Top 6 Home Improvements with the Best Return

Many home improvements are little more than money pits. Some improvements don’t even appeal to many homebuyers. Over $200 billion is spent every year on home renovations, but how many of those dollars are spent in a way that truly improves the value of the home?

Many people are shocked at how little their improvements added to the sales price of their home.

Some home improvements can boost your home’s resale value and the level of comfort you experience while you’re still living there. Unfortunately, there are other improvements that can cost thousands of dollars and provide little to no return.

These home improvements are likely to pay off better than any other:

  1. New siding. From an investment standpoint, fiber cement siding is the way to go. Vinyl siding can crack over time, and aluminum siding ultimately ends up with dents. Even with professional installation, this is still a cost-effective upgrade.

2. New front door. Fiberglass doors are very expensive, but a mid-range steel door looks great and can easily be painted to match your home. The more simple the door, the lower the cost. But steel doors are so inexpensive that you can afford to pick up something nice.

3. Garage door replacement. While no one gets excited about replacing their garage door, some jobs just need to be done. A mid-quality garage door will add to your curb appeal and improve the functionality and sales price of your home. Garage doors are easily painted, too.

4. Wood deck. Nearly everyone loves to sit out on a deck when the weather permits. It’s the perfect transition between indoors and the outside. It effectively adds living space, and the material costs are quite low.

5. New windows. Newer windows eliminate drafts, reduce radiant heat in the summer, and provide much better insulation than older-style windows. They look great, too! While windows can be expensive, the payback is quite good. Compare costs and the amount of insulation. The utility savings can be impressive.

6. Fresh interior paint. Although paint is relatively inexpensive, the labor can be pricey. Fortunately, anyone can tackle this task on their own. You’ll save a lot of money and your house will look great. Take your time and you can do a great job. Stick to neutral colors that everyone can accept. If you’ll be selling soon, now isn’t the time for unusual colors.

Unless you’re planning on staying in your home for an extended period of time, it’s important to consider how your improvements will affect the sales price of your home. Many improvements do little to increase the value of your home. However, if you’ll be in your home for many years, it’s completely reasonable to place a priority on the enjoyment you’ll receive from the upgrade.

Being the nicest house on the block might be great for the ego, but it’s hard on the pocketbook. Avoid adding features to your home that aren’t appropriate for your neighborhood. If you’re in a middle-class setting, remodeling projects common to luxury homes are likely to be financial disasters.

A little forethought will ensure that your home improvements make your home more attractive, livable, and valuable. Research the costs and expected payback of any improvements you’re considering. Remember to examine the cost of labor. Nearly any project can provide a nice return, especially if you can do the work yourself.

Recipe Pin: Crème de Cassis (Black Currant Liqueur)

I recently went berry picking at our favorite local farm.  Not only did I come home with the most delicious blueberries and raspberries, but I also found myself with a pound of black currants. If you’ve never had these little creatures, they are like a cross between a teeny Concord grape and a cranberry.  NOT very good for snacking on!  They are so tart! I wish I had taken pictures of our faces as we tried them.

black currants

I had never picked black currants before.  They are hard to come by in my area.  Currently in my home state, you can only plant two varieties of black currant and only with a permission in a controlled area.  They were completely banned in the early 1900s because they were seen as a threat to the logging industry.  Apparently, black currants are thought to help spread white pine blister rust.  While this disease doesn’t affect the black currants, it does have a devastating impact on white pines.  The two varieties that NH allows are resistant to this disease.  So why grow these?  Besides being quite delicious in baked goods and jams, they are supposed to have more anti-oxidant properties than blueberries and are said to have 4 times the Vitamin C as oranges. (1) (2) (3)

I had heard of black currant jam, so that would be an easy way to put these little guys to good use.  Problem is that last year, I made a ton of jam, so the very last thing I needed was more of it.  We just don’t eat enough to clear out what I can make in a summer.   I’ve tried, believe me.  I’m a big fan of Peanut Butter, Jelly, and Doritos sandwiches in my lunch.  Yes, Doritos in my PB & J.  Don’t judge!

Anyway… As I searched for black currant recipes I kept coming across Crème de Cassis or black currant liqueur.

creme de casis

The recipe that I used from allrecipes UK/Ireland is super simple…so far.  All I did was wash and dry the currants, put them in a sterilized container and pour vodka over them.  I’m sure once the mixture is ready for the next step, it will be a bit more complicated.  There appears to be a bit of basic math involved, as well as, the whole rest-of-the-world vs United States measurement thing to figure out.  I’ll be sure to give you an update in a few months.  In the meantime, my lovely, tart black currants are sitting in a cool, dry place soaking up some major alcohol.  Sounds like some people I know who tailgate on fall weekends…bah dum bum.

