Monday, August 21, 2017

Twenty-one Days Until TEOTWAWKI - Inspired by the Tiny House Movement (Day 12 - Creating Space)

I know everyone is probably sick of hearing about that room.

That ROOM!  I swear.

It's just that it's been such a LONG process to getting it done, and it's still not done, but it's DONE! 

We moved our bed out of the office and into the room yesterday, and spent our first night in our bedroom in over three years.  

I wish I could say that we slept better than we have in a long time, but we didn't.  It was quieter back there than we've grown accustomed to it being.  We've spent the last three summers with summer traffic lulling us to sleep.  We don't hear that back there.

In addition, the dogs were completely freaked out and running across the wood floor half the night.  It was a different kind of noise than the whoosh of the cars speeding by.  Not lulling at all.  They need their nails clipped.  Badly. 

Our beagle can't get on the bed, because it's too tall.

And that's a good thing!  Not that the beagle won't be sleeping with us anymore, but that it's tall.

As most of my long-time readers know, my house has have no storage (two closets, no garage, no basement, no usable attic space, no storage shed, and no drawers in the kitchen.  It's a strange house).  I lament about it all of the time.  Part of the goal with this project was to get storage space. 

We'd originally intended to open up an attic access and use that, but as the days got longer (i.e. the project stretched out into infinity), we just wanted it to be done.  Building an insulated door for the loft just seemed not as important as getting the room in usable condition.

So, instead of going up, we went down.

Well, not really.  We didn't add a basement, although that would have been wicked cool!

We did add under-the-bed storage, and since we have a king-sized bed, it's a pretty substantial storage space.  We have enough room under there for almost a dozen totes. 


 
 
 
I tried to get my dog in the picture for perspective.  He wasn't cooperating, but see that stool?  I need it to get into the bed. 
 
It's a nice-sized space, and I'm very excited about it. 

Plus, as an additional frugal win, the bed "skirt" is actually some curtains we purchased many months ago from the thrift store for another room, but ended up not using them.  They work well as a bed skirt, and really give the room a more finished look.  So, Score! 

The plan, now, is to build a window seat in the office/library, similar to our loft bed, which will give us a "guest bed", but will also give us some more storage - not as much as in the bedroom, but more than we had. 

It's nice to be able to tuck things into spaces and get them out of sight, while still being able to keep them, because some part of "prepping" is having the right tool for the job.  

There are a lot of things we have that we might never need, but isn't it kind of sweet to have it when that need arises - especially when you know that you're not going to be able to just run to the store and buy it?

That's what prepping is all about - anticipating those needs and getting ready for them.   

Fear not the TEOTWAWKI!  He only bites if you let him get hold of you ;). 



Sunday, August 20, 2017

Twenty-One Days Until TEOTWAWKI - Day 11: Health Care

I have never been a fan of the ACA.  The ACA is the Affordable Health Care Act, aka Obamacare.  I just hate the nickname, too.  Maybe former President Obama likes that name, as it's his legacy.  I think it's a disrespectful term.  Indeed, it's meant to be disrespectful, because the people who were most against it want to be sure that he is appropriately blamed for it. 

I think blame is a useless pursuit.  It's a pointless distraction that keeps us from making positive change, because we're so focused on faulting someone rather than fixing what went wrong.  Fine.  It's my fault.  Now, what are YOU going to do to fix it?

What I don't like about the ACA has nothing to do with the hope that everyone could have low-cost health care.  I'm all for low-cost health care, but I disagree that the ACA achieved that goal.  First the cost of health care did not change.  All that changed was who paid for it.

At the core, what really bothers me about it is the law that now requires me to purchase insurance from a private company.  It's the Corporatocracy at its worst.  That the government feels it has the authority to force me to purchase anything from a private vendor is the part that is most grating. 

The health insurance we have had for the past many years has been employer provided through Deus Ex Machina's employer, that is, his employer paid a portion of the premium, and we were responsible for paying the remainder in weekly installments that were automatically deducted from his pay check.  I think we could have opted out of the company-sponsored insurance, but we had no choice as to who the insurance provider was.  The company chose the insurance provider and if we wanted to take advantage of their insurance plan, we paid for it.  If we didn't want to use their insurance company we were on our own. 

