Rural life and financial security

Image result for financial security homesteading

When we were about to get married, we knew just how we want to raise a family: we would live a quiet, simple, unhurried life in some beautiful rural place, and I would stay home and raise the children, as they would come.

Ten years and 3 (soon 4!) children later, our dreams haven’t changed, but our perspectives have, with experience that allows us, in hindsight, to realize many things we have missed in the past.

We had a good headstart, financially, and we were prepared to live modestly, which had enabled us to purchase our first little home outright, without getting into debt or mortgage. This was good, but it finished off all our pre-marriage savings, and there was nothing left to do some necessary repairs, which the house badly needed, and when my husband hit a period of unemployment, we eventually had to sell the house for some immediate relief. A lot of money then got frittered away on rent.

We bought another house eventually, the one where we live today, but we then hit another stretch of unemployment, or rather, underemployment, plus a few pitfalls such as unwise investments in projects, and being ill-used by unscrupulous people. This was unfortunate, but it could happen to anyone. The problem was that we failed to take something into account, namely, that in choosing to live in a relatively distant area, we are reducing our earning capabilities, and basically eliminating the possibility to find an extra job quickly and easily if needed in lean times. Spending less is great, but sometimes you just hit that bottom when you can’t cut back anymore, and must earn extra to pull through.

Since we only have one car, I don’t drive, and public transportation in our area is almost nonexistent, we couldn’t even make a temporary switch of me taking a job and my husband staying with the kids, which was, and is, incredibly frustrating, since there were opportunities of jobs five minutes away, but when you have no means of getting there, it doesn’t matter if it’s five minutes away or on Mars. I was prevented from acquiring a driver’s license by 1) all lessons being held in town, so how is one supposed to get there without any means of transportation?? and 2) the prohibitive cost, which is quite a robbery in Israel. Because, you see, around here it isn’t enough that someone who knows how to drive teaches you. Oh no! Even if you know perfectly well how to drive, you still need to take a minimum of 28 lessons (I think) with a licensed driving teacher, which costs a bundle. Sorry for the rant, but I always get my blood boiling over government-sanctioned extortion that robs people of their hard-earned money.

So, for months on end my husband and I would both be home, with the car sitting in the driveway (which, granted, saved on gas), and us going crazy with the despair of not being able to climb out of the pit.

Eventually, I came to terms with the fact that I have to make do with what I have, and find ways to generate income from home. Today, I give nutritional counseling (in which I have a degree), do editing, proofreading and translation, and write both fiction and nonfiction. It’s wonderful, but I wish I had done it sooner, because establishing yourself as a freelancer requires time and dedication, and it takes a while before you’re actually earning. It was also hard to shake off the dogma of the husband being 100% responsible for the income. I do still believe that it makes sense for the man to be the main breadwinner, and that it’s extremely difficult, unreasonable and unfair for the woman to shoulder this burden as well, in addition to pregnancy, birth, and nursing (my husband can change diapers and bathe babies very well, but he can’t breastfeed or do postpartum recovery instead of me, nor can he swap with me and borrow my heavy, tired, pregnant body). However, when one’s family is struggling financially, one of the most empowering things is to be proactive and seek ways out of the rut, rather than only look up to your other half and hope things will improve.

To sum up this long and rather rambling post: if you’re planning on a lifestyle in which you earn less and spend less, in particular if you take the plunge and move to a rural area with the goal of becoming more self-sufficient and producing at least part of your own food, that’s wonderful, and it’s still our path, though it has been rocky and winding. However, you must be prepared for financial crisis, or you’ll find yourself in deep trouble when it hits and you have no way to counter it. So what would I have done differently, if I could (some things really did not depend on me)?

1. Possibly, I would have waited with the purchase of that first home. It’s great to be a home owner, but if it leaves you with absolutely zero in the bank, it puts you in a very precarious position.

2. Once the house was bought, I would have tried harder, and would have been ready to endure more discomfort, to refrain from selling it. Selling your only home does not solve problems, though it may stave off crisis, and is unavoidable sometimes. You have to live somewhere, and loose money inevitably goes down the drain. In hindsight, we could have held on.

3. I would have fought tooth and nail to leave more in savings during that time when we did have a nice income.

4. I would have prepared earlier, and more seriously, to the possibility of having to generate income, by whatever means. Granted, even working from home isn’t always practical when babies come one after another and you struggle to hold your head above water, but I have become a lot more efficient with my time during the past three years, and my heart literally bleeds for all those hours in the past spent on passive entertainment or just muddling around.

5. I would have trusted my judgment more. Not because I’m cleverer than my husband, but because two heads are always better than one. Magnanimously saying, “I’m sure that whatever you decide will be great” may sound nice, but going into all the nitty-gritty together is far more helpful.

The silver lining: we have never been, and are not, in debt. This makes things so much easier and less stressful. Avoiding debt (and mortgage is debt as well) is the best and soundest choice, in my opinion, that a family can make.

