Archive | January 2012

About Me…or How I Became a SAHM #4

Maybe this “mom” thing was something I could get into. After all, one of my favorite parts of my working life was bringing order to chaos. Nothing brings more chaos than a house full of kids! Maybe I could apply things that I learned for my work life, to our home.

I actually pulled out my notes from my Franklin-Covey and Getting Things Done classes and looked through them to give myself a refresher course on time management. If budgeting time wisely and utilizing technology and to-do lists helped at work, maybe it could help at home too. Armed with the realization that my management skills might be just as effective at home as in the workplace, I set out to turn our family into a smooth-running organization.

As it happened, right before this realization hit me, Husband and I had taken time to set up a family values and vision statement. This became my guide. (If you haven’t done this already, check out my post on how to create this for your family http://wp.me/p27sz7-5J.) we had established some very specific goals for our family and these would be my filter to organize.

To Be Continued…

5 Quick Ways to Get Your Family Organized

Is chaos running rampant in your house right now? Check out these 5 quick steps to get your family on the path toward organization.

#1. Family Meeting – Schedule regular weekly family meetings. This is where you will share calendar information, prayer requests, school projects, talk about upcoming meals, and in general go over the next week for your family.

#2. Family Calendar – Wether you choose an online calendar or a white board in the kitchen, set up a family calendar where everyone can see what is happening in the family. Consider Color Coding your family to add an extra level of organization to the house.

#3. Menu – Start using a menu for dinner (and breakfast and lunch if you get really ambitious!). This makes grocery shopping easier and eliminates the 5pm panic of  “what’s for dinner”.

#4. Budget - Make a spending plan and then stick to it. Record your spending to see if you are on track with your plan. Getting control of your finances will bring peace into your life faster than any other thing! (See the posts in the Finances category for more information on organizing your money.)

#5. Chores – Make a list of the chores that need to be done during the week and delegate! Assign kids chores that are age appropriate and get everyone pitching in. Here is a chore list to get your started. For lists of age-appropriate chore ideas, check out this Focus on the Family article. Add responsibility charts for the kids to keep them on task.

The Landing Strip

We all do it. We walk into the house with keys, wallets, purses, diapers bags, that cute picture your kid made a church, the diaper bag, a book you want to read, bills, catalogs, junk mail….etc…and set in down on the counter or table. Do this for a week and you will be able to send in an audition tape for Hoarders. So you have to have all that stuff. How do you deal with it when you walk in the door? Solution: The Landing Strip.

The Landing Strip is set up on your path between the door and the kitchen, because that is the room you most likely will head toward when you come home. The closer to the door you usually use to enter your home, the better. The idea here is that, when you come in the door, this is where you stop and “land” or unload. The trick to making this work is that you (and your husband) have to commit to adding landing here first to your routine.

Step #1. Select your furniture – This can be a console table, dresser, sideboard, shelf floating on the wall, whatever fits your style. At our house, we use a cool old Hoosier cabinet because it has space for bookshelves (for our Bibles, Kindle and the books we take with us when we go out) and space for my purse, and drawers for bills, filing, etc. It doesn’t have to be a big piece of furniture and if space is a premium, think vertical instead of a horozontal “strip”. Some closed storage is probably good as you may not want your purse, diaper bag, or bills on display. You can get cool furniture pieces at second hand stores, garage sales, and on places like www.craigslist.org. A couple cans of primer and spray paint and you can give a piece new life with a color that fits your decor. Personally, I like the “distressed” look for a landing strip, mainly because this is in a high-traffic area and will see a lot of use. If it starts out destressed, you don’t have to worry about keys scratching it, or a kid banging thier giant rolling backpack into it. Be creative! This is a great place to add an unexpected piece to your decor. A pop of bright color in a mainly neutral color scheme, an older piece in a sleek, modern home – this is a great way to have some fun.

Step #2. Determine your needs – Do you need hooks for backpacks or keys? Do you need a place to charge you phone, iPod, or other devices? Do you want a bowl to collect loose change? Where will you put receipts? Coupons? Bills? There are endless ways to organize these things. Add a charging station for phones and other devices. Hooks or a bowl for keys. Be sure to put at the least an inbox for bills, coupons, receipts, etc to be dealt with later. Or if you want to get all that paper out of the way now, set up 3 boxes/bins/drawers (financial, filing, frugal – see Organizing with Threes for more information on thishttp://wp.me/p27sz7-5H ).

Step #3. Go over the process – For everyone who will use the landing strip, go over where they put their bags, keys, phones etc. Each person needs to know exactly where to put things they deal with.

Step #4. Start Landing! Begin using your new Landing Strip. Tweak the system as you go to make sure it works for your family.

