Holiday surprises

It is Friday and Fridays are for fun. My husband and I have some unusual holiday traditions. Last year we bought a new countertop and sink for the kitchen for Christmas.

We needed something to wrap and put under the tree so we bought a new faucet. Kitchen faucets are the gift that keeps on giving.

This year we are each buying something for ourselves. The way it works is my husband bought himself a gift. I wrapped it and put it under the tree. I’ll be buying my own and he will wrap it and put it under the tree. We always act surprised on Christmas when we unwrap the gift.

I still remember the year my husband bought me a toaster for Christmas. I figured out what it was and he denied it. I ended up having to hide the wrapped toaster because I was afraid he would replace it with something else just to prove me wrong. Please don’t buy your wife a toaster for Christmas.

One year we went shopping together and I found a coat that I decided he had to have. He tried it on and we bought it. He picked out something for me in that same store. It may have been a sweater.

We both enjoy Christmas more now that we stopped buying things for each other that we don’t want or need. It is more about having fun and enjoying the season.

Saint Paul raises taxes

It has been all over the news. There will be a 10.5% tax increase. That means property taxes will go up. The median increase per homeowner will be less than $70 a year.  If you own an expensive house you will pay more. If you own a less expensive house the dollar amount per year will be less.

The money is going to be spent on more police officers. I have never been impressed with St. Paul police officers. The 9 new officers are needed for a mental health unit and for sex crimes investigations and for a downtown command.

I can tell you from personal experience that downtown isn’t all that safe at least not on the streets. We aren’t supposed to talk about that because it is bad for business but it is true. The skyways are safe but the streets are not.

Some of the money is going to be used for street repairs. I hope some of it gets spent on sidewalk repairs too.

A financial empowerment office is being established. I don’t fully understand it but it has to do with helping St. Paul students set up college savings accounts. I don’t understand how anyone can save enough money to pay for college but apparently, there are people who think it can be done.

Library late fines are going away. People will still be charged for lost or stolen books but no more late fees. Apparently, there are tens of thousands of people who owe library fines and as a result, they stopped borrowing books.

I am a raving fan of the Saint Paul Public library. I borrow a lot of kindle books. I like that I can grab a book most anytime I want and they are automatically returned when they are due. The library has so many programs people don’t even know about. Visit https://sppl.org/ to learn more and get a library card today if you don’t have one already. If the tax increase helps make St. Paul a better place to live it will have a positive impact on property values.

Here is a pie chart that shows how your tax dollars will be spent. For more information about the city and taxes go to StPaul.gov and use the search to find information about the budget. As you know I try not to link to the city website because they move the pages around and break my links.

2019 city budget
Screenshot of the chart at stpaul.gov

The government administration costs look a little high but what do I know. My administrative costs are very low because I run an efficient women-owned small business, not a city.

How much does it cost to heat?

Heating costs have been on my mind these days because of the colder than normal weather. We use our house differently than some. There are only two of us living in it but I have a home office and tend to keep the house warmer than I would keep it if I worked someplace else.

Before buying a house it is a good idea to find out how much it costs to heat. St. Paul homeowners can get some averages by calling Xcel energy customer service, or by looking at their billing and usage history online.

It is also helpful to find out how many people are living in the house. How we use a house impacts energy costs.

The efficiency of the furnace or boiler makes a difference and so do windows and the amount of insulation in the attic. A little caulk here and there can have an impact too. I have one window that I put plastic over. Replacing the window is on my wishlist for home improvements.

It doesn’t hurt to know what the electric bill is either. We tend to use a lot of lights .. . because of the office but we have also switched to energy efficient bulbs and timers that turn light on and off. There are also motion detector type light fixtures that are useful in basements and other places where light is needed but someone might forget to turn it off when it isn’t needed.

Here are some energy-saving tips I found on the Xcel Energy website.

Winter walks

I don’t like winter, I never have. Friends who live in warmer places which is just about anywhere assume that I like the cold. Let’s just say that I have made peace with it and have learned to make the most out of it.

Staying inside all winter isn’t an option. Having the right outdoor clothing makes all the difference. I can stay outside comfortably for hours because of goose down coats, warm gloves, socks, and boots. Hats are wonderful and so are scarves.

Walking in the city in the winter is peaceful. There aren’t many people in the parks. The scooters are off of the sidewalks for the winter and there are few bikes. There is a lot of snow and ice on the sidewalks that never get shoveled. Those walks tend to be in front of apartment buildings, condos and businesses. Sometimes it is best to walk on the street or the boulevard.

Here are a couple of pictures I took on a recent walk along the river. The ice that floats on the river collide with each other and make some interesting sounds. You won’t hear them unless you walk by and take your headphones off.

river park
River Park
ice
Ice floats on the river

Home sales by St. paul neighborhood

Monday is a good day for numbers. Here is a recap of home sales by neighborhood in St. Paul for the month of November 2018. Sales activity slows a bit this time. Sale prices are on average lower the listing prices in most but not all neighborhoods.

In November it took an average of 59 cumulative days on market to sell a house. That is fast for November. Average sale prices are up about 20K from last November.

We are still in a strong seller’s market. The number of new listings was lower than the number of pending sales for November.  Could go on and on but I won’t. 🙂

chart of home sales by neighborhood
november 2018 Home sales

The numbers used to make the chart were extracted from the NorthstarMLS which is deemed reliable but not gaurateed. This data covers a high percentage of local real estate sales activity.

For more local numbers that are not at all hyper please see local market conditions and home sales. Real estate is local. If you would like to know how much your St. Paul home might sell for please call or write. My contact information is on the right and yes there is an @ in my email address, not an (at) and like most email addresses it isn’t case sensitive.

Grandma’s fruitcake

It is Friday and Fridays are for fun. Fruitcake jokes are a part of the holiday tradition. There are stories about that one fruitcake that had traveled around the world as a gift that keeps getting passed on.

I want to let you know that some of us like fruitcake but only good fruitcake. Unfortunately, most of the fruitcake in the world isn’t good.

Just after Thanksgiving I got out my grandma’s recipe and made a fruitcake. The ingredients cost a small fortune and the thing weighs 7 pounds. It takes 3 to 4 hours to bake and it is now in a cool place (not hard to find in my house this time of year) wrapped in cheesecloth soaked in sherry. It should be ready by Christmas.

Yes, I know it can be soaked in rum or brandy but to me, sherry smells like Christmas. I went and bought a nice bottle of the stuff instead of using what I found at the grocery store.

The recipe was copied by hand a few times through the generations. I made some notes on my copy. I found one step that really wasn’t needed and crossed it out. I later found an older copy of the recipe that my grandmother had given my mom and my mom had crossed out that same step.

In one place the recipe says to bring 1/4 cup honey mixed with 1/4 cup sherry almost to a boil and then set aside. After I combined all of the other ingredients I noticed that the sherry and honey mixture was never mentioned again. I took a chance and mixed it in with the rest of the ingredients before baking the cake.

I am not going to add a line about what to do with the honey and sherry because I think the omission gives the recipe character and it reminded me, my mom. Mom is still alive but she stopped talking about two years ago. She always had a wonderful sense of humor.

I’ll bring her some fruitcake because I know she will appreciate a good fruitcake and because I have 7 pounds of the stuff and only know a few people who like it and who can eat it. It isn’t gluten-free and it has tree nuts in it. It is vegetarian but not vegan and I am afraid I did not use organic ingredients but none of the ingredients are inorganic.

There is other information missing from the recipe but I knew what I was supposed to do because it wasn’t my first fruitcake just my first solo fruitcake.

Making fruitcake