formerly Diane's Addled Ramblings... the ramblings are still addled, just like before, and the URL is still the same...
it's just the title at the top of the page that's new

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Day Three of the LBTL Challenge...

Today was hard. Especially hard.

First, someone at work ate my banana.

I wanted to cry.

Seriously. The tears welled.

Then, I misjudged the size of my rice/bean serving, so I only had about 2/3 of my lunch. Minus the banana.

Then I remembered I had swim team registration and a meeting right after work. I couldn't even go home. And I couldn't buy something out. So I didn't get to eat dinner until 8:30. I had two servings of Ramen noodles. Because I was starving, that's why.

I think I may eat tomorrow. This has been an awful three days. The challenge has been incredibly hard and while I don't want to fail, I also believe it did - for me, anyway - what it was meant to do.

I don't think for a second that I understand what it means to be truly hungry... to have no money for food... to having nothing but the most meager sustenance, which doesn't fill me up or make me feel good or healthy. I did this for three days, knowing full well that it was going to end sooner rather than later. I have known all along that as soon as the challenge is complete, I can go back to eating healthy food and plenty of it.

So I don't really understand. I don't know.

And I hope I never, ever do.

But I have gained a sense of what it must be like. These past three days, I have felt panicked... desperate... exhausted... irritated... frustrated... angry...


And this feeling of deprivation is different than any I've felt before. In the past, when I was on a diet or when I cut out different sorts of food to be healthier, I was depriving myself. I had control over it. But in this case, the deprivation felt different... it felt imposed...

It took away my control.

And losing your control is scary. It's scarier than feeling hungry. It's scarier than not having enough money for food.

I think it must be what truly poor people feel -- out of control.

Yes, this has been horrible and the idea that 1.2 billion people live this way breaks my heart. I'll be looking into ways to help. A few years ago, I met a little old man on Christmas Eve (you can read about that encounter right here) and I wound up feeding him for a whole year, until he fell in his home and was removed by Social Services. I didn't have much then but he got a quarter of my grocery budget every week. It wasn't easy but it made me feel good, knowing I was helping someone who really needed it. It helped me, too, as things were hard then and I believe that focusing on someone else's problems helps you take your mind off your own.

So I'll be finding a way to help... a real, tangible way. If I can help just one person to feel less desperate... deprived... out of control... it won't be enough... but it will be something.

And something is better than nothing.


Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Day Two of the LBTL Challenge...

Today I ate a carrot I dropped on the floor. And accidentally stepped on.

I also ate half a banana, the cut end of which was all slimy and gross... the end which, 2 days ago, I would have sliced off and thrown away.

My beans and rice and tomatoes, which were OK-tasting yesterday, were bland, gritty, and not-at-all-yummy today. I expect that by tomorrow, I'll have to choke them down.

But I will choke them down. Because last night I went to bed hungry. This morning I woke up hungry. And I'm pretty sure I'll go to bed hungry tonight, since it's 8:30 and I'm hungry now.

Next week, I'll be making a big donation to one of our local food pantries.

I'm not sure what else I can do... but I'm going to start looking at ways I can help; ways I can do my part to combat the sort of poverty that keeps people from being able to afford healthy food. Enough healthy food.

We, as a society - a global society - spend so much. We waste so much. We buy and buy and buy... we consume everything... and what we don't consume, we throw away. We do it so much, so normally, that we don't even think about it.

There is enough food to feed everyone. There is. There is no reason people should have to go hungry... the kind of hungry that makes them eat food out of dumpsters or steal from stores.

No reason.

We have to figure out how to fix this.

We do.

But right now, I want a cup of tea. Hot tea with honey and cream. It would make me feel so much better... it would ease the hunger pangs a bit and it would do much to soothe my soul.

Just a cup of tea.

Everyone should be able to have a cup of tea if they want.

Shouldn't they?

Monday, May 5, 2014

Day One of the LBTL Challenge

Well, I've just had dinner, such that it was, and thus ended Day One of the Living Below the Line challenge. If you haven't read that post, it's right here.

My worry?

It's only 6pm... I have about five more hours before bedtime... and a kitchen full of food. Mind you, last week I would have scrounged the same cupboards, looking for something appetizing, likely not finding much... but tonight?

I would eat baking soda right out of the box at the back of the fridge.

I'm hungry.

And tired.

I feel like a slug. Of course, I've had no caffeine or sugar today, which is not at all a bad thing. But I've had little in the way of good healthy, energizing food, too. I realized that while being hungry is not necessarily new to me (hello, I've been on lots of diets in my lifetime), not being able to eat anything, including a piece of fruit or a vegetable, is. Also, when I'm on a diet and I want something to drink other than water, I could have tea (and hot tea always soothes and fills me).

Not so today.

I floated through the day today, trying to keep full with water. It helped a little. Then I thought about those people who live like this daily and I wondered how many of them don't even have access to clean drinking water. I wondered how they try to feel full when there is no food to be had.

