Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Tickler File Tames The Paper Tiger

A few weeks ago I wrote about winning a phone consultation from Simple Organized Sanity (SOS) and I promised I would share some tips as I put them into practice. The first tip I want to share she actually mentioned the day before at our MOPS group but we talked about it in a little more detail on our phone call.  

Christie talked about using a tickler file to organize everyday paper that tends to clutter our house.  The basic concept is to fill a file box with 31 files - one for each day of the month.  Feel free to add more for special items as needed.  For instance, I have one for items that need to be filed as my office is in my basement and my life happens on the main floor.  I also keep a file for coupons.  Whenever a bill, permission slip, or any other item that needs action comes into your house, file it on the day that action needs to be taken.  An example is a bill that is due on the 24th - if I am paying this online I would file it probably on the 22nd so I would know it would be paid on time.

Each day, open the file for that day and take action on everything in the file.  As that paper is taken care of, if it needs to be filed in your office, move it to the To Be Filed folder.  Then, designate a time each week to file that folder.

This simple filing system has saved me time and is helping tame the paper tiger that exists in my house.  My house is still a disaster because I have not had time to completely clear all of the piles sitting on my counters but all new paper that enters my house is promptly filed.  I have high hopes that one day the remaining piles will be gone and you will be able to find my kitchen counter again.  I also like that I can tackle a task or two at a time instead of waiting until I have an overwhelming amount to do and trying to accomplish it all at once.  It has taken a lot of stress out of my daily life.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Menu Planning With A Recipe Notebook

I constantly hear from others that menu planning takes too much work.  While trying to live on less, I've learned that menu planning makes a huge difference in the budget though as I'm much less tempted to eat out.  I also am able to take advantage of items on sale and use them in a reasonable amount of time instead of items getting lost in my pantry.

I will admit that many times I simply write down a few tried and true meals without giving it much thought.  The times I do work a bit on our menu, I'm much more excited about cooking though. 

For my menu planning I keep a three ring binder full of recipes.  I bought some simple dividers with tabs and labeled with common categories such as breakfast, main dish, dessert, etc.  

When I see a recipe I would like to make, I stick it in the pockets of my binder.  Every so often I take the time to file all of them in the correct category.

When I feel I'm in a cooking rut, I will sit down with my notebook and create a menu.  Usually, by the time I'm done, I have several weeks worth of menus.  

As I cook each recipe, I make notes on it about what we like/dislike.  This helps a ton when I make it again as I tend to forget how I tweak a few recipes.

How do you menu plan? 

Friday, March 26, 2010

Food Friday: Carrot Cake

This is my mom's carrot cake recipe and what I compare all carrot cake's too.  It does not have nuts or fruit in it, just the way I think carrot cake should be.  We have tried making the frosting a bit healthier by using reduced fat cream cheese but it came out a bit runny.  My advice is to stick with the full fat and enjoy this as an occasional treat.  It makes a great dessert for Easter too.

Carrot Cake

2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
3 cups grated carrots
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups corn oil
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda

Mix dry ingredients together.  Add carrots, then add oil, eggs, and vanilla - blend well.  Bake in three 9" cake pans for 30 minutes or one 9x13" pan for 40 minutes.


1 box powdered sugar
1 8 oz block cream cheese
1 stick butter or margarine
1 tsp vanilla

Cream the cream cheese and butter.  Add sugar and vanilla.  Blend well.  Add milk if necessary to spread. 


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Busy Mom's Bible Review

Zondervan sent me the Busy Mom's Bible to review. I've been looking for something quick and easy for my daily Bible time and this fits perfectly with what I need at this stage of my life.  There are 52 thought starters spread throughout the Bible.  Each one has a quick one minute verse and topic to read.  It then has options for if you have an extra five or ten minutes.  At the end of each thought starter is a "word to take with you today".  I like this because one word is pretty easy to remember and I can think on this topic as I go throughout my day.

There are other great features besides just the thought starters.  First of all, the cover is made in a fun pink leather.  Since it is pink, I don't think I'll have to worry about my husband or boys taking it.  Second, it has great references such as weights and measurements conversions, a concordance, and colorful maps.

I'm looking forward to using this Bible daily and think it would make a great gift for any new mom.

Disclaimer: Zondervan sent me the Bible to review, no other compensation occurred.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Time to Start the Garden

If you will recall, last year I decided to start my garden from seeds. It was probably my most successful garden to date so I was estatic to start it again this year. A little over a week ago I planted tomato and pepper plants inside.  I checked them after five days and was a bit disappointed to see nothing had even started to grow.  I then checked back two days later and had a few inches of sprout on the tomatoes but nothing on the peppers.  I was shocked to see how much the tomatoes had grown in just two days.  I'm thinking I might need to retry the peppers but I'm giving them a few more days.

I've read articles in the past that gardening can actually cost you more money than buying fresh produce.  I can see where they are coming from if you create a fancy garden, buy high quality seeds, go for the best of everything, etc. but I've found it to be very economical.

