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Starting My Shopping Ban Challenge!

On February 20th, J Money at Budgets Are Sexy decided to put himself on a shopping ban for Lent (February 18 through April 2).  He’s hardcore.  I am participating too, but my personal terms will be slightly different.

March 2015 Shopping Ban

  • No extraneous spending in March 2015.  This is just concentrating on March 1st through 31st.
  • J Money is allowing himself to spend on “Only bills, mortgages, healthcare, utilities, rent and groceries.”  My definition will also include all food, not just groceries.  BUT, I have to choose cheaper options than usual if I am eating out with friends or family for a pre-planned meal out, and I can’t stop for unnecessary snacks or extras like $1 drinks from McDonald’s.  This isn’t an exercise in self-denial for me.  I want to make sure I am still capable of conscious spending.
  • I was going to donate $1 to SMART Animal Rescue every time I spend/splurge unnecessarily, BUT, you’ll get to pick the charity.  Just leave a comment below with what charity you think should get the cash.  I’ll donate the Oopsie Pot to whichever charity gets the most comments for them (one comment per person, please).
  • I’m not going to simply put off buying something until April 1st.  This is about consciously making the choice not to spend, not just delaying it.  I know me, I can cheat on myself, so this is how I will ensure I don’t.  If I buy something in April that I consciously chose to avoid in March, then I will donate another $1 even if I already sent the pot somewhere.

Update So Far

I already owe $2 to the Oopsie Pot.  Yep, two unnecessary expenses on the first day.

First, I used a buy-one-get-one-free coupon to buy Egg McMuffins for Mr. BFS and myself yesteday.  I could have eaten at home, but I motivated myself to wake up much earlier than normal by promising myself the McMuffin.  So, there’s $1 to charity.

Secondly, I accompanied two of my friends, Mandy and Dee, shopping yesterday for new work clothes for Mandy.  I ended up finding one of those perfect pairs of butt jeans at Goodwill that I didn’t want to pass up.  Especially right this second since I was down to 2 pairs of basic jeans and 1 pair of pet sitting jeans that are stained.  I spent $9…well, now $10 overall, lol.

2013 Jeans

You may remember these $8.50 jeans I bought in May 2013 from a local resale shop. Yeah, I killed them good with pet sitting stuff. Found a replacement!

Your Job

Remember to comment below with the charity that should get my Oopsie Pot at the end of March 31st.  You can be motivational and funny by picking a charity you think I would hate.  Or you can choose your favorite charity.  Maybe you can do both, hehe.  Whatever you wish!  Comment below!  I’ll lock in the winner of the pot on March 15th and send the total to that charity by April 3rd.  Thanks!

Cheap DIY Key Holder / Key Hanger!

Between my husband, myself, our friends that live with us, and visitors, we have a lot of cars in our household.  Getting someone to move their car temporarily while I run out for pet sitting or an errand usually wastes an extra 5+ minutes of chatting, waiting, and then leaving.

I decided to solve this problem last year by asking for everyone who lives here to provide their keys or spare keys so we can all just grab, reposition, and go on our way.  Well, that works great except that a pike of keys on the counter was ugly and I couldn’t find a good central location for a basket to be placed.  I solved this yesterday.

My Do-It-Yourself Key Holder / DIY Key Hanger

Here’s how I made a cute key hanger for our house:

1.  Found a cute metal sign on a book shelf that I received from my friend, Isabelle, at Christmas.

My Metal Sign

Thanks, Isabelle!

2.  Bought a $1.25 pack of 3 hooks from Lowe’s using a gift card.

Three Hooks from Lowe's

I forgot to take the picture of the package, but here are the three hooks I used.

3.  Used my friend’s hot glue gun and a little super glue to affix the screws to the back of the sign.

Sticking the Hook to the Sign

I tried using my regular super glue to stick on the hooks, but metal-to-metal wasn’t happening. I then used the hot glue gun to stick on the hooks, but it was easy to pop off the dob of hot glue once it cooled. So then I super glued the hot glue dob to the sign and it works great!

4.  Hung the sign using two dry wall nails.  It’s works and looks awesome to boot!

DIY Key Holder

My DIY Key Holder / Key Hanger

It makes me smile and is located on the wall of the room right in front of the door.

