Posted by: homeyhelper | June 7, 2010

Moving Along…

I have some news…I’ve been cheating on my blog with someone else. I do feel a little sad abandoning it, but its time now to write about my number one love…gardening. So stop on by and check it out at www.inthedirtbox.wordpress.com

Maybe I’ll come back someday, but in the meantime, please blog, don’t have any hard feelings!

Posted by: homeyhelper | October 31, 2009

The Ghosts of Homeowners Past

things to do 002Halloween always brings out the ghouls and the ghosts of the past. They swirl through the trunks of the trees like mist and hide among the gold and yellow leaves of the last light of autumn.

On the hills and harbors of the Hudson Valley this Halloween, I can’t help but notice  the crooked, moss covered tombstones dotting the countryside under the grey sky. The ghostly hands of the trees we trimmed earlier in the season reach again down towards me, and a rustle in the forest makes me wonder if the Headless Horseman will be looking for Ichabod Crane somewhere in these hills tonight.

I never thought my house was haunted, though, but sometimes I find little reminders that the ghosts of homeowners past may be physically gone, but part of them never really left at all. Come on in, folks, and open up the closet to find the scaaarily crooked shelving, which looks like the only thing supporting its ragged edges is the spirit of the very handyman who put them up.

Feel that coooold chill through the living room – its enough to send shivers down your spine. Could it be the old lady who left this place streaking through in a ghostly apparition? More likely its the shoddy door they installed incorrectly that causes a draft. Either way, these little remnants remind me that maybe we aren’t alone here after all.

There’s no shortage of foreclosures on the market out there right now, either, that undoubtedly harbor more than their fair share of stubborn spirits who won’t be evicted by any bank. I bet that creak in your floorboards doesn’t sound so innocent, anymore.

Happy Haunting, everyone!

Posted by: homeyhelper | October 30, 2009

The Adventures of Homeownerhelper

adventures of homeowner helper part 1

homeowner helper part 2By Homeownerhelper.

Sorry for the picture quality – will have to improve for Part III.

Posted by: homeyhelper | October 30, 2009

Changes and Rock Paper Scissors

First, as you may or may not know, my schedule has been lightened by one  job. This was a voluntary move, and I can’t wait to spend much more time working on Homeowner Helper! I’ve added a new section, “New & Exciting,” which details all of the projects I’m working on for the site.

Having a chunk taken out of my income will be the ultimate test of my frugality. I look forward to the challenge of maintaining a good quality of life on less money.

I’m still young, but I’ve never outgrown my fondness for stupid games, rock paper scissors being one of them. Sometimes I feel like trying to be aware of my living and spending habits is like the rock, because it’ll always be there. Sometimes the paper will come and cover it up to try to beat it and I’ll forget about it for a second, but long after the paper is gone, the rock will still be there. Sometimes the bills come like scissors at my paper and cut it all up, but in the end the rock just beats them up and wins anyway.

So, when I play rock paper scissors, I’ll always throw a rock. I hope that the next time in your life you are faced down with this game, you’ll  throw a rock too.

Stay tuned until next time, for the all new, super exciting, never-before-seen Adventures of HomeownerHelper!

Posted by: homeyhelper | October 29, 2009

Frugal Footsteps

coupons 003Good news, everybody!

I quit my job at the restaurant. Well, actually, this is neither good news for the restaurant nor my wallet, but now I can fully focus my time on the blog when I’m not at my day job.

I’ve been straying away from the “frugal” in frugal homeownership lately, and tonight, I’m going to take a trip back to the basics.I’ve put together a list of the things that we do in our house to be frugal.

A quick aside, before I start. Frugality is not a sentence or a punishment. Its a choice that we can all make, to live happy lives as frugal consumers. Frugality isn’t about depriving yourself, but about moderation, awareness and making good decisions. When I work hard for something, I value it not because its another thing to hoard, but because  it has value. It makes treats out of what used to be mundane things..and who doesn’t like treats?

