Patio Zen

This year has been a growing year for me. I have taken on a lot of extra freelancing and started to work for a big interior-inspiration website nearly full time. About half way through, I was so overjoyed with all of the opportunities but also feeling a little overwhelmed, too. My sister, Victoria, who still lives in my hometown, Pittsburgh, shares a lot of the same passions as I do and I asked her if she would be willing to work for me a few hours a week. She jumped in with both feet and I can’t imagine any of this without her anymore.

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I love sending her little surprises in the mail occasionally (I pay her, too, obviously!) because I appreciate her so much. Lowe’s recently came out with a new product I got to preview a few months ago, called Giftables–prepackaged, curated boxes that offer the convenience of getting everything in one box without the scavenger hunt and repeat trips to the store. Each box includes stylish products, tools, steps and tips–and ships for free!


I hopped on their website and sent her the “Patio Zen” box so she could enjoy a night off with added ambiance–there’s no one that enjoys ambiance more than Victoria.


Over the weekend, she texted me this photo:


“This patio is so zen.”

Lowe’s has Giftables for everyone, at any age. You can check out all 11 of their curated boxes that are so diverse and fun to gift–they’re really my new flowers.


This post is in partnership with Lowe’s.




My Favorite Cooking Tools

You can cook. This has been my whole thing, with every post I’ve written. Food is not some exclusive club you have to be on some list to get into, and we should never feel intimidated to try something new. It’s all a matter of having the right tools, and understanding the basics. A few people have asked me to write about my favorite, basic cooking tools and this is that post.

We have partnered with our friends at Blue Apron to give you the run down on my list of kitchen items I use nearly every time I cook and to spread the word about their Thanksgiving Dinner Drive. You can visit before noon on Friday 11/20 to donate a Blue Apron Thanksgiving Dinner to a family in need.  It’s an amazing feast with enough food for a family of six. Last year 35,000 meals were donated and this year the goal is 75,000. I know we can do it!

You don’t have to be a Blue Apron member to donate a meal, but I honestly can’t say enough how much I love their service, and the food is always spot on. They deliver recipes and farm fresh ingredients to your door every week in refrigerated boxes, perfectly portioned so there’s no waste. Every dish can be made in less than 40 minutes and there’s always some cool new ingredient I’ve never tried before, or at least some I can’t get anywhere in our small town.  On our busy weeks, where I still want my family to eat fresh and healthy, but sometimes I don’t want to plan a menu, make a list, go shopping, and portion out my ingredients–Blue Apron is the perfect solution for us. Time is a commodity, and where I work full-time during the days, those hours between 5pm and 7pm (when Greta and Faye go to bed) are precious.

On to my favorite cooking tools! (This particular evening we made their Stir-Fried Beef & Udon Noodles.<—that’ll take you right to the recipe, it’s ridiculously good.)

1. Large Cutting Board

Blue Apron - Cooking Equipment I Use Every Day

I talk about this all the time, but having a large cutting board will make your cooking experience dramatically better. Too many times I’ve cut things on a small cutting board only to have them roll onto the floor. I have this exact cutting board that I bought from Amazon years ago, and I’ll forever use them. They’re cheap, durable, and won’t damage the knives you use on them.

2. Melamine Mixing Bowls

Blue Apron - Cooking Equipment I Use Every Day

A decent set of quality, melamine mixing bowls will be one of your greatest investments. And it’s important to note that “quality” doesn’t mean “expensive” in this case. The pictured bowls we bought at Target, but you can also find similar sets on Amazon. I use them every time I cook. Every. Time.

3. Good-Quality Knife

Blue Apron - Cooking Equipment I Use Every Day

Our long-time readers know that I’m a Wüsthof guy. I’ve used Shun, Zwilling and a range of Japanese blades with names I can’t remember but price tags that made me gasp. I have never come across a blade that out-performs Wüsthof. Having a good quality knife is essential to everything you do, and even though you may be looking at a higher price point, simply by taking care of it (hand wash only, dry immediately, store properly etc), these knives will last you for decades.

4. Microplane

Blue Apron - Cooking Equipment I Use Every Day

A lot of people would consider this an optional thing, but I’m telling you it’s not. The first step in healthy cooking is having the tools that allow you to get the most flavor from your ingredients. A microplane does exactly that and is perfect for pulling as much flavor as possible from ginger and garlic, as well as adding a bright freshness to salads and stir fries from the zest of a lime. I’ve found there are very few dishes that aren’t improved with a little fresh lime zest added.

5. High Quality Pan

Blue Apron - Cooking Equipment I Use Every Day

I’ve used my share of cheap pots and pans, and sometimes that’s all you have. But I encourage everyone to invest in at least one high-quality, versatile sauté pan. Something with a thick, copper base for optimum heat transfer and retention. This pan from Anolon is the single greatest cooking vessel I’ve ever used – it works as a wok, sauté, or frying pan.

6. Powder-Free Vinyl Gloves

Blue Apron - Cooking Equipment I Use Every Day

Another one of those “this isn’t necessary” things, but I tell you what, explosive diarrhea is a bear and cross contamination is how you cause it. Not to mention bloody stool, vomiting etc etc.. Raw meats should always be handled with care, and using disposable gloves has become the norm for me, out of respect for my friends and family.

7. Tongs

Blue Apron - Cooking Equipment I Use Every Day

I own several pairs of OXO Good Grips tongs, and they’re the best. I love it when the best things aren’t the most expensive, don’t you? The spring, the lock, the handle – all of it is designed for comfort and they just work flawlessly. These come in metal and nylon tips, and I suggest at least one of each – nylon for use in non-stick pans, metal in stainless.

