CB and Crew

I realize that I’ve suddenly been talking a lot about the woman I call CB, but I’ve never really explained who she is. I think it’s time to rectify that.

CB stands for Crazy Bitch. That’s how I refer to one of the best friends I could ask for on this blog. CB is a term of endearment because it takes one to put up with one and she’s got me full-time.

I’ve known CB and her family for quite a while now. About 6 years, I guess. While we’ve always been “friendly”, we really didn’t know each other well until the last year.

She began, simply, as the best friend of the girl I consider one of my kids. This particular kid calls me “Aunt”, but the relationship has been very much like a parent/child relationship even though we’re not technically related at all.

CB and I flitted in and out of each others lives with this kid at the center (I say kid, but just like my biological daughter, she’s actually grown) for a long time, constantly crossing paths, but rarely spending more than a half hour together, and always with Chicklet (my adopted niece/daughter), in the mix.

I dropped Chicklet off at CB’s house a few times in 2013 and noticed they had an old camper sitting in their yard.

At the time we were roommates with a girl and we could tell it was headed south due to her involvement with a guy who was on drugs (she was in denial about his drug use back then-they’ve since split up). I was about to welcome my new granddaughter into the world. I didn’t want her around him, so it was causing a lot of problems. We were at an impasse in our friendship and we both knew it.

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Tracking Spending Habits ~ Budgeting 101

If you’re anything like us, it seems like you bleed money from week to week. You leave home with $100, and before you know it, the money is gone and you don’t have hardly anything to show for it.

One thing that I’ve found helpful in living on a very small budget is tracking spending habits.

Ever so often, I remind myself to save all of my receipts for a couple weeks, then I’ll sit down with those receipts and look at our spending habits.

It helps to make notes on your receipts if they don’t clearly state what you bought in a way you’ll remember in a few weeks.

There are apps you can download that will tap into your debit card and itemize what you spend money on for you but since that information is so sensitive, I only recommend using them at your own discretion.

With that said, pen and paper may take a little longer, but it’s certainly safer and it’s the method I currently use myself.

Doing this helps you to understand where your money is going.

It also helps when you do this to make a few columns for things you already know you spend money on. Say, if you like to stop at Starbucks on your way to work sometimes, go ahead and make a column for that. Add up what you spent and what kind of expense it was.

Don’t forget purchases you might not have a receipt for, like that soda and bag of chips from the vending machine at work.

For example Paul and I have weak spots for energy drinks (I know, they’re full of chemicals, but it’s a weakness none the less). When I track our spending, I go ahead and make a column for those and write down how much we spent each time, then add them all up.

This allows me to see not just what I spent on energy drinks during that time, but what I spent on those random “quick stops” we make and sometimes forget about.

The last time I went through this process, I was surprised at just how much we had spent on things like energy drinks, snacks and eating out, so I was able to identify some spending habits that were being completely overlooked.

In doing this, I was able to see that we were spending way too much on these purchases and I was able to get a handle on it by making myself more aware of the fact that there was a problem.

Now I’m not saying we never spend money on them at all anymore, but now we buy sodas occasionally instead, which are cheaper anyway. I not only saw this, but it also helped me see where I stop that our drinks are cheaper. $5 combos for one person became $1 menu purchases when we do eat fast food (which isn’t often anymore). We also started using coupons and taking advantage of in-store specials when we could.

Tracking your spending can help you see exactly where your money goes and help you curb spending in areas where you might not even be aware you’re spending so much.

If you see that you’re consistently spending money on a non-necessary item(s) you might want to consider adding it to your budget and giving yourself an allowance for those types of spending. This can help take some of the sting out of it and it certainly helps us.

Tracking you’re spending sounds like such a small step, but it can make a huge difference in how much money is left in your pocket when you get home.

Discovering Camp Showers

I mentioned in another post that one of the things purchased with Paul’s last check was a camp shower and that it would get it it’s own post. Let me say now, I am not being compensated in any way for this post. It was one of those spontaneous purchases that just happened.

