The Foxy Ladies Book Club Guidelines

A few years ago I started a book club, Foxy Ladies, with several friends. I set it up with some loose guidelines.

  1. We read fiction
  2. We select books two months in advance. For example, when we met in January, the person responsible to bring book selections during that meeting was bringing the selections for March (2 months in advance). This person would also be the hostess in March.
  3. In the beginning the books were selected by secret ballot. We’ve since done away with this system and openly discuss it instead.
  4. We also started out where we would rate the books. We no longer officially rate the books. Instead there’s a general consensus of whether the book is liked or not liked.
  5. We skip the month of December due to the craziness around the holiday season.
  6. I use www.bookmovement.com to track our meetings. There are tools to enter the hostess, location, time, chosen book and notes. It also has a feature to send emails to the group.

Book clubs come in all shapes, sizes and forms. A lot of commitment can be required. Or not much commitment at all. Foxy Ladies has had a lot of member turnover. There are only two original members. And one of those is me. We now have five regular committed members and two that are not so committed.

We started out holding meetings at our homes. This past summer, we decided to pick somewhere new for each meeting in order to experience a place most of us have never been. 

This month we are reading The Girls of Atomic City:… by Denise Kiernan. This book is about the untold story of the women that were unknowingly working on the secret project being developed in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, that would end World War II. Although we usually only read fiction in Foxy Ladies, this book won the vote. I love reading about history and learning something new and have found this book to be very fascinating.

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12 Things I’ve Learned Delivering Newspapers

newspaper-1648554_960_720Newspaper Update–

I am still delivering newspapers as a side job. I ended up with $140 more than I had estimated for my first month! Yay me! I have my route down to around 3 ½ – 4 hours per day. I was recently given 5 stores to deliver to as well. The store deliveries only added 15 minutes to my time. I can toss the papers to three of the businesses. Since the other two are open, I am required to get out of the car and pull the returns from the day before.

12 Things I’ve Learned

  1. Stop at the gas station / convenience store at least once prior to heading out of town for the rural deliveries.
  1. Be thankful for all the new construction in the subdivisions which usually mean there are port-a-johns available in case another potty break is needed.
  1. Dress warm for all those times when driving with the window down in between houses.
  1. The newspapers are rarely on time at the dock so get a little extra sleep.
  1. Pack snacks and drinks to prevent all the profits from being spent at the 24 hour convenience store. This is also a healthier option than eating convenience food on a daily basis.
  1. Make sure the fuel tank is full prior to starting that first delivery.
  1. Watch out for cats! The town I deliver in has an abundance of cats out and about in the wee hours of the morning.
  1. Watch out for wildlife. I saw my first real live skunk the other morning. It took me a little bit before I figured out what I was looking at since all I saw was the white stripe. When I pulled out next to it, I am pretty sure it was turning to spray the car. Thankfully, it was not one of the times I was driving with the window down.
  1. When the drive list says ‘Beware of Dogs’, beware of dogs. The house in question has a huge rottweiler that normally hangs out by the front door. I think he’s tied or something. One morning, he was not tied. He was behind the hedge where the newspaper box is posted. He scared the crap out of me as he came out of his hiding spot and started chasing the car. I’m so glad I am good at multi-tasking. I was rolling the window up as fast as I could while flooring it out of the customer’s driveway.
  1. Watch out for people. Once in awhile, depending how late I get started, there will be people out walking or running. They are hard to see in the dark and a lot of times I am startled when I realize they are there.
  1. Get as much sleep as you need. I try to get to bed no later than 8:30pm since I get up at 1:30am. I’m usually able to take a nap when I’m done since my day job agreed to let me change my start time to 11am. I also find I need to keep a supply of those little bottles of liquid energy on hand. I usually don’t get sleepy until I’m headed home after the last newspaper drop.
  1. I’ve recently signed up for an Audible Gold [Digital… account so I can listen to books while I’m delivering. I belong to a book club and rarely have time to read now that I’m working two jobs. I find Audible as an acceptable alternative.

