Cleaning out the closet…

We live in a small house with small closets. I have the “luxury” of having two closets, but it’s far from being an actual luxury. A tiny coat closet in the dining room holds all of my pants. It also holds our bath linens.

The rest of my clothes are in a somewhat larger closet in the office. Yes, it’s still too small to hold the clothes that are in the other closet. Weird, I know…  If our basement was finished I’d probably keep all of my clothes downstairs.

Anyway, the bottom of the pants closet has served as storage space to some of my personal belongings: photo albums, letters, banking statements, paper manuscripts, research files, and a plethora of paper handled bags.

I decided I was going to clean out this storage space this weekend so that’s just what I sat down to do today. I started by pulling out all of the paper bags. There were gift bags from birthdays and Christmas and bags from any retail outlet that gives out a nice paper bag with handles that I had shopped at since 2006!  I always feel like I’ll reuse it and I hate to throw away a nice bag, but obviously I don’t reuse them as much as I should so they all went into the recycling bin today without a second thought.

20160207_115956_resizedI had fun flipping through some old photo albums and looking back at days and friends gone by.  I also found numerous film negatives, still in their little plastic envelopes from the photo developer.  I kept a few just for nostalgic purposes and threw the rest away. I grabbed my phone and took snapshots of a few old photos of myself and my grandparents and immediately shared them on Facebook because they made me smile. One such photo is the one of me to the right.

I am 16 years old in this photo.  It was taken in the summer of 1992 as a cast photo for a production of “Hello Dolly!” staged by the community theater group in my home town that summer. It was custom to take photos of each cast member and put them on a bulletin board in the lobby for the audience to see as they came in. The photos were always black and white and they were either head shots of us wearing black tee shirts or we were in costumes and in character.

I played “Rudy” who was the head waiter of the Harmonia Gardens Restaurant. It’s a small role, and a bit upstaged by Louie Armstrong in the Barbra Streisand movie. It’s a very serious role and the director had me blow a whistle to call my waiters to attention in the restaurant scene. I also spoke with an accent. I took a serious photo with a smirk on my face and the whistle held up to my lips which actually made it into the local newspaper, but it was this “fun” photo that made it onto the bulletin board. The photographer was my best friend at the time and asked me to do my “Joker” face. But, yes, those are my real eyebrows!

The photo took me by surprise and made me laugh.  Ahh, youth and to be young again. It’s funny because I can still remember my opening monologue from my big scene. And I remember the fun I had and the friends I made as we staged and rehearsed the production that summer. I never did another play after leaving town in the summer of 1995, but those years I was involved in community theater were great.

20160207_152458_resized (1)I took a new photo of myself today just for the heck of it. You see, I’m usually the one behind the camera and I rarely take selfies. I am the camera. I even wrote a book about just that back in 2008.

And that’s a sad place to be in this digital age where there are no negatives and no photo albums to preserve those moments that made us smile. All of our photos are on our phone. I’m guilty of that too. Lose your phone and you’ve lost your history, and I’m not talking about texts or contacts. I’m talking about birthdays, track meets, Christmas, graduation, prom, anniversaries. Your Kodak moments are all there and digital and unless you post everything to Facebook like some people, they are easily lost.

It’s scary to think how convenient it is and how dependent we are on technology these days, but if the grid is wiped out it’s all gone.  All we have left are the photo albums and developed photos from the 90’s and before when one hour photo was the convenience and Mark Zuckerberg was in grade school.

Once the closet was clean and the trash was taken out I sat down with Ward’s letters and put them in order by date and read a few of them. I realized I have no photo of him, but that’s okay. I have the letters and I have memories. And those are better than nothing.

As for that photo of me, God, I look old. There’s a good reason I don’t take photos of myself right there!

Books and Letters

I started using Book Mooch again two weeks ago. It’s a book swapping site that allows you to get rid of books you don’t want, and earn points to “mooch” books you do want. It’s a free service, other than postage, and overall is a friendly community. I joined in 2007 and took a hiatus in 2015.  Over that time, I have sent 206 books and “mooched” 211.

