Condo Blues: reviews
Showing posts with label reviews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label reviews. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

10 Gifts for Men and Women DIYers

I like to give Father’s Day gifts that appeal to my Dad’s DIY side. I would not be able to do all that I do without my father. My first DIY project was building a step stool with my Dad as a toddler so I could reach the bathroom sink and brush my teeth. I’m sure I just handed him screws or something but he said we made it. A tool belt diva was born.

Cue choir of angels singing chainsaws revving.

I put together a list of my top ten DIY Father’s Day gift ideas to help you out based on things I have and find useful, have borrowed and considered not returning, or have on my own personal wish list.

Most weekend DIYers may think wearing a tool belt is overkill. Not so! Most clothing doesn’t have large enough or strong enough pockets to hold screwdrivers, hammer, pliers, and the like when you are up on a ladder trying to do something simple that requires more than one tool. I like the Style N Craft Carpenter’s tool belt  because it is sturdy with rivet reinforcements and has plenty of pockets for tools, screws, and two hammer loops to keep your hammers from hiding or wandering around the project area.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Garage Workshop Transformation Part 1: Paint Walls

Husband and I are going forward with turning part of our garage into a wood workshop for me. We adjusted the budget a bit due to Blitzkrieg’s knee surgery. We still plan to buy as many materials as we can for the project from the Restore.

Some of the storage and insulation extras may wait unless a good sale comes our way. This will be a cash only project.

Here’s the before.

The beer sign is how dudes decorate. That is what Husband told me as he hung it up after I banished it to felt it worked better in the garage.

Monday, March 7, 2011

One Small Change: Buy a Bagless Vacuum Cleaner

March’s One Small Change is something I avoided forever – getting rid of my 14-year-old sweeper for a bagless HEPA filter model because the greenest and cheapest thing is to use what you already own, right?

My old Hoover upright uses bags. I can buy them for a dollar a package at Dollar Tree so the price of bags isn’t an issue. In a pinch, I can always open the top of the bag, dump the contents in the trash or compost bin, and staple the top of the bag closed so I can reuse it again. I learned this trick from the Tightwad Gazette. The Condo Blues whammy dictates that if I run out of vacuum cleaner bags it is going to be when I am in the middle of cleaning the house. 

With a Pekingese whose hobby is shedding, my trusty Roomba Red got the daily dog fur tumbleweeds and the upright came out every other day for the heavy cleaning. Roomba doesn’t use bags so I figure the waste thing was 50/50.

Not long ago, Roomba’s rechargeable battery heaved its last breath. Being one of the first Roombas, it is not as powerful as the current models but it did the job. (I like a clean house because I am my mother’s daughter. I like gadgets and tech because I am my father’s daughter. Super early adopter robot owner me.Yay robots who do your bidding!)

Monday, December 20, 2010

AEP GridSmart: Electricity Saving Tool or Intrusive?

When it comes to electricity, we all want it. We all need it. We keep creating more and more items that use it to make our lives easier or more fun or more efficient. However, I can’t help but think where is all of that extra electricity we use going to come from?

As it is, there are cities, even whole states, that consistently use more electricity than they can generate on their own. Building new power plants of any type (using alternative or conventional means of making electricity) is difficult because while everyone wants to reap the benefits (including myself) no one wants a new power plant in their backyard because it can mess with property values.

For now, the best course of action may be to collectively use what electricity we have a little more wisely. This is difficult, even for me. I really don’t know how much electricity I’m using until long after I’ve used it - at the end of the month when I get my bill.

One method is for electric companies, like mine, American Electric Power (AEP) to use gridSMART   smart meter and grid technology to reduce electricity consumption and improve system wide delivery and performance. It would mean having a smart meter, a Programmable Communicating Thermostat, and eventually appliances with smart chips in your home. That way, you can check your use in real time on line, be billed for your use at a flexible billing rate, and make adjustments as you see fit.  

 A conventional electric meter next to a digital smart meter

It sounds great! I also like that the gridSMART technology runs on auto pilot much like my current programmable thermostat. The only difference is that unlike my current programmable thermostat (which I learned that most people don’t use because programming them can be a pain) the Programmable Communicating Thermostat is easier to program. The Programmable Communicating Thermostat and smart chip appliances would also send information back to AEP about my use during peak use times such as sweltering summer days and allow AEP to lower my temperatures a notch to prevent a system overload or brown out.

That last part sounded a little Big Brother to Husband. Because as much as we like saving electricity and having a lower than normal electric bill, we hate people telling us what we have to do in our own home. Husband also wondered what prevents someone from reducing the refrigerator’s electrical use to the point it makes ice cream melt because they want to be mean. 


I was invited to a blogger lunch and presentation sponsored by AEP, Mom Central Consulting , and Silver Spring  to discuss AEP’s gridSMART program and get some answers to Husband’s questions.

AEP’s new gridSMART pilot program will install new Smart Meter’s on customer’s homes (sadly not in my area of the city.) Unlike the current mechanical meters, digital Smart Meters have encrypted wireless two way communication between your house and the electric company so no one can mess with or access your information. Besides the flexible billing rates and allowing customers to set up an alert when you move to a higher energy pricing tier, the smart meter will automatically alert AEP when there is a blackout.

Under the current system, at least three homes have to call it in before AEP knows that there is trouble. That last part made me sit up and take notice, because as you all know Mother Nature likes to send me blackouts. They build character.

Opt In, Opt Out GridSMART Programs

All of those services get me excited but in the interest of checking things out thoroughly I had to ask about some of the things that gave Husband a Big Brother like vibe. Mainly:

·        “Offering consumers the option to receive a rebate in return for allowing AEP to send set back signals to a Programmable Communicating Thermostat during peak load conditions.
·        In the future you will be able to control the energy usage of the appliances in your home through chip connected to your home area network. “ AKA: Smart chip appliances.

