Saturday, December 13, 2008

Disability News

I had my disability hearing yesterday and I think it went well. We are back in wait and see mode now. I don't really expect to hear anything until February or so but it would be a very nice Christmas present if the Judge is on the ball and gets his opinion in. But even if he wrote his decision last night and submitted it to SSD, it will take them at least a month if not longer to get the paperwork done. Our government moves at the speed of racing snails.

On a better note, I should have almost 3 years of back pay when it finally comes through. Plus whatever I get for the kids. That will allow us to stay in the house for a while should something happen to my husband's job. It will at least pay the house payment and electric bill. So a part time job for my Hubby would cover the rest of it. Or we could use it to pay off the house completely and not have a house payment at all. And when we do decide to sell, it would be all profit. Or, we could just keep it in savings and add it to whatever profit we get from the house when we do sell, allowing us to get a nicer place, free and clear of debt. Decisions, decisions.

Any way you look at it, if it comes through, it will release a TON of stress off of our shoulders. Our biggest worry over the last couple of years has been him keeping his job long enough to get the kids out of school. It doesn't matter where we live while the kids are in college, since they won't be here anyway. But if we can find a decent house with at least 5 acres, we wouldn't need as much money to live on. Especially since it would just be the two of us with occasional guests.

I know that I have talked about this before, but I want a homestead. You know the kind of place, an older house with character but not falling down around us, a big garden, wood stove for heat, basement/root cellar, chickens, pigs, a milk cow or two, a nice shop or barn that I can turn into a commercial style kitchen for canning and entertaining, maybe even a small guesthouse out back.

I would like to have a market stand if we can find a place with highway frontage where I can sell some of my extra produce from the garden and maybe extra eggs. I will have to look into the laws before I do that though. I am pretty sure I can sell the produce without any problem, but the eggs might be different. We will just have to worry about that when it happens.

I don't want to go too overboard but I think that once everything is settled and I can get some perennials established, it might be a good way to supplement our income. After all, if our only income is my disability, any little extra can only be a good thing.

Either way, I am excited again.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Experimental Holiday

Well, Thanksgiving is finally over, for which I am truly thankful, and now it is on to thinking about Christmas.

This year, it appears, will be something of an experiment with my husband's family. The annual sniping and bickering was more intense than normal that, in turn, caused a rather explosive response. Feelings were injured and regrettable words were spoken. Fortunately, we were not there to witness the event, so we have been able to distance ourselves from the fray. But it threatened to pull the family apart completely.

My husband's nephew finally had enough. He declared that Christmas would be at his house this year, that he would do the cooking, and that everyone would have a good time, or else. I am so very proud of him for that. He has been the only one willing to take a stand to keep the family from falling apart. The other family members I have talked to since the "announcement" are taking a wait and see approach. They don't think he will be able to pull it off. I, on the other hand, think it is wonderful. And I volunteered to help him with the preparations. Not only because he really has no idea what all it will involve, but he has no clue how to cook. At least not an entire meal for 14 people.

I will do my dead level best to make sure that he has a fair chance to pull this fractured family back together. As much as these folks literally make me crazy, I love them all very much. And all of the constant backbiting and petty remarks should be put behind us.

It gives me hope that maybe the next generation can do something good.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Oh, the horror...I mean, Happy Thanksgiving!

Well, it is time again for the annual trek to "Grandma's House" for the first of the traditional holiday get-togethers. We are all looking forward to the mostly edible meals, the guilt trips about why we don't come home more often, and the list of illnesses and disasters that have occurred since the last time we made the journey.

I can't wait to get to my mother-in-laws house tonight so she can tell me how sick she is and ask in a not so subtle way if I would cook the dinner for tomorrow. I will say,"sure, no problem," and then while I am trying to get everything ready for 10 to 14 people, she will be standing right behind me telling me how I am doing it wrong. Or, the alternative to all of this is the bringing out of aluminum foil wrapped packages and bowls from the freezer where she froze the rest of the dressing she made a month ago, or last year, or a couple of years ago, that just "needs to be eaten" because it is "perfectly good". "Why, there is nothing wrong with" eating food that has been in a 30 year old freezer that may or may not keep the proper temperature, regardless of power outages.

A little story about all of this. When my husband was growing up, he thought it was normal to be violently ill at least once a year, sometimes twice, with a "stomach flu". He thought it was just something going around and it wasn't any big deal. Until he got married and moved to Texas. It is funny how he never got the stomach flu while he lived down there. After the divorce, he moved back home to go to school. Again with the stomach flu. Then we met and got married. Wow, no more stomach flu. Amazing. I was finally able to convince him that his mother tries to poison everyone with her cooking. So now, it is kind of funny to watch him wandering around with his plate(tiny dinning table so we all just eat wherever we can find a seat) trying to find out of the way trash cans to dump his food.

Now at my Dad's, meals are always a little bit different. It won't make you sick, but it is rather far from traditional. Last year for Christmas, we had pizza. Granted, they were very good, but hardly traditional. Last year for Thanksgiving, he had a fish fry. With the turkey his wife made him cook on the side. Fried, of course.

My mom always does the traditional thing, Turkey, Dressing, 2 or 3 veggies, bread and a couple of pies to finish things off. We are generally so sick of turkey and dressing that we don't want to see it again for at least a year.

And the best part of all three of these meals is the conversation. We get to hear everything there is to speculate about who is sick, in the hospital, going to have surgery, who is in jail, who should be in jail, who is (as my mother in law so delicately puts it) fornicating, babies born, who died, job statuses, the state of various computers in as many various houses, and maybe someone actually gets around to asking us how we are doing.

And we actually drive almost 3 hours to get to enjoy this wonderful holiday season. Twice. After all, Christmas is just around the corner.

Monday, November 17, 2008

News...good and bad

Well, we had a little bit of unsettling news this past weekend. One of our friend's 16 year old daughter is pregnant. We are a little worried about her because she is so petite and so very young. But we are trying to be supportive of her and their family.

They have been barely making ends meet as it is. He is on disability and she is a waitress and that is essentially their only income. The daughter doesn't work, and the baby's daddy is only 15, not old enough to work. So we are going to do what we can to make it better for them.

The next time we see them will probably be New Years and she will probably be showing by then. I thought I might make her a couple of maternity tops since they really cannot afford to buy her a new wardrobe, especially at Christmas.

There is sooo much they are going to need. They will probably be able to find quite a bit at yard sales and flea markets, but you always want some new things too. I thought I would make up some baby clothes in a sort of unisex way until we find out whether it is a boy or girl. Maybe crochet a couple of blankets. Baby clothes do not take much fabric or much time to make, and I am definitely better at sewing than I was when my kids were babies. Although I did make my daughter a couple of dresses.

I did ask if they were going to use cloth or disposable diapers. Probably both, so I got to looking around for free patterns for cloth diapers on the web. They are so cute, and appear very easy to make. So I thought I might make up a few of those too.

If the situation were not so sad, I would be thrilled to be an honorary Grand Aunt. I think I would have prefered to wait a few years though.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Remembering the good old days

I was reminded yesterday of all the things we did growing up that I would NEVER allow my own children to do. Like walk a quarter of a mile through knee deep snow to chop a hole with a hatchet in the pond ice so the 3 or 4 cows we had could drink. When my brother and I were 10 and 7. Or walking through the bean field across the road from our house to the dump that was at the back. And digging through said trash to find "treasures". Or walking or biking up to the highway(about 1.5 miles) with a dollar in our hands to go to the little country store to get a coke, a candy bar, some chips, a few pieces of bubble gum, and if Old Lady Warren was there, maybe a couple of extra pieces of hard candy.

Of course, we had plenty of chores to do first before we could wander off for the day. Usually in the summer, it was picking garden. Then feeding everyone (cows, pigs, chickens, an occasional horse). Then snapping beans. I hated snapping beans. Then my older brother generally was excused for a while until evening chores. I on the other had, got the joy of helping my mom can everything. I really hated that, especially since my brother got to take off and I had to stay. But if I complained long enough, Mom would let me go just to get me out of her hair.

We pretty much had run of about 3 mile area. A mile and a half in any direction. And all we had to do was tell roughly where we were going and to be back by dark or dinner, whichever was first.

We spent a lot of time in the gullywash back behind our place. The neighbors behind us had these pine woods and there was this huge, I will say about 15-20 foot deep, gully that ran through almost the whole thing. We would take a broken down cardboard box with us and "ride" down the pine needle covered gully walls on the box. We did have to keep a sharp eye out for briars, but we had great fun. Those pine needles made for a smooth ride and since there was always a decent sized pile of them at the bottom, a fairly soft landing too. That gully was the scene of many pirate attacks, Indian raids, war battles, and games of Hide and Seek.

And none of these adventures ever had adult supervision. Ever. We would sometimes come home bruised and bloodied, from getting caught in the briars, or completely covered in mud or dust. Mom would tell us to wash off outside before we came in(we had a handy waterhose by the back door and a concrete porch to stand on while we did it). If our cuts were too bad, we would put peroxide or mecurichrome on them and go on about our business.

Only once did I ever get seriously injured. My dad had brought home this huge pile of broken down pallets to use as kindling in the fireplace. And they still had nails in them. That pile of rough broken planks was perfect for climbing on. Until the day one of them shifted under my bare foot and I slid into a nail and got a nice, rather deep, cut on the top of my foot by my pinkie toe. 3 stitches. And mom was LIVID! She wouldn't let up play on that pile any more. We were heartbroken. So we just climbed trees and jumped off into the tangle of honeysuckle vines and pretended to be Tarzan instead.

