Wednesday, December 31, 2014

It’s the Most Spend-er-ful Time of the Year!

We hope you and yours had a fabulous holiday season!!! Read on to find out what we learned this year.

For the past couple months, I’ve been spending money like it’s my job: boots, baby stuff, Christmas presents, a car…obviously that last one is the kicker.  I had a not-so-safe vehicle situation.  My lovely Pontiac G6 had a recall because the brake lights decided every day was opposite day: they were on unless I pushed on the break.  With Tutu in the back, I didn’t feel safe driving that car.  Why not get it fixed? Well, I tried once before the recall (naturally it wasn’t doing it consistently then), and the recall announcement informed us that they didn’t have the parts to fix it yet.  Got to love GM.  I apologize if you or someone you know works for GM.  I’m bitter.

One Friday night this fall, Mama, Tutu, and I went to the car lot.  Mama is very experienced in the area of buying cars.  She’s my representative at the dealership.  Tutu is cute and hilarious.  Together they make a formidable team.  I hate buying cars.  I like having a new car, but I don’t like what you have to go through to get it.  Anyway, I have almost no tips on how to get a good deal once you’re there. 

Before you go, it’s super important to do your research.  I ended up knowing more about the inventory that the sales person we were working with.  Know about the cars you’re interested in (most lots have the inventory online), get the Kelly Blue Book and NADA values of the new car(s) and your trade-in, and be ready to argue.   

I am the new owner of a Mitsubishi Outlander.  I love it.  Did I need it? Probably not.  Are we even further in debt? Definitely.  Now it’s time to put our noses to the grindstone and pay off a bunch of money.

2015 is the year of living WAAAAAAY below our means.  Here’s the plan: we are going to do our best to live on my income and put all of Zach’s toward debt.  If I did the math right (good chance I didn’t, but I really think I did), we can do it.  As soon as we get a Z paycheck, I’ll immediately transfer it to a designated savings account (we named it “Debt”).  When I make a debt payment, I’ll transfer the money and immediately pay the bill.  It’ll be like the money was never in our checking account. 

We’re considering getting a separate checking account that doesn’t have a debit card.  We do all our banking online, so it’s not really necessary.  Speaking of debit cards, I’m going to start leaving mine at home.  I’m going to use cash for as much as I can.

Tip: watch this Rachel Cruze (Dave Ramsey’s daughter) vlog for a way to keep a cute wallet and still do the envelope system: http://youtu.be/2lucl3bwiJM. I’m going to do that.  Instead of just hoping to stick to my budget, I’m going to withdraw the cash at the beginning of the month in the categories I typically overspend: groceries, eating out, and personal money.  Those are the instances that I usually just swipe the debit card. Gas will still be a debit card situation.  With winter in full swing around here, there’s no way I’m spending any more time outside than I have to!

How much have we been eating out lately?  I would guess about half of our meals in the past few months have not been at home.  Well, we might have eaten them at home, but they sure weren’t made at home! January 1 means no more eating out (or very very little) and switching back to a strict, vegan diet.  Zach and I are big fans of the Skinny Bitch/Bastard series.  We have three of the books and two cookbooks.  No more excuses.  It’s time to get skinny/fit! (Zach hates the word “skinny”.)

I know this is all super cliché.  No one makes plans to change for the better in a new year! I wonder how many products exist pertaining to New Year’s resolutions.  Probably millions.  We’re hoping to stick to ours not just for the new year, but for the rest of our lives.  Here’s to New Life Resolutions! 

Happy New Year!
XOXO,

The Steins

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Where Have You Been?!

Is it December already??? So much has happened in the past three months!  We moved, Tutu turned 1 (!), Zach got a new job, I’ve fallen into a major spending pit…  We’ll talk more about that later.

On today’s agenda: we moved!  I can’t believe all the money it is saving us.  I didn’t realize all the extra bills that come along with renting a house (in our experience): water, sewer, garbage, recycling, and probably more I can’t think of right now.  Those are just the bills!  We've already been able to pay off our two smallest loans and are halfway to paying off our third!  Zach no longer has to shovel or mow, and I no longer have to feel bad that I didn’t landscape!  I hated staring at the overgrown plants, but not enough to do something about it.  I hate gardening.  We also have to clean less since our space is smaller. 

