Thursday, February 23, 2017

Ticking Off the Car god.

My father was a strong Catholic who worshipped one God, most of the time, as long as the mechanical heap he was driving  didn't get a flat, or a hole in it's radiator, or a squealing belt, a wobbly sort of frame, an oil spewing gasket. You get the picture.

When those things occurred, and they did fairly often in our household as extra money for newer cars didn't exist, my father would make reference to another power. One that waived about a large pair of channellock pliers in his omnipresent hands-one known as-The Car god. (Sorry, too many years in parochial school for me to be able to capitalize  the "g" in  any other god, even one with greasy hands and the breath of antifreeze.)

Dad would rationalize that our cars broke down when perhaps we had been negligent about making appropriate sacrifices to that ever lurking Car god. One who had the power to both inflict, and relieve vehicular injury. But, he also believed in the law of averages. After a run in breakdowns, he knew a good streak was due to follow, and when it arrived he enjoyed it. Often by driving too fast and picking up too many hitchhikers.  He never could never pass up a fellow on the side of the road with his thumb out.

This past month Keith and  have been slammed with car/truck repairs and we're wondering ourselves, what have we done to tick off the car god? First my little car needed new brakes, then a new power steering belt. Then last week my car started spewing transmission fluid as I motored down the road. A few days later Keith's truck sputtered, coughed and gagged while he was delivering a load of hay for a friend of ours.

Expenses were piling up. What could we afford to repair and what could wait? Could we dump my Dodge Neon with its 217,000 miles and just get by with Keith's fifteen year old truck? Were we healthy enough to chuck both cars and just walk the ten miles to the nearest grocery store? 

We decided to try our hand at mechanical repair ourselves after getting  the $300 estimate to fix the transmission fluid issue on my car. Turned out hoses and a new radiator was needed. Keith has many, many talents but he is the first to admit he's not so good with engines. But  he talked with our    repairman, ordered the new pieces, grabbed me for assist (I am really good at holding bolts and pointing out where one doohickey doesn't look like the same doohickey we removed and now replaced) crossed his fingers, and slid himself under my car.

It took us a couple hours, but we did it.  We replaced the radiator in my car, and nobody died.            Even filled it with antifreeze AND connected all the right hoses AND replaced all the transmission fluid lost. Know what that darn car did? It ran, just great, and still is a week later. We were so fortunate  that it was super warm that day, we didn't miss our old machine shed with shop quite so much.

                                                                         Shiny  new radiator in place

What about the truck you ask? We decided not to push our luck and took it into the garage yesterday.  We'd  hate to totally tick off said car god with our mechanical independence.

So tell me. Who does their own car repairs? Oil changes? Tire rotations? Can you even fill the tank with gas or do you bribe the fellow at the station to do it for you?

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Disposing of the Disposables

Now well into our second month of cut rate living I've realized how far we've come in regard to ridding ourselves of disposable household items.

How far is that Donna? You might ask.

Far. Really, really far. Like, way out there. For example, we no longer purchase any of the following: napkins, plastic baggies, aluminum foil, wax paper, parchment paper, Q-tips, hand wipes, paper towels, plastic wrap, SOS scrub pads, paper plates, cups or silverware.

We did not accomplish this overnight, it took time, the real motivator was money and lack of it. With a grocery store budget of less than $40 /week, which includes all household non-food items like cleaners and disposables, it came down to this. Did I want to spend our money on paper towels or more fresh veggies?

The cucumbers and spinach won out. So here is how we get by without those items mentioned above. We use dishcloths for paper towels and napkins, we re-use plastic containers that come to us free with some of the groceries we buy (like cottage cheese), we recycle every plastic bag that comes through our door like with any packages that arrive or with any veggies or fruit we buy. I use nifty nylon scrubbies, a handmade gift this past Christmas, over and over. Like the dishcloths. they are washable. And speaking of dishcloths, the one in the pic above was made by Martha Witcher in Metamora Illinois. Handwoven and gorgeous, her items are high quality and meant to be used and washed over and over. Their durability is fantastic. Check her blog out HERE.

I've also become very creative with newspaper. There are three free ones we get every week. I cut them up into strips and use them to coat cast iron pans and baking wear with butter or oil, I use half sheets to wash windows and mirrors, I use whole sheets to drain greasy food like fried chicken.