Wow, we really don't let our kids have any fun these days.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Raising rabbits?

OK, so today I have been learning about raising meat rabbits. Apparently, rabbit meat has fewer calories per pound than any other meat, has very little cholesterol, and *surprise!* tastes like chicken.

From my research, I have learned that meat rabbits can dress out around 4-5 pounds in 8-11 weeks. That is a lot of meat in a very short time. And considering that the average litter is 5-8 kits, that is more than 20 pounds of meat every three months with only 1 breeding doe. I have also read that to start a family sized meat operation you would only need 1 buck and 3 does. So that would be 60 pounds of meat every quarter, that is 240 pounds a year! I am thinking that is a very cost effective feed to meat ratio.

And rabbits can be kept in 5 foot square elevated cages to keep predators out and make cleaning the cages easier. They are also very quiet so as to not disturb the neighbors. Another little tidbit I learned is that rabbit manure is the only manure that does not have to be aged before use as fertilizer. So straw from under the cages can go directly into the garden or flower bed. Cool, huh?

The pelts can be tanned for numerous uses as well. I can think of gloves and hats just for starters.

So just about anyone can raise rabbits for meat. They take up very little space, breed like, well, rabbits, and are a very healthy choice when it comes to meat.

I wonder if I can talk my husband in to building me some rabbit cages?

Monday, November 3, 2008

Good Friends Make Life Nicer

I have noticed that my Random Thoughts have been incredibly random lately. I would like to explain that because my thoughts have been very random.

With the economy like it is at the moment, it is even more important that we not spend money on frivolous things. We have to stay focused on the big picture here. If my husband loses his job, how are we going to make it through the year so my daughter can graduate with her friends? What about my son who still has 3 more years? How will we make the house payment? What about insurance for my medications? What about Christmas?

These are all things we have to think about. As more and more Americans are having money troubles, and are trying to spend less, it is causing the nations retailers some pain. And that is causing a cycle of increased unemployment, more late payments or defaults on loans, and even less money out there to spend.

Personally, I think the real problem is the mindset that we as Americans have adopted. We think it is our right and duty to spend large amounts of cash on every item there is to buy. And retailers and ad executives are ultimately to blame here. They have found new and interesting ways to convince us that we absolutely must have "things" to be happy.

Case in point. This past weekend, we had house guests from Friday night until Sunday evening. We didn't go out to eat, we didn't spend a lot of time playing games or acting like consumers. We sat and visited with each other. We did go to the bread outlet (they do not have one within easy driving distance of their home so they stock up when they visit) and we went to Big Lots (they don't have one of those either). The rest of the time we ate, talked, and basically just enjoyed each others company. And we had a good time. And we didn't have to spend a lot of money to do it.

The funny thing about that is 20 years ago, we would have played a game that took all weekend to play or played several games that took 5+ hours. 5 years ago, we would have played maybe 1 game that took 5+ hours and maybe a couple of games that took 1 -1.5 hours. A year ago we would have played 3 or 4 games that took 45 minutes to play. Maybe we are just getting old. But it just seems more important now to slow down and enjoy each other that have to be entertained the entire time.

And as they say, talk is cheap.

Now I know why our grandparents would just sit and visit instead of wanting to do anything. It is actually relaxing to be able to visit instead of trying to plan a series of entertainments that every one would enjoy.

With relaxation being a lost art these days, and the amount of stress people are under at work, it just makes sense to take the time to enjoy life.

You don't have to buy a lot of specialized equipment, special clothing, or even special food (although I do cook a lot when we have company) to visit with friends. And taking time off from the world every couple of months to just sit and drink tea is a good thing. And good friends make it that much better.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Preparing for the Next Great Depression

80 some odd years ago, something really bad happened in our country. We had a series of catastrophes that triggered an economic meltdown the likes of which had not been seen in modern history. There were several years of droughts that destroyed most of the harvests in the Midwest. The stock market became unstable causing bank runs. And as a side effect of those issues, many people left their family farms and moved to the cities looking for work, causing food and housing shortages in large urban areas.

Then the Black Blizzards came and scoured literally millions of tons of topsoil from what was once the richest areas of the Midwest, and scattered it all over the country. This all but destroyed the fertility of the wheat belt for about 20 years. It took many years and thousands of tons of fertilizers and chemicals to get back even a fraction of the growing capability of that once fertile soil.

We have recovered the crop producing soil now, but the mindset that worked that soil is probably gone forever. A single farmer, with 80 or 100 acres, or even 200 acres, does not control what he produces anymore. He cannot decide to plant sweetcorn on his rice field anymore. Because of the specialized nature of modern farming, he would have to invest in a multitude of new equipment if he decided to change his crop. And most simply cannot afford it.

What does that mean for the average person? We depend on farmers to grow food for us. If they cannot grow it, we cannot eat. The cost to consumers for the lack of diversity in farming is that if we have another Great Depression, there are millions of acres of fields planted in crops that are not edible by humans. Corn crops these days are mostly grown to make ethanol or corn syrup and not to eat. Different hybrid strains of corn that produce higher starch content have been produced to increase the yield but not for food. So all of that land that used to grow food, now grows sweeteners for you sodas and additives for your car. If every farmer used 2% of his fields to grow food crops, like potatoes or beans, that is only 2 acres for every 100 he plants in cash crops, we would not have food issues in this country. A 2 acre plot of land could feed a family well for a year. And if every farmer in each community would get together and each plant his 2 acres in a different crop and swap with each other (one plant tomatoes, one sweet corn, one beans, squash, etc) they could easily feed the entire community. And if that was done all over the country, no one would have to go hungry.

Even if everyone who has at least 1/2 acre of space in town planted a garden, everyone that person knows would have access to fresh food. It is very easy to have more squash than a family can eat. And tomatoes are a very high yield crop as well. Peppers, okra, beans, peas, all of theses are very high yield for the space they use. Even melons and cucumbers can be run on a trellis so that they take up very little space.

If everyone planted something, anything, there would not be food shortages in the face of an economic depression.

Food isn't the only thing that will be needed if the worst happens. The basics we as humans need to sustain life are food, water, warmth and dry. Food we have already talked about. Water is an issue that most people take for granted. You turn on the faucet and there it is. But that water has to come from somewhere. If another Great Depression occurs, it is highly unlikely that municipal infrastructure will fail. So water shouldn't really be an issue except in very remote areas.

Warmth is something to be concerned about though. With the prices of heating oil and natural gas skyrocketing, it only makes sense to look at alternative sources for heat. Wood-burning stoves come to mind. As well as passive solar and geothermal sources. The technology is there now but the prices are still high enough to put it out of reach for most people. So wood stoves and fireplaces are still the cheapest, most efficient option at the moment. A wood stove can be used not only for heating the room, but also for cooking your food. So that is another plus to look at.

Shelter to keep you out of the weather, be it rain, wind, cold, or hot summer sun is always an issue. If you loose your job, and you home get foreclosed, where will you go? It is always a good idea to have a backup plan in the event of an emergency. Even natural disasters like tornadoes, floods, and earthquakes can take your home away from you in a heartbeat. Where will you go? A good backup plan can be the difference between surviving and subsisting.

Make a plan. Will your family be able to survive?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Now, More Than Ever...

In these uncertain economic times, it is more important than ever to watch what you spend, and how you spend it. With the stock market in flux and unemployment on the rise, people are getting nervous about their next pay check.

I see things a little bit differently than most urban dwellers do. We have not instilled in our children the need to be busy with activities all the time. We do not spend beyond our means. And we almost never impulse buy. We don't have a house full of stuff to maintain, or need to get a bigger house to have a place for all of the stuff. We actually will be downsizing a child next fall, as she goes off to college.

We don't need a lot of "things" that most people feel is necessary. My cell phone was purchased in 2002, I think, and it still works fine with the original battery. I have no need to replace it. I have a camera so why do I need a phone that takes pictures? I have an internet connection for my laptop, so my phone doesn't need to be able to search the web either. I have a radio, so I don't need it to play music. I don't text people, I talk to them. It is a phone. I talk to people on it. That is what it does and that is all I need it to do. It works out well.

If and when the economy collapses, there will be a lot of people walking around with cell phones/MP3 Players/cameras/text messenger/computer/personal organizers with a blue tooth connection that can't afford to pay the bill. And they will be lost with out it. "OMG! I can't text?!?!"

As a society, we have gotten so used to spending money, that a lot of people will just be lost if they have no money to spend. College funds and IRAs are all well and good, except that they are tied to banks and/or the stock market. If those institutions fail, then so does your money. And everything you have worked for is just , poof, gone. I am not saying that you should panic and cash out all of your assets, I am saying you should not depend on them being there. If they don't diminish and you can still access it when you need it, Great! But you can't be sure it will always be there. That is why there is fine print on your prospectus.

Credit cards are another thing that our society has gotten used to. It has become a staple of every day life. People just don't carry cash anymore. And most people do not pay in full every month. I don't understand why you want to buy something with interest every time you get a whim. That just strikes me as dangerous. What if you lose your job? Or have a medical emergency that prevents you from working for 6 months? Or a year? What will you do then? Getting yourself into a debt cycle is just a bad idea. And lots of people are starting to realize that they have spent themselves into a hole they can never get out of.

