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Archive for February, 2011

Clean House

February 26th, 2011 at 08:01 am

No Snow!

The news went on and on about how it would be the first big snow in 35 years. (big snow = anything that might stick! 1 or 2 inches?) IT was supposed to snow overnight. When I drove home, it was beautiful and clear, but COLD! BRRRRRRRRR. Maybe there was something to this snow thing. I don't remember the last time it was 29 degrees at 5pm. Ouch. Maybe at 5am? Not 5pm.

The night was CLEAR and beautiful as can be.

Needless to say, NO SNOW.

Which is why we never get snow. IF it's cold, it's not wet. If it's wet, it's warm. What a big disappointment after all the hype though. !!

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It's supposed to be sunny for a few days, so will warm up. The heat is working HARD today though. Too hard for practically March.

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I suppose I have my project for this year. I want to get more proficient with the house work.

With finances, I probably dilly dally with it a bit because I LOVE to do so. But, that said, I have a pretty efficient, fast system which takes little time.

I want to be the same way with the house.

I just took that career color test thing (see last post) and it says I am an ORGANIZER. Yes, I know I am very organized. So, why can't I be so organized when it comes to my stuff. Why is my house always a mess? Probably because I don't care so much about my stuff.

Anyway, I have been trying to do nightly chores. A little bit at a time. Problem #1 - I can't do a little bit at a time. Everything with me is all or nothing. If I spend 15 minutes picking up, I have a list of 10 more things I Want to do. I can't just clean one mirror - I have to clean them all.

As such, it has been exhausting, and I have spent hours cleaning, but I think a lot of this is the catch up factor. If the house isn't filthy, maybe I Can just clean one mirror at a time. Maybe I won't find 10 new things to do every time I tackle a project.

So I tell myself.

I was perusing flylady again, after a comment suggestion. I liked FlyLady and am aware of the site, but at the end of the day I just could care less about most of it.

But, I checked it out. For whatever reason I thought FlyLady had good cleaning tips. Which is my #2 problem - just not knowing what to do sometimes. My mom was not much into house cleaning either, clearly.

I decided to check out her shower tips.

Buy a loofah, and scrub down every day with soap or shampoo. That's it.

That's it??? Does this sound too good to be true? HEavy bath cleaner is one of the only things we buy because we tend to tackle it a few times a year (if that). As far as cleaning supplies. Something we don't spend money on...

This simple advice was life changing. I just happened to run across the advice of baking soda/lemon juice as a shower scrubber. I had also read the tip of hydrogen peroxide on white tile. AND flylady reminded me how handy a toothbrush is for cleaning (I knew but had forgotten in the months between cleanings).

So, I bought a loofah.

I started scrubbing the shower with soap, during my showers. (I decided to dump the loofah until I got it all clean. was getting nasty stuff all over it).

I did it over the course of a week or so. Then I went over the entire grout with hydrogen peroxide and a toothbrush. Just a section at a time. Took a week. Then I tackled the grimy/grey floor with the baking soda and lemon. Glass I went over with windex.

My shower has never looked so shiny.

I will wipe it down every day with the promise to never have to clean it AGAIN. Hallelujah.

Dh had been cleaning the shower, because it's one of those things I never have time for. You know it's bad if he will clean it.

The only thing I couldn't get clean was the shower drain cover (cheap plastic thing). I asked dh to buy me a new cover, and I would probably never ask him to clean the shower again. Big Grin

Why is this such a success? I figured out how to erase my most hated chore with a simple, efficient, chemical free plan. Double score! No more bath scrub!

My work is not done. I bought a loofah for the kids' bath and have been scrubbing it down after baths. No biggie. But the tile needs some work and the tub could use a baking soda scrub too. My plan? USe their shower and go over the tile a little at a time. That will work.

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What next? I don't know, but I want to add one little habits like that.

I cringe at the idea of dh going back to work, and this is one reason why. My chore list is incredibly small. Day to day I don't do much around the house. I am worried about taking on a lot more household chores/duties. But I am starting to get more optimistic that I can do a lot more without too much more effort.

