Peak Oil hits close to home.

We get the propane tank filled once a year; we can usually make 250 gallons last an entire year because we no longer use it for heating.  We also got rid of our old stove which had pilot lights and bought a used gas stove with electronic ignition.  So our only uses for the propane are the hot water heater and for cooking.  We were down to 19% in the tank, and it was getting harder to cook because the flame wasn’t really very big.  This was a problem; we had gotten propane last year in July during the summer rates which are usually significantly cheaper than the winter rates – by about 40%.  This year we called every month but were told that they didn’t know when the summer rates were going to take effect and to call back.  We finally had to give in and purchase, at the price of $2.89 per gallon. Because I am off work we couldn’t afford to get the entire tank filled, which is going to hurt us later, as you will read.

When the propane guy was here I invited him in (it’s hot, wanted to make sure he got water if he was thirsty) and while I was writing the check we talked a little.  He appeared truly worried about the coming winter.  He said that he doesn’t know what a lot of people are going to do when it gets cold because he knows they can’t afford to buy the propane.  He also told me that the day after we ordered our propane the price went up even further, but that we were getting the rate quoted to us.  It seems that by winter time the price of propane could literally be $4 per gallon.

We only bought 100 gallons rather than 200 because of the price – last year we filled the entire tank for approximately the same price as half-filling it this year:  $310.  Most of our neighbors are living on less income than ours, and many are living on fixed incomes.  With the changes to Social Security in the works thanks to our elected representatives, I can’t imagine how they will afford to heat their homes.  In our community, most people heat with propane; there is no natural gas out here, and the other option is electric which just isn’t that popular.  Historically speaking, electric has always been the most expensive option.

Getting a wood stove is still in the plans, but I need to figure out the the best price for this.  I want to shop local and avoid the big box stores, but I also need to spend as little as possible.  In the winter our biggest propane use is baking bread; with a wood stove I can bake with my camp oven on the top of the wood stove so hopefully that 100 gallons will last us as long as the 200 gallons did before.  I plan to check with our two big box stores, Home Depot and Lowe’s, to see if they have a mobile home approved stove and if they offer installation, and if their price will be cheaper than the $2800 quoted to us by the local guys. I can also check with the local Ace Hardware; if I can get the stove delivered I can find my own contractor to install it.

I just don’t know what we will do when it is next time to refill that tank.  If the price keeps going up, we will have to rig up some sort of solar water contraption and figure out an alternative method of cooking.  If we, as already prepared as we are, are feeling the pinch, I can’t imagine how this is going to affect our neighbors.  We are truly in interesting times, as the Chinese say.

Tour de Fleece, kilt hose, highland games, other nonsense

Things have been quiet on the blog, but they’ve been humming along here.

First of all, you must be wondering what the Tour de Fleece is…well, it’s a worldwide phenomenon.  It takes place every year on the same dates as the Tour de France.  We spin every day that the Tour rides, and have special challenges along the way like the Tour riders do.  For instance, there’s a speed stage – how many yards/ounces can you spin in one day?  For the mountain stage, we do special challenges — if you’ve never attempted spinning bamboo, this would be a perfect opportunity to try.  There are teams you can join on Ravelry.  I belong to two teams:  Team Russian Underpants (sponsored by the Antique Spinning Wheels group) and Team Bring Me a Shrubbery (sponsored by the Knitters Who Say ‘Ni’ group).  You set your own goals for every stage of the Tour, and you are basically only competing with yourself, but you do that along with thousands of other spinners all over the world.  It’s a lot of fun, and makes me wish the Tour was more often than once a year.  My goal was to spin every day, at least for a few minutes.  I have not accomplished this goal, but I have gotten quite a bit of spinning accomplished.  I had a tragic accident with Ms. Grace on the third day of the Tour which required major surgery; she is not without scars after my botched surgical repairs.

The accident photoMy temporary repair (which worked, but was more than a little rickety): New leather – this involved exacto knives of various sizes, dremel tools, a drill, neatsfoot oil, needle nosed pliers, a trip to Flagstaff to the leather store, a full week of trying to get that leather out, many swear words. This is a poor repair, and I should be embarrassed to post the photo, but I am proud of myself that I actually accomplished a repair on something well over 100 years old.  It’s not perfect, and as restoration goes it’s not even OK, but I didn’t break the maiden (the wood post) and I didn’t affect the functioning of the wheel.  I am happy to once again spin on my workhorse!  I will fix it better eventually, but this repair will last me for quite a while.

I’ve also finished a pair of kilt hose for someone with a 10 inch circumference foot and 17 inch circumference calves.  I think there were enough stitches in those hose for two entire sweaters!  They were a commission and I was so very worried I wouldn’t get them done in time; I even had to put out a nationwide plea for matching yarn to finish the cuffs because the four skeins I had weren’t enough, and the stores don’t carry that yarn in anything but colors now.  No white.

