Health and homesteading

Check out my latest Mother Earth News post: what happens when physical limitations stand in one’s way to self-reliant life.

“Even in our modernized age when almost everything is done at the click of a keyboard, being able-bodied is still an essential part of building your own house, starting a homestead, and keeping it going. But what do you do if certain health problems interfere with your homesteading goals? Should you accept that some things just aren’t meant to be – like building with your own hands, for example?

It is my belief that there is an alternative way to do pretty much anything, and even to profit from the seemingly untoward circumstances that might seem as a death certificate to your dream.”

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Illustration: mid-renovations mess in our living room, just before our son Israel was born.

One-minute household chores and e-book giveaway!

How many times have you looked around the house and experienced this sinking feeling that there is a million of things to be done, and no time to do them? Well, apparently the key to success is to break the million things into one-by-one, and just head in and do something, even if it is something little. The sense of accomplishment will motivate you to go on, and efficient planning will enable you to make good of those little pockets of time during the day.

Here is an excellent list of household chores that can be done in one minute.

I do have to say, however, that sometimes those little things may take longer than we estimate; for example, it really is only a minute to change your kitchen towels – if you keep them readily available. I personally don’t have much cupboard space in the kitchen, so my kitchen towels are kept in the closet in the children’s room and I have to walk there and then back to the kitchen to get the towels. I also need to drop the used towels into the laundry basket.

If you really only have a minute or two, work in the space where you already happen to be, or near it. For example, if I’m watching over a toddler playing in bath, I might use up that little slot of time to wipe down the bathroom mirror, sink and tap, and perhaps to scrub the toilet. If I’m watching over kids while they are playing in the yard, I will clean the outside of the living room window (yes, the one with fingerprints and nose prints all over it!)

Logical storage strategy is another important thing. I’ve already mentioned kitchen towels; by necessity, I keep them away from the kitchen, but I realize it would have been better to make room in one of the cupboards. The little sponge I use specifically for wiping sinks, I keep in the bathroom so it’s within easy reach. I’m forced (again by necessity of space) to keep some of our clothes in the storage shed closet, which is larger, but I make sure those are the clothes we use less often, in particular during the warm months (coats, jackets etc).

Then it’s important to assess whether a chore really takes up only a minute, or we are run away with our fanciful imagination. For example, I’ve been known to step out to fold the laundry, saying “it only takes a minute”, forgetting that with little ones in tow, it most certainly does not. In that case I must either allot more time for the chore, or delay the task until later.

And of course, this doesn’t mean every last little moment of spare time must be filled with housework! Sometimes, when you only have a couple of minutes, it’s better to take a deep breath, have a glass of cool water or a little snack, or read a page or two of a good book.

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Giveaway announcement: starting from now and until August 31-st, you can download my natural health e-book, Nurturing Hands, from my Payhip store for free! Simply proceed to checkout and use the 100% discount coupon I have activated. Of course, you are most welcome to share this giveaway on your own blog, Facebook or Twitter and let your friends know! Coupon code: 783CZRSQDP

I have also included a 50% discount coupon for The Practical Homemaker’s Companion, which will be valid until September 7-th. Coupon code: E1KQKKJURV

In addition, following requests, The Practical Homemaker’s Companion is now also available in paperback for only 5.38$. Since it’s a short, very condensed book and my aim was to make it as affordable as possible, I chose the lowest price setting allowed.

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From the back cover:

“Our job as wives and mothers is of tremendous importance and eternal impact, but it’s all too easy to get bogged down and discouraged by the mundane. The dinner got burned; the mountain of dirty clothes in the laundry basket is growing at an alarming rate; you have outstripped your grocery budget; your kids are squabbling; you lose it and yell and feel guilty. You go to bed with a nagging headache, wondering how you’ll get up and begin all over again tomorrow.

We’ve all been there. We’ve all done that – are still doing that. Opening a fresh page every day, doing our best and hoping it’s enough.

This book is a compact combination of inspirational articles, practical tips, and advice for making a small income go a long way. From encouragement to take heart in your job as a homemaker, to stockpiling, wise grocery shopping and keeping chickens, it’s based on the homemaking and simple living tips I have found most useful over the years.”

Collecting dew: another step in water conservation

There’s a lot of talk about collecting rainwater as a frugal and ecology-conscious way to reduce water waste, and that’s certainly a good thing and a project we hope to take up in the future. I do have to say, though, that in Israel we don’t get any rain to speak of approximately from May to October. What we can do in the summer months, without any special equipment, is collect dew.

