Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Cell Phone Savings

A few months ago we eliminated my cell phone entirely, which left Jack's (which we both use) and the home land line. We shopped for good deals for those and got what we thought were the best.

Jack's costs us about $50/month...that's the cell phone. Since we only need it for emergencies, but determined that we do NEED it what with the lengthy commute and long distances on interstate without many exits (thinking car trouble, etc), that $50 got re-examined recently.

I found a great deal on a Tracphone where basically we'll save $500/year, which includes the monthly fee, double 800 minutes, and double minutes every time we want to reload additional minutes...good for the life of the phone. Since we're paying for a year up front, it will be 12 months till we have to reactivate it, and we sign no contract. Tracphone has more customers than AT&T and Verizon combined and uses their towers for reception...so...what's not to love? For a year's use it cost us what two and a half months of what Jack's cell phone now costs. To replace his phone (which is worn out) would have cost us $200 for the most basic no-frills one from Verizon, not to mention the monthly cost. We just won't sign contracts for cell phone usage (our personal policy).

So we're pretty happy! Shipping is free, includes the actual phone and charger, and we can transfer his old number over to the new phone. If we don't like the phone, we have 30 days to return it for a full refund.

YAY!! $500 bucks saved for this upcoming year...yay again!

Monday, August 23, 2010

How Low Can I Go?

We're finding it necessary to make further cuts in our already-cut budget. Necessity is the mother of...well, creativity, at least.

The question of where to make further cuts led to re-examining our weekly food budget. Hmmm. I'm a very frugal shopper of relativity healthful foods..."relatively" referring to the fact that I still don't have a good source for local grassfed beef or pastured chicken/eggs, so we still buy those frozen at the big box store. But amazingly, a look at our cart at the checkout line is (to me) remarkable...not a single pre-fab box of anything, usually. The cart usually contains fresh fruits, a few boxes of organic spinach, fresh veggies, a bag or two of frozen berries and maybe an occasional frozen bag of green beans or mixed veggies. Sometimes we restock on olive oil or almonds/nuts. Some weeks maybe eggs, maybe orange juice or a 100% juice item (cranberry/grape for smoothies). And one or two packages of meat. There's nary a processed item that makes it home, give or take a week I might buy a loaf of wheat bread. Yes, I know the bottled juice is processed, but it has no added sugar, and by processed I mean food that can't remember where it came from. I scan everything for additives, preservatives and other chemicals and those with them seldom, if ever, make it into the cart.

There are a few exceptions, but exceptions these days are seldom the rule.

Even so, now I have the challenge of seeing if I can go lower with our grocery spending...and just when I'd hit my stride of being pretty sure of myself with what I buy and what meals come of it. Hmmm.

My biggest challenge is two-fold: how to keep the greens and fresh veggies/fruits IN the meals and keep the starch percentages OUT of the meals. In years past, economizing meals meant stretching them with mostly carbohydrates...rice, noodles/pasta, breads, dumplings, breading or bread crumbs added to meals (think meatloaf, meatballs, homemade chicken nuggets, etc, and potatoes.) Even though I have a huge bulk container of basmati rice available for OCCASIONAL meals, one of my goals for this year has been to wean us to lower-glycemic-index foods since Jack and I both need to have better blood sugar readings and need to lose weight.

The carbs that stay in are the naturally-occurring ones in fruits and vegetables, including potatoes and sweet potatoes...but we limit the potato sort to a single portion and have them only IF there are greens and other colored veggies in the meal (keeps the ol' blood sugar happier that way). Recent additions to the carb list are more...GREENS...yep there are carbs in there, but the sort that function better for us...and beans, nuts, seeds. Nuts and seeds, when purchased, seem to be quite expensive, but beans aren't, so they are making appearances more frequently at the table here. We've also experimented a little with quinoa, and I'm slowly trying other whole grains and grain-like seeds...have yet to try teff, millet, buckwheat. I do put some barley in stews now and then.

IF I HAD A GARDEN, THIS WOULD ALL BE CHEAPER. Yes, we knew that at the beginning of the summer. Still working on what to do about that in relation to our short and long-term plans etc etc. But the reality for the here and now is...cut back.


Can I cut my grocery bill in half?

