Saturday, October 20, 2012

5 Year Plan - Frugal Transportation "Mickey"

Tonight we took Mickey out for one last spin before we pull him into the shop for the new diesel engine.  So after pouring in a fresh gallon of oil we headed down to the beach to watch the Alaskan sunset.

We wanted to lock in the hubs and check out the new 37" tires but we caught the high tide.

Here's a glimpse at Mickey.  It will be next summer before the weather conditions will allow us give it a paint job and some body work but you can see we have a great model to work with. 

So with one last look at the Chigmit mountains we turned toward home.

I hope that your Saturday was as beautiful as ours.

Lovin' Life in Alaska cruising around in a van named Mickey.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

A Sweet Alaskan Day

Every year we travel to Anchorage to celebrate my grand daughter's birthday.  Yesterday was d-day and I thought it would fun to share the day with you.  We were excited to take "Mickey" out give it a test drive.  (Click here for more about Mickey)  The mechanic has been working on it sporadically and it now sports 37" tires, new brakes and a few other repairs. Mostly we were curious if the engine would run better if it had a nice run. I can answer that by saying we were the stinky diesel everyone hates to follow.  The next project on it will be to replace the engine and hopefully get the veggie system mapped out.
We started out bright and early at 7:00 am.  It was a crisp and clear morning but saw fog rolling off Skilak lake.

Sterling Highway near Skilak Lake

Traveling over Turnagain Pass we saw our first snow of the season.  You would think that Alaskans wouldn't get excited over the first snowfall, but we do.

Turnagain Pass
It was fun to see that Alaska's fall colors include white and yellow.

New Seward Highway near Girdwood, AK
It took us 4 hours to go the 200 miles but we finally made it to the "Peace" birthday celebration.

Peace cake made by Whitney and Zoe

Zoe and her Uncle Robert opening presents
My oldest son, James and youngest child, Stormy, playing together
After the party we relaxed and visited.  We had one more activity until we could go home and it was the perfect end to a pretty wonderful day.

Ted Stevens International Airport, Anchorage, AK
Grandma is home!  It's been a year since she left and it is so nice to have her home again.   The trip home was uneventful but full of love and talk.  We pulled into our driveway 23 hours after we left and stumbled into bed.  Today has been a day to stay in pajamas, settle into the recliners and relax.  Hope your weekend has been as wonderful as mine.

Just a day in a blessed life in Alaska.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Online Marketing - I Hate You!

Starting a new online store is really, really hard.  There is just so much to think about and check out.  PCI compliance and SEO marketing are my two chores this week. It would not be such a chore if the store was actually making money.  We are making sales but not making a profit yet.   My research tells me that to change that I need to do two things.

One, throw a lot of money into advertising.  Admittedly, we have been stingy with the advertising mostly relying on free and I did a few campaigns on Google and Facebook. It helped, but only with CD sales, in which we have very little profit margin. Everything I've been reading indicates that I need to throw about $1000 toward the campaigns.  Wow, it would take a lot of CD sales to recoup that cost.

Research also tells me that I need to link a video to my website.  I'm willing to do this but a video about what?  We have a small, home based store.  We are in the process of opening up a storefront here in Alaska, but at the moment, nothing video worthy.  

When we started AK Music Storm, we committed ourselves for a year.  That year will be up in February. I'm hoping that the holidays will give it a boost but with the bulk of our sales still with eBay and Amazon, the future is depressingly uncertain.

If there are any ideas out there, I'd sure like to hear them! Right now I'm going to comfort myself with a game of Castleville.  They promise a happy ending.

PS- Next week I am looking forward to continuing my post about our 5 year plan!  

Sunday, September 16, 2012 or eBay?

I just celebrated my 3 year anniversary  to the mechanic.  Four years ago I was content and single and one son shy of an empty nest. I never considered getting remarried. And wham, life hits me with Nick.  

