Monday, March 29, 2010

Meal Planning - March 29

My goodness, last week sure zipped right along, didn't it? It's amazing how much faster time goes when you're at home recuperating than when you're in your normal routine. This is a good week for meal planning (as far as I'm concerned). I've finally admitted that it is humanly impossible for me to cook a meal on Wednesday evening and still make it to church/choir practice on time, so for the next few weeks I am going to see what happens if I just leave my husband to his own devices. In the spirit of keeping a positive attitude, I will keep my predictions to myself ;-)

We also have Easter coming up next Sunday, and it is getting to be tradition in our house that Daddy cook most of the holiday meals. This makes Mommy very, very happy :-)

Here is our plan for this week:

Monday - Chicken Spaghetti (made ahead and frozen; I leave out the pimentos)

Tuesday - Lasagna (made ahead and frozen; I always cook the beef in red wine)

Wednesday - Daddy cooks

Thursday - Spaghetti Night (I promise, I will get my sauce recipe on here one of these days!)

Friday - Chicken, Rice & Broccoli Casserole (made ahead and frozen; scroll down to the end of the linked post for the recipe)

Saturday - Potato Soup (made ahead and frozen)

Sunday - Daddy cooks

I'm hoping to get a cooking day done next weekend (you know, in between egg hunts and church services), so perhaps my menu next week will be more exciting. In the meantime, if you need some cooking inspiration, head on over to I'm an Organizing Junkie's Menu-Plan-Monday section for literally hundreds of other bloggers' menus and recipes!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

How do I Love Chai? Let Me Count the Ways...

It's almost 7 am here in Texas and I have been awake for nearly 3 hours. Yes, you read right. Still laid up sick and, apparently, my body has decided 4 am is a much better wake-up call than 6. Go figure! The hardest part of getting up really early, for me, is trying to be quiet so my boys can sleep until the alarm clocks go off. Often this means doing some computer work, session plans, etc. (since laundry, cleaning the kitchen, etc. is clearly a bad idea) but some mornings I have to risk a pre-dawn cranky husband by using the microwave. Some mornings I really need my tea.

I have a long, tangled relationship with tea...well, with beverages in general. As a child, I refused to drink tea, cola, pretty much anything besides orange juice, lemonade, 7-up and water. Hot drinks were for when you had a sore throat and your mother made you drink them, as far as I was concerned. Then I went to college. A small, private, liberal arts college in Washington state, to be exact. I declared as a music major. Suddenly, I was surrounded by other young people even more hippie than myself, and that included their taste in food and drink. A vegetarian, I fit in in the cafeteria. But in the coffee shop, where *everyone* seemed to hang out between classes and on weekends? Not so much. What's a fussy drinker to do? Then a friend introduced me to chai.

Oh, chai. Even saying the word sends a little flutter through my heart and sets my mouth to salivating. What is it about the combination of green tea and spices that just makes this drink perfect? Throw in a little soy milk and I'm in heaven! One of my friends once described drinking chai as "a kind of religious experience," and I would be apt to agree with that description. The best chair I've ever had was on the campus of Naropa University, a Buddhist insitution in Boulder, Colorado, when I was checking out grad school programs. It was dry and freezing, typical Colorado winter day, and the chai was boiling hot in our little china teacups. We drank it outside, bundled in layers of sweaters, scarves and sleeveless mittens, with the steam fogging our glasses as we talked and laughed. Ah, memories :-)

Chai tea is a spiced, aromatic tea from India. It traditionally consists of a mix of several spices (cinnamon, ginger root, allspice, nutmeg, clove, cardamom and pepper) blended to suit an individual's taste and preference. The spice blend is added to loose leaf tea (black, red or green), then often blended with milk. Commercially, I've tried three different brands over the last decade. First, Oregon Chai. A delicious blend of seasonings, Oregon Chai goes down smooth. It has the benefit of coming in several different flavors and being available in mix packets and in liquid concentrate (great for ice chai lattes), but it has the drawback of being fairly expensive down here in Texas. I guess folks in DFW drink more iced tea than chai!

