Killer Pantry Redo

First let me say, there are so many perks of downsizing.  We went from a 6 bed, 3.5 bath home to a 3 bed 2.5 bath “cottage” and are loving it!  If you are wondering if this should be your next move, I strongly encourage you to take the plunge.

Because our family home was older, there were many inconveniences I had learned to accept.  Our new place was built within the last 5 years, and I’m enjoying the intuitive layout for today’s living.  One of my favorite parts is our walk-in pantry.  I’d always dreamed of a place to keep all my baking bits and pieces, but for so long had to be content with a small closet-pantry and keeping the overflow in our garage.

Here’s a tour of my new, organized pantry and the steps I took to create my own little grocery store.

Find Your System

It took a few days of arranging and re-arranging to figure out how I wanted things.  I had an idea in mind of using glass jars for baking goods, as I’d seen pictured in so many beautiful idea boards.  In the end, it just wasn’t practical, as I couldn’t lug these out to the kitchen each time I wanted to bake, and the rounded size didn’t make the most of my space.

I finally opted for lidded plastic containers with hand-grips, and they’ve been a great choice. I stumbled upon these smaller containers and wire shelves that fit them exactly at Dollar Tree.  These come with blue or white lids, I opted for white.  These medium and large matching containers were a bit more pricey at Walmart, but still within my budget.  I recommend you buy extra of whatever system you decide on, as items like these are often discontinued over time and you are bound to need replacements.

Transfer Your Ingredients

Once I had decided on the system, I got busy transferring my pantry staples and labeling them.  Like many gluten-free cooks, I have quite a few different kinds of flours and other miscellaneous ingredients.

Consolidating my pantry staples ended up giving me more room than I imagined. I opted to get rid of almost all original packaging and once I got started, this part was addictive!

Label Everything

This is the stage I’m currently working on, but I’ll post an update on the system choose sometime soon.  This step is easy to get stuck on but remember my favorite motto:  Done is better than perfect!

We’ve only been in our new home for 3 weeks, so I’m trying to give myself time to get my pantry project finished as I figure out where I want everything to go.

What’s your favorite pantry organizer? 

0 comments

Pro Tips for Thrifting Designer Labels

My love affair with the thrift store began when my kids were small and our budget was tight.  My mom always said I had “champagne taste on a beer budget”, which I took as a compliment!  Finding designer brands at a fraction of the retail price became a treasure hunt for me, and took on a life of its own.  Here are some of my secrets to dressing like a million bucks, while spending just a few dollars.

Know Your Brands

Chances are you’ve identified a few retail brands that fit your body type.  But you may have missed out on shopping for some of the higher end labels, thinking they’re out of your price range.  Take a field trip to a few of the stores on your “dream” list and identify your size for their brand.

Thrifting can be a bit overwhelming at first, so I suggest you keep notes on pieces you find especially flattering to help you focus. For example, blazers from Cato and White House Black Market are my favorites.  If I spot one at the thrift store in my size, I know I’ve struck gold.

Know the Thrift Store

Donations to thrift stores are populated by the demographic of the area.  I’ve learned which stores are worth my time and those I need to drive on by.

Most are organized by type and color of clothing, so limiting your search to colors that flatter you will save a lot of energy.  My daughter has forbidden me to buy any more black clothing, so I’ve been skipping that section lately.  Again, focus is key.  Ask when they restock the shelves and plan your trip at the beginning of the new cycle to snag the choice loot.

Be Extremely Choosy

Yes, you are looking for a bargain, but don’t be afraid to leave the store empty-handed.  Absolutely no stained, torn or damaged items should make it into your cart, no matter how much of a deal they are!  Check all zippers and buttons, and get out your bifocals.  We are looking for classic items here, not someone’s cast-offs.

Lastly, when you receive compliments on your new-found treasure, resist the urge to divulge all details about where you found it and how much you paid.  This is our little secret…

Have you found some really great pieces at the thrift store?  Do tell!

0 comments

ALDI + $100 = 1 Week of Meals for Two

We’ve had about two months in the empty nest, and life is beginning to take on a new rhythm.  One of the adjustments has been transitioning from hectic meals with teenagers and their friends to cooking and planning meals for just the two of us.

