Bidet…Who? Bidet Me!

It’s my husband’s fault.

Which reminds me of the joke…

If a man speaks in the forest and there is no woman around to hear him, is he still wrong?

The answer is, of course, “yes.”

Actually, my husband is right on quite a number of things. And as it turns out, getting a bidet is right up there at the top of the list.

He’s been talking about bidets for ages. And I would listen, nod, and think, He’s insane, I’ll be damned if I’m spending hundreds of dollars on a toilet that will spray me in my nether regions.

I saw a bidet, the standard one, years ago, while cleaning a custom-built house. It sat right next to the toilet, and I was fascinated by it. How did it work? How did you sit on it? Or did you sit in it? And then, recently, I saw a bidet/toilet combo at a new client’s recently renovated historic building/bottling plant turned entertainment area/living space.

This one was fancy. A heated seat, warm water wash, the works. It was super-cool and I’ll admit I really wanted one. But…

I got bills to pay, I got mouths to feed
There ain’t nothing in this world for free

That said, my husband mentioning a bidet again a week ago, and on a whim, I scoured Amazon to see what our choices were.

And that’s when I found this little add-on bidet. And for only $34.95!

Could something that inexpensive really work? I looked at the reviews and they had raked in over 6,000 reviews, with an average rating of 4.5 out 5 stars.

I thought about it for a day and decided, “Why not?!”

It was basic, no heated seat, no warm water rinse, but it looked pretty easy to install (sez the woman who asked her husband to handle those particulars) and it took about $10 more in parts (longer bolts and toilet seat bumpers to handle the raised seat).

“Try it out,” my husband said.

I looked at him, and held myself back from asking, “Who, me?” I had gotten us into this. I had bought the contraption, he had taken the time to install it, and now I got to take it for a test spin.

I turned one of the knobs, then the other. A jet of ice-cold water shot up into my nether regions with surprising force and I screeched in shock, turning it off quickly. My husband laughed and laughed, and I tried it again, shrieking again, shocked at how cold the water was.

Cold water – but I can get used to that – until such time as I write that bestselling novel.

After two days of using it, I have a review for you, my faithful readers.

It’s wonderful. I mean, sure, it would be far more wonderful if it had a heated seat, adjustable spray positions, and warm water. But overall, having experienced a bidet, I don’t think I ever want to go back to using a plain old toilet again. Why?

  • Less toilet paper

Where before we used loads of toilet paper, now I use a small handful of squares and just blot myself dry. I can’t tell you how great that makes me feel to not be flushing so much tissue down the pipes. I can’t help wondering how much of a strain this puts on our sewage and waste treatment plants.

  • Cleaner feeling “down there”

Do you remember a set of commercials for adult wet wipes where a guy covered in grease is trying to clean himself with toilet paper? Well, they had a point. Using a dry piece of paper to wipe off the “buttstuff” doesn’t work so well. A nice, cleansing jet of water, however, well it’s kind of like taking a mini-shower. Seriously, I’ve never felt so clean in all of my life.

My dad, upon hearing our reviews, gave his typical “Hmm” and shook his head. “I had a bidet in one of my apartments in Panama and never used it,” he said. “It’s too…French…for me.”

Okay, Dad, whatever.

As for me? I’m actually looking forward to using it each day. How’s that for weird?!

New goal in life: Earn enough from writing to buy a full bidet/toilet combo, complete with warmed seat, positional sprayer, the works.

Posted in Green Living, Products | Leave a comment

Meanderings, Musings, and More

Hi There! Did you miss me?

I missed me, believe me, I did.

Three Plagues Upon My House

It all began in the last days of 2017, the last healthy days before a season of sickness. Seriously, I got sick THREE separate times.

Shortly after I recovered from Plague #1 – which my husband was still fighting off – here comes Plague #2. I could not believe it. I denied it, “This cannot be happening, there are rules, damn it!”

By the time I recovered from Plague #2 and Plague #3 came and walloped me upside my head, I was ready to start digging my own grave, but far too tired to do it.

By this time, the hubs had the second round of whatever he got. And dancing around us with crazy fevers and days of sore throat and sniffles was our little one.

Who am I kidding, she was probably the plague monkey who infected us each time.

Thanks a lot, public school populated with children who are not mine – you infectious little plague monkeys!

My cleaning clients were patient, gracious souls – but I have informed my youngest (currently suffering through a sore throat, malaise, and a zigzagging fever) that she is NOT to get me sick again. As if she could control it.

Could this plague season be over already? I actually noticed on the calendar that next Sunday is Leap Forward when Daylight Savings Time activates (something I abhor) and I actually smiled because it is the first step towards spring. And spring means the end of winter, which hopefully means NO MORE FLU.

Please let it mean that. Please.

Regulations, Schmegulations

First, there came the news of the new Airbnb regulations for Kansas City. One of the biggest thorns?

“Off-site owners must secure the consent of 55 percent of adjacent property owners.”

I live next door to both of these properties. But because I am using a property that I do not live in personally, I am considered an off-site owner. These new regulations mean that I have to ask permission of my neighbors to operate a business.

Now, if I choose to rent these houses out, I don’t have to ask permission. But Airbnb? Have to ask permission.

Uh uh.

Now they are proposing inspections (and possibly more) for rental properties. And I’m really having a hard time with this.

There are already plenty of regulations on the books – renters have rights, property owners have responsibilities, and we have a whole codes enforcement agency in place.

So why do we need MORE legislation, more laws?

Perhaps I’m being overly simplistic. Perhaps I’m looking at the world through rose-colored glasses. Perhaps I’m a fool for hoping that other property owners will do this novel and unique thing called “the right thing” and provide a safe, healthy, acceptable living environment for their tenants.

Look, it goes something like this. My first house is in Belton. I lived in it for 13 years – lavished love and work on it and did my best to not just take care of it, but make it a home. I planted multiple fruit trees, improved the inside, put a new roof on, energy-efficient windows, et cetera.