My garden is a small plot of land in the back corner of my yard.  We have built a makeshift fence around it to keep the groundhogs, rabbits and squirrels out.  The majority of those materials were found in my dad's garage or at garage sales.  I usually pay less than a dollar per seed packet and after last years results realize that it works just as good as the higher quality plants.  We also tend to fill in with the cheap dirt instead of the higher quality.  In some areas you might need a better soil but this works great where I am located.

Square foot gardening is very popular right now and can have a bit of a startup cost but is still very inexpensive after the initial year.  If you want to Live on Less this year, I highly recommend starting your own garden.  It is fun to see your hard work turn into delicious food. 

Gardening is also a great way to get your children to eat healthier.  We let my son pick out some seeds this year and I plan to let him help in the garden.  All of the seeds he picked out need to be started directly in the ground so I'm looking forward to the day we can actually do that.  Seeing as we had snow and ice on Sunday, that is still a few weeks off though.

I would love to hear about your garden.  Feel free to leave a link or comment about your garden this year.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Saving Money With Tupperware at Thrifty and Chic Mom

This weekend I have a guest post up at Thrifty and Chic Mom.  Ellen is going room by room through her house and sharing tips and items that work for her. This past week she has been in the kitchen.  Check out my post on saving money with Tupperware and then visit the rest of this series to see what room she is going to next.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Food Friday: Cream Cheese Mints

When I got married and everyone was planning my showers they always asked what kind of cake or pastry I wanted.  My response was always that I would take any kind of cake as long as there were cream cheese mints.  These are one my favorite sweets although I usually only make them for wedding and baby showers.  You can purchase molds at any of the big box craft stores and shape the mints according to the occassion.  They can also be made ahead of time and stored in the refridgerator.

Cream Cheese Mints
Recipe from RecipeZaar

1 small package cream cheese (3 oz)
2-3 drops peppermint extract
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
granulated sugar

Place all ingredients in a mixing bowl and mix well.  Knead for 10 minutes.  Roll small balls into granulated sugar and then press into mold.  Makes approximately 30 mints.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Organizational Help Is Just A Phone Call Away

A month or so ago I was hanging out on Facebook and noticed that several of my friends had become fans of Simple Organized Sanity (SOS). Knowing I have organizing issues and want to reach my goal of a better organized house, I decided to become a fan too.  There was a mom survey on the site so I filled it out.  Lo and behold my name was drawn from the survey and I won a half hour conference call with Christie from SOS. As the date of this call came closer, I realized she was in my hometown.  Then, the day before our call, she came to talk to our MOPS group.  I'm on steering team and knew what we were discussing that day but had somehow missed who our speaker was.  In other words, I received a double dose of organizing help.

I made sure my husband was on the call as I wanted us to work together on getting our house in shape.  He is much more of an organizer than I am so I needed someone to help push me.

Christie emailed me a few questions ahead of time so that she would be ready with help for my biggest needs.  After our call, she sent me a synopsis of our call so that I would have a plan of attack.  A week later, she even followed up.  

SOS has many great services and I highly recommend you check them out.  For those out of town, phone coaching is a great option to get help with all of your needs. For those in town, she offers coffee clinics where you can meet her at a coffee shop and have a one on one conversation. 

I recommend you subscribe to her blog, SOS Organize, as she posts some great tips each day. Also, check out her website for a complete list of services she offers. On her site are some great products too for items such as menu planning, everyday checklists, babysitter trackers, and much more.

Stay tuned as I plan to post a few of the tips she gave me and then let you know how I'm doing.  We are about to enter the worst part of my husband's school semester so it won't be easy, but we are both working hard on getting our house in order.

Kroger Gift Card Winner

Sorry for the delay in posts this week - I've spent all of my free time dealing with insurance issues.  I think I have them worked out for now so I hope to get a chance to write all of the planned posts for this week.

In the meantime, the winner of the Kroger gift card is Pixie from Penny Pinching Pixie. She has already been contacted and her prize should be arriving soon. Thank you to all who entered! 

Friday, March 12, 2010

Food Friday: Meatloaf

This is an easy recipe for the crockpot.  Since we are a small family, I usually cut the recipe by 1/3.  When I do this, I use 1 lb beef and leave out the other half pound of meat (turkey), use 1 egg and 1 egg white, and cut all other ingredients by 1/3.  Also, my husband isn't a big liquid smoke fan so I usually leave it out.

(from Fix-It and Forget-It Lightly)

1/2 lb extra-lean ground beef
1 lb lean ground turkey
1 medium-sized onion, chopped
2 eggs
2/3 cup dry quick oats
1 envelope dry onion soup mix
1/2-1 tsp liquid smoke
1 tsp dry mustard
1 cup ketchup, divided

1. Mix beef, turkey, and chopped onion thoroughly.
2. Combine with eggs, oats, dry soup mix, liquid smoke, mustard, and all but 2 Tbsp of ketchup.
3. Shape into loaf and place in slow cooker sprayed with non-fat cooking spray.  Top with remaining ketchup.
4. Cover.  Cook on low 8-10 hours or on high 4-6 hours.

