05 December 2011

Once upon a time

I've been feeling pretty crummy the past couple of days. Weak, headache-y, sore, chills even when I'm bundled up enough to sweat... Not fun. I just confirmed I have a fever of 101.7, so I'm trying to rest as much as I can with an 18-month- and 2-month-old. Here's some other happenings since I last checked in.

The tree hasn't been touched since the last time I mentioned it. I'll finish the ornaments someday. And maybe even get another strand of lights for the last 10" of the top.

Bedtime story. "Once upon a time [Clara turns page] The end."

 Roses in December? I love this rosebush!

So sleepy and so chubby. And so cute!

Ceiling fan installed in the girls' bedroom. Tom wired the switch for it.

That's all, folks.

01 December 2011

Christmas decorating

Instead of working on the girls' room, during naps I've been trying to get our Christmas tree done. I don't know how my parents pulled this off every year for 30 years and lived to tell about it. Day three and I've only just  now finished the lights. Of course I don't just wrap the lights in a spiral on the outermost parts of the branches - I run the lights down the length of the branches all the way to the trunk. I think my compulsion to do it this way is my mom's fault. "It's better this way." Yeah, she's right. It is. If all goes according to plan, I'll be able to leave the lights on it and have a pre-lit tree next year.

I  don't think I ever mentioned the tree before. We bought it last year at Big Lots after Christmas. It was originally $60, clearanced at 90% off. BUT, I also had a 20% off coupon, so I paid less than $5 for a 7' tree. It's not the nicest fake tree out there, but for 5 bucks I can live with it. My ornaments were also post-Christmas clearance items, though I think only 75% off.

I haven't finished decorating, so I haven't tried to get a good picture (it's going to be difficult since it's in front of a window in a tight spot), but here's a sneak peek:

I might have to go out on the porch roof to get a good photo.

28 November 2011

And we're back

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving! We just got back from a visit with my MIL's sisters in upstate New York. Tom's aunts got to spend lots of quality time with Clara and Evelyn, and I'm pretty sure they're smitten with (if not exhausted by) those little ones. By the time we get the car cleaned out, the laundry washed and put away, and sleep schedules back to normal, it'll be time for our Christmas trip to Houston.

As promised, here's a quick snapshot of the girls' room. Like I said before, it's minty but I can live with it!

22 November 2011

Minty fresh

I've been wanting to mulch the front flower bed since I planted the pieris and hyacinths, but it has been raining pretty much nonstop. Despite my best efforts to keep the street gutter clean, there has been standing water there since the rain started. Oh well.

The wet weather has given me a great excuse to get things done indoors. I first put all the tools back into the nook at the top of the stairs:

Still looks messy, but everything is tidy and visible.

That freed up enough room in the bedroom for me to crack open the paint I bought from the big sale at Sherwin-Williams.

 About $36 for two gallons. Not shabby!

I had them mix a custom color between two adjacent color chips. It is a hue between SW Embellished Blue and SW Waterfall.

As soon as the can was open I feared I had made a huge mistake. It looked very minty. 


I started painting anyway, knowing that it always looks different on the walls than in the can, and I could always paint over it with another color if it was totally horrible. Oh boy. It went from mint to MINT!. I spent a lot of time picking out the paint color and was pretty bummed that it was reading as bright mint green on the white walls. I kept on trucking, though, and now I'm glad I did. Now that it's surrounded by itself rather than white, it looks more like the aqua color I expected. Whew. Color crisis averted! I'll have to provide a picture another time - the rainy gray outside wasn't providing good lighting for photos.

15 November 2011

Appliance review: The range

By far, my most frequently viewed blog post is the one about the Frigidaire range we purchased a year and a half ago. Now that I've had the chance to use it for a while, I figure I ought to review the appliance to give googlers some more information. I don't think this model is still available, but many of the features are shared across Frigidaire models, so the information is still relevant. This is going to be a lengthy review, so I wouldn't stick around unless you're looking for Frigidaire range information.

Overall, I really like the range, especially given its price point. Its functions are intuitive and self-explanatory and therefore easy to use. The burners heat quickly and evenly, and the oven maintains its temperature very well. The five-burner setup is an ideal compromise if you don't have room for a 6-burner cooktop but need more than 4 burners. (I've ever only used 3 burners at once, but I have never used it to cook for a crowd.) The glass front is wonderful - it's easy to clean and gives a more streamlined look than traditional metal-faced ovens. The door stays completely cool to the touch during operation, a fact that I've been thankful for more than once with a toddler running around.

Cooking. I can only compare this with what I have used before, which has been electric ranges of varying ages and efficiencies. I've never cooked with gas and so cannot compare it with that. However, this is the most reliable electric range I've ever used. Granted, before this I was using a HotPoint coiltop that was older than I am, so it was a huge improvement from my most recent range. The burners heat quickly but are responsive to changes in settings. It's probably more a result of my cookware, but I rarely use anything over medium heat (boiling water for pasta is an exception). The variable-sized burners are lovely, too. I don't often use the bigger sizes, but it is a nice option for when I need them.

