Happy birhtday, Trace!
As Joe and I find ourselves in this predicament of severely reduced resources, I have to wonder how we would fare if we were in the same financial straits as one of the 14.6 million Americans who counted themselves below the poverty line in 2010. The official poverty line for two people is only $14,710 per year. That’s only $1225 a month for two people. I am humbled when I realize that this figure represents what we pay each month just for our mortgage. One in seven Americans lives below the poverty line. How do they manage?
Many have lost their jobs and given up hope of finding meaningful work. Many are single mothers or people of color, or—have always lived in poverty. Many have also lost their homes in this Great Recession that has come like a tsunami across all parts of the country.
There are some Government programs that act as a social safety net and a buffer for those who are destitute, like Food Stamps or WIC or school lunch programs. And there are charitable organization and church communities that lend a desperately needed helping hand. But still…How do they manage?
On a personal level, I’m sure there are ways that we can economize more than we do. For instance, I suppose we could give up cable and internet, and even our landline—since we mostly use our cell phones anyway. But that would be giving up on the idea that Joe might get another project. If he can’t have his website and an office number, then what? No, somehow, I’m sure we can manage on what we have. We’ve cut all the frills and have made the decisions for how we want to live, going forward.
I derive a certain satisfaction in living more like my parents and grandparents. I remember visiting my mother’s sister when I was about thirteen. I was helping her do the dishes (a dishwasher? I’m sure not!). She filled the kitchen sink with hot water and swished a long-handled basket in it which was filled with soap slivers to get lots of suds. She washed and rinsed, and I dried with a worn and very soft towel. Sixty years later, I treasure this memory as part of a bygone era.
Living simply and within our means also means conscientious recycling. I save plastic yogurt containers for storing chicken stock in the freezer. I save big glass jars that I get from bulk foods at Costco for storing all manner of leftovers in the refrigerator. I use the Sunday newspaper bag for the bread that I make (just the right size). Peels and ends of vegetables go into a container to be cooked for Trace, our dog. I mix this with oatmeal and a little chicken stock and even a pulverized chicken bone paste as an addition to his dry dog food. He sits politely and with great expectation, his eyes fixed on me as he waits patiently while I mix his dinner.
Trace had a birthday, his third. I wanted to give him something a little special. We had run out of dog treats (for training purposes) and Joe was using bits of his dog food instead. I went online (I love Google) and googled dog treats. Zip, so fast I had a treasure trove to choose from. Thinking about what I had on hand, I mixed a few recipes together and came up with my own. Trace loves them as much as if they were bought in a box or a bag. And Joe seems to like them too!
“What are you munching on?” I asked him that evening as we were watching the news.
“Those treats that you made for Trace. They smelled really good so I thought I’d try one.”
“You’re kidding!” I laughed. “Though I guess that’s really okay. It’s not as if there’s anything in there that’s just for a dog. But don’t you find them to be a little bit on the really crunchy side?”
“No problem. I added a drop of olive oil and a little sweetener.”
“Joe! They’re for the dog! They’re his birthday treat!”
“I know. But I like them. Crunchy, sweet, cinnamon. What’s in them?”
“Flour, oatmeal, oil, cinnamon—and chicken stock!”
And so it goes. As I look for ways to economize, to stay with ingredients whose names I can pronounce, the result can be a sweet surprise or a bleak failure—as when I tried to make my own tortillas. Simple ingredients but way too labor intensive and time consuming—and they were too thick and therefore too tough. I thought—a cup of flour, a little salt, a little lard (but I don’t have lard so I substituted my staple olive oil). It looked simple. Just roll the little balls out on a floured board with a rolling pin until they look like tortillas. Fry them in an ungreased pan. But it took forever to roll the dough, and the kitchen got really smoky and I was afraid I was ruining my frying pan. They ended up looking like something a five year old would have struggled with. I’ll just buy tortillas on sale and be done with it. There’s such a thing as going a little too far with this economizing exercise.
Trace’s Dog Treats
2 cups flour
2 cup oatmeal
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoons cinnamon
½ cup oil
1 cup milk or chicken stock
1 cup applesauce
Mix all dry ingredients, and then mix in all other ingredients. Spread on parchment papered cookie sheet. Bake at 350˚—about 20 minutes. Cut into small pieces (depending on the size of your dog) with a sharp knife. Leave in oven to get more crisp. Store in a closed container. Makes about four cups.