Defining the downsized kitchen

When we are downsizing, no matter what the reason, we’re facing a situation that is just as much “smaller” in the kitchen as we are everywhere else.  The bigger and more fitted out your previous kitchen was, the more painful the downsizing experience can be when you go to cook in your new downsized digs.  In terms of small appliances for the kitchen, it quickly becomes apparent that not everything is going to fit, nor is everything really necessary.

I had a number of small appliances that made my life easier, and in the downsized travel trailer, it was more than obvious that they weren’t all going to work.  My beloved KitchenAid mixer was one of the first casualties of space, as it went on long term “loan” to my daughter, with the promise that she would give it up when we moved into slightly larger quarters again.  It was replaced with a much more compact hand mixer and hand blender.

Another couple of favorite appliances were my rice cooker and slow cookers.  One of them  at a time could be used, not only for counter space, but electrical usage as well.  Combining them into one space hog  for storage would cut my storage needs in half, while allowing me to use the same functions I had always enjoyed.  Finding such an appliance could, however, be a bit tricky.

I found it.  It’s a Wolfgang Puck Bistro Elite 10 cup multi-cooker, doing everything the previous two appliances did…in the same footprint, and with some improvements as well.  It can BROWN things, a feature that the old slow cooker never dreamed of.  In addition, the insert is not a massive crockery liner that weighs a ton to lift.

Okay, it IS bigger than my old rice cooker, and it can cook 10 cups of rice, something it wouldn’t ever do in one batch.  But it also automatically times to cook brown rice, as well as the traditional white rice, a feature I love.  I’ll also admit, it got shoved into a corner when I first got it, a bit surprised at its massive capacity compared to the old 4 cup rice cooker.  (I had mail ordered it, so the surprise was when the box arrived on our doorstep.)  Finally, I was tired of instant rice, and wanted to try it out…and fell in love.

I’ve made stews in it, I’ve slow cooked meat in it, I’ve made beans in it, I’ve cooked lots of rice in it, and it has delivered most of our meals for the last three weeks with absolute ease.  It also cleans easily, with the single exception of the lid, which is attached to the outer case and doesn’t remove for the trip to the sink.  So far, a damp cloth has done the trick though.

While everything from the budget to the space is shrinking, (except for our waists, they don’t seem to shrink!) its nice to find something that does double duty plus a little extra, keeping life simple and easy to manage.  I also love the cost-cutting ability we now have to toss the ingredients into the cooker, turn it on, and head out into the world to do whatever the day has on its agenda…and when we come home, we have dinner ready.  No temptation to stop for fast food or take out means that our meals stay in budget too.

I guess this cooker has me happy about the downsizing process instead of aggravated with the lack of space.  This works, and works well, and with the latching lid, it’s easy to store despite its rather large size.  It just goes to prove…if you look, sooner or later, you can find a product that helps with the downsizing without compromising quality or performance.

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From suburbia to homeless

Not all downsizing is by choice, and it also isn’t necessarily a graceful change either.  Sometimes, the school of hard knocks demands someone takes a crash course.  One of those crash courses may find a lesson in being homeless.

Most people picture a derelict wino or drug addict, sleeping in rags behind a dumpster as the epitome of homelessness.  That’s not the usual story.  The usual homeless person is nearly invisible and may actually be your co-worker or that applicant for a job sitting neatly groomed with a resume in hand in your waiting area.  It might include your kids’ classmates at school.  It might be a friend who asks you to be their mailing address.

They don’t talk about it.  They often avoid applying for any kind of government aid–it’s too hard to explain where they live.  In public, they smile and look very ordinary.  In private, they are often sleeping in a car, RV, van, or couch surfing from friend to relative’s house.  They might shower at a truck stop, a friend’s house, the gym, or their job.  They do their laundry in laundromats or someone’s house.  Few people will ever hear them talk about their homeless state.  Often, not even their closest friends or family are aware of it, although the signs are all there.

It can happen for a lot of reasons, ranging from medical problems to losing their job.  Sometimes its a divorce that starts them out onto the streets.  Sometimes it is substance abuse or other addictions too.  What separates them from the derelict is a fine line of some kind of income, their clothing, their optimism, and a vehicle to store their remaining property in.  Whatever creates that fine line, if they don’t find a way out of the situation before it dissolves, society as a whole has failed them and created another statistic.

