Archive for the ‘Organizing’ Category

Getting To Know Your Bread Machine (Easy Recipes & Tips for Busy Families)

Tuesday, February 12th, 2013

One of the most invaluable appliances in our home is our bread machine and today I wanted to share with you why I think a bread machine is a wise kitchen investment. This tutorial will offer advice on what to look for in a bread machine, how to use your bread machine, and the best bread machine recipes that our family enjoys on a weekly basis.

Perhaps you already have a bread machine that has been gathering dust in your kitchen or basement. Many people buy these appliances and then end up donating them to their local thrift store because they never use them. I think of the bread machine as a modern day convenience, but in a culture where we want everything NOW, waiting for a loaf of bread can seem like an eternity.

Why wait for a hot loaf of fresh bread when you can grab a loaf at your supermarket?

And what exactly is the purpose of that appliance that is taking up space on your shelves? Let’s get to know our bread machines and find a new way to use them.

What is A Bread Machine or Bread Maker?

A bread making machine or bread maker is a home appliance for baking bread.The bread machine is simple in its construction and consists of a bread pan (or “tin”), at the bottom of which are one or more built-in paddles, mounted in the center of a small special-purpose oven. This little oven is  controlled by a simple built-in computer, the settings for which are inputted on the control panel. Most bread machines have different cycles for different kinds of dough—including white bread, whole grain, European-style (sometimes labeled “French”), and dough-only (for pizza dough and shaped loaves baked in a conventional oven). Many also have a timer to allow the bread machine to activate without operator attendance, and some high-end models allow the user to program a custom cycle.

Some of the older machines have just a handful of simple settings while newer machines offer more advanced cycles including a cycle to make jam or to bake cakes. To be honest, I don’t use the fancy cycles on my bread machine and rely mostly on the Basic and the Dough cycle, which can be found on every machine. The basic cycle is just the basic setting for making a loaf of bread. The Dough cycle just completes the kneading and rising of the dough. Once the dough cycle is complete, you can take the dough out and shape it into your loaf pan or do fancy braids or rolls out of the dough.

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

How Do You Add Ingredients to a Bread Machine?

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

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

Do I Need to Buy Bread Machine Mixes For My Bread Machine?

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

What is the difference between Instant Yeast, Bread Machine Yeast and RapidRise Yeast?

Just their names because these are all the same yeast. Nothing like making it EXTRA confusing for a novice bread-maker.

Is There Savings in Making Bread at Home?

A quick glance at grocery store prices and you will wonder how there could be any possible savings with making your bread at home. The key to making this the least expensive on your family is to purchase all of your ingredients at your local wholesale club. With proper storage, you can buy the ingredients in bulk and save your family loads of money.

I don’t use my wholesale club membership very often except for our family’s eye care needs and for the occasional party. I won’t ever let my membership lapse though because with one trip to buy my baking supplies, my wholesale club membership has earned its space in my wallet. I make a trip twice a year to buy all of the necessary supplies for my baking and pizza-making needs.

Don’t believe me? Here is the current prices from my local Sam’s Club:

25 Pounds Bread Flour- $6.59 (needed depending upon the recipe)

25 Pounds All-Purpose Flour- $6.68 (needed depending upon the recipe)

2 Pounds of Yeast- $4.16

Cheese (5 pounds for $10.43) , pepperoni (5 pounds for $11.88), and crushed tomatoes (102 ounces for $2.68) can also be bought at a fraction of the price, but in the past I have lacked the capacity and ambition of storage for all of the ingredients.

As a side note, if you do own a membership to Sam’s Club, they have a wonderful Click ‘N Pull service that you can utilize for your shopping day and they can pull the ingredients right to the front and email you when your order is ready to pick up. This is a fantastic free service for moms with small children or who are short on time!

How Do I Store My Bread Machine Ingredients?

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

What Kind of Bread Machine Should I Buy?

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

Over the past five years, I have been using my Sunbeam Bread Machine with great success. All of my past models have been found at the thrift shops and garage sales, but when our bread machine quit on us, I ran out to our local superstore so we wouldn’t have to miss our weekly pizza night. You know an appliance has become invaluable to you if you can’t imagine a day without it. Our bread machine is that invaluable to us.

What Are Some Foolproof Bread Machine Recipes I Can Try With My Family?

On any given day in our house, you will find our bread machine happily humming along and whipping up fresh dough and bread for us. Not only that, but our bread machine has a regular performance in our house on Friday night for our infamous weekly family pizza night.

Here are a few of our family favorites, but you can learn more in my first book, “The Good Life For Less,” that is available on bookstore shelves now: 

The Perfect Pizza Dough (so easy that your kids can roll this one out on their own!)

