Five Things Every Girl Needs in Her Toolbox

pink toolbox

Say what?  Five things every girl needs in her toolbox?  No ladies, I’m not here to talk about manicure or makeup kits, though I love those kind of toolboxes too.  We’re talking about the real deal here.  Every girl needs her own REAL toolbox.

As much as a love playing the role of domesticated diva, I’ve got to say, it’s quite satisfying being a girl that can accomplish almost anything around the house.  Okay, anything that doesn’t require extreme power tools or heavy machinery (though I can’t say the thought hasn’t crossed my mind…..).  In all seriousness, having the ability to accomplish little handy- manwoman projects on my own is quite rewarding and saves me the time I’d usually spend nagging and making honey-do lists.  Go ahead, make those women’s rights activists proud.  Be independent!

Okay, I’ll get to the point now.  Here are five tools (plus one bonus!) that are necessary for all the girls who are ready to ditch their husband for the day and tackle projects alone!  One side note:  I’m not claiming to have any extensive knowledge on tools…I just know which ones I use regularly.  Do yourselves a favor and talk to someone who knows much more than I do, before you purchase anything.

  1. Hammer
    No one needs their husband to hang pictures or artwork for them.  This is definitely a “girl friendly” task.  If you’re going to tackle this task, a hammer is (obviously!) a must.  This Old House suggests purchasing a 16 ounce claw hammer with a smooth head type and a rubber grip.
  2. Screw Drivers (both Phillips and standard)
    I’m not sure that many jobs can be done without using a screw driver.  Installing light fixtures (yes, I’m proud to say that I’ve done this!), removing switch plates or outlet covers, or tightening an assortment of objects around the house all require screwdrivers.  Both a Phillips and standard screwdriver are essential parts of any tool kit.
  3. Small Measuring Tape
    The key word here is small, as in small enough to carry in your purse.  You laugh, but I’m serious.  My mom has done this forever, and I never realized how brilliant of an idea it was until I lived in my own house!  Whether you’re measuring for a new piece of furniture or you’re estimating square footage for a project, a measuring tape is ALWAYS necessary.  By keeping a small one in your purse while you shop, you’re able to measure things on the spot to make sure no one else snags that special item out from under you!
  4. Basic Hardware Set
    Basic hardware sets can be purchased inexpensively at any hardware store or even dollar store.  These sets contain an assortment of screws, nails, and sometimes even a few push-pins.  Keeping a variety of hardware items in your tool kit comes in very handy when hanging pictures, wreaths, or any other kind of decor.
  5. Level
    Make it look like a pro did it!  Keep a level on hand for hanging things evenly and creating straight lines.  For basic tasks such as hanging pictures, a basic small level will work fine.  However, I prefer to use a laser level because it works well for many different jobs, such as painting straight lines and hanging large curtain rods.
  6. BONUS ITEM: Quality Paintbrush
    One of the most important items…one that I definitely couldn’t leave off of the list…is a decent paintbrush.  Why?  Because no girl needs a guy to paint for her.  Painting everything from walls to furniture to old junky frames is a simple way to give your home a mini-facelift, and it is definitely a task that girls should take head on!  A medium-sized, angled paintbrush will work for cutting-in while painting walls, painting trim, and doing many DIY paint projects like the kind you see on Pinterest.  Don’t be afraid to invest in a quality brush.  If cared for properly, a good paint brush will last a long time!

Ladies, you can do this, I promise!  Just pull up those big girl pants and get handy! 😉

Ps, you seriously can go completely diva and buy a sweet pink toolbox like the one in the picture.  Check them out here!

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Real Food Resources

real food

Since many of you follow me on Facebook, I’m sure you’ve already heard that we are starting a new food challenge.  This challenge, called 10 Days of Real Food, is our start at completely eliminating processed food from our dietthis includes all white flour, sugars and artificial sweeteners, and most oilsand introducing locally grown and/or organic foods instead.  This diet makeover was inspired by one of my favorite bloggers, Lisa, at www.100daysofrealfood.com.

Our diet already looked close to this, though we broke some of the rules quite often.  Usually, our biggest culprits were diet soda, sugar/splenda, bakery items, and restaurant food.  The new set of “rules” is giving us a little nudge to, hopefully, go completely “real”.

