Saturday, January 18, 2014

Organizing... Your Mail

Bills, forms, checks, coupons... plus all the junk you get in the mail these days. What's your system? Do you bring it in the house and toss it on the counter/table? Undoubtedly you say to yourself "I'll go through that later." Maybe you sort through it, toss the junk, then throw the unopened bills on your desk... and they remain unopened until past their due date because you forgot about them. Or maybe you (or your spouse...) open everything, then leave it - ripped envelopes and all - strewn across the kitchen counter for someone else to clean up later? Well, heck! Let's get this situation under control shall we? :)

First things first... don't get your mail unless you can spare a couple (and it's literally one or two) minutes to go through it RIGHT AFTER you bring it in the house. "Well, then I'll never get my mail," you say. "YES YOU CAN!" as my spunky workout instructor says after adding another 8 reps. ;) Trust me, those two minutes will change your mail-getting-and-sorting life!

How do you sort mail, you ask? Here's what I do: I place it all on the counter. I have a piles for:
1. my hubby
2. me
3. bills
4. that-might-be-important-but-doesn't-look-like-a-bill
5. coupon-clipping
6. junk

Next, open everything (yes, everything... unless it's for another family member!). Toss those open envelopes and unneeded inserts into the 'junk' pile as you go.

Finally, a home for everything and everything its home, right? I file things in my organizer and put my husband's mail on his office chair (not the desk because it would otherwise get lost).

Our organizer hangs inside our pantry door and is conveniently located next to the counter where I do my sorting and our recycling bin! So junk goes into recycling and the rest is filed accordingly:

The 'to be filed' folders of my organizer are for papers that need to be put into our file cabinet (insurance papers, paid bills, receipts, etc). Ideally, I would file those right away - but even a professional organizer deserves a break here and there, right? ;)

Even if you don't have a fancy organizer (this one is a Thirty-One product) you can still do the sorting end of it all. You gotta start somewhere, right? Baby steps. :)  There are tons out there - or even make your own! Find one that works best for you and your family.

Ahhhh, to be organized. Feels awesome, doesn't it!? 

Monday, January 13, 2014

The 7 Experiment: Food *7 Clean Dinners*

The 7 Experiement by Jen Hatmaker challenges us to take seven areas in our life where excess is especially prevalent - clothes, spending, waste, food, possessions, media, and stress - and to do something about it! Even if you don't rid your life of the excess, at least you become aware of it when reading this book. The first chapter is about food.  Each chapter has a challenge that encourages you to 'do without' for a period of time. She did hers on a monthly basis. Our group chose to do it on a weekly basis.

For our food challenge, we decided we would eat 'cleaner' dinners for 7 days.  So for 7 meals, we ate all natural, whole foods and meats that were organic, grass-fed and free range livestock. I have to say, it started off a little rough! It didn't help that my husband wasn't really on board with the whole clean-eating lifestyle (too inconvenient and expensive, he would say) so of course I wanted to try and impress him with the yummiest recipes I could find.  It was a battle I was determined to win! I would say the food got better as the week went on... here is our seven days at a glance:

Day 1
Pecan-Crusted Chicken 
w/ green beans, sweet potato, and fresh fruit

Sadly, I wasn't winning Thad over on the first night... the best thing on this plate was the sweet potato! *whomp whomp* Not a family favorite. In hindsight, I would have crushed the pecans to be a little finer and I think I would have cooked the chicken in a pan with coconut oil instead of baking it (not as healthy, but might have helped to give it more flavor). Thad - 1, Sarah - 0.

Day 2:
Spicy-Rub Slow-Cooked Chicken 
w/ onion, sliced apple, and salad topped with hard boiled egg.

