31 December 2008

Christmas at our house

We had a lovely Christmas this year. Our apartment is so small that we don't have room for a Christmas tree this year, so we got some poster board and I outlined a tree, then the kids colored it in. We hung it on the wall and taped some ornaments to it and it is lovely. It comes down today and will be put away in case we need it another year. We hung ornaments from the ceiling and strung lights around the walls at the ceiling, so our living room looked quite festive. Cait is spending Christmas vacation with us this year, part of a new agreement that now eliminates our being on the road on Christmas Day every year for the 4-hour round trip between houses. This is the first time since Terry started working this job that I have had both my husband and my daughter home on Christmas morning. He works on Christmas on odd-numbered years and doesn't get home until after 2, and on those years Cait would spend Christmas morning with us, but go back to her dad's at noon. So this was an exciting year for me.

We even invited my mother over to spend the night Christmas Eve so she could be there first thing in the morning when the kids wanted to open their presents. By the time dinner at 2 rolled around, though, I think we all had had enough of each other. She left shortly after dinner to go visit my brother in Concord, and Terry and I heaved a sigh of relief. But the kids enjoyed her being there the whole time.

We tried to keep Christmas simpler this year. I hand knit something for everyone, and we got them socks and underwear (which they desperately needed), Terry got them each a DVD, and in their stockings were a couple of candy canes, a new cocoa mug with some cocoa mix and a few hair ties. We also got each child one specific present: Cait got needle nose pliers for making jewelry, Moira got a sketchbook that she has been asking for for weeks, Lauren got a stuffed animal since we accidentally culled too many of their dolls, Rowan got a Magna-Doodle since she is always drawing and uses far more paper than I am comfortable with, and Eirik got a rocking horse. My mom gave them each an article of clothing and a book or two. Cait also made presents for everyone, too. Overall, they got what they needed and something they wanted. Next year, though, I want to spread the purchase of such items out over a longer period of time. Did you know that socks and underwear for 5 kids costs $72! One package of each for each one. Egads!

We didn't overdo on confections, primarily due to our new diet, but I am making some decadent chocolate and coconut bars for tonight as New Year's Eve. We also get to get some of our baking fix by hosting our church's coffee hour this Sunday. Overall, it was a good holiday.

Making progress

I see it has been over two weeks since I last posted anything here. Terry has an appointment for Monday for a physical and to go over the results of lab work he had done this past Monday. We have done a lot of reading about diabetes and insulin and blood sugar and are adjusting to a new diet. After doing some quick caluclations, we realized that he was consuming somewhere around 1000g carbs each day, 750 from soda alone. The USDA recommends 300g per day, and I know that is way higher than it needs to be. He is reading The Schwarzbein Principle right now, and we have read Eat Fat, Lose Fat and some articles by Dr. Mercola and Dr. Rosedale. We are awaiting Life Without Bread through interlibrary loan so it is next on the list. After just this short amount of time with no soda and cutting way back on carbs, his knee has mostly stopped bothering him and he isn't so grumpy. Other symptoms have dramatically reduced as well. I have high hopes. We do however have to buy him some new clothes. These last several months he has lost so much weight that his jeans are now 4" to big in the waist and his shirts are hanging on him. He just got these clothes last February and they fit him perfectly then. So now we just wait for his doctor visit and he wants to get a glucometer.

12 December 2008

Health care and poverty

I find that I have to post an update to my last post, to clarify our situation. I have gotten three responses so far, one was an offer of financial help to get treatment, one was encouragement to find a way to get help, and the third sounded like a scolding for not valuing my husband's life enough.

After receiving the offer of a check from my friend in Europe, I was in tears from her generosity. I started calling around to find out what the total cost would be. When I called the local clinic/hospital's billing office for prices, she told me that they have multiple programs to help those without insurance. The first is a 30% uninsured discount. Secondly, they will work with you to come up with an affordable 0% interest payment plan. Thirdly, she sent me paperwork for up to a 100% income-based discount. She told me there was no need to let finances get in the way of getting help.

But I still have another reason for hesitating to go to doctors. I don't trust them as far as I can throw them. The medical system in the United States is so broken due to corruption. I truly believe that the privatization of health care should be considered a crime against humanity. No one should ever be forced to choose between going to the doctor for a major illness like this and getting warm boots and snow pants for their children for the winter. Or, if it is expensive enough, food to feed their kids. The question is not, "How much is your husband's life worth?", but, "Why is anyone allowed to put a price on human life like insurance companies and drug companies are?"

The medical system has fought against diabetes since the dawn of written history. Anthropologists use diabetes as a marker of civilization. It should therefore be obvious that going to the doctor will not take care of the diabetes. So why go to the doctor then? I do not believe in going to the doctor for treatment of disease. Doctors cannot cure. Doctors can diagnose and can monitor diseases, but they cannot cure them. Healing is done by the body, not by drugs. The only way to truly cure any disease is through proper nutrition (which varies widely depending on whom you talk to) and a careful, deliberate lifestyle. I am willing to go to the doctor for injuries, diagnoses and monitoring, but I will not take their drugs.