Serves 8
Ideal cooker size - 3 or 4 quarts

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Kroger Cart Buster Event & Giveaway

The Kroger family of stores is currently having an incredible Cart Buster sale now through March 14.  I was able to shop this sale earlier in the week at Dillons, my local Kroger affiliate.  By combining this sale with several coupons, I was able to save a bundle.

Here are just a few of the great brands that are participating: Pillsbury, Progresso, Green Giant,  Betty Crocker, Hamburger Helper, and Old El Paso.

To celebrate this great sale, I have one $25 Kroger gift card to give to one of my readers.  I will not be able to get the card to you in time for the sale but Kroger offers many great sales throughout the year that you can use it on.

This contest is a short one and will be open until Sunday, March 14 at 9 pm CST.

To enter, tell me one of your favorite ways to save money at the grocery store.

For extra entries:

Subscribe to this blog - if you are already a subscriber, let me know.

Follow me on Twitter (@LifeWithLess) and send a tweet about this giveaway. 

The winner will have 48 hours to respond.  If there is no response, a  new winner will be chosen.

Disclaimer: The gift card, information, and giveaway have all been provided by the Kroger Family of Stores and General Mills through MyBlogSpark.  I also received a $25 gift card.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Thomas the Tank Engine Cake

I posted a little over a week ago that I was attempting a Thomas the Tank Engine cake for my son's fourth birthday.  Well, it turned out pretty good so I thought I would share it with you.  First, check out this great Thomas cake tutorial to see how I did it. I will admit mine isn't nearly as great as hers but seeing as I have no training in cake decorating and this is my first ever shaped cake, I'm pretty darn proud of how it turned out.


You will notice that the cake is leaning pretty bad to one side.  Luckily, it held up just fine and survived until the party.

For years I've wanted to learn cake decorating but have never really had the chance to.  About a month before I decide to tackle this, I told my husband that my goal is to take the Wilton classes once he graduates from college in May.  It just so happens this is near my birthday so I might ask for the classes and supplies as my gift.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Food Friday: Poppy Seed Chicken

This is an easy recipe to make and I've been told it freezes well.

Poppy Seed Chicken

3 whole chicken breasts
1 8oz carton sour cream
1 T poppy seeds
2 cans cream of chicken soup
1 stick margarine
1 package saltine crackers (about 24 crackers)

Boil chicken in salted water until tender.  Remove from bone and cut into bite sized pieces.  In a large mixing bowl, blend together chicken, sour cream, poppy seeds and soup.  Pour into a greased 9x13 baking dish.  Mix together melted butter and crushed cracker crumbs and sprinkle over the top of the casserole.  Baked uncovered for about 30 minutes or until bubbly.  Serves 6-8.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Goals Update

At the beginning of the year we talked about setting goals.  Now that we are a little over two months into the year, how are you doing?  Many people will have given up by now which is why it is a good reason to re-evaluate those goals every so often.  Here are my updates for the four goals I shared with you:

1. Weightloss.  I've lost five pounds so far.  I really wish it was more, but I'll gladly take that over nothing.  Eating is getting better but exercise has a long way to go.  Every little bit counts though so I try to grab a few minutes here and there as I can.

2. Clutter Control.  My house is far from where I want it to be but I'm happy to say the piles are getting smaller.  I have some more to share on this topic in a post coming out next week.

3. Blogging.  It is still a struggle to find time but I'm making it a bit more of a priority.  I've kept my commitment almost every week of three posts and I look forward to the day I can increase that number.

4. Tupperware. January brought me my best month ever in the business.  February was pretty good too.  I'm really enjoying being a manager and I have a good start on moving up to the next level.  I never thought I would enjoy working direct sales but the more I work the business, the more I enjoy the challenge of it.  Of course, it helps that I sell a product I truly love.

Feel free to share how your goals are coming along.  I always enjoy hearing how others are working to reach their goals.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Freezer Cooking: Life Happens

My freezer cooking plan has not happened as I would have liked.  Our little guy came down with an ear infection and has only wanted to be held for the past day.  I would much rather comfort him than be in the kitchen so I'm going to spread my cooking out throughout this week instead.

Tonight, we are having pizza for dinner. My crust recipe usually makes enough for two pizzas so I will freeze the rest.

I chopped and froze half a bag of onions in about 5 minutes thanks to my handy Quick Chef

Ground beef is thawing and I will cook it while the pizza is baking.

Later this week I will be making a lasagna for dinner and freezing half.  I usually make this in two loaf pans as one is the perfect size for our family.

I'm also hoping to make pancakes one morning this week and banana bread at some point in the week.

The chicken I planned will have to wait until another time.  I would have loved to have accomplished this and more all at once but my family comes first.  I figure anything I get done is better than nothing though.  Last month I really enjoyed having some of the prep work done so I know the little bit I accomplish this week will be helpful.

As a reminder, don't forget to enter my Hiland Dairy yogurt giveaway. Contest ends this Friday. 

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