Friday, April 25, 2014

List of Favorite Useful Stuff (That We Use Regularly)

I know this is a little excessively random, but I'll sort it out later. It's just nice to find a place to write down some of the things we've found so useful over the years (and often wished we had purchased the first time around instead of wasting time and money on less effective options).

Andis 30125 Wall Mounted Hang Up 1600 Watt Hair Dryer with Night Light

For too many years, I had my bathroom counter taken up with a big hairdryer (especially in the winter!) before I realized that someone probably made a hotel-style built-in hairdryer. I really like it and am planning on getting one for the kids' bathroom too.

Zyliss Jumbo Garlic Press with Cleaner

I'm really pretty impressed that we're only on our second garlic peeler for our whole married life (almost 22 years!), and we had to replace our first one only because we accidentally donated it to a guest house we were visiting at a monastery once upon a time. ;) Also, the press is weighted in such a way as to give maximum leverage with minimal effort.

Miele Vacuum Cleaner

This is a recent purchase, after a lot of fails and a lot of dust allergies to deal with. It's not cheap, but it's been amazing so far.

Behr Ultra Premium Satin Enamel Paint

We had so much bad luck with cheap paint, that we've learned to be more cautious. Though we've purchased some Sherwin Williams (which has really good sales a few times each year), I think our best experience (especially considering the cost difference) has been with this product from Home Depot. Great coverage and durability (and you can bring in color options from other brands for them to work out with this paint).

Southwest Airlines

We buy a lot of airplane tickets these days, mostly for the college kids. We've found Southwest to often be the best bargain - and often the direct flights are the best deal. Plus, you get two free check-in bags on each flight.

Kindle Keyboard

We love, love, love our Kindle Keyboards. No back-lighting means that it's easy on the eyes. It's easy to highlight passages and add notes to books. I LOVE being able to look up words in the dictionary so easily (I am otherwise too lazy). Books are inexpensive (and many, especially out-of-copyright, are free). I love being able to put my own documents, as well as purchased ebooks, onto the Kindle. I really appreciate how much easier it is for me to get through long books - partly because the Kindle is so light-weight and partly because I don't get distracted by how much of the book is left (it might sound silly, but it really is true for me). And finally, the text-to-speech option is fantastic. We set up a blind relative with a Kindle Keyboard and it has changed her life immensely. She can access all kinds of books and documents with ease and enjoys listening to the Liturgy of the Hours (via the Universalis App).

I should also mention that it's really nice, especially when a bunch of us are reading the same book for a literature discussion group, to buy one copy of a book, and end up with multiple copies for our various devices (though some books have a limit on how many devices they can be on at once - we've only hit this a few times, I think when we got past 5 devices or so).

Ooma Internet Telephone

Home telephone service for $5 a month. What's not to like?

Business Calendar App for Android (Appgenix Software)

I got a tablet (Samsung/Android) a little over a year ago, primarily in order to facilitate a portable calendar situation, without having to pay a monthly fee for a smart phone (I use an AT&T track phone which costs about $100 a year). While reading up on tablet options, I came across a very enthusiastic review of this app, and then happened to get it while it was free on Amazon. It's worked very well for us (it syncs with Google Calendar on our computer when I'm near wifi, so it's not live at all times, but it's good enough for my needs).

Fisher Paykel Washing Machine

Some friends turned us onto this little-known brand a few years ago. It was reasonably priced, energy-efficient, and seems to be holding up REALLY well.

Oxyclean Stain Remover

We started adding this to all of our laundry loads back when diaper messes left stains on all of the baby clothes. Even though our youngest is now ten, we still use it because it helps with stains and keeps the clothes smelling better and more sanitized (I think). You don't need to use much, so it lasts a long time. I also rub it in with some liquid laundry soap and let it soak on particularly bad stains.

Zojirushi Rice Cooker

This is a great (but fairly expensive) rice maker that cooks white or brown (basmati brown is our favorite) and keeps it fresh for about 36 hours. We make rice 3-4 times a week and find it handy for lunches during our homeschool day and such, so I feel that it's been a very good investment.


Though we used to shop at competitor, Sam's Club, we haven't looked back since Costco finally came to our area about 3 years ago. The company is great, the products are quality (the Kirkland store brand tends to be quite good), and there are lots of good options for gluten-free families like ours.  We regularly buy dairy, veggies, gluten-free bread (the Udi's loaf we buy is twice the size of the one in local grocery stores for only about 20% more cost), spices, oils (coconut, olive and avocado are our favorites), dried goods (like raisins, rice and gluten-free flour) and chips. We've also been very happy with their optical department and regularly purchase gas and tires from them.

Trader Joe's

I've been a big fan of Trader Joe's since my college days in Southern California. Again, it's a recent addition to our local repertoire, and a very welcome and helpful one. First of all Trader Joe's is a very gluten-free friendly store. You can request a list of gluten-free items to help you out. Some of the staples we buy from Trader Joe's are: tea, granola, chili,  beans, Emergen-C (better price than anything I've seen, though I haven't checked online yet), yogurt, kefir, peanut butter, jelly, maple syrup, marinara sauce, corn pasta (the trick is to rinse it in hot water after you cook it to get rid of the starchy after-taste), all kinds of soup, refried black beans and wine (yes, we like their "two-buck Chuck", even though it costs $3 here).

Amazon Subscribe-and-Save

This is a particularly good deal if you have at least five items in a given order (then you a discount of 15% rather than 5%). We like this for things like canned soups (some Progresso Soups are gluten-free and are really inexpensive this way), Basmati Brown Rice, gluten-free breakfast cereal, gluten-free snacks and granola bars and gluten-free baking mixes (like pizza crust and cornbread mix).

Toyota Corollas

Okay, so maybe I'm having a little too much fun with the random nature of this list, but it would be wrong for me not to mention our favorite workhouse of a car. We're on our fourth Toyota Corolla in 20+ years (plus a couple of vans on the side), most of which we've purchased with 100,000+ miles for a few thousand dollars. We've pretty much run each one into the ground. They get great gas mileage with relatively little repairs needed. I don't know how we would have managed without them.

Walgreens Store Brand

We use this brand a lot for health care and personal care items. A stranger in a line at Target introduced me to their store brand diapers many years ago. Since then, we've used many store brand items of all sorts, and like to keep an eye out for their great sales, when we do a big stock-up.

Dollar Tree

This is a brand new category for us, introduced to me by my parents recently. For starters, my dad (who's quite savvy in this sort of way) has found the Dollar Tree batteries and lightbulbs to be both extremely cost-effective and of excellent quality.

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