Bread Machine Pita Pockets

Bread Machine Hamburger Buns or Hot Dog Buns

Whole Wheat Bread Machine Hamburger Buns or Hot Dog Buns

Bread Machine Calzones

Bread Machine Portuguese White Bread

 

Bread Machine Monkey Bread/Bunny Bread

Buttery Bread Machine Rolls

Bread Machine Cinnamon Rolls 

 


Yeast Freshness Test
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
 
Not sure if your yeast is still fresh and active? This simple test will help determine if your yeast is still performing!
Ingredients
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • ½ cup warm tap water (110°F-115°F)
  • 2¼ teaspoons dry yeast (make sure it is at room temperature)
Instructions
  1. Using a one-cup liquid measuring cup, dissolve 1 teaspoon of granulated sugar in ½ cup warm tap water at 110°F-115°F. Using a thermometer is the most accurate way to determine the correct liquid temperature. Any thermometer will work as long as it measures temperatures between 75°F and 130°F. If you don't have a thermometer, the tap water should be warm but NOT hot to the touch.
  2. Stir in one ¼ oz. packet (7g) or 2-1/4 tsp of dry yeast until there are no more dry yeast granules on top.
  3. In three to four minutes, the yeast will have absorbed enough liquid to activate and start to rise.
  4. After ten minutes, the foamy yeast mixture should have risen to the 1-cup mark and have a rounded top.
  5. If this is true, your yeast is very active and should be used in your recipe immediately.
  6. If the yeast did not rise to the 1-cup mark, your yeast has little or no activity. Discard this yeast.

Do you have a bread machine? What is your favorite thing to do with this appliance?

 

I love helping you cook in the kitchen! If you like this cooking tutorial,  be sure to visit my tutorial on How to Cook A Butternut Squash With the Skin On, How to Roast a Spaghetti Squash, and  How to Make Quinoa in the Rice Cooker.

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The Top 7 Apps to Organize Your Life

Tuesday, February 5th, 2013

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

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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Take Five Fridays Meal Plans

Friday, February 1st, 2013

Looking for inspiration for your menu plans? MomAdvice has you covered! Each Friday on the MomAdvice Facebook Page, I will be sharing five meal ideas to add to your planners each week and you can share your own ideas for your week. Feel free to link to any of your family favorites, share recipes you plan to try, or what you have on your plans for the week! Feel free to use our free menu planner printable for your week!

The first list is now posted and I can’t wait to share more in the upcoming weeks! While you are visiting on Fridays, be sure to check out our other weekly post, on Fridays, sharing the latest and greatest reads! We have a very active community of readers and I am sure it will inspire you to add a few new books to your library lists!

See you there!

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DIY Command Center (For Small Spaces)

Tuesday, January 29th, 2013

Small spaces often come with big organizational challenges. When you don’t have spare closets, only have minimal wall space, and struggle with tiny rooms, creating a DIY command center for your home can be a challenge. Today’s tutorial offers some quick ideas for creating your own DIY Command Center in your home.

Here is what I have been struggling with in this corner of my home. The kids were driving me crazy when they came home from school because they would immediately dump everything in this corner and throw their papers all over my kitchen counter when they got home.

The real question is were they really driving me crazy or was it because they really didn’t have a place that they could call their own?

The coat rack in our entry was too high for them to reach, there was nowhere for their backpacks to go, and the paper situation needed a designated spot other than on top of my kitchen counter while I am trying to prepare the family dinner.

I headed to our local Walmart to see what organizational tools I could find and was excited to discover the perfect solution for our little corner. I found this Mainstays Pub Mirror ($22.96) for our kids to use for their coats over in the home decor section of the store. In the closet organization section, I found a Mainstays Seagrass Basket ($12.99) for storing our magazines and umbrellas.

A seldom used storage ottoman was moved underneath for housing the backpack and briefcase clutter and also offers one of my children an extra little boost to climb up and put her backpack away.

Since paper clutter was quickly becoming out of control, I found an upright file folder organizer and colorful file folders for organizing the whole family. The kids each now have an IN and OUT folder. If they need something signed, they put it in the IN folder for me for signatures and I give it back to them by putting those items in the OUT folder, that they can check before they leave for school. Special memorabilia that is worth saving still resides in their decorative boxes in their rooms.

This small compartment organizer for keys, sunglasses, and other things that seem to get misplaced rests on this half moon table for easy finding and grabbing in the morning. Above this table is our family calendar so we can keep track of important events. Just like every other family I know, the calendar is filled to the brim and we have a lot to keep track of these days.

