Thursday, December 31, 2015

foyer, with a different dresser and painting

A while back I read this post and thought, "oh! I need closed storage for my foyer!' I also didn't like that the open, leggy piece showed all the lamp cords as soon as you walked in the door.

I liked the Ikea piece in the linked post, but had no desire to spend $387 on new furniture.  Over Thanksgiving I thought I would move the dining dresser into the foyer to see if having a more substantial piece with closed storage would look good, or if it would make the hallway look too crowded.

I moved it in and loved it. I didn't even move it back to its place in the dining room.  (Which is what prompted moving stuff around in the dining room.)

Every lamp in my house has crooked lampshades.  It accentuates the crookedly hung painting and jaunty Christmas Cookie Monster.

A year or two ago I would have immediately taken multiple and much better posed/cleaner/no Cookie Monster/straight lamp shade pictures. In fact, this post has been sitting in my draft folder for a month, waiting for me to take better pictures.  However, these days I just have other stuff taking up my time.  Half-assed is better than no-assed, amirite?

I hope that you have had a lovely holiday season, filled with happiness and love, and barring that, lots of hot cocoa and cookies.  

Friday, December 11, 2015

Sufficient unto the day

I wrote a blog post about all the anxiety dreams I have been having lately (getting swept away in a flash flood; going to a party with Kim Kardashian; throwing a party where I send out an invite with the wrong date, wrong address, wrong time, wrong child, and there isn't any coffee for my relatives; brakes locking as I speed around a curve and plunge to my fiery death on the road below, etc.) wondering why on earth I am having all these anxiety dreams.  Then I wrote this post and had an "aHA!" moment.

I've debated publishing this post, since it feels....sort of vulnerable.  My blog is in a weird place the last year or so--I blog about pillows and medical problems and my wardrobe and possible death and how much I love Anthropologie sofas, and it just seems like a weird mishmosh of "lets have fun!" and "I have problems!"

That's me, I guess.  A weird mix of awesome and crazy.

After Peter's most recent allergy attack, we had a fish panel done again, since he had just eaten salmon with lentils.  We already knew that he was allergic to shellfish, but so far he has been fine with some fish, and had even had salmon a few weeks earlier.  It turns out he has developed an allergy to Nearly All The Fish.

This does not really affect our daily life. I don't like fish so we rarely eat it.  I will add "all seafood" to the list of things I read labels for.  The real problem is that I've now added not just one item, but an entire class of food to the "List of Things That May Someday Kill Peter."

He has a 7% chance of growing out of this allergy.  Call me an optimist, but I look at it as a 93% chance of retaining it.  He is also statistically likely to add more allergies as he hits his teens and twenties.

Peter is currently eight, and 99% of what he eats comes handmade from my kitchen. Some day he will be fourteen and invincible like all teenagers are and surrounded by idiot friends offering him candy bars, or thinking its funny to hide a peanut in his homemade muffin.  Someday he will be twenty and surrounded by idiot friends at a diner offering him beer and a hangover order of french fries fried in the same fryer as the fish special.  Food is central to socializing and it is going to be a difficult and potentially life-threatening journey for him.

I don't verbalize this often, but I'm really afraid that my kid will die. Eating is unavoidable, in the long term.

*breathing into a paper bag*

I have another issue, one I don't talk about online very often.  I'm trying to make a decision, one that is important and needs careful deliberation, one that will affect everyone in our family. I've done as much research as humanly possible. I've been going around and around on this for months.  No good answers have presented themselves.

Today I read this post by Hands Free Mama.  The title gives it away: "Note to Self: You Don't Have To Have The Answers Today."  And there are a few words of advice in it with the line "maybe the best thing you can do right now is just sit with it awhile."

I can't sit with it forever, but I could put it aside for a while.

Sufficient unto the day are the troubles thereof.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Dining room, rearranged

I've been on a rearranging kick.  All over the house.  I call it "free redecorating."
The dining room, previously:

For a few days I repainted the cobalt dresser and moved in the peacock mirror (see here).  And now:

The white Billy bookshelves with doors were previously on the other side of the room near the kitchen; they hold our excess kitchen stuff like baking utensils, coffee pot, children's dishes, etc.  They are much narrower than the dresser that used to be there, which makes the space feel bigger.  The white also feels lighter.

I also took down all the curtains.  There is much more light in here.  I really love curtains, honestly, and have a million pairs, but on both sides of the room the curtains were constantly trapped and pulled by things in front of the window (a bunch of electronics and printers on the dining side, a sofa in the eat-in nook on the other side of the room.)

The peacock mirror and the fake Monet used to be in the playroom, but I think they work nicely in here.  The garland is a paper chain that the kids made.  We filled each paper strip out on Thanksgiving of things we are thankful for, and then made them into a paper chain that we will use for Christmas.

