Click on the image for more information.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Get to Know Your Butcher

I miss the old days when there were real meat markets. The butchers back then had hands like bears and arms as strong as iron. I lived around the corner from a family grocery store. They also owned the apartment building where I lived. 

Every month it was my job to bring them the rent money. To get to the tiny office, I would wind my way around the store, past the butcher shop and around where big men cut slabs of meat bigger than me. The office was just past the blood and the saw dust.

Being a quirky kid, I was fascinated.

Today, the only butcher shop I know is inside Kroger, where they let you see nothing of the inner workings of meat cutting. Men (and women) in clean white uniforms greet you. Their uniforms are so pristine you'd think they worked in offices. 

Still, they're quite generous and amenable to any request from a customer. Here are a few things most butchers will do for you.

• If you buy a big hunk of meat or roast on sale, ask them to grind up half, or take out the bone for you. The same cut already trimmed or ground could be significantly more.

• Whenever I go into town, I run a lot of errands. During Texas summers you don't want to leave meat in the car too long. Many times, if I do my grocery shopping early, I'll ask the butcher to hold back my selection until I finished my errands for the day.

• Many butchers will tenderize a piece of meat for you. 

• Check out the expiration date on the meat. Stop by the day before or the day of, you'll find it greatly reduced.

• Ask your butcher what time of the day they mark down meat. It's usually in the morning. By me, it's around 9:30am.

• If you don't know how to cook a particular meat, ask your butcher. They're very knowledgeable and eager to help. I've never had a bad experience with them. They're the friendliest of all the grocery personnel.

Have you ever been to an old time meat market? One of the things I miss are the big knuckle bones they'd give you for free. There was lots of meat on them and my mom would make wonderful beef stock. My favorite part was sucking out the marrow.

In later years we used to buy them for the dogs. They'd be content for hours.

Nowadays you can still get the knuckle bones if you ask, but they charge you for them. They are surprisingly expensive for something they used to give away for free.

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Quiet Life--Ha!

Last week was deceptively laborious. We went down to Casa South...again. This time to meet with a new realtor and an appraiser. 

We had other jobs to do there too. Greg had to replace a gas pipe. That was simple enough until his foot caught on a water pipe and busted it. More work.

Meanwhile I was dragging brush and starting fires. Only the brush pile wouldn't light. Didn't light the week before either. The 29th time was the charm though. I managed to do a good clean up on the half acre behind the house. Now I have to work on the other five acres.

The house, I'm happy to say is immaculate. The woods on the other hand are almost impenetrable in some spots. I wouldn't have bothered with it except for the fact that we have three very dead and humongous trees that HAVE to come down. Two are over power lines and one was over a neighbor's house.

I've had my share of homestead related adventures, but I have to admit that cutting down 100 foot pine trees is one of my least favorite jobs. It scares the bejeezus out of me. 

When a tree that big comes down the earth actually shakes underneath your feet and the ground feels like it's going to swallow you whole. It's not the BOOM that scares me though, it's the trip down.

Greg is magnificent at felling trees where they need to drop, but all the engineering in the world can backfire if cables fail or Mother Nature strikes up a wind at the wrong time. Not knowing which way the tree is going to fall is the scariest few seconds of all. 

This tree was in the middle of our woods but thirty feet from the fence line over our neighbor's house. It had to go, but it was going to be tricky. It took all morning to prep for this job.

Ordinarily we'd use a tractor to pull cable attached to the tree, but most of our equipment is at Casa North so we were left using a power puller, an unimpressive little device that does a big job with a bit of muscle. I was the muscle.

Greg did all his cuts. When he was on his final cut he told me to start ratcheting in the cable as fast as I could. I can't tell you what went wrong, but the cable slipped off the ratchet and went slack over the tree at the most critical moment of all. We watched from different spots as the giant tree teetered on the cut base.

God must've took pity on us because no wind came up and the tree reseated itself. We reattached the cable to the machine. This time when I ratcheted on the power puller it took the tree all the way down--right where Greg had elected.

It was awesome, and scary, and a huge relief. I made my way over to the downed tree to take a picture of Greg with his conquest when I started to hear buzzing.

That wasn't good. 

I scanned the area but couldn't see anything. The buzzing got louder. 

