Too close to home

I live less than 10 miles from the deadly tornadoes that hit Indiana today. So far there have been eight confirmed deaths in Indiana, but that number could possibly increase as they search through leveled homes tonight and tomorrow.

It was a scary afternoon. We don’t have a basement, but thankfully we were able to wait out the storms in the basement at a friend’s house, and we are safe and sound tonight. We escaped the storms without any injuries or damage to our home. But we have neighbors not far away who have lost everything — some of them even their lives.

Please consider giving what you can to the Red Cross or another disaster relief organization to help those in Indiana, Alabama, and other states who faced deadly tornadoes today as they rebuild their lives. If you can’t afford to give money, consider donating items that may help families who are recovering from natural disasters, giving blood to help the injured, or giving your time to an area near you that may be in need.

My family was very lucky today. My thoughts and prayers are with other families who weren’t so lucky.

Why didn’t anyone warn me?

Our original plan was to start painting in mid-March, but that was when our furniture was scheduled for a late March delivery. Last week, I received a surprise phone call from Pottery Barn — our furniture was coming early! I really wanted the living room painted before the furniture arrived, but Tony had a stack of essays from three classes to grade, so it wasn’t a good weekend for him to devote to painting. “How hard can it be?” I said. I decided to go for it and get started, even if it meant I’d be doing a lot of it by myself. Big mistake.

We chose a pale blue for the living room and hallway, so I figured it would make sense to do both at the same time. Since I knew painting was going to be harder with a toddler running all over the place, I thought I’d take it “easy” and take a whole weekend to do each room. Most of our work was done after Judah was in bed and late into the night. Tony painted large walls with the roller while I worked on detailing and trim. During the day, Tony graded papers while watching Judah, and I taped, primed, and painted the hallway by myself.

After taping everything and applying the first coat (primer tinted to 25% the shade of the final coat), I didn’t get to bed until 3:30 on Saturday morning. I love our huge living room, but GAH. Painting it took FOR.EV.ER.

I was surprised at how well the primer covered the dark orange color on the walls. We bought a fancy “high-hiding” primer, because I was hoping to avoid a second coat of paint, which was more expensive than even the fancier primer. Despite everyone and their brother warning me that I shouldn’t even bother trying to paint with anything but Sherwin Williams paint, we went with Valspar primer and paint from Lowe’s. I was happy with its coverage, and I really don’t believe that fancypants Sherwin Williams could have done much better on the dark orange, only we would have paid a lot more.

We used this contraption at the recommendation of my parents. We loved it for the first coat. After disassembling, cleaning, and reassembling it, though, it was more hassle than help. Maybe I broke something when I took it apart, but the stupid thing was falling apart as I tried to paint with it and splattering paint EVERYWHERE. We’ll probably try an ordinary roller and tray when we paint the rest of the house.

A hard lesson learned: even if you have laminate floors, invest in drop cloths. I’m going to be scraping tiny splatters off my floors for weeks. Ugh.

Another piece of advice: don’t forget to factor in prep time and the expense for supplies. We went through almost three rolls of painter’s tape to prepare the room, and it took over 2 hours. I didn’t add up the cost of just the supplies, but after buying the roller, a nice trim brush, tape, replacement rollers, and plaster patch, it added to our total substantially.

Tony and I pride ourselves on our ability to work through stressful situations as a team without taking out stress on one another. All of that went out the door this weekend. During my ugliest moments, I’m pretty sure I would have dunked his head in a bucket of paint if I thought it would fit. It wasn’t his fault, but I was just done, and all I could think about was the fact that we still had another coat, and three rooms to paint after that.

In the end, I’m happy with the color. It probably needs another coat, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it this weekend. I may try to go over a few visible streaks with a brush instead of taking out the roller again. Or I may go back over it in a few weeks if it continues to bother me. Tony swears he doesn’t think it needs another coat. I think he’s just afraid I’m going to make him paint it again. I’ll share some after pictures after our furniture arrives on Wednesday.

