Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Twenty-one Days Until TEOTWAWKI - Day 14 (Laundry)

I make my own laundry soap.  I started eight or so years ago. 

Then, I got out of the habit, because I started doing some volunteer work (in addition to the home-based business and homeschooling and homesteading ...) that became all-consuming, and it was easier to just buy it.  Our laundry wasn't any cleaner and didn't smell better with the store-bought stuff. 

So, I started making my own again, with the help of Precious, who is my soap grater.  Using our cheese grater, she grates the bar of soap.  I mix the rest of the ingredients.

Homemade Laundry Detergent

1 bar of soap, finely grated
1 c. Borax
1 c. Washing Powder
1 c. Baking Soda

Mix in a container.  Use approximately 1/5 c per load.  Good for about a month's worth of laundry at an average of one load per day. 

For a long while I was using Dr. Bonner's peppermint scented bar soap for our laundry detergent.  I never did the numbers, but each bar costs around $4.  I guess it was costing close to $0.25/load for laundry if I was paying $4 for a bar of soap.
The thing is, with that recipe, one can just about use any soap.  It didn't have to be Dr. Bonner's, but I liked using Dr. Bonner's for eco-minded reasons.
Part of the reason I wanted to make my own laundry soap was the hope of being more environmentally friendly and conscious. 
Part of the reason had to do with cost savings.
The other part of why I wanted to make my own laundry soap had to do with preparedness.  So, I could  save up coupons and stock-up on bottles of laundry detergent when it goes on sale.  I could.  But then, two things have to happen. 
1.  I have to have a place to store all of those bottles and dispose of the plastic after.
2.  I have to calculate how much I'm going to need ... forever ... so that I never run out.
My mantra has always been, And then what ...?
We can store canned food - enough for four people for three years, but what do we do when we run out? 
And so my advice is not to store the product, but rather the ingredient.  I don't have a stock-pile of canned peaches.  What I have is a peach tree and lots of jars (with extra lids).  I will still have canned peaches, but just not cans (which are questionably safe anyway, unless they state they are BPA-free). 
In short, I don't store up laundry detergent.  I store up ingredients.  
First, the ingredients actually take up a lot less room than an equal amount of laundry soap, which is especially important when one is storage space-challenged. 
Second, many of the ingredients have multiple uses.  So, I have the baking soda for my laundry soap, but I can also use the baking soda to make deodorant and gluten-free Buckwheat pancakes.
When things started to look scary for us, financially, I knew that I couldn't use Dr. Bonner's soap anymore - not for laundry, anyway. 
(and as an aside, we actually found a new body soap that costs a quarter of what we were paying for Dr. Bonner's, and which we like just as much). 
In the laundry section of the grocery store, I found a bar of laundry soap.  It's a stain remover bar, but it's also great as the soap ingredient for my homemade laundry detergent.  I'd heard of it before, but I'd never looked more deeply into it, because, you know, Dr. Bonner's. 
A bar of Fels Naptha is less than $2 at my grocery store, which is much less expensive than purchasing Dr. Bonner's soap bars.  I bought two bars for less than the cost of one bar of Dr. Bonner's.  That's twice as much laundry for half the price. 
We've been adding Fels Naptha to our homemade laundry soap for a couple of months, and the laundry is just as clean ... and I actually prefer the smell.
I was somewhat concerned about the ingredients, because they aren't listed on the packaging.  I found this site, which gives Fels Naptha bars an overall C rating, because some of the ingredients are non-specified and therefore, the reviewers can not know with certainty that the ingredients are safe.
What was comforting, though, was that MOST of what's in Fels Naptha are very simple ingredients, and pretty much what I put into my soap when I make it myself:  lye, fat (they use plant-based oils; I use rendered animal fat), water, and fragrance (I use an essential oil).
I already wash all of my clothes in cold water (which saves money on the cost of heating the water) and I line dry my clothes all of the time (I don't have a clothes dryer), and so I was already saving a lot of money in that way.
Finding a way to save even more money by changing just one ingredient in my laundry soap was actually pretty cool.  And did I mention that I, kind of, prefer the Fels Naptha? 
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Twenty-One Days Until TEOTWAWKI - Day 13 (Networking)

I know I did the whole “one, two, skip a few” thing last week, and I apologize.  It was Deus Ex Machina’s last week of involuntary summer vacation.  He started his new job this week. 

