Friday, December 17, 2010

Living on Less.

I went to give an estimate for chimney repairs recently. The customers said that they could not afford the repair because they were broke. A familiar story.

They did not use their chimney/fireplace, but it did need repair. They said that they would think about it and I left.

After I left their house I got to thinking about what I had seen there and decided to do a Blog on 'Living on Less.' Julia and I had been forced to do this when she had been very severely injured in an accident 35 years ago. We were both working at the time so were living quite well. In fact Julia was doing so well in her business that I was thinking of quitting mine and helping in hers.

After her accident we were forced to live a frugal life.

The first thing that I noticed in my customers home was that the heat was set at 75 degrees. It was uncomfortably warm for me because I was used to 68 degrees. They were dressed very lightly in thin t-shirts and shorts. In the driveway was a large SUV.

It occurred to me that many Americans have no idea when it comes to saving money or to frugal living - because they have never had to.

I read the Blog of a lady who espouses Frugal Living. She does a post every day. In case anyone would want to check it out you can take a look at it at

I also have a "Book" that I wrote called "Half". It tells how we lived on half of what our friends lived on. After the accident, that is what we had to do, without Julia's income, and with only me working and having to take care of Julia and our 4 year old daughter, who was also badly hurt in the accident, our income was more than halved. I can e-mail the 'book' to you, if you are interested.

No one has asked me, but in these hard economic times maybe some would be interested in how to save money - from someone who is an old hand at it! Our parents lived through the Second World War in England, where you were forced to live on practically nothing. A lot rubbed off on us and here are some ideas if you really do need to live on less in these hard times.

I should emphasize here that it does involve some sacrifice, you can't spend half of what you are used to spending and live exactly the same as you do now. However I think the sacrifices are minor compared to the savings. You can adjust to suit your circumstances, some may want/need to save only 10% or 20%, others may want or need to save more than 50%, both can be achieved, depending on your habits. I have seen the way some people live and we could live happily on a quarter or even a tenth of what they live on!

Starting with the couple with the chimney that needed work who 'were broke'. Their thermostat was set at 75 degrees. I am sure that was comfortable to them and what they and their two children were used to. They probably had no thought of turning it down, after all 'why should we, that is what we have always had it set at, and what we want it set at.' might have been their reply had I suggested it.

Well I am going to assume that you are different, if you have read this far maybe you are serious about cutting your expenses, unlike our chimney repair friends.

So here goes: - for every degree that you turn your thermostat down you cut your heating bill by 7% . Bet you didn't know that? So if they turn it down from 75 to 68 - still comfortable in my opinion- they will save 7 X 7 = 49% (7 degrees times 7%) In other words, they could cut their heating bill by almost half! We save even more than that, because we also turn it down a couple more degrees at night, and if we are going to be out most of the day. And no, it does NOT cost more to turn the temperature down and then turn it up again. That is a fact. Lets think about that, common sense (Which incidentally is not very common!) will tell you that if you set the thermostat at 60 degrees it will use less power than it will at 70 degrees. At 70 the whole house is warmer and the warmer any object is, the faster it will lose heat. To go to extremes if the outside temp is 30 and your house is 40 it will lose a lot less heat than if it were 90. At 90 the heat would be pouring out everywhere, at 40 it would barely change. In fact your body heat, plus the heat from cooking, lights and the TV might keep it at 40 indefinitely. I don't recommend it, but if needs must, you'd cut your heating bill to just about zero! As I said I don't recommend it.

Our philosophy about heating/cooling the house is - if it is winter, act like winter, wear more clothes. Wear a sweater and you will be comfortable in temperatures 5 or even 10 degrees lower than without one. And the sweater costs almost nothing, you probably have a drawer full of them. And as a bonus, not only are you just as comfortable as if the thermostat is set at 75 but your heating bill is cut in half! How great is that? Just by wearing a sweater. If you REALLY want to cut your costs wear a coat and set it even lower! We don't go that far, but you could if you really needed to. And why heat the whole house when you are in bed? Turn the heat down by a few degrees and throw another blanket onto the bed. If you are going to be out for a few hours cut the thermostat back. You can turn it back up when you return, if it is too cold just keep your coat on until it is comfortable again. More savings, more money in your pocket, instead of the power company's pocket.

