Making a List of “To Do’s”

More succulents. I picked up these four different plants at Aldi’s of all places and placed them in this handmade container.

It might be in the 90s outside, but you and I both know that won’t last for long. It’s time to start planning for fall.

Inside the house we have a childhood favorite of mine courtesy of a start provided by my mom. I’ve always called this plant “purple velvet” – does anyone know its proper name?

We worked hard in the yard today and Dave got all of the mowing done while I pulled weeds and began digging out unwanted scrub trees scattered throughout the property.

I made some Ginger Pear Crisp with the Asian pears we have growing in our yard. The pears stay crisp even when baked. So good over vanilla ice cream. You can find the directions under Recipes/Desserts in the tab above. Give the recipe a try!

And then my eyes settled on the future pond and all of the growth and brush that was clogging it up. When Dave finished mowing he headed over to help and together we pulled out many trees, a pile of weeds, and began tarping the cleared areas.

Future pond

I began dreaming of a pond in this spot the first spring we were here, in early 2013. I imagined a deep upper pool, connected to a shallow stream lined with river rock and pea gravel that would open up onto two separate deep pools.

Future pond

It all started with this bit of tree root. Cottonwood trees are notoriously shallow-rooted, and this one was just sitting there on the surface of the ground. I looked at it and thought “Bridge!” and began to dig.

The bit of cottonwood root that started the whole adventure over five years ago.

The years have flown by and I keep promising myself that this will be the year that I put in the pond. Well, I’m really hoping that 2019 will be that year. Meanwhile, we have dug every tree, bush and most of the weeds out, and placed tarps over a majority of the future pond. Next year, we can remove the tarps, dig down deep into the ground to the appropriate depths, then replace the tarps until we have the pipes, pond liner and rocks ready to go.

Future pond

More than anything, I’ve grown tired of having to clear the space over and over of greenery.

Gooseberries, a rosebush and fruit trees surrounded by pea gravel and eventually stepping stones.

We also spread out some of the pea gravel we have bought in this little oasis of gooseberry, rosebush and fruit trees. Looks like I need a bit more to complete the project!

I think I’ll include this other fruit tree as well. I’m going to need a lot more pea gravel!

It will include metal edging so that it is easy to mow right up to.

Ignore all the weeds – I began transplanting my mint from the greenway in the front of the property to the base of Cottage West. I hope to plant moats of mint around all of the houses to repel invading mice and ants. This mint is doing well here and will continue to grow and spread over the years.

I sat down and identified what we still need to do in the yard before it gets cold:

  • Finish the brick firepit surround and reposition the logs for sitting on
  • Finish the brick pathway rebuild
  • Expand the dog yard to include the passageway between the dog yard and Cottage East (build one little patch of wall and one more gate)
  • Remove chain-link fence from side and front of Cottage East and dig up poles
  • Remove the underbrush and re-do the brick walkway on the east side of Cottage East
  • Kill off and remove poison ivy and other weeds from the back of Cottage West
  • Clear the alley side of the back fence of scrub trees, poison ivy and weeds. Put down weed-block and mulch some areas.
  • Finish tree ring in front side yard
  • Clear/tidy Cottage West front yard
  • Clean up garbage along front of property

The “wildflower shade garden” was in a decrepit state. I hope to really cut loose on wildflowers here next year. I will be the mad seeder come springtime.

It’s quite a lot of work. And I’m hoping that most of it can be done before our Halloween Party and Birthday Bash.

One of our two Asian pear trees in our mini-orchard.

Each year we make such enormous progress on this house and yard. Sometimes I feel like I’m running a marathon, or maybe trying to beat the clock before my body tells me “Enough!” while I still have a “to do” list a mile long.

One of our heirloom apple trees in our mini-orchard.

In any case, I took a good look at our calendar over the next two months and plugged in various activities (mostly on the weekends) that should mean we have most if not all of that hellish list done before it gets cold.

All of this hard work is so worth it. Look how far we have come!

Posted in Fruits, Garden Planning, Goals/Dreams, Ponds/Waterways | Leave a comment

Seasonal Cooking – Bring on the Kitchen Mojo!

You and I probably have different interpretations of seasonal cooking.

I don’t mean locally sourced fruits and vegetables, I mean that I typically only cook at certain times of the year.

Yes, every morning I fix breakfast for at least my dad and myself. I don’t trust him in the kitchen (he has dementia) and it’s a ten minute job to whip something up that fits within the parameters of a diabetic-friendly diet.

Big kiddo can fend for herself, although lately she has been quite happy with a scrambled egg and toast, my husband usually eats cereal, and the little one has breakfast at daycare.

What I’m talking about is dinner.

In around late spring, I come to a full stop and hand the cooking reins over to my husband. There is little warning. One day there’s food on the stove and the next I look at him and say, “So, what are you fixing us for dinner?”

