Friday, March 8, 2013

Becoming More Self-sufficient

As usual, we've been so busy over the past month that I haven't had any time to sit and blog. Sorry about that. And as it is, I'm actually taking a break at work to create/post this one.  :-)

A lot has been going on with us this winter, which isn't a bad thing because it's kept us busy, and has also made my least favorite season of the year go by quickly. Spring is on its way, woo hoo!

Tom and I have taken time recently to re-evaluate our quality of life, rearrange some priorities and make plans/goals for moving forward, and we hope to put these into practice in the next month or so. I think that it's important for each of us to sit down every so often and take a look at our lives in order to find areas for improvement and personal growth so as you get older, you don't get bored with life and your brain doesn't turn to mush. (Which is how mine feels quite often these days! LOL)
Part of our growth process, we both decided, is to learn new things. Continuing education is important! And after years of Tom and I feeling that our lives were stagnant and not going anywhere, we've started reading helpful how-to books and are excited again for our future.

OK. So what is all this mumbo-jumbo garbage I'm talking about? Well, you'll be happy to know that one of our new goals DOESN'T have to do with planning a trip to a nude beach in Jamaica anytime soon!  (Dang, that's a SCARY thought!) But we do have some new goals, so I figured I'd jot them down here so you can see how our new thought patterns are working. (Yep... our thought patterns...the idea of these is almost as scary as the idea of us parading around on a nude beach!)

Tom's diabetes has been out of control (even with insulin shots) for 2 or 3 years now. He knows he needs to change the way he eats, and he needs to exercise. And I need to do the same. Thanks to his sister, Jeanette (Net on the Net blog), and with encouragement from me, he has begun reading the "Wheat Belly" book. It has been an eye opener for him as far as learning what today's wheat, and gluten in a diet, can do to people, especially someone who is a diabetic. Over the past two weeks, he has cut his wheat/gluten intake down by probably 70%. He has lost 5 pounds, and his sugar levels have been perfect! He's even been able to dial down his insulin doses. He has more energy now, no body aches, and is feeling so much better! It's like a miracle. (Thanks, Jeanette, for sharing your What Belly thoughts and experiences with us!) Tom and I plan to start taking daily walks once it warms up a little more, the snow is gone, and I get me a new pair of tennis shoes. My old pair has been hurting my feet since the day I bought the stupid things a year ago, and I look forward to throwing them out ASAP.

A girlfriend of mine bought me Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover book last fall. She even had it shipped to my house because she read it, she and her hubby are doing what the book says, they are slowly getting out of debt, and she wanted US to get out of debt too. Since I received it, the book has basically sat on an end-table in my living room collecting dust. But not anymore. I read the entire thing in 2 days last week, highlighting important ideas and instructions as I went along. I felt like I was in high school again. It was great! LOL

Tom and I have been struggling, financially, the past few years as we've had to help support Angela, her fiancee and their baby. To make matters worse, I haven't had a raise since 2006, Tom's raises have been small, the prices in this economy have increased threefold (especially in the areas of food and gasoline), and then to top it all off, EVERYONE lost income because of the tax changes that started this year. We lost $200 per month because of those changes! Ouch!

So we have begun Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover. First, we are selling our newest vehicle with the most debt (a 2011 Ford Focus) in order to gain some "wiggle room" in our extremely tight budget. We already have a buyer for it. Next, my brother, an auto mechanic and lawn maintenance business owner, is working to find me a great-running vehicle for 2k or less. (I think he's already found one for me.) Next, we will use the extra money not spent on our monthly Focus payments and insurance to catch up on any bills we're behind on (thankfully, just a few small ones). After that, we'll be creating an Emergency Fund by socking away $1,000 into our savings account. (I honestly think the $5 that's been in there for the past three or four years won't know what to do with the company!) Then, we'll begin to pay off our debts, lowest balance to largest, by making the minimum payments on all but the debt with lowest balance. We'll put every extra dime we find into that lowest bill until it's paid off. Then we'll apply any extra money we have, PLUS the monthly amount we were paying on the littlest bill to the next-lowest balance amount. And so on until all our bills are paid off except our mortgage.

At that point, there are further instructions in Dave Ramsey's book to follow, but these early steps are the hardest and most important, so I'll stop here. The thought of selling our newer Focus has been scary. But I'm not a person who gets really attached to "stuff" anyway, so it is what it is, and we'll watch someone drive off in it knowing we are on our way to achieving a greater goal.  :-)

The current state of our country angers and worries me. The middle class people are becoming more and more broke (we know because we're one of them), and making a decent living is becoming ridiculously harder due to the increased prices in goods and services. I now absolutely HATE grocery shopping because I've noticed that food prices have been rising steadily every few months over the past 3 years with no end in sight. Things seem to be getting worse, not better in our country, and lately I've been thinking, "Enough is enough for my family. The buck stops here. Now. Period."