In summer, I have been in houses with the A/C set so cold that you want to put on a sweater! (We have been to movie houses where I have gone home to get sweaters to wear while watching the movie. How stupid and wasteful is that?) In summer we wear light clothes and set the thermostat up. Hey it is summer, what is wrong with being warm? Instead of having the thermostat at 75 in winter and 65 in summer, be sensible and do what we do, if you want to cut costs, set it at 68 in the winter and 78 in the summer.

Here's another interesting fact - the average American throws away 25%, to as much as 30%, of the food that he buys! Right away you can see that you could cut your food bill by 25% if you didn't throw away any food! We don't throw away any food. (Don't forget to check out if you want to save on food.) I'm sure most people don't believe that, and don't think that they do. But they do. We accomplish not throwing away any food by the simple expediency of using everything that we buy. This means that we try to not buy more than we need. Julia plans the meals, if there is some left over she puts it in the refrigerator or the freezer for another day. We have food in the freezer and in cans so that if we should "run out" we have food. This saves a lot of money instead of overbuying. My story "Half" goes into more detail but one example is a chicken or a turkey. Many people throw away the carcass after a meal, with "We don't want to keep having the same thing for a week." Or "We don't want leftovers." This is fine, I guess, if you have unlimited money. Here is what happens in the Liddle household. After the initial meal, there is a lot of meat left on the chicken, this meat is taken off of the chicken and used for something different. It could be sliced for sandwiches or it could be cut up for a stew or a curry or ?. But even then it is not finished, the remainder is then cooked for soup or stock. This means the whole carcass, the bones, skin, remaining scraps of meat, everything, goes into a pot to be cooked and then used to make chicken soup or as a base for another soup or to cook rice or something else in. In this way our chicken makes at least three or four and maybe more meals instead of just the one that some people get out of it.

So there with just a couple of tips you have saved up to half off of your heating costs, 25% off of your food costs, and if you continue to apply these 'Cut your Costs' ideas to everything else in your lives you'll be able to save even more. Maybe you'll even be able to reach the goal of 'Half" as we did.

I have dozens or maybe even hundreds more ideas. Many are ways to save a few dollars or even cents, they may not seem worthwhile bothering with, but if you can save a dollar a hundred times! And there are ways that savings can be $10 or $50 each time, multiply that by 100 and see what you get!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Third snowfall of the season.

The first "Snowfall" was 14 flakes, approximately, the second as much as a half inch in a few places, but not here, but the third was a doozy. Not real big - just one to two inches - but the ground was very cold from being below freezing for several days, and every flake laid. Plus it is still freezing so what fell, froze as well. On top of that it is the first real fall of the year and we are not used to it. I picked up Bradley and his charming girlfriend Janie this morning from their school. As we left, two snowflakes fell onto the windshield. No more landed until we reached our house when a few more fell. After a while it started in earnest, not real heavy but steady, and by the time they left a few hours later - after completing their "work" of bringing in wood, putting up some decorations and having some lunch, it was about an inch deep. I took them back to Bradley's house and the usual, what I call the four wheel red neck drivers were out in force. As usual the "I have four wheel drive, so I can go fast in this stuff, get out of my way mentality hits them full force." As they tailgate me I am only hoping they are not going to hit us full force. The idea that they can do and go anywhere faster than anyone else can because they have four wheel drive is wrong. Unfortunately they don't know that. It should be written in large print on their windshields. Yes, you can get going better with 4 wheel drive, but you cannot stop any quicker. It is no help at all in steering or stopping. Your vehicle slides just as well in 4 wheel drive as it does in 2 wheel drive, there is no difference at all. Even though I know that, apparently they don't because they are all the time right up on my back bumper pulling out to pass and pulling back in again. My usual response to this idiocy under normal driving conditions is to pull off the road at a safe spot and let them go by before pulling back on and watching them go right up onto the tail of the next car in line, but you can't do that in the snow. So you are stuck with the idiot on your tail and just praying that you don't have to stop while he is changing channels, lighting a cigarette or smacking his girlfriend.
As you can tell, I am not a fan of red necks in big pick up trucks. Or of SUV drivers who think they are high class red necks in SUVs.
The snow continues to fall but we are not expecting any significant amount. Apparently we got lucky this time because it went to the south of us! We just got the northern tip, it seems that VA and N. Carolina got 6 to 8 inches.