I just finished reading Ayn Rand's book We the Living, which takes place in Russia just about the time it became the Soviet Union. It was written realistically, and one of the things that struck me was how difficult simply getting and preparing daily meals was for the average household. Since the author includes a lot of detail in her writing, I noted that throughout the book, the average meal compiled from ration stamps included cooked millet, storebought bread, linseed oil as a cheap cooking oil or sunflower seed oil or lard (when available) as a more expensive cooking oil. Sometimes beets, onions, or cabbage if and when available. To munch on...sunflower seeds. And...that was pretty much it for the common proletariat unless you had special communist party membership privileges (blah blah blah). What were the rarities? Eggs, considered a rarity. Fruits and fruit juices. Fresh vegetables. Meat of any sort. Milk, butter...not a single mention anywhere in the book. So a single meal could be beet soup. Or a piece of bread with fried onions on it. Or millet, boiled.

It makes me feel VERY positive about what I can do with what's in my pantry, freezer, and such as I try to concoct something economical-to-the-bone. It reminds me of how little food it takes to fuel these sacred bodies of ours, as long as the fuel is good fuel. It challenges me to be satisfied with adequate portions, not double ones. It makes me celebrate the choices I DO have rather than concentrate on the fact I have to be selective about them.

So my challenge is not to cook unlimited quantities of empty starches to "fill" us...it's to orchestrate a collection of great meals, even if simple ones, that celebrate seasonal bounty, plain and delicious nutrition, and to play with the spice rack further.

That's my challenge to myself. I'm spoiled. I don't intend to give up my mentality of loving a wealth of selection, but DO intend to solve this with some creativity in ways that never make me begin assuming I'm throwing my hands up and returning to a processed poverty-type of mindset.


the challenge commences. Time for my mind to get back into that kitchen and enjoy being the mad scientist...heh heh ;-)

(And to plot a garden for the OTHER growing seasons...???)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Beans, Beans

As anyone who has read this blog for very long can tell you, Jack and I are stuck in the "pay off debt" leg of our journey towards having our own piece of land, and are putting all of our resources and time into that rather than develop the property where we currently are. The moment we think we'll be HERE for the longer haul, we'll begin customizing it with garden, raised beds, greenhouse, etc. But at present it's a question of prioritizing our resources and time. And the wait, which we thought would be maybe a year or two, has been a process now of four years and counting.

We did dabble in growing some easy things the past few years. Last year we tested cowpeas (pink eye purple hulls, to be exact) and found they grew really well on nearly-hot stable manure spread over hardpan, despite even the resulting bermuda invasion. So did okra. And some other plants and shrubs that overwinter here by returning by resprouting from the roots in early spring.

Like most homesteading-minded folks, we are hooked on all the offerings we see offered in seed catalogs, and we're also interested in plants less-used here stateside but widely used elsewhere in cultures that still maintain strong traditional food uses...many of those plants grow well here and it's our fun in trying to discover the plants, how they can be used, their benefits.

When it boils right down to it, we start our "future plants" plan, the plan for our long-term life on our as yet nonexistent rural property, with foods that will feed us and release us from dependence on the grocery store. And in kitchen-testing over the past few years (and trying to boil things down to what we need most nutritionally) it comes right down to....Greens and Beans.

We never were getting enough dark greens in our daily meals. NOW we are because of the daily green smoothies made with spinach or kale and berries and fruit. Sound awful? Maybe, but fresh spinach in a blender adding enough 100% fruit juice (we use cranberry/grape, the sort with no sugar or HFCS)to blend, a banana or two and the rest of the blender full of frozen blueberries...is simply a fruit smoothie with "hidden greens"...you truly never know they're there. Anyway, we're grown ups and do eat the greens in their natural form, too...stir fried, in soups, etc etc.

But beans were a switch for me. Last year I started trying to use them more, and I can say I've gotten pretty comfortable using them regularly now. I truly LOVE black (turtle) beans and also red beans. The sauce that comes of slow cooking these is delicious, and they feel like a "meat" anytime added to a meal...really stick to your ribs and give steady energy rather than a quick surge.

Recently, we purchased a 50 lb. bag of pinto beans at Sam's club. I just haven't found a bulk supplier of beans locally for the black beans or the red beans. We don't have a pressure cooker, or I might be spending a lot of my at-home time canning up batches of the pintos. They are easy to fit into nearly any meal, to round it out, and when using beans in a family that is meat-eating, using the beans decreases how much meat I feel we need per portion on the plate when serving...so I can really stretch it further.

