Thursday, March 28, 2013

On The Road Again...

..sing it now!  Ok, maybe it's just me that has to sing that line when I read it.

We're hitting the road in a couple of hours.  I'm pausing in the midst of the packing for the all important task of painting my nails and dropping in with a quick hello.  I wrote up a beast of a post (as in painfully long and detailed) about traveling with kids awhile back, so I'll just give you the link instead of pulling a repeat.  If you don't have enough coffee to read through the entire thing you can scroll down to the near bottom of that post for some quick tips and tricks for traveling by plane or car with bambinos.  I may update it based on our experience with this trip :)

Hopefully, my freshly painted toes will be in the warm sand by tomorrow morning.  I grew up on the California coast, so the ocean will always feel like home.  I'll be taking a few days off from the blog but I'm sure Instagram will serve as our vacation photo album. You're welcome to follow along.   Galveston Beach here we come! 

Please have a wonderful weekend and enjoy your Easter celebrations!  We'll see you next week!
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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

DIY Travel Seat Belt Pillows

We're making the trek to the TX coast over Easter, and I've been busy trying to spread load the prep for our trip over this week.  That's one mom, one dad, and three kids in a van for 14 hrs.  Call us crazy, but it's a heck of a lot cheaper to drive (especially if you need to rent a car on the other end), and we sort of love a good road trip.  Life gets busy so quickly, so a 14 hr car ride is the longest stretch of quiet James and I will have had to talk and reconnect in awhile. 

Quiet?  With three young kids?  Oh yes.  We clock the miles through the midnight hours.  Our kids sleep pretty well in the car, so we take full advantage of that! 

We try to give them a pretty active day before we head out, so they'll be nice and tired for the trip.  We leave ABQ around 5:30pm, and drive thru someplace for dinner.  Eating in the car keeps the kids occupied for awhile and then they are pretty good to listen to music or do a few car seat activities.  We stop around 7:45pm for a potty break and get into pj's.  Then it's back on the road, where the kids are asleep fairly quickly. 

James and I take turns driving (with a couple gas stops) and the kids usually wake up with the sun around 6 am.  We stop again for potty, breakfast and to stretch a bit, then it's back in the car for the last 2 hour stretch.  At that point they are excited to look around and do some of the car ride activities they couldn't do at night.  We're definitely tired the next day, but excited Grandparents are waiting on the other end, so we can usually snag a nap. 

My only complaint about the last trip was not being able to get very comfy for rest and the kids heads that kept flopping over while they slept.  Talk about a sore neck!  Although they never complained. 

I pinned this seat belt pillow on Pinterest and busted out three of them last night. 
DIY Seat Belt Pillow, made these for the kids super easy sewing project, tutorial on  blog
It's a super easy DIY, but I was really tired and accidentally sewed the ribbons (used to tie them to the belt) on the inside.  Apparently, my coffee intake was lacking.  Anyhow, I'll be hand stitching those on this afternoon, and am hopeful that the little's will sleep more comfortably this time around!  Or at least I won't feel like I have to go back and hold someone's head up. 

They sure are excited about them..

I also found this tutorial for an adult pillow that folds right over the seat belt. 
 Pineapple Mama: Seat-belt Travel Pillow Tutorial

I made one of those for the Mr. and I to share when it's our turn to sleep
He'll just have to get over the pink floral print.  I was all about working with what we had!  

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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Meal Planning Part 3: Execution & Cooking....and A Free Printable!

First of all, thank you for all of your sweet comments yesterday.   I know these tender years will fly by (they already are!) and that we will not be parenting in the toddler trenches forever.  Each morning brings a new day...for the kids and for us as parents.  Thank God, for fresh starts, no?  And thank you for the encouraging mommy notes - they truly lifted my spirits on a pretty tough day. 

And now, a little delayed, welcome to the last installment of this mini Meal Planning series!  Last week we chatted about coming up with a meal plan (we plan one month at a time) and grocery shopping/food prep.  Today, we're diving into how we execute our meal plan and actually do the cooking.  It may seem like a cook the meal, right?  But we have a few simple tips to share that make dinner time run much more smoothly around here!

Even though we plan out a full month of meals, when it comes to the shopping and the cooking, we take just one week at a time.  For awhile my go-to method was to pull all of the recipes for the week's meals and place them in a pocket folder on the counter.  My monthly meal plan was on one side of the folder and my recipes for the week on the other.  I never had to go searching for the recipe come mealtime, and I had everything I needed for the week in one spot.

