Just keep crafting

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Latest creation, just completed yesterday: a pineapple crochet top made with the help of a diagram found on Pinterest. I made it with the last batch of yarn I got in town before the pandemic hit hard (I do have more yarn in my stash, don’t worry). I haven’t saved the label but any thread yarn will work for these kinds of high-definition patterns.

Around here, the government is trying to get back to business as usual too quickly, IMHO. I think there has been a lot of pressure originated in the false sense of security due to the relatively low number of deaths in Israel (200 total, or thereabouts). Preschools and first to third grades are going to reopen part-time starting Sunday and I can’t think of a more reckless and pointless move with which to restart the economy.

Fact: young kids can’t really be trusted in matters of hygiene and social distancing.

Another fact: Because of lack of teachers (due to smaller classes and older and at-risk teachers still staying home), children won’t be in school enough hours per week to allow working parents to return to their jobs.

Conclusion: this arrangement is just enough to promote the spread of the virus but not to be of any practical help for the economy.

There is a lot of talk about how children “need” to be in a school setting, how it’s a matter of “mental health” to get them back into classrooms even part-time. This is simply the result of a rigid mindset that knows no different and doesn’t wish to think outside the box. Countless families around the globe homeschool. Their children do just fine academically and socially. I think our Ministry of Education should have considered that fact before pushing for such huge risks.

Yes, our children will be staying home anyway, but this means that we, too, are going to be at a higher risk of infection as everyone will be cross-contaminated through schools.

School at home is pointless

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Starting from today, the Israeli ministry of education has come up with a model of long-distance lessons that will start in the morning and last into the afternoon, with obligatory participation for each student from kindergarten and up. There is also supposed to be homework, after-school activities, and parent meetings via Zoom.

Predictably, many parents revolted against such a rigid plan, pointing out that 1. In most families except the more privileged ones, the ratio of children per computer/tablet isn’t 1:1 but more like 1:3; 2. The parents themselves often need the computer for work; 3. The heavy one-on-one tutoring the program assumes will take place is impossible with several children of different ages involved; and 4. Perhaps the most obvious one – it’s not realistic or even desirable to get children to sit in front of screens for 5-6 hours a day and actually retain anything they learn.

To me, the major flaw in this plan is pretty obvious: the ministry of education is essentially attempting to recreate school at home, with a set schedule, plenty of busywork, and a strict division between classes. There’s no doubt at all this is going to fail, and fast.

For someone who had homeschooled for a long time (our older girls are currently enrolled in a small private school that does not, thank goodness, insist on turning our living room into a fully equipped classroom), it was easy enough to fall back on our old homeschooling/unschooling tactics. I can tell you that we never have, and probably never will, start or end lessons at the same time of the day. I am sure countless parents all over the country are now making the same discovery as well.

Furthermore, as my two eldest are close in age, the only subject I have ever taught separately was math, and that with considerable overlaps. Everything else – reading comprehension, writing, science, English, etc, was taught together, but with slightly different expectations. In millions of homes, siblings with 1-2 years of difference are required to stay separate for lessons they could both learn with equal profit.

Third, and this is the key point here, our ministry of education and all the experts that advise it are focused on filling the children’s time – free time is seen as the enemy. It is not – it is an opportunity.

I can assure you that throughout elementary school at least, all the essentials can be safely covered in two hours daily, possibly split between morning and afternoon, and the rest of the time can be divided between free creative play and studying subjects that the children themselves are interested in (self-induced learning that requires very little effort on the parent’s part).

Take screens away (with the exception of some educational YouTube channels) and give children books, craft materials, dress-up play, and a patch of dirt to dig in, and you can accomplish great things.

Yes, I hear you. “Easy for you to say. You live in a house with a large yard and chickens. But most of Israel is urbanized. People are languishing, quarantined in tiny apartments.”

I get it. I do. But sticking children for 5-6 hours a day in front of Zoom still won’t work.

What the ministry of education should try, in my opinion, is a lot more hands-off approach. Give children flexible assignments they can complete at their leisure, and condense what can be condensed into programs siblings of various ages can do together. Then provide suggestions for elective classes/activities for children to do if they so choose – and put more trust in their creativity, flexibility and resilience.

This is an opportunity for all to try a whole new approach, one that may well serve us even after the pandemic is over. It would be a pity to miss it.

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.

A temporary crisis

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Have I already mentioned this is not my favorite season?

After weeks of cold, rain, mud, being unable to poke our noses outside, and a series of colds, three of my children were finally diagnosed with strep throats and started a course of antibiotics, and now thankfully they are feeling much better.

After that, I did a throat culture as well, but it hasn’t come back yet and I’m so much recovered that even if it turns out I had had strep too, I think taking antibiotics now would kind of miss the point.

Anyway, the frustration of being cooped up has gotten so bad that as soon as the rain stopped this morning, we were out, equipped with coats and rubber boots, to wade through the little stream flowing near our home.

