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!

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Twenty-one Days until TEOTWAWKI - Day 3 (Fire ...?)

Deus Ex Machina: "Tom called."

Me:  "Yeah?  Is everything okay?"

Deus Ex Machina:  "Yep.  He has some wood.  He's says it's about two cords*.  We can have it, if we pick it up."

That's a fairly common conversation in our house. We are blessed with many friends and family members who will think of us when there is firewood available.  Most folks know that we heat with wood.

It's actually a point of pride that we haven't had an oil delivery since 2008 - the year we had our Lopi wood stove installed.  We've heated our house with wood since then.

Having the wood stove isn't really a new prep.  We already have it, but storing up wood is an every year project.  We were given two cords of wood this summer, after the lay-off, and it was a huge relief.  We have know a landowner who will allow us to harvest dead wood and downed trees, but it's a lot more work than those two cords.  We'll start working on the wood pile in a few weeks, when things cool off a bit.  By winter, we should have what we need to last until next April or May.

It is an on-going project - not a one day thing, but honestly, it only took us a few hours to decide on exactly the wood stove we wanted, to find a local dealer, and to call and order it (back in 2008).  If we hadn't already made that prep, before Deus Ex Machina's job loss, we might be looking at a very different kind of winter, because filling up the oil tank (AND running the furnace, which is forced hot air, and requires electricity ... a LOT of electricity), is probably not in the budget.

To that end, if you're looking at a possible financial hiccup, start planning now for that eventuality.   Like I said to Deus Ex Machina, we've been planning for this for ten years.  That wood stove will keep us warm, this winter, just like the last ten, without requiring that we spend a dime.

I'd also like to share our other, semi-related, prep.

A few years ago, I was an SUV driver.  Then, we tried to get a sticker on our old girl, but her belly was a bit rusty.  She sat in the driveway for a very long time.  We used her for storing the boxsprings to our bed when we moved our bed out of the back room and into the office to start the renovation.  Finally, we found a junkyard that would buy her for parts.

We used to haul wood with the SUV.  In fact, we always, kind of, treated that vehicle like it was a truck ... with a cover.  We hauled a lot of stuff in that thing.  Our other car was a Honda Civic.  One can not haul much wood in a Honda Civic.

We spent several months with just one car, but then, Deus Ex Machina found a used Toyota truck. We bought it.

Having that truck has been invaluable.  We can take our chickens to the butcher (can't imagine trying to haul 12 full-grown meat chickens in the back seat of my car).  We can haul wood.  We can take advantage of "free" stuff on the side of the road.  We can buy an Armoire secondhand and not worry about how we'll get it home.

The truck does not get very good gas mileage, but it's real value is the independence it gives us with regard to acquiring things we need to support our lifestyle.   In just the cost of cord wood, it will pay for itself before we have to call the junkyard to tow it away.

And keeping the home fires burning is priceless.

*We use between 5 and 7 cords of wood, depending on how well it is seasoned and the type of wood.  Pine burns hotter and faster, and so we'd need more of it to get through the winter.  The wood mentioned above was pine.  It will be nice for those early fires where we just want to take the edge off, but we don't need a fire all day.

My Garden is Making Me Rich

There was this whole thing a while back where some person published an article about a $200 tomato or some shit.  The goal, I guess, was to debunk the idea that growing one's own food saves money.  I guess saving money wasn't part of the author's experience.

The problem is that it's not true.  Having a garden DOES save money.  I didn't read the above mentioned article.  Probably if I want to criticize it, I should, but the fact - at least MY personal, decade's long, experience is that my garden does save money.

Take cucumbers, for instance.  We are at the very beginning of harvest season for cukes here in southern Maine.  They're just starting to come up.

I bought cucumber plants this year.  We need to work on a greenhouse or cold frame so that I can start plants.  It will have to come after the house stuff is done, but I'm pretty sure we can do it, mostly, for free.

The plants were $2.50 for a six pack.  I planted them with my broccoli and planned this really awesome trellis thing, that I never got around to making.  So, my cucumbers are growing along the ground.  No worries, because the broccoli is mostly done.  I'm letting some of the plants go to seed, so that I can save it for next year.

Something ate half the plants.  So, I have three.

I have a pound of pickling-sized cukes on my counter  that I harvested yesterday.  I've harvested at least that much again over the past week or two, and when it gets full into growing this month (August is the huge harvest month here), I'll have enough for both eating and making a gallon or two of sour pickles.