I loved this, and still recommend it as a great option, but my laziness got the better of me.  I loved having the recipes handy, but didn't love pulling them out and having to put them back each week.  Mostly because my recipes were spread between a pile of printed papers, a recipe box and an old recipe binder.

As I starting writing this last post last week, I figured it was time to get my recipes mess in order.  I've had the supplies to do it for months and have simply been procrastinating.  Here's what I used:

And this. Giant pile o' recipes.....

First, I did a big purge of my recipes.  Just like any other area of our home, our recipe stash can collect a lot of "clutter" over time, so a regular cleaning out of recipes is never a bad idea.  Once I had weeded out those recipes we didn't necessarily care for, never make, or simply aren't very good for us (desserts exempt!), it was time to organize!

The categories in other recipe books or boxes never seemed to fit exactly what I needed.  I was able to create the categories I wanted with these dividers and can easily change things up if needed.
Just one problem.....they were smaller than the sheet protectors that hold some of my printed recipes.  Once I started putting everything in the binder, I couldn't see any of the tabs.

I had two packs of these larger dividers with pockets and they proved to be an even better solution!  I'm in the process of transferring most of my recipe cards over to full size pages, so the pockets were the perfect spot to corral the remaining cards. (I had planned to use those small divided protectors in the first picture for this, and still might if the pockets get too bulky).
My tabbed categories include Appetizers, Bread & Breakfast, Salad & Veggies, Sides, Soups, Chicken, Beef, Pork, Seafood, Dessert & Drinks.

I use quite a bit and my family trades good recipes we discover via email.  I like to print these off and that's how that pile above came to be.  The sheet protectors are perfect for can make notes with a dry erase pen and they wipe clean of any cooking spills.

And because I'm a bit OCD and a color-coding dork, I made up a quick recipe template that I can use to transfer any future recipes I find on the web, get through email, or even hand copy from my recipe cards. 

Each sheet has a spot for the name of the dish, ingredients, directions, and notes.  There are five colors and each tab/category in the binder gets it's own color.  You are welcome to download them for yourself too.
Click here to download coral, green, navy, pink, and teal.

I keep extra blank sheets in the pocket on the front cover of the binder.

The last part was coming up with a way to identify our recipes for the week without pulling them out of the binder.  Enter super cute arrow sticky notes found in the new gift section at Target (right by the greeting cards...seriously, I love every single thing on that shelf).  Now at the start of each week, I look at our meal plan and move my daily stickies to the corresponding recipe.  Obviously, this Chicken Parm recipe has seen a lot of action.  There are a bunch of notes and additional ingredients on the bottom half  :)

Everything in one spot and easy to find. 
Seriously, why did it take me so long to do this??  I may keep my recipe box for those special recipes we only use for holidays and a couple times a year, but the binder is definitely an upgrade in our kitchen!

1.  Check the menu the night before and pull out anything from the freezer that needs to thaw. Whenever we abandon meal planning, I feel like I'm always trying to thaw meat an hour before dinner time.  No bueno.

2.  Set out dry/non-perishable ingredients.  In the morning or the night before I'll pull out any ingredients for that day's meal that don't need to be refrigerated and set them out on the counter.  I also set out my pan/cutting board/utensils. It's a small thing but totally helps when it's time to actually cook.  Half the time I'm dodging kids or trying not to step on a land mine (i.e. lego), so the less running around the better.  And the more likely I am to actually cook the meal if things are already out at the ready.

3.  Just like we chop fruit and veggies ahead of time, sometimes I'll do a little pre-cooking earlier in the day (or if you work, the night before).  At lunch, I may brown/cook the meat for our spaghetti sauce, shred the chicken for a soup, etc.  

4.  The freezer can be your best friend.  If you have the garage space, I would recommend getting an extra freezer.  It allows us to cook meals when it's convenient for our schedule and freeze for another time, and to buy foods in bulk and therefore at less cost.

I found meal planning the hardest when I was single or even just cooking for two.  Meal portions were always way more than we needed and I could never get through leftovers fast enough.  It was easier to just grab something quick and easy, which usually meant less healthy.  So if you're in this boat, go ahead and cook a full meal.  Set aside half of it right away and freeze it for another night. 

5.  Work as a team.  If you have a partner in crime, play on each other's strengths.  James really enjoys cooking (especially grilling).  But for the longest time I felt bad asking him to help with the meal prep as soon as he walked in the door...until we talked about it.  He said cooking dinner is actually relaxing for him and helps him to unwind.  But gathering all the things we need for the meal can be stressful for him and takes time, so it helps if I follow tip #2 and have everything set out and ready to go.

