Organizing the pantry

Categories: Decluttering, Organization

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The popularity of visual sites such as Pinterest has sparked redecorating and reorganizing frenzies heard ’round the world. Stores are selling out of basket sets, shelving and chalkboard paint as users race to transform their homes into the beautiful pictures online.

Me? I WANT to be that person with the effortlessly organized and matching house, but I’m…not. I do like to look at the organization boards and I have always appreciated a nice looking, organized and well-stocked pantry. I love the idea of being able to go right to the pantry and always find what I need to put a meal on the table or whip up an appetizer for friends who stop in for a visit.

My pantry is a bit overdue for cleaning out and restocking properly:

Pantry before

Yes, I know.

I’d like to get it done before school begins and I have even less time than I do now, but I’m having trouble getting motivated since I know it’ll never look like all those pictures (mainly because I actually keep food in mine, and many of those super-organized ones don’t seem to have food in them), so I thought if I showed you a picture of it, I’d get motivated to clean it out and see what I have in there.

Even though it would be great, my goal isn’t really to rework the whole space but to do simple things such as toss expired items, find a permanent place for everything, get rid of items we don’t actually use and arrange things where they are easily accessible. Then I can begin to make a pantry checklist and analyze what I should be keeping in there.

I’m hoping to get started tomorrow and show some results soon!

Any pantry organizing tips you’d like to share? Leave a comment below.

School supply shopping at home

Categories: Organization

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I hope I’m not rudely interrupting your summer or anything, but school is only a few weeks away around here and the school supplies are here! Yes, I’m one of those people who LOVES school supplies.

I get excited to plan a trip to the store and get the things on the list. When I was a kid, our mothers used to take my friend and me out to eat lunch and school supply shopping every year after registration. I even tried to establish that tradition with my kids and their friends, but it turned out that girls are much more into it than boys, so we had a few good years with my daughter and her friends.

Going school supply shopping by myself doesn’t deter me, though. I eagerly anticipate heading to the store with my lists ready to collect new boxes of crayons (my favorite), lots of #2 pencils, fun folders and just the right notebooks. Everything’s so orderly and shiny, I love the smell and you can’t beat the prices.

One thing I like to do is buy a lot of duplicate items from the lists. I buy extras of things my kids use a LOT of and we store it in the “school supply bucket” in the closet. My kids are really tough on things like pencils, markers and 1″ binders and they inevitably remember they need more for school at 11pm on Sunday, so I try to keep them on hand. The school supply bucket is also a place to keep things from the previous school year that can be used again such as pencil boxes and scissors.

It’s nice to be able to “shop” for school supplies at home and you know I don’t hate buying extras. Contrary to what the picture looks like, I do keep it in order and weed out the things that don’t get used for a couple of years.

What school supplies are you always replenishing? Do you keep extras on hand or do you just run by the store as needed? Talk to me about school supplies in the comments!

What’s in your travel toiletry bag?

Categories: Organization, Uncategorized, travel

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I’ll start this out by saying, I have a bit of a travel-sized item disorder. I spend more time perusing Minimus than I probably should admit, and I have only recently thinned out my hotel soaps and shampoos collection so I may think about these things more than the average person.

Since it’s summer and travel is on the agenda, I’m using my toiletry bag a lot. While I’m not really a minimalist, I pride myself on packing an efficient, yet well-stocked bag to be prepared for a variety of situations. I rarely carry full-sized versions of anything unless I’m going to be gone for quite a while, yet my daughter has never met a super-sized version of anything that didn’t accompany her everywhere she goes. It’s like we’re not even related or something.

I carry a bag with 2 compartments, it measure about 12×8x4. In one side, I carry the items I will use every day, and the other side contains spares and items you don’t want to be without when you’re away from home.

The things I will use every day on a trip include such items as: toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, make-up,  makeup remover, shampoo, conditioner, face wash etc.

The other side contains spares of things I’m prone to forgetting such as a hair brush, toothbrush, toothpaste and a razor. It also contains items that may or may not be provided at the destination such as lotion, soap or cotton balls as well as items that I may or may not use, but don’t want to be caught without such as nail clippers, medicine, spare contact lenses, a small flashlight, dental floss, band-aids, some change and a pen.

I go through that side occasionally to check the stock and to think of things I may need to add.

What kinds of things do you carry in a toiletry bag? Are you a minimalist or do you have special luggage just for your shampoo? Any ideas for unusual, yet handy items to have? Do share!

