Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Adventures of Craigslist...

So Country Bloke and I were on the lookout for a playground for the kiddos. I just couldn't bring myself to spend almost a grand on those shiny new ones that are sold at big box stores. Plus, I am lucky enough to be married to a man that can fix just about anything so if there is an issue with the playground we buy second hand, he can re-engineer just about anything.

So I started my hunt on good ole Craigslist because I love to hunt for bargains and I love to save money! For a few weeks, I scoured the free stuff section as well as the for sale/wanted section. I saw a couple of come and get 'em posts for free playgrounds but they were either too far away or just plain ugly. There were two free playgrounds that seemed like a very good deal but unfortunately they were scooped up by the time Country Bloke and I got off work. 

Finally, I found it.

It looked like a very nice home with some good quality stuff they needed to off load since they were moving. So after a few emails back and forth and some up-close pictures, a deal was struck. 

The playground would be ours for $75. It is a pretty nice one so we were pumped!

Here's the pictures from Craigslist:

Not bad, huh?

So Saturday morning came, we loaded our bellies full of breakfast, grabbed our tools and headed off to a complete strangers house for the playground that hopefully was not a bunch of termites holding hands. The drive was about 40 miles away but with the kids staying with City Mom, it was sort of like a date!

So we arrived at our destination, there was a bit of a disagreement over whether or not to park in their driveway, met the owner, money exchanged hands, he showed us the back way we could bring the truck so we could park the truck right next to the playground, and we finally got to see the playground! It was in great shape! Thank goodness!

There was also a swing set separated from it but next to it and the owner threw that in the deal for no additional cost. Score!

Swing Set:

So now comes the fun part of figuring out how to get the thing home. And now we have the addition of the swing set! Oh boy.


So Country Bloke and I have some discussions about how to best handle this and we, of course, disagree. He basically wants to keep it whole and just put it in the truck bed. I want to take it apart since it seems safer to me. He wins.

Here’s a picture of the beast getting loaded onto the truck:

I had to pixel out the owner and the owner's house for privacy.

and yes, we drove it home this way...40 MILES:

So it takes us about 45 minutes to take the slide, ladder and rock climbing part off and get it up in the truck. Then we turn to the swing set.

Ah, the swing set. This is one of those things where if I could go back in time, I would tell the owners to keep the damn thing! This stupid swing set took almost an hour just to take apart! And the worst thing about it, it claimed a hammer!

Proof is in this picture:

So we begin our drive home. Fortunately for us, it was drama free. We didn't hit any power lines or covered bridges. We did pull over a couple of times to check the load and you should've seen the look on people's faces when we were driving! From top to bottom was 14' 2" which is the MAXIMUM height semi-trucks are allowed to be! I pretty much had a panic attack the entire drive home and proceeded to break down into tears when we finally pulled into the drive.

But the look on my little country boy's faces was indescribable. I wish I had my camera to capture it because I really did not think eyeballs could get that big!

Well, the playground is at our house now but it hasn't found it's permanent home yet!

I'm also refinishing it so once that's done and we've moved it where it will stay, I'll post a follow up with pictures. 

So what sort of crazy Craigslist story do you have to share?

Friday, July 26, 2013

Grocery bill analysis - Week 2 of the 52 week challenge

Welcome back to the second week of Grocery Bill Analysis!

So here we are. I had a bit of a breakdown in my system and had to go to the grocery store on Saturday. Well, I didn’t. Country Bloke did. I needed eggs and sour cream! I had some brown bananas that were begging to be baked into banana muffins and they were delicious! 

So, here we go. The second week of my fifty-two week challenge:

My July 21 shopping trip – Total $23.90
My July 25 shopping trip – Total $137.80
TOTAL of both trips – $161.69

Organic 28.1 : 17% of bill
(Last week this was only 6% so at least that has improved!)
Non-organic 133.59: 83% of bill

Processed food: $19.52  12% of bill
7/25 York Patties (2 lbs worth!) 8.14
7/25 coffee (2@ 5.69) 11.38

Dairy: $31.22 19% of bill
7.21 Eggs 1.89
7.21 Sour cream 3.59
7/25 organic milk (4 @ 3.30) 13.20
7/25 organic yogurt 3.09
7/25 organic butter (2@ 3.50) 7
7/25 margarine 2.45