You might notice I got rid of the uncomfortable tolix chairs and replaced them with rusty red cushy comfy chairs.  They are so much nicer to sit in.  Do I wish they were in a different fabric? Yes, but the rusty red complements the sad beige walls and the chairs were for cheap at a thrift store, so I am enjoying the cushiness.

I had plans to make some new art for this spot, but I've decided I really like the peacock mirror and candlestick lamps there.  When I bought the canvas at Michaels to make the new art, an entire stack of canvases fell on my head, so I think the universe was telling me that the peacock mirror looked just fine.

Dilemma: the white shield chairs are covered in a royal blue pleather that doesn't go in this room at all, but it is easy to clean and wipe off.  I could recover it in a different sad beige pleather.  However, I have in  my possession a piece of fabric that would perfectly complement this room:

Gold honeybees on a rusty red background. It is a beautiful piece of fabric, heavy and silky.  I bought it ten years ago for our very first condo for a window treatment that I never got around to making.  I have enough to cover both chair seats....but its a really nice piece of fabric and my children destroy everything. I guarantee it will be stained and gross in under six months.  On the other hand, I haven't used this piece of fabric in ten years and it is free.

I know you can iron on an oil-cloth like protector fabric--has anyone used that? Did it work? Or ruin the fabric?

Monday, November 30, 2015

two problems with a minimalist wardrobe

I have this bad habit of starting some topic, writing a post or two on it....and then never getting back to it.  Last year I blogged a bit about starting a minimalist wardrobe.  I went through my entire wardrobe and got rid of nearly everything, as most of it was either stained or didn't fit.  I bought some nice replacements that felt like all I needed.  My wardrobe consisted of three jeans, two black slacks, one navy slacks, seven long sleeve knit shirts, two sweaters and a fleece. This brings me to problem number one with the minimalist wardrobe: I seem to gain and lose weight frequently.

Problem Number One: Weight gain and loss
If you are a serial weight gainer/loser, you are probably going to have difficulty with a minimalist wardrobe.  All minimalist websites say invest in one beautiful piece you love instead of multiple cheap pieces you don't.  Except if you spend a large sum of money on a piece that you love, and next winter it doesn't fit, this method may not work for you.

I'm done with the up/down pregnancy weight, praise be, but I still go up and down about 7-10 lbs in weight every few years.  Last year I had some serious allergies that gave me a tuberculosis type cough and sore throat, so I wasn't eating much.  I was also walking six miles a day, nearly every day.  I lost seven lbs.

I walked 25,000 steps per day and ate nearly nothing and lost seven lbs.  Not seventy.  Just seven.

This year I got a concussion, sprained my neck again, went on some fabulous drugs that had weight gain as a side effect, lowered my walking to a mere three miles a day, and started eating again.  Voila, seven lbs (more, actually) back on.

All the clothes I bought last year when I was less plump don't fit any more.  I mean, I can get into my pants, as long as I don't need to sit down.  I can also get into my long sleeve shirts, as long as I don't need to pull my shirt over my hips, or bend my arms.  Arigato, Mr. Roboto.

I packed up all those nice clothes, and put them in a bin in the garage in the event I get another hacking disease that makes me lose weight.

I am currently wearing an extremely minimalist wardrobe--I bought three pairs of pants in a larger size, and I have three old long sleeve shirts that I had consigned to the workout clothes drawer but have been reinstated as everyday wear, two sweaters, and a ten year old fleece.

I....well...I am not excited about this wardrobe.  The problem is not that I don't have enough to wear. I have enough sweaters. The pants are comfortable and I don't look homeless. The problem is that I am at the upper end of my weight range and nothing looks flattering.

I think I could get by with limiting myself to 9 items of clothing if they only looked good on my behind.

(Here I will preemptively thank Anonymous Commenter for the suggestion that I just lose ten lbs and solve all my problems.)

Problem Number Two: klutzy people and stains
I am a klutz.  I have The Fumblefingers.  I drop everything.  Because I drop everything, all of my clothes are stained.

Some minimalists protect their wardrobes by changing out of their clothes into a "house outfit" as soon as they get home.  If I worked outside the home I would probably do this.  However, today I dropped off kids at school, walked a few miles, showered, went to the post office, came home for a while, went to Target, came home, picked up a kid from a playdate, came home, picked up other kids from school, came home to get everyone changed into their sports uniforms, left again for sports, came home for the day. If I changed into a house outfit every time I came home I'd be changing every twenty minutes.

I have a large selection of aprons.  I wear them whenever I am eating or cooking or cleaning.  And yet....everything I own has a stain on it somewhere.

This is such a problem for me that I actually have a wardrobe of fancy clothes that I reserve for nice occasions like meeting the Mister's work colleagues, and I never ever wear them for nice occasions like me and the Mister going to dinner.

So. I'm perfectly happy to have a minimalist wardrobe.  I just end up replacing it on a yearly basis because I either grow or shrink out of it, or I spill stuff all over it.