Frugal Bills

I always worry about the electric bill. I don’t like consuming the world’s resources or hurting my wallet. That is why we use flourescent light bulbs. This is something you can do with only a few bucks. Although the bulbs are more expensive than traditional incandescent bulbs, they seem to last forever and you’ll reap the savings over time in your electric bill.

The dryer is the monster of energy consumption in most homes. I’ve read various figures, but the average number of loads of laundry per household per week is anywhere from three to four, and I’ve seen higher numbers in other places. I was going to link to Yahoo answers, where I found that question, but can’t figure out how to do that on WordPress. Little help?

Anyways, I try to use the laundry line whenever possible. All that hot air does not an efficient house make. Some people hang up their clothes inside in the wintertime, but I’m not so sure we’re ready for that yet. Baby steps.

When we moved into our house we had one of those old school thermostats that you set the temperature on, and that was what the temperature was. Sure, you could get up and turn it down, but this is the twentyfirst century, and now we’re lazy and automated! (just kidding…sort of) We promptly (by we, I mean he, since I’m still not as handy as I like to think…see previous post) installed a programmable thermostat. In the morning when we wake up, the heat is set to come on. It turns down automatically during the day, and repeats for the evening when we come home. Cha-ching! Who wants to heat an empty house? (Caveat — don’t set the heat too low – you don’t want the pipes to freeze!)

We also lowered the temperature on our water heater, although after quizzing Mr. Homeownerhelper, that seems to have been done more out of a desire to not be burned by our shower. Still, more bucks in our pocket. Read more about how to do that here: http://www.naturalhandyman.com/iip/infwaterheater/infwhadjust.html Still haven’t figured out those damn links…

Frugal Around the House

If I had a nickel for every time I used too much laundry detergent, well…I wouldn’t be writing this post about how to save nickels! Measure your stuff, and you’ll probably find you’re using too much. This one’s like another double whammy…save money and conserve!

Reuse Reuse Reuse…Water bottles are sooo pre-recession, but if you must, why not refill your bottle with filtered water? No need to pay for water, and think of all the plastic that’s not going in landfills! Just make sure you rinse it with a little soap every now and then, it can be a germ factory.

Make a second life for those leftovers. I’m constantly composting scraps of vegetables. I can’t figure out how they mysteriously hide themselves from me and then reappear when they’re moldy all over, but I should start hunting them down before that happens. You should, too…chop em up and throw them in with a pasta or salad. Dip them in hummus or salad dressing. Do whatever you want really, just don’t throw them away.

Speaking of composting…not only do you save on garbage (those plastic bags are expensive!) but perishable waste makes dirt! I love my garden, and my garden loves me for filling it with nutritious compost. Its a win-win.

Frugal in the Car

This is the category where I get a big, fat fail. I feel bad posting advice I can’t keep but, keeping tires inflated, slow acceleration/braking, and not straying too much above 55 (optimal speed for low gas consumption), you can reduce wear and tear and save that buckage on gas.

Frugal Fun

I love to craft, and I love to craft even more when its free. Throw in some recycling and reusing into that mix and I’m as happy as a pig in, well, recyclables. I’m working on a recycled craft right now which is almost done, and hopefully, will be super cool. I’ll explain more and post pictures when I’m done. Stay tuned for more frugalness!

Did I miss anything? What do you all do around the house to be frugal? Tell everyone about it in the Comments. Till next time.

Posted by: homeyhelper | October 28, 2009

Handy Chick 101

So, when I moved into my home, my Aunt gave me the Be Jane’s Guide to Home Empowerment, by Heidi Baker and Eden Jarrin. Yes! Yes! Finally a book for someone who doesn’t know a hammer from a hacksaw!

You see, I’m not really as handy as I like to think I am. Mr. Homeownerhelper has done most of the manual labor since we’ve moved in, and its high time I hit the toolbox as well.

Here’s a basic idea of how things have gone down in the last few months.

Day 1: Toilet breaks

My reaction: Gawk in awe and juggle the flusher.

