Monday, July 30, 2012

Two Steps Behind


Oooh, I am just not doing well on keeping up on the posts I'm supposed to be writing.  I have a number of things to write about; I guess I'm just not entirely enthused about it all though.  Well, I mean, I am enthused about what's going on, just not the writing thereof!  I don't know, I guess it's just a combination of being very busy and feeling like no one is particularly interested or paying attention.  Now, before anybody jumps on me!!!...  I know that there are a number of you that do pay close attention and are interested.  I'm just saying how I'm feeling.  Computers are a great way to feel connected to others at times and yet, at other times seem to emphasize just how alone we are.  The conundrum for me is that computers are probably my best bet for interacting with people because I can edit myself.  Not to mean that I'm hiding anything really; I think most of you can agree I'm pretty honest on this blog, but that in person I am just not a...well, likable person.  I told Jack the other day that my work fellers are the only group I have truly ever fitted in with and that is true.  You could be rough or coarse or state whatever opinion you wanted with them and they really didn't care.  "Course, they might call you a dumbass but they still liked you!  I miss them.  Of course, I have Jack now and am thankful for that.  And I also know that having him around is one reason I don't write as much as I used to.  Having him to talk to or do things with does take up more of my time.

Then again, maybe it's just about needing some time to chill out and not think.  As you can see from the photo above, the garden is doing very well this year.  I know some parts are really getting smacked by drought this year but we have done very well.  We have only had to water the garden a few times so far.  So, I've been canning, drying, pickling and cooking every spare moment at times and in between painting the house, making pottery, tending chickens and doing regular house chores.  Crap!! no wonder I haven't felt like thinking enough to write an article!!  Ha!!
 I believe it was last Friday that we had an enormous and severe thunderstorm come up after lunch.  I was taking a short nap but woke to the sound of thunder and hail on the windows.  That is NOT what you want to hear when you have a garden full of stuff.  It was a couple of hours before we could really go out and see how much damage there was but in the end we lucked out.  Thankfully, the hail was not very large and didn't last long.  Some of the green beans were kinda beat up, a few broke limbs on the tomato plants and it blew over my cucumber trellis but other than that we did okay.  So, it all goes on.  The peas and corn have about pooped out but now the tomatoes and figs are cranking up.  I also need to get my seeds started for the fall garden.  Dang, there are just not enough hours in the day.  But I do enjoy it really.  It is very satisfying, in a number of ways, to know that we are able to grow these things and provide so much for ourselves without having to depend on the commercial food structure/ depletion cycle.  It is a very real thing.

So, I have a number of great new recipes and such to share and I have not forgotten about the Frugal series I was doing.  I'll be back!!
Hey, one question: is anybody having trouble reading these post because the type seems too small??  For some reason it looks a little small to me but I don't think I've changed anything. ???

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Outside The Box


Since some of you seemed to like the tile thing I thought I'd show ya'll how easy it is to do.  Of course, you have to have a kiln to fire them but the process of the tiles is fairly simple and you don't really need any fancy equipment.  I had taken these pictures a while back and had kinda forgotten about them but luckily didn't delete any.
So, first you make your original design and getting it all perfect in every way.  This tile may look a little out of square but I got it straightened up before going further.  Keep in mind that the clay will shrink considerably by the time it makes it through the final firing.  Most clays shrink around 10%.


I got Jack to throw together this simple box; it's held together with screws because you are going to have to take it apart later.  I sat it on a good flat board and sealed the inside cracks, where it sits on the board, with clay.  I then placed the tile in the box, centering it best I could.  You can kinda wet the back of the tile also, to kinda make it stick to the board.


 I then mixed the plaster that will make the mold.  Plaster hardens through a chemical reaction so when it starts to get warm you know it's about time to pour it.  You must mix plaster with your hand pretty much, so it's easy to tell it's getting warm and getting thicker.  As it starts to thicken slightly just pour over the tile.  You want the plaster to cover the tile by about one inch.  Now, just let it set.  This can take a couple of hours or so.


Now, unscrew the corners on opposite sides and pop the mold out!  You can spray the wood mold with cooking spray or such to facilitate it letting go of the plaster but I didn't have a problem with that.


Then, just pick the clay out of the mold making sure not to jab or break the plaster.  If you can get one edge coming up the tile should just pull on out but you may have to pick parts here and there.  Again, you can spray the tile and everything with cooking spray to make removal easier.


