Friday, January 31, 2014

Easy Healthy Buffalo Chicken Wraps

So one of the goals I set for this week was to test out a new recipe. Well, this so much wasn't a recipe, but more a "let's just throw this together and see if it works" type meal. I had purchased some Frank's Red Hot Buffalo Wing Sauce when grocery shopping last week. With no calories and a ton of flavor, I'm officially hooked. These wraps satisfy my hot-wing craving while being guilt-free. Win-win my friends. Win-win. 

So this is what you'll need:
1 1b Boneless Skinless Chicken Breast
1/2 C. Frank's Red Hot Buffalo Wing Sauce
2 C. Shredded Lettuce
1 Package Reduced Fat Shredded Cheese (I used Sargento Mexican Four Cheese Blend because it was what I had in the fridge already)
1 Package medium soft taco flour tortillas (I used Mission Carb Balance tortillas because they have more fiber and protein than regular tortillas. They're pricier than regular tortillas but they're totally worth it)
Light Ranch to taste

First thing you'll do is cut up your chicken into bite-sized pieces. I cooked the chicken in the crock pot with the hot sauce added in for about an hour and a half, but if you're short on time you could always grill/bake your chicken and then toss them in hot sauce afterwards.

Buffalo chicken deliciousness. 

After the chicken is cooked, proportion out your chicken onto tortillas (I was counting points so I went with 2 oz of chicken on my wrap, but you could do more/less depending on how full you want them), top with 1/8 cup shredded cheese, as much lettuce as you want, and drizzle about 1 TB. light ranch on top. And then enjoy! With all of the ingredients I used, it was 6 WW PointsPlus values per wrap. Not bad, not bad at all!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The BIG Kitchen Remodel

When I thought about blogging about each room we remodeled after we bought our first home, I was going to start off with the family room and then gradually work on posts over our dining and formal living rooms before getting to the "big kahuna" of our remodel - the kitchen. BUT, this being my blog, I can do whatever I want, so we're going straight to the kitchen.

The one thing I said to my husband before we even put an offer in on the house - "You have to promise me we'll remodel the kitchen the minute we step foot in this house." He promised, and literally 5 minutes after we walked into our house after closing, we started bashing out cabinets and removing cabinet doors. The kitchen wasn't 100% terrible, but it definitely was still out of the 70s and for the love of all that's good, they had brown black splash. I've discussed this before, but to clarify - the previous owners had an affinity for brown that made me cringe.

Some "before" pics for your viewing pleasure

Now, when I told Nate he had to remodel the kitchen, I knew we would be operating on a limited budget. Really, the biggest issues I had with the kitchen were that:

1. It wasn't as open as it could be (you can see the top cabinets in the first pic on the left blocking the view to the family room)
2. I hated the doors (and those scallop touches screamed outdated)
3. I didn't like that the microwave was on a baker's rack (which didn't come with the house) and wasn't under a cabinet above the stove.
4. That backsplash. Oh, that backsplash had to go.

So after nit-picking everything in our kitchen, we decided really the only thing we'd be keeping would be the box of the cabinets. Nate also couldn't stand the soffits (the box thingy above the cabinets that comes out from the wall), so we decided to rip those out as well. We already had somewhat of a game plan before we even closed, so we started working on everything starting the day we got the keys.

First up: remove the soffits, tear down that one cabinet blocking the view to the family room/eat in part of the kitchen, and patch everything in one weekend before the painters coming to take down the popcorn ceiling come the following Monday. Easy, right?

Except there's a pipe there. Uh-Oh. 

Down to bare bones.

A little better with the drywall completed. 

It was a a pain. A total pain. But, not really for me. Luckily my amazing in-laws along with my husband and father all worked together in a mere 3 days to get this done. Who can say they have a mother-in-law that not only knows how to drywall, but will do it at 6 am on a Monday morning because she knows you have a deadline until the ceiling guys come in? Very few I'm guessing. And you guys, she even brought homemade muffins with her.

