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Work smarter

12 Aug

When you are disabled, minor obstacles start looking more like Mount Everest than a minor mole hill.  It’s all bigger and more dramatic.  It’s also more likely to provoke a total melt down as frustrations and aggravations drive you to your breaking point.

So how to overcome the Himalayas when even going shopping is a challenge?

By working smarter.

Face it, for most of us, disability does not equate an accompanying mental disability.  We are fully aware of our limitations.  We know when we are having an emotional melt down that may be a bit of overreaction to the most recent event but is the inevitable result of recent events that have now been provided with either a trigger or what most of us would call the last straw.

By using our heads when our bodies aren’t dependable, we can enjoy many activities that normally would be out-of-reach.  Ones that we’re technically not supposed to be able to do due to our own personal limits, whether it’s strength, endurance, dexterity, agility, or whatever.  The question is often then going to be how, and it means how can thinking mean that we can do the un-do-able?

By taking a bigger, more dramatic view of the un-do-able, maybe we can get an idea.  Sure, it sounds totally crazy to compare a desired activity for a disabled person to climbing Mount Everest, but it’s not unreasonable.

A climber is facing obstacles that should make the climb to the summit impossible.  Breathing the thin air alone, without the cold, wind, avalanches, falls, distance and all of the other obstacles s/he must face to get there.  Sure, a lot of people fail in their attempts, and some even die trying.  So what makes it a successful attempt?

  • Research—knowing what obstacles must be overcome and what tools are available to overcome them
  • Planning—having the necessary gear, support, tools, supplies, and transportation to get to the Himalayas and make that attempt, as well as the attempt itself
  • Preparation—assembling the necessary items and gaining the necessary skills to be successful
  • Assessment—knowing what your own limits and abilities are, and when to call it quits
  • Assistance—having a support team to help fill in the deficit areas of your physical abilities as well as skill levels

This is where our brains come into effect.  We have to figure out what it is we want to do, then find a way to do it, no matter what it is.  Granted, few disabled people are going to take up mountain climbing, even at a much lower summit height than Mount Everest, but the concept is the same no matter what the activity actually is.

Let’s take some practical examples.

Cooking is a hobby I have enjoyed since I was young.  I really love doing it, and it is always a challenge that I’m thrilled to try.  The objective is to make the recipes, serve them all at their optimum temperature, without any errors.  I actually liked playing “guest chef” and cooking for others.  Holiday meals were something that were fun to prepare because of their complexity, volume, etc.

Obviously, post-disability, it wasn’t as much fun.  Some things were nearly impossible and even simple tasks had turned into my own versions of Mount Everest.  I wanted to make pizza crust, from scratch.  Before, that was a no-brainer.  Now, it was impossible, or so it seemed.

The mixing and kneading were impossible, but solved easier.  I owned a big Kitchen-Aid mixer that really hadn’t seen much use.  Now, I learned to use it for mixing pizza dough.  Rolling and stretching the dough was then the new mountain.  I was not getting that done with one functional arm.

I tried a French rolling pin, I tried the kind with ball bearings.  It didn’t work.  Clean up was a misery.  Sure, I could just wimp out and ask Greg to do it—he’s not inept or unwilling.  That wasn’t the point.  I wanted to do it myself, like I was a toddler helping my mother cook.

In the past, I had had a nylon cylinder rolling pin that I had used.  That’s what I wanted to try, but I couldn’t find one for sale.  Greg solved that for me.  He bought a fat dowel, the biggest he could find, and cut it for me.  There were two—one for the narrow side of a half sheet baking pan, and one for the wide side.  Two problems solved—clean up and rolling, all with one solution.  The dough couldn’t get away from me inside the lipped pan, I had a one handed rolling pin, and I had something I could theoretically clean myself.  It also works great for cookie or biscuit dough.  I haven’t tried it with pie crust though, as the size makes a round disk of sufficient size impossible.

We thought ourselves into a solution for a problem by drawing on past experience (cylinder rolling pin) to find a new solution (dowel rolling pins) and improved it by using the half sheet pans to further solve the problem.

We use the same process for camping solutions.  I love camping, and I’ll be the first one to admit, I could not go camping in a tent by myself.  I’d never enjoy it and I would also probably never get the tent up, even if I was using an instant tent (they are great, by the way!).  But, with help for carrying and the major tasks like setting up the tent, I can enjoy camping still.  Sure, I’m not going on hikes or chopping up firewood anymore, but I’m there.

