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Archive for April 2016

Link Roundup #8

Friday, April 29, 2016

The versatile Ikea piece you need - The Everygirl. "It's not every day we stumble upon a piece that's affordable and versatile, so when we do, we take note! Enter Ikea's Raskog cart ($50). This multitiered, rollable storage unit comes in a glossy charcoal and robin's egg blue (our favorite option!). While it's intended for the kitchen, it proves to be just as handy in every other room of the house. See the three ways we're itching to use it!"

Don't Trust People With Money Who Say It Won't Buy Happiness - The Financial Diet. "For many people, a bit of money — and we’re not even talking much here, just enough to cover monthly bills with a little left over to build a cushion — is the difference between constant anxiety and calm. It’s the difference between being stuck in a life that is running on fumes, unable to take even the tiniest risk because everything is hinging on a few dollars’ difference, and taking the leap into the life you want. It’s the cost of a plane ticket, or the first month’s deposit on a new place, or the few weeks between jobs. Often, the only thing standing between people and the very-attainable life they dream of is a little cash flow to keep things running while they get everything in place."

Sometimes a job is just a job - Budgets are Sexy. "There’s nothing wrong with simply taking a job for the money and getting on with our lives. There’s plenty of ways to be happy outside of our day job, and as long as your goals are being met then more power to you!"

Lessons from homeschooling - FEE.  "But parents today increasingly avoid “education specialists” because these alleged specialists are so bad that non-specialist parents outperform them at the task of education. The average home-schooled child scores in the 85th percentile on standardized achievement tests a full 35 points higher than the score registered by the average public-school student."

Confessions of a radical doula - The Cut. "Legal advocacy is crucial, says Hermine Hayes-Klein, lawyer and founder of Human Rights in Childbirth (HRiC). “Most feminist movements began with a small, fringe group of women fighting for the rights of all. Think of the suffragists. Most women wanted nothing to do with the vote. They’d say, ‘Why would I need to vote? My husband votes for me!’” HRiC works to create first-of-their-kind legal protections for childbearing women, including informed consent and the right to refuse treatment. Basic rights, neither of which are yet guaranteed to childbearing women in American hospitals."

The Past
1953 Shortly after JFK and Jackie announced their engagement - Mashable

1938 How one small town spent Saturday afternoon during the Depression - Mashable. "In 1938, FSA photographer Ben Shahn traveled to the small town of London, Ohio, 25 miles southwest of the state capital Columbus. There, he captured residents of the sleepy 4,600-person town as they walked the few main streets on a quiet Saturday afternoon."

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Link Roundup #7

Friday, April 22, 2016

I waste money on vacations every year and I don't regret it - The Financial Diet. "
"I know that I could be putting several thousand dollars more into my 401k each year if I seriously cut back, but then I would have been cutting out my best and most fulfilling memories from that year, and I wouldn’t have had the powerful, important re-charging session that my vacations provide. I have a stressful, demanding job, and if I don’t feel like I’m truly able to unplug and just enjoy myself during my travel, I burn out very easily. I need that time, and I’m not ashamed of it. If I feel like I have to scrimp and squeeze for every part of my trip, it’s not a vacation anymore. And that’s just the way I am."

A wedding in Scotland - A Practical Wedding. The bride wore her grandmother's dress and it's amazing!

photo credit: Sarah Gormley

We need to stop using salaries as an excuse to keep women down - A Practical Wedding. "Then I sat down and did a deep dive into budgeting. And what I saw didn’t look right to me. So I crunched one number after another, until I realized I wasn’t making “a little” more than my husband. I was making double....“The math just works out that way.” I’ve heard the reason a thousand times and often from reasonably high-earning couples. It’s why she had to give up her rewarding career. It’s why she has to take the kids to the doctors’ appointments. It’s why she works reduced hours so she can handle daycare pick-up and drop-off and sick days. It’s why the family isn’t investing in any kind of childcare. It’s why she takes care of all the emotional labor for the family. But here’s the thing. In our family? I’m still doing most of those things."

Having it all kinda sucks - HuffPost.  "Here’s what we tell women today: You not only can, but should have a career and children — because if you don’t, you’re basically a) lazy, b) weak, c) not a real woman. But also, you should do it without any support. Without government-paid maternity leave (what are you, a socialist?). Without too much childcare (because then you’re a shitty mom) or falling behind on the job (because then you’re a shitty employee  —  typical woman!). Without too much help from your husband (because then he’s a pussy)."

