Wednesday, December 4, 2013
For the basic dough, I just used a simple recipe for cookies. It doesn't matter really - to get the pretty two-color effect, you can use any recipe that gives you nice workable white dough.
Once you have made your basic dough, divide it into two parts. Add some cocoa powder to one part - just enough to make it brown. Then pinch off a bit of white dough and roll it between your hands, making a longish rounded "worm". Do the same with a bit of brown dough. Twist the two "worms" around one another, roll into ball, flatten slightly and place on baking sheet. Very easy and fun for children and adults.
Put into the oven and be careful not to overbake. I like my cookies only just done, even before the edges have started to turn golden.
Then make a pot of tea and enjoy tea and cookies as a family, or call a friend to come along!
Monday, December 2, 2013
... and the house was shaking.
This winter, we haven't got much rain so far, but we have had a lot of windy days and nights. Two nights ago, I pulled the blankets over my head, trying to block out the howling of the wind and go to sleep, but it was no good. The noise kept me wide awake, and even worse, I suddenly had this horrible certainty that the house had never shaken like this before, and that next thing I know, we will all find ourselves falling down the side of the hill, among the broken remains of walls and roof.
I felt ashamed about waking my husband, who was sleeping peacefully, but couldn't help it. "I think the house is going to collapse," I told him.
"Relax," he said, "We have had winds like this before."
"But the house had never shaken like this. I'm sure it hasn't. What if the roof is blown away? Maybe we should just grab the children and go?"
"Go back to sleep. You'll see, it will be quieter in the morning."
It was. When I woke, the windows were rattling, but the house was still standing, and it even had its roof on top of it. I went outside to feed the animals. The chicken coop was a disaster. It was secured in its place by thick ropes tied to large rocks, so it didn't topple over, but only barely. The Silkie cage was ruined by the wind, and the birds were walking around the yard, looking surprised at so much freedom, and not coping very well with so much wind. The nesting boxes were scattered over the floor (thankfully no eggs), as well as some boards I have neatly stacked next to the wall.
There are many people who live in houses where they hardly have a notion of the weather outside. Their living space is fully air conditioned; they have another apartment above them rather than a roof, so they might not know if it's raining. They go everywhere by car. Wind doesn't even phase them. But around here, I feel we really live close to the elements. The house doesn't have very good insulation; cold drafts come from the cracks beneath the door. The roof is made of tin, so a rainstorm creates an overwhelming noise; rain, wind and dust often create problems with electricity and internet connection.
Every day of our lives, we tread the earth. We have lots of eggs in spring and summer, and only a little in winter. In the summer I collect figs and carobs, in the autumn olives. Herb plants bloom in spring and attract humming bees. We eagerly await the end of winter and anticipate chick season.
And, though I would very much like a house that is better protected against the weather, and do hope we'll have such a house someday, I believe there is also a priceless lesson in this vulnerability we are currently experiencing. It teaches us that we are not truly in control; it teaches us to make do without what we can't have at the moment (comfy warm bedrooms, internet, electricity, hanging the laundry outside). It teaches us to make the best of what we do have (quiet days, time for working around the house, time off yard work). That is a valuable experience our family will always have, even if in the future we move to a different place.
Thursday, November 28, 2013
I know that's a whole lot of excitement over one small egg, but we've had a couple of months of no eggs at all, so it's really nice to finally have a hen start laying.
Oh, and in case you are wondering, no, she didn't lay it in the new nesting box (what lack of appreciation for my thoughtful work!) - she preferred a lemongrass bush for that purpose. It's a convenient spot that has been long favored by our hens, though, so I hold no grudges.
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
I wouldn't call myself an outstanding homemaker; I do all the usual things, of course - I clean, I cook, I do the laundry, I take care of the chickens, I raise children, walk the dog, make phone calls and appointments for the family, etc. But my meals aren't as elaborate as what some of my friends cook; my home never looks immaculate or very tidy - it rather seems that as soon as I'm done putting something away, I have ten more things in its stead; I'm not very good at removing some types of stains; and though I make most of our food from scratch, I succumb to the convenience of store-bought bread in the middle of the week, and canned beans when I hadn't planned ahead to soak some dry ones.
I crochet, but I don't really knit or sew; I don't grow a vegetable garden, though I hope to change that; my children aren't as accomplished and well-behaved as some other children I know; I can't whip up a six-layer cake in thirty minutes; I have dust bunnies under the beds; I try to save on electricity, but often forget to turn off the water heater; I don't make my own soap, laundry detergent, cleaning or skin care products. The list of my imperfections is long, and I always feel as though I don't have enough hours in the day to do all that needs to be done.
