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Archive for August, 2012

Is having a Garden really cost effective? It is, but…

One of the more popular websites today is, which is a user generated behemoth. At any time on anyone of it’s many “subreddits” (sections devoted to specific topics) you’ll find someone asking for help and some really great answers.

As we speak there is a discussion in the frugal section where a user asked the question “Does r/frugal think that gardens are actually financially frugal?” The top comment is such great advice we wanted to share it with any of you would be home gardeners. Even if cost isn’t an issue for you it’s still sounds advice:

“It is, if:

  • You identify the plants you eat a lot of and are expensive and grow those. Eat a lot of potatoes? Probably not a good idea to grow them, because they’re so dang cheap. Like chives? Well, they are really easy to grow, and cut herbs are expensive in the store, so go ahead. . Raspberries are also super easy, and pretty expensive. My general rule is: grow leafy vegetables, herbs, and berries. Buy root vegetables and squashes, plus anything that doesn’t get enough heat here.
  • Find out what crops grow well and easily for you, in your climate. For me, beans are tasty, yes, but we just don’t get a big enough crop to make it worthwhile. However, I grow a lot of kale, because it just does fantastically here- in fact, since some self-seeded, I don’t have to do anything but harvest now.
  • Develop your soil’s fertility cheaply or for free. For example, I’m getting a truck load of composted horse manure from a friend for the price of gas. Compost kitchen scraps and lawn clippings, check out coffee stands and see if they’ll give you coffee grounds. All of these are free or nearly free sources of fertility that will make your garden really produce.
  • Don’t get carried away and buy a pile of tools. Really, unless you have a big garden, all you need is a shovel, a trowel, and maybe a rake and garden fork. You do not need to buy rototillers or other fancy and expensive doodads.
  • Realize that gardening is a skill, and may take some time to develop. Some people are fantastic their first year, but many have entire crops fail before they figure out what they need to do.

TL;DR: Find out what crops you eat a lot of, aren’t cheap, and basically grow themselves for you. Get free and cheap sources of soil fertility. Only grow what you will actually eat. Figure out how to minimize effort and time investment while maximizing yield.”

It’s great to see people who posses specific knowledge and skills share that knowledge with other people.






Micro Kitchen Design makes us want to buy a micro house to put it in.

Micro Kitchen Design makes us want to buy a micro house to put it in.

We’ve mentioned tiny houses on our blog before and one of the big problems with them is that you often have to sacrifice to make it work. With the worlds growing population and emerging markets gaining clout it’s nice to see that design is something we won’t have to comprise on.

This Red dot winning design is a modular mini kitchen that can be configured in different way to meet any need. It’s going to be a while before Arizonan’s begin to run out of space but when we do, we know what the kitchen will look like. Champion of the Grand Ave. Rail Project.


“Today’s post is by contributing writer Kirby Hoyt:

Historically, cities have been designed around their prevailing modes of transportation. When Phoenix was first conceived, there were two modes of transportation: the train (for long distance and shipping) and the horse-and-buggy (for local and hauling needs). The streets in Phoenix were designed in a grid that emanated from the railroad depot and ancillary buildings, kind of a play on the Law of the Indies. Within six years of the incorporation of Phoenix, the beginnings of an extensive streetcar system was put in place, with the first streetcar operating on six miles of track using horses to pull cars, and by 1893 the system was completely electrified. It then operated for more than fifty years. Unfortunately, in 1948 the streetcar saw its last day due to a “suspicious” fire that destroyed all but six cars, Coincidentally, this was about the time National City Lines, a company with investors from Firestone Tire, Standard Oil, Phillips Petroleum, General Motors, and Mack Trucks together were buying up streetcar lines across the country and decommissioning them, forcing people to either buy automobiles or ride buses.”

Continue Reading this story…


Schoolhouse Electric: 1960’s IBM wall clock re-issue

Midcentury is a term thrown around a lot lately. I feel that part of the reason there is such interest in that time period is that it’s seen as the zenith of both modern design and American Manufacturing. That convergence of two emotionally powerful aspects of our society are perfectly combined in the Schoolhouse Electric 1960’s IBM Wall Clock.   Learn more about how this clock was brought to life through a collaboration between Schoolhouse Electric and IBM for their 100th anniversary.


1960s IBM Clock from Schoolhouse Electric & Supply Co on Vimeo.

From REALTOR.COM: Inventories Hover at Historic Lows


While buyer demand is picking up, many consumers increasingly are finding fewer choices in housing these days. The number of homes for sale continues to remain at record lows with the nationwide inventory of for-sale single-family homes, condos, townhomes, and co-ops is about 19 percent below inventory levels from a year ago, reports in its analysis of July housing data of 146 markets.