Many of you have asked me about the foods and recipes we are choosing to use and where we are purchasing all of it.  I’ve come up with a quick list of stores we’ve purchased from and broken our first real food grocery list into groups according to where we bought each item.  I’m also keeping a log of all of the foods we eat each day, and I plan to share our favorite recipes at the end of our ten days.  Hope this helps!

Community Helpings Co-Op
Community Helpings is the St. Louis Metro based food co-op that we are using to purchase most of our produce.  The produce baskets we are purchasing are an assorted variety of fruits and veggies that can be ordered every two weeks.  Each basket costs around $20.  When possible, the co-op supports local farmers, and when local products aren’t available, they purchase items from the same reputable companies that local restaurants use.  I also noticed that (at least this week) none of the products were imported.

This weeks produce basket contained:
Kale, sweet potatoes, small red potatoes, green beans, broccoli, roma tomatoes, green bell peppers, spaghetti squash, bananas, bosc pears, apples, star fruit, pineapple, and strawberries.


Aldi
Believe it or not, Aldi is now introducing some organic products.  After doing a little research online, I found out that during the end of 2012, they introduced some organic products into their stores as a trial.  The trial was successful, and Aldi plans to introduce more organic products, little-by-little, over the course of 2013.

Groceries from Aldi:
Organic extra virgin olive oil, organic string cheese, organic twisted fruit rope snacks, 100% pure maple syrup, organic diced tomatoes


Fresh Pasture Farms

Fresh Pasture Farms is a small, family-owned farm outside of Millstadt, Illinois.  All of their animals are pastured-raised, which (in my opinion) is better than free-range, and are also raised hormone-free.  On a weekly basis, they have eggs, honey, and flours ready to sell, and from spring to fall, they have fresh chicken, turkey, and pork available.  Many similar farms are located around the country.  Check out the Eat Wild website to find a fresh farm in your area.

What we purchased here:
Multi-sized eggs, a pint of honey


Whole Foods Market
Whole Foods is a chain market located in many large cities.  Though I love Whole Foods, I tried to purchase as few items here as possible because it can get very pricey!  We only picked up four items from here, and the bill was almost $30.  However, the store carries many great products and has a fabulous bakery and fresh meat department.

Groceries we purchased here:
Free-range, hormone free frozen chicken breasts (because locally raised chicken was not available), a block of organic and part-skim mozzarella cheese, organic plain yogurt, organic cottage cheese


Farmer’s Market
We have a farmer’s market located very close to our house, so I stopped in quickly to pick up a few items that we needed that were not in our produce basket.

Produce purchased here:
A head of romaine, celery


Windcrest Dairy

We actually have not had the opportunity to visit Windcrest Dairy yet, but we plan to visit soon to purchase a few products.  Windcrest Dairy is located in Trenton, Illinois and is family-run business that sells yogurts, cheeses, milk, and several different meats.  All of their animals are hormone-free, and some of their products can actually be purchased in grocery stores around the area.

 

You may have noticed that a few staple items were not on my list.  We either already had the non-listed items or purchased them at the regular grocery store.  We still are planning to purchase Prairie Farms milk because it is locally owned and hormone-free, and I will be making all of our bread.  And one last thing to mention, we made it through our first day with ease.  Our dinner (which included dessert too!) was actually some of the yummiest food that we’ve eaten lately!

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Five Things Every Girl Needs to Entertain

Welcome to part-two of my “Five Things Every Girl Needs” blog series!

Today, I’m covering the triple-whammy of everything house-y: Entertaining.  Yes, I just said triple-whammyI’m lame, I know!  I say this though, because the role of hostess is fun for three totally different reasons.  Not only does hosting give you a chance to whip up some yumminess in the kitchen (because, let’s face it…everyone’s favorite part of any event is the food, right?!), but it also gives you an excuse to be both creative and social.  When these three parts are put together, you’ll host a really great party, and everyone will leave thinking that you’re really awesome.  Um, what’s not to love about that?

So if you’re going to impress people, like I’ve said before, you need the right things to get the job done well.  To help start you off down that path, I’ve come up with a list of five things that I think every hostess needs.  This list could really go on and on and on, but these five items are a good place to start!