Initially, we found ourselves eating out or eating separately as we got the hang of our newfound freedom.  But, in an effort to stay on budget and in our same size pants, we’ve begun to eat at home again.

Recently, I took a trip to my favorite grocery store, ALDI.  Here’s what $100 bought for the two of us and how I plan to make it stretch.

Snacks

  • 2 bags chips
  • 1 bag pork rinds
  • 1 package chocolate cookies

Pantry

  • 1 loaf gluten free bread
  • 1 bag gluten free crackers
  • 2 cans pinto beans
  • 2 cans tomato paste
  • 3 can tomato sauce
  • 1 jar fruit spread
  • 1 jar almond butter
  • 1 jar pesto sauce
  • 1 box gf chicken stock

Dairy

  • 1 bottle coffee creamer
  • 1 package goat cheese

Produce

  • 1 package spring mix salad
  • 1 package (4) organic avocadoes
  • 1 (3) package fresh garlic
  • 1 bag mini potatoes
  • 1 bag clementines
  • 1 bag honeycrisp apples
  • 1 box sliced mushrooms

Frozen

  • 1 gf cheese pizza
  • Albacore tuna steaks (3)
  • Jumbo scallops

Meats

  • Deli Sliced salmon
  • 2 lbs ground beef (90/10)
  • Stew meat (1 lb)

Breakfasts

  • Salmon/Cream Cheese/Avocado
  • Sliced Apple/Almond Butter
  • GF toast with fruit spread
  • Toast/Avocado/Eggs (already had)
  • Fried potatoes/Eggs

Lunches

  • Spring mix salad with goat cheese and cherry tomatoes from my porch garden
  • GF cheese pizza with clementine
  • Almond butter/Fruit spread sandwich
  • Dinner leftovers

Dinners

  • Scallops with pesto sauce over rice or pasta (already had both)
  • Chili with beans and ground beef
  • Beef and mushrooms in the instant pot
  • Tacos with ground beef (had shells) and spring mix salad
  • Grilled tuna steaks with garlic potatoes and fruit
0 comments

What No One Tells You About Men’s Skincare

Let’s here it for the boys!  After 25 years of marriage, I’ve just recently come to appreciate the great grooming habits my husband incorporates into his daily routine.  He’s a man’s man in every sense of the word, but that doesn’t mean he’s let himself go.  When I walk into a room with other guys around our age, I notice that’s not always the norm.

Guys have traditionally been the forgotten orphans of the skincare industry, but they are starting to get some love.  Many new products target the male demographic with muskier scents and items specially designed for their needs. 

If you’re in the dark about how guys grooming is different from ours, here are some categories to consider.  I hope they’ll help you steer your guy in the right direction.  Feel free to add anything your guy likes!

Sun Protection

Skin cancer is a bigger concern for men over 40, especially if they spent their youth tanning on the roof of a frat house or working summers as a lifeguard.  Most guys, by this age, are more aware that they need sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or greater.  Make sure they hit the often forgotten places like bald spots, backs of ears, and calves.

Dry Facial Skin

Shaving, especially during dry weather, can leave skin chapped and flaking.  Classic brands like Eucerin provide fragrance and alcohol-free lotions with neutral packaging that will appeal to a no-nonsense guy and leave him smoother and more comfortable.

Encourage him to update his shaving routine with a sharp razor that contains moisture or a good electric head.

Facial Hair

Men’s facial hair can be especially course and unruly and deserves special consideration.  My son recently introduced me to a whole line of fun beard balms and mustache products, marketed just for men.  These soaps and stylers make facial hair smoother and more cooperative.  Your guy might appreciate one as a gift and get hooked.

Eyebrows are their own conversation, am I right?  Here’s a great tutorial on correct technique for plucking and grooming eyebrows, yes plural.  Let’s start by agreeing there should be two separate brows and progress from there.

Dandruff

Guys who have never had dandruff can develop a dryer scalp as they age.  If you’re bold enough to point out snowy shoulders, make sure you have a solution in hand.  Head and Shoulders is still the go-to brand, but a little research might lead you to something you prefer more.

