the option of using gas or wood for cooking and heating, by keeping a stock of matches, candles, flashlights and batteries, and by having your emergency lights fully charged. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Living without electricity and running water

I normally try to avoid getting romantic about Old Times and Old Ways for no good reason. Though in many ways, life in the past was simpler and easier, I'm still so very grateful for the many wonderful things we tend to take for granted today. Reliable electricity, running water, easy transportation, social security systems, appliances that make laundry, food storage and kitchen work a breeze, instant communication, the Internet and modern medicine are all things I'm so happy we have in our world. 

Still, sometimes we either need to or choose to do without some of those things, because of financial/practical considerations or because of a deep need for a simpler, slower life the human psychology seems to be best suited for in many cases. 

So far, we've never had to live without electricity or running water consistently, but we have experienced some days with no water flow, and whole weeks in winter when electricity had to be used extremely sparingly by the entire neighborhood - an extra appliance by any family could easily mean a total cut-down of power. We used a gas heater because we aren't really into splitting wood, and we always cook using a gas stove anyway, as do most people in Israel. And, of course, plenty of candles for light.

Having said all that, I find the testimonies of these people so very inspiring:

Doing Without a Fridge - hard to imagine people actually manage that way! 

Living Without Lights - this lady's blog is fascinating. The pictures and descriptions of her tiny house are simply charming. I intend to go back and read it all, bit by bit, as time allows. I encourage everyone to do the same, if you have the least interest in that sort of thing. 

Monday, October 19, 2015

Just being home

I think the best, most effective, and most enjoyable way to save money at home actually isn't about pinching pennies, or utilizing the contents of our freezer and pantry to the utmost efficiency, or saving electricity and water (although all these practices are good and valid, of course). It is simply staying home, as opposed to running/driving about.

Of course, we all like to go out sometimes. Day/field trips, visits with family/friends, even shopping trips are fun - but it's all about the proportion of time spent in vs. out (by "in", I also mean on your lot - in your garden, on your deck, on your sun roof, etc, not necessarily in your living room). 

It is really quite straightforward: when you are pleasantly occupied in your home, instead of browsing shop-windows, for example, you have less temptation to buy stuff you don't really need. Also, you don't waste money on gas.

Of course, this means you have to put in the effort to make your home a place of fun, enjoyment, wholesome activity, family togetherness, usefulness, comfort and recreation. And there is really no limit to all those things, even in the smallest, most humble home.

This doesn't mean you need to have expensive decorations or furniture, or spacious rooms. A welcoming home is cozy and well-organized, without being oppressive to children or visitors (as in, making people wary of touching anything for fear of ruining a perfect arrangement). 

A day or two ago, my daughters complained about "having nothing to play with". Now, if you had seen their room, you would have known the claim was simply ridiculous - because though we're not at all consumerism-driven when it comes to toys, still, gifts from grandparents and friends, and giveaways, etc, make for quite enough to be getting on with. As a matter of fact, they had a couple of new board games and puzzles they had hardly touched. All these, however, were lost in a jumble of toys all piled atop one another. 

So, you need to make books, games, toys, and art and craft supplies easily accessible. 

Another point is to create inviting areas for all sorts of activities: reading, drawing, sewing, etc. We have one all-purpose table in the kitchen that serves us for eating, studying, ironing, board games, and all sorts of projects. Being so much used, it's easy for our table to overflow with stuff. I must be careful to keep it clean and clutter-free, so that when my children want to draw, they won't need to restrict themselves to the last tiny corner of free table space (they used to draw on the floor, but with a crawling baby that likes to tear and chew on paper, that's impractical nowadays). 

Do interesting things at home and thereabouts. This week, we made a family project of harvesting, sorting, processing and putting up pickled olives. The results should be ready for consumption in about three weeks. We also have seeds going on indoors, several experiments on the go, our chickens, and always plenty of reading to do. Naturally, in the winter when it's too cold and rainy, and in the summer on the hottest days, we are more restricted to indoor activities. The spring and autumn are the pleasantest seasons where we live. 

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Hold On to Your Kids: Book Review

I realize it sounds as though I've had plenty of time to read lately, but I assure you it is not so; more like, I'm posting book reviews in a more concentrated manner than usual.

Hold On To Your Kids: Why Parents Need To Matter More Than Peers is a book with an important message (the headline itself, I think, speaks volumes!).