“Low inventories, combined with rising list prices and lower times on market, are positive signs that the overall market is in a stabilization mode,” reports.

Median asking prices were 2.63 percent above list prices in July, and the median age of the housing inventory has fallen about 9 percent in that time period, reports.

California cities have seen some of the largest drops in inventory levels in the past year, as well as some of the largest price increases.

13 Metros With Largest Inventory Drops

The following metro areas have seen the largest drops in inventories of for-sale homes in the past year (July 2012 compared to July 2011):

1. Oakland, Calif.: -59.30 percent

2. Fresno, Calif.: -47.81 percent

3. Bakersfield, Calif: -44.71 percent

4. Seattle-Bellevue-Everett, Wash.: -42.23 percent

5. San Jose, Calif.: -41.76 percent

6. San Francisco, Calif.: -40.26 percent

7. Stockton-Lodi, Calif.: -40.24 percent

8. Riverside-San Bernardino, Calif.: -40.03 percent

9. Atlanta, Ga.: -38.27 percent

10. Sacramento, Calif: -36.43 percent

11. Santa Barbara-Santa Maria-Lompoc, Calif.: -34.89 percent

12. San Diego, Calif.: -34.55 percent

13. Phoenix-Mesa, Ariz.: -34.37 percent

By Melissa Dittmann Tracey, REALTOR® Magazine Daily News


Friday DIY: 25 things to do with your old denim

We’re thrilled to present this smartWise Bread story here on Savvy!

Recycling fabric is a powerful green living and cost saving strategy. Denim is one of the coolest fabrics to do it with. It’s sturdy, gains character with age and can be acquired very inexpensively at yard sales or in your own “old clothes” closet. Some of the coolest ideas I’ve found?

RELATED: 16 Ways to Make Your Clothes Last Longer

  • Pot holders. In my opinion, these look far better out of used denim than the new stuff. And you can incorporate your own style via choice of trim or a patch stitched to the outside. Here’s a link to some tips for making your own.
  • Cool quilts. You can do this in many forms. Different shades of denim patchwork options abound and are certainly sturdy and fun. Unfortunately, one of the coolest ideas I’ve ever seen I’ve been unable to find pictures of. It was done with pieced denim, but they had left on all the details like pockets, buttons, belt loops, etc. It made for a really fabulous unique quilt with a lot of attitude. If anyone has a link to a picture of one of these, please post below in the comments section.

For more ideas, read on.

