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This blog was started in 2008 when we did IVF for the first time to build our family after 5 1/2 years of infertility. We now have 7 and 1 year old boys (thanks to modern medicine) and we are enjoying our blessed life as parents ♥ In the summer of 2016 we took another huge step and moved across the country from Oklahoma to New York! This blog is about life and everything in between



Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Kitchen Remodel Phase IV: Tile Backsplash

We have finally started the LAST phase of our kitchen updates! The last post I made here was Phase III where we finished the countertops right before Thanksgiving. Our intentions were to finish the backsplash and be done before Christmas.....needless to say things did not work out that way because the holiday season is crazy! So early in January we regrouped and came up with a plan of action. God bless my sister-in-law Teri for loaning us her wet saw and tiling supplies! We officially picked out our tiles but discovered that the 1/4 round tile we wanted for a transition piece had to be ordered. They told us it would take 2 weeks to come in but ended up taking 3.....we picked it up last week and got to work!

Here is a reminder of the "before" shot with white laminate backsplash all around.....


A few things I want to state before going on--we have never done tile work before. We basically watched tons of videos and how-tos online to teach ourselves the tricks. We did not remove the laminate but we did sand it. The counters are not the most level (which we discovered while relaminating them) and neither is the backsplash. Nick was afraid that regular mastic (used to adhere the tile to the wall) would not stick well to the laminate so he decided we should use Liquid Nails....don't judge!

We have 3 walls that have a backsplash--two are pretty long, and one is shorter and hidden beside the fridge. We started with that short wall just in case anything messed up and so we could get used to the routine.

First we glued down a row of the 1/4 round black tile as our transitional piece. They are 6" wide and 1" tall. This took a couple of hours because we had to figure out how to use the wet saw, how we wanted to glue, if we wanted to go from left to right or vice versa.....we may or may not have argued a bit....The next day we glued the 1/4 round tile along the rest of the edges on the other 2 sides, then came back on the short wall (that was now dry) and began the row of our 6x6 tile.


We immediately encountered some pesky outlets and switches to cut around but thanks to my crafty mind we did that without troubles. I measured/traced the outline, and he cut.


On the long wall above our kitchen sink we had to maneuver around outlets AND a wonky window sill which left us with a tile that had to be cut like this.....



When we moved the stove out I had to get creative because there was no counter for the tiles to line up with and rest on while drying. I nailed our level onto the wall and used that for my temporary "counter" to maintain my straight line across the wall.


The weather was so cold the last couple of days that the water froze in the lines of our wet saw! We had to postpone tiling until today when it was a bit warmer. We finished up the last few 6x6 tiles on one wall then began the strip of mosaic tiles! They are a combination of stone, metal, and glass tiles that go perfectly with our new kitchen. They cut much quicker than the porcelain tiles and are almost like fitting a jigsaw puzzle together! We are saving every little piece that gets cut off to use for filling in gaps around edges and outlets. The mosaic tile was the most expensive of all the tile so we don't have any room for mistakes on it.


Today we finished the mosaic tile on two of the walls, and ran out of glue before we could finish the third long wall. Tomorrow we will get back to it and start on the next row of more 6x6 tiles. I am off this weekend and hoping that we will get it DONE.

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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A Night of Great Music

On Sunday I took my mom on a roadtrip to Tulsa for one of her early birthday presents--a Tony Bennett concert!! We both love his music and of course he is a classic from the good ole' days. I picked her up and we hit the road in the afternoon.



 Before the concert started we found the venue (Tulsa Performing Arts Center) downtown and figured out where I would park. After that I felt a little more relaxed that we knew for sure where we were going so we stopped at a Spaghetti Warehouse for some appetizers and drinks before going to the show.



We parked right across the street and joined the crowds of people going into the theater. Our seats were in the balcony so we got comfy in our seats and waited for the show to start at 7pm.
 



His daughter Antonia Bennett sang for about 30 minutes before Tony came out. It was the same style of music but I didn't really care for her voice. Tony came out around 7:30 and he stole the show! He was amazing and surprisingly spry for being 87 years old!! His voice was like velvet and he sounded just like he does on the radio. He sang song after song and danced around on the stage. It was a simple band, and some songs he sang with just the guitar or piano. The very last song he sang without a microphone and he just belted it out! We had a fantastic time.

On our way out we passed a building with my name on it so I had to take a picture!
 

