Saturday, July 21, 2018

Random Thoughts and Texas Heat

Just a bit of random-ness today. We got these automatic nightlights at Dollar Tree...




They automatically come on when it gets dark and go off when it gets light. They also have the kind with an on/off switch. I bought one for the guest bathroom and one for the laundry room because that's where the litter box is. 

I've always had one of those green LED nightlights in the laundry room, but it doesn't put out a lot of light. I wanted to be sure the cats could see well enough to use their box at night, so I bought this one. 


You can see their box to the left. I think the felines approve. :) I always feel like I have to apologize for the garish color in here. I promise it's not that bad in real life. 

These would also be great for a hallway or a child's room, or really anywhere you want to have a lighted path at night. And for only $1, you can't go wrong. 


I've been obsessed with this new cozy mystery series. It's the Izzy Greene Senior Sleuths mysteries by Sylvia Selfman. I got the first four books on Amazon for my Kindle for only .99¢ It's one of those series that I can't put down. Like if I have to do anything other than reading (making dinner, laundry, etc) I get annoyed and start counting down the minutes until I can start reading again. They're really good mysteries too. Keeps you guessing until the last minute. 






Here's a description of the first book "Murder She Typed"





Two best friends solving a mystery in Palm Springs, CA. It's such a good cozy with a lot of humor sprinkled in. Palm Springs is almost like another character in the story. These books remind me of the Southern Sisters Mysteries by Anne George, one of my all time favorite cozies. 


I made my favorite cake-like brownies again the other day. Do you like cake-like or dense and chewy? I like both, but prefer the cake-like. 




This is the recipe I always use:




And yes, these are pics of my personal clippings in my recipe book, hence the smudges. :)

***My notes on this are: Definitely line the pan with foil and spray the foil. Use a whisk to mix it up and bake for exactly 32 minutes. Comes out perfectly every single time. Also, this says "4 squares" of chocolate. One square used to be one ounce, for a total of 4 ounces. But they've since changed the size of the squares. So you still need 4 ounces but that's now an entire package, or 16 pieces

And here's the variation for cake-like:
(just add 1/2 cup milk with eggs and vanilla and increase flour to 1 1/2 cups)



Here's the package of unsweetened chocolate squares I buy. You'll use the entire package, which is now 4 ounces. 




Got my passport in the mail and oh my...it's the worst picture of me, ever. And...it's good for 10 years. Nice. You're not supposed to smile in your passport pic...well, they say you just can't show teeth, so I tried a closed mouth smile and well...not good. Same with my driver's license pic. Not pretty. And that one is good for 12 years! Lord. 

It has been so hot here lately. I put a thermometer on the patio and look what it registered...




And THAT'S why Texans can't wait until fall. ;) This is also why they warn us not to walk our dogs until the sun goes down. Can you imagine walking barefoot on 134º sidewalks? Nope. 


Did y'all see my post on gun safety? If you missed it, click HERE to see how you can get a FREE cable-style gun lock. This is always good to have, but especially important if you have children in your home or have children who visit your home. And it's FREE! 

Up next...my new streamlined decor posts. Happy Saturday!

~Lisa


Thursday, July 19, 2018

Coconut Shrimp, Cherry Ice Cream and Crockpot Apricot Chicken

I'll get back to my regular decor posts soon, I promise. I did a little streamlining and removed things, donated stuff and simplified everything. I'll share pics soon. (It's so much easier to dust now!) It's too many pics for one post, so I split it up into two. I'm sharing a few sneak peeks on instagram if you want to follow along @texasdecor

So anyway, I don't mean to keep tempting y'all with food, but here I go again. :) 

I've mentioned HEB's Meal Simple deals before and how much we love them. Basically it's a little meal all packaged up and ready to pop in the oven. They have steak, chicken, salmon, shrimp, meatloaf, stuffed mushrooms and a whole slew of other options. They come in an oven proof container and all you do is peel off the plastic and bake. So convenient. P.S. We've also gotten their made-in-store pizzas and they're equally good. 