5 tips to get your kids ready for camp

Categories: Organization

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My kids have gone to camp for years. While I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world, packing kids for 3 weeks can be a challenge. This will be my first year packing 2 at the same time, so I really have to concentrate on what I’m doing so one doesn’t end up with 24 pairs of shorts and the other with none.

The challenge is to efficiently pack what they need and will use without losing your mind or breaking the bank by re-buying items because you can’t find them. Over the years, I developed a system

1. Designate items “camp stuff” and put it all in one place when camp is done. I’ve learned this the hard way, because somehow the camp stuff always ends up spread across the house and I can’t figure out where it is when it comes time to pack again and I end up buying more (see also: 4 single bed mattress pads).

2. Check the camp’s website or mailing materials for a suggested packing list. As a former camp head counselor, I know first hand that you’d be surprised how many people don’t look at it. It often contains valuable information that can save you time and space, and notes things you shouldn’t bring as well.

3. Create a master packing list - Like the reusable vacation list, make a reusable camp list based on the suggested packing list so you can remember the little useful odds and ends. Be sure to update it (both additions and deletions) right when camp is over while things are fresh in your memory.

4. Make sure your camper knows what they have packed - Even when kids are old enough to do most of the packing themselves, it never hurts to go over what’s in their trunk and what it’s for. Last year, one of my kids (who was plenty old enough to know better) assumed I’d only sent 1 pair of shoes for 3 weeks because he never looked in the other bag he had.

5. Pack socks and then pack some more - There are never enough socks, period. It’s also helpful if you can find distinctive socks and send all the same kind, it makes clean laundry sorting for the cabin much easier, and your camper may even bring some of them home!

Do you have anyone headed to camp this summer? What tips do you have?

5 tips to help you get out the door and on the road to vacation

Categories: Uncategorized

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It’s vacation time of year! Many people are getting packed up and ready to go someplace for a little rest and relaxation. However, if your family is anything like ours, the actual getting out of the house and on the way part is sometimes easier said than done.

I’m more of a “let’s get this show on the road” kind of person, and my husband is more, um…”methodical” when it comes to getting on the road, and that can make for some interesting preparations. However, over the years, we’ve gradually found a system that helps us meet my need for speed, and his need to check everything twice (or 3 times, or 20…).

These are some of the things we’ve found helpful:

1. Create a re-usable task list (store it in your phone) - A list of tasks that need to be done the night before, and the morning of departure helps keep us on track, and we don’t have to recreate it each year. Be sure to include, “turn off the water to the washer”.  Just trust me on that one.

2. Load the things that can be safely kept in the car the night before - While it’s not a great idea to leave everything you own in the car all night, we go ahead and put bulky items such as beach chairs and fishing poles in the car.

3. Do as much food preparation as possible the night before - Decide what needs to go in the cooler and make sure everything fits. I even put all the cooler items on the same shelf in the refrigerator so I can just grab them and go. It may also be helpful to bag up car snacks, and pack the non-refrigerated items so they’re ready to go out the door.

4. Banish the habit of, “We’ll do it on the way out…” - Sometimes we have to push ourselves when it’s late and we’re still packing, but things go much more smoothly when we gas up the car and get cash the day before we leave.

5. Inspect each family member’s version of, “I’m packed.” - Our kids are older, and they can pack their own bags, but it’s very helpful to visualize their handiwork the night before we leave because it seems, “packed” can mean everything from, “I thought about what I want to take”, to, “Here’s my 5 bags, where should I put them?” Looking at what they’re taking has been helpful in avoiding surprises.

Do you have any hints about getting up and out of the house to get on the road to vacation? Do share!

Mobile banking tames chaos

Categories: Productivity

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Mobile banking is one of my favorite ways to tame the disorder in my life.

To no one’s surprise, as my kids have gotten older I’ve found myself handing money out more frequently. As you might imagine, distributing money on the fly can sometimes create havoc in the ol’ checking account balance as we can lose track of our balance when we’re out and about.

When I was growing up, if I was lucky, my mother or father would hand me a $20 before I went somewhere, but these days, our kids aren’t always with us when they need money. This becomes especially significant when they first start driving and may have spent inadvertently spent their gas money on lunch or clothes (Let’s just say I’ve heard *ahem* of other people’s kids doing stuff like that) and they need to get home from somewhere.

