Thursday, April 30, 2009

...with two cats in the yard

Or more accurately, four cats.

Earlier this evening Kevin called me over to the front window to see something interesting. Four cats laying in our front yard - unusual enough in itself since we don't own cats. Even more unusual, though, was the way they looked at each other and synchronized their movements. They were hilarious!

...until someone on a skateboard swooshed down the sidewalk and made too much noise. (bonus points for scary green glowing eyed kitty)

Monday, April 27, 2009

A Bit of a Reprive

WHEW. We spoke with the landlord tonight and found out that he was, in fact, able to re-negotiate the terms of his loan on this house. What does that mean? It means the auction that was scheduled for May 7th has been canceled. That's wonderful news!

It doesn't mean that we aren't still searching for a new home - we definitely feel it's time to buy something of our own and move on. I does mean, however, that the search can be a bit more relaxed and we can be very particular about the home we choose.

Good thing. I think we've already put our poor realtor into a bit of a tailspin!

(Not really - she's great. It's just that our list of 'wants' is long and our bank account - while nicely padded - doesn't exactly meet the demands of our ever growing wish list. Or as my Pa used to say, I've got champagne taste on a beer budget. Yep, he was a no-nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is kinda guy!)

Sunday, April 26, 2009

An Etsy Shop?

I've been doing some crafting lately and have been toying with the idea of opening a shop on Etsy. Also, with the pending move, I'm thinking that, as I pack, I should sort through my stash of vintage goodies - linens, aprons, doilies, and such - and perhaps add those to the store as well.

Just today I found a phenomenal deal on ribbon yarn - which I love! The color combinations are fabulous and the yarn makes the most beautiful scarves. Two years ago I made several of the scarves to sell at a craft fair we had a work. They sold fairly well at that time, but I think I may have priced them a bit too high. However, with the great deal I found today, I could price them lower and still earn a profit. Besides, I enjoy knitting. It keeps my hands busy so they stay out of the cookie jar! ...well, usually anyway

A Stroke of Genius!

Okay, maybe not genius exactly, but certainly a great idea! As I was doing my grocery shopping this afternoon, I decided to check out the day-old bakery section. As I searched through the goodies on the rack, I spied several loaves of garlic bread. You know the type - the fresh, soft bakery French bread loaf in the foil bag that is spread with garlic spread and is all ready to pop on the grill or under the broiler - for just 75 cents a loaf!! It suddenly occurred to me that I should buy all three of the loaves and add them to our 'Don't Panic...' dinners in the freezer!

Often Kevin and I have pasta or soup and salad for dinner, which we enjoy with soft, warm garlic-cheese bread. However, because those are often last minute dinners, it's difficult to have those dishes coincide with having fresh garlic bread on hand. With that in mind, I usually have a loaf or two of garlic bread in the freezer-- sometimes Pepperidge Farm, sometimes the store brand. However, those loaves typically run about $3.75 (or more) and, though good, are smaller than the loaves I found in the day-old hot bakery area.

So ... I did it. I brought home 3 loaves of yummy garlic bread, added a bit of parmesan cheese on top, cut the loaves into portion sizes then wrapped them first in plastic wrap and then in freezer bags to stash in the freezer. Mmmmm. I can hardly wait for the next pasta or soup and salad night!

Busy, Busy Bees!

This week's discovery: buying a house is not for the faint of heart!!

Last week turned out to be an incredibly busy week. Partly because house hunting is new to us, and partly because work and outside activities kept us on our toes all week.

On the housing front, we currently possess in our hot little hands, a mortgage pre-approval from Bank of America. YAY! We looked around at different lenders and thought about going through our credit union, but were surprised to find out that we could actually get a much better deal through BofA. Fine with us. When we walked through the approval process with our representative, Kim, both Kevin and I were a bit nervous, but everything went through just fine. An amusing anecdote: in obtaining our information, Kim said she had to run something called a 'debt merge' on her computer. The process seemed to take forever, which made us a bit apprehensive - until Kim finally laughed and said, 'my manager says to tell you both congratulations! You have no debt!' Interest rates are amazingly low at the moment, but we won't be locking in a rate until we actually offer on a house and begin the process.