Let’s talk about that. Our space is much smaller.  The house we were renting had 4 bedrooms and a formal dining room.  To me, formal dining room equals a good sized space.  We only used two of the bedrooms.  We had a guest room and office upstairs, but they ended up being more of catch-all rooms.  We managed to get rid of A LOT of stuff.  We had to make 4 bedrooms of stuff fit in a 2 bedroom apartment. Did I mention that this apartment has 1 storage closet (slightly bigger than a typical coat closet) and 1 linen closet?  Yeah.  It’s tight.  How did we do it?  Well, we sold some stuff, but mostly we gave it away.  We posted some furniture via the blog and managed to sell almost all of it within a week.  The remainders were sold via Craigslist.  That was a good little chunk of change in the ‘ole pocketbook.  I tried taking some clothes to the consignment shop, but they rejected most of it (they’re really picky; some of it was wrinkled. Seriously.).  I made a rule that once it left the house it didn’t come back in, ever.  It all lived in my car until we took everything to the Salvation Army. 

We sold some of Tu’s stuff in the garage sale (not much), and took the rest to our local Crisis Nursery.  They do great work for mothers in need.  It makes me smile knowing the stuff we donated is making the caretakers’ lives just a little easier.  The toys might also be putting some smiles on tiny faces.  Once I packed her room and realized how much I missed while sifting through for the garage sale, we had another good sized lot to take over to the nursery.  Next we’re taking her bottles and leftover formula.  My baby is a toddler!


Mama and I (with a little help from my friend Liz) ended up painting every room in the apartment.  The existing wall color was a little too close to the color of skin, and one wall (an accent wall, I guess) in Tu’s room was hunter green. That took a good two weekends of work.  You notice every single wall and trim issue while you’re doing that.  Let’s just say the previous tenants were not as precise painters as Mama and me.  I might be painting the trim come spring.  

That is just one of many apartment projects on my list.  I have definitely bitten off more than I can chew. My goal with this place is to really make it feel like home.  We have every intention of staying here until all our debt is paid.  I don’t want to move again unless it’s a house that we own.  I have a theory: if I put a lot of work into our apartment, I’ll want to stay longer.  I’ve moved at least every year since I was 17.  I get the 1 year itch for some change.  I’ll just have to find said change elsewhere; new curtains maybe.  Here is my current project list:
·       
Make mason jar storage for bathroom.
Put up wallpaper as pseudo-backsplash in kitchen.
 Paint side table for living room.
Paint bistro table and stools?
Hang curtain rods and curtains in bedrooms.
 Paint dresser.
 Finish gallery wall in living room.
Frame chalkboard on living room wall.
Paint island/refinish top.
Re-organize kitchen cabinets.
Figure out a pantry?
Put hardware on cabinets?
Paint doors and trim
Spray paint door knobs.
Hang light in living room attached routed switch.

I might be insane. Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion!  Will she get any of these done??? 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Have Baby, Will Travel