It wasn't great insurance.  I mean, I guess it paid for stuff that would have been pretty expensive otherwise (like x-rays), and if we ever went to the doctor, probably it would have been good, but let me share some personal stuff with you.

First, I actually do think that good dental hygiene is more important than seeing a doctor, and science actually backs me up ... somewhat.  Studies show that bacteria in our mouths can affect our heart health.  As such, good dental insurance is much more important to me than health insurance. 

Second, the whole orthodontia thing.  Our insurance didn't pay for any of it. 

Third, we were limited in our choice of physician to a very finite number of doctors, most of whom belong to major practices in the area.  I guess, for most people, a big doctor practice is a good thing, because if their own doctor is busy or on vacation, there's someone they can see, but I've had some issues with those big practices.

The first issue is the wait time.  If I have an appointment at 3:45, and I'm on time (that is, I get there by 3:45, I should not have to wait.  If I'm late, they have the right to refuse to see me and to bill me for the appointment.  I agree with all of that.

What I don't agree with is that I arrive on time.  I have to wait five to fifteen minutes in the waiting room.  Then, I'm shuttled back to an exam room, where I wait an additional ten to twenty minutes.  The doctor comes in and checks on me, spending, maybe, ten minutes - all total -, and then, he/she will give me some recommendation or scribble all over my "chart." 

Five minutes to take my vitals and ten minutes to see the doctor, for a total of fifteen minutes of time spent being seen. 

But how many of us only ever spend fifteen minutes in a doctor's office? 

Which is my point:  just because one is a medical professional does not make one's time more valuable than mine.  If I make an appointment for 3:45, and the doctor allots 15 minutes to see me (which is the usual amount of time), I shouldn't spend more than a half hour in that office, including any tests of paperwork. 

The second issue was a pretty serious HIPPA violation, which I won't share, but suffice it to say that there is a medical practice here in Maine that I would NEVER go see.  I don't have any super secret or embarrassing medical issues, but I don't trust them with my records, because it's still personal. 

Unfortunately, half of the doctors on the approved list were with that practice.

So, we put off selecting a new physician, and for the last five or so, we didn't have a PCP (personal care physician), which means we were paying higher prices for substandard care at a walk-in clinic, because when an injury (like Deus Ex Machina's poison ivy a few years ago) happens, we don't have a doctor.

For many years, we visited an independent group.  They were a bunch of medical care providers who shared office space and administrative space, but they weren't a "medical practice."  In their shared space they also had several different types of practitioners, including an acupuncturist, a naturopath, Shamanic healers, a couple of Physician's Assistants and Nurse Practitioners, and at least one actual MD.  They didn't take insurance.  When the ACA passed, they closed the clinic, and we were forced to find new doctors.

When we lost our employer-sponsored health insurance this year, we were given the opportunity (ha!!) to sign up for COBRA.  Anyone who has been given this opportunity knows what a (expletive) joke it is.  The cost of maintaining one's coverage through COBRA is prohibitive, especially for someone who is not employed.  Unemployment would barely cover the cost of our mortgage.  If we had to pay for COBRA out of that income, too ....  Well, there would be no paying anything else, including buying food, paying the electric bill, or compensating the water company.  We'd, basically, be paying for health insurance ... so that we would have the privilege of seeing a doctor, which we couldn't afford, because after paying insurance premiums, we damn-sure couldn't afford the co-pays.

I had been wanting, for a very long time, to explore other options, which seemed out of reach for us.  In particular, there is a local doctor who does not accept insurance.  I read about him several years before the ACA was a thing.  He was offering an alternative to high-cost insurance premiums by providing basic medical care on a subscription basis.  Basically, his patients pay a monthly rate and all office visits are covered. 

Deus Ex Machina and I discussed opting out of his employer sponsored health insurance and joining this doctor's practice.  But then, the law changed, and we were suddenly required to have insurance or pay a penalty.  It wasn't in the budget to pay for insurance AND pay the medical subscription fee.