Fortunately, under AEP’s gridSMART program these options are opt in only. You are given a financial incentive in the form of a rebate to have the AEP Programmable Communicating Thermostat installed but if you don’t want it, you don’t have to have it.

In addition, even if you have it installed and say, you’re having a houseful of relatives over on a crazy hot summer day, you can override the temperature if AEP wants to lower your thermostat a notch or two.  The same goes for the smart chip appliances – because who wants melty ice cream? Not me!

All changes need to be approved through the Public Utilities Commission (PUCO) before AEP rolls them out to their customers. So that lessens the chance that someone will be lowering your electrical use just to be spiteful to Not Going To Happen.

AEP Ohio is one of the first utilities to test this program. They tell me that gridSMART is the trend and something like it will eventually be coming to you. What do you think? Is it a money and energy saving tool or too intrusive?

Disclaimer: I wrote this post after attending an informational luncheon on behalf of Silver Spring Networks and Mom Central Consulting and received a gift bag and gift card as a thank you for taking the time to participate. This had no bearing on my opinions and all thoughts and opinions are my own. As you all well know, I can be highly opinionated.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Do You Strip Screws? Try an Impact Driver

I am the undisputed Queen of Stripped Screws. I strip screws with a manual screwdriver because I don’t have a lot of strength in my hands. I bought Mommy’s Little Helper, my mega torque electric drill, hoping the extra torque would solve the problem.

I still strip screws from time to time but now with turbo!

After some research, I realized that electric drills commonly strip screws. What I should have been using all along is an impact driver. Unlike an electric drill, an impact driver is made to do one thing and it does it very well: drive screws and hex nuts. It is less likely to strip screws. I say less likely because if you are the Queen of Stripped Screws, you will find a way to strip one when normal people will not. I consider it my gift, my curse.

What is an Impact Driver?

Unlike an electric drill, an impact driver drives the screw by both rotating the drill bit and using concussive blows. Moreover, if you are the Craftsman NEXTEC 12.0 Volt Right Angle Impact Driver you can do it tight little spaces.

 This is a right angle impact driver.  
The Craftsman NEXTEC 12.0 Volt Right Angle Impact Driver to exact.

I found it to be the perfect tool for installing the screws for my curved curtain bracket because my electric drill won’t reach. I’ve tried using a long manual screwdriver but it is impossible to keep on the screw head for more than a few turns at a time and I don’t have the strength in my hands to drive one of those screws into a wall stud.

What the Craftsman Impact Driver Is Not

The Craftsman NEXTEC 12.0 Volt Right Angle Impact Driver is related to the Craftsman Hammerhead Auto Hammer I reviewed. Like the Auto Hammer there may be some confusion about what this powerful and lightweight little tool is designed to do.

  • Craftsman NEXTEC 12.0 Volt Right Angle Impact Driver is not an impact wrench (also known as an impactor, air wrench, air gun, rattle gun, or torque gun) which is commonly used in auto shops to loosen and tighten lug nuts as well as drive screws. Impact wrenches generally need to be connected to an air compressor to work. The Craftsman Right Angle Impact Driver does not. It runs off a 12 volt rechargeable battery.
  • The Craftsman NEXTEC 12.0 Volt Right Angle Impact Driver is also not a hammer drill (also known as a rotary hammer, roto-hammer or impact drill.) Hammer drills are used to drive into material like stone or to break through concrete.
Me using the mother of all hammer drills to break up concrete in my flower bed. 
Generally, we refer to this size as a jackhammer. It was crazy fun to use!

Craftsman Impact Driver Review


  • The Craftsman NEXTEC 12.0 Volt Right Angle Impact Driver will drive hex nuts as well as screws.
  • The Craftsman NEXTEC 12.0 Volt Right Angle Impact Driver is the most powerful and lightest weight right angel impact driver when I compared it to the store display of a Hitchati and a Ridgid right angle impact driver. The Craftsman and the Hitchati were approximately the same weight. However, this short woman appreciates that the Craftsman impact driver isn’t as monster heavy as the Ridgid. The Ridgid is the heaviest of the three.
  • The Craftsman is also the most powerful of the three right right angle impact drivers. The Craftsman has 700 pounds of torque, followed by the both the Hitachi and the Ridgid which both have 650 pounds of torque.
  • The NEXTEC 12.0 Volt Right Angle Impact Driver is great for tight spaces. I can see using it for future bicycle maintenance especially.


  • The Craftsman NEXTEC 12.0 Volt Right Angle Impact Driver came with several size heads for hex nuts but only one screwdriver bit, which is what I’d use it for the most. Regular Craftsman screwdriver heads should not be used in the Impact driver because they aren’t made to withstand the concussive force of an impact driver. However, Craftsman told me they will have sets of impact driver screw heads for sale in November. But for the $99.99 price tag, I think they should be included.
  • It comes with only one rechargeable battery. The battery charges quickly and holds its charge for longer than my initial test period. You can buy extra batteries from Craftsman.

Would I Buy a Craftsman Impact Driver?

I’m not afraid to give a tool or anything I review for that matter a thumbs down if it doesn’t work for me. I wondered if the Craftsman NEXTEC 12.0 Volt Right Angle Impact Driver would just be a nifty toy to have instead of something I would use for jobs other than curtain rod brackets since I already have an electric screwdriver, which kinda stinks so I don’t use it. 

Given that the Craftsman Impact Driver is designed so stripping screws is less likely than an electric drill, that it is also less likely the slip off the screwhead and make accidentally countersinking your thumb less likely (trust me that’s a good thing.) I’d buy the Craftsman NEXTEC EXTEC 12.0 Volt Right Angle Impact Driver for the handywoman who doesn't have the strength in her hands (or desire) to drive screws with a manual screwdriver, the older handyman who's losing strength in his hands, or anyone who wants to drive screws the easy way.

