September 1st

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September the 1st, the date so many parents are longingly looking forward to, is upon us. And though homeschooling obviously isn’t the way for every family (though I believe it can be the way for many more families than those practicing it today), I do find it a little sad that not more parents can enjoy the summer vacation with their kids.

Undoubtedly, there is a very practical reason for the collective sigh of relief that is going to sound once the school buses come to take the children away. In most households in Israel, not only do both parents work, but both parents work an increasingly high number of hours (how family friendly this practice is, and whether there are alternatives, is probably a topic for a whole different post). There is a real, big discrepancy between the days children are out of school and the days parents can take off work. Thus begins a merry-go-round of summer camps, summer schools, babysitters, driving the children off to grandparents, and in many cases, leaving them home alone way too long and too early. Every year, parents campaign for the shortening of summer vacation, stating that the education system is out of tune with real life. I’m mainly saddened by the tone of these discussions, which make children appear to have become a liability.

I’m convinced it’s more than that, however. Many parents, even if they can take time off work, just aren’t comfortable with the idea of spending time with their children at home for any length of time. Thus the typical summer crowding of malls, amusement parks and waterparks, zoos, and any place that usually serves to amuse children. Without a home-based routine, summer becomes a time of chaos, and parents understandably feel they want order restored.

We used to have a simple year-round routine when the girls were little(r), but last year we found a small family-based study group in the area, and when it broke up for the summer, while we didn’t experience the school withdrawal symptoms common in most families, I did have to deal with some attitude problems. For example, whenever I tried to teach something, I would hear whining and remarks such as, “this isn’t what summer is for!” To which I would respond, “Oh, right, I forgot – your brains have gone on vacation and stopped working.” A few days were mostly enough to fix this.

I often hear, “don’t your kids drive you up the wall?” and the answer is, of course they do. Kids whine, fight, test their boundaries, and sometimes I do feel like I need out, or I will explode. It’s important to remember, however, that taking a break, while it can be refreshing, does not solve problems. I have had instances when children fought over something silly (“over dead air space”, as a friend of mine aptly puts it), were taken by their dad to the library or the park for distraction, and resumed the same argument the moment they got home!! Now, clearly the solution isn’t to always keep children away from home, or siblings away from each other (preferably on leashes and in cages). Problems need to be addressed and attitudes worked on. And believe me, I have had my moments of utter despondency. I have clutched my hair and yelled myself hoarse, and I know this can be so very hard. I’m just saying that you’ll have to deal with the same problems whether you home educate or not, although admittedly every little issue is magnified when it has been raining for days on end and you’re all cooped up at home day and night.

In Israel, summer vacation is shortly followed by the string of Jewish holidays that leave many parents at a loss again. What I suggest for every family, homeschooling or not, is the cultivation of quiet contentment among children (and parents) that will enable you to stay home together as a family, and entertain yourselves inexpensively by things like reading, crafts, walks, and picnics in parks. I know some families that flat out refuse to put themselves in the heavy traffic flow on the middle days of Sukkot, for example, and they save a whole lot of time, money and frustration. If you do take trips, you needn’t go far – exploring your own area can be more interesting than you think.

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What is enough? Thoughts about spending and debt

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We’ve been staying with my Mom for the last couple of days, and like many times before, I find myself stricken by the contrast between our life and the life of people in town, if only an hour ‘s ride or so away.

My kids are very unused to being cooped up in an apartment 24/7, so naturally, I go out with them a lot. Luckily, there are many beautiful parks in the area where they can run, jump, swing, climb, and take out all their seemingly boundless energy.

One thing that really struck me every time we go out is how much people buy. It seems that possibilities to spend money are endless – clothes, toys, books, any kind of stuff you can imagine, as well as eating out. I hardly know what to think when I see a waitress moving forward with a tray that probably costs as much as we spend on food in a week.

I must be honest, and can’t say the only thing I’m thinking is, “sheesh, how much money are they throwing out, these mindless spenders!” Sometimes I feel a pang of envy, wishing that I, too, could just sit down and order a meal in a cozy cafe without comparing its cost to my grocery budget; or whip out a credit card, walk into a store, and buy heaps of clothes – things that smell beautiful and new and that had been owned by nobody before; and if the size doesn’t fit, why, I can just go to the saleslady and ask for a bigger or smaller one. These are things we have gone totally out of habit of doing, and most of the time I’m not sorry we can’t afford them.

The thing is, judging from statistics on income and poverty, I’m not sure all the people who are caught up in shopping sprees can afford it, either.

Last Shabbat, I participated in a Torah class led by a lady who brought out a variety of very interesting sources, which all seemed to point into one direction, essentially stating that borrowing money and being in debt is wrong from the Jewish point of view, and should be avoided as much as possible. Of course, many people who are not Jewish or even religious at all have come to the same conclusion regardless. The big stumbling block to this principle is, of course, a mortgage, without which buying an apartment is impossible for most Israelis in most parts of the country. When women pointed this out, the lady said that the best compromise she knows of is to take as little a loan as possible and settle for a modest apartment.

Being committed to avoiding debt, we have never taken a mortgage and bought, so far, two houses with cash. They were old and fixer-uppers, and many people would no doubt say they wouldn’t have chosen such a bargain, but I still consider it a good choice. Financial freedom does not come without certain sacrifices.

Would love it if anyone cares to share their thoughts on this.

Chicken Behavioral Problems

Above: a photo of one of our roosters strutting around. This guy has been occasionally known to have some attitude problems, which are quickly adjusted by a well-aimed sweep with a broomstick. Some roosters are a lot more troublesome, however, and may be found incompatible with the backyard flock owner seeking a quiet, peaceful life.