Do you have a capsule/minimalist wardrobe?  Do you suffer from Fumblefingers or repetitive weight gain?

Friday, November 20, 2015

two One Room Challenge highlights

I didn't participate in the One Room Challenge linking party this time around, but there were two rooms in the designer version that totally knocked my socks off.

The first is this amazeballs living room at The English Room.  I literally gasped when I saw this room.  And immediately sent the link to my husband with the comment "next house!!"

The art in this room is just SO GOOD.  

I'll point out that this room hits pretty much all of my major loves--white walls, colorful textiles, beautiful curtains, jewel tones, tons of art, colorful built-ins/trim.  It is the complete antithesis of my crappy little beige rental.  Go see all the views and angles of the room here.  It is just too good.

The other one that made me sit up and say WHOA is this fabulous room from Hi Sugarplum!

Again, white walls, colorful textiles, brass, vibrant jewel tones, great art.  I love everything about this room....I started to list them but then I listed everything.  So...its all good.  Seriously, though, imagine living in this room.  Makes my heart go pitter-pat.

That art, those drapes, that rug.  Awesome.  See the entire room here.

Next house, guys, next house.  It looks like we should be in this Sad Beige House for another 18 months.  I am saving my pennies for an amazing next house.  For now, these are totally pinned to my someday house pinterest list.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Food: an obsession

Recently we were driving a child friend home when child friend asked "how come your dad is driving the minivan if it is your mom's car?"  My youngest child replied, "my mom hates driving and cooking."  They discussed this further, with responses like "well, they are both a lot of work, and she just doesn't like it."  So true, child, so true.

Food runs my life.  There are five diagnosed medical food issues in this family, up from three a year ago. Food is a lot of work in this family.

On Halloween we went to a party at a friend's house.  Peter didn't eat any candy, or any of his forbidden foods.  After trick or treating (where he didn't eat any candy), Peter complained that his lips were tingling, a sure sign of an impending allergic reaction.  He didn't have any swelling or visible signs, so we dosed him with Benadryl and he felt better.

The next night we had a lovely dinner of salmon, kale and lentils. The Mister was on a work phone call upstairs during dinner, so we were being extra quiet.  In the middle of dinner Peter started complaining that his lips were tingling again. (Bi-phasic reaction!) I noticed that his face was getting red and blotchy, his lips were swelling, and then white hives started popping out on top of the red blotches.  "You need an epipen," I said, getting the pen out of my purse.

Peter screamed and took off running.  I chased him down, tackled him to the sofa, and engaged in hand-to-hand combat trying to get his thigh exposed.  I had an epipen in one hand, while using my other hand to try and hold both of Peter's hand from pushing me away.  I sat on him, threw my legs over his, leaned my upper body into his, and jabbed him in the leg.  If you have ever tried to stab someone with a sharp object, it helps if you have their cooperation.  People who don't want to be stabbed are pretty wiggly.

At this point, Peter is screaming at the top of his lungs.  My other two children figured that if one child is screaming, that's a good enough reason for them to scream in panic too.  The screaming was at home invasion levels.  I kept asking (loudly) for someone to go get the Mister, but really, it was just all screaming.  I called 911 myself.  The Mister was greeted by the EMTs when he came downstairs to see what all the commotion was.

We spent six hours at the hospital and were released late that evening.  I brought Peter into our bed and laid awake all night with him close, my hand over his heart, as if I could keep him safe with the force of my will.

I do my best to keep Peter safe.  We don't eat out with the kids. I make all our meals from scratch. I read every label.  My kid knows to not even ask for candy, or any store-bought treat, because the answer will be no.  I do my best.

Sometimes my best isn't good enough.

Sometimes my kid almost dies, despite my best.

Every time I think to myself that maybe I can ease up on the reins a bit--maybe we can be normal and I can let my life revolve around something other than food--something happens to remind me that no, we are not and will never be normal.

I don't want to blame all the food woes on Peter.  I do my own part to participate in the drama.  A few months ago I was tentatively diagnosed with another autoimmune disorder.  This was not a huge surprise, as autoimmune disorders tend to cluster.  The surprise part was when my doctor said "this disorder can be managed with an extremely restrictive diet, so here is the list of all the things you should not eat."

The list of things that one should not eat with that particular disorder was...well, it would be shorter to list the foods one CAN eat.  In fact, I can list them all right here in one phrase: leafy green vegetables.  Don't plan on putting anything ON those leafy green vegetables to make them taste palatable.

I took that list out to the car and read it carefully.  I noted that at least fifty percent of the delicious foods on the list I have already cut out of my diet because of a different autoimmune disorder.  The things remaining on the list were things I greatly enjoy, like butter, lox, condiments, and fruit. What kind of horrendous disease makes you give up fruit???

