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We just got our final unemployment check.  $600 that is going to have to last for………ever.  We also just had to turn on our heat.  J had an interview, but he has had a lot of interviews.  It went really well, but they all go really well.  We are sitting around, waiting but we are always waiting.  I applied for a job answering the phone and taking orders at a local pizza place.  They needed someone who speaks English.  I didn’t get the job.  Seasonal help at a local department store chain restocking at night is the next step.  I hope they will consider someone with a Master’s degree.

Baby, it’s cold outside.  It’s also depressing outside, so sometimes one just needs to self-medicate*.  I think this calls for my favorite winter drink, a hot toddy.

Get a huge and well insulated mug that will stay nice and hot for long enough to sip the whole thing down.  Put about a tablespoon of honey in the bottom, toss in a slice of lemon and about an ounce of dark rum (or, whiskey if you’re so inclined).  Brew a cuppa tea.  I particularly love the Ginger Tea made by Yogi, though I think it may have been dumbed down lately.  It used to be much stronger.  Sometimes I will add an additional slice of fresh ginger to the water to strong it up.  When your tea is ready, top off your big giant mug.  Enjoy it, because it will make you warm and happy, something I cherish a lot more these days then I used to.

 

*No, I’m not advocating that you drink your worries away.  Your worries will still be there after your toddy is long gone.  And, please don’t drink and drive.  Really.  This is something you should enjoy in the relative comfort of your own home.  Driving drunk is about one of the most selfish and irresponsible acts, so don’t fucking do it.

Me, In a Rainbow, So I Won't Be Sad

I read this, and I’m filled with a seething, red hot rage.  It’s nothing new, and there are a million graphs and charts and articles  and commentary out there saying the same thing.  The rich are bending all of us over while they swill champagne.  My husband is willing to take a 50% pay cut just for a job that will keep the lights on, but still his recruiters shrug their shoulders and ask if he wants to relocate to Baton Rouge.  I am desperate to work, but with childcare costing us $2,000.00 per month and me being *gasp* a lowly social worker, it’s not feasible.

Last week while cleaning out the coat closet, I found one of the pay stubs from my last job:  $1,180 for two weeks of work.  You know what I did?  I was a Master’s level clinician with a certificate in the Advanced Treatment of Psychological Trauma providing free psychotherapy and crisis intervention to adolescents and adults who had experienced violent sexual trauma.  I saw grown men who had been raped by their priests, children who were currently being raped by a parent, husbands of women who had been raped by their employer, teenagers who were raped by a teacher.  The work is difficult and heart-wrenching and goddamn it I did good work that is needed, and I happily did it for pennies.  I worked on behalf of people who have no advocate.  I held hands in court rooms, clinics, and emergency rooms.  I loved my work.

And I see my husband struggling to get employment while our life spins down the toilet, and I see these people making millions doing nothing.  N-O-T-H-I-N-G.  They make nothing.  They do nothing.  I’m feeling this on an extremely personal level.  I used to tell myself that my low pay wasn’t a reflection on me, but on my clients value to voters and policymakers.  No one with any power cares about the kinds of people I work with; the poor, the mentally ill, the victims of powerlessness.  This lit a fire in me and kept me going working on their behalf, trying to be the best advocate that I could be.  And here I am, largely unable to practice at the moment and in a state of extraordinary powerlessness myself and the people wielding the power turn a blind eye to our suffering and our struggles.  There is no middle class.  The 1% has achieved their American Dream and the 99% paid for it.

Summarized on Yahoo! Finance from the article at  thinkprogress.org:

#1) The Top 1% Owns 40% of the Nation’s Wealth:

Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz points out the richest 1% of Americans now own 40% of the nation’s wealth. This disparity is much worse than it was in the past, as just 25 years ago the top 1% owned 33%of national wealth.

How much does the bottom 80% own? Only 7%.

#2) The Top 1% Take Home 24% of National Income:

While the richest 1% of Americans take home almost a quarter of national income today, in 1976 they took home just 9% – meaning their share of the national income pool has nearly tripled in roughly three decades.

#3) The Top 1% Own Half of the Country’s Stocks, Bonds and Mutual Funds: The Institute for Policy Studies illustrates this massive disparity in financial investment ownership, noting that the bottom 50% of Americans own only 0.5% of these investments.

