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Monday, February 22, 2016

This blog has moved to MariaZanniniHome.com

The new blog is live and has been going strong for over a week. Go to www.mariazanninihome.com and subscribe on the widget living happily on the right sidebar.

Today's post is about Growing an Emergency Fund

Posts you missed:

This Week’s Menu
Cheap Trick: Freezing Meat
A Little Housekeeping
How to Plan a Menu & Save a Marriage
Welcome to Blogatory: This Blog is Now Live!


This will be the last update on this blog. Come and see me at my new home! 


Monday, February 15, 2016

MariaZanniniHome.com is now live!

It's the moment of truth. The new blog is live.

Please visit me at MariaZanniniHome.com and let me know what you think.  It might look a little bare bones right now but it should flesh out nicely in just a few weeks.


If you think I'm as nervous as a cat in a room full of mouse traps--you'd be right. See you on the other side! 

 

Monday, February 8, 2016

Of Mice and Blogs


This blog has MOVED to www.MariaZanniniHome.com
 

Still tweaking the new and future blog. It should go live next Monday! :fingers crossed:

I began with a double strike against me. Not only am I working with a foreign blog platform, but you have to build it from scratch. I tried to avoid coding at all costs but sometimes I had to do that too, leaving me with a sick feeling of: Did I code that right, or did I just launch a nuclear missile somewhere?

Still, I think I have all the background stuff in place. I want to spend this week writing a bunch of posts so I can be ahead of the storm.

I've also been designing icons for future series. So far that's the only thing about this new blog that hasn't eaten my lunch. Thank goodness I can do at least one good thing without having to hunt for a tutorial.

It's too early in the game but I think I'd like to invite others to guest post for a craft series. Crafts are not my specialty, so it's something I'd consider hosting for those with more expertise. If you think you might be interested, email me, and we can talk. 

Right now I'm scoping out various blog hop groups that specialize in homesteading, food, and crafts so that could mean some extra exposure for anyone who appears on my blog. 

My goal this year is to expand my readership. I think this change is going to be fun. I've put a lot of work into it so far, but I think it's right up my alley. I'll be writing about the stuff that inspires me. Hopefully, along the way I'll find more kindred spirits.

***
In other news, we overdid it last week on the outside chores.

Greg was working on new rabbit hutches and I decided to clean out my work shed (where I store my feed and gardening supplies). A bag of sunflower seeds had been gnawed upon and I suspected mice.

Photo via <a href="https://visualhunt.com/">Visual Hunt</a>

It wasn't just a couple of mice, but at least two dozen or more. I think they were on the 'Friends and Family Plan'. Five years I'd kept feed in that building. This year they found it.

I ended up emptying the entire building, evicting the varmints from their hiding places, but they scampered into teeny tiny holes that lead into the attic. I'm not going into a place where I can't escape quickly so I focused my attention to the ground floor. 

We lay traps laced with peanut butter and kept catching them by the hour. It's been two days since anyone's been caught. I think we finally got them all. I hope.

In between waiting for mice to fall into my traps, I opted to also paint my shed. It looks great but I think that's what eventually did me in. The next day I could barely lift my arms over my head. 

Still haven't tilled the garden, though I did manage to plant potatoes in one box. Maybe I can get some gardening done this week.

Have you ever had a mouse problem? Did you go for traditional traps or something more sophisticated? Made me wish I had a cat again, but if he's anything like my last cat, I'd still have a mouse problem. :)

My cat preferred his meals in a nice china bowl.


Monday, February 1, 2016

Blog Info and Extra-Mini Movie Review

This blog has MOVED to www.MariaZanniniHome.com
 
I was hoping to introduce the new blog this week, but the weather has been too perfect. How's that for an excuse? Ha!

The weather has been gorgeous (sorry, northern friends) so we've been trying to make ready for spring by doing all those outside chores that have been left undone over winter.

The new blog will debut this month for sure though. I finally got most of the picayune stuff squared away. The blog template seems to have a 'comment plugin' in place but I don't see where you can be emailed to get future comments so I'll have to find a plugin for that.

I like to read other comments on the blogs I follow which is why that feature is important to me.

Speaking of blogs, did you notice Blogger removed some of our 'followers' from our blogs? Google discontinued Google Friend Connect for non-Blogger sites in 2011. As of January 11, Google removed any non-Google account profiles. You can read the whole announcement here.

