May 28, 2010

Air Conditioning Season is Here

It's air conditioning season here in Iowa and that is one area I will not be cheap.  I am so sorry but when it is 90 degrees and there is a lot of humidity, I want to be comfortable and cool. One other thing I won't be frugal on is "Skinny Cow" ice cream sandwiches.  They are well worth the expense.  I never  see a coupon for those but I buy them anyway. 

 We do a couple of things in our morning routine to guarantee that our air conditioners do not have to work too hard.  Since the front of our house faces east, I always pull the drapes to block the sunlight.  The same goes in the back corner bedroom that faces west.  When the sun reaches high in the sky that back bedroom can start to get really warm.  I invested in some heavy, insulated drapes to keep the room cool/warm depending on the season. 

The main floor of our home is heated by a boiler so we have window air conditioners to cool the downstairs.  The upstairs was a former attic and it has a separate force air furnace with a central air unit to keep it cool. 

There are many days when I have the drapes pulled downstairs that I do not even need to run the cool setting on the air conditioners.  Yes, it is dark, but as long as I am comfortable I can deal with a little darkness.  Actually housewives have been doing this for years to keep their homes comfortable in the summer.  My grandmother always pulled the drapes to keep the sun out and she placed a few fans in strategic locations to keep the air moving in the house.

As to the upstairs, I apply the same principle of closing blinds to keep the hot sun out.   Also on the days when it is unbearable I run the central air at the start of the day and keep the setting at 80 degrees.  Our airconditioner/furnace repairman has always told us to keep the thermostat set at a constant temperature and don't move it around a lot.  He also recommends not waiting so long to turn on the air conditioning so that the air conditioner unit has to work non stop for an hour trying to get the upstairs cooled down. 

One other thing we have done to help with keeping our home cool is to plant some trees.  Three years ago for Father's Day I purchased two trees for my husband and we planted them on either side of our house.  They have grown a lot and are already giving us quite a bit of shade.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, we live in a very old house.  Our plans are to someday side it and put in new windows.  At that time we will also add insulation.  I wouldn't be surprised if there isn't much insulation in some of the walls of the house.  Even so, our heating/cooling bills are not too bad and I truly believe it is because we are vigilant about keeping the thermostat set at a constant temp, having it set at a lower setting in the winter and a higher setting in the summer and we are keeping the drapes closed on those summer hot days and open for the sun to help warm the house in the winter.

One other thing we do is to have our heating/cooling systems serviced.  On Wednesday of this week we had our central air conditioner checked.  We will have to replace it either this year or next year.  I asked for an estimate of the cost and someone will be here next week to go through the house and give us an estimate for not only a new force air furnace and air conditioner unit for the upstairs but also for a new boiler to heat the downstairs.  We are also going to get an estimate to run a separate air conditioner system to cool the downstairs so that when we do side the house (several years down the road) we won't have to install window air conditioners.

I love to dream.  Many evenings we sit on our back deck and talk about what we would like to do to the house if we had the money.  It's always fun and actually some of those dreams have come true.  My DH will tell me something like "actually I think in a few years we will be able to afford to do that."  I never dreamed we would be able to live on his income alone and continue to renovate and update our home. 

I know we don't have a lot of money right now to put into the house, but we will be in a better financial position in a couple years.  It would be costly to replace everything at once but knowledge is power.  Knowing what something will cost helps with planning out when to replace something.  We can do the central air conditioner this year, perhaps next year we can afford a newer furnace.  One thing I keep in mind when we discuss spending money on our house, is that we have every  intention to live in this house well into our retirement years.

How does this affect our household budget?  I keep on buying the "Skinny Cow" ice cream sandwiches ($3.99 for a package of six - oh and they are oh soo good and only 160 calories) and I try not to overspend in other areas of our budget so we can continue to plug away and pay off bills and put money in savings.

May 20, 2010

Unexpected expense

Yesterday we had an unexpected expense in the area of $700 that has left me reeling a little.  We had the money in savings which I am thankful for.  It was disappointing but also gratifying that we had the money to pay the expense without putting it on a credit card.  Yes the emergency fund is low, but with what I have learned over the last several months on cutting back, I know we can start building it back up.

Years ago we would have just pulled out our credit card and added more debt to what we already had.  Now we plan ahead and it makes me feel so secure.

So today I am thankful that we had money in the bank to pay for an extra expense and I am grateful.

May 19, 2010


When I was working full time, on some afternoons when my desk was loaded down with work, I would daydream about what it would be like to be home full time.  Of course the operative word here is "dream."  It was a dream to believe that the house would always be clutter free and clean, the cookie jar would be full, laundry would always be kept up, the yard would look immaculate from the time I would be able to spend weeding and planting and oh yeah, all the household projects would be caught up including the painting of the entire house inside and outside. 