This time around, we got the coconut shrimp and it was SO good!



The only problem was that I wanted tarter sauce and we were out. Usually I don't want tarter sauce on coconut chicken, but this time, I did. So I made my own. Are you impressed? Ha ha! I googled the recipe and had no idea it was so easy. I started with a basic recipe, then added my own twist. Here's what I came up with.

Lisa's Homemade Tarter Sauce Recipe

1 cup mayo
1/4 cup chopped pickles
1 teaspoon mustard
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Dash of salt and pepper
1/2 tablespoon pickle juice
3 tablespoons chopped onion
1/2 tablespoon sriracha (optional)

Mix everything together and enjoy!

It was really good and I know I'll make it again. I did a separate batch at the last minute and added the sriracha we liked it that way too. I served the coconut shrimp with sweet potato fries and they were delicious dipped in the tarter sauce. 

For dessert, we had this...


Do you have Blue Bunny ice cream where you live? This cherrific cheesecake was divine! 

My aunt has been giving me the best crockpot recipes lately. I've made her raspberry sriracha pork chops and her honey garlic chicken and they were both really good, but this apricot chicken is my favorite...



I altered the recipe a bit because it originally had Catalina dressing in it, which I love, but some people around here don't like it, so I omitted it. Here's the recipe: 

Slow Cooker Apricot Chicken:

2 lbs. boneless skinless chicken thighs
1 jar apricot preserves
1 packet Lipton onion soup mix
salt and pepper
garlic powder (not in the original recipe, but we love it)
1 cup Catalina dressing (like I said, we omitted this, but I bet it's good)

Place chicken in crockpot and sprinkle both sides with salt, pepper and garlic powder. Mix up onion soup mix and apricot preserves (and Catalina if you're using it) and pour over chicken and cook on low 6 hours. 

I'm telling you, my house smelled so good that I'm tempted to make this once a week, just for the smell alone! It was so good too. Tasty and full of flavor. Up until a few weeks ago, I'd never made anything with chicken thighs, but I'm now a fan. 


That's all for now. Y'all have a great day and be sure to check back for my new streamlined look. 

~Lisa 

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

A Safety Tip: How To Get a Free Gun Lock

A quick safety tip for you today. If you have a gun in the house (or know someone who does) did you know you can get a cable-style gun lock for it for FREE? It just might save a life. 
free gun lock


All you have to do is click HERE. Then click on the map to find a distribution partner in your state. The free kits are available at police departments, sheriff's departments, DPS offices, etc. so I'm sure you'll find one very close to you. These are the Project Childsafe Safety Kits and include a cable-style gun lock and safety instructions, absolutely free. Please pass this on to anyone you know who has a gun in the house. You can never be too careful. 


Just a short and sweet safety tip for you today. Stay safe!

~Lisa 




Sunday, July 15, 2018

Around The House and a Travel Question

Are y'all having a nice summer? We don't have a whole lot going on, which is just the way I like it.  

I do have a quick question for you though...My oldest son is vacationing in Dubai and South Africa this fall. Have any of you been to either place? Do you have any tips or advice for him? I'd love to hear about it if you've been. 

I love this pic...




Flowers from my neighbors (who happen to be my mom and stepdad) a Funfetti Cake with fluffy vanilla marshmallow frosting and hibiscus tea. So many good things all together!

Mr. Finn looking all relaxed, as usual...


Ah, the life of a cat. Good times. 

Have y'all tried Luna bars? These have been my go-to snack lately...

I'm a fan of the lemon ones too. So good! 

Here's a quick tip for you. Although, y'all are so smart, you probably already knew this. Remember my sink rack I bought when we redid our kitchen and got the farmhouse sink?



I highly recommend these. I love when you set something on the rack, it's not sitting in whatever mess is in the sink, since it's elevated. It's so handy when scrubbing pots and pans too because I don't worry about scratching my new sink. 