When we no longer had insurance, it seemed like a good time to explore that option, and so we did.  For much less than the cost of an insurance premium (and one-tenth of the cost of COBRA), we have a primary care physician. 

And I like him.  I like him a LOT.  He's open to my crazy ideas.  I discussed why, at my age, that I'm not running down to the imaging center for my recommended mammogram.  He didn't agree with me, but he was willing to listen.  Then, because I had discussed all of this reading I'd done, he looked, too.  It was nice that he didn't act like he had all of the answers, even though he's a doctor, and he actually does know a lot more about those things than I do. 

And he said that one thing that I've always known - when it comes to medical research, always look at who the sponsor of the study is.  That will say a lot more about the outcome than the actual outcome.

He still believes that a mammogram is a good diagnostic tool for early cancer detection, and he will probably continue to recommend the tool for women in the risk age group, but at least he respects my decision to not have one, as I feel it is not medically necessary.  The last doctor I had who was like him moved, and I never, quite, got over that loss ... until I found this new doctor.

There's a part two to the savings.

My daughter injured herself a while back.  We kept hoping it would clear up, and she had multiple x-rays and evaluations, but the recommendation was always, "Rest.  Heat/cold.  Ibuprofen."  She did all of that.  For many months.  With no improvement.

Our new doctor recommended she see a chiropractor.  We're paying out-of-pocket for the visits.  Did you know that doctors charge their self-pay clients less than those who have the physician bill the insurance company?

So, basically, health care is so expensive, BECAUSE of insurance companies.  If all providers offered self-pay on a sliding scale, perhaps health care wouldn't cost so much. 

Now that we don't have health insurance, I'm actually happier with our care than I have been in many years.  Isn't that funny?

Friday, August 18, 2017

Twenty-One Days Until TEOTWAWKI - Safe Food??

This past week ended up being much busier than anticipated, and there was little time to hop on the computer and work out a blog post.

The goal was to blog each day things that we're doing to prep for our personal end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it, which for us is a job loss with no income starting around the beginning of September.

The thing for us is that we've become accustomed to having a certain level of income, and so anything less than that level (especially when that "less" is zero) is a hardship. 

We've been trying to combat that financial hardship by making other-than-normal lifestyle choices.  Over the past week and a half, I've talked about a few of the things we've done, using my book as a guide. 

I left off with Day 5, which was one of the three "food" days I wrote about in my book.  It's not that food is so much more important than other TEOTWAWKI topics, but ... well, you know in those post-apocalyptic stories, there is always one group of cannibals.  Always. 

And it blows my mind at how easy it is for those fictitious characters to choose that option.  There is, simply, so much food available.  The problem is that there is so much that is not considered food.

I've mentioned the Non-Consumer Advocate FB group that I'm on.  There are 40,000 members on the group, and so there are some pretty interesting discussions.  The other day, someone mentioned that she'd found some feral blackberry brambles when she was filling up her gas tank and wondered if they were "safe."

Deus Ex Machina and I co-authored a book called Browsing Nature's Aisles: A Year of Foraging for Wild Foods in the Suburbs in which we take readers on our journey of discovering what there is to eat in our neighborhood.  Not only did we spend that year long project finding all sorts of wild sustenance, but we also hosted a party at the end of that year where we served our "wild foods."  Some of our friends even foraged some of their own foods, which they shared at our party.

The following summer, Deus Ex Machina and I challenged ourselves to a "Foraging Sundays" challenge - the goal being to eat only what we could forage for the whole day.  It was actually tough, because, as would be expected, we had to live our lives, which included my working on most Sundays, our volunteer work at the theater, and a trip out-of-town in the middle of that project, which meant we weren't always able to spend a couple of hours out foraging followed by half a day in the kitchen processing acorns - or other wild foods (most wild food isn't the pick-and-eat convenience food that berries are). 

We ate some awesome food (including periwinkles steamed in a foraged-peach wine and butter - so good!).  We also had some hungry days.  My favorite meal was the nettles soup, which was mostly just nettles cooked in water with some butter and other seasonings added for flavor. 