Today I sit at my diningroom table and I am laughing at my naiveté.  I am able to keep up on some household chores but the one that I thought would be the most evident would be a clutter free and always clean home.  It would work if no one lived in the house, but since we do I have come to compromise.  Perhaps it is because many people believe that when you are home full time that your house should always be in order.  Yeah right. 

My house looks much better since I have been home, not perfect but better, and I can keep up on most projects but I am struggling with the seasonal work that needs to be done.  So it is time for a couple of afternoons of planning.  There is something about taking a calendar and marking down the projects that need to be done and setting time aside to get them done. 

Sometimes part of being overwhelmed is just poor planning.  Everything always looks better on paper and on a calendar.  There is just something about taking the time to face what has to be done and making the time to get it done.  Many of the projects are ones that my DH needs to do such as making pickets to replace some rotted pickets on our fence.  There are many that I can do and I just need to sit down and plan.

Life is balancing many different things - home, family, friends, church and so on.  I try to find a balance when I work on projects.  If I am facing something that I have to get done, but don't necessarily like to do such as painting the exterior of the house, I try to balance it off with something I like to do.  I may spend a couple days painting and then have a full day to sew which is something I love to do.

My motivation is that I want our home to look nice from the inside and the outside.  So for a few afternoons I will be calendaring projects feeling better knowing that I have a plan to get things done.  Some will be pushed off to next year as there are only so many hours in the days and so many days in the spring and summer to work on outside projects. 

I'm feeling less overwhelmed already.

May 17, 2010

Planning a Vacation

No matter what our financial situation has been throughout our married life, we have always taken a vacation.  Vacations have ranged from driving to visit family throughout the U.S., to tent camping at a state park and cooking our meals at a campsite, to driving to a vacation spot and staying at hotels and eating every meal at a restaurant.  Of course, each vacation was planned on what we could afford to spend at the time.

What have I learned?  It is important to get away for a week as a family.  The memories of those vacations are priceless and when I look at the pictures from all of those vacations, I have never been sorry that we spent the money and went. 

We have never taken a vacation that we couldn't afford.  One time we only had around $300 for a vacation.  That was the year we bought a cheap tent and went camping for a few days with some family members.  We shared in the cooking and honestly we had a great time.  I had never tent camped before I met my husband but when our kids were young it was a way for us to take a vacation without spending a lot of money.

This year we will spend part of our vacation visiting my mother.  It is a 14 hour drive (stops included) to drive straight from our house in Iowa to my mom's home in Western New York.  We have been driving straight through for several years and spend the time watching the scenery and talking or reading books while travelling.  It isn't for everyone, but it works for us. 

My mom lives in a very small apartment in a senior citizen's apartment building. We cannot stay there so we will once again be staying in a hotel. No matter who you book through, it costs money to stay in a hotel.  Unfortunately my home town is a tourist town so hotels aren't cheap, especially during the busy summer season.  We do a lot of price checking, comparing and we usually get a pretty good deal.  We always book a room at a hotel that has a continental breakfast and a microwave and fridge in the room.  These are almost becoming standard now.

On our way back to Iowa we will spend a day or two in Ohio going to the Football Hall of Fame and a few presidential historic sites.  Again, there will be two more nights of lodging.

When I was employed we would generally budget $1,500 to $1,800 for vacation.  For some people that is not a lot of money, but for us that was more than enough.  This would include about 6 nights of lodging, all meals being eaten in restaurants, admission fees to any attractions, souvenirs, gasoline and anything else that would be related to a vacation.

This year I will be packing food so that we can stop at rest stops and have a picnic.  When we are in New York we will take my mom out for a special meal but will cook the rest of the meals at her apartment. 

Our budget is an absolute cannot go over $1000.00 and would like to keep it at $800.00.  To help with the vacation expenses I have been taking all the money I save from couponing and stashing it in a jar.  It will be interesting to see what I have saved by the time we go on vacation. 

Over the almost 30 years that I have been married I have learned that it's not the amount of money spent that makes a great family vacation.  It's the time spent together, travelling and doing things together that makes it great.

May 10, 2010

A Special Place for Sewing

Last week I spent time going through closets and bookshelves.  If you are like me, you need to be in the mood to do this type of project.  As time goes on and a pile of give away items grows, I always start to feel better about what I am doing.  Unfortunately feeling better has resulted in several piles of give away items that I have around the house.  Time to load everything up and take everything to Goodwill. 

Book, fabric, sewing patterns give away pile

The first closet that I tackled was the one that was going to make a big difference in my everyday life.  It was the closet that I stored my sewing machine, fabric, notions and craft items.  Anytime I needed to machine mend or machine sew meant that I had to get out the sewing machine and lug it over to a table, find the notions and so on in order to do some simple project.  It was no wonder that my mending pile would grow bigger and bigger til the clothes were either out of style or my kids grew out of the clothes.

For a long time I have wanted a permanent area just for sewing.  Getting my sewing machine out of a closet when I needed to mend was such a hassle but I really couldn't figure out where to set up a permanent spot.  If I am going to be sewing more and making more of my clothes, I wanted a special place that made me feel happy.