When my grandma and aunt offered to pay for Zach, Turner, and my flight to visit in Florida, I was instantly excited.  I saw nothing stopping me from saying, “YES!”  Zach was a little more hesitant.  He was understandably worried about traveling with a 9 month old.  I found that with a good amount of planning, we had a successful trip!  It’s exhausting to travel with a baby, but seeing her face when she sat on the beach for the first time made it so worth it.
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THE FLIGHT:
My number one fear was of Tu having a meltdown on the plane because of her ears popping.  I’m a very nervous flier, add my baby screaming, and I might have had a meltdown too.  Luckily, Tu’s very favorite activity is meeting new people.  That kept her more than occupied for the flights (we were also lucky to have direct flights each way).    If her ears were popping, she didn’t notice.  Trust me, I didn’t just hope for the best.  I made plans.  
  • We brought enough formula for 3 bottles.  She typically eats every 4 hours or so, and it was a 2 hour flight.  I think we were covered.  I planned on her having two small bottles during takeoff and landing to avoid the ear popping.  I gave her the first bottle on the way up, and she was asleep on the way down (and didn’t wake up until we were leaving the plane).  WIN!  I used the same plan on the way home, and I am happy to say she never acted like her ears were bothering her.
  • I downloaded some shows on my phone.  She’s obsessed with The Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.  I had a couple of those ready to go.  
  • We had different toys/books in the diaper bag.  It turned out that her favorite toy was the key decoration on my purse.  
  • We made goodie bags for the passengers around us.  They included two fun sized candy bars, gum, and ear plugs.  Everyone around us really liked it, and one woman even said she should give hers back since Tu was so good.  
  • I made sure we had Ziploc baggies in the diaper bag in case of a stinky diaper (yeah, that happened).  
  • We packed plenty of snacks.  
Tutu watched all of about 3 minutes of Mickey Mouse, and spent the rest of the time smiling and talking to the people around us.  
Once we landed (huge relief), the car seat battle began.  I have never been so thankful for our car seat bases.  Every time we left the house, I had to buckle in that car seat.  I feel bad for the parents of the pre-base days.  I bet they built up some killer back muscles.  All-in-all, that was the worst part of traveling with a baby.  
Since we went from the Central to Eastern time zones, we opted to not change Tu’s schedule.  It was only an hour ahead, so that meant she went to bed later and slept later.  Okay by us!  She usually goes to bed around 8:30 or 9, and I get her up at 6 every morning.  She’s a pretty good sleeper, so the scenery change didn’t disrupt her much.  She would get restless in the early morning, so we’d just put her in bed with us.  She’d sleep a few more hours and wake up smiling.  I think the issue was the bed we got for her.  It was a tiny, pop-up tent.  There was a pad that snapped on the outside of the bottom (no suffocation hazard), but it wasn’t very thick.  She was basically sleeping on the floor.  I had to make it up to her with mama-snuggles.  (I know that’s not the best thing to do, and trust me, I’m a very nervous mother.  She’s a pretty big girl, so I wasn’t really worried about rolling over on her.  I was mostly awake, anyway.)
We stayed at my grandma’s  house, and that was a huge plus.  We were able to spread out, and I was able to execute my BEST TIP: Order supplies ahead of time, and have them shipped to the place you’re staying.  Wow, this saved so much luggage space!  We shipped diapers and wipes (The Honest Company, where we usually get that stuff), formula (Target), baby wash and lotion (Target), and sunscreen (Target).  Instead of rushing out to Target as soon as we got there, we were able to relax.  We also avoided forgetting anything, or risking the Sarasota Target not having something.  (No joke, we bought the very last canister of soy formula last Saturday at our Target, so, it’s possible.)  This is definitely my numero uno suggestion!
Do you have any baby-travel-tips you absolutely can’t live without?  

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Moving Sale!!!

Tara and I have been able to cut $150 in expenses by switching internet providers and cell phone carriers!  We stumbled into another banging deal with a 2 bedroom apartment for $550/month only 5 minutes from our current house, allowing us to cut another $150 in expenses.  We will have $300/month to put towards debt, not including the money we will save as garbage and water are included in utilities.  Unfortunately, we are downsizing and need to get rid of some big items in the next few weeks.  Help a brother out!

First up, a Queen size bed frame for $150 (with or without the box spring/mattress).



Next, a tall and solid 5 drawer wood dresser/family heirloom for $80.


Anyone need a big black fridge?  Only about 3 years old and in great condition!  $600.

Freezer Drawer
Fridge Door



Up next, a round of a few smaller items including a new computer chair, a vintage armchair, and weight bench.  $35 each.





We have a gas stove available for $250.




















Tara has been using this armoire/entertainment center for her salon stash.  This solid, wood piece has a pull out rotating shelf with a power source in the cabinet.  $50.






















Lastly, we have a solid oak 6' X 3' desk and a bookshelf handcrafted by an experienced carpenter.  $40 each.


 We will be selling many of the books seen on the shelf, men's clothes (Large & Extra Large), women's clothes, and a TON of baby goods including clothes, toys, and other miscellaneous objects.  If you are interested in any of these please contact us via FB, text, or email.  We are willing to negotiate prices or even sell multiple items.  Here's to getting out of debt and changing our family tree!

UPDATE:  We have sold the bed, dresser, refrigerator, stove, desk, desk chair.  We still have a bookshelf, weight bench, and vintage floral arm chair available.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Doin’ It Up in Flo-Rida!

Usually the debt snowball does NOT leave room for a vacation.  It definitely doesn’t leave room for a vacation to Florida when you live in Central Illinois.  We are lucky enough that my grandma and aunt REALLY wanted to see Turner.  They offered to pay for our flight, and put us up in Grandma’s guest room.  We cannot explain how grateful we are for their generosity!​

Even though the big expenditures were taken care of, we didn’t want to completely blow our budget.  We used the money we made from the garage sale and the money from me doing two clients’ hair as our spending money.  While this money could have gone toward debt, my grandma can no longer come to visit and her seeing the baby seems more important.​

The benefit to staying in a house is not having to eat out for every single meal.  While I have zero problems with doing that, it’s not exactly wallet friendly.  Grandma was so worried about what we were going to eat, she actually went to the store before we got there and bought vegetarian-friendly stuff. What we would’ve done is used our usual weekly grocery budget and gone on a grocery run.  She was also pretty adamant about paying for our meals when we did eat out.  We did pay for her a couple times as a thank you.  I think feeding people is her love language.