As we mention in our book, it's interesting, but also sad, that people are more comfortable with the GMO and pesticide-laden food they pay for at the grocery store than they are with what they find wild.  For instance, in the above mentioned thread about the blackberries, the original poster wanted to know if the blackberries were "safe" to eat. 

Most people who responded said they were ... and they are.  At least they are as safe to eat as any conventionally grown food we buy at the grocery store.  Actually, probably safer, as those wild blackberries were probably not sprayed with anything, and it's just the proximity to the gasoline filling station that was her concern. 

Deus Ex Machina and I went for a walk with the dogs the other day.  He brought home a bagful of wild hazelnuts, which we will dry, hull, shell, roast and enjoy. 

During our Foraging Sundays, roasted hazelnuts featured prominently in our diet.  We made the tastiest and most satisfying trail mix with the hazelnuts and some dried blueberries. 

We have a well stocked pantry and freezer.  We could probably get by with a couple of months worth of Pantry Challenges without going hungry, although our meals might end up being boring, or lacking some of the usual sides or condiments that we enjoy, like we might have "chicken tacos", but we wouldn't have cheese or avocado or sour cream ... or tortilla chips.  Instead, the meal might be something like spicy shredded chicken with Buckwheat cornbread and homemade salsa.  It would be less exciting than we are accustomed to, but we wouldn't be hungry. 

In addition, our garden is starting to produce.  We still have lots of tomatoes and peppers to look forward to in the coming weeks.  The grapes and apples, which look pretty generous this year, haven't fully ripened, and the potatoes and carrots aren't quite ready to pull, yet. 

In short, lots of food just waiting to be harvested. 

And there are lots of wild options out there, still, too.  Deus Ex Machina is eager to get out and look for mushrooms.  After today's rain, the mushrooms are likely to be popping.  Adding dried or frozen mushrooms to winter stews is wonderful.

There was another awesome find that I wanted to share. 

If we end up in a true TSHTF scenario, and we're unable to pay our bills and things like the electricity and water get cut off, we have options.

I was excited to find this public water fountain right within biking distance of my house.  Clean, drinkable water.  I could ride my bike over there, fill up some jugs, and head home in less than a half hour.  The crate on my bike will hold four gallons.  If I bring the bike trailer, too, I could get almost a week's worth of drinking water for my family in one trip.   


In addition, after I canned my peaches the other day, the jars sat on the counter cooling, and I mentioned to Deus Ex Machina that we need a place to store all of this awesome food I'm canning.  "Hint!  Hint!"  I was trying to say.  "There's no room in our pantry for more stuff, and we (and by we, I mean you) need to build more shelves." 

Ever the skeptic, he started looking at what was on the pantry shelves and found several quart jars of just water*.  I've probably mentioned before that I will fill my canner every time.  Sometimes, if I'm canning small batches, I'll add jars of water.  We, probably, have a couple of gallons of water in sealed jars. 

*We moved the water to a different cabinet where I have more water stored and put the peaches in its place.  Now, we don't need more shelves ... until I can something else, or decide that the corn should be in the pantry rather than on the counter ;).

For other water needs, we still have our rain barrels, which will hopefully be full this time tomorrow.

We're probably good for food and water for a while, but the saga of our TEOTWAWKI continues ....

Monday, August 14, 2017

Twenty-one Days Until TEOTWAWKI - Day 5 (Stocking up - Food)

He sat across from me, this gorgeous man looking for all the world like an All-American football star (and much too good for the likes of me) with sparkling eyes and a gorgeous smile.  I was completely smitten.  He knew it.

"I like to eat," he declared, twirling his fork between each bite, which he ate with an enthusiasm that belied the quality of the cuisine.

I smiled, thinking that one would have to like to eat to be so happy with the mess hall food.  They didn't call it a Mess, for nothing.  Although, to be fair, some of the Army cooks were actually pretty good.  I would learn a few things from them over the next few years, including the fact that regular tortillas can be deep fried (and even baked) to make taco salad "bowls."  Who knew?

Deus Ex Machina and I met in the mess hall, and not surprisingly, food has been a huge focus of our lives.