Nick likes to say that I am his best eBay score ever.  We met when he bought a dvd from my eBay store.   I included a little note thanking him and letting him know he was my first Alaskan customer.  He thought the note was adorable and emailed me.  I thought he was adorable and emailed him back.  Nine months later we were married. 

Life has been on overflow ever since.  So many events in such a short period.  We had a beautiful baby girl and lost another baby to a miscarriage.  My mom, two uncles and my dog passed away.  My oldest son graduated from college and my youngest son chased a pretty girl to Salt Lake City.  A grand-baby has been born to my middle son.  Through it all, the mechanic has held my hand and held me up.  As well as, kept my car running in tip top condition. 

Lovin' life (and the mechanic) in Alaska! 

PS - Music wise, here are some of the mechanic's favorite CDs, available for sale in our store!

The Corrs

Head East

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The 5 Year Plan - Frugal Food

My family teases me that I am the only female they know that hates to shop.  To me, it means sacrificing a day off, driving 20 miles to the nearest store of any size, pushing a squeaky cart around the store, swiping my debit card (sigh), loading and unloading the booty, usually in the rain.  Where is the joy in any of that?

Considering my poor attitude toward the whole ordeal, our five year plan includes as little shopping as possible.  Right now, we shop for groceries once a month.  Shopping twice a year is music to my ears, and once a year is downright dreamy.  Some around me are skeptical but here's the plan.

The new shop area we are building will have a generous storage area to keep our can and dry goods.  Most items are shelf stable for a year or more.  We have a large chest freezer that, with some creative stuffing, should be sufficient for our yearly needs.  We will have chickens for eggs and a goat for fresh milk.  Veggies from the garden will be canned, frozen or dehydrated.  This is the easy part of the plan.  The big question is how we can get it to fit into our very frugal budget.

Current pantry.  Our new space will have a lot more room.

The last time I went shopping, I purposely turned my brain off and just bought what was on my list and what I wanted. I even brought my hungry husband along.  Hungry husbands are great.  Not only did he do the driving, he pushed the squeaky cart, did the loading and unloading, and only disappeared when it was time to swipe the card.  We spent $418.13 on that trip. With the frugal budget for entire living expenses at only $500 month, what can we do? 

Taking a look at the receipt and the bigger picture, there is a lot that can be done.  Here's what I see:

1.  Leave the hungry husband at home.  Instead of two containers of Greek yogurt we  bought five.  We bought two cases of San Pellegrino water instead of one.  Some vitamins caught his fancy and he contributed a carton of ice cream to the cart as well.  By leaving the hungry husband home I could of saved $61.

2.  The kids will grow up.  Stormy needed a box of diapers.  We treated the teenager to his favorite juice.  Just for those two items - $54

3.  Raise chickens and goats.   We consume a gallon of milk every 2-3 days and a dozen eggs a week.  The hungry husband is the biggest consumer of milk but the teenager is the egg fan.  In five years this won't change much.  I'm not sure what the cost of raising chickens and goats will be but I'm confident it will be less than the $75 we are spending monthly on just those two items now.

4.  Stop the Full Circle deliveries.  Right now our fresh fruit and veggies are delivered to us by Full Circle Farms.  A nice box every 2 weeks or organic produce is $75.  By gardening, picking wild berries and sprouting we will save this expense.

5. Shop once or twice a year in Anchorage.  Anchorage is Alaska's largest city and has the best stores and prices.  It's about 200 miles away but if we drive our veggie powered van, the cost of driving there will be minimal. Anchorage also has no sales tax whereas we do pay 7.5% here. 

We have a lot of planning and learning to do in the next few years.  The payoff will be huge and healthier with less shopping.  Win, win, win! 


Saturday, September 1, 2012

5 Year Plan - Frugal Connections

I love everything about Saturdays.  Sleep-ins, extra cups of coffee, hot breakfast, snuggling with Stormy while she watches Strawberry Shortcake are just a few of the things that I love.  Saturdays are also the day that I work with our  on-line stores.  I leave feedback on eBay, post more music, shop for more inventory, and suffer through more SEO learning and marketing.  None of that will be happening today because my internet is acting very badly.  

