Well, we still don’t have any updates on the job front.  These things move at a glacial pace, but unfortunately time waits for no one.  I’m very sorry that I have not been writing much lately.  I certainly think about things that I want to blog and scribble and shout all the damn time, but this is a luxury that I don’t always get.  Last week, I got terrible news that a close friend and family member was diagnosed with colon cancer.  We are all devastated.  She is not even 40 years old, and has two young children who I love like my own.  Today she had surgery to remove the tumor, and we will know more when pathology reports come back next week.  She and her husband are hopeful that after recovery from the surgery, they can put it behind them and move on with a healthy outlook.  I certainly have my fingers crossed for just that to happen.

When I was first diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, someone told me that before my year anniversary came around, I would be thanking the universe for the gifts that MS would give.  That’s a hard pill to swallow when you’re in the middle of it.  I scoffed and probably used a few F words, but found myself about nine months later with a new appreciation and respect for life and my chosen family, for time and my children, for health and dis-ease.  MS taught me that life is finite, and health is temporary.  It taught me to scan my body constantly, and pay attention.  It taught me that what I consume matters, and that living a long healthy life is what I want more than anything.  It taught me that nutrition, exercise, and fun are of primary importance.  It taught me to reduce toxins (both chemical and interpersonal).  I hope so much for my friend/sister/cousin that it will be the same for her.

I’m off tomorrow to pick up a big order of beef marrow bones, veal knuckle bones and chicken feet to make a huge measure of stock to help heal up her belly!  Also going to stock up on some Brazil nuts and Vitamin D.  Since she asked me for nutritional help, I’m going to unleash everything I have and knock the hell out of this cancer so it never, ever gains a foothold again.  I’m not having this shit in my family.

Any good thoughts you can send her way are deeply appreciated.  Stay healthy, kiss your kids, and drink your chicken feet.

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I just don’t feel like blogging.  I keep hearing Obama’s speeches telling us to just wait, and Ron Paul supporters wanting uninsured people to die.  I keep seeing executions and Pakistan and it’s hard to have much hope.  The whole family seems in a funk.  We are in a holding pattern and all starting to get noodgy.  The weather has been hot and humid and we are waiting for fall.  We are waiting for our car to give its dying gasp.  Waiting for someone to call and just offer a damn job.  Waiting and waiting to see which fork in the road we are going to take.  Will I be waiting tables at night?  Will we be on food stamps?  Will we ever be able to sell this house?  Move to Vermont?  Buy new jeans? Will we be able to pay someone to fix all our broken shit?  Or renovate the third floor so the kids don’t have to share a room into their 20’s?  Just trying to hold on, but the consistently high cortisol levels are taking their toll.  Four more weeks until we are cut off our unemployment insurance.

In the meantime.

I’m in squirrel mode.  I was so resistant to getting the freezer in the basement.  J talked me into it and I will begrudgingly concede that I like it.  We got a 13 cubic foot Energy Star model like this one and filled it fairly quickly.   We have had it for five years now, but never really depended on it.  It just sort of expanded our storage space is all.  Now that I’m in Food Hoarding Mode, It has become a lifeline.

Cheeto™ hoarding may lead to cat hoarding

Someone asked me the other day why I don’t do the extreme couponing.  Aside from the fact that I don’t want a full-time job that pays nothing but sixty jars of mustard and a gross of toothpaste, there are just never any coupons for anything I need, and that is because I don’t need much.  I’ll be doing a post soon about how I save on toiletries for the family, and how I make my cleaning products but generally I think most people, including myself, have far too much crap and don’t need more.  For now though, I’m cleaning out my freezers and stockpiling food as I make room for more.

There are certainly not coupons for half a cow, but I can still get healthy, high-quality, ethical food for a good price with a little legwork.  It is definitely worth my time to drive far with my coolers in tow and get a large measure of food.  My freezer gives me that freedom.  Right now I’m cleaning out the old stuff to make room for new so we can go into this depression with at least a bunch of meat and veggies.  Preferably in the form of half a cow.

