Friday, October 23, 2009

If You Ever Wonder if There are Still Gypsies in the World

I stumbled across this blog called The Hermitage (a blog of a nomadic couple living in the UK) quite by accident and I was immediately transfixed. I cannot even say for sure if it is the writing style and the way she tells stories about their life, the pictures which are wonderful, or the gypsy-like home they live in, or maybe their nomadic life which is such a far cry from my own. What I can say for sure is that the artwork is wonderfully detailed, whimsical, and yet showing a great depth of emotion. Even if it isn't your taste (it is mine) you cannot deny Rima is incredibly talented.

Please take a few minutes to check it out and just try to imagine yourself living a modern day nomadic life in the UK, could you?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Closet Organizers

As we take the month of October to ponder how to finish the rest of our master bath and closets I am a bit overwhelmed at the closet organizer choices. We were initially leaning toward tearing everything out and adding an Ikea Pax system but the tear-out costs on top of the closet cost is making us think twice. So here is some closet eye candy (well maybe it just all looks sweet to me). Any loves?

California Closets

Closet Tailors

Elfa from The Container Store

Elfa from The Container Store

Easy Closets

Easy Closets as on

Easy Closets from

Space Masters

California Closets

Easy Closets Pantry

California Closets

Portland Closet

This last one is my personal eye candy, would I love to have that closet! Not to mention the shoes and purses it contains...yum.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Master Bath Mood Board

I've been playing around with the mood board concept for decisions on our master bath. Now that the shower is done we are trying to decide on how we want to finish the rest of the space so we can determine the costs and save up for what we really want. Of course what we really want is pricey so we are trying to balance quality finishes and be as cost effective as possible.

Our master bath is essentially a long hallway, the bath part is fairly small though we have opened it up as much as possible. The closet area is all part of the bathroom though we could have closed it off we decided it would make both spaces feel too small and want to keep it as open as we can. I am going for a mix of modern and traditional.

What do you think, I'd appreciate any suggestions!
From Master Bath Remodel
Except for the shower picture all of these come from websites where I sought inspiration. I think the more modern vanity is my favorite though it has less storage, I'm a bit on the fence about that. The closets are another area we are hotly debating. We want to tear them all out and use ikea pax similar to what you see above only with an opaque glass door. I love their floor to ceiling closets but between the cost and work of a tear-out and then the cost of the closets it is a lot. Our other option is to leave them as is (3 separate closets with traditional sliding doors) and just get new inserts. It would cost us a lot less but I don't think we'd be nearly as happy.

No Spending Challenge: Days 12-18

Sorry for not posting last week, it was a busy home and work week and time got away from me. We are still moving along with our challenge, in fact I moved $1400 into my not so secret savings stash yesterday which was an accumulation of the money we HAVE NOT SPENT this month - yea! Check out our Month Tally in the middle column.

My end goal for this month is to pay off my credit card bill and then focusing on pushing as much cash as I can back into savings. Boy this frugality and saving stuff is not easy for us. I wish I could say it is, I really do but being frugal is not inherent to my nature. We also want to finish the master bathroom project but have committed to saving up for what we want first, so some savings will apply to that (because I do need a toilet back some day!).

Tally for Days 12-18:
Baseline Avg Spending Combined: $1,073.04
Actual Spending Combined: $217.30
Savings: $855.74

So what was that $217 spent on and why did we spend over $1k on average before that?

The baseline was driven by 2 vacations and a wedding which all had at least some or all of the expenses occur during this time in the month - yikes!

Our expenses in the last week:
My Hungry Man ate 2 lunches out while working in DC (he was great about taking his lunch most days but missed a couple). Regular groceries which were less than $80 this week for a family of 4, that is of course subsidized by my Polyface Farm meat order and the pantry. The most expensive were some car parts due to a dead headlight and worn brake pads. The in-house auto mechanic will do the work and we figured it was probably cheaper than a ticket.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

No Spending Challenge: Day 11

Just a quick hit today. We spent $19 on copper plumbing fittings for a leaking pipe, there was no postponing that one! The pipe is now fixed which is a relief.

