Sunday, November 6, 2011

Suddenly, November.

Since my last post, I've moved into a smaller room in the house for the winter months. This room is about 9.5 x 14 with an 8' ceiling; the master bedroom is about 12 x 12.5 with a cathedral ceiling, double closet, and master bath. The smaller room is staying much warmer with just the little oil filled electric radiator going. I have the other 2 bedrooms closed off.  The electric bill for October was just shy of $86, about $16 more than last year. The cold weather started early this year.

I just spent about an hour going through more junk and old papers, most of which went in the trash. I have one more pile of papers to sort through, but it's a small one. I keep thinking after all this time decluttering that I'd be about done, but I know there are a lot more things that can go.

I'm sticking to the new budget thus far, and still haven't used the Evil Credit Card :)

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Minimizing and budgeting

This week, I said goodbye to my older desk, all my DVD's and books, and some more clothes and shoes I never wear. I replaced some of the paper books with a few free e-books. I haven't had any serious bites on the stuff I listed on craigslist, just some nibbles.

I'm happy to report that I have not used my credit card for over a month now. My only unexpected expense was a vet visit for Tara to determine the nature of a lump I found on her chest. It turned out to be a lipoma, no big deal, and the bill was easily covered since I've been putting money in a separate account for the dogs for quite some time.

I also spent several hours this week putting together a realistic budget, and looking for more ways to save rather than spend. I think this budget is the first one I've ever put together that accounts for everything, and doesn't conveniently ignore things I'd rather not think about. Let's see if I can stick to it.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


I hit the back bedroom with a vengeance, and managed to fill up my trash bin with all kinds of "stuff" - shoes, clothes, hangers, a pillow, old computer cables and CD's, baskets, office supplies, old receipts and bills, etc. The only thing left in that room is a small table I need to sell; there's one more box in the closet in there that I need to go through, and that will be it for that part of my house. I threw out one box that has moved everywhere with me for 20 years!

I'm now considering selling my TV and DVD player. I barely use them any more, since I cancelled Netflix and I don't have cable. I can use the TV to watch Amazon Instant shows, but I almost always watch those on the chromebook so I can move from room to room. I've never needed a big screen or fancy sound system.

It really feels great to have so much less junk in my life. I'm looking forward to the next round of purging :)

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Purging and Saving

I've been doing pretty well at throwing something away every week, and now I've gotten busy getting my unused computers ready to sell, to be followed by some unused furniture. It feels good to be making progress in the purge.

Back in August, I got notification that Wells Fargo would start charging me $3 a month to use my debit card. I'm not terribly fond of Wells Fargo as it is, and I'm a heavy debit card user, so I did some research and decided to get a Mango debit card. If you sign up for direct deposit, you get $20 added to your account after the 2nd deposit is made, and with direct deposit you can get a Savings account that's currently paying 6% APY.  That's not a typo - 6%! I'm a lousy saver, but this interest rate has given me tremendous incentive to work on my savings.

I'm also trying really, really, hard to avoid using my credit card. I'm not a devout follower of Dave Ramsey, but his advice is sound, and I very much want to have that savings/safety net. My only debt is my mortgage, so I've got that part down... though I'd rather not have one at all.  Not using the credit card means thinking carefully about what I can pay for right now, not next month. And I'm also trying to take into consideration that any money I spend that I don't have to isn't going into the savings account.

Thankfully, I do have a good job and benefits, unlike most of these people. Reading their stories should give anyone incentive to get and stay out of debt and to save money!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Quick update

Since my last post, I've been doing a lot of web surfing, spending time with the foster greyhound, nursing a badly bruised shin, and getting rid of more "stuff." I've been looking at a lot of tiny houses online, looking for ideas for layouts and options. This is a good video:

Watch the full episode. See more Need To Know.

Dee Williams' tiny house doesn't have any plumbing at all. So... no water pump (and no water pump energy requirements), no drains, no potential leaks. Her house has far, far, too many windows for my tastes; views and natural light are great, but all those windows also represent a lot of heat loss in winter, and gain in summer. It is a very nicely done tiny house, though, and plenty roomy for her and the dog.

I also want to share this link with you; it's something everyone should read. Katrina Lessons

Til next time....

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Zeer pot experiment

Back in February, I wrote about the Zeer pot refrigerator. I found a video to add to that post, and finally got around to making my own Zeer pot today. I used 8" and 12" brown unglazed clay pots, and got a ripped bag of "play sand" for only $1.50. The sand says it has been washed and screened, so it seemed safe to use for this purpose. The sand was very warm from sitting out in the sun at Lowe's, so the starting temp in the inner pot was 86F. I added 6 cups of tap water to the sand, and covered the pots with a thin wet towel. I also set a small fan blowing on it, since the pot is on a kitchen counter and a breeze is helpful with the evaporation process.