Crème de Cassis


Books That Make You Go Hmmm…

Books Hmmm...

Over the years, I’ve read some books that really make me think.  Sometimes it’s simply me wondering how the author came up with the story being told.  Other times, it’s wondering how stories continue after the book ends.  Every now and then I wonder why I continue to read a crappy book when there are so many good books out there!  Bah! Some books really grab me and continue to make me wonder even years after reading them.

Here are a few that left a lasting impression on me and made me really think.



Inside the O’Briens by Lisa Genova

Hmmmm….If you could find out if may get a disease in the future, would you find out?




The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Hmmmm….So many questions including those about morality and medical ethics.



The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

Hmmmm….What if this event really happened?  Which group of people would I align myself with?



Quiet:  The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

Hmmmm….Why don’t we recognize the power of introverts?



Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

Hmmmm….How would I be able to deal with the results of a seemingly innocent decision as happened in this book?


Have you read any of these?  I would love to hear what you have to say about these very thought-provoking books.


Savory Pin: Instant Pot Potato Soup

Snow Day!  Snow Day!  Who doesn’t love a snow day?!?  I’ll be honest, this is one of the big perks of being a teacher in the northeast.  I’m sure I’ll be regretting my snow dance in June, but I’m loving today!

It may surprise you to know that there are a few rules a snow day.  Please abide by the following…

  1. Stay in your jammies –  Don’t get dressed.  Just don’t do it!

  2. Do a “do nothing” activity – Don’t even think of cleaning or laundry.  Today is a gift.  Read a great book!  Watch a fun movie (or two or three)!  Take a nap!  Watch the Price Is Right (it’s really a sin not to on a snow day)!  Sit in front of a crackling fire!  Take the time to relax.  The adult stuff can wait.

  3. Play in the snow – No brainer right?!?  Make that snow fort. Build that snowman. Walk in those woods.  Just get outside!

  4. Eat comfort foods – This is a must!   Gooey cake, grilled cheese sandwiches, hot-from-the-oven cookies, and/or soup are staples for a snow day.

To help you enjoy your much welcomed time off, I will share my favorite recipe for a snow day lunch courtesy of Living  via Pinterest.  This recipe calls for either a pressure cooker or a slow cooker.  I used my fabulous Instant Pot (more on that later)!


Instant Pot Potato Soup


  • 5 pound bag of potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 3 TBSP minced onion
  • 5-6 Cups chicken broth (enough to cover the potatoes)
  • 4 TBSP butter
  • ⅓ Cup softened cream cheese
  • ⅓ Cup sour cream
  • 2 Cups shredded cheddar cheese
  • milk (depending on how thin you want your soup)
  • bacon slices, cooked and crumbled
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 green onion chopped (optional for garnish)


  1. Peel and cube the potatoes.
  2. Place them in the pressure cooker along with the minced onion.  Cover with chicken broth.  Secure the lid on the Instant Pot and cook on manual for 10 minutes.
  3. Secure the lid on the Instant Pot and cook on manual for 10 minutes.
  4. Once the timer goes off and the pressure is released, remove the lid.  Mash the potatoes to a desired consistency.
  5. Add the butter, cream cheese, sour cream, cheddar cheese, and salt and pepper to the potatoes.  Mix together until well blended.
  6. Add milk to thin the soup.
  7. Serve with bacon crumbles and a bit of green onion.

Please note:  Slow-cooker users – cook on low for 5-6 hours.

I made a few variations mostly due to ingredients I had on hand.  I halved the recipe and found I only needed a splash of milk.  I used skim, but whole would probably make this soup even yummier.


Hope you enjoy your soup and follow my snow day rules on your next snow day.  The laundry can wait!


Holiday Pins: Christmas Card Display

If you are like me, you love getting all those amazing Christmas cards.  Especially the ones with photos of friends and family.  You probably like to share them with people visiting your home during the holidays, too.

