Category Archives: budget

Thursday, August 6, 2009

God, I am exhausted.

I just spent the whole morning in a meeting about winter shelters. It seemed odd to be sitting around a table in the community hall talking about blankets and heating oil and whatnot with sweat trickling down our spines — it’s 85 degrees here in Boston — but I suppose it’s my own damned fault. I’ve been tugging on sleeves and poking people in the back for a month trying to get them to talk about winter.

So Andromeda — she’s the head of the community center in our neck of the woods — put me in charge. That’ll learn me

You know what’s funny, though? Once I was put in charge and put out a call for people to help me (and conscripted a few, the baked brownies to bribe a few more), I found out that I wasn’t the only one worrying about it. Last year, if you’ll recall, people died. Even before Halloween, they were talking about heating oil prices doubling. Of course, after the attacks, those prices seem hilariously quaint. Like $4/gal. gas.

We came up with a lot of good ideas that can be enacted locally. A lot of it is education: teaching people how to stay warm with less fuel. Things like: dress warmly. You’d think this would be a no-brainer, but people still tend to think of heating their homes instead of heating themselves. We’re looking into buying lots and lots of silk and merino underwear from the Vermont Country Store to distribute. Blanket drives to make sure everyone’s got a nice snuggy warm bed. Pamphlets on why short skirts and high heeled shoes aren’t the best bet in 20 degree weather.

Home energy audits. Rapid-response medical teams.

And, of course, emergency shelters. The community eating centers — we have GOT to come up with a better name for those! — can hold a lot of people, but we need to make sure they are properly heated. And outfitted with blankets, cots, urns to heat coffee and tea, etc. Phones and phone trees to check on the elderly and ill. Cars and a gas budget for picking up people who have run out of heating oil at 2 a.m. on bitterly cold nights. Private areas for children, moms, nursing moms.

There was a HUGE debate about co-sleeping that I finally had to end by standing on a chair and using my “mom voice.”

And, for my sins, I got elected to go up a level. Apparently, I need to go to the city administrator for the whole Boston area — not just my little corner of Cambridge and Somerville — and try to convince him that we need to do these things on a city-wide scale. Andromeda was suggesting that I should think about working on a state- or even region-wide scale. (Region or country? Are we a country?)

Going up a level means politics. I hate politics. I hate dealing with people I don’t know who can’t be bribed with brownies or strawberry jam or beet pickles. (The local military guy, as it turns out, doesn’t have a sweet tooth but remembers his Baba’s beet pickles fondly.)

It also means budgets. Buying enough silk and wool underthings for my slice of the Commonwealth is one thing. I can do that math. I know those people. Buying enough for the whole of New England — how do you make sure everyone gets enough and no one gets double and what about people who have some already, we don’t want them to have extra, but aren’t they getting stiffed, what about people who are allergic….?

Sometimes I just want to beat my head against a wall.


Thursday, July 30, 2009

Only a man would describe our past weekend in the blase terms that Paul used.

There’s some quote of Orson Scott Card’s that I can’t recall right now about how women make civilization that I would love to insert right here but I can’t find it.

The North Country House is, in the roughest possible terms, done. Rain and wind only comes in if we let it, there’s running water all the time, hot water if the sun’s been out. There’s some small amount of electricity — the turbine is up and running and we can keep lights on OR a refrigerator running. Not both at the same time. But that’s it.

We slept on sleeping bags on the floor. I have plans drawn up for a bed with heavy wool curtains to pull around it to help keep it warm int the winter, but we ran out of money before the cabinetmaker got any work done. We cooked on an open fire pit in front of the cabin with the cast iron skillet I brought up. (We brought up a small camp stove but there’s no propane to be had in the North Country. A couple of folks have cornered the market and aren’t selling.) We peed and pooped in the composting outhouse we installed back when we were still living out of the Vardo.

All of that is fine and even fun in July. But winter is coming.

April and I spent most of our time setting up house — or rather, I did. April ran around and laughed at all the space. I swept out all the debris left over from the workmen, cobbled together a couple of basic shelves from the leftover wood, set up the root cellar, made lists of things we need and will never be able to get our hands on.

Paul split wood. Pretty much that’s all he did the whole time we were there. We’ve got the start of a nice woodpile, but even with the second-hand log splitter we borrowed off one of the workmen for the summer, it’s not nearly enough.

“Enough for what?” Paul kept asking me. “We don’t do a lot of winter camping. Shouldn’t that be enough?”

I don’t know.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

I went out for a visit out to the CostCo in Everett this morning.  We regularly hit the warehouse store on delivery-day (Neve knows someone who knows someone) to see if we can grab some bulk essentials.  I was among the door-busters and headed straight for the rice and canned-goods (along with everyone else). All the price signs were handwritten and caused a lot of people to pause.  Prices had taken a huge jump – try 50-60%.  Things weren’t cheap before, but this was crazy.  People were milling around the place either dumbfounded or shouting prices at the gods.  Most of the food items (the only reason anybody was really there) also had their prices listed in Euros, Pounds, and Canadian Dollars.

Things were looking to get ugly when the crowd turned to demand answers from a manager.  I decided we had enough beans for now and headed out.

I should have seen this one coming.  A note to our CSA/farming contacts in the west of the state confirmed that they are still willing to deal in BerkShares and even Champies.  Sounds like we have some conversions to do before the dollars in our bank account fall too much in comparison with those two local currencies.

Friday, June 12, 2009

I’ve been leaving the posting to Neve for a while. Too busy. Too angry.