The humidity today is 86%;  these are supposed to work much better in a dry climate. That said, after 4 hours, the inner pot temperature is 69F and the ambient temp in my kitchen is 80F. I'll turn the fan off before I go to bed tonight, and see how things look in the morning.

I also got a matching 8" saucer to use for a lid on the inner pot. I don't know if I need it yet, but it seemed like a good idea to help keep bugs and dogs out of it :) I'll post any updates in the comments here.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Batteries, Greyhounds

Remember those batteries I got some time last year? The ones that have been sitting in my garage, in the dark, unhooked? Well, I finally got around to buying a charger/maintainer/desulphator/conditioner. Good God, the directions are awful. I spent about an hour reading the manual, then googled some stuff, and this 35 page manual boiled down to 6 really simple steps. Anyway, I got the first battery hooked up without incident, and left for work. When I got home, the green light was blinking in maintenance mode. Yay!

So I'm going to let that one be for a few days. Tomorrow, I should receive a 15W solar panel and charge controller, which I will use to keep the things topped off as they come off the charger. I'm sure I'll find some other use for this little panel after I get my "real" solar panels and charge controller at some later date.

In other news, the rescue that I fostered a couple of greyhounds for last year just brought back three more greyhounds from Florida. I went to meet them last night, and tomorrow morning I'll take my boss dogs (Tara and PD) to meet the only boy of this group. If all goes well, he'll be my new foster dog tomorrow afternoon :)

Friday, July 15, 2011

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Dreaming of home

David over at the Terlingua or Bust blog reported that some road work was being done in our neighborhood, and kindly drove up my road to have a look and take some pictures. In this picture from last September, I'm walking toward my west property line. You can see James (the surveyor) set up in the road at the crest of the little rise between my place and the Legion.

Looking east near my west property line.

Edit: This is a new picture from David, showing what the road looks like now.

Way better! Of course, seeing this picture and the others he took has given me fresh motivation to get my butt out there again. I've been doing my best to NOT use my vacation time, saving it up so I can take at least 2 weeks next time, maybe 3. At this point, it's looking like November; I can take 2 weeks at Thanksgiving and only use 8 vacation days. If I recall, it's 25 hours of actual driving time from here to there, so figuring on 4-6 days being eaten up in travel time coming and going. And of course, I need to figure out what I'm going to build before I get there and bring it with me. I'm still leaning heavily toward a dome, but continue to look at other options.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

House progress

Thanks to some much appreciated help and motivation from a friend, the yard is cleaned up, the roof is cleaned off, a new screen door is installed, and the master bathroom make-over is nearing completion. I'll post before and after pics of the bathroom when it's done; all that's left to do now is cut and install quarter round around the baseboards, prime and paint the woodwork, caulk between tub and floor, change out the door hardware, and install a shower curtain and towel bars. The wallpaper was stripped, walls mudded and sanded, two coats of primer, caulked around the tub, two coats of paint, installed new light fixture, and changed out the light and fan switches. I had the plumber replace some defective toilet parts and change out the 20+ year old sink fixture.

Other than the house progress, I've been occupied with churning ideas around in my head spawned by a combination of watching Jeremiah on Netflix, reading the Unreliance blog, and reevaluating my concept of simple as it applies to living. What if you couldn't get gasoline or propane any more? What if your grocery store stopped getting food deliveries? And for people on the grid, what if your electricity was shut down for good? How would you get by without the conveniences we take for granted every day? Reading back over that, it sounds rather survivalist, and I guess it is. But I'm asking myself how I could work around those situations now, and eliminate the need to be concerned about them in the future. I don't have my answers yet.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

New desk, electronic decluttering

I decided to get that Manhattan desk from Target after all. It is the perfect size. The hutch doesn't cover the whole desktop, so I was able to leave enough space on the left for the Zotac ZBOX PC to sit. The DVD player and CR-48 netbook fit under the bottom shelf, and the drawers hold my supplies.

I was able to get the books and nightstand out of the room. The greyhound is happy to have more room in "his" corner to the left of the desk :) I may be able to construct a little shelf under the right side of the desk for the printer, but I rather like having it out of sight (and out of the dust) in the cabinet. It's wireless, so it doesn't matter where it is. And I don't print much.

I've also decluttered my electronic life with the addition of the ZBox PC. I've been using Google Chrome browser for a long time now, along with Gmail, Google Docs, Google Calendar, and Picasa for pictures. I'm making a concentrated effort now to store nothing on my computer. Chrome keeps my bookmarks and everything synchronized on all my computers. My documents and pictures are likewise accessible from anywhere.  My Blackberry keeps my Gmail contacts and calendar sync'ed, too. I got the ZBox 4Gb of RAM and a 60Gb solid state drive, which is more than enough for Windows 7. The ZBox only uses 20 Watts of power, and the only noise it makes is from the fan, which is fairly quiet.