Meats and Fish: $35.70  22% of bill
7.21 Ribs 10.68
7/25 organic chicken (2.53+2.28) 4.81
7/25 pork loin (3.38+5.12) 8.5
7/25 pork shoulder 11.71

Vegetables and Fruits and Nuts: $49.34 31% of bill
7.21 Apples (1.59 lb @ 2.49) 3.96-1.27(club price disc)=2.69
7.21 Green seedless grapes (3.38 lb @ 3.99) 13.49(!)-8.45(club price disc)=5.04
7/25 Almonds (2 bags @ 5.65) 11.30
7/25 frozen corn (2 @ 1.69) 3.38
7/25 frozen peas (2 @ 1.69) 3.38
7/25 avocado (3 @ 3.29) 6.58
7/25 broccoli (1.02@ .99) 1.01
7/25 tomato (2 @ 3.99) 7.98
7/25 blackberries (2@ 3.99) 7.98

Baked Goods: $3.38 2% of bill
7/25 bread (2@ 1.69) 3.38

Household Items: $15.97 10% of bill
7/25 baking soda 1.99
7/25 wax paper 1.01
7/25 baby powder 2.21
7/25 dial body wash 10.76

Tax 6.56 4% of bill

So compared to last week, processed food decreased by 2%. Dairy still commands a good portion of my bill but decreased by 8%. Meats and fish decreased by 6% but are also still one of the top categories. Vegetables category was renamed to Vegetables, Fruits and Nuts and jumped to become my number 1 expenditure on this shopping trip. Baked goods are still pretty low and decreased to only 2% of the bill. I could probably start cutting this out completely by baking my own bread on the weekends but I really don’t want to be in the kitchen all day in order to save less than $20. I’m looking for bigger ways to save. Household items decreased by 8% I can’t really cut out much there. Tax is tax. 

So after two weeks, it appears that my Meats and Fish command about 25% of my grocery bill. Dairy is a close second taking 23% of the bill. Despite being part of a CSA, my vegetable, fruit and nuts are in third place with 19% of the bill. I hate to think how much I would be spending if I wasn't getting a bunch of veggies every week!

I’ve spent $296.28 so far in two weeks. I’m about $11 higher on my weekly average right now (still lower than the thrifty plan on food stamps) which is coming in around $148 but I’ve had to buy a lot of meat. Hopefully I won’t have to buy as much meat during the next two weeks but we shall see!

Not many places I can make cuts right now but I’m sure they will become more evident as I plow through this experiment. Also, I am not willing to sacrifice the quality of food I provide my family so I will have to find the balance between saving money and sacrificing quality. If anything, I'm trying to up my quality and lower my grocery bill!

Come back next Friday for an update!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Learning about seeds...

My seeds a soakin'
Most of us go to one of the big box home improvement stores and peruse what plants are there as well as different seeds we might want to plant in our jarden potager's. Little do we know that those big box stores carry seeds and plants that may not even grow in your area. How many times have you brought home a plant from one of those stores and the dang thing dies on you for no apparent reason? Some of those poor plants may be diseased or dying before you even buy it. I've bought plenty of plants from those stores before. Some I've been lucky with, others not so much.

Anyways, Country Bloke and I planted our first BTE garden with seeds we picked up at one of the big box stores. 

This is a picture of soaking our seeds that we bought from a big box store:

This was for my bed. We did not do this for Country Bloke's bed.

But it got me thinking. What are all the different kinds of seeds and which one is good for my family?

It led me to research this question turning to none other than Google. I really don't know what I did before Google!

Just to give you a run down of the difference in very general terms, interpreted my moi:

Heirloom seeds are generally passed down from one generation to the next hence the word heirloom. These seeds require "open-pollunation" meaning pollination occurs through a natural means i.e. butterflies or bees. These seeds are usually regarded as seeds that have been untouched by science and human intervention. They are as they were many, many years ago.

Hybrid seeds are seeds that have been crossed pollinated through human intervention but are still somewhat a product of natural reproduction. The humans control what traits are passed down from the parent plants to the offspring. Some of the reasoning for this might be the ability to grow more crops and have a higher yield on fewer acres. Or the crops might make more efficient the use of fertilizer or be more resistant to certain types of insects. 

Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) seeds use sophisticate gene splicing methods to create untested, unnatural new organisms. So a bunch of scenitists get together with a bunch of fancy gene splicing material and start jacking with the various genes of various plants that we consume. But it's okay because the FDA has approved for these GMO plants to be used only in processed food and animal feed. Oh, and corn that we buy in the grocery store. WTF? So you are telling me that the meat I buy from the grocery store, that cow or pig or chicken what feed some sort of mutated, unnatural feed and we have no idea what it is really doing to the animal and now I'm eating it? Awesome. There is a reason why I'm raising my own meat.

After researching heirloom vs hybrid vs GMO, I decided that after this year I will strictly order heirloom seeds. I am not saying that what I am doing is the right way. This is my decision based on what I researched. Do your own research before you decide.

So in my quest to improve quality of life (and food) for me, my family and my community and my seemingly constant research through other blogs, I decided to order the Landreth's catalog. It cost about $7.95 and there is an explanation of why it costs money to order. Believe me, it's worth it!

Here's a picture of the catalog:
The 2013 Landreth's Catalog

I decided to go with Landreth's because they have been in business since 1784! That is a long time so I figured they had a hellava heirloom seed collection. Inside, they have had drawn illustrations of the various plants and they also provide detailed explanations of the different varieties out there. Since I know nothing about gardening, I need as much explanation as I can get! I'm also going to start my winter sowing in December using milk jugs as mini-greenhouses. Check it out at this blog

So that is what I've learned so far about seeds. I know I have a lot more to learn and I will never, ever call myself an expert! But I will continue to chronologue my findings in this blog so others may use it to their benefit.

I'm just a city girl embracing this country life and trying to create a healthy community for my children and my children's children so we can all keep the cogs of the wheel of life spinning.

Monday, July 22, 2013

No Fuss Hydrangea Rooting

Often times when I am driving around, I have the urge to pull the car over and take cuttings of beautiful flowers or bushes or anything that strikes my fancy. I usually don't for fear of someone running toward me, waving a shovel (or something worse) and telling me to "stay away from my begonias!"

It would happen to me.

So I've been hesitant to satisfy this craving until I saw a gorgeous hydrangea bush at the end of my street on a very vacant property. So I did the unthinkable. I made Country Bloke stop the car, grabbed the knife we keep in the car for emergencies and hacked off a couple of branches, some with flowers and some without. It must've been a helluva sight seeing me emerge from the bushes, welding a knife in one hand and holding a bunch of hydrangea cuttings with the other (like it would feed my family or something), sweaty and victorious that I managed to hack a few branches from the bush.

I know, so naughty.

So I take my bounty home only to realize I. Know. Nothing. About. Rooting. Hydrangeas!

Gotta tell you, I love the internet. And YouTube. But I still don't really get it. It all seems so complicated sometimes. Just google it and read a few articles. It's ridiculous! First of all, who has that kind of time and, secondly, I shouldn't need my own GARDNER to root a freakin' flower bush?! I wish the non-experts would get on there and just tell people a no effort way of rooting hydrangeas. 

Picture of hydrangea cuttings in living room
My work-in-progress living room with hydrangea cuttings behind the picture.
So I just said screw it! And place the clippings in a glass cup and into my beautiful brass pitcher I found for a steal at my favorite antique store and figured it would all die within the week anyways. City mother replaces said cup with a mason jar as soon as I leave the room but I digress... (-;

Fast forward about two weeks later, the hydrangea branches that had the flowers are dead, dead, dead but, strangely, the ones without the flowers, having only leaves, seem to be clinging to life despite my attempts to starve it of water. 

New growth hydrangea leaves from cuttings.
New leaves at the top.
I even notice new little blooms of leaves coming through the very top of the plant.

This encourages me to pull it out of the brass pitcher and actually look at the stems. Low and behold, we have roots! Holy cow!!

Hydrangea roots from cuttings in water
Hello Little Roots! Glad you you are here!!

Hydrangea Roots in water from cutting
Different angle of the roots.

I am so excited because I actually got the hydrangea to root and it did not require a lot of time and care. I barely watered the dang thing! Woo hoo!! In your face Martha You-Know-Who! I did it without my own private gardener and all those fancy rooting minerals! (-;

So I still have it in the jar. We did attempt to kill off my successful rooting by adding in a bunch of other hydrangea cuttings and no water but I think I caught it in time. 

