Archive for the ‘Organizing’ Category

Cozy Up Your Holiday Bedding

Wednesday, November 11th, 2015

Cozy Up Your Holiday Bedding with

This post is sponsored on behalf of BHG at Walmart.

I just love the holidays and one of the things I love to do for the holidays is cozy up our bedding for the cooler months. I am partnering up with the BHG Live Better Network to show you some incredible bedding offerings that you can find at your local Walmart store when entertaining holiday guests.

Cozy Up Your Holiday Bedding with

Can I be honest with you and say that this is one of those purchases that snowballed? I purchased this beautiful Better Homes and Gardens Velvet Plush Reverse to Sherpa Bedding Comforter for our bed and two things ended up happening as a result of this purchase.

1. I could not get out of bed. The womb-like environment of sherpa and velvet has been incredibly awful to leave and I have found myself unmotivated to do anything except lay in this bed with a good book. My family can’t find me and they know…they just know that I am in this bed and not doing what I should be doing around the house.

2. I could not remove the children from my bed. They began to resent me and the coziness that I had and so they would join me in my bed (that I could not rise from) and so I never got any time alone to be lazy anymore.

As a treat for their report cards, I treated them (and myself, frankly!) to two more of these sherpa comforters and now we have them on every bed of our house. Let me repeat, we love them so much that every bed in our house now has them. If that is not a testament to our love, I don’t know what is.

Cozy Up Your Holiday Bedding with

I hate to be hot, in fact, I can’t stand it one bit so I debated if these would be a smart investment or not especially since our bedrooms tend to be the warmest in the house. Despite, the warmth of the sherpa, they are surprisingly lightweight and, in fact, are much lighter in weight than our previous comforter. I love that if you get tired of the pattern on one side, you can flip it and show the other side instead, creating an Anthro-feel with that ivory sherpa turned out.

I paired this plaid sherpa comforter with these quilted shams and two faux leather pillows. Last season’s minky blanket is still a big favorite. We also added two more in the Fog color to the rest of the beds and I love the sherpa stripe on them for a little added detail.

Cozy Up Your Holiday Bedding with

Although there are many great things about having me as a wife, one of the pitfalls is constantly feeling like someone in yarn bombing you. I decided to pull up my DIY Yarn Pom-Pom & Ornament Garland for the holidays and I still have my DIY Yarn-Wrapped Letters spelling LOVE over our bed. I found these adorable yarn trees on Walmart too and loved their affordable $6 price tag to nestle on top of our nightstands.

I hope these ideas inspire you and RUN, RUN, RUN to your store or online to get these sherpa comforters. As a disclaimer, I cannot be responsible for children piling up in your bed or a loss in productivity- ha!

To help your guest feel warmly welcomed,  Sarah Milne with sarah m style, has created these amazing printables that you can print and share to add that special touch to your guest room. Aren’t these BEAUTIFUL? I love a good freebie to round out this budget-friendly holiday room makeover! 

Grab These FREE Printables For Your Guest

Make a Guest Room Welcome Basket (With 5 FREE Printables)

Make a Guest Room Welcome Basket (With 5 FREE Printables)

Download this Printable HERE

Make a Guest Room Welcome Basket (With 5 FREE Printables)

Download this Printable HERE

Make a Guest Room Welcome Basket (With 5 FREE Printables)

Download this Printable HERE

Make a Guest Room Welcome Basket (With 5 FREE Printables)

Download this Printable HERE

Make a Guest Room Welcome Basket (With 5 FREE Printables)

Download this Printable HERE


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.

How to Makeover a Shed Into a Bonus Room (Tour Our Shed!)

Tuesday, October 20th, 2015

How could I not share my “She Shed” with you again to go along with our Transform Your Space M Challenge? It remains my favorite transformation. ever. I hope you are inspired to take back space and make it work for you!

How to Makeover a Shed Into a Bonus Room

Today I wanted to share with you how we transformed our outdoor shed into a bonus room. Shed makeovers are one of my favorite things to look at, but I had never considered our own shed a bonus room until this summer.  This transformation from a shed that housed our chaos and clutter into a multi-purpose retreat is one of my proudest makeovers we have ever done on our home.

I partnered with Walmart on this project to showcase a unique idea for outdoor living. Since they partnered with me, I did my best to utilize items from their store while weaving in handmade items from some of my favorite Etsy sellers.