Disclosure: Craftsman supplied me with NEXTEC 12.0 Volt Right Angle Impact Driver to facilitate this review. I went to a home improvement store on my own to compare it to other tools. All opinions are my own and longtime readers know I am very opinionated.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

I Painted My Kitchen with No VOC Paint

For 6 years, Husband and I have been going around and around about what color to paint the kitchen. Since he is the Head Cook he wanted a say in how I decorated “His Domain.” I guess I can give him that. I’m also fine with him calling the kitchen His Domain. Heck, he can call it Shirley for all I care as long as he cooks my dinner!

Being a green blogger, I’m supposed to automatically choose a low or no VOC (volatile organic compound) paint to improve the indoor air quality for the health of my family. However, I had a lot of questions and concerns if a low or no VOC paint job would last. Turns out, my concerns were not such a big deal. I found out that we painted our bedroom six years ago with a paint that qualifies as a low VOC paint, even thought the company doesn’t advertise it that way. The bedroom paint job has held up over time but as for a low VOC paint, it SMELLED just as much as the mistint of conventional paint I bought from the Habitat Restore to paint the laundry room.

Since that stinky low VOC paint job held up over time, I was ready to take a chance on a no VOC paint. Hopefully, with less stink.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Baking Soda Deodorant FAIL

Have you heard that some people use baking soda as deodorant? It’s a great way to avoid parabens and aluminum chlorohydrate if you’re concerned about that. Think of all the money you'd save too!

I was hesistant at first. The one time I tried an environmentally friendly stick deodorant it gave me a rash under my arms. Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!

I’ve always had a problem with finding a deodorant that works for me, most leave me wiffy at the end of the day, especially roll on deodorant. I have better luck with solid stick deodorant but even then only two brands work for me.

I found a roll on deodorant in the back of the linen closet during a clean out. I was out of my full of parben and aluminum chlorohydrate stick deodorant. Since I am trying to green my health and beauty aids, I figured I would use the roll on and a homemade version together (in the case of stinky failure) applied with a powder-puff. After I went through the roll on I would transition to just baking soda.

I tried three different baking soda and homemade deodorant combinations. I tried each experiment for a month. I didn’t do much in the way of heavy sweaty work or working out. It was spring so it was not hot outside either.
  • I applied the roll on and used that for a few days alone. By the end of the day, I detected a faint body odor at the end of the day. FAIL.
  • I mixed equal parts cornstarch and baking soda. I used it with and without the roll on. My pits felt gritty and detected a faint body odor at the end of the day. FAIL.
  • I tried using baking soda only. I used it with and without the roll on. I my pits were not gritty but I detected a faint body odor at the end of the day. FAIL.

Home made deodorant?


I consulted my friends from the Green Moms Carnival. These women are brilliant. I figure someone in this group has either had an experience close to mine or found a way to make it work without the stink. From our unscientific and funny discussion, it seems that successfully using baking soda and various homemade deodorants  depends on the individual’s body chemistry.

My body chemistry said, "Stinky. Please pass the parbens" at the end of the day.

I’m back to the one parben laden, aluminum chlorohydrate filled stick deodorant that keeps me from stinking. I'm not very happy about that but I am happy that I'm not stinky at the end of the day. I think my family and friends prefer me that way too.

For a different take on baking soda as deodorant, check out Beth’s experience at Fake Plastic Fish.

Have you tried baking soda as deodorant? What was your experience?

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Sunday, August 15, 2010

Make a Woven Ribbon and Washer Bracelet

I open the email and sat there, stunned. Martha Stewart Omnimedia invited me to their Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Bloggers' Night Out! party to meet the Martha Stewart creative team!


Mindful Momma said we should make something to wear to the party.

Dare I?

Inspired by the belt on my new dress, I grabbed some washers left over from the cornhole game boards I built in the garage, a bit of ribbon from my sewing stash, and made a woven washer bracelet using A Steno Pad for My Thoughts woven washer necklace tutorial.

Another project that perfectly illustrates my tool girl side and my girly girl crafty side.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Skinny Swedish Meatballs

Our friend Rick is in a concert band that marches in a few summer parades. When he found out that I twirled flag and rifle an eon ago in high school he asked me to twirl in their flag unit. Practices start less than an hour after Husband gets home from work. If I want to avoid a fast food meal on the nights I have color guard practice, I need a quick meal for dinner, like 30 minutes or less kind of dinner. Semi-homemade is one way to go because we eat most of our leftovers for lunch.

Enter Farm Rich. I checked the Farm Rich website and found that their food is free from trans fats, hydrogenated oils, and high fructose corn syrup – things I don’t want in my food. Their meatballs are made from a combination of pork and beef, which made me think of Swedish Meatballs.

Every Scandinavian has their own version of how to make meatballs. Yes, even us Danes. My favorite meatball recipes are the Swedish ones that use both pork and beef (hold the veal thank you) in the meatballs and calorie laden heavy cream and butter.

Hm… I wonder if I can use the Farm Rich Meatballs and tweak a Swedish meatball recipe to make it a little less on the calories for a quick meal?

Lisa’s Skinny Swedish Meatballs

The picture isn't out of focus. That's steam raising from the meatballs.
Food photography is tough I tell you! (Seriously.)

Farm Rich Meatballs (or make your own from scratch) There are approximately 64 meatballs in a bag (when I finished it I used the empty plastic bag for doggie duty.) I was able to get two meals out of a bag.

Whole wheat pasta

1 cup of skim milk
½ cup of plain yogurt
2 Tablespoons margarine
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
¼-Teaspoon salt
¼-Teaspoon pepper
¼-Teaspoon ginger
¼-Teaspoon ground cloves
¼-Teaspoon cinnamon
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
Meatball juices (optional)

1. Prepare the meatballs per the cooking instructions on the bag. I choose to bake mine for 30 minutes because it gave the meatballs a nice crispy texture. 

