Friday, January 30, 2015

Down with Chaos!!!

As long-time readers may know, I'm not a big fan of New Year's resolutions. In my experience they simply lead to anxiety and self-recrimination, not real change.

That being said, the plethora of "get your shit together" posts on the blogosphere this month did seem to rub off on me, so I've been on a mission of sorts to ban chaos from my life.

I started with the kitchen. For some reason the kitchen is the place where chaos seems to accumulate with great ease. It's a small kitchen and I cook everything from scratch so I suppose it's not surprising.

Anyhow, the stove area was a constant source of frustration for me. There's not much space or storage there to begin with, and part of the problem was that 2 of the stove burners were always occupied - one with the tea kettle, and one with the oft used but heavy and therefore a pain to "put away" cast iron deep pan/dutch oven.

Since the kettle was well over 30 years old and starting to develop some rust inside, I decided to replace it with an electric model which got it off of the stove and put it over on the other side of the kitchen.

Just that move made a HUGE difference because I was able to move my prep area for coffee, tea, oatmeal & cat food (I mix a bit of boiling water with the cat food to both add moisture and warm it) to the other side of the kitchen where the coffee, tea, oatmeal & cat food are actually stored, and where there's a bit more room to operate.

The result has been AMAZING! It lightened the load on the stove area and it's been soooo much easier to keep it clean. Seriously, I didn't even do any "pre-photo" cleanup before snapping this!

I'm not sure if you can see the little strip between the stove & counter top, but I found that thing on Amazon for about $4 and it's WONDERFUL! I knew I couldn't be the only person who had trouble with crumbs & spills falling down the gap between the stove & counter - so I went on a mission and found a "gap filler." It's made from rigid metal and has a magnetic strip which holds it in place.

Before I installed it I decided I really should do a thorough cleaning - which led to pulling out the cabinet, fridge & stove, which, in turn, led to the discovery of some seriously disgusting stuff. I'll spare you the details, but suffice it to say that cleaning back there is a job that perhaps should be done a tad bit more frequently than, say, once every 10-15 years!

Anyhow, I then moved on to the other side of the kitchen where I banished everything from the counter top that didn't get used multiple times per day. NO MORE HOMELESS ITEMS ON MY COUNTER!! And here's the result.

I realize this probably wouldn't be considered great by "neat freak" standards, but for me it's pretty darned incredible! And it's soooo much less stressful to cook when you've actually got counter space to work with!

So next I moved on to the desk. My desk is always a disaster because no matter how I try to resist the urge, it always seems to become a dumping ground for stuff that I don't know what to do with. So I dove into the piles of papers. I filed, I purged, I dealt with stuff I'd been avoiding... which led to a purging of the file cabinet as well - and here's the result:

Yup folks, I knew it was under there somewhere - my desk actually does have a surface! And after I took this I was inspired to scrub the wrist & mouse pads so they're nice and shiny clean now. (And what looks like debris hanging out on top of the computer isn't - it's a towel covering the fluids bag for Princess - I keep it there because the top of the computer is warm so it warms the fluids a bit, and the towel is there to keep the sunlight off the bag.)

And here's the box full of stuff to be shredded:

DOWN WITH PAPER DOCUMENTS!!! Some of the stuff in there actually dates back to the early 1990's... OY! I'm gonna redouble my efforts to get everything possible switched to paperless, and to consider closing the accounts from the places that won't do it.

Which brings me to this:

Yes, my friends... that is an EMPTY inbox! OMG, OMG, OMG!!!! Seriously, I haven't had an empty inbox since I first started using Outlook waaaaaay back in the mid-1990's. It took about a week, with numerous false starts and tweaking of systems, but with CatMan's help I was able to set up a bunch of folders for archiving important things, and rules to move incoming mail to appropriate folders.

I can't even describe the mental lift it has given me not to have thousands and thousands of emails hanging out in my inbox demanding my attention constantly! And yes, it was a bit like an archaeological dig since there was stuff over 10 years old in there. OY!

I've gotta say, this whole experience has led to a sense of peace & zen that is much more foreign to me than it should be.