Him: Go to store, buy and install new crapper.

Months 1 – 5

Him: Buy and learn to operate lawnmover, snowblower, leafblower and more tools than any man should know about.

Me: Put together a crappy desk and declare it a miracle. Gloat over said accomplishment for months, and promptly forget I ever learned what a Cam screw is.

Him: Pull down and replace molding on closet, door, window and walls. Remove shoddy wood burning stove, order, prepare and install new wood burning stove, involving several trips up to the roof. Master the tree trimmer and learn to swing an axe like the most seasoned of mountain men.

Me: Watch from the comfort of the living room sipping on some wine.

Don’t get me wrong, I still do my fair share around the house, like laundry and tidying up inside. But this is the twenty-first century here, and I think I should learn to work a little Handy Chick magic myself. So, here for your reading pleasure, is my roundup of the most important tools for any Handy Chick’s garage. The next time something breaks, I’ll be ready!

10. Philips head screwdriver: I use this kind way more than a flathead, when I (admittedly rarely) use a screwdriver.

9. Flathead screwdriver – still important though.

8. Hammer – the Mac Daddy of all tools, this one is a must for every handy chick’s toolbox, and as I’ve recently learned, is good for more than banging nails. We used the claw side to remove all of our molding in the guest bedroom – it as a snap!

7. Tape measurer – Measure twice, cut once. The Golden Rule of Handiness.

6. Needle nosed pliers – They tell me they’re good for more than just arts n crafts. Will have to try and see.

5. Utility Knife – Cuts, well, just about everything!

4. Small hand saw – For the bigger jobs.

3. Gloves – Handy Chick or not, you still don’t want your hands to look too grimy!

2. A level – Good for making everything look even and straight.

1. A flashlight – Power out? Need to reset the fuse? We learned the importance of these bad boys when we lost power a few weeks ago and were short on light. I guess if I could have a #1.5 in this countdown it would be some good rechargable batteries too, since without it, your flashlight is useless.

So, there you have it: the contents of my (as yet to be obtained) toolbox. I’m feeling handy already! Of course, maybe when I get the tools I’ll actually be handy, but we’ll see about that one!

Did I forget any toolbox essentials?

Posted by: homeyhelper | October 26, 2009

Fall Food Inspiration

Fall Food Inspiration 004There are many schools of thought that advocate that local, in-season food provides better nutritional value than shipped, out-of-season produce. Personally, I haven’t decided that I think about this idea, but I do know that local fresh produce will almost always be cheaper and, to me, taste better.

Here in the Hudson Valley, we are surrounded by farms, so there’s really no reason to cook out of season food. And for us, the fall means winter squash, and lots of it. So, in honor of the fast-fading autumn, here’s a pretty easy fall food recipe to try:

Mashed Acorn Squash “Potatoes” with Autumn CousCous and Ginger Glazed Carrots

  • First, prepare the squash. There are a few different ways: you can roast it in the oven at 375 degrees for about an forty-five minutes, or cut it in half and cook it in the microwave for about 10 minutes or so to soften it. Personally, I like to cook it in the microwave for convenience, although it is pretty hard to cut it in half raw. (Make sure you have a sharp knife handy)
  • After you have cooked the squash, scoop it out of its outer shell into a bowl, mash and season it with a little cinnamon and nutmeg, to taste. You can also add a little bit of milk to make it slightly more creamy. Don’t throw away the shell, after the squash is mashed, put it back in the shell – it makes a beautiful serving dish!
  • Next, start the couscous. (While you are preparing the squash, you may want to put on the water for the couscous – generally 1 1/4 cups water per 1 cup uncooked couscous) It is rich in Protein and Iron, not to mention extremely quick and easy to cook! Once the water is boiling, add the couscous and give it a quick stir. Cover the pot, remove from heat and let stand for five minutes…and…voila! couscous is ready! (You’ll want to fluff it up with a fork when its done) To the cooked couscous, add a heaping handful each of dried cranberries, sliced almonds and chopped celery. (I’m sure you’ve noticed my cooking methods are *highly* scientific, :), but I think things are always better when ingredients are added to your own taste.
  • Finally, for the carrots: You can use either fresh or canned. Prepare as you normally would (either heat up canned, or boil fresh carrots until soft) and in a pan on medium heat, sautee olive oil or butter, nutmeg and sliced fresh ginger. You should also add a pinch or two of sugar, as that is what will caramelize the sauce into a “glaze.” Pour the mixture over the carrots and, yum, ready to eat.