Color career Test

February 26th, 2011 at 06:58 am

Um, this was freaky!

career color Test

[url]http://www.careerpath.com/career-tests/color-test/[/url]

From picking my favorite and least favorite colors, it told me this:

Best Occupational Category
You're an ORGANIZER

Keywords
Self-Control, Practical, Self-Contained, Orderly, Systematic, Precise, and Accurate

These conservative appearing, plotting-types enjoy organizing, data systems, accounting, detail, and accuracy. They often enjoy mathematics and data management activities such as accounting and investment management. Persistence and patience allows them to do detailed paperwork, operate office machines, write business reports, and make charts and graphs.

ORGANIZER CAREERS
Suggested careers are Administrator, Secretary, Printer, Paralegal, Building Inspector, Bank Cashier, Private Secretary, Statistician, Operations Manager, Financial Analyst, Bookkeeper, Medical Records Technician, Developer of Business or Computer Systems, Clerical Worker, Proofreader, Accountant, Administrative Assistant, Banker, Certified Public Accountant, Credit Manager, Store Salesperson, Actuary, Dental Assistant, Business Education Teacher, Food Service Manager, IRS Agent, Budget Analyst, and Underwriter.

ORGANIZER WORKPLACES
Your very careful, conscientious, conservative nature gives others the confidence to trust you with handling money and material possessions. Structured organizations that have well-ordered chains of command work best for you.

Suggested Organizer workplaces are large corporations, business offices, financial lending institutions, banks, insurance companies, accounting firms, and quality control and inspection departments.

Snow?

February 24th, 2011 at 08:21 am

There's something you don't see every day - snow in the forecast. Snow and record breaking lows. So much for spring! Needless to say, any unusual warmth we had early in the month has been replaced with COLD!

Snow is unusual enough as is. Snow at the end of February? Yeesh.

Will see...

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**Received a bill for the rest of my medical deductible.

Timing is okay. I can card it in March, and pay it in April. I have the money in savings. I expect an overtime check in April (for all of tax season) and had planned to replenish the medical fund at that point. For next year. So, in the end, should be a wash.

**Received my state refund yesterday. My credit union would not take on online scan of it - since the format was unusual I guess. So, when the Fed refund comes, will send dh to the bank to deposit both.

That said, I had the money in checking, so just transferred the money to my IRA today. Stock market had been on the lower side - figure might as well get it in. In fact, I hope the market drops even further before I get my Fed refund. Big Grin

I put my refunds to my traditional IRA because the tax break was too good to pass up. IT was $1500 to savings OR $2k to IRA. I chose IRA.

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**Kids have the week off. BM has a big project to work on. They all went to visit family yesterday and go hiking with my dad. Since my dad was laid off again, he wants to do all this fun stuff, but it's hard to work around the kids' school schedule. So, we obliged him. It was kind of a last minute thing - I stayed home and work work worked, of course.

**Since dh was gone, I had to fill up my own gas. With my surgery in particular, I hadn't filled up in ages. I thought my coupon wasn't working when it came up $3.30 per gallon. I squinted at the sign in the distance. Sure enough - $3.55 per gallon. Ugh! $3.30 with my grocery coupon. Thank goodness for that. I don't usually pass many gas stations, but I kept an eye out the last couple of days. Didn't see it over $3.69. (I live and work by a Chevron so is all I ever really see. We get our gas at Safeway and Bel Air - both of them grocery stores).

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In other news, the foam part of my ear buds came off at the gym. On one side, anyway. I was bummed, but eventually asked dh if he had an extra pair laying around.

I hadn't even thought about it, but since he is now deaf in one ear, I think he told me he could spare a spongy cover from him - he didn't need both sides.

But anyway, as I mentioned, he had started clearing out his rooms/junk. In the process he found the earplugs that came with my current MP3 player. Never thought to give them to me? I don't know. Was just kind of funny. I figured dh would have something laying around. He just didn't know it until he cleaned up a little bit.

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So, last night I went to the gym with my new earphones. Aw, divine!

