Monday, June 25, 2007

Small Savings Add Up

I’ve been called a tightwad, and I guess it’s true. I have to pinch pennies to make it. I am not however, cheap, which I define as doing things to save money that cause harm to others. This attitude towards money didn’t come naturally, or even easily, to me. My mother was a compulsive shopper (among other, less flattering things). She would go on a shopping spree and spend the rent money when it was due in a few days and payday was a week away. This happened all the time. I’ve had my some struggles with money, but nothing that serious. I’ve had to learn –the hard way –how to be responsible with money.
So I pinch pennies whenever I can. Sometimes I might not save much from a particular project, but even spare change adds up. I do not mean to imply that one should concentrate on small things in an effort to save money; by all means, focus on the big things first. But don’t overlook the small things as a waste of time, or you could be losing out on some significant savings.
Take my bread baking, for example. I bake all my own bread. The time commitment is minimal and I save some money doing it. I make my bread for many reasons that far outweigh any cost savings. These include knowing what the ingredients are, lack of preservatives, the enjoyment I get from baking, and the fact that nothing beats a freshly baked slice of bread with butter spread on it. But let’s focus on the cost benefits for a moment.
The cheapest store bought white bread is about a dollar per loaf. But white bread is essentially empty colors –no vitamins, no fiber. I only eat whole wheat bread. The cheapest loaf of whole wheat bread in my area runs about $2.00, usually more. I could purchase bread at a bakery thrift store, but I’ve discovered it doesn’t last long enough for me to finish the loaf. I eat about a loaf of bread per week, so if I purchased my bread I would have to pay $8 a month for it.
How much does it cost to bake my own bread? Keep in mind that I only bake one day a week and fill the oven when I do. (With casseroles, pies, etc to make sure the energy isn’t wasted.) My basic bread recipe calls for 3 cups of flour, 1 tsp of yeast, 1 cup warm water, and 2 tablespoon of cooking/vegetable oil. Using the most expensive ingredients, here’s the cost breakdown:
Flour: .60/loaf
Yeast: .60/loaf
Water: essentially free
Oil: .10/loaf
Electricity: ~.10/loaf
This brings me to a grand total of $1.40 per loaf of bread. Okay, so I only save 60 cents per loaf of bread I bake myself instead of buying. But that 60 cents multiplied by four loaves a month is $2.40. Multiply that by 12 months, and that’s a yearly savings of $28.80.
Now, less than 30 bucks a year isn’t going to my fanny out of the financial fire as I struggle to finish grad school, much less get me to my dream of five acres or more. But it’s a start, and is indicative of the kind of things that make a difference. Maybe thirty bucks a year won’t do much, but if I can repeat that with two other projects that earn about the same or slightly more, that’s a hundred dollars in savings per year. And that’s real money. That kind of money could allow me to purchase a pressure canner, which would let me save on my other groceries, which would let me save even more money which would…I think you see where this is going.
Why am I writing a post about saving money? Because money is the number one obstacle and the primary key to achieving one’s dreams or making changes to your life. Leaving a smaller eco-footprint means spending less money –but often you have to spend money to get to that state. The same for voluntary simplicity. And the pursuit of almost any dream in our society means spending some amount of money. If you have plenty of it, great. You can do almost anything. But if you don’t have enough cash, you’ll have to find away to get it. This usually means saving at least some amount. And anything that helps you cut expenses and save some money, no matter how big or small, is a stuff in the right direction.

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

First Harvest

I made my first real harvest from the garden yesterday. It wasn’t much, but it was something! A few potatoes, all the garlic, three tomatoes, and a few green beans. Most of the making of a good soup right there –all local, all organic. And all from just outside my door.
Needless to say, the tomatoes are all ready gone. ;-) I can’t wait for more to ripen.
I am cooking soup as we speak. It’s simmering in the crockpot. I used the ingredients harvested from the garden (except for the tomatoes) And today is going to be my baking day –fresh, homemade bread, cornbread, and muffins. The bread is all ready rising on the stove. I’m trying to time everything so that the cornbread is done at the same time as the soup.
I just can not get over how much better home grown produce taste. I ate the first tomato yesterday fresh off the vine, still warm from the sun. It was a preview of heaven. The taste just exploded in my mouth. In the back of my head I could hear John Denver singing “Homegrown Tomatoes”. I can’t speak for others, but I don’t need the latest electronic gizmos or doodads or fancy trips to make me happy. I like the simple pleasures in life. Like the taste of the season’s first homegrown tomato.

