How to get ready for 2018

I’m taking this week to get ready for a new year.  Everything that I’d like to improve is overwhelming, so I’m reminding myself that it doesn’t have to happen all at once.  A gentle plan is more my speed.  If I can only change 1 thing, but do it well and feel really good about it, then that sure beats trying to do it all, falling flat on my face, and feeling like a failure.

I’m basing my plan around the parts of life that bring the most stress and fixing that.   What am I running around wasting time looking for?  What sets off a stress response? What keeps me awake at night? What makes me nervous when I hear the door bell ring with unexpected company? Some of those are:

  1. My desk drawers full of things I don’t use and not being able to find things I do use.
    • Solution: purge and oragnize
  2. Bathrooms not company ready for unexpected drop ins.
    • Create a regular cleaning schedule. Train and delegate to the kids.
  3. Not being able to find my keys.
    • A key rack
  4. No spot for my coat, hat and gloves.
    • Install a hook in the garage
  5. Getting double booked because I don’t have everything on the family calendar.
    • Add things instantly when I find out about them, and don’t worry what people will think if I’m on my phone (especially in church) while I’m doing it.
  6. Not being ready for music at church when my turn comes up
    • Create a notebook of songs in order ready for prelude, set aside daily practice time, and music pre-selected for solos.
  7. Having Freezer Meals/Slow Cooker meals ready for busy nights
    • Put together a dump and go slow cooker freezer meal plan
  8. The attic storage area needing more organization
    • Schedule a work day
  9. Light blaring in through the front windows while I’m teaching music lessons
    • Order and hang light filtering blinds.
  10. The stack of papers on the kitchen counter.
    • Create a system, admit the old one didn’t work
  11. My weight
    • This isn’t an easy fix, but I’m so much further along than I was this time last year and I’m excited to keep going with my Fit Mama meal plans and our accountability group.

This past year, I’ve been slowly putting systems in place like this that help me to live the life I want to live instead of getting tossed about by all the demands on our time.   It has helped a lot and I’m excited to keep going. The beauty is once the plans are in place, that problem is solved until something big changes.  It’s part of my overall plan to nourish my adrenal system by reducing daily stress.

I’m also re-evaluating some of my systems that didn’t work as well as I had hoped and changing them up.  For example, I bought a cute file box for my kitchen counter to tame the papers, but it’s full and now there’s a stack of papers in front of it.  It’s not working for me, so I’m setting aside time to figure out why and how I can improve.

The main theme behind the goals on my list are size.  They are all tiny little accomplishable things.  I want goals that lead to action, so I broke stuff down.  Instead of writing “get organized” I identified a few areas to organize that I can solve easily, then I assigned a date to them and scheduled the time to make it happen.

To make goal setting more fun, I created this free printable for us. If you are already subscribed to the blog, you’ve got the download link in your inbox.  If not, you can get it here:

My other task this week is making a business budget.  It’s embarrassing to admit that I haven’t had a decent business budget EVER.  If I wanted to buy an ad or a course, I’d look in the account and if I had money I’d buy it, without a thought to my longtime plans.   I want to be more purposeful than that, so not only am I writing down my monthly business expenses, I’m also looking at the income side of things and how much I need to make our goals happen.  Darren’s income covers our basic needs like housing, gasoline, food, clothing etc.  My income covers the fun stuff like vacations, remodel expenses, and home decor and not so fun stuff like Irlen glasses and specialist appointments.   If I want to take my kids on a cruise or to see the Grand Canyon….It’s up to me to make it happen.

What about you?  Are there parts of your life that are driving you crazy?  What can you do about it?  Leave a comment and tell me about it.

The Year of Curating

I didn’t make any resolutions this year.  It’s not that I actively rebelled against the idea.  Instead I made a smallish goal for each of the next two months.  After that I will evaluate how it worked out and what the next step should be.

For example, I’m having a spending freeze this month and invited the Grocery Shrink Plus members to join. In a private area of the site we have a support group with extra coaching and downloads related to the challenge.  But just that one thing. Yes, I want to lose weight, wish my house were more organized, and need to spend more time in quiet devotions.  I need to get up earlier, go to bed earlier, and exercise.  But shoof all of that at once is overwhelming.

