Saturday, May 25, 2019

Downtown House - Part 3

Our backyard is a small square lot and I don't think it's been domesticated in many years, there was a path but it had overgrown so badly it needs reset in most places.  While digging up the mess of weeds that served as grass we found a toilet brush, bricks, glass, rebar, and tons of small bits of trash.  These photos are after a few weeks of clean up, I look forward to sharing photos after the grass comes in, fence rebuilt, and plants have grown more.

Our canoe is in the process of being patched, this area still has some home improvement supplies that need to be brought into the house, there is a dog house and a board covering holes in fence.  Once this area is cleaned up, husband plans to put in a shed in this back corner.

In this area, we've added 4 tomato plants along the fence, lettuce next to the gnome and there are ferns behind the mushroom ready to come up.  I'm not fond of the tire with pot in the middle so this will be removed soon.  

This area is our stairs to the basement so we need to get this cleaned up so we can actually use the stairs, but there is no shed to put the lawn equipment, and basement is full so hard to imagine putting things down there.  Most of this will go into the shed once it's built.

This is the area in front of the porch, we put stumps from mom's house to serve as shelves for my amaryllises.  We plan to plant grass in the dirt area. 

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Downtown House - Remodel Post 2

Our front door is a mess.  The only logical solution would be to replace the door and framework to match the rest of the house, but we've already used up our house improvement budget for this month, and the backyard fence is more urgent due to holes and that it's a big summer job, so I decided to patch and paint.  Some holes can be filled with wood putty, small nail holes with spackle - I'm so confused at the number of nail holes in this door.  There have been several different locks installed over the years, each with a different hole made.  There is some serious wood damage in some areas but the overall door is solid and secure, so here goes my attempt to make it better for the interim.  

This small wedge was placed here when the wall next to it was fixed.  I used putty to smooth the two pieces of wood together.

For this hole, I couldn't think of a way to fit putty into it as there was no base, so I elected to just paint over it.

The large hole at the top of this photo was filled with putty, each nail hole filled with spackle and additional hardware removed.

Extra nail removed, nail holes filled and extra hardware removed.

This is where you can see prior lock systems and severely damaged wood, I can't fill all of this in, but I'll do my best to make it look better.

Extra hardware.


This is the entire door which taken in normal lighting doesn't show all the damage seen in close up photos.

Here is the door after I've painted the trim with three coats of white and filled the hole at the top window, painted the door one coat and added a curtain.  

There is a 1" hole where I removed some old hardware, we plan to fill it with a cut dial rod.  The hole below the handle is filled with putty and will take a week to dry then I can paint it.  The door needs about 2 more coats of paint and I plan to remove it from the hinges and paint it really well.  I hope when I'm done it looks nice enough to not see the damaged parts easily.

Thursday, May 09, 2019

What will my final words be?

Recent deaths in my orbit have shocked me.

A blogger who I've followed since 2008 lost her husband to cancer, he was a dad to three teenage daughters.  Having lost my dad at 32, I feel even more sad and devastated for this family because at least I had mine until my early 30's.  I can't stop thinking about them. 

A co-worker lost her dad to a fast moving cancer recently.  They had only 2 or 3 weeks with him before he passed away suddenly.  I was able to use my personal experience from losing my dad 15 years ago to help my co-worker by encouraging her when he was alive and then suggesting she stay an extra week after he passed away.  She was set to come back to work right after the funeral, I know people don't think clearly when they are grieving, so I gently suggested it would be perfectly fine if she stayed an extra week, I'm glad I could be helpful in her time of need. 

Our neighbor passed away last Friday.  A few days before dying, she was screaming profane language at her grand kids.  Her voice carried across the street and into my yard when I was hard at work in the garden, making it hard to enjoy the spring weather.  Usually I would head back into the house when she'd start screaming as it had become a regular occurrence.  Then suddenly on Friday the street was filled with ambulances and fire trucks as her son and family sat outside crying.  All the little kids she had screamed at were outside playing, all under 5 and oblivious to what was going on.  I should also say at this point she was wheel chair bound, and being home alone with that many little kids who don't listen well would be incredibly stressful.  I deeply regret not going over and offering to help.  I didn't expect her to die suddenly.  It is shockingly sad.

