Monthly Archives: September 2013

When the Homeowner’s Association goes too far.

I live in Southeast Virginia.  I have been here since 2002 when the Navy chose to station me here at a local helicopter squadron.  When I retired from the Navy in 2004 after 20 years of service I decided that I didn’t want to move and uproot my kids again, so I decided to stay here in Southeast Virginia.  In July of 2006 we bought and moved into a house in a very nice subdivision in Suffolk.  When we moved in I promised my two boys that we wouldn’t have to move again and that we would stay here until they graduated from high school.  That was very important to me, and so we were thrilled when we found a house we loved in a subdivision called Burbage Grant.

Soon after moving in, my kids started school at the elementary school located in the neighborhood, and I was even more excited about the neighborhood!  The teachers were amazing, the school was only 1/4 mile from our house, and the after-school care was affordable.  The kids quickly made friends, and I started to make friends in the neighborhood as well.

I think one of the things I loved most about Burbage Grant (BG) was the fact that so many people knew each other and everyone seemed so nice.  My oldest son started playing Little league and we met more people who lived in BG.  Then the boys transferred from our Chesapeake Boy Scout troop to a Suffolk Troop, and even more BG people entered our lives!  Living in a community that felt so tight knit was awesome!!

The summer of 2007 we found out that Burbage Grant had a neighborhood summer swim team, and I signed the boys up immediately.  It was not free, we had to pay a registration fee, and buy swim suits, but to have an activity for my boys to participate in that was in the neighborhood where we lived, and kept them busy was a godsend for this worried mother. That summer my boys got hooked and we have been participating in the Tsunami Swim Club for the past 6 years!

Tsunami Swim Club 2013

Tsunami Swim Club 2013

The swim club has a short season, only 6 weeks, and we practice in the neighborhood pool 4 nights each week from 6:45 until 8:45 (two one hour sessions divided by age group of the kids).  To be honest the first few weeks (from Memorial Day until at least June 20) the water is cold and the swimmers come out with blue lips at times.   To their credit parents have to tell them to get out and get warmed up because the kids love the team so much they want to just keep swimming.

In 2009, our Homeowners Association Board of Directors decided it was time to charge us “rent” for the use of the pool.  Keep in mind that the Tsunami Swim Club was formed in 1996 and had never been charged fees before this time.  We were charged $700.00 for our 6 weeks of practice (where we use only 3 lanes of a 6 lane pool) 4 nights per week, and $200.00 per meet (we usually have 4 home meets), for a total of $1500.00.  This is of course above and beyond our normal homeowners dues to use the pool. We said, “ok, that is fair”, and began paying 4 years ago.

3 years ago I became the Team Manager.  This is a loose term because the team is parent run, but someone has to organize things, and I became that person.  I had to attend the HOA Board meetings in March to “hammer” out the details of the swim club license agreement with them.  Every year that I went I heard from at least two board members about how “neighbors complained” about Tsunami “taking over” the pool, and one even said that Tsunami was “trouble” for them.  They reluctantly allowed us to continue swimming in 2011, 2012 and 2013.

brook swimming

Each year as I entered the Board meeting in March I knew it was going to be a struggle and was going to have to hear all of the bad things about the team.  I always kept my cool and countered each allegation with facts and no innuendos.  This past year we were told that they felt “threatened” because our Treasurer sent an email asking for a refund for a night we could not practice.  A child has vomited in the pool, and the lifeguards did not have the proper chemicals to treat the pool.  If they had we would have been able to have at least one practice.  When we asked for a refund due to no proper chemicals being on hand apparently they felt “threatened”.  I am still confused about that to this day.

I did receive an email from the HOA President this past summer threatening to kick us out of the pool and “immediately cancel our license agreement”.  One of the lifeguards had complained about something one of the volunteer assistant coaches said and I was sent an email about a “substantiated” report of disrespect.  My response was that it was NOT substantiated because our side of the story had not been heard.  He conceded on that point, and we continued swimming our season.