Up until recently, I’ve always had a hard time finding a way to display these treasures of my mailbox.  I’ve tried taping them around doorways (too dorm room), hanging them from ribbons or fishing wire (constantly falling), and even on more than one occasion just shoved them in a drawer (sorry, peeps).  During my nightly ritual of flipping through Pinterest while watching tv, I came across this card box for sale by TheLaceMoon on Etsy.  It was so obvious and so awesome that I pinned it right away.

Lucky for me I had a vintage-looking suitcase I bought that was holding my remotes (all 20 of them) that was perfect for the job.


I dumped it out and starting making my amazing new Christmas card display.

On it’s own it was cute, but not suitable for holiday happiness, so I found an old ornament that had never made it onto my tree (probably because it has glitter and I’m afraid of it) and found a cute little snowman at a local craft fair (also with glitter, but too cute to not buy).  I put all the elements together, added cards as they came in and voila!  The perfect way to display my beautiful cards.

The added unexpected bonus of this little suitcase card box is that at the end of the year everything fits inside until next year.  It also traps all that glitter from cards people seem to like to send (just to torture me, I think)!  Win! Win!



Home Decor Pins: Styling a Curio Cabinet

curio-cabinet-stylingI am by no means an amazing decorator, but I think I do a decent job making my home a comfortable place to be.  As we all know by now, I use Pinterest for almost everything (told you I’m addicted).  I recently got tired of looking at my overcrowded, uninspiring curio cabinet.  It was a jumble of curiosities as all cabinets of this type hold, but it really was a bit scary (hence, no before pictures). I was able to find some styling inspiration online (, For the Love of a House, and Rooms Blog) that I used to come up with my own design tips.

  1.  Display what you love or for which you have a strong attachment.
    Seems like a no brainer, but I had things in there that I didn’t like much.  My cabinet was kind of a catch all.  Don’t forget to gather all your curiosities, heirlooms, unusual pieces, etc. from around the house.  Also, be sure to include items that have sentimental value to others in your family (sometimes it hurts a bit).
  2. Arrange each shelf by color scheme.
    I tried many combinations, but this seemed to work the best.  The result was a much less jarring arrangement of our treasures.


  3. Place larger items such as platters or pictures in the back.
    These pieces added a nice backdrop for the other smaller pieces.


  4. Put your heaviest objects on the bottom shelf.
    Putting the bigger, heavier pieces on the bottom shelf anchored the whole display.  This happened naturally for me since only taller pieces fit on the bottom of my case, and I didn’t want to put heavy things on a glass shelf.


  5. Combine items to give your displays interest and height.
    The problem with my old display is that everything was on the shelf.  This time I hung pieces on others and stacked my knick-knacks on top each other.


  6. Don’t be afraid to mix styles.
    Oddball art glass from the 70’s on the same shelf as a sugar bowl from the 50’s and glassware from the turn of last century? Yup. Remember step 1… display what you love.  It’s a bit quirky, but it seems to work.


  7. Leave room for more.
    You may have to rearrange some shelves as you add pieces from your travels, gifts you received, or heck even those pieces you just had to have but weren’t sure why.  Consider the cabinet a work in progress.


Hopefully these ideas will help you style a curio cabinet or even a bookcase in your home.  My cabinet now displays my favorite knick-knacks in an interesting way.  Is it perfect? No, but it now reflects more of my personality and that’s a good thing.  Now if I can only find someone willing to dust it!

Education Pins: A Magical Classroom and How to Make One

Let me start off by saying, I am so excited about the new wizarding movie, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.  So much so that as soon as I heard it was being release, I decided to create a Harry Potter themed classroom.

I’m a super-duper Harry Potter fan, so this idea was a no-brainer.  I’ve read all the books (more than once, of course), I’ve seen the hilarious Potted Potter (a fast-paced retelling of all seven books), have watched all the movies (duh), and even own the text books mentioned in the series.  This February, I finally had my chance to go to the Wizarding World at Universal Studios.  There was even a tornado warning that day with torrential downpours and high winds.  Didn’t stop me!  I sipped my butter beer while dodging raindrops and watching my boys weave spells with their wands.  It was in Heaven!!!


So anyway, back to my Harry Potter themed classroom.

As you can imagine upon deciding on this magical theme, I immediately started searching for Harry Potter crafts, classroom decor, and other Potter-related pins on Pinterest.   I thought I’d be overwhelmed with all the possibilities, but there weren’t a whole lot of classrooms online that featured Harry and the gang at Hogwarts.  What is this nonsense!?!  Surely an evil spell has been cast on the world!  Thank goodness the ones I did find were pretty inspiring.

