Thursday, April 25, 2013

Ode to the Civic

Well, I have, in my grubby little hand, the official title to my Honda Civic.  It only took 6 years... *sigh*... but it's mine now!
This is the first car I've really owned. I bought it after college. Well, I put down a payment and took out a loan after college. It was used, but only a few years, and only one owner during those few years. It's an '03 2 door Civic and I bought it in '06.

I did a lot of research before deciding on a late model Civic. I had a couple of non-negotiables:
  • It had to get 35+ mpg.
  • It had to be reliable and easy to maintain.
  • It had to have manual transmission.
  • It had to fit into my just-graduated-from-college budget.
The kelly blue book confirmed that several models of Honda Civics met those requirements, and it listed out the proper pricing for year/model/miles, so I didn't have to go into negotiations blind.

True story, I had been saving up for a couple of months, dancing extra shifts at the bar and eating cheap. I had test driven a couple other Civics, but I wasn't quite satisfied with them. I got a call from a local dealer that said he just had something show up on his lot that was pretty close to what I was wanting. I sweet talked a friend into driving me down to the dealer.  It was exactly what I wanted, (except for the boring color) and I made him an offer on the spot. We wrangled a bit, I got a sunroof and extended warranty added, and we settled on the price. I had told him I had a downpayment of 2K.  I guess most people use checks for such things, but I was a stripper, so it was all in cash. My friend's eyes nearly popped out of his head when I tossed the cash roll on the car salesman's desk. Mostly hundreds, but probably more 20's than was polite. It was funny, because he knew what my job was, he was a regular in the bar, I guess he just hadn't realized how cash oriented a lifestyle it is. The salesman had to call in a secretary to help count it.   :-D

A week later, the car was clean and the sunroof was in place and the dealer called me back to sign the last bit of paperwork and take her home.

I've not regretted the purchase; not once in the past 6 years have I fallen out of love with this Civic.
It's been a reliable, mostly maintenance free car that has driven me 200,000+ miles.  To job after job, and vacation after vacation.
Is it a little small for my hubby? Yea.  Is it way too small for the rear facing baby seat? Yea.
But those small inconveniences are very small when compared to the excellent gas mileage that the car continues to get. And the years of flawless commutes. And the savings we see in our insurance/tax payments.

I've been in an icy ditch twice with this car, and both times I've driven right back out of said ditches with no trouble and no damage.

I've taken this car on many a pheasant hunt.  It can handle a dirt road next to a corn field just as well as any 4-wheel drive truck chassis.

I've hauled hay bales (square ones) and giant tomato cages, and 8 foot long lumber, with no more trouble than popping down the back seats.

I'm a firm believer that more Americans need to downsize their vehicles to more closely match what they do with them. Sure it's nice to have a truck when there's a queen sized bed that needs moving, but why pay for the truck's shitty gas mileage 365 days of the year, just so you have it that one day of the year when nothing else will do?  Most people would find themselves ahead, financially speaking, if they would downsize to a commuter car, and rent a truck/SUV for the few times they need to haul something. But of course, most Americans don't think like that, and the parking lots at work, and at the grocery stores are all packed with giant vehicles that drove one person somewhere and used a crap ton of fossil fuels to do it. 

Oh well.. they're literally burning money, but it's a free country.

Anyway, it's a great relief to be done with the payments on her. It's nice to have that title that says she's 100% mine. 

Now of course I'm itching to do some custom work to the old gal, spruce her up a little to more closely match my personality. Let's be honest here, the boring silver color has never appealed to me, and the black interior could be SO much cooler looking with some modification.

Raver fur covering the seats?
Some custom paint?
A cold air intake to the engine?

What should I do? :-D
I will of course report back if I end up doing any of that.

If you've made it this far, thanks for letting me gush about my car and the debt milestone.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The 97%

I heard on the radio this morning that 97% of all American homes have cable/satellite subscriptions. The cable companies are worried, because 2 years ago that number was 99%.  My heart goes out to them.