So, obviously having all of our food paid for cut the spending down significantly.  But you don’t just sit in the house and eat when you’re on vaca!  We were 15 minutes away from one of the most beautiful beaches in the world: Siesta Key Beach (look it up!).  Hello, free beach!  We even got an amazing parking spot (Zach and I always seem to get amazing parking.  I can’t explain it.).  We probably could have gone to the beach every day and been happy, but we’ll save that for another trip.  (Side note: it seems we have a daughter that tans!  This pale girl’s dream has come true!)  We took sandwiches and a cooler with water for lunch, so we didn’t have to spend more.  Tu got lunch right before we left, so she was good to go with just a bottle while we were lying in the sand.  It was a great day, except Zach’s foot was SUPER burnt when we got home.  We still can’t figure out how only his left foot burned.

The day after beach day was Turner’s first Fourth of July!  My Aunt Crystal has a gorgeous screened in porch (called a lanai in Florida) complete with a pool and grill.  We got to hang out in the pool all afternoon and eat some delicious (veggie) burgers.  We ventured downtown to Sarasota Bay to watch the fireworks after.  Did I mention all of this was free to us?!  We got great parking again, but it was rigged.  My uncle’s friend has a gallery downtown and let us use his parking spot.   He has connections.

Saturday was the day that broke the bank.  A trip to Florida always includes at least one shopping day.  First we went to lunch (I paid for Grandma and myself), then we got down to business.  We do not have the pleasure of a Nordstrom Rack back home, and I may have gotten a little carried away.  Zach and I agreed on a budget before Turner and I left (this was a girls only trip so he drove around in my aunt's new BMW).  In my defense, I did come in about $50 under budget.  In hindsight, the budget was too high to begin with.  I haven’t really purchased new clothes in a long time.  Most of my summer clothes are either maternity or were purchased when I was in college (we’re talking 7-9 years ago).   However, no matter how badly I wanted the clothes, they were not a need.  I have some buyer’s remorse, but not enough to return anything. #sorrynotsorry 

Sunday was a low cost day thanks to Aunt Crystal paying for our activity.  We visited the Ringling Museum, Circus Museum, and Ca’ta Zan (“House of John” in Venetian dialect).  I cannot tell you how amazing this place is.  It’s a little pricey to get in (tickets are $25/person, and we had a guided tour through the house, an extra $5), but it is totally worth it. I happen to have an unexpired student ID (thank you ICC!), so there was a small discount.  Florida residents can go to the art museum for free on Mondays.  The grounds are right on Sarasota Bay.  It is incredible that it was one man and wife’s estate, and only for the winter!  The first stop is the Circus Museum.  Pretty recently, they opened the mini circus model.  It is incredible.  Every single detail is there, down to the china pattern on the plates in the food tent.  I think it’s my favorite part of the entire experience.  It takes a good 20 minutes to walk completely around the model.  It depicts a circus coming to town when they still put up the tent and traveled by train (think Dumbo).  The rest of the Circus Museum is a timeline (very interesting) and various, interactive displays.  I successfully walked the “tight rope” (a rail mounted to the ground the same width, anyway).  The Old Circus Museum houses the actual train car that John and Mabel Ringling traveled on with the circus.  It is lux.  It’s all gold-leafed ceilings and exotic wood furniture.  You can walk right up and look in the windows.

The next stop was John Ringlings house.  It is Moorish themed, and unlike any house I’ve ever seen.  The original budget in the 1920s was $250,000.  They spent $1.5 million.  After hearing that, I didn’t feel so bad about my shopping spree the day before.  Zach and I are both history buffs, so the guided tour was right up our alley.  We definitely endorse it.  I won’t say anymore in case you decide to visit.

The Ringling Museum holds John Ringling’s enormous art collection.  We didn’t spend a ton of time there because it was close to closing time.  I guess we’ll have to go back!  Tu enjoyed the Rubens.

On Monday, Zach, Turner, Grandma, Aunt Crystal, and I went to an amazing seaside restaurant on St. Armand’s Key.  We were literally sitting over the water.  While it was blazing hot everywhere else, the breeze off the water kept us cool and comfortable.  This was a fries in a basket kind of place, so pretty affordable.  The food was great, but the atmosphere was even better.

After, we took a stroll to some shops at St. Armand’s Circle.  There are some chain stores, but a good number of the stores there are locally owned.  Aunt Crystal and Grandma made friends with the people at The Giving Tree (a jewelry and art gallery).  I got a gorgeous bracelet (courtesy of the ladies) and necklace (from my hubby).  We also got souvenirs for our families at a shop on the circle.  

