Tuesday, May 19, 2009

7 Tips For Leading a Balanced Blogger Life

(Photo Credit: Criss Cross Circus)

I have been talking to a lot of bloggers recently that have been asking my advice on blogging and balance. It can be tough to come up with great content week after week and still maintain your home and family activities.

My life is very busy with two small children. We have family obligations, business obligations, church obligations, friend obligations, and volunteer obligations... as most families do. I am thankful for all of these things that shape my life!

On top of those obligations though are my work obligations. As my site grows, the obligations grow too and that is when your life and your blogging can easily become out of balance. In this last year, it is something I have been really working on improving because my family is so important to me.

I would love to share with you some of the tips and techniques I have been using this year to help me lead a balanced life. I hope that they will offer some inspiration to those of you who are feeling tapped out and tired.

(Photo Credit: Michael Sullivan)

1. Schedule Working Hours- Some people might be surprised to know that I rarely write during the week. I have regularly scheduled time on my calendar on Saturday mornings and Sunday evenings where I complete 90% of the work that I need to get done for the week. There are times where time sensitive items have to be scheduled during the week, but for the most part I rarely am working on my blog during weekdays.

Anything that I can get done during working hours, I do my best to get it done. Even tiny detail items like choosing a picture and title for time-sensitive entries is done during my scheduled work hours. These tiny details can easily suck up an hour's worth of time so I know that anything I can get done during my work sessions will free up more time for me with my children during our week.

You can also schedule everything to appear at the same time each day. On here, for example, each entry is typically scheduled for 7:00 AM and publishes as scheduled in the morning. Now you all know that I am actually still laying in bed while all of these entries are posting. Did I deceive you with my supposed morning productivity? I hope so!

The information that I write is not time-sensitive so freebies/deals/coupon sites could not adapt to this schedule, but you could try to supplement deal information with how-to information that could be set up within your own working schedule.

(Photo Credit: Mykl Roventine)

2. Cut Down on Distractions & Set Limits- It is very easy to become distracted when doing your work and these distractions can slow down your pace. When you schedule your time to work, shut down social networks and other websites and tackle that to-do list with as little interruption as possible.

You know what your distractions are and what can take you away from the task at hand. Make it a goal that when you are working that you will try to tune all of the distractions out until you have completed your tasks.

Likewise, set limits for yourself on how much time you spend on social networks as they can definitely suck up a great deal of your day if you allow them to. For me, I try to not spend time on Twitter or Facebook on the weekends. I use my weekends to work and spend time with my family so I try to sign off of these networks on Friday and return back to socializing on Monday.

If you are looking for more information on staying on task in business and in life, I encourage you to read "The Power of Less," by Leo Babauta (founder of ZenHabits.net). It is a very quick read, but has helped me greatly in increasing my productivity while leading a fuller life. I found this book at the library and my husband and I both read it and got some great tips from it.

3. Slow Down Your Blogging Schedule- For me, this is one of the most difficult challenges because I love sharing new information with my readers. What I don't realize though, is how few of you have read me every single day since I began blogging.

Don't be afraid to shake the dust off of those entries in your archives and use them during the week. I do my best to reuse one article each week to give me a day off from creating new content. You could also utilize guest bloggers once a week or even dedicate a post that will share with your readers things that other people are writing.

Whatever your blogging schedule, routine has been essential in keeping my creativity flowing and knowing what to tackle throughout the week. On our blog, we typically offer recipes on Monday, crafts/things to do on Tuesday, highlighting others in our Notebook entries & tackling a project highlighted in the notebook on Wednesday, a Play it Again, Momma entry on Thursday (where I revisit an old entry), and freebies on Friday. Of those items, I am actually coming up with truly new information two or three times a week.

If at anytime I feel that something is too much or not working with our family schedule, it is my blog schedule to tinker with. I shared with you that my podcast would not work with our summer schedule and I switched our notebook entry to a day that fit better with my family life.

Remember that it is your schedule to switch, but know that whatever you set up your readers will begin to expect from you. It used to bother me when people would email me because A, B, or C had not been posted during the week. I began to realize that even if it was my schedule to switch, it is also imperative to let them know when and why I make these changes. Communication and consistency is the best way to keep your readers coming back for more!

(Photo Credit: Jennifer Rensel)

4. Figure Out What You Are Worth- My business coach offered this sound advice to me when we first began our sessions together. She encouraged me to figure out what my time was worth and then choose what was the best use of my time based on that dollar figure. Now that I am able to grasp how much my time is worth, I am better able to say no to things that do not bring in the money or the website traffic that I need for the opportunity to be lucrative.

If I am not sure if an opportunity is worth my time, I try to give it a thirty day evaluation. Within 30 days, I am able to take a look at my past month of web traffic and it can showcase whether or not an opportunity has brought in the traffic needed for it to be lucrative.

How do you figure out what your time is worth? As someone who is self-employed my worth varies from month to month, but I do have a dollar figure in mind when I am approached for an opportunity. The best way to figure out what your time is worth is to start tracking your time for one month and figure out how many hours you are working during a 30 day period. Now evaluate all that your site is bringing in during the month (even a rough average is great). Now you can use those numbers to figure out what that hourly rate is. This should give you a rough idea of what your time is worth and if an opportunity is worth that amount of time.


5. Limit the Extras- Just recently it seems that I have gotten a lot of opportunities to travel for my work. It is a wonderful opportunity to get to go into a company and see how they work or sit in a round table discussion about their products and services.

The pitfall of traveling though is that I am away from my children and my life begins to feel out of balance because I am not able to keep up with my normal routines. Going away for even two days can put my household routines behind, my work schedule can become interrupted, and I become stressed.

I am now being more selective about those extra opportunities that come along and picking things that will benefit my readers the most, relationships that I would like to form with specific companies, and paid opportunities. I have also made the decision that one trip a month is all that I feel I can handle and it has to fit our criteria for that opportunity to come into fruition.

This doesn't just apply to travel though, this also applies to all of those extras that can take me away from spending time with my family. Things like guest blogging for others, product reviews that are not a good fit for my audience, and many of the unpaid extras that I would have done before have been greatly reduced in efforts to remain balanced.

6. Develop Household Management Routines- What does household management have to do with blogging? In my opinion, it has everything to do with feeling balanced and running a successful business out of your home.

Just as I suggest scheduling working hours, developing a schedule for your home management will free up the time that you need to spend with your family. Don't go overboard with your routines, but develop a rhythm that will make those day-to-day tasks more manageable.

Make sure that your work area is a pleasant place to be by tackling those piles of papers and creating a space that will allow you to be the most productive you can be. Add this time of clearing your desk as part of your weekly routine so that you can be the best blogger you can be in a distraction-free zone!

If you are looking for home management inspiration, my weekly routine can be found here. There will always be things that can get in the way of those tasks, but I do my best to stay within this routine so that my home life can remain balanced.

(Photo Credit: Peacock Modern)

7. Allow Room for Creativity in Your Schedule- The best thing that I have started doing for myself is giving myself an hour to do whatever I want with absolutely no guilt whatsoever. I use this time to knit, read, craft, or listen to music.

Before I was doing this, I would go to bed with my stomach in a ball and my head swirling with all the things I needed to get done the next day.

Do something that is creative or calming to you that hour before you head to bed and see how much balance it can bring back into your life. I feel no guilt about it because the more creative I am the more inspiration I can offer to others.

Out of all of these tips though, the one thing I can tell you is that if you are not living a great life offline, it will be difficult to live a full life online. You have to be living, loving, and engaging with your friends and family in order to feel completely balanced.

If your well is tapped dry, sit down with a notebook and jot down ways that you can bring balance back into your life. It will be the best thing that you can do for yourself and everyone will benefit from it- your readers, your family... but most of all, YOURSELF!

Are you struggling with balance? What helps bring balance to your life? Do you have any questions on my blogging routine? Please share or ask away!

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Simplifying Home Organization Resource List


A big thank you again to Stephanie Vozza, from The Organized Parent, for joining us today for our show. I hope you got a lot out of it and we can't wait to bring more great guests to you on our show!

Here is the resource list from today's podcast:

The Organized Parent- Be sure to check out Stephanie's website for oodles of smart & stylish organizing tools for moms. Stephanie said her top seller is this chic File Tote that was featured in Family Circle Magazine.

Wuduplz- This is text messaging service that Stephanie uses to get her older child motivated to help. You can text your children and let them know what you need assistance with around the house. Now that is a brilliant way to send a chore list!

Organize Your Week- This was one of the original articles I wrote when we began the website five years ago. Although I have tried other methods of organizing my week, I always fall back on this great plan and I definitely recommend trying this in your house!

Free Weekly Planner Download- Be sure to visit our Resources section for your printable needs. In addition to our great Weekly Planner Download (filled with loads of room for all your most important engagements), you will also find a great Menu Planning Sheet that would be a lovely addition to your fridge!

20 Tips for Finding Your Routine With Kids- I had to highlight Tsh's excellent article this week, on Simple Mom, because it falls in step perfectly with finding organization in your week. Be sure to read this article to give you more great ideas for establishing a good routine!

On next week's show...

Next week on MomAdvice Simplified we will be discussing how to simply capture great photos! I am so excited to be joined by photographer extraordinaire, Mishelle Lane, who blogs at Secret Agent Mama. I had the great pleasure of meeting Mishelle at Blissdom '09 and couldn't wait to have her on our show as a guest.

Mishelle will be sharing her tips for purchasing the right photography equipment, some ideas for capturing our busy children, and how to get out of the manual mode on our cameras.

This episode will air next Thursday (April 2nd) at 2PM EST.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Ask the Frugal Momma: Throwing a Baby Shower on a Budget?

Amy,

I am turning to you for some advice about an upcoming baby shower that my husband & I are co-hosting because I know what a budget savvy and creative person you are!

A roommate of mine from college is expecting her first child in May. After asking her several times if anyone was throwing her a shower and her saying no, we offered to co-host a couple's shower with a guy that works with her husband and his wife.

So here's where I get to the dilemma...she e-mailed me the guest list this week and there are 30 couples on it...that's 60 people!

I need some advice for how to pull of the kind of shower that they deserve, but on my budget!! I feel like we have to feed all of these people and provide adult beverages, but I don't know how we could do that for less than a small fortune!!

Sincerely,

J.


Thank you so much for your question and I am so happy to offer a little advice on your baby shower! As always, if you have any questions that you would like to send me, you can email them to me at amy(at)momadvice(dot)com and I would love to share any expertise that I can offer.

Here are a few tips and tricks for throwing a fun baby shower on a budget:

Keep The Decorations Simple

You can burn through a lot of money quickly just on the decorations so one cost effective way to decorate is to decorate with item's that the mother can use or by making a few sweet handmade items.

One of my favorite decorations for a table centerpiece are diaper cakes because it is a special gift for the new mommy and it can double as an attractive centerpiece for the occasion. You can visit my easy instructions and a little cost-breakdown and my tips for how to make these inexpensively.


(photo credit: Wendy Copley)

(photo credit: Janice)

Make a baby clothesline to hang near the food table or behind where the mother will be opening her gifts. Pick cute coordinating items and then give them as a gift to the mother at the end of the shower.

(photo credit: Jaime Compton)

A simple, sweet banner can double as a decoration later for the child's nursery. It doesn't have to be anything elaborate at all, in fact, the simpler the better. If you know the mother's nursery colors, try and coordinate the banner to the baby's future room. For a simple banner tutorial, I love this cute square banner, a bunting made from newspaper, and for the ambitious a knitted bunting. The possibilities are endless and could be made from supplies that you already have on hand in your crafting supplies.

Inexpensive Food to Feed the Masses

If you have a large group to feed, you could stick to between meal times and just provide fun snacks or a fun dessert table. Appetizers will go a lot further than a meal will. If you would like to do a meal, a brunch can be a really cost effective way to entertain and is a classy way to throw a fabulous spread.

Spinach Balls

Bite Sized Sandwiches with vegetable & fruit trays

Mini Quiches with an elegant salad (photo credit: chanmelmel)

Breakfast Casseroles & a Festive Punch

Mimosas (photo credit: K Santos)
A Creative Cake


Instead of doing an elaborate cake, offer guests mini-cupcakes in sweet pastel colors with a creative cupcake topper. These cupcake toppers from papertreats are just one example of cute homemade toppers that can decorate your cupcakes very creatively and that will make them sparkle when your cake decorating skills are lacking. If you are really ambitious, you could make your own cupcake picks with the baby's initial stamped on them or even something more elaborate like this. Check a scrapbooking supplies store or a craft store to find cute paper and embellishments for your project.

Remember that you can freeze cake ahead of time, so you can crank out those cupcakes even the week before and keep them in the freezer. I like to decorate the cake while it is still frozen because it helps reduce the amount of crumbs that can collect in your icing. Ice them the day before and assemble them on pretty cake stand or make your own cake stands for a thrifty and creative alternative.

You will need to modify the length of time you cook your cupcakes for cooking mini-cupcakes. Follow the instructions exactly, but just cook your cupcakes for half the time. Keep an eye on them just because they will cook quickly!

Here are some of my favorite cupcake recipes:

Moist Chocolate Cupcakes With Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

Snickerdoodle Cupcakes

Chocolate Cupcakes With Peanut Butter Frosting

The Best Birthday Cupcakes in the World

Fun & Games

I may be the minority, but I am not a fan of baby shower games. With sixty people in attendance, you are going to have a hard time pulling off an organized activity. Spend that time socializing or do a game like these that will not require everyone being quiet and sitting in a circle.

(photo credit: Emma Black)

Have your guests email you a picture of them from when they were a child. Print out copies of the pictures and make it a party game to Guess Who? is in the pictures.

(photo credit: the higher nest)

How about a Baby Shower Price is Right card and choose the closest winner on how much common baby items would cost?

(photo credit: nhearon2003)

Of course the simpler the game, the easier! Why not throw candy in a clear jar and have your guests guess the total amount? With large group activities, the simpler the better! The bonus with this game is that this game can double as a centerpiece!

Parting Gifts

In a party of this size, I do not think people will be expecting to take home a party favor. Everyone is going to be happy to be included and will just be enjoying the celebrating. Concentrate your efforts on the food, cake, and entertainment and your guest will leave with the wonderful memory of the occasion rather than a gift that they probably will not use.

Consider your shower and any of the centerpieces and decorations your gift to your friend. If you want to add a special gift that she can use, give her a basket of thank you cards and stamps which she can use to thank all of her guests for their thoughtful gifts!

Good luck with your shower and I hope these ideas will give you a good starting point for a festive and frugal celebration!

(Photo Credit: Picture 1- Jerusalem)


Do you have any tips or advice for the hostess for throwing a great budget-friendly shower? I know she will really appreciate it!

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Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Play It Again, Momma: Getting to Know Your Bread Machine


You have been talking about bread machines and making bread. I am interested in doing this since I am home all the time and I love fresh bread.

I was at the Goodwill and saw many of them and they were kind of cheap, like 20.00 or less. I am dumb so help me out. Does the machine knead the dough and bake it and everything in the bread machine?

If I would purchase one at the Goodwill how would I know if it works or not?

I am interested. Please help me find a way in a new venture.


Signed,
Future Bread Maker

First of all, thank you for your question! The Ask Frugal Momma column can't happen without your questions, so please keep sending them my way. You can email any and all questions to amy@momadvice.com. We have had some fun topics and I am very excited to share with everyone!

Do any of you have bread machine gathering dust in your house? A lot of people buy these appliances and then end up donating them at their local thrift store because they never use them. I think of the bread machine as a modern day convenience, but in a culture where we want everything NOW, waiting for a loaf of bread can seem like an eternity. Why wait for a hot loaf of fresh bread when you can grab a loaf at your supermarket? And what exactly is the purpose of that appliance that is taking up space on your shelves?

On any given day in our house, you will find our bread machine happily humming along and whipping up fresh dough and bread for us. We use our bread machine almost daily, and spare ourselves the expense of fancy bakery breads. Not only that, but our bread machine has a regular performance in our house on Friday nights. This appliance makes our favorite pizza dough for our official “family night” together.

The purpose of a bread machine is to be able to make fresh bread when you want it. The reasons vary from person to person on why they choose to make their own bread. Many people have concerns about the additives and preservatives that are found in store-bought breads. Another reason that many people choose to make their own bread is because they just enjoy the taste of homemade bread. My reasoning for making our own bread is because I like to save our family money. Making your own bread costs so much less than purchasing a loaf of bread, and the rising grocery costs have only fueled my desire more to make it at home.

I am not a baker though and our days seem to be jam-packed with activities for our family. Taking the time to knead, rise, and bake bread…well, that hasn’t seemed to top the priority list at this point in my life. Lucky for me, there is an appliance that can do all the work for me and all I have to do is pull the finished loaf or ball of dough out.

To begin, all you have to do is put the ingredients in and select your setting. Some of the older machines have just a handful of simple settings. I find that the settings we use most on our machine are Basic and the Dough cycle, which can be found on every machine. The basic cycle is just the basic setting for making a loaf of bread. The Dough cycle just completes the kneading and rising of the dough. Once the dough cycle is complete, you can take the dough out and shape it into your loaf pan or do fancy braids or rolls out of the dough.

Inserting your ingredients into a bread machine is also very straightforward. If you are making the loaf right away, you can insert the ingredients in any way that you want. All of these ingredients will immediately be stirred together and so it will not matter what the order is. If you use a timer delay on your bread machine, delaying the start time of making your loaf, it is imperative that you put the ingredients in the right order or your loaf will not turn out right. The order of ingredients is liquid (liquids include water, oil, milk, eggs, or honey), flour, other dry ingredients (salt, sugar, baking powder, seasonings), and ending the ingredients with your yeast. The most important part of putting the yeast in is to make sure that you make a small indentation into the center of the flour so that the yeast does not react with the other ingredients.

Upon inserting your ingredients, your bread machine will take over the process from there. The machine will knead the ingredients together, give the bread its rising time, and then it will bake the bread. The bread machine will signal when the bread is ready and you can allow the bread to cool inside of the bread bucket.

There is no need to spend the money on convenience bread machine mixes; in fact, you can make your own convenient mixes handy for the week. I take plastic storage bags and make an assembly line of the dry ingredients and do my bags once a month. On the outside, just write what liquids you will need to add and you will only have a dirty kitchen once.

A quick glance at grocery store prices though and you will wonder how there could be any possible savings with making your bread at home. The key to making this the least expensive on your family is to purchase all of your ingredients at your local wholesale club. With proper storage, you can buy the ingredients in bulk and save your family loads of money. For example, our wholesale club has twenty-five pounds of bread & all-purpose flour for under $6 each. Two pounds of yeast will run you just under $4. What a difference compared to the prices in your regular supermarket!

For storage, flour can be stored for up to a year in an airtight container. With bulk storage, a large plastic bin that has been clearly labeled is ideal to keep your flour fresh. Yeast is the easiest ingredient to store and has a very long shelf life. I store my yeast in a clear jar in our refrigerator door. With both of these ingredients, writing an expiration date on the label will also remind you of when the item is going to expire.

If you do not have a bread machine and are looking for one, garage sales and thrift sales are a great place to hunt. I see these machines for $10 or less, and you will definitely get your money back from the savings of making your own bread. When you find one, ask if you can plug it in and make sure it is working. Just check that it actually powers up, that there is a bread bucket inside, and that there is a paddle in the bottom of the bread machine to stir the ingredients. Having a manual with it is handy, but usually can be found by searching online.

Good luck in your quest to find a bread machine and I hope it is a well-loved appliance in your home!

(photo credit: Koropop)


Related & Helpful Information:

Hillbilly Houswife's Bread Machine Basics

Buttery Bread Machine Rolls

My Favorite Pizza Dough (after much trial & error)

Storing Homemade Bread & Bread Ingredients

Homemade Croutons

Dinner is in the Bag

Adventures in Bread Making: Artisan Bread in 5

Adventures in Bread Making: Fiddlin' With Temperatures

Let's talk about it! Do you use a bread machine or do you make your bread the old school way? Feel free to share your bread machine recipes here!

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Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Simplify: The To-Do List

Have you ever looked at your to-do list and just felt completely and utterly overwhelmed before you even start? My day was often looking like that and rarely did I actually ever complete all of the things off of the list. I would end my day defeated before the next day had ever begun. While the high of checking things off the list was there, the items left unchecked left me feeling less euphoric about what was actually accomplished.

For the past couple of months, I have had the great opportunity to work with a business coach to help make my business better. Charrise McCorey, from Emergence Business Coaching, has been working with me to help me reach my business goals. It has been such a unique experience for me because I am able to actually discover how valuable my time is, increase my productivity, and discover what can emerge from finding balance in my life.

The first thing on our project list was tackling my to-do list and my feelings of constantly being overwhelmed. I felt like I was juggling way too many balls in the air so I wasn't sleeping well, eating well, or feeling like a very good parent. I would start a project, abandon it or do a bad job on it, and then move on to the next thing.

The first thing we did was revamp what my to-do list looked like. Here is an example of what my to-do list looked like for my Monday routine- perhaps it looks like yours?

Amy's Monday To-Do List

Sweep Kitchen Floors
Unload dishwasher
Load dishwasher
Swipe both bathrooms
Make beds
One load of laundry
Clean bathtub
Empty upper level trash
Make grocery list and menu plan
Change sheets on all beds
Clean windows and mirrors on upper level
Dust upper level
Steam floors on upper level
Sweep upper level
Organize the bedrooms

Now those were just my home management goals, we aren't even tackling the business goals for the day. What ended up happening was that I would get a portion of the list done and then have to carry it over for Tuesday. Let's say I got three of those things done. Now we will move on to Tuesday's schedule and it will look like this:

Amy's Tuesday To-Do List

Swipe both bathrooms
Make beds
One load of laundry
Clean bathtub
Empty upper level trash
Make grocery list and menu plan
Change sheets on all beds
Clean windows and mirrors on upper level
Dust upper level
Steam floors on upper level
Sweep upper level
Organize the bedrooms
Dust main level
Sweep main level
Steam kitchen floors
Clean windows and mirrors
Run errands

And then, let's say I got five things done, then Wednesday would carry over to this:

Amy's Wednesday To-Do List

Make grocery list and menu plan
Change sheets on all beds
Clean windows and mirrors on upper level
Dust upper level
Steam floors on upper level
Sweep upper level
Organize the bedrooms
Dust main level
Sweep main level
Steam kitchen floors
Clean windows and mirrors
Run errands
Do one thing I hate
Catch Up on Everything

Usually by Friday, my list looked something like this:

Amy's Friday To-Do List

Clean windows and mirrors on upper level
Dust upper level
Steam floors on upper level
Sweep upper level
Organize the bedrooms
Dust main level
Sweep main level
Steam kitchen floors
Clean windows and mirrors
Run errands
Do one thing I hate
Catch Up on Everything
Empty lower level trash
Dust lower level
Sweep lower level
Clean windows and mirrors on lower level
Clean and organize the home office
Visit the library
Clean out car
Update our Quicken software
Mow lawn
Baking day
Hate myself for accomplishing absolutely nothing
Defeat
Defeat
Defeat

Oh, and did I mention I haven't tackled anything in my business? Obviously, this to-do list was just a running list of things I would never get to and I would hate myself for accomplishing nothing. In tears, I explained to Charrise that I often feel like a bad mom because I had to keep up with my business AND my house and neither was looking good at all. As Charrise says over and over again to me when I say negative things, "That is a story you like to tell yourself. You can change your story."


We decided to change my story. She advised completely revamping the to-do list. Instead of keeping a running list of things I would never do, why not make a shorter list that I could actually accomplish with great success? How would it feel if I could go to bed each night knowing that I had accomplished what was on my list? How would I sleep? Her advice was simple a list of only six things.

Make 3 Business Goals
Make 3 Personal Goals

Now my list looks something like this:

Amy's Revamped Monday To-Do List

1. Set up contests for Tuesday on the blog
2. Complete my to-do list entry
3. Conference Call with Kenmore
4. Play on the floor with the kids for one hour
5. One load of laundry- whites
6. Pay Bills

At night before I go to bed, I make my list of six and go to sleep. At the end of the day, I usually can check most of the things off of the list and if something doesn't get done, it just gets carried over to the next day. I have to say, it is a lot easier to carry over two things rather than twenty each day.

But, what about the bigger goals? I had so many things I needed to do on my list for the website and in my home, but I knew they would never fit on such a limited list.

This is where this comes into play:

Giant Wish List

Instead of adding these to my to-do list each day, take a piece of poster board and begin writing what your bigger goals are. She suggested writing down things you might be afraid to say out loud so that you can see your dreams come into fruition.

Amy's Giant Wish List

Podcast Radio Show With Huge Corporate Sponsorship
Food Network Television Show
Get Featured in Real Simple Magazine
Regular Column in Good Housekeeping
Book Deal
Meet Brad Pitt
Possibly Marry Him

When I think of things that I want to do in the future, I just jot it down on my giant wish list. It is there, I won't lose the idea or goal, but it isn't on my running list of six...yet.

Yes, one day I will have an opening on the list of six and when that happens maybe I might say, "Today is the day to meet Brad Pitt and possibly marry him." I will add it to the list of six and just maybe, I might accomplish it.

You might ask what happened to all the cleaning on the list? Well, instead of writing it down, I just try and do it when I get my goals accomplished for the day. I either make it my goal to clean one day of the week or I just clean when I need to clean. I don't hold myself to commitments about it. I know what needs to get done and when I need to do it, and I do the best I can.

It might not be perfect, but it doesn't keep me up at night anymore.

Simplify.

(photo credits: image 1- one pretty thing image 2-gamookie)


What does your to-do list look like? Could you simplify it? What would you put on a giant wish list?

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Monday, December 29, 2008

My New Year's Resolution for 2008: Simplify

Each year I make a list of resolutions for the New Year and I am usually pretty good at keeping to my resolutions. My resolution this year is really only one goal with a few subcategories... to merely simplify my life.

I have great ideas for how to implement my goals and would love if you would join me on my journey this year. These are the three main categories for my goals this year.