We never need aluminum foil since we have so many left over plastic containers to store food (and I hate the stuff) plus I use our glass canning jars to keep quite a number of things fresh in the fridge. Yes, I do wash dishes often since we don't use any disposable dishes, but it's only a matter of keeping a sink full of hot soapy water. I wash, or simply rinse, dishes as soon as I dirty them.

In case you're wondering though, we still buy toilet paper, we're not complete barbarians.

So, tell me what disposables you live without and what you use in their place.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Only Winter I like is Edgar

Image result for Edgar winter

He looks like his surname does he not? All pale and cool, wind blown and aloof. I was reminded of dear Edgar when I was out doing chores this evening, in the cold, blowing snow. Just one of my favs of the 70's back when being cool had nothing to do with the insulated coveralls I wear now. The insulated Camouflage coveralls. Oh yeah, I'm so cool now.

The fact that we got a little snow dump today is all my fault. Yesterday, when it was in the 50's I was whining about the mud, and the dreary overcast sky. I even said to Keith, "So where is all the snow this year? A little white sure would be a nice change." I was tired of looking at the yard debri and rather than spend a day picking it all up, I just wanted it covered up.


The snow started this morning and at first, was a lovely layer of powdered sugar, but by evening we had several inches. At least afterwards it brought some sunshine. Fortunately the wind was just enough to make small drifts, not too hard to walk through, but if it picks up tonight we'll have issues. In these flat plains an inch of snow, accompanied by high winds, can cause white out conditions.

Which, in times past, I did not mind. I had no problems driving in bad weather, just chalk it up to years doing home nursing. But now, on our limited budget, I'm not so careless about venturing out on snowy or icy roads. What if I slide in the ditch and have to pay MONEY for someone to pull me out?
Now that...would be a disaster.

Dreary last evening

The brighter, whiter today.

So, big deal, we have snow. The animals will be ok, good shelter with deep bedding is all they need, but we human mammals will whine a bit more I'm sure. All in all though the winter of 2017 has been mild here. . No long cold snaps like Illinois winters of the past, and no serious snow storms (yet). Only a couple of icy rain events. I experienced  far worse in the decade I lived in the Black Hills of South Dakota. There, you could enter a restaurant at noon when the sky was clear and blue, and one buffalo burger later, find your car buried in a ten foot drift with the dreaded Jackalopes hopping back and forth over the top.

 Which is why any cowboy worth their salt lick would keep his snow mobile gassed up, ready to go, and secured with baling twine, in the pack of his outfit (aka pickup truck).

Image result for jackalope

Sometimes, especially in the plains around Belle Fourche, SD (which I still lovingly refer to as The Armpit of America ) the storms would roll in so fast, livestock would freeze where they stood. So when my fellow Land of Lincolnites complain about our tough winters, I tend to scoff.

Here, until this morning, it's just been grey and overcast for weeks. Enough to bring out the deepest Shakespearean  angst at times. Oh well, if we didn't have winter, how would we ever appreciate Spring? (with it's rain and mud and bugs...)

Image result for shakespeare quote about winter
Shakespeare: my favorite drama queen

Thursday, February 2, 2017

A Milk House Made of Tires
We need a milk house, desperately. A building where we can wash up all our milking equipment (which is being done in the Looney Bin now) and store all our root veggies and canned food overflow, as well as place for our freezers and an extra fridge for all our milk products like cheese and yogurt. Contrary to popular belief, a milk house is not the place where we milk our cow or shelter her. That takes place in another small cow shed.

Most normal folks would use wood and drywall to build a milk house (that's how we built our first one in 1999) but no, we have to use tires. Why?

There are three basic reasons:
          1. There were numerous tires left on our property when we bought it and after reading about
              the EARTHSHIP CONCEPT in the southern part of the US, we decided we eventually
              wanted to do the same.
          2. Before we attempt to build an entire home based on tires, we thought building a "prototype"
               would be beneficial.
          3. After comparing the costs of other building types, we can get more space for our
              dollar by using tires as the main walls of our milk house build, and by building into a hill
              to save heating costs.

This build will start, we hope, in early summer. After the sale of our other farm we had a small amount left over for this build, so it's a capital expense that shouldn't affect our regular monthly budget. If we plan everything down to the littlest screw, it shouldn't. If we do the majority of the work ourselves, it shouldn't. If we don't have to pay a ton in fees and permits and waivers, it shouldn't. We have just $5000 to build a 24 by 12 foot milk house.