Part of it is the heat. We don’t have central air and I’m miserable, sweaty and oh so grouchy. The other component is that I’m the one in charge of weeding. I’d say that I handle about 80-90% of the weeding that gets done on our properties and it is a LOT of work. So my husband handles the cooking from late spring until late summer.

He’s in San Francisco for a mini-vacation and without him here, well, let’s just say that my kitchen mojo rose to the occasion and has been tossing ideas my way for the past few days in a rather intense fashion.

It started with boozy cocktails, proceeded to incorporate some new recipes, and is now steaming ahead with meal planning and baked yummy goodness. Here’s what’s on tap ’round The Deadly Nightshade’s kitchen…

Boozy Shakes

Recently I pulled out this fun book, Boozy Shakes, out of a stack on the drink station and started paging through it. I drink alcohol about once in a blue moon, ask my hubs, he’ll back me up on that. That said, I was shocked to realize I hadn’t tried any of the drinks listed.

Time to change that!

I ran across the recipe for Marzipan Milk and just had to try it. I already had the Amaretto liqueur required for it.

I tapped my fingers impatiently as I waited for the vanilla ice cream to set up in the ice cream maker. It was still rather soft, but I figured that would make it easier to mix with the Amaretto liqueur, milk and almond extract.

I mixed it thoroughly and had a sip. Delightful!

And then I made the mistake of bringing my concoction to this man…

He threatened to drink it all! I ended up making two of them. Very, very tasty.

Last night, I dabbled with a Chocolate Orange Shake. Yum. Not as amazing as the Marzipan Milk, but still good.

I even tried a combination of the two and used the chocolate ice cream, mixed with the Amaretto, to make a Chocolate Marzipan Milk. Soooo good!

Orange Chicken With Three Ingredient Sauce

I was paging through Pinterest. Don’t judge me! It’s like crack, but still, I love getting ideas from that place. It’s way too handy for overloading my days with craft projects and recipes. And don’t get me started on the photos of abandoned mansions or picturesque gardens.

In any case, I found a recipe for “Three Ingredient Orange Chicken Sauce” and just had to try it.

I added a little to the recipe, some tweaks along the way, and here is what I came up with:

Ingredients:

  • 2-3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cubed
  • 2 eggs, whisked
  • 1 cup of flour
  • 1 cup of cornstarch
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1 cup of barbecue sauce (we use Sweet Baby Ray’s)
  • 1 cup of orange marmalade
  • 3 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1/2 tsp ginger powder
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder

Directions:

  1. Combine the barbecue sauce, marmalade, soy sauce, ginger and garlic powder in a saucepan on the stove and place it over medium-low heat to heat.
  2. Begin heating a thin layer of vegetable oil in a frying pan on medium-high heat.
  3. Place the cubed chicken in batches in the egg and then roll them in the cornstarch and flour mixture and place them on a plate.
  4. When the oil is hot, cook the chicken until well-browned on each side, about 3-5 minutes each. Place them on a plate covered with paper towels to absorb the extra oil.
  5. Combine the sauce and the cooked chicken and serve over rice.

So tasty!

More kitchen adventures will follow. Meanwhile, sign up for my newsletter and get access to short stories and more. Thanks for reading, I’ll post again soon!

Posted in Baking/Cooking, Bookshelf, Recipes | Leave a comment

Perennial Succulents and The Back Fence is DONE!

The view of the final gate from the backyard of the Cottage East.

Oh, happy days, my loyal readers! I am pleased to finally announce that the back perimeter of our properties has been fully secured.

D’Oh!

But first, a little pie in face. We went out this morning, bright and early, and quickly learned that the lumber and pickets we had set out for the last gate were missing. Yep, we had fencing out there for WEEKS but someone decided that it was too good an opportunity to pass up with it sitting right next to where it was to be installed and they absconded with it.

We felt dumb. It was around $50 in materials.

So when we went to Lowe’s to pick up the lumber, I stopped and purchased a set of four locks, one for each of the new gates, all keyed to the same key set, one for Dave and one for me.

The entire back fence is now locked down tight.

I took a look at the Cottage East’s backyard and there were a few thin spots in the underbrush, enough that I could see folks trying to shove their way through, so I moved a nearby pile of dead brush and branches against it. It would take some doing to get over and through it, and that should hold us steady.

Now folks can still sashay into our yards from Tenth Street, but they would have to go back the way they came because it is flat-out IMPOSSIBLE to go through that fence without either a key or serious climbing skills.

Perennial Succulents

These darlings were a great topic of study for homeschool science this past week. My daughter learned about their care and gave me some great tips for planting them. I had purchased a whole mess of them, 25 in total.

Several have gone in their own pots, planters, and at different spots in the yard. When I was in the alley re-positioning some old tree stumps I happened across one I knew I could re-purpose.

So I lugged this thing up to the front yard. I want folks to get to see it! I shoved a whole mess of dirt from our compost heap into it and planted the remainder of the succulents inside.

