Thursday, September 26, 2013

Super Easy Dress

I had about 2 yards of coral linen and that was just enough to make Butterick B5211 (view B).  I didn't have enough for pockets, but the extra bulk at the hips, might not have been too flattering, so that's probably a good thing.
 I think it looks a little frumpy looking w/out the belt.

Here's the back in case you were curious.

It's basically a long crop shirt and you know that I am a fan of those.  There were only 4 pieces to cut out, and even a newbie could probably knock it out in an afternoon.  

Friday, September 20, 2013

We Made Sushi!!!

Since Sushi is one of the only remotely healthy things my son will eat without complaints,  I thought it would be a fun thing for us to learn together. I also figured it would be a skill that help him woo women in a few years.

I searched for some recipes and found Just One Cookbook's recipe for sushi rice.  I sort of followed her instructions, except that I do not own a rice cooker, so I just used a pan and followed the directions on the bag.  She also suggests mixing the rice in a large wooden bowl called a "hangiri".  I used what I had-a plastic bowl adorned with the Texas flag.  
 I did buy the little roller mat thingy.  We added crab, onions, radish, cucumber and avocado to ours and then rolled it up.

  Our first attempt ended up being big, fat, ugly sushi roll. It looked more like a burrito than sushi (I blame the Texas flag bowl).   After a little practice, and we were able to make some that we weren't embarrassed to feed to the the family.
 We dipped them in wasabi, soy sauce, Thai chili sauce or spicy mayo. In case you didn't know (I didn't) spicy mayo is merely mayonnaise mixed with sriracha hot sauce.

We've made them a few more times since, and as I am typing this up, I think we need to make them again soon. 

Do you have a favorite sushi recipe?

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

And The Mountains Echoed-What I've Been Reading Wednesdays

Since I loved The Kite Runner and loved A Thousand Splendid Suns even more, I had high hopes for this one.  Maybe my expectations were just too high, I liked it, but just didn't love it.

Like the rest of his books, it is set in Afghanistan and tells the story of people struggling with the harsh realities of that war torn country and there are no "happily ever afters". 

My biggest complaint about the book is that there were just too many characters and you don't get the full story on any of them.  It is as if he had lots of ideas for books and then tried to put them all together into one book, instead of developing each one independently.

3 1/2 out of 5 stars

Monday, September 16, 2013

Pleated Peplumish Blouse

I actually sewed quite a bit over the summer, I just never got around to photographing and blogging about my projects.

I've had this gorgeous Irish linen in my stash for close to a decade  and finally found a good use for it.  I used Butterick #5890 to make this blouse for my daughter.  It's view C.  It's a "fast and easy" pattern, but it does have a zipper.  I think I may make view B for myself.

BTW-I swear there were no wrinkles-they only showed up in the pic:)

Friday, September 13, 2013


This is my son's first year playing middle school football.  After practicing in full pads in the hot Texas sun, he comes home drenched in sweat every afternoon. Hydration is important and so I'm always forcing him to drink.  Because I am not comfortable with the amount of chemicals and sugar in sports drinks, I mostly make him drink water.

 He came home yesterday and announced, "I need something to drink-not water".  Sneaky Peter had just sent me some samples of their drinks and so pulled the apple one out of the fridge.  His review: "This is good."

He liked it so much he immediately wanted to try the peach and mango flavors.  We liked them all, but the mango was my favorite.

He just cared that it tasted good, so I didn't tell him that it is made from all natural ingredients and actually contains 3 grams of oat fiber per serving.

Have you tried any of Sneaky Pete's beverages?  

If you want to learn more check out their website here.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

What I'm Reading Wednesdays: Silver Star

As I said before, Glass Castle is one of my favorite books and I was excited to see what Jeanette Walls could do with fiction.  Silver Star is the story of 2 sisters, abandoned by their mentally unstable mother in California.  They travel across country to a small Virginia town where her mother grew up and move in with their estranged widowed uncle.  

I loved the book (not as much as Glass Castle) and give it a solid 4 stars. My only complaint is that I really wanted another chapter, the girls faced some pretty awful stuff and I just wanted to know that they were going to be OK.