I'm now nursing it back to health and I'm hoping to plant it in front of my big ole, ugly utility box that is smack-dab in the middle of my front yard. 

It's alive!!
So my advice if you want no fuss hydrangeas roots is this:

1. Find a woody stem that has a green stem growing from it WITH NO FLOWERS!! (That part is very important.)

2. Cut about 2 inches below where the green stem meets the brown stem. 

3. Take it home and cut another inch off the bottom in a diagonal cut under cool water. You want to have about an inch from the green stem to the bottom of the cutting. (See picture below.)

4. Put it in a glass jar and fill it with as much water as you can.

5. Place it in another vase or pitcher that will protect it from direct sunlight but leave it in a sunny room. I'm pretty convinced that I tricked it into thinking it was underground which is why the roots started.

No fuss Hydrangea Rooting using water and luck
See how the green shoot is coming out of the woody stem? I think that is key with no fuss rooting.
6. Have a life filled with jobs, spouses, kids, cooking, cleaning, busy schedules, and craziness.

7. Check on it a week later, maybe change the water. You be the judge.

8. When you see little roots appear, give it a day of sunshine, cheer it on and be proud of yourself that you are capable of making something grow!

Grow little buddy!! Don't mind the split rail fencing in the background.
9. Plant it either in your garden or wherever you want. I have no advice for this yet because this is next weekends project for me but I'll keep you posted!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Grocery bill analysis - Week 1 of the 52 week challenge

Since my last post about saving money on groceries, I've talked with a few friends about how much they spend. One friend spends $900 a month on groceries for a family of five (2 adults, 3 kids (14, 6, 4)) but they buy nothing but organic and non-GMO products. So I've decided to start analyzing my grocery bill for the next year because I want to compare apples to apples. I can't make faces at them for their bigger grocery bill when my own bill is only 6% organic!

At the end of my year of grocery bill analysis, I will include the costs of the CSA and the money I have spent on the BTE garden because that is money my family has spent on food. I'll try to figure out how best to calculate all that. Suggestions are appreciated!

So I want to see how much of it is organic vs non-organic and also how much I spend in what I dub as the 7 main categories of shopping. Disagree with me if you must on how I did it and please email me your suggestion. 

I count my month on when the credit card statement begins which was July 15th. We pay ours in full every month but put EVERYTHING on it. It's rare we spend more than $100 in cash a month. We use our credit card to rack up points and airline miles but we are fairly disciplined with our spending and we always have the money to pay it off. I do not recommend doing this if you are not able to pay it off. There are no benefits if you have credit card debt! 

Remember, I'm feeding 3 adults and 2 kiddos. Everyone's situation is different and this is by no means telling you that the way you shop is wrong. I really just want to know how my grocery bill breaks out and see where I can make cuts or just accept it as it is and keep chugging along in the rat race!

So, here we go. The first week of my FIFTY-TWO week challenge! 

My July 17 shopping trip - Total $134.59

Organic $8.74 - 6% of bill
Non-organic $125.85 - 94% of bill

Processed food: $19.30 - 14% of bill
peanut butter 3.74
coke 3.99
fritos 2.60
coffeemate creamer (3 @ 2.99) 8.97

Dairy: $35.84 - 27% of bill
block of colby cheese 1.89
activia yogurt 4.25
milk (2 gallons @ 2.61) 5.22
cheese twists 2.50
sliced munster cheese 2
shredded cheese (2 @ 6.99) 13.98
organic butter sticks 3.50
Ice cream 2.50

Meats and Fish: $37.04 - 28% of bill
salmon 9.67
Organic chicken 5.24
sausage (5 @ 2.29) 11.45
ground beef 3.36
pot roast 7.32

Vegetables: $6.02 - 4% of bill
mushrooms 1.68
lettuce 2.69
corn (5 @ .33) 1.65

Baked goods: $5.68 - 4% of bill
cinnamon rolls 3.99
bread 1.69

Household Items: $24.30 - 18% of bill
diapers (2 @ 6.77) 13.54
dial body soap (4 @ 2.69) 10.76

Tax 6.41 - 5% of bill

I'll post next weeks bill on Friday. I've had to change my shopping day from Tuesday to Thursday for certain reasons. I decided to shop yesterday because we were out of milk and coffeemate and I needed to ease us into the day of the week change. Those are two things we pretty much can't live without. 