Painting is hard, grueling, stressful work. Much harder than I thought it would be. I was feeling guilty for derailing my diet by eating pizza for dinner Friday night, and then I Google searched the number of calories burned while painting — over 300 an hour. I spent every waking hour painting this weekend, so I’m sure I burned off the extra calories at LEAST.

One room and hall done — three more rooms to go. I good news is, the remaining rooms are MUCH smaller with less surface to cover and more detailing, which isn’t as exhausting or messy as rolling. I still don’t know how I’ll survive it.

Painting plans

Let me preface this by saying I’ve never painted anything in my life. Unless you count finger paints. But honestly, I don’t think I used those much either. I always preferred crayons, and so did my mom (for obvious reasons). Since scribbling colored wax on the walls and calling it good isn’t an option for our home, I’m nervously venturing into the world of interior paint.

When we bought our house, it had been newly renovated. The paint was fresh, even if it isn’t a shade I would pick myself. I don’t love it, but I could live with it, so we decided to leave it alone for a little while. As you can see in the photo on the right, most of our main living space is orange. Orange. This has become decidedly more obnoxious the longer we’ve lived in the house, so it’s time for the orange to go.

Part of our motivation comes from the fact that we recently purchased new furniture for the living room — a Pottery Barn Comfort Roll slip-covered sofa, armchair, and ottoman. It should be delivered in the next few weeks. While the Pottery Barn furniture of my dreams is light in color, that obviously would have been a really dumb move with a toddler running around. Instead, we opted for the darkest shade they have — espresso. Here is the couch:Because the furniture is so dark, we want something light for the walls. But I’ve lived with off-white walls for most of my life, so I really want some color. The master bedroom is a pleasant light mocha color, so we’re leaving it. Judah’s room, the guest room, and the guest bathroom are neutral off white, so we’re holding off on painting those, too. For now, we’re just doing the living room, kitchen, and den.

The kitchen is super orange right now.

And the den sort of looks orange in this picture, but it’s really kind of an orangey pinkish coral color.

Since we have an open floor plan, I want the colors to coordinate with each other. We’ve pretty much decided on a pale blue in the living room, light yellow in the kitchen, and light green in the den. We’re still looking at swatches and trying to make decisions about shade, which seems impossible with all of the options available to us. But I feel pretty good that we have it narrowed down to those three colors.

Basically, I’m looking for tips, shade selections, favorite paint brands — anything you can tell me about interior paint would be much appreciated. I’m hoping we can get this done without screwing up too badly the first time, so I need expert advice from my readers!

A few seemingly unrelated ideas

I’ve been feeling slightly uninspired lately. I’m working on coming up with some fabulous new content for you guys, but in the meantime, it’s Thursday, and I want to share a few random things that are on my mind.

I found out last week that I was quoted and my blog was mentioned in the January 2012 issue of Parents magazine, which explains a recent uptick in traffic. If you found my blog that way, welcome! I hope you’ll stick around, keep reading, and definitely chime in with your comments. I love to hear from people who are reading.


I’ve got some big plans for the house this spring, and I can’t wait to share the results with you. We ordered our very first new furniture (like actual grownups! No one has ever even used it!) We sprung for the furniture of my dreams — a fancy Pottery Barn slip-covered sofa and armchair with ottoman — and I’m anxiously awaiting their arrival sometime in March. We ordered it at the end of January. You wouldn’t believe the long shipping time for this stuff. Sheesh.

Now that the furniture is on its way, I’m feeling the itch to paint. The house was freshly painted by the renovator when we moved in, and while it’s not what I would have picked (dark orange), it was fresh paint, and we had bigger fish to fry at the time. Now we’re finally feeling inspired to take the painting leap, so I’m sure I’ll have lots to share as we navigate our way through our first painting experience. I’m skurred, but I can’t wait to finally feel like this place is our own. We’ve been in this house for a year as of May, so it’s about time.