© 2016 by Marge Fox

Saved $85 on Our Verizon Bill

texting-1490691_960_720Because Desert Husband works for the phone company, our landline, internet, and cell phone service are all bundled into one very large bill. All four members of the Desert Family each have a SmartPhone. Costs have been slowly increasing over the years because of the data usage. A lot of it has to do with heavy data streaming by Desert Son and Desert Husband..

Our overall bill is around $365 per month. The majority of that is for the cell phones. Since Desert Husband works for the phone company, we get a small discount on our internet and landline charges. Unfortunately our internet speed is not all that great in the desert. Doing something about that is a topic for another day.

We’ve been with Verizon for years because we love them. I’ve had it on my List to get a reduction in our bill for a few weeks now. Today, I finally made that call.

I found out we could get the same 12GB of shared family data, unlimited talk and text for $30 less than what we have been paying. We were also spending around $40 per line. In addition, any devices that were no longer on a 2 year contract could have their monthly access fee dropped to $20. My phone and Desert Daughter’s phone qualified. However, if we replace those phones in the future, the access fee would return to $40 per month.

In addition, I have a jet pack I had purchased awhile back for my bookkeeping service. It is still under the 2 year contract. Verizon cut the monthly access charge for it in half as well.

For several years, we’ve had usage controls in place on Desert Son’s phone which cost us $4.99 per month. Considering he is now 19 and out of high school, I had those removed.

All it took was a phone call to get this reduction. I’m sure there are better ways to save money on cell phones. But the Desert Family is happy with this savings.

© 2016 by Marge Fox

Newspaper Delivery–Is It the Best Route for Extra Money?

newspaperNewspaper Delivery – Is It the Best Route for Extra Money?

I decided to try delivering newspapers for extra income. I rode along with a substitute driver for the route I was going to be taking to see what it was like. She gave me a drive list to follow along with the stops she was making. Unfortunately, she didn’t start at the beginning. She started somewhere toward the end. Then we went to the beginning. Then we worked on the middle. It was all confusing, but I didn’t give up.

The next day, I rode along with a different substitute driver. Luckily I had the drive list from the day before since one wasn’t available on the docks when she picked up the papers. She explained how the bundles work and that we would get a top sheet which had important information like stops–customers that had stopped their newspaper delivery; starts–new customer homes we had to start delivering to; complaints–self explanatory; and requests–these were usually reminders of where they want their paper delivered (i.e. they had a box we didn’t know about, etc). On this day, we started from the beginning. It made a whole lot more sense to me. I took extensive notes as she drove.

About a quarter of the way through, she received a phone call from her son that his car had broken down. He was on another route. She decided to have me finish the route by myself and she took off to help him. I worked on the route for five hours until I absolutely had to leave to get Desert Son to class. She met me to take the remaining papers and finish up the route.

I went to the newspaper office later that day to sign the contract. My contract is for one year that can be cancelled with 30 days written notice. It had terms such as how much I would be paid per paper, that I would be charged for missed houses, and that I would forfeit any money I had earned if I abandoned a route. In addition to forfeiting any earned money for abandoning the route, I could also be charged a $250 fee. My rate for Sundays and holidays is a little higher than the daily rate. Oh, and newspapers needed to be delivered by 6am on weekdays and 7am on weekends.

The next day, which was a Saturday, the papers were late to the docks. I drove the route by myself. It took me about seven and a half hours, give or take. It was a long rural route. I had a lot of houses in subdivisions before I hit the back country roads. I was unfamiliar with these subdivisions so I spent a lot of time using the drive list and the GPS on my phone. I made even more notes on the drive list as I went along.

The papers were late again on Sunday so I didn’t get on the road until 3:30am. This time it took me six hours and forty-five minutes. I was getting a little faster. I was so exhausted when I got home that day. I contemplated whether it was worth it or not. I was putting a lot of miles on my car and filling my tank up every two days. On top of it, I had to continually add air to the rear passenger tire at least every other day. I talked myself into quitting and forfeiting the money I had earned from the weekend. If the route continually took me 6 hours, I was not going to make it to my day job during the week.