Knowing that he likes to cook, I'll also plan meals that involve more prep and time for the weekends when we can cook together.

And that about wraps it up!  Everyone will tackle this meal planning giant a different way, but hopefully you've found some tips throughout this mini-series that will help you get started or improve what you already have in place.  Now it's time to hear from you!  What are your best tips for meal planning?  How do you tackle the challenges of your home dynamics?  Let's spread the meal planning wisdom love :)

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Monday, March 25, 2013

These days...

Let just air the dirty laundry, shall we?  My post for today is simply not ready.  Not ready because I haven't had time or a clear head to finish it because I've been battling my 3 1/2 year old with nap time.  For the past 3 weeks.

I think he truly is ready to begin dropping it, BUT there are absolutely days that he still needs a nap.  Which he refuses to do and whose screaming over not wanting to sleep promptly wakes up his younger brother who DEFINITELY needs a nap.  We're dealing with a little boy who is very sleep deprived and falls somewhere in between toddler and big boy. 

I know he needs firm discipline.  I know that he needs mercy.  Some days I'm just not sure which.  I suppose we all need both, right?   My kids are generally great sleepers, so I think my mommy pride took a hit when I just couldn't get this kid to stay in bed and sleep.  Hello, ego!  Everyone goes through bad days. Lots of bad days. When I finally just lost it in the middle of a fight over putting chapstick on his dry lips...he caved too.  I squeezed his arms and screamed in his face.  Ugly and loud.  He crumbled in tears and my heart broke.  I just held him and we both cried as I walked him to his room where his brother was already tucked in for a nap.

"I love you so much, Buddy.  Even when I'm frustrated and upset by your choices, I love you.  And I'm so sorry."

"Me too, Mama", he cried.

I held him for a long time and they are both finally sleeping now.  I think I will too. 

Can I bribe you to check back tomorrow with a jumbo post complete with cooking/meal planning tips, an organized recipe binder, and free printables?  I hope so!

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Friday, March 22, 2013

Meal Planning and Pinboard to Home Updates

I know that today's post was supposed to be the 3rd and last in our Meal Planning mini-series.  But this whole series was prompted by our own return to planning after an organized meal plan hiatus.  I'm tweaking some things as we go and decided to finally get our recipes all in one place.  The recipe binder is in the works and I'll be ready to share it, along with that final post on how we actually cook and execute our meal plan, on Monday. 

Want another broken promise?  I've got you covered.  Remember the really awesome lighting project I picked for this month's "Pinboard to Home" challenge? 
Yeah, it's getting bumped.  Bumped to next month.

My mom came in for a short visit over spring break. Whenever my parents visit, it's safe to say that some sort of project undertaking will happen in a serious way.  They know that the numero uno reason we don't get projects done faster around here (which we wouldn't change for the world) is because of our littles.  They like to help us cross off a big ticket item or something we would have a hard time doing at all without the help of some child entertainers.

Since my dad couldn't make this trip, I suggested we keep any projecting to something small.  Like taking apart and cleaning a chandelier (to make way for that new light!).  My mom agreed, but once she arrived, the crazy project train was off and running.

Our focus took a sharp detour from updated lighting, to a better functioning laundry/mud room.  Specifically, a platform for the our washer and dryer.

We were inspired by this pin from The Idea Room:
washer pedestal 1 cover wm

And one thing usually leads to another when we start something in our untouched spaces. If we were going to build a platform, then we better patch/paint the walls while the machines were pulled out, and address the broken chartreuse mini blinds with approximately 20 years worth of dust build up. 

My lungs almost collapsed taking them down...

 And a sneak peak of the progress (sorry these pics were taken at night)...

So, as it stands today, we have the wood cut for the W/D platform, a freshly painted room, a newly organized pantry, and some hooks on the wall for jackets.  We're hitting the road to visit family over Easter so we'll see if we can knock out the platform and a few other updates this weekend.  And consider this the new official "Pinboard to Home" project for March.  Hope you all have a great weekend!

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Thursday, March 21, 2013

Meal Planning Part 2: Grocery Shopping & Food Prep

Welcome to Part 2 of 3 in this Meal Planning mini-series!  Yesterday, I shared what's worked best for our family when it comes to planning our meals.  We plan out a month's worth of meals and shop for one week at a time.  How we shop and what we do when we get home from the grocery store is what we're dishing on today!

