Living through another lockdown

I’m failing to keep up with what’s going on in the rest of the world, but Israel is going through another lockdown, and I feel like I’m nearing the end of my rope. I’m not alone, either.

Things are mostly closed, except for food and pharma. Places are shut up and businesses are going bust. COVID statistics are frightening. Hospitals are nearing maximum capacity and we’re all going to suffer from further overload.

There’s something profoundly unsettling about having to keep away from people – to meet a friend and then be restricted to talking awkwardly from a distance through a mask, without being able to give a hug.

No library. No swimming pool. But thankfully, the heat is letting up enough for us to plan some hiking and spending time in the open air during this week of Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles).

I have some friends who have taken this whole crappy period as an incentive to do lots of house remakes and upgrades. Me? I feel like I have weights on my arms and legs. I just slug through work, food prep, basic cleaning, and some reading and crochet to keep sane.

I keep counting my blessings. We’re all in good health. I

live in a large house with a yard, trees, chickens, etc. We have a large supply of books and craft supplies. There are plenty of educational and entertaining stuff on the Web. I work from home and have a flexible schedule.

How many people have it way, WAY harder?!

Still, I find it hard to shake off this heavy, heavy oppressive feeling. And I’m sending this post out there as a big virtual hug for all the people who feel the same.

Stay safe, guys. And stay sane. Hug your kids. Do that puzzle. Bake those cookies. Put on some music. Do whatever makes you feel good that isn’t totally unreasonable. Be kind to yourself. You’ve got this.

Delicious homemade granola

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Cooked oatmeal is a great, healthy morning food, but sometimes you’re looking for something quicker, or just aren’t in the mood for hot breakfast. In this case, homemade granola might just be the thing for you. 

Most commercial granola brands are ridiculously expensive and loaded with sugar, but it’s easy to make your own, and once you try it, you’ll never look back.

Basically, you will mainly need 2-3 cups whole oats, and you can add various goodies such as:

– Sesame, sunflower, and pumpkin seeds

– Raisins, dried cranberries, dried apricot chunks

– Coconut or almond slivers

Mix everything and add cinnamon, a couple of teaspoonfuls of coconut oil, and your favorite natural sweetener such as honey, date sugar, or maple syrup.

Spread over a baking sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes at medium heat, or just until it gets a beautiful golden hue.

Take out of the oven and set out to cool and dry. Keep in a sealed jar.

Enjoy for breakfast or as an any-time-of-the-day treat!

My 5 favorite herbs and how I use them

Herbs are some of the easiest things to grow, hands down. Proof is, even I am capable of keeping them alive and thriving. Many of them will spread like weeds if you let them, popping up every spring without any effort on your part. Herbs are usually pretty tolerant when it comes to soil type and sun and shade balance.

Here are my top five favorite herbs, which I use for tea, seasoning, remedies, or all of the above.

1. Mint

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With its refreshing, invigorating smell, mint makes delicious tea that is great either hot or cold. Mint is great for colds and digestive complaints.

2. SageDSC_0711

We had a glorious sage bush at our old home, but here, my poor little sage plant took some assaults from the chickens, who insisted on digging around it and trampling it for some reason (they don’t eat it, though – it’s a bonus point for chicken keepers. Sharp-smelling herbs are about the only thing chickens find unappetizing).

Anyway, my sage plant seems to be in recovery now, and is flowering. Which makes me really happy, because sage tea is a powerful decongestant and great for sore throats.

3. Rosemary

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My rosemary is still young, but its mother plant is a big arborescent bush.

Rosemary has some potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory qualities, and I just love it in cooking. It’s divine with oven-baked fish and roast potatoes.

4. Oregano (thanks to the readers who pointed out the correct name of this herb! It’s sometimes easy to get confused when the guy at the plant nursery assures you he’s selling you something which it is, in fact, not 😁)

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This is another herb I appreciate primarily for its culinary uses. It’s great either chopped fresh or dried and crushed – thoroughly air-dried herbs will keep almost indefinitely, retaining most of their properties.

I love it in bread, chicken roast, soup, and much more.

5. Lemongrass

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I adore the way this plant looks – like a giant spiky tuft of grass. It makes delicious tea, which I love to drink while breastfeeding as, unlike mint and sage, it doesn’t negatively affect milk supply.

If you’re planning a garden, herbs are one of the best places to start. I would say that at the very least, climate permitting, you should have the trio of mint, sage, and rosemary. They are perennial, hardy, easy to grow, smell delicious, and repel insects – what’s not to love?

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.