This dish was much better than the first, but still needed a little work... the rub was pretty spicy (as stated in its name) but my slow cooker just cooks things too fast - no matter what setting it's on!  The chicken ended up being a bit dry. *sigh* Thad - 2, Sarah - 0. The onions were super yummy though ;)

Day 3:
Giant Stuff Portobellos  
w/ green beans and fresh fruit

Now we were making headway! This dish had the perfect amount of spice and was satisfying! Thad even enjoyed it. I will definitely be adding this recipe to our repertoire and see us making this in the near future. It was quite a bit of prep work, though, so it would have to be a day when the kiddos are preoccupied... maybe on the weekend when daddy can distract them while I cook ;) Thad - 2, Sarah - 1.

Day 4:

Spicy Shrimp Jambalaya w/ Brown Rice

Another winner! This dish was deeeeelish! I think tonight may have tied the game... Thad - 2, Sarah - 2

Day 5:

Spice-Rub Turkey Burger
w/ sweet potato, green beans, & *spinach salad

Perhaps my favorite meal of the week... I think I liked this meal the most because the meat portion was there, but not too big and we overloaded on the veggies (yum!). We both felt completely satisfied after this meal and both agreed we would gladly eat it again! Thad - 2, Sarah - 3 (I took the lead!)
*Salad was topped with hard boiled egg whites, avocado, balsamic vinegar, and fresh-squeezed lime juice

Day 6:
Zucchini Lasagna
w/ mixed greens salad & fresh fruit

Although mine turned into more a zucchini chili, I thought it was pretty tasty! The recipe called for sausage, which I have never cooked with before (I usually use ground turkey) but it gave a little zest and we both enjoyed this dish! The macintosh apples were a sweet contrast to the spice of the lasagna, and of course another serving of veggies never hurt with the addition of the side salad. I think I may have gained another point for the 'eating healthy' team! Thad - 2, Sarah = 4

Day 7:

Baked Lemon-Pepper Chicken
w/ sauteed onion & zucchini

I am pretty sure I can eat zucchini any meal, every day of the week! I used coconut oil to sautee the veggies and they were mmm mmm good! The chicken was a bit peppery, but not too bad. I think this meal might have been a little heavy on the meat side of things, but it was the end of the week and if you've read my blog post on meal planning, you know that options for side dishes were slim picking by this point in the week ;) Thad and I could take or leave this meal. I'll award each of us half a point. ;)  Thad - 3.5, Sarah 4.5

And the winner is..... 
Woo hoo! 
I'm not competitive or anything... ;)

So what did we take away from this... other than I was the winner, of course. ;) haha No but seriously, we both were surprised by how many things were processed, and how limited we felt in our choices because of that. It truly is NOT convenient to eat healthy. How sad.  Once I started looking closely at ingredients of things, I was taken aback - even disgusted.  Great Value brand pasta, for example, actually says Pasta Product on the box... it's artificial pasta people! Eeek. Never noticed that before.

Thad and I watched a documentary called "Fresh" that talked about industrial farming and it was really eye-opening for him. He started googling Farmers Markets in the area before the movie was even finished. ;)

What did we take away from this spiritually?  Our bodies are temples designed by God. Food should not be our friend, it should be our fuel. I liked when Jen (the author) says to Jesus, "Present my body a living sacrifice to You, holy and pleasing. Well, You can have my mind, my heart, and even my hands, but I'd like to keep the actual body to myself, thank You. I'm sure you won't mind..." 


It takes on a whole new meaning when put into a Godly perspective, don't you agree?

Be well, my friends! 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Organizing... Your Refrigerator/Freezer

Why would I choose the fridge of all things to feature this week?? My motives go deeper than you might think...

You see, I used to waste food. A lot of food. I would have great intentions of eating my fruits and veggies, but they'd just end up rotting away in the drawers.  Or I would attempt to cook new and 'exciting' recipes, only to get lazy and go out to eat instead - so those ingredients fell by the wayside. Or how about those leftovers that get shoved in the back of the refrigerator and actually grow an assortment of colorful, fuzzy friends we call MOLD. So then I was wasting food... and good tupperware! ;) What is the solution to all of these issues and more? Two words my dear friends: meal planning.