This is a great, healthy meal that is perfect for the season. But hurry, winter is coming soon, and it’ll be time for all new seasonal recipes!

Posted by: homeyhelper | October 16, 2009

First Snow Edition

Disclaimer: Its my birthday this weekend, so this is more a stream of conciousness post than anything else. I wanted to get something out before the festivities begin…
The first snow came early to the Hudson Valley this year, for which I wasn’t prepared. Luckily it was just a dusting, but as I teetered and slipped up my walkway in suede heels over a slippery layer of slush, I realized how much we need to still do. We neither have a shovel or salt, I need a new pair of boots and new all-season tires on my car. Where was my head as I was mourning the closing of my pool and watching the leaves fall from the trees?
I pride myself on preparedness and efficiency, but sometimes, I get lost in the clouds…er, snowdrifts. So, what then, is my problem as a quasi-responsible adult? Logically, its that I don’t have time. I split my life between the blog, the restaurant, the office, and taking care of the house, which doesn’t leave much room for other things.
I run around groaning, “there’s not enough time, there’s not enough time…” But, wait. Back up. There’s always time. In fact, all we have is time. I’ve spent so much time looking for time that its in fact the very time that is slipping me by. So, new rule: instead of saying I don’t have enough time, I’m going to switch it up. Maybe I just need to find the time. After all, judging by the looks of things, winter in the countryside is not going to wait for me to get my act together. How do you beat procrastination?
 
On another note, please take a moment, if you can find the time, that is, :), to visit my new favorite website: www.instructables.com It has great how-tos for around the house or anywhere.
Posted by: homeyhelper | October 14, 2009

Balancing the Work/Home Scales

We’re going to take a trip back, today…way back, to before the Internet. I know, its a scary thought, but it wasn’t too long ago that the idea of the “Information Age” conjured up images of the Jetsons and moon colonies. Well, my car still doesn’t fly, and I still don’t have my own personal robot. We do, though, have cell phones, wireless internet access, ipods, and digital everything-you-can-think-of. Out of all of this has come the ultimate catch-22 — the elusive telecommuting arrangement.
 
Leave it to Beaver and More…
Back in our figurative internet prehistory, the Mr. came home after a long day at work, where the Mrs. was waiting for him with the kids. (ok, maybe it wasn’t so simple, but this is a hypothetical argument here) Most importantly, he left his work at the front door with his shoes and coat. Dinner wasn’t the time to worry about the big presentation, or the annoying coworker. It was time for family; maybe a martini or a sports game on the radio.
 
Fast Forward…
Here we are, circa 2009. I’m not sure about you all, but my home is nothing like that scenario. Mr. Homeownerhelper and I both have our own home offices, and I telecommute one day a week. In addition, I also have the blog and a side restaurant job, which I have a nasty little habit of bringing home with me. Its a stretch for me to make a home-cooked meal, and although I try to every night, I do it rather begrudgingly and would certainly prefer a restaurant. So, how, with all of our newfound connectivity, can we possibly maintain a work-home boundary?
This is something that I’ve had a hard time with, but have been trying to balance the scales. For telecommuters such as myself, I find that the single most important way to create that boundary is to work in my home office. My laptop usually hangs out in the living room, but if I attempt to work in there, I find myself hanging out as well. So, the most important thing is to move the laptop into the office first thing. I hear a lot of stories at my restaurant job from people who telecommute, often working in their pajamas or even in bed. This is a FAIL. Getting dressed first thing and working in a dedicated space is important not only because it results (in my opinion) in a higher quality of work, but also creates the boundary for yourself. You don’t want to be dragging the office all around your house with you, do you?
If you don’t have a dedicated office, at least try to make a corner of a room a place for work. You don’t need to have a whole room to do this!
 
