Sunday, June 28, 2009
We constantly look for ways to be more self-sufficient and keep more of our hard-earned cash. We are also going to have to deal with diapering for a few more years. The total cost of disposable diapers can be anywhere from $1,500-$2,000 per child. I googled "total estimated cost of disposable diapers" and found those figures. According to my math, I think those estimates are very low. I would rather invest in more bee hives, some dairy goats, or woolly sheep than spend another dime on diapers.
Environmentally, cloth diapers keep unnecessary waste from ending up in landfills. Economically, if you launder them yourself, cloth diapers cost less. Politically, cloth diapers put less money into government hands.
The first two points are self-explanatory, but the third point may need some explanation. Cloth diapers are purchased once. Sales tax is collected and paid once. Disposables, on the other hand, provide an ongoing supply of sales tax dollars. Also, if the diapers were made in the USA, then the government also collects taxes on the utilities (electric, fuel, phone, etc.) used by the manufacturer.
I am not a fan of handing over any additional tax payments to local, state, or federal, than is absolutely necessary. With cloth diapers, I could pay taxes once. With disposable diapers, I will pay taxes repeatedly.
I admit, we haven't used cloth diapers because we're nervous. We don't know how well they work. What about all the pins and the plastic pants? When I was pregnant, we even had family tell us that they would refuse to babysit if we used cloth diapers! But since that relative has not been able to babysit regularly after all, that isn't a concern anymore. Pins and plastic pants have faded away. Modern fasteners and fabrics have replaced them, eliminating another concern.
One of my biggest problems switching to cloth diapers is that there are so many choices. It took me an entire weekend between researching web sites and picking a patient, cloth-diapering mother's brain, to sort it all out. Another issue is my son's size. He is very tall (in the 98th percentile), and at sixteen months already weighs 33 pounds. Karl has a way to go before potty training, and even the disposables are getting tight on him! The upper limit on many of the cloth diapers I found on line was 35. I found one that claims it will fit a baby up to 45 pounds, so that's what I ultimately ordered. I can't wait to try them out!
Live better, a little every day.
Thursday, June 25, 2009
Eddie spent the better part of the day with the bees. In a week, we should see another 100+ pounds of honey. This comes just in time to replenish our honey supplies, and certainly gives us enough left over to experiment with making creamed honey.
While I spent the day playing out with our son (something I don't nearly get to do often enough), Eddie spent the rest of his evening assembling a utility trailer, making good progress. The trailer will help bring equipment and materials up to the homestead site.
We contacted a lumber mill that is local to our homestead site and priced out lumber for the cabin. We were pleasantly surprised to find the lumber will cost less than had been estimated. This difference offsets the amount spent on the utility trailer. We are still on track to keep this project on or under budget.
Live better, a little every day.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
It didn't take long to realize that the best dollar per acre values in New England were to be found in Maine. (We also liked the fact that Maine was the first state to officially refuse to participate in any national identification program.) We did several Internet searches on Realtor.com, got advice from friends and relatives that already live in Maine, and spoke with multiple real estate agents.
We thought we had found our perfect location in a 48 acre lot, mostly wooded, with a mountain view, a small hunting cabin, and brook running through the the property. The asking price of $48,000 was in our price range, and we could easily afford the monthly payments. We were crushed, however, when we were turned down for a mortgage. My husband had filed bankruptcy before we were married. He had kept his finances in order since then, but had not accumulated enough of a credit usage history since the bankruptcy to qualify for a mortgage. I had good credit, but did not earn enough to cover the mortgage alone.
Knowing how important securing land would be, we felt it was imperative to come up with another option. We started exploring the possibility of buying land only. Land only lots are generally less expensive than lots with a structure, but are often more difficult to finance. If we could raise enough money, we could buy a small lot outright, eliminating the need for a mortgage altogether. At the same time, we had become very worried about the stock market and the security of the funds in Eddie's 401K. When he spoke to the benefits coordinator for the company about getting his money out of the 401K, he was informed that he couldn't closed out the account as long as he was a current employee.
We came up with a solution that killed two birds with one stone. The company my husband worked for at the time did a seasonal layoff each winter. That year, when he was laid off, he closed out his 401K. Technically, he no longer worked there! We took the tax hit, but we got the money out before the stock market started it's downturn. In return, we had a sizable amount of money to buy land.
I found the Land And Farm website (www.LandAndFarm.com). Through this site, we found a realtor that dealt with land only lots, mostly owner financed. Through owner-financing, a mortgage was back on the table. We were able to get a 22.8 acre lot with a brook, wooded acreage, and fields, on a maintained road for $27,000. After a down payment, our 10 year mortgage leaves us with a monthly obligation of $273 per month and dirt cheap yearly property taxes. We have nine years left to pay on the mortgage, but our goal is to have it paid in full in the next three years.