What to do about all of this? Stop spending. Sounds easy doesn't it. It isn't. It takes commitment and a willingness to change your lifestyle. So you don't eat out so much, stop buying the newest gadgets just because they are new, and find new and creative ways to reuse the things you already have. Shop for "things" at flea markets and yard sales instead of paying retail. Utilize Freecycle. Swap things or services with your neighbors. Invest in a good cookbook and learn to cook your own gourmet meals.

And stop using credit cards. If you do nothing else, stop using credit. If you can't pay cash for something, don't buy it.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Economy, the Election, and What it means for Us

Continued from yesterday...

So what does the upcoming election mean for us as Americans? I personally don't think it really means all that much. I know that people get passionate about their favorite candidate, and sometimes are very vocal, but I don't feel that either of the major party candidates will be a good choice.

We have allowed our leaders to destroy the Democratic process by our apathy. We just don't care what they do in Washington as long as they give us money every now and then and stay out of our way. We do not care that they are bought and paid for by lobbyists and special interests groups. On a local level, we do not care that lucrative state and county contracts go to good friends and relatives instead of the lowest bidder or the most qualified. We do not question where the campaign funds come from. We just don't care. And as a result, the only people who want to become politicians are those who are in the business for personal gain, not for the want to do good.

What it all boils down to is that politicians, as a species, are not politicians so that they can help the people. And that being the case, one is just as good as the other. Either way, the American people lose.

The US economy is in such bad shape from lack of oversite, that there will not be a good or easy way out. The economy will collapse. How far, and for how long, is really the only question. Home prices have been way, way over-valued for the last 10-15 years so the local governments could collect higher property taxes. Gasoline has been over-taxed so the DOT could collect more money to pay civil engineers to design new bridges and roads that we have nowhere to put. Income taxes have been raised time and again to pay for social programs that encourage people to not work and have more babies instead of training them for good paying jobs. The Social Security Program has been tapped into for decades to fund congressional pet projects instead of being used to keep healthcare costs for senior to a manageable level. Farmers are being paid to NOT grow certain crops to keep the prices artificially high instead of letting the market take care of itself. Factory farms are pushing traditional farmers out of the business through over regulation and higher production costs.

Every dollar you earn is taxed a minimum of 4 times. Yet we are going to pay $700 BILLION to bank CEOs for driving their businesses into the ground. Where is that money going to come from? You guessed it, higher taxes...again.

Higher taxes mean fewer jobs. Fewer jobs means higher unemployment. Higher unemployment means more people default on their loans and credit cards. More defaults means more banks will fail. See a cycle here?

My guess is that it will be a very lean Christmas season for retail sales. And come January, credit card companies will start failing. That will mean all the people who live on their credit cards will no longer have access to credit. It is very possible that the card companies will demand payment in full. That would mean that every card that you have a $2000-$10,000 balance on will say, "Pay it off now or we will sue." Blood from a turnip I know, but if they get a judgment against you in court, they can seize your assets to settle the debt. Like your house, your kid's college fund, your IRA. See the picture? And the government will be on their side because they do not want the banks and card companies to fail.

Your best bet is to do what every you have to do to pay those suckers off and never look at a credit card again. Pay cash. Or use a debit card. Or better yet, do without it if you can.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Economy, the Election, and What it means for Us

It sort of concerns me the amount of unrest this election is causing. Between the economic panic and worry over who will be our next president, people are starting to get worried about the future.

I personally do now see how a President can really have any effect on the daily lives of US citizens. Sure, he will have policies for everything, but without Congress, he is just so much carbon and water sitting in a slightly round room. Now if Congress was on the same side as the President, then there will be a huge amount of crap going on in DC. Everybody and their brother will have their hands in the taxpayer till, picking out change for every little pet project that comes along. And that is always a good thing, right? (see the sub-prime housing market)

If McCain is elected, he will have a hostile Congress to deal with, so nothing will be accomplished. He will be called every name in the book and the Democrats will eat his guts for lunch on a daily basis.

If Obama is elected, then the liberal right-wingers will have parties in the streets. Social programs that we can't pay for will abound, and businesses will stagnate and fail. Taxes to pay for all of the new programs will put us even farther in debt to foreign countries, our military will be cut to the point where we can no longer protect ourselves, and our status as a world leader will be over.

Nations all over the world are endorsing Obama for President, and I have to ask why? Why do they care who our president is? Why would Hugo Chavez, who hates the US with a burning passion, want Obama to be our President? Why would the religious leaders in the Middle East, who have declaird jihad on us, want Obama to be our President? What difference does it make to the Mayor of London who our President is? What do they have to gain by it? And why do we care?

All of this really just boils down to a couple of things. Most of the countries of the world want to see us fall. Some hate us for our crass commericalism, some for our arrogance, and others are just jealous of our freedoms. While we take for granted that we can buy just about anything we want at any time, and usually do, others have to do without even basics like food and water.

I cannot see the future, but I can imagine if the US falls to socialism, there will be a fundemental breakdown of society. Riots, worthless currency, martial law, and world-wide chaos. Granted, that is a worst case scenario, but I can see it happening.

And the US as a whole is simply not prepared for it. It would come as a shock to the majority of US citizens who live in their I-Pod world. People do not even know how to cook anymore, much less raise food crops or build a shelter. What will they do when their credit cards don't work any more?

At least me and my family are getting ready for it.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Gardening never ends

I have been ambitious this morning and worked up a new raised bed for spring planting. I took my compost pile apart and split it between my tumbling barrel, a plastic trash can, and an old tree pot. I have used the trash can and tree pot for overflow composting before, and with winter coming on, it seemed the best option. That left me with just enough well composted materials to fill a raised bed on the spot where the compost pile was.

That particular spot has been used as a "storage" spot for leaves and grass clippings for about 2 years now, and clay soil underneath has developed a nice healthy color. There were some mambo sized worms in there when I was moving it all around. That tells me that the soil has definitely improved since I started piling leaves there. My little cultivator loosened the soil very easily, another indicator that things are looking up there. I am thinking that will be a good spot for melons or squash or something in the Spring.

A couple of weeks ago, I worked up a really small area in the northwest corner of the yard. It is only about 2' X 5' and I am thinking I might be able to trellis up some cucumbers there or something. I don't think it will really be good for much else, but I did work in some finished compost so at least it isn't all clay.

I am also thinking that I might move the beans next year to garden and put tomatoes in the raised bed where the beans were. It should help to keep the critters out of it since the dog can get all the way around it. She knows that she can't get in the garden so keeping the rodents out has been difficult since it butts up against the shed. The darned things just crawl out from under the shed and go to grazing. I have lost a lot of tomatoes that way this year.

So the actual garden spot will be for beans I think. Tomatoes in the raised bed, squash and cukes in the new beds, and maybe some lettuce in pots or something. I don't know yet, maybe. After all, I have all of these seeds I will need to use.

If I can just keep the pests out of it, we should be good on veggies.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Frugal VS. Cheap

There is a fundamental difference between frugal and cheap.

People who are frugal will shop around for an item before they buy, look at value instead of price, and try to find a trade item instead of having to spend money for it. People who are cheap will always try to get something for nothing, and if they have to buy it, will pay the absolute minimum.

Frugal is when you will recycle, repurpose, or take apart and salvage value from discarded materials. Cheap would be to not buy it at all or buy the least expensive item that will do the job.

Now the real difference is actually in the value. People who are cheap will buy the absolute lowest cost which is generally, but not always, an inferior product. Tools are a good example. Yes, you can buy a screwdriver that is less than a dollar, but it will not last and you will have to buy that screwdriver again and again. A frugal person will look for a better quality screwdriver so they will not have to buy another one. But they will not buy the most expensive one just because it is the top of the line, high tech, indestructible, titanium covered, engraved, or whatever.

There is something called a cost/benefit analysis. And frugal people can do it without thinking. Is the item worth the money it will cost to buy it? Will the item earn, either in time or repair costs, more that the cost to buy it? Will the cost to buy the item be recovered in usage? When these answers are yes, then buy them. Say you need to cut some firewood. You have an ax already, but you want a chainsaw. You visit a store that sells them. There are 5 models to pick from. One is small, lightweight, and very inexpensive, actually less than you expected to pay. Another one is big, heavy, and quite little bit over your budget, but it has a lifetime warranty. The three mid priced ones all have similar features, similar prices, and are good brands but they are nothing fancy. A cheap person will always buy the lowest priced item that will do the job. So they buy the small, lightweight model. They get it home and try to cut down a tree with it. It takes several tries to cut all the way through the tree and the user has to put a lot of pressure behind it to get it to cut through the knots. That will dull the chain faster and wear the motor out. So while that person didn't spend as much money for his chainsaw, he has to work harder and will have more repair time. A frugal person would buy one of the mid-priced saws. They are heavy enough to cut with out damaging the motor, and will probably be easier to use in the long run. If they had purchased the heavy, expensive one, it would probably be to unwieldy and they would wind up not using it as often because it is so difficult. Poor value.

Some people see the spending habits of the frugal folks as being cheap. But someone who is truly frugal will not buy things just to be buying them. There has to be a need and that need cannot be met by something they already have. Just because you can buy something, doesn't always mean that you should.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Frugal projects

I have discovered over the course of the last year that I actually enjoy being frugal. Every time I get a great bargain on something I need, I tell just about everyone I know about it. I just can't help it. I love spreading the news.

I like trying to find new ways to do things, whether it is reverse engineering something we eat at a restaurant so I can make it at home, or making something nice as a gift instead of buying it. I would really like to be able to live on a minimal amount of money just to prove to myself that I can do it.

