Archive for the ‘Home & Organization’ Category

Organize Your Spice Rack (FREE PRINTABLES!!)

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2015

Organize Your Spice Rack (FREE PRINTABLES!!) from MomAdvice.com

When I say that my life has felt a little disorganized, I mean it! One sore spot in my house has been my spice cabinet and pantry. Thanks to the gentle shove (ahem) of The Magic Art of Tidying Up, I am trying to transform those sad corners and joy-robbers into more thoughtful spaces. I figured that I can’t be the only one with a disorganized spice rack so I wanted to offer free printable spice labels and pantry labels that you can use to spruce up your own space too, designed by our own MJ from Pars Caeli!

Organize Your Spice Rack (FREE PRINTABLES!!) from MomAdvice.com

Here is my cabinet before I tackled it. There were several spices that had empty jars (why? who helped me on clean-up? WHO?), several duplicates (who does the grocery shopping? who? oh wait…), and there were some that had labels as far as back as 2008 (THE SHAME!). There were also spices lurking in a few other corners in the pantry that were, of course, duplicates. Hunting for spices in a million spots and then trying to not get a black eye from knocking myself out with one as I dig around was a nightly occurrence.

Organize Your Spice Rack (FREE PRINTABLES!!) from MomAdvice.com

I absolutely love the clean design of these labels and they couldn’t be easier to print. You will need to purchase a package of this style of label to print on. We kept the design simple and light to keep the ink waste to a minimum.

If you have spice jars you can reuse, by all means do it! About five years ago, I asked my in-law’s for two sets of these jars since I intended to redo my spice cabinet. I found them when I organized my scary storage side of my basement this weekend while binging on podcasts. It felt like Christmas all over again. This decluttering has really been paying off!

I used a small funnel to funnel the spices that still had life in them into these new fresh jars and then attached the new labels. How easy is that?

Organize Your Spice Rack (FREE PRINTABLES!!) from MomAdvice.com

For pantry items with a larger volume, I used some mason jars that I already owned that had been gathering dust on a shelf. These are the perfect holders for these items and the labels work really well on this size jar too!

Organize Your Spice Rack (FREE PRINTABLES!!) from MomAdvice.com

free-spice-label-printables-7

This corner is making me so much happier and it made prepping for our dinner hour so much easier this week! I didn’t realize how much frustration I was having and how much time I was wasting hunting for these spices each night!

Organize Your Spice Rack (FREE PRINTABLES!!) from MomAdvice.com

Organize Your Spice Rack (FREE PRINTABLES!!) from MomAdvice.com

Get the Labels!

If you are interested in receiving 14 free home management printables and these beautiful pantry labels (see the small sampling above), just input your email below or in the sidebar and we will send you the link to your packet as our thank you for being a subscriber (look for it in the final welcome email). Subscribers will have access to our additional printables as they become available.

Note: if you already subscribe to the Mom Advice Newsletter, be sure to look in your inbox for a special email that contains the link for your set of these printables! If you can’t seem to get the form to work with your browser, just look over to your right in the sidebar on the site. You will see a handy form there too that works with all browsers! We appreciate you so much! Thank you! 

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7 Easy Upcycle Projects for Fall

Thursday, August 27th, 2015

Upcycle-Projects-For-Fall.jpg

Do you love decorating for Fall as much as I do? Of all the seasons, this one is my favorite and I love that you don’t have to spend a lot to make a beautiful impact on your home during this season. Nature brings so many free and fun elements to your home decorating. Pairing these with a few simple upcycle DIY’s, you don’t have to spend a lot to make your space cozy and beautiful.

Today I want to share with you seven easy upcycle projects you can try to make yourself and your home cozy for Fall. These projects were selected with your Goodwill shopping in mind and should be easy to execute with some commonly found items at their store!

Head on over to the Goodwill Tips blog to check out these fun Fall upcycle projects that I have gathered for you today!

 

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DIY Lunchbox Creation Station

Thursday, August 20th, 2015

For our Meal Planning M Challenge, we don’t want to overlook the challenge of creating school lunches day and and day out for the school year, so we’re republishing one of my favorite Organizing/DIY projects: making a “lunchbox creation station.” I love this organizing idea for two big reasons: it’s easy for the kids to find things for their lunches, putting a lot of the responsibility to them AND it’s easy for me to see what we have available and what I need to stock up on. That’s a win-win!

As our kids head back to school, I am in preparation mode to get our family organized & back on track for the new year. One area that I am always working on organizing is streamlining our lunchbox routines. I am excited to share with you my DIY lunchbox creation station that you can create in a corner of your home to streamline your lunch routines. You won’t believe how easy this is to create and you will love my idea for revamping this into something you can use in the summer months too!

