Sunday, May 23, 2010

Making Up for Lost Time

After being rather laid back last weekend, this entire week and weekend were pretty much the polar opposite. That brought to mind again that living a more simple life is not always a more comfortable life. By all means it doesn't involve anything close to laziness!

I had a pretty busy week preparing for a surprise birthday party for my Dad. What a great time it was. We spent 60 years trying to surprise him with very little success over the years. This year we decided to get sneaky for his 60th. You see, his birthday isn't until July 15. My Mom and Sister are May 18 and 19 birthdays. You see where I'm going. We told Dad we were having a surprise party for them. It was a great day and I think he really was surprised. I think even if he did know it he would have played surprised. That's the good kind of fella he is. I got a little emotional as I said the blessing before we ate. He's a special man and pretty much the primary driving force in my desire to "Back 'er Down" He's also a walking, talking encyclopedia for the journey.

So I spent the week busting my hump to get the yard looking nice and taking care of other projects since we would be having guests. (Dad helped with all these too BTW. He helped cut grass for his own party, LOL) The pace and amount of work were neither what one would think of when perusing a more simple life.

Yard beautification is something that I've always enjoyed and taken great pride in. It's a heap of work though. Over the past two weeks I have discovered something that is both the greatest thing ever invented and the spawn of freaking Satan at the same time. This contradiction of horticulture ease is rubber mulch.

I justified it because I loathe pine straw. My house, and flower beds, are in full sun. This only aides the breakdown of straw. Since we're also in a very wide open area, what doesn't breakdown blows away. I've been studying it for a long time and I finally made the decision after getting some assurances on a 15 year guarantee and the fact that I could get the mulch in brown (for a long time you could only get red, blue, green, etc. Wwho wants that?) I crunched the numbers and the financial break even point versus pine straw was three years.

A couple of things I learned that may aide anyone else who is considering this:

1. Double your budget. I estimated based on what the "professionals" told me using a equation translating what would be equal to 75 bales of straw. They were waaaaaaaaaaaay off. My break even point is more like 4 years.

2. Use landscaping fabric. I used it on half of mine. Wish i had used it on all. Not only because it will help with weeds, but you can also spread the mulch thinner without the appearance of whatever dirt is below. I'm all about saving a dollar....especially after this project.

3. Might be a good idea to add some kind of bordering. I didn't and it made for a little mess when I edged for the first time. I think I can get used to it and If I keep a good trench I shoudl be okay. still might go back and add some eventually though.

So there you go. If you decide to dance with Beelzebub and install rubber mulch be prepared. It's expensive and if you do it yourself you're gonna sweat. All that said I am pleased with it. I'm very excited at the prospect of not having to ever touch straw again.

The garden is really booming! That was the other part of my weekend. Dad came over Saturday morning (before his party) and dug about 1/4 of our stand of potatoes. We gave most of those away at the party. I dug another 1/4 today. We had a pretty bad potato bug infestation a few weeks ago that I was fearful would damage the whole crop pretty seriously. They hit a few pretty hard but some liquid Sevin nipped that in the bud. We made a really really good crop. The new addition this year was cow manure nuder the hills. Made quite a difference! Already put away 6 quarts of snap beans and of course the squash and tomatoes are rocking a rolling too. Corn is tossling and the watermellons are going gangbusters as well (manure in the watermellon hills too) Our sugar, well....that's a whole other blog in itself ;) The only thing that is slow at this point is the cucumbers. This is two years in a row that they've been a little puny. The previous year they were great but this time only so-so. Gonna be busy for sure over the next few weeks and when the corn comes in that might take an entire weekend. We were dummies for not staggering that.

As I type this a nice summer thunderstorm is rolling in. (EDIT we just lost power too. New 6 hour laptop battery is the bees knees!) The rain is much needed. Just means that I'll be picking snapbeans tomorrow afternoon instead of Tuesday afternoon :) I'll take it.

And on a little side note......How about that Blue Deuce and Kurt Busch?!  Million Dollar Man!

Ya'll take it easy.



Monday, May 17, 2010

My weekend of getting very little accomplished

This weekend, I didn't get a whole lot accomplished around the Ponderosa, but it was awesome nonetheless. The wife headed out of town Friday morning for a ladies weekend and that left your humble author alone with our two sons for the weekend. I often joke that I should have named them Bill and Ted because together they are a couple of "Wyld Stallyns."

A normal weekend of working outside, tending the garden and tinkering with the latest project, became instead a time to spend with my sons. The little one is still a bit small to take outside for long periods of time. You can't really get much done because you can't take your eyes off of him for an extended period or he'll be into something dangerous. We opted to stay inside most of the time and actually got quite a bit done there. Inside projects often get overlooked and I know the wife was excited to get home and see things tidy and organized. We washed clothes, cleaned the master closet and reorganized the pantry among other things.