Organizing With The Number Three

As we all learned on School House Rock, three is indeed a magic number. (Wait, did I just totally date myself? Anyway…) You can easily use this number to organize your household. How?

#1. Paper - Set up a system for dealing with papers that come into your home. 3 baskets, bins, or drawers (we have 3 drawers in an old Hoosier cabinet that we converted to our landing strip) that will handle all the paper that comes into your house. Your drawers should be:

  • Financial –  for checkbooks, receipts, and bills.
  • Filing – for papers that must be filed. This is where you will put items that need to go into your filing cabinet system as well as items that need to be filing in the kids’ memory bins (that too cute picture from church). Anything that needs to be dealt with on your filing day goes in here.
  • Frugal - for all the coupons, store offers, sale adds etc. This is where you keep your coupon organizer, coupons that you clipped or printed, store adds that have deals you plan to take advantage of etc. Anything paper relating to saving money goes in here.

#2. To Do – Set up three To-Do lists:  To-Do Today, To-Do This month, To-Do Long Term. As something on your monthly list needs to be done today, move it there. When a long-term project becomes something you want to do this month, move it there. This system allows you to keep an ongoing list of daily tasks, as well as the projects that you hope to do someday.

#3. Daily Tasks - Each morning, identify your top three tasks for the day. Once they are complete, identify three more. Keeping the list down to three means you won’t get over whelmed with a huge “to-do” list and your top priorities get handled first.

#4. Projects – Each month identify three projects you want to accomplish during the month. Special organizing, refurbishing a dresser, painting the family room – whatever – list those top three projects, then spend 15 minutes each weekday and three hours total on the weekends to accomplish these projects. At the end of the month you will have spent almost 20 hours toward the completion of these items (and you will likely have finished well before the end of the month).

#5 Activities – Limit everyone to three activities during any season. At our house we have one music, one sport, and one church activity for each kid (or adult). Luckily, many of these (like church small groups) overlap and can be accomplished with one block of calendar time for everyone. Limiting this to three activities means you select only the things that are really important to each person and your goals as a family.

Re-Use Ideas: Books

Remember that pile of damaged books from our book organization project? Now you get to use them! There are many creative ways to use pages from books that are no longer readable.

#1. Wallpaper – You can use wallpaper glue and adhere interesting pages directly to the wall or to furniture items (use decoupage for furniture). In place of a coffee table, toy box, blanket chest, or hope chest, cover an old (or new) chest with pages from a book. Select words that are meaningful to you or use pictures from art or children’s books. You can cover a tabletop, back of bookcases, light switch plates, chair backs…The possibilities are endless!

#2. Gadget holder - Hollow out the inside of a book (use a craft or utility knife) to fit your smartphone, tablet, iPod, or other electronic device that requires charging. Be sure to hollow a space for the cord. Seal the edges by painting on glue. Place on a bookshelf or table and plug cord in. You now have an attractive place to charge your device. Here are instructions for hollowing out a book…http://how2dostuff.blogspot.com/2006/02/how-to-make-secret-hollow-book.html

#3. Clock – You can get the simple pieces for a clock kit at any craft or your favorite ‘Mart. Follow these simple instructions…http://www.instructables.com/id/Literary-Clock/

#4. Artwork – Cut out pictures from books to use as artwork. You can purchase inexpensive wooden frames and paint them to match any decor.

#5. Cabinets – cover outdated cabinets with pages or pictures from a favorite book. Theme the kids’ bathroom cabinet to match shower curtains with book pages. Just use white glue or decoupage to adhere.

#6. Laptop Desk – Use a large book or several smaller ones and attach a pillow to them with velcro. Use as a lap desk for computers or car trips.

#7. Desk or table legs – If you have a lot of old hard back books stack together to make desk or table legs. Top with glass or a cool old door for a funky look.

#8. Packing Material – Instead of buying packing peanuts, try using pages from damaged books as cushioning to pack boxes for mailing or moving.

#9. Wrapping paper – Tear pages from a book and use to wrap gifts. You can get really creative and select pages from books that either go with the gift (wrap a new kitchen appliance in cookbook pages) or with the recipient (a toy for a child in a children’s book).

#10. Booster seat - For guests with little ones (or your own) stack several large books together to make a booster for kids at the table. I remember sitting on phone books back in the day!

Check out http://www.onlinecolleges.net/2010/02/17/80-awesome-ideas-for-all-your-old-or-unwanted-books/ for many more ideas on ways to re-use your old or damaged books!

