Friday, February 28, 2014

Southwest Corn Chowder

We were given a jar of generic picante sauce and a can of great northern beans from a food bank recently.  We don’t normally eat these things, but I searched through our cookbooks until I found something to make.  

**Note that Stacey’s household is Vegetarian and uses mock-meats when cooking.  If you’d rather use corpse in your cooking, you may have to adjust the cooking times of some of her recipes to be certain the meat is cooked to the proper internal temperature.**

This recipe fed 5 people and left a bowl for lunch the following day.  If your family is smaller, halve the ingredients.

Forgot to put it in the picture ;)


  • 14oz Faux Chicken Breast (we used a 13.8oz bag of Gardein’s Meatless Chick’n Strips), or 1lb of breasts from murdered chickens 
  • 1 Onion, diced
  • 1 Green Bell Pepper, diced (You can play with colors here.  We did ½ of a red and ½ of a green)
  • 3 tbsp Vegetable Oil
  • 1 ½ tbsp Cumin
  • 1 can Corn (15ish oz)
  • 1 can Great Northern Beans (15ish oz)
  • 28oz Vegetable Broth, or 28oz cruelty-infused chicken broth
  • 12oz Picante Sauce (you can totally sub salsa for this)
  • ¼ cup Cornstarch
  • ¼ cup Water
  • Monterrey Jack Cheese, shredded (you can sub just about any kind of shredded cheese)
1.  Chop the Faux Chicken Breast into bite size pieces (roughly ¾” cubes).  Saute in the Vegetable Oil until browned a bit.  Add in the diced Onion and Bell Pepper.  Cook until the veggies are sweated a bit.  

2.  Stir in the Cumin, Vegetable Broth, Corn, Great Northern Beans, and the Picante Sauce.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 15-20 minutes.

3.  Whisk the Cornstarch and Water together in a separate bowl.  Stir into soup.  Simmer 10 minutes.

4.  Serve warm with a tasty clump of shredded cheese and maybe some crackers.  

Pardon my sloppy, chipped bowl.

{Stacey}  #FoodBankGrub

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Honesty Post : Our Finances

In our home, the main source of income is our son's SSI (Supplemental Security Income).  We are a family that knows the shame of living off of an 11 year old.  

It's not a thing that you boast about.  It's not something that makes you look forward to the stereotypical "first of the month" payday.  While it's a moment to gasp for air, it's a reminder every 30 days that we are, essentially, failures. 

Our second source of income is the occasional temp-work that Justin can find.  He had a relatively steady gig through the fall last year.  It was an hour away from home though, so he scheduled in 4 day blocks and would stay with his grandmother who lives near the factory.  He slept all day and would work the nightshift folding boxes and pushing buttons for $8.50/hr.  He sent all his money home and drove up to see us on the weekends. 

Then, the transmission went in his car.  And I don't say "his car" like it's a bragging right.  One of the only perks our little family has had until recently is that Justin's parents had gifted him with a $3,000 SUV.  When the transmission went, so did the car and we were left with only my little Hyundai.  My old girl is in her last days as well.  She is 13 years old, rusted and beaten.  She has over 230,000 miles on her and squeals and pings so much that it's like driving an arcade.  

Being a one car household, Justin could no longer work so far from home.   He has been looking for a local job since December 23rd of last year.  We got one nibble last week.  We spent $15 worth of gas driving to the interview.  When he got there, their computer system crashed and they couldn't finish.  They never called back and we were out all that gas.

So, our household has been living on our son's $744/month for a while now.  That, and food stamps (thank goodness!).  Too bad our bills are more than double our income.

Now, I'm not sharing this with you to gain pity or solicit anything.  I'm sharing this to show the world what poverty in America looks like.  And we're one of the lucky ones!  We have a car.  Most of my neighbors don't.  We have food.  Many of our elderly neighbors don't.  We were lucky enough to get into subsidized housing.  Some people have no housing help and pay $700 or more a month for a home. 

I show you this for transparency.  To show you that we're not "lazy", we're immobilized. 

It's SSI payday tomorrow, but it really doesn't matter.  The $744 that will be deposited by 6am tomorrow is already gone.  It will be sliced thinly and automatically withdrawn until one of them bounces.  Then the fees will be applied and the bill collectors will wait until April's payday to fight over our pennies once more. 

THIS is poverty.  We have no savings account.  We have nothing set aside for emergencies.  Our last credit card has less than $400 available.   There are no churches nor charitable organizations paying our bills.  We have family as a last ditch effort when things go REALLY wrong, but they have their burdens too and can't always help.  We bargain with companies.  We defer loans for 90 day blocks, knowing that the interest is still building.  We pretend our son doesn't want to join the basketball team or go to the public pool on hot days.  I tell my guy that I don't need a diamond ring on my finger to show the world I'm his. 

We cry a lot. 

We may not be starving (due to SNAP, outlet grocers, and elaborate menu planning on my part), but we are still drowning. 


Saturday, February 22, 2014

How The Hell Did I Get This Poor? [aka: Stacey's Story]

I remember when the internet was new and shiny to my older relatives.  They were trying out group emails to family members.  They didn't know that replies are sent to everyone in the group.  Because of this, I learned what one of my relatives really thought about me...

