A bend in the road

Our family, once again, is facing the prospect of moving house in a few months, and it’s going to be a major adjustment, as we’re going to live in a far more urbanized area than we wished to/expected to/considered part of our future. Some part of my heart is breaking within, as I realize we’re going to have to let go of a dream of greater space, solitude, and freedom… at least for a while. Rather than start a goat farm in the desert, as we had hoped for some time, we’re now preparing to move to the fringes of a small town, where we can consider ourselves lucky if we might still keep a few chickens.

Another big change is that we are leaving our beloved region of the Shomron, where we have lived ever since we married, and moving to a different area. Many of our friends are rejoicing in this prospect, especially following the brutal murder of our friend and neighbor, Rabbi Raziel Shevach, three months ago. I do have to say, however, that considerations of safety don’t have much to do with this decision. Our motives are more a combination of family, social, and financial circumstances.

I write more about this in my Mother Earth News post:

Life happens, and wherever we live, we can always practice simple living, DIY projects, reusing and recycling, and growing food at least on a small scale. Also, our journey is far from over, and who knows? In a couple of years we may find ourselves moving forward in the direction which we have been dreaming of for so long. Still, this present bend in the road finds me in a little bereavement, as I have to let go, for the time being, of a great and long time dream.
I will definitely give more updates on this as they come, and hope you all wish us good luck.
In photo above: a little town home surrounded by a beautiful garden. No, it isn’t going to be ours, but it’s something to aspire to. 
Advertisements

Around here

We are slowly settling back into routine, and enjoying all the little everyday things, alongside the children and our new sweet little baby girl. The transition to a family of six has been marvelously bump-free so far!

In the pictures: our sage, which has grown into a mighty bush and is now in full bloom – it’s hard to believe it started out as a couple of tiny seedlings when we first put it in; catching up on laundry on a sunshiny morning; a hen sitting diligently on a clutch of eggs, from which chicks are due to hatch next week; our fowls and kitties sharing a treat.

I hope everyone is having a pleasant spring!

Hadassah

DSC_0569

Just a little update on how we are doing…

After lots of thinking, and staring at the baby’s precious face, asking, “how shall we name you, little one?” we’ve chosen the name Hadassah. She is one of the calmest, most peaceful babies I have ever seen. She can be just quietly settled in my arms for a long time, looking at me, and all around, with a beautiful and intelligent stare.

Life around here is settling into what I call the happy newborn mess stage. Everything is going in many directions, and days and nights are almost equally chaotic, but this is a happy time.

I look forward to writing more here (and elsewhere) soon.

Living with irregular electricity supply

Image result for power cuts

The electricity supply to our area has been fixed not long ago, and as of now we have had some blessed weeks without a single power outage. It still feels like a real luxury now, but I know that very soon, we’ll get used to it – so while the memories are still fresh, here is how we managed to live with unstable and irregular electricity for the past couple of years.

1. Gas heater. We bought a used gas heater, in very good condition, quite cheaply, and used that when the electricity couldn’t be counted on. Many people around here use wood burning stoves, but we aren’t that fond of chopping wood.

2. Candles and oil burners – even when the electricity was on, I’d always light a candle, just in case, in the bathroom before stepping into the shower. I started doing it after the time when I started a shower and then got stuck in the dark when all went black. You don’t want that to happen when you’re bathing the baby, either.

3. Good insulation – it really pays off to insulate your house, both for when it’s cold in the winter and when it’s extremely hot in the summer. Also, good insulation for your fridge helps the food last longer, saves electricity, and prevents spoilage when the electricity is off for a few hours.

4. Invest in UPS units – for your more expensive appliances. We have them for the computer, the washing machine and the fridge. This way, we ensure our appliances don’t get damaged by sudden fluctuations in the power flow.

5. Have plenty of clothes for little ones – Israel was born in January, and you know how many outfits a small baby can get through! First these are diaper blowouts, then it’s mashed bananas all over the place, not to mention all the dust from crawling around the house. Toddlers have a tendency to get good and dirty, too. So you don’t want to get stuck with no clean clothes because you can’t operate your washer for a few days. Of course, you can wash some things by hand in a real emergency, but it’s very time-consuming and you probably won’t want to do that with a new baby. Thankfully, our newest little one is going to be born when it’s nice and warm.