By Briana LeClaire:

"The overarching theme of the book is ATTACHMENT. To whom are your children more attached? Are they attached to you, their parents, and other adults? Or are they attached to their peers? To whom do they look for guidance? Whose star have they hitched their little wagons to?"

"My son is so independent," a neighbor proudly told me once, "he has so many friends! As soon as he gets back home, after lunch, his friends come to visit him or he visits them, and he plays together with them until it's time for supper. He hardly needs me at all!" Want to guess how old the boy was? Only 4. And the situation described above was seen by his mother as something most natural and desirable. 

There is a perspective of my own I would like to add: while the authors of the book admit that attachment between parents and children, especially young children, is vitally important, and that early enrollment in daycare and preschool is more likely to make children peer-oriented (that is, dependent upon their friends in the development of social connections, goals, values, morals, language and habits), they also say that the most obvious (and, they confess, most desirable) solution - that of young children staying at home, usually with their mothers, is in most cases an impractical, outdated measure. 

Their suggested solution is creating an attachment between the child and the "parent substitute" - babysitter, daycare worker, teacher, etc. While, of course, an invested and caring daycare worker is better than a detached, unaware one, I do not think a parent-child-like connection between the child and the care provider is possible or even healthy. There are too many children per caretaker and, above all, nobody can love your child like you do. Also, there is absolutely no guarantee the caretaker/teacher passes on values and messages you approve. 

I vividly remember a 3-year-old niece who kept talking to us about her preschool teacher, whose name was Ruthie. That child was evidently engrossed by Ruthie and talked about her a lot more often than she mentioned her parents. Perhaps it is better that the child was so connected to her teacher, rather than her peers, but the fact remains that Ruthie (however capable of creating the attachment) did not care about the child in the same way. It was not her child, after all. At the end of the year, the child and her teacher would part, never to meet again. Is it really good for a 3-year-old to give her heart to a teacher in such a way, when we know it is to be only a temporary relationship? 

Even grandparents, aunts and uncles (the relationship with whom is permanent) are not supposed to be more than auxiliary figures in child-rearing. They can provide help, plenty of help, but the biggest chunk of the job of child-rearing (in time as well as authority) should belong to the parents. 

Rather than say it's impractical for young children to remain under the care of their mothers, it is better to stress the importance of such a measure, and to encourage parents to stick to it as much as possible. You know how it works: when you are convinced something is truly important, and that there is really no equally good substitute, you will move mountains to make it happen. Of course, for some parents it will not be possible to keep their child at home, and then damage-minimizing tactics, as described in this book, are in order.

While I do not think mothers at home should be directly funded by the government, I do believe that  significant tax reduction for fathers in single-income families would be a fair measure. Let people keep a larger share of their own fairly earned money and provide for their family. It would ultimately save the government a lot of money on all sorts of programs that fight violence, bullying in schools, teen pregnancy and drug abuse, and other ailments of our society. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Israeli Solution

One of the latest books I've read is The Israeli Solution, by Caroline Glick. I can't say I agree with the author on every point, but it is probably the most engrossing non-fiction read I've come across lately. It is really quite fascinating to read about events we've learned as cut-and-dry history in high school (the Arab violence against Jews in Hebron in 1929, for instance), completely detached from today's reality - and see that all the events in our area, from the distant as well as from the most recent past, and in the present, actually follow a logical and easily explicable curve. 

"The Israeli Solution is a realistic solution because it does not promise to create a new Middle East, assure us that terrorists will become statesmen or breezily offer an end to a hatred that has existed for over a thousand years...Instead she offers the real solution of managing the conflict by taking responsibility for the territory and people instead of abandoning it and them to Arafat or Abbas and hoping that the magic doves of peace will do the rest...Advocates something that has never been tried before throughout this conflict; integration instead of segregation and unity instead of partition." -Frontpage 

From a customer's review on Amazon:

"Although I'm a Christian and an American, sadly without even a hidden Jewish ancestor, I have long wondered why Israel would even consider giving up Judea and Samaria, the heart of what was once the Kingdom of the Jews. I have equally been baffled by what seemed to be Israel's acceptance of notion of land for peace, even as it has utterly failed time and again over the last 70 years. Ms. Glick defines an entirely rational alternative, one which even now a majority (about 60%) of Israelis favor."

