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.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

I Spy: Items That Can Be Used For Our Nursery

As I begin designing our little one's nursery, besides safety, the most important issue I must keep in mind is the budget. I've set aside a total of $350 for decorating, and not a penny over. To keep costs low I have to be resourceful, and use restraint when shopping (this is soooo hard when all first-time parents want to do is buy all kinds of cute stuff for their kid). The first place I'm shopping for items is at home. Most people have tons of stuff around their house that they are not using or could be temporarily repurposed for a nursery. Today, I took inventory off all the stuff I currently have that might work well in the baby's room. Here's what I found.....

A small chest currently being used in my home office. It's tiny, but so are baby clothes, so it might work. I don't have much money to buy a dresser, so I've got to get creative. It's cheap looking and in a hot mess state right now. I'm hoping it's something some paint and new hardware can fix.

A throw I used to cuddle up on the couch with, but since changing the color scheme in the living room I haven't used it much.

 A vintage rocking chair I picked up a few years ago. I have back problems sometimes, so when I spotted this cute rocker for a good price, I quickly scooped it up. The bear was a gift to my nephew that he keeps at our house, hopefully he doesn't mind sharing with his cousin.

A lamp I bought for a few bucks for the hubs' office. He never used it :-( I guess his loss, is the baby's gain.

 An antique ship photograph that hangs in the hubs' office. This room will become the baby's room, so I figure there may be no need to move it.

A pillow from my office. I love the print of the fabric, so this has a good chance of making the cut.

A dream catcher picked up from a vintage store during our latest trip to St. Michaels. (You can read about trip our trip HERE).

An old basket that's currently housing shoes I never wear. I'm thinking it might make good book or toy storage.

I also have multiple plastic drawers that can be used for hidden storage, a silver picture frame, old shirts I use for scrap material (I frequently shrink the hubs' shirts, terrible, I know), and tons of leftover paint from past projects (remember that powder room PAINT FIASCO?).

I think this is a good start.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

In the Kitchen: Blacked Catfish with Southern Grits and Kale Recipe

After my tasty meal at Shoo-fly a while back, see post HERE. I wondered if I could replicate something similar at home. Sure enough I hit the jackpot, and made a meal even better than the one I had at Shoo-fly! Though my plating isn't the best above, don't let that deter you from trying this recipe. I promise you'll love it. Here's what you'll need.

  • Sprinkle catfish fillets with until top is fully covered with garlic powder, Whole Foods blackening seasoning, and Chef Paul Pruddhome's Blackened Redfish Magic
  • Add small slice of butter to each fillet
  • Add splash of fresh lemon juice to each fillet
  • Put in oven on 350 degrees, and remove when done (around 10-12 mins for 2 fillets)
CALORIES: 180 (1 fillet)

Grits (serves 4):
  • Boil mixture of 1 cup of water and 1 cup of whipping cream in pot, sprinkle with a few dashes of salt and garlic powder (you may want to add more salt at the end once grits have cooked)
  • After mixture is boiling turn to medium heat and slowly add 1/2 cup of cornmeal, whisk thoroughly every 3-4 minutes to prevent lumping and cover
  • Cook for about 25 mins or until grits taste done 
  • Lastly add half a cup of shredded medium sharp cheddar cheese, a 1/2 teaspoon of garlic salt (more if you'd like)
CALORIES: 330 (if you'd like to lower calorie count swap cheddar cheese for parmesan)

Greens (serves 4):
  • Fill pot with two cups of chicken stock, sprinkle with salt and boil
  • Add 1/4 cup chopped onion 
  • Add 2 cups of kale, sprinkle with pepper and garlic powder, 2 tbsp of hot sauce, and place lid on pot
  • Let cook for 15-20 mins or until done

I like to put all three dishes on my fork at once when eating. This meal is absolutely delectable, enjoy!