I can’t wait for them to dig in, reproduce and fill up the space. They will look fantastic!

Get ‘Em While the Getting is Good

By the way, now is the perfect time to buy ferns. I found mine at Lowe’s which had them marked to half of the original price, so just $7.50. As you can see from the picture above, they are HUGE!

I’ll bring these two inside when the temperatures drop and overwinter them in our art room which has a good southern exposure. Next year I can either set them out in these pots I transplanted them into or divide them up (i.e. hack them into quarters ruthlessly) and add them to the hanging planters that adorn our wraparound porch.

I’ve been on a mission this past few years to accumulate/propagate ferns by purchasing them in the fall on sale, overwintering them, and then using them again in the spring. With 22 hanging baskets, buying them over and over each spring would be prohibitive!

How Odd…

I have never seen this before and had to share it.

The seeds in this tomato are sprouting!

I showed it to my daughter Emily, she found it quite fascinating.

No More Paycheck to Paycheck

A while back I talked about getting to the point where we weren’t “a paycheck away from the streets.” And while we were certainly already in a good spot, I had sit down and really look at it from the angle of “Should I be focusing on building our savings or making sure there is a solid three week cushion in place?”

Now, without getting specific we are doing just fine, but I don’t believe in sitting on my laurels (or in eating bonbons by the poolside), so fine is nice, but fine doesn’t help us if I get horrifically ill and can’t work or the government has one of those financial all-stops that occurs when the boys in D.C. can’t agree on the budget. Or if Trump gets a bug up his butt and decides to do away with NOAA (small chance, but still!) where my husband works.

So I took the plunge and decided that I had to have a MINIMUM of three weeks worth of funds in our checking account. I moved money from savings, I pulled it from the renovation budget (and damn, that hurt because I really  want to see these projects done ASAP) and as it stands at the moment we have approximately four plus weeks worth of funds in the bank. I hope to keep it close to that amount. That would be really nice.

I was also pleased to see that our debt reduction is continuing at a solid pace – over $3,000 of debt reduction last month alone!

We work hard for this to happen. We buy used clothes, shop at Aldi’s and discount groceries, we rideshare to avoid parking costs at Dave’s work (that and him working just five minutes away is saving us over $150 a month in fuel and approximately $1500 per year in maintenance), and carefully parcel out our dining out expenditures.

I recently made the decision to focus on my writing and to not take on any new cleaning clients. When one of my current clients told me she needed to stop cleaning services for a while, I told her that I probably would not be filling her spot, but I also would likely not be available for cleanings in the future. It means that if I can’t make the writing pay, our budget will slowly reduce over time. OR I’ll start making money on my writing. Here’s hoping it’s the latter!

Posted in Challenges, DIY, Financial Advice, Frugality, Garden Planning, Goals/Dreams | Leave a comment

Fences, Elderberries, and a Migraine

Migraines Suck

Have I mentioned my amazing husband recently? Or my amazing daughter?

If not, then let me take a moment to tell you about them.

Today I was felled by a stress-induced migraine. I get them so very rarely now – a handful a year, or even less. I credit this to marrying well.

I’m not kidding.

In fact, when I discussed my migraines and how often I use to have them people ask me, But you don’t have them now? How did you get rid of them?”

I tell them, “I got divorced and my headaches went away!” My first husband was a migraine.

Honestly though, my husband (my third and FINAL husband) is great. He went outside and worked on the fence today, which included disassembling part of the gate we had just constructed the day before and fixing it so that it closed properly. Then he went on to add a third, middle 2 x 4 to most of the fence panels for added support. Next weekend we will finish that project.

Meanwhile, I lay in bed clutching my aching head. And Em, was kind enough to go downstairs and handle preparing breakfast for her grandfather and foster sister.

I did manage to get up later, wobble downstairs and fix myself an egg, clean the dishes and kitchen, and begin to process the elderberries.

Elderberry Processing

Last weekend we gathered around 20 pounds of elderberries from our bushes in the backyard. The easiest way to collect elderberries Is to cut the bracts with the berries off and place them in a bag in the freezer. After the berries are frozen it is easier to remove them from the bracts.

And after cleaning the dishes and clearing the sink, I pulled out the smaller bag of elderberries and began to do just that. I was still feeling rather under the weather, so I only managed to empty about half of the bag. It was an enormous container full of the berries. I figure I’ve processed about one quarter of them. Back into the freezer they go until we are ready to run them through the juicer.

I plan on using the elderberries for some cough syrup and more importantly, my husband will be making elderberry mead. Mead is made by fermenting honey and often fruit juice. We have made elderberry mead before in the past and it was very strong. I want to say that it was either 11 or 13% alcohol. We called it Respect Your Elders. And at that strong of a percentage, you’d better!

The backyard of Cottage East. The future parking area for tenants is on the right and the alley dead-ends behind it.