I cook the meat for our week's meals generally on Sunday of each week, and after it cools I portion it off for use in the different dishes I make throughout the week. I also save the pan juices, chicken and beef, for use in those dishes. It's my nod to fast food. That way the meals are different most days, but the meat is pre-cooked and the broth is homemade without any trouble at all...just pour some into the different dishes, when making, for flavor and with no preservatives.

Last year I had no clue how to flavor beans without relying on spice mixes or experimentation. Today, here's our favorite (easy!) black bean standby...all spices listed are adjusted to preference and taste:

Cooked black beans (can be from cans if necessary)
Sauteed finely-chopped onion
Cooking broth (from chicken or beef roasted)
Cilantro (fresh or dried)
Sea salt to taste (don't oversalt to start with)
Dashes of Frank's Red Hot sauce
Whole mustard seeds, to taste (I used black and yellow)
Dash black pepper
(Optional to add: minced fresh jalapeno or a whole serrano pepper to be removed after cooking)

For it to be soup, add fresh tomatoes (I use the cherry tomatoes if storebought) liquidified in the blender and then poured in. Add additional chicken or beef cooking broth till your preferred consistency. Adjust spices to taste (especially cilantro and garlic)...yum :)

We eat this a LOT...it's excellent with some cubes of roast beef added in or roasted chicken cubed and added right before serving (I don't like stringy over-cooked chicken)

I've also been experimenting with Indian (as in the country India) spice mixes and they pair excellently with beans, especially black beans or lentils when using dal mixes.

Well, I'm off to finish up my day. Tonight's another "fast food"...beans I made yesterday will tonight be turned into chili for my man :)

Have a great day :)

Brief Sum-Up

First of all, thank you Ginger for your recent comment for one of my archive posts on Cranberry Hibiscus/False Roselle and your mom's recipe of making it into a pie similar to rhubarb...we'll be trying that!

On the Moringa front, we did harvest some already and have more to go. We're not sure of the process of drying them outdoors, as we've had such wet weather we don't want to have a mold problem. So with the first harvest, we picked the leaves, washed them well several times and let them dry somewhat and then packed them into freezer bags, pressing the air gently out of the bags. It's easy to open one at a time and use the moringa in smoothies that way...so far, has worked well. We still want to find a way to dry them, though, so we can powder the dried leaves for filling gelcaps (ourselves) or crumbling the dried leaves and storing for use as a tea.

We're propagating more gynura (procumbens) and I'm making an indoor space to keep some of those plants going in our few cooler months down the road.

Papayas are still sprouting from all the seed we scatter after devouring the fresh ones from the store...looks like the glut of papayas in the stores is winding down, but at present we have about a dozen 3-footers or above (plants from the seeds) and dozens of smaller ones still coming up from where we seeded the waste areas on the lot next to us that was bulldozed by the "authorities." Don't get me started...

I'm making wonderful progress, if slowwww progress is in the category entitled Wonderful, on the indoor household clean-out/throw-out/organizing push. It's the kind of thing that does my head in...boxes that have followed us over the course of several moves, full of unrelated assorted items we've lived quite well without in the meantime (usually my prompt to be merciless and get rid of)...but since there's everything from legal papers to photos to books to cords/tools/wire, blah blah blah...well, to NOT sort through it all would be a big waste. So that infernal mess is finding its way to where it belongs. Piece by everlovin' piece.

Since I'm not a hoarder, I'm doing a lot of militant throwing away and giving to Goodwill. But it goessssss slowwwwwwlyyyyyy. But I can say that all those projects that merely inched along since the beginning of the year ARE adding up and it's beginning to show and to allow things to run more smoothly around here. YAY. :)

Poor Kaleb. He's got the haircut of the century. He won't let me near him with the electric clippers so it's a scissors job. He's a lot cooler temperature-wise. But his coat looks fleabitten compared to his former lush coat, thanks to my "skills" with scissors and a wiggly dog as recipient. Well, hair grows...in the meantime, he thinks it's way cool (literally)to be rid of all that hair.