Our goal was to finish up that room, and we were successful.  We moved our bed into the room this past weekend, cleaned up and reorganized the office – which is an office again!  Joy!

I didn’t have a lot of time to blog last week, because we were hanging ceiling and sanding floors. 

We have a real bedroom again.  I feel like we should have a party or something to commemorate the end of the Room Renovation Era. 

I’m a multi-tasking kind of person, which drives Deus Ex Machina crazy.  He likes to start and finish ONE entire project, before he starts on a new one.  I like to do as many things all at once as I can fit into the schedule.  So, like, if I’m going to leave the house, I want to do ALL of the things I need to do while I’m out so that I only have to make one trip. 

The living room floor is hardwood.  As a suburban kid, I grew up with wall-to-wall carpeting, and it's taken me a while to get over this belief that carpet is the best flooring.  Sometime ago, I decided that we needed an area rug on the wood floor in the living room, and I found one on a Facebook yard sale site.  It was an Oriental-style rug, but it's not wool.  It's some cheap, synthetic fiber that was really hard to keep clean - especially with our dogs.  In fact, we couldn't even vacuum it with our very expensive Dyson vacuum cleaner, specifically designed for pet hair, because the fibers of the rug wouldn't let anything go.  So, it always looked dirty.
Worse though was what it was doing to my floor.  A while back, I lived up the corner of the rug, and I realized that it was sanding the floor underneath it.  I decided I wanted to pull up the rug, refinish the floor (again - I've already done it twice since we bought our house, using a hand sander, which is a big, time-consuming chore). 
Then, we started this room renovation and installed wood floors, which needed to be sanded, and I figured, if we’re going to be sanding the floor in the back room,  we could also do the living floor.  There’s no point in renting a sander twice, right? 

So, while we had that really awesome sander and two gallons of professional grade polyurethane,  I decided to do the living room floor, too. 

My house has been torn up and topsy-turvy for a long time, but it was even more nutty, ridiculously cluttered, and barely livable for the past week.

Doing all of that work would have been really difficult without the right tools.  We rented a sander, but there were other tools that we needed or that just made the job a lot easier.  We have a skill saw, but a table saw is better for cutting the floor boards and the tongue and groove pine.  We also could have used finishing nails, hand-hammered (like we did when we installed the cedar tongue-and-groove wallboards in our bathroom), but a nail gun is so much easier and faster.  We’re very fortunate to have a neighbor who had what we needed and freely lent those tools to us for the duration of our project.   So lucky!

I have a friend who runs an organization called “The Resiliency Hub” up in Portland (the original Portland, which is on the East Coast J).  The goal of her company is to assist others with preparedness – not in a Doomsday Preppers kind of way, but rather in a we could all benefit from being more resilient. 

Her primary focus is on permaculture with an emphasis on transitioning urban and suburban areas into edible landscapes.  And a big part of what she does is community building.  Like me (and, yes, networking or community building is one of the strategies I always recommend when it comes to survival - humans are pack animals.  We need each other, in spite of our strong American propensity toward individualism), she advocates for a strong community.

One of the things her company offers is a “tool library.”  It’s a shed, basically, full of … well, tools!  Garden tools, kitchen tools (like pressure canners!), home improvement tools.  All sorts of stuff that people donated.  Members can borrow – like at a regular old library – anything they need.

In a TEOTWAWKI situation, it’s important that we know where we can find opportunities, like that, because most of us won’t be able to afford to buy our own, and for a lot of tools, there’s no need for everyone to own one. 

I mean, using that pneumatic nailer … COOL to the nth degree … but we have no place to store one, first, and second, how often does the average homeowner need to use a nail gun with a compressor?  It was cool, but we’re probably not going to head over to the big box home improvement store to buy our own. 

We are very blessed to have a neighbor who had what we needed when the need arose, and that our relationship is such that he was willing to loan it to us.

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 ....