Other Options and Substitutes

  • The sign can be any metal or wood sign or picture frame that you want to use.
  • If you don’t already have a sign or picture frame that you want to use, you can find something cute and cheap at garage sales or Goodwill for less than $2.50.  I saw some wooden picture frames at Goodwill last week for $1 each that would have done the job.
  • You can use small or large hooks, eye hole screws, plastic stick-on hooks, or even clothes pins.  Use your imagination.
  • If you use something with a wood frame, you could screw in the hooks instead of sticking them on.
  • Strong tape or metal-to-metal glue can be used instead of a hot glue gun and super glue.  The point is simply attaching it and it being able to hold the weight of a key ring.

What sort of DIY projects save you money and make you smile?

This is How You Get Repeat Customers – Incanto Italian Cafe

A new Italian place called Incanto Italian Café just opened up near me a couple of month’s ago.  I only noticed them about 2 weeks ago.  And I’ve already been back 4 times.  :-D

First Experiences at Incanto Italian Café

It was amazing! The bread they bring to the table is made fresh, soft and delicious. I ordered the $7.99 Calzone and I swear the thing was bigger than my head. The dough was stellar, the marinara sauce is simply tasty, and the four cheeses and fresh spinach inside were oh-so-good.  My bill was really $8.  To top it off, the waitress and probable family member of the business, Lucy, was friendly and professional.

Incanto Italian Cafe Calzone

This is the actual calzone they served me the first time at Incanto Italian Café. I’m hungry just writing this post…

My second visit 3 days later was uneventful since I ordered a Calzone again for pickup.  It was just as yummy as before (that’s called quality control testing, hahaha).  About a week after that, I tried a personal Margherita pizza for $6 that was EVEN BETTER than the calzone!  Wow! 

All three times, I also interacted with Lucy.  It was always pleasant.     

Yesterday’s Experience

It gets better!  I took my grandparents to Incanto yesterday afternoon for coffee (well, coffee for them and lemonade for me, haha) after they popped up spontaneously.  They had a difficult afternoon dealing with a car dealership for silly issues that shouldn’t cost as much as they were quoted.  That sort of explains how coffee turned into them ordering cheesy potato soup too.

They loved it all.  Plus, Lucy came in from picking up her kids as we were getting done, came over to our table to say hi, AND stayed to listen to a few of our back-in-the-day stories for 5-10 minutes before her shift started.  It made their afternoon.  :-D

Delicious food, fair prices, and amazing people.  That is how you turn into one of my favorite places ever.

How did you find your favorite restaurant or business?

My Home Feels Like Home Again

How It Started

In mid-October, I wrote about a really bad week.  I had come home from pet sitting at 5:30am and our bed was soaked from water that came in through our ceiling fan.  A day later, a crack opened up in the ceiling of our living room.  A day after that, our oven’s top heating element literally exploded in a burst of fireworks and flames.  A couple of days after that, my husband received a red light camera citation.  It was simply a crappy week.

Last Update

A few days after I told you about all of those problems, I wrote an update for you.

  • We paid the $79 ticket without any problems.  You can read that update post to see why I was laughing hysterically as I electronically sent them money.
  • Our roof was inspected by the builder’s chosen roofing company, and they blamed wind-driven rain.  So I was scheduling a guy to fix everything.
  • An AWFUL oven technician came out on behalf of GE Appliances and ticked me off badly.  GE decided to send me the part for free and schedule an appointment for a different technician to come out and install it for me after a couple of sincere and polite, though not perky, phone calls.

Handling the Issues

I ended up scheduling an all-in-one handyman for the roof and ceiling issues that I knew about thanks to a friend.  He came over, took a quick look around, and quoted $400 to elongate the vent hood to decrease the risk of wind-driven rain in the future and to patch the crack in the ceiling.

A few days later, he arrived as planned…and found a crack in the vent base on the roof in less than 5 minutes.

It wasn’t wind-driven rain damage!  It was a crack caused by scoring the vent base when they cut a shingle to fit!  The crack must have opened up during the storm and that’s where all of the water came from.  Mystery solved.

It did mean that he spent longer on the roof since he sealed the crack and the shingle very well.  He also elongated the vent hood just in case.  While he was handling that, I was sending videos and pictures to my home builder and requesting them to reimburse me for every dime…

Cut Shingle

That is what a shingle looks like that was cut down the middle to fit in front of the vent hood…

Crack in the Vent Hood / Vent Base

And that is the crack in the vent base that let all the water into my ceiling…

Once he was done outside, he also finished patching up my ceiling inside.

