Did you know that sunscreen expires?

Back in the day, when I was a middle school teacher, one of my students decided to test the effectiveness of sunscreen. He had these really cool plastic tabs that could detect UVA and UVB rays and determine whether his sunscreen was effectively screening, or NOT. Before his experiment I had no idea that sunscreen could expire. Did you?

Most manufacturers these days do stamp their bottles of sunscreen with an expiration date – typically about three years from the date of production. Three years is the general rule of thumb that you can expect your sunscreen to continue to work for you.


Now that we’ve hit summer, I purchased several new bottles of sunscreen at the store. Before I put them away, I did what the experts suggest and wrote the date of purchase (month and year) on the bottles so I could easily refer back to when I opened them. Three years from now it will be easy to see which bottles need to be disposed.

A couple of other tips: I buy several bottles of sunscreen and store them in various places such as the car, the swim bag, my purse, so I’m not caught without a bottle when we’re out and about. I store the other bottles all in one place, by the back door, so everyone knows where to find some when they need it and it’s easy to grab it and go too.

For more information about sunscreen storage and usage consult these helpful links:

8 Sunscreen Mistakes You’re Probably Making

Does Sunscreen Expire – Mayo Clinic

P.S. I also write the date on the top of my mayonnaise jars when I open them. Again, a quick and easy way to know when the bottle has got to go.



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Trader Joe’s Top 10

Denver has just entered the 21st century. We finally have a Trader Joe’s – two in fact!

Before my husband and I moved here from California we begged and pleaded with TJ’s to consider opening a store in Denver. But the archaic liquor laws here and the fact that at the time there were no other TJ’s in the mid-west meant it wasn’t going to happen. Fast forward 15 years and TJ’s has arrived!

We waited a good week before we ventured near the Colorado and 8th store – heard the lines were crazy long and the parking near impossible. The next week my husband and I were excited to make a date night of the event. It was pretty great. No longer did we have to wait for a trip to a coast or New Mexico to stock up on our favorite TJ’s products. No more shipping wine into Denver when we were lucky enough to drive near a TJ’s. We’ve even been known to check a box of Two Buck Chuck as luggage and bring it home. Now we could take home anything we wanted – even perishables – and know that we didn’t have to wait another year to restock. Having our Denver TJ’s is really dream come true.

The lines in Denver have died down now and if you haven’t made the trip yet – now is the time. A friend told me about this blog post of favorite TJ’s products, so I thought it would be fun to create my own. This is just the tip of the iceberg though and I’m sure you’ll find your own favorite products as you become more acquainted with your local TJ’s.

After you read through my top 10 – tell us what your favorite TJ’s products are.

#1: Wine and Beer

wineThe wine and beer selections are amazing at TJ’s. Just be sure you visit the Colorado and 8th location in Denver if you want alcohol – the archaic liquor laws are still in effect. Most people know about Two Buck Chuck (Charles Shaw) and yes, that’s great wine. In fact it won two years in a row at a little wine tasting party that we host. But I think even more worthwhile are the Trader Joe’s Coastal and Reserve products. They are amazing and still very, very reasonable at $5-$10 a bottle. I was told that a $10 bottle of wine from TJ’s is really like a $20 bottle and I think that’s very true. As for specific recommendations for beer, that’s out of my league, but if you like beer you’ll be sure to be pleased with their selection.

#2 Marcona Almonds with Rosemary

almondsPerfect for munching, adding to salads and great with cheese and cracker platter. When they are not sold out – stock up!

#3 Mandarin Orange Chicken

TraderJoesMandarinOrangeChickenFrontDefinitely not the healthiest thing in the world, but sure is yummy. Tastes very much like Chinese take -out when you skillet saute it. My kids gobbled it up and I must admit I sneaked a few pieces for myself.

#4 Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups

dark chocNeed I say more?

#5 Curry SaucescurryBefore TJ’s I would shop at Whole Foods for the best versions of these bottled simmer sauces. TJ’s offers them as well and they are a great way to start a simple meal with sauteed chicken or vegetables. We like to serve them over jasmine rice and with a side of naan. TJ’s has a frozen naan as well, but we haven’t tried it yet so can’t speak to whether it’s worth getting or not.

#6 Dried Fruit

fruitFantastic selection here. I know that a lot of people swear by the dried blackberries. I’m going to try those next. We usually get mango and pineapple. The kids eat crave it like candy.

#7 Prepared Salads

prepared saladIf you need a quick lunch or are packing a lunch to go you really can’t beat the prepared salads (and sandwiches) from TJ’s. We buy them for ski days and just to have on hand for a quick lunch. Be sure to read the labels though, so are not exactly low-fat or lean in calories. But they are all yummy!