Blue Apron - Cooking Equipment I Use Every Day

With these few basic tools and great ingredients, you can make awesome food. Healthy, delicious, awesome food. You can actually find a lot of the high quality kitchen utensils I talked about over in Blue Apron’s marketplace. 

And what’s better, Blue Apron is giving 2 free meals to the first 50 of our readers who order from them today. Click here to get set up – I’m serious when I say you’ll love it, because I genuinely love it myself. I can’t wait to demolish a heap of their Crispy Pear and Goat Cheese Salad, and I’m sure you’ll dig your meals as well.

Blue Apron - Cooking Equipment I Use Every Day

How To Paint the Exterior of Your Home–Yourself!

Today, I have a long overdue update on the exterior of the Pugmire’s home! Back in June, I shared that they had wrote an amazingly catchy song and entered their home in a contest to win an exterior makeover.

Chris Loves Julia | How To Paint the Exterior of Your Home--Yourself!

My favorite line of the song is when they sang, “My favorite color isn’t salmon, or Neapolitan ice cream.” It became the neapolitan ice cream house. We couldn’t see anything else. The brick was so pink!  Unfortunately, although they had the most votes and views, they weren’t awarded the makeover. The grand prize went to a very deserving family in Michigan, and Preston and Corine were not left empty handed. The judges loved the song Preston wrote so much, they have hired him to write songs for their company. It still feels like a win. He’s since written a couple songs and the Pugmires have decided to go forward in giving their house a facelift themselves. That’s where we come in.

Preston and Corine used some of the money they made from writing the first song to replace the brown and white peeling siding around their home but they really wanted to get rid of the pink brick, too. Without them knowing, I reached out to some of our partners, Behr and Wagner and both wanted to be a part of the project. Behr donated masonry primer and paint and Wagner donated a FLEXIO 990 to get the job done (psst–they want to give a paint sprayer away to one of you, too! Easy entry just for reading at the bottom of the post).  Besides hanging the siding, they gratefully did the rest of the work themselves and the results are beyond impressive:

Chris Loves Julia | How To Paint the Exterior of Your Home--Yourself!

Here’s how Preston describes the project:

This was a very aggressive undertaking for just one dude to be honest.  But I did it, and I have no regrets. As Biff Tannen says, the salmon and Neapolitan had to make like a tree and get out of here. Because our brick was so old and not flat at all (it was very rough and bumpy) it had a lot of dirt on it. I spent a whole day, 7 hours or so, pressure washing the entire thing. Every brick surface in the front and back and all the grout lines got sparkly clean. The most underestimated part of the job was taping and masking. I had a friend help and it still took the two of us 8 hours to mask everything off. We have 15 or 16 doors and windows and hundreds of feet of soffit and facia that needed masking before i could start spraying. The amount of tape and red rosin paper was mind-blowing, but necessary to get the job done correctly.

Chris Loves Julia | How To Paint the Exterior of Your Home--Yourself!  

We chose BEHR’s Premium Exterior Multi-Surface Primer & Sealer to prime with and had it tinted dark gray to give us a head start on the final color. To apply both the paint and primer, we used the Wagner Flexio 990. It made the task possible, really. I had a lot of square feet to cover and a lot of climbing up and down a ladder. The gun has a jetpack looking thing that attaches to the 5 gallon bucket and pumps everything through a long hose with no interruption to your gun. Whenever I pulled the trigger, it was ready to go.

Here’s a short video, I captured of Preston explaining the settings he used:

The primer took me one whole day, and the next day I did two coats of the actual color using Behr’s Masonry Stucco and Brick paint in Behr’s Creek Bend–a warm, dark gray. The coverage was amazing and I probably didn’t need two coats, but we had the paint on hand. In fact, we only used about 6 gallons of paint total–excellent coverage and the paint sprayer did not suck up a lot of paint like some tend to do.  The paint sprayer has two parts you can connect to the nozzle: one that goes into a 5 gallon bucket and one that you hook up a small one quart reservoir bottle to. I used the smaller of the two to put black paint in and spray the shutters I built and our front door. The cleanup was a cinch–just take the nozzle apart and clean each little piece in a sink and stick the jetpack in a bucket of hot soapy water and turn it on to flush the tube. 

Chris Loves Julia | How To Paint the Exterior of Your Home--Yourself!

Boom, new house.

Chris Loves Julia | How To Paint the Exterior of Your Home--Yourself! IMG_9725 copycopy

Pretty impressive, right? My sister recently had her house painted and said it cost her around $6k, so if you have the DIY spirit like the Pugmires do, you can save a big chunk of change doing it yourself.

Chris Loves Julia | How To Paint the Exterior of Your Home--Yourself! Chris Loves Julia | How To Paint the Exterior of Your Home--Yourself!

Next year, they have landscaping and a deck on the agenda so I’ll be sure to share another update when that happens. One more before and after:

Chris Loves Julia | How To Paint the Exterior of Your Home--Yourself! Chris Loves Julia | How To Paint the Exterior of Your Home--Yourself!

Who’s ready for a giveaway?!

Wagner wants to give a paint sprayer away to one of our readers! Enter to win a Wagner FLEXIO 890 (a perfect mid-sized sprayer we’ve used for painting our doors and cabinets) using the Rafflecopter widget below. We’ll make sure it gets to you by the holidays (in case you want to wrap one up ;) and we’ll announce the winner Friday!

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