Last Saturday I received a letter signed by the HOA President telling me that we would not be allowed to swim during the 2014 Season. No reason given. No explanation.  Just “you will not be granted an agreement to use the pool.” I immediately shared this information with the swim team parents who were incredulous.  We had not been given any warning.  We had not been told of any problems.  Our fees were raised in 2013, and we paid them with no complaint.  I was shocked and couldn’t figure out why the HOA Board decided to vote this way.  According to the letter it was a “unanimous” vote.  A vote done without any conversation or meaningful dialogue.  A decision to ban a non profit community team without a discussion. A team comprised solely of swimmers who live in the neighborhood.

Of course I organized a meeting with the parents to try and find a way to approach the HOA Board  in a calm rational manner.  We had a very productive meeting and voted to attend the next HOA meeting to ask for a meaningful conversation to try to reverse their decision.  We knew we would probably have to make concessions, but were okay with that if it meant we could keep the team.

Then last night the President of the BOD sent out a letter to “all of Burbage Grant”  and here is a copy of it:Needless to say I was shocked.  I couldn’t believe he would send such an inflammatory and biased letter filled with misinformation to the entire neighborhood.  And he used the Neighborhood Watch email to send it. Definitely the wrong platform.

The Vision statement from our neighborhood website clearly states:

The mission of the Burbage Grant Owners Association is to develop and encourage new activities that promote community unity while maintaining the architectural integrity, maintenance, and value of our homes and community property through fiscal responsibility and upholding the highest ethical and moral standards.

It seems our HOA and BOD has forgotten the mission and has forgotten they are supposed to serve the entire community, not malign one piece of it.  A neighborhood swim team definitely promotes community unity.  We don’t have a “perceived” sense of importance.  We ARE important. I guarantee you this won’t be the last word on this issue.  We will be out at the Board meeting this week in force, and we will be a force to be reckoned with!

I think what floors me the most to paraphrase from one of our swim team parents is that their arguments are all one sided and without merit.  It is without recent quantitative statical analysis or official data-points with any sort of official polling of our homeowners.

Strap on your seat belts it will be a bumpy ride.  

Some of our swimmers at the 2013 All Star meet which is composed of all the teams in the Western Tidewater Swim Association.

tsc at wtsa allstars

 

Why my cat litter box smell doesn’t bother me anymore.

I have 4 cats.  Yes, 4 cats.  When we decided (in the spur of the moment) to get the 4th sweetie I was so worried I had crossed the line into “Catlady- dom”.  However, a friend of mine told me that as long as the people outnumber the cats, I am NOT a cat lady.  (When one of the kids move out , I am in TROUBLE).  But he was so cute…..AND he mewed at me and stared at me with his big soulful green eyes.  What was I to do?  He had me in his kitten spell!  And since Karol can’t say no to me, he came home with us.

So here are pictures of my kitties:

Max
Max

Max is the oldest of the cats.  He is 13, and is getting senile.  He seems to “forget” things.  But he is super sweet. He is a “rescue” cat.

Emmitt
Emmitt

Emmitt is a small Maine Coon.  He is sweet, and is the self proclaimed King of the house.  He is the first cat Karol and I got together, and he is usually super sweet, although he does have a “tude” now and then.  He is also a “rescue” cat from Isle of Wight Humane Society.

Ash
Ash

Ash was given to us.  He was found in a burned out shed, and was the only survivor of a mama with her litter that was in the shed.  His parents were feral, and he was hand raised from a newborn, so HE is not completely feral, but he definitely can be crabby.  He does not like to be handled much, and I am the only human in this house he will be gentle with.  🙂

Rascal
Rascal

Rascal is the youngest and newest addition to our family.  He is incredibly sweet! He is a “rescue” cat from the Suffolk Humane Society.

