Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Crock Pot Wednesday - Easy Chicken Taco Filling

It just doesn't get any easier than this recipe. My family LOVES these chicken tacos. My husband claims these are as good - if not better - than Chipotle THAT is a compliment!

This recipe is from Miserly Meals: Healthy, Tasty Recipes Under 75¢ per Serving by Jonni McCoy. This batch usually makes two meals for our family of two adults and two toddlers. The first night, we make chicken tacos with all the fixin's for the adults and chicken and cheese quesadillas for the little ones. The next night, we make chicken taco salads for the adults (and yes, quesadillas again for the kiddos). For the salads, we just mix together some salsa and sour cream and toss with romaine lettuce. Heat up the leftover chicken and put on top of the dressed lettuce along with some shredded cheese and crushed tortilla chips. Super yummy! Enjoy!

Chicken Taco Filling

1 c. low sodium chicken broth
1 packet low sodium taco seasoning (I use 3 T. of this yummy homemade taco seasoning mix)
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast

Pour the chicken broth into the slow cooker. Dissolve the seasoning mix in the broth.
Place the chicken breast over the broth.
Cover and cook on low 6-8 hours (my slow cooker cooks things quickly so mine is done in 4-5 hours).
After chicken is cooked, shred and place back in slow cooker to absorb all of the juice. Use for tacos, nachos, or tostados.

For more slow cooker recipes, please visit Dining With Debbie.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

My first big CVS trip

So my favorite hobby these days is scanning other mom's blogs and looking for great recipes and great ways to save money. My "research" showed that lots of moms shop at CVS, a place I had never shopped before. So, I decided to give CVS a try. I made three smaller trips in the past few weeks to get used to how Extra Care Bucks (“ECBs”) work and to determine if these trips to CVS were really worth it. But this week I decided to make myself an official “CVS’er" and made my first big trip to CVS. I took about 20 minutes to scan the Sunday circular ad, compile my coupons, and make my list.

I was pretty proud of myself that I only purchased one item that was not on my list: a box of Rice Krispie treats. But what can I say – I had the two kids with me, blood sugar was running low for all of us, and I forgot to pack snacks. I stocked up on 3 12-packs of Diet Coke (I know it’s terrible for me but I limit myself to 1 can per day. It’s my “get me through till naptime” vice.) My daughter still wears pullups to bed so I simply could not pass up this deal on Huggies Pull-ups. I also stocked up on some Covergirl makeup. (this mama's makeup bag is in need of an overhaul and I took advantage of this sale to stock up on a few much-needed items!)

After sales, coupons, a $3 ECB from a previous trip, and ECBs earned from this trip, here is what I got for $45.73: (assuming I did the math correctly!)

1 box Rice Krispies
1 box Corn Flakes
(2/$4 - $1.50 off 2 coupon = 1.25 each)

3 Diet Coke 12-packs
($3.33 each + 3 ECBs = 2.33/pk.)

2 Huggies Pull-ups, size 4T-5T
($8.99 each - $2 coupon - $2 coupon + 5 ECBs = 4.49/pk.)

1 box Rice Krispie treats

2 Colgate Total toothpaste
(2/$5 - $.75 coupon = 2.13 each)

2 Oral-B Advantage toothbrushes
($2.99 each + 2 ECBs – BOGO coupon = .50 each)

1 Palmolive dishsoap
($.97 - $.50 coupon = .47)

1 Swiffer refill 16-count
($3.99 - $.75 coupon = 3.24)

2 Softsoap body wash
($4.99 each - BOGO sale - 2.50 each)

1 CVS body wash
(free with email coupon)

1 Covergirl eyeshadow palette
($8.49 - $1.00 coupon)
1 Covergirl mascara
1 Covergirl concealor
- $2.50 coupon for buying two Covergirl cosmetics
+ 8 ECBs for buying $20 worth of Covergirl cosmetics
= $10.77 for all three items

Attention all other CVS'ers out there --- how did I do? It seems like all in all, I still spent a lot of money, but I really did come home with some "high ticket" items (like soda and pull-ups). Please let me know what you think in a comment and offer up any additional advice to save more at CVS. I know I can do better next time!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Menu Plan: Week of 3/28/10

Last week was yet another week of not really sticking much to the original meal plan in our house. My husband's very busy work schedule often leaves me shuffling meals around each week. If it's just me and the kids for supper, I usually stick with basic things and don't prepare a full meal like I would if dear hubby is home.

