Monthly Archives: September 2015

Cheap and Easy Decorating Ideas

Creating a unique space doesn’t have to break the bank, nor do you have to have a degree in interior design to make your home beautiful. Check out this helpful article from Style at Home, with 25 easy decorating ideas to do on a budget. Here are a few of my favorites from the list that I have actually tried with success in my own home:


Family Photo Wall- “Create a gallery wall of family photos and other small pictures in matching (or contrasting) frames, arranged in a collage on a large wall such as a stairwell or hallway.” I have a photo wall like this in my dining room, with a tastefully laid out mishmash of black collage photo frames, and it creates visual interest while proudly displaying happy family memories. The best part? Two of the photo collage frames were wedding gifts and therefore cost us nothing, while the third one was $10 at Ross and happened to match the others perfectly.

One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s Treasure- “Peruse Craigslist, eBay or regularly for finds. It’s amazing what shows up as a bargain or even free.” Though my husband and I agree to disagree on this decorating tip, I have found many fantastic items for the house on eBay and Craigslist, as well as thrift stores and even the Dumpster outside our old apartment! One of my prized possessions, a working high-quality record player dating from the late 1960s, set me back only $25 on Craigslist. Such a deal!


Chandelier Magic- “Replace overhead lighting with thrift-store (or box store) chandeliers.” Our first house came with the world’s ugliest brass chandelier, which not only was an eyesore but also had a way of smacking houseguests in the head when they stood up from the table too quickly. $100, plus $25 for installation help from an experienced electrician, got us the most beautiful, sleek art-deco style chandelier from Home Depot, which gave our whole dining area an instant facelift.


Cabinetry Cosmetics- “Replace the drawer and cabinet pulls in your kitchen, bath, bedroom, or on a furniture piece.” For approximately $20, we were able to add stylish, modern pulls to all the cabinets and drawers in our old kitchen. The results were instant and dramatic.


Let Nature In- “A tray filled with pinecones, a tall vase of dried pampas grass stalks, or a bowl of colorful pebbles, beach glass or shells all make eye-catching home décor accessories.” This is one I use constantly at home- we’ve got some seashells and-picked by my husband at the beach scattered along the mirror of our master bathroom counter, a candle-holding tray adorned with various smooth rocks and flat glass marbles and a tall bamboo vase filled with stalks of natural grasses and reeds. The cost is cheap (or free!) but the effect is breathtaking.

Have you tried any of the tips from this article? Let us know in the comments below

Give Your Home an Energy-Efficiency Makeover

In terms of energy, how efficient is your home? You may be surprised at how much money you can possibly save each year by making a few changes to your household appliances and usage. These ten handy home energy tips can put you on the fast track to cost savings and a smaller carbon footprint!


  1. Wash clothes in cold water- Many high-efficiency washers are just as effective at washing clothes on their cold water setting as on a warm or hot water setting. Simply switching to cold water can save you up to $63 a year, according to the US Alliance to Save Energy.
  1. Save up to 10% on cooling and heating costs with a programmable thermostat- Having a thermostat that you can program to different temperatures throughout the day can save on your energy bill by cutting down the run time of your furnace or air conditioning unit. For an ultra-modern experience, check out Nest, a “smart thermostat” that can be controlled from your mobile device and adapts to your daily schedule by “learning” when to turn heating and cooling systems on or off.
  1. Use your window treatments- For a more low-tech approach, close your blinds on sunny summer days to keep out the heat, and open them in the winter to let good old fashioned solar power warm your house.
  1. Turn off all lights and electronics when not in use- Even the most innocuous household items, such as a toaster or a coffee maker, can use up surprising amounts of energy when left plugged in all day. These small appliances, nicknamed “vampire appliances” for their tendency to suck energy out, are even bigger offenders if they have a clock on them. Leave them unplugged until it’s time to use them.
  1. Invest in newfangled light bulbs- CFLs and LED lightbulbs may seem like the less cost-effective option at the hardware store, but they can save you a bundle on the back end. Energy-efficient lightbulbs reduce energy use up to 80% from traditional light bulbs.
  1. Always buy Energy Star- Look for the Energy Star label on your appliances. This is the government’s seal of approval for energy efficiency, guaranteed to save the consumer up to 30% on energy bills.
  1. Change your shower heads- Using a low-flow shower head or faucet can save on water bills, which in turn can put extra cash in your pocket and make your home more eco-friendly. Best of all, low-flow shower heads have come a long way since their inception, and are now very high-quality and hardly make a difference in your morning shower.
  1. Change those dirty filters- In order to keep the A/C and furnace from having to work extra hard to push out air, change the filters once every three months. This will also benefit you by reducing the number of allergens in the air.
  1. Turn down your water heater- Reducing the temperature to 130 degrees F will make little to no impact on the hot water in your household, but will save you a considerable amount of money and energy. Another good tip is to invest in a special blanket for water heaters, which helps retain the heat in the unit.
  1. Insulate your home properly- Sealing cracks around windows and doors and insulating your home can save up to 20% on energy bills by keeping heated or cooled air inside the house where it belongs. As everyone’s dad says, we’re not paying to heat/cool the outside, after all!