Of course, the original tile is destroyed but now you have a easy way to make bunches of them!!  So, just clean the mold up, straightening the edges etc.  You obviously can't have any undercuts or the tile won't come out!  Plaster holds a lot of water, even after it has set, so you must dry the mold in the oven for a couple of hours or so.  I put mine in my little toaster oven on about 150-200 degrees for a couple or 3 hours.  When it has dried sufficiently it will fell much lighter and well...dry.  Now you can cram clay back in the mold and, in about an hour or so, the dry plaster will suck enough moisture out of the tile to cause it to release on it's own.  Just tap the mold on a table and the tile will pop out!  Repeat as often as you like!  After a good many tiles the mold will begin to loose it's fine details, so if you wanted to make hundreds of tiles it would be best to make several molds.
I dry the tiles on a wire shelf, turning them often to help keep them from warping.  Then just fire like any other pottery.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Loose Ends


We interrupt this regularly scheduled financial posting to show something actually being accomplished on the completion of the house!!!  Yay!!  I thought I had shown this picture in the last post but I had not.  These are the tiles I have been making to cover and protect the ends of the exposed rafter tails on the south side.


And I installed a number of them today!!  Now, some may say, that's about as worthless as teats on a boar-hog but you know what?  I like 'em.  And that's all that matters.  It actually looks better in person because the tiles line up with the dark underside of the roof ridges above them and it creates a nice rhythm.  They all fit pretty well too.  Accounting for how much clay is going to ultimately shrink can sometimes be a pain but I've about got it down.  The ends of the rafters had been sealed well and then I applied a mastic over the whole end and screwed the tile to it.  The screws will hold until the mastic sets.  This should keep the tails from absorbing much moisture through the cut ends and protect the ends from the harshness of the sun, since these are on the south side.  I did miscount somehow and lack 4 to complete the clerestory rafters.  That is easily remedied and will just have to fire one more time to get them done.  So, as soon as these are done I will be completely through with the upper clerestory and can take down all the ladders and pick boards.  It's waaay overdue.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Simple Sunday


Since I haven't posted anything lately about what has actually been going on around here, I thought I'd put up a number of photos that I have taken recently.  The mutt chicks and mamas are doing well and everybody is all still with us.  We did have a close call back about a week ago when either a dog or coyote came into the yard during a rain storm.  Jack ran out and scared it off but we couldn't find 3 of the mutts and one of our hens for about a half an hour.  We looked and looked and had about given up hope but they all were apparently hiding in amongst the lawnmowers and such and came out after they felt everything was okay.  I'm glad they have such hiding instincts.  I like also that the mamas stick together as a group.  I was afraid each mama would try to go a separate way and the chicks wouldn't know who to go with but they stick together as their own little herd. 


The turban lily actually put out 2 blooms this year!!  Yay!  I have been very vigilant to keep Jack away from it.  He means very well but can sometimes destroy a plant or tree without even knowing what he has done.  I actually found two more of these plants down the valley a bit back in the spring but when I checked on them later the deer had eaten them.  Maybe next spring I can transplant them up near this one and keep the deer away.


The pure bred chicks are doing very well; growing like weeds!  They are constantly amusing.  On the far left is the Brown Leghorn, in the middle is the Partridge Rock and on the right is the Speckled Sussex.  The Sussex are very sweet but they Leghorn are extremely flighty and never get near you.


This little Partridge Rock is the funniest looking little thing!  It looks like she is wearing bloomers!  And none of them have tail feathers still!  I guess they grow some eventually.


This has been a great year for the garden even though some stuff was a little slow to get started.  I hate to say anything, considering the drought in some areas, but we have had plenty of rain this year.  The corn did not produce as big of ears as last year, so we haven't had much on the cob, but I did manage to cut a good bit off the cobs and freeze for creamed corn.  I've also had virtually no problem with squash bugs, potato beetles or even tomato hormworms; knock on wood.  I think the birds and dragonflies have been doing a superb job of patrolling things this year.


Now, my rhubarb has all bitten the dust, even the one designed to grow here.  I guess they just couldn't take the heat.  I may try again next year with one planted in complete shade.  The asparagus is doing excellent though.  At least in my opinion.  I guess this is good!  I've never seen it grow before so I'm not sure.  I can't wait until next spring when I get to cut just a little!
So, that's the update around here.  Still canning an drying and such.  I have a couple of recipes I want to put up for you soon too.  I hope everyone is having a good weekend too.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Maximum Consumption




I swear!!!  that's why I was gone so long this time!!  But I fought my way out of their clutches and got back here as soon as possible!!  Really....!
LOL!  Anyway, I thought that was the funniest picture but apparently my humor runs way different than most people.  Well, humor, interests, brain patterns...hhhmmmm...my whole being.....well, anyway!!! back to the subject at hand!