What about the job search?
Same goes for the job search…you don’t have to have a job already for work to consume your life. After all, these days, finding a job is in and of itself a full time job, and the same principles apply. Create a dedicated place, designate a “job search hours,” and don’t beat yourself up about the search outside of those hours. At best, you may end up pushing yourself a little harder if you do, but at worst, you could end up feeling overwhelmed, stressed out, and disenchanted with the whole process.
 
But can we ever really change?
I don’t think that, barring some immense change in the way we function as workers (and humans, too), that we will ever wholly be able to seperate work from home. After all, they are both fundamental parts of our lives. Although easier said than done, Its ok to take a little time and live for yourself, and not your paycheck.
What about for non telecommuters? When something really irks or excites me at work, its nearly impossible to not talk about it, at least for me. So, how about having a dedicated “work-talk” time, maybe for a few minutes at the end or beginning of each night? This way, its not building up, but its also not consuming everything, either. Also, keeping a journal could work. When all else fails, a little exercise always does the trick.
Posted by: homeyhelper | October 12, 2009

Fall Projects Edition

Happy Autumn all…it has been way too long since I’ve updated, but I’ve been spending a lot of time working around the house. Ok, ok, not an excuse, I know, but today I’m going to post some pictures of what we’ve been working on around the house.

Project: Emergency Guest Room Revamp

When we moved in, our guest bedroom looked like every other room in the world: white walls, white ceiling, ugly white molding…in other words, pretty much the same as every other room in our house and basically equivalent to a poorly maintained college dorm room.

Since we’re new to this home renovation stuff, we decided the guest bedroom would be the perfect place to start. Why? Well, if we mess up, we won’t have to look at it every day!

So, to start, we pulled off all of the molding around the window, floor, door and closet. (all of which now has a lovely home in the corner of our garage…scrap wood in the Hudson Valley, anyone?) This part is perfect for anyone with any pent up aggression, because you literally get to rip apart the molding. Here is a “before” picture of what the molding used to look like. (Its actually a window in my office, not the guest room, because I forgot to take a picture before we started, but it looked exactly the same)

Window Molding So, after pulling all of the old stuff off, we took a trip to our local home depot to get some paint and new wood molding. Its easy to find, molding is right in the lumber department, there’s tons of different styles to choose from, if you do it yourself its not that expensive (ours was somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.50 per foot), and you can cut it down in the store yourself. Just be sure, if you do cut it in the store, to leave a little extra — measure twice, cut once. (Mr. Homeownerhelper has been drilling this into my head for months — I really only understand why after doing this room)

I won’t bore you with the details of cutting the molding and nailing it into the wall, but I’ll just say be sure you have extra spackle and sandpaper. You can find the specifics in any home repair book, or leave a message and I’ll post a step by step here on my blog.

So, after many long evenings, a few fights and a whole lot of beer, this is what the final product looks like:

house 031We went for the rosettes in the corners, because its actually easier to make a straight cut where the molding ends, rather than cutting it on the  diagonal, like our old molding was. We did the same around the door and closet. I can’t post the finished room yet, because we haven’t done the floor molding and it, alas, still looks like a war zone.

We chose to paint the room a light green, because its not overwhelming to the senses, and (we think) feels calming. We want our guests to be able to come and relax, so hopefully this color will make that happen.

Total cost for the project, including molding, some tools, wood shims, spare scrap pieces, paint, primer and brushes: a little over $200.

So, what do you guys think — yay or nay? Anyone else doing any home projects – post your ideas in the Comments!

Until next time, have a safe and spooky October — its almost Halloween!

house 041

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