27th Year Challenge: Month 5

Okay, I am way behind in getting on my challenge list and year 28 is rounding the corner faster than I’d like to admit.  I’d like to say I have been busy working out, travelling, and doing things around the house, but let’s get real.  I was probably watching Arrested Development on Netflix in anticipation of the new season release and eating ice cream.  In fairness to myself, we were also busy with a lot of outside projects that sucked up what seemed like every weekend (more on those later).  But back to the challenge. 

At some point, we did manage to find some barstools for our kitchen.  I searched and searched.  I wanted something with a back so they would be comfortable to sit on and I thought I wanted something white to stand out against the dark wood and appliances. 

I loved these from West Elm but wasn’t sure how well the wood color would match to the somewhat reddish wood in our kitchen. 

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Then I liked these little fellas from Crate and Barrel but wasn’t so hot on the price.  Also, I wanted something with a back. 

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I thought I had found exactly what I wanted in these from CB2.  They had the higher back, were white, and had clean lines.  But I didn’t want to pay $300 for 2 chairs.

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So I held off.  I searched craigslist and every homegoods store I could think of.  Knowing I didn’t want to spend a bunch on the barstools, I focused almost exclusively on sale sections of websites like the ones I mentioned.  One day I was searching around on Restoration Hardware’s website.  I have never purchased anything from there because frankly, the prices seem crazy and often, the style just isn’t really mine.  But just when I least expected it, I found the perfect stools.  They were on final sale and were exactly what I had been looking for – The Hagen Stained Chair

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At $59.00 for the counter-height, I knew these were the ones.  I worried a bit about how the white stain would look but when they came in, they were perfect. They don’t look all grainy like they did in the picture.

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They add the perfect amount of white to the kitchen which is otherwise pretty dark in terms of tone.  They are incredibly comfortable and the legs are metal which, if you have a dog that likes to randomly chomp into furniture, is a huge plus.  And did I mention $59.00?  Seriously.  I couldn’t find anything I liked at Target for that price.  They came fully assembled which was extra awesome because I had read reviews on some from Target and people complained about assembly and the fact that the chairs were hard to level.  Don’t worry, Target, I still love you and will spend massive amounts of money on your products, but I wanted some sturdy chairs.  These fit the bill.  So I guess that means I have 5 out of 12 items on my challenge list complete.  I will take it!

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These chairs were SO worth the wait.  I have recently started following a new philosophy for decorating our house.  I don’t buy anything unless I absolutely love it.  I used to find myself doing things on Pinterest because they looked good, were cheap, and seemed easy enough.  But I almost always later wanted something different.  So I decided that even if it means that many of the rooms in our home remain unfinished, I’m okay with that.  I will wait, and search, and save until I find exactly what I love.  These barstools are perfect and I am so glad I waited until I found them!

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Duck. Duck. Bowl.

Over the holidays my brother and sister-in-law came in town for an extended visit and we were lucky enough to have them stay with us for a couple of days.  We decided to go out for dinner last Friday, and headed over to Santorini’s in Fountain Square.  Wow.Do.I.Need.To.Get.Out.More!  That place was delicious!  The portions were enormous but oh.so.delicious.  My brother ordered the Gyro and Chase ordered the Chicken Gyro.  Both really enjoyed them.  Kym and I shared the Briam which was so delicious and had a little spicy sauce that was yum.  I love places where you can share an entrée because a whole one for one person is almost always way too much.  Kym and I were stuffed and there was still food left.  The environment is fun with flaming cheese dishes and greek dancers.  We will definitely be going back.

After dinner we wanted to burn some calories do something fun so we walked over to Action Duckpin Bowling.  I had heard of this place but never been before.  It was so awesome!  It was built in the late 20s and still has all of the period pieces that make it so special. 

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So what is Duckpin Bowling you ask?  Well it is much like regular bowling except the pins are shorter and fatter and the balls are the size of bloated softballs.  There are no finger holes – you just roll those babies down the old wood lanes and hope for the best.  You get three rolls, instead of two, because with such a small ball and still 10 pins, it is hard to knock those little pins down. 

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This game was such a blast!  The pins are held up by strings so when you knock some down, the strings pull them up out-of-the-way and you are good to go.  There are no electronically reset pins or screen to tell you how many you hit, so take someone tall to help you count how many pins are standing.  The game is great though because it moves so much faster than regular bowling.  The balls come back on the return right away and are all the same size so you don’t have to wait for your particular ball to come back.  The strings also eliminate the need for the thing in regular bowling that acts like a windshield wiper and clears all the downed pins before resetting more.

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I know that there are newer versions of duckpin bowling around but I have to say that the fun of this place was the history.  It felt like you were in a totally different time.  If you are in Indianapolis, swing by and check this place out.  You will not be sorry!

Not so little anymore

Well it’s Friday – and that makes me pretty darn happy!  Not much is going in our world as we are just preparing for some concrete work to start next week.  But I wanted to send you into the weekend with some pictures of my little (or not so little anymore) puppy.

