Friday, August 18, 2017

7 Ways I've Been Saving Money Lately

With only one income and a new mortgage payment to worry about, our budget lately has been tighter than ever, which has forced me to dig even deeper to save pennies wherever I can. As I mentioned in my last post, staying at home right now is a tough call, not just because I'd sometimes like to take up a part-time job just for my own personal growth and sanity, but also because we really could use the extra income.

But, since we feel like this is the place I really need to be right now, we've been making the sacrifices necessary to make that happen. Here are a few of the ways lately that we've been saving money:

Note: You will notice I've used some affiliate and/or referral links in this, but I was not paid to write this post at all. Every one of these things is something I use and love, and I'm only wanting to pass along the savings! I would still encourage you to try some of these tips even if you didn't want to use my referral links.

1. We've slashed our discretionary spending down to the bone. 

Before, we were able to allocate $50 a month for each of us to put towards our own "personal" use, which included things like clothes, books, cost of hobbies, gym passes (for me), etc. Later, when we knew we were about to go down to one income and needed to save more, we cut it down to about $20 apiece per month. Now, we just talk about any necessity or want that comes up and decide together if our budget can handle it. A lot of times, it means that we just don't get new clothes or that I look around for secondhand things.

And you know what?

We really don't need as much as we think we do.

2. Whenever I do decide to indulge in some discretionary spending, I usually do it online, and I always use eBates

I can't remember if it was my sister or my mom that got me into eBates, but I was pretty hesitant at first--the whole thing seemed too good to be true, but I've now been doing it for years and love it. Basically, you sign up for an eBates account and install their little icon on your browser's tool bar. Every time you go to a participating online store (and there are a TON), the little window will pop up and ask you if you want to activate your cash back (usually between 1-12% cash back). Then, once that's activated, if you end up making a purchase, you will get that amount of cash back from your purchase.

I literally just got a check today in the mail for a little over $7 from one of my latest purchases online. Sure, it's only $7, but having those checks come periodically over the year (I've had some that are closer to $20) are always a help.

If you're interested, click my referral link here to sign up, which means that you start getting cash back for your purchases, and I get a small referral credit (at no cost to you). Also, if you go through that link, I *believe* that you get a $10 credit towards whatever online purchase you make next through eBates, so a win-win for us both!

This service has been especially nice when I've bought anything big online, like earlier this year when I splurged on a new camera. Not only did I get a good deal on the camera to begin with, but with my 6% cash back or whatever it was, I ended up getting an additional $15 or so "off" my purchase, when you factored in the money I'd be getting back. Win-win.

3. I've managed to cut our grocery spending to around $250-280 a month for the three of us, which includes ALL of our household items such as toilet paper, diapers, shampoo, makeup for me, etc. A lot of this comes down to following the tips on saving on groceries that I outlined in this post, but some additional pointers:

- Although a lot of people think of groceries as a "fixed" amount each month, there is actually a LOT of discretionary spending that's often done at the grocery store. So, if you're tight on money, it's much easier to look at that half-gallon of ice cream and recognize it as a want (or that bag of rolls that just looks good or that gallon of orange juice you hadn't planned on getting but that's on sale...) and not something you really need to get. We tend to eat MUCH healthier when we're on a super tight budget because we just can't afford to buy a whole lot of treats and processed things.

- Don't be married to a brand. This one can be super tough, but I try to just go for the cheapest brand no matter what, rather than sticking to just one brand all the time. A couple notable exceptions: I have accustomed myself to having really good salt for my cooking (I like the Diamond Crystal kosher salt) and pure vanilla (not vanilla extract) because I can taste the difference and to me, the extra expense is worth it. However, I still try to get these items on sale and/or in bulk to save at least some money.

- I shop at a limited number of stores so that I know what a "really good" price on something is. Right now, I only shop at a bulk store (Sam's Club) and Smith's regularly, and because I've just shopped at those two places for years, I know the usual prices on all the things that we purchase on a regular basis, so I try to plan out my trips based on that. Sometimes I'll hit up both stores on the same grocery day (like I did this morning), and sometimes I'll just visit one of them in a week (or two), but I try not to buy anything there that's not going to net me the best price. Therefore, if I know cereal is better at Smith's (because of coupons and specials and such), I will not buy cereal at Sam's Club, even if it means an extra trip to Smith's later that day or, more often, me just waiting until the next week to buy that item.