The boys were a bit stir-crazy though, so a small road trip was in order. This worked out well because it allowed me to do a little shopping myself. Our first stop was BassPro Shops where the boys absolutely loved the giant aquarium. Upon first glimpse my four-year-old remarked, "That fish is as big as me!" Is that a shark?" It was actually a catfish, but a healthy one for sure. We picked up a gas can for the boat and generally walked around the store window shopping. The little one just gazed and took it all in. The eldest had a bazillion questions. That was quite alright though. I was more than happy to explain fish species, how boats worked and even had the opportunity to plant a little gun safety seed as well.

After lunch we headed to Harbor Freight where I picked up a few tools and fasteners in the spirit of my last blog. If you have one in your area it's a great place to get super cheap tools and equipment. The quality of some of the stuff may be a little less than some top-of-the-line brands. However, for things that you won't use often, or for which will see light duty, there is a lot of value in the items there. Combine that with the awesome coupons they offer online and you can get some really good deals. We loaded up on bungee straps, picked up a few saw blades, some bolt cutters and even got a free flashlight (thanks again to the awesome coupon offerings)

The big purchase though was my foray into solar panels. It's something that I've been itching to get into for a long time, so I finally took the plunge. I picked up three 15 watt panels, some wiring and a charge controller. Not sure what exactly I'm going to do yet, but at least I now have it and can begin to educate myself with some hands-on, practical application.

Until Mamma Bear got home, the rest of the weekend was spent with short walks outside, several naps and lots of playing. It was truly a great time with my boys. It's interesting to see how they are beginning to interact and feed off of one another. I have a feeling that I'm in for a wild ride over the next few years! It's always a good reminder about the struggles of single parents too. My hats off to them because it's literally a full time gig when they are the ages that my boys are. I thank God daily for my wife and the fact that we are able to lean on one another and have the blessing to parent as a team.

So it was a slow weekend with very little of the"important" things accomplished. That's what it's all about though. Focusing on what matters. The opportunity to "Back 'er Down" and play with two little fellas and 473 Hot Wheels cars? Yep. God knew that the wife needed a weekend off, that I needed to bond with my boys and that they needed to chill with Daddy. All four of us are thankful for it.

Ya'll take it easy.



Thursday, May 13, 2010

Living for Today and Saving for Tomorrow

The current state of the United States' (and the world's) economy is all the talk right now. The forces acting right now are a bit troublesome to say the least. Moreover, they're down right confusing. It's interesting to see what is happening right now and compare it to what we learned in school or even what some of us have witnessed over history. I'm hardly an accomplished economist. As a regular guy looking and learning, two trends are confusing me right now. How are interest rates still low? How long will it be before mass inflation hits?

The only thing I can come up with is that the market forces are being artificially suppressed right now to keep those two killers from wreaking havoc. Just my thoughts, but what the hell do I know? I'm just a PR man.

So if inflation and rate spikes are inevitability headed our way, what can we do to guard against it? Furthermore, how can I do it with a "back 'er down" twist? Is it possible that it may actually aide my pursuit of living a more simple life? I think it can. Here's how:

Living a more simple life and guarding against interest rate hikes:

Don't borrow any money. Thanks for coming. Ya'll have a good night. :)

Ahh. That always sounds good, but it's not always practical for a lot of people. I try to write for myself and others, so let me expand a little. The biggest risks are variable rate notes and credit cards. We should get rid of those boogers as fast as we can! We should focus all of our efforts on freeing ourselves of these chains. Once those are gone we can look at paying off automobiles, and the like. My wife and I are so close to paying off everything (except the mortgage) that we can smell it! It's really exciting and empowering. As Dave Ramsey once put it: "The paid off car is the new American status symbol." It's really about keeping our wants and desires in check. Think about how our grandparents lived. If they really, really wanted something they saved for it. I bet it had a lot more meaning to them too. In my journey of "Backing 'er Down" I've realized that having wants and desires fulfilled immediately can spoil me......heck, they HAVE spoiled me!

Living a more simple life and guarding against inflation:

I'm not ready to stockpile three years worth of rice or anything, but I have been looking seriously at acquiring long term durable goods now instead of when I may need them years down the road. For example, most people will probably only need one really good shovel for their entire lives. Why not make it a point to go ahead and get it now for $25 instead of paying $75 for it 6 or 8 years down the road? I'm applying this methodology to a variety of items that will last for a long period of time. Tools, outdoor equipment, nuts, bolts, fasteners, rope, chain, batteries, oil filters, shoes and even certain types of clothing like socks and winter jackets. Things I am 100% sure that I will use and for which I have or will have a need.