Tally for Day 11:
Baseline Avg Spending: $147.20
Actual Spending: $19.00
Savings: $128.20

Saturday, October 10, 2009

No Spending Challenge: Days 8-10

Well things are clicking along with our savings now. Yesterday was a good day as we spent $0. Those days seem few and far between. I am finding as this goes that it is a lot harder than it sounded initially and not so easy to just not spend any money at all, at least with kids in the house. That said we are starting to make progress overall. Today was grocery shopping day and I totally blew my budget which is to stay under $100, I wound up spending $138. There were a few factors driving that, but the biggest one I think was that I did not use my calculator adding everything up as I went. Using a calculator (I use my phone if I forget it) makes such a huge difference in what you spend, if you've never done this try it and see if you start really thinking twice about what is going into your cart. Next week it will be back to the calculator for me.

Tally for Days 8-10:
Baseline Avg Spending Combined: $634.77
Actual Spending Combined: $161.40
Savings: $473.37

Friday, October 9, 2009

Quick Bathroom Cabinet Remodel

Before I attempted my kitchen cabinets using Caromal Colours paint I had done a test run on the vanity in my half bath. It was a pretty standard builder grade oak cabinet from the 80's, just like my kitchen. You can read here about how I discovered and became intrigued by Caromal Colours paint last year when shopping in Occoquan, VA. I picked up a jar of Peppercorn textured basecoat paint which is an almost black color.

Just like with my kitchen cabinets, I only washed the cabinet, I did not remove the door or hinges. I did tape off the inside so it would have a nice clean edge when opening the cabinet. I did this in one evening while watching TV in between the 2 coats I applied (this used roughly 1/3 jar paint). It was a super quick and easy renovation and I think it really transformed the cabinet.

The mirror above the cabinet was a bright gold color left by the prior owners. I hand painted this with a combination of pewter and black paint from Michael's to give it more of an antique look and to coordinate better with the cabinet. I then replaced the old brass cabinet handles with a chunky modern iron handle.

All in all a quick remodel for $35 in paint (well less really because I did not use the whole jar) and $20 for new hardware.

Here is the before (sorry for the bad shot, taken before we bought our house):

Here is the after:

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Fabulous Finishes Highlights my Blog!

Check out Fabulous Finishes, they did a nice write up of my blog and my kitchen renovation using Caromal Colours paint.

Pretty Cool!

You can read the post here.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

No Spending Challenge: Days 4-7

I am playing a bit of catch up today on the No Spending month calculations. If anyone out there in blog land is keeping track, well we are still moving along, albeit slowly. So instead of listing every day, I am summing it up.

Tally for Days 4-7:
Baseline Avg Spending Combined: $340.38
Actual Spending Combined: $250.83
Savings: $89.55

This included an order from Polyface Farm for my meat order, this was expected so no unplanned spending there though the overall pounds were higher than I anticipated and raised my expected cost (but I also got more meat, so OK). I also had an unplanned trip to Richmond due to a work computer issue and ended up buying lunch out (and a great lunch it was!) with my co-workers. So all in all we didn't go too far off track but more than I would like. I plan on trying to replicate the curry chicken salad, the hands down best I've ever had, at home on a future date.

From the Polyface order I decided to make a quiche tonight. My mother in law made some pretty inspiring quiches last month and I've always wanted to make one, especially seeing as the pre-made ones at Wegmans cost $8. It was my first attempt and it turned out pretty darn good. The egg yolks were such an orange color, nothing like an egg you buy in the store. I am looking forward to frying or scrambling them up in the morning for the kids.