4. I buy meat in bulk, when possible.

This one can be SO HARD for me since our budget is often so tight, but I've priced it out again and again, and it just almost always makes more sense to buy meat in bulk. (The exception? Those "reduced-price manager's specials" you can find marked down with a special sticker.)

Although we go meatless now a lot more than we used to, we still do have meat, so I try to be as economical as I can about it. One thing I'm saving for right now is a chest freezer to keep in our garage (I'm looking at this one on Amazon, which is a highly rated 7.1 cubic feet chest freezer for under $200!). I have loved living in our new house and love almost everything about it, but one thing that's been hard is that we have a TINY freezer now, so in order to make sure that none of that meat goes to waste, we're going to invest in the chest freezer, keep buying meat in bulk, and keep it in there until we're ready to use it.

I also have signed up with Zaycon Fresh, which is a meat company that has pick-up locations where you can pick up meat in bulk for incredible prices. I thought that since I've now moved to a more rural town, they would no longer be in my area, but I was wrong---there are a ton of pick-up locations right down the street from us, and the quantities and types of meat available change regularly. Plus, the company is basically a farm-to-consumer type business, so you're not paying a lot of the extra overhead costs of having a bunch of companies in the middle (and you're supporting farms that are a lot closer to you than you would be by buying at the grocery store!).

5. However, with buying meat in bulk, you do have to be careful about how you store it so that it doesn't go to waste---that's where my Food Saver comes in.

When my mom asked me just before last Christmas if we wanted one of those as our joint Christmas gift rather than what we usually would get, I was totally all over it---but I didn't realize HOW MUCH that glorious little Food Saver machine would save us money until we had it.

And now we use it All. The. Time.

Basically, it's a personal vacuum sealer that you can use to seal up just about anything you could want so that it stays as fresh as it did when you first bought it, and it has kind of been revolutionary for us.

Before, I would definitely freeze meat (just in the double-seal Ziploc bags), but the color of the meat always changed in the freezer no matter how careful I seemed to be, and the meat almost always got some degree of freezer burn on it.

Now, after 8 months of hard use of our Food Saver, we've never dealt with any freezer burn or even any color changes, and the meat is perfect when we take it out and get ready to prepare it. (And I've also tried to save myself a lot of time by pre-cooking up a huge batch of meat like ground beef or cup-up chicken breasts and just freezing those in meal-size portions, and it's worked great! You can't even tell it was ever frozen.)

Also, the Food Saver allows you to reseal any bags you want (without vacuuming the air out first), so we've been able to keep stuff like tortilla chips or frozen vegetables fresher for longer too, since we can just seal them up as many times as we need.

Seriously, this machine is amazing.

6. I've started scoping out the local classifieds or thrift stores when we have things come up that we need.

I've never been much of a thrift store shopper, but ever since we started buying up storage sheds at auction and selling stuff on local classifieds, I have realized that there is SO MUCH good stuff on there, at a fraction of the price you'd pay in a store.

Having sold a ton of stuff on those sites myself, I know that you can often find items that are in new or like-new condition for super cheap, just because the person wants to get at least SOME return on their money.

It was thanks to an online classified ad that we were able to get the huge (and high quality) poster-size picture frames for our living room for only $5/apiece, and it was thanks to my mom posting on her local classifieds section on Facebook that we were able to get a lawn mower and three dressers for our new home, all for free (oh, and our dryer, too!).

Shopping this way not only is much easier on the environment, but it also saves us a toooooon of money.

(I'm convinced that next time I'm pregnant, if I for some reason need more maternity clothes, I'm going to check out those sites FIRST because people will part with entire maternity wardrobes for $20, just because they'll never need them again and want to get some return back on their money!)

7. One thing I'm looking more into now that Raven is old enough to need her own plate of food when we do go out to eat is to look for restaurants where kids eat free with an adult entree. 

For years, there have been times where Matt and I have just split an adult entree (usually so we could leave a little room to split a dessert!), so if we were to do that again, we'd have a super cheap meal out where we'd just need to pay for one adult meal (and possible a dessert, too, just for fun).

While I don't know of many places where kids ALWAYS eat free (okay, I don't know of any), I know of several where kids eat free on certain nights, so if we're able to be flexible when we go out, that's the way to go.

As per tip #1, we hardly go out at all, but we do try to set aside a little money for splurges every month, so this tip is an easy way of ensuring that the occasional meal out at a restaurant is almost always a feasible option!

What are some things you've done to save money lately?