Pickling cucumbers sell for $0.50/lb around here.  I need 3 pounds to make a gallon of pickles.  That's $1.50 for a gallon.  I spent $2.50 on plants.  I only have to harvest 5 lbs of cucumbers (which is about 15 little cukes) to break even.  I only have to harvest 6 lbs to make money.

I don't know what that author was doing to make his garden cost so much money, but here's my reality:

I've planted apples, peaches, hazelnut, a chef's fantasy of a perennial herb garden, blueberries, grapes. and raspberries.  The initial outlay for some of those plants was a little high (like the apple tree that was $35), but these things, my perennial garden, are an investment, that over time, pays for itself.  The rest of the garden is the same.

I paid $3 per pound for seed potato.  A pound of seed potatoes is about 3 medium sized potatoes.  Each seed can be cut into three or more pieces, depending on the number of eyes (I've gotten five pieces before from one fist-sized potato).  Each piece will yield between 3 lbs and 5 lbs of potatoes (or more depending on the size of the potatoes at harvest and the growing technique).  So, if I cut a seed potato into three pieces, and each piece give me 5 lbs of potatoes, that's 15 lbs for $1.   That works out to something like $0.07 per pound, as opposed to $0.79/lb for Maine-grown potatoes at the grocery store - or $2 per pound for Maine-grown potatoes at the farm stand.

There's all of that, but also, I just went outside to pick the blueberries that were ripe right outside my door, and I found a dime in front of the blueberry bush.

So, I guess my garden is, literally, making me richer, too :).  

Friday, August 11, 2017

Twenty-One Days Until TEOTWAWKI - Day Two (Water)

This post isn't actually about water - per se.  It's about beverages, and it might seem a little superfluous to some of you.

Here's the thing.  We don't, usually, purchase sodas.

That's a lie.

We didn't, for a very LONG time, purchase Coca-Cola or Pepsi-Cola products, because most of them contain high fructose corn syrup.  Then, Coca-Cola company came out with this "Coke Life" product that has cane sugar and Stevia.  A few 12 packs made it into our shopping cart, maybe once or twice a month.

We also spent more money than we should have on soda products that were locally manufactured (Maine Root and Cap't Eli's were the two brands we would purchase), and/or we would purchase soda products from one of those organic soda companies.  Our grocery store carried a flavor by Virgil's called "Dr. Better".  We found that we really liked it.

Bad habits are born slowly and end up becoming pervasive - remember the frog boiling analogy?  It applies here, too.  In fact a lot of the things I'll probably be discussing over the next three weeks are frogs boiling.

Around June when TSHTF, we realized that we were spending quite a lot of money each week on soft drinks, which is funny for someone who had completely eliminated them only a few years earlier.  It was easy when my daughters were young, but as they reached those teenage years, forcing my opinions and ideologies becomes more difficult and started to feel invasive.  They're getting older, and they need the opportunity to make their own decisions - such is one of the main tenets of the unschooling philosophy.

But as a side note, let's not turn this post into a bashing of my schooling philosophy/parenting style.  I think there's a post about homeschooling later in this series.  You can bash me there :).

Anyway, sodas made their way into our house in a very big and very expensive way.

But then, we were suddenly faced with the need to cut back on our spending.  One of the easiest cuts was the soda.

My friend recommended a Soda Stream.  The initial outlay for the machine was $70, which included one CO2 cartridge.  Because we usually bought the super expensive sodas, $70 is probably what we spent a month on soda.  So the soda stream actually paid for itself after the first month.

When the CO2 cartridge is empty, we take it back to the store to exchange.  It costs $15 - one-fifth of what we were spending on sodas.

We make our own syrup using organic cane sugar and water.  Sometimes we'll add juice from fresh squeezed lemon and/or lime.  We've also made cherry limeade to rival Sonic's.  Ours is way better.  Just saying.  

So, this isn't, exactly, a TEOTWAWKI thing.  If the world goes belly-up and we all start fighting zombies, having carbonated water will be the least of our worries.

But if our TEOTWAWKI is a job loss and the goal is to survive without losing one's house or whatever, switching to something that can save a lot of our cash, especially in a short period of time, might be a useful transition.

Probably, we should have just switched to drinking still water.

To that end, we've actually made a very important step toward improving our water usage here.

We've long been "if it's mellow ..." practitioners.  That hasn't changed.  We usually take quick showers, because, why dawdle?  Sometimes we even shower with a buddy to save water.  We always wash a full load of laundry.  We don't run the faucets when we don't have to.

This year, though, has seen a transition in the way we use water outside.  Precious likes to fill the rabbit water bottles inside.  I, personally, don't find it easier or faster to bring them all inside, but for whatever reason, she did.  I was able to encourage her to use the rain barrel instead.