Simplify my life by bringing in more organizational strategies and reducing the clutter.
Simplify my life by gaining more control over my finances and committing to at least one no spend month this year.
Simplify my life by making my self-care a priority this year.
There are so many elements to this and with the new goal in mind, I am planning to take you on a journey by sharing how I work towards my goals of simplifying the routines in my life.

I have thought a lot about how I could take you on this journey with me and an opportunity has arisen to begin my own podcast show in this new year through Blog Talk Radio. Starting in January I will be broadcasting through an Eleven Moms channel through Walmart where we can each have our own show or partner up on shows with one another.

My show will be The MotherLoad Simplified where I will be sharing ideas and be interviewing other great bloggers on how I can reach my goals towards simplifying routines like home organization, beauty care/fashion, simplifying the dinner hour, and simplifying the family finances. I think it will be a great way to engage with our readers in a new way and will showcase our goals for the New Year. This new adventure will be starting sometime in January and I will keep you posted as details develop. Of course, I will be blogging my journey too and keeping to our website themes of basic home management.

What is your New Year's Resolution(s) this year? Is there something you would like to simplify in the upcoming year?

(photo credit: Ani)

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Storage for Thanksgiving Leftovers


I am saving all of my yogurt, sour cream, and whipped topping containers for our Thanksgiving feast. I found a bunch of them in my fridge with a scoop of this and a dab of that in them.

These were run through the dishwasher and are now waiting for all of those Thanksgiving leftovers. I am sure our guests will want to take home some of the leftovers from our feast so I am making sure we are prepared this year. No one likes the burden of returning a dish so these will make the perfect containers to send home all of the goodies without the hassle. Best of all, we are putting these containers to good use rather than adding them to the recycle bin.

If you were feeling ambitious, you could cover them with scrapbook paper. I, however, feel hosting Thanksgiving dinner is ambitious enough and I hope our guests will appreciate the thoughtful gesture of having these containers to enjoy a little of the feasting in their own home.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Play It Again,Momma: Make Ahead Thanksgiving Appetizers

Thanksgiving isn't far away, but you don't have to wait until the night before to get your Thanksgiving meal ready. Many recipes can be prepared in advance and they can be waiting for you when the big day arrives.

This year I am trying something different. Instead of the frantic cooking the night before (or the morning of), I am going to try and prepare as much as I can in advance for the big day. I am not sure who is planning on hosting our dinners this year, but even if I am not hosting myself, I try to do my part to help with the meal. I thought it would be so nice to have the food waiting for me instead of me waiting for it.

First, let's began with the appetizer portion of the meal. I think it is so nice to have some dishes for people to munch on while they are waiting for the meal to be prepared. Here are some fun recipes that you can prepare for the big day and store in your freezer until the day before. Double or triple these recipes for a large crowd!

Make-Ahead Thanksgiving Appetizers


Cranberry Spread


16 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 cup dried cranberries
1/4 c. orange juice

Do-Ahead: Mix all of the ingredients together and mold into a ball or leave loose as a spread. Wrap in plastic wrap, then wrap in foil, and store in a freezer bag. Make sure to label your bag so that you can find it again.

Thanksgiving Day: Let the spread thaw in the refrigerator 1-2 days before Thanksgiving. Place dip in a bowl (or on a platter if it has been molded into a ball) and serve with gingersnaps or crackers.

Italian Meatballs

1 pound lean ground turkey
1 cup bread crumbs
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1 egg beaten

Do-Ahead: In a large bowl, combine ground beef, bread crumbs, parsley, Parmesan, garlic powder and beaten egg. Shape into small meatballs and place on a cookie sheet. Bake in a 400 degree oven for fifteen to twenty minutes. Allow them to completely cool and then place meatballs in a labeled freezer bag.

Thanksgiving Day: Allow meatballs to thaw overnight. In the morning, throw meatballs in your slow cooker and dump a jar of spaghetti sauce on top. Cook on low for two to four hours, or until the meatballs are warmed through.

Spinach Balls

2- 10 oz packages frozen spinach
1 package chicken-flavored stuffing mix
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
6 eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup butter, melted
Salt & pepper to taste

Do-Ahead: Cook spinach according to instructions, drain in a sieve, use back of a wooden spoon to press the spinach against the sieve to get as much moisture as possible out In a bowl combine the spinach, stuffing mix,cheese, eggs, butter, salt& pepper Mix thoroughly& roll into small balls 3/4 to 1" size. Place on a cookie sheet and freeze.

Thanksgiving Day:
To serve place frozen balls on a cookie sheet and bake at 350F 10-15 minutes or until lightly browned If you are doing them fresh or thawed only bake for 7-10 minutes. Serve hot.

Pine Cone Cheese Ball

1 package cream cheese, softened
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted

Do-Ahead: Mix cream cheese, shredded cheese, and Dijon mustard in a food processor until blended. Shape into a ball and store in your freezer.

Thanksgiving Day:
The day before- remove from freezer and allow it to thaw. Shape cheese into a pine cone shape. Stick almond slivers into the cone-shaped cheese in rows, until the ball is completely covered. Cover and refrigerate. Serve with crackers.

Bonus Additions: On the big day you can also add a veggie tray and shrimp cocktail to have out for your guests.

(Image Source: Muffet)




Do you do appetizers for Thanksgiving Day? Feel free to share your recipes here!

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Mommy Time Management: Making My Plans Work

We did a really great series on self-care awhile back (you can scroll through my Mommy Time Management category for all of the discussions and related talks on implementing self-care in your life) and I just wanted to check in with each of you and see how your self-care is going. I know that I have found it is easy to care myself during the summer, but when our new school year starts, I suddenly seem to lose myself again. I am wondering if you are feeling the same way?

My self-care has really come from trial and error and discovering what type of person I am. Here is what I am discovering.

1. I am not a morning person. I have tried being a morning person and I just can't do it. My workout attempts to wake up early left me feeling horrible the rest of the day and getting a jump on the day usually means I am tapping into the time when I feel less creative. Therefore, I am not pushing being a morning person and am instead concentrating on utilizing the times when I feel best...which is the evening. I will no longer apologize for not being a morning person and will understand that maybe I will come to a stage in my life where mornings work better for me, but for now I am content on being groggy in the morning and enjoying the first bit of laziness while I can.

2. I am not a gym person. I tried the gym with my kids and it did not work. My daughter is at a stage in her life where she is shy and scared when I am away from her. I don't know how long this stage will last, but dragging one whining kid and one crying kid to the gym so I could work out left me feeling stressed and guilty. We decided to, instead, put our tax refund check towards a good treadmill that we could use while caring for our children at home. My husband is now able to run and train for his races in the winter seasons and I am able to squeeze in a workout when it is convenient for me. I am working out more often and I feel better than I did before.

3. My self-care needs to be convenient for it to work. A treadmill in the basement...not convenient. A treadmill that is near my workspace so it is ready and waiting for me. Yup, that works. Call me lazy, but self-care will only work for me if it is convenient. This means that I have to make those things available to me and group items in such a way that I will actually use them. My foot soak goodies are all together waiting for the night when I can soak my feet. My library books sit in a basket in my living room where I can grab one and read them. My craft supplies are ready for me to spend an evening working on what makes me most happy. Keeping stocked on my self-care items helps me to actually care for myself when I need it most.

4. I need to put myself on a self-care schedule. I have made a commitment to myself to do one nice thing for myself for one hour a day. It is not an hour where I am watching my favorite show while I fold the laundry, pick up the kid's toys, and sign papers. No, the only multitasking that will be occurring is if I am watching my television show while soaking my feet. As a mom, I get in the habit of making it about everyone else, even during the time that I should be caring for myself. One hour of total and carefree time devoted to myself is just what I need. The world will still spin, our house will still function, and I will be feeling better about myself in the process.

How do you care for yourself? Do you find it more difficult as the school year and activities begin? How do you make this a priority... or do you?

(Photo Source: David Joyce)

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Thursday, September 04, 2008

Ask the Frugal Momma: How Do You Organize Your Pantry & Cupboards?

I know you guys were most impressed with the way we organized our closet, but what you *REALLY* wanted to know is how do we organize our pantry.

Remember when I revamped my laundry system and my yard sale system? That day I hit up the same college student for a great bookcase that she was getting rid of for only $20! I knew right away what I wanted to do with it and couldn't wait to bring it home and put it in our basement.

First, let me give you some background information on our house and previous storage solutions. My kitchen does not have very many cupboards or pantry space so I have had to be more creative with my storage. Our big dream is to expand my tiny utility closet into a walk-in pantry, but until that happens I have been storing the majority of my pantry items in our basement.

Previously, we had a dark wood bookcase that was extremely deep that we were using to store the pantry items. We had ripped this "bookcase" out of our closet that we had turned into an entertainment unit. Yes, you could say that we are pretty creative with our smaller home. We have tried to maximize the space in places that were not being used properly instead of moving into a bigger home.

Due to the depth and darkness of the unit, what had ended up happening was that I found myself doing the repeat-buying. I would look in the unit and say to myself, "No tomato paste?" And then I would rush to the store and buy tomato paste. When I would pull items out though, I would see twenty cans of tomato paste that I had already bought. This was not frugal and the bookcase was working against me.

The location of the unit was also not the smartest place for me. With a quad level home, I was already making the trek down all of our stairs to retrieve items and then walking into the farthest corner of the basement to get what we needed. It was inconvenient and not a functional storage solution.

Welcome to the new home for my canned goods! This bookcase rests just at the bottom of the stairs in a well-lit area of our basement. The light wood color makes it easier to see what is in my pantry and the labels (created with my label maker) make it easy for even my husband to find what we need out of the pantry.

Our upstairs cupboards needed revamping as well. We have the same problem with our cupboards as we did with our former basement storage solution. One cupboard was extremely deep and items would get shoved back there until we said, "Hmmm... do you think that this is still good if it expired in 2003?" Obviously, we were wasting food and valuable cupboard space.

Repeat the same scenario above with the Lazy Susan unit that we had, but just make the items revolve in mass chaos. Clearly, we had a serious problem!

I got these handy storage baskets for less than two dollars each and divided our pantry items into categories. The storage baskets made it much easier for me to pull down exactly what I needed, rather than climbing up on a chair to try and dig through the back of the pantry. It also makes throwing items out quicker, when I need to clean out the pantry, and makes tasks easier because I had grouped like items (or cooking projects) together.

Here is how I grouped the items:

Spices- All of the spice containers were gathered together and imagine my surprise that we had plenty of repeat performers in this category. I wiped down the spices and consolidated them into one container. The spice container is residing in the cupboard closest to the stove. I can pull the small basket down and take out whatever we need and slip it back into the cupboard when I am done cooking. This is much easier than rifling through fifty teeny bottles and makes shopping day easier too!

Cake/Cookie Decorating Supplies- These are items that are used less frequently, but still needed a home. I put these higher up in a basket with handles. Piping bags, piping tips, cookie cutters, food coloring, sprinkles and the birthday candles (that no one could ever find) all went into this container.

Baking Supplies: This is a pretty general category, but it was all of the items that I needed, but could never find. In this larger basket went our baking powder, baking soda, confectioners sugar, shortening, and cocoa powder.

Rice/Pasta: These ingredients went into a larger basket and all of the boxes were consolidated and smaller pastas and the rice were placed into clear Mason jars. The mason jars were labeled and have the cooking instructions labeled on them (unless I knew the directions by heart). In the Mason jars were white rice, brown rice, jasmine rice, orzo pasta, macaroni, and couscous. Larger pasta included linguine, angel hair, and thin spaghetti. Everything fit more neatly and anything extra went into the downstairs bookcase unit.

Flour/Sugar: This organizing unit went into our Lazy Susan. This included wheat flour, white flour, self-rising flour, cake flour, brown sugar, and white sugar.

Syrups/Oils/Vinegars: This organizing unit also went into our Lazy Susan and included corn oil, vegetable oil, canola oil, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, white wine vinegar, red wine vinegar, molasses, honey, and maple syrup. Using this unit eliminated the "sticky" factor, which usually occurred, making a huge mess in the bottom of our pantry. Any extra condiments also get put in there, as they are often used in recipes.

Finally, the items that I like to keep on hand upstairs all go into our pantry door. We bought one of these wire units that mounts on the door and keep items that I might need on hand. A smaller unit, that clips onto the larger unit, houses all of those little packets that we might need to assemble a meal. I try to keep what we need for the week in the upstairs pantry door and then the excess (or whatever doesn't fit) ends up going downstairs.

If you want, I am happy to share where we keep appliances and stuff like that, just leave me a comment!

I hope that this will help give you some creative storage solutions for your pantry!

Note: You can click on the pictures to expand the size.




Related Readings:

Free Up Pantry Space & Make a Snack
Making Your Spice Rack Usable
Getting the Car Organized
Gettin' Quick in the Kitchen
Living Out of Your Pantry

Sound Off: What storage solutions have you found work in your pantry?

*Originally aired July 25, 2007*

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Organizing Your Laundry Room

Tis the season for college students to began moving out and that means loads of great deals on organizing units and apartment style furnishings. Not only that, but many kids just offer up the stuff for free to rid themselves of having to lug the stuff home and back to school again. Keep in mind all those students who are graduating and don't think they will need their furnishings in their new & more lucrative lives. It is a bargain-hunters dream so be checking the local papers and the free online classifieds for all these goodies.

Last weekend I scored several very nice organizing units and I was able to revamp some of the organizing systems in our house. The first organizing system that I created, was a unit that I purchased for our laundry room.

I saw this organizing idea on one of those organizing shows on television and thought, "I should do that!" The show was about a mom who just couldn't keep up with her laundry and she had no good laundry system in place. She had a laundry area in her basement (just like me!) and clothes were piled everywhere. She had no idea of what was clean or what was dirty and the basement was a disaster.

The team came in and renovated her laundry area and added a shelving unit that assigned each person in the house a shelf for clean laundry. They used baskets to organize and made things look very pretty.

I loved this idea, but I wasn't willing to fork over the big bucks for a huge unit like that. Lucky for me, a graduating university student had an organizer that she didn't need anymore and I was able to score this unit for only twenty dollars.

My husband reassembled it in our basement and I set to work on creating a system for our own family. Each person has a tag now for their respective shelf. The top shelf is for our linens and then we go down the line for the family members.

Some other features that I added to my station are:

- A small dish tub, that rests below, that houses a small sewing kit and is reserved for items that need mending. Mending must be simple, but those items are now separated and have all the materials needed for a quick & easy repair.
- A larger tub for ironing. I don't iron, but someone else in the family can now find anything they want to iron themselves. Aren't I thoughtful?
- A bin for the, "Lonely Socks Club." We sort socks at the end of all our loads, but all socks who are missing a partner are now located there. It makes finding matches much quicker.

The unit is only a holding station for the family. This is not a storage facility. When the kids get a little older, everyone will be responsible for clearing their own shelf and and putting their own clothes away. Baskets are neatly assembled beside the unit and each family member has a basket for themselves.

What are some ways that you organize your laundry area? What are some important items that you keep in your laundry room? Any systems that work great for you? Please share!

*Originally aired April 17, 2007*

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Cleaning Out The Fridge

Continuing the Play it Again, Momma series, we are going to discuss some ways to clean and organize your digs. Enjoy!


Today’s entry request was to cover the topic of cleaning out your fridge. Now ladies, I have been plagued with cleaning questions and ya’ll are making me feel pretty bad about my house. Maybe some money-saving questions might be a better fit for this tired mom? I will continue to answer cleaning questions as they come in, but do not, I repeat, DO NOT look around my house or the items in question. I do enjoy the research though and it has inspired me in ways I didn’t think possible so continue to throw your questions my way. Please email requests to amy@momadvice.com. The column will continue to run until I run out of questions. Be sure to check out next week’s entry where we talk about that nasty toaster oven sitting on our counters.

I do not enjoy cleaning out my refrigerator, but it one of those things that must be done. I wait until the day before grocery day to do it though because this is the day where there is the least amount of items that need to be moved around. It is also a great time to check my inventory before making the shopping trip to see if I really do need half the things on my list.

When I clean out the fridge, I break out two dishwashing tubs & a cookie sheet to accomplish this task. I fill one of these tubs with two tablespoons of baking soda and one quart of warm water (no need to measure this, just an idea of how much to use). The cookie sheet is used to put all of the condiments on and drawers are emptied into the other dishwashing tub to move items quickly in and out of the fridge.

Before cleaning the interior of the fridge, fill each drawer with the same amount of baking soda solution in each one and let the baking soda solution do the dirty work while you are wiping out the inside of the fridge.

I use a rag to do the interior and just get the rag wet with the baking soda solution. Gently wipe the interior of the refrigerator and wipe off all of the surfaces and interior of the refrigerator. If the washing solution begins to look nasty, be sure to chuck it and get another tub full to clean with.

For stuck on interior stains, you can sprinkle a little baking soda directly on the spot and add just a little water to it to make a paste. Allow this to set on the stain and then scrub gently and allow the paste to remove the gunk.

Go back to your drawers and empty them and wipe the interiors of these. Now place these back into the fridge and then take your dishwashing tub of solution and empty it into the sink. Refill the tub with just warm water and add a dash of lemon juice to the water. Now use your rag to do a final swipe using just this water & lemon juice solution. This will remove any grit that might be left in the fridge and the lemon juice will give it a nice fresh scent throughout too. Dry throughly with a terry towel.

Take your cookie sheet of condiments and make sure to give each of these a quick swipe with the rag before returning them. Half the battle is just not having clean items in your fridge and this is a good way to start fresh. Return all of the items in the other tub, at this time, to their proper homes.

The exterior of your fridge can often be overlooked, but it needs attention too. As a mother of two little ones, tiny little fingerprints and smudges are all over my fridge on any given day. To remove these, use my homemade all-purpose cleaner and spray this on your fridge. I then use a microfiber cloth to clean the outside as it is still gentle on the appliance but also abrasive enough to remove any marks. Any scuffs still left? Break out your Mr. Clean Eraser (a mom’s best friend!) You can find a generic equivalent of one of these at your local dollar store.

If you have a stainless steel appliance, dip your microfiber cloth into a little vinegar and give the outside of the fridge a good swiping with the vinegar. Then give the appliance another swipe with just plain water and dry thoroughly with a terry towel. If you have soft water, that won’t show any water marks, you can just use the water to clean the exterior.

Now when was the last time you saw the top of your fridge? You might want to hop up there on occasion and give that a good wiping too. If you have a handheld vacuum, use that to suck up any crumbs and debris. After that, use the all-purpose cleaner and give that a good wiping down too.

Just as a side note, after I clean out my fridge, I also empty the ice out of our icemaker and clean it with the same solution and dump all of the old ice out. This can be a breeding ground for bacteria, so it is an easy addition to my routine since I already have everything out.

Additional Tips:

When cleaning out your fridge, always use baking soda and warm water to wipe the insides of your refrigerator and freezers- soap or dishwashing liquid will leave a smell and can taint food.

Once every few months, remove all the food, switch off the refrigerator and wipe down all the surfaces. Defrost the freezer at the same time if necessary.

A box of baking soda can be added to your fridge and freezer to neutralize those smells.

Frugal Momma’s Money-Saving Tip:

Make sure that the door seals on the refrigerator, freezer compartment, or freezer are working efficiently by closing the door on a piece of paper. If the paper can be pulled out easily, the seal is worn and should be replaced.

Make sure to vacuum your refrigerator coils (located on the back of your fridge) twice a year. It is recommended that you do this more often if you have pets in the home. Just use your vacuum with the crevice attachment attached to the vacuum hose and give it a good vacuuming. The coils are located either on the bottom of your fridge or in the rear of your fridge. Doing this will save you money because if these are clean, your fridge won’t have to work as hard lowering your bills!

Suggested Reading:

Tips to Keep White Appliances from Looking Yellow (Warning: This does include bleach so be careful with your floors and clothing!)

What else would you like to see featured here? Please drop me an email or reply by leaving me a comment!

*Originally aired March 29, 2007*

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Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Our Kitchen Makeover

When we moved into our house, one of the big things that attracted us to it was the size of our kitchen. Now that we have lived in our house for four years, I don't think my kitchen is as big as I would like, but it seemed enormous when our last house had only a galley kitchen. Isn't that funny how accustomed we can become to more space?

The thing that I was not fond of about the kitchen was the dated look of it and the lack of storage and cupboards. The walls were white, the floors a really light pine color, and the cabinets were oak with no hardware. We didn't have enough cabinet space, the appliances all needed to be updated, and the kitchen lacked the style I wanted. If this was a reflection of the "heart of our home," it was certainly missing something. The owner before us had completely renovated the kitchen, but it wasn't our style and wasn't cohesive or finished the way we would have liked.

Our kitchen makeover has been a gradual process and we are still working on the details of it, but it has come a long way from the dated eighties look. We would replace things as they went out and updates would come when we had a little extra money. I did want to show where we are at now, with the updating process, and to share how we have renovated our kitchen on a budget.

I wish I would have taken more before pictures of the kitchen, but I hope my descriptions will help.
These are the pictures of our cabinets before the makeover. Nice, but not much to write home about. We had received a $50 Lowes gift card for Christmas (thanks, mom & dad!) so we thought we would put the money to good use. I used the steps provided in this tutorial to paint our cabinets. This meant no messy sanding and so it helped to save a step and saved me a lot of cleaning too!
We took all of the doors off and gave them a really good cleaning with a liquid degreaser that I had purchased from the hardware store. Once cleaned, we applied two layers of primer to each side of the doors and to the outside of the cabinets themselves. We allowed the primer to dry one day and then we began painting them the next day. The color that we chose was a Martha Stewart "Wainscot White." It wasn't a true white, but was definitely not a cream either.

The hardware for the cabinets was purchased from Target. They have ten packs of knobs that very closely resemble the stuff at Restoration Hardware, but they only cost $14.99 for ten versus $5-10 each. The drawer pulls were $4.99 each (also purchased from Target) and they all were in oil rubbed bronze.

These are the cabinets after. What a difference a weekend can make! The cupboards are so beautiful and have brightened the kitchen up so much. Not only that, but the whole space feels so much larger because of the white cabinets. The walls were also painted a pretty gray blue to bring the more up-to-date feel to our space. We left our counters the same, but hope to one day replace them with a more high-end material (or at least make them look more high end).

We replaced our dishwasher with a new GE dishwasher that we purchased from Sears. It is the stainless steel look instead of the real stainless steel, so little hands can smudge away without mommy having to clean the surface as often. We actually won the dishwasher in an advertising contest that was sponsored by Sears. Technically, all of you AWESOME people helped us earn the dishwasher so we thank you for that. This one is so much prettier than the other one and better yet...it works! What a novel idea!
Next to my stove are hooks for my aprons. This was a great way to add some "art" to the walls without making an investment. $3.99 to display a few of my favorite things in the world.

We updated our stove with this fancy stainless steel number. It has everything I could ever want for this space and, while not free, I was able to get a killer deal on it. The stove was marked for $1K and I was able to get them to accept $500. Always pick those floor models, I say, and point out any and every flaw you can...even the stupid stuff. That is how we were able to score this stove.

The range hood was free and part of our Sears shopping spree that we won. Our refrigerator is the last of the white appliances to make an exit, but we are watching Craigslist to see if we can score a good deal on that.
Since cabinet storage was an issue, I was able to find an old ugly eighties desk with a hutch from a thrift store to remedy the problem. I did my makeover work on it and it is now my favorite piece in the house. This was cheaper than buying new cabinets and I just love how it is open for guests to grab their own dishes. The white dishes really make me happy and make me feel like a little Martha when I am entertaining! These dishes were priced at $14.99 for a service for six, including all of the serving dishes! They aren't the best quality, but I love the clean lines and design on them.

I also have my new china from my mother-in-law that looks so elegant on our tables. She recently brought this over to add to my dishes and I was so thrilled.

While it can make our seating a little more cramped, we did add a narrow table along the back wall to keep our computer. This has our dinner music on it and I can watch the television while I cook. The two plants on either side were purchased from Target, clearance to $14.99 each. The basket on the table, normally brimming over with fruit, is empty since I need to head to the grocery store. The basket was also a clearance item that I purchased from Marshalls along with some of the decor for our walls.
Like this piece that is centered along our back wall! This was a clearance item at Marshalls for $9.99. It got discounted with some of their summer pieces and I thought it would be a perfect focal point in that open spot.

I hope you enjoyed the tour of our kitchen!
We could not be more proud of the space we created...on a budget!

*Originally aired on January 2, 2008*

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Weekend Project: New Workspace

Today we are continuing our week of Play it Again, Momma entries and today's focus will be on renovating your home on a budget. We have done a lot of work to our late sixties tri-level home and with each project, I feel a little more pride about our home. Our space might be limited, but each entry should showcase how we make our space work for us!

I am so excited because Ryan & I were finally able to complete another project on our to-do list... creating a workspace for two.

We have had a lot of challenges with the two of us both working from home and both working on the computer. We both needed computer time and we were constantly battling for the computer. One of my first investments was getting a laptop. Thanks to having a computer guy for a hubby, he was able to get me an excellent deal on a laptop and I was partially in business.

I say partially because we were still battling over workspace. I have back problems and would want to sit at a desk. He would need the desk for his computer so we would once again be duking it out for the workspace. One of us would be sitting at our children's tiny table trying to talk about work ideas and the other one of us would be sitting all comfy at the desk. We also had other scenarios where I would try to be productive working in my room and then fall asleep or I would attempt to work from the couch, but someone would want to watch television. In short, it wasn't working.

Finding a desk though that could fit our "team Clark" philosophy was tough and expensive! We decided to use some of the money that I earned this year to put towards getting a desk that would be perfect for us to work together.

We found what we wanted in the Pottery Barn catalog, but we aren't a Pottery Barn kind of family (budget wise, I mean). Ryan was able to find it for a fraction of the price on Target's website though and you can't even tell a difference between the two designs. He also found a deal where we got 15% off and free shipping. Timing it with that really helped save us some additional money. While it was definitely a splurge, it provided the perfect space for the two of us to work together.

Welcome to my new workspace- isn't it great? You can expand these pictures to view it in more detail. We purchased three cabinets and bought two desk tops to make our new work area. The two desk tops rest on the center cabinet and make one seamless unit. This set-up works great for us because we work together on many of our projects.