The oven temperature is steady and reliable. Unlike the old HotPoint, 375 actually means 375 and not "somewhere between 300 and 450." I like that you don't have to press a "start" button after setting the temperature. The display shows what temperature the oven is set to but does not show the actual temperature. My absolute favorite feature of this oven is the magical Quick Bake button. This turns on a fan in the back of the oven, circulating the hot air which allows for faster and more even baking. And by faster, I mean really fast. The user manual says 30% shorter time, but I have found that 50% is more like it. Dishes that would normally take an hour or longer to cook are suddenly a manageable weeknight meal. This feature is geared toward baked goods, but I've found it works the same with just about anything I cook. The only exception I've discovered is anything that contains uncooked rice; the rice simply needs the full cooking time to absorb the liquid.

Oven racks. I love the rack that slides forward when the door opens. Although it's lower than the center rack, I  use it almost exclusively. I think the fact that the element is not exposed makes this rack act more as a center rack than you'd expect. I expect this rack has saved me from getting burned at least a time or two. I have never used the split-rack feature because I have only ever cooked one dish at a time. If I needed more vertical room, I'd probably take the entire split rack out and not just half of it.

Cleaning. The ceramic cooktop is subject to all the typical woes of glasstop stoves, but it cleans up wonderfully when you take the time to do it. I'm lucky if I get the top cleaned off really well once a week, and once a month is probably more like it. Despite my utter neglect, it polishes up bright and shiny every time.  I've even accidentally melted some plastic onto the top (despite the hot-burner indicator light, I set something down on the stovetop), and it came off without damaging the surface. The fact that there is no exposed element at the bottom of the oven makes cleaning the oven chamber a simple process (if you're cleaning by hand, which I sometimes do after something's dripped but before it has had a chance to set). Otherwise, the self-clean feature is a good one to have.Works as advertised.

Below-oven drawer. Since our kitchen is just barely functional and cabinets are nonexistent, the oven drawer has been a blessing. I still have a lot of cookware in boxes, but this drawer holds 2 glass casserole dishes, several cookie sheets, 3 round cake pans, a broiler pan, and 3 loaf pans just fine. Cramming all that stuff in the drawer takes careful stacking, but it is certainly sufficient for all I use in a typical week's time. The drawer glides are strong enough to hold this amount without issue, but I probably wouldn't want to store my cast iron collection there.

Warranty. The appliance comes with a one-year warranty from the manufacturer. We bought the extended warranty from Lowe's but regretted it a few weeks later. We received a warranty-extension offer from Frigidaire that would have cost about a third of what the warranty from Lowe's cost us. I'm not sure if other manufacturers do this, but my advice for this brand is to wait for their offer in the mail.

Miscellaneous. The oven light is bright and does a good job illuminating whatever is baking. This is especially true if your food is on the slide-out oven rack. Being able to clearly see the food reduces how often you need to open the oven, which helps maintain the oven temperature, which in turn reduces cooking time. The clock is easy to set, which seems like such a minor thing, but our car clock is wrong for half the year because it is such an ordeal to change it for daylight savings.

And now for what I don't like. First, the "Bake Time" button. This complaint is threefold. When you use the bake time key, the display does not show you the remaining time, but rather the oven temperature setting.  Pressing the button during baking will reveal this information. However, I'm often busy prepping other items for dinner while something in the oven cooks, and I often have to wash my hands of food gunk before checking the remaining time. The second part of the "bake time" button complaint is that once the time runs out, you have to press "cancel" to stop the timer from beeping. The problem? The cancel button also turns off the oven. If dinner needs to cook a little bit longer, you have to turn the oven back on and set the temperature again. Both issues are resolved rather simply by using the timer button instead of the bake time button. The remaining time is displayed, and pressing the timer button again - not the cancel button - turns off the beeping. The third problem is it does not account for the preheat time. If you want to start the timer immediately, you'd need to add the time it takes to warm up the oven or simply set the timer after the preheat is finished. This problem is not solved with the use of the kitchen timer, but it is still a minor issue.

Another issue is the preheat. It seems to take an abnormally long time to reach the desired temperature, about 10 minutes for 350 degrees. However, it usually takes me at least this long to prep whatever it is I'm cooking. If I manage to finish prep before the preheat, I use the extra couple of minutes to wash up some dishes or start on a side dish. Not an inconvenience at all.

My only other complaint is an aesthetic one. I mentioned that I loved the glass front. However, there are some plastic components, namely the handle and where the handle attaches to the door. The handle has retained its bright white appearance, but the back plate (the couple of inches just above the glass door) has yellowed slightly. I have not tried to use any chemicals on it to see if it can be brightened back up. The discoloration is hardly noticeable because of the size of the handle and the vents in the plastic.

All in all, I'm very pleased with the performance and function of the LGEF3033. It is a step up from a basic range and carries some nice features without a huge upcharge for the bells and whistles I'd never use. I would certainly recommend this appliance with enthusiasm to anyone looking for a great range at an affordable price.