My mother was turning 50 and a few of them asked if I was planning anything special.  I sent out an email inviting them to join us for dinner, cake and gifts in the banquet hall of a local family restaurant.  Shamefully, I had to add that I could not afford to pay for their meals, but that cake and ice cream was on me.

Aunt C. emailed me asking why my plans for her sister's big birthday were so lame (but in nicer words, she's a Christian).  I privately emailed her that that all I could afford were decorations for the banquet room at a local restaurant (the room was FREE with the purchase of dinner) and to get her a cake.  I also said that if any relatives wanted to pitch in for their sister's 50th birthday, I wouldn't mind at all.

Seconds later, Aunt C. sent out an email to Aunt T. stating that there was nothing special going on for my mother's birthday because I was too poor.  She also added "They're always poor."

While it may have been aimed at Aunt T., it was sent to the whole group.  I felt like the bitch had stabbed me.

I didn't lose my cool.  I just let her know that in a group email, everyone can view her posts and left it at that.  She came to the party.  I ignored her.

Familial snub aside, this was nothing new.  People have always expected big things from me, even if I lacked the ability.  When I fail, they're shocked.  I'm very good at that 'put a smile on your face and keep moving' shit.  If I have bad day, my guy is probably the only one who knows.

I grew up an hour north of Chicago until 1993.  Times were tough and my mother had had enough.  She quit her 70hr/wk job, sold our grungy little house and moved us to a quaint town near an Amish steak in Pennsylvania.  It was a huge culture shock.

I never realized I had an accent until then.  Twenty years later, I watch movies set in Chicago and cringe at how strong my '"youz guys" dialect must have been.

I was in highschool and the level of bigotry and general "hilly-billyness" blew me away.  They hated blacks and gays.  They loved guns and Jesus (the clean, white one).  They hunted.  Not only did they hunt, they got two days off of school each season to go hunting and then they would hang the deer from their front porches to bleed them and gut them.  Everything was camouflage clothing and country music.  Their speech was horrid and I honestly felt like I needed to speak slower every time I had a conversation.  The big thing to do was to sit in a bunch of mudded-up trucks in a field and drink Yuengling.

Just, so incredibly not my thing.

The high school was a joke.  I graduated with guys who couldn't read, but could throw a ball.  I made perhaps 3 friends my entire stay and wouldn't you know that nowadays, one is gay, one is a vegan and the other is an occultist.  I guess Pennsylvania never really took a cultural hold on me.

Anyway, I graduated high school in 1997, just like a zillion other kids in America.  I worked at a photography shop that summer and reorganized his filing system and wrote him a training manual for the next girl he'd hire when I left.  I moved to Pittsburgh that fall to attend a technical college.  It didn't work out.  I moved home within a year.

I worked at a gas station full time.

I traveled.

I dated.

I worked part time at a gift shop.

I hung with friends.

I paid off my loans and never really gave school anymore thought.

I got a cat.

I was a bit scattered.

Suddenly, it was 3 years later and I was engaged to a guy that was the exact opposite of anything I'd ever really wanted for myself.  He was dumb but sexy and did anything I told him too without question.  I had a moment of clarity in early 2002 and called off the engagement, but a week later found out that we were pregnant.  My mother freaked out, so I married the guy.  Long story short, big mistake.  We've been separated for 11 years and he never saw the kid.

In those 11 years, I have been a single mom (to what turned out to be a special needs child), worked full time at minimum wage while going to school part-time.  I have struggled with boredom.  Nothing stimulated me.  I dated locals and dumped them when things got stale.  I delved into non-profit work for a bit.  I traveled some more.  I started a home business and tried to go to school full time.  I blew through credit cards.  Aimless.  Wasted.  Stagnant.  These are good words to describe my life in the 2000's.

One day at work, the higher-ups were struggling with something a client needed.  The scientific aspects were beyond them.  I waited as long as I could before mentioning the answer to them as I walked past, with vacuum cleaner in hand.

Later that day, a co-worker came at me red-faced and demanded, "Stacey, why are you here?  You're way too smart to be here!"  I didn't have an answer.

I still don't.  

I turned 30 and it was a miserable year.  My son was diagnosed with autism and found to be mentally retarded.  I couldn't afford my next semester of school and my roommate moved out without notice.  I was working part time as a hotel maid, drowning in debt, borrowing money from my family to pay utility bills and trying to get out of a lease I couldn't afford.  My son changed schools and started up all kinds of therapies and confusing services.  (It was during this hellacious time in my life that I met Mr. Right... like something out of a romantic comedy!)

Mr. Right and I found a crumbling ghetto apartment that we could afford (seriously, the windows didn't open, the previous tenant had used a hole in the drywall as a garbage can, and there were paintball pellets lodged in the closet doors).    Knowing how financially fucked we were, I had an IUD put in so that there was no chance that we would have a kid.  We were trying to be responsible while figuring out my son's needs, going to college and finding temp work.  The hormones in the IUD made me sick.  Not fluish... suicidal.  I had a complete mental breakdown.  I slept all the time.  I had fantasies of cutting my arms open and playing in the blood.  I had impulses to swerve my car in front of oncoming semi-trucks (with my son in the car!).  I cried all the time.