I'm wondering if something else is going on with Google too. For the past couple of weeks I've noticed the Google search engine has been offline. Not for long, but at inconvenient times (for me).

PS  I have to apologize to friends who had a post up last week. I was saving them to read and comment on over the weekend, but I accidentally hit delete on my blog feed and lost them all. Sorry, guys.

Extra-mini movie review: Usually I post something longer, but I don't have much to say about  Kingsman. It was part James Bond (from the schlocky years) and part intense spy story. It's about a spy organization with serious suit acumen that is recruiting the next replacement for their 'Round Table' of knights.



You can't go wrong with Colin Firth and Mark Strong, but I thought Samuel L. Jackson was miscast. The lisp was annoying and I can't see Jackson as a wuss when it comes to violence.

There was a scene that crossed the line for me, but in the end it was all a ruse. No harm, no foul, but it left a bad taste in my mouth.

Still it was good escapist fare so I can recommend it.

We still have not seen the new Star Wars. Any time there is too much hoopla over a film or book, I prefer to wait to see if people are still crazy about it a year later. I already know the spoilers so it's no big rush now.

***
So many celebrities have died in January. I'll especially miss Alan Rickman. He left us too soon.


Is there anyone you'll especially miss now that he's gone? 

Have you seen Kingsman? What did you think of it?

And have you noticed anything odd about Google/Blogger lately?


Monday, January 25, 2016

The Twists and Turns of my Crazy Life

We've been watching the news about the terrible blizzard in the northeast.

The worst blizzard I can recall was the Blizzard of '67 in Chicago. The city was at a standstill. All I remember was that we didn't have school. 

I was a little like Hermione Granger. I was afraid my grades would suffer if I stayed away too long, so I fretted more than enjoyed the time off.

From what Greg told me, he was just the opposite. He'd go out at first light, building snow forts, snowmen, and having snow fights. He'd come home only long enough to change into dry clothes and then be off again. 

I like to listen to Greg's childhood stories. He led such a colorful life. My daring exploits didn't start until I hit my teens.

Most of my adventures (before marriage) had to do with extra schooling or summer jobs. My parents didn't think art was a good career choice so they refused to send me to art school. I decided if I wanted any kind of art training, I'd have to pay for it myself.


I worked summers and after school to pay for life drawing classes. It was the first time I'd seen a naked man. Back then no one thought to prohibit a then 16 year old girl from those kind of classes. Hand to heart though, I was such a serious student the model could've been Gerard Butler and I would've still concentrated on sinew and bone.

My next challenge was to make enough money to attend the Art Institute of Chicago--but then fate intervened. Greg married me and whisked me away to Texas. 

I hated Texas at first. It was so different from what I had known and it looked as if I'd never finish college. But what I thought were obstacles and setbacks were really training grounds for even grander adventures. 

My first job was as a veterinary surgical assistant. I absorbed everything I could from a great vet who encouraged me to follow in his footsteps. As much as I loved animals, I knew it wasn't where I wanted to stay. I drifted not knowing what I wanted to do in this outback when my first dog died suddenly. It was the worst day of my young life.

It was Joey who made me go back to college. The cemetery where we buried her was a stone's throw from the university.  One day after I'd gone to visit her, I stopped in at the Registrar's office and picked up a catalog. The rest is history.

And then there was the homesteading dream. Back in the day, we had soaked up every issue of Mother Earth News. (I still have all the early issues from the 70s.) It was our shared love of nature that kept us dreaming for a little parcel of land. Over the years it seemed like it would never happen, but hardheadedness and patience has its virtues. 

Kismet has played into our life too. At least we don't have blizzards.

Good luck, my northern friends. Hunker down until it's over.

Have you ever found obstacles and hardships to be a blessing in disguise? Maybe it's the way we handle the hard times that decides the final outcome.  

What was you're favorite adventure when you were a kid?


Monday, January 18, 2016

State of the Homestead

This blog has MOVED to www.MariaZanniniHome.com
 
This will probably be the last State of the Homestead on this blog. But it'll be back on the new blog with more harrowing tales of scraped knuckles and black and blue shins. 

I sometimes wonder what it would be like not to have a single scrape or bruise for more than a day.