A few years back, the showerhead started leaking. It had a Waterpik showerhead, which might not be the most expensive one there is, but it was one I had bought and used for myself. So when I needed to replace it, I didn’t go out and buy one that was cheaper, I bought another Waterpik for my renter.

When we were over there on Sunday replacing the dishwasher, I felt awful because the dishwasher we put in there was a used one that doesn’t look as spiffy as I would have wanted it to. I was more stressed about it then the renter was.

I noticed the back fence is bowing and that some of the panels need replacing. “Tell me how many you need and we will bring them down, I don’t want you to worry about your dogs getting out.”

Which reminds me that I need to also return next weekend to see if we can fix the double gate which apparently needs work but that I forgot to look at while we were there.

Am I going to get top of the line for a rental house? No. But I am going to provide a decent living environment – one that has working appliances and that is safe. That’s part of the deal.

Today I read an argument about the new rental inspections with one guy insisting that it will make landlords give up and stop renting because they can’t afford to make a rental house be safe and decent to live in.

But the fact is, renting a house for $600 is not a profitable activity in the end. That’s why so many houses sit in poor condition. It isn’t because the landlord is an evildoer. It’s because in the end he just doesn’t have the cash because the activity is not profitable. It’s not very hard to figure out really…Has it ever occurred to you guys that there’s actually a market for substandard housing?

That last line really REALLY bothered me. I’m not okay with being a landlord who provides substandard housing. Call me old-fashioned but a home is where you should feel safe. It’s the place you go back to at the end of the day after working your ass off and feel is your sanctuary. Or at least where you can somewhat relax.

I’ve lived in substandard housing. It sucked. I don’t look back on it as an experience that helped me – it hurt me. I was poor, I was desperate, and all around me were predatory landlords that didn’t give a fuck about me or my child or whether we were healthy and safe. It stressed me out and gave me a shorter temper. I wasn’t as good a mom because I was worried about stuff like my bathroom wall dissolving and the hot water leaking so bad it might burn my child’s skin or the time it RAINED IN MY KITCHEN. And don’t get me started on the intermittent phone service (caused by the lines being flattened in the basement) or no screens on the windows (and having to kill hornets, mosquitoes, and other flying creatures) all summer long if I wanted any breeze in my non-air-conditioned overly priced hovel.

No one needs that.

I’m still on the fence about this new inspection proposal. I don’t think it will make a difference. What will make a difference is a property owner who is willing to be the better person or get out of the game. I believe we CAN provide safe, good housing and still make a profit. It might not be as large of a profit, but still.

The other day, faced with having to replace a broken dishwasher, I grumbled and stared at the rental contract. “A dishwasher isn’t a necessary appliance,” I said, frustrated that I had not delineated it as such in the rental contract.

But the real problem I had?

I don’t have a dishwasher. When mine broke, I decided not to fix it. I was frustrated that it had last two years and then abruptly died. I was also frustrated because the one at the rental house had also lasted just two years and then died. Talk about built-in obsolescence, that is ridiculous!

But it isn’t my renter’s fault. And frankly, for them and their needs, it IS a necessary appliance. I thought about how it would feel if I were in their shoes. When they moved in, there was a working dishwasher. I realized that, like it or not, whether I have a dishwasher or not myself, I had a moral obligation to replace the one that had broken.

So I put in the used one, felt like crap that I didn’t have a nicer looking one, and I’m monitoring the situation. Hell, I’ll probably be buying a new one for them in a few months.

Because that’s the right thing to do.

She Dreams of Spring

I can’t help it, I have to buy flower seeds.

It’s an addiction, I tell you, an addiction!

My plans for the yard are limited in scope. Why? Because I’m going to be very busy. I’m writing, moving between three major projects as the muse takes me, I’m gearing up for homeschooling again in the fall, I’m staying pretty busy with my housecleaning biz (I clean one house per day, five days per week and occasionally two houses per day), AND we will be opening our home and hearts to a foster child soon.

Our hopes are to foster to adopt – but I remain committed to reunification with the bio parents if at all possible.

In any case, it means that we will have one major project this year – finishing the back fence (the front fence will wait until next year) – and then I have my own pet project…

When I laid some of the brick walkways a few years back, I didn’t lay down weed block and so grass and weeds have grown up between the bricks. I need to dig them up, level the soil, lay down the weed block (a black plastic mat on a roll), and then return the bricks to their positions and add sand in between the cracks.

I have several areas where I simply need to dig up and relocate the brick pathways since they aren’t working in their current locations. And on the sides of the main brick walkway that moves along the west side of the house, I want to dig out a two foot deep stretch along each side, add good dirt and plant groundcovers on each side that will fill the borders of the walkway with beautiful green and flowering plants.

I’ve ordered blue Aubrieta…

Irish moss…

Monkey grass…

Rock rose…

As well as a packet of dwarf perennials…

I hope to continue to establish perennials that help reduce weeds while brightening up our yard with an explosion of flowers and beauty.

I dream of spring…I know that it is on its way!

Posted in Frugality, Garden Planning | Leave a comment

Financial Lessons to Take to Heart

Having declared full Chapter 7 bankruptcy over seven years ago, I am hesitant to give financial advice. I mean hell, what do I know? I messed up BAD, after all.

It was a hell of a lesson, but one that I learned from and I am determined to not repeat.

Recently, however, several financial situations came up that reminded me – just because I haven’t been perfect, there are still lessons I can and should pass on.

Lesson #1 – Establish Your Reliability

I recently flubbed up and issued a large payment out of the wrong bank account. It meant an overdraw of hundreds more than I had in the account and of course, there was an overdraft fee.

That overdraft fee was refunded when I went to the bank and explained the situation.

The clerk looked over the banking history, “Wow, you never bounce checks, EVER.”

They refunded me the fee, even though the mistake had been my fault, because I thought to ask AND I had a pristine record of not bouncing checks.

You can establish your reliability, and keep slush funds in your account even if you don’t make a lot of money by following the next lesson – creating a budget.

Establishing your financial reliability is crucial to avoiding the fees, charges, and more that will not only damage your credit, but make life a little more expensive.

Lesson #2 – Create a Budget and Stick to It!