So here we go…

  1. Wine Bottle Opener
    Okay, I take back what I said a second ago.  Drinks may rival food, as everyone’s favorite part of the party.  One of the most important tools every hostess MUST have is a GOOD wine bottle opener.  A good wine bottle opener does not mean the $2.00 one that’s hanging on the little display in the liquor aisle, though I’m sure you could throughly amuse your guests by allowing them to watch you try to uncork a bottle with one of those.  Instead, invest in an opener with a single-motion lever that is EASY to use.
    wine bottle opener
  2. Mix and Match Serving Pieces
    Mix and match serving pieces give you endless options when it comes to serving and displaying food.  My favorite serving pieces are my mix and match, white ceramic set.  Mix and match sets like these are extremely versatile and can be grouped, stacked, and combined in hundreds of different ways, allowing you to create a different display each time you use them.  Additionally, the neutral color makes them usable with many different accent colors and allows you to constantly add new pieces to the collection.
    white serving pieces
  3. REAL Glassware
    So unless you’re having a picnic, stay far away from plastic!  Using glassware is a simple way to add a classier touch to your party, not to mention an easy way to be environmentally friendly.  Many different types of glassware can be purchased inexpensively at stores like TJ Maxx or Old Time Pottery.  Start by investing in the basic glasses for different drinks and cocktails, but don’t spend an arm and a leg because, eventually, glass is sure to get broken.  Here is a list of the essential glasses.
    glassware
  4. Attractive Ice Bucket
    Don’t make your guests dig through your freezer, and even more importantly, don’t leave a cooler sitting in the middle of the floor…again, unless you’re throwing a picnic!  Instead, find a classic style ice bucket that matches everything and won’t go out of style.
    ice-bucket
  5. Drink Dispenser
    I never realized how handy it is to own a drink dispenser until I actually had one.  First of all, it just makes your serving area look nicer than the clutter of random bottles or pitchers.  And second, you will use it all of the time.  A basic drink dispenser can by used for everything from water, to iced tea, to sangriayes, I saved the best for last.  I use mine for big events or even when we are just hosting a few people.  One bit of advice though:  Make sure you find a dispenser that sits on a stand or has a pedestal, so glasses can easily fit under the nozzle.
    drink dispenser.tif 

    So, did anyone else notice that the majority of my list is drink-related?  I’m a girl that just knows what I like, I suppose! Ha!  Let me know if you have any other items that come in handy while entertaining!

Craigslist, The Place for Fabulous and Thrifty Decor

Let me tell you a little secret:  Craigslist is your friend.  I’m not telling you this because I think you’ll find their lengthly help wanted section useful or that you’ll enjoy the excessively creepy missed encounters section—but hey, no big deal if that’s your thing! Craigslist is your friend because it’s a hidden gem for fabulous and thrifty home decor finds.

Home decor can get so pricey, but it doesn’t have to!  Some of my favorite decor pieces are the inexpensive ones.  Surprisingly, Craigslist is filled with great finds that are attractive to both the eye and the wallet.

Now don’t get me wrong, Craigslist-decorators have to be open minded.  Just remember…there’s nothing that a coat of paint can’t fix!  As you’re scrolling those pages, keep the end vision in mind!  You’ve heard the saying…one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.  That poor dude just wasn’t smart enough to realize how awesome his trash was!

Here are a few things to keep in mind while searching for home decor on Craigslist:

  1. Keep an open and creative mind.  Remember that paint I mentioned above?  Some of the ugliest stuff can look awesome with a quick coat of paint, new upholstery, some funky knobs, or just when placed in the right room.
  2. Look often.  New things are added to Craigslist on a regular basis.  When you’re on the hunt, try to check the website daily.
  3. Don’t be afraid to bargain.  Do you want that dresser for $50 less than the seller is asking?  Go for it!  You’ll get the best deals when you’re comfortable with bargaining for the price you want!
  4. Get inspiration from stores you love.  Everyone has that store...the one they wish they could completely deck their house out with.  Unfortunately, many of those stores can be pretty expensive!  Get your inspiration from the places you love, and keep those ideas in mind while you search.
  5. Always keep your eyes open.  Don’t only shop when you’re in the market for a specific item.  Some of the most unique pieces and best bargains can be found when you least expect it.  Make sure to check the website even if you’re not really looking for anything.  You never know what you might find!

