This time last year I was on my way to Mexico and instead now I’m back at home working on about 10 projects at once. It’s easy to get caught up on yardwork this time of year and forget about keeping up with all the little things. So once again I’m relying on this month’s Get Organized Now checklist to keep the inside of my house looking as nice as the outside.
I’m mapping out my favorites on the calendar and then scheduling all my other projects around their list. Up for me this month: work on the fireplace makeover on rainy days and work on a second flower bed on sunny days. I also want to keep some balance in my life so I plan on visiting the park and going on a picnic this month.
May seems to be focusing on balance in the checklist and that’s perfect for my life right now. Some of my top tasks for May from the checklist include:
- May 1: I love this suggestion from the list- go on a negative energy scavenger hunt. It’s so open-ended but the gist is to walk your home and find things that give you a negative feeling. This could mean clutter stacks, that burnt out lightbulb you keep ignoring, a spot of paint needing to be touched up or even a spot that could just use an ounce of brightness.
- May 3: Take a new approach when doing tasks. Before starting on a project ask if it brings you closer to the goals for your home. If yes- do it! If no- ask yourself why you are doing it. It’s really easy to get caught up in the idea of having some sort of “perfect” home after seeing staged home on Pinterest, other blogs, or in magazines. Prioritize your energy and happiness.
- May 4: On the opposite end, do a positive scavenger hunt. Find objects that make you happy and feature them. If you love an accessory try to feature it and hide or donate the objects that you don’t need.
- May 13: Do something for Mother’s Day. Some moms want everyone around, some want a day to relax so find what’s best for you.
- May 16: Plan out the meals for the rest of the month. Stock up and avoid the grocery store as much as possible. Try living out of your pantry or fridge to clear your fridge out. That way you’ll have space available right in time for planning a big Memorial Day bash.
- May 24: Organize your car and find a place to store all emergency equipment. Clearing space will mean you have more space to haul items.
- May 28: Enjoy Memorial Day weekend with a picnic in the park, a parade, or spending time with family.
If you’re local to St. Louis, here’s a list of my Top 10 Things to Do in St. Louis for May. There’s so many festivals going on this month you definitely won’t be bored in the city.
What’s your must-do task for May?
I’m in a fondue mood because I keep meaning to try Stone Cellar Fondue in St. Charles, Missouri. I was hoping to get over there this weekend to celebrate a mini-anniversary (my first date with my husband was 9 years ago this weekend) but we have a concert to go to instead (The Black Keys). So instead of going out, I decided to bring the fondue home. I hooked up my mini crockpot and while it warmed I mixed up some chocolate chips and cream on the stovetop. In 5 minutes the chocolate was ready to pop in the crock and for the dipping to start.
The key to a great fondue is choosing the best ingredients to dip. I like to take pound cake and freeze it ahead of time for dipping. I love including cookies like Oreos and graham crackers, though today I decided to go the route of animal crackers and Oreos. Either way, make sure you have a good cookie to scoop out any accidental drops in the chocolate. Fruit is the other most important dipper. I love cherries and bananas but my absolute favorite dipper is the simple strawberry. My best dip today was a strawberry layered between two pieces of pound cake. If only I’d had some brownies laying around it would have been perfect.
- 1/4 cup of cream
- 6 ounces semisweet chocolate chip
- Heat the cream on the stovetop just until bubbles form.
- Remove cream from heat and stir in the chocolate chips.
- When chocolate is smooth, transfer it to a fondue pot or a mini crockpot.
- Serve with cakes, cookies, brownies, and fruits to dip into chocolate.
The hot weather finally calmed down but I don’t trust it will stay away for long so I wanted to make this next recipe before summer really sets in. The hour of baking for this recipe means you do not want to prep this in the heat of summer. Many people think you can’t freeze potatoes. I’ve had a failure where all the potatoes turn black and I’ve had mashed potatoes that did alright but were never quite as good as the original without a little work. This recipe for freezer twice baked potatoes is a standout because they taste incredible after being in the freezer. The secret is that you freeze them after only the single bake and then you cook them in the oven right in their frozen state.
I bought a 10 pound bag of potatoes from my local grocery store for only $2. I had used about 2 1/2 pounds of potatoes for other meals so I used 7 1/2 pounds (or 25 potatoes) for this recipe. I’ll share the full 10 pound recipe for you guys so you can just use a bag and not have to do a lot of guesswork. With so many potatoes, you’ll want to rotate the pans in the oven every half hour. I like to put my potatoes on baking sheets according to size so if the smallest potatoes finish after an hour I can just remove the small potato baking sheet and let the larger potatoes keep cooking until they have some give.