General Foods International, from the makers of Maxwell House, carries a Chai Latte Mix which is decent. It does seem to have more artificial ingredients, though, and is owned by Kraft, which is a bit of an ethical dilemma in itself. It does taste amazing when blended, in equal parts, with raspberry-infused hot chocolate. Yes, I am strange :-)

My newest adventure in chai is Stash Premium Green Chai Tea, an organic, all natural product that was introduced to me by a coworker (I know, it's cliche for a librarian to have the tea hook up, but what can I say? The woman is a tea goddess!). I am officially hooked on this one. It comes in a neat little teabag, so I can take it with me to work (much easier to put in my purse than a little tin of loose mix) and tastes *amazing* when mixed with my Silk Soymilk (original flavor, not vanilla). My only complaint is that I cannot get as many strong cups of tea out of these teabags (3 if I'm lucky) when compared to other types of tea. But I highly recommend it, especially if you are a chai virgin.

So where can you get it? First, check your local grocer. I picked up a package at my local Market Street and the price was fairly reasonable (read: I don't remember what I paid and can't find the receipt, but it must not have been too bad or I wouldn't have bought it ;->). carries Stash Premium Green Chai Tea in a pack of 6 boxes, with 20 individually wrapped tea bags in each box. At $15.32, that comes to about 13 cents per teabag, before shipping. Of 19 customer reviews on this site, 19 out of 19 gave this product 5 stars (on a scale of 1 to 5, 5 being the highest).

You can buy Stash Premium Green Chai Tea directly on Stash Tea's web site, with options of packages of 30 teabags for $5.45 (18 cents per teabag), 80 teabags for $13.95 (17 cents per teabag), 120 teabags for $19.95 (16 cents per teabag) or 240 teabags for $34.95 (15 cents per teabag). While that is slightly more than Amazon's prices, when you buy direct from Stash there is also the option to buy the tea loose in 50 gram or 100 gram packages. 50 g will run you $4.50 (9 cents per gram) and 100 g costs $7.50 (8 centers per gram). So if you're a loose tea fan, then the Stash site it your best best. Of 76 customer reviews on this site, the average rating is 4.6 stars (again, on a scale of 1 to 5, 5 being the highest).

If you'd like to read more about chai tea, you can find a really funny review on the Tea Amigos blog. Dessert Comes First includes a recipe from scratch for homemade chai. The Frugal Girl also has a recipe, which she credits to AllRecipes and several other sources. She also references Oregon Chai in her post. Finally, if you need a snappy way to keep your tea packets organized and clean in your voluminous purse, check out Ann Kroeker's post on tea wallets by Megan Dunham of Half-Pint House. I totally want one!

Now I'm off to drink my morning chai and wait for your comments...

Monday, March 22, 2010

Birthday Party? Check!

Well, I am happily surprised to announce I received an e-mail from Around Town Kids today telling me that our son is one of the winners of a free birthday party and cake during the month of May! After last year's big bash at Pump It Up (we thought it was going to be his last birthday in Texas and wanted to make it memorable - it was awesome but a little overpriced, in our opinion) we have been planning for months to do a low key, low budget bash at The Tubes, a community play area at Irving Bible Church, but I guess that can wait until next year! Here's what I know so far:

The party will be at Metroplex Fun & Fitness Center in Allen. Pro: There is a chance of an Olympic gymnast sighting - Jayce Phelps is one of the head gymnastics coaches here! Con: It's a 30 minute drive from our house. Not a big deal for us, but we'll see what the other parents think, eh? The cake will be provided by Sugar Rush Bakery (My husband's response when he heard the name of the bakery: "Hmmm...well, it's a good thing they'll be running around!"). The party package is for 15 children and includes 60 minutes of private time in the gym, 30 minutes in the private party room, helium balloons and party favors for all the kids, and a special birthday t-shirt for our son. Metroplex will also provide the birthday invitations for us.

