Spring is Coming…

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The tomato, pepper, and eggplant seedlings we started a few weeks ago are doing well, and the bigger, outside garden is in sight! Our first real attempt at growing in Central Texas was a Fall/Winter garden, and it’s done pretty well. We’ve got plans to build a couple more raised beds and see what the Spring brings us. In a couple of weeks we hope to be sowing carrots, cucumber, kale, beets, bok choy, and summer squash directly into the planters, in addition to transplanting these little guys.

It feels fairly ambitious for us: 50+ square feet of raised beds…. we’re planning to expand well beyond that eventually, but after years of apartment living, we’ve never had that much space to  grow food in! It’s exciting to walk outside and grab kale for a salad, or herbs for a recipe… I’m dreaming of the day I can make a whole meal out of what we’ve grown!

Ironically, we’ve had some difficulty harvesting: I’m working 45+ hours each week, rarely getting home before dark, and Mr. Vega’s full-time school schedule and home-improvement projects keep him hopping. I’m not a fan of Daylight Saving Time, as a modern concept, but I sure am looking forward to it this year! Meanwhile, my husband finally found time to grab the plants that had begun to bolt and make them into a fresh vegetable juice for us…he even juiced the carrot and beet tops, and it’s delicious!

I’m looking forward to longer daylight hours, time spent both in the garden, in the kitchen making some proper meals out of these beautiful plants, and out on the newly screened-in porch my handsome husband has worked so hard to create.

What are you looking forward to this season?

 

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Frugal Tuesday: Make a Casserole!

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One of our favorite things to do with leftover meats or hearty vegetables on a lazy weekend morning is to sautee them in a cast iron pan and then throw in a can of diced tomatoes and a can of cream-of-something soup. We top the whole mess with tots and throw it in the oven for the recommended cooking time, add some cheese, and pop it back in until the cheese melts. It’s super-easy, super-Southern, and super-delicious. Last weekend, we did it with some leftover lemon chicken, and we were so sad when it was all gone.

What are some of your go-to meals that use up leftovers?

 

On Self-Reliance

Daisy Luther over at The Organic Prepper recently posted a piece called Self Reliance Strategies for Small Spaces, Temporary Locations, and Rentals, which got me thinking about how the Little Hippie House is doing on that front, and how we might improve. I know the word “prepper”sometimes conjures some extreme ideas, but there are more similarities among hippies, preppers, homesteaders, and even gentrifying hipsters than one might think. Our politics vary widely, but most of us share a vision of being as self-sufficient as our circumstances allow. We’re tired of relying on a broken, profit-based supply system to meet our basic needs, and would rather do it ourselves wherever we can.

Working toward self-reliance serves a variety of purposes, from tiding a household over till payday, to making sure the food you eat is free of toxins, to surviving the zombie apocalypse that even the CDC has (jokingly) acknowledged could happen. And self-sufficiency is scalable: In our 486 sq. ft. apartment, we had a balcony garden for herbs, tomatoes and peppers, about two weeks of water stored, and plenty of beans and grains stored in pretty containers. We knew how to turn off the gas to our apartment building in the event of an earthquake, and we had some ideas about how to evacuate from our city in the event of a large-scale natural disaster or civil unrest (not unheard-of in Los Angeles).

We’re still settling in and working on our self-reliance at our new home in Austin. We’ve planted a backyard orchard with nine varieties of fruit, and our little winter garden was fairly successful. Spring will find us expanding the garden to include warm-weather crops, and doing some edible landscaping out front, and adding rain gutters and barrels for water harvesting. Like California, Texas experiences frequent and severe droughts, so it’s important to us to have a cost-effective way to keep our little urban farm alive when the next one hits. Having been through several job changes over the past few years, we have learned that keeping a well-stocked pantry is nearly as important as our emergency fund, and it also comes in handy when we’re just too tired (or sick) to make it to the grocery store!

You don’t have to be a “crazy prepper” OR a “crazy hippie” to appreciate the security and satisfaction that self-reliance brings. One of the beautiful things about about it is that it’s not limited to preparing for one particular outcome: Maintaining a vegetable garden is just as wonderful when we are living in financial abundance as when times are tight. Being able to water it with collected rainwater benefits the planet and our wallets. Living close enough to bike or walk to work means that we can take advantage of our mild southern climate and stay employed regardless of gas prices or whether our cars are running. And the list goes on.

Which aspects of self-reliance appeal the most to you? What have you been working on lately to increase yours?

 

 

 

 

Frugal Tuesday: Wash Your Hands!

Last week, what I thought were allergies turned out to be a cold. It kept me home in bed for two days, and I’ve been dragging myself through my days ever since. Today, Mr. Vega, who hardly ever gets sick, is also down for the count.

So it seems like a good time to review a basic healthcare practice: hand washing. It’s not something we think much about… We either do it or we don’t. Most of us do, but probably not as often as the CDC recommends:

  • Before, during, and after preparing food
  • Before eating food
  • Before and after caring for someone who is sick
  • Before and after treating a cut or wound
  • After using the toilet
  • After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet
  • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
  • After touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste
  • After handling pet food or pet treats
  • After touching garbage

They don’t mention one of the dirtiest things we own, that we are touching constantly with our hands and our faces: our cell phones. You don’t even want to know what scientists have found on them, but if you’ve ever taken your phone into a bathroom, you can probably guess. Sanitize your phone case often and wash your hands as frequently as if you were touching a public restroom handle!