Another interesting thing is that we've already changed realtors! The first realtor we chose was recommended by my friend, Linda. She'd helped her daughter and her husband purchase a house this past summer and Linda said she was really good. We talked to her on Tuesday, but she said that she was really busy and would be out of town for the weekend, so the earliest we could meet with her would be this upcoming Wednesday. Hmmmm ... that seemed like an awfully long time to us - especially if a listing came on the market that we were interesting in seeing. Well, that's exactly what happened. She said we had plenty of time and could wait until this week when she could show us the house. We disagreed. Both Kevin and I feel that if something good comes on the market in our price range, we want to jump on it. So ... we found a new realtor. This time a recommendation from my friend Michael. He said she was great! She helped Michael and his wife Amy buy a house a few years ago and, though she was busy, Michael said she made them feel like they were her only client. We thought we'd give her a try. We asked to see a house that just came on the market on Friday; by Saturday afternoon, Kathleen had made an appointment for us to see the house that day!

Unfortunately, the house wasn't what we were looking for, so the search continues. I won't go in to the interesting mix of folks there to look at the house, but suffice it to say that this initial round of house hunting opened our eyes a bit to who - and what - lies ahead. However, I will say that it's nice to know that we have someone who is as excited about finding a house for us as we are!

Monday, April 20, 2009

It's Time to Take the Plunge

Just after the first of the year, we began receiving foreclosure notices in the mail and phone calls to our home. Apparently our landlord was in default on his mortgage and there was talk of foreclosure.

We called our landlord and he said he 'was not aware of it'. Hmmm. Okay, so we made him aware of it. He asked that we forward any correspondence that we received in the mail to his home. Which we did. He also asked that, should we receive any further phone calls, we give the caller his number and ask them to call him directly. While we received a slew of mail, we didn't receive any further phone calls. Then, the mail dwindled, too, and after about a month or so, we didn't receive anything further. It was our assumption (there's that awful word!) that everything had been resolved.

Not so.

Last Tuesday when I got home from work, there was a three page document taped to our front door that stated the landlord was truly in default and the house is to be auctioned off on May 7th at the steps of the L.A. County Courthouse. WHAT??

Again I called our landlord and, again, he said he wasn't aware of it. Call me crazy but in my mind that either makes him dumb as a fence post (since we told you about this several MONTHS ago) or dishonest. Kevin's voting for both - and frankly, I agree. Let's face it - he couldn't NOT be aware of the situation. It also strikes me that if he's in default on the property, that means he hasn't paid his mortgage for quite some time -- though we've been paying rent as usual. It makes me wonder just what he's doing with that money...

We've decided it's time to take the plunge. In light of the recent circumstances, we definitely think it's time to go out and begin the search for a home of our own. We'd kind of been holding off until Kevin had his final evaluation to end his work probation. Thankfully, it's just a 6 month probation which ends in mid-May. Things are going wonderfully for him at work, so we've decided that's not a concern any longer. Therefore -- it's time to buy a house!

We've made several contacts to lenders to find the best loan we possibly can. We've got a nice chunk of money saved up as a down payment. All we need now is a good realtor and a pretty little house in a nice, safe area. I can hardly wait to begin the search! I know it will be nerve-racking and will create some stress, but the end result - a home of our own - will definitely be worth it.

Wish us luck. I'll keep you posted!

Never Underestimate the Rejuvenating Power of a Spa Day

I don't think it's a coincidence that the words 'Ahhh' and 'spaaa' rhyme.

It is my humble opinion that there is nothing better than a relaxing spa manicure and pedicure -- especially when it's a gift!

For the past few years, each Christmas dad has bought a spa package for each of us girls. We love it! It's a surefire guarantee that at least once a year, mom, Deb and I will have a girls day together. For the majority of the year, it just seems like it's difficult for the three of us to get together to do this sort of thing. We get together for other things, but not spa days.

Well this past Saturday was our day. We each had the most wonderful manicure and pedicure - with extra massage time, thank you very much! - and then we went out for a fabulous lunch.

Thanks dad (and BrushTech!) for such a wonderful, relaxing time. I can hardly wait for girls day next year!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Happy Easter!

We are blessed in so many ways - and we're grateful for each and every blessing. I hope you all have a wonderful Easter with your family.