I wish I could say this was the hardest part of our remodeling journey, but it wasn't. After tearing out the appliances (because my parents are awesome and helped us out with getting new ones), we ran into the issue of the cabinet by the refrigerator being too close to the wall because the previous fridge was keebler-elf sized. So we had to remove the cabinet down a couple inches, which we luckily did before we got our hardwood floors refinished in that room, because the owners had installed the hardwood floors after the cabinets. This meant we literally had to cut the bottom of the cabinet to move it, and then have the hardwood guys patch the floor.

The big ol' hole where the cabinet was. 

We couldn't afford to put in brand new cabinets, but we had done our research and decided instead to paint and install new doors. After paying for a couple of samples, we ordered custom doors from Cabinet Door World. This would give us the "new kitchen" look while saving us thousands of dollars.We however, did add a few stock-cabinets from Home Depot to our kitchen. We replaced the cabinet above the oven and refrigerator. This made it so we could put a microwave above our stove and we could fit a normal-size fridge in our kitchen. We also installed an upper and lower cabinet where the old baker's rack used to be to provide us extra storage. The best investment we made while going through this process was our paint sprayer. It cut down our paint time and made the finish look professional. I would highly recommend investing in one.

After priming/painting/installing the new cabinets, doors and appliances, we decided to also replace the counter tops (because when you're doing everything to the kitchen, might as well, right?). We chose a black/white granite that would mesh well with our white cabinets as well as a black undermount sink to match. We also tore down that nasty brown back splash and installed a tin back splash which we got via The Tin Man. The Tin was incredibly easy to install (just cut and add some liquid nails) as well as really affordable. Add some crown molding on top of the cabinets, some new hardware and lighting, and we were finally done!

We paid a little extra for the granite on the peninsula to come out farther to give us a "breakfast bar." Totally worth it.

No more Keebler Elf fridge and extra storage to boot!

Bye bye scallop details!

I'm so in love with the new kitchen, and all of the money and hard work we put into it paid off. My husband and our family did everything ourselves with the exception of installing the granite and patching the hardwood floors. This was the longest project we did, spanning the whole summer, but now that it's done we get to enjoy it for years to come.

Have you ever done a kitchen remodel before? What tips/tricks did you learn along the way?

Monday, January 27, 2014

Feeling the burn

Lately, I've been trying to get back into the routine of getting my sweat on at least 3x per week and eating healthier. After what felt like 3 months of one junk-food laden event right after another, I was entering 2014 is not such a great place food-wise. This wouldn't be so bad if I hadn't started majorly slacking off  in the workout department since uh, summer. I mean, doing renovations burns some calories, right?

So it's back to the grind. This is the third week I've been making steps towards getting on the right track. What definitely motivates me is my Fitbit Flex. I live for seeing that baby reach 5 dots and see all of the smiley faces next to my activity, step and calorie progress bars on my Fitbit App.While I don't think it's 100% accurate, it does the job in making me less lazy and more motivated to get my workouts in.

The other thing that's been motivating me lately is my small group personal training sessions. They're so hard, but so good. I hate it sometimes when I'm huffing and puffing in the midst of running up that 5th flight of stairs or attempting to hold a decent form while on my last burpee, but having someone push me by telling me "30 seconds, Alex. You can do anything for 30 seconds" makes me work so much harder. I'm sore for at least 2 days after, but hey, that's part of becoming stronger, right?

My goals for this week:
-Work out 4 times
-Find a new healthy recipe to try (and share it on here!)
-Pamper myself at least once after a workout session with a pedicure/time in the sauna/ etc.

What are your goals for this week?

Linking up with Ashley for Move it Monday!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Friday Five Faves

With the re-start up of this blog, I would like to introduce the first session of Friday Five Faves. 