Well, that's enough gushing for now - although I will share I am taking this as a sign that it's worth the 30 seconds it takes to fill out a contest entry form ;-) I'll keep y'all abreast of the details as they get work out! In the meantime, where is your favorite birthday party location? Why? What has been your child's (or your) most memorable birthday party thus far?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Meal Planning - March 22

I'm not even going to tell y'all how off-track our meal plan got this week. The downside - I got sick and wasn't able to do my freeze-ahead cooking day. The upside - It was spring break and my husband cooked dinner almost every night, so my freezer is still fairly full when we go back to school tomorrow. Yay :-)

So here's what we're going to be eating this week:

Monday - Chicken Fajitas (filling made ahead and frozen)

Tuesday - Beef Stew (made ahead and frozen)

Wednesday - Taco Soup (made ahead and frozen)

Thursday - Spaghetti (sauce made ahead and frozen)

Friday - Basil & Bacon Chicken (made ahead and frozen; note that I substituted meats due to food allergies in our family)

Saturday - Lasagna (made ahead and frozen)

Sunday - Baby Burgers

Sorry if you came by last week and this week for inspiration - lots of repeats, since last week didn't go as planned! I'm hoping to do a big cooking day next weekend and try out all new recipes inspired by other bloggers who link up at I'm an Organizing Junkie's Menu Plan Monday. Check it out when you need some ideas!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Strawberry Tart Apron

I have something to confess: Until very recently (read: yesterday) I did not own a single apron. I know, shocking. Pixie Mama, if you're reading this, please sit down and have a drink of water before continuing! Anyhow, I've been longing for a cute apron of my own for quite a while. Remember that post I did on Flirty Aprons last week? Yes, it's all very hint hint, I know :-)

So imagine my delight when I came upon the announcement in my Burda Style newsletter that The Sewing Republic Apron Remake Contest was almost over! My mind racing, I considered the prospect of creating an entry. I do work well on a time crunch, after all. I enjoy altering pre-made patterns to fit my own desires. I *needed* a cute apron to cook in! This contest had my name written all over it, clearly.

I headed to JoAnn's yesterday and picked out two adorable prints, both of which happened to be on sale. Okay, no, it wasn't coincidence - I am creative on a limited budget ;-) The total cost came to about $15, with tax. Not bad for 6 yards of material!

Now I'm assuming you already followed the link above and saw a photo of the original Two Tone Apron? No? Well, I'll give you a minute to do that...okay! The original, while cute, is clearly not my style. I may be all athletic and tom-boyish outside the house, but in the kitchen, I'm all about the ruffles and girliness!

<----- Here are the fabrics I chose for my project. I had a little panic attack in the calico aisles trying to decide if the small or large polka dots were the way to go. I ended up choosing the large ones, partly because they were more haphazardly strewn than their small, orderly counterparts. I think I made the right decision.

Bad news if you were hoping for step-by-step pictures: I didn't take any. Sorry! I was so excited about the project I pretty much just sat down and sewed. As you can see, I made quite a few alterations to the original Two Tone Apron. My favorite is that my Strawberry Tart Apron is fully reversible. I don't know why, but fully reversible things excite me, even when there is not too much difference in colors/patterns, as is the case here. Other changes I made include: widening the main apron pieces to allow for more gathering at the waist; curving the lower corners of the apron instead of squaring them off; adding a wide, pleated ruffle around the hem; and finally omitting the pocket. If you want to know the reasoning behind omitting the pocket, as well as see the pictures of the finished project, you'll have to take a look at my published project on Burda Style's web site.

So what do you think? Comments, critiques, want one of your own? Drop me a line and let me know :-)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

My Love Affair with Freecycle

Let me begin by apologizing in advance if this post doesn't make 100% sense. I am, sadly, feeling under the weather today. I will not go into the ups and downs of my immune system, but suffice it to say the hardest part about living in Texas is the intense amount of allergens that attack my body on a daily basis and open me up to all kind of bacteria and viruses. Now that that's been griped about, on to the main event: Freecycle.