#4) The Top 1% of Americans Have Only 5% of the Nation’s Personal Debt:

Using 2007 figures, sociologist William Domhoff points out that the top 1% have 5% of the nation’s personal debt while the bottom 90% have 73% of total debt.

#5) The Top 1% Are Taking In More off the Nation’s Income Than at Any Other Time Since the 1920s: Not only are the wealthiest 1% of Americans taking home a tremendous portion of the national income, but their share of this income is greater than at any other time since the Great Depression, as the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities illustrates in this chart, using 2007 data.

I’ve been in the first row as a spectator, watching Occupy Wall Street and our local occupations develop.  I so want to be a part of it, but I’m needed at home with the babies right now.  I’m inspired and angry, comforted and reassured.  I feel a deep sense of solidarity with the other 99% down there yelling on my behalf, and on behalf of us all.  The criticism of the protests confounds me; don’t they know that we are all in the 99%?  That this is for your benefit, too?  I met with my financial advisor last week, and he told me that he wanted to get up from his desk and go join them in the loby!  Shocking and a bit scary, considering he has all my money which is still only a fraction of what a CEO would make in a month, but it’s all I have.

I read this amazing article that someone posted on facebook today.  Lindsay talks about how to Occupy Wall Street from home.  She discusses the act of making soup as a revolutionary act, of removing oneself from the industrial food system as one thing that women and mothers can do to free ourselves from the slavery of the corporatocracy.  I also read this article in the New York Times the other day, profiling a woman who found herself in Deep Trouble, and went back to the land in Brooklyn to feed her family.  I feel so inspired when I read these.  I feel that I am reading this today as a woman who has control over nothing, who has been crying all day at the news that another job we thought was ours has fallen though, at the idea of my family on food stamps and wondering what happened to my good karma points?  I have been thinking of my grandmother a lot, a woman who came of age in the Depression in a one room cabin in the Rockies, no electricity or running water.  I think that if women like her could get their families through it, then I can too.  Then I remember the world I live in, which is so different than hers.  How my generation has been cursed with debt beyond even my parents wildest imagination.  What are we going to do?  Who is going to help us?  Will there ever be an end to all of this?  Will we ever be OK?  Lately, I think not.

All the raw materials for some lacto-fermented salsa.

If last year was a year of canning, this has been a year of fermenting.  It sounds a lot more intimidating than it really is.  It’s actually quite easy and really just facilitating a natural process.  almost anything can be fermented, but I’m just doing dairy and vegetables now.  I think ill save the meat for the folks in Scandinavia and the Sudan.  If you think you wouldn’t like fermented food, then I hate to tell you but beer, cheese, wine, coffee, chocolate, crème fresh, yogurt and sauerkraut are all fermented foods.  Fermented foods are an amazingly rich and alive source of probiotics.  They are so healthy for you and make your belly happy.  I try to eat some every day, especially with a very protein-rich meal.  They are especially important because they are amazingly cheap to make and I can easily and quickly preserve a lot of our CSA veggies for the winter, which is what this whole thing is all about anyway.  Lacto-fermentation is about the most basic and primitive form of food preservation.  Fermented foods saved entire cultures that did not have constant access to food year round.  We have come to fear bacteria in this day and age, and making friends with and living symbiotically with bacteria is a strangely profound experience.

Kraut, Sriracha, and eggs scrambled in home made ghee. Breakfast for under a dollar!

Anyway, here are some of my projects from the last couple of weeks in getting ready for the Slim Winter.  I made a bunch of ghee from some Kerrygold butter.  I love it, so I’m sure I’ll need to make more soon.  I made a couple of quarts of sauerkraut, kimchi, and fermented salsa.  I have a bunch of turnips that I’m going to shred and ferment, and I’m sure I’ll be getting more beets from our CSA before the year is over, too.  I have about five hundred huge squashes someone gave us that I roasted and pureed put up in the freezer.  I made ricotta that was one of the most delicious things I have ever tasted, but unfortunately after doing the math, It’s really not very cost-effective unless you also need a bunch of whey (which I do, but already have about three quarts frozen) so I don’t think I’ll be doing that one again.  We also have the meat of almost an entire school of Atlantic cod, hake and haddock in the freezer from last years Community Supported Fishery which we unfortunately signed up for the months I fell pregnant with Elias and COULD NOT

Dill pickles fermenting away.