#8 Coffee

coffeeAwesome selection and delicious!

#9 Prepared Indian Food

indianLike the salads these are delicious, microwave ready meals. Great for a quick lunch or sever with veggies or salad to make a complete dinner.

#10 Pita Chip Crackers

pitaA cross between a chip and a cracker. They are my new favorites to serve with cheese. And by the way, TJ’s has an awesome cheese selection as well!


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Soup’s On!

mld104930_0310_lentilc1_vertI’m a California girl, a Southern California girl even, so I grew up eating salad. Salad has been my thing as long as I can remember. Anytime I need to bring something to contribute to a meal, I always choose a salad.

Now I live in Colorado. And you may not know this, but it’s colder here. Actually, right this minute there is a 35 degree difference in temperature. I love living in Colorado and there are so many awesome things about this state – but honestly, I miss the warm, salad weather.

To compensate I’m becoming a soup girl. Never have I eaten so much soup as I have since I’ve moved here. And since I love to cook I’m always trying out new recipes and asking around for recipes. I even took a “Hearty and Healthy Soups” class at Sur la Table. It was really fun.

Here are a few of my favorite recipes. Enjoy!

Crock Pot Tortilla Soup – this is a family favorite. I love to throw it all in the crock pot the mornings that we go skiing and come home to the smell. Quick tip: throw in frozen chicken and then remove and shred just before serving.

Beef Barley Soup – another great soup for the crock pot. This recipe is quick and easy and provides a delicious hearty meal.

Bulgar Lentil Soup - a great veggie option from Martha Stewart. Don’t forget the vinegar at the end. It makes the meal!

White Bean and Kale with Sausage - you can make this one vegetarian by removing the sausage. I love sausage and so rarely do that. The tip here is that the beans take longer to cook than the recipe indicates (at least at my house) so plan for an extra hour to simmer those little guys.

What are some of your favorite recipes? Please share I’m always on the hunt for more.


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It’s December First!

Hello Readers!


I’ve double checked my calendar and despite my disbelief, it IS December 1st. Can hardly believe it. Maybe it comes to such a surprise because we had such a late Thanksgiving this year??

As you recall, today is THE DAY – the big gift challenge day. So, how’d you do? Are you done? How does it feel?

I have to admit I’m actually not 100% done – more like 90% to date. I guess I technically didn’t meet the challenge. But I don’t feel like I failed, I’m OK with being almost done. My list of things left to do is pretty short. I still need to go to the post office and ship my packages – but most of my packages wrapped and boxed and ready to go. I have one more thing to buy for the kids’ teacher gifts – but I can get it a the grocery store and the kids can wrap it. I didn’t get my digital photo book done in time to get it shipped to me before this week – so that’s one gift that will just have to wait. Even though I didn’t completely meet the challenge, I feel good because I’ve done way more than I would have if I didn’t start the challenge to begin with.

For those of you that completed the challenge and are completely done with your shopping, congratulations! I’m impressed. And you get to enjoy your December with a whole new perspective I hope.

For those of you that are getting there (like me) congratulations to you too.  Chances are you’re way ahead of the game and that counts for a great deal as you move into one of the busiest months of the year. As the end of the month approached I found myself starting to stress out that I wasn’t going to meet the December 1st deadline. Then I realized the point of this challenge was not to transfer the stress of holiday shopping and wrapping from December to November. The point was to plan ahead, beat the crowds and create more time in December to actually enjoy the season with “get tos” as opposed to “have tos”.

No matter where you are in your challenge today is a great day to take a moment and reflect on what you want out of your holiday season this year. The purpose of the holidays remain the same – to enjoy the people we love and have some time to relax and celebrate. Take a moment today to decide what’s realistic for you to accomplish in the next few weeks. Perhaps you’re close to finishing your holiday checklist and you can see it through this week. Or perhaps you need to edit your list. Sometimes a deadline is the best thing in the world to help us realize that our goals were not realistic and we need adjust our expectations.

I’ll be in touch in December with some holiday decorating and entertaining tips. I hope you’ll reach out with some of yours’ too.

Happy Holidays (and I mean that),


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December 1st Gift Challenge: Online Shopping

I like to shop. I think I get it from my mom – we often shop together. I generally enjoy the experience of shopping – the people watching, the window shopping, the perusing, the general atmosphere of it all.

What I don’t like is running like a mad woman from store to store looking for that one thing, in that one brand, in that one size, in that one color. Holiday shopping is not usually the leisurely stroll I described above. It’s more like a maddening race to get done. And I’d rather race from home.