Our system is simple. We have a plastic awning at the entrance to our home, and when I step out early in the morning I can see puddles of water around it. By placing buckets in strategic locations, and then combining their contents, we get roughly a bucket of clean water every day this way. We primarily use it in the garden, but if we used cleaner containers I wouldn’t hesitate to drink it. It’s easy, useful, doesn’t cost anything and could turn out very important in a survival situation. I expect we could harvest a lot more water if we set up a water catchment system all around our roof, too.

The dew we collect is used daily to water our garden. Our peppers already look very promising!

I have noticed that dew is especially abundant when a cool, quiet night follows a hot day. We have many such nights during the summer, as we live up in the hills and usually experience very pleasant temperatures once the sun sets. In Israel, and in other countries with an arid climate, dew collection can be done on a larger scale and play an important role in water conservation.

Why government won’t support homesteading: an opinion

Our society used to be mostly agricultural. It revolved around the nuclear and extended family, a close-knit community where people usually lived their whole lives, the family farm, the village, the artisan tool-maker, and everything small-scale and personal. For better or worse, the Industrial Revolution put an end to that kind of life and propelled us to a world where manual work is scoffed at, and agriculture is seen as something menial or boring.

Yet this did nothing to change our nature. As living beings, we were made to interact with other living beings. It is good and healthy for us to tread earth, smell flowers, pick fruit off trees, take care of animals, and make occasional escapes into wilderness. People who live in small apartments in big cities can find an outlet for this healthy instinct by growing plants in pots, keeping an aquarium and a cat, and venturing out to the country from time to time. The words “farm”, “country”, “rural”, “pastoral”, “village” still bring up pleasant nostalgic associations (compare them with the associations you get when you hear the words “factory”, “industry”, “rush hour”, “traffic” or “highway”), and some people even find out that they are inherently incapable of living the city life anymore, and drop their perfectly good jobs in order to cultivate a piece of rural land, such as in Marcel Pagnol’s splendid novel Jean de Florette.

We still yearn for the simple, cyclic, gentle and healthy rhythm which can be found in nature, the earth, and the seasons.

Some time ago, I picked up the Israeli Shabbat leaflet “Olam Katan” (“Small World”) and was genuinely interested by an article which suggested that modern technology and means of transportation make small-scale farming/homesteading possible even for people who don’t want to, or can’t make this their main source of livelihood. It is entirely possible, the author argued, for a family where both spouses hold a regular job to also keep a small homestead on, say, on 1 square km of land. Such a homestead can include a barn with 3-4 dairy goats and a dozen chickens, a small vegetable garden, and some fruit trees. Furthermore, it was argued that Israel has enough unexploited land which is suitable for agriculture. Such land, according to the author, could be divided into small homestead plots and handed out or sold inexpensively to anyone who would like to start a homestead or a sustainable small-scale farm. Thus many more people can live a healthier, closer-to-nature life, while also creating a strategical advantage for Israel by preventing Bedouin clans from illegally taking over empty lands.

While I would like, and am ready, to believe that a small-scale farming/homesteading revolution is possible, I also think the only way for it to happen is by individual people making the change in their private lives. I don’t think it will ever be encouraged or supported by the government, for many reasons. Here are just a few:

1. The government will never, not in a million years, hand out land or sell it cheaply (if it did, I’d be the first to stand in line!) – it will reap big bucks by selling land to big contractors, who in their turn will reap their big bucks by erecting tall buildings with cramped over-priced apartments.

2. Small-scale farming/homesteading will never be encouraged on a government level because commercial-scale farmers hold too much power.

3. A family living on a homestead will very likely have a rewarding, satisfying life; the more they grow, the less they will buy, not only in the way of food, but also in other areas. Shopping will no longer be needed as a recreation. They will move away from the temptation of big stores and shopping centers. In the evening, they will hurry home to milk their goats and water their tomatoes. Such people, for psychological and logistic reasons, are more likely to buy only what they need, which means the government will lose money by way of taxes each of us automatically pays when we buy in a licensed store. People who succeed in their little homestead venture might also discover they like it so much they will possibly opt for a less demanding, lower-paying job and enjoy a more relaxed lifestyle – and then the government will lose money by way of income tax. Some economical guru up there is bound to figure it out, and the government will never – not in a million years – agree to lose money, even for the sake of promoting a healthier and happier society.