I have been using a budget, rather obsessively I might add, for more than 20 years. It’s morphed from hand-written in a notebook to an Excel file – but it remains pretty much the same.

  • Income – This means counting all sources of income – my husband’s is easy, mine comes from multiple sources (writing, teaching, cleaning biz, and caretaking)
  • Expense – Whether it is monthly or non-monthly expenses, it includes everything I can think of from home repair to my daughter’s summer camp expenses, long-term and short-term savings, and the costs of renovating the two properties we are turning into Airbnb’s
  • Creating a slush between the two – Not only can your expenses not exceed your income, but you need a slush fund because, let’s face it, life happens. The flat tire on a busy highway or the suddenly dead refrigerator are an inevitable fact of life – crap happens when you least expect it or want it. I strive for a $300 slush between total expenses (this includes savings) and total income.

Part of creating a realistic budget includes tracking where your money is being spent. I use Quicken. It has its issues and quirks, but frankly, there aren’t a ton of financial software programs out there that seem to fit my needs, which includes being able to categorize my spending into specific categories that match my expectations. So Quicken does all right with that. In any case, I advise everyone get Quicken, but you could do some kind of Excel file if cost were an issue.

What helps with financial software is that you are able to truly examine WHAT you are spending your money on.

You might be sipping your double macchiato frappe from Starbucks and thinking, “I barely spend any money!” but that $5.49 that you just spent on your way to work, can turn into right around $120 in coffee splurging in just one month. Comparatively, a bag of coffee at IKEA will cost you $5.99 and last you all month.

Lesson #3 – Avoid Rolling It Over

While I was sitting in the bank with my favorite bank officer getting that mess all worked out, we got to talking. Eventually, it shifted over to responsible financial behavior and the lessons I had learned from bankruptcy.

I told him, “Nowadays, if I can’t afford to pay off a “special 0% offer” within the time frame allowed by the credit card, I don’t take it. Say I’ve got a credit card offering me 0% for 18 months, if, and only if, I can pay off the entire balance in 17 months easily, I won’t borrow the money.”

“Well you could just roll it over into another 0% card,” he said in response.

“And that’s what messed us up the last time. I was borrowing money without a clear payoff date and without the resources to pay it off.”

Look at it this way, the goal should be to be debt-free and have a significant reserve of money (on books and off in the form of cash). Strive towards that goal.

When we found ourselves having to accept an high interest rate on a loan for the RV, I paid the maximum I could afford to pay (over 3x their minimum payment) and then paid the balance off with a 0% credit card offer that I knew I could finish paying off in 18 months. The same thing happened with the Cottage East – I knew it desperately needed a roof, so we signed on the dotted line for nearly 10% interest rate, and I immediately began paying 4x the minimum payment and just recently put into play a 0% offer for 18 months with only a 2% transfer rate. The remaining balance on the roof will be paid off in the half of the time I originally planned on and just 1/4 of the time that they expected, saving us over $1,000 in interest.

Rolling your balances over into 0% offers and only paying minimums, endlessly extending the debt with no payoff date in sight, is courting disaster.

Meanwhile, a dozen things could go wrong. You could get in an accident, lose your job, have to take time off of work, et cetera. Avoiding the rollover, and even better, avoiding the debt in the first place should be your plan – not extending the debt indefinitely.

Lesson #4 – Build Your Reserves

There are actually two parts to this that I will go into detail below, but the bottom line is, shit happens. You are going along, happily on your way to work and your tire blows out, or you come home to a busted water heater, or a dozen other little things that happen when you least expect it and most certainly when you cannot afford it.

So build your reserves. Take the extra $25 or $50 and set it aside. Build those reserves so that when shit happens, and it most certainly will, it hurts a little less.

Here is how I try to avoid life’s bumps in the road…

  • Establish a non-monthly expense account and put a set amount into it each month.

I actually refer to this as our NME account and it is a monthly amount I set aside to handle the non-monthly expenses such as (but not limited to): car repairs, car insurance, home repair, the kiddo’s education and summer day camp expenses, gift buying, and clothing.

  • Have an emergency fund of cash available at all times

Cash is king. Have you gotten a tip? A couple of twenties from your favorite relative? Set it aside. My goal is to have at least $5,000 available, in cash, at any time. I haven’t gotten there yet (not even close) but it is a cushion for when the crap hits the fan or I see something I want to buy on Craig’s List (or some other place that only takes cash). It will be worth your while to do this – even if it means cutting back on a beer or two, a run to Mickey D’s for your favorite combo meal, et cetera. Build that reserve – because crap happens ALL THE TIME.

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Posted in Financial Advice | Leave a comment

Looking Back and Looking Forward – A Year in Review

With just a week left in 2017, I’ve taken a break from formatting and marketing to reflect back on 2017 and also to look forward at what 2018 has in store for us…

Loss and Gain

There have been some huge financial hits this year.

We started out the year by shelling out nearly $4,000 in expenses and lost wages to rescue my dad from Panama.

Having the Cottage West held hostage by a loan we co-signed on and had agreed to begin paying on in 2018 was the second big hit of the year. Sinking $32k into a house that was for a short time in my eldest’s name turned out to be not such a good idea. Especially when she threatened to sell it if we didn’t repay the $10k we had borrowed (by co-signing on a student loan) before 2018. When your spider senses start a’tingling, listen to them, no matter what or who you are dealing with. But hey, lesson learned. I won’t be doing that again!

And if those two hits weren’t enough, we also saw a parade of appliance failures and car repairs. Ai carumba, what a year! That was on the heels of paying over $6,000 to a contractor who abandoned us mid-project despite a plethora of promises that she never delivered on at the end of 2016.

This delayed much of our scheduled repairs on Cottage West.

We gained (sort of, still need to finish paying for it) – a 1956 Flying Cloud Airstream trailer that we hope to turn into a recreational vehicle for ourselves, and possibly Airbnb when we are not using it.