The next day Rachel Held Evans died.  I have no connection to her other than we shared the same first name.  When she first came on the Christian scene I took interest in her writing until she pivoted so far left that I had difficulty relating but I always admired her ability to ask tough questions even when I didn't agree with her theology.  I'm completely devastated that she left this world at 37 with two small children left behind. 

Tomorrow will be 15 years since my dad took his last breath.  Being surrounded by death and coming up on this anniversary has not made me melancholy, I've just been feeling a more urgent need to do more for people. 

I don't know how much time I have left, but I'd like to use it for good.  I'm trying to send out encouraging messages to those in my orbit and I hope to be remembered as someone who reached out when people needed encouragement. 

Thursday, May 02, 2019

Downtown House - Remodel Post 1

After writing my very grumpy post about our downtown house in spring, I felt galvanized to do something about it.  First we dug up the back yard weeds, then reorganized the stone pathway on a 50 degree day, which was fortunate timing because it was hard work resetting the pathway.  Next we planted grass seed; directions suggest 45-60 degree weather is best so I guess our timing is spot on.

Indoors, I began repainting the banisters and entry to front room.  Our predecessors had left the house I would say 90% re-modeled but there are many small tasks that need done.  The sell price was adjusted accordingly so it's fine.  I just needed to get myself from winter hibernation to spring over-achiever mode. 

I started by painting the banisters at the bottom of the stairs - one area that's hard to pick up from is another persons vision for the house.  So we have conversations like - what do you think he had in mind for this area with a bunch of over spray on old wood?  Our conclusion - he had planned to paint over everything.  So I began the thriftiest way possible - using up paint left in the basement.  First baseboards around the entrance, that was an easy choice.  Next banisters in Cyberpunk to match other parts of the house.  I like it, but the kids hate it.  Who knew kids could be so opinionated.

I moved onto the wooden entrance to the front room that had a hurried white coat of paint applied.  Husband suggested gray for the center and white on top and bottom.  I'm still not sure I like the white on top but I'll leave it for a few weeks to see if it still bothers me later. 

I forgot to take before photos so here's the after:

Monday, April 22, 2019

Frugal Living ~ Earth Day 2019

Isn't it wonderful how living a frugal life often goes hand in hand with environmental goals?  By making many foods from scratch, you save money and buy less metal and plastic containers!

Here are some of our frugal/environmental habits:

  • Make homemade yogurt 
  • Make homemade iced coffee
  • Use dried beans to make multiple meals, I've written about black beans and pinto's
  • Plant a garden from seeds, not starter plants that come with plastic pots but if you really must buy a starter tomato plant, then at least keep the plastic pot and reuse it for as long as possible
  • Wash and reuse zip lock bags, I can't bring myself to stop buying them completely but I can and will make myself wash and reuse them.
  • Cut out paper plates - sure they are convenient but wouldn't you rather have that money in the stock market gaining compound interest until retirement?  Oh yeah, I've been reading Millennial Money's Financial Freedom book.  Side note - I've even tried buying what are called compostable paper plates but we know from personal experience they take forever to break down and we end up throwing them in the trash which is just very sad.  It's a completely unnecessary cost so we've banned buying paper plates this year.
  • Compost all degradable food wastes, we live in the city with a very small backyard and we are still committed to this habit.  How does this save money?  We don't have to buy dirt for our garden!  My butternut squash are a testament to how big and happy food can be when it's given composted dirt.
  • Shop at Aldi - it will force you to bring your own bags and not use plastic shopping bags just because they are there and convenient.  Aldi is cheaper than Walmart so it's kinda a no brainer in the frugal world.  
I'm not a hard core "no plastic" kind-of-girl, but I do want to do my part in cutting back on our trash contribution to the planet.  I love that it goes hand in hand with our frugal goals.  

Other areas we are looking for savings in both cost and environmental:

I'm psyching myself up for canceling our Prime membership to Amazon $119.  It's set to renew in June or July.  I keep thinking about the cost to the environment to ship often times one item I have to wonder if it's worth it to me to continue.  I also am not sure it's really saving us that much money and we never watch anything on Prime streaming or use the Prime reading options.