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Extracurricular commitments

"With 10 children and a very busy family life from day-to-day, one of the primary things that we have chosen to do, is wait, in just about every area that would have had me spending a lot of time outside the home, and out and about in the car, for lessons. I know not everyone chooses this route, but because it would have been lots of time traveling to and from lessons if each one was involved in lessons of some type, and we really desired to have a slower rhythm to our days, we chose to wait until the children were older, had a sustained expressed interest in something, and a would find pleasure in learning it. This has worked out very well for us."

- Eyes of Wonder - 

Breakfast Time -H. Brooker

While we don't have 10 children, we certainly have a busy daily life and plenty to do each day. Furthermore, we are a one-car family, with no visible possibility of this situation changing in the near future. We live in an area with nonexistent public transportation, which means we have to get creative when it comes to running errands, shopping or going to the doctor. Most of the time my husband swings by the grocery store after work. Thankfully, he loves to shop and is quite good at locating the weekly bargains. Doctor's appointments can be arranged in the morning, before work. Or if we need to see a specialist (such as for certain prenatal tests), it can be done while visiting family for a day or two, or on Fridays, when most people in Israel don't work, and then it can be turned into a family outing.

As for extracurricular activities, we are limited to those we can find within walking distance. We have a small library that is open part of the week, and a community club that hosts classes, fairs and events for children and adults. We by no means participate in anything we can sign up for. Quite apart from the financial consideration (which is a point in itself), I do not consider it necessary or even advisable to commit to something I need to prod my children to do every time. So many interests can be explored right here in your home, safely, and with no or very little cost. 

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Increasing danger

As some of you are perhaps aware, recently Israel has become a much scarier place than two weeks ago. The shooting and stabbing by terrorists goes on in many parts of the country, and the evil has reached unbelievable peaks.

I'm a little at a loss of what to say. On the one hand, I can think of nothing else but the lives that had been destroyed or ruined forever. The parents that were murdered in front of their children; the woman who ran away from the terrorists, knife in her shoulder, and begged for help but was cruelly told to just shut up and die; the schools shutting down; people trying to minimize going out of the house.

Since we don't hate them, it can be hard to finally realize how much they truly hate us.

I think an important point is that the violence no longer has borders (if, indeed, it ever had borders). People often talk to us about how dangerous it is to live outside the '67 borders, like we do; as if the Magic Line of '67 somehow turns peace into war and friends into enemies, and if only we withdrew to the borders of '48, we would be safe, nobody would be after our blood, and peace would be restored to the Middle East.

What a joke. We did that experiment in Gaza in 2005. The peaceful civilians of Gaza exercised their democratic rights by electing Hamas for their government.

Those who want to kill Jews in the Shomron or Gush Etziyon, want to kill Jews in Jerusalem, Petach Tikva, and Tel Aviv. They are actively trying to do so, every day. They consider all of Israel as rightfully theirs. And once we cower and run, there is no way to stop and no place to hide.

We are an ordinary family. We live in a very small, quiet way. Those who have been reading my blog for any length of time know my life, interests and pursuits revolve around anything home- and child-related. But you can't go on quietly cooking and looking after your chickens and choosing seeds for your garden when you feel you aren't safe, wherever you go; when you worry about your husband every time he drives home from work; when you happen to be in town and think twice about going to the mall (and not because of the exorbitant prices of everything).

We will not succumb to panic. But we want to feel safe, and that feeling is, lately, very elusive.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

An untitled update and some random musings on financial sustainability

As usual, the High Holidays and Sukkot passed in a whirlwind of cooking, making arrangements, hosting, packing, going over for weekends, weekdays, days all jumbled together... and me, in the middle of it all, always doing more than I thought I possibly could, and probably less than I ought. The children always staying up far too late, the days each unique in its own way - some nice and relaxed, some hectic and intense. And family. Lots and lots of relatives, more than making up for the summer months we have spent mostly asunder.

I've often wished to blog, sometimes about this and sometimes about that, and of course never got around to squeezing in even a small update.

Of course, holidays also mean expenses - there's extra food, usually some new clothes, extra usage of electricity (air conditioning for guests, laundry, etc), and there's often some traveling thrown in as well. It isn't accidental that many charity organizations kick into action just before Rosh HaShana. So I've been often thinking of poverty; its standards, and definition, and practical implications. And the conclusion I've come to is that it's not just what you have - more than that, probably a lot more, is what you do with what you have. 