We moved our clock to the other wall  and I decided to add a frame to this wall with some new art work. I found this awesome free printable (literally) over on the Funky Polkadot Giraffe. I printed it on cardstock at home (free) and then framed it in this Canopy picture frame that already included a matte.  I really love how this turned out and that it adds another fun decorating addition to our walls.

This room has been going through a bit of a transformation now that we are finally figuring out what we really love and are starting to get our own sense of style.  We gave our glider chair to our in-laws, sold our two checked chairs through a community Facebook group, and donated our old couch. We kept the same neutral color on the walls, but decided to update our accessories and add some much needed furniture back into this room.

This is my absolute favorite room in our house. It has replaced my other favorite room in our house (our home office) thanks to the addition of the record player, the comfy chair that I found on deep clearance at a furniture store, and I just love the nautical feel of this room which makes me oh-so-happy!

Now that we have a Command Center, albeit a small one, this room now makes me even happier and renews my commitment that even if you have a small home, you can make any space a functional space for your family. As our reminder to our commitment to enjoy living small, I added this print to our wall. It makes me happy every time I come down the stairs and reminds me of what is important.

Small homes do come with challenges, but they also come with many rewards!

Do you have a command center in your home? How do you organize the after school chaos? Feel free to share here!

 

 

 

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How to Organize Board Games

Monday, December 31st, 2012

Now that Christmas is behind us, I find myself inspired to get my home organized again. One area in our home that always needs attention is our disorganized board game collection. Organizing your board games  and card games is easier than you think, it just requires a few organizing tools, a little patience, and the ability to let go of the things that are taking up valuable space to make space for the good stuff in your home.

My project challenge this month with Walmart was to pick one area in our house and freshen it up with some organizational solutions from the store. I have a feeling you are going to love this one and will be running out to your store to replicate this.

In full disclosure, here is my SCARY before picture. This was supposed to be a beautiful little closet for my kid’s toys, our games, and our art supplies. Each time the closet was open, I covered my head. I am a very petite woman so when I would reach for a game, I would find a leaning tower of games attacking me and often found myself in an avalanche of games and toys. 

I decided to do some research to see if I could find some ideas from other bloggers on how to rectify this situation. Although there were a lot of great magazine ideas, I didn’t find very many real family solutions until I happened upon this great post on board game organization from Raising Lemons. I used that as a template to get started and then headed to my store to create my own solutions for our problematic areas.

Here are some pictures of the items that I picked up at our Walmart store (feel free to click on them to expand).

Sterlite Large Three Drawer Units ($12.97 each)

Sterlite Medium Three Drawer Unites ($8.47)

Document Boxes ($7.92)- available in the office supplies section of the store

Avery Labels ($1.00)

Rubber Bands ($.67)

Snap-It Storage Container ($9.97)

Ziploc Freezer Bags ($4.38

All games were removed from their boxes and then each game went into a designated drawer. Larger games that had a lot of parts to it (like Blokus, Rummikub, or Monopoly) fit well into the large Sterlite drawers.

Smaller kid’s games fit easily into the medium Sterlite drawers as well as games where the board would not fit into either container (more on that soon). For really small games like Memory or Rush Hour, we found one drawer could fit two or three games, which helped to maximize this storage solution.

For larger board games, I labeled boards that we wouldn’t easily be able to figure out what they were, and set those to the side along with a couple of those irregularly shaped games (like Operation, our deluxe Scrabble, and our Hungry, Hungry Hippos). By removing the useless boxes, this tiny little pile of boards really doesn’t take up very much of our space.

We had oodles of card games, many that were dusty and had been forgotten on that top shelf, so I used two Document Boxes that I found over in the office supplies to create storage for these games. This was a great place to not only store these games neatly, but I also dedicated a little section to the odds & ends pieces that we might need for future games. The odds & ends spot houses marbles, a few extra game pieces, decks of cards, and several dice.

Large games like Apples to Apples had to use two spots, but it still beats having the boxes. I like that all of these odds and ends are concealed neatly, and it will make taking a box of games a lot more fun since there are several in just one box!

Our puzzle collection had also gotten out of control. I found a Snap-It organizer (over by the drawers/plastic bins) that has a handy handle and it all snaps together for easy toting. We divided our puzzles into two categories (holiday & other). It will make finding our Christmas collection a little easier. I cut the front of the boxes and labeled heavy-duty freezer bags with the puzzle name or description so we could locate them easily.

Since I was on a roll in that closet, I decided to get the rest of the kid’s stuff organized. I whittled their toy collection down to half and organized their art supplies into the same drawer organizers (these were all things we already owned). I had old-fashioned labels in my craft supplies so I hung fresh labels with a little bakers twine and labeled our canvas bins so the kids knew exactly what they were pulling down.