Back to the comment though about valuing my husband's life. I have pretty much come to the conclusion that most people do not truly understand what it is like to live in poverty. To ever wonder where they will get groceries to feed their children next week. To be homeless. Remarkably, I was homeless when I first met the commenter nearly 20 years ago. Perhaps he didn't realize I was homeless. Most people have never worried about not having enough money for gas to visit their little girl who lives with her father nearly 100 miles away. These aren't the worries of the average US citizen. But we live these questions a few times a year every year. It is no fun having to call up your daughter to say, "I'm sorry, honey, but I can't come get you this weekend because we have to replace the tires on the car and then I won't be able to get gas, and I don't want us stuck on the side of the road when we run out."

Poverty is alive and well in the United States but most are blind to it. Poverty is what makes us have to choose whether or not we can afford to go to the hospital for a diagnosis of a potentially-fatal disease. It isn't free will, it isn't apathy, it isn't that I don't love my husband with every ounce of my being and don't know how I could live without him. It is that it is a long and complicated and therefore expensive process, one that could very well require surgery (for ancient knee injuries that make it impossible for him to do much physical activity), and that means time lost from work, which means reduced income, which could mean that we have to ask those hard questions again. Doctor or food? What kind of a choice is that? One driven by poverty.

So why don't I get a job? Again, this is a complicated question. At first blush it would seem the answer. First, we have several small children. Daycare costs alone for 4 children, 2 not yet old enough for school, would completely consume all of my potential income and more. A friend and I recently discussed how it might be possible for his wife to stay home with their baby. His baby is about 6 months old or so and he told me that daycare for her is $500 per month. That is one child. Now multiply that by 3 (full time for the two younger, part time for the two older) and that equals $1500 per month. That is more than I can hope to bring home in a paycheck, and is only a little less than my husband brings home. Sure, we could apply for state-funded child care, but that would be an extra $1500 or so burden on the state. Currently, we receive almost $600 in state aid as food stamps. Do you, the taxpayer, really want to replace that with $1500 that the state can't afford since it can't balance its budget?

Secondly, my child support payment would go from $50 per month to about 25% of my take home pay. When I was working full time (which was until 5 years ago) I paid nearly $100 per week in child support. So that brings the cost of my working up to about $1900 per month. Still can't afford it.

Thirdly, when I was working full time, our family life suffered terribly. The children were always cranky about having to go to a sitter, I was angry at society for not paying my husband a living wage and therefore requiring me to work when I wanted nothing more than to stay home with my children and be a mother. To keep the daycare costs down (though not completely eliminated) my husband and I worked separate shifts. That is hell on a marriage. We nearly got divorced. So quality of life is another cost of working away from home, though one that defies a price tag.

We have a plan of action now, one that we worked out after the encouragement from my friends cleared my head so I could think more strategically. I am not letting him go without a fight. Never doubt that.

04 December 2008


After observing my husband's health for some time now, I have come to the conclusion that he has possibly full-blown diabetes. The trouble is that we can't afford the $200/month or more that health insurance would cost us. Why so high? Well, first, he works in the medical industry (a nursing home) which automatically puts his rate very high. Second, he opted out of all benefits in exchange for a 10% higher hourly wage; they call this modified compensation or mod comp. He is still eligible for some benefits and still keep his mod comp we have discovered, so starting in January we will get dental insurance for the two of us as well as eye coverage. The kids are already covered through Healthy Kids Gold, the state's low-income insurance plan for children only. Neither of us has had a dental checkup in over 5 years, when I left my job and we lost insurance through my employer. My husband is almost ready for reading glasses and I get headaches when I drive at night from what my mom says is astigmatism. I can't read road signs because they are so bright at night with the reflective paint that they smear all around and give me headaches. And my headaches hit not with pain, but sleepiness. For a long time I would routinely fall asleep behind the wheel after dark. When I had to be at work at 6 am in the middle of winter, I would allow myself an extra half hour of commute time so I could pull over and take a nap.

Anyway, I digress. My husband's health has gotten to the point that last night I started googling the major issues he has and each one came back as a complication of diabetes. These last few months he has gotten serious about weight loss. To give an idea of the scope of what he is struggling with, my husband is 6'1" and weighed 500 pounds this past summer. That was his peak. He began drinking a smoothie containing coconut oil most mornings before going to work and with that simple addition alone has lost just over 70 pounds so far. That was without any other change in his diet and no increased exercise because his knees hurt him so badly that he cannot do anything more than walk, and unless it is an emergency, our two-year-old son walks faster than he does.