It is possible that I am wrong, but I have this theory that, as we full-time homemakers have made a very counter-cultural choice, there is strong pressure on us to prove that we, indeed, aren't wasting our time at home. I have often heard working women tell with satisfaction, "oh, we had such a slow day today, we were able to lounge in the conference room for two hours drinking coffee" - but I have never heard a full-time homemaker say, "today I just sat in the middle of the day on the couch for two hours with my feet up and watched soap operas". Even if we do that sometimes, it's not a source of pride. Our salary doesn't continue trickling in for those slow hours.
Note: I should clarify there is a big, big distinction between - to make a crude division - Career Women and women who just work outside the home. The former are a minority who truly have a career they love, and usually a lot of ambition. The latter simply work, often part-time, just because society expects them to. Fortunately we are not all expected to be brilliant; it's alright even to be a secretary, a kindergarten teacher (a respectable job, but hardly a high-powered career), a research assistant, or any part-time not-too-high-paid profession - it's fine to be anything, as long as you work outside the home. If you choose to be home full-time, you must be a failure. If you stay home full-time and your house isn't in top order and your children aren't always happy and your meals aren't gourmet, you are a dawdle and a slattern.
And then, even if we do conquer mountains (of laundry) and cross rivers (of milk spilled on the floor) and fight frightening wild beasts (cockroaches and spiders), no one is there to give three cheers for us. As an acquaintance cheerfully pointed out to me, "it's much easier to take care of a home that doesn't have people in it all the time."
But then, isn't the purpose of a home to have people in it?
I believe that our work is worthwhile, even if we are not perfect. I might not be brilliant, but I'm trying; my home might not be picture-perfect, but I'm tending it; my position may not reap immediate rewards, but it is valuable.
I will try to remember all this next time we are all being crabby cooped inside on a rainy day, when I'm trying to mop the floor just to get tracks on it the next moment; when a freshly washed shirt is stained a moment after it is put on; when a pot overflows onto a pristine stove, or sudden rain soaks my nearly-dry laundry. I'm here, and that's what matters.
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
My chickens have been checking out this construction yesterday and today. I just hope they like it. :-) Last year we had an "egg strike" around this time of year, and it was broken as soon as the days stopped shortening - that is, a long time before spring. Can't wait for some fresh eggs!
Sunday, November 24, 2013
Translation from an article about post-partum depression I read in the Hebrew Nashim ("Women") magazine:
M., a religiously observant woman, was 25 when her second son was born. The maternity leave at home with the baby passed by quickly, and after three and a half months [note: the length of maternity leave in Israel is 14 weeks] she had to return to work.
"I went back to work unwillingly [she says] - I wanted to extend my maternity leave, but I wasn't allowed to. I worried very much. I worried about how the children will cope in daycare, and I was under pressure to arrive at work on time."
The disquiet gradually took over the rhythm of her days. "I went out of the house every morning in great stress, came back in the afternoon stressed, everything was very pressured. In addition, there was a lot of criticism of my performance at work. There were many demands and endless remarks, and I felt I can't deal with it anymore. One evening I came home after a long conference at work, sat down in the living room and just began to cry. I cried and cried, my baby woke up and I felt I can't pick him up. I felt I have no power left. The house looked awful after about two weeks of no laundry being done, no cleaning and no cooking. But I couldn't cope, nor did I want to.
"The next day, I told my husband I have no strength to get up. He took the children to daycare, and I just stayed in bed and didn't stop crying. My husband tried to make me feel better, but it didn't really work, so he called my parents... and my mother said it might be post-partum depression."
Note: I am no expret, but if I may express my humble opinion, a depression that begins several months after birth - just when the mother is pressured to leave the baby and go to work - can hardly be called "post-partum depression". There's no doubt this poor woman was severely depressed, but I would rather say she suffered from "post-maternity leave, back to work" depression.
So what was done to help M.?
"The psychiatrist understood right away work is a huge stress factor for me..."
So far, so good... and...
"And gave me a month of sick leave and a recipe for anti-depressants. Of course I had my prejudices about depression meds, but I decided to try them. In the first two weeks I felt awful, I had terrible mood swings and all I wanted to do was sleep. I was either a zombie or really mad. But after a month I felt much better."
Today, a year later, M. is still on anti-depressants, still sends her children to daycare and still rushes out to her stressful job every morning.