Now, I have been stung by all manner of things, and I knew enough to walk away, but it was too late. The more I walked, the more I heard buzzing. They had locked on to me and one was in my hair.

Greg came after me and got the one in my hair, but it had already stung me. Fortunately, it was a honey bee. Of all the bee or wasp stings you can get, honey bees are the least dangerous. Six days later, I still have the lump on my head, but the pain is gone.

It turned out there was a hive in the dead tree about thirty feet up. When it came down, it destroyed their hive (honey splattered everywhere) and they were all kinds of mad. I can't blame them, but it was either their home or my neighbor's home.

That wasn't the end of my trauma. After the bee incident, I was dragging brush and somehow disturbed a fire ant hill. My left leg looks like a topographical map of India. It was pretty painful for a couple of days, but that too has subsided.

All in all, a trying week.

I've got design work piling up so I'm glad to be home for a while. It's much safer designing covers than it is cutting down trees, evading bees, or smashing killer fire ants.

Much safer.

Have you ever been stung by anything? Yellow jackets and scorpions are the most painful, but the brown recluse bite I got once was probably the most dangerous. That one sent me to the doctor.

I must've chosen the wrong kind of retirement. I'm pretty sure I didn't sign up for precarious and spine-tingling.

Oh, for the quiet life. 

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Perfect Poker Face: Look Clueless

Greg often tells me that he would bankroll me if I played high stakes poker. I'm an aggressive player and intuitive, but my secret weapon is my face. Most people can't read it.

This is due to the fact that when I'm focused, I look confused, lost, and even shifty. Don't ask me why. Weird DNA, I guess.

I've had store security follow me around many times. Other times, people walk up to me to ask if I'm lost. So far no one's had to ask if I was taking my meds. Confused is the mild-mannered sister of crazy. No meds necessary.

In truth, I'm gloriously oblivious to anything that's not my main objective. I'm so focused, nothing deters me from my goal, even if I look like an idiot doing it. I'm like a pit bull on a cookie trail.

You might wonder that if I have such an unreadable face why Greg hasn't bankrolled me yet. Sadly, I have one serious flaw to winning millions. I can't gamble. Losing any amount of money mortifies me.

Back when we used to go to Louisiana to gamble on one of their river boats, I'd have a single twenty dollar bill. If I won anything, I'd tuck away the twenty and play with my winnings, but if I lost my seed money that was it for me. I'd sit outside on a deck chair and wait for Greg.

So I satisfy any gambling urges by playing with poker chips, where losing  only stings my pride and not my pocketbook.

Do you gamble? Are you good at it? I've always wanted to play someone as unreadable as me--just for grins--not money.

I'm in and out today, so I might be late answering comments.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Drinking From The Garden Hose and Other Fallacies

I've read two articles this week on our weakening immunity. One study in England suggests that the reason there's been a rise in nut allergies in children is because we've insulated them too much from a varied diet.

Another study from Norway (I think) says that we disinfect ourselves so much that we've become vulnerable to even minor bugs.

I think there's a lot of truth in these findings. When I was growing up there were only a few token children with allergies. Greg suffered from egg and chocolate allergies, but I suspect they might've been induced by his parents' monumental cigarette habit.

I know for the short time I had to live in their home, I was constantly sick--me--the girl who never got sick. Poor Greg thought he had married a defective wife. It wasn't until later that we put two and two together. Once we moved away, I was back to my normal self.

By the way, Greg grew out of his allergies. Was it because he also moved out of his parents' home? We'll never know.

My mother who grew up in Mexico during the 30s drank unfiltered water. Yet any tourist knows not to touch the stuff.

My first year in Texas, I came down with poison ivy. Worse. Rash. Ever. Even the doctor said it was the worst case he'd ever seen. I was almost unrecognizable. 

Every year after that, I'd invariably come in contact with the vine, or the smoke when I burned brush. And every year I'd come down with poison ivy. 

At first, I'd go to the doctor for my dose pack of antihistamines, but as the years went by, I stopped going. The rash would be less prevalent and severe.

I still get poison ivy but it's more of a nuisance than an ailment.

I'm not sure what the answer is. None of us want to take chances with our health and we're almost paranoid when it comes to kids' health. 

We took more risks when I was a kid, but that's because our parents didn't know better. Now I wonder if they didn't do us a favor. 