Whenever I need something specific – and because I’m tall and have big feet and tend to be exceptionally picky about everything I buy -  I like to buy it online. I find online shopping to be one of the easiest ways to get exactly what I want. I also find online shopping to be a faster, more efficient way to shop. I tend to gravitate to those stores that offer free shipping (with certain items, like shoes, free return shipping too) and offer returns at a brick and mortar location. Some of my favorites are REI, Zappos, Amazon (selective vendors), Anthropology, Nordstrom’s, Eddie Bauer and Boden. And there are tons of others. What are some of your favorites?

I also find great deals online. It’s like one huge bargain bin sometimes. True story – yesterday I was online looking for a winter coat from REI. I had already tried to find it in the store to no avail. When I looked online I found it in more colors and on sale. I also found some socks and a sweater that I had bought in the store that were marked down online and available in more color choices. Because REI has such a great return policy I ordered the sale items and the next time I’m near REI I’ll return the first things I bought.

To read more about online shopping click here, a previous post from this blog.

Challenge Update:We’re getting there little by little. Last week we went shopping for the kids’ gifts. This week we picked a few things for other family members online so that they will arrive in time to wrap them, package them together and ship them by December 1st. I also started working on my mother in law’s photo book, but I need to get more serious about that to complete it by this week. I need to be sure to leave time for it to be shipping and wrapped as well.

How about you? How is your challenge coming along?



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Gift Challenge: What Gives?

Welcome to the second posting about the December First Gift Challenge. If you’re new to the challenge, or you haven’t yet read the first posting about the challenge, you can go here to do that now.

So how did the first week go? Did you create your shopping list?

My husband and I sat down one evening last week and drew up our list. We like to keep it simple and we only buy for immediate family for the most part. We like to give people experiences, as opposed to things, as much as possible – especially for our parents who don’t seem to need anything. We also like to reduce our list of people to buy for where we can. So many of us have so much and it’s seems like a futile task to try to come up yet another gift idea for people who have everything already. With this in mind my sister-in-law and I agreed that we didn’t need to buy gifts for each other (the adults) but we’d just exchange gifts for the kids in our families. What ideas do you and your family have for keeping the wallets and fury of buying in check?

If you’re looking for more thoughts about limiting your shopping list and reevaluating who you buy for and why check out this blog post from Happy Simple Living. She has some great reflective questions to examine our beliefs and practices around holiday gift giving.

As you finalize your lists this week I wanted to share some ideas of alternative gifts you might consider:

  • Experience Gifts – I’ve mentioned this already. Memories are one of the most incredible gifts we can give one another. Who remembers what book or gift card your mom gave you three years ago? But a shared experience is hard to forget. Tickets to the theater, an afternoon pedicure together, a cooking or art class, an evening together to hear a favorite artist or author, a date for hike or bike ride and picnic together, or even just meeting for coffee or cocktails are all ideas of ways to give the gift of shared memories.
  • Charitable Gifts – Last week I got the World Vision holiday gift catalog in the mail. For the person in your life that really does have everything, why not give to someone in need in their name. A few years ago we did this for my step-dad. We choose gifts that reminded us of him; fish for a village in Africa, because he likes to fish and sports equipment for Latin American children because he loves to watch sports. I had the kids draw symbols of the gifts we gave so World-vision-gift-cataloghe would have something to open on Christmas morning. He loved the idea and it was overall a much more meaningful gift than a new wallet or watch.
  • Digital Photo Album – We all love to look at family photo albums, but so few of us have the time and energy to put them together. A digital photo album is gift that gives for years and generations to come. If you need help putting one together and don’t have the time or know-how to do it alone – help is available. Check out Photospin 180 – a photo album service that can put your books together for you.
  • Family Cookbooks – Mostly giving the gift of time, this is a great way to bless your family members with a project that the whole family can enjoy. The great thing about a gift like this is that you can give multiple copies. One gift idea that works for many people. The newest trend in family cookbooks is to do them in a digital format like a digital photo album (Photospin 180 can help with that too), but the old fashioned way with a three-ring binder and page protectors works too.

What are some of your favorite alternative gift giving ideas?

My goals this week are to get started on my digitial photo album and finalize my list of items to buy. Next week I’ll have some tips about shopping online and how to make the most of your shopping experience from your sofa!

Have a great week,



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Take the December First Holiday Gift Challenge

wrapped-upThis year I’m taking the December First Holiday Gift Challenge – I hope you’ll join me! My mom started this tradition for herself years ago. I’ve done it a few years here and there and when I do I find that my holiday season is less stressful, more peaceful and ultimately more enjoyable. December is no longer a mad dash of to-dos and running around, parking, fighting the crowds, buying and wrapping. I decided to make it my tradition now too.

