Archive for the ‘Great Finds’ Category

My girlfriend and I co-hosted a surprise birthday party for our husbands last weekend.  (They are friends from college and celebrated milestone birthdays within a week of each other.)  So much fun!!!  But, the planning started months in advance.

As we discussed the theme and decor for the party, we decided to use chalkboards on all of the food and drink tables.

It was too expensive to buy vintage chalkboards, so I decided to make them.  It turned out to be a fairly easy project.

After reading many blogs and talking to several people that make & sell vintage chalkboards, here are my “comprehensive” directions for DIY Chalkboards


  • Empty picture frames
  • MDF (1/4 inch) – available at hardware stores
  • Chalkboard Paint – also available at hardware stores
  • Primer (recommended;  I used gray spray primer)
  • Fine grit sandpaper
  • Glazing Push Points
  • Chalk & Soft Rags


  1. Select the frames you wish to use.  I picked up four frames at our monthly flea market for a total of $12.   Most of us can probably re-purpose old picture frames we have around the house.
  2. Have the MDF cut to fit the size of your frames.  (Measure carefully!  You want to make sure your boards will fit snugly in the frames.  If your frames still have the glass or cardboard back, these make great patterns.)  Most hardware stores will custom cut for free.  I even went back to Home Depot twice to have the large boards cut into smaller pieces. 
  3. It’s best to prime the MDF.  I used a gray primer spray paint, since I was using black chalkboard paint.  Once the primer is dry, lightly sand the MDF with very fine grit sandpaper.  Use a soft cloth to wipe away all dust.
  4. Paint the primed MDF with chalkboard paint.  I used a disposable sponge roller and painted three coats.  (I wrapped the sponge roller and paint tray in Saran Wrap and placed them in the refrigerator between coats.  This way I only needed 1 roller and didn’t need to clean out my paint tray.)
  5. When the boards are completely dry, you need to “season” them, so you can wipe off the chalk writing and reuse your chalkboards.  Season the boards by using the side of your chalk and rubbing chalk all over the entire surface of your chalkboard.  Wipe off all chalk dust with a soft cloth.
  6. Paint, distress, wax or glaze your frames, depending on the desired look you want to achieve.  (I sprayed my frames white, using white spray paint that I had on hand.)  Be sure to paint in a well ventilated area if you are using spray paint.
  7. To secure the chalkboard MDF into the picture frames, you can use Push Points to secure the board to wood frames using a large screw driver or metal putty knife.

I ended up with four large framed chalkboards and several other non-framed boards (including a very large board that we used at the party to display messages from guests that couldn’t be with us for the party and a long skinny board with a “thank you” message).

I spent $41 on the entire project … I couldn’t have purchased one framed chalkboard for that price!


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Over spring break, we rented an apartment in North Beach, San Francisco.  We were a few blocks up the hill from Washington Square Park (pictured below).  On nice days, the park is often filled with locals hanging out, practicing tai chai or displaying their artwork.  We even saw a guy flipping pizza dough!   The Saints Peter and Paul Church is located at the square.  This is the church where Marilyn Monroe & Joe DiMaggio had their wedding photos taken.  (They weren’t permitted to wed in the church because Marilyn was divorced).

All over North Beach (and SF for that matter), you see beautiful old Victorian buildings.  But you can always tell that you’re in North Beach because the telephone poles are painted in the colors of the Italian flag (red, green & white).  These painted poles delineate the boundaries of North Beach.

North Beach is one of the most popular neighborhoods in San Francisco.  I now know why … they have the best cafes, bakeries, delis, and boutiques!   I want to go back and live there for a month or so!!

Here are our favorite picks of North Beach ….

North Beach Restaurants:

Best Italian Restaurant:  Tony’s Pizza

Tony’s Pizza is located on Stockton Street at the corner of Washington Square Park.  It was our favorite pizza joint.  As you can tell by the crowds, it’s many others’ favorite, too.  Be prepared to wait a while for a table.  The nice thing is that they take down your cell phone and give you a call when your table is ready – great for those that like to browse in the nearby boutiques.

Tony’s offers 9 different styles of pizza — ranging from Napolean wood-fired pizza at 900 degrees to Classic American at 550 degree gas ovens to Coal Fired pizza at 1000 degrees.

We ended up getting a coal fired pizza called the New Yorker with natural casing pepperoni, sliced Italian fennel sausage, ricotta and fresh garlic and oregano.  It was one of the BEST pizzas we’ve ever had.  You may recall, my husband LOVES pizza.  He believes it’s a food group all on it’s own — so we have tried many a pizza!

I loved how they served bread slices in tomato cans along with a tray of dipping sauces:  a garlic honey sauce, olive oil and a roasted red pepper sauce.  Great idea for our home pizza parties!

Best Italian Restaurant:  Sotto Mare

Sotto Mare Oysteria & Seafood at 552 Green Street was my favorite restaurant.  They have daily seafood specials that are listed on the board outside.  The evening we were there, they had sand dabs – which I love!  But, Sotto Mare’s claim to fame is “the best damn Cioppino.”