As I’ve gained experience, I’ve realized the value of preventing overwhelm and curating a restful life for my family.  It is carefully selecting and then taking care of what I have chosen. It applies to home decor, after school activities, music, clothing, thoughts, budget categories, food, garden plants, relationships, jobs, entertainment.  It’s about not letting life “happen” and grumbling about the hodgepodge I find myself in, but being purposeful and thoughtful when there are choices to be made.

I can’t curate everything all at once.  A valuable museum collection doesn’t come together in one day.  It takes small steps, small decisions, to make the big picture. Sometimes that means leaving an empty spot while I wait for the right thing or the right time.

It also means re-evalutaing things that were purposeful choices in the past.  There are only a few things that are life long commitments:  My relationship with Christ, my marriage, and my family.   Everything else may be a calling just for a time.  There have been times when I’ve felt a distinct calling to serve in a specific job.  It was so strong that I thought it might be “forever” or for many many years.  I spent long hours in preparation and research to do the best job possible, then a few years later knew clearly that role was to end. Oh how I mourned! In this way I grieved my loss of homeschooling, my loss of teaching choir, and giving up my Mary Kay and Pattern Drafting businesses and yet I knew I was walking in the path God had set for me.  All too readily I looked around for something to fill the empty space when God’s plan was to leave a space.  Space to heal, space to grow, space to appreciate life.

So this is the year I curate space, beauty, rest.  It feels lovely to write that.

How about you? Do you have big plans for the new year?

Happy New Year!

happy new year 2016

The new year is a gift waiting to be unwrapped and revealed little by little. There’s not much in the new year that I have control over and that’s a little scary.  One thing I can control is that I can draw closer to God through it all.  That is a peaceful though.

It’s always interesting to look back and see what the most popular posts were through the last year.  They usually surprise me and this year is no different.

  1.  3 Ingredient Slow Cooker Biscuits and Gravy.  I created this recipe during the year that I didn’t have a functional kitchen and it struck a chord with overwhelmed moms everywhere.

Slow Cooked Biscuits and Gravy

2.  Coconut Blueberry Muffin in a Mug.  I made this recipe for a blueberry contest with a big cash prize that I was hoping to use to finish our master bathroom.  I was in the middle of a fitness contest and made the recipe as healthy as I could and still taste great. I didn’t win or even make it onto their website, but the rest of the world approved.

coconut bluberry mug cake

3.  Plywood Countertops:  These countertops are temporary while we save up money for real ones.  Seems like there are lots of people needing lower cost options for their kitchen.  Here’s the update post for how they look finished.

plywood countertops

4.  First-Steps:  This isn’t technically a blog post, but it’s the heart of what this blog is about. I’m happy that the message is getting out.


Look how tiny these kids are.  That baby is now 8 and the girl holding his hand is almost 16.  And little Grant wasn’t even born yet….sniff.  Good memories.  We have got to take an updated family picture!

Speaking of the message getting out, I’m dedicating January to shrinking grocery budgets everywhere.  If you haven’t known where to start or how to spend less, this is the month for you!


Our Most Popular Posts of 2014

Oooooh, I’m so excited.  2015 is going to be a great year.  My first blog post ever was published August 28th, 2008 and since then I haven’t been a serious blogger. Google Analytics who?  SEO, Schmess-E-O, A Plan?    All of that’s going to change.  Instead of asking myself, “What do I want to write about?”  2015 is going to be about, “How can I best serve you.”

I’ll be paying close attention to what you want and need.  Listening to your comments and interacting with you.  Here’s what I’ve learned from our 10 most popular posts of 2014:

1.  Slow Cooked Biscuits and Gravy –I wrote this post from my attic kitchen. I normally don’t cook with canned soup and refrigerator biscuits but after so many months trying to feed a family of 8 without a kitchen, I was desperate.  This post has ugly pictures but is by FAR the most viewed post on my blog. What I’ve learned…You guys are desperate too.  You need fast easy recipes that will fill your family up without breaking the budget.  A few convenience items are a welcome relief from making everything from scratch.  And thank you for not shaming us for needing it.

