Sunday, April 27, 2014

If you feel like donating....

To my family, I will accept it with a glad and thankful heart and use it in some way to improve the lives of those in my family.

However, I know there are some who find their way here, and have been affected by the dishonesty of people in the past and are really hesitant to donate to and suspicious of an individual instead of an organization (story for another time, I am one of those people). I don't blame you. You can never know if the person you donate to is really going to use your money for something acceptable, or if they are going to go buy fast food, booze, or drugs. Or generally waste it in some other way.

That risk that those of you have taken in donating to my family's situation - I am more appreciative of that than just the money itself. That can be a really hard thing to do. That's why I always try to include in my posts what the money was used for.

For the rest - there is no need to feel guilty. We will be okay, one way or another. In reality the few donations I receive will have less to do with whether we are ultimately successful or not, than the work I can get or the promotion my husband might receive. To those who donate, thank you for making our journey a little easier. To those who don't, I have something else to ask. Make a donation to someone else, please.

After church next Sunday, they will be having a drive for Compassion International, where you pay a certain amount each month and it goes to a specific child in need somewhere in the world. I already know how much it costs, and I'm trying desperately to see where I can find the money. It costs $38 a month. That objectively seems like such a small amount, but the nature of our situation makes it an amount I'm not sure I can consistently afford. I don't want to make a commitment to some poor child and then have to cancel in a couple months as we ride our financial roller coaster...I don't know if that would be worse. With medical issues and trying to pay back debts on top of sometimes not even being able to pay all our necessities...I just don't know. I feel terrible guilt that I am wavering over this, when my heart says to do it! because it will make a difference in his or her life.

You know, no matter how bad my situation has seemed at times, the difference between us and people in poverty in third world countries, is at least we have some place to turn to for help. I am ever thankful for charities and churches, and even if our government doesn't do everything right, at least we have programs in the first place when many countries in the world don't. So many truly poor people have no where to turn, except perhaps a missionary or charity organization if they are lucky.

So if you want to help, but you don't want to give money to me, I am so okay with that. Please consider doing something like this. ANY poverty relief campaign really, but I know that CI has really great transparency and is trustworthy. Those organizations that help people in under-developed countries are able to make a bigger impact on individuals for less money than here in the U.S., but by all means donate to whichever one you think is best.

Alternatively, a donation to the American Cancer Society or one of the many breast cancer foundations would be great since both of my aunts are suffering through that at the moment, and I am aching at my inability to help. If simply spreading the word so other people can help is all I can do right now, then that's what I'll do.

If someone would be willing to make a donation in my name, I would be so grateful. You should consider that a donation to my family as well, because that is where I would spend the money if I had the extra to give.

I never wanted this blog to turn into internet panhandling, so I'm sorry if I lose readers over this. The only way it would benefit me though, is to make my heart happier. You'd really be helping someone else a lot though, and without worrying about what it was spent on. So, please mull over donating to one of these:

Thursday, April 24, 2014

How to use up: Instant pudding mix

Yay, my second post in this series! But of course, you have to get through a little back story first. I'm sorry it's a little long! You can skip down to the list if you want, it's kind of depressing anyways.

There was a time about a year and a half ago, that we had bare cupboards and nothing but a half dead stalk of celery in the refrigerator (before I found out how awesome it could be!). This was after the main wire to the power pole in our trailer house became loose enough to spark, melting the wire, the casing, and blowing the big industrial fuses. The lack of power of course shut off everything, and the un-professionals that first came to look at it somehow wired it back without the ground, so we temporarily had power before everything went dark again. However, because of the way they wired it, it somehow sent surges throughout the entire house, blowing up multiple light bulbs, a power strip, both of our window a/c units, our microwave, and the refrigerator.  Not only did we have to suffer through a couple 90-degree nights and 100+ days without a/c, but of course all the food we had in the refrigerator and freezer went bad.

It was the middle of summer in the south, and my youngest was only a few months old. It took several days for them to get a professional out to fix it. On our second or third day, after we had all slept miserably for a couple nights, my husband took us to a hotel. Thank God. Baby still didn't sleep well in an unfamiliar place, but at least we had cool air and the use of a nice big pool.