I had tried to go to the gym the night before my surgery, I believe. I had never seen it so crowded and there wasn't a spare piece of equipment. I threw up my hands. I HATE January!!!

Anyway, I hadn't made it back until last night. The fam was gone and I thought I really needed to hit the gym. Need to get back into it.

Hallelujah - the gym was rather empty. Better than I could have hoped - February is usually pretty bad too.

I can't help but wonder, every January/February, how many people sign up, and pay into eternity, but never show up again. IT's predictable and extremely annoying to us regulars. The rest of the year? The place is kind of empty. Phew! But, what a waste of money. Then again, I guess it keeps the membership dirt cheap for me. Big Grin

Lunch / Amazon / Entertainment Update

February 19th, 2011 at 01:58 pm

Lunch Challenge:

Lunch In: 14
Lunch Out: 3

Lunch Thurs - leftover manicotti
Lunch Fri - PB sandwich @ home
Lunch Sat - OUT

No lunch dates this week (dh or otherwise). Work is crazy, but I generally allow fast food once a week - especially when I work weekends. Today I just wanted something really crappy. That said, it wasn't very fulfilling. I ate too good the past week (lots of good leftovers).

I've taken to choosing my work days by the weather. Today was supposed to be rainy, so I chose to work today. (Weather is not so bad, in the end, but should be nicer and warmer tomorrow).

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After many frustrations with ebay/paypal, we switched to Amazon selling, last year. Wow, it's been about a year.

Anyway, I don't have any complaints about Amazon. It's been so much nicer!

That said, dh got some negative feedback yesterday. He was super aggravated because he is trying to sell a bunch of stuff. The negative feedback might hurt his bottom line.

What was the feedback? That dh charged someone $1000+ for a $30 game. Rolleyes

For one, the buyer never said anything to dh (this was a month ago?). Secondly, Amazon does the billing. We have absolutely no control over that.

Anyway, that in itself is somewhat "whatever." BUT, Amazon refuses to remove the feedback. Rolleyes

In the end, I don't think it's that big of a deal. Amazon is still so much nicer than ebay. But, it's kind of back to the same old, same old. Buyers get away with everything - sellers can't do squat to protect themselves. IT's just step one down that road again...

& no - we did not receive an extra $1000!
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In other news, had to share a music artist that dh discovered on Pandora:

[url]http://jeremymessersmith.com[/url]

Jeremy Messersmith

Not only is this guy so GOOD, but he has some interesting marketing. "Pay what you want" for some songs, and some other things along those lines.

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Breaking Bad - does anyone else watch this?

I am still hooked on this show. We just finished seasons 1 & 2 - getting through season 3 quickly. Well, they are airing 2 episodes a week, leading up to the premier of season 4.

I had warned it was pretty macabre. But, that said, the writing and the acting is superb. Beyond that, I can't figure out what I like about it so much. It's a step away from being totally stupid and unbelievable. But the writing is so clever and the actors are so great on this show. Somehow, it works.

If we drop cable - will just have to wait for netflix or Blockbuster. No biggie.

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Which reminds me - Game of Thrones starts on HBO in a couple of months. Dh has asked his dad to record those episodes for us. I am proud of dh because it's the kind of thing he would buy HBO for. He knows he's maxed out the entertainment budget though. Cable is $100/month + $30-ish for all his movie subscriptions (so we don't have to pay for HBO, etc.)

If we drop cable, will have to add Breaking Bad to the FIL request. He has a DVD burner we bought him a while back. The DVD burner was not bought for any selfish reasons, but has turned useful.

Game of Thrones - I whipped through Books 1 & 2 (around 1000 pages each) during my surgery recovery. My dh was just teasing me for my slow progress on book 3. I am about 700 pages in.

Medieval war saga? SO not my genre, but it is hard to put down. I have to admit I am pretty excited to see it come to life on HBO.

I gave the book/series a whirl because wherever dh took it, people would come up to him and tell him it was the best book series EVER. Since I have been reading it on my nook, I haven't got much feedback (no one can tell what I am reading).