I did try to solve the backpacking problem.  Due to reduced endurance and other health problems, I have reluctantly admitted that backpacking is out of my reach at this time.  Maybe I will find something that lets me take short, easy trips in the future, but this year, it was a bust again.  Instead, I’m doing it vicariously by creating recipes for DIY meals, sharing knowledge, and evaluating gear in a much closer space.

Then there was sewing.  I was afraid to try it for a very long time, longer than I’m even willing to admit.  That delay was based solely on fear.  I was terrified that it was going to be one more can’t in a world filled with too many can’ts for my taste.  Finally, I got things together, plugged in the machine, and tried it.

Here is where working smarter became really important.  I have a very limited amount of time to actually work on anything before problems are going to appear, all carried along by the all-too-familiar Pain Train.  (I find that assigning silly names to stressors, they become less threatening.  Try it sometime!)  Most of the time, it’s about five minutes.  Sewing isn’t something that is done fast, so this short period of time to do anything physical with it means that I have to make that time really count.  It’s like sewing with a toddler underfoot, in a way.  Continual interruptions and distractions.

I’m also not talking strictly about sewing machine time.  It’s any physical task—laying out patterns, cutting, pinning, whatever. This short time span for actually doing anything means that we’re going to take the tactics of the armchair quarterback.  We’re going to think about it and plan a whole lot in comparison to actually doing anything.  Then, we’re going to look at what we are doing, think about it again, long before we start doing it.

That’s not a bad thing.  You soon learn that ripping things out is heartbreaking.  Not only have you invested one or more work periods into making the mistake, you’ve now got to invest more work periods into removing that effort, all before repeating the investment.  It’s like buying a house with no bathroom, giving it away, and buying another one because the first one didn’t have a bathroom.  It’s a major investment, not merely a bit of time, when you are physically challenged.

Disabilities can change your perspectives on a lot of things, as well as cause a major shift in priorities.  You soon learn that some things are not important and don’t really matter.

  • Makeup. I don’t wear it anymore.  It wasn’t worth the investment of time, energy, and pain to get it onto my face.  I don’t care what the rest of the world thinks.  I’m not going to conform to their perceptions or make that investment of myself to conforming.  I’m just not willing to risk sticking a mascara applicator into my eye to be “beautiful” in someone else’s eyes.
  • Hairdos. I’m not going to bother.  I have long hair and I wear it tied up, usually in a doubled over pony tail.  It’s often lopsided too.  I thought about cutting off my hair, but then I’d have to do something with it.  Like comb it more often.  As it is, it gets brushed when I’m leaving the house or someone is coming over—it’s neatly confined so it doesn’t get messy.  No French braids, no fancy do’s, unless my daughter is around and feels inclined to do it for me.  Greg is pretty hopeless at this task, despite his best efforts.
  • Fashion. My idea of fashion is that it is comfortable and I can get it on and off with minimal help.  I don’t care how it ranks in terms of fashion.  Sure, I like pretty stuff, but my idea of pretty and the world’s idea of pretty might be entirely different.  I’m really fixated on the tactile experience of clothing—I like things that feel good to me.  I like cheery stuff, but rather subdued colors.  In summer, I like cool fabrics too.  Winter, like everyone else, I like warm fuzzy ones that are snuggly.  I avoid ruffles and lace like it’s going to give me the plague.  I don’t like buttons and zippers—they are hard to manage.

Decide what matters to you, and don’t invest your efforts into things that don’t matter to you.  That’s the first step to working smarter.

  1. Look at the obstacles that you face when you are attempting a desired activity. What do you need? Is it skills or help or tools?  Do you need something that is specialized or not commercially available? How do you get this new tool or device?
  2. Work out the obstacles one at a time. Facing a hundred can’ts is a world of difference from facing one of them at a time.  A hundred is impossible, but one isn’t, and that’s a simple fact.
  3. Be realistic without accepting defeat. That’s a tough balance, but it’s one that we have to strive for.  I’ve accepted defeat for the backpacking thing…for now.  I may find a solution, but it won’t devastate me if I don’t, as I have accepted that the abridged version is better than none at all.  I have to accept that some things are going to remain forever out of reach now, some of which I never intended to do to begin with, like skydiving, mountain climbing, snow skiing, and bull riding.
  4. Believe in yourself. You are not defined by what you can’t do or can do.  We are all more than that.
  5. You can contribute to the world at large. You have knowledge and skills, even if you aren’t capable of physically using them anymore.  Share them, and see your passion for past activities come to life again.  Just because you can’t do them does not mean that your knowledge can’t live on by sharing it and teaching others.