I decided to stop doing monthly Judah updates after 12 months, but I’ll have another big one when he’s 18 months. For now, a small update: he’s growing like WHOA. He gained 2 pounds, 6 ounces between his 12-month appointment and a weight check at the beginning of this month. That is unreal for him. He’s still tiny (below the 5th percentile, I believe), but we’re all pleased to see him finally packing on some pounds.

He’s straight up running now, and he is into Our main living space looks like it could be housing squatters, because we’ve moved most of the furniture out of the living room and into the small den in the back of the house that stays blocked off with a baby gate. He alternates between melting my heart and driving me bonkers, which tells me I’ve entered the fabulous world of raising a toddler. One moment he’s giggling wildly and running around like he couldn’t be happier, and the next he’s throwing an temper tantrum because I won’t let him destroy the mini blinds. We’re working on obedience.

He’s stubborn and smart as a whip, and I can already tell we’re in big trouble for the next few years, but at least he’s snuggly. And he sleeps through the night these days, so I can’t complain too much.


I’m back on the fitness wagon again, and I’ve lost 6 pounds so far! I’ve been loving the strength training class at my gym. We’ll see how long it lasts. It seems like since Judah was born I’ve been stuck on this merry-go-round — lose 5 pounds, gain 5 pounds, repeat. I’m feeling motivated now, though, so here’s hoping it sticks.

What’s new with you?

Free & frugal ways to say ‘I love you’ on Valentine’s Day

This post was originally published on February 10, 2010. Happy Valentine’s Day!

I’ve never been a Valentine’s Day believer. I’ve always believed that you don’t need a special day to celebrate love. We should be celebrating every day, right?

It’s hard to avoid the Valentine’s Day hype, though, and any excuse to do a little something special for your partner is a good thing. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on flowers or jewelry, though. Try some of these free and frugal alternatives to celebrate the one you love today.

Do more than your share.

I would much rather come home to a spotless house than a dozen roses. This Valentine’s Day, show you care by doing your partner’s half of the household chores. Whether it’s bathroom duty, trash, cooking, dishes, or waking up early with the kids, your valentine will feel pampered if you give her a break for the weekend.

Share a small treat.

Early in our relationship, I assured Tony that I’d always prefer chocolate over flowers. Chocolate is dangerous for me, though, and I’d rather have a little treat than a huge box of candy. A little goes a long way, so surprise your valentine with a single serving of his or her favorite treat this weekend. It doesn’t have to be chocolates — maybe it’s trail mix or cupcakes. The important thing is that it’s his or her personal favorite. Bonus points if you bake it yourself (just make sure you bring the leftovers to the office or give them to your neighbors).

Write a love letter.

Love letters may seem cliche, but if you write something heartfelt and honest it will seem anything but. It costs absolutely nothing, but it means the world to the recipient.

Make a compromise.

Sentimental movies aren’t your thing, but your wife has been dying to see “Big Miracle.” Maybe you hate broccoli, but your boyfriend has wanted to try a new recipe for broccoli cheddar soup forever. It’s certainly not healthy to force yourself to do things you don’t like to do for your partner all the time, but you can make a compromise in the name of the most romantic day of the year.

Take a walk down memory lane.

Rent a movie that you saw in the beginning of your relationship. Make a mix tape of the songs you listened to on repeat for the first month you were dating. Do something that reminds you of how it felt when you first fell in love. Not only will it make you feel warm and fuzzy all over again, but it will serve as a reminder of why you fell in love in the first place.

I hope you all have a wonderful Valentine’s Day, and that whoever you share it with makes you feel very loved.

Photo by butterflysha

Saying goodbye to our awesome gas rewards program *sniff*

With gas prices pushing $4, I knew it was only a matter of time. And now it has finally happened. Our amazing gas rewards program will soon be no more.

For the past 4 years, we’ve put all fuel purchases on a branded credit card. We always had to fill up at the same station, but in return, we received 5% cash back rebates for fuel purchases. I loved the cash back, and paying for gas in one bill every month simplified our budget, so it was win-win.

The letter we received outlined a new “rewards” program. It’s incredibly confusing, but from what I can gather, it seems like for every $100 we spend, we’re given the opportunity to fill up a single tank at a 15-cent-per-gallon discount. The discount accumulates with each $100 we spend. If we accumulate a $1-per-gallon discount (after spending $700 on gas), we can request a $15 statement credit. It shakes out to roughly 2% cash back if we continue to buy gas from this brand and choose the statement credit option.

The thing is, it’s not convenient for us to use this particular gas station anymore. When we first bought our house, the closest gas station happened to be this brand — it was literally right around the corner. Right around Christmas, though, the location suddenly closed. To keep getting our 5% rebate, I was driving clear across town every time I filled up. Without those rebates, it’s not worth the hassle.

We may eventually close the credit card. Since it’s not the first credit card for either one of us, it won’t shorten our credit history. As long as we increase our limits on other credit card accounts to account for the lost lending power, it should have minimal impact on our credit score. For now, though, I think we’ll just stop using it.

I still like the system of paying for gas in one lump sum every month, since that’s what we’re used to. I don’t want to open another credit card, though. So I started exploring my options.

There is another gas station around the corner from our house that offers a reward program. It’s a punch card, and we’ll receive a discount of 5 cents off per gallon for every 100 gallons we pump. I’ll take it!

Next I had to figure out which credit card to use. I looked at the rewards for the credit cards we currently have, and I wasn’t impressed. Each of them offered some kind of rewards program, but it’s one of those deals where you get a point per dollar, and then redeem 5,000 points for a $5 gift card or something. In other words, not a great deal.

There are other cards out there with better rewards, but that would require opening another credit card. So I did some more hunting, and found that American Express has a pretty decent cash rewards card with no annual fee that offers 2% cash back on gas. Since we already had an American Express card, I wondered if I could just switch my account to the cash rewards card without opening a new card. A quick phone call was all it took to make the switch. It’s obviously not as great as our flat 5%, but it’s the best deal I could find without opening a new account.

It’s about the same amount of money that we’d receive if we continued using our current card and bought gas from that brand. The benefit of switching is that we’ll get the reward for buying gas at any gas station, so we’ll have more freedom.

Our plan now is to put all gas purchases on the cash back card, and pay it off every month to avoid interest just like we’ve been doing all along, of course. (Remember: the rewards program isn’t worth it if you’re paying high interest rates or an annual fee.) We’ll also use the reward program at the gas station near our house for fill-ups at home. The bonus to this new system is that we’re no longer required to use the same gas station to get our rebate. This will make things much easier when we’re traveling since we won’t have to hunt for a certain gas station brand, and it will also allow us to price compare and fill up at cheaper stations.

Photo credit

Better than Panera broccoli cheddar soup

I’m back on the fitness train, so it will be a long time before I can enjoy this particular recipe again. But that’s no reason I can’t share it with you!

I am an absolute fanatic for broccoli cheddar soup, and this experiment started when we attempted to recreate Panera’s version. This is a blend of a lot of different versions that we’ve found through various sources. The following directions, tips, and tricks are written by Tony since he’d got a lot to say on the subject.

Broccoli Cheddar soup

I’ve tried to make this many different ways, and through all of the incarnations, I’ve learned a thing or two about this recipe. First, you really have to use a light-colored stock; darker stocks alter the flavor too profoundly and make it difficult to attain that cheddar-y color. Second, shredding the carrots instead of dicing or doing a juilenne helps with time and consistency. Third, the stock and dairy should be in equal proportion. Fourth, cut the broccoli (a food processor just demolishes it and turns the soup a greenish hue) and cook it in pieces separately, then fold in; the soup never gets hot enough to cook the broccoli fully. Fifth, anything less fattening than whole milk isn’t worth it.

  • 1/2 medium onion, diced
  • 4 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 cups half-and-half (or whole milk)
  • 2 cups light stock (chicken or vegetable)
  • 1/2 pound (or more) fresh broccoli florets
  • 1 cup carrots, peeled and shredded
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 8 to 16 ounces grated sharp cheddar cheese

Cut the broccoli into small pieces, no more than 1/2 inch in diameter. Bring a small pot of water to a boil, add salt, and cook the broccoli until it is bright green and soft, approximately 5 minutes.

Dice the onion and saute in the melted butter until translucent. Add the carrots and cook until the carrots have softened.

Whisk in the flour and cook for 3 to 5 minutes over low heat, just until all the flour has been absorbed by the butter and the mixture has thickened. Pour in the stock and dairy, and simmer until the liquid is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.

Once the soup is thickened, stir in the cheese one small handful at a time. Drain the broccoli and stir it into the soup. Serve with crusty bread.

Photo credit

Strategies for kicking the paper towel habit

I’ve written about kicking my paper towel addiction before, but it’s one of those things that I never got around to doing. I convinced myself that I still needed paper towels for cleaning up things like raw chicken in the kitchen or wiping down toilet seats when cleaning, and so I continued buying them in bulk. Bad for the environment and bad for my wallet.

Inspired by Tsh Oxenreider’s book, “One Bite at a Time: 52 Projects for Making Life Simpler,*” I decided this was the year I was going to kick the habit for good. Here’s how I did it:

Stock up on cloth alternatives.

In Tsh’s book, Maya Bisineer, contributor for Simple Mom Green, recommends keeping enough dish towels, washcloths, and cloth napkins on hand to avoid the need for paper towels, and making them easy to access in the kitchen. For about the price of a 2-month supply of paper towels, I bought 8 large dish towels, 12 smaller washcloths, and 12 cloth napkins. I cleared a drawer, and stocked it up with our new cloth towels and napkins.

Don’t be afraid to use cloth.

The transition will feel weird at first. It might feel too formal to wipe your mouth with a cloth napkin on taco night. Or it might feel gross to wipe up surfaces that have come into contact with raw meat with a washcloth. Remind yourself that these napkins and towels are meant for daily use, and keep in mind that cloth can be sanitized in hot water and a little bleach, if necessary. When you use cloth to clean particularly nasty messes, just be sure to rinse in very hot water, ring out the rag completely, and hang it up in the laundry room until you can throw it in the washer. Never throw wet rags directly into your laundry basket or they’ll start to stink and mildew. If you can’t bring yourself to use the cloth, keep sponges on hand for wiping up messes, and disinfect them in the microwave or dishwasher after using.

Use sponges for cleaning.

I used to use paper towels for cleaning everything in the bathroom. For the past few months, I’ve gotten used to using a sponge to clean the sink and tub, but I was still using paper towels on the toilet seats. To keep things sanitary, I now have two sponges that I use for cleaning the bathrooms — one is brown, the other is blue. I use the brown sponge for wiping down sinks and tubs. The blue sponge is used on toilets only. When I’m finished cleaning, I let the sponges sit out to dry for a few hours, and then I store them under the sinks. Because I’m only using them to clean the bathrooms once a week or so, they last forever.

Have you kicked the paper towel habit yet? How did you do it?

(*Affiliate links are denoted with an asterisk.)

Super simple slow cooker hot beef sandwiches

This recipe comes from my parents. I’m not sure if it was originally devised by my mom or dad or if they picked it up from someplace else, but I know they’ve been making it on Sundays for years. With just five main ingredients, it couldn’t be simpler, and it’s really delicious. Perfect football food (not that I watch football).

  • Large, inexpensive cut of beef (a chuck roast or bottom round roast works well)
  • 16 ounce jar of pepperoncinis in vinegar
  • 1 can beef broth
  • 1 onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Roughly chop the onion and smash the garlic. Then just throw everything into the slow cooker and simmer on low for 6-8 hours. When you’re ready to serve, shred the beef with two forks, put it back in the pot with the onions and peppers, and dig in. I like to serve on toasted Kaiser rolls with a slice of melted Provolone cheese.

Photo credit