The Benefits of Having Good Neighbors – And Actually Talking to Them

I believe that part of your responsibility of living in a neighborhood is to be a good neighbor.  If you help your neighbors out, you will get help in return.  It’s a win-win situation for everybody involved.  I’ll give you an example, just from what happened today.

I worked from home, and finished up my work just in time to hear it thundering outside.  I checked the radar, and timed the storm moving in.  I figured I had about a half hour before it hit our house.  It normally takes me 30-40 mins to mow the lawn, depending on if I trim, edge, etc.  I decided I could hurry up and get it done before it started raining.

I started mowing really quick, and got part of the front yard done.  My neighbor across the street saw me mowing, and saw the storm coming in, so he grabbed his lawn mower and just came into my yard, signaling me to go to the back yard.

As I was mowing the back yard, I felt some raindrops. I finished up the back yard, then helped my neighbor mow a few passes on the side to finish up.  I got the lawn mower put away, and a few minutes later it started raining.  I wouldn’t have gotten it done without his help before it rained.

But the storm moved more south than actually hitting our area, so it quit raining.  My other neighbor started weed eating some really tall weeds behind his fence.  I decided I could weed eat my yard too, since it wasn’t raining any more.  So when I finished up my yard, I went and helped him finish up.

Our three households are starting to form a nice little bond.  We share tools between all of us, and we are always there to help each other out.  They give me much needed advice all the time, and I try to help them out whenever I can.

Being a good neighbor allows you to form good friendships and allows you to rely on each other.  People are always stronger when they work together, instead of trying to do everything yourself.  So get to know your neighbors if you haven’t already.  They could end up being like a second family to you.

Old Memories

Holidays are always a big deal in my family.  All my extended family gets together to celebrate the major holidays, and Easter is always held at my parents house.  Traditions are everywhere in my family, and especially around the holidays.

One tradition that my uncle has always done on Easter is go out to the cemetery to visit his parents (my grandparents) graves.  I’ve never gone, until this year.  I took my daughter out with me, and it was so enjoyable that I will be going every year now.

I figured my uncle said a prayer or two while they were out there, then they came back home.  That was not at all the case.  We had a moment of silence when we first got there, then both of my uncles started talking about memories of several people that have passed away and were buried in that cemetery.  I learned more about my grandma, found out more about how many brothers and sisters she had (I had no idea before yesterday), and learned more about my cousin who passed away at birth.

But listening to those stories triggered all sorts of old memories about my grandma.  I have a lot of really good memories about her, and felt like I was getting closer to her right up until she got sick in her late 80s.  I would randomly just stop by her house and talk with her for hours, and loved every minute of it.  We would talk about all sorts of random topics.  We used to eat breakfast with her every Sunday, and of course saw her on every holiday.  We got to see her most weekends, too, while my dad and I worked on something at the trailer court she owned.  She was the nicest person you’d ever meet, and will always have a special place in my heart.

Happy Easter, Grandma!  I love you!

Finishing Our Basement

I’m currently in the middle of the largest project I’ve ever undertaken: finishing our basement.  When we bought our house, they started work on a large family room in the basement.  They got the walls up, drywall up (both walls and ceiling), and got most of the taping and mudding done.

Then we made an offer on the house.  They told us they had to stop work on the basement as-is for that price. I was fine with that.  I figured they did most of the hard work, and I could just finish it whenever.

Four years later, I’ve decided that now is the time to complete it.  I’m adding a bedroom adjacent to the family room, so that will get a lot more livable space down there.  I’m doing all the work myself so far, which is taking a long time.  It’s hard to find some free time with two kids 2 and under and a pregnant wife at home, but I am making progress.

So far, I’ve got the walls all studded out and most of the drywall up on the walls.  I have one more sheet to put up, and still have to put drywall up around the window frame, but it’s mostly done.  I have the electric all hooked up, so we can use the outlets in the room.  Next comes the most tedious part of the whole project: taping and mudding.

