Polishing Tarnished Silver

As I have been getting older, I seem to be having to teach myself, using Google and YouTube, how to do a lot of things. Something I had never done before is polish tarnished silver. When my mom sold our childhood home last year, I inherited many things, including a set of silver spoons that has been past down from my great grandparents. The frame they were in originally was awful looking, so much so I will not post a picture of it, and the spoons looked just as awful, so I decided to polish them and re-frame them.

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I Googled the different ways that you could polish silver at home and one of the best ways seemed to be using water, aluminum foil, and baking soda. So I followed some directions using the stove, boiling water, aluminum foil, and baking soda. That process seemed to be too slow, and I had to physically make the foil touch the spoons one at a time. It was taking too long.

I then looked up another way using the same idea but boiling the water, adding salt and baking soda, then vinegar. Once all the grains were dissolved (because they can damage the silver) you add the water to an aluminum foiled lined dish. Then you add the pieces you want to the dish filled with the solution. This worked so much better and I was able to get others things done while I waited for the solution to do its thing.

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So here are the directions that I used which helped the best with the spoons, a little modified to what worked best for me. I ended up doubling what I needed to make sure the solution completely submerged the spoons.

What you need:

  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • Aluminum foil
  • Tongs
  • Baking dish or basin
  • Soft/Microfiber cloth

Instructions:

  1. Bring water to a boil in a pan on the stove.
  2. Add the salt and baking soda.
  3. Slowly add the vinegar to the boiling mixture.
  4. Dissolve all of the salt and baking soda, as the small bits can scratch and damage your silver.
  5. As you’re waiting for the salt and baking soda to dissolve, line the baking dish/basin with a sheet of aluminum foil (with the shiny side up).
  6. Next pour your boiling solution into the dish/basin.foil-lined-pan
  7. Drop the pieces of silver into the basin so that each piece is touching the foil.
  8. To ensure the best results, turn each piece onto every side to touch the foil.
  9. For pieces with dark/heavy tarnish, keep the piece in longer.
  10. Remove each piece one at a time a buff it with the cloth. Do NOT use a paper towel as it will scratch the silver. The tarnish will then rub off.

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For pieces like mine with heavy tarnish, using this approach helped but I ended up needed to using silver polish to remove the tarnish not removed by the solution. I purchased Wright’s Silver Cream from Walmart, which came with a little sponge. I followed the instructions and the rest of the tarnish came off without any problems.

I wasn’t sure how I wanted to display the spoons since the original frame they were in just made them all look very dated and old. I ended up buying a Black Panel Shadow Box by Studio Decor at Michael’s; dimensions 9″ by 20″. To ensure the spoons stayed in place I also bout 2 Prong Display Pins in silver.

My final result was almost as I expected, except I think the spoons look a bit crowded. I may end up buying a second shadow box, but I like the end result nonetheless, and the spoons look a million times better.

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Creating a (Realistic) Budget

As you graduate high school, you are told you have been given the tools you need to succeed in life. You have taken four years of English classes, Science classes, History / Social Studies classes, Math classes, etc. You were also given the chance to take extracurricular classes, like Chorus and Band, or Art and Photography, and even additional Gym classes if you are so inclined. For the life of me I cannot remember being offered a class (in high school or college for that matter) on things that would truly matter when I was out in the big bad world without the guidance of my parents, or teachers, coaches, or role models. Some of us are lucky and our parents have helped to guide us when we have needed the help, but the decisions we make are ours to make. If you make a bad one it could seriously hurt your future in more ways than one.

Should I take the job offer that increased my income by $10,000 a year, but the company has a bad reputation? Should I buy the car that will increase my car payment? Can I afford a more expensive car? And if I can, how do I do it? Will my dad go with me to help me through the process? How exactly does a credit card work? Should I move back in with my parents to save money after college? What is credit?

These are some of the questions that I pondered after I graduated college and ventured into the unknown that is adulthood.

It’s so exciting though, isn’t it? Graduating school; getting that first full-time job; renting your first apartment. And then the unknowns start to creep in. I have to buy my own health insurance? Car insurance, how do I know what I need? I have to pay for sewage? Gas? Electric? Internet and TV is how much? Even as a bundle? How am I supposed to pay for all of this with my student loans looming over my head on an entry level salary?

The answer is much simpler than I believed it was when I first moved out of my parents’ house, after a year living at home after college. Trial and error. If you can’t pay your car payment because you felt like going on a shopping spree, guess you better return everything. The world is not as forgiving as “accidently” using that credit card your parents let you use in high school. Not making payments can seriously hurt your credit; a bad credit score can prevent you from making big life decisions in the future, like buying a car, purchasing a house, and even opening credit cards.

Trial and error. Error is how you are going to learn, but you still have to think with your brain and use common sense. Missing one car payment so you can keep all the clothes and shoes you bought on your shopping spree? Bad idea. Chances are the fee for missing any payment is at least $25, and then the next month you owe twice as much money (two months’ worth of payments) AND the late fee.

So unless you want to eat Ramen every day for lunch and dinner, I highly recommend you make yourself a budget. Don’t be late on your payments. Don’t buy what you don’t need, especially if you have priorities to pay for first, like your electricity for example. Companies will turn of your utilities if you’re not paying them. You need to prioritize your needs first, your wants can come later.

The best thing I ever did for myself is come up with a budget. Below I will walk through how I created a budget for myself, which I still follow to this day. In the case you don’t want to create your own, there are apps you can use as well (like PocketGuard, HomeBudget, Wally). However, I like having my own, and I update it at least once a week to make sure I am on track and not overspending.

Creating Your Budget

One of the biggest things I regret not doing when I first went out on my own, was creating a budget. I just kind of crossed my fingers and hoped I didn’t overdraw my account before the next payday. When I did get close to overdrawing, I would move money from my savings to my checking to make sure I didn’t overdraw, but would deplete my savings because I was over spending. By the time I was almost 27 years old and had maxed out my credit cards, thinking no biggie I’ll just pay them off. Wrong.

So I had to come up with a plan. I needed to pay more than the minimums on my cards to pay them off and put money into my savings account (rainy day fund), so the extra money would have to come out my spending budget.

I created a new excel spreadsheet, and labeled each tab: Monthly Minimum Payments, Payday Overview, Accounts Overview, and a tab for each credit card. I also included one for my student loans and car payments as well.

1. Monthly Minimum Payments. On the first tab (which I named Monthly Minimum Payments), I made a list of everything that I needed to make payments on monthly, like my car payment, car insurance, rent, renter’s insurance, credit cards, utilities, etc.
– For each payment, I included the minimum payment for each, the payment due date, and if I had a reoccurring payment set up (automatic payments). This helped me know which I needed to physically pay myself.
– Then I totaled up the minimum payments to show what I was expected to pay each month, at a minimum. For example, it looked something like this:Screenshot 2018-08-02 at 10.26.40 PM

Below the total, I multiplied the number in A14 by six, which equals $7,026. This is an example of how much money I would need to have in my savings if something happened, like say I lost my job; some experts have said to save for six months of unemployment. So the money in my savings account would need to cover my bills for at least six months. AKA, my rainy day fund.

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2. The next step was to create tabs for Payday Overview, Accounts Overview, each credit card, my car payment, and any other monthly payments. The goal here is to create a separate tab for each account money is owed to keep track of the account; the Accounts Overview tab shows the total owed overall.

3. Payday Overview. This is to create a budget for each payday. This needs to be created based on what your company’s payday cycle is. For me, my company pays us every two weeks, so my budget is based off of every 14 days and initially looks something like this (the payday being the first day of each time frame):Example Payday Overview– Do this for each pay period throughout the year.
– Begin filling in the cells. In the second column in each box include the name of the account that had a payment within the time period, how much was due, and the date it was due (leaving the first column empty). I also have a savings option for those of you in the position to do so. Eventually it would look something like this:

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Once you have paid that bill for the month, I put an “X” in the most left column. Including the “X” when you pay a bill just helps keep track of what you have and haven’t paid so it’s easier to keep track of your expenses.

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4. Accounts Overview. In line “1” include the headings Account, Payment Date, Minimum Due, and Owe.
Capture– Then below each, add in each of the accounts where you owe money (like your credit cards and student loans). It will look something like this.
Capture– By using the “SUM” tool you can add up the “Owe” column to see what your debt looks like.
5. Accounts Tabs. Once you have the three main tabs set up, you can set up each of your accounts tabs by using the same format. Be sure you also rename each tab with the account name as well.
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Then you can start filling in the account information.
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In the column to the right of owe, I usually put in the payment confirmation number as well so I have it in the case I need it. Every month I add a row to keep track of all the payments and how much I owe.

I have used this exact budget for the past five years and it has worked like a charm. It keeps me organized on what payments are due and when. I have a perfect payment history because of this system. It may not be for everyone, but it helped me pay down my cards and stay on a payoff plan.

Regardless of how you do you it, create a budget or money management plan.

The North Maine Woods – Days 6, 7, & 8

Day 6 – Exploring Bar Harbor & Acadia National Park

Waking up in Bar Harbor was wonderful. We made some breakfast and got ready for our day before hopping on the 9:40 AM shuttle bus into Bar Harbor. We spent the morning walking around and visiting a few shops, including the Bar Harbor Tea Company and Bark Harbor, where I spent way too much money on Reagan. The owner at Bark Harbor was excellent, and she was more than helpful when picking out what gifts to take home to our ever so energetic pup.

Before we knew it, it was time for lunch. We had passed a place the night before that we wanted to try out for lunch, so we stopped in at Bar Harbor Beer Works. We ordered the biggest pretzel I have ever seen in my life, my second ever beer flight, and some burgers that were simply mouthwatering. To top it off, since it was just the beginning of their down season, we had no wait to get a table. After lunch, I got ice cream at CJ’s Big Dipper (Jake did not as he doesn’t like sweets).

After our bellies were full, we decided we wanted to go check out Thunder Hole. Thunder Hole is in Acadia National Park, which is a short bus ride from “downtown” Bar Harbor. Before we reached Thunder Hole, we stopped at Sand Beach, where the sand is mainly made up of shell fragments and the water is a brisk 55 degrees in the summer. We did go out to touch the water, but there was no way we were going for a swim. However, there were people going out into the water.