I lost it. I am not giving up butter. And my life ALREADY revolves around food we can't eat--I don't wan't to reduce what we CAN eat by another seventy-five percent.  Also, while this disorder won't kill you, people who have this disorder have a dramatically increased chance of being diagnosed with one of the big autoimmune diseases that do kill you. NO THANK YOU.

I finally saw a specialist, and it turns out, I do NOT have the tentatively diagnosed problem. Woohoo! What do I have, then?  Unknown, at the moment.  My doctor said, "hmm, aren't you the complicated case."  But at least I don't have that autoimmune thingy, right?

My doctor also handed me the "food for people who have your problems" sheet, and guess what? It was the same damn sheet.

I'm not giving up butter.

This is not even half of the food issues this family deals with.

Food occupies a very large portion of my time and mental energy.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

the living room, again

After painting the dresser such a beautiful green last week, I kept honing in on how I didn't like it in the living room.  What if I just got a new rug? And new chairs?  I shopped like I was actually going to go out and drop hundreds of dollars on new furniture and rugs.  Because, you know, I'm ridiculous.

After a few days of insanity and sulking about the $1250 pair of blue velvet bergere chairs on craigslist rejecting my lowball offer of $300, I thought, WWGD?  (What would my Grandma do?) She would say paint the green dresser a color that will better fit in the living room, and try rearranging the furniture. (Duh.)

Lo and behold! I rearranged the furniture. For the 499th time.

 Despite the fact that my beta testers gasped in horror at the tv being in front of the window, I think I have a winner here.  I sold the Beast chair on craigslist for $5 more than I paid for it.  It was just too enormous in scale for this house.  I also like having the sofa facing the tv, instead of along the side.  I am all about the laziest tv watching possible.  I don't want to turn my head.

Then I painted the dresser and the  mirror over it Benjamin Moore Hale Navy. Although I am fan of more deeply hued cobalt blues, the Hale Navy is a muddy navy which goes nicely with the ugly beige on the walls.  It also complements the living room instead of fighting it.

Now the green painting feels like a pop of fresh color instead of the bookend of a competing Christmas color scheme.


Wednesday, October 7, 2015

More beige and a Thai massage

Our landlord had the house painted--wait for it--a nice beige.

Every inch of our house, inside and out, is the color of Sadness and Mediocrity beige.

Because of my frequent back and neck pain, I have had a membership to a national massage therapy chain for a few years. For anyone who hasn't had a massage, the masseuses at reputable massage parlors are generally very concerned with your modesty.  You are naked under the sheet, but the sheet is always draped modestly, covers you from neck to ankles, and there shouldn't be any body parts sticking out except for the limb the masseuse is working on.  

This past week, with temperatures in the high 90s, my massage place called me twice to cancel my scheduled massage because the air conditioner in the building wasn't working.  My back was getting very tense, so I called around and went to a Thai massage parlor nearby.

It was....a very different experience.

I was handed a pair of bloomers to put on before getting face down on the table. I was topless, as usual, since my back was the focus of the massage, but there was no sheet to get under.

The masseuse was a tiny woman about 70 years old.  She tossed a very large hand towel on my back (no queen size sheet here), jumped up on the table, and using bars affixed to the ceiling, started walking on my back.  There was much tut-tutting and "so tight! Your back is too tight!"

There was a lot of stretching and pulling and a few pretzel poses and a figure-four leg lock, but for the most part, it was the same as the national massage chain.  There was not, however, a ton of concern for my modesty or the placement of the extra large hand towel.

At the end, she told me to sit up, which I did, nervously clutching the hand towel to my exposed front.  The masseuse got up on the table behind me, put her feet in my back, grabbed both of my hands, and pulled back.  Like this, but I wasn't wearing a tank top.

The hand towel fell down.

For the grand finale, she kept ahold of my hands, scootched her butt up closer to me while keeping her feet in my back and lying on her back (I can't find a picture of this pose), and HOISTED ME UP IN THE AIR ON HER FEET.  Take the above picture and just imagine that guy rolling onto his back and taking the woman up in the air, all the while she is being stretched on his feet and unable to free her hands to cover her front.

My mostly naked body was hoisted aloft in the naked-mermaid-on-pirate-ship pose.

You're welcome for that image.

I left without my dignity, but my back felt better.  I went back again the next weekend.    

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Emerald green: painting everything

I've been mildly obsesssing on emerald green lately.  (Ikea sofa, anyone?)

Since my budget is limited to a can of paint, I bought a can of paint.  Benjamin Moore's Clover green.

I didn't test any swatches before buying, because I was READY TO PAINT!  It was....a little too kelly green.

I brought it back to the store and had them add more color to the can.  And then more color again, until they said "this is at saturation, we can't add any more. And the can is full."

I took one of the living room white diptych paintings and painted over it with green.

I also painted the dresser in the foyer, which is impossible to get a good picture of.