Working smarter doesn’t mean you have to be disabled somehow to use it.  Anyone can use the same principles to reduce their life clutter and achieve greater things.  It’s just about establishing priorities, coming up with a plan, assembling the tools, and then moving forward towards your goals.  It is not rocket science or quantum physics!  You can do it.

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Healthy ways make for happier days?

2 Feb

I’m not exactly a paragon of virtue, and among those virtues is “healthy lifestyle.”  Apparently, I’m now also paying the price of using my body without any regard for its long term condition along the way.  It probably doesn’t help any that I’ve been doing it that way for the last half century either.

So, after turning fifty, it has seemed as though my body went on strike.  I now have a bunch of pills to take daily, as all sorts of issues are being addressed.  Most of them have arrived since August, when things seemed to just hit the fan with me.  Needless to say, misery doesn’t like company, or much of anything else.

Now my New Year’s resolution was to eat chocolate daily, which sounds a bit silly, but was a lot more symbolic than most people realize.  The chocolate represents taking care of me and my wants and desires and needs, and to remember that a little bit of pampering, consideration, care, and attention can go a long ways towards making sure that I can do the things that are important to me.  Without that attention and care, I’m afraid I’d not be walking this world too much longer either.

Along with that has come attention to our diet.  Our food budget is tight, and we don’t exactly live in a hot bed for organic foods either. I haven’t been able to find a store that I would call a “health food store” along the Gulf Coast in Mississippi or even in Mobile, Alabama.  The closest I’ve come is the familiar chain with its shelves of bottles of snake oil and magical menders, which isn’t what I’m searching for.  I want organic, non-GMO foods, herbs, whole grains…that kind of stuff.  When Walmart is your biggest supplier of “health food”, you know you are in trouble.

But even on the shelves of mass produced foods, not all foods are created equally.  We didn’t have to continue consuming over processed, over salted, and over priced foods.  It just meant learning to eat a bit differently, and this lesson was one my digestive tract, already on protest from the pills it was expected to process to keep assorted parts healthy, would really appreciate.

I used to drink a lot of coffee.  I’d typically sip on a cup virtually continuously through the day, as it ranged from fresh and hot to scum-forming tepid brew.  It’s gone up in price, I’ve cut down on consumption, switching to teas.  For the past few months, I’d been drinking very diluted tea as I typically would stretch a single teabag through three twenty ounce  cups, sipping a variety of teas, with a strong preference for Bigelow’s Spiced Chai. By the time I drank that third cup, it was scarcely more than colored water with sugar and cream (with the chai.)

So, I made the decision today to start drinking chamomile tea.  I have insomnia, an unhappy stomach/intestinal tract, plenty of inflammation and aggravation, ample stress, etc.  Chamomile tea is great stuff, once you get used to its mild flavor.  It’s also great for migraines, PMS, stomach cramps, insomnia, anxiety, irritable bowel syndrome, etc.  So…I’ll cut back on my regular tea consumption, drink chamomile for a week, see how it goes.  I have to admit though, I’m looking forward to brewing a pot of coffee tomorrow morning!

Whole grains aren’t as easy.  There is a very limited selection of grains to cook and use similar to rice.  Even in rice options in the grocery stores in this region the choices are limited, unless you want long grain white rice!  Typically, the Gulf Coast’s groceries will offer more kinds of long grain white rice than they do of all of the other “special” varieties together.  This includes plain old brown rice too.  Forget anything exotic like black japonica, Christmas rice, etc.  Not even wild rice was offered at our local Walmart!  They did have a Lundberg long grain/wild rice combination but that was it.

Vegetables…we can avoid the over processed canned vegetables and buy the frozen ones.  It’s a bit more expensive, not as convenient since we have a micro-refrigerator with an even smaller freezer, but they are a bit better than the canned.  Frozen vegetables are also a better bet than sad, wilted fresh vegetables in terms of nutritional benefit.  Once again, the key is to avoid the varieties that come with “sauce”, as the sauces are highly processed and high calorie too.

These aren’t huge changes.  They are small changes.  But, every journey starts with a single step.  This is our single step.  I just hope the journey turns out to be worth it!

