My mother-in-law has given me a whole bag of yarn which she doesn’t think she’ll use anymore. I haven’t quite decided what I’m going to do with it yet. There isn’t enough for a large project, but I will probably be able to make a hat or scarf or two. The smallest bits will go towards making doll clothes or hair.

I also shared some yarn-related family stories in my latest Mother Earth News post:

“Whenever I go into a yarn shop and look at all the stacks of brand-new colorful yarns of any type you might possibly want, I think of Grandma. What may be a hobby – and not a cheap one, either – to people today was a venue of survival to her.”

Last chicks of the season

Above you can see a hen hanging out with her newly hatched brood – probably the last chicks of the season (along with another brood that it due to hatch in a day or two), since it’s already October and egg production is going to decline as the days shorten.

We’ve experienced many setbacks with our chickens this season. We lost about a dozen chicks to an especially sneaky fox, and among the remaining over half were males. Then a lovely, seemingly healthy point of lay pullet just died unexpectedly. We know many people who gave up on poultry-keeping entirely following such disappointments, but in this area, like in almost everything else, perseverance is essential and will eventually be rewarded.


And this is something I just had to share with you – no, this huge egg isn’t from our chickens. It’s a peacock egg we found on a day trip to a lovely park where these gorgeous birds roam around freely. Unfortunately it didn’t appear to be viable, or we’d take it to put under one of our broodies. It’s beautiful and reminds me of a turkey egg.

Your Own Hands

I’m very excited to share with you that I’ve begun working on a book titled Your Own Hands: Self Reliant Projects for Independent Living. The work is progressing quickly and I have plenty of interesting material to fit in. Prospectively, it will be a book with both a good amount of practical topics and discussion of local and alternative economy. I will give updates on the progress here and on my Facebook page.

As I’m aiming to create something more than a how-to book or social essay, I’m looking for real-life stories to add a more personal dimension, and here is where you come into the picture! If you are a homesteader, organic farmer, artisan, or local business owner; if you’ve built a unique and interesting house, created a productive backyard garden or designed a useful water-recycling system; if, in short, you have a story relating to any aspect of simple, sustainable, self-reliant living, I’d love to hear from you.

Simply write to me through the blog contact form and share your experience, along with your full name, place of residence and, if relevant, a link to your website or social media page.

Cats and chickens – can they coexist?

Read my latest Mother Earth News post to find out how this works for us.


“Our chick season usually starts in spring and lasts throughout the summer. How would we keep our cats from going after baby chicks? Cats don’t usually mess with adult hens, let alone roosters, but chicks and pullets can easily fall prey to them. One way, of course, is to keep the chicks confined in a secure pen or coop until they are big enough to no longer be threatened by cats.

However, our cats and chickens – along with baby chicks – live together harmoniously and, so far, we have not had problems. What I find most interesting is that our cats will, unfortunately, go after birds – but won’t even blink when they see a chick passing right next to them.”

Easy coconut body butter

I got my hands on a nearly-discarded bar of coconut oil in my Mom’s refrigerator. At first I thought it’s some ancient soap, but when I asked and was casually told that “it should probably be thrown out, it has been here for years”, I took it for myself.

The internet is full of wonderful recipes for homemade creams, lotions, butters, balms and scrubs using coconut oil, and the simplest of them is this: just take some coconut oil (in solid consistency – cool it if you need to) and whip it with an electric beater until you get a smooth, airy texture, akin to whipped cream. I tried to do that, but the coconut oil itself was too thick to whip up well. I had to add a glug of almond oil – don’t ask me for quantities, but I think it was about 1 tbsp. of almond oil to 1/2 cup of coconut oil.

By the way, I used almond oil because that’s what I had on hand, but I daresay it’s also possible to use olive, wheat germ or grape seed oil, or whatever you prefer.

When what I had in the bowl resembled whipped cream so much that my daughters begged to lick the beaters, I stopped whipping and scooped what I got into a small wide-mouthed jar, which I refrigerated for an hour or so before transferring it to room temperature. Then I tried the body butter. It has a lovely creamy consistency and feels very pleasant on dry hands. And it cost practically nothing!


In various recipes, I saw that people suggest adding a few drops of essential oils to your skin product. While I imagine a hint of lemon, orange or lemongrass wouldn’t go amiss if I had them on hand, I must say I simply love the pure natural smell of coconut, which is both gentle and delicious.

Result: easy-to-make, very affordable, 100% natural concoction that I wouldn’t hesitate to use even on small children or babies.