Every now and then, I even get the urge to built something, like a house (lol) and make it livable without spending a dime. Then I take a really deep breath and make that idea go away. I am not a stranger to work, but just where in the world would I build such a thing? And why would I do it when I don't need to.

I get wild hairs every now and again to so something off the wall. Like my vertical planter. My husband just looks at me like I am crazy then tells me that if it will make me happy to try...but he never expects it to actually work. My thought is that you never know until you try, and trying is half the fun. And if it works and saves money, why not? If it doesn't work, take it apart and use the materials for something else. That is why we have an old flag pole buried in the middle of a raised flower bed with string tied to nails and pole beans growing in it. It is ugly as home made sin, but it works. And it has worked for 3 years now.

My next project is still undecided. I either want to try to make a couch, or a Murphy bed. I don't really have the space for either one, but they would be useful when we have company. When we have company, it is usually 14 at a time. And trying to find sleeping space for all of them is difficult at times.

I don't know, that will probably have to wait. DH has a project in mind for this weekend that will probably keep us busy for at least a week. We are going to pull up carpet and put down laminate. It really wouldn't take that long except that the area in front of the door has tile glued to the concrete subfloor. And there just isn't a good way to get that stuff up. Hammer and chisel is just about the only way. And that takes forever. So this weekend project may take over a week. We have to have it done by the end of the month though, because said company will be here Halloween weekend. And if we start it, it will have to be done by then.

But then again, we still haven't painted our bedroom or put down a floor in there either. And that project has been almost a year this month. No one sees it but us and I can look at dry wall for a while longer if I need to.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Eating Healthy on the Cheap

I read an article this morning about how eating beans and whole grains can help to reduce your cholesterol levels a significant amount. "According to a 2001 study from the Archives of Internal Medicine, people who eat beans four times a week reduce their heart disease risk by 20 percent." While I am not sure we could stand to eat beans that often, I think that eating beans a little more often will certainly help improve our health. And not only that, but beans are a very inexpensive way to get extra protein in our diet. And they are very versatile. We could easily have a vegetarian night once a week. And once a week will not cause too much disturbance in our house.

Bean burritos are probably the easiest way to serve them. Of course, we also like brown beans with bits of ham cooked in it. But like any true Southerner, you have to have fried potatoes and cornbread with it, and that will probably counteract the health benefits from the beans. Or a bean salad with lots of fresh veggies. When I was growing up, my mom made a really good bean salad that had kidney beans, chopped onion, chopped tomatoes, corn, (and something else, I don't remember) with a little bit of mayonnaise and salt and pepper. It was really good when we grilled out. I might actually try that tonight for dinner.

Garlic was also mentioned as a plus. We use a lot of garlic anyway so that shouldn't be a problem to just use it a little more.

The article also talked about how oats and oat fiber help you offset the negative effects of cholesterol by, essentially, soaking up the fats in the digestive tract. The good news is that oats are also inexpensive. And they are very versatile as well. Not only can you simply eat a bowl of hot oatmeal, you can run them through the blender to make oat flour for baking, make oatmeal cookies, use it as a binder for meatloaf or meatballs, the list goes on. I think I will be using a lot more oats in my daily cooking than I have in the past. Not only does it help with the cholesterol, it is an excellent source of fiber, and that is never a bad thing.

Purple grapes, either as juice or as wine, are rich in biflavinoids that will reduce the "stickiness" of platelets in the blood, reducing the probability of clots. It will also help repair damage caused by free radicals. So again, that is a good thing. 8 to 10 ounces a day is all that is needed. So go ahead and have that glass of red wine with dinner.

Eating cheaply doesn't mean you have to sacrifice your health. Between the beans, oats, garlic, cutting back on fried foods, and getting a little more exercise, we should be a lot healthier in the long run and still not be overspending on overpriced health food.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Just in Case...

Things have been just a bit different around here lately. While we don't have any stocks to worry about in the current market, the free fall on Wall Street still affects us. When stocks fall, companies get itchy. When banks fail, it is bad for everyone. If money is inaccessible, businesses cannot operate and lay off workers. That will only feed a vicious cycle that will collapse our economy if it goes on long enough.

Granted, we are not as bad off as some, but that doesn't mean we are in good shape. We have a couple of months of food stored, and our only debt is the house payment, but for a long term we will have problems just like everyone else.

I think if we prepare for a total breakdown, we can stave it off. My husband's family has operated under a curse of some sort for at least the last century. Every time something good to anyone in the family, something horrible will occur to wipe out the good and just a little more for good measure. So I figure if we spend a bunch of money that we really can't afford to get prepared for a possible collapse of society, we can prevent it from happening. Take the Y2K thing. We had water, lots of canned goods, refilled all of the prescriptions, got cash out of the bank, backed up all of the home computers to CD, bought batteries, etc. so nothing happen. My Brother-in-law did the same thing for his family. Therefore, nothing happened.

Granted, those things are just a good idea for every family to have prepared at all times anyway. You cannot predict natural disasters and there is something bad that can happen just about everywhere. And it can't hurt to be prepared. But some of the things you will need in a total collapse, like water filters, extreme medical supplies, guns and ammo, and survival skills could be an expense that you will never need. But can you ever really know what you will need in a crisis?

We have told the kids that things can change overnight and they need to be prepared, at least mentally, for life as they know it to go away. It isn't really fair to the kids to not at least warn them. While most folks prefer to keep their kids in the dark about what is going on in the world, we choose to keep ours informed so they can make up their own minds about issues. Keeping our children naive about world events might make you feel better and make you think that you are protecting them, but kids are not stupid and they hear more than you might realize. If you involve them in any planning decisions, it empowers them and actually will calm their fears. As long as they have a voice in the plan, they will understand why thing are different and be more of a help than a hindrance in case of emergency. And they will be more willing to sacrifice for the good of the family if you tell them why the precious store of batteries should not be used for the Nintendo DS or the MP3 player.

Hopefully, the worst will not happen, but being prepared in case it does will go a long way to staying calm in the event of an emergency.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Garden Dreams

It is time again to put the garden, such that it is, to bed for the winter and start thinking about next year. I have ordered a host of seed catalogs and have even gone so far as to start making a list of the things I want to try. I have to keep in mind that I have a tiny 8' X 12' garden and a 6'circle planting bed and have to limit what I actually can plant. It is hard sometimes to decide if I want to try tomatoes and peppers again(I historically suck at them) or do the entire thing in beans. Do I want to go for quantity or diversity? High yield or stuff we actually want to try.

It is frustrating sometimes to think that we could grow a lot of things that we buy if we just had the space to do it. Like asparagus. I would love to have a big asparagus bed. We love the stuff and it is just so expensive to buy. takes at least 2 growing seasons to mature. And with the way the economy and my husband's job are going, we may not be here long enough for that. So we wait.

What I am tempted to do every year is to dig up the sod in the back yard and work up growing beds. Do the entire yard in food. But we have a dog back there and, Bless her Thumpin' Gizzard, she likes to dig. I think I could probably work up a couple of areas that we currently don't use for much and still manage to keep Katie out of it, but it would get in the way of my clothesline. I might be able to come up with another maybe 2' X 6' spot with out too much trouble, but the dirt there is all but clay and hard as a rock. It would take a lot of work to get it composted enough to be usable for growing. I do have a spot along the South side of the house that is outside the fence so it is safe from the dog, but it is so choked with crabgrass and some mint that ran wild about 15 years ago that I think I would have a hard time keeping it weed free. But it would be a great salad bed.

I sometimes think "If Onlies" will drive me nuts.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Again with the economy

The economy is diving like a deep sea explorer and everyone seems to just be oblivious to the consequences. The American people seem to think, "Oh, well, home prices are dropping, but that doesn't effect me because I am not looking to sell my house." Then it was, "Oh, well, the mortgage companies and banks are failing, but that doesn't effect me because I am not looking to get a loan." And now it is,"Oh, well, the government is bailing out the stock market so my stocks will be guaranteed by the Government, so we are still OK." and "Gas prices keep going up, but I have to drive to work, so I have to pay it."

Does no one actually understand what banks failing and rising gas prices actually means. I means that any money you have may not be readily available if you want to withdraw it. It means that the CD you have may or may not be there when you get ready to cash it in. It means the credit card that you are paying 15% interest on may go up to 20 or 30%. It means that businesses cannot get operating loans to stay in business. It means that transporting goods from the port cities and distant farms is more expensive so the prices of everything will be going up.

And the real joy of all of this is the $700 Billion Pork Bill that just passed into law means that taxes on everything will be going up. Isn't that GREAT? That, all by it's self, means we will be paying for all of the piddly little special interest programs that couldn't get passed by themselves are now going to happen. And we get to pay for it. Whether we want to or not.

So as a recap, No credit available to anyone, might not be able to get to our money, food and gas prices will be skyrocketing, and taxes will be raised to an insane level.

I am not normally one to predict doom or believe in conspiracies, but I just cannot see how any of this is recoverable. Europe is beginning to suffer the same way and the Asian markets are beginning to fall as well. If something doesn't change soon, the entire world economy will just be going to hell in a hand-basket.

Is anyone really ready for this? Do you have a plan ready in case it all falls apart?

Friday, October 3, 2008

I Hate Politicians

Well, we have done it now. Our wonderful Congress has passed the bill to put the American people farther into debt than we will ever be able to get out of, and The Prez signed it.

We have have 900 Billion dollars worth of pork to pay for.

I heard someone say today that if you are not stockpiling guns, MREs, and converting your mini-bike to run off of tree sap you are going to be wishing you had. It makes me incredibly glad I have some food put back and all of our debt except the house paid off.