So, we did grocery shopping last time and this post will cover other means of food production and saving. Of course, you all know, one of the main things is that I grow as much as I can of what we eat and we preserve as much of that as we can in order to go through the winter without having to buy many veggies and fruits.  Now, I realize that both the growing and preserving takes space and many people don't have much space but I believe you can do quite a lot even with limited area.  A friend of mine swears by the Square Foot gardening method and I would recommend checking out some books on that if you are interested.  I have seen some people do some amazing things just growing veggies in buckets on fire escapes.  You know, it's all what you are willing to do.  Even if you can only grow herbs on your windows sills, that's something.  If you have even a small yard you can grow many things, even mixing some veggies in the flower beds and such so it can be attractive.  I'm fortunate to live where no one can even see my house so I can do as I please.
As far as the garden itself goes, I invest in as many perennial veggies and fruits as I can.  Things that you plant once (and pay for once) and they bear for years.  This was a major reason we started the asparagus bed this year and I have been trying to plant a number of fruit trees or shrubs and get them established.  I add to my herb collection whenever I can and most of these are perennial so once they are established they will come back and you don't have to sow them every year.  Store bought seasonings are fairly pricey these days (at least the good ones) and just growing that can save some decent money.  I save seeds and start my own seedlings and will be doing this even more because I noticed seed prices, for a few things I did buy, were astronomical this year.  I also don't grow anything that we don't absolutely love.  I know some people will grow some stuff just because it's super early or grows fast but to me that's a waste of time, effort and space if I don't much like to eat it.  Having chickens has greatly reduced our need to purchase fertilizers or such to build up this soil.  In fact, between the chicken poo and composting I don't buy any amendments unless they are on a super sale; like that fish emulsion we got for $1 a bottle.  All of our kitchen wastes either go for the chickens to eat or go in the compost pile, so that either saves money on chicken feed or soil feed, so to speak.  My fruit trees are not really producing yet, except for the figs!, so right now we just buy locally.  It's not always cheap exactly but it is better than store bought in price and quality.  Plus, you're supporting local people.  I've said this before, so I guess I'm beating a dead horse, but growing at least part of your own food saves so much in so many ways, I don't see why more people don't do it.  Well, actually I do.  It's hard work and it's usually dirty.
So, as far as preserving the food, the best way is a way in which no further costs are incurred after the initial preservation.  Such as drying or canning as opposed to freezing.  Yes, I do freeze a number of things now because I don't have a pressure canner but I am going to try to remedy that.  I do can what I can now. ??? Got that?  LOL!  Jams, salsas, pickles, preserves, tomatoes, etc. require only a boiling water bath to seal and that is pretty easy.  Every year I try to put up more and more this way and I'm trying to dry more stuff too.  There is an initial start-up cost to canning, unless someone donates all their supplies to you, but the costs work themselves out quickly.  Since my mother and grandmother always canned I have saved a good deal of money on supplies by just using some of their old stuff.  Glass jars never go bad unless they get chipped or cracked and I enjoy using ones I know my Mama used.  You can sometimes find canning jars and other supplies in thrift stores or yard sales and I am always on the look out for such.  I also found out this year that many "dollar stores", as we call them, will have canning lids, pectin and such for drastically lower prices than Wal-Mart or other supposedly cheap stores.  I am going to invest I some of the reusable canning lids too.  They are initially more expensive but can but used over and over and over.  This saves money and resources.  In my experience, home canned products can range anywhere from a few cents per pint, if you grow or get the food free, to $1-2 per pint if you have to buy the food.  Either way it is a savings and a much better product than store bought and almost a zero-mile food.  Water bath canning is extremely easy too, so don't let it intimidate you.  I started with pickles and went from there.  I also usually do all the water bath part on an outside burner so it doesn't heat up the house and cause me to spend more trying to get it cooled back off inside! 
Drying food is super easy and can be done with an electric dryer or one of many types of solar dryers that can be easily built.  You can even dry food on the dash of your vehicle on a hot day!  I either store my dried foods in glass jars or in those vacuum sealed bags.  My Mama gave me her latest copy of Ball's Blue Book for preserving food and I highly recommend it.  It covers everything from canning to freezing and dehydration.  Of course, there are tons of great books on the subject nowadays so there are plenty to choose from if you want one even more extensive.
Meat is another thing you can produce at home at a great savings if you have the land and are zoned for it.  I would like to raise our own pork one day in addition to the chickens we have now.  Adequate pasture is essential though because if you have to buy too much feed to keep the animal up then your costs can skyrocket.  I don't know that chickens are cost effective just for their eggs, unless you can sell some, but I just enjoy having them so much I don't mind and they are hugely better than store bought eggs.  We do buy a half or quarter of a beef once a year from a local farmer and this is always a savings over store bought.  I have signed up for another this fall and, considering what they are predicting beef prices to be because of the corn harvest, this may end up being a tremendous saving this year.  Store bought conventional beef here runs around $10-11/ lb. now; with this drought in corn producing states they expect it to go even higher.  I pay around $5-6/ lb. for pasture raised local beef when I buy a half or so.  It is initially a large chunk to put out but it's paid for and can't go up later in addition to being cheaper to begin with.  I know a lot of people squeal over the cost of such things but you have to look at the big picture and realize a lot of people blow that much money or more, per year, on crap like TV or Starbucks coffee. 
I will say one other thing about storing/ preserving food:  Only put up what you would reasonably use in a year or so.  I know so many people that seem to have developed an obsessive disorder on food, buying and canning so much food that it literally sits and rots on the shelves because there is no way it can be used up before it goes bad.  Or people that buy and freeze enough stuff to fill 2 full-size freezers and it sits in those freezers until it mummifies.  This is a horrifying waste of money in my opinion.  Waste of money on the food, the equipment to store it and the power to keep them running.  I have been trying to keep some detailed records of how much of each product I make each year to know if that was sufficient to last all year or did I run out or not use half of it and such.  I also write the date of canning on each jar lid, that way I know how long it is good for and that lid has been marked on, so once opened I know to not reuse it for canning.

