29 September 2008

Screen Captures

We love the (free) video conference capabilities on Skype and iChat. Since we live so far from all our family, I'm grateful we only need a computer, microphone, webcam, and speakers to still allow Jonas an opportunity grow up with his doting grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.

Thanks to JuJe's parents for getting these great shots during our last two Skype sessions (and thanks for teaching me the beauty of screen captures).

Without further ado...

Book Review: Square Foot Gardening

Square Foot Gardening
By: Mel Bartholomew

For a reason unbeknownst to myself, I have felt a strong urge to begin gardening. For the last 10 years, I have managed to excuse myself from this popular pastime with a plethora of legitimate and/or ridiculous excuses--bad allergies, zero desire, boring, too hot outside, laziness, worms are gross (soooo gross), etc., etc., etc. In fact, I still have a number of perfectly good excuses that will not be given their proper respects because I am affording gardening one opportunity to prove itself to me.

This book was incredibly informative and focuses on how the author (a former engineer) made gardening more efficient. Instead of rows, he places plants in 4x4 squares and breaks them into 1 foot areas. He explains how to mulch (I never knew I could use that word in a sentence), create a compost pile, grow from seeds or transplants, how to be successful in an apartment or small area, and everything else a beginner needs to combat all of their excuses. I chose this method of gardening partly because I knew it was a method that has been taken to many developing countries in order to help the people grow their own crops in a limited space. I figured if it was acceptable for them, perhaps it would be a good idea for us as well.

The actual review of the book will need to come later. It seems like an excellent so far, but if my garden does not work, I may be less inclined to recommend it.

To learn more about squarefootgardening, visit here.

26 September 2008

Blanket Buddies

Jonas has received gorgeous blankets made especially for him by a few gorgeous ladies (with extraordinary talent). In no particular order:

Grandma Duke made this for Patrick when he was a baby and it has been passed on.

Miss Atali made this jean American flag quilt for personal progress--I see a budding Project Runway winner in the making!

Nana and Auntie Michelle made this safari quilt for the monkey.

Thanks Aunt Gerry--it's perfect!

Even when we weren't revealing the gender of the baby, Grammy Pammy went ahead and made this gender-neutral beauty.

Check out the amazing details of Aunt Liz's quilt.

A big THANK YOU to all you ladies who love our little man so much. Your generosity is a true gift.

Recipe Review: Black Bean Burgers

I found this recipe here.
I love black beans and typically prefer them to meat (for reasons relating to taste and cost), so this recipe was perfect. My carnivorous husband even enjoyed them, so there's hope for us yet.

I used homemade whole wheat rolls instead of hamburger buns. We are still looking for a way to make the middle a bit more firm (I think I put in more than 3 T salsa), so the smaller size burger worked better for that. I also put in homemade bread crumbs, so perhaps those weren't toasted well enough. In spite of those minor problems, yum!

* 2 cups black beans, mashed up
* 1 cup bread crumbs
* 3 TBLS salsa
* 1 egg
* 1 Cup cooked rice (brown or white)

Combine all ingredients. Make patties out of mixture. Place on griddle and cook until browned or crisp. Add lettuce, tomatoes, and other hamburger condiments to finished patties and bun.

25 September 2008

Happy Birthday to Grandma Ordinary

This smile's for you.

Recipe Review: Pumpkin Cinnamon Pancakes

Making sure I stay par for the course, Sarah posted a recipe and of course I had to try it.

YUM! These pancakes are so delicious and incredibly easy (read: 2 minutes to prepare). The recipe makes just the right amount for 2 adults and a toddler (which means we always have 1 pancake left over). I didn't have ginger on hand, so I doubled up on cinnamon one day and used nutmeg the other. Both were satisfactory.


Pumpkin-Cinnamon Pancakes
1 C buttermilk pancake mix (Aunt Jemima or generic brand)
2/3 C cold water
1/3 C canned pumpkin
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger

Blend ingredients. Batter should be lumpy--do not over mix.

Book Review: Spend Well, Live Rich

Spend Well, Live Rich
By: Michelle Singletary
252 pages

I heard Michelle Singletary on the radio about 3 years ago and was intrigued by her perspective. Like always, I wrote down the information for her book and proceeded to lose it, so imagine my surprise when I noticed it at the library.

Quit spending so much!

