Making money from home

Our desire for financial independence, coupled with our wish to have a quiet, gentle, non-money-driven life and a mother at home for the children, has led us down the path of exploring simple,  self-reliant living. A simple life is not necessarily a cheapo life, but it is conductive to saving money in many ways.

We home-educate, so we don’t have daycare or schools fees. I breastfeed, so we never had to buy formula. By regularly checking out thrift stores, we have a reliable source of clothes and household goods, very cheaply. We only have one car, which saves us gas, maintenance and insurance. Our entertainment is simple and usually involves visiting with friends or local, free day trips. Finally, we are currently working on the important aspect of food self-reliance, by raising our own chickens, foraging for free edible goods, and establishing a vegetable garden.

Nevertheless, while saving money is a cornerstone of debt-free living on a small income, sometimes it isn’t enough. Maybe you’re going through a period of increased expenses. Or maybe you just want to make a little extra that would go towards financing a project you’ve long dreamed about. For us, I guess, it’s a bit of both right now, and I’ve been brainstorming some ways of making money from home:

Childcare – this isn’t something I would personally do as a first choice, because frankly, with my three children I’ve got quite enough to be getting on with. But providing childcare is probably the most popular and reliable means of generating extra income from home among stay-at-home mothers around here, either as all-day care for babies or picking up children from school, feeding them lunch and watching them for a couple of hours.

Private tutoring – a foreign language, a proficiency at music or dancing, superior knowledge of mathematics, or any special skill can all be converted into a side income by providing private lessons at your home or in your neighbors’ homes, at your convenience. Of course, if you have little children you will need someone to watch and entertain them while the lesson is going on. Or, if they go to bed early enough, you might teach while they are asleep.

Coaching and counseling – I have done nutritional counseling and coaching, one on one and in group settings, right in my living room. With young children I haven’t been able to do it on a regular basis, but I look forward to having more time, and hopefully more space, in the future. Any kind of coaching or counseling can be done from home, though again this might not always be compatible with full-time parenting of little ones.

Selling your surplus produce – if you have an established homestead, with a seasonal surplus of vegetables, eggs, milk or animals, you can sell what you produce. The key is to find customers for what you offer. We tried doing that with fresh eggs last year – we had more than we could use, but people just weren’t interested. So we decided to thin out our flock a bit to make it more sustainable, and lo and behold! People just lined up to buy productive hens for their back yard, and asked us to contact them if we have more birds for sale in the future. It sure was a nice surprise. This year we hope to raise some extra chicks to sell at the end of the season.

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Above: Black Brahma/New Hampshire chicks, which will hopefully grow into nice big birds, to be sold at a good price at some point

Selling things you make – women around here and all over the world sell their homemade bread, baked goods, candles, soaps, body care products, home-sewn baby slings, toys and nursing covers, and more. It’s possible to expand this into a group tutorial: for example, people who have bought your artisan bread and liked it might be willing to pay for acquiring the skill of making it on their own. It is possible to advertise in local newspapers, and Etsy has opened a whole new world of possibilities for hand-crafters.

Selling your art – if you are the artsy type, your hobby might just redeem itself financially and become a source of income. Around here we have painters, glass-blowers, and jewelry-makers. Again, group tutorials might be an attraction as well. If I had the possibility, I’d love to learn beading. A friend of mine, Jenny, set up a successful home business selling her cute painted rocks.

Writing – I write fiction, love it and hope to get a publishing deal someday, but I realize it’s a long, slow process with lots of competition and I can’t put all my eggs in one basket. So I’m also looking at possibilities of writing articles, website content, and doing English/Hebrew translations.

These are just a few ideas I’ve come up with. I’d love to hear yours.

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Processing prickly pears

Prickly pear season is here, and my husband got a big bunch very cheaply, from someone who picked them off the hedge on his property. When he came home with the loot, I foolishly forgot that the prickly pear is – well, prickly – and carelessly grabbed one. I had a quick, painful reminder of the fact that the prickly pear, actually the fruit of the opuntia cactus, is full of tiny fiberglass-like spines called glochids, which very easily get embedded in the skin and are very difficult to dislodge. Soaking my hand in warm water helped get most of them out, though, and I carefully proceeded to look for a pain-free way of utilizing this unusual fruit.

Rule number one: don’t touch the skin of the prickly pear with your bare hands. Wear thick gloves or, as I did, use tongs. 

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While holding the prickly pear down with tongs, use a knife to cut off the edges (“top” and “bottom”) of the fruit. Then cut several slits, length-wise, in the skin and pry it off with the tip of the knife. It’s a little tricky at first, but you’ll get the hang of it.