In addition, I moved a rain barrel closer to my garden, and I put a couple of buckets right next to it. The hose is on the other side of the house and is heavy and bulky and difficult to drag around.  The bucket that can be filled with the rain barrel is right there.  But also, the water isn't turned on and left running while the hose is being moved around the yard, which also saves a lot of water.  AND since we're using a bucket rather than a hose, we can water whenever, and there's less chance of sunburning the plants with water droplets on the leaves in the heat of the day, because we pour the water right at the base of each plant rather than using the sprinkler method in which everything gets sprayed from above.

We probably won't see a change in our water bill, because the cost is going up by 30% this year anyway, thanks to some infrastructure improvements the water company did that they feel their customers should pay for.

But with the rain barrels, if our personal TEOTWAWKI ends up with us in financial dire straits, which results in the water company turning off our water, we'll still have water, at least a couple hundred gallons - as long as it rains ... and if it doesn't rain, we do have access to some water very close by that we could haul (not my favorite plan) by 5 gal. bucket.  It would have to be sanitized for drinking, of course, but luckily, as backpacking enthusiasts, Deus Ex Machina and Big Little Sister have a couple of these.
Water is life, right?  Saving money on that absolutely vital commodity can be a big deal.

And having cheap fizzy drinks also contain ingredients we choose is also a bonus.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Twenty-One Days Until TEOTWAWKI - Day One (Housing)

The phone rings.  The caller ID tells me it's Deus Ex Machina.


"Is everything okay?"

"Yeah.  Why?"

"Mr. Moocette called.  He said the roof blew off."


"Moocette called.  He said ...."

"Yeah, I heard what you said, but I don't know what you're talking about.  Let me go outside and take a look."

I hung up the phone and walked out the door and around the house.  There, on the ground, lay huge pieces of the rolled tar-paper covering that the roofers had used to cover the flat, shed-style roof over our bedroom when they'd resurfaced it only six years earlier.  Up on the roof, I could see a sheet, probably six feet square, flapping in the strong winds.

Well, that sucks.

I mean, we KNEW that the roof was bad, or something.  We'd had leaking issues for a while, and everything in our closet smelled musty and damp.  Actually, everything in that corner of the room was damp feeling, and the books on the bottom shelf were a little mildewy.

There was also the fact that the backdoor would no longer open and close properly.  It stuck, most of the time, and there was a mildew growing up the door.  Come to think of it, everything on that side of the room smelled musty and damp, too.  We thought that it was just the house settling.  It's all good.

We ostriched ourselves, put containers to catch the water when it rained a lot, and pretended that it would just be okay.

It wasn't okay.  The roof was blowing across the neighbor's yard.  We could no longer ignore what was happening.

So, we decided to take this opportunity to make some real changes.  We decided we should go big or go home, and started looking into having the entire roof - over the whole house - replaced with one contiguous roof, a plan that would also give us an attic storage (and in a perfect world, maybe some extra living space in the form of a loft, or two).  At the same time, we could also add insulation.  Increased storage.  Extra insulation.  It was a good plan.

There was only one problem.

Our house.

You'd have to know our house to understand why every contractor we called would come out to inspect the property, hear what we wanted done, and then, disappear without a trace.  No estimate, no phone call.  What we wanted, I suppose, is not possible.

Eight months after that call, we finally resolved ourselves to the fact that we weren't getting a complete remodel.  At best, we were going to have the roof over that ONE room replaced/rebuilt.  We finally found a roofing contractor who would do the work.   We had to replace the roof - have it ripped off and rebuilt, and that door that was sticking?  When the door was installed, there was no header - that is, there was no support piece between the top of the door frame and the roof.  So, the roof was, essentially, sitting right on top of the door.  Every winter, when it snowed, the weight of the snow would press down on the door.  It was causing all sorts of problems we still don't fully understand.  What we needed to know was that the roof and the back wall would be new.  Yay!

We moved out of the room, and the contractor began working his magic.

That was three years ago.

We're still not living in that room.

It's been a very slow process ...

... which ends with Deus Ex Machina having a several weeks' paid vacation and a lot of time for us to work on the room.

So, yes, this particular thing can not be accomplished in a single day, but the purpose of this exercise is not to *do* each activity in a single day, but to begin the process of thinking about preparedness as not a one-time deal, but a constant, ongoing process.  It's the journey not the destination, right?

Also, it would be really cool, for me, if you all could learn from my mistake - which is don't wait until disaster strikes to DO something.