While this option is what worked for us, we did find other lots during our search that had plenty of potential and would fit into even the tightest of budgets. We found a three-acre lot for $4,000. For a lot of people, that's a tax return. Even for people earning minimum wage, careful budgeting and saving, plus a bit of fund raising (try eBay and Craigslist for ideas) will get you to this amount in a reasonable amount of time.
Three acres may not seem like a lot, but you can produce an amazing amount of food on three acres. The ability to produce your own food, even a small portion of your total consumption, gives you freedom. You are less dependent upon factory farming, shipping and warehousing costs, and grocery store markups. You take your money out of a system that props up large agri-business farming operations that will ultimately lead to food shortages in the long term. Plus, you can control the varieties and the integrity of your food.
I will do a short, bulleted factory-farming vs. grow-you-own/local farming post here soon. But, to get back on topic, if the reason you haven't pursued securing your own land yet is because you didn't think you could afford it, you're wrong. No more excuses! You can afford it. Maybe it won't be in your current neighborhood. Maybe you can't start out with as large of a piece of land as you'd like. Maybe you have to make some massive lifestyle changes to save up the money. But, it IS possible.
Live better, a little every day.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Personally, I love rainy days. More accurately, I love rainy days when I have no obligations outside the home. Rainy days are perfect for knitting, curling up with a hot cup of herbal tea, and baking... well, anything!
Yesterday (Monday) was one of those days. I'm making a beautiful aran sweater, with cables upon cables out of chocolate brown fisherman's wool for my husband. It will most likely take until October before it is done, but it will be ready for the cold weather. I caught him, out of the corner of my eye, watching me knit. He looked so proud, or perhaps touched, that his wife was making something that takes such time and care to create, and doing so just for him.
This sweater is a great example of self-reliance. Making your own clothing allows you to control every factor- style, color, quality, and every other aspect that contributes to its uniqueness. While I did not spin this yarn myself (though spinning is a skill I'm working hard to improve), it was purchased from a small, local shop. With a little effort, a warm work of art is crafted. All it will require is a little time, effort, and moderate skill.
No money went to support a large retailer with a history of mistreating employees. No money went to a corporation that employs foreign workers at slave wages. Some money did get paid in sales tax, which is one of the reasons I'm honing my own spinning skills, but the bulk of the purchase price went to support a local, small business.
Today, (Tuesday) I had a little time after work to clean out the uncapping tank and melt the beeswax cappings that have been waiting on me to have some free time for over a week. A solar wax melter is in the works, but probably won't be finished for a few weeks. However, it will remove any need for further fossil fuels, and therefore any grid connection, to process our bees' beautiful wax.
Always be very careful melting wax. Melt wax in a double-boiler, preventing the container of wax from touching the heat source. Beeswax is highly flammable, so please take all reasonable precautions.
I pour the melted wax into old liquid egg and milk cartons that have the tops cut off. When the wax cools, the clean wax floats to the top, and the sludge sinks to the bottom. After it cools, the sludge is cut off, and the process begins again and is repeated until the wax comes perfectly clean. At that point, the melted wax is poured into pretty, one-ounce cakes with a honeycomb and queen bee design, ready for easy measuring for future use or sale. Do not refrigerate the wax to cool it. It will not make a good candle if you cool it too quickly.
Beeswax just smells absolutely delicious! It requires no toxic artificial fragrances to scent a room. Beeswax is used in candles, lotions, soaps, and furniture polish, just to name a few uses. We used our own beeswax to make the taper candles that lit our home last winter. Beeswax is more valuable pound for pound compared to honey.
When you get the chance, read up on candle making, and then locate a local beekeeper in your area. Every county has a beekeeping association, and you should be able to find their contact information (and probably web site) on line easily enough. Make an inquiry asking if any of the beekeepers have wax for sale, and you should have yourself a local source of beautiful beeswax for all your crafting needs.
Live better, a little every day.
Monday, June 22, 2009
We are lucky at our current apartment to have both a protected, south-facing balcony, as well as permission to grow a vegetable garden in a small section of the back yard (providing that we do a lot of ornamental plantings and maintain the lawn and hedges). Knowing how valuable compost is to the success of a garden, and wanting to keep rotting food out of landfills where it does absolutely no good to anyone, we wanted to compost our kitchen scraps.
Unfortunately, our landlords (my parents) are not permitting a compost pile in the backyard. But at least we can grow some edibles. At our old apartment, there was no yard nor balcony for an edible container garden, never mind a place for compost pile. In searching online for alternatives, we found three options: an electric composting unit, a Bokashi composting unit, and a worm bin.