Each of us is responsible for our own health--physical, financial, etc. And we can't rely on our government to help us out in these areas. I mean, who knows if Social Security will even be around when Tom & I retire at age 102? (Because in our present economy, that's how long we'll probably have to work in order to be able to retire!)  LOLOL

And so we are making plans to become more self-sufficient. We already had a backyard garden last year that gave us all the tomatoes, cukes, zucchini and beans we needed for salads. But those are summer crops, and we had no home-grown food over the winter. Hence, I've decided to expand our garden from a 3' x 16' area around our deck, to a larger, 10' x 16' garden in our back yard (which is almost 1/4 acre), and to also build a self heated "hoop house" over the beds in the fall so that we can enjoy home-grown food all winter long.

Toward that end, I have been voraciously reading about how to do this in an organized and inexpensive way. Growing "organic" is also important to us. I have been following the website of Eliot Coleman--a well-known writer, successful backyard organic crop grower, and proponent of winter hoop houses--who lives in Maine, as well at Brett Markham--of similar renown and talents--who lives in New Hampshire. Both men live in "cold" zones, and yet their backyard hoop houses provide their families with a plethora of healthy vegetables all winter long. Their hoop houses aren't heated, and yet they stay at temps in the 50's with a nice amount of humidity in them. Eliot and Brett also sell their extra crops at area farmers' markets, and to their CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) customers, and make quite a bit of extra cash from that.

Anyway, Eliot Coleman's book, "Four Season Harvest" should arrive any day, and I plan to devour it just like I did Dave Ramsey's book. Throughout my research, I'm discovering things like: how to make home-grown compost, how to measure the pH in soils and know which products to add to balance it out, which plants you can and can't put next to each other, natural ways to prevent weeds and garden pests, inexpensive watering ideas, etc. Again, it feels like I'm revisiting high school with all this learning I'm doing, but it feels GOOOOOOOD to use my brain for something constructive for my family, and I'm truly enjoying it!

Our expanded summer garden this year will contain a good variety of vegetables--potatoes, celery, large onions, carrots, tomatoes, zucchini, cukes, a garlic plant, corn, pole beans, lettuce, etc.--and a few fruits--strawberries and raspberries. For our winter hoop house, we'll switch over to cold-hardy plants like various leaf lettuces, broccoli and more. I also plan to plant two young fruit trees in some large pots and keep them on our deck which gets a lot of sun. Eventually, we can transplant them into our backyard, but in the meantime, through creative pruning, we will still be able to enjoy some of their fruits as they grow from year to year. I also plan to learn how to do canning so we can store some of the excess food for the remainder of the year. I have an aunt and a 2nd cousin who can both help me with this learning process.

Have I put you to sleep yet? LOL Tom & I would also love to have 2 or 3 chickens for fresh eggs, but I don't think our township will allow that. In any event, I do plan to check with them about it.

Down the road, as our debts become paid off, we want to add solar panels to the roof of our house--as many as we need to try to get off the electricity grid. And, if we can't have chickens in our township, perhaps when Ang & Jason move out on their own, we'll consider selling our house and paying cash for an acre or more in a more agricultural township. We could always pay cash for a $3k trailer on the property until we could buy a larger, used mobil home, or build our own, smaller house (with a fireplace so we could help cut down on winter heating bills). The point is to move toward these "way of life" changes while paying cash for what we need, and not incurring any additional debt.

Geez, I ended up writing my OWN book here. So sorry about that, friends. It's just that we're excited about some of these new ideas we've come up with.

Regarding our grandbaby, he's 10 months old now and is doing just great. We love him to pieces! Below are a few photos of him that Tom took last night. We just can't stop smiling whenever he's around.

OK, gang. Debbie's monthly report is now finished! Over and out until next time!  xoxo


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Birthday Bracelet

Well, my birthday came and went last Saturday. Another year older--53 to be exact. Not much I can do about it because the alternative is to be dead, right? LOL
Tom and I spent the early part of the day going to visit my father-in-law (Jeanette's dad) who was in the hospital. He'd had knee replacement surgery the previous Tuesday, but ended up having a few complications, and so needed to stay in the hospital a few extra days. He's now at a rehab place recovering and receiving rehab exercises. We continue to keep him in our prayers. He's in his 80's now, and recovery is taking a bit longer than expected.
We also brought baby Dante with us to see him. Dad was thrilled to have a "little visitor" in his hospital room. We were there about an hour. Dante was a good boy the entire time.
The second half of my birthday was spent with my family at my brother's house. What a blast. We also celebrated my brother's 2 sons' birthdays, and wished a hearty bon voyage to my sis and her family as they'll be going on a cruise (from Tampa, FL to Cozumel, Mexico and back) on February 16th. We enjoyed great conversation, lots of laughs, delicious hors D'ouvres (or however you spell it), and pizza/salad for dinner. Our daughter, her fiancee' and Dante also showed up, and Dante was the hit of the party. He was flirting terribly with my nephew's girlfriend and just being a total cut-up. He had me laughing so hard I was crying. What a nut. And he's only 9 months old! I can only imagine how silly he'll grow to be as he gets older!
My sister-in-law, Leslie, surprised me by giving me the bracelet you see on my arm below as my birthday gift. We weren't supposed to get gifts for each other. But she's just like that--a sweetheart, always. She makes bracelets like this--using Swarovski crystals--and often sells them to her friends, co-workers, family, etc. This particular bracelet she calls the "Red Wings" bracelet as the colors are that of Detroit's hockey team, the Red Wings. I absolutely love it, and decided to wear it to work today which is where this photo was taken. Thank you, Leslie! And thanks for having everyone over to your house. I had a fantastic time!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Through the Holidays and into the Icebox!