I was able to make dinner tonight for the kids and for J and I with just the freezer and pantry items.  Per usual, I made tons- as much as I had time and ingredients for.  I left enough out for tonight’s dinner and lunch later in the week then repackaged it all into stackable pint containers to freeze again.  I estimated that the entire meal cost $5.00 for four people plus leftovers.  That’s not per person.  What allowed me to do that was the squirreling away of about six pounds of roasted winter squash purée from last year.  My father-in-law came to acquire something just shy of a Shit Ton of unidentifiable vegetable of the winter squash variety and couldn’t manage to eat it all himself, so he trucked it down from Vermont and we shared in the bounty until we were sick of eating it.  I roasted, puree and froze the rest in one pound bricks.

I also discovered a pound of apple cider caramelized onions from two years ago deep in the recesses of the freezer and a light bulb went off in my thinking parts.  I whipped up two batches of soup; one with apples and onions and maple syrup for the kids, and one with chipotle mecco powder for the grown ups.  I made about two quarts of each soup, using up the last of my amazing chicken foot stock.  I also discovered two pounds of ground dark meat turkey from a local farm in there, and thought some mini-meatballs might be nice in the soup.  The recipe I used required some futzing to make it Paleo, but they actually turned out to be just the best meatballs I have ever had.  And I hate turkey meatballs.

I wish there was some way to calculate how much money that freezer has saved us.  I am confident saying that its had the best return on investment of anything in our house aside from maybe the spray foam insulation in the basement.  Anyhoo, here are the recipes I invented today.  I’m very happy with the cost breakdown and the flavor of everything.  Please not that all measurements are approximate.  My cooking style is more like “cross fingers and throw shit in a pot”.  Those bitches, the Fates, decided to throw me a bone and make something work out in my favor for a change.

Inexpensive, not cheap.

Sweet Apple and/or Chipotle Winter Squash Soup 

2# winter squash, roasted and pureed

3c chicken stock (bonus for chicken foot stock!)

1c cider caramelized onions (or, just sliced yellow onion)

2 cloves garlic

2 apples, chopped (I leave skin on, but you can peel or use unsweetened applesauce)

salt, pepper, maple syrup (optional)

butter or ghee

Roast squash in your preferred way (I cut in half, cut side down in roasting pan with about 1″ water, roast at 400 or so for about 45 minutes or until soft).  Purée in food processor or with immersion blender.

Sauté onions until translucent and starting to brown (or just add caramelized onions), add minced garlic and sauté just until fragrant.  Add chopped apples and season with salt.  Cook just until apples are starting to get soft.  Add stock and bring just to a simmer on low heat, stirring frequently.  Remove from heat and purée with an immersion blender, or in batches in your food processor.  Return to heat and bring back to a low simmer.  Season with salt, pepper and maple syrup.

To make it spicy, omit the apples and add a half a can of chopped chiles in adobo ( to taste), rehydrated chipotle mecco chiles or chipotle powder.  Serve with crème fresh.

Paleo Turkey Meatballs

2# ground dark meat turkey

2 eggs

2/3c almond meal

1 small yellow onion, minced

4 cloves garlic, minced

1/2c freshly shredded Parmesan cheese (optional, if you don’t do dairy)

1/4c paprika paste (or, tomato paste but the paprika paste is really incredible)

1/2c flat leaf parsley, minced

1 T olive oil or other cooking fat of choice

salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Mix all ingredients together with hands just until blended.  Don’t over mix. Heat fat in heavy bottomed dutch oven or skillet.  Roll into medium-sized balls, about two inches in diameter.  Place in frying pan just until browned, flipping gently once.   Put the browned meatballs on a baking sheet into a 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes or until cooked through.

Happy Equinox, Witchy Broads

I don’t really want to say anything to the Universe that might give Her a trail that She could potentially follow back to me. Sometimes She has it out for me and my family. I imagine her bowed over her cauldron saying, “Let’s test this bitch again!” I’ll just say that there could be good news on the horizon (aside from Elizabeth Warrens poll numbers) and we might be close to the end of this torment. At least, closest to the end than we have been in a year and a half. Now we are just in a holding pattern, waiting for the heavy cogs to move. I don’t mean to be cryptic, but I have actually started to hold my breath so if you could collectively tell the Universe that something good should come my way, I would super appreciate it. This is the four-week countdown to the end of unemployment insurance, so it’s critical mass. The alarm bells have sounded each day at a higher frequency and at a faster rate. Let’s all hold that witchy broad at bay and keep fingers crossed.

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.