One More Gate

The other morning, while writing, I could hear two people arguing behind the house. I went out to look, and watched as they proceeded down the  alley all along the length of the finished fence, while continuing to argue. They then cut through the opening at the back of Cottage East, and walked through that backyard and up to 10th St.

I realized then that we had one more gate to build in order to completely seal off the back portion of our properties. So next weekend, we will be building one more gate.

Something like this…

Front Fence-Panel by Panel

Building a fence can be a very intimidating project, especially when your property is approximately 200 feet wide. I am overjoyed that we have finally finished the back fence. In fact, as my husband worked today on the last details of the back fence, a gentleman asked if he could walk through the open gate. My husband explained that we would prefer he did not. He was kind, but firm. After five years, with people barging through, stealing property and high on drugs, we were done.

But a back fence doesn’t stop people completely. Especially when the entire 200 foot width of our property is open in the front.

“What if we began to build the fence panel by panel instead of trying to do it all at once?” I asked. “We could set in one or two 4 x 4’s, install a panel or two, and take it a little bit at a time. What do you think?”

Looking towards the front of our property. As you can see, it’s wide open.

My husband liked the idea. “As long as we aren’t putting in 4 to 6 panels in a day,” he said.

“That sounds great to me!”

We have yet to find the source for the metal panels that I want. We have a few leads, and we will begin tracking those down in the next couple of weeks. Because we don’t have a truck, transporting the panels can be problematic. I’m not sure if we will need to rent a truck. If we do, hopefully we can move 6 to 8 at a time in order to conserve on cost.

I dream of the day when our fences are all in place. Doing it ourselves will save a load of money, improve our property, reduce theft, and help create the sanctuary we so enjoy having outside.

My internet trawling for pictures of metal fences yielded this – a moon gate – and now, of course, I want one.

Posted in Challenges, DIY, Goals/Dreams, Projects | Leave a comment

Planning for Next Year…NOW

Future Fence Planning

So I’ve shown you a few of the images of my perfect fence when it was still underway. Now let me show you it up close, along with another fence design.

We went for a drive on Sunday to Columbus Park to take a look at two examples of metal fencing and learn more about how they were constructed. I’ll refer to them as Fence #1 and Fence #2.

This fence is about four foot tall and welded in place

Fence #1 – was about four foot tall and welded in place. It provides nice round holes and would be easy for someone to climb over.

 

The welds attach to heavy metal posts

This fence isn’t going anywhere. It looks far more solid than the newer wrought iron fencing that is actually made out of aluminum. This fence looks as if it wouldn’t so much as blink if a car rammed into it. In fact, I’d feel very sorry for the car!

The panels look as if they are woven back and forth.

Fence #2 is my cleaning client’s fence. They were looking to enclose the parking lot directly across from their loft home.

I love it even more now that they have the plantings in place. It’s gorgeous!

I was delighted to realize that the sheets are less than five feet high. I had originally thought they were over six foot, but up close I realized the panels are probably 5×8 foot max in size.

 

 

I love the arch they did for the gate and these fabulous flagstone steps!

Another nice detail is all of the motion sensor night lights they have in place…

As you can see, Fence #2 has wood enclosing it and surrounding it. From the looks of it, we wouldn’t even need to drill into the metal, it would rest inside of the wood 1×2’s that connected to the 4×4 posts.

The biggest challenge is supply. These metal panels are castoffs from metal fabricators. We are planning on using a LOT of them in order to construct our fence, and that means we may need to make allowances for a mix of different patterns and accommodating those patterns to what our needs are (for example, big open holes will need to have hardware cloth added to one side).

We may end up doing a mix of wood fencing and metal panels – alternating between each if we can’t manage to find enough of the metal panels.

The other twist is that if we have to pick them up incrementally over time, we will need to figure out a way to get them (rent a truck) and store them (lock them down so that metal scrappers don’t try to steal them) until we are ready to construct our fence.

We also walked the yard on Sunday and determined just where we wanted fencing. I drew rough diagrams and we need to talk to our neighbors when it comes to a fence on the border of Cottage East and their lot.

A rough sketch of gate placement and more. There is a chain link fence between the front yard of Cottage East and our side lot. I want to remove it and replace it with the new fence. I also want to run the new fence along the east shared border between Cottage East and our neighbors’ property.

We walked down the street to look at how we want Cottage West fence to be set up.

The fence will run along the entire front of the property until it reaches the last side lot. I want us to go about 15 feet in and end it at a double gate. That way we can drive a pickup truck through it, through the yard, and hook it up to the Airstream which is in the back.

Dave was a little surprised when I suggested creating a fence that ran from the front of the property all of the way to the back fence.

“I figured we would share our yard with the renters,” Dave said.

“Honey, do you remember how upset you were getting at the last party when there were a ton of kids in our yard whacking our flowers to death? And that was just one afternoon. Imagine a child that is not ours doing this day in and day out to our yard.”

“Oh…”

“Yeah.”