2.  Blueberry Coconut Muffin in a Mug  This post was created for a recipe contest with the Blueberry Council.  I didn’t win, but this recipe still gets the 2nd most traffic of anything on my blog.  What I learned:  You want to be healthy too.  Make it fast and yummy, please.

3.  Menus #3 most popular is finding out about our menus.  My take-away:  You are struggling with meal prep and fitting it into your busy every day.  You wonder what to fix that everyone will eat and still be healthy and within budget.  You are not alone.

4.  First Steps  #4 most popular is our step by step instructions for how to shrink your budget.  My take-away?  You want real, practical, easy things to do to help your family financially. (Look how tiny those kids are!)

5.  Doll Quilt As you Go Tutorial  I blame Stacy for making this post popular :).  What it tells me about you?  You’re talented and brave enough to try a sewing project now and again.  The rest of you think, “I should take my machine out of the box sometime.”

6.  $400 a Month to Feed 8 Desperate times call for desperate measures.  Last fall we had a catastrophe….a whole stream of them, that made reducing our food budget to $400 a month necessary. We kept it there for 7 months then raised it back to $500.  My takeaway:  You want more success stories.  Show us real families that are reaching their goals and how they did it.  And some step by steps on how to eat for $50 per person per month (If we ever have to) would be perfect.

7.  Plywood Countertops  Along with reducing our food budget, our stream of woes also ate up our life savings.  We kissed granite countertops goodbye in our new kitchen and slapped some plywood countertops in place.  My takeaway:  It doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful (thanks, Nester for that.)  My takeaway:  You are interested in super low budget (a step above dumpster diving) ways to improve your home, even if it’s a temporary fix. And if we could test it out for you and make sure it doesn’t permanently wreck your space, that’d be even better.

8.  Weight-Loss — Holly Rigsby (aka Fit Yummy Mummy) has changed my life.  Her sensible eating plan and 15 minute workouts allow me to loose fat and maintain a healthy weight even though I’ve been pregnant and given birth 6 times.  My takeaway:  Most mamas struggle with weight and low body image.  What I want you to know:  Your beauty and worth as a person is not dependent on your size.  Just ask your youngest child.

9.  Homemade Eggrolls — These are delicious and the filling can be eaten alone (without the shell or frying) for a fabulous weight reducing meal.  As far as why this post is in my top 10?  I’m stumped.  Why do you like it so much?

10.  Faux Leather Floors

These floors are seriously gorgeous, are cheap and easy to install (over plywood — don’t you dare cover up hardwood floors with these.) And hold up well (but not over vinyl–I’m warning you about this–not over vinyl.)  They are easiest to install in small spaces–my dining room took me exactly forever to install. My takeaway — see #7.

What would YOU like to see more of in 2015?


French Pastry Giveaway

On our New Year’s celebration tomorrow, I’m using Looka pastries on our buffet.  They are high quality, yummy treats made with real food ingredients and readily available in the Freezer section at Wal-mart.  Affordable, stress-free perfection. We’ll have other things too–like homemade Kombucha (I’ll show you how to make this later.  I can’t even stand soda now… this stuff has spoiled me forever) shrimp rings (from Aldi,) Veggie tray, Queso blanco and whatever our guests are bringing.


Caramel and Chocolate Loaflooka_cups2_n

Mousse Cupslooka_macarons2_n



One lucky reader is getting a set of yummy Looka treats sent to their house.  Get your easy entry below!

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It’s Getting Ready to FReeeeeZE!

Spending Freeze 2015b

Christmas just ended and I hope you have time to rest before your daily routine starts again.  I wanted to pop in and ask you to wrap your mind around something.  Just think about it.  Don’t DO anything yet:

January should be your gazelle intense, super focused, financial progress making month.  There’s no better month to get intense.  After all the December holiday shopping, you are probably shopped out. Your New Year goals are fresh in your mind.  You have a clean start!  And the weather is going to make staying home and away from the stores an attractive prospect.