Both of these describe instances can be remedied with a touch of my smart phone. Since my bank has a mobile banking app, I can easily check my bank balance, and if one of my kids needs money or it’s time to pay them their allowance, I can do it, no matter where I am. It’s nice not to have to worry about getting to an ATM or a computer,

Another mobile banking benefit some banks have is mobile deposit. We have one account where you can deposit checks by scanner with a desktop computer, or we can even take a picture of the check with a smart phone and deposit them that way. That nifty feature has saved me lots of trips to the bank, and my older kids can quickly deposit checks from work and babysitting.

If you have a smart phone, I highly encourage you to check with your bank about any mobile banking features they offer. My experience has been that it’s safe, convenient and easy to learn, but alas it hasn’t solved the problem of not enough money.

Do you save time by doing your banking on a smart phone? Tell us about it!

College dorm shopping

Categories: Organization, Productivity

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My daughter recently graduated from high school, and, like many new grads, she’s off to college in the fall. (Eek! I will have a kid in college in just a few short weeks. OK, it’s 11 short weeks, but still…college!)

Since this is our oldest, we’ve been busy trying to learn about everything and prepare for what lies ahead. While the preparation is ultimately her responsibility, we still have lots of things to learn as parents. So far, the biggest lesson for us has been that our own college experiences aren’t really applicable to anything.

I spent a little time shaking my theoretical stick at what goes into college admissions and preparations these days, but even though I work at a college, I’ve come to learn that many things are just different for today’s students even when something was “good enough for me”.

Most things are done online, social media is key to getting information and finding roommates, and it doesn’t always have to be a “rite of passage” as a freshman to live with a stranger in a cinder block room the size of a postage stamp with a communal bathroom down the hall.  Also? The washing machines will text you when the cycle is done. (I know!)

However, one thing that remains constant is that there’s always going to be a list of “what to bring”.

More experienced college parents will probably chuckle at my freshman parent ways, but in the interest of avoiding a 4-digit Target bill in a strange city after forking over tuition and such, I have been trying to plan ahead a little by attempting to make a thorough list and buying and/or gathering things as I go.

I understand that students don’t need most of the stuff they bring, you have to carry it and there’s not much room. But, as far as I can tell, there are some start-up things they need, and I’ve been doing my best to get some things in order.

Even though we weren’t sure where she’d be going to school, I actually started purchasing things at Christmas, since getting “college stuff” was exciting.  Two birds, one stone, if you will. I started with items such as a small tool set, a hand vacuum, one of those pop-up laundry hampers and an array of no-damage sticky hook and squares, all things that can be used in any housing situation.

Since then, I’ve divided the list into different sections and am trying to tackle one division at a time. For example, I started with, “Study/Desk” earlier this year and I gradually acquired a box of items such as: a desk lamp, tape, tape dispenser, stapler, staples, a good pencil sharpener, some decent scissors, a ruler, a pencil holder, blank CDs, flash drives etc. While none of those items are especially glamorous, they’re needed, the cost can add up and I don’t want her to strip our desk at home of them.

Other areas I’ve worked on recently are “Medicine and First Aid”, “Clothing” (iron, small ironing board, hangers, stain release, detergent, etc.) “Storage”, “Cleaning” and “Repair”. She’ll be in a suite with a partial kitchen, so I’ve gotten just a few items classified as “Eat/Kitchen”.

The haul is accumulating in the dining room, and while the results aren’t especially attractive right now, I hope my attempts at shopping will prove useful and get her off to a good start:

Of course, she gets to shop for the fun stuff like bedding and decorations and I’ve had to remind her that this stuff is a one-time purchase for us and not to expect this every year!

How about you? Do you have any hints for college dorm shopping or just getting ready for college in general?

Fast broccoli rice and chicken casserole using uncooked rice

Categories: recipes

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In my hurry before I left town the other day, I got it in my head that I should fix dinner to leave for my family. You know how that goes: you’re convinced that, even though they often fix dinner on their own (I have older kids), that no one will eat anything at all unless you leave a complete dinner.

But, I really did have to get on the road, and there wasn’t a whole lot to eat in the house. However, I did have some chicken tenders, and broccoli-chicken and rice something another sounded good.

I was in a hurry, and I hate to cook rice and I didn’t really have time to do much with the chicken, so I decided to try my luck at throwing some things together that included uncooked rice.