And along the way I had a very interesting revelation...

The vast majority of my clutter problems have NOTHING to do with laziness!

Seriously, most of my problems stem from either systems that don't work and are difficult to maintain, or from an inability to make decisions about where to put things and/or what needs to be kept.

I'm not entirely sure what to do with this new revelation at the moment, but the idea that perhaps I'm not just genetically programmed for clutter & chaos is a new one for me.

Anyhow, I am determined to keep up my new systems, and to keep tweaking them as life changes so the systems don't become outdated and non-functional again.

So how about you? Have you done any organizing lately?

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

A Respite From Winter - And Other Randomness

First of all, I want to offer my apologies to anyone in the New England area, because I really don't mean to gloat...

But it was 75 degrees here in Denver today!!

And speaking of New England and gloating, I wouldn't be honest if I didn't say that as a dyed in the wool Denver Broncos fan, I've gotten a certain amount of perverse joy watching the world obsess about the New England Patriots and the whole deflate-gate controversy.

Trust me, I could write an entire post with bad jokes about Tom Brady's deflated balls, but I'll spare you.

So... where was I? Oh yes... so Denver enjoyed springtime in January today - well, for the past 3 days actually, and it's been WONDERFUL! CatMan and I took two long bike rides, and I rode to 2 separate grocery stores, totaling about 75 miles over the past 3 days, and feel like a whole new person.

It was sort of an odd juxtaposition of seasons, since there's still plenty of snow and ice around.

And the shady spots were still a bit like skating rinks.

I actually ended up being a bit over dressed today because I just couldn't quite get my little brain to believe that it really, truly was in the mid-70's out there! Not that I'm complaining, mind you - it was a beautiful ride.

The cats enjoyed it too as I had all the windows open airing out the house.

I am sooo ready for sprin....

Oh wait, it's only JANUARY!!!! Sigh.

Of course, winter will be returning in a few days, but it doesn't feel so bad with a few days of sunshine under my belt.

And now... for no particular reason, other than the fact that recent US foreign policy changes seem to have permanently wedged this little chestnut into my brain, I bring you this musical interlude:

Why don't you plan a
Wonderful trip
to Havana?
Hop on a Ship
And I'll see you
in C-U-B-A!

Nobody rhymes them like old Irving Berlin! 

OK... and since I'm just posting completely random stuff, here are some chuckles for you...

OK... clearly I'm suffering from some sort of sunshine induced giddiness, so I think I'd better just go to bed now!

So tell me... how's the weather in your neck of the woods?

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

About that Cat Food Bill...

So, after I did my accounting of what I spent last year I suffered a bit of sticker shock looking at the numbers for what I spent on cat food. Seriously, it came out to nearly $1000 per cat!

Then, I thought about my kitty food shelf...

and kitty food pantry...

and this...

and this...

Yup, my prepper kitties are ready for the zombie apocalypse!

Yanno... I think I may have found the point where my all of my neuroses meet.

I've always had a bit of an irrational fear of running out of food. I'm not exactly sure where this comes from - perhaps from my early days as a (literally) starving musician. Or maybe it's from the year I spent in Norway as an exchange student when I ran out of spending money and had to give up eating lunch. Or perhaps it was the year in college when I cashed in my meal plan so I could afford guitar lessons.

Whatever the source, I do seem to have "issues" in this department.

Couple that with sick & picky kitties who frequently change their minds about what tastes good, a hatred for driving around town to specialty pet food stores, and my need to try to control the uncontrollable by being prepared for any and all eventualities, and you have a recipe for... well, a recipe for a LOT of cat food!

In my defense though, some of these specialty foods are not available locally, so my only option was to buy them online by the case. It's weak defense though, since some of those cases were purchased because she liked the first few cans and only decided it was blick after mommy brought home a case of it. And some of them because I just couldn't bear the idea of driving across town to the one store that carried it, and ordering a case online seemed like the less stressful option.

Anyhoo... lest you think that my fe-lions are dining on porter house steak or beluga caviar, I figured I ought to point out where some of that money has gone.