So, I guess that is it for food, unless ya'll know of something I left out.  I think clothes was to be the next subject so I'll be back on that soon!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

One Shot Two Shot


Heyyyyyyyyyyyyyy!!  I got him!!  I was so excited!  I had just said in that last post that I wanted to get a shot at this dragonfly but it was about impossible, as they are kinda rare.  (edit: I think I actually said that on Facebook, not here) Well, this morning, as I was piddlin' in the garden, this one came along like the ol' spider and sat down beside me!  I didn't have my camera with me and thought there was no way he was going to wait around for me to go get it but I ran off anyway and retrieved it.  Not only did this guy, or girl, wait for me but sat on the flower patiently and let me take picture after picture.  As you can see, I got pretty close because my camera doesn't do very well using it's telephoto feature, but these are very clear.


In fact, it was such a bizarre coincidence, (said that before) that I briefly thought maybe the dragonfly was actually dead and just stuck to the flower!  But he turned his little head a couple times and flicked his wings to show me he was in fact, still amongst the living.  I took a number of photos and then thanked him for his time.

I am still intending to get back to the frugal posts I had been doing.  Just about the time I think maybe things are calming down a little something comes up again but maybe tonight I can do a little writing.  I was getting a little stressed about things yesterday so I got Jack to take me out last night, into Birmingham, and we enjoyed a nice dinner and just some mindless window shopping and such.
At any rate, I did want to write just a little bit of a disclaimer on those posts anyway.  I am fully aware that a lot of the methods I have used for financial freedom and just my life in general is not what most people would want or even be able to do.  Now, I know a lot of you agree with my methods but, keep in mind, ya'll are a very small percentage of a selection of people from literally all over the world.  I have been writing for 6 years and have, relatively, very few followers.  Now, that's not why I write; I'm just saying I know that a lot of what I have to say is not popular and I often have a brusque way of putting what I do have to say.  Don't really mean to but that's just the way it comes out and the medium of this cyber world is limiting as far as emotions go.  I am often joking about stuff or being very tongue in cheek and I don't think it shows sometimes.  So, I said all that to say, I'm not as hard-nosed as I may appear, at least not towards other people.  I do demand a fair amount from myself.  For all the years I have been building on my house I have had people ask me how I did all this.  Well, I just answer them truthfully but I have learned not to care if anybody takes my advice or even takes me seriously.  At first, I thought people asked because they wanted to try some of it themselves but then I realized most people won't.  They are just curious I guess or think I'm weird and people simply like to investigate curiosities.  It doesn't matter to me.  I've had friends say they didn't want me to see something they built or whatever because I might be offended that it wasn't built like I would think it should be.  I couldn't care less if people built their chicken coops upside down, if that's what they want.  I do hate to see people, especially friends, work so hard to do things and not start out on a good foundation or such because I know later it is going to be a problem for them.  Redoing projects is costly in many ways.  But, people have a right to do things their way. 

I realize most people want their Smartphones and I-Pads or whatever they are.  They want 300 TV channels and they want their dogs laying up on the couch with them watching the TV.  I couldn't give a shit.  If you have the money for all that, have at it.  And lots of people do.  I know some animals that are cleaner than a lot of kids!   I realize most women had rather let their husbands do the hard stuff or at least, the heavy lifting and I can see the benefit in that, really.  I just write here about what works for me.  A lot of the things I know now and write about, I know because I messed up so much in the past.  I would hope I could just share some of what I have learned to help somebody else. So, there it is; I got that off my chest!  I'll try to post the next segment about food soon.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Doctor, Doctor


Well, I'm a bit behind on posting, once again.  I have had several personal, family matters to tend to around here and just haven't accomplished much of anything this week.  My mind has just been too pre-occupied with other stuff to be able to put together a reasonable post on any financial matters.
Hopefully things are straightened out for now and I can get back to the subject we were talking about in a day or two.
Until then I threw together this little collage of my resident dragonflies, or snake doctors as old-timers used to call them.  I personally still like that name.  It seems every year I have one or two new varieties show up and I have been trying to photograph them all.  I have counted about 8 separate type but only photographed 7, I think.  I have no idea what their actual species names are so if you do feel free to let me know.  The one up top with it's butt in the air is the smallest, at about 1 1/2" long and the lower one on the post, with the spotted tail, is the largest I've seen, at about 4 1/2" long.  I love them all!