2. Combine skim milk, yogurt, margarine, Worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper, ginger, and cinnamon over medium heat.

3. Stir in the cornstarch to thicken the sauce.

4. When the meatballs are fully cooked through, stir in combine the meatballs and meatball juices into the sauce (as desired) and heat through.

5. Serve over a bed of whole wheat pasta

It was delicious! The Skinny Swedish Meatball recipe is worth keeping. What about the Farm Rich Meatballs?


1. Farm Rich does not contain transfats, hydrogenated oils, or high fructose corn syrup in the meatballs or in any other Farm Rich product for that matter. Yay!

2. Farm Rich Meatballs can be prepared in the slow cooker, stove top, microwave oven, or conventional oven. I preferred the oven because it made the meatballs a little crispy and I could easily drain the juices if I choose.

3. These meatballs are probably going to be a better choice if you live in a small town or rural area like my parents and in-laws. They don’t have ready access to fancy schmancy gourmet groceries or as many choices to grocery shop at as I do in a large city. That's why I choose to review some less than perfectly green products like this, so you have options if you need them. As always, your mileage may vary.


1. Farm Rich Meatballs are a prepared food and I know some of you don’t like that. Sometimes our activities leave us in a time crunch for dinner and semi homemade is a better option because we refuse to eat in shifts. Family dinners are important to us even when the family consists of two people.

2. The meatballs are a bit high on the sodium scale but hey, it is a prepared food and that is not uncommon with prepared food including the organic stuff. Since I try to watch the sodium, it is better for me to eat Farm Rich Meatballs on occasion.

I’m not sure how to call this one. If I were a staunch person (and I am about some things), I’d pan them immediately just for that fact that Farm Rich Meatballs  are a prepared food in a resalable plastic bag. I reused the plastic bag for doggie duty because I have to bag it so again, I'm OK with the plastic bag while some of you may have issue with it. However, my life isn’t always so black and white and because that would be boring and unrealistic.

Farm Rich Meatballs taste good. They are something that allows me to do a quick meal that doesn’t have transfats, hydrogenated oils, and high fructose corn syrup in the ingredients, which I am staunch about avoiding as much as possible. However, the sodium is high and while we don’t have heart or blood pressure issues, we try to follow a low sodium heart healthy diet so those problems won’t crop up early. You’re welcome insurance company.

Nevertheless, we do make allowances along the lines of The Conscious Shopper’s 80/20 Rule because since Husband and I are so healthy, we can eat less than perfect food on occasion. Am I using the 80/20 Rule as a trick arrow for my quiver or as a cop-out? I will leave it up to you. What do you think?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Ditch the Disposables: Try Reusable Produce Bags

One thing we haven’t switched over to is reusable produce bags. Husband is convinced that food stays fresher longer in a disposable plastic produce bag in our refrigerator. (Anyone? True? False? Any tips?) When I’ve attempted to not use a produce bag for something big like an eggplant at the store, Husband sticks it in a plastic disposable produce bag when I’m not looking. In the interest of martial harmony, I go along with it. I figure I can always use the empty produce bag for doggie duty.

Given the current empty produce bag population at our house, Blitzkrieg better get a lot more roughage in his diet. We buy fresh produce as much as possible and he has a lot of empty produce bags to fill. Just sayin’

Fortunately ChicoBag came to my rescue. ChicoBag has developed a line of reusable produce bags, called The Produce Stand Collection. The Produce Stand Collection is made up of three reusable produce bags that fold up into a little apple pouch. There is a Hemp-Cotton bag is for leafy greens or grains, a Mesh rePETe bag is for fruit, and a solid rePETe bag is for squash, carrots, etc.

ChicoBag offered to send me a set for review. I thought that if this product worked well enough to pass Mr. Skeptical’s test not only would I have one less thing cluttering up my house (and ultimately the landfill), but it must be a better than good product. While Husband doesn’t like waste or products with harmful ingredients that could poison our dog, he isn’t always gung ho just for greenness sake. The product has to be green AND work as well or better than its more conventional equivalent. I love this because he keeps me real.

My first test was kind of a cheat. I used the Produce Stand Collection at Trader Joe’s. I didn’t have a problem with using the reusable produce bags there or at the farm market. Oh, and the produce bags were the just the right size when Mother in Law gifted me with some rhubarb from her garden.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

French Meadow Bakery: Yeast Free Bread That Actually Tastes Good

French Meadow Bakery has a wide range of breads, bagels, tortillas, cookies, and brownies that are various combinations of certified gluten-free, lactose free, casein free, lactose free, trans fat free, vegan, yeast free, certified USDA organic, and low gylcemic for diabetics. They contacted me about reviewing their products. I don’t have food sensitivities but I know some of you do and as a foodie, my curiosity was peaked.

However I was cautious about the taste. I’ve heard people with Celiac Disease  describe something as “not bad for gluten free” which in my very limited experience (a 3 ounce taste of gluten free craft beer to be exact) that roughly translates as “not completely wretched.”

Since I don’t have any food sensitivities, I think I can give you a straightforward review of this bread and if it tastes like real food. The best thing that could happen is I find a yummy new bread. The worst thing that could happen is…well, I do have a compost bin.

Husband I tried the French Meadow Bakery Hemp Bread (Low Glycemic, Vegan, Yeast Free), Healthseed Spelt Bread (Organic, Vegan, Yeast Free), and Flax and Sunflower Seed Bread (Organic, Vegan, Yeast Free.) We ate each flavor of the bread as toast with honey and again in a sandwich with turkey, sliced mozzarella cheese, and leftover homemade Thai Peanut Dipping Sauce. We taste tested multiple times because we have a habit of eating breakfast and lunch each day.

The French Meadow breads are much more flavorful and chewy than the whole wheat bread I regularly buy. I’m really surprised because I was lead to believe that most gluten free food tasted terrible. There is a nice mix of grains and I really enjoyed the dense flavor and grainy texture of all the breads I tried.