We are also considering consolidating our Costco runs to every two months.  We love Costco, but it's a 30 minute trip and we currently go once a month.  Next month we are going to see how it goes to buy for two months.  

In summary, we would like to wish all a Happy Earth Day and Happy Savings Day!  :)

"Beware of little expenses; a small leak will sink a great ship." Benjamin Franklin

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Homemade ~ Vanilla Chia Avocado Smoothie

Husband and I used to work for Smoothie King in Florida, and a short stint with our friend in Pittsburgh when she owned "The Juice Shop" so we've got some mad smoothie making skills, lol.

This is a green smoothie, without the horror of spirulina - if you like it then just disregard this entire recipe because this is for those who want a green smoothie without puke inducing spirulina.


  • 5 cubes of ice
  • 1/4 avocado ripe enough that you can press a finger gently into it and cut easily with a knife, if it's too hard then wait a few days, hard avocado is never a good thing
  • 1/2 banana - fresh or frozen (although frozen will help make your smoothie colder)
  • 1 Tablespoon Nesquik Vanilla powder - I only specify this brand because other vanilla powders are very expensive, this can be found at CVS (oddly enough not found on Amazon).
  • 1/3 cup Oregon Chai Tea sugar free, I've found this at my local Walmart or homemade Chai
  • 2/3 cup Milk (I use 2% but use whatever milk you prefer)
  • 1 handful of spinach 
Blend until smooth.

I don't taste the spinach and since I'm not big on salads, it gives me a dose of greens.  I have a cheap blender and it manages to blend the spinach so well there are no chunks.  This is a 16oz smoothie.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Downtown House - 1st Spring

We're getting comfortable here, having survived one winter - that makes it sound so dreary doesn't it?  Like as if we had to work hard to survive.  It's not Laura Ingalls Wilder's world, sorry to be so dramatic.  It's just that a new house brings surprises that are not always easy to work through - there were the surprise mice that moved in late fall, the vast number of windows in our bedroom that should have gotten some sort of plastic film to keep the winter at bay, the shockingly high electric bill for lack of any other heat source, and the stupid bugs who just won't take a hint and stop inhabiting our dishwasher (I swear they scoff at our attempts to poison them).  Oh, and the unfinished stairs that continually caused kids to get splinters until we finally finished covering them in carpet.  And the cat, who is 19 years old and no longer wants to use her litter box.

New homes, they bring so many surprises and make old pets a little loopy.  Is it any wonder that it's spring and I already feel like house hunting again - that and the shockingly horrific increase in Maryland taxes.  I know I just need to work harder at making this home more comfortable.  Right now there are no spring flowers in the yard, I guess we didn't get to them in the fall.  We were so caught up with mom's move right after ours, then a trip to Asia that was 17 days long that nothing got done around here for several months.  I complained about lack of curtains for so long that a friend just recently asked if I'd finally managed to cover all seven windows in our master bedroom and closet area.  We did, I had to go to 3 Walmarts and shop online to find enough.  I guess they consistently didn't stock more than 1 or 2 of the same curtain at each store.  So weird.

On a positive note, my amaryllises are blooming and gorgeous as always.  So here are my lovely indoor spring flowers:

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Frugal Living - Taxes (Rewrite - after initial freak out)

As a work-from-home consultant, I try to be very conscience of all the factors affecting our tax bill.  I pay quarterly and base those payments on prior years.  I'm careful and meticulous about receipt documentation, charity records, travel mileage, home office costs, etc.  For five years this has worked well for me, some years I owe, then I adjust my quarterly filings to compensate, occasionally I'll get a minor refund and that is the goal - to pay enough into the system that I don't owe anything.

This new tax code worked out okay on the federal side, I got a very minor return, but something happened with Maryland.  They saw the federal government was making big changes so they made their own changes that caused a $1200 increase!  I made a mistake last year and didn't carry over one 1K in tax so we ended up with a bill for 2,227.

I must have missed a memo, news article, something - where was the notification to pay 25% more for the same salary?!?