I spoke to the woman in charge of the newspaper carriers and let her know I wasn’t cut out for this. She offered me a different route that was closer to my house and was mostly in town deliveries. The miles on the new route were about half of the route I had been doing. If I would finish the week on the existing route, she would get somebody to split the route with me. And the kicker, the new route paid $300-$400 more a month! I agreed to switch.

During that week, I was able to get my half of the route done in 3 hours or less. I had plenty of time to get home before I had to be at work. A few days later, I was asked to train the man taking over the route. He rode along with me on Saturday. I assigned him to read the drive list to me. Unfortunately he was a talker and spent more time talking than reading the directions to me. Because I am not a patient person, I kept going which confused him as to where we were on the paper. However, we were still able to get the route done at a decent time. Not on time, but not as late as I had done the prior weekend either.

The plan on Sunday was for us to split the route. We met at the newspaper office to pick up the papers. I showed him around so he was aware of the route mailbox with any messages in it and where to get the papers. I finished my half of the route within 3 hours. I offered to help him finish his half, but he wanted to do it himself. I was very thankful as I just wanted to go home and take a nap.

On Tuesday (there is no Monday paper), I will start my new route. The new route has 50 more subscribers than the last route. My plan is to take the drive list and do a dry run during the daylight to get an idea. I am supposed to have somebody split the route with me during the week so I am not late for work.

I like delivering newspapers a lot more now than I did that first weekend. It does cause me to have odd sleeping habits but I am adjusting. I’ve been keeping diligent mileage records for taxes at the end of the year. I won’t know until the 5th of next month whether this is profitable or not. I believe it will be. I estimate I will be spending a third of the money on fuel. I’ll be giving Desert Son a small stipend for helping me. This is not a bad deal for him since he sleeps on the route most of the time. In the end, I should be netting half the contracted amount.  

Delivering newspapers seems like a quick and relatively easy way to bring in side income. I almost wouldn’t mind it becoming one of my main streams of income so I can give up my day job. I would much rather be self-employed than just employed.
© 2016 by Marge Fox

How I Spent My Accident Settlement

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Almost four years ago I was in a catastrophic car accident which left me in the hospital for three days with broken ribs and lots of bruising. I ended up hiring a personal injury attorney to help me navigate the insurance companies. My attorney explained that the purpose of insurance is to protect their insured, not to pay my medical bills. Long story short, I ended up with a significant settlement.

Thankfully Desert Husband and I mapped out a strategy to pay off some of our debt. Even though the settlement wasn’t high enough to eliminate all of our debt, we did end up paying off the following:

2nd Mortgage:  $10,583.15

Auto Loan:        $  7,557.34

Student Loan:   $  4,552.58


Total                  $22,693.07

Although this helped put us in a slightly better situation, it only eliminated about a third of our outstanding non-mortgage debt balance. We still owed $51,229 in credit card debt.

In the fall of 2013 we enrolled in a debt relief program to help settle our debts. We were paying around $800 per month to this company to negotiate settlements with our creditors. I’ve read all the blog advice that this is something we could have done ourselves. However, we needed to outsource this to help alleviate some of our insanity and stress. We had 10 creditors that we turned over for the debt relief program to settle for us. They reached settlements with 3-4 of the creditors fairly quickly.

Late 2014, I ended up losing my high paying job of ten years. This put a temporary halt to our debt payoff goal. Desert Husband and I came up with a new strategy to eliminate as much of our monthly outgo as possible. There was no way we were going to be able to afford the $800 a month payment to the debt relief program. Desert Husband ended up taking a loan against his 401(k) to give the debt relief program a large amount to reach settlements quicker. They settled a couple more debts leaving three creditors remaining.

I took the opportunity of job loss to take on bookkeeping clients. Since I wasn’t making enough income from clients to keep us afloat, I ended up taking a position as the office manager and bookkeeper at a law firm in May 2015. Although I am grateful for this job and income, it is barely enough to make ends meet. We are still looking for ways to reach our goals of eliminating our debt and making our lives better.

After several status update requests with the debt relief program, we finally cancelled the three remaining creditors and decided to settle those ourselves. We ended up with a substantial refund of the money we had turned over the prior year. This provided enough to pay off the remaining creditors and to stay afloat for a while longer.