^^The #1 reason having children terrifies me.

4 credit card mistakes millennials are making right now - The Financial Diet. "Often millennials “believe they don’t need to begin building credit because they don’t plan to buy a car or home,” according to Sean. He says that the reality is this: “landlords and potential employers often check credit, so even if you never plan to need a loan, it’s still wise to build credit. Beyond that, you never know when you’ll want to start your own business and need a business loan, or decide to settle down and buy something big. Credit takes a long time to build, it’s always best to start early.”

Here's where you should store your emergency fund - Business Insider. "
A short-term bond fund, says Ellen Jordan, certified financial planner and senior vice president at Bryn Mawr Trust. They're conservative investments that minimize the risk of losing money, and, unlike with some other investments, you can withdraw your funds instantly."

The past
A catalog of Sear's Homes 1927-1932 - Sears Archives. Click on the photos on the website to see floor plans.
January 1910 when Paris flooded - Mashable. "Only one death was officially recorded, and there was no major outbreak of disease, possibly because city officials moved quickly to remove debris and disinfect the streets after the floods. Donations from the rest of France and other countries helped fund recovery operations. Some historians have come to see the flood as a "dress rehearsal" in solidarity that Parisians would require four years later with the outbreak of World War I."

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Weekend in New Orleans

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Around this time last year, we attended Valley Fellowship auction, and bid on a couple different vacation packages. We ended up winning a New Orleans vacation package, which included a hotel, tickets to the WWII museum, the Beauregard Keyes House, and dinner at the Chophouse. We went to New Orleans in October. It was Sam's first time and my second time in New Orleans.

The hotel, Old No 77, included in the package was so nice! We loved the modern design and location on the outside of the French Quarter.

 We got an early start on Saturday morning and walked to Jackson Square from our hotel. I started feeling dizzy, so we decided to get breakfast to see if that helped me feel better. We ate at Cafe Pontalba because it was close and there wasn't a line. I took this photo inside the restaurant.

After we filled our bellies, we walked around Jackson Square and got lots of pictures of St Louis Cathedral.

We went inside the Cathedral and looked around.

We walked around the French Quarter and did some shopping. I bought this beautiful hat at Goorin Bros.

We spent the next hour walking around and admiring the beautiful architecture and Halloween decorations.

This post is already pretty long, so I'll continue next week with our tour of the Beauregard Keyes House.

Have you ever been to New Orleans? What is your favorite thing to do there?

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My First Credit Card Churn

Who doesn't want to travel all over the world for practically free? For about a year I have been reading about travel hacking/credit card churning, and in November I decided to try it for myself. All the reading I did made it seem so scary and overwhelming, and it definitely can be depending on your strategy. If you aren't familiar with travel hacking, it is signing up for multiple travel credit cards and redeeming the points for plane tickets and hotels. Here's what I've learned in my first 6 months.

6 things I've learned in 6 months of travel hacking

1. Research. 

Here are the articles that were most helpful to me.
Travel hacking 101 - Budgets Are Sexy. "We go one card at a time and just concentrate on that one single card. I’ll open an account in my name and add Laura as an authorized user. We’ll spend on that account until we hit the minimum spending requirement and then we’ll take those cards out of our wallet."

4 Things I Learned About Travel Hacking - Emma Lincoln. "
The tickets to Thailand aren’t actually all that expensive. For some months, they’re under $800. For a 22+ hour flight across the world, that’s pretty good. BUT…using points gives us the option of staying a couple days in Tokyo on our way to Thailand. For the same price!"

Credit card churning and why it's not worth it. 

Beginners Guide to Travel Hacking - Chris Guillebeau. "I’ve found a bank that will pay AAdvantage Miles in lieu of interest on deposits. Why give up interest (real money) to earn miles? Well, these days interest rates are shockingly low."

Beginner's Guide to Miles - One mile at a time. "So you can truly earn more miles and points from your everyday spending than you can from flying."

Free class! Travel Miles 101. This class gave me the courage and motivation to finally sign up for my first travel card.