The electric composter came with a price tag of about $300 for the least expensive model (for more money, you could change the color of the unit), but would allow for composting all kitchen waste, including meat and dairy. The unit used precious little power, but still, it uses electricity, and we're trying to eliminate any unnecessary electric usage.
Bokashi is a Japanese word for "fermented organic matter", and the Bokashi product is a microbial product that speeds up the breakdown of food waste into compost. The Bokashi unit was around $70, which was a much more affordable option to get started. However, it would require ongoing purchases of Bokashi. A typical 2.25 pound bag would cost around $12 plus shipping. Since Bokashi is not something that we can reproduce here at home, and would be the most expensive solution long term, we chose to bypass this option.
The final option was starting a worm composting bin. This type of composting, called vermicomposting or vermiculture, uses red worms (Eisenia fetida) to break down kitchen scraps, minus any meat or dairy. Worm bins can be made out of plastic storage bins for minimal investment, though we found a cedar worm bin and worms on eBay for a reasonable price. The worms reproduce, so you never need to buy anything else (assuming that you treat your worms correctly and don't kill them), and won't overpopulate, as their numbers are restricted by the size of the bin.
We got our worms last Autumn. In that time, there has never been an unpleasant odor from the bin. The worms have done a fair job, though if we had to do it again, I would have purchased twice as many worms. We bought approximately 500 worms, and we should have gone with 1000. We still ended up throwing veggie waste away because the bin was too full. Now, that the little wigglers have had some time to build up their numbers, we are seeing less and less kitchen waste.
I highly recommend composting with worms. The worms are not gross (actually, they are kind of cute). And they do a great job of breaking down non-meat and non-dairy food scraps. After the initial minimal expense, and minimal upkeep (a spray bottle to keep them from drying out, and an area free of drafts, etc.), the worms take care of the rest. The compost they produce is as good as gold.
So, it would seem that Mother Nature provided the perfect, natural, sustainable composting tool, even if the composting takes place in a city apartment.
Live better, a little every day.
Sunday, June 21, 2009
I managed to get a sunburn on my right arm and the back of my neck. Because I burn easily, I've been making a point to get outside in the sun, a little every day, without sunscreen for the past couple of years. We make Vitamin D from sunlight, as well as getting it from cold water fish and fortified foods. There is a lot of new research on Vitamin D, Vit D sensitive cancers (skin cancer being one of them!), and other Vit D sensitive conditions (including depression and now there's a possible link to Alzheimer's), that would be reason enough to get out in the sun more often.
The other reason that I'm trying to get more sun is to build up my melanin and my tolerance to the sun. The life we're planning will require a lot of outdoor time, and I can't be ducking into the shade every ten minutes if this is going to work.
I grow aloe at home, and have done so for many years to care for my sunburns. However, the past couple of times that I did get too much sun, I put some face cream with royal jelly on the affected areas. Each time, by morning, the burn was completely gone, and I actually had a little color. While some people may find it normal for a burn to have healed overnight, I generally did not have that kind of luck with sunburns. Mine would last for days, and then go from red almost straight back to white- no tan.
Royal jelly is the special food that worker bees feed to larvae to make it a queen bee. Without this royal jelly, the bee would grow up to be a regular worker bee. Scientists aren't even sure what all the different components of royal jelly are, but it is potent enough to create a completely different honeybee. As it is the only ingredient listed on the package that I had never put on a burn before (with my skin, I've tried everything), there's a good chance that it was the royal jelly that healed the burn.
After the market, we went to a presentation on bio-diesel and waste vegetable oil. We need a vehicle that has both power and can seat a few people. An SUV has made the most sense for us for a number of years. However, with an average 13 MPG, this puts a hurting on our personal finances. Plus, I'm not all that fond of giving my money to big oil companies or to foreign oil interests.
We learned a few interesting things. A diesel engine can run on bio-diesel without any conversion or adaptation to the vehicle. When the diesel engine was invented, it was actually intended to run on peanut oil. However, making bio-diesel requires ingredients that are toxic, like lye (the toxic ingredients become inert when they are combined to make bio-diesel), and require careful handling.
The process of converting a diesel engine to run on waste vegetable oil WVO) seemed fairly easy (at least that's what Eddie tells me, but then again, he worked on diesel engines in the Navy). There's a kit that can be purchased, and once installed, you can run it on either bio-diesel or WVO. Restaurants have to pay to have their waste oil removed, so it should not be difficult to find a restaurant that would be happy to give the stuff away for free. There is a little bit of filtering and settling, and it can be messy, but it is essentially free fuel. Compare a few hours of effort each week collecting and filtering WVO to paying $100 to fill up the tank of a large truck or SUV at the pump. I'll take the free fuel, thank you!
