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.