14 November 2011

Back outside again

Because of our temperate weather Saturday, I spent naptime outside trying to get the front of the house a little more presentable. All the leaves and debris from the entire block inevitably end up in the gutter in front of our house and blocks the storm drain at the corner. The gutter has a hard enough time doing its job due to an incorrect pitch, and all the gunk just makes it worse. Anyway, I periodically shovel out all the junk to prevent standing water  when it rains.  

 In case you don't know what a gutter looks like. Leaves are already starting to gather again.
 I finally planted the pieris that's been sitting on the porch for months and also got some hyacinths in the ground. It sounds like a small task, but I had to clear the ground of the grass and weeds that had overtaken the area. I had to till up the compacted soil with a shovel before I could plant anything. 

Still needs mulch, but I should be able to do that today. If I get really ambitious, I may try to get some more bulbs planted close to the existing mulch line. We'll see.

11 November 2011

Ambitious goals

My to-do list for the day was very short. It involved installing these things:

Really not ambitious at all. You see, Clara hasn't been sleeping well lately. Instead of napping she's been practicing a range of awful vocalizations that I'm pretty sure no other creature could replicate. And of course Evie can't sleep with all that racket going on, and the sounds are about to drive me to the madhouse. And unfortunately those noises aren't stopping at night, either. All in all it's been a rough few days for everybody around here. Keeping the task list short was kind of a necessity. So, how'd I do?

Alright, so that's not entirely true. Though it was a blink-and-you'll-miss-it nap today, I did manage to install the doorknob. This was the only door in the house that was missing its knob, and the genius employee of our contractor stuck a piece of wood through the mechanism so you could get the door back open if necessary. I picked up a glass doorknob at an antique shop for $14. Here's the STUNNING transformation. I obviously need to clean up the door and hardware, but you're not likely to get a splinter anymore while trying to open the door.

And this is as far as I got with the fan/light switch.

If Clara keeps up this pace, it'll take me all year to get that switch wired.

04 November 2011

Frugal Friday: Paint sale!

If you're looking to do a paint-spruce up soon, head on over to your local Sherwin-Williams store before Monday. They're having a huge sale, with paint at 40% off! Their paint is a little bit more pricey than the stuff you can find at big box stores, but the quality is supposedly much better, and the sale makes it less expensive than the competitors! For an even better deal, print out their coupon for an additional $10 off a $50 purchase. Happy painting!

19 October 2011

Weekend warriors

What a wonderfully productive weekend! Well, productive for our standards anyway. Here's the latest.

1. Finished painting the back bedroom, including the closet.

I used a couple of gallons of cheap mistint paint from WalMart. I knew it would require at least two coats for complete coverage with such cheap paint, but for $7.50/gallon I was willing to put in the extra work. Two coats worked just fine. The closet only has one coat of paint, but I'm ok with that.

2. Installed the ceiling fan.

Bellhaven II fan from Lowes.
Easy peasy.

3. Installed the closet light.

My mom was with me when I bought this light, and she thought I was crazy and tried briefly to talk me out of it. The light is mounted above the closet door, so you'll never even see it anyway. For $4.50, it does the job just as well as a more expensive light.

4. Wired up some outlets and installed the plastic outlet covers (and foam gaskets behind them). I still have several left to do in this room. Time will tell if those foam gaskets are worth it.

5. Painted trim.

Clearly we haven't installed it yet. I figured it would be easier to paint it before installation, leaving only touch-ups after it's up. We'll see.

6. Organized our piles of tools and materials.

Yes, this IS organized, believe it not!

This was all Tom. I think I might have asked one too many times if he knew where the studfinder was. The contractors moved everything around at least twice while they were here, so it was really a mess. I'm not sure what the plan is from this point (all this stuff can't stay on the bedroom floor forever), but at least I know where the studfinder is now.

Now if I can only keep up this pace on a daily basis - we'd be done in no time!

17 October 2011

State of affairs

Here are a few pictures that show the current state of affairs in the bedrooms and bathroom.

First up, the back bedroom. The drywall is hung, mudded, sanded, and primed. The ceiling has one coat of paint.

Under the painter's canvas is a surprise for another post :)

And here's the front bedroom. It also has one coat of ceiling paint.

It's really hard to get a full shot of this bedroom.

And finally, the bathroom.

It's still miles behind the other two rooms because they took so long getting the plumbing done. As long as they took, they still have at least one drain and one vent to replumb because they don't have the proper slope. I've already had to pay for oodles of extra wasted plumbing materials because of their mistakes, and I'll be darned if I'll pay extra for them to fix this. I mean, sloping a drain isn't an outlandish thing to expect, right?

13 October 2011

Big delivery

So much has happened since I last checked in. The biggest occurrence is the arrival of Evelyn Elizabeth. She was born on October 4th and weighed in at an even 10 pounds.

ND indoctrination can't begin too early.

Yep, she's a keeper.

