Health and homesteading

Check out my latest Mother Earth News post: what happens when physical limitations stand in one’s way to self-reliant life.

“Even in our modernized age when almost everything is done at the click of a keyboard, being able-bodied is still an essential part of building your own house, starting a homestead, and keeping it going. But what do you do if certain health problems interfere with your homesteading goals? Should you accept that some things just aren’t meant to be – like building with your own hands, for example?

It is my belief that there is an alternative way to do pretty much anything, and even to profit from the seemingly untoward circumstances that might seem as a death certificate to your dream.”

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Illustration: mid-renovations mess in our living room, just before our son Israel was born.

One-minute household chores and e-book giveaway!

How many times have you looked around the house and experienced this sinking feeling that there is a million of things to be done, and no time to do them? Well, apparently the key to success is to break the million things into one-by-one, and just head in and do something, even if it is something little. The sense of accomplishment will motivate you to go on, and efficient planning will enable you to make good of those little pockets of time during the day.

Here is an excellent list of household chores that can be done in one minute.

I do have to say, however, that sometimes those little things may take longer than we estimate; for example, it really is only a minute to change your kitchen towels – if you keep them readily available. I personally don’t have much cupboard space in the kitchen, so my kitchen towels are kept in the closet in the children’s room and I have to walk there and then back to the kitchen to get the towels. I also need to drop the used towels into the laundry basket.

If you really only have a minute or two, work in the space where you already happen to be, or near it. For example, if I’m watching over a toddler playing in bath, I might use up that little slot of time to wipe down the bathroom mirror, sink and tap, and perhaps to scrub the toilet. If I’m watching over kids while they are playing in the yard, I will clean the outside of the living room window (yes, the one with fingerprints and nose prints all over it!)

Logical storage strategy is another important thing. I’ve already mentioned kitchen towels; by necessity, I keep them away from the kitchen, but I realize it would have been better to make room in one of the cupboards. The little sponge I use specifically for wiping sinks, I keep in the bathroom so it’s within easy reach. I’m forced (again by necessity of space) to keep some of our clothes in the storage shed closet, which is larger, but I make sure those are the clothes we use less often, in particular during the warm months (coats, jackets etc).

Then it’s important to assess whether a chore really takes up only a minute, or we are run away with our fanciful imagination. For example, I’ve been known to step out to fold the laundry, saying “it only takes a minute”, forgetting that with little ones in tow, it most certainly does not. In that case I must either allot more time for the chore, or delay the task until later.

And of course, this doesn’t mean every last little moment of spare time must be filled with housework! Sometimes, when you only have a couple of minutes, it’s better to take a deep breath, have a glass of cool water or a little snack, or read a page or two of a good book.

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Giveaway announcement: starting from now and until August 31-st, you can download my natural health e-book, Nurturing Hands, from my Payhip store for free! Simply proceed to checkout and use the 100% discount coupon I have activated. Of course, you are most welcome to share this giveaway on your own blog, Facebook or Twitter and let your friends know! Coupon code: 783CZRSQDP

I have also included a 50% discount coupon for The Practical Homemaker’s Companion, which will be valid until September 7-th. Coupon code: E1KQKKJURV

In addition, following requests, The Practical Homemaker’s Companion is now also available in paperback for only 5.38$. Since it’s a short, very condensed book and my aim was to make it as affordable as possible, I chose the lowest price setting allowed.

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From the back cover:

“Our job as wives and mothers is of tremendous importance and eternal impact, but it’s all too easy to get bogged down and discouraged by the mundane. The dinner got burned; the mountain of dirty clothes in the laundry basket is growing at an alarming rate; you have outstripped your grocery budget; your kids are squabbling; you lose it and yell and feel guilty. You go to bed with a nagging headache, wondering how you’ll get up and begin all over again tomorrow.

We’ve all been there. We’ve all done that – are still doing that. Opening a fresh page every day, doing our best and hoping it’s enough.

This book is a compact combination of inspirational articles, practical tips, and advice for making a small income go a long way. From encouragement to take heart in your job as a homemaker, to stockpiling, wise grocery shopping and keeping chickens, it’s based on the homemaking and simple living tips I have found most useful over the years.”

Collecting dew: another step in water conservation

There’s a lot of talk about collecting rainwater as a frugal and ecology-conscious way to reduce water waste, and that’s certainly a good thing and a project we hope to take up in the future. I do have to say, though, that in Israel we don’t get any rain to speak of approximately from May to October. What we can do in the summer months, without any special equipment, is collect dew.