Source: US Alliance to Save Energy

Front- Loaders vs. Top-Loaders: the Debate Continues

Like Coke vs. Pepsi, boxers vs. briefs, or even the always-controversial “over vs. under” toilet roll debate, the question of whether a top-loading washer is really superior to a front-loader, or vice versa, is a topic with strong opinions from passionate debaters on either side of the issue. While both types of washing machines have their advantages and drawbacks, people seem to have a clear preference for one or the other, and are not likely to waver when it comes to buying a new machine. Here is an outlined pro/con list of both styles of washer; see where you fall in the Great Washer Debate:


Front-Loading Washers:

Pro: Front-loader enthusiasts often tout the eco-friendliness of high-efficiency models, citing the comparatively low amounts of water and energy that it takes to do a load of laundry.  Front-loading washers generally do use less water and spin faster than their top-loading counterparts, making them the greener option.

Con: They stink. Or, at least, they used to stink. Maybe they still do on occasion- the point is, a lot of people will never know because they won’t give the new designs a second chance. Many consumers were turned off by the first generation of front-loaders due to the chronic mildew smell that they reported coming from both the machine itself and the clothes they washed. So serious was this issue that the manufacturers took the complaint all the way to the Supreme Court, and the number of front-loaders sold in the U.S. dropped from 45% in late 2009 to just 29.5% today. The design of front-loaders has improved since the first generation to minimize the risk of stinky laundry, but many people are still wary of the front-loader design as a result.

Pro: According to Consumer Affairs, front-loaders clean better than top-loaders on average, while also using approximately 5 gallons less water per cycle. Also, with the use of an electric hot water heater, front-loading washers can cut electricity use by up to 50%, resulting in cost savings.

Con: Front-loaders are initially more expensive, which means that even though you will ultimately be saving money on your energy and water bills, the savings may not add up to enough to justify the price of the purchase.


Top- Loading Washers:

Pro: You can open the lid and throw in more clothes after the cycle has begun. This is a big deal for anyone who is easily annoyed by finding that missing sock in the hamper moments after starting a load.

Con: While top-loaders have gotten much better at cleaning, they are still about 5% less effective at their job, according to a test performed by

Pro: Top-loaders are initially less expensive than front-loaders, meaning that a family whose washer has just recently conked out can replace it with a new top-loader with a lot less impact to their wallet.

Con: Top-loaders just don’t look as cool as front-loaders. If the aesthetics of an appliance concern you, then a top-loader just isn’t going to make you happy. Sure, they’ve come a long way with their agitator-free barrels and clear lids, but if you want a washing machine that looks like it was designed for the Jetsons’ house and boasts a variety of colors and modern, high-tech features, the top-loader may not cut it.


Where does your loyalty lie? Join the Washer Wars in the comments below.

Dinner? Done!!