Coming home after the repair wasn't awesome though. We had to again deal with the high temperatures and spoiled food. The cost of replacing our a/c units  and other devices (we couldn't NOT, it was too hot), coupled with the cost of emergency food and the cost of a hotel, left our bank in the negative and our bills overdue. Because of that one incident (and lack of savings of course!), it took us at least a month to catch up on everything. In the meantime, we had very little to eat and were surviving on charity from my mom and local organizations. At the very end, when almost all the charity food was gone, and it was still several days until my husband got paid again, I came upon our salvation.

I was digging in the cabinets looking for something to feed us, when among the spices and seasonings, I saw two tall unstable towers of flavored gelatin and instant pudding mix! It seriously rescued us, and sustained us for two days. I didn't have much milk, but I had enough to make one box of pudding, and of course plenty of water. My oldest thought it was an awesome summertime treat to eat pudding and jello for two days. I thought - well I'm sure you can imagine what I thought - but at least we were eating.

This story alone makes me realize how far we've come in a year. Hallelujah. I sincerely hope to see as much progress a year from now.

However, the point is flavored gelatin and instant pudding mix are two very, very common things to receive in a charity food box. When you don't have milk for the pudding, it gets put away until you do have milk, but then it's either forgotten about in the back of the cabinet, or your hardship goes on long enough that you have to ration every drop of milk for awhile. When you are finally ready or able to make it, you discover you have waaaay more than you thought you did. Prepared pudding has a lot of dessert uses itself, but really you can only eat so much! Luckily there are a few other uses for the mix by itself too.

How To Use Up Instant Pudding Mix!

Baked goods are really where you can use up large quantities of prepared pudding or mix. Luckily cake mix is another one of those common charity box units. It all depends on what you have on hand of course, and sometimes that isn't much, but I hope this helps anyways.

For Prepared:
Make layer cakes, and use for filling and/or frosting.
Make tortes by layering cake or cookie chunks, fresh fruit, pudding, and whipped topping.
Use as no-bake pie filling
Make frozen pudding pops, yum!
Use vanilla or caramel pudding for dip for fruit like bananas, apples, and strawberries.

Dry Mix:
Mixed into whipped topping to make a lighter frosting, or then frozen for "ice cream".
Mixed into the mix/batter of almost any baked dessert for extra moisture and softness (any cake, cookies, muffins, banana bread etc.) Depending on the flavor you use, it can also add another dimension of taste! Lemon pudding mix in white cake mix is scrumptious!
Use as a thickener for smoothie or protein shakes. (Let it sit a few minutes or it will be grainy).
Mixed in for flavoring in hot chocolate and coffee, even iced coffee. (But let sit a minute like above.)
Mix into plain yogurt to make it taste better than gross.
Mix into canned pumpkin to be eaten as is, or in a recipe.
Mix with a tiny bit of Miracle Whip, or just by itself as dressing for fruit salad. It mixes delightfully with the fruit juice to make a dressing and ads flavor.

Do you have any other uses to add? Does anyone know of any recipes that aren't desserts that use pudding mix? Also, let me know if you have an idea for what you would like to see next in the series!

Just a sad ramble.

I'm not feeling too positive this week, but it actually has nothing to do with finances.

I found out my aunt, who was like a second mother to me, has an aggressive and rare form of cancer. This all after my uncle just recovered from several years of cancer treatment himself, and my other aunt was diagnosed last year and has already been through chemo.

So, understandably she is low about it, and I'm low about it, because even though I try to be positive about everything, things like this make you question if you're ever going to see someone you love again. She lives very far away, and of course I don't have the funds to send her for tests, or gasoline for 9 weeks of daily chemotherapy and radiation, or even to go see her and introduce her to her second niece for the first time, and maybe the last time.

Her insurance company is giving her the run around on paying for tests and procedures, and so in the meantime her doctors have decided not to do a double mastectomy, but at great risk of the cancer reoccurring. Apparently that is a very real concern for her kind of cancer, but because she can't afford the genetic tests out of pocket to determine whether she for sure needs a double mastectomy, so they won't pay for that either without the test results. Ugh.

My other aunt who has already been through a rough time with chemo and radiation, is feeling very weak and is still facing the costs of more medical care and the possibility of re-occurrence.

I'm not the one facing this or fighting it, and I cannot imagine how much strength it must take for either one of them to face the day, but it's really gotten to me this past week. I'm weepy and sad and mad, and just don't have the gumption to do anything. Please forgive me for not posting much. I'm sure that once a little time has passed I will feel like it again. For now I am just concentrating on some freelance writing, and dabbling in my draft posts every now and then. Just thought I'd let y'all know why I haven't been around much this week.