It’s important that we construct our fence to suit our needs and plan it so as to avoid potential issues. I added a gate to the side yard of Cottage West so that we can, if we so choose, invite the tenants to share the space on occasion.

I penciled in a six-foot-wide walkway between the fence and the east outside wall of Cottage West to take into account the basement tenant, who will enter and exit at the door at the back of the house.

You can also see from the schematic above that the fence jogs in about 15 feet. That is because we will eventually install a driveway there for our tenants to be able to park off the street. That’s a huge plus for potential tenants.

I’m planning on laying down a four-foot wide concrete path using the concrete forms you see below, with a foot of greenery on each side of it. Nothing out of control, just some basic flowers or a nice groundcover. Ooh, I’ve already been planting mint. That would be nice to have spread. If you step on it it would smell wonderful!

Next we will need to do some measurements and come up with a more detailed schematic than the one I sketched above.

Once we know just how many feet we are talking about, we will be able to calculate the number of panels we will need and we can reach out to metal fabricators and see about purchasing the panels!

 

All that greenery, all those weeds – filling up the hole in the ground I diligently dug.

The Pond, the Pond!

On Sunday, as we were working through our plans for the fencing, Dave said, “Next weekend I want to finish the gates, do half of the 3rd 2x4s and then get those weeds out of the future pond.”

Our plan is to pull all of the weeds out of it, dig down further in the soil to prep it for a liner and then cover it with tarps to prevent any additional growth until next spring when we can line it and install a pump.

That tiny little clear spot? That took me a half our of weeding to clear. It is perhaps 1/5 of the total size of the pond. We need to dig down as well, possibly 1-2 more feet deep.

I started digging that pond the first year we were here – in 2013 – and have been waiting patiently for the opportunity to install it completely. I think 2019 might finally be the year!

Multi-Use Tree Stumps

As we scrimped and saved to get each of the three cottonwood trees (plus one maple tree too close to the house) taken out – we would usually tell the tree trimmers to leave the trunks with us. It saved us hundreds of dollars and we slowly moved them to line the back edge of the property, some served as seating around the firepit, and the remainder were placed around the bases of our mulberry and maple trees.

The stumps that are now on the outside/alley side of the fence still have value. They serve as physical barriers during winter when folks are slipping and sliding in and out of their parking spaces in the apartment building behind us. The first year we were here someone’s car got stuck in our yard for a full week!

And they will also soon be decorative. I plan on hollowing out the tops of several of them so that this coming spring I can turn the stumps into planters and grow some annuals from seed, but mainly perennials. Pinterest has been giving all kinds of beautiful photos to use as inspiration!

Posted in DIY, Garden Planning, Goals/Dreams, The Cottage | Leave a comment

Nearly There!

Fences Make ME a Better Neighbor

Wow zow! Our fence project has really come along. Click here to see a short video tour of our progress.

A morning out in yard produced some great results today. While I worked on moving bricks and mapping out an area around our gooseberries and apricot trees we will fill with pea gravel, Dave worked on finishing the two single gates.

The enlarging of the ring around the firepit is around halfway complete.

He also needed to add some more screws to the pickets near the end of the line. We ran out of battery power and hadn’t finished them last weekend. He also set a 4×4 in place at the end and constructed the two gates.

Three gooseberry bushes and an apricot tree. We will add the metal edging and fill the area with pea gravel.

“Do you want me to install a handle on the alley side of things?” he asked and I told him no. I want nothing but smooth fence on that side.

Next spring I will order a bunch of rosebushes to plant on the alley side of things. They will grow up and produce plenty of colorful blooms and hopefully dissuade taggers from spraying the fence with graffiti and they will remind folks to admire our fence at a distance, thanks to their sharp thorns!

We have two more weekends of work ahead of us. Next weekend we will construct the double gate and begin adding a third 2×4 support to the fence. We originally started it with only two 2×4’s – one at the top and one at the bottom. A contractor we have working for us looked at it and said, “Add a third 2×4 to the middle and you will have less warping.”

Will do!

I figure that adding those 2×4’s, some fifteen of them, will take us into the second weekend since we will need to attach all of the pickets in the middle as well. But then the back fence will be done, done, DONE!

Re-laying with the landscape cloth underneath, the walkway along the side of the house.

I am so looking forward to that. It is a wave of relief to look out and see that fence there. Finally, it will feel like the yard belongs to us. It is rather disconcerting to be strolling through your yard and have someone just walk on through it without even asking if it is okay. I guess I’ve spent too many years in the suburbs.

Cottage West back fence with a gate at the far right.

Next year we will build the front fence. We had considered outsourcing it, but honestly, I think we can do it and for far less money. And when you consider that we are outsourcing a good deal of the renovation work on The Cottages, we could use a break in cost.

Here was the fence as it was in process of being built.

We are still planning on using the metal panels and wood posts. One of my clients had one installed around their parking lot across from their loft in Columbus Park. I think it looks gorgeous and it would provide semi-privacy, be rather inaccessible to those not respectful of fence lines and be visually appealing as well.