For this craft you will need:

  • 3-6 Sterlite Medium Modular Drawer
  • Krylon Chalkboard Spray Paint (often home improvement sections)
  • Avery Removable Wall & Window Signage Sheets (in office supplies)
  • 16 count chalk (in office supplies)
  • Large circle hole punch or a jar or glass that you can use for tracing your circles (I had this in my craft supplies at home)

We are going to start this craft by creating our cute Chalkboard labels first.  You may recall that we made these easy chalkboard labels before when making my super cute Chalkboard Conversation Bubble Cookie Jars. We are going to do the same thing that we did in that craft for this one, but we are cutting them into circles instead of the conversation bubble!

First, pull out your Avery Sheets. For this craft, we are going to use the Wall Application Side for spraying with chalkboard spray paint. This is the side that has the sticky side that is removable and adjustable… perfect for people who can never get anything on their projects perfectly straight.

In a well-ventilated area covered with newspaper or cardboard, place your Avery sheet. Shake the can vigorously for two minutes. Hold can 10-14 inches away from your project and begin spraying. Spray a thin coat in a sweeping motion beginning off the surface and continuing off the other side. Follow this pattern horizontally and then vertically. Wait fifteen minutes or so and then apply another coat.  They should be dry and ready to cut in about an hour.

Cut these out into circles. One sheet should give you six generous size labels that you can write your labels on. While those are drying, you can begin assembling your drawers.

Your needs for your lunchboxes may be different than my own. I wanted to show you what I did in my drawers, though, to inspire your own categories for your lunchbox creation station. I used six drawers because that is what would fit on my pantry floor and would cover all of our lunchbox needs. I have a drawer for snacks, fruit, drinks, chips, water, and a drawer of fun (more about that below). Think of the problem areas in your kitchen and create a drawer to accommodate!

Here is an interior view of my drawers and here are some ideas for items you could keep on hand for your kids:

Snacks- Granola bars, low-fat puddings, natural fruit leathers, nuts, goldfish crackers, rice cakes, wheat crackers, sunflower seeds, homemade cereal mix, fruit snacks.

Fruit- Natural applesauce, yogurt covered raisins, raisins, dried fruit, apples, bananas, oranges.

Drinks- Juice Boxes and organic milk boxes.

Chips- Sweet Potato Chips, Veggie Chips, Pita Chips, Pretzels (I package my chips in tiny Glad containers and have used these a few years now with great success. This drawer also contains my new favorite sandwich cubes that I found at the The Container Store).

H20- This is where I have all of our water bottles so that the kids can grab one in the morning and before extracurricular activities.

Fun- This is where I keep my cookie cutters, homemade play dough, and craft supplies for our kitchen.

Next to the drawers, I nestled a basket for extra snacks to be placed in the drawers as needed and the lunchboxes. Place your designated labels on your drawers and stand back and behold your AWESOMENESS.

With this simple system in place, the kids are now in charge of creating their own favorite lunch combination, selecting one item from each of the lunchbox drawers. My kids have already been scheming and dreaming about their daily lunches and are excited to finally be in charge of their own lunch destiny.

When the summer months roll around, I plan to erase the labels and fill them with all of our summer necessities like pool snacks, water bottles, drinks, sunblock and insect repellent, and other items that tend to accumulate on counters and on top of my fridge. I think this is a great organizing solution for all year round!

Designate one day a week (my day is on Sunday) to creating your snack packs and making items that can be tucked into lunchboxes.

Another tip to keep your lunches organized and accessible is to designate one refrigerator drawer towards lunches. Items like freshly cut fruits and veggies, sandwiches, and Asian lunchbox noodles can all be waiting for the morning in this drawer.  I even tuck commonly forgotten items in the drawer like napkins and spoons to trigger my tired brain to kick in on busy school mornings.

Don’t forget about yourself in all of the hustle bustle of school preparation! I love this DIY Salad Bar to help keep me on track with healthy eating during the school year!

What do items do you love to keep on hand for your child’s lunchbox? I would love to hear your ideas!

I am a part of the Walmart Moms program, and Walmart has provided me with compensation for these posts. My participation is voluntary and opinions are always my own.

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3 Challenges & Solutions to Meal Planning for My Family

Monday, August 17th, 2015

From our marriage & parenting contributor, Mary Carver.

Meal Planning Challenges & Solutions

Sometimes I think my family is out to get me. I mean, surely they can’t be so obnoxious without some planning or plotting! Could they be this difficult naturally? All at the same time? Without coordinating their attack on my patience and sanity?

These are the thoughts that bombard me several times a week, almost always in regard to dinner.

DINNER. They want it every single day. Every! Single! Day! And do they want the same things? NO!