It was a great trip.  I’ll write another post about traveling with a baby.  That’s a post unto itself.
Things we wish we would’ve done differently:
1. Set a smaller budget for shopping.
2. Put on sunscreen more thoroughly.  (Zach and I were the only victims of this.)
3. I think that’s it! 
Any vacationing on a tight budget tips?

Thursday, June 26, 2014

GARAGE SALE!!! DEBT SNOWBALL UPDATE!!!!

Last week was it!  We finally had a garage sale!  I think Zach and I moved boxes labeled “garage sale” to three different houses.  Well, that stuff is out, and it is out for good!  Our biggest category by far was baby stuff.  Tu grows like a weed, so we had clothes up to 12 months and all her little baby stuff (*tear).  Out with the old, in with the…well, I guess the new us!  We’re using all the proceeds to get out of debt, not buy stuff to replace the stuff we sold.  We already sold some larger items (see our post from May 8th), but I had no desire to take picture after picture of all of the outfits Turner has outgrown.  While we know things don’t always go to plan, Zach and I aren’t planning on having any more babies for quite a while.  By then, even if we had another girl, all the stuff would be super outdated.  Some concerns over us selling as much as possible have been brought to my attention.  Right now, the best thing we can do, not only for Turner but our future children as well, is get out of debt.




Prep:  My family used to have a HUGE garage sale at my Mamaw’s (that’s Southern for “Grandma”) house every year.  I don’t think any of us are particularly sentimental about our stuff, so we had no shortage of things to sell.  My mom let me keep the money from my sales which I would promptly spend at either our saleor others in the neighborhood.  I remember them fondly.  


  Fast-forward 15 years later, and now I actually have to go through the stuff and decide what to get rid of.  I usually purge clothes about once a year (if I didn’t wear it in a year, I probably don’t need it), and I went on a mad spree after Tu was born.  I never wanted to see maternity clothes again! Poof, gone. Tu’sstuff is easier, because it doesn’t fit her, so she has zero use for it.  I saved a couple special pieces (the outfit she came home in, some shoes) and the rest is out of our lives!  Zach did a great job of going through alllllll his books (trust me, all those “l”s are necessary). Together, we had one part of a multi-family sale!


  Advertising is key in having a good turnout.  Our local, free newspaper has a garage sale section that’s updated every week.  We’ve gone to that section to find sale before, and we’re sure we’re not the only ones.  Mama bought an ad to run the week before and the week of the sale.  She also put up colorful signs not only on her street (where it intersects the main street and a guiding sign a little further down) but also at Kroger and Walmart.  Zach and I posted on Facebook about it the morning of the beginning of the sale.  In hindsight, we should have been posting every day that week.  


  The turnout was good on Thursday, okay on Friday, and virtually non-existent on Saturday.  We couldn’t believe it.  Then we drove up the street.  Someone had taken down our signs at the intersection and halfway down the road.  We were bummed.  Of course, we didn’t discover this until the sale was over.

We made $112 dollars.  We were hoping for closer to $200, butit’s $112 we didn’t have before!  We took all the baby stuff that didn’t sell to the Crisis Nursery.  It is a fantastic charity that offers free daycare and services to mothers that are out of options.  They offer everything donated for free to these women. I volunteered there in junior high, and it was an amazing experience.  They were super grateful and even showed us around the facility!  I couldn’t be happier with our choice to donate to them. Don’t live in the Peoria area?  They have locations nationwide!  Google it!


  We had a furniture piece that didn’t sell, and my cousin took it for their Alzheimer’s Benefit auction that they throw every year.  She actually donated all of her sales to the Alzheimer’s Foundation.  We can’t wait to do that someday when we’re out of debt.

So, it did not go as well as we hoped.  Things we learned:

Post on Facebook till people block you because you’re so annoying.
Location, location, location isn’t just for selling real estate. Have garage sales in a visible place.  Exception: a neighborhood sale.
Make sure you have a lot/most of the stuff sitting out in the driveway/on the sidewalk.  There’s something a little creepy about going in someone’s dark garage.

  Mama and my Aunt Diana did a great job of keeping the sale organized, and Mama is great with haggling.  We had our best people on the job, and we just didn’t get the traffic we expected.  But, I guess now we know!

  Zach is listing books and DVDs we didn’t sell.  Look for a post on that soon!

 

DEBT SNOWBALL UPDATE!!!