On the plus side, we seem to have hit upon a feeding formula that works for Princess. There's actually one brand of prescription cat food that she will eat (Purina NF Kidney Function) - well, she'll eat it with a treat "chaser." This means that I embed a few treats in the food and she chases them around the bowl trying to pick them up, and in the process downs and entire bowl of prescription food. She rarely gets the treat, but this doesn't seem to bother her. Did I mention that, sweet as she may be, Princess is not exactly the "brightest bulb" in the pack! Hey, whatever works, right?

I'd like to think that we'll use up all of this food eventually, but the truth is that Smoky is the pickiest cat on the planet, and does have some dietary restrictions, and there's a limit to how much Jasper can eat! Plus, some of this stuff is not the quality that I generally like to feed, and some of it none of them will go near.

I'm sure the Princess formula will not hold indefinitely, and it's nice to have a variety of tempting options if I need to engage in kitty bribery, so I'll be holding onto much of it for the time being. But eventually much of it will get donated, either to the food bank, the animal shelter, or to some friends who feed colonies of ferals & strays. I suppose that's OK though. If my neuroses can help a hungry kitty get fed, it's not all bad!

Anyhow, that's my story, and I'm stickin' to it!

So, do y'all think I'm totally nuts, or have you ever ended up with a ridiculous amount something... Please tell me I'm not the only person who does this!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

What I Spent in 2014

Mr. Money Mustache recently posted his spending for last year, and I thought it was an interesting exercise, so I decided to drag out my records and tally up what I spent in 2014 (also a good head start for tax season!) I figured I'd post it here just so y'all can engage in a bit of financial voyeurism!

Seriously, I find it very interesting to see how my spending compares to others, so I figured you might enjoy it.

So here it is... I had a bit of a challenge deciding which categories to put things in, but it's close enough to get a general idea. I didn't include taxes since they're a function of income, nor did I include business expenses. I also didn't include contributions to the IRA or other savings & investments since that's not really "spending" if you know what I mean. I ordered the categories from least expensive to most expensive just for fun.

All in all I found it to be enlightening. Here are some more specific thoughts & comments on various categories.

Obviously, when you drive under 700 miles for the year your car expenses are low - but I ended up spending around a dollar per mile! Still worth the luxury of owning a car, though I think the amount I'm paying in insurance is crazy - it's a liability only policy but still... I'll have to shop around on that one.

Thank You President Obama! Seriously, my expenses here went WAY down thanks both to subsidies from the Affordable Care Act and the fact that it's now OK to switch to a lower level of coverage because they can't refuse to cover you like they could in the past (previously, my insurance company had a rule that you could NEVER switch to a policy with better coverage, so you had to hedge your bets and pay for much more than you really needed.)

Expenses here went way down from previous years since I got the mortgage paid off in late 2013. MMM (Mr. Money Mustache) had way cheaper insurance bills, but after some reading it looks like that's because he has a $10K deductible on his policy. Given the fact that I've suffered through 2 giant hailstorms in the 20 years I've owned the house - which took out the roof, siding, windows, doors etc each time - I think I've gotten my money's worth on the insurance.

I definitely spent more in this category than I usually would - bought and fixed up the mountain bike, and treated myself to a few things like slipcovers for the couch. There were also some big gifts in there, both for CatMan (just because I love him) and for my Dad on his 80th B-Day.

Guess I felt like I could afford it since the mortgage was paid off. Luxury spending to be sure, but all in all it's stuff I feel good about.

Don't EVEN get me started on the phone/internet situation. It's beyond infuriating to me that I could get both cheaper & better service if I lived in a fancier neighborhood, but such is life. I switched carriers mid-year and the overall costs went down, but there were setup fees.

The service is marginally better, meaning I don't lose phone service every time it rains and I now actually have fast internet, but digital phone service still leaves something to be desired since the signal garbles if traffic is high on the network. Still worth it to have a land line though, since I spend over 3 hours per day on the telephone.

The cell phone is a pre-paid neolithic thing, and the bill is much higher than usual because I had to rely on the cell when the land line went out. Still room for improvement on gas/electric, but since Princess is sick, I've decided to keep it a little bit warmer in here for the rest of the winter.