We got some house stuff done, too, but I'll have to update on that when the planets align and the babies are both asleep at the same time :)

30 September 2011

Frugal Friday: Entertainment

It's one thing to save on necessary items, but it's quite another to save money on the fun stuff. We probably spend much less than most people, but that doesn't mean we're twiddling our thumbs at night to keep ourselves entertained. Here are a few things we do to keep those expenses to a minimum.

1. Cable TV. Assess how much TV you actually watch in a given month and determine if it's worth that chunk of change. Most places will have a handful of network stations available with only a cheap set of rabbit ears. If you decide that you watch enough TV to warrant the expense, consider bundling with your internet and/or phone to save a few bucks. Shop around and ask for a better deal from your current carrier if you find a better rate with another company. Forgo the add-ons and extra channels if you never watch them! In some markets (my own included), the big broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX) are not available without cable. Cable companies in those areas are required to offer a basic basic package for considerably cheaper than the regular basic package that they usually advertise. They have to offer it, but they don't have to advertise it; you'll have to ask for it specifically.

1b. Internet TV. If you've only got a couple of shows that you want to keep up with and can't justify the expense of a cable package, see if they're available to watch online. Hulu is a great source for current and classic TV shows, and they even have quite a few movies. Network websites will also often offer episodes of their current shows for online viewing. The downside to this is that there is a delay between the initial broadcast and its online availability (usually just one day). BUT, you can watch it at your convenience, and you don't have to remember to set your DVR to record it. If sitting in front of your computer screen to watch a show or movie isn't appealing, consider buying an inexpensive HDMI cord to connect your TV to your computer.

2. Subscription services. We were Netflix subscribers for several years but canceled it last month when they raised their rates. On the other hand, Amazon recently added free streaming videos for Prime members. Now, this costs a bit up front, but you also get free shipping on Amazon purchases. Even excluding that benefit, it's still cheaper per month for the same streaming-only service that Netflix now offers.

3. Kiosk rentals. For only $1 per movie per night, you can get DVD rentals from freestanding kiosks. Blockbuster and Redbox are a couple of the big names. Even better, these companies frequently publish codes for free rentals! (You'll still need to swipe a credit card, though, for identification). We only get these movies when we have a free code. The downsides: Selections are limited, especially on the weekends. Also, movies are often due back by 8 or 9 pm the following day and you'll get charged the extra $1 if it's turned in even at 9:01.

4. The library. For books AND movies AND CDs AND audio books AND magazines. These items are usually all available for free. If you're late with your returns, the fine is much less than it would be with a traditional movie rental place. The downside: you're much more likely to get a scratched or otherwise damaged movie/CD than if you were paying for it. Our DVD player isn't very good at handling scratched movies, so we sometimes have to return movies unwatched.

5. Low tech entertainment. Board games, hobbies, crossword puzzles, crafts, etc. Entertainment doesn't have to involve the TV or computer!

6. Local events. Many cities big and small hold festivals and other events, many of which are free and open to the public. Check the local paper or be on the lookout for signs advertising the events. Even better if it's within walking distance of your house - you won't have to pay for gas or parking! Also be on the lookout for free or discounted admission days to museums, zoos, and local attractions. Always check out the websites for venues to see if they have coupons to print!

Any other savvy tips for saving on your entertainment expenses?

28 September 2011

The home stretch

It looks like we're in the home stretch with the contractors. Thank goodness. They're nice folks and all, but having a constant stream of people in and out of the house gets nervewracking. Since Harry, the crew's boss, is offsite on another job, I feel like I've been playing the part of general contractor. It's like babysitting only worse since I'm the one paying them. I made the mistake of assuming that the guys hanging the drywall would know how to do it correctly. You're supposed to leave a 1/2" gap at the bottom to allow for house movement and to prevent any water that gets in the floor from getting wicked up into the drywall. Most people just lay down a scrap of drywall on the floor as a spacer so they're not trying to manually hold the sheet up half an inch off the floor. About half the drywall touched the floor and a day was wasted correcting the problem.

But now all the drywall is hung in the bedrooms and the finishers are on the second coat of mud. I have a lot more faith in the mudders than I do in the hangers, who were just part of Harry's general crew and apparently need almost-constant instruction. They should be finishing up the rough plumbing today and hanging drywall in the bathroom. I already told them that they're done when the baby is born regardless of whether the work is complete. We'll do whatever they haven't finished. Anyhow, here are the three rooms as they are now:

Back bedroom.

Bathroom. Obviously lots of work left to do in here.

Front bedroom. Trying out the panoramic feature on my phone's camera.

So that's where we are right now. Hopefully the bathroom will look a little better tomorrow.

Philosophical differences

In each of the bedrooms, there were areas of flooring that were missing and had been patched with plywood. My guess is that the previous owner wanted to install carpeting in the bedrooms and didn't worry about replacing the missing flooring with equivalent material. Not wanting to go the carpet route ourselves, we had our contractor feather in flooring for the missing areas. Luckily for us, the floors upstairs are the same as the subflooring we tore out downstairs, so we had plenty of matching material for him to use.