1.The Mindy Project. Move over New Girl, hello Mindy! I've been obsessed with Mindy Kaling since her Office days (Kelly Kapoor was one of my favorite characters), and her new show is hilarious. Nate and I spend every Tuesday night looking forward to it, and when it does finally come on (8:30 after New Girl), we are always laughing. I won't spoil it for anyone who hasn't seen it yet, but the winter finale was amazing! Oh, Danny and Mindy, you are so perfect for each other. 

2. My Thursday night small group personal training class. Ohemgee, it is so freaking hard you guys, but it is totally worth it. Last night we had to run stairs before and after our insane circuit workout. My legs felt like lead and I am so so so sore today, but I always feel amazing afterwards. She pushes me to do more than I would do on my own, and at $15 for each session (it was $60 for the four-week group), it was such a steal. 

3. Tennis sessions.  3 years ago one of my coworkers suggested I do a parks and rec tennis class with her, and ever since then I've been hooked. I've met a lot of friends through the class (including the instructors) and having new friends and partners to play with is so much fun. This past Sunday I was treated to an hour and a half session in beautiful 60 degree weather with 2 great gals followed by beers at a local brewery. Such a perfect way to end the weekend. 

4. All of the Valentines things. Yesterday, my friend Jenny and I went to Target to break up the work day and explore their Valentine's day section. We were walking past the coffee mug section when we saw these gems on the end-cap, calling our names. I had to buy the blue one for Nathan (hello, it's got a pug on it and says "I Woof You" on the back!), while Jen decided to go with the red one. I was originally going to give it to Nate for V-Day, but my impulses got the best of me and as I walked through the door when getting home I shoved it in his face saying a little too emphatically, "OHMYGOD I GOT YOU THE BEST PRESENT EVER." He took the mug, saw the pug on it, and instantly laughed. Totally worth it. 

5. The Book Thief. Since Nate's job requires him to drive a lot of the time, he often downloads books on the Audible app and listens to them in the car. Now, I'd much rather read a book than listen to it, but he convinced me that I would love The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, and after he downloaded it on my phone, I caved and decided to start listening to it on the way to/from work. I love the narrator, and the book is really interesting. It's also a refreshing change from listening to the same music every day. 

What were your favorite things from this week?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Family room reno and explorations in white-washing

When we first got into our house, we knew we'd be renovating multiple rooms simultaneously, but we wanted to go for the "easy wins" first. This, for us, included knocking out our family room quickly. Structurally, I loved the space. It had these awesome wood beams, and a floor-to-ceiling fireplace, and brand-new carpet. Unfortunately, the brick, beams and wall color made the room look straight out of the 70's (which the house is, so no surprise there).

The before picture with the prev owner's stuff still in it

Finding a neutral wall color and white trim color we both agreed on was easy. We used Sherman Williams ProClassic enamel paint for the trim (also used for our kitchen cabinets) and Cashmere paint for the walls. 

Major rule of thumb for painting: don't cheap out on quality brushes and paint. 

We used crappy brushes at first (we didn't skimp on the paint, thank goodness) and I almost lost my religion. White paint + crappy brushes with black fibers = frustration. So we bought some Purdy brushes (available here), and since they're so nice you can continue to wash and re-use them, they end up being about as economical as the crappy $5 brushes we originally bought. Same goes for the tape. Don't buy the cheap house brand (frog tape is best, but if that's too expensive, any scotch blue painter's tape will work). If you do, you'll just be pissed later when you have you re-touch 5 million spots because your paint leaked through.

For the beams and fireplace, I knew we needed a change, but I was stumped. Then, I found this blog post over white washing brick, and after mulling it over, we asked the painters who would be removing the popcorn ceilings if they could just add this on as an extra project (my hubs wanted us to do it ourselves but I was convinced I'd get the whitewash on the carpet). They quoted us at a couple hundred bucks on top of what we were already paying. Done. I wasn't sure aesthetically how it would turn out, but it had to be better than it was currently, right?  So one week later, we walked in, and saw the end result.