Goats: It's official. All the goats will be gone by this summer. We'd like to travel and it's too much of an imposition on friends to look after animals that like to knock you down for laughs. I'm going to miss these guys. The goats I have now are all young with no bad habits. 

Ray Charles is a little pushy but he's not mean like his father--may he rest in gravy. The girls are both pregnant. This is why I'll have to wait until their babies are born (and weaned) before I sell them.

We might get miniature goats once we settle down again, but time will tell. We would like to raise a pig or two. We've raised them before and they are relatively easy to handle as long as they have a sturdy fence. There is nothing like FRESH bacon. After one bite, you'd think you died and went to heaven.

And we're still in talks about raising a cow for the freezer. This is the only animal we wouldn't butcher ourselves. It's a big animal that needs to be processed quickly, so if we get one, we'll be sending him out to professionals.


Rabbits: We have new bunnies! Gray, black, and blonde. If one of the grays are male I'll be keeping him as future breeding stock. I think this year I'll sell Ruby, the white New Zealand, and Frodo, the mixed breed rabbit. 

Frodo is too small to mate with my girls easily, and Ruby is too big. Belle, the blue New Zealand, is just the right size. I like her temperament too.

I'm still on the hunt for another blue New Zealand, but still no luck. 

video


Chickens: Since we ran out of eggs too soon last year, we put a light in the chicken coop to encourage egg laying. Hens lay according to the length of day, not by temperature or season. 

I'm getting 10-12 eggs a day now. Plenty to share and to incubate. I'll start incubating eggs at the end of the month and will have chicks to sell by March.

I have younger chickens waiting in the wings too. They'll be my new layers for 2016. I'll be selling the 2 year olds this year.

Nana and Iko: Just recently, Nana started picking fights with Iko. Now this is stupid on two counts. #1: She knows that's unacceptable. #2: Iko outweighs her by nearly twice. 

She's lucky he's so laid back, but he's not a pushover. If he ever decides enough is enough he could seriously hurt her.

To save her from her own foolishness, I took her to the vet to make sure there were no physical problems. The vet felt this was strictly a behavioral issue. While we talked we came to realize I was the catalyst. Nana is so possessive of me she gets annoyed when anyone (including Greg) gets too much attention from me.

Now that Greg lives with me full time, she's gotten used to the idea she has to share me with him, but as an alpha, she refuses to allow any other dog to get between us. 

What to do? I got the names of a couple of animal behaviorists, but first I'm trying an experiment on my own. I've increased her training, keeping her at 'stay' longer, or telling her to move slowly when I say, 'slow down'. 

If I hear so much as a whispered growl, she immediately loses all rights to me for about 5 minutes. (Five minutes is nearly a lifetime in dog time.)

So far we've not had a single issue. Nana is smart. Border collies are like the Einsteins of the dog world. I stopped training her at basic commands, but I think I need to expand. She needs to learn I love all my babies equally, even the big two-legged one that hogs the bed she shares with me.

On the homestead: We've had a relatively mild winter so far. On days when it's pleasant, we've been getting ready for spring. The other day, we took down a damaged tree that was too close to the house. Greg cut them into logs, but we'll leave the splitting for another day. That's usually my job.

 













We've also cleaned coops and rabbit hutches, cut the asparagus bed down to 2 inches, and even built a new transitional mini-pen for baby rabbits and chicks.

Below is a few seconds of Greg troweling a cement floor for the transitional mini-pen.

video

Next week when it warms up again, it'll be time to turn over the garden and prep it for planting in March. My potatoes are ready to put in now, so there's no time to waste.

So what's new at your end? Will you put in a garden, or at least a little pot of herbs?

Have you ever had a troublesome pet? What did you do to solve the problem? I'm really hoping Nana is smart enough to grasp the concept of sharing. 

Do you have any big task ahead of you in 2016? 

Regular visitors at our front yard.



















Monday, January 11, 2016

Updatery

Updates: I am closing in on my new web site. I know it must seem like I'm moving in slow motion, but there've been obstacles that keep smacking me in the head. My face is starting to look like a frying pan.


First, it was my domain name. Someone is squatting on it. Rather than wait for its renewal, I've decided to change it just enough to make it my own.

