Monday, August 29, 2011

See Ya 'Round

Hello readers.  I am just dropping in to let you know that I'll be extending my blog break indefinitely.

First, I want to say that all is well. I just need to shift my focus away from blogging for the time being.

This year has been one of the better ones for us financially, thanks largely to that big out-of-town project Shane's been working on.  We're very thankful Shane's been working steadily, but again, largely because of that job, this has also been one of the most chaotic years we've experienced.  Some days it feels like all I can do to keep up with the all changes.  I need some serious down-time to figure out where I am amidst the confusion and where I want to be in terms of family, projects and goals.

Also, after writing posts for the past four years (my first here was on September 10, 2007), I feel as if I've accomplished most of what I was trying to accomplish and have written most of what I wanted to write regarding debt reduction, frugality, and cooking.  I just don't have much else to say.

As the focus of our home life moves slightly away from debt reduction and "bottom-line" frugality, and moves more toward homesteading, green living, simple living and healthier food choices, I may find that I do have more to say.  Whether I say anything...and whether I say it here or somewhere else on the Web...remains to be seen.

I refer to my own posts here often, especially for recipes, and I hope others do, too.  For that reason, I am leaving Real Life Living online.  Meanwhile, I'll still be in touch with you on your blogs and on Facebook.  If we aren't "friends" yet, feel free to send me a request.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


It's time for another blog break.

Oh, I know...I spend more time taking blog breaks than I do blogging. Chalk it up to a weird year around here. Shane's been gone, all told, for about 15 weeks this year so far, my mom passed away, we had that awful (and long) heat wave that kept me from being as productive outside as I might have been. It's been an unusual year, to say the least.

I didn't have much problem slipping into a routine when Shane was gone in the spring, but this time around, I'm having the worst time trying to find my groove. There is a lot of work that can't be done until he's back to help me, but there's plenty I could be doing if I'd just get my lazy butt off the computer.

Which is what I'm going to do. No posts for a while...although I'll be reading your blogs and showing up on FB once in a while (probably).

I just didn't want to leave you hanging, wondering if I'd dropped off the face of the earth. I'm not sure how long I'll be gone, so I'll just say...

Ta Ta For Now!

Monday, August 22, 2011

This Little Piggy Came Home

This morning went and picked up the processed pork from the hog we bought a couple of weeks ago.  The farmer who sold it to us estimated it at around 250 pounds live weight, but it must have been closer to 300 pounds, as the hanging weight (the weight after it has been gutted and bled out) was 209 pounds.  The standard rule for pork is that hanging weight is about 70% of live weight.

The amount of "usable" pork I brought home was about 175 pounds.  That includes neckbones, heart, liver and quite a bit of fat -- I'll render some lard from the fat, and it's possible that I'll eat the liver (no one else here will), but the heart and the rest of the "scrap" will eventually be made into homemade cat food.

That leaves about 150 pounds of truly edible meat.  The cost of the hog was $250, the cost of processing (including curing and smoking the hams, hocks and bacon) was $193.  Divide that by 150 and you get 2.95 per pound for hormone-free, antibiotic- free, humanely-raised pork.  If you count in the fat, organs and scrap, it brings it down to $2.53 per pound.  Either way, not bad.

Here's what a 300 pound hog might look like in your freezer.  Note that cuts are often a matter of choice.  I opted for baby back ribs and boneless whole loin.  I wouldn't have been able to get those if I'd opted for bone-in chops or the fancy pork crown roast.  I can't wait to eat some of this pig a little later this week.

150-175 pounds of pork in the world's ugliest (and not so nice-smelling) freezer. 
Square box of white powder is baking soda.

