MacGyver Meets the Tasmanian Devil

So, Granny and I were talking the other day, and I commented that I can’t wait to move so that I will actually be able to corral Bean with baby gates. As it stands now, the layout of our house and the extra wide doorways in the main living areas make it impossible to keep the littlest Heathen contained. I basically spend my days running laps around the house, starting and stopping projects so that I can chase the booger down or fish her out of the toilet.

Granny laughed manically at this statement, and was basically like, “Have you met your daughter? She’d scale a baby gate in less than two seconds, rip it down and build something out of it.”

Does this look like a kid that can be corralled?

Yep, I think not. If only she would use her powers for good…

Getting the House Ready to Sell: Why Pictures Are Oh-So-Important

Believe it or not, but Spring really is just around the corner and if you are thinking about selling your house anytime this year, then here is some of the best advice I can give you: pictures, pictures, pictures. I have been house shopping for months, and I can’t get over how some realtors post either no pictures, or the crappiest pictures humanly possible on their listings. I can tell you that I unilaterally decide whether to go see a house based on the pictures. If your realtor posts a bunch of wretchedly bad pictures of your house, you really will be lucky to get people in the door for a showing. Because I know that pictures drive my search as a buyer, they better be my top priority as a seller.

My pictures plan is two-fold, and here is where Spring comes in.

Spring is the best time to take exterior pictures of your house. The grass is green, the flowers (if you have them) are blooming and your landscaping will never look better. If you will be moving in Winter, a picture of your house with a yard full of dead grass and mud is already putting you behind in the game. You house will look tired, and that isn’t a good first impression for someone scouring internet listings. If you’ve got landscaping that looks great in Spring/Summer, by all means, take exterior pictures of your house THEN! Tuck them away as insurance if you ever need to sell your house, and you won’t be that person in January that is like “Dang, if only people could see the yard when it looks good!!”

Our house has great landscaping, so I made sure to snap great pics of the exterior last Spring:

See…green, pretty flowers and sunshine! That’s way better than the brown hot mess my landscaping is right now. Will one picture sell my house? Of course not. But it will have someone pause for a second rather than clicking right by a Winter-dead yard.

Now that we’ve established well-timed photo opportunities, here’s another piece of advice regarding pictures: Unless your realtor stands to make a boatload of money off your house, he/she may not be overly invested in taking pictures, and most realtors aren’t going to spend a whole lot of time taking/editing good photos. I am taking and editing all of our house photos using my very amateur photography skills and free Picasa editing tools. Here’s an example.

The average realtor will stand in the doorway and take a quick point-and-shoot photo of a room, which may look something like this:

This pic is dark, has a bad angle and shows nothing about the room. But again, unless your realtor is good, or stands to make some big bucks off you, he/she is going to put forth minimal effort on your house pictures. Instead of this tactic, I would take two pics to show full dimension at different angles and lighten them up using two seconds of photo editing:

These obviously are not perfect pictures, but they beat the first because they are brighter, show more scale and dimension, and give potential buyers more to see. They also give an additional vantage point of the dining room that further allow buyers to make connections regarding the scale and flow of the house.

So here’s the deal…only you know your realtor, and only you know whether the pictures he/she will take will actually represent your home in its best light. Even if you don’t have the basics on photography, maybe you have an amateur photographer friend that would help you out for $50 bucks or a bottle of wine.

So, there’s my picture soapbox for today. But when your financial future is on the line, I believe in stacking the deck in every cheap, inventive way possible.

Jeeze, I need a drink just thinking about this…

The Cabbage Experiment—How I Cooked This Devil-Spawn Vegetable and Actually Liked It

For New Years Day, my husband and I decided to stack the deck and ate dang nearly every superstitious food we could get our hands on:

We need better luck than we had last year, so we were all about feasting on anything that might bring us some good fortune, like pork chops, hoppin’ john and such. One of the foods that my husband specifically requested was cabbage…stinky, weird, I-have-never-cooked-that cabbage. Call me persnickety, but cabbage hasn’t ever crossed into my cooking repertoire, and I’ve never had the burning urge to change that fact. After a quick consultation with Granny, I made my first attempt at cooking cabbage in a way that anyone in this house would have any chance in hell of eating. Here’s how I did it (and to tackle this beast, you will need a head of cabbage, about five slices of good bacon, salt and pepper):

I started with a head of cabbage, and made ugly faces at it just to make myself feel better:

Next, I cut off the bottom section so that the head of cabbage would sit flat on my cutting board while I made more faces at it and made inappropriate Cabbage Patch Kid jokes.