Before I get ahead of myself though, let’s take a tour of our shed before the makeover. As an FYI,  I did not gloss this up for you one bit. This is exactly as awful and as embarrassing as it looked. It took me twelve hours to organize our garage, six donation runs, and a whole day to empty this shed. I am ashamed how bad it had gotten, but I wanted to be honest about all of that with you. This took a lot of preparation for me to empty this and rid my life of a lot of junk to execute this space. It was worth every moment of effort.

Shed Before Pictures

Shed Before Pictures

Shed Before Pictures

Shed Before Pictures

Shed Before Pictures

Shed Before Pictures

Shed Before Pictures

Shed Before Pictures

Shed Before Pictures

Our home is a late-sixties tri-level that had an attached shed on the home.  Although the shed is attached to our home, you do have to step outside to access it, but it is close enough that easy access is possible. This might be unlike  other sheds that might be residing further out from your property. After talking with our neighbor who has been a longtime resident here,  I understand that this wasn’t originally part of the home, but was an addition that had been made later to our house. Over the years, as other homeowner’s owned it things like insulation and electrical were added. The space had good bones to be a room, but no one had gotten any further than that. We have resided in this home 12 years and it only occured to me this summer that maybe we were missing out on a golden opportunity to have a unique bonus room.  After getting estimates and ideas from a few contractors, we hired All Pro Renovations to assist in transforming this dumping crowd of chaos into the room of my dreams.  They were able to address getting our space up to code and also got my vision for what I wanted to accomplish with this room.

My idea for the space was that it could be a retreat for my children during the day and a fun entertaining spot in the evenings. The most important aspect for this project was that we utilize every single inch of this 8×12 space in a thoughtful way. I wanted a bar that could fold down, flush to the wall when it was not in use. I wanted to utilize all the space that we could behind the door to house storage. I wanted furniture that could be stacked or wall mounted for entertaining.  Most of all, I wanted it to feel very modern and light-filled with a glass door and a window.

How to Makeover a Shed Into a Bonus Room

We painted the door with a bright coat of teal paint that I loved so much that we decided to paint the front door too.

How to Makeover a Shed Into a Bonus Room

We quickly figured out that when the kids were in this room that I couldn’t necessarily see that they were in there and would be hunting in the backyard for them. I added a plastic Open/Closed Sign from Walmart that I attached to the trim of the door with a 3M hook so the kids could let me know if they were in there. If they are inside it is open if they go back out to play in the yard, they flip it to closed. My daughter loves to also leave a time on the clock to let me know when she will be back.

How to Makeover a Shed Into a Bonus Room

How to Makeover a Shed Into a Bonus Room

How to Makeover a Shed Into a Bonus Room

Since our home had aluminum siding, All Pro recommended adding light with a skylight (which cost the same as adding a window), because if we damaged our siding, we would not be able to find matching aluminum siding for this home. They found a glass door that we could use for the space. They recommended doing an epoxy-paint floor with neutral tones that would be durable and ideal for this outdoor space. To warm up the floor, I added this outdoor rug in a 5’3×7’7 (an absolute steal at $77.58)   The room was drywalled, painted, and trimmed to finish out the bones of this room.  My color choice for this space was Benjamin Moore’s Gray Owl for the walls (which I now what to paint my entire house in) and Benjamin Moore’s glossy White Dove for all of the trim.  Although the original intent was to add canned lighting, our ceilings were too low for the space so track lighting was installed which adds to that modern retro feel that I was going for.

How to Makeover a Shed Into a Bonus Room

A built-in was added behind the door to make sure that every inch was used. Wine glasses, a rack, and opener are on the top shelves for evening entertaining. On the lower shelves, we have coloring books, crayons, and books. I also added a few of my favorites from our record collection and they fit perfectly on the bottom so we can use our turntable out there.

How to Makeover a Shed Into a Bonus Room

How to Makeover a Shed Into a Bonus Room

How to Makeover a Shed Into a Bonus Room

The focal point of the room is this beautiful Providence Outdoor Day Bed (priced at $399) from Walmart for the back wall.  This canopy bed is so beautifully made that I almost fall asleep every night on it while I am out there. It is generously deep and the canopy element really adds an eye-catching detail to the room. I switched out the pillows with a more modern printed pillow covers that I scored on Groopdealz as one of their deals-of-the-day. I also added this Too Legit To Quit pillow from Michelle Dwight Designs to add a splash of fun to the bed. I found inexpensive pillow forms from Walmart to create cushions with style for the back of this bed.  The pillow forms are two for $5.15 and feel like expensive cushions.   This bed not only is the perfect spot for a reading nook, but it also can double as a guest room year-round for our guests. I kind of want to stay here as a guest myself.