Ladies, don’t forget to let him know his grooming efforts have not gone unnoticed.  Please resist the urge to say the words, “It’s about time”, and instead, make your comments as smooth and appealing as his close shave.

0 comments

Easy Changing Table Redo

Although I haven’t darkened the doors of a baby furniture store in quite a few years, all I have to do is look in my closet to bring back the memory of shopping for our first child’s nursery.  It was a truly magical time of dreaming how our lives would be with our darling newborn, before the realities of poo and spit up and colic bothered to cross the threshold of our dreamy little room.

My husband wisely suggested we choose a dresser with sturdy drawer slides that could double for a changing table, with the simple addition of a cushioned pad that lay on top.  I’m still getting mileage out of that dresser, far after the kids have cast it aside. 

I realized it was the perfect size for my closet a few years ago and hastily covered it with some dotted wrapping paper affixed to the front of the drawers with spray adhesive.  Of course, I had every intention of painting it long before now.  But in the throws of sports games, permit driving, and first dates; the dresser project got pushed to the bottom of the list.

When we recently staged our home for sale, I noticed the shabby dresser with fresh eyes and determined to get to it.  Instead of buying pricey chalk paint, I decided to mix my own with leftover paint from our dining room update. 

Benjamin Moore paints have long been my favorites (a topic for another post), and this color is one of my all-time favorites, Pashmina.  I made my chalk paint by mixing 1 Tablespoon plaster of paris, 1 Tablespoon of diatomaceous earth and 1 Tablespoon of warm water.  To that mixture, I added 1 cup of the latex paint and mixed very thoroughly.

This project required 2 batches, with just a little left over.  It covered nicely, even without prepping the surface.  Those of you who are chalk paint fans know that the secret is in the wax finish applied after the paint has dried thoroughly.  I used “Daddy Van’s” brand Unscented Beeswax with a heavy hand and polished away the excess with a cotton rag, in a circular motion.

I feel like my little changing table, like me, is all ready for a new chapter!  What do you think?

0 comments

10 Under $10: Date Nights

If you’re looking for ideas for Valentine’s Day, read on!

In search of the elusive date night, my husband and I have had many a fail.  Some of these tricky evenings have ended in a fight or, worse, failed to get off the ground- with one of us refusing to participate before we even left the house.

The culprits in these date night grievances?  Unrealistic expectations.  I must admit that I’ve usually been the guilty party in building the evening up to momentous proportions, leaving my husband walking on eggshells throughout the night.

Here are a few ideas we’ve settled into that fit the bill nicely- both because they are affordable, and because they leave the focus on just being together, versus creating an “experience.

I hope you’ll add your favorites to the list!

1.  Happy Hour

Share a drink or take advantage of bargain appetizers after work.

2.  Bookstore and Coffee

Meet at your favorite bookstore and browse the stacks while you sip on your favorite brew.

3.  Strip Poker

Yes, I’m going there.  This was one of our go-to favorites the first year we were married.  We’ve brought it out again now that the kids are gone.

4.  Dinner and a Movie at Home

You can do this anytime, but make it special by planning a show you’ll both like and cooking together.

5.  Couples Game Night

Invite a few friends over for a couple of board games and throw together some easy snacks.

6.  Driving Range

For the cost of a bucket of balls, you can get out frustrations and have a few laughs.

7.  Shooting Range

Same as above, but more gratifying.

8.  Shake Shop

Choose your favorite shake or smoothie place and eat dessert first!

9.  Memory Lane

Break out the movies and albums and spend an hour or two talking about what great parents you are.

10.  Bike Shopping/Bike Rental

Toy with the idea of buying a high-end bike and check out your favorites.

0 comments

How I Rediscovered My Sexy Husband

As we packed our youngest child to leave for college, the reality of our next phase began to terrify me.  Would my husband and I still have what it took to sustain a healthy marriage sans kids?

Despite our best efforts to connect emotionally, our lives had become a flurry of sporting events, trips to the mall and FAFSA forms.  We love our kids with our whole selves and parent from that kind of love, so maintaining balance has always been a challenge.

But now, a few months into the “empty nest”, I have a renewed perspective and a bigger vision for our marriage and future together.  Here’s what’s helped.

