Thursday, February 13, 2020

The Day I Became Persona Non Grata with the Girl Scouts

The year was 1997 or 98, I had graduated from college with an Associates in Industrial Design from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and no one would hire me.  There were no interviews.  I was surviving on temp agency assignments, face painting, coffee barista, dish washing, etc.  My goal was to save enough money to move to Florida to continue my degree with the eventual hope of getting a job in my chosen field.

AIP had a book filled with art commissions, people from the local community would call in when they needed an artist for face painting and such.  I pounced on the girl scout lead with much excitement.  They were planning an event at a local school gymnasium for all Pittsburgh girl scout chapters.  It was to be a day of festivities that included face painting.  They needed two so I quickly found a partner and committed to the date.  Prior to this I had been face painting at the Pittsburgh Pirates Stadium so I felt sufficiently ready to take on the girls.

Nothing could have prepared me for the energy and deafening noise.  There must have been over two hundred girls - and two face painters!  Every one of them wanted to be painted and they were - I hate to say it, kinda bratty.  It didn't matter, we pressed on until every last girl was painted.  There were no breaks.  No lunch.  Just non stop painting.  They were relentless.  No one came to check on us until the very end when checks were handed out.  We were asked if we'd ever like to do this again and of course we said yes.

Suddenly the girl scouts disappeared and there was only leaders left to clean up the carnage.  We noticed a giant balloon display and asked if we could take it home.  They said yes.  We took it down the hill to our car but it wouldn't fit, so we had the sudden inspiration to let it go!  Just as we were about to let the giant balloon bunch fly free, a women came running down the hill screaming at us to NOT LET THE BALLOONS GO, something about killing animals, death to the environment, etc.  Shamefaced, we lugged the balloons back up the hill and into the gymnasium.

We were never invited back.

Dear Girl Scout Leaders,
I still buy your cookies and I've never released a balloon, on purpose, ever again!  Also, I'm kinda glad you never called back.  My head still hurts from all the noise.

Saturday, February 01, 2020

Frugal Living - Investing Year 1

2019 was our first year to to invest in the stock market.  Prior to this year we had never had significant funds to invest.  In 2018 we held money in a money market account for down payment on our house.  Prior years money was tied up in a renovation house that was not meant to be, but once this was sold, we were happy to finally try our hand in the stock market.  Despite dour warnings at the end of 2018, we jumped in with much excitement.  We invested with Vanguard and put 30% in energy bonds and 70% in high earning ETF's.  It was surprisingly addictive.  At first I checked our accounts daily, by mid-year it was once a week and by now a few times a month.  

The biggest mistake we made was putting all our reserve funds into ETF's.  We got a little carried away with the idea that all available money must be working money and when there were times that we had to pay off a big bill for vehicle repairs, it was a hassle to sell funds and move it around.  This year I plan to keep our reserve account separate so it's available when needed.  

We've set up money market accounts for our kids since they were born and they were earning pennies each year.  We put all their money into separate accounts in Vanguard and invested each into ETF's.  It was really fun to watch their money grow throughout the year and I've been working with the two oldest to teach them investing basics.  If they can learn at a young age they could be set for life.  This year I want to put money into each account for their birthdays in addition to whatever presents they get.  I think that could be a good tradition.  

Monday, January 20, 2020

Frugal Living - Annual Memberships

I'm not an official finance blogger, but I like to write about what works and what doesn't work.  If it can help someone then great!

Annual Memberships - we started cutting back in March 2019, and we haven't missed the two items cut.

  • We switched back to an old disk software of Microsoft 2013, as long as we can keep this edition working, we won't need an annual membership.  We use it for a few basic household charts:
    • Chore Chart
    • Menu
    • Favorite meal list
    • Bills - we've made our own excel checkbook and monthly budget
  • Executive Costco - got talked into it once by a fast talking manager, never needed it, haven't missed it.
This year I've cut my annual membership to 4-Word Women.  It's a fantastic organization - if you live in a city and can enjoy the events, but I live in a small town and the closest gatherings are in Washington DC.  I have literally never been to a single event as it's 1.5 hour drive, plus meal expenses and they always pick fancy restaurants so the anxiety of dressing for an event, making it on time, and then socializing is just too overwhelming.  I work from home, if it were local coffee house meet ups I'm totally there.  I actually did one coffee shop meet up in Winchester, MD with someone who was trying to build up the chapter, but I never heard from her again.  I haven't read their newsletters in two years so basically I have no reason whatsoever to continue this membership.  