So we have four cats, and as I am sure you can imagine 4 cats makes for LOTS of poop and pee in the litter box.  We actually have two litter boxes.  They need to be cleaned at least twice a week, and they STINK!! Unfortunately the only place the litter boxes fit is in our master bathroom.  Sometimes the smell is awful, even when they have just been cleaned. I have to edit this post because I received semi angry emails from people wanting to know why I only had two litter boxes and only cleaning twice a week for 4 cats.  I really appreciate their comments because I realized y’all don’t live with me so you don’t know that one of the litter boxes is the size of a baby tub and the other is twice the size of a “normal” litter box.  I am going to add pictures so you understand that my two litter boxes have the volume of four “regular” litter boxes.

This one is teh size of a baby tub and was emptied approximately 24 hours ago.

This one is the size of a baby tub and was emptied approximately 24 hours ago.

 

This one is a "double" and was also emptied 24 hours ago.

This one is a “double” and was also emptied 24 hours ago.

I hope those pictures ease peoples concerns about kitty happiness.

So, you may be thinking, “this is a horrible story.  I am  sure it is awful to have to sleep in a room right next to stinky cat litter boxes.”  Well, you are right, it is, but this is where the story gets good!

One day last month I open my email and in it there is a request from a nice young lady named Aleisha who says she has been reading my blog and knows I have pets.  She would like to offer me a free product called CritterZone Air Naturalizer , and would I be willing to try it and write a review about it?  So I email her back, and say “sure, that sounds great.”  I did some research on the product, which had great reviews, but of course, being me, I was VERY skeptical.

After all, I have 5 animals; 4 cats and a dog.  In the past I have used “pet smell remover” products, Febreze, air freshener spray,  candles, you name it I have tried it.  Nothing has worked.  I was sure this would not work either.  But, it was free, and I was willing to give it a try.

The CritterZone Air Naturalizer arrived, I had asked for a wall unit, and I was surprised at how small it was.

Wall unit CritterZone
Wall unit CritterZone
side view
side view

So, I followed the directions and plugged it in to the wall socket in the bathroom and went about my business.

plugged in
plugged in

A few hours later I walked upstairs to get something.  I smelled something as I was walking up the stairs, and was like, “Hmm, what is that smell?”  I walked around, sniffing and following the odor.  I ended up in my bathroom, and realized that the “smell” was FRESH AIR!!

The CritterZone Air Naturalizer was making the air smell fresh!  Now I can’t comment to exactly how many square feet the fresh air travels.  I can tell you that I have a 2500 square foot house and the fresh air was in the master bath, the master bedroom, the upstairs landing, and went down the first flight of stairs.  The “Smell” is like that smell you smell after a rain.  Fresh, and clean.  I was amazed!

The unit also emits a faint buzzing noise, but it is hardly noticeable, and I have sharp hearing, so I can say with confidence this sound is not unpleasant and is very faint.

So, how does this little filter-less machine do such a great job?  How does it work? From the CritterZone website:  The CritterZone isn’t an ozone generator OR an ionizer. The CritterZone Air Naturalizer makes energized versions of the natural elements already found in the air. It puts them to work, causing a series of reactions, just like the ones that happen naturally outdoors. These energized elements are given the power to clean up the air and help get rid of odors, allergens, mold and bacteria.  After the initial clean-up, the Air Naturalizer maintains the energized elements throughout the 800-square-foot space. This means the air is ready to deal with new challenges immediately. That helps maintain a clean, fresh environment in your living space.

I will again say that I cannot comment to the actual square footage it covers. however, I have fresh air in my master bath, master bedroom, upstairs landing and stairway.  I am also definitely going to buy one more (maybe two) to plug in downstairs!!  So my conclusion is that this product is AWESOME, and I highly recommend it.  Anything that can freshen the smell of 4 cats using two litter boxes is a WINNER with me.  No more ammonia smell!!

Pros:

  • Small, and EXTREMELY easy to use.
  • Does an excellent job freshening the air
  • Portable.  I can take it with me wherever I go, especially when I travel
  • NO filters to change or purchase
  • Only ONE cost, no “hidden” expenses to maintain the unit
  • Super quiet

Cons:

  • Expensive, (However, that being said it is WELL worth the cost)
  • That is the only one I can think of, and to be honest it is worth its weight in gold, so technically it isn’t really a Con, I just didn’t want to be one sided.  🙂

NOW FOR THE BEST NEWS!!