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Choose Your Own Adventure

Anyone who grew up when the Goosebumps series ran rampant must surely remember the "Choose Your Own Adventure" books--novels that allowed you, the reader, to make a decision at certain junctures in the story that would lead to different outcomes. As any avid reader probably did, I always had to find out ALL the adventure options, just to make sure I was choosing the right one.

Sometimes in life I feel like doing that---like I feel the need to try out ALL my options before I commit to just one, just so I can know that I'm choosing the "right" path, or the "best" one.

After I first had Raven, a part of me was glad I would be going back to work full-time, just to see what that path felt like. I thought I'd always wanted to be a working mom, so I was secretly kind of relieved that life put me in a position where it made much more sense for me to teach that fourth year rather than to quit and stay at home right away.

After a full school year away from my daughter during all those hours of the day, however, I decided, without any hesitation, that the stay-at-home mom life would, for me, be the path I'd rather choose, and I quit my job.

Here I am now, over a year later, and my feelings a month or two ago about the whole thing were much less clear cut. I felt like I was drowning in isolation, like I was stagnating in my personal growth, like day after day, I was going just a little more crazy...

So I started looking for a job again, sure that that must be the answer.

Well, without going into detail about the hows and whys and whatnot, I felt a distinct impression about a month ago that I needed, again, to choose to stay at home.

Because I felt sure about the impression, it actually became easier to just embrace (again) the season that I am in right now, instead of waffling over whether or not I should keep applying for jobs, or keep on looking.

And so I looked for ways to start embracing this season more than I was before, when I felt so much anguish about it.

I reminded myself that if I feel stuck inside the house, then I, as a grown woman with access to a car and in full possession of a valid driver's license, can take us OUT of the house for the morning or afternoon.

I reminded myself that if I feel stuck doing the same things over and over again, that I, as a grown woman, have the option and ability to change things up, to not always follow the routine, to break those artificial rules that I have constructed in my head.

And you know what?

Sometimes, that "rule-breaking" or that sense of adventure have led us to have wonderful afternoons filled with new experiences and lots to talk about with Matt when he gets home.

Sometimes, that rule-breaking will simply remind me WHY I set that particular "rule" in the first place, like by letting us run out of clean underwear and find out that yes, it IS a good idea to keep Friday as the eternal Laundry Day for now. (Or that YES, I really should allow for an afternoon nap on the majority of days.)

Basically, I've been thinking a lot about something my mom told me when I was still teaching, when I was griping about how I was sick of working and just wanted to stay at home already---

I had been using language that made myself out as the victim, language that basically said I had no CHOICE but to be working at that moment in time.

My mom sure put me in my place fast (nicely, of course)---she reminded me that there were ALWAYS other options that I could pursue, but that this was the one I had CHOSEN at this time. If I prayerfully thought that something really needed to change, I could look for those other options and make them happen, rather than let myself be drowned out by the voice that tries to tell me I am stuck in my circumstances.

So for now, I have chosen (again) to embrace being a stay-at-home mom. I have chosen to rededicate myself to the hundreds of little things that need to be done over and over and over again daily, and not to resent it, but to rejoice in it.

And you know what?

The attitude that I am choosing my own adventure (and that I feel, deep down, that I have chosen the best adventure for me at this moment in time) has made all the difference.

(All photos from a day when I realized that if I was bored sitting at home, I had the power to get us out of that home---so we went on a miniature hike to explore the new canyon by our house, then out to get 59-cent cones at the McDonald's just down the street. The excursion showed me that I don't need a lot of money or perfect weather or even other adults to just take an adventure--I just need to make myself do it.) 

This post reminded me forcibly of this past post, but I thought that it all bore repeating since I apparently needed to go through the same thinking process again.

Monday, August 14, 2017

12 Recent Reads I'm On the Fence About (Some May Surprise You!)

Any reader will tell you that reading tastes vary widely--that there are as many tastes in books as there are colors in a paint store.

But still, there are SOME books that MANY, even MOST people seem to like, or at least to widely recommend. This is largely how I've come across the majority of books I've read this year---through recommendations made by other people, who liked these books so much that they were eager to pass them along.

But, for whatever reason or other, all twelve of these books, though highly recommended to me, didn't *quite* make it into either my wow!-loved-this category (aka, 4 or 5 stars on Goodreads) or my wow!-that-was-truly-awful category (aka, 1 star on Goodreads, although a couple sure came in pretty close at only two and two and a half stars!).