The novel takes place in 1970 against the back drop of forced school integration.  I lived in Alabama during the1970's. I was only 7 or 8 years old and should really ask my parents about this, but here's what I remember:
As in most places, school boundaries were drawn geographically and everyone went to their assign school. As blacks and whites still tended to live in their own neighborhoods and parts of town, schools were still largely segregated, especially elementary schools. Someone decided that since integration wasn't going to happen naturally, they would start busing black students that wanted to the mostly white school. Our class got one of these students, but he left before the end of the school year.  I wish I could say that I was some sort of Jr Civil Rights activist or that I at least tried to be his friend. The truth is, I didn't interact with him much- not because of his skin color, but because he was a boy.

There was a black family that lived up the street, and their oldest daughter sometimes babysat us.  I said hi to her younger sister (still several years older than me) in the lunch room one day, which appalled a girl in my class.  She said everyone needs to just remember their place and that as a white girl, I shouldn't say hi to her.  I don't remember what, if anything I said to her, but I do remember feeling sick to my stomach with wrongness. We moved shortly after my ninth birthday and I spent the rest of my childhood on very racially diverse army bases.

I watched the Blind Side a few months ago with my boys. After we were finished, my 8-year old said, "That happened in the olden days, when there was still racism".  I know that sadly racism still exists, but it made me really happy that my kids have grown up in fairly diverse communities and thought racism was a thing of the past. Hopefully, by the time he has an eight-year old it really will be. 

Sorry, to go off on a tangent, but those were my thoughts as I was reading the book.


Monday, September 9, 2013

What To Do When Renters Trash Your House

I have debated whether or not to even write this post.  However, my "So You Think You Want to Be a Landlord" post, has been one of my most popular posts this summer, and several people that I know in real life, have also told me that they used the information. I feel a responsibility to tell my story and pass along the very expensive lessons that I have learned. 

We live in Texas, but rent a property in Maryland and hadn't seen it for the past 3 years.  The new renters only saw online pictures before signing a lease.  I had hired a handy-man to check-out the old renters, but he had a family emergency and wasn't able to check on the house until the morning the new renters arrived. 

This is when the nightmare began. 

The new renters called me crying and furious saying that my house was trashed and looked nothing like the pictures I had posted online. Worried, I would lose the new renters, I booked a flight for the next day to deal with the situation.

I was so hoping the new renters were exaggerating.  Sadly, they were not.  My home was destroyed. EVERYTHING was broken, stained, drawn on and filthy.  EVERYTHING.

I sent the new, very nice and understanding renters, to a hotel, and got to work.  The next 5 days, I worked my butt off, cried, and wrote checks (just shy of $14K). My low-point was having  a complete and total sobbing emotional ugly break-down in the carpet aisle of Lowe's. Amazingly, they didn't call the psych ward, but instead took me back to their offices to calm down and order new carpet.  The high-point was when a friend and her husband came to my rescue.  They were absolute lifesavers and I couldn't have gotten the house back into shape without them (or without all their tools they let me borrow). It's always nice to find nice people when you are in the middle of a bad situation.

Since the damage totaled about 6 times the deposit,I searched the internet for some help how to recover some of the money. Google failed me and I couldn't find any good advice online.  I  talked to a few realtors and my smart lawyer friend Alicia. Luckily being military, we have access to free legal advice at the JAG office.  We put all their advice together and wrote a 37 page letter detailing the damage. 

We organized the damage by room.  We would start with a picture, then  would describe the damage, and then add a detailed list of expenses to repair the damage. We attached all receipts as proof of  expenses. We also added specific clauses in the lease that showed they were responsible for damage.    

For example, here's what we wrote up for the oven:

4. APPLIANCES: The Owner will provide the following appliances and allow the Lessee to use them: oven with range, dishwasher, refrigerator and garbage disposal. The Lessee assumes responsibility for all damage caused to the appliances beyond normal wear and tear.

Clean oven
Replace cooktop -Even after cleaning, the cooktop  is scratched, discolored, and there is a gouged in the lower right burner.
 $ 414.16

The JAG lawyer told us it would be best if we sent it as a certified letter, but we didn't have a forwarding address, so we were forced to send it as an e-mail. The JAG lawyer also suggested if we didn't get a response, to have my husband call them in 30 days (she wisely suggested that I would be too emotional to conduct a civil conversation). If we still didn't get a response, then we should file a claim in small claims court.  Because they were military, we could have also involved his commander. Luckily we didn't need to seek any further legal action, because the old tenants immediately sent us a check.

Here's what I learned:

1.  Credit scores and background checks don't tell you anything about how people take care of their homes. In further applications, I will seek references from former landlords.

2. Make sure you have emergency contacts on your rental application.  If they fail to leave you a forwarding address, those contacts could help you track them down.