I did make a few things from the planned menu, however. The Cheeseburger Stuffed Potatoes were pretty good. My hubby came home late and ate them as leftovers and still really liked them. After three weeks of being on my menu plan, I finally made the CrockPot Angel Chicken and it was the biggest hit with my husband. He stated that it was one of the best chicken dishes he has ever eaten! This one is definitely going into my rotation, which is great because it is super easy to prepare.

I also improvised with some unexpected dishes on other nights. The Lentil Soup was a last-minute idea, made with ingredients already found in my pantry, and was such a HIT! Again, my husband stated that it was the best soup he's had in a long time. (He's full of compliments lately!) Plus, my nearly-three-year-old ate TWO BOWLS of the soup, which is awesome because lentils are packed with fiber and protein. And typically the only other soup she'll eat is tomato soup from a can, so again, huge preschooler praise on this dish!

This week I decided that I needed to start using up some meat from our freezer, so the ground turkey, chicken drummies and pork tenderloin are all coming from the freezer. Here is my plan for this week:


Leftover pancakes from freezer
Whole Wheat Toast and cereal
Sweet Potato Muffins
Honey Crunch Granola with vanilla yogurt


Sunday: (Hubby working late) Poor Man's Pizza (I got this from the Duggar's book - it is just toast spread with spaghetti or pizza sauce and topped with shredded cheese - bake at 400 degrees until cheese melts. My kids' favorite!), peas

Monday: (Hubby working late) Perogies from the freezer with marinara sauce, some sort of chicken soup using leftover chicken and broth from the Angel Chicken, canteloupe (on sale for $1.50 each at Walmart!)

Tuesday: Scalloped Potatoes and Turkey Ham (got a 2.25# turkey ham at Aldi for only $3.49) green beans, canteloupe, lettuce salad

Wednesday: Slow Cooker Turkey Chili, cornbread (carryover from last week)

Thursday: the kids and I are having dinner out with a friend; leftovers for hubby

Friday: Slow Cooker Honey Lime Chicken Drummies (new recipe), brown rice, mixed vegetables

Saturday: Pork tenderloin (recipe to come soon!), roasted red potatoes, broccoli and lettuce salad

For more menu planning ideas, please visit I'm An Organizing Junkie.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Friday Fail - Netflix Addiction

Oh, dear Netflix - how you lured me in with your constant online pop-up ads and siren song of "2 week free trial."

I caved. I decided I needed some "me time"..."mommy time"..."down time" it what you will, but my goal was to take a little snippet (notice I said "little") out of each naptime and watch a few minutes of a movie or TV series I've been wanting to see. Because by the time 8:30 rolls around each night and the kids are finally in bed, I am way too exhausted to even think about watching a movie and I just know that I would fall asleep. (Think that getting up at 5 am every day to help dear hubby get out the door in the morning has anything to do with that? But I do it with joy and love. And I digress...)

So I joined Netflix. And let me say that for the past week, I have gotten ABSOLUTELY NOTHING done around the house. Naptimes whiz by with my backside firmly planted on the couch, staring at the TV as if we've been long-lost friends separated for 20 years. I've become addicted to Big Love, an HBO series I've been dying to watch for the past couple of years. And here it comes, all neatly packaged in its friendly little red envelope, delivered right to my door. (I also got Cinderella III for my dear daughter, and I have a feeling that this DVD won't be returned for a while).

Due to my FAILURE of not getting anything done around the house, I know I have to ease back a bit on the ol' Netflix habit. Maybe just one per week. Or two? Okay, three wouldn't really hurt anybody, would it?

