Saturday, January 26, 2013

3 Steps to Cleaning Your Kitchen in Under 30 Minutes

I blame my mom for how ocd I am about keeping my house clean.  I blame her and I am thankful all at once!    She kept our house spotless, and she took the time to teach me how to do it as well.  Now that I have my own house, I do things pretty much the same as she does.

One of the habits that I carried over was once a week deep house cleaning.  I love this method because it keeps my house consistently clean--without buildup.  If I'm faithful at this cleaning and work to maintain  it during the week, cleaning each week doesn't take me very long at all.  Today let me show you how I deep clean my kitchen once a week in three simple steps.

1. Take it apart.

The first thing I do is get rid of everything on my counters and shelves and dump it all on my kitchen table.  I prefer cleaning nice clear open spaces.  So seriously....pull everything off...even the things you keep hanging on your fridge.  

Your kitchen should be bare and ready to clean now.

I also pull apart my stove and prep it for cleaning by sprinkling it with Comet. 

Lastly, I fill up my sink with nice hot soapy water and stick the stove burner pans (is that what they're called?) in there to soak.  These are my two best friends when cleaning the kitchen.  I usually throw a little of each in my sink full of water:

2. Wipe it down.

Once everything is pulled apart and my cleaning water is prepped, I'm ready to quickly wipe everything down.  To me, thoroughly wiping down my kitchen each week is important because it keeps grease and dust from building up.  I consider it a "preventative" measure.  

I seriously wipe EVERYTHING down--all surfaces on every side!  I also make sure to frequently rinse my cleaning rag in my hot soapy water.

Dirty microwaves are one of my pet peeves, so I'm always careful to wipe through mine.  Tip: if you have lots of gross stuff stuck to the inside of yours, microwave a mug with equal parts water and vinegar on high for 2-3 minutes.  I guarantee you everything will wipe right's like magic!

Oh..don't forget to wipe off your garbage can and the top of your refrigerator :)  I usually take a peek inside of my refrigerator and wipe off obvious spills if there are any.

I also like to wipe down all of my cupboard doors and drawers before tackling the stove.  They tend to get greasy and stained if you don't.  

For my stove, I take my sponge and scrub the surface using the Comet that I previously sprinkled on.  I find that since the Comet is somewhat abrasive, it helps remove anything that's stuck on.

If you can, lift the top of your stove and clean under there as well.  This is also a great way to clean the edges of your counters--you know that place where stuff falls between the edge of your stove and the counter?

Once I've scrubbed everything with the sponge, I wipe it all down and then shine it up with windex and paper towels.  I love how the windex makes my stove gleam and sparkle!

To wrap things up, I wipe down my counters and back splashes, and then drain and wipe down the sink.  
At this point...I'm usually feeling wonderful because everything is sparkly and smelling great!

3. Reassemble it.

Now all I have left to do is to put everything back where it goes--remember all that stuff I dumped on my kitchen table?

If your floors need cleaning, you should do that last.  Unfortunately, I have a carpeted kitchen so I have to drag out my vacuum cleaner for this part.

These three steps to cleaning my kitchen take me less than 30 minutes when I faithfully stick to them each week.  That's not very much time! And seriously--don't you just love having a delightfully clean kitchen?

One last tip:

For me, the key to making my kitchen stay clean between cleaning days is maintenance.  These are my best friends:

I keep these wipes in a handy spot under my kitchen sink and use them to wipe off my stove and counters after meals.

So what cleaning habits to you have? How do you keep your kitchen clean?

Friday, January 18, 2013

DIY Twig Wreath

The time has come to share with you one of my favorite diy projects that I've made for my home.  I started this project back in December, but didn't officially finish it until last Saturday--which is why you haven't seen it until now :).  Unfortunately, I don't have pictures of the step by step creation of the project, but the concept is simple.

So for awhile, I have been trying to find ways to spice up the look of our bathroom.  While it was clean and neat, it kind of looked drab and boring.  I had been keeping my eye out for an inexpensive project that would make it look "homier" (is that ok to say for a bathroom?).

I originally got my project idea from a fall wreath that caught my eye on Pinterest.  Isn't it just gorgeous?

If you go over to Yellow Mums, you can read a full tutorial (with beautiful step by step pictures) on how to create the twig base--and rolled flowers if you want to go that route!  