I’m hosting a Spending Freeze this month, and it’s more fun with friends!  Who’s with me?  Just leave a comment saying:  “I’m in” and I’ll be back later with the super easy, common sense guide to our Spending Freeze.

Subscribe here to get your daily lesson in your inbox. (It’s free)

Until then, here’s a printable Spending Freeze Cover for your notebook.  You’ll be using this notebook to track your amazing progress and keep you motivated. You can use a 3 ring binder with a clear cover, or whatever you have around.  Tape it to the front of a 3 prong brad folder, a file folder, or even a spiral notebook.  Whatever you have. Let’s start the challenge off right by not running out to buy a notebook.

If you prefer to follow the challenge on your laptop, here’s a Power Point File for you instead.

Are you in?

Like and Share, Invite your Friends.

Ringing it in


I love fresh starts.  I know I don’t have to wait for a New Year to get one.  My Savior makes it possible for me every day.

But there’s something special about a New Year just the same.  I love giving lots of thought about my goals and plans for it.  It’s so much easier to write down a goal than it is to make it happen.  In the past, my lofty goals were replaced by old habits faster than I like to admit. But that’s no reason not to try again.

Just trying year in and year out has moved me forward in business, in my spiritual walk, in fitness, in organization, in my finances, in my self-image.  Even though I’ve never always met all my goals.  When I look at where I am now, compared to 5 years ago.  It’s a big change–a good change.  But it happened so gradually I hardly noticed it happening.

How are you planning for this year?  Layla from the Lettered Cottage is choosing just one word, to define her year.  Kari from Sacred Mundane has one resolution, “I will Look up.”  I’ve tossed around  the idea of setting 12 goals, a new one for each month.  Mainly, because I’m such a mess I have at least that many areas for improvement. Doing them all at once, is too overwhelming, but one a month, feels more doable. Whatever I do,  I need to keep it super simple since my calendar is already booked until March!

One thing I’m sure of, getting up at 5am worked well for me (before I got the flu–cough, cough.) And that’s a habit that I want to start again as soon as possible.



I joined Mary Kay cosmetics 6 years ago because the woman, Mary Kay Ash inspired me so much.  I read her book The Mary Kay Way not long after joining (and seriously even if you never touch a cosmetic, you should read this book.) She was a single mother, starting her own company, and staying true to her faith.  And she did it in the wee hours of the morning.  Her secret to getting up, was “something to look forward to.”   For me is as simple as a giant stevia sweetened mocha latte. (2 cups of unsweetened vanilla almond milk, 2 packets trivia, 1 tsp instant coffee, & 1 Tbs Dutch Cocoa Powder in the microwave on high for 2 minutes.) I lay in bed when the alarm goes off and then thing of that big warm cup of yum and find the strength to get up.

If you have a minute share your goals, your dreams.  Inspire the rest of us, and have a Happy New Year!


Take Note


It’s time to do yourself a little favor.  Take a quiet moment while the memories are still fresh and write some Christmas notes for yourself for next year. This isn’t the time to make huge plans (Which is so tempting when the execution of those plans is still 12 months away.)

 13 questions Christmas 2

Just write some notes about things that went over really well this year or maybe didn’t go so well.  Here’s a list of 13 things to think about:

  • What was the most stolen white elephant gift?
  • Were there any things you were going to try but didn’t have time for?
  • Did you run out of tape?  How many rolls should you have on hand?
  • Did you have enough wrapping paper?  How much is enough?
  • Were the kids overwhelmed with too many gifts?  How many would have been right?
  • How did you feel about what you purchased for the stockings?
  • Did a relative make a really yummy dish that you should remember to ask her to bring agin?
  • Did you run across a neat story to read, or a song to learn?
  • Did you try something new this year that needs to become a tradition?
  • What date did you wish you were all done shopping and wrapping?
  • When you should start any hand made items to avoid last minute stress?
  • Were you tempted to buy a bunch of extra gifts since you had so many great ideas?  File those ideas for next year.
  • Did you notice some great sales?!  For example, I found legos on Amazon on cyber Monday for 50-60% off retail. And Target had jammies 40% off the week before Christmas.  Chances are the same types of sales will happen again next year and I want to remember to look for it.