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Sunday, June 17, 2007

90% Reduction weeks 1 and 2

I didn’t get an update posted last week, sorry. I had a bad cold (courtesy of my brother, who brought it home from his job and subsequently gave it to me) and I was busy with the first week of school. Here are my advances thus far:

Gasoline: I haven’t really been able to reduce my driving too much yet. I’m working on it, but it is hard. I’ve had to turn down several offers from friends to hang out, both because of the 90% reduction and money issues; I just can’t afford a lot of gas right now.

Electricity: My usage went up slightly last month but not much –especially considering that I finally had to turn on the A/C.

Garbage: I forgot to way it last week, but this week it only weighed 3 pounds!

Water: I’ve been more careful with water usage, but I’m not yet able to tease out what’s mine, what’s my brothers, and what’s the garden’s.

Consumer Goods: I have spent a grand total of $26.05 on consumer goods this year. $4.05 of that was on a bale of straw, and $20 of it was at my church’s yearly yard sale. What I got out of the latter was mostly useful stuff –towels, dish rags, and the like. I haven’t discounted those things yet, so I don’t have my actual total. I'm going to use the linens for things like cleaning (I only have a few and they're getting worn out fast) and am going to turn some of the more ragged ones into cloth pads.

Food: This one is hard for me. I’m not sure how to calculate totals and percentages. If I do it strictly by price alone, then non-local wet and bulk will take up the most of my diet. For example, I may buy 3 pounds of squash in a month at $1.25 a pound at the farmer’s market, and then one half gallon of non-local organic milk at $3.50. Right there, the one half-gallon of milk has outdone my 3 pounds of squash! And then there’s the stuff from my garden, which I don’t pay for at all. Any ideas?

Oh, and for those worried about the snake, I didn’t kill it. I can’t since its not dangerous –my religion forbids unnecessary killing.

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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Snake in the Garden

Okay, I can handle the bobcats. Even the occasional mountain lion that comes down from the hills. The hawks, being one of my spirit guides, definitely don’t bother me. Even the field mice don’t bother me; they’re rather cute, actually. Most bugs don’t bother me, except for spiders, and I leave them alone unless they’re in the house.
But snakes? Snakes definitely bother me. I do NOT like snakes. In two years, I have never, ever, had a snake in my garden or yard. Until this morning. The alarm went off at six, as usual. I stumbled out of bed and into clothes and took the dogs out. It was next to the corn bed, lying on the ground near a hole in a tree root, half in and half out of said root.
I didn’t see it at first. I was looking in the corn bed, counting the sprouts, when my dog jumped over the fence and approached it, sniffing curiously as she always does. I looked over to see what she was so interested in. Somehow it pierced my sleep fogged brain that this shouldn’t be there and wait a minute –SNAKE! I yelled “Princess –NO!” At the top of my lungs. Maybe it was the tone of my voice, or some instinct, but she stopped with her nose just a few inches from the snake. The snake didn’t move. It lay perfectly still in the warm rays of the just risen sun. Princess backed up and skirted it with a wary eye. (Who knew that dog could be wary?)
By this time I was seriously freaking out. I herded both dogs into the house then went back out. The snake was in the same position. I took a tennis ball and bounced it off the ground beside the snake. It didn’t move. I took a (very) long stick and poked it near its tail end. No movement. Was it dead? I didn’t want to take the chance.
Then I heard a car pulling up outside. My brother, coming home from the night shift at the factory. In steel-toed boots. Who didn’t mind snakes. I went out and grabbed him. When I told him what was wrong, he looked at me like, are you crazy? Chop the head off and be done with it. But he came out back. He saw the snake and whistled. This thing is at least 4 feet long, and all of it wasn’t out of the hole. Solid black. Black snakes are almost always poisonous. He grabbed the rake and tried to lift the snake with it. It moved. Hissed. Bit the rake handle. I screeched like a little girl and jumped behind him. Robbie said I could either kill it or let it finish sunning, and then it would go away. But he was going to bed. And he did.
There might be more coming out of the woods with this drought.
Now I need to decide what to do with my unwelcome visitor….