Not only is this great for working together, but it has created a lot more space in our office because it is all against one wall versus our corner desk that we had before.

This set-up was not without challenges because we had originally intended for it to go along our back wall and found that the unit was a lot larger than we had anticipated. We had to remove our closet doors and allow the unit to go basically into the closet space, which meant that this closet is now open and viewable to the world. I am not liking that too much, but it was a way to encourage us to weed through the items in the desk and in the closet to free up space and make it look more organized. I am thinking about making a curtain that would just partially hide this from view since a full set of curtains probably won't work.

I did tackle an enormous project though...those craft supplies are finally in order! That was no small undertaking and I am so happy to see everything neatly arranged. I even have space for my sewing machine so I can use my workspace to craft as well.

I organized the closet without making any investments. While I think pretty baskets would look so much better, the practical side of me won this battle and I am just using things we already have. If I add a curtain, I can close this off a bit and no one will even notice.

On the opposite wall we have my children's table and chairs. They can be in the office with us while we work and they can work on their own little projects. You can see past pictures of how we made our workspace kid-friendly.

This is an investment that I hope really pays off because we can both work together and each have our own space. Being productive, without a space to call your own, can be difficult. We love working together so this the ideal space for us!


*Originally aired February 18, 2008*

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Ten Useful Tools for Twitter Users

My What in the World is Twitter? post has been making its rounds on tons of blogs and seemed to encourage many people to explore using Twitter as a networking tool for their business so I thought it would be fun to do a follow-up article on using Twitter.

There are many applications and tools that you can use to help bump up your Twitter experience. Here is a gathering of great tools to make your tweet time a little more effective.

Reminder & Organizational Tools:

Twitter Timer: Add this guy to your list of friends and send him a direct message (DM) when you need to remember to go to the dentist or a friendly reminder that next week is your best friend's birthday.

Remember the Milk: We highlighted Remember the Milk in our family planning tools, but Remember the Milk can also be used through Twitter as well. Add Remember the Milk to your list of friends and send DM's to remind yourself to pick up milk...or your kids. You know, those important things in life!

Commuter Feed: Wouldn't your morning commute be smoother if you knew where traffic was backed up or where accidents have occurred? Commuter Feed is a free service that lets you see reports on traffic incidents in your local area using Twitter. It works for any city that has an IATA airport code worldwide. Even if you don't input the information yourself, you can look up your city and see what was recently posted to keep up-to-date on what is happening in your neck of the woods.

Fuel Frog: This great site works with Twitter and help you easily track the gas mileage on your vehicle. This can be a great way to track the fluctuating gas prices, see how you are doing on your gas mileage, and keep track of mileage for your job.

Twitter Efficiency Tools:

Twitter Snooze: Is someone being a tad too chatty and you are feeling overwhelmed with their tweets? Is someone live-blogging at an event and you just want to tune their tweets out for a bit? You can visit Twitter Snooze and put their posts to sleep until the event is over, without blocking your friend or ruining that great relationship.

Twitter Search: This is great if you are off of Twitter for a long time and want to double-check to make sure you didn't miss any posts about yourself. Just search for your username (in my case, momadvice) and it will pop up all of the conversations you have had or any tweets that were intended for you. You can also use the search to keep up with something/someone you are interested in. You can read what everyone is talking about in the current events, politics, fashion and find out what people are sharing on your favorite topics.

Twitter Feed: This service works with your blog's feed and automatically sends out a message to let everyone know when your feed (blog) has been updated. This is a great way to automate the process to let your readers know when you have new and amazing stuff on your blog.

TweetDeck: This is great for people who like to micro-manage their micro-blogging tools. TweetDeck enables users to split their main feed (All Tweets) into topic or group specific columns allowing a broader overview of tweets. You can group people into groups (locals, PF Bloggers, Must Read Mommas) so you never miss an important tweet again. Once created these additional columns will automatically update allowing the user to keep track of a twitter threads far easier. Basically, it makes it so you can see exactly what you want to see and you are able to view up to 48 hours worth of the tweets that you have deemed the most important, without having to hunt.

Lifestyle Improvement Tools:

Tweet What You Eat: If you are working on improving your eating habits, then this tool should help you in tracking your caloric intact for the day. Tweetwhatyoueat (TWYE for short) is a Twitter-based food diary. Use Twitter to track what you eat, and now your weight, by ‘tweeting’ food items to your personal food diary on Tweetwhatyoueat.com from your mobile phone, IM or through Twitter.

Qwitter: This tool can help you if you trying to quit smoking. As with most of these tools, you can add Qwitter as your friend and then let them know when you have had a cigarette and journal how you are feeling as you taper off the cigarettes. This tool was brought to you by the state of Florida and I just love anything that can help people make a positive lifestyle change!

This list only encompasses ten great tools, but if you are looking for even more great ways to use Twitter, check out this list of 140 great Twitter Tools from Mashable!

Sound Off:
Do you use an tools for twittering? Let us know what tools you find most helpful!

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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Frugal Family Vacations

I know that you all are really going to enjoy this guest post from another one of my favorite bloggers! Stephanie, at Keeper of the Home, has agreed to share her traveling expertise with our readers and I think this post will really help those of you who are planning your family vacations! Be sure to visit her blog for wonderful tips for naturally inspired living for the Christian homemaker.

If you are interested in submitting a post on frugal living, creative/crafty parenting, or organizing, you can email your entries to me at amy@momadvice.com. Please include a bio with a link to your site and (if you would like) a picture of yourself to include.

If you're a frugally minded mama like myself, and you and your family have thought of vacationing beyond the local campground, you may be wondering how to go about planning an affordable yet still fantastic family vacation.

Here are a few things that I have learned in my experience of planning both domestic and international trips:

General Tips

Research, research, research!

This cannot be stressed enough! Do not settle on any tickets or reservations until you've researched at least 4 or 5 options.

Initial research should give you an idea of general flight, hotel, and car prices, as well as the attractions that you are interested in and a skeleton itinerary. Start by using online travel services such as Travelocity, Expedia, Hotwire and Priceline to begin to gauge prices. Use travel sites such as Lonely Planet or Fodor's to start to get some ideas about the place you will be traveling to, as well as simply googling things like "travel arizona children" or "attractions grand canyon".

From here, put together an estimate of what the cost of your trip will be. If it's coming up too high, consider what areas you can skimp in. For us, we don't care about fancy accommodations. We would prefer to have more money to allow us the freedom to eat without stress, and do all of the activities that interest us. You may feel differently. What are the priorities for your family?

Once you've worked through these steps, you can get down to business and really dig in to find the absolute best deal on each part of your trip.

2) Booking together isn't always cheaper


Through the travel companies would love to be your one-stop shop by having you book your flight, hotel and car all in a neat and tidy package, you will most likely be missing out on some deals by going that route. If you do some careful comparisons of these "deals" (compared to finding each component of the trip individually), you will see that they really aren't the deals they're cracked up to be.

3) Bidding for a deal

It's now become one of the more popular ways to try to find rock bottom deals for traveling. Sites like Priceline and Sky Auction encourage you to either bid against other would-be travelers or to "name your own price". These sites have the potential to be very valuable to you if:


  • You've already done the research and know exactly what a good deal would look like

  • You've determined your bottom line. For example, when using Priceline you don't get to choose your flight time, specific hotel, etc. You set your price, win it, and then find out what you've already bought. It's important to consider these unknown factors, compared to the available deals that you already know are out there, and then you will have the ability to pick and choose whether bidding is worthwhile. If an extra $10 a night is worth it to you in order to know exactly which hotel you will be staying in, set your Priceline limit at $10 below what you'd like to be paying, and resolve to walk away if that bid isn't accepted.
  • You are very aware of the fees and taxes that will be added on. Always, always check and know exactly what your total costs will be before making any decisions.

Tips for flights


  • Children under 2 fly free, on a parent's lap, so plan your dates accordingly if you have little ones nearing their birthday

  • If you can, keep your dates flexible. Often it is cheaper to fly on a Saturday, while the Friday may cost $15 more a ticket. It doesn't sound like much, but it can add up fast if you're buying children's flights as well. Some travel sites have search options designed to let you search using flexible dates. A great option to use is Expedia (be sure to check the box that says "my dates are flexible"). I just did a sample search on flights from Atlanta to Fort Lauderdale in August, and came up with a price range of $191 to $309, within an 11 day span- that's a big difference!


  • Look at smaller, independent airlines as well (which are usually not included on the major travel site searches). A few examples are:

  • When you find a great deal, snag it! Good deals don't last for long, and if you wait, you may just miss out (I know this from experience!)


Tips for Accommodations


  • First, consider the many varied options out there: Hotels, motels, camping, yurts, hostels, house swaps, B&Bs, etc. There is so much beyond the traditional hotel, and many of the other options are much cheaper, and can even be more enjoyable! Personally, we will be staying in a private room at a hostel in Flagstaff for our upcoming Grand Canyon trip, where we will have kitchen privileges, hot breakfast included, laundry machines and more, for a mere $45 a night!

  • Do consider bidding for hotels on sites like Priceline. I just scored two nights at the Crowne Plaza in Phoenix for $50 a night! Just remember- do your research first!

  • Change it up! When we went to Europe 2 years ago, I found that different types of accommodations were cheaper in different cities. In Rome, we stayed in a very small but lovely private hotel. In Florence, we opted for a camping hostel, where the tents are permanently set up on raised concrete, and include cots and basic bedding. In Edinburgh, we stayed in a quaint Bed & Breakfast, where we had a gorgeous, clean and very large room, delicious hot breakfast (could have done without the blood pudding, though!), for the same price as a private hostel room, and half the price of the cheapest hotels. While living in Japan, we went even cheaper than a hostel and chose to take the train out to the country each night to camp (we carried our tent on the bus we took up to Kyoto).

Tips for Rental Cars

  • Go with the smallest car that suits your needs. You'll save on rental costs, as well as gas most likely!

  • Avoid most of the bigger name companies. They tend to be significantly more expensive, unless you come across an amazing deal.

  • Again, try your hand at bidding to "name your own price"

  • Compare many sites. In my recent search for the cheapest rental car, my favorite comparison sites were Hotwire, Travelocity, Expedia, Priceline and CarRentals. I looked at the individual rental company sites, and generally they weren't cheaper than the travel sites, with the exception of a few smaller companies that were not always included in the searches. Try Fox, Advantage and Dollar.
  • If you have AAA or BCAA, or even an Entertainment book, check the types of deals and discounts that are offered for members. You may find a free upgrade on a weekly rental, or perhaps a 20% discount, etc. Just make sure you compare it to the other deals out there, as these discounts are usually for the bigger, more expensive companies.

  • Consider whether you need a car at all! Some cities have
    excellent public transit, and if you choose the location of your
    accommodations carefully, you may find that the need for a car just
    disappears.


Tips for Attractions


  • Get an Entertainment book or online membership! You will find many 2 for 1 entrances to attractions, as well as 2 for 1 entrees at the local restaurants.

  • Look for a city pass. These passes are your entrance ticket to the most popular attractions in a city or area, for a discounted rate. By buying the one pass, you can go to any attraction included over the course of one week (for example- it varies from pass to pass). Some examples are the Seattle CityPass, ShowUp Now for the Phoenix area, and the Go Los Angeles Card. Visit CityPass for several other major North American cities available.

Tips for Eating Cheaply


  • As mentioned above, the Entertainment book can help you make the best of having to eating out (or depending on your perspective, getting to eat out!) by offering 2 for 1 entrees.

  • Try finding an accommodation that includes a breakfast, or even one that allows kitchen privileges (such as a hostel, or some B&Bs) or a motel with a kitchenette.

  • If your hotel has a mini fridge, find a local grocery store (which just adds to the experience of visiting a new place), and stock up on breakfast foods (unless included), and lunch and snack foods so that you can brown bag it as much as possible.

  • Bring a stash of easy to carry snacks that your family enjoys. To Arizona, we will be bringing fruit leather or bars, rice cakes, granola bars that are wheat free (as we are all sensitive to wheat), and a box of mineral drinks mixes to add to our water bottles.

  • Bring a water bottle for each family member, and fill them up each time you're able to. Buy large bottles of purified water from a local grocery store to keep in your hotel room, or the trunk of your vehicle, to do refills.

Lastly, once you are there and you have done everything you can do to make your trip as affordable as possible, just relax! Enjoy your vacation, knowing that some extra expenses will pop up unexpectedly (as they always do), and choose to cherish every minute of the trip that you have worked so hard to plan and save for!

Despite how it may appear, Stephanie does not spend most of her time planning vacations! She is blessed to be a wife, mother to two young children, homemaker, and home schooler. In her "spare time" she maintains the blog Keeper of the Home, gardens organically, studies nutrition and natural living, and enjoys cooking up nourishing foods for her family.

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Monday, August 04, 2008

2008 Online Family Planner Round-Up

Calendars, planners, and online software change each year so for the back-to-school season, I would like to share with you some of the family planning options available to you for the new school year. Many thanks to my Twitter friends for offering their own suggestions for what they use as it helped to get my list rolling!

For the first portion of our discussion, I wanted to discuss online calendars. Online calendars are great for families who spend a lot of time on the web and they can be easy to access when you are out and about from mobile phones and other computers.

Online tools are ideal for clearing the paper clutter from your life and can be easily shared among family members. When using paper calendars, it can be difficult to get your family all on the same page (so to speak) so online tools can be a great option for making sure everyone is aware of those meetings and appointments.
Google Calendar- This seems to be a favorite among families because it syncs so well with everything in a busy mom's life. Busy families can easily link to one another's calendars to avoid scheduling conflicts which makes it a very appealing option. You can import events from other calendar programs like Yahoo! Calendar and Microsoft Outlook. You also can set up multiple calendars for different areas of your life, like one for your daughter's ballet schedule or one for your weekly night's out with your girlfriends. Party planning and invitations can be done through the calendar as well as setting up reminders for important events in your life. I love that you can share your calendar with your family (or the world, if you so choose) which should help trigger your spouse's memory for that dinner with your family that he was so not looking forward to.


Cozi- In my opinion, this is one of the best free online tools that there is. I really just love the look and the feel of this calendar. I loved this calendar when it first came out, but they have made a new recent addition and you can now sync to Outlook, which makes adding events a whole lot easier. This software is made with a mom in mind. It is easy to use, color-coded (for each family member), includes pictures of your sweet little ones, helps you with your grocery list, has calendars with alerts letting you know when your appointments are and you can send love notes to your hubby…all from one central location. Left your grocery list at home? Just call Cozi’s toll-free number from any mobile phone and have your list read to you or sent as a text message.



remember the milk- This site is great for our list-writing mommas. You can make as many lists as you like and no one will tell you to put your notepads away. Into tagging items on your blog? Use the task cloud to easily see what you have to do. Want to store notes along with your tasks? You can do that too. Saving gas is always a priority too and you can use the map feature to see where your tasks are located in the real world. See what's nearby or on your way, and plan the best way to get things done.


Ta-da Lists- Another great site for the list-writing mommas because that is virtually all this program is. It is simple, it takes about ten seconds to sign up for an account and you can make as many lists as you like. You could also be like, "Ta-da!" and have this open on your computer with a giant list of things you need your spouse to do... you know, if you were that kind of spouse!

Do you use any online tools for managing your day? Do you utilize things like text messaging or a PDA to manage your day more effectively? What high-tech programs or tools have helped your day run more smoothly?

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Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Follow-Up on Self-Care Discussion

Our discussion on self-care was prompted by a lack of care for myself that I needed to admit to and work on. We had such a great discussion and I heard from a lot of you (through email and through your comments) that you were making it a priority to care for yourselves. For those of you that missed our discussion, I encourage you to read our entire discussion and to start taking some steps towards caring for yourself.

I wanted to share with you the improvements that I have made towards these goals:

1. I am managing my time much better. Now that Blogger has finally added the feature where you can publish into the future (doesn't that sound cool the way I worded that?), I am actually able to do the majority of my work on the weekend and I just schedule my entries to publish during the week. I have started devoting my time on Sunday afternoon towards getting my posts ready to go from Monday through Thursday so I can concentrate on family time throughout my week. The computer is ruling my life a lot less and I have less on my shoulders in the mornings to worry about.

2. I am working out regularly. I almost hate to admit it, for fear that I will get off track, but my working out is going really well. I am still going to the gym and am indulging in that in the evenings on occasion, instead of my trips to Goodwill. I am also running in my neighborhood (to help save on gas) and we are planning to invest in a treadmill so that my husband, who is a runner, can also enjoy working out in the winter and training for his runs in the spring & summer. Whether I will continue at the gym, I am unsure, especially if we invest in a treadmill for our home.

I never thought I would be the type of person that would work out regularly, but I really am proud that I am. Some of the positive side effects that happened because I am exercising regularly are that I have more energy during the day, my mood is much better after I have had those nice endorphins releasing into my system, and my troubles with insomnia are almost gone. I am sleeping so hard that we now have a new problem on occasion...snoring! In all seriousness though, I am feeling so much better about myself for adding this to my life.

3. I am making time for hobbies now. My new knitting hobby has been the best form of self-care yet because it has calmed me down a lot in the evening hours. I have found that I am more creative than I give myself credit for and I am trying to focus this creativity into benefiting my children too. We are spending more time crafting and enjoying time together now that I don't feel so busy all of the time. Our evenings are spent in our backyard indulging in conversation and fun summertime activities.

4. I am also continuing to reduce the clutter in our house and am trying to be more purposeful about the things we bring into our lives. One commitment that I made to myself (which has been extremely hard) is to not go to garage sales this summer. I know, HARD! I haven't brought as much in and I am finding that I can be more inventive with what we already own. Best of all, I have a little less to clean and a little more room to entertain in. When things come in, things go out- sounds simple enough, but I am still learning.

5. I am trying to do more for others by donating my time and talents to some great causes. The more that I am doing for others, the more I feel better about myself. It isn't anything extravagant that I am doing, but they are little things that have made me feel better about how I can help other people. I am still working on this so I am looking for opportunities to give back to others in our community.

Basically, I am feeling a lot more balanced than I was before. I am trying to talk less about how busy I am and more about how fulfilled I feel from the great things I have added to my life. I am saying no to more and missing out on some things, but I am concentrating on building our family unit up and strengthening the important ties that need strengthening.

How is your self-care going? What are you doing lately that you feel really proud of?

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Summertime Planning

I was really inspired by Whatever's summer list and vowed that we were going to do that this summer for our family. We headed over to the Dollar Tree and picked up a piece of poster board for $.50 and a fresh new Sharpie marker for $1. On the way home, we talked about all of the things that we wanted to do this summer and we both got really excited about all of our fun plans.

Ethan made the list with us and this is what we came up with:

Go to the beach (St Joe and/or New Buffalo)
Go to the dinosaur museum (the Field Museum)
Play Mario Kart with mommy
Make homemade slushies
Run through the sprinklers
Go to the zoo (Ft Wayne and/or Potowatomi Zoo)
Go to playgroup(s)
Go to VBS
Go to the dollar movie
Sleepover with our cousin
Have an Earth Hour family night
Make homemade pizza
Eat at the food court at the mall
Make homemade play dough
Go to St Louis
Go to Granny's house to play
Make Magic Milkshakes
Go to Grandma's house to play
Go to the park
Get our first library card
Go to the water park
Make banana pops
Wash the cars with daddy
Get out the rainy day suitcase
Watch the Car's movie and eat Jimmy John's
Have an ice cream sundae night
Buy presents for the homeless shelter and deliver them
Go to Krispy Kreme and watch them make donuts
Have a picnic in the backyard
Go to the AirZoo Museum

Ethan drew a picture of his family in the summertime to go along with our list and we hung it in our kitchen for the summer.

I love that the majority of the activities he picked didn't cost money and that the ones that he did pick that cost something could be special things that we could look forward to together. Since we have no big vacation plans, this looks like a really great round-up of activities to keep us busy this summer.

It is kind of funny though... I think my husband & I are just as excited as he is!

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Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Still Ridding My Life Of Clutter

I am continuing my commitment towards reducing the clutter in our house and we made another trip this week to take a trunk full of randomness out of our life. The stuff that we got rid of was mostly Emily's clothing that was too small, some household decorations that were gathering dust, my old set of pots, and books that were overflowing in my bookshelf.

Did you see anything of Ethan's on this list? Nope! As we pulled up to the drop-off box, he watched me silently as I loaded everything into the Goodwill box and said good riddance to the stuff we did not need.

When I climbed back in the car, he continued in this silence until we pulled up to the grocery store...and then he burst into tears.

"Mommy, why did you get rid of Emily's hat?"

"Ethan, that hat didn't fit your sister. She is getting too big and so we needed to get rid of these things that were too small."

"But, mommy, why did you get rid of those special lids?"

"Ethan, those lids went to the old pots that mommy had. Remember, mommy got new ones for Mother's Day and now we don't need those anymore."

Each item, he had noted as I put them in there. Honestly, I never thought that it would be an issue because none of the items were his, but he seemed to take my war on clutter very personally.

Over dinner, I shared with my husband about Ethan's unexpected tears and how I never thought he would cry over the stuff like that. Ryan went into a deep explanation with Ethan about how we wouldn't be able to walk in our house if we didn't get rid of things and how he couldn't play in a house that had stuff piled up. And then he said the funniest thing ever...

"Mommy, what you need is Space Bags. They will smash your stuff into little piles and then you won't have to give my stuff away. You just need a vacuum hose, to suck out the air, and then you can fit up to four sweaters in one bag and slide them under the bed."

That is when I knew that we made the right decision. I also vowed to switch to as much commercial-free television as I could.

In all seriousness though, do you find that your children help contribute to the clutter because they are attached to things? Do you declutter in secret or do you let your kids know when you are getting rid of stuff?

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Creating Morning Rituals

Today is going to be our last day in the book, "How Did I Get So Busy." We have had such a great discussion from this book and I feel like I have made a lot of positive changes by sharing through this format and from encouragement from you. It has definitely been a positive transformation for me and I hope that you have gotten as much from it as I have.

For those of you who are just joining in on the series, we began with a busy bee quiz, questioned our reasons for being busy, had a discussion about technology and how it can intrude into our life, talked about self-care (or lack thereof), discussed our exercise routines (or lack thereof), taming our tech habits, and breaking the procrastination habits. There are many more chapters in the book so I hope that you can check this out from your library or can purchase a copy. I have heard from many of you who have gotten the book so I hope it will continue to benefit you.

Today we are going to discuss our morning routines and rituals. I have read other bloggers who have some really great morning routines, but I will admit that I am not a morning person and carving time for rituals has been something I think about, but don't do. I will say that I have added some workout time to my mornings, after I drop my son off at preschool, and I have also been doing a morning walk with Emily on warmer days.

These are the suggestions from the author on ways that you can incorporate some rituals into your day:

1. Write a vision of your ideal morning. The author actually says she has a list of seven things that she wants to do every morning. She suggests writing a list down of the things you would like out of your own morning and putting this in a place where you will see it each day- on the fridge door, inside a medicine cabinet, next to your alarm clock. This list will help remind you of what your ideal morning would look like. I have seen moms take this a step further and have an ideal day written up for themselves and their children too.

2. Estimate how much time each morning ritual will take you. With all of our goals, we are encouraged to start small and work our way up. Begin with small things that won't take a lot of time and build your routine up from there.

3. Identify a simple way to connect with loved ones in the morning. It can be a hug and a kiss for your kids, joining your child for breakfast each day so that you have special time together, or exercising with your spouse. Use this time to connect with the people you love most and see if it starts your days out a little better.

4. Choose things you truly want to do, not what you "should" do. Don't do things you think you have to do, you need to do things, "that will truly nourish you and help you create the kind of life you believe is possible."

5. Test your habits- and adjust them. If your routine isn't working for you, don't be afraid to switch it around. Continually tweak the routine until you have something you are really happy with.

In this chapter, the author focuses on ways to end your day as well. I have found that I am better about how I end my day then how I begin it though so this section really stuck with me.

Sound Off: I am interested to hear if you have a morning ritual that works for you? What are your mornings like? Do you struggle with a morning routine too?

MomAdvice Sound Off: Did you enjoy this book series? Would you like to work through another book together? What topics/books are of interest to you right now?

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Friday, May 09, 2008

There are Holes in My House Where My Clutter Used To Be

This corner of my garage has been housing our old dishwasher since we replaced it this fall. It was one of those things that needed to be taken care of, but I kept procrastinating on it. As long as I could get my car parked and open our doors comfortably, did it really matter that it was sitting there?

While the kids were enjoying some fresh sunshine in our front yard one day though, I started to organize our garage...a dumping ground of activity in our home. Don't know what to do with something? Just throw it in the garage or basement until you can "figure it out."

I started loading items right into our car that we were no longer using and could donate, other items were thrown into the trash. I filled our car up with the first load of stuff and made a pile for a second round later.

I flipped through our local paper and found a company that hauls your junk for free. We have one particular company that we like because they are very respectful and come when they say they are going to come. They arrived the next morning and picked up the dishwasher and some old doors that we had from our closets. The entire process took about five minutes and everything was gone. Yes, I completed this task while watching my kids play in the front yard- a half year for a five minute task, but I guess that is how I can procrastinate sometimes.

Feeling motivated, I started clearing out the basement, my closet and drawers of too old clothes, cleaned out both of the kid's drawers and closets and loaded up four more loads of stuff that we didn't need. Summer clothes were moved into the closets and an inventory was taken of what little they really did need for the warmer months ahead.

I sold $70 worth of Emily's cloth diapers, $25 worth of her clothes, $10 in Ethan's toys, and am making another $50 on our train table that the kids no longer play with. That is $155 that I made plus a nice tax deduction for next year. Although I might have done well with a garage sale, I really just wanted the items out so I could get on with life.

We miss none of the clutter and I am continuing to add to the car as I see things. I didn't just look at the big things though, there were lots of little things too. For example, every single morning, I would remove this little toaster oven baking sheet that came with my toaster oven so that I could make the kid's their bagels. I never actually used the little cookie sheet because I used my little stoneware pan if I needed to use something, but every single day, I would pull that sheet out to put my bagel in. It would rest on the counter, aggravating me until I could slip it back into its proper place. Last week I looked at that dish and asked myself, "Why do I do this every day?" I didn't use it, it was a nuisance, it got in the way of what I needed to do....so I loaded it into the car. Guess what? It isn't bothering me and I am glad to have it gone.