Advertisements

The champions of the chicken world

Some chickens are the ultimate layers, others are champs at meat production, but which breed would be the best choice for your backyard? This depends on your preferences, climate, space and, of course, budget. Read more in my latest Mother Earth News post, also featuring the smallest, largest and rarest chicken breeds in the world:

“Many breeds traditionally chosen by homesteaders are actually dual-purpose, such as Rhode Islands, Plymouth Rocks, Orpingtons and Wyandottes. These breeds are fairly large, hardy, decent to good layers, and will supply you with both eggs and meat, though not as efficiently as industrial single-purpose lines. They will roam your land, getting much of their food on their own if you let them free range, and provide organic pest control. They will naturally go broody, and renew your flock year after year by hatching and bringing up chicks, so that you need not be dependent on hatcheries after you purchase your starting stock.”

The chickens in the photo above are Fayoumis belonging to a good friend of mine. The Fayoumi is a traditional Egyptian breed very well-suited to a hot climate. These medium-sized chickens are good layers, excellent foragers, and hardy, independent birds largely resistant to the fatal Marek’s disease. Overall they seem like an excellent choice for a homestead in a Mediterranean to desert climate, and I hope to obtain some hatching eggs when the laying season begins.

Tell lice to get lost

It's either cry or laugh..we hope you laugh

Our first encounter with lice happened a few years ago and, thanks to not being part of the mainstream educational system, we have only caught these creepy-crawlies twice since. Nevertheless, if your kids don’t live in a bubble, and if they have any contact at all with other children, odds are that some time or other, they will have lice.

As of now we’re battling these nasties again, with the drawback of Israel having a huge aversion to anything that includes washing or combing hair. Naturally, sometimes there is just no choice, and so I find myself facing, on top of lice, a screaming, thoroughly unhappy kid.

I’ve tried several over-the-counter remedies, and read many tips for home treatments – including smothering your hair in anything from mayo to olive oil to Listerine (by the way, if anyone has a good strategy to share, I’ll be most happy to hear it). I came across this article, which not only made me almost choke on my cup of tea with giggling, but also contains some really great tips on thoroughly de-contaminating your children’s heads and your home.

I think a huge factor here is how serious the people around you are about treating lice. When I was a child, back in our “Old Country”, lice was considered something to be treated ASAP. Once your parents found some on your head, they freaked out and you were isolated and kept at home (no seeing anyone) until there was no sign of lice or nits and every strand of hair was squeaky clean. Think children spent most of their time in neat little sterile boxes? Nope… hardly anyone ever had lice, because they were always treated on time. Lice were associated with terrible unsanitary conditions, such as in concentration camps or prisons. In Israel, the attitude is comparably very lax.

I’ve actually met some parents who have despaired of ever getting rid of lice completely, and settle on keeping their population down (just so they won’t crawl all over the child’s face and become a public shame). Their children always have lice, and they rationalize by saying “so what? Everyone has them!” The Israeli Ministry of Education isn’t very helpful, with its guidelines which forbid teachers and daycare workers from checking kids’ heads (so as not to “shame” anyone), and which declare that no child will ever be sent home because of lice, even if they are live, multiple, and untreated. If one of your children’s friends has head lice, it doesn’t take much to get an infestation. If left uncontained, it will spread to every person in the house.

By this time, I have given up entirely on over-the-counter treatments containing dimethicone, as they include a warning that one must not use them if pregnant or breastfeeding. Moreover, the cost of these does add up. So here is my preferred strategy at the moment:

1. Buy the biggest, cheapest container of hair conditioner you can find.
2. Wash your kids’ hair (and your own, if needed) with conditioner until quite sleek and easy to comb.
3. After going through the clean, wet hair with regular comb, take up lice comb (always have one in your parenting emergencies arsenal – metal, not plastic!). Remove all lice and nits you can find. Don’t obsess, though; a single treatment won’t cut it anyway.
4. Next day, repeat process with washing, conditioner and combing. Be tenacious, and keep at it as many days as necessary until you don’t find a single louse. It usually takes up to a week.

Tips:
* Once in every couple of weeks, do a lice check just in case. You never know, and you don’t want an infestation to go untreated.
* Sometimes, shortening girls’ and women’s hair is necessary in order to make thorough combing feasible and not tortuous, but there’s definitely no need to go to extremes and shave heads.

The lush green winter

DSC_0460

I just thought I’d take a couple of photos to show you how vividly green everything looks after the latest bout of rainfall. In Mediterranean climates, the winter and early spring are the months of abundance and rich pasture, while summer is the dry, lean season. We have winter flowers about to burst in a riot of color and, as you can see above, our apricot tree is already budding. It’s my favorite tree, and has given us some delicious fruit last season, as early as June.