I took a bite out of it before I thought to take a picture! It was sweet and crunchy.

Well, Hello There, My Darling Asian Pear!

I think we planted our two Asian pears and two heirloom apple trees in our mini-orchard in 2014, the year after we moved here. And despite the havoc being caused by the damn Japanese beetles, we are starting to see some results!

Em noticed that there was plenty of fruit weighing down one of the trees and picked some treats for all of us. They are small and still have a ways to go to be perfectly ripe, but this was a lovely treat to have on Saturday night.

Asian pears are ridiculously expensive in the grocery store. They grow so well here in Missouri that, if you have the room, I highly recommend buying on and planting it in your yard.

We bought ours at Fedco Trees. Order in the fall for spring delivery. Their catalog comes out in September or October, and you will want to place your order quickly to ensure they don’t run out.

Fedco Trees is also where we purchased a bunch of our rose bushes that we planted on the inside of our back fence. I’ll plant a ton more on the outside, just in case folks are inclined to try and decorate with spray paint or break into our nice tall fence.

Financial Goals

As our regular contributions to savings and 401k have increased with my husband’s new job, I’m also working on us keeping our accounts “in the black.”

I recently read an article that claimed that millions of Americans are one paycheck away from the street. Often one bad health situation will leave you tens of thousands of dollars in debt (if not more). And let’s face it, as we age, our bodies begin to fail us.

Now, thankfully, we all have medical insurance now and that is a big relief, let me tell you! But I want to make sure we not only have a decent amount of emergency savings in the bank, but also have our ducks in a row in our main checking account.

Nearly 100% of our purchases are made on credit cards. We use them for their cash back bonuses and pay the amount owed in full each month.

However, that means that I’m spending money I don’t have for a month and then paying it off the next month. I realized I wanted the ability to spend the money I DO have, and have the ability to pay for it immediately upon receiving the bill, if not sooner.

To do that, I’ve set into place a series of incremental goals:

  • Goal #1 – Pay all bills at least ten days before their due date (95% there – occasionally I have to pay a bill 4-5 days before its due date)
  • Goal #2 – Pay all bills at least 15 days before their due date
  • Goal #3 – Pay all bills immediately upon receiving them
  • Goal #4 – Have one month’s worth of funds in the bank (in advance of any bills)

This protects us from what I call the “oh shit” factor. And let’s face it, the “oh shit” factor happens far more often than you might be willing to accept. To me, it is like having the level pay plan with your electric or gas company. No need to futz with the month-to-month ups and downs, if you know what your costs are, you can and should plan for that, plus a little extra.

And with that, I’m off to plot our future front fence, with all of its intricacies…

Posted in DIY, Financial Advice, Goals/Dreams | 2 Comments

Fences, Electronics and LESS Debt!

Just look at that fine fence!

I’m so looking forward to having our back fence done. We have made significant progress in the past two weeks – nearly all of the 4×4 posts, as well as most of the pickets, are in place.

The opening as seen from the alley side. We will put in a gate on the left and custom cut the boards and add pickets to cover the right side.

Today we rented a jackhammer from Home Depot and Dave used it to open up two holes – one was the remains of an old driveway to a long-gone garage, the other appeared to be the brick wall of another long-gone structure (probably another garage). This allowed us to dig down far enough to set the 4×4 posts in.

Taken from the alley side, this is the portion of fence we built last weekend. It’s directly behind Cottage West. We will leave these tree stumps in place, they provide protection from folks slipping and sliding in the snow while backing up out of the apartment building parking lot (out of sight on the left)

We have one post left to set in – it’s down at the very end of the line, directly behind Cottage West. We will have a gate there, as well as one about 20 feet from the Airstream – these will both open onto the back alley. And then there will be the double gate at the back parking area.

“Is the cement still wet?” Em asked.
“Yep, it’s perfect for putting your initials in!”

So three gates to build next weekend and one post to set in place.

As we worked today, a woman came running through our yard and the fence. “You are really making this impossible, you know.”

Dave yelled after her, “That’s kind of the point!”

The gates will be padlocked and once they are in place the entire run will be sealed, making it impossible for folks to cut through our yard. They will still be able to come in from the front, but that is a task for 2019. Just one more year until our entire property, including Cottage East and Cottage West, is enclosed.

Next year or the year after I hope to build a pergola here directly outside the Airstream. I’ll also lay in a gravel and flagstone path from the firepit to the Airstream now that I’m running out of bricks.

And that makes me pretty darned excited. I look forward to the day when I can open the front door and let our dogs run out into the bigger yard and hang out with us.