The only memberships we have left are Costco and Amazon Prime.  I've debated these all year and continue to renew, however, they are still under discussion.
  • Costco - we have to drive to Frederick, 30 minutes away over mountains, not an attractive option in the winter, and time consuming.  I plan to try a free pass day at Sams, which is local, to see if I can get similar products.  I'm considering doing Costco quarterly for our favorites and just stocking up.  I really love their credit card, every year our rebate check gets bigger as we put all our expenses on the card and pay it off each month.  They offer 4% back on gas, 3% at restaurants, 3% on travel, 2% for Costco and 1% on all other purchases
  • Amazon - do I really need stuff in 2 days?  I think the days of them being the cheapest are gone, I price compare everything and it's getting harder to find a better deal at Amazon.  I think I only buy from them so I can skip a store run!  I don't watch Prime Video because the offerings are just not that interesting.  I do have their credit card and the cash back almost pays for the annual fee.  This one renews in July so I guess I have some time to evaluate it's value.
Summary - only keep the memberships that are actually providing value to your family!  

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Amaryllis update

January means it's time to take those amaryllis bulbs out of hibernation and replant them!  It's so exciting to have a January planting assignment, it makes spring feel that much closer!!

Just a quick recap on bulb care, in October, I removed all bulbs from their pots and placed them in a box with wood chips.  I left them in a dark corner of the basement where it stays around 70 degrees.  I'd prefer cooler but that's about as cool as I can seem to get it.  The bulbs are supposed to hibernate for 6 weeks, it's easier for me to just re-plant them in January after the busy holiday season. 

My husband set up this pink grow light which we bought from Lowes.  We bought the metal stand from Aldi for $40.00 this week.  The photos are a little weird because of the lighting.

I start out with a little water on day one, slightly more on day 2, try really hard to not get water on the bulb as it's fragile.  Each day I water a little more until the dirt seems more consistently damp.

I need to move the shelves, because they are right across from our heating/air conditioner unit which husband says sucks air from that general area so it might cause the plants to dry out too fast.  For now, I'm just happy to have replanted all 8-10 bulbs! 

Friday, December 27, 2019

Christmas Cookies

Here is a list of the Christmas desserts I like to make each year (reminder to self for following years as I seem to be more forgetful with age):

* Mocha Sandwich Cookies - Fine Cooking, these are a bit of work, but so worth it, I try to make them first so I don't get burned out with too much to do
* Fudge 
* Chunky Hazelnut Toffee Cookies
* M&M cookies
* Peppermint bark

Next Christmas I want to try Chocolate Crinkle Mint cookies.  I kept seeing them on Twitter and they look awesome.

Most of these make great gifts!  

Cherry Winks

I know this is a very common recipe, but my mom made a few minor changes that make this a family favorite so I need to document it here.


  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup shortening
  • 2 tablespoons cherry juice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup diced maraschino cherries
Mix the first two ingredients with a kitchen mixer until well blended.  Add cherry juice, vanilla and eggs until well mixed.  Add remaining ingredients until well blended.

  • 1 1/2 cup smashed cornflakes
  • 14 maraschino cherries, cut into quarters
Create cookie balls and roll in the corn flake mix, then add one quarter cherry on top, continue until all dough is finished.

The beauty of this recipe is the cookie turns pink with the juice and makes a really pretty cookie.  We've omitted nuts due to personal preference.  

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Christmas Cards

Every year that I sit down to do Christmas cards, I start by updating the address labels list.  Who has moved, died, divorced, etc.  It always surprises me at how much can change in one year, then I go back to past years to make sure I didn't miss anyone and I see more major changes.  I must have missed updating our list for a couple of years as I had to start with 2017 and that made the changes even more drastic:

* Husband's uncle/aunt moved due to tornado that completely destroyed their home
* Death of my mom's 2nd husband
* Aunt moved back in with her elderly father, don't need prior apartment address
* Death of husband's great aunt
* Death of husband's step-uncle
* Friends in Dallas moved in the last couple of years, need to recheck their address
* Death of husband's cousin
* Why is my Great Aunt Millie still on there??  She died in 2013! 
* Found friend Bob from a really old address page, he might have moved in the last 5 years, I can't remember, but he deleted his facebook page so hoping this reaches him.

For one year I'd like things to stay the same, no deaths, no forced moves, but that's not realistic now is it. 

Monday, December 16, 2019

1st Snow of the Season

I was really hoping the kids would get a day off, but sadly all they got was a 2 hour delay.  It really derailed my morning because I lost all focus.  I slept in till 7am, then sat for 40 minutes drinking coffee and reading news.  I then wandered upstairs and reorganized Violette's clothing bin so we could find her school clothes, got two girls dressed for school and by this time the youngest was pushing quit urgently to go outside and play in the snow.  I pushed back more insistently that she must eat breakfast first, get her hair done, then go outside and that took until 9am.  I don't know how it took that long, I spent time in the basement looking for boots, then again for gloves which I thought had already been placed into the snowsuit bin.  In between jumping up to look for things I ate bites of butternut squash bread.  By 9:15 three girls had made it outside, I still hadn't finished breakfast or made lunches!  I was exhausted, still hadn't showered, and it's a work day!  See this is why I wanted a "snow day" and not a delay because the delay just delays the kids leaving for school and letting me get on with my day!  At least they had fun making snowmen and various other things.