Monday, February 22, 2010

5 days left!!

Ok people..I'm getting nervous. I have 5 days to finish my challenge of getting an entire room organized..and I'm not sure I'm going to make it! We're in the middle of a kitchen make-over and it has been consuming my time. The painters were supposed to be done last Tuesday which would have given me all last week to get my kitchen back together. Well, they weren't done until Friday. (I'm not completely surprised). So I tried to bust it this weekend and get most of the kitchen finished so that I could work this week on the room. But I didn't get as much done as I needed. It will probably take me the rest of the day to finish the kitchen..which leaves only 4 days for the other room. I'm not sure if I'll make it. But I'm sure going to try! (I hope!)

Have any of you decided to take on this challenge? Or even just a re-organizing project in general? We'd love to see before and after pics once its done!


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

28 Day Organizing Challenge

I am a huge fan of Laura at OrgJunkie. She has great ideas about organizing. If you thought we were obsessed with it, you should see this lady! SHE is OBSESSED!! But, she's great at it and doesn't spend a lot of money doing it. Every year she holds a 28 Day Organizing Challenge and I've decided to participate this year. I wanted to invite you all to participate and post your results at the end of the month. If you are interested, go here to read all the details. At the end of the month, if you have a blog, you post your before and after pics and link to them on her blog. There are prizes and everything! It can't hurt to can tackle a small area or an entire room in your house.

I've decided to tackle the one room in the house that gives me the most grief. Our youngest son's room was our garage that we converted to a bedroom. So the laundry area is in there, plus a door to the backyard and driveway. So his room is very multi-purpose and really needs to be organized. I want him to have his own space in there while still being functional for laundry. I have a few ideas and can't wait to get started. I have an entire month to work on it so I'm hoping to make myself take it slow so that I'll get better results.

So what do you say? Are you in? If so, let us know! At the end of the challenge, I'll have my results posted on here for you (and the judges) to see.


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Quick and Easy Budget Tool!!

Budgeting. A lot of you may cringe at that word. I think its fun! I know, weird. I like to sit with my husband and talk about where we are spending out money and how much we should spend in each area. I like making a pretty spreadsheet to outline everything. I know, it might be a sickness. However, I know a lot of people aren't like me. You want to stay on a budget but don't know how to keep it organized. Or how to really know how much you're spending in each area. I've tried a few different methods but I think I've discovered the golden nugget. A very simple process that literally takes less than 10 minutes. But first I'll share ways I've tried in the past to show you what didn't work for me.

We bought Quicken Home & Business a couple of years ago. I thought this would be the missing link to solve all of our budgeting problems. It said it had this fancy import tool that would import all of your banking activity straight from your online banking. However, that required a special password and you had to pay a fee. Not worth it to me. So I decided I would manually input each and every transaction every month. The plan was to set aside one nap time per week to do it. It started out ok. But then it got a little stressful. I started getting behind and when I went to catch up, I was overwhelmed. So that led me to stop doing it. We still wanted to live on a budget, so I would frequently check our account online but it was hard to tell exactly where everything was going.

Next I tried Quicken Online. They have a system similar to, except its free. Its completely online so you don't need any software for this one. It basically monitors your checking account. When you sign in, it updates your transactions and even assigns which categories it THINKS each purchase is. For the most part, its right. It knows that McDonalds is dining, Kroger is groceries, etc. But for transactions it doesn't recognize, it assigns random categories to or leaves blank. It was making my budget reports all wrong. For example, I knew I didn't spend $1000 in groceries one month! I spent a lot of time having to go in and re-categorize everything. Plus, after deciding to make sure we were being safe with our family online, we decided we didn't want any outside website having access to our checking account. Even reputable sites such as Quicken. I will say though that I liked its notification feature. You could set it up to email you if your account went below a certain amount, or if you had spent more than the budgeted amount in a certain category.

So, recently I found a new system. And it really works for us. Its quick. Its simple. There's no software to download. And no outside website involved. Most banks have the option to download your account activity. I use 2 banks (one for personal and one for business) and they both offer this option. If you click the option to download activity, it asks you to select the date range and the format to download in. So, for example, say you want to check on your budget every 2 weeks, and today is January 16. Select Jan 1-15. That will give you about a 2 week range. Select CSV as the download format. This is an excel file.

When you open the file, it shows you all the transactions in the specified date range. Here's how I use it. There's an empty column next to the "amount" for each transaction. In that spare column, I mark dining, groceries, medical, etc next to each purchase. Then at the bottom, I total each category using the SUM function. Seriously, this takes me like 5 minutes, especially if I do it every 2 weeks or less. I guess if you buy a lot of things then it might take you a little longer. At the bottom, I have all my totals for each category so I can see where we stand so far for the month. I save it as January1 and the next 2 weeks will be January2 so we can keep up the total for the month. I created a sample below. Obviously, the transaction detail from your bank download will be more detailed, but I erased my info out and placed sample info in.