There is an opportunity to do this over a shorter time frame as well. I'm still studying the potential pitfalls of storing tires, oil and over the counter medicines. If anyone has info on these I would appreciate you sharing.

When practicing this one must be careful though not to go overboard. I don't want to end up on one of those hoarding shows on TLC. Additionally, I am very mindful to not spend money that I don't have on these items. Gotta make sure the bills are paid and the kids and mama bear are taken care of first!

The manner by which I've approached it is really pretty simple. If I'm at a retailer and something on my "stockpile" list is on sale or clearance, I'll buy a few up. Oil filters for example: I'm going to use them anyway. Might as well get them now while they're cheap/on sale. That's pretty much a microcosm of the whole idea. What is an oil filter going to cost in 5 years?

Over the last few weeks I've seen that this will indeed help me in "Backing 'er Down" Instead of buying the latest Dukes of Hazzard dvd box set I decided to go with a new grubbing hoe. Trust would be way more fun to sit down and watch Bo and Luke foil Boss Hogg's latest plan than to work sugar cane stubble. But hey.....that's why I'm doing this right?

Ya'll have a good day.



Thursday, May 6, 2010

A simpler life isn't always a cheaper life...... least on the front end. I've been known to pinch a penny pretty tight, but it honestly depends on what exactly it's for. Some things I refuse to skimp on. I always buy quality q-tips, soap and shampoo for instance. Pants many times come from Wal-Mart, but I will always spend top dollar on shoes. Quality shoes last longer so in the long run they're cheaper. I've not noticed a marked difference in the durability of pants so I opt for the cheaper ones. Of course comfort plays a role too. What's the point in saving money if you're going to be miserable doing it?

When we talk about "Backing er Down" and pursuing the simple life, the first thing that comes to mind is living frugally. That's most certainly a part of it for me. What it really comes down to though is a decision to "do without."
  • A riding lawnmower makes cutting grass more simple than a push mower.
  • Various kitchen gadgets make cooking easier.
  • Spraying herbicide is easier than using a hoe.
  • Electronics have worlds of application that simplify the way we do things.
Riding lawnmowers, bagel toasters, Roundup and DVR's are all easier options, but way way more expensive than their counterparts....or GASP..."doing without"

New cars and solar panels immediately come to mind under this topic as well. They are often sold as money savers, which may be true in the long run, but they have major cash flow issues on the front end. Solar energy I can see. In fact, I am still debating an application myself on a small scale. However, I have yet to see how the cost of a newer fuel efficient automobile will pay dividends as compared to a paid off automobile that gets even 1/2 the mileage. Here comes that phrase again though......driving the old car is "doing without" (of course if you're buying the car outright there may be a snag in that logic...I understand that)

So....I'm pretty bad at "doing without" a lot of times. I have a riding lawnmower and a tractor. I use Roundup, I obviously love a computer and I eat at least one bowl of Blue Bell Cookies and Cream ice cream every night. Hardly doing without right? LOL A recent AC outage at my house showed me just how much of a useless sack of waste I really was. I could barely stand it, lol. Sweating like a hog.

I said from the beginning that this blog was going to be useful to me even if another sole read it. It's documentation of my pursuit of a more simple life and a way to share it with others. Maybe you can learn from my mistakes. I realized this week that the journey will be long and interesting. Won't ever end probably. This week I've decided on three specific tactics that I will employ on my journey to living a simpler life:

1. I will start running again tomorrow morning.

I have to get back in shape. I was doing great two years ago. When my second son came along I got out of the routine and became stagnant. I can feel it too. Tired in the evenings, monkeying out when I'm working outside and general sorriness. That's gotta change.

2. My getting-up-time will now be 5 and my bed time will be no earlier than 10

I was a morning runner and I plan to get back on that schedule. It makes for a great start to the day and gives me a chance to get outside and turn the sprinkler on the garden if needed. There are too many productive things that can be accomplished after work in the evenings. If I can get those done during the week, I can have the weekends to spend with my sons and wife. On top of that, my oldest son can come with me when working outside with me in the evenings and maybe pick up a little knowledge as well.

3. I will drive my 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee for AT LEAST another 4 years

....and I'll use the tried and true method of squirreling the money away so that when the time comes to get another, I'll pay cash. Don't get any simpler than cash money friends.

So there it is. It's a start. Not sure I'm ready to push mow 5 acres or give up on using Roundup. Like I said earlier, it's all about choice and what's important to you. However, I am going be conscious of the fact that the hard work and manual labor associated with doing things in a more complicated way might well prove to be a simpler way to live.

I think that may have been more of a ramble than an actual structured, well-thought-out blog. Oh well. I enjoyed writing it :)

Ya'll take it easy.