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Thursday, December 30, 2010

New Year -- New House

2010 is winding down and 2011 is going to be a year of changes for me and my family.  Four years ago this December we moved to Upstate NY from the Midwest.  In those 4 years we've lived in 2 separate rental houses.  Not sure if we would like the area or if my husband's job would be permanent we decided that renting would be the best option.  After 4 years of living on someone else's property, not being able to paint or change anything, and being at the mercy of someone else to fix frozen pipes or broken windows and sacrificing true privacy we decided to take the plunge and buy a home of our own.  We had been looking at properties but not really serious about it until recently, not knowing what we could really afford. So I thought I would share our experience with you (I'm not professing to be an expert by any means) and maybe you can learn a little from what we learned along the way.
The first thing we did was familiarize ourselves with the areas that we liked the best.  That way we could see what we liked in the right school district, the distance from the highway and work and the distance from amenities like shopping, restaurants etc.  As far as determining what price range to look at we just went by what we were paying in rent then tried to stay in that area for mortgage payment along with taxes and insurance.  Once we established all our criteria then we hit the internet on sites like realtyusa.com, realtor.com and timesunion.com.
I don't want this to sound overly simply..... we started looking at properties a couple years ago but didn't get really serious until about 3 months ago when we knew we were going to be due to sign another lease.
Through the websites we met a couple of realtors who showed us a number of properties over a matter of a couple years.  If it was a nice place it was too expensive.  If it was in the price range it was too small or in the wrong school district.  There was always something that didn't quite fit.  So after a couple years of doing the Goldilocks thing we decided to just wait.  But I love looking at houses.  I always have.  So I continued to look with really no intention of buying anything right now until I came across a house that I thought would be perfect.... well at least I was curious to see if it would be perfect.  So I talked my husband into looking at it.  I called the real estate office and on the other end of the phone was Wayne.  Personable, easy going, casual yet dedicated Wayne.  He said he could take us to see the house within the hour so we met him there.  And he was just as he was on the phone -- cool.  I like this guy!  The house though, not so much.  It would have been a complete money pit.  But that didn't deter Wayne from trying to find us something in our price range that would make everyone happy.  He took us to a couple more houses, nope.... too small.  Nope....needs too much work.  Nope.... not for us.  But with every house we saw he got more of an understanding of what we needed and wanted.  And after he met the whole family he was able to zero in on the perfect house for us.
The best thing about working with a guy like Wayne is that since he has been in the real estate business for so long he knows all the ins and outs which is extremely helpful to novices like us who have never bought property in NY.  He knows the right lawyer, the right inspector and the right lender to get things done quickly and smoothly.  Which is great since buying a house can be a stressful experience.  Although I always thought that it was fun, its the moving that's stressful.
From our experience I can list off a few tips that might make your next home purchase as easy and painless as ours was.
First of all, know what you like.  By this I mean, do you want city or country living?  Do you really need 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms or will less of a house do for you?  Do you really need granite countertops and stainless steel appliances or is that something that you can maybe do down the road?  What is the most important things to you -- move in ready or a fixer?  Will you be willing to give up something for something else?
Next, once you know what you like then what are you willing to pay for it?  We didn't want to go over what we pay in rent or it really wouldn't have been realistic for us if it was going to cost substantially more.  If you have an idea of what payment you would like to be at then its easier to determine what price range to look at.  Once you have an idea then get pre-qualified.  When determining a payment don't forget you have to add in taxes and insurance along with utilities to what you will have to pay monthly.
I think its always better to start with high expectations.  If you want it all, then why not at least look at it. You will come back to reality in a hurry.  Get yourself a great agent like Wayne and make a wish list and go for it.  But be willing to take some time to weed out the not so perfect houses in order to find the one that is just right for you.
When you do find the perfect one, then the fun begins.   I'll discuss of the fun and games in my next post.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Sorrentino's Deli Prime Rib Christmas Dinner

It was always a tradition in my family to have turkey for Thanksgiving, roast beef for Christmas and ham for Easter.  So when my mother in law came to visit for Christmas we decided to get a prime rib roast from Sorrentino's deli in South Glens Falls.  Sorrentino's has great deals on boneless, skinless chicken breasts, lunch meat and even some regular grocery items.  To me its worth the trip from Saratoga to get overstuffed lunchmeat sandwiches along with my fresh sliced lunch meats for later in the week.  Its a small town family atmosphere at Sorrentino's and the quality is always great.
I sent my husband to the deli to pick up a prime rib roast.  The butcher cut the bones from the rib roast and then wrapped it back together making it easier to season.  I seasoned it simply with salt and pepper and then tied it back together with twine.  I roasted it in a 350 degree oven for only a couple of hours.  The smell of roasting meat filled the whole lower level of our house. We made dinner simple with baked potatoes, glazed carrots and creamed spinach.  The roast was heavenly and so tender we cut it with a butter knife.
So thank you Sorrentino's for making my Christmas dinner easy and sooooo delicious!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Traditions

I got married 21 years ago and it never ceases to amaze me at how different families celebrate the same holiday so differently.  When I was growing up presents were handed out and then we just tore into them (as my son says) like a pack of rottweilers.  Ripping, tearing and throwing paper everywhere.  Boxes, bows and ribbons strewn all over the floor.  People all talking at once, holding up their new sweater or shirt.  Kids running up to parents and grandparents, aunt or uncle to say thank you for the one thing they got that they really wanted!  In other words complete and udder chaos.  I loved it!!!!
Now let's compare my husband's family.  Everyone sits on a chair and another person hands out the presents.  You are to wait until everyone has their presents.  Then when everyone has their presents you wait and open them one person at a time.  It was such a shock to be told when I was handed a package "Don't open it until its your turn, and oh yeah put your paper in here."
After so many years of marriage I do have to say that I still like my families way the best but when we are with his family we do it their way.  The holidays are about compromise,  sharing traditions no matter how different they may be from the way you were raised and creating new traditions.
So what are your traditions in your family?

