Hunkering down

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I am honored to say that my latest Mother Earth News post has been included in the magazine’s online newsletter. If anything I have to say is even a bit helpful to a single person across the world at this tough time, it is ample reward for me. 

It appears that the you-know-what has really hit the fan now. When I wrote my post in the link above, the restrictions imposed by our government were not yet as stringent as they are at this moment. Right now, people around here are permitted to leave their houses only for absolute necessities (buying food and hygiene products, medical treatment, etc) or for a short walk with their dogs. There are strict social distancing rules and it only looks like the restrictions will become harsher still in the very near future. Tens of thousands of people who live alone will be celebrating Passover in isolation – a heartbreaking but necessary measure.

Personally we are hunkering down right now and operating on the assumption that everyone on the street is a covid carrier, just in case. There has been an alarmingly high number of confirmed cases in our area, and some people in our family are at an increased risk due to respiratory issues, so we definitely take every measure to protect ourselves.

The worst part of it all is the uncertainty. Although we fully approve of the government-mandated quarantine, and believe it should be enforced even more strictly than it is now, there’s no knowing whether it will be enough. This is a new virus which is, apparently, remarkably contagious and adaptable. Several studies point to the conclusion that the incubation period of the covid-19 may be a lot longer than previously supposed. So if the quarantine is lifted too soon we might see a new wave of contagion.

I think that right now we are all keenly feeling our vulnerability. At the start of the social distancing measures, Prime Minister Netanyahu promised there would be no food shortages. Well, there are. Yes, you can still go into a supermarket and fill a cart, but many products are in insufficient supply, such as fresh produce, eggs, and milk. It is natural and very predictable.

I can tell you I am going to make a lot more effort with my vegetable garden this spring and summer – now is a great time to start a garden and I know a lot more people are giving it a try. I also plan to hatch a few extra chicks if possible this season. I would like a couple more laying hens myself, and I predict backyard chickens, other poultry, and even goats will become a lot more popular in smaller towns.

My opinion is that many people are beginning to internalize that the lifestyle of universal abundance and cheap disposable goods might not be as stable and reliable as we have grown to take for granted. Many have remarked to me how lucky I am, working remotely from home as a fiction editor and writer, that my employment opportunities have been largely unaffected by the covid pandemic. Yes, I am grateful, but people should also keep in mind – I know I do – that money may very well lose some of its value in times of crisis. Stocks are falling. Many people are experiencing devastating losses in their retirement funds that have been tied up in stocks – imagine saving up and being financially prudent all your life, only to have everything collapse because of external circumstances no one can control! It’s a huge wake-up call for all of us to examine our lifestyle and priorities.

There is no better time to invest in building skills and resources that will be valuable regardless of what happens to the money economy – growing food, foraging, upcycling, various repairs and handiwork, and a robust barter and small local business system that will be much more reliable in times of crisis.

For the time being, we are doing our best to keep safe (and sane!). I wonder what kind of world we will all emerge to once we can leave our homes again. I suspect there will be substantial changes and it is better to be prepared.

Unseasonably warm crochet cardigan

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This was my last winter project for this year – a top down raglan cardigan made from alpaca yarn. I love the satisfaction of throwing something over me that feels almost like a blanket – but I suppose I will get to enjoy it next season, as it’s already getting too warm here for stuff like that. I’ll probably attach a couple of nice big buttons.

Now on to summer projects – lacy tops, table runners, baskets, bags, and more. Always more ideas than time!

On another note, we are doing OK in the midst of all the craziness that is taking over the world. We are, of course, privileged to have a house with a private yard and a nice balcony with a beautiful view, so despite the lockdown we never really feel confined. There’s always plenty of outdoor work going on, whether it’s hanging out the washing, weeding, or mucking up the chicken coop.

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One of our recent projects has been raising a pair of Japanese quail Shira got for her birthday. The female just laid her first egg a couple of days ago. Japanese quail rarely go broody, but we’ll probably try to incubate once we gather enough eggs.

Stay safe, everyone. These are scary times we live in, but I have never felt so connected to friends all over the world. We are truly all in this together, and I am optimistic that it shall pass and we’ll emerge on the other side stronger and more resilient than before.

A baby for my baby

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During this busy time of us all staying at home in quarantine, I found a few relaxing moments to put the finishing touches on this crochet doll I got done just in time for Hadassah’s second birthday. I’m happy to say that, though not perfect, this cuddly doll is a big hit and Hadassah loves toting it around.

I made it like I usually make my dolls – crochet the head and body from the top down, fill with stuffing, and then attach arms and legs. Then I used scraps from other projects for the dress. That’s one of the things I love most about making dolls – you get to use up yarn odds and ends, and the craft cupboard is a lot less messy by the time you’re done.

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Here is also a photo from our walk this afternoon. We are being very, very careful, but fortunately, very close to our house there are empty fields where you can wander as much as you want without meeting a living soul except the occasional distant glimpse of someone walking their dog.

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I hope everyone is staying safe and healthy. Please run no risks! We’ve got this and we’ll get through this.

Quarantine: the whole world turns to homeschooling

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One aspect of the coronavirus crisis and the ensuing quarantine is that being a work-at-home, homeschooling family is now totally mainstream. In fact, those who have been doing this already feel like they are one step ahead.