I plan our meals one week in advance. I like to use fresh, whole foods as a large part of my cooking so I don't want to buy too far in advance or it would spoil before I could use it. I also have a recipe compilation on my computer so as I plan the meals, I just copy and paste the ingredients of the recipe into a separate word document that doubles as my grocery list.  Once the menu is done and the list is completed, I comb through my list and delete items I know we already have, or add items I know we need (mainly toiletries and things of that nature).  To create the recipe compilation is time consuming at first, but it's a one time deal and it's easy to add to! It is well worth the initial investment of your time- and as stated earlier, it's actually a financial investment because you know you will use every item you shopped for and nothing goes to waste. Then I hang this menu on the fridge so everyone in the family can be on the same page.

Of course, things come up.  Friends stop by (need more food) or friends invite you over to their place (need less food). An impromptu date night is sometimes "required" to save your sanity... and maybe your marriage. haha But seriously, in the grand scheme of things it's nice to have everything laid out in advance, with the expectation it won't be perfect every time.

So here is our refrigerator, the day after our weekly trip to the grocery store:

A tiered plate holder (or cupcake server) makes a great place to store more yummy food!


Typically on the "ready-to-go meals" shelf are frozen meals that I had made in advance.  My small group also will do meal swaps every now and again, so that is a place to store those meals as well. Currently, there are thermals stocked with frozen breast milk! Tis' the season of life I'm in right now, folks...  Our freezer overall does not stock that much food - mainly because I like to have fresh ingredients.

At the end of the week our fridge will usually look like this:

Now for some of you, that picture made you shudder! For me, it's a thing of beauty. It means I didn't waste any food so in turn, I didn't waste any money. I'm not one for "options" or a whole lot of "just in case" foods. I hate clutter. It makes me feel chaotic. This route also encourages me to buy fresh, whole ingredients in place of foods with a longer shelf life.  As a side note, make sure to check for expired ingredients every few months. A great time to clean out your refrigerator/freezer/pantry is the night before trash day. ;)

There you have it! I'd like to challenge you to try this method for just one week and see how it goes. :) 
You might be pleasantly surprised! 
If you already meal plan, would you mind sharing your tips & tricks, or even a favorite recipe?

Happy organizing, friends!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Make-It-Yourself Monday: Christmas Card Book

I started collecting our Christmas cards in 2009 and planned on doing something with them... I just wasn't sure what the 'something' was until now! I thought it would be fun to create an album of our cards to see how we have changed over the years - and my oh my have we grown!  Shutterfly and books of the like are great, but I think there is something to be said about a handmade album - call me 'old fashioned' if you must. ;)

I had this 8.5 x 11 scrapbook in my closet and thought it would be the perfect springboard for this project. So I created a cover for it:

I decided I would have the most recent card in front. In order to do this, I had to work backwards and start on the last page of the book with 2009 and work my way forward to this year... then hopefully stay motivated to continue on as the years come and go!

I am keeping the layout very simple so it will be easy to update it each year, but of course you can get as creative as your crafty heart desires!

Here is our book so far:

To keep it consistent, I went ahead and created enough years to get me through 2024. 
This fits a 2" circle punch. You can download this Publisher file here.

And there you have it... a great way to create Christmas memories to last a lifetime. :)
Stay warm, friends!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Organizing... Your Children's Books

Did you know that January is National Get Organized Month? True story! If you know me (and many of you do) you know my love for all things organized. I share a lot of organizing tips on my website H.O.M.E. w/ Sarah but thought I would share some on this blog as well! For each week in January I will chose an area of my home to share with you all. Hopefully you will be inspired to get organized yourself! :)

Today's featured area of organizing: 
Children's Books.

I have a secret love for children's books.  Even before I had kids, I was purchasing these bad boys by the dozen! Isn't that what all Elementary Education majors do? ;) I also shamelessly purchase gobs of paperbacks from my son's preschool Scholastic book orders... can you relate?? So what can I do to keep this growing collection from taking over the playroom - and the entire house? Observe:

The main bulk of the books can be found on top of the 'toy dresser' out of reach from the kiddos and are categorized by the following:
beginner reader
colors & shapes

Then I have four more bins located on a lower toy cabinet that is within reach of the kiddos. 
These categories are:
life lessons
TAG books

I purchased these book bins from Lakeshore Learning and they have actually improved this product since I had purchased mine. Their newest model connects for extra stability and it now comes in a variety of colors! They are $4.99/each and you can find them here .