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Saturday, January 18, 2014

11 Years and Counting

Nick and I celebrated our 11th wedding anniversary yesterday! We kept it low key and stayed in a suite at a Marriott in Edmond (about a 45min drive from where we live). It had a whirlpool tub and a hot breakfast--that's all we cared about! Our little one stayed with my mom overnight and I'm sure he had a blast getting spoiled by the grandparents.





 
After getting settled in and cleaning up, we ventured out into the town for some yummy dinner. On the way back to the room we stopped at a local market for some desserts to snack on later.


We may or may not have brought some adult beverages to put in the fridge for after dinner.......

 

It was a very nice suite and we slept like rocks. In the morning there was a delicious variety of foods for breakfast and we took our time before packing up and checking out. It's always a little sad when you take that last look back at the room before shutting the door and heading home! Our next hotel room will be in Dublin, Ireland in about 3 months :D

Yesterday was also 50s day at Brad's Preschool so we dressed him up for the part and he loved it! Too bad our '57 Chevy isn't running right now or else daddy could have made a show of taking him to school!

 

Tonight Brad is going to a school function to play with other kids at a gymnastics center for 4 hours so we will get to enjoy some more adult time! Tomorrow my mumsy and I and taking a roadtrip to Tulsa to see Tony Bennett in concert so check back soon for more pictures!
 
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Sunday, January 12, 2014

Frugal Living: Couponing


Couponing has become more popular the last few years. I believe it was also big a couple of decades ago and I remember my mom doing it for awhile when I was growing up. It faded out and has slowly been coming back with the poor economy and eternal search to save a few dollars. I will share my experiences with it today!

I am by NO means an "extreme" couponer. I do not have closets full of toiletry items, and my garage is not fully stocked to survive the zombie apocalypse. I do however have a full pantry of namebrand items, a freezer full of veggies and quick dinners, and bathrooms full of shower items.

For me it all started 4 years ago when I attended a free coupon class by the lady who runs this local coupon site. It opened my eyes on the right way to coupon, and how to realistically build up your stock over time. Within 6 months I had cut my grocery bill in half while at the same time switching to mostly name brands! I touched on some of this information in this post here, but I will go more into the actual couponing now.

Couponing has helped me:
  • STOP shopping at Walmart for everything
  • keep from running to the store when I use the last of toothpaste/soap/razor etc.
  • use brands I would never buy before because of higher cost
  • try new products I would have never looked twice at before
  • have more ingredients available in my pantry for days I don't know what to cook
  • be more picky in what I choose, instead of always having to choose based on price
  • plan meals based on what I have, instead of having to shop for each meal's ingredients
  • have more money available for things I want/need that I used to spend on food/toiletries
The gist of couponing is this--you match your coupons with items that are on sale. When I look thru the coupon inserts, I ask myself "If the price was low enough, would I buy this?" If the answer is yes, then I clip it and file it! I may never use the coupon, or I may use it that same day on a sale. I don't go buy that item just because I have a coupon for it. You will see certain coupons more at seasonal times, i.e. baking good during the winter holidays, razors/shaving cream during the summer, vitamins/protein bars during January.... Most coupons are good for at least a month so that is 4 weeks of different sales that you can possibly find a match. The store you should focus on shopping at is the one that will DOUBLE your coupon! Most stores that double coupons will do so for the value $1 or less. My local store I shop at is Homeland. CVS and Walgreens are also good for the occasional toiletry, but I only use CVS just to keep it simple (plus it is the closest to my house). Now, what are we couponing for?
  1.  Food--This is the main thing I coupon for. The majority of coupons you see will be for food items--junk food, snacks, some fresh foods, frozen foods, quick dinners, canned/box food, and pantry staples. Sometimes there are coupons for drinks/juice/pop, and once in awhile you'll see some for meat. When I was just starting, not everything I got was healthy. As my stock built up I was able to be more picky and pass on the higher calorie options. I get all of my fresh food/dairy at Aldi because most of the time their regular prices are cheaper than I could get a name brand with a coupon. My pantry is full of cereal, rice, pasta, canned veggies, canned chili, salad dressings, BBQ sauce, PB, jelly, sugar, flour, cake mixes, and other staples. Couponing for food alone will eventually cut your grocery bill at least in half! Approximate monthly food budget = down from $400/month to $200/month.
  2. Disposable kitchen goods--Here I am talking about sandwich bags, aluminum foil, cling wrap, dish soap, cleaning spray....all things that the kitchen must have! I used to buy generic everything, but now I have Hefty, Glad, Lysol, Dawn, and Finish (dishwasher soap) stocked up. I got them all CHEAPER than I used to pay for generic. I also have several of each so I don't have to worry when I use the last of one. Approximate savings = less than half of cost of generic items.
  3. Toiletries--This includes bath soap, razors, shaving cream, lotions, deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrush, floss, chapstick, mouthwash, sunscreen.....It's the little things you need but you don't really think about. I used to buy mostly Suave brand or store brand of all these items. $4 for a bottle of Herbal Essence or Pantene? I don't think so! After several months of couponing you will slowly build up your stock of these things and notice that you have much nicer brands than you did before! I have even gifted bottles of Dove body wash to women I know would enjoy it, just because I had so many in stock! I used to never buy mouthwash because I thought it was unnecessary, but when I can get a huge liter bottle of Colgate brand mouthwash for 25 cents....yes please! I can even be picky and buy Gillette razors with 5 or 6 blades instead of Bic razors with only 3 blades. I probably have over a year supply of Pantene, Herbal Essence, and Garnier Fructis shampoos/conditioners. I haven't had to buy deodorant in months for me or my husband because I already have so many. Approximate monthly savings = down from $50/month to $10/month or less.
  4. Restaurants--I try to keep a little pile of restaurant deals ready for that night when we don't want to cook and can't decide where to eat. The usual places I see are Olive Garden, Arbys, Long John Silver, McD, BK, Ihop, Longhorn Steakhouse, and Zios. I may never use it because we only eat out maybe once a week, and we rarely have fast food. But if I need it, it's there! When your bill comes to $30+ dollars, it helps to get $5 or $10 off with a coupon. 2 meals for the price of one is also nice too, or a free appetizer! Approximate restaurant savings = 10-30% off regular bill.
If you are wanting to try out couponing, my biggest advice is to stick with it! It can be overwhelming, and it may take several months to see the fruits of your labor. 6 months in you will notice more name brand items in your house, and that you have a couple extra things in stock of common items. 1 year in and you will be looking for way to organize your inventory and planning meals around your fully loaded pantry! It will become like a game--to see how much you can save in a coupon shopping trip. You will be bragging to your friends how you got something for free, or paid a quarter when the regular price was $5. Trust me! It's addictive. I have been doing it 4 years now and it has become part of my lifestyle. Just a few minutes out of the week to clip coupons and plan a trip, and 30 minutes in the store and you are done.