Sometimes it was the writing style, sometimes it was the predictability, sometimes it was a trigger (such as an overload of terrible language and/or uncomfortable content), and sometimes it was just because the story didn't grip me as much as I wanted it to, but for whatever reason, here are the 12 titles I've read lately that I'm distinctly on the fence about:

Title: The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World's Happiest Country
Author: Helen Russell
My Goodreads Rating: 3 stars (Overall Rating on Goodreads: 3.95)

I'm usually a sucker for books about people's real-life year-long experiments to drastically change their life in some way, but this one fell flat for me. (In fact, the genre as a whole is starting to seem a little overdone, to be honest.) This particular one follows the author as she moves with her husband to Denmark when he lands a job working for Lego. Since Denmark is known as the happiest country in the world, Russell decides to focus each month on a different aspect of Danish life that contributes to their happiness and try to apply it to her own. Though parts of this were rather funny and I learned a lot about Danish culture, I actually came away wanting to try hygge-inspired happiness LESS. Overall, the book was enjoyable enough to press through (though it felt like it ran on too long), but not life-changing or inspiring to me in any way.

Title: A Circle of Quiet 
Author: Madeleine L'Engle
My Goodreads Rating: 3.5 stars (Overall Rating on Goodreads: 4.22)

Like many books that are based on journals or collections of assorted thoughts and stories, I either LOVED the section I was reading, or I didn't care for it at all and became rather bored reading it. Since this particular Crosswicks Journal covered the period of L'Engle's life when she had all her kids at home and was in the thick of mothering and writing and homemaking and meeting deadlines, I thought that there would be a lot more stories about balance, or about her thoughts on being a parent or a working homemaker. However, the journal was much more focused on writing and her own self-reflections as she experienced various things, both personal in her own life and in her outward community as a whole. I went into this expecting to be highlighting something every other page, but I was a bit disappointed when I only wanted to highlight maybe a dozen things total. There was a lot of this I could have done away with, but like I said, the sections that I was interested in were what made the book worth reading for me.

Title: The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Author: Neil Gaiman
My Goodreads Rating: 3 Stars (Overall Rating on Goodreads: 3.99)

Since I'd already read Gaiman's The Graveyard Book (and quite liked it), as well as some of his other picture books, I knew to expect that anything written by him would be a bit, well, strange. (I've even called him the Tim Burton of the literary world). So it wasn't the strangeness factor on this one that took the rating down for me--in fact, there wasn't anything in particular that dragged this book down at all: it just simply wasn't page-turning or mind-altering or highly-enjoyable enough to warrant the extra stars. I will grant that this one had some excellent quotes in it, though---passages that had I owned my own copy, I would have highlighted and dog-eared and read over and over.

Title: Anything is Possible
Author: Elizabeth Strout
My Goodreads Rating: 3 stars (Overall Rating on Goodreads: 3.87)

As a general rule of thumb, for a book to receive four or five stars from me, it must meet a few criteria: 1) it must be well-written and not be too predictable or full of cliches, 2) it must be a book that's memorable and that I'm likely to look back on and think about for years to come, and 3) it must make me want to talk about it and recommend it to others. While this book was brilliantly written (Strout is a phenomenal writer, no doubt about that), this collection of loosely connected stories didn't hold enough real substance for me to remember it much beyond the turning of the last page, and it definitely wasn't the kind of book I'd be quick to want to talk about with someone, just because I felt like there wasn't that much to say about it.

Title: Every Exquisite Thing 
Author: Matthew Quick
My Goodreads Rating: 2 stars (Overall Rating on Goodreads: 3.68)

This is the lowest-rated book in the pack, and it's definitely bordering on flat-out dislike rather than just sitting on the fence. First, it must be noted that I loved Quick's other novel (The Silver Linings Playbook), so I came into this one with high expectations for another homerun. It also didn't help that I read David Arnold's Mosquitoland just before this, which took the same kind of rebellious-teenager-seeks-to-find-her-authentic-self theme and did it well, whereas this one just made me hate the main character more and more by the end. Thanks to a cool sub-story in this one (about a book called The Bubblegum Reaper and the man who wrote it), this one might have scraped a third star, but a totally out-of-left-field event late in the book really took this one down for me---I just felt like the story kept on losing more and more traction as it kept going. 

Title: Eleanor & Park
Author: Rainbow Rowell
My Goodreads Rating: 3.5 stars (Overall Rating on Goodreads: 4.11)

Oh man, this book--this one was particularly frustrating because story-wise, writing-wise, memorability-wise, this could have easily gotten 4 or 5 stars from me. But the thing that brought it down? SO. MUCH. LANGUAGE. And so much adult-themed stuff that I would never in a million years recommend it for a teenager, which is the target audience for this book. I know many writers feel like this kind of thematic content is "just how the world is for teenagers today," but that's just not true for all teens. I really wished this one would have been a lot cleaner--I don't think anything in the story would have been lost.