Julian Asange and Wikileaks.

How controversial can you get?

At first I was mad as hell about him and his stupid sounding company name. The thought of him making money out of doing something that could harm our troops and the country really upset me.

But I have gradually come to realize that what he did was A LOT less bad than what the people that he exposed did. After my initial rage I started to gather facts and that changed my mind completely.

The leaks are a good thing for the American people and the rest of the world, because they can get a clearer picture of what goes on behind closed doors on this planet of ours. (The only one that we have incidentally, and which we seem determined to destroy faster and faster. But lets save that for another Blog!)

What these dopes are doing affects all of us in very dire ways. And, despite their attempts to cloak themselves in dignity, because of their titles, they are, in fact, responsible, all of them, for the desperate geopolitical mess the world has become.

Their strategies have been poorly conceived, selfish, deceitful, and based more in greed than in any semblance of what might be good for the world as a whole. They are fools and thugs and deserve, indeed need, to be exposed. We don't want their type of idiocy representing us to the world.

Despite what they are saying, the real reason the government, et al, is so incensed about Julian Asange is because he has exposed so many of their dirty little secrets. They say of course he has jeopardized our relations with other nations and put people in danger, because that makes them look less self-serving than they really are. It's pure bullshit. The politicians are mad at him for the same reason the bankers are going to be mad at him when their turn comes. (Please let it be soon.) Because he has exposed them, stripped naked, so everyone can see how foolish, incompetent, reckless and self serving they really are. I say to Julian, bravo. And, I say, it is about time we all came to terms with the huge failures of our government and their unholy alliance with the banks and the wall street thieves. If we don't realize what is happening, stand up to them, demand not only their exposure and removal from public office but their incarceration, it will continue to our further detriment, ad infinitum and ad nauseum.

The real power in this country lies, or should lie, with the people. Which is why the bankers and our government prefer to keep the people in the dark. Julian Asange is attempting to remedy that, more power to him, I say. And the powers that be, are pissed, and nervous, about it. As well they should be.

A few words about the danger to our troops from the leaks, after much study, I did not see anything said that damaged our troops or their safety. Fortunately it would appear that, for a change, the news media, with unusual restraint, did not release all of the papers, most importantly any that might have harmed our military men and women. Or perhaps there was something in there about them, the news media?

Don't you love how the same people who lie about the reasons to send our troops into wars around the globe and place them in untenable, unwinnable situations time and time again now claim to be upset about anything that might "Endanger our Troops." I mean could anything Julian Asange do possibly put our troops in any more danger than our government has already placed them in, on totally false premises?

If it were not for Wikileaks we might never have known just what a menace these maniacs are. What our leaders are saying about Wikileaks seems to be coming from a state of panic. Good. It is finally coming home to them just how dumb they were to criticize and poke fun at world leaders who have the power to withdraw their support of us in our wars and with their votes to help the US in its programs around the world.

I might return to 'fine tune' this later when I get the chance. With help from my friend and contributing editor Greg.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas Party.

I hate to complain, but what is it about Christmas Parties and manners, or any other kind of party, that brings out the thoughtlessness in people? We invited 50 or 60 people to our annual Christmas party, the invitations went out in early December. The party is 4 days away and we have received 6 calls. What to do? Cater for 6? Or for 50? Or somewhere in between? Even people that have sent us Xmas cards did not say if they were coming or not! What is the etiquette here, on our side? Should we call or write again to ask if they will be coming or not? It is the same problem every year. We usually end up with about half the number come that we invited - but we never know who to expect! Oh, and we only get return invites from those 6 who have replied!
Xmas! Someone, I won't say who, said they are going to convert to Islam before next year. As he said, "Thirty days of not eating until after sunset has got to be better than 4 days of decorating the house." And sometimes I think of paraphrasing that thought on arranging a Christmas Party! But I won't, the end result is usually worth it. Every one has fun, and it is great to meet up with people that we only see a few times or even only once a year.

Alladin's Cave.