Whatever you write just be sure to put enough details down that it will still be helpful to you 12 months from now.


The newest Christmas fad is to keep it simple.  Simple. Simple. Simple.  (Said while poking my forehead with my finger.)

A basic tree, some yummy food.  Done.  No need to go crazy and dec the whole house, unless someone is paying you a huge sum of money to do it.  Drink some nog, do a puzzle.  Breathe.  Smile. Relax.


This year the flu wiped me out the week before Christmas.  I had planned to finish my sewing and shopping that week since school would be out and my choir program would be finished.  But instead I enjoyed some forced R&R and fretted about it. You see, we only bought our kids a pair of jammies and 2 other gifts.  Only some kids had no jammies.  And some kids had only 1 gift.  But the funny things is, on Christmas morning no one noticed (My Mom did help me make sure everyone had new jammies–I think they may have noticed that.) But the kids that opened one gift instead of two–didn’t say a word. They were too busy playing with their one fun gift.  I worried for nothing.  And the jammies were a HUGE hit.

Gift Ideas from 2013 screenshot

Here’s a little screenshot of how I like to keep notes. If you click on it, I think you can see it bigger and maybe read some of the text.

How you take your notes is up to you, as long as it’s a place that you are sure to look next year.  I’ve been making a Christmas plan on my computer since 2003.  It started in excel and has morphed into a powerpoint file (since that’s the way I think best.)  Now that I’ve worked out a system I like, I just “save as” the old file with the new year on it, then quickly go and delete out the old info and plop in the new.  This year as I was getting ready for Christmas late August or so, I found my notes from last year to help me with this year.  I completely forgot I had done it.  When I saw it, I jumped up and screamed “I’m a genius!” What a blessing to have a springboard to make the holiday easier.  It’s like writing a love letter to future you :).

How about you?  Do you write notes to yourself for next year?  What questions would you add to the list?

Kid’s Room Organization–4 easy steps

Children’s rooms may be the hardest rooms in the house to organize, because they have their own ideas :).  The best system to use is one you develop with their help and is simple for them to use.


I once saw an organized toy room with a bin for Lincoln logs.  Inside the bin, each type of log was separated into it’s own container.  It looked beautiful, but most children would rather eat cooked spinach than separate each log back out into the special containers when it’s time to put it away.  It’s enough just to have one bin for the logs.


1. When you are creating a system take stock of what you already have to work with: shelves, containers; baskets; etc.  What would make it easier?  Create a list and set a budget for the supplies you will need and try shopping Dollar Tree first.  I’m sometimes frustrated when I go down an aisle at Dollar Tree and find an item I already paid way too much for elsewhere sitting there gloating at me.


Do take colors and overall appearance into consideration when choosing your containers.  If it can’t all match due to budget constraints that’s perfectly ok.  You can start with using what you have and collect additional storage as the budget allows.  Using fabric or paper to wrap cardboard boxes is inexpensive and sometimes looks better than anything ready made.  Think, think, think about what materials are already available in your home that could be modified to suit your needs.


2.  Start by dividing all the items into categories.  We just pile things up on the floor :).  As you go, sort out the things that are broken or no longer played with.  I keep a laundry basket in the room to collect these items while we work and offer to “buy” them from the children on the spot of they will let them go. I give them garage sale prices and then donate usable items or save them for the next sale.  That way they get the money whether or not the item sells and get the instant reward of being able to let something go.

3.  Put your piles into bins and then label them.  My favorite labels right now are made from chalkboard contact paper on cereal boxes.  They can be stuck to boxes with double sided tape or hole punched and tied through a handle with a ribbon.  Make sure the bins end up where children can reach them easily. And are labeled in a way they can understand.  For non-readers try taking a photo of the contents before putting it in the pin, then slipping the photo into a name badge that can clip or tie to a basket handle.