Title: The Lost Book of the Grail 
Author: Charlie Lovett
My Goodreads Rating: 3.5 stars (Overall Rating on Goodreads: 3.86)

Overall, this was a fun mystery that was written rather well, though it seemed pretty slow at times. I was satisfied by how everything wrapped up (in fact, the ending made me like the book more), but the relationship between the two main characters didn't intrigue me as much as it was supposed to, perhaps because it didn't quite seem believable, but rather slightly forced. Basically, consider this a literary mystery with a dash of romance and history thrown in. It was a fun read, but I didn't exactly consider it a page-turner until about the last third or so.

Title: When Dimple Met Rishi 
Author: Sandhya Menon
My Goodreads Rating: 3 stars (Overall Rating on Goodreads: 3.89)

Though this story of two teenagers being set up by their traditional Indian parents was kind of fun, I did find it fairly predictable and wasn't really wowed by it (but then again, I'm not really one to like "romances," really, especially ones that have such cheesy moments in them, like this one did). If you like YA romances, you'd probably like this one a lot more than I did. It was fairly clean as far as language and such went, though it did have some sexual references and one sexual scene (that were not terribly explicit). In summary, I'm not sorry I read this (as I found it mildly entertaining), but it's not one I would really be excited to recommend, either.

Title: Edenbrooke
Author: Julianne Donaldson
My Goodreads Rating: 3.5 stars (Overall Goodreads Rating: 4.34) 

And this is where I anger everyone who's ever read this book (especially those in my neck of the woods, as people here are like, OBSESSED with this)---this one was just cute and fluffy for me, but never one that I'd actually want to read again. I found the story fairly predictable, and there were many moments throughout where I literally rolled my eyes at the main character, as she was just SO CLUELESS. All in all, it was not enough to convert me to liking romances any more than before (although, it must be noted, it was nice to read a totally clean romance for once!), but it was kind of a fun "candy" book to pass the time.

Title: At Home in the World 
Author: Tsh Oxenreider
My Goodreads Rating: 3.5 stars (Overall Rating on Goodreads: 4.27)

I wanted to be WOWED by this one so badly, especially because I adore Tsh's blog The Art of Simple, but this one didn't *quite* live up to my expectations. While I found her reflections on traveling with kids and on finding out more about herself and about the wider world to be spot-on, I felt like a little bit too much of this book read like an unedited daily log of events: "We traveled there. It was hot. We had jet lag. This was pretty." Had the book tightened up its descriptions on the actual traveling and places visited a bit more, as well as thrown in some more reflections throughout (esp. near the beginning), I think I would have liked this one more. As it was, it was just in the middle for me.

Title: Traveling with Pomegranates
Authors: Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor
My Goodreads Rating: 2.5 Stars (Overall Rating on Goodreads: 3.44)

This one barely scraped 2.5 stars for me, and the only reason it wasn't at a solid 2-star rating is because I quite liked the last few chapters on the actual writing of the book itself. It might just be that I read this book at the wrong time in my life, or maybe that I went into it with the wrong expectations of what the book would be about, but this was not some delightful mother-daughter tale of travel and intrigue, but rather a long and drawn out string of self-absorbed reflections, with heavy descriptions of Greek architecture and myths thrown in. This one just really dragged, though it did have some nice thoughts thrown in here and there.

Title: The Art of Hearing Heartbeats 
Author: Jan-Philipp Sendker
My Goodreads Rating: 3.5 stars (Overall Rating on Goodreads: 3.98)

I finally joined a book club, and this was the first selection that I read for my first meeting. As I wrote on my Goodreads full review, this book was what I expected Love in the Time of Cholera to be like (but that it definitely, DEFINITELY wasn't), so on that hand, I liked it--I liked the feeling of an exotic love story that stands the test of time and place and circumstance, and this novel just had such a sense of mystery about it that made it a really quick read. However, if I stop to think about the premise too long, the moral implications of the story REALLY start to bug me, and I also noticed several gaping plot holes that kept me from wanting to really recommend this one.

Were you surprised by my reaction to any of these? Which ones have you read? Let's talk books!