Even though adding a brand new room to a basement sounds like a complicated process, it’s really not.  You just have to make sure things are level/plum, and check your measurements before you make any cuts.  If you’re a beginner, this site should help you out with framing:

http://www.familyhandyman.com/basement/how-to-finish-a-basement-framing-and-insulating/step-by-step

My only advice on drywall is to stick a scrap piece of drywall at the bottom to give you a little gap between the drywall and the concrete floor.  If you don’t do that, you run the risk of your drywall getting wet, which will ruin it.

Here’s what the “bedroom” looked like before I started working on it (this is the view from the door going into the room):

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This is the only picture I have of before. It’s looking through the doorway into the full unfinished area that I’m turning into a bedroom

And here’s what it looks like in it’s current state:

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This is the same picture as before, looking through the doorway.

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From the other side of the room, looking back out the door

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From the corner where the door is, looking at the wall with the window

Simplifying My Life

Over the past month or so, I’ve been working on simplifying some things in my life.  Part of it is trying to prepare for this third child we are having, and trying to get things lined up for that, but others are just some housekeeping that needs done every so often.

First off, after this year is through, I won’t be making the monthly post regarding my New Year’s Goals that I’ve done the past two years.  Things this next year are going to be in flux the whole year, so my real goal will just be to simplify things.

I’ve already canceled my checking account for my business, Archway Home Theater Accessories, because I don’t believe it’s needed anymore.  Now that I just do custom installs, the only reason I kept it open was so I could accept checks as the business name.  I can simply work around that by asking my customer to make the check out to me instead (which every one has done automatically anyway).

Just this weekend I canceled my rental property checking account.  We’ve decided to sell our rental property, because we haven’t even really been breaking even on it.  We didn’t buy it with the intention of it being a rental property, and the rent has barely covered our mortgage payment this whole time.  We’ve paid for repairs out of our pockets, and it doesn’t appear that the house prices in that area are going to ever recover from the crash of a few years ago.  We are going to sell the house, and use the small amount of equity we have in it to go toward paying off the rest of our student loans.

So if anyone is looking for a house in Fairview Heights, IL in the $110,000 price range, take a look at our house.  It’s well worth that price, and it’s a good house in a terrific neighborhood.  If you’re interested, just email me (jd at pohlman dot us) or call if you know my phone number.  I’ll tell you everything you need to know about the house, so you won’t run into any surprises after you buy.  We’ve tried keeping it in good shape this whole time, so it’ll be ready for a buyer to move right in.  We don’t have it for sale just yet, but we should have it cleaned up from the previous renters within a week, at which time we’ll officially list it for sale.  If you want to take a look at it in the meantime, just let me know.

It’s important to regularly evaluate pretty much everything in your life.  We do on a regular basis, and I felt it was time to simplify things a little bit.  We will have more changes coming over the next year or two, but this is a good start.  I’ll post more about some additional changes when the time comes.  So review how you have things set up in your financial life, and see if there’s anything you can simplify.  You’ll be thankful that you did once it’s all over with.

My Honda Fit – Customized!

 

I previously talked about buying a Honda Fit, and adding space to it to be able to use it as a truck.  Well, I’ve done all that, and wanted to show you some pictures of what I customized with my Fit.

Before I get to the pictures, I just want to say how much I love this little car.  It is extremely practical, has a ton of storage space in the back (due to the hatchback design), gets 40mpg with the way I drive (I got the manual transmission), and is a fun little car to drive.  You can change the configuration of the seats so you can fit more in the car than you’d expect, too.  I’ve fit 8 foot long 2X4’s and 4X4’s in the car with the hatch closed simply by folding the back seat and front passenger seats down.  The back seats can fold up as well, leaving room for tall storage.  This is my favorite car I’ve ever owned.

Ok, on to the customizations!  I got the windows tinted, because the sun shined through and was really bright on the kids in the back seat.  I think the car looks better with the tinted windows, and it keeps it cooler in the summer months.
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A view from the side, so you can see the tinted windows (in IL, the front can’t be tinted as much as the back, so that’s why it looks that way).
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A view from the back.P1020398

I got a phone charger/docking station to use my phone as a GPS.  This ends up being even better than a built-in GPS because the maps are automatically updated for free (with Google Navigation), and you can type in the address before you even get to your car, and just plop your phone in the docking station, ready to go.  (You get an added bonus of seeing everything in my garage from this picture)P1020400

My only real complaint about this car was that there was no center console.  There wasn’t even an armrest for the passenger, but Honda has a center console that was an added accessory.  I added that to the purchase of the car, and it makes things much nicer.
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I purchased a hitch online from etrailer.com, and installed it myself.  The wiring for the trailer is run through the trunk, so you don’t see it in this picture.  I use this to haul a trailer and our bikes when we ride.  I also plan on getting a hitch mounted cargo carrier so I can add more space without hauling the trailer around.