Briefly wash your peeled prickly pear under a running tap, to make sure any glochids that might have stuck to the fruit are washed away. You don’t want them in your tongue!

At this point you can eat the prickly pears fresh, or juice them. To make juice, I first mashed the fruit with a potato masher, then strained the whole mess. The juice is great as part of cold beverages, and can also be made into syrup or jelly. The remaining seeds, mash and peels make a great treat for chickens (or, if you don’t have chickens, they can be composted).

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Mashing the prickly pears

I do have to say, though, that the whole process is somewhat labor-intensive: a whole lot of fruit gives comparatively little juice. Since the season of the prickly pear is short, it’s alright as a once-a-year project, but I wouldn’t do it on a regular basis.

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Above: prickly pear juice, for a refreshing cold drink or for making syrup or jelly. I love its bright orange color. 

I miss dairy goats

We used to keep dairy goats, and the milk, cheese and yogurt were really fabulous. Unfortunately, we were forced to give up on goat-keeping because of a combination of several factors: our goats repeatedly escaped and caused damage, and we knew we must either invest in a sturdier barn and extensive fencing or let them go. Since we were on the point of moving and everything was so uncertain, we chose the latter option. However, I do miss these cute, fun and useful animals and wish and hope we can have some goats again someday.

Also, we do love dairy products of all kinds, and milk, cheese and butter form a large slice of our grocery store bill every week. I sure would love to eliminate this expense – not to mention gain healthier, more wholesome, better tasting dairy products.

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Above: a goat kid born to one of our does two summers ago. His mother was a wonderful milker, prolific and patient

Because dairy animals of any kind are a major commitment, however, I don’t want to rush things. I know I want to go back to keeping dairy goats, and I know my husband does too, and I have a feeling that G-d is leading us in the right direction and it will happen eventually, at its proper time. And with the proper considerations, too:

  1. Housing. A goat barn needs to be sturdier than a chicken coop, with the possibility to lock the goats in if needed, and provide adequate shelter. There’s no way I’m ever getting into goat-keeping again without a very solidly made barn and goat run!
  1. Fencing. Goats are notorious for leaping over fences. If there’s even a slight possibility of doing so, they will find their way into your neighbors’ flower beds and get you in a very unpleasant situation (ask me how I know). Be a responsible neighbor and keep your animals securely fenced.
  1. Pasture. How much you can rely on pasture to feed your dairy animals will depend on the extent of your acreage and your climate. In Israel, the lean season is the summer, when everything is parched and dry. In colder climates winter is the hardest season. When you don’t have adequate pasture, you will need to buy hay and that can get expensive. You can also supplement the diet of your goats by giving them fruit and vegetable peels and weeds from your garden.
  1. Commitment. Once you have a dairy animal, it needs to be milked daily. If you need to be away for a day or two, you must make arrangements with someone to come and do the milking for you (though we could work around that by letting the goat kids have all the milk while we were gone). Also, if you have a high yield of milk, you will need to dispose of it by making cheese, yogurt, etc, on a daily basis, and this may be inconvenient at times. If you have several goats who produce a lot of milk and you skip a day of cheese-making, you may find your refrigerator overflowing with milk.
  1. Breeding. Unlike chickens, goats need to be bred to be productive; that is, a goat will not produce milk until after she’s kidded. You will need to breed at least once a year, and if you’re very small-scale, like us, keeping a buck may be inconvenient, in which case you will need to make arrangements to take your does to be bred, or borrow/rent a buck on a temporary basis. We have done it in the past, and we were lucky enough to have a friend within a short distance who had a good breeding buck and was willing to host our does for their “honeymoon” and then bring them back, but not everyone is so fortunate.

So are we getting back into goat-keeping anytime soon? Honestly, I don’t know. It will depend on our budget, time, how much longer we stay at this house, and more factors all of which are very uncertain. But I do have a feeling my milking and cheese-making days aren’t over, and that one day, two or three dairy does will make a valuable addition to our little homestead and take us one step further down the road to self-sustainability.

Garden update

As we’re just starting out (with baby steps) on our gardening journey, we aren’t expecting an outstanding harvest from the garden this season. So far, it’s more of a learning experience for us – we want to find out what grows well in our area, what works, what doesn’t, how to deal with pests, how often and how much to water, etc. And of course, we’re having a lot of fun – and learning loads – along the way.