Each child now has their own coloring book drawer and all of the random boxes of markers, crayons, and pencils were all condensed into one drawer organizer.

After losing countless library books because they are mixed in with their own books, we now have one basket designated. The other books were moved down to our downstairs game cabinet because (you won’t believe this!) all of the games from our downstairs cabinet all fit in our upstairs cabinet so I could turn the other cabinet into a spot for all of their books. That is a huge storage bonus for us!

It feels like Christmas all over here again. We have loads of fun things to do, we can find them, and (in my son’s words) “We don’t have to move so many things around to get to the good stuff.” You know it, kid!

The big question is, “Do you miss the boxes?” I can’t say I do! For the games we travel with to our friend’s house (Ticket to Ride, Settlers of Catan, etc..) we have a couple of boxes stored in the basement. The rest of the games stay at home and this solution is so ideal for our space and offers oodles of visual appeal. 

Have any tips for organizing your game collection or toy closet for the New Year? I would love to hear them!

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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Back From Vacation Cleaning & Organizing

Friday, August 10th, 2012

Our family has just returned from a trip to Gatlinburg for a special family reunion for my husband’s side of the family. We had the incredible opportunity to climb Clingmans Dome with Ryan’s grandma to check climbing this mountain off her bucket list for her 80th birthday. We climbed this mountain in honor of his grandfather who recently passed away from cancer as a symbol of his motto to, “live strong.”  It was a very special moment for us all and I am so proud of my two kids who RAN the entire mountain for their great grandma & grandpa. There are no words for this moment!

We are still in recovery mode from being gone for the week. Unfortunately, there were many projects awaiting me upon my return. This week on the Kenmore Genius Blog you will find me sharing a few of the strategies I am working on to get my home back on track before the kids head back to school. Be sure to read this post for strategies on back from vacation cleaning and organizing.

I am also sharing my tips and strategies for organizing my closets this week! My car is fully loaded for a trip to Goodwill to donate items from our closet. It will be nice to start the Fall with a freshly organized space.

 

 

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Tips & Tools for Affordably Organizing Your Closet

Friday, August 10th, 2012

As we transition into Fall, now is a great time to evaluate what is in your closet and establish organization so you can begin preparing to add your fall wardrobes into your closet. Today I wanted to share with you some tips & strategies for reestablishing order in your closet and offer a few great organizing solutions from a store that just might surprise you.

I always lament that I don’t have a Container Store near me and I just know that if I had access to a store like that, my closets and drawers would look so much better. Who knew that Walmart offers great closet organizers and storage solutions for my cluttered life? Walmart gave me the chance to get my cluttered room organized and today I wanted to show you how I transformed my small disorganized closet into a thing of beauty.

Let’s start with a glance into my problem areas in my drawers and room. Perhaps, these are areas you are struggling with too!

Organize the Unmentionables-

Let’s start with my drawer of unmentionables and my sock bin (pictured above) as an example of a cluttered area that could be improved upon. I can never find what I need because everything is in complete disorder. There are many items that don’t fit or don’t have a match, but I have been to busy to organize this space.

With a simple compartment drawer organizer, I now know exactly where everything is. I organized socks to the right and unmentionables to the left. It took only minutes to assemble and I now feel like I am shopping my very own store in this drawer. I repeated the same process with my kid’s drawers and my husband’s drawer.  It makes this drawer feel surprisingly spacious and, at a quick glance, I know exactly where everything is.

Organize the Scarf Collection-

I have a slight obsession with scarves. They are such a fun and inexpensive fashion accessory to add to all of my outfits. Unfortunately, my collection had gotten out of hand and I had scarves tucked into my sock bins, draped over shelves in our closet and draped over hangers. I couldn’t find the accessories I needed and had run out of room in our closet for more baskets.

With one over rod scarf organizer, I was able to to put my scarf collection all in one place and have everything organized the way that I wanted it. This same simple organizing solution would be perfect for your tights or for a tie collection for men.

Maximize Your Space-

Since we have a small closet, it is always a challenge to make this space functional and to keep our wardrobes pared down so we have enough space to move everything around. Switching the types of hangers you use can be a quick and easy solution to double or triple the space in your closet. These bulky wooden hangers were hindering my husband from hanging up his entire wardrobe and I kept finding items draped over other shelves or piled on the floor of the closet.

Isn’t it incredible how the hanger switch out can make all the difference with your space? I am a big believer that these hangers can instantly transform closets and make things spacious within minutes!