After the first few rows, he stopped and told us that we wouldn't be happy with how the floor was turning out. He didn't think he could eliminate the gaps between the floorboards that seemed to be appearing, even though the replacement material was an exact match for what existed. Not only that, he continued, but "pine just won't ever look as good as oak." He suggested we cover the floors with oak flooring or, to cut costs, a wood-look laminate.

Uh. No.

It was the end of the work day anyway, so we told him we'd sleep on it and tell him the next day what we wanted him to do. Encouraged by a wealth of information on the internet (God bless Google), we told him to do the best he could and that we'd deal with the gaps and cracks later. At this stage of the game, we are not going to worry about refinishing the floors. Sure, it'll be a pain to empty out the rooms in order to sand them, but it's just not crucial right now. We'd much rather have the drywall up than perfect floors.

Really, though, we don't expect the floors to be perfect. A smooth-as-glass gym floor would look strange in this house. Oak might be a harder material, but new oak will never have the same charm and character as these 100-year-old pine (or fir, we're not sure) floors. Anyway, here's what we ended up with. I was bracing myself for far worse!

He won't be doing the floor refinishing himself (I'm not trusting ANYbody to put a drum sander on those floors!), but I can only imagine the response when he finds out I don't want to use poly but only a natural tung oil finish (or Waterlox if I chicken out on the pure tung oil).

27 September 2011

The vanity

A couple of weekends ago I dragged Tom downtown to show him a couple of possibilities I found for the bathroom vanity. I wanted something old but not a precious antique that I would ruin by modifying. We bought an old dresser for $85 (including tax) from one of the junk antique shops downtown. It's not the curvy dresser I originally envisioned, but it fits the bill. It's well-built and solid but has a couple of minor condition problems. A little bit of the veneer is bubbling up on one of the drawers and the paint is chippy, but really nothing that some wood glue, sandpaper, and a little paint can't fix. Here she is:

The ladies that run this particular shop (Tootsie's Antiques, if you're ever in town) bought much of our house's contents when Retta Seymore was selling the house (two owners ago). In fact, they still have several pieces in their own homes! They also told me that they have some old diaries of Retta's mother-in-law, Kitta, that they'd let me have. It pays to get chatty with old ladies, I guess!

22 September 2011

Moving right along

After a few very long evenings, Tom and I finished the insulation in the bedrooms enough to where the drywallers could start. I had a couple of minor tasks to finish up this morning when they arrived, but nothing that kept them from working. Insulating is a colossal pain in the behind, but I am glad we did it ourselves. Not only did we save ourselves $2000, but we made sure to tuck insulation into cracks and crevices and behind studs that hired help would have probably overlooked. I'm hoping that the R-30 in the ceiling and R-19 in the walls will keep us from paying out our life savings to the electric company every month.

Our contractor said that they'd probably only need two days to hang the drywall in the two bedrooms, but I have serious doubts. When they left for lunch today, they had hung a grand total of TWO sheets. Granted, a lot of the morning was spent cleaning up and clearing out the rooms, but you'd think a crew of 3 guys could manage a little more than that in three hours.

20 September 2011


Apparently the construction industry is really pushing the new formaldehyde-free insulation. They claim that it doesn't off-gas, doesn't itch as much during installation, is easier to install, and will scrub your toilets clean for the rest of your life.

Don't believe it. I've never had any trouble with that formaldehyde-filled, asthma- and cancer-inducing Pink Panther stuff that the greenbuilding industry says will hunt you down and kill you if you've ever been in contact with it. Granted, I never rolled around in it, but I have hung plenty of it without a respirator, gloves, goggles, or even long sleeves. Itching was never a problem (of course, poison ivy doesn't seem to do anything to me, either, but extended use of antibacterial hand soap makes my hands crack and bleed, so I may be the exception in all this). Now that the pink stuff is unavailable (at our local Lowe's, anyway), we've had to buy the newer formaldehyde-free product. This stuff is AWFUL to work with. From what I understand about it, formaldehyde is used as a binding agent to keep all the fluff together. It has nothing to do with the itch factor - the fiberglass itself is what causes that. In my opinion, they haven't found an adequate replacement for formaldehyde's binding properties. The new stuff sends a cloud of fiberglass dust into the air the moment you so much as look at it. It gets into your eyes and mouth and skin and nose with very unpleasant results. Even after a long bath and fresh clothes, I still itch all over. I can't seem to get it out of my throat, either.

Now, I could be wrong, but it seems like a chance of a potential future problem caused by off-gassing seems like a better bet than the definite and current problem of breathing in fiberglass shards and scratching myself to distraction. There is a study that gets cited stating that indoor air quality can be worse than outdoor air quality because of the off-gassing of building materials, insulation among them. We keep our windows open most of the year, and we'll never get this 105-year-old house as "tight" as new construction. Off-gassing just doesn't seem like a problem for us. The asthma and breathing problems have not materialized in the year-and-a-half that we've lived here, and we're literally surrounded by formaldehyde-filled insulation in the master bedroom.