Take two families, both consisting of two couples with three children aged 6, 4 and 2. Both families make an X sum each month. Family A has scrimped and saved in past years and bought a house, small by usual standards, and a little out of the way, but they contrived to use the space to the best possible advantage. They therefore pay no rent or mortgage. They grow part of their own food and use a once-a-month-shopping plan which works well for them. They know where to find used clothes, furniture and books in good condition. They are creative in their vacations (exploring the area around their home) and in their home decoration (they aren't squeamish about collecting things from dumps and giving them a new life). They homeschool and so pay zero for childcare, nannies, summer camps, etc. 

Family B isn't extravagant. They don't go abroad, for instance. They do, however, go on vacation once a year, usually for a very good deal. It still costs a lot, though. More importantly, they pay rent, which takes about 1\3 of their monthly income, though it's only an average apartment in an average neighborhood. Or perhaps they have a mortgage on bad terms. They dream of having their own home someday, and they are trying to save from the remaining 2\3 of their income, but it's going slow and they know it's pretty hopeless. They have two cars and can't possibly do without one. 

One day, family B begins to get creative and re-prioritize. They decide that a two-bedroom apartment is enough for them after all. They move to a cheaper place, with longer commute, and resolve to make the most of their time on the road, audio-learning in their car or reading on the train. They don't entirely give up the second car, but they use it less. The home of their dreams changes, too. They lean towards a smaller fixer-upper they would be able to purchase in the foreseeable future, and perhaps renovate and add a room later. They feel good about themselves and their life.

Family C, perhaps, is in the same position as family B, but they aren't able to make the necessary changes to live within their means. It's for no fault of their own. They had optimistically taken a large mortgage when it looked perfectly reasonable to do so, but then one of the spouses fully or partially lost their ability to work. Or perhaps they are under such strain that there just isn't enough time or mental energy to stop and think how they could change things. This is where the real financial downfall begins - the inability to manage with what you have.

This is why I object to arbitrary poverty lines. It would be more complicated, but also more truthful, to find out how well the family is managing on what they have. 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Do the first thing

"Do the first thing, and let the first thing be to just love and care for the people in your life.
If cares or extra commitments or certain relationships are hindering you from doing so, cast them (the cares) aside, or set them (extra commitments or certain relationships) aside, until things are running smoothly and you feel able to reach out a bit further.
If you have to face a difficulty today (and you may and will at times) breathe deeply, send your simplest prayer of childlike trust-- with all its fears and/or concerns of inadequacies and possibilities--up to the Lord, and then go in, or out, to face --knowing that He is not surprised by or afraid of, anything."
- Eyes of Wonder

Monday, September 7, 2015

The wishes of my heart

I would crave wealth, not riches as I live:
The wealth of learning with a quiet heart.
An open mind with leisure time to give
To poetry, to music, and to art;
The time for children's laughter, time to learn
The wisdom of the sages of the past;
The time to watch the stars--a candle burn
In sacrificial fire to the last.

I would speak gently though the din be loud,
I would move softly without hurried haste,
I would be inconspicuous in a crowd,
I would conserve the energies we waste;
I would see beauty in each common task,
Each bird, each tree, the clouds that light shines through.
This is my heart's desire--the thing I ask:
To daily grow as God would have me do.

~Grace Noll Crowell

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Simple Art

Simple art on a simple day - pen/pencil containers out of empty Pringles cans, decorated with the help of some glittering ribbon, scissors and glue:

Followed by a quote from my all-time favorite blog, Eyes of Wonder (now, sadly, discontinued and gone private):

"I sure do find that the children are happiest when they're creating something. It makes a bit of a mess, that's for sure, but the peace and joy that fills the house is so much more than worth it.  A nice breakfast, a pot of soup set to cook on the stove, some music while all the morning chores are being done, all the supplies made ready, makes for merry little hearts (and big ones, too :o) and the fun begins!  

My childlike heart loves to be busy creating, too, and finds so much pleasure in doing so alongside my precious children. The days pass all too quickly, and I want to be able to look back knowing I gave them the gift of my time, not just as a mother meeting their physical needs, but as a friend, that walked with them and talked with them, laughed with them, knew them through and through, and thoroughly enjoyed them along life's way.  How I do so desire to seize each moment I am blessed with, to love and delight in the gift of my children."