1) Very candid
2) Good starting point for beginners
3) I found a McDonald’s receipt in the frugality section…hehe
4) I liked the following forms (as shown below): Sample allowance agreement, sample rental agreement (for family members or friends that stay with you), and sample loan agreement. If JuJe needs to live with us in the future, I will certainly whip this out for some tips on how to handle it before things get out of hand.

1) Basic

Part one: Seven money mantras to guide you to financial serenity
1. If it’s on your a**, it’s not an asset.
2. Is this a need or a want?
3. Sweat the small stuff
4. Cash is better than credit
5. Keep it simple
6. Priorities lead to prosperity
7. Enough is enough

In this section, she gives Christmas ideas that I appreciate. She mentions having a $100 Holiday. That’s it. Only spend $100 on the entire Christmas season, which includes gifts for the kids. We are going to try this out for the upcoming holiday season, which will certainly be a challenge when we start thinking about not only family gifts, but coworkers, secret Santa exchanges, ugly sweater parties, etc.

Some Gift Ideas (page 18):
• Coupons for baby-sitting for working parents
• A certificate for a home-cooked meal for a single person who eats out a lot
• Make a tape of your children singing for out-of-town grandparents
• Grandparents can make a tape of themselves reading their grandkids’ favorite bedtime stories and send them the book with a copy of the tape
• Video oldest relatives talking about family history. Send the tape to family members for Christmas
• Collect your favorite recipes and create a personal cookbook
• Scan photos and make a photo album for family and friends

Part Two: The basics of saving, spending, and investing your money
This includes exactly what it says: the basics. Get out of debt, don’t cosign on a loan, inexpensive Christmas gifts, how to read/order/dispute credit reports, don’t lease cars, pay off your mortgage, be wary of lending money to family and friends, don’t use tax returns as windfalls—reduce them, use a budget, set goals, caring for a disabled family member, allowance, life insurance, losing a job, planning funerals, wills, ID theft, easy money=scam, retirement, mutual funds, college savings, hiring a financial planner, goal-setting.

Sample Allowance Agreement (page 166)
I hereby agree that I will pay my son(s)/daughter(s) the sum of $____ every week/month. (Pick a regular day so you won’t forget if the allowance was paid).

Your allowance will be given under the following conditions:
1. The allowance will not be tied to any specific chores or grades. You are a member of this household and as such you are responsible to help around the house and get good grades without being paid.

2. A minimum of ____% of the allowance must be put away for savings (If you tithe as a family, then your child should also tithe their 10% from their allowance).

3. ____% of the allowance will be withheld for taxes. (This will give you an opportunity to discuss how taxes affect the amount of money they will net when they get a real salary. This money can be divided between charities and/or a college fund. You should let the child choose the charity).

4. Each dollar saved will be matched with an additional $____. The matching money must be used for an agreed upon savings goal (e.g. bicycle, computer). The matching money cannot be withdrawn from the bank or spent without prior approval. (This may give your child more incentive to save)

5. The following expenses are to be paid out of your allowance (e.g. school lunch, CDs, movie tickets, gifts for friends; choose a certain number of expenses, but don’t overdo it)

6. Your allowance cannot be spent on the following items:

7. Every month you must prepare a budget indicating how the allowance will be spent.

8. No advance on the allowance will be given. No exceptions! (This is your chance to teach your child that they have to live within their means or budgeted allowance)

9. Once a year, on your birthday, there will be an allowance review meeting. At that time we will negotiate a possible raise in your allowance.

Parent and child agree to the above conditions.
Parent’s Signature:
Child’s Signature:
Date of Agreement:

Sample Rental Form (page 132)
This Rental Agreement is made with the following tenant(s):

The tenant(s) will occupy the residence located at:

The tenant(s) agree(s) to the following terms:

Rent: The total monthly rent is $____. If there are multiple tenants each will be responsible for the following monthly rent amount: ____. Eeach tenant is responsible for the full amount of his/her portion of the rent even if another tenant fails to pay his/her share.

Rent due date: Rent shall be paid on the ___ day of each month directly to ____.

Late fee: Failure to pay rent by due date will result in a $____ (I suggest $25) late fee assessed for each monthly rent payment not paid on time. A partial payment of rent is considered to be late and therefore a late fee will still be assessed.