TOLERATE the smell of fish, let alone the idea of eating it.  Into the freezer it went.  We bartered for some tasty pastured meat with some farmer/hunter friends, too so we have a bit of wild venison (and I’m looking for recipes!), bacon, sausage, medallions, roast beef and a pork shoulder.

Sometimes I feel like I’m preparing for nuclear winter.  I know a lot of bloggers do the food prep thing for fun, or for health, or for experimentation.  I used to do it for shits and giggles, too.  The “urban homesteading” movement took off some five years ago or so, but I have found that many of the people doing it are just playing house.  One can read through the comments sections of some homesteading blogs and see all kinds of gushing about paying $14 a pound for “organic, heirloom tomatoes at the farmers market” and then having a lovely afternoon just canning some purée, taking some pretty pictures on their fancy SLR and blogging about it before heading out to their graphic design job in Brooklyn or San Francisco.  I enjoy reading these blogs like I enjoy watching House Hunters International- they are fun and luxurious and totally out of my world.  If I didn’t have to be doing all of this, I probably wouldn’t.  Because kimchi stinks.

I know people mean well (or, sometimes they don’t) but I’m a little tired of getting this question.  It’s always during a lull in the conversation and brought up in a cheery, conversational tone that makes me think that it was deliberate.  I know that someone saw “the job numbers” on the TV machine and though, “Gee, I wonder if [token unemployed person] has seen these.  I’m going to ask them in a bland and non-offensive tone to communicate my empathy for their situation.”  Yeah.  It’s not working.  I don’t look at “the job numbers”, because they can be interpreted in many ways, and because it doesn’t get us a job. We watched them in the beginning for signs of hope, but they never seemed to correlate with our experiences.  So, if you want to help the Long Term Unemployed, don’t condescend to us. Just give some resources to your local food pantry, please.   Speaking of food…

I try to do one food project each day.  We are getting a glut of vegetables from our CSA now, and I’m working hard to keep as much of it as I can for the winter.  In the past I have done a lot of boiling water bath canning, and some pressure canning, too but It’s hard for me to think of anything messier, more time-consuming, or hotter.  I find myself dreading every canning project, especially after last summers 110# of tomatoes.  Yes, it paid off when I ended up with a bookshelf in the basement full of quart jars with fresh tomatoes in them, and I only just ran out of them a couple of weeks ago.  But man, that was a lot of messy work.  I don’t want to deal with it again, so this year, I’ll be oven roasting and freezing some tomatoes, and packing others in oil.  Much easier.  I can get one bushel (which is about 54#) of sauce tomatoes for $20 at a local farm.  I’m hoping to get two bushels processed before the end of the season.

Today I got a Groupon for $10 for $20 worth of meat from a local butcher, so I jumped on it and drove over there.  For less than $50, I got a pound of duck fat, three pounds of freshly ground lamb that they cryo-vaced into individual packages for me to freeze, 2.5 pounds of lamb shanks, 3 ham hocks, and 2 pounds of chicken feet for stock.  So everything went into the freezer except for one pound of the lamb that i made into some lamb meatballs with roasted eggplant sauce.  Yum.  We had everything on hand from our CSA or in the pantry, so it was almost a free meal.  That always feels good.

J talked to his recruiter today who had a great job at a growing company with fantastic people that he would be perfect for……in Baton Rouge.  I cried.  I just refuse to believe that there isn’t something here that he would be great for.  He is willing to commute to DC and NYC on the shuttle.  He is more than willing to telecommute with some travel to a home office.  We cannot afford to sell our home, uproot our family and move someplace with no job market in this economy when they could fire him in a  year.  It’s not fair.  He has a few more resumes in, but he always does.  One company who had expressed some interest in him suddenly decided to go in another direction with the job description.  At least he got a reason.  That’s incredibly rare these days.  Usually you send your résumé through an online form, and then the computer decides whether to put you in to the next step or lock you out.  If you move on to the essay portion (yes, the essay portion), then you have the opportunity to answer some questions in under 500 words about why you would be a  good fit for this job.  Then you hit Submit.  At this point, you either send it out into the ether with no further information and just wait for a phone call, or as is more likely to happen, you get a generic message saying that you’re not right for this position at this time.  Nothing has been reviewed by a human, no feedback is given, you have no one to contact, no phone number, name or interview.  It’s dehumanizing and disrespectful and these online HR systems are losing out on a  lot of great job candidates.  It’s just humiliating.  J read today in an article with tips on how to get around these systems that you shouldn’t even say “summa cum laude” on your résumé, and to change it to “high honors”, or your résumé will get screens out as porn!  We are not dealing with geniuses here, but there is seemingly no way though this impenetrable HR firewall.  Of porn.