Seriously though! My little family hasn't had a TV or cable subscription since 2009. I hardly feel "cut off" or "out-of-touch." I get 90% of my current event/news through the radio, and yea, I'll admit it, that's heavy skewed towards NPR, because I get the most news for my 30 minute drive time. Local stations do some talk/news in the mornings, but then I have to sit through the fart jokes and inane banter to learn that a local manufacturer is letting 100 people go. The rest of my news comes from blog reading and occasional Daily Show episodes.

We do watch some "TV." But, not through the legal and heavily commercialized methods. (Hulu, Amazon and Netflix streaming, things like that.) We're pirates. Straight up. We stream from independent sources everything we want to watch. No commercials, no country boundaries, we like our limited viewing time to be self directed, and free from commercial messages. We watch a bunch of BBC shows, and have been known to check out Australian, Irish, New Zealand and Canadian shows too. There are even a few American shows that have a writing level above the 3rd grade and subject matter than doesn't offend us and we'll watch those occasionally. We watch a lot of documentaries, and cooking shows, with a healthy smattering of adult animated shows, (Adult Swim type stuff, Bob's Burgers and Archer and Southpark, etc..) Come to think of it, we're not even bound by the current year of programming, Dave watches reruns of Dr Who and Red Dwarf from the 80's.

The toddler watches a lot of YouTube cartoons. He watches train cartoons in Russian, and an animated  toddler show called Pocoyo in Spanish. He loves to watch kid-made videos with Thomas the Train toys. He loves the old silent Pink Panther cartoons too. And the classic Donald Duck stuff.  Between the ad blockers on our Linux Mozilla browser, and the methods we use to watch programming, I'd say Rowen has seen only a handful of actual ads in his first 4 years of life. That does make me happy, even when I would rather see him with a book or outside. :-D

Dave and I don't see many ads either. And we don't watch any of the mainstream news.  (And yes, Fox is as mainstream as media gets.) It makes for a surreal experience when we go to a friend or relative's house and get a dose of actual TV programming. It's really weird.  The commercials seem hyperbolic, and disturbingly repetitive. The "news" shows seem more cartoonish than anything else, with their equally hyperbolic pitch and the spastic pop-ups selling other TV programming, and those weird scrolling tickers with random twits of information. I'm always itchy to turn it off after the first 5 minutes of it.

I'm telling you folks. CUT THE CORD.  If you want to live a simpler, more productive life, CUT THE CORD.  If you want more time for projects and exercise and family, CUT THE CORD. If you want to lessen the corporate and governmental influence on your life, CUT THE CORD!

You'll likely go through a withdrawal period as your brain, your habits and yes, even your hormones, adjust to the quieter, slower, more pleasant pace of self directed media consumption. It's totally worth it though. Your wallet will thank you, your butt will thank you, your brain will thank you, and perhaps someday your children will thank you.

Live your life folks; watching shows on a TV doesn't count as a life, it barely counts as an activity. Mostly, it's just brainwashing, and a waste of your hard earned money.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Sew and Tell - Space Skirt!

Got my Blue Nebula skirt done, I think it looks cute. As usual, I totally winged it. I knew what I was aiming for in the finished skirt, and I did some measurements then just started cutting and sewing till it looked close. :-D These shots aren't the best, inside lighting and a shirt that's too long, so you can't see the nice looking waistband I put on it. But, I'm sure I'll wear it this summer and get some better shots up for your viewing pleasure.
 Baby did not want to be put down.
 Here's a side shot, you can see the under skirt which is a light eggplant color. And my oh-so fashionable wool socks. (Because it's not quite time for skirt wearing here.)

Also recently off the sewing table -
A couple of bundles of cloth wipes for the Market stall, and one for our own use.