So now you’re asking yourself, “This sounds great, but I wonder if I really can find anything good?”  Yes, you can, and I’ve included some pictures to prove it.  In the pictures below, the photographs listed first are the inspiration piece, while the second picture is the Craigslist treasure that I found while searching over the past few days!

Mid-Century Modern Style Office Desk
Mid-Century Modern decor seems to be in every popular home store these days.  This desk is an awesome find that definitely fits the trend.  A coat of paint would make the Craigslist vintage desk look exactly like the one in the inspiration picture.  The seller was asking only $50 for this piece!

id556     cl desk 2 

Ballard-Inspired Entertainment Center
The entertainment center featured in this inspiration picture is from Ballard Design.  Many of these entertainment centers can cost anywhere from $900-$2000.  The Craigslist find has the same English-inspired, traditional design and the same useful storage.  This is a great find, costing only $250 or best offer.

media stand 2    cl media stand 2

Plastic Cafe Chairs
Plastic cafe chairs are extremely popular right now.  Everywhere, from Crate and Barrel to Target, is selling this style of chair, though I’m sure the first place many of you recognize them is from your high school cafeteria!  With a quick coat of fun-colored spray paint, these Craigslist cafe chairs would rival the CB2 inspiration chair pictured below.  The inspiration chair sells for $90!  This Craigslist find is selling six chairs for only $20.

echo-orange-chair 2    cl stack chairs

Brass Headboard and Footboard
Believe it or not, brass is quickly  making its way back into the home decor scene.  Beautiful brass beds add a unique, vintage look to any bedroom, while still being traditional enough to be combined with many different patterns and styles.  This Craigslist find boasts a real brass, queen sized bed for only $150.

brass bed 2    cl brass bed 2

Distressed Farmhouse Table
Farmhouse tables are the perfect gathering place for friends and family.  This Craigslist find has many of the same characteristics as the Pottery Barn inspiration picture, but it is actually a unique piece, hand painted by the seller.  While the inspiration table sells for over $1500, this Craigslist find is only $700.

farm table 2    cl farm table 2

Great style doesn’t have to be expensive!  With hidden gems like Craigslist, your home can look magazine-esque for a fraction of the cost!  Keep your mind open, and shop on!

Make sure to share any great finds you stumble upon while hunting on Craigslist, by leaving a quick comment.  Oh, and while you’re on there, check out the missed encounters section for a quick chuckle! 🙂

Five Things Every Girl Needs in Her Kitchen

Cooking.  Some love it, and some hate it.  I, personally, enjoy every second of it.  Okay, I enjoy every second until I have to clean the kitchen up again.  But I’d say it’s safe to assume that everyone hates that part, right?

I think one of the key parts to enjoying your time in the kitchen is making sure you have the right tools to get the job done well. Think of it this way:  A carpenter building your new house isn’t going to use some janky, five dollar hammer from K-mart.  Why?  Because it’s obviously not the efficient way, or preferable way, to get stuff done.

All of that being said, I have to add that I believe it’s completely unnecessary for your kitchen to look like the display shelves of a retail store.  No one needs thirty-seven of this year’s hottest small kitchen appliances awaiting use on your counter.  I’ve seen too many people with kitchens like this, though, and the clutter makes me twitch.  Who actually uses ALL of those appliances on a regular basis, and when they actually do, how do they even create counter space to cook?  Sorry, just my two-cents.

So, if I’m “forbidding” dollar store tools and hating on kitchens with an over-abundance of stuff, then what do I think you actually need?  A good cook and a good kitchen need a just a few well-made, useful tools that will actually be used on a regular basis.  Think quality, not quantity.

Here is my list of the five best things that I think every girl (or guy) needs in the kitchen.

Manual Food Processor

I fell in love with the Pampered Chef Manual Food Processor at a party I attended a few years ago.  I have blogged about how handy this little tool is in previous posts.  This gadget can be used for so many different things in the kitchen (Think everything from chopping nuts, to making fresh salsas, to pureeing vegetables and fruits, and even more stuff, I swear!) and cleans up with a quick rinse in the sink and a toss in the dishwasher.  Yes, I said DISHWASHER!  The Manual Food Processor is also small, which means it can easily be stored in a cabinet without taking up too much space.  The best part?  It cost less than $50.00.  The average food processor can cost anywhere from $60.00-$250.00.