Not very pretty just laying there, but MOST attractive on the wearer.  Thankfully.  I had nightmares they weren’t going to fit, even though I measured both him and the hose throughout the process!

Mr. TF and I went to the Arizona Celtic Highland Games in Flagstaff this past weekend.  Below is what I think is the best shot of the festival:

Isn’t that the most adorable sporran you’ve ever seen???

In other news, I interviewed for a Master’s Program in Family Nurse Practitioner this past week.  Today I found out I was accepted…but I am on a waiting list and my tentative start date is EIGHT TO TEN MONTHS from now.  Apparently they’ve been overrun with applications due to the upcoming change to requiring a doctorate by the NP licensing board.  Hopefully enough people get in at other programs that I don’t have to wait that long.

That’s about it.  Just working on my business (like spinning or weaving is work – yet), cleaning and organizing, and taking it easy.  Trying not to think about what will come next, because that makes my stomach knot up and my heart race.

The Economy of Food

ETA:  I raised three boys on about $9000 per year, without the help of food stamps.  And they did not eat very much frozen or fast food.  We ate a lot of Chinese type foods, and a lot of vegetarian meals, and cooked from scratch was pretty much normal.  So I know whereof I speak.

H/T Sharon Astyk for the link and her commentary on her blog; what she has to say as well as the comments on her blog are well worth considering.  I just have a few insights of my own to add.

A new article in Harvard Magazine discusses the rise of restaurant culture in America, and makes some statements regarding eating out and food in general that I just don’t agree with.  They state, for one, that eating at McDonald’s is cheaper than eating at home.  Really?  What about the gas it takes to drive there?  At four dollars a gallon?  And McDonald’s cannot accept food stamps because food stamps can only be used for UNcooked food.  For instance, you can buy a burrito at the local gas/mart, pay for it with food stamps – THEN put it into their microwave and cook it, but you cannot cook it first and then pay for it with food stamps.  Now, that may be possible, but again, it’s still fast food, and not a very good use of a finite resource – your food stamps.  At last reading, 1 in 8 adults and 1 in 4 children eat thanks to food stamps.  That is a LOT of the population relying on them.  All of these people are faced with being money poor, and I would suspect that buying a burger at McDonald’s, is putting a further strain on an already strained budget that must also pay rent, utilities, gas, etc.

So, McDonald’s may have cheap food, but you have to factor in the cost of gas to get there, the fact that there is next to zero nutritional content in the food, the time spent driving to and from versus staying at home and cooking, and the loss of that money to purchase other necessary goods/services.  Not to mention the nutritional content versus McDonald’s, or even a frozen burrito compared to home cooked food.

I am astounded that people really think they do not have time to cook.  Now, I can believe that they may be too tired to cook.  When I come home from a shift where I work, I am lucky if I have not had to fight nodding off in the car, and I get home with exactly enough time to get my clothes and food around, and go to bed and get ready to do it all over again in the morning.  But my situation is not really normal, except for others who also work 12 or more hours in a day.  But.  Notice one particular thing in my previous statement.  Get my food around.

Yes, I take my own lunch.  On my days off, or on days my husband is home and he cooks, we deliberately make enough for leftovers.  Last night’s dinner becomes today’s lunch.  A meal at the cafeteria, or at McDonald’s costs at least $6.  Taking my lunch costs perhaps $2, if it was an expensive dish.  Often my meal costs 50 cents or less.  A meal of curried lentils and rice with slivered almonds, and some pickles, costs perhaps that 50 cents.  It takes time to make the pickles, of course, but that time is amortized across an entire year until I do it again – one or two marathon days of canning dill, bread and butter pickles, dilly beans, and relish mean we have those things for the rest of the year. The lentils are maybe 99 cents for a pound, and I use a cup which I am guessing is about a quarter pound for the meal; the rice is also about a dollar a pound and I use 2 cups of that.  The almonds are the expensive part; they are garnish though and a quarter cup is more than enough for the meal.  The spices of course are expensive but like the pickles the price is amortized across every meal I prepare with them.  Then of course, there is the cost of utilities both to prepare and to clean up.  Even so, I think that my meal made at home, which takes about 10 minutes to prep and 30 minutes to cook, still takes both less time and money than that meal from McDonald’s.  Plus, my meal gives us leftovers and feeds us for at least one other meal.

Or say we had poached salmon in a cream sauce with peas over pasta.  The salmon obviously is the expensive portion of the meal; I believe it was $8 or $9 per pound the last time I shopped.  Well, we use perhaps 10 ounces for both of us in this meal, probably more like 7 or 8 ounces.  So that’s much more expensive than the lentils, but we are still less than the McDonald’s meal so far, say $4.  I only purchase pasta when it’s on sale, so it’s usually about $1 for a package at most.  We use perhaps a third to a half package for this recipe.  The peas I buy early in the season, in bulk, and keep frozen, so they’re maybe $1 per pound.  We use a cup of peas in this recipe.  It uses 1/4 cup butter as well as 1 cup cream which we substitute with milk and a little cornstarch for thickening.  A little garlic which we grow ourselves, some salt and pepper, and 1/4 cup onion which we may or may not have grown in the garden.  This meal will feed us for at least two full meals.  So the cost, $9 say, actually is still cheaper than the McDonald’s meal because that cost gets divided in half – $4.50 to feed us both.  Twice.  The time it takes to make this meal is approximately 40 minutes. Possibly more time than McDonald’s, but certainly still cheaper.  I would guess that my meal, eaten in the quiet of my home, or on my deck, is less stressful as well.

