Rural life and financial security

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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.

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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.

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.

Hand-raising baby chicks

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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.”

A winter day in Israel

Winter in Israel is the pleasant rainy season with lush grass and flowers that are at their most prolific sometime mid-February. Here in the hills we have the occasional frost and snow, and a great deal of wind, but many winter days are very inviting, tempting us to focus on outdoor chores and spend most of the daylight hours outside.

As you can see, the hills are gradually turning from brown to green, and our bedding is hanging out in the light breeze after a big rain.

Our chickens are enjoying a run outside, reveling in the abundance of fresh grass and bugs. The weather has been so pleasant that they have gone on laying, though daylight is now at its lowest ebb, and we are relatively well supplied with eggs, compared to previous winters.

Those of you who are now shoveling snow and melting ice for their chickens to drink probably think we have a really cushy life, but wait until the summer with its dust storms and heat! In the meantime, I wish you all nice weather and an enjoyable festive season.

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.”

Safety for remote living

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Do you dream of living in the neck of the woods somewhere, with no other house in sight? If you ever consider it, homestead security should be your top priority. It might seem that, living away from the hustle and bustle of a city, in a quiet, small way, you are not a likely target for robbers and other unsavory elements, but you can’t count on this. There are plenty of unscrupulous people roaming out there, who wouldn’t hesitate to steal your livestock and farm equipment if they aren’t well protected.

We know farmers who have had their herds stolen from them, repeatedly, up to the point that some have given up on the beloved pursuit into which they had put all their money and many years of their lives. It is heartbreaking, but not imminent.

In Israel, things are even more edgy, because isolated homesteads, farms, and even simply houses located on the fringes of a settled area have suffered from terrorist attacks, and one can never know for sure whether the intruder spotted in the yard is after stealing sheep or murdering people.

Read more in my latest Mother Earth News post.

“When we first moved into our old house – which was located on the fringes of a tiny settlement, with no neighbors in sight – I was a little apprehensive. I grew even more apprehensive when my husband announced that we will have to keep a dog for safety purposes. I’ve never had a dog; never felt comfortable around dogs, and never thought I’d find myself taking care of one. Still, I had to admit that my husband has a point, as nothing deters intruders so effectively as a large, alert and protective dog.”