MFP

Mix ‘n Scraper

This utensil was once known as the Spoonula (half spoon, half spatula), but has since been rebranded as the Mix ‘n Scraper.  The name doesn’t have quite the same ring as it used to, but the utensil still does the same fabulous job that it always has.  I use this tool for everything!  It is sturdy enough to mix batters when baking and heat resistant enough to use in the skillet while cooking.  Additionally, the Mix ‘n Scraper is silicone, which means it won’t stain, and it won’t scratch your cookware.  If you’ve never used high-quality silicone utensils, I promise you it will change your life!

MnS 2

Skid Proof Nested Mixing Bowls

Owning an assortment of mixing bowl comes in very handy when you need the perfect size bowl to use for certain recipes.  It’s even better when the set nests together so that your cabinets can stay organized and easy to navigate.  Cooking is more enjoyable when all of your tools are within a quick reach, so you’re not stuck tossing bowls out of the cabinets to find the one you wanted to use.  Nesting bowls give you the variety you need, while offering organization to make your life easier.  In addition to the organization benefits, these bowls also have a skid proof bottom to prevent any spills.  Have I said I hate cleaning up?

nesting bowls

High-Quality Measuring Spoons and Cups

We’ve all been there…digging through drawers to find the certain size of measuring utensil you need, then finding one and taking a wild guess as to what size it actually is because the imprinted measurement has worn off of the handle.  You don’t want to be that person!  Investing in high-quality measuring spoons and cups will guarantee you won’t be.  So what exactly is the criteria for “high-quality” measuring utensils?  First off, make sure that the measurements are engraved on the handle, not printed.  Second, make sure the cups and spoons are weighted.  Lastly, make sure the utensils are made from a material that will last—this probably won’t be plastic.  I’ve had these Crate and Barrel measuring utensils for a few years, and they look just a good as the day I bought them.

spoons 2

cups 2

Round Baking Stone

Ahhhh…. stoneware.  Stoneware probably is one of the best kitchen innovations ever.  So what’s the big deal about stoneware?  Stone baking dishes are made from natural clay, which distributes heat evenly while cooking.  This means no hot spots are formed while baking, sparing you the pain of burnt, ruined food!  Stoneware is “self-seasoning” (similar to cast iron skillets), which means the more you cook with them, the darker the stone will turn.  As the stone darkens, it creates a natural, non-stick surface, which allows you to bake with no extra oils.  Though I have my fair share of stoneware items, I think the round stone comes in most handy.  I use it for everything from pizza to cookies!  Another helpful hint:  Your stone doesn’t have to be expensive!  I love Pampered Chef products and own many of of their stoneware pieces, but my less expensive round baking stone works just as well as the Pampered Chef stuff.

stone 2

So like I said before, it’s definitely quality over quantity.  Whether you choose items from this list or pick favorites of your own, it’s important to find tools that can be used for multiple purposes.  When you use your tools often, you get your money’s worth and make it worth those extra few dollars you spent.  I’m sure many of you have your own top five list.  Leave a comment to share some of your favorite kitchen tools and gadgets!

Confessions of an Obsessive Planner: My Meal Planning Tools

Call me obsessive.  Call me organized.  Call me whatever you’d like.  I call it keeping my sanity!

Meal planning is one of my favorite ways to stay organized throughout the week.  Organizing meals not only helps me build my grocery list, but allows me to use what’s in the pantry and fridge first, so that we aren’t wasting food.  It also motivates me to cook more well-balanced (and yummy!) meals throughout the week.  I’m not going to lie, I LOVE pizza.  I don’t need any extra excuses for carry-out, and meal planning definitely helps hold me accountable.

For our house, I meal plan and grocery shop once a week.  Lately, I’ve even been planning it down to the snacks that we are eating throughout the day.  Although I don’t have specific numbers, I can say that I have noticed that we have been saving money this way.  Planning snacks also works out well because Hubs is on a special eating plan that emphasizes the balance between proteins, complex carbs, and fibrous veggies, so his snack choices matter more than ever.  This helps him stay on track and helps me as I prepare them each day.