Living that way is hard for them too.  At night, they become refugees in their own homeland, forced to find a place out of sight and stay out of sight, without attracting anyone’s attention.  That means area residents and police alike must stay unaware of their presence and lack of a better place to sleep.  No lights, no television, no midnight snacks…because they dare not create anything that anyone would notice, such as noise, movement or light.  Their vehicle must look unobtrusive and merely parked…for now.  Shortly after daylight, or earlier if they are in a normal passenger car, they have to be back on the move, staying under the radar.

The world isn’t friendly to someone who has fallen on hard times.

There are laws against “vagrancy” in most locales.  Most neighborhoods don’t want to be seen as friendly to the homeless–it brings down property values and increases crime.  People make fun of the homeless and the down-and-out.  Who wants to be regarded as a criminal, drain on society, a failure, and a source of humor?

America is filled with thousands of these faceless, unknown and invisible refugees from the economic bust.  More streamed out after them after the waves of foreclosures that are continuing today.  Some found it short term, and within a few weeks, were back in a house or apartment, continuing their lives as if nothing had ever happened, with that chapter locked and sealed behind them as a source of shame.

Others haven’t been so lucky.  Even as the cycles continue of becoming homeless and finding a way back into a home continue, the numbers increase regularly, still uncounted, still faceless, and still desperately trying to stay under the radar.  What employer wants to employ (or continue to employ) someone who is homeless?

Sympathies don’t rush towards them these days.  People act as though it could never happen to them, and yet, most families are within thirty days of homelessness themselves, without friends or relatives that could or would help them if they did end up in that situation.  How long could you survive if that paycheck was suddenly cut off?  What if there was no unemployment check to follow that loss?

Granted, it’s not safe to just start rounding up homeless people and inviting them into your home–not all people of any group are safe house guests.  Not everyone wants to work towards improving their lot in life either.  At the same time, some kind of solutions need to be created at the community level.  What kinds of things can be done to alleviate the problem without attracting those who are merely common criminals and prey on the unwary?

Some communities offer things like “safe parking.”  Usually, it’s church parking lots, unused during the night, and people are allowed to park there, often with some kind of assistance available too, whether its a hot meal, a shower, or some kind of counseling.  It helps those who are trying to stay safe and get back on their feet find a secure place to park for the night (they typically have to leave during the day.)  Law enforcement can easily see who is there, and monitor the activity in the area, preventing the parking homeless from becoming a statistic either as a victim or the criminal.

While this might be a great idea, I’m also not sure if it is one that is truly feasible.  The nature of the mobile homeless or car camping group is the fact that they are so very accustomed to flying under the radar and hiding their homeless state.  Utilizing the “safe parking” is very near admitting that they are homeless, and for most of them, very risky behavior that can have terrible ramifications.

For some, it may be fear of losing their last bit of dignity.  For others, it may be the fear of losing custody of their kids.  For still others, it may be the idea of losing their beloved pet.  Laws aren’t always very friendly to those who are homeless, and well-intention-ed assistance can often lead their victims into despair and sorrow.

Several things must happen for most of these people to get back on their feet.  Usually, it revolves around becoming employed again if they are unemployed.  Next, it is coming up with the funds necessary to pay deposits for a rental unit, electric, and other utilities.  They’ll need furniture and household goods too.  Last, but not least, they will also need to be able to survive on what they have left in terms of food, automobile insurance, repairs, clothing, and gasoline.

There is no government program to help with things such as deposits, and few social charities will do so either.  Churches will rarely assist anyone unless they are a member of the church already.  Utility companies and rental companies also don’t give the formerly homeless any kind of break on paying these deposits.  Those deposits, often totaling far more than their monthly income, are a huge barrier to regaining stability and a home.  They may also lack both the credit rating and references for a rental company, leaving them in a situation where they are forced to seek substandard housing that includes utilities, but at a dramatically higher cost.

No one wants to fund a program that is misused, and the possibilities of abuse of a program to assist with deposits, rentals, furniture, etc. does exist.  We all know people who live to abuse such benefits, regarding the challenge of obtaining them as nothing more than a game, and another way to “beat the system.”  With that said, most of us will encounter someone in just such a situation in the coming year.

Maybe its time to extend a helping hand to someone.  Lending a hand to someone who is honestly trying to get back on their feet is immensely satisfying.  They often make fantastic employees, and truly understanding friends.  It might not be paying a bill for them, it might be something like a place to get mail, a shower, some laundry, and a hot meal with some television…it might be your old pots and pans or a bedroom set your kids have outgrown.  It might be those curtains you finally replaced too.  Whatever it is…make a  difference.  Next year, it might be you who is wearing their shoes.

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A yurt or a ger?

