Thursday, December 30, 2010

Too Much Stuff.

December 30th. Yes, I'm one of those people who make yearly resolutions. And yes, mine typically involve eating healthier and starting an exercise program. Not this year. This year, I'm focusing on my home. My tiny, cozy home that I adore. My tiny, cozy home that is now stressing me out because it is overtaken by TOO MUCH STUFF.

Perhaps coming home after five days on the road for Christmas made me realize I no longer have room to put stuff. The kids' room (they share a room) is now filled to the brim with toys. They love them all. And they really do play with nearly everything in there. But it is just too much. I'm sick of stepping on princesses, tractors, and robot parts. I'm tired of not being able to buy that wonderful, dreamy KitchenAid Stand Mixer that my husband told me to finally get for myself this year because I have zero - zippo - nada place to store it. I'm tired of Tupperware falling out of my cupboard every time I open it because it's so jam packed. I'm tired of wondering what exactly IS in those dusty old boxes behind the furnace in our storage/laundry room that haven't been opened in four years?!

So this year, I will hopefully accomplish the great SAHM "de-clutter and simplify my home" event for 2011. I hope to get this all done by the end of February. Yeah, that's not a lot of time, but it needs to be done. Quickly. Now.

But where to start? If I don't make a starting point, I'll never start. And I'm hoping by sharing my "get organized" hopes for 2011 with you all that it will make me more accountable and actually get it done. Here is my list so far:

1. The kids' room. Organize toys. Sort through toys no longer played with and books no longer read for Goodwill donation. Clean under the beds and changing table/dresser. Clean the baseboards and ceiling fan (we don't need to discuss how long it has been since I've done that last part. Yikes.)

2. The kitchen. Clean out bottom cupboards storing Tupperware and pots and pans. Clean out top cupboards storing glassware and plates. Donate unused items. Wipe down the inside of cupboards.

3. The basement. No, wait...I'm not ready for this one yet. Let's procrastinate a bit, shall we?

3. The guest room closet. The "shove it in there where no one will see it" hell-hole. Unfortunately, this is also where my husband keeps all of his suits, shirts and ties. I'd love for him to open that closet in the morning and see a nice, organized space. A lot can be taken to consignment. We also have a metal filing cabinet in there that holds old tax returns, household documents, etc. I'm dreading organizing that thing because nothing is "filed," just shoved in there. Clean out clothes/bedding/purses, wrapping paper - organize and donate. Clean out filing cabinet - organize in folders and shred the rest.

4. The living room closet. What to do with a closet that stores old coats and sweaters, kids' toys and maxi pads? Really?! Time to clean out the old clothes and toys for donation, move the "personal items" to a different space (under the bathroom cabinet, perhaps?) and define this space a bit more.

5. My pantry. This really isn't in too bad of shape on the shelves. Everything is rotated and organized fairly nicely. But it's what is on the floor that scares me. We keep our recycling, brooms/mops, heavier items, and kids' colors/playdough/craft items all o the floor of the pantry. It's a mess and needs to be cleaned out and organized.

6. And finally....I'm ready for it now. The basement. We have a small unfinished part of our basement that holds our furnace, hot water heater and softener, washer/dryer, freezer, cat food and litter box, and some storage shelves. There is TOO MUCH UNUSED STUFF stored down there. It will take a lot of dirty work (the spider webs alone are enough to make we want to move right now) but I would really like to make this a nicer space. Step 1: get rid of aforementioned spider webs. Shudder. Step 2: clean out the "newer" boxes of stuff and donate. Create more shelving space. Step 3: The icky part....delve into the boxes on the shelves behind the furnace that are dusty, gross and haven't been touched in 4+ years. Donate....throw out...and more donation.

Boy, do I feel naked now. Yes, I have some icky parts of my home. But hopefully, in two months, the ickiness will be replaced with organization and serenity.

And maybe even some "before and after" photos if I'm feeling REALLY brave.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Menu Plan: Week of 12/19/2010

I toyed with the idea of not menu planning this week due to Christmas and traveling. We will be heading out of town for six days at the end of the week for our yearly Christmas roadtrip (first to S.D. to visit my husband's family, and then down to southern MN for my family). But the thought of not having at least a little menu plan made me stressed out, so here is what I've come up with for the week.

Sunday: Barley Vegetable Soup(new recipe - doubling to save half for freezer), lettuce salad, grilled ham and cheese sandwiches

Monday: Homemade Pizza (didn't make last week), lettuce salad, fresh pineapple (at Target for $2.99 this week!)

Tuesday: leftovers

Wednesday: Garlic Chicken Pasta, green beans, apple slices

Thurs. - Tues.: Out of town!

Happy Holidays!!! For more menu planning, please visit I'm an Organizing Junkie.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Menu Plan: Week of 12/13/10

The big hit from last week was the Italian Roast Wraps. I used a large arm roast I dug out from the depths of my freezer, sprinkled one packet of Italian seasoning mix on it, and let it go on low all day in the slow cooker. I couldn't believe how tender it came out. However, the taste really wasn't too Italian-y. I think next time I'll use some taco seasoning instead. But it was still fantastic, and I made Beef Stroganoff the following night with most of the leftover roast. My husband said it was the best beef stroganoff he'd ever had. :-)

I'm flying by the seat of my pants in this week's menu plan. I have 16 inches of new snow in my backyard and a forecasted high temperature of 3 degrees today. Let's just say that venturing out for a big grocery shopping trip isn't in the cards today. So, I am trying to build a menu based on what I mostly have on hand in the pantry and freezer, with an anticipated run to the store on Wednesday.