Of course you can click on the photo to enlarge it and get a much better look at them.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Bread And Butter


I think we have covered the subject of Shelter pretty well so I'll move on to Food.  There is quiet a lot of info in that subject too, so I think I will make this a 2-part post also; grocery shopping, etc. in the first part and gardening/ preserving in the second.  I know I have written on these subjects before but I'll try to make these a complete and concise summary of my methods.
Now, since we grow quite a lot, I really only have to buy staples like flour, oil, sugar and so on and some treats sometimes, like chocolate or avocados and such but I have a method for even this.  First off, I never have had much luck with the couponing craze.  I realized, after trying to sign up and explore all of that stuff, that I just didn't buy the majority of crap that they publish coupons for and it is an absolute waste of money to buy something, even at an exceptional deal, if you aren't going to eat it.  Most of the coupons are for pre-packaged convenience foods or at least pre-made foods and I just don't buy much like that, so I quit putting so much effort into that strategy and developed a different one.  Now, I do still keep and eye out for coupons, because I will occasionally see one that I can use, but I have found it more profitable to shop at a couple of stores that have a lot of "buy one, get one" sales.  These type sales are normally on staple type items like flour, cooking oil, juice and such so it works out pretty good for me.  Now, this method requires a little money up front.  Kinda like that old saying, "if you want to make money you have to spend money."  Well, if you want to save money you have to have a little money to get started.  If you can buy all of your staples in larger sizes or with BOGO sales it is infinitely cheaper per ounce than what you would pay for the smaller sizes.  Now, it costs a little more up front initially but the larger volumes obviously last longer and if I stock up while the sale is going I usually have enough to last until the next sale, where I stock up again.  Now, I don't buy 5 gallons of stuff at a time so don't have it in your head that I'm like one of those doomer preppers (of which there is nothing wrong , btw).  I'll buy, say, 15 lbs. of flour while it's on sale and put part of it in the freezer.  This usually last fine until the next sale, so for you with limited space, it's not like you have to have an underground bunker to store all this.  I might buy 4 or 5 bottles of the cooking oil I like when it is on sale etc.  My goal is to never pay retail for these items and I usually am able to do this.  Occasionally I get caught and have to go buy something at regular price but not often.  Now, this usually requires I go by the grocery store each week, even if I don't buy anything, and just check what they have on special.  This is  not an extra expense or hassle as I usually go into town once a week anyway to deliver pottery.  So, I just stop at a couple of places on the way home to check things out.  Many stores also put their weekly specials up on online, so you can check that even and know whether you want to stop or not.  Now, you have to be able to properly store your excess because if it spoils or bugs get in it, well, you've wasted your money.  Make sure you have ample freezer and cooler space before you start.  I have also gotten kind of creative with storage of veggies.  Potatoes, for example, can be stored in the cool darkness under a bed.  We did this when I was a kid.  Mama would spread a layer of newspaper out under her bed and we would lay the potatoes on that in a single layer and they keep great.  Winter squash does well too.

Secondly, I rarely buy pre-packaged food, as I stated just a bit ago.  I will buy a few packages of natural flavored rice IF they put it on sale.  These last a good while and add some variety to meals.  I sometimes buy crackers or maybe a brownie mix, on sale, but for the most part it is much cheaper to make your own whatever and really, it doesn't take that long to throw together some muffin or pancake batter.  I mean seriously, like 5 minutes or less.  I don't make bread as often as I would like but I am working on that and am making my own yogurt and most all pickled products now.  This kinda stuff is really easy once you try.  I actually let it intimidate me for a while but it's ridiculous to.  Another thing is all these little single serving packages for lunches; epic FAIL!!  If you figure it up those things add up to cost like 3 times what the same amount of product would if it all came in one bag.  Just buy a few reusable, small containers and dish out what you want for the day. 

Thirdly, I rarely buy disposable products of most any kind.  I mean, you are buying something that you are going use a little of and then throw away and then buy it again.  WTH???! Almost any disposable can be replaced with a permanent or semi-permanent equivalent.  I do buy freezer bags but I don't consider them disposable as most people do.  I may not use them to freeze in a second time but they can easily be washed and used as simply storage bags.  And as for germs, please; I've been doing this for years and never got botulism or whatever.  Wash them in hot soapy water and hang to dry.  I have replaced a good deal of my plastic storage stuff with glass also.  Buy it once, lasts forever.

And my last point, I always buy the store brand if it is of a decent quality.  I know some food store brands are just not that good, so that's sort of a personal choice, and there are some I won't buy because they suck; I'll buy the more expensive name brand.  But, most things like pain relievers, stomach remedies etc., allergy meds are perfectly fine in their store brand form.  I only buy these because they are usually significantly cheaper even if you have a coupon for the name brand. 

