An update and a book review

First off, I would like to thank all the amazing people who left me comments and private messages following my last post. We are slowly coming to terms with the tragedy, and I was finally able to sleep a whole night. Above all, I’m praying for strength for my poor friend and her children, and for wisdom for our government, who must finally wake up and understand that the only way to increase its citizens’ safety is by harsh measures and an unapologetic stance, rather than by finessing and beating around the bush and PC talk.

In the sleepless nights that have been my share this past week, I’ve been reading John Seymour’s The Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency. There’s nothing to take one’s mind off things like reading about malting or raising goats. Though much of the information in there will never be relevant for us (such as anything that has to do with raising pigs and rabbits), I’m loving the book; it’s the ultimate, most well-rounded and practical DIY guide to all things a homesteader, on whatever scale, might need, from tilling land to baking bread, from building fences to raising and managing livestock, and everything in between. Sure, it branches off into chapters that have enough fodder for specialized books on their own, and the savvy reader can find manuals that focus on, say, just animals (such as, for instance, my The Basic Guide to Backyard Livestock, and other, more detailed works) but it’s the best introductory condensed guide to self-sustainability I’ve read so far.

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It could have been us. Or you.

Last night, a friend and neighbor of ours was brutally murdered by a cruel and cowardly terrorist, and while I can’t either think, speak or write about anything else this morning, I hardly know how to begin talking about this either.

It all began very trivially for us last evening. We were on our way home from my Mom’s, and I was irritated with my husband for stopping by to make some unnecessary little purchases, rather than drive straight home, while I was tired and (as usually these days, being in the third trimester) in need of a bathroom.

In retrospect, these few minutes of delay were just what prevented us from being on the spot while the terrorist was driving by. A little earlier, and the news could be reporting of several victims, not one.

So, as we were approaching home, I saw several private vehicles lined up, and a military jeep close by, with soldiers questioning someone. “Another patrol,” I sighed, thinking in frustration of this extra delay. That is, until I saw the ambulance. And a car with the front window all shattered with what looked like bullet marks aimed at the driver.

My heart sank. I knew that car.

Still, I was frantically praying, “please not them, not this family”, while in the utter chaos that reigned on the scene, we were checked, cleared, and told to drive on very carefully. A couple of hours later, we had already heard the heart-shattering news – that today, we are to attend the funeral of a friend with whom we stopped to chat only yesterday, thinking little it would be our last conversation.

The roles could have been reversed. It could have been us. It could have been anyone driving by in a car with an Israeli license plate.

I hardly know how to conclude this post, except perhaps with this: every day, Muslim terrorists prey upon roads in the West Bank, looking to shoot, stone, burn or run over unarmed Jewish civilians who seem to be the easiest prey. Every day, They know that, once caught, they have nothing more to fear than a stay in prison in the conditions of a passable hotel, where their “human rights” will be ensured by the hawk’s eye of humanitarian organizations, where they can pursue academic degrees at leisure, and from where, finally, they can hope to get out by some political-propaganda-fueled “gesture of goodwill” on part of our idiotic government. As long as they are in prison, their families receive generous pensions funded by sleekly run, well-funded Muslim and European organizations. Once they are out, they are celebrated as heroes, and can go back to their career of murdering innocents.

There is no death sentence, for anyone, ever (since Adolf Eichmann, at least), even if they were caught red-handed in the act and laughed and boasted in the face of the court. I say this needs to change. I hope it will change, so that Jewish blood can no longer be shed with impunity.

If you will, please pray for the widow and six children, aged from 11 to 8 months, who were left bereft by the horrors of last night.

Hand-raising baby chicks

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There’s something comforting, in the middle of winter, in planning on running the incubator and raising baby chicks that will be let out into the great outdoors once the warm weather comes. It’s a bit like browsing a seed catalog while a winter storm is howling outside.

I can tell you there are some breeds I can’t wait to get my hands on – start a pure-bred flock of Marans or Speckled Sussex, and look forward to the possibility of obtaining some good-quality eggs from breeders I know, in a month or two. Read more in my latest Mother Earth News post:

“We are big proponents of breeding and raising chicks the natural way, with broody hens, but sometimes running the incubator or ordering a batch of baby chicks can have definite advantages – such as, for example, the ability to monitor valuable eggs extra carefully, and to give your flock a head start in the spring. If you are not averse to the idea of keeping chicks indoors for a few weeks, your February babies may well be ready for the outdoors as early as March or April, depending on your local weather – at about the time when your hens are just thinking of getting back to laying.”

Debt-free life and peace of mind

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An important part of simple, peaceful life is discharging your debts; not always easy, as circumstances can be different, but it is an essential. And when I say debt, I include mortgage in the definition as well; I’m not saying a mortgage is always wrong, and never acceptable, but today people tend to forget that mortgage really is a state of debt; that a mortgage means one is not really an owner of one’s home, or at least, an owner only conditionally – because if something happens and the payment cannot be made (in a case, say, of an illness and/or unemployment), the owners face a very real danger of losing their home.

Owning the roof above one’s head, free and clear, is therefore an important part of one’s peace of mind. If your home is your own (as much as any earthly possession can truly be our own), a reduction or loss of income is, of course, a blow – but at least you have your safe haven, which is yours, and you don’t owe anyone anything for being under that roof.

Having said that, I will allow myself a little vent and say that, at least in Israel, paying for a home without a mortgage is a near-impossibility, as the prices of land, and consequently housing, are very, very high. Most young families – unless they are fortunate enough to inherit property, or to have parents who can assist them in a very material way – face being bogged down by very considerable, suffocating debt.