There were a few noticeable differences. The bread is sold frozen in the freezer case because it doesn’t have any preservatives in it. This isn’t an issue for me because I usually buy my bread four loaves at time and store them in the freezer until I’m ready to make a sandwich. As always, your mileage may vary.


  • The Hemp and the Spelt had a nice multigrain flavor which is what I like and look for in dark breads. 
  • The Flax and; Sunflower bread reminded me a lot of a rye or sourdough in taste. So much that I have to keep double checking the package to make sure it was neither rye nor sourdough bread. Good job French Meadow. 
  • The Hemp bread is made from industrial hemp. In other words, the THC levels are so low it’s impossible to get high from eating the bread. Or from smoking a slice if that’s your thing.


  • Since the bread is a little denser, it took a bit longer to defrost and toast. Not really a good or bad thing, just something to be aware of.


  • Husband didn’t like the Hemp bread. He said it had an after taste that he didn’t like. I couldn’t detect what he was talking about but then again I liked it (and not because I got a free loaf of bread. One loaf we got free for review. The other two we bought with our own money because they looked interesting.) 
  • This stuff is expensive - Up to $5.50 a loaf. Fortunately French Meadow Bakery has coupons
  • The slices of Spelt and Hemp loaves were significantly smaller than a traditional loaf of sliced bread. Makes sense since all of the breads we tried are yeast free.

The verdict? While a bit more expensive than regular sandwich bread, I’d buy it again on occasion because it tastes good, which other than being transfat and HFCS free, is what I want in bread. Based on my good experience with the breads, I’m going to be on the lookout for French Meadow Bakery’s other products in the future and give them a whirl if I find them for sale. If you have gluten, yeast, dairy, vegan, or sugar sensitivities French Meadow Bakery’s breads are a great option that doesn’t sacrifice on taste. Well done French Meadow Bakery!

Update 4/9/10 3:43 PM - I updated the types of bread with their designations. Turns out I didn't buy the gluten free varies of bread that I first thought I had but all are yeast free which is something I haven't tried either. Based on my experience with the breads I tried I will try to find the gluten free flavors of bread.

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Hey FTC in case you weren’t reading carefully: French Meadow Bakery gave me one free loaf of bread so I could conduct this review. I bought two more loaves with my own money for comparison. French Meadow Bakery didn’t pay me to say nice things about their product all opinions are my own and longtime readers know I can be very opinionated.

Further Disclosure: I feel like a jerk going into this review and thinking this bread might taste terrible based on my limited experience with a gluten free beverage. I am so happy I was wrong about that.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Coconut Shrimp with Thai Peanut Dipping Sauce

I’ve been dealing with an itchy flaking scalp for the last six months and tag teaming the problem with my hairstylist and my family doctor. Two shampoos and a new prescription later both suggested I add more Omega 3’s to my diet. Translation: eat more fish.

I settled in on shrimp because it is most of the affordable (AKA frozen) type of fish I can get in land locked Columbus that is environmentally OK.  That and I really like to eat shrimp. Cooking shrimp is a slightly different story because it’s easy to overcook. I’m not a fan of stir fried rubbery shrimp bits. I did some poking around the internet and found a recipe for coconut shrimp. Husband is a big fan of all things coconut. However I’m not a fan of the mess involved with hand breading things.

So I cheated. I bought SeaPak Coconut Shrimp.  I wanted to do something a little different and took a recipe suggestion off of the SeaPak site to serve it with Thai peanut dipping sauce instead of using the marmalade dipping sauce that came with the shrimp. I put the marmalade sauce aside and will get clever with that later.

To prove that I’m not completely useless in the kitchen I made a Thai peanut dipping sauce  with natural peanut butter instead of buying a premade sauce. I served the coconut shrimp with brown rice and steamed broccoli. The rice was the most difficult part of the meal because it has the longest cooking time, which really isn’t saying much because it only took 30 minutes. The shrimp took about 12 minutes to bake – let’s hear it for quick food!.

Pardon my plating. I don't know how food bloggers do it. I really just wanted to hurry up and eat dinner, not style photos.

The taste? Pretty darn good. Husband said, "It was light. It was crispy. It was yummy, even better with your dipping sauce."


  • Mighty tasty and not soggy like our control - Kroger brand coconut shrimp (purchased with my own money), and this comes from someone who routinely and weirdly prefers the taste of generic food over the name brands. 
  • The SeaPak coconut shrimp were butterflied unlike the Kroger brand coconut shrimp they were tiny and sad looking.
  • Not too bad on the packaging. The only thing I threw away is the small plastic bag holding the marmalade dipping sauce. I shredded and composted the paper box. I rinsed and reused the small plastic bag holding the shrimp for Blitzkrieg doggie duty.

  • The marmalade dipping sauce has high fructose corn syrup in it. That was easily avoided by making my own Thai peanut dipping sauce or just going without the dipping sauce. 
  • The Kroger brand coconut shrimp had 5 more shrimp in the box for the same price as the SeaPak coconut shrimp. Although there was a definite difference in the taste – the SeaPak tasted much better.

This is definitely a you get what you pay for situation. The Kroger brand shrimp was slightly less money per shrimp but failed the taste test in comparison to the SeaPak Shrimp. The SeaPak shrimp are a better tasting product.

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Disclosure: SeaPak provided me with a free sample to facilitate this review because I probably wouldn't have considered this product otherwise and now I'm glad they did. They did not compensate me in any way and all opinions are my own. SeaPak didn’t ask me to compare their product to a store brand. I did that on my own which I purchased with my own money if you were reading this post carefully.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Tooltalk: Let’s Compare Screwdrivers!