The newest money pit – Cottage East

And we gained yet another decrepit money pit property – the house to our east, now dubbed Cottage East. The timing of the purchase wasn’t the best – and we have the city breathing down our necks on the inherited code violations (along with nearly three years of back taxes), but in the end, ownership of this second adjacent house will be in our favor.

Eventually, the Cottages will be completed and ready to be used as Airbnb properties. Not in the time frame I might have hoped for, but life is full of unexpected bumps and my job is to roll with it and get our goals accomplished, however delayed that time frame might be.

I have one more gain and loss to share – and that revolves around weight.

When Dad arrived here, he was malnourished and fragile. He weighed only 120 pounds! He is now 143.8 according to a recent doctor’s visit. His blood sugars are much better and I make sure he keeps up on his medications.

As for me, I’m on a weight loss regimen – well, sort of. I started at over 220 and managed to get down to 205.5 before the weight started creeping up again. I’m currently at 209 and hoping to tackle some more serious weight loss after the holidays.

This Year’s Lessons

I’ve learned a lot this year. Man oh man has it been a learning curve in so many ways!

In particular, I have learned volumes from interpersonal relationships and what I am willing to tolerate and what I am not, as well as a nitty-gritty re-assessment of my own personal views, beliefs, and more.

Some of my takeaways include:

  • You can only chase after someone for so long trying to have a relationship with them. In this case, it was my eldest child, and I realized it was time to let her go. In some ways, it feels as if I have been chasing after her for her entire life. Part of being on the front lines of single parenthood means your child will blame you for what you did, what you didn’t do, and everything in between. It doesn’t help when you have an ex-husband who just loves to make you into the bad guy while not doing one single thing to help parent a child or be responsible in any way. Sometimes they (ex-husbands and kids) will even make crap up to suit their own narrative. You don’t have to accept it, believe it, or take it on. Sometimes it is best to just walk away, no matter how much you want them to love you back.
  • I no longer need or require or even particularly desire my parents’ approval. This has been a long time coming. And having my dad in my house, through a cascade of failures on his part to properly plan for the day he could no longer care for himself (accelerated by lack of proper self-care), along with a long-overdue firmer stance with my mom, has brought me back to center. Realizing I now have more parenting experience than either of them had was one of the biggies. And shocker of shockers, I’m no longer okay with them imposing their wills or beliefs on me. At the ripe young age of 47, I finally have grown a mind of my own. They can like it or not, but I am who I am, and I’m quite unapologetic about it. Getting to this point has been rather freeing, and I couldn’t have done it without some of the difficult experiences I have lived through in the past year.
  • I’m actually a decent human being – who knew? I say this honestly, not tongue in cheek. It’s been a long time coming, and a long walk uphill. I’ve questioned myself more than most, hated every mistake I have ever made, and basically hung my failings about my own neck like an albatross from hell reminder that I was not perfect. I’ve made hundreds of mistakes as a mother, a wife, and just in general. The support of friends during some particularly trying times reminded me that all of those mistakes make me human. Nothing more, nothing less.
  • I succeeded at homeschooling and I haven’t ruled it out for the years to come. In the wake of some particularly painful half-truths from the eldest, I fell into a cycle of self-doubt about all of my parenting abilities – particularly in the realm of education. I made the decision this fall to stop homeschooling and send Em to public school. It has been quite a lesson for all involved. Em scored at grade level or above (all the way to 11th grade in science!) in all core subjects. Her teachers adore her and she is happy and doing very well in our little neighborhood school. That said, Em and I both are interested in her returning to homeschooling after 6th grade (she’s currently in 5th) and I’m enjoying the extra time off right now and making use of it to further ensure that when we return to it, I will be doing so without the need to work outside the home any longer cleaning houses. That leads to the next lesson…
  • If I want to earn a living as a writer, I must market myself incessantly. I learned this lesson late this year, around the middle of November, actually. It is, however, an important lesson to have finally learned. I am determined to make a go of it, and I have turned my focus rather doggedly to this endeavor. Which is why you will see…

Less Blog Updates Here

Years ago, a favorite writer of mine, Mercedes Lackey, explained in a blog post why she was not continuing any further episodes of the Diana Tregarde series (which I loved). She pointed out, as politely as possible, that there had to be some financial reward at the end of it. The book had not seen good sales and she had to walk away from the series and focus on the things that would pay.

And in that vein, I have to admit that my blog here gets limited attention and, as far as I can tell, makes me no money at all. So that tells me that I need to be focused elsewhere and give this blog minimal attention.

I plan on blogging at least once a month here, more often if I find a particular recipe or local event that needs to be talked about.

I hope you will follow my exploits over at my author website or check out my books on Amazon. I will also be expanding my writing into other markets as well quite soon.

And as for Mercedes Lackey, I can’t help but wonder if she could resurrect the series as an Indie author, but that is a story for another day.

More Gardening and Property Upgrades in the Spring

I would like to put in a limited crop garden this year. I’m thinking 5-10 tomato plants, kale, lettuce, and carrots. We have planted several fruiting bushes, and I’m looking forward to caring for those better and encouraging them to grow and produce (along with our fruit trees who are now in their 3rd and 4th years).

I am planning on re-lay the brick pathways in several areas.

Finishing that back fence would be awesome as well!

Huge Changes A’Coming

In January, my husband and I will begin the last leg of the qualification process to become foster parents.

Boom – mic drop.

Yep, I know. HUGE change, right?

No, we are not planning on filling our house with children. But I would like just one more kiddo. Menopause has clearly shown itself to be real and in my face, but at 47, I’m not done yet. So we are applying to foster and adopt one child.

We passed all of the necessary background checks and now we just have the foster training and adoption classes to attend. It won’t be an instant thing. It is still months away, but it is becoming very real now that training is just around the corner.

My eldest often talked about adopting a child. Frankly, I never really even thought about it for myself until a few years ago when an odd situation presented itself. A letter from Oklahoma family services turned out to be the last step in the severing of parental rights and adoption of a child who, while not related to us, was related to my husband’s cousin. What I found interesting was our reaction to the thought of this child, and our willingness to step forward and offer her a home. Once we learned the full story, including that she had been in a foster home for a full year and was well-adjusted and loved and wanted by that foster family – we backed off. If we had been contacted at the beginning of it, before the child had bonded with her foster parents, that would have been different.