Loss of employment: Each tenant is still responsible for paying rent even if he/she is not employed. Until the tenant is reemployed, the amount of rent will continue to accrue. Arrangements can be made to pay past-due rent; however, the home owner must approve any such plan. Once the tenant is again employed, the full rent is due as stipulated in this agreement.

Living arrangements: The bedroom(s) will be allocated as follows:

Shared space: The following are conditions of the shared space:

Utility charges: Each tenant agrees to pay ____% of the utility charges, ____% for gas and/or electricity, and ____% of the water bill.

Telephone charges: Each tenant will pay ____% of the monthly telephone service charges and will be responsible for all of their personal long distance phone calls.

Food: Each tenant is responsible for providing their own meals or they will be assessed a ____% of the weekly/monthly grocery bill.

Household chores: The tenant(s) will be responsible for the following household chores:

Overnight guests: Each tenant must obtain permission from the owner of the home prior to the stay of any overnight guest(s). No overnight guest(s) may stay longer than ____ consecutive nights.

Smoking: Smoking ___is ___is not allowed in the residence.

Vacating the residence: The tenant(s) must give the home owner at least ____ notice that he/she plans to move out of the residence.

Tenant signature/date

Landlord(s) signature/date

Sample Personal Loan Agreement (page 127)
The lender(s) ___________________
The borrower(s) _________________

Length of loan (weeks/months/years):

Total loan amount: $

Annual percentage interest rate charged:

Repayment conditions: The borrower(s) agree(s) to repay the agreed-upon loan installment of ____ on the _____ day of each month/week.

Late charge: Any payment not paif within five (5) days of the due date shall be subject to a late fee of $____

Total payment due at the end of this loan agreement:
Prepayment: The borrower(s) has/have the right to prepat the entire loan amount at any time. Interest will only be due for the time the loan is outstanding.

Co-borrowers: All borrowers listed on this agreement shall be equally responsible for paying the entire loan balance, including any interest and late charges due.

Default: If for any reason the borrower(s) fail(s) to make ____ number of payments on time, the loan shall be in default. The lender(s) can then demand immediate payment of the entire remaining unpaid loan balance, including any interest and late fees.

Legal fees: If this loan results in legal action for nonpayment, the borrower(s) agree(s) to pay any attorney or court fees associated with the collection of the unpaid loan balance.

As a legal adult 18 years or older I am fully responsible for paying back the full amount of this loan.

Notarized signature of
Date of loan agreement:
Notary signature:
Notary seal

22 September 2008

Hour Glass Figure

Eat your heart out Marilyn. Looks like you're not the only one with curves.

And for your enjoyment, this video was posted on my friend John's blog. It made me want quadruplets for 61 seconds (and then the video ended and I was brought back to reality).

19 September 2008

Say Cheese

Normally Jonas is all smiles when I do this, but the camera distracted him. The best (and only) one comes 7 seconds into the video, so don't blink or you'll miss it. When/if we get a better one, I'll certainly post it.

PS Jonas is suffering from Infant Alopecia. Please don't tease him. He's very self-conscious about it.

Book Review: Make Your Kid a Millionaire

Make Your Kid a Millionaire
By: Kevin McKinley
293 Pages

There are 4 reasons I review these financial books on our blog:
1) For me. Reviewing the material after I’ve read it helps solidify my learning
2) For the future. We can’t use every tip right away, but I know we will want to use them eventually
3) For convenience. Since I check all of these books out from the library, it is nice to have a quick way to reference them without going back to the library and being put on a waiting list
4) For you. There may be a small number wondering about this topic, but you don’t want to read the whole book to decide if it’s the right one (oh how I would have loved to read a review on the Tightwad Twins before losing those 191 pages of my life). I use other blogs to gauge whether or not particular personal finance books are for me, so I’d like to pass that on if anyone else is interested.
I was hesitant about reading this book because the subtitle reads: “11 Easy Ways Anyone Can Secure a Child’s Financial Future.” If making our kids millionaires were easy, everyone would be millionaires. Whenever I hear easy and financial planning, alarms sound in my head for potential schemes. I was pleasantly surprised that while the easy portion is misleading, the ideas are sound and are certainly feasible for many people.

Get started NOW. The earlier you start saving money, the more time will work on your side and make him/her a millionaire. And here’s how to do it.