While I think it's admirable that companies are trying to make "green" products available at a reasonable cost, why can't I choose which version I want to use in my own home?

16 September 2011

Frugal Friday: Postage

Today's tip comes from my sister, Catherine. She recommends paying your bills online (saving the cost of a stamp) but still receiving your statements in the mail. By getting your statements on paper, you can also save the envelope they send you for other mailings! I think she also said, "Booya!" to emphasize her frugality. Be careful, though - some companies charge a fee for paying your bill online or over the phone!

Other ways to save postage (other than not sending any mail!):

1. Send a postcard. Postage for postcards are about half the price of an envelope. Twenty cents here and there adds up if you're sending birthday cards and holiday cards to family and friends all year long!

2. Mail it from work. Obviously you shouldn't take advantage of your workplace to mail thousands of flyers, but even strictly-run offices probably won't mind an occasional letter to Grandma slipped into the outgoing mail.

3. Media mail. Every so often I'll send a box of books to my nieces. Mailing these first-class would cost me more than the books did! Media rates are drastically lower, and though they warn of longer delivery time (up to three weeks!), I've found they usually arrive just as fast as first class mail.

09 September 2011

Frugal Friday: Wall Art

Finding unique artwork doesn't have to be an expensive venture. If you're not interested in a museum-quality collection but just want something to enhance your room's decor, here are a few frugal ideas.

1. Paint something yourself. A cheap white canvas (Big Lots has several sizes for very reasonable prices) and a few tubes of acrylic paint could be all you need to make the perfect work of art for your space. Leftover wall paint from your other painting projects can help coordinate it perfectly with your decor. Get the kids involved, especially if it's for their room!

2. Framed wallpaper or fabric samples. I love fabric and wallpaper but have a hard time committing to one pattern for a large project. Throw a sample in a frame and hang it up! Or if you're a nail-hole-commitment-phobe, too, lean it against the wall on a shelf or ledge. It will provide a cheap, easily changeable accent to your room. Or instead of using a frame, use embroidery hoops to frame your fabric. If the hoops are smaller, group several together with a collection of coordinating fabrics.

3. Copyright-free artwork. There are lots of online resources for old artwork that can be downloaded and printed without worry of copyright infringement. Here are a few of my favorites:

Vintage Printable
The Graphics Fairy
NY Public Library Digital Collections
Clipart ETC
Boston Public Library Digital Collections

If you don't want to burn through your printer ink, take them to Staples or other print shop (be on the lookout for coupons!). It'll still be cheaper than the real-deal vintage items in your local antique shop!

08 September 2011

Wherein I pretend to be some kind of designer

I'm tired of sawdust and debris. I want the pretties! Here are a couple of things I've drawn up. {Click on images to enlarge.} All prices listed are full retail, but I'll do my best not to pay even that much (though nothing I've chosen is particularly high-end to begin with).

First, the plan, bird's-eye perspective, and elevations - boring but helpful architectural drawings.

And the essentials - plumbing and fixtures. Plain white toilet, tub, and sink. Brushed stainless steel faucets (for tub and sink - these are the same fixtures as those in the master bath). Aged brass/bronze lights.

And finally materials and finishes. I actually came up with two options. The hard, permanent surfaces (cabinets and floors) are the same in both, but the soft goods are different. I think I like the first one better, but I don't know if I'll be able to get those rose knobs locally. Also, that marble floor probably won't be as cheap as the drawing indicates. It was on clearance at our Lowe's store, but they've sold out. It's available at other stores, but not at that price.

I have no idea what I'm doing for the vanity sink base and countertop. I'd like to retrofit an old, curvy dresser, but I need to find one first!

06 September 2011

Labor Day labors

We took advantage of Tom's day off of work to get a bit more done. The outlet circuits for the two bedrooms are just about complete! We need to pick up some circuit breakers, but the wire has been run all the way to the breaker box in the basement. We are waiting on the plumbing to be finished before we do any of the wiring for the bathroom. I got a start on insulation, too. R-19 batts in the wall will help keep the rooms nice and toasty warm in the winter. It's been dark and dreary (but wonderfully cool), so I haven't gotten any pictures. Plus there are tools and insulation and sawdust strewn everywhere, and electrical rough-ins aren't much to look at anyway. I'll get it cleaned up and update with photos.

03 September 2011

Frugal Fri...er, Saturday

I've been feeling a little uninspired for Frugal Friday lately - it's hard to feel frugal when you see dollar signs racking up above the heads of your construction crew. Tom participated in a 5k run this morning, so Clara and I hit a few nearby yard sales while he ran. As I mentioned before, I've been thinking a lot about the fixtures and finishes for the second bathroom. Pretty, affordable, and appropriate is apparently hard to come by in a new light fixture. I found several options and wasn't crazy about the prices, but I would have ponied up the dough anyway. These were the contenders, just to give you an idea of what I was going for:

Didn't like the chrome, and it was probably too mod for the house anyway. Sparkly and pretty, though.