I cannot think of anything scarier than a complete lack of order in this country. There are so many people who think they are entitled to everything all paid for by the US government that if things start going South, there will be looting, food shortages, and total chaos. And the really bad part of it is that the majority of US citizens don't have a clue how to survive without a McDonald's nearby.

Granted, I can get by on a lot less than I have. It won't be fun, or easy, but I at least have spent the last couple of years learning. My reasons for learning are different than a lot of people's, but it is still a good reason to learn. I don't want to have to have any, or at least much, money. If something happens where we cannot get a job, I want to be able to live with at least some moderate standard of living.

There are still some things I would have to barter for. Sugar, coffee,tea, yeast, fabric, oils, tools, that sort of things, but just about everything else, I can make due. We don't HAVE to have coffee, but it sure makes the morning better. I guess I could make herbal teas like mint and sassafras. Those are fairly easy to do and it could be sweetened with honey.

I guess I could spin my own wool for yarn to make sweaters and socks. I have never done it before but I guess I could. I might convince my husband to build or buy me a loom to make my own fabrics, but I think it would just be cheaper to buy it. Some things just aren't worth the trouble.

Leather goods are do-able but not much fun. And very smelly. And hard to work. So...probably not.

But if it comes down to it, I imagine that there is a lot of things I could do if I really needed to.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Credit Crunch

With the economy turning the way it is, it is more important than ever that we all take a good hard look at our spending practices. Do we really need that I-Phone? Is it really necessary to drive thru the burger joint or can you make burgers, or anything else for that matter, at home? Do you really need a new pair of shoes or do you just want them?

With Christmas coming up, it will be more important than ever to watch how and where you spend. Advertising will be aimed at getting you to go on one last spending spree before the New Year. Key indicators are showing that what has happened to the housing market will happen to the credit card industry in early 2009. So that credit card you have been struggling to pay off will more than likely try to bury you in the spring. When credit companies go under, it will be because too many of their cardholders can't make their payments and they have no cash on hand to meet the company's expenses, like payroll, building rent, electric, etc. and they will either need a bailout like the housing market, or they will collapse as well. That will mean that no one will be able to get new credit and the credit you already have will suffer from extreme interest rates.

The best way to handle this is to get out of debt NOW. If you do not have any credit cards or pay them off every month, why not just spot using them altogether? Just don't have one. If you have relatively low balances, pay them off completely and stop using them. Paying for something on credit just isn't worth the interest rates in the long run. If you find something that is on sale for $100 dollars and it looks like a really good deal, you buy it on the credit card that you are already carrying a balance on, at 19% interest, you are paying $119.00 for it the second month, $141.61 the third month, $168.51 the forth month, etc, until it is paid off. That $100 purchase doesn't look like such a good deal anymore, does it. And that is considering you don't have a late fee in there somewhere that causes your interest rate to skyrocket upward of 25-30%. Best bet is to just stop using credit.

If you can't pay cash for it , don't buy it. And even if you can pay cash, do you really need it?

Not putting our lives on Credit

With the economy turning the way it is, it is more important than ever that we all take a good hard look at our spending practices. Do we really need that I-Phone? Is it really necessary to drive thru the burger joint or can you make burgers, or anything else for that matter, at home? Do you really need a new pair of shoes or do you just want them?

With Christmas coming up, it will be more important than ever to watch how and where you spend. Advertising will be aimed at getting you to go on one last spending spree before the New Year. Key indicators are showing that what has happened to the housing market will happen to the credit card industry in early 2009. So that credit card you have been struggling to pay off will more than likely try to bury you in the spring. When credit companies go under, it will be because too many of their cardholders can't make their payments and they have no cash on hand to meet the company's expenses, like payroll, building rent, electric, etc. and they will either need a bailout like the housing market, or they will collapse as well. That will mean that no one will be able to get new credit and the credit you already have will suffer from extreme interest rates.

The best way to handle this is to get out of debt NOW. If you do not have any credit cards or pay them off every month, why not just stop using them altogether? Just don't have one. If you have relatively low balances, pay them off completely and stop using them. Paying for something on credit just isn't worth the interest rates in the long run. If you find something that is on sale for $100 dollars and it looks like a really good deal, you buy it on the credit card that you are already carrying a balance on, at 19% interest, you are paying $119.00 for it the second month, $141.61 the third month, $168.51 the forth month, etc, until it is paid off. That $100 purchase doesn't look like such a good deal anymore, does it. And that is considering you don't have a late fee in there somewhere that causes your interest rate to skyrocket upward of 25-30%. Best bet is to just stop using credit. If you can't pay cash for it , don't buy it.

We paid off all of our credit cards a couple of years ago. We refinanced the house at a lower interest rate and a shorter term. We knocked 2 years and 2.5% off of our mortgage and managed to cash out some of the equity to pay off 4 of our 5 credit cards. We were left with 1 card that had a 5k+ balance. By not having the other cards to pay, we were able to pay that one on time every month. A large cash gift from the in-laws allowed us to pay that one off as well as the truck. So now all we have left is the mortgage. And we try to pay extra on that principle as well, when we can.

This has allowed us to build up some savings. Now if something happens to my husband's job, we have enough to get by for a couple of months until he can either find a new job or we can sell the house and move. Or in an emergency comes up, we do have some reserves.

All of this means that we cannot go out every weekend, or buy the latest gadget on the market, but you know what, we don't really need it. And it feels much better to have the reserves in the bank than to have the coolest video phone on the market. Especially now.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Spending too much

We have been spending too much money lately. Between all of the things the kids have to have for school, like club, band, and orchestra t-shirts, year books, school pictures, poster board, art supplies, etc. and the stuff they just need, like clothes, a new amp, cords, getting the guitar fixed, books, the list goes on, we have spent a lot of cash this month. We have also taken a couple of necessary weekend trips that cost us a couple of hundred each. None of that was really budgeted because I wasn't really thinking about it at the time so it sort of snuck up on us. And a work related cookout we had to buy extra groceries for.

Then there was the $800 payment to the doctor's office. And the personal property taxes. And the vehicle insurance. A boy scout canoe trip. Food at the ball game my son has every Thursday night. Tags are due in October for the car. Christmas is coming up. All of the fun things that are darned near impossible to budget.

It sometimes seems impossible to save any money. We actually have done pretty well in the last year, savings wise. It is just that we could do more. For a couple of months early in the year, we conserved every penny we could find.

And slowly over the course of the year, we have started slipping back into our old habits. Buying things we don't really need, eating out too much, getting things on the spur of the moment instead of thinking them out. That sort of thing.

We must get back to doing the basics again. Only the necessities. Making things instead of buying them. And deciding priorities.

Granted, some things are unavoidable, but if we are careful where we spend, we will have the cash on hand for them when they arise.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Bail out is a bad idea

Well, IMHO, all of this is just a way to give corporate CEOs that don't have enough brains to come in out of the rain, much less run a company, a great big paycheck to get out of the business. There is no way that any right thinking business person would have approved all of those high risk loans without some sort of greed coming into play.

If your mortgage debt is more than 30% of your income, you will have a hard time paying for it. If you have several mortgages, like for flipping houses, with adjustable rates, you will be just buggered if you can't sell them fast enough. Any bank that would give more than 2 mortgages to a single individual is just asking for trouble.

As far as I am concerned, the banks were asking for this by their own greed.

Now how does that affect the rest of us? Badly. The banks don't have any money to loan, so getting a loan for improvements like new fencing or upgrading that tractor will be tough. And the really bad part is that when a bank fails, businesses who depend on those banks do not have the operating capital it needs to keep the doors open. So there are fewer jobs. Fewer jobs means more people defaulting on their mortgages. Vicious cycle.

As to a bail out...hmmm.. .well, that is a tough one. Should we reward the banks who gave all of the risky loans in the first place? Should we bail them out so that businesses across the country can keep the jobs that we all depend on in the long run? Tough call. Personally, I think we should just suck it up and take the massive hit to the economy and rebuild it the same way we did after the Great Depression. I do not want my tax dollars lining the pockets of some Wall Street desk jockey who liked to play at short selling. And if we do this bail out, you can guarantee that our grandchildren' s grandchildren will still be paying this thing off.

Washington can talk all it wants about $700 BILLION but to them, it is just transfering numbers from one column in a spreadsheet to another column. It doesn't really mean anything. There is no actual transfer of funds. And the rich get richer. And we get to pay for it.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

It's County Fair Time

For the first time in about 25 years, I entered something in the county fair. I have been canning this year for the first time since I was a kid, so I had a serious learning curve. Between trying to remember how we did it when I was helping my mom growing up, and using my Ball Blue Book and the really old Bernardin book my mom gave me, I think I have a pretty good handle on it now. So I entered 15 jars of home canned goodness in the fair.

This process actually started back in the late spring. I figured that if I was going to go to the trouble of canning, I might as well make them nice enough to show. So for each item I canned, I tried to carefully place the food, in a pleasing manner, in at least 1 jar in each batch. Some things just didn't come out very pretty though. My beans boiled out too much juice and have turned dark on top. They are still perfectly edible, but they are not fair-worthy. And I had some other things that I didn't get packed tightly enough and they floated. Like some of the peaches. They will still be fine for making pies but, again, not good enough for the fair.

Toward the end of August, I called the county extension office about how to go about entering. They said that I had to pre-register each jar by September 1 to get them in. So I went up there, got the forms, and began sifting through the jars to find the most perfect ones. I had a jar of green beans somewhere that I had lined up straight that I couldn't find in my mess of a pantry but I still finished up with 15 jars to enter.