If we had acted faster, we wouldn't have ended up with a rotted roof and a lot of our belongings ruined.  For instance, my clarinet, which was in that back closet, needed a whole overhaul - to the tune of a couple hundred dollars.  I wouldn't have bothered, but it's a rather expensive, antique wood clarinet manufactured in France.  It was worth the repair, but the repair wouldn't have been necessary if we had taken care of the roof sooner.

Also, if we had planned for the roof repair by saving, rather than being forced into reacting when it went bad, we might have saved some money, at very least in the form of interest we've paid on the money we had to borrow to pay for the work.

That said, it's all about timing, and there are some really good things that came out of taking our time on the project.

The construction and insulation parts of the project were pretty expensive. I won't lie.  We're still paying for them.  And so, perhaps, if we had not been in a hurry to get the outside work done (because the tarp on the roof is only going to last for so long), we might have gotten more of what we wanted, instead of only so much as we could afford.

But the interior work was actually cheap, because it was all DIY.  Deus Ex Machina did most of the work with me helping in an OR nurse kind of way, where I handed him what he needed and held stuff up while he operated.

The materials were pretty cheap, also.  We spent, maybe, $250 over the past three years.  The room was entirely gutted, and so, we had to replace all of the wallboard, the ceiling, and the flooring.

We entered a home improvement contest sponsored by a local bank ... and won!  We purchased the drywall using that gift certificate.  We paid for mud and tape.   The primer was $12 for the gallon we needed, because we got it at the contractor price (pays to know people in the industry).   The paint was on the oopsy table at the hardware store.  It was $10/gallon.

The floor is part tile and part reclaimed pallet wood.  The tiles were a free Craigslist find.  We paid for the concrete backer board, adhesive, and grout.  The pallets were free.  Deus Ex Machina started collecting pallets from work, because it was usable wood that was being thrown in the garbage.  At very least, we reasoned, we could burn it for heat.  It makes a nice floor.  We have enough for some other projects, like building a fence along the back of our property to keep the dogs and chickens in our yard, and to make our property more private, for when the house next door finally has a new owner.

The ceiling is pine tongue-and-groove.  It was also an oopsy given to us by a friend who purchased it for a client, and then, the client decided he didn't want it.  It was already paid for - unrefundable, apparently - and so, our friend had to get rid of it.  We were the beneficiaries of our friend's client's change-of-mind.

We decided not to build in a new closet, because it would have cost us more in time and materials, plus not having a fixed closet in that oddly shaped room allowed us more options for future uses, like an office where we could meet with clients or have a door to close against noise (which we don't currently have).  Instead of a built-in closet, we found an Armoire for our clothes.  It can be moved around the room wherever we need it, giving us more freedom of choice.

The goal of preparedness is to be proactive rather than passive and to have a plan for when TSHTF.  We didn't make a good plan for repairing the room as soon as we knew the damage was being done, but we did decide how we wanted the room to ultimately look, and then, we started making it happen. And because we took our time, it ended up being mostly free.

We have a couple more in-the-short-term projects to finish, and the good news is that we have enough materials - on hand - to accomplish those tasks.  It shouldn't cost us more than just our time.

The challenge for this day, then, is that you look at your house and identify those structural or designer elements that aren't working, and start making a plan to fix them - before the emergency happens.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Twenty-One Days Until TEOTWAWKI - Day Zero

The sky was clear blue, a sharp contrast to the gray sea.

He stood, jeans rolled up to his calves, on the rocky shore as shallow waves lapped against his bare feet.  Our eight year old daughter, dressed just like her dad, in jeans and a fleece, embroidered with our "school logo", gingerly tread through the water next to him.

Her delicate hand held back her long hair, so that she could peer into the waves, looking for treasures each undulation brought up to the beach.  Shells, rocks, sea glass.  It was all collected and brought home to be stored in vases, jars, and cracked drinking glasses - a history of our years of beach combing along the Atlantic coast of Southern Maine.

That's the picture that is preserved, quite literally, thanks to Kodak (or whatever the manufacturer of the digital camera with which I took that picture), of a day many years ago when Deus Ex Machina decompressed from his work stress and spent a few hours at the beach with us.

Days like those, when Deus Ex Machina has unexpected time off and could join us on our adventure, are rare.  I treasure them, because that's what they are - treasures: a rare, valuable thing.

On a Thursday in June at 9:00 AM, I was just starting my day.

My days start really slow.  I get up, usually a little before Deus Ex Machina has to leave for work.  I don't have an alarm.  My time is, mostly, my own.