Here’s a treat for you - a guest post by none other than my Dad! The man who can fix anything that’s broken, explained even the most complicated technical thing in a way I understood to my former little girl self, and encouraged me that I can do anything I put my mind to and if I can’t do it like everyone else – find another way to do it. Take it away Dad!

OK! Here's a tip for you. I know that you don't like wimpy power tools, but sometimes wimpy is good.

Let's say that you are going to replace that pesky light switch in the hallway that keep blinking on and off. You grab your trusty screwdriver and remove the switch cover. No biggy here. Next to start to remove the screws holding the switch in place. These suckers are 1½ inches long. Looks like carpal tunnel in the making! After removing the wires from the old switch and placing them onto the new one, it's installation time. Wow! The new switch has those pesky 1½ long screw too! There goes the other wrist!

You could use your trusty MEGA TORQUE cordless screw gun from Dewalt, Black & Decker, Ryobi or the likes, but with its gut wrenching torque it would either rip the switch box out of the wall or spin you around like a off center ferris wheel. Not fun!!!

Maybe Dad is referring to my super duper mega drill and screw gun nicknamed Mommy’s Little Helper? - Lisa.

Why not do what I do? Latch onto one of these small, I carry it in my pocket most of the time, screwdrivers. I like the Bosch SPS10-2 because it turns faster, alway like more speed, and comes with 2 batteries and a charger. Charge one while using the other. The downside of this tool is that it does not come with the screwdriver tips, but has a nice tool bag.



At $10 less there is the Ryobi HP41LK. Good tool with a torque limiting clutch for the trigger happy. It comes with a tool bag and bit set. No inter-changeable battery. When its dead it's Miller Time.

Last on the list is the Black and Decker L4000. It comes with bits and a wall hanging kit. It also has a cute little screw holder that extends out from the front for the all thumbs crowd. No tool bag or changeable battery. Maybe Miller is going for a monopoly?


These tools are great for those little jobs, like light switches, cabinet knobs, shelves mounted on drywall and the like. They are light weight, easy to handle and fit into the flashlight holder of most tool belts.

Check them out!

Hey FTC this one’s for you: All opinions in this post are purely my father’s at the time of this writing. He nor I got any compensation or product from the companies mentioned in this post.

Further disclosure: Yes, this post was really written by my father. As you can see, we share the same sense of humor because, duh, we are related.

Even further disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase using the Amazon link in this post, I earn a small commission (really small) which will help me with my goal of making Condo Blues a self hosted blog at no additional cost to you. As for me, I'm going to borrow these tools for free from my Dad.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Ultimate Cloth – Does it Clean as Green as They Say?

Does your house need a good clean after the holidays? Yeah, mine too. I love a clean house but I don’t want to spend my whole life cleaning it. I also want to clean as chemical free as possible for the sake of my family.

And I’ll let you in on a little secret. I have a mad crush on trying different green cleaning supplies. That sounds like a very strange hobby, because it is.

That’s how I came by the Ultimate Cloth. The Ultimate Cloth is a MiraFiber cleaning cloth. What’s that? Well I didn’t know until they told me either. Instead of being made with fibers that have little hooks that pick up dirt like a microfiber cloth, MiraFiber cloths have open spaces between the fibers that act like tiny scoops that pull dirt into the cloth and hold them.

At first glance the Ultimate Cloth looked like a cross between a glorified paper towel and a chamois - thin, stiff, and flat. I figured this thing would rip when I popped it in the washing machine for the first time. And it’s supposed to clean with just water? No cleaners? Riiiight. Honestly I didn’t have high hopes for this one.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

National Brownie Day is a Real Holiday?

I like to eat brownies. I also like to support local businesses and when those local businesses make brownies, I get an extra happy in my tummy.

Cheryl & Co. is a based in Columbus and they make brownies. Their cookies are the stuff of legend. They invited me their Headquarters December 8th to celebrate National Brownie Day and also to learn about their other companies, The Popcorn Factory and 1-800 Flowers. Which are companies I patronize already and had no idea were part of Cheryl & Co. I accepted their invite much to Husband’s delight.

Tip: I keep and reuse Cheryl & Co. and The Popcorn Factory’s sturdy and brightly printed cookie boxes, popcorn and cookie tins for wrapping small gifts. Experience gifts like tickets or membership paperwork look more significant when they come in a decorated tin. All you need to do is slap on a bow or ribbon and you’re done! Quick, pretty, reusable gift wrap. I like.
I saw how Cheryl & Co. make their famous cookies and brownies. The process is kind of like how you’d do it at home with real butter, eggs, and sugar but on a much bigger scale. I was impressed that Cheryl & Co. doesn’t add extra preservatives to their cookies and that they can still be frozen for up to six months.

Cookies cooling and waiting for butter cream frosting

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Add a Blanket to Your Bed Giveaway

My furnace is just a touch under the Energy Star rating, is less than 5 years old, and works well so we’re keeping it. However, I am able to make it run more efficiently by cleaning the reusable filter on the first day of the month (so I remember to do it) and by installing a programmable thermostat which sets the furnace to 62 degrees (F) when we sleep. Since I can’t sleep when I’m cold, I like to pile blankets on the bed during the winter. Make that a lot of blankets on the bed during the winter. Because I hate being cold. Hate. It.

Sadly, I can’t cut down on bed blanket bulk with a warm and cuddly down comforter. Husband is allergic to down (drat!) I had to find an alterative. I was surprised to find it in a microfiber blanket. Oh excuse, me a Classic Plush Blanket by Select Comfort, you know the Sleep Number mattress people?
I have to say I was intrigued because while I tried (and subsequently loved) cleaning with microfiber cloths I wondered what the heck makes a microfiber blanket any more special than a regular cotton blanket? Of course I realized right off the bat that a microfiber blanket is made with synthetic materials, so it isn’t a green product; however this was in its favor for us because of Husband’s allergy. As always, your mileage may vary.