What's been your experience? Do allergies run in your family? Did your parents or grandparents suffer many complaints?

Monday, March 9, 2015

Ya Gotta Have Friends

One of the things I miss about working in Corporate America is seeing people on a daily basis. I miss my friends and social acquaintances.

It doesn't help that we live out in the boonies, further restricting our chances of getting together.

I worry about this, more for Greg than myself. He moved 300 miles from all his friends, so he has to start from scratch. At least I still have a few of the friends I had when I was working.

I've resolved to become more sociable. That will be easier when the other house sells because we seem to travel down there every other week and that's one huge time suck.

Greg tells me I'm not the sociable type but that's not true. I'm just selective about the people I befriend. Social acquaintances I have aplenty, but real friends are few and far between.

To me, a friend is someone who's willing to go to my house and check on my animals when I'm away...or bail me out of jail. :grin:

As we get older, friends become more important than ever. A week doesn't go by that I don't hear of someone dying alone, and not being found until weeks later, usually by a stranger. 

An actual friend of ours died in his car, in his driveway, and no one noticed him for two days. We usually invited him to spend the holidays with us, but that one year we were away from home.

I've suggested to Greg that we get more involved with the community. Maybe we could attend county meetings. 

I'd also like to take some classes. I'd be interested in ethnic cuisine cooking classes. Or maybe another master gardening class for this climate. I took one many years ago and enjoyed it immensely.

Greg's mentioned he'd be interested in learning blacksmithing or expanding his expertise with a master woodworking class.

Taking a part time job could help too--but let's not get crazy! Mostly I'd like to interact when it's convenient for us. A regular job requires too long a commitment.

I've often thought about volunteering at the nearest animal shelter, but I think seeing all those homeless animals would kill my spirit, knowing I couldn't save them all. If I did volunteer work it would have to be something that didn't make me too attached to the recipients.

Physically being around other human beings is important. It doesn't help that being online with friends is so much easier. But I can't call my friends flung out in all corners of the globe to bail me out of jail. That distance thing gets me every time!

Do you have a lot of friends that you see daily? Any suggestions on how to meet new people?

And if you're in north Texas (north of Dallas), look me up. I'm quirky, but totally harmless.

Friday, March 6, 2015

What's Your Signature Dish?

One of my favorite ways to save money is to cook at home. Those of you who know me know that cooking isn't my favorite sport, but I've found ways to make it tolerable.

It's always more enjoyable if you have company. Even if Greg just stands there, it's nice to have someone hand you the spices, or stir the pot. (Better than having him watch tv while I'm muttering about whether his parents were married.)

Never piss off the cook. You don't want to eat food from someone who's been mad at you all day. Just sayin'.


The other thing we do to spice up our menu is recreate our favorite restaurant dishes. Our biggest sin is eating out. To curb the tendency, we started replicating the meals we liked best.

There are entire web sites dedicated to copying famous recipes, from fast food to gourmet restaurants. Here are a few of my favorites:

Six Sisters Stuff 
Recipe Link
Culinary Arts College

Do a Google search for your favorite dish and you might just find the recipe. 

Quite often our version is even better than the restaurant so don't be surprised if you prefer your own to the national brand.

Who knows? You might come up with a signature dish. 

I know Greg's has to be his deep dish pizza. It is amazing! I don't know if I have a signature dish but people like my Mexican fajitas. I also make a mean lemon salmon with orzo.

Spicy sausage with bell peppers, onions, and tomatoes
The sausage and peppers dish I make came from something we had once at a state fair. Ours of course has more meat. :)

What's your signature dish? Have you ever tried to duplicate a restaurant meal?

Monday, March 2, 2015

A Mixed Bag of Life

It's been a mixed week of highs and lows.

We lost Leonard Nimoy last week. He was a big influence on my childhood. I grew up on Star Trek, a show that broke the glass ceilings of gender, color, and philosophies. What I liked best about Nimoy is that he never stopped being an inspiration. He left the world a better place. You can't ask for a better legacy than that.

My computer files and links have finally been migrated to their rightful places. Somehow we managed to get the printer installed (and working), but it refuses to scan or fax. We're missing a step somewhere.