Our house is a very old house.  The downstairs is the main living space with two bedrooms (now 1 bedroom is a den), 1 bathroom, kitchen and diningroom.  The upstairs was originally an attic.  The former owners made it into living space with 1 large master bedroom, a bathroom, a smaller bedroom, loft office and a sitting area off the master bedroom.

Our house has many gabels and you notice them in the upstairs floor plan.  In one area near the top of the stairs, there is 1 gabel that is about 4 1/2 feet in height from the floor to the peak.  The main part of the upstairs is easily 20 feet from the floor to the peak.  I will post pictures of these areas (after I am done cleaning and organizing).  The upstairs needs work but since it is mainly my DH's and my area, we are leaving it for last.

Okay, back to the sewing nook.  I first looked at using the extra small bedroom upstairs but it is rather a dark room.  Then I thought about the downstairs den but it also houses a couch, t.v. and our dvd selection.  It just didn't seem practical and I knew I wouldn't be able to leave my sewing projects out.    

My DH likes to use the word "perculate" when taking time to think about something.  So I guess you could say I have spent the last few weeks "perculating" over where to put this sewing nook.  Sometimes when you think things over and have some time to do this, you come up with an idea that is perfect. 

At the top of our stairs there is this perfect area tucked under a gabel.  Also at the top of the stairs is a big picture window.  I picked that area for my sewing nook.  It basically is what I would call an unusual area because one gabel is only 4 1/2 feet in height from floor to peak.  I have set up my sewing machine away from the gabel and it is next to the picture window.  There is plenty of room for my sewing table and chair and it is away from the peak so I won't be hitting my head.  We already had some plastic drawers and shelving that I could use to store my fabric and notions.  It is starting to come together. 

Yes, it is still messy, but it is a work in progress.

I set up our old desktop computer on an old end table so I can listen to dvd's and music while I am sewing.  As for the old lazy boy recliner, I used to sit and read there but not anymore.  I will have my DH move it when I decide on the final place to put it. If he complains I will tell him that I am "perculating" about where to put it.   Everyone knows that there isn't a husband out there that wants to move a chair around to three different spots before a wife decides which spot looks best. 

I've learned over the years that if I want to set up a specific spot for me, it has to be pretty and inviting. This little area is sunny and since it is at the top of the stairs I can still feel a part of the family while I an working on projects. 

My sewing nook should be finished this week and ready for me to start tackling some of my sewing projects.  I can't wait.

May 02, 2010

The Real Housewives of Iowa????

A few years ago I was sick with a terrible cold and I stayed home from work.  I spent my day on the living room couch and it was that day that I happened upon the t.v. show "The Real Housewives of Orange County."  As luck would have it they were running all of the season's episodes back to back.  I watched these, while drifting in and out of sleep, and I could hardly believe what I was watching.  First of all it is a reality t.v. show so who knows what is set up and what is not.  What I did take away from this is that these are not what I would call housewives.  When you live in larger than life houses that cost millions of dollars, have nannies, maids, drive luxury vehicles, buy expensive jewelry, feel the need to transform your body through plastic surgery, eat in expensive restaurants, only wear designer clothes, well I found it hard to compare myself to these women. 

Several weeks ago I was searching for something to watch while I was working in my kitchen and I happened upon the last two episodes of this season's "The Real Housewives of Orange County."  The recession was affecting the housewives of Orange County. They were having to cut back on eating out.  One wife had to let the maid go and was having to clean her own home and in one case they were going to lose their house if they didn't find a buyer soon.  They were upside down in their mortgage.  The husband sold luxury cars for a living and unfortunately for his family, no one was buying luxury cars.  One of the families had been living well beyond their means and in one scene a wife had complained that she had to actually do her own hair. 

It was hard for me to feel sorry for these women as they had been living the good life for a very long time. 

These women are not the typical housewife, yet who would actually watch a reality t.v. show called "The Real Housewives of Iowa?"  I can't imagine being followed around by a t.v. crew filming me making my own laundry detergent, washing clothes and hanging them out on the clothes line to dry.  Maybe they would film me clipping and sorting coupons, pouring over the grocery ads and making up a grocery list.  The fun would be to have them follow me into the store to load the cart, put some things back and finally make my way to the checkout.  Ooooh - couldn't you see people tuning in week after week to watch this? 

Then they could film me cleaning the bathroom and zoom in on cleaning the toilet.  Every now and then there would be lunch out with a friend at Subway, but no big three day shopping trips to a resort town.  There would be days of sewing and mending, helping my DS with his homework, baking bread and best of all walking the dog and having to scoop up her "doo doo."  The season finale could show me scraping the paint off the exterior of the house, priming it and painting it.  Occasionally I would say a swear word when I have trouble moving the ladder. 

I don't have the money that the Real Housewives of Orange County, Atlanta, New York or New Jersey have, but I do have a better life. I am sure of that.