Friday, September 4, 2015

Living with irregular electricity supply

Following my last post about living with irregular water supply: Last winter, we've had more than a few days around here with irregular electricity supply. Here is how we managed.

1. Gas heater. We bought a used gas heater, in very good condition, quite cheaply, and used that when the electricity couldn't be counted on. Many people around here use wood burning, but we aren't that fond of chopping wood.

2. Candles and oil burners - even when the electricity was on, I'd always light a candle, just in case, in the bathroom before stepping into the shower. I started doing it after the time when I started a shower and then got stuck in the dark when all went black. You don't want that to happen when you're bathing the baby, either.

3. Good insulation - it really pays off to insulate your house, both for when it's cold in the winter and when it's extremely hot in the summer. Also, good insulation for your fridge helps the food last longer, saves electricity, and prevents spoilage when the electricity is off for a few hours.

4. Invest in UPS units - for your more expensive appliances. We have them for the computer, the washing machine and the fridge. This way, we ensure our appliances don't get damaged by sudden fluctuations in the power flow.

5. Have plenty of clothes for little ones - Israel was born in January, and you know how many outfits a small baby can get through! First these are diaper blowouts, then it's mashed bananas all over the place, not to mention all the dust from crawling around the house. Toddlers have a tendency to get good and dirty, too. So you don't want to get stuck with no clean clothes because you can't operate your washer for a few days. Of course, you can wash some things by hand in a real emergency, but it's very time-consuming and I didn't want to do that with a new baby.

Here are more suggestions from the Down To Earth Forum:

"We had been warned about power cuts here too - the winter before we moved there were huge storms in this area of and many people were without power for a week or so. We considered this when we we doing our house, although we haven't had anything other than momentary cuts since we moved in a year ago. Our hot water heater is gas and uses batteries to fire up, so works with no power. Our stovetop is also gas and can be lit with matches and we have a wood burner with an oven compartment. We have a stovetop kettle to use instead of the electric one when necessary and have a number of candles dotted around, mainly ornamental but useful too. We have a tin with extra candles and matches that we have moved out of storage and into our living room in light of the stormy weather this week, we both know where it is and should be able to find it easily in the dark. Finally, on stormy nights, we light a couple of candles even if the electricity is on - that way, if it goes off we still have some light to sort everything out by. And finally, we have some of our appliances plugged into power surge arresters to protect them if there is a spike."

"I would think it is worth spending your first winter with emergency back up before investing in expensive things like generators and solar panels. You might find that you only lose electricity for a few hours/a day at a time, which is easier to cope with even if it happens regularly. Emergency food/water rations, gas heating & emergency lighting (probably battery/solar powered camping lanterns rather than candles with young kids) will see you through, and it is probably worth having a good stock of disposable nappies (especially if you usually use cloth) for when you can't do laundry. It is all about deciding what you need to survive for a day or two."

"I'd echo what has been said by others, and add that investing in one of those counter top double gas rings might be useful for a back up. They run off gas bottles, so at least you are able to cook something. When we first moved into this house we had no electricity at all for 2 months (in the winter). We used a generator to run the fridge and one other item at a time and cooked on the double gas ring and an assortment of camping gas stoves/lanterns - I shouldn't say this, probably, but the tops of the lanterns get hot enough to cook on, though you need to be very, very careful! I was ready to kidnap the man who finally came to connect us - two months of heating water in saucepans so that we could have anything approaching a bath was resulting in serious sense of humour failure! I even cooked Christmas dinner on the 2 gas ring thing, so anything good to eat is possible with one of those. A small gas heater (again with a gas bottle) will throw out a good amount of heat in one room, too - just make sure you keep that room ventilated!"

"we keep a good supply of candles in as well - there are intermittent power cuts here (normally not for more than a couple of hours) for mainenance - all the power goes via overhead cables rather than underground, but there are times in bad weather that lines can come down and then we can be without power for up to 48 hours (in the worst cases). You really need to invest in a UPS unit for things like computers - they give you a chance to power down correctly. Fit a surge protector as well. If you get "brownouts" - ie weak supply rather than complete cuts - make sure you turn OFF anything with a motor (like the fridge) as they can be damaged."