New homestead, new goals

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Now that things are a little less messy and a little more settled around here, we can start working, bit by bit, on new projects, which can be summed up this way: it is possible to live sustainably anywhere; it is possible to homestead anywhere. Simple living, making things from scratch, recycling, reduced consumerism, foraging and growing food are practices that can be implemented by anyone.

Read more in my latest Mother Earth News post:

“I knew that homesteading and sustainability are not just for those who can do remote off-grid living. It’s more about mindset than circumstances. And so I started to look into urban homesteading, and discovered inspiring examples of food production people have managed in tiny spaces. Container gardening, vertical gardening, urban chickens, community plots and other cool projects made me ashamed of doing so little with what we have had until now. Rather than needing more land, it transpired, we just needed to make better use of it!”

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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. 

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!

When your neighbors hate your rooster

As difficult as it is for me to understand, some people actually have an aversion to chickens. If these people happen to be your neighbors, while you are a poultry lover, it has the potential to create some very unpleasant clashes, in particular over one issue – the crow of a rooster.

It can seem very unfair, especially if your neighbors have a noisy dog, a habit of loud music or smoking, or give you a headache by using their lawnmower every other day – but the fact is, they have the upper hand, because once local authorities hear the scary word “livestock”, your poor little chickens might be the target of an eviction order.

Read on how to evade these unpleasant situations in my latest MEN post:

“My last suggestion is broader and less technical; try to cultivate a closer and friendlier relationship with your neighbors. Give them a few fresh eggs when you can, invite their children to feed your chickens or see baby chicks when you have them. Usually, after people have been your guests, tasted your home-grown omelet, and played with your cute fluffy newly-hatched chicks, they are unlikely to complain over something that isn’t absolutely disruptive.”

Simple, rural living: be prepared financially

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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.”

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.

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.