Bonfires, Boats and Babies!

That pretty much sums up our Memorial Day weekend!¬†Memorial Day weekend went way too fast. In fact, I feel like I’m still in the planning stage, when in fact it came and went. Everyone says life moves faster when you have kids but at this pace I’ll be 80 years old in about five weeks.

George enthralled by the bonfire

George enthralled by the bonfire

We couldn't stay awake past 10 p.m. for the bonfire :(

We couldn’t stay awake past 10 p.m. for the bonfire ūüôĀ

We went to my dad’s in Breezy Point, offloaded our shit and completely took over his two bedroom one bath home. So sorry Dad – I hope you didn’t need the restroom or anything! And when I say offloaded, we really did load up half of our house and then offload – my dad’s¬†hallway was lined with bags and bags of stuff.

Ross putting the boat in the lake

Ross putting the boat in the lake

George practicing casting

George practicing casting


I ran out of time to make homemade graham crackers and marshmallows, so I brought all of those ingredients to make gourmet¬†s’mores. We had to bring the nebulizer for the little asthmatic, nightlights and children’s books and movies, of course. The weather was dicey so we had to bring cold weather clothes and warm weather clothes – oh and rain gear. We barely even packed a full bag for ourselves and we still managed to bring about eleven bags of stuff.

My homemade marshmallows

My homemade marshmallows

My homemade graham crackers

My homemade graham crackers

S'mores wrapped in foil for grilling over the bonfire

S’mores wrapped in foil for grilling over the bonfire

My dad gave me an amazing recipe to make caramel rice krispie treats

My dad gave me an amazing recipe to make caramel rice krispie treats

We bought George a Toy Story light-up fishing rod. He casts and reels about as well as I do. True story – I caught Ross’ friend’s hand once while casting. From that point on, they made me yell “CASTING!”¬†before I attempted to cast.

We ran to the cemetery to recognize our family who served. My dad also showed us the plot he purchased (he's ahead of the game)

We ran to the cemetery to recognize our family who served. My dad also showed us the plot he purchased (he’s ahead of the game)

We don’t see my dad often, so it is always nice to visit for a long weekend. We try to make it up there every Memorial Day. It takes George about 2.5 minutes to warm up to Grandpa. It helps that my dad is super silly and just adores¬†Georgie. He gave him a sucker at like 10 a.m. (then said “Your mom will be mad at me”). He has a teeny bit of fun with the littlest one, too!

Grandpa holding Baby Julius <3

Grandpa holding Baby Julius <3

George picked me some "flowers" and Julius held them in my lap

George picked me some “flowers” and Julius held them in my lap

It was finally warm enough for George to wear the pink polo he received at Easter

It was finally warm enough for George to wear the pink polo he received at Easter

 

A chance encounter with employee stock options

Ross and I recently had an opportunity to buy into employee stock options¬†(not a full fledged esop/retirement plan). The “deal” seemed huge! The stock price was discounted, which seems like someone is offering to double your money right off the bat. As it stands, we currently pay full price for stocks (mutual funds) just like everyone else. So buying stock for a discounted¬†list price seemed like a huge deal. We felt like it was a gleaming opportunity (and still do).

But I’m glad I did my research. Some employers offer a lot of stock to employees. Some employees buy a lot of their employers’ stock, even to the point of developing a retirement plan (esop). This creates a codependent investment relationship. If you do well, I’m doing well, but if you suck, I’m fucked. At least that is what I’ve gleaned from Investopedia.

There are some pretty good reasons not to be all-in with your employer, but also some pretty good reasons why employers want employees to be “owners” or shareholders. The best course of action is the same as for any investment, limit risk as much as is reasonable, looking holistically at all of your investments and make sure if one does poorly, you can still recover. No one wants their employer to go under, but if they do, you always want to be sure you can swim to safety. That’s why you want to make sure your skills stay marketable. To that point, you don’t want to be any more reliant on your company’s financial health than you have to be. A company’s owners take on considerably more risk than its employees, for good reason. They benefit the most if the company does well. Therefore, being “just an employee” has little risk and “absence of risk” is an asset in itself.

One of the more legitimate sources of research I used was Morningstar – when I was a student I had free access to Morningstar material and it was hugely helpful. Morningstar’s research found compelling evidence suggesting companies offering large esops underperformed those without. Yet another reason to keep your overall investment in your employer company pretty low.

It almost seems as though some esops are just one more way for companies to sell something, or offload product. Selling more stock = higher demand = higher stock price, in theory. The prevailing advice for employees is to severely limit their exposure to their employers’ stock in comparison to other investments, because their paycheck already is wholly dependent on the company’s success.

Ross and I did decide to buy the stock options, but only because the buy-in investment was capped at an amount that was seriously [exactly] one percent of our outside investments. From what I’ve read, you should not contribute more than 15 percent of your assets in any one stock, so we are well under that guideline! Unless some of our mutual funds happen to include more than 15% of it, which I highly doubt! The incentive offered was too heavily discounted to ignore, imo. So we bought in! One percent of our total investments is an amount we are both comfortable with and does not leave us too exposed.