Am I the only one who is outraged by this story? How come nobody told this woman that what she feels is perfectly normal? We are biologically programmed to be with our babies until gradually, very gradually they begin to grow into toddlers and children and young adults, and go on to their own separate lives. We are not designed by G-d to send a 3-months-old helpless baby to the care of a stranger, and feel as though this is the normal course of events!
Sidenote: I realize there are many, many different people in the world in many, many different circumstances. I also realize many women in the aforementioned situation (baby in daycare, stressful job) cope well. However, it is normal not to cope well. If somebody told me I must leave my babies when they are just 3 months old and go out to a highly demanding and stressful job every day, I would likely very soon be depressed. Should I just then go on anti-depressants, or perhaps it is time to revise my life and see what can be changed?
Sometimes people must go on anti-depressants to cope with situations that come to pass, such as the loss of a loved one, sickness in the family, etc. The situation itself cannot be changed in such cases, and if there is no other way to deal with it, medications have their proper place. But consider a woman who is trapped in an abusive marriage with a violent man who is unfaithful to her on top of all. If she goes to counseling and asks for anti-depressants so that she may continue to cope with this sick situation, what will she be told? I am almost certain that the advice she gets will be, take the kids and go and it is almost certain you will be fine!
But when a woman only longs to be home with her baby, and instead is pressured to go to work and so doesn't perform well at her job and doesn't cope well at home, she is given anti-depressants so that the stressful situation can go on.
Try as I might, I can't wrap my mind around this. Why didn't anybody suggest to her, "perhaps you might just stay home?" - I'm not talking for the rest of her life, but perhaps at least until the baby is a toddler. If money is an issue, perhaps an alternative source of income can be found at home (not to mention that daycare and formula cost a lot of money!). But no; this option wasn't even mentioned. Not by the woman herself, not by her husband, not by her mother, not by the psychiatrist and not by the journalist, whose only aim was to show how "there is no shame in treating post-partum depression". No; it was unthinkable that the young mother wouldn't work. It was unthinkable that she might just need to stay home with her baby.
I think it was a lousy example of post-partum depression but, in contrast, a very good example of how modern feminism-infused society places horrible and unhealthy stress on women, children and families.
Thursday, November 21, 2013
This video about chicken egg incubation really made me long for the excitement of spring, baby chicks, and an expanding flock! I know, however, that for the next couple of months incubating eggs wouldn't be wise, because of the power shortages we experience each winter around here (and which can do away with even the most successful batch of eggs), and the fact that it would be too cold, windy and rainy for the chicks to be outside once they reach the age of "graduating" out of the brooder.
Some things we do/believe slightly differently from what is mentioned in the video:
1. It is stated that "it's not unusual to lose up to 50% per hatch, depending on quality of eggs, etc." Quality of the eggs is the key here. If you use fertile, fresh eggs, which have no deformities and which have been properly handled (eggs intended for incubation must be turned at least once a day, preferably twice, before they are set into the incubator), and if the conditions inside your incubator are favorable, a 100% success rate isn't anything too far-fetched. Of course, the bigger your batch, the higher your chances of losing at least some eggs - but 95% success rate is not unusual.
Alas, if any of these conditions isn't followed (i.e., the eggs aren't very fresh, haven't been turned, etc), your hatch rate goes down dramatically. We always have very high success rates with eggs from our own flock, because we handle them properly. Alas, too many breeders are very irresponsible when it comes to that, and will sell you hatching eggs that are obviously old and weren't turned at all from the point of being laid. We once had a breeder of Brahmas tell us, with incredible audacity, that "month-old eggs hatch with no problem". Not so; we prefer to set eggs up to a week after they were laid, and of course we turn them twice a day in the meantime.
2. The video didn't mention you should stop turning your eggs on day 18. This is important to allow the chick to settle into hatching position.
3. I always bring the humidity levels in the incubator a little higher in the last days before the hatch - that is, more like 75% than 50-65% during the first 18 days. I know there are a lot of discussions about humidity, but this is what we do, and it works well for us.
4. I never leave a chick in the incubator for a whole day. I transfer them into the brooder (a simple cardboard box with a heating lamp and a thermometer for temperature monitoring) about an hour after hatching. I once used to leave chicks in the incubator longer, and because of the high humidity they just never seemed to dry, so I stopped doing that. Our chick survival rates are very high, in case we are wondering, we hardly lose any - almost never any that seem well and healthy at the moment of hatch, anyway.
So, if you have been wanting to do this, hatch your first batch of chicks this spring! If we do it, you can, too. Instructions for building a simple homemade incubator are here.