From Sand Beach, there is an ocean-side trail that you can walk to Thunder Hole, and then on to Otter Cliff (about a mile), but we decided to hop back on the bus since it was raining and I had a few bags from shopping.

When we arrived at Thunder Hole, I was expecting some big crashing waves and water being catapulted into the air, but that was not the case. We were told it was low tide so it was not that impressive. They were right. I was able to get some beautiful pictures and a video at low tide, but we decided we needed to come back at high tide when the water would be more active and exciting.

Before hoping back on the bus, I stopped in to the gift shop (which was super hot inside because the AC was out) and bought some waters and a few postcards. The bus picked us up and dropped us off at the entrance to the campground on the ocean side, and we walked up to our campsite.

We changed our clothes and had a drink before hoping right back on the bus back into Bar Harbor for dinner at Stewman’s Downtown, which was right on the water. Once again, the food was incredible and the views were wonderful. We ended up sitting right next to a couple from New Jersey, but the husband had worked in Richmond many years ago.

After dinner, we were deciding what we wanted to do since the buses stopped running at 7:45 PM, so we called an Uber to pick us up and take us back to Thunder Hole, as it was now high tide. Luckily, we got the same driver as the night before (Steven) and offered him $30 to turn off his Uber to take us to Thunder Hole and then to the campground after. You are only able to get cell service in the town of Bar Harbor, so we wouldn’t have been able to get a ride back unless we offered him some money to help us out.

Steven happened to be a professional photographer and decided to walk down with us to the water to get some pictures. I was quite disappointed when we returned to Thunder Hole and the water wasn’t any more impressive than low tide. The pictures that we had seen of Thunder Hole were pretty neat and our experience (at both low and high tide) was alright, but what the travel brochures and information on Thunder Hole seem to neglect to mention that the best times to visit, to see in its glory, are when storms (and I mean big storms, like hurricanes) are approaching.

We left Thunder Hole and headed back to the campground, but Steven missed the turn and we ended up getting a nice little detour around the island. Once we were back at the campsite, we made some dinner and started packing everything up. We were getting up at 4 AM to see the sunrise from Cadillac Mountain, so we made sure everything that we could pack was packed and ready to go.

Day 7 – Cadillac Mountain & Cape May, NJ

Our alarms went off at 4 AM, we dressed and finished packing up. We were on the road by 5 AM, and a good thing too because when we reach the top of Cadillac Mountain people we already there and picking their spots for an epic sunrise. Cadillac Mountain is a part of Arcadia National Park and looks over the entire island and down on Bar Harbor to the east. When the sun rises you are the first to see it on the east coast of the U.S., as it is the highest point along the North Atlantic seaboard.

Hundreds of people ended up being there for the sunrise and it was a beautiful sunrise. There were some clouds blocking right where the sun came up, but it was still beautiful.

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When we got back to the truck, we set our destination to Cape May, New Jersey as our “halfway” point back to Northern Virginia. It was a long and interesting ride (about 12 hours). We saw several accidents that held us up a little bit, but we finally arrived around between 5 PM and 6 PM. New Jersey was much more humid than Maine and the mosquitoes were out in full force.

After setting up camp at The Depot Travel Park and taking showers, we grabbed an Uber, and headed out to dinner close to the beach. We decided on Iron Pier Craft House, and sat at the bar. The entire place was neat looking with Edison lights throughout with an old school feel, and they even had a guy playing music. There was a Bachelorette/Birthday Party gathered at the bar as well, who were super entertaining to watch the entire time we were there.

IMG_0252The food was pretty dang good. We had a cheese and fruit platter to share, then Jake ordered their Sushi and I tried the Shrimp Mac and Cheese. Everything was so good! Once we paid our check, we decided to walk to Washington Street, which is a few pedestrian streets of shopping. I was able to grab a shot glass to add to my unhealthy collection, as well as a few gifts for family. It was a really nice night so we enjoyed walking around for a little while before getting a Lyft (no Uber was available) back to the campground.

Unfortunately, the campground did not allow campfires so we sat under the awning and had a few drinks before we decided to call it a night and head to bed. The next day was to be a bit shorter travel wise.

Pros of The Depot Travel Park:
– Nice, well kept bathrooms
– Electric and water at every site
– Quiet

Cons of The Depot Travel Park:
– No campfires allowed
– 5 MPH speed limit, very strict (Jake’s truck idols at 10 MPH)
– More of an RV park – no other tent campers
– Not much of a camp store, just a check in house

Day 8 – The Drive Home

At 3 AM we were awakened by the tornado sirens that were triggered by the storms rolling through that night, which if you’re camping and those go off, it’s a little scary. Trying to go back to sleep was a little difficult after that but we managed. It was a rainy day when we climbed out of the tent. It took us a little while to pack up because of the rain and we were exhausted. Once we did, we left the campground and had breakfast at Dock Mike’s Pancake House (which is cash only btw). The service was very quick and the food was pretty dang good too!

We gassed up the truck and caught the 10:30 AM Lewes Ferry to Delaware, an hour and a half trip. The ferry was nicely equipped with a restaurant, a bar, and a gift shop.

After picking up Reagan in Maryland and eating some lunch, we finally arrived home around 6 PM.

Our plan is to one day go back to Maine to spend more time in the North Maine Woods and Bar Harbor, as one week is not enough time to explore either place.

We are excited to share our next adventure with everyone sometime in 2019!

The North Maine Woods – Days 1 & 2

The North Maine Woods – Days 3, 4 & 5

 

 

 

The North Maine Woods – Days 3, 4 & 5

Day 3 – Closing the Gap on the North Maine Woods

Day three started out by eating breakfast, packing up, and taking showers. Every day that we stayed in a place with a bath house we made sure to take showers right before leaving. We never knew if the next place we camped would have showers or not.

I was also able to get some pictures of the lake before we left:

At check out, the owner gave us some directions so we wouldn’t get stopped by a closed gate and have to backtrack, which would cost us time and sunlight. When we left the store, a Vanagan was parked right next to us outside and Jake went into full fangirl mode. The owner came out of the store right after us and Jake immediately started up a conversation and allowed us to take a peak inside. It was in almost perfect condition.

We left the campground and, at the suggestion of the campground owner, we traveled around Mooselookmeguntic Lake. The next couple hours were spent on a combination of dirt roads and paved roads until we reached 201 North. We had planned on taking a different route to Jackman, Maine, but taking 201 definitely saved us some time.

By this time, I was pretty upset that I had yet to see a moose, and we were on Day Three!

Jackman, Maine is located in Moose River Valley, population 862 (2010 census), and 15 miles from the Quebec border; it is the largest town in the region. Jackman is well known for ice fishing, snowmobiling/four wheeling trails (also their main transportation), snowshoeing, and working forests (similar to that of the North Maine Woods). We made it to Jackman at about 12 PM. There are only two gas stations in Jackman, so it wasn’t difficult to figure out where to fill up diesel, and as for grocery stores, there is only one so we didn’t have a choice of where to stop to grab the few essentials we needed.

9 - Jackman, ME - 09.03.2018

Since it was lunch time and we were getting a little hungry, we decided to eat at Four Seasons Restaurant and Lounge, one of only three restaurants (that we saw). They have an area to sit down to eat inside, as well as a bar area but don’t expect a four star restaurant; we sat outside since it was nice and cool. We ordered potato skins to share, Jake order the hot atomic wings, and I got a grilled chicken sandwich. The food was alright, seemed to be a lot of bar type food, but it was still good.

When we were done with our meals, we started plotting our route to Twenty Mile Checkpoint to the North Maine Woods. There were a few locals sitting outside drinking, so Jake being the extrovert he is, strolled over to them to ask for directions with the Atlas. Not two minutes later Jake was best friends with a local named Wild Bill. He was hammered, but he still knew his stuff. Wild Bill was hilarious and we learned that he had lived in Jackman his entire life and never crossed the “lookout” south of town. Everyone in the town knew him and he knew them, who he kept instigating us to flick off with him, which we did. He also challenged us to a cornhole game which they apparently call “bean bag toss.” We lost. Badly. By the time we were ready to leave Wild Bill had told us some really bad, yet funny jokes, as well as nicknamed me “Hairdryer” (thanks Jake).

Taking Route 15 / Route 6 out of Jackman, we FINALLY encountered our first moose of the trip. She came running out of the forest and was about to collide with us when she turned and ran parallel with us in the ditch before she slowed down and crossed the road behind us. She was beautiful and huge! Even though she was running beside us three feet lower in the ditch, her head was right at the passenger window so I had an amazing view of her! We were very lucky that she turned at the last minute and didn’t hit the truck. Hitting a moose, or a moose hitting you, is just as bad if not worst than hitting deer in the southern states. Unfortunately the encounter happened so quickly I didn’t have time to take a picture, but here are some to give you an idea of how big even small moose are.

We continued on to Northern Road north to Pittston Farm north of Rockwood, Maine, where we set up our home for the night. As soon as we finished setting up it started to storm, which lasted no more than 20 minutes. Our awning came in handy as we were able to lower it and put our chairs under it to wait out the rain. When the rain did stop, we walked to the main house to get water, see where the showers were, and to check out their museum. Jake prepared fish tacos once the rain stopped and we sat by the fire enjoying each other’s company the remainder of the night.

Pros of Pittston Farm:
– Dry firewood
– Neat museum
– Groomed ATV and snowmobiling trails
– Nice sites for campers
– Year round camper sites
– Gateway to the North Woods at twenty mile checkpoint across the river.

Cons of Pittston Farm:
– Store was pretty much empty (it was the end of summer season)
– Pit toilet outhouses throughout campground
– Only showers (2) were at the main house
– More suited for campers than tent camping
– Looks uninviting when arriving

Day 4 – The North Maine Woods

On the morning of Day 4, we packed up and took showers before crossing the North Branch Penobscot River to the 20 Mile Checkpoint into the North Maine Woods. We paid our day fee at the checkpoint, $15/person/day fee and entered the woods!

Our next stop was Eagle Lake Tramway. The Golden Road took us most of the way there, then took a few smaller roads to Caucomgomoc Lake. The only down side to traveling so much each day is we didn’t stop too long in some of the places we went, so we ended up just driving by the lake and on to the Eagle Lake Tramway.

