The rubber is starting to hit the road around here, and not all of us are particularly happy about it. And “not all of us” should be pronounced, “almost none of us.” Seems like every day, we have a “last.” The last box of mac-n-chez. The last bag of spaghetti noodles. The last can of green beans. The last watermelon.
My husband is the only one who seems mostly unaffected by the slow but inexorable emptying of the conveniently-packaged quick-hunger-solutions from the pantry. This is because he’s the kind of guy who will cheerfully eat what happens to be on hand, and not worry too much about what isn’t – his “favorite” food tends to be whatever he’s currently eating.
The kids, however, are not enjoying the lack of Chez-Its and are alarmed by the rapid depletion of the marshmallows. Also, some of these things feel to them a bit like taking a giant step backward in their own self-sufficiency – making a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese was simple enough for them to do themselves.
Making a cheese sauce from scratch is a tad more advanced in the cooking department. And oh by the way – we’re out of elbow macaroni. So, you know, if you want that specific form of pasta under your sauce, you’ll have to figure out how to make it.
Without a pasta extruder because I don’t own one of those.
Hey kids, I’ve got a great idea! Let’s learn to love fettuccini!
And for me, well. It’s one of those profound learning experiences…which of course is putting a positive spin on how it actually feels, which is something like this: OhmyGAH, what was I THINKING this is CRAZY I can’t handle it and WAH!WAH!WAH!!
Seems like everything is taking more time these days. Like laundry wasn’t already bad enough in terms of sucking time out of my week, now each load takes an additional five minutes in gray water hauling. Doesn’t sound that bad, except that we’re doing at least ten loads a week and often more like fourteen. An extra hour a week fiddling around with the laundry starts to feel pretty burdensome, pretty fast.
And of course now that I’m recycling the gray water, I’m hand-watering the roses, trees and front lawn.
You know, in all my free time…speaking of which…with a new set of crops in the ground just barely starting to sprout, weeding is once again an epic chore.
And of course, there’s also that whole part where food needs to be prepared from scratch, either to eat or to be put up for later. In exchange for the ‘almost instant’ spaghetti sauce later, I’ve got to spend the better part of a whole day cranking the food mill and stirring a pot of slowly evaporating tomato juice until it gives up a good 50% of its moisture and becomes a thick tomato sauce at last.
And now that the last bag of store-bought spaghetti is gone, if we’re going to have it I’ve got to get out the pasta machine and spend an hour or two making it. Mix, rest, roll, rest, cut…then cook or dry for later in the week.
The Christmas craft fairs I’m hoping to use to get some cash money in the petty cash box are coming fast. If I want to snatch one or two of them this year to help defray the clothing expenses that are coming at me like a speeding freight train, I’d better get my crafty-ness in gear and start building up inventory!
Which I’ll get right on, as soon as I patch this, mend that, sew up these and finish knitting the pre-winter sweaters for the Denizens…
To make a long story short (too late!), time has suddenly become an insanely precious resource.
When I manage to get a little emotional distance on the issue, I have a good laugh on myself about it. Dog is my witness, I thought this wouldn’t be all that hard.
After all (I said smugly, forgetting that yea verily, arrogance goeth before comeuppance), it’s not like we do much “convenience food” as it is. I’ve baked from scratch for years. Meals start out with ‘raw’ ingredients that have to be stewed, simmered, broiled or casseroled, right?
How hard could it be to also manufacture what few snack foods I actually buy?
There are times I look at my kids and wonder how it was that I didn’t think they ate all that much. The baking I have on tap for today is going to take a dozen eggs, eighteen cups of flour, a gallon and a half of milk, three pounds of pork, six onions, fifteen pounds of tomatoes, a wide assortment of carrots, green beans, zucchini, potatoes and anything else I find languishing in the crisper, a cup of popcorn, about a pint of cooking fat and six additional potatoes for the potato crisps I’ll be putting into said cooking fat.
That will give us snacks and lunches for up to five days, although we’ll be out of bread by Wednesday morning and probably the popcorn and potato crisps will also be gone. (Which is just as well, because in the absence of preservatives those things don’t last as well as the store-bought versions do.) So I’ll be doing about half of all that again on Wednesday or Thursday, and likely another bread baking over the weekend.
So, what does all this have to do with money?
Well. Something new and rather exciting happened this month. I took only half my usual household allowance into the household checking account on the first of the month - $750 instead of $1,500.
I still have $430 left, with only nine days left in the month. And speaking of the bill payin’ account, guess what else? We have an unprecedented $1,800 left over in that account as well.
This is the tremendous power of even a modified spending fast like the one I slapped on us back in August – but this one has the added benefit of not having an end date looming.
There’s a nasty thing that often happens with a spending fast, which is that the day after it ends you rush on out and buy all the stuff you didn’t buy during the fast, and all that precious, hard-won money evaporates so fast it doesn’t even have time to sizzle as it vaporizes.
The one we’re on right now has no specific end date. The things I haven’t been buying as they’ve been used up are not on the radar to be replaced – so we get to keep the money we’re saving indefinitely, roll it into other things like accelerating the payoff on our debts or replenishing our savings.
This is pretty hard work, taking things to this kind of level. It gets a bit frustrating (a bit?!) sometimes, trying to keep up with the demand.
But honestly, this feels like a lot of other things I’ve gotten through in my life so far. Learning to play the piano, getting through college, paying off tens of thousands in debts, figuring out how to make a self-sustaining homestead out of less than an acre of suburbia…there’s a learning curve involved, a period of time where you feel…well, you feel like you’re trying to ride a bald-tired motorcycle up a greased ramp. The wheels are spinning like mad, but you’re just not getting anywhere.
But eventually, something clicks. You learn how to shift your weight, which way to lean, how to get those tires to grip and move you forward. You start to realize that the tires aren’t as bald as you thought, and the grease isn’t all over the ramp – it’s just that you haven’t seen where the dry patches are.
Right now, I don’t have a good routine for all this extra work. I’m fire fighting – running from flare-up to flare-up stomping for all I’m worth.
But I’m also taking notes. What works, what doesn’t. How much of what things I need to make at a time to get the best possible balance between not being in the kitchen all the danged time and having snack foods around that are actually EDIBLE.
Things will click. I’ll get this down. My ancestors somehow managed not only to feed much larger families than this, but did it completely off their own land.
It’s a little (a little?!) extra crazy right now. I’m more frazzled than usual and feeling the pinch of less time, especially in the email-checking and Facebook areas.
But it will get better, feel easier, become automatic and even second-nature; and I’m sure eventually I’ll get to the point where I can’t remember why I thought all this was soooooo hard.
In the meantime, I’ll warm myself by the glow of the positive numbers in the checking accounts.
They do wonders for a bruised up psyche.
P. J. O'Rourke
16 hours ago