Internet is a sore subject with me today and I think it is time to research some other options.  Right now we pay around $70/month for a sluggish connection and sporadic service like today.  In  5 years we are hoping to have our living expenses under $500.  It's not hard to see that something needs to change.  

Cell phones we have more of a handle on.  Currently we have 2 phones and pay $200 a year for them.   The phone I use is prepaid from one of our local providers.  I pay $100 each year for my plan.  It gets me 750 minutes and unlimited texting.  I text more than talk so I usually make it last a year.  The teenager has a Trac Phone.  We buy him a $100 card each year that gives him 1000 minutes of talk but charges for texting.  He has to pay for anything over that.  

The mechanic doesn't want a cell phone.  But  he does have a mobile phone.  For a couple of years now we have been using Skype for our long distance.  A great service but the mechanic always hated being tethered to the computer. His solution was to use his iPod Touch.  He downloaded Skype to it and now is free to wander about the property or find a wi-fi hotspot if he's not at home.  

Of course, neither of our phones are smart phones and I'm holding out because I don't want the monthly plan.  We are not lacking though.  We own a Xoom tablet with all the cool apps but more than anything else we have a Kindle.  A pretty old Kindle that I will hold on to for as long as I can.  It's not a tablet or even in color.  The reason I love it so much is because it came with 3G access all included with the purchase price.  It's what we travel with to look up maps, phone numbers, movie times, ferry schedules, etc.  When internet service is down in the house we use the Kindle to keep in touch with the eBay and AK Music Storm  stores.  It's slow and black and white but it gets the job done with no extra charges or minutes used on our cells.

Our connections: Xoom, Kindle, LG phone and iPod

 Here's hoping that I can publish this with the next internet burst.  I'll be calling Tuesday to put in yet another work order.  No doubt they will make me reset my router before they'll come reset the line.  Thanks to the Kindle I'll be in touch but I don't know how I'm going to take care my castle in Castleville.  Hopefully a neighbor will go feed my unicorns before they run away.  This weekend I'll be puddle splashing with Stormy instead.

Lovin' the connected life in Alaska, at least most of the time.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The 5 Year Plan - Frugal Transportation AK Style

By far our biggest expense is fuel.  Alaska fuel prices are typically one of the highest in the nation.  Unleaded gas at the pump almost reached $5/gallon this summer and is sitting at $4.67 right now.  Heating fuel is cheaper but still very considerable when the cold winter sets in.  Our goal is to cut those expenses by at least 80% in the next 5 years and this is how we are going to do it.

Meet Micky and MInnie.  


The look pretty rough 'huh?  No worries, my husband it a brilliant mechanic and isn't afraid of body work.  Micky is an extended Ford Econoline Van.  We so named it Micky because it reminds me of an activity van I used to drive for my son's hockey team.  That van had two spot lights on it that looked like mouse ears so hence it was dubbed Micky Mouse.  Micky will be converted into a 4WD camper.  We will replace the engine to run off diesel and veggie fuel making our mpg pretty much free.  It will be the vehicle we use not only for camping trips but supply runs.  Because of the freezing weather we will not be plumbing in a water tank.  That's just asking for future problems and continued maintenance.  Instead we will come up with some alternate facilities.  We like the way our current camper is designed and will steal some ideas from it. 

current camper Dodge Xplorer

picture of our last trip,inside view
Although we like the Dodge, gas mileage is horrible and it does not have 4 wheel drive.

Minnie is a Datsun Z car.  (Sorry, I am a girl and don't remember the specs on either of these cars).  We are still debating about having a gas or diesel engine for her.  Diesel,of course, would yield the best mpg but has its challenges starting in the cold temperatures.  It will become our main commuter car and it would be nice knowing it will dependably start.  Even if we kept it as a gas engine, with some modifications, we think it could still get over 30 mpg.  As a diesel, maybe even close to 40 mpg.  