For ten recent reads worth recommending for sure (aka, that I'm not on the fence about), click here.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Our Front Living Room Mid-Process (+ Before/After Pics)

One thing you will quickly notice from any of our house pictures is that, first and foremost, an interior designer I am not. While I definitely love a beautifully designed space (and can appreciate it when others have the eye to do so), I seem to lack that particular oomph when it comes to knowing how to decorate, so I just do the best I can with my limited powers (and budget).

Hopefully I'll get better as I go along.

However, one thing I can definitively say is that I for sure like how our front room currently looks much better than how it looked before:

While the people had it decorated to fit the colors and space before (and I'll freely admit that their furniture grouping looked a lot better than ours), I personally am not a fan of vivid colors inside (at least not in such large quantities), so the red walls were the first thing to go (we actually tackled them even before we moved in!).

Note: There wasn't actually any furniture in the home when we came to look at it for the first time; the only reason I know what it looked like before is because I saw this picture off of the house listing on Zillow:

Eventually I might reconfigure the space so the furniture layout actually looks a bit more like how they did it (because I think it's better overall), but for now, we have to work with the furniture we have.

Here's another before pic:

And how it currently stands:

As you can probably tell, we kept the off-white walls that were already there and simply painted the accent wall a light silver gray. I also got rid of the curtains (though I still need to take out the curtain rod thingies), and I think I'll keep the windows open (aka, non-curtained) like that for now, possibly adding in a small natural wood trim at the top so it looks just a touch more finished.

One of my favorite pieces in the room right now is also one of the most newly acquired:

The funny thing is, this dresser was actually from one of the last storage sheds we bought. We had intended to sell it, but several family members told us that we'd be wanting a piece like that in our future home someday, so we decided to hang onto it and keep it in my in-laws' garage.

Of course, it didn't look nearly as beautiful as it does now.

I wish I had a better before picture, but I'm frankly lucky to have one at all. Here's a glimpse of what it used to look like:

While I didn't mind the color, the wood was noticeably scratched up and dinged the closer you stood to it, and the reddish wood didn't match anything else we had, so my mom graciously agreed to refinish it for us. I seriously cannot believe how awesome it looks now.

I think she needs to go pro when it comes to refinishing furniture, eh?!

Although I like the space now a whole lot better than it was before, I'll be the first to admit that it looks a little bit *too* neutral at the moment.

Here are some of my more immediate plans for changing up the space:

The biggest change I'm hoping to make over the next year or so is that I want to buy a new couch. Matt and I have never bought a new couch (we inherited this rather old one upon getting married), and I have the perfect navy couch in mind for this space.

Something kind of like this:

Or even like this:

(Also on Amazon)

Because navy is still pretty neutral, I would add pops of color through the throw pillows, either throwing in some bright yellow or even some bright green:

(Via Amazon)

(Via Amazon)

In that picture above, you'll also noticed I circled the plant---that's because the plant in the picture is actually on loan from the kitchen: I haven't bought the plant for the front room yet (though it's on my to-do list for this month, so it should be happening soon).

A stupid change I have to make is that I should have never bought the frame above the piano in the first place. Sure, I was looking for something cheap, but this one is SO cheap that it's almost impossible to ever see the picture without some sort of glare, and it literally is made of the same plastic that you put on the side of a bunch of papers to hook a cheap clear cover on top (if that makes sense).

I was able to get the other 3 poster frames for a steal from someone who lived here locally and who was only asking $15 for the trio (and they're NICE frames, too), but I'm thinking I won't get so lucky again, so I'll probably be picking up this one from Amazon.

Also in the pic above, you'll see that I circled the piano bench. My mom was telling me that it's pretty easy to reupholster a bench like that (and I'll have to take her word for it since anything crafty seems hard to me), so I'll be doing that after we've bought the couch and have a better idea for the kind of color scheme we'll have going on.

The other changes will just be to change out the decor on the piano once we actually have our final colors in place.

Finally, let's just say that I struggle with the whole "vignette" thing, or whatever you call those cute collections found on tabletops and shelves.

I've always loved scouring antique shops and garage sales (or squirreling away particularly good pieces from the storage sheds we get at auction), but I need someone to train me how to be better at putting it all together.

For now, it will stay as it is until the couch is bought, at which point, much of the smaller decor will be changed out or added to.

And there you have it! Our front room as it currently is, in a nutshell (er, in a long blog post).

And if you have any suggestions on how I can become more Joanna Gaines-ish overnight, feel free to push me in the right direction via a comment or send ideas to my Pinterest. Please and thank you.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

A Happy List - Late Summer

The past several months, at times, have had me acting a little more doom-and-gloom than I'd like. Although I've always been pretty terrible at keeping up a regular gratitude practice, I have been consciously trying to label things that bring me joy more.