 

 

Then I cut it in half (Holy Crapadoodle, cabbage is ugly):

Then cut it some more:

Then I spent a good while looking at the cabbage and formulating a plan that may actually get me to choke this stuff down, and my solution was to pick it apart, and discard any parts that looked like something I wouldn’t eat:

Next, I chopped about 5 slices of thick-cut bacon (dude, I never said this was healthy cabbage):

I tossed the bacon in a skillet and cooked it on medium heat until it was kind of done but not crispy yet:

And I tossed it the cabbage with plenty of salt and pepper to taste:

I covered the skillet and cooked the cabbage on medium heat, stirring occasionally. I waited until the cabbage really cooked down and looked edible, which took about 20-25 minutes for me. And….Ta-da!

Now only did I eat the cabbage, I actually loved it. My husband said our New Year’s lunch may have been the best food he’s eaten in his entire life, which is saying something coming from Sir Picky-Pants.

So, if you are a cabbage newbie, it’s worth giving this method a try. After all, both my sister-in-law and I noted that you can probably eat anything if it’s cooked in enough bacon.

Getting the House Ready to Sell: Master Closet De-clutter!

It’s time for us to get our house ready to list. As much as I hate moving, the reality is that we need a house in which all of the Heathens can have their own rooms. The clutter of two boys in one room, sharing one small closet is threatening to overtake my house and my sanity. And did I mention that those Heathen rooms need to be far, far away from the master bedroom? They also need their own bathroom, lest I have a mental breakdown in the very near future from 3 guys sharing one bathroom.

Anyway, as an HGTV junkie, I know that to maximize our chances of a quick sale, our house needs to be “show ready,” which means that we need to de-clutter, de-personalize and stage rooms as best we can while still living the day-to-day here. I’ve made a list of projects, and this weekend, we tackled the bedroom closets. Here’s the before of what was our book closet. It’s got plenty of shelves, but it’s not deep at all:

Pretty bad, right? Since not everyone is a crazy-book person, I know that most people would see this as a linen closet, so that’s how I needed to stage it. I spent hours packing up the books for storage (the shelves actually go two more feet to the right on the inside of the closet so there were a LOT of books in there). I put everything in boxes for storage, and here is the final result:

So now, potential buyers can see the space but still envision a use for the closet (rather than just looking at a completely empty space).

As for the master closet, I am way too embarrassed to post the before pic, but let’s just say it was pretty messy. The idea of “walk-in” was a misnomer, because with all the shoes and baskets of craft stuff on the floor, as well as clothes packed in way too tightly, it was a hot mess to say the least. I packed all my craft stuff for storage, packed about 1/3 of the clothes and gave a bunch more to Goodwill. Here’s where we ended:

My husband also spent time weeding flower beds and scraping and re-painting sections of our front doors that has started to show peeling paint. I think we still have a couple of more weeks of work to go (since most is accomplished on the weekends), but I’m determined to have the house looking its best. It really is a great house, but yeah…for the good of my sanity and world peace, those kids need separate bedrooms…like yesterday.

It’s Just One More Day Till Friday…Right?

I have been living with the rude awakening that, no matter how fit you WERE, taking a 9-month hiatus from exercise means that you basically start back at square one. When I am not hobbling around like a cartoon character, I’m doing whatever bizarre stretches I can think of to alleviate soreness. The treadmill laughs at me, and I curse it with every step. And Bean cares not. All she cares about is conquering the Little People village and what’s for lunch. In the meantime, we have science fair projects to do and school competitions to prepare for. You know what that means?