We will still have other cars that we will use with a more traditional set up.  The plow truck is a gas hog, but pays for itself.  Nick, the husband, has various work trucks but again they pay for themselves or give us a tax write off.  Still the bottom line is a huge savings that will fall into our retirement budget.

Lovin' life...even at the gas pump! 

Don't forget that if you want some road trip music or a camera for your next vacation, shop in our store for the best prices!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The 5 year Plan - Railroad Car Home

Ever since Stormy was born I have been scheming on how to retire or at the very least work part-time.  This is the first time that I am putting the plan on paper and I'm hoping that by doing so, it will become more tangible.  Let me warn you that I am totally winging this, as I do most of my personal life.  I probably-should-have made an outline first but here goes.

 The first two things we are working on now are beefing up our home business and building a very energy efficient living space.  You will probably think we are nuts as I explain this to you, as most do, but we are totally jazzed about it.  My husband is a borderline hoarder (he prefers the term "collector") and he just happens to own two Alaska Railroad cars.  The plan is to build him a very spacious shop in between the two cars and remodel one of the cars as our new home.

The shop will be large with at least 3 bays and we we will do our best to keep it efficient.  We've gathered most of the materials needed to  build the roof this year and have not spent a dollar yet.  My husband is amazing when it comes to work trade.  Our ridge pole was traded for a brake job and a couple of cameras.  The lumber was traded for an old excavator that had been stuck in the creek for 5 years.  He is now currently negotiating getting some heavy duty tin for the roof from a cannery in Valdez.  We will heat it with a waste oil heater that he has and we are also planning on installing a wind turbine and solar panels to help out in the shop and the attached living quarters.  

The railroad car we remodel for the living quarters is already amazing.  It is already decked out floor to ceiling in beautiful wood.  A little sanding and staining and it is ready.  It is well insulated but we will plumb one wet wall and put in electricity.  It's pretty tight in there so we do plan on popping out a sun room.  Here's a link to some of my ideas.  The ceilings are high so we know that Stormy's room will include a sleeping loft.  To keep it efficient we will primarily heat with wood and use a tempering tank for the hot water.

Right now, we sell most of our music and electronics online.  This new area will allow us to have a storefront for the locals to shop.  Hopefully as people drop off or pick up their car from the shop or wait while it is being repaired they will shop in the store.  

So that's the dream.  It may be nuts but it's totally us.  This is only the broad outline and I will add details later and keep you posted on the progress.  Now here's a few selections from the store.  
The Commitments

Ipod Nano

Kodak CD1013


Friday, August 10, 2012

Nothing Important Happened Today

"Nothing Important Happened Today" was the title of the X-Files episode I watched last night.  It refers to the king of England's diary entry on July 4,1776.  For some reason the phrase has stuck with me and caused me to do quite a bit of meditation.

I live a small but purposeful life.  I admit to being boring and like to stay home. Fair to say, I am not a social butterfly but I blame my job on that because I work with the public all day.  I have a 5 year plan, but that's another blog post.  Most days I can say nothing important happened but I know all around me, really important things are happening.  Babies are born, people fall in love, get into fights and car accidents.  They marry and we lose others in death.  And that is just what is on my facebook feed, but none of that happened to me. 

But what did happen to me was full of smiles and hugs, tickles and tugs.  I connected with old friends and met some interesting people.  I woke up in the arms of the man I love.  I laughed and frowned and missed my mom.  My heart melted as I watched my daughter play and I crossed my fingers when my son had his job interview.  I ignored the dirty dishes and the phone and played barbie instead. 

Nothing important happened today.  It was nothing but everything and it was a perfect.

PS- Because this blog is suppose to be about my store here are a few important musical influences in my life.