I'm an old fashioned girl when it comes to lists.  The process of writing things down helps to organize the jumble of thoughts playing WWF inside my head.  I know there are all sorts of devices that may be more efficient in helping me do this, but I tend to stick to good ole pen and paper for creating our shopping lists. Maybe you tech savvy folks, could share your favorite e-helps for meals in the comments.

If you are the type that likes to work with a printout, try these on for size....a complete list with items to check off when you are low/out from Meg, a similar one from Persnickety Graphics, this all in one weekly planning sheet that includes a spot for your weekly to-do's, menu and shopping list via Artsy Fartsy Mama, and this pantry inventory sheet from Jen.  If none of these fit your style, a google or Pinterest search for 'printable grocery list' will yield tons of options.

We have a magnetic notepad with a pen up on the fridge, and as we notice our standard stock items are running low, we jot them down on the list.  This includes our breakfast/lunch items.

When shopping day rolls around, I grab our notepad with the items we've scribbled down throughout the week, and our monthly meal plan calendar (that I also keep on the fridge).  I check the recipes for the meals scheduled in the upcoming week, and add any necessary ingredients to the grocery list.  I also do one last sweep of the fridge and pantry to see if any other standard items are running low that we missed during the week.

Once the list is made, it's time to shop!  But the big question is where?

As a family of five, we're pretty much BFF's with Costco and have been pleasantly surprised to see more locally sourced food there lately.  It's our main shopping spot and have found that it's the best value for most of our meat, organic milk/dairy products, and produce.  Once we grab our Costco items, we pick up any remaining things on the list from our neighborhood Smith's or Sprouts (a local farmer's market).  We were also introduced to a local butcher/market that had a great selection of proteins at great prices.

James and I are really trying to be more conscious of what we put in our bodies and what we give to the little bodies in our charge.   We are trying to buy organic and local whenever possible, but let's face it, healthy isn't cheap.  So we've been trying to expand our shopping options to new places in order to compare prices. It can be daunting trying to figure out which stores will give you the most bang for your buck, and shopping local ads/coupons can be overwhelming.  We're still trying to strike the balance between searching out the best prices and not running to 4 different places just to get our groceries.

To help with this, I made up a 2 page price comparison chart for myself.  I listed all of our common veggies, fruits, dairy, and protein purchases and created a column for the four stores we have found to be the best for price and quality.  Over the next few weeks, I'm going to track the prices we've paid for various food at these different stores so that we can figure out the to best way to conquer our food shopping.

And here's one for you to download too. The store names are deleted so you can write in your own on the top.  I do clip coupons for these four places, which is less overwhelming than scouring through all the ads that come through our mail.   I have a slot for coupons right in my wallet.  I check these when I write out my grocery list and make a note or highlight items we'll be grabbing from a specific store.  I should also clarify here....we try to do one bulk purchase of meat a month and then shop once a week to replenish produce, any pantry staples, and the food items for our dinner meals that week.

Here's where a few extra minutes, saves us boatloads of time (read: stress) during the week.  As soon as we get back from the store, or later that day, we try to.....

1.  Wash and chop up fruit/veggies. Our kids eat a lot of fruit and it's almost always cheaper to buy say a whole pineapple than the pre-cut/pre-packaged stuff.  To also save us prep time at meals, we chop up fruits like pineapple, melons, strawberries, and grapes ahead of time.  I still have a toddler that shoves food into his mouth two fists at a grapes get sliced in half.  I pop the chopped fruit into tupperware containers and they are ready to plate at meal time or for easy snacks.  Same thing for carrots, celery and peppers.  They get chopped up for easy grab and go.

2.  Sometimes we pick up a ton of fruit in one shopping trip, and I'm worried it will go bad before we can consume it.  In this case, I chop it all up, leave half in the fridge, and then combine a few different chopped fruits into small ziplock bags that get tossed in the freezer for ready to make smoothies

3.  Separate and freeze the bulk meats.  Ground beef is something we usually purchase in bulk from Costco.  We'll divide it into 1lb portions, place in zip lock bags, flatten them to save space, then stick them in the freezer. Chicken breasts are another standard bulk item for us.  We'll do any trimming and also separate these into meal size portions in zip lock bags.

4.  Marinade.  We typically leave a couple bags of chicken alone and to the others we add some sort of marinade.  Italian dressing, teriyaki, and BBQ are the fan favorites around here.  Just pour the marinade into the zip lock bag of chicken, turn to coat evenly and toss in the freezer.  The meat will marinade a bit while it gets to frozen and then marinade even more as it thaws.

