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Posts Tagged ‘Neighborhoods’

  1. Mocha Test

    August 11, 2015 by admin

    IMG_1498As you know, TRMom eased up dramatically on the vegan diet and now resides happily once again in a vegetarian space.  While vegan, TRMom couldn’t have the milk substitutes at most eateries due to a bad reaction with carrageenan.  This resulted in a gourmet coffee dry spell of over 6 months.  But now, TRMom is back in the espresso froo-froo drink saddle and living large!

    And her favorite drink is a hot Mocha, no whip.

    Tip1: It is not frugal to purchase coffee drinks rather than making them at home. There is really no way to argue out of this fact. But everyone needs a treat every now and then.  You can also save costs with coupons, membership clubs, etc.

    Here are our local determinations thus far:

    • Java Cat is the winner by far in the art of creating a Mocha. Whether serving up a hot or cold drink, they outdo their competition. You can actually savor the foam and there is no Mocha-sludge. It takes a bit of time to create this drink but the wait is worth it. Well done!
    • Moka is the runner up. They are about .50cents cheaper than Java Cat, but Moka struggles to deliver the same quality. Where they win over the competition is the incredibly friendly staff, the stickers on the lids, and the little candy treats.
    • Crema Cafe comes in third.  Honestly at times they seem just too busy to deliver a fantastic espresso drink.  It isn’t that their Mocha is terrible.  It just has no thought behind it.  It tastes fine, but more like a hot chocolate than a Mocha.  It isn’t memorable.
    • Starbucks trails well behind the pack.  The Mocha they deliver is sludgey and a little too sweet.  You don’t save on cost and there is no delightful staff interaction.  It is definitely a last choice destination.  Honestly, a Mocha from McDonalds is just as satisfying as the one you get at Starbucks but far cheaper.


    Tip2:  If frugality is key and you have access to a pod machine, you can find Mocha pods at any grocery.  The end product is quite satisfying and certainly cheaper than any coffee shop.  Of course, there is an environmental impact to pod usage.

    TRMom is looking forward to digging into the local coffee scene even deeper.  What’s your favorite coffee spot, either locally or nationwide?

  2. Home Sweet Home

    June 14, 2015 by admin

    modrnbunglow_22190_mdWe own a home!

    It’s true.  This TR family has completed our home purchase and will soon be completely moved into a house of our very own.

    At first glance you may not consider this to be the most frugal decision.  Buying a home is a huge expense, but home ownership is actually a significant part of our journey towards controlling our expenses.

    It is easy to miss the mark on this goal and end up overextending your budget.  But if you are careful and do your research, you can indeed save money every month by buying a house.  There are many online calculators that will help you begin to determine how much house you can afford.  Be careful!  The principal and interest mortgage payment is just the start of the true monthly cost.  You should also factor in taxes and insurance (Get online estimates or help from a mortgage professional to estimate these costs in your area).  Now you will have a better idea of your base per month cost of owning a home.

    Of course, utilities and repairs also factor into the bottom line.  In most areas, you can get a history of a properties average heating and electric costs from the power utility.  You can also get estimates for costs of water, sewer or sanitation costs from your local municipal offices.  Make sure you are using all of these figures to calculate a realistic budget for yourself.

    Now that you’ve identified what you can afford, begin to seek out any assistance your city or state might offer.  We are lucky to live in an area that has many resources for home owner assistance in the form of grants or forgivable loans.  These resources are available at local state and federal levels, depending on your income, family-size, veteran status, etc.  You may also have opportunities to work with Community Development organizations that will allow you to purchase on land contract or at well below market values.  Do your research!

    Work closely with a trusted mortgage originator to talk you through the pros and cons of different mortgage loans: FHA vs Veterans vs Standard, etc.  You may or may not qualify for numerous types of mortgages that could have different impacts of what you can afford, or are allowed, to purchase.

    We are very fortunate to be saving over $300 dollars every month by purchasing our own home and we couldn’t be more excited to dive into the numerous (and never ending) home repairs/remodels/maintenance.

    Tip: Put a portion of your savings into a “home” account for future expenses so that you aren’t hit hard by an unexpected repair.

    If you think home ownership is out of your reach, we encourage you to take a second look..