It left me with the realization that I was more than willing to step forward and do this. And as the reality of menopause set in, I knew too that there were not as many choices in front of me as there once were.

And yes, I have thought it through. We both have. Children are a lot of responsibility and commitment. I love watching children grow and develop, and make their way to adulthood. I love being a part of that. And I’m very excited about opening up our hearts and home to a child who needs a stable home and loving family.

I also have a strong belief in reunification when possible – that if a child and their biological parents can be reunified, they should. So the upcoming months and year in front of us will be uncertain and fraught with possible love and loss. It will be challenging for all of us. And it will also be very worthwhile. Of that I am certain.

Dialing Down and Focusing on Those Priorities

As 2017 draws to a close and 2018 is wide open before me, I am honing my focus down to:

  • Family – maintaining the strong relationships with my husband and daughter as we progress into welcoming another person into our home in the next few months
  • Writing – growing my income from a few $$ a day to eventually replacing the income I make cleaning so I can be at home every day for my family
  • Health – continuing my weight loss, increasing my walking, and continuing to lower my A1C blood glucose levels to the normal range (currently at pre-diabetic but I have seen a reduction)
  • Airbnb renovation projects – resume renovations on Cottage West and Cottage East by mid-2018

Join My Subscriber List – Read Exclusive Material for Free

If you haven’t signed up for my free monthly newsletter, do it now!

One email per month, plus subscriber-only access to short stories that fill in the details of the vast Kapalaran Universe that exists in my mind. The Gliese, War’s End and upcoming Chronicles of Liv Rowan series are intrinsically connected to one another and you will get to see them firsthand.

Here is what my subscribers get in each monthly email:

  • The link and password to the FREE short story of the month (companion pieces to my already existing fictional works)
  • Updates on any upcoming free book promotion and discounted ebook deals
  • A summary of all of my blog posts (I post in four different blogs on a variety of cool subjects) for the month
  • An organizing “tip of the month” (remember, I wrote this GREAT organizing book)
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Here is wishing every one of you a fantastic and promising New Year!

Posted in AirBnB, Challenges, Community | Leave a comment

Art, Tacos and More

Arts Alley Then Tacos

The hubs and I slipped out to Mission Taco Joint at Crossroads for a bite to eat. It was the first time we had been, but it sure won’t be the last. The Mango Hop-Anero Shrimp taco is to die for, sooo good! You can look at their menu here.

But first, we stopped by this rather cool alley. I found the art interesting and cool…

There are some very talented artists in Kansas City!

They Look Closed


We really should have checked the website before loading up our van with a ton of half-empty paint cans.

Because they were most definitely closed today. Soooo…on Thursday we can try again. We inherited quite a few with the house, at least 200 partly empty cans. Thankfully, the city allows you to bring as many as you can hump on down to them at their East Bottoms location just a half a block down from the Habitat for Humanity Restore.

Yummy Soup!

My husband loves bean bacon soup and I whipped some up last night, adding in both bacon and ham. It turned out creamy and wonderful.

Here is the recipe…


  • 2 cans white beans*
  • 6 cups water
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 8 strips of bacon
  • 1 stalk of celery, sliced thin
  • 1 carrot, shredded
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 cup chopped ham
  • 1 Tbsp pork bouillon (or 3 cubes)
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp garlic salt


Cook the bacon and remove with a slotted spoon, reserve 1-2 tablespoons of the drippings and use them to saute the celery, carrot and onion until thoroughly cooked. Add water, celery, carrot, onion, bouillon and seasonings to a large soup pot and bring to a boil.

Add beans, bacon and chopped ham to soup. Mix milk and flour in a separate bowl, whisking until smooth. Add to soup and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 20 minutes and allow the flavors to fully mix.

Serve with crackers or crusty French bread.

*I can my own beans, so I use two pint jars. Two 15 oz cans of white beans, drained and rinsed, works just as well.

Enjoy, I know we did.

I’m working on getting all of my recipes in order and on my website. Let me know if you have any trouble with the links or if I’m missing a photo here or there, I’ll do my best to correct it!


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Posted in Community, Recipes, Recycle | Comments Off on Art, Tacos and More

Chocolate Cake for the WIN!

Last Thursday was my mother’s 70th birthday and I was booked solid with cleanings and errands. Knowing this in advance, and also knowing how difficult it can be to connect with her, I sent her an email…

I’ve got a full week ahead of me on the weekdays, but Saturday is wide open.

So here is what I’m going to do. I’ll be serving a yummy lunch (what I’m not sure yet) along with a beautiful home-baked devil’s food cake. It will even have candles on it.

At approximately 12:30, we will gather together and eat lunch with yummy aforementioned cake directly after. We will look awfully silly singing Happy Birthday to you if you are NOT here, so I would suggest that you plan on being here at noon. Then, if you want to go do something, I am available for at least a couple of hours – we could go to an estate sale or something!

This worked, and she emailed me back to tell me she would be here.

Now, I’m new to homemade cake-baking. I’ve made a couple over the years, but it isn’t a regular thing, and I had never made a devil’s food cake. I knew that was her favorite, so I decided to give it a try.

I found a recipe online and altered it.

In the end? Mom loved the cake and said it was, “the best chocolate cake she had ever tasted.” What we did not devour then and there was quickly dispatched the next day. So quickly, as a matter of fact, that there is no photographic evidence that such a cake ever existed (yup, that’s a stock photo above). Believe me, it did, and we are all (especially me and Mom) a little fatter for it.

The icing is to die for. I have some remaining in the fridge. And no, I won’t be sharing it with you. Not one single bite. Go make your own!

The Best Chocolate Cake EVER

Here is the recipe as I made it…


  • 16 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 – 1/2 cups heavy cream


  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 – 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 12 Tbsp butter at room temperature (plus more for buttering pans)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 – 1/4 cups water
  • 1/4 cup milk


To make the frosting: Put the chocolate and cream in a double-boiler over medium heat (remember to add water to the bottom section!) Gently whisk until the chocolate has all melted and incorporated into the cream. The mixture should be smooth. Remember, gentle is the ticket, otherwise you end up with butter!