  Get Vertical With Storage-

You might be surprised to know that this is my entire shoe collection. Can you believe my husband says that I don’t need anymore shoes? Me either! I had a lidded basket in our room where I would throw all of my shoes. They were definitely out of sight, but it was difficult to find what I needed when I had somewhere to be.

Over-the-door shoe organizers have come a long way and I absolutely love this organizer  for my shoe storage. The pockets were generous enough that ballet flats and sandals could slide into one compartment, allowing me to fit my entire shoe collection on the back of our door. Vertical storage makes sense, especially when you want to free up space on your closet floors!

Make Sock Storage Make Sense-

A long time ago, I purchased these organizers for our socks. Don’t they look organized? These bins drive me crazy and are not ideal storage for socks, but we had run out of drawer space in our dresser.  By whittling my sock collection down, I was able to put everything in the drawer organizer. My husband has an extensive sock collection though and many days are spent trying to find the perfect socks for the perfect occasion.

I divided my husband’s sock collection into two piles (whites and darks) and then put them in these handy collapsible covered storage bins. They were the perfect solution and got our sock collection off of the floor so that we had space for shoe storage.

Create Hidden Storage-

Other items like belts, ties, hats, and even flip flops can take up valuable storage space. Our collections of said items, may have been all over our closet floor and not easily found. With my new shoe organizer though, my door was already in use.

The backs of my bi-fold doors to my closet were the perfect spot to hide additional storage. One side now houses my belt collection. The other side now hides hat storage for my husband. Our flip flops are neatly organized and hanging by our back door outside. I would have never thought to use the backs of these doors for anything, but this was the perfect spot for these items!

What a transformation from where we started. This is my closet after sorting and organizing our space.  I feel like I got a brand new closet and I don’t have to be embarrassed about this space anymore.

Looking to organize your closet space? Here are a few of my favorite tools from Walmart that I used to organize my space! Visit your own store or shop online to find some of these organizing solutions for your own closet!

Canopy Velvet Hangers

Canopy Storage Bins (Small)

Canopy Collection Lidded Boxes (Small)

Mainstay Scarf & Tie Organizer (used for belts)

Honey Can Do 32 Compartment Drawer Organizer (set of two)

Household Essentials Revolving Shoe Tree

Mainstays Organize & Store Baseball Caps

Mainstays Flip Flop & Sandal Organizer

Canopy Handwoven Willow Laundry Basket

Canopy 3 Bin Sorter

Canopy Medium Storage Container

Mainstays Scarf Holder (Chrome)

Looking for more tips on closet organization? Be sure to visit this post for more ideas for organizing closets in your home along with a video on how to organize your closet in under 30 minutes!

 

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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Free Printable Chore & Tech Time Tickets

Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

Today I wanted to share with you a printable that my husband created for our summertime chores and monitoring our computer time with the kids. These tech and chore tickets can be printed and used with a simple hole punch to signify if the child has used their tech time or has completed their chores.

I really wanted to spend quality time with my kids this summer and I find that screen-time really distracts them from our time together. 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.

My children are 10 (almost) and 6. This is our current list of chore activities that must be completed. I don’t punch the ticket itself until the end of the day, but morning chores have to be completed to redeem the first hour of time, then evening chores are completed and the second hour can be used.

6 Year Old Chore List- Get dressed, tidy room, make bed, sweep (with a quick vac) under the table after each meal, meal helper every other night, (help prepare and set the table for dinner), 15 minute tidy at the end of the day, and assist mom with laundry sorting.

10 Year Old Chore List- Get dressed, tidy room, make bed, wipe down both bathrooms, meal helper every other night (help prepare and set the table for dinner), 15 minute tidy at the end of the day, and assist mom with loading and unloading of laundry.

Reward- $5 weekly

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.

I will not lie, the first day was ROUGH. Two hours does go by quickly for everyone. That said, after the initial two days, we have really been enjoying our time together. We keep busy with fun outings and tackling our summer bucket list together. I find that breaking the day up with an outing seems to make the day go by faster and takes the focus off of the lack of screen time.

Today my son said, “Wow, that hour was really long!”  It was funny how he was whining about the hour being too short the first day. I think we were all losing track of how much time we were spending on our respective screens.

Everyone parents differently. This parenting strategy works for us and I hope it will help someone else out there too!

Next week I will share more about something we call, “Face Time,” in our house that requires our kids to be screen-free and to make our family time a priority.

I didn’t want to waste anytime getting these printables out to you though because they are quickly becoming a valuable part of our summer time together and I think they could be valuable to you too!

 

Grab your Printable Chore Tickets.

Grab your Printable Tech Tickets.