Or, as some people call it - Costco's. We visited there today to purchase goodies for our annual Christmas party. I hardly know where to start, as soon as I enter, my senses are beset on every side by electronic wonders, TVs of tremendous size and unimaginable clarity, making my paltry 26 inch box look like a child's toy. Telephones that do everything except inflate your tires and cook your dinner, although I'm not sure if even that is true any more. Last week it may not have been true - but next week? Who knows?
Recorders that may record my life for all I know. Maybe I don't need to do that any more. I'm sure there is a machine that can do it for me, maybe better than I can. Even 3 D maybe old hat soon. When will 4 D arrive? Or perhaps it already did?
Cameras that record stills, movies, sound, all in 2D, 3D, 4D and 10D and all at 50% off.
The clothing is in piles that rival even my wife's in height! And they have almost as many shoes as she does! Impossible you say? Not so, I saw it with my own eyes - today.
Books, cookies, chocolate, of every imaginable flavor, from every country in the world. Surely even Aladdin would reel in his curly tipped shoes if he could see them. I bet they even sell curly tipped Aladdin shoes there.
Don't start me on the food. The food section is the biggest of all, by far. One hundred years ago, no even fifty years ago people would not have believed it. Heck I can't believe it, now! It is impossible to see it all, it is impossible to see even one tenth of what they have there.
As a child, when I went to the store with my mother she would ask for sugar and the shop keeper would ask "How much?" He would then weigh it, make a bag for it and hand it to my her. In Costco you have 20 or 30 or more different kinds of sugar to choose from. The same with bread, milk, cookies, crackers, honey, canned goods, frozen goods, dried goods, bottled goods and even some fresh goods! Do you want regular or organic, fresh or frozen, cooked or uncooked, small, medium, large, extra large, super size, giant size or just big?
And don't forget the pets. There is more variety of pet food than there was people food when I was growing up. Old Mother Hubbard would have had a stroke if she looked in there! Cupboard bare? No bone?
We gave my daughter a vitamin pill occasionally, thought we'd be good parents in case she wasn't getting every vitamin that she should!. If there aren't 5,000 different bottles of pills in the pill section I'll eat my hat.
Want to be clean? How clean can you be? We had soap. Later we had shampoo. Now you couldn't count the number of cleaners there are if you were there all day. Are we dirtier now? As I said we had soap, that's what my mother cleaned most everything with, including my sister and I and the floor and the clothes and the pots and pans. Now there are different cleaners for every article of clothing, every type of floor, every part of your body and on and on.
Can you imagine the number of chemicals in your house? We had one - soap. I bet you could find 500 different chemicals in any house nowadays. There are thousands of new chemicals invented every year and the EPA and whatever other testing boards that there are test at least a dozen of them! Is it any wonder that kids are sick more often in a month than we were in our first 20 years? Asthma, allergies, infections, you name it they got it. And they got a drug for it too. We had Aspirin, oh yes and a band aid sometimes. There are so many drugs nowadays that no one can possibly know them all, including the Doctors. In fact more drugs and medicines are found to be dangerous or banned every month than I have used in my whole life!
When Julia was pregnant with Sarah, do you know how many drugs and medicines she took? None. Not one, not even an Aspirin. When Sarah was growing up we gave her an absolute minimum, maybe some cough medicine, if the doctor recommended it. But we preferred some warm milk or honey in hot water. The medicines that we did have dried up and rotted away mostly. I can remember throwing away the medicines that she had as a baby and as a child when she left home and went to live on her own!
Enough already, time to go to bed. Goodness knows what this Blog looks like. I couldn't sleep so I got up to write something. it is almost 2.30am now. I think I'll try to get to sleep again.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

a COLD Day in Paradise!

You will notice the 'play' on my last Blog - about the Gray Day in Paradise. I prefer the Gray day to this COLD Day.

As I sat drinking my first cup of coffee of the day, out of my TEXAS cup - see my Dec 9th Blog about our Texas, Thanksgiving Day 2010 trip - I watched The Lake looking as forbidding and fierce as I have ever seen it. In spite of a temperature of 21 degrees it was not frozen over. In fact it looked like a miniature version of The Tempest, with huge (for The Lake) waves sweeping across it's surface and breaking against the piers, bulkheads and Lake edges. The wind was howling, leaves were swirling and, surprise, surprise no birds were visible anywhere except for a few of the hardiest Gulls trying valiantly to fly in the 'maelstrom'.