4. A homesteading/small scale farming network will encourage the development of a local, sustainable market based on barter and small unregistered sales – the government won’t want this to happen because this will, again, mean less taxes.

However, it is a joy for me to know that other people, like me, indulge themselves in dreams of a world where families work together, more food is produced locally, and giant chain stores are cheated of part of their profit because people realize they don’t need so much stuff.

Making money from home

Our desire for financial independence, coupled with our wish to have a quiet, gentle, non-money-driven life and a mother at home for the children, has led us down the path of exploring simple,  self-reliant living. A simple life is not necessarily a cheapo life, but it is conductive to saving money in many ways.

We home-educate, so we don’t have daycare or schools fees. I breastfeed, so we never had to buy formula. By regularly checking out thrift stores, we have a reliable source of clothes and household goods, very cheaply. We only have one car, which saves us gas, maintenance and insurance. Our entertainment is simple and usually involves visiting with friends or local, free day trips. Finally, we are currently working on the important aspect of food self-reliance, by raising our own chickens, foraging for free edible goods, and establishing a vegetable garden.

Nevertheless, while saving money is a cornerstone of debt-free living on a small income, sometimes it isn’t enough. Maybe you’re going through a period of increased expenses. Or maybe you just want to make a little extra that would go towards financing a project you’ve long dreamed about. For us, I guess, it’s a bit of both right now, and I’ve been brainstorming some ways of making money from home:

Childcare – this isn’t something I would personally do as a first choice, because frankly, with my three children I’ve got quite enough to be getting on with. But providing childcare is probably the most popular and reliable means of generating extra income from home among stay-at-home mothers around here, either as all-day care for babies or picking up children from school, feeding them lunch and watching them for a couple of hours.

Private tutoring – a foreign language, a proficiency at music or dancing, superior knowledge of mathematics, or any special skill can all be converted into a side income by providing private lessons at your home or in your neighbors’ homes, at your convenience. Of course, if you have little children you will need someone to watch and entertain them while the lesson is going on. Or, if they go to bed early enough, you might teach while they are asleep.

Coaching and counseling – I have done nutritional counseling and coaching, one on one and in group settings, right in my living room. With young children I haven’t been able to do it on a regular basis, but I look forward to having more time, and hopefully more space, in the future. Any kind of coaching or counseling can be done from home, though again this might not always be compatible with full-time parenting of little ones.

Selling your surplus produce – if you have an established homestead, with a seasonal surplus of vegetables, eggs, milk or animals, you can sell what you produce. The key is to find customers for what you offer. We tried doing that with fresh eggs last year – we had more than we could use, but people just weren’t interested. So we decided to thin out our flock a bit to make it more sustainable, and lo and behold! People just lined up to buy productive hens for their back yard, and asked us to contact them if we have more birds for sale in the future. It sure was a nice surprise. This year we hope to raise some extra chicks to sell at the end of the season.

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Above: Black Brahma/New Hampshire chicks, which will hopefully grow into nice big birds, to be sold at a good price at some point

Selling things you make – women around here and all over the world sell their homemade bread, baked goods, candles, soaps, body care products, home-sewn baby slings, toys and nursing covers, and more. It’s possible to expand this into a group tutorial: for example, people who have bought your artisan bread and liked it might be willing to pay for acquiring the skill of making it on their own. It is possible to advertise in local newspapers, and Etsy has opened a whole new world of possibilities for hand-crafters.

Selling your art – if you are the artsy type, your hobby might just redeem itself financially and become a source of income. Around here we have painters, glass-blowers, and jewelry-makers. Again, group tutorials might be an attraction as well. If I had the possibility, I’d love to learn beading. A friend of mine, Jenny, set up a successful home business selling her cute painted rocks.

Writing – I write fiction, love it and hope to get a publishing deal someday, but I realize it’s a long, slow process with lots of competition and I can’t put all my eggs in one basket. So I’m also looking at possibilities of writing articles, website content, and doing English/Hebrew translations.

These are just a few ideas I’ve come up with. I’d love to hear yours.

Processing prickly pears

Prickly pear season is here, and my husband got a big bunch very cheaply, from someone who picked them off the hedge on his property. When he came home with the loot, I foolishly forgot that the prickly pear is – well, prickly – and carelessly grabbed one. I had a quick, painful reminder of the fact that the prickly pear, actually the fruit of the opuntia cactus, is full of tiny fiberglass-like spines called glochids, which very easily get embedded in the skin and are very difficult to dislodge. Soaking my hand in warm water helped get most of them out, though, and I carefully proceeded to look for a pain-free way of utilizing this unusual fruit.

