Why I didn’t want a big house

Posted in tiny living with tags , on 12/20/2014 by Fox

No architect troubled to design houses that suited people who were to live in them, because that would have meant building a whole range of different houses. It was far cheaper and, above all, timesaving to make them identical.
~Michael Ende

At 1,200 square feet, my house (one-half of a duplex) is not exactly a McMansion. But for a single person accustomed to half the square footage, this place is luxuriously large. A bit too luxuriously large, as a matter of fact.

It takes more energy to heat and cool this place, and with the thermostat upstairs, temperatures from one end of the house to the other vary widely. Luckily, I have a small space heater I can use when I’m feeling chilly, so the main thermostat remains at a fairly low temperature in the winter. In the summer, I just deal with it. I prefer lower temperatures when I sleep, so the upstairs thermostat (where the bedrooms are) works out better for most of the year.

The bigger problem is that there is a lot of room, especially the useless empty space of bedrooms and dining room. This duplex was designed in the late seventies, and whoever did the layout was on some serious drugs. Mine is the better half…my unfortunate neighbors ended up with an even worse layout in a bigger space. I’d hate to see what idiocy would have occurred with only half the square footage. Large bedrooms and dining rooms are, for me, wasted space. They’re single-purpose rooms that need to be only as large as will comfortably house the furniture.

And contrary to what everyone tells me, cleaning a bigger space has to be done just as often. But now there’s twice as much to clean. And I have discovered that the stairs are magnets for the cat hair dust bunnies that appear swiftly after a cleaning session.

However, I knew going into the nightmare that was home buying that I probably wouldn’t find a house that met my needs and was under a thousand square feet. It seems that 1200 is the smallest house considered “acceptable.” Those older homes that were once smaller had been added to or converted or needed far more work than I could afford to pump into them.

Someone visiting my house lamented the lack of a guest bathroom. I would have been more shocked if I wasn’t so accustomed to the way people seem to demand far more than they could ever need in a house. The fact that I have a dedicated guest bedroom should be enough, I think (especially since it wasn’t exactly a hot item on my “needs” list). If you want more than that, get a hotel room. A guest bathroom would be nice for fifteen minutes twice a year…meaning I’d spend far more time paying for it, cleaning it, and stocking it than I would receive benefit from having it. But few people take the time to examine the reality of their life in order to know what they need. I don’t really need a dining room. I’ve spent years without one, and I rarely use the one I have now. A large dining room and a guest bathroom make no sense to someone who does not entertain. I’m not going to pretend that I entertain, or that I ever will. It’s not my style, and I won’t apologize for it. I don’t need a reading nook in my bedroom either. I read at work or on the couch.

I would like more garage, though. I’m abnormally fond of the one I have, and the ability to both store my car and work on projects at the same time would be handy.

Humana/Cigna scams customers with “admin fees” and monthly payments

Posted in simple living with tags , , on 12/16/2014 by Fox

I think anyone who’s ever gone through adolescence and wanted something from their parents knows the basic tenets of a con.
~Matt Bomer

I’m not allowed to pay my health insurance in six-month chunks anymore. According to my insurer, this is because Obamacare. As best I can figure, the Act (you know which one) has gotten rid of the old year-long system of health insurance in favor of month-to-month coverage.

Unfortunately, this drives prices up because customers are theoretically less stable. You sign a year-long contract, they’ve got you for the year. This is why long-term leases on apartments, etc, are a thing. You commit yourself long-term, you get a discount. That’s not a thing with health insurance anymore.

Two, it means I can’t pay for my insurance the way I want to. I liked paying my insurance six months in advance. Pay it and forget it.

Three, it means I will pay an extra $100 a year in “admin fees.” Why? Because I get paper bills, and according to Humana/Cigna, paper bills cost $10 a month. I call bullshit.

Sure, they’ll wave that fee…if I get my bill charged to a credit card (NOPENOPENOPENOPENOPE) or allow them to draw the money straight out of my account.

Does this smell fishy to any of you?