We have very heavy, dense clay soil, so we splurged and bought some bags of garden soil which is lovely, but expensive. In the meantime, I have started a compost pile using kitchen scraps, garden clippings and manure from the chicken coop. It’s small, but I’m adding to it constantly and hope that in a few months, it will provide us with some valuable fertilizer. I know I should probably water and turn it more often, but hey, it’s organic material. It will break down, right?

We also have tons of rocks, so clearing even a bit of space for planting involves lots of rock-picking. I’ve utilized some of the larger, prettier ones for garden beds, as you can see below.

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My little cherry tomato and pepper seedlings are now outside, and growing like weeds with plenty of water and sunshine. I do provide shade for them during the hottest hours of the day, from about midday till 3 PM. I do it simply by pulling an old sheet over their wire cages (I put the cages in to discourage cats and chickens from digging around the plants) and holding it down with rocks. I expect the need for that will be over once the plants mature a bit and put in deeper roots.

Our pepper plants (thriving and putting out flowers!), cherry tomato seedlings, and sage. 

We’ve also planted more herbs: sage, rosemary and spearmint. I love the smell of mint when I water it at the end of a long, hot day. And I have some coriander started in pots. We use a lot of coriander in cooking and it loses its freshness very quickly, so it’s really something that pays off to grow ourselves.

Gardening is more enjoyable than I ever thought it would be!

Food that makes you hungry

While I was studying for my degree in nutrition, a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet was strongly emphasized. We did some obsessive calculations to make sure our menus do not contain more than 30% of calories from fat (this may not seem very low, but it is when you consider that fat contains twice more calories, per weight unit, than protein or carbohydrates). Cholesterol was to be feared, hated and avoided at all costs: thus, low-fat meat and dairy products, yolk-less omelettes, and not a word about cream and butter.

On the other hand, there was a surprisingly lenient attitude towards sugar and refined carbohydrates, and in general the outlook on food was very skeletal, taking into account primarily the basic units of calories, carbohydrates, protein and fat. The underlying message was that it’s acceptable to eat an overprocessed, nutrient-deficient diet and compensate for it with supplements and artificially enriched foods. Some of our professors went even as far as to say that in the modern world, it’s virtually “impossible” to get all the essential nutrients without a multivitamin supplement.

My attitude is vastly different today, years after I first came across Nourishing Traditions and other literature that emphasized the deficiencies of modern nutrition. I am now an advocate for wholesome foods prepared in the home kitchen from basic natural ingredients and consumed in their whole, unrefined state. I quit being a vegetarian, we eat a lot more animal fat than we used to, particularly more butter, and in about five or six years since starting this dietary change, we haven’t seen an increase in either weight or cholesterol levels.

The low-fat dietary trend does seem to be sputtering out in the professional circles, but decades of propaganda aren’t so easy to ignore. A lot of people are still wary of eggs and think margarine is superior to butter because it doesn’t contain cholesterol. On the other hand, there is little discussion of how to avoid refined sugar, and the prevalent opinion is that a bit of indulgence in that quarter is harmless unless you are a diabetic. What people don’t seem to realize is that type 2 diabetes doesn’t just spring out of the blue; it takes years of unhealthy eating and insulin imbalance to get there, and if you indulge in sugar, you are at risk.

Reading Sugar Blues, by William Dufty, made me acknowledge two important facts: one, sugar really is addictive, and two, I’m one of the addicts.

For many, many people, eating one square of chocolate, one cookie or one scoop of ice-cream isn’t enough. They want more and more, until they feel sick. There are two reasons for this. The first is that eating sugar causes an upsurge of insulin, which makes sugar enter the cells quickly: thus, the blood sugar level peaks and then quickly drops, making you want to eat more sugar. When your blood sugar is low, you feel hungry; sugary foods will never make you full and satisfied in a healthy, wholesome way.

The second reason is that sugar acts upon a reward center in the brain. “Normal” food acts upon it too, making us feel satisfied after a good meal, but sugary food has a more powerful effect. And when you get used to sugar, it gets more and more difficult to stimulate the reward center with normal food (just like in Narnia, when Edmund wants nothing but Turkish Delight after tasting the enchanted sweet). It takes a period of detox to rewire your brain and make it possible to appreciate and enjoy simple basic food again.

Sugar addiction is not of a kind to make you crouch in a dark alley, looking for a dealer. It isn’t about to send you into rehab or make the social workers take your children away. The stuff is waiting for you everywhere – at supermarket aisles, coffee shops, family dinners, children’s birthday parties. It looks innocent and inviting and is socially sanctioned. Nevertheless, if you spend hours thinking of and longing for the dessert you are going to eat, or battling your sweet cravings, that is addiction.