On a side note, thank you so much to the person who donated $25 last week. It went towards our electricity bill, which is enormous. Luckily with the weather warm up it has been cut in half, so we will catch up soon. My family deeply appreciates your generosity, thanks for taking a chance on us.

Monday, April 14, 2014

How to use up: Celery

   I have been thinking lately of ways to make my blog more useful for people in situations like mine. Following our story is good and all, because if it has a happy ending it will be a kind of template of one way to get out of poverty. But, first, we are not assured of a happy ending, are we? None of us are. Second, barring a lottery win or major promotion for my husband, I don't see any drastic changes in income coming in the next year or two at least. So with all that in mind, I want to try to help people in the small ways I can. Since so much revolves around food when you're poor, I've decided to do some food-related posts. I have a couple of ideas, three of which are:

  • Ways to use up large quantities of super cheap foods - When you shop on a tight budget, you end up buying mostly sale items because you can get more food for the same small amount of money. Sometimes that creates a problem though, because what are you going to do with eight cans of green beans?? You could eat them as is of course, which my toddler prefers, but...ew. I'm going to do celery today, and give you three magical tips to make it more amazing than you thought it could be!
  • What you can make with just the food from a food bank or pantry - If you're depending on just charity food to survive, you're in pretty bad shape. My plan is to give some meal ideas that maybe people haven't thought of, because monotony and tastelessness just contributes to the depressive state low income families are in.
  • As many ways as I can think of/find to eat rice and beans - They are a tight income's saving grace just because you get so much volume for little money. However, it can swiftly become preferable to go a little hungry in order to avoid choking down some more gloopy beans and dry rice....Yes, I have had to work on my cooking skills, too.
So, if any of you dears has any suggestions for foods for any of these categories, or other food related topics you think would help, please leave a comment or send me a message!

Without further adieu, 

How to use up celery, and make it awesome! 

Before we get to the ideas, I think it is so super important to give you my celery tips. Hardly anyone thinks of celery as delicious, and certainly not easy to eat (all those dang strings! Ugh!). If you all already know these tips, then I am happy for you, but if you don't (like I didn't previously) this will change how you think of celery. I guarantee it!

Tip #1: Cut the end off and tightly wrap in foil before you refrigerate it
I've heard this tip several times in my life, and never bothered. It really does make a difference in how long it keeps before wilting or molding!

Tip #2: Soak it in ice water for 15 minutes before using raw
I actually stole this from Buffalo Wild Wings when my in-laws took us out for dinner once. I could not figure out for the life of me, how their celery was so crunchy and delicious. I noticed it was really cold, and when there was a little water left in the bottom of the veggie boat, I had an aha! moment. I knew I had to try it at home. I like celery in soups and tuna salad, but as poor as we have been before, sometimes my celery still died a mushy, wilty death in the bottom of my refrigerator. Soaking the celery in ice water gives it such a satisfying snap and juiciness - yes! - that it becomes a star in whatever dish you use it raw in, instead of just an afterthought. As good as it is though, you still have to get rid of those horrible little strings.

Tip #3: Peel it. With a peeler.
I don't know why I never thought of this before, honestly. I've just always taken my knife cut the end off, and tried to pull down the strings to the very end of the stalk. This sort of works, but inevitably when you chop it up, you find yourself with the knife, peeling strings down again every few cuts. If you use a peeler on the stalk before you chop it, all the strings come off together in neat little strips. Don't peel too deep because you don't want to lose too much, but feel free to completely remove those thick, tough, darker green veins. Occasionally I will find out I missed a string or two, but they aren't nearly as bothersome when you've removed 99% of them.

Now that you have soaked your celery in ice water and peeled it, take a bite! If you don't go, 'man, that's pretty good celery' then I'll be shocked. You might even decide to have a snack of it right then, like I did. Go ahead, you've got a lot to use up remember?