DSC_0459

Our chickens are enjoying the fresh green grass, plenty of bugs and worms to vary their diet, and the sunshine after a few rainy days during which they were cold, damp and miserable (they can, of course, take shelter in the coop anytime, but they do get bored, and prefer to roam around even when it’s wet).

Wherever you are, I hope you are having a pleasant winter (or, of course, summer, if you are in the southern hemisphere) and keeping warm.

An update and a book review

First off, I would like to thank all the amazing people who left me comments and private messages following my last post. We are slowly coming to terms with the tragedy, and I was finally able to sleep a whole night. Above all, I’m praying for strength for my poor friend and her children, and for wisdom for our government, who must finally wake up and understand that the only way to increase its citizens’ safety is by harsh measures and an unapologetic stance, rather than by finessing and beating around the bush and PC talk.

In the sleepless nights that have been my share this past week, I’ve been reading John Seymour’s The Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency. There’s nothing to take one’s mind off things like reading about malting or raising goats. Though much of the information in there will never be relevant for us (such as anything that has to do with raising pigs and rabbits), I’m loving the book; it’s the ultimate, most well-rounded and practical DIY guide to all things a homesteader, on whatever scale, might need, from tilling land to baking bread, from building fences to raising and managing livestock, and everything in between. Sure, it branches off into chapters that have enough fodder for specialized books on their own, and the savvy reader can find manuals that focus on, say, just animals (such as, for instance, my The Basic Guide to Backyard Livestock, and other, more detailed works) but it’s the best introductory condensed guide to self-sustainability I’ve read so far.

It could have been us. Or you.

Last night, a friend and neighbor of ours was brutally murdered by a cruel and cowardly terrorist, and while I can’t either think, speak or write about anything else this morning, I hardly know how to begin talking about this either.

It all began very trivially for us last evening. We were on our way home from my Mom’s, and I was irritated with my husband for stopping by to make some unnecessary little purchases, rather than drive straight home, while I was tired and (as usually these days, being in the third trimester) in need of a bathroom.

In retrospect, these few minutes of delay were just what prevented us from being on the spot while the terrorist was driving by. A little earlier, and the news could be reporting of several victims, not one.

So, as we were approaching home, I saw several private vehicles lined up, and a military jeep close by, with soldiers questioning someone. “Another patrol,” I sighed, thinking in frustration of this extra delay. That is, until I saw the ambulance. And a car with the front window all shattered with what looked like bullet marks aimed at the driver.

My heart sank. I knew that car.

Still, I was frantically praying, “please not them, not this family”, while in the utter chaos that reigned on the scene, we were checked, cleared, and told to drive on very carefully. A couple of hours later, we had already heard the heart-shattering news – that today, we are to attend the funeral of a friend with whom we stopped to chat only yesterday, thinking little it would be our last conversation.

The roles could have been reversed. It could have been us. It could have been anyone driving by in a car with an Israeli license plate.

I hardly know how to conclude this post, except perhaps with this: every day, Muslim terrorists prey upon roads in the West Bank, looking to shoot, stone, burn or run over unarmed Jewish civilians who seem to be the easiest prey. Every day, They know that, once caught, they have nothing more to fear than a stay in prison in the conditions of a passable hotel, where their “human rights” will be ensured by the hawk’s eye of humanitarian organizations, where they can pursue academic degrees at leisure, and from where, finally, they can hope to get out by some political-propaganda-fueled “gesture of goodwill” on part of our idiotic government. As long as they are in prison, their families receive generous pensions funded by sleekly run, well-funded Muslim and European organizations. Once they are out, they are celebrated as heroes, and can go back to their career of murdering innocents.

There is no death sentence, for anyone, ever (since Adolf Eichmann, at least), even if they were caught red-handed in the act and laughed and boasted in the face of the court. I say this needs to change. I hope it will change, so that Jewish blood can no longer be shed with impunity.

If you will, please pray for the widow and six children, aged from 11 to 8 months, who were left bereft by the horrors of last night.

Hand-raising baby chicks

brahma cross baby chick

There’s something comforting, in the middle of winter, in planning on running the incubator and raising baby chicks that will be let out into the great outdoors once the warm weather comes. It’s a bit like browsing a seed catalog while a winter storm is howling outside.

I can tell you there are some breeds I can’t wait to get my hands on – start a pure-bred flock of Marans or Speckled Sussex, and look forward to the possibility of obtaining some good-quality eggs from breeders I know, in a month or two. Read more in my latest Mother Earth News post:

“We are big proponents of breeding and raising chicks the natural way, with broody hens, but sometimes running the incubator or ordering a batch of baby chicks can have definite advantages – such as, for example, the ability to monitor valuable eggs extra carefully, and to give your flock a head start in the spring. If you are not averse to the idea of keeping chicks indoors for a few weeks, your February babies may well be ready for the outdoors as early as March or April, depending on your local weather – at about the time when your hens are just thinking of getting back to laying.”