Admittedly, roosters are often the more problematic part of the flock, being noisy, territorial and sometimes aggressive. It is no wonder that the English language boasts of expressions such as “being cocky”. However, I also believe that at least half of all the behavioral management programs in backyard chicken flocks – whether it’s excessive pecking, aggression toward humans or extreme flightiness – can be dealt with by choosing the breed that suits you best.

Read more in my latest Mother Earth News post about chicken behavioral problemsPredators, pests and diseases are not the only challenges a backyard flock owner will have to deal with. Sometimes the problems are originated in the flock itself, and solving them involves lots of creativity, ingenuity and even diplomacy.

Green from the Ground Up: Book Review

Here’s another book spotlight for you: I’ve been reading this for the past few days, and just love it! While it’s mostly aimed at professional builders, anyone can glean from this book. It’s just jam-packed with useful, solid, comprehensive advice on every aspect of green home-building – foundations, roof, windows and the passive solar aspect, insulation, plumbing, etc. Plus, it’s full of photographs that are very illustrative and demonstrate each point very clearly, even to non-professionals. I wish I had this book in print, since I imagine it would be a lot more comfortable to view this way, but anyhow, it’s one of the most useful books I’ve read lately.

Note: I didn’t get any review request or compensation from the author; I just had to share this because I found it so useful.

From a review: “Eco-friendly housing used to be thought of as expensive, ugly or just plain weird. Now it’s becoming common. David Johnston and Scott Gibson offer guidance on environmentally sensitive home building in Green from the Ground Up: Sustainable, Healthy, and Energy-Efficient Home Construction. The book helps builders and homeowners create houses that conserve natural resources and are energy-efficient and healthful. It’s packed with information, tips, illustrations and case studies that offer wisdom earned from experience.”

Late Summer

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August is approaching its middle, and while the days wan steadily shorter, I am looking forward to longer, cooler nights, autumn rains, and the fresh greenery in the landscape that will come with them.

Late summer is always a busy time for me, as I wrap up my spring and early summer garden (and prepare for a second growing season, that will last well into November). Last week, I pulled up my exhausted tomatoes, after having picked the last of the produce, planted some basil, and started more tomato plants indoors. The first spring chicks are almost pullets now, and two of my hens are sitting once more, probably for the last time this season.

The time of the year is turning me into quite a scatterbrain, and concise writing efforts are getting put off for cooler, serener times, but here are two of my latest Mother Earth News posts for your perusal:

Drying Produce – Herbs are one of the easiest things to dry. Simply cut a good-sized bunch, wash it thoroughly, tie by the stems and hang to dry – outside if the weather is sunny, inside if you have frequent rains or live in a very humid climate. In a few days, depending on the weather and humidity level, you should have a bunch of perfectly dry herbs ready to be stored in a tightly sealed glass jar or plastic bag. You can keep them as leaves for tea or crush them into powder for seasoning.

Dealing With House and Garden Pests – Having lived in town for most of my life, I experienced a kind of shock when we married and moved into a little house on a plot of land. The critters that have invaded our premises over the years could form a small menagerie: we’ve had lizards, snakes, black scorpions, giant yellow centipedes, mice, rats, spiders and, of course, a whole host of insects – beetles, ants, woodlice… you name it.

The Everything Guide to Living Off the Grid: Book Review

The Everything Guide to Living Off the: Reid, Terri

I’m now reading The Everything Guide to Living Off the Grid by Terri Reid and, though there are some sections which are obviously irrelevant to me (such as hunting, fishing and raising pigs), I have found this book a veritable treasure trove of useful information on planning a homestead, gardening, keeping livestock, getting and staying out of debt, and much more.

I have read some of the reviews on this title, and while many readers complain that, rather than provide in-depth information, each chapter barely skims the surface of the subject it discusses, I don’t necessarily find this a drawback. Yes, this isn’t a comprehensive guide on gardening AND building a house AND setting up an off-grid energy system – nor could it reasonably be, unless it were ten times longer; it’s more of a read to whet your appetite to learn more about each of these subjects, and make you brainstorm about what might be the right solutions for you on your individual path to sustainable living. In that capacity, it is certainly a useful book.

I would, however, recommend taking everything with a grain of salt, and cross-compare your information by also seeking out other sources, as I have spotted some obvious mistakes in the text; for example, the author states that beekeeping has been around for 150 years, while in fact it is an ancient practice dating thousands of years.

All in all, I would still recommend this to anyone interested in simple living, sustainability and self-reliance, but not as an exclusive and one-in-all guide. My overall rating: 3.5 stars out of 5.

Beautiful hobbit house

I love hobbit houses with lovely rounded corners and natural materials – and, though living entirely off grid seems a little daunting, I’d move into this super cute little house if I only had the chance! Straw bale building fascinates me so much that I’ve been itching to try it for a while now.

It’s a great inspiration to us all to watch people fight back against mass building and insane housing prices by raising shelters that are sustainable, affordable, beautiful and easy to maintain. In Israel, however, the main obstacle in the way of lowering housing prices are the prices of land. Land is scarce (in most regions – some are sadly underpopulated), and there is also the unfortunate phenomenon of widespread land piracy by Bedouins – which, despite the romantic image of the uncivilized nomad, cannot be tolerated in a small country with few and precious land resources (and, indeed, would not be tolerated in any country with a semi-developed legal system).

I hope, and dream, and pray that one day soon, our government will recognize the potential benefits of low-impact living, with eco-friendly building, environmental awareness and reduced energy exploitation, and will encourage people who would choose such a lifestyle, wishing to tread gently and lightly upon the face of this earth.