I'm still on a book-reading streak, mostly before bed these days. I finally finished Atlas Shrugged, and while the story caught me in the ol' lure of Find Out What Happens Next, it was not your relaxing stroll in the park. I benefitted from knowing more of Rand's philosophy and seeing what of it I agree and disagree with. After reading this one back to back with Spandau by Albert Speer, it was an interesting juxtaposition historically from two authors involved personally in regimes powerfully affected by ideologies. I appreciate the authentic voice of people who've lived through seminal points of history, whether I agree with them or not. I liked many of Rand's warnings about collectivism and centralization of government and the emphasis on the individual not turning his/her mind off...of valuing the importance of the individual and of individual thought, and entrepreneurism. As I'm not an atheist, her perspective on what she calls the "motive factor" of the individual, and her sweeping generalizations of "faith" fell short for me. But in many cases, point taken...some of her phrases will likely stick with me for the long haul, such as stating that in collective/centralized government societies (socialism etc), morality is defined ONLY as what is best for everyone as a whole. Meaning that the majority decides what the definition of morality is for everyone...or the government uses the majority as the excuse to declare that what is best for the majority has to be what's best for everyone. Etc etc.

Can I say how much I enjoy being at home? I've been cooking up a storm for my hubby and have taken over the chores we used to share 50/50 here around the house...it feels good, too. I'm waiting for the state to send me my test date for the CNA state test. I anticipate that being down the road a few weeks. I'm trying to keep in practice with what I learned in the class a few weeks ago till then. Without a second car, I'm trying to keep my circuit close to home to conserve gas while we're still one-income.

I haven't been here blogging because it feels like we're doing the same laps around the track again and again, so not much new to tell even though the weeks tick by quickly...I can't believe it's halfway through August. It's still hot hot hot outside.

Our lots are still up for sale. Still sending out letters weekly to see if we get any bites.

We do our tasks, economize, keep the momentum steady, and keep digging out of debt. Some weeks slower and some faster.

Boring. Necessary. It's the tedious part of getting our dreams to the next step.

And now it's time to have breakfast ready for my man when he gets home. Hope you're all having a great day!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Dear Capital One, The Twilight Version

This week, I opened my mail to find a statement from Capital One showing a zero balance and a 39.00 dollar annual membership fee, due this cycle. Problem: This is a card I paid off and canceled twice. Capital One seems to have memory loss when it comes to killing off credit cards. It seems they expect to resurrect canceled credit cards periodically for the thrill of seeing if they can collect further "annual fees." There's no telling how many people may have fallen for this baloney, if they're like me. It really chaps me that even after tighter government regulation of their questionable practices (that applies to other credit card companies, too), they are still trying to pull this one. And the customer service representative who looks the information up on the phone acts baffled that the account doesn't show the prior cancelation requests. Interesting. I wonder how three cancelations...get canceled.

Here is my response (no, I didn't actually send this, for those of you who wonder) to their latest attempt to collect membership fees from me after my no longer having an account with them:

Dear Capital One:

I realize I am a Valued Customer. I hope so. You have no idea how much this once meant to me.

It's not that I walked away with nothing from our relationship. After all, I have you to thank for the education, the math lessons that taught me (with my own money, hooray!) that all that interest I paid throughout the years buying things on sale with credit cards really meant I was paying about double instead of getting a bargain. And how a $40 annual membership fee for the privilege of buying things on sale that you're really not getting a good deal on after paying interest was a small price to pay to carry a cool piece of plastic!

I mean, you valued me, and we had our moments :)

But we didn't last. Breaking up is hard to do, but the day came when I looked at you and realized the magic was gone, even if you lowered your interest rate below 11 percent. Oh you promised me the moon, but I saw how you were always finding ways to mooch off of me with mystery fees and your inflated ways, and fine print no lawyer could read. Maybe you sensed I was withdrawing my affections, secretly sneaking off to pay things with cash, getting monetary counseling? Darling, I have outgrown you and my parents never liked you anyway. Oh, PLEASE with your protection insurance, buyers points, selling my data to Free Resort Weekend phone marketers. You would arrange for me to be called and reminded of you, even when I declined the repeated invitations for more conversation because your outsourced call center reps somehow never learned the English word "No."