I had to take them to the fairgrounds between 2 and 5 pm on Sunday the 14th. But we had a problem. We were going to be in Jonesboro that weekend on a college hunting trip. You know, the campus tour, admissions and financial aid folks telling us the process, tailgating and a football game on Saturday night. And in addition to all of that, we got to deal with my mother-in-law. So we got up early Sunday morning and made the drive back (2.5 hours by the way) so I could get my stuff entered. When we got up there, it seemed there was more competition than in previous years. That had me worried. Like I said, I haven't canned anything in 25 years and this was the first time all on my own. But I left them there and tried not to get my hopes up too much.

Judging was on Monday. The fair opened on Tuesday evening. We went last night to see just how I fared against everyone else. While I was frantically searching the shelves for my jars, the kids pointed out that one of my jars was on the table in front of us. It had a red, white and blue ribbon with a nice rosette that said "Best of Show" and a certificate with my name (well, it was my name but spelled wrong, go figure) on it. I got a Best of Show for carrots, of all things. Out of all of the veggies that had been entered, I took top prize. I was stunned. I was expecting maybe red ribbons. I don't think I have stopped grinning since I saw it.

Everything I entered got a ribbon of one color or another, mostly reds like I expected, but I got 3 or 4 blues and a couple of white too. I then proceeded to call every one I know. My Mom told me that she was proud of me, my Dad told me that I shouldn't let it go to my head, and my sister-in-law just said that she knew that I was going to win so why was I so surprised. My hubbie, bless his heart, had to deal with me saying "guess what? Best of Show!" all night.

Now I have to decide if I want to take those carrots on to the state fair.

Who knows, I might just win there too. If we don't eat them before then.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

9-11 Remembered

Well, it is 9-11 again. And for some reason, that saddens me. Seven years ago today, some extremist terrorists attacked our country in a way that we could never have imagined. We were, as a nation, horror struck and in shock that this could have happened. And for a few weeks, Americans came together for a common cause in a way that hasn't been seen since Pearl Harbor. We were united in anger, and in sorrow. The nation donated food, water, services, our prayers and our blood to the rescue workers who frantically searched for survivors in the wreckage of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Most of us don't really spend a lot of time thinking about freedom and what it takes to stay that way. Unless you have a friend or family member in the military, it doesn't really touch you any more. We have, more or less, forgotten why there are long lines at airport security. Why we need passports to go to Canada or Mexico. And why our men and women are still serving overseas.

You can complain about the war in the Middle East, or gas prices, or the President, or even the price of eggs, but if you actually stop and think about it, you have the RIGHT to complain because you are Americans. If it were not for the men and women in the service, you would not have that right any more. You have the right to have a car and drive where ever you want to go, you have the right to vote for the President and if you don't like the way he runs the country you can vote for the other person next time, you can go to the local grocery store and buy whatever food you want at just about any time you want. People in other countries do not have that right. And we all take it for granted. We have gotten so used to our rights as Americans, that we don't even think about it any more.

But 2,974 people had to die to remind us that we are free. And why it is important that we are free.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Getting ready

I have given a lot of thought into making a lifestyle change. My husband and I are in general agreement on being more self sufficient and not depending so much on how much money is in the bank. I have spent the better part of a year doing research on how to make this happen.

The first thing we have to do is find a place where we can have a couple of acres, but not really more than 10, to have a bigger garden and a place for some livestock. While this is possible to do in town, we really don't want to have neighbors complaining about our chickens or cows. Ideally, we would have enough house to have weekend guests without having to blow up air mattresses or have 3 or 4 kids to a bed. I would like a 4 bedroom, 2 bath house with a big kitchen, wood burning fireplace or wood stove, at least a small basement to use as a root cellar and/or game room, and a workshop of some sort.

The first thing I would work up would be a garden spot. It takes at least a year to get a garden spot worked up so that it will grow a good variety of food. I am actually thinking that a lot of smaller raised beds and multi-layer gardening is the way I want to go. I can grow more in less space and not have to spend so much time weeding and amending the soil. I have spent a considerable amount of time thinking about all of this. I think this way, I can have a good variety of vegetables and still not kill myself trying to work it. I will also have some small fruit plants like raspberries and blueberries, grapes, a couple of fruit trees like peaches, apples, pears, and maybe apricots. Strawberries are another possibility. They do take a little bit more room so we will have to see about that. I really want an asparagus bed. We really love the stuff and it is just so expensive to buy retail. But it takes a lot of time to mature, at least 2 years, but after that, it can keep producing for up to 20 years. If you let it go to seed every now and then, it will reseed itself and you will have a constant supply for the rest of your life.

I have thought about keeping a hive or 2 of bees, for polination and for honey. The problem there is that I am allergic. Not dangerously so, but enough to swell up and itch like crazy. Not really sure my hubby would be up for the bees, but they would definately be useful. Maybe we could just keep them for the pollination and only rob the hives when I can talk him into it.

But anyway, the extra produce we could sell for a little spending money. I wouldn't really want to make a business out of it, but I just can't see us letting it go to waste. And any little bit of extra cash will be welcome.

The chickens will also provide a possible bit of extra income. Eggs always sell well and by free ranging the chickens, the eggs will taste better and be healtier than store bought. Even if I start my flock with only 10 hens and a couple of roosters, and allow at least 1 hen to brood and hatch a nest of eggs each year, I can double the size of the flock every year. If I want to use them as meat as well, I can start with 25 or so and after 4 to 6 months, take one or two a week for the freezer. It is really easy to raise chickens, as long as you can keep the coop clean and the predators out. And since we wouldn't use more than maybe 1/2 dozen eggs a week, and no more than a dozen a week, we would have eggs to spare. If a neighbor has a milk cow, we might could trade eggs for fresh milk.

A pig would also be nice to have around. A pig is a perfect converter of kitchen scraps to high quality fertilizer. And they grow relatively fast so any little piglets would be ready for the freezer in less than a year. If you have enough room to change pastures every year, you can have the pigs work your garden areas for you. They will loosen up the soil for you, fertilize it, and remove most or all of the roots and grasses to make it ready to plant. And after all of that, you will get a Christmas and Easter Ham, close to 20 pounds of bacon, several roasts, a big pile of chops and some really great ribs. And that isn't counting the sausage and sausage products. Since we do not eat the organ meats, they can be used as fish bait for even more variety in your meals.

A small amount of feed grains could be helpful if there is space for it. Feed corn, for one, could be used for more than just feed the critters. It can be used to make corn meal and hominy, or coursely chopped for the chickens and pigs. Wheat and oats would also be good for the livestock or the pantry. The problem with growing grains for feed is that it just isn't really cost effective for a small 5 to 10 acre farm to try and grow the grain and still have enough room for pasturage. But the corn could be grown simply as a suppliment to the forage instead of a main staple and it wouldn't take up too much space.

I hope to be able to convince my husband to hunt, at least some. Some venison, wild boar, turkey, doves and ducks would be a nice change occasionally. And except for the cost of the hunting lisence, the meat would be basically free.

Since I have a smoker, meat grinder, slicer, heavy duty mixer, and a good knowledge of herbs and an inexpensive source for casings, I can make our own sausages. Breakfast sausage and salami are VERY easy to make, and from those basics, I can also make bratworst, smoked sausages, and snack sticks.

My dehydrator can be used to dry onions, peppers, fruit, other veggies, and make jerky and fruit leathers. I can dry fresh herbs for both the kitchen and medicinal uses. I could even make yogurt and raise bread in it.

I can make butter from cream, I can preserve food by canning, freezing, smoking, and drying, I can cook over an open fire as well as on a wood, gas, or electric stove, I can make breads of all kinds, I can cure and smoke ham and bacon, I can sew and crochet, and if I had to, I could build a shelter and live in the woods. I can live well without electricity. I have done it before for a week or so at a time when the power was out, so I have no real problem doing it again. I can make my own soap and laundry detergent, and I have washed clothes on a washboard before, and could do it again if I had to. It wouldn't be fun, but I could do it.

Granted, I don't want to live at the subsistance level in a one roon shack, but living without the need for a grocery store or Wal-mart handy is a good feeling. And not having to spend a lot of money for food every week would allow us to live a much less stressful life.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Good Food is Better Than Trash Food

I know that I have harped before on the quality (or lack of it) of store bought food. But the more I read studies and hear the news about food born illnesses and contaminated meat and vegetables, the more I never want to enter a grocery store again.

As a society, we have institutionalized every aspect of our lives, right down to the foods we eat. All processed foods contain preservatives and, for some reason, high fructose corn syrup. Why does our bread need high fructose corn syrup? It only takes a spoonful of sugar or honey to make a loaf of bread. Is sugar really so expensive that a loaf of white bread from the store has to use altered sugar(fructose, dextrose, and glucose and all of other 'oses) to make a profit? And why are we eating so much bread anyway?

Wouldn't it just be easier and cheaper to fill up on high quality proteins like meats and beans, vegetable fibers like salads and fruit, whole grains like rice, oats and barley, and starches like potatoes and corn instead of serving a lot of breads that have been over processed and nutrition-deprived?

Our grandparents ate maybe 3 or 4 servings of bread a day as biscuits and corn bread, but had a lot of meats, fresh veggies, and whole grains. And you know what, they were a whole lot healthier for it. They also didn't sit around watching TV after a day of work. There were chores to do right up until dark. Then there was always stuff that needed doing inside.