After a huge argument we had recently he has given up soda. He is addicted to it and was drinking an average of about three 2-liter bottles each day. I tried to get him to quit by pointing out the financial burden of $100 per month for his soda habit - money that we could be using to build up our food reserves or towards a down payment for some land. I tried pointing out the health effects of soda, both regular and diet, but he just chose the lesser of two evils - HCFS over aspartame. I tried complaining about the amount of trash it generated, so he started bagging up the bottles to take to his friend who turns them in for the bottle deposits. Finally I had to tell him that he had to choose between the soda and me. It wasn't pretty. I told him I cannot watch him die slowly by his own hand. He snapped back that you can die just by walking down the street, and I said that yes, that is possible, but at least then you are living each day instead of dying each day. He then stomped downstairs and poured the bottle of Mountain Dew he had just bought and poured it down the tub and hoped I was happy. It wasn't until my dear Jenny pointed out that he was exhibiting classic addiction behavior that I had the courage to fight with him like this.

I am very proud of my husband for giving up soda. He has tried many times before and failed. It has been about three weeks now, I think. He has gotten some organic soda, but they are $4 for 6 cans, so he gets one or two a week. I can accept that. I am hoping that this will set him more firmly on the road to good health.

Now I now must find a way to feed him. We believe strongly in local eating as much as possible, and we also believe strongly in a diet rich with animal products as promoted by the Weston A. Price Foundation. They recommend a low carbohydrate diet (60-70 grams per day) for those with diabetes in order to help bring the pancreas back to health and promote weight loss. Sounds great. But that means that he can't eat all the wheat, rice, potatoes and carrots that I have stored for our winter reserves. Mind you, I don't have a lot stored, as I have been slowly building my reserves and didn't start until just a few months ago, but we have enough to feed us (somewhat monotonously perhaps) for a couple of weeks as long as we still have access to fresh milk and eggs in the case of an emergency. We buy our milk locally and they also sell eggs, so I have no fear of losing our supply of those. I far more fear the supermarket shelves running empty in the next few months as lack of credit prevents supermarkets from making their purchases and prevents food from getting shipped.

But how do I feed my husband now? The local winter foods here are beans, starchy vegetables and grains, with some salad greens if they are grown with season extension techniques. I can't imagine beef stew without carrots and potatoes, chili without rice, casseroles without starches. Whoever heard of a casserole that didn't have pasta, potatoes, or some kind of wheat-based crust? I have to completely re-examine all my options.

02 December 2008

Christmas trees

My mother remarked that it has been a while since I last posted, and I suppose she is right. Right now I am crazy knitting, trying to finish the last of my Christmas presents before, well, it was supposed to be before Dec. 1, but that has come and gone because I was playing World of Warcraft too much. So now I am hoping to be done by the 15th or 20th. I just don’t want to be knitting on Christmas Eve. I have also been busy house hunting since we would like to be able to move right after Christmas. Finding 4-bedroom houses for rent is not easy.

I thought today I would talk about Christmas trees. A week or so ago, I was driving with the kids downtown and the fire department was putting lights on the big tree in the square. Rowan remarked that it was the same tree they decorated last year. I agreed and said that was the best thing to do. Which got me thinking about the tradition of Christmas trees.

I hate fake Christmas trees. I deplore them. They don’t smell good, they are a pain to put together, and I consider them a waste of resources. But a real Christmas tree has been cut down at a time in history when we need all the living trees we can get. No, I am not naïve enough to think that it contributes to deforestation, because I have been to a Christmas tree farm and cut my own before. But how good is it for the soil to keep replanting Christmas trees each year? Our soil is depleting at a terrible rate and we need to build it up, not strip it further. I have done no research on the soil necessities of Christmas trees, so I don’t know exactly what the burden of a Christmas tree farm is. But I do know that we have no way to make use of the tree after Christmas. We have no woodstove in which to burn it for heat, we have no compost pile in which to rot it for soil. The only thing we can do in our city apartment is to take it to the dump. They will probably burn it there, but that fire doesn’t benefit anyone by keeping them warm. It only makes room for more brush.

This year we have talked with the kids and decided to forgo a Christmas tree this year. We will hang the lights around the rooms downstairs and hang the ornaments from the ceiling where toddlers and kitties can’t reach them. It helps when proposing such a thing to one’s children to point out that Laura and Mary Ingalls didn’t even see a Christmas tree until they were almost teenagers and they never had one in their house. The children wanted to know where Santa would leave the presents and so that is one thing we are still working on. Laura and Mary got their presents in their stockings. That is an option if we can find a place to actually hang their stockings. We usually leave them on the ends of their beds since we have no mantle. I am not leaving all the kids’ presents on their beds for them to open before we adults even wake up. We will figure something out in the next three weeks.

Yikes! Only three weeks? I have to go back to my knitting. I still have a pair of socks to make. I will try to post again soon.