Here are some more suggestions from an old but good thread on this topic:

“Our hot water heater is gas and uses batteries to fire up, so works with no power. Our stovetop is also gas and can be lit with matches and we have a wood burner with an oven compartment. We have a stovetop kettle to use instead of the electric one when necessary and have a number of candles dotted around, mainly ornamental but useful too. And finally, we have some of our appliances plugged into power surge arresters to protect them if there is a spike.”

“I would think it is worth spending your first winter with emergency back up before investing in expensive things like generators and solar panels. You might find that you only lose electricity for a few hours/a day at a time, which is easier to cope with even if it happens regularly. Emergency food/water rations, gas heating & emergency lighting (probably battery/solar powered camping lanterns rather than candles with young kids) will see you through, and it is probably worth having a good stock of disposable nappies (especially if you usually use cloth) for when you can’t do laundry. It is all about deciding what you need to survive for a day or two.”

“I’d echo what has been said by others, and add that investing in one of those counter top double gas rings might be useful for a back up. They run off gas bottles, so at least you are able to cook something. A small gas heater (again with a gas bottle) will throw out a good amount of heat in one room, too – just make sure you keep that room ventilated!”
“We keep a good supply of candles in as well – there are intermittent power cuts here – all the power goes via overhead cables rather than underground, but there are times in bad weather that lines can come down and then we can be without power for up to 48 hours (in the worst cases). You really need to invest in a UPS unit for things like computers – they give you a chance to power down correctly. Fit a surge protector as well. If you get “brownouts” – ie weak supply rather than complete cuts – make sure you turn OFF anything with a motor (like the fridge) as they can be damaged.”

Everything for free

Image result for barter
Well, perhaps not everything – but you definitely can get for free, or almost for free, things that people usually pay substantial sums of money to have.

One of the things that I find most thrilling in our journey towards self-sustainability is not doing without (although it has to be done at times, and can be very character-building), but rather, finding out creative ways to obtain some of the things we need without paying, or with paying much less. How?

1. Make it. This can refer to many things: sewing, carpentry, repair works, building, plumbing, and a lot more. Don’t be afraid to mess things up, or to end up with work that looks “unprofessional”. You learn as you go, and the satisfaction in doing something with your hands is great.

2. Find it. People throw away many useful things in very good condition. The computer desk we currently used was obtained this way, as were other items of furniture in our house. They weren’t thrown away because they were only good for the dump, but because someone was moving and had no room for a particular piece of furniture, or because they bought something new instead. We have also found home utensils, excellent books (in very good condition, too), and more. In time you learn to keep an eye open when you drive by, especially in the last couple of weeks before Pesach if you live in Israel or in another place with a substantial Jewish population frantically cleaning out their homes.

Warning: this can get addictive. While it’s wonderful to save good things from the dump, consider whether you really need it, or your home will soon be overflowing. Ask me how I know.

3. Perhaps someone is giving it away. Look through appropriate websites. There are endless lists of people giving away furniture, clothes, baby equipment, toys, books, and more. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, they say – can’t think of anything truer than that. For example, someone used to have rabbits, and now he has a cage he no longer needs – but we could use just such a cage for our baby chicks.

If you can’t find someone who is giving it away, it is very likely you will find someone from whom you can buy it second-hand, for a fraction of the original price.

4. Barter. If someone has something you need, consider whether you might also have something they need, which you can offer instead of money. It might be something you make at home, or a skill you can trade. For example, one of my neighbours makes really beautiful pottery, and I know she wants chickens. If we have a surplus of chicks this year, I might offer her some, in exchange for a piece or two of her pottery. Perhaps you are a computer ace, know a foreign language, play the piano, have a hand for carpentry, or, in short, have a skill you can use in exchange for getting what you want/need.

Defying the money economy can be fun. It is also a challenge of sorts. Many times, we did one or all of the above (making things ourselves, looking for someone who is giving something away, etc) not because we could not afford to pay, but because we saw no reason why we should. It becomes a way of life. The bonus part of it is bringing people closer. By making contacts through giveaway lists (lately we have been more on the giving side) we met some wonderfully interesting people. Compare this to just walking into a big impersonal store, picking up an overpriced item, and paying for it, perhaps without even saying a word to the cashier.