1) McKinley puts his money where his mouth is. This is not theoretical at all. He gives sound investment advice if you are looking for specific places to put your money. McKinley goes through the advantages and disadvantages for 529 plans, mutual funds, treasury bonds, Roth IRAs, etc., etc., etc.
2) Broken into appropriate sections, depending on how much time you have to save for your child

1) I personally feel it doesn’t adequately address the importance of taking care of other financial obligations first. Our kids are important, yes, but taking care of those credit cards are pretty important too.
2) Not a good resource to teach your kids about money while they’re becoming millionaires

INTRODUCTION. Ten Things You Need to Know
1. Time is your best friend
2. Procrastination is your worst enemy
3. Without a foundation, the structure crumbles (read: teaching your kids how to handle their money; how to do this wasn’t the premise of this book, so if that’s what you want, you’ll need to look elsewhere)
4. Watched pots never boil, and watched stocks never double
5. Wealth Equals Freedom
6. We are who we are, not what we have
7. Money is a tool, not a weapon
8. The second-greatest gift (love is the first, financial independence is the second)
9. It’s easier to spend less than it is to make more
10. People get rich slowly

McKinley also included a list of priorities for families with small children:

Must do.
1. Wills, guardians, and life insurance
2. Save for college
3. Systematic deposits into a mutual fund
4. Deposit into your Roth IRA

Biggest Bang for your buck.
1. Save for college
2. Your kid’s Roth IRA
3. Deposit into a variable annuity
4. Grandparents help
5. Your Roth IRA
6. Start your kid early in his 401(k)

PART ONE: Prebirth to Six Years.
Topics: Mutual funds, college savings plans, wills, life insurance, trusts

Mutual Funds
• Prospectus: tells you about the fund’s past performance, expenses, sales charges, and any other disclosures required by law. You can get this in the mail or download it from their site
• What to look for:

o A long history of operation
o Continuity of management
o Recognizable, “blue-chip” companies in the portfolio
• Keeping your expenses low can save you hundreds of thousands of dollars in the long run—do your research about fees
• To avoid tax-heavy distributions:

o Look for funds with low tax liabilities and portfolio turnover
o Choose a tax-advantaged mutual fund
• Make systematic deposits—this will ensure you buy less when they are expensive and more when they are inexpensive
• Remember that unless it is a retirement account, the distributions are taxable the same year
• Advantages: low initial deposit, diversification, systematic deposit program, the power of dollar-cost averaging, easy additions and withdrawals
• Disadvantages: Possible to lose money and pay taxes (uncommon, but still happens), you only know exactly what you are invested in two days out of the year, filing taxes

How to get started in mutual funds
1. Pick a fund: for more information and tools:

a. American Association of Individual Investors
b. Consumer Reports
c. Forbes
d. Fortune
e. Money
f. Morningstar
g. Smart Money
2. Title the account
a. In your name if you aren’t worried about taxes
b. In your child’s name if you’re not worried they will take it over when they reach adulthood for purposes of which you don’t approve
3. Establish a systematic investment plan

Wills. Check. We did not hire an attorney, but probably will when our assets are a little more complicated. In Texas, it is legal to do one on your own. We used uslegalforms.com. For $29, you get documents to create a last will and testament, living will, and durable power of attorney. For $45 you get the documents for the spouse as well.

Life Insurance. Check. But you can go here and here and here and here to compare quotes with the ones you received from your agent

Establish a Trust.
• Allows for gradual release of the money
• Choose a trustee that is not the guardian
• Address these common issues:

o 1) maintenance (monthly payment to offset cost of raising your child)
o 2) health care (authorizing to spend what they need on child’s health)
o 3) education (college, private elementary and secondary school)

Admittedly, for the next three sections, I paid less attention because I know I’ll be rereading information on this in 6 years when Jonas is older.

PART TWO: Ages Seven through Twelve
In addition to talking about college savings, McKinley focuses on getting your child ready for retirement as well. This option never crossed my mind before (probably because we’re still working on our own retirement)

Topics: Annuities, Roth IRAs, Common Stocks,

Copyright © iStockphoto/ YinYang
Roth IRA
• Advantages: no taxes and no loss of control, no mandatory distribution
• Disadvantages: no tax deduction, the money is tied up

Combining a Roth IRA with a trust
• Advantages: generate tax-free growth for decades, prevent immature heirs from squandering wealth
• Disadvantages: Congress may eventually disallow this since it is an effective way to legally avoid taxes, there are additional expenses with this additional layer of protection between your child and their money