I suppose I ought to edit the ‘who am I’ page. As of two days ago, your author is no longer employed by the EPA or the government of these here United States.

The initial decision to can me came…hell I don’ know. I got into my shared cubicle last week and found that the system wouldn’t let me log in. The IT folks just said that ‘it’s not our fault’ and to talk to my manager.

Administrative review he called it. Since I was gone for more than 3 days without a good excuse (fearing for my family’s safety doesn’t count), they felt I had broken my employment contract. The voice-mails and e-mails I had sent didn’t mitigate things or allow me to use vacation time because they were never received by EPA (what with the wonky internet connectivity).

It took the bureaucracy and union a week and a half to decide that my career was not worth salvaging in their minds. Pissants.

We’re paid a few months ahead of time on the mortgage and we’ve got some money saved. I’m spending more time April-sitting and helping Neve with her new bag-lunch business. I’m hopeful as well on some lawyer contacts who may be able to throw some work my way. It’s not easy. The Globe is saying unemployment is in the mid-teens in the immediate Boston area. Sometimes I wonder how 80+ percent of people can still make it to work and get anything done while living in what sometimes feels like a war zone.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

There was a whole article in Slate today predicting that gas will hit $10 by Labor Day. The pre-Memorial Day spike in Boston has broken the $8 a gallon mark already — not that anyone is going anywhere.

Vacations are canceled for just about everyone. I’m not sure how much of that is gas prices. Josh and Becky tried to do a romantic weekend up in Portland, Maine last weekend and got caught in 4 different traffic jams caused by the checkpoints at the state lines and major bridges (I told Josh to take the Downeaster train).

But besides the security thugs, most people don’t have the money to spend on luxuries like a vacation. I know some folks who are worried that if they leave work for more than a weekend, they won’t have a job to return to. Down in some of the rougher parts of JP, people are probably afraid that if they leave their house for more than a weekend, they won’t anything to return to either.

There’s a general ‘wait it out’ attitude going on right now. I’m not sure that waiting will cause anything to get better. Gas prices aren’t going down anytime soon, especially with the troubles in the Mid-East, Venezuela and the Niger delta. Inflation isn’t going away either as long as Mr. Bush and the Bushettes in Congress keep spending money on an Army abroad that we can’t afford. Heck, food prices are still going up and nobody knows if the bees are going to come back this year to help the harvest. So how is it going to get better?

Neve and the folks in our building are making plans to rip out the grass on the green roof this weekend. Time for a WWII-style victory garden.

Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2008

I expected many things from Mr. Bush’s State of the Union speech. I expected fear-mongering of terrorist threats, both foreign (and more tellingly) domestic. I expected talk of big new programs to make try and stimulate the economy and pay-off allies and supporters. I expected some members of Congress to turn their backs or walk out of the chamber when Mr. Bush arrived (in this I was sadly disappointed).

What I didn’t expect was an announcement of a date for national elections.

Yes, Congressional elections you all say. Better than nothing? A chance for the people to have their voice heard.

I’m not saying that I buy Bush’s BS about the need for continuity of the Unitary Executive in a time of national crisis. But it does mean that he realizes that he can’t maintain the status quo indefinitely. With an election in a little over a month, the people can organize candidates who support the separation of powers and will force the White House to hold presidential elections as well.

Maybe, just maybe, this is the first step in getting back to normal.

Sunday, Nov. 9, 2008

I’m sitting here in shock. Sticker shock.

I guess I should have expected it after the prices at the pumps skyrocketed. But it hasn’t been covered in any of the news stories, we’re all concerned about the attacks, the body counts, the clusterfuck in D.C. And it’s not like prices haven’t been creeping up for the past two years. But I just got back from my first regular grocery shopping trip since Halloween and I’m stunned.

I just paid $100 for some really basic groceries. At Shaw’s, too, not Whole Foods.

I didn’t notice, really, until I checked out. On my way in, I did see a notice posted on the door about a slight increase in prices due to a steep increase in fuel prices. I’ve seen that notice a couple of times over the past two years so I walked by without registering it and just grabbed my usual stuff. Only at the milk case did I kind of pause — I’ve been paying about $5 for half a gallon of organic whole milk.  That’s a lot when we go through two gallons a week. (Paul and I both like milk, too. And it’s one of the only things I haven’t been able to find from a small, local, artisinal producer.) I grabbed the usual two half gallons from the fridge and happened to glance up and see that the price for the regular (non organic) milk was $5/half-gallon.

But, because I was in a crowded busy store with a cranky toddler, I didn’t think to look at the price for my milk. Imagine my shock when I saw it come up for $7 at the cash register!

My CSA didn’t have enough carrots this week for a batch of lamb stew so I’d bought some carrots — $4 for a pound of carrots. (Okay, organic carrots.) I stared at them and realized, suddenly, that they were imported, if that’s the word for it, from California.  Of course they were expensive — with gas at $4/gallon, everything is going to cost a lot more to ship across the country.

Suddenly, for the first time, my insistence on buying local makes financial sense as well as ecological sense.  Supermarket prices are higher than the farmer’s market. I was in such shock that I didn’t think to pop over to the meat counter and check out the price of chuck and chicken. (Of course, I don’t actually know how much conventional chuck and chicken cost before this spike since I’ve been buying them from local farmers for so long. )

Of course, the farmer’s markets and my CSA both end in another three weeks. I’ve got a share at the Drumlin Farm winter CSA for root veggies and whatnot but it looks like my food budget is going to spike suddenly. We’ve got the cash, so it’s not a hardship for me, but I worry about my friends who are living paycheck-to-paycheck.