We know there is a lot of advice out there to not borrow against a retirement fund. However, we felt we didn’t have a choice since our goal was to keep our house and to stay out of bankruptcy. We also know that an accident settlement is not typical for most folks to have at their disposal for debt reduction. We are grateful that we were able to use the accident settlement to get us going in the right direction instead of just blowing through it. I am happy to say that our only auto loan was paid off. Our goal is to pay cash for any future vehicles. Actually our goal is to pay cash for everything.
© 2016 by Marge Fox

Animal Acquisition

ANIMAL ACQUISITION

Our new farm animals
Our new farm animals

Yesterday was the big day. Desert Daughter and I got up at 5am in order to be at Desert Friend’s by 7:30am. Desert Friend and Old Cowboy were going with me to pick up a goat and a sheep. I got a pretty decent deal on a 3 month old Nubian wether and a yearling Black Belly Barbadoes wether. When we arrived at the pick-up destination, the goat and the sheep were in a pen by themselves. Thankfully Old Cowboy was with us as I don’t think Desert Friend, Desert Daughter and myself would have been able to get them in the pick-up.

We put a leash on the Black Belly first. Let’s just say that I didn’t know sheep could jump that high. He was jumping around trying to get away. It was kind of comical. Though I did wonder what I had gotten myself into. Old Cowboy took him to the truck while Desert Daughter and I put a leash on the Nubian. Talk about a lot of screaming from the goat. He made it sound like we were killing him. He tried to run and just about choked himself out. We finally got him put in the pick-up with Old Cowboy’s help.

Upon arriving to our house, Black Belly went to the backyard quite peacefully. However, Nubian was having none of that and plopped himself on the ground. Desert Friend ended up dragging him to the backyard. As soon as the leashes were off, they took off as far away from us as they could get.

The backyard is going to be their temporary home until I can get panels. However, they have not been handled much and will not let me get close to them. This makes it a little more difficult for the whole Desert Family to be away from the house at the same time since the backyard was our Desert Dog’s domain. We now let him out front to do his business for the time being.

We tried introducing Desert Dog to his new backyard roomies. He whined and barked and carried on. Thankfully we had him on a leash. The animals didn’t seem to be as afraid of him as they were of us. Black Belly came toward Desert Dog and ended up head butting him. Although Desert Dog is part border collie, I can already tell that Black Belly will be the king of the backyard!

As a side note, Desert Daughter and I went to the local hatchery later that day and came home with 14 chicks. They were on sale for $1 each and I couldn’t pass up that deal. We got 4 pullets—Barred Plymouth Rock, Ameracauna, Buff Orpington, and Golden Sex Link and 10 Red Ranger meat chicks. I was informed by the hatchery that Red Rangers are supposed to be really tasty. Plus, they don’t grow as fast as the Cornish Crosses.

Note: This post was written June 5, 2016. We have since lost one of the pullets. We aren’t sure if it was the Buff Orpington or the Golden Sex Link since they looked so similar when they are small.

© 2016 by Marge Fox

Class of 2016

Class of 2016
Class of 2016

GRADUATION

Desert Son graduated last month. I am amazed at how much he seemed to have grown up in his senior year. He was never an immature young man. But it’s almost like he became a man right before my eyes. He’s gotten his last two jobs completely on his own. I am so proud of him.

Last September, the day before his 18th birthday, he turned in his Eagle Scout project paperwork. Getting the Eagle Scout project completed was one and a half years in the making. Not because he chose a difficult or time consuming project. It took that long because the boy takes after his mama in the procrastination department. Though I have to say, I would not have procrastinated on something like an Eagle Scout project.

We had Desert Son’s Eagle Scout Court of Honor in February. My cousin flew in from out of state. It was very important to me to have him here for this celebration. I still remember going to my cousin’s Court of Honor when I was in 8th grade and making the decision right then and there that when I had a son, he was going to be an Eagle Scout too.

Desert Son also got his driver’s license this past spring. He took driver’s education 2 years ago. He was never one of those kids that was chomping at the bit to go out and drive. He always seemed content to stay home and play video games in his room. Don’t get me wrong, he attended social engagements. He was just chauffeured by either me or Desert Husband.