How to Makeover a Shed Into a Bonus Room

How to Makeover a Shed Into a Bonus Room

How to Makeover a Shed Into a Bonus Room


The bar can comfortably seat four people and I found retro Amelia Metal Cafe Bar Stools in red (2 for $159) from Walmart to complete the look.  I actually placed an additional order for two more now that I could see how many I can fit here.  All Pro Renovations created a bar that could be folded down and added a stripe of teal on the edge of my bar to add a little splash of color.

How to Makeover a Shed Into a Bonus Room

How to Makeover a Shed Into a Bonus Room


We added these modern floating shelves (only $19.95) and I filled them with a few fake succulents and wove in a few of my favorite books and a fake orchid.  It creates a soothing and maintenance-free splash of color over there.

How to Makeover a Shed Into a Bonus Room

How to Makeover a Shed Into a Bonus Room

The turntable I was gifted from my amazing girlfriends was placed on this pedestal table from Home Decorators and it was just the right size for this small space. I added this beautiful 30″ handmade arrow from Junk Art Gypsyz to the wall. We also added a beautiful typography piece that has the lyrics from Elton John’s, “Tiny Dancer,” to that wall.

How to Makeover a Shed Into a Bonus Room

Your question might be how we are keeping the room cool in the summer and warm in the winter? I have a great solution for you. We discovered that Walmart offers a Newair NewAir AC-10000H Portable Air Conditioner & Heater unit that not only act as an air conditioner, but a one piece solution for air conditioning, heating, and dehumidifying. The best part is that it can be set on a timer so you can set it for the day and it will automatically shut itself off.  All-Pro got the unit to drain outside of our home and installed a flap for the hose so that the unit is maintenance-free. This was the priciest of the purchases at $471.81, but eliminated the need for multiple units in such a small room.

How to Makeover a Shed Into a Bonus Room

Shed Makeover Shopping List

1. 30″ Marquee Arrow {Junk Art Gypsyz}

2. Too Legit To Quit Pillow {Michelle Dwight Designs}

3. Arrow Apache Blue  & Fynn Cool Grey Pillows {Groopdealz}

4. Tiny Dancer Typography {Concepcion Studios}

5. Safavieh Courtyard Outdoor Rug {Walmart}

6. Chloe Side Table {Home Decorators}

7. Amelia Metal Cafe Bar Stools {Walmart}

8. Newair NewAir AC-10000H Portable Air Conditioner & Heater unit {Walmart}

9. Providence Outdoor Day Bed {Walmart}

10. Danya Floating Shelves {Walmart}

11. Pellon Homegoods Decorative Pillow Inserts {Walmart}

12. Open/Closed Sign {Walmart}

Benjamin Moore Paint Choices


Paint Colors Used In Our Shed

1. Benjamin Moore White Dove (Glossy, Trim)

2. Benjamin Moore Blue Spa (Exterior, Door & Edge of Bar)

3. Benjamin Moore Gray Owl (Semi-Glossy, Walls)


I hope you enjoyed touring our shed.  I have found this room to be so good for my soul. It is so quiet and peaceful in there and is my new favorite place to unwind. Since the room is designed so differently from our home, it truly feels like I am going somewhere else in the evenings. The absence of clutter and our busy everyday life has been very calming to me.  I have been counting down the hours until my kids go to bed so I can escape. I also look forward to entertaining in here with my girlfriends, hosting book clubs, sharing a cup of coffee with good friends, writing alone,  and having a retreat for our kids on rainy days.

I’m thankful to All Pro Renovations for making all my dreams come true and exceeding my expectations for our former junky shed. Professional, courteous, on time (or early) every day, and quick to create smart solutions for this design challenge.  In ten short days, they created a space that I am so proud of and were as equally excited seeing it all come to life. They even came to my rescue when my daughter had a meltdown that her chalkboard door was disappearing and cut it to size for our garage door to surprise her while we were on vacation.  How amazing is that?

How to Makeover a Shed Into a Bonus Room

I could not have asked for more! I am already working on vision boards for other rooms in our home I would like to tackle with them again.

I hope this space inspires you and I’m thankful that Walmart gave me the chance to share about their beautiful outdoor options with you!


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Maximize Your Morning Hours

Monday, September 14th, 2015

Maximize Your Morning Hours from

I was forced into being a morning person thanks to my kids. In my younger days, I would stay up late watching mindless television, and would sleep in until the last possible moment. There is nothing like an early bus schedule to take a girl out of her cushy routines, is there? Although I never desired to be a morning person, it’s incredible how much better I feel and how productive I can be with those extra morning hours. I am actually pretty thankful that early mornings are now a part of my routine and I even try to maintain the schedule as best as I can during the summer months.