Image use with the permission of the Lewisville, TX, Freecycle group.

Are you a member of your local Freecycle network? If you're not, you should be. But what is Freecycle, you're asking? Let me tell you. Freecycle is a nationwide, environmental n
etwork that uses online communication to connect members who have still-usable items which they would rather see go to a new home than end up in the landfill. Now here's the part that sometimes throws new members: There is absolutely no money allowed in Freecycle transactions, nor is there trading or borrowing. Every tangible item listed on Freecycle must be given in the spirit of free gifting.

I became a member of my local Freecycle group last year, shortly after my husband and I had embarked on the mission to declutter our lives and our home, as I hav
e discussed in previous posts. After participating in two of my friends' garage sales last summer (and wow, is that a topic for another post!) I still had 7-8 boxes full of items which in our house were simply clutter, but to other could be useful. Utility, as with beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, after all. After reading about Freecycle in an online, environmental publication, I decided to see if there was a group local to me. Less than a week later, the boxes were empty and I was hooked.

So here's how it works: I have an item which I want out of the house. I log on to my local site and list an Offer for the item, including my general location, so members know h
ow far away from them I live. Since it is an environmental group, Freecycle is concerned that members live near enough to each other that they are not wasting fossil fuels unnecessarily picking up/dropping off items. I hit send and my message is posted to the group. My local group consists of nearly 2,000 members. Some are larger, some are smaller. Some members choose to get an e-mail for each item posted, while others receive one e-mail a day with a listing of all the items posted, and still others don't receive any e-mails at all, but log on and peruse the listings on the group's home page. Then, I wait.

Sometimes it's 2 minutes, sometimes it's 2 hours, sometimes it's 2 days before I get a response. It all depends on how popular the item is. After I receive some replies, I pick which member I would like to gift the item to and set up a pick-up time with them. I put the bag out on our patio at the appointed time, the member picks it up and, voila! I'm decluttered, the item has a new home where it will be used, and our local landfill has one less item in it. Yes, I could donate things to local charities but, honestly, I like the personal contact with other members that I get through Freecycle. I like knowing where my things are going and that the people I give them to will put them to good use.

To give you an idea of what kinds of things go through the Freecycle network, here is a brief list of some of the things we have gifted to other members:

Baby blankets
Clothes (baby, toddler, men's and women's)

Furniture (an armchair, a bed frame and mattress set, a dresser, a toybox - you see it all!)
Jogging stroller

Kids' books

Makeup/hair products
Moving boxes


...and some of the things we have received from other members:

Kids' books

Furniture (cube shelves, bookshelves, a hutch)
Office supplies
Rhythm instruments
Shower curtain (one of the fancy, fabric ones)
Teaching resources)

One of the two bookshelves we received from another member.
I used scrap fabric to line the backing before installing them in our home office.

Another Freecycle gifted bookshelf, mid-paint job. This one went went from dingy white to fire engine red and now holds bins in my husband's classroom.

Now, the real secret to decluttering with the help of Freecycle, of course, is to give more than you take. One of my good friends, Shopping Gal, is my personal hero is this area. She has been a member of her local group for several years and, while she is a prolific giver, has never taken an item from another member. I would repent now and swear to follow her example, except my son keeps growing and it really is nice to be able to avoid shopping for and reselling his clothing. Plus, I am heartily enjoying the storage improvement Freecycle has aided me in implementing around our apartments and my husband's classroom.

Ready to get started? Go to the Freecycle Network home page and search for a group near you. If you live in a large urban area, there may be more than one group local to you. Some groups allow you to join instantly, while others require you to apply for membership and fill out a brief application (often verifying what area you live in) before you will be added to the group. Make sure to read the group guidelines carefully and ask the moderators for help if you have any questions (moderators are volunteers who help keep the group running smoothly).