Thankfully I believe in hyper savings so we are able to pay this bill, but it doesn't help that I left taxes to the last minute, filed on the deadline and had to frantically move money around hoping it would enter my account and leave it without causing further mayhem.

I'm thankful tax season is over but I plan to spend more time each quarter updating my chart of deductibles so that I have less work to do next year when tax season rolls around.

Here is a breakdown of the new tax form as I understand it:

We qualified for the standard 24K deduction, this means we can no longer claim mortgage interest and charitable donations.  Bummer, I liked writing off tithe, Compassion and other miscellaneous charities but I used to spend a lot of time analyzing the donation value of household items and clothing that we donate to the Hope Center and I'm kinda happy I can just drop off and skip the paper work now.

I can still write off office supplies, 50% business meals, vehicle miles, mobile phone, internet, and business travel expenses.  Our IRA's are an adjustment to income and we could start a 401K to drop our tax level further.

I think by next year I might like the new tax code for federal as they did make it simpler and easier to fill out.  The 24K deductible covers our charity and mortgage interest so those are just two less things to deal with, although I wonder how many people will cut back on charitable donations now that it's no longer an easy deductible.

I'm still peeved with Maryland for increasing our taxes 25% but I'll get over it.  Taxes are inevitable - right?

Friday, April 05, 2019

Frugal Living ~ Kid Consignments

I've been selling my kids clothing, baby equipment and used toys at local consignment pop up shops for the past two and a half years at three different sales. 

Kids Closet Hagerstown
Kid Cycle Myersville
It's Nearly New Williamsport

My favorite, It's Nearly New, ended in 2018.  I was very sad about this because I liked the owner very much and enjoyed working with her since I first started consigning in 2016.

My 2nd favorite just finished their 3rd event and I've enjoyed watching them grow.  It's a family affair, the dads set up, grandma helps out with the kids, and two moms share the event.  They are really nice and fun to work with, there are volunteers who help put my stuff out on the floor, and when I come to pick up, everything is consolidated.  This will be my go-to event going forward.

Kids Closet is okay for picking up things I can't find at a smaller sale, but the prices can be higher and quality is not always worth the price.  I've tried consigning with them several times and it's always been a hassle to find my items, no one helps and I don't see enough to make it worth the effort. 

I once read a successful bloggers take that consigning isn't worth her time.  I get it, time is a finite resource and it's not renewable, but I like the community aspect of bringing my kids stuff to an event, talking with other mom's and finding good deals on items.  We've gotten cheap skates for $3.00 that my kids can practice in, a small harp with music sheets, pajamas for $3.00, etc.  I could still get these deals by not consigning, but I enjoy getting some money back for our gently used items.  So even though I'm not making much per hour, sometimes $3.00 per hour, I don't care, I'll keep doing it until I run out of items to sell. 

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Art - Photoshop Kids About to Fly Away

It was extremely windy at Target on April 1st, so we thought it would be hilarious to take photos of the kids looking like they were about to blow away and post them on Facebook.  Lots of friends liked our post but didn't comment, it took a 6 year old looking over her mom's shoulder to inquire about how we did this, mom asked and 6yr old said we had fooled them good for April fools!  LOL.

Here's the basics on how to edit children about to fly away, without going into detailed steps.

First we take a photo without dad.

Next we take photo of dad holding child up.

Next we crop dad out of the photo and replace the background with the first photo, the straight line of the building makes this very easy to line up.

She looks so relaxed.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Frugal Living ~ Annual Memberships

As we continue to drill down into our expenses I've come across two unnecessary expenses:

1. Microsoft Office $99.99
2. Costco Executive Membership $60

We haven't used our Microsoft Office and don't really see the need for it so it seemed like a good candidate for cancel but it was bought through Best Buy so the annual renewal was going through their Geeksquad group and the email was going to one we didn't use anymore so it took some effort to get this canceled.  They tried to say we were over 30 days but I pressed hard to have the entire amount reimbursed as we had not used it and I called as soon as we got the credit card bill. 