Without recycling the WVO, that sludge ends up in land fills. While we dump entirely too much filth into the earth already, why would we throw away a perfectly good fuel that could eliminate our country's dependence on foreign oil?
The only snag in this for us is that one of the requirements to running a vehicle on bio-diesel is that you have to already own a vehicle with a diesel engine. We are not in the market for a new vehicle at the present time. However, tomorrow. we are sitting down to review the timeline for our establishing our homestead, and will fit purchasing a diesel truck into the plan.
Live better, a little every day.
Friday, June 19, 2009
We, too, rent an apartment. We, too, have no say in how the building is wired. We do not have a say in what major appliances are installed. But, we do have a say in how much electricity we use. You do have a say in whether you use a lot of electricity or not. Here are ten ways to reduce your dependence on grid-based electricity:
- Turn the tv off. There is precious little of real value on it anyway, and you don't really need it on for background noise.
- Unplug items when not in use. Leaving appliances and tools plugged in creates a "ghost" charge (a charge for power you never knew you were using). When we started unplugging appliances when not in use, we saved about $15 off each month on the electric bill.
- Change all the light bulbs in the home to flourecents. Doing this took about $5 off our monthly bill. We replaced all the bulbs at once. However, you could just replace old bulbs with flourecents when the old bulbs burned out.
- Build a solar oven. If you have an electric oven, and a balcony, you can shut the down on the oven and bake, roast, and cook in your oven on the balcony. Free plans are easily searchable on line.
- Investigate older technologies. Many appliances have non-electric versions that preceeded them.
- Candles... while any flame poses an increased risk of a house fire, with a little extra care, candles can be a great source of light. We placed several candle sconces on the walls, away from draperies and ceilings. We even found some metal tea light sconces with mirrored backings that reflect a lot of light into the room. It really creates a beautiful, calm atmosphere. After going all winter lighting the apartment with candles in the evening, we wouldn't go back to electric lights.
- This one's for the ladies... revamp your hairstyle. Rather than waste electricity on hairdryers, flat irons, curling irons, etc., why not find a style that looks neat and is flattering, but that doesn't require all the fuss? Not only will you save energy, but you'll save a lot of time as well.
- As much as possible, get up with the sun and go to bed with the sun. Obviously, those of us who work outside the home may not have this option. The idea is that if you are getting your business done during daylight hours, you will not need much artificial lighting.
- During the summer months, use fans rather than air conditioners. They use much less power and are less expensive to purchase.
- Dry you clothes on a line or a rack. If you have a balcony, you can set up your line or drying rack there. If not, you could set up a rack in the bathroom.
Live better, a little every day.
This year, we have a small veggie garden going in the back yard. There isn't much available space, but we're packing a lot into it... tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, onions, green beans, carrots and cabbage. The varieties we picked were for storage and cold weather planting. We're hoping that with some cold frames and the right plant varieties, we can extend the season a bit.
This is the first vegetable garden I've ever kept (not counting the tomatoes grown in pots on my balcony). Growing up, I was only permitted to grow flowers in the backyard. Veggies were off-limits, not providing enough ornamental value I suppose. We have no idea what kind of yield to expect from each plant. Based on a journal I'm keeping of this year's efforts and results, we will plan a larger garden at our place up north. However, most of what we put in the ground up there next year will be fruit trees and berry bushes. The following year, we're hoping to be living up there full time, or at least close to it. This year, we will plan out the locations for a veggie garden and orchard, test the soil, and make necessary adjustments as needed.
One of our goals for this year is to see how much we need to grow in order to can sauces and soups, and freeze enough veggies to last through the winter. Last year, a friend was kind enough to provide us with more zucchini than any human should ever eat in a decade. I made a lot of zucchini bread, and it kept well in the freezer. This year we have three produce sources, our backyard garden, that same friend with the abundance of zucchini, and the CSA farm we have a share in. I would be thrilled to not have to go to the store to pick up veggies all winter.
Live better, a little every day.
When we talk to people about going off the grid, some people think we're crazy. No, we are not crazy. What we do think is crazy, however, is incurring an unecessary bill each and every month for the rest of your life.