For raw celery: (the way I like it best)
juices and fruit smoothies (seriously!)
tuna/chicken/egg/seafood salad
any green salad
as a snack dipped in salad dressing, peanut butter, cream cheese, hummus, or any other dip or spread
a celery salad with any other veggies and a vinaigrette
diced in homemade salsa

Celery leaf pesto: (yummy on pasta & toast)
1/8 cup pine nuts (or any other nut, especially walnuts, can't afford pine nuts!)
½ large clove of garlic, peeled
¼ cup of fresh flat leaf parsley
½ cup tender celery leaves
1/8 tsp salt
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1/8 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (riiight...I use the dry shakeable stuff in the green can...)
zest of ½ lemon
juice of ½ lemon (if you don't have a lemon, 1/2 tsp lemon juice works fine for both)

My famous bleu cheese salad:
This is basically the BWW side, in a salad. I serve it with a recipe I came up with, Hot Wing Poutine! My seven year old DEVOURS this salad.
4 stalks celery, chilled and peeled, in thin slices
2 large carrots, chilled, peeled, diced or julienned
1 green onion, chopped
1/4 c bleu cheese salad dressing (or any other cream dressing really)

For cooked celery:
celery soup
in any soup or stew (add near the end)
vegetable stock
diced or pureed in spaghetti sauce for sweetness without sugar
mirepoix or holy trinity- savory dish starter (can freeze it for use later)
in lo mein, chow mein, or any other stir-fry (the high heat gives it really good flavor)
stuffing (not just for thanksgiving - there's often a box in our food from the food pantry)
roasted with other root vegetables
braised in beef broth

Do you know of any other ways to use up celery? Did any of this sound good enough to make you go buy some? Let me know! :)

Saturday, April 12, 2014


In addition to my weekly progress report, I also just wanted to take a minute to give thanks.

I didn't realize really that I was exposing myself on the world's biggest stage (the internet) when I submitted my story to Huffington Post. I'm a very emotional person, and it's really hard to "not care" about some of the comments on there. However, on the flip side, I was so humbled and appreciative for the people that commented in my defense and in the defense of people in similar situations. You know, it's said that it takes seven positive comments to erase the personal effects of one negative one. That's why I always try to be careful with my words. But I've decided to ignore the "haters" completely, and just focus on the wonderful support of everyone - my readers, and even those strangers who commented, who still seem to possess the lost traits of empathy & sympathy.

I would also like to thank the person who donated $20 to my family. That it really going above & beyond for someone you don't know, and I really appreciate it. You're an angel.

I am thankful to the people who took a chance on me and decided to offer me work. I promise I will do the best I can for you (even if I may be a little slow at it).

I want to thank my readers too, even if you never comment. I celebrated 1,00 views only a short time ago, and now I'm at five times that! Thank you for your silent understanding and support. I hope you all take my blog in the spirit it is meant: if you're struggling, you're not alone and maybe you can find something in my journey to help you. And if you're not, hopefully you find something here to foster understanding in yourself of those who are. Simply understanding another's plight could go a long way to making the world a better place for  us all.

Poverty Climb: Weekly Progress #12

Man, what a week it has been, Actually I think it's been like 10 days since I posted anything, so I apologize for that, but I do have several posts coming (as soon as I have the time to write them!). Until then, here's my progress report.

*Finally got to the doctor. I have one permanent prescription, one refillable prescription for antibiotics, coupons for probiotics (I didn't even know doctors really recommend those, thought that was borderline herbal medicine), and one prescription to take when I'm having symptoms. Like an idiot, I thought I could wait to get them filled until we had more money. But OF COURSE last night I started having symptoms again. I woke up at 3:30 am miserable, and sat up in the recliner until about 5:30 when I fell back to sleep. So that means I'm going to have to drain the savings account to get them...The most expensive things are the anti-spasmodic and the probiotics. Ugh. But honestly, I know it's worth it to feel better. Over the last five years since my original surgery, I have spent WAY too much time sick on the couch.

*I finished one freelance assignment, and one freelance writing assignment. I already got paid for one, and get paid for the other on Sunday. Just that little bit of extra money, along with a donation I received, really, really helped when it came to the end of the pay period when we needed diapers and soy milk for the little one, and the copay for myself. I actually bought two packages, one for daytime and one for night, because diapers were on sale this week! It makes quite a difference in her comfort to have a bigger size for nighttime, she sleeps better.

*I got approved for a account, which if that works out, might provide some steady income too. Now I have to think of something to write about! Hmmm.

*Fun! I love my husband, and I love my family, and I love spending time with them. I'm glad that we have the opportunity to spend time together without spending any money. We went to the river and fished both days. Got skunked, but being outside was wonderful and refreshing and my toddler got to run herself out. Almost. She is literally inexhaustible. Literally.