He will be attending a local community college in the fall and taking the welding program. I was sold the bill of goods in the 80’s that in order to succeed you must attend a university and get a degree and join the rat race. Even though I am trying to break out of the rat race, I still had a hard time accepting his career choice. Logically, I know he will make great money learning a trade. Personally, I cannot wait for some awesome welded decorations when he matches this new skill with his artistic ability.

© 2016 by Marge Fox

(Animal) Decisions Decisions

(ANIMAL) DECISIONS DECISIONS

I’ve wanted to add animals to our homestead for a while now. We’ve not gone beyond the chickens we got in 2012 other than adding a couple of gray cochins last year. They are the nicest chickens. I wish the black sex links would leave them alone. We lost our remaining Ameracauna and one of the brown sex links this past winter.

I always thought ducks or meat chickens would be next. Due to a heavy weed problem we have on our 7 acres, I’m leaning more toward goats being the next acquisition. I’ve done some research on which goats to get and it looks like any that eat weeds are good choices! Since goats are social animals it would be best to get more than one. Larger goats will eat the leaves off trees as high as they can reach. I don’t necessarily want the leaves eaten off the trees, so I might have to pass on large goats.  Instead I’m planning on medium and small goats. Actually, I’m planning on whatever goats I can get for $50 or less per goat.

My original plan was to start the goats in the back yard and hope our dog would appreciate the company during the day. Our dog is a border collie and pointer mix and I suspect he will be ok with them. Worse case we could tether them during the day outside of the backyard. Though I’ve heard stories from friends about goats that end up strangling themselves. I don’t know the details, but I don’t want that to happen.

I will eventually get panels when the goats are done in the backyard. The recommendation I’ve found is 16’ x 4’ cattle panels. I’ve only found one store so far that will deliver them. They’re around $26 each. I figure 4 of them should give a good size area. They are supposed to be easy to put up and also easy to move as the goats need to be moved around the property.

Desert Husband and I talked about how cool it would be to have goat milk to make products we can sell. We both work full time outside the home so that might be a possibility in the future, but not currently. Neither of us care for the taste of goat milk so I plan on getting wethers. If they aren’t already castrated, I have a friend who will take care of that for me.

Maybe in the future we would raise goats to sell for meat. I came across a statistic that said a lot of the goat meat is imported in the U.S. to meet the demand. I’m so naïve I didn’t even know goats were eaten in this country. I live in an area that has a high demand for goat meat which is something I learned through the grapevine after finding out people eat goat meat. I’m keeping that information in the back of my mind for when I can make the switch from full time employment at a J-O-B to full time homesteading.

© 2016 by Marge Fox

Garden Planting Time

Garden planting time

GARDEN PLANTING TIME

It’s time to plant the garden. I never seem to find the time to clean up the garden beds in the fall. But it is on my list. I’ve spent a few weekends trying to weed out the cheatgrass and other obnoxious weeds. We’ve had quite a bit of rain this spring. Maybe it just seems that way since it only manages to rain on the weekends when I have time to do homestead stuff. The plus side of all the rain is it makes it a lot easier to pull out the weeds.

This year the weeds were so bad they had grown quite a network of roots on top of the weed barrier. I thought I was going to have to pull the weed barrier out and start fresh. After being out there recently, it seems a lot easier to pull out the roots. Thank you rain! I hate tossing out perfectly good dirt.

The Boy Scout troop that Desert Son belonged to has an annual plant sale to raise funds for camping trips. I love getting my plants from them. It was always a plus when Desert Son was still in Scouts (recent Eagle Scout and high school graduate) and the percentage of what I purchased went into his account for future events. Luckily I still have contacts now that he is no longer participating in Scouts.

I usually order way more plants than I could possibly plant. I gamble on the side that a) I might not actually be able to get everything I ordered and b) some of the plants are going to die before I actually get them planted. Tomatoes and peppers are at the top of the list. I love to can paste tomatoes. Even though I’ve never been able to get a large enough quantity to can, I still hold on to hope. This will be the year. The paste tomatoes are the only tomato plants that are put in the garden bed. The rest of the tomatoes are planted in containers. In years past, I’ve put the peppers in containers as well. I might try them in the garden beds this year. I’ve been toying with the idea of actually using the book I have on square foot gardening this year.