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This one is a view of my trailer in action.  I hauled a half ton of dirt to fill in some low spots in our back yard.  My car handled it like a champ!  I also picked up just over a half ton of bricks for my neighbor the same afternoon, so my trailer had double duty that day.IMAG0379

In addition to what I’ve already done, I really want to add a cargo carrier to the back and a roof rack to haul additional items.  I’ll get those two items later on, once we save up some extra money to pay for them.

If you’re thinking about getting a Fit, or a car like it, go for it.  It’ll be one of the best decisions you make with your car purchases.  It’s inexpensive compared to most vehicles, and more practical.  Definitely a smart vehicle purchase.

Fall

I love Fall.  I love the colors of the trees when the leaves are changing, along with the leaves falling off the trees.  I love the cooler temperatures that are perfect for being outside.  I love how the grass starts to be able to recover from the scorching summer heat, and starts turning green again.  I love planting grass seed and watching it come up, too.

Fall makes me want to do everything outside.  I want to plant trees in the back yard, finish off our fence, put rock down on the sides of our house, and extend the landscaping around the whole house.  If it didn’t cost a lot of money to do all that, I would have it done by now. I get the itch to do that stuff every Fall.

Fall makes me want to wash my car.  It makes me want to take the kids outside and play in the cooler temperatures.  I even love it when it’s a little chilly, and you have to wear a hoodie in the evenings.

I love planting Mums out in pots in our driveway, and watching all the blooms as the season progresses.  We just did that this past weekend.

I love getting pumpkins, too.  This year will be fun carving pumpkins with both kids.  I can’t wait.

Fall is probably my favorite time of year for watching sports, too.  I love watching football on Sunday afternoons, and playoff baseball is right around the corner.  The Cardinals are usually in the playoff hunt in September, and I love it when they are still playing deep into October.  I have even been known to grow a playoff beard a few times while they are in the playoffs.

I just love everything about Fall.  It’s probably my favorite season of the year.  Christmas would be right up there with it, but as far as the natural four seasons of the year goes, Fall is probably my favorite.

Baby Teeth

Our kids are both pretty good sleepers, so when nights like last night happen, we take notice.  Our 10.5 month old woke up every couple hours all night long.  We figure he has to be teething, because that’s just not like him.

Our two year old has always been an awesome sleeper too, but it was rough when she started getting her teeth in.  She’d sleep through the night for about two weeks, then have a two week stretch where she’d be up every couple hours, due to the teeth coming in.  It looks like we might be starting that with our youngest now.

The difference is that when it was just our oldest, we could sleep in since she didn’t get good sleep either.  Now, it never fails that when he has a rough night of sleep, she wakes up early.  This morning, she got up at 6 and walked right into our room and climbed in bed.  She usually sleeps until around 7 or 7:30.

As a side note, my hosting provider moved things around about a week and a half ago, and I didn’t realize I had the IP address stored to connect to the database.  Long story short: my blog has been down since the beginning of the month.  It’s back now though, and it shouldn’t go down again.

Float Trip

I recently found out there’s a park right down the street from where I work, so I decided to get out and walk during my lunch.  Since I found that out, I’ve been walking on the trail most days, and enjoy the time outdoors.  It’s a nice break from sitting at my desk all day long.

Along this walk, there’s a huge water drainage area, with rocks at the bottom of it.  Every time I see the water flowing through there, it reminds me of the shallow and rocky waters of being on a float trip, and brings a little smile to my face.

I love float trips.  We always go with a group of friends.  Sometimes it’s a huge group, and others it’s a smaller group.  We float on the river for 6-8 hours, then hang out at a campsite for the night.  It’s a fun day of getting some sun, some excitement in steering a canoe on a river (usually while drinking), hanging out with friends, and relaxing in the wilderness for a few nights.  All for a price that’s extremely cheap (usually less than $100 for the whole weekend for a couple).  It’s probably my favorite type of vacation.