There is always a wait at Sotto Mare.  The man that greeted us was a feisty, older gentleman.  He asked us if we wanted lobster and handed us this lobster.  He told us to go two doors down for a drink while we waited for a table.

My sister-in-law introduced our family to cioppino a few years ago.  Since, it’s been a family favorite – so we all ordered cioppino.  Sotto Mare’s Cioppino is enough for two — with crab, shrimp, mussels, calamari and clams.  The broth is a thick, flavorful, tomato base … that is so delicious you want to soak every inch of it up with the crusty bread.

It’s a messy dish, but everyone gets a red and white bib and they bring you a roll of paper towels.  Can’t wait to enjoy Sotto Mare’s again!

Best Coffee Shop:  Caffe Greco

Caffe Greco was our favorite spot for coffee in the mornings.  It’s located on Columbus Avenue and they only take cash.  They serve the best cappucino and espresso!  It’s the place the locals go — as so many of the customers knew each other.

We tried several other places … Cafe Roma and Cafe Trieste, which had great coffee, but our preference is Greco.

Best Pastries:  Stella Pastry & Cafe

Across the street from Caffe Greco is Stella Pastry & Cafe.  We bought fresh pastries most mornings to take back to the kids.  They have a wonderful assortment.  They also have great coffee.

Best Boutiques:

Our home was located a few blocks up from Grant Avenue.  Grant Avenue has many cute boutiques — offering unique items.  The hours vary by store — and you often need to ring or knock, as store owners can be in the back.  Here are my favorite finds on Grant …

1)  Mashka Jewelry was a great find (at the corner of Grant and Green Street).  Natalie and I spent quite a bit of time browsing and talking to the owner (who is the designer of the jewelry).  We purchased some beautiful jewelry.  It’s worth browsing the store just to see how creatively the jewelry is displayed (on old books, in glass domes, in bird cages).

2)  Schein & Schein at 1435 Grant Avenue is another lovely find.  They sell antique maps, prints and books.  The store hours are a bit sketchy – it’s best to call and confirm hours.

3) Paparazzi at 1424 Grant had beautiful, unique clothes in the window.  I never got to go in the store, as it was always closed when we walked by.  It’s definitely a must on the next visit.  They also have stores in Cow Hollow and Tiburon.

4)  City Lights Booksellers and Publishers is located on Columbus at Broadway (not Grant Avenue, but worth a mention).  City Lights is one of the few remaining large independent book stores — and has become a world-famous experience for book lovers.

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This weekend (March 9 – 11), Roger’s Gardens held a Tomato Mania event.  Tomato Mania is the world’s largest heirloom tomato seedling sale.  They have over 150 varieties of heirloom & hybrid tomatoes.  And there are many “tomato experts” to help guide you in your decision of varietals, fertilizer, soil, etc. for a successful tomato growing season.

Jeff is always looking for the best tomatoes to plant in our garden, so we went to Roger’s on Saturday.  WOW!!! I’ve never seen so many tomato plants!  And I’ve never seen so many people at Roger’s.

We asked one of the tomato experts if he could only get 3 or 4 tomatoes, which ones he would choose.  Here’s what he recommended (and what we purchased):

  • Sunny Goliath – yellow/gold, very sweet & juicy
  • Creme Brulee – deep carmel color with hints of red & chocolate, full-bodied flavor
  • Carbon – black, very flavorful
  • Green Zebra – yellow & green stripe with citrus flavor

As I walked by all the tomatoes, reading their descriptions, I kept thinking of all the wonderful summer dishes we’ll have this summer.  There’s nothing better than an heirloom caprese salad with home-grown tomatoes.

The checkout line took 40 minutes.  If you don’t mind missing the tomato lectures (Roger’s has a mini amphitheater for lectures), purchase your tomatoes when everyone is listening to the lectures.  It’s a much shorter line.

We kept running into friends on Saturday, so I wasn’t able to browse the rest of the gardens and snap very many photos.

At the checkout (in the Victory Garden area), they have beautiful displays of herbs.

For those of you in California, you can see where other Tomato Mania events are held by viewing their website.  Tomato Mania

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I often get asked what camera I use to take the photos for my blog.  I use a Canon Powershot S90 digital camera and I LOVE IT!   In most situations, I am a point-n-shoot type of camera gal and I have been extremely happy with the S90.  (I believe the current replacement is the S95.

Before taking our kids to Europe two summers ago, my husband and I decided to buy a new camera.  We read many online reviews, visited our local camera shop and talked with several of our camera guru friends.  Based on our needs, the S90 was the best camera for us.  It’s compact, takes great pictures – outdoors and indoors, even in low light.  We have less red-eye issues with the S90 than any camera we’ve previously owned.

The only complaint that I have with the S90 is the placement of the pop up flash.  It’s where you your finger naturally rests as you’re holding the camera for photos.  You get used to changing your finger placement after a few times.