Needless to say, I haven't had any lack of entertainment lately.

Tax Questions Answered - Capital Gains & Losses

February 18th, 2011 at 09:41 am

I subscribed to this IRS e-mail a while ago. I believe they send daily tax tips.

I subscribe because the tax code is so immense and complex, there are many areas I never see at my job. So, I find it good to have a refresher - of any kind.

This is also why I like answering people's tax questions. On the less complex side, anyway. The more I practice, the more likely some of this stuff is off the top of my head when clients ask. Helps me to keep on top of the never-ending changes to the tax code.

Anyway, today's topic I knew some of you would find interesting:

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"Ten Important Facts About Capital Gains and Losses

Did you know that almost everything you own and use for personal or investment purposes is a capital asset? Capital assets include a home, household furnishings and stocks and bonds held in a personal account. When a capital asset is sold, the difference between the amount you paid for the asset and the amount you sold it for is a capital gain or capital loss.

Here are ten facts from the IRS about gains and losses and how they can affect your Federal income tax return.

1. Almost everything you own and use for personal purposes, pleasure or investment is a capital asset.

2. When you sell a capital asset, the difference between the amount you sell it for and your basis which is usually what you paid for it is a capital gain or a capital loss.

3. You must report all capital gains.

4. You may deduct capital losses only on investment property, not on property held for personal use.

5. Capital gains and losses are classified as long-term or short-term, depending on how long you hold the property before you sell it. If you hold it more than one year, your capital gain or loss is long-term. If you hold it one year or less, your capital gain or loss is short-term.

6. If you have long-term gains in excess of your long-term losses, you have a net capital gain to the extent your net long-term capital gain is more than your net short-term capital loss, if any.

7. The tax rates that apply to net capital gain are generally lower than the tax rates that apply to other income. For 2010, the maximum capital gains rate for most people is 15%. For lower-income individuals, the rate may be 0% on some or all of the net capital gain. Special types of net capital gain can be taxed at 25% or 28%.

8. If your capital losses exceed your capital gains, the excess can be deducted on your tax return and used to reduce other income, such as wages, up to an annual limit of $3,000, or $1,500 if you are married filing separately.

9. If your total net capital loss is more than the yearly limit on capital loss deductions, you can carry over the unused part to the next year and treat it as if you incurred it in that next year.

10. Capital gains and losses are reported on Schedule D, Capital Gains and Losses, and then transferred to line 13 of Form 1040.

For more information about reporting capital gains and losses, see the Schedule D instructions, Publication 550, Investment Income and Expenses or Publication 17, Your Federal Income Tax. All forms and publications are available at http://www.irs.gov or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676). "

Courtesy of the IRS.

[url]http://www.irs.gov/newsroom/content/0,,id=104608,00.html[/url]

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That's the long and the short of it. Now you are a capital gain/loss expert.

I always joke that the simple rule is if you make money, report it. If you lose money, you can't deduct that. Wink That is the rule when it comes to personal assets, hobbies, etc. That theme runs through the entire tax code though (passive losses, etc.)

Anyway, because of that, most people don't realize their cars, etc. are a capital asset. Since you rarely make money on these type assets, it wouldn't occur to you that you would have to report any gain. But technically, you would, if you ever had the luck to make money off those type assets.

+$112

February 16th, 2011 at 06:53 pm

I got a rebate check for my disability premiums, today. This makes the cost the equivalent of $150 per year for good disability insurance. (Sounds crazy but it is true). It is through my professional association, and so I suppose accountants don't get disabled as often as other professions. Accordingly, hard to beat these rates. I suppose my membership due would also sway those costs, but my employers have always paid for that part.

Short-term disability is actually mandatory to have in California (paid through payroll taxes), so I also have a one-year waiting period for the long-term policy, which significantly decreased the cost, as I recall. Short term disability pays about as well. (maybe $3500/month versus $4k per month).

Anyway, I hadn't looked at where I was for the end of the month. Dh took out $40 for some game buying/selling, but I got a $70 amazon deposit today (game sales). What a day, huh?