  3. People In Your Neighborhood

    April 22, 2015 by admin

    65084_town_mdFinding a new home is as much about finding the right neighborhood as it is about finding the right house.  Maybe more.  After all, you can make direct improvements to your house- add rooms, change windows, even tear the whole thing down and start over again.  But making changes to your neighborhood is a much more difficult endeavor.

    So while you are driving around looking at different houses, pay attention to the neighborhood.  What do you see?  What types of activities seem common?  Are people out tending lawns and gardens?  Are kids biking and skating around?  Is anyone shooting hoops at the basketball court?

    Do your best to try to find a home in a neighborhood where the neighbors are doing the types of activities you’ll wish to do.

    Figure out what you like in a neighborhood.  Are you hoping for active and chatty neighbors and noisy kids?  Or do you want seclusion and the quiet of your own abode?

    For us, we are seeking out an active family-friendly place, where we and our kids can get to know the neighbors.  So when we drive through a neighborhood, like the one we are moving to, and see kids on roller skates and families working on the front lawn, and lots of homes with basketball hoops- we know we are seeing good signs that this is a place where we will thrive.

    You are buying a home to live in for many years- maybe decades.  Make sure it is situated in a neighborhood you like.

  4. House-apalooza!

    April 8, 2015 by admin

    house_3_mdHouse hunting is a full-on task.  It takes a lot of energy and organization to find a new home.

    Spoiler Alert:  We found our new home and we are happy to share our path to picking the perfect place.

    Our process included seeing over a dozen houses before we could really zero in on the best one for us.  In our case, we were working with a short time frame so we saw fifteen houses in two days, and then went back the very next day to see six more!  But among all of them, we found our house.

    Why so many houses?  We needed to see the range of options available to us in our price range.  The geographical area we were interested in combined with our price range left an awful lot of homes to choose from- homes in many different styles and conditions.

    To make sense of all these visited houses, we made a chart showing the various attributes we most desired.  Our chart included the number of bedrooms, dining space, yard space, neighborhood and a few other categories.

    Note:  Your chart for Your House will be different.  Think carefully about what you want in a house.  Is location your prime consideration?  How badly do you need a deck?  Or a garage?

    The more houses we looked at, the more clearly we were able to identify which ones held the most interest.  We looked at a house we loved: great price, great location, cute layout.  But as we compared it to other homes on our chart, we saw that it’s lack of a dining space really mattered to us, despite its other clear benefits.

    By seeing so many houses in a short period time we were able to figure out how some houses just didn’t measure up to want we wanted.  By the time we’d seen all of them, the winner was pretty clear.  And we made the call to put in our offer.

    It takes a lot of work to find the right house for you.  Be prepared to see many homes, including some that don’t even look that good on paper.

  5. At The Wisconsin Council Of The Blind

    March 6, 2015 by admin

    IMG_2889“What do blind people do?  I mean, do they have jobs and stuff?”

    Our curious Bluey asked this simple question the other day.  So we had to find a satisfying answer.

    We had been looking for batteries and saw all the tiny batteries designed for hearing aids.  This led to a short discussion about hearing aids and how they helped people who could not hear very well by amplifying the sounds around them.

    And then we had a conversation about people who have visual impairments.  Bluey wanted to know how you could have a job, or read a book, if you were blind.  We talked about how people with vision difficulties have all sorts of jobs from doctors to lawyers to artists. Blind people can do almost anything, even read!

    But Bluey’s questions lingered.  We were driving in our car for most of this conversation, so the description TRDad had for how the Braille alphabet worked was not quite clear to our youngest.

    On our way home, we pulled into the parking lot of the Wisconsin Council of the Blind and Vision Impaired.   An advantage of living near the state capitol is that we have the offices for many advocacy groups not far from our home.  The small offices for the Council of the Blind is right in our neighborhood.

    We had no appointment, no knowledge of the Council’s regular working hours, and no expectations.  Our best hope was that someone might be able to show us a book in Braille, or something along those lines.

    Despite our surprise visit, we were welcomed by the staff from the start.  The two women who run the front desk, Heather and Amanda, greeted us and immediately understood how they could help and were eager to do so.

    IMG_2890They showed us around the Sharper Vision store where visually impaired people can find items to assist them.  We saw all sorts of tools and techniques that help vision impaired people go about their daily lives.  They let Bluey listen to a headset that converted websites from text to speech.  We saw rulers, knives and other household goods adapted with Braille measures and marks.  They showed us clocks and phones that talked out the time or phone numbers (Bluey really liked the talking clocks!)