One of my biggest questions when I was starting out was "What should I consider a GOOD price on certain items?" Here is a list of common items and how much I don't pay more than:

Cereal--$1.50 or less
Salad dressing--$1 or less
Frozen pizza--$2 or less
Body wash--$1.25 or less
Deodorant--50 cents or less
Shampoo/conditioner--$1.50 or less
Toothpaste/toothbrush--50 cents or less
Cake mix--$1 or less

I hope this post has inspired and helped you a little bit! If you haven't already, feel free to read my other Frugal Living posts!

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Saturday, January 4, 2014

Homemade Pho and Spring Rolls

Today we ventured to the Asian market and picked up all kinds of treats! I got all of the goods to make sushi, spring rolls, and pho! For those unfamiliar with pho, it is a Vietnamese noodle soup that you can put chicken or beef in. I have made sushi before, but not the others. It all turned out delicious and my family loved it! Even my 4 year old who had never eaten pho or spring rolls.


The pho was pretty simple--I used a bouillon-type season cube to make 4 cups of broth. They typically use rice noodles in the soup but I subbed Ronzoni Smart Taste thin spaghetti take make it a bit more healthy. I cooked some strips of chicken breast with 5 Spice seasoning. I had all of this in the bowl with chopped green onions and poured the broth on top. We added a bit of hoisin sauce and bean sprouts to finish off the soup!!! It tasted exactly like the restaurant soup.

The spring rolls were a bit more involved but still pretty easy. It is the same concept as making egg rolls or burritos--you stuff them and wrap them up. For my stuffing I cooked some rice noodles and also used lettuce and the cooked seasoned chicken.


You soak the wrapper in a bowl of warm water for about 30 seconds for it to become soft and pliable. Then you gently take it off and shake off the excess water. Lay it on a plate and proceed to stuff it on one side with your ingredients. Then fold the wrapper tightly over your stuffing, roll and tuck keeping it wrapped tightly. Voila!



I did most with lettuce, rice noodles, and chicken but I also did some with avocado.




Everyone loved it and I was amazed at the replication of the restaurant flavor. Delicious!

