Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Spring Cleaning Pt. 1: Yard Work

Right now I've been working hard to accomplish several spring cleaning goals. First, I want to tackle the yard, which currently looks like this

A hot mess, I know. Our lawn is pathetic, if it can even be called a lawn. It's more like a sea of weeds. I'm really disappointed because we spent a buttload of money last spring to have our yard covered in English ivy, which our landscapers promised would look lush and beautiful by this spring. Something like this

As you can see that's not the case :-( I'm not yet sure what we are gonna do about this, but I need to figure it out ASAP, cause looking at our yard is making me depressed.

In addition to the lawn I've been working on tackling our flower beds. First up, are two that occupy the front of the house which up until this point only had some hydrangea I planted last year in them.

Even though hydrangea are my absolute favorite flowers I decided to plant some more items, because they are such late bloomers, and I really want some color as early in the year as possible. To spruce things up I added some evergreen bufford dwarf holly shrubs  and yellow and white daffodils. I can't wait til' things fill out a little more in a year or two. I'm working on selecting a border for the beds because the wood pieces the prior owners installed are rotting.

I also want to add some purple flowers in pots on the porch, any ideas on what to plant there?

On the side of the house, next to the daffodils I planted three azaleas. I agonized over what color to plant and ended up putting in some light pink ones. I hope I don't regret it, I kinda think maybe red would have been a better choice? I'm not sure how I will feel about the pink against the yellow of the house.

Well, that's about it for what's going on in the yard right now. All of this racking, digging, mulching, and planting has this pregnant lady pooped! I had wanted to start an edible garden this spring, but think that will have to wait til' next year after the baby comes and my energy levels are higher. I'm aiming to take care of the side garden and possibly backyard garden next, as well as clean and paint the porch steps. Then I'll rest :-)

Slowly, but surely things are coming along. What's going on in your yard?

“Nature never hurries: atom by atom, little by little, she achieves her work. The lesson one learns from yachting or planting is the manners of Nature; patience with the delays of wind and sun, delays of the seasons, bad weather, excess or lack of water.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Hints of Spring

One of my favorite free pastimes is to take walks around historic neighborhoods, especially during spring. I love watching all of the plants and flowers come back to life, and how the bursts of color juxtapose with brightly painted house. On a recent trip to DC, I took a stroll around the tucked away neighborhood of Takoma Park. It's a beautiful oasis inside of the city that feels like its own small town.

I hope you are enjoying the change in seasons!

"No winter lasts forever, no spring skips a turn." ~Hal Borland

Monday, April 14, 2014

Appreciating the Small Things

I find I get a lot more out of life when I learn to appreciate the small stuff. Little indulgences every now and again help to keep my mind off worrisome things and promote inner peace and serenity. Small items I like to spoil myself with that bring me great joy include: small vases filled with hydrangeas, a cup of rooibos tea, scented candles, a long hot bath, perfumed soaps, and a warm serving of brownie a la mode :-) What about you, what simple things do you like to treat yourself to?

“Real happiness is cheap enough, yet how dearly we pay for its counterfeit." ~Hosea Ballou 

Friday, April 11, 2014

Sale Alert: Timonium Totswap

For any of you locals in the market for reasonably priced baby and kid items, TOTSWAP a huge consignment sale is happening this weekend in Timonium on York Road at the state fairgrounds. Sunday all items are 50% off. I'll be checking it out and reporting back on what I find. I've got a feeling I'll be impressed as it's rated one of the best consignment sales in the country. Have a great weekend!

***UPDATE: I checked out Totswap today and it was a total bust. It could be because I didn't go on the first day so all the good stuff was gone. It's probably best to save your time and gas and pass this one up if you haven't been yet :-(

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Priceless: Jewelry Fit For a Queen

Once a week I volunteer as a reading tutor for an organization called READING PARTNERS. They're a wonderful non-profit that operates in schools across the country, providing struggling elementary students with supplemental reading instruction. It's been an absolute pleasure to work with them and I implore you to check them out should you have any free time or economic resources you'd like to donate.

On my latest visit to tutor my student Kamare, I was met with a pleasant surprise. He arrived with a gift, but not just any gift, a bracelet he had made himself especially for me. Needless to say, I was quite appreciative. After receiving it I jokingly said I would go home and sell it on Ebay for a million dollars. After a disapproving glare he blurted out, "You better not sell that! I only make those for special people, and you are special. Some things should not be sold!" I concur. He's such a cutie, I almost cried.

"They can't afford what we've got, not even the king." ~Alicia Keys

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Money Tip: Never Take Financial Advice From Broke People

Has anyone else ever noticed how quick broke people are to give financial advice? They love to tell you how you should spend ridiculous amounts of money on jewelry, vacations, clothes, new cars, education, and handbags. Oh and housing, don't get me started on housing, according to them you need to live in a better neighborhood and waaaay bigger house. Those broke people, I tell ya, they are an opinionated bunch and love spending not only their money, but the bank's money, and your money too!

I am here to tell you it is a very bad idea to listen to broke people when it comes to money, after all they are broke for a reason. Often times that reason is connected to their overspending and lack of saving. If you are not careful it can be easy to get caught up in their whirlwind of poor financial values and behavior. Being financially irresponsible appears to have become an epidemic in America, recent data from the Fed finds the average U.S. household owes $7,115 on their credit cards; looking only at indebted households, the average outstanding balance rises to $15,252. Furthermore, a whopping 40 percent of households spend more money than they make.  These statistics suggest there is a big chasm present between the big spenders and the big savers.