Farmville, Facebook and Friends

Some people turn their nose up at Facebook, saying that its too anonymous and puts another level between people meeting face to face.  Well, I beg to differ.  I've only been on Facebook for about a year but have met some amazing people even though at first its not face to face.
But through playing Facebook games and chatting online you get to know someone and its a bonus when you get to meet them in person.  That's just what happened with us the other night.  The Christmas season is a great time for a get together and that's what one of our Facebook/Farmville friends did.  We felt so welcomed in their warm and beautifully decorated home where we chatted and drank and ate.  So, thanks Dale and Jim for extending your hand to us!  It was great to meet you (face to face) and I feel like we have made friends for a long time to come.
And to those you are less than enthusiastic about Facebook and the virtual world, maybe you should extend your hand to those you "see" everyday and make them feel welcomed and share real time with them.  As for my Facebook friends: Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and I'll keep up with you via your status updates!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Dinner at Shirley's

The other night we decided to go out to eat -- the whole family.  So the one place I thought of that where everyone can get what they want is Shirley's.  Shirley's is in Saratoga Springs near the West Side.  Its a small, hole in the wall but has a good variety on the menu and the prices are reasonable.
I always like to get roast turkey when I go to a diner and Shirley's offers their dinners in two sizes.  The mini size is perfect for lunch but since we were there for dinner I decided to get the larger portion, which came with salad, rolls and then a huge platter of turkey, choice of potato (I got mashed with gravy) and vegetable.  A lot of food for the money and delicious!
My husband got roast pork also with dressing, potato and salad.  Our son got meatloaf -- a huge plate with two large pieces, salad and he also chose mashed potatoes.  Our daughter got chicken strips with applesauce and her choice of potato was also mashed although she could have gotten fries or baked potato. My mother in law decided on the fish and chips but substituted mac an cheese.  She enjoyed the fish, it was light and fried just right. The mac and cheese she said was delicious and rich.
My husband and his mom each topped their meal off with one of Shirley's many homemade pies.
The meal was hot and served quickly.  Although Shirley's isn't a fancy place its homey and comfortable and the wait staff is always friendly and accommodating.
If you're looking for a hearty, inexpensive meal -- either lunch or dinner (they serve breakfast too!) give Shirley's a try.
Next time:
Packing tips!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Two Meals from One Source

This is my first post for my blog.  I wanted to create a blog where I could write about things that are important to me -- like product reviews,  stretching a buck, restaurant reviews and maybe some other money saving tips; day trips and other travel ideas and really anything else that be happen in my life.  I had a blog about a year ago on saratoga.com that dealt with day trips and hidden gems in the Saratoga Springs area of Upstate NY.  I enjoyed writing the blog but it was very limiting.  This blog will have more of an expanded scope and will deal with a wider array of issues and thoughts and opinions.  So I hope that you will read it, like it and comment on it.  You can even comment if you don't like it!
Here goes the first attempt:  A recipe that stretches a buck.
After a recent trip to the grocery store and noticing that food prices have gone up yet again I came up with this recipe that takes one roll of breakfast sausage and stretches it into 2 meals.
The first recipe is a breakfast that will make 4 servings.
Biscuits and Gravy
Ingredients:
1/2 roll of breakfast sausage
2 cups of milk
2 tablespoons of flour
extra oil if the sausage is lean
1 roll of ready to bake biscuits
Heat oven to 350 degrees to bake off biscuits
To make gravy:  Brown 1/2 of the roll of sausage in a large skillet over medium high heat.  Break the meat up as it cooks into very small pieces.  Cook until the meat is cooked through and brown.  If the sausage is especially lean add a little oil.  Once the meat is throughly cooked sprinkle in the flour and let it cook for about a minute or so.  Then add the milk and season with salt and pepper.  Let the gravy cook until thick.  Serve over warm biscuits.  To make this a more complete breakfast, scramble a couple eggs per person.

The next recipe is a dinner recipe that makes 6 servings.
Sausage and Penne Pasta

1/2 roll of breakfast sausage
olive oil
small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning
salt and pepper to taste
Dried red pepper flakes to taste
1 large can of crushed tomatoes with basil, oregano and garlic
1 pound penne pasta
Heat a large pot of water to cook the pasta in.  Once the water boils season it with salt.  In a large skillet cook the 1/2 roll of sausage from the previous recipe.  Add chopped onion and cook until onion is soft, about 5 minutes.  Then add garlic and seasonings, cooking another few minutes.  Add tomatoes and let the sauce simmer while the pasta cooks.  Once the pasta is done then drain and toss it with the sauce.
Serve this with a simple salad and some garlic bread.

There you have it!  2 meals from one roll of breakfast sausage.  Economical since the sausage cost $2.68 instead of spending $4.68 for one package of Italian sausage.  So give it a try. I think you will be happy!