Is there no cheap land or housing to be found here? To be sure there is; and we did find it when we were first married, even though it wasn’t exactly the home of our dreams, and we have moved since. We rented for a couple of years, and these days we once more live in a home we have bought outright, no mortgage. It was hard, hard to find and involved many compromises, but we did it. When people here are rioting for “affordable housing”, I think they ought to amend and say they actually mean, “affordable housing in the tiny over-crowded piece of land that comprises most of the country’s population” – which, in all fairness, I don’t think possible. Yes, there are sparsely populated areas with affordable housing – but the problem is, to live in such an area means fewer opportunities of employment.

Obviously, each situation is unique, but there may be several options. Working from home, or mainly from home, is one; re-considering the possible length of commute is another – some people park their cars at the nearest train station, and make the chief of their daily journey by train. Or a family may move to a less expensive area as a temporary measure, to obtain low rent, and scrimp and save for a few years to be able to buy a home in a better area with no or lower mortgage.

Another thing I wish for is that we weren’t so bogged down with the difficulty of building regulations. Say “Israel” and “building” in one phrase, and you’re up to political flare-up. These difficulties, along with government avarice, have caused housing prices to soar in recent years. For illustration, the little house we had bought back when we first married (and since sold at twice the price), now costs five times more than it had a decade ago. Did the salaries rise five times over, on average? No, of course not. They stayed more or less the same. Thus the housing issue continues to be really, really tough, and people keep looking for creative solutions.

I believe there is no real solution but a government decision to take the plunge and make use of the abundant land in politically controversial area. In the meantime, people will have to keep searching high and low for individual housing, financial and employment solutions, and pave their own way towards freedom and debt reduction.

Turning 3

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My dear little boy is leaving toddlerhood behind and turning 3 tomorrow. Where does the time go?! This year his birthday falls on Friday, the very day on which he was born, just a few minutes before Shabbat, in fact. We barely had time to call my mom and say congratulations.

We have felt your absence so much, dear sweetheart, before you arrived to make our world brighter, and we’ve been thankful ever since that G-d chose to give you to us, and not to anybody else.

So happy birthday, Israel. I love you more than the whole world ten times over.

A winter day in Israel

Winter in Israel is the pleasant rainy season with lush grass and flowers that are at their most prolific sometime mid-February. Here in the hills we have the occasional frost and snow, and a great deal of wind, but many winter days are very inviting, tempting us to focus on outdoor chores and spend most of the daylight hours outside.

As you can see, the hills are gradually turning from brown to green, and our bedding is hanging out in the light breeze after a big rain.

Our chickens are enjoying a run outside, reveling in the abundance of fresh grass and bugs. The weather has been so pleasant that they have gone on laying, though daylight is now at its lowest ebb, and we are relatively well supplied with eggs, compared to previous winters.

Those of you who are now shoveling snow and melting ice for their chickens to drink probably think we have a really cushy life, but wait until the summer with its dust storms and heat! In the meantime, I wish you all nice weather and an enjoyable festive season.

The emotional side of financial pitfalls

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I talk a lot on this blog about frugal strategies, saving money and financial independence, but there is another aspect, no less important, of financial difficulties – the emotional side of the matter. It isn’t enough to say, “OK, so we’ll tighten the belts and get over it”. Often financial challenges come with a heavy emotional baggage that needs to be dealt with.

Insecurity. The feeling of walking on rotten ice. Will things ever stabilize? What will happen tomorrow, in a year, or two, or ten?

Fears, some of them totally irrational and/or with little base in current reality. What if the washing machine breaks down tomorrow? What if the house needs repairs we can’t afford? How are we going to contribute towards our children’s future education/weddings?

Anger and resentment, towards all those people who can just walk into a store and buy whatever they need, without thinking about money.

You might end up in an emotional state that really warrants therapy, but the trouble is, if you’re really in the financial trenches, you probably won’t be able to afford it, and you might hold back from talking about your troubles with friends so that you won’t be taken for someone negative, or worse, someone who is indirectly asking for financial support.

Self-care is imperative. Eat as well as you can, keep up your personal hygiene, exercise (walking and running don’t cost anything), keep up hobbies and activities that make you feel good and don’t cost money. For me, this is usually writing, or finding a creative recycling project I can do at no cost, such as making candles out of old wax or soap out of old oil.

Keep a lookout towards the future. When things are at their low, it’s sometimes easy to forget all the many ways the situation can improve over time: a new job, a business opportunity, inheritance you can reasonably look forward to, ways to reduce one’s dependence on the money economy altogether. It really is tough to look ahead and think you are always going to be stuck when the cold season comes and you don’t have enough money to buy shoes, that you will never be able to afford good-quality, varied food in abundance (true, sardines and bone broth go a long way, but sometimes you really crave an expensive steak). Don’t think this way, because there’s no rational basis to it. Sometimes one really has to live day to day.

And, as a believer, I always keep my eyes on G-d and His divine guidance, which has never forsaken us so far. Indeed, we have experienced many small miracles, from unexpected gifts of furniture to finding a bag of almost-new children’s clothes just when we needed them most.

If you become depressed, you might miss out on opportunities to improve your situation as you wallow in misery and don’t dare to look up from the ground. So keep an eye on that. Whenever getting out of bed or tackling daily routines seems difficult, do all you can to get help and support, because this isn’t normal.

It’s tougher when you have children depending on you. I’ve sometimes found it hard to strike a balance between being open and honest, and not overburdening little children with circumstances beyond their control. I know my children are aware of the value of money, because we aren’t ashamed to say, “We won’t buy this because we can’t afford it.” They don’t seem traumatized or worried. But avoid making it seem as though the family is on the brink of disaster, because children can be extremely sensitive and become prone to anxiety.

Financial difficulties aren’t a picnic, but with wise strategy and cautious optimism, you can pull through towards a better future.