Here she was the first weekend we had her:

I miss that sweet little face, the fact that she slept, and the days when her toys were in one piece.  But as she has gotten older, she has become more snuggly which I totally love, and she has developed a personality.  I think she is demanding … like me … and lazy….also like me.  She loves laying in the bed:

And chewing on bones (which she frequently gets under the blankets and then chews through the blanket to get to):

And standing outside barking at us to come get her and let her back in:

And snoozing on the way home from a fun weekend (wearing her doggie seatbelt, of course):

Here’s to another weekend of wearing her out!  Or maybe she will wear me out!

What are your plans this weekend?  Are you spending it trying to exhaust a puppy so you can get some rest?  Enjoying the beautiful fall weather we are getting that we so deserve?

I love lamp!

Our house is fairly new so one might think we have good lighting.  That person would be wrong.  I can’t tell you what I would do for some recessed lighting!  We have a large living room and the only light in the room is a ceiling fan.  Thus, I was in need of some lamps.  We had these little guys from IKEA from our days in the apartment.

They were really inexpensive but didn’t give enough light and were certainly too small for the size of the room.

So I have been on the lookout for some new lights, and two weekends ago, on a trip to Target, I found what I had been looking for.  I found these clear lamps that can be filled with items during the different seasons.

And then I found these shades.

I love me some quatrefoil and I knew the yellow would look fabulous against our gray walls.  So I picked them up, took them home, and turned them on.  Let me say, I think they turned me on!  I LOVE them.  And every time I say that, Chase says, “I love lamp.”  (Name that movie!)

And what do these lamps really show me?  Well, we definitely need to get some curtains in that room (like a year ago), and we need some more fun patterns and colors.  I guess I need to start shopping for rugs and pillows.  Darn!

Oh, and check out these amber lamps by mom bought for her living room.  They are more clear than they look here and they aren’t cloudy at all.  She has a gorgeous shade of blue on her walls and these will look so great!  I almost wanted them for myself!

So how about you?  Bought any lamps lately?  Anyone else wonder why it isn’t illegal for builders to build homes without proper lighting?  Someone should do something about that!

Best Free Websites For: Saving You Money

Ok, so the economy is in the crapper, the dollar will soon be replaced by the rupee, we have a do-nothing Congress, and unemployment is rampant.  Blah, blah, blah.  These are all true statements, but only we own our own financial future.  You know what people did in the past when things were tight?  They worked two jobs, they worked three jobs, and they pinched pennies, they ate rice and beans, and they liked it.  If that is what you find yourself having to do, or you’d like a bit of financial freedom, check out these sites when you have the time.

After all, financial freedom is not so much about being rich and having the fanciest car or the fanciest house, it is about having control over your own future.  Money, debt, and the economy often feel as they control our future.  I should know, since I went to law school.  In any event, it is time to stop blaming “they” and take control of our own finances.  Check out these sites for a little financial freedom of your own.

1.  Mint, to save more and spend less:  This is far and away the best personal finance website for family use.  Meaghan and I use this to track all of our expenses, set goals, receive reminders for bills, and it even has a mobile app for Android or Iphones.  You can enter all your expenses into categories, set budgets for each month, and include all your loans, checking and savings accounts, and brokerage balances to stay on track.  You can also try Yodlee, which is also very good, but the interface can sometimes be a little sticky.  Both are completely free when you sign up.

2.  Portfoliomonkey, to weigh the risk of your portfolio: This site is pretty fun to mess around with to determine the relative risk/reward in your portfolio.  You can add and subtract hypothetical trades to see the affect on your overall investment strategy.  The analyzer function will show you how your money could grow or shrink.  Another free service.

3.  Google Finance, to screen your next stock pick:  Add stocks or funds to your watch list, use technical analysis tools such as bollinger bands and volume indicators, see portfolio related news and overall market data, and best of all, it is completely free.  I also recommend Zecco for your trading needs.  You get $4.95 stock trades, which is about as cheap as it gets for online trading, along with some other cool features.

4.  Hipmunk, to plan your flights and hotels:  This site is really fun to play around with if you need to find a flight with the perfect layover time and you don’t want to use 5 different site engines.  Kayak is also very good, but Hipmunk has some more exciting features and is much more fun to use.  When you run a search, you can narrow to results to the lowest price, least travel time, and my personal favorite, the least agonizing.  You can also save searches and open new tabs rather than have 20 windows open (like most free travel sites).  Definitely one to check out when you are planning a vacation.

5.  Dealnews, to find the perfect deal on many consumer goods:  You name it and this site compiles daily online deals for electronics, clothing, hardware, software, tools, gifts, subscriptions, etc.  I go on this at least once a day to see if something I’ve been looking for is listed.