For more fun with Friday Fails, please visit Myra's awesome blog at My Blessed Life.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Things I Love Thursday - My Love Of Aldi

I'm sure many frugal homemakers trying to make ends meet have raved about their love of Aldi, the discount grocery store chain. Well, I am a very recent convert to the ways of Aldi and I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE that store!

I live in the Twin Cities and new Aldi stores seem to have been popping up (finally!) within a 10-mile radius of me, so I decided to give the store a try one day on one of my Sunday afternoon "mom day out by herself." I even researched the store a little online before I went and had my trusty quarter ready to go in my pocket for the shopping cart (although I forgot to bring my own shopping bags and ended up paying about 20 cents extra for the bags...lesson learned for this newbie!)

I am not an extremely brand-loyal shopper. When I'm at Target or Walmart, I almost always buy the store brand of most items, ranging from shaving cream to cereal. Because of this, Aldi is a good fit for me for most of my grocery shopping. Aldi's prices (and quality) on items like cereal, orange juice, cheese, and canned vegetables cannot be beat! I've also found some great deals on produce, too. Last weekend, I found a very yummy Dole pineapple for $1.69...$2 cheaper than at Target. And it was excellent quality! I also found a 5-lb. bag of Braeburn apples for $1.39 - again, a nearly unheard-of price at competing stores.

The downside is that Aldi carries very little, if any, organic produce. I am not one of those all-organic, all-the-time moms. I really don't care if my boxed cereal or honey is organic. However, when possible (although it is soooo expensive), I try to buy organic fruit and vegetables, which Aldi doesn't seem to carry at the stories I visit. (Although with great deals like the pineapple and apples last week, sometimes I throw my organic preference out the window and go for the cheap!).

I also will only buy milk that is hormone-free and organic, free range eggs. Again, Aldi doesn't seem to offer these options. At my local Aldi, the bread also all has corn syrup as an ingredient. Bummer. So I don't buy my bread, milk and egg staples at Aldi.

Despite that, however, I still manage to leave with a cart overflowing with groceries and the price has never been above $85. Unbeatable! While I am a coupon lover, I also love the fact that I don't have to mess around with coupons there. The prices are what they are - period. I don't visit Aldi every week - more like every month or so. I call this my big "stock up" trip for things like pasta (Aldi has the BEST whole wheat pasta!), canned goods, and cereal.

I know I'm about the millionth mom to rant and rave about Aldi, but I wanted to get my two cents in. I LOVE Aldi!

Please check out The Diaper Diaries for more "Things I Love Thursday"!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Crock Pot Wednesday - Beef Stroganoff

My menu plan from last week was shook up a bit (but that's nothing unusual in this house). The Jam Chicken I made for the first time turned out to have much more of an Asian flair than anticipated. My plan was to make Broccoli Beef in the slow cooker the following night, but I knew that two soy-sauce-based recipes in a row would be overkill. I already had the round steak thawed in the fridge that needed to be used - so what to make? After browsing online I found a great Beef Stroganoff recipe (which also happens to be one of my dear hubby's favorite meals). It turned out beautifully - the sauce had great consistency and the beef turned out quite tender. Here's the recipe:

Slow Cooker Beef Stroganoff

1 pound round steak
8 ounces fresh mushrooms (I used portabello)
1 cup chopped onion (I only used about 1/2 cup)
1 teaspoon dried parsley flakes
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried dill
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup beef broth (I used low sodium)
8 ounces sour cream (I used light)
hot cooked egg noodles

On cutting board, trim fat from steak. Cut steak diagonally about 1/4-inch thick.

Place steak, mushrooms, onion, parsley flakes, mustard, salt, dill, pepper and garlic in the slow cooker; stir well.

Place flour in a small bowl; slowly add broth, using a wire whisk to stir until blended.

Add broth mixture to slow cooker and stir well.