I love to hear about others' experiences with Freecycle, both good and bad. Are you a member? What have your experiences been? If you have blogged about Freecycle, please post a link so I can visit your site and read all about it.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Brown Sugar Coffee Cake

Do you ever get those amazing, overwhelming urges to bake? Mine generally happen when I'm excited about something, hence the creation of Make It Happen Mama's Brown Sugar Coffee Cake this past Saturday morning, sort of a pastry version of, "Wheeeeee, it's spring break!!!"

Here's a link to the recipe, which I uploaded on recipezaar, my favorite recipe site.

Too bad I'm the only person in our home who enjoys breakfast baked goods. I really need to remember to either halve the recipes or wait to bake until I can take it to school with me! :-)

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Meal Planning - March 15

Spring break is finally here, woo hoo! Even though I still have some clients to see and multiple family doctors appointments to keep, I cannot keep from grinning at the sound of the birds chirping and the sight of sunshine streaming in our apartment windows today. The only thing better than the advent of spring is the advent of spring and time to enjoy it :-)

Here's what our family will be eating this week:

Monday - Beef Stew (made ahead in the crock pot and frozen)

Tuesday - Chicken Fajitas (filling made ahead in the crock pot and frozen)

Wednesday - Lasagna (made ahead and frozen)

Thursday - Potato Soup (made ahead and frozen; I substitute turkey bacon and green onions)

Friday - Chicken Spaghetti (made ahead and frozen)

Saturday - Meatball Soup (made ahead and frozen; I add the noodles while reheating)

Sunday - Baby Burgers

I will also be doing a cook-ahead day sometime this week. I generally do this on Saturdays/Sundays, but with the festiveness of Spring Break, perhaps I'll cook on Thursday or Friday! I know, I'm a wild woman :-)

To whet your appetite, here are a couple pictures I took the last time we had Meatball Soup and Baby Burgers. I don't know if I can wait a whole week to eat them again!

You cannot imagine the meatball-y deliciousness of this soup!

Clearly, my boys prefer colby jack to cheddar cheese

For more delicious meal planning ideas and links to literally hundreds of other bloggers' menus, please visit Laura at I'm an Organizing Junkie.

A Common Rude Awakening

It happened again. Last night, my husband and I got a babysitter for our little one, got all dolled up and headed out for a wild night on the town (read: dinner and a movie). We went to our favorite Texas-style eatery, enjoyed a delicious meal, and then my evening was brought to an abrupt pause with the question from our waitress as she wrapped up our leftovers: "Is this going to be one check or two?"

My husband tried to make a joke out of it. After she walked away, he said (with a wink), "Oh, she was just trying to see if she could come home with me tonight." He then followed up a few seconds later with, "What would you have done if I had said two checks?" Um, yeah. That would have been a stand up, exit the restaurant, and wait for you, seething, beside the minivan. It's hard to be rageful when you are driving home in your husband's minivan, but I somehow would have managed.

Earlier this year, I actually posed the question to my friends on Facebook: How often are you and your spouse/significant other asked if it will be one check or two in a restaurant. 90% of my friends responded with something along the lines of, "Never!...and I would be downright offended by the question!" One friend told me, "As a former waitress, I can tell you all of the people who wanted separate checks made that clear when they first sat down, and I would never ask a table of two that!"

Marriage is hard. Being in an interracial marriage in the South can be darnright aggravating. I think moments like this wouldn't be so difficult for me if I remembered, on a daily basis, that my husband and I are different colors. I'm not colorblind, I don't think such a thing really exists. It's more like I'm color indifferent. I just forget that, to the rest of the world, we don't always look like a matched set the way we do to ourselves.

For the record, the waitress didn't ask either of the white couples next to us if they'd like one check or two.

Lighting the unity candle at our wedding, aka Dinner with Vows :-)

Friday, March 12, 2010

Lenten Facebook Fast Update

The Lenten Facebook Fast is continuing strong. I have had to make three 1-2 minute exceptions: the first to reply to the Friend Request of a potential business contact (explaining as I accepted it that I wouldn't be back on until after Easter), the second and third to retrieve e-mail addresses and phone numbers of friends whose contact information I could have sworn I had written down *somewhere* already. One was actually church-related so, yes, I am justifying these visits in my own mind.