If I'd a Known You Were Coming, I'd a Baked a Cake

Oh wait ... we did bake a cake! And cupcakes! (there were 18 to begin with, but now there are only 16 - shhhhh! Don't tell anyone!) My thinking with the cupcakes is that most kids don't like coconut, so they can have cupcakes. Well, that and Deb bought mom an adorable cupcake holder last year and it makes an awfully cute table centerpiece.

Every year at this time my mind wanders to a moist, light and delicious coconut cake. I've seen picture after gorgeous picture in magazines depicting the most perfect, most beautiful coconut cake I've ever seen. I can't tell you how many times I've thought to myself that I'd love to bake a cake like that. So this year, we decided to give it a try.

We will be celebrating Easter at mom and dad's house tomorrow. Easter Saturday? Well, sort of. This tradition started years ago when everyone got a bit older and had families of their own. Having the big gathering on Saturday is nice because then everyone can celebrate Easter Sunday with their own families. It's kind of the best of both worlds if you will.

The recipe we used indicated that it's good to make the cake a day ahead, so we baked and decorated it today. Let me just say this: having now made a coconut cake from scratch, I now know why baking one of these creations is not for the faint of heart. I'd say it's probably one of the most labor intensive cakes I've ever made. Plus. it was a bugger to get out of the pan! It tore in several places, but I was able to piece it back together without too much trouble (or as Kevin so gallantly pointed out "put enough frosting on it and no one will know!" Now that's a strategy I can live with!) I'm not so sure that it turned out to be the cake of my dreams, but I think it came out pretty well. Besides, Kevin and I had fun in the kitchen baking up a storm - especially since it's somewhat cool and drizzly outside.

Cupcake paraphernalia before:
And decorated cupcakes after (I asked the bakery department at our Pavilions if I could buy one of their boxes for easier cupcake transport; they gave it to me as a courtesy because I'm a good customer. How nice is that?!)
Coconut cake before (... before it ripped coming out of the pan ...)
And coconut cake after (I think Kevin is absolutely right ... with enough frosting, who could tell?!)

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Freezer Cooking This Week

While on spring break, I thought I'd make a few more dishes to put in the freezer for future dinners. I didn't make too awfully many things, but a few. Though I intended to make more, a nasty cold has me a bit sidelined. (It's no fun to be sick while on spring break; however, the good news is that at least I am already off work and didn't need to take any sick days!)

Here's what I accomplished earlier this week:

12 seasoned, shaped hamburger patties
14 stuffed baked potato halves
3 bags of diced, seasoned, roasted sweet potatoes
6 stuffed baked sweet potato halves

Not too bad considering! The stuffed baked sweet potatoes are a new recipe. Kevin and I are both anxious to try them!

Cleaning Up After Winter

With spring here and summer just around the corner it was time to clean up the gazebo area and spruce things up a bit. Boy, was it ever in need!

When we bought the gazebo and set it up four years ago, it came with net curtains. The theory was that, should you ever experience an enormous bug problem, you could simply close the net curtains, zip them up and ... viola! no more bugs. For several reasons, we never used them. In the first place, they seemed like more of a hindrance than a help. By the time you'd run from corner to corner and unfurl the netting, then have it meet in the center of all four 'walls' and get the darn thing zipped up, that bug invasion would be laughing at you as it enjoyed the burgers and potato salad you were trying to keep them away from in the first place. The other reason is, it's rare that we have that many bugs to even bother with. A pass of the hand to shoo along a few flies really about covers it. Besides that, I just think it's creepy to close the nets and be 'zipped in'. It occurs to me that, in essence, it's really giving the bugs free reign while YOU are the ones being held captive. I just think there is something inherently wrong with that picture.

Anyway - all this to say that, after four years of inactivity, we finally took the net curtains down. WOW! What an incredible difference it made! It just made the entire gazebo seem larger and lighter. Definitely a huge improvement. Over and above that, I cannot express to you how NASTY and dirty those curtains were. But ... let's not even go there.

Next, we pulled all of the furniture out to the lawn where it got a good washing and the chair pads got a good cleaning. Next, we moved on to the old paper lanterns that hung from the center of the gazebo. As you might imagine, after four years, they were more than a bit dusty and much more than a bit dilapidated. The once lively blue and green orbs that danced lightly in the breeze had become so faded and 'threadbare' that you could almost see right through them. The cure? Why new paper lanterns, of course! This time I went a bit more 'there's a party waiting to happen here' and bought a variety of colors. They're so fun!