The tradition is simple. Buy, wrap and ship all of your holiday gifts BEFORE December 1st. You’re going to have to do it later anyway, you might as well get it all done this month and enjoy the benefit of knowing it’s all done. If you’ve never done a holiday gift challenge before I invite you to join me this year and see if it takes some of the stress out of your holiday season.

Each week I’ll post a blog or two with tips and things to consider as we move through the month of November and work the challenge together. I’ll update you on my own progress as well. Feel free to post comments and questions yourself and we can all help each other meet our goal.

The first step in this challenge is to DECIDE to take the challenge. Once you decide you’re in, tell someone (you can tell me through this blog) and ask them to ask you how it’s going. This little accountability can play a vital role in helping you keep your commitment and meet your goal.

Next, take this first week to make up your holiday gift shopping list. The planning stage is sometimes the most important part of goal setting and in this case I think it can make or break the challenge. Here are some things to consider when drafting your list:

  • Who are you buying for this year?
  • Who are you NOT buying for this year? (remember you don’t have to buy for everyone or even feel obligated to reciprocate every gift)
  • What’s your total budget for holiday gifts?
  • How much money do you plan to spend on each person on your list?
  • Who will purchase which gifts? Do you delegate certain gift purchases to other family members? For example in my family my husband and I split the list and are each responsible for about half.
  • Are you doing an name drawing for gifts this year? What’s the minimum purchase amount?
  • Do you have any ideas for what the people on your list actually want? Consult wishlists (Amazon for example) or email or call the people on your list to get some ideas. Look through online catalogs to brainstorm items that remind you of that special person or get ideas of things you think they might enjoy.
  • Make a notation of where you might buy the items as well – online, in store, which stores, where those stores are located, etc.

Spend this week thinking through these questions and creating your list. This first step is probably the most difficult of the entire process, but vital to helping you streamline the rest of the month.

Let me know what questions come up as you go through the process. Share your triumphs and your struggles as you go – I will too.



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Spicy Garage Makeover

When the weather’s good, it’s time to clean out your garage. That’s what Funktional Home did for one client this past summer and the before and after photos were featured in Angie’s List’s national magazine – maybe you saw the article.

The job was pretty straight forward – transform this garage (see before photo below) from a dumping ground to a functional space fit for a busy family of five. The owner’s wishlist included a place for gardening tools, kids’ toys, bicycles and scooters, household storage, tools, two cars to park in the winter and, oh yeah, a mudroom. Sound like a tall order? Maybe, but nothing we couldn’t handle.

We began here…

Like so many homes, the garage had become a convenient space to dump stuff. Take a family with a busy schedule and three kids and it’s not hard to see how the garage can get out of hand.

But, help was on the way!

Stacey, organizer extraordinaire, came to help me on this job and we got started sorting, purging and categorizing. Once we developed zones in the garage for each category we designed areas with bins, shelves, hooks and peg boards so that every item had a specific place.  The bottom line, everything needed a home so that it would be easy for the entire family to maintain the newly organized space. When items have homes that are easy to access, it makes putting things away all the easier and this helps cut down on the “procrastination pile” (you know, that pile of stuff you say you’re going to put away.)

Because this family didn’t have a mudroom inside the house, the owner asked that we create one for her in the garage. With peg board for hanging hats, coats and bags, stack-able plastic bins for shoes and boots, mats for catching the wet and a bench to sit and put on or take off shoes we designated a space near the door to the house that functioned as the mudroom. We even painted the back wall a fun and lively bright orange (a favorite color of the homeowner) to make the space feel less like a garage and more like an extension of the home.

Ahhh, a garage anyone would love to come home to.

With the garden equipment neatly organized, working in the garden was something to look forward to doing.

A place for everything, and everything in it's place.

Bike Central

The mudroom. Ready for winter.

Even scooters and sleds have a home.

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Monday Quick Tip: Use an In-box

This is probably my number one tip for clients – use an in-box. Whether you struggle with paper control or not, I’ve found very few systems that work for incoming paper better than an in-box.

The idea is pretty simple. ALL incoming paper goes in the in-box. Mail, school notices, bills, flyers, cards anything that you need to look at goes here first. If my kids need me to sign a permission slip, they put it in the in-box to make sure I see it. If I pick up a flyer for an event and I want to remember to add it to my calendar later, it goes in the in-box.

My husband has his own in-box – you can see it in the picture below, it’s the wire basket under my in-box -  that way our papers don’t get confused. If something comes in the mail for him, I put it in his in-box. He does the same for me. (This is nice too because then it doesn’t matter who gets the mail.)