For the quiche I decided to wing it with a little guidance from Paula Deen on the ratios and oven temp. I oven roasted some Shady Brook Farms turkey breakfast links and once cooked chopped them up. I also chopped up 2 green onions. For the egg mixture I combined 7 medium eggs (the only size Polyface had, but if you have larger use 1 or 2 less), about 1/2-3/4 cup whole milk, an assortment of Whole Foods cheese I had lying about in the fridge that I shredded to rougly 1/2 cup (mozzarella, fontina & gouda). I also added 3 Tbsp of some leftover bechamel sauce I had made to go over some broccoli the night before. That one was on a whim but I think it added some nice flavor. I used a whole grain pre-made spelt pie crust from Wholly Wholesome that I already had in the freezer. I started with the sausage on the bottom, green onions next and then poured in the egg mixture. It went in the oven at 350 degrees for about 35 minutes (bake until middle is set). To accompany the quiche I sauteed zucchini from the farmers market. I had another whim with those and added some curry powder along with the usual salt & pepper and Italian seasonings. Wow, what an interesting but great add for zucchini, a new staple recipe.

I was a bit nervous about the spelt pie crust because it was a pre-made frozen shell and without all the added fat & preservatives normal pre-made shells have I figured it would be crumbly or taste blah, however it got very good reviews from the family and I would totally buy them again for another dinner just like this, or perhaps a fruit pie. Looking at the ingredients and then comparing to Pillsbury, which would be a grocery store standard, I can't help but be glad it tastes good - which would you rather eat? (Thanks to Wegmans for listing product ingredients!)

Organic Spelt 9" Pie Shells
Organic Whole Spelt Flour (Wheat), Organic Palm Oil, Water, Organic Cane Sugar, Sea Salt

Pillsbury Pet-Ritz Pie Crusts, Regular
Enriched Wheat Flour (wheat flour, niacin, iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), partially hydrogenated lard (adds trivial amount of fat) with BHA and BHT added to protect flavor, water, sugar, whey, salt, baking soda, sodium metabisulfite (preservative), colord with yellow 5 and yellow 6

I am planning a post on sustainable food as well as Polyface Farms soon! If you have not read Michael Pollan's book The Omnivore's Dilemma, I stongly encourage you to do so, I have learned so much from it. Polyface is featured in the book as a sustainable agriculture farm and I happen to be oh so lucky enough to live in the same state!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Shower Remodel Complete!

I've mentioned a few times the shower remodel we undertook 6 months ago. Yes 6 months is a long time, too long. If we were solely focused on the shower it would have been done much sooner, but work, kids, summer vacations and starting school in the fall all created a much slower pace than we would have wished for. All that said, it turned out just beautifully and my Tile Master (yup, I promoted him from just the The Tile Guy) should seriously take this up as a second job.

So here is what we started with when we bought our house a little over a year ago. Sorry they aren't better photos, but you get the picture. It wasn't a terrible shower, but not great either. It was 3/4 high cream ceramic tile with a molded plastic base. Our shower is a double, basically the size of a tub but without the tub. We debated quite a bit adding the tub but neither of us are big bathers and we enjoyed the large double shower more. The real issue was it was poorly constructed over regular sheetrock and when we bought the house we did not know of all the water damage behind the tiles.

From Chancellor Old Photos

From Chancellor Old Photos

And here is the new shower! It is all travertine marble with bronze hardware, the tiling goes up to the ceiling now and is laid in a subway tile fashion with the mosaic insert about 3/4 high on the wall. There is a small bench for sitting and 4 shelves for shampoos, etc. We decided to reuse the existing shower doors and spray painted them bronze, we were pretty psyched to see how well the final paint job matched. If you look closely you can see the recently promoted Tile Master showing off his handywork. Yes, that is the look of sheer relief on his face.
From Master Bath Remodel

From Master Bath Remodel

From Master Bath Remodel

So, did you notice all that happiness on the tile master's face? That picture was taken last night. I did not take a picture of his face when this happened this morning in the hallway shower we've all been using during the remodel...but I think you can imagine it...
From Chancellor Dr

Saturday, October 3, 2009

No Spending Challenge: Day 3

I am starting to think I should have named this the 'Minimize Spending Challenge' because I have yet to hit a $0 or No Spending day. It is only day 3 so I have hope. Our expenses today were from a $5 donation to high school kids looking to sponsor their sports team. It is really hard to say no so we gave them the last cash we had on hand. The rest was for caulk for the shower. We desperately want it done by tomorrow and the 2 tubes we had were not enough, we needed 2 more.