The biggest headache and my crowning achievement was my email. Despite a long session with my service provider, we could only get one of my email boxes to work. Tired of hitting dead ends, I told the tech I'd get back with her the next day.

I methodically backtracked and checked every option to see where my working email box differed from the nonworking ones. It turned out the numbers for the outgoing and incoming servers (under the Advanced option) were wrong. I was so pleased to have figured it out myself.

I babysat a friend's dog last week too. Ozzy is a sweet little guy but he brought me to new levels of stress. The little dog had some serious health problems a few months ago. We thought we were going to lose him. 

Thankfully, his mom is as hardheaded and determined as I am when it comes to our kids. She wasn't going to give up on him and he was back to his chipper self when she left him with me.

I followed her medication instructions to the letter, but I wasn't prepared for such a picky eater. Ozzy drove me crazy. Half the time I had to hand feed him to make sure he ate enough. 

My guys eat anything that's put in front of them. Sir Ozzy on the other hand...

My friend, Jim Giammatteo was struck with some serious health issues and is in the hospital. He could use some help. Another friend of his started a fundraiser for him. If you can help out, go here.

More travel, more real estate woes, and more stress lie ahead, but it'll get better. It always does. 

I noticed a couple of people on Facebook were poking fun at Dallas because we got some snow and ice. Nothing like what they suffered, but it's crippling for us. We're not equipped for really cold weather. It'll be 70 tomorrow, so nyah, nyah, nyah.

Does anyone have experience with picky eaters? Any tips?

Any thoughts about Leonard Nimoy?

I leave you with my favorite quote of his:
The miracle is this: The more we share, the more we have.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Used Goods

Aside from putting a moratorium on spending, the best way to save money is to buy used.

I'm an avid garage sale hound. I've decorated my home, added to my antique, book, and video collections, and found many a useful item and tools for around the farmstead.

About the only things I never look for at garage sales are clothes, mostly because I'm short and I have a hard time finding things I like even at retail. Yet, last week I hit an estate sale and found the jacket I had been looking for in like-new condition, for only five bucks. 

I have a sister who would never dream of buying anything used. My philosophy is exactly the opposite. There are very few things I'd insist on buying new, computers being one of them.

Not that I wouldn't pick up a used laptop, but a work computer is different. I need a really fast processor and lots of space for my memory hog programs. I'd probably frown on buying used underwear too, but for different reasons. \o/

Furniture, tools, and decorative items are always on my radar. People with kids swear by garage sales for kids' clothes, which makes sense since they grow out of them so quickly.

I'm hoping our next car will be used. There are no perks to new. The moment you drive off the lot it starts to depreciate.

I like used things. They have character. Kind of like me. :grin:

How do you feel about used? Do you prefer the new and shiny if you can afford it? Is there any one thing you'd never buy used?

Monday, February 23, 2015


We're getting hit with some of the cold weather from the north. Nothing serious, but miserable weather for working outside. We've battened down the hatches, and secured all the animals with food, water and draft protection. Now we wait for this front to move out. It should get better by Thursday.

For the next three days we plan to put some logs in ye olde fireplace, make some of our favorite foods and partake in a film festival of classic movies.

Over the weekend, we hit a great garage sale. The find of the day were dvds of old movies. Some of my favorite actors too. Cary Grant, John Wayne, Errol Flynn, and Stewart Granger. Each dvd only a buck. We were in movie heaven.

If we have to cocoon for the next few days, that's the way to go.

Last week, we finally rented The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. It was a surprisingly good movie, albeit subtle in its message. We found ourselves discussing it even days later. It's about British pensioners at an Indian retirement hotel. Nothing is what it seems, yet that's both the irony and the charm of the movie.

Anyway, in the movie, Evelyn, played by Judi Dench blogged about her daily experiences in a foreign country.

It got me to thinking about blogging and bloggers in general. My favorite part about reading blogs is getting to learn a little bit about the blogger's culture and/or lifestyle. I see precious little of it on most blogs, so when they share some little tidbit about the way they live, I almost always comment on it.

Once my computer re-assimilation is complete, I'd like to do that, only for a week at most. For one week in March, I'll blog about whatever I found remarkable, enlightening, or interesting in my day. Call it a little sociological experiment. 

If you consider doing the same, let me know and I will definitely visit.

And speaking of computers...I have a new one.