Anyway, I've talked before about how I scrub it down during my WEEKLY CLEANING ROUTINE. But did y'all know it's dishwasher safe? I can't believe I've had it since November and I'm just now realizing I could have been putting it through the dishwasher! So there's my tip of the day. :)



Sparkling clean after a run through the dishwasher...


I mean, I'll still scrub it weekly because that's just what I do. But a run through the dishwasher every now and then certainly won't hurt. And see those white rubber feet on the bottom of the rack? They're elevated on one side, so it slopes toward the drain. 

I've heard people on IG complaining and warning people not to get a farmhouse sink because liquid sits in the middle and never drains, but that's not the case with mine. My sink has a slight slope toward the drain to keep that from happening. And like I said, the rack is made for my particular sink, so it slopes too. Just do your homework when buying things like this and you'll be fine. 

Don't forget to give me any tips on traveling to Dubai and South Africa if you've been. Thanks! 

Hope you have a great day!

~Lisa 




Wednesday, July 11, 2018

You Asked, I Answered...How We Saved For College

So we're talking college savings today. Can y'all believe the price tag on a college education? Whew! We pretty much made our boys attend a local community college for the first two years. That really saves a lot of money. But even two years at a community college and two years at a local university (living at home the entire time) is a lot of money, somewhere around $35,000. And two years at a community college and two years spent away at college (with having to pay for an apartment and food, along with everything else) is an exorbitant amount. Think upwards of $50,000. PER KID. That's a lot of dough, y'all. 

Before we get started, you can click HERE to see the post I did a while back on how to save on college costs. I have lots of info on how to get cheaper textbooks, etc. 

I mentioned getting a new car in THIS POST and let me tell you, it was a long time coming. Here's the deal...we've been saving and saving and saving for years, in order to afford college for our two boys. We've sacrificed a lot and given up a lot, but it was all worth it and I'd do it again 100 times over. The sheer joy I get when I think about how both our boys can graduate from college debt free is amazing. I'm so grateful and very thankful we had the discipline and the opportunity to save all those years so they can graduate without any student loans to pay back. 

If you have small children and are just beginning to save for college, I hope this will encourage you. It's SO worth it and I know you can do it!

We started saving for college when our kids were very young. We set a specific amount that we felt comfortable with and saved that amount every month. The first thing we did at the beginning of the month was set aside that money for college. As my husband got raises, we upped that amount. Instead of enjoying the extra money a raise brings, we opted to add it to what we were already setting aside for college. 

If we got a bonus, a tax return, etc. most of that also went directly into the college fund. My boys contributed to it too. Once they got part time jobs, they put a set amount into their college fund every month. We didn't go on elaborate, expensive vacations every single year. We drove sensible (but dependable) cars. We certainly didn't go without, by any means. We were just very careful with our money and planned ahead. Case in point: I remember calling around to local orthodontists when my boys were around 4 or 5, just to get a ballpark figure on how much braces would cost. I also called our dental insurance, to ask what amount they cover. That way, I could get a head start on saving for stuff like that and wouldn't be blindsided by the cost at the last minute. And that's what I mean by planning ahead. By the time they needed braces years later, I was fully prepared to pay for them. Oh, and we also purposely planned having our kids 5 years apart, so we wouldn't have two in college at the same time. See...planning way ahead on that one. :) 

But the biggest sacrifice I made was sharing a car with my youngest for the last 2 years. 

Yes...I shared a car. Meaning I basically gave him my car and did without. :) Before you give me too much credit though, just know that I love being home and generally frown upon days I have errands to run, etc. I'd much prefer to be home cleaning (I know it's weird, but I LOVE to clean) doing laundry, reading and just generally running the household. I'm totally serious. I LOVE being home, so it wasn't that big of a deal to hand over the car. I gave the phrase "stay at home mom" a whole new meaning, ha ha! Once, while we were sharing the car, my son went on a trip for an entire week and left me the car. I was like "Yes! I have access to a car ALL WEEK!" And you know what I did? Left the house once. To go grocery shopping. On a Friday, when my hubby was home and I could have used his car anyway. See what I mean? Home is literally where my heart is. :) 

Let me back up a bit though. Here's how we did the whole "new car" thing. We are hard core Honda people. Like, we've driven nothing but Honda cars for the last 16 years. We would get a new one every 5 years. We did our research and they get such good scores on ratings, they last forever, get great gas mileage and practically never break. And not to mention, they're pretty affordable too. 