Once all this is done we're ready to execute our menu!  If we need to switch a few meals around, we can do that.  I tend to forget to plan meals that have more perishable items early in the week, so food doesn't go bad.  If I need to switch up the order of the meals during the week, it's not a problem since I have all my ingredients on hand.  And if something comes up and items go unused, I either plan work them into the next week somehow, or simply freeze them for another time.

Part 3 for this meal series is coming up tomorrow - how/when we actually cook!  Until then....what are some of your food shopping tips?

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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Meal Planning Part 1: The Plan

There are so many different ways to crack the meal planning nut.  I've tried everything from planning out meals a month at a time to flying by the seat of our no-plan-whatsoever pants.  Then there's bulk buying and prepping frozen meals for the week or month, shopping according to sales and planning around the food you've already purchased, and I'm sure a dozen more ways to approach planning meals.   One thing is certain though - when I plan in advance, I save us money and waste less food.

So, after weeks of frantically coming up with our dinner plan for the day around 4pm, it was time to go back to the most effective method for our family:  a monthly meal plan, with a weekly shopping trip.  It takes a little more work up front but saves me tons of time in the long run.

I'll break up how we attack this into a 3-part mini-series this week....the planning, the shopping/prepping, and the actual execution/cooking.  Today I'm sharing how we come up with our meal plan for the month.

First off, why plan a whole month at a time?  Why do that to yourself?

I never even considered planning out meals a whole month in advance until we were at a friend's house for a bocce tournament and I noticed a monthly meal plan on the fridge.  Skeptical, I asked how well she was able to stick to it, and she said that not only do they stick to it but they have for several years.  After trying it myself, there are a few reasons it's now my favorite way to plan our meals too...

1.  A monthly meal plan keeps me from my standard" in-a-pinch" easy meals and keeps my family from enduring the same 7 meal rotation every week.  It's easy for me to get stuck in a rut.

1.  We can plan easy meals for busy days on the calendar and start thinking about meals for any fun events for the month well in advance.  Hello, St. Patty's Day!  I needed time to research the perfect Shepherd's Pie recipe and scour Pinterest for creative Irish inspired dessert recipes...that I may or may not have actually made.

3.  A monthly meal plan makes for less stress when I sit down to plan my grocery lists each week.

4.  I'm overly excited about lists and calendars

So, what does the process actually look like?

Just before the start of the month, I sit down with four things:   

-Our family calendar  
-A blank printed calendar
-Last month's meal plan
-My recipes

I used to do all this in Microsoft Word, but now I print off one of these calendar sheets I purchased from Jen's IHeart Organizing Etsy Shop  Because they're pretty.  And why not use something pretty.

First, I take a look at our family calendar and make note of any holidays or days we might want to do up a special meal.  This month we have St. Patrick's Day, the Mr's birthday, and our anniversary to celebrate.

Then I fill in any standard reoccurring meals.  Friday is pizza and movie night around here, so that one's usually a given.  But our family is also catholic and during the season of Lent, we don't eat meat on Fridays.  I had a few meatless meals from a frozen meal exchange, so I included those for Fridays in March.

Then it's time to crack open the recipe vault (more on that in the next post).  I fill in the remaining days, trying not to repeat meals from the last month.  Unless they are a favorite.  I also identify any days on our family calendar that might be busy or include an evening commitment - I'm sure to jot down an easy meal or crock pot dinner on those days.

During the winter we do more soups/stews and now that the warm weather is finally showing up, we'll be scheduling more meals on the grill.

There have been times I wanted to try out a new recipe every other day and other times I stuck to my comfortable old stand-by's.  Now, I try to schedule a new recipe every week or two.

James usually takes leftovers for lunch the following day, but if I'm planning a meal that I know yields a huge portion, I will either freeze half for another night or schedule a dinner of leftovers later in the week.

When it's done, it looks something like this:

This is not set in stone and there are definitely times we have to shift things around or adjust our plan.  I write it out in pencil (or you could laminate it and go with dry erase) so that I can make quick changes as needed.  Having a plan makes it so much easier when it comes time to make the grocery lists, shop, and actually cook.  All coming up in the next two installments of this mini-series!

 *Anyone else out there a monthly meal planner?  What are your tried and true way to meal plan...or do you just wing it?