  • Hanging sleeves for storing plastic bags and cleaning rags. This is an idea I came up when trying to find a workable solution for giving up paper towels. I needed something convenient to store my cleaning rags in and made several out of the legs of old blue jeans.
  • Pocket books and backpacks. These are tons of fun as beach bags and particularly popular with the younger crowd. Easily jazzed up with pins various bits of clip on “flair”. Here are one and two separate links for various sets of project directions.
  • Patches. If you happen to have a bunch from different events, great. Otherwise, I’ve seen some really unique custom patches you can make yourself that add tons of style. I personally like the make your own option, because it opens up many more possibilities for self expression and designer style.
  • Embellishments. Sometimes bead stores offer classes on “jazzing up jeans” where they will teach you how to add studs, crystals and various beads as well as other items. Lots of room for individuality with this option as well.
  • Pimp the heck out of them. Options abound here. Pimp My Jeans is a great site to look for inspiration when jazzing up old jeans. They also have a great idea pictured there for a way hip fabric grocery bag of pieced together old denim. You’ll be strolling to your favorite New York grocery in style with that one. Here is an additional link for airbrushing designs on your denim. My favorite though, is this way cool how to video from Threadbanger that shows you how to get a vintage tint as well as providing some easy fabric distressing techniques. Really, really cool.
  • Embrace the frayed edges and go hip with some slamming shoes and a great bag. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen fashion experts give this same advice on TV. What’s funny though is I seem to notice more people with money trying it out than people who are supposedly on a budget. It’s a very cool look to have a faded set of jeans with a few rips and tears paired with a newer sweater and some dressy shoes or boots.
  • Help dress a scarecrow. Fairly timely, considering the season.
  • Make a 3-pocket electric gadget protector. I found this set of directions on Instructables. Love that site! Looks like a cool addition for a daypack or purse.
  • Journal, photo album and school book covers. Say what? I found this neat online project for a jean-covered journal held closed with a funky belt. Really fun. Tried to snag a pic and give them credit, but they preferred to keep everything in house. You can see pictures of the completed project on this site, though.
  • Hot or cold rice pack. I’ve always just dumped my rice in an old pillow case and tied a knot in the top. But these rice packs look cute, if you have the extra time. The one pictured got me thinking about all those old floral jeans from the eighties getting a new life, but really, any kind of old denim will do.
  • Turn pieces of them into a jacket. Here’s a project I found for a crazy quilt-style jacket. This is very similar to the type of quilt I mentioned above. Lots of room here to do your own thing.
  • A little too out there? Try out a waist coat made from recycled denim. I can really see it with a crisp white shirt. Actually, it looks like a big vest to me, but what do I know about waist coats? Either way, it’s pretty cool.
  • Sassy, rough edged skirt with urban style. I like this jean skirt because it’s really a bit out of the ordinary and has tons of attitude. A bit of trouble snagging a pic of this one, but you can see it on the link.
  • A wheelchair tote. This is too cool. Know someone who could use one to stay organized? Here are instructions on how to make a wheelchair tote.
  • Coffee cozies. Love these! As with some of the other projects, you can really put your own spin on them. I found several blog posts on doing your own. This first one is quite similar to the one pictured below. The second? Slightly different with a button closure. Still cute though. If I had my sewing machine out of storage, I’d seriously be looking into making a few of these for Christmas package tuck-ins.
  • Custom camera bag. Here’s a set of directions for a denim camera bag. Personal verdict? Pretty neat idea.
  • Unusual covered gift box. I thought this one was particularly out of the norm. Should make a fun package for a teen present, don’t you think? Here’s a link.
  • Reusable lunch sackThis one was decorated with primary colored embellishments because it was designed for children. But I think you could be as individual here as with some of the jazz-up-your-jeans ideas listed above (patches, airbrushing, crystals). It’s made from a pant leg. How cool!
  • Picture frame. Not the most formal project idea ever, but a fun idea that would be great for a teen room bulletin board. It’s a photo frame made from a jeans pocket.
  • Blue jean table. Pretty darned unusual, I must say. This is another item that is shown with more of a children’s room look. But I think you could pull this off with leather accents in a wild west art gallery or with silver studs and tears for a more urban feel. A bit quirky, but if you like that sort of thing . . .
  • Christmas stockings. Here’s a set of directions for making stockings out of old blue jeans(PDF). Use whatever trim and lining ideas you want. Definitely not for those Victorian style holiday planners.
  • Knee pads for gardening. Here’s a set of directions for knee pads. You might need to use an old denim skirt or jumper for this one, but I still think it has merit, if you happen to have the time.
  • Beer cozies. Check out this homemade deep pocket cold beverage cozy. There aren’t detailed directions, but there are pictures from several angles. So if you sew, you can probably get the idea.

That’s about it. A few of these ideas I think would be easier with old denim jumpers or skirts than blue jeans, but since they all involved the same basic topic, I opted to include them. If you know of a fabulous recycled denim idea, please post so the rest of us can enjoy.

Scorching Phoenix Plans For An Even Hotter Future by PETER O’DOWD

A Metro Light Rail train rolls by the Devine Legacy apartment building along Central Avenue in Phoenix. The energy-efficient complex includes 65 "urban style" apartments.

Courtesy of Mica Thomas MulloyA Metro Light Rail train rolls by the Devine Legacy apartment building along Central Avenue in Phoenix. The energy-efficient complex includes 65 “urban style” apartments.

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August 14, 2012

It’s been a record hot summer in many cities across the nation. Phoenix is no exception. This Sonoran Desert metropolis already records more days over 100 degrees than any other major U.S. city. Now, climate models predict Phoenix will soon get even hotter.

A hotter future may mean a more volatile environment — and along with it, natural disasters, greater pressure on infrastructure, and an increased physical toll on city residents.

While some city planners around the country discuss ways to mitigate climate change, planners in Phoenix assume that change is already under way. Now, they are working to prepare the Phoenix metro area, and its approximately 4 million residents, for a new reality.

‘How Are We Gonna Live Here?’

The view is bleak from John Larsala’s front drive in West Phoenix. The tree in front of the house is dead, and the grass is dead, too. In fact, there’s no grass at all anymore.

On a household income of $18,000 a year, Larsala can’t afford the water charges required to keep his yard green. “All these trees are dying, because I can’t put water on it,” he says.

So Larsala’s children and their friends play basketball in the barren yard. That is, until June comes around and the blazing Phoenix summer finally forces everyone inside.

John Larsala struggles to keep his family cool during the Phoenix summer. The shade trees in his front yard have died because he cannot afford to water them.

EnlargePeter O’Dowd/KJZZJohn Larsala struggles to keep his family cool during the Phoenix summer. The shade trees in his front yard have died because he cannot afford to water them.

For three months, Larsala will shut the doors and windows tight. To save money, he soaks his kids in a cool bath and delays using the air conditioning until just before bedtime.