 

Notes on the printable- There are three tickets per sheet. These are color tickets, but you can switch your printer settings to black-and-white or draft mode to save on ink.

 

How do you monitor screen time in your house? What does a typical chore list look like for you? I would love to hear your thoughts!

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DIY Salad Bar For Summer

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

Healthy eating should always be a priority, but making it a priority in the summer seems to be more challenging because we seem to always be eating on the go. I decided to create an easy DIY salad bar that you can create on your grocery day and enjoy all week long. This DIY salad bar can be on hand in your fridge and I wanted to show off an easy way you can enjoy this DIY salad bar on the go too!

All of the supplies can be found at your local Walmart store. You will need a Freezer Storage Basket (found in the same aisle as the plastic containers in the housewares section of the store, $5.97), three Fresh Take Arm & Hammer 5 cup containers ($2.87), and 1 Sterlite Ultra Latch 12.5 cups container ($5.47).

Chop up your favorite salad ingredients and organize them in your containers like this. The largest container does not sit firmly flat, but it still wedges in there nicely so that you can place all of these neatly in this wire organizer.

Don’t you just love summer? I love having such fresh ingredients on hand to choose form and creating a salad bar couldn’t be easier with the fantastic selection we have of fresh fruits and vegetables. Pictured here are just a few of the basics I love in my salad. You could definitely fill your produce drawer up with a few other great salad add-ins!

Ingredients for a Great Salad Bar

Lettuce
Spinach
Kale
Egg
Tomato
Cucumber
Bell pepper
Sunflower Seeds
Croutons
Cheese
Mushrooms
Carrots
Corn Kernels
Onions (none for me please!)
Beans
Artichoke Hearts
Apples
Avocado
Broccoli
Shrimp
Steak
Homemade Dressings

One ingredient I always have on hand in the summer for quick summer salads and wraps is roasted chicken. I don’t keep a lot of fresh chicken around and prefer to buy the frozen chicken breasts instead. There is money to be saved in buying and preparing whole chickens, but my family only likes white meat  so for convenience sake (and to get them to eat it), we stick to the chicken breasts.

I buy the 3 pound bag of chicken  cook and slice all of the chicken for the week. The chicken is then ready to go to be made into wrap sandwiches, fast paninis, a protein addition to my salads for lunch, and it helps me save a step for our dinners for the week.

It is a matter of preference how you like to cook your chicken, but I will share my favorite way that I do weekly!

Roasted Chicken Breasts for Bulk Cooking

Preheat the oven for 375 degrees. Spread the frozen chicken breasts out over one or two cookie sheets. Drizzle a little olive oil over the chicken breasts and then sprinkle with kosher salt and fresh black pepper. Bake for 45-50 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. Allow the chicken to rest ten to fifteen minutes (to allow the juices to redistribute within the meat). Dice, slice, or shred for your recipes for the week.

Here is my beautiful salad bar on full display! Isn’t she pretty? It makes me really happy to have all of our fruit and vegetables chopped and ready to go for our week. It is something I vow to try to do regularly for our family so that we can, literally, enjoy the fruits of our labor all summer long.

Since we are a family on the go, I wanted to show you a fun way to enjoy your salads while you are out and about.

Over by the other food storage containers were these cute Salad Break Bowls. The set came with two complete sets and cost $3.97 total! I picked up this collapsible basket (in the same aisle) for $6.97. Inside I placed our outdoor blanket, salads, fresh cut fruit, and homemade iced tea for an afternoon picnic. I plan to use these a lot this summer and think it will be a great way to encourage healthy eating wherever we might be.

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.

 

I hope this inspires you to make healthy eating a family priority this summer and would love to hear what summer shortcuts you use to achieve healthy in the summer months in your house?

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How to Ditch Your Cable Bill

Tuesday, March 6th, 2012

A few months ago our family made the radical decision to turn off of our cable television. It might not seem like a radical decision to you, but for a family of self-proclaimed television junkies, it felt bold to call our television provider and tell them that we were ready to turn off our channels.

With so many fantastic options available to families, it is so much easier to say no to the cable bill thanks to online television and innovative ways to indulge in your favorite shows. It might surprise you that this article is not about getting rid of your television and singing Kumbaya because our life is so much better without TV.  No, we still love our television and I wanted to share with you how to get your fix for less and how to slash your cable expenses for good.

I will fully admit that there was a bit of bribery involved to get my family on board with the decision to turn off our cable.  We found an Xbox for less than half price on Craigslist from a family that was looking to downsize their electronics and gave this to ourselves for our family Christmas present. This gaming system was my ticket to get everyone on board with my decision to let our cable bill go.