There are a TON of resources, software and ideas out there on budgeting. Everyone finds something different that works for them. But if you're in search for a simple, free method that doesn't take a lot of time but ultimately gets you results, this one is great! I'm sure most people today know how to use excel and simple functions like SUM, but if you don't, feel free to leave a comment and we can help you!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Jungle Themed Birthday Party

This year for my son's 2nd birthday, I wanted to put a little effort into it and try to do a lot of creative, homemade things. It was my first attempt and believe me, it wasn't one of those parties that you see on blogs and think "Wow, I want to hire that lady to throw parties for my kids!" But for my first try, I feel like it turned out pretty cute. I thought I'd share it with you in case anyone needed any party ideas for the future.

Brody's Jungle Themed Party - 2 years old

Jungle Animal Cupcakes

The little guy wanted to help with the baking

We made a lion, monkey, tiger and zebra. We set them up among green crinkled party paper to look like grass.

Close up on the monkey because it was my favorite.

I set up toy jungle animals among them on the table.

Because the animal cupcakes were somewhat tedious to make, we made 16 animals and decorated the remaining cupcakes normal for the adults.

Behind the cupcakes you see the treat bags for the kids. Those included animal crackers, a jungle animal finger puppet (pkg of 6 at Dollar Tree for $1), mini playdoh, and bubbles.

(Being that it was a 2 yr olds' party, these activities are low-key. I would definitely recommend other things for an older child.)

The party room was set up with 2 children's tables. I covered the top with brown paper so the kids could color and do activities on the paper without damaging the tables, and also to allow for a fun coloring space.

Target sells a balloon animal kit in the kids' party section. A friend told me about them and they were the kids' favorite thing.

I printed off monkey mask templates and cut them all out BEFORE the party. I bought bracelet/necklace stretchy string at Hobby Lobby for around $1.

Other not pictured activities were giraffe paper bag puppets, jungle coloring sheets and safari puzzles. Recommendation: If you plan to use the balloon animals, I would save those for last if you want to do any other activities. All of the kids at our party LOVED the balloon activity and were not interested in doing much else. So it would have been a great activity to save until the other things were done. However, I don't think any kid really missed not getting to do the other things.

I really had fun creating my own jungle themed party and not spending a fortune on those party kits. You definitely appreciate it more when you put forth the effort to do it yourself. And its a lot of fun! I'm looking forward to perfecting my cake/cupcake decorating skills and getting to do numerous fun parties as my children grow up.


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

An Organized 2010

Welcome to 2010 Everyone! How do we say it twenty ten? Just ten? I'm still not sure.

Everyone likes to make New Year's Resolutions and start fresh each year. While I didn't really make new years resolutions, I did want to start fresh in my home. Last week I started reorganizing most of the rooms in our home. I didn't realize how bad we needed it! I thought I'd share with you what I did to give you a little motivation to organize your home if you need it. I am still not done..I need to finish my pantry, bathrooms, and youngest son's room. Oh, and our kitchen. But that's a major work in progress. We are in the process of giving it a facelift with new paint, tile, backsplash, etc so it will be a while before I can put it back together. But when I do, it will be really organized!

So here's what I've done so far. First task was my files. I'm definitely a file person. I like everything to have a place to go instead of just landing on my desk. In the past, I've always had handwritten file folders. I don't have the prettiest handwriting so I have always wanted a labeler. Well, knowing my personality and my love for organizing, my mom gave me one at Christmas! I was so excited. You can see my labeler in its place on my desk below. You can pick these up at Target/Walmart for less than $20.

Next was my desk space in general. After our second baby was born this summer, we had to move our "office" into the dining area. So I like to try to keep it fairly tidy because anyone that walks in our home will see it. Plus, I just need it clean for my sanity. It easily gets things piled up but with my new system, it has seemed to stay pretty clean over the last week. Hopefully we can keep it up. There's no magic system I used here. Just straightened and put a tiered file organizer next to the printer. That definitely made a huge difference. I wish I had some before photos to show the difference. What isn't shown in the photo is I added a mail sorter (that I found in a closet and completely forgot I had). I labeled each section with deposits, bills to be paid/filed, and outgoing mail.

The next room may seem like nothing to most of you. However, if you've ever been in my bedroom, you know that this is a great improvement. Before last week, we had this beautiful green armoire/entertainment piece in our room. It was at the end of our bed and took the place of a dresser or chest of drawers. We love the piece of furniture and it has served many purposes over the years. (Leigh Ann and I used it as a dresser in college, then Matt and I used it in our apartment and rental house for an entertainment center, then it went back to being a dresser in this house.) It was beautiful but LARGE. And our bedroom isn't. It took up a lot of room and was not what I wanted long term as our bedroom furniture. So for Christmas we asked for
IKEA gift cards in order to purchase a dresser we had picked out. However, we didn't want to part ways forever with our beloved armoire, so Leigh Ann offered to bring it to her house to make a craft cabinet or for other storage. (I'm really hoping it turns into a craft cabinet!) That
way, when we move we could get it back if we had the space for it. Soo...long story to show you our newly organized bedroom. Having to move clothes to the dresser allowed me to purge my entire closet. And now the closet is nice and organized as well.