It does to me, but maybe that’s because I spent an hour today on the phone trying to figure out what kind of sorcery happened to my insurance payments. Somehow their computer system randomly moved me from bi-annual payments to quarterly payments and then I was forced onto monthly payments. My only warning was a letter I got a year ago that stated I would be forced to move to monthly payments, no date given as to when, and no hint that some bizarre quarterly payment thing would happen.

This is why you shouldn’t do automatic withdrawals, people. If I hadn’t been getting paper statements, I would never have known that I was suddenly getting charged a monthly payment.

Humana/Cigna wants me to trust them enough to give them access to my bank account, but at the same time, they make themselves completely untrustworthy. The bills I get have no worthwhile information on them, the two employees I spoke with today could barely understand my question, nevermind sort out what the hell was going on. And they have the gall to request unfettered access to my checking account.

This reeks. It smells like a scam. Of course, my other options are to find a new provider (and have the same fucking problem) or drop health insurance and pay the fucking fine. The older I get the riskier going without insurance gets, and the fine is probably more than the fucking fees.

You can’t win this game. No one cares about you. The guy on the phone doesn’t care about you. The guy at the top doesn’t care about you. The guy in Washington doesn’t care about you. So just bend over. Here comes Humana/Cigna.

How to cook in a tiny kitchen

Posted in tiny living with tags on 12/07/2014 by Fox

Very good cooks who are employed as ‘chefs’ rarely refer to themselves as ‘chefs.’ They refer to themselves as ‘cooks.’
~Alton Brown

I’m still amazed by people who claim they need a big kitchen because they cook. These are the same people who eat fast food often and eat sandwiches for lunch while I eat my lunch of the week. They say they cook, but I don’t ever see evidence of it aside from some big meal made for a get-together.

I have a much larger kitchen that I used to. Much, much, much larger. My kitchen is regarded by my Big Kitchen friends as being “almost big enough.” I think it’s huge. I have a cabinet that holds spices all lined up in a little row because I have so much room. I have shit scattered everywhere. And this is after I ripped out the useless upper cabinets above the stove. And I’m still using a mini-fridge.

I had three dishes going this morning. Leftover turkey and broccoli bake, leftover turkey and assorted veggies quiche, and leftover leftover turkey and leftover vegetable stock. And I didn’t do dishes beforehand, so I was cooking around that.

The only way to cook in a tiny kitchen is to let go and cook. Don’t worry about making something extravagant. Make something to eat, instead. Just make food. I had the pie crust for the quiche and the Pyrex for the bake on the counter and as I shredded the turkey and chopped the vegetables they went into their respective dishes. The leftovers went into the stock pot, which was on the stove. I pulled stuff out of and put stuff back into the fridge as necessary. The scrap bag was in an unused corner. I don’t need to practice mise en pace, I don’t have the time, the dishes, or the fucks for that shit.

You learn to cook by cooking, and you learn to cook in a tiny kitchen by cooking in a tiny kitchen. You learn which counter you prep on, so you know which counter to keep clear. You learn which dishes you use and which you can get rid of. You learn where it would be best to keep what.

And as much as it runs counter to today’s Cooking as High Art culture, just make something to eat. That’s all it has to be. If it’s not that great, well, fix it, don’t make it again, or just live with it. I forgot to add salt, pepper, and basil to the quiche. Oops. I’ll just throw it on top when I go to eat it, big whoop. I don’t have cheesecloth for the broth. Oh, well, I’ll strain it as best I can and live with the results. It’s not like anything in there is going to hurt me. Oh, no, there is a bit of onion in my broth, whatever shall I do.

I’ve often said that there’s an interesting tell about people who don’t cook. They’re the ones who bitch the most about not having the right stuff or the big kitchen. My parents cook more than I do (for three adults and two children), in a smaller, crappier kitchen. They don’t fucking care, they just cook. They make do with what they have and they cook food that’s good, if not great.