If you are looking for ideas for how to get around your cable bill, here are a few of our own family’s favorite options to maximize your family’s entertainment budget.

Players

Roku Player (starting at $49.99)

For families that don’t have a gaming system to view television through (like the Xbox, Wii, or Playstation) this little box can be a wonderful option. Your Roku hooks up to your television and allows you to play through subscription-based programs like Netflix, Hulu, HBO Go, and Amazon Instant Video on your television. Your Roku player can hook up to your home entertainment system and give your entire family the opportunity to watch something together on the couch rather than sitting at your laptop.

The only downfall with the product is that you really do need to have a high speed internet connection, as are most streaming options. If you have a DSL connection we found that the viewing can be a little bit like watching something on You Tube.

The Roku Player is surprisingly easy to use and simple to integrate into any home entertainment system. The interface is extremely clear and hook up took literally a couple of minutes. For homes with wireless Internet connectivity, the player is Wi-Fi enabled and offers the ultimate in placement flexibility. With the player’s accompanying remote control, members can browse and make selections right on the TV screen and also have the option to pause, rewind or play your favorite shows anytime just like a DVD.

There are no monthly fees attached to the Roku Player, but it enables you to watch your shows and online subscriptions in one place.

This is the player that we use in our own home and we have no complaints with this fabulous option. There are other similar products on the market like the Apple TV and the Boxxee Box, but I love the affordability of the Roku Player and what viewing options are available on it.

Game Consoles ($149-300)

Game consoles can be a wonderful bang for your buck because they offer unlimited entertainment through gaming as well as a platform for you to watch your favorite shows and movies. It is important to make the right investment for your family when choosing whether you want the Wii, the Playstation 3 or the Xbox 360 based on your own family’s entertainment needs. It is also important to understand what is included with each game console and what are extra expenses you may have later down the line.

Below is a basic price breakdown on what is included with your gaming system, what the costs of games might be, and the graphics quality for each gaming console (found on Amazon).

(click to expand)

 

Our family loves playing games together and having a gaming system has been a great way for us to spend time together. We have never bought a full price gaming system though and have had great success finding used consoles for half the price of retail price. Not only have we found our consoles for less, but when we have found these units on Craigslist, the sellers are usually getting rid of their games, controllers, and accessories that go along with them and will sell them to us for a fraction of the retail price.

We use both our Wii and our Xbox 360 for streaming Netflix and watching Hulu Plus. Both of them are fantastic for this purpose as well as fun weekend entertainment for us as a family.

 

Channel & Movie Subscription Options

 

Play On ($29.99 annually or $4.99 a month)

Play On is an easy way for you to watch your favorite videos, shows, and movies from websites such as Netflix, Hulu, YouTube and more on your TV using your Wii, Xbox 360, or Playstation 3 over your home internet connection. PlayOn also works on your iPhone or Android phone.

When we turned off our cable, we were missing some of our favorite shows on some of the channels we watched. Play On is almost like having a cable subscription without the outrageous price since they offer many channels that would have to get with a premium cable package. Hulu Plus offers many of the same networks, but not necessarily the same shows that are available on the network.

My children love to watch PBS and Nick. We have found many of their favorite shows that they love through Play On and the cost is an affordable one for less than $30 a year (or a fraction of one month of your cable television).

Hulu Plus ($7.99 per month)

The majority of our TV-watching is now done through Hulu Plus and we absolutely love it. We have beautiful HD television, something we couldn’t afford with our cable bill, and almost all of our favorite shows are available through Hulu Plus.

Hulu Plus lets you watch hit current and back season TV shows and acclaimed movies anytime in HD for $7.99/month with limited advertising. For many popular shows on their service, Hulu Plus offers every episode of the current season, not just a handful of recent episodes.

Hulu Plus can be viewed on multiple devices, including your laptop, the Apple iPad and iPhone, PlayStation® 3, Roku, and TVs and Blu-ray players from Sony, Samsung and Vizio.

You can watch shows for free through Hulu and not buy the Hulu Plus membership. The main difference between your free television experience and the paid subscription is how you view it. With Hulu Plus you can take advantage of the multiple viewing devices, but with the free membership, your viewing is limited to your PC.

Netflix ($7.99 a month)

The other streaming membership that gets a workout in our family is our Netflix membership. Although I feel that the quality of the movies and shows available on Netflix has been deteriorating in the past few months, we still get our money’s worth from this membership.