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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Reader Spot: A Sweet Nursery For Two

Okay, brace yourself.  Some serious DIY cuteness is about to happen on this blog and it's not from me.  Meet Sheena, who blogs over at Bean In Love.  She's a stylin' Mama to two of the most adorable little bean sprouts: 8 month old twin girls.  Sheena has all sorts of DIY tricks up her sleeve but the room she's created for these sweet sprouts is quite possibly one of the most charming girl's rooms I've ever seen.  I'm so excited to share it, and her, with you today! 

I asked Sheena a few questions about the room and the different projects they tackled to create this girly haven.....

-What was the space like before you began?
It’s gone from our home office to future nursery/storage space for future twins to almost nursery/storage space for current twins to real life nursery in the span of a little over a year.    

-What were some of the things that inspired the colors or other choices in the design?

The colors hail from this shirt I’ve been holding onto since high school.  I always thought the peach, coral, tan, pink, light pink, and white would make great colors for a room someday, and since I think Anthony would rather I not transfer them to our bedroom, living room, or any other space we equally call ours, the girls room it is!  

The design is inspired by whatever I find in thrift stores or out and about or, the stripes for example, by Pinterest.  I can thank multiple middle-of-the-night feeding sessions and Anthony’s smart phone for many browsings and pinnings from that deep abyss of inspiration for sure. 

-What were any problem areas and how did you address them?

The room is pretty small (10 x 12), which really isn’t a problem when you’re talking a nursery unless you’re talking a twin nursery.  With that being said, there are three main things I was determined to fit into their nursery – their cribs (duh), a long dresser complete with a changing station, and a rocking chair.  

As much as I’d love to have a larger bookshelf, a play area, and a little reading nook, those things just aren’t possible if we’d actually like to be able to walk in the room.  But we’re happy without them.  Someday the rocking chair will bid adieu and maybe then we’ll have space for something else.  

The only other problem/annoyance we’ve run into is stud locations.  I know you can’t help how a house is built but when you need to drill into a stud to hang something (like the humongo window painting) but there’s no stud where your heart was set to hang it, it can throw a small wrench in decorating plans.  But, then again, I guess it just makes for a good challenge…and some cute floating shelves. 

-How did you get your resourceful/thrifty/think outside the box/DIY on?

Addicted?  Quite possibly.  Trying to create two little beans' paradise on a budget?  Definitely!  Budget aside though, I love how much meaning everything has in their room.  Sure, I could scout out a couple of nice, cheap lamps on the clearance shelf at Target or snatch up some ho-hum curtains for fairly cheap at Wal-Mart, but they don’t have meaning and love sewn into every stitch or the satisfaction of a good job done included...or some quiet time for me to do my thing which makes for one sane momma. 

-What makes the space special and unique?
The cost, without a doubt – we were graciously given both cribs, the buffet/dresser, and the window art.  The rocking wing chair is a thrift store find ($5) and the grand total of all of the projects doesn’t even break $100 ($96 to be exact)!  There’s still lots more we intend to do, twin-willing, but we’re still intent on staying within a super limited budget.  Someday, when our student loans are forever demolished, maybe, just maybe, I’ll think about spending more.


Pretty adorable, right?  The color palette is so soft and feminine, the stripes divine, and all of the personal, handmade touches just infuse so much love and charm into the space!  And the budget for the room blows my mind!  What's your favorite part?  

Be sure to hop over to Bean In Love for details on all the projects in this beautiful room and plenty more DIY goodness. Thank you so much for sharing your girls' space with us, Sheena!!

*Would you like your space or project featured in a Reader Spot edition?  Click here to find out how!

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Monday, March 18, 2013

Best Sugar Cookie Recipe EVER!

Happy Monday!  I hope you all had a lucky weekend full of lots O' Irish flare :)

My mom is in town visiting, so it was the perfect excuse to bust out my sister-in-law's sugar cookie recipe.  This is no average sugar cookie recipe.  No.  This is like perfectly soft, chewy, cake-like sugar cookies that I double fist and shove into my mouth in a dark closet before anyone can find me type sugar cookies.  And she said I could share the recipe with you.  Lucky ;)

Now, had I been thinking straight and not distracted by the three sugar scavengers begging for pinches of cookie dough, I would have snapped pics of this process.  Maybe next time we make them, I'll update this post with some detailed pictures.