Cover the surface of the frosting with plastic wrap. Set aside and let set up at room temperature until it is mostly cooled off, then refrigerate it to have it set up further and be easy to spread.

To make the cake: Set a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Lightly butter two 9-inch round cake pans and line the bottoms with a circle of parchment or wax paper.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter at medium speed until smooth, about 2 minutes. Increase the speed to medium-high and slowly add the sugar. Continue beating until light and smooth, about 4 minutes. Turn the mixer off and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Add the cocoa powder and vanilla and beat at medium speed for 1 minute more. (Stop the machine and scrape down the sides of the bowl again, if needed.) With the mixer running at medium-low speed, add the eggs, one at a time, beating for 1 minute between each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Combine the water and milk in a saucepan and bring just to a boil. Remove from the heat.

With the mixer at low speed, add the flour mixture, about a 1/4 cup at a time. Carefully pour the hot liquid into the batter. Remove the bowl from the mixer and, using a large rubber spatula, finish combining the batter until smooth. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans.

The batter may seem rather runny, but will set up perfectly in the oven, don’t worry!

Set the pans on the middle rack in the oven. Bake until the cakes begin to pull away from the sides of the pans and the center springs back when touched lightly, about 30 to 35 minutes.

Cool the cakes, in the pans, on a rack for 10 minutes. Turn the cake layers out of the pans and cool on the rack. (If not assembling the cake right away, wrap the layers in plastic wrap and store at room temperature for up to 1 day, or freeze for up to 2 months.)

Assemble the Devil’s Food Cake. Place 1 cake layer upside-down on a cake stand or flat plate. Scoop about 1/3 of the icing onto the center of the layer. Using a large, offset spatula, spread the icing evenly over the layer to the edges. Place the other cake layer, rounded-side up, on top. Evenly spread half of the remaining icing over the top, spreading any excess icing down the sides. Spread the remaining icing on the sides of the cake. Use the tip of the offset spatula to make a swirling pattern in the icing. Serve. Store under a cake dome or loosely wrapped with plastic, at room temperature, for up to 2 days.

If it lasts that long…because it tastes so good…

I had leftover icing which I’m considering using to cover some fresh baked cupcakes. But honestly? I just might eat the frosting straight because it is that good.

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Posted in Baking/Cooking, Recipes | Comments Off on Chocolate Cake for the WIN!

The 6th Annual NEKCHS Homes Tour

I meant to post this a month ago, I truly did.

And then I began to feel bad that I only saw four of the locations. “How can I post pictures of the tour with only four of the stops? The others might feel left out!”

I was serving as a docent in the afternoon, so the morning was rushed trying to get to as many stops as possible before I quickly ate lunch and reported for duty at one of my favorite homes (of which I have no pictures!).

In any case, I decided I would go ahead and show folks just what they are missing by not going on these fantastic tours of old homes.

There are so many great ideas and fascinating details to be found in the windows and woodwork of these lovely homes. Even the one undergoing renovation is important. Here we have a distinct “before renovation” and you see how much work goes into projects like these. It is truly a labor of love!


100 Garfield Avenue – “The Castle”

Built for Dr. Flavel Benjamin Tiffany in 1909, the newest owners bought this gorgeous building in 2016…

1836 Pendleton Avenue

Constructed in 1888 for Phillip E. Chappell, the former mayor of Jefferson County, Missouri and the Missouri State Treasurer, this home has been in the Palazola family since 1934.

1731 Pendleton Avenue

Built in 1905, the original owners of this house were Mr. & Mrs. Lafayette Trabor. In 2016 this home was purchased by Alan and Jessica Bossert who are fully restoring this home. It is important to see what kind of condition these homes often are in – it makes the adventure of their restoration all the more amazing!

1841 Pendleton Avenue

Built in 1889 for Augustine “Gus” P. Marty, this home has been brought back from ruin by Nathan and Marian Wegener, who dealt with pigeons, bees and raccoons as they worked hard to restore this home to its original beauty.

Again, I do apologize for not being able to show ALL of the destinations on the tour.

I love the little details that go into making these homes such amazing showcases of the old and new, and I can’t wait to see more homes!

Remember, NEKCHS holds a home tour every year, the second Saturday in October. Mark your calendars, because this is one event no one should miss!

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I write about everything from gardening and community, to education, the writing process, DIY, and more. I maintain four blogs, write fiction and non-fiction books, and I am a community educator.

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Posted in Community, Events/Tours | 2 Comments

What I See Happening Here Instead

The last few months have seen an upswing in gun violence, burglary, car chases and more.

And perhaps I’m more of an optimist (although I prefer Optimistic Realist, thank you very much) because while I see the crime (or rather hear about it), I also see…

Local Kids Participating in NaNoWriMo

I was invited by my daughter’s teacher to come by an after-school session of NaNoWriMo. For those of you not in the know, November is known as National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) which is empowering for writers and aspiring writers alike.

I walked around the room, stopping to talk with the kids, answer questions on spelling, and more. There were at least fifteen of them in the room – snacking on chips, typing away, and having a fun time.

It makes me wish that NaNoWriMo had been a thing when I was a kid. I don’t remember being encouraged to write – certainly shamed for not writing in the assigned journals we all had to complete – but not encouraged to write in any other fashion.

This changed in high school in San Francisco when I attended a small private school where we primarily learned out of books through independent study. It was there that I was allowed to escape from the torturous diagramming of sentences and instead jump headlong into the creative process.

I love that my daughter’s fifth-grade teacher was hosting this and encouraging the kids to just write, in whatever form it took.

When we moved here four and a half years ago, we had been homeschooling our daughter for a couple of years. I joked that we were half committed before to it, and fully committed to homeschooling now that we lived in the city itself.