So! I love the green dresser, and I love the green painting.

I do not love the green in my living room. It looks very Christmas carnival with all the red and green.

Too many colors!  I can't tell you how many times in the past decade I have regretted buying a red leather chair.  It has dictated the design choices in every room it has ever been in.  If only I had bought it in a nice neutral brown leather. One of the design lessons I have learned is that colorful curtains and pillows are much easier to replace than expensive upholstered furniture.

I exhausted my burst of decorating energy with all that painting.  Christmas stays for a few days (only three months till Christmas!), or until I can figure out something else.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

living room rearranging, paintings

Since I still don't like the living room, and don't want to spend any money on it, I rearranged it.  Again.  

Last we saw it, it was a box with too many straight lines and furniture that didn't quite fit or line up along pleasant sight lines.  And the paintings were meh.  

It is still a box with terrible sight lines, but I moved the tan sofa back into the reading nook off the kitchen, and brought the Beast and the red chair into the living room. 

It feels more open and less boxy.  

I also improved the paintings--I layered one of the white ones with about four more layers of paint.  I swapped out the other white one for the blue one that we made for Mother's Day a few years ago. 

I like the paintings together.  I want to get rid of everything else in the room and start over.  (Perspectacles, perspectacles, perspectacles....)

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Perspectacles: living with ugly beige

The entire inside of our house is painted beige.  Flat paint, with swine-y pink undertones.

I admit defeat in the face of this unrelenting beige.

I like and own mostly clear, jewel-toned decor.  Clear, strong, vibrant colors that look good against white.  All these strong jewel tones next to a peachy, muddy-undertone beige.

Everything I do in this house just looks wrong. The furniture, the art, everything--it doesn't look good against the walls.  It is driving me nuts.

You might think this has an obvious and easy solution--paint the walls!  Sadly, under the terms of our lease, and our nitpicky property management company, we are not allowed to paint the walls a different color.  Even if we were allowed to paint the walls, I don't have a ladder that could reach the upper walls in the vaulted living space, which is nearly half the downstairs.  So, swine beige is here to stay.

The other obvious solution--get some muddy-toned decor!  Uh, no. I am not replacing an entire house worth of jewel-tone decor with muddy-undertone decor I don't want.

The real solution here is putting on my perspectacles, and be thankful we got this house.  It fits all our stuff. It has new laminate floors and easy to use brand new widows.  It has three toilets and a kitchen that works.  the air conditioning is cold.  When I turn on the tap I get running water--two kinds! Hot and cold!  When things break I am not responsible for fixing them. There are two parking spots in the driveway, and a bedroom for friends and family to visit.

In lieu of showing you something pretty in my house, here are two pretty living rooms full of beige and brown.  You'll notice that all of the complementary colors in the rooms are muted, muddy tones.

via BHG

via Katie Rosenfeld

What difficult-to-fix thing do you dislike about your house?

Friday, September 18, 2015

frugal living: tracking all the dollar bills

In the interests of frugal living, I decided that we needed to get a better handle on our money.  The Mister and I are not profligate wastrels, but nor are we all that concerned with balancing our books down to the penny. I balance my books to within a hundred dollars. Ish.  Mostly. An accountant I am not.

I have my own little system of accounting.  It is an Excel spreadsheet.  It has a list of bills to be paid, date paid on, confirmation or check number.  It served me fine for years.

The problem with the Excel spreadsheet is that it looks mostly backward.  The rent, the electric bill, the gas bill, the car payments....these are fixed bills that I can usually predict either exactly or near to how much money they are.

Then there is the credit card bill.  We use the credit card for 99% of our expenses.  We pay it off every month.  Using the credit card allows us to rack up travel points and track all our expenses.  This bill is a backwards-looking bill--on September 1st I will pay off the entire August balance.  I can see as August goes on that the balance is going higher and higher, and maybe that we are getting close to going over budget, but it doesn't tell me, unless I download all the transactions and sort and categorize them, what I am spending too much on. What I wanted was a forward-looking budget.

About a year ago, I started with my sister the engineer's monthly Excel spreadsheet, which was mildly more complicated than mine.  Too complicated. I used it for a few months but kept up with my own simple worksheet.  And it didn't help me track my approaching budgets.

I slacked off on that for a few months.  When we moved to this house I decided I had to get back on the horse and figure out how to budget.  I am 41 and hold an advanced degree, so you would think this would be simple at this point in my life, but I went to law school because my math skills weren't up to being an engineer like everyone else in family.

I am familiar with the cult of Dave Ramsey.  I read the book. Eh, its fine.  We don't have credit card debt, we live mostly within our means on a monthly basis, and I am lukewarm to the concept of buying everything with cash, especially in light of our using credit for travel points.  I didn't do much with Dave's favorite concepts.