I think the most frustrating thing is that we can no longer buy and own software, it's now on an annual membership fee so that makes it an ongoing expensive investment.  Whereas before we'd have paid potentially $400 and held it for 10 years, we would now have to pay $1000 for 10 years of usage.  Unless we are using it professionally I can't see continuing this kind of investment.

At Costco, someone at the register convinced me that I had to have Executive membership so we signed up for it 3 years ago, big mistake, I called to cancel and the guy frankly told me the first year we only made back $4, the next year a little more, and now this year $47.96.  The whole idea is that you make 2% back and if you use all the associated services it will pay itself back the entire $60 but we were not utilizing the services so we overpaid.  They were nice enough to credit the difference for the past year but I regret the prior 2 years of not paying attention to this renewal.

The take away is - pay attention to those renewal membership fees and evaluate each year if they are still necessary.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Last stop - Orlando!

I'm sure by now it's no secret that I develop toys for theme parks and part of that work involves visiting locations to scout out what the competition is up to.  In order to make this work for the kids and dog, I made sure we got a family resort that was dog friendly.  Holiday Inn Resort is 5 minutes from Disney Springs and has double bunk beds!  We were able to have one evening of fun at the hotel, and then on Saturday everyone (except the dog) was off to Disney Springs.  The family stayed busy at the Lego Store while I worked my way through World of Disney.  Everyone was happy with their custom Lego figs and no one complained when I ducked out to work. 

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Moving onto Fort Lauderdale

Mixing business with vacation, what a concept!  The gulf side was our vacation side, moving onto Fort Lauderdale to touch base with my work office and pick up a package for an upcoming meeting.  My oldest remembered the office from our time of living in Florida but the others did not.  They were wowed by all the toys and the COO gave them all Banbao toys to take home. 

Once I finished with work commitments, we moved onto our next Airbnb which had a life size chess set in the backyard!  The kids played while I finished work projects. 

For dinner we went out to our favorite local Mexican restaurant, Tijuana Flats, followed by a visit to Pompano Beach during sunset. 

It was Pi day so we grabbed some key lime pie from Bone Fish on the way back to the Airbnb and then I continued to work after the kids went to bed.  Well, at least they enjoyed their day, and I got pie so I'm not complaining about working on a vacation.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Blind Pass Park, Manasota, FL

For our last day on the gulf side, we picked Manasota for it's renown shark teeth, it was also pretty good shelling.  Once again super big high five for free parking, awesome bathroom area and short walk to the beach!  What a nice location for family beach day. 

We found several shark teeth and more in the local gift shop.  Really fun beach for kids because shark teeth are awesome.

As a side note, we started the day with car trouble and Mike left before the kids got up to drop our vehicle at a nearby mechanic.  We spent the morning getting caught up on laundry, dishes, and cleaning.  It gave us a break from all the outdoor action and when we left after lunch, the dog was only home alone for half a day.  

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Brohard Dog Beach, Venice FL

High five to the city of Venice, FL.  It was free parking and entrance.  The layout of picnic tables before going into the park was outstanding, an entire parking lot with one long row of picnic tables next to a pretty wild life preserve lake.  So nice and convenient.  Very clean restroom area before going into the beach area and double gates before going through to keep dogs from bolting into areas that are not safe for them. Did I mention free!?!

Monday, March 11, 2019

Punta Gorda, FL

Spring Break Day 4

We picked a place in Punta Gorda, FL because it was an entire house that allowed pets for less than $100 per night.  It's located in the same general area as Venice Beach and Fort Myers but when you get there you realize it's about 30-40 minutes from each.

Punta Gorda seems to be a tiny tourist town better suited for retired folks who want to dine out and not for kids and dogs.  The first day we got in around 4pm and went straight to the closest park with beach view at Ponce De Leon, which does not allow dogs.  It was a little disappointing as we couldn't walk on the beach with the exception of a tiny space, puzzled as to why they would build a concrete barrier there, maybe has to do with flooding or something.  They had a bird sanctuary in the park but hours are short, a few statues, a place to launch boats, and fishing from a pier.  One small play area with a few swings and one slide.  The only plus side was we didn't have to pay for parking or entrance.

We spent our time digging for shells along the mangrove mini beach area.