Thursday, October 8, 2015

Increasing danger

As some of you are perhaps aware, recently Israel has become a much scarier place than two weeks ago. The shooting and stabbing by terrorists goes on in many parts of the country, and the evil has reached unbelievable peaks.

I'm a little at a loss of what to say. On the one hand, I can think of nothing else but the lives that had been destroyed or ruined forever. The parents that were murdered in front of their children; the woman who ran away from the terrorists, knife in her shoulder, and begged for help but was cruelly told to just shut up and die; the schools shutting down; people trying to minimize going out of the house.

Since we don't hate them, it can be hard to finally realize how much they truly hate us.

I think an important point is that the violence no longer has borders (if, indeed, it ever had borders). People often talk to us about how dangerous it is to live outside the '67 borders, like we do; as if the Magic Line of '67 somehow turns peace into war and friends into enemies, and if only we withdrew to the borders of '48, we would be safe, nobody would be after our blood, and peace would be restored to the Middle East.

What a joke. We did that experiment in Gaza in 2005. The peaceful civilians of Gaza exercised their democratic rights by electing Hamas for their government.

Those who want to kill Jews in the Shomron or Gush Etziyon, want to kill Jews in Jerusalem, Petach Tikva, and Tel Aviv. They are actively trying to do so, every day. They consider all of Israel as rightfully theirs. And once we cower and run, there is no way to stop and no place to hide.

We are an ordinary family. We live in a very small, quiet way. Those who have been reading my blog for any length of time know my life, interests and pursuits revolve around anything home- and child-related. But you can't go on quietly cooking and looking after your chickens and choosing seeds for your garden when you feel you aren't safe, wherever you go; when you worry about your husband every time he drives home from work; when you happen to be in town and think twice about going to the mall (and not because of the exorbitant prices of everything).

We will not succumb to panic. But we want to feel safe, and that feeling is, lately, very elusive.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

An untitled update and some random musings on financial sustainability

As usual, the High Holidays and Sukkot passed in a whirlwind of cooking, making arrangements, hosting, packing, going over for weekends, weekdays, days all jumbled together... and me, in the middle of it all, always doing more than I thought I possibly could, and probably less than I ought. The children always staying up far too late, the days each unique in its own way - some nice and relaxed, some hectic and intense. And family. Lots and lots of relatives, more than making up for the summer months we have spent mostly asunder.

I've often wished to blog, sometimes about this and sometimes about that, and of course never got around to squeezing in even a small update.

Of course, holidays also mean expenses - there's extra food, usually some new clothes, extra usage of electricity (air conditioning for guests, laundry, etc), and there's often some traveling thrown in as well. It isn't accidental that many charity organizations kick into action just before Rosh HaShana. So I've been often thinking of poverty; its standards, and definition, and practical implications. And the conclusion I've come to is that it's not just what you have - more than that, probably a lot more, is what you do with what you have. 

Take two families, both consisting of two couples with three children aged 6, 4 and 2. Both families make an X sum each month. Family A has scrimped and saved in past years and bought a house, small by usual standards, and a little out of the way, but they contrived to use the space to the best possible advantage. They therefore pay no rent or mortgage. They grow part of their own food and use a once-a-month-shopping plan which works well for them. They know where to find used clothes, furniture and books in good condition. They are creative in their vacations (exploring the area around their home) and in their home decoration (they aren't squeamish about collecting things from dumps and giving them a new life). They homeschool and so pay zero for childcare, nannies, summer camps, etc. 

Family B isn't extravagant. They don't go abroad, for instance. They do, however, go on vacation once a year, usually for a very good deal. It still costs a lot, though. More importantly, they pay rent, which takes about 1\3 of their monthly income, though it's only an average apartment in an average neighborhood. Or perhaps they have a mortgage on bad terms. They dream of having their own home someday, and they are trying to save from the remaining 2\3 of their income, but it's going slow and they know it's pretty hopeless. They have two cars and can't possibly do without one. 

One day, family B begins to get creative and re-prioritize. They decide that a two-bedroom apartment is enough for them after all. They move to a cheaper place, with longer commute, and resolve to make the most of their time on the road, audio-learning in their car or reading on the train. They don't entirely give up the second car, but they use it less. The home of their dreams changes, too. They lean towards a smaller fixer-upper they would be able to purchase in the foreseeable future, and perhaps renovate and add a room later. They feel good about themselves and their life.

Family C, perhaps, is in the same position as family B, but they aren't able to make the necessary changes to live within their means. It's for no fault of their own. They had optimistically taken a large mortgage when it looked perfectly reasonable to do so, but then one of the spouses fully or partially lost their ability to work. Or perhaps they are under such strain that there just isn't enough time or mental energy to stop and think how they could change things. This is where the real financial downfall begins - the inability to manage with what you have.

This is why I object to arbitrary poverty lines. It would be more complicated, but also more truthful, to find out how well the family is managing on what they have. 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Do the first thing

"Do the first thing, and let the first thing be to just love and care for the people in your life.
If cares or extra commitments or certain relationships are hindering you from doing so, cast them (the cares) aside, or set them (extra commitments or certain relationships) aside, until things are running smoothly and you feel able to reach out a bit further.
If you have to face a difficulty today (and you may and will at times) breathe deeply, send your simplest prayer of childlike trust-- with all its fears and/or concerns of inadequacies and possibilities--up to the Lord, and then go in, or out, to face --knowing that He is not surprised by or afraid of, anything."
- Eyes of Wonder

Monday, September 7, 2015

The wishes of my heart

I would crave wealth, not riches as I live:
The wealth of learning with a quiet heart.
An open mind with leisure time to give
To poetry, to music, and to art;
The time for children's laughter, time to learn
The wisdom of the sages of the past;
The time to watch the stars--a candle burn
In sacrificial fire to the last.