Sigh. Okay, fine. They’re probably not out to get me. But I bet I’m not the only wife/mom/home manager to feel that way – especially around dinnertime! So in case you also struggle with picky eaters or busy schedules or lack of motivation (oh, just me?), I thought I’d take a look at three of the challenges – and their solutions – I face to meal planning for my family.

1. Time

Every Sunday night my husband and I have the same conversation. It goes like this:

Me: Heavy sigh.
Him: What’s wrong?
Me: Nothing. Just thinking about everything I need to do.
Him: Can I help you?
Me: No. I just need more hours. Could you give me more hours?

Poor guy. He just wants to snuggle on the couch and watch another episode of Blue Bloods with his wife, and here I am mentally reviewing my to-do list and trying to figure out how to get it all done – no – get ANYTHING done. Because I often feel like the repetitive but necessary tasks of everyday life take up 90% of my time, leaving me very little margin for new ideas, extra projects or defrosting my refrigerator.

So when I think about making a menu and a corresponding grocery list, it feels overwhelming. I mean, REALLY. Who has three hours to sift through all those yummy recipes I’ve pinned and clipped over the years to find five or six meals to make in the coming week? And then to choose sides to go with it? And look in the pantry and fridge to see if we already have any of the ingredients? And THEN make a list?

Gah. It seems so much faster, in the moment, to just hop in the car, drive to the store and buy what I think we need for the week. Except . . . you know just as well as I do . . . that does not EVER save me time. Or money. Or that precious commodity: sanity. Going to the store without a plan never results in the right combination of food for a week of meals! I KNOW THIS! So, how do I resist the temptation to do it anyway?

Easy. I don’t make a new menu every week.

I have a few basic meal plans that I can rotate, based on categories for each day. (e.g. Monday is something grilled because my husband has more time that day, and Wednesday is something fast and easy because my daughter has piano lessons that night.)

And those new recipes I want to try? I remember that I’m not actually Betty Crocker and limit myself to one or two a month. Because seriously, our family favorites are favorites for a reason. (And, honestly, my family would happily eat tacos every single week for the rest of our lives.)

Speaking of tacos, I know a lot of people who use theme nights for the meal plans. So Monday is Italian night, Tuesday is Mexican night, etc. Sometimes I do this, too – although sometimes it’s to remind us not to have Mexican three times a week.

2. Preferences

“Preferences” seemed like a nicer way to put it than, “Picky eaters.” But that’s really the issue, isn’t it? One of the things we say often in my house is that different people like different things. I started this to help my oldest daughter understand that just because someone likes green or football or country music or tattoos or Minecraft, they aren’t weird. They just like different things.

But for the love of sweet potatoes (which some of us like and some don’t), finding food that all four of us like gets harder every day! And while I am NOT a short-order cook, I do want all my people to get enough to eat. So where’s the balance?

My solution for now is to cater to their wishes – sometimes. I know what they like (until they change their minds again), so I plan to fix those foods and those meals often.

But sometimes I want to fix and serve something that one or two of them don’t like. And in those cases, we always have peanut butter and bread (if it’s the main dish) or cup of peaches and applesauce (if it’s a side dish). I’ll let my daughter replace one of our foods, but then she has to make do with the others. So if she doesn’t want green beans OR rice, she has the choice of which one to “choke down” and which one to replace with fruit. That’s our compromise.

As for new foods or new recipes, everybody has to try a few bites. And in the case of new recipes, we take a vote after giving it a try. If the majority (or at least the parents) like it, then we add it to the rotation. If not, well, at least we tried!

3. Motivation

Last but DEFINITELY not least is the biggest challenge of all in my house: motivation. I have to confess: sometimes I’m just lazy. Or busy. Or tired. Or ALL OF THE ABOVE! And the last thing I want to do is think ahead or make one more list. Especially after a week that’s included a bombed recipe or forgotten plans or unexpected dinners out.

But all I have to do is a little math to get myself back on track. I know how much I spend on groceries when we’re planning and cooking meals on a regular basis at my house. So a quick calculation of how much we’ve spent on fast food and take-out when I’ve slacked off will cure my lack of motivation REAL FAST.

Plus, I know that we eat a lot healthier when we eat at home. And sure, I might not have to do dishes, but my trash can (and dining room table) is overflowing with Styrofoam cups and paper bags! Yuck.

Staying mindful of those realities – and remembering my easy meal plan solutions – helps me plan meals for my family (and stay sane while doing it)!

What challenges do you face when meal planning for your family?

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Tips for Successful Menu Planning

Tuesday, August 4th, 2015

Tips for Successful Menu Planning from MomAdvice.com

One of the most stressful parts about my job as a mom is creating menu plans to feed my family and accomplishing the weekly grocery shopping. Today I want to share with you some of my own tips for successful menu planning, but first I want to work on some honesty with you about my attitude towards food preparation in my house.