I like to make my potatoes a little healthier so I try to use skim milk, laughing cow cheese (the queso and garlic ones are my favorites), and I leave the shredded cheese off my pieces. When I bake them I add cheese and bacon to my husband’s portions and I top mine with sour cream or Greek yogurt after I’ve baked mine. These also taste incredible with some pesto drizzled on top. The possibilities are endless. If you don’t care about those adjustments, regular milk or even half and half work for your liquid and regular cream cheese works perfectly with this recipe. I’ve done it all.
When you store your items, make sure to let them freeze flat first. Then you can pop them in containers. I found these containers at the Dollar Store and I love the flat tops, they’re perfect for easy stacking. I usually fit between 4 and 8 halves in each container. When reheating I cook the entire package on a cookie sheet and eat any leftovers during the week with my lunch. My favorite way to eat these for lunch is to take some chili and pour it over a potato half. It’s perfection.
- 10 lbs large baking potatoes
- olive oil
- kosher salt
- 1 cup butter, melted
- 2 cups skim milk
- 6 ounces fat free cream cheese or laughing cow cheese
- 4 teaspoons salt (to taste)
- 2 teaspoons ground black pepper (to taste)
- 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (optional)
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Clean potatoes and dry. Place them on baking sheets. 10 pounds of potatoes usually requires 3 baking sheets.
- Drizzle potatoes with olive oil and kosher salt.
- Bake potatoes for 1 to 1/2 hours depending on the size.
- Allow potatoes to cool around 15 minutes. While cooling, mix together butter, cream cheese (or laughing cow), salt, and pepper in a large mixing bowl.
- Cut potatoes in half lengthwise taking care not to damage the rest of the skins.
- Use a large spoon to scoop out the inside of the potatoes, leaving a thin layer of potato attached to the skin. Put the middles you scoop out into the mixer with your butter cheese blend.
- Once you've scooped out all the potatoes, place the shells back on the baking sheet with the skin side down.
- Blend potato and butter/cheese mix in your mixer. Add milk as needed until potatoes resemble stiff mashed potatoes.
- Spoon the potato mix back into the shells. If you are adding shredded cheese, sprinkle and press onto potatoes.
- Place pan back into the oven and bake 15-25 minutes.
- Cover baking sheet with plastic wrap and place baking sheet in freezer until potatoes are completely frozen.
- Remove potatoes from baking sheet and place in plastic bags or foil containers with baking instructions written on them.
- Preheat oven to 350°F and place potatoes on baking sheet. Loosely cover with foil.
- Bake about 45 minutes. Uncover foil and bake an additional 15 minutes.
Last week I shared my flower bed plans. I’m happy to say that all of the planned plants are in the ground. We still have a planter to build and one corner to add some height in with plants but those are long-term plans. The only other short-term plan we have going on in the flower bed is hooking up our rain barrel. We wanted to create a nice base for it but first we had to drain out our 65 gallons of rain collected inside it so we took some time doing that and then it rained on us again. Such is life.
We’re making progress on the base this week but within a 6 hour period we usually go from a 0% chance of rain to it actually raining (no love STL weather forecasters). That’s why my husband and I have decided to split our projects into indoor and outdoor projects. A few months back I mentioned we were starting our living room makeover but then the nice weather came and we had to do yardwork. All that got done in the living room was a nice paint job, some new trim, putting up blinds, and some furniture rearranging. If we split our energy doing indoor work on rainy days and outdoor work on nicer days, we won’t waste time yelling at weather forecasters for ruining our lives so often. Maybe.
Here’s the current eyesore of the living room. (Click to enlarge) You can see our paint updates and window updates but with all the decorations removed you can see all the flaws too. The fireplace is very oversized in the room. The mantel is undersized in comparison.
The tiles clash, the brickwork is done in a strange pattern, and there’s a random letter H on the front for the last name of the original owners. Let’s not even get into the inside of the fireplace. Right now it’s non-functional with a board propping up some sort of method the original owners used to close off the chimney. We’ve been too terrified to pull it out and we fully expect some animals may be living in there. Either that or we really do have a ghost. More cleaning will have to be done inside as well.
Here’s a closer look at some of the problems. The old toekick around the fireplace stopped the floors from being finished underneath it so we’ll need to address that. Our tiles are not even close to our taste and don’t look good in the house. The groutline is 3/4″ minimum and almost an inch thick between the tile and the brick of the fireplace. We have our work cut out for us.