Six hours have passed since I started to write this, The Lake is now frozen over completely, and has been for at least three hours. It is still windy, but only a gale now, well O.K. only a strong wind. The icy Lake surface has been swept clear of any sign of birds. In fact the only sign of any birds are a few hardy Crows poking around our garden and the Chickens who seem to be impervious to the cold. Question, where do they all go?

We have to venture out, to visit friends, not a pleasant prospect, except the end result of meeting with our dear friends Judy, Charlie and Jake. (Jake is their dog!) Judy and Charlie always welcome us like Royalty - it's nice to be recognised for what we are once in a while! Judy always lays out a grand meal and then we play cards. Sometimes they let me win, friendship can only go so far, they usually win. I call Judy "The fastest hand in the East", her mind is so quick that she has the card before I even see it! You can usually hear my plaintive cry of, "What was that card?", while she is busy assimilating it into her winning suit.

Well we have to get ready to go.


Monday, December 13, 2010

A Gray Day in Paradise.

Or is it Grey day? I say Gray, she says Grey, which is it? What do YOU think?

Well, never mind that now. The Lake is always beautiful, during all of it's seasons. The Winter Season is one of a stark beauty, sometimes just cold and gray - there's that word again - but often dazzling.

Today it is just cold, dull, dismal, dreary and very, very Gray.

But as always with The Lake there are bright spots. As so often happens, it is the birds that provide those welcome bright spots. The first birds that I saw this morning were the Crows, large black boisterous Crows. But they left almost immediately, I don't think it was because they saw me through the window - it takes a lot to get them to leave if they don't want to. No, they probably spotted a dead fish or some other delicious dead morsel. I scanned The Lake for more items of interest, and right on cue a line of six Canada Geese glided past the end of our pier in a perfect line. Talk about getting your ducks in a row! They had this down pat. The six were closely followed by a single goose, then another single and then a group of 20 - more or less in a line - followed finally by two Geese, again in a line. I wonder why they do that? Any ideas anyone? They have a reason for flying in a V formation, could the single file formation on the water be for the same reason? I think maybe it is. Don't you?

No time to ruminate for long on that Mystery of Nature, here comes my next bright spot of the day. Snow! Yes it is snowing, very lightly it is true, but just the second snowfall of the season. The last "Snowfall", on Friday December 10th consisted of approximately 14 snowflakes, it was over almost before I had a chance to report it. Although we only had the shortest flurry on record, some areas had as much as a half inch and one of those areas was of course the Ellicott City/ Woodstock area, where, wouldn't you know it, we were going for our first Christmas party of this Happy Season. But all was well, that time. I'm not so sure about this time as it is falling fast and furious, in the 5 minutes since I reported it to you the deck is almost covered. I'm glad that I have opened the chickens already. It is falling so heavily now that it is getting hard to see the other side of The Lake. I can still see our Pier clearly and two groups of Canada Geese have just met at it's end, two from one direction and six from the other. They swim up to each other face to face and stop. They seem to be waiting for something, and here it comes, another group of about 20 or so Canada Geese. They all gather together, this time seemingly in a haphazard group, although I am sure there is a reason behind their arrangement, and they set off, gliding magnificently to the East and neighbor Bill's Luscious Lawn where they doubtless plan on eating their breakfast of grass washed down today with a generous helping of snow. It takes more than a few snowflakes to change their plans.

Time for me to get my own breakfast, and a third cup of coffee!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Lake.

The Lake has been frozen over for more than a week now, so I was surprised this morning, when I went out to open the chickens, to find that it was "warm", 51 degrees! It has been barely above freezing and as low as the low 20's at night.
The warm temperature produced the unusual sight for winter, of a heavy mist, almost a fog rising from The Lake, extending for maybe 10 to 15 feet high.
I stood on the deck after letting the chickens out, and surveyed the beautiful view. As I watched the fog rising lazily I heard the familiar sound of wings. A flight of about 20 Canada Geese came in low above my pier, headed for my neighbors wide expanse of lawn. One of the birds dropped into The Lake right next to the pier, the others continued on towards their morning meal of grass on the neighbors lawn. I could not see why one of their number had landed apart from the others - a very unusual happening, they always stay close together. However I did not get the chance to see why, as he/she disappeared behind some bushes and as I was in slippers I was not about to cross the wet grass to find out.
The rain was light. A Great Blue Heron honked loudly as it skimmed slowly across the surface of The Lake with its huge wings almost touching the water. It also landed next to the pier but on the other side. It was then that I realised the ice had melted all along the side of The Lake. For days now I had watched the Geese, Herons and Seagulls standing on the ice, and wondered what they ate when the water was not accessible to them. Now the Herons were able to stand in the water again to fish. The Geese could eat their weed and the Seagulls could dive for their food. All was good again in the World of The Lake.