Ran into some logging trucks as well…

We used the atlas to navigate the access roads until we spotted signs leading us the rest of the way. Recently, a parking area has been cleared so the walk to the Tramway is only about a mile (20 minutes or so). At the parking lot, Jake grilled up some lunch before we headed out to the Tramway.

The Eagle Lake Tramway was extraordinary! Built to haul pulpwood (spruce trees) between Eagle Lake and Chamberlain Lake, the Tramway was basically a railway system that ran for six years before being abandoned in 1907. From 1927 to 1933, the Eagle Lake end of the Tramway was modified as an end station or terminal of the Eagle Lake and West Branch Railroad, which was used to haul pulpwood south. The two engines are the only survivors from its operation. The engines (Ghost Trains), cars, and additional parts of equipment can still be found here today and is on the National Register of Historic Places. In 2012, volunteers restored parts of the Tramway to bring it back to life, as time, the harsh weather of Maine, and souvenir hunters had battered its existence.

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Leaving the Tramway, we hiked the mile back to the truck and continued on to our campsite for the night. We couldn’t seem to find the campsite we had been looking for from our Atlas, so we stopped at a ranger station where the rangers gave Jake directions to the only campsite close by that was accessible by motor vehicle. It took us a little time to find it, but once we did it was definitely worth the detour to find it.

Using the Atlas, I directed Jake about ten miles from the rangers station where, after some confusion of where exactly we were, we made a left onto an overgrown road with a sign that read “Umbazooksus East.” We picked up a few pinstripes, and at one point we were about to try and turn around thinking this was not the correct road. But the dense bushes and trees finally gave way to a clearing that had been perfectly manicured by the North Maine Woods (Bureau of Parks and Lands). It was perfect. A nice shelter with a picnic table, a clean and well constructed pit toilet, and two convenient campsites.

We hopped out of the truck to look around, and that’s when I noticed a grassy walkway that led away from the campsites. I followed it to an opening that was right out to a beautiful waterfront campsite. I called for Jake and he came running down to the campsite, which is when we noticed a moose, standing in the water looking directly at us. Jake ran to get my camera and I was barely able to get a picture as he ran off.

80 - Umbazooksus East, ME - 09.04.2018

We positioned the truck so that we had a nice view of the lake and quickly set up. Of course by the time we had made the trip to Maine, most of the lakes had already been partially drained for the winter season, but our view was still spectacular.

For firewood, Jake cut down a dead tree with his handy battery powered chainsaw that he bought solely for this trip. He had a fire going in no time with enough wood for a nice little fire in the morning.

We made chili and cornbread for dinner while we watched an amazing sunset right over the lake. We could not have asked for a more perfect setting or a more perfect night.

Pros of Umbazooksus East Campsites:
– Well maintained
– Two picnic tables / fire range
– A well constructed pit toilet
– Absolutely stunning views
– Sunset was picture perfect
– Quiet and relaxing

Cons of Umbazooksus East Campsites:
– Rough road driving in
– No firewood provided, must find and chop your own
– Muddy near the water, but it was also drained in September

Day 5 – Out of The North Maine Woods and on to Bar Harbor

The morning of Day 5 was probably my favorite. Breakfast was bacon and eggs right on the water, and the temperature was just right.

After packing up the truck, we left our campsite and headed out of the North Maine Woods. Not long into our drive,  a mama bear and her cub crossed the road in front of us. It was so exciting to see them as my list and number count of the animals we had seen during our trip was low! We had now seen two moose, two bear, and one deer.

While on the Golden Road, we stopped at the Abol Bridge Campground & Store to grab a snack and to take pictures of Mount Katahdin, which is the beginning of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail in Maine. The view was incredible and one of my favorites for sure.

We continued on, through a few villages and towns before we reached I95 South and civilization (which was weird after not seeing many people for a few days). We took I95 South to Bangor, Maine, where we stopped for lunch at Sea Dog Brewing Co. for lunch. Since the weather was perfect we sat on their porch overlooking Penobscot River while eating a few appetizers before our meals came. I also tried my first flight. Of course all of the food was delicious, and any leftovers we had went in to our refrigerator in the back of the truck for later.

After lunch, we headed east to Bar Harbor. Everything in Bar Harbor was beautiful. We decided to stop in the town before heading to our campground to walk around (since we had been in the truck for many hours), see the cruise ships, and go in a few shops. We also came across, from a distance, a natural land bridge that is only accessible during low tide that crosses the harbor to Bar Island. As much as we wanted to drive across and explore, our schedule just didn’t allow us the time so we observed from afar.

We headed to our campground to get settled and take some much deserved showers. Once we arrived at Blackwoods Campground, however, we discovered that the campground did not have showers, only a place to use the restroom. So before we could set up, we drove back out of the campground and down the street to a bathhouse where we had to pay (in quarters for time) to use the shower. Jake’s shower cost us $2 and mine cost us $6, go figure.

The bathhouse also sold firewood, so we grabbed some of that as well before heading back to the campground to set up. After we had set up we decided on taking the shuttle bus (which was free btw) back into Bar Harbor for some dinner.

We had a delicious dinner at Testa’s Restaurant. We ordered Crab Stuffed Mushrooms to share; Jake had two very large lobster with corn and red potatoes. Because I’m allergic to lobster (or so they say) and scallops I had crap soup and a salad, while jealously watching Jake devour his lobster. Everything was amazing, as we expected it to be. The food in Maine did not disappoint in the least bit.

Since the buses had stopped running at 7:45 PM, we took to the only available Uber (Steven, cool dude) back to the campground for a night cap before passing out for some much needed sleep after a pretty long day. The next day we planned on spending doing some shopping, exploring Bar Harbor as much as possible, and eating some more amazing food, so we needed all the sleep we could get.

Pros of Blackwoods Campground
– Campsites are well maintained with fire ring and lots of trees
– Free shuttle bus stop to and around Bar Harbor
– Campground is right on the Harbor/ocean, short walk down trail
– Bathrooms are nicely maintained (only toilets and sinks)
– Amphitheater with shows in the Summers
– Tours are offered in the Summers
– Always a breeze since it’s right on the water

Cons of Blackwoods Campground
– No showers in the campground
– Do not have a store or sell firewood
– Campsites aren’t very private, close to all neighbors
-No cell service outside of main Bar Harbor (unless you have AT&T apparently)

The North Maine Woods – Days 1 – 2

The North Maine Woods – Days 6, 7 & 8

 

The North Maine Woods – Days 1 & 2

As most of you know, Jake and I like to go on adventures and this year was no exception. After purchasing our Colorado and rooftop tent we wanted to do something that not many people have done before. We decided to head to The North Maine Woods and do a bit of off-roading to get away from people and relax in the quiet, yet beautiful landscape that is the North Maine Woods.

The Set Up

Jake purchased a 2017 Chevy Colorado Duramax Z71 CCSB in early 2017 and decided he wanted to put some work into it to make it more of an off-roading vehicle.

First, he wanted a mild lift yet reliable suspension, so he purchased a Bajakits Chase Kit from Bajakits. Next he installed tires/wheels that would be tough enough to handle the terrain that we would be traveling, which is when he purchased a set of Relations Race Wheels wrapped in BFG A/T KO2 275/70/17s. As for the protection, he installed 589 Fabrication front and oil pan skids.

After a pretty miserable weekend beach trip to Cape Lookout, North Carolina (we camped on the beach in a ground tent), we decided that a rooftop tent would be much more beneficial (especially since the wind was so brutal on our tent) for off-road camping. We saved our pennies to have a custom modular bed rack built, by Alexander Fabrication, where the rooftop tent would be mounted to.

Once the rack was complete, we were able to mount our tent on top. We purchased our tent from Tuff Stuff 4×4, the Delta RTT two person. We have plenty of room for both Jake and myself, and Reagan when she comes with us. Even with the three of us it is pretty spacious.  We also purchased the Tuff Stuff 4×4 4.5 x 6 ft awning to give us a little shade and shelter in the case of some wet weather or the brutal sun.

On top of the rooftop tent, Jake positioned two Bogue RV 100w flexible solar panels which charges a 100Ah bed mounted deep cycle battery for us to have power while on the road. He is able to remotely control and monitor the solar panel using a Victron 75/15 SmartSolar charge controller. Because we were going to be pretty secluded, we purchased a Snomaster Expedition 75qt refrigerator that runs off the solar panel and the battery to keep food cold when having a cooler is not sufficient.

Getting gear from the bed of the truck was a chore with the rooftop tent sitting over it, so Jake installed a Bed Slide. The bed slide allows us to pack and unpack with ease every time we moved locations.

Our set up time of 30 minutes includes setting up the tent and the awning, hanging lights, making the tent bed, and setting up the camp kitchen, which Jake built out of a Pelican case to make cooking while traveling more efficient. Break down time also takes about 30 minutes.

Day 1 – The Drive to New Hampshire

We started out on a Saturday morning of Labor Day weekend, leaving the house around 6 AM, heading north. Not much to tell when your first day consists of sitting in the truck for 11 hours. But as always, the beginning of a road trip can be very exciting! We traveled through Northern Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Hampshire in one day.

Vermont was beautiful. We didn’t spend much time in the state, and we never saw one building that wasn’t a house. Once we crossed the state line and river into New Hampshire, we saw the first town in at least two hours.

We also drove through my very first covered bridge.

Since we left the house early, we arrived at our first campground around 5 PM, Branch Brook Campground in the Town of Campton, New Hampshire. We had only called when we were a few hours away and they only had one site open (it was Labor Day weekend so everything was booked, and I do mean everything).

We checked in at the front gate, bought some firewood at the camp store, and headed back to our campsite. Our campsite was about a half mile from the front of the campground in a field with three foot high weeds and each campsite had been mowed out. The only bathroom was at the camp store, so if we needed to use the bathroom it was a “pop and squat” situation.

We situated the truck close to the fire pit and began to unpack. But not before we somehow (and by we I mean Jake) locked the keys in the truck. A great start to our vacation. Luckily, we had the back sliding window open to allow for the refrigerator to plug in to the truck while we were driving. We pulled out some tools we had brought in the case of an emergency and loosened the rooftop tent to slide back so Jake could fit between the tent and the cab. He was able to reach his arm into the cab of the truck, but he could not reach the door handle. I went back to the tools and found a 3/8 inch extended breaker bar which Jake was able to use to reach the rest of the way and pull open the door handle. Crisis averted.