I love this recipe for so many reasons.  Not only does it yield, in my opinion, the perfect sugar cookie, but it makes a lot of dough.  We usually make two dozen cookies and then freeze the rest of the dough for another time.  Awhile back someone gave us 101 cookie shape cutters.  We use them a lot for play-doh but it also means that we have a ton of shapes that we can use to celebrate various holidays via cookie goodness.

So, here she is....

- 1 1/2 cup soft butter (room temp, NOT melted)
- 2 cups sugar
- 4 eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 5 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt

-Cream butter, sugar, eggs, and vanilla in a standing mixer or large bowl until well blended. 

-Add baking powder and salt.  Mix until blended.

-Add one cup of flour at a time and blend until the dough just comes together but is fully mixed.  Avoid over mixing.

-Chill the dough 1 hour in the refrigerator or 30 min in the freezer (don't skip this step or you'll have flat crunchy cookies instead of thick soft ones!).  I like to spread out a long sheet of Press N Seal or saran wrap on the counter, then place the dough in the center.  I work in any extra bits of flour at this point.  You can wrap it up like a ball but I like to flatten it out in to a 1 inch thick rectangular shape then wrap it.  It cools faster and makes it easier to roll out after chilling. 

-Heat oven to 400 degrees.

-Take a chunk of dough (I take about 1/4 of my rectangle at a time) and place on a well-floured cutting board or clean surface.  Roll out dough with a floured rolling pin to about 1/4 inch thick.  The thicker the cookie, the more baking time but the more chewy they will be.

-Cut out shapes and place on an ungreased baking sheet.  Ball up the scrap pieces and continue rolling out/cutting shapes until you've used all the dough or have your desired number of cookies.  If you don't have cookie cutters, drop balls work just as well!

-Bake 6-9 minutes or until done.  The time really depends on the size and thickness of the shape you've cut out, and how crunchy or chewy you like your cookies.  For soft, chewy cookies, pull them out as soon as the top of the center no longer looks wet or shiny (a sign the dough is still raw in the center).  If you like a more crunchy cookie, leave them in a couple more minutes beyond this point or until the edges start to brown.  It may be trial and error until you get it just right.  I like my cookies just done (on the verge of undone), so 7-8 minutes is the perfect time for my oven.  Smaller, bite-size cookies take 6 minutes.

-Allow cookies to cool completely before frosting and decorating, and allow time for the frosting to set before stacking them.

My favorite butter-cream frosting for these cookies is straight off the back of the C&H blue powdered sugar box.  If you forgo the frosting but want to add sugar or sprinkles alone, add them to the cookies before they go in the oven.  I always leave a few cookies plain without any frosting, and have them as a treat with my afternoon coffee.  Or morning coffee.  But cookies for breakfast is something I'm not ready to admit to.

The dough will keep in the fridge for 1-2 days and in the freezer for up to a month.  Baked cookies should be stored in an airtight container and will stay fresh for about 5 days.

So how do you like your sugar cookies - crunchy or chewy?  Frosting or dusted with sugar?  All this cookie talk is doing absolutely nothing for my healthy eating resolution.  Good thing we're talking meal planning this week.  After celebrating our anniversary and St. Patty's day, it's time to get back on track!  You know, after we finish those shamrock sweets ;)

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Thursday, March 14, 2013

Office Closet Reveal!

This may have been the slowest closet project in the history of closet redo's, but it's finally done and I have a mad school girl crush over the result!

We've been slowly turning our 4th bedroom from a guest room into a his/hers shared office space.  One that can still accommodate guests.  Upping the functionality of the closet played a huge role in being able to effectively store all our craft and office supplies without them overflowing into the room.

And since the rest of the room had to appeal to my manly other half, the closet was also the perfect place for me to have a little girly fun.  It can all be closed up behind simple curtains. You know...once I actually put up curtains.

Here's a two-part before shot of what we were dealing with.....left side:

Right side:

A bunch o' crap on both.  Sure there were some gems buried in there and supplies I wanted to keep, but it really was beyond a hot mess.

Of course, the best way to start any space organization is with a clean slate, so I pulled everything out (including the doors) and did a cut-throat purge.  If there were fabrics that wouldn't work in any of the rooms in our house and weren't tapped for a specific project, they went into the 'donate' bag.   Supplies I bought for certain projects over a year ago and weren't on my near future radar...into the bag.  The result of my obsession with Target's office section clearance rack (i.e. the two dollar binder stock pile and abundance of paper organizers collecting dust)...into the donate bag too.

For the past year or so I've been longing to live more simply in so many areas of our lives. Getting rid of the clutter and not keeping things that I didn't need or have a specific use plan for, felt completely liberating.  And left me with a much more reasonable amount of stuff to organize. 