Of course, the current situation poses some additional challenges. I don’t know how things currently stand in every country, but around here, pretty much everything is closed except for supermarkets, pharmacies, and other essential services, and the guidelines make it clear that people should socialize as little as possible with anyone outside their immediate family. So it’s definitely not a time for getting together with friends. It might be hard for some children, but on the other hand, it’s also an opportunity to strengthen sibling ties.

Nevertheless, being locked up at home can make people stir-crazy in no time, and young children (and their parents) might soon find themselves climbing the walls. 

We, personally, have the huge advantage of a yard where my children can go out whenever the weather is nice and play safely. Gardening is also a great way to keep busy. Plenty of weeding to do at this time of the year! Those who are confined to an apartment no doubt have it much harder.

Regardless, I would advise anyone to get out (safely) as much as possible. Take a day trip out of town and walk in the fields, climb a hill, hike down a river – whatever you have in the area and whatever the weather permits. We live on the outskirts of a small town so we have several nice hiking directions around here where we can get on foot and are unlikely to meet anyone.

This is a good time to organize all those arts and crafts supplies you might have forgotten you even had. I organized the book/toy/craft shelves today and I can tell you I found some hidden treasures such as new packs of glitter pens, crayons, stickers, and more. Art paper and coloring books had been unearthed too. Everything is a lot more inviting now that it’s neat and orderly.

When everyone is at home a lot more than they had been used to, it can be easy to slide into letting the kids have a lot more screen time than is healthy for them. I totally understand this and there’s nothing wrong with a good movie or some games, but I have really noticed that excess of screen time brings all sorts of issues such as crabbiness, difficulty to concentrate on other things, lack of motivation for anything but passive entertainment, and sleeping troubles.

Sleep is another matter I would encourage everyone to keep under the bounds of healthy discipline. Personally I can tell you that nothing exhausts me like having everyone stay up late. So, while my older girls have reached the age when it’s difficult to actually get them to fall asleep if they don’t feel like it, I normally tell them to get into pajamas and into bed with a book.

Finally, it’s important to count our blessings. Most of us aren’t in any real physical danger. We have electricity and running water, full refrigerators and pantries, and many ways to keep busy and connect with others. Think of people have gone through wars or live in extreme conditions and have been snowed in for many months – it really does help to remember that comparatively, we really have it good.

So just keep your days simple. Spend time with your family. Hug them a lot. Get out when you can. Pull out a board game. And remember, you are not alone. ♥

Getting through the coronavirus crisis

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I thought I would talk a bit about how we’re coping with the recent coronavirus crisis that is affecting pretty much the whole world by now.

Truth be told, we haven’t had to make any dramatic changes. We work from home, live in a pretty quiet town, don’t travel, and aren’t keen on places with large crowds. So statistically we already have a pretty good advantage.

We do make a conscious effort these days to avoid crowded places if at all possible. For instance, recently I had an acute earache. Normally I would pop in to see our family doctor right away, but at this time I decided to wait it out, and sure enough, it passed in 24 hours and I saved myself a trip to the clinic where I might have come in contact with sick people – and even if you catch something other than the coronavirus, it still takes a toll on your immune system, which is the last thing you need right now.

I did take a bus to town to buy some yarn the other day, but I think it’s the last time in a while I will do that. Why risk it?

Our stockpile is in a pretty good condition too – while I’m not an advocate of panic buying, it’s always wiser to have one’s shelves full rather than empty. Prices fluctuate and if you can get a good deal on something that won’t spoil, like toilet paper, dish soap, or even dry legumes, why not? You’ll be glad you grabbed that stuff if the supermarket shelves are suddenly not as full as you have gotten used to seeing them.

We have a little stash of cash at home for emergencies, which is something I’d recommend to anyone, but one must also, in my opinion, be mentally prepared for the possibility that money might lose some of its value altogether. At times of crisis, you might do a lot better bartering goods and services. Think what skills you have that might come in handy when folks need to fend for themselves (carpentry, plumbing, growing food, traditional medicine, etc).

Speaking of growing food, now would be a great time to start a vegetable garden. I can readily envision a situation in which nobody is actually starving, but there are problems with delivering fresh produce. People who have their own vegetables, eggs, milk, etc, and know how to forage for edibles in their area, will be at a huge advantage.

Then I’m also thinking long-term. I do have some cautious optimism and believe the virus will eventually be contained, but the economy will probably suffer a major recession that will last far longer than the actual crisis. Things might not be as plentiful or as cheap as we have gotten to take for granted since China, the world’s major manufacturer of just about anything these days, has suffered a hard blow with this epidemic, and it might get worse still (I’m just speculating here, of course) . We could also see a reduction of import and a resurgence of local production, which might not be a bad thing for us after all.

Stay safe, take care of yourselves and your family, and don’t take unnecessary risks!

Living with irregular electricity supply

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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.”

Stockpiling for sustainability

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If you aren’t stockpiling yet, you definitely should. It saves time on shopping, enables one to take advantage of the best deals, and has the potential to tide one over a tough period. In several instances we have eaten our way through our stockpile, relying heavily on it when times were rough.

Read more on stockpiling in my latest Mother Earth News post:

“My husband would see something on sale, and buy several items instead of just one for immediate use. There’s often something at a good price that can be stored for a long time – canned vegetables, pasta, rice, beans and barley, non-perishables such as shampoo and toilet paper. I must admit that back then, I felt a little pang in my heart whenever I saw the grocery bill, thinking to myself that here are things we could do without, taking up storage space. Time proved that I was wrong.”