Does Self-Reliance Pay Off?

Not long ago, as I was working in the tomato patch, my 8-year-old strolled over and asked, “why bother growing tomatoes? Buying at the store is easier.”

This is a legitimate question, and one many people much older than her have asked. Why should anyone bother growing their own tomatoes, raising their own chickens, mending their own clothes and repairing their own plumbing? Well, one can easily come up with half a dozen ready answers, such as, “it’s fun”, or “I can grow healthier food in my backyard”, or “I like tinkering with my own stuff”, or “I save money that way”, but at the core, this is a conflict between two basic attitudes; one that is for making more money, which can be turned into goods and services, and another, that is for making do with less money, and meeting more of your needs on your own.

Read more on the topic in my latest Mother Earth News post:

“Products and services that are readily available today might not be so in the near future. It is the belief of many wise people that our current economy is not sustainable. I do not have the ability to predict whether we are facing something like the Great Depression in the near future, or simply economical fluctuations, or even nothing at all – but it’s good to be prepared. In case prices go up and store shelves empty, the people who know how to grow their own food, fix their own roof and make a little go a long way will be a lot more comfortable than those who have become used to a lifestyle of frivolous spending.”

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Staying safe

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Israel, where beauty and danger, joy and grief walk side by side.

From reading my blog, it’s sometimes possible to forget I live in Israel… I can admit that I forget this myself sometimes as I dig in the garden or scatter some grain to the chickens – at those moments it feels like I might be anywhere.

However, there are moments when reality hits, brutally. Just last Friday night, a terrorist walked into the midst of a family celebration and stabbed three people to death. I do wish I hadn’t seen the photos of the murder scene. They haunt me day and night.

There is an important point which doesn’t come up, in my opinion, nearly often enough when this subject is discussed – namely, that the terrorist didn’t break in or even climb in through the window. He walked in through the front door, which was unlocked.

The Fogel family in Itamar, about whom I can’t ever stop thinking and hurting, actually went to sleep with the front door unlocked, because a teenager was late coming home, and they didn’t want to sit up for her, or be bothered to open in the middle of the night. Five people lost their lives, including a four-month-old baby.

When I pointed this out, people turned on me: am I blaming the victims?! And the answer is no, no, and no. Absolutely not. I believe that the murdering beasts should be shot on the spot. Unless they are tortured first, which I would entirely support. Do I blame a girl who walks alone at night for getting raped? No. But I still say that it’s wiser and more prudent to thwart danger by, say, choosing a different route.

I’m merely saying this: let’s not make it any easier for those who try to do us harm. Locking doors and windows is basic, common vigilance. People living in town always do it on account of housebreaking. But somehow, people in settlements, who have so much more to fear, neglect this simple precaution.

Lock your doors and windows. I repeat; lock your doors and windows. Do it during the day and during the night. I always do. It doesn’t matter if I’m going to sleep or not. The convenience of just being able to tell a neighbor “come in” rather than go and open the door is insignificant compared to the terrible risk. And I don’t open doors to strange men when my husband isn’t present. I don’t care if people think I’m weird or rude. Safety first.

I do hope that one day, we will live in a world where no one has to bother about whether the door is locked or not; and most certainly, where no one pays with their life for neglecting to lock the door or window. But for now, the most important thing is to stay safe.

Super Simple Cheese

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While dreaming of full-blown homesteading and dairy animals (and I do believe that dreams attract reality!), I quench my craving for home dairying and cheesemaking by making this very simple cream cheese. It’s super easy to make and really delicious – puts me in mind of those cream cheeses that are usually too expensive for us to buy.

To make it, take sour cream and yogurt in half and half proportion (as much as you like), add salt/pepper/dill/garlic to taste (keep in mind that the cheese will become more concentrated in taste when it’s done, as liquids will drip), mix everything thoroughly and place in a cheesecloth over a strainer and bowl.

Tie up cheesecloth and leave overnight. In the morning, your cheese should be of nice, spreadable consistency.

Refrigerate and consume within a couple of days. Enjoy!

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!