Monday, June 24, 2013

Patriotic Painted Pillow

How's that for alliteration?

I made some pillows a few years ago, but the scorching Texas sun bleached the blue one.  

The painted one, held up much better so I decided to paint a blue one.  

Remember these? I ripped off the birds of one -it was looking a little rough after 2 years.

I cut out a bunch of stars out of freezer paper and ironed them randomly on the pillow.

Finally, I covered the top with navy craft paint and removed the stars. Easy Peasy and pretty much free!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Fresh Mint Brownies-2 Ways

I put have some fresh mint growing in my garden, but I don't do very much with it.  I thought I would try and make some brownies out of it:

3/4 cup butter
A few sprigs of mint
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
3 eggs
3/4 cup flour
1/2 cup cocoa
1/2 tsp bkg pwdr
1/2 tsp salt

Melt butter and let mint leaves.  Let mint soak in butter on low for about 5 minutes. Add rest of ingredients and bake in greased pan at 350 for 40 minutes.

The mint flavor was very subtle.

Make brownies, except leave out the mint.  Bake in mini-muffin tins at 350 for 8-9 minutes.

Allow to cool.

Southern Living's Cream Cheese Frosting
8oz soften cream cheese
1/2 cup butter softened
16 oz powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Beat butter and cream cheese until smooth.  Add sugar and vanilla and beat until light and fluffy.

And a dollop of frosting to each brownie bite and garnish with chopped fresh mint.

Enjoyment of the brownies seemed to be divided along gender lines. The girls in my house loved both brownies.  The boys hated them and acted like I was ruining perfectly good brownies by topping them with salad.  

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

What I'm Reading Wednesdays

I love summer, because instead of trying to get each kid to their separate activities, all of them do summer swim team.  I wisely spaced them just far enough apart that I can be there for all 3 hours of practice.  

Normally, I am a little anti-social at my kid's practices. I'd rather read a book than make friends with the other parents.  However, about a dozen of my friend's kids are on the same swim team, so I spend the time gabbing instead of reading.  

This week I read Clockwork Princess by Cassandra Clare.  It is the final book in a trilogy about a group that fights demons and demonized automatons in Victorian England. I like these books more than a woman my age should. 4/5 stars

I also read Milo 2.0 by Debra Driza.  It is about a girl that discovers she is really an android created by the military. It was fine, but the first in a series and I don't know if it is good enough to read the entire thing. 2.5/5 stars

It seems like no one can write a book, everyone has to write series these days.  I think that at the beginning of every series, the author should write a few pages of plot and character summaries of previous books so I can remember what the heck happened. Am I the only one?

Best book you've read this month?

Monday, June 10, 2013

Patriotic Pillow

Today marks the 60th anniversary of the birth of one of the most wonderful women on the planet. She's done many amazing things, but mostly I love her for being my husband's mother-no easy job.  

To honor all of the contributions she's made to the planet, I made her a pillow (didn't quite seem enough to me either, but it's all I could come up with).

patriotic craft
I was inspired by this cute little printable over at   I really like her multi-colored buttons, but I don't have her fancy tool and had gold buttons on hand.

Did you know if you iron a piece of freezer paper on the back of some muslin, you can run it through your regular printer?  
 I think linen looks more expensive than muslin, but it was too heavy and wouldn't stay stuck to the freezer paper.

For attempt #2, I actually used packing tape on the edges to secure it, but it made even a bigger smeary mess, so  I went with muslin. I think that if I stuck one of those page sized labels it might work, I'll keep you posted if I ever do it.

I cut some red fabric into 3 inch strips and then blue into 1 and a 1/2 inch strips.  

Then I used some embroidery floss to sew a button on top of each note.  

I sewed the pillow using my tutorial here. 

I made some patriotic pillows a few years ago, but they have not faired well under the hot Texas sun, and so I am going to make me one too.

Happy Birthday Mom!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Nana Belle Apron

I have mentioned before that I used to get to plan a monthly activity for ladies at church. Due to recent staffing changes, I now teach 8 year olds, but I had already worked on June's activity. We were going to do a "Princess Academy" theme with mini-classes from a Fairy Godmother (make-up tips), Princess Tiana (healthy cooking), and Belle (how to get the most out of her favorite book-the scriptures).  My Mom teaches a religion class and is a bit of a character, so I thought she'd be perfect for Belle.  

She said she'd only do it, if I made her some sort of a costume (I told you she was a character)  and that it needed to be the blue outfit, because "yellow is not my color". I was inspired by these fun Disney Princess aprons here .  Here's what I came up with:

 She was horrified to be photograph from the rear-so props for bravery Mom:)
Aren't moms just the best?

I have a step-by-step tutorial that I will eventually blog about.

Quick poll question: Who's your favorite princess?