Top contender because of its price. Simple but appropriate.

Probably my favorite aesthetically, but the most expensive and therefore least likely.

As luck would have it, the second garage sale of the morning had a light fixture that I scooped up for $4. Of course it's used and not exactly like any of the options that I posted above, but I'm happy with the purchase.

I'll have to see how it looks in the space before I do anything to it, but I'll probably tone down the brighter brass with a little Rub n Buff. So the Frugal Friday tip (I know it took long enough for me to get to it) is to be flexible. Even if something isn't an exact replica of what you have in mind, it can still be great and save you money in the process! (And I bet you thought the tip would be to go to garage sales!)

27 August 2011

Fixed up

The framing situation I referred to has been fixed, and I think the solution is as close to ideal as we can get. We get to keep the hallway closet and still have enough room for the linen cabinet in the bathroom. We lost a little room in the bedroom closet, but it was a bit oversized to begin with. Now we'll be able to use our existing doors rather than buying new doors that probably won't match. It wasn't a difficult fix when all was said and done, and I remain on good terms with our contractor. He's completely understanding of those sorts of changes in remodel situations. He says that so many minor adjustments get made because of existing conditions that it's inevitable to have a change like that last-minute.

The framing for the back bedroom is complete, so Tom and I got a great start on running the electrical. Tom is still out there and should be finished in the next hour or so. We'll be hanging insulation tomorrow.

26 August 2011

Worn out

Sorry, no frugal Friday tip today. I'm too worn out from dealing with a cranky, busy baby with a one-track mind for destruction to impart any practical wisdom.

The work crew just left a few minutes ago and I am a little disappointed. They made some changes to the framing that kind of compromise my bathroom storage plan. Right now I'm racking my brain trying to figure out how to fix it without it being too much of a pain. I don't want to be witchy, but I also don't want to be stuck with a crappy storage situation for the rest of my life. Lucky for you, I lack the energy to go into details.

Oh, and he underestimated the amount of lumber - again - so we have to make another trip out to Lowe's. It's a good thing he's got a truck, because I'd be super mad about paying repeated delivery fees for his estimation mistakes.

19 August 2011


(Sorry if you'll have that song stuck in your head all day now.)

Two weeks ago:


Change is good.

Frugal Friday: End of season sales

A simple way of saving a few bucks is stocking up at the end of season clearance sales. Now that the back-to-school season is here, stores are liquidating their supplies of summer items. Now's a great time to pick up bathing suits, flip-flops, and beach towels for a bargain! If you steer clear of trendy clothing and stick to staples and classics, you can pick up almost an entire wardrobe for next year for less than half price.

15 August 2011

A before and after...

Over the weekend, while our construction crew was working hard (pictures of that progress to come), we headed over to a farm just north of Cincinnati for something called a Mudathlon. Their tagline is "Mud. Obstacles. Beer." It involves running, an obstacle course, a couple of mud pits, and a complementary (after your $70 entry fee, of course) beer. A group from Tom's work decided to run in it. Here they are before the race:

And here they are afterward:

Tom was the only one in the group that actually finished all of the obstacles (even though it turns out nobody was penalized for skipping), and he has the blisters to prove it. Their team finished 13th out of 203 - not bad for a bunch of computer nerds! And just to show you how much mud was involved, here's a picture of Tom doing his Terminator walk through one of the mud pits:

My only regret is not getting a picture of Clara chasing the chicken around before the race.

12 August 2011

Frugal Friday: At the gas pump

Gas prices aren't as high as they've been before, but I don't imagine them plummeting to the old nickel-a-gallon days anytime soon, either. Here are a few strategies to lengthen the amount of time between fill-ups and the sticker shock that comes with them.

1. Don't drive as much. Duh, right? If you live in an area where you can walk to work or to your everyday errands, do it! A comfy pair of walking shoes will cost about as much as a tank of gas and last a heck of a lot longer. If you can't walk to your destination, combine trips as much as possible and plan your route to prevent backtracking, traffic, and construction when possible. If you live in a place where they're available, use park & rides.

2. Use cruise control judiciously. Cruise control works best for saving gas on flat terrain. On the uphill, even and steady pressure on the accelerator is more economical than a constant velocity. On the downhill, I often put the car in neutral and let gravity take care of keeping the wheels turning. But whenever I'm on a flat road, even if it's a 35 mph zone through town, it's a good bet that the cruise control is on.

3. Take advantage of loyalty rewards programs. Some gas stations offer discounts for having their reward card. It's not a national policy, but there are many Speedway stations that offer $.06 off per gallon when you swipe your card. The one I use the most is the one at Kroger. Every $100 spent in store equals $.10 off per gallon at participating gas stations (I think that many Shell stations have partnered with Kroger on this, so you're not limited to just stores that have gas stations), up to $1.00 per gallon! Now, with all the couponing that I do, I very rarely accumulate even the minimum $100 in a month for a gas discount. However, Kroger runs special promotions offering double or even quadruple fuel points for gift card purchases. Luckily for us, Lowe's gift cards are available. $250 in Lowe's gift cards earns us $1.00 off per gallon automatically. Of course, rewards programs will vary regionally and by store, so work out for yourself how to best utilize them.