Ceiling Damage

This is what the ceiling crack had turned into within 3 days.

Fixed Ceiling

Goodbye crack!

His final bill came to $490 on Monday, October 20, 2014. I paid it, of course.  Then I texted a picture of that invoice to my home builder and crossed my fingers that they wouldn’t fight me too hard on the claim.

With the oven, they forgot to send me the element.  But I expected that, and called the Tuesday it was supposed to arrive to check on it since my service appointment was set for Thursday. They overnighted me the part.  :-)  The technician arrived Thursday as planned. He had it fixed in less than 15 minutes. He also showed me how to do it if it ever happened again, showed me how to replace the burnt out light bulb without unscrewing anything, and walked me through taking off the front oven door to be able to reach into it easier.  Woot!

Oven with Obvious Gap

This was our broken oven…


Working Oven

Now our oven works again!

Life is Good Again

I’m happy to report that home feels like home again.  :-)  The oven was fixed for free.  The roof and ceiling damage was reimbursed completely by my home builder on Halloween.  The stray dog was officially adopted.  And the red-light citation was handled.  My house feels less broken.  Now to just finish cleaning up all of the Halloween decorations and random party stuff.  :-D

How are you doing right now?  Get some stuff off of your to-do list? 

Being in Big Brothers Big Sisters – Awesome and Inexpensive!!!

It’s been nearly a year since I updated all of you about being in Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS).  Honestly, it just became part of my life and I forgot that I stopped talking about it here, LOL.

My Little Bro

Little Bro at the Zoo

That’s my Little Bro watching his favorite animal ever, a sea lion, jumping out of the water. This was his first ever trip to the zoo!  Yay!!!  I got lucky to get this shot, lol.  And yes, his mom gave me permission to use it or any of the photos I take.  :-)

My Little Bro and I were matched up in September 2013 and started hanging out in October 2013.  He was 10 years old when we were matched up and is 11 now.  I am 20 years older than him, and I love that since it makes remembering his age way easier.  Hahaha.

Overall, he is as quiet as I am loud.  He is as black as I am white.  He is my height already (5’2″) and will be at least 6 feet tall based on his ever-growing feet.  So we make a very odd-looking couple when we are out and about, but that suits both of us just fine.  We do make jokes about “white” stuff and “black” stuff once in a while, but it never seems to be a concentrated point.  I did have to inform him on one of our initial hang outs that “some white people like Brisk iced tea too.”  ;-)  That makes me laugh to this day.

Most recently, with me dying my hair a rainbow of color, I thought I’d finally “break” him and he’d get embarrassed.  Nope.  He didn’t say anything to me about it but smile.  Then he told my mom that I had cool, new hair.  :-D  He does that a lot – won’t say much to me about something and then tell his mom all about it, so I hear nice stuff second hand.  I cannot believe I was matched with someone so shy, or that it works so well for both of us, LOL.

When we were matched, Little Bro was failing most of his classes, was repeating 4th grade, and was getting in trouble by acting out nearly daily in school by going under tables or just walking out of class.  His parents were also getting divorced (yeah, I made the connection too).

He has now brought his grades up to B’s and C’s, is in 5th grade for the first time, didn’t act out at school all of last year, and even joined the school’s football team.  He enjoys math and science the most, has fast feet in football, and is just now getting comfortable enough at school to start being a slight class clown, which we are working on reeling in just a bit.  I am so proud of him and hope he really hunkers down to use his math and science smarts.


He’s helped me a lot in the last year too.  I understand kids a little better.  I’ve also learned that he pays attention to my actions just as much as my words.  It helps that I act the way I suggest and am friendly to nearly everyone.  He sees that and repeats it.  Not as much as small children do, but I have noticed it pretty frequently.  That makes me want to be a better person, especially around him.

I watch how I word things a little more often, and more importantly, I open doors for others and give more smiles and compliments.  I need him to see that the whole world isn’t against him.  I also make sure to stick to my word- I pick him up every week as we plan and we do what we agreed to do unless the weather forces us to change plans.

Actual Costs

Honestly, I spend more than necessary on our weekly get-togethers.  BBBS suggests doing free and cheap activities.  They never encourage us to spend much at all.  I understand.  I ignore it sometimes, but I understand.