Cured and smoked bacon - 17 packages - 17 pounds total
Cured and smoked jowl (jaw bacon) - 2 packages - 1.25 pounds total
Cured and smoked ham hocks - 6 packages - 6.75 pounds total
Cured and smoked ham (shank portion) - 2 packages - 18 pounds total
Cured and smoked ham (butt portion) - 2 packages - 18.5 pounds total
Seasoned breakfast sausage - 12 packages - 13 pounds total

Shoulder roasts - 4 packages - 15 pounds total
Ground pork - 12 packages - 13.25 pounds total
Spareribs - 2 packages - 5.25 pounds total
Loin back ribs (baby back ribs) - 2 packages - 3 pounds total
Whole tenderloin* - 2 packages - 10.5 pounds total
True tenderloin** - 2 packages - 2.75 pounds total
Pork steaks - 4 packages - 13.75 pounds total
Boneless loin chops - 8 packages - 9.75 pounds total

Neck bones - 2 packages - 3 pounds total
Liver - 4 packages - 3.5  pounds total
Heart - 1 package - .5 pound total
Fat for lard and scrap - 2 packages - 18 pounds total

* I usually see this in store sold as "Whole Pork Loin".
** I usually see this in the store sold as "Tenderloin".

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Yet Another Update

The bank officer just contacted me and said that, after closer examination of our receipt, she believes that the gift card was never actually redeemed.  That would explain why there were two debit transactions, but still doesn't explain why they posted an hour apart.

The gift card probably still has $100 on it.  Shane threw it in the trash in the camper, and that trash was eventually thrown into the campground dumpster.  The card is probably long gone, but I hope some lucky person did find it and was curious enough to find it if it had any funds on it. 

Meanwhile, the bank will still credit us the $100 and will still try to get their money back from Wal-Mart.  I'm not certain whether the bank still needs Shane's signature, but I'm going to mail the form to him just in case.

Unless something major changes, I consider this issue resolved and won't be updating further.  But I will advise this:  Hang on to those spent gift cards for a week or so, even if you think you've emptied them!  They may not be empty at all!

Debit Dispute Update

I got a phone call this morning from my BBF (best banking friend) who confirmed what Shane and I were thinking...that our bank wasn't doing enough for us.

After some much-appreciated coaching from my friend, I decided to take the receipt and a copy of my online statement and talk to a bank officer.  As I was explaining the situation, she interrupted me to say that she herself had looked into the transaction after I had called yesterday, and suspects the Wal-Mart cashier ran the gift card incorrectly and wound up $100 short on her drawer at the end of the shift.  At that point, she (or her manager) "corrected" it by charging another $100 to our debit card.

That it is even possible is a pretty scary prospect if you ask me.

The bank officer also said that while yes, it's true that I could withdraw our money and close the account and that I could request that Shane's debit card be closed, leaving him high and dry, I cannot dispute a transaction on his card in order to protect our money.  Only the actual cardholder can do that.  That seems a little backwards.

So, I have the form to mail to Shane so he can sign it and send it back to the bank.  He could fax it, but he doesn't have access to a fax machine.  Once the banks receives it, they will deposit the $100 into our account and will dispute the charges with Wal-Mart on our behalf.  That's more like it.

As for the employee I spoke to yesterday, I lodged an informal complaint against her because I thought she was rude, condescending and apathetic about helping me resolve the issue.  The bank officer assured me that she would speak to the employee about her CS skills, but also said that 1) the employee shouldn't have been talking to me in the first place because she mediates with the merchants and isn't trained to deal with bank customers and 2) that unfortunately, in the majority of cases when a wife says that her husband didn't make a transaction it turns out that he did and the wife just didn't know about it.  I assume that goes the other way as well, where the husband doesn't know about the wife's transactions.  I think that's a sad way to run a marriage.  And I still don't think those two points justify the employee's behavior.

Anyway, I feel better now that it appears something will be done to get our money back.  I'll post about the outcome, but I don't expect to know anything for sure for at least a couple of weeks.

Trader Joe's. Meh.

I finally visited one of our two new Trader Joe's stores this morning. Color me not especially impressed. On a 10-point scale, I give it a good, solid 5.