Is it okay to say that I have a terrible attitude about this?

I hope it is because something happened this summer that has helped transform my mindset a bit.

Tips for Successful Menu Planning from MomAdvice.com

This summer I wanted to create some great learning experiences for my kids and to teach them how lucky we are for all that we have. One of those experiences has been volunteering at our church’s food pantry where over 400 local families are served each month. I had not expected the enthusiasm that these two brought to the job, but these kids were so happy to do this that they begged to return the next week to help again.

I am not sure what it is like for you and your children, but I feel like we live in this protected bubble that I am constantly trying to push them out of… but not TOO far.  I’m pushing on those walls because there is such a big world out there full of people who need us and it’s important to see and address those needs when we can.  I thought it would be great for them to serve others and to understand how lucky we are.

As we pulled in the first day to volunteer there was a gathering of people waiting for the doors to open. At the time we had pulled in, there was TWO MORE HOURS until the food pantry doors were open to the public. When I asked about this, I was told that they arrive that early to be able to be the first to select the food. The food given would last a family of 4 a few days, an incredible offering when one needs  it, but it made me very ashamed about my attitudes towards feeding my family.

I can plan meals for my family and buy whatever we need for the week in one trip without any worries.

I complain when the grocery line is too long, but others wait for hours just in the hopes that they will have fresh produce.

I whine about how annoying it is to have to haul so many bags from my car and put them away.

Guess who had the transformation?

I know we can’t always go into that zen place of happiness when planning our meals, but I’m working on my attitude and I want to do what I can to simplify this process for our family. It’s a bit of a privilege to go into the store with a plan and come out with what we need, isn’t it?

Meal planning is necessary to stay on budget. In fact, as I have said in my book, I feel that this is one of the biggest places I feel families should analyze when living on a budget. This is a flexible area in our spending, but it takes a good plan to stay on budget.

Here are a few of my tips for successful menu plans:

Gluten-Free Orange Chicken

gluten-free orange chicken

Be Realistic About Your Meal Plans

The overachiever in me really believes that I will cook a great meal for my family every night. The reality is that many nights I am running kids to activities and I am not home (or too tired) to execute all those good intentions. What happens when you have a lot of intentions and not a lot of time?

Spoiled food and wasted money.

I shop for 5 meals for the week, giving us two nights for leftovers and reality.

Kind of the same thing- ha!

Take a serious look at your calendar and analyze what will be happening for the week so that you can create a menu plan that will serve your family well. Slow cooker dishes are arranged on busy days where I don’t have time for food preparation, Sunday suppers are leisurely meals with all the fixings doubled so we can enjoy the dish another night, and grocery days are often prep days for chopping and dicing for quick wraps & salads for nights I don’t have the time to cook.

Slow Cooker Carnitas

slow cooker carnitas

Try a Rotation Schedule

I am a lover of routines and that also comes to the food that we share around the table. In our house, we usually have one slow cooker dish, one pot of soup or a large salad (depending on the season), some type of taco night, one “fancy” dish for Sundays, a brunch dish (that later acts as breakfast on busy school mornings), and I try to implement one new recipe a week to keep things fresh. A rotation schedule creates a clear routine for a busy week and makes grocery shopping easier since you know what you typically need each week. 

Routines are my jam!

I try to make one dish that can easily be doubled or tripled since we have been working on weekly entertaining or to share with someone who might be having a hard week. This can also be a great time to feed the freezer for another week.

Gather Inspiration for Your Meals

It would be hard not to be inspired now that we have tools like Pinterest at our disposal. I think more than anything it is not to feel OVERWHELMED with all of the meal choices or choosing dishes that are far too ambitious for your time constraints. My best bet for busy weeknights are 30-minute recipes or 5-ingredient or less ideas and that is typically what I search for when hunting down new dishes to add to my menu. 

I subscribe to my favorite food blogs through Feedly and utilize their bookmarking tool to save the recipes I want to come back to. I also utilize a private Pinterest board just for my family to test out different recipes in our kitchen. Cookbooks are like old reliable friends that I know I can always count on for a recipe or two. Foodgawker is where I also favorite dishes that I want to try in our menus (you can see our own dishes that made the cut over here!)

 

 

Tips for Successful Menu Planning from MomAdvice.com

Use Your Smartphone to Make Smart Lists

What did I ever do without my smartphone? This little device has made creating and maintaining my grocery lists each week so much easier. I am a BIG fan of the Grocery iQ app (FREE!)  for creating my grocery list because you can reuse the same master list that you use over and over again (especially if you have a routine rotation of meals) and this app automatically organizes and finds any coupons that you might want to use for your purchases. 