Winter has been non-existent here on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.  A couple of cool days, a couple of cold nights.  That was it.  It sounds wonderful…if you live in snow country.  In reality, I enjoy the cool-to-cold weather far more than I do warm, muggy weather.  I also despise biting insects, and the warm winter has meant few days have been without the dreaded gnats and mosquitoes.

That sends me to thinking of relocation…in a big way, not a little one.  But for now, relocating or even changing quarters is just out of the question.  The money doesn’t exist, and therefore, doing anything but exploring options and dreaming isn’t happening.

So…dreams can be wild, can be big…or they can be small.  I’m now dreaming of a yurt.  There is something about the idea of a round, portable, but pleasant house that appeals.  Maybe it was watching “The Saltmen of Tibet” that got me too.  Either way, yurts are now the focus of my online research and dreaming.

Of course, my other half just rolls his eyes.  He has had a lot of practice at it, and maybe that’s why he’s so utterly patient with my wild ideas, even when they lead us to living in a travel trailer in a friend’s back yard.

Essentially, a yurt is constructed of a diagonal patterned wood “mesh” formed into a circle, topped with poles that are fixed to a center circle with holes drilled to accept them, then covered with a liner, wrapped in felt, and then topped with a water resistant cover.  They aren’t “ultra light” by anyone’s standards, and were moved by ox cart or yaks across the steppes of Asia and used to house the nomads that lived there.  In their original form, they were heated by a small fire in the center of the ger, and the hole in the center of the roof allowed the smoke to escape.

Okay, so I don’t want a fire in the middle of my house on the dirt floor.  But, like everything else, yurts or gers have gotten a bit more sophisticated over time.  With the idea imported to America, it’s also gotten much more complicated yet.  Kits are also available, making it much easier to set up than starting from scratch.  They can also be quite expensive.

Most of them range from 11 feet to 30 feet in diameter, apparently, a center pole is necessary if the diameter is more than 30 feet.  So, it gives you an open, round space which you can then divide as you see fit.  Theoretically, this house is portable but it can also be a permanent structure, and is best built on a platform, usually with round portion that is raised above the surrounding area that also forms the floor inside of the yurt.

While they are “soft” in terms of the fabrics used to enclose them, they also have features such as doors and windows.  They can be insulated well enough to withstand temperatures that are in the double digits below zero…Farenheit.  The central hole is typically covered with a clear plexiglass dome rather than the square of canvas used in the original, and even in those heated by a wood stove, it is now modernized to have a chimney and stove rathr than the open fire.  Electricity, heat, air conditioning, and even plumbing can also be added.  Yurts can also be set up to be off grid.   Awnings are frequently used over the doors and windows for weather protection.

For families that want more space, or more clearly divided spaces, there are other options too.  Multiple yurts can be connected, either by snugging them up against each other or by a connecting structure.  Large ones can be built with higher walls that allow the addition of lofts, which also have to be constructed to be free standing, as obviously the walls cannot support structures of that nature.

Bathrooms can have all of the features commonly expected in a modern home with a traditional flush toilet, sink, and shower…or they can be created with a greener goal in mind, utilizing composting toilets and solar water heaters.

Some of the more elaborate ones were substantial enough that it requires multiple days to just construct the basic structure, a far cry from the home of the nomads that they started out being.  All of that had me somewhat dumbfounded, and wondering…is it possible to create one that is actually portable by modern standards?  One that we could transport easily in a mini-van, set up in an hour or two with just the two of us, and then comfortably stay in it for a couple of weeks (national forests typically have a fourteen day limit) before packing it up and moving on?

I found one company in the USA that offered such a yurt: GoYurt Shelters.  Unfortunately, it’s a small company, and currently not accepting orders as the owner works on developing his farm.

I’m not sure we are up to creating one of our own yet, as it isn’t an easy project, but…part of me says that this idea deserves more thought, both as a portable housing structure and as a semi-permanent house.  I like the idea of living in the round, it has a primal feel to it, but I am also not ready to commit to such an open floor plan and unconventional structure.  How would the county react to it?  Would there be problems with getting the appropriate permits?  Would it meet standards for hurricane resistance?  Would we have trouble getting insurance?

I don’t know those answers yet, but it’s certainly been interesting.  You can start your own search just by typing in “yurt” in the search engine.  YouTube also has numerous videos on the topic, and I’ve not begun to see them all yet.

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Downsized holidays

When you live in tight quarters, celebrating holidays means new twists.

And turns.

And ducking.

Seriously, there is no space for things like Christmas trees, stockings, or much of anything else to indicate there is a holiday.  If your budget is also seriously downsized, then there is very little money to spend on it either.

So what then?