Some of you might think you could never part with your books. I thought the same thing once. Other than falling in love with my Kindle several years ago, I’m not sure what changed my mind. I still like reading physical paper books and will always have a bookshelf in my house full of them, but I also enjoy sharing books so it’s very easy for me to part with them these days.  I still have books that I have had an emotional connection with and that I might read again some day. They are indeed like old friends that I enjoy having in my life.

Just this last week one of my books was mooched by a man named Richard who lives in an assisted living center in New York. I accepted his request and said a friendly hello and offered other books in the same genre to him if he was interested.  He replied with a polite thank you and told me that when he moved into the center there was only a small book case of books. He couldn’t bare to part with his 1100 books so he brought them with him and is creating a library for the 140 residents at the center.

I offered to send him more books from my shelf to help out. Richard thought that was nice and he offered to give me my point back for the book he had mooched from me. Each book you send on Book Mooch earns you a point that can then in turn be spent on mooching a book from someone else. So Richard spent a point to get the one book from me. That wasn’t necessary; I told Richard that I would be happy to send him an array of books and he could keep his point.

I was happy to do it and happy to get rid of more books and know they were going to a good cause.  Heck, I’d even give him some more of my mooch points for his cause because I didn’t need more books!  The site allows you to give “smooches” to charities and other organizations which is giving your points to them so they can mooch books.  I currently have 13 points, all earned just in the last two weeks from sending books out. So that’s 13 books that can be mooched.  Instead of having to list more books on the site to have to mail out when they get mooched, I picked about a dozen books from my shelf and sent them all to Richard.

Richard told me he is also starting a book club at the center and they want Pride and Prejudice and Zombies to be their first read! Richard and I both found that humorous. He asked if I had any copies of it, but I didn’t.  But I asked how many he needed because maybe I could help out with that too.  He thought six would do so a quick click on Amazon today and I had six copies sent to him.

I like doing nice things for people and I was happy to do it for a fellow book lover.  And now I have a new friend in New York who is also doing nice things for good people.  It reminded me of my pen pal, Ward, and the many books he sent to me in the mail over the years.

Today I received a letter in the mail from Ward’s friend who had contacted me to let me know of his passing. I had written to her just a few days after we spoke, thanking her for taking the time to find me. I also asked her if she could send me something from Ward’s house to remember him by, or possibly send me all of my letters or Ward’s journal. Ward told me once that he had written in a journal every day since he was a young boy.  I would love to have any of these things with her church’s blessing.  (Ward left his house and all of his belongings to his church.)

She shared in her letter that they had a lovely memorial service for him and planned to sprinkle some of his and his sister’s ashes in a cemetery in Memphis. The rest of his ashes will be interred in the columbarium in his church. She said she’d be happy to send me everything I had asked for and has chosen a small jade dragon from his house that she thought I would like.  They have not found his journals yet though. I suspect they won’t and that Ward might have destroyed all of them before he fell ill. I plan to write her a check to at least cover the postage and her troubles. She can donate it to their church if she chooses.

These occasions this week of books and letters reminds me once again how important our lives can be and how precious the time we spend here on earth with others. We all have such great opportunities to be kind to one another, but few of us do it. We are overcome by the stresses of our own individual lives, or we are selfish in our ways. And I may even appear that way to some. But those people don’t know me; they don’t really know me at all.  And that’s okay because I don’t do kind acts for those people. I don’t do them for any reason really.  I do it because it makes me happy. If kindness is an addiction, then label me an addict.

So be kind to one another. It’s a great day to be alive.

 

When a stranger calls…

Yesterday I received a phone call from a kind lady I didn’t know. But she knew everything about me. She had read the hundreds of letters that I had written to my long-time pen pal who lived in Oxford, Mississippi.

My pen pal was a retired professor named Ward. We met in 1993 when I was still in high school. I had placed a small personal ad in a Memphis newspaper seeking friends. Yes, this was pre-internet and cell phone days and personal ads in the back of newspapers existed. Ward was one of the few to respond to the ad, and so began our long relationship of letter writing.

I met Ward face to face in Memphis the following year over lunch. He was a very tall elderly man with a awkward toupee. He was very quiet, and as you can imagine because of the age difference, we didn’t have much to share over lunch that day. Before he left, I gave Ward a folder filled with my years of poetry writing for him to read and critique. He kindly returned it to me months later in the mail with some nice sentiments.