Ways to Save Money When Eating Out

Since it is the weekend, I thought it would be good to look at saving money when eating out. With three kids, we don’t eat out very often. Of course that saves the most money. But I really like eating out and sometimes, for convenience or entertainment, we choose to eat out. I hate paying good money to have fussy kids refuse to eat grilled cheese or chicken nuggets that cost $7. So how can we save money when eating out.

#1. Don’t tip! Before you get all bent out of shape, I am not suggesting that you stiff someone who has come to your table and given you service. Waiting tables is hard work with little reward and you should tip. Many servers are paid just a few dollars an hour and survive on tips. What I mean is going to a restaurant that has counter service. You don’t have to do the fast-food route here. Many counter service restaurants with quality food have come around lately. Places like Panera, McAllister’s Deli, Quizno’s, Chipotle, and Moe’s are just a few examples. You can usually get good food with healthy options at these places and you avoid the tip (15-20% of your total bill) because you pick up the food at the counter and throw your own trash away. I can do that to save 20%!

#2. Water, water everywhere! Drink water. It is better for you and you save $1.50-3 per person over the cost of soda. Coffee or tea at the end of a meal can add another $3-6 per drink. Alcohol can range from $4-10 per drink. Skip all these and drink water, which most restaurants still do not charge for. If you really want flavor, carry Mio or Kool Aid or Crystal Light (or better yet the store brand) individual packets of drink mix in your purse in a zipper bag. You can flavor the water (often without adding sugar or caffeine) for much less than the cost of a drink at a restaurant (you can often get a box of 10 for the price of one pop at a restaurant).

#3. Share and Share Alike! When possible share foods. Have kids skip the children’s menu, which is usually very cheap food at a high price, and let them share an adult meal, which comes with more food and sides. Consider having two adults share a meal also. Or an adult and a child can share. Portion size is out of hand in America and we often leave food on the table or bring leftovers home that we throw out later (or just leave the leftover bag at the restaurant!). Sharing will reduce cost, food waste, and control your portion sizes.

#4. Let’s Do Lunch! Lunch menus are often significantly less expensive than dinner, for the same food. Lunch portions are still quite large. Many restaurants offer a variety of lunch specials. So consider dining at lunch and save yourself some dough and calories!

#5. Appetizers, Anyone? Order an appetizer as your meal. The portions are huge, the cost is usually less, and these days many come with “sides” such as small salads or fries. Better yet, share 2 appetizers, one with a main dish style and one that has more of a side dish feel. You will likely get more food for less money this way.

#6. Desert the Dessert! Skip dessert (and appetizers too if you order an entrée). If you really want a sweet item, pick up something at the store on the way home. Or consider eating at home and dining out just for dessert.

#7. Buy Local! Local restaurants, particularly ethnic (Mexican, Chinese, etc.) often have lower prices than chain restaurants and many times better food. Many local restaurants also purchase ingredients locally, which keeps costs down and stimulates your local economy.

#8. Clip Coupons! Many restaurants offer coupons for free or discounted menu items. Use them! Just remember to tip on your full bill before the coupon.

#9. Deal Day! There are many restaurants that want to fill seats mid-week so they offer kids eat free or discounted days. Take advantage! www.MyKidsEatFree.com can help you find restaurants in your area with deals for kids (remember to search surrounding towns to get all the deals around you).

#10 To Go! Carry-out gives you the yummy restaurant food you want without the costs of drinks or tips. Plus you don’t have to worry about your kids disrupting someone else’s meal. And no one interrupts you every few minutes (unless you ask the kids to do that for you!). If you really want the restaurant experience, you could ask some strangers to sit at the other end of the table and talk loudly and play some bad music too loudly but I think I would prefer the peace of my home environment without the added “ambiance” of most restaurants!

How do you save money when you eat out? Post your tips in the comments!

Vinegar…Endless Possibilities

One of my favorite things to use around the house is vinegar. With a variety of vinegar types, there are endless possibilities for ways to use this inexpensive and non-toxic agent. Here are some of my favorites…

#1. Hair Rinse – I wash my hair with baking soda as a “no-poo” and vinegar is my conditioner. Use 1 tbs. cider vinegar (you can use other varieties but I like the apple smell of the cider vinegar) in 1 c. warm water. Pour over your head and work through tangles. Let sit for 1-2 minutes, then rinse. This will remove build-up from any styling products you use and leave hair soft and shiny. Even if you don’t use this for everyday, it is a good idea to use one a week (or at least once a month) to remove build up from styling products.

#2. Chrome Fixtures – You can pour a bit of vinegar (just plain white distilled works fine) on a cloth and use it to polish chrome bathroom and kitchen fixtures. For heavier lime build-up, make a paste of 2 tbs. salt and 1 tsp. vinegar. Apply to the lime build-up and let it sit for 3-5 minutes, then scrub away.