“Whether you are inside or whether you are outside, the heat costs you money,” Larsala says.

When told that climate scientists predict the state will get even hotter in the future, Larsala is taken aback.

“It’s going to be hotter than what it is right now? Who gonna live here? How are we gonna live here?”

Sustained Heat Waves Ahead

Phoenix actually suffers from two heat problems. One is a product of growth. Desert nights don’t cool down they way they used to, because energy from the sun is trapped in roads and buildings, a phenomenon researchers call the “urban heat island effect.”

As Phoenix grows, so does the problem, says Nancy Selover, the state climatologist.

“We keep thinking we’ll probably see a night when we only get down to 100 as a minimum temperature, which is kind of shocking,” Selover says.

Standing outside in a low-income neighborhood near Phoenix, Selover points out that many households here are using “swamp coolers,” or evaporative coolers. These cooling units are cheaper than air-conditioning — but they’re also less effective.

If Phoenix’s temperatures rise, “it’s going to be pretty unbearable,” Selover says — and without adequate cooling, potentially deadly.

Phoenix’s second problem comes from global climate change. Researchers predict it will make droughts longer and temperatures higher in the region.

Data from the North American Regional Climate Change Assessment Program predict sustained heat waves above 114 degrees will be a yearly crisis in Phoenix by 2040. And each one, researchers project, will last a sweltering three weeks.

A Laboratory For What Works

Selover says these coming changes present Phoenix with an opportunity.

“As a desert city, Phoenix is kind of a laboratory for us to figure out what works and what doesn’t work, to try to mitigate those things.”

In the future, Selover says, “we may well have to live differently.”

Now, city officials are starting to think about what that new lifestyle might entail. One idea is to cover 25 percent of Phoenix with shade trees.

But some, like architect John Meunier, argue for much greater lifestyle adaptations.

Meunier studies pre-industrial desert cities around the world, looking for lessons to apply in modern desert cities like Phoenix.

Sitting at a light-rail stop downtown, he says creating sustainable futures in cities like this one has”everything to do with managing without having to use a lot of extra energy and power.”

To do that, Meunier says planners could encourage 10 times as many people to live around Phoenix’s light-rail stations. Getting more use out of the system would take cars — and heat — off the street.

These people would also live in taller buildings. Meunier says desert cities in Yemen, for example, take advantage of tall buildings to shade narrow streets.

“It’s crucially important. I mean, not being exposed to the direct sun’s rays makes a great big difference,” he says.

Instead of exposed front yards and backyards, older desert cities employ well-ventilated courtyards, Meunier says. Mediterranean cities paint roads and rooftops white to reflect sunlight.

It’s the way Phoenix has been built, Meunier says, that will make its residents vulnerable to rising temperatures.

“I’m not arguing that we should all live at a higher density,” Meunier says. “What I am arguing is that there’s a lot to be gained by having more of us live at higher density.”

Learning To Build Better

For Meunier’s ideas to become reality, developers will have to make the choice to build differently.

Some of them already have. Take the city’s light rail north about three miles, and you can get a close-up view of how buildings like Meunier envisions might actually work.

Felicia McMullen has lived in the energy-efficient Devine Legacy apartment building in central Phoenix since December.

EnlargeCourtesy of Mica Thomas MulloyFelicia McMullen has lived in the energy-efficient Devine Legacy apartment building in central Phoenix since December.

The Devine Legacy is a housing complex designed for people with lower incomes. Right next to the rail line, every window is dual-paned, and the building is also superinsulated. Together, those features make a typical Devine Legacy unit 40 percent more energy efficient.

Walking through the front gate leads you to a courtyard. Four-story buildings rise up on either side of you. There’s shade everywhere, and a breeze moves through the space. Even on a 113-degree day in Phoenix, it feels much cooler.

“Having a cool place to live is more important to me than food,” says resident Felicia McMullen.

Before she moved here, McMullen says she was sick and stressed. She sometimes spent $300 a month to cool her suburban home.

Now, McMullen says, “I don’t have that problem.” Her last electric bill was $60 — and the stress is gone.

Ernesto Fonseca, a planner who specializes in sustainable communities, helped test Devine Legacy’s energy use before it opened late last year.

He considers the complex a small victory in what may someday be a more complicated effort to stay cool.

“People in extreme climates learn to live with it,” Fonseca says. “And that’s part of a resilient society.”

Fonseca thinks a lot about this idea of resilience. He says it means that people who live in Phoenix must do more than try to solve the causes of escalating temperatures — they must also learn to withstand the changes as they happen.

Because, as Fonseca says, “We don’t have a choice.”

Peter O’Dowd works with the public radio collaborative FronterasRead more from their series “Heat Wave.”