For tile we’d love to go with a slab but pricing will probably lead us to use tiles again. We’re favoring some white shades but after we get up our new trim we might end up wanting contrast. If you do know of a (very) affordable place to buy fireplace hearth slabs or remnants in the St. Louis area, please let me know. I’d love to go that route but the $25/sqft pricing I’ve seen does not make me think I’ll be going that route.
As far as trim goes, I find myself drawn to the looks of Sarah of Thrifty Decor Chick’s fireplace
and the fireplace by Julia of Pawleys Island Plush
I’m not sure which route we’ll end up going at our house but we do want to cover up plenty of that brick so our fireplace has a better sense of scale in the living room. I hope you’ll have patience with me as I bounce indoors and outdoors. My husband and I plan to be working in overdrive from now until the first of September when we’ll shift gears to start on another idea. You’ll see when we get there. In the meantime, I’m going to try to update as often as I can (3-4 times a week) and I’ll keep taking photos so I’ll get around to showing off every project eventually.
If you have any tips for working on a fireplace, I’d love to hear them because I’m planning on attacking with my chisel the next day the weather forecasters are wrong about the odds of rain and that’s looking like tomorrow.
I always seem to buy too many bananas. If I buy 6 I eat 3. If I buy 3 I eat 1. I hate letting them go to waste so they always end up in my freezer for a batch of banana bread to be made at some date in the future. This time I wasn’t in the mood to wait for banana bread. Even better, I had some Nilla Wafers in danger of going stale. Still, I didn’t have enough bananas or wafers to make my old school style banana pudding so I decided to work some magic to turn them into a parfait.
You’ll need bananas, Nilla wafers, and french vanilla pudding. It has to be french vanilla because I remember my grandma driving to an extra grocery store because regular vanilla just wasn’t good enough for banana pudding. She’d also demand the pudding be baked and have meringue but I’ve never been a fan or meringue or even whipped cream so I go without. You can do as you wish and maybe you’ll make my grandma happy.
The real secret to making these parfaits taste just like real banana pudding is letting them chill for at least 4 hours. Overnight is even better. That way your vanilla wafers will get that creamy consistency that makes you think you’re in the South, eating nana puddin as I called it as a kid. The wait is long but it’ll be worth it. You can do as you wish and maybe you’ll make my me happy.
- 1 3 oz package instant french vanilla pudding
- 2 cups milk
- 32 Nilla Wafers cookies
- 2 bananas
- Whipped cream or cool whip (optional)
- Use the pudding package and milk to prepare the pudding as directed. Let chill 5 minutes.
- While pudding is chilling, place 8 Nilla Wafers cookies in the bottom of a wine goblet. Repeat with 3 additional goblets.
- Divide half of the pudding between the 4 wine goblets, placing on top of the cookies.
- Cut each banana into 1/2 inch slices. Place half of each banana in each goblet on top of the pudding.
- Spread the second half of the pudding on top of the bananas, dividing evenly.
- Chill for at least 4 hours.
- Top with whipper cream or cool whip and serve.
Centsational Girl is having everyone share their favorite kitchen gadgets and I wanted to make sure I chipped in. When I was getting married I was also moving into an empty house with no kitchen. I had never lived on my own outside of a dorm room, I didn’t like cooking (only baking) and had no clue what I needed. It should come as no surprise that I had no clue what to stock my kitchen with and ended up with a pinata. Luckily I had some advice from others, some relatives who stocked me up with items and gift cards, and I learned a lot along the way. Now I have a bunch of favorite items but here are 10 I couldn’t live without.
My cousin Allison was hosting Pampered Chef parties around the time I was getting married and she stocked me up with some amazing tools. I have added to my collection since then but these 4 are my must-haves. I love the bamboo spoons, I put them in my dishwasher and at 4 years old they look brand new. My Mix n Chop makes bulk cooking so much easier; I can have finely ground beef or shredded chicken in an instant. My bar pan gets most of its use as my pizza stone and it’s held up remarkably well. I also have the round stone in this collection. Finally, the scoop- I use this for cookies and I’ve tried buying the ones at Target and never again. My Target scoops both broke when they got caught on chocolate chips or M&Ms while scooping but my Pampered Chef one is going strong 5 years later. I don’t sell these products but if you go to a party I wouldn’t hesitate to stock up on every single one.
True story, my parents once went to a conference and met George Foreman. That’s the closest I’ve ever gotten to a celebrity. I know he’s more of a figurehead for the brand but I love my George Foreman grill, celebrity BFF or not. It has 5 removable plates that I can wash in the dishwasher including waffle plates and grilling plates. I cook burgers, chicken breasts, and kebobs on mine all the time. My other favorite way to cook with it is to put in the griddle plate and use it as a panini press. My turkey sandwiches always feel classier after a go in the George.
