I should be hibernating

Yesterday at this time, it was a whopping -2°F.  Today, it's 0°.  I normally like winter, but this is a little too cold for me.  The heat is clicking on about 10 minutes after it shuts off, and our storm windows are covered in frost.  Our thermostat is set at 68°, I'm wearing a long-sleeved shirt under a hoodie, sweatpants, and down slippers, and I'm still chilly!  Brrr!  Times like this make me thankful that our house is insulated and that we have a reasonably efficient furnace.  I'm still dreading the gas bill, but it shouldn't be too bad. 

Tonight we're going to Lowes to get the 2 by 4s to frame in the closet openings.  I doubt we'll see much progress on it before the New Year's, but at least we'll have the materials on-hand.  Maybe someday soon we'll even work on the office..!


Vintage-Modern love

A few months ago we walked into Target, and I fell in love...
This is the Crosley Solo "audiophile" radio.  It's only about 5 by 7", but has fantastic sound.  Although it only has one speaker, it will supposedly mimic surround sound.  Since Shayne got it for me for my birthday, I can say that it will absolutely fill a room with music, and the sound quality is excellent.  There's an auxillary switch for me to plug in my mp3 player or XM.  I occasionally had the radio on in the house before, but now I switch it on as soon as I come home at night and first thing in the morning.  If nothing else, classical Christmas music sounds gorgeous on this wonderful little contraption.  And, it looks pretty sitting on the bookcase; it doesn't look old, but it doesn't stick out like a sore thumb like a normal new radio would in a room full of vintage furniture.
I'm in love...  <3


She's making a list...

Of all the crap I still need to accomplish, preferably before I'm pregnant again.  It's not a big list.  It's not even a terribly difficult list.  It just requires time.  That's what I'd like for Christmas, Santa.  MORE TIME.

Since Shayne's on midnights and I'm on afternoons, there's no good time to accomplish anything together.  His days off are so screwy that we hardly have any together.  He's working afternoons for the rest of the month I think, so tonight when we're both home, I really want to accomplish something.

Finishing the upstairs was on my list of New Year's Resolutions.  With only 2 weeks left to go, I think we're going to fall miserably short.  Here are the things we have left to do:
  1. Finish skimcoating the office walls
  2. Frame over the existing closet opening and rough in the new one
  3. Drywall over the closet door opening
  4. Paint office
  5. Move bedroom into office
  6. Remove paneling and funky built-in shelf from bedroom
  7. Frame divider between the two closets
  8. Drywall bedroom wall and closet divider wall
  9. Refinish bedroom floor
  10. Refinish office floor
  11. Refinish nursery floor
  12. Replace/recreate missing trim in office
Looks kinda like a seriously messed up version of the 12 days of Christmas.  "On the first day of Christmas, my house made me..." Ugh.  The thing is, it could be done in 12 days.  At least if I were a highly motivated, highly dedicated individual.  I'm just highly wishful and lazy.


An abundance of apples

Since my mom and I split a bushel of Fuji apples, I've been trying to come up with creative ways to use them.  Two of my favorites so far haven't been all that creative, but they're darn good!  Here are my recipes:

Apple Crisp

5 or 6 medium-sized apples
2 tsp of cinnamon, or to taste
1 tbsp Fruit Fresh
1/4 - 1/3 cup of water

2 cups old fashioned oats
1 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350 F
Peel, core, and slice the apples into 16ths.
In a bowl, mix oats, brown sugar, flour, and butter.  Mixture should be crumbly and moist.

Place apples into a 9 x 13" baking pan.  Sprinkle with cinnamon and Fruit Fresh, then mix until apples are coated evenly.  Add water to pan.  Sprinkle oat topping evenly over apples.  Bake for 35 - 40 minutes.  Let sit at least 30 minutes before serving, otherwise apple juice/water in the bottom of the pan will be runny.  As it cools, the juice thickens and the apples become much more tender.


10 - 12 medium-sized apples
1/3 - 1/2 cup brown sugar, to taste
approximately 1 cup of water
cinnamon to taste

Peel, core, and slice apples.  Put into large saucepan or pot, along with sugar and water.  Cook for approximately 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add cinnamon, then mash the apples.  I've heard a potato masher works, but I use a hand mixer.  Mash/mix apples until desired consistency is reached.  Cook an additional 5-10 minutes.  Serve warm or cold.  Also works for canning.

Finally feels like home

Ever since we bought the house, I've wanted to decorate for Christmas.  The first year we put up a tree and some icicle lights outside.  Then we tore up the living room.  The next year we had the tree in the middle of our crack-house living room.  Last year I finally got my crap together and finished the woodwork.  So we got the tree up the less than a week before Christmas, even though there wasn't much furniture to speak of.