Common Stocks.
• Advantages: low initial investment, low taxes, low commission expenses, natural patch to teaching child about business, money, and investing
• Disadvantages: poor planning tool, possible bookkeeping nightmare, timing of the trade, commission costs, using DRIPs (dividend reinvestment programs) with growth companies
• How people don’t accumulate wealth:

o Buy obscure penny stocks in some kind of mining or technology stock—yes, they really can go lower
o Buy when you can’t afford to put that money aside
o Buy based on rumors and short-term news stories
o Worry about stock’s day-to-day fluctuations
o Get upset when another stock has risen more than yours
o Sell if stock goes up right after purchase
o Sell if stock goes down right after purchase
• Getting started:

o Buy what you know
o Open your eyes: look around the community, do friends work for thriving businesses, etc.
o Analyst recommendations (but remember that they analyze short-term fluctuations)
o Buy what your child knows
o Don’t sell your stock
o DIY research: pretend you are buying the whole company. You can get this information at valueline.com or using the Value Line Reports at the library for free.

You can also go to www.sec.gov and search the EDGAR database if you want more information. When you get the info, pay attention to:

• Sales: Are they going up or down?
• Earnings: Is the company making more profit each year? Can they keep it going into the future?
• Debt: Too much (when compared to other companies in the industry) can be a red flag
• Dividends: Does the company pay an annual dividend? Has it paid a dividend every year? Has it raised the dividend every year?

PART THREE: Ages Thirteen through Twenty-One
Topics: zero coupon bonds, zero coupon treasuries, Roth IRA in your child’s name (and how to make “legitimate” income), encouraging your child to contribute to their 401(k)

These last two topics are pretty interesting, but since they affect my parents (and not us for a number of years), I’ll just record the topics and if you are interested, you can pick up the book on your own.

PART FOUR: Into Adulthood
Topics: helping your child purchase a home (with and without money), tools to cut estate taxes

PART FIVE: Extra Stuff
Topics: protecting your child’s wealth from your child, make your grandchild a millionaire

18 September 2008

The Dog Races

Last Wednesday we drove down to Gulf Greyhound Park in La Marque for a day at the races. Every time we drive down to Galveston, we pass the races and I say, "I've never been to a dog race before. We should go sometime" to which P responds, "Yeah, we should." Two years later...Check.

To my surprise, the observation area is indoors, with no option to sit outside (sadly). Cigarettes are permitted in the building so the walls are forever-embedded with stale smoke, but it's tolerable and isn't much worse than a hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant at lunchtime. It resembles a truck stop area and is reminiscent of a mid-day keno tournament in one of Vegas' downtown casinos. The clientele is pretty much the opposite of two Mormon moms with infants and strollers so we were certainly out of place. The standard patron was a retirement-age man with a mesh ballcap, but the handful of 30-somethings left me wondering why they weren't at work on a Wednesday at 12 pm :)

The races were fun to watch and I would love to return on a Friday or Saturday night (without baby) to get the full-fledged hootin' and hollerin' experience. And perhaps I can get in a little Bingo in between races.

Here's Marky!

Two babies? Hmm, I could get used to this.

17 September 2008

Blue Bell Creamery

I have many more thoughts on Hurricane Ike and its aftermath, but will save those for another day (or perhaps just for my journal) since I am definitely in need of something lighter at the moment.

Before Ike disrupted our normal lives and imprinted the horrors of a natural disaster into our minds, we were as carefree as ever. Last Tuesday, Janae, Reed, Jonas, and I drove out to Brenham, Texas to visit the Blue Bell factory. If/when we leave Texas, I suspect this frozen goodness in a cardboard carton will be the object of my desire. It will likely become the companion to the current hole in my stomach that can only be satiated by a Cafe Rio sweet pork burrito (although the upside is that if I'm desperate/rich enough, Blue Bell ships around the country for a hefty price--$119 for 4 half gallons).

The babes did a great job on the tour, smiling at the fellow ice-cream lovers and saving the fussiness for the end-of-tour sample. I, on the other hand, did not fare so well. There was 18,000 pounds of ice-cream in one of the rooms and the guide had to prevent me from jumping off the observation deck and into one of the monstrous vats.

Patiently waiting. I'd better take advantage of this now before the screams of "I want, I want, I need, I need" supersede rational action in about a year or so.
I tried Snickerdoodle and Banana Pudding. Janae tried Candy Jar and two others (remind me which ones, Janae)

Reed is so stinkin' cute!