It must be really and truly awful.

While I was making my Ramen noodles for dinner (I ate my two carrots while waiting for the noodle water to boil, as I didn't think I could wait), I read the back of the package. I was about to fill up on 2 servings of starchy noodles with virtually no nutritive value but, for the same basic calorie count, I could have had a serving of salmon or chicken breast, a small serving of potatoes, and a big serving of broccoli, meeting pretty much all of my dietary needs, filling me up, keeping me healthy.

But you can't get a serving of salmon, potatoes, and broccoli for $.25.

And that one meal?

Would have been about half my food budget for the week.

Something to think about.

To recap my day, my $1.50 fed me the following:

2 eggs, scrambled (with no oil or butter, as I couldn't afford that)
1/2 a small banana (and I can't tell you how much I wanted the other half)
1 1/2 cups brown rice, black beans, canned tomatoes
2 medium-sized carrots
1 package of Ramen noodles

Up until the noodles, it wasn't too bad health-wise (though missing an awful lot of the recommended daily allowance of fruit and veg).

Now, the words I'd use to sum up my day are as follows:


I suspect those words will be magnified in the next few hours. I suspect I'll go to bed hungry.

We'll see what living below the line brings tomorrow...

Sunday, May 4, 2014


So, I went shopping this weekend for the 'Living Below the Line' challenge (if you missed Friday's post, which explains the challenge, you can read it right here). Now, I don't like to shop. Not for anything, but especially not for groceries. It might be my least favorite chore. But I figured since I only had $7.50 to spend, it would go quickly.

I figured wrong.

I wound up going to four different stores to find the very best deals. When you have very limited resources, it's important to maximize them, right?

Then I realized that someone living on $1.50 per day probably doesn't have extra cash to put into the gas tank in order to drive around town, comparison shopping. Hell, that person probably doesn't have a car. But I thought about that after the 3rd store, so I finished up and came home with my haul.

It's... meager.

Note that every single thing I bought was on sale. Every single thing. And I used my discount cards at the stores to get the sales (because they are free to obtain).

Here's what I got...

A dozen eggs.................................. $1.49
3 small bananas............................... $ .48
1 bag of brown rice........................... $ .77
2 cans of black beans...................... $1.38
1 large can of tomatoes.................... $1.00
1 small bag of carrots....................... $ .77
4 packages of Ramen noodles .......... $1.00
1 small can of green beans................ $ .50

The total, with tax, was $7.57, but I found a quarter on the ground outside one of the grocery stores. I used it. It counts. Damn it.

My plan is to eat two eggs every morning. I eat breakfast regularly and I need protein, so hopefully they will hold me 'til lunch. Additionally, mid-mornings, I can eat half a banana... until Friday, when I get a whole one. Lunch all five days will be a rice/beans/tomato concoction. I make it sometimes just because I like it, so that should be OK. Plus, it should be filling with all the fiber and protein. I can also eat a carrot at lunch or save it until dinner and have two... along with a package of Ramen noodles. One can of green beans will have to stretch out for 4 days. On Friday night, I'll have to eat the last two eggs and the last carrot in the bag.

It might be OK, during the day, anyway. Night time will be hard, I think. I'll be hungry and I'll be at home, where there is food in the cupboards, so that will make it even more difficult. But I have to work and if I'm expected to be somewhat productive, I can't be miserably hungry. I might be anyway, though. I don't know how far that rice/bean/tomato mess is going to go...

We'll see.

The shopping trip was really quite interesting...

My perspective shifted almost immediately upon entering each store, knowing I had so little to spend. Prior to this situation, I would look at prices in a sort of perfunctory way, just so I'd have an idea of what I was spending. I might buy the store brand of something rather than a name brand if it was on sale, but if the store brand was out of stock, well, no big deal... name brand it is.

Not this time.

Things I would have normally thought were crazy cheap ($.77 for a bag of carrots?!) became 10% of my food budget. One store's sale price for beans -- $.74 a can -- didn't stand up to a competitor's, on sale for $.69 each. A $2.50 bag of potatoes? Too rich for my blood. Five bananas at $.49 a pound (far cheaper than the $.58/lb at the other stores) were simply too heavy... I had to cut back to three. Bread? Milk? Meat? Frozen vegetables? Fruit? Pfffftttt. Not a chance. Even tuna, at $.89 a can, was out of the question.

Every. Single. Penny. Counted.

It was so hard.

I felt... almost... desperate.

Now, when I've worked with a tight budget in the past, I have felt frustrated in the grocery store. I've felt discouraged. I've felt whiny and even angry. I've certainly felt sorry for myself.

But I have never felt desperate.

Yes, my perspective has certainly shifted.

Let's see what happens tomorrow...