Little Bro and I both love all sorts of food.  He also hadn’t been to places like the zoo or the botanical gardens, so I do drive him all over occasionally.  For the most part, we stick close to our homes though.

A basic hang out day is picking him up after school around 4pm, we eat somewhere, we hang out somewhere like a billiard’s hall or the $2 discount theater, we grab dessert from a grocery store or snow cone stand, and I take him home around 7pm.

In our first year:

  • We hung out 36 times.
  • I drove about 950 miles altogether.
  • I spent a grand total of $495.

I consider this a STEAL.  Oh, and the money spent on Little Bro specifically is a tax write off and so is the mileage.  So honestly, it’ll most likely end up costing less than $300 after the actual deductions.

You Should Sign Up

There are way more Littles than Bigs – they need your help.  BBBS only asks for you to see each other at least twice a month.  The application process is thorough but not extremely time consuming.  You don’t have to spend much at all after that though.  Just a weekly or biweekly hang out and email your BBBS rep once a month with what you did and for how many hours (that’s how they keep their grants).

The majority of the $495 that I spent in a year was on eating out and billiards, so you could just make food or find a cheaper hobby together.

You will be changing a kid’s life.  They will change yours.  It is worth the time, money, and there isn’t much driving unless you want to go places all around town like me.  This is a good deed that takes less than 3 hours a week at most and can help you and a kid at the same time.  I highly suggest it.

Have you ever been a Big or Little?  Thought about it?

What To Do When You Find a Stray Dog

Please keep in mind that I am a professional pet sitter, an animal rescue foster mom, and an animal lover in general, BUT I am not a vet or anybody in authority over stray animals.  So take this post as intended, a suggested to-do list from one sucker to another.  ;-)

I spent the weekend living away from home since I was hired for overnight pet sitting.  Normally, that wouldn’t have annoyed anyone, but this time I took in a stray dog the day before I left.  My husband is a bit frazzled, my roommate and friend, Mandy, is pretty much co-parenting with me, and I have learned a bunch about what to do when you find a stray dog…

How I Ended Up with a Stray

Last Thursday, I drove the 5 miles to our old neighborhood to pick up the monthly rent for our rental home.  While I was there, a very frazzled older woman was going door to door with her neighbor’s help.  She was carrying around a stray dog, a sweet-tempermented Shih Tzu that she had found in the middle of the street about a half hour before.  She was nearly crying because both she and her neighbor own large dogs that don’t play well with others – they didn’t know what they were going to do with this little boy.

I asked her, “IF I take this little guy home and give him a place to sleep and eat, would you promise to put up flyers all over this neighborhood and do everything possible to find his real owners?”  She said that she would, and looked more relieved than I could describe.  Her neighbor promised to help too.  I took the dog.  Yeah, I’m a pushover.

Steps to Take When You Find a Stray Dog

1.  Take care of the immediate problems before you bring the dog into your home.  In our case, Toby (trying that name out right now, although “Crazy Dog” seems to be the one sticking…), was thirsty and infested with fleas.  I hate fleas.  He got little quantities of water at a time until he seemed good to go.  Then I gave him the bath in Dawn that I have mentioned before, but he was too matted for it to do much good.  So I used $45 of my fun money for the month and took him to the awesome groomers that I had used for my fur babies.  They take care of all sorts, so a stray with fleas was an easy one for them.  In a few hours, I picked up a flea-free, shaved, nail-clipped, adorable Shih Tzu that was about 2 pounds lighter from when I dropped him off.

Shih Tzu BEFORE the Groomers

This was Toby before I took him to be groomed.

Shih Tzu AFTER the Groomers

This was Toby when I picked him up 3-4 hours later. TOTALLY WORTH $45!

2.  While I was waiting for the groomers to call for pick up, I listed him everywhere I could think of online.  The neighbor in the other neighborhood did the same.  I ended up with him being listed as FOUND on the Houston SPCA website, Petfinder’s Facebook page, Craigslist, in both neighborhoods and surrounding areas, and Texas Lost Pets.  Other rescues picked his info up from there and I had 3 calls by Friday evening about this little guy.  Sadly, none of them were actually his owners.  Shih Tzu’s tend to look a lot alike…

3.  We went directly from the groomers to my old vet on the way home.  I picked him up a $10 Capstar, a pill for him to take to kill any remaining fleas just in case.  I also had him scanned for a microchip.  No microchip.  He’s an un-neutered male with no identifying microchip, collar, or tattoo.  :-(

4.  For the last 3 days, my husband and friend/roommate have been taking care of the little guy while I’m pet sitting out of town.  I’ve been answering a couple of calls and emails from owners who lost their little guys recently, but he isn’t the one that they are looking for.  One lady sent me a picture and they looked nearly identical, but this one isn’t neutered and hers was…and hers has a microchip.  Good luck, Joan!