The good:

  • They have  a nice selection of cheeses at decent prices. Prices were comparable to cheeses at warehouse clubs, but the selection was probably a bit better and the package sizes weren't mega.
  • I saw some hard-to-find ingredients like white (clear) balsamic vinegar. I've been looking for it elsewhere for a while.
  • AT $2.49 per pound, they have the best price I've seen anywhere for organic free-range chicken.  I usually don't find it for less than $4.00 a pound (and therefore, don't buy it).
The bad:
  • Most produce was being sold by the piece when it is usually sold by the pound in other stores.  This makes comparing prices difficult.  Bananas seemed cheap at 19¢ each, but I weighed them at home and they came to 42¢ per pound.  That's a very average price around here.
  • I had hoped for better prices overall, but most prices were just average.  For example, non-organic milk was about the same price I pay at Aldi (which shares the same parent company as Trader Joe's), and organic milk was right in line with the prices I see in most supermarkets.
The ugly:
  • I had been told TJ's was a great place to buy bulk ingredients for scratch cooking, but instead I saw an extremely large variety of processed foods and semi-prepared foods.  There were lots of bottled sauces, mixes, frozen entrees, frozen vegetables in sauces, frozen pies, pre-cut vegetables and salads, etc.  Some of these were quite interesting (like a frozen pasta entree with brie and asparagus), but they were expensive. Because I cook primarily from scratch, these items were a huge turn-off for me.
Specific to this location:
  • Being on the Kansas side of the state line, the store doesn't sell beer or wine, which is a big draw in other locations.
  • The store was uncomfortably cold inside.  Even the employees were complaining about it.

Now, I'm not saying I didn't buy anything there (I did) or that I won't go back (I probably will), but I don't plan to make this store part of my weekly shopping routine.  I can't imagine I'd want or need to go there more than every couple of months.

If you're curious about what I bought, or the prices, here's the list:

1 qt. buttermilk - 1.19
1/2 gal. whole milk - 1.99
17 oz. (1/2 ltr.) white balsamic vinegar - 2.29
7 oz. Fontina cheese - 2.15
2 lb. oat bran - 2.69
16 oz. plain Greek-style yogurt - 2.49
4.5 pound organic, free-range whole chicken - 11.11
2 pounds sweet potatoes - 1.79
2.25 pounds bananas - .95

Is there a Trader Joe's store in your area?  If so, what do you think of it?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

So Frustrated

Seems folks either love or hate Wal-Mart and for a multitude of reasons. I've tried to remain fairly neutral about the company, shopping there when I must and avoiding it when I can.

That said, the time has come that I have a beef with a particular store, or maybe with an employee within that store. I'm not sure which yet.

Last weekend, we shopped in a Wal-Mart store while we were on our camping trip. There were some things for the camper that we had to have (couldn't do without) and the ONLY place in town to buy said things is Wal-Mart. We picked up a few other items while there and rang up a total of $135.38.

Shane remembered that he had a Visa Gift Card that he had earned as a safety incentive at work. It was for $100 and he redeemed it on that purchase, leaving a balance of $35.38. He paid the balance with his debit card (his card that draws from our joint account). We left the store, went to camp and didn't go back into town at all during our trip.

Today I was looking at our online bank statement and saw that there were two transactions, coming through from that Wal-Mart, but on two different days. The first was for $35.38 and the second was for $100 even.

I called Wal-Mart first, and they looked at their tapes, files or whatever it is they use these days and say the transaction is good.

I called our bank, and they looked at their records and say there are TWO transactions from that store, the first around 4:30 p.m. for $35.38 and the second for $100 -- an hour later -- as a debit.  I told the bank lady that it wasn't possible, because we made only one transaction and weren't even in town an hour later.  The bank lady says that I need to just ask my husband because maybe I don't know that he made another transaction and that regardless, Shane has to be the one to dispute it because it was his card.  It doesn't matter that it is a joint account or that he's an 8-hour drive away and may be gone for weeks.

Meanwhile, Shane's card has never left his possession, the transactions he's made since he's been gone are posting fine, and no other wayward charges are evident.