Removing steel antenna from yard

We inherited an old steel antenna in the yard that obviously hadn’t been used for ages – but it was gigantic and an eyesore. It loomed over the house and was right in front of the driveway area on the side of the house.

The antenna loomed over the house and driveway

The antenna loomed over the house and driveway

My dad offered to help us remove it (thanks Dad!!) and as soon as we could we went there to help him haul it away. It had sections that you could tilt to slide the pole down. Although it was made of steel and big and heavy, that made it a bit easier to break down into pieces.

We stacked pieces on my dad's trailer

We stacked pieces on my dad’s trailer

My dad managed to haul all of the pieces away with just his Toyota Solara. He put a flag on the end of the steel rods so other drivers would beware.

I've never been so happy to see my dad leave as when he left with that antenna

I’ve never been so happy to see my dad leave as when he left with that antenna!

The yard and driveway already look 50 percent better without the old steel antenna distracting you from the house and yard. So many improvement projects are simply cleaning up what is outdated and irrelevant!

View from the side of the house with the antenna gone

View from the side of the house with the antenna gone

 

Glow-in-the-dark stars! (from the Easter Bunny)

We finally got around to putting up some of the glow-in-the-dark stars George received from the Easter Bunny. I don’t think he really understood what we were doing. I kept exclaiming “George, these GLOW in the DARK!” then he would slowly wander away. But once we hung up one string he thought they were a pretty cool addition to his room.

We strung the stars along a string of yellow yarn

We strung the stars along a string of yellow yarn

The best part? The Easter Bunny found these stars at a consignment store! They were a great (cheap) addition to the Easter eggs. Eventually, I’d like to string the stars all across the ceiling, but we only had time to hang one string. They don’t glow as brightly as I expected because of the two night lights in the room. But we took out the night lights to at least check out the glow factor, and they did glow when there are no night lights. Maybe when George is a little older, we won’t need night lights at all. Then again, I still sleep with a night light. #sadbuttrue

We strung the lights across part of George's ceiling

We strung the lights across part of George’s ceiling

 

Mother’s Day Recap – (with pics!)

I had a beautiful Mother’s Day and celebrated all of the mothers around me. My husband – I mean my son – surprised me with potted flowers [tons of flowers!] outside of the house. Luckily the rain has been pretty steady so I don’t have to worry about killing them.

What a beautiful holiday to remind us that we all have mothers, know mothers and need mothers! I can honestly say the world came into focus for me when I had children, and for that gift I am all kinds of grateful. Life became so much more precious and meaningful knowing each of us is tied together. Hurt became so much closer and irrevocable…hurt one another and hurt yourself. Love one another and love yourself. I wish everyone the gift of a child’s love.

George adding laughter to all of our lives

George adding laughter to all of our lives

Grandpa enjoying some snuggles with Baby Julius

Grandpa enjoying some snuggles with Baby Julius

For our mothers we roasted and ground coffee from Nicaragua and Ethiopia. I sewed little burlap sacks and bought personalized mugs at World Market. That store can totally sidetrack you into buying kids toys, supersized candy, funky cards and all sorts of stuff you don’t need. In other words, it’s like walking into Etsy!

We roasted and ground Nicaraguan coffee to give to mom

We roasted and ground Nicaraguan and Ethiopian coffee to give to mom

I sewed burlap bags for the coffee baggies (looked a little nicer than plastic bags)

I sewed burlap bags for the coffee baggies (looked a little nicer than plastic bags)

The finished Mother's Day gift with a "C" mug for Carol!

The finished Mother’s Day gift with a “C” mug for Carol!

 

I really don’t know what else to say about being a mother – it is too great for words. Of course I have to give a shout out to my own mother, who cried (not from happiness, either) when she found out she was pregnant with me. What she could have never envisioned then, is the reality of her life with a daughter and grandchildren¬†today. What a gift!

Me and mom laughing at the rain

Me and mom laughing at the rain

Spring has sprung! Yard work = yard love

Just today, as I was taking out the dogs, I realized how much I love our yard. It hasn’t always looked this good. In fact, there have been huge mishaps including planting pine trees too close to the road, planting lilac bushes too close to the neighbor’s yard, not flattening the yard before planting seed, and not spraying for weeds before growing grass. But all of that is a distant memory. The yard is in such great shape!

So we finally have the yard and landscaping up to par then the dogs strategically piss on select parts of the yard and ruin it. The sprinkler system we put in last year has helped some. Luckily, Ross puts a ton of work in every spring and summer in order to restore our yard. While taking out the dogs I snapped a few quick shots of the yard and landscaping, which I really enjoy. Especially knowing how far we have come (I wish I had a before picture!).

Ross hauled each of these rocks by hand to make a humongous rock garden for me!

Ross hauled each of these rocks by hand to make a humongous rock garden for me!

