Saving and survival in hard times

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Our family has been struggling with financial difficulties for some time now, and what has enabled us to survive, stay out of debt and keep our heads above water are, among other things, these money-saving strategies:

1. Food: we keep chickens for eggs, have a herb garden, and grow and gather some seasonal produce, but naturally, this isn’t enough for all our needs. We have learned to choose the cheapest and most nutritious foods we can get, and cook long-lasting, economical meals such as soups and stews.

We stockpile and try to venture out shopping less often, making do with what we have in the house. The less you pop into stores, the less you will buy!

Another useful strategy is, whenever you find a defect in any store-bought product, don’t pass, complain. If you word your complaint right, you might get not just a refund, but all sorts of coupons and gift cards as compensation. Lately we have complained about a bag of wormy rice, and got two bags of rice and a bunch of canned goods as a gesture of goodwill.

2. Utility bills: reexamine your electricity and water usage and scrimp as much as you can. We have a solar water heater and I try to make do with it even in winter – we still have enough sunny days to shower every other day or so. Shocked? A daily shower is a privilege, not a need, especially in winter (in summer, we have plenty of hot water from the solar heater to shower every day). Wash full loads of laundry, line-dry your clothes, turn off lights and appliances, and wear extra layers of clothes rather than heat your house.

3. Gas: gas and car maintenance are expensive. Stay home as much as you can. Schedule all your errands for one day. Try to get people to drive over to see you, rather than go to them.

If you live in an area with reliable public transportation, consider going without a car. We can’t do without a car, unfortunately, and furthermore, we’ll have to upgrade in the near future as we grow to be a family of six and a standard 5-seat vehicle is no longer enough for us. Of course, we’ll sell our current car to help fund the next one.

4. Clothes and shoes: hand-me-downs and thrift stores will keep you clothed for next to nothing, and often you can get very nice brand-name gently used clothes that will last a great deal longer than cheap new clothes you might have bought at the mall.

5. Housing costs: if you rent or are paying a mortgage, it’s a huge, stress-inducing drain in hard times. Many people have been able to downsize to a smaller, cheaper, easier to maintain home, without any material reduction of comfort. We are lucky enough to own our home free and clear, but unfortunately, the local taxes are killing us. We are praying for an opportunity to sell and move to an area with lower local taxes.

6. Health: we have reexamined our health insurance to get a more affordable plan that covers nearly as much. It’s still a huge expense, and we might have to give it up altogether if things don’t improve soon, because it’s absurd to have a health insurance and starve, but for now we’re holding on.

At the same time, keep yourself in as good health as possible, because depression and physical weakness make it more difficult to handle a financial crisis. Eat as well as you can, get your sleep, be out in the fresh air, and take exercise in the form of walks, riding a bicycle, or working in the garden. It’s healthy and free.

7. Shopping and entertainment: just close your pocket and don’t buy anything you can survive without. Limit your entertainment to free stuff – walks, hikes, bonfires, friendly get-togethers – and moreover, stuff that is within walking distance or a very short drive, because gas costs money too, remember? Swap books with friends or use the library, reexamine your mobile phone and internet plans, and if you still have cable TV, cancel it.

8. Alternative money making sources: as important as saving is, sometimes you also need to think how you can earn a little extra. My husband fixes computers while he’s getting his company established, while I write fiction and nonfiction, do freelance editing and proofreading, translate, and do occasional nutrition counseling for people who are prepared to make it to my neck of woods.

It’s hard when you’re on a tight budget, but it’s possible to survive and even thrive by judicious management. Read more on frugal living strategies here.

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Counting the weeks

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Weeks are slipping by, and before I could see this coming, I’m already past the halfway of my pregnancy – around 22 weeks along. I’m due at the end of March which might not tell you much if you’re not Jewish, but this year it roughly coincides with the Pesach holiday – the most frantic time of the year in Jewish households all over the world.

I’m sure it’s going to be challenging. One of the names of Pesach is “the liberty holiday”, and I can fully identify with it as each year, I lift my arms up in prayer and thank G-d for finally bringing this day about and delivering me from the frantic incessant cleaning of cupboards, kitchen appliances, and any nook and cranny you can imagine.

Doing it while 9 months pregnant? I haven’t tried this yet, but it sure might help labor kick in. Oh, and I won’t be able to stock my freezer with ready meals either, because anything cooked in non-Pesach utensils would be of course tossed out before the holiday. And where am I going to spend the holiday itself? In L&D, in the maternity ward, at home with a newborn? Who’s going to cook? In short, I look forward to going through this and living to tell the tale.

In the meantime, here’s a little flashback to some three years ago, when I was expecting Israel to arrive any day:

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“Being just a few days before my due date, I’m of course busy with things like washing tiny clothes and packing my hospital bag, but if you ask what I’ve been doing most of all in the past month and a half, the answer would be, fretting and worrying about the upcoming birth.

All sorts of crazy thoughts are swirling in my brain:

How on earth do babies come out of there? It doesn’t make any sense! (Never mind that I’ve had two babies come out just that way, with no complications, very straightforward. I think I can have ten babies and never fully grasp the sheer miracle of it.)