Cover slow cooker with lid; cook on high heat for one hour. Reduce heat to low setting and cook 7 to 8 hours or until steak is tender. (Everything seems to get done quickly in my slow cooker so I cooked mine on high for 45 minutes and then cooked on low for an additional 6 1/2 hours or so).

Turn slow cooker off, remove lid carefully and let stand for 10 minutes. Stir in sour cream. Meanwhile, bring water to boil in a medium saucepan. Cook noodles per package directions; drain.

Serve stroganoff over cooked noodles.

For more recipes and slow cooker inspiration, check out Dining With Debbie.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Menu Plan: Week of 3/22/10

Due to being too busy at work, my husband has unfortunately cancelled a ski trip he had planned for this week with his brother in Colorado. I'm sad he can't go (but the SAHM in me is thrilled he'll be around for bathtime this week!). However, I didn't have much of a menu planned for this week because I thought it would be just me and the kids. Now that our family will be all together for suppertime (hopefully!), I had to do some last-minute shopping and threw together this menu for the week. I decided to give my slow cooker another workout this week:

Peanut Butter Granola with vanilla yogurt
Banana Flax Muffins
Cereal and Toast
Cinnamon Raisin Bread

Sunday: Homemade pizza with (1/2 lb.) hamburger, mushroom, and onion; lettuce salad with croutons; fruit

Monday: Cheeseburger stuffed potatoes (new recipe - will make with the remaining 1/2 lb. ground beef from previous night), mixed vegetables

Tuesday: Slow Cooker Angel Chicken (didn't make it last week), frozen broccoli

Wednesday: Slow Cooker Pork Chops, roasted red potatoes, green beans with almonds

Thursday: leftover buffet

Friday: Homemade Macaroni and Cheese (new recipe), frozen peas, fruit

Saturday: Slow Cooker Turkey Chili, cornbread

For more menu planning ideas and some awesome recipes, please visit I'm An Organizing Junkie.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Friday Fails - lots of little things

Where is my energy? I think my lack of energy these days counts for most of my "fails" this past week. I can't blame it on being too busy or distracted. Just plain ol' tired, which is odd because we've had such gorgeous spring-like weather here in Minnesota the past few days and I'm only one week off of a recharging 2-day getaway with my husband.

Here are a few of my "fails" from this past week:

1. I let my daughter watch 2.5 straight hours of TV yesterday morning without even worrying about it. Granted, we followed it up with 1.5 hours of play at the park, but still...that's a lot of TV in one morning.

2. I haven't mopped my kitchen/dining/entryway floor in over two weeks. This may not seem too bad to some, but given the current state of MN weather that guarantees muddy and dirty shoes, my floor is hideous. The bottoms of my kids' socks are turning brown. I sweep every day, telling myself that's getting it "clean enough."

3. I started out the month of March with the goal of following the $200 Challenge spearheaded by Sarah last month at Clay In His Hands. I had the awesome goal of spending only $200 this month on groceries for our family of four. I started out great, only spending $67 through March 10th. And then my mini "vacation" hit, stocked up on unexpected items for babysitters Nana and Papa and treats for the kids, and completely blew my budget and completely lost track of how much I spent. Okay, it was my failure to start this in March knowing I had all of this going on, but here it is - only March 19th - and I'm pretty sure I've already blown way past $200 for groceries. Maybe next month...

4. Speaking of money, I have totally failed my frugal ways and shopped way too much this past week. I have spent more on clothes this past week for myself and the kiddos then I have spent in the last eight months. And these are new, retail clothes - no consignment or thrift store shopping for this lady lately. What's going on??

To bond with more bloggers over their failures, please visit My Blessed Life.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Things I Love Thursday - $1 L.A. Colors Eyeshadow

I discovered the Dollar Tree about a year ago. I've found it a great place to stock up on gift wrap and bags, greeting cards, and my personal fave - baskets and containers for organizing! But makeup?? Really? I was super skeptical. First, I have fairly sensitive skin and am pretty picky about what I put on my face, especially around the eye area. But on a whim (after all, it was only a buck...) I picked up an L.A. Colors eyeshadow pallet in brown hues. It contains 12 different colors -- and it is AWESOME! Great colors, great coverage, lasts a long time, non-irritating (to my eyes, anyway), and best of comes out to only 8 cents per color!