Simple, rural living: be prepared financially

Image result for homesteading

Image courtesy of solarhomestead.com 

Many people have this dream of leaving the rat race and the crowded city behind, and moving out to a rural area where they can live a simpler, slower, more peaceful life. “We’ll start a little farm or homestead,” they say. “We’ll live in harmony with nature. We’ll grow a large part of our own food. We won’t need fancy work clothes. There will be so many wholesome attractions that our family won’t need any paid entertainment. We’ll make less money, but we’ll also need less money, and our lives will be peaceful and satisfying.”

That was – and is – our dream, too. But if you intend to follow it, you need to be financially prepared. Moving out to a rural area and/or starting a homestead isn’t a solution for those who can’t make ends meet – on the contrary, setting up such a household can cost a bundle of money in the short-term, and possibly in the long-term.

Read more in my latest MEN post:

“Home maintenance costs money. Land maintenance costs money. Gas costs a lot of money. Whatever homesteading project you might want to do on your property costs as well, from setting up a chicken coop to building fences – though the expenses can vary wildly according to your budget, creativity and DIY skills. It takes a lot of time for these projects to turn productive, not to mention offset the initial cost. And while we love supporting our farmer friends and buying top-quality, organic local produce, it doesn’t actually save money – large chain stores and coupons do, though they are a disaster in terms of food quality, ecology and the community.

Lesson learned: a rural life is not inherently a low-cost life.

Another consideration is that, if you happen to be in urgent need of a little extra money, picking up a temporary and/or second job is a lot harder to do when you live out in the boonies and it takes at least an hour to drive out anywhere. Employment options will be limited, and that’s a fact.”

Reviewing our grocery shopping habits

Image result for grocery store

Food comprises an important slice of every household budget – a slice that is likely to grow, as food prices are rising. Food is one of the variables of household consumption, together with electricity, water, clothing, entertainment, and miscellaneous purchases. It’s an area where we can exercise a lot of creativity (as opposed to, for example, rent).

We still have a lot of room for improvement, but a fair examination of our pantry, refrigerator and freezer showed that we have actually improved a lot, in points such as:

Shopping less often. We have managed to go down to one shopping trip per week, and sometimes we even pull off a bi-weekly shopping and errands run. This is partially due to more successful list-writing. When composing the shopping list, I began to write down not just things that we almost ran out of, but also things that ran just a little low. Also, if we forget to buy something, now we most often just do without it for a few days, until the next shopping trip.

Diapers and wipes. For seven or eight months now, since Israel got the hang of using the toilet, we have enjoyed the freedom of not having to buy diapers, which has really been a blessing – because we didn’t just cut the cost of diapers, but the need to rush to the store for an emergency pack. Plus, our trash bags last longer because they are filled less often with no diaper-users in the house. Of course, this break is temporary and due to come to an end in less than a month, when new Baby Girl joins our family.

Less pre-packaged foods. In particular cookies, cakes, sweet rolls, etc. There was a time when I decided that we’ll consume less sugar if I bake less. I tried that, and the result was only that my husband started buying cookies, cinnamon rolls, etc, which of course contained much more sugar than what I would have put into my homemade treats. So back to baking it is. Of course if it depended on me I’d bake less and serve platters of fresh and dried fruit, nuts and such like, but one has to be realistic. If the choice is between my homemade cookies and cakes and store-bought ones, it’s obvious that mine are the healthier and cheaper variety.

We also buy less spice mixes, which are mostly a waste – it’s much cheaper to use basic spices and make your own mixes.

Less store-bought bread. We do buy bread for sandwiches in the middle of the week, but I make our Shabbat challah. This saves a last-minute dash to the store on Friday (during which other things, some of them unneeded, are all to often picked up along with the challah).
Better-stocked shelves. I now have a larger variety of beans, grains, lentils, rice, pasta and such like inexpensive versatile basic foods which I can make into frugal meals.

Speaking of frugal meals, most of the meat I cook these days is made in the form of a stew with a lot of rich sauce that can be spooned onto rice or pasta or soaked up with bread. For example, if I make beef stew, one evening we might eat couscous with some of the liquid part of the stew. Then on the next two days we eat the beef. Lastly I take what is left of the stew – mostly liquid and little chunks of meat that fell apart – and serve it with rice or quinoa. This makes an excellent lunch, and a total of four days’ worth of meals – not too bad.

What about you? How are you working on improving your shopping habits?