Book Review: Saving Money with the Tightwad Twins

Saving Money with the Tightwad Twins: More Than 1,000 Practical Tips for Women on a Budget.
By: Ann and Susan Fox

I am currently on a kick to save as much money as possible. It has turned into a game and I feel like the amount of money I save is my paycheck for being a stay at home mom (and no, I don't believe that buying something "on sale" that I wasn't going to purchase in the first place counts. That would be called spending, not saving). I also have this little tendency to want to be the best at every single thing I do so I always do my research. That is where the Tightwad Twins come into play.

This book seemed right up my alley. I was wrong. Very wrong. There were a couple of ideas that will work for my family, but the included advice operates on the assumption that I don't throw anything away and have loads of unneeded items around my house and cluttering my garage. I am certainly not clutter-free, but my home doesn't look like a ramshackle yard sale (at least, I don't think it does). I don't have a collection of old coffee tables, a box of panty hose with runs in them, 25 beat up rugs, or a stash fraying place mats to turn into treasure. The reviews on the back from Maury Povich and The National Enquirer should have been my first warning sign about the quality of the book and I suppose I should just be grateful that it didn't turn into a compilation of "Who's the Baby's Daddy?: Paternity Tests Revealed!"

There were still a couple of items I found useful and to spare you the torture of reading through the book, I've included them here. I also need to return this to the library so I wanted to make sure I had all the handy information available. As such, I have not tried these out yet, so no promises.

Homemade Cleaning Supplies.
* All-purpose household cleaner. 1/2 c white vinegar, 1 c ammonia, 1/4 c baking soda, 1 gallon water

* Automatic dishwasher detergent. Mix 1 c borax and 1/2 c baking soda with 3 cups of cheap automatic dishwasher detergent

* Cleanser for garbage disposals. 1 c baking soda, 1 1/4 c water. Mix ingredients and pour into ice cube trays and freeze. Turn on the disposal (no water running) and dump about 5-7 ice cubes down the drain, allowing the machine to grind them up

* Powdered carpet cleaner. 2 c baking soda, 1/2 c cornstarch, 1 T ground cloves. Sprinkle over the carpet, leave overnight and vacuum as usual.

* Laundry pre-stain. You can use a spray bottle for this one. Mix 1/2 c white vinegar, 1/2 c ammonia, 1/2 c store-bought liquid laundry soap and 1/2 c water. Spray stain, rub in m mixture, let garment sit for a bit, then wash.

* Stain remover for fabrics. Mix 1/2 c dishwashing liquid, 1/2 c baking soda to 1 gallon of boiling water. Let your clothes soak overnight, then wash as you usually would

* Basic Cleaner. To 1 gallon of hot water, add 2 T baking soda and 1/2 c detergent

* Furniture polish. 1 part lemon juice and 2 parts vegetable oil. Polish as usual.

* Toilet cleaner. Use a 1 to 3 ration of vinegar to water. Vinegar will remove many rust stains because it is a natural acid

* Glass cleaner. Add 2 T cornstarch and 1/2 c white vinegar to 1 gallon of warm water

* Carpet deodorizer. Baking soda. If it doesn't get the carpet smelling fresh, try a little more. Sprinkle a little then wait about 7-10 minutes and vacuum as usual

* Car wash mixture. 1/2 c liquid detergent, 1/2 c baking soda, 1 gallon of water. It only takes a cup of this solution in a bucket of warm water to wash a car

Air Freshener. Boil orange peels in water and let the aroma fill the house

For the Kids.
Funky Craft Dough You Can Eat.
1 c butter or margarine, softened
6 hard cooked egg yolks, mashed
2 tsp cream of tartar
5 c all-purpose flour
1 c shortening
2 1/2 c sifted powdered sugar
2 tsp baking soda
1 T vanilla extract
Red, yellow, green paste food coloring

Cream butter and shortening; add sugar, beating until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolks, soda, cream of tartar and vanilla, beating well. Add flour a little at a time, mixing well.

Divide the dough into 4 equal parts. Color one part red, one yellow, one green, and leave the last dough part plain. Wrap each part up separately in plastic wrap and chill at least 1 hour.

Hand shape the dough into anything you want or roll out and cut with cookie cutters. Bake your creations at 350º for 8-10 minutes. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes.