Here's Dylan selling lemonade at one of our garage sales. Please note the recent price reduction~ha! And there's "Ruby" (named for her paint color) in the garage. Our very first Honda. You can tell by the paper plates, she was brand new at the time. This is the Honda Dylan eventually drove all through college. :) 


How Honda helped our college fund


Getting Honda after Honda allowed us to continue saving for college. And since they were well built, we didn't have to worry about constant repair costs. Having a lower car payment made it easy to set aside a nice amount every month for college. I devised a "new car plan" and here's how it worked. 

I got a new Honda and drove it for 5 years. Then I would give it to my hubby (while I got a new one) and he would drive it for 5 more years. By that time, Dylan was ready for a car, so we gave him the 10 year old Honda, my hubby got the 5 year old one I had been driving and I got a new one. We continued this plan for many years, until both our boys were driving. We put very few miles on our cars, less than 5000 a year (due in part to my hubby working just a few miles from home and me just running around the neighborhood) So when our boys got their driver's licenses, we were able to give them each a car with about 40,000 miles on it and in perfect condition. And I do mean perfect. My hubby maintained our cars like it was his job. They got all the scheduled maintenance at exactly the right time. Oil changes at the exact amount of miles recommended. Tires rotated, filters changed, etc. He has notebooks of all the maintenance with dates, miles, etc. 

We knew that those cars would eventually go to our boys, so we made sure to do the proper upkeep. Well, to tell the truth, we would have done that anyway because we're those people. Ha! And it paid off because they both got garage kept cars in great condition with very low miles to start out with. 

Here's Logan eating pizza in "Al" the Honda that would eventually become his own. :) (Again, named for his alabaster silver color)  


the easiest way to save for college


So back to sharing a car with my youngest. So after paying off our last Honda, we would normally give the oldest one to Logan, my hubby would get the 5 year old one I had been driving and I would get a new one and start all over with car payments. 

But then I began to think about it...I didn't have any more kids at home I had to drive around. Both my boys had their licenses and could drive themselves everywhere. I didn't have to have a car to drop off and pick up kids from school anymore. I could totally put off getting a new car and just let my youngest drive mine, while I did without. Well, technically we "shared" the car. And...with no new car payment, we could now add all that money that was going into a car payment into the college fund. That would allow us to really increase the amount we were contributing to the college fund each month. 

So that's what we did. I let my youngest drive my car for 2 years. I even let him drive it to school and park it in the school parking lot all day. I know it sounds ridiculous to have a car sitting in a parking lot all day long, when I could have dropped him off and picked him up and had access to the car during the day. But I rarely needed a car and if I took him to school, I would have to get up and dressed at the crack of dawn to drive him there and then watch the clock all day, in order to get in the dreaded car line every afternoon for pick up. 

Plus, he was always staying after school to work on stuff for his film class or going to his part time job, so it was just easier to let him have access to the car. It worked out really well too. But even I will admit that after about a year, it started to get old having to schedule any appointment on a Friday when my hubby was off and I could use his car (thankfully my hubby is off every single Friday) For two years, every time I made a dentist appt or a haircut appt, etc. it had to be on a Friday. If they couldn't take me on a Friday, I'd have to wait a whole week until the next Friday. Mid week appointments weren't an option most of the time.

And every time I got in my car for the past two years, I had to adjust all three mirrors and the seat. Ugh. No seat memory on the Honda. ;) 

I mean, sometimes I could use "my" car, but for the most part, my son was using it for school or his part time job. Oh, that reminds me... remember to ask their employer if they offer scholarships. My oldest got a scholarship from the company he worked for while in college. 