There are plenty of websites that have already done the comparison shopping for you on different financial websites (see here and here).  I won't give a full breakdown, but I will tell you what worked for us.

A few years ago I tried out but I wasn't that serious about it, and while it was a nice way to look at all of our accounts in one place, I wasn't all that into budgeting, and eventually it fell by the wayside.

When we moved a few months ago, I reactivated my account.  I also started using the budgeting function, which I like.  In fact, the budgeting function is pretty much the entire reason I use Mint.

When you log in, the budgeting page looks something like this:

Like I said earlier, I am not so much into tracking All The Pennies.  I also don't like being told what to do, even when I am the one telling myself what to do.  (Nobody puts Baby in a corner.) My "budget" needs to be structured, yet flexible. If I want to go out and have a $600 lobster dinner or Jimmy Choo shoes, I need a budget that will allow me to do so. (I haven't, and I won't, but you can't tell me that I can't, see?)  The budgeting system in Mint allows me to do so.

I set up my budget with our total monthly income.  Then I made up smaller budgets within the budget--rent gets a budget line, tuition gets a budget line, and all the other fixed costs get a budget line.  Then I set up categories that I know I use on a monthly basis but aren't a fixed cost, like restaurants and medical bills and haircuts, and give them an amount that I think is reasonable.  I can adjust them if I find myself spending much more or much less than what is budgeted.

Lastly, every dollar not already accounted for goes into the "Everything Else" budget.  If I go way over budget on a different budget, this is the category the extra gets pulled from.  For example, because our water company changed billing rates and billing cycles this month, we got two water bills in one month.  I took $50 out of the Everything Else category and allocated it to the Utilities budget.

Want to hear something interesting?  Our monthly discretionary spending has remained nearly the same for our entire marriage.  Ten years ago when we made a quarter of what we do now, we spent nearly the same amount on the "everything else" category.  (What do we spend the increased 75% on? Rent, tuition and medical bills.  Tuition tuition tuition.)

Things I really like about Mint:

  • It logs into your banks/student loans/car loans/financial institutions automatically and gives you a picture of your entire financial picture.
  • You can run reports with charts and graphs.
  • It tracks every transaction you make (assuming you have linked all your accounts that you spend out of), so you can see exactly what you are spending on.  It was an unpleasant surprise to discover I spent $100 in a month on Sees Chocolates. (April was a difficult month. Don't judge.)

Things I don't like:

  • Despite multiple attempts, I cannot get two of our loans that are handled through third parties to sync with the program. (It connects easily to most financial providers, but we have a car loan that is handled by a third party vendor and I cannot get it to sync.)
  • Because it is a free service, there is a lot of advertising on the site. 
  • The modeling projections for investments are kind of simple.

While trying Mint, I also decided to give a trial run to the You Need A Budget program.  Five years ago, I bought the YNAB program and just couldn't figure it out/get it set up correctly.  (Math again!) (Yes, I started both Mint and YNAB years ago and abandoned both of them.)

YNAB also has a crazy cult following.  I haven't run into crazy Mint followers, for some reason, but YNABers are a vociferous bunch.  They love that program and run all over the internet yapping about it.

I don't like it.  Luckily this time I just downloaded a trial version.

YNAB is not automatic.  You can download transactions and then import them into YNAB, but the program essentially works on "you buy something, you whip out your phone and record it in the app yourself."  Because it makes you more aware of you spending your money.  Or something.

I am all about lazy management.  I buy something, I whip out my phone and look at Mint, and hey, there it already is, done for me, and hey girl, best stop buying so much chocolate cuz the chocolate budget is approaching the limit.

Also, I admit defeat; I just couldn't get down with the math.  I had trouble again setting the damn thing up correctly, and in the end simply removed all the credit card accounts out of the budget.  There are many how-to videos on how to use it, but it was just difficult for me.  YNAB is set up on a zero-sum budget, which means you are living on last month's money.  My current system is half of last month's money, and half of this month's money.  It just gave me a headache.  I stopped using it before the trial was up.

If you like to plan your life down to the last penny, and enjoy doing all the work yourself, then YNAB may be right for you.  People who love YNAB REALLY love it. I am not a fan.

Lastly, I tried Personal Capital.  It is sort of Mint-y--it is automatic and tracks all your spending, but the budgeting function is meh.  However, it is REALLY GOOD at investment modeling.  How much will you pay in fees over the course of your investments? How much do you need if you have a drawdown rate of X or Y? What if you want to pay for college?  It is really good at modeling different scenarios.

Cons: Although it is free and doesn't have advertising, they make a concerted effort to sell you on their investment and financial services.

I am currently using Personal Capital to track our investments, and Mint for everything else.

Do you budget? Do you use a program, or just your own method? 

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

William Morris: we are (mostly) all out of crap

In direct contravention to discussion in previous posts, I went on a decluttering binge in the garage.  I'm not quite done yet.  But, for the first time in forever, as the song goes....I have enough empty space in the garage that I can park a car there.