I needed to buy another set of aerobics classes ($30) and I ended up being about $50 short in the check book, after all that. At face value, the school charity dinner came from cash flow (which is impossible) so instead of transferring the money from savings, it will come from my insurance rebate.

This leaves about exactly $60, which I added to the mortgage payment.

As it stands, I want to come up with another $2k for the mortgage, this year. IT will be interesting to see what else we can come up with. During summer we tend to splurge this kind of stuff (rebates) on outings, etc. BUT, this time of year - we are bloated on stuff from Christmas, the weather sucks, and I am working 6 days a week. To the mortgage. Where else would it go? Usually cash savings or retirement, but this year we have mortgage front of mind.

IT is working well because dh is more motivated by mortgage pay down. I will have to meditate on that next year when the mortgage might not be my primary goal. I don't know why I didn't figure this out sooner. If I want him to get a job, I just have to talk about the mortgage a lot. Hmmmmm... Talking about IRAs is just not his language, for whatever reason. HE is crazy debt adverse, but he is also a huge saver. I have said before, I think not working just doesn't make the IRAs that much of a priority. I just wish he cared more about me being able to retire some day too. Big Grin

I can just see it now - when he returns to work we will agree 100% his income to mortgage. You will all tell me that's crazy, and I will say, hey, we SAVE more this way. You got to play the psychological angle once in a while.

Zero Down Mortgage

February 16th, 2011 at 04:11 pm

Interesting article today in WSJ:

Banks Push Home Buyers to Put Down More Cash

[url]http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703312904576146532935600542.html#articleTabs%3Dcomments[/url]

Gee, when people had to put 20% down, they didn't default so much? Really?

For one, when you have no skin in the game, what possible motivation do you have to hold onto a house that loses value? If you put money into the house, you at least have some motivation to hold onto it.

Regionally, it has been interesting though. As much as "owning was cheaper than renting" for us, when we bought, that wasn't the case in the bubble, where we ended up.

As such, I couldn't see any logic whatsoever to home purchase choices.

IT was literally like, "I am renting a house for $1k per month, I want to buy a house, but I could never afford to save the down payment. The mortgage is $3k/month, but I better buy before I am priced out forever."

This would be the average example.

What I could never get is how on earth you could afford a $3k/month house payment if you couldn't even save up a down payment on $1k/month rent (save the difference for a few years? Hello????)

I don't get it.

Clearly, the math made no sense, and almost everyone I know is back to renting again.

I suppose I see the 20% down requirement would have kept home prices from skytocketing. No one could have played the game.

As such, putting back that requirement will definitely lower home prices. I say, "Good!," even as a homeowner. Because all I See is another bubble forming right where the last one left off. For the short term it hurts. So be it. For the long run, I would like to avoid this mess again and would prefer my neighbors had more of a chance of actually being able to keep their houses.

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On a somewhat related, my young, naive, sister has just bought another home (it's her third).

Her M.O. is to put every dime towards the mortgage, and at some point her goal was to pay off her home lightning fast. Her last home, bought with her current husband, was a modest townhome. Smart girl!

Oh sure, I Was definitely the same way at her age. Well, sort of, but not quite so extreme. She literally doesn't save much or put much of anything into retirement. She's got the rest of her life for that, right? Wink

Needless to say, my parents were telling me a lot of the details of her recent home purchase (I didn't even ask) and I Was rather flabbergasted.

They put 0% down.

?????????????

I have no idea what is up with that. Except that she quit her job before the last home even closed escrow, and has been out of work for 6 months. Heck, they may have spent all the equity. Lost money on the home, and no job for 6 months? I suppose maybe they burned through it - that could be a possibility. Her husband hasn't worked in ages, either.

Or, the experience made her appreciate the importance of having a decent savings cushion? Maybe?

That said, seems so one extreme to the other. The house they bought is pretty extravagant for their income.