CritterZone USA  is offering a coupon to ANYONE who purchases a unit after reading this post and review.  They are offering a $10.00 coupon so you can buy a unit of your own!

Just go to their website at http://www.critterzoneusa.com/pages/home.  Choose the unit you want and put it into your shopping cart.  In the “Promo Code” box type the word COFFEE for your discount!

Bailey
Bailey

I had to add a picture of our sweet boy Bailey.  He was rescued from an abusive home. (thanks T)

Full disclosure:  I received this unit for free, and I will receive $15.00 for every unit sold with the COFFEE code in the promo code box.  I will be donating any money received to one of the animal shelters where we rescued our animals from, and will post a photo of the check so you all can hold me accountable. 🙂
as created a $10 code for their website so you can buy one!Just go to http://www.critterzoneusa.com/shop/Choose your device and put it in your shopping cart. And when you go to check out, add the following code: LIFEWITHBEAGLE  into  the box  labeled “Apply Promo Code.”Now you have $10 off the CritterZone unit, which is normally $89.95 on the website.
– See more at: http://www.lifewithbeagle.com/2013/03/product-review-critterzone-air-purifier.html#sthash.xt9Fhram.dpuf
as created a $10 code for their website so you can buy one!Just go to http://www.critterzoneusa.com/shop/Choose your device and put it in your shopping cart. And when you go to check out, add the following code: LIFEWITHBEAGLE  into  the box  labeled “Apply Promo Code.”Now you have $10 off the CritterZone unit, which is normally $89.95 on the website.
– See more at: http://www.lifewithbeagle.com/2013/03/product-review-critterzone-air-purifier.html#sthash.xt9Fhram.dpuf

Real food Homemade Blackberry Honey Jam!

If you read this blog with any regularity you know about my struggle with my weight, and  how recently (the end of April) I started my family on a mission to change our eating habits from a regular diet to eating real, organic foods.

In August we made some really yummy strawberry honey jam.  A few days later we decided to be even more adventurous and made some Blackberry honey jam!  It is so good.  I did leave the seeds in the jam.  Some people like to remove the seeds, but I am okay with leaving them in.

Now in order to can, you will need certain tools. The “must have” tools are:

  • Jars (of course) – I prefer the jars without shoulders. I buy them at the local grocery store.  For jelly I use the small jelly jars, and for tomatoes I use pint sized jars, or wide mouth pint size jars.  canningjarsbox
  • Ball Utensil set.  This set has a funnel, jar lifter, lid lifter, and bubble remover tool. I don’t really use the bubble remover tool, but everything else is essential. This set can be easily purchased online for about $10.00, if you can’t find it locally.ballutensilset
  • A Large pot.  I actually purchased a canning pot online because was able to purchase the pot with a rack and all the above pictured tools for about $40.00.  I didn’t want to mess with a pressure canner, and this does the job quite well.
  • canner
  • A ladle or big spoon to spoon your ingredients into the jars.
  • An analog or digital scale.  Many ingredients need to be measured.  Mine is not an expensive one.  I bought it from my lovely Pampered Chef consultant for about $30.00
  • A potato masher.  You will want your fruits to be mashed so your jam is “jammy” and not just cooked fruit. (I received a kitchen “power tool” for Christmas last year and used that to smash my fruit, but a good old potato masher is perfectly good as well)

Blackberry-Honey Jam recipe

  • 3 pounds of organic blackberries
  • 1 cup raw honey
  • 1 apple, grated
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

Rinse the blackberries.  Place them in a large pot on the stove over medium high heat.  (I used my caldero, but any nice large pot will do).  Add the honey to the pot.  Grate the apple (including the skin) down to the core and add to the berry honey mixture.  Add the lemon juice.  Stir it together and heat to boiling.