Is there something that is getting in the way of your life? Why not start a container in your car and fill it as you see things. When the bin is full, just drop it at a charity on your errand day. Start with a small tote and see if you could fill that. What I found though was that I started with a tote that turned into a trunk full of items that were not being used in our house.

Yes, I like the holes in my house where my junk used to be!

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Breaking the Procrastination Habit

One of my favorite bloggers, Crystal from Biblical Womanhood & Money Saving Mom recently gave her readers a challenge to have an anti-procrastination day. She asked everyone to think of the things that they had been procrastinating on and for them to focus their efforts on those tasks. Isn't she just brilliant? I have five things in my head that come to mind that I have procrastinated on this week and I am sure everyone else has things that they know they should be doing...but haven't. In the long run, is it really easier to procrastinate? I will say that if you have procrastinated forever on something, there is certainly a rush when the task finally does get completed, but is your life easier or more difficult when dealing with procrastination? Often my procrastination costs me MORE time and money.

This week's lesson from the book we have been working through ("How Did I Get So Busy," by Valorie Burton) actually has a chapter devoted towards breaking the procrastination habits that you have been living with. The author offers these tips to help you accomplish what needs your attention this week:

1. Commit five minutes to the task. Even if the projects are large, start by setting a timer for five minutes and working on the project for that length of time. Don't you find though that once you start, it is hard to stop. It is the starting in a task that is usually the most difficult part. Go ahead, set that timer...but don't be surprised if you don't want to stop!

2. Stop making it a big deal. Often we make these tasks into bigger deals than what the are and it causes us to become paralyzed and not even start them. Maybe the task is just having a conversation with someone you love and you have something to say. You could start with manageable steps- writing it down, scheduling a date to say what you need to say, and then just saying it. Smaller steps are key towards working through procrastination.

3. Give yourself permission to do it imperfectly. My perfectionism and procrastination go hand in hand. I have the mentality, "If I can't do it perfectly, then why do it at all?" Wrong attitude, I know, but sometimes I have to give myself permission to let go of my perfectionism to accomplish something. The author says, "It's time to let go of your perfectionism. It becomes a stumbling block that keeps you stuck. Be willing to do your best, but be willing to do it imperfectly. It frees you to be human and it frees you to make progress."

4. Make it fun. I have heard of people throwing painting parties to get their rooms painted, or inviting friends over to help them weed through their clothes. Invite someone to join in with you or look for support among your blogging friends to help you! Sometimes it just helps to have a cheerleader, doesn't it?

5. Drop the goal. Enjoy the day. If you are never going to do the task, quit adding it to your to-do list so that you can feel like you have failed. Just give yourself permission to let it go so you can enjoy your day without the dread.

Sound Off: What do you find yourself procrastinating on? What are some goals you could make for yourself?

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Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Taming the Tech Habits

I can tell you one of the reasons that I often feel overwhelmed is because of my tech habits. A quick login to my email account can set my day into a tailspin- a review that needs posting, an article that needs writing, a page that needs editing- I have suddenly lost an hour of my day.

Even if you don't have a website or blog, reading other people's websites and blogs can take up a great deal of your time. Reading feeds definitely made things a little easier for me, but I made it harder on myself by subscribing to a gazillion feeds since I was saving so much time. See how your tech habits can spiral out of control? I am trying to follow my own commandments for blogging and not allow my blog to rule my life, but it can be hard.

In our book, "How Did I Get So Busy?" by Valorie Burton, she offers some suggestions for taming your tech habits and getting your life back:

1. Make email unobtrusive. This is something that I had to do in my own house. My computer used to ding at me when email had arrived and I would run into the office to check my account right that very minute. I ended up spending a lot of unnecessary time running in there for junk and spam mail which was time that would have served me better by spending it with my family. The author recommends turning the audible features OFF.

2. Open & respond at specific times. Set specific times that you will check email and give yourself a specific period of time in which to respond. Begin by prioritizing the messages by reading the titles and dealing with those emails first.

3. Set "no email" periods. Create periods of time in your day where you make email off limits- after 8 PM, Sunday afternoons, while on vacation, or when you need to focus on a specific project.

4. Have "no technology" periods. Don't allow technology to intrude in times where it is not welcome. Keep things like cell phones, email, and television out of your life during certain times where you feel it is important for you to be unplugged. I personally loved this idea from Ohmystinkinheck, where Heather suggests making the family members turn in their cell phones and set them to the off.

5. Respond in the moment. Even if you aren't addressing your messages right away, it is thoughtful to send a message to let the recipient know that you have received the message and a promise that you will get to it when you can.

6. Delete the message once it has been handled. Know how many messages I have in my inbox right now? You are going to gasp, but that is okay because I can't hear you. 8,000. No typos, there are 8,000 messages in my account. You can see why this would be tough for me! The author suggests keeping your inbox as clutter free as possible to help free your mind from being bombarded by the sheer volume of your old messages. Maybe this is a reason why I feel stressed when I open my inbox?

7. Tame your Blackberry habit. If people know that you will answer their messages immediately, they will begin to expect it and will take advantage of it. You will attract more requests, demands, and messages than ever.

Sound Off: What do you struggle with on this list? Are there are solutions listed here that could help you tame your own tech habits?

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Monday, May 05, 2008

Working Out On a Budget

(Ring, Ring)

Me: Hello?
Voice: Hi, it's 1997 calling
Me: 1997? Wow, that was such a great year for me. How is 1997?
Voice: Good, except they want their workout clothes back
Me: What? No, those are perfectly good pants and shirts. I am just working out in them, I don't understand what the big deal is.
Voice: Yeah, and those pants you wore through your pregnancy? You know, the ones with the bleach stains on the butt?
Me: No. Please. Those pants have been good to me.
Voice: Please throw them away
Me: But I don't want to spend money...I could still get another ten years out of them.
Voice: (interrupting) NO! They are finished. Throw them away- you are embarrassing yourself.
Me: But...
Voice: And about those socks from junior high...
Me: One thing at a time, dude.

Our discussion last week about exercise really struck a chord with me. My family suffers from many health problems that I hope to not replicate, but if I am sitting on the couch (or in front of the computer), I may suffer from the same ailments.

As always, the budget comes into play and if I was going to work out, I knew that I needed to do it inexpensively. I am not one of those people that is disciplined enough to motivate myself to work out on my own and I know that I am better motivated in a gym-type setting. Let's face it though, gym memberships aren't cheap.

In a moment of Divine Intervention, my girlfriend called and said that they had an opening for babysitting at her gym. For one hour a week, I could babysit the other client's children and get a free membership. This works out to be four hours a month and my membership is paid for. I did think about the value of my time versus the value of the free membership and it would work out to be about $10 per hour of my time. I think that is a good return on investment and the highlight for me is that they offer the childcare in the first place. I can workout and take classes at the gym and Emily can go with me and play with some other kids. It is a total win-win situation for us.

The next dilemma was getting some things that would be appropriate to work out in. Since I was used to working out at home, I needed to update my wardrobe a bit. I decided to purchase two pairs of yoga pants ($19.50 each) and two new sports bras ($15 each) from Old Navy. I also got a stainless steel water bottle ($6.99) from our local Meijer.

My tennis shoes were looking really worn and needed some attention. I slipped the laces off of them and threw them in our washer (a big thanks to my sister for that tip!). I washed them on a warm setting with a little laundry detergent. When I pulled them out, they looked a thousand times better from such a good scrubbing. I took newspaper and stuffed the interior of the shoe (to help hold its shape and also to absorb any lingering odors) and let them dry outside in the sunshine. When they were dry, they looked like brand new shoes, and acceptable enough to wear to the gym.

While I did make an investment in workout gear, I did save on my membership and on new running shoes. I am proud to say that I have already hit the gym three times and am dedicated to getting in back in shape. It is such a treat to workout in such a nice place and to be able to do it for only one hour of my time each week.

Sound Off: Where do you purchase your workout clothes from? How is the progress going for you with your own exercise routine?

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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

You Knew It Was Coming....Exercise & You

Oh, you just knew that this chapter was upon us after our frank discussion about self-care. I just want you to know that I am not just being Miss Preachy and I promise you that I am making serious changes with the help of this book. The changes I am seeing in myself are making me a much happier mommy.

Here are some things I have been working towards:

1. In the evenings, I am doing something quiet like knitting, reading, or spending time with my husband. I am trying to slow down in the evenings instead of running around for no reason. The same is applying to our daytime routine as well. I am trying to focus on the kids doing more stuff at home with me and less running around. Less running around= less money spent!
2. I replaced some things that needed replacing. Without going into details, I recruited my best girlfriend to go shopping with me and I finally forked over the money and threw out items that needed replacing. It was huge- like, a HUGE deal.
3. I made appointments and kept them. I visited my chiropractor, got my medical massage, kept a follow-up exam with my doctor, and went to my annual. I should be just about perfect after all of that.
4. I am purging a ton of stuff out of our house- three carloads so far! This stuff has been weighing me down and needed to go. It is mostly clothing, but I have been adding items little by little, as I see it, to the trunk and then taking a load over to the Goodwill each day. This is so good for my emotional well-being and it is creating more space in our home too!

Today we are going to talk about exercise or the lack of exercise in our lives. Since I have had Emily, I have not been exercising, and I can give you excuse after excuse for why I have not been engaging in regular exercise. It usually starts with, "I am so busy..." I am petite and people can't necessarily tell that I don't exercise regularly, but I am sluggish by midday and my body isn't toned anymore. I have back problems and regular exercise would really benefit this, but I always have an excuse for why I can't do it. Really, there are a hundred reasons why I SHOULD exercise and a hundred reasons why I DON'T exercise.

In the book, "How Did I Get So Busy?" the author offers these suggestions for making exercise a regular routine in your life.

1. Give yourself a range of success. Just as the author recommended in the self-care chapter, she reminds us that we don't have to do everything perfect. Make a goal, but don't beat yourself up if your goal was six days of exercise and you only managed three. Make three days a minimum goal for yourself and do the best you can and make it something that works for you.

2. Make it quick and convenient. Try aiming for just thirty minute sessions and do what fits best with your schedule. If going to the gym doesn't work for you right now, stick to a workout DVD. If you can't manage either, try a brisk walk around your neighborhood. Whatever you do, make it something that is easily doable and can be done in a short period of time.

3. Multi-task when you exercise. No, the author isn't suggesting we do our bills, but to use this time to meditate or listen to music to make the experience more enjoyable.

4. Take a class, form a group, or get a trainer. If you liked the idea of setting up appointments for self-care, this might be a great idea for you. She suggests making an appointment with a workout buddy or friend to help keep you motivated. Your workout buddy could even by your child, spouse, or another family member- whatever will help too keep you motivated.

5. Make a plan you'll actually follow. Start small, build your confidence, and be consistent.

6. If you fail, try again. She quotes Winston Churchill who said, "Success is the ability to move from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm." Don't beat yourself up, but be honest with yourself. Keep trying and don't give up.

7. Start your day with exercise. Stop trying to squeeze it in when you have a full schedule and make it your routine when you wake up. Before you go to bed, put your workout clothes, shoes, and a bottle of water right next to the alarm clock. When you wake up, slip on your workout gear and head out the door for a brisk walk, pop in your favorite workout tape, or find an open area in your house to do a few sets of your favorite exercise. Use this time as your planning time, quiet time, or "me" time and enjoy energy all day long.

Sound Off: Do you make exercise a priority in your life? How have you worked this into your schedule?

Follow-Up Sound Off: Did you do something to care for yourself this week? Report back and let me know if our discussion helped you at all!

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Friday, April 25, 2008

My Ultimate Downfall: Self-Care

Here are some things I need to admit before I begin discussing self-care:

1. I do not keep my appointments when it comes to my own health care- doctor visits, the hairdresser, annual visits, dentist visits, chiropractor care, or vision exams. This has usually been because I don't want to take both my children to these visits or because I feel like these appointments can wait. It is rare though that I ever reschedule anything for my children. For myself, it is a regular occurrence.

2. I do not regularly engage in things that are just for me other than social commitments. I struggle with making time to do hobbies I enjoy, doing any regular reading, or indulging in time for quiet reflection for myself.

3. I am pretty good about buying clothes for myself, but I struggle with feeling worthy enough to spend money on myself. This is because I feel that oftentimes the money is better allocated to my children, our house, my spouse, or food. It has gotten to the point that items for myself that have needed replacing seem like "spending urges" rather than the simple fact that sometimes I actually have a need to replace it.

4. At times I feel that engaging in self-care and doing things for myself is selfish and indulgent.

Now do you want to take advice from someone like me? As I have plowed my way through the chapters in our book for discussion ("How Did I Get So Busy," By Valorie Burton), I had to pause for a moment as I approached the chapters on self-care. In some ways, I feel like I do really well. I do things often with my mom's group and I try to make time with my closest friends and sister, but these times are often filled with busyness and chasing after kids. While sometimes, during these visits, I get a break, I am not doing things to care for myself during these times. I realize that this is something I really and truly need to work on.

Valorie offers these tips for shifting to a self-care lifestyle:

1. Make a decision to change your life. This is the first time in any life-changing process and she encourages you to want to make that change.

2. Clarify what is no longer acceptable. Shifting from a life of self-care might mean shifting away from a life of busyness. Make a list of what is unacceptable to you in your current lifestyle and what must go in order for you to make the shift to this new life.

3. Clarify what makes you feel well cared for. What really makes you feel cared for? Is it being pampered, cared for, and nourished emotionally, spiritually, and physically. Write down what comes to mind.

4. Make self-care easy. The author suggests making self-care easy and scheduling it into your day just as you would anything else. Set up appointments on the same day of each week or each month so that you can incorporate it easily into your schedule. You could also make it easier by making items that help nourish you easier to access. For example, a foot soak is my favorite thing to do so grouping all of these items together in an accessible spot and scheduling it every Friday (which I used to do each Friday and then lapsed on because I was "too busy") would make it a scheduled and easy task for me to indulge in.

5. Practice until it becomes a way of life. Refuse to compromise on your self-care and practice, practice, practice doing it. It is okay if you don't do it perfectly, but make an effort to make self-care a priority in your life.

6. Notice how much easier it is to do what needs to be done when you live a self-care lifestyle. Incorporating self-care will help give you the energy and the foundation to better handle challenges that come your way. Self-care prevents those feelings of being burnt-out because you will now have a cushion to soften the blow.

The challenge with this lesson and chapter is to make a decision to adopt a self-care lifestyle. From this lifestyle, you will automatically eliminate a lifestyle of busyness.

My personal commitment:

1. I am going to schedule my chiropractor appointments regularly again and I am going to schedule and KEEP my dentist & eye exam appointments.

2. I am going to try to do (at least) one nice thing for myself each week- spending time reading, knitting, exercising, or something to pamper myself. It will not necessarily be things that I am spending money on, but it will be a special treat that I don't often engage in.

3. I will work harder on buying things for myself when I need them. If I hear of a person (like a someone-who-shall-remain-nameless type of person) who needs new underwear and she thinks it is a "silly expenditure," I will encourage her to go and spend some money on herself because that is the most ridiculous thing I ever heard. And, yes, it has been that bad and that ridiculous for that person and shame on her.

4. I will not use my personal finances as an excuse to not take care of myself, unless that is really and truly true. We do have money for the things I need to care for myself and I will use those resources if they are needed. This doesn't mean going to a spa resort for a weekend, but it might mean getting my hair trimmed or having my teeth cleaned.

These might seem like minor commitments, but I want you to know that this is a huge commitment for me. I want to be strong in body and mind, but I can't be if I don't take care of myself. This might require me to work less on the site so that I can make time to make this a priority, but I also feel that if I had this time that I might have more energy and even more creativity to draw from.

Sound Off: It is safe to admit it, do you struggle with caring for yourself? What is one commitment you could make towards your self-care? What is one thing that you really miss doing for yourself since you became a mom?

(P.S.- It is not selfish, it is self-care and you deserve it!)

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Being Busy Or How Technology Takes Over Our Lives

Technology is a great thing, but it can also cause a disconnection between ourselves and the people in our lives. I will use my cell phone use as a perfect example for how it has helped my relationships grow and how it can also take away from my relationships.

My entire family is on the Verizon plan so it has been a great way to connect with my family members on a budget. Since everyone in my extended family is considered "long distance" we use our cell phones as a way to communicate with one another. Having those free mobile to mobile minutes has been a Godsend for me and is a way that I can stay in constant contact with the people that I love most. We talk regularly to our family and it keeps us active in one another's lives.

The cell phone also takes me away from the other things that I should be doing. Opportunities where I can connect with my children can become interrupted with the daily chats with friends and family or the beeping of text messages coming through. I can be mid-sentence with my child, hear the cell phone ring, and I run over to it like Pavlov's dog. What if I miss out on something? What if someone needs me and I am not available? What if there is an emergency? What happens is that I end up missing out on real human-to-human contact and I ignore the person who needs me the most.

I had a friend once who would completely ignore me when her phone rang. At first I found this amusing, but later I found it be irritating. I couldn't understand why she needed to have these conversations with others when I was sitting right there wanting to have a "real" converstion with her. I realized later that it made her feel important to have two people vying for her attention. She not only had me captive, but she had someone on the other end captive too. I would later voice my displeasure about it to my husband, but I realize now that sometimes I do this to my very own children. They will be chatting with me about their day and the phone will ring and I will cut them off mid-sentence to answer it. Am I no better than the person who was doing this constantly to me?

Here are some suggestions from the author of, "How Did I Get So Busy?" for ways to disconnect from the technology that can create more busyness in our lives:

1. Engage in stimulating conversations. One of her favorite questions in her house is, "What's the best thing that happened to you today?" She says, "Stimulating conversations are ones that spark dialogue, meaningful interaction, and even reflection." This is something that I can be working on with my family members and really sit down and set aside time to build these relationships meaningfully, instead of hurrying them through conversations.

2. Reach out and touch. The author encourages you to give the people you love a touch of affection to build your relationships. This is something I have no trouble with because I am one of those touchy-feely kind of people that make others cringe. I love to give my friends and family hugs or a peck on the cheek. It is the kind of family I was raised in and something that I have carried over into my own family.

3. Help someone in need. Yes, we are all busy and we all can use this excuse to not help other people around us, but the author encourages you to make time to help others in need because we cannot afford not to help those in need.

4. Acknowledge people for who they are more than what they do. Notice their character traits or sacrifices that were required in order for them to do certain things. Build on those things when offering compliments to others, taking care to notice these things instead of a simple, "Good job!"

5. Laugh. When we are too busy, we might forget to do this, but it is an important way to connect with one another. I do this often with my sister in our daily gab-fests. She makes me laugh like no one else can and about things that no one else would understand. Sisters usually know you inside and out and they can laugh about things that happened in the past and stupid things you did when you were a child and they will laugh about things you do now. If I need a laugh, I can always count on her.

6. Journal. The author suggests even carving out just five minutes a day to journal and connect with yourself. I love the idea of keeping a gratitude journal because it can create such a positive start to your day and starts your focus in the right direction- focusing on what you HAVE not what on you don't have.

7. Meditate. This can go along with your journaling. I am going to try and make a commitment to wake up just a little earlier so that I can have my own quiet time in the morning. This might help my mornings to start out on the right foot and will start my day on a more positive note.

Sound Off: What are some ways that you have found technology interferes with your life? Do you have any tactics for removing those distractions?

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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

I Am Busy, But Why?

I cracked open this book and was prepared to learn how to manage my time better. In my head, I had envisioned all of the ways that I could manage my day in a more effective way. For example, I could get up by four in the morning, like other bloggers I read, and start my day off with a brisk bit of exercise, breakfast, and some really hard work before my children get up. Then I could reserve their naps for time to catch up on the house, laundry, and bills. Then I could spend the afternoon cooking and catering to everyone's needs. And then I could collapse into utter oblivion...because I don't know how people get up at four in the morning. Or five in the morning. Heck, six sounds too early to me. We can see the beginnings of why I don't manage my time well. I am a late riser and I require oodles of sleep. Sleep has trumped a lot of things in my life and I just can't picture me being a real go-getter in the morning.

As I begin to read though, one of the first things the book said was that it "was not a book on time-management, it was a book on not being busy." Did you feel a chill in the air like I did? What? Not be BUSY? But this is my life. No, I want a book that is going to teach me that busyness is good and perfectly acceptable, but that I just need to manage my busyness more effectively.

That is when I realized how deeply rooted my problem had become. The author says, "I valued achievement more highly than joy, which led to speeding toward the finish line of every project, goal, or task without regard for the gift the journey. I had bought into the belief that taking on more work, projects, or activities validated my worth, abilities, and potential. Certainly there is nothing wrong with being industrious, but beware when busyness becomes a self-esteem substitute."

Yes, I am admitting that feeling busy makes me feel important and I get a high from it. It feels good to be validated by others and to offer my opinions and insights. I think that this really started when I became an at-home mom and it felt good to hear that other grown-ups respected what I had to say and that I had a valuable opinion. Being pooped on and peed on certainly wasn't making me feel good, but if I had a full calendar...well, I was popular! If my schedule was jam-packed, this proved that I had friends, and lots of them!

But could I possibly build any meaningful friendships if I am only able to pencil my friends in once a month? Did anyone ever get all of me if all I was thinking about was the next engagement or the next thing I had to do? I am realizing how bad this really is.

The author suggests making a new declaration that you can work towards while working through her book.

Declaration of My Personal Lifestyle
1. I only engage in activities that reflect what really matters to me.
2. I take all of my vacation time every year.
3. I make a heart-to-heart connection every day with someone I care about.
4. I honor my body's need for rest.
5. I have fun at least once a week.
6. I eat at regular intervals and at a slow pace.
7. I find enjoyable ways to exercise at least three times per week.
8. I do not allow technology to consume my time, but use it to maximize my time.
9. I say no to activities that do not pass my "personal priority test."
10. I listen to my inner voice when making decisions.

Just looking at this list, I can tell you exactly what is going to be a problem for me. #1,6,7,8,9, & 10. I don't eat like I should, I don't exercise regularly, I can't say no, my computer is a major time sucker, and I rethink my inner voice all of the time to please others.

What things on this list would be hard for you? Where do you struggle when it comes to busyness? Here's a tough one...does busyness boost your self-esteem? (You can sign in anonymously as always!)

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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

"How Did I Get So Busy?" (A Busy Bee Quiz)

I can't begin to tell you how much I have appreciated your feedback on what I should do with this blog and website. I think going away last week, returning to an overwhelming amount to do, and the feeling that I can't possibly keep up was eating away at me. I always feel I should be a positive example to people, but sometimes I need to show the more human side of myself. I have read all of your comments and emails and they mean so much. Maybe I just needed to hear that it was going to be fine if I didn't have something fresh and new every single day. I worry about the loss in traffic and readers, when I should worry more about the priorities in my own life.

Here is to a new direction and a new outlook on time management. As encouraged by you, I am going to try and explore better time management and share with you my journey in this. I am struggling with my day and I know other people must struggle with this too. There is just so much to do and we only have so many hours in the day. Where do we start? How do we manage our days better so that we can get things done without the feelings of being tapped out?

I found a book at the library called, "How Did I Get So Busy?" by Valorie Burton. This book is a 28-day plan to "free your time, reclaim your schedule, and reconnect with what matters most." Ironically, the book caught my eye when I was looking for something else, and I just knew I needed to grab it. I plan to read this and share about reclaiming some of my time and encourage you to pick up the book too! Check and see if you can get it at your local library.

The very first section has a test to see how busy you are. Give yourself 1 point for each statement that you identify with:

Too Busy Test

I feel as though I am constantly trying to catch up at work.
I feel as though I am constantly trying to catch up with personal responsibilities.
My life feels out of balance.
My breathing right now is shallow.
I am regularly late to appointments and scheduled activities.
There's rarely a break in my schedule.
My shoulders are not relaxed right now.
I eat lunch at my desk at least once per week.
I sometimes work straight through lunch.
I have not had a vacation longer than seven days in the last year.
A seven day vacation? I have never had one of those.
I have not gotten together with friends for fun and conversation in over a month.
Keeping up with household chores is a struggle because of time constraints.
I am dissatisfied with the amount of quality time I am able to spend with my spouse or significant other.
I am dissatisfied with the amount of quality time I am able to spend with my child.
I don't take time to exercise.
I resent the things I do for family or friends because I have little or no time for myself.
The fuel light in my car has come on at some point in the last two months because I have not had time to fill it up.
My mail is piled up because I haven't had time to open or sort it.
I have missed paying a bill on time in the last three months because I was too busy to notice the due date had passed.
I sometimes run out of socks, jeans, or other laundry items because I haven't had time to do the laundry.
I don't have time to write thank-you notes.
My to-do list rarely gets completely checked off for the day.
I work late more than once per week.
At least once per week, I skip meals because I am too busy.

How Busy Are You?

1-5 Points- Busy
Your schedule is challenging at times, but you are managing to get by. A few small changes will make a big difference towards helping you to take complete control of your time.

6-10 Points- Too Busy
Either life is becoming increasingly too busy for you, or you've been managing to get by but are starting to lose control. By taking action over these next 28 days, you can finally take charge of your schedule and decrease the stress that has been building.

11-16 Points- Too Busy & Frustrated
Life has been hectic for awhile and if you don't slow down soon and become more intentional about where and how you focus your time, you will soon burn out. It is essential that you begin to take steps now so you can get your life back.

17-25 Points- Out of Control
From the author, "I understand. I've been there. And it's possible for you to transform how you live so that your schedule is aligned with what's most important to you. It may require some big changes, but remember that change is about making choices."

I am looking forward to diving in on the first chapter of this. Time management is a tough issue for me and not one I have ever mastered. I have little sleep and exist a lot on my coffee addiction. I don't exercise, I don't take that great of care for myself, I sometimes feel as though I am "coasting" when it comes to managing the house and housework. I basically do as little as I have to do right now to keep up with this side business and that isn't what my intentions were in the beginning. It is comforting to know that I am not alone and here I am, exposing myself to you (in a totally G-Rated kind of way!)