Finally, it was over. I settled my accounts with you and said a firm goodbye. You tried to hang on, but I was adamant. Glen, Martin, Greg, Jordan...and so many others...passed the phone from one department to the other but couldn't sway me. But call me they kept doing. So I've had to get ugly, cut it off. I won't take your calls anymore.

Now...could you please stop stalking me? I mean, yes, I know you have my home address and other pertinent information, but really...I already cut the card up. No need for you to send my ANY more information about "the account ending in the numbers 1234" and so on.

This brings me to a very personal question. What religion are you? Have you been feeling well lately? Do you believe in an afterlife, in reincarnation, multiple resurrections, in the Un-dead??

Because you keep coming back. (Like a long-running vampire TV series geared towards irresponsible credit card-wielding adolescents.)

I already cut up that card, endured being put on hold through several refrains of phone musack (Play it again, Sam), talked to the appropriate representative who then passed me to the more appropriate representative, closed the account, and you were then dead to me...not too be too indelicate, but dead dead dead. Gone, kaput, shuffled off the mortal coil, pushing up daisies, kicked the bucket, joined the choir invisible, bought the farm, in perpetual repose, got the one-way ticket, etc etc. You were No More, No I won't send holiday cards and No I won't attend your brother's bar mitzvah...GONE.

So, what, then you started researching longevity and reading Deepak Chopra? Because you KEEP COMING BACK.

Account 1234 no longer exists, but you are STILL wanting...your yearly membership fee??

This is the third time I've been contacted by you, billing me for a (now non-existent)yearly membership fee on an account I've closed twice (now 3 times). Had it been a cat, I'd have taken the precaution of checking it for signs of life all 9 times, but I thought the credit card was safe being iced once and then being fitted for its concrete shoes.

OBVIOUSLY I will have to take more drastic measures.

This letter is to notify you that I have now taken the necessary precautions to protect myself as a consumer.

I am now wearing garlic around my neck and have driven a stake through the heart of the remaining cut-up plastic bits of my old canceled credit card...
at the exact stroke of midnight
while twelve unspoiled maidens
(whose fathers are all 5 star generals
and whose mothers run non-profit relief agencies)
and their equally-unspoiled accompanying unicorns
pledged allegiance to the flag
under a moonlit sky
and sang all 6 (or was it 8?) stanzas of Just As I Am
while lighting sparklers and drawing hearts and smiley-faces in the air and throwing salt over their shoulders.

I hope that will keep you and your legions of bloodsucking minions away from my mailbox. And phone.

Because if I hear from you again, EVER, about my non-existent account and any suggestion of phantom fees, I will no longer speak to you. I will sing.

Yes. RIGHT when I hear you tell me that our conversation may be recorded for quality control purposes, I will from now on sing my entire conversation to you, in my own special (and you wouldn't believe how special)operatic style. If that does not immediately reduce you to a small and quivering pool of melted chicken fat, I will then give an encore featuring the Hokey Pokey song.

So leave me alone. Because you value me so.

Thanks especially.

In loving memory,


Monday, August 2, 2010

These Days

Short on time...I sum up:

These days we

1. Are keeping the plants Jack transplanted over the winter watered and seeing how they do. Moringas are great, mayan spinach/chaya plant came back and is doing well, cranberry hibiscus only reasonably well without cultivation, gynuras proliferate, comfrey and rosemary soldier on as always, the plants-I-can-never-remember-their-names are lovely shrubs (whatarethey, whatarethey...oh yeah the Surinam cherry shrubs, oh I'll think of the real name soon, but they supposedly make little sour fruits when mature) That's it...no garden this year, SO SO weird. But so much going on otherwise that with 4 growing seasons, it's only like sitting out a breather.

Aye-yi-yi how could I forget that Jack has been jonesing to get a Loquat and finally found one for a really great deal...brought it home, plunked into a freshly dug and composted hole, watered it in...and then mentioned it to me (heh heh). It's about 8 feet tall and really nice! Loquats do well in our area and all the way up into Zone 7 (which swings like a smile across the US, so don't think "latitude"...I'm surprised about some of the states they'll grow in). Anyway, we're smack in zone 9 and it will both overwinter well, even with freezes and handle the heat...maybe we'll be able to get some fruits and turn them into tropical jam? Mmmm :)