It’s time to go back to the core of the meaning of the holidays.  No matter what your religion or lack of it, at the very core of Christmas is the concept of giving without reservations or expectations of anything in return, even thanks or appreciation.  That is what it is really all about.

For Thanksgiving, it’s all about being thankful for what we have, no matter how little or how much.  Even when we’re downsized, we have a lot to be thankful for.  We have a roof over our heads, and we’re getting by.  That’s better than some people have it, and if we have a loving partner to share our downsizing experience with, it’s even better.  Family and friends are also things to appreciate and be thankful for, even if they are few and far away.

We can celebrate those things without great amounts of money or space or decorative objects. They are the important parts of the holidays anyhow.

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Shopping for new digs

We are still shopping for real estate solutions.  We’re flexible, we have to be, our budget is about the size of a parakeet.  We aren’t exactly the buyer that everyone dreams of.

We have faith–we will eventually find what we’re looking for.  In the meantime, we’re looking.

We looked at an affordable property this past week.  It was in an area that was considered upscale, so we were surprised to see an affordable property there.  We were also surprised when the realtor told us that we’d likely not be interested in the property.  It was a HUD property, and the bidding on it was to start the next day.

We went early the next morning to take a look at it, having decided that a look at the exterior was in order before having the realtor drive out to let us in.  I’m glad we didn’t waste his time.

I never knew that a good development could have a street devoted to being a ghetto right inside of it.  It was awful.  Not the property…the neighborhood.

Our opinion is that it wasn’t a safe neighborhood, that we’d likely soon be the victim of a burglary, and we’d be lucky if we weren’t home when the burglary occurred.

It was that bad.

We couldn’t see ourselves living there for five years, nor could we see it as an investment property.  No one who would rent that property would take reasonable care of it.  No one would want to live there.

I don’t know whether the neighborhood was predominately one race or another, and I didn’t care.  (No one, and I mean NO ONE, was up and moving around during the week at 8 am)  I did NOT want to live there.  Personally, I considered alligators to be better neighbors than whoever lived on that street.

The mobile home we were looking at was one of the better appearing homes on the street.  Most were dilapidated ancient trailers with haphazard additions and ample debris in the yard.  You’ll never convince me that a code enforcement officer had driven down that street in the last five years.  With upscale homes just a block away, the appearance of this neighborhood was even more shocking.

With our budget, less-than-desirable homes are what we are shopping for, but this…was beyond less-than-desirable.  It was a ghetto street in a small town, an impossible to imagine nightmare.  The mobile home wasn’t large, despite being listed as a three bedroom, and wasn’t ridiculous for a middle aged couple.  The yard was reasonable too, even with three dogs.

The big problem was the sensation that you were considering moving right into the den of thieves, literally.  No one had planted a flower, no one had picked up a broken toy, no one had called a tow truck to remove a derelict vehicle.  It also appeared that no one went to school or work.

It probably didn’t help that the property we were looking at had a large pile of crumbling asphalt to one side of the driveway, which was covered with a poor quality asphalt itself.  Nor that there was a large and heavy piece of mechanical part protruding from the asphalt on one side.

We didn’t bother looking at the interior.  The two cuts in the fence, the iron embedded in the driveway, the large pile of crumbling asphalt…this mobile home was well on its way to looking like the rest of the street.  It just didn’t appeal to us as a place to call home, no matter how cheap it was.

Back to hunting, right?


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It’s more than the house

Downsizing is more than the house for most of us.  It’s also hand in hand with a downsized budget and income, and sometimes, it really isn’t by choice.  Even so, we put our best foot forward, and keep on keeping on, all part of a survivor’s nature, I suppose.

Part of that downsizing often means that there is no more health and dental insurance.    That can be a potentially big “ouch” if anything goes wrong.  Hospital visits, doctor visits, prescriptions, dentist visits, etc. add up fast.  How can you keep these costs down?

First step is to be pro-active.  Don’t wait until the crisis occurs, because then you are forced to visit the hospital ER or pay out a massive sum for an office call to a doctor or dentist that may have been avoided by seeking care earlier.  Hospital bills never go away, and they can be quite aggressive in their attempts to collect.  There are few programs for even low income adults without children and under age 65 to assist with medical costs either, especially after the fact.

So how can you get medical care and avoid many hospital ER visits?  Here’s four suggestions.