In 1995, I moved to Memphis to attend college. Ward and I continued to communicate through letters and one Sunday in either 1996 or 1997, on a whim with nothing to do, I drove to Oxford to surprise him. Ward lived in a large beautiful southern home nestled in the side of a hill behind an iron gate. He called his home Tuesday’s Hill because he’d found it on a Tuesday many year’s ago. The property was filled with luscious flower beds and plants, and there was large statuary adorning the garden everywhere you turned. Many of Ward’s letters had expressed his joy of working in the yard and planting flowers, but it was quite a joy to see all of his hard work in person that day.

Unbeknownst to me, Ward lived in the quaint little guest house behind his beautiful home. His ailing bedridden sister lived inside the house.  I didn’t even know until then that Ward had a sister!  I came to accept over time that Ward was indeed a very private man.  I felt like I got to know him well through his letters, but in face I knew very little. Unfortunately, that day when I visited him at his home would be the last time I ever saw Ward face to face again.

We continued to write to one another, even after I moved to St. Louis in 2001.  Occasionally, he asked me to fly to Memphis to visit him one more time. He even offered to pay for it, but I never took him up on the offer. I wish now I had. I called him for a few years each December to wish him Merry Christmas and to catch up with him via telephone. Ward occasionally mailed books to me, often with no written letter included at all. Just a book in a padded envelope to let me know he was thinking of me. When I had first met him, he suffered from a gimp hand then and his writing was sometimes hard to read so I imagined that’s maybe why he chose not to write.

In 2014, I started writing to Ward about every two weeks, much more frequently than I ever had before. During this period of time, Ward never wrote back once. I had a feeling he might have been upset with me for not visiting him again, or worse, maybe he wasn’t able to write back. I feared he might have passed on already, so I wrote to him one last time late that year and told him it would be my last letter.  I never heard from him, and then the phone rang yesterday.

The lady who called me went to church with Ward and she and her husband had become good friends with him and visited his home regularly. She had found all of my letters and reached out to me to let me know that Ward passed away last Friday.  There was a caregiver and hospice nurse by his side. His caregiver had talked him into moving back into the house from the guest house a while back (Ward had told me in a letter that his sister died many years ago). She repeated what I had known all along, that Ward was a very quiet and private man but because of our letters all those years, she wanted to find me and let me know that he was gone.

Ward told me years ago that he was leaving his house and all of his belongings and property to his church. He attended every Sunday and his friend told me that he usually sat in the very back by the door and when service was over he’d leave without talking to anyone. I can’t imagine someone having to go through his estate and having to decide what to do with it! At one time Ward told me he donated thousands of old books to a library in another state! They had even sent a truck to pick them up.

Ward also told me that he wanted his ashes, along with his sister’s, dumped in the Grand Canyon. His friend told me he changed his mind and wanted to be buried in Elmwood Cemetery in Memphis. I know it well from when I lived there so hopefully I can visit him there and pay my respects one day.

Learning of his passing brought me great peace. I finally had some closure and knew what had happened to my pen pal.  But it also has brought regret to me today. I feel like I should have visited him. I should have continued to write. Death always reminds us of the things we should have done, and reminds us that now it’s too late.  It leaves us behind, alone to go on living. I just hope that Ward is at peace too and that he isn’t lonely anymore.

Save-Money-on-Car-Insurance

More apps to help you save money

ibottaappAfter all the information I’ve shared the last two days about my plans to save money this year and how to make money with the online survey taking site Inbox Dollars, I completely forgot about an app I have on my phone that also helps save money. It’s called iBotta. A friend of mine turned me onto it last year.

It’s kind of a cool coupon-type app but instead of giving you coupons to use at the time of check out, it pays you back with rebates after you check out. The app lists different rebates that are available each month at a wide selection of stores like Kroger, Wal-Mart, Target, Dollar General, Walgreens, CVS, Family Dollar, Schnucks and more.

You select which items you bought and then you scan them to make sure they match. Then you upload an image of the receipt to earn the rebate. You can cash out the money via Pay Pal once you reach $20 or you can get paid via gift cards to places like Amazon or Starbucks.