Whole Wheat Oatmeal Pancakes (leftovers from Sunday morning), bananas
Cereal and toast
Bagels and cream cheese, fruit
Egg and Cheese Muffins, fruit

"Kitchen Picnic" (today) (turkey sandwiches, crackers, apple slices, cookies and juice boxes on the kitchen floor!)
Poor Man's Pizza, pears
Pita chips and hummus, carrot sticks, raisins

Monday: Slow Cooker Turkey Chili (husband's request as he was heading out the door this morning in -9 degree weather) (half will go in freezer), cornbread, orange slices

Tuesday: Crockpot Thai Chicken (carryover from last week), brown rice, pineapple

Wednesday: leftovers

Thursday: (my parents are visiting!) Cheddar Turkey Enchiladas, Hot Bean Dip, chips and salsa

Friday: Lentil Rice Casserole, green beans, lettuce salad

Saturday: Clean out the fridge night!

Sunday: Homemade pizza, carrot sticks, fruit

Check out I'm an Organizing Junkie for more menu plans and recipes!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Homemade Chai Tea Latte Mix

I may have given up drinking my beloved Diet Coke but sometimes I'm still in need of a little afternoon beverage enjoyment, and this homemade Chai Tea Latte is my favorite wintertime indulgence. (I say "indulgence" because I acknowledge that this drink isn't super healthy since it contains coffee creamer and a fair amount of sugar, but you gotta treat yourself every now and then!) If you buy a Chai Tea Latte at a Starbucks or Caribou, you're looking to spend at least $3-$4 for a small cup - but this drink mix is frugal AND tastes just as good as any you'd buy from your local coffee shop. I've had this recipe for a couple of years now and I apologize that I cannot give credit to the website I originally got the recipe from a few years ago since I didn't write that down on my old, ratty copy of the recipe.

This recipe makes a nice large batch and will fill your food processor up to the top, so I recommend combining all ingredients in a big mixing bowl and then splitting up the mix into two different batches in the food processor. During the holidays, I double the batch and make at least four different gifts. Just visit your local dollar store, pick up a festive little jar or tin, fill with the mix and tie with a bow. Instant holiday warmth!

Instant Chai Tea Latte Mix

1 cup dry milk
1 cup dry coffee creamer
1 cup dry French vanilla coffee creamer
2 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups plain instant tea (I used Nestea Unsweetened 100% Plain Instant Tea)
2 tsp. ground ginger
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cloves
1 tsp. cardamom
1 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. allspice

Mix all ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Pour half the mixture into your food processor and blend into a fine powder. Repeat with the other half of the mixture. Use 3 heaping spoonfuls per mug of boiling water. (You can use a little less if you don't want it quite so sweet.)

For more frugal ideas, please visit Frugal Fridays at Life As Mom.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Menu Plan: Week of 12/6/10

Another week of trying to get organized, regain some sanity and calmness, and put forth my weekly menu plan. Last week's menu produced a couple of new yummy hits in our family: the Baked Garlic Parmesan Chicken was not only delicious, but easy to make ahead during naptime and keep in the fridge till baking time. We also enjoyed the Lentil Burritos, which were healthy, tasty, and a very affordable meal.

This week, I'm trying more new recipes. You may notice my many links to the Heavenly Homemakers blog. I really enjoy all of Laura's recipes and her quest to make healthy, unprocessed, nutritious meals for family is inspirational. Here is what I have planned for this week:

CrockPot Apple Oatmeal (carryover from how many weeks ago?)
Cold cereal, toast and bananas
Bagels and cream cheese, strawberries

Hummus and pita chips, apple slices, string cheese
PB&J, carrot sticks with ranch dip
Ham & cheese wraps, pickles, cottage cheese, grapes

Turkey Noodle Soup (made with leftover turkey and broth in the freezer from Thanksgiving), honey whole wheat bread (new recipe - I’m cutting this recipe in half)

Italian Roast Wraps (new recipe), lettuce salad, cantaloupe


Turkey n’ Biscuits (new recipe), lettuce salad, grapes

Homemade Pizza, Caesar salad, green beans, cantaloupe

Crockpot Thai Chicken (new recipe), brown rice, orange slices

Clean out the fridge night!

Please check out I'm an Organizing Junkie for menu planning ideas and recipes.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Hot and Sour Soup

When my husband and I were attending college in small-town South Dakota, there was a Korean restaurant on Main Street that was the BEST. I have lived in a large metropolitan area for over 12 years now, and to this day, after trying countless other Korean, Thai, and Chinese restaurants, the best Asian food (and perhaps the best food, period) I have ever had was at that little restaurant. I know, in South Dakota, right?! Anyway, that chef made the most awesome hot and sour soup. This recipe doesn't quite compare to how great that soup was, but it is definitely good.

Hot and Sour Soup adapted from Miserly Meals: Healthy, Tasty Recipes Under 75¢ per Serving by Jonni McCoy

2 c. low sodium chicken broth
½ c. thinly sliced mushrooms
1 tsp. minced ginger
1/2 can thinly sliced bamboo shoots
1 T. cornstarch
1 T. low sodium soy sauce
2-3 drops Tabasco sauce
½ package firm tofu cut into ½ inch pieces
1 egg, beaten
¼ tsp. pepper
3 T. red wine
1 green onion, thinly sliced

In a large saucepan, heat the broth over medium heat.
Add mushrooms, ginger and bamboo shoots.
In a small bowl, make a paste with the cornstarch, soy sauce and Tabasco.
Add the paste to the soup and stir to mix in. Continue boiling and stirring until the soup reaches a thicker consistency.
Add the tofu.
Drizzle the egg slowly into the soup. Remove from heat.
Let it cool for 1-2 minutes.
Add the pepper, vinegar, and green onion and stir. Serve immediately.