Preserving and processing hot peppers

Above: dried hot peppers

As we are still harvesting an abundance of hot peppers, we must think of ways to use up all this bounty before it spoils – or else preserve it for future use.

The easiest way by far to preserve hot peppers is drying them. This can be done in an oven, in a food dehydrator or outside in sunny weather. I don’t have a food dehydrator, so sun-drying and oven-drying are the two options I use.

To dry a batch of hot peppers, first cut them lengthwise and remove the seeds. Careful – wear gloves while handling, because those little capsicums can be treacherous. Place the peppers on a cookie sheet lined with baking paper.

If drying outside, cover the cookie sheet with metal wire, cloth mesh or anything else that will keep birds and insects away but still let sunlight get to the peppers. Place in direct sunlight and turn peppers over every few hours. This process may take several days, depending on the amount of light, degree of heat and humidity.

For oven-drying, place the cookie sheet with the peppers in the oven and turn it on a very low heat. Remember, you don’t want them to be roasted – you just want all the moisture to evaporate. Keep the peppers in the oven, turning from time to time, until they are quite dry and brittle.

At this point, your dry pepper slices can be stored in a tightly sealed jar, where they will keep for a long time. You can also pulverize them in a food processor and make your own hot pepper powder, which you can likewise store in a jar. This powder can be used for seasoning various dishes as is, or made into hot paste or sauce with some salt, fresh or dry herbs and olive oil.


As this will probably be my last post before Rosh Ha-Shana, I’d like to take the opportunity to wish all my Jewish readers a very happy start of this new year.

Preparing for emergencies: water shortages

In my previous post, I discussed what we do during power shortages. Now let’s move on to a situation when the tap isn’t running.

Drinking water – always keep a supply of fresh water on hand for drinking and cooking. A little while ago, a new family moved into the neighborhood and one day when the tap stopped flowing we went to check on them. It turned out that the mother was alone in the house with a nursing baby and had no water to drink. The oppressive heat outside made her reluctant to venture out and ask any of the neighbors for water, so she just sat hoping that the problem would be fixed soon (it wasn’t, until the next day). I dispatched the older children to her house with a couple of water bottles, which were gratefully received – but you don’t want to depend on the kindness of others in such situations.

Flushing the toilet – we have three bathrooms in the house, so the water in the toilet tanks is generally enough for flushing for a day or two, but remember that you don’t have to flush every time (even if it goes sorely against your habits). When there’s no running water, I tell my kids – pardon the details – to only flush when they poop.

Dishes and laundry – the key word here is prevention. Running water issues can be unexpected (a pipe suddenly busting due to excessive heat, for example), so I try not to procrastinate when it comes to dishes and laundry. I do my best to wash dishes right after a meal, and clothes as soon as I have a full load. There are few things more annoying than leaving a sinkful of dishes overnight saying, “I’ll do this tomorrow”, and then tomorrow brings no running water.

Disposable dishes – plastic plates and paper cups are not very classy, economical or environmentally friendly, but when you have no running water for a day or two they can be a sanity saver. Besides, my kitchen cupboards are small and I simply don’t have enough plates for the whole family to keep using for two days straight without the possibility to wash them. I always keep a stash of disposable kitchenware to be taken out as needed.

The garden – this can be a serious issue. 48 hours without water, combined with a heat wave, can easily kill plants, especially those which don’t have deep roots. In such cases, I cover young plants. I also cover some of my garden beds with a mulch of straw to prevent moisture loss.

Finally, I save the water from my baby’s bath and use that for watering the plants. It isn’t much, but it can help tide some plants over until water flows in the pipes again.

I do realize, however, that we need a larger water container for our plants, especially now that our garden is expanding. We are currently planning to set up a greywater tank that will hold all the water from our showers, to use in the garden.tomato

A thriving garden can be killed off very quickly by a combination of heat and lack of water.

Water cisterns – several families in our neighborhood have water cisterns that provide, on average, all their water needs for up to two days. When other people have no running water, they carry on as usual – cooking, bathing, doing laundry – and hardly notice anything is amiss, except perhaps a little reduced water pressure. We are considering making an investment and installing such a cistern, which will eliminate nearly all water-related issues from our lives. The cistern will need to be set up above our house, so that the water runs down by force of gravity.

Electricity and running water are two things that, in the developed world at least, are considered so basic we usually take them for granted. When they are suddenly taken away, people are prone to panic. However, short-term power and water issues are easy enough to deal with, and need not disrupt your daily life – if you are prepared.