5.  I called SMART Rescue, the animal rescue that I foster for when I am home for more than a few weeks at a time.  This little boy is obviously a very young adult, maybe 1.5-2 years old, and his super high energy level just won’t fit into our household permanently.  That said, I asked SMART if they could take on another little one if I was willing to foster him until he gets adopted.  They agreed and he is now their nearly-adoptable dog.  We have an appointment on Wednesday to get him a full evaluation, neutered, micro-chipped, and we’ll be picking up heartworm and flea preventatives for the next month.  I didn’t have the remaining fun money to tackle all of that in less than a week, and I didn’t want to hit our emergency fund for a pup that I rather not adopt for life.  Honestly, rescues are life savers for pets and humans alike.

Based on the fact that he is adorable, sweet, and mostly house trained, I think that he will be adopted out in less than 2-3 weeks.  We’ll see.  I have my fingers crossed since I know everyone I live with is definitely thinking the sooner, the better since this little guy wants every speck of attention that you can possibly give him every moment of every day.  He is a purse dog…he thinks he should be with you all of the time.  And since he is just a 14 pound dog, he really was bred that way.

Have you ever rescued a stray?  How did you handle it?

Different Shade of Blue – Ion Brights Sky Blue to be Exact!

For anyone following along with my hair saga, my last update was early this month.  I had switched from Manic Panic Ultra Violet Semi-Permanent to N’rage Cobalt Blue Demi-Permanent on September 1st.  Manic Panic had lasted strong for 3-4 days, and lasted in total for exactly 2 weeks and 3 main washes.

Crystal Loved Her Purple Hair

Love at first sight. :-)

N’rage – Less Than 2 Weeks

N’rage lasted from September 1st through September 11th pretty well, and it wasn’t completely gone.  But then I got my hair cut/updated on September 10th to look spiffy at FinCon14, so that definitely stripped a lot out.  It was stronger than Manic Panic, but it wouldn’t have lasted much more than 5-6 regular washes with me.  Keep in mind, I hadn’t been using sulfate-free shampoo or anything special.

Crystal with N'rage Cobalt Blue Hair

This only lasted 11 days with me…

Ion Color Brilliance Brights Semi-Permanent – Sky Blue

I’ve moved back to the semi-permanent arena, lol.  I’m now using Ion Brights Semi-Permanent in Sky Blue.  I am loving this shade of blue!  I also splurged on $6 sulfate-free shampoo and have washed my hair once so far without it looking nearly as faded as the other two did in one wash.  So yay for maintenance shampoo, lol!  Without further ado, here is how my hair will hopefully look for at least the next week:

Ion Brights Sky Blue

Can’t decide whether I like this one even more than the purple or not! No worries though…I have other colors to try too!

Since the Ion Brights variety is cheaper than Manic Panic and N’rage ($5 versus $9-$13), and they were having a buy-two-get-$1-off sale, I decided to take a chance and bought four colors at once.  This is Sky Blue.  I will also be trying Aquamarine, Magenta, and Fuschia.  Thanks to my super short hair, it only takes one tube to cover it all.  If you have more hair than me at all though, I would suggest buying two tubes for Ion or two containers of Manic Panic.  Or, just streak your hair instead of covering it all.

I’ve had loud-colored hair for about a month now, and I can honestly say that I’m loving it.  My pillow case may never be the same again, but it’s a small price to pay for the fun factor of this experiment so far.  Financially, I’ve spent about $40 in the last month on dyes, my new shampoo, and 12 shower caps.  But I still have three of those dyes left to try, so this should take me on for at least another month or two.  In my world, that’s 3 continuous months of entertainment for $40…what a steal!  Hahaha!

And, an extra benefit, I should be very easy to locate at FinCon this year!  :-D

Did I leave anything out?  What do you think of my colors so far?