But all that was a small price to pay in order to save for college. And like I said, I'd do it over 100 more times if it meant we'd be able to save enough to pay cash for their college education. :) I mean, we could have had much nicer cars or even a bigger house, if we weren't saving for college all those years. But instead we opted to put that money toward college and I've never once regretted it. 


By sharing a car for two years, that meant we didn't have a car payment for those two years and it really allowed us to amp up the college savings by adding what we would normally spend on a car payment, to what we were already setting aside for college every month. We just basically acted like we still had a car payment and instead of making payments, we transferred that money to the college fund, first thing every month. 

So when we finally had enough saved to finish paying for college, I rewarded myself with a nice, new car. And you better believe this Lexus has seat memory. ;) Now that we're not saving for college anymore, we feel like we got a big monthly raise. Ha! Sacrificing things for your kids isn't always easy, but this one was very much worth it. 

I think it all boils down to what your own personal priorities are. This is just what worked for us and won't work for everyone. A lot of you asked me to share our college saving story, so that's what I did here. But if you think outside the box and look at what's really a "necessity" you might find a way to start, or add to, a college fund. And y'all...I still color my hair at home with an $8 box of color. Just think how much money THAT one saved me over the years. :)

And remember all my "Walmart Finds" posts HEREHERE and HERE and many more just like that? Yep, that helped to save for college too. And not to forget all those DIY projects like Painting our Kitchen Cabinets and Installing Our Own Subway Tile. Those certainly saved a few bucks as well. Frugal shopping, coupons, DIY's and finding deals was all part of the plan. But having said that...I'm still a frugal gal who shops around for deals. That'll never change, so look forward to many more "steals and deals" posts in the future. ;) 

Do you have a secret to saving for college? Did you make sacrifices to send your kids to college? I'd love to hear your stories in the comments. 

Thanks for stopping by and I hope you all have a wonderful day!

~Lisa 



Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Summer Garden 2018

Just a few garden pics. Thankfully, we got some much needed rain, and the grass greened up nicely. Now if we could just get a weekly rain like that. :) 




Here's a close up of the trunk of the crepe myrtle above...


I think it's so pretty when it "sheds" like that. 

My favorite backyard spot...



Wilbur the pig enjoys it too. Can you see him with his cute little feet in the air? I'm really loving the shamrocks too.  






I think I finally found the perfect flower for this corner. Begonias for the win! They've done so well here, even in the heat. 



I haven't shown a pic of my fire hydrant in a while. See it on the right? My hubby is a fire fighter and brought it home before it was thrown away. Then he painted it with some of my favorite flowers.





I should have turned the fountains on for these pics. Oh well. :) 



Love this view looking up from the bottom of the bald cypress tree...


That's it for now! Thanks for stopping by! Hope you all have a week filled with all the lovely things. xoxo

~Lisa 


Friday, July 6, 2018

A Few Funnies and A New Car

These little funnies cracked me up when I saw them. I hope you enjoy them too! 




Ha ha! This is the best one yet!!! 




 Preaching to the choir, sister! Lol!


Any child of the 70's or 80's will remember this! Oh, the beloved tv cart!






If you're a fan of "The Office" you'll appreciate this reference to the branch manager. ;) 










So true!!!


So I finally got a new car and I'm so excited it has ventilated seats! I've never had something so fancy. :) It has heated seats too, but here in the south, the ventilated (air conditioned) ones get a lot more use. 

See those three green lights the arrow is pointing to? That's the button for the ventilated seats. As you can see, I have all three lit up, which means it's on high. :) 



I'm so happy to be up high in an SUV too. I've spent the last couple of weeks reading all the manuals, trying to learn about Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Blind Spot Monitor, Keyless Start, Back Sonar, Lane Change Assist, Intelligence Clearance and a whole slew of other things I've never heard of. Lol! And if you're in the market for a new car, I can't recommend Consumer Reports highly enough! I always refer to them when purchasing a car. I ended up getting the Lexus RX 350 after reading all about them in that magazine. Word of mouth is always good too. Talk to people who have owned the brand you're looking at. And do a lot of research. Every year, Consumer Reports comes out with their Auto Issue, usually in April and that's where you can find all the ratings. I usually just buy the magazine off the shelf at the store, but you can get digital access for just $7.95/month. Click HERE to see the different subscription options, if you're interested. 