That’s right, sister. It’s cocktail time.

Combating a Blah, Cold Day—Shepherd’s Pie

I heard on the news this morning that today is considered to be the most depressing day of the year. Most people are heading back to work or school, and the reality of those New Year’s resolutions comes crashing down. I understand the feeling—I didn’t make it 15 minutes into the new workout DVD before I was crying “uncle.” I’ll stick to the treadmill tomorrow, because my muscles feel like jello and I think I need to start smaller in my quest to get less jiggley.

Anyway, one of the best ways to combat a bad day is some serious comfort food, which is sure to perk up the brood as they stumble in from a long day at work and school. So, how about a super-easy Shepherd’s Pie?

Shepherd's Pie

  • Print

Ingredients

  • 2 Tbs butter
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 carrots, diced
  • 3 stalks celery, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 can (6 oz)tomato paste
  • 2 lbs lean ground beef or lamb
  • 2 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 can (14.5 oz)beef stock
  • 1 1/2 cups frozen green peas
  • 1 1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese
  • Mashed Potatoes (however you make them, just make enough to spread over the top of a 9×13 casserole)

Preparation

  1. Preheat oven at 400 degrees F.
  2. Add butter and oil to a large skillet on medium heat. Sauté onions, carrots, celery and garlic until tender for about 7 to 10 minutes. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Once the vegetables have softened and start to brown a little, add the tomato paste and mix evenly. Add the ground beef and cook until beef is no longer pink about 10 minutes. Add the Worcestershire sauce and beef stock. Season again with salt and pepper, to taste. Cover and simmer for another 10 minutes. Mix in peas.
  3. Transfer mixture to an oven-proof baking dish and spread evenly. Place mashed potatoes on top of ground beef mixture and spread out evenly, then cover with cheese. Place the dish into the pre-heated oven and cook until cheese is melted and meat mixture is bubbling, about 20 minutes.

Servings: 6

I paired this with the Macaroni Grill inspired bread and some steamed broccoli and called it a day. Look at the bright side—if today really is the most depressing day of the year, we’re just about to put the worst of it behind us, right?

Stepping Cautiously Into the New Year

It’s been no secret that 2013 was not the best year for us. Between trials, tribulations and one financial challenge after another, I was all too happy to kick 2013 to the curb. I’ve been working hard to let things go and start to embrace a positive attitude, but it’s slow going. I’ve learned all too well that there is a fine line between frustration and bitterness, and by last fall, I was well into a cesspool of bitterness.

We’ve certainly taken several baby steps toward reclaiming some quality of life from our overly busy, stressed out schedules. I guess our first goal for 2014 is to get out of “survival mode” and start enjoying the here and now.

The good news is that there is light at the end of the tunnel. We still have a ways to go in getting on even keel as far as finances, schedules and stress, but I for one am so ready to take control of our busy lives instead of letting them run roughshod over us.

So, the resolutions for this year are as follows:

  1. MOVE! We have quickly outgrown our house, and with Heathen #1 approaching his teenage years, we need a home that is better suited to balance kids’ space with Mom’s sanity. It’s time for the boys to have their own rooms, and for Bean’s room to be far, far away from the kitchen; otherwise I will be forever limited to when I can cook. However, we have a long way to go before our current home is ready to list, and I foresee lots of de-cluttering and touch-up painting in our future.
  2. At least for me, get in a little better shape. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know how cliché that one is. But last year, I was running 5K with no problem. Now, I am hard-pressed to walk down the block because work has kept me sedentary for far too long. I miss the feeling of accomplishment, but even more incentive is a closet full of clothes I still can’t fit into with that last 10 pounds of baby weight clinging desperately to my rear end.
  3. Build up some savings! Financial calamities are a part of life, and it sure would be nice not to hit a speed bump of broken cars or air conditioners without that sick sense of panic.

But most of all, I want to get back into doing the things that I enjoy, even if it means some things occasionally slip through the cracks. Time to dust off my camera, my blog and my knitting needles, and bake a cake just because I can. I have faith that this year really will be better than the last.