I decided to allow myself to grieve.

My husband wisely encouraged me to seek out counseling to help guide me through the transition.  It was the best gift I could have given myself.  Having an appointment to air my feelings on a regular basis kept me from looking to my spouse to fill the void the kids had left.  I was lovingly brought face to face with my fears, and they soon gave way to anticipation of a new future.

I realized he is the same guy I married, but better.

In the flurry of kid-centered activities, we had developed a slow burn of irritation surrounding our differences.  We loved each other, but the joy of each other’s company had given way to impatience and sharp words. 

Now that some time has passed and the kids are settled in their respective worlds, my husband and I have had a chance to really “see” each other again.  Literally, to look into each other’s eyes in a way we haven’t done since before children so many years ago.

Instead of ticking a mental list of his deficiencies, I have found myself amazed at his incredible character.  It was there all along, but I needed time and space to rediscover it.

Time to finish a conversation is life-altering.

Despite our attempts at the every popular “date-night”, we had gradually centered our conversations around our children’s milestones, even when we were out to dinner and a movie.  But lately, we’ve had time to talk until the words naturally find their end- a luxury we hadn’t realized we had missed.

Often we begin with a task to complete, but end up talking about something deeper, a topic one or both of us need to explore.  The end result is an intimacy neither of us expected.

Spontaneity is incredible.

Yesterday, I texted my husband to see if he wanted to meet for coffee after work.  Could that have happened when the kids were around?  Sure, but for some reason it usually didn’t.  More often than not, we found ourselves trying to fit an outing around the changing current of family life. 

Now we are free to chuck meal planning out the window and decide what’s for dinner at the spur of the moment.  We keep our schedules on a much looser reign, and it’s heaven.

I’m still attracted to him.

There’s a certain magic that results from sharing so many life experiences with another human being.   As I cleaned out the kids’ closets, mementos reminded me of all the ways this man has been there for our family. Concert ticket stubs he bought the kids as Christmas gifts, clothes shopping he’s done with my daughter, Boy Scout memorabilia.

More and more, I see him as a deeply attractive man.  Neither of us is built like we used to be, but that doesn’t seem to matter. 

Whether an empty nest looms ahead of you or is safely in the rearview mirror, what’s helped your closest relationships thrive?

2 Comments

Spring Wal-Mart Workout Haul

Ice and artic temps kept us locked up indoors again this week and my waistline is starting to show the results of a harsh winter spent sipping cocoa and eating comfort foods.  In search of some springtime motivation, I ventured over to Wal-Mart to check out their new line of spring workout essentials.  Here’s what I found:

Leggings

Avia hits it out of the park again with the fit, style and price of their workout wear.  My favorite piece is the Chevron Leggings, which are cut for comfort and support, but styled to flatter any figure- a big motivator to get moving.

Jacket

This jacket and leggings will be my go-to dog-walking outfit on the sunny days I hope are coming soon.  I’ll pair them with a sports bra or breathable shirt and my favorite walking shoes.  While I’m waiting to feel the warmth of spring, this jacket will look great with jeans or sweat pants.

Waist Pack

With 2 leashes to maneuver, the waist pack will be a great addition for walks on the trail with my two crazy dogs. No more juggling my phone, water, and doggie bags.  Squirrel!

I’ll be doing some travel this month, so I’m on the lookout for portable workout gear that doesn’t break the bank.  I hit the jackpot with the Evolve line, sponsored by Gaiam. Rodney Yee has been one of my favorite yoga instructors for years, so I trust this line and wasn’t disappointed with these two pieces.

Reformer Straps

If you’ve never used a Pilates Reformer or even heard of one, you’re in for a treat with these portable reformer straps.  Need to stretch the cold-weather tightness from your muscles and joints?  Check out this easy to follow YouTube video.  The routine is divided into 20-minute segments and is adaptable for any fitness level.

Foldable Yoga Mat

Stretching and balance are so important in order to prevent injuries, especially for those of us living in icy conditions.  I love this foldable mat both because it looks cool and because I can slip it in my suitcase for travel.  After a long flight, a few downward dogs will feel like heaven.