Bags and decorations for the 4 year old's birthday party! I made a string of pennants for Rowen's birthday party at the end of March. I was a rock star with these. More of my cutting and sewing till it looked right. Literally, in the 15 spare minutes before the party started, I cut out an old lining from a wetbag that bit the dust, and then cut triangles out of it, and matching triangles from some scrap fabrics, and voila! I used a strip of light green to sew it all together and tie it to the wall.
  Rowen thought it was great decoration, promptly declaring the party was started when he saw them. "Mommy made me a party!"  -Rowen
Gift bags for the kiddo. Nothing fancy here.

Well, that's about it for my sew and tell.  I have cute stuff in the queue for the sewing machine already. Some matching shorts for the two boys. Because how cute is it when little boys match? lol Then diaper sewing, hard core, we need at least a half dozen for the boys, and I'd like to have a couple for sale in the market stall. And I need to finish the second curtain for the large window in the living room.  Will I get it all done before the last frost date on the 27th?  :-D Nah, probably not. But, I'm happy with where my sewing is as winter gives us a final blow. I've wrapped up a lot of WIPs, and the organization in the craft den is much better than where it was at the beginning of winter. There is now a lot of wall space open that can be used for homeschooling projects, and there is a lot more stuff out of baby's reach for safety.  I feel like the organized space has made me more productive already. :-D

Thanks for reading! Link to your own finished projects if you got them! We like show and tell's.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

How we afford local pasture raised meat

It's popular to compare prices on "the same" meats and complain about the prices of local pasture raised varieties. Only the rich can afford it, is the cry leveled at local producers.

I don't believe that to be true. I'd like to share how I justify local pasture chickens in our thrifty grocery budget.

1 local pasture raised chicken - 5 pounds at 3$ a pound. (I got a slight discount from my favorite farm because I was picking it up on farm and I didn't want it quartered. They sell for 4$ a pound quartered at the farmer's market.) That's 15$ worth of local pastured chicken.

Roasted Sunday night.  There is something primal about pulling out a whole roasted bird all golden and crispy. Mmmmm. We had half the breast meat, along with the bed of root veggies I roasted under the bird.  Dinner for 3.

Roasted chicken on salad for Monday night.  The other breast half went onto a giant pile of greens Monday night.  Dinner for 3. (No, the 4 year old didn't eat salad, but he did eat chunks of the chicken dipped in ketchup. My apologies to the chicken for that bit of blasphemy.)

Tuesday chicken salad.  I made chicken salad for my lunch on Tuesday. I used a leg and thigh for that. Lunch for 1.

Weds chicken soup. I cut up the other leg and thigh, and tossed it in some broth with an organic carrot, some garlic and onion and spices. Dinner for 1, Lunch for 1.  (Dave was tired of chicken by this point and opted for a different dinner.)

If I had been on my game, and not dealing with a cold-stricken baby and getting the house ready for a 4 year old's birthday party. I could have concluded the week by tossing the carcass/wings/etc into a few cups of water with veggies and making a hearty broth. I usually end up with a quart full of goodness when I do that.

So, from one bird, I got 7 dinner portions and 2 lunch portions. If we divide the cost of the bird equally among the portions we end up with $1.66 per portion.
So, that means Sunday's dinner was $5 worth of chicken, and maybe $1.5 worth of veggies. Making the Sunday night feast a $6.50 affair.
The salad Monday night used another $5 worth of chicken and again $1 worth of veggies, with $.50 of dressing and cheese. Monday's dinner comes in at $6.50, for THE WHOLE FAMILY.
How much would it cost to go out somewhere and feed those two meals to your family? $30 each meal? $40 each meal?