Turner is officially paid off!!!  In other words, my hospital bill from Tu being born is paid in full!  We have moved on to my smallest student loan.  We started attacking it about a week and a half ago, and it has gone from over $900 down under $500!  Woo!  It’s happening!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Woodworking… Say What?

Lately, I’ve been on a project kick.  If someone needs a gift, they get something homemade out of a piece of wood.  People that have been gifted with a Tara original include my mama (her birthday AND Mother’s Day), Emily (wedding gift), Liz (another wedding gift), and Missy (yet another wedding gift, terribly belated).  They didn’t all get the same thing. I’m not a factory.  Some gifts were similar, but with distinct differences (Mama and Liz).  Admittedly, I stole these ideas from other blogs.  Instead of posting step-by-step instructions, I’ll give you links to the other blogs, and tell you about any changes I made to my projects.





1) Mama’s Birthday
 Present (stolen from thehandmadehome.net)

So, the chick at thehandmadehome.net did her last name and number of people in her family.  Well, the Williams 2 didn’t have the same ring to it.  Since Mama and Brian have three girls, I did “Our Fab 3”.  Mama made a supplement to this which I’ll share another day (super cool picture display). Thehandmadehome woman used a projector to trace her letters.  I just printed mine in extra huge fonts.  I went to Menards and dug through the remnant bin.  Enter: mistake.  I was only checking the boards for similar lengths (as you can see in the picture, I didn’t succeed, but I thought it was quirky).  When I got home, I noticed one of the boards was smiling.  Also, most big box stores (Lowes, Menards, Home Depot, etcare supposed to cut boards for you.  Not my Menards (which made we wonder why they had a remnant board section… they’re cutting boards for someone!).  I don’t have a saw or a truck to haul full length lumber.  If you do, great!  Note: do not listen to the guy selling nails when you know a 1” nail won’t do much when you’re working with a 1” thick board.  Good thing I used wood glue.



2) Liz’s Wedding Present (I guess it’s Kevin’s wedding present too.)

Next project was pretty much the same as Mama’s, but different fonts, dimensions, and paint color.  This time I went to Lowes (I learned) and had them cut a perfectly straight board for me.  I also got 1-1/4” nails (you could also use screws, but I’m impatient and can’t spend the time drilling a pilot hole).  I couldn’t wait until the wedding, so I showed this to the couple before the wedding.  Patience is clearly not a virtue I possess.  




3) Emily’s Wedding Present

This one is an oldie, but a goodie.  I made this last year, super pregnant, on the floor in our dining room (we had just moved in maybe a week or two before).  I saw state nail art onEtsy and Pinterest, and decided I didn’t need to pay that much to make it.  I got a scrap piece of wood from Mama and Brian’s house (I think it was a 2x10, about 15” long, but I’m not sure), some nails, and some string.  Emily and her hubby, Josh, got married in Alabama, but they (inconveniently for me) had the wedding in Gulf Shores, at the very bottom of the state.  This made the super cute heart that is usually negative space a little tricky.  I just used her other wedding color and filled in the heart.  To get the outline of Alabama, I printed a map on legal paper, taped it to the wood, and started putting nails around the outline (hammered about halfway in).  I didn’t count, but it came out to exactly 100 nails for the outline and 20 for the heart.  Afterward, I just ripped the paper off (I was a little scared that it would pull some nails out, but it didn’t).  Then I ran string from each nail to the outside of the heart.  In hindsight, I would have 1) not strung an outline of the state, 2) left the wood plain, I would’ve stained it, and 3) been more meticulous about my string to nail ratio.  I think it turned out pretty well, regardless.



4) Mother’s Day 
Present for Mama (from shanty-2-chic.com)

While I was at Lowes getting lumber for Liz’s wedding present, I also had a 2x12 cut down into 15” pieces.  This one I pretty much followed exactly, except I just used more nail heads to fasten the pictures I chose.  Mama ended up using some double-sided tape to hold down the corners that weren’t nailed.  Project redo: I would’ve used chalkboard paint instead of the free print out so Mama could change what it said.  