Here are a few that I decided to use in my classroom from The Charming Classrooma Reddit post, and Professor Baldwin’s Online Classroom.


Aren’t they great?  Here are my versions of the ones above.

For the Lumos and Nox light switch, I wrote on address labels and tried my best to mimic the font style used in the books (needs some work, but…).

I found a really great website for my potion bottle labels.  All I had to do was print them, cut them out, and glue them onto my clearance aisle, glass bottles.

I really wish I could’ve gone all out on my door, but I got in a wee bit of trouble by our fire inspector last year for my Star Wars themed door.  It was awesome!  I had wrapped the entire door in a black vinyl tablecloth and covered the whole thing in stars.  Four hundred and eighty stars to be exact.  Apparently, covering the whole door is frowned upon by the powers that be.  Sigh.  As you can imagine, I didn’t want to have to take down another awesome door display, so I compromised.  Another big sigh.  It turned out okay, but could’ve been really cool like the inspiration photo.  Oh well.

For my wall decor, I created a bulletin board using shortcut icons I bought on Teacher’s Pay Teachers.  Well worth the four dollars!


I also added a Keyboarding Prefect board to honor my star keyboarding students.  Looks like I need to work on their keyboarding skills!


Dobby helps out with the school’s Word of the Week, and Harry, Hermione, and Ron remind students how to print, save, and open their work.  Two of the wall decorations under Ron are from around 1999 and my fourth grade classroom.  I told you I was a fan from back in the day!


I almost forgot everyone’s pal, Hedwig.  He hangs out with me while I do work at my computer.  What a sweet, little owl (although sometimes I feel as if he is judging me…hmmm)!


I also found these really cool travel posters of Hogwart’s Express, Godrick’s Hollow, and Hogsmeade online that I purchased and framed to put on the walls.  I also bought a Quidditch World Cup poster to frame.  So cool!


My favorite wall decorations are the quotes I found from the books that I turned into wall art.  I love them so much that I am including them as a free download below.  Yes, indeed, I am sharing the love.  Enjoy!


sirius-black-quote                      mooney-wormtail-quote                              dumbledore-quote

By the way, all you Potter fans (and even you Muggles), don’t forget to let me know if this has inspired you to create a magical classroom of your own!  You can do so by Owl Post or by commenting below.



Sweet Pins: Ground Cherry Pie

School is back in full swing, and I can’t seem to find a minute to myself.  People tell me that someday, I will miss these days.  I’m not so sure.  Having nothing to do every now and then sounds pretty sweet to me.

I finally found some time today to take care of some of the produce my hubs grew this summer.  Every year, he tries something new.  Last year, it was scorzonara (I’m still not sure what that is).  This year he grew physalis pruinosa or ground cherries.  They are of the same genus as tomatillos and same family as tomatoes.  Never heard of them?  Me neither, but they have got to be the coolest thing ever!  First of all, they grow in these cute little packages much like the paper lanterns plants people decorate with.


When they are ready to be eaten, they fall to the ground.  Hence the name “ground” cherry. My favorite part is that in order to get to the fruit, you need to peel open the little paper-like packages they come in.  It’s like Christmas!  It really is! The really cool thing is that they look like and have the consistency of small cherry tomatoes, only they taste like pineapples.  Yes, PINEAPPLES!


Pinterest produced several recipes that looked delicious when I needed to find out what to do with these amazing little creatures.  One of my faves is for  Ground Cherry Pie from All  This recipe is an old Mennonite recipe, has a crumb topping, and is so simple to make.  If you are lucky enough to find ground cherries at your local farm stand.  Grab them quick and make this pie.  It is so unique and yummy.  I guess you could call it… yumnique.


Ground Cherry Pie



  • 2 1/2 – 3 cups ground cherries
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 TBSP all-purpose flour
  • 2 TBSP water
  • 1 (9″) unbaked pie shell
  • 3 TBSP all-purpose flour
  • 3 TBSP sugar
  • 2 TBSP butter


  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Pour washed ground cherries into bottom of unbaked pie crust.
  3. Mix together brown sugar and flour and sprinkle evenly over ground cherries.  Sprinkle water over entire mixture in pie crust.
  4. Combine flour and sugar.  Cut in butter until mixture has a crumb-like texture.  Sprinkle this evenly over ground cherry mixture.
  5. Cook in 425 degree oven for 15 minutes then reduce oven to 375 degrees and cook for another 25 minutes.  Let pie cool completely before serving.