They don't have steady jobs, make minimum wage, and have a mortgage that rivals my own, at this point. It doesn't sound very smart. I hope it works out, for their sake, but it just doesn't sound good. Another 0% down statistic, perhaps. I don't see much change in the lending industry. Where is everyone getting thse zero down loans??? (In this case it is military, but my mortgage broker friend thinks we should buy a rental property - he tells me we don't need any cash down - Rolleyes The loans seem to be abundandt!)

A Frugal Tuesday

February 16th, 2011 at 10:40 am

The best financial wisdom I have picked up for over the years is that there is usually a way to have something virtually identical for much cheaper.

Just seems to be a constant recurring theme in the discourse of personal finance. A recurring theme in everyday conversation with people around me.

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Today's topics? Haircuts and V-Day cards.

**I finally got a LONG put off haircut. I probably try to go 2-3 times per year. It has been about 8 months since my last haircut and I meant to get it cut in January.

Went to great Clips and had a coupon for $9.99. The stylist did not cut the layers as short as I asked. It had been so long, I Was just like, "eh." IT was getting late and my son was sitting and waiting for me. I Also tend to chop off my hair in May, anyway, when it warms up. I'll be back soon enough.

Anyway, the haircut looked GREAT. I usually ask for it on the short side simply because I can get by 9 months without a haircut, when I do. Big Grin I see why their natural incliniation is to always go this length. But usually they ask me a little more up front - "this long??" - and I ask them to chop off a couple of more inches.

Yes, this length is very nice, but it will get all scraggly a lot faster, too.

Anyway, I prefer shorter hair, overall, but over the years I find that it is just too much time, maintenance, etc. for shorter hair. Over the years I kind of settled on the "Jennifer." Don't remember what they call it, but the long layered hair made famous by Jennifer Aniston on Friends. I may have tried it at some point when it was in vogue, but over time I realized it was the perfect frugal cut. Very flattering for my hair/face (my stick straight hair actually has BODY!?!) and yet it is such a basic haircut I don't think it has ever been screwed up. So, it is the perfect style for the cheap haircut chains. Since adopting this hairstyle I have never had a BAD haircut.

OF course, I initially chose these hairstyles because they were flattering and 100% "wash and go." IT's only with time that I really have come to appreciate the frugal aspect of said hairstyle. Beyond the fact that the only hair product I buy is shampoo...

My last cut was:



Yesterday, more like:



Or, the second picture is more how my hair looked without cutting it for 8 months. It just grows out real nice. Yesterdsy was merely a touch up. It had been cut so short last time I didn't really want to cut too much length yesterday.

At $9.99 per haircut, that's $20-$30 per year for a "movie star hairstyle."

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In other news, I bought V-day cards for the kids' classes, yesterday. There were 50% off. I am sure we could have waited longer for deeper discounts, but last year I went too late - the cards were gone. So, yesterday I dropped by with BM and the cards were not marked down. They had some really cool 3D ones - so we grabbed 2 boxes. I had forgotten to ask at the register if they were marked down, but they rang up $1.49 (versus $2.99). We could make our own, but I am not sure we would come out ahead with the cost of ink and paper. Plus, this took about 1 minute of my time. Just popped into the store on my way home.

Since BM was with me, we had a talk about how waiting after the holidays and planning ahead for next year was an easy way to save money (so you have more left for other more important things). I told him we could even wait a few more days and pay less, but all the good stuff would be gone.

I am not big on spending any length of time to save a buck here and there, but for no effort, I will of course take 50% off!!! $3 saved - easy peasy.

Updates

February 15th, 2011 at 01:17 pm

Lunch Challenge:

Lunch In: 11
Lunch Out: 2

Lunch Sun - Frozen Pizza
Lunch Mon - Leftover Jambalaya (GOOD!)
Lunch Tues - chicken nuggets & ramen

I actually brought leftover spinach manicotti today (cheese, spinach, salsa, YUM). But I was hungry on the early side and decided I probably needed more protein. OF course, I may need some of the manicotti to get through the afternoon - ate closer to 11:00. Will see.

Dh tried a new jambalaya recipe over the weekend. Yum!