And I know you are probably thinking the rebates are only available on items you never buy, right?  Nope.  There’s a wide variety of rebates available from bread, cereal, drinks (including alcohol), toilet paper, produce, medications, toiletries, and more. My favorites are the generic rebates that allow you to buy any type of product to earn it, like a loaf of bread. You don’t have to buy a certain name brand. Any loaf will do.

There’s also generic rebates for produce like carrots, mushrooms, peppers, apples, and more. And the rebates change each month.  And most of the same rebates are available across a wide variety of stores so you don’t have to go to a certain store to earn that rebate. Each rebate usually ranges from 25 cents to $1 or more depending on what the item is. The rebates for alcohol are much higher!

There’s also fun team exercises on the app. If you invite friends to sign up or your friends via Facebook sign up for iBotta, they become members of your team and you can help each other toward goals to earn more money each month.

receipt hogThere’s a second app that I actually just read about and downloaded on New Year’s Eve.  It’s called Receipt Hog. I can tell I’m really going to enjoy this app because I’m not limited to having to buy specific products to earn rewards.

With Receipt Hog, you snap a photo of any receipt and upload it to earn coins. Yep, any receipt! You earn a certain number of coins based on how much you spent and you can level up to earn more.

The receipts can be to any store too, including restaurants, supermarkets, closeout stores, beauty stores, health stores, dollar stores, and more. They just can’t be handwritten receipts and can’t be older than two weeks.

The coins you earn equal money. 1000 coins equals about $5. You can level up to earn more as you load more receipts. There are also sweeps you get entered in to earn more too.  And you  earn pulls on a slot machine for chances to earn more coins which is kind of fun.

I just downloaded this app on New Year’s Eve and immediately uploaded all of my receipts that I still had from Christmas Eve on. I had 200 coins in no time and have already leveled up twice. I’m at level 3. For under $10, I earn 5 coins, $10 – $50 earns 10 coins, $50 – $100 earns 15 coins, over $100 earns 20 coins. I also earn one sweep entry per receipt.

Since this is a brand new app for me, I’m still learning about it so if you have questions here’s a link to their FAQ.  But I’m already looking forward to uploading all of my receipts this year!

In February, I’m also going to add these two apps to my list of savings accounts.

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Making extra money with Inbox Dollars…

In my “January 2016” resolutions post from yesterday I mentioned how I made extra money last year through a site called Inbox Dollars. This is a site that pays you to take online surveys. I know you’ve seen these before and you probably thought they were a scam. Yeah, I did too until I joined this one and started using it.

I made just over $130.00 with them last year. Might not seem like a lot but think about how much you spend at the grocery store each week, or how much you spend in gas each year, or how much you spend in school supplies for your kids, or on gifts for Christmas.  No matter what you spend it on, we can all use some extra cash, right?

I joined in April and was slow at first. I didn’t earn $50 until August. From August to November I earned another $40, and earned the rest before the end of the year.

I like Inbox Dollars because they are one of the few sites that will actually send you a check in the mail. You don’t have to take your payment in the form of a gift card. The only limit is you can’t get a payout until you’ve reached $30.  There is a $3.00 check processing fee, but if you wait and cash out when you reach $40 they will cover this fee for you.  And, they even credit your account another $3.00 after you cash out just to entice you to keep using the site.

There are lots of different features on the site for making money, but I’m only going to discuss the ones I’ve used personally or use on a regular basis. Let’s start with cash offers.

When you sign up and go to the Inbox Dollars home page, you’ll see lots of cash offers like getting a magazine subscription, or getting your credit score, signing up for Publishers Clearing House, or signing up for free samples. Inbox will pay you a small amount (anywhere from .25 cents to $1.00 or more) to take advantage of these offers. The amount is always listed below the offer. However, a lot of these offers cost money or want you to sign up for a subscription of some kind so to me they aren’t really worth it.  Who wants to spend money to earn money, right? But there is an advantage…

Inbox Dollars also emails you different cash offers each week that might only be available for a limited time. The good news is they’ll pay you 2 cents per email just to read or “confirm” the email without having to do the cash offer itself. So I always confirm the emails but I rarely take advantage of the offers.  Two cents might not seem like a lot but it adds up.