Maybe I'll start a weekly post entitled "What's in your pantry" or something like that...

Almost forgot, the peahen is still at the house. We have dubbed her Peanut or Gracie. I haven't decided which yet!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Wednesday's Daydream - HOLY PEACOCK!!!

So as I'm trying to think of something clever and witty to write in my weekly Wednesday daydream blog, Country Bloke emails me this picture:

Taken in my backyard today.

HOLY COW or HOLY PEACOCK I should say!!

Country Bloke wants to try to keep it in our yard until we figure out where this thing came from.

So I know nothing about peacocks but I feel that way about everything in life! So I turn to Google since I'm a self-proclaimed Googologist.

So a quick search brought me to the ehow website which states:

Peafowl (male) and peahens (female), more commonly known as peacocks, are the largest of the pheasant and turkey family of birds.

So what do they eat?

They like cooked rice and cat food. That's a little weird but I'm not one to judge.

They like snakes and bugs. That's cool.

So how do we get this peacock to stay?

Feed 'em. Lots of food. Morning. Noon. Night. For like a week! Geez.

So is this a male or a female? 

Apparently examining the tail feathers tells you. Looking at the picture, I think this might be a female. It looks as though this ones tail feathers are dull with a muted brown or gray color.

So is this a wild peacock or someones pet?

I have no idea where this peacock came from but I know they are not wild in the United States. We've had dogs wonder into our yard before but this is a first.

When I was stationed in Hawaii with the Navy, wild peacocks ran around the base at Wahiawa. The males were loud and territorial often running after Sailors who were just minding their own business. It provided some comic relief when you were on gate guard duty for the umptenth time and you would see some poor Sailor take off running because there was a HUGE peacock running after them! Good times.

Well, I'll keep you updated on the peacock situation as the story unfolds.

UPDATE: She's still here...


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

More Growth = Less Grocery Bill!!

WOW! So we just planted our Back To Eden garden on June 30 and everything is growing like crazy!! I'm so excited! There is nothing like the feeling of independence and breaking free from the grocery store!

This is my worst nightmare. {Source}
Maybe I'm getting a little ahead of myself but I am seriously pumped at the thought of lessening my trips to the grocery store. 

Right now I stop at the grocery store every Tuesday (since it's on my way home and I ALWAYS try to plan all my errands for maximum time efficiency and to use less gas). My trip takes about an hour and costs between $100 to $200 a trip averaging around $589 a month (last year was $610 a month) for a family of three adults and two kiddos. That's an average of $136 a week. And this total includes household items too, not just food. We almost never go out to eat unless there is company or my mom treats us. 

So my weekly costs are coming in around $136. Not bad. Could be better though. And after working a 9 to 10 hour day at job #1, I really want to shorten the time of the trip by half!

I wonder what the USDA says about my food costs for my family of 3 adults (33 year old City Girl, 37 year old Country Bloke, and 65 plus year old City Mom) and 2 kids (2 year old and 4 year old).  

Quick calculations tell me my weekly average would be around $164 for the "Thrifty" plan. For the primo plan, called the "Liberal" plan, my weekly costs for my family clock in around $316!! HOLY COW! That is a lot of grub! And that is only for food! 

BTW, that is based on the SNAP program guidelines...

Anyways, my goal this time next year is to be shopping every other Tuesday in under 30 minutes and only spending about $150 so averaging around $325 a month and NOT USING COUPONS! I suck at couponing. (-;

I think I will spend the next month tracking and breaking down my grocery bill with painstaking detail so I can see where I can really make the cuts. I think that's the only way to defeat the grocery bill monster.

Another great place to learn about decreasing your grocery bill would be the Mr. Money Mustache blog, one of my favorite blogs and pretty much the only money blog I read right now. I'm trying to find another Financial Independence blog that fits me but no luck yet. I'm sort of tired of these blogs in the blogosphere that show their world as perfect or are written by a single person. I'm craving some realness! Maybe I'll start one myself. Are there any financial blogs you can recommend?

My goal in 7 years.
Oh well, it's Tuesday so off to the grocery story I go!

Side note: I just Googled Back To Eden Garden to see if my blog would come up at all. After 43 search pages, that would be a big fat NO! Hahaha. 

Guess my baby blog is not walking yet in Blogland!