5
5) Missy’s SUPER Late Wedding Present

I guess the best way to describe this one is as a hybrid of the Mother’s Day project and the Mama’s birthday/Liz’s wedding projects.  Missy and Liz were both super excited about their married last names, so I knew I wanted to integrate them in their presents.  I saw some tutorials online about how to transfer a photo to a piece of wood, so I decided to try it out for Missy.  I had a bunch of the blocks of wood from the Mother’s Day project, so I used that.  I Googled “country sunrise” (because Missy is my fave country girl!) to use for the photo transfer.  You have to print the picture on regular, copy paper from a laser printer.  I read that laser printers deposit more ink than inkjet printers, so the transfer is more complete.  It also seems like the ink is sort of floating on top of the paper rather than soaked into it.  I printed my photo on legal size paper (it was a panoramic shot, so it wasn’t distorted).  I had to buy some Modge Podge (MP) for this one, but it was so worth it.  I got to use my new orbital sander for the first time, and sanded the crap out of that wood (she’s got little ones, so I rounded the edges quite a bit)!  Then I wiped it off with a damp towel to get all the sand dust.  I poured a little MP and spread it where I thought the picture would go in a thin layer across the wood.  I laid the picture ink side down on the MP while it was still wet.  I tried my best to center it.  After it dried overnight, I covered the whole piece of paper with a more-than-damp-but-not-soaking-wet-towel for a few minutes.  I used that same towel to kind of scrub the paper off (this whole process is reminiscent of the temporary tattoos of my childhood).  I did mine in two rounds, peeling/scrubbing two layers.  My towel started to rub some of the picture off, so I switched to my fingers.  Certain parts of the picture are more, um, rustic than I had hoped, but I’m rolling with it.Next time I’ll probably use a thicker layer of MP.  I think I might have been a little stingy.  Also, my picture didn’t go all the way to the edges.  This was an issue after I did the letters…

I’m a bit of a font junkie, so finding the perfect one waskey.  I wanted the piece to feel a little western, so I Googled “western font”, and found a free website that made her last name a picture.  Then I copied and pasted the text “picture” into word and resized it super big.  That’s as technical as I get with this one.  It was tricky, and I’m sure there was an easier way to do it in Photoshop, but I was done messing with it (this was about 45 min into font searching).  The letters were about a page tall each.  Turned out, they were too wide, so I manually cut and pasted them (literally with scissors and tape).  After editing the letters, I traced them and painted around my lines.  I was super impressed with myself until I realized the “R” at the end of “BAKER” looked super bad since the picture didn’t go to the edge.  I got out my little paint brush and some stain, and fixed it right up!  (Note: I thought about staining the entire thing before I transferred the picture, but I’m really glad I didn’t.  The picture turned out darker than I expected on the wood even though the wood was pretty light.)  

She got it, and she loved it!  I think it’s my favorite so far!

I’m sure my instructions are by no means complete, so please ask if you have questions on how I did something!

Do you have any favorite homemade gifts given or received?  

    

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Craigslist-ing

How are you?  Feeling neglected?  Well, I hope this feels like a virtual hug!  In an effort to pay off our debt, Zach and I have begun selling stuff.  Top of the list was our couch (don’t worry, we are getting Zach’s grandma’s couch).  Mama is having a garage sale next month, but we hear if you have big stuff you should use Craigslist.  Mostly, we didn’t want to move big stuff to Mama’s house.  We also listed Turner’s baby swing.  She hasn’t met the weight limit, but she’s a little too close to wiggling out of it for comfort.  (Note: We were always close to her when she was in it.  No need to worry that she goes unsupervised!)  She is also just a hair away from meeting the weight limit.  (Have you ever seen a swing set’s legs pull up when the person on it swings too high?  It was a little like that.)
Both pieces are in great shape.  We bought our couch just before we got married 2 ½ years ago, and we were OCD about keeping it clean.  We asked about half what we paid for it (it is used after all).  We made sure it was looking good, and snapped its portrait.  I cannot stress how important it is to post a picture of whatever you’re selling.  I don’t even look at listings without pictures.  For some reason, I instantly think something must be wrong with the item.  So, load up your listing!  Our couch was still advertised on the manufacturer’s website, so Zach just paraphrased their description.  We used our own photo, though. I hate when people post a picture from the store’s website.  I want to see what the actual thing I’m buying looks like!

The swing looks almost brand new and has a lot of features, so I posted a few pictures.  Even though it is still for sale in retail stores, I didn’t use the product description.  I just said a few points that I really liked.  Keep those short and sweet.  No one wants to read a book about your old stuff.  As for pricing, I found a similar model for sale, and based mine off that one.  The other one didn’t have all its parts and was a little more worn, so I went higher.  After all, it was purchased less than a year ago.  We just have a super-fast grower!  
Well, we got very few hits on either listing.  I chalk it up to two things: 1. we posted on Sunday (read: MISTAKE!)  I find people usually hit up Craigslist during the week, probably at work.  We should’ve posted Monday morning, I think.  2. We priced too high.  People are looking for cheap stuff on Craigslist.  I can tell you that we would have bought our couch in a heartbeat if we were on the other side and furnishing our place.  We tried to find a couch second hand before we were married, but no dice.  Next time we will try attaching a “willing to negotiate” disclaimer.
I promise this story has a happy ending.  At the time of this post, both are sold! How, you ask?  Enter Facebook and word-of-mouth.  Zach and I shared the couch post on Facebook, and we had a response about a minute later.  Boom! Sold! (We actually got a response to the Craigslist post on Wednesday night, but too bad, sucka!)  As for the swing, I told a coworker that has a new granddaughter, and sold!  The moral of the story:  reach as many people as possible when trying to sell.  You never know who needs what!