Now that we were back on track, I started to set up the tent/awning while Jake unpacked the kitchen and started making dinner, Paella, which was delicious! Jake took the leftovers to our neighbors, who on one side were so drunk I’m not sure they had enough room for food. He went to the other neighbors and offered as well, and was engulfed by a cloud of pot. Not sure how they turned down food, but they did.

Trying to sleep that night was difficult as there was a party going on pretty much the entire night, but the mattress was comfortable and it didn’t get all that hot or cold.

Pros of Branch Brook Campground:
– Family friendly with playground, pool, baseball/softball fields
– Pet friendly
– Store with standard camp conveniences
– Close entry gate from 9 PM to 8 AM
– Bath house is nice and seems to be able to accommodate a full campground

Cons of Branch Brook Campground:
– Back sites are in open fields with weeds three feet high
– Bathrooms/bath house (only 1) is at the front of the campground, 1/2 mile away from back sites
– Wet fire wood
– Only two cars per site, so others parked their car in our campsite

Day 2 – Journey to the North Main Woods

We got up at 7 AM, ate breakfast, and were packed up by 8:30 AM. Before leaving, we stopped at the bathhouse to take showers and were on the road by 9 AM. The day was beautiful! Clear skies and open roads were a nice start as we headed to Sandwich, New Hampshire. Sandwich is a small community of about 1,330 people, located in Carroll County. The Historic Sandwich Notch Road is also found here; established in 1801 as an interstate highway that allowed farmers and craftsmen to travel from Vermont and northwestern New Hampshire to the coastal area of New Hampshire.

In the New England area, passes or gaps (like the Cumberland Gap in Virginia) are known as a Notch. We traveled through the small town of Sandwich, which had some of the most beautiful houses and views I have ever seen. Jake and I noticed that most of the houses were also connected to their barns. After doing some research (when we had cell service), we learned that in the New England area it is common for the houses to be connected to their barns, or as they call it “continuous architecture.” This style of building helped to avoid the harsh winters of New England. Instead on constantly shoveling snow to create a path to the outlying structures, farmers/homeowners are able to reach the buildings through interior connections.

As we traveled down Sandwich Notch Road and entered White Mountain National Forest, we crossed over two notches and three watersheds. The views were beautiful!

Our next stop of the day was in Waterville Valley, New Hampshire, population 247 (2010 census). The Waterville Valley Resort resides here and is a yearly getaway destination spot for many people in the New England area. We stopped to take some pictures and a snack break on the tailgate of the truck.

Leaving Waterville Valley, we drove down Tripoli Road (closed in the winter). It was very busy since it was Labor Day weekend, and the road was completely full with people parked on the side who were camping for the weekend. There were portable bathrooms and a trash service available, but we didn’t see any rangers patrolling this area; it was definitely a local party spot.

When we reached the end of Tripoli Road, we hopped on I-93 north where we drove through the Franconia Notch which was eight miles long between the Kinsman and Franconia mountain ranges. Although we didn’t stop, we were able to get some breathtaking photos of the Notch. The Franconia Notch is located in Franconia Notch State Park in the White Mountain National Forest. If you are ever so inclined, you can stop at the Flume Gorge Visitor Center and take the Cannon Mountain Areal Tramway on a spectacular eight minute ride to the summit of Cannon Mountain. While at the summit, it is said on clear days that you can see views as of New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, Canada, and New York. There is a plethora of activities you can enjoy with the State Park as well, including a visit the to Sky Museum, swim at Echo Lake, hike a part of the Appalachian Trail, etc.

We continued a few miles further where we took Route 3 (Daniel Webster Highway) through Carroll to Whitefield, New Hampshire. We weren’t actually planning on stopping here, but we noticed a vinyl shop as we drove by, so we stopped to look around at Chris’s Nostalgia Shop. We ended up buying about five or six vinyls, and the guy who owns the place (Chris, obviously) was super knowledgeable.

By the time we left we were getting a bit hungry, so we stopped in Lancaster, New Hampshire for a bite and a drink at Copper Big Brewery. The brewery is located in an old brick bank, right on the banks of the Isreal River. We ordered some food and a few beers, which was all amazing! And we sat at a table right next to the bank’s old vault. It was a neat old building, the perfect place to have a brewery. There was also a patio where you could eat/drink outside as well, right next to the river.

Nash Stream Forest was our next destination, so we left Lancaster (driving by their County Fair on the way) continuing on Route 3 to Route 110, where we traveled through Stark, NH and another covered bridge.

From 110 we hit Route 16. We turned off Route 16 onto Drummer Pond Road to do a little off-roading through Colebrook, NH. There were several windmill parks as we drove through the forest, including around Mount Kelsey.

Fun Fact: The nations first real wind farm was located in New Hampshire, on Crotched Mountain in Francestown.

We headed north to Route 26 to Dixville State Park where the Dixville Notch is located. We pulled off on a little pull off to take some pictures of the notch. We the continued up the road about a half mile to another pull off where we took pictures of the notch from the opposite side.

At this pull off, we also took pictures of the famous Balsams Grand Resort, which was sadly under construction, so we could not get any closer. But the resort was beautiful and sits right on Lake Gloriette. I’m sure in the winter months it is absolutely breathtaking with fresh snow and views. Right now, the Balsams is working on adding on one of the largest ski expansions in New Hampshire and the North East, with “2,200 ski able acres of alpine terrain.”

Turning south back down Route 26, Jake and I headed towards Errol, where we stopped and got some ice cream (Moose Tracks of course) before heading to South Arm Campground on the eastern shore of Umbagog Lake, finally entering Maine. We unpacked and set up, which many other campers complimented on how fast we did. One thing I did notice by our second night, is we got a lot of looks and compliments on the roof top tent setup.

The campground was very accommodating and everyone was so nice! So nice, in fact, that some of our neighbors asked if we wanted to smoke “the devils lettuce” with them. We declined.

We grabbed a few bundles of wood, which we paid for the next morning since they were technically closed, and started dinner. Jake always plans our meals out pretty meticulously, so we always eat very well, sometimes better than at home. This night was no exception as we had lasagna in the dutch oven. It was damn good.

As we ate our dinner, we planned out the next day, since we would be entering the North Maine woods and leaving civilization behind.

Pros of South Arm Campground:
– Lots are nicely maintained; each site has concrete fireplace
– Almost all lots are either on the lake or have a view of the lake
– Bathhouses are a little older but nicely maintained
– Site are large enough for at least two tents, and pretty flat
– Pet friendly
– Very quiet, quiet hours aside
– Lots of trees and natural feel
– Boat launch/dock/beach
– Very friendly staff/owners
– Dry firewood

Cons of South Arm Campground:
– Office/store closes at 5 PM
– No cell reception
– Store is sparse, but we were there at the end of the season

The North Maine Woods – Days 3, 4 & 5

The North Maine Woods – Days 6, 7, & 8

 

 

 

Off-Roading Flagpole Knob, Virginia

Since purchasing our 2017 Chevy Colorado Duramax Z71 CCSB, we have been taking her off road on a few adventures. One of the first trips was on Flagpole Knob, Virginia, just west of Bridgewater right on the Virginia and West Virginia boarders. The Flagpole Knob trail is known for its rocky terrain and is impassable to vehicles with a low clearance (for example the ford explorer in the video below). These trails have become very popular with Jeep owners, which is credited to their solid axles that make it easier to articulate off road.

Mind you, this trail is for intermediate to advanced off-roaders; Jake and I were very lucky to ride away with only a few pinstripes. A few essentials you should be sure to bring along include, but are not limited to: tools, tow chain or rope, spare tire, two way radios or a phone (service is spotty), etc.

Our set up consists of the following: A Bajakits Chase Kit from BajakitsRelations Race Wheels wrapped in BFG A/T KO2 275/70/17s. As for the protection, we upgraded to 589 Fabrication front and oil pan skids.

Master Bedroom Design

Before I start, I just want to say that all I wanted to do was paint the bedroom and spread out the expense of the design I had pictured in my head. I have always been able to picture interior design ideas, I guess it’s an artsy thing. The first step was painting three of the four walls in our master, navy. Dark, yes I know. But navy is very “in” right now and I wanted to create the feel of a relaxing bedroom where I could retreat after a long day at work.

Eventually, I wanted to add a ceiling fan, painted ship-lap on that fourth wall, a remote controlled shade on the sliding glass doors, and some curtains. I can see the result clearly in my brain, Jake had a more difficult time picturing it.

THE BEFORE

img_4787Jake wasn’t down with the navy, so I met him halfway and we decided on a lighter blue. I painted one of the walls (with the TV) and it looked alright. It wasn’t terrible but it wasn’t the look I was going for, and thankfully Jake didn’t like how it looked either. Plus we went with a semi-gloss and the streaking (not the fun kind) was absolutely awful, no matter how many coats were applied. But I tried to deal.

The next weekend, Jake convinced me to go to Harley Davidson with him by bribing me with a new ceiling fan for the master. Score! After we picked out the fan, Jake told me he wanted to go with a darker color because he didn’t like the blue that we had picked. Excellent! Navy, in eggshell (no streaks) it is. While I was getting the paint, Jake disappeared to somewhere in the store. I finally found him talking (go figure) to one of the guys in the construction department, asking about how to install ship-lap correctly. I hit the jackpot! New paint, a ceiling fan, and a ship-lap wall all in one day!!! After spending a few hours in two different Lowes, we headed home with a truck full of supplies.

img_4797I started painting the navy on one of the walls that wasn’t the lighter blue and it looked AMAZING! So much better! I spent the rest of the weekend painting the other two walls while Jake worked on the ship-lap. I helped when I was needed, but the measuring and cutting was all Jake.

Before he started, he removed the molding around the windows, as well on the crown molding on the floor. For the ship-lap to go from wall to wall, floor to ceiling. Jake also had to cut into the crown molding of the side walls on the floor in the corners. Then, we used “chalk lines” to mark where the studs were in the wall where we would be nailing the ship-lap into place.