    Best of all, they showed Bluey how the Braille system worked with examples from books and notecards.  Amanda even showed Bluey how to run a Braille typewriter- printing his name for him while he watched!IMG_2891

    We were so happy to have made this random stop!  Heather and Amanda were a wealth of information and very kind.  They left us with a handful of Braille bookmarks to give out to friends, and an increased knowledge and understanding of the lives of visually impaired people.

    When you and your family have questions, seek out the people in your area who might know the answers.  You’ll meet new friends and learn more than you might’ve hoped.IMG_0197

  6. Karate Kid

    January 18, 2015 by admin

    IMG_2723Our homeschool Phys. Ed. program recently moved up a notch when Bluey enrolled in karate at East Madison Karate (EMK).

    Bluey’s been asking about karate for some time now, but it took us a while to get our ducks in a row.  We had to do our research, make sure this was an activity we could afford, and decide whether it would fit into our ever more complicated family schedule.

    The delay between Bluey expressing an interest in karate and his class enrollment allowed us a chance to confirm his strong interest.  We didn’t want to sign him up and have him drop after one class.  This extra time also afforded us the opportunity to give Bluey a background in what the classes would be like and what sorts of things he would do there.

    So by the time we took him in for his first class, Bluey was raring to go!

    EMK offers a class for Kindergarten through 2nd graders.  We love that he gets to work along side kids his own age and some that are just a little bit older.  Kids and instructors are all super-friendly and helpful.  Bluey fits right in and is already bonding with his classmates!  Karate is a great experience for our youngest.

    We are hoping karate will also help Bluey:

    • Make new friends in the neighborhood.  As a homeschool family, we are always on the lookout for new ways for Bluey to meet people in his age group.
    • Get Physical.  Although Bluey is always on the move, we think the structured environment of karate will help him to build coordination and physical fitness in a different way than his usual routine.
    • Encourage self-control.  The focus to learn new skills, the quiet required as a show of respect, and the attention to detail to learn new skills during karate can only benefit Bluey in all areas of his development.
    • Gain Self-confidence.  Karate, like most martial arts, teaches self-defense and helps build confidence for our Bluey as he moves through his world.


    We are excited to watch Bluey make his way in this new world of martial arts.

  7. Snowtime Bliss

    November 16, 2014 by admin

    IMG_8760Even though the official start of winter is about five weeks out, there is no escaping the joy of the quickly approaching holiday season.

    What makes this time of year even better? Snow, of course!

    We are always surprised by the amount of people that seem to hate snow. They’ll bundle up and have a fabulous time outside while tailgating and watching a football game. But the mere mention of enjoying the snow brings out their bah-humbug.IMG_8751

    Perhaps these TR family’s favorite snowy activities will change your mind:

    1.  An early morning walk in the snow around your neighborhood. Listen to the birds. See the soft grey fade into a pure blue. Know that later in the day, people will think about your foot tracks.

    2.  Check out the footprints you find.  Who do they belong to?   Where do they lead?

    3.  Exhale and wonder at the beauty of seeing your breath.

    4.  Make a snow angel. Seriously. They’re just as awesome now as they were then.

    5.  Grab a handful of snow and throw it up all around you.

    6.  Have a snowball fight.

    7.  Build a snowman.

    8.  Go on a mid afternoon hike and try to identify animal tracks in the snow.

    9.  Get chilly and then come inside for hot cocoa and try popping your own popcorn on the stovetop.

    IMG_8738The snow and cold doesn’t have to be something aggravating that you suffer through all season. Embrace it and explore!

  8. The RC Auto Club

    November 12, 2014 by admin

    On a recent hiking trip, we emerged from our forest fun to find the previously empty parking lot filled with half a dozen sport utility vehicles and a number of people milling around.

    “What have we bumped into here?” we thought.

    It was a group of eight or ten men aged between twenty years old and up to about about sixty.  Several of them wore the clothes one might associate with hunting.  Since this happened to be the first day of deer hunting season, we began to fear that we had stumbled onto some sort of hunting expedition.IMG_8694

    But our concerns soon disappeared as we realized that we were approaching a group of radio controlled car enthusiasts!