With Grocery iQ you can type, speak, or scan grocery list items into your list. The list automatically adds your items into categories and then alerts you if coupons are available for any items you might be adding to your list. Coupons can then be sent to your email when your list has been made or (if you have a wireless enabled printer) can be sent to your printer for printing. As you gather your items from your list, simply check it off and the item moves to the bottom of the list. Once your whole list is complete, everything is shifted towards the bottom and then can simply be clicked to add those repeat items back on the list for your next visit.

Switching to an electronic list was much easier than I expected. It also keeps me off my phone while shopping so I can really concentrate which is half of the battle for me when it comes to menu planning.

Tips for Successful Menu Planning from MomAdvice.com

Journal the Family Favorites & Put Them In Your Plans

In our family, every person has a favorite dish or a favorite memory of a meal we have shared together. To make your week easier, creating a family journal or scrapbook where you have all your family favorites for weekly inspiration and rotate a family member’s favorite each week.

Tips for Successful Menu Planning from MomAdvice.com

We made a food journal and printed out our favorite recipes and why the kids loved these dishes. This can be a fun craft project to do together AND it is something you can pass on to them when they leave the nest (but that won’t be for a LONG time so I’m not worried). If you want to try making your own cookbook, you can see this tutorial we created for it!

One thing I don’t think very often about is that many of our favorite recipes are online. If the sites ever go down (which has been known to happen), we may no longer have access to our favorite dishes. I want a place where we can keep all these food memories so a family journal is a fun activity that you can enjoy for years to come.

Pick What’s Important & Make it Happen

I have many friends that deal chase for their menu plans, but I have never been much of a deal chaser.  As the extracurricular schedule grows and my work becomes more demanding, I have to make choices about what I realistically can and cannot do. It’s okay to not chase deals.

I do my menu planning first thing in the morning (eat the frog!!) and I go to grocery stores where deal chasing doesn’t need to happen. ALDI has (and always will be) my first destination for our family groceries and thanks to the Savings Catcher app, a scan of my receipt at the end of my shopping at Walmart means I can look forward to pocketing any savings if any store goes lower in prices without chasing deals anymore.

You may find shopping at night is better for you or you may get a thrill from a deal well chased. Pick what’s important to you and make it happen for your family, but do what fits best with your own lifestyle for menu planning success.

Do you have any strategies you can share for menu planning? Let us know in the comments below!

 

 

 

 

 

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How to Make a Closet Office For Under $200

Monday, July 6th, 2015

How to Make a Closet Office For Under $200 from MomAdvice.com.

This post is sponsored on behalf of BHG at Walmart.

If you have learned anything from my past posts, you know that my desire is to make the most of every corner in our little home. Small space living requires works especially when want you make each room as functional as possible. I love how much it challenges me and today I wanted to show how we made over a neglected closet into a closet office as a birthday gift for our soon-to-be teen son. As part of the BHG Live Better Network, I am partnering with them to show how to help someone create a new space so today we are showing off our ideas for small space office that we think would work beautifully in a closet in your home. The best part is that this makeover cost us under $200 to pull off!

How to Make a Closet Office For Under $200 from MomAdvice.com.

My son’s room is small and his closet is pint size like our’s (thus why I embraced the fashion capsule project so much).  Over time though, we have learned that these closets are just right for us and this closet wasn’t getting a lot of use now in his room. We had pulled his dresser in there to save space, but you can see how beautifully that all worked out (ahem!). Too small clothing and the piles of clothes given to this kid to put away in his drawers on laundry day had created a mountain of a mess. The first step was to weed through the pile and, with our recent growth spurt, we were able to whittle this pile down to nothing and give our great stuff to someone in need. The dresser was relocated to the end of our bed which freed the space up entirely for a new purpose.

How to Make a Closet Office For Under $200 from MomAdvice.com.

How to Make a Closet Office For Under $200 from MomAdvice.com.

The hard part with this makeover was just getting this space prepped and ready for its new purpose. We removed all the old closet hardware and trim, painted the walls in our favorite shade of Benjamin Moore Gray Owl (leftover paint from our shed makeover last summer) and sanded down the old eighties paint job on the high shelf to create a more distressed wood look to the shelf.

Here’s a fun fact! We found a little boy’s name scrawled on the side of the wood when we took it off the shelf. That is one of the best parts about having an older house…the sweet discoveries of little things like that add to its charm. We, of course, left it there for someone else to discover one day.

How to Make a Closet Office For Under $200 from MomAdvice.com.

Pictured Above: Better Homes & Gardens Traditional Task Lamp ($22.56)/ Mainstays Parsons Desk With Drawer ($53.53)/ Mainstays Contemporary Office Chair  ($45.00) /Mainstays Canvas Ironwork Curtain Panel ($11.18)/ Better Homes & Gardens Boule Bronze Curtain Rod ($25.38)

How to Make a Closet Office For Under $200 from MomAdvice.com.