Once the purging/tossing/donating/consolidating was done, it was time to give this nook a stellar back drop.  This is my creative space and I wanted to be inspired when I opened the doors to all the tools that help me do it.  I went with this easy painted gold dot wall treatment and loved the tone it set for all the other elements we would bring in.

The biggest hero to our storage woe's was this 9-cubby bookcase that used to house the kids' toys.  The zigzag baskets, white pails, and the white strapping cube bins are all from Land Of Nod.  The black and white plays off of the desk curtains we made from a Nate Berkus duvet.

I've been eying these zigzag baskets for months!  They used to be sold only in a three piece set with different sizes.  When I saw that Land of Nod is now offering them for sale individually, my order was placed 2 minutes later.  And they come in a bunch of happy colors.  I used some natural stationary paper to label the baskets: Keepsakes (special items I plan to display or preserve somehow), Greeting Cards, and String/Twine

The buckets were perfect for holding my small craft paint, glues, and small crafting items.  Chalkboard labels I had on hand came to the rescue for these!  The white baskets on the bottom row hold my scrap fabrics, small organizers (command hooks, tins, etc), and a small stash of gifts I keep on hand for birthdays or other special occasions.
The round labels were gifts tags that I flipped over, traced with a pink sharpie and labeled with washi tape.  All along I had planned to cover the wood clothespins with some sort of fun treatment, but the natural wood was a nod to the natural wood handle on the pails, so I left them in their au natural state.

On top of the bookcase, I have a vase hugging all my shelf liner.  The navy document box is from Amazon and holds all of our mailing envelopes.  The pink wire basket was a Target dollar bin find and is the perfect size for our laminator. 

This small Anthropologie dot bowl holds my washi tape, and the cup corralling my small paint brushes is actually a cup I found in the bathroom section of a home store (I can't remember which one!).

The largest pile begging for organization was by far my fabrics.  I wanted to store them in a way that I could easily see what I had (without having to dig through a pile), a good system for grouping them together and a system with easy access.  I spotted these 5-rung pant hangers while walking through the laundry aisle and knew they were my answer.   The side release makes it super easy to access them.

I organized each hanger by color or theme.  From left to right I have...blues, greens, pinks, grey/blacks, kid fabrics, neutrals, and holiday fabrics.  Again, I try not to keep a ton of fabrics on hand, but if I do expand my stash, I can easily accommodate with additional hangers.

The best part is that each rung lifts up and pulls out, so I don't have to worry about pulling down all the other fabrics on the hanger when I grab for one.  Unlatching the rungs above the one you're after will make it easy peasy to grab your fabric and go.

I keep my sewing machine on the floor below the fabrics, in a charming basket from my Grandmother.   My cutting mat (a large, floppy item) slides perfectly out of sight behind the bookcase.

On the other side of the closet, we used a wire wall hanging caddy to organize our printing papers.

On the floor below that, plastic tubs hold additional labels, and our vinyl/laminating supplies.  And a couple extra pillow forms.

Onto the top shelf!  Another one of those fantastic document boxes holds our larger than average mortgage and home sale documents.  The colorful boxes are another Tar-jay find.  The pink carries my gift wrapping supplies (scissors, tape, tissue paper, tags, etc) and the smaller box holds some blank cards and paint chips.

I almost donated these two file boxes but realized I could re-purpose them to solve another big paper problem - the kid's schoolwork and art.  Each kiddo was assigned a box (I still need one more for Jack) and I used a Martha Stewart label to identify them by their first initial.  Whenever the kids bring home work they've done at school or we rotate out artwork to keep on display (and the kids can't bear the thought of parting with it), it goes in their respective box.  I know that they won't even remember some of these things, but they take comfort that their treasures are being "saved".   Then every couple months or so, I can go through them alone and throw away things I know they won't care to lose...without the hysterics.

On the other side of the top shelf, I have a few random household items from upcoming projects.

And last but not least, we shared our sneaky wrapping paper storage solution earlier this week.  Love. It.

The closet is now an organized, happy space that makes me want to just take a deep breath and relax.  And then, go make something!

My mom is here visiting for spring break and when she's asked me where she can find some random item or tool, I love being able to tell her exactly where to find it.  And she loves that all this stuff is tucked neatly away in the closet and not piled up surrounding her bed in this guest room/office!   Now for those curtains....

Working With What You Have link up at

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