Check out more "Things I Love" at the Diaper Diaries!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Crock Pot Wednesday - Jam Chicken

This recipe for Jam Chicken is adapted from Miserly Meals: Healthy, Tasty Recipes Under 75¢ per Serving by Jonni McCoy. I tried it for the first time on Monday (unfortunately I don't have any photos of the dish). It turned out pretty good, but after it cooked for a while I realized that the recipe needed a little doctoring. I'll add my two cents later:

Jam Chicken

2 T. jam (I used low-sugar apricot)
3 T. low sodium soy sauce
2 T. water
1 T. grated fresh ginger (I didn't have any fresh ginger so I used 1/4 tsp. ground ginger)
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Combine jam, soy sauce, water and ginger in the slow cooker.
Add the chicken and toss so that it is covered completely with sauce.
Cook on low for 4 hours.

It had much more of an Asian flavor than I had anticipated (since it was called "Jam Chicken" I thought it would be a little sweet and was going to serve it with roasted red potatoes and vegetables). But then I decided to serve it with brown rice instead. About a half hour before serving, I also took the chicken out and shredded it and put it back in the slow cooker to soak up all of those yummy juices. I also steamed a 16-oz. bag of broccoli and tossed the broccoli in with the chicken about 15 minutes before serving. It suprisingly turned into a very good dish served over brown rice (with some unexpected Asian flair!)


For more great slow cooking ideas and recipes, please visit Dining With Debbie.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Mommy Guilt - Playtime

All moms have guilt, I guess. If you work outside of the home, you probably feel guilty about juggling time between work and family. If you stay at home full time, you may feel guilty about not contributing to the family's finances and putting the sole-breadwinner-burden all on your spouse's shoulders (this is my particular scenario). However, lately, I've encountered a new kind of mommy guilt.

I don't play with my kids as much as I probably should. And I feel guilty about it. When my daughter was a baby/young toddler, I remember being on the floor with her and playing all day and all night. Now, she's an almost-preschooler and I have another young toddler. And I'm tired. Busy. Exhausted. Spent.

Yesterday my daughter wanted to play hide-and-seek after lunch. And my response: "Not right now, honey, mommy is too tired." Yikes, did that really come out of my mouth? I've been feeling guilty about this for a while, but I've always attributed it to being too busy - juggling laundry, dishes, cleaning, organizing, cooking, the list goes on and on. But yesterday, I didn't really have that much going on - I was just TIRED.

And I feel really bad about not being on the floor all day and all night with my kids like I used to be. But then I remember when I was little playing by myself a lot. And I (arguably) turned out OK. Playing by yourself fosters imagination and creativity, right? At least that's what I tell myself.

Don't get me wrong - I do play with my kids. Yesterday we were at the park for an hour and a half in the morning and played outside in the backyard for an hour in the afternoon (have to take advantage of those gorgeous MN days...). But when we came inside - I just didn't have the energy or desire to stack blocks or play hide and seek. And then I think of the kids who spend time at daycare during the week. I bet they have an adult playing with them all day, right? Are my kids being deprived of adult-interaction-playtime because they stay at home with a currently very lazy mommy?

I keep telling myself that kids need alone time, too. Kids need to learn how to play independently.