Who Won the War?

Go back in time to 1945. "We" won the war - against Germany and Japan. Who has the two strongest economies in the world now? Germany and Japan (Well OK maybe China too.)

Now fast forward to 2008. Who won the election? Well, I THOUGHT that it was the Democrats. But you could fool me now! Who is winning all the victories? The Republicans. Who is compromising, capitulating and failing to achieve what they promised to do in that election? The Democrats. Are the Republicans compromising, or indeed giving up any of their nefarious goals, no they are not. How are they winning these battles? The Democrats have a majority, but the Republicans are winning all the battles! Something is wrong, the Democrats are not fighting, and they are losing, the Republicans are fighting, and they are winning - even without a majority in either house! Unbelievable.

Look at the Bush tax cuts, which were going to expire on Jan 1st 2011 - thus cutting our horrendous deficit and debt and our loans from China. Then it was just the rich that were going to have the tax cut expire. Now the rich get the tax cuts too. "But we got the unemployment extended", say the wimps. The unemployment payments are extended for 13 months, the tax cuts to the rich are extended for 2 years. (After that the Republicans will obviously be back in power - no they are not in power now, even though it seems that they are.) And tax cuts for the rich will be extended indefinitely and probably cut even more!

The unemployment payments would have been extended anyway. He - Obama - could have called for that on it's own and it would have passed easily. No, we are giving the Republicans everything they want, and without even a fight.

To repeat some figures from an earlier Blog, in 1970 the richest 1% of Americans had 8% of the countries income, now the richest 1% of Americans have 26% of the countries income. Notice the trend here?

The richest 1% of Americans pay just 16% of their income in taxes! That's less than you and I pay! (40 years ago they paid 40% of their income in taxes.) They will not be satisfied until they have 99% of the countries income AND pay NO taxes. And it seems that we all want to help them achieve that!

The "Income Gap" in the United States now is the biggest that it has ever been, in our entire history. And we have the biggest income gap in this country than in any country in the world. And we want to make it even bigger! People, even 'poor' people like you and me are clamoring for taxes to be cut to the rich! If the tax cuts were allowed to expire, just on the rich - the 2% of Americans making over $250,000 a year - Social Security and Medicare that are in dire straights and close to running out of money would be saved for at least the next 75 years.

People seem to think that if the rich get a tax cut they are going to open up businesses, hire millions of the unemployed and spend huge amounts of money that will bring in taxes and all will be well again. Hello, - the rich have had this tax cut for the last ten years, do you see them spending us out of this mess? Do you see them opening businesses all over and hiring people by the millions? Then why would they do it if we extend their tax cut for another two years if they haven't done it in the last ten years?

A lot of people don't realize that the taxes that we pay are not on our entire income. It is amazing how I have spoken to people who will say "I have this friend with a small business who "makes" $250,000 a year, if this tax goes into effect he will have to close up." After a couple of questions it turns out that he doesn't "make" $250,000 a year - he grosses, or brings in, a total of $250,000 a year. He would not of course be taxed on that. He first gets to deduct his expenses - rent, heat, light, insurance, employment taxes on himself and any employees, health insurance, trucks, gas, materials and a myriad of other expenses that are not subject to tax. He is probably lucky if he clears $50,000 a year. That is what he pays tax on. And there are many people believe that he will have to pay tax on the whole $250,000. Why do they believe that? Because FOX "news" and their ilk have no compunction whatever of telling you that and a lot more lies. Bill O Lie ly and a host of other extremist Republicans will say almost anything that will smear Obama, and his followers will believe everything that they say.

One final figure, of every dollar that the US Government spends they borrow 40cents!!
That is the same as if YOU earned $60,000 a year and spent $100,000 a year - borrowing the other $40,000. How long do you suppose you could do that? Pretty soon you'd be spending ALL of your income on interest!