I don't want to count my chickens before they're hatched, but so far, so good.

I bought an Asus. Top of the line, all the bells and whistles, and the fastest microprocessor currently available. My old computer was 9+ years. For the last three years we've been babying it to keep it going. Greg convinced me it was time to retire it.

My software seems to have uploaded without a problem. I paid for a data transfer because I couldn't get my old machine to boot up, but that where my troubles began.  The tech left out all my emails (pst files). He said they weren't there. His manager made him show me all my files in front of me. And there it was.

He swore it wasn't there before, but that only made me wonder if he had left anything else out. 

Sure enough, when we finally hooked it up at home, one of my most important bookmarked folders was missing. I can't find it anywhere. I've got a call in to the Geek Squad to see what they can do. I sure as heck don't want to travel in this weather to fix something they messed up.

To be fair to Best Buy, they did price match the computer to their competitor's much lower price and even discounted the monitor (a very nice 27 inch) to their online sale. The sales person was very patient with me and answered all my questions in non-geek terms.

I'm hoping we'll eventually find all my missing links.

So how was your week? Are you snowed in? Or basking in the sun? Yes, I'm looking at you Australia.

Have you ever kept a diary? My social experiment won't be a blow by blow diary, but rather the highlights, things that caught my attention.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Clothes War

If there's one thing Greg and I do not have in common it's our spending habits when it comes to clothes. 

I am not a clothes horse in the least while he's a clothes Clydesdale. We've had many a discussion on this disparity.

It boils down to the fact that he feels he should be able to buy whatever catches his fancy. I'm more of a 'buy it only if I'm naked' kind of girl.

My oldest pullover is at least twenty-five years old. I wear my jeans until there's nothing left of them. They're not even worth keeping as rags. And we won't even discuss my sleeping clothes.

My clothes are sorted by acceptability. The best looking are for stepping out in public. (I don't want people thinking I'm riding the rails.) But as they wear out, they become my work clothes around the farm.

I'm picky about clothes. Not about style, but utility. If it can't move in all the directions I need to go, it's useless to me.

As for nicer things, after I retired, I donated all but one suit. I still have a couple of nice dresses too but I've had no reason to wear them for years. Luckily I don't change size much so they should fit me fine in case royalty comes to visit.

I can't even bring myself to say how many t-shirts Greg has. It's a lot. We have an enormous walk-in closet, and his stuff dominates three-quarters of it. 

I refuse to give him any more of my space even though I have plenty to spare. It's my hope I might fill up my side one day when stores decide to stock stylish duds for active people and not for the criminally trendy and teen-aged.

It's not that I don't like nice things. I like them very much. But really, how many shirts do I need for a week? Even if I change three times a day, seven days a week, that only comes out to twenty-one shirts.

To be fair, in the middle of a Texas summer it's quite possible to change three times in a day, so I'm perfectly okay with twenty-one changes of clothes.

It's the hundred and twenty-first set of clothes that drives me crazy.

So back to you. Are you a clothes horse or a clothes pony? 

Do you budget for clothing? We have a really teeny-tiny limit on how much we can spend a month for clothing. My thinking is that we have all we need, so anything we buy should be a direct replacement. a windbreaker. I need a windbreaker. In red. And rain-resistant. Size medium. Greg are you reading this? My birthday is next month. 

In other expensive news, I think my computer bit the dust. It's very old. For the last three years, we've been keeping it alive by swapping parts, cleaning, and debugging. This time I'm afraid it won't come back from the dead.

It's the hard drive. Unless the pros can repair it, I'll be getting a new computer. 

If you hear wailing and teeth-gnashing over the next two weeks, that would be me, trying to reload all my old software.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Dog Talk

Nana: We're taking our border collie to the vet for her yearly vaccinations. For some reason she gets violently ill when she gets her vaccinations. Last year, she was on the normal puppy schedule for shots. Even spaced out, they made her sick.

Each time she would vomit and feel awful for a whole day. I warned the vet about this but he seemed to shrug it off. Really ticks me off when a vet disregards my observations. I'm not an idiot, especially when it comes to my animals.

After the first event, I didn't feed her until she had her vet visit, but it didn't matter. Even with nothing in her stomach, she'd have the dry heaves.