Like I said earlier, the idea is simple:
  1. Go on a walk and collect lots and lots of branches.  Devin was a great sport and trekked out to the woods with me to help carry them back.
  2. Snip your branches so that they are all approximately the same length.  WARNING: this part can be messy :).  My living room floor was a testimony to that!  You can play around with the lengths.  I like the look of having some shorter than others.  
  3. Cut a circular ring out of cardboard.  I used a heavy piece of cardboard from a box that I had lying around.  Mine was probably 8-9 inches in diameter from the outside edges.  The ring was probably 2-3 inches wide.
  4. Using a glue gun, glue the branches to the cardboard ring.  This part is fun! I had a blast fitting the branches together for the best look.  Almost like doing a puzzle!
  5. Embelish! Okay, so you want something to go around the middle of those branches--otherwise you'll have some ugly cardboard peeking through.  Not to mention it just looks...well, unfinished.  Back in December, when I completed the twig portion of this project, I wasn't sure what to put around the middle.  I considered fabric flowers like the ones above, but I didn't have any fabric on hand.  I did have some stems with tiny blue and white flowers on them that I had picked up at the dollar store awhile back.  The colors were perfect for our bathroom, so I glued them between some of the branches and called it good until I could come up with an alternate idea for those rolled fabric flowers.
Enter coffee filters.  Who knew they were GREAT for crafting flowers?  Being that we are coffee drinkers, I had plenty on hand! So last Saturday while we sat around relaxing and basically doing nothing but watching crime shows all afternoon, I perused the internet and to find a style of flower I liked.  Let me tell you--there are so many different kinds of coffee filter flowers! I finally settled on these:

Pretty, right? Two Shades of Pink has an excellent tutorial (video included) on how to make these.  I chose to keep my flowers white--partly because I was too lazy to try dying them, and partly because white really does match our bathroom.  

An hour and 45 coffee filters later.....ta da!

My only regret is gluing on the smaller flowers before I made the large ones.  I tried pulling them off, but alas I used too much glue.  If I could do it over again, I would put the large ones on first and then arrange the small ones so that they stick out further.  But anyways, overall I love it! It matches my blue and brown bathroom decor, and helps add some color and interest to my stark bathroom walls!

Cost of the entire project: $1 (what I paid for those small blue and white flowers)

Folks, its a winner!

Blissful and Domestic

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Cheesy Vegetable Chowder

Last night was my "going meatless" experiment night.  I personally think it was a huge success! I tried a new recipe which I'm going to share with you shortly.  We got lots of vitamins from nutritious veggies in a "comfort" soup packed with flavour.  I also made some homemade rolls to accompany it.  Yum!

I originally found this recipe through pinterest over at Lulu the Baker.  Credit for this recipe goes completely to her! I simply tweeked it and added some personal flair :)

Cheesy Vegetable Chowder

2 T butter
1 medium onion, chopped
3 carrots, sliced
2 celery stalks, sliced
3-4 fresh garlic cloves, minced
4 cups broth (vegetable or chicken)
4 cups water
3 potatoes, diced
3 T cornstarch
1/2 cup water
2 cups cut broccoli
other frozen veggies
2 cups milk
3 cups shredded cheddar cheese

In a large soup pot, melt butter over medium heat.  Add chopped onions, carrots, and celery and heat until tender.  Add fresh garlic and continue to sautee for 1 or 2 more minutes.  Pour in broth & water (note--if you want a stronger flavour, you could add more broth and less water--whatever works!  I used veggie broth because it's what I had on hand, but I think in the future I'll use chicken broth instead) Add diced potatoes.  Heat until broth is boiling and potatoes are tender.  In a separate bowl, whisk together water and cornstarch.  Pour into soup and simmer for a couple minutes until slightly thickened.  Add broccoli, any other frozen veggies you want (I used corn and green beans) and milk.  Simmer until veggies are heated through and tender.  Stir in shredded cheese.  Allow to melt & serve!

I'm telling you folks, the cheese makes this recipe! This soup is perfect for staying warm and cozy on a cold winter night. 

We have lots of leftovers (my fave!) to warm up for lunch today. 


Friday, January 11, 2013

What I'm Reading This Month

Reading has been one of my favorite things to do ever since I can remember.  Books were valued birthday and Christmas gifts.  I remember spending whole days engrossed in a book I couldn't put down (whole nights too!! :) ).  I pretty much read whatever I could get my hands on--even the encyclopedia...nerdy, I know.

My time schedule drastically changed in college, and since I spent all of my time reading books for classes, I had little time left for pleasure reading.  Unfortunately, I haven't gotten back into the habit since graduation.  This year, I'm making an effort to dedicate more time to reading books that will help me grow--and books that are just "for fun"!