The Census Bureau released new poverty numbers today and it’s looking pretty grim, even for a person skeptical of the Bureaus methods.  The New York Times has some nice commentary here.  Someone said on my facebook page,

“I feel like I am reading about myself. Sometimes I feel like I am the only one going through this. It is reassuring to know that I am not, and I am also not the cause of the situation that me and my kids are in, contrary to what others choose to believe.”

It’s hard seeing that one in six people in this country are living in poverty, one in five among children.  It’s interesting that the numbers might have been higher if not for a more prosperous relative that the family can temporarily move in with.  Something that I find particularly interesting is that the poverty numbers, while climbing for adults and children, have stayed totally stable for the elderly.  Another 2.6 MILLION people slipped into poverty just last year, the highest number since the Bureau began keeping track, 52 years ago.

Economists seized on a telling statistic: It was the first time since the Great Depression that the median American household had a lower income, adjusted for inflation, than 13 years earlier, said Lawrence Katz, an economics professor at Harvard University.

This is a depression disproportionately affecting the young, single mothers, minorities, and working families.  Social Security has been able to offer a buffer to the elderly.  What role is there for a social safety net for the people most vulnerable to downturns in our economy?  This cannot become a country of only the very rich and the very poor.   What ever happened to shared sacrifice?

It’s hard to be optimistic for so long.  It’s hard to always try to look on the bright side.  It can be rather tiring after so long to be the cheerleader.  A couple of weeks ago one of our cars started bucking and the engine light went on.  Since we can’t afford any big repairs, we just have been driving the other car.  The other car can’t pass inspection, so it has been overdue since June.  Every time I drive it, I’m scanning for cops who will pull me over and give me a fat ticket and a deadline to get it done.  I know that when it happens, I’ll break down crying and I just hope they dont think that I’m being a manipulative jerk.  Well, tonight it gave out.  It was two hours past the kids bedtime and we were at my parents house 30 miles from home.  Both cars gone.  Both needing major repairs.  Kids crying and whining to go home and go to bed.  And we are supposed to be on the road at 7:00 the following morning to get to my nieces birthday party in New Hampshire.   Sometimes it feels like every straw is the last straw.

You start to look around your house and see everything falling apart around you; doors falling of hinges, all the dinner plates are cracked, drinking out of mason jars because the glasses are broken, it gets harder to find clothes in the closet that aren’t stained and ripped.  The little things keep getting bigger and pile on.  There seems to be no end in sight.  You wonder if you’re going to be Miss Haversham, or Norma Desmond living in your rotting castle dreaming of the past.   Sometimes the pressure makes your eyes burn and when you look at your kids you panic.  The future seems less bright every day that goes by, and you feel yourself giving up hope.  You just feel it slipping away, and looking at what a studio apartment costs per month.  If it wasn’t for the kids, this would be easy.  If it wasnt for the birthday parties you are invited to and can’t afford to get presents for and hope no one notices.  If it wasn’t for the weddings you have to go to two thousand miles away in 11 months, 9 months, 6 months….

You wish you could afford to be depressed.  You start fantasizing about staying in bed all day and sleeping it off, taking so many Benadryl that you can just sleep and sleep until something good falls in your lap.  Then, the overwhelming guilt washes through you, reminding you how horrible you are for complaining while you still have a home, and your kids still have food, and youre here complaining about not having a car when there are children in refugee camps in the Congo.  How dare you, you self-indulgent jerk.  You go to bed, and wake up and the cheerleader face goes right back on in the morning.

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.

It’s time for me to go through our expenses with a flea comb and figure out what we can get rid of.  This is nothing new, as we have been slowly cutting back for a year now.  J got a pretty good severance package and we had some cash savings that combined with the unemployment ensured that our lifestyle didn’t have to change much in the first year.  Of course, we always assumed that another job was right around the corner and never would have dreamed that our unemployment would have lasted this long.  After our severance was gone and the savings began to dwindle is when we started to get real nervous, and now that we are facing a total cut off of all income, it’s a full-blown panic.

Our student loans have already been in deferment for about a year.  We still are accruing interest, but at least we don’t have to pay them now, and that saves us about $600 dollars a month.  Our retirement account has started to pay about 25% of our mortgage.  It takes some of the pressure off, but I hate so much that we are dipping into any of it.  Every dollar we take out of there means four fewer dollars we will have later on.  Each year that we dip into it mean an extra two years we will have to work, assuming we even start making as much money as we were before.  It also assumes that the markets recover, which it is harder and harder to believe will ever happen.  The long-term unemployed can expect to earn about 20% less over the course of their careers.  That is a big hit.