Others people we talk to have thought about it, but think it is out of their reach. Here are some of the things we've heard:
- I can't afford it
- I can't do it where I live right now
- It's too complicated
- My kids could never go without their video games
To this, I say that going off the grid:
- Doesn't have to cost a small fortune
- Isn't something you have to do all at once
- Is easier than you think
- Gives your kids new things to enjoy... don't sell them short
There are several good reasons to cut back on oil consumption. For some people, saving the environment is the motivating factor. Electricity from an oil-based (or coal-based) source will add polutants to the environment. I don't care if you believe in Climate Change or not. Adding more polutants into the environment isn't a smart idea for long term sustainability. So, if there is a chance that we are effecting the planet in a harmful way, it is in our best long-term interests to stop.
For others, like us, going off the grid is more financially motivated. The freedom of never having to pay another electric bill is reason enough. Not owing this money every month allows you to save the extra money, put it toward other obligations, or simply not have to spend as much time working to pay for it.
Another financial point to consider is that on each and every utility bill, there are taxes. There are the taxes you see, and the taxes you do not see. Each bill has taxes itemized, and typically, it's just a few bucks. Multiply that by the millions of people in this country who are paying those few bucks, and you have a significant source of tax-based revenue. Add to that the hidden tax...the utility company is also taxed (just like every other business) on the sale of their product. This expense is factored into the price of the utility and passed along to customers.
Why is this an issue? Well, consider this: are you happy with how the government (any level, local, state, or federal) has spent your tax dollars? If the answer is no, then why pay them any money you do not absolutely have to? If you purchase power through a utility company, you are paying more taxes than you have to. Our system of government is broken, and it cannot be fixed through voting with ballots. We can, however, change things by voting with our dollars and spending habits.
There is, however, a trade off in going off the grid. Many tasks will have to be done manually, and that may also mean purchasing non-electric versions of appliances and tools. Some electricity can be generated through small solar and wind set ups that do not cost a small fortune. That means, however, whatever appliances or equipment being used must be the most energy-efficient models available.
Obviously, thanks to electricity, I'm able to post to this blog. One of the reasons that I got this laptop is because it takes less power to charge than my desktop. (Eventually, we will be retiring the desktop.) A laptop is one of the only electronically powered items that I can justify keeping after we move to the property in Maine. This provides, news, communication, and provides entertainment (Hulu, DVD player, etc.).
Going off the grid does not mean spending $100,000 on solar panels, though one could go that route. It also doesn't mean turning your back on all technology either, though there is nothing wrong with that if that's the kind of life you want. There is a lot of middle ground.
In my next post, I'll address how to reduce your dependence on electricity while still living in a rented apartment.
Live better, a little every day.
Thursday, June 18, 2009
What we did find was a lot of red tape and loop holes to exempt us from any kind of relief. We did eventually qualify for health insurance through the state, which we would lose the moment we tried to increase our income. Our initial reaction was, "We've busted out butts, we've contributed to the system, and we deserve better than this!" Well, that was partly true. We had worked hard. We did contribute to the system. Where we failed was not having recognized sooner that the system is broken.
Due to the economy, Eddie had been laid off. I could not work due to a high-risk pregnancy. We could not afford COBRA payments at almost $1000/month, and the Department of Unemployment Assistance was jerking us around on benefits for which Eddie was eligible. We weren't looking for a permanent public assistance funded lifestyle. It is not that we ever thought, "Oh, if we fall on hard times, we'll just let the state take care of us." That mindset has always been abhorrent to us.
The reality was that we hadn't thought about falling on hard times at all. We never thought about emergencies. Looking back, that seems very naive. So, from that perspective, we got exactly what we deserved.
Should we have known better? Probably. We learned a lot, however, from having been through this. It probably required such drastic circumstances to bring us to the point we are now. It was as if life grabbed us by the shoulders and shook us until we woke up. Looking at it this way, I'm glad things played out the way they did. We learned hard lessons and are making changes because of them.
We seek to live a life with as much freedom as is possible in the United States. That may sound strange as the USA is often referred to as the "land of the free". When we sat down and discussed how to prepare our family for emergencies, however, it became plain to us that we are anything but free. To us, freedom means:
- Living 100% debt free
- Owning land
- Achieving water independence
- Achieving food independence
- Achieving energy independence
- Health Care, not Sick Care
- Having the ability and means to defend ourselves
- Minimizing any tax liability
- Achieving clothing independence
- Helping others do the same
Put into practice, our expression of freedom includes establishing a homestead where we can produce most of our own needs, and do business locally for the things we cannot produce ouselves. We have made a committment to do something every day that brings us closer to reaching these goals. Every day is a day closer to self-sufficiency, self-reliance, and our vision of freedom.
This blog is to record our journey. It doesn't matter how little money you have, or how big your debts may be. If we can do this, anyone can. I hope that this will inspire someone reading it to say, "Enough... I demand better for myself."
Live better, a little every day.