Here is what I am currently taking up:

Changed Into His Image by Jim Berg

I'm going through this book with the ladies from my ladies' Bible study at church.  We typically study one chapter and meet on a monthly basis to discuss it.  This book is so challenging and cuts to the chase on so many issues.  I'm currently working through Chapter 5 which deals with mortifying the flesh.  It is thought provoking and calls for practical action and change in my life.  This is a great book, and I would highly recommend it!

Created to Be His Help Meet by Debi Pearl

My grandmother gave me this book shortly before I got married.  I've heard others mention that this is a good book, so I was excited to receive it! I just started reading it today, and so far it looks promising.  I'll have to update you more once I've read further.

A Voice in the Wind by Francine Rivers

This book is going to be my "for fun" reading.  I love Francine Rivers as an author.  She is inspiring because she writes stories around moral issues(divorce, abortion, etc.).  She's written a series "Lineage of Grace" that was phenomenal!  Each book in the series portrayed a woman of the Bible who became a part of the lineage of Christ.  But back to this book, it's part of a threesome and appears to take place in ancient Rome.  I'll let you know more about this one once I actually start reading it.  I can already tell it's going to be hard to put down though!

I love my Scofield Study Bible.  It was given to me as a graduation gift from my parents when I completed high school.  This month I'm going to be working my way through the book of Romans--one of my favorite books of the Bible.

What are you reading right now? I'd love suggestions for good books I should read next!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Quick & Easy Chicken & Rice Soup

5 Things I LOVE about soups:

  1. They're easy
  2. They're tasty
  3. They stretch
  4. They're inexpensive
  5. They're healthy (for the most part :) )
Here's a soup I made for dinner last night.  We had our fill for dinner, ate it again for lunch today, and still have one or two rounds left of it! can you not love soup?  When you make soup, remember that it's just as easy to make a huge soup as it is to make a small one.  Make more than you need for your meal.  You can freeze the extra for a later meal, or simply refrigerate them to serve as lunches throughout the week.  Yum!


1 T extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
3-4 medium carrots, divided in half the long way and sliced
2 celery stalks, divided in half the long way and sliced
8 oz frozen peas
dried parsley
celery seed or salt
24 oz chicken stock
2-3 c water
2 chicken breasts, cooked and shredded
2 cups cooked rice
salt & pepper


Place oil in a soup pot over medium heat.  Add onion, garlic, carrots, & celery.  Cook and stir for about 6 minutes until veggies are soft but not browned.  Add frozen peas, parsley, and celery seed.  Pour in the chicken broth and water.  Bring the liquid to a boil.  Stir in shredded chicken and cooked rice.  Season with salt & pepper to taste.  Simmer on low until ready to serve.

*Note: for the shredded chicken, I just throw the chicken breasts in a pot with 2 cups of water and boil until they're cooked through (30 min. or so).  Once they're cooled, I shred them with a fork.  


Blissful and Domestic

Budget and Meal Planning Goals for the New Year

Happy (late) New Year to all! I am back in the world of blogger after a 3 week sabbatical.  We had a wonderful time in Maine celebrating Christmas and the New Year with friends and family! Good times were had and memories were made.  All of that being said, it is nice to be back home and settled back into the routine of "normal" life!

Over the holidays I had quite a bit of time to do some blog reading and perusing.  I was encouraged and challenged by several different blogging women in the area of planning and budgeting--namely, Money Saving Mom and Blissful and Domestic.  As a result, I've set some goals for implementing some new, budget-friendly and organizational ideas.

I'm always looking for ways that I can save money and lower expenses when it comes to meal planning and buying groceries.  Devin and I have done well so far--shopping once a week, looking for sales, using coupons, and buying food items that will stretch and be useful for different kinds of meals.  Even though we didn't do to bad last year, I think we can do better.  Here are some of the goals I've set to improve myself in this area during 2013:

Have a Meal Plan

Having a meal plan works wonders in so many ways.  I hate it when four o'clock rolls around and I still have no idea what's for supper!  And I'm sure you'll all be familiar with this one if you're married: "Honey, what do you want for supper tonight?"...."Oh, I don't care; anything sounds good."  Yeah...not so helpful, right?  Another pet peeve of mine is people who go to the store and browse when they don't know what to make for supper.  Usually, these kinds of people end up spending $30-$40 because they impulse buy items that they see but don't need while browsing for supper.