The magic (or spirituality) of love

16 Nov

Love.

Small word, big implications.

It means so much, yet can be so meaningless too.

We “love” chocolate, the weather, that flower, that car, that phone, that whatever…for the moment.

We love someone and marry them, give birth to children we love, divorce someone we used to love, mourn the parents we hated as teens and love now, and love our grandchildren…

It makes little sense as we try to explain it all, yet it makes absolute sense as we navigate the pitfalls of love we’re immersed in.

Imagine aliens trying to figure out love.  Maybe we have an explanation for 12,500 years of research into the concept, huh?

So I’m jumping away from love as a concept, and switching to a more tangible expression of love.  It’s the magic we insert into food.

Love as magic?  As in witches and broomsticks?  Stickpins and voodoo dolls?  Potions and spells?

Yeah, exactly like that.  The magic of herbs but more practical than mere love potions and spells for prosperity.  It’s the magic to keep a family healthy and happy, harmonious and functional, cohesive and diverse.  It’s the magic of love for the lack of another word to express what a “good cook” does to food as it is being prepared.

Now that everyone thinks my pot is cracked as a result of too much honeymoon, I want you to think about what I’m talking about.  Here’s the example, and I know most of us have seen this in action, and yes, my evidence to support this idea is entirely anecdotal, there has been NO scientific testing to support it, although it might be money better spent than some of the projects I’ve seen funded.

Person A is one of those truly gifted cooks who probably wins the awards at the local county fair, is sought after to contribute to each and every bake sale, who contributes to the local church suppers, and everyone loves an invitation to stay for supper.  She’s beyond a “good cook” and is sailing obliviously towards sainthood in the eyes of her family and friends in regards to her magical touch in the kitchen.

Person B has taken classes, diligently applies herself, and her food is pretty good.  She just can’t beat Person A’s fair entries, and while her food is good, it’s never quite as good as Person A’s, even when she uses the same recipe.

Person C hates cooking, and does it well enough to get by.  Once in a while, she tries one of Person A or Person B’s recipes, but they never come out all that well.  She would rather head to a restaurant or eat at the church supper with someone else cooking.

Now when you look at the three people, they all possess roughly the same technical skills.  They can all read and follow a recipe.  Their food LOOKS the same, it’s made from the same ingredients in the same proportion…but it doesn’t taste the same.

So what is the difference?

I’m serious here…I’m not making fun.  It’s the same recipe, similar equipment, the same ingredients…and yet, the food is nothing alike.

Why?

It’s because of the magic, which from what I can tell is a kind of love, the love of providing for her family, the love of good health, the vitality…it is all injected into the ingredients as the food is prepared and even served.  It doesn’t cause a VISIBLE change, but the change is noticed by the palate.

We crave that magic that is in that food, that intangible ingredient that thing that can’t be measured.

We need that ingredient to stay healthy and happy and motivated and vital.

Think about it.   You know I’m right.

Birthday party

17 Apr

This week is my birthday.  I won’t actually celebrate on my birthday, mostly because I have a radio show set up for that evening–it’s a Tuesday.  I enjoy hosting the program, so it’s not a big deal.  It’s also the first time it’s actually been my birthday the day of the show.

By nature, I’d have probably opted for something low key, like GM & I heading off for a camping trip on our own.  But…this year is the big FIVE OH for me, even if I often make jokes about how I’m about to turn 29.  My daughter is going to be 29 this year, I guess its biologically improbable that I’d have a daughter less than 9 months younger than I am.  Also, I look too damned old to be 29 anymore!

I don’t know how that happened.  I do a double take every time I look in the mirror, wondering how on earth my mother got in it.  It’s frightening.  I don’t realize how old I am except when I go to do something, and the bones and muscles file complaints and ask for an injunction before the act is completed.  It’s totally NOT fair.  My brain is just now maturing, but my body is falling apart.  Where is the logic in all of this?

But anyhow…my daughter, who just moved into a new house and hasn’t hosted a party yet…wanted to host the birthday party.  I agreed, since I knew she’d love it…and I was unlikely to host one of any kind unless it was  a bring-yer-own-fishin-pole kind of party.  I don’t think I’ve hosted a party per se since I became an empty nester.  At least not the planned kind of party.

There is great mystery.  I’m not to arrive too early (unlikely–GM hates mornings and they live an hour away.)  I have no idea what she is serving other than my requested cake, a Rembrandt’s Torte, is not making an appearance.  I’m horribly disappointed in that, but she’s promising its even better.