With some our furniture. Still need some decorations, but those won't be hard to find :)

Overall, I personally love the way it turned out. It's brighter, lighter, and definitely more our style. We still kept the personality of the room, but we updated it to fit our taste. The money we paid for the fireplace and beams to be done by professionals was definitely worth it, although the technique they used wasn't far off from the blog I had originally found, so this could definitely be a DIY project. It was a major relief to get one room checked off our list so we could start the real work on the other rooms. More to come on those later!

Monday, January 20, 2014

The first-time home buyer: And the renovations begin...

So after all of the running around between getting bank stuff figured out, scheduling times for a home inspection and appraisal, and dealing with some last-minute water-in-the-basement drama (the owners paid for the repair as well as a new carpet since the old was damaged), closing day was finally upon us.We went to the bank, signed our lives away (I joke, but that's kinda what it felt like), and wrote the largest check of our lives. And then, nearly 5 months after starting our search, we finally got the keys to our first home.

Kudos to our realtor for some sweet key-coverings.

The first thing we did after getting the keys? Go to the house. The second? Start tearing apart the kitchen. Yup, we didn't waste any time getting to work on renovations. I had already scheduled contractors to come in and scrape/re-texture the gross yellow popcorn ceilings throughout the house as well as re-finish/install hardwood floors throughout most of the first floor. The rest we'd do on our own, with a lot of help from our families. Our to-do list was extensive, but we knew with some dedication and time, we could get it done.

And I would soon learn that home-renovation is a lot more work than I'd ever have thought, and while it wasn't (and isn't) my favorite thing to do, it left us with our dream house at the end of the day. More to come with room-by-room renovations! 

My oasis during stressful reno times: our backyard. 

Have you ever taken on a major remodeling project? What was it?

Saturday, January 18, 2014

The first-time home buyer - a word to the wise

My biggest tip for first-time home buying: just because you went with one bank does NOT mean you have to stick with them when you actually get your loan. 

We had dealt with a wonderful woman from one bank for our pre-approval process (when they determine how much money you can be loaned and around what rate). She bent over backwards to get us numbers we could understand, explained all of our questions, and was very responsive.Unfortunately, when we found our house and went back to get our loan from them, they said their rates had increased. 

Uh, say what? 

Yes, it had been 4 months, but I did not want to pay more than I had to. I asked my Realtor (who honestly, I wasn't a fan of) and he said that it's common for rates to fluctuate, but that all banks will approve at the same rate. I then called my dad, who believes wholeheartedly that everything is negotiable. Buying a tool at home depot? Barter with the manager. Buying a new flat screen TV? See what they can do with the price. So, naturally, he told me to go look at other banks. And since I myself like a good deal (definitely my father's daughter), I did. 

I called up another bank, and within two days I had an interest rate 0.50% lower than what the first bank quoted me. A day after that, the first bank told me they could match the second banks rate. Hmm, funny how the first time around they told me that was the "best rate" they could do.

In the end we still went with the second bank since we had "locked" in the loan and interest rate before the first bank called back. Did I feel bad the first woman didn't get our business? A little, but it's our home we're talking about here. This is not the time to make friends. Our measly 0.50% lower percentage point we got may not sound like a lot, but it was about $45 less per month than the other bank. That's like a date night a month! Spread it out over 30 years that's also $16,200. That's a car, people. A nice, used car. 

What was your biggest tip or take away from buying your first home?

Friday, January 17, 2014

The first-time home buyer - shelling out the $

So where did I last leave off? Oh, so after months of home shopping, we had found "the one", and now we had to get all of the finances figured out. Super fun stuff.

So many stories I would read about first-time home buying were always so vague. So here I am, prepared to be honest with our experience.