And last but DEFINITELY not least, my oldest son's room. It has been a thorn in my side for months. I tried a couple of methods of organizing his toys but was never happy with any of it. I attempted a toy box and now know that I am not a fan of those. If you like to just have one place to throw everything and hide it, then this is the method for you. And that's ok. But I'm not one of those people. And my son didn't like it either. When he was looking for a toy and couldn't find it, he didn't like that. He's only 2, but he's definitely got some of my tendencies haha. Over the last few months, I started visualizing what I wanted to be able to accomplish in his room. I needed bins and a bookshelf. I wanted a place for puzzles, craft supplies, crayons, cars, blocks, etc. I started picking up bins on sale and even asked for some for Christmas. Some of you are thinking "Seriously? Storage bins?" And I'm sure you can guess who came through with those..Leigh Ann, of course! So here it is. In all its glory.

Top: Shelf where we keep the puzzle rack, crayons, coloring books, sketch pads, games and much more. Bottom: Bins in his closet. The large one is FULL of cars. These slide in and out when needed. And what's better..he knows to clean up one bin before getting out another bin. So the bin method really works for us! And it literally takes 1 minute to clean his room!

His book nook. I frequently find him sitting in his bean bag reading books. Its where we sit together and read during the day and before bedtime. I don't know what it is about having a designated reading spot but he loves it and it really gets him to want to listen to books.

I am so excited to already have accomplished so much in my home and its only the second week of the year. Like I said, I have a couple more rooms to finish and I should be able to wrap that up in the next week or so. Have any of you started off the year with any organizational projects? Blog about them so we can see!


Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Sharing Recipes

A while back, my friends and I started a recipe blog to share recipes that we enjoyed at each others homes. It is a great way to add variety to your menu and you know you will love what you cook, because you already have tried it!

You should start one in your circle of friends and then share the link with us!

Happy recipe swapping!

Here is the link to our blog:

Also, you can see recipes that Creatively Homemaking has tried on our left sidebar. Enjoy!

-Leigh Ann

Friday, December 4, 2009

Meal Planning {SeRieS}: First Baking/Freezing Day

Today, I (Leigh Ann) had my first baking/freezing day. A few weeks back, I posted about a new way of cooking meals one month at a time. I know, that sounds like a lot to tackle, so I started slow by only cooking a couple meals.

Today I made:
  • Lasagna (doubled)
  • Taco Soup (doubled)
  • Banana Bread
  • Gingerbread Muffins
  • Granola Bars
  • Berry Cool Pie

See the recipes on the left sidebar or here.

Ways to be more productive next time:
  • A second large pot would be helpful if I am making doubled recipes of soups or sauces.
  • Make sure the meat has plenty of time to thaw out.
  • Read all recipes fully, and if some call for items to set for x number of minutes, then do that first when starting that recipe.
End results:
  • 40 Gingerbread Mini Muffins
  • 2 loaves of Banana Chocolate Chip Bread
  • 2 pans of Lasagna (9 x9)
  • 1 loaf pan of Lasagna
  • 1 serving of Spaghetti Sauce (leftover sauce from Lasagna recipe)
  • 2 loaves of Blackberry Granola Bars (Slice when ready to eat. I did not use the 8 x12 pan only because I did not have one, so I use 2 loaf pans.)
  • 6 containers of Taco Soup (5 cup Rubbermaid Take-Along containers, 1 container = 1 dinner for our family of 3)
  • 1 Berry Cool Pie

Overall, I had a great first experience cooking all day. I was organized and had all the ingredients I needed for each recipe, which I think is KEY. It would have been so stressful to not have something in the middle of cooking, especially since I was doing all my cooking during my son's naps today. He naps twice a day still for about 2 hours a piece, so I had a morning cooking session with all the baked goods and an afternoon session with the taco soup and lasagna.

Here is the spreadsheet I created called 'Freezer Cooking Day- Blog Edition' to help me organize my cooking day.

**The spreadsheet includes more meals and ingredients then I cooked today. I wanted to start slow, but also already had a couple Broccoli Rice Casseroles and Chili made up in the freezer. I still am planning to make the waffles but I am going to have to borrow a waffle maker from a friend.**

I am also working on an expanded spreadsheet of the one above to include the estimated cost per meal. I would love to know how much each meal costs to make, because I think it would give me more motivation to cook and eat at home more often. The thought of having food, already made, in our freezer, is so exciting to me and I am ready to see how our grocery budget will reflect the savings of not eating out when I do not feel like cooking one night.

Here is a helpful inventory sheet from Once-a-Month-Mom.

What do you think? Are you going to try it? If you are or have, then let me know what you think, if you saved money, ate out less, and any tips to be more productive. Let's help each other out to be better home managers.

-Leigh Ann