For $7.99 a month, Netflix members in the Americas, United Kingdom and Ireland can instantly watch unlimited movies and TV episodes streamed over the Internet to PCs, Macs and TVs. Among the large and expanding base of devices streaming from Netflix are: Microsoft’s Xbox 360, Nintendo’s Wii and Sony’s PS3 consoles; an array of Blu-ray disc players, Internet-connected TVs, home theater systems, digital video recorders and Internet video players; Apple’s iPhone, iPad and iPod touch; Android and Windows tablets and phones; and Apple TV and Google TV. In all, more than 700 devices that stream from Netflix are available.

Our family relies on this for our weekend family nights. My husband and I use this for our documentary fix while the kid’s enjoy many of their favorite seasons of Disney & Nick Jr. shows through this membership.

We are hopeful that Netflix will have more viewing options available, but what we can’t get through Netflix we supplement with our Redbox rentals and our fantastic library system.

Digital Antenna ($12-50)

When I say the word antenna, do you think of those giant rabbit ears? I did too. You won’t believe how far those rabbit ears have come and how elegant your antenna can now look. This Paper Thin Leaf Indoor HDTV Antenna ($39.19)  is just one example of how streamlined the antenna has become. Your friends will never know that you are one of “those people” watching television on their rabbit ears.

With a good digital antenna it is possible to get dozens of local channels in HD with this small investment. It is worth it to make a good investment in your digital antenna if you are relying upon this for your television because a better quality one is able to pick up a wider range of channels in your area.

We found our digital antenna for less on eBay and we use this for watching things like the Super Bowl and other shows we prefer to watch live. I am always so impressed at the quality of the television we can get through this and I love that we no longer have to pay The Man for our local channels.

Clicker- (FREE)

Finding all of your favorite shows can be hard when you are watching from multiple options. I am in love with clicker because it offers a one-stop directory to see if something you love is available online. I think of it as a TV Guide for streaming television.

This site catalogs all broadcast programming online, along with TV-quality Web originals, from these silos and delivers them in one seamless, organized experience so you can easily discover what’s available to watch (and what isn’t) online, where to watch it, and what’s worth watching.

If you are looking to make the leap from cable to online television, check here and see if any of your favorite shows are available for free streaming to decide if you can make the plunge or not.

For Our Canadian Readers-

 

We had a fabulous comment from one of our readers, Leatitia, on our MomAdvice Facebook Page sharing what streaming options are available in Canada.

“What I use to watch TV for ‘free’ in Canada (50$/month internet bill)

Live TV many channels (including TVA): http://fr.wwitv.com/tv/b2514.htm
HGTV: http://www.hgtv.ca/video/
CTV: http://watch.ctv.ca/
Global: http://www.globaltv.com/video/index.html#video
MTV: http://www.mtv.ca/tvshows/
Radio-Canada shows: http://www.tou.tv/
Radio-Canada live: http://www.radio-canada.ca/audio-video/pop.shtml#urlMedia=http://www.radio-canada.ca/util/endirect/MontrealTV.asx

With those links, I can watch Star Académie, Grey’s Anatomy season 7 in French and season 8 in English, House, Modern Family, Glee, Teen Mom (MTV), Consumed (HGTV), the news, etc, etc….

I’d pay for internet anyway, so I just boost my internet bandwidth to 50G a month and I use about 40G-45G a month. I receive emails when 75% of my bandwidth had been used, as well as 90% and 95% I think. So I’m sure I don’t use more than I’m allowed to!

I don’t miss my cable bill!!”

Thank you so much to Leatitia for sharing her experience with all of us!

After three months of being without our cable, I can honestly admit to you that there are definitely moments that I do miss. I miss my Food Network, I miss HGTV, I miss the convenience of our DVR taping endless shows for me, I miss my Cupcake Wars marathons with my daughter on Sunday afternoons.

There are also things I don’t miss. I don’t miss feeling like I needed to be a slave to my television to make the most of our dollars, I don’t miss paying nearly a hundred dollars a month, I don’t miss paying for something so darn useless.

Life does feel a little bit richer. Now that we don’t have a DVR we have to catch up on we are spending more evenings together playing games, doing puzzles, going on outings together, and just focusing on being with each other a little more.

Instead of watching Cupcake Wars we are baking our own cupcakes. Maybe turning the cable off really is radical. It feels that way.

The money that has been freed gives us the chance to put an allowance towards other things we might want to do. We can put the earnings towards a movie outing, getting a season pass to an activity we love, or we can just enjoy the pleasure in the savings.

We still love our television. We just love it in a different way than before.

 

How do you save on your television watching? How does your family watch television now? What are ways you save on your cable bill?

Disclosure: The links to some of these items are affiliate links and are provided so you can locate what you need quickly and easily. Feel free to order your supplies elsewhere, but we always try to highlight the best deals when we see them.

 

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