In order to eat more veggies, you have to eat more veggies. In order to cook in a tiny kitchen, you have to cook in a tiny kitchen.

I bought local garbage bags

Posted in green living with tags , on 12/02/2014 by Fox

You can take the girl out of Texas but not the Texas out of the girl and ultimately not the girl out of Texas.
~Janine Turner

It seems the regional grocery chain HEB has obtained Go Texan certification for some of their products. I saw it on some tortilla chips, which was cool, and then I bought a box of garbage bags with the logo on it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that logo on anything that wasn’t edible in some way.

It was kind of surreal. We’re at a point in society where I can buy locally made garbage bags. Of course, HEB is the same company that put out the funny-because-it’s-true Texas Myths commercial. They seem to have the same sort of deranged pride in Texas that I myself suffer from. (The trash bags are “Texas Tough,” by the way.)

I started shopping at HEB because it wasn’t Wal-Mart. I continue because their store brand is excellent, and the employees seem well-treated and decently paid. The fact that said store brand appears to be sourced, when possible, from within the state is a huge plus to me.

It’s honestly unexpected. I’m sure the amount of automation in a garbage bag factory is high, and thus domestic production is affordable. But it’s still a little thrill to still see an occasional “Made in the USA” or Go Texan logo on a product…even if it’s followed by the dubious “from international parts.” And there are probably enough deranged, prideful Texans out there that gaining the Go Texan certification was a good move. Although who knows, the execs at HEB may just be pridefully deranged enough to do it just for the hell of it.

Micro-houses, sustainable urban development, and affordable housing

Posted in tiny living with tags , on 11/27/2014 by Fox

My office has a view of low-cost housing, old East German prefabricated apartment buildings. It isn’t an attractive view, but it’s very helpful, because it reminds me to ask myself, whenever there is a decision to be made, whether the people who live there can afford our decisions.
~Sigmar Gabriel

The tiny house movement has a large number of detractors. My answer to them is usually “Don’t live in a tiny house, then.” In this case, Kriston Capps is critical of the notion that tiny houses are more sustainable and/or financially more suitable. The description of a tiny house on a large plot of land as being a “fetish object” is itself missing the point. Tiny houses, if built correctly, require fewer resources, produce less waste, and require less energy to heat and cool. It doesn’t matter if the house sits on 500 square feet or 500 acres, the ecological cost of construction and upkeep isn’t significantly different.

Capps is spot-on with their criticism of tiny houses as the solution to urban housing. We already have relatively sustainable urban homes that allow for people to live both densely and comfortably…they’re called “apartments.” Unfortunately, new construction is limited to building high-end apartment buildings and complexes, letting the older ones naturally fall in price as they fall in desirability. This isn’t helpful when demand exceeds supply, but I can’t imagine someone building a new complex of affordable micro-apartments. Not because it isn’t possible, but simply because I’ve never seen anyone do anything remotely close. The closest new apartment construction comes to “affordable” is cramming multiple people in one unit and charging them separately.

On the other hand, tiny homes would be much more suitable for people who prefer the sprawl of the suburban lifestyle, and would allow for a greater density of single-family homes and thus cut down on both land use and distance needed to reach anywhere useful. Unfortunately, the suburban demographic is the one least likely to acknowledge the useless space and even more useless crap they’ve cluttered their lives with.

But I think what Capps really misses is that some of us, myself included, don’t want to live large. I was hoping to snag one of the older, 500-750 square foot two bedroom homes in town. Instead, the market pushed me into an over-large 1200 square foot two bedroom duplex. It doesn’t matter if I live in town or out of it, I don’t need 1200 square feet of living space, especially not when most of my previous 600 square foot apartment went unneeded. That’s not a “fetish,” that’s “living in a size-appropriate dwelling.”

But perhaps I should cut Capps some slack. They’re probably speaking only of those for whom the tiny house is a fashion statement or trend, to be loved for now and discarded later. So as to their title, I can only say that, yes, there are times when micro-housing misses the point.