At least that's what I'm telling myself these days in hopes that this recent bout of "mommy guilt" will subside a bit. And maybe by then I'll have more energy for playing pretend Easter Bunny and hide-and-seek.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Menu Plan Monday: Week of 3/15/10

I am back after a glorious two nights away with my husband in northern Minnesota. We had an awesome time and can't thank my parents enough for watching our two active kiddos while we were away! I feel like I'm being thrust into mommy mode again but I'm completely groceries, no clean house, no clean's CHAOS!! But I have managed to throw together a menu plan for the week, based mostly on what I already have in the fridge, pantry and freezer, and I'm really giving my good ol' Crock Pot a workout this week:

Sunday: we ate some wonderful BBQ from our next door neighbors

Monday: Slow Cooker Jam Chicken (recipe to come soon), roasted red potatoes, lettuce salad

Tuesday: Slow Cooker Broccoli Beef, brown rice

Wednesday: leftovers

Thursday: Slow Cooker Angel Chicken, mixed vegetables, lettuce salad

Friday: potluck banquet at my kids' Early Childhood Education school

Saturday: Homemade Mac 'n' Cheese, broccoli, lettuce salad

For more great menu planning ideas and recipes, please visit I'm an Organizing Junkie.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Crock Pot Wednesday - Apple Cake

This yummy, healthy Apple Cake was the first thing I ever "baked" in my slow cooker. It turned out delicious and perfect! Click on this link to check out the recipe for this nearly "guilt-free" dessert! (But to add a little guilt to it, I suggest serving it warm with a little vanilla ice cream...super yummy!)

This awesome recipe and many others can be found at a new favorite site of mine: Finding Joy in My Kitchen. Check out all of her good, healthy recipes!

For more great slow cooking ideas, please visit Dining With Debbie.

On another note, my dear hubby and I are heading up north for a couple of nights tomorrow. Our first time away from the kids in a loooong time and we're so looking forward to reconnecting as a married couple. Although I'm sure we'll end up talking about the kiddos the whole time, we are looking forward dinners out without high chairs and kids menus!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Menu Plan Monday: Week of 3/8/10

What an exciting week for me! My darling hubby and I are actually going on a mini-vacation for two nights to northern Minnesota later this week...JUST THE TWO OF US!! This will be the first time I've ever been away for a night from my 16-month-old son and only the second time I've been away for a night (not including time in the hospital to have my son) from my nearly-three-year-old daughter (and that was the night that God apparently blessed us with her little brother...but I digress.) :-)

So, I have a pretty simple menu plan this week since I'll be gone for a few days. Here we go:

Sunday: Slow Cooker Chili, homemade wheat bread

Monday: Slow Cooker Pork Chops, roasted potatoes, lettuce salad, frozen mixed vegetables

Tuesday: Leftover buffet

Wednesday: Baked Spaghetti, lettuce salad

Thursday: leftover baked spaghetti and/or Mac 'n' Cheese for the kids and grandparents

Friday: pizza delivery night for the kids and grandparents!

Saturday: out to eat, probably (we're getting back late afternoon)

For great menu planning ideas and recipes, please check out I'm An Organizing Junkie

Friday, March 5, 2010

Friday Fails - Unexpected Hair Ornamentation

Getting out of the house quickly with two toddlers is always a struggle, as any mom knows. Even just packing up the kids to head to Target, for which there is no real time frame and no "must there by a certain time" pressure seems to take forever. My two year old running around the house playing an impromptu game of hide and seek by herself without any pants on. My one-year-old standing in the corner and finally dirtying his diaper with the poo that he has been working on for two days. The list goes on and on.

Well, last week I put my daughter on the toilet to get her to do her business quickly before we left for Target. She has this habit lately of taking bits of toilet paper from the roll and wadding them up or rolling them up while working on her "business". She finds it incredibly fun. I left with her with a couple books on the potty while I ran around the house trying to find my one-year-old. I wrangled him in their bedroom, and then back to the bathroom to finish up with my daughter. She still needs help wiping and pulling her pants and underwear up afterwards, so as I'm tending to these "needs" with her I notice she's playing with my hair. She's telling me I'm pretty and that she likes my hair. Cute, right? Well...

After a nice, suprisingly well-behaved and tantrum-free trip to Target, I unpack the groceries. I seriously have to go to the bathroom now because I forgot to do this before I left. While washing my hands in the bathroom I glance up in the mirror, and what do I see...but little bits of wadded up white toilet paper stuck in the sides in my hair. While my daughter was "playing" with my hair, little did I know that she was adding some extra ornamentation, as well.