I grab a cup of coffee, and usually we chat about just random stuff until he has to leave.  Then, I stand by the door, looking out the window and wave as he backs out of the driveway, and run to the window to wave and blow kisses as he drives down the street and out in to the world.

Usually, I'm the only one awake for a while.  I hop on my computer and download my email.  Sometimes I'll start a blog post.  Sometimes I'll open up one of the dozens of stories I'm always working on and never finishing.  Sometimes I'll look for writing gigs.

Or I'll head outside and put some laundry on the line or work in the garden or check on the animals - making sure everyone has food and water.

This day, we were preparing to go on a field trip with our homeschool co-op.  It was mandatory, for me, because I was also going to be attending a Board meeting.   I'm the teen advisor for our homeschool co-op.  We were all awake.

I was freshly showered and looking at email when I heard Deus Ex Machina's truck coming back down the road.  The dogs sounded a cacophony of barking to let me know that "Daddy is home!"

He walked in the door.

"I was laid off."

I hugged him.

"It's about time," I whispered against his neck.

We had known for months that a lay-off was inevitable.  Deus Ex Machina had predicted, based on the kinds of things that he saw happening back in April, that a mass lay-off would happen in June.  It did.  He didn't expect to be part of the pink-slip crew, but as Yentl says, "Nothing's impossible!"

That he was handed his pink slip was a surprise, although not a shock.  We figured it could  happen. The pleasant surprise was the generous severance package they gave him, which gave us time.  

"They did you a favor," I assured him.

And added, "We'll be fine. We've been preparing for this for ten years."

It's true ... ish.

In September 2008, I accepted the challenge to imagine that I knew I had three weeks (or 21 days) to prepare for some catastrophic event.  The challenge was to imagine what I would do given that knowledge.  I wrote a book about it - highlighting things we could be doing over a twenty-one day period to prepare ourselves in the event of a collapse.

But it's not just a world-wide TEOTWAWKI that we could be or should be preparing to survive. Sometimes it's a much smaller catastrophic event - a natural disaster that ONLY affects Long Island or New Orleans - or our own, personal, end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it event, like a job loss.

Unfortunately, when the disaster is on such a small scale, most of us will fail to see that our personal TEOTWAWKI has happened, because it doesn't look like the-end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it.

In our fantasy TEOTWAWKI worlds, the end comes like dunking a lobster head first into a pot of boiling water - fast and furious.  It's over quick, and all that's left is to deal with the carcasses.  In real life, TEOTWAWKI is more like boiling a frog - slowly turning up the heat until the frog is too cooked to hop out.

For most of us TEOTWAWKI is like the frog's end.  It happens so slowly that we fail to notice.  We keep doing the same things we always did, while we slowly sink into debt and despair, because by the time we realize that the sh*t has hit the fan, it's too late.

I always wish for the fast TEOTWAWKI.  It would be easier to deal with the whole world coming apart at the seams because of some world-wide catastrophe than to suffer through our very private and very personal life-changing event, while everyone else just goes on with their lives like nothing is happening.

This job loss wasn't a surprise, but we are still more like the frog than the lobster.

For instance, we didn't lock down our expenses immediately and start hoarding every penny.

Deus Ex Machina, being an optimist, was certain that he would start his new job before the severance pay period ended.

I, being a total pessimist, thought we should be planning for when the severance ran out.  What would do we then?

Right around September 1 is when the paychecks stop rolling in, and we will have $0 income, except unemployment, which might cover the mortgage, but not much else.   I wanted to start planning, right away, what we were going to do in September.

That's me.  I'm a plan ahead kind of gal.  I like to know my entire route before I even start driving. I'm not a fan of Siri directions, which are turn-by-turn.  It makes me feel anxious.  So, not making a plan wasn't really going to work for me.

We sat down with the past months' bank statements and a calculator.

Before we could make a plan, we needed to know where we were, and while there were no surprises (we really do know where our finances stand, although too much of the time we allow ourselves to be a little more indulgent than, we - especially as Preppers - should be), we were a little disappointed by a few of our actual numbers.  Again, the frog.  It can be too easy to ignore the heat.

In 2008, I was challenged to imagine what we would do if we knew, in three weeks, that life-as-we-know-it would be forever changed.

This summer, we had the chance to re-imagine that twenty-one day scenario.  While the emergency is mostly over, in that Deus Ex Machina has a job offer on the table, we still don't have an income, yet. September is fast approaching.  In fact, it's just a little over twenty-one days from now.

Over the next three weeks, my goal is to post each day about something we've done or are doing to survive our personal TEOTWAWKI - and to share what might have been better for us, had we been planning better all along.