It’s probably the coldest day of the year today, but the days are getting longer and, I’m crossing my fingers and hoping, will soon get warmer. I know the folks shoveling snow up north will think us a bunch of spoiled ninnies, but we’re not used to cold, and Israeli houses generally don’t have effective central heating.

It’s amazing how much better it felt to have been able to spend even a short while outside. I hope for many more opportunities for outdoorsy stuff in the near future.

In the meanwhile, stay snug and warm, and don’t forget to make yourself a cup of cold weather tea – homemade chai masala mix or ginger, cloves and lemon are a synergistic combination.

I’m going to cook a big pot of lentil soup this afternoon. Plenty of onions, potatoes, squash and celery… Mmm… Can almost smell it!

Hope everyone is having a lovely cozy day.

Lavender lip balm

Who wouldn’t love to capture the smell of their favorite herb in a jar of healthy, all-natural skin care product? In this case, I used lavender, but it could also be rosemary, mint, sage, or any other herb.

I love the smell of lavender, and it also has calming, relaxing properties. We don’t have any in our garden yet, but I know an area in a local park with a large hedge of lavender bushes.

So, fresh lavender.

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Air-dry your lavender. This is done simply by tying it in a bunch in a shady, breezy spot. Drying the lavender will prevent spoilage and rancidity in the finished product.

Next, you will need some base oil without a strong smell, such as almond. I used grapeseed oil.

Pack the dry lavender into a glass jar and pour the oil over it, just enough to cover it. You can use both flowers and leaves. Place the jar in a sunny spot for a period of time from a few days to a couple of weeks, depending on how warm it is and how powerfully infused you would like your oil to be. Smell the oil from time to time to decide when it’s ready.

Now filter the oil and discard the lavender parts.

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You could, of course, just add a few drops of essential oil, but I find something thrilling about the idea of scenting my own natural skin care products with herbs I had found and dried myself.

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Next step: weighing the filtered oil and beeswax. Combine in a glass bowl, 1 part beeswax to 4 parts oil.

I remember that last time I posted about using beeswax in skin care products, I got a question about substitutes for people who are sensitive. There are several options for plant-based wax, but I have never used them and can’t offer you first-hand experience.

Place the glass bowl into a small pot of water and gradually heat it over a low flame, stirring until the beeswax melts. Pour into containers and allow to set.

Use as lip balm, on dry rough hands, and on dry heels.

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Strategies for minimizing mold

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Ever had a mold problem? It’s one of the biggest challenges we’re dealing with in our current house, and though it’s an ongoing battle, I’m happy to say we’re gradually getting the situation under control. Read more in my latest Mother Earth News post:

“Mold isn’t just unsightly and nasty-smelling. It can have potentially serious health consequences such as respiratory problems or symptoms akin to allergy and asthma. Treat it promptly and uncompromisingly as you would a dangerous enemy.”

I’m telling you, in the first weeks of moving here it was like battling some malicious, purposeful enemy rather than colonies of fungus. Every spot that wasn’t completely dry, toasty and thoroughly aired would be covered with ugly black mold dots within days. Persistent airing and copious amounts of bleach made these attacks recede somewhat, but we still have to be extra diligent when it comes to maintenance.

By the way, when we first came to see the house, it was impossible to know there was a mold problem at all. The place was spotless! Which is something I always keep in mind whenever I feel challenged. It’s definitely doable.

I’m ready to try methods other than bleach, because I hate the way it smells. Vinegar and baking soda did not make an iota of difference. Anyone has any good tips?

Image source: Wikipedia

Basic Lip Balm: two ingredient recipe

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I ran out of lip balm a few cold and windy days ago, and rather than venturing out in this weather, I thought I’d try making my own.

Most lip balm recipes call for beeswax, which I thought I didn’t have on hand, but then I discovered some fragments of a broken beeswax sheet while I was clearing out a drawer (Pesach, here we come! ). Perfect!

Other than the beeswax, the only ingredient you will need is oil – I used olive, but coconut, jojoba or another nourishing oil would work just as well.

The proportions are approximately 1 part beeswax to 6 parts oil. You can decrease the amount of beeswax a little if you live in a cold climate and would like your lip balm to be softer.

Mix the oil and beeswax in a small pot over a very low flame, or better yet, place your small pot into a larger pot filled with boiling water and stir. The beeswax will melt very quickly.

Optional: at this point you can add some essential oils. I added a drop of mint and rosemary for a refreshing herbal scent.

Pour the mixture into containers and allow to set. That’s it! A few minutes of work, and you have a healthy, natural balm that’s great for your lips and other extra dry areas such as elbows and heels. It can even be used as a diaper cream.

PS: in case you are wondering about the hole in the middle of the lip balm jar, I suspect it had set this way because I popped it into the refrigerator to speed up the process.

Along with homemade soap, a cute little jar of this lip balm would make a fantastic gift for whomever you might want to pamper.