This year I have a new vet. We'll see how this one handles it.

Here's a  picture of Nana multi-tasking. She always rides with me in the golf cart as I tend the animals and gardens, but this time she brought her ball--just in case.

Maggie: Poor old girl is feeling her age. She has a little cough after she eats. It might be due to the way she wolfs down her chow. I've resorted to giving her more broth so she slows down and slurps some of her food.

She's definitely slowing down though and tires out faster. As some of you might remember, Maggie was the labrador who was dumped out in the country. 

Maggie and a lab puppy (we named him Biscuit) found their way to my house. Biscuit died of parvo despite our best efforts, but Maggie did fine--other than her bouts with Nana, the Terminator.

I'm happy to report there have been no more altercations between them. That might have something to do with how angry we were with the little beast the last time she trounced on poor Maggie. Nana knew she had crossed the line and did her best to get back into our good graces. 

Iko: Our special child. He's still feeling a little lost since Saint Tank passed away. He idolized his older brother. He's been content to let Nana become alpha as long as she plays nice with him. If he wanted to he could put a world of hurt on that little dog. Fortunately, she's never tested him that far.

Iko has always been a little different. He's a nervous kind of dog which is hard to handle since there's so much of him. It's not easy to calm a 115 pound dog intent on hiding or running away. 

We sometimes call him Crazy Ivan because you never know which way he'll go next. Still, he's a sweetheart. He loves to lay his head on your shoulder especially when he wants a hug. And he loves to go out in the rain because he knows when he comes in, I will rub him dry with a big, old fluffy towel. Life is nothing but simple pleasures for Iko.

And I couldn't end this post without including a picture of our angel, Tank. This is him and Nana when she was only a mini-monster. 

It hasn't been the same since he's been gone. He was the rock of the pack, but he was still our baby til the end.

It might seem foolish to those of you who don't have pets or see your pets as mere animals, but our guys are family to us. 

There have been saints, sinners, and at least one goddess in the long line of fur babies who had made their home with us. We loved them all.

What pets live with you, (past or present)? Have you ever had them share a bed with you? Extra points if they've ever pushed you off the bed. 

Monday, February 9, 2015

State of the Homestead

Our winter has been relatively mild. It flip flops between freezing weather and warm. This week it's warm.

This is about the time I get busy. There are seeds to start, gardens to clean, and preparations to make for upcoming births. But we've had a few births already!

Rabbits: It was impossible to find another Blue New Zealand buck. We lost ours through an accidental escape.

We finally decided to go for mixed breed bunnies. Our original plan was to have pure blue New Zealands so we could sell them to 4H clubs and to people who prefer pure-breeds, but since we never found a Blue locally, we decided just to raise rabbits for our table and not for sale.

We found Frodo. He's a mutt (a New Zealand cross), but he's friendly and manageable.

Ruby, our white New Zealand, and Belle, our blue New Zealand each delivered six and five bunnies respectively. Each of them were excellent mothers.The bunnies are healthy and rambunctious.

They were born during a freak cold snap but we prepared ahead of time and super insulated their enclosure. Everyone made it fine without a hitch. I used to go in there just to get warm myself.

Chickens: The Marans must've heard I was planning to put them on the chopping block because they all started behaving again. Not one has been eating her eggs. 

Unfortunately, I will have to replace the black Australorp. They are way older than I should've let them go and their egg production has gone into decline. I'm just waiting for them to start laying enough eggs for me to incubate. The only one who's staying is the rooster. He's a well-mannered boy and still does his job.

The only other breed I have left are two Americaunas, a rooster and hen. I think the hen stopped laying all together, but I'd like to sell or give away the rooster because he's gorgeous. He's a nice bird too. There's not a mean bone in his body.

Goats: The girls are pregnant, but I'm not sure when they'll deliver. The boys got in with the girls on two different occasions on someone else's watch. (I had been sick.) Since the deed had probably already been done, I allowed the boys run with the girls earlier than I had planned. I'm hoping it'll be a March delivery, but there's no way to know until they get closer to the date.

The big news--and sad too--is that we might be getting out of the goat business for a while. After the girls deliver and the babies are weaned, we're thinking of selling the whole lot. We'd like to do some traveling while we're still young but I have no one fearless enough to walk into the goat pen. They're a little intimidating to the uninitiated and I don't want to burden anyone. They're not mean, just pushy--and stubborn. If you're not used to goaty ways, it can be overwhelming.