She’s an excellent cook and baker, and particularly gifted with decorating.  I’d even given her my decorating supplies–I’m unlikely to be bothered, and she would love using them.  We’re at such different phases of life.  I’m much more interested in sized down and simplified things these days, where once upon a time I bought everything in bulk and wanted leftovers after serving six servings.  I enjoy cooking for a crowd, but I don’t enjoy eating the same thing all week!

A lot of mystery, and the great unknown.  I hope she’s not disappointed when I show up in jeans though.  Maybe I should hunt up a dress or skirt…then my brain says, look, you’ve got to load a couple of dogs and drive for an hour, and you are going to want to hang out with one small but beautiful little girl and watch her drool on her own chin for the afternoon…who wants to worry about clothes.

Besides, I read an article yesterday from Scientific American about how creative people are eccentric and odd and never quite do the expected thing in the expected way.  I should celebrate my eccentric and creative nature tomorrow by showing up dressed comfortably and utterly oddly, right?  I also live in the South, where women of my age are allowed to be eccentric at this point in life, with large ugly hats and utterly practical shoes, and a total disregard for fashion.

She’d kill me if I showed up wearing a bed sheet tomorrow, though.  It would be easy to wear…

Even at my age, I can’t face the idea of her horrified look.  I can cope with strangers staring, I’m used to that.  I can cope with her rolling eyes, I’ve had decades of that too.  But utter horror?  Nah…that’s going overboard even in my book of how to aggravate.  I’m saving it for when the baby is two or three, and we’ll decide to do hand dipped chocolates in her kitchen one day…

Roll out cookie dough…and make pies too

Flour…which reminds me, have  you ever seen what a bit of dough looks like after a toddler’s grubby hands have handled it for a while?

Sort of gray.

Suspiciously gray.

Nobody wants to eat it gray.

Yeah, that’s the ticket…

In the meantime, I’ll get to be fashionably late for my own party, wearing jeans and a comfy shirt…

And I didn’t have to do the cooking and cleaning.  Or the planning.  Woo hoo!

So until I return…which is likely to be Monday…you should mark on your calendar to come listen to the program I set up to do on my birthday.  I wanted serious fun factor even on a serious show, so we’re doing a panel on the Women of Ufology.  Tuesdays, from 7-9 pm Central.  (www.exogenynetwork.com)

Unplugged to recharge

10 Mar

We just got home from our annual spring camping trip to the Florida panhandle.  It’s been five days of being unplugged from technology, primitive camping where even my cell phone is iffy at best about getting a signal.

Cooking on a tiny campstove, sitting around the campfire, listening to the sound of the trees at night as the wind roars through them, hearing the strange (to me) sounds of coyotes in Florida  (they don’t sound like Western coyotes, its a bit more “dog” like in sound, but still has that characteristic yip yip yiiiiip sort of sound.)  Sleeping in a tent that I could have sworn we’d waterproofed the rain fly in early December…we got drenched in a storm the first night.  I came flying out of bed and was frantically digging in the van for some sort of remedy.  My remedy turned out to be dragging the rainfly from our big tent to be stretched over the smaller tent and staked down, covering most of our leaking spots.  (The entire rain fly was about as protective as a sheet of cheese cloth!)

We did have some clear weather on Saturday, and got a short bike ride in along the forest roads and the main black top through the area.  It was nice.  We also spotted a really HUGE fish, which I was informed was a bass, as well as that it was trophy sized.  None of us were fishing or even had fishing gear along, so that was merely an interesting side note.  About all any of us have done in the creek is swim and play, so anything larger than a minnow is a real novelty.

Sunday found the rest of our crew heading home, leaving GM & I for some solitude for a couple of days.  It was nice, just the two of us with our dogs, and we never pulled the computer out once.  I read a book on Monday, we took a nice long walk, and we had a good time with the dogs in the smaller creek near our camp too.  GM hates cold water though, and that always provides me with ample entertainment at his gasps and exclamations of agony at the icy water, which was running a bit higher than normal due to the heavy rain on Friday and Saturday nights.

I made steamed pudding on Saturday night, and despite the fact that I know the recipe by heart…I forgot to add the sugar!  GM & I still liked it, finding it still quite sweet with the fruit in it, and I whipped a caramel sauce with some heated sweetened condensed milk.  I think the other campers were a bit suspicious though, especially after the raccoon filled tamales.

