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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.

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Sometimes knowing that something is really good for you is not enough to overcome the cultural taboo.  Or even the gross-out factor.  I have saved the carcass from lobsters and chickens for a while and using them for stock.  I have a pretty good system going- I just keep a freezer bag going and when i have some bones, I add them in there.  When the bag is full, I get to stock-making.  It has worked well and I have all manner of shellfish, chicken and beef stocks frozen all over the place.  I have never really been able to get my stock really gelatinous, though.  It gets thick sometimes, but not solid and I want solid.  Here is some really in-depth information about the benefits of gelatin and broth, but this is the gist of things:

To summarize, gelatin (broth) can be considered for use in the following conditions: food allergies, dairy maldigestion, colic, bean maldigestion, meat maldigestion, grain maldigestion, hypochlorhydria, hyperacidity (gastroesophageal reflux, gastritis, ulcer, hiatal hernia) inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis), irritable bowel syndrome, leaky gut syndrome, malnutrition, weight loss, muscle wasting, cancer, osteoporosis, calcium deficiency and anemia.

This stuff is good for you.  But what is the best source?  Why, chicken feet, of course.  Chicken feet.  My only experience of chicken feet prior to this was a horrible childhood memory burned into my mind’s eye that involved a Sunday brunch of dim sum.  I have successfully avoided such things since.  I believe that using the whole animal is the most humane thing.  I believe that animal-based food is imperative to our best health, and I believe that our cultures over-reliance on “clean and pure” muscle meat has left us deficient in many things that are only found in the parts of the animal that other cultures in other times have used liberally.  That doesn’t help when I find myself doing what I was doing in my kitchen the other day.

I special ordered the chicken feet through a local butcher.  It took about a week for them to arrive, and I paid about $6 for two pounds, which seemed kind of pricy.  But, It’s not like I’m going to shop around.  I brought home my paper package very excited to start in on my project.  I used this recipe for chicken foot stock because I listen to Elise in all things related to cooking, second only to Saint Julia.  So, I unwrap the little buggers, and they are kind of gross, but nothing I can’t handle.  Then I start to read the recipe, and  kicked myself for not reading it sooner.

Chicken? Or ugly baby?

I initially boiled the feet for five minutes to clean them, but later learned that it’s not necessary if the feet are already cleaned and no longer have their bright yellow membrane.  Mine were already clean, and I wish I had know that because this is where it got really gross for me.  After boiling the feet, I drained them and had to chop off the talons at the first knuckle, but that’s not the gross part.  When boiled, the feet become waterlogged and warm which transforms them into  something with an uncanny resemblance to a human hand.  A deformed hand from a human child.  A child about the age of my child after never trimming her tallons fingernails.  I was sort of gagging and yelping, weeping and wailing, swearing and shouting.  I was chanting, “It’s the right thing to do.  It will be worth it.”  It took an eternity, but I got all those fingertips off the warm, fleshy, chubby baby hands and go them back in the pot with the mirepoix and covered up.

Five hours later, I drained the stock, added more water and did it again.  At the end of the day, I had about six quarts of stock which I then reduced to two and a half quarts.  Today when I pulled it out of the fridge, I had a solid block of beautiful gelatin.  This stuff tastes so rich and smells just like Grandmas Chicken Soup.  I’ll never go back to plain old bone stock, or at least I’ll always throw a couple of feet in with my bones.  I used some tonight to replace the water I made my kids rice in, and I had some with my shrimp scampi to replace the wine and it’s just lovely and silky and delicious.  It was worth the strange images that now have replaced the dim sum episode, and I’ll hopefully have the elastic skin and springy, lubricated joints of a 16-year-old.

Natures Restalyene™

So, I don’t know how much money this saved in the end.  A quart of store-brand organic chicken broth is $2.00, and this works out to about the same price.  However, clearly what I have here is a very different product than the stuff from the box.  This tastes better, looks better, and most importantly, I know exactly what is in it.  I think that for me, that is reason enough to never go store-bought again.  It’s chicken feet for me.

First and foremost, I want to thank Paul Jaminet and the other members of my little band of ancestral diet groupies from Highbrow Paleo for the love and support.  We got some awesome link loving from the Perfect Health Diet blog the other day which was a wonderful surprise to come home to after our weekend in Vermont with friends.  I’m so excited about all the new readers funneled in from PHD and welcome any and all suggestions on how you all manage WAP/Paleo/PHD/ancestral diets on a tight budget.

Speaking of which, did anyone take part in the Slow Food $5 Challenge?  I did, though not deliberately.  More on that later.  I would love to hear about anyones experiences in doing this.  Personally, $5 is more than I have to spend on a meal per person, but I often find that it might be the average per person cost of a meal by the end of the day since I only eat twice, and breakfast is usually eggs ($1.99/doz)  and something vegetal.