Seriously, why didn't anyone tell me? Why didn't any other mom struggling with a brood of crazy kids in Target give me a little heads up, like "Ahem...just thought I'd let you know that you have some TP in your hair." Or the checkout woman, who was doting so sweetly over my two children, all the while failing to tell me that my head was covered in toilet paper?

No, I cannot blame others for failing to tell me. It's my own failure. My own failure on two counts: (1) No matter how busy or frazzled, always take a quick glance in the mirror before you head out the door. You never know what you'll find. And (2) I obviously use way too much hairspray for bits of toilet paper to stick in my hair for over an hour (on a windy day, nonetheless.)

Lessons learned.

For more Friday Fails, please check out My Blessed Life.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Things I'm Thankful For This Thursday

1. It is a beautiful late-winter day. A predicted high of 40 degrees today! A wonderful Minnesota Spring is on its way!

2. My children are healthy and cozy, just waking up in their beds as I write this. I often joke (but it's not really a joke) that two my favorite times of day are when I go in to get them in the morning and when I lay them to sleep at night!

3. My husband is on his way back from D.C. this morning after traveling this week. The kids and I miss him and can't wait to see him tonight!

4. My pantry is so full that the shelves are overflowing. I complain about the disorganized mess, but that mess is caused by an abundance of food for my family for which I am so grateful.

5. The fact that lately I really enjoy getting up super-early (I'm talking 5:00 a.m. here). It gives me a chance to shower, have a couple nice hot cups of coffee, empty the dishwasher, and catch up on blogging/emailing before the kids wake up. I am willing to sacrifice an hour of sleep in the morning to have this wonderful, quiet "me time" in the morning.

6. As a tie-in to number 5...French Vanilla coffee creamer. It's my new obsession. I've always been a black, dark roast kind of gal, but lately I'm on a creamer kick. Yummy.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Crock Pot Wednesday - Spicy Pork Chops

Spicy Pork Chops in the slow cooker is one of my husband's favorite meals. I stock up on thin-cut pork chops whenever they are on sale and put them in the freezer. I love this super-simple, 4-ingredient recipe. The best part is: it calls for frozen chops - no need to set the meat out ahead of time! I serve these with some roasted red potatoes and mixed vegetables. Couldn't be easier or yummier....Enjoy!

Spicy Pork Chops
(from Fix-It and Forget-It 5-Ingredient Favorites by Phyllis Pellman Good)

4 frozen pork chops (I use boneless, thin-cut)
1 cup Italian salad dressing
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup prepared spicy brown mustard (Since I have little ones that don't like things too spicy, I use half spicy mustard and half course-ground mustard)

Place frozen pork chops in the slow cooker.
Mix remaining 3 ingredients in a bowl. Pour over chops.
Cover and cook on low 5-6 hours or until meat is tender but not dry.

Creamy Dill Dip

Getting my kids to eat their veggies has always been a challenge. My daughter loves dipping things in ranch dressing and ranch dip, but most ranch is loaded with MSG. (I didn't know this until I was pregnant and started reading labels.) She also loves dill pickles. So I thought I'd give this dill dip a try - made with low-fat ingredients and spices I found in my pantry. Super simple and the kids loved dipping their carrot sticks into the dip (and even ate some carrot, too, instead of just licking off the dip!) The dip was a hit with my hubby, too.

Creamy Dill Dip
(from the Taste of Home Everyday Light Meals cookbook)

1 cup (8 oz.) low-fat sour cream
1 cup low-fat mayonnaise
1 T. chopped onion (I used dried minced onion)
1 T. minced parsley (I used dried parsley)
1 T. dill weed
3/4 tsp. seasoned salt

Mix all ingredients together. Cover and refrigerate at least one hour before serving.
(The amount shown in the picture is a half batch of the amounts listed in the recipe.)


Monday, March 1, 2010

Organizing Junkie's 28-Day Challenge...completed.