I think the time and money invested in a nice yard is often overlooked. Especially while selling a house. Who wants to buy a house when the yard is crap? If you have nice landscaping and a nice patio, though, that adds to the curb appeal and the overall value of the home. This Wall Street Journal article equates the value of trees in the yard to adding square footage! Although we live in Minnesota (Minnesnowta…) we do spend the majority of our summer months outside enjoying our exposed aggregate patio.

This area provides more shade than our back deck

This area provides more shade than our back deck

Our dogs have a doggie-condo in the form of a huge kennel under our deck. Plus large dog house for the rainy and cold days. Plus heating lamp. Ross totally spoils them, because they are older dogs. The deck is great for grilling and dinners outside, but it can get too sunny sometimes in the afternoon.

Deck with large exposed aggregate posts

Deck with large exposed aggregate posts

The arborvitae were an investment. I consider spending $1k on plants exorbitant, but realtors and landscapers have assured us it was not only a good investment but a necessary one, to separate our yard from the road running behind it. I just hope our $1k investment is not killed by dog piss…but three years later the arborvitae are still alive! Just barely.

Dog pee has killed the bottom portion of the arborvitae :(

Dog pee has killed the bottom portion of the arborvitae ūüôĀ

After the first few years, we realized foot traffic would destroy the grass we had on the sides of the house, so we put an exposed aggregate sidewalk on one side of the house leading from the driveway to the back patio. This was the best move ever – it allows George to run his trucks back and forth, and allows the dogs to run back and forth, without creating a worn walking path through the grass.

Sidewalk running the length of the house

Sidewalk running the length of the house

I truly love our yard, and days like today remind me just how much. ♥

Healthy snack?? Chocolate zucchini bread

I bought six small zucchinis at the grocery store, not knowing if I would grill them, eat them raw, or bake them. As the week dragged on, I stared at shriveling zucchini and had no strong urge to prepare them.

Then I remembered this one time I made an amazing chocolate zucchini bread. It was moist and delicious – more like cake than a bread. And considerably less healthy than raw or baked zucchini….. oh well.

I had extra zucchini, so I took the recipe poster’s advice and grated the extra then froze it. This should remind me to make more at some later date. Or… I’ll forget it in the chest freezer for a few years.

grated zucchini

grated zucchini

The bread is so good, we’ve had it for breakfast this morning, lunch this afternoon, and will likely eat it for dinner. But at least we are getting our vegetables in…right? ūüėČ

Chocolate zucchini bread

Chocolate zucchini bread

 

Buying gifts for husbands (aka the most difficult assignment ever)

I consider myself a creative gift-giver. For weddings we’ve given this inscribed anniversary wine box. For my in-laws we’ve given a night at a bed and breakfast. For a bridal shower¬†I’ve given personalized sweat suits ordered off Etsy (here’s my friend Sarah in hers):

sarah

The gifts I have trouble with are for my husband. I searched for ideas online and was ROFL’ing at this list, which is exactly the opposite of what Ross would want. One year I planned a treasure hunt/scavenger hunt, and he HATED it.

The clues led to¬†all of the significant places we have spent time at together. These included the bar where we met (classy, I know), the house where he lived while we were dating (his roommate still lives there), his parent’s house, the cabin, etc. He looked at me, incredulous, and said “You mean I have to drive to all of these places!?” BAAHAHAHAHAHA….at least we can laugh about it now. The funniest part was, when he drove to the cabin, his aunt was there, so he just decided to QUIT the scavenger hunt and drink beers with his aunt! *HUH?* After an hour passed, I called him and he just said he was going to hang out at the cabin for awhile. Again….BAAAHAHAHAHAHAAAA!

The gifts that have been successful? There are only a handful:

  • I asked Ross’ dad to “borrow” his truck, and I had an automatic starter installed secretly. Then I hid the remote start in between the layers of a tied-edge fleece blanket I made for him. I made a big deal of him feeling “how soft” the fleece was, until eventually he realized there was something inside of it. Then he had to untie the edges to find the remote start.
  • Last Christmas I gave Ross a mechanic’s chair. He spends so much time in the garage I figured we’ve already made our money back on this item!
  • For Father’s Day we gave Ross a tee-shirt with his favorite picture of George screen-printed on it. I had Georgie dip his hands in fabric paint then make hand prints on the shirt (only semi-successful). The shirt says “I love cars, trucks and my daddy!”
I Love Cars, Trucks, and My Daddy t-shirt

I Love Cars, Trucks, and My Daddy t-shirt

  • For Christmas after we had George, I gave Ross a book titled “The Story of Mom & Dad.” It was a picture book that rhymed and told the story of how we met, fell in love, married and eventually started a family. Everyone comments how much they love this book.
The Story of Mom & Dad book

The Story of Mom & Dad book

I won’t share my plans for Ross’ 40th birthday gift because he does read the blog, but it is going to be a fun surprise. One that I am 99% confident he will enjoy. As I attempt to plan his birthday gift this year, however, I am still searching for creative ideas. Husbands are tough!