My score was a 17 on this quiz. I am wondering if I am alone? Where are you at on this quiz?

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Monday, March 17, 2008

Progress Report: Day One in the Bathroom

Confession time! I hate throwing away things that I think are "perfectly good" especially when it comes to my beauty supplies. I have a feeling that I am going to be one of those kind of old ladies that saves a lot of "perfectly good" stuff that will drive my children crazy someday.

Needless to say, I had an entire trash bag of stuff to throw out, filled to the brim with old beauty supplies. I had saved stuff even from high school that I thought was worth saving. Obviously, the gravity of my drugstore addictions coupled with my need to save everything created a lot more than an hour's worth of work for me.

Pictured above are my dish tubs that I have used to store everything. I have four of these- Essentials, Bath & Beauty, Hair Products, & First Aid. I had them labeled with my label maker, but the labels kept falling off and they didn't look as pretty as I would have liked.

I used some ribbon and gift tags from my craft supplies and just used a hot glue gun to secure the ribbon around the outside of these. This was a practical solution for making them look cute, but didn't require me to spend any money. I love the look of wicker baskets, but I wasn't willing to spend the money on this investment right now. Besides, the dish tubs are so easy to rinse out if anything gets spilled or if they get dingy.

I made a commitment to myself that I would only keep products that were worth keeping and that would fit in my newly organized space. Three of the bins went into my linen closet, after it been throughly swiped, and the bin of my essential items (stuff I need for every day) went underneath our sink so I could grab it and get ready for the morning.

I refolded and sorted our towels while I was in there and relocated some towels that we didn't need in our closet to make it a little more spacious.

I didn't get to any of the extra credit work because the kids and I all came down with a nasty cold. I was just glad to have gotten these things done and I can't wait to hear about your progress!

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Travel Tips from Tracy Gallagher

Travel Channel expert Tracy Gallagher offers a wealth of insider information for every aspect of leisure travel, from family vacations in the United States to exotic trips around the world. She is best known as the host of the upbeat interstitials that have aired for years on the Travel Channel to promote various aspects of the network’s programming.

Tracy also happens to be working with Hanes and is helping to provide parenting tips for their website.

We got the chance to interview Tracy on traveling with children and asked her how to make those family trips a tad more bearable... and even really fun!

Many parents find traveling with children very challenging, what are some easy ways that parents can make travels less stressful?

It’s all in the mindset. If you start off worrying how hard it is going to be instead of focusing on the adventure, it will be more trouble. Stay calm – if you get stressed, your kids will get stressed. Get your kids involved from the beginning: ask them to help plan and depending on how old they are, carefully explain that traveling can be tiring and hard and that you as parents need their cooperation. There will be times when everyone is tired, possibly can’t understand the language, and when the kids get a bit bored, but they really need to do their best to not get grumpy.

First thing’s first – make sure the kids are comfortable! Long gone are the days when moms dressed their kids in dressy clothes just for a plane ride. Get your kids in comfy clothes – I always make sure mine are wearing Hanes underwear; they love the super-soft waistband and the tagless design to eliminate in-seat squirming, especially on long trips. I also encourage them to wear layers; from airports to rental cars to trains, everywhere has a different temperature. A Hanes hoodie lets them put on or shed a layer whenever they want. Finally, I always pack an extra t-shirt or pants depending on how much room I have. That way, if your kids spill (and chances are they will!) you’re prepared and won’t have to face any future complaining.
Get the kids in on the action by having them carry something, especially if you’re traveling by train or plane. It makes them happy and involved and it can also help spread the burden around, especially if they are bit older. Even younger children can carry their own kid-sized backpacks with all their stuff. Kids love to emulate their parents and having their own suitcase or backpack actually makes them feel empowered and like a big kid!

If you have more than one child, be strategic with how you sit on the plane or train. If your son loves to poke your daughter on a regular basis, it might make sense to separate them into two rows (if you can) to cut down on time spent both refereeing and apologizing to nearby passengers. A car poses closer quarters so try to keep your kids entertained with fun games and toys – code words for distractions.

Once you’ve arrived, give your kids choices of things they'd like to do on the trip- they are less likely to complain about something they choose. I also encourage my kids to start a scrapbook, so while we’re visiting different places, they can also keep busy looking for things to fill their scrapbooks. Last resort - it is always good to have a portable DVD…or now you can even play movies on a computer or iPhone! Kids are kids and can only take so much moving around. Some downtime in front of a movie to unwind isn't a bad thing, and if you are in a hotel it gives you a chance to plan the next day of your trip…or just relax yourself!

One of my biggest concerns with traveling is the amount of money we are spending on our travels. Do you have any money-saving tips that you could offer to parents?

Spend some quality time preparing for your trip by looking for things that are free to do in each destination. Look for locations that might be hosting free concerts, carnivals or festivals during your stay; research local trails to hike or free beaches to explore; determine which zoos or museums have free admission and when. Use your hotel concierge - ask when the best and least expensive time is to visit local tourist hot sports. Or, inquire about those hot spots off the beaten path – maybe there is a local bookstore that hosts a reading for children or an arts & crafts store that holds a free class each week – you never know!

Try a home exchange - that gives you free lodging, plus a house with a kitchen so you don't have to eat every meal out. Travel off-season by going when the crowds are thin, especially if you can take your kids out of school a few days. Get a hotel room with a sofa bed for the kids so you don't have to get an extra room.

What are some fun ways to keep children entertained when going on long trips?

In our car, we pack all kinds of music so the kids can sing, which helps keep them engaged and happy. We also do brain teasers. We talk about our destination and what each member of the family is excited to do once we get there. At the top of each hour, we break out special present or snack (but, no chocolate! If it melts, it gets everywhere!).

On planes, word searches, magna doodles, a deck of cards, are all invaluable. I also like books that allow kids to change the endings allowing for multiple reads. And once again, a movie is not a cop out.

One of my favorite ideas, no matter how we’re traveling, is putting together customized travel kits for each of my kids themed according to our destination. Just grab a brown paper bag, put their name on the front and fill them with all sorts of goodies. From healthy snacks to stickers to comic strips, their travel kits don’t have to cost much and are like spontaneous presents.

Finally, no matter how we’re traveling I like to encourage my kids to take something from home with them. Kids love the routine of home and so a favorite doll, pillow or blanket will put them at ease while on the road.

How can parents save money when it comes to dining on their travels?

Again, do your research. Look for hotels where kids eat for free or offer kids menus. A lot of places also offer free breakfasts. Stay in a home or hotel room with a small kitchenette so you can cook some meals yourself. That is a big money saver - even if you just eat one meal here.

Try not to order room service - that translates to higher prices and service fees...instead, pack your own snacks and put them in the hotel fridge. Explain to your kids (and husband) that the mini bar is off limits!!!

What are some fun and family friendly destinations that families should definitely visit?

Alaska - for the great outdoors...kayaking next to otters and bald eagles is amazing.

Washington DC - so many things are free like the National Mall and all its beautiful monuments.
The U.S. Mint is so cool to see money being made and the Smithsonian museums are top notch.

Hawaii - on Maui, we went zip lining, hiking, kayaking...it's not just about sitting on a beach, but you can do that too! Lots of hotels also offer morning or all-day camps for the kids.

Galapagos Islands: for older kids.

And of course - Orlando and San Diego! C'mon! It may not be that original an idea, but they are only kids once :)

Do you have any tips for keeping your children safe when embarking on trips?

I make copies of their passports and keep an extra copy at home and another copy in my suitcase. I try and dress each child in the same color each day, so if in case anything did happen to one of them, I could tell the authorities what color they are wearing by looking at my other children.

Always talk to your children about the dangers associated with being in a new place...unfamiliar surroundings, new way around, etc. Make sure to come up with a plan if someone gets lost, and also give your child the name of where you are staying and a phone number on a piece of paper for his or her pocket.


Sound Off:
Is your family embarking on a trip for spring break? What is your best travel tip?

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Frugal Hacks: Spring Cleaning & Organizational Hurdles

Today on Frugal Hacks, I wanted to explore what might be preventing people from entertaining in their homes. I reflected that if people were anything like me, it might be because chaos and disorganization can rule the roost and I am too embarrassed to have anyone over. Does this ring true with anyone else?

Please head over to Frugal Hacks and share what your biggest challenge is in your home! I am going to be working through these issues in my own home and try to share some helpful tips for creating a space that you would want to entertain in. As I tackle my spring cleaning, I can share my experiments through embarrassing photos and wordy descriptions. Who wouldn't come back for that?

It should make for an interesting month!

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Monday, February 18, 2008

Weekend Project: New Workspace

I am so excited because Ryan & I were finally able to complete another project on our to-do list... creating a workspace for two.

We have had a lot of challenges with the two of us both working from home and both working on the computer. We both needed computer time and we were constantly battling for the computer. One of my first investments was getting a laptop. Thanks to having a computer guy for a hubby, he was able to get me an excellent deal on a laptop and I was partially in business.

I say partially because we were still battling over workspace. I have back problems and would want to sit at a desk. He would need the desk for his computer so we would once again be duking it out for the workspace. One of us would be sitting at our children's tiny table trying to talk about work ideas and the other one of us would be sitting all comfy at the desk. We also had other scenarios where I would try to be productive working in my room and then fall asleep or I would attempt to work from the couch, but someone would want to watch television. In short, it wasn't working.

Finding a desk though that could fit our "team Clark" philosophy was tough and expensive! We decided to use some of the money that I earned this year to put towards getting a desk that would be perfect for us to work together.

We found what we wanted in the Pottery Barn catalog, but we aren't a Pottery Barn kind of family (budget wise, I mean). Ryan was able to find it for a fraction of the price on Target's website though and you can't even tell a difference between the two designs. He also found a deal where we got 15% off and free shipping. Timing it with that really helped save us some additional money. While it was definitely a splurge, it provided the perfect space for the two of us to work together.

Welcome to my new workspace- isn't it great? You can expand these pictures to view it in more detail. We purchased three cabinets and bought two desk tops to make our new work area. The two desk tops rest on the center cabinet and make one seamless unit. This set-up works great for us because we work together on many of our projects.

Not only is this great for working together, but it has created a lot more space in our office because it is all against one wall versus our corner desk that we had before.

This set-up was not without challenges because we had originally intended for it to go along our back wall and found that the unit was a lot larger than we had anticipated. We had to remove our closet doors and allow the unit to go basically into the closet space, which meant that this closet is now open and viewable to the world. I am not liking that too much, but it was a way to encourage us to weed through the items in the desk and in the closet to free up space and make it look more organized. I am thinking about making a curtain that would just partially hide this from view since a full set of curtains probably won't work.

I did tackle an enormous project though...those craft supplies are finally in order! That was no small undertaking and I am so happy to see everything neatly arranged. I even have space for my sewing machine so I can use my workspace to craft as well.

I organized the closet without making any investments. While I think pretty baskets would look so much better, the practical side of me won this battle and I am just using things we already have. If I add a curtain, I can close this off a bit and no one will even notice.

On the opposite wall we have my children's table and chairs. They can be in the office with us while we work and they can work on their own little projects. You can see past pictures of how we made our workspace kid-friendly.

This is an investment that I hope really pays off because we can both work together and each have our own space. Being productive, without a space to call your own, can be difficult. We love working together so this the ideal space for us!

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Monday, February 11, 2008

The Thrills of Modern Day Inventions

The weather here has just been brutal- blowing snow, freezing temperatures, icy road conditions...the list goes on and on. I am ready for warm weather and bathing suits. I want to sit in my lounge chair and watch the kids play in the sprinklers. I want to sweat, not shiver.

Last night the school listings were starting to post for delays and cancellations. Ethan's school was not listed, but I was determined to not have a repeat incident of what happened last time. I checked the news website and lo and behold...you can have school delays and cancellations sent right to your phone.

I signed up for this service and the weather alert service. I am bad about watching the news so this was perfect for someone like me.

This morning I heard a beep, beep, beep. This wasn't my alarm beeping at me...it was my telephone. "South Bend Community Schools have been canceled. Go back to sleep, momma!" (Well, I am adding that last part for the sake of narration...)

Roll back over and go back to sleep. Thank you, sweet modern day invention!

Sound Off: Do you do text messaging or receive any free services like this to your cell phone? Coupons, deals, alerts? Please share!

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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

WSBT-TV: Frugal Storage Solutions

I wanted to post my WSBT-TV segment before the crew head over and tape more of our future segments to air later this month. This morning I got to share easy ways that you can organize your belongings, without spending a lot of cash. This segment goes along with our article on Frugal Storage Solutions for your home.

Next week I will be discussing fun ideas for a frugal Valentine's Day! I look forward to sharing some of my thrifty solutions for the holiday and I hope you will check back for more fun ideas.

I promise to post our results from our Valentines giveaway later today and I will be guest-writing for Frugal Hacks so I will be sharing that later as well. In the meantime, did you enter the Starbucks $20 gift card giveaway? I am floored by how many people have entered. I don't know what I would do if I got comment love like that every day, but it has been so fun to see all of the entries for the contest. Who am I kidding? I would love comment love like that everyday. Who wouldn't? You feel like a blogging rock star and that feels pretty darn good.

Back to our topic for discussion...

Sound Off: What are some inexpensive organizers that you use in your home? Do you have an organizing project that you plan to tackle this year?

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Organize in 15 Minutes: Plastic Food Containers

I am far from organized and am really needing a gentle nudge (or maybe a huge shove) to get me back on track. One of the things people seemed like they would really like to see more of on here were ideas for organizing and caring for their home.

It is hard to guide when I feel so disorganized myself, but maybe sharing my problem spots and solutions will help someone else? That is what I am hoping for!

This project that I did took all of fifteen minutes, but has definitely saved me fifteen minutes of hunting each evening for storage containers for our leftover food.

The first picture was of my avalanche of containers that I had in my pantry. Since space is limited in my kitchen, I keep my storage containers in two cardboard boxes in the bottom of my pantry. I am hoping to one day expand the pantry and buy beautiful wicker baskets, but this solution works well for now. They are just old Avon boxes that I had and the size fits perfectly for the narrow closet that we are using for a pantry.

I went through all of the containers and matched them to their lids. No surprise that I had five hundred lids and four actual containers so I kept the lids that had matching containers and pitched the rest.

We do save food containers and repurpose these for a couple of things in our house. The kids love to use these to pretend to help mommy cook so I am able to sacrifice some of these butter tubs for them to play with while I cook.

The main reason I keep these though is for our company. When my family comes to dinner, I love to send them home with a container of the leftovers. These are great to give to them and not to have to give away valuable containers that I might need during my week.

I also have a separate area where I keep the sectioned plastic containers that I use for my husband's lunch. I found that the best place to keep these was right under the kitchen counter since that is where I prepare all of the food. Those containers are right at my fingertips so that I can make lunches quickly and save us valuable money throughout our week.

Sound Off: How do you organize your plastic food containers?

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Be a Wrap Superstar: Use What You Have

Sometimes it is more fun to spend money on the gifts themselves than it is to spend it on wrapping your gifts. While I love an elegantly wrapped gift, I do enjoy sharing on creative wrapping solutions too. In fact, sometimes those creative solutions are right under your nose. Wouldn't Hallmark be disappointed if we used items we already had to wrap our gifts instead of keeping them in business with their gift bags and wrapping paper?

Here in this first picture is a grocery sack. This paper bag was purchased for five cents from Aldi Supermarket. This was, of course, before I had made the switch to cloth grocery bags so I have many of these useful bags laying around my house that aren't being used.

You can leave the paper bag plain or you can decorate it. I happened to have a Christmas stamp that I stamped onto the paper. The gift tag came from a book of scrapbooking tags that I happened upon at Michael's. I used my coupon to buy them and they were $2 (less with the coupon) for 24 tags. Tie it up with a bow or a piece of raffia, and you have a beautiful gift out of items in your home.

This second gift is wrapped in a map of our hometown. You can pick these up in the different cities that you visit or in different hotels or restaurants. Save them in a folder for wrapping paper and use special areas for the special people in your life.

The gift tag was made out of my business card and then the gift was tied with green raffia. Business cards can be a fun way to tag your gifts to coworkers. Considering many companies overbuy in the business card department, this is a great way to use some of these cards up and also reminds your boss how much he should appreciate your efforts, particularly for large companies where employees and superiors can be a bit more disjointed. Just give it a hole punch and loop it through the ribbon.

Last, but certainly not least, don't forget all of those lovely coloring pages and how useful they can be for wrapping gifts.
Kids love to feel special and they love to contribute towards the making of and the purchasing of the gifts for your family. These scribbled drawings, while not as appealing to the eye as many fancy gift wrap choices, are true beauty to grandparents and other family members.

If you like to have more control over the color choices and such, give your children crayons in your color scheme that you are going for or make suggestions for drawings ("Grandma LOVES snowmen, maybe you could draw her a really special one?").

The gift tag was made from scrap cardstock that I had and then I stamped the tag with the same stamp that was pictured above in my paper bag wrapping job.

Don't forget the other solutions that I have shared on like tailoring your gifts for their recipient and using wallpaper for gift wrap!

I hope this offers some other creative solutions for your wrapping needs! I plan to put this all together into an article for our website for future reference!


***For more great solutions for your family, be sure to visit Rocks In My Dryer for more great ideas for this edition of Works-For-Me Wednesday***

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Monday, October 22, 2007

Thrifty Treasures: Autumn Container

I found this container when I hit our local Goodwill this past Friday. Saturday was their official half off day, but my husband was going to be gone all day and I was not about to brave the crowds with two little ones to take care of.

Lucky for me, they had discounted their seasonal items down to 75% off the day before their big sale day. This beautiful glass container ended up costing me less than a dollar after I got my discount.

I filled it with marshmallows and placed it on a serving tray along with hot cocoa and freshly popped popcorn. It was a fun treat for a freezing cold evening and a great way to start our weekend. I always try to do a special snack and the marshmallows looked so pretty in this!

I am going to have fun filling it with all sorts of fun goodies and it is the perfect size to be functional, but not take up too much room in our house.

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Displaying a Collection

Last week, while we were out running errands, I was listening to a question and answer session on the radio. The question for their listeners was, "What do you collect?" and they had tons of people calling in to share their weird and interesting collections. People called in and shared about their massive beanie baby collection or crazy key chains that they had begun collecting.

The two things that struck me when these people came in were two things that have always bothered me about collections. The first was that the collections were usually started by someone else in their family or by a friend. It started with the love for one particular thing and it became as though everyone in the world now knew exactly what to get them for Christmas. And their birthday. And their anniversary. And to help cheer them up.

The second thing that seemed to resonate with me was that almost everyone who had a collection had it stored somewhere. When asked where they kept their thousand key chains, the listener would say, "In my basement." Other answers varied, but they all boiled down to them being put away in boxes because people didn't have a place for the items or didn't know a good way to display them.

These are the two things that have always bothered me about collecting items (not to mention all of that dusting). I like to enjoy items, but I don't enjoy collecting things unless they are useful and are used in some capacity in my home.

I did become obsessed with collecting one item though and as I tsked-tsked the people that called into that radio show, I realized that I had done the same exact thing. My beautiful apron collection, while worn daily, was becoming a disarray of items that were tucked away in the depths of a pantry closet and were brought out rarely. I love aprons and I appreciate their beauty, but what beauty were they bringing me pushed in the back of a closet?

I went to Target and purchased two bronze hooks. The total cost was less than four dollars and I had my husband mount them on an empty wall in our kitchen. I picked four of my favorite aprons and hung them from the hooks.

I am now enjoying my aprons and the true beauty of them in a much greater capacity than I was before. They make me smile when I see them and each of them was given to me by someone special in my life.

Sound Off: What do you collect and how do you display them? Do you have a collection of something stored away?

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Be a Wrap Superstar: Tailor Your Gift

Last week I started a series of posts on wrapping your holiday gifts. I shared my obsession for beautiful wallpaper and a cute idea for your gift tags.

This week I wanted to talk a little bit about tailoring your gifts for their recipient. This is one way that I do try to make my gifts special because I try to wrap my gifts with the person in mind who is receiving the gift.

Sometimes I tailor the gift to the person who is going to receive it and sometimes I tie the theme into what the gift actually is. It is fun to wrap your gifts this way because it makes it fun for the person who is opening it and it shows that you had them in mind when you wrapped the gift.

The gift shown in this example is for your favorite budget-savvy blogger or someone whose occupation involved the green stuff. The gift was wrapped in the stocks section of our Business paper and the gift tag was made out of a piece of money from a Life board game. Tied in green raffia, to go along with our money theme, this brings it altogether perfectly.

I try to do this often with the elements that I bring into my wrapping. When I go thrift shopping, I look for cute serving spoons or whisks that can be used to tie on the outside of newlywed gifts or for the Foodie in our family. Any small item that can be tied to the outside of the gifts can be great items to add to your wrapping details.

The comics section can be used to wrap children's gifts, Wall Street Journals make great wrapping paper, and foreign newspapers can add a little pizazz to any gifts you are giving.

Best of all, what a wonderful and earth-friendly way to recycle your newspapers!

Sound Off: What special details do you add to your wrapping jobs?

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Be a Wrap Superstar: Wallpaper That Gift, Yo!

I was asked to speak to my mom's group this week on how to celebrate Christmas on a budget. Since I do those Tuesday morning show segments, I figured it would be in my best interest to make some pretty props to go along with my morning discussions (and that could double for my mom's group discussion).

How about serving triple duty and sharing them on my blog here too? Why not!

I have several ideas for thinking outside of the box when it comes to wrapping your gifts. Sure, I could go to the store and get a giant roll of wrapping paper, but what is the fun in that? Some of the most fun is in the inventing of new ways to wrap those gifts under the tree.

The gifts might not all match, they may not be overly red and green, they also aren't going to be uniform, but at least each gift will have their own original style.

Today's gift wrapping idea is to check your local thrift store for wallpaper to wrap your gifts. I frequently find gigantic rolls for only $1. Try to pick a design that can be used for the holidays, but also can double for those other special occasions where a gift is needed.

This gift is not only covered in wallpaper, but the gift tag is made from a deck of cards. Is your dad a prankster? Give him the Joker! Is your brother the jack-of-all-trades? A Jack! Does your mom think she is the queen of the castle? Give that woman the Queen!


Tie it off with a little holiday cheer and embellish your gifts with a little ornament or something holiday-ish. I love those ornaments for those teeny trees to put on my gifts or I love to add big old jingle bells to make my present a little more festive.


I hope you enjoyed my quick tutorial on being a wrap superstar. I will discuss another idea next week!!

***For more great ideas today, visit Rocks In My Dryer for Works-For-Me Wednesday!***

Sound Off: Are you a wrap superstar? What are some things you use to wrap your gifts?

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

WSBT-TV: Tips for Staying Warm in Cool Weather

Well, you are going to get a glimpse inside our home since this morning's segment was taped at our house. The segment that aired today discussed ways that you can keep your home warm without raising your heating bills. Lucky for me, my segment timed perfectly with our weather cooling down or I think this one would have been a dud! According to this week's weather forecast, my tips might be put to good use this week out here in the Midwest.

For additional tips on getting your house ready for the cool weather, be sure to visit my article on Winterizing Your Home.

Sound Off: What do you do to get ready for the winter weather? What is your average heating bill in the winter months?

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Sunday, October 07, 2007

Pretty Menu Plans

I thought I would take the plunge and do a big day of grocery shopping for our entire month. This took a couple days of planning and picking our menus for the month. I really thought it would be a great idea until I actually got to the store and realized that loading and unloading my groceries was a little like a complicated game of Tetris. Nothing fit in the cart and nothing fit in my car. The only thing motivating me was the knowledge that I would not have to do this again for another twenty-nine days. I used to only shop once a month, but had gotten into the habit of shopping every two weeks with my husband's past pay schedule. The new payment schedule motivated me to just go ahead and get it done all in one trip. Am I crazy? Maybe a little bit!

Inspired by my dear friend Monica, I decided to pretty up my menu plan this month. I found a cute pumpkin to add to my planner and now my menu plan looks organized and cute too!

As we have been going through the meals, I have just been highlighting them to remind me what meals we have left to eat and I can see what we have already eaten. I incorporated lots of new dishes and several of our old favorites this month. I am hoping I will have lots more recipes to share and that I can keep us on budget with our dining out category.

Sound Off: How often do you grocery shop? Why did you choose this schedule for shopping?

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Friday, September 21, 2007

Enjoying the Last Days of Summer

We are coming to the end of the summer and it is that weird time in the season where I find myself preparing for the seasons ahead while sitting in my bathing suit in hot & humid weather.

Yesterday we enjoyed a day outside. The kids played in the sprinklers while I worked on our laundry and flipped through recipe books for the Christmas season.

I have been working on planning my Christmas treat boxes and have been hitting the thrift store often for pretty tins to put my cookies in. We had so much fun delivering to the firefighters and other people in our family, that I find myself really looking forward to our next delivery. It was a lot of work, but so neat to surprise everyone with treats from our kitchen.

Today I washed all of our fall linens for the beds and they are hanging out in the sunshine. I have a fall quilt in burgundy & navy flapping in the hot sun. My space heater, flannel sheets, and electric blanket will have to wait until it gets nice and cool.

I bought my mums to plant and a pot to put some of them on our step. Next I will be working on my fall decorating around the house. I don't have a ton of decorations, but just a few pieces to add to the fall spirit around here.

Finding acorns lying next to my beach chair reminded me how close we are to being able to enjoy some crisp fall weather. Until then, we will be soaking up the sunshine and enjoying as much time outdoors as we can.

Have you been doing any fall preparations in your house? Are you enjoying these last dog days of summer?

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Day 28: Get To Know Your Freezer

Today I was working on some items to put in my freezer when I realized just what kind of savings a person could cash in on just by learning what they can freeze and how to store the items in their freezer.

Here is the view into our freezer in our refrigerator. We also have a small chest freezer in our basement, but it isn't as easy to view as the one upstairs.

What might one find in our freezer?

- Ice cube trays filled with ice to make our favorite Slushies and Magic Milkshake from Miss Maggie at Hillbilly Housewife. These make great frugal treats for the kids and save us a lot of money by not going to places like Dairy Queen in the summer.