I have definitely been spending less time on the computer. Of course, some of that may be due to the insane work load I've had over the past three weeks as well as the Facebook Fast, but either way if feels good. I am receiving less e-mails with the Notifications feature turned off, which means it takes me less time to plow through my e-mails each day. In the past, I had thought Notifications were a time saver, as in, "Well, if I read the Notification than I can quickly delete the ones that don't need responses and save the ones that do until I have time to get on Facebook and delete them..." Uh-huh. Guess how many saved Notifications there are in my Inbox? Some from more than six months ago, I'm ashamed to say.

I had a revolutionary thought this week, thanks in large part to Pixie Mama: I can be on Facebook without being all Type A obsessive about it, as I tend to get with many things, especially technology. As Pixie Mama pointed out, Facebook is a social networking site. It's not meant to take the place of all social interaction, nor do you expect every comment you make to be returned/acknowledged. Now, you may be nodding your head in a "well, duh" fashion right now, but to me this was revolutionary. Not to reply to every single birthday wish I receive individually, but to acknowledge them in one big status update? That doesn't seem so bad. Smiling at the funny responses to my posts but not feeling obligated to comment on each one? Okay, yeah, I think I could do that. Responding to an important post on a friend's page via e-mail or even (gasp) telephone so I can really spend some time with them, get the whole scoop and offer my support? Sounds like a great idea!

I am keeping my fast until Easter. I am continuing to spend more time in prayer, at church, and with my family, per my agreement with the Big Guy upstairs. I'm not going to be deleting my account at the end of the 40 days, thought. Instead, I am going to practice Facebook moderation and continue the positive changes this fast has made in my life. Ommmmm :-)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Flirty Aprons - Too Cute for Words!

Yes, too cute for words, but that won't stop me from trying :-)

I have found several blogs this week are talking about Flirty Aprons, and for good reason. The web site advertises them as "the internet's #1 Ranked Apron." Prices are low, designs are adorable, and all the reviews I have heard have been good. My favorite is the Woman's Apron Original Scarlet Blossom. Want to learn more and maybe even win your own Flirty Apron?

Coupon Clippin' Mommy has a review and is giving away a Flirty Apron.

The Ahotaeiloa Family also has a review and is giving away a Flirty Apron.

Cherry Blossoms {the blog} has a review and is giving away a Flirty Apron.

Find another review and/or giveaway? Own your own Flirty Apron and want to tell us all about it? I love comments :-)

Sunday, March 7, 2010

EasyLunchbox System - Have You Tried It?

Now that I feel like I've gotten meal planning for dinners under control, I'm starting to ponder lunches. Like many other mothers, I work outside the home, and generally eat lunch outside of my home 4-5 days per week. One of the nice things about having a small family (my husband, myself, and our son) is we almost always have leftovers from dinner for me to take to work the next day. The not-so-nice thing about sharing your home with two boys is their propensity to "borrow" storage containers from the kitchen and either A) lose the container and/or the lid (I sometimes refer to my husband's classroom as The Black Hole - if my supplies go there, they don't come back!); B) find a permanent, non-food use for them (such as my husband's "loose change container" in his car); or C) put something in them that makes unusable for their original purpose (such as paint). What is a hard working Make It Happen Mama to do?

Imagine my delight when I happened upon the EasyLunchbox System web site. Finally, someone has designed a safe, reusable product to help you pack portion-conscious lunches! The system consists of 3-compartment containers (which come in a set of 4 containers and 4 lids) and perfectly-sized lunch bag coolers (which come in several fabulous colors). I am just itching to try these out and, luckily, Lindsay on Frugal & Fabulous is giving away an EasyLunchbox System. You should head on over to her web site and check it out because, let's be honest, who among us does not need a little help with the middle meal?