After all the measuring and logistics were complete, Jake began cutting wood and placing/nailing each piece into place on the wall; we were told to start at the floor because it is more level than the ceiling. We used paint sticks as the gap measurement, which was just slightly bigger than the suggested nickels. He needed to cut pieces around the two windows as well as the one outlet (which we bought an extender for). He finished the wall in about a day.

Once the ship-lap was in place, we filled the nail holes with wood filler, let it dry (for a day), then sanded it the next day. I actually thought at one point about not painting at all because it looked like a ski lodge. When the sanding was done, we painted it a light gray color. I had wanted to paint the sides before the ship-lap went on the wall, but somehow that didn’t happen. I attempted to use a small paint brush to get between the gaps, but it was going too slow and it wasn’t reaching the back. So we ventured to Michael’s to see what would help. We looked at more paint brushes and even paint guns before deciding on pipe cleaners. Pipe cleaners are small enough to get in the cracks as well as hold paint pretty well; they were also less expensive than a $130 paint gun at $1.

And they worked pretty well! We were able to paint between all the cracks in an eighth of the time it wouldn’t have taken using a paint brush.

880986cb-865d-4a7c-b6e7-d2fde4c7681cNext, it was time to add the molding back to the windows, side walls, and ceiling. We used small, square rods of wood the same depth as the ship-lap to extend the window sill to meet the ship-lap. Once the ship-lap and the window were flush all the way around, Jake added the molding and began wood filing where the nail holes were. We also used wood filler to make the window sill, the small piece of wood, and the molding all look flush on the interior before painting it white.

img_4823Once the wood filer dried (between two and six hours) we sanded each spot, as well as the space we filled between the window sill, the wood rods, and the molding so that they all felt flush together. Because there is a lot of dust from sanding, we have a special vacuum so that the dust doesn’t get everywhere when we sand (it is bad for regular vacuums fyi). After the sanding was done, I wiped down the window to remove any extra dust to have a clean surface to paint.

Obviously, the next step is to paint. Jake had the left over molding paint from when the house was built, so we found the same paint, by the same manufacturer, online and went to our local Home Depot where they were able to match it a few days before. We tested the paint on two spots of the floor molding in the room where we removed door stops, filled them with wood filler, then sanded them down to be painted. Perfect match!

So we painted the windows. It took a few coats, and I ended up filling a few more spots with wood filler where it wasn’t as flush as it should have been, but the result was great!

Next we filled the side and ceiling molding with wood filler and let dry. Once it was dry we sanded and painted them white as well.

To finish, Jake added caulk to the side and ceiling molding to finish the room off.

We did a deep clean of the room when we were done but before we put the room back together; cleaned all the blinds, steam cleaned the carpet, dusted and cleaned the wood furniture with wood cleaner, washed the sheets and Reagan’s bed, and even cleaned out the night stands (mainly Jake’s).

Once the carpets were dry, we moved the furniture back into place and made the finishing touches. Our next purchase will be the remote blinds on the sliding glass door to replace the terrible looking vertical blinds, and some curtains to go over all the windows.

But here is the result; only took us a couple weeks to complete:

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Days Six, Seven & Eight: Playa del Carmen, Mexico October 28 – November 4, 2017

Day Six

With only a few days left in Cancun, Jake and I had two days of excisions left. On day six, we got up pretty early with a couple of our friends and met up with our guide, who took us out on to the beach to a small fishing boat waiting in the water. We were going to do a half day of some fishing! I get pretty sea sick, but I was hopeful I wouldn’t this time (not a smart move, should have bought that Dramamine).

The four of us climbed on board and we set off to about 200 yards from land where the water was choppy, but no where near as rough as it would be farther out. I didn’t last five minutes before I started getting nauseous. While the two fishermen set out lines to find the fish (called Trolling), I chummed for them, a few times; I’m pretty sure they thought it I was pathetic.

After about an hour of no bites, and me heaving over the side of the boat, we dropped anchor and got in the water near the shore where the water was calm and some beautiful coral reefs were below the water. Sadly, we did not bring our go pro so we were not able to get many pictures, which I was very disappointed about.

Once we were back on the boat, we took off back to the resort. Thankfully, I did not get sick on the ride back, I contribute this to the fact that we weren’t idling down the coast, we were moving quickly over the waves, which I thoroughly enjoyed. When our feet were back on dry land, we headed inside to take showers and lay out by the pool for a little while (where Jake and I promptly fell asleep under a canopy for a couple hours). The entire wedding group was going out to dinner that night (as most were leaving the next day), but after Jake and two of our friends (the same two who went fishing with us) went out to the touristy area to visit one of the local restaurants that also happens to have a cenote.

On the way, we came across a really neat art exhibit that was set up on one of the side streets by several artists. I found one guy that I thought was really cool (Daniel Violante Paramo), and I plan on purchasing one of his pieces; one day, when I have the money haha.

When we arrived at the restaurant/cenote, we found out we were not allowed to just sit and have drinks, but they did allow us to go in a see the cenote, which was very neat. This one wasn’t like the one Jake and I went snorkeling in, it was dry, so we were able to walk around in it.

Since it was November 2nd, All Souls’ Day (Los Fieles Difuntos), the local shops and people were gearing up for another celebration that night. There were many “alters” set up on the streets with offerings, including food, candles, flowers, incense, liquor, photographs, food, and personal belongings of the deceased. Other offerings include painted skulls (probably why so many of the shops sell them) and death drawings.

Calling it a night, we headed back to the resort. The next day we were heading over to Cozumel, a little island where many cruise ships dock.

Day Seven

Thankfully, we were able to sleep in a little bit on Friday before walking to the ferry that would take us to Cozumel. I bought some Dramamine the day before so I was ready for another boat ride across the very choppy, but beautiful, water. We walked for about 20 minutes down Calle Quinta Avenida, where we were asked probably 50 times if we wanted to buy tickets to Cozumel (which we already purchased from the guy who sold us the excursions packages on Day Two).

I was so overwhelmed by all the people trying to sell us things I felt like I needed a nap. I get it, selling is their livelihood and it’s how they put food on the table and support their families, but I was so over it by day seven.

Once we arrived at the ferries we were surprised that there were many different companies. We found our line and waited only a few minutes before we were allowed to board. We headed up to the top deck and found our seats. I was getting a bit nervous because our snorkeling reservation was at 11 AM and as we left the dock it was just about 10:15 AM. We also we unsure of where to go once we got to the island, so my anxiety was a bit high; I do not like not knowing.

When we made it to Cozumel and were off the boat, we headed in the direction of the tourist excursions. We finally found a guy wearing the same shirt as the man who sold us our excursions and he pointed us in the right direction. We had only five minutes to run to our boat for our snorkeling excursion, but we made it. I was super excited!

Then I saw our boat. It was tiny, and the glass bottom that we were supposed to be able to look through to see the colorful Gulf of Mexico floor was covered in a layer of algae that no one could see through. The start of the day was not going well. But we paid for the excursion, so might as well go and attempt some snorkeling anyways.

Our boat loaded up with about 15 people or so, way more than I thought could fit, and we set off for some coral reefs. We past several cruise liners (which are enormous when you’re at water level looking up) and finally made it to our first spot to jump in. Right before we were in the water, we discovered that somehow (Jake) the GoPro card was not put back in the GoPro (Jake) after uploading the videos and pictures to the laptop (Jake). So this was so be our second trip snorkeling in the Gulf of Mexico without the GoPro; I was not happy, but at least I wasn’t sea sick this time.

After the initial shock of not being able to use the GoPro, we jumped in the water and began exploring the waters beneath us. I was hoping that there would be more sea life than there was the day before, but we were a little disappointed to tell you the truth. Of course there were some neat things to see, but I had set my expectations so high it just wasn’t at all what I expected.

Luckily, one of the guides was taking pictures and we were able to get some pictures together, as well as pictures of some of the sea animal life.

About an hour in the water, we all headed back to the boat and took off back to the dock and unloaded. I was happy to be back on dry land, and even happier to go change into some dry clothes at the near by Hard Rock. Once we were both changed, we headed to a scooter shop where we had reserved a scooter (on Day Two) to ride around the island. Initially, I was going to ride with Jake because I have never driven a scooter (or motorcycle) before by myself, but somehow Jake talked me into renting a second one to drive all by my lonesome. I was terrified. And I do mean terrified.

When the paperwork was completed, we had our keys, and the employee showed me how to work the scooter, we were off. I was still terrified. At one point I had meant to slow down at one of the traffic circles and ended up speeding up instead and cutting off some people (sorry!), so I was really glad when we were able to get to the side of the island that had no traffic. Jake and I even raced a little bit, which was great fun! And of course, Jake is always able to get the most ridiculous videos of me; at the suggestion of one of my friends I even added the theme song from Sons of Anarchy

When we reached the east side of the island we stopped to take a couple pictures…

…then headed on to eat some lunch at a little sea side restaurant called Chen Rio. Of course the food was, once again, excellent! We even saw an alligator chillin’ in a little cove.

Once we had our food babies, we hopped back on the bikes and set off back to the western part of the island. We passed some of our friends on their scooter as we headed back to turn in ours. All in all, it was a great experience, but I don’t think I enjoy driving in Mexico. If you think DC traffic / driving is bad, go to Mexico.

0301-2018-053732540658678760 (1)We headed back to the ferries as the sun was starting to set, and the cruise liners were heading out as well. They were incredible floating cities to see as they started up their engines, blew their horns, and glided through the water to their next port.

JellyFish hanging lampsWhen we landed back in Playa del Carmen, we began our walk back to the resort. Of course we stopped in a few shops along the way to grab last minute gifts and souvenirs. My favorite shop was the JellyFish lamp store. These lamps are made from materials natural to the Yucatan Peninsula. “Regional gourds (Langerina Sicecaria) and local jicaras(Crescentia cujete) are combined with seeds, seashells, stainglass and blown glass to make beautiful lamps.” We bought one for our neighbors for taking care of the pup while we were gone. We should have bought one for ourselves, but packing space was limited, so we didn’t.

We also stopped at the Tequila House (or Tequila Hacienda) where they also had a Tequila Museum where I have never seen more tequila in my life. So naturally, we bought some.

Then back to the resort we went, satisfied with the amount of alcohol we purchased. We also bought some at the duty free shop the next day once we reached the airport. So we were not lacking the in the tequila department.