    They had brought their collection of RC monster trucks and jeeps to the woods to race through the leaves and see whose car could scale the steepest hill, or crawl over the biggest rocks.  We chatted them up, aided by Bluey’s many questions about how these cars worked and who built them.

    They were the friendliest bunch of guys you could hope to run into!  They were more than happy to show off their cars unique capabilities and to explain how they functioned.  They said they’d just come back from a big meet up in Arkansas, driving 15 hours each way to race their trucks through the trails.

    Bluey was thrilled and immediately wanted to join their club and go racing with them.

    IMG_8697We were glad to have talked to them and wished we weren’t on a bit of a time crunch to get TRDad to work.  We gladly would have spent all afternoon with these nice gentlemen.

    Instead we drove home talking about cars and vowing to research their club to try to get Bluey involved.  Our son charged up his own remote controlled truck as soon as he got home and then drove it around the neighborhood.

    We were thrilled to have met these guys and happy that our decision to interact with these strangers was the right one.  We met a group of people we could easily have over-looked or actively avoided, people who pursue a hobby that our young son finds fascinating.

    All for the simple effort of  choosing to say “Hello!”

  9. Talking To Strangers: We Encourage It

    October 8, 2014 by admin



    Perhaps against majority’s opinion or advice, we love talking to strangers. On our TR journeys large and small, some of our best take away moments are the conversations with the few people we have met along the way.  We do talk to strangers regularly and we encourage our kids to do it, too!

    We recently stopped for a quick lunch at a favorite local chain. As we were leaving, TRMom was suggesting to the kids that they make a stop in the bathroom. An elderly gentleman was sitting nearby and he interjected, “That’s some good advice!”

    Rather than ignoring this unfamiliar man or giving a dismissive smile, we struck up conversation with him. We shook hands, introduced our family, and chatted for a few minutes. As we were leaving, he declared, “You should have my card.”


    Tip: There is a huge difference between talking to strangers and heeding the whims or demands of strangers. We would encourage you to teach your kids how to IMG_8104recognize this subtlety and judge for your own family what works best.

    Allowing ourselves to engage with others only enhances our experiences and our connections to the world. We are all so isolated already thanks to Facebook, Snapchat, Texting, etc. These apps only give the illusion of connection. We don’t want our children to miss out on in-person, every day interaction with another human being.

    Humans are social animals.  We talk to each other and hopefully, we make connections.  If you only speak to people in your immediate circle, you severely limit your life experience.  So we chat people up when in stores or walking down the street- everywhere.  We encourage our young ones to introduce themselves and to share their thoughts with others.

    We meet so many interesting folks this way: the Korean War vet, the self-taught artist, the long time resident of town.  We’ve heard many stories from many people.  We encourage you to give it a try.  Talk to people and listen to what they have to say.  Who knows who you’ll meet next?

    They might just make your day.  Or you just might make theirs.

  10. Lake Mills

    October 3, 2014 by admin

    IMG_7974We recently headed out to a nearby city’s library book sale. It was a beautiful Fall day and even though we had never been to the city of Lake Mills, the idea of an exploration along a country road was enticing enough for this TRFamily.

    Tip: Why not slow down and explore that place you always just drive through on your way to somewhere else.

    IMG_7990The library is an impressive stone building that was constructed in the late 19th century. It is situated right off the city’s Commons Park. The book sale was held in a small house owned by the library on the back of the property. At $2 a bag of books, we were quite pleased to rifle through the offerings. In addition to our bags of books, we scored a good supply of FREE books on tapes that include Arthur stories and a German Language series for kids.

    IMG_7996After the sale, we decided to look for lunch. There was a smattering of cafes across the green space and we headed that way. Timber Creek Pizza Co seemed a great choice and it didn’t disappoint this sometimes picky family. They have tons of choices at fantastic prices. Service was friendly, accommodating, and fast.

    Full of good food, we decided to explore the Commons Park and its massive band shelter before heading home. But on the way out of town, Rock Lake Park on County Rd B caught our eye. It offered a small playground, a fun hand operated water pump drinking fountain, and a secret tunnel passage. It was a great way to end our visit in Lake Mills.

    No matter where you live, there is probably a town or area that you haven’t really investigated. Give it chance.  Get out there and explore!