My book collection is also electronic. I have quite a few ereader books, and have just started using Amazon's Kindle for PC and Blackberry. Both services store the books for you, and you can read them on any computer, where ever you are. Best of all, they don't take up any space in the physical world.

Monday, May 9, 2011

It ain't right

The furniture. It ain't right. Mostly my desk. Here's a fresh pic of my current desk situation:

I like having a keyboard tray and a couple of small drawers to put things like pens, scratch pads, screen wipes, etc. I like the monitors raised up so the center of the screen is at eye level, but not on top of books like they are now. I like ALL the cords hidden from my view. And I really really really like real wood. My other desk is just a bit too big, which is why I'm using this little table.

Been shopping for a new desk that's the right size, and has a little hutch for the monitors to sit on, a keyboard tray, and at least one drawer. All I can find in the right design is that heavy (and crappy) MDF stuff. Like this:
Target's description of this says the frame material is hardwood. I checked it out in the store. The legs are hardwood, but the top and drawer fronts are MDF, and the veneer isn't good. They didn't have the hutch in the store, but I'm betting it's mostly MDF, too. Otherwise, the dimensions are spot-on, it looks nice, the finish matches my other furniture close enough, and it would serve my needs nicely.

New additions to the room: the books the monitors are sitting on, which will go if I get that desk, or a similar one. Bandages and first aid stuff for the greyhound's latest boo-boo. The charging cable for the Blackberry. New quilt for the bed - ratty old blanket out.

One other note: I'd like to welcome my new readers to the blog. It's reassuring to know that other folks are also travelling the road to simplifying their lives and minimizing "stuff." It is a journey, not a destination, and it's kinda nice to have company on the way :)

Saturday, April 30, 2011


I had a really strong urge to lounge in front of the TV today, and the computer chair just doesn't cut it for that purpose. My choices for this were the recliner or the futon mattress. While the floor sleeping experiment went well, I decided to bring in the futon and all the spare pillows in the linen closet and make a lounger. The futon can stay, since it can be both bed and lounger, but a better propper-upper arrangement will need to be made. I really don't care for the futon frames that you can configure like this. I think a simple triangular structure, that folds flat for storage, with a non-skid base would do nicely. Update: Just had the idea to have a headboard that would fold back and down to support the upper part of the bed in "lounge" position. Then it doesn't have to be stored. |_ _ _ bed  |\ _ _ lounge

The lounger was immediately popular.

It's leaning up against the dresser drawers, which will not do at all on a permanent basis, but it was quite comfortable. The blue shoebox made a temporary end table to set my coffee cup on. During floor sleeping, I also needed a a very low table for the alarm clock, so I guess this is something I need to make or buy. For maximum usefulness, I think a lidded wood box or drawer would be great; storage for remotes and a flashlight.

The cabinet the TV is sitting on has my wireless printer on the middle shelf, and all my bedding on the bottom shelf. The computer and nightstand are to the right of the squinting-in-the-camera-flash dog (Natoli). 

The only other addition to the room today is the digital camera, since I actually used it. 

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Sleeping on the floor, less "stuff"

Three nights spent sleeping on the floor now, and I've gotten used to it. Would have slept through the night last night were it not for the tornado warning alert ringing my cell around 1:20am. Got back to sleep when the warning expired at 2, and woke up just a few minutes before the alarm, feeling fine.

The netbook's left mouse "button" has gotten erratic, so I swapped it out for the Dell All-inOne. I think it's just time for a new computer. The Dell just doesn't run some things right in Windows 7, and the screen resolution for LotRO doesn't really work for me, either.

I did bring in my nightstand today, which has small drawers that are perfect for eye glasses, stamps, address labels, checkbook, and other little things. It's under the little table I use for a desk, acting as a keyboard tray. May move the dresser in tonight, too, but I completely emptied the bottom drawer and removed some other stuff that I never ever wear. I took out 2 more bags of "stuff" to the trash yesterday. Little things count, too; I brought in all the jewelry I never wear to work and gave it to the ladies I work with. The only pieces I kept are ones I love, and the only ones I ever wear when I bother to wear jewelry at all.  I also returned a book that has been in my nightstand for over a year that I haven't read.

I'm pleased with the blank slate experiment so far. I use everything in the room at this point.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Blank slate simplifying

Last night I took the plunge into the blank slate method of simplifying and minimizing. I completely cleared out the master bedroom. As I need things, they will come back in. So far, the room contains a small desk, lamp, netbook computer, chair, dog beds, small tv stand with tv and dvd player, alarm clock, and a pillow. I slept on the floor last night on a comforter folded in half. When I woke this morning, I folded up the comforter and blanket and stowed the pillow in the closet and instantly had all the floor space back that would otherwise be taken up by a bed.