2. I'm done with my CNA classes and practice my "skills" daily and am studying for the state exam. Nothing about the skills is difficult except remembering the correct order and doing them enough to get good enough not to be nervous and to forget one of the "fail points"...I'll keep doing this daily till the test. No word yet as to my assigned test date. I'm very nervous, actually, but shall practice, practice, practice. I'm determined to NOT let myself do what I habitually do and set impossible deadlines for myself and work myself into a quivering mass of nervous expectation. Just not going to do the stress thing anymore...it costs too much in diabetes meds because it's the first thing that will up my sugars and shut me down. So practice I will, and take the test when I'm ready, Freddie :)

3. Have I mentioned I LOVE BEING AT HOME?? We really need my income, ergo the CNA training. The fun will be seeing if there are any shifts out there available in the hours my husband is not at work, meaning When I Can Have The Vehicle, as we're a one-vehicle family and have been now for about a year. That has its unique challenges but is the only solution without taking on more debt and a fuller monthly budget (car insurance, gasoline, blah blah blah). I'm at home more now, and I LOVE BEING AT HOME. When we get out of debt, our focus will be developing some cottage industry (from HOME) and I've been promised a "sabbatical" to hole up for a month or two and flesh out some outlines I'm working on into hopefully recognizable book form.

4. Debt-busting PUSH. We make sorties as such against our debt foe, hotly-schemed and persistent. We will wear it down! Right now we have Jack's remaining undeveloped properties (a few, residential, nothing we can move onto ourselves since we're needing agricultural) and all of them are FOR SALE. So any prayers to help them sell are very very welcome! If anyone wants a cheap lot to build on here 30 minutes from the beaches of the SW coast of Florida, let us know!

5. Finally some really great reading...and it's nonfiction. I love to read, whether my days are really full or whether they're not, I'll make the time to keep at least one book going or else I feel my brain begin to rot. THE most enjoyable read recently is a true account written by Victor Sheymov, called Tower of Secrets. If anyone out there likes thrillers, it's a true life account of a brilliant man who was a member of the 8th Chief Directorate of the KGB in the 1970s and became disillusioned (to say the least) and defected to the U.S. in 1980. I've read a lot of books about the Soviet Union, the KGB and related subjects...for some reason I just am drawn to those...but this one stands out. I couldn't put it down. Sheymov defected with his wife and child, and the Soviets didn't realize it because it was made to look like an accidental death. I hope to get permission to share some of the excerpts here soon because his insights into socialism, communism, and free societies are razor-sharp and so illuminating to me that I'm copying them down for my own sake as important "reminder" reading in the future. LOVE this book.

I also finished the prison year memoirs of Albert Speer, Spandau, which I also could not put down. I have mixed feelings ever recommending former-Nazi ANYthing because I dislike the idea of perpetuating royalties for those who framed and executed the destruction of millions in WW2. That said, this is an important book, too, at least for me, because in it Speer documents some processes in his own thinking over the course of his 20 year imprisonment at Spandau prison. The insights I most gleaned were from his writings about how he ever became caught up in the Hitler "personality," how his own excellent talents in the areas of architecture and organization were absorbed and utilized by that regime, the problem of Honesty To Self and Speer's hindsight about how we can compromise (rationalize) and still convince ourselves we're operating on a high moral level. I did not find a monster within these pages, but rather a highly-intelligent mind wrestling with the same interior issues most of us overlook in ourselves, or have to reckon with at much lower stakes. This book also raises the question of morality in wartime, which is something I've spent a lot of time thinking about over the years. Again, I won't purchase the book but I'll be writing out many of its insight for my own personal use. I just checked out his other two books, one on the Third Reich and the other about Himmler's attempts to build an SS Industrial Empire.

I'm perhaps lacking the diamond-sharp perception of a crack historian or historical/economic analyst when trying to piece together the concepts in these books that seem to jump from the pages to remind me that they are not just history but are also contemporary...we are players in our own current history that can be altered irrevocably in our own lifetimes...by individuals...through the everyday venues of business, architecture, writing, art, management, industry, music...and especially by ideology and the manipulation of how these things are perceived by the public at large. It's also a grim reminder of how influential our media has become. I used to wonder why we needed to know history at all. Now I know how mature a person is as to how they answer that question.