This year, it's 2 weeks before Christmas, and I have a Christmas tree, outside lights, and furniture.  And, the furniture isn't cheap, college dorm stuff either anymore.  YAY!  As I was walking through the room, I realized again how homey it looks now, especially compared to when we bought the house.  Remember??

In the past year, I've acquired the majority of the furniture: a mission style futon frame (which will eventually move to the office or basement family room), two matching victorian-ish bookshelves from my Aunt Virginia and Uncle Chuck, my gigantic arts and crafts bookcase with leaded glass doors, and my bargain basement mission-style rocker.  Tying it all together is the awesome rug that is reminiscent of the arts and crafts period, a leaded glass table lamp, and a leaded glass floor lamp.  And there's the mission style table that I got almost 2 years ago.  Considering how much I adore the room, I'm amazed at how little it cost to furnish it.  All told, the antiques were less than $1000, which proves you can find nice vintage furniture without paying a fortune.  Granted, collectors would probably laugh at my assortment of nameless pieces, but I'm so very happy with the way it's turned out.
It's still not quite done, but soon we'll be hanging pictures and replacing the last few bits of woodwork.  And note to self: find a nice mica lamp and move that damned Eiffel tower lamp somewhere else...

An Early Christmas Present


It needs a little help (doesn't everything in this house?), but it's in good condition as-is.  The original finish is long-gone, so I'll eventually refinish it.  The seat needs a little help, as one of the springs is out of place.  The twine that held it in position snapped.  But for $120, I really couldn't pass it up!


I just saved $54,000!

Things had been moving rather slowly on our refinancing project, but move they did.  On November 26 we signed our closing papers and went happily on our way, knowing that we were protected from going to a variable rate two years from now.  The rate wasn't great (6.375%), but it was lower than our original rate.  And we were happy just to know that we had a fixed rate.

And then, the day after Thanksgiving, something made me look at the bank's mortgage rates on the website.  As of the 19th, the rate had dropped to 6.25%.  And we had signed a rate lock-in to allow us to get a lower rate if it should present itself.  It had, and the bank had screwed us.  The bank was closed, but I planned to call first thing Monday morning and take advantage of the 3-day-cancel-with-no-repercussions paper we had signed.

Monday morning came. and I checked the website yet again.  As of the 26th, the rate was now 5.75%!  I called, the bank manager kissed my ass a little, and we went in the following day to cancel our loan.  As we were sittining his office having the new paperwork drawn up, he received a message saying that the rates had dropped again.  We were now down to 5.625%.

Over the life of the loan, that saves us $54,551 in interest...!

All I can say is that it pays to do your homework.  The only one looking out for you is you, so make sure you do a good job of it!  Had I not checked the rates on the website, I never would have known they had dropped so much.  I was tempted not to do business with them again, but since they made it right, I guess we'll just stick with them.  We're going to save another $30-60K anyways, depending on how early we pay off our mortgage.  Amazing how it all adds up!

Helping others help themselves

My Uncle Chuck has spent most of his life so far working for the steel companies in Detroit.  When they started to fall on hard times 5 or so years ago, hechose to retire and begin working for PIME Missionary in Detroit.  He has gone to India a couple of times, visiting the poor and the sick through mission activities. He has also helped to set up the Mission Store.  Following is an article he wrote to help share the story of the Mission Store and the people behind it.

The Mission Store continues to explore opportunities for our sponsors to help the people help themselves. Fr. Franco Cagnasso tells us of an ambitious group of young ladies from one of our missions in Bangladesh who have handcrafted some of the beautiful jewelry that has been marketed and sold through the Mission Store.

And the leader of this enterprise? Martha...a young woman of about 30 with two beautiful children - an 8 year old girl and 5 year old boy. And a cruel drunkard husband who is in jail.

Fr. Franco shares this story about Martha...

Some time back, Martha appeared at one of the PIME houses in Dhaka. Weak and pale with a high fever, and bleeding from a kidney operation that she had the previous day. The Sisters of Mother Teresa were contacted to address her needs. Having received the care that she needed, she left the Sisters only to return a few weeks later to say "thank you" and to offer some of her handicrafts in gratitude.

Born in the south of Bangladesh to a poor landless family, she came to Dhaka as a child with her parents and three sisters looking for a better life. Her father used to pull a rickshaw, work that killed him in a few years. Her mother collected wastepaper from door to door in an effort to make some kind of living, and the children helped by rummaging here and there along the streets. Martha and her sisters were fortunate to have learned a little bit of reading and writing that would help them along the way.

When her mother died, Martha took the lead, struggling like a tiger for her life and for her sisters, by doing any kind of work. One such job included housekeeping for a British family, where she picked up sufficient English to make herself understood. She read old fashion magazines, providing her with design ideas for handicrafts.

Martha lives with her two children, her younger sister Purnima (meaning 'full moon') and a colorful little group of girls whom she accepts in her small house when they get into trouble for any reason. She teaches them how to use a sewing machine, how to create Christmas decorations, to clean a modern house, to make rosaries and necklaces, and to print cloth for saris.