One of the most stressful parts of a busy weekday is getting dinner on the table. Between work, the kids’ school and extracurricular activities, it can be difficult to have a nutritious meal ready at a reasonable hour. Luckily, there is a solution- with a little advance planning and some basic organization, dinnertime can turn from a burden into a breeze! I devised this handy step-by-step meal-planning system when our son started preschool- see if it works for you!

Step 1: Buy a Dry-Erase Board

…Or a chalkboard, or really even a piece of paper tacked to the fridge with a magnet will do. The point is, get something on which you can write the days of the week, and the corresponding dinner for each day. Not only will it give you a visual reminder of what you plan to prepare each day, but a quick snapshot of it with your phone can serve as an ingredient shopping list for the grocery store.

Step 2: Make the Meal Plan

Appoint a certain day of the week to create your meal plan. I like Sundays, because it is the least busy day of the week for me (and therefore ideal for both planning and shopping), but you can choose any day that works best for you. Take a moment to assess the contents of your kitchen and see if there are any ingredients that can be used for meals prior to taking your trip to the store. This will cut down on unnecessary spending and get you focused on meal possibilities. Then, plan a healthy, enjoyable, and above all EASY meal for each night of the week. Things that can be pre-made on the weekend and then quickly reheated (lasagna, casseroles, etc.) are always a good idea.

Step 3: Take a Picture- It’ll Last Longer

It’s handy to have a pic on your phone to jog your memory if you find yourself at the grocery store with no idea what you are supposed to buy. Having a photo reminder of each week’s list also helps to avoid reruns of the same dinner too many weeks in a row. (Mom, meatloaf AGAIN??)

Step 4: Time to Shop!

With your list in hand, time to hit the store. Try to choose an off-time, when lines will be minimal. If your meal-planning day is Sunday, like mine, may I suggest going during the local football game? It’s like a ghost town at the grocery store when all eyes are glued to the game.

Another option is to try a home grocery delivery service like Walmart to Go- you can select your groceries online at your leisure, and a delivery driver will bring them right to your door the next day for a small fee! A perfect solution for the busy parent on the go (especially if you’ve ever had to bring a toddler into a crowded store.)

Step 5: Prep What You Can

Once your ingredients are in the house, take time to peel, chop, rinse or even cook anything you can ahead of time, to minimize the time spent on preparing dinner each weeknight. For the ultimate proactivity, invest in some kitchen prep bowls (I like the ones by Rubbermaid, $12.56 on and have your washed, sliced or chopped ingredients already pre-measured and ready to throw into whatever you are cooking. Talk about a timesaver!

Step 6: Stick to the Plan-Mostly

After a hectic day it is oh, so tempting to forego dinner preparation and pick up a nice greasy sack of fast food on the way home from work, or to load the family in the car and head to the nearest casual dining restaurant, but try to resist the temptation. Not only will the home-cooked meals be healthier for you and your family, but it will also keep a little extra cash in your wallet and keep everyone on track for other evening activities such as homework, bath time and bedtime. Alas, nobody’s perfect, and you should not be too hard on yourself if you go off the rails once in a while. I have a built-in “cheat” day that I call “Fast Food Friday”- a scheduled day of takeout bliss that is written right into the weekly meal plan. As a certain fast food chain once said, “you deserve a break today.”


Got more meal-planning tips? We’d love to hear them! Please share in the comments section.


Keep Your Fridge Clean- Easy Tips for a Busy Life

If you know me, you know I’m a person who likes to keep things clean. I especially pride myself on a nice spic-and-span kitchen, with the stainless steel appliances and kitchen island wiped down to perfection. Imagine my horror, then, when I looked into the fridge this morning and realized…I’m one of those people with a disgusting refrigerator!

Don’t get me wrong- from the outside it’s picture perfect. Streak-free, no fingerprints, everything tidy right down to the tray under the water and ice dispenser. But open the doors and suddenly you’re hit with spilled juice dribbles, white rings from underneath the milk jug, a streak of hot sauce from a once-mighty breakfast burrito and what has to be three weeks’ worth of suspect-looking Tupperware full of leftovers I’m frankly afraid to view. How did this happen to me?