I remember years ago, we bought a van, without doing a lick of research. We bought it because it was "pretty." We were naive. And not long after, we started having problems with it. I finally looked it up in Consumer Reports and it had horrible ratings! Every thing it got a bad rating on, exactly matched up with what went wrong with it. I can't even tell you how much we spent on a/c repair costs in the first two years on that van. Ugh. So do your research and ask around. That's my two cents for the day. :) 

 We've spent years and years saving every last penny for college and we're finally DONE! Our oldest graduated from the University of Houston in 2016 (debt free) and our youngest will graduate from Texas State University in three years. We've saved enough to cover his last three years of college, so we "rewarded" ourselves with this new car. :) 

So thankful both our boys are able to graduate from college debt free, without any student loans. We certainly made sacrifices to pay for their educations, but it was well worth it. When you're in the midst of saving for college, just know that when the time comes, you'll be so happy you sacrificed and saved. It's worth every penny to see them earn their degree. And the peace of mind that comes with them graduating without any student loans to pay back is so satisfying. I feel like all our years of living frugally paid off. And yes, the boys also contributed to their college funds with their part time jobs while in college. :) 


Y'all have a good day and stay cool in this summer heat!

~Lisa 


Thursday, July 5, 2018

Easy Meals and Cat Tunnels

How was your 4th of July? We had a very low key holiday, just like I like it. I didn't even decorate this year. Well, unless you count my blue Pier 1 plates on the mantel...



At the last minute, I made this fruit pizza (without the fruit) I was craving M&M's on a sugar cookie crust, so I just omitted the fruit. :) Oh, and every store was sold out of the patriotic M&M's, so I got the regular bag and separated them out. 



Here's the recipe I used: PILLSBURY EASY FRUIT PIZZA 

If you do the fruit version, Pillsbury says the trick to getting the pieces of fruit all glossy looking is to brush it with apple jelly. I thought that was a neat tip! 

So here are a few easy meals I've been serving for dinner (for the non-vegans in the family)

Tony Chachere's Jambalaya mix with jalapeño sausage...

 So easy and good!

I shared this pic below on IG and we had such a funny conversation about strapping our purses into the shopping cart (I always do it) I love these easy meals they have at HEB. This one is the Southwest chicken. You literally pull off the plastic wrap and put it in the oven (the containers are oven safe) for about 25 minutes and dinner is served! I usually serve this with Caesar salad, but I couldn't resist this jalapeño bread. Yum! 



 Do y'all know about these Pillsbury strawberry cream cinnamon rolls? Oh my! So good! I got them at Walmart and it's a good thing they're a limited edition. ;) 


 Another easy HEB meal...steak and cream cheese jalapeño stuffed potatoes. I know, I know...again with the jalapeño! Jalapeño sausage, bread and now it's in the potatoes. What can I say, we love spicy food. If you don't have an HEB, look around your local store. They probably have something similar to these "Meal Simple Kits." 



When I was at Walmart picking up those strawberry cream rolls, I made a pit stop in the pet section. These cute houses and tunnel had Finn's name written all over them! 

 Don't you love how his little face looks like a lion in that window?! Lol!

All three pieces are sold separately, for around $7. You can use them individually or connect them with the included velcro straps. 

My ever cautious Holly Joaquin was leery of the new inhabitants of the house, so she just admired them from a distance for a couple of days. But she eventually ventured into them and sorta enjoyed it. Ha! 

Such a cute tiger! 

Thanks for stopping by! Hope y'all have a great weekend!

~Lisa 



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