"With me," she says, "they often starve, but we starve together. I do not exploit them. They learn how to make a living...and they feel accepted."

Martha has a strong. simple faith. "I am a sinner," she says. "I tell lies... But only to survive."

She says that Pope John Paul II smiled at her in a dream. She keeps a photo of him in her house and feels protected by his prayer.

Martha and the girls continue their struggle. They put on the only sari they have or their best "punjabi" and go to sell their products in the rich areas of town, knocking at the doors of clubs, schools, fairs and exhibitions, convents and parishes. They keep cleaning houses, washing clothes, and occasionally being babysitters and cooks. From time to time, Martha is called to teach school children how to decorate their classroom or to prepare gifts for their parents. They starve when there is no money; they feast when they earn some.

PIME World magazine has supported the efforts of these ladies by offering some of their handicrafts in the October 2006 issue and again in this issue. Life is still difficult, but Martha and the girls are more confident and they boast: "We sell our jewels even in America!"

Help us help these hard working ladies help themselves through your support.

You can help Martha and other women like her by purchasing handcrafted, fair-trade gifts through the PIME Mission Store Online.  They have a nice selection of handmade jewelry, as well as handpainted Christmas cards.  All of the proceeds benefit the crafters and PIME Missionaries.


Modern conveniences

Of all the "modern" conveniences I love, I honestly think that my favorite is the carpet cleaner.  Pretty sad, huh?  But with two big dogs to track in dirt and a kitty who yaks up every time she eats so much as a blade of grass, I don't know what I would do without it.  Especially since whenever someone has an accident or illness, they always seem to look for the nearest rug to barf or crap on.  I don't know how people had carpets in their entire house before home carpet cleaners were invented.

And as I was cleaning up one of the critter's messes this morning, I took a good long look at the carpet cleaner.  It was filthy.  Absolutely disgusting.  So I took it apart to clean it.  I recommend a pair of rubber gloves and a strong stomach for that part.  All I can say is it wasn't pleasant. 

I also cleaned out the microwave this morning.  I must be on a cleaning-things-that-rarely-get-cleaned binge.  The microwave wasn't so bad, though.  We're not complete heathens.


Financial Peace?

Shayne loves talk radio, and every so often tells me stories about the people who call in and the goofy things they say. One of his favorite shows is Dave Ramsey. I've listened to bits and pieces of the show, but never paid much attention. Until last night, when something clicked in my head, and I went to his website. Unlike some of the folks he talks about, we don't have much debt. Just a couple of student loans and our (used) car payment. Overall, I think we've done okay with our money, and we save a decent amount every month. Our big debt is obviously our house payment, and we just started our 30 years over again when we refinanced. During all the signing of papers, there was a "truth in lending" statement that gave us a friendly reminder of all the interest we'll pay over a 30 year period. It was somewhere in the nieghborhood of $130K, which is more than the house itself cost us or is even worth.

So we ruminated over that for a few days...

Last night, I went to a mortgage calculator and saw that if we paid an extra $300 per month, we'd save ourselves $70K in interest and pay off our home in 14 years instead of 30. And somehow, through a few different internet searches about living frugally and paying off debt, I ended up at Dave Ramsey's site.

Dave's suggestion is to have a $1000 emergency fund in place. You then pay the minimums on all debt, and select the smallest to pay extra on. Once that one is eliminated, take the amount you were putting on that loan and pay it towards the next smallest. The result is a debt elimination "snowball", where with each successive payoff, you have more to pay on the next loan.

After reading this, a little lightbulb went on in my head. We already have an emergency fund and a Roth IRA, so we're a little out of order from his full list of recommendations. But his "snowball" idea convinced me that we should take half of our savings account and begin to pay off our debt. That will eliminate 2 student loans immediately and enable us to pay $175 more per month on the 2 that are left. If we follow that snowball idea through with all of our debt (excluding the house), we'll have all the student loans, plus the car, paid off in less than 18 months. The student loans will be gone in 9 months (as opposed to 2016!). This is all without a single change in our lifestyle or working any part time jobs. Obviously, we can make this happen even faster if we limit otgher expenditures and/or dump our tax return or any overtime pay onto our debt.


The next step is to amass a bigger emergency fund of 3-6 months of living expenses. It'll be much lower than it was, without all those monthly payments! And then you start hacking away at the mortgage. Can you imagine life without a mortgage payment?!

The only downside that I really see to all this is that the bathroom reno will have to wait about 18 months. But we can save up for it that much faster once our debt is gone, and I won't have to worry about spending the money or borrowing from our equity. We'll pay cash. The remainder of the upstairs reno is DIY work, and the only expense we have to worry about is a $40 sander rental. So we'll keep plugging away at that. The bathroom will still be there in 18 months.