Our system is simple. We have a plastic awning at the entrance to our home, and when I step out early in the morning I can see puddles of water around it. By placing buckets in strategic locations, and then combining their contents, we get roughly a bucket of clean water every day this way. We primarily use it in the garden, but if we used cleaner containers I wouldn’t hesitate to drink it. It’s easy, useful, doesn’t cost anything and could turn out very important in a survival situation. I expect we could harvest a lot more water if we set up a water catchment system all around our roof, too.

The dew we collect is used daily to water our garden. Our peppers already look very promising!

I have noticed that dew is especially abundant when a cool, quiet night follows a hot day. We have many such nights during the summer, as we live up in the hills and usually experience very pleasant temperatures once the sun sets. In Israel, and in other countries with an arid climate, dew collection can be done on a larger scale and play an important role in water conservation.

Exciting announcement

Just a short post: I’m very happy to say I’ve joined the Mother Earth News blogging community. Now, in addition to posting here, I will also contribute to the MEN blogs from time to time. I’ve been a newsletter subscriber for years, so you can imagine how tickled I am to have been invited to join as a blogger.

My first post is already up on Homesteading and Livestock. It was written for those who consider taking the plunge into chicken-keeping:

“Our chicken-keeping path started a little backwards: First, we dreamed and wished to start raising chickens for a long, long while. Then, my husband came home one day with a box of baby chicks in his arms; and then we figured out how to build a coop and make it safe and comfortable for our new feathered friends.”

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You can read the rest here.

Why government won’t support homesteading: an opinion

Our society used to be mostly agricultural. It revolved around the nuclear and extended family, a close-knit community where people usually lived their whole lives, the family farm, the village, the artisan tool-maker, and everything small-scale and personal. For better or worse, the Industrial Revolution put an end to that kind of life and propelled us to a world where manual work is scoffed at, and agriculture is seen as something menial or boring.

Yet this did nothing to change our nature. As living beings, we were made to interact with other living beings. It is good and healthy for us to tread earth, smell flowers, pick fruit off trees, take care of animals, and make occasional escapes into wilderness. People who live in small apartments in big cities can find an outlet for this healthy instinct by growing plants in pots, keeping an aquarium and a cat, and venturing out to the country from time to time. The words “farm”, “country”, “rural”, “pastoral”, “village” still bring up pleasant nostalgic associations (compare them with the associations you get when you hear the words “factory”, “industry”, “rush hour”, “traffic” or “highway”), and some people even find out that they are inherently incapable of living the city life anymore, and drop their perfectly good jobs in order to cultivate a piece of rural land, such as in Marcel Pagnol’s splendid novel Jean de Florette.

We still yearn for the simple, cyclic, gentle and healthy rhythm which can be found in nature, the earth, and the seasons.

Some time ago, I picked up the Israeli Shabbat leaflet “Olam Katan” (“Small World”) and was genuinely interested by an article which suggested that modern technology and means of transportation make small-scale farming/homesteading possible even for people who don’t want to, or can’t make this their main source of livelihood. It is entirely possible, the author argued, for a family where both spouses hold a regular job to also keep a small homestead on, say, on 1 square km of land. Such a homestead can include a barn with 3-4 dairy goats and a dozen chickens, a small vegetable garden, and some fruit trees. Furthermore, it was argued that Israel has enough unexploited land which is suitable for agriculture. Such land, according to the author, could be divided into small homestead plots and handed out or sold inexpensively to anyone who would like to start a homestead or a sustainable small-scale farm. Thus many more people can live a healthier, closer-to-nature life, while also creating a strategical advantage for Israel by preventing Bedouin clans from illegally taking over empty lands.

While I would like, and am ready, to believe that a small-scale farming/homesteading revolution is possible, I also think the only way for it to happen is by individual people making the change in their private lives. I don’t think it will ever be encouraged or supported by the government, for many reasons. Here are just a few:

1. The government will never, not in a million years, hand out land or sell it cheaply (if it did, I’d be the first to stand in line!) – it will reap big bucks by selling land to big contractors, who in their turn will reap their big bucks by erecting tall buildings with cramped over-priced apartments.

2. Small-scale farming/homesteading will never be encouraged on a government level because commercial-scale farmers hold too much power.