The Center for Disease Control also recommend washing your hands for at least 20 seconds, a time that many of us fall short of. Whether the water is hot doesn’t matter, because if the water were hot enough to kill germs, it would also be hot enough to give you 2nd or 3rd degree burns. What matters is soap, friction, and time.

Frequent and thorough hand washing reduces the spread of illnesses such as colds and diarrhea, especially in people with weakened immune systems. And avoiding missed work days and doctor visits is always a frugal win in my book.

How We Did: Our January Budget Review

Yeah, it basically went as planned…

I was expecting some kind of thrilling follow-up, but after writing it all out, it was essentially a copy of our planned budget, and I was bored reading it!

So, to recap, what happened was, we planned out all our spending before it happened, and then we followed the plan. 

If you are new to budgeting, it’s going to take several months or  even a couple of years before this starts happening for you. You will forget to include occasional expenses, like car registration. You will not know how much you usually spend when you go to festivals or other events where there are lots of vendors. You will not have begun the practice of checking your calendar to see whose birthdays are coming up, so that you can plan to give them a gift. Your tire will go flat, and your emergency fund might not be ready for it.

But then next time you will remember. Each month, I take a few minutes to look at our calendar for the month ahead, and also, at our expenditures for the same month the year before, to see if I may have missed anything. For our second year attending Austin City Limits, I noted what we had spent the previous year, and budgeted the same amount. We ended up spending less the second year, probably because it wasn’t nearly as hot and we drank a lot less beer! So now I know: plan to spend a little more if the weather forecast is hot! And I’ve learned to pay attention to the tires on our cars, to fill them and get them rotated regularly, to ask the technicians (or my car-guy husband) how much life they seem to have left, and to start researching and saving up well before we need them!

But I only learned that through years of record-keeping, which means, if you didn’t get it perfect the first time, if you ended up coloring outside the lines, or throwing it all away and starting with a fresh page, you don’t get to beat yourself up, and you don’t get to quit.If things feel constricted, remember that you won’t have to do this forever. Things will get better if you don’t give up.”Done” is better than “perfect,” and you can do this!

Now go make your budget!

 

 

 

Frugal Tuesday: Start Your Seeds!

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It’s that time again, in most of the northern hemisphere… If you haven’t already, grab a shallow container, some lightweight growing material, and some seeds and let’s get growing! Of course, you can always pick up some seedlings at the nursery in a few weeks and start your gardens that way, but several packets of seeds usually cost less than a couple of baby plants. By starting with seed, you can get a lot more for your gardening dollar… and did you know that you can buy seeds and plants with food stamp benefits? That’s right: Food stamps grow gardens!

We are not the most masterful gardeners here at the Little Hippie House, but we do know that the more you do it, the better you get. And so we’ve started seeds for two kinds of tomatoes, hot and sweet peppers, and eggplant. Everything else, we can sow directly into the garden after the season’s last freeze.

What’s in your gardens this season? Are you growing anything from seed? 

 

It’s Time: The Grocery Price Book

I first read about grocery price books over at The Simple Dollar, years ago. Not being into spreadsheets… or math… or shopping, it didn’t seem to me to be a terribly sexy project. The other ways in which I managed to trim my expenses were successful enough that I usually had enough room in my food budget to buy whatever I wanted whenever I wanted without much thought. When Mr. Vega and I began to focus more on whole, real, organic foods, our grocery bills went up, and I just felt happy that we could afford to eat the way we wanted to. After all, we were debt-free, saving for a house, and even had money left over for travel and fun.

Since my husband traded his full-time sales job for life as a full-time student, however, we’ve had to tighten our belts a bit. In January, we managed to wrestle our food expenses down to just over half of what we’re accustomed to spending… mostly by eating out much less than we had been. Also, one of my favorite bloggers, Brandy over at The Prudent Homemaker, is diligent with her food expenses: She keeps a detailed price list of food she buys to feed her family of nine, and her monthly shopping lists are terrific guides to seasonal low grocery prices. Simply following along and stocking up on some things when she does has been tremendously helpful!

But each home is different, and no one solution works for everyone. Our household in Austin, Texas, comprised of two adults with full-time outside commitments, two cats, and a nascent garden, is quite different from hers in Las Vegas with seven children, a work-at-home spouse in addition to a full-time work-outside one, and an abundant home garden that is the result of several years’ worth of effort. And both her home and mine will be different from yours, with your brand-new baby, or giant dogs, or busy travel schedule.

And so the time has come for me to buckle down and invest a bit of time and energy into learning exactly what our most-purchased items usually cost, what a good deal really looks like (because fifty cents off sounds great, but what if it’s normally sixty cents cheaper at the store down the street?), and seeing how much more space we can get in this recently-contracted budget of ours.

I’ve sorted through our shopping lists, and created a spreadsheet on Google Drive listing sixty items we purchase regularly (conventional wisdom suggests starting with a list of 15-20 things, but once I started, I kept thinking of more!), and I’m actually looking forward to learning where the best prices are and seeing how much money we can save. Grocery store sales generally run in 8-12 week cycles, so I reckon it will be Spring by the time I have a good handle on this, but check back and I’ll share how it’s going!

How do you keep track of grocery prices in your area? What patterns have you noticed?