Rule number one: don’t touch the skin of the prickly pear with your bare hands. Wear thick gloves or, as I did, use tongs. 

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While holding the prickly pear down with tongs, use a knife to cut off the edges (“top” and “bottom”) of the fruit. Then cut several slits, length-wise, in the skin and pry it off with the tip of the knife. It’s a little tricky at first, but you’ll get the hang of it.

Briefly wash your peeled prickly pear under a running tap, to make sure any glochids that might have stuck to the fruit are washed away. You don’t want them in your tongue!

At this point you can eat the prickly pears fresh, or juice them. To make juice, I first mashed the fruit with a potato masher, then strained the whole mess. The juice is great as part of cold beverages, and can also be made into syrup or jelly. The remaining seeds, mash and peels make a great treat for chickens (or, if you don’t have chickens, they can be composted).

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Mashing the prickly pears

I do have to say, though, that the whole process is somewhat labor-intensive: a whole lot of fruit gives comparatively little juice. Since the season of the prickly pear is short, it’s alright as a once-a-year project, but I wouldn’t do it on a regular basis.

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Above: prickly pear juice, for a refreshing cold drink or for making syrup or jelly. I love its bright orange color. 

I miss dairy goats

We used to keep dairy goats, and the milk, cheese and yogurt were really fabulous. Unfortunately, we were forced to give up on goat-keeping because of a combination of several factors: our goats repeatedly escaped and caused damage, and we knew we must either invest in a sturdier barn and extensive fencing or let them go. Since we were on the point of moving and everything was so uncertain, we chose the latter option. However, I do miss these cute, fun and useful animals and wish and hope we can have some goats again someday.

Also, we do love dairy products of all kinds, and milk, cheese and butter form a large slice of our grocery store bill every week. I sure would love to eliminate this expense – not to mention gain healthier, more wholesome, better tasting dairy products.

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Above: a goat kid born to one of our does two summers ago. His mother was a wonderful milker, prolific and patient

Because dairy animals of any kind are a major commitment, however, I don’t want to rush things. I know I want to go back to keeping dairy goats, and I know my husband does too, and I have a feeling that G-d is leading us in the right direction and it will happen eventually, at its proper time. And with the proper considerations, too:

  1. Housing. A goat barn needs to be sturdier than a chicken coop, with the possibility to lock the goats in if needed, and provide adequate shelter. There’s no way I’m ever getting into goat-keeping again without a very solidly made barn and goat run!
  1. Fencing. Goats are notorious for leaping over fences. If there’s even a slight possibility of doing so, they will find their way into your neighbors’ flower beds and get you in a very unpleasant situation (ask me how I know). Be a responsible neighbor and keep your animals securely fenced.
  1. Pasture. How much you can rely on pasture to feed your dairy animals will depend on the extent of your acreage and your climate. In Israel, the lean season is the summer, when everything is parched and dry. In colder climates winter is the hardest season. When you don’t have adequate pasture, you will need to buy hay and that can get expensive. You can also supplement the diet of your goats by giving them fruit and vegetable peels and weeds from your garden.
  1. Commitment. Once you have a dairy animal, it needs to be milked daily. If you need to be away for a day or two, you must make arrangements with someone to come and do the milking for you (though we could work around that by letting the goat kids have all the milk while we were gone). Also, if you have a high yield of milk, you will need to dispose of it by making cheese, yogurt, etc, on a daily basis, and this may be inconvenient at times. If you have several goats who produce a lot of milk and you skip a day of cheese-making, you may find your refrigerator overflowing with milk.
  1. Breeding. Unlike chickens, goats need to be bred to be productive; that is, a goat will not produce milk until after she’s kidded. You will need to breed at least once a year, and if you’re very small-scale, like us, keeping a buck may be inconvenient, in which case you will need to make arrangements to take your does to be bred, or borrow/rent a buck on a temporary basis. We have done it in the past, and we were lucky enough to have a friend within a short distance who had a good breeding buck and was willing to host our does for their “honeymoon” and then bring them back, but not everyone is so fortunate.

So are we getting back into goat-keeping anytime soon? Honestly, I don’t know. It will depend on our budget, time, how much longer we stay at this house, and more factors all of which are very uncertain. But I do have a feeling my milking and cheese-making days aren’t over, and that one day, two or three dairy does will make a valuable addition to our little homestead and take us one step further down the road to self-sustainability.

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