This is the first time in my entire life I have not had a garage and attic and basement crammed full of stuff.

Clearly I can't park anything in there until I get those four boxes of old paper shredded and the uncomfortable chairs sold on craigslist.  But still! Get rid of the chairs and boxes, and (one) car would fit (in this two car garage)!

In one of life's little ironies, the garage door opener stopped working  the same day I finished the garage. 

Friday, September 4, 2015

the guest bedroom

My parents are coming for a visit soon, and that's about the only thing that has inspired me to get the guest room done.

Previously on the blog, it looked like this:

I did put up the orange trellis curtains and donated those white lamps, but otherwise, haven't done much in there.

I didn't anticipate having a room refresh for their visit, but the bed has been the repository for our white winter comforter, and I thought, goodness, my parents will swelter and melt if I leave that on the bed.  So I brought in a green summer cotton quilt to change it out.  Then I thought hmm, remember this bedroom?

So I dug out the navy curtains, put out the green quilt, and voila, whole new room.

Everything in the room came out of the decor stash in the garage; I bought nothing.  The art over the bed was painted by my grandmother. (The ponies have moved to the Princess's bedroom.)

Frugal decorating!  I still have a decent stash of decor (art and curtains and pillows, I can supply a village).  I have noticed that I've gotten to a point where much of what I own works with everything else.  I've got a base of dark blue in nearly every room in the house, and a lot of green/pink/orange/reds.  Not everything goes with everything, but still, I can put together a room with a navy blue base and any of the above colors without shopping, mostly.  

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

State of the Blog: people change

For the last decade, decor has been my hobby.  Ever since the Mister and I first moved in together and bought enormously overscaled furniture for our teeny-tiny apartment, making a pretty home has occupied most of my spare time.  Things have changed a bit over the years--I've added babies, cooking, special needs, and IEPs to my voracious list of reading materials.  But decor was always a hobby, something I did to relax.  Making things with my hands and producing something that added beauty and value to my life was pleasurable to me.

I also started this blog at a challenging time in my life.  I had three kids under four.  We were broke; we had sold our home at a pretty big loss and moved 100 miles away into an attic apartment so that we could all be together instead of the Mister commuting over five hours a day.  I met very few people and had a really hard time making friends in that town.  I started the blog looking for community and a sense of belonging.

I also wanted some intellectual stimulation.  I had quit my job as a law professor and wanted something to occupy my mind beyond wiping up bodily fluids. (There's a lot of bodily fluids with a newborn, a 19 month old and 3.5 year old.) I do think there is value in design--would you rather sit in an easy chair or a church pew?  Would you rather spend your time in a windowless basement or a light-filled gazebo?--but much of my "intellectual stimulation" focused on decor shopping.

I won't say that all good things come to an end, but I will say that I've slowed wayyyy down on the decor front. I used to look at a room that needed painting and a new furniture arrangement and think "squee! Something fun to do!"  Now I look at that room and think "ugh, my time and my money."  Decor just isn't giving me the same pleasure that it used to.

The past few years my focus has shifted from blogging about decor every day to focusing on providing the best opportunities for my kids.  As they've gotten older, their needs have grown more intense.  Their needs have also grown more expensive, and those needs take priority over spending money on decor.

I also haven't needed the community I found through blogging as much as I once did.  While I still enjoy reading other's blogs and commenting, I do so much less.  I've found friends here in California and my sense of community is stronger outside the computer than in, for a change.

Over the past year or two I started really reading up on minimalism, because I felt that my interest in decor was waning, and I was looking for something else in my life.  Mindless consumption of decor wasn't helping me feel good anymore.  I started decluttering and purging, and while I havent missed much of the stuff I've gotten rid of, I haven't felt the need to keep going with that.  I get mild "ugh, ALL THIS STUFF" feelings every so often, but I don't have a feeling of being overwhelmed by stuff.

I think I figured out what the problem is---I got into minimalism because I was interested in frugal living and saving more money. My children's medical and educational needs are incredibly expensive, and I'm always looking for where I can find more money in our budget.  My problem is not that I'm a frustrated minimalist.  My problem is that I got sidelined into minimalism when my real interest lays in figuring out how to better use our money. (Hint: decor is not the best use of our money when we spend thousands of dollars on therapy and education every month.)

Regardless of whether I am a minimalist or a not-very-proficient frugal living enthusiast, the upshot is--you may have noticed--I'm blogging a lot less than I used to.  One of the drawbacks to blogging mainly about DIY decor is the need to buy things and produce blog content with it.  I'm just not in a place in my life right now where I want to spend time and money on decor.

I feel that the people in my home are what I want to spend my time and money on.  Our home is reasonably useful, filled with comfortable furniture and meaningful items, and the focus for us is creating good experiences, not pretty surroundings.