The grocery bill seems high to me, but it does include everything purchased at the grocery store, so there's some personal care in there as well as some kitty junk food, birdseed & squirrel food (yes, I'm a sucker) and random other stuff. Still, I'm sure there's room for improvement with the grocery bill, but you do reach a point of diminishing returns when you factor in the time required to sniff out all the best deals.

Oy Vay! I knew they were costing me a fortune but that total floored me! However, things haven't exactly been "normal" in kitty-land (though I'm starting to wonder if there is such a state as "normal".) This includes all of the end-of-life expenses for Sputty, the follow up from Smoky's illness in 2013, and crazy expenses for Princess including the raw food experiment & diagnostic stuff for her kidney disease.

The vet insurance is a negative number because I put both premiums and insurance reimbursement payments into that category, and as you can see, I got more than I paid for - plus there's about $400 of reimbursements that didn't come in until January. Overall I think pet insurance is worth it. Of course, they don't cover things like supplements and prescription food - and there's been a LOT of surplus cat food expense both for Princess & for Sputty since getting sick animals to eat can be a challenge.

I certainly wish this number was lower, but since I can afford it, I want to do the very best I can for my furry little friends, so I'm not gonna stress over it too much.

And there you have it, 2014 in a nutshell! I'm curious to hear what y'all think. Any suggestions for shaving a bit off of any categories? Do any of you tally up your spending for the year? I'd love to hear how your expenses compare.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

A Good Day!

Not sure if this has come through in my writing or not, but I've been a bit depressed lately.

The darkness this time of year is always hard on me, and the yucky weather we've had for the past 3 weeks or so hasn't helped. Generally Colorado winters are stormy but sunny. A big storm will blow through and dump a pile of snow on us (which is exciting in its own right) and the next day the sun comes out and it's just beautiful. Usually it melts off in a day or two.

This is what Colorado winters usually look like
This year, however, we've been in a pattern of gray skies, cold temperatures, and little dribs and drabs of snow, with no sunshine and no chances for the stuff to melt. Yuck! I'm definitely missing my bike (last real ride was on Christmas Eve) and feeling cooped up inside. I don't know how folks who live in less-sunny climates can take this!

And then there's Princess. She's doing well, but having a sick cat is stressful, and I fret over every little detail like if she's eating enough, and getting all the supplemental treatment she needs. I just want to will her to get better.

Last week she decided to put her paw down and refused to let me give her fluids. Seriously, as soon as I'd pick her up and head toward the bathroom she'd go feral on me and turn into a snarling beast.

So we gave it a rest for a few days until I came up with a better idea. Princess can be quite opinionated when awake, but she also is a very sound sleeper and it generally takes her a few minutes to wake up - so I've changed up the system, and now I wait until she's completely zonked out, then I set up the fluids right by her little bed so I can quickly grab her.

Today I grabbed her, set her in my lap and we had the whole thing over and done with before she really even woke up. Seriously, she didn't even notice the needle or the fluids going it! Woo Hoo!!!

Plus, she ate like a little horse - even gobbled up a bowl of prescription cat food without my having to lace it with something yummy!

And to put the topper on my day, Mother Nature came through with sunshine and temps in the 50's! It was soooo fabulous that I spent the day trimming random branches in the yard (well, the sunny spots where the snow had melted) and took a quick bike ride to the store on mostly ice-free streets.

Yay!!! I feel about a zillion times better!

So tell me... how was your day?

Tuesday, January 13, 2015


OK, for anyone not "in the know" on these things, "Nooch" is the word vegan foodies use for nutritional yeast.

Seriously, I'm not making this up. I have no idea who comes up with these things, but it sounds vaguely elicit doesn't it? Look out folks, Grampa's out in the shed whippin' up another batch of nooch!

I was first introduced to this stuff about 5 years ago when I was having a really bad time with mosquito bites. A friend suggested I try eating nutritional yeast because, in theory, it's supposed to make your blood less attractive to the little buggers (apologies to anyone of the British persuasion - I was well into my 30's before I knew that the word "bugger" had any connotation other than an annoying insect, and I haven't quite been able to alter my vocabulary accordingly.)