Then it was the host provider. Holy moley! How many of them are there out there? I've been systematically reading their reviews and narrowing the field. For the top contenders, I've even gone so far as to go into their chat rooms and ask a couple of simple questions to see how they answer the same question.

I think I've decided on the winner. I've got to email them a couple more questions to make sure.

Finally, it's been Wordpress. It's a big step to move away from the comfort of a blog I know well, and potentially lose all the readers I have now. Using Wordpress.org means I'll have to start completely from scratch and select which plug ins I'll need to make it look professional.

I'm hoping to create a very clean page. I'll post only a couple of times a week at first. As I get the hang of it, postings will increase. 

--I promise. All good stuff!

Lottery: Of course if I hit that billion dollar lottery this Wednesday, you won't hear from me ever again. LOL!

I don't gamble, but I plan to make an exception just this once. It's always that odd duck that ends up winning, right? I could be that duck!

The Homestead: We're battening down the hatches for the next month and a half. This is our winter. Too cold to work outside, but I can start indoor activities like starting seeds, incubating eggs, and cleaning out the clutter in my file cabinet.

Greg hates me during this part of the year. I start bouncing off the walls when I'm cooped up too long. Maybe I'm a free-range human. Yeah, that's it. Free-range.

Yoga: Sadly, I have to give up my yoga class. Man, I'll miss that place. Their prices have gotten too high for me. It's been extraordinarily helpful for my pinched nerve and bad knees, but from now on all my stretches will have to be in front of my tv. Hopefully, I'll have the fortitude to practice on my own. Pretty sure Greg won't be joining me. Wuss!

January is the month when all the big bills come in. We've paid off the property taxes, and a big chunk of the new solar array Greg is building. He might be a wuss on the mat, but he does come in handy when it comes to building things. 

By the end of the month we'll be doing taxes. Not looking forward to that. No matter how prepared we are, by the time we finish filing, it feels like we'd been run over by a cement truck. Why is that? It's not like we'll owe them money.

So, US folks, will you be playing that humongous lottery this week? The last I heard it was 1.3 BILLION dollars. Insane! What would you do if you won even a piece of it?

Do you get stir-crazy when you're cooped up for too long, or is Greg right in thinking he married a border collie on a sugar high? I go through this every year. Surely I'm not the only one.



Monday, January 4, 2016

What Would You Do In 1942

I had a peculiar dream the other day. I dreamt that Greg and I had somehow gone back in time to 1942. (Luckily, we looked as if we were in our 30s.) It appeared as if we were somewhere in the Philippines--not a good place to be in the middle of World War II.

An American ship had landed and Greg was quickly recruited and reprimanded for not enlisting earlier. Meanwhile I was left behind because a warship was no place for a woman. We'd meet up again in another year or so, but we were left in a quandary of what to do next. If we couldn't find a way back, where would we fit in 1940s society?

I never found out if we made it back to our own time, but it brought up some interesting conversations over breakfast the next day.

Greg and I are fervent students of history. Greg in particular is well versed in World War II and what was happening in the world at that time. In the dream he was quite handy to have around since he knew where all the major battles had been fought.


We discussed how he could warn generals about what to expect, but I argued that it would be useless. Who would listen to us?

The best we could do, in my opinion, is affect our own future. For instance, if we were stuck in the 1940s, Greg might go into aeronautical engineering since he knows enough science of what makes a modern jet better than the best minds of the 1940s.

Me, I'd probably go into finance. Women would be rare enough in finance, but if you made enough profitable choices people wouldn't care as long as you made them money. Besides I'd kinda like to break those glass ceilings again.

The possibilities are endless and exciting.

If you found yourself in 1942, what would you do with your life?

What do you plan to do in 2016? The world is wide open.

Monday, December 28, 2015

After Christmas Strategic Shopping

I typically do more shopping after Christmas than before. I've been a bargain hound since way back.

We don't need the usual Christmas lovelies, like lights or gift wrap. I've managed to stockpile that long ago. Nowadays, it's the fancy stuff like Godiva chocolates and the extra cute Christmas cards I found this year.

At this time of year we're usually loaded down with homemade treats from the neighbors so I freeze the chocolates until we come up against a dreary day when only the best chocolate will do.