Here are a few lately.

* Sun-ripened tomatoes from the yard rinsed with cold water and sprinkled with salt. We're lucky we got any this year, as our tomato plants didn't take the transplanting from our old place very well.

* An unexpected surge of energy that motivated me to tackle the massive pile of boxes in our basement this morning and create some semblance of order out of them. So now, instead of boxes three deep and stacked all the way to the ceiling in the corner (90% of which were filled with our books), we now have the one remaining bookcase we'll be keeping filled with our DVDs there instead. (And, in case you're wondering what alien took up residence in my body and forced me to want to get rid of all our bookcases, have no fear---we're doing wall-to-wall built-in bookshelves sometime relatively soon.)

* Raven's new thing of asking several times a day: "What doing? What doing, Mama?" She's really into getting everything explained to her that's going on, and it's still new enough that I love it.

* Having only two books left from the library that need finishing up soon. While I love the built-in deadline that library book rentals give me, it is difficult when you have about a dozen books all come in at once and need to read them all in the space of about a month and a half. Looking forward to reading some of my own books again, finally. I might even convince myself that it's okay to reread a book now!

* The fact that every one of our neighbors has taken the initiative to introduce themselves to us, and that they've all brought us food, too. These are good people.

* The hot cocoa I sipped this morning for breakfast. It might still be over 90 degrees outside, but I will be a year-round cocoa drinker for life.

* Long, hot showers after excruciatingly hard classes at the rec center. I'm still sore from my boxing/bags class last night, but that shower felt like a piece of heaven all wrapped up in steam.

* Having Matt read the same book that I just finished (The Magnolia Story). It's not often we both read the same thing, especially one right after the other, but when it happens, it's kind of magical.

* Finally getting a magazine in the mail today after an inexplicably long dry spell (of almost three weeks!).

* Freshly made cookie dough in the fridge, ready for sneaking fingerfuls whenever I need a little pick-me-up.

* Staying true to my resolve to go off of Dr. Pepper again. I'm now about a month off it (again).

* Chasing after a bird yesterday so that I could try and get a picture of it to show my dad (so he can tell me what kind it is). There's just something about being a grown woman chasing after a little bird on stick legs that is enough to make you not take yourself *too* seriously.

* Eating a big ol' salad last night for dinner. We're not huge salad eaters, but the salad we had last night might convert us. (Recipe here.)

* Cuddling with Raven yesterday after our nap as we both sat and watched a cheesy movie on Netflix for about half an hour until I had to start dinner.

* How much easier flip-flops make my life.

Summer, you're not too bad, really.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Proof I Haven't Totally Given Up On Working Outside Until September

The other day while at a neighborhood activity, I made the comment to someone that I was impressed with her dedication to her yard (since she goes out every day to work on it) and that I had basically given up on the idea of doing any work outside until September due to the heat.

Of course, I happened to be part of a community garden with this particular friend years and years ago, so she knows all too well that I am, indeed, capable of ignoring weeds and yard work for an embarrassingly long time (so she probably took me at my word).

But, much to my own surprise, I actually HAVE been doing some stuff outside lately, even though it's about the last thing I want to do. (Let's be honest---a lot of it is largely because my mom offered to come up and help me, which is always the kick in the pants I need to actually get stuff done around here. Some things never change.)

Just a little reminder (or maybe you're new around these parts), but the exterior of the home we just moved to in June looked like this:

I maybe would have considered keeping the red longer than we did (just because I didn't want to put in all that extra work so soon), but the front door's paint had bubbled so badly that we decided to just give all the exterior trim a little facelift while we were at it.

In addition to painting the door and shutters, we also drastically pruned back the shrubs (mostly just so that we could actually GET to the door and shutters), and we installed a couple new sprinklers so that we would have sprinklers on both sides of the lawn (and would therefore not have any major dry spots, like before).

We still have a ton of work to do, but if I waited to post until everything was done, I probably would, never, so here you go.

This is the mid-process point (please note how overgrown the shrubs by the right-most shutters were):

And a picture of it currently:

Some other things that will happen fairly soon are that I plan to replant that container right by the front door (since all our flowers up and died when we moved), and I do plan to make Matt move those boxes of rocks and dirt left over from the sprinkler project to the garbage, where they belong.

