Monday, April 27, 2009

Ebay epic fail - hot 13 year old girls

I got this ad when I was reading dear abbey this morning. Hot 13 year old girls? I think Google/Ebay needs to modify their screen grab software/settings.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Timing Belt Replacement - should I fire my mechanic?

I own a 2002 Honda Civic. Actually, technically, I don't own it, as its purchase predates my marriage. But it's the car we have, and I am in charge of its maintenance.

When I moved to Louisiana, my mother suggested that I get a "hoses and belts" checkup at her mechanic. About 6 months ago, when I finally got the checkup, my car had ~95K miles on it. After the checkup was finished, my mechanic suggested that I replace the timing belt, as "Honda usually suggests replacing these things at about a hundred thousand miles." (This is not really an exact quote, but it was words to this effect.) Blithely trusting person that I am, I agreed to do so. However, he did not have the time then, and I was supposed to schedule an appointment for it later in the month. However, I really needed the car for the next week, and it gradually slipped out of my mind.

It came to the forefront of my mind this week, and I decided to do a little high-quality research with my good friend Google about how necessary this approximately $800 procedure actually is. Turns out, it's quite necessary, but a quick check on Honda's website shows that the recommendation for changing a timing belt on my model of Civic is 110,000 miles.

Now, 110,000 miles is within 10% of 100,000 miles, so it might be described as "around" 100,000 miles. Six months later, though, my car's millage is still less than 100K. So, at my current driving rates, I am looking at 18 months between the time my mechanic suggested replacement and the time I actually need to replace the timing belt. So I am feeling a little gypped by his suggestion.

On the other hand, timing belt replacement recommendations change by model, and some of them are 100,000. So my guess is that he just recommends a timing belt change at 100,000 miles to everyone so he doesn't have to keep up on model numbers. My concern is that this "one size fits all" philosophy will apply to all repairs and maintenance recommendations he does for me hereafter, and I will get unnecessary expensive stuff done and perhaps not get necessary stuff done.

He's been my parents' mechanic for a really long time, and they are very happy with him. They drive luxury cars, though, not Civics, and I wonder if that makes a difference.

What do you think? Should I try to find a mechanic who seems a little more focused on the particular make and model of my car? Or should I just be grateful that he's not as bad as the usual mechanic stereotype and leave well enough alone?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Have you hugged you butcher today?

I spent 11 hours at the processor today. We always help out when our cows are being processed; that way we can make sure that the guys there understand exactly what every customer wants, and yes, it can differ quite a lot.

Butchering is an artisan craft, just like cheese-making or tailoring. Like fine cheese and clothing, we have all been given industrial substitutes for so long that most of us don't even remember the true craft they were supposed to emulate.

Our farm has all of our steaks hand cut, and our roasts are hand de-boned. It takes about twice as long as what I call "Cajun Cut" where all of the cutting is done by machines and the steaks and roasts are left bone in. And it takes exponentially longer than it takes Tyson to process the beef you buy at the grocery store. Butchers are highly skilled craftspeople, and labor is expensive. You'll pay more for a hand cut steak then you will for a machine cut one. If you live in a rural enough area, though, you might be surprised at how much more it isn't.

If there is a locally owned slaughterhouse in your area that sells to the public, it is well worth checking out. In addition to hand cut meat, they often offer local specialties. Ours sells smoked pork sausage, cracklins (fried pork skins), stuffed de-boned chickens, and frozen vegetables, to name a few. And the prices are quite reasonable - if you are not looking for premium hand cut beef, they offer 30-50 pound packages that I think are less expensive than equivalent meat at Wal-mart (I admit I have not seriously priced them all and done the math, this is just an estimate off remembered prices). So, for the same price, or even a little less than you might pay at your local grocery store, you can support a local artisan craftsman. I also have to say that, if you are truely frugal, our butchers will let you take all the bones and discarded fat you like for free. So you can make your own stock, your own cooking fat, or your own soap, at very low cost, just for the asking. Thet don't mind, since they pay people to haul it away anyway.

Government regulations make it prohibitively expensive to open new slaughterhouses that sell to the public, so these guys are a dying breed. Unless we seriously change the way we produce food in this country, when the guys running these places now (who are in their forties, at the youngest) retire, you won't have the option of hand cut steaks anymore, unless you learn to do it yourself. So you should try it now while you still can.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Food Budgeting

Broke in the Suburb published a post today that suggests that 5% of her income is sufficient money for food. It wasn't the main focus of her article, but it's a trend that I see among many PF bloggers out there- food is a tiny percentage of the budget. I suggest to you that cheap food is a false savings.

There are several ways to cut back on the cost of your food. The healthiest way is to buy your vegetables locally and seasonally and to get most of your protein requirements from legumes and dairy products. If you can stick to a diet of beans, tofu, rice, and whatever fruits and vegetables are seasonal in your area, I take my hat off to you. What happens when I try to save on my food budget, though, is that I buy less fresh fruits and veggies. Lets face it - they are darned expensive!

Of course, you can buy frozen veggies, and I have seen research that suggests that frozen veggies are basically equivalent nutritionally to the ones you get in the grocery store, which have some nutrients lost from the amount of time they spend between harvest and consumption. The problem with frozen veggies is that it is even more difficult to ascertain origin than it is for fresh fruits and veggies. The fresh ones generally have a label indicating their origins. The frozen ones, on the other hand, have no such indications.

Frozen seafood is required by law to indicate its county of origin. A brief perusal through your local grocery isle will show you that 95% of it comes from China, with a smattering of other Asian countries and South American countries making up the remaining 5%. If you go to a really upscale store, perhaps one or two items will come from the United States, but of the three grocery stores within 20 miles of my house, only one has US-caught seafood. And I live in one of the top seafood-producing states in the country. I feel safe in assuming that my frozen vegetables are coming from somewhere similar, unless they indicate otherwise on the packaging.

I have never been to any South America countries, but I have been to China. It is a remarkably polluted country, where food safety regulations are routinely ignored. Any time you purchase food from China, you place your faith in their system of food regulation and inspection. The USDA tells them how they should operate, but makes no significant effort to make sure that western standards are followed. It is therefore my belief that frozen vegetables are more likely to contain higher levels of toxins. As these sorts of environmental toxins can accumulate in your body, eating food higher in toxins now puts you at risk for related illnesses later.

Honestly, though, I don't always even make it up with frozen fruits and veggies. What ends up happening is that I don't come home with fruits and vegetables, and then I make up for the volume that I am used to eating with starches and fats. This leads to weight gain, which has both short and long term budgetary ramifications. Bigger clothing is more expensive; it is cheap to dress chic in a size 8, but darned hard to do so in a size 16. Being even slightly overweight can lead to all kinds of problems that require costly medication and surgery.

As long as you have the slight amount of extra time it takes to eat locally and seasonally, it is not that expensive. I spend about 10% of my budget on food. If your budget is really so tight that 5% is all you have, then I am not advocating starvation. But I would rather have my health than premium cable.