We've managed to rig up a feeder to auto-feed for four days at a time, but that's no good for longer trips. I hate the thought of selling them, but I haven't been able to come up with another solution. If we do sell, we'll probably get smaller dairy goats when the time comes to get goats again. With any luck they'll be more docile and less intimidating. 

Bees: No, not yet. Greg and I were looking into it. We estimated it'll cost us upwards of $500 to get started properly. He was willing to invest, but I think we have too many projects for this year. With it being his first year of retirement, I'd like to see how our cash flow lines out before we start something new.

I'm really surprised Greg is interested in beekeeping since he was deathly allergic to bee stings as a child. He's since gotten stung as an adult and didn't get as strong a reaction so I'm hoping the allergy has dissipated over the years.

Garden: I still have spinach, bok choy and last year's onions and garlic in the garden, but it's time for me to clean out the beds and get them prepped for planting. I've started a few seeds already. I'm also going in with a friend of mine to buy whole flats of tomato and pepper seedlings. She gets them wholesale so it's win-win for me.

My new onion sets will go in the ground this week, but I'll wait until March 1st to plant my potatoes.

I have a full time helper this year so I'm hoping it'll be a more successful garden year. 

Energy: My helper also has a project of his own. He's been researching vertical wind generators. He's come up with some pretty interesting ideas. Wind generators are very popular in Texas and there are so many different designs available. He wants something he can build and install on his own.

I'm all for anything that will help defray the cost of electricity. It's one of our biggest expenses.

All in all, 2015 looks promising. Is anyone planning a garden this year? What's your favorite fruit or veggie to grow? Do you know anyone allergic to bee venom?

Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Tally Sheet: Maria Comes Clean

Back in January, I mentioned that Greg rigged up a spreadsheet for our expenses. Now that we were on a fixed income, I wanted to make sure there'd be no surprises.

We had asked our money manager for a reasonable stipend out of our savings--well above what I estimated we'd need on a normal monthly basis. 

This does two things: It allows us to have ready cash for emergencies. And if nothing happens, it builds up a nice nest egg--already earmarked for a future trip.

The good news: We came in under budget on gasoline, groceries, and dining out. 

Promising news: If we ever sell Casa South, it'll be enough to pay off the balance on Casa North, giving us back a big chunk of change every month. 

The bad news: It's VERY EASY to spend thoughtlessly. December taught us that. It was a lesson that haunted us throughout January.

Counting every expense is the key, especially the small cash trifles. It's the candy bar, lottery ticket, and the tips we leave that add up.

Dining out has always been our Achilles heel. We were a two-income couple with no children, save the dogs. We ate out almost every day while we were working for the man.

What helped us make the transition was our willingness to cook at home and only dining out when we had coupons or eating off the 'lunch menu'. 

As some of you know, cooking is not my favorite activity, but Greg has made it fun. He's found some great recipes and we cook together. We're eating better at home than we ever did eating out. 

The other thing that helped greatly is long-range planning. For the last couple of years, I've been slowly stocking up (particularly on non-perishables) but also staples we regularly use.

Budgeting is a big subject so I'll touch on different facets from time to time. Today, I'll list the tips I use to save money on groceries.

• Go meatless. Pasta dinners go far, and they're very cheap. Try different pasta sauces besides tomato. We do pesto, spinach and Parmesan, and just plain olive oil and garlic. And don't forget mac and cheese. Very filling and satisfying.

• Use less meat. Chinese stir-fry is a great way to eat meat without using a lot of it. Big salads are also go-to meals for us. Sometimes I just fix a dinner plate of salad greens and veggies with homemade dressing, then I'll top it with thin strips of steak or chicken.

• Make your own snack foods. I'm no saint. I like sweets on occasion. Rather than buy cookies or pastries, make your own. The basic cookie recipe is stupid-easy. You can even make extra and freeze the rest for next time.

• Speaking of sweets, always buy chocolate after Valentine's Day, Halloween, and Christmas. I freeze those mega-bags of single-serving chocolates and pull them out whenever I have a sweet tooth.