The milk house floor plans are in flux right now, one of our sons is tweaking it on his CAD program. When he's done I'll post it here. In the meantime we have a lot of ground work to accomplish. The Illinois EPA won't allow us to build anything with tires until we complete a BUD (benefit use determination) application, not even a small doghouse. Yes, I asked. This seven page document requires us to document where the tires came from, how we plan to use them, how their use is more beneficial than conventional materials and on and on and on.

We also have to work with our own county on building permits. I'll be chatting with the same guy who dealt with us on the building of our grain bin house and who is currently working with me on the permits I'll need for our family graveyard. You can imagine how thrilled he'll be to hear about this new project!

Monday, January 30, 2017

Income...The Poor Farm Budget 2017

My writer's studio waiting out the winter.

I've saved the best for last, talking about income, because for the first time in our married lives, it's simple issue, we have very little of it. We could easily have more. if we wanted,  I could go back to nursing, we could ramp up our livestock sales, I could sell my soap to large stores in large quantities but NO. We have already lived that make a lot, spend a lot, owe a lot lifestyle and we don't want to revisit it. We are choosing to keep our income at the level we need to meet expenses, for 2017 we estimate about $22,000 a year, all sources combined.

This will keep us at that 138% of the poverty level for two in Illinois of  $16,020.  Our ultimate goal is to need less and less money, so Keith can again be home full time, but we have so much more work to do before we're that self-sufficient.

Where then will our income arise? Primarily it will be Keith's new off farm job, his first non-farming job in decades, which he started today, which has benefits, and a regular schedule, and takes place indoors.  A huge change for a guy who has worked outside the majority of his adult life, but surprisingly he's looking forward to it.

And I am looking forward to the opportunity to work from home, to being responsible for more of the farm chores, to literally being the one keeping the Looney Bin  fires going while Keith is at work. The new job timing was perfect as  it was the last of our 2016 meat sales that got us through January. Additional, much smaller amounts of income will come from my soap sales and hopefully, some writing gigs. That degree of mine is nearly eight months old, time to put it to serious use.

Speaking of which, I do moonlight as a poet, CNF and  short story writer, so if you have a similar interest in the written word please check out my other blog. My followers there are on the low side, primarily because I blog here more often, so you could say I'm robbing Peter to pay Paul. Go ahead, say it. But, I'll be spending more time over there talking about my failures, and a few successes, as an "emerging writer," as they say in the trade.

I understand it's unusual for folks to talk money the way we have, folks generally prefer to brag about how much money they make, rather than how little, but I've done it for two main reasons. One: to help others who are in the process of either downsizing their lives intentionally, or for whatever reason are learning to get by on less, and two: because it helps keep us accountable. At the end of each week Keith and I review each expense area, and compare it to our budget. Then at months end we'll have a good idea how we've managed and what will need adjustment.  Our auto expenses for example, were way over budget as my 15 year old car needed new brakes, while at the same time Keith's truck had manifold issues. Fortunately we spent very little in several of the other categories.

It's become a game for us, sort of how low can we go? When it comes to purchasing anything, we ask ourselves: can we make it? can we borrow it? do we really need it? who will make fun of us for wearing it? can we get by without it? for how long?

Soon, I'll share a building project we are planning. Hint: it includes large amounts of rubber.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Livestock...The Poor Farm Budget 2017

With less than a week left in January, our Poor Farm Budget month, I thought I better hit a couple more key areas, livestock being one of them. It's an important area since we raise 100% of all our own beef, pork and chicken. We plan to expand it to include rabbit in 2018.

Our monthly budget is just $50/month or $600/year and our livestock includes: four beef steers, one milk cow, one pregnant heifer, one horse, two guard dogs, three barn cats, about 60 chickens and ducks and four feeder pigs.

So now you're shaking your head, how can we possibly feed all that livestock on just $50/month?!

By bartering.

It's an age old technique used by farmers/homesteaders/good neighbors for centuries. Rather than exchanging money for goods, we exchange labor or goods for other goods. For hay and grain specifically, Keith trades his labor for feed with another farmer friend of ours. So many hours of work equals so many bales of hay/straw or bushels of grain. In addition, if Keith if cleaning out a barn or other storage building of our friend he is often given the old hay/straw/corn cobs on the floor of that building, which we use for bedding or composting.