And here this was supposed to be a group of survivalist sorts!

Still, after being left with excessive quantities of meat, I have come home craving vegetables and a tuna fish sandwich.  The joys of living out of a cooler and restricted by the finite nature of ice in it.

There is something really and truly soothing to the soul when you are lulled to sleep by the sound of the wind and a naturally flowing creek nearby, even when it is punctuated by the sounds of coyotes, a donkey (yee-haw, right?), hunting dogs in the distance, a million or so different frogs, night time bird calls, and the sound of crickets.  The smell of burning wood and the sight of the flickering flames answers some primal call of our ancestors as we sit near it and warm chilled limbs as we talk of things past and present, the truth and fiction.  Even the cooperative preparation and consumption of meals is something that soothes our savage natures.  How can one be sour and angry when sitting near the fire and eating your dinner with your companions as the coyotes cries in the distance echo among the trees?

How can you not consider this planet important as you stand with your feet in the icy waters as you wade to the other side, thankful that you didn’t fall on the slippery clay bank and watch the minnows dart away from your clumsy splashing feet?

How can you not feel sad as you come across someone’s former campsite, littered with debris and the sad stumps of the young trees they chopped down only to leave laying like the other debris?

And the aroma of perking coffee accented by a whiff of pine smoke as you wake is as comforting as the feel of the dry blanket covering you, and you quickly dress in your cold clothes for the day, anxious for a cup of that coffee that some early riser has graciously prepared….

Spring has arrived on the Gulf Coast, and the sight of the fading blooms on the wild blueberry bushes reminds you of that fact, even as the rain and thunderstorms rage through the region, dropping heavy rain and even some hail as a reminder of the power of a storm.

I better be ready to face the coming year, hadn’t I?

Hostess with the mostess?

1 Nov

I survived both a campfire cooking demonstration and a baby shower this weekend.  My daughter’s baby shower was Saturday, and overall, I’d declare it a success.  There were no fatalities, no assaults, no blood, and no one required emergency medical treatment.  I had the same success on Sunday, with no fatalities, assaults, gore, emergency medical treatment, or psychiatric admissions.  My hair is no more gray than it was last week either.

The sandwiches were cut into a pumpkin shape, which my daughter’s significant other declared to be “boobie sandwiches.”

It’s amazing, but once he said it, everyone could see what inspired the comment, but women didn’t see boobie silhouettes…they saw pumpkin silhouettes until he announced they were boobies.  The comment arrived in the  middle of his lament about his being the first male in the history of Mississippi to attend a baby shower, and that he would probably be burned at the stake for his offense.  He saved his reputation with the other males by declaring that he got to judge a boobie contest and that we’d in fact all been topless during the entire shower.  It may have been a desperate attempt to save his reputation, because most of the women were on the far side of fifty…

The cheesecake was a success, the sandwiches weren’t as big a feature as we’d have thought.  I think the average consumption was one pumpkin shaped sandwich per person.  I even ate one, despite the presence of mayonnaise on them.  I had made bean dip, and Pam made “rotel” dip-a cheesy concoction that included tomatoes with chilies.  The bean dip was made with dehydrated refried beans from Emergency Essentials and only included a couple of spoonfuls of the tomato & chilies mixture.  It was a tad salty for my tastes, but it really was superior to generic brands of refried beans, and equal to name brand products.  If you are a Mexican food fan, love bean burritos, dips, etc., they are ideal.  I love the convenience of adding some hot water, heating them a few more minutes and voila! hot and fresh refried beans!   In terms of cost, they compare very favorably with buying the average small sized can of refried beans, and even more favorably when compared to ‘bean dip.’

On Sunday, we kept it simple.  I had pre-cooked a batch of 15 bean soup, adding a couple of ham hocks to the beans, and about half of the included “Cajun seasoning” packet.  I did have Tabasco brand chipotle pepper sauce and Mike’s All Purpose seasoning available for those who wanted a bit more kick.  I baked two batches of cornbread in the dutch ovens–the first one was burnt as black as the pot on the outside, although the inner portion was edible.  (The dogs ate the black bits too–they weren’t so picky!)  the second batch came out perfectly.  We baked fish seasoned with Mike’s All Purpose Seasoning and wrapped in foil before being put on the grill over the coals, as well as 3 small pumpkins stuffed with butter & brown sugar.  Everything was good, and the leftover cheesecake vanished during the evening.  I always receive compliments, but it really seems so easy that I’m almost embarrassed to accept them.  The pumpkins scorched a bit on the bottom–I should have wrapped them in double layers of foil.