My photo gear collection is on Gangaroo.com — a website where you discover and share products with your friends.  To see my collection of Photography Gear, you can click here.

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Why is it that when you don’t really NEED anything and you really SHOULDN’T be shopping (both kids just got braces and our Am Ex bill just arrived in the mail — with our vacation expenses) — that you find AMAZING things that you really want???

I’ve been looking for an orange handbag since April.  And I’ve also been wanting a pair of leopard print pumps.  Do I need either?  No.  Would I like them?  YES!!!

So what do I find when I dash into TJMaxx this afternoon?

The orange handbag of MY DREAMS!!!  I found a Furla Ostrich embossed leather Greta Tote.  It originally retailed for $540.  You can currently find it on Bluefly in different colors for $358.  And I got it for a DEAL at $179!!!   Oh, how I hope my husband isn’t reading this post!  🙂

As I walked around the store, do you know how many compliments I got on the handbag?  TONS!

I’ve always loved the Hermes Birkin bags.  This is probably as close as I’ll come to ever having something similar.

And, I do love Furla handbags.  I have a few vintage Furla bags from my European traveling days as a single gal.  They are well constructed and have many classic, traditional styles.

Then I browsed through the Shoe department.  I can honestly say I rarely find shoes I like at TJMaxx.  But what did I find?  A cute pair of MaxStudio leopard calf print pumps.  Only $49 and they are actually pretty comfortable.

And, I found an adorable pair of Paolo pointed-toe plum suede pumps for $39!  I love pointed toe heels!  I have several Paolo brand shoes (from Nordstrom’s) that I really like and are quite comfortable.  In fact, I was wearing a pair of Paolo sandals today.  Can’t wait to wear these plum heels!

I haven’t purchased shoes (with the exception of tennis shoes or flats) in a year and a half.  I had knee surgery and have been relegated to flats.  So … I’m quite excited to have a couple of pair of fun heels to wear this fall!

I did purchase one thing that I really did need …

I found this laptop sleeve for $14.99.  While it’s not the cutest … it is certainly one of the least expensive I have seen.  And it looks very well made.

How pathetic is this???  Last weekend I used a manilla folder to protect my Macbook  Air — so I could slip it into my handbag and take it with me to the BlogHer Conference in San Diego — instead of taking my briefcase or a backpack.  The things we women do for vanity sake!

I was quite embarrassed each time I took my laptop out of my handbag.  (I attended BlogHer for my Gangaroo business … what a GREAT conference for women bloggers!)  Next year the conference is in NYC!

Anyway … I got some great deals today at TJMaxx!  Good luck to you on your next shopping adventure!

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About once every four or five months, I head off (bright and early) to our local antique flea market.  They are held the first Sunday of the month.  There’s quite a bit of junk, but there are also hidden treasures.

These days, I continue to look for old bottles topped with seashells (and old architectural renderings — for my stairway gallery project).  Since it’s summertime, I like to find “seashell” additions.

I especially love the old blue milky bottles …. with or without seashells.

I have them displayed in my hallway built-ins — along with dishes that I found at HomeGoods (blue ones 6 years ago; white ones this past week).  Going for the red-white-and-blue look for our party here on the 4th.

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Well … I wasn’t really ready to be thinking about the 4th of July this past weekend.  But, when you see great stuff in the $1 Bins at Target — you must act quickly!

Can you believe that all the things in the picture above cost a $1 each?   We’ll be in town this 4th of July, so we’ll be having our annual BBQ and Swim Party.  I’m not sure how I’ll use all of the items from Target, but here are just a few ideas ….

The nylon pinwheels will be adorable marking the walkway to our front door.  They would also be cute stuck in flower and herb pots in the backyard.

The red, white & blue tin pails would be adorable:

  • holding utensils (forks, spoons & knives)
  • as containers for potted plants, herbs or flowers
  • as serving bowls for nuts, M&Ms (red, white & blue), pretzel rods and other goodies
  • holding straws or napkins
  • with votive candles

The galvanized tin buckets can be used in the same manner as the red, white and blue tins.  However, I think I will use these all summer long.  They would be adorable filled with some sand and votive candles — lighting the walkway at night.

The red, blue and silver beads can be used throughout the house and patio to add festive touches.  Here are just a few specific ideas:

  • As part of the centerpieces on the tables — draped on a table runner, wrapped around flower vases
  • As fillers in apothecary jars
  • In silver bowls — to add festive color

Now the floral and botanical plastic plates and serving pieces were not in the Dollar Bins (I wish!)  They are the Home brand at Target, and were very reasonable.  They remind me of the John Derian decoupage plates that I bought 15 or 20 years ago.

How fun to use them all summer long?!?  I bought the appetizer plates and some serving pieces — very fun for a party or family gathering.  I may end up going back and getting some dinner plates — mix and match.

This summer I’ll be sure to post some pictures of how I use these fun items.

Thinking of summer parties … FUN!

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