Going to the gym for exercise was just laughable. There was plenty of exercise to be had in everyday living. Want to life weights? Go move a couple of bales of hay down out of the barn loft to feed the cows and mule( they weigh anywhere between 50 and 80 pounds). Want some movement to tone down those "luv handles"? Use a pitchfork to clean out the barn stalls. 30 minutes on the treadmill? Try chasing down the chicken that got out of the hen house before the dogs could get her. That takes some running.

It takes a lot of calories to work even a small farm. Just putting in a small garden is more daily exercise than most of us get. But the side affects are higher quality and freshest possible food you can get. And you will know what is in it or on it. So you are burning calories and eating better.

I remember going to my grandma's house for a week every summer. Breakfast was always bacon and/ or sausage, an egg or two, biscuits and gravy, and maybe a bowl of oats. Lunch was something like brown beans and ham or a fried pork steak, fried potatoes, any biscuits left from breakfast or cornbread if there wasn't any, and a glass of tea. Dinner would be something like chicken and dumplin's or a pork roast, green beans, mashed potatoes with gravy, corn on the cob, and a slice of pie or cake. And even after eating all of that in 1 day, we would sometimes sneak back into the kitchen before bedtime and get some more cake or a glass of cold buttermilk with crumbled corn bread in it.

Now that sounds like a lot of fat and calories for 1 day, but every bit of that was burned in the course of the day. There was always something to keep us busy. Rght after breakfast we started working outside. Hoeing the garden, feeding and watering the chickens, picking beans or berries, washing dishes, washing clothes and hanging them out, cooking and canning, sewing, helping Pawpaw in the shop. We didn't have time to sit and watch tv or get into too much trouble. And maybe that was the point. But we were always hungry come meal time.

Anyway, the point of all of this is that eating real food, regardless of the fat content, is better for you than filling up on empty calories that has no nutritional value. If you are hungry, by all means eat, but don't reach for a bag of chips or a Little Debbie. Grab a piece of fruit or some carrots. Instead of eating a couple of loaves of the fresh baked bread they give you at the steak house, get a side salad instead. Fill up on good fresh foods instead of just something to fill up that empty spot.

And for goodness sakes, stay away from processed foods.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Is our food killing us?

I have struggled with my weight for a number of years, and tried many different diets, only to have none of them really work. I think it is mainly because the so called "experts" keep changing their minds about what is actually healthy.

I read an article today that talked about how, since the FDA and USDA came up with the Food Pyramid back in the late '60's and early 70's, obesity has become epidemic. The recommended servings of grain(bread, pasta, cereals, etc) is 9-11 a day. And guess what, grains are carbohydrates. And on top of that, most of the flour used to make the things we eat is so over processed that they have to add the vitamins and minerals back into the flour after they mill it.

The article went on to state that since carbs turn to sugar as we metabolize the food, and the sugar spike causes insulin to be created to store that sugar as fat, the more sugar we have floating around in our bodies over the course of the day, the more fat gets stored, the more insulin is produced and the more weight we gain.

Now, lets think about this for a minute. If you eat the 9 to 11 servings of grains the government tells us is healthy, then we would have to be eating carbs just about all day. That means that we have a constant sugar rush going in our bodies. That much insulin being produced is bound to cause problems, not just with our weight, but on the organs themselves, which could cause diabetes and kidney problems.

Then there is the whole "fats" issue. Does anyone really know what the difference between a monounsaturated fat and transfat is? Or a saturated fat and a polyunsaturated fat? And why on earth is one better or worse than the other?

I have a theory on this, so bear with me. If a fat comes from a natural source, like butter, olive oil, lard, fish oils, etc., it is probably healthier than fats that come from unnatural sources like vegetable oils, margarine, and shortening. Why? Well, in my opinion, if it occurs naturally in the foods we eat, and we do not have to mechanically or chemically alter it to be able to use the fats, then it has to be better for us. In whole unhomogenized milk, the fat rises to the top and we call it cream. If we beat it around in a jug for a few minutes, it makes butter. No mechanical separation of the lipids to isolate specific compounds, no heat treating to alter its physical state, nothing added to stablize or preserve it. Just cream that has been beaten within an inch of its life. Nothing special added to it, unless you want to add a dash of salt, just for taste. Want olive oil, squeeze some olives. Out comes the oil. Nothing really fancy about that either. Lard is just the fatty tissue of pork that has been cut off the meat when it is butchered, then put in a pot and melted. If you put about an inch of water in the bottom, all of the impurities will cook out into the water and you will have nice clean pretty lard for making pie crusts, frying chicken, or if you want, making soap. Fish oils are in the fish, so just eat it. They really aren't that good for anything else anyway.

But between butter, olive oil, and lard, what else do you really need?

Then we are told that the fat in red meat will clog up your arteries and kill you. Hmm, lets see, people have been eating red meat for hundreds of thousands of years without too much trouble. Red meat has proteins, minerals, and enzymes that you just can't find in other foods and if you don't eat it, you need to take mineral suppliments to replace them. Now, I don't know about you, but I had rather eat a nice juicy steak than take a handful of artifically produced pills to get the same nutrition. And they have to get those enzymes for the pills from somewhere, like the byproducts of meat production they cannot sell as food. If you can't eat it as food, why can you eat it as a pill? I don't get it.

In the last 30 years or so, diseases relating to the foods we consume has become epidemic. So why do we spend so much time and energy(and tax dollars) thinking up new ways to kill ourselves when we could just eat the same way our grandparents did. Fresh veggies from the garden, fresh eggs from the henhouse, beef, pork, chicken, duck, venison, fish, turkey, quail, goose, or whatever else could be hunted, and stay away from the breads and sweets all the time.

We would all be healthier for it.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Brown bag vs. cafeteria

The lunches they serve at school are expensive and not very tasty. My kids have complained about them for years, actually I complained about them when I was in school too. But lunch kits are expensive and not very filling especially for teens. So I have found a few ways to save money on school lunches.

These I mostly figured out through trial and error, and may not work for your kids but you can take the idea and adjust it for your children.

Make sure the meals are balanced. It isn't doing either of you any good if they don't get the right mix of foods. Too many carbs and they will crash in class in the after noon. Too much protein and they will not have any energy for recess or changing classes. Too much sugar and they will be bouncing off of the walls. I try to make sure there is protein, grain, and a veggie of some sort every day. It is usually a sandwich, chips, a bottle of juice, some pudding or a fruit cup, and a cookie. That way they get 2 grains (2 slices of bread), protein (lunch meat or peanut butter), chips or carrots, a fruit(juice and fruit cup) and a dairy(pudding). My daughter also gets a tea bag since she has a teacher who allows them to drink either coffee or hot tea in class as long as they contribute to the supplies.

Now as to ways to make this meal less expensive. I buy the bread at the discount store. We have a really good one that sells Sara Lee breads for about 70 cents a loaf. That means that I can get the whole grain wheat bread for about 1/4 of retail. I stock up when I go and put it in the freezer until it is needed.

The lunch meats I make my self. I have posted before about making ham and salami. I also made a LOT of jams this summer so I can buy generic peanut butter for inexpensive sandwiches. Adding cheese to the sandwiches will add another dairy to the mix. Lettuce will add another veggie.

The chips I buy in big bags from the Dollar store or Big Lots and put them into sandwich sized zip top bags. That way they actually get more chips than are in the little individual serving bags, and I spend a LOT less for them. I can get about 6 lunches from an average sized (10-12 oz) bag that I pay about a dollar for. That is about 17 cents a bag instead of 30 or 40 cents for the little prepackaged ones.

The juice is another big savings. Buy a couple of single serve (8 oz or so) bottles with the screw on lids and refill them. You can find some sort of juice on sale just about all the time to refill the bottles with, and a 64 oz bottle will fill 8 - 8oz bottles at a fraction of the cost of buying new each time. Or you can refill with water, Kool-Aid, tea, lemonade, what ever. If you freeze them the night before, they will help keep the lunch cool until time to eat and still be thawed in time for lunch.

Pudding is another saving. Make your own. Invest in a couple of small (1/2-1 cup sized) containers from the dollar store. And some plastic spoons. These can hold fruit, pudding, a slice of last night's cake, what every you want to put in them. If you use them for fruit, I would suggest that you drain all of the juice out first in case the lid leaks. You don't want your bread to taste like soggy peaches. Don't buy the individual servings. You wind up paying for packaging and don't even get a full sized serving of fruit since they are mostly juice.

The cookies, again, you can make your self. or make brownies. These can both be made up and stored in the freezer in individual serving sizes. If you can keep the kids out of them after school.

You have to make sure your kids understand that ALL of the plastic comes home every day. Spoons get thrown away a lot. This is easier with lunch boxes, but my kids want paper sacks. My son had his lunch box stolen twice last year so paper sacks it is. And I can draw little pictures or sayings on them. Weird I know, but hey, they are still my kids and I like to make them smile. OR groan. Or, hehe, be embarrassed by silly stuff on their lunch bags.

Is it really cheaper to brown bag a lunch rather than eat in the cafeteria? If you consider that their lunches are about $2 a day, and they will not eat all of it or in some cases even most of it, I would say that it is. You know that they will eat what you give them since they get to help you shop for it and you will know that they are eating right. It is also nice to know that you are teaching them that they do not have to buy a lunch every day when they get to college or in the workforce. This is a money skill that is highly overlooked these days. The less money they waste, the less they will need from Mom and Dad.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Ranting agaisnt the Man

Life in these United States is now more confusing than ever. $4 a gallon gas (though it has come down a bit), rising grocery prices, antibiotic filled meat, the worry over salmonella, E.Coli, pesticides, additives and preservatives, high fructose corn syrup in everything, labels with fat count, carb count, sodium count, Nutrasystem diet, Jenny Craig diet, Atkins diet, "berry of the month" diet. Eating healthy is darn near impossible.