I went camping a lot as a kid. We were a family of five with a lot tighter budget than I realized back then. Honestly, I just always thought my parents liked to go camping. I had no idea how hard or expensive a hotel would have been with three kids in tow.

Even though we spent some portion of every summer in a tent, my parents always got a camp site that had a water and power hookup and was close to the bathhouse. We showered every night while camping.

It wasn’t until I was older that I heard about “roughing it” out in the woods with no amenities at all, so my knowledge of the kinds of things you need for that was very limited.

Luckily, my daughter and my best friend would be happy to let us shower at their houses, and we have, but not being able to shower at home was something that really bothered me.

While searching for an appropriate heater, we ended up in camping supplies at the local big-box store. Paul was very carefully comparing the heater already in the buggy with one we found in camping supplies, so I found myself with time to look around. My eyes landed on a box that said “camp shower” and it got me curious.

Apparently, the idea of a camp shower is to be camping out in the wilderness with temps above seventy degrees, with enough privacy to be naked in nature. You fill the bag with water and lay it in the sun for a few hours to heat.

Once heated, I’m assuming you hang it from a tree or something to shower.

That’s great, but it’s winter here (or supposed to be anyway) and the temperature, although warm for December, isn’t hitting 70. In the summer, it seems an easy enough system, but I needed something now.

After some thought, I decided we needed it. It was only $10, so I decided if I couldn’t make it work in winter, at least we’d have it this summer.

What I’ve ended up doing is heating the water myself, which I’d have been doing anyway for the tub if nothing else.

We use a funnel to put the heated water into the bag and once hot and full, we hang it in our shower.

Height was a bit of an issue. The hose on the one we got is a little more bendable than I’d like and it’s obviously intended to be hung up over your head. It hangs considerably lower in our shower and we ended up putting a stool in it so we could sit down to get lower.

Although not a perfect system, it was still great to have a hot shower in my own house and not have to bother anyone to use theirs.

It was such a good investment that I actually want a second one. The one we have currently pulls double duty at the kitchen sink as well as rinse water for dishes.

Even though I have to heat the water myself in winter, it was still very much worth the $10 we spent on it and I would recommend one for any situation where running hot water isn’t available including off-grid and semi-off-grid living.

Again, this is not a paid post. All purchases and opinions are my own.

Is this “roughing it”?

Some days it feels like it, although I know that technically we’re only semi-off-grid.

We do have power. My whole camper, well, the electric parts anyway, runs off a drop cord in CB’s window.

The stove and the heat run off of two-twenty pound propane tanks that will be upgraded to 100 pound tanks as soon as we can make it happen. Originally, the hot water ran off propane too, but the plumbing needs an overhaul, including a new hot water tank.

Water, at the moment, is off of a hose in the yard. If the plumbing wasn’t shot, it would hook up to the camper and run through the faucets.

I know that in a technical sense, we’re not off-grid. I didn’t have to dig out a spring for water and my refrigerator runs. Cooking on a campfire is optional and when it rains, we sit inside and watch.

I will say that full-time RV living was where I was introduced to off-grid and semi-off grid living. We have the same (well, fewer actually because we don’t get free wi-fi or cable) amenities here as we would if we pulled into a campground except I have a yard to work with (my share is small, but it’s enough).

Last summer, I did a lot of hand-washing and hanging out clothes. I used CB’s washer and dryer for denim and any other thick fabrics and when it was raining. Everything else I washed by hand.

This time, Paul is getting me a portable washer. They’re about a 5-lb capacity, which isn’t much, but it should keep me off of electric washing completely. Another little tidbit I picked up from “full-timers”.

Living in a camper really wouldn’t be that hard or inconvenient if I wasn’t constantly heating water. Seems like most of my day is spent doing exactly that. Hot water for dishes, hot water for showers…it seems endless.

Eventually, we’d like to look into other sources for the power we use, but we’re still a ways off from that. Having the camper be able to run itself with only the need for a water source is high on my list of want to do’s.

Just how off-grid that would make us is still a mystery to me, but I know it would be more environmentally friendly and sustainable.