Some of my favorite books are by the author Mo Willems.
It's always fun when the parents can enjoy the book, too!

 There are so many options as to how to categorize your books - it's all personal preference and based on what you have in your collection. :)

So how do you get started? Follow these simple steps:
1. Collect ALL the children's books in your home, car, etc
2. Sort them according to the categories you choose
(remember to make a pile of 'retired' books to donate!)
3. Purchase the appropriate amount of book bins
4. Create custom labels, or simply use the insert the bins come with
5. Put your beautiful finished project on display!

Here is the 'big picture' in our playroom (aka the loft)

At first, I had these bins lined up on the top shelf of one of the kiddo's closet. You don't have to have them in sight, necessarily. Choose a spot that works for you and if you have very young kiddos, you might want to put one bin out at a time (or put them on display but out of reach) to avoid all of your hard work becoming undone! I can see it now... a floor made entirely of books! ;)

I should also mention there is a small bin of favorites in each of the kid's rooms for story time before bed.

And there you have it! 
Who is ready to get started on their little one's literature collection??

Friday, January 3, 2014

Goals for 2014: Clean Eating

Happy New Year, friends!

Each year around Christmas time Thad and I review the previous year and make two lists.  The first is our "Top Ten" list which includes significant events that happened that year (good or bad).  The second is a list of goals for the next year.  My goals for this year are:

1. Eat cleaner (see below)
2. Lose pregnancy weight
3. Exercise at least 1x week
4. Simplify (pare down possessions, wants vs needs, give generously)
5. Read one book a month (12/year)

I'd like to dissect my first goal with you all. What does 'eating clean' mean? It's cutting out processed foods - eating more raw, natural, whole foods like fruits, veggies, etc.

Now let's get real - I want to be realistic about this goal.  My husband and my three young children - who seem to love all things processed - make up my family of five.  I am also working with a VERY tight budget.  Sound like excuses? I'll be honest, that's exactly what they are haha but I need to find what works for me - and let's not forget, I'm not the most disciplined individual you'll ever meet...

That being said, my goal looks something like this:
1. Cut out many processed foods, but not all.  If I can't pronounce an ingredient or know what the heck it is, I'm not eating it!
2. Replace unhealthy options with healthier choices. For example, use coconut oil instead of butter, greek yogurt in place of sour cream, and EVOO & balsamic vinegar in place of salad dressing.
3. Cut out cereal as a breakfast option, thanks to a nasty little sugar/chemical conglomerate found in a box of fruity cereal seen below (looks appetizing, right?!):

4. No longer purchase potato chips or candy (which I'm pretty good about doing anyway)
5. Have a full glass of water before having my morning coffee
6. Educate my children about what healthy snacks/foods look like
7. No more fast food - ever!

Also, as part of The 7 Experiment by Jen Hatmaker (a book we are reading in our church's life group) we have started one full week of eating non-processed dinners. I will be sharing each meal in posts to follow! :)

What are my motivations? Well, many of you know my mom died of cancer just two short years ago. Unfortunately, her mother, father, and sister all died of cancer as well... do you see the trend? I have three little kids and I want to be around well into their adulthood! And let's face it, my hubby couldn't live without me *winky face*.  I also saw some documentaries last year (Food Matters, Hungry for Change, and one other I can't remember the title of) that, quite frankly, scared the hell out of me.  I never really paid much attention to what was in our food... or 'food-like products' *shudder* To help me stay on track, I posted inspirational quotes on my pantry door, as well as have a weekly menu posted on the fridge - and I shop according to that menu without deviating from my list.

In all seriousness, I simply want to be a healthier version of me and as one woman wisely said, 
"A clean bill of health is sweeter than any cupcake!"
"Food is my fuel, not my friend."

So tell me... what are your goals this year? :)