4.  Maintaining:  With children, daily maintenance and positive reinforcement is a must.  Darren and I divide and conquer before bed.  We each visit a bedroom and inspect how they put their things away during the day.  A fabulous room gets a high 5, an atta-boy, and sometimes a Reeces Pieces or an Ande’s mint.   I like the children to “show me” what they’ve done so they can take ownership of it and feel the pride of a job well done.  If a room isn’t great, we work beside them to make it great.  If there was a treat, they can earn it the next evening if they keep up the good work.  These evening clean-ups are no more than 15 minutes for a tough job and usually just a few minutes.


Here’s the important part: If we want them to enjoy keeping a neat room, we have to take scolding and punishment out of the equation.   It’s all about the emotions of it!  Any room, no matter how bad, can be organized one item at a time, but if negative feelings are allowed into the process, we easily become overwhelmed.  It happens to Adults and Kids alike! Keep it happy, keep it fun.  Only punish a defiant or rebellious attitude.

If you are looking for more inspiration check out It’s like pinterest, but only for decor. I found all the photos above there and they love it when we share their photos on blogs. Do a search for toy organization or kid’s rooms.  You can even search for colors if you are looking for inspiration in a particular pallet.

Sewing Rooms, Craft Areas, and the Home Office

Prepare to lose all respect for me. This was my office/sewing studio/school room.  It was a mess. (It’s a different kind of mess now.)

shelves 021

shelves 020I forget the actual measurements of the room, but it’s something like 20 feet by 17 feet. If I wanted to get nothing accomplished today I would go measure it for you to be sure.  But then I would start sewing, or cleaning and forget the whole  reason why I was in there.

shelves 019The ceiling has a good pitch and the side walls are barely over 2 feet high.  Which doesn’t make much useable wall space.  But after taking this picture, I realized that I wasn’t fully using the wall space I did have.

shelves 018So I hired a friend to build plywood shelves on two sides of the room.  He bought the wood for me and I painted them.  2 coats of primer and then 2 coats of paint (We used both rollers and paint brushes.  We also purchased a paint sprayer for the project which was a waste of time and money.  It just spit out paint in weird drips and we had to use a roller over it anyway.) Painting all this wood took 2 days. (Not steady work, including dry time.  But our backs, shoulders and arms were sore.)
shelves 032

I had visions of floor to ceiling Billy bookcases in my office, inspired by too many hours spent on Pinterest.  But the nearest Ikea is in the Chicago area–not even sure how far that is. And I have wonky angles in my room that Billy’s really weren’t prepared to handle. Custom was the only way for me.

Homemade baby food 021

We moved everything to the other side of the room so Mark could work.Before Office Shelves

And work he did!

Homemade baby food 032 Homemade baby food 031

Homemade baby food 035 Homemade baby food 034

I went through my fabric and got rid of at least 4 bins, leaving me way too much.  And I ordered comic-book card boards from to make mini-bolts of the fabric I had left.

(Affiliate link above)

They went on the short shelves along the side of the room.

Office Fabric

I love that I can see my stash fabric at a glance.  I buy a lot less this way. I worry that the fabric will get damaged from the lights in the room.  (There isn’t much direct sunlight, but there is lots of florescents.) My plan right now is to cut around the light mark if that happens.  I should sew more stuff and use it up before light damage can happen :).

Office Couch envelope pillow covers

Then I bought a couch on Craigslist and put that on the other side of the room and shoved all the rest of my stuff that I didn’t know what to do with behind it, bwa ha ha.  Look in the corners of the pic and you will see it ;).

I also purchased a desk on Craigslist and a white bookcase from I’m waiting for a tabletop from Target to come and have boxes of closetmaid 9 cube shelves to put together to build this:

Pottery Barn Bedford Table

I’m scared about this, because I haven’t figured out the furniture arrangement of it all.  Nothing is returnable once I assemble it….and it was $190 for the set.  (But from pottery barn it would have been $1100!) Right now my sewing machine is taking up precious wall space that I thought might free up with this table.  And I might be able to stand and sew–which would save my back and help me get a lot more done.  I’ll keep you posted with updated pictures when I get some stuff figured out.

If you need more ideas, check out my Pinterest page on the subject:


especially this one:

mind-boggling organization.

What kind of projects are on your office or craft room to do list?  Any tips for me?