Circumstances changed and when we enrolled the kiddo this year, I had a great deal of mixed feelings and trepidation. I am, however, incredibly impressed with the kindness, involvement, and dedication that each of my daughter’s teachers provide to her and to her classmates.

As homeschoolers, we encountered and tried to dispel many myths about what homeschool is or can do. On the flip side, however, I’ve learned that not all public school is the same, and that there are some phenomenal teachers out there.

After Ms. L. told the group, “Christine is our visiting author” the kids came up, looked at my books, and asked questions.

“How long does it take to write a book?” was the predominant question.

They seemed a little daunted by the answer – “It depends. For me, anywhere from six weeks to several years.”

I can’t help imagining one or more of these kids in a few years – cranking out a YA masterpiece that will change their lives and start them on a writing path.

Harmony Project KC

I can’t say enough good things about Harmony Project KC!

From the phenomenal teachers and their smiling faces, to the difference they make in so many children’s lives, our community is lucky to have them.

My daughter was in the very first class, nearly three years ago now, and plays the cello.

In case you are new to the area, Harmony Project KC provides FREE music education to youth living in the Northeast area. This includes singing in a choir, learning to read music, play the recorder and other basic instruments, and then transitioning to classical instruments (again, all provided at zero cost) such as the cello, viola and violin.

They recently added more instruments, but I’ve been out of the loop on what those are.

You can learn more about them by visiting their website and their Facebook page.


Our Neighborhood Associations

As silly as it might sound, I had never heard of neighborhood associations before moving here. And I questioned the need or worth of them until I had attended plenty of meetings.

Even after my husband joined our neighborhood association in Lykins and eventually ended up as president, I remained dubious. What was it really for? What could it accomplish?

And until this fall, an evening class for the kiddo had prevented me from attending our Lykins monthly meetings on the 2nd Monday. I went to November’s meeting, the first in a year or two that I was able to attend, and was bowled over.

There were speakers, so many of them, and they were talking about investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in rehabbing existing structures (currently abandoned), building new housing in vacant lots, and revitalizing an area that I have come to love.

We also were lucky to have a police officer, one of those tasked with community outreach, available to give us a “Crime and Grime” update, as well as someone from the CID and NEAT, asking for help with creating more safe and crime-free destinations for our youth to go to on Friday and Saturday nights.

I found myself volunteering, having come straight from NaNoWriMo at our local elementary school, to host a writing class for teens. In the up and coming Maker Space on 12th, which is where we hold the neighborhood association meetings, there are classrooms being built that could eventually accommodate that.

I left the meeting so excited about the future of our neighborhood. In my mind’s eye I could see cute bungalows rising in the empty lots, decrepit and boarded up homes sparkling with a fresh coat of paint and new windows – and all of them filled with families of all ethnicities and walks of life.

If you want to see the future of our community, you need to attend one of your neighborhood association meetings.

Northeast Kansas City Historical Society

I moved here to live in an old home. I adore old homes and consider it a banner day when I get to see the inside of one and explore the changes the years have wrought upon it.

Each year, the Northeast Kansas City Historical Society holds a walking tour of around 4-6 homes. We were lucky enough to be one of those homes on the 2016 tour. All of the years (all six) have been phenomenal and it is a joy to hang out with others who share my love of architecture and want to help preserve it.

If you love the older architecture here in Kansas City and would like to:

  • See and learn more about it
  • Attend a home tour (or serve as a docent – you get to see them for free when you do!)
  • Meet others (including a historian) who share your interests
  • Support a group dedicated to preserving our architectural history

Then I strongly recommend you consider a membership with NEKCHS. It’s just $20 per year and you will get reduced prices on tickets for the Homes Tour the second Saturday of October, as well as a discount on their books and merchandise.

They also have an amazing book out that highlights so many of our historic properties and a second one coming out in February 2018!

These Are Only a Few

I’ve listed a small handful of organizations and activities that are occurring. Half a dozen more have occurred to me while writing about these!

There are so many good things happening in our area. And I hope to continue to focus on the positive, not the negative, even as we take steps to stop the negative from occurring.

I count myself as lucky to live here and I hope that you do as well.

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I write about everything from gardening and community, to education, the writing process, DIY, and more. I maintain four blogs, write fiction and non-fiction books, and I am a community educator.

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Posted in Advocacy, Community | Comments Off on What I See Happening Here Instead

Reinforced Shelving and Pesto Bread

I used to hate winter. Now I love it – well, I don’t love the cold but I do love the time inside for projects and especially love whipping up some comfort food.

Reinforced Shelving

A couple of months ago, one of the big shelves from IKEA was wrenched out of the wall by the weight of the books on it. CRASH! We came home to a kitchen splashed in purple, littered with glass shards, and reeking of spilled wine.

It was impossible to get back up on the wall and my dear husband’s patience was put to the test. With nothing but lath and plaster walls – we couldn’t find a stud, and the anchors the first hardware store sold us were easily bent and broken.

We needed something with a little more oomph to stop these shelves from coming down again.

After diligent research, my hubs found just the tool and we took down and reinstalled ALL of the shelves so that we would no longer have to worry about them capsizing on us.

Pesto Bread and Leftover Soup for Dinner – YUM!

Thanks to no central a/c and only window units during the hot summer months, my attitude towards fall and winter has changed dramatically. I used to HATE the onset of winter, but now, instead of just shivering in the cold, I smile and turn on the oven. It is the perfect time for baking bread and dishing up some hearty soups.

The minute it gets cold, and I do mean the minute, I am in the kitchen and whipping up yummies to fill our stomachs and chase away the cold.

And as I put the finishing touches on organizing my pantry and my open kitchen shelves I suddenly envisioned fresh-baked bread with pesto and parmesan.

Now I had never made it before, so I paged through a couple of possible recipes online and finally just prepped it like I would my Chile Cheese Bread recipe, except I substituted parmesan for the cheddar and pesto for the chiles. I wish I had some pine nuts, that would have been a lovely addition!

Next time, for sure!

Here is the recipe for the Pesto Bread. Enjoy!