How to Make a Closet Office For Under $200 from MomAdvice.com.

We hung a single curtain panel that helped frame the space and also could be a way to hide the inevitable chaos that will happen on this desk. As you can see, we hung the bar high to help prevent our chair from rolling into our curtains and also to make this tiny space feel bigger.

How to Make a Closet Office For Under $200 from MomAdvice.com.

On the side, we moved our hamper so it is tucked away for tossing our clothes into. A giant pegboard was added to the wall for odds & ends and any art we want to display.  I hung his favorite hat on top of a thumbtack that I had pushed in. This sign made him laugh so we thought it would be a cute touch (found at Hobby Lobby). A task lamp with extension cord creates a well-lit space for doing our homework in this space.

Happy 13th birthday, Ethan! We hope you create your next artistic masterpiece in this new space we have created for you! Thank you BHG at Walmart for the fun challenge this month! We couldn’t be more thrilled with our space and to create a new purpose to a once cluttered closet!

How to Make a Closet Office For Under $200 from MomAdvice.com.

Live-Better-Network-Badge

In accordance with the FTC Guidelines, I am disclosing that I received compensation from BHG at Walmart for my time and participation in the BHG Live Better Network. Although we have material connection to BHG, any publicly stated opinions of BHG and their products remain my own.

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Beautiful Ideas for Outdoor Entertaining With Goodwill

Wednesday, June 17th, 2015

Beautiful Ideas for Outdoor Entertaining With Goodwill from MomAdvice.com
I love entertaining outdoors in the summertime and today I wanted to share with you some fun and frugal ways you can entertain utilizing items found at your local Goodwill store. Outdoor entertaining does not need to be expensive and many of the items found at Goodwill can be repurposed into great items to have on hand for outdoor meals and entertainment for your guests.

Join me over on the Goodwill Tips blog for a few beautiful summertime ideas I have gathered to help you  make the most of your outdoor space! I just know you will feel inspired after you see these fun ideas! 

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Amy’s Notebook 05.20.15: M Challenge Technology Syllabus

Wednesday, May 20th, 2015

m-challenge

Note: As a wrap-up of each month’s m challenge theme, we will be using the last Notebook of the month as a sort of “Cliffs Notes” edition of the challenge – a place where you can find a list of all the articles we’ve published for the challenge, as well as more inspiration and links from the web around the challenge theme. Our hope is that this will serve as a one stop shopping for the theme that you can refer to as well as catch up on in case you’ve missed anything!

May M Challenge: Focus on Technology

Other Links for Using & Managing Technology:

Efficiency Apps via Buzzfeed

Source: BuzzFeed

 

Great list of apps that will make you more efficient.

20 tech hacks – game-changing secrets for the stuff we use daily.

How to use The Cloud to organize your life.

Do you think you could go paperless?

List of top apps to try this year!

Ways to organize your home with Evernote.

Tips to maximize the power of Gmail.

How to make your Wi-Fi signal stronger.

 

Driven-by-Decor-Hack-an-Office-Organizer-to-Create-a-Super-Convenient-Family-Charging-Station

Source: Driven By Decor

 

DIY a decor-worthy charging station for the whole family.

Or dedicate a mudroom cabinet for family electronics.

Simple ways to declutter your online life.

An app to help kids earn screen time – and helps parents manage it!

10 tips to keep technology from taking over your family’s life.

How to talk to teens about distracted driving from smartphones.

17 apps that can save you money.

Could you detox from your smartphone in 7 days?

5 easy steps to clean up & organize your desktop computer.

amys_notebook

I hope you enjoyed our notebook, a collection of gathered links to DIY crafts, food projects, thrifty ways to spruce up your home, and thoughtful reads. Nothing brings me more joy than to highlight other fabulous bloggers. Follow me on Pinterest for daily inspiration!

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The Top 7 Apps to Organize Your Life

Tuesday, May 19th, 2015

Note: In honor of our M Challenge focus on Technology, I’m reposting this because I still can’t live without my iPhone, and these apps are still some of my top favs! Please chime in with any you use now, too!

If you asked me the one thing that I could not live without, it would be my iPhone. Today I want to share the top iPhone apps that have organized my life and my family. This gadget has brought more organization to my life than I dreamed possible and is what I rely on daily to tackle the day-to-day tasks as a mom. Of course, you don’t have to have an iPhone to benefit from these apps, almost all of these are available to any smartphone user. Here are my top 7 apps to get your family organized.