• Buy produce in season. I'll admit, I'm bad at this, but I'm getting better. Recently my local store put cauliflower at a ridiculously low price and I bought several heads. Cauliflower freezes well and keeps well in the fridge too. It's a veggie I can't grow easily where I live because it stays hot for too many months.

• Meal plan. This is another one of my weaknesses but cooking with Greg has made me a better meal planner. I find if I can plan a week ahead, my grocery bill is smaller because I buy foods I can use for more than one meal. 

For example: I might buy a pot roast. A big hunk of it will go in the crock pot as a traditional pot roast. Another piece I'll save for fajitas later that week, and a few strips I'll save as a topping for our full meal salads.

• Use your freezer. Taking that pot roast example, I might opt to make a giant slow-cooked pot roast complete with veggies. We'll eat one meal and then freeze the rest in meal sized containers. Now I have 2-3 future meals already made. All I have to do is put them in the oven to reheat.

• Stockpile: I cannot stress this enough. A lot of my success comes from small but continuous efforts to add to the larder. If something I use regularly is on sale, I buy in bulk. It will save you money in the long run. I guarantee it.

Our monthly grocery budget is $300. This isn't just food for us, but for the dogs too--who eat pretty darn good, let me tell you. From this money, I buy fresh produce, food for stockpile (on sale, of course), dog food, food I can't grow/raise like fish and shrimp, and indulgences, like sweets and savories. And although it's not food, nonperishables like paper, plastics, foil, and cleaning supplies also go on the grocery budget.

We listed every expense on our spreadsheet, no matter how small. It kept us honest. If you know it's going on the spreadsheet, you're less likely to fudge because it makes you accountable.

There are some big expenses coming up later in the year, so it'll be interesting to see how we do as the year progresses. So far, so good, but the fat lady hasn't sung yet. The real result comes at the end of the year.

Do you use a budget? Out of curiosity, and if you care to share, what's your monthly grocery budget? I know food is a lot cheaper where I live than some place like Chicago, so that's something to take into account too.

Is there anything you try to do to keep your bottom line down?

Monday, February 2, 2015

What a week!

Unfortunately, it wasn’t a good week.

Home Fronts: We went down to check on Casa South and to fire our realtor. She’s been awful. Worse yet, now she says she lost our keys. They were in a lock box. How can you lose keys that were in a lock box?

While we were there we noticed a lot of trees down and standing water. There must’ve been a pretty rough storm recently. We’ll have to go back later to clean up the debris.

There’s one gigantic pine, at least 100 feet tall that scares the heck out of me. It died a while ago. We’re waiting for it to come down on its own. Usually pines that tall will break off from the top and work its way down. But it’s so close to the house.

We had no internet at Casa South so I’ve had to answer emails whenever I happened upon free wifi.

Computer woes and a smart man: I returned home to Casa North only to discover I had no internet at this house either. Oy!

To salt the wound, my computer was making dying moose sounds. It’s been doing this for a long time and I knew I’d have to replace it soon. Only I HATE even the whisper of having to buy a new computer. 

The expense. The software reinstallation. The colorful language I use during the transition. Husband and dogs make themselves scarce during this dangerous period of Maria-acclimation to new hardware.

To keep my old machine on life support, we blew compressed air into the casing to blow out the dust. Usually that helps, but this time it died right on the operating table. Then Greg did something remarkable. He figured out which part had died (the power supply) and did an organ transfer from an old computer.

It was the most amazing thing. He was like a surgeon, reconnecting all those blood vessels. I think I’ll keep him a while longer. Any man who can save me money is a keeper.

Weather: We’ve had up and down weather. Last week got up to 80, and this morning we dipped below freezing for a few hours. This time of year is always unpredictable. Can’t wait for March.

And a loss: The week ended on a sad note too when I learned a friend had passed away. I was looking forward to seeing him at a Christmas party, but he never showed. He was a kind, sweet man. I’m going to miss his teasing and silly jokes. It’s a harsh reminder to cherish those around you. You never know when it’ll be the last time.

Has your week been unpredictable?

My next post will be an update on the expense journal I told you about last month. January was my true trial month on the state of our spending and it was quite the eye-opener. I'll share some of the things we did to cut spending and come in under budget.

I’ll do my best to catch up on your blog posts. Being without internet for so long has put me way behind.