Just stopping folks from using our yard as a road from 10th Street to the alley or 11th Street beyond that will be huge. We have seen/experienced the following in our yard since moving here…

  • Various people stop and pee (or take a dump)
  • Illegal dumping of trash
  • Vandalism
  • Theft (they stole our wheelbarrow and other equipment)
  • Junkies off their rocker, shouting and walking through
  • Found baggies of drugs in our garden
  • Had a woman high as a kite sit down on a stump and proceed to talk to our chickens for half an hour while she clucked like a chicken
  • Had kids throw rocks at our beehive when we still had bees

Is it any wonder we are more than ready for a nice tall fence?!

It looks oddly small in this picture but that is a full sized dresser beneath it.

A Deal I Couldn’t Pass Up

Two weeks before I got the call in December 2016, we had purchased a 55″ television as a Christmas gift to ourselves. I was so excited to have a big tv there in the living room!

And two weeks after the phone call and I was back from Panama with my dad. The television, conveniently located in the living room, was immediately taken over by him.

His dementia, caused by poor diet and improperly medicated diabetes has affected him significantly. He basically spends all day watching daytime tv.

There’s nothing quite as off-putting to me as Jerry Springer or Paternity Court. At lunch I can hear the judge bellowing, “Mustafa Antone, the tests show that YOU are the father!”

Ugh. As a result, we tend to stay upstairs, leaving the living room television in the hands of my dad.

And with just a little television upstairs in our bedroom, I’ll admit, I felt like I’d had my Christmas gift taken away from me!

Our smaller tv didn’t have Roku and we couldn’t watch anything from our Plex server on it, and that bummed me out enough that, after 18 months of this, I decided to start looking for a nice tv for our room.

We ended up choosing a 55-inch Roku 4G and it came in yesterday. Dave could see how excited I was, and was kind enough to install it on the wall right away. We have an extra-long power cord coming in today that will make it less cord congested, and I love that it can tilt out, allowing it to be viewed from the other room.

I used it today to practice some yoga I found on YouTube. So cool!

Debt Reduction Too!

I was surprised and delighted to add it all up and discover that, even with our purchases like the upright freezer, fencing materials, and a big television, we have managed to remove over $15,500 worth of debt in the past seven months and we are well on our way to an overall debt reduction of around $28,000 for 2018.

That’s huge!

I’ll admit, I checked it and double-checked it. I couldn’t believe my eyes. But my Current Debt worksheet in Excel is updated once a month with all of our current debts. After so many years of struggling, it is beyond exciting to see this happen.

Our savings might be small (most of our savings is going into a pot earmarked for home renovation) but it continues to grow steadily.

Our goals remain to renovate Cottage East and Cottage West over the next 4 1/2 years, all while maintaining a steady reduction in debt and building our savings. It takes mindfulness and planning, but it is worth it. I can clearly see a day when we are debt free and have several property income streams in place that are near us and well-monitored and maintained.

Things are looking up and progress is being made!

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Phase One – Well Begun is Half Done

We took advantage of the pleasant temps on Sunday morning and knocked a portion of Phase One of our fence building out of the way. Three post holes were dug and the two seven foot portions of fence were assembled.

“Wow, we got that done fast.” It was a few minutes after 10 a.m. and we were staring at our walls of wood with the ten-foot gap in the middle.

The gap is where our double gate will go. Eventually, we will have a two-car driveway plus a side pad through the gate laid down. We will be able to park our future truck there, behind the gate and out of sight of the main part of the yard.

“Are you happy with the work?” I could see what he was doing, but I wasn’t feeling at the top of my game, too much hip pain, so I just smiled and nodded.

The double gate will wait for next weekend. We will handle it before or after the yard is mowed.

I’m hoping to have the entire fence done by the first weekend in August. I’m so excited about having it completely closed in the back.

Foreground – where our truck will eventually be parked. Background – where our Cottage East tenants will park.

After that, I plan to send folks packing if they try to sail on through my yard. Not that it would do any good, the six-foot height is a pretty good deterrent!

Note: I know it might all sound unfriendly, this idea of shutting others out of our property. But please keep in mind I’ve literally had a man cop a squat in our yard. Yes, you heard that right. The smell lingered for weeks.

We have also had our wheelbarrow stolen, a man with two snarling dogs plunge through our yard with our chickens scattering in all directions, and other less than positive experiences.

Most of our neighbors are friendly, well-mannered folks. It just takes a few bad apples to ruin it for the rest, unfortunately.

From the future parking space looking into the backyard.

 

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Three Phases of Fence-Building

The delivery from Home Depot arrives on Wednesday, the 4th – and thus the final three phases of fence building across the back of our property has begun!

I am very excited about this. Folks merrily walking through our yard is one thing, but we have had items stolen from our yard, along with trash, condoms, and even…super gross…someone used our yard for a toilet once.

Granted, as the neighborhood has improved, we have seen less and less traffic. But putting in a back fence that has no way to access the back alley from the yard (the reason most walk through our yard) will eliminate 99% of the intruders.

Eventually, I’m aiming for next year, we will be able to install a front fence as well and thereby eliminate all but the most foolish of interlopers. I say foolish because, while they are well-behaved, we have three dogs, two of which are pit bulls. And with a front fence in place, they could have run of the entire property, something I think would be wonderful for everyone.