I also purchased sunflowers, zucchini, lavender, artichoke, spaghetti squash, pumpkins, and watermelon plants. Although I’ve yet to be successful with zucchini because of the squash bugs, I’m optimistic this year. Those squash bugs are going to become treats for the chickens! I also have a lot of seeds left over that I ordered from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds a couple years ago. Unfortunately, due to my time management (or procrastination) problem, I didn’t get any of them started inside. I use the personalized planting reminders from the Farmer’s Almanac to tell me when to plant. Luckily I can still plant a lot of my seeds outside. Just as soon as I get all the weeds pulled. I was pulling weeds this weekend right up until the rain came.

Update…when I first wrote this it was time to plant the garden. Now we’re about a month out from the time I drafted this post. Sadly, the sunflowers, zucchini, spaghetti squash, pumpkins and watermelon plants all died before I could get them planted. I ended up buying replacements for the zucchini, pumpkin, and watermelon. This year I thought I’d try my hand at growing cauliflower and Brussels sprouts as well. Oh, and Desert Daughter wanted a jalapeno pepper plant too. One of my beds has chocolate mint in it. I thought it would be a good idea to plant strawberries in the same bed. We’ve had strawberries in the past that I started in pots. They ended up spreading to the ground and are running wild!

© 2016 by Marge Fox

A (CHICKEN) DREAM IS BORN

In 2012, Desert Daughter and I drove 20 miles to a chicken farm to pick out some future egg layers. Chicks are so cute and it was hard to put a limit to what we brought home. All I knew was we would have no white chickens. I have memories of plucking white chickens at my aunt’s about 35 years ago. The odor of wet feathers is something I can still smell today! My adult logic tells me color has nothing to do with the smell and my chickens’ feathers would probably smell just as bad if they were wet and getting plucked. However, I had no current plans to butcher these chickens. And if I did…I’d probably hire someone to do it. I’m not ready for that part of the homestead dream yet.

Two Ameracaunas, two black sex-links, and two brown sex-links made the final cut and came home with us in a box. Both colors of the sex-links looked the same and were hard to tell apart. The Ameracuanas were different colors. One was white/gray and reminded me of a pigeon. The other was brown and had feathers that I thought resembled a quail’s. We put the four day old chicks in a large plastic tote with a heat lamp and put them in their new home in the garage. Since it was only April, we had several weeks before they could move outside. This gave my husband time to get that chicken coop built. I knew if I waited to get chickens until the coop was built…I might be waiting for the cows to come home. And we don’t even have cows…yet!

It was fun and exciting to constantly check on the chicks. They were growing so fast. The day finally came when they could move into their new digs. The chicks weren’t in their new coop for very long when something happened to Dave (the white Ameracauna). She was laying around with a bad leg. I’m not sure what happened since she was fine in the plastic tote. We returned her to the tote for a chance to get better. Unfortunately she never got better and passed into chick heaven.

As a side note, all the chicks were given names by my kids. The Ameracaunas were the only names I could remember.

The chicks started laying eggs later that summer. We only got a few eggs. It was such a good feeling to gather the eggs that were provided by our hens. I researched several websites for information on taking care of chickens in the winter. I decided not to prolong the daylight for our hens to fool them into being productive in the winter months. It felt right to me to let nature take its course and give the hens a resting period in the winter. The first winter, we concentrated on keeping them warm and keeping their water from freezing.

We used the same heat lamp that we had used when they were chicks. We ran an extension cord to the coop—which was close to an outlet. I bought an aquarium heater to keep their water from freezing even though the folks at the pet store advised against it. We never did get the aquarium heater hooked up and ended up resorting to constantly knocking the ice out of the water dish. As we’ve gotten more experience in the last few years, we’ve resorted to using a dog water bowl that plugs in and keeps the water above freezing.

© 2016 by Marge Fox