Your stuff is worthless

Posted in simple living with tags , on 11/17/2014 by Fox

When you look at it that way, you can see how absurd it is that we individualize ourselves with our fences and hoarded possessions.
~Morrie Schwartz

Since my house has two bedrooms, my mother foisted on me my grandmother’s old bedroom set that she’d bought when she got married. It’s over sixty years old. It’s also (as far as I’m concerned) ugly. But it was free, and I wanted a bed for the guest bedroom.

Too bad my mother had hung on to the set like it was her own personal albatross and it has spent many years in garages and storage units. The wood has split in places, the veneer is ruined in others, and warping has rendered many of the drawers barely functional.

She told me she was tired of moving it, and when I no longer want it, that I should “sell it on Ebay.”

Except no one will buy it, because aside from being damaged, the set itself is not notable in any way and may fetch between $0-$100 a piece on Craigslist, including the bed. It’s worthless.

I’ve seen people hang on to things, giving them attention and value far beyond what anyone else would give them. They paid good money for it, once upon a time. Or it has sentimental value. Or it has some property that equates to value in their mind. But to everyone else, it’s barely worth picking up off the curb.

All the knick-knacks, souvenirs, photographs, jewelry, coveted bits of this and that. It’s all junk to someone else. Just so much useless garbage to be hauled off and rid of when you are no longer a part of this world.

In order to eat more veggies you have to eat more veggies

Posted in simple living with tags on 11/16/2014 by Fox

So when I do Chinese cooking, I mix everything together, then the kids have to eat their vegetables. They won’t have the patience to pick them out.
~Martin Yan

I was listening with some amusement this morning to an ad that said America’s weight problem wasn’t poor diet or lack of exercise, but instead hormones. Of course, the ad was full of it. America’s weight problem is poor diet and lack of exercise, with the occasional outlier who has hormone issues.

A little while later I noted with some more amusement that the stew I was cooking was 90% plant matter. In my usual cheap-ass manner, I’d purchased the smallest tray of stew meat I could find, then loaded up on the veggies, fruits, and fungi. I think the recipe I was “following” called for a can of peas, some baby carrots, and a potato to go with twice the meat I was using. I subtracted the peas, went for chopped whole carrots and more potato, and added onion, celery, jalapeno, mushrooms, bell pepper, and tomatoes. I didn’t measure, I just threw it in there until it looked right. Poke around enough and you might find a piece of meat.

There’s no magic bullet or hints and tricks to eating more vegetables. You just have to make a conscious effort to eat them. I’ve got some beloved recipes that go by the wayside because I can’t find a good way to incorporate veggies (I don’t do side dishes). Sure, chicken and dumplings would be wonderful comfort food in cold weather, but celery and onion alone do not a proper recipe make, and altering a beloved childhood recipe just isn’t an option.

This is where eating out hurts the most. Unless I opt for something vegetarian, I usually end up with a huge portion of meat and starch and not as many veggies as I’d like, if there are any at all. I do enjoy a good salad, though, and fortunately, it’s something I don’t often fix at home so opting for a salad while I’m out works well. But at home, I just have to be picky about what I cook, and remember that meat is just another ingredient, not the main dish.

And don’t joke around with me that if only we “encourage” kids to eat healthier that they’ll begin to ask for healthier foods. Ain’t gonna happen. Tell your religion to take a hike, because we’re animals, and animals like things with salt, fat, and sugar. Unfortunately, our bodies are not prepared to deal with a diet rich in these things, and so we get the so-called “first-world diseases.” Sure, with enough work and the right mindset you can train yourself to not regard bacon as something desirable (I prefer sausage myself, but I won’t turn down the bacon), but it’s an inherent part of our evolutionary history to crave salt, fat, and sugar, and those foods that contain them in abundance. That’s why most of us like fruits more than vegetables…the high sugar content.

So we have to bite the bullet and just do it. Make the choice and eat the vegetables, because nothing’s going to eat them for you, and nothing’s going to trick you into liking them more than bacon and pie.

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