In any case, we are breaking this into three different phases…

Phase One: Build a fence perpendicular to the dog fence. It will have two seven foot long panels on each side and then a ten-foot wide double gate in the middle. We will use this section to house our future truck when it is not in use. And the future parking for tenants of 3231 remains open with access to the alley.

My Excel schematic – because I am oh so nerdy!

Then Phase Two, finish the 32-foot long section right after we jackhammer the remnants of an old concrete garage out of the way and set in the posts.

And then Phase Three, complete the remaining 39 feet of fencing to the corner of our property.

We will add a padlock to the double gate, which will prevent anyone without a key from just opening it and walking through.

Eventually, I hope to have a cement driveway laid for our future tenants. That might be a few years down the road, however.

My Husband’s Political Protest

I have to sympathize, my husband has a HUGE yard that needs mowing. When all is said and done, we have seven city lots, nearly a full acre that needs mowing. And it all has to be done with a standard mower.

A riding mower is on our “would really like to have” list, but it falls below a truck on future purchases.

As a result, the hubs has stated he will mow every second week, “Whether it needs it or not.”

And believe me, by week two, the grass/weeds/whatever is looking rather long in the tooth.

And with the dog days of summer descending upon us, I plan on us working on the fence in the off-weekends, when he isn’t mowing and I’m not frantically weeding.

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If You Give Christine A Brick…

“The fire dancers, flickering their fiery dance.” Em’s response to my question of what to write in the caption. I have a budding poet on my hands!

Most of my parenting friends will get that reference. There are a series of children’s books out there, the first one was called If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. It takes the reader on an adventure.

And I really think I need to write a book titled If You Give Christine a Brick, because damned if I won’t build a pyramid with them next.

Actually, Dave joked about that as we pushed, rolled and pivoted several 300+ pound tree trunks around today.

I’ve expanded the circle around the firepit and, with Em’s help, we have begun laying a new path that runs to the front of the house.

“Let’s build a pyramid next!”

He really should be careful about giving me ideas like that…

Do you see some of those monster logs down there? Using pivot points we were able to move them out of the way, so that I can finish the firepit ring.

I also removed the landscape stones that were on the inside wall of the firepit and I began digging down. Eventually, I hope to have a 2-3 foot deep firepit.

The fire department was pretty limiting on the diameter of the firepit, but damned if I won’t go down and get more room that way!

I was so proud of my family today! We got so much done! Em came out and worked hard right alongside of us. It wasn’t exactly her first choice in how she spent her day, but after a stern lecture on the responsibilities that go along with household citizenship, she knuckled down and did it.

I couldn’t have added fifteen feet of walkway as quickly as I did without her. She laid the bricks while I dug them up from the old, overgrown path.

My husband moved the rest of the heavy landscape bricks, some three wheelbarrow loads full to the front of Cottage East.

Dave taking direction from our pint-size dictator, Little Miss.

I’ll arrange them better later, I was just glad to have them where they needed to be.

He also finished a project I had started, one of shoveling all of the accumulated mud that had moved from the corner of Indiana and 9th down to the entire length of gutter in front of our house.

It took three wheelbarrows filled with muck before he was done!

Moving enormous logs and plotting my next big project

We burned some more brush, including last year’s Christmas tree and now that the heat is rising again, I’m done until we get another rainy, cool spell. After the ashes cool, I plan on digging down further in the firepit. The ashes and dirt mixture can go in the compost heap.

Each time I work in the garden, I feel such a fierce joy. We have accomplished so much in the five years we have been here. Imagine what it will look like in five more!

Em was tenacious (and successful) in her attempts to restart the fire today

If You Give Christine a Brick

If you give Christine a brick, she will smile, imagine a new path she wants to build and walk towards her garden.

She will likely ask you for another brick, and another, and another.

Once Christine has a pile of bricks, she will undoubtedly begin to shout orders imperiously, setting anyone and everyone near her to work on this project.

Once she has her husband ferrying more bricks, and her youngest sorting out the broken brick, she will imagine a firepit surrounded by large tree trunks and ask you for your help.

Moments later, armed with shovels and full of curiosity, a bunch of kids might show up to help dig out that pond Christine has been wanting since the first spring she was here.

As you begin to dig in the dirt, you will need a place to put it and that will make her think of all of those extra plants that need to be divided up and planted around the mulberry tree, the old stump, or the new wildflower garden and she will hand you a shovel and direct you where to plant them.

If while you are digging you find a rock, Christine will undoubtedly remember that she wanted to edge the hostas and rosebushes she planted this spring with rocks and begin carrying those over, clearing any weeds as she goes.

And that will remind her that there are still pathways to build and bricks to find. And that will likely lead to her asking you for more bricks.

Little Miss says “It’s important to hydrate.” Actually, she said no such thing beyond, “Cuppie!”

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