What I find really helpful is to have alternative “reward foods” around in place of sugar – fresh and dried fruit, unsweetened fruit leathers, nuts of all kinds, good cheese, very dark chocolate with no added sugar. These take away the emotional aspect of feeling deprived when you can’t have your favorite treats. I do hope that my husband will become, in time, as convicted about the issue of sugar and refined carbohydrates as I am, and that these unhealthy foods will disappear from our pantry shelves forever.

Because of early conditioning, I am probably going to continue fighting my sugar cravings for the rest of my life. But at least now I know what I’m up against, and also how important it is to win this battle. A chocolate bar is on one side of the scale. On the other side are my health, strength, well-being, energy and mood. Put this way, the choice really is obvious.

Foraging for edible goods

There’s an ongoing debate about whether growing your own food in your backyard is really profitable (in terms of money – there’s no doubt it’s healthy, educational and satisfying). If you are aiming for a productive vegetable garden that will reduce your grocery bill, it is important to stay focused on the goal, as with the prices of seeds/plants, potting soil and water, the scale really may tip.

Fortunately, no such considerations exist when it comes to foraging for wild-growing bounty – whether actually wild plants or domesticated species that grow in your area with little to no help from anyone. There’s no excuse not to pick up good food that is right there for the taking!

Every fall, our family gathers olives to pickle, from trees that had been once planted by someone but are now untended. There’s also a bounty of grapes, pomegranates, figs and carobs – all plants that grow well locally, require minimal water and care, and keep producing almost without effort once they are up and going. There are also old, productive pecan trees most people don’t bother with, because they like their pecans shelled and neatly packaged.

Figs are my favorites – they are easy to pick and process, delicious eaten fresh or made into jam or pie filling, and I love them dried, too, though I have not yet been able to gather enough for drying.

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Photo: the first figs of the season are ripe, and there are plenty more to come!

Furthermore, in many urban neighborhoods there are citrus trees planted for decorative purposes, which are actually insanely productive. Most people don’t bother picking those oranges and grapefruits because they somehow think the effort is beneath them or just not worth it. A year and a half ago, we spent a memorable morning picking miniature oranges. Though January, it was a warm day, and I was fagged soon – no wonder, as my son Israel was born a little more than 24 hours later! The oranges kept in the refrigerator for several weeks without spoiling, and they were still in perfectly good condition when I finally recovered from giving birth and found the time to make jam out of them.

Another local fruit to be picked around here for free is the prickly pear, an introduced species that has done so well in Israel it has become one of the symbols of the country. It grows practically everywhere, and its season is almost here now. Those who live in Western US and Mexico are surely familiar with it as well.

In every area of the world there is some wild food growing free for the taking, to be enjoyed by all who can appreciate the thrill of getting delicious goodies with very little effort: greens, fruit, nuts, berries, mushrooms. So why not pick up a basket and go exploring? Lots of fresh produce is waiting out there, all for free.

By the way… I am now on Earthineer. You can find me there as SmallFlocksMom. I’d love to connect with you! 

The secrets of soap

I had wanted to make soap for a long time, but was stopped by the mysterious ingredient called “lye”. I had no idea what it was or where to obtain it… until by pure chance, I discovered that lye is actually the caustic soda we always keep on hand to take care of severely clogged pipes.

We also had a bottle of olive+unspecified vegetable oil we once bought to light Hanukkah candles and discarded because it smoked. So it just sat for years on our pantry shelf, not fit for human consumption, lighting, or much of anything really. It was the perfect candidate for my soap-making attempt.

I started reading about soap-making and realized it’s a whole science/art, with all sorts of oil combinations with different properties, essential oils, etc. I decided to just do something basic for starters. I followed a very simple recipe, omitting the essential oil and using, instead of the different oils, the one I had on hand.

I’m far from figuring out all the intricacies of soap-making just yet. I didn’t use a scale. My measurements might not have been 100% accurate. My batch of soap never showed a proper “trace” and took forever to set. There was probably too much liquid. Nevertheless, the oil did turn into soap and I was thrilled, because I made something useful out of something useless.

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Above: soap cut into bars and set out to cure

These soap bars might not look very shapely, but I’m making good use of them for laundry. I cut off a piece of appropriate size and simply place it in a little mesh bag, which I then toss in with the load of clothes. It really works! It doesn’t have the potency of a commercial laundry detergent, but it’s fine for clothes that are slightly sweaty/dirty.

I intend to go on and learn more about making soap, and will keep you posted as I progress.