Fear not, fellow Type A neat-freaks: you’re not alone. Cleaning out your refrigerator can be a simple task that you can do once a week to stay on top of the accumulation and basic grunge of everyday living. For the big jobs, follow this link for a handy checklist from Real Simple on how to give your refrigerator a deep cleaning in only 20 minutes, but you can also just follow these handy tips for a 5-minute weekly spot-clean sure to keep your refrigerator fresh, clean and free of nastiness.


Clean the fridge on Trash Day- This way you can just pitch all the questionable looking fruits, veggies and meats that are past their use-by date right into the bin and take it straight out to the curb. No stinky garbage to contend with! Also, if you’re like me and prefer to use the disposable food storage containers instead of the pricey, reusable kind, you can just toss any containers you’re scared to open right into the trash too, avoiding a run-in with your gag reflex.

Windex is your friend! -The shelves on most modern fridges are made of tempered glass, making a glass cleaner like Windex the ideal cleaning agent. Clear the shelves one at a time, top to bottom, and clean with a cloth sprayed with Windex. (Don’t actually spray the Windex into the fridge, as it might contaminate any uncovered food on the lower shelves.)

Baking Soda, Baking Soda, Baking Soda!- This wonder substance can be used to freshen and deodorize virtually anything, but its ability to keep odors from forming in the refrigerator is really what put it on the map as a household cleaning staple. These days you can even buy baking soda in a fridge-friendly pod that suctions right to the inner fridge wall! I prefer to go old-school with a nice 50-cent box of Arm and Hammer with the top ripped off. It’s cheap, it’s effective, and it makes all the difference. (Just don’t use the same box of baking soda that you have open for deodorizing in, say, a cookie recipe, because that’s just gross.)

Time to shine!- Now that the inside of your fridge is all spiffy, make the exterior gleam with a mix of equal parts white vinegar and water in a spray bottle. This keeps the stainless steel streak-free and squeaky-clean without any residue or buildup. For extra disinfecting power, run a cleaning wipe down the door handles, where germs love to hide. I like Clorox Wipes myself. An alternative to the water-vinegar combo if you’re really in a hurry is a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. Not only does it take about 17 seconds to clean the whole outside of the fridge, but it also leaves behind minimal residue, keeping your fridge from looking dull.

What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever found in your fridge? Let us know in the comments below.

Featured Article: Consumer Reports- 5 Must-Have Cooking Appliance Features

Consumer Reports published an informative article yesterday highlighting the 5 most desirable features for cooking appliances in a modern kitchen. You can read the whole article here, complete with product reviews of the appliances mentioned in the article, but the highlights include:

Front Controls- No more burning your forearm on a bubbling pot of pasta when trying to reach the controls on the back panel of your range! Now the controls are front and center in these sleek, smart new models. Ranges with this feature include the $1,600 Whirlpool WEE760H0DS.


Virtual Flames- Now you’re cooking with gas!…Or are you? The convenience of the induction-range cooktop has received a makeover from Samsung, whose NE58H9970WS model ($3,600) has added virtual LED flames to its electromagnetic cooktop field to give cooks the visual cues they relied upon when cooking on a gas or electric stovetop, so they can tell at a glance if the burner is hot.


Cooking Sensors- Those of us who aren’t exactly culinary wizards can use all the extra help we can get in the kitchen. The AutoChef sensor, exclusive to Bosch, claims to give cooks precise results every time by measuring the temperature of the bottom of a pan made out of a special type of aluminum, then heating the element with the exact amount of energy needed. The Bosch NETP066SUC, $1,200, takes the fear out of over- or under-cooking for novice chefs.


Hinged Cast Iron Grates- Cleaning up the kitchen after cooking a meal has got to be my least favorite part of the entire process. The worst part of all is trying to get the pools of liquid and tiny pieces of veggies out of the burners before the next time the stove is used. This sometimes daunting after-dinner task is about to get a lot easier, thanks to hinged gates at the back of gas cooktops from the new Whirlpool EZ-2-Lift line. All you have to do on models like the Whirlpool WCG97US0DS ($900) is lift up the entire grate and wipe your gas burners clean. It’s never been so easy!