I took the cotton quilt off of our bed and replaced it the Classic Plush Blanket. Well I must say that this blanket is aptly named
because it is soft and plushy and very, very warm which is surprised both husband and me because Classic Plush Blanket is quite thin. And warm. Did I mention the warm part? Much warmer than the cotton quilt the Classic Plush Blanket replaced (sorry Grandma.) So while the microfiber blanket itself isn’t a green product, it does allow us to do green things – keep our thermostat low during bedtime, use less energy, and not freeze to death. Yay microfiber blankets!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Green Moms Carnival: Saving Money through Green Means

This month, The Green Moms Carnival takes on the myth that going green means spending tons of money. I’m so excited to host this, my first Green Mom’s Carnival because the topic is close to my heart.
Unlike the message we constantly see in the popular green media, my fellow Green Moms demonstrate that you don’t have to spend exorbitant amounts of cash to green your life. Well, unless you want to, I suppose. Quite honestly, most of my favorite green living tips are the ones that save money as well as the world we live in. Yes, Virginia, you can have both.

Enough of my prattling, on with the Carnival!

Kid Stuff

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Craftsman Hammerhead Auto-Hammer Review

Craftsman gave me their NEXTEC Hammerhead Cordless Auto-Hammer to review. It is a battery operated nailer that doesn’t need a hose or compressor, unlike a large pneumatic nail gun. It’s also a much lighter weight than a pneumatic nail gun – something that this short woman appreciates. It quickly and powerfully drives a variety of nail sizes.

My test: I took the Auto-Hammer to a family reunion to a give it a thorough test run in case the party got a little slow and to get numerous opinions on it. Needless to say, if you want to get cozy with some of your husband’s older male relatives that you really don’t know very well and are a little old fashioned about women doing DIY projects, bring a new power tool to test at a family gathering. Just a helpful hint from me to you.

We had a bunch of different size nails and nailed some scrap boards together. We compared the performance of the Hammerhead Auto-Hammer to a traditional claw hammer.

The results: The Auto-Hammer did what it said – it hammers nails. Some of the older men in my posse, test group, as well as myself liked that the Hammerhead did it with minimal effort on the user’s part. I’m short, and sometimes I don’t have the extra oomph needed to start a nail without bending it while I’m trying to drive it into a wall. Not so, with the Hammerhead. A squeeze a the trigger and a little downward pressure is all it took to drive a large nail into a couple of two by fours. Even my nephew Mr. J(age7) and his girly girl sister Miss H(age 6) both used it to easily nail thick boards together without incident (they were surrounded by adults and all safety precautions were taken.) I asked Mr.J7 what he thought of the Hammerhead Auto-Hammer and he said, “Cool. You could build a doghouse real quick with that.” Miss H6 agreed and with that picked up her stuffed unicorn with the fuzzy purple mane and scampered off to play.

Where the Auto-Hammer really impressed my audience was at removing nails. Sure, the Auto-Hammer kit comes with a small (and very cute) pry bar, if you need to pull a nail out a wall BUT if you’re in a situation where you can flip the boards over you use the Auto-Hammer to drive the nails out of the backside of a board it did it much more easily than trying to remove them with the claw part of a conventional hammer. This isn’t the intended purpose of the Auto-Hammer (please use caution doing so) but every single man in my party was duly impressed and wanted to give that a try. Most said that application alone would make them consider buying the Auto-Hammer despite the $100 price tag.


  1. The magnet in the head holds nails up to 7/16-in wide. Great for those times when you wish you had three hands to hold the nail, steady the wood, and whack the nail on the head.

  2. The magnet in the head makes for very little chance of smacking your fingers with the hammerhead or dropping a nail before hammering it.

  3. Great for those tight areas where you can’t fully swing a claw hammer or don’t have the strength to fully drive a nail into a thick pieces of wood.

  4. Great for those jobs that are in between using a claw hammer and a pneumatic nail gun.

  5. Easy to use. I really hate to use the cliché “so easy a kid can use it” but I think my test demonstrated that with adult supervision, a young person can safely and successfully use this tool the first time out.

  6. Best when using larger nails than smaller size nails. Small nails tended to bend, much like when using a claw hammer but easily remedied if you hold the nail to the board with a pair of needle nose pliers, something I also do when using a conventional claw hammer.

  7. Much easier to use to start hammering a nail into hardwoods than with a conventional hammer!


  1. The nail sleeve that covers up the impact mechanism and retracts during use can leave divot marks on the wood if you aren’t careful.

  2. Not powerful enough to replace a pneumatic nail gun in order to use for heavy professional construction work (think building a people sized house) but it’s not intended to do so. It’s great for smaller projects, like say, the dog house my nephew suggested or hanging peg board on one of the walls of my garage, etc.

  3. The battery is a little hard to push into the charger. It requires a good shove to fully seat the battery onto the prongs in the charger in order to fully charge the battery. If the battery isn’t fully seated it won’t charge properly and you’ll be very disappointed with the results (obviously.)

Overall I like the Craftsmen Hammerhead Cordless Auto-Hammer. I think Craftsman got this one right because it is a power tool that appeals to both women and men for a variety of reasons. It’s a nice addition to my toolbox and if the men in my group had their way, I’d give up the Auto-Hammer and it would be a nice addition to their toolboxes. Not likely. I’m keeping the one I tested. However, I’m not ruling out buying one for those men on my gift list who suggested that I store it in their garages instead of my own.

Friday, May 15, 2009

What are Your Favorite Power Tools for Women?

I like to do DIY jobs. I hate nagging Husband to do my projects – I think that’s mean (no nagging also helps preserve marital harmony.) I don’t believe in a Honey Do List. In my world it’s a Do It Yourself Honey! List.

One of my long term goals is to set up a little workshop in my garage. Operative word Lisa’s Workshop. Where I have a space to fix things or more accurately, an out of the way place to stick stuff that I need to fix or want to build until I find the time to get around to it. Just like my father and his father before me.