1 med. onion, chopped
1/2 stick butter
6-7 chicken tenders
1 (10 oz.) package frozen chopped broccoli
1 c. quick cooking rice, uncooked
1 can cream of chicken soup
1/2 can chicken broth
1 1/2 c. shredded Cheddar cheese
1/2 c. water
Crushed crackers

Place chicken tenders in lightly greased casserole dish (I put them in whole, I just didn’t have time to slice and saute them or anything)
Saute onion in butter
Add broccoli, rice, soup, chicken broth and cheese. Mix well.
Pour over chicken and top with crackers.
Bake 40 minutes at 350 degrees.

Even though I put it in the oven and ran, it turned out quite well. It was more like a sauce over the chicken rather than a casserole, but it was a hit.

While making a broccoli, chicken and rice casserole isn’t exactly revolutionary, I’m not always good at just putting things together (I’m learning, though) rather than following a specific recipe and I was glad to find something that only took me a few minutes assemble and didn’t involve cooking the rice.

Just for fun: deep frying stuff

Categories: Cooking, Uncategorized

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This fall, my oldest child and only daughter will be heading to college. It will be a huge transition, fraught with excitement and emotion as you might imagine. Therefore, I’ve had a lot of things on my mind lately.

One of my biggest worries is that when she leaves no one will know where I am. With only guys left in the house with me, I could be missing for a few days, and eventually, someone would say, “Hey, I haven’t seen Mom in a while…”, and someone else would likely reply, “I dunno, she’s probably upstairs or something.”

Another fear I have is that I will find myself living in a frat house when she’s gone. However? I think that part may have already begun.

My middle child is a boy and I’m always working on cooking skills with him so that when he leaves for college in a couple of years, he’ll be able to, you know, eat. But, now it appears I should have been more specific about what to cook, since he’s 15.

The evidence: Deep Fried Swiss Cakes.

Ingredients
A box of whatever looks like it needs deep frying (Swiss Cakes and Oreos preferred, so I’m told)
Some Crisco
A box of pancake mix
Powdered sugar

Directions:

Chill whatever you’re going to fry in the fridge for a bit.

Mix the pancake mix as directed “until you have enough”, it should be pretty thick.

Melt the Crisco in a pan.
Using tongs, dip whatever you’re trying to fry in the pancake mix.

Then dip it in the hot Crisco (In all seriousness, this is only done with an adult around since it is hot grease).

Wait for it to turn golden brown.

Remove from oil to a paper towel-lined plate.

Sprinkle it with powdered sugar.

Eat it.

While I hope it’s obvious we don’t actually eat like that, it was pretty funny to watch him do it, and it actually tasted pretty good.

However, I think I’ll make sure he chooses a healthier alternative and bakes them next time.

In search of meatloaf hints

Categories: Cooking, Entertaining, Organization, recipes

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I unabashedly admit I’m a huge fan of the much-maligned meatloaf. Actually, I’m a fan of the much-maligned singer, Meatloaf, too, but that’s a different post for a different time.

If meatloaf (the food, not the singer) is very traditional, and made “right”, I can’t get enough. I like it made with ground beef and a simple tomato sauce topping. The problem is I’m not all that good at making it. My actual meatloaf never quite matches the vision in my head. A “meatloaf letdown”, if you will.

I know it’s not that hard to make, but I just can’t seem to get it to come out the same way twice. Sometimes, it comes out in a loaf fashion you can actually slice, sometimes it comes out in “meatloaf crumbles”. I’ve tried it in a loaf pan, out of a loaf pan, in muffin tins and once in the crockpot (Do note the “once” part.).

I usually use the meatloaf recipe on the Quaker Oats package:

Ingredients

1-1/2 pounds lean ground beef or turkey
3/4 cup Quaker® Oats(quick or old fashioned, uncooked)
3/4 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 cup catsup
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce or soy sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Preparation

Heat oven to 350°F. Combine all ingredients in large bowl; mix lightly but thoroughly. Shape meatloaf mixture into 10×6-inch loaf on rack of broiler pan.

Bake 50 to 55 minutes or until meatloaf is to medium doneness (160°F for beef, 170°F for turkey), until not pink in center and juices show no pink color. Let stand 5 minutes before slicing. Cover and refrigerate leftovers promptly and use within 2 days, or wrap airtight and freeze up to 3 months.

I’m sure this is the way my mother and grandmother made it, too, but perhaps meatloaf skips a generation or something? All I want is to make a simple meatloaf that tastes good and that can be sliced so it looks like meatloaf, is that so much to ask?

Do you have any helpful meatloaf hints or recipes? Please share them!

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