Whatever made me think I can do this? I’m sure I can’t. It will kill me. My body will fall apart. (Again, never mind I’ve already done this and was up and about the next day).

I don’t want to be there. It’s not the pain I’m afraid of, it’s the enormity of the act itself, it’s just freaking scary. I don’t want to be aware of what is happening to me. Someone please put me under general anesthesia and wake me up when the baby has arrived. 
 

I’ve been suffering from insomnia. I haven’t been able to really focus on anything productive. I’ve been having heart palpitations and shortness of breath and panicky thoughts that can amount roughly to, SOMEONE STOP THIS TRAIN NOW, I WANT OFF!

My husband reminded me that I’ve had the same fears before, and that when I actually got into the last few days before labor, I experienced a feeling of calm, relaxation, faith and confidence. He’s right – I guess it’s part of the hormonal alchemy that indicates my readiness to go into labor.

Last night, I came across the most beautiful, amazing, encouraging and peaceful birth story I’ve ever read. It was just incredible how something clicked into place once I’ve read it. For the first time in many weeks, I was able to go to sleep at night peacefully, without sitting up in bed for a long time, gasping for air and moaning, “I can’t do this! I can’t! Perhaps it’s not too late to schedule a C-section?”

 
I invite you, too, to read and be inspired.”

Garlic: a wonderful natural remedy

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The anti-inflammatory and health-promoting qualities of garlic have been known for thousands of years, and we include fresh crushed garlic in many sauces, spreads, dips and salads that are served around here. Recently, I have taken this a step further and began using garlic to promote the health of my poultry.

Read more here:

“It’s surprising that I didn’t think twice before giving my young peafowl antibiotics in increasingly strong doses for persistent respiratory symptoms. The birds, however, not only didn’t get better, but appeared weaker. An experienced friend whom I consulted recommended that I discontinue the antibiotics as they most likely have compromised the immune system of my peafowl, regardless of the initial complaint, try giving my birds fresh garlic, and observe the effects. Anxious to strengthen their immune system before the winter, and not seeing much to lose, I decided to give it a shot.”

Pippi Longstocking

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Pippi Longstocking is one of the most inspiring literary characters I know. She is always positive, fearless, endlessly creative, knows no boundaries and doesn’t believe in the word “impossible”. And something else: she never, ever wants to grow up.

While obviously an adult, with adult cares and burdens, I often find myself wanting to be a teeny bit like Pippi, and wishing my children to be a little like her, with her boundless optimism and disdain of rules. This proves even truer as our family grows and I need to apply more and more creativity to get through a day in one piece. As of now, we are expecting our fourth baby, apparently a girl, around the end of March, and I know our lives are going to be even more of a happy mess than they are today.

‘All the children sat looking at Pippi, who lay flat on the floor, drawing to her heart’s content. ‘But, Pippi,’ said the teacher impatiently, ‘why in the world aren’t you drawing on your paper?’

‘I filled that long ago. There isn’t room enough for my whole horse on that little snip of paper.’

Gambusia fish for mosquito control

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Do you suffer from a pesky local mosquito population? Granted, it’s less of an issue in the northern hemisphere at the moment, but if you dread the coming of spring due to an unreasonable quantity of mosquito bites, here’s a solution for you: set up an outdoor tank or pond with a few gambusia fish, also known as mosquitofish. Read more here:

“Many sources suggest combating mosquitoes that lay their eggs in ornamental ponds by introducing a few predator fish, usually gambusia. It certainly works, but around here we have taken this a step further. We set up an outdoor fish tank on purpose to attract mosquitoes, the eggs and larvae of which will serve as a feast for the fish. The local population of mosquitoes is thus reduced.”

Simple Living With Children

There’s just something about simple living and homesteading that chimes in especially well with home education. When a lot of your time is spent doing down-to-earth things which people have been doing for millennia, it’s so much easier for a child to jump in and participate, than if one’s life is segregated and chopped into many little high-techy cubicles. People of all ages enjoy doing fun and productive things such as planting seeds, gathering food, digging in the earth or taking care of animals.

Read more in my latest Mother Earth News post:

Some home economics is still taught in kindergartens and schools, though it went out of fashion – but even if there were a lot of home economics classes, the best place to learn things like that would still be at home, where cooking, sweeping the floors, sewing, mending, knitting and working in the garden occur as part of our day-to-day lives. A little child learns a lot simply by observing an apron-clad mother, and later by participating in simple tasks.

Raising heritage chicken breeds

 

Prior to our Great Chicken Adventure, I was utterly unaware of the wealth of heritage breeds out there, with their variations of size, shape, color, plumage, temper, and various characteristics. A chicken is a chicken, I figured; any will cluck and lay                   eggs – so why invest in heritage breeds?

Read more in my latest Mother Earth News post:

“Unlike hybrids, pure-bred heritage chickens breed true. If you start with a flock of, say, Wyandottes, a few years down the road you will still have a flock of Wyandottes, with largely the same qualities of egg production, growth rates, adaptation to climate, and appearance (though you can improve your flock by hatching eggs from your finest, best-looking, hardiest specimens). With mutt chickens, you can always expect surprises.”