Bon Jovi

My first high school rock star crush.  I'm still carrying the torch for him and the band.  Other high school influences would be Bryan Adams, Chicago, AC/DC, Ozzy and all the other hair bands, but none could touch Bon Jovi.

Dr. Hook
Sounds of my childhood.  I grew up in a lodge in Alaska.  My mom worked as the waitress, bartender and cook.  During the slow times I would beg her for quarters from her tip jar to play in the jukebox.  I loved watching the vinyl records come down and spin.  Dr Hook was always my first choice followed by the Little River Band, Willie and Waylon and Elvis to make my mom smile.

Brand New

Brand New is my favorite band today.  Most of their music goes straight to my soul.  This album, Daisy, is probably my least listened to but the only one I have for sale.  Other top plays on my list today would include Death Cab for Cutie, Tonic, dEUS, REM, and a lot of indie bands.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Superiority of the VCR

After spending the day outside in the rare Alaskan sunshine, I am getting ready to snuggle down with Stormy and watch her favorite movie.  After gathering some snacks and drinks, I slip the tape into our VCR.  Yep, I did say it - VCR.  Remember those?  Now, we own a couple of DVD players, a Blu-ray player and stream Netflix on a Roku but above all I love the VCR.  

I will admit that there is something lacking in the video quality and sound, but frankly Stormy doesn't care and unless I'm watching something epic like Avatar, Star Wars or the such, I don't mind either.  Why do I think it's superior?  The simplicity of the stop and play button.  When you want to watch a movie, push play.  Need to go away, push stop.  Come back, push play.  No confusing menus or trying to figure out what chapter you were on.  No impatient 2 year old chanting go, go, go. 

Also, VHS tapes are dirt cheap!  Some of our favorite classics can be found at yard sales or thrift store for a quarter.  Recently I bought 2 huge bagfuls of VHS movies for $3.00 with many titles that I have been cruising around eBay hoping to find cheap, including Dune, E.T., Stargate, Toy Story 1&2, and so many more.  So if you are in my area and want to get rid of some tapes just drop them on by!

Lovin' Life with a VCR. 

Stormy enjoying the rare Alaskan sunshine.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Mission Impossible

Lately I have been completing my own Mission Impossible (cue theme music).  My dear mother in law went outside about 9 months ago.  When an Alaskan says the phrase "went outside" it is our way of saying that we are going to visit the "lower 48" or to keep it simple, she went to visit her sister in New Mexico.  Due to a family emergency, her 3 month vacation has turned into 9 months.  Our mission, during her absence, whether or not we choose it, is to eat  all the food she stored up.  Imagine 2 large freezers full of unmarked tupperware.  Everyday we crack a lid and take turns identifying the contents.  We are now on an accelerated schedule because we believe she will be back up here in a few weeks and there is a lot of tupperware cubes still to investigate.  Yesterday we had squash-taste-like-pumpkin-pie for dinner.  What else can you do with 2 quarts of frozen squash puree I ask you?  Tonight - I really have no idea what it was, but we pretended it was some sort of spicy soup, but it could have been enchilada sauce.  This all equates to a lot of time in the kitchen and that equals a lot of music time.  Here's some of the CDs I checked out, and are offered to you from our store.

Mission Impossible 2

Couldn't resist posting this one.  It really has a great track list if you like rock/metal.  Limp Bizkit, Rob Zombie, Godsmack, Metallica are just a few that you will find on the CD.
Billy Boy on Poison
Another hard rock - metal choice.  This EP is pretty hard to find, so if you are a fan, might want to snatch it up.  I liked it but don't know a lot about the band.
The Prince of Egypt
My daughter is fan of this movie and I have to admit the music is very good.  It's fun to listen to and carries a message.  It will spin me into a spiritual journey while it is playing.

I'm not sure what culinary experiences that tomorrow holds but I am sure it will be tasty and there will be music playing and I will take the time to dance with a cute little girl in a tutu.  

Lovin' life in Alaska!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Jazzing It Up!