Back at the resort, we took some showers and headed down the the resort’s cigar bar where we relaxed with the Bride and Groom and some friends before we departed the next day. It was the first time in our entire trip when it sprinkled for a couple minutes. After a few drinks we decided to call it a night and we all headed back to our rooms for our last night in paradise.

Day Eight

Our last morning at the resort was bitter sweet. We had everything packed and ready to go by 9 AM, luckily our flight wasn’t until about 3 PM so we were able to order some room service then hang out by the bar until our shuttle picked us up around noon.

Then we were off to the airport. It was bitter sweet leaving, we absolutely loved our time at The Royal in Playa del Carmen, but we missed our sweet pup. Jake says he was ready to go back to every day life, but I was secretly trying to figure out a way to stay and start my own business so I’d never have to leave. Any ideas?

When we left the Cancun airport it was a sunny 80 degrees; our flight back was smooth and quick. We landing in DC around 8:30 PM (EST), where it was 45 degrees and raining. Bleh. Welcome back to reality.

Stay tuned for our next adventure!

Click below to read about our other adventures in Mexico:

Days One & Two: Playa del Carmen, Mexico October 28 – November 4, 2017
Day Three : Playa del Carmen, Mexico October 28 – November 4, 2017
Days Four & Five: Playa del Carmen, Mexico October 28 – November 4, 2017

Days Four & Five: Playa del Carmen, Mexico October 28 – November 4, 2017

Day Four

Day Four of our Mexican adventure was dedicated strictly to the beach! The weather had been amazing every single day since we had arrived, so it was time for a beach day. Our friends who were getting married had the Presidential Suite, so they were able to grab us a few cabanas right on the water next to the beach volleyball court. I actually don’t think I went swimming in the water once that day, we were having too much fun playing volleyball and laying in the cabanas.

Around 3 PM I headed inside to get ready for dinner and the Bachelorette party! We had dinner with all the friends and family of the Bride and Groom at EL MEDITERRÁNEO, which was absolutely excellent!

As we finished our meals, we all started to separate into two groups for the night for the Bachelor and Bachelorette parties! They were a blast! Lots of dancing and salsa to go round!

 

To be completely honest, I don’t remember the end of the night, not because I drank too much (because I promise I didn’t, Mom) but because I was so exhausted I just don’t really remember the end of the night. I’m pretty sure it had something to do with the chips and queso in the 24 hour game room though.

Day 5

The Big Day!!! While the bride and the bridesmaids prepped for the walk down the aisle, the groom, his men, the family, and all us friends hung by the pool for pretty much the entire day. Vacation is tiring, btw. Some people need a vacation from their vacation, but this trip was the right about of site seeing and the right amount of lounging.

And so the festivities began; we made our way down to the venue

At promptly 5pm, the wedding party made their way down the aisle, and Renee was an absolutely stunning bride! A beach wedding, at sunset, with clear skies and clear water as the backdrop, as if out of a magazine. Stunningly perfect!

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The reception began with a cocktail hour while the wedding party took pictures. The cocktail food was fantastic; stuffed mushrooms and some other mouth watering delights. A banana daiquiri also had it’s place next to my plate the entire evening.

After dinner, the dancing, and the garter and bouquet toss (which I caught, opps)…

…came the cake cutting. Even the cake was delicious.

Renee and Rolf’s wedding was perfect. The food, perfect. The setting, perfect. The weather, perfect.

Click below to read about our other adventures in Mexico:

Days One & Two: Playa del Carmen, Mexico October 28 – November 4, 2017
Day Three : Playa del Carmen, Mexico October 28 – November 4, 2017
Days Six, Seven & Eight: Playa del Carmen, Mexico October 28 – November 4, 2017

Five Years

Today marks five years since Daddy passed away. I never stop thinking about him, there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t question or think to myself, “Daddy really would have liked that,” or, “That’s so corny, Daddy would have chuckled.” I also find myself thinking how much he would have liked Jake; they are very similar, except Jake tends to be more of an extrovert, but their minds churn just the same. He would have liked him. Daddy also has a sweet little granddaughter now, and I am so excited to watch her grow and see what genes she inherited from her grandfather.

Nearing this five year anniversary, I often think back on what happened.

“It will never happen to me.” I said that so many times growing up as friends of mine and family members lost parents at an early age. In college, a friend of mine’s father passed away early in our freshman year and the only two things that sat in my mind were pain for her loss and that I couldn’t image losing my Daddy. He will be around for a very long time, I had no doubts. He is healthy. He takes care of himself. He even does his taxes months before they are due. The man had never done a single bad thing in his 54 years of life. He was the type of person you looked up to, he was strong, and he cared more for those around him that he did himself. I’ve had many people tell me, “Your dad was one of the nicest people I have ever met.” And it was more true than anything else I had even been told. He was simply wonderful, and so very humble.

Four years later, in October 2010, Daddy was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer. My heart broke. I will never forget the day my parents called to tell me the biopsy results came back positive. I was away at college. It was about 10 AM in the morning and I was on my way to my Journalism Portfolio class. Once I was off the phone, I walked into class and asked my professor for a word. I told him I wasn’t sure I should be in class today and I told him the news I had just been told. He sent me home.

I don’t remember much of the rest of that day, only that my roommates contacted my professors for me, and I cried on the floor in my room for hours; my roommates checked on me periodically to make sure I was okay. I wasn’t, but I don’t think they knew what else to do.

I went to my classes the next day, not because I wanted to but because I needed to. Getting out of my room and engaging in something was the only way I could keep my mind from thinking of all the possibilities. And there were many. I made the mistake of researching and learning that the survival rate of Pancreatic Cancer patients is only five to 11 percent two years after diagnosis; two percent five years after diagnosis. And in all of the patients in remission, it always came back.

Daddy stayed positive. He continued to go to work, which he loved. I think it kept his mind off things and he knew he could beat it. Momma pushed for the best doctors, and when given an opinion she didn’t like by one doctor, she was on the internet and phone to find another who would not give up on Daddy. That’s when she found the team at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland.

Of course they told us the outcomes of most patients with Pancreatic cancer and those devastating percentages of survival, but they were not going to give up. They truly believed that Daddy could be that two percent, as he was in the early stages (which is rare for pancreatic cancer), he was strong, and he was healthy; a perfect concoction for survival.

They started him on chemotherapy to shrink the tumors as best as they could before they would consider him for the Whipple Procedure to remove the cancerous cells. The tumors shrank, and they continued shrinking.

I graduated from college in May 2011, got a job in my home town, and moved back home with my parents to help when and where I could. But Daddy stayed strong and continued his daily routine (aside from the treatments). He even helped me buy my very first car on my very own.

In June 2011, he underwent the Whipple Procedure, also known as pancreaticoduodenectomy. It is used to treat cancer that is contained to the pancreas (stage 1). The procedure basically removes the head of the pancreas, the duodenum, part of the bile duct, the gallbladder, and a majority of the stomach. After the surgery is complete, what is left of the intestine, bile duct, and pancreas are connected to allow food to be digested and to expel waste. Anyone who goes through this surgery will be on medication the rest of their life, as the procedure completely reconstructs the digestive system.

A very small percentage of Pancreatic cancer patients are eligible for this procedure, as the cancer must be contained in the pancreas and the patient much be strong. Daddy was very strong, stronger than anyone I have ever known. His will and determination to beat the monster that lived inside him was apparent in everything that he did. He was beating this.

After he recovered from the Whipple Procedure, Daddy went through a few rounds of radiation. According to Daddy’s doctors, it is common to give chemoradiation treatments after the Whipple to assist in survival.

A few months after the chemoradiation treatments were complete, and given time to heal, Daddy had the scan to show if the procedure and treatments were working. And they were. November 2011, Daddy was officially in remission. My brother and I were so proud of him for fighting and staying strong. We were proud of our mom for pushing to get Daddy the best care possible and the right doctors who would not give up on him.

In February 2012, I quit my job and spent time with Daddy almost every day. We went to the gym and we worked on rebuilding his muscle strength, he had gotten so skinny from the surgery and the chemo and radiation treatments. We would sit on the back deck every day and eat lunch, and enjoy the spring air. My brother graduated from Virginia Military Institute (VMI) in May, and I accepted a job as an intern in Northern Virginia and moved two hours away to start my career.

My first week went great! And to top it off, my parents were stopping by on their way back from Johns Hopkins after Daddy had his six month CT scan. We went to my favorite restaurant, Los Toltecos, where they dropped the bomb.

The cancer was back, stage 4, and other than radiation and chemotherapy, there was nothing the doctors could do, it was inoperable. They hadn’t told my brother yet, they wanted to wait until he was done with The Basic School (TBS) (training for newly commissioned and appointed Marine Corps officers). I immediately wanted to move back home, but Daddy wouldn’t let me. Daddy wanted us to continue on with our lives as if nothing was happening, he did not want us to put our lives on hold. And besides, he beat it once, he will do it again.

My brother completed TBS and moved to Blacksburg to live with my sister-in-law (SIL) while she finished school, and in August 2012 he proposed to her on the Virginia Tech campus in his uniform. They set a date for March 9th, 2013. Daddy’s health started to decline, mostly due to the chemotherapy he had started again, but this time his body could not endure the treatments.

On September 10th, my brother and SIL decided to move their wedding up five months to September 29th, 2012. Yes 19 days away. They were worried with Daddy’s declining health that five months was too long, and we were all afraid he would be too weak to attend the wedding.

The week of the wedding, Daddy spent four days in the hospital. He received some injections to help boost his immune system and give him some much needed energy; my mom called it the “Gatorade Concoction.” The day before the wedding Daddy came home from the hospital, it was the best we had seen him in months! He gave an incredible speech at the rehearsal dinner, and even stayed up late talking to the wedding party that were crashing at the house. I don’t think he went to bed until after midnight, which for those of us who know him is very rare, even when he isn’t sick.

The wedding went off without a hitch! My brother was so handsome in his uniform and my SIL was absolutely breathtaking in her wedding gown. Daddy walked me down the aisle, and my brother and SIL dedicated a song to us that we danced too, it was my very own father / daughter dance. He was in such good spirits and had so much energy. My SIL’s parents had an ambulance on hand just in case Daddy felt ill, and a recliner for him to sit in, but never did. I do believe one of my uncles passed out in the recliner at one point! Wish I had a picture of that.