- Coffee ice cubes to make my frozen coffee treats.

- Mashed bananas in measured containers for all of my baked goodies that might need this ingredient.

- Pizza sauce in measured containers for our Friday night pizza nights.

- Banana pops made to help the kids beat the summer heat.

- Lunch meat packets that I made for my husband's lunch and quick dinners using our panini maker.

- Self-Rising & Cake Flour- which I use less regularly, but wanted to keep the ingredients fresh and on hand when I needed them.

- Homemade soup

- Homemade waffles

- Items that I got on sale- hot dogs, shredded cheeses, butter, margarine

- Cupcakes

In our downstairs freezer you would find loaves of bread, meats purchased on sale, gallons of milk, and homemade spaghetti sauce. I also stockpile anything that I can when it is on sale

Your freezer can be your wallet's best friend if you use it. For example, when an item goes on sale and you want to stockpile that item, make some space in your freezer for the extras instead of letting them go bad in your fridge. You will have the item when you need it and you will pay a lot less money for those items.

Freezers can also be handy for bulk cooking and preparing meals in advance for your family. Prepare a meal that can be eaten by your entire family or prepare single serving dishes that can be eaten for just one. Veto the middle man and do your own freezer sessions in your kitchen and make dishes that can be eaten later. Dream Dinners even has a cookbook out that you can use to do your own freezer cooking. Check this book out from the library and see if you can come up with your own menu plans. You could start a group with girlfriends or trade meals with a buddy. (Note-This did not work for my picky family, but is great for families that are open to more types of foods).

Need help navigating the freezer? Here are some helpful resources for getting started:

Feed the Freezer Cooking Guide
Sneak Up on Freezer Cooking
Freezer FAQ
30 Day Gourmet
Recipezaar's Freezer Recipes

Books to Check Out:

Dream Dinners Cookbook
Frozen Assets
Super Suppers
Don't Panic- Dinners in the Freezer

Potential Monthly Savings- $30 or more

Sound Off: What could I find lurking your freezer? Is there anything that people might find unusual in your freezer?

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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

WSBT-TV: Stocking & Organizing Your Medicine Cabinet

Here is a link to this morning's segment. We discussed ways that you can organize the medicine cabinet and how to score great deals on prescription and over-the-counter medications.

Sound Off: Do you have any tips in the medicine department? I also need your help with story ideas...is there anything you are interested in seeing on the segment that I could talk about? It would be a huge help to know what people would like to see!

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Monday, September 03, 2007

Boot Camp for Amy

Ethan returning to school seems like the perfect time for me to start getting myself and my home back on track. The lazy days of summer are gone and my house looks like I have been enjoying a lot of days outside, instead of inside. I am using the index card system and this past week has went so much more smoothly for me. I have always been a big believer in breaking down the week, but some of the important things that I wanted to get done seemed to lay by the wayside. I also was facing a new schedule with our son going to morning preschool instead of afternoons. Throw in a busy side business and one more child (with her own schedule) and my week of organization was turning into mad chaos.

I sat down and wrote everything out on the index cards and then broke down my spring cleaning activities throughout the year. With one week behind me, I already feel more at peace with my week and I am actually getting to enjoy the weekend more, instead of cleaning for hours on end.

This is my new routine:

Daily:

Sweep Kitchen Floors
Unload dishwasher
Load dishwasher
Swipe both bathrooms
Make beds
One load of laundry
Have Ethan do his chores (He is five years old and we have him make his bed, tidy his room, do all of the recycling, clean up the playroom (while Emily naps & before bed time), put his clothes in the hamper, dress himself, brush his teeth, help set the table, do his homework, and put his dishes on the counter when he is done eating.)

Monday:

Clean bathtub
Empty upper level trash
Make grocery list and menu plan
Change sheets on all beds
Clean windows and mirrors on upper level
Dust upper level
Steam floors on upper level
Sweep upper level
Organize the bedrooms

Tuesday:

Dust main level
Sweep main level
Steam kitchen floors
Clean windows and mirrors
Run errands

Wednesday:

Do one thing I hate
Catch up on anything that didn't get done on Tuesday (just in case my errands run too long)

Thursday:

Empty lower level trash
Dust lower level
Sweep lower level
Clean windows and mirrors on lower level
Clean and organize the home office
Visit the library

Friday:

Day off from cleaning
Catch up on website work

Saturday:

Clean out car
Update our Quicken software
Mow lawn
Baking day

Sunday:

Church
Clean out fridge
Deep clean the kitchen sink
Clean stove (& stove parts in dishwasher)
Pay bills
Recycle papers
Clip coupons
Clean microwave & toaster oven

Sound Off: Am I missing anything? Do you have a game plan for your week or a cleaning system that works for you? I am ALL EARS!!!

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Sunday, September 02, 2007

Day 25: Schedule a Day in Your Kitchen

This is something that I was thinking about today as I was getting everything ready for the week ahead. One of the best things that I have done for my budget is to schedule time in the kitchen for myself, just like I would schedule anything else going in our home. One day out of the week I am able to cook and save our family tons of money.

It isn't necessarily the meals that I am preparing, but it is all of the other things that seem to cost so much. I usually bake a special treat (muffins, granola bars, or a loaf of quick bread) that we can put in the lunch boxes or be eaten as an evening treat.

I then try to mix up all of my ingredients for the things that I will need for the week. If you plan your menus, you can determine what you will be eating and what you can make ahead for your meals. You can chop the ingredients for certain dishes and mix any of the dry ingredients that you can for your dinners. Think of this as making your own convenience food. I promise it is much more convenient for you to dirty your kitchen once then it is to do this multiple times throughout the the week. I love to mix up waffle mix pancake mix, bread machine mix, pizza dough mix, cornbread mix, rice mixes, and anything else that I can think of!

I also make a big batch of coffee and keep some in the fridge for iced coffees and freeze the rest in ice cube trays for my mochas.

I throw on some really good music, light candles, dance in the kitchen...whatever I am in the mood for! I also have a good "fluffy" book to read while I am taking breaks between things baking. I can usually squeeze in a chapter here and there, which makes it more fun for me!

When everything is done, I individually wrap everything so it is ready to go for a quick breakfast or to be added to lunch boxes. Putting it in a pretty basket makes it more visually appealing (as if a homemade treat wasn't visually appealing enough!)

Here are some of a few of my favorite recipes in our house:'

Fun Treats:

Chewy Granola Bars

4.50 cups oats
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
2 cups chocolate chips
1/2 cup butter, melted
2/3 cup honey
¼ cup peanut butter (creamy)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly grease on 9x13” pan. In a large mixing bowl, mix together all of the ingredients (minus the chocolate chips). Stir in chocolate chips. Press into pan & bake for 18-22 minutes. Let cool for ten minutes, and then cut into bars.


Banana Crumb Muffins

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 t baking soda
1 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
3 bananas, mashed
3/4 cups white sugar
1 eggs, lightly beaten
1/3 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/8 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 t ground cinnamon
1 T butter

Preheat oven to 375. Lightly grease ten muffin cups or line with muffin papers. In a large bowl, mix together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In another bowl, beat together bananas, sugar, egg and melted butter. Stir the banana mixture into the flour mixture just until moistened. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups. In a small bowl, mix together brown sugar, flour, and cinnamon. Cut the butter until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. Sprinkle topping over muffins. Bake in preheated oven for eighteen to twenty minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into center of muffins comes out clean.

Heavenly Banana Bread


2 cups all purpose flour
1 t. baking soda
¼ t. salt
½ cup butter
¾ cup brown sugar
2 eggs beaten
1 t. vanilla
½ t. cinnamon
2 1/3 cups mashed overripe bananas (usually is about four bananas)

Preheat oven to 350. In a large bowl combine flour, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl cream together butter and brown sugar. Stir in eggs and mashed bananas until well blended. Stir banana mixture into flour mixture; stir just to moisten. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan. Bake 60-65 minutes. Allow bread to cool ten minutes in pan and then turn onto wire rack.

Spiced Pumpkin Bread

3 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs
1 16-ounce can solid pack pumpkin
3 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour two 9x5x3-inch loaf pans. Beat sugar and oil in large bowl to blend. Mix in eggs and pumpkin. Sift flour, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, salt and baking powder into another large bowl. Stir into pumpkin mixture in 2 additions. Mix in walnuts, if desired.

Divide batter equally between prepared pans. Bake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 1 hour 10 minutes. Transfer to racks and cool 10 minutes. Using sharp knife, cut around edge of loaves. Turn loaves out onto racks and cool completely.

Best Big Fat Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup melted unsalted butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 325 F. Grease cookie sheets or line them with parchment paper. Sift together flour, baking soda, and salt; set aside. In a medium bowl, cream together the melted butter, brown sugar, and white sugar until well blended. Beat in the vanilla, egg, and egg yolk until light and creamy. Mix in the sifted ingredients until blended. Stir in chips with a wooden spoon. Drop cookie dough by 1/4 cups at a time onto the prepared sheets. Cookies should be at least 3 inches apart. Bake for 15-17 minutes or until edges are lightly toasted then cool on sheets a few minutes before transferring to cooling racks.


Cinnamon Bread Delight

3 cups flour 2 cups sugar
1 (5.1oz) package instant vanilla pudding mix
1/2tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup oil

1/2 cup applesauce
2 eggs, beaten

1 tsp vanilla

2 tablespoons cinnamon sugar

Preheat oven to 325. Grease 2 5x9 loaf pans. In a large bowl, mix flour, sugar, pudding mix, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. In a separate bowl, mix the milk, oil, applesauce, eggs and vanilla. Stir the milk mixture into the flour mixture until smooth. Sprinkle the bottoms of the pans with cinnamon sugar and divide the batter between the 2 pans.
Bake 1hr or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Potential Monthly Savings:
$30 or more

Sound Off:
Do you have a favorite recipe to share that I could try in my kitchen? Something that has been a total hit in your house?

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Friday, August 31, 2007

Product Review: BusyBodyBook Organizers & Fridge Sheets


I have been seeing these organizers everywhere and was so excited when the About Our Time Company contacted us to see if we would be interested in reviewing their BusyBodyBook products. Considering they have been featured in everything, from Redbook Magazine to Parenting Magazine, I was very anxious to get a chance to see what all of the fuss was about.

These organizers are made for moms and come in two different formats and four different chic designs. They offer an Aug '07-Sept '08 (for the mom who wants to be on track for the school year) and they offer an organizer from Jan-Dec 2008 (for the mom who has made it her New Year's resolution to be organized).

These organizers are roomy and have a weekly grid format with a spacious side by side view of your schedule. Each family member can get their own column of activities, making it easy to see who needs to be where (Side Note: The column accommodates up to five family members on each page).

In addition to your standard calendar, the organizer offers extras like a planning calendar for birthdays and anniversaries, another calendar for the next year's appointments, shopping lists, pockets to store items, a bookmark to mark what week you are on, and plenty of places to leave extra notes. This organizer is priced at $16.95.

While I loved the organizer, I was even more psyched about the fridge sheets they offered. No more questions about who was going to be gone on the evening. This seven column organizer makes it easy to see exactly where everyone will be for the day. It also includes a roomy area on the side to leave notes to each other. This is magnetic and is priced at $11.95.

We thank the About Your Time company for giving us the opportunity to review their great organizational tools for moms.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Day 22: The Poor and the Sick

Is there such a thing as being sick on a budget? Our family seems to think so! We try to even address our budget when it comes to our illnesses in life. Here are some ways that you can save money when you are sick:

- Try home remedies before reaching for the cough syrup. There are tons of wonderful remedies that you can do that don't require a big expense. I am a big believer in chicken soup, a warm bath, hot tea, and lots of rest. The rest alone is sometimes enough for me to kick what is ailing me.

- If you need over-the-counter medications, try and stock up on these items when doing your drugstore rebates. Usually CVS & Walgreens both will run rebates on these medications and you can get them for free or really inexpensively. Other great resources are the Dollar General, the Dollar Tree, and the generic equivalents available at your large superstores. The best way to save a buck is to have your medicine cabinet stocked with these items before you are ill. A 24 hour drugstore with no sale will run you quite a bit more than what you would spend normally.

- Organize your medicine cabinet so you know exactly where your items are. We have a three drawer plastic container where we have our medications divided by ailment (cough/cold, pain relievers, stomach) and we put these in there. I get really mad at myself when I have run out to get a medication, only to find it days later in a hidden drawer. Keeping this and your First Aid kit organized are the best ways to know what you have on hand when sickness and emergency situations arise.

- When you go to the doctor, ask if they have any samples of the medications you might need. Sometimes, particularly with my children, I am able to get enough for a few days.

- If they don't have any samples, ask if there are any prescriptions that they could give you off of the $4 list or free antibiotics from your local retailers. Call around and price check before you fill your prescriptions and always ask if you can get the generic version of any medication.

- If you start to feel ill, try right away to get in the doctor for treatment. A visit during normal office hours will be a lot less expensive than an urgent care clinic.

- When choosing a doctor, ask about evening hours and Saturday appointments. Pick a doctor with extended hours and this alone can save you quite a bit. I love that our doctor's office is open until eight in the evening and that I have many more options for appointment times.

- If you do become ill, try after-hours clinics or places like MedPoint to get the care that you need (unless the illness is life-threatening). I have saved our family a lot of money by visiting these places instead of the emergency room. Just walking into the emergency room can put me in the negative, before I have even been checked, so these after-hour clinics can be a wonderful option for the frugal family.

- If your illness does require a hospital stay, make sure to check your bills. There are many expensive and unnecessary charges that can be added to your bill. This is one of those types where diligence will be your best defense in lowering your hospital bill. Don't be afraid to ask what the charges are and have them explain the vague & general charges. You don't have to be rude, but you can be very firm and polite when asking someone to explain what a "lab fee" is for. You are your own best advocate when you are educated about what you are paying for.

- Don't forget to set up your emergency account for these types of situations. Check into getting a flexible spending account for your medical expenses. Consumer Reports offers this advice..."If your company offers a flexible spending account for your out-of-pocket health-care costs, go for it--but don't go overboard." Flexible spending accounts are usually use-it-or-lose it accounts. Figure out a rough estimate and go a little under that. Don't know what to do with all that leftover money at the end of the year? Check out these 24 suggestions for spending your leftover flexible account money.

- The best way to stop yourself from getting sick is prevention. Exercise, take a daily multivitamin, and make healthy lifestyle choices. People who do these things save tons of money on doctor visits and medications. If that isn't a powerful motivator, I don't know what is!

Potential Monthly Savings: $20 or more

Sound Off: What are some ways you save money when your family is sick?

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Monday, August 27, 2007

Day 21: Create Your Own Secret Emergency Account

I use the "secret accounts" phrase completely tongue-in-cheek. I decided one day to set up an emergency account and told my husband about it, but he apparently wasn't listening to me. One day I showed him how much we had saved and he asked when I went off and got a secret account. Ever since then it has become a big joke between the two of us and when we get extra money, he always asks if I plan to store this in my secret account.

In all seriousness, creating an extra account for the extras in life can be an important way to save yourself some money. The money gurus encourage you to set up funds in other accounts that you can easily have access to and to prepare for those big things in life. Check out books from Dave Ramsey, Mary Hunt, or Suze Orman for great ideas on establishing your own emergency funds.

For example, start keeping track of all of the receipts on home improvements you have made during the year. At the end of the year, tally up how much you spent and divide the number by 12. That would be your goal to set aside for the next year for home repairs. This will save you interest and fees that you would incur from putting these expenses on a credit card. This same scenario can be applied to auto repair, Christmas gifts, medical expenses, taxes, etc... These "emergency" situations come up when we least expect them and it is nice to have that money socked away for those rainy days. Sometimes we know these situations will arise (a family vacation or Christmas) and we end up putting them on our credit card even though their arrival was looming all year long.

This month alone we had the car in the shop twice and, of course, both times these visits were unexpected. Thank goodness for that super "secret" account that we set up.

If you aren't a good saver, have the bank set it up to be automatically taken out. Even if you can only afford to take $25 out of your account each month, that is $25 that you can use when an emergency arises.

If you are more disciplined, you can use the snowball technique towards your savings, provided your debts are all paid down. If you pay your credit card or car loan off, for example, start paying yourself that same amount and moving those funds into your emergency account. You won't feel the ouch factor if you were already taking that money out anyway.

These accounts can be great for the bad things in life, but they can also be wonderful for the good things in life. We have a vacation account set up and I am hoping that we can go somewhere really special for our ten year anniversary. We have the money automatically taken out and moved into our vacation fund each month.

Here are some more great articles on creating emergency funds:

Bankrate's Simple Formula for an Emergency Fund
How to Create an Emergency Fund Now
About.com Emergency Fund Guide
6 Ways an Emergency Fund Can Help Your Budget
The Emergency Fund

Potential Monthly Savings:
$30 or more


Sound Off: Do you have an emergency fund? How did you determine your budget for this account?

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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Day 18: Get Yourself Organized

Today I want to talk a little bit about organization and why it will save you money. You will find that many blogs and sites that focus on money-saving ideas also share ideas on organizing. It seems that saving money and staying organized go hand in hand.

Being organized does not come naturally to me and it is something that I am constantly working at to achieve. I know for some this comes easily, but I am not one of those people. If you came to my house right now, you might be surprised at the disorganization and projects that are looming around here. It is a constant battle for me especially now that I am a mom.

I desire to be organized though for many reasons, including financial ones, and that is why I continually try to work at this.

Reasons to Get Organized:

- If you are organized, you will have a good idea of the inventory that is already in your home. You will know exactly where everything is and you will know how many of that item you already have. Instead of running out to buy toothpaste, for example, you will know where you keep the extra toothpaste and will be able to use this instead. This will save you from buying repeat items and it will save you from spending extra money that you don't have.

- If you are organized, you make lists for yourself. A good grocery list, for example, will save you money because you will know exactly what you need and you will buy only that. People who come to the grocery store with no list end up making multiple trips to the store (wasting gas money) and buy items that they don't need.

- If you are organized, you save money on food. Menu planning and proper planning of meals (the night before) helps to prevent visits to those fast food restaurants. Plan meals that are easy to make and try to have back-up plans for nights where you don't feel like cooking. It might be something as simple as a frozen pizza, but having something to eat at home will save you from wasting valuable money at McDonald's.

- If you are organized, you keep a calendar of events. Why does a calendar save you money? Well, you know when your appointments are and you don't miss them. Missing appointments can cost you money for not showing up to your doctor or dentist office. They also offer valuable reminders for when bills are due so you don't have to pay late fees. You also are a star because you remember anniversaries, birthdays, and are a person that people can rely on.

- If you are organized, the things you have last longer. You make the time to care for the items you have in your house and you remember to schedule maintenance for your automobiles and the appliances/services needed in your home. This will save you money because you won't need to replace things in your house as frequently and things will generally run smoother for you.

There are plenty more reasons to be organized, but I wanted to focus mainly on the financial benefits since we are talking about ways to save this month.

Here are some of the resources and books for getting yourself organized

Sites to Organize Thyself:

MomAdvice Organizing Section
Organizing Topics on Our Blog
FlyLady
Organized Home
Organized Christmas
Cozi
Real Simple
Martha Stewart
I'm An Organizing Junkie
The Lazy Organizer
Organising Queen
Neat & Simple Living

Books to Organize Thyself:

Sink Reflections by Marla Cilley
Sidetracked Home Executives by Pam Young
Homekeeping Handbook by Martha Stewart
It's All Too Much by Peter Walsh
Scaling Down by Judi Culbertson, Marj Decker, & George Booth

Potential Savings: $30 or more

Sound Off: What is one way you stay organized?

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

WSBT-TV: Streamlining Your Mornings

Here is this week's segment on how to streamline your morning routine with your children.

Sound Off: What are your tips for creating a smooth morning with your kids?

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Monday, August 20, 2007

WSBT-TV: Organizing Your Kids' School Papers

This is the segment from last week on how to organize your children's school papers.

Hope you guys enjoy it!

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Monday, August 13, 2007

An Ideal Morning: First Day Back to School

Today was my son's first day back to school and I tried to think of everything that we would need to prepare for a smooth morning together.

Last night I preset the coffeemaker (that MUST be done first!) so that I could have my cup of coffee. Together we picked out what he wanted to wear to school the next day and we set it in a basket beside his bed. I put everything there, even his shoes and socks, and he was instructed to dress himself and put his clothes in the hamper when he woke up.

In the kitchen, I poured his bowl of cereal, laid out a banana and put a glass of water out for him. I also had a card tucked away that our Children's Ministry Director, from our church, had given to me for his first day back. I wrote a special note to him about how proud we were of him. Hanging on his chair was his new "Cars" backpack, a special treat to start his year.

We had the best morning together and had plenty of time to spare before climbing in the car to take him to school. I was worried that we would be rushing, since we were used to the afternoon time session versus the morning, but we did well.

I tried to think of everything and we had the ideal morning I had hoped for. Best of all, I am getting a little extra time with my daughter, who sometimes gets the short end of the stick since she is the second child in the house. We took a walk and played outside. It was nice to get to be just with her. Last year, she was napping during this time so this is the first time that we have had some quality time together for just the two of us.

The only thing that ended up being forgotten was the backpack, which was tucked under my son's seat in the car. In his mad rush into school, he had forgotten the special backpack that he was so proud of.

He had a great day with his class and I am so happy that he is enjoying school so much! I know that this will change so we will enjoy his enthusiasm while it lasts.

Related Readings:

Back to School
Back to School Lunch Ideas
Weeding Through Your Child's Artwork Creatively

Sound Off: What are your tricks for making your mornings run smoothly when school starts?

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Product Review: Family Life Organizer & Planner


I have a lot of scraps of paper laying around our house with things that I really need to remember, but I rarely can find them. Our fridge is overflowing with appointment cards and important phone numbers, but sometimes those can get misplaced. Luckily, Pam Socolow, an organizer on HGTV's "Mission: Organization" came up with a family organizer that can contain all my messy piles and transform them into a very organized format. She offers a Family Life Organizer & Planner that can contain even my giant messes.

Honestly, I was surprised at the quality of it and the thoughtfulness that went into this product. There is a section for everything from health care to carpool schedules. It contains a three year calendar with large boxes that offer ample room for writing down everything you need to accomplish for the day. There are over one hundred sheets that you can fill in with information like the house and car details, kids' information, household repairs, and insurance information. There are also fun sections where you can write down books you would like to read or wines you want to try. It also contains a pocket folder for each general section and pouches for tucking receipt. In the back is a business card organizer to store all of those important cards that seem to get lost in the shuffle.

I got this calendar a couple of weeks ago and since we had so many car troubles these past few weeks, I was so proud to be able to whip out the receipts and information that we would need at a moments notice. The pockets have also been great storage for keeping track of my rebate receipts and checkbook.

This Life book is huge so it is not intended for you to carry it around, but just something that you can keep in your house to contain the mess and track the activities going in your house. It would be a great addition to the kitchen and a useful resource for babysitters

The only thing that is missing from the Life organizer is a menu planner, but I noticed on their website that you can purchase additional sections for an additional cost.

You can also print out your own free binder through Organized Home, which is something that I have done in the past. In fact, I might print out some of those printables to add to this

This book is available through Barnes and Noble or through Pam Socolow's website for $19.95. We thank Pam for sharing her organizer with us and giving us the opportunity to share it with our readers!

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Monday, August 06, 2007

Day 6: Take Advantage of Rebates

Rebates can be a great way to save money for your family and no one does it better than the office supplies stores and drugstores. Unfortunately, four out of ten people never even apply for their entitled rebate. Maybe this is why these companies offer them?

Consumer Reports
offers the following tips to better your chance of successfully completing a rebate and getting your money back:

Rebate Tips

  • Read and understand rebate requirements, including deadlines, before making a purchase.

  • Make copies of all rebate materials and put everything in a file folder, in case the company rejects your rebate claim or loses your submission. A paper trail is critical if anything goes wrong. Write down on the cover of the folder in big letters the date when the refund is due.

  • Act quickly. If the rebate form is available online, be sure to print it out immediately after you buy the product. While you may have a few weeks to submit the claim, the official form may be removed from the Web site after the promotional period ends.

  • Submit rebate requests promptly. Don’t wait until the filing deadline. If the company informs you that something’s missing, the extra time will be necessary to gather the requested documentation before the clock runs out. It may sound silly, but also remember to put enough stamps on the envelope, in case the enveloped is oversized.

  • Keep a careful eye out for your rebate check, as it sometimes resembles junk mail.

  • If the rebate doesn’t arrive when promised or at all, contact the company and jot down the name of anyone you speak with. If the matter isn’t resolved to your satisfaction, file a complaint with the state’s Attorney General where the company is based or the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov or 877-382-4357.
I used to take advantage of rebates more regularly, but have fallen off the bandwagon this summer. I checked my paper on Sunday though and the rebates were too good to pass up. I clipped my coupons, grabbed the rebates flier in the store and came armed with that week's advertisement.

CVS was running a great rebates deal this week. Buy $20 worth of Post & Kraft company products, get $20 back in refunds. They also are offering their Aquafresh toothpaste for $2.99 with a $2.99 rebate (limit of three).

I hit the store, when we got home from church, and was able to get the following:

10 boxes of Post cereal
3 boxes Kotex pads
3 Aquafresh toothpastes
1 Colgate Total
2 Colgate Advanced (with bonus free toothbrushes)
1 box Revlon Hair Color
1 Schick Silk Effects Razor
Grand Total Before Savings: $60.28
Coupon Savings: $8.75
Rebate Savings: $35.97
Total Savings: $44.72
Final Total: $15.56

Walgreens also offers a similar rebates program and they run some pretty stellar deals themselves. You can check their EasySaver catalog online or pick a copy up when you get to the store. From what I understand, these rebates do have to be mailed in and take up to three weeks to clear.

CVS offers instant rebates that print out on your receipt. Bring in your Extra Care Bucks and they will scan them to put these savings towards your purchases. You also do receive 2% back on all of your purchases in the store or online.

Potential Monthly Savings: $40 or more

Sound Off: Do you utilize rebate programs? How do you stay on top of getting your rebates in on time? What is the best rebate you have received?