Sales have improved lately at AK Music Storm so I decided to jazz it up a bit the only way I know how...How about a  new Harry-do

Harry Connick, Jr
If that won't do, how about some Voodoo? eh Big Daddy?

Big Bad Voodoo daddy
Ok - How about the Grand Tour?

Aaron Neville - The Grand Tour

Jazz, Swing or R&B - music  at it's best at AK Music Storm!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Longing for the Sound of Silence

I dearly miss the sound of silence and I mean that in a couple of different ways. For about 6 months now, I have been troubled by my right ear.  It has that plugged up, won't pop feeling.  I've done everything that I can think of to "unplug" it.  The doctors think it could be one of two options: 1.  Mucus trapped in there.  Grrr to that I say.  I've taken decongestants, which I detest taking medications.  I've also proven that a person can drown with a dropper full of water.  Especially when you tip back your head a drop it in and sniff at the same time.  It's suppose to help break up the mucus but let me tell you, if it goes wrong, you think you will die by drowning.  It's awful but better than the second option.

  TMJ - I've had trouble with my jaw joint for ages now.  It's thought that it may be shifting back and pinching something.  Treatment seems to be wearing a night guard (check) and visiting the chiropractor whom does the adjusting in your mouth...right by your gag reflex.  It's an retching affair.  With all that being as it is, I've decided to live with it.  The absolute worse part about it is the "ringing" that is a constant noise.  Also annoying is that all the external sounds are muffled and all the internal sounds are amplified.  Don't even try eating a potato chip and watch a movie, all you will hear is crunch, crunch, crunch.  But there is a silence that I even miss more.

I've have already raised three sons, in what seems like another lifetime ago.  During high school, they had their own band.  They called themselves "Sound of Silence".  Which was ironic because they were a metal/screamo/emo band.    I loved every practice session and show that they had.  They have all grown into wonderful men and one of them is still playing in a band (Jenova).  I just miss the good times we had. 

In their honor I have posted a few Indie bands for your consideration:

Cockeyed Ghost


PS- I'm the glass is half full type of person and the best thing that I can think of about being half deaf - I can almost completely block out the hubby's snoring by burying my good ear in a pillow.  Yay for pillows!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Family & Jenova (Hey Beaumont Texas!)

For the past two weeks I've put store in second place and focused instead on my wonderful family.  It's been 2 weeks of road trips, hiking, museums, the zoo, interspersed with news of new births, a death and a life changing diagnosis.  All of which reaffirmed that family always come first.  Which is why I am putting a big shout out to my son's band Jenova


Please check out their website:  While you are there, listen to their music, book a show and buy a t-shirt.  Just kidding, but seriously if you live in and around the Beaumont, Texas area, please seek them out. 

Here's some new music that I have managed to post and share with you.  

Afterhours Ballads for Little Hyenas

Magnet - On Your Side

The Morganfields - Thrash Waltz

C. Gibbs & the Cardia Bros - The Pinkermen Set
The Afterhours CD is amazing.  If you are in the mood for some dark, moody, cerebral music, look no further.  The other three I haven't listened to yet so if you have some input, I'd love to hear it.  

 For now, it's back to the family.  Happy Mother's Day everyone!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Loose Change and Indie

This weekend I watched the documentary "Loose Change".  As a matter of fact, I watched it twice to make sure I heard it right the first time.  It is quite an eye-opener about what and who could be behind the attacks on 9/11.  I'll keep my opinions to myself but check it out if you haven't seen it.  (We watched it on Netflix.) To console myself afterwards and balance out some karma, I dug deep into my Indie CDs and posted a few for us. 


Madking Ludwig

Mary Lou Lord

I know it may not be what you were expecting from me today, but with the exception of the Mary Lou Lord CD, all of them are rare and hard to find.  Kind of like the truth about 9/11.

Now I'm off to further console myself with green chili enchiladas, Dr. Pepper and an X-Files marathon.  The truth is out there.