2. Be responsible with your credit cards. 

If you can't pay off your balance every month, there's no point in getting started. I've mentioned on this blog before that I had credit card debt before I got married. I'm so proud of myself that I haven't continued this cycle, and I've been paying off the balance every month.

3. Research and pick your first credit card. 

The Points Guy has a great website that is constantly being updated with the latest and greatest credit card offers. For my first card I picked Chase Sapphire.

4. Sign up for your card when you know that you can meet the minimum spend for the bonus

For Chase Sapphire the reward was 50,000 points if you spend $4,000 in the first three months. I signed up for the card in November, so I could use it for my Christmas spending (which I already had saved in a separate savings account) and I knew we were buying a new loveseat and already had the money saved for that. If spending $4000 is going to be difficult, plan it around a home renovation project or other large expense. We are planning to either re-landscape our yard or buy a new oven later this year, which will be a perfect time to sign up for a new credit card.

5. Make it easy

There are some very complicated methods of travel hacking, but I wanted an easy plan. I sign up for one card, put all my spending on that card, meet the minimum bonus, take the card out of my wallet and stop using, get a new card and repeat. So far, I've gotten the Chase Sapphire card, my husband got the Delta American Express card, and I got the Delta American Express. I just got my Delta card yesterday, but I plan to meet the minimum with only one purchase. We've been planning and saving for several months to buy new chairs for our library. I plan to make that purchase (the next time the chairs go on sale) and then pay off the card immediately because we already have the money saved. I started researching my next card, and it will either be Starwood American Express or IHG Chase Rewards.

6. Use your points right away

How have I used my rewards so far? My original goal was to buy our plane tickets with miles for our upcoming Alaska cruise. And we succeeded! Extra bonus: We're spending 4 days in Seattle and I'm using the Chase Sapphire points for free hotel stays. The points that we're using are worth about $1800! Points don't increase in value over time. It's more likely that the point system can change and your points will lose value the longer they sit.

My next travel dream is to fly to Europe and use points for two plane tickets and at least 5 days of free hotels. I'm already starting to plan my strategy.

I'm a newbie to travel hacking, but if you have any questions let me know in the comments.

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Visitor guide to Huntsville

Monday, April 18, 2016

Most tourists who visit Huntsville, AL are here to see the US Space and Rocket Center, but there is a lot more to do here! I've lived in Huntsville my entire life and here are my recommendations for visitors.

lowe mill dog friendly
Concerts on the Dock with Finn

1. Free concerts! These events are all dog friendly!

  • Mondays: Concerts in the Park from June-July, 6:30pm, located in Big Spring Park, sponsored by Arts Huntsville. Check the schedule here.
  • Tuesdays: April-July, 6pm, located and sponsored by the Main Library. Check the schedule here.
  • Thursdays: June-August, 5-7pm. Sounds of Summer on the Square, located on the downtown square, sponsored by Downtown Huntsville.
  • Fridays: From April-June and October, 6-9pm, Concerts on the Dock at Lowe Mill. Check the schedule here.
  • Saturdays: Grotto Lights Concerts, 6-9pm. This was a new event in 2015, so I'm not sure if they have a regular schedule yet. Sponsored by Downtown Huntsville. Check the schedule here.
Grotto Lights Concert Huntsville
photo taken at the last Grotto Lights concert in 2015

2. Not free, weekly events

  • Thursdays: Greene Street Farmer's Market, it doesn't cost anything to get in but obviously it costs money to buy food and drinks. May-October, 4-8pm. They also have free music. See pictures from our perfect date at the Greene Street Farmer's Market here. Dog friendly.
  • Thursdays: Biergarten at the Space and Rocket Center. April-October, 4:30-7:30pm. Admission is free but the food and drink cost money. Beer and wine is available. Dog friendly.
  • Saturdays: Concerts at Three Caves. May-August, 7pm, $45. Shows begin at 7 p.m. Free parking is available at Huntsville Hospital parking lots at Adams and Lowell streets, with shuttles to the caves commencing at 5:30 p.m. Tickets may be purchased online at
us space and rocket center huntsville
 Finn at Biergarten. He looks pitiful because I wasn't feeding him.