My goal, at this point at least, isn’t really to be off-grid, but to be prepared for it if we ever needed or had to be. I just like the idea of living as much in harmony with the world as my health will allow and teaching my daughter and granddaughter how to live the old way so they have the skills if they ever need them. In my opinion, the best way to teach is to lead by example, so we’re trying to set the example by proving you can have a good life in any situation, it’s all about how you handle it.

Baking in the rain

While we were at the hotel, I learned how to bake bread. It was a labor of love since I don’t have a bread machine our a mixer with s dough hook, but it was something I enjoyed.

Since we moved back to the camper, I haven’t baked any at all. Needless to say, Paul, who is a fan of all things homemade, had been dying for me to make some more.

Of course, we had Christmas to get through. Then New Years. Then, the rain started.

I think today may have been the first clear, non-holiday, day we’ve had, so I, of course, decided to bake some bread.

I’m not sure if there’s still just too much humidity in the air or what but I’d bet its gonna be hard as a rock when its done.

It looked like the yeast bloomed…at least, I thought it did, anyway, but the first rise just didn’t really happen. Same is happening on the second rise.

Paul, of course, wants to be the final judge when he gets home from work, so I’m going to bake it and see if its at least edible or not.

We did accomplish a lot of other things today, though. We got our grey water tank emptied and got some off the black tank. I also spent my morning washing clothes and I have a line full that I’m hoping actually dries.

There’s nothing really easy about this lifestyle. It seems like everything is work in one direction or another. I guess it’s a good thing we love it so much.

One thing is certain though. Bread or no bread, I’m gonna sleep like the dead tonight. I’m exhausted!

Every day I’m shufflin’

For those who don’t know, the title is a play on a song I heard featured on a Kat Williams stand-up video. That’s right, we’re big stand-up comedy fans around here.

We have been shuffling things around, though, including the blog.

Coming back here wasn’t just a matter of stepping right back into the life we left. Paul had to find a new job since he’d left his old one here rather abruptly and there were a lot of things that just weren’t working before that needed to be addressed.

Some things were, of course, like stepping back into the lives we left. We still have the relationships we had before with people although I will say that those relationships have gotten stronger.

We kicked around the idea of continuing with the business idea I’d had before and we considered other business ideas as well, including a food-based business to go along with what my daughter was doing last summer.

At the end of the day, though, the job Paul got and the hours he’ll be working combined with one car, one driver (me), just isn’t going leave me the time I’d need to go all out on a business that requires me to work outside the house.

Right now, that part of life is still somewhat undecided. We’ll see what happens.

I have made some decisions about the blog though.

Although I enjoy sharing our journey into sustainable living, and will continue to share that part of our lives with you, neither of us are anywhere near being experts on the subject. Because of that, I’ve felt somewhat uncomfortable with a blog that focuses solely, or even majorly, on those topics. We’re winding our way down that road blindfolded and while yes, I can tell you that we bought a solar camp shower to try to temporarily side-step our plumbing issues, and I can even tell you the pros and cons we’ve personally experienced, I can’t tell you if there is a better option or what that option would be and why because we’re still new at this ourselves.

Instead, I think I will be changing the primary, and even secondary, purpose of this space.

While I will continue to share our journey to sustainable living, I think the primary focus will be surviving the kind of lifestyle we’ve chosen including tips on cooking from scratch -even in a small space, budgeting on a shoestring budget, gardening (more in the warmer months as we’re heading into the heart of winter here right now), cleaning, taking our camper from run-down to livable and living in a small space. Those are all things I’m either already well experienced in or am quickly learning out of necessity.

I’ve been considering these changes for a while since we don’t currently know tons about homesteading ourselves. I know everything is a learning process, and we are learning, but especially in these cold months, there isn’t a lot you can do beyond hope everything holds until spring.

I hope that you will continue to share our journey with us as we try to figure out exactly what it is we’re doing.

Best wishes and brightest blessings,
TTH

Getting back in the swing of things

Paul and I were talking the other night and as our minds sometimes do, we ended up wandering into our long and varied past.