Meal Planning - March 8

It's starting to feel like a habit to say this, but: Last week's meal plan didn't go as planned. Monday and Tuesday went fine, but Wednesday rolled around and I had to be at church early, my husband had a late lunch and didn't want me to cook a whole meal, so we ended up eating leftovers. Thursday (spaghetti night) was fine, of course, and then Friday my husband went out with some coworkers and I got stuck in horrible traffic. Thank God for wonderful friends who will pop over to daycare and pick up your child when you call in a panic at 6:20 (10 minutes before closing) because you're still stuck on the freeway, closer to work than home! I didn't make it to their house until 7:15, so I'm estimating the lovely Pixie Mama just saved us about $90 in late pick up fees - wow! Remind me to buy her a latte ;-) Anyhow, Pixie Mama is just that sort of fantastic woman that she not only picked up my child, she also fed him and then proceeded to feed *me* when I showed up all frazzled and road-ragey. As I told her that evening, "You're like my adopt-a-mom...except way too young!" Awesome :-D

Yesterday (Saturday) our son suddenly started complaining of ear pain around 2 in the afternoon. We got him to the drop in clinic within the hour, he had an antibiotic and ibuprofen by 3, but still got a fever, which reached its high point of 102.3 around 12:30 am. Yes, I stayed up with him, and no, I did not cook. My wonderful husband went out and got us Arby's. Funny how many different things life can throw at you to derail your meal plans! Still, I am grateful for God's grace and unexpected lovely things He has given me this week (such as getting to know one of my amazing coworkers better and having a leisurely, in-person visit with Pixie Mama).

Now, on to next week! Here's what my family (hopefully, hee hee) will be eating:

Monday - Shepherd's Pie (made ahead and frozen)

Tuesday - Chicken Fajitas (filling made ahead and frozen)

Wednesday - Macaroni Chili (made ahead and frozen; remember how I planned on having this a couple weeks ago and then couldn't find it in the freezer? I cleaned out the freezer, LOL! Oh, and in case you forgot: I leave out the beans on this recipe)

Thursday - Spaghetti (sauce base made ahead and frozen)

Friday - Salsa Chicken Casserole (made ahead and frozen)

Saturday - Beef Stew (made ahead and frozen)

Sunday - Lasagna (made ahead and frozen)

Are you sensing a theme this week? It is the last week before spring break and all my kids are going on a field trip Tuesday, so I will somehow be squeezing five days worth of sessions into four days. Too bad I can't make myself ahead and freeze *me*! For more menu planning ideas, visit I'm an Organizing Junkie and peruse Laura's Menu Plan Monday section.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Monkey Boy's Closet Re-Do

My husband and I both grew up in houses filled with clutter. We realized, early on in our marriage, that is messiness is genetic, we were in big trouble. So how to combat the problem? Make a conscious decision to go against our upbringing and a commitment to teaching our son , Monkey Boy, better habits at an early age. Honestly, his room is probably more organized than the rest of our apartment, at this point. Even though he does tend to leave his toys out (he is only 4, after all) everything has a (neatly labeled) place to go when we do have a clean up party.

It's been very interesting for me to see how our storage solutions have necessarily evolved as Monkey has gotten older and taken on more responsibility for his own things (putting away toys, doing laundry, etc.). About six weeks ago I made the decision to remove the two adorable, vintage baby dressers from Monkey's closet and replace them with a bin system. I love the dressers, but they just weren't practical when he couldn't shut the drawers without assistance. Now that Monkey is putting away his laundry independently, that often resulted in a tip-over and clothes and drawers flying every which way. My husband thought getting rid of the dressers was a great idea, especially after having to repair 3 different drawers in less than a month. After doing some research, we found some cute, primary-colored bins at Target ($14.99 + tax for a pack of 3 bins, 1 lid and 4 wheels). They weren't exactly what we wanted, but we figured it was a good start and better than having Monkey's clothing piled on the closet floor while we waited for something better to come along.

The bin system the day I installed it, January 15. Total cost: $44.97 + tax

The bin system right before I removed it, February 28. What a diffe
rence six weeks and one 4-year-old makes! This wasn't a terrible system, it just couldn't hold up to our rambunctious little guy flinging things in and out and trying to climb the shelves instead of using his step stool to reach the hanging clothes. Additionally, I didn't feel like we were making the best use of the space.