* Got my resume' mostly done. I need to make a few changes still, but it's coming along.

Getting my health issues addressed and making a little extra money has filled me with tons of hope. Maybe I can make enough money as a freelance writer to help our family, maybe we can get out of this financial slump, maybe we can have better lives! It's so much better to feel hope than hopelessness. It also kind of makes a person nervous though, you know, because I somewhat expect disappointment based on how things have gone in the past. But no matter what, at least I still have my family, and in that respect, I'm as rich as I could ever want to be.

I hope everyone else is having a good & productive week!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Sick Today

I have lots to write about today, and some freelance stuff too, but I'm afraid I'm not feeling well.

I'm putting off going to urgent care if I can because I have an appointment tomorrow afternoon, and because it will be horribly expensive of course. If I knew it was serious, I would of course go. However, I hate to incur the cost to tell me it's gas or even worse, "we don't know". With no options for child care, I'd have to call my husband from work. So I'm just going to curl up on the couch with the little one and watch tv. Be back soon!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Well, that was interesting.

I'll be honest, I had no idea what I was in for when they accepted my post...

Almost 400 comments.

Personal emails about our circumstances and my writing.

1 job offer!

Linked in my (real name!) facebook feed this morning by people I know.

However, the two things I found truly surprising were 1) the amount of judgmental assumptions and 2) the number of people who knew from first hand experience how ridiculous those were, and defended me and all other low income people. I did not post it on there myself, so I didn't have an account to reply, but there were several times I was watching comments going by, shouting "YES!! Thank you for saying that!"

Several assumptions were made by people who obviously never bothered to read my blog, which is ok, but who also seemed to have an extreme prejudice against people who need help. Some of those assumptions were:

We live in too big of a house, and pay too much in rent/mortgage.
We have too many cars, and we have car payments because we want "new cars".
We don't utilize public transportation.

-No. I live in a tiny 2 bedroom apartment in a "low rent" area. In order to pay less than an outrageous amount in rent each month, we have to live farther away from my husband's work. This requires a vehicle of our own, because there is no public transportation where I'm at. Our only option if we can't drive is a taxi! It was because of this that we bought another vehicle. I cannot take my husband to work AND get my daughter to school on time and get to appointments etc. Both our vehicles are about 15 years old, and were bought off craigslist. Which we were only able to do after our tax return.

We make $50,000 a year. (HA!)
We are reproducing like crazy.
SNAP is enough to cover food costs for a month for 4 people.
My husband makes plenty of money to cover necessities, I just go to the food bank so I can have an IPhone/big screen tv/designer clothes because it's no questions asked.

Also, no. To me, $50,000 a year would mean we had finally made it, we were no longer "poor". We live in an area where the economy is just starting to recover, and ANY job over minimum wage is a "good job".  We do have smart phones, but mine is 4 years old, water damaged, and slow. My husband's original one died, and he needed one for work. We bought a cheapie at walmart. We have an old, regular sized tv. Anyone who read my blog knows any "designer" clothes I have came from the $2/bag special at the thrift store. Also, they forget that SNAP means SUPPLEMENTAL Nutrition Assistance Program. A $32/month supplement to "not enough to buy food" really doesn't help much.

But anyways, I know the people here, who read and comment and empathize with my struggle - who have been there at one time or another - don't really expect or need me to justify and explain everything. So why do I?

My hope in blogging about my family's journey is to raise awareness about poverty, yes, but also to raise awareness that people need to be more sensitive and empathetic to each other. It's because it is my hope that somehow, in some sentence I write, I can open up the eyes of those judgmental people to help them understand that not everything is black and white. Not everyone is taking advantage. And just because you are doing fine or made it out of a broken system, doesn't mean everyone else is or does. The system is still broken, you just happen to be on the right side of it. It is not easy to be poor. It is even harder to be poor and judged for every tiny little aspect of one's life that really has little affect on the overall picture of poverty.

No wonder people are afraid to admit they're struggling. Once they do, they instantaneously have all kinds of bad traits attributed to them. No wonder I'm terrified someone might find out my real name. Because then I would feel the shame they want me to feel for simply being different. This is prejudice.

This is a terrible thing we've done to people in this country. The only way to succeed in this country shouldn't be on the backs of other people, we should also be able to succeed by supporting each other.

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