I started meal planning the good ‘ol fashioned way—pen and paper!  Recently though, I’ve found some helpful tools that have shaped the way that I’ve been doing my meal planning.  The first (and most low-tech) is this cute little meal planning notepad.  This notepad is so convenient because I can toss it  in my purse and work on it whenever I have time.  I get the proverbial ants-in-the-pants pretty easily, so it’s nice to have something useful to keep me busy.  After I’ve planned our meals for the week, I hang the page on the refrigerator so that Hubs doesn’t ask me “What’s for dinner?” over and over and over and over……Wives, you understand where I’m coming from, right?!  The notepad pictured below is from the Target dollar bin, but you can find some other inexpensive and cute ones here or even here.

notepad

Another favorite meal planning tool that I have found is a free iPhone app called Meal Maker.

photo (1)

This app allows you to create meals (including their ingredients) and save them as recipes.  As you enter meals for each day, they can be saved and added to another day with a simple click.  Meal Maker also allows you to easily and quickly build grocery lists within the app, which later can be emailed (Pssst, wives….GREAT way to get your husbands to do the grocery shopping!).  As if all of these features aren’t cool enough, the best part of Meal Maker is the lack of creativity it allows me to have on days that meal planning isn’t going so well.  Once meals are saved as recipes, you can easily look through the list of breakfasts, lunches, and dinners that you’ve compiled over the weeks and create your plan with a couple taps on the screen. Who said it had to be hard?

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Guilt-Free Curry Chicken Salad

Everyone has their own list of comfort foods, and chicken salad definitely makes my list.  My grandma would literally make Tupperware containers full of chicken salad to bring on family vacations.  Her chicken salad was such a big deal that Hubs still dreams about his first experience with my grandma’s signature dish on his first family vacation with us.  Whether on bread, lettuce, crackers, or just by the spoonful, chicken salad is a yummy favorite in our family.

Unfortunately, as much as we enjoy this comfort food, our rear-ends don’t.  I love mayonnaise-based salads, but really try to substitute other ingredients in place of the mayonnaise as much as possible.  This curry chicken salad recipe is one of our go-to lunches and is completely guilt-free because it contains Greek yogurt in place of the mayo.  On top of it being guilt-free, this recipe is full of flavor and contains celery, almonds, and grapes for the perfect crunch.  Grapes were an item from our Healthy Food Resolution this week, and chicken salad was an easy way to include this beneficial fruit in our menu!

THIS WEEK’S FOOD ITEM: Grapes

HEALTH BENEFITS:  Rich in polyphenols which protects the heart, improves circulation, and helps lower cholesterol, Contains resveratrol which is an antioxidant that has been linked to cancer prevention and inhibition, Antiviral and antifungal properties, Good source of vitamin C. (All information from 100 Best Health Foods)

RECIPE: Guilt-Free Curry Chicken Salad

photo (3)

INGREDIENTS:
2 cups shredded chicken
1 cup grapes, halved
3/4 cup chopped celery
1/4 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup slivered almonds

Dressing:
3/4 cup fat free, plain Greek yogurt
3 tbs dijon mustard
3 tbs honey
1/2 tsp curry powder

DIRECTIONS:
Combine chicken, grapes, celery, onion, and almonds together in a bowl.  Whisk together yogurt, mustard, honey, and curry powder.  When dressing is completely blended, pour over the chicken mixture and toss together.  Serve on whole wheat bread, crackers, or over a bed of dark lettuce.

The nutritional facts of the recipe are on the chart below.

Nutrition Facts
Serving Size 138 g
Amount Per Serving
Calories

175
Calories from Fat

37
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 

4.2g                                              6%
Trans Fat

0.0g
Cholesterol

45mg                                           15%
Sodium 

316mg                                         13%
Total Carbohydrates 

15.3g                                            5%
Dietary Fiber

1.3g                                              5%
Sugars 

13.4g
Protein 

20.1g
Vitamin A 5% Vitamin C 3%
Calcium 10% Iron 6%
Nutrition Grade B+
* Based on a 2000 calorie diet