Tally for the Day:
Day 3 Baseline Avg Spending: $132.53
Day 3 Actual Spending: $21.63
Savings: $110.90

From Blog
For dinner tonight I was inspired by Michael Ruhlman's recent contest for the best from scratch BLT's. It was mouthwatering looking at the contest winner photos - check them out here. So for dinner tonight we had BLT's on homemade focaccia with nitrate-free bacon, organic lettuce & tomatoes. Oh, they were so good, literally out of this world good. The foccacia came out a lot thinner than I expected and I even made it smaller than the recipe called for. It may be my yeast was old, I'm not sure. I also whipped up a pizza dough that is now in the fridge waiting for tomorrow night, so we'll see if that one seems off too. Regardless it still tasted great. I cut the foccacia like a pizza and sliced each piece in half lengthwise to make 2 pieces of toast, layered it with a yogurt ranch and caesar blend (I don't like mayo on a sandwich) the bacon, lettuce, thick sliced tomatoes and a small piece of havarti cheese. This is just a quick guess on cost, I didn't get my trusty calculator and the receipts out because it's been a really busy day. I estimate (per serving) $1.25 for the bacon, $0.16 for the lettuce, $0.40 tomatoes, $0.10 dressing and $0.30 for the havarti. This totals to $2.21 or $8.84 for the 4 of us.

Kitchen Inspirations

I'm taking a little break from finance talk to show you my kitchen inspirations. Early on in this blog I showed off my mini kitchen remodel when we painted our existing standard oak kitchen cabinets and an antique china cabinet to give our 80's kitchen a little more interest. You can see that post here.

Ever since then, I've been dreaming of my real kitchen, the one with new cabinetry, stainless appliances and lots of countertop space because I love to cook. I was always vexed by the layout of our kitchen because our house is not small but the kitchen feels smaller than it should be given the space. And voila! I saw this kitchen and a concept was born.

When I saw this picture I knew what we could do, which is to flip the existing layout and use the entire length of the longest wall which is only half used today, remove the eat-in dining area and add a long large island like the one above. It essentially takes my kitchen now shoved in one half of a rectangle and uses the entire rectangle. Yeah I know it's a hard concept to visualize, sorry. Once I'm done with my online layout planning I'll share so you can see what I really mean. This project is a couple years in the future, though I secretly hope it is only a year away. I can dream and scheme and save till then and it will happen. In the meantime here are more pictures of my inspiration kitchens. I think you can pick out the theme...

From Brooklyn Limestone Blog

Source Unknown

Source Unknown

Sorry for all the unknown sources, I added these pictures to my inspiration file a while ago and I've lost track of where they came from, but if you know give me a holler and I'll add them.

Friday, October 2, 2009

No Spending Challenge: Day 2

The challenge went much better today. We spent $20 for an optometrist visit, necessary for sure but I think it should be counted because it is not a regular expense. With all this illness going around I have a sinking this won't be the last.

All this money talk got us thinking about our future retirement (far future!). So we lifted the lid and peaked in the box to see if things had settled down in there and indeed we were quite surprised to see our 401k's behaving, dare I say it... pretty darn good. A shocker really, I haven't dared to look at any tallies since January, I just put those envelopes straight into my filing cabinet unopened because I vowed not to panic and sell a thing until this economic mess was over. So it was good to refresh our future outlook and think, eh not so bad!