At any rate, I picked some up at the health food store, but at that point I didn't really grock how one was supposed to consume the stuff, so I just tried to down a big spoonful of it... and promptly decided that I'd rather get eaten alive by mosquitoes!

But a few years later I was at a party and someone brought a big bowl of the most delicious popcorn I'd ever tasted. It had the most wonderful cheezy flavor, so I asked for the recipe and was informed much to my surprise that it was flavored with nutritional yeast. Hmm.... perhaps the stuff wasn't so terrible after all...

So this past summer, which was a very wet one here in Colorado, I started having trouble with insect bites again - this time it was the biting flies - and let me tell you those things are vicious! Seriously, they'd bite me straight through my Lycra bike shorts, and the welt those things leave make mosquito bites pale by comparison!

Since the flies apparently only found my blood irresistible (CatMan never got bitten even once) I decided to give the old nooch another try - but this time on popcorn.

But then I ran into another roadblock. I'd whip up a big bowl of popcorn thoroughly doused with nooch, gobble the stuff down and within a half hour or so I'd get the strangest prickly rash. Given the fact that I am the world's most allergic person, and that I did once test positive for a yeast allergy on a skin test, I decided that perhaps I shouldn't push it.

But here's the thing... the rash didn't really feel like any allergic reaction I'd ever had before.... In fact, it felt strangely familiar...

So I hit the interwebs and did myself a bit of research. Turns out that nutritional yeast is packed with B vitamins - this is the reason it's so popular with vegans, and probably where the "nutritional" part comes from!

Then suddenly it dawned on me... B vitamins - niacin - niacin flush!! Now, if you're not up on your B vitamins, niacin (vitamin B3) has in interesting property that dilates blood vessels, and if you take enough of it you can experience the "flush" which is basically a warm red colored rash. Many years ago I experimented with using niacin to abort migraine headaches (didn't work for me) but that explains why the sensation was familiar.

OK... so at least I wasn't having an allergic reaction to the stuff, but I still obviously hadn't figured it out completely.

Then new motivation arrived in the form of broken fingernails.

I've always had really terrible nails - I think it's genetic since my mother had the same issue. They're flimsy and tear easily, but lately the problem had gotten really bad. I think it may be that with all of the kitty issues we've had in recent years I've been washing my hands a ridiculous amount, and this can apparently dry out your nails as well as your skin.

Anyhow, the situation was starting to get completely out of control as I had numerous nails torn down into the quick and had tried nearly everything I could think of. I had finally resorted to using those glue-on fake nails just to protect them while the broken parts grew out, but the glue seemed to be creating as many problems as the fake nails were solving.

Sooo, once again I took to the interwebs and discovered that B vitamins, especially biotin (vitamin B7) are supposed to help you grow stronger nails.

I started taking a biotin supplement, but you need to be careful when supplementing B vitamins because they work together, and if you take a whopping amount of one you can end up causing deficiencies in others. And not being a fan of huge dose supplements, I was trying to come up with foods that are rich in B vitamins, and suddenly I remembered the nooch!

So I've been experimenting with the stuff for the past 2 months or so and I'm quite pleased with the results. I think it will take a while to fully see the results in terms of my nails because it takes about 6 months for the new growth to reach the ends of your nails, but for the first time in years I'm fake-nail free!

But I've also discovered an unexpected fringe benefit of the extra B vitamins... my sugar cravings have completely disappeared! Seriously, like I'm hardly interested in sweet stuff at all, and this is totally NOT like me. And I'm hopeful that if I keep this up, perhaps I won't be quite so delicious to the insects next summer.

Anyhow, so far I've been using the nooch like a seasoning, sprinkling about a quarter teaspoon on dishes where a cheezy flavor would be appropriate - but I'm sure there are more ways to use the stuff.

So has anybody else out there tried nutritional yeast? I'd love to hear how you use it and what benefits, if any, you've seen.