(Of course, he'll use the excuse that he can't move them to the garbage because it looks like this, but #wheretheresawilltheresaway, right?):

When my mom was here yesterday, we did a thorough walk-through of the whole yard, and since my mom and stepdad have a yard I've long since admired, I think we'll be putting many of her ideas into action within a year or two.

One thing I really want to change is that there are hardly any flowers in the yard. You could tell that the yard was designed to be super easy on the upkeep end, which means lots of shrubs and bushes and small trees, but hardly any flowers to speak of at all (other than the tulips planted in the front beds).

I've been dreaming of having scads of flower beds for about as long as I can remember, so we plan to reconfigure the two beds out in the very front by cutting the grasses and bushes WAY back, extending out the perimeters of the bed itself (which is currently outlined by rocks), and planting lots of perennials in there.

I'll also probably be planting more flowers in the beds closest to the front door (besides just the tulips) and investing in a few more large containers to put around that area, too.

As everyone and their cat seems to have said to us since we bought our home, "There's going to be no shortage of projects now, eh?!"


The verdict is still out of whether or not we keep the wood chips out in the very front (by the two big trees), or whether we plant grass there. Wood chips, in theory, would be less maintenance, but they do require that you spray for weeks every month or two (just because of all the weeds), so I'm not sure if it wouldn't be worth it to just add it to our mowing every week rather than add the spraying to monthly chores. Thoughts?

Friday, July 28, 2017

Blackberry Picking

When I was younger, I looooooved picking summer fruit. We had a small peach tree in our backyard, and I remember a certain feeling of triumph when I was the one asked to go pluck a few of the fuzzy fruits fresh from the tree for dinner.

My grandparents, who lived a block over from us, had an apricot tree in their backyard that produced a veritable plethora of fruit more years than not, so much so that when I mowed their lawn, my shins would be splattered with yellow juice from the fruits that had gotten sucked up in the mower. For years, we collected huge bucketfuls of apricots so that my mom could make apricot nectar, a process that required a machine you had to hand-crank and that always seemed to make our kitchen steamy hot.

Up several streets lived a neighbor with a cherry tree, and even though we must not have gone up every year, I do have some distinct memories of climbing carefully up into the fruit-heavy branches and dropping the red fruits one by one by one into the empty ice cream bucket nestled in a crook of the tree at my feet. 

And that's not all.

We had a neighbor a few houses down whose apple tree produced the most delicious variety of apples I'd ever tasted, and I remember clearly that I honestly felt like weeping when I rode my bike home one day to find--with some shock--that the tree had been cut down. 

I felt like I'd lost an essential taste of my childhood that day.

All of this is to say that it should come as no surprise, then, that I have harbored a desire for many years to have a little "orchard" of my own---to have a couple rows of apples for cider, a peach tree, some apricots for when I get that unfailing hankering for the fruit sometime around early August.

As it sits currently, we're not in too bad of a position to make my dreams of constant homegrown fruit somewhat of a (reasonable) reality in the not-too-distant future.

We have a raspberry patch that's overgrown but thriving, and we have a blackberry bush that the previous owner told us would produce a huge bowl full of fruit every day in late summer.

He wasn't wrong.

We also have two apple trees in desperate need of pruning and pest control, but I'm hoping to attack those early next spring (since we won't be getting much--if any--apples from them this year), and at the same time next year, we'll probably start looking into those peach and apricot trees.

And now, it seems that my life has come full circle, as I now watch the delight in my daughter's eyes as she plunks each blackberry into the bowl (or into her mouth), as she takes all the berries that Daddy had given to her to eat and runs straight to me, saying, "This for you, Mama."

Over and over and over, selfless as they come.

We show off our blackberry tongues and our fuchsia-stained fingertips, and we laugh at how it looks like we're all wearing a lipstick stain.

These are the memories I hope she takes with her...

Memories of picking berries and making jam and blackberry crumble and pruning apple trees in the spring and smelling homemade applesauce in the slow cooker.

I harbor another dream, too, though this one would be much bigger.

I dream of creating a neighborhood/city-wide co-op where everyone with fruit trees and berry bushes who has extras can post the availability of their fruit on the co-op's site and where no fruit lies on the ground, rotten and unused.

I dream of this co-op helping to stock local food pantries and helping older people enjoy the fruits of their fields themselves, even if they can no longer pick it themselves.

I hope to someday put this project into action, to both integrate my family into this community and to knit our small town even closer together.

So maybe next year, you'll find me putting up fliers or sending out Facebook invitations or whatever it might take in order to get the word out.

Because everyone should have the chance to pick and enjoy fresh fruit in the summer, if they so wish.

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