Once it is boiling, turn the heat down a bit so it is a light boil, and cook for 30 to 60 minutes.  The time variation really depends on how thick you want your jam.  The longer you boil, the thicker it will become.  However, this recipe will not be as thick as store bought jams, or jams with pectin.  Scrape down the sides of the pot as the fruit cooks.  It will burst while cooking, so don’t worry if that happens.

Mash the berries with a potato masher.  Some foam will form on top of the berries as they are cooking.  Some people skim it off and discard it.  I just stirred it in, and didn’t worry about it.  The taste of the jam is the same either way.

Meanwhile fill the canning pot ¾ full with water, cover, and bring to a boil over high heat. Be sure to wash all jar pieces in hot soapy water first.

Once the water is boiling turn off the heat. Test the temperature with your thermometer and when it reaches 180 degrees F put the jars, bands and lids into the pot. Leave everything in the hot water until ready for use, removing one at a time as needed.

When the jam is done cooking do a taste test to make sure the thickness and flavor is to your liking.

Remove the first jar from the hot water using your jar lifter tool and shake out excess water. Don’t touch inside of the jar in order to keep it sterilized. Insert clean canning funnel and ladle the jam into the jar leaving ¼ inch headspace at the top (this is where the headspace tool can come in handy – leaving more space at the top might not give as good of a seal). If there are any air bubbles you can slide a clean knife along the inside of the jar to remove them. Using a clean rag wipe excess off the outside of the jar and rim.

Using a magnetic lid lifter pull the first lid out of the hot water and set on top of the jar without touching the bottom of it. Then while only touching the outside of the band screw it onto the jar just firmly enough so it doesn’t feel wobbly on the grooves. Repeat until all jars are filled.

Process the Jars: Bring large pot of water back to a boil. Using your jar lifter (or canning rack) carefully lower as many jars that will fit without overcrowding into the boiling water so they are covered by at least 1 – 2 inches of water. I use a rack inside the canner, so the jars do not directly touch the bottom of the pot (so hot water can flow beneath them). From the moment the water is boiling and the entire first batch of jars are submerged set the timer and process them for 10 minutes.

When 10 minutes is over use the jar lifter to carefully remove the jars from the water. Put them on the counter and don’t move them right away. You will hear your jar lids “popping” which means they have been sealed properly. If jars aren’t sealed within 12 hours then move them to the fridge and eat within 3 – 4 weeks.

Remove bands from sealed jars and with a clean, wet cloth wipe off any jam that has congealed on the outside rim of the jar. This prevents mold from forming on the band. The band can be reapplied, but don’t screw them on too tightly.

Label jars and store in a cool, dry, dark place for up to 1 year.

Tools for jam making

Tools for jam making

washed blackberries

washed blackberries

honey

 

appleforjam

organic gala apple for jam

in the pot ready to go.

in the pot ready to go.

berries and honey

berries and honey

berries, honey, apple and lemon juice.  Let's get cooking!

berries, honey, apple and lemon juice. Let’s get cooking!

bberiscooking

 

almost ready

almost ready

 

 

 

The power tool I received for Christmas last year.  I used to mash the berries, leaving some yummy chunks!

The power tool I received for Christmas last year. I used to mash the berries, leaving some yummy chunks!

after blending (mashing)

after blending (mashing)

 

lids and jars in canner

lids and jars in canner

funnelinjar

 

bberryjaminjars

 

lidsoutofcanner

 

wipe the jars before putting on lids

wipe the jars before putting on lids

 

lidonbberry

 

processing

processing

 

all processed (and some already eaten0

all processed (and some already eaten)

my breakfast today!  YUM!

my breakfast today! YUM!

bberyjaontoast

mmmmm

mmmmm

so good!

so good!

There are so many great things about this jam.  It is made from organic ingredients, it has no refined sugar or artificial sweeteners, it is only about 25 calories per tablespoon compared to 56 for commercial jam, and it is so good!

When I told people I was making homemade jam they were like, “You must have lots of free time!”.  To be honest this was so much easier than I expected and SO yummy!! I am already planning blueberry, raspberry, and any other combination I can think of!  Homemade jam all winter long!! YUM!