Since I already have half of ya'll hating me from the pet comment I'll just go ahead and make it worse with this comment:  most of our ideas about shopping, cooking and cleaning are simply brainwashing by corporate America to get us to buy their needless products and our inherent laziness goads us on.  Commercials croon to us that they are actually trying to help us to live a more joyful life!  I mean, think of all the blissful time with our families we could spend if we only bought those little single packages of chips, rather than just sticking your hand in the bag and doling out some into a Tupperware cup.  We are so freakin' lazy that we won't, or think we can't, take time to wash a plate, so we buy tons of paper plates and cups over and over again.  Then we wonder why we don't have the money to take our family on vacation and spend that quality time that those commercials promised us!!  Dang it!!  They said we would be able to!!  What happened???  Now, before ya'll start throwing rocks at me, I came to these conclusions only because I used to buy into all that brainwashing.  When I was in college I was too poor to buy much 'convenience' items but as I started making money I fell right in line with what those commercials wanted me to believe.  As I started trying to seriously save money though, I began to see how I was being took.  I mean, pre-packaged furniture wipes??  Just get or make a bottle of oil and tear up an old T-shirt!
So, there you have it.  I have my hardhat on now so commence the rock throwing!!!

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Better Days


I think this post will wrap up the subject of Shelter because there is not a lot more to say about the building of my house, but I am going to go over my strategies for maintenance and utilities, because that is a big part of it too.  Of course, most of ya'll know I, with a great deal of Allen's help, built practically all of this house.  Besides collecting reclaimed material that was probably the next biggest factor in my saving so much money on this house.  I did everything I could possibly do myself and still continue to.  Now, once again, I know I have a bit of advantage but even if you pay someone to black in your house and do the finish work yourself, or just do the trim or whatever, it all helps.
I have also stated before that if you are doing any kind of house work, remodeling etc. and need to buy material please do NOT assume the big box stores are the cheapest.  I can't tell you how many times I have beaten their prices by going directly to a supply house.  You know, if you have a big plumbing project or whatever, go to a supply house.  They may be the same on say, pipe, but the big boxes will rip you a new one on the fittings and such.  Just check around.

In the area of maintenance, I save a great deal of money by making my own cleaning supplies.  All of these "convenience" supplies, like pre-packaged dusting clothes, are a bunch of crap that waste money.  I keep about 2 boxes each of baking soda and borax, a couple gallons of white vinegar and sometimes some natural pine cleaner.  I am also making a great lemon cleaner by infusing vinegar with discarded lemon peels.  Just strain and spray!  I also keep a bottle of rubbing alcohol, small bottle of ammonia, a few essential oils, some castile soap, salt etc.  Once you have these ingredients you can make practically any cleaner for pennies of what store bought cleaners cost.  And I know, everybody groans and whines, I don't have time to make my own stuff!!  I have a crappy old cast iron sink right now in the kitchen that stains very easy.  When it needs cleaning, I toss in a little borax, maybe a little squirt of soap and scrub with half a lemon or just the lemon peel!  Works great and you don't even have to mix it up beforehand.  Several years ago I bought a book by Casey Kellar called "The Complete Book of Natural Housekeeping".  This is a very complete book on cleaning almost anything with, you guessed it, natural substances that are cheap!  It takes me about 2 minutes to whip up a window cleaner, shower cleaner etc. and they work!  Some of your basic items, like borax, are not real cheap but you usually use them sparingly, so they last for a good while.  And yes, I get a lot of people whose eyes bug out when I say I don't buy cleaning stuff but I would dare say my house is cleaner and healthier than all those bleach drenched houses.   Oh, one other thing, and I know some of you are going to hate me for this but I'm going to say it anyway.  I let my cat stay in the house but she is very clean (she gets an occasional bath) and rarely has an accident on the floor etc.  Chigger stays outside.  It boggles my mind how many people these days let their animals, several of them even, stay inside like kids and let them piss and shit all over that house to the point that they have to get the steam cleaners in to clean the house and then complain that they are short of money.  I'll admit I have brought a chicken into my house on occasion for doctoring but nothing stays and I never have to pay for cleaning.  No flea bombing, no carpet cleaning or replacing!, very little allergy expense, no furniture replacement where Fido had a panic attack.  And that's all I'll say about that.

Another way that I save, and even make money sometimes, is in seasonal decluttering spells.  About twice a year I go through the house and gather stuff that I'm not using going by the year or 6-month rule.  If I haven't used it or worn it in 6 months or so it goes.  This is a great way to pick up a little cash actually but I have to admit, you need to be a little ruthless in your purging to make much money.  Most people however, have enough crap stored up in there house to afford to be a little ruthless. Now, there are some things, of course, that don't get tossed.  I mean, I have a few tools that rarely get used but when I need them, I need them; like that gawd awful motorized tamp.  I'm talking about crap I know I'll never really use and don't really want.  Anyway, I go through everything and it either goes in a yard sale pile or an Ebay or consignment pile.  At this point I have just about yard saled myself out of most of that stuff but in the past that was a great way to make a little cash.  Now days I have sorted out a number of items too good for a yard sale and am slowly selling them on Ebay.  I'm not getting rich but it does make for some extra cash.  Usually I just let the money collect in my PayPal account and then when I have a decent amount I pull it out for a bill or to buy something I do need.  Yes, I know PayPal does take a little and sometimes is a butt but you don't have to use them.  I have also scoped out a couple of consignment shops in town that I may take some stuff to that would be a pain to ship.  If you have a good eye for collectibles and such you can often go to yard sales or thrift stores to buy and then resale at a profit but the key is to actually resale the item and not let them collect. 