The Wedding

The next few months Daddy was strong, and he continued to go to work while taking a break from the chemotherapy. Thanksgiving we were all so thankful for how strong and determined Daddy was to beat this monster.

Thanksgiving 2012

In December, the CT scans showed that there was an increase in the size and number of lesions (tumors) and his doctors suggested to restart chemotherapy. Daddy also began to experience tummy pain as well as swelling in his feet and ankles.

He decided to start chemo again after Christmas, his favorite holiday. Man does than man love Christmas; the decorations, seeing family, and especially the food. At a young age he turned my brother and I on to corn pudding, and even though most of the ingredients were out of a can, it has always been our favorite dish that Daddy makes.

Christmas 2012

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On January 3rd, 2013, Daddy began chemotherapy once more. He was dreading it, it made him appear sicker than he was, and we had to remind ourselves that the chemotherapy was what was making him look so sick. He continued to work, but usually came home early, it was always encouraging when he made it through an entire day!

On January 28th, 2013, Daddy went in for another chemotherapy treatment, but threw up when he got there. After giving him some fluids and calling his doctor, a CT scan was done, which showed a possible bowel obstruction, and Daddy was admitted to St. Mary’s Hospital in Richmond. On February 1st, Daddy had laparoscopic surgery to remove the obstructions, but was unsuccessful, so the doctors had to remove the obstruction surgically with abdominal surgery.

He felt much better, and after 11 days he was released to go home. Sadly, another CT scan showed more cancer tumors in Daddy’s abdominal cavity, so chemotherapy was now no longer an option. We were told by the doctor (who is also a family friend) that it was a good idea to start looking in to Hospice Care. Our focus was now on helping Daddy get stronger and feeling better.

On Tuesday, February 12th, 2013, Daddy was feeling nauseous again. He noticed that his clothes were wet. There was liquid coming from his incision, so Momma took him straight to the surgeon’s office where they directly admitted him back into St. Mary’s. Daddy needed another surgery. What was thought to be a simple repair to internal stitches from the first surgery, was another blockage in the smaller intestine which had abscessed and gone septic. Daddy was transferred to the Post Bariatric Surgery ICU. He was able to survive the next 48 hours, but he was very weak.

Through it all, Daddy remained positive and even talked about going back to work once he was recovered.

On Friday, February 22nd, 2013, Daddy had his third surgery to remove yet another blockage which the doctor was able to bypass, as well as repair a nick in the small intestine. As the doctor replaced and re-positioned Daddy’s G-tube (which allowed him to eat), he found another abscess. Luckily, this abscess had not gone septic. We weren’t sure when or if Daddy would go home again.

On Tuesday, February 26th, 2013, Daddy made the decision to be removed from all life prolonging treatments.

The doctors and nurses kept him comfortable on anti-nausea drugs and a pain pump. My mom called their priest, Father Steve, and he came in to plan out the memorial service with Daddy; in Daddy’s words, “I don’t want a big fuss now, no food. Just come cookies and juice.”

I came home that Friday, March 1st, 2013. He was in a good mood, and we even talked about getting him a new cell phone once he was out of the hospital. Saturday was a good day too. He was quirky and playful, but not Daddy anymore. Lots of family came to visit those two days; friends, family, work friends, church friends, etc. He was loved by so many it made my heart ache, it was as if they were all saying their goodbyes, which they were.

A little after noon he fell asleep. I was going to stay the night, I didn’t want to leave him by himself, but my brother and SIL told me I needed to go home and rest, I had been there since 8am.

My brother and I said our goodbyes around 9 PM, and although he did not open his eyes he nodded and said, “yes,” when we asked if he could hear us. We told him we, “loved him very much,” as was the common phrase we always said to each other. I was the last to leave the room, in silence and in tears. It was the last time we would see Daddy alive.

The next morning, the hospital called around 4:15 AM and told my mom that Daddy had passed away at about 4 AM. Everything from that moment forward was a blur. After calling Daddy’s sister, and his best friend, we left for the hospital.

Entering his room was a much different feeling, one I do not want to experience again. The sorrow and emptiness filled every corner as we gave Daddy a kiss, say our farewells, and the hospital’s priest came in to say a prayer with us.

Once we were back home, sleep was not an option. Family and friends rushed to be with us, but I do not remember much. Brian and I were emotionally gone. The next few days were also a blur as we prepared photo boards of his life and a scrapbook filled with birthday cards for his 61st birthday. Friends brought us food and our living room was filled with more flowers and plants than a flower shop.

We had his memorial service a week later on his 61st birthday where we were able to celebrate his life with more cookies and juice than I have ever seen! Standing room only. For a man of few words he sure did have an impact on a great number of people. His kindness, love, and loyalty showed through in many ways that day.

He fought a hard and courageous battle for two and a half years. He never, for a minute, thought he couldn’t beat it. In a way, I believe he did, even if in the end it took his life. He lived a life full of happiness. He was able to love so many things…

PrintHe loved his coworkers and his job. He worked hard and itva-power.gif showed. 35 years he worked for Virginia Power / Dominion; I heard recently that it now takes three people to do the job he did so well. Many people do not know that my grandmother actually helped my dad get that job; loyalty runs in the family.

He enjoyed his time spent with the Boy Scouts, and continued to lead even after my brother earned his Eagle Scout and left the troop. You could always see this small grin on his face when you knew he enjoyed doing something, and an ever so slight twinkle in his eyes.

He loved to go camping and hiking. He loved fishing. As kids he always took Brian and me camping and hiking, we always like the camping more. In the summers, after church on Sundays, he would take us fishing out in Amelia County. Both Brian and I still enjoy fishing to this day, even if we could never sit still long enough as kids to enjoy it. Pretty sure we got into trouble a few times for talking too much. I definitely remember having to write, “I will not talk while fishing,” 500 times as a punishment one time, haha.

He loved going to church, and he went every Sunday (unless there was something going on of course). He would volunteer as an usher, or a “husher” as he would often joke; he volunteered in the tree lot, and donated to the church religiously. He had his favorite spot too, about seven rows from the back, oh the right side, the aisle seat. A few people have told me that it is odd seeing someone else sit in that seat now. I think he liked that seat so much because it was a good vantage point of the alter and it was almost smack dab in the center of the church, a perfect seat to hear all the acoustics of the organ.

He loved food. Growing up with Daddy, we learned to like many “unique” foods, like fish sticks, chicken pot pies, poor man’s salads, and ice cream. Oh the ice cream, that man could down some ice cream; Neapolitan was his favorite for sure. And I cannot forget the hot dogs. Pretty sure we had hot dogs for dinner at least once a week. I think by far, his favorite meal was once a year with his dad, when they had oyster stew, fresh from our cousins on the eastern shores of Virginia.

And his family. Daddy loved his family. Whenever the holidays would start to get near he would start planning. He loved putting Christmas decorations up, it meant he would see family soon. We would decorate the trees, wrap the gifts, eat way too much Thanksgiving food, and play Christmas music starting the day after Thanksgiving. But the best part was always seeing family. I am pretty sure I get my love of Christmas from him. It still feels like every time I decorate the trees he is right there with me, we always did that together.

He is in a better place now, and is happy and healthy, and eating an endless amount of hot dogs, ice cream, and oyster stew. There is not one day that we do not think about him. We carry him in everything that we do, everywhere that we go, and forever in our hearts. My brother and SIL just had their first child, Harper Elisabeth Pool, in September, and I so wish Daddy could be here to meet her. He would have been the best grandfather! Harper sleeps with her mouth open sometimes and I can see a little bit of Daddy shinning through then.

He lives on in Brian, Harper, and me every day. Brian and I do our best to live up to his legacy, but in reality there is no one who could ever compare to how great of a father, brother, uncle, son, cousin, husband, friend, or man he was. He is our hero. I love you Daddy, very much!

Daily Cleaning Tips & Tricks

As many of my friends and family (but mainly Jake, the boyfriend) know, I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), which is no fun for anyone that is in my life, especially if they live with me (sorry Jake, Frank, and sometimes Reagan). I use to be on medication for my ADHD which in turn helped my OCD calm down a bit. But since stopping, my OCD is probably the worse it has ever been. Poor Jake. He gets to hear my wrath of keeping the house clean probably once a week.

It is so bad, in fact, I hired a maid service (The Maids) to come every four weeks just to vacuum and mop the floors, as well as clean all the bathrooms. We have a Roomba knockoff (named bObi) that we set loose every once in a while, but it can’t clean the three flights of stairs that we have, and it doesn’t do a very “deep clean.” Also, my time is limited, and it usually takes both Jake and I about three to four hours to vacuum and steam just the stairs; the maids can vacuum all levels and the stairs, and clean the bathroom in 50 minutes or less (we still have to steam ourselves). Additionally, toilets are the one thing I REFUSE to clean.

I think the biggest thing is not putting things away. If the dishwasher is clean, empty it. If the trash/recycling is full take it out. If you get something out, put it back when you’re done with it. And so on and so fourth. So, here are some tips and tricks that I use when trying to keep our house clean; they are the most common issues that I have on a daily basis.

1) The Dishes

  • Empty the Dishwasher. In the morning, or right when you get home from work/school, empty the dishwasher and put away any hand washed dishes. That way, after you make and eat dinner you can put all the dirty dishes right into the dishwasher and start it if it is full enough. We usually wash ours every other night.Dishes
  • Clean as You Go. When making dinner, clean as you finish using an item. Don’t just put the dishes in the sink so they pile up. Rinse them and put them in the dishwasher (hand washed items can wait to be cleaned until after dinner or when/if your meal goes into the oven).
  • Wash Pet Bowls. If you have pets, this is a great time to wash their bowls as well. I hand wash Reagan’s food/water bowl every night when doing the dishes to make sure she has a clean bowl to eat/drink out of every day. You wouldn’t eat off a dirty plate would you? Don’t let your pets either.
  • EXTRA TIP: Soap Dispensers. Keep two soap dispensers on your kitchen sick, one for hand soap and the other for dish soap. This makes it simple to just pump some dish soap while you are washing dishes, rather than rummaging through the kitchen cabinet to find the dish soap.