I lived like that for two years.  It. Was. Hell.

I finally had the IUD removed.  Within 12 hours, I felt like a giant weight had been lifted from me.  It was like someone turned on the lights.  My depression and all suicidal thoughts vanished.

The only drawback (financially)?  Is that we were pregnant 3 months later.  I love my daughter, but I have to admit that my family and friends have bought us everything for her (cradle, clothing, carseat, blankets, toys, etc.).  The only thing we can afford is her diapers.

I'll be 35 this year.  I haven't worked in 3 years.  I am 13 credits away from a Bachelors degree that I fear I'll never get.

I am a Stay-At-Home-Mom not out of desire, but out of necessity. My 11yo son is mentally disabled, for which I collect Supplemental Security Income to care for him.  The state of Pennsylvania gives my family medical insurance, food stamps and energy assistance (help with our heating bill).  US Rural Development gives us money towards rent.  If I go to work, we lose tons of these supports.

I tried to take a part-time job last year.  I would have earned $11.80/hr.  Fantastic, right?  After taxes, I would have brought home around $600/month after taxes.  I was ecstatic.  I even thought it would help a friend out because I could pay her to babysit.  She was happy because it was going to put Christmas money in her pocket.  So, I called around to the various agencies you have to report these things to and had an abrupt reality check.

We were going to lose $180 in rental subsidy, $218 in foodstamps, and $376 in SSI.  I would have also had to pay for work clothes, gas to and from work, and the $20/week I was going to give my friend to baby sit.  

We would have gained $600 and lost just shy of $1,000.  And my son would have had to walk home alone from the bus stop. 
I actually added it up and I need to earn around $16/hr AFTER TAXES to even equal what I make staying at home right now.  

I’m not saying that our assistance should be less, because we aren’t even making it as it is… but something is broken in America’s economic system when this is the reality.  

I am an able-bodied, 34 year old woman with skills and a desire to work, but I MUST remain unemployed for the sake of my family.  

As a side note, to those who might be wondering where my guy is in all of this financial mess: Sweetheart is looking for work, but is an inexperienced, unskilled 24 year old without a driver’s license (he has a phobia). He spent all of 2013 trying to conquer that fear and has already taken his first road test (he failed, but is set to try again next week). When he can find work, it is as a 3rd shift temp in a shitty assembly line for low wages in poor conditions. It frustrates the piss out of me that instead of going to college to finish his Psychology degree, he has to job-hop so that our family can survive.

Well, that's most of my story.  See more from our other Admins soon.  Stacey

Friday, February 21, 2014

It's The Salt

I live in northwest Pennsylvania.  To save us all some time, “It snows.” 

A mild day in Pennsylvania.
It snows a lot.  We Pennsylvanians chip, salt, scrape and shovel Jack Frost's leavings at least 5 months out of the year.  Lately, it's been rainy and melty during the day but freezing at night.  Do you know what that means?  It means there is a shit-ton of ice everywhere, every morning.  The sidewalks are death traps.  If you don't want to fall on your ass, you salt.  

 You’d think that our apartment manager* would understand how winter works.

The manager of our apartment complex is married to the maintenance guy.  This was not a meet-cute.  She was hired when the place underwent renovations as part of President Obama's rural development campaign a few years ago.  It took the crumbling shacks we lived in and transformed them into clean, insulated townhouse apartments.  We got central air and working appliances.  We got landscaping and a conference room.  We got padded carpet and landscaping.  

We also got HER.  After she was hired, she accused our maintenance guy of being drunk at work because his hands trembled.  He was a diabetic with a brain tumor, but she didn't believe that the medications he was on would cause tremors.  He took it in stride because he needed the job.  She refused to approve his supply orders or tool requisitions, so he brought his own tools in and she accused him of stealing company property.  He tried to let it slide.  The final straw was when she told him he had to bring in his own toilet paper if he wanted to use the restrooms in the conference room.  His wife demanded that he quit right on the spot!

The next thing you know, our apartment manager's husband had the job, and he’s given overtime hours and a snow blower and lawncare equipment.  I think she’s crooked, to say the least.

But, anyway, back to the SALT. 

We have been shoveling and salting the sidewalk that stretches from our door to our parking space for a month now.  It doesn't sound like a lot, but after a month, those 16 concrete spaces add up.  We are not the only ones who use this walkway, either... but our neighbors haven't shoveled in 3 years.
The maintenance guy usually waits until 10 or 11 am to pull out his glorious snow blower and sand/salt dispenser, but when you have doctor’s appointments, welfare appointments, and elementary schools to get to by 8am, you can’t wait that long.  Personally, I don’t mind shoveling.  It's a little irritating that no one else ever takes a turn, but I'll live.  That is not the problem.  It’s the salt.  We're on bag 2.

Two scoops left.  Six weeks of winter left.

I understand that salt is only $6 or $7 per bag… but when you’re poor-like-us, $6 makes or breaks your month.   Is it wrong that I kind of want to ask the complex manager to reimburse me if I buy another???