Utilities are another area where a little diligence can save you some money.  Now, since Jack has moved in with me he insists on paying the power bill and I have to say, he isn't quite as concerned with saving money in that area as I am.  If he can afford the bill he doesn't mind, regardless if it could have been less.  I'm not being mean, he just doesn't mind and as long as he pays it I really can't say much but I still try to cut back on usage.  So, for that reason we still hang clothes out to dry, as dryers use an enormous amount of power.  I bought all Energy Star appliances for the house.  I replaced many of the light bulbs with the new fluorescent type that severely cut usage but am still in a bit of a quandary over those because they use mercury.  We are about to install a solar water preheater.  I'm very excited about that and will show ya'll all the details when it happens.  Of course, my house is a passive solar which works so well.  I am working on installing room darkening blinds on the few, small, west windows I have.  You wouldn't believe how much this helps keep a room cool.  I installed one in the pantry and it works very well.  I had tried the window film but just was not impressed with that.
I do kinda splurge on internet service but have almost no home phone service and rely on my cell phone.  Lots of people don't even have land lines anymore.  I've told ya'll my cell phone philosophy several times too!  The cheaper the better!  I want to get a call and send a call, no camera, no texting, none of that crap!  But that is a very personal choice. We only have satellite TV because Jack likes that and pays for it, otherwise it wold be gone!  Of course, since I'm on my spring water I have no water bill or sewer or trash pick-up to pay for.  Since we recycle, reuse, compost or have reduced so, we produce very little trash, and the little bags we do make are taken out on roads trips and dumped in public dumpers.  And yes, we make sure they are for public use. 

So, I guess that covers the area of Shelter; maybe I didn't forget anything? 

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

This Ole House


Well, I knew some of you were interested in these upcoming posts but I must admit I was a little surprised by some of your comments, or should I say, the enthusiasm expressed in your comments.  As I replied to a couple of you, I just hope I actually have as much valuable and pertinent information as you all seem to hope I do!  I will tell you what I don't have though.  I don't have any magic formula to all this.  I don't have some esoteric shortcut to creating the reality I want.  Well, actually I do in a way; but I'll tell you about that at the end!  At any rate, the majority of reason I am able to live this kinda life in this manner is 2 simple reasons:  I am willing to work my ever-loving ass off at times and for extended periods of times.  I do not follow fashion, trend, fad or common societal views.  So, let's get down to business.

I always knew I wanted to build a house, so I soon as I had a job where I made enough to literally have a little left over after I paid my bills, I started saving.  At first it was not very much and I cringe now at what I could have done if I had really been serious about frugality so many years ago but that's in the past and I can't do anything about it now.  What matters is that I did start saving.  It varied over the years but I always had around 10% of my weekly pay taken out of my check automatically and put away.  I want to emphasis I did not take it out on my own each week; I set it up so the bank would do this automatically.  It's too easy to talk yourself out of putting some aside if it's up to you so, in my opinion, the best way is that you never look at that money as being yours to spend.  It's put away before you can ever get your hands on it and you will learn to work around that.  I never missed not having that money in my checking and I actually often wish now I had had more taken out.  Now, this took a while.  I saved for probably 10 years before I had enough to even black the house in.  After getting the house dried in I still continued to save in the same manner in order to have a cash supply for finish work.  However, I had also, during those 10 years, been saving durable materials that I knew I could use later to build with.  Stone flooring, electrical supplies, insulation, rebar, miscellaneous steel and even little things like nails and screws.  Now, I realize in this respect I had a little bit of an advantage as I worked in construction and these materials were often readily available with just a little dumpster diving or such.  However, I believe if you are willing to ask around and do a little footwork, it is possible for anybody to come up with reclaimed, and often free, construction material.  By taking what was going to be thrown away from remodels and demos I got free toilets, sinks, hinges, hardware, lighting fixtures, switches and plugs, wire and probably some more stuff I'm forgetting.  And much of it was almost new!  I also took any lump sums of money I got, like tax refunds, large pottery orders or side job money, and put that in my savings instead of buying some stupid "reward" like jewelry or clothes.  In fact, I still do that now.  Or, I used it to pay cash for a large purchase such as my refrigerator or something like that.  At this point in the game I also had so few bills that I could often use a whole paycheck to buy stuff for the house too.  I only put one thing for the house on credit and that was my windows and I paid that off just as fast as I could.  It is just too easy to let a credit card balance slide and before you know it you've paid $200-300 in interest in a year or more!

