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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.