  1. Look for a free or sliding scale clinic.  Be warned, they are never convenient and are always very time consuming to use though.  If you are also working, it adds to the cost of using them, and may outweigh the discount you receive by their use.
  2. Shop around.  It may sound cynical, but in economic times like these, we have got to be very pragmatic about everything, including our own care.  We have to weigh the quality versus the cost  and convenience.  Right in our own area, the cost of an office call can vary from about $50 for a basic brief visit to over $100, and that’s not for a specialist either.  Technically, the quality of care should be about the same, although the facilities may vary a lot in their attractiveness.  NEVER use a clinic that appears dirty or unclean, no matter how cheap it is.  Cleanliness is pretty cheap, so if the facility isn’t clean, there’s a serious problem, and it could lead to you leaving sicker than you were when you arrived.
  3. Shop around for prescription costs too.  Sometimes the same sliding scale clinics offer prescriptions, but often it’s not going to be cost effective to fill them there, especially if its one of the many prescriptions offered by Walgreens or Walmart for $4.  If you can’t pronounce the medication’s name (the usual case with these long generic names) or you can’t read the prescription (another common problem) then your only option is to physically take the prescription to the pharmacy and ask about the price.  NEVER fill one without asking–some prescriptions can cost hundreds of dollars to fill.  If it’s for a drug that is out of your price range, call the doctor and ask for a lower cost alternative.  There usually is one that is similar that is on the low cost list.  Another good idea is to take a copy of that list with you to the doctor, and make sure he prescribes from it.  This list includes most drug types, so if he can’t use one from that list, ask why.  Sometimes there is a reason for the more expensive drug besides it’s the “drug-of-the-week” from the pharmaceutical companies.  Ask the doctor if he has samples of the drug–he might, and just might not think of them.  Sometimes a doctor can give you enough to avoid a prescription altogether, and is willing to do that for cash strapped clients, especially if you have a long term relationship with that provider.
  4. There’s also always the barter option.  If you, or your partner, has a skill that the doctor or dentist might need…you might be able to come up with a plan that works for both.  It isn’t always some exotic skill either.  It might well be something as simple as yard maintenance, car repairs, or even house work.  If spending a summer mowing and weed whacking around his house or clinic (or whatever labor agreement) buys you those fillings or doctor visits you need, would it be worth it to you?

Part of downsizing is learning to be creative at solving life’s little problems, and preferably before they become life’s big problems.  It’s a lot easier to come up with creative solutions to fix that broken tooth or high blood pressure than it is to come up with ways to pay a hospital stay.  Being pro-active means that a little bit more of that cash that is often so important in our daily lives actually manages to stay in our pockets a little bit longer.

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A fine line

We have been in the travel trailer for fourteen months.  During that fourteen months, it’s been parked in the rear portion of a friend’s property.  We’re hooked into their power and get our water from their well, and pay them for the power and our internet.  I’ve discovered something though.

There’s a very fine line between footloose and fancy free…and homeless.

Technically, we’re homeless.  I suppose in a lot of ways, we’re beginning to feel that way too.  Jobs are scarce, inflation is striking, and perhaps our welcome is wearing thin.  We try to keep ourselves and the dogs out of everyone’s way.  We worry.  A lot.

How long before we are more than technically homeless?

We’re not the only ones who worry about that, and a lot of people hit the homeless status with much less transitional time.  As we approach the end of the year, thousands of people are reaching the end of their unemployment too.  What then?

Like a lot of people, just a little bit of “good luck” could make a world of difference.  Instead, we’ve had the reverse–I recently ended up with a hospital stay and without insurance, that is financially devastating.  Even the prescriptions upon my release were a huge drain on our budget, with one prescription costing more than a week’s worth of groceries.

Being truly ill is a huge obstacle to actual hope, and wallowing in hopelessness is not conducive towards improving our lot in life.  Then I kick myself in the seat of the pants.

What right do I have to feel sorry for ourselves and our situation?  We still have a “home” even if it is parked in somebody’s back yard.  We still have the basic conveniences of modern life.  We have food and drinking water, we have electricity and air conditioning.  I have the medicine I need to get well.  I have a partner who loves me very much, and whom I love very much.  We still have our pets.  We are still planning our wedding for the end of the month.  We have a lot of reasons to be hopeful, reasons that a lot of people can only wish for.

I just keep eyeing that fine line, all too close to our toes these days, and Fear starts whispering in my ear.  Now Fear may be a fine companion to help us be aware of what is going on around us, but sometimes…Fear becomes our own worst enemy too.  Stepping out into life without Fear’s whispers affecting us is the best step towards a bright future that I can think of.

There are rights, there are privileges, and there is plain foolishness.  Self pity is a case of foolishness.  So, I give myself a proper dressing down for being foolish, and prepare to continue my campaign to improve things in a proactive manner.

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