It is March 1st and I completed the Organizing Junkie's 28-Day Organization Challenge in one small space in my house. While I had grander plans to rehaul my pantry and two closets, as well, I only got one small space completed - but probably the space that was aggravating me the most. It is a small countertop and cupboard between our refrigerator and wall in our kitchen. Before, it was a drop zone for everything - loose change, stamps, bills, crayons, kids art projects, phone and monitor chargers, etc. The cupboard housed baby bottles and pacifiers that were no longer in use (but may be used again someday...who knows?), greeting cards, checkbooks, camcorder and camera, envelopes, a hand mixer, clothespins...and maybe the kitchen sink at times? It was a MESS. That little counter space and cupboard (which I could never close) was an embarrassment every time I had someone over to my house.

As embarrassing as it is, here are the before photos: (This area of our kitchen is poorly lit so I apologize for the dark photos) -

The counter top - Before:

The counter top - After:

It took two total kids' naptimes to get this little area revamped. For the counter space, I threw away/shredded/recycled tons of old bills, magazines, letters, coupons, and yes, I hate to say it, but even some old kids' art projects. (I simply can't keep everything forever.) I then took the small wicker basket which I finally emptied out and put in some keepsakes and photos. I bought a cardboard magazine holder in the dollar aisle at Target to keep magazines and folders containing receipts and tax information. I also bought a little three-drawer plastic container at Target to keep stamps, pens, rubber bands, business cards, and food clips. I had a little black box that some handkerchiefs came in that was sitting around, so that now keeps some notecards that I use every day and our checkbook.

The cupboard - Before:

The cupboard - After:

Look!! The cupboard door now closes all of the way!

As for the cupboard, I found a new home for the camcorder, camera and hand mixer. I used two storage containers from the dollar store to hold all of the baby items on the top shelf. The second shelf container holds the envelopes and greeting cards. On the bottom shelf, I keep the pretty wicker basket I already had that now holds a few keepsakes and photographs. Two small containers that I already had also hold all phone/camera/baby monitor chargers and some clothespins.

The Organizing Junkie has requested we answer these five questions, so here I go:

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

The hardest part was parting with some of the little art projects the kids had done in the past. I overcame it by just reassuring myself that I cannot keep every little drawing they do, but I do keep a few every year to keep in their keepsake box. I also had a hard time organizing and finding a place for all of the photographs that I kept in this cabinet, but was able to purchase a few cheap, pretty photo boxes to house them in different cabinets.

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

I no longer just toss stuff on this counter top. I purposefully put each thing in its own place. The phone charger goes in the container on the bottom shelf. The loose change now goes into my daughter's piggy bank sitting on a different shelf. The checkbook gets put back into the black box so my husband and I no longer have to spend 15 minutes looking for it and arguing over who had it last. It only takes a few extra seconds to put stuff away and keep the area tidy.

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

As I said before, I actually put some photographs in...gasp!...actual photo boxes instead of cramming them into every available space. The camcorder, camera, and mixer found new homes in a different kitchen cabinet where I had some space. And a lot of it was just JUNK that I was able to throw out.

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

The dollar store containers were a blessing because they keep everything contained and not falling out of the cupboard when I open it; however, they also set boundaries because each container can only hold so much in order to fit properly in the cupboard. It puts a check-system on how much I can store in the cupboard instead of cramming it all in there!

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

I think I should win this challenge because I was able to overcome anxiety about throwing some items away to create more space. I also did this project very cheaply -
Magazine holder - $1
Black storage containers - 2 @ $1 each
Black 3-drawer storage unit - $5
Photo boxes - 2 @ $2 each
Total: $12.00

I think it looks nice and I'm so proud to no longer have that "eyesore" area in my kitchen! Mentally, I feel like I have one little stress-free corner of my life (literally, I guess) under control now.

Thank you, Organizing Junkie, for inspiring and motivating us with this challenge!
For tons of organizing ideas, please check out I'm an Organizing Junkie!