Sadly, stores have gotten savvy to bargain hounds like me. Inventory is computer-controlled now. They know what stock will move and what won't and they buy accordingly. There's always a margin for error which is why there are still some items leftover after Christmas, but it's not like the old days.

I feel sorry for younger shoppers today. They'll never know the thrill of overstock.

If I can give you one tip for buying after Christmas sales, shop for items that are not tied directly to Christmas


• Cloth napkins trimmed with silver thread will serve long past the holidays. Whereas, snowman-themed napkins are a once a year item.

• Holiday dishware: Last year I bought several place settings of gold rimmed dishes for 75% off. (I waited for the very end of the clearance.) They're great for big gatherings when paper plates won't do.

• Gift wrap in solid colors can be used year round.

• Holiday candles can be used for any festive occasion.

• Christmas-themed, quality dog toys (don't bother with the cheap stuff) is good for any occasion. Dogs don't care if they're chewing on Santa's leg. It's all good.

Speaking of dog gifts, please avoid any rawhide made in China. Too many dogs have died from Chinese products. Because of their size, little dogs are even more susceptible to any toxins. If you can't verify where it was made, don't chance it.


• Don't forget the necessary extras like tissue paper, tape, and baking tins. If they're in the Christmas aisle, chances are they're also marked down.

• As you glance at the pre-packaged Christmas gifts, stock up on things that won't expire. Pajamas, bed throws, slippers, and neck massagers almost invariably get marked down. Now's the time to get them for next year's gifts. Note: If you buy anything with a cord, be sure to check that it works before you put it away.

Did you get anything good for Christmas this year? We don't buy gifts for each other anymore, though somehow Greg managed to get a few toys for himself. Men!


Monday, December 21, 2015

Christmas Chickens

Chickens normally go into molt as the days shorten. After molting, egg laying pretty much stops. There are some breeds that lay nearly all year, but mine are not one of those.

I usually keep enough eggs to last us through the winter but this year I gave away too many eggs. I had to dole out eggs like a miser for our breakfasts and baked goods. 

A few weeks ago, I realized I was going to run out before the hens started laying again. (For these girls, it's usually February.)

An old standby is to put a light in their chicken coop for a few extra hours after dark. 

You want to mimic 12 hours of daylight. To keep hens healthy, only do this after they've molted and only for a few extra hours--not all night.

I waited and waited. Two weeks went by and nada. I was down to two eggs. 

Can I tell you how much it killed me to buy store eggs? 

On the third week, I made breakfast with the store eggs. That's when the girls decided to start laying again. I swear they clucked Merry Christmas to me. 

A day late and three dollars short.

*****

I hope you have plenty of eggs, family, and friends in your life. 

Merry Christmas, my friends!


Monday, December 14, 2015

Easy-Peasy Chocolate Turtles

I want to share a truly easy treat to make for parties or neighbor gifts. I found the recipe on Facebook but I didn't want to share it until I had tried it out. 

My guinea pig...um...taste-tester was Greg. The royal taster gave it two thumbs up.

Ingredients:
1 package of Rolos (or comparable chocolate candy with caramel in the middle)
1 package of mini pretzels
1 package of pecan halves
 
Instructions:
• Preheat oven to 350 F
• Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. You can go without it, but the parchment paper makes the job easier.
 • Place pretzels single file and top each with a Rolo.
 • Bake for no more than 3 minutes. The original instructions say 3-5 minutes but for me 3 minutes were more than enough. Bake them too long and the caramel will glue itself to the paper.

You want to soften the candy, not melt it completely.

Take the tray out and top each with a pecan half. Pressing the pecan
will spread the chocolate nicely.

Cool and eat. 


They're really good! And super fast to make in a pinch.
 


Monday, December 7, 2015

Of Blogs and Bread

All weekend I've been researching web hosts and trying to glean the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org. More importantly, I've been trying to decide which is the best for me and my situation.

Enter tech-guru Tia Nevitt who was kind enough to explain what I was reading. Deciphering technical jargon is like reading ancient Greek...backwards.

After talking to Tia I'm sure now I want to go the self-hosting route. I don't want to be encumbered by restrictions over what I can and cannot post. Chances are using WordPress.com wouldn't hurt me any, but I'm trying to plan for how my blog might evolve in two or three years. WordPress.org is more hands-on, meaning more control on the part of the user.