Now, let me back up just a little.  Before I was really able to do any of this I had to get on the right track financially.  When I got out of college I was poor,.. no, I was destitute.  I had a vehicle and that was about it.  Then my oldest brother relieved me of that in order to use it to kill himself, so then I didn't even have that.  I don't say that for shock value or as a sympathy pull but simply to say, I started out with less than nothing and I pulled myself out of it; you can too.  I also don't mean to sound flippant about my brother's death, as that was certainly not the case.  It's just there were certain physical realities of his actions I had to face after he was gone.  On top of all that I had college loans to pay off.  So, I did what I thought anybody would do.  I worked whatever I could find to make money and I used the current system to ease some of my burden.  In other words, some public assistance.  I never got food stamps but I did use assistance for health care and college.  Hey, help is out there, you just have to look for it and every little bit does help. I worked 8-10 hours a day on a 6-story apartment building, forming and pouring concrete and welding and then, 3 nights a week, I would leave that job and go over to an ice cream plant where I worked as a welder and I would weld until 10:00 or 11:00 at night.  I couldn't afford health insurance, and we had to work 1 year before we could get it with the company, so I used Planned Parenthood for check-ups and such and I even used a public assistance hospital once when I needed minor surgery.  The care was great and I paid based on what I could afford; it wasn't much.  A few years ago I even worked on a remodel in that same hospital.  I was kinda proud of that.  My point is though, I had to swallow any pride I might have had and just do it.  I think a lot of people now days refuse to do that.  Everybody is so concerned with what other people might think and keeping up with the Joneses.  I was so far behind the Joneses I didn't even know who they were!  When other young women my age were going out bar hopping and shopping I was standing in a warehouse at -30 degrees F., knee-deep in artificial snow, welding steel racks back together.  But by doing this I was able to get my head above water.  I paid off my college loans.  I did not keep a balance on a bunch of credit cards.  I paid off my potter's wheel, which has been a great investment for me as a second source of income.  Then I was able to start saving my money instead of spending it on bills.
Now, some of you may be wondering what all that has to do with my life now; I'm on Easy Street now, right?  Well, all that taught me 2 things (see a pattern here); material items don't mean shit in this life (people do) and almost nothing comes easy.  Both of these lessons are the only way I would be able to live like I do now.  Even though the "green" or sustainable lifestyle is in vogue now, very few people actually do it or even know what it is.  Go down to the local Whole Foods (or other organic market) and talk about making fertilizer out of chicken crap and watch those people run in the opposite direction.  Living simply and frugally is HARD sometimes.  It is weeding the garden when it is 95 degrees at 10:00 a.m.  It is letting people stare pitifully at you because you are not wearing the latest in fashion or haven't had your hair dyed 3 shades of a color I have yet to see exist naturally in humans.  Yes, I have nice stainless steel appliances in my house but I don't have any diamonds or $150 shoes.  I hocked that shit and bought me a drill!

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Dreams That Money Can Buy


Since some of you expressed an interest in reading a little of my frugality/ financial ramblings I decided I would do a short series of posts on how I have managed to build, live and survive on limited means.  Basically, as I said, how I live like a starving artist but do not starve.  Now, I know even in these days if you suggest to people that maybe they save their money and adopt a less materialistic lifestyle that some will brand you a elitist whacka-do.  But please know, I am not insinuating or outright saying you are a bad or evil person if you don't want to, or simply can't, consider, attempt, improve upon, adapt or do any of the things I suggest.  If you are reading this blog I will assume you are at least somewhat interested in frugality, self-sufficiency and a 'greener, healthier' lifestyle anyway. 
I will do the posts by category of need and the basic needs of most people are Shelter, Food and Clothing; but I'm also going to add Entertainment and Health, because I think those are important. 
Now, it is true that in the last 18 years of my life I have actually done pretty good for myself, having a job that paid rather well.  However, at a couple of early points in my life I have been pretty damn poor, and would be considered extremely poor now (regarding solely my income), so I can say I think I have some experience in which I speak to you.  In other words, I never had Mommy and Daddy there to pull me out of a tight, so I had to learn the hard way how to get by when things were slim.
I would also like to add that I do not have children nor have ever had children, therefore some of what I suggest may not apply if you do have children.  I understand that it is one thing to do without yourself but not acceptable for children to do without some things and I would also never criticize a parent for shopping wherever they felt they were getting the best deal for their kids. 
So, I was going to start out immediately on Shelter within this post but it seems already that it would turn out very long, so I'm actually going to start in the next post.  Also, by Shelter I mean, how did I save, etc. to begin my house and continue building, just so you know what to expect.  And, if you have a question about a particular aspect of the building, saving, spending etc. of my house, please go ahead and ask.