6. And finally...another book. Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. Whew, I made some failed attempts at getting some good steam built up at the beginning of that read, and all it resulted in the first couple of times was a good night's sleep ;-) But I finally got some momentum going once I got through the first three chapters and the setting fell into place, and now I want to find out the answer to "Who is John Galt?" Don't tell me in comments, please :) I want to make it through this book because I hear it quoted so much as relevant to what's happening within our own nation's ideological struggles. And as my opinion NEVER falls squarely in one camp's or another very neatly, I'm curious as to what I'll find challenging in it personally. Can't wait to see :)

7. Health. This is ongoing. I have regressed to WANTING 99cent drivethrough hamburgers. How savagely against everything I really have learned about our Best Life we're trying for is that?? Maybe my body's a bit whacked out, but I suspect it's my American spoiled-ness rising up because of the factor of my not having much spare change (literally) to jingle in my pocket while only one of us in this household is employed. But the things we do RIGHT are that I make (minus my occasional surreptitious 99cent drivethrough caves) all our food from scratch at home. Yep. I need to remember from whence I came. My daughter reminded me the other day how much I was the frozen chicken nugget and fish stick queen back when I was raising her. Brrrrrr, hard to think of that now, but wow we have come a long way, a better way. I can't remember the last time I had a potato chip (not a guilt trip for those of you who do, it's just that it was a normal daily thing for me for so long and is evidence now...its absence is...of how we've made some progress in the categories of Fruit and Veg). In short, we continue to be 98% Unprocessed. And our bodies LOVE being free of the chemicals, if nothing else.

8. Fruit Smoothies...60% spinach (hidden in there! you don't even know it) and the rest are fresh or frozen fruit and berries...always the blueberries for us...and we have this nearly every day. This has made a HUGE HUGE HUGE difference in our health...this one thing. We never use milk, icecream, or yogurt as the liquid vehicle in the smoothies, even though that would also taste great with a Fruit Only (no spinach) combination. We've mostly eliminated milk products for allergy reasons since we don't have an affordable source of raw milk. The liquid we use in our smoothies to help it all blend in the blender is 100% juice (we like the cranberry/grape 100% juice mix). Frozen bananas turns smoothies into a nice icecream substitute, too, if used minus the spinach...but is still a delicious smoothie with it (honest! all those berries color it up and everything's liquified in the blender). We also make a lot of homemade lemonade using stevia/Truvia as the sweetener, especially when we've sweated a lot of had a lot of muscle exertion. There doesn't seem to be anything that helps Jack cope with the heat and prevent muscle cramps like the lemon or limeade (no sugar, only stevia). But back to the smoothies...we seldom if ever eat the right proportion of servings of dark leafy greens with our meals. These spinach/berry smoothies are THE way we use to counteract that and we are KEEPING them. The health effects are amazing.

9. OK I'm not a supplement pusher, but I have mentioned one before that really works to help our joints and body aches. Jack and I both have had knee trouble in the past to the point we've had problems walking when our knees are inflamed, painful to even move them at all. Yeah, talk about feeling like old folks! But a very insistent friend kept (and kept and kept and kept) mentioning how she had had great results using a supplement (pill form) called Hyaluronic Acid. We looked it up, decided to try one bottle's worth, and in a very short period noticed our knee inflammation was going away...and then as we continued taking it, our knees returned to normal. Stopped taking, the problems came back. So we take it. Don't do anything based on our recommendation, but if it's something you deal with, it might be worth looking into yourself.

That's the case with my latest find. I saw Philip McCluskey, a raw food advocate who lost 200 pounds or so by changing his diet to raw foods, on a youtube video being asked what, if any, supplements he uses in addition to his meals. One he mentioned using was MSM. Based on some of the effects he mentioned, I looked it up. I've taken it before, but only in very small quantities. After reading up on it, it's touted as being safe in even larger quantities, and my health condition also reads as being deficient in MSM (which is organic sulfur), so although I've taken it before without any big whoop, I got a cheap bottle of it a few months back and started taking a dosage that's larger than the usual. I had no side effects. Except my skin looked immediately younger (the hyaluronic acid also helps with skin) and many of the uneven places and damaged skin I assumed I'd always have because I'm 44 and not 21 any more...went away. I kept taking the MSM, my dose is 4x the daily dosage listed on the bottle (again, don't do this at my recommendation, i'm simply saying what I do). I take 4 MSMs twice a day with no side effects other than good effects. Well, after three months of it, it's literally my Youth-in-a-bottle. I don't see my daughter every week, and last week was the first time in about two months we got to catch up in person. She was amazed at the difference. My skin feels like a baby's. Pretty great when I realized that if my skin tissue I can SEE is becoming healthier, so are the tissues I can't see.