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Thursday, January 2, 2014

Frugal Living: Housing

What kind of place do you live in? There are many to choose from--apartment, duplex, house, trailer, condo.... This post will focus on renting vs. buying, how to prepare for buying a house, as well as what goes in to keeping up a house inside and out.

One "rite of passage" for a teenage to become more of an adult is to move out of their parents' home. A common first step is to have roommates, or even live in dorms at a university. Inevitably the time will come to branch out on your own and get housing in your own name, on your own credit. Credit is a whole other conversation, but for the sake of argument here it is something you will NEED if you ever want to buy a home.

I was a sort of early bloomer and bought my first house shortly after I turned 18. Since I had no credit, they used my job history/income and my husband's credit. It was a HUD home that was cheap and needed some fixing up. It was a good starter home and we lived there almost 2 years before we sold it and bought our second home. I do have a few regrets about how we went about things---I was very excited to be out of nursing school and we basically bought a house at the top of our budget right before the housing market crashed. It took us 6 months to sell our first house and we paid 2 mortgage payments the whole time. I had to learn as I went and I am happy to share some tidbits of advice for those about to head that direction.

  1. Renting--This is basically where someone else owns your house/apartment and you pay them each month to live there. They are responsible for maintenance but YOU are responsible for damage, cleanliness, and following the rules of the contract (roommates, animals, etc). There is almost always a lease that has to be signed saying you will live there X amount of months and if you break that lease you have to pay big money. You will have a deposit to pay upon moving in, and if it doesn't look the same when you move out then you might not get your deposit back. This is a good starting out option to begin building your credit/rental history but in the end you are not earning any equity in the housing.
  2. Buying--This is the big step to adulthood! You are the owner of the house and the land it sits on. You are fully responsible for its upkeep, repairs, appearance, and everything else until it is paid off. In some cities it is the norm to never buy a house but to live in an apartment for your whole life, but that is not the average situation in America. If you sell the house you might make a profit, you might owe the bank. You can even rent it out. I highly recommend saving up several thousand not only to put as a down payment, but also to have available upon moving in for all of those unforeseen costs that always pop up when you lease expect it. Fortunately the monthly payment when buying is a lot of times cheaper than if you were renting. Approximate monthly rent = $800 vs. $600 when buying same house.
  3. Mortgage/Interest--The mortgage is the loan from the bank to buy your house. The more money you put down, the less your mortgage will be! Interest rates are always changing so shop around for the best deal. Buying a house comes with fees and you should be ready to pay up to a few thousand just toward those costs. Any house with a mortgage must have homeowner's insurance and that cost is usually worked into your monthly payment through your bank. On my second house my initial interest rate was 6.6% and I was paying around $1,000 PER month just for interest. I finally refinanced this year and dropped my rate down to 4.4% which cut my monthly payment $400.
  4. Repairs--This can be a costly part of being a homeowner. If you live in an older house then you will more than likely have to fix, replace, or update things in it. The most frugal way to do this is DIY. You can find countless instructional videos on the internet for just about any project you can think of. Hiring a contractor can cost big money. We have done several DIY projects around our house and saved thousands of dollars in the process. Rebuilding our deck cost only $500 where a contractor was going to charge $1,000 in labor alone! Ripping up carpet and laying wood laminate cost us $1,500 where hiring someone to do it for us would have cost twice as much. We are currently in the process of updating our kitchen ourselves! Average savings from DIY = 50% of cost to hire contractor.
  5. Appliances--These can add up very quickly when you are moving into a house that doesn't have them. Washer, dryer, fridge, stove, etc. are all necessary. Obviously the cheapest option is buy them used, and there are great deals to be had if you hunt around. I have been a homeowner for almost 10 years and just this year I got my first NEW fridge and stove! Washer and dryer are still used though. If you are going to buy new appliances I highly recommend saving up the cash to pay for them in full and shopping around for the best deal. Average cost of used washer = $100 vs. new washer = $500-$1000.
  6. Furniture--Anywhere you live needs furniture and thankfully there are tons of deals out there to be had. Check out craigslist or garage sales for nice used pieces when you are starting out and getting situated. If buying new, I again recommend saving up cash to pay for them in full and shopping around for the best deal. It is easy to get seduced in a furniture store with a salesman whispering sweet nothings in your ear--be strong! You can still get very nice furniture that has barely been used. Average cost of used couch = $200 vs. new couch = $500-$1500
I hope you enjoyed reading these tips! Feel free to comment with questions, and check back soon for more posts! You can check out my other posts about frugal living HERE.

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