  • 3 cups lukewarm water
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp yeast
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp salt
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp sugar
  • 3 Tbsp pesto
  • 1 cup shredded parmesan cheese
  • 6 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts

Mix the water, yeast, salt, sugar, pesto, and cheese together. Add the flour and pine nuts and mix with a wooden spoon until dough is mixed and resembles a “shaggy” consistency. Cover and let rise for two hours.

Cut off 1/4 of the dough, dusting your hands thoroughly with flour and shape it into a ball. Place on a baking pan with a non-stick surface, liberally dusted with cornmeal. Let it rise again for 20 minutes or longer if you have refrigerated the dough.

Heat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit, add a baking pan to the bottom shelf of the oven. When the oven has come to temperature, place the dough (baking sheet and all) in the oven and add one cup of water to the baking pan below and shut the door. Bake for 25 minutes, more or less may be needed for bigger or smaller loaves.

Loaves should be a golden brown on the outside.

This batch turned out rather well. The husband was quite happy, as was I.

The strong flavor of the pesto turned off the “kids” – my 11-year-old and the 71-year-old overgrown kid of the house, but hey, the “adults” liked it!

Organized Pantry

After running to the grocery store on Saturday morning and somehow losing a freshly bought jar of pickles to the chaos of a disorganized pantry – I realized it was time to reorganize it.

And this time I was going to label it!

It didn’t take long. It was mostly organized already, but enough things had been moved or set into place in random areas to make it confusing.

Canned chiles for example – we had them scattered in three different spots. So now I have eight cans of chiles. Which should last me through spring, possibly longer.

It sure is nice to have it all organized and labeled!

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  • Book promotions and special pricing
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  • Current writing projects and plans
  • Links to all of my monthly blog posts – I post in four different blogs, so it can be easy to miss one.
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I Miss Sleeping

The hot flashes have subsided. In fact, I haven’t had one in weeks. But sleeping the whole night through? I wish!

I seem to manage about 5-6 hours a night, where before I was a strict eight hours a night kind of gal.

I hate the idea of taking sleep aids, but I’m telling something has got to give if I keep waking up so early in the morning!

I took one last night and only woke up to the chaos of three dogs jumping off of the bed at 6:30 in the morning. It is a daily race to the the bottom of the stairs, down the hall, through the kitchen and utility room to jump over each other trying to get outside when one of us opens the door. I refer to it as “the running of the dogs.”

It was fantastic to get a full night’s sleep. In fact, I think I managed over NINE hours of snoozing.

So wonderful!

Melatonin seems to wear off after about six hours and Tylenol PM is what I took last night, but I would really like to find something natural that will keep me asleep for my needed eight hours.

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I write about everything from gardening and community, to education, the writing process, DIY, and more. I maintain four blogs, write fiction and non-fiction books, and I am a community educator.

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Posted in Challenges, DIY, Organized Living (and cleaning), Recipes | Comments Off on Reinforced Shelving and Pesto Bread

Rest In Peace Porch Cat

My dad has described his parents as folks who “always brought home strays.” I think in their case it was of the human variety, but I tend to find the furred variety on my doorstep and invite it in.

About a year and a half, nearly two years ago – my husband noticed a gray tabby. He had a hurt leg and was limping. He was also scared to death of humans and bolted (as quick as you can on three legs) whenever one of us came near.

At the time we had one inside/outside cat – Einstein – who is now in his twelfth year – and they seemed to tolerate each other pretty well. Einstein did his best to ignore Porch Cat and Porch Cat was pretty laid back (except for running like the devil himself was in pursuit anytime we showed our faces).

We began to set the food bowl outside for Einstein and Porch Cat – something the local neighborhood possum appreciated as well [sigh].

And after over a year, even longer, Porch Cat began to be less and less nervous, and even allowed us to pet him occasionally. Just a touch of fingers, then a light rub, and finally, finally, a good scratch behind the ears.

He grew to be a fixture on our front porch, lolling on a chair cushion or the carpet – and finally even came to like visitors and their attention.

About a month ago, my husband walked out of the house early in the morning to find the most incongruous scene before him – a possum and Porch Cat – spooning on a chair on the front porch! The possum ran away, but Porch Cat didn’t, he knew he was safe.

On Monday, shortly after my daughter Em returned home from school. I let out the dogs into the backyard and as Em and I were talking we heard a strange sound. Em walked over to a window to look to see what the sound was and began screaming incoherently and running for the back door.

Our three dogs, unfamiliar with Porch Cat, were attacking him in the dog yard. Em stopped the attack and Porch Cat limped away to a windowsill. It was chaos – our neighbors came running after hearing the screaming, Em was crying and hysterical, my heart was pounding so hard I thought it would burst, and the cat was terrified and growling at my attempts to coax him into a kennel and take him to the animal hospital.

There he was treated for shock, including IV fluids and pain meds, and he was also tested for FLV (Feline Leukemia Virus a.k.a. Feline AIDS). We learned today that he tested positive. This was heartbreaking.

As an outdoor cat – he represented an infectious danger to every cat in the neighborhood. Most were, I am sure, without FLV vaccine protection. As an indoor cat, if he even COULD be an indoor cat, he represented an infectious danger to our indoor cat.

And so we made the hard decision to put him down. I will be having our indoor/outdoor cat checked tomorrow, and put down if he has it, because he has already shown a proclivity for outdoor living (i.e. he craps on the floor if he’s kept inside).

The indoor-only cat will be tested as well, but we will keep her regardless of results. She will always be an indoor cat and there will simply be no other cats in the house while she is here.

The kiddo has cried buckets on every day this week. She sobbed as we got into the car at the vet’s office without Porch Cat and said, “I know we are doing the right thing, but it sure doesn’t FEEL right.”

It’s a punch in the gut, to be sure.

Animals come into our lives, and we do the best that we can for them. We love them, care for them, feed them – and all I can think is that we did the best we could for Porch Cat. His last nine months on earth were good ones. He will be remembered with fondness.

Rest in peace, Porch Cat.

Posted in Critters, Pets | Comments Off on Rest In Peace Porch Cat