What we had to shell out: 

1. Down payment (with our loan, we did 7% of the purchase price, but you can do FHA loans for 3-5% of the home purchase price). Obviously your highest cost, but the more you put down the less you have you pay interest on. 
2. Home inspection - $500+ (we paid $350 + $150 for a radon test). Be warned, sometimes if home inspectors find something, like a cracked furnace or a clogged chimney, they then refer you to specialists who can confirm/deny there is an issue. This will cost extra. 
3. Appraisal fee - $400. This was so that the bank could verify our home loan amount was lower or the same as the value of the house. 
4. Closing costs - this varies. In our offer, we had the home owners pay $3,000 of closing costs, about average for our area and for the price of the home. We had to pick up roughly another $3,000 more, but we ended up rolling this into the loan (whichever you prefer). 
5. Bottle of champagne - $20. Because we had to celebrate. We just bought a house!

Obligatory picture of champs. We decided to demo the kitchen before popping the bubbly.
Were there any other expenses you had when purchasing your home? What were they?

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The first-time home buyer - finding "the one"

So I can lament about how I fell off the blogging wagon, but instead, let's just catch up from last year, shall we?

2013 overall was a great year. Around January last year, we decided to take the plunge into home ownership. We knew our credit was good, we had some money saved up, and although I often daydream about moving (oh I wish I could be with you more), we knew that Kansas is where we were going to stay for the foreseeable future. So off we went, starting our first-time home buying process.

The first step we took was shopping for a Realtor via  After chatting with a couple, we finally decided on one who then recommended us to a couple of banks. The first bank we delt with was amazing and gave us a breakdown for a house at the low, mid, and high-end of our budget range so we would know what kind of monthly costs we would be incurring depending on the purchase price of the home. We then sat down and made our list of "must haves" - aspects of the home that were non-negotiable and "nice to haves" - what our dream home would have.

Must haves:
1. 3 + bedrooms and 2 + baths
2. 2 car garage (Nate has tools. Lots and lots of tools)
3. Basement (because tornadoes, y'all)
4. Good neighborhood
5. Decent sized-back yard
6. Space for family dinners (with Nate's family in town, that's about 15 people around the holidays!)

Nice to haves:
1. En-suite
2. Updated kitchen, and overall, just updated
3. Fenced in back yard (for the pugs, aka the pigs)

I'm not going to lie, our list was a pretty hefty one considering our budget, and we did a LOT of searching. Once we scoured what was already on the market, we waited for new houses to be listed. And we saw those, and waited. And saw more, and waited some more. Out of the two of us, I was definitely the pickier one. It seemed like every house we'd see, Nate would say "looks good" and then I would pick it apart until it was apparent that this would NOT be the house we'd be buying. Well, fast forward about 4 months, winter turned into spring, and one April day I see this beauty on the listings page.

I have to say, I thought it was cute from the pictures online, but after seeing it in person, I was not convinced. The backyard was beautiful (and fenced in!), the layout was great, and hey, it even had 4 bedrooms and was on a dead-end street, but dear lord, everything in the house was brown. As in brown walls, brown trim, brown carpet.

I think the owners had a favorite color. And it was brown.

It wasn't love at first sight, and we almost walked out of this house, feeling defeated again by another dud listing. But then we didn't. We didn't leave. I keep walking around the house, getting a feel for it, and then realized something different about this house more than any other house we had seen: it had potential.. Was it my dream house? No. Was it 100% updated or new like the others we saw? No. But it had everything we'd ever need for the next 10+ years, if only we could spend a little sweat-equity in updating it. The big things you can't change about a house, like the neighborhood, or the size of the yard, or the overall structure were already perfect in my mind.

And that was the day we finally decided to go for it. That night we put in an offer (the house was on the market for a whopping 2 days), and 2 days after that the sellers officially accepted the offer.

 More to come on our home-buying process (as well as lots and lots of renovations, decorating, bank drama, and tips and tricks for first-time home buying).

How did you know your first home was "the one"?