3. Attractions

Huntsville Museum of Art. My favorite local museum. Discounted tickets are available after 5pm on Thursday.
huntsville museum of art

Lowe Mill. The largest artist facility in the US. Over 200 artists work here. My favorite spaces are Pizzelle's Chocolate, Piper and Leaf, Vertical House, and Rusted Willow.
lowe mill huntsville concerts on the dock

Botanical Gardens. I only go for the special exhibits. My favorite is the Scarecrow Trail in the Fall (top photo). The bottom photo is from an Alice and Wonderland exhibit in the Spring.
botanical gardens scarecrow trail huntsvillebotanical gardens huntsville
Monte Sano State Park. Lots of hiking trails. $5 parking fee.

4. Breweries

In 2010 we had one local brewery. Now we have 9. Here's my top three:
Straight to Ale
Blue Pants
straight to ale huntsville

5. Shopping

In no particular order:
Vertical House Records. Over 20,000 new and used records.
Sweet Pineapple. Gifts and home decor.
Bridge Street. Outdoor shopping mall.
Funky Monkey. Antiques, painted furniture, home decor.
Flucy Lucy. Antique booths, art, and paint
Harrison Brothers. Oldest operated hardware store in Alabama. Sells gifts and souvenirs.
Sweet Pineapple Huntsville

6. Best Restaurants

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Link Roundup #6

Friday, April 15, 2016

A charming bed and breakfast in Florence, Italy - Heather Bullard

On furniture envy, and the search for the perfect 20-something apartment - The Financial Diet. "And it’s easy to feel that visceral pang of lust when you see someone who captures it, but it’s also easy to confuse money with taste. If we all had unlimited resources to appoint our living spaces, chances are a lot of us would be living in a really interesting, beautiful way. The real talent lies in making do with what we have, and in getting creative about how we manipulate things."

How to style a desk 3 ways, for the student, the post grad, and the career woman - The Everygirl

photo credit: The Everygirl

Why do poor people waste money on luxury goods - TPM.  "How do you put a price on the double-take of a clerk at the welfare office who decides you might not be like those other trifling women in the waiting room and provides an extra bit of information about completing a form that you would not have known to ask about? What is the retail value of a school principal who defers a bit more to your child because your mother's presentation of self signals that she might unleash the bureaucratic savvy of middle class parents to advocate for her child? I don't know the price of these critical engagements with organizations and gatekeepers relative to our poverty when I was growing up. But, I am living proof of its investment yield."

The average American today is richer than John D Rockefeller - FEE. "Even when in residence at your Manhattan home, if you had a hankering for some Thai red curry or Vindaloo chicken or Vietnamese Pho or a falafel, you were out of luck: even in the unlikely event that you even knew of such exquisite dishes, your chef likely had no idea how to prepare them, and New York’s restaurant scene had yet to feature such exotic fare. And while you might have had the money in 1916 to afford to supply yourself with a daily bowlful of blueberries at your New York home in January, even for mighty-rich you the expense was likely not worthwhile." 

The Alan Kazdin Method, No Spanking, No Time Out, No Problems - The Atlantic. "Parents might start out reasoning, but they're likely to escalate to something a little bit more, like shouting, touching, firmly dragging their child, even if they're well-intentioned. The way to get rid of a child's negative behavior is not to do the punishment. Even a wonderful punishment, gentle punishment like time-out, or reasoning, those don't work." 

As I was reading this I realized we use many of these methods with Finn, but I also believe never using discipline is a terrible idea.
For the children of refugees, Marie Kondo reveals the privilege of clutter - The Atlantic. "As a girl growing up in the U.S., I was often exhausted by this proliferation of items—by what seemed to me to be an old-world expression of maternal love. Like many who are privileged enough to not have to worry about having basic things, I tend to idolize the opposite—the empty spaces of yoga studios, the delightful feeling of sorting through a pile of stuff that I can discard. I’m not alone in appreciating the lightness and freedom of a minimalist lifestyle. The KonMari method, a popular practical philosophy for de-cluttering your home, has tapped into a major cultural zeitgeist." 

The Past
What life was like in American in 1915 - the Atlantic. "It’s hard to imagine many Americans begging to switch places with a 1915 gourmand. Food was not only less varied in 1915, but also considerably more expensive. The typical American spent one-third of his income on food 100 years ago, which is twice today’s share."

The most interesting thing I read this week (above)!