Could you do it cheaper with the bargain birds from the grocery store?
Yes, obviously, if you start with a bird that's only $1 a pound, every portion is going to be cheaper. The nutrition breakdown is going to be worse though. There are measurable differences between pasture raised animals and feed lot animals. Differences in the amounts and types of fats. And differences in the levels of healthful nutrients. (Like vitamin E, folic acid and B-12 as well as more omega-3s.)
If you are buying a bargain bird from the grocery store, you are likely getting a feed lot bird. That bird probably never saw daylight, or dirt or anything other than the cage in the farm. You are also paying for a high % of pumped in salt water solution, meant to keep it "juicy." Also at issue in the last few years is the widespread use of arsenic in chicken feed, which can both promote growth and help prevent disease. This arsenic additive, although not the most toxic form we associate with poisoning, nonetheless shows up in the poultry meat (PDF) and the people who eat chicken products. Despite the less toxic form, no one is arguing that is good for people.
I almost feel like this post is Home Ec 101 stuff.  Not that I was taught anything like this in Home Ec, but I feel like I should have been. This shouldn't be radical or new. This is the way my grandparents probably cooked. Every time I hear someone say that they can't afford to buy quality local meats, I just have to grit my teeth. I know they only say that because they aren't thinking things through. With just a small amount of foresight and planning, I can stretch $15 worth of chicken into 9 portions of flavorful, healthy protein. I don't have to resort to the cheapest bird I can find, and you shouldn't either! -Jennie

Monday, April 1, 2013

Ice is Gone, Lettuce is Up!

I know I've raved about them before, but y'all are going to get another dose today.
My cold frames are in a new location this spring. I shifted them at the beginning of winter last year. In one of them, I shook a stalk of lettuce seed over it before I closed it up for winter.  I was rewarded this weekend when I took the top off and found a nice crop of 2 inch high lettuce growing vigorously.
The rest of my garden is basically still ice-locked. But those cold frames are just enough protection that early starts to lettuce and spinach thrive. We opened all of them up for an overnight dousing with 40 degree spring rain on Saturday, then closed them up again.

Rowen and I did manage to get some peas and radish seeds sown.  The SE corner of the main bed had a nice covering of mulch on it, so we were able to get down a couple of inches with the hoe, and that was enough to get those seeds in. They won't mind icy toes, and they won't mind the 1/2 inch of ice/snow we got last night. Both the soil and the last flurry of winter will be melted by this weekend, and that's the soonest those seeds could be sprouted and looking to send down roots. The melting ice will give them some moisture, which we're still a little behind on.
It's hard to believe last year on this day we set a record high when we hit 92 degrees. 

That's the other great thing about cold frames. They take a lot of the guess work out of early spring planting. Namely, the first stuff up is planted in winter, and the seeds figure out a sprouting time all on their own. This obviously only works with seed that will survive the winter's cold. The cold frame is solar based, and come mid-winter there just isn't much solar power to be had. But, I have a variety of lettuce that is hardy enough it has seeded itself in our lawn, so it works well for this application.

It's quite likely that this early crop of lettuce will be ready before the Farmers Market is open for the season. I'll probably have a couple of crops of spring stuff before the Farmer Market opens in Mid-June.  (Note to self, the Sioux City market opens on May 8th, why does ours open so late? Can I petition for an earlier start?)  Some of it we'll eat. We're always hungry for fresh greens by the time the first lettuce crop is ready. Some of it though... I'll have to find creative ways to sell it if I can't petition for an earlier start to the Farmers Market.
I could maybe bring a box into work and sell to co-workers. I'd have to check with a few people before doing that, but it's possible they'd ok it, we've been on a healthy kick at work lately. I could be a rebel and just have a one-woman farmers market, and open the market early whether the city likes it or not. (Our market is in a lightly used public parking lot.)  I could go even further down the rebel path and put up a table in my front lawn next to the sidewalk and advertise the veggies there. ("Free Veggies, plus suggested tip" might get me around zoning laws.) Further pondering: If girls scouts can sell cookies door to door, could I sell lettuce door to door?  10 year olds probably don't need the profit margin that I do, but it's a thought.

Well, that's all for now.  Spring continues its relentless march. My first year as a market grower is off to a good start. (Of course the start is the easiest part....)