When 2009 began, I had been living with Jules for only a couple of months and things were not looking good. For one, I was in school. My income was small but consumption was high. There were always more things to do than time to do them in. There were always more bills than there seemed to be money for. There was always the matter of trying to figure out how to spend enough time with the Barracuda and who would have him when. The juggle was a bit maddening. Something had to change and the change had to be a bit drastic.
I quit school and focused on our household and our life. Though many cringe at the words "quit school" I do not see it as a bad thing. At this time and place in our lives it has been the best thing! School is not bad; I will be going back. But I think it is also important that people evaluate the amount of time/energy/resources/stress going into an endeavor and the actual amount of benefit coming out. In the current state of our family's life, school was an exceptional drain on everything for a reward that was lack luster due to a lack of time/energy/resources and too much stress. Let's face it, if you are pumping thousands of dollars into something you want to be able to have the focus to maximize the experience. That was not happening. What was happening were mini meltdowns and a few phone calls to Jules from the hallway as I sobbed out "Why am I doing this?!?" Instead, I became a student of life and pulled Jules in with me.
2009 was mainly spent focusing on food and water. Here is the rundown on what we learned and have accomplished this year:
Our grocery bills went from $250 (Jules' budget for just himself) to $120 dollars (including pets) due to me being able to make our food, and having the time to store, can, grow, and pick local foods. Man, processed foods just don't taste very good anymore and they are something crazy expensive.
Now when you open our pantry or fridge, there are about eight products which have been commercially processed:
Campbell's Fiesta Nacho Glop: Jules' beloved nachos weren't going anywhere regardless of whatever chemical, preservatized cocktail is inside that can.
Totinos Triple Pepperoni Pizzas: even at only 1 a month the Barracuda would never let us live it down if we got rid of these little pizzas. This is the sort of childhood depravity he would bring up to a therapist during a mid life crisis.
Blueberry Pop Tarts: There are some things that will never be as good homemade. I think Kelloggs has found a way to smuggle illicit drugs into this product for how much I can crave them.
Cream of Mushroom Soup: Soon to be swapped out for home-canned.
Tortilla chips and wraps: they just don't hold up when they are homemade the way the commercial ones do.
Coca-Cola: Jules grew up in the South, then attended college and lived in Atlanta (the Coca-Cola capital of the world). There will never a time when Coca-Cola doesn't live in our fridge. If the Apocalypse were to hit tomorrow, he would find a way to have cases drop shipped to our house via helicopter.
Mayonnaise: Jules' still believes we once had a fight over homemade mayonnaise vs store bought. In my memory the argument had almost nothing to do with this. (Perhaps, that is why it turned into an argument.) In short, he wants store bought mayo and we don't use it enough for it to really matter.
Pet Food: The dog and cat still eat commercial food since both are pound pets with major Post Traumatic Stress, are neurotic, and have issues with change. Bell Bell is highly allergic to grains and will lick bald patches in her fur if she is fed them. Guadalupe will not eat people food. Even meat sauce. Even pizza. Heck, she won't even eat in front of anyone (we hear her munching at midnight). Like I said, totally neurotic. Rather than fuss with it, we just buy their food.Other than that, everything from laundry soap and floor cleaner to cottage cheese is made in our household. Both Jules and I are so much healthier and have a much greater sense of place now that we know where our food comes from. In many cases, we either grow or pick it ourselves.
We hand dug a root cellar with a shovel, adz, and a couple of five gallon buckets. After all, we need somewhere to store a 50 lb bag of rice and a couple hundred cans.
The garden has expanded to half the yard and we fine tuning our knowledge of specific species we wish to grow. Composting, leaf mulch, and digging have become fairly second nature at this point.
The pressure canner we acquired with my tax return has become a staple investment to our household success. A major part of this last year has been figuring out what to can, when to can it, and if it is worth all the effort. We definitely need more jam. We could go a little less insane on the applesauce, and I don't know if soup will ever be the same now that we can make our own. Insta-Food used to mean hamburger helper. Now it is a can of chicken, some wild rice, and gravy.
We have developed a rain barrel system which is significant enough to provide all the irrigation for our garden as well as most of our household needs. Pulling off of the city water system was never a direct intention when we started out, but it slowly became evident it might be possible. Mainly, we just didn't want to pay the high water prices during the summer.
At this point, laundry, dishes, and toilets are all being used without city water consumption. Enough water has also been set aside for our family to survive in an emergency. Our city tends to have run ins with "boil water advisories" due to various contaminants showing up in the city water supply. It's not so much that we have decided to be come crazy survivalists, but more we have enough water set aside to avoid the frustrations which sometimes come about from sewage overflow due to excessive rain. Boiling all of your drinking/usable water is just plain annoying :)
We killed our television. Man, was that weird at first. Who knew it was so hard to have a conversation?!
The Barracuda has discovered card games and I think is secretly training to take on Vegas. The boy can play Crazy Eights so well I'd think he was counting cards!
We spent some serious time, and a bit of money, acquiring all the products I never before thought were important life staples. A sewing machine. A pressure canner. A food dehydrator. A garden. Rain barrels. Firewood. Yarn and needles. Time to enjoy my life. My family.
We eat local food, from the local farmer. Her name is Karen. Her daughter is Ashley. They live about 20 minutes from our house and have you-pick all summer long. We now have to know the season our produce is ripe, about how much is necessary to get us all the way through the winter, and the time it will take to process it all. Most importantly we know exactly where it all comes from and exactly what is it because we have done it all ourselves.
This year gave us concrete evidence of a long suspected truth. The Barracuda has a thirst for knowledge which is not normal. He also has retention level which is not normal and an analysis ability which is not normal. This year his school gave us back test results to prove it. Figuring out school for this child has definitely taken a lot of 2009 and still is a bit sketchy. He is progressing through his studies well and still amazes his father and I regularly. He can now ride a bike on only two wheels (instead of four), can make a fire all by himself, set up his tent to camp out in the back yard, and is honing his skills with his tomahawk.
At the same time our son is putting together complex concepts, he is still acting like an insane 5 year old child. This is a constant reminder for us as parents, knowledge might be a the third grade level but emotionally he still has quite a ways to go! "Take a deep breathe..." is a sentence I am learning to say to myself quite frequently.
The major lesson seems to have been that you need to do it right the first time. We now invest in products which will stand the test of decades rather than months. The sewing maching, the mixer, the clothes we now wear, are Bernina, Kitchen Aide, wool or Carhart. Out is the stretch denim, the discount store, the slightly middle of the road model. We no longer buy trendy; it is all about practical. The idea is that once done well will save so much more in the long run.
All in all, quite year. Much has been done, but it is just enough for us to realize how much more is left out there. Together we are redesigning our life and creating a new one. It is exciting and hopeful, if not teetering on bits of scary here and there. Hopefully the lessons which have carried us through this year will help us maximize the next one.