J and I have always been frugal, and have always lived within our means, which I hope will be our saving grace now.  We have one TV, a 1750 square foot house, two beater cars with 120,000 miles on each of them.  Aside from our honeymoon in Quebec, we have never taken an international vacation and only one domestic vacation per year.  We don’t have any credit card debt.  Our biggest expense next to the mortgage is food, so that is where I will be making some deep cuts, while still trying to eat healthy.

Here are some other items that are on the chopping block:

  1. Cable.  This one seems obvious, but we only had basic plus HBO, so I was holding off on it for a long time.  Our “Triple Play Package” is $110 per month, plus $17 for the HBO.  I am going to call them and ask to get rid of everything, and downgrade our internet connection to the basic (read: slow) $25 per month.  That will save us $100 dollars a month.  I will keep our Netflix unlimited streaming package at $8 per month, though I hear its going up.
  2. Cell phones.  I’m sort of dreading this one.  We have a family plan, and I use a smart phone.  Our plan is $60 a month, plus $10 for the extra line for my husband.  We never go over our 700 minutes.  My unlimited data plan though is another $30 a month.  I got my phone for inventory tracking, order and credit card processing at farmers markets and craft fairs.  I’m in love with it.  I’m so reluctant to give it up.  I’m going to look back in my records and if I have at least $30 in credit card orders per month that I process on my smart phone, then I’m going to keep it.
  3. Food.  This is the big one.  I’ll be talking a lot about this.  I’m the primary hunter and gatherer in the house and always looking for more ways to save.  The warning is that we do not eat the standard American diet.  I (and by extension, the rest of my family) don’t eat gluten, grains, legumes, processed sugar (and minimal natural sugar) or industrial vegetable oils.  For ethical reasons, my husband wont eat CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation) meat and for health reasons I strictly limit it.  He and the kids will eat some grains, but we just dont have much in the house.  What I never have in the house are processed foods no crackers, cookies, goldfish, pasta, boxed mixes of any kind, chicken nuggets, etc.  We make everything from scratch, and only use fresh ingredients.  To say this will be a challenge is an understatement.  I do a lot of food preservation projects like fermenting, freezing and canning.  I always want to learn more, too so please pipe in with any other techniques you think I should look into. I really need to learn cheese making. Unfortunately we aren’t great gardeners.  Our garden this year, and last, produced nothing but copious jalapenos.  I’m not complaining.
  4. Utilities. Our house was built in 1830.  This sort of makes things tough.  Winter is coming, and we have two little kids so we can’t exactly leave the thermostat at 50 like I used to do.  We recently had the basement insulated, we have a smart meter to watch our electricity usage, and we keep insulated blinds drawn all night in winter.
  5. Household Expenses. You know soap, detergent, cleaners, diapers and wipes, paper towels, plastic bags, sippy cups that are always getting lost, socks, gas, underpants.  I need to find alternatives to all the above and more.  Except the underpants.  I think that will be the last thing to get downsized.

You might be wondering why I don’t have a job.  I was lucky to be able to leave my job when my daughter as born so that I could be home with her.  I’m a Social Worker and I specialize in the treatment of psychological trauma.  I worked with kids and adults who were survivors of sexual violence and I loved my work.  The thing is that no one else does.  We were always the first to get our budgets cut, and the last to get funding.  Despite my Masters degree and year of specialized postgraduate training, I made about 25K per year.  It just didn’t make sense to pay for full-time childcare for that kind of paycheck.  I kept meaning to go back to work, but other things kept getting in the way, like illness and more babies.  There aren’t many temporary social work jobs out there, and I don’t want to commit to clients if I’m just going to have to quit after J gets a job.  A typical social work job isn’t going to pay enough to cover full-time daycare for two kids.  In fact, I did work briefly selling my soul for a crushing job that paid 45K, and after health insurance and daycare, I brought home $230 a month.  Pretty bad.  When J can make three times my top pay scale, it behooves us to just get him working.

And besides, I do work.   I put my crafty skills to work and started my business.  J helps me a lot with it, and I get to do something I was already doing for people I really like.  It’s fun, but it ain’t gonna save the family farm.

Coming next: Putting Food By: Projects in Food Hoarding.  Let me know in the comments anything specific you want me to cover, and thanks again for coming along.

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