2) Pick Up After Yourself

  • Don’t Create Piles. This is so hard for some people to not do. Sadly, I do this with Jake’s and Frank’s things. They usually leave them lying around and don’t pick up, so I put their things in tidy piles to make the mess look more confined. Just put things away, it will make life so much easier on everyone.
  • Give Everything it’s Own Place/Spot. I’m big on organization, so everything that I own has its own place. I even had Jake build me dividers for my desk drawers. I don’t believe in junk drawers because I think it’s just a catch all for things you don’t feel like putting away, also called clutter.
  • 60 Second Rule. If it takes 60 second or less to put something away, do it. You will thank yourself later when you don’t have a list a mile long of small tasks to do, or piles of things that need to be put away.
  • EXTRA TIP: Just Do It. If something needs to get done, just do it. If you let the trash over flow, the laundry pile up, and your refrigerator become unruly, you’re going to become overwhelmed and spend hours, rather than minutes, just cleaning up what could have already been done in a few minutes.

3) Replace the Toilet Paper

  • Replace the Roll. This one is the easiest task to do in your home, yet people make it seem like it is such an inconvenience; if you use it and finish the roll, just replace it. Karma will come back around if you’re home alone and the roll is empty. Make sure you recycle the cardboard roll if you recycle.
  • Have a TP Reserve. We keep small baskets on the floor next to the toilet with extra  toilet paper (about three rolls) in them so it’s easy to replace the roll right then and Emptry TP Rollthere; the basket creates a look of organization. I also keep a basket in the laundry room filled with toilet paper, so when the small baskets run out, I just go grab three more to put back in the bathroom baskets. Easy peasy.

4) Put Your Laundry Away

  • Get Organized. Instead of having one hamper to throw all your clothes in, we have an organizer for Jake’s clothes, two baskets for mine, and one extra for towels. Jake used to throw his clothes on the floor in a pile if his baskets were full (he waits until he has no more clean clothes to do his laundry). So I bought him a laundryLaundry Organizer organizer; it has four separate compartments, one for whites/delicates, the second for t-shirts/sweats/pajama bottoms, the third for jeans (he has A LOT), and the fourth for work shirts and pants. I promised him I would do his laundry if he kept it organized in the baskets, which has helped tremendously.
  • Don’t Let it Sit. One thing I have noticed with myself, and Jake, is that if you don’t put your laundry away right after it comes out of the dryer, it will sit for days. Jake likes for his to sit in a big pile on the floor, I usually keep mine in a basket in the closet out of sight. To encourage myself to put away our laundry, I try to do only medium sized loads (as opposed to the large, washer packed loads that Jake does when he runs out of clothes). The smaller loads are easier to put away and less time consuming than the large loads.
  • Wash Your Dedicates Separately. Wash all of your underwear separately from your clothes, and with hot water. I usually wash just my underwear completely separate from the rest of my dedicates (like socks, bras, and undershirts) to make sure the germs/bacteria are not washed into the rest of the clothes. My machine has three wash load sizes (small, regular, and large), so I can wash my underwear without using too much water. I also keep everything in a mesh bag so nothing will get snagged.
  • Save Water and Energy. Jake makes fun of me all the time because I try to recycle and save energy as much as I can. I know that doing so doesn’t make that big of an impact, but I like to think it does. So when washing laundry, I always use cold water, except for underwear to kill the germs, I use hot then. I also don’t over pack the washer and use only medium, or regular, sized loads. Over-sized loads will sometimes not get completely clean and you end up washing almost everything a second time, which means you use more water.
  • EXTRA TIP: Label Your Laundry Sorter. Sometimes Jake will just throw his clothes in a compartment rather than sort the clothes, so to make sure clothes go in the right compartment I labeled each so he knows exactly which one to put each item.

5) Take the Trash Out

  • Don’t Let it Pile Up. One of the biggest issues in my house is the trash/recycling. WeSimplehuman have a can with two compartments, one for trash and the other for recycling. Since there are three adults living in our house, it is easy to fill up at least one a day. The best thing to do here is not to let it sit. If it sits, then you start to play an unhealthy game of Tetras. However, it is simple, once it’s full, empty it.
  • Take It Out. I’m usually the only one to take out the trash (I live with lazies), unless I ask. If I don’t do it, or I don’t ask, the trash bags will pile up and just sit there. So when I leave the house, I take as much out with me as I can. I remember to do so by placing the bags (and/or larger trash/recycling) right next to our steps that lead to the garage (where our cans are), so that every time I go down I take something with me.
  • Replace the Bag. When you empty the cans, replace the bags. We keep our trash bags under the sink which is near our trashcan so it’s easy to replace the bag right way. I know some people keep their bags in the bottom of the trashcan so as they are within arms reach. Nothing is worse than going to toss something with your hands covered in food or water and there is no bag in the can.

6) Recycling

  • Sort It. I am big fan of recycling. We have two trashcans, one for recyclables and one for trash. If it is paper, plastic, cardboard, electronics, etc., it can be recycled. Depending on where you live will determine what your local recycling plant will take. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides a lot of information online on what you can and can’t recycle. You can also look at you local recycling center website to see what they do and don’t take (some centers will/won’t take certain items).
  • Use the Symbols. This helps you determine items are accepted by your local recycling center. Some centers don’t take certain items, so this system is super handy.

Recycling Symbols

  • Plastic Bags. I hate plastic bags, but yet I somehow always need one. I am terrible at remembering to bring my reusable bags with me anywhere, so I usually end up with a collection of plastic bags that you CANNOT recycle with your normal recycling. Some countries, including many in Africa, have banned plastic bags; they are a danger to our wildlife and do not biodegrade. The end result is I collect them, then take them to my local grocery store (Harris Teeter) where you can recycle them; Walmart also recycles them if your grocery store doesn’t. They also recycle paper bags, but those are much easier to recycle. Click here to find a local store where you can recycle your bags. You can also check out A Bag’s Life or Earth911 to find out more on the impact of plastic bags in your community and around the world.
  • Recycling/Trash Collection. Check with the county you live in to find out when trash and recycling is picked up in your community. You can also take trash/recycling to community dumps and recycling centers. Our trash is picked up on Tuesdays and Fridays, and our recycling is picked up on Wednesdays. We always have way more recycling than trash every week, which shows how much can really be recycled if you are consistent with your sorting.
  • Recycling Household Items. I am a stickler for making sure that household items aren’t just tossed out. If I can’t sell it, I will give it away. I will also give items to Vietnam Veterans of America (before anyone else), The Lupus Foundation, The Salvation Army, Goodwill, and other foundations. I prefer giving to foundations before Salvation Army or Goodwill, because the foundations will usually not charge the recipients for your used items. Also, make sure the items that you are donating can be taken by the organizations and foundations, sometimes they do not take items like pet items or car parts.

7) Go Through Your Mail

  • Sort It. Sort your mail into recycling, file, and shred. I do this every day when I get home. As a result I do not have any mail sitting around creating clutter. Many people have mail sorters hanging in their homes, but I believe this creates what I like to call “Controlled Chaos.” These sorters allow you to sort your mail but not go through it. Therefore, the sorted mail becomes full and will overflow.
  • Shred It. When I go through and sort any documents (every day) that show money, account numbers, addresses, or personal information, these items go straight to the shredder.
  • Recycle It. Pretty much all mail is in paper form, therefore it can be recycled. As I Recyclego through and open mail, I put all items that do not need to be shredded into a recycle pile. Once I am done going through the mail, it’s just one more step to toss the sorted recyclable mail into the recycling.
  • File It. Luckily, these days almost all bills are electronic so we don’t have the need for filing cabinets or “paperwork.” However, every once in a while we get mail that needs our immediate attention, so I file it. I take it to our “office” and put it into a paper filer that is labeled “need to address.” Once a week I go through this file and address each item, then either file it in the filing cabinet or shred it.
  • EXTRA TIP: Filing Cabinets. If you have a filing cabinet, A Bowl of Lemons has a great organizing blog on organizing your filing cabinet (I use this site for everything when I need inspiration on organizing). The only thing that I do instead of her is when labeling a folder, do it in pencil so I can reuse the tab later and not waste labeling paper (if you don’t care then by all means use a label maker). Also, here is her filing system organization, I follow this pretty closely as well. The different colored folders really do help. (BTW, I also own both of her books which are AMAZING: The Complete Book of Clean and The Complete Book of Home Organization) Toni Hammersley is seriously my spirit animal.

8) Cleaning Out the Refrigerator

  • Monthly Shelf Wipe Down. I usually try to do this one a month, but sometimes it gets pushed to the bottom of my “To Do” list. I do this right before I go to the grocery store to pick up my groceries.Clean Refrigerator
  • Once a Week Clean Out. I pick up our groceries on a Sunday, so before I leave (and when I’m cleaning the shelves one a month) I start tossing anything that has gone bad or dump any Tupperware containers/leftovers that have been in the refrigerator since the week before. Tossing old items helps keeps the refrigerator clean and bad smells away. I also check the expiration dates on the condiments to make sure they are still good. This helps me determine what I need to buy at the store.
  • Buy Arm & Hammer Fridge N Freezer. I buy these suckers once a month and replace the old ones, one in the fridge and one on the freezer (obviously). They really do help keep the refrigerator odor free, especially since we buy a lot of fish products. They have a place for you to write in the date which helps me stay on top of when I need to replace them.
  • EXTRA TIP: Order Groceries Online. I added this one as an extra tip because it saves me so much time! On Sunday mornings, while making breakfast or right after, I start making my grocery list of what we need for the week. We go to Harris Teeter, so I use my laptop to pick my items on their EXPRESSlane Online Shopping site (for $5, well worth it), then I pick my time for pickup, add any comments (like substitutions if they are out of something), and hit order. They call me when my order is complete and let me know of any items they were out of. Then I go to the store. I pull up to the EXPRESSlane, call them on the box, and they bring the items out; I don’t even have to get out of my car if I don’t want to. Then pay right there. If you don’t have a Harris Teeter, there are other grocery stores that offer this service as well, just do some research. Huge time saver though; I usually spend about an hour at the store, so having someone else do it for me for $5 is money well spent.

There you have it. Some of my tips and tricks for the most commonly known cleaning issues in my house. Feel free to reach out if you have any questions or if you have another problem that I didn’t mention and you need some advice.