We’ve been together nearly 19 years, almost half of our lives, so there is a lot of history between us. We’ve watched each other grow up, really.

It’s no surprise that the walk we took down memory lane was peppered with food memories and we wandered through some of our favorite meals and finally landed on some forgotten recipes from back in the day when neither of us knew a lot about food other than what came out of our mothers kitchens.

One dish in particular came up that I learned from a neighbor when I was in my early 20’s, not long after we were married. It was a simple meal, easy enough to make, but somehow over the years it’d been all but forgotten by both of us. Of course, it’s now been requested, and I’ll end up sharing it with all of you, but that’s not really the point of this post.

During that same time, I got really into meal planning and menu planning. I operated on a tight grocery budget, much like I’ll be doing here, and it’s an idea I’m considering revisiting.

I do know that when you’re on a budget, every penny counts. Very careful budget planning is often the only way to survive.

Although my budget will be tighter than I’d like until I get the business going, I’ll have a little breathing room thanks to the way we’ve chosen to live and thanks to CB and her hubby for not charging me an arm and a leg in rent!

Still, I know there are a lot of people out there in today’s economy struggling to make ends meet.

Paul finding a job had caused a bit of a reshuffle around here. The hours he’s going to be working are going to greatly

Honestly, my life has led me to master very few things. It has mostly been focused on raising my daughter and being a wife. Cooking, cleaning, household management, child (and husband) rearing…those are all what I suppose you’d consider my areas of expertise, if I have any at all.

Now that I think of it, I suppose I did major in something…surviving being poor.

Paul and I have never been rich and I don’t see us ever getting there. To put it bluntly, we’ve both been poor our entire adult lives. We both finished high school and we both attended college, but I was a ready-made family when he met me and we both tried to focus on doing all we could to raise my daughter. That meant full-time jobs for both of us for a while and when I left the work force, it was to be a full-time mom and wife because those things were always where my heart really was. College just never seemed like a real option to either of us and since a family was what we both really wanted rather than high-paying (and high stress) careers, he focused on trade skill jobs, including cooking, while I focused on taking care of us.

It was a trade-off, yes. One that I’ve had called into question recently, but I stand by the fact that I don’t regret it and neither does he.

So, I guess that leads me to state my qualifications then, right? Here goes.

I became pregnant my senior year in high school at the tender age of 17. I was married the first time two weeks before my 18th birthday. Not exactly a shotgun wedding, but close enough.  I gave birth to the daughter who would be my only biological child (we’ve unofficially became parent figures to others over the years) 6 months after I turned 18, about the time I would have been starting my 1st semester at college.

My first marriage was abusive and brief. One of the reasons my ex-husband used as an excuse to be abusive was that I wasn’t a good enough wife and mother, didn’t know how to cook well enough or manage a house. I tried my best while we were together, but I decided, if I ever remarried, that I would make it my goal to learn all those things somehow.

I’ve been lucky with Paul. He’s a good man, patient, supportive, understanding. He’s never belittled me, in all of our 19 years, for not being a good enough anything. I couldn’t ask for better.

Over the course of our marriage, he’s stood by me as I expanded my limited cooking knowledge, taught myself a different way to budget than the way my mom had taught me, fought with a natural tenancy towards laziness to make myself get up and clean and learned, at times with his help, how to successfully manage our household in every way.

Now, I don’t have to try so hard. Years of fussing with, and at, myself has lead me to develop routines and ways of doing things that work for me and I do most of those things out of habit now.

One tool, other than a supportive husband and sheer determination, that I will recommend if you’re having trouble getting your house under control or struggling with clutter, a tool my best friend shared with me some years ago is Flylady. The Flylady, was a god-send to me back when I was really struggling. I honestly don’t know if I’d be who, and where, I am today without her and her website.

There is tons of useful information on her site and you’ll notice as I share my own tips and tricks, that there is a dash of her in nearly everything I do.

Of course, I can’t share her specific system with you here, so make sure you go check her out.

I suppose that’s enough for this post. When I have time to sit down with internet soon, I’m going to rearrange some of the categories at the top to make things easier to find.