Up Next: Preparing for a garage sale…

Friday, April 25, 2014

Goldieblog

I was trying to come up with something to blog about, and a friend requested vegetarian recipes!  So, I figured I’d do one for Zach, one for me, and one for Tu (hence “Goldieblog”).  Fair warning: I don’t like measuring, and usually judge amounts on consistency.
Papa Z-Vegetarian “Chickn” Noodle Soup
This recipe is a veggie version of the chicken noodle soup my mama makes.  We’re not one for thin, brothy soups, so this one is very hearty.  
  • Fake chicken strips (without breading; we buy the Kroger brand grill strips)
  • Egg Noodles (sub a non-egg version, and ta-da: recipe is vegan!)
  • Vegetable Stock (Even if you eat meat, you should be using this.  So good!)
  • Carrots (and any other veggies you like) sliced into disks
  • Milk (I use almond milk because I like the consistency, but coconut milk (in the carton not the can) would work too.  Oh, and regular milk if you’re into that.)
  • Olive Oil
  • Spices (I’m old school and just use salt and pepper.)
  • A big ‘ole pot.  
Sauté the “chickn” over medium heat in enough olive oil to just coat the bottom on your pot.  You don’t have to totally cook it, just get a little color on the outside.  Dump in the carrots, veggie stock, and milk.  I let that work with no lid for a while.  If you feel like too much liquid is evaporating, put the lid on (this isn’t rocket science).  When your carrots are almost tender, dump in the noodles.  Cook for the time on the package.  Don’t add any more liquid.  I like my soup thick, so I add noodles until there’s just enough liquid to cover them.  If you like a thinner soup, add fewer noodles.  Add salt and pepper at the end, and serve!
Mama T’s “Egg” Salad
I definitely stole this one from Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi’s chef.  He has a great book called Vegan Cooking for Carnivores.  So good.  Soooooooo good.  I love egg salad, so this is a welcome substitute when Z and I are eating more vegan.
  • Extra Firm Tofu
  • Vegan Mayo
  • Mustard (I use Dijon)
  • Dill pickles (+ the juice)
Drain and slice the tofu into about ¼” slices.  On a plate, lay out several layers of paper towels, a layer of tofu, a layer of paper towels, tofu, and a final layer of paper towels.  I just press the heck out of it with my hands, but you can put a pot with something heavy in it (can of soup, etc.) and leave it in the fridge for a while (1 hour or so). I’m not generally one to work in advance, so pressing it myself works just fine.  Just get the majority of the liquid out, or the good stuff won’t stick.  Chop the tofu into small cubes.  Add a couple tablespoons of mayo, a squirt of mustard, and a splash of pickle juice.  Stir it up, and see if you like the consistency.  Add more of any ingredient you want.  Chop up some pickle, and throw it in the mix.  You could cut out the middle man and use relish, but I usually only keep a jar of dill pickles at my house.  I like to put mine in a pita pocket with some lettuce, but it’s also great between a couple slices of bread!
Baby Tu’s Sweet Potato Mash
Turner hasn’t done much culinary exploring, but she’s liked pretty much everything she’s had so far.  One of her favorites is sweet potatoes.  I had to Google how to bake a sweet potato (don’t judge), and I’m guessing other people don’t know how to do it either.
  • Baking sheet
  • Foil
  • Fork
  • Sweet Potato
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Poke a bunch of holes in the sweet potato with a fork.  Wrap the sweet potato in foil.  Put it on a baking sheet, and bake for about an hour, or until tender (it usually takes an hour in our oven).  Unwrap it, let it cool, and scoop out the insides.  Mash.  That’s it!

I hope you get a chance to make one (or all) of these for yourselves! They’re really just jumping off points.  Add some spice to the soup or some curry power to the salad, and you’ve got a completely different dish!  You can even make them, gulp, non-vegetarian.  It’s up to you!