This is starting to sound like a "so long, farewell" sort of post to the four readers who followed me over to this blog.  It isn't.  I don't want to stop blogging.  I'm just trying to figure out what the next phase looks like.

Have you ever had a shift in focus where what you like is no longer what you like so much, even though you don't hate it, and you want to focus on something a little different?

P.S. Just to keep you on your toes, the next post will be about decorating the guest bedroom.  

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Living room diptych

Since moving the rooms around, the living room has looked a little barren, especially the big blank wall behind the tv.

I wanted to cover a most of the wall, and I would have liked a gallery grid wall, but I don't want to put a ton of holes in the walls of our rental, and I don't have lots of identical large frames with white mats. I did, however, have a 48x60 canvas and a bunch of paint in the garage.  I bought another 48x60 canvas on sale at Michaels with a coupon for $43, plus a package of paint rollers for $8. Voila, limited only by my own creativity.

I wanted something white and bright, to distract from the hideous beige walls.  I thought about trying my hand at an abstract painting, but they are a lot harder than they look.

Instead I collected as many blue paints as I could find in the garage, a couple of reds, pinks and greens, and made my bazillionth splatter painting.

I made the paintings as a diptych. (Not a true diptych, they aren't hinged together, but they are two separate pieces connected as one image.)  I painted a base coat of white, then laid the canvases together touching side by side, and started painting.

Good enough for the army, as the saying goes.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Outlander; beep-less fridge; slanted windows

Last week Amazon had the first seven books of the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon on sale for $1.99 for the kindle. I downloaded them all to my kindle and I have done nothing but read for the past week. Actually, my kindle is broken, and I have been reading the books on the kindle app on my phone.  I have read approximately three thousand pages on my phone.

I haven't been able to put it down. I've read the first five books this week, to the detriment of just about everything else, like cooking dinner or sleeping or writing blog posts.  One thing I really like about the series is that the protagonists are a bit older than the usual.  I'm tired of reading romance novels about 19 year old girls finding love with 35 year old men.  Older women can be sexy and lovable too, you know. (Ahem.)  In Outlander, time-traveling heroine Claire travels back to the 1740s at age 28, and her beau Jamie is 23. The first two books are about them in their twenties, and then the remaining six books they are in their fifties.  And Claire has a career in the 1700s, no less.  (Claire also has lots of nookie in the 1700s, but not the smutty sort. You will not mistake it for a Harlequin Blaze book.)

Small nitpicks: I wouldn't describe these books as tightly plotted.  They are more a series of misadventures that eventually wrap up at the end.  Sort of.  Also, I'm not overly fond of reading about rape, and there are two rapes so far.  Not gratuitous violence, both are integral to the plot and move the story forward and provide motive for all the actions that come after....but eh, I don't like reading about rape.  There is actually quite a bit of violence in the books, come to think of it, since they are set during two different wars.

Other small nitpick not related to Diana Gabaldon's writing: the entire series was downloaded into my kindle app as one large book, and my phone app doesn't have a "go to end of chapter/book" function (or maybe it does and I don't know how to use it), but it is hard to tell if I should just keep reading because there's only a few more pages in the chapter/book, or if I should make myself just stop because there is still another five hundred pages to go.  I was also slightly daunted by the the size of the kindle document, as I finished the first book after six hours and it told me I was only 5% of the way through the document.

In any event, I've finished book five, and I can't allow myself to pick up book six until I do all the stuff on my to-do list that I've been ignoring.

Got any book recommendations for me?

The fridge beeps no more.

The garage freezer broke for the third time, and the beeping kitchen fridge/freezer, being in constant use, would no longer shut up, no  matter how much tape we put on it.  Ergo, new fridge.  So far, no beeping.


I've got this slanted window that I don't know what to do with.

The window faces west and is alight like a blazing hell in the afternoon. It makes that side of the house rather warm.  I'd like to cover it, but haven't figured out how.  The slant and how close it is to the ceiling line are making it difficult to find an inexpensive, temporary solution.  I'm not putting custom plantation shutters in a rental.

My first attempt was sheer curtains hung with a tension rod, and I would just use clothes pins to hold the curtains on the rod.  But the slant means that the rod doesn't lay flat and thus does not have enough tension to stay up.

I could use this film stuff.

However, I used this stuff in our house in Haddon Twp ten years ago, and while the product says "removable and reusable" wouldn't come off the window, so I'm reluctant to try it again.

Another problem....I'm about a foot short of the top of the window with our ladder.  I definitely can't reach above the molding to install a curtain rod.

I'm getting close to just tacking up a bedsheet, no matter how inelegant it looks.  Or I could just jam some regular window shades in there, like my neighbor.

Edited to add: My sister just sent me a bunch of ideas, and I think one of them is perfect:

I could cut off the tab top portion and re-sew it back on an angle so it hangs evenly.  Hmm......