I see so many people who add the KitchenAid Mixer to a registry and I was no exception. I also see a lot of people who break them out to make cookies at Christmas and to collect dust the rest of the year. Why would you do that? I use mine to make pizza dough, bread, shred chicken, whip pie, not to mention mixing up all sorts of desserts. You can even make butter in a mixer. I like mine with the beater blade, it scrapes down the sides of your mixer which is perfect if you’re making something with a high liquid ratio.
I also like my immersion blender. I use it to mix up soups or spaghetti sauce and the chopper attachment is perfect for anyone who wants the functionality of a food processor but doesn’t use them often enough to justify the space those devices take up. I haven’t used all the attachments yet but I like what I have tried.
My next item is a bit of a cheat since it’s 3 items in one. I know a lot of people just starting off spend money on a giant knife block with 20 knives. Save your cash and instead invest in 3 quality knives. I use the Wusthof brand and all I need are the paring knife, the bread knife, and the 7″ Santoku knife.
My last item was such a help when I was first learning how to cook. I wanted to make sure I was cooking recipes that weren’t likely to fail and didn’t call for any ingredients I’d never heard of. The Taste of Home Cookbook is on its third edition now and each cookbook comes with a 1 year subscription to Taste of Home magazine.
I have many more items that would make the honorable mentions list but that would drag on even longer than all these did. Like I said, most of my most beloved kitchen items came to me as gifts over the years. Some smart people shared their wisdom with me in gift form so I try to pass along the same knowledge to those around me. I usually do it in gift form but I don’t quite have the cashflow to buy all of you an item. Do you have any items that you couldn’t live without in your kitchen? I’d love to know what I’m missing.Pin It
If you remember, my husband and I built ourselves a retaining wall. I’m happy to tell you that it’s been up a week and it hasn’t fallen down so clearly we did something right. This weekend my husband and I used our weekend trip into town to scout out plants for the front bed. In that trip alone I bought about 90% of the plants for my garden. Unfortunately, I’ve been under a tornado watch for most of the day Sunday and it’s been raining so the actual planting has been delayed until a time I won’t die when planting.
The spot used to be full shade but since cutting down some trees we get around 4-6 hours of sun. This is one of the sunniest spots in our yard, believe it or not. Since we have so few plants that flower I really wanted to get some color into this spot. Here’s the plan we came up with. Don’t laugh at my amazing art skills.
The gray areas are the sidewalks and porches. My house has two front doors so there’s a lot of concrete in one spot. In front of the retaining wall are a mix of boxwoods and purple dwarf rhododendrons. Both can grow quite tall but we’ll be maintaining them heavily until some of the back section plants grow taller. We’ll also probably throw a planter in front of the porch on the right but that’ll be another post. Here’s a better shot of the exterior. This is pre-tree removal and a few other projects.
The back section will be the brightest. There will be two rows of plants. In the back and on the right will be our rain barrel. It collects from our gutters and it’ll be the watering source for this whole area. To the left we want to balance out the height so I’m thinking a planter with some grass or bamboo depending on what we can find for partial shade. In the center we plan to buy or build a planter with a trellis so a climbing vine (clematis?) can be the centerpiece. It’ll fit right between our two front windows. To round out the back row we’ll plant two larger rhododendrons, one white and one pink. The front row of the back section will have a hydrangea on either end and three red azaleas in the middle.
We made sure our plans included enough space for for all the plants to grow. Always make sure to check the mature height and width for all your plants before putting them in the ground. Then before planting you should put all the pots where you’re planning to place them to make sure you like the arrangement. We had originally planned to alternate boxwood/dwarf rhododendron but testing it out made us realize we liked it better with some of the plants doubled up.
The 10-day forecast shows sun for most of the days so hopefully I’ll have some photos of plants in the ground soon enough.
I mentioned in another post how I love Katie Daisy’s whimsical creations. I’m starting to plan out some artwork purchases and I decided to create an image board to help me see how her pieces would work with some ideas I had in mind. I chose two of her pieces, Salt Air Hair and Take Me to The Sea, as inspiration for a soothing bathroom look.
I’m not sure if I’ll end up going this route as my bathroom won’t be started on until at least October, but I love the idea of a softer take on the nautical idea. I chose pieces that reminded me of ocean waves and salty seas for this inspiration board. I’ve listed the sources but I’ve also listed out some DIY alternatives for some of the pricier pieces.