French Doors- We are all familiar with the two side-by-side French doors that many refrigerators have, but what if your oven had them too? GE has answered that question by adding French doors to wall ovens like the GE Café CT9070SHSS. At the price point of $3,900, one may have to have a real disdain for traditional oven doors to invest in this model, but it does come with other impressive features, such as the ability to be controlled by smartphone. Sign me up!


What features do you wish you had in your Kitchen of the Future? Leave your ideas in the comments section below.

Dishwasher Dos and Don’ts

Owning a top-of-the-line dishwasher is nice, but doesn’t necessarily guarantee that your dishes and glassware will emerge sparkling clean. Follow these handy hints for clean dishes every time.


DO: Pre-rinse everything if your dishes are going to sit in the dishwasher for a day or longer. Since many of us don’t have the need to run a full dishwasher load every day, bits of stuck-on food become harder for the machine to scrub away once the cycle begins. It’s best to just rinse everything off before placing in the dishwasher.


DON’T: Stack items on top of one another. The bottom dish will prevent the water from getting to the dish on top and it won’t get clean. If you find yourself cramming dishes and bowls into every available space, doubling up to fit it all in, it may be time to think about running the dishwasher more frequently.


DO: Secure your plastics. This includes kitchen utensils, Tupperware containers and kids’ plastic cups and dishes. Not only is it potentially hazardous to your dishwasher, but nothing smells worse than burning melted plastic when an item falls onto the machine’s heating element.


DON’T: Buy dish detergent in bulk. Believe it or not, dish soap can go bad. Detergent that hasn’t been used in months won’t do the job as effectively as new detergent. Try not to buy more dish soap than you can use in two months, regardless of the tempting coupons and bulk-buy offers you may encounter.


DO: Store detergent in a cool, dry spot. Any of us who has ever had a leak under the kitchen sink can tell you what happens to our powdered dish soap when it gets wet. Moreover, storing dish detergent in a kitchen sink cabinet can cause the soap to clump and deteriorate from the built-up moisture. Try to find a spot that is convenient but also free of heat and moisture.


DON’T: Unload the top rack first. This may seem like common sense, but unloading the top rack, where cups and glasses are commonly washed, first, causes water that has pooled on the base of upside-down glassware to drip onto the clean dishes of the bottom rack. Instead, try unloading the bottom first and then cleaning any remaining moisture off of the items on top with a clean dish cloth prior to putting away.

Save Time and Money with These Laundry Tips

We combed the Internet for the best tips, tricks and “life hacks” for doing laundry. These helpful hints will save you money, time and make your laundry look better than ever!


Unbutton All the Buttons!- Make sure you unbutton all of the buttons on a button-down shirt, to keep the buttonholes from stretching and tearing due to the agitation in the washing machine. Even the tiny buttons that hold down a collar should be unfastened prior to being tossed into the washer. (Source:


Two is Better Than One- Something as simple as putting two laundry baskets in your closet- one for whites and one for colors- can eliminate sorting from your laundry routine altogether! When you get undressed at night, just sort the clothes into each basket as you take them off. When laundry day rolls around, you’ll be glad you did. (Source:


Refresh Towels and Eliminate Odors- You know that “old towel smell” that towels and washcloths get over the course of time? Give your linens a second life and eliminate that mildew odor for good by washing a load of towels twice in hot water; first with vinegar, and the second with baking soda. (Source:


DIY Fabric Softener- Why buy fabric softener when you can make your own?- Next time you’re at the grocery store, skip the fabric softener and stock up instead white vinegar, that household staple that doubles as a super-efficient cleaning product. For a DIY fabric softener, add between ¼ cup and 1 cup vinegar to the final rinse cycle, but take care never to mix the vinegar with bleach. (Source:


Choose a Shorter Wash Cycle- There is no need to over-wash clothes. Choosing the shortest wash cycle and cranking up the water temperature is as effective at cleaning as a longer cycle with cooler water, and it will cut the time spent doing laundry dramatically. Similarly, run another spin cycle in the washer, which squeezes out excess water, thus reducing drying time. (Source: