The slippery slope of screen time

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A few days ago, a member of a Facebook group I participate in asked if anyone else allows their children to watch/play on phones or tablets during meals. I confess I was a little appalled at the idea, for though I know we live in a screen-addicted society, I was blissfully unaware of the existence of children who can’t get through a whole meal without some kind of stimulation by an electronic device.

I want you to know that I’m not feeling smug or superior, and I get it. I really do. When you are tired and frazzled, and it has been raining for three days straight, with your children bickering nonstop all that time, and you are ready to throttle someone, and every time you talk to your kids it somehow turns into yelling at the top of your voice… well, I’ve been there. And flicking on a movie or a computer game to get some blissful peace can be so, so easy. And I’m not saying you should never do this – just be aware that it comes with a price. Screens of any kind – phones, computers, tablets – are extremely alluring and addictive, and once kids (and adults, too) get used to this being their primary source of amusement, it’s hard to switch them off to other things.

Admittedly, we are aided by our lifestyle as Orthodox Jews. Since our Shabbats are tech-free, we know we can get through a day without screens, and make other days tech-free or low-tech too. And we live in an area with frequent power outages, which means that on many winter nights, the power just shuts down whether we want to or not, and though naturally our kids will whine and grumble if it happens in the middle of a movie, they eventually settle down to do other things, like drawing by candlelight (or better yet, early bedtime!). Also, we are blessed with lots of outdoor space for the kids to play, and plenty of animals to keep us all entertained.

Now, I’m not saying screen time is all bad. We take advantage of some wonderful educational videos and games I wouldn’t want to give up on. But I really, really try to make it only a tiny portion of our day, because I don’t want my kids to get used to passive entertainment.

Getting weaned off excessive screen time can be hard, and if you’re trying to do this, you should be prepared for quite a bit of mutiny and lots of complaints of being bored. But then, as everyone settles in to a new routine, good things start to happen – more reading, more arts and crafts, more outdoor play, more family time… better, healthier, more wholesome entertainment.

The idea of pulling the plug can be daunting, but I would encourage anyone to give it a try. I can almost guarantee that, after a little while, you and your kids will be happier and healthier, and will not want to look back.

Making Things Last

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rid your chickens of scaly leg mites

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Those of you who aren’t chicken keepers (and maybe some of you who are) are lucky enough not to know about scaly leg mites, but in our flock they have been a veritable scourge, and extremely labor-intensive to take care of, until I stumbled upon a simple and effective remedy.

“Scaly leg mites are parasites that lodge and reproduce underneath the scales on chickens’ legs. This results in a typical look of uneven, crusty, deformed scales, and can lead to impaired walking, infection, loss of toes and, in extreme cases, even death.

Most home treatment options for scaly leg mites suggest dipping the bird’s legs in mineral oil or petroleum, and then slathering them in Vaseline. The goal of this is to smother the mites. The treatment is then repeated after an interval of a week or two, to take care of the nits that might have hatched in the meantime.”
But, as I said, I’m using something a lot simpler and no less, possibly more effective now. Read more in my Mother Earth News post.  

Sun-dried tomatoes

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We got a really good deal on cherry tomatoes, and as much as we love using them in salads and eating them as a snack, we didn’t manage to use them all up before they began to lose their freshness. Driven by a stroke of inspiration, I decided to make dried tomatoes.

Drying tomatoes is easy; I like to do it in the sun, because it saves energy and is done very quickly around here, but you can use your oven or dehydrator.

To dry in the sun, simply slice the tomatoes and place them in a single layer on a cookie sheet or tray. Cover with mesh to prevent birds and insects from getting in your food. Place in the sun.

Once the tomatoes are slightly springy and mostly dehydrated, they are done. Put them in a glass jar and cover with olive oil (you can add herbs such as rosemary, basil or oregano), and place in the fridge. Or put them in a vacuum pack and freeze. They are great in all sorts of dishes, or can be made into dried tomato spread. Enjoy!

More peafowl

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Though I didn’t mention this in my previous post about Little Pea (mainly because I didn’t really believe anything would come out of it), on the occasion we found him (or her), we also came across an unattended nest. Since it was dark, and the eggs were cold, I didn’t think they were viable, but a quick candling with our phone flashlight revealed chicks in advanced stages of development, and some feeble movement. After a brief inner struggle,  we decided to take them home and place them in the incubator.

To my surprise, the eggs continued to develop, and yesterday all five of them hatched – even one which had a hairline crack that I repaired with nail polish. The peachicks are now in a brooder hastily made out of an old cardboard box and a heating lamp.

So, all in all, we now have six young peafowl on our hands. When the babies grow up a bit, we hope to be able to move them together with Little Pea.

We don’t know yet where we are going with this unexpected adventure, but we sure are excited about it!

Thrifty finds

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Yesterday our local second hand store threw a huge fair, and I found several nice little dresses for the girls, and one for myself. This morning, up they went on the cheerful sunny clothesline (two leftmost and third on the right). I’m very happy with them. They cost next to nothing, and are of much higher quality than anything I could have afforded to buy new.

Enjoying another nice summer day of homemade lemonade, working in the garden, playing with the baby chicks and hand-feeding Little Pea, our peafowl chick, who now runs to us to get a treat whenever we approach.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the amazing people who were among the first buyers and readers of The Landlord. I know some of the downloads came from the blog readers, and I am truly overwhelmed by your generosity. I hope you will take a few minutes to leave a review once you finish reading – it would mean the world to me.

Little Pea

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A few days ago, we visited a beautiful campus which is one of our favorite spots; there are many magnificent peacocks roaming wild across the lawns, and as this is chick season, we were able to see adorable little peas trailing after their mothers.

At twilight, just as the peacocks were flying up trees to roost, this little one fell off and was nearly eaten by a stray cat at once. We saved it and, as it was in shock, decided to bring it home.

We have never raised peafowl before, but we were prepared for a flighty bird; Little Pea, however, wasn’t eating and looked distressed. We thought a companion might help; we had some chicks which could possibly do, but they were considerably smaller than Pea, so we had our misgivings. Still, we decided to give it a try, and almost as soon as we introduced two chicks to its cage, Little Pea became more relaxed and started eating. I’m gradually winning him over by feeding him treats, such as hard-boiled eggs and grapes, out of my hand.

Little Pea is very quiet around us, but vocalizes around his little companions. It sounds like a soft whistle.

Oh, and we have no idea whether this is a boy or a girl. If anyone can tell from the picture, please drop me a line!

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PS: If you are looking for a light summer read, and are into ghost novels and Regency era England, you might like to check out my new book, The Landlord. It is currently at a 0.99$ launch price on Kindle, and is also available in print for those who love paperbacks.