Cozi App

Cozi

Whenever I talk about the best apps to organize a family, I always think of Cozi first. Over the years, this app has evolved so much and fits perfectly into our family’s everyday needs. Cozi is a calendar app that 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, and offers text message alerts to you for appointment reminders…all from one central location.

My favorite feature that has saved our family countless fees and embarrassment is their text reminder service. When I input our family’s appointments, I can have a text sent to myself or to my husband that reminds us about that appointment. The reminders can come whenever you designate them (one hour ahead, one day ahead, one week ahead, etc..).  Does your child have jean day at school? Super silly hair day?  Little things like that are even input in this handy calendar and a text reminder goes out to me first thing in the morning to save my children from their mom’s forgotten dollar or the super exciting monthly “skip your uniform,” day.

(Free. Available for the iPad, iPhone, or Android.)

 

Mint

If you are looking to get your family’s finances back on track this year, my favorite and most reliable financial reporting comes from Mint. Mint can be set up through your home computer, your smart phone, or tablet.  An account with Mint can be set up in less than five minutes and gives you the chance to set budgets to your spending categories and track them with handy pie charts and graphs. In one glance, you can monitor your checking, savings, investments, and retirement at any moment during the day.

Most of the spending categories are immediately categorized for you while unfamiliar categories (like your favorite local restaurant or doctor’s visit) may need a quick categorization for accurate reporting. For tax purposes, you can also tag items for reimbursement so that it can help later when filing your taxes.

The best part, I have found, is that Mint will alert you via email when spending or withdrawals seem high. Did the mortgage company take out an extra payment? Did you have an unusually high amount of withdrawals in one month? Was a large deposit made? Mint sends you an email to alert you of unusual transactions happening in your account which could potentially save you from being the victim of credit card fraud.

(Free. Available for most devices.)

 

Grocery IQ

Making and sticking to your grocery lists has never been easier thanks to the Grocery IQ app. With Grocery IQ you can type, speak, or scan grocery list items into your list. The list automatically adds your items into categories and then alerts you if coupons are available for any items you might be adding to your list. Coupons can then be sent to your email when your list has been made or (if you have a wireless enabled printer) can be sent to your printer for printing. As you gather your items from your list, simply check it off and the item moves to the bottom of the list. Once your whole list is complete, everything is shifted towards the bottom and then can simply be clicked to add those repeat items back on the list for your next visit.

Since I always have my phone with me,  switching to an electronic grocery list has been much easier than I thought it would be. The coupon feature helps save our family money on items we were already planning to buy and the list helps keep our family budget on track. I also love that I can sync my list from my iPad to my iPhone so I can use whichever device I have handy to add items when we need them.

(Free. Available for the iPad, iPhone, or Android.)

Evernote

If you are trying to stop the paper pile-up from school, Evernote is a fantastic tool for  clipping and saving those papers in one spot that you can access from your phone or computer. When items come home to us that I might need to reference for our family later, like the cafeteria lunch schedule or the recess schedule, I can either take a photo of what I need or I can scan that item into Evernote and tag it with, “School,” for easy reference.

Things that I often refer back to, like our library card numbers, gift card numbers that I want to store on my computer, receipts for purchases, or even keeping track of the books my children are reading in a particular series are all housed in my Evernote account for easy accessibility when I need them.

No more scraps of paper all over the house or hanging on to newsletters for one paragraph of information, Evernote has become my virtual notebook to keep us organized.

(Free. Available on most devices.)

SpringPad

Menu planning can be a challenge for families and keeping track of all of those recipes you want to try can be a challenge when your Pinterest boards are overflowing with ideas. I have come to rely upon SpringPad for creating our family’s weekly menu plan. I think of SpringPad as a virtual notebook where you can privately or publicly share things you want to reference to manage your life. Notebooks can be created on any topic, but I create weekly notebooks of menu plans for my family, adding those recipes into a notebook so that I can reference them later, whether I am cooking in the kitchen or I am at the grocery store and not sure if I added all the ingredients to my list like I thought.

Depending on how the recipe is input into the source, SpringPad will either pull the recipe right into your notebook so you can view it right from the notebook, you can manually add in the recipe, or a link to the recipe will be provided so you can access it from the page you found it.

(Free. Available on most devices.)

30/30

Setting a timer to get tasks done around the house is an old school method that works remarkably well for productivity that has now been brought to the future with this 30/30 app for organizing your day.  The idea behind this app is very simple: you work for thirty minutes and focus on a single task with no distractions. When your time is up, you give your mind a break and do something completely unrelated, also for thirty minutes. This 30/30 cycle is repeated until your tasks are done.