Here is one cash offer example that I did take advantage of recently though…

Inbox sent an email advertising a company that personalizes and monograms gifts called Gifts for You Now.  You’d get the 2 cents just for reading the email but if you made a purchase, Inbox would credit you $8.  When you signed up on the site, they  were having a 20% off sale and a $5 coupon for new members.  I thought this was a pretty good deal and I found an item that would make a nice Christmas gift for just $16.00 after the 20% off and my $5 coupon. After Inbox credited me the $8 I paid just $8 for the item plus shipping.

The next simple way to make money through Inbox Dollars is by listening to their online streaming radio channels.  They pay you 2 cents every ten minutes just for listening.  You do have to enter a code or answer a question that pops up on your screen every ten minutes so you can’t leave the house and let it stream all day.

Inbox also has its own search engine and will pay you 2 cents and 2 sweeps (more about sweeps in a minute) for every 4 searches you do. Again, don’t think you can just type in anything and rack up money all day. It has its limits and requirement for valid searches. I don’t use it very often because Google is my go-to search engine, but when I’m not having luck with surveys I go do some searches just to get a few cents in that day.

The biggest way to make money is by answering surveys. Surveys range anywhere from .15 cents to $1.00, sometimes more, and can take anywhere from 5 minutes to 30 minutes. The amount you get for each survey and the estimated length of time is always listed. There are various surveys available each week that often expire if you don’t act right away, but there are also some survey offers that are available every day.

You might not qualify for every survey either.  But don’t worry, you don’t have to enter any personal information other than your age, sex, number of kids, zip code, or other classification things like that.  Some days are better than others for me when it comes to qualifying for surveys so don’t think your $30 will stack up overnight.

wheelOne good thing is that for every survey you click on and didn’t qualify for will earn you a spin on the Spin and Win wheel.  This is a wheel that you can click on to win various prizes like cash, sweeps, or survey tokens.  The cash is an extra 5 cents, $1, or $5 added to your account automatically.  I’ve won the 5 cent one quite a bit.  I’ve never won the $5 though!

The survey token is 25 cents that gets added to your account after you complete another survey.  So if you completed a 50 cent survey you’ll get 75 cents instead.  And the sweeps are extra chances to earn other prizes.  I’ll talk about those in a bit. I usually take advantage of all of my spins each day but you can save up to 100 spins on the wheel if you want but you are only allowed around 20 spins per day.

Now let’s talk about sweeps. Think of sweeps as entries into raffles. Like I said, you earn then from doing searches, or from spins on the wheel, and other various things on the site. They do add up quick. You can spend your sweeps in the Rewards Center which is a listing of prizes like cash and gift cards. Each entry will cost you a number of sweeps.  Here’s a snapshot of my current Rewards Center.  I have 40 sweeps available and I usually go for the largest prize though I have not won one yet. The largest prize right now is a $250 prize added to your account. It costs 50 sweeps to enter each time and I have 23 entries so far. Maybe I’ll win some day!

sweeps

I’m only showing the top 3 current sweep offers but there are lots more available including a sweep to get just 25 cents added to your account. That one only cost 1 sweep per entry.  Another one I like to enter quite a bit is for $1.50 to be added to your account which costs just 3 sweeps per entry.

And that’s pretty much it.  It’s not going to make you a lot of money, but if you stick with it the site definitely pays off some.  Like I said, I made $130 doing it last year. My goal for this year is to try to get to $250.00!

If you’d like to sign up and try it out yourself, just click here!

Tomorrow I’m going to share two other fun ways to save money!

2015 in review

Thanks for making 2015 a fun year here on my blog!

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 22,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 8 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Christmas Putz Houses 2015

It’s been a busy holiday season for me!  I’ve been busy building houses…putz houses that is (also called glitter houses)! These are miniature “train set” size houses that I make from old greeting cards.

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A house I made this year for a coworker friend

I picked up this hobby in 2013 and made a few which I ended up selling to a friend that first year. Last year I made twelve houses and gave six each to my sister and mother as a Christmas gift.

This year mom and Sis will each get another six to add to their collection. And I made another six for an aunt who also liked, and I have a coworker friend who wanted a few.  So that makes just over 20 houses I made for this season!

That may not sound like a lot but it can take a few days just to complete one house. I usually start by tracing a house on the cards and cutting it out.  This usually takes thirty minutes to an hour depending on how complicated the house is and how many parts it has.

I then glue the house and let it sit while I cut out another. I often do this each night through the week. By the weekend, I have several houses ready to decorate with glitter, bottle brush trees, and figurines.

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One of my custom houses made from my own pattern. The sign post is a take-out chopstick cut in half.

My biggest problem this year was finding new patterns so I didn’t repeat the houses I made last year. I made a few from scratch including a barn and a castle. I use graphing paper to make the pattern. This is the easiest way to make sure all sides line up, but without a protractor most of the roofs are just a basic 45  or 90 degree angle. So I bought a protractor this year so I can make sharper angled roofs without having to rely on the lines on graph paper.

There are several websites online devoted to traditional putz houses where I’ve picked up patterns in the past. Pinterest is also a good source, especially if you search for “paper house patterns.” I have a Pinterest board devoted entirely to putz houses, mostly consisting of other images of completed houses that people have shared which I like to look at for inspiration.

$(KGrHqV,!ksE+7NtyKpgBQHWoDgH7w--60_35This year I searched several antique malls again to find miniature figurines and trees to decorate the houses. Last year I purchased quite a few from Etsy shops.

You can get lots of trees on Etsy at good prices, along with vintage style cupcake toppers which make for nice decorations outside of the houses.  I had lots leftover but I still wanted new stuff so that Mom and Sis don’t have duplicate looking houses.

You’d be surprised how hard it is to find those Department 56 style porcelain figurines nowadays. Years ago they were everywhere – even in dollar stores. Not this year! I got lucky and found a few bags of them in consignment shops a few weeks ago. I scored one bag of eight figurines for just $2.50.

assorted_frosted_green_bottle_brush_trees_1Hobby Lobby was also a good source for miniatures this year. They have a nice mini-tree section filled with tiny ornaments. I bought tractors for my barn, toy soldiers for my castles, some snowmen, and some whimsical cats.

I also like to buy larger bottle brush Christmas trees here because they stock them year round in the dollhouse section. All Christmas was 50% off already on the weekend I shopped here so that made it even better.

I also made a few houses with cardboard flatties this year.  These are small flat characters that are cardboard. If I found characters on the greeting cards that I liked, like a snowman or a child with a sled, I carefully cut them from the card and left a flap on the bottom that could be folded and glued down so they would stand up.  They lack dimension but still add character to the houses.

I did not have to buy cards this year though! I had plenty leftover from last year thanks to people giving them to me and thanks to after-Christmas sales where I picked up several boxes at dollar stores. It takes 2 to 4 cards to make one house, depending on the size.

If it’s a small house, I can get the walls from one card and the roof and base from another. If it’s a larger house with multiple pieces it can take two cards just for the walls, another for the roof, and another for the base. Sometimes I use different cards for bases just so they don’t all match and also to use up a single leftover card.

So what’s next now that this year’s “house gifts” are done?  I love to continue making them into the winter months sometimes. And some friends have told me I should try selling them. I’m not sure how well they do online and places like Ebay and Etsy charged listing fees.

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The bird and the snowman are miniature ornaments from Hobby Lobby

I’d really like to get them into a consignment or gift store. So that’s my next venture!  There are several places near St. Louis like Old Main Street in St. Charles or even Kimmswick that have gift stores where I think they might do well. It’s just a matter of reaching out to the owners to see if they are interested.

I’m also thinking of creating a separate blog devoted just to putz houses. Like I said, there are already some out there that are all about the traditional-style glitter houses so I’d like to maybe start a new approach. We’ll see what 2016 has in store!

It’s that time of year again…

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Traditional Glitter House

…when I start making putz houses, also known as glitter houses.  Traditional glitter houses are made from cardboard and usually painted and covered in glitter. There’s usually a small hole in the back where you can insert a Christmas light.  It’s an old tradition that goes way back; you can often find old houses in antique stores these days!

Three years ago I discovered them online when I came across a blog where a lady was making them out of old holiday greeting cards. I decided I wanted to start making them too. It ‘s a lot of fun and just another way I can satisfy my creative urges. I made a few that first year and sold them to a coworker.

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The houses I made last year

Last year I decided to make twelve houses and I gave a set of six to my sister and to my mother as a Christmas gift. They loved them and couldn’t believe they were hand made.

This year I’m making them again. My plans are to make at least 18 of them.  I’m going to give another six each to my sister and mom so they can “grow” their putz village.  And I have an aunt who thought they were so cute so I’m going to make a set for her.

The problem is there aren’t a lot of patterns out there!  You can find lots of pictures of putz houses online, but there aren’t a lot of patterns available. Sure, I can use the patterns I have and just use different cards so the houses look different, but I’d like for the shapes of the houses to be different too.

I even searched Amazon hoping to find a book of patterns but only came across traditional cardboard DIY houses that are already assembled and just need painting.  I did find some H-O Scale books with pre-printed houses in them that you cut and paste to build a village for your model trains. There are several different versions available and I scored an out of print used copy for 85 cents.  I’m hoping it hasn’t actually be used and maybe I can utilize it for patterns, but for less than a buck if I can’t, then no loss really.

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One of last year’s houses I made

I am experimenting more this year with being an “architect” and drawing my own patterns using graph paper. So far I’ve made a cathedral and a barn. I might also attempt to make patterns that mimic some of the houses I’ve found online that I like that I can’t find patterns for.

It’s almost impossible to make one house from start to finish because of waiting for glue to dry. Right now I have one house done that just needs glitter added.  And I have four others all in different stages either waiting on glitter or waiting on accents and bases to be added.

It’s a fun project to work on when I come home from work and I’m in front of the TV and don’t feel like doing anything else. I’ll post pictures of some of this year’s homes once they are ready!

 

 

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Red Hot Sweet Pepper Jelly

This year we’ve let the garden grow a bit longer than we usually do.  Often by this time of year we’ve gathered about all we are going to get and about all that we can handle.  That was the case about a month ago when I begged a neighbor to take tomatoes from us.  We’d picked and canned and ate so much and just didn’t want to mess with any more, so we unloaded about 5 to 10 pounds of tomatoes on her.  Tomatoes are plentiful like kittens, but much easier to find homes for!

By now, we’ve often pulled up the plants and cleared the garden. Last year I remember moving potted plants into the garden and adding pumpkins for a fun fall look.  This year, the tomato plants and pepper plants are still growing!  The tomato plants bloomed again and started producing a few smaller tomatoes, but I doubt they will ripen before the first frost.  But the pepper plants are a different story.

The banana pepper plants have still been producing peppers for weeks, even after we unloaded a few dozen on our neighbor who took the tomatoes. I wasn’t sure what to do with them so I let them continue to ripen on the vine for a while and then picked them a week ago.  I started searching Pinterest for some canning ideas and found several recipes for pepper jelly and pepper relish.  I didn’t know if I would use the relish since I made quite a bit of pickle relish this year, so I decided to give the jelly a try.

I started with a simple recipe that seemed to have been repeated in several posts.  They all contained the following 4 ingredients:20150927_142900_resized

1.5 cups of white vinegar (some versions used apple cider vinegar)
6 cups of white granulated sugar
Several peppers – some used only two, some used a dozen, some measured by cups.  I’ll explain what I did in a bit.
2 packs of liquid pectin

One recipe only used 1 green bell pepper and 1 red bell pepper. Others said 3 cups of diced peppers and included bell peppers, jalapenos, and banana peppers together.  I decided I was going to use all of my banana peppers which were about two dozen, maybe a few more.  I also had half of a small bag of sweet red and orange peppers that I had bought recently for salads so I threw them in too for color.  We don’t grow jalapenos but I’d be open to trying those sometime in the jelly. All the peppers I used are pictured above.

red-hots-candy-theater-size-127362-imI wanted to spice it up a bit though. I remembered I had bought 3 boxes of red hot candies last year that I intended to use in a jam or spiced pear recipe but I never did.  So, I decided now was the time to experiment with them.