That's good if you like to have full control of your blog. Not so good if you're a troglodyte like me. But even troglodytes can learn. We usually do it kicking and screaming--but we do learn. 

Whatever I decide won't go into effect until mid to late January. I want to get the holidays behind us before I start anything new.

Speaking of holidays...have you decorated? We were supposed to decorate over the weekend but I came down with a bad sinus headache. 

This year I plan to make gift baskets for my friends. For the neighbors I plan to make some kind of bakery goodness. Sherri Myer on Facebook posted this recipe for cinnamon rolls. I'll probably use Greg as my pastry tester to be sure they came out right. He won't mind. :)

I've mentioned before that I am not a baker, but I would love to get better at it. Please, please, all you bakers out there: What's your secret for making a light, holey bread?



My bread always comes out too dense. I thought maybe I was overworking the dough but even with my handy-dandy Kitchenaid mixer, it's still not light and fluffy.

What am I doing wrong? It tastes good, but it's as heavy as a rock.

Do you bake?
Have you decorated yet?
Anybody out there use WordPress.org?

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Mini-Review: Julie & Julia

We've had yet more rain. 14 inches, not counting the overflow when it was too wicked-wet to empty out the water gauge.

Cold and rainy, we've been cocooning this past week with a marathon of movies. One of the movies in the queue was Julie & Julia.

It was a movie made out of a combination of two books: My Life in France (Julia Child's autobiography) and a memoir of Julie Powell who cooked and blogged her way through Julia Child's cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

After watching this movie I'm convinced there's nothing Meryl Streep can't do. She somehow adapted Child's voice, body language, and mannerisms into a character that bursts to life. Streep is absolutely brilliant.

Amy Adams plays Julie Powell. I adore perky Amy Adams but I couldn't help feeling she was being kind to an otherwise bratty character. Julie Powell comes across as whiny, self-centered, and immature. Amy Adams handled a difficult character with a lot of grace, but you can still see the brat under the blanket. I get annoyed with people constantly in me-me-me mode and this woman seemed to live in that state.

I loved how the director mirrored Julie's life in the 21st century and Julia Child's life in 1940s France. The sets, the clothes, and the food was sheer artistry. The actors were believable. They breathed life into their characters. There wasn't a poor performance anywhere in the movie.

As I like to do with movies, I did some research on the real life people behind the story. I found a new affection and respect for Julia Child. She was a woman who wasn't afraid to show her passion for food and for her husband. The movie is worth watching just to see the romance between Julia Child and her husband, Paul simmer.

Julie Powell, sad to say, seems to have lived up to my suspicions. Apparently, after her blog fame, she wrote another book, Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat and Obsession, a memoir of her adulterous sex life. :facepalm: Judging by the reviews, it was not pretty.

I highly recommend Julie & Julia though. The performances, the sets, and the food will have you salivating to cook up something fancy. 

Right now I've got a craving for lobster in garlic butter sauce. Bon app├ętit.

Are you a foodie?


Monday, November 30, 2015

What We Want vs What We Need

I'm not an impulse buyer--unlike a certain husband that shall remain nameless.

But sometimes...I wish I could be deliriously impractical and just buy something for the heck of it.

Today is not that day, but I came close. LOL

Worm Factory 360 WF360B Worm Composter, Black 
I was browsing online for sales when I came across a Worm Factory Composter. Some women want jewelry. Others want shoes or designer clothes. Me? I want a worm factory.

It was on sale for $71 at Jet.com, down from over $100. At first glance, a multi-tiered condo for future chicken food for 70 bucks seems like a great buy. But I know that the whole apparatus is a facade of marketing genius.

The only nice things about the whole contraption is that the bins are stackable and it sits on a base. The rest is fluff. I could make the same contraption (not nearly as pretty) for about ten bucks.

It sucks to be practical. My heart still wants to spend the money on the worm tower, but my brain says: Get off your bum and build it yourself. 

Do you ever catch yourself wanting to buy something you know you could make cheaper? 

Have you started shopping yet? What's the one impractical thing you'd love for yourself?

Aside from a worm farm, I've always wanted one of those electric pressure cookers. The one I want is still too expensive but I've got it on my Amazon wish list, waiting for it to go down in price. I'm patient. Sooner or later it'll go on sale.