I would speak gently though the din be loud,
I would move softly without hurried haste,
I would be inconspicuous in a crowd,
I would conserve the energies we waste;
I would see beauty in each common task,
Each bird, each tree, the clouds that light shines through.
This is my heart's desire--the thing I ask:
To daily grow as God would have me do.

~Grace Noll Crowell

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Simple Art

Simple art on a simple day - pen/pencil containers out of empty Pringles cans, decorated with the help of some glittering ribbon, scissors and glue:

Followed by a quote from my all-time favorite blog, Eyes of Wonder (now, sadly, discontinued and gone private):

"I sure do find that the children are happiest when they're creating something. It makes a bit of a mess, that's for sure, but the peace and joy that fills the house is so much more than worth it.  A nice breakfast, a pot of soup set to cook on the stove, some music while all the morning chores are being done, all the supplies made ready, makes for merry little hearts (and big ones, too :o) and the fun begins!  

My childlike heart loves to be busy creating, too, and finds so much pleasure in doing so alongside my precious children. The days pass all too quickly, and I want to be able to look back knowing I gave them the gift of my time, not just as a mother meeting their physical needs, but as a friend, that walked with them and talked with them, laughed with them, knew them through and through, and thoroughly enjoyed them along life's way.  How I do so desire to seize each moment I am blessed with, to love and delight in the gift of my children."

Friday, September 4, 2015

Living with irregular electricity supply

Following my last post about living with irregular water supply: Last winter, we've had more than a few days around here with irregular electricity supply. Here is how we managed.

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, 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 I didn't want to do that with a new baby.

Here are more suggestions from the Down To Earth Forum:

"We had been warned about power cuts here too - the winter before we moved there were huge storms in this area of and many people were without power for a week or so. We considered this when we we doing our house, although we haven't had anything other than momentary cuts since we moved in a year ago. 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. We have a tin with extra candles and matches that we have moved out of storage and into our living room in light of the stormy weather this week, we both know where it is and should be able to find it easily in the dark. Finally, on stormy nights, we light a couple of candles even if the electricity is on - that way, if it goes off we still have some light to sort everything out by. 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. When we first moved into this house we had no electricity at all for 2 months (in the winter). We used a generator to run the fridge and one other item at a time and cooked on the double gas ring and an assortment of camping gas stoves/lanterns - I shouldn't say this, probably, but the tops of the lanterns get hot enough to cook on, though you need to be very, very careful! I was ready to kidnap the man who finally came to connect us - two months of heating water in saucepans so that we could have anything approaching a bath was resulting in serious sense of humour failure! I even cooked Christmas dinner on the 2 gas ring thing, so anything good to eat is possible with one of those. 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 (normally not for more than a couple of hours) for mainenance - 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."

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Living with irregular water supply

We currently live in a very beautiful place; however, some of the utility systems there have their imperfections. Among other things, water supply can sometimes be unreliable. It doesn't happen every day, but for example, yesterday we spent almost the entire day without running water; we had one hour of running water in the evening - we only just managed showers, and it was gone again. This morning, we've had no running water either. Perhaps some of you, living in the remoter spots, are facing the same challenges. Here are some ways to manage:

1. Home cistern - that one is pretty obvious, but it is an expense we still aren't sure we are prepared to venture into. It does work well for some families here, though. They have cisterns which get filled when the water is running, and if the water supply is cut off, their cistern can last them for days (depending on the size of their family and how they manage showers and laundry).

2. Do not delay - if I have a load of washing to do, I do it; if I have dishes in the sink, I do them. There are few things more frustrating than leaving a sinkful of dishes "until later" and then being unable to do them because your tap stops running.

3. Collect dew - there is a lot of talk online about collecting rainwater, but in Israel, we generally have no (and I mean no) rain from May till October. You would be surprised, however, to know how much dew we manage to collect by placing buckets in strategic places beneath our front door awning. We get around two buckets a day, which we give to our chickens and, in some cases, use to flush the toilet.

4. Save what you can - for me, this usually means water from the baby's bath. It can be used for washing the floor and, again, flushing the toilet if there's no water left in the tank.

5. Keep some bottled water on hand - we always do that, so that at least we aren't stuck without drinking water. Yesterday we gave away some water bottles to a neighbor of ours who was at home with a very small baby and no water for drinking. You don't want that to happen to you.

Here are some more lovely suggestions from members of the Down To Earth Simple Living Forum:

"We have a slightly erratic water supply and will often (maybe a couple of times a month) have a day with no mains water. We have rainwater tanks in the garden and, when it rains heavily, we make sure we fill other water containers from the overflow. We use these containers for flushing the toilet - the water isn't clean enough for other uses so we always have bottled drinking water on hand too."

" if you can invest in a tank of some kind then I would do so, with a pump to get the water from the tank into the house - assuming you are not without power & water at the same time! Is there a spring anywhere near for drinking water? If so this is a better/cheaper option than buying bottled water for drinking all the time."

"I have not lived under the conditions you describe however my mother inlaw did when she lived in SriLanka.
her motto used to be " what do I absolutely have to have to survive" 
she kept bottled water for drinking as it was not always safe for her to walk out of her compound to go fetch water. She felt she could live without a shower short term , at least until it was daylight and she had an escort. 
For longer term water shortages she just washed underclothes by hand with fresh water from the toilet cistern that she then used for flushing the toilet ( only once a day )"