Here is what I know…

If I can become a morning person, ANYONE can!

Today I wanted to share a few tricks that have helped me in creating an ideal morning for my family and I’d love to chat with you about your ideas too! 

Utilize Your Evening Hours to Get a Good Start

Getting up earlier can mean that I am a little less productive in the evening since I am usually pretty worn down after a full day! I try to make a couple of things top priority though to help save my sanity in the morning. The first is that I always set my coffeemaker the night before and program it for my morning brew (this is the inexpensive pot that I use now), I always make sure that the dishes are done and that the dishwasher is run, I always try to get all the paperwork signed and in the backpacks, and I always try to lay out my gym clothes the night before so I can hit the gym first thing in the morning!

These small habits in the evening help us start on good footing the next morning.

Set a Million Alarms

I have a hard time staying on track with the multiple schedules going on during our mornings. Maybe that is just me?  I set an alarm on my phone to make sure each kid is up and then I set an alarm 5-10 minutes before we have to head out the door to have them get their shoes on and grab their gear. Although it doesn’t apply to my morning routines, I set alarms to remind myself when I need to head out the door to the gym, when the buses are returning, and even an alarm to remind me that I can take a break for the day from work and read for an hour.

My poor cat is so annoyed by my alarm system that she cries every single time one goes off.

I won’t lie.

I sometimes want to cry too. I love the reminder though to keep things on track so we don’t miss our morning buses or oversleep!

Maximize Your Morning Hours from

Turn Off the Distractors

I know everyone struggles with getting distracted and the quickest way for my morning to get off track is to turn on my phone or computer. I decided to add the Facebook Kills News Feed extension to help me not cheat and peek at Facebook during the day when I need to be productive.

I also make deals with myself about when I am allowed to peek at my phone. Each day the deal is something that I need to accomplish from household chores to an article for a client to finishing a book. Once I fulfill that daily contract with myself, I can cruise the FB newsfeed and catch up on all I am missing out on.

Email also has been of my biggest distractors so now I check it once in the morning, once midday, and once before the kids get home from school. I noticed that each time my phone made a ding, I ran to it like my cat when I shake the treat bag at her. It lead to lots of interruptions, a half-present mom, and a lot of anxiety when I wasn’t dealing with whatever I had opened. If I can’t sit down at my desk and deal with it with a proper response, I just don’t open it! Not only has it made my mornings smoother, but it has made my entire life run more smoothly.

Maximize Your Morning Hours from

Make the Morning Household Chores Bearable

I am big on maximizing my time and I know that you are too. I have discovered that podcasts and audiobooks make wonderful companions in the morning while I am getting things done around the house. Three of my favorite podcasts right now for making the most of my mornings are the The Lively Show, Magic Lessons, & Elise Gets Crafty. Thanks to the Overcast app that I downloaded, I also am listening to them at a quicker speed which helps me consume a little bit more while I am tackling that laundry and tidying the house. Not only am I proud that I am being productive in my home, but I’m learning so much about living with intention in the process.

Maximize Your Morning Hours from

Make Room For You

I may be one of the rare ones in the world because I rarely feel guilty about making time for myself. I know when I can fill my cup up, I have more to give to everyone else. I am not sure if that is because I have such a supportive spouse who has always encouraged that or if I just have always been thinking about myself. Oh, who are we kidding? It’s probably both! My ideal morning involves a good Bible study on She Reads Truth, a cup of HOT coffee, a little journaling (right now I am doing this journal with my husband) and then I head to the gym where I do classes I really love and that make me happy.

Our mornings aren’t always perfect, but starting with good intentions, smart planning, and a little self-care reward help me start my day on the right foot!

Do you have any tips or tricks for a great morning routine? I’d love to hear them as we explore this topic this month in our m challenge series!

*this post contains affiliate links. I only recommend what I love!


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Organize Your Spice Rack (FREE PRINTABLES!!)

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2015

Organize Your Spice Rack (FREE PRINTABLES!!) from

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

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

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

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


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

Organize Your Spice Rack (FREE PRINTABLES!!) from

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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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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Make a Closet Office For Under $200 from

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

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

How to Make a Closet Office For Under $200 from

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

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


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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Amy’s Notebook 05.20.15: M Challenge Technology Syllabus

Wednesday, May 20th, 2015


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.



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.


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


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.)



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.)


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.)


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.)


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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