This was underlined for me in another way that I had to take seriously. I had a long-term cyst that was partly under the skin and partly at the surface become tender. The skin around it was softening, just like my facial skin. One day I became worried...it was painful to the touch. Why? That night, it erupted, drained...and...was GONE. I'd had it for years and years. The cyst was gone!

Big deal? Well I have poly-cystic ovarian syndrome, supposedly never reversible. I've had some "ouches" going on now and then internally since taking the MSM, and without going into detail here, I am beginning to suspect that those cysts that rendered me infertile for decades may be going away. I think my body membranes NEEDED whatever MSM is doing and that they're healing.

So homecooked food without chemicals (minus the occasional contraband 99cent burger). Spinach (or other dark leafy green) and berry smoothies, 1 quart at least 5x/week. Lean meat. Amping up the spices for those hidden nutrients. Lots of lemon juice/lime juice made into homemade stevia lemonade. Water. Hyaluronic acid and MSM, twice a day for joints and membrane health.

It's working.

10. What's not happening, and needs to: Weight loss and exercise, otherwise known as I hate the heat. Yeah, ok, I live in Florida and the heat is not going away. Every part of my body swells uncomfortably when I get out in the heat, especially to work/exercise. My diabetes needs to GO. I believe it is what is making me sensitive to the heat that way. I have the book Death to Diabetes and LOVE it and believe I can easily (well, hmmm...easy if I'll DO it)defeat diabetes by making further changes. Have you ever tried making a push when you feel pretty rotten? The pretty rotten I feel a lot is WAY better than the TOTALLY CRUDDY I felt a year ago, so we've made progress :) SLEEP is helping me, but my body is still adjusting to being on a day schedule...my body still thinks it needs to sleep more hours than my head tells me I really need.

This weekend I had another diabetes mini-crisis. I just felt so swollen and glucose-flooded I lay in bed a lot, waiting for the diabetes meds to balance things out again. Crud crud crud. But I feel much better now, thank God. I'm working with the doc to get that on track, but I want to do the PUSH of working the diabetes-ridding program enough to one day get off the meds and have normal glucose readings permanently. I just can't seem to get the energy to do the exercise! So I'll work on that. That's where I'm at right now. Thankfully I have a furry canine personal trainer awaiting my every notion of a walk, if I can just get past the dread of the Wall O'Heat that slams me as soon as I walk out the door. But I will...oh i WILL.

11. Getting House In Order projects continue. I'm liking my house now! I've slowly been making my way from corner-to-corner, into the drawers, conquering closets, sorting fridge and frozen goods, perusing the pantry, cleaning things that seldom get spruced, etc etc etc. Prioritizing the household things, decluttering with an eventual move at the back of my mind, but arranging things with an eye for nesting. It's all good, and a burden lifts from my shoulders as organization finds its way slowly to all the procrastinated areas. YAY. Eventual goal is to have it all DONE by year's end, including outside storage and garage. But at least the interior and exterior of house. Let's see. My enthusiams grows as order ensues :)

12. Happiness is...so many things...but also paint chips! Does anyone else out there love sampling the paint chip swatches and taping them here and there in the house to see how they really look in different wall locations? I have this idea for blues and greens along the lines of the muted colors of Ameracana chicken eggs, but without being to pastel-ish. Sort of sea glass colors, very light and soft and shadowy. I also like so many other colors for the rest of the house I'm not sure how I'll get them all to flow, but I LOVE playing with paint chips! part of the House Sprucing involves my (slowly) transforming each room with paint. I LOVE doing this :) Once the guest room gets cleared of all the random storage items that have been migrating there (literally piles of them) I'll set up my easel and get to paint for real...oh joy!

OK that's it...so much for a short update. Aren't you glad I didn't shoot for a long one? ha~

let me know what's going on in your neck of the woods...I love to see everyone's gardens erupting with harvest!