Here’s the list of my 5 Spring Workout Items, with links to purchase them.  My total was less that I’d pay for 4-5 gym classes, and I know I’ll be using them long into the future. 

Revitalizing my fitness resolve and looking forward to sunny days ahead are priceless!

Let me know if you plan to pick up one of these items, or if you’ve used them, what did you think?

0 comments

What’s in my ALDI Cart?

I sometimes giggle when I see the luxury cars parked outside the new ALDI in my town.  My mom was an ALDI fan way before it was chic.  In those days, canned goods were the “safe” items, and produce, dairy, and meat were to be avoided.  She was a single mom raising a family on a teacher’s salary, so ALDI was a lifeline- especially for large, family get-togethers.

ALDI has upped their game in recent years, offering exceptional quality across the board, as well as many specialty items for those of us on restrictive diets.  Now that my last little bird has flown the nest, I’m rediscovering ALDI as a great resource for preparing meals just for the two of us.

Here are some of my ALDI favorites, as well as what I bought on my most recent trip:

1.  Specialty wines and spirits

We aren’t alcohol connoisseurs, but we’ve found the wines and specialty spirits priced right and very tasty.  ALDI offers some fun options for holidays, which make great gifts or party additions.

2.  Chips and Salsa

Although my kids prefer name brand potato chips and eat them by the barrel when they’re home, my husband and I are fine with the no-name variety for a fraction of the cost.  Little Salad Bar Fresh Salsa is my absolute favorite, and can be found in the refrigerated section.

3.  Produce

ALDI really shines in this category, with unbeatable pricing and organic offerings.  Several of my friends have commented that, after shopping at ALDI, they were shocked at produce prices when they returned to their former grocery store.

My favorites are organic avocadoes, honeycrisp apples, fresh garlic and potatoes.

4.  Gourmet Cheeses

ALDI has long been my go-to in this category, especially for graduation parties and book club nights.  Snag a few packets of cheese, a couple bottles of wine, and a bag of grapes and you’ve turned a get-together into a classy event.

5.  Frozen Seafood

My idea of a decadent breakfast is lox with cream cheese.  I would put ALDI’s Cold Smoked Atlantic Salmon up against the lox I’ve tasted in luxury hotels.  Some of our other favorites are scallops, tuna steaks, and jumbo shrimp.

If you’re and ALDI shopper, what are some of your favorites?

8 Comments

Avoid These Jewelry Mistakes Over 40

Remember that baby shower game where you got points for various objects found in your purse?  Let’s play that game with jewelry.  For every piece in your jewelry box that was made by kids, says “Mom”, or symbolizes your children (such as birthstones) you get a point.

What did your audit reveal?

5 or fewer points:  Do you even love your children?  Seriously, you must have given strong suggestions that you prefer the “good stuff” for Mother’s Day.

6-10 points:  You have a respectable collection, but haven’t gone overboard.

10 or more points:  You win mother of the year in the jewelry department, but it’s probably time to update your look.

Jewelry, more than any other single style piece, has the potential either to date our look or bring us up to speed.  Here are some simple tips to help you decide which pieces should be retired and how to find some updates. For more great style tips and some links to incredible jewelry, visit here.

Avoid matched sets.  The trend is toward a curated look that seems like it has been collected over time.  Few statements will date your style more than wearing matching earrings, necklace and bracelet.

Mix metals.  Gone are the days when we had to pick either silver or gold and stick with it.  Current jewelry fashion is all about mixing silver, gold, rose gold and bronze finishes within the same piece.  I love this idea for the versatility it offers and also because it stretches my old ideas of choosing just one look.

Use caution with statement pieces.  If you can pull off wearing a large, chunky ring or necklace, go for it!  Just make sure you pair the piece with a classic, solid-colored garment and avoid more than one “wow” piece of jewelry at a time.  Few of us can channel Lady Gaga with class.

Please treasure your memory jewelry.  Even though I seldom wear it, my favorite piece is a necklace my son bought with his “Awana bucks” at a church Christmas bazaar.  Holding it takes me back to those sweet, simple years before he had facial hair and stinky socks.

What’s your favorite piece of memory jewelry?

0 comments