So how can you ensure you end up on the right financial team? I can help with that. From time to time I'll post nuggets of financial wisdom to help you stay on track. Lesson #1: never take financial advice from broke people. Always look to individuals with an economic standing you'd like to adopt for advice.

That's all for today. Have you had an experience with being pressured to overspend? Are you currently working to get your finances in order? I'd love to here from you.

"If your friends that are broke aren’t making fun of you, then you are not on track. If your family says, “Look, they’ve joined a cult!” then you are right on track." 
~Dave Ramsey

Thursday, April 3, 2014

In the Kitchen: Lemon Pound Cake Recipe

Nothing says yummy like a slice of lemon pound cake with a tall glass of milk. The other day I was craving some pound cake and thought I'd take a stab at baking one. Unfortunately, I was feeling a little under the weather and couldn't muster up the energy to cook. The hubs, being the sweetheart that he is, stepped in and volunteered to bake one. It was seriously scrumptious :-) 

Here's how he made it:

  • Mix 3 sticks butter (1½ cups)
  • 1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese
  • 6 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • zest of one lemon
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla 
Baking Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Prepare bundt or tube pan by coating with shortening or butter and flouring light. Set aside.
  2. Let butter, cream cheese, and eggs come to room temperature.
  3. Cream together butter, cream cheese and sugar til fluffy. Add eggs one at a time. Add lemon juice and zest and combine well. Add flour and salt and vanilla.
  4. Mix until just well-combined but do not over mix.
  5. Pour into prepared bundt or tube pan.
  6. Bake until golden brown and skewer inserted into middle of cake comes out clean, about 1 hour and 30 minutes.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Won't You Be My Neighbor?: 709 Highwood Drive, Baltimore, MD, 21212

For those of you in the market for a new home, there's a lovely new Lake Walker charmer on the market. The cute cottage features two beds and two full baths, and is listed at the bargain price of $219,000. It's the perfect size for someone who's single, or up to a small family. It's been renovated very nicely, and retains the original architecture of the home. Take a look around and let me know what you think? You can find the MLS listing HERE.

Several of the rooms have cute shutters.

The home also has wonderful architectural details like the archway to the dining room.

The kitchen is small yet functional.

You get a nice view of the backyard from this kitchen window.

This newly updated full bath features marble floors and nice new nickel hardware.

The master bedroom is on the second floor and features a gorgeous alcove ceiling and newly installed full bath.

I hope you enjoyed the tour! Go check it out if you might be interested, but hurry, I don't think this one will last long.

Friday, March 28, 2014

More People Moving To Big Cities, What Does it Mean for Families?

USA Today recently published an interesting ARTICLE on a trend I've been noticing for years, more people are moving back to big cities. After years of families and young people rushing to the suburbs, city life is now becoming more appealing, and rundown urban areas are seeing significant re-flourishing. The article addresses cities nationwide, but uses Baltimore as a specific example of a big city changing for the better.

As someone who grew up in both a city and suburban environment, I've been able to see the pros and cons of both and am admittedly a city gal. I like the historic architecture of big cities, the more solidly built homes and other structures, walkability and transportation, presence of mom and pop shops, cultural institutions, dining options, and diversity big cities tend to offer.

What I've noticed though is that upwardly mobile people who choose to inhabit cities undergoing renaissance are saddled with an increased responsibility to better their communities. While developers come in and offer more amenities and renovated housing, economically well-off residents become tasked with warding off crime and restoring dilapidated institutions, most importantly public education.

My Baltimore neighborhood is currently faced with this challenge, as neighborhood parents decide if they will organize and put in the effort necessary to bring our neighborhood school up to snuff. Will we send our kids to the local public school? Enroll them in private school? Or move away to a pricier neighborhood with better schools?

I for one am all for strengthening our neighborhood school. I feel this way for many reasons:

1. We pay extremely high property taxes, and should reap the benefits of this by attending the school system we pay for.

2. I love my home and neighborhood and don't want to move. Why should I shell out money to move when where I am located could be a perfectly fine place to raise a family with just a little work? (sidenote: I'm amazed at the number of parents I meet who buy more house than they can afford to send their kids to better schools, instead of just improving the schools in areas they can afford.)

3. Poorer children who's parents do not have the resources to send them to private school should have access to good schools and the ability to socialize with students of all backgrounds.

4. My husband and I are fortunate in that we can afford to send our child to any private school in Baltimore, but shelling out $25k a year in tuition while letting our neighborhood school underperform just undermines our property value. So not only will we add a major expense by sending our kid to private school, but we will also be eroding the value of one of money making assets, our beloved home. Even sending our child to the cheapest nearby private option will end up costing $150-200K in lost equity and tuition bills over the course of 9 years, and that's just for one kid.

I know firsthand that schools not performing at the desired level can be changed rapidly through parental and community involvement. I've seen it occur in cities faced with swift population changes such as DC. However, this change does not occur due to one or two active parents, it requires a committed group of residents. So the question becomes, are you committed?

"Life's most persistent and urgent questions is, 'What are you doing for others?'" ~Martin Luther King Jr.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Worth Your Money: Amazon Prime

There are not many bills I look forward to paying, but when it's time to renew my Amazon Prime, I quickly hit the pay button. If you don't know about Amazon Prime, it's a service offered by Amazon that gives you unlimited shipping for a year. They also throw in extra perks like free instant streaming of selected movies and television shows. For a household like ours it's a real steal, we regularly milk the heck outta that baby! Though we try hard to shop local, Amazon is our go to source for certain hard to find items, and any large sized purchases that won't fit into our tiny car. We get waaaay more than our money's worth in shipping, plus free entertainment when we've exhausted our going out budget for the month, or just want a night in.