Or say we just make beans and rice.  Typical subsistence food, made in the crock pot.  Pennies to make, next to no time in active preparation, and feeds us until we’re so sick of it we give the last bit to the chickens.

There is no possible way that eating at McDonald’s is cheaper than eating at home, even if you factor in utilities!

The denseness of the nutrition of my home prepared foods, as well as the lack of preservatives and other assorted nasties, means that even with butter as one of the chief ingredients (organic naturally) that my meal is significantly healthier, and more filling with smaller portion sizes, than anything McDonald’s can offer.  Spiritually, McDonald’s can offer nothing to me or my family either.  My kitchen is the center of my house, both literally and figuratively.  How can McDonald’s compete with that?

No, making an idiotic statement like the one quoted in the article above is simply a lie, whether perpetrated deliberately or out of ignorance.  The sad part is that McDonald’s profits by this ignorance, and the general ignorance of our young people in how to cook.  THAT is perhaps the most troubling part of this article.  People spend hours watching food and cooking shows, but do not learn how to do it themselves.

Perhaps the best thing I could do for my community while I’m home for a while is to offer cooking classes.  They wouldn’t have to be anything so unusual as what we eat, just simple foods – pot roast, potatoes, veggies.  Meatloaf.  Mashed potatoes.  Fried chicken.  These are simple meals, but take skill to make well. And most importantly, since I would bet that 90% of the population is on, or qualifies for food stamps, these are nutritionally dense meals which can be made with things food stamps will purchase, unlike my burrito example from the frozen food section.

Food for thought.

What’s been going on at Tin Foil Acres?

Lots of things.

The psychiatrist I saw, as well as the counselor, both said they are seeing a lot of nurses with the same stress related issues; one even said that ER and ICU nurses are getting the worst of it.  So I guess it’s not me, it’s just that I don’t have very good coping skills.  And that’s my homework for the next few months.  ‘Nuf said about that.

While I have read two novels – the first non-fiction I’ve read in more than two years – I haven’t been lying around eating bon bons.  Things have been busy here.  I’ve been weaving along on an 8 yard warp of cotton boucle towels; I cleaned, organized, and labelled all our spices; I cleaned the kitchen to my exacting standards and have been doing my best to keep it that way; together we have been working in the garden which has been very very nice; we have put up fencing in half the front yard and I’m working on lining the bottom with rocks to keep out the rabbits and skunks; I’ve been spinning and knitting and even dying a little; and I applied for a business license for my little fiber arts factory.  This last is because if I want to sell at craft fairs or events, I have to have one.  Plus it allows me to buy at cost without paying the taxes, which means that I can actually attempt to make a little money from my crafting; especially for weaving, if I have to buy at retail and pay taxes on my supplies, it means that I work and sell for free.  Not exactly what I had in mind.  I do plan to do a post on the relative costs of ready – made clothing from the turn of the 20th century to the 21st, but it might be a bit.

I have also been canning.  Yes, it’s that time of year again, and I’m grateful not to have to try to fit this in between grueling shifts right now.  I spent 9 hours one day making blueberry jam, strawberry jam, and peach butter.  I buy in bulk from Bountiful Baskets which is like a coop or a CSA but you don’t have to have a subscription and you’re not obligated to buy every week.  So when they have something in bulk I want, I buy the basket which allows me to buy the bulk items as well.  This time I got five pounds of strawberries and 25 pounds of peaches; the blueberries have been in the freezer for a while and I wanted to just do it all at once and get it done.  I can outside on my camp stove so I don’t heat up the house, which means that at times I come in to get out of the heat.  Unfortunately, I got distracted during my first batch of peach butter (6 hours into the marathon day) and it boiled – and burned badly – to the bottom of my pot.  Ugh.  I’m still alternating elbow grease and SOS pads with oven cleaner to try to get the mess off the bottom of the pot.   Good thing my time is cheap right now.

Time off from ‘official’ work, but no rest for the weary here!  Truly, home making is a full time job; most days I try to be up by 6 or 630 so we can get the watering and gardening maintenance done before the heat sets in; then breakfast and reading the news; then to work on the home tasks; then spinning or knitting or designing  or weaving, whichever has been neglected the most recently.  Then more outside stuff, then dinner, then a walk around the neighborhood.  By the time 9 pm rolls around I’m pretty well beat.  And that’s about it for around here.