Type in what your ideal day will look like including blocking out times for a little down time like enjoying a cup of coffee, time wasting on sites like Facebook or Pinterest, or just time with a great book.  Then set up what the rest of your productive day will look like and use the 30/30 app to visualize if you are going to get your tasks done in the designated time.  It provides a countdown and a visual reminder of what you are working on and beeps when your time is done. Simple, visually pleasing, and highly effective, I can’t recommend this app enough to increase your productivity.

(Free. Available for the iPad or iPhone.)

8MM Vintage Camera

Capturing my children on-the–go is one of the main reasons I decided to get an iPhone. While I rely heavily on Instagram for capturing still images of our family from day-to-day I also love to capture movies of them.  Although we have many fancy camcorders laying around our house, the one recorder I always have with me is my phone. I am a huge fan of vintage looking film and pictures so I have found that the  8MM vintage camera app is a fun way to add a little vintage to our family’s most precious recorded moments.

($1.99. Available for the iPad or iPhone)

What are your favorite apps for keeping your family organized? Chime in here and share your family’s favorite tools!

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Making Face Time a Family Priority

Thursday, May 14th, 2015

Tips to Manage Kids Tech Time by Making Fact Time a Priority

When my children were small, it seemed that all they wanted to do was play with me, draw with me, and read with me. As they get older, it seems that all they want to do is play on the computer, play on the DS, and play on the Wii… and not with me?

What a change in priorities it has been to be so low on the activities totem pole!

I say this tongue in cheek, of course, because I am just as guilty as my kids of making screen time more of a priority than it should be. I could spend hours on my phone checking all of my social networks and being disconnected from the three people that love me most in my life.

One evening I looked around and saw each of us in our respective corners with our screens and I knew that something had to change. I want my children to have their downtime after school, but I also want us spending time together as a family.  I wanted to share with you our solutions for making family time a priority again.

Declare Face Time

When my kids get home from school it is time for snacks and homework. After that, they are free to do screen time alone until 5PM. At 5PM, I declare it, “FACE TIME!” Face time is not FaceTime on the iPhone, instead it means that we will have time together as a family until bedtime.  It means having a family meal together with great family conversation, reading books together, playing a board game, or spending an evening playing outside together.

I thought Face Time was a genius idea, but the first night my husband looked at me and said, “So we are ALL supposed to not be on the computer?” Yes, admittedly, I had to flip my phone upside down because each time the screen popped up; I was dying to know what was happening in the world. The two people that had the hardest time were the two of us and the kids took the change in routine surprisingly well.

Do Screen Time Together

If we use screen time during our Face Time it must be all done together.  Some evenings we spend an evening Wii bowling together and other evenings it is a night of wild dancing on our Just Dance game. I will admit that I often request a rousing round of Band Hero so I can sing with my very own Partridge Family.

We recently added a new screen time feature to our family that we are all absolutely loving. For about seven years now, I have made homemade pizza every Friday night for our evening meal and we have watched a family movie. In the last few months we have changed our pizza night to a, “Docu-Pizza,” night that we have all come to look forward to together. The evening consists of 1 pizza, 1 documentary, and 1 great family conversation afterwards. We have exposed the kids to lots of different cultures and watched documentaries about everything from the art of origami to puppetry to a senior citizen dance crew. It has led to amazing discussions and allowed us to use our screen time in a way that benefits our whole family.

If you are looking for some fun documentaries to add to your family viewing, be sure to follow my Reality Bites Pinterest Board for some fun movie suggestions to incorporate into your very own Docu-Pizza Night.

Screen time done together connects us and the kids are learning to include us in the gaming fun instead of doing the games on their own.

Use a Screen Time Monitoring System

I find it is much easier to monitor screen time hours during the school year since the kids are in school during the day. In the summer months is when screen time can really get out of control.  I wanted a way to monitor their screen time so we decided to create a printable ticket that could be used for just this occasion.

These tech tickets have made us all more aware of how much screen time we are using and have been a great way for us to monitor the amount they are getting. Each child gets one chore ticket and two tech tickets for the week in our house. The chore ticket must be punched before they can start with their first hour of screen time.

Tech tickets grant the child one hour of computer or video game time. We do not count television time as tech time in our house. Kids can watch 2 shows daily on Netflix. We no longer have cable television so that has really helped us do a better job of not zoning out on the television. A timer is set and once it dings, the card is punched for that hour.  It is as simple as that!

We made an agreement that if the child wants to save computer/video game time that they can save and transfer the hours to another day. They can not, however, cash in on an advance on their ticket.

My husband and I keep shaking our heads as we see the kids getting back to the root of playing together again. Without the screen distractions, they are playing more outside, playing more together, reading, and creating more. It makes my heart happy to see them getting back to this again and embracing imaginative play.

This is what being a child is about and this is what being a family is about. I am glad we are rediscovering these simple pleasures again.

How do you make Face Time a family priority in your house?

 


 

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