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

My Top Favorite Beach Reads

Full disclosure: I  don't enjoy reading at the actually beach much. Between the sand, and the breeze, and trying to make sure one of kids doesn't drown or get eaten by a shark, I just can't focus on a book.  I prefer to read in my bed, late at night, when all the kids are asleep.  However, I still enjoy the occasional "Beach Reads" which I feel must contain:
1. Romance
2. Happy Endings
3. Fun

Here's my list ( I am forgoing the usual book covers and plot summaries  because just thinking about lying on the beach makes me lazy):

Charms for an Easy Life by Kaye Gibbons
Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos
Austenland by Shannon Hale (skip the sequel)
The Traveling Pants series by Ann Brashares
Lucy Valentine Mysteries by Heather Weber
The Crowning Glory of Cala Lilly Ponder by Rebecca Wells
The Princess Bride-William Goldman
When Zachary Beaver Came to Town-Kimberly Willis Holt
Enchantment-Orson Scott Card
Fairest-Gail Carson Levine
Bella at Midnight-Diane Stanley

Anything by:
Fanny Flagg
Sarah Addison Allen
Janet Evonovich
Mary Higgins Clark(if you're desperate)

If you can handle something a little darker, and need a good suspenseful book to get you through a boring plane ride, I recommend Harlan Coben

If you find post-apocalyptic worlds entertaining, check out my Mom's Guide to Dystopian Lit. 

What are your favorite beach reads and other guilty literary pleasures?

Monday, June 3, 2013

So You Think you want to be a Landlord?

I hope you are not looking for a post about to get rich in real estate, because I can't help you there.  However, if you want to know how to break even,keep on reading.

We bought a home in Maryland in 2007, expecting to be there 4-6 years.  When the Air Force decided to move us in 2010, our house had lost 35% of it's value. Without buckets of cash, selling it was simply not an option.  I didn't know where to start to be a landlord and was in a complete panic, but it seemed like a better idea than bankruptcy.  I also thought I'd see if we could rent in on our own w/out a management company to save money and so far so good.  Three years later,  I am still no expert, but here's what I've learned:

We prefer to rent to military members and so have only advertised on militarybyowner ($80 for 180 days) and (free). (Both of our renters have found us through  There are dozens of other sites, but I do not have any experience with them. 

I actually set up a blog about my house ( as many details as I could think of: neighborhood, schools, room dimensions, commute times etc.
Since I live half-way across the country from our rental home and don't use a realtor, I ask our current tenants to show the house to prospective renters.  I realize this is a hassle, and so I offer to pay them $25 per showing.  
Since finding new renters is such a pain, I actually offer $100 less if they will sign multi-year leases. 

Management companies were looking for about a month's rent to list it for us and additional 10% of the monthly rent to manage it for us, so we planned on using one only as a last resort. We may just be incredibly blessed and I don't think this is normal, but we found our first renters 2 days after listing it and in about 9 days the second time.  

Have them fill out an application (mine's here) and do a credit/ background check. There are several online services.  I use Smart Move It's super cheap ($12), but I require the tenants to pay. If the couple isn't married, or there are other adults living there, check out every individual over 18.  Ask for letters of recommendation from former landlords.

Require 1 month's rent in security deposit. Unless you're independently wealthy, you can not afford to be nice. (it will be hard-stay strong) Do not listen to people's sob stories on why they can't pay this.  If they struggle to come up w/ the deposit, they may struggle with coming up with rent money each month. 

The deposit is not your money and legally it should be kept in an interest bearing account separate from your other personal accounts. If the tenants fulfill the agreements on the lease be prepared to return %100 plus interest of the deposit.

Have all parties sign the lease (especially if it is a friend or family member). It clearly outlines expectations and keeps everyone legally protected. Here's mine.

They are risky, and I would consider each case individually.   I would require a refundable pet deposit, letters from vets, and previous landlords.  Have a pet addendum to the lease. Check your homeowner's policy-mine prohibits Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, German Shepherds, wolf mixes, and Akitas.

If at all possible, have 3-6 months worth of mortgage payments stashed away. Real Estate is risky and you may need to use this emergency fund to cover stuff like broken A/C's (good times) or gaps between renters. 

Promptly make repairs. If there is a serious problem with the house give them a break in the rent.  Our A/C broke, and our poor renters had a few very hot days, and so I gave them a 10% break in the rent for that month.

Find a good handyman that the tenants can call if needed.  If he can't handle the repairs, he will know who to refer you to.  I have him bill me directly. 

Have a good check-out list.  Deduct any repairs from the security deposit. Since we don't live there, our handyman actually uses the same check-out list to determine if any repairs need to be done.  Since he will be doing the work, he knows exactly how much it will cost.  
UPDATE:  You need to be there when they move out.  (see why here)

Utilities: Do not return the security deposit until they can show proof that they have paid all bills in full. You will be held responsible for any of their unpaid utility bills. 

TAXES: Keep your receipts because so many expenses are tax deductible-repairs, advertising, and even a trip out to visit the property.  Also you will need to file taxes (even if you are losing money) on the state the property is located in, even if you are military. 

There you have all of my 3 years of knowledge in one blog post, hopefully it will help you avert a panic attack of your very own.  

I am no legal or real estate expert, but here's what we did here