In fact, it was food that got us started on this journey toward self-sufficiency.  The beginning, for us, was transitioning to a diet consisting mostly of locally grown/produced food.   It was a decade ago - this summer, in fact, when I accepted my first challenge to Eat Local for the summer, and worried that he was going to starve, Deus Ex Machina skulked and argued and grew angry every time we had to shop, and I said no to something.  He came around when he saw how full our plates were with all homemade food from super fresh ingredients that tasted SO MUCH better than store-bought - even the tortillas I made from scratch using King Arthur flour (local-ish to us).

We still work to keep our diet local, although we've (rather, I've) eased up a bit when it comes to certain things - like fruit.  I'll allow non-locally grown fruit, as long as it's "in season" wherever it's grown.

Did you know that bananas don't have a "season?"  They grow year-round.

The other "rule" is that if it grows in Maine, we only buy Maine-grown.  Potatoes, most produce (especially cold-loving vegetables, like cabbage), apples, berries, dairy, and meat are all locally sourced.

What that means is that we still have to stock-up on a lot of stuff to get through the winter (non-growing season) here in Maine.

A couple of summers ago, I allowed myself get distracted and stay distracted for much too long, and I didn't do as much canning as I should have.  We ended up buying too many non-local foods.  My waistline bears the weight (ha! See what I did there?) of that bad choice.

With TEOTWAWKI looming, I knew we needed to get back into it.

The other day, I was talking to our local farmer friend.  We stopped by the farm stand for some milk and produce.  It was milking time (which I didn't realize when we stopped), and he was in the barn.  He saw me heading back to my car and called out, "Did you find anything?"

I laughed.  "Of course I did!  Except milk.  You were out."

He assured me that there would be milk the next day, and I resolved to stop back by when I was out on errands.

Then, we started talking about corn.  This was their first year growing corn since they transitioned away from being a full-time dairy farm to growing vegetables.   They still have a few cows and are, now, a certified, licensed raw milk dealer, but dairy is not their primary focus.

I've purchased corn, in bulk, from other farms in the past, and I asked him if they would sell it to me by the bushel.  A bushel bag has about five dozen ears.  He said he would for $20 a bag.  He could have a bag ready for me the next day.

The next day, I stopped by for milk and corn.  He asked me what I was going to do with all that corn.

"Can it," I told him.

He said that sounded like a good idea.

My daughter and her boyfriend shucked the corn.  I blanched the ears, and then, Deus Ex Machina and I, using our handy corn cutting tool, sliced the corn off the cob and prepped it for freezing and canning.

We vacuum sealed four packages of corn-on-the-cob and five packages of creamed corn, and we put five quarts and one pint of corn in the pressure canner.

No, that bushel of corn won't last us all winter, but it will be a nice side dish with roast chicken, or a hearty addition to soup or chowder cooked on the woodstove (to conserve electricity) when the snow is blowing outside.  

I've stepped up my canning efforts this year.  I should not have allowed myself to get out of the habit. It feels right to be back at it again.

So far, we have maple syrup (which, unlike other stocking up, we never really stopped doing), strawberry jam, and canned chicken.

The value of canned meat is underappreciated, especially when one is trying to limit the convenience of eating out.  Canned chicken can be used for a number of quick and easy meals, including: stir-fry, chicken "tacos", wraps, sandwiches, pasta dishes, casseroles, and soups.  My plan is to pressure can even more chicken, because worst case scenario, if we end up losing our electricity, the canned chicken will stay good ... but I'll have to be begging friends to let me borrow their stoves or struggling to keep the canner hot enough outside on the grill, so that I can preserve all of that frozen chicken.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Twenty-one Days Until TEOTWAWKI - Day 4 (Cooking)

I like to pretend that if I had a huge, gourmet-style kitchen with a ton of counter space that eating out would never appeal to me.

So, I'm just going to blame that mmff, mmff, mmff dollars (amount of money we spent over the past seven months, which I will not disclose, because it's embarrassing) on the fact that I have a tiny galley-style kitchen with a postage-stamp counter space for meal prep, and most of the counter is usually covered with dishes that need to be washed.

Don't judge me.  I do that well enough on my own.