It was a grand success despite the small oopsies, and now…we’ll relax!

 

The real dirt on inflation

24 Oct

I was researching inflation today.  I realize that charts and tables aren’t a real exciting start to the week, but I wanted to know…what does the government have to say about inflation.

Apparently, its a bad word.  Even the Consumer Price Index almost seems whitewashed to sanitize the information.  Reading those reports soon aggravated me.  Who cares about new car prices?  I don’t even KNOW anyone who is considering buying a new car this year.  All car purchases in my circle of friends and acquaintances have been solely of used vehicles based on necessity.  The tiny price increases that are being recorded by the CPI do not reflect my shopping experiences, nor do I believe they indicate the experience of the average worker in the USA.

I have no idea what they are buying at the grocery store to indicate that food at home increased x amount.  I know my shopping has changed considerably in the past year as I struggle to make a small set amount of money stretch to feed us for the designated period of time.  A year ago, I bought premium dog and cat food.  We ate beef at least once a week.  We often used convenience foods such as frozen skillet meals, and they were name brand items.  I regularly used more expensive ingredients such as extra virgin olive oil (the good stuff too!) real butter, and cream.  We ground our coffee fresh.

I can’t remember the last time I bought a chunk of beef.  We eat a lot of beans.  The pinto, white and red beans that I bought last year for about 99 cents per pound bag are now priced at $1.19 or higher.  Last year, I could buy a loaf of bakery French Bread for .99-1.50 per loaf on average.  Today, I can buy a loaf of cheap sandwich bread for about $2.

A typical grocery store list for me is going to be much shorter than it was last year, and even last year’s list was shorter than the year before.  Two years ago, I almost never bought ramen noodles of any kind.  These days, ramen noodles are often featured as the base for our lunch or dinner.

I also shop differently.  Those guys at the flea market or sitting alongside the road selling vegetables or fruit are much more likely to see me today.  Their produce is often bought straight from the farm or packing house, and it may be “seconds” that were refused by wholesale companies for reasons ranging from too small to too large or misshapen.  That’s okay with me.  I’ll take misshapen and the wrong size for the right price.  I’ve discovered the quality is usually quite good.  Yesterday’s find was a sack of small sweet potatoes for $7.  I gave some to my daughter and we’ll be eating a lot of sweet potatoes over the coming weeks.  I might not like them much anymore by the time Thanksgiving arrives.

The real deal on inflation is that government agencies no longer have my faith that they are reporting numbers accurately.  We have seen many stores go out of business in the recent past as well, reducing competition between grocery stores.  In many towns, the only store available is now Walmart, and it is likely that they supply half or more of the food served for dinner each night in the USA.  It’s a little bit frightening to think of any one chain having that much of a monopoly on the market, as it essentially leaves the control of our food supply in their hands.  On the part of the consumer, this is a really bad picture, as that means that prices, selection, and availability are all controlled by one single corporation.  It isn’t any better for the producers, as they have only a single outlet to sell their product to.

It’s a sad picture.  No faith in government reporting.  Controlled supply and prices by one corporation.  Shrinking economy and available dollars for purchases mean the average American grocery budget is tighter.

What can we do about it?  How can the average American family help restore the open market and competitive pricing?  How can we begin to regain the buying power we had even five years ago?

I don’t have the answers, but the questions are serious.  If we don’t do something soon, we will end up like the old stories of communist Russia, where consumers stood in long lines to wait to buy whatever the store had left to sell, paying outrageously high prices to get those items as well.  Maybe all Americans will be forced to start using food cards purchased from the government and allotting how much each family can spend on food purchases.  Rationing?

Granted, Americans are fat, but it is also a well documented fact that the diet of poor Americans is less healthy and more prone to causing obesity.  Seeing our food budget shrinking means that often, we may choose to have a bag of chips and a soda for lunch, spending $2, because we can’t afford to spend the $5 or $6 for a healthy sandwich or salad.  More often, we are eating hot dogs purchased for 88 cents a package even though we know they are full of sodium and nitrates, high in fat, and very short on real nutritional value.

I think I need a “survival garden.”  Not survival in terms of apocolyptic events but rather survival in terms of economic and nutritional survival.