From Fortune 1955 archives - How top executives live. "Two years ago, at sixty, C.B. (“Bill”) Stephenson, of Portland, was made president of the First National Bank, the largest banking chain in the Northwest, and he suddenly found himself projected into the $50,000-and-up class. It made no perceptible difference to Bill Stephenson, who changed his living habits scarcely at all. He bought a new Ford, which he still drives; Mrs. Stephenson drives a three-year-old Buick. The Stephensons were obliged to do a little more entertaining, but they stayed right on in their seven-room house, and continued to get along quite satisfactorily with a part-time cleaning woman."

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A day in the life

Monday, April 11, 2016

I was the blogger of the month on Alabama Women Bloggers in March. This post first appeared there. The day that I documented was Monday, March 14th.

6:45am: My alarm goes off. I didn't sleep well at all, so I turn off my alarm and go back to sleep. I'm blaming my lack of sleep on my dog, Finn. Normally he sleeps cuddled up with me, but for some reason he decided to sleep underneath the bed. I'm not used to sleeping without him.

7:45am: I finally get up and start getting ready.

8:11am: It's pouring rain outside so I decide to wear my new rain boots.

8:13am: Finn refuses to go potty in the rain, so my husband and I take him out through the garage so he has a little cover from the rain.

 8:16am: I packed my lunch the night before, so all I have to do is put it in my lunch box. I give Finn a treat and head out the door.

8:30am: Arrive at work. I've been swapped with work lately. The designer that I share my work load with, her name is Amy, has been in Japan and Hawaii for the last 2 weeks for a work trip. She's coming back today! I'll finally have some help!

8:40am: I'm an interior designer for the government, which is NOT at all creative work. For some creative outlets, I do residential design work and make custom curtains on the side, outside of my normal job. I just finished the latest curtain project for one of my co-workers and hand her the curtains.

9:00am: Yay! Amy just got here! I'll give her a few minutes to settle in before asking about her trip. In the meantime I take care of some insurance paperwork.

9:30-10:44am: Amy and I talk about her trip and her now ex-boyfriend. I fill her in on what happened in the office while she was gone. She brought back some very interesting candy from Japan. I have no idea what it is since I can't read Japanese, but I try three pieces.

10:45-11:15 am: I answer questions about drapery pricing.

11:16-11:45 am: Lunch time! I packed leftover soup that Sam made Saturday night. Almost every day I eat lunch with three other interior designers. We talk about our weekends.

11:45-3:04 pm: As I said earlier, I've been very swamped with work, and I came in to work this past Saturday. I look over my notes from the project I'm working on and continue with the project.

3:05-4:00 pm: One of our new interior designers asks me to help train her on drapery projects.

4:00-5:00 pm: Wrap up my projects.

5:00 pm: Time to go home!

5:14 pm: When I pull in the driveway I notice that I have a package. I ordered some consignment clothes online and they've arrived. I'll open the box later.

5:15-5:23 pm: Even though it was raining this morning, it has turned into a very pretty day. Finn is so excited to be playing outside!

5:24 pm: My husband Sam get home and asks me about dinner. One of his co-workers recommended a new restaurant that opened recently. We don't normally go out for dinner (lunch is cheaper), but the prices seem good online. I feed Finn dinner and then we get in the car and drive to dinner.

5:32 pm: Barbecue is not my favorite food, but I'm starving and eat every bite. All this food was only $7.50!

6:10-6:53 pm: We get back home and decide against taking a walk. Since daylight savings time just happened, we aren't sure when the sun will set. I edit photos for an upcoming blog post while watching reality TV.

6:54-7:05 pm: Sam has been painting our closet door in the garage. He finished painting, carries the door upstairs, and I screw in the hinges to the door frame.

7:06-7:19 pm: Time to do laundry. I separate Sam's laundry and leave it for him to fold and put away. I hang and fold my own clothes and then put another load in the dryer.

7:20-7:50 pm: I try on the clothes that arrived by mail today. There was a dress that I was so excited about, but I don't think it looks very good on me. I check with Sam to see if he agrees. He does. I make a pile of clothes to return.

7:51-8:27 pm: I change into my pajamas and walk downstairs. I turn on the tv and grab my laptop to work on my design client project.
8:28-9:25 pm: I watch some reality tv.

9:25 pm: I pack my lunch for the next day and get ready for bed.

10:00 pm: Time for bed!
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