Now, I’m off to watch the presidents jobs speech to congress.  Fingers crossed for a miracle.

This is going to be a blog about how I get my family through it.  There is a lot of back story here, so bear with me.  J and I have been together for ten years, married for eight.  In 2006, everything looked great; we bought our dream house in our dream town.  He had a great job as an economic consultant with a great paycheck and I had a great job as a social worker with a crappy paycheck, but I loved it and we were happy.  We decided to proliferate.  It wasn’t as easy as we had hoped, and I had to go through fertility treatments which were emotionally and physically taxing, but they worked and we had our awesome baby girl Hazel in February 2008.

Six months later, my hands went numb.  Then my chest.  Then my back.  I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in September 2008 and it was a very difficult time for us, as one can imagine.  The fear of the unknown is overwhelming, but through it all J and I tried to focus on all our blessings;  Hazel, MS is not fatal, my prognosis was good, we were fortunate enough to have good insurance to cover all the imaging, medications and steroid infusions, and above all we were thankful that I was the one who was sick instead of our daughter.

Be careful when you put things like this out into the universe.

Two months after my diagnosis, MS was the least of my concerns.  We lived (existed?) in Children’s Hospital for a month with our baby girl as she fought to live.  There is no way that we could ever express how grateful we were that we could take her home, that she survived.  We continue to endure Hazels periodic choking episodes because of her narrowed esophagus, but we get to keep her.  She has had surgeries to repair her esophagus, and might have more but we can’t complain.

How much can one family take?  I thought we had paid our dues.  Again, be careful.

I had our son Elias in the winter of 2010.  It was a difficult pregnancy, but everyone came through it unscathed.  We were happy, and looked forward to new beginnings.

J took three weeks off to be at home with us after Elias was born.  He had been very slow at work, but everyone had been.  I remember him being concerned that no one from his office contacted him to say congratulations after the birth.  I brushed him off, but intuition is rarely wrong and three days after he returned to work, they walked into his office and told him that he was being laid off.  They read from a script.  He was downsized. I would try to describe the crushing fear, the panic, the insincere optimism that one feels.  The anger, betrayal, feelings of worthlessness.  I would try to describe it but for the fact that so many already know.

And here we are, a year and a half later.  J still has not been able to find any work.  We have no more savings.  What we do have is a mortgage, two cars that aren’t road-worthy, kids growing out of their clothing, student loans, and a looming heating bill that is quite high in an almost 300 year old house on the rugged New England coast.  We have 6 weeks left of unemployment benefits, and after that is where this blog starts.

For the millionth time in the past three and a half years, I’m a Mama Tiger.  I’m furious.  I am in a state of crazed desperation, and I’m trying to hold us all together.

There are thousands of us in this place now.  Some call us 99ers, some the “Long Term Unemployed”, some people might call us deadbeats (those are people I have no time for).  I have to find a way to make life carry on for my family.

I’m going to blog my way through all of it, and hopefully connect with others in our community.  I’ll talk about frustrations with the system, with Human Resources, with perceptions of the Long Term Unemployed.  I’ll blog about parenting, entertaining kids for little to no money, clothing them and making them feel as though nothing has changed.  I’ll talk about how hard it is to be present in parenting when you’re under so much stress that you feel like your head will burst at any moment.

I’ll blog a lot about food; I love food, and I love to cook and am the recipient of many generations of resourceful, frugal, and hungry women.  I think of food as medicine, and I have lost 40 pounds with 35 more to go on a fairly strict low-carb, lacto-Paleo diet.  We eat real food that our ancestors (theoretically) ate, and I do not eat any grains, legumes, industrial vegetable oils or sugar (OK, maybe some sugar).  This sort of diet is expensive, but it has reduced my systemic inflammation to what I think of as a sub-threshold and therefore kept my MS in an asymptomatic remission without medications so I’m not giving it up.  I have to figure out how to feed my family healthy food on a budget of zero.

I’ll blog about frustration and anger and  depression and fear.  I’ll talk about my favorite deals online, favorite products, and I want to hear yours.  I’ll blog about my failures and small successes.  We don’t have to be so alone.  We can be in this together.  I’m figuring this all out as I head into the wild.

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