The fact that we do not feed grain to our steers, cows, or horse, also keeps costs down. Only the chickens and ducks get grain in the winter while in summer they forage for themselves: lots of bugs, ticks, small snakes, mice for them to dine upon. As we only raise hogs through the summer, our grain costs for them occur only April through August.

We own seven acres and about six of them are in pasture, this means we are not buying or bartering for hay from April through October. Soon, our pregnant heifer will calve (in April) and then we'll decide which of the two milk cows to keep, we don't need both so the other will be sold. Of the four steers, one goes to the locker in June, leaving three smaller ones to raise for beef over the next two years.

We'll be taking many of the extra ducks/roosters to the animal swap/sale in Kankakee in spring reducing our livestock numbers even more. As the numbers decrease we plan to grow our own hay for the winter which would limit Keith's time working off our farm for feed .

In April we'll bring home four 8 week old piglets and raise them on pasture, grain and milk until they are locker size at the end of August. We'll keep the meat from one and sell the other three. They will also get a good amount of extra garden produce, old eggs, apples that have fallen to the ground and the occasional duckling protein snack they grab when mama ducklings get distracted, on their Smartphones I suspect.

The dogs and cats get generic dog/cat food as well as table scraps/freezer meat/bones/older lard we've had stored. They are working farm animals and they eat like such. They are not above eating rabbits/ racoons/moles/mice/birds as well. But they never go after chicks or ducklings, they learned at a very early age, that was not acceptable.

Ashland though, the German Shepard, does like to chase the ducks just to make them fly. he is annoying that way.

Animal illness is rare and when it occurs we prevent and treat with diatomaceous earth (all of our animals) and powdered garlic (only for hogs and cattle). Having our animals out on pasture (muddy as it is right now) and not confined in building, makes for healthier stock. We do have a great vet who comes for emergencies, but it is a rare event.

The horse, you might have guessed, is pure luxury. I suggested to Keith we sell her, I don't ride her enough to validate the hay expense in my mind, but Keith knows I love her so we came up with this plan. If I do not ride here regularly this summer, (or teach her to pull heavy items about the farm) she goes away in the fall. A fair deal I think.

So, spill your guts. If you have pets/livestock, how do you keep your feed and vet costs at manageable levels? How do you validate their presence? Are they for pleasure or must they earn their keep either in the work they do or the food they produce for you to eat?

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Utilities, phone specific...The Poor Farm Budget 2017

Image result for Picture of pink princess phone

Well, now I've done it.

After reading all the great comments about phones and how you, my esteemed followers keep your costs down, (I especially loved Cro's comment " I don't bother with a mobile phone. If they want to contact me, they'll have to wait till I'm home") I took the leap this morning and cancelled my Smart Phone.

It felt a bit like chopping off my thumbs.

T. But, the immediate financial savings realized have elevated my mood. We were paying $120/month for one Smart phone and one basic flip phone. As of this coming Monday, when my flip phone arrives, we'll just be paying $45 a month for both phones, a savings of $75/month or $900/year.

The customer service employee asked why I was downgrading, but never tried to talk me out of it, yet she did say she could not remember the last time anyone had called to decrease their service or downgrade to a simpler phone. Everyone, she said, wants bigger, better and faster.

I get to keep my old Smart phone which is great because I love its camera, and I can still connect to Wi-Fi with it, if I am so inclined say, in a restaurant or just outside on our property since we already pay for Internet here. But  I plan to get away from my obsessive habit of always being connected all of the time. Just because I see an unusual hawk in the yard doesn't mean I have to look it up on Google that second does it? Well, I did, meaning while looking at my Smart phone screen I was missing the birds real beauty, its antics, and probably oblivious to its swooping down and carrying off our ducklings.

I will also have to stop my annoying habit of telling my adult kids to "Look it Up" on their Smart phones when we are in disagreement about something like the US's educational requirement for the Supreme Court. Turns out they don't have to be an attorney first.

Not having a Smart phone in the car will mean that while my husband is driving, I could be writing, reading a book, or how about this? Actually talking to him instead of surfing Facebook, doing non-sense texting or checking my emails. We will also go back to hard copy maps or look up directions on our home computers before leaving for an unfamiliar location.

I think we can do this, I really do.

And when our kids make fun of us, as they will, I'll just remind them that I was the first manager in our hospital to get a portable phone for my car back in 1988 and the first to have a laptop in 1993. Once upon a time, before I was an embarrassment, I was cool, very very cool.