Well, my goodness. Here it is, a frigid night in January, and it's been 1 month and 20 days since my last post. (Hey, but who's counting? LOL) Where DID the time go?

Let's see if I can include a short list (which would be a first for me as I tend to be Miss Gabby when I write) of what's gone on between now and then:

The virus I had over Thanksgiving started coming back in mid-December. No waiting on treatment this time! Went to see the doc. He said I had a sinus and ear infection. Put me on anti-biotics and that seemed to do the trick. At least I wasn't sick for Christmas, thank goodness!

We ended up buying a tree off a lot instead of cutting one down, which turned out just fine. Didn't have the time or gas money to drive up to the tree farm. Our tree only cost $40 and it was SO beautiful. Nothing huge...maybe 6', and it lasted until well after New Years. Heck, it's still in our tree stand on the back deck, and is STILL alive! Oh, and the cats totally ignored it, by the way, which was great!

Dante enjoyed his first Christmas. He got lots of goodies--clothes, toys a new car seat (since he's outgrown his baby car seat), etc. He loved watching all the lights on our tree, and he had a blast seeing so many family members over Christmas week (he's a social butterfly like his mommy and grandma).   :-)

Our Christmas was nice all the way around. We enjoyed time with both our families and the food was just delicious everywhere we went!

We decided to stay home for New Year's this year. That's not uncommon for us though. Tom never has liked being out on the road with all the crazies on that night. At midnight, we kissed each other, said, "Happy New Year!" and were in bed by 12:05 a.m.  LOL  We lead very exciting lives, don't we?

Dante turned 8 months old on January 10. He's getting SO big! He has 4 bottom teeth, and 2 coming in on the top. He can stand up if WE stand him up, but can't raise himself into a standing position yet. Once he's standing he can hold onto the couch and stay like that for a while. That kid has some strong legs. He hasn't shown any inclination to crawl yet. This week, he started waving "bye-bye" back to us, and he'll also raise his palm to you when you say, "Give me five!" so you can high-five him. He just LOVES his daddy, and when he sees Jason come into a room, he smiles and giggles with delight. Jason just eats that up. Dante also started saying, "Mama" today, but we don't know if he means Angela, or if that's just an easy word for him to babble with. Time will tell.

Tom has come down with a cold this week. Not unusual as so many folks this winter have been sick with colds and viruses, sometimes REPEATEDLY. I CANNOT wait until winter is over with and the warmer weather comes again. This cold weather and sickness can take a hike!

I got a Christmas card from a girlfriend/ex-coworker who had moved to California with her husband and kids in the late '80s, and it said she'd be in town last weekend. Wanted to know if we could get together. Once she arrived in Detroit, we talked on the phone a few times, but it had been 25 years since her family had seen her, so it only made sense that she spend her time in Detroit with them. She & I weren't able to get together, but it sure was nice talking to her and now we're hooked up on Facebook, so we'll be able to catch up that way.

On the other side of the Facebook coin, I sent a friend request to a gal who I thought was my next door neighbor when I was 8 or 9 hoping to get in touch with her. While waiting for her to accept my request, I checked out her Facebook page, photos, who she was friends with, etc. Turns out she WASN'T the "Karen" I was looking for, but was the ex-sister-in-law (also named Karen) of that Karen who used to get off at my bus stop after school instead of her own in order to bully the kids at my stop, push us down, hit us, etc. She was bigger than us (maybe a year older?) and I was terrified of her. I couldn't stand her because she was so mean, and I found out many years ago that she ended up marrying MY Karen's brother, Richie, who had anger issues, was mean and cruel, and who also used to pick on the neighborhood kids. I remember at the time thinking, "Well that marriage won't last long. I wonder which one of them is going to kick the other one's butt first?" LOL Sure enough, several years and 3 kids later they ended up getting divorced. Her Facebook page shows that she remarried in 2009 and is happy now. I wonder how many times she's punched her new husband since then?  LOLOL  OK, OK, that was bad, I know. Anyway, I told her in a FB message that I was looking for the other Karen, I apologized for bothering her, and undid my Friend Request. I seriously doubt she has any idea who I was because I only lived in that neighborhood 4 years before my family moved, but I'll certainly never forget her!

And on that note, I'll post this and get ready for bed. Stay warm, everyone, and have a wonderful rest of your week!  Hugs!