Friday, May 2, 2014

The 'Living Below the Line' Challenge

When I started my job, I knew I'd be working with unemployed/underemployed people, but I didn't realize that in order to qualify for our workforce program, participants would have to fall under the poverty line, as established by the state. The application for the program requires much information and corresponding documentation, including income verification. It's a lengthy, arduous, frustrating process. But one of the first things I learned was that if the potential participant is receiving any sort of benefit from Social Services, he or she is automatically eligible. We don't need to determine financial eligibility in that case because the state has already done it for us.

Yay for the state!

Sort of.

Most of our participants are receiving food stamps. Note that most of them are only receiving food stamps and nothing else from Social Services (except, in some cases, Medicaid for the children in the family).

Many of them (especially the parents of my kids) are working.

But they still need food stamps.

To give you an idea of what that means, the poverty line in Virginia is, for a single person, approximately $11,000 per year.

$11,000. So in order to be considered as living under the poverty line, an individual would have to take home approximately $175 per week, or $700 per month.

If an individual makes more than that, they are, according to the Commonwealth of Virginia, not living in poverty.

Yay for them, right?

Yeah. You don't want to know what the average rent is in Pigsknuckle.

A family of three would have to be living on less than $365 per week, take home, to be eligible.

That line? It's so far down, you could trip over it.

But that's the way it is. Those are the rules. That's what the state says. That's what we go by. And when I see the amounts my families get in food stamps, I wonder how on earth they're managing. I know what I spend at the grocery store for just Ryan and me. I don't buy much junk and I rarely buy meat, but I spend a lot more than a family of four gets in food stamps. And we eat out sometimes, too. I see these people barely scraping by, wanting to do better, stuck where they are for various reasons, unable to really and truly get a leg up, and my heart breaks for them.

I've been pretty broke a few times in my life... and I've spent many, many other times just living paycheck to paycheck. But I've never considered myself truly poor. I've never been eligible for any sort of assistance (at least I don't think I have) and, honestly, I wouldn't have sought it out if I had, as that's how I was raised. I don't ask for help easily. At. All. I've worked with grocery budgets so tight they squeaked, but there was always money for food... not fun food, but sustaining, reasonably healthy food -- for me, for my daughter, and even for my dog.

And I've always been grateful for that. And since starting this job, I am even more grateful.

So when my wonderful bloggy-turned-FB-turned-real life friend, Ronda, decided to do this Living Below the Line challenge, I was intrigued.

The organization that came up with the challenge is called The Global Poverty Project. You can read about them and the challenge right here.

In a nutshell, they determined that 1.2 billion people in the world today live in extreme poverty, with less than $1.50 (US) to feed themselves per day. So they challenged us to do just that -- to live for 5 days, spending only $1.50 per day (per person in your household) on food and drink. That's $.50 per meal. That's $7.50 for the whole 5 days.

I spent more than that on lunch today.

I'm going to do it. I'm not going to include Ryan in it, as she's swimming and there is no way I can feed her enough calories to keep her healthy and energized for $.50 per meal. Plus, she looked terrified when I told her about it. No wonder. It's kind of scary. I've spent the last couple of days popping in and out of stores, pricing various items, to see what I can get for $7.50.

Not much.

I'm going to try to keep it as healthy as possible but I can tell you that it won't be easy. Healthy food is not cheap. Even cheap healthy food is not cheap. My goal is to stay as full as possible. I expect there will be a fair amount of rice and beans on the menu.

Here are my guidelines:

1) I can buy the whole 5 days' worth of groceries at once, but I can't spend more than the $7.50 in order to buy things in bulk and divide them by serving. I figure people living at this level of poverty don't ever have a month's worth of grocery money all at once. I suspect many don't have a week's worth either, but I'm making that concession.

2) I can't shop at places that require a membership (like Costco), as if I can't afford to eat, I can't afford a club membership.

3) I can't avail myself of any free food/drink at work, as if I can't afford to eat, it's unlikely I'd be working, especially at a job where free food is available.

4) I can't eat anything currently in the house. I have to start from scratch and only use the $7.50 for the 5 days.

5) If I eat or drink anything I didn't buy with my limited funds, I fail.

Honestly, I'm a bit nervous. I'm even a little bit afraid. I am certain I'm going to be hungry and that scares me. But I figure that's also a big part of the reason for the challenge... to let us see how it feels. And let's face it, I still won't really know, will I? Because I know that when I wake up on Saturday morning, starving, I can hoof it down to my favorite bagel shop and get a big bacon, egg, and cheese bagel and tea. And I know that if the hunger pangs are too much in the middle of the night, there is food in the cupboard that I can eat. So I won't really know.

I am expecting that it will affect my perspective. We'll see. And I'm going to blog about it each day, starting with Sunday, to tell you what I wound up buying. So check in if you'd like to know how it's going.

I'll warn you now that I might be cranky. Hangry, even. I apologize in advance for any snark or unpleasantness.

Stay tuned, my peeps...