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Saturday, August 04, 2007

Day 4: Use Your Phone as a Money-Saving Tool

It seems like everyone is carrying around a cell phone these days. What once was a luxury is now a must-have item in our house. I can only justify having a cell phone for the simple reason that my entire family is long-distance for me to call. They only live a half hour away, yet I have to pay for long-distance service to be able to stay connected with them. We all have joined Verizon and utilize our mobile-to-mobile minutes daily. It is worth the cost of the cell phone to stay connected with my friends and family, although I try to chose the least expensive plan possible.

I wanted to share some ideas for saving money using your cell phone. This post was inspired by my brother-in-law, who showed me all of the great savings he was getting by using his phone. Much thanks to him for the suggestion and I hope that this will bring in some savings for your family.

Don't Use 411- I love Google Maps and they have a fabulous service that will save you the expense of a 411 call. You can access Google Maps through your phone or (if you are home) you can have the number sent to your phone while you are online.

On the Google Maps page, type in the name and city where you want to be heading. Click on the the name of the business when it pops up and it will map out where it is located. If you look underneath the address (on the map) you will see a "Send to Phone" option. You can have the address and telephone number emailed to your phone for free. This makes for easy storing of the number on your phone and you don't have to go through the third party to connect. Along with the phone number, the address of the business is also emailed to your phone.

Google also offers another free 411 service. You can use this service by dialing 1-800-GOOG-411.

Another free 411 service is Tellme. Just dial 800-555-TELL and say what you want! Say a business, any business. Say "Business Search" at the main menu. Ask for a business name like "Domino's" Or a type of business like "day spa". When you hear the one you want, just say "Text me the info" to have the phone number, address, and a map sent to your mobile phone.

Compare Prices to Get the Best Deals- Frucall is a free shopping assistant service that helps consumers make an informed decision at the point of purchase about a product they are shopping for. When consumers are out shopping in stores, they are away from their computers and have no access to the Internet. Therefore, they cannot check the best online price of an item or get product reviews and merchant ratings. Frucall delivers this valuable information to consumers' cell phones so that they can make their purchasing decision with confidence and peace of mind. Frucall also allows consumers to buy an item over the phone.

There are three easy ways to use Frucall from one's mobile phone:

  1. Frucall Voice
    This is the easiest and the most common way of using Frucall. All you have to do is to dial 1-888-DO-FRUCALL (1-888-363-7822) from your cell phone, key in the product barcode, and listen to the best prices found online. Through its voice prompts, Frucall also lets you get product and merchant ratings. You can save Frucall's number in your contact list because it will come in handy every time you are out shopping! Learn more...
  2. Frucall Text
    This is a service for SMS savvy consumers who prefer to send in a product's barcode and receive product information via text messaging (SMS). Learn more...
  3. Frucall mWeb
    This service is for those who prefer to use a mobile device capable of accessing the Internet to view the product information they need. To use this service, users can point their mobile browser (typically available via an "Open URL" menu entry on the device) to: www.frucall.com/m and search for products. Learn more...

Regardless of the access method, your search history and other relevant information are saved for you on the Internet at www.frucall.com. Through this site you can set your preferences, view your search history, bookmarks, voice notes, and order status in addition to using group messaging and other features of the system.


Get Loads of Coupons- How about coupons that don't need clipping and where you can turn your phone around and flash it to the cashier to get your savings? Cellfire offers this free coupon service with oodles of coupons in freebies that come directly to your cell phone. Currently they have free music downloads, free food, and free movies listed on their deals page. The coupons are always with you and you can chose what deals you want to use. I know my readers love freebies so this one is for you!

Take Some Pictures- I love to do this with our phone because it helps trigger my memory for prices. When we were remodeling our bathroom, one of us would head to the hardware store while the other one stayed with the children. I wanted to remember all of the prices and what each item looked like in the store so I would use my phone and take a picture of the items and a picture of the bar codes.

When you are going to multiple stores it is hard to remember the difference between two pedestal sinks or what exactly the prices were on each item. I was able to flip through my pictures and recall my favorite items and the prices connected with each item. If you are in a superstore, you could take this one step further and actually photograph the aisle sign. This will make shopping easier because you can remember right where the item is, instead of walking aimlessly through the store. When doing big home projects like we have done, it is easy to become confused and everything starts to look the same!

Calculator Features- If you aren't using the calculator features on your cell phone, you are missing a huge savings. Every time we eat out, I whip out my phone to use the EZ Tip Calculator that is listed under the Tools on my phone. I can enter the total and it instantly tells me what the tip should be for our meals.

I also use my calculator to compare prices in our grocery store. You will find me huddled in a corner figuring out which laundry detergent is the cheapest or who really has the best deal on soda. The calculator does the number-crunching for me and that adds up to extra savings in our grocery cart.

Potential Monthly Savings- $10 or more

Related Readings:

Programming Your Cell Phone


Sound Off: Do you use your cell phone to save money? Are there any cell phone services that your family has financially benefited from?

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Ask Frugal Momma: How Do You Organize Your Pantry & Cupboards?

I know you guys were most impressed with the way we organized our closet, but what you *REALLY* wanted to know is how do we organize our pantry.

Remember when I revamped my laundry system and my yard sale system? That day I hit up the same college student for a great bookcase that she was getting rid of for only $20! I knew right away what I wanted to do with it and couldn't wait to bring it home and put it in our basement.

First, let me give you some background information on our house and previous storage solutions. My kitchen does not have very many cupboards or pantry space so I have had to be more creative with my storage. Our big dream is to expand my tiny utility closet into a walk-in pantry, but until that happens I have been storing the majority of my pantry items in our basement.

Previously, we had a dark wood bookcase that was extremely deep that we were using to store the pantry items. We had ripped this "bookcase" out of our closet that we had turned into an entertainment unit. Yes, you could say that we are pretty creative with our smaller home. We have tried to maximize the space in places that were not being used properly instead of moving into a bigger home.

Due to the depth and darkness of the unit, what had ended up happening was that I found myself doing the repeat-buying. I would look in the unit and say to myself, "No tomato paste?" And then I would rush to the store and buy tomato paste. When I would pull items out though, I would see twenty cans of tomato paste that I had already bought. This was not frugal and the bookcase was working against me.

The location of the unit was also not the smartest place for me. With a quad level home, I was already making the trek down all of our stairs to retrieve items and then walking into the farthest corner of the basement to get what we needed. It was inconvenient and not a functional storage solution.

Welcome to the new home for my canned goods! This bookcase rests just at the bottom of the stairs in a well-lit area of our basement. The light wood color makes it easier to see what is in my pantry and the labels (created with my label maker) make it easy for even my husband to find what we need out of the pantry.

Our upstairs cupboards needed revamping as well. We have the same problem with our cupboards as we did with our former basement storage solution. One cupboard was extremely deep and items would get shoved back there until we said, "Hmmm... do you think that this is still good if it expired in 2003?" Obviously, we were wasting food and valuable cupboard space.

Repeat the same scenario above with the Lazy Susan unit that we had, but just make the items revolve in mass chaos. Clearly, we had a serious problem!

I got these handy storage baskets for less than two dollars each and divided our pantry items into categories. The storage baskets made it much easier for me to pull down exactly what I needed, rather than climbing up on a chair to try and dig through the back of the pantry. It also makes throwing items out quicker, when I need to clean out the pantry, and makes tasks easier because I had grouped like items (or cooking projects) together.

Here is how I grouped the items:

Spices- All of the spice containers were gathered together and imagine my surprise that we had plenty of repeat performers in this category. I wiped down the spices and consolidated them into one container. The spice container is residing in the cupboard closest to the stove. I can pull the small basket down and take out whatever we need and slip it back into the cupboard when I am done cooking. This is much easier than rifling through fifty teeny bottles and makes shopping day easier too!

Cake/Cookie Decorating Supplies- These are items that are used less frequently, but still needed a home. I put these higher up in a basket with handles. Piping bags, piping tips, cookie cutters, food coloring, sprinkles and the birthday candles (that no one could ever find) all went into this container.

Baking Supplies: This is a pretty general category, but it was all of the items that I needed, but could never find. In this larger basket went our baking powder, baking soda, confectioners sugar, shortening, and cocoa powder.

Rice/Pasta: These ingredients went into a larger basket and all of the boxes were consolidated and smaller pastas and the rice were placed into clear Mason jars. The mason jars were labeled and have the cooking instructions labeled on them (unless I knew the directions by heart). In the Mason jars were white rice, brown rice, jasmine rice, orzo pasta, macaroni, and couscous. Larger pasta included linguine, angel hair, and thin spaghetti. Everything fit more neatly and anything extra went into the downstairs bookcase unit.

Flour/Sugar: This organizing unit went into our Lazy Susan. This included wheat flour, white flour, self-rising flour, cake flour, brown sugar, and white sugar.

Syrups/Oils/Vinegars: This organizing unit also went into our Lazy Susan and included corn oil, vegetable oil, canola oil, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, white wine vinegar, red wine vinegar, molasses, honey, and maple syrup. Using this unit eliminated the "sticky" factor, which usually occurred, making a huge mess in the bottom of our pantry. Any extra condiments also get put in there, as they are often used in recipes.

Finally, the items that I like to keep on hand upstairs all go into our pantry door. We bought one of these wire units that mounts on the door and keep items that I might need on hand. A smaller unit, that clips onto the larger unit, houses all of those little packets that we might need to assemble a meal. I try to keep what we need for the week in the upstairs pantry door and then the excess (or whatever doesn't fit) ends up going downstairs.

If you want, I am happy to share where we keep appliances and stuff like that, just leave me a comment!

I hope that this will help give you some creative storage solutions for your pantry!

Note: You can click on the pictures to expand the size.




Related Readings:

Free Up Pantry Space & Make a Snack
Making Your Spice Rack Usable
Getting the Car Organized
Gettin' Quick in the Kitchen
Living Out of Your Pantry

Sound Off: What storage solutions have you found work in your pantry?

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Monday, July 23, 2007

How I Finally Cleaned Out My Closet

I got the opportunity to check out, "It's All Too Much: An Easy Plan for Living a Richer Life with Less Stuff" by Peter Walsh. I was excited to read this book because I love to read up on organizing the items in my home. Unfortunately, the book focused more on the psychological aspect of people who cannot part with their clutter, rather than a book that is geared towards an enthusiastic clutter-buster.

I would highly recommend this book to someone though who is not living a life that they desire and feel consumed with the clutter in their home. He shares a lot on achieving the life that you have always wanted by taking action and parting with the "stuff" in your life that isn't benefiting you, but is hindering you from enjoying your home and your life.

The fact is, I am the type of person that feels attached to very little in my home. It isn't that I don't appreciate what I have, but the desire to keep items for sentimental reasons has never been big on my priority list. I have memories of good times...not items that represent those good times.

I don't like to collect items because I don't like to maintain and dust collections of things. I don't like to hang on to things that I think I might need in the future because I would rather free up the space in our home.

Don't get me wrong, my house has true areas of chaos. Our garage is a disaster and our basement is in disarray. These are projects that I need to devote some time and thought to and seem to be the dumping stations when clutter starts to consume our house. We have definite areas that we need to work on in order to make our home more spacious and to create more organization in my life.

The one area that I have always really struggled with is my closet and the clothing in it. I hate to turn away clothing when friends and family give me things (even if I don't look good in them) and I have hung onto my work wardrobe for no other reason than the fact that I spent a mint on it and thought I could use it when I returned to work.

The simple fact is that I have no idea when I will be returning to work and the pieces in my wardrobe are already beginning to look dated. By the time I return to work, I will still need to invest in a new wardrobe, and I will also need to get rid of the items that are taking up closet space. Why should I wait until then and just free it up now?

Since our closets are small, and the space there is so premium, I decided to use one of the tips that Peter Walsh had recommended when promoting his book on Oprah. He suggested hanging your hangers the opposite way and flipping them when you wore (not just trying on) an item. Whatever hanger did not get flipped at the end of the specified time, got the boot.

This season I was able to get rid of thirty items in my closet. I loaded them up in bags and took the stuff over to our local thrift store. Not surprisingly, this was very freeing for me and I felt really good about the small accomplishment I made.

My clothes are now sighing with relief because they can breathe a bit. Now that I have room to move my hangers and see my wardrobe, I am able to enjoy the items I have and am noticing all of the the potential outfits in my closet that I had never seen before.

Sound Off: Do you get emotionally attached to your belongings? What is your problem area in your home?

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Monday, June 18, 2007

Real Simple Magazine Tips for July


This month, Real Simple would like to give our readers access to web exclusive content and a sneak preview of some of the stories in their upcoming issue. Throwing an Outdoor Cocktail Party gives readers real simple ways to create an al fresco lounge in their own backyard. Their upcoming July issue also gives readers great ideas about how to decorate your home with different types of throw pillows. I hope you enjoy these tips and much thanks to Real Simple for giving us access to these tips!




Decorating with Throw Pillows

Organize Art Supplies with a Dish Rack (This was a personal favorite of mine this month!)


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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

What's In Your Emergency Kit?

One of the entries on Lifehacker this week, featured this Momergency Kit that is full of items a mom might need in an emergency situation. We all know that emergencies come up when we least expect them, so it is definitely a great idea and something that every mom can use. Check out their list for some ideas of things you could be carrying around.

We have a lot of emergencies that happen throughout our week. Some of my “emergencies” include an extra long wait time at the doctor’s office, a dinner out where the waitress has decided to take her break while we are waiting to order, the time where I was stuck with my kid’s at that family member’s house who doesn’t like kids and has nothing childproof in their home…those are the types of emergencies that seem to come with regularity in my day.

I have a little bag of tricks that I like to keep in my car so that we have something to do when these emergencies arise. Some of the things in my emergency kit include:

Flash cards
Coloring Books & Crayons
Snacks- Cheerios, granola bars, fruit snacks
Small toys for the baby
Empty Sippy Cup (because we are always somewhere where we need one and there are none to be found)

Do you have anything that you like to have in your bag for these little emergencies? Please help the moms out there looking for new ideas for their own bag of tricks!

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Adobe Photoshop & Premiere Elements


I got the opportunity to try out the Adobe Photoshop & Premiere Elements software package that Adobe offers. Since I am a mom and I love to take pictures and video footage of my children, they knew that they had the right person to send it to.

These award winning photo and video-editing products are great for any mom who is looking to get there photos edited and organized in a way that you can actually find the picture you are looking for. Photoshop Elements and Premiere Elements are very user-friendly and help organize, edit and share your most valued pictures and home movies. Not only that, but you can also use their software to create photo albums, scrapbooks, flash online photo galleries, making invitations and DVDs.

I haven't gotten to toy around with this software as much as I would like. The user manuals for each of these products is over two hundred pages long, which tells me that the software offers a lot that I have yet to figure out.

I did some photo editing with the software and was impressed with all that you can do to edit the photos. The options are numerous and the process can be as complex or as simple as you would like to make it. For someone who enjoys editing her own photos, it is a fabulous software package to use.
In my opinion, one of the best features is that you can remove red eye with one click of the button. No need to zoom in on each eye or make sure your mouse is in the right place, just one simple click.

This product has received stellar reviews, and is definitely worth checking out! Learning the programs is time consuming, but worth the effort if you are interested in taking professional looking photos and capturing your memories in a fun way.

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

Real Simple Magazine Tips for May


Here are this month's tips for your reading enjoyment courtesy of our friends over at Real Simple Magazine. Be sure to pick up their issue to get more tips on how to make your life a little easier!

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Prepping for Garage Sales


And, no, I will not be hosting a garage sale. My prep work involves everything that I need to know in order to truly maximize my visits to other people's garage sales. I am not ambitious enough to have a garage sale myself. I prefer to donate our items and take the tax deduction. It might be the lazy person's way of decluttering, but it works well for us!

I love to garage sale during the summer. I, in fact, look forward to garage sale season all year long. In the interim, I do a lot of thrift shopping until I can take advantage of all of those great garage sale prices.

I do most of our clothes shopping for the kids by visiting the thrift store often throughout the year. We also have friends & family who pass on their clothing to us, which is a huge financial help. All of these clothes were folded in several boxes in our basement, but I had never taken inventory of what we already had.

This weekend I pulled out all of the boxes and started grouping things together. All of the dresses in a pile, all of the pajamas in a pile, and so forth. And remember when I mentioned that I got some great organizing units from a university student? Well, in her stash were large three drawer rolling carts that would be perfect for organizing the kid's clothing.

I used my label maker and labeled each drawer with the child's name and the size of the clothing. All of the clothes were neatly sorted into the drawers, instead of thrown into boxes that might have been forgotten.

I also got out a piece of paper and wrote down what I have for each child. It was time-consuming and a pain to do, but now when I hit those garage sales I will know just what my kid's need. I realize that ten summer dresses are enough for one little girl, but one pair of jeans won't cut it. I know that my son is great for the fall, but his summer wardrobe is really lacking. This information will really help me when I go to the sales this summer.

Take inventory of what you already have in your house and make a list of things to look for when you go to the garage sales. Try to stick to the list, or only buy things that you will really and truly use in your house. Even if it is only ten cents! Do not buy things that will not have a purpose in your home. A deal is not a deal, if it is just taking up space and collecting dust on a shelf.

Do you have any tips for preparing for garage sales? Do you have a way of tracking the inventory in your homes? Please share! Your comments are invaluable!

Don't forget to swing by Rocks in My Dryer for all the other wonderful participants!

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Real Simple Magazine Features


The folks over at Real Simple Magazine contacted me and asked that we share some of the items that their editors have been tirelessly working on. Here are some of the great articles & tips they have added to their site:

Home Inventory Worksheets

Sources for Evening-Garden Plants & Pots

Dreaded Cleaning Tasks Made Easier

What is Your Favorite Speed-Cleaning Trick?

The Best Cleaning Wipes

A Chaotic Laundry Room Gets Organized


Solutions to the Most Vexing Pet Problems

Environmentally-Friendly Tips

New Uses for Clocks

Update Old Furniture With New Knobs & Pulls

Dealing with Mice, Bats, Deer, & Other Pests

I love Real Simple Magazine and have been a subscriber for years. My mother-in-law got me hooked on the magazine and she has given this subscription to me as a birthday gift every year. How wonderful is that?

Here is a tip for all of you other subscribers out there. The pictures in this magazine are beautiful and I love to hang on to my magazines and utilize them in other ways. If you notice in the front of the magazine, there is an index of what is in the issue. In the index, are tons of cute pictures that are the perfect size to be reused for cute gift tags. I cut these out and mount them on card stock to make cute tags for my gifts.

Anyone else subscribe? What has been your favorite tip from the magazine?

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Organizing Your Laundry Room

Tis the season for college students to began moving out and that means loads of great deals on organizing units and apartment style furnishings. Not only that, but many kids just offer up the stuff for free to rid themselves of having to lug the stuff home and back to school again. Keep in mind all those students who are graduating and don't think they will need their furnishings in their new & more lucrative lives. It is a bargain-hunters dream so be checking the local papers and the free online classifieds for all these goodies.

Last weekend I scored several very nice organizing units and I was able to revamp some of the organizing systems in our house. The first organizing system that I created, was a unit that I purchased for our laundry room.

I saw this organizing idea on one of those organizing shows on television and thought, "I should do that!" The show was about a mom who just couldn't keep up with her laundry and she had no good laundry system in place. She had a laundry area in her basement (just like me!) and clothes were piled everywhere. She had no idea of what was clean or what was dirty and the basement was a disaster.

The team came in and renovated her laundry area and added a shelving unit that assigned each person in the house a shelf for clean laundry. They used baskets to organize and made things look very pretty.

I loved this idea, but I wasn't willing to fork over the big bucks for a huge unit like that. Lucky for me, a graduating university student had an organizer that she didn't need anymore and I was able to score this unit for only twenty dollars.

My husband reassembled it in our basement and I set to work on creating a system for our own family. Each person has a tag now for their respective shelf. The top shelf is for our linens and then we go down the line for the family members.

Some other features that I added to my station are:

- A small dish tub, that rests below, that houses a small sewing kit and is reserved for items that need mending. Mending must be simple, but those items are now separated and have all the materials needed for a quick & easy repair.
- A larger tub for ironing. I don't iron, but someone else in the family can now find anything they want to iron themselves. Aren't I thoughtful?
- A bin for the, "Lonely Socks Club." We sort socks at the end of all our loads, but all socks who are missing a partner are now located there. It makes finding matches much quicker.

The unit is only a holding station for the family. This is not a storage facility. When the kids get a little older, everyone will be responsible for clearing their own shelf and and putting their own clothes away. Baskets are neatly assembled beside the unit and each family member has a basket for themselves.

What are some ways that you organize your laundry area? What are some important items that you keep in your laundry room? Any systems that work great for you? Please share!

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Monday, April 16, 2007

Making a Safe Haven for Baby

My daughter is in that lovely stage where she is in everything, and I do mean everything. I recently had posted about creating a kid-friendly office, and now I am just sharing some easy ways that we are making things a little safer around our home for Emily.

One of Emily's favorite hobbies is yanking down all of the items on our bookshelves. She rips out the papers and has a blast shredding our magazines. To make it safe for her (and to save our precious mementos!) I cleared the bottom shelves and filled them with things just for her. Pictured on this shelf is a basket full of toys that she can play with and several of her board books for her to read. This makes her feel like a big girl, and gives her some things to do while I am working.

One of Emily's other favorite things to do was to tear apart the DVD cases and the inserts that came with them. I found our movies were getting banged up and things were getting mixed up. My husband's games for his Playstation and the memory cards were also fair game in the mixing-up-discs game.

I headed over to Target and got this CD case for $9.99. In the first half of the case, I filled it with the children's movies so that they would be easily accessible for us and anyone who happened to be helping us with the kids. The second half of the case was filled with my husband's games and his memory cards, so they wouldn't get destroyed or lost.

This was a great solution for baby-proofing, but it was also a great way to cut down on some clutter in our entertainment unit. I went ahead and tossed all of the cardboard covers to our videos and stacked them on a high shelf away from little hands. On each side of the VCR is a stack of movies. On one side are the older kids movies (for my son) & on the opposite side are all of the baby movies (for our daughter). It has made things easier to find and also reduced the amount of clutter around our television.

Emily also loves to help out in the kitchen while I am getting our dinner prepared. I leave access to some of the fun cupboards for her to play in. These just contain the kid's plates and cups or our bins of plastic containers. I also have a container filled with her little Leapfrog alphabet sets for her to play with while I get everything ready.

What are some creative ways you make your home safe for your children? Any helpful tips for mothers in the trenches right now? I am all ears!

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Thursday, April 05, 2007

Creating a Kid-Friendly Office



I feel very fortunate and blessed to be able to work from home. The only unfortunate part about working from home though is that it is hard to separate work life from family life. I have two children who I get to be home with and I want them to feel like they are part of my work here too. Heck, without them, I wouldn't have this site or have any parenting knowledge to draw from.

I got the opportunity to revamp our office yesterday, since my in-laws so graciously offered to keep the kids for the day, and I am amazed at how much better this house looks in one day. I tackled all of my spring cleaning and set our office up in a way that I now feel that my kids can be more a part of my day and will be able to play in here while I work.

Since I was able to refurbish that hutch last weekend, the cabinet that had resided there before needed a new home. I pulled the cabinet over to the area where our child's table set was located. I removed any junk that was still left in it and filled it with our son's arts & crafts supplies and all of the family board games for us to play together. The top shelf holds the older games and the bottom shelf is storing all of our child games.

Next to the cabinet is a basket of toys for my daughter to play with. I put various board books and small toys in there for her to enjoy while mommy is working. I also brought in one of her activity cubes to play with in this room. The new location to these items makes them "new" to her and she has been enjoying having her own little space in the office.
I also have a chair for my son to sit in to read or chat with me. He can curl up in this chair, placed next to the desk, and hang out with me while I work.

I had a lot of cleaning to do in and around our desk, but now I feel like all of us have our own space in the office.

I am interested to see how others make a home office work for them. How do you separate your work from your family life when it all is in one place? Do you have any tips for keeping the children entertained while you work? Do you have a special place for them in your workspace? Please share with me!

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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Ask Frugal Momma: Cleaning Out Yo Fridge


Today’s entry request was to cover the topic of cleaning out your fridge. Now ladies, I have been plagued with cleaning questions and ya’ll are making me feel pretty bad about my house. Maybe some money-saving questions might be a better fit for this tired mom? I will continue to answer cleaning questions as they come in, but do not, I repeat, DO NOT look around my house or the items in question. I do enjoy the research though and it has inspired me in ways I didn’t think possible so continue to throw your questions my way. Please email requests to amy@momadvice.com. The column will continue to run until I run out of questions. Be sure to check out next week’s entry where we talk about that nasty toaster oven sitting on our counters.

I do not enjoy cleaning out my refrigerator, but it one of those things that must be done. I wait until the day before grocery day to do it though because this is the day where there is the least amount of items that need to be moved around. It is also a great time to check my inventory before making the shopping trip to see if I really do need half the things on my list.

When I clean out the fridge, I break out two dishwashing tubs & a cookie sheet to accomplish this task. I fill one of these tubs with two tablespoons of baking soda and one quart of warm water (no need to measure this, just an idea of how much to use). The cookie sheet is used to put all of the condiments on and drawers are emptied into the other dishwashing tub to move items quickly in and out of the fridge.

Before cleaning the interior of the fridge, fill each drawer with the same amount of baking soda solution in each one and let the baking soda solution do the dirty work while you are wiping out the inside of the fridge.

I use a rag to do the interior and just get the rag wet with the baking soda solution. Gently wipe the interior of the refrigerator and wipe off all of the surfaces and interior of the refrigerator. If the washing solution begins to look nasty, be sure to chuck it and get another tub full to clean with.

For stuck on interior stains, you can sprinkle a little baking soda directly on the spot and add just a little water to it to make a paste. Allow this to set on the stain and then scrub gently and allow the paste to remove the gunk.

Go back to your drawers and empty them and wipe the interiors of these. Now place these back into the fridge and then take your dishwashing tub of solution and empty it into the sink. Refill the tub with just warm water and add a dash of lemon juice to the water. Now use your rag to do a final swipe using just this water & lemon juice solution. This will remove any grit that might be left in the fridge and the lemon juice will give it a nice fresh scent throughout too. Dry throughly with a terry towel.