Get Organized Pins: School Paper Problems Solved!

If you are like me, you may have figured out that paper multiplies on its own.  I feel like every time I clear out paper, more materializes.  The majority of this paper clutter seems to come from my children.  Don’t get me wrong, I love all their cute little school papers and such.  I just don’t need 700 pounds of it!


I’ve been searching for a solution for a few years now.  The most logical idea for the kids paperwork came from Dandee Designs, and Destination Domestication.  Both of these pins used file boxes for each child’s school memories.  This was my jumping off point.

I bought legal/letter file boxes at Staples along with legal size file folders.  Why legal?  There were some odd sized papers that wouldn’t fit in a regular sized file.  Legal seemed like the best option, and it was!


I wrote out labels for every school year (PreK 2-day, 3-day, Kindergarten, etc) all the way up to 12th grade, making sure that I could see each label as I went.

Next I set about gathering paper momentos from every corner of our house.

After that, I set aside a lot of time and just started filling each folder.  Luckily most of the papers in the piles had names and dates on them.  Some didn’t, but I just guessed.  Yup, guessed!  Are they really going to test me on that later in life.  I doubt it!  It was such a blast looking at all the writing and pictures my cuties had produced over the years.

Finally, I created some labels and cut them to fit the adhesive label pockets I found in one of my favorite places…the Dollar Spot at Target.


I didn’t stop with the boys stuff, either.  Hubby and I had piles of our own crap memorabilia that needed a place to live.  We got a box, too!  I also had a ton of appliance/equipment manuals that were just scattered around.  Yup.  These got a box of their own, too!  I even tackled two file crates and a filing cabinet of household papers getting them down to two file boxes.  Two!


The result is neat and organized.  All of our paper is in one spot, and there is plenty of room for future additions. I LOVE it!


Sweet Pins: Chocolate Zucchini Brownies

Let’s be honest.  No one really loves zucchini.  We just tolerate it because… well… sometimes we have to.  Right now, every meal I make consists of zucchini.  Zucchini casserole, zucchini muffins, zucchini bread (so far 3 different types), grilled zucchini, stir-fried zucchini, zucchini pizza, even zucchini “apple” pie. Why?  Not because I love it or even like it, I just have too much of it!


My husband the gardener believes in planting every seed he buys.  I’m all for not being wasteful, but when it comes to zucchini, one plant is enough.  He did concede to thin down the zucchini crop a bit this year.  We went from 25 to 3 plants and it’s still too much!!!


You think I’m alone in my zucchini disdain?  Nope.  There is a even a day called, National Sneak a Zucchini on Your Neighbors Porch Day, “DSC_0025.jpgcelebrated” on August 8th of each year.
Those of us with gardens know that this is really a sinister way of getting rid of all the zucchini that have invaded our lives.  Those of you who don’t… well, enjoy the stinking zucchini.  There’s more where that came from!

Trust me!

One of my favorite go-to recipes is one for Zucchini Brownies from A Family Feast.   I would not share this with you if I didn’t find it absolutely amazing.  Not only can you not taste the zucchini, but you can’t even see it!!!  My only wish is that it took more that 1 1/2 cups of that god-awful stuff.  Oh well, at least I get to enjoy the rich, moist, fudgy brownie goodness in between shredding more.


Now if only I can find a recipe for zucchini wine…

Chocolate Zucchini Brownies

by A Family Feast


  • 4 ounces BAKER’S unsweetened chocolate
  • ¾ cup butter
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3 eggs slightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 ¼ cups flour
  • ¼ cup cocoa powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 ½ cups shredded zucchini
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts (optional)


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Line a 13×9-inch baking pan with aluminum foil, making sure that the piece of foil extends over the side of the pan. Spray the foil with non-stick cooking spray.
  3. In a microwave-safe bowl, add the chocolate and butter and microwave on high for 2 minutes. Stir until the chocolate is completely melted.
  4. Transfer chocolate mixture to a large bowl.
  5. Stir in the sugar.
  6. Blend in the eggs and vanilla.
  7. Sift flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl.
  8. Add flour mixture to wet ingredients and mix thoroughly. Then add the zucchini and walnuts and stir to evenly combine.
  9. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with fudgy crumbs.
  10. Let cool completely. When cool, use the foil to remove the brownies from the pan and onto a cutting board. Cut before serving.

Chocolate Zucchini Brownies -