And on top of all of that, the government will regulate everything to make sure that all of our food is just perfect. Uh huh, right. If that were actually the case, why does so much meat get recalled every year, how do tomatoes and peppers get E. Coli, and why does our milk have growth hormones and antibiotics in it?

It is almost daily that I wish for a simpler life, away from all of the grocery stores and gas pumps. Me and my chickens, pigs and cows could just enjoy the cleaner air of the country and can, freeze and/or dry the garden and orchard. I would know exactly what is in my food because I grew it all. We would have plenty, because again, I grew it all. And it would taste better and be healthier, because , you guessed it, I grew it all. I would know what is in it, how it was packaged, how it was preserved, how much salt is in it, and how long it is from fresh.

We have been told for so long that the government will take care of us and protect us that we just believe that if you get your food from the store, it must be good for us. But you just can't trust that any more. The government has been bought and paid for by corporate farms and industrial speculators whose sole purpose is to make money, any way possible. Including inferior food.

The only way to truly know is to grow it yourself.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

I love a good sale

I guess, in a way, it was a good thing I had to go back out for school supplies...again...yesterday morning. I also noticed that we were out of milk after the kids ate breakfast, so I figured that while I was out, I would stop by the stop and pick up another gallon. I hit the produce department like I always do, and managed to get some broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, lettuce, green beans, raspberries, celery, bell peppers, and carrots all for half off.

The bakery was just wheeling out the cart of markdowns to it's appointed place and I grabbed some bakery cookies and a couple of loaves of Italian bread for half off too.

Then on to the dairy dept. And, lo and behold, they were marking down too. I picked up 8 1/2 gallons of lemonade for 60 cents each. 4 I put in the fridge and 4 in the freezer. I got my milk then proceeded to the meat department just to see what they had on sale. I got a package of hamburger, 2 packs of ground lamb, and a couple of top round steaks for almost 40% off.

I decided that while I was there, I should probably find the kids some lunch stuff. Pudding cups for 91 cents/4 pack, lunch meat wasn't on sale but I needed it anyway, Sara Lee bread for $1 a loaf, and a bottle of ginger ale.

Grand total was $77 and I have enough food for at least a week, plus school lunches.

Granted, I probably could have spent less if I only stuck to what I actually needed, but none of this will be wasted.

I pureed the berries and dripped it thru a jelly bag to get the juice. A teaspoon of the juice mixed with the lemonade is very very good, plus you get the extra nutrients from the berries. The pulp and seeds I put in the freezer. I am not sure really what I will do with it yet, but if all else fails, I can mix it with cranberries when I make cranberry sauce this Thanksgiving. Or I could make fruit leather with it I guess.

The peppers will be dried, the mushrooms canned, the broccoli and cauliflower are already in the freezer, the carrots we will eat fairly quickly just like they are. Several salads are on the menu for this week, and I will either freeze or can the green beans today.

We really don't care too much for lamb, but...we do like the gyro sandwiches. I did a web search and found a recipe ( and I also found one for pita bread ( They both look really easy. So I will probably try that at some point this week.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Last minute company

Whew, as much as I enjoy having company over, it is always nice for them to go home.

Se got home from vacation on Saturday the 9th, and Sunday, one of the friends that was feeding the critters for us stopped by for a couple of hours. He was on his way home from Springdale and decided to stop by for a visit. He was here for about 5 hours and it was enjoyable, and then he went on home. Then later that night, we got another email from our friends at the lake. They had decided to take their vacation in Little Rock this year, but unfortunately, their son had a bicycle accident the previous Friday that required surgery on his leg and wouldn't be able to get around with them. They asked if he could say with us while they did all of their running around. Of course, that was a no brainer, and I told them that there was absolutely no reason for them to stay in a motel when we were only about 30 minutes from everything they wanted to see and do, so I told them they could stay here. (They really don't have much money, he is on disability and she is a waitress) So they arrived about 8:30 Tuesday evening. Their injured son is about the same age as my son and they get along great. I think they spent most of the time playing on the game consoles and the computer.

The rest of the time, our friends spent running around Little Rock, seeing the sights and doing things they do not get to do in the very small town they live in, you know, the Zoo, an Art museum, a baseball game, the Mall, and they spent one afternoon at the $1 movie theater. I would feed them before they left and when they got home. They felt really guilty (for no reason) about eating our food, so on Friday night, our other friends (that fed the critters) joined us and we all went out to eat. We left the kids at the house and ordered Pizza for them. Their ages are 17, 16, 16, 14, 13, 13, 11, and 10. So 5 pizzas. Us 6 grownups actually got a night out. And our vacationing friends insisted on paying for the meal. So we insisted on paying for our bar tab. A good natured argument ensued and we graciously paid for our own drinks.

They had to leave fairly early on Saturday since a she had to be back at work at 3PM. The girls were hugging and claiming that they would miss each other. The boys were like "Dude, later man". We agreed that the Labor day weekend would be at the lake (their house) and that we would see them in a couple of weeks. Our other friends left around 7:30pm. And the house is quiet again.

But school starts tomorrow. So today will be busy getting everything ready for that.

So, a s a short recap, a week in Florida, a really long drive home, visitor, a single day to ourselves, then 5 extra people, then, 10 extra people, then quiet again. But there are still dishes to be done, laundry to be done, floors to be done, bedding to wash and put away, school clothes to pick out, back packs to clean out and restock, and hopefully, somewhere in there, we can take a breath.

But you know what, I still would do it again.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Vacation / Back to school

We are back from vacation and I must say that a good time was had by all. No sunburn, no one got sick or injured, and we managed to actually relax and have fun. The only bad thing that happened was the condo didn't have an internet connection, but I can't really say that was a bad thing. Being unplugged for a week probably did all of us some good.

Since we have been back, we have only had 1 day that we haven't had visitors. But here again, that isn't really a bad thing. My husband going back to work hasn't been just loads of fun, but hey, when is it ever?

Now I really have to think about back to school. Classes start back on the 18th and the kids are far from ready for that. My daughter has only been home for about 19 days all summer so she is really wanting some relax time, but I just can't see that happening. Most of the school supplies from last year are still usable, and I bought them paper and pencils last spring so there is still plenty to start school. Both kids have Army Surplus backpacks that are darn near indestructible so we are good there too. I have been picking up clothes for them on and off all summer so no school clothes to buy either. The only thing we will really need are shoes. My son's are very well air conditioned and would almost qualify as sandals at this point. All in all, this will probably be the most pain free "back to school" we have ever had.

Since my daughter is a senior this year, there will be a lot of expense for her. Senior pictures, cap and gown, invitations, prom, not to mention the college application fees ($40 at her favored school) , ACT fees, SAT fees, and the fees for sending her transcripts to the colleges she will be applying for, expenses to visit with the recruiters, and tour the campuses.

And yesterday, I received a notice of Jury Pool selection. I can't tell you how thrilled I am about that.

I will almost be a relief for school to start back. I might actually be able to get something done around the house.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Vacation Time!

I have been somewhat lax in my postings lately and I apologize. It has just been incredibly hectic around here.

My daughter has been at Arkansas Governor's School all summer and we finally got to retrieve her on Saturday, my mother had a heart attack last Thursday, the kitchen sink backed up on Sunday and we had to call a plumber, and we are trying to get everything ready to go on vacation. Just the laundry is a daunting task. But hopefully, when we get back from Florida things will have calmed down enough to get back in the grove before school starts.

We wouldn't be able to afford a vacation like this, but we had a bit of luck. We got suckered into buying a timeshare a few years and we have never used it. We kept rolling over the points hoping to find a good deal on somewhere we actually wanted to go but it never happened. It is just really hard for us to decide in October where we want to go the next summer. But the resort company we are with just opened a new resort in Panama City Beach FL last fall and they didn't have time to get the ad for it in the catalog for this summer so they were calling folks to see if they were interested. We didn't have enough points to book it outright( we had lost some due to expiration dates) but we could buy the extra points we needed for $350.00. That is a week in a brand new condo directly on the beach for $350. That is less than what 3 nights in a moderate hotel would cost. That is 6 nights for $350. And because it will have a kitchen, we will not have to eat every meal out like we would in a hotel.

Granted, i am sure we will eat out some, but every night for 4 people in a vacation area can get stinking expensive. But now we can go to the grocery store when we get there and buy a week's worth of food for less than what 1 day would cost us eating out. I am sure we will still eat out a few times but we won't "have to" if we don't want to.

I am sure we will be spending most of our time on the beach. We might try a deep sea fishing trip or a trip to the Gulfarium, but I figure most of our time will be in the water. Maybe a round or two of mini golf and a trip on the go-carts. But we are taking a couple of games like Trivial Pursuit and Pirates, and maybe some videos, but the biggest part of our time will just be chillin'.

We can vacation on the cheap a lot more than a lot of folks. We don't like having a tight schedule to abide by and having to be going and doing all the time. It isn't really relaxing if you spend all of your time running around. I am fine just floating in the surf on a boogie board or soaking up the rays. The kids have already started singing "Barracuda" in preparation.

It should be a good trip. And I am sooo ready for it.

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