3. Add a specific clause to the lease that they will be charge for any necessary cleaning and painting at $40/ hour. (or whatever rate you feel comfortable with)

4.  No matter where in the world you live, be there when tenants move out, and allow a 5 day window between new tenants to deal with any necessary repairs. 

5. Do not rent to anyone that will be in you same social circles.  It is just awkward for everyone when things go bad. Mutual friends might feel like they are tattling, but also feel guilty about not telling you your house is being destroyed. 

6. Carpet:  You can't get full replacement value for carpet (no matter how mad you are), a judge isn't going to give you full replacement value for old carpet.  I couldn't find any solid legal answer for carpet replacement value, but here's what I came up with:  I figured carpet lasts about 10 years.  I figured my carpet had another 2-3 years left, so I charged them 25% of the replacement value.  To avoid all the guesswork, add a specific clause on the replacement value of the carpet before new tenants move in.

7. There is no such thing as a lease with too many details.  Make sure it contains:
   - the landscaping must be maintained
   -you have right to seek damages beyond the security deposit and they had 30 days to pay those damages
   -if you need to go to court, they would be responsible for your court costs
    -Walls must be returned to their original condition
    -that they had to comply with a cleaning check-out list
   -individual appliances are specifically mentioned in the lease
   -AC filters need to be changed regularly
   -carpets need to be professionally cleaned
  -The tenants will be responsible for any further damage caused by failure to promptly report damage.

8. Take lots of pictures before they move in and when they move out.

9. Keep all receipts

10. Stay calm and professional. No matter how much you want to yell and scream and call them names, don't.  

11. Relax if you are a landlord-damage to this extent is rare. The JAG office said that they mostly deal with bad landlords and not bad tenants and that ours was by far the worse she'd ever seen.

12. Because of depreciation, we were only allowed to recover about half of our expenses, but we are hoping to write the rest of them off as tax deductions.  

I am glad this is all behind us and hopefully none you will never ever have to face this.  If it does, just remember to take lots of deep breaths and pictures, and that a carefully timed emotional breakdown in Lowe's leads to amazing customer service. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

What I'm Reading: Kid's Summer Reading

My 7th Grader read Crash by Jerry Spinelli. Like most of his books, it was a funny quirky book about bullies and non-conformists.  We both liked it, but my son hated the ending because he didn't find the it realistic.  
4 stars

My 10th grade daughter read Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.
There was so much negative buzz about this book when it came out, that I never had any desire to read a parenting guide from such a monster of a mother.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover it wasn't a parenting guide, but a mother's memoir of raising her daughters.  While some of her methods are extremely harsh, she really loved her girls and wanted the best for them. I think the media took quotes out of context to stir up controversy and most of the people that were so incensed by the book never read it.

I'm not a tiger mother, but probably stricter than most. Before I had kid's, the rule was that every kid had to pick an instrument.  My oldest chose piano. I threatened bribed and bullied her to practice when she was younger, but now she practices on her own (nowhere near 6-7 hours a day).  

My friend Monica is the world's most amazing Suzuki violin teacher, and so we signed my son up for lessons.  He has a natural sense of rhythm and could play by ear, but he absolutely detested practicing. Our daily practice sessions quickly disintegrated into a daily fight.  After a year, I realized that my desire to have a close a loving relationship with my son outweighed my desire to have him play the violin.  

Sports ended up being a better fit for him. I knew I made the right decision, after a particularly brutal football game.  The other team's classless parents booed and taunted our players and encouraged their kids to play dirty throughout entire game. As the team's captain/quarterback, my ten year old lined up first to shake hands with the other team after the game.  I have never been as proud, when I saw him turn around to his teammates and demand , "All you say is 'Good Game' ".  I knew sports were helping him become a great leader and the man I wanted him to become. 

I want to read this with my bookclub-we would have such great discussions. Here's what I took away from the book:

Children should never be belittled. However, we need to stop telling our kids, "Good Job" so much and maybe ask them, "Is this really your best work?" a little more.  We need to expect great things from our kids and push them a little when needed. I also agree with Chua that we worry too much about our kid's self esteem, failing to realize our kids gain self esteem by working hard and accomplishing their goals and not by hearing empty unearned praises. Don't even get me started on the every-kid-gets-a-trophy-moment.

FYI: Here's her daughter's response to all the criticism.

Have you read either of these books?  What was on your kid's summer reading list.