Unfortunately, with TEOTWAWKI looming, eating out is one of those "world-as-we-know-it" luxuries we can no longer afford.

Mind you, when I say "eating out", I am not talking about McDonald's fast food.  I haven't been to a McDonalds (except for coffee, once) in ten years, and my use of "McDonald's" is a generic term for ALL fast food restaurants (pretty much any place with a drive-thru that doesn't serve, as a primary product, doughnuts and/or coffee - and usually has either "donut" or "coffee" in the name of the establishment).

Eating out is a huge, very expensive luxury.  We had to stop.

Since I do have such a small kitchen, we also don't have a fancy coffee maker.  We have a tiny (subjectively) French press that holds enough coffee for four cups.  We probably make three to four pots per day.

But we found, when we looked at the numbers, that we were buying a lot of coffee in cardboard cups.  We recycle the cups, but still, there's all that waste - and not just the paper waste, but the money!  Holy cow, the MONEY! we spent on coffee.  No, I won't give you a number (see above), but I will say that our favorite coffee shop has a frequent buyer card.  Buy twelve cups, get one free.  I have five cards filled.  I only started getting them stamped every time I buy coffee last November.  Sometimes I forget to get them stamped. I've already redeemed at least as many.  We don't only buy coffee from that one place.  You get the picture.  A LOT of coffee.

The allure of convenience is very enticing, and it is so easy to fall into that trap of thinking, "just this one ...  just this time ... this is a special, extraordinary outing that necessitates Coffee Shoppe coffee."  The problem, at least for us, was that "just this time" turned into a couple of times a week.  

Every day is special - so no day is, at least for us when it came to the coffee habit.  

I often mention that I'm a very lucky Mom.  I have amazing children.  Truly.

My daughters are absolutely wonderful.  Very supportive and willing to just do what I ask. It's pretty incredible.  They don't have a short memory or attention span, and when I say, "We can't get coffee out," they hear and remember.  The one who usually gives in, is me.  Not them.  They never ask.

The other day, when we were heading out to an appointment, knowing that coffee out is not an option, Little Fire Faery made herself a cup to go from the French Press.  Precious grabbed her new water bottle (a new patient gift she received recently) and filled it with water to take with her on the island excursion field trip she went on with our co-op friends.

My girls are also really good about helping in the kitchen, especially with putting away the clean dishes.  I don't know why that chore is so difficult for me, but it is.  They don't wash the dishes, but they'll put them away.  I wash.  They put them away.  Simpatico.

As a team, we're tackling our culinary challenge of not succumbing to the convenience of restaurant food and beverage.  It's not easy, but the general consensus is that it takes about a month to change a habit.  If we can keep it up for the duration of the next three weeks, we'll be set ... assuming that we don't fall off the proverbial wagon ;).

Plus, I just keep telling myself that my homemade food is better - and it is!  It's better quality food for less money, because we raise it organically, or purchase from a local or organic vendor.  It's made exactly the way WE like it without a lot of hassle and hidden costs.  And any hairs are probably from our own dogs.  So, win-win-win!

Fast food for less:

Homemade GF Hamburgers:

1 lbs of locally raised, grass-fed beef made into four patties, served on a bed of homegrown lettuce with toppings of choice and oven-roasted french-fry cut potatoes with a soda made on our Soda Stream.  Cost is about $4/person, as opposed to more than $15 per person for a similar, but not entirely comparable meal from the local high-end hamburger place.

The meal takes about forty-five minutes to prepare, because the potatoes have to be peeled, sliced, and cooked.  But while the potatoes are cooking, everything else can be prepared, and some clean-up of the kitchen can take place.

With a bit of planning (which is actually the tough part, when I'm having fatigue brain after a long, draining day), eating at home is easier than trying to decide where we're doing to get take-out with so many diverse and creative options where we live*.


*Some people who live in more food-desert kinds of places won't relate, but off the top of my head, I can think of five restaurants with five different types of cuisine (Mexican; pizza; hamburgers; seafood; all American) within ten miles of my house that serve Maine-sourced foods and are locally owned.  The struggle is real!