But first, I diced all of the peppers and added them to a large pot.  I left the seeds in too.  Then I added the 6 cups of sugar and 1.5 cups of white vinegar to the peppers.  I stirred them and turned them on low heat.20150927_145117_resized

While the peppers were heating up, I poured the red hots into a small pot with one cup of water and turned it on low heat. As the water comes to a slow boil, it turns red as the candy starts to melt.  I stirred the candy with a wooden spoon until it started to clump and turn white.  (You’ll want to remove this gummy leftover residue immediately or it will stick to the pan like cement!)  The leftover water tastes just like the candy – a warm cinnamon flavor. So I poured the red water in with the peppers and gave it a stir.

Now, I know what you are thinking.  Red hot candy and peppers?!  Gross!  Nope, it turned out quite nice.  It had a bit of tang from the vinegar, the sweetness from the sugar, and a nice kick of flavor from the red hots that wasn’t too hot at all actually.  Southerners love things that are tangy and sweet.  Ever heard of a Koolickle?  This recipe reminded me of them.

I stirred the mixture just until it came to a slow boil. Then I added the two packs of liquid pectin and stirred it for another ten minutes or so just barely letting it come to a rolling boil.  Then I canned it and processed it for about twenty minutes in my water canner.

Now, here is the only problem I ran into.  The liquid pectin did not work as well as I had expected.  The jelly was still runny, even two days later.  It just didn’t gel to the consistency I had expected. A lot of people eat pepper jelly spread over a block of cream cheese and the runny texture is probably okay for that, but I wanted something a bit more firm.20150927_155337_resized

So I had to open all of my jars and recook the jelly. Remember you can reuse the rims but you can reuse the lids of the jars. I added a few teaspoons of my powdered fruit pectin. After canning it again and letting it sit, it turned out much thicker. So I probably won’t ever use the liquid pectin again.

As you can see from this last picture, it has a beautiful Christmas-y red color.  I’m looking forward to trying it over cream cheese when my family comes for a visit this weekend. And if they like it too, I’m sure I’ll let them take a jar home.

And this is definitely a recipe I’d make again just to put a surplus of peppers to good use!

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I go out walking…

…but not after midnight!  unnamed (1)

Since last Saturday, I’ve been walking at least twice, sometimes three times a day and it feels great.  It all started last Saturday when I decided to get out and enjoy the cool morning air with a walk.  I walked two miles and it really improved my overall mood for the entire day so I did it again on Sunday morning and it had the same effect.

On Monday, I was debating on walking in the morning because after J leaves for work at 6:30am, I have an hour before I have to get ready for work.  The only problem is it’s still dark outside until closer to 7am.  I waited until 6:45am but then was rushed to eat breakfast by the time I got back. On Tuesday I decided to just give it a go at 6:30am.  And by the time I got back, I had plenty of time to eat and then jump in the shower.  The sunrise that morning (pictured above) made it all worth it!

Also on Monday, I decided to walk again in the early evening after dinner.  I did that every day this last week except for one day. A coworker friend and I also walk about a mile on lunch on most days, so some days I have been getting 5 miles in by the end of the day.  This weekend I did 2 miles in the morning and again in the afternoon.  Each walk burns about 200 to 250 calories.

There’s a great park just up the street from my house so I walk to the park which is half a mile.  Then I walk the track around the park once which is one mile. So the half mile back home makes for a nice 2 mile walk which I can do in about 35 to 40 minutes.

It’s a great family friendly park with pavilions, playground equipment, tennis courts, a skateboard/skater area, open fields for sports, a community center with pool, and there’s a pond in the middle with ducks and geese. Most importantly, I feel safe there and haven’t seen any shady people or strange activity there.unnamed

As I mentioned, it really improves my mood for the day.  Each day after my walk and breakfast, I go to work feeling ready to conquer the world! The morning walk also helps me to eat breakfast. Before, I had to make myself eat something. Now, after my walk, I crave food and have a healthy breakfast.

In the mornings, I felt so good that I decided on Monday I was going to try not to complain each day, and it really worked. I remained positive throughout the day. And after my evening walk by the time I went to bed, I was beat and found I slept more soundly and didn’t wake up through the night.

The change in mood alone is worth it. I haven’t dropped any pounds yet, but I’m sure if I keep walking I’ll shed some pounds in no time!