I’m in the market for tools. Unfortunately most tools made for women or a woman’s workshop are along these lines.


The biggest problem I find with power tools that are designed for women is that that just plain suck.

Why is it that most tool companies think that all women want are tiny tools in pretty colors? Sure, those cutesy tools may sell but what the tool companies don’t realize is that when those itty bitty cheap pink tools eventually break, and they will, the woman is going to march into the store and replace them with a real grown up version of the tool in question – the type of tool the industry typically thinks of as a “guy” tool like this.


This isn’t a super duper powerful hammer drill that will drill through concrete (unless that’s your need - then have a ball), but it’s more than adequate for the typical handy guy or handy gal who needs a good screw gun or to build something simple like a toy box for their kid. Think a mom (or awesome Aunt) could use that lavender “woman’s drill” to build a simple wooden toy box or turn a trash can into a compost bin? Me neither.

I wish tool companies had opportunities for women DIYers and bloggers to be consultants just like household and appliance companies do because I’d love to test and try out tools and tell them (and you my fabulous readers men and women alike) what really works and what doesn’t. *sigh* but a girl can dream…

Since that’s not reality, I’m going to spill my guts here. Hey tool companies listen up!

Here’s What Real Women Want in Power Tools:

Quality – I want a tool that will last. More often than not the cheaply made, lightweight women’s tools break too easily during routine tasks. That’s dangerous. I snapped the head off of a diminutive “girl” claw hammer when I tried to use the claw end to remove a nail from a wall and rehang a picture - a simple and straightforward task. The force of the hammerhead breaking knocked me on my butt. Fortunately for me, I wasn’t on a stepstool at the time because I could have been injured. I grabbed a grown up “boy” hammer from the toolbox and I was able to remove the nail without breaking the claw or snapping the head off of the hammer.

Weight – I’m 4’11 and I’d like to use a tool that’s physically light enough for me to handle without forsaking the power needed to do the job. Sure I’ll suck it up and heft a heavy tool if the jobs requires. I’ve done it. But if you can design a tool that allows me to work just as effectively as or more so than my current heavy tools not only will I buy it but I’ll shout about it from rooftops! I’ll also buy one for every guy I know.

Scale and Grip - Not every DIYer is a big burly dude with massive man hands. Husband is a lean long distance runner and is also on the short side. A tool that’s scaled for to a shorter person will work for both of us as long as you don’t skimp on the quality. Something that allows me to set the grip of the tool for my small hands but would also allow me to switch the grip so that a person like my Dad with his bigger guy hands could also use the same tool when we work on a project together would be awesome.

Better Ergonomics – This is what I think of when I say “tools made for women.” Tool companies I know you put a lot of research and development dollars into studying the body mechanics and how to redesign tools so that customers can use more efficiently. A good example of this are the hammers with the slightly curvy handle that allow you to drive a nail into a board better but without needing an extra “oomph” of power to drive a nail into a board. Typically those studies are being conducted and the resulting products are being aimed at older male DIYers who have more time to DIY during their retirement years but may not have the same physical strength as they once had during their younger years. Tool companies – these studies also apply to women! If you market to us we will buy these products! Or maybe the men in our lives will buy them for us (hint, hint.)

Color –In all honesty, if I see a pink tool for sale, I’m not going to buy it. Experience has taught me that pink tools are crap. Sorry toolmakers but you taught me that all you care about is making a woman’s tool pink and pretty not about quality or performance. By the way, my Husband and I share tools just like we share kitchen appliances. We have one refrigerator not a pink one for me and a blue one for him. That means I could care even less about tool color.

Tool companies, this is something the guys won’t tell you – as a women I get an extra boost of confidence and self-esteem when I complete even a minor job with a tool that looks like the real deal and not like I need to store it in Barbie’s dream house after I’m done using it. If you can design a tool that meets my performance needs, makes me feel confident when using it, and might even make the men in my life a bit little jealous because it looks like a kick ass tool that they’d want to own - mission accomplished – you’d have yourself a customer for life.

Real World Example: Tool Purchase Based on a Woman’s Needs

Recently, Husband and I needed to buy a mini sledge hammer to break up some concrete in our front flower beds. Here’s how our purchase stacked up to the needs and wants I have on my tool wish list.

Quality: We made our purchase at a home improvement store not a cheap closeout or discount store.

Weight: A four pound mini sledge (a little bigger than a traditional hammer) would do the job quite nicely. Husband could use the four pounder but it was a little too heavy for me. I could only comfortably use the two pound mini sledges on display.

Scale and Grip: We wanted a tool that both of us could use because chances were that we’d be switching on and off until the job was complete.

Ergonomics: We ended up buying a much more expensive three pound mini sledge hammer because the handle and grip were designed so that it was physically lighter to swing (so a small person like me could use it) but delivered the “whoomp!” of a 4-5 pound mini sledge hammer (something that a bigger person like Husband could use.)

Color: By the way the hammer was blue. Who cares? The tool worked and now it’s the color of the dirt in my yard.

That’s my wish list for women’s power tools. What are yours? What do you think about pink power tools? Love 'em? Hate 'em? What power tools would you recommend for women?

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Fabkins – Cute Cloth Napkins for Kids!

While I don’t have kids full time, I am lucky enough to have a whole host of nieces and nephews of various ages to
run experiments on 
help me test children’s products. One of these products was Fabkins children’s napkins. Fabkins are cotton cloth napkins that are a little smaller than a full size dinner napkin and made to fit on kid’s laps and in kid’s lunchboxes.

Fabkins founders Joyce Raffo and Paige Rodgers wanted to pack waste free school lunches for their children. The moms had a hard time finding reusable cloth napkins that weren’t too big for a lunch box and that were, well, fun. They decided to make their own and Fabkins was born.