#3. In The Kitchen – clean countertops (make sure you check on how to clean if you have natural stone that is unsealed), sinks, stoves, microwaves, refrigerator, and just about any solid surface by putting vinegar on a cloth and scrubbing away.

#4. Garbage Disposal – Freeze vinegar ice cubes and run 2-3 through the garbage disposal to clean and deodorize it.

#5. Grease – Saturate grease area with full-strength vinegar and let set or 10-15 minutes. Blot cloth surfaces or wipe away with a sponge for hard surfaces.

#6. Coffee Maker & Tea Kettles – Run 1 c. of vinegar with 4-6 cups of water through your coffee maker to clean the insides and the urn. “Brew” 1/2 c. vinegar with a kettle full of water to remove lime build-up and stains.

#7. Sticker/Glue Residue- Use vinegar to remove sticker or glue residue. Simply soak a cloth with distilled vinegar and leave it on the sticky spot overnight. In the morning the label and the glue should come right off.

#8. Disinfect – Full strength vinegar can be use to disinfect any surface that you would use a sanitizing (Clorox) wipe on (door knobs, phones, faucets etc.). Simple pour some on a cloth and wipe.

#9. Toys – Soak toys in 1c. vinegar to 1 c. water solution for one hour to overnight to sanitize and clean. Wipe clean with a cloth and rinse.

#10. Laundry – Forgot about a load in the washing machine and now it smells bad? Add 2 c. vinegar to your normal wash cycle (including detergent) and it will take the yucky smell right out.

For hundreds (literally) more great tips on ways to use vinegar, check out www.vinegartips.com. There you will find help with cleaning, laundry, health uses and more!

What is your favorite way to use vinegar around the house? Share your ideas in the comments!

A Different Way to Organize Books

So we all know that a great way to organize books is alphabetically, and that is great for adults and older kids, but what about kids who don’t know how to alphabetize yet? Sorting books by color is a great way to make sure things get put away where they belong.

Personally, I love the design look of this so much I think I will take it from the kids’ things into our other bookshelves. But it is especially great for little ones who often learn their colors well before they can alphabetize.

Begin by going through your books and sorting them into rainbow piles. Start by putting all the reds (including pink, maroon, and burgundy colors) in a pile and do the same for the whole rainbow  – ROYGBP – we use purple instead of IV (indigo & violet). Then within each pile, further sort into more distinct color order. The reds should start with the purple-reds and progress to the orange reds. The greens go from the lightest green to the dark green-blues and so on.

Make sure that as you sort your color piles you are also purging books that you no long want, need, or that are damaged. Use donate and damaged piles. Anything that is in decent condition should be donated to a church, orphanage, local library, or school (as age appropriate). Anything that is damaged in a way that limits it readability (yes, that is a word) should be put in the damaged pile. But don’t throw that out yet! Another cool project is coming soon to use those books!

Place the books on your shelves with the reds in the upper left, stretching right and down through the rainbow to the purples for a total color wheel look. Or try “chunking” the books with reds in one spot and blues in another with other toys, photographs, or display items mixed in.

How do you organize books in your house? Post your ideas in the comments!

1/30/12 Dinner Menu

Here is the grocery list for this week’s menu: Grocery list 1/30/12

Monday: Beef Burgundy – stew meat, 3-5 carrots chopped, 3-5 potatoes chopped, 1 pkg mushrooms chopped, 1 bottle burgundy wine in the crock pot. Thicken with a roux prior to serving.

Tuesday: Spaghetti & salad – you should have meatballs and sauce left from the subs last week :)

Wednesday: Shepherd’s Pie – This is a glorified meatloaf in our house. Make a meatloaf and cover with corn, peas, and mashed potatoes. Top with cheese and brown.

Thursday: Chicken Marsala -in the crock pot. 3-5 chicken breasts, 1 pkg mushrooms, chopped, and 1 bottle Marsala wine plus 2 c. chicken stock in the crock pot. Thicken with a roux prior to serving over mashed potatoes and with a salad.

Friday: Bacon Mac & Cheese with peas.

Saturday: Chicken tacos

Sunday: Roast pork tenderloin in the crock pot with potatoes and carrots

Enjoy!

1/30/12 Breakfast Menu

Here is the grocery list for this week’s menu: Grocery list 1/30/12

Monday: Pear Muffins

Tuesday: Scrambled Eggs

Wednesday: Apple Cinnamon pancakes

Thursday: French Toast casserole (soak break overnight in egg, milk, and vanilla mix and bake at 350F for 25-45 minutes until brown and crisp on top).

Friday: Egg Bake

Saturday: Bulls Eyes

Sunday: Chocolate Chip Muffins

Enjoy!