3. A family living on a homestead will very likely have a rewarding, satisfying life; the more they grow, the less they will buy, not only in the way of food, but also in other areas. Shopping will no longer be needed as a recreation. They will move away from the temptation of big stores and shopping centers. In the evening, they will hurry home to milk their goats and water their tomatoes. Such people, for psychological and logistic reasons, are more likely to buy only what they need, which means the government will lose money by way of taxes each of us automatically pays when we buy in a licensed store. People who succeed in their little homestead venture might also discover they like it so much they will possibly opt for a less demanding, lower-paying job and enjoy a more relaxed lifestyle – and then the government will lose money by way of income tax. Some economical guru up there is bound to figure it out, and the government will never – not in a million years – agree to lose money, even for the sake of promoting a healthier and happier society.

4. A homesteading/small scale farming network will encourage the development of a local, sustainable market based on barter and small unregistered sales – the government won’t want this to happen because this will, again, mean less taxes.

However, it is a joy for me to know that other people, like me, indulge themselves in dreams of a world where families work together, more food is produced locally, and giant chain stores are cheated of part of their profit because people realize they don’t need so much stuff.

Gardening in hot, dry climates

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I am always filled with admiration whenever I read about homesteaders up north, with their short growing seasons, long winters, early frosts and heaps of snow many months out of a year. I sometimes feel like a softie for living in a country where the land never freezes and we get a light snow maybe once every winter.

However, gardening in a hot, dry climate – often with water shortages – comes with its own set of challenges. We don’t get any rain for approximately six months out of a year – usually from May to October. A heat wave, if not properly managed, can kill plants as surely as a hard frost. Here is what my husband and I do to make our gardening venture successful.

Plant what grows well locally. This is true for every climate, of course. I would really love, for example, to grow some bush berries – blackberries, raspberries, blueberries – but it’s simply too hot for them here to grow and produce well. On the other hand, grapes thrive in our climate and produce superb fruit, so we have six young vines which, we hope, will start yielding next year.

In my vegetable garden, the tomato, pepper and melon plants are enjoying the heat, and herbs such as mint, sage and rosemary grow prolifically year-round.

Conserve water. Even when water isn’t scarce, it is expensive, and we must carefully evaluate every drop we put into the garden. We have a drip irrigation system for our trees, and love it. It saves us work, conserves water and is very efficient. In our vegetable garden, mulching and planting in partially shaded areas (still, however, giving the plants enough sun to thrive) help save water as well.

Many local-growing trees – such as grapes, figs, pomegranates, almonds and olives – require very little watering once they are mature and have a well-developed root system. It’s wise to take this into account when choosing what to plant.

We don’t have a lawn – keeping one just wouldn’t be sustainable – and we steer clear of tropical plants that require extensive watering, such as hibiscus or bananas.

Stay indoors during the hottest hours. In the long, hot days of summer we do all our garden work – watering, weeding, pruning, and so on – in the early morning or in the evening, before or shortly after sunset. We put in new plants in the evening, just before nightfall, to give them the best chance to survive the trauma of transplantation. This way, we avoid the health hazards of sun exposure. When we do have to spend some time outside around midday, we minimize damage by applying sunscreen and wearing wide-brimmed hats.

Keep an emergency water source. In our area we frequently experience water shortages during the summer. You can imagine what I felt one morning, as I went out to water the garden and discovered that the hose just isn’t running. It was an extremely hot day and, if the water flow hadn’t returned in a few hours, all of our plants would have died. We are wiser now. We have a large fish tank outside (for eco-friendly mosquito control), and we can partially empty it for emergency watering if need arises.

Protect young plants. I start many plants from seed indoors, because it’s hard to keep the soil outside moist enough for the seeds to germinate. A few weeks ago, when I transplanted my tomato and pepper seedlings outside, I knew the harsh midday sun might kill them, so during the first days I shaded the plants from noon until about 3 P.M. I did it simply by putting a wire cage over the seedlings, then pulling an old sheet over the wire and holding it down with rocks. It worked well and the plants thrived. The need for this is eliminated once the plants get hardened up a bit, in about a week or so.

On the brighter side: We do have advantages we are thankful for. In our warm climate, we can garden practically year-round, even without a greenhouse. After our summer garden is done and the cool rainy season kicks in, I plan a fall garden of greens, garlic and brassicas. Any winter frosts we might have are usually light, and most likely I will be able to protect my small garden by covering the plants.

Bottom line: in gardening, like in so much else in life, it’s pays off to play to our strengths. Wherever you live, there are plants that grow well in your area and can provide you with a beautiful, functional, easy-to-keep garden.

 

 

Weaning, attachment and separation

The following article was included in my e-booklet, Nurturing Hands

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.