Play Dough. Mix 2 c flour, 1 c salt, 1/2 c cornstarch, 1 1/4 T baking soda, 2 c water, 1 T cooking oil and a pinch of food coloring; microwave for about 4 minutes on high and store in an air-tight plastic container

No-Cook Play Dough. 1 c flour, 1/4 c salt and 3/8 c hot water from your faucet; add food coloring if you desire.

Gooey Slime. 8 oz. white glue, 3/4 c water, 1 teaspoon 20 Mule Team borax; add food coloring if you desire

Silly Willy Putty. 8 oz. white glue, 2 teaspoons 20 Mule Team borax and 3 tsp water

15 September 2008

House Guests

When Jonas began calming down a bit (July and August), we had big ideas to go somewhere. Anywhere. But mostly south. Instead, we have actually spent our weekends with pop-in visitors. Having house guests is always a bit straining on valuable resources such as time, money, bottled water, and canned goods, so imagine our surprise that we've spent 4 different weekends in 2 months entertaining said pop-ins (and the rest getting ready for them in one way or another):
July 23: Dolly
Aug 5: Edouard
Sep 1: Gustav
Sep 12-13: Ike

At the last minute, Dolly actually decided to visit the Valley instead. We were ready for her and she brought some rain to us here in Houston, but most inconveniently postponed our trip to South Padre Island indefinitely due to flooding.

Edouard was actually a great visitor (except for a Galveston postponement). We both took a day off from work and spent the long weekend sitting on the porch and watching movies, all to the soothing melodies of a slight drizzle.

Gustav postponed our annual Labor Day trip but punked out on us at the last minute, deciding to visit Louisiana instead. He sent his regards via a few gales of wind, but mostly stayed east. We ended up watching The Manchurian Candidate (Sinatra) and then having a surprise visit with Uncle Michael (a welcome visitor)

And then there's Ike. Talk about a bad guest! He spent 12 hours relentlessly pounding on our walls and windows. He was so awful we actually had to board up and/or tape our windows to prevent him from coming inside. He shut off our power at 8 pm on Friday and 41 hours later (Sunday afternoon) our heroes at CenterPoint Energy got it up and running again. He tore off a few shingles from our roof and when we wouldn't let him in, ran around the neighborhood wreaking havoc (unfortunately tearing up our neighbor's home--thank goodness they were out of town). He was so awful that even my brother in Utah heard about him on the news and called me at 4:15 am to see if we were holding up okay. Oh yes, that was when Ike had not yet cut off my phone. We're still waiting for that feature to be restored.

And when he finally tired of running amok, the thank you he left behind was a slew of freak thunderstorms the next evening that left Katy more flooded than the hurricane itself. The audacity!

It was quite frightening to be terrified of your own visitors so if another Ike heads our way, I think I might take a vacation to Dallas instead of waiting him/her out again. Ike was never on my to-do list and I sure hope we don't weather another guest like him. Ever.

PS To any potential pop-ins: If you must visit, will you consider coming in the middle of the week? We're sort of tired of spending all of our weekends checking our 72 hour kits.

Documentation of Little Category 2 Ikey-Poo


The entire neighborhood watch was outside anticipating the arrival of Ike.

This little guy was trying to hide too

Sleeping in the same bed with a baby (and pacifier), flashlight, cell phone, and hand-crank radio. A first for us.

After the hurricane let up (a LOT), we braved stepping onto our porch.

Our sad little oleander.

When will this end, Dad?

Really? You wanted to protect your windows, but you created eye slits? Seems a little counterproductive. Many of the houses in the neighborhood did this (to every single window), so maybe they know something we don't.

Waiting for power to be restored. Jonas put his hand on his knee and kept kicking to the music--something new. We also learned he has great taste in music.

After 25 hours of no power, we were motivated by our sweaty infant that it was time to seek respite from the stifling humidity. We showed up at this door like vagabonds. We didn't call because the phones were down and were just hoping they would have power. Luckily they took us in graciously.

Men from the ward cleaning up some of the aftermath.

After spending the night (and day) with the McClures, they came over for dinner and introduced us to Sweet Baby Ray. How did we ever grill without him?

We learned a lot from this hurricane, not least of which is the true value of comfort food. Oh how a bag of Doritos would have soothed my trembling heart! If we get a do-over, the chips aisle will be empty.