Having a simple meal plan to stick to will help you avoid all of the above scenarios while helping you use what you have in your cupboards and stay withing a budget.  When I first started planning meals for the week, I used this method:

This menu board was a pinterest-inspired project that was supposed to work GREAT! The idea is to have cards with meals printed on them sitting in the little box to the right.  I could then pin up a meal for each day on the clothespins to the left.  The only problem was, I never did it.  I found that it was hard to stick to such a specific meal plan.  While this might work for some, I prefer more flexibility.

I'm currently using a "themed night" meal plan, which I like much better.  The idea is to assign a theme to each night of the week. You then make a meal that fits the category for that day.  Here are mine:

Monday: Burgers
Tuesday: Chicken
Wednesday: Soup
Thursday: Beef
Friday: Homemade Pizza
Saturday: Leftovers/Spontaneous

So far this has worked really well for me!  I'm also having fun trying new recipes for each category.  My personal favorite is soup night.  Devin and I both love soups, and they are so versatile and inexpensive to make.  

To sum it up, find a meal planning strategy that works for you...and use it! This is a huge time and money saver!

Stick to a Budgeted Amount

This one is really important! With Devin in college and both us working part time, we can't afford to not have a budgeted amount to spend on groceries.  It's crazy how much money you can spend when you don't have a plan, isn't it? There are several things to keep in mind when setting a budget goal for yourself:
  1. Be realistic--Don't set a goal that is so low you won't be able to keep it.  You don't want to constantly be discouraged!  
  2. Analyze your current spending--Figure out how much you're currently spending on groceries, and average it out to a weekly amount.  
  3. Take small steps--If you've realized you need to lower your spending, don't do it all at once.  Instead, see if you can lower your budget a $2-$3 at a time each week.  It might not look like much at first, but  after a few months, you will start to see a big difference.
Money Saving Mom recommends the cash method for those who struggle with sticking to a budget.  To use this system, withdraw the amount you've budgeted for grocery in cash, and don't allow yourself to even THINK about plastic when you go shopping!  

Devin and I find that we do find staying within our budget even though we don't use the cash system.  We have a rewards system for groceries on our credit card, so we use it--wisely!  

To sum it up, figure out how much you should be spending on groceries each week and find a way to stick to  that amount.

Shop Every Two Weeks

This is going to be a big one for me this year! It's a challenge, and I'm loving it so far.  Like I mentioned before, Devin and I have been doing our grocery shopping once a week for the past months.  It works well, but going to the store that often has its setbacks.  I don't care how wise you are with your money, the more often you go to the store, the more likely you are to spend more money.  Blissful and Domestic shares how she shops only once a month--wow! Unfortunately, I don't have the freezer space for that, but I knew I could easily switch to every other week.  Here are some tips I've been using to make this work:
  1. Utilize your freezer--There are so many things you can freeze that I wasn't aware of! Bread and meat are to biggies for me.  You can also freeze things like chopped fruit and veggies, milk, butter, and so much more.
  2. Keep a list of staples--With the help of my friend Google, I compiled a list of things that I think should be in my pantry at all times.  I printed off the list and have it hanging on my refrigerator.  The items listed are staples that can be used for multiple meals--pasta, rice, seasonings, canned goods, freezer/fridge items, etc.  I use this as a checklist when I before I go shopping to make sure I have everything stocked.  This keeps me from forgetting to buy anything.
  3. Meal Plan--Well..we already talked about this one! But seriously, use your meal plan to help you fill in your shopping list.
By shopping every two weeks, I'm hoping to cut my budget by at least 30%.

Think Outside the Box

Don't limit yourself! Try new things--you might surprise yourself and like them! One of the things I'm challenging myself with this year is going meatless once a week.  The easiest way I see myself doing this right now is in the form of soups.  I've already found some that sound delicious and use...yep--zero meat! For me, this is a way I can cut spending while still having a nutritional and delicious meal.  Homemade pizza night is another way of doing this.

Keep In Touch With Like-Minded People

Talk to friends who have similar goals and encourage each other.  Share ideas, recipes, deals, and whatever else.  Keep yourselves accountable to sticking to your goals.  Also, read blogs and books to glean ideas from others who have already implemented goals like these.  Like I mentioned before, Money Saving  Mom and Blissful and Domestic have really challenged me in these areas.

Thank you for bearing with me in this long and detailed post.  I hope it has challenged you! I would love to hear your ideas for budgeting and meal planning. Do you have goals similar to mine? Have I missed anything that I should be doing?