So, just WTF am I supposed to do now?  I feel confident the bank is only posting what they received from Wal-Mart.  I think $100 is enough to fight for.  In fact, I think we ought to fight it on principal, but I don't see how when Shane's so far away until who knows when. 

I feel like a little bitty minnow trying to take on a whale.

The Simplicity of Small Spaces


I used to clean house for a friend of Shane's who at first lived in a very modest home of about 600 square feet.  He had very modest, useful possessions and very few extraneous items.  The house was a breeze to clean. 

Then, through an inheritance of sorts, he moved into a much larger home, purchased some much more luxurious yet useful possessions, and still had very few extraneous items.  The new house was also a breeze to clean, never looked cluttered and didn't tie him down when he traveled frequently for work.

So, obviously, a small space isn't a requirement for a simple lifestyle.  But I think a simple lifestyle is required to live in a small space. 

Enjoying our first weekend in the camper spurred a discussion about life as "full-timers" who live in their camper or RV year round, which morphed into a discussion of living in tiny houses in general.

Out of necessity, we'd quickly pare down, weed out and purge all but he most necessary or precious of possessions.  Potential purchases would be weighed carefully to determine if they were worth the real estate they'd occupy. 

Having not done it yet, we can't be sure, but it seems to us that living in a travel trailer would be somewhat different than living in a tiny house like this.  An RVer would maintain fewer possessions, while the tiny homesteader, being tethered to a piece of ground in a more permanent way, would be able to acquire and keep more things since some could be kept outside the structure.

Naturally, there would be other factors to consider, like whether we're bothered by small spaces (we aren't) and how well we get along with each other (we think we could live this way, but we know couples who probably couldn't).

We like the idea, this "forced simplicity".  At this time, we aren't looking to move, but if the time comes, we're pretty sure we want to down-size.  Maybe not all the way to tiny, but to small, at the very least.  While others might see a small space as confinement, we think this type of simplicity would be liberating.

Which raises the questions, "Why aren't we simplifying already?  If size doesn't matter, then why not begin now?"  I'm not sure we've even begun to understand all the answers yet.

What do you think?  Could you be a full-timer in an RV or live in a pint-sized house?  Do you think you'd enjoy it, either alone or with another person?  What about non-essential possessions -- how easily could you give them up?  And maybe more importantly, if you think you'd enjoy "livin' small", what's stopping you now?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Tuesday Tip - Neat And Easy Way To Store Silicone Baking Mats

Parchment paper still has it's place in my kitchen, but I've recently converted to silicone baking mats for most of my baking. I use the empty rolls from paper towels to keep the mats neatly tucked into a drawer between uses.  The rolls are just right for the "half sheet pan" sized mats.  For larger mats, I think you could use a roll on each end.

I like them plain, but if you're crafty, you could decorate them to suit your taste.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Grand Tour

Per Sluggy's request, here is the camper p@rn.

First, the tour of the grounds:

Address:  Site 58, Long Shoal Campground, Truman Lake, MO

That margarita cooler on the corner of the table is not mine. 
(As far as you know.)

Shane, doing something.  Not sure what.

Required kitschy string lights.

And now, a tour of the mansion itself:

Master bedroom with built-in overhead cabinetry and adjoining living room.

I say couch, Shane says sofa, my dad says divan.  What do you call it?

Under-bed storage.

"Front" door and clothes closet (being misc.-used).

View from the living room.  Fridge, stove, sink.

Closer view of the kitchen.

Food pantry.

Double sink...

but they are very tiny.

Three-burner gas stove with oven.

Overhead micro.

Pull-completely-out drawers.

Stereo with CD player.

Dining area with overhead storage.  Situated directly across from stove.

There's a Kat in the camper.

Shower and toilet.

Vanity with sink.  Shower is fed through sink faucet.

Kat's bedroom tucked in the back behind the kitchen and bathroom.

"Back" door near Kat's bed.

And that concludes our tour. 
Shane drove away with the camper at 9:00 this morning -- next stop, Garden City, KS.