Tally for the Day:
Day 2 Baseline Avg Spending: $89.58
Day 2 Actual Spending: $20
Savings/Loss: $69.58
Check out the running tally in the middle column, that's where I am keeping track.

Economic Meal of the Day:
Tonight I made white turkey chili with the 2 for 1 shady brook farms ground turkey, some Whole Foods canned pinto beans, corn, leftover rice and other odds and ends. It was a hit. I also made my favorite cast iron skillet cheesy corn bread from Bon Appetit,Y'all by Virginia Willis and we rounded that out with some simple organic greens with a yogurt dressing from Wegman's (Bolthouse Farms makes an excellent version if you can find them).

The tally for dinner was $1.60 per person or $6.40 for a meal for 4.
If you are a math geek like me lets break it down (per serving): The turkey chili was $1.21, organic salad was $0.21 (this was from a bulk pack on sale, see organics can be cost effective), and the homemade corn bread was $0.18. I didn't bother trying to calculate the costs of the spices, all of which I already had on hand - in fact I pretty much just poured in anything that sounded good. You could probably round the overall cost up to $1.80-$2.00 for pantry incidentals. Still, a reasonable price for a great meal.

I have a sneak peek of the shower remodel, it is so close we are just itching to take a shower in that baby but we have to wait for the sealer coats to be done, a final caulking, install the new hardware and install the soon to be refurbished shower doors (that's my job this weekend).

Here ya go (just a peek).

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The No Spending Challenge officially begins

It is the long awaited October 1st, the first official day of our No Spending Challenge. Out of the gate I was hit by the additional challenge of a sick child who was in need of some special food and medicine. So while I had planned on delaying my week 1 reduced grocery shopping until the weekend I ended up getting it out of the way today which starts me off with a lovely negative balance (note my sarcasm). The good news is that I resisted buying said child lunch out today despite her rather nasally forlorn pleas, so that was good, right? She pretty much thinks this whole idea sucks now.

Tally for the Day:
Day 1 Baseline Avg Spending: $24.90
Day 1 Actual Spending: $78.39
Savings/Loss: $-53.50

Bummer to start in the hole, but I am certain tomorrow will put me in a good place. I should mention spending less than $200 let alone less than $100 on groceries for 4 is a milestone for me, so really I did well there as long as I really do make them stretch along with my pantry items. I took advantage of some Shady Brook Farms 2 for 1 specials but bought many organics as well. I am trying very hard to stick to my food principals as much as I can (though technically SBF don't work well there, but sustainably raised meat is just tough on a budget - can't wait till my Farmer delivery next week!) p.s. isn't that little guy the cutest?

Tonight we had a nice economic meal that was so good. I had leftover shredded pork from the crock pot yesterday ($6.99 for 3lbs). I made some rice and homemade corn tortillas and we simply loaded those tortillas up with the rice, shredded pork, diced Havarti cheese, shredded organic lettuce and a little dollop of light sour cream. Fabulous. The shredded pork made 2 dinners for 4 plus 3 lunches, so works out to roughly $0.63/serving. Tortillas are super cheap as all you use is the masa flour water & salt. A 4 lb bag of flour is around $5 but it will last for quite some time and figure this to be about $0.08/serving of 2 tortillas (though everyone got really whiny tonight that they only got 2). If I added on another $0.38/serving for the rest of the meal (trust me I had my calculator and receipts out on that like the geek that I am) the meal came to $1.09/serving or $4.36 for all 4 of us, not bad! I would recommend adding another veggie though, we were a bit remiss.

If you have never made (or even tried) fresh out of the pan corn tortillas you don't know what you're missing. They are super easy, cheap and extremely good, nothing like what you buy in those plastic bags in the store. The only investment is masa flour (I use Maseca) and a tortilla press. I purchased a Victoria press which is heavy cast iron and works great, don't skimp on a lightweight press. You can make tortillas easy any night and trust me the kids love them.