So, we spent the weekend up in Vermont with some friends of ours.  They have a small farm and raise three cows and three pigs for meat as well as 20 roasting chickens, some laying hens and three donkeys.  The donkeys are the most adorable pets.  Our friend roasted up a whole delicious piggy and everyone was thrilled, including the dogs who had to be let out half a dozen times to poop overnight.  We spent the night around the fire, roasting marshmallows and catching up afte the most wild and beautiful bunch of kids were all knocked out lovingly tucked in beds and tents.  Our friends have an incredible set-up and work so hard managing the extensive vegetable gardens and the animals while both working full-time and raising their baby, and yet they still have not found a way to make it

The Girls.

profitable, which is frustrating.  They are doing an amazing job though and we shared an awesome potluck meal with the provided piggy being the centerpiece, and had breakfast of apple pie, raw milk and eggs from the chickens.  Pretty perfect New England morning.

Now on to this weeks housekeeping, so to speak.  A friend posted this recipe on my Facebook wall for a home made laundry detergent.  I had used just very small amounts of phosphate-free detergent, boosting it with a cup or so of baking soda, hydrogen peroxide in the bleach cup and white vinegar in the fabric softener cup.  I decided to give this a shot since I have not been thrilled with the residual crap left on my filthy kids clothes, and hell the numbers looked good in the cost analysis and I need something to blog about.  The cost figures out as follows, according to someone else who can be trusted with things such as math:

  • Arm & Hammer® liquid 100 ounce detergent – $6.79 – 32 loads = $0.21 per load
  • Tide® with Bleach powder 267 ounce detergent – $20.32 – 95 loads = $0.21 per load
  • Jabs Homemade powder 32 ounce detergent – $2.98 – 64 loads = $0.05 per load

We have been using the 2 tablespoons per load instead of the 1 tablespoon as my kids are filthy and disgusting little buggers.  I have to say that I’m very pleased with the results.  Next time I will likely use a Dr. Bronners bar soap (at .81 cents per ounce) instead of Ivory (at .22 cents per ounce) just for comparison.  I would prefer to use Dr. Bronners over Ivory if there was even a slight improvement in the final outcome, simply because I would like a more natural castile soap, especially if the lavender scent would linger (though I don’t think it would).  I also still plan on using the white vinegar in the fabric softener cup of my front loading machine as a rinse agent, because it removes any soap film left on the clothes and leaves things super soft without any added chemicals and artificial scents in the dryer.  It also keeps any soap gunk from clogging up the lines, or so I hear.  I’m still keeping my fingers crossed though.  For static cling, you can just put a couple of safety pins on an old dishcloth or rag and use that in the dryer.  The metal in the pins will [do something science-y] to eliminate the static.  I promise.  I also promise that if you use white vinegar in the wash that you will not smell like salad dressing.

Next laundry-related project will be a drying line out back, but I’m resistant to this because it’s 1) time-consuming, 2) ugly, 3) New England (often cold and wet) and 4) our dryer barely uses any electricity to begin with, as seen on our SmartMeter readout.   The big energy suckage is the dishwasher, but I’ll be damned if I start hauling my dishes down to the river to beat with sticks, or whatever people without dishwashers do.

Anyway, here follows the instructions for your own super cheap and super awesome detergent.  Is it weird that I had a swell of pride when this actually worked and the clothes got all clean from something I made with my own two hands, even if I didn’t necessarily mine the Borax myself?  Say no.

  • 1 cup Borax
  • 1 cup Arm & Hammer Washing Soda
  • 1 shaved bar of soap (Ivory, Dr. Bronners, ZOTE, Fels-Naptha)

Shave the soap with a cheese grater into a big bowl, and pour in the Washing Soda and Borax.  Use a wooden spoon to mix it really well.  Seriously, keep mixing it.  Just stir it until you don’t see any distinct pieces of the soap anymore.  It should be a pretty even consistency throughout.  That’s it right there.  You can also do this in a food processor for super-fast results.  You can add a cup of Oxy-Clean for an added boost, which is what I’m going to do on my next batch.  This recipe made just under a quart for me, and It filled about 3/4 of an old Thai food take-out container.  Perfect.  Please note that this is a low-sudsing recipe and is perfectly safe for use in HE washers.

All of these ingredients can easily be found in the laundry aisle of any large grocery store, and even in many hardware stores.  A popular brand of Borax is called “40 Mule Team” and I often see it on the very top or the very bottom shelf.  It’s good stuff to keep around the house.  Washing soda is definitely not to be confused with baking soda and they cannot be used interchangeably.  No one will die- it just wont work as you expect it to.

*A note on septic systems: There are no phosphates in this detergent so there should be no concerns about leeching into ground water.  Many people report that they have been using this powdered formula with their septic systems with success, and some just set the washer to do a pre-soak in order to fully dissolve the powder to avoid the clumping issues that can happen with powdered detergents.  There is a liquid version of this that is a bit more involved, but works just well.

So this is exciting here, people.  Every bit I find myself removing a string that has tied me into the industrial machine, I hum a happy little tune.  Each small step I take to become even slightly more self-sufficient makes me strong and confident.  I need some of that these days.  Ah, my grandmother would be proud!  Or not, since this stuff was totally normal for her and she would probably think it crazy that this commonplace knowledge was so…..misplaced…. in just one short generation.  I’m working hard to bring it all back.

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