For instance, I’ve needed an HDMI cable for the upstairs Roku player.  These are one of the most overpriced items you can find in retail.  They will claim to have gold plated, titanium enriched alloys that will blow your face off when you watch movies.  In reality, they are all about the same.  A 6 ft. cable at Best Buy?  $24.99 for a Dynex brand cable.  I’ve seen them as high as $80 or $100.  What did I pay yesterday when I came across one on Dealnews?  $1.73+ free shipping, and it also linked to Amazon where you could read reviews to really determine if it was worth the money.  In case you are keeping track, if I went to Best Buy I would have spent about 14X as much.  This is my favorite retail site, without a doubt.  Much to the chagrin of my wife, I’ve even ordered an entire pallet of name brand toilet paper from this site for less than .40c a roll.  That was almost 5 months ago and we’re not even halfway through it yet.

6.  PNC Bank, for your banking needs:  We could not be happier from having recently switched to PNC Bank.  Granted we have not had any customer service issues and have not really tested them yet, but their Virtual Wallet accounts are amazing.  It basically comes in three parts.  You get a spend account (which we for direct deposit and to pay bills), a reserve account to save for short term purchases, and a growth (savings) account that currently returns .85% on all balances up to $99,999.00.  With twenty grand in savings, that means you’d be looking at nearly $20 a month for keeping your money there.  They are also offering up to $150 in promotions to move your account to PNC.

Even better are the virtual management tools.  You get a calendar that tracks all your bills and marks your paydays so that you have a snapshot of your checking and savings accounts at all times.  With the Performance account you can transfer money between all three accounts, use foreign ATMs, send money to anyone you owe electronically, make deposits through your Iphone, and setup simple programs to save money. Every time we pay a bill on time, I make our checking account pay $5 to savings.  This way, much like common animals, we are rewarded for our good behavior.  The best part, all these features are free with a direct deposit account and after making qualified purchases with your check card.

7.  The Simple Dollar, to read up on personal finance:  Trent, the author of my favorite personal finance blog, is pretty amazing.  He posts regularly, responds to reader emails on the site, and analyzes every aspect of personal finance.  He discusses family finance and planning, debt paydown strategies, and best of all, how to make homemade meals and replace common consumer goods on the cheap.  He usually even documents his receipts to show you how much you can save by doing things at home.

8.  Young House Love, to inspire yourself to complete another home project.  Meaghan is in love with this site, and although I haven’t explored it much, what I have seen is pretty cool.  This couple walks you through their home projects and renovations, most of which they do entirely on their own and with simple tools and materials.  They have really awesome taste in home design, so if nothing else, you will love the pictures on their blog.

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

Since getting the house, I have come across several products I absolutely love and wanted to share them with you!  I love them so much, I would really rather do the chore/task for which they are used myself, without Chase’s help, because I don’t want him to maybe break it or do it wrong.  Stay tuned to see my other favorite things.

I start the list today with our hardwood floor cleaner.  Why this product?  Because first thing this morning, Chase sweetly was trying to help, got out the cleaner, and used the wrong part to sweep the floor.  Did he know I would flip out for no good reason?  No.  Did I flip out?  Embarrassingly, yes.  But again, I LOVE this product….so I really just wanted to do it myself.

I’m talking about Bona’s Ultimate Hardwood Floor Cleaner.  We heard about it from the sellers of our house and my sister-in-law and her husband and picked one up at Bed Bath & Beyond.  The kit we got has a metal handled mop with a swivel head, a sweeping pad, cleaning pad, polishing pad, floor cleaner and a refill, and polish.

So first, you put the sweeping pad on and sweep up all the dirt on your floors.  Here is the pile of dirt I swept up with the pad after Chase swept with the cleaning pad (this does not include the pile of dead ants behind the trashcan that Chase murdered a few weeks ago when we had a bit of an ant problem and I found this morning!).

Then you spray the cleaner on the floor and wipe it up with the cleaning pad.  I recommend you start in a corner you don’t need to go back to for awhile and basically just work your way out of the room so you don’t get footprints on your newly cleaned floor.  Here you can see the difference from the uncleaned floor and the newly cleaned floor.

Once the floor has dried, you can apply polish.  You get the polishing pad slightly damp and then squeeze polish on the floor and spread it around with the mop.  The directions tell you to make sure you polish in the same direction as the grain.  This is a pretty easy process but make sure you don’t go back over any part you have already polished because it starts to pull up the old polish and it looks gross like you are peeling off dead skin from a sunburn.  Gross right?  Then you let it dry for an hour before walking on it – this assumes you can keep your husband out of the kitchen for an hour (after mowing the grass, he is currently “dying” and “needs” a glass of chocolate milk)!

Anyway, the floors look amazing after this whole process.  We try to sweep and clean about once every week or so and polish once a month maybe.  For $60.00, this product is great!  After using for over a month now, we still have a lot of cleaner left in the first container, haven’t touched the refill, and have lots of polish.

Have you tried Bona?  Do you have other tips/suggestions/secrets for cleaning hardwoods?  Does your husband try to help you with chores you would just rather he not?  Have you ever forgotten a pile of dead insects in your kitchen?