We have several black wrought iron candle holders along the fence that, while nice, are a bit heavy looking for this area. So, I lightened them up with just a hint of white paint. If you were to look closely, you'd still be able to see a bit of the black coming through -- which is fine with me. It just gives it a bit of a lighter touch. And then what's a candle holder without deliciously colored and scented candles? Strawberry Fields seemed just about right.

While all of the furniture was out drying in the sun, we thought we'd attempt to hang a set of gazebo lights that we bought a few months ago. When Kevin took it out of the box, we kind of looked at each other as if to say 'huh?'. It looked like quite a beast. There was a long center strand of lights and four other smaller sets of lights that branched out and two huge bags of clips to clip the strands to the skeleton of the gazebo. We weren't quite sure what we'd gotten ourselves in to, but thought we'd give it a go. Much to our surprise, they were actually quite easy to install. It took less than 30 minutes before the gazebo was strung with tiny white lights. We could hardly wait until dark to see how it looked. It was worth the wait - the lights look beautiful! They set off the gazebo perfectly!

Next a new covering for the table. Over the years I've tried all sorts of things - vinyl tablecloths, bamboo mats, place mats of varying types - but nothing seemed quite right. This time I decided on a beautiful quilt! Why a quilt? Why not?! It's the perfect size for the table, the colors in the quilt blend perfectly with all of the colors we used to spruce up the gazebo and, best of all, when it gets dirty, you can toss the whole thing in the washer and it will come out perfect every time.

Okay, enough talking -- here are a few pictures of the final product: Here's a little mosaic birdbath I made years ago. It's kinda quirky and kinda funky, but I just love it! So there you have it - we're all ready for our first outdoor get-together of the year! ... or at least a good pot of strong coffee and the newspaper.

Monday, April 06, 2009

You Say Goodbye, I Say Hello

Our little town, like many across this country at the moment, is experiencing some sad lows and some interesting highs.

On the low note ... There is - or rather, there was - a wonderful little mom'n'pop jewelry store in town that's been around since 1922. Though just a small shop, it did a pretty good business all these years. I can't say that I've ever really purchased anything there personally, however, Kevin did buy me a gorgeous pair of diamond earrings there last year for Christmas. We've also taken some things there for repairs when needed. Well, that cute little mom'n'pop store that made it through the depression and several recessions over the years, closed it's door for the last time this past Saturday. Kevin and I talked about going in one last time before they closed, but we decided that it was just too sad and we'd rather have the nice memories of when it was a bustling business. RIP Boxx Jewelers. You will be missed. (Interesting side note: there is a town clock that sits outside the store that says: BOX JEWELERS. However, it's actually BOXX Jewelers.)

On the high note ...
After many attempts to raise funds to build a new town library, two years ago our small town passed a bond measure which enabled us to build a brand new - sorely needed! - library. It's been a long wait, but this past Saturday, our town held the dedication ceremony for the new library. What a huge change!!! The old library was ... well, old. It was quite small and the selection was somewhat lackluster - especially in the media department. Very few books on CD (or even tape!) and a barely noticeable selection of DVDs. When the library actually opens to the public on May 16th, it will be more than double it's original size with increased collections in all departments. Not to mention a large reading room and an expanded technology area with many more computers to serve the town. It's so exciting! I can hardly wait for our first 'Friends of the Library' book sale! Here's a glimpse of the old library: And here's a glimpse of the new:
Now I'd say that's worth waiting for -- wouldn't you?!

Spring Break!!!

Whew! We made it -- spring break! I can't tell you how happy I am to have some time off. As much as I love my job, with all of the things going on in the district it's definitely time for a break. Between layoffs, budget cuts and construction, I'm glad to be off for a while ... even if it is only a week! Plus, Linda was out several days last week leaving just me in the office so it was crazy busy, and, as an added bonus, last Thursday was Open House. As I said ... WHEW!

As an added bonus, Kevin and I have the same week off - yay! We don't really have much planned -- a few projects around the house, Kevin has games every afternoon and I'll be working on some craft projects. Other than that, we will just be relaxing and enjoying our time off.

Ahhhh, spring!