4. Check the junk in the trunk. Don't carry around a bunch of extra weight if you can help it. Every extra pound diminishes your gas mileage just a little bit more.

5. Take your time. That lead foot is costing you money. Leave a few minutes early to avoid being in a rush. Consider taking a less-traveled route that's a longer distance if it's flatter or avoids construction or traffic. Less stop-and-go is better on your mpg (and your brakes). Don't accelerate as you're approaching a red light. Shift into neutral and let the car's momentum continue naturally. Often the light will change as you approach, and you can shift back into gear without having to brake. It takes much less energy for the car to continue from a moving state than to start from a dead stop.

6. Keep your car tuned up. Tire inflation is the big one in this category, but keeping your oil changed and your air filters cleaned help your gas mileage, too.

I know there are a million strategies out there, but these are the ones that are the easiest (for me) to do with the biggest payoff. What are some of your gas-saving tips?

06 August 2011

Progress report, part 1

I have been meaning to update the progress on the other two bedrooms since the weekend. I don't have any true "before" shots, but here's what it looks like now:

I know it doesn't look like much, but the crew really did a lot of work. First they demoed all the existing framing. I based my plan on the walls that the previous owner had built, but they weren't really built very well. They used a lot of twisted studs which would have made hanging drywall very difficult. They also didn't put headers over the windows. Structurally that isn't a problem (since the bricks are the load-bearing structure, not the studs), but Harry pointed out that it is helpful to have headers for hanging curtains. Anchoring into a stud is much safer than anchoring into drywall. Anyway, they spent Friday doing demo and cleanup, including moving stuff around downstairs to make room for our lumber delivery.

On Saturday, they unloaded and sorted the delivery from Lowe's, which miraculously arrived first thing in the morning, right on schedule. They then turned their attention to the ceiling. The joists are solid enough, but they're not terribly even. Since the ceiling was originally plaster and lath, the unevenness didn't matter much, but solid wallboard like drywall is difficult to install on such a substrate.

They're about 1/3 of the way done with the ceiling work. Having done this before, we know what a process it is to measure, mark, and cut each piece of lumber individually. Once they finish the ceiling (probably this Friday), they'll reframe the exterior walls and we can get a start on running the electrical.

While the crew was at lunch and the hammering and banging had ceased, I put Clara down for a nap and did a little bit of work myself. I sprayed a bunch of foam insulation around the windows, so at least you can't see daylight around them anymore.

I still need to caulk around the outside for water protection, but the spray foam is a good first step toward a draft-free room. I might be kicking myself or laughing at myself later on, but the goal is to have at least one of the bedrooms substantially complete (maybe not fully designed and accessorized, but hopefully we'll have at least electricity and drywall) by the time I have baby #2. That gives me about 7 weeks. It's simultaneously a lot of time but also a flash in the pan, so we'll see how much we can accomplish!

05 August 2011

The bathroom

Now that we're gettin' 'er done construction-wise, I can let myself think about finishes and furnishings without quite so much guilt. First, here's a floor plan:
Never mind the different hatching patterns. They indicate new vs. existing walls so the framers know what's what.

And here's my bathroom inspiration:

Not sure of the source on this one.

I guess "inspiration" isn't really the right word, since these are what I had in mind before I sought out pictures. They're a pretty good representation of what I'm going for, though. If Tom approves, this will be our flooring:

On clearance for $4.39/sqft at Lowe's

Wall spashability seems like a good idea in a kid's bathroom, so we're going to wrap plain white subway tiles around the room up to a height of about 4 feet. It will be capped off with a chair rail tile, much like in the photos above. I'm still on the hunt for the perfect light fixtures - perfect meaning pretty AND cheap, a combination that seems very hard to achieve.

I'm not sure about the vanity yet, but I'm pretty sure I want something that looks more like furniture than your standard vanity. I really like these:

The second one obviously offers more in the way of storage, but I have allotted space for a large linen cabinet on the wall opposite the vanity. I don't know if I'd prefer something built-in:

Or something freestanding:
Built-ins are appropriate for the age of our house (if done correctly, of course) while a piece of furniture would give us flexibility in the future (because I can never seem to make up my mind). Maybe even a buffet or hutch, which would provide more counter space. Any recommendations or suggestions?

And if I decide that we simply need more storage than even the linen cabinet can provide, I will just have to suck it up and do a standard vanity. My crazy brain craves creative and custom solutions, so even "standard" doesn't necessarily mean out-of-the-box. This is completely wrong aesthetically, but I like the idea:

And once the kids are tall enough to not need a step up, this could easily be turned over and used as an extra drawer. If you were designing a bathroom from scratch, what would be on the top of your list?