I slept on the floor because I've been questioning the need for a bed. People didn't have modern beds for hundreds of thousands of years in our evolutionary history, and many still don't. As some of you know, I'm really interested in the Paleolithic period, when we were all hunter-gatherers. One of the few remaining hunter gatherer peoples, the San of the Kalahari in Africa, have nothing in the way of modern conveniences (like beds) and they seem to be thin, fit, and healthy people. They sleep on the ground.

Back to the blank slate, I will only bring clothes back into the room that come out of the dryer, meaning clothes I actually wear. I will only bring other things back into the room as I use them. I think after a month, I should know what I'm using and what I'm not, and be able to pitch or sell the stuff I don't actually need.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Apples and Oranges

It puzzles me that the makers of the 12V refrigerators and freezers don't have to provide one of those yellow Energy Guide stickers like other appliance makers do. Their info on the web says how many watts it uses, but this does NOT help me estimate how much solar panel or battery I need to run one. If it uses 90 watts when running, how often does it run and for how long? Why can't you give me the annual kWh number that "real" appliances do? Or even how many watts it uses in one day? I can at least extrapolate that the "real" mini-fridge I'm looking at that uses 274 kWh per year according to the Energy Guide sticker uses (274000 watts divided by 365 days) 750 watts per day. End gripe. Mumble.

In other energy news, I got myself a geeky new internet connected LED LCD TV that uses half as much power as my old one. It's a really fun gadget; even though I don't have cable and there is no chance of pulling any TV stations with an antenna (they're all in Atlanta), I'm keeping entertained with lots of Netflix and the novelty of checking facebook and the weather on the TV :)

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Spring Cleaning

The cold winter resulted in some enormous electric bills, and vet bills added to that, plus new glasses means I'm playing catch-up again, so... no progress on my homestead plans. Last week, I filled my trash bin with stuff that needed trashing, and I've got another full load ready to go for this week. I think that's it for the bigger items of junk, but I still have a lot of smaller things to sort through, and I noticed a lot of stuff in the garage that doesn't really need to be there. Small steps...

My DSL internet went out on March 3, and wasn't fixed until March 8. That was a pain in the butt. Too late, I remembered that my Google Chrome CR-48 notebook comes with a FREE Verizon 100mb/mo data plan. I had trouble getting it activated, but got in touch with a Chrome "ninja" who fixed me up in no time. Next time the DSL goes out, I can at least get to my email and Facebook. Will also be handy when traveling.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Terlingua Green Scene

Please check out the Terlingua Green Scene coming up April 2, 2011 in Terlingua, TX. I won't be able to go, but hopefully some of my readers will!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Zeer pot refrigeration

I stumbled over an interesting refrigeration method today that I'd heard of before, but didn't have a name for: Zeer pot refrigeration.

This is basically an evaporative cooler for food and drinks. Two unglazed clay pots, a layer of sand, some water - and a dry climate. Cover with a wet cloth, add more water to the sand every 12 hours, and your food stays cool. It helps to raise the pots on some sort of stand so air can get around the bottom of the outer pot.

I will definitely try this out, though I'm not going to expect much in Georgia with the higher humidity. This would be a nice little zero power cooler for eggs, cheese, butter, and veggies, and perhaps some processed meats like sausage that are preserved to death.

Update Aug 11, 2011: I just found this video that shows how to do this, and results.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Lighting: check

I've been searching high and low for some decent solar powered LED lights for my future home. I finally found two that I like; the first is the Sunforce Solar Hanging Light with Remote Control, Model# 81091, which will go in the middle of the house for general lighting. It lit up my living room pretty well, so it should be great in a small living space. The other is a solar BBQ clip light with 10 LED's. The light is a little on the blue side, but I used it to read the directions, and it can be used to light the grill or any other work area. Since these both have their own panels and batteries, there will be no drain on the house batteries. I also have the Dietz lantern and LED flashlights, so my next trip out to my land will be well lit :)

In other news, I'm still in communications with a geodesic dome company and working out the logistics of that idea. The foster dog is back at the rescue until she's fostered or adopted elsewhere - she was snarling at Tara every time she saw her, so those two cannot be together again. No further progress has been made on the batteries. It's been god-awful cold here and I haven't wanted to spend time tinkering in the garage.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Solar Water Disinfection

Just ran across this info and had to share. Check out SODIS!

"The SODIS method is very easy to apply: A transparent PET bottle is cleaned with soap. Then, the bottle is filled with water and placed in full sunlight for at least 6 hours. The water has then been disinfected and can be drunk."