I removed the tags from the bins to reuse with the baskets. Since Monkey is an emergent reader, everything in our house pertinent to him is labeled with both pictures and text. This is the nerdiness you are subjected to when your daddy is a teacher and your mommy is a therapist in a school district ;-)

The wooden shelving was a gift from another member of our local Freecycle group, which I picked up on my way to work on Tuesday. Freecycle is so awesome! Not only did I get this useful piece of furniture for free, but that's one less piece of furniture in a landfill! After doing some measuring during my lunch break (yes, I carry a measuring tape in my purse at all times), I swung by Dollar Tree on my way home and found the perfect baskets (identical to the mending basket in my sewing corner) for $1 + tax apiece. When I got home from work, I was very happy to find out that everything fit!

Checking to be sure the shelving actually fit in the closet before pulling the clothes out of the older bins.

After attaching the labels to each basket with packing tape, I sorted the contents of my son's closet on his train table.

The final product: organized, preschooler-proof wood shelving with baskets our son can pull out and carry to the laundry room when he puts away his clean clothes, hopefully cutting down on folded clothes falling out of his arms and un-folding on the way to his room! Total cost of project: $10 + tax for the bins and a 10 minute, 0.25 mile detour on my way to work.

A view of the entire closet: folded clothes on the bottom in the brand new shelving and baskets; accessories/church shoes/bike helmet on top of the shelves; hanging clothes on the rack (the only wall-attached component in the closet); labeled boxes of neatly sorted and folded clothing in the next three sizes on top of the rack's shelf. You can see a bit of the dress-up hooks on the right side of the photo (holding the Spiderman suit, a chef's hat & apron, and the superhero cape) and Turtle, the adorable hamper we got from Ikea when we first started teaching our son how to do laundry. If there are clothes on the floor, we prompt him with, "Hey, Turtle's looking kind of hungry..." and he scrambles to "feed" Turtle :-)

I am linking this to OrgJunkie's 28 Day Challenge - Small Space Category. I think I missed the deadline for actually being in the running for prizes (sometimes having a job outside the home really gets in the way of my job inside the home!) but I promised myself I would do it. Now, to answer the contest questions:

1. What was the hardest part of the challenge for you and were you able to overcome it?

The hardest part of this challenge for me was finding the time and materials to implement my vision for this space. Living in an apartment, we don't have the option of installing wall-mounted storage solutions, which are so useful in a closet. Working on a shoestring budget, I often rely on what pops up on Freecycle before revamping areas of our home. We always get what we need, it just doesn't always come in the timeframe I would like it to!

2. Tell us what kind of changes/habits you have put into place in order for your area to maintain its new order?

Our son is going to be taking his clean clothes baskets to the laundry room and putting in the folded clothes there, rather than carrying stacks of folded clothes (which often end up falling down and un-folding in the hallway) back to his room. With the previous dressers and bin system, this wasn't possible.

3. What did you do with the "stuff" you were able to purge out of your newly organized space?

While transferring clothes to the new baskets, I was able to systematically go through all of my son's folded clothes and make sure there was nothing too small, needing to be repaired, etc. I now have a large bag of outgrown clothing which will be picked up by another Freecycle member this afternoon. Not only are we keeping the closet clean, we will be helping another family in the process!

4. What creative storage solutions were you able to introduce in order to create additional space as well as establish some limits and boundaries?

Originally, I imagined I would need some sort of square containers to really maximize the use of these shelves. Buying baskets was a bit of a risk for me, but it turned out to be such a great solution, not only fitting well but also leading to changes in our laundry habits which will make the system easier to maintain.

5. Why do you think you should win this challenge?

I don't think my efforts are any more amazing than the others which I've viewed. I'm just another working woman/wife/mother who is doing her best to bring order and meaning to her family's lives in a world filled with disorganization and chaos. I appreciate challenges like this, which inspire me to be my personal best as a household manager.