Take your cookie sheet of condiments and make sure to give each of these a quick swipe with the rag before returning them. Half the battle is just not having clean items in your fridge and this is a good way to start fresh. Return all of the items in the other tub, at this time, to their proper homes.

The exterior of your fridge can often be overlooked, but it needs attention too. As a mother of two little ones, tiny little fingerprints and smudges are all over my fridge on any given day. To remove these, use my homemade all-purpose cleaner and spray this on your fridge. I then use a microfiber cloth to clean the outside as it is still gentle on the appliance but also abrasive enough to remove any marks. Any scuffs still left? Break out your Mr. Clean Eraser (a mom’s best friend!) You can find a generic equivalent of one of these at your local dollar store.

If you have a stainless steel appliance, dip your microfiber cloth into a little vinegar and give the outside of the fridge a good swiping with the vinegar. Then give the appliance another swipe with just plain water and dry thoroughly with a terry towel. If you have soft water, that won’t show any water marks, you can just use the water to clean the exterior.

Now when was the last time you saw the top of your fridge? You might want to hop up there on occasion and give that a good wiping too. If you have a handheld vacuum, use that to suck up any crumbs and debris. After that, use the all-purpose cleaner and give that a good wiping down too.

Just as a side note, after I clean out my fridge, I also empty the ice out of our icemaker and clean it with the same solution and dump all of the old ice out. This can be a breeding ground for bacteria, so it is an easy addition to my routine since I already have everything out.

Additional Tips:

When cleaning out your fridge, always use baking soda and warm water to wipe the insides of your refrigerator and freezers- soap or dishwashing liquid will leave a smell and can taint food.

Once every few months, remove all the food, switch off the refrigerator and wipe down all the surfaces. Defrost the freezer at the same time if necessary.

A box of baking soda can be added to your fridge and freezer to neutralize those smells.

Frugal Momma’s Money-Saving Tip:

Make sure that the door seals on the refrigerator, freezer compartment, or freezer are working efficiently by closing the door on a piece of paper. If the paper can be pulled out easily, the seal is worn and should be replaced.

Make sure to vacuum your refrigerator coils (located on the back of your fridge) twice a year. It is recommended that you do this more often if you have pets in the home. Just use your vacuum with the crevice attachment attached to the vacuum hose and give it a good vacuuming. The coils are located either on the bottom of your fridge or in the rear of your fridge. Doing this will save you money because if these are clean, your fridge won’t have to work as hard lowering your bills!

Suggested Reading:

Tips to Keep White Appliances from Looking Yellow (Warning: This does include bleach so be careful with your floors and clothing!)

What else would you like to see featured here? Please drop me an email or reply by leaving me a comment!

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Getting the Car Organized


This week's Works-For-Me Wednesday solutions are all ideas for your car. Shannon requested any great ideas for moms on the go. It is great timing to read all of these entries with Spring Break fast approaching. Be sure to read all of the entries there!

I like to keep a tidy home, but the car is a completely other story. It seems like we are in the car a lot and somehow cleaning out the car becomes last on my task list.


A couple of weeks ago, the warm weather got me out to finally clean my
car though and I must say that the car is looking much better this month. Whether or not we can maintain that is yet to be seen, but I do like some of the solutions I came up with for organizing it (for now!)

- I had two small milk crates that I put on each side of the back seat of the car for each child. My son's crate is filled with crayons, paper, flash cards, and workbooks for him to work on. My daughter's crate is filled with lots of baby toys for her to play with. Each child's also contains a clean sippy cup. This solution has worked really well for us if we visit people's houses who don't have toys or when we go into a restaurant and want to keep the children entertained. The container is small enough that my son can carry his own and I have been toting my daughter's around when I meet friends for coffee and such. This is much better than toys haphazardly thrown around in the back and they now have their own organized space.

- In the front seat, I have a small folder and today I am working on printing out directions to all of the local parks and a few day trips in the area. This will be a great reference for us if we want to get out of the house when the weather is nice out and it will save me a step when we need to be somewhere. I also keep directions to other people's homes that I frequent. I belong to a good size mom's group and to try and remember where everyone is can be difficult. This makes for a great reference and saves me from printing the same directions out multiple times.

- In my trunk, I have a small tote bag filled with a few things that the kids can do when we go to the park. I put two Frisbees in there, bubbles, and bubble wands. I am planning to hit our dollar tree to get a few more things to add to the mix, but it is a nice thing to have to keep the kiddos entertained.

- We also keep a spare phone book in the trunk of our car. This makes it easy to call for directions or place reservations with restaurants.

- Take advantage of times when you are filling your gas tank, to clean out wrappers and such out of the car. I keep a tissue box filled with plastic bags under our seat and I pull that out to make gathering trash up a little easier.

- One thing that I try to do is keep a spare backpack in the trunk of our car. Sometimes we are on the road and aren't able to get home to pick up a backpack before I have to drop my son off for school. This spare backpack comes in handy for those occasions and helps the teacher too!

Feel free to share your own car solutions and be sure to check out all of the entries this week!

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Ask Frugal Momma: The Amazing Dishwasher


I have decided to start a weekly segment on getting to know items in your home. I got some emails and comments about my post yesterday, regarding some tips for your dishwasher, and I thought it would be great to start a little segment explaining frugal tips for caring for your appliances. If you have an appliance or item in your home that you would like to be featured, or you have a question about an item in your home that you would like to know more about, please email me at amy@momadvice.com and I will try and hunt for all those answers for you. Consider it a Frugal Momma question and answer column and ask away! I am not an expert in anything so take my advice with a grain of salt!

I don’t know what I would do without my dishwasher! There is an urban legend out there that says that washing dishes by hand is cheaper than washing them in the dishwasher. You actually waste less water by using your dishwasher, which makes the dishwasher a great addition to a frugal homeowner’s house.

First, there is no exact science to loading a dishwasher, but there are a few guidelines. Heavy duty stuff (pots, pans, plates, & utensils) go on bottom & delicate items and glassware go on top. Place everything in the upper rack facedown and put everything on the lower rack aimed towards the center. Silverware should have forks and spoons alternating, otherwise you will get spoons stuck together and they will need to be rewashed.

The important things to know to keep your costs low for running a dishwasher are pretty simple and straightforward. First, it is not economical to pre-rinse your dishes, especially with the newer models that they have out now for dishwashers. If you have an older dishwasher, like me, a quick pre-rinse with cold water only is the most efficient way to get your dishes clean.
Secondly, try and run the most cost-effective cycle on your dishwasher. Try the shorter cycle first and see if your dishes come out clean. If you need to still run the full cycle, don’t run the drying cycle and allow the dishes to air dry. It is more cost-effective and there is less chance of spotting on your glassware.

It is also important to read the manual for your dishwasher to see the recommended amount of dishwashing detergent you should use. The manufacturer will have the best suggestion for the amount of detergent you should use. Are your dishes looking a little gritty? Do you have a nasty residue on your glasses? The remedy to that problem is decreasing the amount of dishwashing detergent. If you don’t have the guidelines handy, you can always look them up on the manufacturer’s website or you can do your own test run to see how much you actually need to get those dishes clean.

If your glasses are looking spotty then you might need to add something to your dishwasher to make it perform better. I fill our rinse agent dispenser with white vinegar. Vinegar is great for removing spots on dishes and it leaves everything squeaky clean. Just fill the rinse aid dispenser as you would with the commercial stuff and stand back in amazement. You won’t believe how much better your dishwasher will perform with just this simple household solution.

I noticed that our dishwasher was looking pretty bad on the interior and I found the quickest way to get your dishwasher looking like new again is just running an empty cycle and filling the detergent cup with a drinking mix with citrus in it. You can use any citrus drink mix and fill it just as you would with your regular detergent. Any drink mix will do- lemonade, Tang, Crystal Lite, or any other drink mix with the citrus ingredient in it. We had a drink mix that the kids just didn’t like and that ended up going in the dishwasher instead. Doing this once a month will help keep your dishwasher looking like new.

Stubborn spots on the dishwashing door are also bothersome. If running a cycle of citrus drink powder doesn’t do the trick, you can try using other products on the door to get rid of the stains. Tomato-based stains will just have to fade with time, but you can sprinkle a little baking soda on your door and let it set for awhile. Take a soft dishtowel and add a little water to make a paste. Then rub the heck out of it and see if that removes the stain. The baking soda paste is also great for countertops or for burnt on gunk on your dishes.

There is a feature on dishwashers that I have never used, and only after writing this article would I even be aware that it even exists. The feature is the Rinse & Hold feature. This is a great feature for those dishes that you just absolutely cannot picture leaving in the sink until the dishwasher is run in the evening. Instead of washing a few dishes, you can run the Rinse and Hold cycle and have the dishwasher rinse them off for you. But how frugal is this feature? According to Consumer Reports, using this feature only takes two gallons of water compared with four gallons for a typical hand-washing. The energy needed to heat the water though, makes this a less than frugal feature so only use this feature when absolutely necessary. It is much more energy efficient to run your dishwasher with a full load.

Finally, you can make your own dishwashing detergent for a fraction of the cost. All you need to make dishwashing detergent is Borax (at our local store a box of this runs about $3.99), baking soda (cheapest at your wholesale club store) and regular old salt. Mix one cup Borax, one cup baking soda (you can also substitute this with washing soda, but most people don't have this on hand) and 1/4 cup salt. Add a tablespoon of this to your detergent dispenser and run it through a normal cycle. With vinegar added as a rinse aid, the dishes will be clean & spot free.

These blog entries will be added as articles to our Organize section of the site, for quick reference.

Up next week, Amelia's question on making your own cleaners! I can't wait to talk about this one!

Don't forget to submit those questions. I hope that this will be a fabulous addition to the blog!

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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Caring for Your Table Linens

I love having a tablecloth on our table. We have three tablecloths that I can rotate throughout the week- a red, burgundy, & white tablecloth. Of all of the colors I have, the white tablecloth is my most favorite of all. Although spills show on it more initially, I can toss it in the wash with bleach and the stains come right out. There is just something about a clean tablecloth & napkins that makes everything look fresh.

Despite loving the look of linens, I do not enjoy ironing. The rarity with which I iron is, at times, a little embarrassing.

Frankly, there are not enough hours in the day for me to be spending them standing over an ironing board.

Since the word ironing is not in my vocabulary, caring for my linens promptly is important when laundering them. I run them through a normal warm cycle (check the tags on your tablecloths to see what is best for your fabric type) and then I dry them until they are just barely dry. They are then folded into thirds inside out and hung on a hanger. I hang these down in our laundry area until it is time to use them.

If you do iron your linens, the best time to iron them is right before you use them. Spray the linens with starch or a spray bottle of water and press away on the reverse side of the tablecloth on the recommended setting.

If linens only make a rare performance on your table, there is one other storage solution that might work better for you. Take an empty wrapping paper roll and line it with acid free tissue paper. Fold the tablecloth in half and then wrap it around the roll. Line the top again with the tissue paper and then store the tablecloth horizontally.

While on the discussion of table linens, I did want to share a few links for folding cloth napkins. I am going to attempt a few of these and see if they improve the look of my table.

Cloth napkins are not only used to wipe faces, but they can also highlight something in the center of your table. This vintage napkin was the perfect place to rest an arrangement of flowers on our table.

Do you have any storage tricks for linens in your home? Do you use linens on your table?

And for those of you that are curious just what it is I am serving at my table, please visit the new “Aldi Queen” blog where I share my recipes and menu plans with everyone!

Be sure to visit Rocks in My Dryer for more tips & tricks from some of the best mommy experts on the net!

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Monday, February 26, 2007

Organizing Ribbon


I have always envied people like Martha Stewart who have rooms dedicated solely to crafting. I think it would be so nice to have a special place where I could do things like this, but our house seems to be missing a room.

When I decided that I really needed a place to dedicate towards doing my hobbies, my husband suggested an area downstairs in our basement.

The former owners had mounted a door onto the wall and used that as a desk. The door knob opening was the perfect place to feed my hot glue cords through and a folding chair pulled up perfectly to my new location.

My crafting collections have seemed to really grow though and the ribbon situation was out of hand. Everywhere you walked, you would step on a roll of ribbon. I couldn’t find anything in the mess and things that should have taken minutes turned into hours when having to hunt for the perfect color.

I went online to see if they had any ribbon organizers that I could buy. Ah, there were many solutions, but not any that fit my price tag.

A trip to Michael’s was equally disappointing as they only had one ribbon organizer. This organizer would have held a fourth of my ribbon collection and at $19.99 the price was way too high for my taste.

In front of our craft table, I had a giant bulletin board so after much thought, I figured out a way that I could mount my ribbon onto the board and still be able to easily access it.

I took dowel rods and fed my ribbon spools through them. Then I took wide ribbon and stapled a loop on each side to rest the dowel rods into them. By leaving plenty of room on each side, I am able to slide ribbon in and out as needed or just pull on a spool to get the ribbon that I need.

If you have a large ribbon collection, this might be a good solution for you. If your ribbon collection is smaller or you just need a place to store ribbon that you use for wrapping gifts or for scrapbooking, this idea from Real Simple Magazine is also a great & thrifty solution. They also offer up a great idea for using a paper towel holder as a place to store your ribbon.

While we are on the subject of creative storage, be sure to read our new article on Frugal Storage Solutions as spring cleaning & organizing time is upon us!

What are some creative ways you have organized your home?

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Monday, February 05, 2007

Cheap Dry Erase Board


It was time to organize my little corner next to our phone. Receipts, notepads, pens and stationary were scattered all over the top of the table so when I happened upon this cute organizer, I snatched it up at Goodwill (a mere $.75) to reorganize this area in my house. The organizer was certainly a diamond in the rough as it was well worn and coated in a thick layer of dust. A good scrubbing did it well and now it houses all of the craziness that was on top of our table. (Note: By clicking the picture, it will expand it in case you want to see things in more detail!!)


Now I can't take credit for this idea, as I saw it over at mother-in-law's house. She had received this dry erase board as a gift and I was so excited to add one of these to our house. All you need is a tile (I had one saved from a past craft project) from the hardware store and a little picture stand. I found this picture stand over at the Dollar Tree. Ta-Da! Instant dry erase board. What could be cuter than that? Perfect for leaving messages to each other without taking up too much space!


I did want to point out that sweet picture to the left of our daughter. This is a picture I took when she was really small and had just discovered her feet. It made the perfect picture to frame and one that I am super proud of. There is nothing better than capturing a moment like this!

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Getting the Silent Treatment

Have you felt like I have been giving you the silent treatment on my blog? I feel like my blogging hasn’t been at its best, but all of those things that you put off because they cost money or time, seemed to demand my attention these past couple of weeks so I have been busy doing those things instead of my normal socializing. The things that I had to accomplish these past two weeks:

- Going to get my eyes examined. It had been since 2004 since my last visit and I had a baby between now and then. Did you know that your prescription can change just from that alone? I needed to get in and get this taken care of for quite some time now and they happened to have an opening that day so I got this done. Unfortunately, it took an hour and a half for this visit. I needed my eyes dilated and this required some waiting time. Imagine a baby screaming every time the doctor looks at her or talks to her. Imagine even louder screaming when the doctor tries to check my eyes. Yes, that visit was most unpleasant, but it is finally done. All that time and effort only to discover that my prescription is exactly the same. Well, I guess it will save on glasses then!

- My daughter needed new cloth diapers. It was evident that she was outgrowing them because she was wetting up her back and soaking through them because they were too small. Although cloth diapering saves us a lot of money, the initial investment is a bit of a sticker shock when you move up sizes or when you begin the first time. I bought my diapers off of another cloth-diapering momma and was able to save quite a bit of money. I am now trying to unload our last round of diapers to hopefully help us break even. Imagine diapering your baby for free? That is basically what we are doing by buying used and selling them back.

- I have an oil change scheduled for tomorrow. I called around and priced out who could offer us the best price and found it at Bittersweet Automotive (the only competitor being Wal-Mart) in Granger. Although changing our oil costs us some money, the results have been great for keeping our cars running longer. I always try and be very prompt about scheduling these. I would hate for my car not to run because I was too lazy to make it over for the oil change. I have had experience with this, as I was not very responsible when I got my first car, and my cars never lasted very long.

- I also have a dental appointment scheduled for tomorrow. I hate getting my teeth cleaned, but would hate getting them filled or replaced more. Hopefully there will be no cavities and I will be able to enjoy some time away from the dentist for a few months.

- Grocery shopping and menu planning. Although this happens every couple of weeks, I was trying to incorporate many more recipes to our plan this month so that I could share them with all of you through my blog. That takes a bit of planning, but hopefully we will have lots of new dishes to share with you.

- I had to write an article for the site and it is done. Be looking for that in the next week! I am sharing some frugal ways to celebrate Valentine’s Day without totally busting your budget.

- Tonight I will begin working on this week’s Freebie Friday. I don’t get to do this until late in the evening or on Friday itself because the offers come and go so quickly. I apply to each of these myself to make sure you don’t get error messages or find out that the offer wasn’t available in the first place. Besides, who loves a freebie more than me?

I still have laundry, house cleaning, and bill paying to do…but, it’s a start in the right direction.

I am looking for feedback from our readers and am asking for suggestions on future article topics. What are you interested in reading about? What free downloads would you like to see added to our Downloads section? Please let us know so that we can improve the site for 2007!

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Monday, January 22, 2007

LetterPop! Makes Family Newsletters More Bearable

I am probably among the select few who do not publish a family newsletter detailing the events in our family over the years during the holiday season. First of all, I don't think there is anything all that interesting going on in our lives that is newsletter worthy. An exciting day for us would be going to the supermarket tantrum-free or getting together for a playgroup with my friends. Not exactly newsworthy! Maybe we are just too boring and other people are much more exciting.

We have received very sweet and heartfelt letters from family & friends though and I do appreciate their efforts. For long-distance buddies, this has been a great way to feel a part of their lives. For others, it offers a humorous slant into their homes and makes me chuckle. I have received some rather amusing letters too detailing not just the positive things in their family, but the negative too ("Johnny received a D in his class this semester and is now grounded off of the television until he can bring his grades up. Suzy continues to be lazy and we are trying to encourage her to get her rear in gear or else she won't graduate.") To be honest, the last letter usually cracks me up the most. I figure, at least they are being honest!

Now there was a time when I did a newsletter for the website and we have gotten lots and lots of emails questioning when the next newsletter will be. I am sad to say, but I am not sure when we are going to get back on the newsletter wagon. With the growing number of accounts, it has become a huge expense for us to do and consumes much of my time during the month. The newsletter has sort of been replaced by the blog. With running a website, a blog, writing the articles, and running/moderating a forum discussion my time has become far too limited to expand it further or to justify the expense for my sporadic newsletters.

My husband did happen upon this great service from a company called LetterPop! though and I thought I would give it a test run with a smaller version of a newsletter to see what you guys thought about it. Is it easy to navigate? Do you have trouble reading the newsletter? Your feedback is greatly appreciated!

I think LetterPop! is a great free alternative for publishing our newsletter, but I need your opinions too! Let me know what you think!

LetterPop! is currently in beta testing right now so not all of the features that it will offer are currently available. They are offering FREE accounts though for this first year, so get it while it is free and publish up some of your old family secrets. They have great holiday templates and you can include pictures of your sweet little angels in your updates.

Visit our test-run newsletter and let me know what you think. This is a much shorter version than I will be issuing monthly, but it is a great way for you to sample the service and maybe create your own free account.

Thanks to LetterPop! for offering such a great & invaluable service! I hope Johnny & Suzy's mom find it- I would hate to be without their yearly updates!

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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Works-For-Me Wednesday: Organizing Software That Works!

Today I wanted to share about a new software program that has greatly improved my life. The software is called Cozi Central, and it is absolutely free.

This software is made with a mom in mind. It is easy to use, color-coded (for each family member), includes pictures of your sweet little ones, helps you with your grocery list, has calendars with alerts letting you know when your appointments are and you can send love notes to your hubby…all from one central location.

I have been using the software for a couple of weeks now and it has helped my life so much already. One of the features that I appreciate the most on it is the ability for my husband to login from work and see what is going on with our week. He has his own color and so do all of the other family members. He can quickly look at the day and see whether or not that particular night is a good night for him to work late. For example, when he sees that his folks are coming for dinner, he knows that is not the night to make plans to work late. He can also add his own things to the calendar and I can login and add things that the kids and I do during the day too.

I am not into text messaging, but I know that many people would benefit from the text messaging feature. I can write my hubby a note and send it directly to his phone letting him know that we have run out of milk. I can also send my grocery list to his phone or by email.

On their website, they have included these features as highlights of their free program:

Personalize your Cozi Home Page by adding a favorite photo

View upcoming appointments

Access shopping and other lists quickly to keep them up-to-date

Send a Cozi Message to all family members

Simply type in a few words to describe your upcoming appointment and Cozi Central will place it correctly on your calendar

Add and view upcoming appointments at a glance—color-coded for each family member

Easily view the current day, week or month by zooming in and out

Print any view you want to

Cozi Central helps you manage and keep track of the various items you need to purchase and tasks that need someone's attention. It's easy to view and edit shared lists for groceries, big ticket items, birthday gifts, chores, and more.

Information is only useful if you know it's there and can get to it when you need it. We all know what happens when we forget to take a look at the family calendar and other vital family information! Cozi Collage places reminders of your upcoming appointments amid photos of your family to make intelligent use of your computer's down-time.

When there's something quick you want to tell other family members about, it can be a hassle to give each and every family member a phone call or be sure they received your email. Cozi Central enables you to send a quick message. Simply type in your message and then select how to have it sent to each family member: email to Dad, text messages to the teenagers—Cozi Central takes care of the rest.

Doesn’t this sound too good to be true? I thought so too! I did email a representative of their company to find out what the catch was. Would they later be charging you? Would you need to pay to get a different type of membership to get access to other features? Just how did they intend to keep this product free? It was explained to me that Cozi will always be free and that the company receives it revenues by getting paid sponsorships, that way the users are never affected. Well, you know me and free (unless you have been missing my awesome Freebie Fridays) so this sounded like a dream come true.

I highly recommend this software, and heck…it’s free! What do you have to lose to try it?

Thank you to Cozi for contacting us about their wonderful product and we wish the company much luck in giving disorganized mothers everywhere some organization in our lives. As my husband is a former employee of Microsoft, we have a true love for guys who break out on their own from this company and create such fantastic products! Kudos to you all for making such an awesome product!

If you would like to view more solutions for your family, please visit Rocks In My Dryer today!

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Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Works-For-Me-Wednesday: Free Up Pantry Space & Make a Snack!

Is it my favorite day of the week yet? Well, it must be! It is Works-For-Me-Wednesday and that means I get a whole bunch of great ideas to use for my family, courtesy of all the great ladies who participate each week. Welcome to this week's installment of Works-For-Me Wednesday! Don't forget to stop by Shannon's blog to view her weekly idea & all of the other great participants. Swing by my entry last week and learn how to get rid of...or..um, regift all of those craft projects your children bring home to you.

This week, I want to discuss a great way I have found to free up pantry space for our family. It seems like we constantly have this shuffle of boxes with half a serving of food in them, particularly those cereal boxes. Now, we know how much space these take up and it is usually wasted space until we buy the same brand of cereal (no, no, you cannot mix two varieties of cereal in this house!) and can actually fill a whole bowl.

Now instead of waiting for this to happen, I make my son mommy's special trail mix. Whatever we need to unload (within reason) goes into the trail mix. Raisins, cereal, peanuts, dried fruits, chocolate chips, Easter candy (those random snack size things of M&M's), sunflower seeds, granola, etc.. I put a variety of items in a container and then give them a little shake. This power food goes into a Dollar Tree container (hard plastic so it doesn't get smashed) and I keep it in my purse for all of those snack emergencies. It is much more interesting than a baggie of crackers and he looks forward to seeing what is in the mix each day. That buys me at least five minutes while we are at the store or are out running errands.

That is what Works for Me! Looking forward to reading everyone's entries this week- I learn so much from these ladies!

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Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Works-For-Me Wednesday: Making Your Spice Rack Usable

Welcome to this edition of the Works-For-Me-Wednesday spot. Be sure to check out last week's ideas where I show you how to reinvent your closet space.

When my husband and I first got married, we purchased a very handy little spice rack. It was pre-loaded with all of the spices and all we had to do was dump them into the labeled jars and they were ready to use. Last year I realized though that all of the spices just sat there unused. I decided to dump them out and then thought to myself, "Why would I reload this spice rack with the same spices that I never used?" Instead, I decided to whip out my trusty label maker and redo the labels with things *I* would actually use. Things like that Pasta Magic Blend, Garlic Salt, Italian Seasoning Mix, Cinnamon, & Confectioners Sugar (for dusting on my French Toast), and Garlic Powder....Spices that were not available to me with my previous labels.

This option was cheaper than purchasing a new spice rack and now I have the spices handy that I actually do use!

That is this week's installment of Works-For-Me-Wednesday. Be sure to visit Shannon's Blog for a whole slew of lovely ladies who are participating each week!

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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Works-For-Me Wednesday: Maximizing Space




I am new to the Works-For-Me Wednesday idea, but I absolutely love it and thought it was a great way to showcase some of those hidden organizational ideas that I have in this small head of mine. Thank you to Shannon and her wonderful blog (Rocks In My Dryer- how cute is that?) for letting us participate. Be sure to visit her blog for great homemaking & parenting ideas.

Our house is a good size home, but it is one of those lovely quad homes (don't ask me who came up with this stupid floor plan!) which means most of my space is very broken and choppy. Our lower level had an enormous closet in the living room that we originally used to store our various games and basically throw any clutter we had laying around the house into it. After some thoughtful brainstorming, I thought that it would be great to actually use the closet so that the kids had more playing room. We took down the closet doors, framed the closet with curtains, painted & floored the interior of our closet and moved the entertainment center into it. It gave us a lot more free space and took attention away from the monstrosity of an entertainment unit. Now the television is no longer the focal point and can easily disappear with a shut of the curtains.

This same idea can be applied into creating a little home office or a cute place to put your changing table and free some space up in your own home!

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