This year will be the first year since our two kids have been born that we will be going back on a float trip, and I’m really excited about it.  It’ll be two nights without dealing with the kids, so we’ll have lots less to worry about.  It’ll be some bonding time between my wife and I, and some of our close friends that we haven’t seen as much since our kids have been born.

That’s all for today.  Nothing personal finance-related.  Just about how I love summer and float trips.  Enjoy your July!

My Son, The Cardinal Fan

I found out last night that my 7 month old son is a Cardinal fan.  How do I know this?  He normally gets a bath around 8, drinks his bottle, and goes to sleep by 8:30.  He’s been on this bedtime routine for most of his life, but last night he decided to change it.

He took a two hour nap before the game started, so he could be rested enough to stay up late.  That’s unusual for him.  The game was delayed until 8:15 due to a rain delay.  Blake got his bath, and drank his bottle that his mom was feeding him.  Typically, once he finishes his bottle, he falls asleep on mommy.  Not last night.  With his eyes wide open, he stopped sucking on the bottle, and stared at me.  Then he got a big smile as if he was telling me something.  So Megan gave him to me to hold for a while, and I sat him on my lap facing the TV.  He sat on my lap and watched the game until almost 10:00, until we finally decided just to put him to bed.

He must have heard me talking earlier in the week about how I was excited to watch Michael Wacha make his first big league start, so he planned out the whole thing so he could watch as well.  He must be a Cardinal fan, don’t you think?

First Family Trip With the Trailer

This past weekend, we took both kids and both dogs to visit family that’s about 3 hours away.  We left Friday, and came back Sunday, so we needed things to entertain them along with everything that’s needed for naps and overnight items.  Since our youngest is only 6 months old, we have a bouncy seat and a mat for him to play with on the floor, and those two items are all he really needs.  The problem is that they take up a lot of space.  Throw in two strollers and a baby gate because the house we stayed at had a basement, and we couldn’t fit everything in either one of our two vehicles.

As those that follow this blog knows, I used to have a truck.  This would be no problem with a truck.  Load everything in the back and go.  And my truck had a tonneau cover on it, so everything would be nice and dry if it rained.  And it poured all day while we made the trip.  I saw that we got 2.5 inches of rain while we were gone, and most of it was the day all our items sat outside in the weather.

But we don’t have a truck anymore.  I replaced it with a covered trailer for days just like this.  We loaded everything into the trailer, covered it up, and hooked it up to my Honda Fit to make the 3 hour trip.  In order to make good time, we decided to meet at a commuter lot so I wouldn’t have to drive all the way home in the opposite direction, so I had to take the trailer to work with me.  Did I mention it rained all day long?

Well, after sitting in the pouring down rain for 8 hours while I was at work, and another 2.5 hours on the drive up, everything was dry for the most part.  There were a couple of items that got wet from the bottom of the trailer.  Once we got back home, I saw some holes in the bottom of the trailer that would allow water to come up from the road as I drove. So I just caulked those up so they won’t be a problem next time.  Problem solved.

The best part about this is that my “truck” has a lot less maintenance than any vehicle.  I just checked the tire pressure before we left, verified that the lights worked, and caulked up a part of it when we got back. No oil to change, no brakes to fail, or anything like that.  And when I drove to work Monday morning, I got my 40mpg vehicle back.  With the trailer and a full load with wife, two kids, and two dogs, it was down to 34mpg, which is still better than most vehicles on the road.  As an added bonus, I got the higher mpg’s while we were at her family’s place too, as the trailer was disconnected just sitting in the driveway.

In basically every way, the trailer is a better experience than having a truck.  You can attach it when needed, and just let it sit when you don’t.  You get much better mileage than you would in any truck, even with the trailer attached, and you get even better when you simply detach the trailer.  Once you get over the whole stigma of attaching a trailer to a car, you’ll realize it makes a lot of sense.  Sometimes it pays to be a little weird.  It gives you a good conversation starter too.  Maybe you can educate others on how to be more efficient with their vehicles as well…