Monday, June 04, 2007

Powerful Hurricane Heading into the PERSIAN Gulf

I have only one thing to say to this: Mother Nature always bats last.


Friday, June 01, 2007

A Little Bit of Land

Written by: Jennie Senrud Hutton
A little bit of land is all I ask, Just a small place to call my own,Where I can put down roots so deep So deep,That great-grandchildren still will Call it home.Is it so much to ask? A lane of trees,Bringing birdsong and covered leaves,Sweet lilacs holding in their arms,The lawn. Tulips and yellow daffodil,Spattered up and down the cellar hill,Sweet gurgling brook, fresh and cool,The brush beyondSheltering grouse and sage,And shy sweet deer.Oh aching heart, hungry hungry soul.What little bit to make a gratefulWhole.Is there no spot in all this universe/A little valley, with a cabin home,A bit of garden I can call my own,I would not bruise the land, or tearIt apart,But keep it beating with a happyBlooming heart.Each bit of soil, which God hadSurely blessed,Would be a cozy home for seeds toRest,And grow and nourish, comfortingAll men,With fruit and shade, and food forEvery soul.A little bit of land, to call my own,Within its small confines, a lovingHome,And fertile soilNo matter the toil,I would so grateful beIf God would take a little chance onMeAnd give me a small plot of lonelySodThat needs a gentle hand, and God.

This is my dream. I am not a traveler, one to wander place to place to take in the sights each has to offer. I am a settler, a homesteader. I am like a tree who wants to put down roots and reach for the sky. I want to live on the land, to watch it grow and change with the seasons. I want to know it like the palm of my hand, its wrinkles, its faults, its life, its soil, the plants and animals that call it home. I want to see my land in the spring, when the first trees bud out and the crocus pokes through the snow. I want to plant the first peas and lettuces of the year and watch them grow. I want to see it in the summer, in those long hazy days when all is still but the buzzing of the bees. I want to watch the apples swell on the trees and the crops ripen in the fields. I want to know it in the fall, when the harvest is coming in the leaves are changing, when the nights are chill with the first hint of frost. When the first apple of the year comes in and I taste its sweet bite, when the pumpkins are carved for the fest, and when the harvest is celebrated with gusto. I want to know the land in the winter, when the air turns chill and the birds leave for the season.
When lambs are born in the spring I want to be there with the ewe, the first human to welcome them into the world. And when, many years later, the Goddess takes them to be by Her side, I want to be with them then. I want to watch foals frolicking in the pasture, and see them grow into strong, gentle horses. I want to milk the cows in the morning and bring them in from the pasture in the evening. I want to curse the chickens for eating my lettuce sprouts yet again. I want to see children playing in the fields, growing up free and strong. I want to hold them close when they are young and let them go when the time comes. I want to heal the land, to renew it, to enrich it. The Earth has been hurt so much that in many places She cries, and I want to help those places to Sing again. This is what and who I am. This is not an easy dream I have; this is a hard life I have set. But a good life.
And how will I know if I succeed in this? How will I know if my efforts are not in vain? For no money or wealth, no gold or jewels or acclaim do I seek to pile up as evidence of my success. No, I will not know until I am old and gray and in the twilight of my own life. If then, I go to plant a tree and my children and grandchildren are around me, learning, knowing how to steward the land and the reasons for it, then I will have succeeded. I shall not live to sit under the shade of that tree. I shall not live to see it blossom or taste its fruit. I shall not be there to watch the young propose to their sweethearts under the rain of its blossoms in spring; nor will I be there when it declines, and becomes fuel for the fire and fine furniture. But they will be. And that is how I will know if I am a success in life.

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